July 31, 2007

Controlling the Beast Inside

Justin Katz

I've always thought it too obvious to be a blindspot that opponents of abstinence education behave as if a quick course or two ought to do the trick if such an approach were going to work at all. As I've said before, the cultural movement of which such people are a part does not really believe that the safest, healthiest sex occurs within marriage; it believes that restricting sex to lifelong monogamous relationships is unrealistic and, therefore, that the act of setting such expectations is, itself, a central source of the harm that can come from sex, so the lessons it seeks to teach can only increase sexual activity. Valerie Huber offers an example on USA Today's Web site that shows this mindset in the extreme: "one popular [comprehensive, safe-sex] program promoted graphic sexual behavior such as showering together as an acceptable 'abstinent' activity."

Huber summarizes the other strategy — abstinence education — as follows:

Abstinence programs offer a holistic approach, teaching teens how to build healthy relationships, increase self-worth and set appropriate boundaries in order to achieve future goals. Abstinence education shares the realities of sexually transmitted diseases and the best way to prevent them. Accurate information about contraception is provided, but always within the context of abstinence as the healthiest choice. The realistic limitations of condoms are shared but without the explicit demonstration and advocacy that characterizes "comprehensive" programs.

The focus on self-worth and future goals is an important marker of the differences between sex-ed approaches. Sometimes one gets the impression of a They who realize that the more the beast inside us all can be released, the more easily we can be herded. Controlling that beast can give us strength against those who would exploit us.

I, for one, do not consider it an accident that traditional religious prescriptions and the self-actualizing civilized mandate for self control overlap. That suggestions of the latter are often treated as if they must represent unconstitutional imposition of the former points to the driving force behind the opposing movement.

Good News in Iraq = Bad News for Some

Marc Comtois

Both Andrew and Mac have pointed to the NY Times piece by Brookings Institute's Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack that claims progress is being made in Iraq. As Mac stated, it is important because of who is saying that things are looking up: "two severe critics of the Bush administration’s management of the war." Afraid of a potential sea-change in public opinion (how politically detrimental that would be for the Dems!), opponents of the Iraq War have attempted to counter the emerging meme (to use a favorite wonky term) that highlights the anti-Bush bona fides of the authors, claiming they supported the original invasion of Iraq, support the surge, one of them is friends with General Petraeus, etc. In the same NRO symposium to which Mac contributed, Victor Davis Hanson counters this argument:

What is interesting about the essay is that both scholars were early supporters of the war to remove Saddam Hussein, then constant critics of the acknowledged mistakes of the occupation, and now somewhat confident that Gen. Petraeus can still salvage a victory. In two regards, they reflect somewhat the vast majority of the American people who approved the war, slowly soured on the peace — but now have yet to be won over again by the surge to renew their erstwhile support.
Finally, what are the opponents going to do to undermine the credibility of an anti-Iraq-invasion, liberal, Muslim congressman reports that things are looking up? (h/t Capt. Ed)
[Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith] Ellison , a vocal critic of the Iraq war, said he still believes it was a mistake for the U.S. to invade Iraq.

"But there are 150,000 American soldiers there now, and I care very deeply about them," said Ellison, one of six members on the all-freshman trip led by Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif. "I also care about the Iraqi people. I don't want to see them suffer."

The group met with Iraqi and U.S. military officials, including Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Ellison said that local leaders in Ramadi told him of how they partnered with U.S. and Iraqi military officials to virtually rid al-Qaeda from the city. Although the lawmakers had to travel in flak vests and helmets, "we did see people walking around the streets of Ramadi, going back and forth to the market."

There have been fewer anti-U.S. sermons as the violence has been reduced, Ellison said, and religious leaders meet regularly with U.S. military officials.

"The success in Ramadi is not just because of bombs and bullets, but because the U.S. and Iraqi military and the Iraqi police are partnering with the tribal leadership and the religious leadership," he said. "So they're not trying to just bomb people into submission. What they're doing is respecting the people, giving the people some control over their own lives."

Ellison said he was particularly impressed watching Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin, U.S. commander in the Anbar province, greeting people with "as-salama aleikum," meaning peace be upon you.

"And they would respond back with smiles and waves," Ellison said. "I don't want to overplay it. There were no flowers. There was no clapping. There was no parade. But there was a general level of respect and calm that I thought was good."

One final, semi-related note. I highly recommend Victory Caucus as a clearinghouse for the good and bad in Iraq.

On Value and Ownership

Justin Katz

House/building painting isn't a very difficult job. I don't say this disparagingly; working in construction, I'm certainly aware of aspects of the professional painter's job that require skill and patience that I myself often lack (or have little interest in developing). That painting tasks exist for which one is well advised to hire an experienced professional, however, does not mean that a particular job requires workers who obsess over the bristles in their brushes.

So there's a simple answer and an extending tangent to BAM's comment to my most recent post:

Are you implying that the market rate for painters (non-union? union?) is $7.40 per hour? I would suggest to you that this young woman and young man are, in fact, being cheated by the Little Compton School Committee.

In one sense, this is a prima facie matter: The fact that two adults, acting of their own free will and presumably not based on a life-or-death incentive, have accepted the terms shows that $7.40 is indeed the market rate for this particular job. Professional painters who can expertly patch drywall, glaze windows, and clear-finish fine carpentry work can surely command more, but as it happens, those skills weren't necessary for the work available in Little Compton.

It requires a level of abstraction to see Stephanie and Corey as "being cheated," because if the school committee were to offer the job for substantially more — the union's doubled rate, for example — then it would be much less likely that the young adults would have gotten the job in the first place. As is often the case, the folks at the bottom compose one group that is harmed by the urge to dictate terms to the free market, because such dictation extends its benefits up the payscale. The person who would be more qualified to take a simple painting job at $14 per hour would not have to take work more suited to his abilities, and so on up the line, ultimately costing society productivity and resources that it ought to have achieved.

That chain leads to the other group harmed by the rejection of the free market — the consumer — and to BAM's subsequent thought:

As to who "owns" the job, that's a legal question that neither you nor I have enough knowledge to address. I'm not a lawyer, and neither are you.

I'm not sure why one would need a law degree to address questions of job ownership. Even if painting were in the union's contract, it could scarcely claim ownership. Could the union declare that the work does not exist and will not be done? Could it create new similar work on its own authority? Creation and nullification are the markers of ownership and rest entirely with the school, in this case.

If it is not so, then the public consumers — the taxpayers — have all the more reason to ensure that the self-interested unions, claiming to be owners of their own patronage at others' expense, are extricated from the equation.

Things That Make You Go "Oh C'mon!"

Justin Katz

It's amazing enough that Cranston firefighters can retire after twenty years at any age, but this is stunning:

Once retired, retirees continue to receive extra pay each year for longevity bonuses and extra pay for 15 holidays!

So, they get longevity bonuses for a job that they no longer do, as well as holiday pay for days they have off anyway. Jim Davey has more details on Cranston firefighters' new contract.

July 30, 2007

Have We Lost Our Minds?

Mac Owens

Have we lost our minds? In McMinnville OR, two middle school boys have been charged with five counts of felony sexual abuse after being observed swatting some of their female classmates on the butt. They were arrested and jailed. The District Attorney, Bradley Berry, has pledged to have the two boys registered for life as sex offenders. Mark Steyn has the story here

This is just plain nuts. It’s an example of PC run amok. We have lost the ability to make distinctions. The boys need to learn some manners, but this is ridiculous.

I certainly hope the statute of limitations applies to cases like this. I must confess that when I was in 8th grade in Fallbrook, CA, the way we impressed the members of the fair sex with our charm was to snap the bras of girls sitting in front of us on the bus. Oh it was great fun. We were very funny boys. The way we learned that this was not appropriate behavior was when one of the girls, tiring of the adolescent game, smacked one of us. Of course, under today’s rules, she would be standing in court right beside the male sex offener, charged with assault.

For those of you who listen to country music, there is a recent song that gets to the heart of some of today’s silliness. It by Bucky Covington and is entitled “A Different Life.”

We were born to mothers who smoked and drank
Our cribs were covered in lead-based paint
No childproof lids
No seatbelts in cars
Rode bikes with no helmets
and still here we are
Still here we are

We got daddy's belt when we misbehaved
Had three TV channels you got up to change
No video games and no satellite
All we had were friends and they were outside
Playing outside

It was a different life
When we were boys and girls
Not just a different time
It was a different world

School always started the same everyday
the pledge of allegiance, then someone would pray
not every kid made the team when they tried
We got disappointed but that was alright
We turned out alright

It was a different life
When we were boys and girls
Not just a different time
It was a different world

No bottled water
We'd drink from a garden hose
And every Sunday,
All the stores were closed.

It was a different life
When we were boys and girls
Not just a different time
It was a different world

It was a different life
When we were boys and girls
Not just a different time
It was a different world

It was a different world

Are Things Getting Better in Iraq? Two Changed Minds

Mac Owens

Carroll Andrew Morse has done a nice job of summarizing and analyzing the piece in today's New York Times by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Insitute. There's not much that I can add. But NRO has asked me to contribute to a symposium on the piece that will appear tomorrow. Here's what I wrote:

What is most interesting about this article is not what it says—I have been making the same points now for some time—but who is saying it. If Bill Kristol or Fred Kagan—or even our own Tom Smith—were to write such an article, the skeptics most assuredly would immediately dismiss it as repeating White House talking points. But the fact that two severe critics of the Bush administration’s management of the war—from a think tank usually described as liberal to boot—have published such a piece in the New York Times of all places might, under normal circumstances, give opponents of the war pause.

The security situation in Iraq is clearly improving. The worn-out cliché that an insurgency cannot be defeated by military means alone is true as far as it goes, but security is sine qua non of stability in a counterinsurgency. The fact that the Sunni sheiks have been turning against al Qaeda and the other Salafi groups and the Shia have, to a lesser extent, rejected Sadr’s Mahdi army bodes well for security in the long run.

But does it matter at this point? Time is running out, not in Iraq but in Washington DC where, as more than one commentator has pointed out, the Democratic majority in Congress and the party’s presidential candidates all seem to have opted for defeat. Thanks to these geniuses and the Republican girly-men who enable them, we may be on the verge of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The "Scott Thomas" Saga at TNR Continues

Mac Owens

My post on the “Scott Thomas” affair at The New Republic elicited a spirited debate. It has now taken some interesting turns. First of all, the author has now identified himself. Here is what he wrote in TNR:

My Diarist, "Shock Troops," and the two other pieces I wrote for the New Republic have stirred more controversy than I could ever have anticipated. They were written under a pseudonym, because I wanted to write honestly about my experiences, without fear of reprisal. Unfortunately, my pseudonym has caused confusion. And there seems to be one major way in which I can clarify the debate over my pieces: I'm willing to stand by the entirety of my articles for the New Republic using my real name.

I am Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp, a member of Alpha Company, 1/18 Infantry, Second Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division.

My pieces were always intended to provide my discreet view of the war; they were never intended as a reflection of the entire U.S. Military. I wanted Americans to have one soldier's view of events in Iraq.

It's been maddening, to say the least, to see the plausibility of events that I witnessed questioned by people who have never served in Iraq. I was initially reluctant to take the time out of my already insane schedule fighting an actual war in order to play some role in an ideological battle that I never wanted to join. That being said, my character, my experiences, and those of my comrades in arms have been called into question, and I believe that it is important to stand by my writing under my real name.

As a number of folks have noted, neither he nor TNR have proved the veracity of his stories, which I still believe do not ring true. Here is what my friend Tom Lipscomb has written about the issue. I am especially struck by Tom’s point about where the burden of truth in this case lies. “It is TNR's responsibility to PROVE these assertions they 'rigorously fact-checked and edited,' not that of its critics to ‘disprove’ them.” That was the mistake that CBS made when the network ran its bogus story about President Bush and the Texas Air National Guard. Here is the whole thing:

Good for TNR... They let Pvt. Beauchamp out of the closet.

But as I posted above, the real problem is still an editorial one. What remains to be seen is how TNR's investigation of Beauchamp's questioned postings proceeds.

It would hardly be fair of TNR to try to divorce itself from any responsibility for Beauchamp's statements. It claims to have published them after his work was "rigorously edited and fact-checked."

Fortunately what TNR announced today is a good roadmap on how to run their accuracy down, albeit after the fact.

"Although the article was rigorously edited and fact-checked before it was published [very hard to see without comparing what he turned in and how many changes exist between the original copy submitted and what was published], we have decided to go back and, to the extent possible, re-report every detail. [The New York Times gets credit for this kind of expensive and time-consuming analysis of the Jayson Blair disaster. NB It would not have been necessary if the the NYT "rigorously fact-checked and edited" Blair the way TNR says they did Beauchamp.]"

"This process takes considerable time, as the primary subjects are on another continent, with intermittent access to phones and email. Thus far we've found nothing to disprove the facts in the article; we will release the full results of our search when it is completed."

Last sentence has the process upside down. It is TNR's responsibility to PROVE these assertions they 'rigorously fact-checked and edited,' not that of its critics to "disprove" them.

Military and former military personnel (including me) already have raised simple and serious procedural and operational military questions about 1) The mess tent incident, 2) the bizarre Bradley vehicle story and 3) non-existent "square 9mm" cartridges.

These have nothing to do with the poisoned politics of left blogs vs right blogs. And they are easy for Beauchamp to prove with cites and witnesses that can be interviewed.

This has been common newsroom practice for reporters for a long time and I always expect to provide them to my editor when turning in a piece to back up my quotes and assertions. And BTW it doesn't take a "considerable time" to assemble them IF you already required them before publishing the piece. Let's start there.

Bob Tyrrell cited Tom Wolfe's recent remarks about Marshall McLuhan's predictions in his column today that are directly to the point I raised earlier:

"Forty years ago, he [McLuhan] said that modern communications technology would turn the young into tribal primitives who pay attention not to objective 'news' reports but only to what the drums say... ."

"Mr Wolfe continued... 'The universe of blogs is a universe of rumors, and the tribe likes it that way."

Let's hope that TNR and its tormentors can prove they hold to a higher standard than a competition of rumors.

Let the drums stop now, and an objective evaluation take place.

Thomas H. Lipscomb
Annenberg Center for the Digital Future (USC)
1360 York Avenue, Suite 3D
New York 10021

It also seems to be the case that Beauchamp is either married to or the fiancée of a writer at TNR, Elspeth Reeve, which might explain how he got the gig. How very Valerie Plame-ish.
It also seems to be the case that the individual at TNR who leaked the story about the relationship has been fired. Curioser and curioser.

Mollis' Gold Plated Computers

Marc Comtois

I was blissfully away on vacation for two weeks (where I was again reminded that most people don't really care about politics, btw) but was greeted by this politics-as-usual bit in today's ProJo Political Scene column:

To fill the long-vacant position of director of e-government and information technology in his office, Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis hired William Barbieri, the former Rhode Island Public Transit Authority employee accused of using his state computer to send an e-mail urging his fellow RIPTA employees to support Mollis during the lead-up to last fall’s election, Political Scene has learned.

Mollis announced most of his staff roster in December, before his inauguration. The $93,480-a-year information technology position remained open until Barbieri began work in April.

Last July, Mollis’ opponent in the Democratic primary, Guillaume de Ramel, alerted the media to Barbieri’s e-mail. A RIPTA spokeswoman said at the time that the agency was considering disciplining Barbieri for violating RIPTA’s written policy on computer use, which stated that the computers should be used for RIPTA business only.

Barbieri — a resident of North Providence, where Mollis was mayor before becoming secretary of state — was a database systems manager at RIPTA, where he had worked since 1977.

Last summer, Mollis called Barbieri “a very good friend” and said Barbieri had done volunteer work for his campaign including designing the campaign Web site.

The secretary of state issued this comment through a spokesman Friday: “Bill Barbieri’s professional background as a network administrator and a database systems manager is second to none. When our two top IT staffers left for the private sector, I turned to a man whose talent I have complete confidence in.”

Isn't this what they call "patronage"? Are the computers gold-plated? And if that's the going rate for government IT work, I wonder how anyone in the private sector can hold on to them!

"Viewed from Iraq...the political debate in Washington is surreal"

Carroll Andrew Morse

Brookings Institution scholars Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack have published a “read the whole thing” quality op-ed in today’s New York Times on the situation in Iraq. Pollack co-authored a Brookings institute paper titled “Waning Chances for Stability in Iraq” as recently as February, so this author combo cannot be considered cheerleaders for either the Bush administration or the war. This is from their opening paragraph…

The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration’s critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place.

Three items worth taking special note of in this article…

1. Much of the recent focus has been on America’s growing success in al-Anbar against al-Qaeda units because of co-operation from local Sunni Sheiks. O’Hanlon and Pollack, however, note that the popular tide is also beginning to turn against the Shi’ite militias that have been destabilizing Southern Iraq…

In war, sometimes it’s important to pick the right adversary, and in Iraq we seem to have done so. A major factor in the sudden change in American fortunes has been the outpouring of popular animus against Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups, as well as (to a lesser extent) against Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.
2. O’Hanlon and Pollack are yet another source who note the dramatic improvement in the work being done by American Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams...
Another surprise was how well the coalition’s new Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams are working. Wherever we found a fully staffed team, we also found local Iraqi leaders and businessmen cooperating with it to revive the local economy and build new political structures. Although much more needs to be done to create jobs, a new emphasis on microloans and small-scale projects was having some success where the previous aid programs often built white elephants.
…as well as the continuing excellence of American soldiers who step into the breech when PRTs cannot be fully staffed…
In some places where we have failed to provide the civilian manpower to fill out the reconstruction teams, the surge has still allowed the military to fashion its own advisory groups from battalion, brigade and division staffs. We talked to dozens of military officers who before the war had known little about governance or business but were now ably immersing themselves in projects to provide the average Iraqi with a decent life.
It’s now beyond obvious that a major mistake in planning for Iraq was not readying PRTs to deploy across the country the moment a region was secured.

3. The creation of professional Iraqi security forces that can defend their own country is the biggest bottleneck to a responsible withdrawal. Progress is being made, but there is still much work to be done…

All across the country, the dependability of Iraqi security forces over the long term remains a major question mark.

But for now, things look much better than before. American advisers told us that many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the force have been removed. The American high command assesses that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi Army battalion commanders in Baghdad are now reliable partners (at least for as long as American forces remain in Iraq).

In addition, far more Iraqi units are well integrated in terms of ethnicity and religion. The Iraqi Army’s highly effective Third Infantry Division started out as overwhelmingly Kurdish in 2005. Today, it is 45 percent Shiite, 28 percent Kurdish, and 27 percent Sunni Arab.

In the past, few Iraqi units could do more than provide a few “jundis” (soldiers) to put a thin Iraqi face on largely American operations. Today, in only a few sectors did we find American commanders complaining that their Iraqi formations were useless — something that was the rule, not the exception, on a previous trip to Iraq in late 2005.

Open Thread: Giuliani for President

Carroll Andrew Morse

There’s no point in pretending the problem is not there, so let’s have it out: Rudy Giuliani differs with much of the Republican base on social issues in general and on abortion in particular. Justin has detailed his thoughts on why this is problematic here.

I’ll expand the question. We’ve had a few Anchor Rising commenters go as far as to describe Rudy Giuliani as a Republican-in-Name-Only. Is this primarily because of his social issue stands, or do Giuliani critics have other parts of his record that they take exception with? And what do Giuliani's supporters think of the attempt to cast their candidate as a RINO?

Open Thread: Thompson for President

Carroll Andrew Morse

In a few recent RI political events that I have attended where the Presidential campaign has been discussed, I have yet to see an organized Fred Thompson showing. In light of this, my two questions are…

  1. Is there a Thompson organization forming in Rhode Island?
  2. Is the slow Thompson start in RI indicative of a larger trend, i.e. has the Thompson campaign already written off the northeast?

July 29, 2007

Lopping Off the Competition Camel's Nose

Justin Katz

Suppose you had a variety of tasks, none of them highly specialized, for which you wished to hire workers. Of the several people whom you interview, one declares that he can do everything himself, provided you sign a contract to that effect. Now, do you expect him to offer an hourly rate that is:

  1. Substantially less than,
  2. About the same as,
  3. Roughly double the market rate for each job individually?

I ask, because it looks as though, in its relationship with the local educational support personnel segment of the NEA, the Little Compton School Committee may have chosen C:

The two [non-union] summer painters, Stephanie Chapman, 21, of Warren, and Corey Leite, 18, of Tiverton started work July 2 and have since been painting parts of the school building, outside and inside. They are being paid $7.40 per hour for 30 hours weekly, working from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for seven weeks of work until August 18, for a combined total of $3,108.

The union has asked the labor board to order that the school cease and desist its employment of Ms. Chapman and Mr. Leite, and instead post and fill the positions with bargaining unit employees at the union pay scale rate of pay, $14.73 to $15.58 per hour (reported figures differ), which for the seven weeks would amount to between $6,186 and $6,543.

Jane Argentieri, who filed the complaint, is assistant executive director of the National Educational Association Rhode Island/National Education Association (NEARI/NEA), the parent organization for Little Compton Local #862 that represents the approximately 20 educational support personnel in the local school bargaining unit.

Ms. Argentieri said the two positions should have been posted first to members of the union, who would be hired on the basis of their seniority if any of them wanted the work. The work belongs to the union. Only if no one "inside" wanted the work could the positions go to "outsiders."

Inside, outside... "the work belongs to the union." With an eye toward charity, the union may conceivably be imparting a tough-love lesson to Stephanie, who just received a degree in psychology from Roger Williams, and Corey, who just acquired a trade school GED: Get out of the state now if you want to have a future. Don't take a quiet summer of symbolic school painting to figure out what steps to take at this critical juncture in your life. Leave. All the work is owned 'round here.

The message for the school committee is more of a warning. According to the fantastically named Sakonnet Times reporter Tom Killin Dalglish, the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement with the union says nothing at all about painters or painting. And although it does spell out a "grievance procedure" to resolve alleged violations of the contract, "for reasons not explained the grievance procedure was not utilized in this case." Surely the committee is capable of doing the math necessary to understand the "reasons" — and the message:

  • $6,186–6,543 to hire two workers who will keep the union happy, or
  • $3,108 to hire two young Rhode Islanders trying to get a jump on their adult lives, plus the services of the school's $135-an-hour lawyer

We own the work. How far yous want to take this?

From the Rhode Island taxpayer's point of view, the mystery is what benefit this sort of extortionary relationship provides to the school. Ours is not, however, a point of view that is commonly considered in these matters, and one gets the sense that politicians and administrators sold that soul long ago. The question that ought to concern union officials — before they go rendering our college-aged sons and daughters unemployed for the summer — is whether there's a threshold at which we'll come to claim the soulless body.

Would the GA Vote Out Its Scapegoat?

Justin Katz

Andrew suggested to Jim Hummel, on this morning's On the Record, that the Democrats in the General Assembly are, in some sense, biding their time until they manage to place another Democrat in the Governor's chair. I'm not so sure the Democrats are (or should be) desirous of such a visible monopoly on Rhode Island government, and the reason relates to something that Matt Jerzyk of RI Future said on the same show.

Jerzyk took the tack that "the buck ends with the governor" — as the executive — when it comes to government spending. Hummel went to commercial too quickly for Andrew to point out such considerations as the fact that it was the GA's budget that ultimately passed, and that it is the GA that creates and mandates various government programs, and that it is the GA that throws around lavish gifts such as a brandy new $71 million courthouse, and that it is the GA that passed — as an amendment to a budget that Carcieri proved unable to veto — a restriction on the governor's ability to, well, govern as an executive. And anybody who's paying attention (and who doesn't have a preordained partisan view) must admit that the story of the buck's actually ending with the legislature goes even further than that. Consider the last paragraph of today's Projo story about state government salaries (emphasis added):

One “department” is described as “other commissions and agencies.” It includes employees of the Coastal Resources Management Council, the public defender’s office and the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. The highest salary in the commissions and agencies category, $137,779.40, goes to Terrence N. Tehan, director of the state’s Atomic Energy Commission. The Atomic Energy Commission is the federal license holder for the nuclear reactor at URI’s Narragansett Bay Campus. The reactor is used for medical, environmental and physical science research.

As Alan Hassenfeld and Christine Lopes recently lamented :

ON THE LAST NIGHT of this year’s legislative session, 33 members of Rhode Island’s House of Representatives sent a clear and defiant message to state voters. The House moved to re-establish the Coastal Resources and Management Council (CRMC) exactly as it exists today, with four legislative members and four legislative appointees.

That appointment scheme flatly contradicts the separation-of-powers amendment approved by 78.3 percent of Rhode Island voters in 2004. The amendment clearly prohibits legislators from appointing themselves or others to state boards that carry out the laws they pass.

The fact that Rhode Islanders felt it necessary to insist on separation of powers leaves little doubt that our government is riddled with this sort of co-option of the governor's buck, as it were. Which leads me to believe that the General Assembly (aka the Democrats) might be wary of claiming the governor's seat as explicitly and undeniably as through an actual election. Whom would they use as their scapegoat?

July 28, 2007

A Bit of Light (But Creepy) Entertainment

Justin Katz

I don't often link to videogames around here, although they're in plentiful supply on the Internet, but I've come across one that might be worth some of your idle time (assuming you have some): DayMare Town. It's a puzzle, in essence, and the atmosphere is of a hand-drawn Poe sketch (perhaps best experienced at night).

The genre is "point-and-click," which means that you play the game by clicking things on the screen — sometimes obvious and sometimes requiring you to just move your mouse around until you happen over a hotspot — to do things, to collect items (which you can sometimes combine), to use the items, and so on. Keep an eye out, especially with the pencil sketch illustrations, because it isn't always obvious that a particular squiggle is something more than a squiggle.

If, like me, your idle time amounts to minutes rather than hours, you can find a walkthrough of the solution here. I will tell you this beforehand, though: the goals are to (1) find all the birds so that you can free a prisoner and (2) find and use all of the puzzle pieces to operate a machine that will enable you to escape the town (which somehow made me think of the Artful Dodger and Fagin at the end of the musical version of Oliver Twist). And don't be afraid to retrace your steps, because as you go along, things may appear where they weren't (although it might save you some time to know that the things that thus appear are more obvious than the average item).

Attorney General Activism

Justin Katz

Keep an eye out for my piece in the Providence Journal today, "Lynch: Rhode Island’s Activist General?," which addresses Attorney General Patrick Lynch's response to an op-ed by Joseph Cavanagh and Lincoln Oliphant, objecting to Lynch's finding that Rhode Island would recognize same-sex marriages from Massachusetts.

The heart of the matter is that those pushing same-sex marriage — believing that all opposition comes down to bigotry — behave as if the lack of a "strong public policy against homosexuals" proves that there is no public policy against same-sex marriage. That is incorrect, and it is particularly inaccurate when it comes to analyzing the law. This appears to be another example of liberals, progressives, or whathaveyous treating procedures and the law as if it may be bent whichever way will allow their policy preferences to be forced on their fellow citizens.

July 27, 2007

Rasmussen: Both Republican Frontrunners Trailing Senator Obama

Carroll Andrew Morse

Warning signs for Republicans and conservatives and their overlap, from the latest Rasmussen head-to-head poll (survey conducted July 23-24)…

  • Rudy Giuliani 41%
  • Barack Obama 47%
  • Fred Thompson 40%
  • Barack Obama 46%
However, according to Rasmussen's intra-party polling (result reported July 26), Hillary Clinton still has a sizable lead over Barack Obama amongst Democratic voters, aka the voters who vote in the primary…
  • Hillary Clinton 41%
  • Barack Obama 23%
  • John Edwards 15%
Questions are...
  1. At some point, will Senator Obama's apparently superior general election electability quotient start to give him a boost among Democratic primary voters (and make a prediction of mine which will be aired on Sunday possibly look bad).
  2. Will the Republican political class realize that Obama's lead over Giuiliani, even at this early stage, means that lightly-political, centrist voters no longer trust the Republican party to produce more experienced, more effective managers of government, and that the GOP needs an active strategy for earning the trust of the people back?

Anchor Rising on On the Record

Carroll Andrew Morse

Matt Jerzyk and I complete our tour of Rhode Island’s major TV networks this Sunday at 7:30 am with an appearance on WLNE-TV’s (ABC 6) On the Record with Jim Hummel hosted by none other than Jim Hummel.

July 26, 2007

One of the Ways Rhode Island Gets Ya

Justin Katz

Mark Patinkin's recent piece, "18 Things To See In R.I. Before You Die," highlights one of the ways in which a small place like Rhode Island can grab you: When people talk about places (or events) around the state, you're likely to have something to add to the conversation.

For example, the second thing on Patinkin's list is "the draggers at Point Judith." Not only do I recognize some of the boats that he mentions as among those that I once unloaded, but I actually devoted a chapter of my novel to describing the dockworker experience, which includes some mild griping about tourists looking at us as if we were an exhibit.

Further down the list, Patinkin mentions Gooseberry Beach on Ocean Drive in Newport. As it happens, from the vantage point of my current jobsite, I've observed telling differences between those who gather on Gooseberry and those who gather at its (private) neighbor, Hazard Beach. The Gooseberry crowd spreads out, while across the divide, the private-beach–goers huddle closely together, many under large umbrellas. Perhaps a future chapter in an as yet unwritten (and as yet unwritable) novel will make a symbol of that, plumbing the forces that push the latter into such a tight group.

I've found Rhode Island to be rife with natural settings on which an author may draw, and I think there's a corollary for non-writers. A sense of the place and a sense of being part of a place. Never underestimate the draw of shared experiences, or of places that make them likely.

Choosing Rhode Island’s GOP Presidential Delegates.

Carroll Andrew Morse

Two technical issues regarding the Rhode Island Presidential primary are being considered by the RI Republican State Central Committee tonight…

  1. Will Rhode Island apportion its delegates to the Republican Presidential Nomination Convention on a proportional basis, or on a winner-take all basis?
  2. Will the majority of delegates who represent a specific candidate be chosen before or after primary day?
Delegates could be appointed by the state party chair after the primary has occurred, or the names of the delegates who would represent a specific candidate could appear on the primary ballot and be formally chosen by the voters as part of the primary. The important difference is that under the direct-election system, everyone wanting to be a delegate has to declare who their candidate is by the time the ballots are printed.

Some members of the Rhode Island GOP would prefer the appointment system, but Rhode Island Republican Party Chairman Gio Cicione does not appear to be one of them. Here is an excerpt from his statement on the proposed changes…

There is before you a proposal to change our delegate selection process that was prepared at my request by an ad-hoc group including, Mia Caetano, David Talan, and John Clarke. Their proposal modifies or most recent rules in two key ways: First, it goes from a winner-take-all system to a proportional representation process, as is being considered in many other states. Second, it provides that all delegates are elected rather than allowing the chair to appoint the majority of the seats as was our recent practice…

I want to remind the State Central Committee that our Executive Committee reviewed the proposed amendment and voted July 12th in favor of it and that due weight should be accorded the actions of that committee and the ad-hoc drafting committee.

That being said, as Chair it is not my intention to dictate the process for delegate selection upon the full State Central Committee. That is why I am asking the full State Central Committee to review the amendments, engage in a discussion and then move to a vote.

July 25, 2007

The Press' Predisposition to Believe the Worst about the Troops

Mac Owens

The New Republic has come under fire by bloggers for a series of recent articles purportedly written by an active duty soldier in Iraq. The picture he draws of US soldiers is not a pretty one. Many commentators, including a number of folks who are serving, or have served, in Iraq, believe the articles, written under the pseudonym of "Scott Thomas," are bogus. So do I.

Here's my take on the issue in today's National Review Online.

Re: On-the-Spot License Suspension

Justin Katz

On the spot... after a trial... whatever. I don't think a 5% reduction is worth taking the step of granting a police officer with a tube the power of judge, jury, and executioner.

If we're serious about curtailing drunk driving, let's not revoke licenses at all, or at least without multiple warnings (unless death or injury results). Instead, we should reregister drunk drivers' license plates so that they somehow convey the offense, perhaps with different colors or symbols related to the number of incidents — say, one red bottle for each. We could even go so far as to give police officers more discretion in pulling over drivers based on these plates.

I've heard that Ohio did something like that, once, but that it was abandoned after too many important people were seen driving around with their shiny new tags. That's an outcome that would simply have to be resisted, but it does offer a different context for considering the on-the-spot revocation: I wonder whether the suddenness of the penalty, all within one traffic stop, mightn't give police officers (who are human, after all) incentive not to test or to pull over "important people" in the first place.

People Hearing Without Listening

Justin Katz

Contra the dogged rhetoric of the president's domestic nemeses, the Big Lie of the war in Iraq has been the insistent obliviousness to the arguments on which the war was founded. The case for the war consisted of three mutually supportive notions, and all have largely been borne out — with the complications attendant to any war-related endeavor:

  • WMDs:
    • Saddam had had and used WMDs in the past, he had a proven desire to possess them in greater potency and quantity, and he was defying weapons inspectors. In a post-9/11 world, we simply could not allow Iraq to achieve a substantial WMD capability.
    • After the initial rush to Baghdad, we found scrupulously destroyed document libraries, and we suspect that some materials were moved out of the country. Most importantly, however, we learned that Saddam had left his WMD machine primed and ready to move forward at full speed once sanctions ended — and let's not forget that (in part because of oil-for-food bribes) the sanction regimen was coming under increasing international pressure. The long and short of it is that Saddam would have had biological and chemical WMD stockpiles within months of the end of sanctions and nuclear capabilities perhaps within a few years.
  • Terrorist links:
    • Saddam was more than likely working with terrorists in some capacity, he certainly felt them to be allies in his war against us, and we could not risk his using them to attack us anonymously.
    • Because of deliberate obfuscation on the part of anti-war leaders and their media sympathizers (and the inexplicable passivity of the Bush administration), many people appear to have an incorrect understanding of what meaning of "no links" has actually not been disproven. Hussein harbored terrorists; he trained them. He had links to various organizations, particularly among those that focus on attacking Israel, but also with al Qaeda. There are, however, no proven links between Saddam and the 9/11 attack (although I, for one, suspect that there were such links).
  • Liberation and the establishment of democracy:
    • Apart from the moral call to help a nation of people to escape from tyranny, freeing the Iraqi people and establishing a relatively free country in the heart of the Middle East would likely win us a valuably positioned ally and would hopefully begin a conflagration of freedom that would sweep through one of the world's most oppressed regions.
    • Iraqis welcomed us, and the great majority are going about building their lives as free people. The process of establishing a stable democracy is a long and difficult one, but signs are positive that some version is possible in Iraq. As for the conflagration of freedom, I'd suggest that there's a reason that Iran has been increasingly hostile against the West, as well as against its own people. Revolution requires time to simmer.

On-the-Spot License Suspension

Carroll Andrew Morse

Utilitarian or libertarian? Choose your side, with respect to this Bruce Landis article in today’s Projo

In 41 states, if you drink, drive and fail the breath test, your license is suspended on the spot.

And that, a national study released yesterday said, is the way to cut drunken-driving deaths: quick punishment, it said, brings a significant, measurable reduction in the death rate.

In Rhode Island, one of the nine states without such a law, it can take weeks or months to suspend the license of a drunken driver…

The study found that the pre-conviction suspension laws reduced alcohol-related fatal accidents by 5 percent, which they estimate would have saved at least 800 lives per year in the United States.

The study’s central point is that immediate punishment is essential to effectiveness.

Note: All “driving is a privilege” based arguments will immediately be ridiculed. The government doesn’t have the power to create "privileges" that it can choose to bestow upon some citizens, but not others.

Fatherland, Socialism, or …er …uh …Something Better, Maybe?

Carroll Andrew Morse

A number of blogs have made note of the Pew Research Center global opinion study showing that the number of people who believe that suicide bombings are justified is dropping across the Muslim world.

Here’s another stat from the same study. The number of people in Venezuela who believe that “most people are better off in a free market economy, even though some people are rich and some people are poor” stands at 72% -- higher than any other Latin American country listed! That’s a very noteworthy stat in a country whose President’s motto is “Fatherland, Socialism, or Death”.

There’s nothing like living under actual socialism to drive up support for capitalism.

A Chip in Our Shoulders

Justin Katz

It probably won't be HIV that brings the push for microchip injection in the West, but then again, it probably won't be "right wing" homeland security initiatives, either:

Lawmakers in Indonesia's Papua are mulling the selective use of chip implants in HIV carriers to monitor their behaviour in a bid to keep them from infecting others, a doctor said Tuesday.

John Manangsang, a doctor who is helping to prepare a new healthcare regulation bill for Papua's provincial parliament, said that unusual measures were needed to combat the virus.

"We in the government in Papua have to think hard on ways to provide protection to people from the spread of the disease," Manangsang told AFP.

"Some of the infected people experience a change of behaviour and can turn more aggressive and would not think twice of infecting others," he alleged, saying lawmakers were considering various sanctions for these people.

July 24, 2007

A China Shop in Need of a Bull

Justin Katz

Katherine Gregg's piece in the Providence Journal about state contract employees has a bit too much of the editorial page aroma.

Her opening line, a construct intended to tell the reader how to feel about the information being conveyed, is in keeping with the execution of her "gotchas." The employee list appears "in the blink of an eye," in contrast to Governor Carcieri's previous statement that (in Gregg's paraphrase) the contractors' "numbers" would be "almost impossible to determine," yet Gregg goes on to admit that they "do not include dozens more." Apparently, the list wasn't as easily produced as she implies. Subsequent highlights of the administration's lack of information serve as further evidence that the compilation is partial. Similarly, astute readers are left wondering what State Budget Officer Rosemary Booth Gallogly meant when she called the list "a snapshot" — or even whether that's the word she used — and why Gregg put one contractor's name in quotation marks.

Gregg also doesn't provide readers the aid of any comparisons. She doesn't juxtapose contract workers' cost with public union workers' cost. She doesn't cite any industry averages from the private sector. As if the typical Rhode Islander will have some basis to know whether contract rates in the mid-to-high $100,000s are reasonable for IT personnel of some unspecified description.

All of the above notwithstanding, it must be said that Governor Carcieri really ought to be out in front with these numbers — waving them around and explaining which are reasonable and which are not. Rhode Islanders know that corruption predates and supersedes Carcieri's current position, but he isn't quick enough with the facts or, perhaps more important, with the public service messages that put those facts in economic and political context.

Rhode Island is a China shop in screaming need of a bull. When it gets a genial, bespectacled gent instead, the picadors sit a bit more lightly in their saddles, but jab just as hard.

Steve Laffey’s Thoughts on What a Rhode Island Governor Needs to Do

Carroll Andrew Morse

Officially, he hasn't yet declared if he's running for Governor in 2010. However, according to Projo columnist Edward Achorn, former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey has some specific ideas about the role that the leader of the executive branch should play in reforming Rhode Island…

Mr. Laffey argues [that] public-employee unions have to be brought around to face the real world. They will do so, if they think they are being treated fairly by someone who does his homework, and won’t back down. The state government must become much more efficient, and much more oriented toward serving the common good. Business leaders would flock to this beautiful state if taxes were competitive, government was honest and public services were strong.

Rhode Island is small enough that its citizens could rally behind change. But change will not happen, Laffey said, without a leader who wants to shake everything up, knows how to run complex organizations and fix financial problems, and does not care how much he is hated by interest groups as a result. His political heroes are Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan — stubborn chief executives who knew what they wanted and did not hesitate to tread heavily on toes.

And Mayor Laffey is not reticent about offering his thoughts on how well he thinks the current executive is doing or not doing in these areas…
Mr. Laffey contends that [Governor Donald Carcieri] lost the moral authority to speak out against the crisis when he submitted a budget this year that promised massive future deficits and used one-time gimmicks to plug gaps. The governor also inexplicably kept telling Rhode Islanders that the state was headed in the right direction.

“There is not a crisis mindset in the state because the guy at the top says things are going good,” Mr. Laffey said. “Things are not going good…We are not a place where anyone would consider right now starting and growing a business”.

From a political perspective, something worth watching for over the next year or so will be whether publicly telegraphing a split with Governor Carcieri encourages someone from the other wing of Rhode Island’s divided Republican party to jump sooner into the Governor’s race than they otherwise might. (Mayor Scott Avedisian of Warwick is the other possible Republican gubernatorial often mentioned).

On the other hand, Mayor Laffey (did I mention “if he decides to run”?) may be betting that the disaffected Chafee-wing of the party won’t offer enthusiastic support to him under any circumstances, so there’s nothing to be lost by moving directly to the positions he wants to take, as early as possible.

The Wisconsin Universal Coverage Plan

Carroll Andrew Morse

Today’s OpinionJournal has an editorial describing a universal health care plan proposed for Wisconsin. To borrow a phrase from Ian Donnis, the budget numbers are eye-popping…

Democrats who run the Wisconsin Senate have dropped the Washington pretense of incremental health-care reform and moved directly to passing a plan to insure every resident under the age of 65 in the state. And, wow, is "free" health care expensive. The plan would cost an estimated $15.2 billion, or $3 billion more than the state currently collects in all income, sales and corporate income taxes. It represents an average of $510 a month in higher taxes for every Wisconsin worker.

Employees and businesses would pay for the plan by sharing the cost of a new 14.5% employment tax on wages. Wisconsin businesses would have to compete with out-of-state businesses and foreign rivals while shouldering a 29.8% combined federal-state payroll tax, nearly double the 15.3% payroll tax paid by non-Wisconsin firms for Social Security and Medicare combined.

Pro-rating the total dollars spent by population (5.5 million in Wisconsin, versus about 1 million in Rhode Island), the cost of a similar plan for Rhode Island would carry an estimated price tag of about 2.7 billion dollars, or about 80% of existing general revenues.

Basically we’re talking about making state governments into giant health insurance companies and making all other state government functions into side-operations of the super-insurers.

Wisconsin officials realize that many people aren’t going to be satisfied with their state-controlled coverage (especially if it’s run with the same competence that states have applied to say, public pension funds), so they’re moving immediately to block alternatives…

The plan is also openly hostile to market incentives that contain costs. Private companies are making modest progress in sweating out health-care inflation by making patients more cost-conscious through increased copayments, health savings accounts, and incentives for wellness. The Wisconsin program moves in the opposite direction: It reduces out-of-pocket copayments, bars money-saving HSA plans, and increases the number of mandated medical services covered under the plan.

So where will savings come from? Where they always do in any government plan: Rationing via price controls and, as costs rise, waiting periods and coverage restrictions.

Wisconsin officials are conceding that that their plan will force many people to pay high prices for coverage that doesn’t make sense for them and therefore are denying access to plans that would give people better ability to tailor coverage to their individual needs. It’s a perfect example of the standard excess of big-government: If you don’t have the imagination or skill or desire to build a better mousetrap, then make building new styles of mousetrap illegal!

Governor’s Personnel Plan Beginning to Take Shape?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Those wondering about the status of Governor Donald Carcieri’s announced plans (or if there are any plans at all) for a major layoff of state employees may be interested in this paragraph from Katherine Gregg’s latest Projo report about personnel costs being paid to state contractors…

Governor Carcieri is headed today to the Alton Jones campus of the University of Rhode Island for a private “retreat” with his department directors on the potential for cutting 1,000 state jobs. Republican Carcieri wielded the threat after the Democrat-controlled legislature attempted to trim spending in other ways he did not approve, including halting a promised capital-gains tax cut and freezing aid to education.

Jim Baron on Ryan Bilodeau

Carroll Andrew Morse

Sure, national recognition is nice, but yesterday, College Republican Federation of Rhode Island President Ryan Bilodeau received the kind of recognition that proves he’s a real up-an-comer -- he was covered by Jim Baron in the Woonsocket Call

It's not hard to think that someone with [his] kind of knack for drawing media attention while selling an idea like opposition to affirmative action and other race-based preferences, just might have a future in politics.

Might he run for office on his own someday? "I've thought about it. I am interested in solving problems in whatever role I can. If that means entering the political arena as a candidate, then I will. If I find my time, my resources, my energy are better used behind the scenes, then I'll do that. I think that we all have a role to play in this life, based on the talents we are given."

That is a perfectly good politician's non-answer to a reporter's question. But Bilodeau can't resist taking it a step further, perhaps showing more of his hand than originally intended.

"When the General Assembly is doing their budget at 11:30 p.m.," he says. "and (Democratic Cranston Rep. Charlene Lima's privatization bill gets slipped in at the last minute and all these common sense bills by Reps. (John) Laughlin and (Joseph) Trillo are putting out there are denied because they have an R (for Republican) after their name and because the people voting against them are beholden to the special interests like the unions, that can anger me enough to want to be a voice on the floor, sitting at the table."

July 23, 2007

Not Requiring Cultural Deflation

Justin Katz

I just wanted to take a moment to thank Governor Carcieri for this:

Gov. Don Carcieri has vetoed a bill requiring health insurers to cover infertility treatments for unmarried people, saying they shouldn't be forced to subsidize out-of-wedlock births.

The Republican governor, who opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions, warned that eliminating the marriage restriction would also drive up health care costs.

''As a matter of public policy, the state should be encouraging the birth of children to two-parent families, not the reverse,'' he said in a written statement Thursday announcing his Wednesday veto.

We've gone far enough. It's one thing to allow people to seek such treatments even if they aren't married. I would argue that doing so would be an immoral act on several levels, but that's a case that has to be made to individuals as well as to society as a whole. But requiring insurance companies to cover such treatments — beyond the additional costs and disincentive for insurers to operate in Rhode Island — would push us one, possibly decisive, step farther down the self-destructive path of rejecting the traditional family.


As a government matter, I feel as if I've come across just one more way in which Rhode Island allows itself to be governed via prestidigitation. Note the following from the above-linked story:

Two weeks ago, Carcieri permitted another bill to become law without his signature that required insurers to increase the age cap on eligible women to 42 from 40. It also required insurers to pay for infertility treatments after a couple fails to conceive or carry a pregnancy after one year of trying, instead of two.

I did receive, at the time, the General Assembly's press release about that bill's passage in the legislature and didn't see anything sufficiently beyond my normal reservations to make a point of mentioning it. But close inspection reveals that, although the release cites H5251A (PDF) as "the House version," it fails to note the significant addition of the "regardless of marital status" clause. Moreover, there has been no press release for the second bill.

Call me paranoid, but that looks deliberately misleading — selling one bill to the public, while hoping to slip a similar (but objectionable) through in its wake. And for their role in the process, several Republican representatives (including my own) have made it that much clearer that they must be replaced before the party can move forward.

Report from Ramadi

Carroll Andrew Morse

Jim Haldeman forwards a recent e-mail from Colonel John Charlton, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, describing the current situation in Ramadi, Iraq

Colonel John Charlton: Security here in Ramadi continues to improve as the Iraqi police and army forces work daily to keep the population safe. When we arrived in February, we were averaging 30 – 35 attacks per day in our area of responsibility. Now our average is one attack per day or less. We had an entire week with no attacks in our area and have a total of over 65 days with no attacks. I attribute this success to our close relationship with the Iraqi security forces and the support those forces receive from the civilian population. The Iraqi police and army forces have uncovered hundreds of munitions caches and get intelligence tips from the local population every day.

Our biggest challenge with the Iraqi police is getting them fully equipped, paid, and consolidated in police stations. The support system that begins with the MOI [Ministry of the Interior], and extends through the provincial police chief, is still a work in progress. As a result, the Iraqi police still rely heavily on coalition logistics and support. We expect the equipment issue to improve soon, and we are working hard to get their logistics and command and control systems in place. One thing that is not lacking is the courage and the dedication of the Iraqi police in al Anbar. For them, this fight is personal. They know that al Qaeda is targeting them, their families and their tribes.

Some of our most recent successes have been in the areas of reconstruction and governance. The city government didn’t exist before April of this year, but has grown steadily over the past few months, and is now providing essential services to the population. In areas that were battlefields only a few months ago, city electrical employees are now repairing transformers and power lines. Sanitation workers are fixing sewer leaks caused by hundreds of buried IED’s [improvised explosive devices]. The Iraqis now have repaired the electrical grid in about 80 percent of the city and about 50 percent of the rubble has been removed. We expect to have all rubble removed in the next 90 – 120 days, which will allow for many parts of the city to start rebuilding

We now have our Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team (EPRT) and they are working hard to help build the municipal government in Ramadi. The EPRT is composed of personnel from the U.S. State Department, USAID, and other experts in various areas of government. We have partnered the EPRT with officials from the municipal government in much the same way that we partner Soldiers and Marines with Iraqi police. The EPRT works every day with the city government helping them with budgeting, planning, and delivering services to the public. The EPRT is a critical capability that we never had before, and I’m confident that it is going to make a big difference in building stability here in Ramadi.

We have been working closely with the chief judge of the province to rebuild the judicial system in Ramadi and throughout al Anbar province. Four months ago, there were no attorneys, judges, or investigators because of the threat from al Qaeda. Now that we have greatly increased security, these legal professionals are coming forward, and we are helping them reestablish the rule of law. Investigative judges are reviewing case files for prisoners in Iraqi jails. They have released many of these prisoners because of lack of evidence, but have also prepared over 100 files for prosecution. We established a detectives course in our police training center to help the Iraqi police do better investigations and evidence collection. We expect to have criminal courts beginning here in Ramadi in August—pretty good progress considering there was no rule of law here four months ago.

We are also making good progress on economic development by focusing on low-level economic stimulation. Once we had completed our large-scale offensive operations in February and March, we realized we needed to provide a massive and quick economic stimulus in order to stabilize the communities within the city. Because of the fighting in the city, the economy was in ruins, and it was clear that it would take some time to get businesses back in operation. We started day labor programs throughout the city to help clear trash and rubble, as well as provide an economic shot-in-the-arm to these devastated communities. These day-labor programs were all planned and executed by company commanders, and their effect was dramatic. We have funneled over $5 million in aid to these programs and have employed over 15,000 Iraqis. All this happened in about three months. This decentralized economic development program only used about 10 percent of my reconstruction funds, but has accounted for over 70 percent of new employment in Ramadi. These programs have cleaned neighborhoods, uncovered caches of munitions, and have restored hope and pride to the citizens of Ramadi.

We have joined efforts with organizations like the Iraqi/American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) to help revitalize small business in Ramadi. Company commanders went through every neighborhood and conducted assessments on all small businesses so we could help jump-start the small business grant program. We collected over 500 assessments, which helped the IACC begin its grant operations. This is the same technique we use with all non-military organizations—we use our presence in the city and access to the population to facilitate their operations. Revitalizing small businesses in Ramadi will lead to more stable communities, which helps us maintain overall security in the area.

We have a great relationship with another non-governmental organization called International Relief and Development (IRD). IRD focuses on programs for community stabilization just like we do, and it provides help in ways the military can’t. For example, IRD helped us fund a city-wide soccer league, providing equipment and uniforms to hundreds of young Iraqis. The organization has also helped us form women’s outreach groups that focus on adult literacy, health, and education issues. Forming relationships with NGOs like IRD is essential in a counterinsurgency campaign, and complements our efforts to improve security.

I’ve mentioned several times our focus on stabilizing communities, and I believe this is a fundamental aspect of a successful counterinsurgency campaign. Counterinsurgencies are fought neighborhood by neighborhood with the focus on protecting the population and improving conditions in the community. After clearing an area of terrorists (we do this by conducting large-scale offensive operations), our focus shifts to establishing a permanent security presence with coalition forces and ISF. That is the purpose of the Joint Security Station (JSS). The JSS helps secure and stabilize a community by proving an overt security presence, which establishes a perception of security in the minds of the population. Once they feel safe, they begin to provide intelligence to the police, and security improves steadily. This also helps insulate the community from terrorist attempts to move back into the neighborhood. We then shift our focus on non-lethal efforts to stabilize the community. This is done through day-labor programs, small business development, engagement with local sheikhs and Imams and information operations focused on the community.

Despite all the progress we have made with the Iraqis here in Ramadi, the area remains very dangerous. We recently received intelligence reports that terrorists were attempting to stage attacks from an area south of the city. We increased our offensive operations in that area and made contact with a large group of al Qaeda terrorists that were attempting to infiltrate into Ramadi. There were about 50 well-equipped and well-trained terrorists who were moving toward the city in two large trucks. They all had new equipment, weapons, and explosive belts. Their targets were the tribal leaders in Ramadi (we know this from propaganda videos taken off the terrorists). We attacked these terrorists using ground forces and attack helicopters, resulting in 40 enemy killed and three captured. If this force had made it into the city, it would have been a tremendous victory for al Qaeda. We successfully defeated their attack, but we know they will try again in the future. We continue to receive truck bomb attacks, but have been successful in keeping them out of the city and other populated areas. Al Qaeda has not given up on their desire to retake Ramadi and al Anbar, so we can’t let up in our efforts to stop them. The good news is that the people of al Anbar and Ramadi are united in their stand against al Qaeda.

Rock of the Marne!
John W. Charlton
COL, Infantry Commanding Camp
Ramadi, Iraq

A few quick follow-ups...

1. Since improving "logistics and command and control systems" seems to be the factor most under our control in helping to establish an effective Iraqi police force, I asked Colonel Haldeman what exactly that means given the context. Colonel Haldeman explained that logistics and command and control means, quite literally, giving Iraqi police commanders basic, reliable, and round-the-clock ability to communicate with their men in the field. He offered this example from his own tour in Fallujah…

We are talking the very, very basics of communication. The main police headquarters was blown up twice, had no computer, and no modes of communication. I was giving the Fallujah Chief of Police, General Salah, money out of my pocket to go to a store and get phone minutes for his cell phone. Citizens were calling me, (I gave out my cell phone number) then I would go through the wire at night, sneak over to Genral Salah's HQ and tell him what was going on in the city. Police recruits were coming from everywhere throughout Iraq to join the force. They were going through the school, graduating, and going to work in the same clothes that they had with them the first day they joined up. No weapons. The ministry of Interior in Baghdad wasn't set up yet to pay them, so the young policemen would stay for a few weeks, get frustrated about no pay and never come back. The turnover was brutal and exhausting for General Salah.
2. I also asked Colonel Haldeman about a specific point in the report that caught my eye. Many previous analyses of Iraq have cited too-slow establishment of effective Provincial Reconstruction Teams as a serious hinderance to the rebuilding effort. Given this, I asked Colonel Haldeman if he thought Colonel Charlton's praise for Ramadi's PRTs was significant
The lack EPRT's was the single most frustrating element of our trying to streamline events in Fallujah. And seeing that there are now PRTs should make your ears perk up very quickly as it did mine when I first read the article. First of all NGOs (Non Governement Officials) and state department reps were not coming over because it was just too dangerous. Period. We had 'ONE'!!!!!! Department of State rep who worked and operated in the al-Aanbar province. Disgusting.... But credit that one for having the cojones to be that one rep. His name is Kael Westin.

But there's the catch for all the ney sayers who think we are failing over there. They now have NGOs and DOS and EPRTs!!!!!. That tells you that it has become safe enough for non-military people to come to place like Fallujah and Ramadi. BINGO!!!!!

3. Finally, and maybe most importantly, from this report and others from Iraq, we see unmistakable evidence of the people of al-Anbar trying to build a stable society and a functioning government at the local level, regardless of the political follies at the national level. The worst thing we could do now would be to ignore this and declare that the regular people of Iraq don't matter because the national governing elite can’t get its act together. That would be a betrayal of both the Iraqi people and our own best traditions. It would also be hypocritical.

Rocco on the Radio

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rocco DiPippo will be discussing his experiences in Iraq on WPRO’s (630 AM) John DePetro Show, this morning, at 10:00 AM.

July 22, 2007

When the U.S. Looks Strong

Justin Katz

Some fruits of the surge:

The sewage-filled streets of Doura, a Sunni Arab enclave in south Baghdad, provide an ugly setting for what US commanders say is al-Qaeda's last stronghold in the city. The secretive group, however, appears to be losing its grip as a "surge" of US troops in the neighbourhood — part of the latest effort by President Bush to end the chaos in Iraq — has resulted in scores of fighters being killed, captured or forced to flee.

"Al-Qaeda's days are numbered and right now he is scrambling," said Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen Michael, who commands a battalion of 700 troops in Doura. ...

Progress with making contacts and gathering actionable information is slow because al-Qaeda has persuasive methods of keeping people quiet. This month it beheaded two men in the street and pinned a note on to their corpses giving warning that anyone who cooperated with US troops would meet the same fate.

The increased presence of US forces in Doura, however, is encouraging insiders to overcome their fear and divulge what they know. Convoys of US soldiers are working the rubble-strewn streets day and night, knocking on doors, speaking to locals and following up leads on possible insurgent hideouts.

Here's a thought: why don't we begin withdrawing our troops and post our time line for exit (read "retreat") on every street corner? No doubt that will encourage informants to come forward at an even greater rate. Best we keep declaring that the situation on the ground is "deteriorating."

The Hot Summer of the Hostage Non-Crisis

Justin Katz

Mark Steyn's comments on the Iran hostage non-crisis are, as always, worth reading:

How do you feel about the American hostages in Iran?

No, not the guys back in the Seventies, the ones being held right now.

What? You haven't heard about them?

Odd that, isn't it? But they're there. For example, for two months now, Haleh Esfandiari has been detained in Evin prison in Tehran. Esfandiari is a U.S. citizen and had traveled to Iran to visit her sick mother. She is the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, which is the kind of gig that would impress your fellow guests at a Washington dinner party. Unfortunately, the mullahs say it's an obvious cover for a Bush spy.

Among the other Zionist-neocon agents currently held in Iranian jails are an American journalist, an American sociologist for a George Soros-funded leftie group, and an American peace activist from Irvine, Ali Shakeri, whose capture became known shortly after the United States and Iran held their first direct talks since the original hostage crisis. ...

It would be nice to think the press has ignored these hostages out of concerns that they might inflame the situation. (To date, only National Review, Bill Bennett on his radio show and various doughty Internet wallahs have made any fuss.) Or maybe the media figure that showing American prisoners on TV will only drive Bush's ratings back up from the grave to the rude health of intensive care. Or maybe they just don't care about U.S. hostages, not compared to real news like Senate sleepovers to block unblocking a motion to vote for voting against a cloture motion on the best way to surrender in Iraq.

I can't help but wonder whether these hostages, should they be fortunate enough to survive in a more corporeal fashion than as online snuff videos, will prove to have been "mugged" (in the sense of that old line about liberals and conservatives). But whatever the state of their conversions upon return, it would be awfully nice if the American people were given the opportunity to pray — even to agitate — for that event.

July 21, 2007

In Opposition to the Opposition

Justin Katz

Having a respectful and patriotic opposition can be valuable during wartime as much as during peacetime, helping to ensure that ineffective policies are changed and that excesses are not allowed. Still, the constant signals of a willingness to abandon Iraq prematurely — which factions in the United States have been sending around the world for years now — have made victory more difficult, first, by undermining, rather than honing, wartime policies and, second, by giving our enemies a concrete goal that is much easier to achieve than military success and giving our allies a reason not to risk putting all of their wagons in our caravan.

As Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman wrote in rebuke to Hillary Clinton:

"Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia," Edelman wrote.

He added that "such talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks."

It is hardly fanciful to see increasing zeal for some sort of forced withdrawal plans beginning in the fall as being related to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's promise of a "hot summer." Perhaps one can give anti-war forces in the government the benefit of the doubt that they are only being cynical, rather than traitorous, in their posturing, as John Podhoretz writes:

Even more cynically, [Harry Reid] was able to stage the all-night session precisely because he knew Republicans wouldn't let the proposal come to a vote. The 120-day proposal isn't a serious effort to end the war: It's just a feel-good, symbolic gesture. Democrats don't have to take any responsibility for it because it will never get beyond the gesture stage.

Podhoretz's thought on responsibility is in some respects an answer Jeff Jacoby's observation that, "for all the clamor to quit Iraq, there is little serious discussion of just what quitting will mean." If political leaders don't believe that their feints will actually be permitted to make contact, they needn't worry about the results of "success" as they manipulate the nostalgic hysteria and romantic ignorance of what Jacoby terms "the surrender lobby":

If US troops leave prematurely, the Iraqi government is likely to collapse, which could trigger violence on a far deadlier scale than Iraq is experiencing now. Iran's malignant influence will intensify, and with it the likelihood of intensified Sunni-Shiite conflict, and even a nuclear arms race, across the Middle East. Anti-American terrorists and fanatics worldwide will be emboldened. Iraq would emerge, in Senator John McCain's words, "as a Wild West for terrorists, similar to Afghanistan before 9/11." Once again -- as in Vietnam, in Lebanon, in Somalia -- the United States would have proven the weaker horse, unwilling to see a fight through to the finish.

Yet none of this seems to trouble the surrender lobby, which either doesn't think about the consequences of abandoning Iraq, or is convinced a US departure will actually make things better. "If everyone knows we're leaving, it will put the fear of God into them," Voinovich declares. Sure it will. Nothing scares Al Qaeda like seeing Americans in retreat.

Three decades ago, similar arguments were made in support of abandoning Southeast Asia to the communists. To President Ford's warning in March 1975 that "the horror and the tragedy that we see on television" would only grow worse if the United States cut off aid to the beleaguered government in Cambodia, then-Representative Christopher Dodd of Connecticut retorted: "The greatest gift our country can give to the Cambodian people is peace, not guns. And the best way to accomplish that goal is by ending military aid now." So Washington ended military aid, and Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge, which proceeded to exterminate nearly 2 million Cambodians in one of the ghastliest genocides of modern times.

When it comes to blame, Podhoretz may prove incorrect if the Democrats have brought their jabs too perilously close to the precipice at which they will plummet, missiles with their own momentum. As the political theater riles its audience, in turn requiring ever greater histrionics on the part of the players, eventually, the violence will spill out into the streets, as it were. The buffoon who goads the mob into action cannot avoid responsibility, because he has no excuse for ignoring those horrific outcomes that are, at the very least, sufficiently plausible to merit consideration.

And as the blogger at Ace of Spades argues, those horrific outcomes will not be limited to a cleansing domestic genocide or two in Iraq:

Who wins in a genocide? Who wins in an all-against-all civil war?

Well, who, exactly, has been trying to push the country towards exactly that? Al Qaeda and the Sadrist jihadi militias, and their Iranian backers. Once the country descends into civil war, the entire population will be forced to support the only armies capable of protecting them. Which, absent the US military, is only Al Qaeda (and the Sunni insurgent groups which will be compelled by circumstances to rejoin with them) and the Iranian-backed Sadrist militias. ...

The likely winner in an Al Qaeda vs. Iran/Sadr battle will be both. Not Al Qaeda, not Iran and their toady Sadr. Both. Just like Hitler and Stalin could agree to take half of Poland each, Al Qaeda and Sadr will be more than willing to take over half of Iraq each. It gets them what they want -- power, and a base from which to attack America. There will be a few flare-ups as Sadr ethnically cleanses the Sunnis from Baghdad and other Shiite-controlled areas, but once that easily-achieved ethnic cleansing/genocide is over, the two joint rulers of Iraq can put aside their differences and focus on the real enemy -- America.

If the anti-war movement succeeds in forcing a premature withdrawal, America (and the rest of the West along with it) will certainly face bolder attacks by terrorists, as well as established national entities. Moreover, the United States will have no choice but to conduct future defensive wars in a more vicious fashion in order to convince the enemy of the day that we're serious. The bloodshed will be all around and compounding. Genocide in Iraq. Terrorism in the West. And ultimately, World War II–degree military actions in multiple directions.

As Charles Krauthammer explores in an NRO piece, however, the possibility of sectarian balance can be a component in a script of American victory, as well as defeat:

[Shiite lawmaker and close Maliki adviser Hassan al-Suneid's] coalition would not or could not disarm the militias. So [General] Petraeus has taken on the two extremes: (a) the Shiite militias and their Iranian Revolutionary Guard enablers, and (b) al Qaeda, with the help of local Sunnis.

For an interminable 18 months we waited for the 80 percent solution — for Maliki’s Shiite-Kurdish coalition to reach out to the Sunnis. The Petraeus-Crocker plan is the 20 percent solution: peel the Sunnis away from the insurgency by giving them the security and weaponry to fight the new common enemy — al Qaeda in Iraq.

Maliki & Co. are afraid we are arming Sunnis for the civil war to come. On the other hand, we might be creating a rough balance of forces that would act as a deterrent to all-out civil war and encourage a relatively peaceful accommodation.

In either case, that will be Iraq’s problem after we leave. For now, our problem is al Qaeda on the Sunni side and the extremist militias on the Shiite side. And we are making enough headway to worry people like Suneid. The Democrats might listen to him to understand how profoundly the situation is changing on the ground — and think twice before they pull the plug on this complicated, ruthless, hopeful "purely American vision."

Forcing and guiding the creation of such strategy shifts for victory is how political opposition ought to work. It may be, however, that too many Americans (let alone Westerners) are too infatuated with the promise of political and cultural victory against their own domestic enemies to tolerate, much less promote, innovative and persistent attempts to secure a victor's peace.

July 20, 2007

State of the Rhode Island Economy

Carroll Andrew Morse

RI Report has compiled the most recent information on the overall economic picture in Rhode Island, including an update on Governor Donald Carcieri’s much publicized campaign promise to create 20,000 new jobs…

Governor Carcieri declared victory on his pledge to add an additional 20,000 new jobs to the Rhode Island economy yesterday.

Citing the monthly jobs report released yesterday by the state Department of Labor & Training (DLT) Carcieri said that there is now a record-high level of jobs in the Ocean State.

The report from the DLT on the state's employment figures showed 499,100 jobs in Rhode Island last month -- a record number of jobs for the state. This figure represents 800 new jobs from the previous month, 3,200 new jobs since the beginning of the year, and 5,400 new jobs added in the past 12 months.

According to statistics compiled by the DLT, since more than 20,000 new jobs have been created in Rhode Island since Carcieri took office in January 2003.

…and a link to a Providence Business News article on URI Professor Leonard Lardaro’s latest economic forecast for the state Rhode Island…
The Ocean State’s health took a U-turn for the better in May, according to University of Rhode Island economist Leonard Lardaro. His Current Conditions Index registered 67 in May, a large increase from April’s 42 and well above the 33 reading in May 2006 (a reading of 50 is considered neutral)....

The unemployment rate in May fell to 4.8 percent when compared with May 2006, even as the labor force grew 0.2 percent - May's rate, however, was higher than April's 4.5-percent unemployment. Retail sales showed the highest level of activity since December, while consumer confidence rebounded from three months of declines....

If there were a cloud on the horizon, it was the fact that unemployment benefit exhaustions increased by 9.3 percent, indicating that there was significant long-term unemployment, while new claims for unemployment insurance, which measures layoffs, increase 3.9 percent.


According to Ian Donnis of the Providence Phoenix's Not for Nothin' Blog, Steve Laffey, possible Republican candidate for Governor in 2010, is also concerned about the long-term trends affecting Rhode Island's economy...

The high-profile former mayor predicted that Rhode Island will be in worse economic shape in 2009 than when he assumed the reins in Cranston. While the Carcieri administration touts new job-creation numbers, Laffey points to an outflow of RI residents and says the state economy is deeply troubled.

When I followed up on this remark, asking why the Republican governors who have mostly held office for the last 20 years haven't been able, even with the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, to implement a different economic program, Laffey agreed that responsibility has to go to the chief executive. He declined to assign a letter grade to Carcieri's performance, but said the governor introduced a "bad" budget that was made worse by legislative Democrats.

RI College Republicans Named Top Campus Activists in America

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island’s College Republicans are earning some national recognition for the efforts they've made over the past year or two…

College Republican Federation of Rhode Island Chairman Ryan Bilodeau was unanimously elected as one of eight members in the nation to the National Credentials Committee of the College Republican National Committee (CRNC) this past weekend in Arlington, Virginia at the organization’s 57th Annual National Convention.

“I am honored to have garnered the unanimous support for a committee entrusted with maintaining the integrity of the organization’s bi-annual elections,” remarked Chairman Ryan Bilodeau

The election victory comes just days after Chairman Ryan Bilodeau and Vice Chairman Dana Peloso were named to a list of the Top 15 Campus Conservative Activists in the United States by Young America’s Foundation. Young America’s Foundation, with tens of thousands of members on college campuses nationwide, is the leading, dynamic, and fresh face of the Young Conservative Movement and has been introducing young people to the conservative movement for more than 35 years.

The complete Young America’s Foundation list is available here.

July 19, 2007

Reporter Banned from a National Press Club/Council on American Islamic Relations Event

Carroll Andrew Morse

This report from Fox News seems worthy of a raised eyebrow or two…

The Council on American Islamic Relations held a symposium at the National Press Club in Washington Tuesday. The Washington Times reports CAIR National Board Chairman Parvez Ahmed characterized Bush administration policies as driven by fear, and is irrational and divisive.

All this occurred after CAIR had banned some media outlets who allegedly had given it unfavorable coverage. A reporter from the Washington Times was thrown out after the meeting began.

Is there more to this story that’s not being reported? Or do reporter ejections from National Press Club events occur frequently enough to make this a non-event?

Either way, banning reporters sure doesn’t seem to be consistent with the National Press Club’s stated mission

The Club shall provide people who gather and disseminate news a center for the advancement of their professional standards and skills, the promotion of free expression, mutual support and social fellowship.

Too Many Sperm Being Injected in Rhode Island

Carroll Andrew Morse

Anecdotal evidence of the unintended consequences of insurance mandates and bureaucratically-set healthcare pricing, courtesy of the Associated Press

Fertility clinics are overusing a laboratory technique and costing infertile couples and some insurers hundreds of extra dollars, a new study suggests.

At issue is a procedure that injects a single sperm into an egg. The method is considered the best option for couples in which the man has defective sperm or extremely low sperm counts.

But many clinics are using it for other infertile couples, even though it often doesn’t work as well as the standard lab dish method, according to a study in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine.

Sperm injection adds about $1,500 to the $12,400 average cost of an in vitro fertilization treatment cycle, the authors said.

“This paper is particularly troubling because we’ve got a major shift in practice that isn’t evidence driven. The paper suggests it may be driven by money,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics and a contributing writer for MSNBC.com's Breaking Bioethics column....

The research team reviewed a decade of results that hundreds of fertility clinics reported to the federal government. In 2004, about 58 percent of treatment attempts included sperm injection — up from 11 percent in 1995.

But the proportion of couples who have trouble conceiving because of the man’s sperm has stayed constant, at around 34 percent. This suggests that the sperm-injection technique is being urged on many couples who do not need it and might be better off with traditional lab dish, or in vitro, fertilization, Caplan said.

Sperm injection does not increase overall success rates for healthy births. The researchers found that among infertility treatment attempts with successful egg retrievals in 2004, about 31 percent of those involving sperm injection resulted in a live birth. The percentage was higher — 33 percent — for those that did not use the sperm injection....

They also noted that sperm-injection rates were higher in three states — Illinois, Massachusetts and Rhode Island — that mandate coverage of the technique than in states without such a requirement.

Now, I know there are some critics of the current healthcare system will say this is clearly a result of the evils of for-profit medicine, but that argument doesn't fly here.

Prices for medical procedures in America today are set by a mixture of private and public insurance bureaucracies. (And if you don't like the price specified by your insurer, too bad; you have little opportunity to go elsewhere, because of our employer-based healthcare system). Since insurance companies set the reimbursement rates, it’s doubtful that doctors can be blamed for conspiring to establish a bigger profit margin for the injection versus the lab dish procedure. And since the insurers don't provide the actual service, they can't be making more money by encouraging higher-priced treatments.

That leaves at least two explanations, in the absence of evidence of medical necessity, for the growing preference for injection treatments...

  1. There are different profit margins for the two procedures, resulting from the fact that bureaucratically established prices have not responded efficiently or rationally to the true costs of providing treatments, and some doctors are indeed getting greedy.
  2. Alternatively, note that the AP story states only that the price of the injection treatment is higher, not that the profit margin is higher. The increase in injections could also result from the fact that some patients figure the higher-cost treatment must be the better treatment, and since they're paying the same amount for either treatment (assuming the price of both treatments exceed their deductible), that's the treatment they choose.
Either way, what reason is there to believe that a situation like this will improve if health insurance becomes more stringently controlled by government bureaucracy?

Jon Scott for U.S. Senate? No Declaration Yet…

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island Republican Jon Scott responds to some speculation fueled by a (pretty sensible) essay at RI Report suggesting that he may run for U.S. Senate against Jack Reed next year…

“Because I have been inundated with calls from the press and from the public since the RI Report.com story speculating about my 2008 intentions, I thought that I should issue a statement.

The rumors that I will challenge Senator Reed in the upcoming election cycle are only rumors at this point. While I have listened to supporters who would like to see me go in that direction, I have also entertained those who would like to see me run for a General Assembly seat or a City Council seat in my hometown of Providence, as well. I appreciate the input and the support and will, ultimately, make my decision based upon what I feel best benefits the citizens of the Ocean State who are in desperate need of a vibrant two Party system…

Senator Reed is certainly a fixture in Rhode Island politics and enjoys high favorable numbers but no name is more entrenched than that of my 2006 opponent. We must get the working men and women of the state reinvested in the electoral process but reconnection can never happen with career politicians and special interest money in control. The rank and file wage earners in this state have lost their belief in the system because they do not feel as if they have a place in the system any more. If we are to reclaim our government, all of our citizens must have the opportunity to become Teddy Roosevelt’s “man in the arena”.


A well-placed source informs me that Jon Scott's other potential opponents would be Gordon Fox, if he chose to run for State Rep; Rhoda Perry, if he chose to run for State Senator or Kevin Jackson, if he chose to run for Providence City Council.

July 18, 2007

For Those Who Say There's No Good News Coming Out of Iraq

Justin Katz

On NBC10, Rocco provides some personal perspective on the good news that nobody's apparently been hearing. For example:

I spent some time in the Green Zone, and when I first got there, three or four times a day, my office would shake, the windows would rattle, and we'd look up at the black clouds from the car bombs, vest bombs. And when I left the Green Zone back in May, once every three or four days we'd hear something.

Toppling Old Men for a Single Word (It's a Bird! It's a Plane!)

Justin Katz

From a press statement put out by "Roger Williams University School of Law student organizers Matt Jerzyk, Majessire Smith and Kim Ahern" on the resolution of the Roger Williams University Papitto melodrama:

We are proud of every law school student and all of the faculty, alumni and donors who raised their voice against racism at our University. When a community comes together with one voice, they have the power to move mountains.

Yeah, move mountains... or devastate old men in the waning days of their distinguished service to the university. Pretty much the same thing. At least everybody got to parade around the classroom in hero costumes.

Senate Rejects Troop Withdrawal Amendment

Carroll Andrew Morse

I think the significance of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's latest attempt at high-visibility appeasement in the War on Terror is best summed up by a Dr. Seuss cartoon from 1942. Just replace the word “Nazi” with the word “Islamofascist”…

(Image from the University of California at San Diego’s Catalog of Political Cartoons by Dr. Seuss.)

Improving Power Dynamics by Flipping the Bird to the Birds

Carroll Andrew Morse

Apologies. I know we’re discussing some serious stuff in the posts below. But I just can’t resist using Justin’s most recent title as a hook to introduce this Boston Globe item about research being conducted at Brown University to improve aircraft design through the study of pregnant female bats

Since the Wright brothers took to the skies a century ago, aerospace engineers have studied bird flight as the baseline for designing aircraft.

But a special Pentagon research project underway in Providence could change that.

A team of engineers and biologists at Brown University has discovered that bats, the mysterious nocturnal mammals that are guided by sound and helped inspire Dracula and Batman, may hold the secret to more efficient flying machines.

The Air Force has taken notice of Brown's work. It will invest $6 million in the project over the next 5 years, in the hope of using the research to design future military aircraft.

Research so far has found that bats can carry up to 50 percent of their weight and execute airborne maneuvers that would make a bird or plane fall out of the sky. Moreover, scientists believe the hundreds of tiny sensors covering bat wings could be the key to their most impressive airborne maneuvers, a discovery that engineers could replicate with networks of sensors and computers on military aircraft.

If researchers can unlock the secrets of bat flight, it could have wide-reaching implications, according to Air Force and Brown officials. They say the project has the potential to revolutionize aircraft design and could lead to the creation of smaller, more efficient military air vehicles that can maneuver in tight spaces as well as gather intelligence and airlift supplies through forbidding terrain.

July 17, 2007

Flipping the Bird of Power Dynamics

Justin Katz

MRH recites a productive argument 14 comments into my previous post (emphasis his):

I understand that no one wants to be called a bigot, but it's really dancing right on the edge of offensive when a white guy claims that being accused of bigotry is like a black man being called a "nigger" by a white man. Here's one important consideration that might help to explicate why they're so different: think about the power dynamics involved. When a member of a privileged class insults a member of a disadvantaged class based solely on their membership in that class, it's not the same as a member of the privileged class being insulted because of their behavior.

One first must dispense with the additional consideration that Matt layers on the central one: In the context of the same-sex marriage debate, the distinction between discrimination based on group membership and based on behavior is precisely that which makes it invidious to categorize support for traditional marriage as inherently bigoted. Forming a lifelong sexual bond with somebody of the same sex is manifestly a different behavior than doing the same with somebody of the opposite sex. Biology and cultural and legal history both support that assertion. Therefore, declaring arguments against same-sex marriage to be inapplicable (because bigoted) to the formation of the laws that govern a citizenry is precisely discrimination against people based solely on their membership in a class — in this case, the class of those who believe it important that their government to continue to set opposite-sex marriages (that is "marriages") apart.

Now to Matt's central assertion, pared down to its substance:

When a member of a privileged class insults a member of a disadvantaged class, it's not the same as a member of the privileged class being insulted.

Let's trace advantages and power with respect to same-sex marriage in Massachusetts:

  • The state's elites — its judicial and other governmental elites, its media elites, i.e., folks who individually and collectively have more than the average amount of power — have inserted their worldview into the marriage laws of Massachusetts.
  • They have done so in the name of protecting people who are born (to my knowledge) with equal distribution across the society and who have higher than average levels of wealth and education.

It looks to me as if the "privileged class" is still the one doing the insulting. That, I propose, is the genius of identity politics: The heterosexual white (esp. Christian) male is by definition the "privileged class," so applying an assertion of bigotry, a group of disproportionately powerful people (largely white, too, as it happens), can diminish "his" ability to work through democratic processes for the society that he views as best and can isolate him from all of those folks between who either stand to gain privilege via their minority status or want nothing so much as to avoid being accused of harboring deep and irrational hatred that they, for the most part, do not feel.

Northeastern Casino Status Report

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Norwich Bulletin provides a quick guide to the current casino environment here in the northeastern U.S…

Visitors to Foxwoods Resort Casino played $169 million less in its slot machines during the last 12 months than they did the previous year.

Gamblers pumped $9.2 billion into slot machines at Foxwoods during the 2006-07 fiscal year, which ended June 30. It was the second year of declines for the casino and was $685 million below the casino's all-time high of $9.917 billion, which it hit in the 2001-02 fiscal year.

Gary Border, senior vice president of property marketing at Foxwoods, said part of the dip can be attributed to increased competition in the region from facilities in New York and Rhode Island….

Mohegan Sun ended the fiscal year up $166 million from 2005-06, with visitors having played $10.6 billion in its slot machines in the last 12 months….[Mitchell Etess, president and chief officer at Mohegan Sun,] said changes at other such gaming sites at Atlantic City, N.J., have affected visitor numbers, adding pressure on the market from the south…

Both Connecticut casinos will complete massive expansions within the next two years. Clyde Barrow, a University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth professor and gaming industry expert, said gambling traffic also dipped at Twin River in Lincoln, R.I., during its recent expansion but agreed the MGM Grand opening will bring visitors back to Foxwoods.

With both of the big Connecticut casinos expanding, plus the possibility of a new casino being built in southeastern Massachusetts, making any sort of plans that depend on increased gambling revenues to shore up state finances would be a very bad idea right now.

July 16, 2007

Surviving a Stroll Through the Dunes

Justin Katz

I'm thrilled to report that Rocco DiPippo is back on American soil. It would seem that his time in Iraq has done much to mellow his writing:

There is no longer any doubt about it--the Democratic Party is rushing to cause the defeat of the US in Iraq. And why not? Without the complete failure of the Bush Administration's Iraq policy, the Party of miserable quasi-Communists and race hustlers will not fare well in the 2008 elections.

The troop "surge" is taking hold, the security stabilization of Iraq is currently within sight and the Democratic Party-Mainstream Media consortium is beginning to panic. Press antiwar hysteria is peaking and the Democratic Party leadership is practically begging for withdrawal before it becomes too late to thwart the Bush Administration's successful stabilization of Iraq.

Look at it this way: Even with the rabidly anti-Bush media's ceaseless attacks on the President, its incessant reporting of negative events in Iraq and its non-reporting of positive events there, its endless, pre- election reporting on the Allen "macaca" incident, its trumping-up of the Foley sex-talk scandal, its downplaying of the misdeeds of corrupt Democrats like William Jefferson, the Democratic Party was only able to eke out a narrow victory in the 2006 congressional election.

Now that Party, including its Mainstream Media wing, has one desperate, dangerous and wholly immoral move left to attempt to finish off the Bush Administration and thrust a disturbed group of 1960's-styled Marxists, quasi-Marxists and radical leftists into power: browbeating the American public into complete despair over Iraq.

I think the Democrats have overplayed that desperate hand. Because they have, electoral disaster awaits them, as surely as genocide awaits Iraq should we abandon it now.

With any luck — or ingenuity and media wisdom — Rocco will have the opportunity to discuss these matters publicly with folks from the other side (a group that I'll leave loosely defined).

Eight Intense Minutes

Justin Katz

Buffalo versus lion versus crocodile. Umm. Would one describe the results as "a herd, not a pack"?

"Bigot" as the New N-Word

Justin Katz

Christians in Massachusetts, having been excluded from the governmental discussion about what marriage means in their state by the process whereby the definition was changed (and, I would add, having watched as Catholic adoption agencies closed their doors because the state would make no accommodation of their beliefs with respect to clientele) are concerned that they are being disenfranchised and that they will have no recourse should public schools begin indoctrinating their children against them, in keeping with Massachusetts law. Commenter MRH's response?

Oh, boo frickin' hoo.

I'm sure that even those who met my previous post with a shrug would admit that their response would be quite different if the book being read aloud to first graders weren't King and King, which ends with a guy on guy kiss, but rather a picture book called King and King of Kings, in which a young prince finds no mate to overwhelm his sense of vocation, with the last page showing him entering a Roman Catholic seminary. Surely it would be wrong of public schools to stigmatize children who might make such a decision, but I suspect that the froth would fly around a mouthed "indoctrination."

Be such hypotheticals as they may, I'm fascinated by the way in which the word "bigot" (or a broader accusation of bigotry) has come to function not unlike the N-word did back before the tide of civil rights cleared the land of all but meager remnants and impressions of racial detritus. Calling a person a "nigger" once marked him as beneath consideration. Unfit to participate in civil society; unfit to vote; unworthy of the free exchange of ideas. Now, we correctly realize that it is the person invoking the word for that purpose who deserves the burden of those "uns."

Unfortunately, general consensus about the proper targets of disapprobation has been transformed into a weapon wielded by limelighters to publicly stroke their own moral vanity and by activists to advance causes beyond the speed that honest, fair, democratic debate would enable. Use a word or phrase that can be spun as bigoted, and enemies will trip over themselves to grab newsprint and gainsay your lifetime of work and service. Hold to traditional beliefs bearing on social structure and development, and your disenfranchisement will be legitimized as a civil rights necessity and the air around your arguments will be poisoned with the acrid insinuation that all who give them a public moment's consideration will find the accusatory finger pointed at them.

The context and background for the two words could not be more different, obviously, yet how like the racists of old in their small-minded lack of empathy and hostile usage of language are those who behave as if they need only speak the word "bigot" in order to make it so.

Introducing the Ocean State Policy Research Institute

Carroll Andrew Morse

In an op-ed in today’s Projo, William Felkner introduces the Ocean State Policy Research Institute (OSPRI) and explains why such an organization is desperately needed here in Rhode Island…

Ironically, Rhode Island is stuck in a “conservative” cycle protecting the “liberal” status quo of excessive workplace rules, generous social programs, retentive regulation, entrenched unionism in state government and Horace Mann’s approach to education. Harking to the days of the Dorr War (1842) and the Bloodless Revolution (1935), our oligarchy is unwilling to risk the progress it has made by reassessing these circumstances lest the robber barons should rise from their graves.

A voice for a more independent perspective has been missing on the Rhode Island scene until this Independence Day heralded the founding of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute. This nonprofit foundation intends to promote free-market ideals not as partisan choices, but as foundational American aspirations no less worthy of consideration than socially collective compassion epitomized by the Great Society.

Rhode Island is replete with a collection of “special-interest groups” promoting government intervention as the solution. Such groups as the Poverty Institute, at Rhode Island College, Ocean State Action and other nonprofits and public institutions lobby for more government programs and spending. Paradoxically, your taxes fund part of this activity, effectively government lobbying itself in a spiral to budget insanity…Evidence from the solid accomplishments of free-market institutes in 46 other states suggests that Rhode Island should re-examine the prevailing ‘’wisdom” that expanding government is the way to solve problems.

July 15, 2007

Becoming the Bad Guy in Massachusetts

Justin Katz

Michael Pakaluk has a suggestion as to the effects on upstanding citizens when legal elites begin dictating their social views:

Suppose you are a decent family man, not unlike David Parker in Arlington, working hard at a job and trying to raise a family. You take it for granted, as something unquestioned, that only a man and a woman can get married. The alternative strikes you as ridiculous, not even up for debate. Perhaps you are religious and you base your views ultimately on the Bible or Church teaching, or perhaps you simply have good sense. As for homosexuality, you perhaps distinguish between the feelings and the actions; and you wouldn’t think it a good thing to engage in the latter, even if you had the desire to do so.

In the state of Massachusetts, something happened to such a person between 2003 and today. Four years ago he was a good family man and an upstanding citizen. His views were still reflected in the law and supported in the schools. Today, however, that same man is a bigot. The law is against him, and public schools on principle must teach that such a person is filled with hatred (a “homophobe”) and despicable. Indeed, the schools are obliged to teach his own children that he is a bigot. More than that, they’ll do so convinced that they are fulfilling their high moral duty. And any sign of resistance on his part will be interpreted by them as only more evidence of the man’s bigotry.

They’ll no more listen to him than the SJC, the governor, or the Legislature did before them.

They’ve left such a man little alternative but to vote with his feet.

There are, no doubt, some who would be satisfied to drive out we bad guys, but the satisfaction won't last. All levels of government will become instruments of cultural hegemony if the activists have their way.


I was remiss in not seeking out and linking to Pakaluk's previous column:

Parker and Wirthlin sued the Lexington Public Schools (LPS) because of a claimed infringement of their rights as parents.

When Wirthlin’s son, Joey, was in first grade, his teacher read aloud from a book called “King and King,” about a prince who is instructed by his mother to look for a princess to marry; but the prince is dissatisfied with all of the available princesses, and at last he “marries” another prince. The last page of the book shows the two men kissing.

Parker’s son, Jacob, brought home from kindergarten a “Diversity Book Bag,” which contained “Who’s In a Family?” a book that the School Library Journal describes in this way:

“Simple declarative statements move readers from one family configuration to the next, from single children to single parents to same-sex couples. Here and there animal families are juxtaposed with the human, presumably to show that certain situations are natural.”

The book’s professed aim is to teach that it is perfectly normal for same-sex couples to raise children.

The fathers of these children claim that LPS infringed their constitutional right to educate their child as they see fit. Since both men are Christians, they also claim that LPS infringed their right to free exercise of religion. They argue that current Massachusetts Law (Chapter 71: Section 32A) requires that, where practicable, parents be notified in advance of sex education discussions and be allowed to opt-out. Thus, they say, LPS should have notified them in advance about anything that promotes homosexuality or a homosexual lifestyle. ...

“It is reasonable for public educators to teach elementary school students about individuals with different sexual orientations and about various forms of families, including those with same-sex parents, in an effort to eradicate the effects of past discrimination, to reduce the risk of future discrimination and, in the process, to reaffirm our nation’s constitutional commitment to promoting mutual respect among members of our diverse society.”

Thus wrote District Court Judge Mark Wolf, in his summary dismissal of Wirthlin and Parker’s complaint. Wolf’s reasoning is impeccable, once one accepts the analogy between sexual orientation and skin color. But, again, that analogy has been built into Massachusetts fundamental law through the misguided and rogue opinion of the SJC.

The Democratic Party's Legacy of Racism--Part II

Mac Owens

Responding to my post on the Democratic Party’s legacy of racism, Bobby Oliveira wrote:

Up until the Voting Rights Act, which LBJ predicted "would lose the South
for years to come", you are exactly correct.

However, since that day, all those folks, foreshadowed by Strom Thurmond in
1948, have left and now hang out with the Republicans. In the South, the
religous right and the white supremacy crowd are very close friends.

I know this is a popular argument about why the formerly Democratic “solid South” became Republican. The only trouble is that it is wrong. The charge that Republican Party's "Southern strategy" was based primarily on race essentially slanders white Southerners--such as myself, who abandoned the Democratic Party of our ancestors--suggesting we are a bunch of crackers and red-necks, the sort of characters that inhabit such movies as Mississippi Burning. Yankees seem to have a selective memory when it comes to own race problems in the North.

But the appeal of the Republican Party to white Southerners in the late 60s and 70s had far less to do with race than with disgust about the Democratic Party's philosophy of government and its position on foreign affairs, especially Vietnam. Now I'm no Richard Nixon fan (I voted for Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and for the Libertarian candidate in 1972) but he did a good job of outlining the Southern strategy in a 1966 newspaper column. There he stated that the foundations of the Republican Party were states rights, human rights, small government and a strong national defense. The Republicans, he continued, would leave it to the "party of Maddox, Mahoney and Wallace to squeeze the last ounces of political juice out of the rotting fruit of racial injustice."

One source of the claim that the Republicans' Southern strategy was racist is the undeniable fact that Nixon and other Republicans criticized the civil-rights leaders who refused to condemn the riots that erupted in the wake of Martin Luther King's assassination. But it is hard to make the case that it is racist to distinguish between defending civil rights on the one hand and looting and burning on the other.

But the centerpiece of the Southern-strategy-was-racist slur is the claim that during the 1968 election, pro-segregationist supporters of Alabama governor George Wallace eventually supported Nixon. But the record shows that at the outset of '68 campaign, Nixon polled at 42 percent, Humphrey at 29 percent, and Wallace at 22 percent. On election day, Nixon and Humphrey were tied at 43 percent, with Wallace at 13 percent. The 9 percent of the national vote that defected from Wallace went to Humphrey and the Democratic Party.

OK, I've posted a lot over the past couple of days and I'm taking my sons to California tomorrow for a week to visit Disneyland, Sea World, and the San Diego Zoo. Until I return, discuss among yourselves.

Amanda, Please! And all that Jazz

Mac Owens

A couple of months ago, I started a series on the” pubs of Newport.” I intend to resume this series soon, but I want to expand on something I mentioned in my piece on the Atlantic Beach Club: Newport jazz and Amanda Carr. Here’s what I wrote in April:

During the non-summer months, the ABC offers quiet jazz on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons. Surprisingly—given Newport’s reputation as the site of the annual Jazz Festival—the ABC provides one of the few regular jazz venues in the area.

The quality of the music is uniformly excellent. The usual program consists of a trio plus a vocalist. It’s good stuff. The vocalists are mostly local and quite good, but my personal favorite is a true New England treasure: Amanda Carr from Boston (more about her in a later post). In any event, if one wants to spend an evening listening to good jazz over a couple of drinks in a setting where it is still possible to carry on a conversation, the ABC is the place to go.

The DJ is killing live music, but there are still excellent groups out there. In the Newport area, I would single out the Mac Chrupcala trio and Nancy Paolino. Mac is a regular at the ABC, usually performing on Friday nights, even during the summer. He and the members of his trio all have “day jobs” but jazz appears to be a labor of love for them. If you like jazz you will love this group.

Nancy is Mac’s wife. She is a terrific vocalist with great range. I’m no expert, but I love her stuff. Whenever she performs, I always ask her to do her version of the old Temptations song, “Just my Imagination.” There’s nothing like it.

Then there’s Amanda Carr, whom I described as a “true New England treasure.” What more can I say? She is supremely talented (and supremely gorgeous). Although she has her own unique—and exceptional—sound, she reminds me sometimes of a young Ella Fitzgerald and sometimes of Peggy Lee. Her CD, The Tender Trap is magnificent. She has a new one just coming out. Buy it. You'll become a believer. I am.

Her website is here

By all means, see this fabulous entertainer perform. You won’t be sorry. As for me, I’m thinking about becoming an Amanda groupie. I do adore her so.

The Democratic Party's Legacy of Racism

Mac Owens

In December 2002, I got myself into a heap of trouble by writing an op-ed for the Providence Journal arguing that, despite its current reputation as the party of racial progress, the real legacy of the Democratic Party was racism and slavery (“The Democratic Party’s Legacy of Racism”). The catalyst was the reaction of the press and many Democrats to the remarks of Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) during a birthday celebration for the late Strom Thurmond.

The Senate minority leader at the time, Tom Daschle said on CNN that "Republicans have to prove, not only to us, of course, but to the American people that they are as sensitive to this question of racism, this question of civil rights, this question of equal opportunity, as they say they are." Among high-profile Democrats, Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer offered similar comments.

I wrote:

It’s about time that Republicans quit pussy-footing around on the issue of race. They need to point out that in both principle and practice, the Republican Party has a far better record than the Democrats on race. Even more importantly, they need to stress that on the issues that most affect African-Americans today, the Democratic position represents racism of the most offensive sort—a patronizing racism that denigrates Blacks every bit as badly as the old racism of Jim Crow and segregation.

Republicans can begin by observing that their Party was founded on the basis of principles invoked by Abraham Lincoln. He himself recurred to the principles of the American Founding, specifically the Declaration of Independence, so we can say that the principles of the Republican Party are the principles of the nation. In essence these principles hold that the only purpose of government is to protect the equal natural rights of individual citizens. These rights inhere in individuals, not groups, and are antecedent to the creation of government. They are the rights invoked by the Declaration of Independence—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—not happiness, but the pursuit of happiness.

We should remember that the Republican Party was created in response to a crisis arising from the fact that American public opinion on the issue of slavery had drifted away from the principles of the Founding. While the Founders had tolerated slavery out of necessity, many Americans, especially within the Democratic Party, had come to accept the idea that slavery was a "positive good." While Thomas Jefferson, the founder of what evolved into the Democratic Party, had argued that slavery was bad not only for the slave but also for the slave owner, John C. Calhoun, had turned this principle on its head: slavery was good not only for the slave holder, but also for the slave.

Calhoun’s fundamental enterprise was to defend the institution of slavery. To do so, he first had to overturn the principles of the American Founding. He started with the Declaration of Independence, arguing that "[the proposition ’all men are created equal’] as now understood, has become the most false and dangerous of all political errors....We now begin to experience the danger of admitting so great an error to have a place in the declaration of independence." Thus Calhoun transformed the Democratic Party of Jefferson into the Party of Slavery.

The most liberal position among ante-bellum Democrats regarding slavery was that slavery was an issue that should be decided by popular vote. For example, Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s opponent in the 1858 Illinois senate race and the 1860 presidential campaign, advocated "popular sovereignty." He defended the right of the people in the territories to outlaw slavery, but also defended the right of Southerners to own slaves and transport them to the new territories.

The Democratic Party’s war against African-Americans continued after the Civil War (which many Democrats in fact opposed, often working actively to undercut the Union war effort). Democrats, both north and south fought the attempt to implement the equality for African-Americans gained at such a high cost. This opposition was often violent. Indeed, the Ku Klux Klan operated as the de facto terrorist arm of the national Democratic Party during Reconstruction.

Democrats defeated Reconstruction in the end and on its ruins created Jim Crow. Democratic liberalism did not extend to issue of race. Woodrow Wilson was the quintessential "liberal racist," a species of Democrat that later included the likes of William Fulbright of Arkansas, Sam Ervin of North Carolina, and Albert Gore, father of Al, of Tennessee.

In the 1920s, the Republican Party platform routinely called for anti-lynching legislation. The Democrats rejected such calls in their own platforms. When FDR forged the New Deal, he was able to pry Blacks away from their traditional attachment to the Party of Lincoln. But they remained in their dependent status, Democrats by virtue of political expediency, not principle….

Even the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which supposedly established the Democrats’ bona fides on race, was passed in spite of the Democrats rather than because of them. Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen pushed the bill through the Senate, despite the no-votes of 21 Democrats, including Gore Sr. and Robert Byrd, who remains a powerful force in the Senate today. In contrast, only four Republicans opposed the bill, mostly like Barry Goldwater on libertarian principles, not segregationist ones.

Indeed, the case of Sen. Byrd is instructive when it comes to the double standard applied to the two parties when it comes to race. Even those Democrats who have exploited the Lott affair acknowledge that he is no racist. Can the same be said about Sen. Byrd, who was a member of the KKK and who recently used the "n" word on national TV?

Recently at The Remedy, the blog of the Claremont Institute in California, my old friend Richard Reeb made a similar argument.

Democrats and the Black Voter

Hard and Soft Bigotry

The Democratic Party as an organized entity has been around at least since its first presidential nominating convention in 1832, when Andrew Jackson sought, and won, a second term. John Hawkins, a Town Hall columnist and a blogger at Conservative Grapevine and Right Wing News, finds little to support the notion that the Democrats have been good for black Americans, alternating between what I call hard despotism (slavery, segregation, lynching) and soft despotism (Great Society welfare and the disintegrating black family, failing schools and powerful teachers' unions, rising crime, illegal immigration, multiculturalism and abortion. This last has some dirty little secrets.). The thread connecting the old and new despotism is that blacks are treated by Democrats as incapable of exercising the full rights of American citizenship, either by holding them down by force or custom or by patronizing them as little children in need of perpetual government care. Why?

It needs to be said more that the period of Jacksonian Democracy, during which the franchise was extended to more and more citizens, was also the occasion for taking it away from blacks who had, in some cases, the right to vote in a few states, North and South, since the time of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. The Democratic Party soon became the party of slavery as a "positive good" in the South, and the party of "popular sovereigny" (or "don't care" whether slavery is voted up or down) in the North. Northern Copperheads and Southern secessionists did all they could to frustrate Negro emancipation during the Civil War. Following the war, that effort continued, culminating in the notorious bargain of 1876, according to which Republican Rutherford B. Hayes' election was acquiesed in (with three southern states and an elector in Oregon in dispute), meeting the demand of the Democrats that Union troops be removed in the states where they were still in occupation (interestingly, in Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina, where the electors were in dispute!). In other words, the end of Reconstruction was a political bargain that ended federal efforts, for all practical purposes, to enforce the constitutional rights of black citizens.

The 20th century Democratic bargain, the New Deal of the 1930s, was to provide big government assistance to the impoverished, including many blacks who abandoned their historic loyalty to the Republican party that emancipated them, while continuing racial segregation of and discrimination against blacks in our southern (and some border) states. The next wave of Democratic governance in the 1960s practically put blacks on what has rightly been called "the liberal plantation." Blacks are not only supposed to be eternally grateful but never to consider voting for a Republican or, more to the point, ever claiming that he or she rose in income, status, or prestige by his or her own efforts.

The Democratic Party has always appealed to the "democracy" as opposed to the "republic" which was the principled basis of the Federalist, the Whig and the Republican party. As my friend and colleague, Prof. Richard L. Williams of Glendale College has argued, Democrats are the party of appetite--of slave masters, Klansmen, lynchers, and racists in the past, now socialists, hate America firsters, the sexually liberated, abortionists and environmental extremists. However mixed its history, the Republican party heritage is one of constitutional government, free enterprise, patriotism even when it's not cool, well-governed families, and conservation, not worship, of natural resources.

A party that alternately oppresses and condescends to its supposed inferiors has difficulty following the Aristotelian principle of "ruling and being ruled in turn." Every moment the Republican party is in power is an opportunity for crying illegitimacy, and every moment of the Democratic party in power is an opportunity to make the nation over according to the desires of elite planners. The Democratic party has been a great party when it briefly transcended those limitations in the 1940s and 1960s, and the Republican has not when it felt compelled to kowtow to Democrats in me-too periods, most notably the 1970s. Political leaders of a legitimate political party treat their fellow citizens as equals, not as subjects to beaten down or nurse-maided.

In this day and age, why in the world do African-American voters maintain loyalty to a party with such a legacy of racism?

July 14, 2007

The Hadithah Prosecution Unravels

Mac Owens

In May of 2006, Time magazine reported that several Marines from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division had killed more than 20 Iraqi civilians in the town of Hadithah in al-Anbar Province, in retaliation for the death of one of their comrades by a roadside bomb in November 2005. Almost immediately, opponents of the war seized on the allegations to criticize the war in Iraq. Despite the fact that an investigation of the alleged incident was just getting under way, the Marines were convicted in the press, especially Time magazine and, of course, the New York Times.

Soon thereafter, Rep. John Murtha, (D-PA), a vociferous critic of the war, jumped on the bandwagon, claiming that the Marines in Hadithah had "killed innocent civilians in cold blood." This incident, said Murtha, "shows the tremendous pressure that these guys are under every day when they’re out in combat." Appearing Sunday on This Week on ABC, Murtha went farther, claiming that the shootings in Haditha had been covered up. "Who covered it up, why did they cover it up, why did they wait so long? We don’t know how far it goes. It goes right up the chain of command."

Shortly after the story broke, I wrote on this event in National Review Online, making the point that in Iraq, our opponents have chosen to deny us the ability to fight the sort of conventional war we would prefer and forced us to fight the one they want—an insurgency. Insurgents blend with the people making it hard to distinguish between combatant and noncombatant. A counterinsurgency always has to negotiate a fine line between too much and too little force. Indeed, it suits the insurgents’ goal when too much force is applied indiscriminately.

For insurgents, there is no more powerful propaganda tool than the claim that their adversaries are employing force in an indiscriminate manner. It is even better for the insurgents’ cause if they can credibly charge the forces of the counterinsurgency with the targeted killing of noncombatants. For many people even today, the entire Americans enterprise in Vietnam is discredited by the belief that the U.S. military committed atrocities and war crimes on a regular basis and as a matter of official policy [Thanks a lot, John Kerry]. But as Jim Webb has noted, stories of atrocious conduct, e.g. My Lai, "represented not the typical experience of the American soldier, but its ugly extreme."

Now it turns out that the officer who has presided over a hearing into the charges against one of the Marines allegedly involved in the Hadithah incident, Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, has recommended that the charges be dismissed and that there be no court martial.

During an Article 32 investigation—the military equivalent of a grand jury that determines whether a case should be referred to courts-martial--the the prosecution alleged that Sharratt and other members of his battalion carried out a revenge-motivated assault on Iraqi civilians that left 24 dead after a roadside bomb killed a fellow Marine nearby. Sharratt contended that the Iraqi men he confronted were insurgents and at least one was holding an AK-47 rifle when he fired at them.

As reported by breitbart.com.

The hearing officer, Lt. Col. Paul Ware, wrote in a report released by the defense Tuesday that those charges were based on unreliable witness accounts, insupportable forensic evidence and questionable legal theories. He also wrote that the case could have dangerous consequences on the battlefield, where soldiers might hesitate during critical moments when facing an enemy.

"The government version is unsupported by independent evidence," Ware wrote in the 18-page report. "To believe the government version of facts is to disregard clear and convincing evidence to the contrary."

"Whether this was a brave act of combat against the enemy or tragedy of misperception born out of conducting combat with an enemy that hides among innocents, Lance Corporal Sharratt's actions were in accord with the rules of engagement and use of force," Ware wrote.

He said further prosecution of Sharratt could set a "dangerous precedent that ... may encourage others to bear false witness against Marines as a tactic to erode public support of the Marine Corps and its mission in Iraq."

"Even more dangerous is the potential that a Marine may hesitate at the critical moment when facing the enemy," he said.

The final decision still lies with the commanding general of the First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), Lt. Gen. Jim Mattis, so Sharratt is not quite out of the woods. In addition, the case against the other Marines charged with murder might be stronger than the one against Sharratt—but I doubt it.

But the turn of events makes it clear that Murtha and the members of the press who are predisposed to believe such charges should be ashamed of themselves. Will they apologize if the charges are dropped? Don’t hold your breath. But at least the Hadithah Marines can be thankful that they didn’t play lacrosse.

The Iraq War

Mac Owens

My recent post excerpting a part of John McCain’s Senate speech on the consequences of withdrawing precipitously from Iraq elicited a number of thoughtful comments (in addition to a couple questioning the quality of my education. But as Tony Soprano would say, “whaddaya gonna do?”). The following comment to my earlier post raises what I believe to be the central questions in the debate about Iraq and the greater war against radical Islam:

I accept much of Mac's assessment, specifically that Iraq's neighbors will
become more involved if the US left, that a bloodbath might occur and that
al-Qaeda's aim is to create a caliphate, starting in Iraq.

But I question the civil war versus Jihadi "strategy of chaos" point. In a
Shiite majority country like Iraq, a US pullout will almost certainly mean
civil war and I don't know if a Sunni al-Qaeda type movement could succeed
in implementing its vision in Iraq given that there is a Shiite majority.
Also, there is an existing reluctance of many tribal Sunnis to support

So my question to Mac is: is it possible that a US withdrawal might lead
to the decimation of al-Qaeda in Iraq by the Shiite majority or at least a
civil war that occupies al-Qaeda fighters?

Withdrawing from Iraq will not "solve" any problems. The US is going to
have to deal with Islamofascism for decades to come.

But perhaps it would allow the US to focus its resources on defeating
al-Qaeda in environments more suitable to the American way of war
(symmetrical conflicts with overwhelming force) without allowing the enemy
to define the battlefield?

The assumption here is that the alleged civil war between Sunni and Shia is independent of al Qaeda’s “strategy of chaos” and that insurgencies can be handled “at a distance.”

Before his death, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), made clear his intention to spawn a civil war by attacking the Shia “apostates,’ who to a Sunni Salafist like Zarqawi are as deserving of death as Crusaders and Jews. But beginning in late 2004, the US effort against AQI in al Anbar Province kept Zarqawi off balance.

In late 2004 and continuing well into 2005, the Coalition conducted a campaign—a series of coordinated movements, battles and supporting operations designed to achieve strategic or operational objectives within a military theater—intended to deprive the insurgency of its base in the Sunni Triangle and its "ratlines"—the infiltration routes that run from the Syrian border into the heart of Iraq. The operational concept was "clear and hold."

There were two parts to the operational strategy. On the one hand, no force, conventional or guerrilla, can continue to fight if it is deprived of sanctuary and logistics support. Accordingly, the central goal of the U.S. strategy during this period was to destroy the ratlines following the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. On the other hand, the key to defeating an insurgency is to provide security to the population. The first element of the strategy met with success. But because of insufficient forces, the second part failed.

This campaign began in November 2004 with the takedown of Fallujah. Wresting Fallujah from the jihadis was critically important: Control of the town had given them the infrastructure—human and physical—necessary to maintain a high tempo of attacks against the Iraqi government and coalition forces, especially in Baghdad.

In and of itself, the loss of Fallujah didn’t cause the insurgency to collapse, but it did deprive the rebels of an indispensable sanctuary. Absent such a sanctuary, large terrorist networks cannot easily survive, being reduced to small, hunted bands.

With Fallujah captured, the Coalition continued a high tempo of offensive operations designed to destroy the insurgent infrastructure west and northwest of Fallujah, and so shut down those ratlines. Although successful in many respects, these operations seemed like the "whack-a-mole" arcade game: towns were cleared of insurgents but because of limited manpower, the towns were not held. Insurgents returned as soon as Coalition forces moved on.

But then the offensive stopped as training the Iraqis took center stage in the Coalition’s Iraq strategy. Of course, a well-trained Iraqi force is critical to ultimate success in Iraq. Indeed, as more Iraqi troops became available in 2005, they were able to hold some of the insurgent strongholds in Anbar Province. But this shift was accompanied by the consolidation of American forces in large "megabases" in an attempt to reduce the American "footprint" and move US troops to the "periphery" of the fight.

But the shift to a defensive posture enabled AQI to regain the initiative that had been wrested from them during the al Anbar offensive. One result of AQI’s regained initiative was the bombing of the Grand Mosque in Sammarah, which ignited the sectarian violence that swept Baghdad and environs until the surge began. Unfortunately, the disposition of American forces made it impossible for them to provide the necessary security to the Iraqi population as sectarian violence exploded in Baghdad and elsewhere. That has changed with the appointment of Gen. David Petraeus as “surge.” More US troops and improved Iraqi security forces have permitted the coalition to regain the initiative and “hold” areas that have been cleared.

One consequence of the new approach by Gen. Petraeus is that many of the Sunni insurgents, who used to target US troops, have become disgusted with AQI’s brutality and have allied with the Americans and the Iraqi government. The process began in al Anbar but has now spread to other areas. But this did not happen in a vacuum. The Sunni tribes in al Anbar didn’t band together and cooperate with the U.S. and Iraqi forces in the region to fight AQI because the sheiks were strong, but because AQI was strong. But now that the Americans are holding in addition to clearing, the Sunni sheiks in al Anbar and elsewhere have concluded that the Americans are the strongest “tribe.” The Sunni tribes have been and still are too weak to dislodge AQI on their own.

The key to stability in Iraq is security. This is why the current approach has the potential to work if Congress gives it time.

Which brings us to the second issue: trying to fight an insurgency at a distance. In his classic study of the Korean Conflict, "This Kind of War," T.R. Fehrenbach expressed the conventional wisdom on land power’s importance:

You can fly over a land forever; you may bomb it and wipe it clean of life… but if you desire to defend it; protect it; and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did… by putting your young men into the mud.

Of course, this view was called into question in 1991, after the U.S.-led coalition crushed Saddam Hussein’s forces in Desert Storm with what seemed a combination of air power and information technology. Influential observers argued that this proved that a "revolution in military affairs" was underway, with information technology diminishing the importance of land power. Some went so far as to suggest that traditional ground combat had become a thing of the past, that future U.S. military power would be based on precision strikes delivered by air or space assets, perhaps coordinated and directed by a handful of special operations soldiers.

When Donald Rumsfeld became secretary of defense in 2001, the Pentagon embraced a radical understanding of "transformation," aiming at an "information-age military force" that "will be less platform-centric and more network-centric." Unfortunately, as military historian Fred Kagan has observed, Rumsfeld’s understanding of transformation is vague and confused. It is based on false premises and lies at the heart of our problems in Iraq. Rumsfeld’s attitude toward land power illustrates this. Early on, the Secretary actually sought to go far beyond the Army’s plan and reduce the Army’s force structure from a mix of 10 heavy and light active-duty divisions to eight or fewer light divisions. He wanted to move all the Army’s heavy forces—armored and mechanized infantry—to the National Guard. As thinly stretched as our forces are today in Iraq and Afghanistan, imagine how things would be if the Army were 20 percent smaller and lacking in regular heavy forces.

Iraq has revealed several important things:

• Land power remains as crucially important as it was in Fehrenbach’s time. Indeed, for the kinds of war we’re most likely to face in the future, we need a larger Army. A key assumption behind today’s Army force structure is that, when any conventional war ends, U.S. forces will execute an "exit strategy." But Iraq and Afghanistan show otherwise: The United States requires a land force that can not only win conventional wars but also carry out stability operations afterward, engaging in complex, irregular warfare. Realistically, this requires the equivalent of at least two more combat divisions (plus support).

• The "revolution in military affairs" wasn’t as revolutionary as once believed. As Stephen Biddle of the Army War College has argued, today’s battlefield is not qualitatively different from those of the last century but merely far more lethal. To achieve objectives, a military force must reduce its exposure to long-range lethal fire via the use of coordinated fires and maneuver, cover and concealment. This system, which the U.S. military has mastered, damps the effect of technological change and insulates soldiers from the full lethality of their opponents’ weapons. It depends more on leadership, training, morale, and unit cohesion than on technology per se.

• The equation of "transformation" and "technology" in Rumsfeld’s Pentagon has harmed U.S. security. Military transformation has been shorn of its political and geostrategic context, reduced to nothing more than hitting the right military target independent of any political goal. This approach has some strengths; the U.S. military can identify crucial targets and destroy them with unprecedented accuracy and phenomenally low levels of collateral damage. But it has obscured the real challenge: to design military operations to achieve particular political objectives. After all, wars are not fought for their own purposes but to achieve a desired political outcomes. This blindness to the political objectives of war largely explains the amazing failure to take obvious postwar dangers and problems into account in the development of the Afghan and Iraq military campaigns.

Rumsfel's astrategic understanding of transformation reflected a "business" approach to military affairs. It stressed an economic concept of efficiency at the expense of military and political effectiveness. But war is far more than a mere targeting drill. As Iraq has demonstrated, military success in destroying the "target set" does not translate automatically into achieving the political goals for which the war was fought in the first place.

Accordingly, our strategy requires ground forces oriented not only toward winning wars but also to carrying out "constabulary" missions. Yet the Pentagon’s emphasis on buying high-tech weapons often under-funds the ground forces needed for such missions. Of course, some elements of military transformation will permit ground forces to do more with less, but the kind of war we’re fighting in Iraq today requires larger rather than smaller ground forces. If we’re unwilling to fight these kinds of war, our strategy will fail. But if we fight them without the necessary forces—especially land forces—it will fail as well.

July 13, 2007

More Background on the State of the State’s Pensions

Carroll Andrew Morse

Two more articles on pensions worth reading. The first is from Steve Peoples in the Projo

Pensions for teachers and state employees will cost Rhode Island taxpayers $397 million next year.

That’s an increase of roughly $50 million, or 14 percent, over this fiscal year. And it represents a significant and unexpected new burden for every city and town at a time when any additional state aid to local communities has all but dried up.

The cost of the state pension system, which covers more than 45,000 working and retired state employees and public school teachers, for the next fiscal year was set by the State Retirement Board this week. The numbers will be used as the state and municipalities craft budgets that will take effect July 1, 2008 — a process that has already begun…

The rising costs are largely because there isn’t enough money in the system to pay for the state’s pension obligations, something known as unfunded liability. The state is in the 7th year of a 30-year plan to pay off its unfunded liability, which has risen from $4.3 billion to $4.9 billion, according to the actuary’s report.

Officials say that the state’s unfunded liability is growing for two main reasons: most retirees are simply living longer; and the fund continues to suffer from the lingering effects of the poor stock market performance several years ago. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Also, Joe Mysak of Bloomberg News has picked up on the municipal pensions story…
Municipalities don't do a good job of putting money away for pensions. They also aren't good investors. That's another part of the puzzle, when it comes to public pensions. You have to save money, and you also have to invest it prudently. On page 21 of [the RI Auditor General's] 36-page report, there's a table comparing assumed rates of return to actual rates of return.

The 25 municipalities who run their own pension plans all thought they would make average returns of 7.85 percent. Between 2002 and 2006, they made an average of 4.7 percent.

The auditor general makes a number of suggestions, among them creating a pooled investment trust for locally administered pension plans, and doing away with local plans entirely.

We hear a lot about state pension funds, and almost nothing about the ones being run at the local level. That's going to change, because the real problems are in the cities, towns and counties.

According to the Rhode Island General Treasurer’s Office, the state employee retirement system had a 7.5% return on its investments over the 2002-2006 period. That’s quite a difference from the 4.7% return in the municipal systems.

Thinking about Iraq: McCain vs. RI's Senators

Mac Owens

I have my disagreements with John McCain regarding immigration and campaign finance, but when it comes to understanding the Iraq War, he—unlike our RI senators—is a real mensch. Here are some excerpts from his speech the other day.

Let us keep in the front of our minds the likely consequences of premature withdrawal from Iraq. Many of my colleagues would like to believe that, should any of the various amendments forcing a withdrawal become law, it would mark the end of this long effort. They are wrong. Should the Congress force a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, it would mark a new beginning, the start of a new, more dangerous, and more arduous effort to contain the forces unleashed by our disengagement.

No matter where my colleagues came down in 2003 about the centrality of Iraq to the war on terror, there can simply be no debate that our efforts in Iraq today are critical to the wider struggle against violent Islamic extremism. Already, the terrorists are emboldened, excited that America is talking not about winning in Iraq, but is rather debating when we should lose. Last week, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy chief, said that the United States is merely delaying our “inevitable” defeat in Iraq, and that ‘the Mujahideen of Islam in Iraq of the caliphate and jihad are advancing with steady steps towards victory.’

If we leave Iraq prematurely, jihadists around the world will interpret the withdrawal as their great victory against our great power. Their movement thrives in an atmosphere of perceived victory; we saw this in the surge of men and money flowing to al Qaeda following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. If they defeat the United States in Iraq, they will believe that anything is possible, that history is on their side, that they really can bring their terrible rule to lands the world over. Recall the plan laid out in a letter from Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, before his death. That plan is to take shape in four stages: establish a caliphate in Iraq, extend the “jihad wave” to the secular countries neighboring Iraq, clash with Israel — none of which shall commence until the completion of stage one: expel the Americans from Iraq. Mr. President, the terrorists are in this war to win it. The question is: Are we?
As my friend Brent Scowcroft has said recently, "The costs of staying are visible; the costs of getting out are almost never discussed. . . If we get out before Iraq is stable, the entire Middle East region might start to resemble Iraq today. Getting out is not a solution." Natan Sharansky has recently written, “A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces could lead to a bloodbath that would make the current carnage pale by comparison." Should we leave Iraq before there is a basic level of stability, we will invite further Iranian influence at a time when Iranian operatives are already moving weapons, training fighters, providing resources, and helping plan operations to kill American soldiers and damage our efforts to bring stability to Iraq. Iran will comfortably step into the power vacuum left by a U.S. withdrawal, and such an aggrandizement of fundamentalist power has great potential to spark greater Sunni-Shia conflict across the region.

Leaving prematurely would induce Iraq’s neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Egypt to Israel, Turkey and others, to feel their own security eroding, and may well induce them to act in ways that prompt wider instability. The potential for genocide, wider war, spiraling oil prices, and the perception of strategic American defeat is real, Mr. President, and no vote on this floor will change that. This fight is about Iraq but not about Iraq alone. It is greater than that and more important still, about whether America still has the political courage to fight for victory or whether we will settle for defeat, with all of the terrible things that accompany it. We cannot walk away gracefully from defeat in this war.

Unlike McCain, our senators cannot distinguish between a civil war and a jihadi “strategy of chaos” that targets the will of the American people. They live in a fantasy world in which we can fight an al Qaeda from a distance, much as President Clinton conducted military operations in Bosnia. But there is no immaculate form of warfare, especially when it comes to counterinsurgency. Sen. Whitehouse may have an excuse for advocating such nonsense, since he has no military experience, but Sen. Reed, a graduate of the US Military Academy, doesn’t. He apparently slept through his classes—both at West Point and while on active duty—on counterinsurgency.

The Wisdom of Bloggers: Doesn’t Balancing a Budget Mean Spending Only As Much as You Take In?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Coventry blogger Scott “I am the Duck” Duckworth appears in today's Nicole Wietrak Kent County Times story about last night’s Coventry financial town meeting…

The next issue on the table was the school budget, with resident Dennis Geoffroy making a motion to add $99,999 to the bottom line of $64.4 million.

Resident Scott Duckworth spoke in response to the motion and asked the school committee if the district’s budget had officially been balanced after the state announced its decision to level-fund education aid, which left Coventry $600,000 in the red.

"It is a balanced budget that we put together, which, as we all know now, is $600,000 short of what we requested," said School Committee Chairman Raymond E. Spear (R-Dist. 1).

"But if you don’t have the money for it, then it’s not a balanced budget," retorted Duckworth.

"Well, technically, no," answered Spear, "but we are aware of the place we’re at and we recognize that the budget is going to require cuts of up to a half a million dollars or more."

In the end, 105 residents voted to give the additional money to the school department compared with 144 who opposed the action.

Only technically?

The Popular Vote Thing

Justin Katz

The spreading of the popular vote notion from presidential politics to senatorial, here on Anchor Rising, has brought out the shadow of a key principle that is in danger of being forgotten in our coastal parochialism.

The U.S. Senate is constructed as it is partly to capitalize on the diversity of a (small-r) republican nation. The states aren't merely political units; they are somewhat independent cultures unto themselves.

In other words, for the Senate and the President both, folks from different regions will have different perspectives, not just different political and economic motives, and that true diversity is crucial to the strength and progress of the United States.

July 12, 2007

Welfare Queen Crack Ring Busted

Marc Comtois

Your tax dollars at work (double entendre intended).

The police say that Joanna “Rosa” Gonzalez, a 28-year-old mother of two in Wanskuck, was employing dozens of people including her mother, her sister, their boyfriends, and their children in a crack-cocaine enterprise that covered the city from the North End to the West Side.

The operation was run as efficiently as if Gonzalez had taken a page out of a business-management textbook — so lucrative, the police said, that she and several other welfare recipients working for her drove expensive luxury cars and made thousands of dollars. It was a family business, said Lt. Thomas Verdi, head of the Providence police narcotics unit, where even the young children were involved as lookouts and drug runners with drugs stashed in their backpacks for delivery.

But the business closed last week, when the police locked up 17 people, charging Gonzalez, her family and other alleged top managers under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act. The Providence police and Drug Enforcement Agency announced the outcome of “Operation Rosa” yesterday.

Gonzalez, who is 8½ months pregnant, is being held without bail at the Adult Correctional Institutions, along with her alleged drug supplier, “enforcer,” “banker,” “managers” and “distributors,” said Assistant Attorney General Bethany Macktaz. Her two children, ages 9 and 12, are now in the custody of the Department of Children, Youth and Families. “It’s just sickening,” Verdi said yesterday. “[Gonzalez] was pretty much grooming them to do what she does.”

The police searched five residences and four bank accounts, seizing $52,000 and a loaded .32-caliber pistol that was stolen.

They also seized vehicles worth a total of $300,000 that were owned by some of the drug operators claiming welfare checks, according to Providence Detective Sgt. Patrick McNulty.

That included Gonzalez, who had a Porsche, 2002 Kawasaki motorcycle and Nissan Maxima, McNulty said. Her alleged “banker,” Virgen Chadheen, 40, who the police said was on welfare, had a Cadillac Escalade. Her alleged “supplier,” John Delarosa, 33, whose wife receives state assistance, had a Mazda MPV and a Mercedes S550. And police said welfare recipient Henry Grullon, 36, an alleged business “associate” and boyfriend of Gonzalez’s sister, owned a Lincoln Navigator, BMW 745i, Suzuki and Honda motorcycles — and a rundown Dodge minivan.

If We Switch to a Popular Vote for President, Shouldn’t We Dump this Whole Senate Thing Too?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Question for fans of electing the President by popular vote: What do you think of Professor Larry Sabato’s proposal for “reforming” the Senate (via Joseph Knippenberg of the Ashbrook Center)…

Because each state, regardless of population, elects two of the 100 senators, just 17 percent of the nation’s population elects a majority of the Senate. Sabato would expand the Senate by giving the 10 most populous states two additional senators, the next 15 most populous states one new senator and the District of Columbia its first senator.
After all, if we are going to govern the country on the principle that big states rule and small states obey, shouldn’t we make that change uniform throughout the government?

Second Question for the same fans: If you really believe that popular vote for President is a top priority, why not implement it through the undeniably Constitutional strategy suggested by previous Anchor Rising commenter “Rammer”…

The potential to win the Electoral College, but lose the popular vote for President only exists because of the fixed number of seats in the Senate, which is Constitutionally mandated at two per State. Historically this sort of mismatch happens once every century or so, but if that is too often then there is no need for interstate compacts or Constitutional Amendments, by changing one law we could substantially reduce the possibility.

The simple fix is to increase the number of seats in the U.S. House from 435 to twice that number or more. Those seats would be apportioned by population and the weight of the Senate votes in the Electoral College would be reduced proportionally.

Not the Final Note on John McCain, but Close

Carroll Andrew Morse

As your local correspondents to the right-side of American politics, Anchor Rising should make a note of Senator John McCain’s rapidly fading Presidential candidacy (he’s doing poorly in fundraising, downsized his campaign, and has fired most of his senior campaign staff). However, for those of use who spend too much time watching politics, even before the succession of bad news, it had become pretty obvious that his campaign had become the equivalent of an NFL team going into week 17 that needed not only to win its last game, but also needed 2 or 3 other things to happen in order to make the playoffs.

In McCain’s case, the scenarios were…

McCain makes round 1 of the “playoffs” with…

  • Rapprochement with the base on immigration OR campaign finance reform, AND
  • One of the following…
    1. Fred Thompson doesn’t enter the race AND there’s a serious Rudy Giuliani gaffe OR
    2. Fred Thompson doesn’t enter the race AND there’s a serious Mitt Romney gaffe OR
    3. There are serious gaffes by Rudy Giuliani AND Mitt Romney
McCain neither helped himself enough, nor got any of the extra “help” he needed (the Romney dog thing doesn’t count). His supporters are disappointed, but no one is really surprised.

Final note: Rasmussen's latest head to head poll has John McCain trailing Hillary Clinton, 38%-47%. Those numbers kill any chance of an electability argument becoming the basis of a miracle comeback.

July 11, 2007

Teaching American History and Government

Mac Owens

I just returned from two weeks at Ashland University in Ohio where I taught two courses as part of an excellent program for teachers of American history and government. It is a program that serious teachers in Rhode Island ought to investigate: the Master of American History and Government (MAHG) degree program, a unique curriculum designed specifically for middle and high school teachers of history, civics and government.

The program was created to address the lack of proper history and civic education in our schools. The AU MAHG provides teachers with a deep and broad understanding of American history, government, and civics by focusing not on methodology or classroom management, but on the substance of the disciplines. The program is unique in that it stresses the use of original historical documents in the classroom.

The AU MAHG is tailor made for teachers. Courses consist of intensive week-long seminars offered only during the summer. This summer, a total of seventeen courses are being offered over five weeks.

The MAHG program has gained a national reputation. Last year, nearly 300 students from 50 states took courses in the program. Though most are teachers taking courses for professional development, more than 60 students from around the country, including Alaska and Hawaii, are currently enrolled in the degree program. The program provides a unique and convenient alternative for teachers across the nation seeking a master's degree.

This was my sixth year teaching in the program. I had the opportunity to teach one intensive week-long course on Sectionalism and the Coming of the Civil War and another on the Civil War and Reconstruction. The students were interested and motivated. It was a pleasure to teach such dedicated professionals.

I hope RI teachers will look in to this program. I hope to see some of you in Ashland Ohio next summer. If you are interested in the syllabi for all the courses offered this year, click "Summer 2007 Schedule" on the menu to the left on the MAHG site.

Iraq: Taking Stock

Marc Comtois

I'm not a dead-ender on Iraq, but I do think we've got to give the new--albeit too-long in coming--strategy time to work. I suspect readers will just breeze on past this post as many, probably most, already have their minds made up. To them, we are frozen in time: the situation in Iraq will always be as it was in November 2006, just before the election. And that's not a coincidence. The domestic political component of the entire war debate is probably the most troubling to me. Without further (or much) ado--and in addition to Don's related post--here are some reports/opinions that inform my own current views on Iraq.

First, some historical perspective:

As I've said before, Iraq is exactly like Vietnam, except:

* We've captured Ho Chi Minh
* We occupy Hanoi
* We've helped the Vietnamese draft a Constitution
* We've helped the Vietnamese go to the voting booth three times (the first three times ever)
* The new government of Vietnam has tried and executed Ho Chi Minh.

Then there is the contextual, current perspective provided by J.D. Johannes:
In the first month of full implementation - June, 2007 - the "surge" strategy of General David Petraeus resulted in a 32% decline in Iraqi deaths. An anti-al Qaeda alliance of Sunni chiefs, Coalition forces, and the Iraqi Army drove the insurgency out of most of al Anbar, and much of Baghdad.

Over the past three months, I was privileged to observe "surge" operations as a reporter embedded with combat units. I assure my readers: these operations were no mere repetition of the futile "clearing" raids of the past. General David Petraeus has implemented a regimen based on a career-long study of counterinsurgency....But in the flush of battlefield success, public perception of American military progress continued its calamitous decline....What explains the downtick of confidence against a backdrop of success?

Since mid-2005, al Qaeda has aimed not to defeat the Coalition militarily, but to drain American public support politically. The strategy was forced on the insurgents by a string of failures in 2004 and 2005. The Baathist groups and their al Qaeda allies planned first to establish a geographic base of control within Iraq; second, to block Iraqi elections; and third, to prevent the establishment of the Iraqi Security Forces. They failed to achieve any of these goals.

The ensuing strategy was dictated by weakness. Mass killings of Shi'ite civilians...replaced military confrontation as the insurgency's operational focus....But al Qaeda's largest harvest from "random slaughter" strategy was realized in America. Through acts of indiscriminate violence transmitted by the media, insurgents brought their war to America's living rooms. The atrocity-of-the-day is the principal informational input most Americans receive. This forms their knowledge base. The public does not live in the villages and mahalas of Iraq. Patterns of recovery, of normalcy, are not evident.

This is the essence of 4th Generation Warfare. And al Qaeda is clearly winning it....[there is a] growing dichotomy between what is happening in Iraq, and what the public thinks is happening. The Coalition and al Qaeda are fighting two different wars. While General Petraeus strangles the insurgent hydra head-by-head, al Qaeda's message of slaughter and despair saps the American public of its will.

The political impact of al Qaeda's media war is all-too-obvious. Not only has the administration lost control of Congress - it has increasingly lost control of its own party.

A congressionally-imposed defeat in Iraq may be averted by a swing in the polls...Alternately, Congress could defy the polls. Al Qaeda is running its war on smoke and mirrors - or, more accurately, on bytes of sound and sight. Congress could act on General Petraeus' reports from the ground, rather than broadcasts generated by insurgents. This requires a simple commitment - one foreign to many in the elective branch: Leadership.

Don't hold your breath.

Regardless of why we got into Iraq, it is now a battlefield against terror. Even the terrorists say so. It is in our national interest to do it right and, increasingly, many Iraqi "insurgents" have joined the fight against Al Qaeda. Which brings us to a forward-looking perspective that is more "reality based" than what is coming out of Washington, D.C. these days.

Our sons and daughters are not fighting, being grievously wounded and dying for Iraq -- but for American vital interests. If this were just about Iraqi democracy, I might join the screaming for a quick exit.

But if al Qaeda can plausibly claim they drove America out of Iraq (just as they drove the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan), they will gain literally millions of new adherents in their struggle to destroy America and the West. We will then pay in blood, treasure and future wars vastly more than we are paying today to manage and eventually win our struggle in Iraq.

Our staying power, unflinching persistence in the face of adversity, muscular capacity to impose order on chaos and eventual slaughtering of terrorists who are trying to drive us out will do more to win the "hearts and minds" of potentially radical Islamists around the world than all the little sermons about our belief in Islam as the religion of peace. As bin Laden once famously observed -- people follow the strong horse.

We have two choices: Use our vast resources to prove we are the strong horse or get ready to be taken to the glue factory.

Even Bush's war critics who specialize in Middle East affairs (such as the Brookings Institute) believe that the immediate chaos in the Middle East that will follow our premature departure would likely involve not only regional war there, a new base for al Qaeda, but also a nuclear arms race that would quickly result in the world's most unstable region -- which possesses the world's oil supply -- armed with nuclear weapons on a hair trigger.

We can't wish it away, folks. I've said it before: if our military can stand strong, why can't the rest of us?

Blame Democrats in Congress for High Gas Prices

Marc Comtois

Turns out President Bush is only partially to blame for the high gas prices....(h/t and a wink)

An eagle-eyed Senate GOP aide, perusing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Web site, calls attention to her assertion there that "Americans are paying more than double for gas than when President Bush first took office."

She says the average price per gallon when he took office in 2001 was $1.47 and had reached $3.22 by May 21.

So that means gas prices went up by $1.75 a gallon over six years. But more than half of that increase, 90 cents, our source says, has come in the past six months -- the six months that she's been speaker of the House. Our source says the average price per gallon on Jan. 3, the day before she became speaker, was $2.32.

More here. Personally, I blame it on the Red Sox signing Dice-K. Ever since then....

Why Pensions Don’t Work: Isn’t it the Demography, Stupid?

Carroll Andrew Morse

While we’re on the subject of pensions, the reason that many people believe that the public sector needs to move away from defined-benefit pension plans to defined contribution type retirement plans (and that the government has to move away from a defined benefit Social Security system) goes beyond the rationale that “it’s the way the private sector does it”. Rather, the argument is basic demography.

In 1955, during the golden age for corporate pensions, the fertility rate in the United States was about 3.6 children per woman. By 1980, the fertility rate had dropped to 1.8 children per woman, and it has hovered around a rate of 2.0 since then. That’s a devastating change if you’re trying to structure a rational, sustainable defined benefit pension plan.

Defined benefit plans have to be supported by succeeding generations, but in 1955, this wasn’t a big problem. In 1955 each couple “contributed” 3.6 new people, on average, to the next generation. Jump forward 25 years, and each of those new couples added 1.8 people to the generation after that. That means, over two generations, there were 6.8 younger people per older citizen (3.6 in the first generation, plus 1.8 times 1.8 in the second generation, [i.e. the fertility rate of 1.8 in 1980 times half of 3.6, because it takes two to make a couple]) available to support a pension system.

However, starting with women of childbearing age in 1980, there were only 1.8 new people per couple in the next generation. There’ll be only 2.0 young’uns in the generation after that. The result is only 3.6 younger people per older citizen (1.8 in the first generation, plus 0.9 times 2.0) available to support defined benefit pension plans for the current generation entering/nearing retirement.

That means -- even before accounting for increased life-expectancy -- you have to whack people currently in the workforce twice as hard now as you did 25 years ago to pay for public sector pensions, because there are only about half as many people relative to the retiree population. And if the United States follows demographic trends in the developed countries of Europe, this problem will only get worse.

July 10, 2007

The Rhode Island Auditor General's List of Municipal Pensions at Risk

Carroll Andrew Morse

I know it's not the most exciting topic, but the Rhode Island Auditor General's just-released report on municipal pensions most at risk may help explain some of the tax bills and the consequences of certain decisions made in various communities around the state.

Category 1: Plans significantly underfunded with annual contributions significantly less than annual required amounts.

Pension Plan Funded Ratio % of Required Contribution made in FY2006 Unfunded Actuarial Accrued Liability
Central Falls Police and Fire (post 7/1/72) 34.6% 8% $20,599,620
Coventry Police 8.0% 28% $45,165,871
Coventry Municipal Employees 18.0% 13% $11,343,042
Coventry School Employees 46.6% n/a $9,368,668
Narragansett Police (pre 7/1/78) 5.1% 0% $901,264
Pawtucket Police and Fire (post 1974) 42.5% 54% $84,049,166
West Warwick 48.0% 47% $ 43,750,220

Category 2: Plans significantly underfunded with annual contributions are at or near 100% of annual required amounts.

Pension Plan Funded Ratio % of Required Contribution made in FY 2006 Unfunded Actuarial Accrued Liability
Central Falls Police and Fire (pre 7/1/72) 7.3% 127% $14,591,702
Cranston Police and Fire (pre 7/1/95) 15.5% 98% $217,543,602
Johnston Fire (pre 7/1/99) 30.7% 93% $30,529,696
Johnston Police 30.8% 100% $25,711,683
Newport Firemen’s Pension Plan 39.9% 100% $41,257,640
Providence 37.4% 96% $659,036,000
Scituate Police Pension Plan 37.0% 101% $4,268,707
Smithfield Police (prior to 7/1/99) 36.0% 153% $12,529,685
Warwick Police Pension I and Fire 27.0% 100% $194,841,382
Westerly Police 43.4% 96% $23,777,351

Category 3: Plans with annual contributions significantly less than required and generally declining over a multi-year period.

Pension Plan Funded Ratio % of Required Contribution made in FY 2006 Unfunded Actuarial Accrued Liability
Bristol Police (prior to 3/22/98) 67.0% 53% $5,608,883
East Providence Fire and Police 70.0% 24% $ 31,720,000
Narragansett Town Plan 79.0% 47% $10,957,669
Smithfield Fire 86.0% 72% $1,989,143

Re: RI Has 7th Highest Taxes in U.S.

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here are a few more details from the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council’s annual 50-state tax-revenue comparison. Rhode Island is a top-10 state in terms of income and sales taxes collected whether you measure per-capita or as a percentage of personal income. The full set of New England numbers for this year are…

    (“All State and Local Tax Collections Per $1,000 of Personal Income”, Fiscal Year 2005)
  • (4) Maine $133.04
  • (6) Vermont $131.91
  • (7) Rhode Island $122.68
  • (11) Connecticut $119.17
  • (34) Massachusetts $107.31
  • (49) New Hampshire $91.43
    ("All State and Local Tax Collections Per Capita", Fiscal Year 2005)
  • (2) Connecticut $5,398
  • (5) Massachusetts $4,470
  • (9) Rhode Island $4,191
  • (10) Vermont $4,137
  • (13) Maine $3,960
  • (29) New Hampshire $3,306
Interestingly, however, Rhode Island does much better nationally when revenues from all sources are considered…
    (“All State and Local Tax Collections, Charges and Misc. General Revenues Per $1,000 of Personal Income”, Fiscal Year 2005)
  • (9) Maine 183.69
  • (12) Vermont $179.90
  • (26) Rhode Island $164.70
  • (43) Massachusetts $149.01
  • (46) Connecticut $146.12
  • (50) New Hampshire $128.87
Finally (for now), the major difference between the RIPEC numbers and the Tax Foundation rankings, which placed Rhode Island as the 4th highest tax-burden for fiscal year 2005, is that they are measuring different quantities. RIPEC is measuring taxes collected by the Rhode Island government. The Tax Foundation attempts to assess all taxes paid by Rhode Island residents, including taxes paid to other states and non-Federal, non-Rhode Island jurisdictions.

RI Has 7th Highest Taxes in U.S.

Marc Comtois

By now, this is low-hanging fruit. But duty impels us to prescribe the ProJo's Neil Downing report on a new RIPEC report- "How Rhode Island Compares":

Rhode Island has one of the nation's highest tax burdens - and a big reason for that is local property taxes, a new study shows.

Based on the overall state-and-local tax burden, Rhode Island ranks seventh highest nationwide, the study says.

When it comes to property taxes, Rhode Island's comparative tax burden is even higher, ranking the state sixth nationwide, the study shows.

The findings are part of a study to be formally issued todaycq by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC), a business-backed public policy group which monitors the state's finances.

The annual report - "How Rhode Island Compares" - shows that Rhode Island's overall state-and-local tax burden has increased in the last 10 years, while that of its two neighboring states - Connecticut and Massachusetts - has improved, said Gary S. Sasse, RIPEC's executive director. For example:

In 1995, Rhode Island had the 14th highest tax burden; now it has the 7th highest.

In 1995, Massachusetts ranked 23rd; now it's ranked 34th.

In 1995, Connecticut ranked 7th; now it ranks 11th.

In other words, Rhode Island's state-and-local tax burden has grown in the past decade, while the tax burden in Connecticut and Massachusetts has declined.

"Rhode Island is going in the opposite direction'' compared with its two neighboring states, Sasse said. "Our neighbors are doing better in making their state more tax-competitive,'' he said.

For every $1,000 of personal income, state and local governments in Rhode Island collect about $123 in taxes, while Connecticut collects about $119, and Massachusetts about $107, the study shows.


July 9, 2007

Popular Vote and the World Series

Marc Comtois

Ian Donnis over at N4N invokes the Supreme Court "giving" the election to George W. Bush in 2000 as a lead-in to the National Popular Vote movement. Both Andrew and I have posted about this before. Here's a baseball analogy just for Ian, via a Bruce Bartlett piece from 2000:

It will be as if we changed the World Series from a system in which a team must win 4 games to one in which the total number of runs in all games played determines victory. As recently as 1997, a popular vote-type system for the World Series would have switched the winner from the Florida Marlins to the Cleveland Indians. Although Florida won 4 games to Cleveland's 3, Cleveland scored 44 total runs in the 7 games played to Florida's 37.
Hey, just having fun. I'm sure someone could liken it to the Superbowl instead.

Oh, one other thing: why does Common Cause (national) like this idea while the RI chapter doesn't support another popular vote driven reform, voter initiative? Aren't they both "popular" democracy in action?

Re: Pure Evil

Donald B. Hawthorne

In response to the horrific story reported in the Pure Evil post, Victor Davis Hanson writes:

...But what is strange about reading Michael Yon's graphic descriptions from Iraq is that al Qaeda (or its kindred) seems almost in a single generation to be outdoing a millennium of savagery present in Greek history and myth. You have to go to Thucydides's Mycalessus to find a parallel of wiping out even the animals of a small village...

What is striking about all this savagery—whether with the filmed beheadings of Westerners in Iraq to the recent flaming Johnny Storm human torch at Glasgow, screaming epithets as he sought to engulf bystanders and ignite his canisters — is the absolute silence of the West, either distracted by Paris and i-Phones or suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome and obsessed with Guantanamo.

It is hard to recall an enemy so savage and yet one so largely ignored by rich affluent and distracted elites as the radical jihadists, as we have to evoke everything from mythology to comic books to find analogies to their extra-human viciousness.

For a self-congratulatory culture issuing moral lectures on everything from global warming to the dangers of smoking, the silence of the West toward the primordial horror from Gaza to Anbar is, well, horrific in its own way as well.

Yes, indeed.

ProJo Against Yacht Center at Quonset

Marc Comtois

The ProJo editorializes against putting a Yacht yard on the spot where a container port would go:

The explanation for the state’s alacrity in welcoming a mega-yacht center: Governor Carcieri, who entered public life by opposing a container port, and some of his followers in the summer yacht-club crowd (some of whom only live in Rhode Island in the summer), will do just about anything to keep out a real port — in this case, by filling the site with the yacht center, or at least the promise of it.

The Island Global Yachting project could, it is said, handle private yachts up to 600 feet long. The Florida-based company would pay the Quonset Development Corporation $120 million to $150 million for the property and hopes to employ 390 to 450 with average salaries around $50,000. It is also negotiating the purchase of an additional 32 acres. That’s not peanuts, and we’d welcome the project if it were located anywhere else. (How about elsewhere at Quonset?)

But it would be a terrific disservice to Rhode Islanders if the Carcieri adminstration were to permanently foreclose the possibility of building a container port...

The rest we know by heart. For some perspective, here's an example of what a generic, two-berth container port would look like (from a study commissioned by the Maine DOT). It would take up about 320 acres to be viable.

Mayors Take Matters In Their Own Hands

Marc Comtois

About a week ago, Dan Yorke interviewed Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee about the bottom-up education reform package he was shopping around. Since then, McKee has gained some support and he and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian were on yesterday's ABC 6's On The Record with Jim Hummel to talk about the plan.

McKee and Avedisian talked about how it's just getting harder for local municipalities to fund education. The cities and towns keep hearing from the various state-level entities that change is coming, but no change has come. They can't wait on the State anymore, nor can they necessarily trust it. For instance, Avedisian talked about the inventory tax phase out meant to help business. But part of the deal was that the state would help the cities and towns by alleviating some of the lost revenue. They stopped the payments three years in and haven't resumed them.

Simply put, the state promises and doesn't deliver. It's up to local communities.

Both agree that it is no use fighting over splitting a shrinking pot. Instead, fundamental change is needed while maintaining cost and improving student performance. Now, there is no choice but to confront the longstanding cost-related issues head-on and not personalize the issues.

A tall order.

Nonetheless, the mayors of Cranston--who could work on containing costs himself--and Johnston, Lincoln, No. Smithfield, Smithfield, Portsmouth, Tiverton and a few other towns are on board with McKee's path to change.

McKee explained that he sees no reason why they can't simply identify what's wrong and then proceed as if they were starting an education system from scratch. However, as Avedisian pointed out, when you try to start from scratch, you're fighting against a whole host of "rulers of little kingdoms." And when any talk of centralization is heard, there is also a knee-jerk reaction against anything that may cede local control.

Hummel mentioned that it isn't always about throwing more money at the problem. McKee said that this group doesn't think the answer is through raising taxes: cut costs and maintain or improve performance is the goal. Part of the problem is that they are losing upper tier taxpayers and gaining lower tier (non) taxpayers. The current system can't support those demographic changes.

The plan is to hire a non-partisan group that will produce a position paper in September and to follow that up with a report from another group that will lay out its recommendations in early 2008.

Some of the specific problems were also discussed. For instance, the school committee in Warwick counted on the State upping their education budget 3%, but Avedisian didn't. However, the school committed is essentially autonomous and don't have to listen to the city. Plus, there is no accountability to how the school committees spend the money from the state or from the city councils. That needs to change. School committees can't just put it towards operating cost. Mayors or councils need to be able to have a say in how the money is spent.

Avedisian also talked about the costs of providing busing for out-of-district students and the need to consolidate services.

McKee stressed that they aren't trying to reinvent the wheel. The past practice has been to move money around to help this or that community, but now, according to Avedisian, all of them are at a bad point. There hasn't been a stable funding formula for about a decade.

McKee said he was not looking to take away from in-need communities, but other cities and towns were getting fundamentally weaker because they are subsidizing the weaker communities.

Hummel asked about a statewide teacher contract: Avedisian stated that, while it was a good conversation starter re: centralization, it was never going to happen. McKee added that, given the current rules regarding bargaining, even if you were able to do it now, you'd end up mirroring the highest paying community, which, for example, would financially kill Cumberland right now.

Hummel asked about a county government system. Avedisian explained that the communities in Kent County have talked about it on multiple occasions for specific issues. They are, after all, similar communities, so one would think that it would be easy. It's not. Whenever they all get into a room, something goes wrong. One community always promises more, others have to follow, etc. There are some successes, though, as some of the communities have done bulk purchasing and saved money.

Hummel also pointed out that, while most of the plan dealt with education, there were other areas covered, too. For instance, he asked, does Rhode Island need 39 Police departments?
McKee said that, again, this is an area where you have to de-personalize the issue and not look at it like your taking someone's turf.

Ultimately, the goal is to have the research to back up some of the ideas--such as regionalization or state wide contracts--that have been floated for years. If they end up looking worse than the current method, so be it. But it's time to cast our eyes in another direction.

A few other points: Avedisian explained that the nature of the political offices involved--2 year mayors and 1 year state budgets--prompted no incentive to plan out beyond the short term.

To wrap up, McKee said that, by next year, he hoped that they were taking concrete action and weren't just standing there with another pile of studies.

July 8, 2007

From Pixel to Paper

Marc Comtois

Yes, that's my piece about DCYF's structural problems found on this morning's Providence Journal editorial page, nestled between the Editor's thoughts on NY Mayor Bloomberg's possible presidential run and Froma Harrop's piece on the house swallow. Of necessity--no surprise--I had to boil down the information I provided in my lengthier posts hereabouts (here and here), so if new visitors are interested on where I got the numbers, please follow the links. Finally, there is also an informative piece by the ProJo's Steve Peoples on well-meaning Child Advocate Jametta Alston, who brought the problems at DCYF more directly into the light.

July 7, 2007

Pure Evil

Donald B. Hawthorne

Sometimes you read a story which shakes you to your core.

Michael Ledeen's Why Do The Iraqis Hate the Terrorists? did it for me:

The horror of the terrorist onslaught rarely is brought home to the American public. Indeed, it is sometimes so grisly that not even American troops in the field can even talk about it without swallowing hard. Listen to Michael Yon, in his latest update from Diyala Province. This is really something:
Speaking through an American interpreter, Lieutenant David Wallach who is a native Arabic speaker, the Iraqi official related how al Qaeda united these gangs who then became absorbed into "al Qaeda." They recruited boys born during the years 1991, 92 and 93 who were each given weapons, including pistols, a bicycle and a phone (with phone cards paid) and a salary of $100 per month, all courtesy of al Qaeda. These boys were used for kidnapping, torturing and murdering people.

At first, he said, they would only target Shia, but over time the new al Qaeda directed attacks against Sunni, and then anyone who thought differently. The official reported that on a couple of occasions in Baqubah, al Qaeda invited to lunch families they wanted to convert to their way of thinking. In each instance, the family had a boy, he said, who was about 11 years old. As LT David Wallach interpreted the man's words, I saw Wallach go blank and silent. He stopped interpreting for a moment. I asked Wallach, "What did he say?" Wallach said that at these luncheons, the families were sat down to eat. And then their boy was brought in with his mouth stuffed. The boy had been baked. Al Qaeda served the boy to his family.

Even as we do battle with such pure evil, some American politicians blissfully state that just walking away from the battle will make the evil go away. Diana West reports that things are no better in Great Britian: "The new British prime minister, Gordon Brown, has directed ministers to omit "Muslim" when discussing (Muslim) terrorism. And forget the generic "war on terror"; even that pathetic phrase is off limits."

But, in spite of the vacuous nature of our politicians and mainstream media (a day later, more here and here), Daniel Henninger explains in It's Not the Economy, Stupid: No matter how low George Bush falls, terror remains the No. 1 issue why he thinks the American people intuitively grasp how the Islamic terrorist problem cannot be wished away:

...our 20 or so presidential diviners and their retinues will continue to belly-flop into towns across America, trying to connect, trying to discover the one thing that will still animate voters when the final bell rings Nov. 4, 2008.

How about this issue: cars filled with nails and tanks of propane gas, blown up by people whose goal in life is to murder Western infidels...

This is an unusual election to handicap. Setting aside the trick of a candidate avoiding statements now that would look irretrievably dumb 15 months from now, the campaigns have to contend with an American public fixated on a paradox: About 70% of polled people say the country is on the "wrong track," notwithstanding that the scenery along the track includes some three years of strong-to-moderate economic growth, 4% unemployment and a stock market that's been on an upward march for three years. So what's the problem?

Two weeks ago when Mike Bloomberg was in the news, wisdom had it that the mind of the "independent voter" was the Rosetta Stone for decoding American politics. This past weekend the Washington Post outputted a massive and dense polling analysis of the independent voter. If one assumes as I do that the partisan intensity of our politics has widened the number of voters who feel the parties are "not speaking to them," then the Post's numbers may serve as a useful proxy for their views...

The generalization that emerges from the Post survey's data is that independent voters (this includes Democratic and Republican leaners) have deep concerns about . . . everything. Combining those who say an issue is "extremely important" to them or "very important" puts the totals well above 50% for health care, the economy, terrorism, immigration, taxes, corruption and of course "the situation" in Iraq, with a combined 89% importance ranking, most of it negative.

This is the Worry Wart vote, a condition brought on by spending too much time with politics...

Rethinking political management amid deep partisan division would be a dandy avocation if we lived in normal times, say Sept. 10, 2001. But we don't. Last weekend, the forces of civilization foiled planned barbarian bombings and mass death for innocent civilians in London and Glasgow. One month ago, they foiled a plot to blow up the gasoline fuel pipeline at JFK airport. A month before that they arrested six men, enraptured by jihadist videos, who concluded it was their life's goal to blow up soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J. Before that they foiled a well-advanced plot to demolish U.S.-bound airliners over the Atlantic. This week Spain completed its trial of 28 people charged with the 2004 Madrid train bombing that killed 191.

I haven't conducted a poll, but my guess is this is the real reason many in the U.S. feel the country is on the wrong track. The possibility of mass, mortal risk is the one constant in life today; it's always floating beneath the changing surface of stock prices, gasoline prices or Sen. Obama's blueprints for universal health care...

In a wide-ranging interview with the Journal's editorial board last week at our offices in lower Manhattan, Rudy Giuliani talked a lot about terrorism. It may well be that 9/11 made the Giuliani presidential run possible, but I think the better political comparison isn't New York in September 2001 but New York in 1993, when Mr. Giuliani unseated Mayor David Dinkins. He described it to us:

"I was elected to reduce crime. That was the rationale for my being mayor of New York. They weren't going to elect a Republican prosecutor in New York unless they were desperate. And they were desperate: It was, 'We'll even give him a chance to do it.' "

This was the period of screwing stacks of deadbolt locks onto apartment doors in New York. Amid this, Republican Giuliani defeated Democrat Dinkins by 49% to 46%. This means that a lot of New York liberals, beset by the loss of physical well-being, went into the voting booth, pulled the lever for Giuliani, and walked out to tell their friends, "I voted for Dinkins."

This isn't an endorsement for Rudy Giuliani. It's an explanation for why this candidate, despite the presumed baggage, has polled strongly for months. In his meeting with us, Mr. Giuliani said something else unexpected: "George Bush's speech on September 20, 2001 is still the best road map for what to do about terrorism."

That's right. It's not the economy this time, stupid. It's terrorism. No matter how low George Bush falls in the polls the next 18 months, "what to do about terrorism" is going to be the No. 1 voting issue in November 2008 because the Glasgow/JFK/Fort Dix/Heathrow/Madrid bombers are still going to be at play in November 2008.

This may well be the election decided by the Worry Wart Independents. But don't be surprised if a lot of them walk out of the voting booth that day and say with a straight face, "I voted to solve the health-care crisis." Right. They also voted for Dinkins.

All of us rightfully fault President George W. Bush for many things. But, for the moment, put aside those thoughts and go reread his September 20, 2001 speech. And then contemplate how you would respond to a wickedness which serves a stuffed, baked 11-year-old boy on a platter to his parents.

We may not know exactly what will be the most effective strategy for winning the War on Terror. And it is no doubt true that the strategy will have to adapt to changing circumstances, something the Bush administration has failed miserably at in recent years.

The requirement that we adapt is why we must give the surge effort in Iraq a genuine chance to succeed. No matter how difficult the battle may be, we also need to call the enemy by name, a point made by former Senator Rick Santorum here and here.

Finally, whatever the proper strategy might be, all of us must accept that walking away from pure evil and then expecting to remain safe from danger is not a viable option. It is only a fanciful delusion - which will bring death to our children and our American way of life.

Out of Our Blog

Justin Katz

Upon the first mention of the notion that I'm about to put forward, Mac provided the humorous, self-deflating title of "Anchor Reclining." The basic idea is that the contributors to Anchor Rising — including commenters — ought to do more than transform pixels into arguments. We ought to meet. Converse. And we should probably do some drinking, as well.

The wall against which we keep bouncing is that we, blog authors, having some minor attributes equatable (brace yourselves) to geekiness, aren't exactly sure how to go about such an event. So, it has fallen to me to ask you (yous and y'all): If we were to host an informal get-together — meaning that attendees pay their own way — perhaps at a local bar, maybe with hors d'oeuvres — where and when would you be most interested in attending?

With "where," I'll take the gamut from specific locations to general regions. With "when," I'll take specific dates or (preferably) days of the week.

If you aren't inclined to be so forward as to present your suggestions as comments, please feel free to email me.

Depending on response, I may perpetually boost this post to the top o' the blog.

Are We Raising Our Children To Be Narcissitic Wimps?

Donald B. Hawthorne

Expanding on some of the ideas previously discussed in The Cultural Consequences of Offering Endless Quantities of Meaningless Praise, the latest piece (available for a fee) from Jeffrey Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal is entitled Blame It on Mr. Rogers: Why Young Adults Feel So Entitled:

…Fred Rogers, the late TV icon, told several generations of children that they were "special" just for being whoever they were. He meant well, and he was a sterling role model in many ways. But what often got lost in his self-esteem-building patter was the idea that being special comes from working hard and having high expectations for yourself.

Now Mr. Rogers, like Dr. Spock before him, has been targeted for re-evaluation. And he's not the only one. As educators and researchers struggle to define the new parameters of parenting, circa 2007, some are revisiting the language of child ego-boosting. What are the downsides of telling kids they're special? Is it a mistake to have children call us by our first names? When we focus all conversations on our children's lives, are we denying them the insights found when adults talk about adult things?

Some are calling for a recalibration of the mind-sets and catch-phrases that have taken hold in recent decades. Among the expressions now being challenged:

"You're special."

…Signs of narcissism among college students have been rising for 25 years, according to a recent study led by a San Diego State University psychologist. Obviously, Mr. Rogers alone can't be blamed for this. But as Prof. Chance sees it, "he's representative of a culture of excessive doting."

…Prof. Chance…wishes more parents would offer kids this perspective: "The world owes you nothing. You have to work and compete. If you want to be special, you'll have to prove it."

"They're just children."

When kids are rude, self-absorbed or disrespectful, some parents allow or endure it by saying, "Well, they're just children." The phrase is a worthy one when it's applied to a teachable moment, such as telling kids not to stick their fingers in electrical sockets. But as an excuse or as justification for unacceptable behavior, "They're just children" is just misguided.

"Call me Cindy."

Is it appropriate to place kids on the same level as adults, with all of us calling each other by our first names? On one hand, the familiarity can mark a loving closeness between child and adult. But on the other hand, when a child calls an adult Mr. or Ms., it helps him recognize that status is earned by age and experience. It's also a reminder to respect your elders.

"Tell me about your day."

It is crucial to talk to kids about their lives, and that dialogue can enrich the whole family. However, parents also need to discuss their own lives and experiences, says Alvin Rosenfeld, a Manhattan-based child psychiatrist who studies family interactions.

…many parents focus their conversations on their kids. Today's parents "are the best-educated generation ever," says Dr. Rosenfeld. "So why do our kids see us primarily discussing kids' schedules and activities?"

He encourages parents to talk about their passions and interests; about politics, business, world events. "Because everything is child-centered today, we're depriving children of adults," he says. "If they never see us as adults being adults, how will they deal with important matters when it is their world?"

What I find so striking is how some people are simply unwilling to discuss the practical implications of certain widespread parenting practices. Since human behavior is heavily influenced by the incentives explicitly or implicitly present in our respective social environments, we are either going to debate the appropriateness of the underlying behavioral incentives created by current parenting practices or be damned to live with their long-term consequences.

Other posts related to how we are raising children in America include:

Rediscovering Traditional Unstructured Play for Children
Rediscovering Traditional Unstructured Play for Children, Part II
Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation's Future

July 6, 2007

The Bishop of Rhode Island Suspends Seattle's Muslim Episcopalian Priest

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to a report from the Associated Press, Episcopalian Church procedures (a subject I know precisely nothing about) have placed the Right Reverend Geralyn Wolf, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, at the center of the controversy concerning the “Muslim Episcopalian priest”…

An Episcopal priest who announced last month that she is also a practicing Muslim has been suspended from the priesthood for a year, according to a media report.

The Rev. Ann Holmes Redding must take a year from her position at Seattle's St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral and should "reflect on the doctrines of the Christian faith, her vocation as a priest, and what I see as the conflicts inherent in professing both Christianity and Islam," the Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf, bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island, wrote in an e-mail to church leaders.

Redding, a priest for 23 years, was ordained by a former bishop of Rhode Island and remains subject to discipline by that diocese.

Taxing the Vices of the Poor (and the rest of us)

Marc Comtois

Gambling, Alcohol and Tobacco are all subject to "sin" taxes. We may as well add gasoline to the mix, too. According to the The National Center for Policy Analysis, all of 'em hit the poor hardest (h/t). Here's a distillation of the Executive Summary of their report.

  • "The dollar amount spent on the lottery by the lowest-income individuals (earning less than $10,000 annually) is twice as much as the highest earners (earning more than $100,000 annually)."

  • "One-third of lower-income adults smoke versus one-fifth of middle- and high-income earners, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention"

  • "...major tobacco companies...pay the states $200 billion over 25 years to compensate for state health care costs attributed to smoking. More than 90 percent of the settlement costs are passed on to consumers. In fact, the settlement raised the price of cigarettes about 45 cents per pack."

  • "The portion of income spent on alcoholic beverages by the lowest fifth of earners is double that of middle earners and more than three times that of the highest earners, on the average."

  • "Some advocates claim taxes on harmful behaviors...are justified to recoup the costs those activities impose on others, such as secondhand smoke and drunk driving. Although the evidence is mixed, it appears that taxes on tobacco already more than compensate for the social costs of smoking.
  • "
  • "Advocates also claim these taxes encourage people to change their behaviors in socially desirable ways....the evidence indicates that these taxes are designed to raise revenue, rather than discourage unhealthy behavior."

  • "Poorer taxpayers are also disproportionately burdened by excise taxes imposed on 'necessities,' such as gasoline, utilities and telephone services. Since lower-income households spend more of their incomes on these items, they pay a greater share of these taxes."

  • "The lowest fifth of income earners spend nearly one-third of their income on alcohol, tobacco, utilities and gasoline, on the average. By contrast, the highest earners spend just 6 percent of their income on these items. Thus taxes on these products are especially burdensome to the poor."

  • These statistics confirm a couple things. First, many people are opposed to a consumption-tax as a possible replacement to an income tax because it will hit those on the bottom of the income ladder hardest (I agree). They also help expose the underlying cynicism of our national and state governments who pay lip service to discouraging these vices while at the same time relying on them for their lifeblood. In the case of gambling (lottery or "casinos") they outright encourage vice. But the answer isn't a more "progressive" income tax (tax the rich more!). Instead, it is to reduce the amount of government spending. (Realistically, that means reigning in the rate of growth of spending). Until then, the message will continue to be "Smoke, drink and be merry so we can fund programs to help you...maybe."

    Different Journalistic Standards Applied to Violence in Iraq?

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Bob Owens of the Confederate Yankee blog would like to know what journalistic reasoning led the Associated Press to publish an unconfirmed report of sectarian violence in Iraq that turned out to be a hoax, while at the same time ignoring a strongly sourced story concerning an actual, verifiable Al-Qaida attack on an Iraqi village…

    On Thursday, June 28, The Associated Press—and to a lesser extent, Reuters, and a small independent Iraqi news agency—ran stories claiming that 20 decapitated bodies had been found on or near the banks of the Tigris River in Um al-Abeed, a village near Salman Pak, southeast of Baghdad, with sectarian violence strongly implicated.

    There were no named sources from this story from any media outlet, and the two anonymous Iraq police officers cited in the widely-carried AP account were nowhere near the scene of the alleged massacre, with Um al-Abeed being roughly 12 miles from the southeast edges of Baghdad, and Kut being 75 miles away, respectively....

    This claimed massacre never happened, and was formally repudiated by the U.S. military on Saturday, June 30, who ascribed the claims to insurgent propaganda. To date, the Associated Press has refused to print a retraction or a correction for this false story, just as it has failed to print a retraction for previous false beheading stories....

    At the same time, the Associated Press has refused to run the story of a verified massacre in Iraq discovered on June 29 and supported by named sources, eyewitness statements, and photographic evidence provided by noted independent journalist Michael Yon in his dispatch, Bless the Beasts and Children.

    I would like for the Associated Press to formally explain why they are willing to run thinly and falsely sourced insurgent propaganda as unquestioned fact without any independent verification, but refuses to publish a freely offered account by a noted combat corespondent that some consider this generation's Ernie Pyle.

    It’s a fair question. What is it about the Al-Qaida massacre that the AP deems un-newsworthy?

    Ben Stein on the Libby Pardon

    Marc Comtois

    Of all the ink spilled (or pixels populated) over the Libby pardon, perhaps Ben Stein's take sums it up best (h/t). Nuff said.

    Milton Friedman Always Told Me That People Who Spend Other People’s Money On Themselves Don’t Care About Price…

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    …and, according to a Warwick Beacon letter to the editor from State Representative Susan Story (R-Barrington/East Providence), the RI legislature is no exception…

    The Rhode Island General Assembly is one of the most generous of all state legislatures when it comes to its own budget. Data from the National Council of State Legislators shows that in 2005, Rhode Island was rated second in per capita spending on Legislative Branch spending – just over $23 per person in the state, where the neighboring state of Massachusetts, with a full-time legislature, spends just over $8. And states with similar populations spent much less – (Delaware, $12, and New Hampshire, less than $9.) To make matters worse, since that time, we have increased our budget from $25 million to the budget for next year of $36 million – over a 30 percent increase in just over three years! In this time of dire fiscal straits for our state, I feel this is irresponsible to say the least.

    July 5, 2007

    Muddling Nobly, Happily and with a Sense of Purpose Through Life's Unexpected Twists & Turns

    Donald B. Hawthorne

    It is common for most of us to experience periodic painful events over the course of our lives.

    I am going through such a time in my life, an unfortunate and deeply sad life event which I never expected to experience.

    Like many unexpected and unhappy developments, it is often difficult to maintain perspective when riding the associated emotional rollercoaster.

    In an ongoing search for perspective, Dean Barnett's A Beautiful Muddle from last Christmas continues to resonate as a particularly inspirational source of guidance:

    I am told that one of the great burdens of being married to me is having to tolerate my "singing," especially while stuck in close proximity to my off key bass in a moving automobile. This weight is especially keen for Mrs. Soxblog on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when we journey up to New Hampshire to see my in-laws. For an hour in each direction, I happily "sing" along with the Christmas tunes I’ve come to know and love.

    My favorite is the "downbeat" version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," a song that has acquired a special resonance for a lot of people in recent years. Originally, the last verse went like this:

    Someday soon we all will be together If the fates allow. Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

    That’s how Judy Garland sang it in the 1944 movie, "Meet Me in St. Louis." For a war exhausted nation in which virtually every family had to endure being separated from a loved one, the idea of "muddling through" until everyone could once again be together was a powerfully poignant one.

    The Judy Garland version isn’t the one that you hear most often on the radio, though. Frank Sinatra re-cut the song in the 1950’s, and Frank wasn’t exactly the muddle-through type...The Sinatra version transformed the song into a much less somber affair. Frank’s last verse went like this:

    Through the years We all will be together, If the Fates allow Hang a shining star upon the highest bough. And have yourself A merry little Christmas now.

    In Frank’s version, the sense of separation so keenly felt in the original version sleeps with the fishes...

    Me, I've long favored the Garland version, but not because it's sad. I find it inspiring. I also find it true.

    I try not to write about my health except when I truly have something to say. This is one of those times. As most of the readers of this site know, I’m a 39 year-old man with Cystic Fibrosis. 39 is old for someone with CF. In many ways I’ve been lucky, and sitting here today I can honestly tell you I feel lucky. Lucky people don’t always know that they’re blessed. I do. I have a life filled with people I love, and I just spent the Holidays with them. Does it get better than that?

    For me, actually it does. Five years ago, it didn’t look like I’d be here today. But I am, and not only am I rapidly gaining on 40 there’s even a realistic chance I’ll see 50. Hell, there’s even a possibility I’ll see 60...

    None of which is to say it’s all been kicks and giggles. I began my 30’s as a guy who could run 5 miles in 35 minutes and could get by on 5 hours of sleep a day. Now I sleep about 11 hours a day, and make a sourpuss face whenever I’m confronted with a flight of stairs or a lengthy walk across a parking lot.

    And that’s where "muddling through" comes in. Regardless of who you are, at some point life plays some rotten tricks on you. Some people get terrible blows from fate; some people make their own bad luck. But everyone at some point realizes that life is at times a slog, and sometimes a cruel one.

    But we "muddle through." As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become ever more convinced that one of the keys to happiness is enjoying the "muddling," and being cognizant of your blessings while doing so.

    Some people just can’t do that. The muddling makes them bitter and angry; they enter a spiral of self-pity...

    Life is one big muddle. Sometimes you have to muddle more, sometimes you have to muddle less, but for all of us "muddling through" is the natural state of things. Luckily, while we muddle, we can surround ourselves with things we cherish. We can muddle nobly, happily and with a sense of purpose. We can choose to love and allow ourselves to be loved as we muddle.

    Ultimately, if you want it to be and let it be, it’s a beautiful muddle indeed.

    As to guidance on how to muddle with a sense of purpose, these Old Testament words from Micah 6:8 - a favorite of mine for over 30 years - offer advice about how to live a more noble life:

    He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

    And, as the muddling is sometimes particularly painful, these words from Isaiah 41:10 suggest that God will be there even during the toughest times, providing a strength which allows us to retain the hope necessary to carry on:

    Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

    The field of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) offers a perspective on the clinical benefits which can be derived by allowing ourselves to think differently as we "muddle through" what are otherwise painful moments:

    ...Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations, and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel/act better even if the situation does not change...CBT therapists believe that the clients change because they learn how to think differently and they act on that learning. Therefore, CBT therapists focus on teaching rational self-counseling skills...

    Building on that is yet another valuable lesson, which only becomes apparent with the passage of time spent "muddling through" and is reflected in these words from Ben Johnson:

    He knows not his own strength that has not met adversity.

    Finally, muddling happily truly is made possible by being cognizant of the blessings of having many dear family members and friends who have been kind enough to draw closer during these times. It is a development which has allowed some previously remote relationships to be renewed while simultaneously strengthening the bonds of other existing ones to unprecedented levels of closeness. These outcomes remind each of us - if we are open to it - that good can arise out of the ashes when least expected and what matters most in life is being able both to give love to and receive love from others. And, most poignantly of all, I am particularly blessed to be muddling alongside and together with 3 very special young people whom I love and cherish more deeply than words could ever express.

    For Electability Fans Out There…

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    From Rasmussen’s latest head-to-head surveys (h/t Kathryn Jean Lopez)…

    • Fred Thompson 45%, Hillary Clinton 45% (survey conducted June 27-28).
    • Rudy Giuliani 46%, Hillary Clinton 45% (survey conducted June 20-21).
    OK, partisans on the Republican side, it looks like it may be time to move beyond electability, and to start making the substantive case for your candidate!

    Rasmussen’s most recent matchups involving Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are about a month old, so I’ll wait until a new set comes out before posting anything.

    The John Edwards matchups are interesting, though…

    • Rudy Giuliani 45%, John Edwards 45% (survey conducted June 25-26).
    • Fred Thompson 41%, John Edwards 50% (survey conducted June 25-26).
    If Edwards is the Democratic nominee, who are the voters that Republicans are losing if Thompson is their nominee? People who don’t know him? Or people who don’t like him?


    Ooops. I did miss one recent Romney matchup...

    • Mitt Romney 42%, Hillary Clinton 46% (survey conducted June 27-28).

    July 4, 2007

    July 3, 2007

    RE: DCYF's Problems

    Marc Comtois

    Pat Crowley--who throws ad hominem attacks around like a Fenway Park Vendor throws peanuts (though they're more accurate)--has peeked in to drop a couple bombs concerning my DCYF post. However, he did attempt a more substantive critique at Kmareka (a post which Justin already mentioned). Crowley thinks that my calculations don't take into account compounding of salaries--"each year the raises are on the raises from the prior year"--and that they "are skewed because they count certain things twice....Vacation, for example. If I get to take a week off, I get paid right? But I don’t get paid twice. AR...count[s] my regular salary AND my vacation pay… they count it twice, in other words."

    To start with, there was no intention to shape the stats to fit my argument, as he implied. I kept hearing how the overall budget has increased so much since 1998, that I got the State Budge docs from as far back as I could (2001) and proceeded from there. My "technique" was simple: crunch some numbers in a straightforward way and post the results. The 29% increase in salary per position since 2001 was derived from the difference of the average DCYF salary then ($47,500) until now ($61,300). But the increase in the total amount devoted to salary from year to year is only part of it: the other part is the reduction in the number of positions and how, taken together, there has actually been an overall increase of salary per position.

    I think most people would ask: has my salary increased 29% ($13,800) since 2001? But let me amend that: these increases are for positions, not people. A better question would be: has my salary increased 29% ($13,800) since 2001 even though I've never been promoted?

    OK, you asked for it: more fun with tables. As they say, there are lies, damn lies and statistics, right? Well, here is a year-to-year breakdown that may assuage Crowley's compounded concerns.

    DCYF - Year to Year Salary Increases
    Year# FTE's% Change # FTE'sTotal Salary ($Mil)% Change Ttl. Sal.Avg. FTE Salary% ChangeInflation Rate

    As the table shows, calculating things in a slightly different way reveals that changes in total salary for the entire DCYF aren't exactly the same as changes in the average salary per FTE position. If anyone wants to suggest alternate methods, feel free.

    Crowley's example re:vacation might be applicable when calculating total payroll (salary and benefits). I used the budget numbers by the state to calculate total payroll per Full Time Equivalent position. Genuine question: Is he saying the State--including the Budget office and the Legislature--has been using faulty math for at least the past decade in calculating those numbers?

    ADDENDUM: In the comments, "Bobby O" believes I'm excluding important comparative data. I've added Inflation rate to the above table. Bobby also believes that I'm not taking into the number of caseloads. Well, according to RI Kids Count:

    Between 2000 and 2005, in Rhode Island, the total Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) caseload remained relatively constant at around 8,000 cases. In 2006, the number of children on the DCYF caseload increased to 9,414, a 19% increase from 2005.
    That's the most up-to-date I can find. Bobby ties the high caseloads to the need for the State to make an attractive compensation package to lure workers. My first thought was, "where are all of the altruistic RIC grads?", but the question really goes back to the argument made before: slightly less compensation = a few more workers = lighter caseloads = better service.

    Hey Bobby, here's a thought. If you want to cut jobs in one place to add more workers at DCYF, why not turn your eyes to the Legislature? (Hey, I can play this game all day).

    Legislature Increases - 2001 ->2008
    20012008Change (Value)% Change
    Total FTE's260298.2+38.2+11%
    Total Salaries$12,223,039$18,952,525+$6,729,486 +55%
    Total Salary/FTE$47,012$63,556+$16,544+35%
    Total Salary+Benefits$18,952,525$29,396,150+$10,443,625+55%
    Total S+B / FTE$64,463$98,579+$34,116+53%

    The numbers speak for themselves.

    What's in a Catch Phrase?

    Justin Katz

    Kiersten Marek offers a rare opportunity to highlight — in productive, conversational terms — what liberals and conservatives see differently in one of the topics over which they wrangle:

    I know some at Anchorrising.com and the head of the Rhode Island Republican party, Giovanni Cicione, complain of the strong poverty advocacy lobby in the state, but when I read statistics like those above, it seems to me that our poverty advocacy lobby is not strong enough.

    The statistics to which she refers are the various room and board payments to foster households in the Southern New England states, among which Rhode Island's are substantially lower than the others. I'm not inclined to argue against increasing in-the-field payments; rather, the phrase that draws my attention is "strong poverty advocacy lobby."

    Like many who share my general ideology, I'm suspicious of these catch phrases not only because they're grammatically vulgar (as if somebody's advocating poverty), but also because the linguistic contortions just give the impression that they're disguising emphases. I don't think, for example, that many people on my side of the aisle are opposed to strong advocacy on behalf of those in need. (Otherwise, I'd find my church a much less hospitable place.) The complaint is that having a "strong poverty advocacy lobby" doesn't mean that the worthy cause is being advocated with particular strength or effectiveness; it means that the lobby wields strength on its own behalf.

    If advocacy on behalf of the poor were strong, it wouldn't rely so heavily on those who stand to benefit financially from increasing budgets, but would treat service providers as another group that must be lobbied for the benefit of those who receive services. As Marc, especially, has been pointing out, lately, the funds are there, and I'd suggest to Kiersten that the goal of lobbying shouldn't be a bottomless pit of taxpayer resources, but accountability and effectiveness of the entire system, from the tax collector through to low-rung state employees.

    July 2, 2007

    Reverend Barry Lynn Defends the Censorship of Religious Newspapers

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    In a letter to the editor in Saturday’s Projo, Reverend Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, defended his organization’s position in favor of government censorship of print media. Americans United has filed an IRS complaint against the Diocese of Providence for publishing Bishop Thomas Tobin's criticism of Rudolph Giuliani’s public stance on abortion in its weekly newspaper, the Rhode Island Catholic. Writing that “free speech is not a plausible defense” (of course, to censors, it never is), Rev. Lynn cited a 1992 court case that he believes set a precedent limiting the content that religious newspapers are allowed to publish…

    In 1992, a church in New York ran newspaper ads advising people not to vote for Bill Clinton. The IRS revoked the church’s tax-exempt status, and the church sued to get it back. A federal appeals court ruled unanimously against the church, rejecting its free-speech argument.
    However, for this precedent to apply, you have to accept the view that newspaper op-eds are forms of paid political advertising, implying -- if you really believe in treating religious and non-religious organizations without bias -- that secular, corporate-owned media should also be prohibited from editorializing on political candidates since campaign finance laws expressly prohibit corporations from making expenditures “expressly advocating the election or defeat of one or more clearly identified candidate(s) or the candidates of a clearly identified political party”.

    In other words, if Rev. Lynn believes that the IRS should crack down on the Rhode Island Catholic for using Mayor Giuliani’s name in an op-ed, shouldn’t he also believe that the FEC should crack down on the Belo Corporation for doing the same?

    The only way to apply the 1992 precedent to Bishop Tobin's op-ed without making a case that all political discourse on American op-ed pages needs to be shut down is to assert that diocesan newspapers like the Rhode Island Catholic are not entitled to the full range of First Amendment protections enjoyed by "real" newspapers, i.e. that religious newspapers are second-class media organizations entitled to fewer first-amendment protections than non-religious ones. Does advocating for restrictions on the free-press rights of religious newspapers sound like a reasonable interpretation of the “separation of church and state” to you, or does it sound more like Americans United for Separation of Church and State represents a fringe that believes not so much that government should be neutral towards religion, but that government should actively discourage the expression of religious belief in public?

    July 1, 2007

    Talking About Wealth and Wedges

    Justin Katz

    Partly as an excuse to fiddle with the technology, I've recorded an MP3 reading of some musings about being a carpenter on the Bellevue/Ocean Drive beat (available as a stream or a download).

    Taking the Bishop's Cue

    Justin Katz

    For those who might have missed it (whether by accident or by design), I've got a piece in today's Providence Journal that considers some of the discussion that Bishop Tobin's reflections on Rudy Giuliani inspired.