October 31, 2007

Creatures of a Rhode Island Halloween: What Lies Beneath Broad Street?

Carroll Andrew Morse

In the novella The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, H.P. Lovecraft tells the story of Doctor Marinus Willet's 1928 exploration of an underground crypt near the city of Providence…

Since the existence of some vast crypt beneath the bungalow seemed virtually beyond dispute, some effort must be made to find it. Willett and Mr. Ward, conscious of the sceptical attitude of the alienists, resolved during their final conference to undertake a joint secret exploration of unparalleled thoroughness; and agreed to meet at the bungalow on the following morning with valises and with certain tools and accessories suited to architectural search and underground exploration.
Inside of the crypt, Dr. Willet discovers something terribly alive…
The explorer trembled, unwilling even to imagine what noxious thing might be lurking in that abyss, but in a moment mustered up the courage to peer over the rough-hewn brink; lying at full length and holding the torch downward at arm's length to see what might lie below. For a second he could distinguish nothing but the slimy, moss-grown brick walls sinking illimitably into that half-tangible miasma of murk and foulness and anguished frenzy; and then he saw that something dark was leaping clumsily and frantically up and down at the bottom of the narrow shaft, which must have been from twenty to twenty-five feet below the stone floor where he lay. The torch shook in his hand, but he looked again to see what manner of living creature might be immured there in the darkness of that unnatural well....

But Marinus Bicknell Willett was sorry that he looked again; for surgeon and veteran of the dissecting-room though he was, he has not been the same since….He screamed and screamed and screamed in a voice whose falsetto panic no acquaintance of his would ever have recognised; and though he could not rise to his feet he crawled and rolled desperately away from the damp pavement where dozens of Tartarean wells poured forth their exhausted whining and yelping to answer his own insane cries. He tore his hands on the rough, loose stones, and many times bruised his head against the frequent pillars, but still he kept on. Then at last he slowly came to himself in the utter blackness and stench, and stopped his ears against the droning wail into which the burst of yelping had subsided. He was drenched with perspiration and without means of producing a light; stricken and unnerved in the abysmal blackness and horror, and crushed with a memory he never could efface. Beneath him dozens of those things still lived, and from one of those shafts the cover was removed. He knew that what he had seen could never climb up the slippery walls, yet shuddered at the thought that some obscure foot-hold might exist.

What the thing was, he would never tell. It was like some of the carvings on the hellish altar, but it was alive.

Lovecraft identifies the location of the crypt and the bungalow above it (which belonged to the Charles Dexter Ward of the story's title) quite specifically…
Not long after his mother's departure, Charles Ward began negotiating for the Pawtuxet bungalow. It was a squalid little wooden edifice with a concrete garage, perched high on the sparsely settled bank of the river slightly above Rhodes, but for some odd reason the youth would have nothing else.
Be careful at the next event you attend at Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet; it would be wise not to wander down the wrong staircase.

Creatures of a Rhode Island Halloween: The Ghost Ship Palatine

Carroll Andrew Morse

Trick-or-treaters in the vicinity of Rhode Island's southern coasts may also want to watch the ocean very carefully, in their case, for signs of a ghost ship said to haunt Block Island. A source no less credible than the New York Times reported on this legend in its edition of November 20, 1899

During the month of November, a majority of [Block Islanders], or at least those who are descended from the ancient settlers of the community, look for the appearance of the Palatine, the phantom ship....The wife of one of the hotel owners on the island insists that the Palatine spectre was seen by fifty persons in 1880. And there are others who will declare that it makes its annual appearance, and that usually it foretells the death of an inhabitant of the sea-girt isle. The apparition makes its appearance on the edge of the night, when the conditions are best suited to a supernatural visitation. The ship appears in a cloud, with every sail set and drawing full. Her head is pointed toward Newport, when of a sudden the vessel's course is altered and she heads straight for the breakers. She strikes the cruel rocks, recedes, and sinks in the darkening water, while her shrouds and sails are all aglow with the fire that breaks out from the hull.
Would it be a cliche to say that the legend of the Palatine may demonstrate how man may be the most dangerous creature of all? John Greenleaf Whittier's "The Wreck of the Palatine", published in 1867 and part of the background of the Times story, tells of a sailing ship lured to disaster by the devious residents of Block Island…
Into the teeth of death she sped
(May God forgive the hands that fed
The false lights over the rocky Head!)

O men and brothers! what sights were there!
White upturned faces, hands stretched in prayer!
Where waves had pity, could ye not spare?

Down swooped the wreckers, like birds of prey
Tearing the heart of the ship away,
And the dead had never a word to say.

And then, with ghastly shimmer and shine
Over the rocks and the seething brine,
They burned the wreck of the Palatine.

An August 15, 1885 report from the Times relays a detailed version of this legend in prosaic form.

Rhode Island folklorist Michael Bell, however, tells an alternate narrative, supported by records made at the time of a confirmed 18th century shipwreck, but hidden from historians until the 1920s…

A deposition taken from the ship's crew shortly after the incident (but not rediscovered until 1925), recounts that the mate (and acting captain) refused to allow the passengers to go ashore, presumably because he was more concerned with tackling than people. During the voyage, "a fever and flux", possibly caused by bad water, had decimated the passengers. The master and some of the crew had died as well. At the insistence of the Block Islanders, the captain finally relented and the ship was abandoned. When her cable was cut, she drifted free and broke up on the rocks.

Within a hundred years, two major versions of this incident had entered oral tradition. One shows the people of Block Island to be kind-hearted souls who saved the shipwrecked passengers and nursed them back to health in their own homes after the cruel captain and crew deliberately ran the ship ashore to conceal their plunder and mistreatment of the passengers.

The second version of the incident referred to by Bell, of course, was the version immortalized by Whittier.

As early as the late 1870s (after Whittier's poem but before the original records were rediscovered), a gentleman named Samuel Livermore investigating the original incident concluded that there was no evidence that the residents of Block Island had intentionally wrecked the Palatine -- but that accounts of the appearance of a burning ghost ship were credible!

Finally, the 1899 Times story concludes on this ghostly note...

In connection with the ship Palatine, an interesting story is told of a dancing mortar, which once belonged to that ill-fated ship. It is a common mortar, and was used to grind corn. It now rests in the Rhode Island Historical Society's rooms in Providence. The old mortar rested in an old house on Block Island for many years. About the time the Palatine was due to make her appearance, the mortar would hop from its resting place to the floor and the skip and whirl to the brownstone hearth, where it would dance in rhythmic time. Warming up, it would leap back and forth from the floor to the ceiling of the room, beating an unearthly tattoo on the hardwood planks. The peculiar action is authenticated by reputable people who have investigated the occurence.

Creatures of a Rhode Island Halloween: The Sakonnet Sea Monster

Carroll Andrew Morse

Trick-or-treaters of the East Bay should be forewarned about getting too near the shore, lest they come face-to-face with the Sakonnet Sea Monster. The August 1, 2002 edition of the Fall River Herald News describes a recent encounter…

A fun-filled day of swimming and fishing for one local group of friends and family turned into a nightmare that most only witness in the movies.

Fall River residents Dennis Vasconcellos, Rachel Carney, Joey Mailloux, Tracy Roberts, a young child and another woman were at Teddy's Beach in the Island Park section of Portsmouth Tuesday afternoon when things got a little scary.

Half the group was fishing, while the other half were either swimming or playing in the sand. But what seemed to be the perfect summer afternoon got turned upside down the moment Vasconcellos heard his fiancé, Carney, scream.

Carney was screaming for help, yelling that something was after her. An unknown ominous sea creature seemed to be toying with Carney, who was swimming beyond the "Danger" sign posted at the quiet beach.

The sea creature -- described as being about 15-feet long, with four-inch teeth, greenish-black skin and a white belly -- was swimming around Carney and popping its head out of the water to expose its teeth and hiss in a manner that could not soon be forgotten, Carney said.

"I was deep out in the water and kept hearing this hissing sound. Then I saw its head come up showing me its big teeth," Carney said. "It kept rolling while it was swimming and knocking into my feet. I just froze."

In the meantime, Vasconcellos said he swam out to her aide and just grabbed her from the backside and told her "don't look back"…

Creatures of a Rhode Island Halloween: Prologue

Carroll Andrew Morse

Last year, Anchor Rising assisted local trick-or-treaters by preparing them for some of the more unusual creatures they may encounter on Halloween night in Rhode Island.

There was Bigfoot, once observed in the woods of Charlestown…

Beside the tall fractured stump stood what looked like a large white (yellow white) ape. It was maybe 6 to 7 feet tall, its hair was long, face flat, long massive arms, its head appeared to be without any neck, its chest was broad.

My mother and I froze momentarily (5 seconds, maybe 10) and the figure remained still, staring at us...

There was a "Block Ness Monster", i.e. Block Island's version of the Loch Ness Monster, whose remains have washed ashore from time to time…
They actually saw it from the shore: a blur of whiteness underneath the waves just beyond the break. The two waded back into the surf and, to their astonishment, found the coiled skeletal remains of an indeterminate undersea creature....

"If you imagine the fish intact, it was a very large fish", [said oceanographer Jeremy Collie]. This echoes what he said when initially surveying the remains on Friday: "There was much more of this fish -- it was a monster. Well, maybe I shouldn't say that."

And there was the ghost who appeared in West Greenwich to tell people that she was not a vampire…
His wife [returned to Nellie Vaughn's gravesite] several months later where she happened to encounter a young, dark-haired woman who claimed to be a member of a local historical society. When their conversation shifted to discussion of Nellie Vaughn, the young woman became agitated and started repeating, "Nellie is not a vampire."

Shaken, the Coventry woman turned to leave and when she looked back to ensure the disturbed woman was not following her, she found the cemetery empty.

These entities and apparitions may still be out there. And this year, we add three more to watch out for...

ProJo Pulls a Fonzi

Marc Comtois

They just can't say the "W" word, can they? Last week, the ProJo editorialized:

We agree with Governor Carcieri that Rhode Island must slash spending to close yawning budget deficits and get the state back on its feet economically. But courtroom translators are not the place to start.

During a recent radio talk-show appearance, Governor Carcieri seemed to argue that such translators are a needless extravagance, and that immigrants should do more to take care of themselves when they come to America, and rely less on the generosity of taxpayers when they get here.

But the Governor had made it clear he wasn't talking about court interpreters before the ProJo published that editorial, and they eviscerated him anyway. And now they acknowledge that the Governor has "clarified" his position.
Governor Carcieri has explained that he did not mean to include court interpreters in his recent radio comments denouncing taxpayer-funded interpreters for immigrants, the subject of the Oct. 24 editorial “Justice and translators.”

All citizens should be pleased that the governor recognizes the importance of interpreters in securing justice for those, including immigrants, who find themselves in the court system.

Meanwhile, the debate continues over how to stem the flood of illegal immigration, which places a severe strain on government services and, of course, the taxpayers. As we noted, the governor makes a good point in raising that issue.

Yeah, and he explained it before your editorial guys. Just like Arthur Fonzarelli, they can't admit they were "w- w- w- w-....wrong (episode #160)."

NOTE: Heh. Just noticed that Dan Yorke blogged about this too and said it was "Like a Happy Days episode" and mentioned the Fonz and the "w" word, too. I guess we use the same cultural reference dictionary!

A Cornucopia of Veto Overrides

Justin Katz

My emailbox is aflood with announcements of the General Assembly's overrides of Governor Carcieri's latest vetos. Not a single press release contains the phrase "failed to override." Some highlights of the GA's actions-by-override:

  • Created another voice for established players to govern healthcare in Rhode Island — a Health Care Planning and Accountability Advisory Council — with membership rules that arguably trample principles of separation of powers and are otherwise dubious (the following list is partial):
    • The speaker of the house or designated representative
    • The house minority leader or designated representative
    • The president of the senate or designated senator
    • The senate minority leader or designated representative
    • Five (5) consumer representatives. A consumer is defined as someone who does not directly or through a spouse or partner receive any of his/her livelihood from the health care system. Consumers may be nominated from the labor unions in Rhode Island; the health care consumer advocacy organizations in Rhode Island, the business community; and organizations representing the minority community who have an understanding of the linguistic and cultural barriers to accessing health care in Rhode Island
  • Added restrictions and legislative oversight of the governor's behavior as the state's CEO. The statement of Rep. Elizabeth Dennigan (D-East Providence, Pawtucket) in the press release is deceptive: "With the passage of this bill, getting access to exactly where money goes in the budget should be a more streamlined process. In turn, having this information should make difficult budget-cutting decisions easier to make, because we will be making them as informed legislators." What the new law actually does, according to its summary is to "require all state departments prior to contracting with non-state employees for services to make an effort to find qualified employees within the state and to issue reports on why outside services are being used."
  • Found a way to squeeze more money out of part-time residents by increasing time-share real estate value assessments.
  • Expanded the state's discount drug program to include any households earning 300% of the poverty level ($61,956 for a family of four) and established an Advisory Commission to be co-chaired by "the speaker of the house or his or her designee, and the president of the senate or his or her designee."
  • Reduced the governor's influence on the Board of Elections by removing his authority to appoint the Chair and Vice Chair, leaving it to a majority vote of the board, and added language ensuring the legislature's veto power over appointments.
  • Flaunted the non–separation of powers method of appointing magistrates.
  • Heightened the pressure to pursue affirmative action policies when filling government positions, although I see that the Senate allowed a bill that would have deleted "references in the Rhode Island general laws which exempt the legislative branch of state government from compliance with provisions of equal opportunity and affirmative action" to die in the Judiciary Committee.

The only hint of a fantasy of a silver lining to this slate of legislative action is that "equal and diverse representation on state boards, commissions, public authorities and quasi-public corporations" might be argued to require the appointment of some conservatives... or even just plain ol' Republicans.

October 30, 2007

Re: Duie Pyle, Gomer Pyle and the Speaker of the House

Monique Chartier

Ian Donnis of the Providence Phoenix has kindly e-mailed me the link on his blog to his conversation with Speaker William Murphy regarding the A. Duie Pyle tax legislation. "Conversation", which connotes a certain back and forth, is perhaps too strong a word, which Ian indicates up front.

House Speaker William J. Murphy just returned the call I placed earlier today to his spokesman, Larry Berman. Murphy declined to answer questions about the issues surrounding the tax break not received by Duie Pyle, but he did share these words, seemingly reading from a statement and making some contemporaneous changes

In his statement to Ian, Speaker Murphy does not get into what he knew, when he knew it or even the minor matter that he has been the subject of Grand Jury testimony.

The project status tax break for Duie Pyle was a back-burner issue that has turned into a political football. It's time to set the record straight.

The Duie Pyle project status proposal was never in Governor Carcieri's budget that he sent to the House of Representatives. The House Finance Committee held a public hearing on May 23, 2007, concerning EDC's request for project status for Duie Pyle. No one from the governor's office showed up to testify in favor of the proposal for project status. No one from the Town of Johnston came to testify in favor of the Duie Pyle proposal. No one from Duie Pyle nor their representative testified in favor of their proposal for project status.

When the House Finance Committee approved its budget on June 8, the Duie Pyle proposal was not in the budget. As per House rules, the budget remained on the desk for seven days. And at no point prior to or on June 15, 2007, when the budget came before the full House of Representatives, did any member of the House of Representatives move to amend the budget by offering any amendment on the Duie Pyle project status proposal.

Yesterday, October 29, 2007, was the first time that I heard from Governor Carcieri concerning Duie Pyle. The company has held a groundbreaking and begun operations in the state of Rhode Island without receiving a tax break. In a very difficult year, the House Finance Committee's decision has saved $330,000 for the taxpayers of this state.

I have not met anyone from the Duie Pyle corporation. I have heard some very positive things about the company. And I am glad that they are in Rhode Island. The issue at hand is similar to the Brown & Sharpe/Hexagon proposal in 2005, when the General Assembly held firm and refused to go along with the governor's proposal to build a new building for the company at taxpayer expense.

The Assembly in 2005 was able to develop legislation to keep Brown & Sharp/Hexagon here, and to protect taxpayers of Rhode Island. In my opinion, the Duie Pyle issue has become this year's political football and it did not seem to be a concern of the above-mentioned parties while the process was proceeding.

Let's hear that again. "In a very difficult year, the House Finance Committee's decision has saved $330,000 for the taxpayers of this state."

First of all, what are we to make of the two similar tax breaks that did pass the General Assembly? In that light, were they ill-advised?

Secondly, let's dispose of the phantom revenue straw man. No money was saved on behalf of the taxpayers. That $330,000 in taxes wasn't real unless and until the company moved here and began purchasing things.

More importantly, for all they knew at the time, the House Finance Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and, there's no getting around it, the Speaker of the House were costing Rhode Island 120 good jobs by failing to pass tax legislation to entice a company to locate here. We have yet to hear a reasonable explanation as to why the public interest was subverted in this way.

A Fallacy of Fallacies

Justin Katz

Putting aside his petty complaints that Dan Yorke and Lori Drew interrupted him on the radio (but noting that I heard him interrupting Ms. Drew moments before chastising her for doing the same), this aspect of John McNally's thoughts on his appearance on Dan Yorke's show relates to a question that I've had since first coming across his blog last night:

When the d.j. Dan Yorke jumped in (Dan also interrupted me in the first part of the segment), he wanted to argue my point by comparing Will's essay to a security system in the school. What if, he supposes, she had complaints about security? Shouldn't she have the right, as a parent, even though she's not a security expert, to bring this to the attention of the school? My reply was that it was a logical fallacy to compare a security system to an essay that's part of a school's curriculum. He said, "It's not a logical fallacy," and I, making the mistake of thinking this was a debate, and interrupting him as both he and the mother had done to me, said, "It IS a logical fallacy." ...

(Just because two issues share SOME things in common -- like schools and teachers -- doesn't make it a valid comparison. This is Freshman Comp 101, not rocket science, but if that makes me an academic jack-ass, so be it. I'd rather be the person who can distinguish those differences than the one who can't. And if my tone here is elitist, so f***ing what?) ...

So, yes, okay, I'll concede: Maybe I am a certain kind of academic jack-ass who thinks his s*** doesn't stink. Those who know me, of course, are howling right now, but pay no mind to them, because you know what, Dan Yorke? I'd much rather be me than you, a jack-ass d.j. who doesn't know what a logical fallacy is, and whose only come-back is yet another logical fallacy: the ad hominem attack.

Frankly, I'm not persuaded that Mr. McNally is entirely clear on what constitutes a logical fallacy, himself. Here, McNally flings the label upon hearing Yorke equate school security with a reading assignment, which would have been a fallacy of composition and division (some aspects of each thing are like, therefore, they are like in total and, therefore, in other particulars). But this is a strawman (fallacy). A comparison's being invalid doesn't make it logically fallacious. It falls to McNally, at this point, to explain why security and reading assignments are not comparable in the aspects that Yorke intended (in this case, the right, even obligation, of parents to speak up when they think the academic professionals to be in error).

Elsewhere, McNally replies thus to a commenter who questioned whether he would have a problem "if the school assigned Bill O'Reilly or some right-wing book to students to read":


In this instance, the rules of argumentative writing are a red herring (another fallacy), via which McNally attempts to divert attention from the questions. Those questions may be irrelevant, but that's an opinion requiring further debate; posing them doesn't represent a failure of logic.

As I suggested in the comments to my previous post, McNally is employing the technique of calling comparisons and analogies that he finds erroneous or inapplicable "logical fallacies" even though it's not the logic that is fallacious in those cases (which labeling is, itself, a fallacy of persuasive definition). He uses the phrase "logical fallacy" as an invisible wall to be thrown up around rhetorical opponents in order to invalidate their arguments on grounds that he presumes them not to understand.

The not-quite-unexpected irony of the post is that the centerpiece of his own argument is itself a logical fallacy:

My main complaint with this woman isn't that she doesn't want her daughter to read Will Clarke's essay, which she found offensive, but rather that she doesn't want the book in the school at all. In other words, she wants to dictate curriculum. So, you see, she's trying to dictate what OTHER KIDS in the class should be reading, not just what her daughter should be reading.

McNally presents a false dilemma: Either Drew must shut her yap, or she is attempting to "dictate curriculum" (sic). The alternative that this reasoning overlooks is that Drew is dictating nothing; indeed, she is inherently powerless to do so. (She hasn't even suggested, as far as I've seen, that she's considering legal action.) Rather, she's attempting to bring the matter into the open in the hopes that pressure will be brought to bear on those who do have the authority to raise the intellectual and moral level of the education offered in Cumberland's public schools.

Lessons Beyond Reading... and Administration

Justin Katz

The truth — unfortunate or fortunate — is that I read much more explicit, more sexually descriptive texts for school work than Will Clarke's "How to Kill a Boy That No One Liked" (PDF sample courtesy of Dan Yorke), including, for example, books by Stephen King in which not a few young fellas likely knew the page numbers of the really juicy parts. There are two significant differences between that memory and the circumstances in which her daughter came to read Clarke's essay to which Lori Drew of Cumberland objects: I read such books for pick-your-own-book projects, so the onus for my choices ultimately rested with myself and my parents, and the readings were generally additional to the basic requirements. In the case of Ms. Drew's daughter, the text was specifically handed out, and it was meant to be compelling for unaccomplished and reluctant readers, presumably in place of the more appropriate materials that they would not read.

That last point is the worrying one, in the context (the subtext, one might say) of what the grownups are saying just below the surface. From the Projo story, here's Cumberland School Committee Chairman Frederic C. Crowley:

"It's no Catcher in the Rye, and there is language that is offensive in the essay, but no more than what kids are exposed to in music, video games, television shows and movies," he said. "I think it's a very appropriate decision. [Morelle] handled the issue immediately and she handled it correctly."

Here's John McNally, the editor of the book containing Clarke's story:

I'm not a scientist, so I don't tell scientists what to do. I'm not a physician, so I don't tell my doctor how he should treat me. But when it comes to "art," people who know nothing about it are quick to make uninformed judgments in the name of "protecting" their children from what ... the words on the page? The ideas connected to the words? The images the words may conjure in the reader's head?

And Here's Mr. Clarke himself:

Look lady, leave that poor teacher who assigned my story alone. And stop talking about sex with animals to every person with a microphone. You got your daughter out of the reading class and into a free office worker period where her mind won't be ruined by books. What else do you want?

Thus, with the ease of badminton quips, whacking a double-sized shuttlecock, the distant cultural missionaries, once invited in, proceed to force conscientious objectors out of their own classrooms. The point that Clarke studiously ignores is that Lori Drew does not want her daughter to miss out on her reading class, and it's a sneering vanity in the line of thought from the author through the school officials through the teacher herself that insists that the school establishment compromise the education of children whose parents have moral objections rather than conform the curriculum to basic minimum of standards of taste amenable to all, especially given the specific objective of a reading assignment. The children in Miss Drew's class are in need of additional help; the burden of adults' canned counterestablishmentarianism oughtn't be placed on their shoulders.

McNally recites the oft-employed reasoning that artists know art, and implies that those with less finely tuned aesthetic senses are foolish to fear words, images, or even ideas. Having strung words into a book or two, myself, I'll testify that it is a poor artist, indeed, who isn't fascinated — even awe-struck — by the power of that very triumvirate. (Come now, Mr. McNally, let's dispense with the faux innocence with respect to this poorly kept secret.) Moreover, in her attempt to push anything consisting of the English language past the eyes of her reluctant readers, those three aspects are certainly what attracted the teacher to Clarke in the first place.

There's a more direct, less abstract response to McNally, however: If the parents are out of their depth interpreting the texts in his book, how much more so will the children be? What message are they receiving from When I Was a Loser? One author defends Clarke by pointing out that his own essay in the book is far more explicit. The Providence Journal story describes another essay about a young woman who "rationalized her secret sexual promiscuity and her image as a good Christian girl."

In this light, Clarke's essay may be the more deleterious. Having read only what Dan Yorke has made available (because I lack the interest to purchase the book and the time to read it in the aisle of a book store or library), I cannot say without disclaimer, but the take-away appears to be that sex sells, even when it is hidden — the supposedly benign three letters of the word itself — in a student-politician's campaign poster. That may be true enough, but is that a lesson that must receive a school's imprimatur, within a behind-the-curve reading class? Such kids are facing high enough hurdles without the school's reinforcing and legitimizing the corruptive lessons of "music, video games, television shows and movies."

Authors write as they wish, and we ignore at our peril the reality that people sinking in mire must by necessity grab for redemptive vines covered in the same muck. The real illness on display, it seems to me, is in the fear of mere "connotations" that has kept School Superintendent Donna Morelle from responding more appropriately to the needs of an actual student, and her family, within her care:

"We're not banning books or anything like that," Morelle said. "There's a whole set of connotations about banning books. That's not a boundary that I'm ever willing to cross."

As if books are not removed from reading lists (or kept off them in the first place) for a range of reasons all requiring judgment of some fashion. Yeah, banning books is bad. Repressive. I've seen that movie, too. But sometimes grownups have to question their own moral absolutes for the sake of those under their power. And sometimes parents have better standing (let alone a right) to determine whether the grimy threads will reach their children as lifelines or as a net.

October 29, 2007

Duie Pyle, Gomer Pyle and the Speaker of the House

Monique Chartier

Last month, Mike Stanton at the Providence Journal broke the story that the FBI was investigating allegations that Senator Stephen Alves (D-West Warwick) killed a tax break for trucking company A. Duie Pyle for personal financial reasons - or lack thereof. At the time, Speaker of the House William Murphy (D-West Warwick) denied any knowledge of the proposed tax break as it was under legislative consideration.

After The Journal reported last month that the FBI was investigating whether Alves abused his office by killing the bill, Murphy said that he wasn’t aware of the Duie Pyle bill during the session.

“I didn’t know Duie Pyle from Gomer Pyle,” Murphy told The Journal.

But now Stanton is reporting that Representative Stephen Ucci (D-Johnston) says otherwise. And not just to the media.

Ucci confirmed that he and another Johnston legislator, Sen. Christopher B. Maselli, testified to the grand jury in Providence two weeks ago, along with Jeff Britt, Duie Pyle’s lobbyist. Ucci and Maselli had told The Journal about their efforts to revive the bill, only to learn that Alves opposed it. ...

Rep. Stephen R. Ucci, D-Johnston, testified that he took his concerns to Murphy that Senate Finance Chairman Stephen D. Alves was purportedly opposed to the tax break because the Town of Johnston had failed to invest pension funds with Alves, a stockbroker. The legislation — which would have granted a $330,000 tax break to A. Duie Pyle for bringing jobs to Johnston — died at the State House in June and has since become the subject of an FBI corruption investigation.

Murphy thanked him for the information, but did nothing to move the bill along, says Ucci.

And now, Speaker Murphy is no longer talking about Pyles of any variety.

Murphy declined yesterday to discuss the matter. Asked if he or other House leaders have been subpoenaed, he declined to comment on “a matter under investigation.”

Interestingly, not everyone's memory is as good as Rep Ucci and Sen Maselli.

As Senate Finance chairman, Alves helps shape the budget that emerges from House Finance, in private meetings with his House counterpart, Rep. Steven M. Costantino, D-Providence. Their meetings are so secretive that the vice chairman of House Finance, Rep. Jan P. Malik, D-Warren, says that he’s not even allowed inside.

Costantino has not returned repeated calls from The Journal seeking comment on why Duie Pyle was cut from the budget. Alves says that he couldn’t recall whether Duie Pyle came up in his talks with Costantino.

After the House Finance budget was released, Ucci says he went to House Majority Leader Gordon Fox, who told him that it was Alves who was opposed to the Duie Pyle incentive. (Fox told The Journal that he couldn’t recall the conversation.)

Why did Speaker Murphy deny any knowledge of the proposed tax break? Did he speak to Senator Alves about it? If so, what was said? Is it possible even that Senator Alves shared with the Speaker his annoyance about being denied management of the Johnston pensions? Would that make the Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives a potential witness before the Grand Jury?


House Minority Whip Nick Gorham (R-Foster/Gloucester/Coventry), appearing on WPRO's John Depetro Show this morning, called on Speaker Murphy to "clear the air" and "come out and say what he knew and when he knew it". Rep Gorham also made some interesting and pointed comments about Speaker Murphy's legislative power and the probability that he was unaware of the pending tax break for A. Duie Pyle.

Everybody knows that the Speaker and Leader Fox know exactly what's going on in the committees almost all of the time and, especially in the waning days, they choose what bills live and die. ...

They are running all of the traffic through the intersections on the final days of the General Assembly. Fox, Murphy, Alves, Montalbano - they are running the show and they know it. And for them to say that we didn't know what was going on ... this silly thing about Gomer Pyle and Duie Pyle. You know ... I think that they are abdicating their responsibility to be forthright with the public. What happened and why?

The New Atheism

Donald B. Hawthorne

There have a flurry of books in recent months on atheism. Writing about them in The City Journal, Theodore Dalrymple - a non-believer himself - discusses What the New Atheists Don't See: To regret religion is to regret Western civilization:

...Lying not far beneath the surface of all the neo-atheist books is the kind of historiography that many of us adopted in our hormone-disturbed adolescence, furious at the discovery that our parents sometimes told lies and violated their own precepts and rules. It can be summed up in Christopher Hitchens’s drumbeat in God Is Not Great: "Religion spoils everything."

What? The Saint Matthew Passion? The Cathedral of Chartres? The emblematic religious person in these books seems to be a Glasgow Airport bomber—a type unrepresentative of Muslims, let alone communicants of the poor old Church of England. It is surely not news, except to someone so ignorant that he probably wouldn’t be interested in these books in the first place, that religious conflict has often been murderous and that religious people have committed hideous atrocities. But so have secularists and atheists, and though they have had less time to prove their mettle in this area, they have proved it amply. If religious belief is not synonymous with good behavior, neither is absence of belief, to put it mildly.

In fact, one can write the history of anything as a chronicle of crime and folly. Science and technology spoil everything: without trains and IG Farben, no Auschwitz; without transistor radios and mass-produced machetes, no Rwandan genocide. First you decide what you hate, and then you gather evidence for its hatefulness. Since man is a fallen creature (I use the term metaphorically rather than in its religious sense), there is always much to find.

The thinness of the new atheism is evident in its approach to our civilization, which until recently was religious to its core. To regret religion is, in fact, to regret our civilization and its monuments, its achievements, and its legacy. And in my own view, the absence of religious faith, provided that such faith is not murderously intolerant, can have a deleterious effect upon human character and personality. If you empty the world of purpose, make it one of brute fact alone, you empty it (for many people, at any rate) of reasons for gratitude, and a sense of gratitude is necessary for both happiness and decency. For what can soon, and all too easily, replace gratitude is a sense of entitlement. Without gratitude, it is hard to appreciate, or be satisfied with, what you have: and life will become an existential shopping spree that no product satisfies...

Though eloquent, this appeal to moderation as the key to happiness is not original; but such moderation comes more naturally to the man who believes in something not merely higher than himself, but higher than mankind. After all, the greatest enjoyment of the usages of this world, even to excess, might seem rational when the usages of this world are all that there is...

Shhh! World Is Becoming A Better Place

Marc Comtois

Stephen Moore calls attention to a UN report that--for some reason--didn't get much play in the media:

A new United Nations report called "State of the Future" concludes: "People around the world are becoming healthier, wealthier, better educated, more peaceful, more connected, and they are living longer."

Yes, of course, there was the obligatory bad news: Global warming is said to be getting worse and income disparities are widening. But the joyous trends in health and wealth documented in the report indicate a gigantic leap forward for humanity. This is probably the first time you've heard any of this because--while the grim "Global 2000" and "Limits to Growth" reports were deemed worthy of headlines across the country--the media mostly ignored the good news and the upbeat predictions of "State of the Future."

But here they are: World-wide illiteracy rates have fallen by half since 1970 and now stand at an all-time low of 18%. More people live in free countries than ever before. The average human being today will live 50% longer in 2025 than one born in 1955.

To what do we owe this improvement? Capitalism, according to the U.N. Free trade is rightly recognized as the engine of global prosperity in recent years. In 1981, 40% of the world's population lived on less than $1 a day. Now that percentage is only 25%, adjusted for inflation. And at current rates of growth, "world poverty will be cut in half between 2000 and 2015"--which is arguably one of the greatest triumphs in human history. Trade and technology are closing the global "digital divide"...

The media's collective yawn over "State of the Future" is typical of the reaction to just about any good news. When 2006 was declared the hottest year on record, there were thousands of news stories. But last month's revised data, indicating that 1934 was actually warmer, barely warranted a paragraph-long correction in most papers.

So I'm happy to report that the world's six billion people are living longer, healthier and more comfortably than ever before. If only it were easy to fit that on a button.

Making It Your Job to Stay Healthy

Justin Katz

The economics of changing insurance rates based on demonstration of a healthy lifestyle are simply to understand. Still, do we really wish to make it the responsibility of employers to enforce those lifestyles?

[State Health Insurance Commissioner Christopher F.] Koller explained that HEALTHpact was created, at the direction of Governor Carcieri and the General Assembly, as an alternative to high-premium, high-deductible, reduced-coverage health insurance that small-business owners have shunned.

It requires managers and workers to be more engaged in the process of buying health insurance.

To qualify for the least-costly policy under HEALTHpact, a worker must complete a “health risk assessment” that includes a pledge to lower body weight, stop smoking and participate in disease/case management. After that, there are regular assessments, and if the employee does not comply with the requirements, the deductible goes up — significantly.

It seems far more rational, to me, to make health insurance an individual thing and then to offer discounts — adjust premiums — to those who live healthily. Lowering my blood pressure and cholesterol shouldn't be a concern of my employer, at least inasmuch as it doesn't affect my performance.

Republicans, Belay Your Panic…

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson have both rebounded in Rasmussen's head-to-head polling versus Hillary Clinton. Two weeks ago, Hillary Clinton was leading both Republicans in Rasmussen's results. This week, they're again neck and neck and neck (survey conducted October 22-23)…

  • Rudy Giuliani 46%
  • Hillary Clinton 44%
  • Fred Thompson 45%
  • Hillary Clinton 47%
Because a dead-heat is most consistent with long-term trends observed thus far, Rasmussen's analysts suggest that statistical fluctuation between samples is the most likely explanation for Clinton's pull ahead and the Giuliani/Thompson rebound, rather than anything the candidates have said or done.

Interestingly, according to another Rasmussen result, Giuliani is also running neck-and-neck with John Edwards, while Thompson trails him by a significant margin (survey conducted October 24-25)…

  • Rudy Giuliani 45%
  • John Edwards 44%
  • Fred Thompson 39%
  • John Edwards 48%
The Edwards/Giuliani numbers being so close to the Clinton/Giuliani numbers might mean that Giuliani is winning supporters without the benefit of a huge anti-Hillary vote, or it might mean that something about Edwards' style of campaigning is driving his negatives as high as Clinton's are.

The combined results from all the above match-ups suggest that there's about 5 percent of the electorate a) who haven't decided how they would vote in a non-Giuliani versus Clinton race, but have decided b) that they will vote for Giuliani, if he is the Republican nominee, and c) that they will vote for any Republican, if Clinton is the Democratic nominee.

No "Curse" in Sight, This One Was Fun!!!

Marc Comtois



There’s success to go with tradition now, happy endings to replace the failure. Now, instead of wallowing in what went wrong, the fan base is joyous...

For so many years, the franchise was defined by heartbreak, identified with close calls and bad breaks. The agony of defeat was seemingly part of the Red Sox’ DNA.

No longer. Now, they win the closes ones, the big ones, the late-season ones...

Things sure have changed.

If you’re a Red Sox fan, enjoy. And consider yourself lucky. After years of wandering in baseball’s wilderness, the Red Sox have reached the Promised Land.


These, you probably don’t have to be reminded, are the good old days. ~ Sean McAdam

Outside of Everywhere

Justin Katz

Not being a connoisseur of biographies, I'm finding G. Wayne Miller's series on Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin more interesting than I expected. One result has been a new resolve to pay closer attention, and perhaps submit writing, to the diocesan newspaper, Rhode Island Catholic. That being the case, I'm not sure what to make of this:

The bishop would keep a close hand in the rebirth, but many of the details would fall to his communications director, Michael K. Guilfoyle, who had replaced the retiring William Halpin in late 2005. Guilfoyle was one of the bishop’s earliest appointments. He was a further sign of the importance Tobin placed on the media.

Guilfoyle, 30 at the time, was a practicing Catholic, and he'd graduated from a Benedictine college, Saint Anselm, in Manchester, N.H. But he was no religious shill. He'd made his mark in the secular world, first as press secretary for U.S. Rep. Robert Weygand, then as director of communications for Weygand's successor, Rep. James Langevin. He was communications director for Sheldon Whitehouse's young senatorial campaign when the bishop hired him. Reporters respected Guilfoyle. Some could not understand why he had taken a position as spokesman for a bishop.

But Guilfoyle had tired of the political world, with its incessant demands on a man with a young family. He had never met Bishop Tobin, but when he did, after being recommended by a search committee, he liked the man. He liked the work of the Church and the opportunity to be "proactive," as he would later describe it, in sending a positive message after years of headlines detailing the horrors of the priest sex-abuse scandal.

"Whether it is promoting the important role Catholic schools play in educating our youth, or the work of the church to help the disadvantaged, among countless other good deeds and charitable works," Guilfoyle said when he was appointed, "the Diocese of Providence is a vibrant faith community that serves all of Rhode Island."

From Sheldon to the bishop. I note that Guilfoyle does not list the diocese's firm stand on Catholic cultural issues among the examples of its vibrancy.

Presumptuous though it may be, I have to admit some relief that he is not among the contacts for the paper.

October 28, 2007

Chartering Citizen Negotiations

Justin Katz

I see that the Tiverton Charter Review Commission, formed to take a closer look at the town's practice of financial town meetings and propose changes on the November 2008 ballot, has also taken up a possible change that I pondered last month:

Another suggestion would have the town return to partisan elections.

According to that line of thinking, "the American system benefited from the party label and we were being foolish at the town level not to recognize at least two parties," Leonard said.

He said he "didn't notice any lack of activity by the political parties" in the last election.

"Both Democrats and Republicans worked to support their candidates," he said, even though party affiliation is not listed on the ballot.

Unless partisan organization is to be banned for these elections (and good luck with that), it makes no sense to hide the affiliations of those whom the public chooses.

Unfortunately, it isn't agreement that is leading me to consider adding this commission's meetings to my "to attend" list. It's this:

... legally binding labor contracts with school and municipal workers and other long-term financial commitments necessary to run the town's affairs mean that the voters don't have any real discretion over much of the budget, Leonard said.

For example, Leonard said, "the amount of money allocated for heating oil is variable," but there is now a contract for that too.

"The purpose of the Financial Town Meeting has dwindled as more and more things have developed in a contractual manner," he said.

Of all the trends that need arresting, the burgeoning "what can we do?" excuse of politicians may top the list. With contracts discussed at sparsely attended meetings and decided in executive sessions, with straight-armed public participation amounting to disgruntlement at negotiations' length and momentary reactions when deals are announced, any opportunity for citizens to throw wrenches in the budgetary clockwork ought to be preserved.

In some ways, a charter review may be thought of as residents' opportunity to negotiate a new contract between themselves and their local leaders. Somehow, I don't expect them to invest as much time and energy into the process as the town's employees and service providers do their own negotiations.

An Unworldly Association of Statistics

Justin Katz

These are curious statistics to compare:

To put the roughly one-third who believe in ghosts and UFOs in perspective, it's about the same as, in recent AP-Ipsos polls, the 36 percent who said they are baseball fans; the 37 percent who said the U.S. made the right decision to invade Iraq; and the 31 percent who approve of the job President Bush is doing.

Ah the rubes! Well, not really:

A smaller but still substantial 23 percent say they have actually seen a ghost or believe they have been in one's presence, with the most likely candidates for such visits including single people, Catholics and those who never attend religious services. By 31 percent to 18 percent, more liberals than conservatives report seeing a specter.

I suppose that might explain dead people voting...

"Driving while Illegal" in New York

Monique Chartier

After strong opposition, New York's Governor Eliot Spitzer has backed off a plan to issue standard New York drivers licenses to illegal aliens, instead proposing three different drivers licenses, one of which would be for those who cannot prove citizenship or legal residency.

A third type of license will be available to undocumented immigrants. Spitzer has said this ID will make the state more secure by bringing those people "out of the shadows" and into American society, and will lower auto insurance rates.

The reversal has been called a stunning betrayal by immigrant and civil liberty advocates.

“What a huge political flip,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

“He’s now embracing and letting his good name be used to promote something that has been widely known in the immigrant community as one of the most anti-immigrant pieces of legislation to come out of Congress,” Ms. Hong said.

She said having separate licenses would amount to a scarlet letter for illegal immigrants. “I know I’m speaking for millions of immigrants when I say I just feel so thoroughly betrayed.”The separate licenses could also serve as an invitation for law enforcement to arrest anyone carrying one on immigration charges, said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. She added that the new proposal could send illegal immigrants further into the shadows, compelling them to drive with forged or no licenses and without insurance.

The "something" Ms. Hong refers to is the federal government's REAL ID Act. One of the three new licenses proposed by Governor Spitzer would comply with REAL ID standards.

Under the compromise, New York will produce an "enhanced driver's license" that will be as secure as a passport. It is intended for people who soon will need to meet such ID requirements, even for a short drive to Canada.

A second version of the license will meet new federal standards of the Real ID Act. That law is designed to make it much harder for illegal immigrants or would-be terrorists to obtain licenses.

And the third license would be for illegal aliens. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is not crazy about the idea, even though this license could not serve as a federally recognized identification.

"I don't endorse giving licenses to people who are not here legally, but federal law does allow states to make that choice," Chertoff said.

But Representative Peter King (R-NY), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, has an interesting point.

"Besides being a massive defeat for the governor, I can't imagine many if any illegal immigrants coming forward to get the driver's licenses, because they'd basically be labeled as illegal," ...

Crossword Clue (Seven Letters): Whites, by Definition

Justin Katz

It's been clear that the sort of thought that the Providence Journal editorial board criticizes has been permeating university faculty halls for decades:

The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence has been making use of a handbook called "dismantling racism 2006" put together by a consultancy called Dismantling Racism Works.

Here's a passage:

"Racism = a white supremacy system.

"Racism is different from racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination. Racism involves one group having the power to carry out systematic discrimination through the major institutions of society. By this definition, only white people can be racist in our society, because only white people as a group have that power." ...

Oh, here's another line from the handbook: "All Europeans did not and do not become white at the same time. . . . Becoming white involves giving up pieces of your original culture in order to get the advantages and privileges of being in the white group. . . . This process continues today."

Race-obsessed academics aren't interested in understanding racism so as to end it. They're interested in mastering its application toward their own ends.

The Left Comes 'Round Right?

Justin Katz

Perhaps owing to a natural affinity for arguments that put the United States in a stumbling-behemoth light, retired ABC leftist, Bristol photographer, and occasional Providence Journal op-ed contributor Jerry Landay makes some points with which I agree:

... Breakdown, [social scientist Leopold Kohr] stated [in the 1950s], is the product of social organs that implode when they grow too vast. They need immense and ever-greater amounts of input — wealth, tax revenues, resources — to sustain and nourish their infrastructures. A point is reached when these demands became too great.

Healthy institutions depend on the free flow of communications, top to bottom and back. Ultimately, with too many layers of bureaucracy increasing separation, communications break down. The gap grows between people and their governments, along with the rupture of essential feedback loops that organizations depend on to deal swiftly with acute needs. Human misery and social upheavals spread, external relations worsen, and wars grow exponentially as a result.

Perhaps Mr. Landay will join me in advocating for a return of governance rights to the states and advocating against the creeping movement toward international government. The problem isn't really layers of bureaucracy or government, per se, but the fact that power increasingly resides at the most remote levels.

In the interest of political harmony, I urge conservatives to resist the urge to explain to folks who begin to come around to conclusions such as Landay's that decreasing size and increasing localization of authority would necessarily result in regions that enforce a social regime completely at odds with their own beliefs. They might decide that being "too big — too much — too many — too late" isn't such a bad thing when its result is the enforcement thereof.

October 27, 2007

But Do We Want to be Protected?

Monique Chartier

New York City has tweaked and reissued proposed regulations requiring chain restaurants to put calorie information next to prices on their menus and menu boards.

Many chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King and Starbucks, already provide calorie information on their Web sites or on posters or tray liners.

But health officials say customers rarely see this information before deciding what to order. The regulation would require the calorie counts to be posted as prominently as the price of each menu item. For many fast food outlets, that means the information would be added to the big signs behind the cash registers that list food items and prices.

The regulations will be subject to public comment on November 27 and then a vote by the Board of Health, which is expected to approve them. Naturally, intrinsic to these regulations is the assumption that if caloric information is readily available to customers, they will make different - more healthy - choices from the menu.

“The big picture is that New Yorkers don’t have access to calorie information,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner. “They overwhelmingly want it. Not everyone will use it, but many people will, and when they use it, it changes what they order, and that should reduce obesity and, with it, diabetes.”

Subway restaurant has proven to be a bit of a testing ground for at least the first part of this theory.

A health department survey this spring found that only 3 percent of customers at Domino’s, Papa John’s, Taco Bell and other popular restaurants saw the calorie information provided by those chains on their Web sites or other locations before ordering.

By contrast, about 31 percent of Subway customers reported seeing the calorie information, which was posted prominently next to the cash register at the time of the survey. Those who said they did consumed about 634 calories, about 50 calories less than those who did not, the study found.

So it appears that about an eight percent reduction in calorie consumption can be credited to more prominent signage.

This new regulation will follow upon New York's widely publicized ban last year of trans fats in all city restaurants. Both regulations were applauded by the Center for Science in the Public Interest last year.

Congratulations to the New York City Board of Health, Health Commissioner Tom Frieden and Mayor Michael Bloomberg for adopting these bold new measures to promote the public’s health. When New York City's major chain restaurants comply with these sensible new regulations, I hope they make the changes nationwide. ...

The calorie-labeling regulation approved by the board today will be of enormous help to weight-conscious New Yorkers. ... Most of the industry's arguments against calorie labeling are simply red herrings. ... Calorie labeling will put consumers back in the driver's seat and let them exercise personal responsibility for themselves and their children.

CSPI will be encouraging other cities and states, as well as Congress, to ensure that the rest of the country receives the same kind of protection from trans fat and information about calories as New Yorkers will soon have.

Some questions arise.

Aren't the menu boards of New York City chain restaurants going to be awfully cluttered with this new regulation?

Will the 8% calorie reduction experienced by Subway customers carry over to all chain restaurants? If it does, will there be a corresponding reduction in obesity and diabetes?

Do we dare to ask: is it worth it? Worth the bigger government? The expense to modify menu boards? The inconvenience of the extra time to sort through an information-packed menu board?

And finally, at what point does regulation cross the line from protection to intrusion?

It's the Culture That's Sick

Justin Katz

If only teachers were allowed to marry, this wouldn't be happening:

A nationwide Associated Press investigation found more than 2,500 cases over five years in which educators were punished for sexual misconduct.

The figures were gathered as part of a seven-month investigation in which AP reporters sought records on teacher discipline in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Across the country, sexual misconduct allegations led states to take action against the licenses of 2,570 educators from 2001 through 2005. That figure includes licenses that were revoked, denied and surrendered.

Talent Versus Time

Justin Katz

Friday's Dilbert strip is so appropriate to Rhode Island's predicaments (especially from our unique perspective) that I've emailed Scott Adams about making a t-shirt of it.

In context of the particular bit of pith from Dilbert's garbage man, keep an eye out for provisions in the law and in contracts that seek to expand the time of those who run the state (in one capacity or another) and that make it more time-consuming for we regular folk to have a say.


A commenter has corrected me that the other character in the strip is Dilbert's garbage man, not his neighbor, as I had originally guessed, and upon closer inspection, I see that his is opening the garbage can in the first frame and grabbing the bag in the second. Perhaps it was the absence of a truck that threw me off initially.

Evolution or Devolution?

Justin Katz

Upon reading some British scientist's prediction of two species of humans thousands of years hence — a genetically solidified separation of the haves and have-nots — commenters have seemed to overlook the possibility that the haves are rapidly divesting themselves of the only thing that is actually worth having as they rend themselves from the sometimes inconvenient and often painful embrace of nature. As a cultural matter, it perhaps comes down to aesthetic preference, but such marches in the presumed direction of evolution must incsusceptibility to unforeseen pitfalls. Consider:

These humans will be between 6ft and 7ft tall and they will live up to 120 years.

"Physical features will be driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility that men and women have evolved to look for in potential mates," says the report, which suggests that advances in cosmetic surgery and other body modifying techniques will effectively homogenise our appearance.

Men will have symmetrical facial features, deeper voices and bigger penises, according to Curry in a report commissioned for men's satellite TV channel Bravo.

Women will all have glossy hair, smooth hairless skin, large eyes and pert breasts, according to Curry.

Racial differences will be a thing of the past as interbreeding produces a single coffee-coloured skin tone.

What if our clear and visible distinctions have been a key ingredient of our species' success? On an individual level, it allows us to recognize each other — to identify (if we're to be reductive) others whom we know to possess particular information. On a regional level, it has improved our odds at predicting others' beliefs, associations, and previous experiences.

Me, I'll throw my lot in with those who revel in the grubby difficulties of organic life. Cultural evolution requires improvement of our handling of nature and its differences, not our self-extrication from them.

Shanties of Thought

Justin Katz

Peggy Noonan touches on something about which I mused just before my first full-time day as carpenter. Writes Noonan:

I'll jump here, or lurch I suppose, to something I am concerned about that I think I am observing accurately. It has to do with what sometimes seems to me to be the limited lives that have been or are being lived by the rising generation of American professionals in the arts, journalism, academia and business. They have had good lives, happy lives, but there is a sense with some of them that they didn't so much live it as view it. That they learned too much from media and not enough from life's difficulties. That they saw much of what they know in a film or play and picked up all the memes and themes.

In terms of personal difficulties, they seem to have had less real-life experience, or rather different experiences, than their rougher predecessors. They grew up affluent in a city or suburb, cosseted in material terms, and generally directed toward academic and material success. Their lives seem to have been not crowded or fearful, but relatively peaceful, at least until September 2001, which was very hard.

But this new leadership class, those roughly 35 to 40, grew up in a time when media dominated all. They studied, they entered a top-tier college, and then on to Washington or New York or Los Angeles. But their knowledge, their experience, is necessarily circumscribed. Too much is abstract to them, or symbolic. The education establishment did them few favors. They didn't have to read Dostoevsky, they had to read critiques and deconstruction of Dostoevsky.

I'm not sure it's always good to grow up surrounded by stability, immersed in affluence, and having had it drummed into you that you are entitled to be a member of the next leadership class. To have this background in the modern era is to come from a ghetto, the luckiest ghetto in the world, a golden ghetto beyond whose walls it can be hard to see. There's much to be said for suffering, for being on the outside or the bottom, for having to have fought yourself up and through. It can leave you grounded. It can give you real knowledge not only of the world and of other men but of yourself. In some ways it can leave you less cynical. (Not everything comes down to money.) And in some ways it leaves you just cynical enough.

Wrote I:

Much has changed, these past one hundred and fifty years, and few moderns who share Melville's vocation will have any experience with such things as plowing and building shanties. (Far too many have little experience with praying.) Those among us who are conservative of temperament inevitably wonder what has been lost. What disconnection from raw reality does the man suffer who is multiple steps removed from tangible life, whose every good is constructed by others? What human sympathy drains from a person who has transcended the hardships that the past century has unevenly worn away?

We who make a craft of thinking can string together ideas, and if we write, we fashion them with words. But this painstaking labor raises mere ephemera, and often in desperate throes we cry for the recognition that makes our efforts real. Strange, then, that so many who build only shanties of thought consider themselves above those who construct such things as only a fool would deny.

October 26, 2007

Moderately Annoyed

Carroll Andrew Morse

Ken Block is trying to build a party of moderates that can become a force within Rhode Island’s political system. Literally...

Rhode Island’s politicians and political processes are failing the citizens of this state, and Rhode Island deserves better. A longstanding Democratic super-majority in the General Assembly has led to unchecked power, which has left the state with a severely hamstrung economy, out-of-control government spending, one of the worst tax environments in America and a continuing parade of unethical conduct by our politicians….

To counteract the roadblocks that will be erected against reform, I ask you to support the creation of a new political party, the Moderate Party of Rhode Island

In the Projo op-ed that the above excerpt was taken from, Mr. Block lists an initial agenda for his new party…
Fully implement separation of powers…Implement term limits for all legislators…Implement a two-year term limit for the positions of speaker of the House and president of the Senate…Prohibit the use of one-time payouts like the tobacco settlement to help balance the budget…Strengthen ethics rules by requiring that legislators with conflicts of interest to abstain from voting on legislation…Strengthen the Ethics Commission by disallowing the possibility of “settling” an ethics complaint by paying a fine but admitting no wrongdoing…Bar legislators from profiting from business relationships with companies with legislation pending or passed…Require that any bill, or amendment to a bill, be before the public for review for at least 30 days before it can be put to a vote.
The focus is clearly on process reform, but Mr. Block is vague on what exactly is “moderate” about the Moderate party.

On its website, the fledgling Moderate Party does hint that there’s a bit more to being a big-M Moderate than having a process-oriented worldview. The site uses the term “socially moderate” at least twice in describing its goals. Does that mean people who are socially conservative will or will not be welcome in the new party?

Ultimately, however, the biggest question for the Moderate Party surrounds the fact that process reform is an idea not exclusively moderate, nor liberal or conservative, for that matter. The particular political alliances that exist in Rhode Island's state-level politics have obscured this, but there is a place in the political spectrum held by people who believe that government needs efficient, transparent processes so it can most effectively provide people with the big programs and the tight management of their lives that they need. (This is the old liberal Republican position. Think former Senator Lincoln Chafee). Is big government well-run the ultimate goal of the RIMP, or will the organization be open to ideas about governmental reform that go beyond process reform?

Much to Mr. Block’s dismay, it's not possible to clearly answer these questions without taking at least a few stands that are identifiably liberal or conservative.

UPDATED - RE: Same as the old Boss?

Marc Comtois

Ian Donnis weighs in with a bit more on the RI Foundation and how it funnels money--donated anonymously--to help fund Providence Mayor Cicilline's administration:

Cianci had departing Rhode Island Foundation chieftain Ron Gallo on his show yesterday. Just a few moments ago, Cianci pointed to how conflicts could arise from the foundation's funding arrangement for Simmon's salary.

In particular, Cianci asserted that GTECH may be contributing to the related fund at the foundation, and he noted how Donald R. Sweitzer, a senior VP at GTECH, is a Democratic fundraiser. (Btw, as I first reported, Mike Mello, Cicilline's former chief of staff, took a job overseen by Sweitzer.)

I need to declare a mea culpa here. Steve Aveson asked me about the Simmons-RI Foundation issue during the roundtable portion of today's taping of Newsmakers. In noting the tension between Cicilline and Yorke, and how Simmons is professionally well-regarded, I concluded that this isn't a huge deal. After thinking about it a bit more, I've changed my mind.

The element of anonymity in funding Simmons's salary is at odds with the good government/transparency philsophy espoused by Cicilline, and it does create at least the potential for conflicts.

UPDATE: Dan Yorke has obtained a few documents related to this issue. First, here are the first two pages (pg.1, pg.2) of the contract between the Providence Fund and Providence city hall Director of Administration John Simmons, which outlines a $3,500/month stipend from the Providence Fund to Simmons. Here are the first two pages (pg.1, pg.2) of the employment agreement between John Simmons and the City of Providence, which stipulates that Simmons will be paid $120,000 for the first year (2003) with $5K raises in year 2 and 3. Currently, Simmons makes around $150,000.

Please note: the salary/compensation numbers in the above documents don't square with the numbers outlined in my previous post, which were based on my own research and those given by other sources. For my part, I used the Director of Administration salary as a base when Simmons is actually the Chief of Administration. I don't know the intricacies of Providence City Government and it appears as if these may be different positions.

UPDATE II: In fact, Simmons was originally hired as a consultant with the title Chief of Administration. Additionally, Dan Yorke cited a 2005 ProJo story by Cathleen Crowley that I found via ProQuest (See extended entry). And now Ian Donnis is reporting that Simmons' salary is now paid for entirely by the City of Providence, though Karen Southern, spokeswoman for Mayor Cicilline, "was unable to identify specifically when the foundation stopped contributing to Simmons' compensation." The question still remains (as the story below shows): who was the single contributor that supported Simmons' salary boost? Here's the relevant excerpt:

When Cicilline was elected, he hired Simmons as a consultant. Cicilline enlisted the Rhode Island Foundation to help pay for Simmons' work and to finance other projects. The foundation created the Providence Government Restructuring Fund, now called the Fund for Providence.

"David Cicilline said, "What I need is some really significant outside assistance, some great advice, some independent review of the structure of city government before I take office,' " said Rick Schwartz, spokesman for the Rhode Island Foundation. "And lots of folks contributed."

About 37 institutions and individuals donated to the fund, including Fleet Bank, Citizens Bank, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, Narragansett Electric, Verizon, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Elizabeth and Malcolm Chace, Alan Hassenfeld and Frederick Lippitt.

The foundation reviews requests from the city and approves payments, Schwartz said.

"The structure [Cicilline] set up shielded any of the contributors from looking like the old days, which was 'Well, of course we are going to contribute to this because it will do us some good,' " he said.

After six months as a consultant, Cicilline asked Simmons to join the staff as chief of administration.

"Personally, for me to come here, I needed a level of compensation and the mayor was able to get it partially through the city and partially through the Fund for Providence," Simmons said last week.

Cicilline asked the Rhode Island Foundation to help augment Simmons' salary by $42,000 a year and the foundation agreed. In order to avoid any conflict of interest, Schwartz said the foundation found a contributor that didn't have any business before the city and earmarked that donation for Simmons' salary.

"I don't even know who it is," Simmons said.

The foundation refused to identify the source of the donation, saying the contributor wanted to remain anonymous. Schwartz said the donor is a family foundation.

"It's a well-known family. We can't think of any connections to the city that they would benefit from in any way," he said.

Simmons said he answers to the mayor, and nobody else.

Here is the entire story from 2005:

PROVIDENCE - City workers received 1.5-percent raises late last year, but Mayor David N. Cicilline increased the salaries of some of his own staff by 5 percent to 37 percent earlier this month.

The raises are aimed at holding onto talented people, the mayor's office said.

Cicilline increased the salary of John C. Simmons, chief of administration 6 percent, from $126,900 to $135,000, and the salary for Carol J. Grant, chief of operations, rose 9 percent, from $111,650 to $121,800, which brought her to the same pay as Michael Mello, chief of staff .

Simmon's salary is augmented by $42,000 a year, from a local, nonprofit foundation; Simmon's total annual pay is $177,000, which is $52,000 higher than the mayor's salary.

Unlike the salaries of other city workers -- which are designated by ordinance -- the mayor is allotted a pool of money for salaries that he can divvy up as he sees fit.

The city's internal auditor, James J. Lombardi III, was critical of the raises, although he acknowledged that the mayor remained within his budget. At a time when the city is trying to control costs, the mayor's raises are inappropriate, said Lombardi, who was particularly bothered by the increases given to the mayor's top deputies who already earn more than $100,000.

"These raises send the wrong message to the rank and file employees, and the taxpayer, who do not receive these exorbitant increases," Lombardi said.

The mayor gave several lower-paid employees raises, but Lombardi did not question those.

Nine of Cicilline's 31 staffers received raises above the city- wide 1.5 percent. Two switchboard operators received 5-percent raises, increasing their salaries from $30,450 to $32,000; and two administrative aides received 23-percent raises, increasing from $30,450 to $38,500. The salary for the director of special events increased from $47,500 to $50,000.

The deputy chief of staff, Christopher J. Bizzacco, received a 37- percent raise, jumping from $47,500 to $65,000.

"Chris works 18-hour days, he works day and night, seven days a week for the city," said Karen Southern, spokeswoman for the mayor's office.

The raises were retroactive to September.

Southern said the salaries for the high-level staff members help the city attract and keep talented people.

"It was important for the mayor to hire the best and the brightest for his administration," Southern said. "These are people would be receiving a much higher salary in the private sector."

The mayor was on vacation for several days and was not available for comment.

Grant is a former vice president of human resources for Textron. She was a vice president at Nynex, now Verizon, where she was responsible for 900 employees serving 650,000 customers.

Simmons is no stranger to Providence. He served as director of administration under former Mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr. and has served as the state's deputy general treasurer for finance. He was chief financial officer for Boston Mayor Thomas Menino before he started a consulting company. He has 25 years experience in government administration.

When Cicilline was elected, he hired Simmons as a consultant. Cicilline enlisted the Rhode Island Foundation to help pay for Simmons' work and to finance other projects. The foundation created the Providence Government Restructuring Fund, now called the Fund for Providence.

"David Cicilline said, "What I need is some really significant outside assistance, some great advice, some independent review of the structure of city government before I take office,' " said Rick Schwartz, spokesman for the Rhode Island Foundation. "And lots of folks contributed."

About 37 institutions and individuals donated to the fund, including Fleet Bank, Citizens Bank, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, Narragansett Electric, Verizon, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Elizabeth and Malcolm Chace, Alan Hassenfeld and Frederick Lippitt.

The foundation reviews requests from the city and approves payments, Schwartz said.

"The structure [Cicilline] set up shielded any of the contributors from looking like the old days, which was 'Well, of course we are going to contribute to this because it will do us some good,' " he said.

After six months as a consultant, Cicilline asked Simmons to join the staff as chief of administration.

"Personally, for me to come here, I needed a level of compensation and the mayor was able to get it partially through the city and partially through the Fund for Providence," Simmons said last week.

Cicilline asked the Rhode Island Foundation to help augment Simmons' salary by $42,000 a year and the foundation agreed. In order to avoid any conflict of interest, Schwartz said the foundation found a contributor that didn't have any business before the city and earmarked that donation for Simmons' salary.

"I don't even know who it is," Simmons said.

The foundation refused to identify the source of the donation, saying the contributor wanted to remain anonymous. Schwartz said the donor is a family foundation.

"It's a well-known family. We can't think of any connections to the city that they would benefit from in any way," he said.

Simmons said he answers to the mayor, and nobody else.

"This provides me the economics that I need to come here and do this job, which is a job I wish to do," Simmons said. "It's not just about the money. It's about the job."

H. Philip West Jr., executive director of Common Cause of Rhode Island, a government watchdog group, said there doesn't appear to be a conflict of interest with Simmons' arrangement, though West cautioned that he didn't know the details and that his organization receives grant money from the Rhode Island Foundation.

West said Simmons is vulnerable to accusations of impropriety and suggested that the city get an advisory opinion from the state Ethics Commission.

The commission, West predicted, would probably conclude that there is no conflict.

The Difference Between Professional Advocacy and Unionism

Justin Katz

In the comments to a previous post, Brendan writes (beginning by quoting me):

I simply don't believe that communities would begrudge them ample provisions, remuneration, and benefits no matter their employment structure.

Entirely too trusting Justin. Look at West Warwick and Johnston- running two men per truck when NFPA calls for 4. Look at Providence- Captains with 20 years in making less than a first-day recruit in Warwick.

Whatever government can get away with, they'll do it. Same goes for privatization. I've been inside the trucks of every private ambulance company in this state- NONE of them have the equipment necessary to effectively respond to 911 calls, because in Rhode Island they aren't REQUIRED to.

Private companies running EMS works in other states because the minimum equipment standards are different. That is to say, far higher.

It would be entirely appropriate for emergency professionals to organize in order to advocate for changes that will improve their operations. If Rhode Island's ambulances are ill equipped, then a guild — which could, let's not overlook, include regular ol' interested citizens — could surely make strides in changing the law. If firefighters lack safety equipment, then attempts to increase public understanding and pressure for political and administrative change is justified.

It is when personal profit enters into the equation that the tendency for corruption begins to sift into the group. That is also, not unrelatedly, when interested outsiders are locked beyond a wall of mutual self-interest. It begins to be less assumable that the interests of those being served are of primary focus.

October 25, 2007

Re: Donna M. Hughes: "Women's Rights and Political Islam"

Monique Chartier

On a side note, it struck me as a little incongruent Tuesday evening to be attending, at the urging of a conservative blog (Anchor Rising), a lecture on women’s rights hosted by a Republican organization (the URI College Republicans). Before then, I had not particularly associated the right side of the political spectrum with an interest in women's rights.

Professor Donna Hughes explained in detail at the beginning of her lecture that the subject - political Islam - was not a religion but a political movement, a political movement spreading into other countries including many in the west, which tightens its grip on power by repressing and inflicting violence on the people it rules. And it is almost always signaled early by the degradation of women's rights, beginning with a requirement of women to cover themselves.

Two of many examples of this encroachment would be London, or "Londonistan", and a proposed but fortunately quashed Islamic court for civil issues in neighboring Canada, which court by definition would have been heavily "patriarchial" (a lovely euphemism for "weighed against the woman") . Without minimizing the danger of this encroachment, I would note from this 2004 FrontPage Magazine article that it has also not gone unchallenged:

... the Netherlands has just put a four-year moratorium on all immigration, including “asylum seekers”, has stopped schooling Muslim children in the home language of their parents/grandparents, and has closed down many of its Muslim community centers. And France is banning the headscarf on school property and is shoveling undesirable imams out of the country at a rate of knots.

Professor Hughes pointed out that too often, when someone from the West hears of the barbaric acts of punishment carried out under Islamic law – whippings, stonings, beatings – the reaction is a tempered rather than an outright condemnation: “that’s terrible … but … that’s their culture”. Such a response arises out of the surprisingly (to me, at least) corrosive effect of multi-culturalism, which often has allowed tolerance to devolve into an aversion of the eyes:

Today, advocacy for multiculturalism has replaced support for universalism. Universalism is based universal principles of human rights, equality, freedom, and democracy ...

Today, these visions and commitments to universal equality among people have become secondary to advocacy for multiculturalism. Embedded in multicultural ideology is cultural relativism, the principle that all cultures are equal, must be respected, and cannot be criticized. …

One cannot advocate for relative rights and freedoms without rejecting universal principles of freedom and rights. If you unconditionally accept and respect other cultural and religious practices, the first group that always loses is women.

Re: Kate Brewster (And the Price of Self Delusion)

Justin Katz

With little doubt that the observation and conclusions will be misconstrued, I find myself comparing Kate Brewster's Poverty Institute and Planned Parenthood. When people construct their lives such that they profit from — survive by — the evil outcomes of their faulty solutions, accuracy of analysis is apt to be subordinate to a priori prescriptions and emotional dismissiveness. And it does give one a sense of how people allow themselves to slip gently into eternal damnation.

Giving the benefit of the doubt about intentions, such people probably start out with every hope of helping others, but they become so thoroughly convinced of a pat collection of causes and pursuant fixes that they will not see when their work results in harm to those whom they wish to help. They can't let go of their preconceptions.

So, they endeavor to convince the low-end worker that the precondition to subsistence is unsustainable taxation of others and government patronage, combined with employment mandates that can't help but result in fewer workers who pay more for the goods and services that they use. So, they would endeavor to defend abortion to the Lord, Himself.

There's a saying about the pavement on the road to Hell.

Same as the old Boss?

Marc Comtois

Dan Yorke has been asking for some media outlet to look into the links between The Rhode Island Foundation and Providence Mayor David Cicilline's administration. According to a 2003 press release, the Rhode Island Foundation set up a contribution structure to the Mayor's Administration via The Fund for Providence:

The Fund was established at The Rhode Island Foundation shortly after the Mayor was elected in November 2003, and provides a mechanism to attract external resources to advance the Mayor’s ambitious agenda for re-energizing and re-shaping city government.

The Fund for Providence is designed to support the development of new initiatives aimed at expanding and improving the delivery of city services. ProvStat, an accountability and tracking system to monitor the performance of city services is one such example of the work supported by the Fund. The Fund is also supporting research, planning, and public engagement strategies around priority issues facing the city and its residents and businesses.

Apparently, that includes helping to pay the salaries of government officials. Ian Donnis had this in a story on Yorke back in January:
Yorke points to how a private fund managed by the Rhode Island Foundation pays a fraction of the nearly $200,000 salary earned by John Simmons, the mayor’s director of administration. While the mayor has said that Simmons’ private-sector experience has yielded millions in savings for the city, through enhanced bond ratings, Yorke calls the arrangement’s partial anonymity at odds with open government and Cicilline’s self-description as a reformer.
Fraction is right. According to the latest City of Providence compensation numbers (PDF, line A18, p. 15), Simmons should be making in the mid-$60K range. Yet the fact that the public doesn't know for sure who exactly funnels money to pay $140K worth of Simmons' salary doesn't bother the Mayor. In a post by Brown Prof. Darrell West in 2004, West reported that Mayor Cicilline defends this setup.
According to Cicilline, the concept is "new to Providence, but not new to cities" around the country. Responding to complaints about possible conflicts of interest between outside donors and the city, the mayor defended the practice and said "we never would have gotten half the things done without this."
So the ends justify the means, right? Didn't someone else get in trouble using that logic?

Roland Benjamin: The Problems with Medicare-for-All

Engaged Citizen

Hyperbole aside, Robert Whitcomb’s Projo op-ed from October 19 can be summarized by his one statement:

In short, extend Medicare to everyone.
He proceeds to use exaggerated estimations of private insurance overhead costs and completes his argument by saying:
Then we would not have to hang our heads in shame that Americans are the most unhealthy people of any developed nation.
The administrative assumptions of Whitcomb’s argument are suspect at best, and fatally flawed at worst. A white paper from the Manhattan Institute, published a few weeks ago, analyzes the holes in the Medicare-for-All debate. To support his claim of efficiency, Whitcomb estimates that non-benefit expenses in the private insurance market are near 25%, while the same expenses are only 2% for Medicare administration.

The Manhattan paper cites all the usual sources from both sides of the debate like Krugman, Council on Affordable Health Insurance, Rand, Commonwealth, Kaiser Family Foundation, etc. and points out a few interesting analyses. Notably, administrative costs of Medicare are nowhere near the 2% Whitcomb describes in his piece (nor are private costs anywhere near the 25% number). The paper uses conservative estimates of 14% private (while citing estimates as low as 11%) and 6% Medicare to make the claim that the theorized savings by transition are impossible to realize. Private carrier rates are confirmed locally by a study from the Rhode Island Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner citing total benefit payouts by carriers at 85.2% of premiums (or 14.8% non-benefit spending, including some percentage for taxes). The Medicare rate shifts dramatically, for example, when fraud expenses are classified as non-benefit expense instead of actual benefit spending. An apples to apples comparison using consistent accounting methods shows the true cost of Medicare between 6% and 8%.

The Manhattan study then goes on to describe the evolving nature of spending by those who would be newly insured under the policy and underscores the deficit that will be realized based on static assumptions. Finally, the white paper describes the response to tax policy that will inevitably result. Migrating the funding system to a Medicare style payroll tax will increase explicit labor cost in the US.

Currently, payroll taxes cover Medicare, private insurance premiums cover the health care of active employees and dependents and some income taxes cover another portion of health care spending. In the three buckets (or more), the costs tied to labor are less explicit and more dispersed. Take all of those costs and apply them in one bucket that is explicitly tied to labor and there will be a problem. Like it or not, corporate behavior responds to tax policy with amazing agility and immediacy. Increase the cost to employ directly, and work will move to regions where labor costs less. Or in the best case, capital investments facing a lower ROI bar will be exploited where labor can be replaced with automation. Reduce the workforce, or the value of a skilled workforce, and the tax base drops, perpetuating the spending deficit in an otherwise well intentioned policy.

The economic argument of Medicare for All has the underpinning that the cost of the uninsured is at the root of the health care inflationary problem. Yet I have not seen convincing data that this is true. No studies that I have seen refute either of these two facts:
  • Uncompensated care to the uninsured is not a top tier cost driver. Kaiser shows uncompensated care around 2.05% of all health care spending, while others show the impact at less than one percent. Defensive medicine accounts for anywhere from 3 to 10 times that amount depending on the definition. Rx sales of the top 15 drugs alone exceed the total amount of uncompensated care. And so on and so on…
  • Uncompensated care to the uninsured has not inflated at the same pace as overall spending. In fact, the inflation rate of spending by the uninsured has kept pace or lagged behind normal inflation since 2000 (this comes right from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey MEPS). Meanwhile, the spending by the insured has increased at alarming rates. The economic problem lies with those currently insured. Bringing more individuals into that system, and providing the same or more insulation from real prices will only aggravate the situation.
Since most of the uncompensated care is funded by government sources, the real uncompensated costs are relatively small. So the economic case for Medicare for All makes some pretty big leaps. There is little evidence that supports the economic urgency argued by Medicare for All advocates.

The only argument to be made for insuring all via Medicare type arrangement then is a moral one. While well intentioned, the demographics of the uninsured suggest that the moral argument may be shaky as well. With 93% either opting out of available insurance for non-affordability reasons, without insurance for less than 4 months, or without citizenship status, there may be as few as 4 million people who would truly benefit from the coverage. These are the people that are at or beyond their ability to afford or access coverage today. This would also be the population most likely impacted when the inevitable labor shifts occur in response to changing tax policy. To use the same hyperbole that Whitcomb employs, would it be moral to give someone insurance, only to have their job become prematurely obsolete or permanently displaced?

Make over $150K? Rangel's Gunning for You

Marc Comtois

Rep. Charles Rangel (D, NY), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is looking to overhaul the current tax system. He's got all sorts of ideas, summarized in this story (or this PDF summary), but I just want to point out to one portion:

Middle and upper-middle income families would benefit under the plan by a repeal of the alternative minimum tax starting Jan. 1, 2008.

Upper-income families, however, would pay for that repeal with a 4% surtax on incomes above $150,000 for a single earner or incomes above $200,000 for a married couple. That surtax would grow to 4.6% for incomes above $500,000.

The surtax will also make possible an expansion of the earned income tax credit, an increase in the standard deduction, and an increase in the value of the child tax credit for those earning too little to owe federal income taxes.

If this surtax came to pass, I can hear the conversations now? "Hey boss, I'm thinking that I'd be happy making $149,999 this year, how's that sound?" I guess another solution would be for everyone looking to make $150K could shoot for $156.5K to roughly offset the new "surtax." Then again, we all know that people don't modify their financial decisions based on tax policy, so I'm sure that the numbers will all work out based on static economic models (ahem).

UPDATE: Andrew makes a great point in the comments:

I just did a couple of back-of-the-envelope calculations...

1. Statistics show that the average married couple in America involves 2 people. I think that's why they're called "couples".
2. $150,000 times 2 equals $300,000

So a married couple has to pay the surtax on $200,000 of total income, while an unmarried couple doesn't have to start paying the tax unitl $300,000.

Doesn't this take the marriage penalty to new heights, and beg the question of why the government is so hostile to married people?

October 24, 2007

A State in Which You Have to Be an Insider Just to Get Where You're Going

Justin Katz

I grew up a fifteen minute drive from the George Washington Bridge into New York City. I lived in Pittsburgh for a year. And I'm a wanderer. That is to say that I've been lost in some of the most confusing areas that the (expanded) East Coast has to offer, but tonight I discovered a specimen of poor street planning so spectacular that the city of East Providence ought to market it as a tourist attraction: where Broadway and Taunton and Waterman all jumble together in an explicable collection of diverging one-ways, replete with weird forks, sporadic signage, and highway-style exits onto normal roads, not to mention the quick dip into a tunnel that seems to have no purpose but to create an overpass to label with a memorial plaque.

So help me, the experience gifted me with a new empathy, as I could not help but think to myself, "No wonder Rhode Islanders act the way they do!" No road nor forest path has ever so thoroughly succeeded in disorienting me and corrupting my sense of direction.

As with everything in Rhode Island, what needs to be done is crystal clear to anybody with an ounce of objectivity, but the thorough reworking of contorted infrastructure would require the displacement of too many established interests. And those who've learned the winds and turns — whether not realizing how much they impair their lives or benefiting from others inability to find their way — develop a perverted pride in their toughness for simply surviving.

If we're to change a thing, I suppose, we've got begin with each neighborhood, each block, convincing, collaborating, building a critical mass of interest in a better road.

Brewster: Raise Taxes, Don't Cut the Budget

Marc Comtois

Poverty Institute Executive Director Kate Brewster says the solution to the budget crunch is higher taxes, not cutting the budget:

• Restore the tax on long-term capital gains and freeze the “alternative flat tax,” both of which primarily benefit a handful of very wealthy taxpayers, many of whom are not even Rhode Island residents. There is no evidence that either of these provisions have grown jobs or revenues in our state. These two measures together could recapture close to $50 million.

• Conduct a careful review of the costly tax breaks, exemptions and credits that have been granted over the years and apply the “prove it or lose it” test to determine if they have achieved their purpose, are cost effective and/or affordable. Eliminate those tax expenditures that fail this test.

• Expand the sales tax to keep pace as the economy shifts from goods-based to service-based.

Well, she's been consistent. The first two items can be placed squarely in the "class warfare" pile. You know, the rich don't pay enough, etc. Heard that one before.

But the last one will hit all Rhode Islanders, not just "the rich." The expansion of the sales tax Brewster is talking about could mean taxing services--doctor visits, legal services, tree cutters, landscapers, etc. That's what she means by "keeping pace" with a "service-based" economy. Oh, I'm sure there will be some promises that "essential" services won't be taxed....for now. But once the toe is in the door, and the budget continues to crunch, we can be sure that somebody will look for more "innovative" ways to raise, ahem, "revenue."

Keno Con-O

Carroll Andrew Morse

I don't know a whole lot about the world of illicit gambling, but I've heard it mentioned that successful bookies don't believe that they ever give their money away. Bookies take the attitude that gamblers on winning streaks are winning nothing more than the meager privilege of holding the house's money for a short while because, with the help of some teasers, some parlays and maybe a prop-bet or two, "winners" can usually be convinced to hand back everything back they've won -- and eventually more.

Where I'm leading to is this: how does the big advertising blitz for the Rhode Island Lottery's "Keno Doubler" make the State of Rhode Island any different from a bookie seeking to take advantage of his regular patrons by trying to convince them that an extra win or two means they're on a hot streak and should be betting more -- knowing full well that it really means they'll be losing more?

The Meaning of Islamofascism

Carroll Andrew Morse

Islamofascism is a term more controversial than it should be. That's a major part of the reason the University of Rhode Island College Republicans are attempting to make people aware of its meaning through their sponsorship of Islamofascism Awareness Week at URI.

URI Women's Studies Professor Donna Hughes laid out some different options for describing the nexus of fundamentalist Islam and the willingness to use violence to achieve political goals in her Islamofascism Awareness Week lecture delivered last night (and posted immediately below).

Christopher Hitchens explained the commonalities between Islamofascism and the archetypal historical example of fascism, Nazism, in yesterday's Slate Magazine...

Both movements are based on a cult of murderous violence that exalts death and destruction and despises the life of the mind. ("Death to the intellect! Long live death!" as Gen. Francisco Franco's sidekick Gonzalo Queipo de Llano so pithily phrased it.) Both are hostile to modernity (except when it comes to the pursuit of weapons), and both are bitterly nostalgic for past empires and lost glories. Both are obsessed with real and imagined "humiliations" and thirsty for revenge. Both are chronically infected with the toxin of anti-Jewish paranoia (interestingly, also, with its milder cousin, anti-Freemason paranoia). Both are inclined to leader worship and to the exclusive stress on the power of one great book. Both have a strong commitment to sexual repression—especially to the repression of any sexual "deviance"—and to its counterparts the subordination of the female and contempt for the feminine. Both despise art and literature as symptoms of degeneracy and decadence; both burn books and destroy museums and treasures.
Stephen Schwartz has also explained why the ideology of modern Islamic terrorists is, in a precise academic sense, appropriately labeled as fascism. Writing in the Daily Standard last year, Schwartz said…
Fascism is distinguished from the broader category of extreme right-wing politics by its willingness to defy public civility and openly violate the law. As such it represents a radical departure from the tradition of ultra-conservatism. The latter aims to preserve established social relations, through enforcement of law and reinforcement of authority. But the fascist organizations of Mussolini and Hitler, in their conquests of power, showed no reluctance to rupture peace and repudiate parliamentary and other institutions; the fascists employed terror against both the existing political structure and society at large. It is a common misconception of political science to believe, in the manner of amateur Marxists, that Italian fascists and Nazis sought maintenance of order, to protect the ruling classes. Both Mussolini and Hitler agitated against "the system" governing their countries. Their willingness to resort to street violence, assassinations, and coups set the Italian and German fascists apart from ordinary defenders of ruling elites, which they sought to replace. This is an important point that should never be forgotten. Fascism is not merely a harsh dictatorship or oppression by privilege.

Islamofascism similarly pursues its aims through the willful, arbitrary, and gratuitous disruption of global society, either by terrorist conspiracies or by violation of peace between states. Al Qaeda has recourse to the former weapon; Hezbollah, in assaulting northern Israel, used the latter. These are not acts of protest, but calculated strategies for political advantage through undiluted violence. Hezbollah showed fascist methods both in its kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and in initiating that action without any consideration for the Lebanese government of which it was a member. Indeed, Lebanese democracy is a greater enemy of Hezbollah than Israel.

Fascism rested, from the economic perspective, on resentful middle classes, frustrated in their aspirations and anxious about loss of their position. The Italian middle class was insecure in its social status; the German middle class was completely devastated by the defeat of the country in the First World War. Both became irrational with rage at their economic difficulties; this passionate and uncontrolled fury was channeled and exploited by the acolytes of Mussolini and Hitler. Al Qaeda is based in sections of the Saudi, Pakistani, and Egyptian middle classes fearful, in the Saudi case, of losing their unstable hold on prosperity--in Pakistan and Egypt, they are angry at the many obstacles, in state and society, to their ambitions. The constituency of Hezbollah is similar: the growing Lebanese Shia middle class, which believes itself to be the victim of discrimination.

Schwartz would disagree with Wednesday night's URI speaker, Robert Spencer, on where the roots of Islamofascism lie. Spencer believes that Islamofascism is a direct and natural outgrowth of Islamic theology. Schwartz believes that Islamofascism is a modern totalitarian movement that takes on the trappings of Islam, when convenient, to gain a legitimacy and a respectability that openly fascist ideologies can never possess.

But they would both agree that Islamofascism is something real that people should not fear discussing.

Donna M. Hughes: "Women's Rights and Political Islam"

Engaged Citizen

Professor Hughes delivered the following lecture on October 23, 2007, as part of the University of Rhode Island College Republicans' Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.

Thank you to the URI College Republicans for organizing this week of awareness about a major threat to world peace and freedom. Thank you for inviting me to speak about how this global political movement threatens women's freedom and rights.


I'll start out by addressing terms. There are a number of terms that are used to refer to the global political movement I want to talk about: Islamic fundamentalism, Islamic extremism, Islamo-fascism, Islamism, and Radical Islam.

I chose the term "political Islam," a more neutral term, for the title of my talk, not because I think one can equivocate about this global threat, but to emphasize that we are talking about a political movement — a political movement based on selective interpretations of the Koran.

I am not talking about all of Islam or all Muslims. Although as with any political movement, it is built on particular traditions, culture, and views; otherwise the movement would have no appeal to the base from which the movement leaders want to draw their support. I am talking about a political movement with an ideology, goals, and methods for achieving their goals.

The term Islamic fundamentalism seems to imply that we are talking about a conservative or traditional practice of Islam. When I use the term, I am referring not to conservative or "fundamentalist" interpretation of Islam. I am referring to a political movement.

The term Islamic fascism clearly links the phenomenon that we are talking about to a political movement — fascism. Although, the goals of radical Islam are not exactly like those of Mussolini's fascist movement, it evokes authoritarian political goal and differentiates the movement from a purely religious one. It does have a more harsh sound to it, and it doesn't roll of the tongue very easily. The term Islamic fascism was coined by moderate Algerian Muslims who were under attack by Muslim extremists who wanted to impose Islamic or sharia law in Algeria. Helie Lucas, the founder of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, explains that Islamo-fascism means the "political forces working under the cover of religion in order to gain political power and to impose a theocracy ... over democracy."

Islamism is the word closest to what the advocates of this political movement use themselves. Islamism is not the same thing as Islam. Islamism, with an "ism" on the end connotes a political belief system, like feminism, communism, Nazism. And a supporter of Islamism is an Islamist, as in feminist or communist. This term is by far the easiest to use, but I am hesitant to use it:

  1. Because it is easily confused with Islam or someone who observes the Islamic faith, and
  2. I have Muslim, pro-women's rights, pro-freedom supporters who consider themselves Islamists. They think that Islam is combatable with democracy. They support a type of political Islam that recognizes the rights and freedom of all people, and they are working to create such a state.

I will use all these terms in my talk. The important thing to remember is that I'm talking about a political movement, not a whole religion or all Muslims. I'm talking about a political movement with a set of beliefs and political goals, practices that put those beliefs into action, and methods that impose their rule and belief system on others, whether they are willing or not.


I want to tell you how I came to understand the threat of Islamic fundamentalism to women, girls, and their rights. This occurred long before 9/11. In 1994 to 1996, I worked as a lecturer at the University of Bradford in England. The city of Bradford has the largest population of Pakistanis outside of Pakistan. The loudest sound in the city was the call to prayers broadcast from the mosque on the edge of campus.

I learned that, after Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Religious Leader of Iran (i.e., religious dictator) issued a fatwa calling for the murder of British author Salman Rushdie, there were demonstrations in Bradford in support of the fatwa. Soon after I arrived in Bradford, a young Muslim woman was murdered. She was run down by a car driven by a family member as she was walking on the sidewalk to work. This was what is called an "honor killing," in which women and girls are killed by family members for disobeying their fathers or for being too independent. She wanted freedom from an arranged marriage and rigid cultural constraints on her life as a woman.

I joined an organization called Women Against Fundamentalism. It was formed by mostly Muslim women of Asian descent after the fatwa to murder Rushdie. Its goal was to oppose the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in England and its threat women's freedom.

At the University of Bradford, I was in charge of a women's studies major. We had several Asian women, as the Pakistani and Indian women were called, on the course. I learned that all of them were being pressured to drop out of school and accept arranged marriages. They were guilt-tripped, threatened, and sometimes beaten. I soon realized that staying enrolled at the university was the only thing that helped them maintain a moderate level of freedom and independence. If they dropped out, they would be forced into marriage. A couple of the women couldn't resist the constant pressure. They came to my office and told me they were dropping out of school and accepting their families' plans for them. They tried to put a good face on it.

Some women were beaten by their families to force them out of school. I learned how common this was when I made inquiries on how we could help a frightened, exhausted young woman. The university maintained a set of rooms in the halls of residence for women who needed emergency shelter each semester.

On a regular basis, I saw the political campaigns of the Islamists. Groups such as Hizb ut-Tahir, which is now banned, had literature tables in the lobby of the building where I worked. I often stopped and picked up the pamphlets; I was particularly interested in what they said about women and women's rights. Their goal was, and is, to unify all Muslim countries into one Islamic state ruled by Islamic or sharia law. They predicted that in the near future, they would take over the U.K. and turn it into an Islamic state.

Their literature stated that they would advance women's rights by protecting them from the kind of harassment and violence that Western women are subjected to. Wearing the veil or hijab would protect them from sexual harassment and sexual assault. The political tracts stated that they respected women and would allow women to stay in the home and take care of their families, where they would be protected by their fathers, brothers, and husbands. These were not presented as choices for women, but their roles and destinies under Islamic rule.

I believe that people mean what they say and write about. I took the Islamists at their word. I showed the pamphlets to my colleagues, asking, "Have you read these things? Do you know what they say they are going to do?"

Two years ago, when the world learned that the suicide bombers on the London underground were from Leeds, a city just ten miles east of Bradford, I was not surprised, as some were, that the terrorists were home grown. I had read their literature ten years before.

In 1996, my education about Islamic fundamentalism expanded from the local level to the global when I met groups of Iranian exiles living in Europe, the U.S., and Canada. They were survivors of the Khomeini revolution in Iran, which brought to power the first modern theocracy, which means rule by religious leaders. They supported a liberal interpretation of Islam, freedom, democracy, and rights for women. Many of them had been arrested for opposing the rise of Islamic fundamentalists to power in Iran. Some had been tortured. Many of them had friends and relatives who were executed by the Iranian regime.

For the past 11 years, I have continued to learn about Islamic fundamentalism from them and have supported their conferences for women's rights, democracy, and freedom.

I learned from them what happens to women when religious fascists — a term used by my Iranian friends — come to power.

I have also learned about the fate of women under Islamic fundamentalism from groups like Women Living Under Muslim Laws and the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan.

Islamic Fascists Political Ideology and Practice

When Islamic fascists put their political ideology into practice, they use methods we call terrorism — the systematic targeting of civilian populations using violent means. The first place they exert their power is on the local level. I like to say that terrorism begins at home. The first victims are usually women and girls.

Islamic fundamentalist ideology rejects universal equality and rights as set out by the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the basic principles and rights on which democracies are based. The Islamic fundamentalism ideology rejects liberalism, women's rights, moderate and liberal interpretations and practices of Islam, and promotes discrimination against non-Muslim religious groups, particularly Jews. The political goal of Islamic fascists is to create a religious dictatorship, based on their version of sharia or religion-based law. They oppose democracy and the Western concept of freedom, claiming that Western democracies and laws are manmade, and only the laws of God, or sharia laws, are valid.

According to sharia law, Jews and other non-Muslims, such as Christians and Hindus, can only have secondary status as citizens. There is no freedom of religion. For example, under sharia law, if a Muslim converts to another faith, he or she can be punished by death.

Under Islamic fundamentalist ideology and law, men and women are not equal. Women are considered to be physically, emotionally, intellectually, and morally inferior to men.

Under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, women were not permitted to go to school or to work or to leave the house unless accompanied by a male relative and had to wear a burqa — a bag like garment that covers the whole body and has only a mesh opening to see out. In Iran, women are not permitted to run for president or be judges, because they are not emotionally capable of making decisions. Women and girls are not permitted freedom of movement or freedom of dress. They are required to wear the covering chosen by the religious leaders.

Women and girls are seen as morally weak and must be prevented from having contact with men who are not family members. Sexual misconduct, which can be an act as simple as a girl talking to or meeting a man from outside her family, is considered to be a violation of her family's honor. The shame she has brought on the family can only be wiped out by killing her. This is the basis of "honor killings."

In Iran, there are official "crimes against chastity," which includes things such as having a baby without being married. For violations of these laws, a woman or girl can be flogged or even hanged. The most torturous form of punishment in Iran is stoning to death. Currently, eight women are imprisoned waiting to be stoned to death in Iran. This practice is not found in the Koran; it is a barbaric form of killing used centuries ago and brought into modern times by Islamic fundamentalists.

Under sharia law, all public facilities, such as hospitals, classrooms, and buses, are segregated. These laws make women officially second class citizens without equal rights. A Muslim, Iranian woman coined a name for this system: gender apartheid.

This kind of misogyny, or woman hating, is at the heart of Islamic fascists' control of a population. If you suppress 50 percent of the population, and systemically punish violators by public stonings, hangings, and whippings, you can terrorize an entire population.

Is Christian Fundamentalism the Same as Islamic Fundamentalism?

Frequently, when I speak about Islamic fundamentalism, someone suggests that Muslims may have Islamic fundamentalism, but the U.S. has Christian fundamentalists. The implication being that they are the same. This equivalency is flawed thinking.

The U.S. is a democracy that guarantees fundamental freedoms and rights. The Christian Right is a political movement of conservative Christians. They may have political and social views and goals that you may not agree with, but they operate within a democratic framework. To influence policy and laws, they use their rights as citizens to form advocacy organizations, lobby, and vote. When adherents to these views resort to violence, such as the bombing of abortion clinics, it is treated as an act of violence, and the perpetrators are arrested and punished. And most leaders of Christian Right organizations condemn these acts of political violence.

I've never heard a Christian fundamentalist call for the takeover of the U.S. government by radical preachers or priests, or to have Christian or Biblical law replace the U.S. Constitution.

That's the difference between Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism: One respects democracy, fundamental rights and freedoms, and the democratic process; the other doesn't, and its goal is to destroy democracy, freedom, and the democratic process.

Multiculturalism Versus Universalism

I want to talk about why this flawed equivalency between Islamic fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism has become so popular and why it seems to have become so hard to differentiate between oppressive political systems and practices and democratic political systems and liberal practices.

Today, advocacy for multiculturalism has replaced support for universalism. Universalism is based universal principles of human rights, equality, freedom, and democracy, as laid out in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and, before that, the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Other democracies have their own constitutions and founding sets of documents.

Today, these visions and commitments to universal equality among people have become secondary to advocacy for multiculturalism. Embedded in multicultural ideology is cultural relativism, the principle that all cultures are equal, must be respected, and cannot be criticized. Or if one does criticize another culture or religious practice, the speaker must immediately point out deficiencies in other cultures and religious practices, or at least those of his or her own, in this case, the U.S.

One cannot advocate for relative rights and freedoms without rejecting universal principles of freedom and rights. If you unconditionally accept and respect other cultural and religious practices, the first group that always loses is women. Most discriminatory attitudes and practices are based on culture, tradition, and religion. Women's greatest hope for freedom and rights comes with the promotion of universal principles of freedom and rights, then women can claim their equality.

Today, I see students in class being fearful of discussing types of violence against women or the oppression of women. Although they may be horrified by honor killings or female genital mutilation, they feel they have to accept it because it's someone else's culture or religion. They think it is unacceptable to advocate for other women's freedom and rights, because it might violate another cultures or religions, and that would be imposing their views on another culture or religion. While at first glance this may sound respectful, it has translated into remaining silent and accepting some of the worst human rights violations against women.

Following acceptance of multiculturalism, they withdraw into isolationism. If we must respect all other cultures and religious practices, then there is nothing to do about violations of women's rights around the world. They often oppose any efforts to improve the lives of women in other countries. They justify this isolationism by saying they have enough work on women's issues here at home and they should concentrate on that.

What Do Muslim Women Want?

Women join political movements. There are Muslim women who have joined the Islamic fundamentalists. There are women who voluntarily put on the hijab and support the oppression of other women.

There are probably some women who just want to be left in peace to live a quiet life.

But there are also women who want freedom and rights, who strongly reject Islamo-fascism, and who have organized to oppose Islamic fundamentalism.

I believe we have a responsibility to differentiate between Islamic fascist and pro-democracy groups. I don't believe there is a moral equivalency between them. I don't believe it is disrespectful to judge other systems and practices and to condemn human rights violations and the oppression of women. I don't believe it is imperialistic to support other women's struggles for freedom and rights.

I believe that rights come with responsibilities. The people in the room are among the freest in the world. I believe we have a responsibility to not turn our privileged backs on other women. I believe we have a responsibility to use our freedom and rights to help others. I believe we should be using our freedom of speech, our freedom of association, and our educations and access to communications technology to assist other women achieve the same set of rights and standard of well-being.

You can start by learning more about the conditions for women under sharia law. You can research how Islamic fundamentalism is spreading and the impact that is having on women. You can research different Muslim women's groups. You can find out how to get involved in supporting different organizations.

I'll end with a quote from Maryam Rajavi, a leader of the opposition against the theocracy in Iran. In a text entitled The Price of Freedom, she says:

The Iranian woman is today engaged in the most series, most difficult and most decisive battle of her destiny. ... Women are the prime victims of oppression under the clerical regime and they have the highest explosive potential against the regime. The survival of the clerical regime is also intertwined with the suppression of women. ... [Women] are humiliated and tortured every day, only because they are women. Yet they have never surrendered. They use every opportunity to voice their protest against the clerical regime and stage demonstrations.

And further, to those who think that Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week is intolerant, bigoted, and anti-Muslim, I will again return to The Price of Freedom by Maryam Rajavi, as she describes the process of liberation of women from Islamic fundamentalism:

One must, first and foremost, confront such a mentality, particularly in light of the fact that this interpretation or reactionary spell has a historical precedent for women. It is said that the situation of women has always been like this and that a must be grateful to anyone who offers her compassion and mercy. Only when you rebel against this trap and understand the futility of this spell, the deadlock is broken, the road becomes clear, and you take the next steps. I do believe that a woman's emancipation begins the moment she breaks this spell and believes that rebellion and resistance against tyranny are her inalienable rights. It is from this moment that no power in the world can prevent the liberation of a woman who has decided to be free.

Donna M. Hughes is Professor & Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Carlson Endowed Chair of the University of Rhode Island's Women's Studies Program.

October 23, 2007

J.K. Rowling's Stunning Lack of Imagination

Justin Katz

Look, I think it's largely irrelevant that J.K. Rowling thought of Albus Dumbledore — whom she outed during a lecture at Carnegie Hall — as homosexual while writing the Harry Potter books:

The question was: Did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?

JKR: My truthful answer to you... I always thought of Dumbledore as gay. [ovation.] ... Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was. To an extent, do we say it excused Dumbledore a little more because falling in love can blind us to an extent? But, he met someone as brilliant as he was, and rather like Bellatrix he was very drawn to this brilliant person, and horribly, terribly let down by him. Yeah, that's how i always saw Dumbledore. In fact, recently I was in a script read through for the sixth film, and they had Dumbledore saying a line to Harry early in the script saying I knew a girl once, whose hair... [laughter]. I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter, "Dumbledore's gay!" [laughter] "If I'd known it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!"

What's disappointing, even if she had never let the secret out, is that Rowling felt it necessary — in keeping with our monomaniacal culture — to layer homoeroticism on this key character's formation of relationships. That she apparently couldn't conceive of a young prodigy's becoming enamored of a talented peer without there having to be a sexual element marks a shortcoming — and it is a shortcoming, an oversimplification, and evidence of immaturity and shallowness — that separates our society from its heritage, blocking transgenerational communication and lessons about friendship, love, and our true natures.

Details on Heroism

Justin Katz

The details of Firefighter Third Class Robert Thurber's receipt of recognition at last night's Tiverton town council meeting prove me to have understated Mr. Thurber's merit:

Firefighter Third Class Robert Thurber III was awarded a Medal of Valor, second class, by Fire Chief Robert Lloyd for his attempt to save two people from a car that was in 12 feet of water after it had gone off a pier in Plymouth, Mass., on Sept. 27. Thurber was on a day off and visiting Plymouth with his girlfriend when he noticed a number of police cars racing to a pier. He followed to see if he could help and ended up diving numerous times into murky water to try to locate a car that contained two people, ages 25 and 27. He finally did locate the car, but was unable to open the door. A diving team arrived about eight minutes later. The two victims were removed from the car and taken to the hospital, but they both succumbed to their injuries, Lloyd said.

Empathy with Apathy

Justin Katz

I very much wanted to attend Donna Hughes's lecture this evening at URI's Kingston campus, but with teacher contract negotiations still ongoing, I felt somewhat obligated to attend tonight's school committee meeting. Committee and union members alike may be asking: What school committee meeting? Apparently, it was canceled, but I'm not sure how a regular ol' citizen could have known.

The Town of Tiverton's Web site doesn't mention anything, even in the Quick Announcements and Notices section. The town calendar doesn't even include school committee meetings. The parent handbook says, "Announcement of all regular School Board Meetings will be made to the Newport
Daily News as least two (2) days prior to the meeting by the Superintendent," but that paper's Web site doesn't seem like the place to check for updates. Nor does the Fall River Herald News, to which the school committee's page instructs readers to turn, instead of the Newport Daily News.

Having a simple and consistent means for interested townspeople to check for basic operational information that will allow them to plan their lives is a basic requirement for a functional governing body. I have to say that I can empathize with my fellows' apathy. This sort of unpredictability is unacceptable, and it only helps those who've organized in order to take as much as they can from the taxpayers.

It is incredibly simple, and virtually free, to set up an email list to which all interested parties can subscribe in order to receive up-to-date schedule changes and announcements. (And their receipt of the emails will help to motivate citizens' attendance.) At the very least, there ought to be a single page on the Internet to which all town boards and committees can post announcements.

Re: Cabinet Pay Raises...Governor Calls out Legislature

Marc Comtois

First, the ProJo tried to make hay over the Governor's failed attempt to get the first raises for his cabinet in 5 years and fed us the unfiltered talking points of Democratic LegisIators to boot. Now, in an "if it's good for the goose, it's good for the gander" move, Governor Carcieri has asked (Via Dan Yorke) that the Legislature forgo their annual raises, just like they've asked his cabinet officers to do:

Governor Donald L. Carcieri today called on members of the General Assembly to forego pay increases they have received since 2002, and to begin paying a share of the cost of their health insurance premiums, as every other state employee currently does. Legislators have received six different pay raises in the last six years and, unlike other state employees, still pay no share of their taxpayer-funded health insurance premium.

Several state legislators were quoted today as condemning the Governor’s plan to give the directors of state departments the same pay raises that have been enjoyed in recent years by all other state employees. State department directors have not received a cost of living adjustment since 2002. During that time, state employees received four separate pay increases of 3, 3, 4 and 4 percent.

“There is no doubt that we need to cut personnel costs in order to resolve the state’s budget problems,” Governor Carcieri said. “But pay raises and health care co-shares should be applied equally and evenhandedly to all state employees – including department directors and legislators. Right now, that’s not happening.”

“Directors of state departments haven’t received a cost of living adjustment since 2002,” the Governor continued. “During that time, all other state employees – including members of the General Assembly – have received several pay increases. In fact, the General Assembly has received six separate pay increases in six years. In addition, most state employees – including department directors – also began paying a share of their health insurance costs, but not the General Assembly.”

“As a result, the directors of state departments are the only state employees who are now co-sharing their health care costs but have received no raises over the last five years,” Carcieri said. “And legislators are the only state employees who have received six separate pay raises but still receive free health care at taxpayer expense.”

Somehow, that didn't come up in the ProJo story.

Cabinet Pay Raises: The Point is They Didn't Get Them

Marc Comtois

The ProJo gleefully reports (gotcha guv!) that Governor Carcieri asked for raises for his cabinet officers.

Two weeks before he first wielded his now-famous vow to eliminate 1,000 state jobs to head off a looming deficit, Governor Carcieri quietly sought four years of cumulative raises — ranging as high as $24,884 — for members of his cabinet.
Ah yes, "quietly" (ie; "sneakily") sought the raises. Reporter Katherine Gregg seems to be parroting the Democratic line:
House Finance Chairman Steven Costantino, D-Providence, called the request “one of the more unusual I have ever seen, particularly in light of a major, major budget deficit.… It was absolutely the wrong message you wanted to send in terms of the budget…. You’d have to ask him his motivation: why are you coming to us when you can do this yourself?”

“I think many of us thought he was looking for cover and didn’t want to actually go through the public hearing process,” Costantino said.

The Governor's spokesman refuted that speculation:
Denying the governor was driven by either motivation, Neal said Carcieri simply wanted to “regularize” the process for awarding raises, and “at the time, believed these increases would be affordable.” He said “the governor’s perspective” on the state’s fiscal situation changed dramatically two weeks later when an “unacceptable” version of the spending plan he proposed started moving through the Assembly.
It's obvious which set of talking points Gregg chose to follow. But enough about the by-now-predictable "gotcha" tone of Gregg's reporting on the Governor.

Let's get the facts straight. Several of the Governor's cabinet officers have not received raises since 2002 (even though the raises have been budgeted in for some positions, at least according to what I found while researching the DCYF budget). The Legislature and Governor have also agreed that non-union State workers should get the same 4% raises as unionized workers. Additionally:

[T]he General Assembly in June 2005 created a new procedure that requires the Department of Administration to conduct a public hearing in March each year to set directors’ salaries. It requires the administration to take into consideration the “salaries paid executive positions in other states and levels of government, and in comparable positions anywhere which require similar skills, experience, or training.” At the end of this process, the Department of Administration is required to make a recommendation to the Assembly by the end of April, to take effect automatically unless rejected by the House and Senate within 30 days.
It looks like the Legislature has nixed or left on the table most cabinet position raises year after year. The May memo sought to redress this "oversight" and to make the budgetary process more predictable by providing for automatic pay increases for these positions. I can appreciate that motivation, but there's a point worth making here: in the end, the executive raises weren't kept in the budget because they couldn't be afforded.

Can the same be said for the raises for the rest of the state workforce? Of course not. Their salaries and benefits were collectively bargained and are guaranteed, no matter how dire the State's fiscal situation. I don't begrudge them the raises, those are the rules and they negotiated them fair and square. But it doesn't mean that such lack of flexibility (management rights) isn't a problem.

I don't shed a tear for government executives making six figures not getting retroactive pay raises. Heck, I'd say we should eliminate some of those positions if we can! But most of all, I think it's to the State's benefit that we can freeze their salaries if the financial situation calls for it. If only we could do the same across the board.

Islam's Politics of Women

Justin Katz

I just wanted to remind everybody that tonight is URI Professor Donna Hughes's lecture on "Women's Rights & Political Islam" as part of the URI College Republicans' Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. It's certain to be worth attending, if you're able.

October 22, 2007

A Hero Is Always on Duty

Justin Katz

In part because I spend so much time railing against public-sector unions, I wanted to be sure to mention one item from tonight's town council meeting in Tiverton, although (not being a real journalist) my details will have to remain sketchy until a professional note-taker and reporter makes them available (since a quick Internet search turned up no report thus far of the incident):

While on a date, Tiverton firefighter Robert Thurber investigated some flashing emergency-vehicle lights and discovered that a car had driven into the water with two people inside. Without safety gear, he proceeded to join the rescue effort, making multiple dives in an attempt to open the car doors and free the passengers. Unfortunately, the diving crew, searching in dark, murky waters, proved unable to reach the two twenty-somethings in time for a trip to the hospital to save them. Tonight, Mr. Thurber received recognition for valor (although the specific honor is one of the details of which I didn't take note).

In my admiration of the man and all of the men and women in uniform who make it a 24 x 7 vocation to protect, help, and serve others, I simply don't believe that communities would begrudge them ample provisions, remuneration, and benefits no matter their employment structure. It's vexing that they feel it necessary to participate in a form of organization that seems to tend toward extortion and corruption.

That said, I should stress that unionism and Robert Thurber's heroism are entirely distinct, and the latter ought to be recognized and lauded without regard to the former.

Budget Inflation

Justin Katz

You know, in the handful of town council meetings that I've attended in Tiverton, I don't think I've seen the council vote down a single increase in spending.

Glenn Steckman, the town administrator, just requested permission to advertise for an assistant position that would represent roughly a $10,000 per year increase in salary expense. (The current assistant is under contract, so I suspect increased benefits would also be a consideration.) The council gave him permission to advertise the position, but made no commitment on salary, just yet. The likelihood is minimal, it seems to me, that the council, upon receiving résumés, much less hearing the results of interviews, would decide not to go with the new position.

Inasmuch as I still haven't climbed the learning curve, I can't say whether such a position is worth the expense. I do, however, see a large number of For Sale signs in my neighborhood. And the little guy's hero on the council, Hannibal Costa, is not in attendance.

I really don't want to become more of a troublemaker than I already am, but many more spending-increase approvals, and I don't know whether I'll be able to resist an old time usurpation of the podium.


I should note that the council's spending has not struck me as profligate or unconsidered. I just don't think I've seen it turn anything down.

A Point Worth Considering...

Justin Katz

... in Jay Nordlinger's latest Impromptus:

... a reader wrote to ask me this: "Dear Jay: After the Senate threatened Rush — and remember the vast regulatory power of the federal government — did anyone utter the words 'chilling effect'?"

Not that I heard, no. Because free speech is for liberals and leftists — for Izzy Stone and David Halberstam and Sy Hersh. Not for the likes of thee and me.

The mainstreamers, of course, would very much like for Rush to be chilled. And shaken (but not stirred.)

Behold the People's Glorious Five Year Plan

Carroll Andrew Morse

I wonder, when Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts proposes a five-year plan for healthcare reform, followed by Projo columnist Charles Bakst writing approvingly of it…

It was a pleasure to hear Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts deliver a thoughtful speech Tuesday calling for a program of compulsory, affordable health insurance for Rhode Islanders....

"Where is the vision? Rather than whittling away at our safety net and trimming at the edges of the personnel budget, we should be thinking about the long-term role of government", [asked Lt. Governor Roberts]....

She pledged to work to bring interested parties together to devise a five-year plan;

…is it the result of a lack any sense of historical irony, or of a sincere belief that government-created five-year plans are unquestionably the best way to do things, but have never properly been tried?

Could Negative Personal Experience Cloud MSM Economic Reporting?

Marc Comtois

Some have bemoaned the lack of positive media coverage of the comparatively strong U.S. economy over the past few years. Maybe there's a reason. In a review of -30-: The Collapse of the Great American Newspaper edited by Charles M. Madigan, John Saul notes:

From article to article, there is an echo of depressing statistics about the newspaper business: 44,000 news-industry employees lost their jobs in the past five years, pre-tax earnings at newspapers were off 8.4 percent in 2006 over the previous year, 200 papers closed in the past 25 years. Overall newspaper circulation was down 10 percent, as the population went up 12 percent, since the mid to late 1990s.
Is it any wonder that the majority of the dead-tree MSM finds it hard to believe that the economy is doing well?

Education Innovation in Cumberland

Carroll Andrew Morse

Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee is one of Rhode Island's most vocal advocates warning that shifting tax burdens from one community to another via a "funding formula" cannot produce true education reform and that more creative solutions are required.

At home, Mayor McKee looks to be helping practice what he preaches. From Sandy McGee of the Pawtucket Times

Michael Magee, director of the Office of Children and Learning, presented an update on what he called his "second 100 days in office" to the Town Council at Wednesday night's meeting at Town Hall.

"I'm very pleased of what's going on in that office," said Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee. "We're creating an environment that says education is important in our community. Education is the issue of our time."

Magee said the office's SAT preparation course, which partners Cumberland students with college graduate students from throughout the state, has proven successful.

"We've seen a 13 percent rise in SAT scores from students in the program," Magee said. "We anticipate a much higher rise in the percentage next year."

Magee also discussed the office's new Youth Commission, which will consist of 14 Cumberland High School students who will act as youth ambassadors to the mayor's office. The commission is scheduled to meet with the mayor in three weeks to discuss how Cumberland's youth are affected by town decisions.

Officials at the Office of Children and Learning are also planning a "green map" program, where Cumberland High School students will receive geographic information system (GIS) software to collect maps and land surveys throughout town. The program will offer a new option for high school students in need of community service hours, a requirement for graduation.

Impeach Frank Williams?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Kevin McKenna, president of the 1986 Rhode Island Constitutional Convention, writes in today's Projo that he believes Frank Williams' participation in the traffic tribunal magistrate selection process created by the General Assembly to be an impeachable offense…

Chief Justice Frank Williams’s Oct. 11 “appointment” of William R. Guglietta, chief legal counsel to Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox (D.-Providence), to the position of chief magistrate of the state Traffic Tribunal was an impeachable act, a violation of the constitutional principle of separation of powers, and a violation of the chief justice’s oath to enforce the state constitution.

A chief justice is not a governor. Constitutional officers are prohibited from exercising the power of other constitutional officers. In the 2004 separation of powers constitutional amendments, the governor was delegated by the electors the same powers of appointment as a U.S. president to appoint principal officers of the state.

I agree with Mr. McKenna that letting judges appoint other judges (and a magistrate is a judge) is a violation of the principle of separation of powers, but I'm not sure if Chief Justice Williams playing along with the flawed rules created by the legislature rises to the level of an impeachable offense.

Mr. McKenna does suggest a number of other remedies to the problem of the judicial branch exercising executive power certainly worthy of public consideration…

  • Urge your governor not to fund unconstitutional appointments. Surely funds for unconstitutional appointments could be better used for other purposes, such as funding for abandoned children in the state’s custody.
  • Urge your state senator not to approve appointments to unconstitutional positions.
  • Urge your representative and senator to repeal and amend the laws delegating the governor’s budgetary and appointment powers to the chief justice and to other chief judges and to the chief magistrate.
  • Vote in 2008 only for a state representative and senator who supports constitutional judicial reform.


Commenter "Brassband" disagrees with Mr. McKenna's position on the constitutionality of judges appointing magistrates, and even my suggestion that the legislature has created a process that's flawed, making the eminently reasonable argument that "unconstitutional" must be defined in terms of what's in the Constitution...

McKenna is not reading the R.I. Constitution correctly.

The recent "separation of powers" amendments specifically provided in Art. 9, sec. 5 that the General Assembly could assign the appointment power for lesser officers with the judicial branch in this manner:

Section 5. Powers of appointment. -- The governor shall, by and with the advice and consent of the senate, appoint all officers of the state whose appointment is not herein otherwise provided for and all members of any board, commission or other state or quasi-public entity which exercises executive power under the laws of this state; but the general assembly may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they deem proper, in the governor, or within their respective departments in the other general officers, the judiciary or in the heads of departments.
This is completely consistent with Article II, sec. 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which similarly permits Congress to authorize such appointments to be made by "the courts of law."

As I have pointed out in other comments, in the federal system, U.S. District Judges appoint Magistrates within their own Districts, and the R.I. provision is obviously patterned after that system.

The voters specifically adopted a system based on the federal model, and, whether McKenna likes it or not, the magistrate appointment system fits that pattern.


Contra "Brassband", commenter "David" defends Mr. McKenna's position on the basis that Rhode Island magistrates are true judges while Federal magistrates are not...

Federal magistrates preside mainly over preliminary hearings relating to evidentiary and discovery issues and their decisions are not effective until reviewed and approved by the district court judge responsible for the case. The judge is, of course, nominated by the president and approved by the senate in conformance with the Constitution.

Rhode Island magistrates, by contrast, have all the powers of judges as Mr. McKenna pointed out in his op-ed. The actions of traffic tribunal magistrates have the same legal effect as the acts of any trial court judge in the state and are reviewable only by appeal to the Supreme Court. Rhode Island magistrates are judges in all but name and, with apologies to Shakespeare, that which we call a judge by any other name must be approved by the judicial nominating commission, the governor and the senate.

October 21, 2007

Republican Debate

Monique Chartier

The Republican candidates for President are debating tonight on Fox News Channel.

October 20, 2007

Laffey on for the Indians in the 3rd

Carroll Andrew Morse

This is certainly a career move no one saw coming.

Hillary Clinton Gets Take-out in Chinatown

Monique Chartier

The Los Angeles Times has done a little gumshoe work and determined that Senator Hillary Clinton has received substantial campaign contributions from quite a few people of modest means.

All three locations, along with scores of others scattered throughout some of the poorest Chinese neighborhoods in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, have been swept by an extraordinary impulse to shower money on one particular presidential candidate -- Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Dishwashers, waiters and others whose jobs and dilapidated home addresses seem to make them unpromising targets for political fundraisers are pouring $1,000 and $2,000 contributions into Clinton's campaign treasury. In April, a single fundraiser in an area long known for its gritty urban poverty yielded a whopping $380,000. When Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) ran for president in 2004, he received $24,000 from Chinatown.

In a race that has already set fund-raising records, the Clinton campaign's quest to stay competitive on this important front has led them down some creative and possibly questionable avenues.

Clinton has enlisted the aid of Chinese neighborhood associations, especially those representing recent immigrants from Fujian province. The organizations, at least one of which is a descendant of Chinatown criminal enterprises that engaged in gambling and human trafficking, exert enormous influence over immigrants. The associations help them with everything from protection against crime to obtaining green cards.

Many of Clinton's Chinatown donors said they had contributed because leaders in neighborhood associations told them to. In some cases, donors said they felt pressure to give.

The other piece of the strategy involves holding out hope that, if Clinton becomes president, she will move quickly to reunite families and help illegal residents move toward citizenship. As New York's junior senator, Clinton has expressed support for immigrants and greater family reunification. She is also benefiting from Chinese donors' naive notions of what she could do in the White House. ...

The Times examined the cases of more than 150 donors who provided checks to Clinton after fundraising events geared to the Chinese community. One-third of those donors could not be found using property, telephone or business records. Most have not registered to vote, according to public records.

And several dozen were described in financial reports as holding jobs -- including dishwasher, server or chef -- that would normally make it difficult to donate amounts ranging from $500 to the legal maximum of $2,300 per election.

So is Senator Clinton "selling" the American dream? Or at least the dream of so many to come to America? It appears that these contributions are questionable both legally and ethically.

An editorial in Friday's Investor's Business Daily highlights the implication of contributions which do not correspond to the wages of the contributor.

This Times story follows an earlier bombshell about Norman Hsu, one of Clinton's most valued fundraisers, who brought in $850,000 before he was exposed as a swindler on the lam.

Hsu's "bundling" of contributions from immigrants and people of low means in his debt had all the signs of proxy giving from someone hidden and higher up. As media scrutiny intensified, much of the largesse was returned to keep the heat off and the law at bay.

Clinton's campaign is so full of questionable transactions that even the Nation, a left-wing magazine, has dug up a mysterious influence peddler named Alan Quasha who hires Clinton operatives and has links to top Clinton's top fundraisers. ...

Voters must pay attention to this because for the first time in our history, we could be electing a Manchurian candidate — someone who is loyal to foreign and unseen donors rather than voters.

October 19, 2007

Just One Thing, Mr. Whitcomb

Justin Katz

In a signed editorial that doesn't appear to be online, Providence Journal Editorial Pages Editor Robert Whitcomb suggests that the simple solution to America's healthcare problem is to expand Medicare to encompass everybody:

The Republicans will do anything but go to thye simplest, most cost-effective reform — putting everyone into Medicare. The latter's overhead: 2 percent; for-profit insurance companies': 25 percent. Why must everything in health care be done in such complicated and expensive ways? The reason is simple: Because rich and powerful people profit from the current arrangements. ...

... Americans are hungry for such reform. As it is, America has the worst healthcare system in the developed world — it's unfair, unbelievably inefficient and complicated, and grossly expensive. The best way to reform it is to disconnect health insurance from the workplace and to make sure that everyone is in the same national pool — the healthy and the unhealthy. That's what makes insurance plans fair and efficient, not the current cherry-picking arrangements.

In short, extend Medicare to everyone. And for minor medical problems, people should pay out of their own pockets, which would act as an economic discipline. The invisibility of real costs to many people with insurance has driven up overall costs. Medicare, like all insurance, should be for serious problems.

Clearly, Mr. Whitcomb is not proposing just an extension of Medicare, as it exists, to everybody. He would limit insurance to "serious problems" (I agree). He would require people not to insulate themselves from the process that turns their money into the health services that they use (again, I agree). He would disconnect health insurance from employment. Ah, now there's the thing.

A quick refresher on how Medicare is funded:

The two parts of traditional Medicare are funded in very different ways. Part A, which covers in-patient hospital bills, is financed by a trust fund known as the Hospital Insurance Fund (HI Fund).

The 1.45 percent that the government deducts from your paycheck -- and also from your employer -- is placed in the HI Fund to cover Part A services. This payroll tax provides the bulk of the money that flows into the HI Fund; that money is in turn used to cover Part A expenses.

Part B, which covers doctor appointments, is run by a separate trust fund, called the Supplemental Medical Insurance Trust Fund (SMI Fund). Enrollee premiums and funds from the general budget supply the SMI Fund, which then pays for Part B services.

So, for Part A, you currently pay 1.45% of your salary and your employer pays the same amount again on your behalf, as it were. The link between healthcare and employment remains as a function of Medicare's structure. Now consider that this money associated with your salary currently covers just over 25% of a senior's healthcare. By 2075, every two workers will be paying for a single retiree, so the percentage of salary will have to go up to roughly 6% (employee and employer contributions) to maintain the equivalent services.

Were everybody to dive into the Medicare pool, the ratio would become approximately 0.8 workers per recipient, making the percentage contribution a little under 13% of salary. Sharp readers will have noticed that I've forgotten an additional consideration that I haven't the time to work through, just now: If Medicare covered everybody, each worker would also be paying for those who are unemployed, whether they are adults or children. My guess is that the percentage of salary would increase to an amount at least as high as the combined contribution that my employer and I currently make to my healthcare. In other words, "including everybody in Medicare" isn't but so different from requiring all employers to offer healthcare to their employees' families, with an additional fund for unemployed and retired adults.

And nothing above addresses the increased cost of "enrollee premiums and funds from the general budget" that would have to be raised via taxes for Part B. I don't know from where Whitcomb took his overhead numbers, but it isn't at all clear to me that my cost — taking myself as an example of exactly the sort of head of struggling household whom healthcare costs could easily break — would improve, as an absolute matter or in relation to services.

Worse yet, the risk is surely tremendous that the system would change when it shifts from covering a minority to being the only game in town — and one run ultimately by politicians. Who will decide what are "minor medical problems"? Who will decide from whom it is proper to demand payment for non-emergencies? The answer cannot be other than "rich and powerful people," back again, but with a government-sanctioned monopoly.

Providence Parents Versus Bumping

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to multiple sources, the number one concern expressed by Providence parents at Wedenesday night's East Side Public Education Coalition/Martin Luther King Parent-Teacher Organization open forum was a need to reform the "bumping" system that requires personnel decisions to be made on the basis of seniority.

From Linda Borg of the Projo...

The public’s frustration with the way that public school teachers are hired and fired was palpable last night, as parents demanded to know why highly qualified teachers are displaced based on seniority....

Harlan Rich, one of the leaders of the East Side coalition, described the process as follows: every March, dozens of teachers receive pink slips warning them that they might lose their jobs in the event of a budget shortfall. During the summer, after the School Department determines its budget, teachers are rehired. When the schools are facing deep budget deficits, like they did this spring, bumping based on seniority creates a ripple effect that tears at the fabric of school communities, Rich said.

This summer, some schools lost a third of their staff because of bumping, and principals and teachers alike say that this process makes it difficult, if not impossible, to build on past successes when there is a constant reshuffling of faculty members.

“It’s clear that this is built into state law,” Rich said. “I want to know what the General Assembly is going to do about it.

From Thomas Schmeling of the East Side Public Education Coalition...
The forum covered a number of topics, from funding to consolidation of school districts, to after-school programs, but things really heated up when the question of “bumping” of teachers was addressed. Each spring, large numbers of Providence teachers are laid off because the funds to pay their salaries are dependent on state budgets which are not approved until June. Priority is given to senior teachers. Newer teachers, often highly talented and successful, are displaced. The process appears to be very wasteful because, when funds are approved the majority teachers are hired back, but they often return only as long-term substitutes with uncertain futures, or as “permanent” teachers with the prospect of being bumped again next year. Some teachers are hired away by other districts before Providence has a chance to hire them back, and others give up. The story was told of an extremely talented high-school science teacher who was bumped twice, and eventually went elsewhere.
And from Chaz Kelsh of the Brown Daily Herald...
Audience members became most incensed when speaking about the process of "bumping," when school districts fire more-junior teachers when the district budget has not been finalized. Some are later hired over the summer when funding officially becomes available. Schools are not allowed to rehire based on performance, participants at the meeting said, so younger but possibly more qualified teachers are let go if the budget decreases.

The officials agreed that bumping is a problem at Rhode Island schools. "It has to stop," [City Councilman Cliff Wood] said. "It tears the culture of a school apart. The progress we've made will be over in a flash if we don't fix this problem."

But parents were skeptical that true change could be made.

"Why can't someone just stand up and say, 'I'm going to be the one to sponsor this?' " Kira Greene asked. Audience members responded with cheers and applause.

October 18, 2007

The Mutable Soul

Justin Katz

Jonah Goldberg has opened up the topic of ensoulment with respect to abortion, and an email that he published concerning the Christian view doesn't take its conclusions quite far enough to be entirely relevant to his broader stance on abortion:

What Christianity actually teaches is that man—and man alone—is a psychosomatic entity consisting of a body and a soul. Both together comprise the human person. Animals are pure body—even to the extent that they have intellect, they do not have immortal souls; angels on the other hand, are pure spirit, and thus have only tenuous links to the material world. Man alone participates in the entire "kosmos" created by God, who made all things visible and invisible (which formulation in the patristic mind implied material and immaterial). Man therefore has a unique place in God's plan as mediator of creation. The patristic understanding of the Second Coming, therefore, is not the obliteration of the material universe so that man can live an airy-fairy existence in some immaterial heaven (white robe and harp optional), but the restoration of this world to the state it had before the fall of Adam. To Christians, as to Jews, the resurrection of the dead means specifically the reuniting of the soul and the body in a restored humanity no longer subject to death and corruption.

A previous emailer had suggested that God "puts a body around our soul," but Christian doctrine is clear that each human is a created being, that only Jesus ("begotten, not made") is co-eternal backwards in history with God, and that God forms us in the womb. If that "us" is to be taken as including both body and soul, it follows that the soul is formed there, too, and no reason exists to suppose that our souls do not develop in a way similar to our bodies, with the main difference being that nature does not impose such a rigid trajectory on our spirits.

Upon conception, the progress of both facets of the unique human being begins, with the nascent soul definable mainly in terms of its volition to develop. At various stages in youth, the person becomes aware of existence, aware of his or her unique existence, and aware of his or her subordination to the rest of nature. These are milestones, not steps. Upon death — although I'll have to get back to you many decades hence (God willing) to speak with the confidence of experience — the trajectory can continue sharply toward God (Heaven), gradually toward Him (Purgatory), or gradually or sharply away from Him (Hell).

I offer my afterlife speculation only to present a full, if approximate, picture of the human being's existence in total, which is how the Christian believes God to see it. Because we've only hints and clues with respect to life after death, when Christians speak against morally illicit killing — whether the murder of adults or abortion — they tend to emphasize the insult to God and the deleterious effects on the killer. I submit that it strains a God-centered philosophy to suppose that there are distinctions to be made, on either of these counts, along the human lifespan. As for the effects on the killed, we would certainly like to believe that a person murdered in utero would instantly be saved, but it seems just as likely to me that he or she faces only a slow, purgatorial advancement toward Heaven.

Whatever the case, the point is that there is no such thing as "ensoulment," except inasmuch as it is synonymous with the creation of the individual (aka conception). This line of reasoning may ultimately leave us no less certain whether the preborn have souls, but it requires that the question be not whether they have received them yet, but whether souls actually exist. In most usages, "soul" is shorthand for "the thing that makes us each uniquely valuable," and if it is not real, then human life is devalued no matter its development.

The New Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard Strategy: A Turning Point in World History?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Don't miss what could be a huge story for the future of the world. Here's the short version from the Associated Press

It's being called the first major revision of American naval strategy in 25 years.

Maritime officials say they plan to focus more on humanitarian missions and improving international cooperation as a way to prevent conflicts....

The new strategy reflects a broader effort to use aid, training and other cooperative efforts to encourage stability in fledgling democracies and create relationships around the globe that can be leveraged if a crisis does break out in a region.

The U.S has faired so poorly in rebuilding Iraq, in large measure, because of a lack of forces and training specifically dedicated to reconstruction operations. The announcement of this new strategy means that the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard intend to do their part to remedy this deficiency. It also means that the leaders of the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard expect the U.S. military to be involved in more nation-building type operations in the near future, despite any isolationist sentiment that may seem to be growing in the country right now.

But what really makes the new maritime strategy significant is the shift within the military bureaucracy that it suggests. Almost certainly, a key reason that the U.S. has lacked forces tailored for humanitarian and democracy-stabilization missions has been a reluctance on the part of high-level military leadership to endorse their creation, reasoning that the existence of forces proficient in nation-building operations would overly tempt America's leaders to undertake nation-building projects. Better not to have such forces at all and prevent the U.S. from being able to even think about joining certain classes of conflicts.

The new strategy means that a significant number of military strategists and policy makers, at least within the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard, have rejected this view. They've decided that safeguarding U.S. security means more than preparing for conventional threats and that American security now requires an ability to deal with and defuse violence and instability spawned by the many weak, backward states that populate the globe.

Hopefully, the Army and the Air Force are on their way to a similar realization. The coup-de-grace will come when the State Department recognizes that engaging people in retrograde states is part of its mission too!

Bigoted or American?

Monique Chartier

Yesterday on the Helen Glover Show, discussing the $100,000,000 workforce reduction, Governor Donald Carcieri had the following exchange with a caller:

Asked by a caller why the state needs interpreters in the courts and other state agencies, Carcieri said: “Amen to you, buddy.”

In the hunt for expendable jobs, Carcieri said he found one department with eight Spanish-speaking interpreters, and “I said why are we, at taxpayer expense, providing interpreters for people who want benefits from us? It seems completely illogical to me because you’re right,” he told the caller. “My grandparents immigrated from Italy. My grandmother didn’t speak English. She learned it…”

“But the point is if they needed somebody … they got somebody, a friend or relative who spoke English, right?

This afternoon, Chair of the Rhode Island Democrat Party issued a press release responding to those comments:

Rhode Island Democratic Party Chairman Bill Lynch is demanding an immediate retraction and apology from Gov. Don Carcieri today after a comment he made Wednesday on a local talk radio call-in program provided insight as to his opinion of people who are not fluent in English. ...

“Don Carcieri was elected to be the governor of all Rhode Islanders, not just the people who look and speak as he does. Is the governor really saying that Rhode Island citizens should be denied certain rights and benefits simply because they may have a difficult time understanding English? That’s simply outrageous, and I’m calling on the governor to immediately retract his hurtful remarks and issue an apology,” Lynch said.

The Governor accurately described what was until recently the universal, self-sufficient approach of all non-speaking immigrants to America (and which, it should be noted, many immigrants still take today). Translators were not provided at government expense. If a translator was needed, a family member or neighbor stepped in. It is, therefore, a little puzzling to have Mr. Lynch describe as un-American what has unquestionably been a very American experience.


Thanks to Tim Staskiewicz, producer of the Helen Glover Show, for alerting us to the audio available at WHJJ's website. It includes the question and answer between Buddy of Johnston and Governor Carcieri that provoked the Chair of the RI Democrat Party to request an apology of the Governor.

Specific to the question of court interpreters, which is not what the Governor and Buddy were discussing, I concur that this is one of the services which a just and civilized government should provide to immigrants, both documented and undocumented. And probably most people could be persuaded of that, also.

We would be persuaded reluctantly, however. Part of the source of the exasperation and even anger for which Mr. Lynch has become the focus is that the list of government services and accommodations provided to undocumented immigrants is too long, costly and completely unmatched in any other country. These include social programs, Medicaid and education, for which it is now becoming clear there are costs on multiple fronts.

So we add up in our heads these billions of tax dollars. We observe the haphazard, sometimes non-existent, efforts by our government to control our borders and enforce our immigration laws. We cogitate with some disdain the not so public-spirited motives behind these tepid enforcement efforts. And that is how government paid translation services, which should be a priority, instead become the last straw.

UPDATE II - more audio

On Friday morning, Governor Carcieri called WPRO's John Depetro Show and declined once again to apologize.

Also Friday morning, Mr. Lynch called WHJJ's Helen Glover Show for a ... chat.

The Latest, Not Greatest, Proposed Revisions to Electronic Surveillance Law, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

1. The Democratic leadership pulled its version of surveillance reform off of the House floor yesterday, according to National Public Radio, after the Republicans proposed the following change to the Democrats proposed change to the Section 105A "exception"

What threw the bill into limbo was a motion by Lamar Smith (R-TX) to send the bill back to committee for an amendment. That amendment would allow any form of surveillance of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida or other designated terrorist groups. Smith says it revealed a fatal flaw in the Democrat's legislation.
If the Republican amendment had passed, the revised law would have allowed American intelligence agencies to authorize electronic surveillance without court system involvement when…
  1. The party under surveillance was a "non-United States person" outside of the United States, communicating with another "non-United States person" outside of the United States, or
  2. The party under surveillance was outside of the United States and associated with a known terrorist group.
The Democratic leadership supported item 1, but did not want members of their party to have to vote on item 2. Draw your own conclusion about what that means, though you might want to start with the Baltimore Sun's reporting
It was the most recent embarrassment for Democrats in efforts to update laws governing domestic spying by the National Security Agency and other U.S. agencies.

2. Here is a strange and underreported facet of this story: The proceedings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court are shrouded in such secrecy, no one, save for a few privleged government officials, has been allowed to read the ruling where the court decreed expanded jurisdiction for itself! Here's Andrew McCarthy of National Review Online on the secret ruling that triggered the need for the temporary legislation we are now operating under...

Imagine if a public official, safe in the shadows of anonymity, penned a directive that radically rewrote American intelligence-collection law — statutes enacted by our democratically elected officials and signed into law by elected presidents (including elected Democrat presidents, hyper-sensitive to privacy concerns).

Imagine that, rather than having such a critical national security decision made in the light of day, the anonymous public official issued the directive in secret — insulated from any political process in which the people whose lives hang in the balance were free to determine the appropriate line between liberty and security.

Imagine that we were not just barred from learning the name of the official; we were actually foreclosed from reading the directive under which we were now ruled....

Earlier this year — in the middle of an armed conflict against an international terror network which is promising renewed, 9/11-style attacks against the Homeland — an anonymous judge of the secret FISA court issued a classified ruling which radically altered decades-old, bedrock assumptions of foreign-intelligence law. The stealth directive deeply damaged the ability of the United States to investigate and prevent terrorist attacks.

We have not been permitted to learn the name of the judge. We have not been permitted to read the ruling — a ruling that so rocked the political branches that it became the subject of emergency curative legislation this summer. Legislation that is set to expire in about four months … after which we could once again be living not under FISA but under the secret whims of the FISA court.

Specifically, the judge ruled that our intelligence community now needs the permission of a federal judge before it can conduct electronic surveillance on non-Americans outside the United States who are communicating with other non-Americans outside the United States.

Mr. McCarthy is a former Federal prosecutor who prosecuted the first World Trade Center bombing case, so he is very familiar on this area of the law, but if you are skeptical about taking him at his word, note this otherwise curious qualifier in the Los Angeles Times pro-Democratic position editorial on the proposed new law…
Only this year, after the election of a Democratic Congress, did Bush shift ground and agree to allow the program to be supervised by the secret federal court created by FISA.

This acceptance of judicial oversight proved to be short-lived. When the court found fault with aspects of the program -- reportedly ruling that FISA required the government to seek a court order for "foreign-to-foreign" communications that are routed through the United States -- Bush pressed Congress to do much more than close what everyone agreed was a loophole created by advances in technology.


Which procedure makes more sense for protecting civil liberties: Having elected representatives debate the procedures for surveillance and set the rules out in the open -- like we're doing right now, in case you haven't noticed -- or letting unelected, unaccountable judges set procedures in secret rulings that the public is not even allowed to read after-the-fact?

Contorted Math from the AG's Office

Justin Katz

Whatever the merits of its claims, this argument from the attorney general's office (concerning why it won't answer the governor's call to trim its workforce) is a head-shaker:

The attorney general's office employs 234 workers, barely enough staff to fill the current need, according to Christopher Cotta, director of administration and finance for the attorney general's office.

"To say we could do it with less is almost an insult," Cotta said, noting that his department has not asked for a staffing increase in the last two years. As it is, the attorney general’s staff will perform an estimated 25,000 hours of unpaid overtime this year because of staffing shortages, he said. ...

Cotta said that without adequate staffing to meet court deadlines, "There is the potential that something could fall through the cracks or get missed and somehow somebody ends up back on the streets who doesn’t belong on the streets."

The governor's office would not respond directly to Lynch's concerns, but it issued a spreadsheet demonstrating a budgetary increase at the attorney general’s office of about 36 percent since 2003. Lynch's spokesman Michael Healey countered by noting that overall state spending since 2003 has increased by more than 28 percent.

"It's kind of like the cheetah calling the dalmatian spotty," Healey said of the governor's analysis.

Huh? The budget of the attorney general's office has increased 29% more than that of the state overall, and it is therefore unfair to ask the AG to join the governor in trimming? Be the injustice of the AG's staff working an average of two hours more than full time (whatever the specifics) each week as it may, I'm always a bit suspicious when arguments against spending are based on non sequiturs.

Randall Jackvony: "Waiting on a 'Relevant' Person"

Engaged Citizen

In one of my recent columns for the Cranston Herald, I discussed nappylies.com, a site the Cranston GOP has to highlight the record of Cranston Mayor Michael Napolitano. For input on the tone of politics in the Internet age, I talked with Justin Katz.

As I mention in my column, Justin's responses to my questions made me think about things in a different light, especially the idea of a "just anger" in political speech. In Cranston, we have seen both just and self-serving anger in the past. This was particularly acute during the last five years of financial turmoil. The "self serving" anger I witnessed has colored my thinking, and sometimes I forget that judiciously used anger can be a powerful tool. As Justin told me, "If a generally mild and considered commenter reacts acerbically to something in particular, the biting nature of the response has some power." Very true. However, I think if it is overused, just anger can lose it effectiveness.

He posted an entry on Anchor Rising in response to my piece, which I didn’t come across until a couple of weeks later. The post and the subsequent comments both amused and perplexed me. As Will said, he and I have never met (to my knowledge), but he speaks like I (as a Republican who is somewhat informed of party politics) should know who he is. Perhaps if he listed his last name, I may be able to recall him.

Nonetheless, I suspect he may be part of a group of Republicans who want to enforce ideological purity or blind faith in one man as a litmus test as to whether someone is eligible to participate in the party or not. Certainly, there has to be some commonality under the GOP tent. Further, I understand and respect that some people don't want to lend their electoral support to someone they see as too moderate. However, when it comes to moving the party forward, the Republicans need to keep the big tent ideal. The attitude of some of the aforementioned group of Republicans, at times, reminds me of — borrowing from the Vietnam era phrase — having "to burn the village to save it." Or in this case, burning the tent.

The next RIGOP meeting you attend, take notice. There are people there who interrupt and shout down others who disagree with them. Bullying, insulting, and demeaning people because they disagree with you doesn't help your cause. Plus, it won't build a strong party and is certainly is not a way to change the state.

Will is certainly correct regarding my recent non-participation in GOP politics. However, I'm sure he has no true sense of why I don't participate. While he has no reason to know any more, I'm sure his knowledge of my politics doesn't go any deeper than my disagreements with former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey. Will, I don't know the intricacies of your politics, but we probably agree on most things.

However, I am even more concerned for the future of the party if Will's opinions regarding "relevancy" are taking root in the party. The Republicans should be willing to consider a newcomer who is genuinely willing to give of his or her time to do what is right for the state as "relevant."

Perhaps that's the problem. Are some Republicans waiting for one "relevant" person to come along and magically change things? That has not worked in the past and won't in the future. Perhaps Will is part of the group that sees Steve Laffey as that person. Well, the success of his methodology can be seen by the state of GOP electoral success in Cranston.

The GOP would be more successful in the long term concentrating on school committee and municipal councils. Build up a strong, viable, and respected farm team. Higher offices will (eventually) take care of themselves, because they will be fed by that team.

The party needs to convince concerned — and yes, maybe irrelevant — people to participate and run for office. Plus, they need to know: You may have to run a couple of times to succeed.

The party needs a simple message that is repeated over and over to make people get it. It will be sickening to people who follow politics, but it's what is needed for taxpayers who are too busy living their lives to pay close attention. That message should something like: A one-party system doesn't work; it breeds waste and corruption and costs you a lot of money. Elect Republicans to bring a balance and fix our state's problems.

It's Almost as If There's a Moral Underpinning

Justin Katz

Every now and then, patterns emerge from my scattershot reading habits. Here's Jeff Jacoby on public education in America:

Americans differ on same-sex marriage and evolution, on the importance of sports and the value of phonics, on the right to bear arms and the reverence due the Confederate flag. Some parents are committed secularists; others are devout believers. Some place great emphasis on math and science; others stress history and foreign languages. Americans hold disparate opinions on everything from the truth of the Bible to the meaning of the First Amendment, from the usefulness of rote memorization to the significance of music and art. With parents so often in loud disagreement, why should children be locked into a one-size-fits-all, government-knows-best model of education? ...

But we should be concerned. Not just because the quality of government schooling is so often poor or its costs so high. Not just because public schools are constantly roiled by political storms. Not just because schools backed by the power of the state are not accountable to parents and can ride roughshod over their concerns. And not just because the public-school monopoly, like most monopolies, resists change, innovation, and excellence.

All of that is true, but a more fundamental truth is this: In a society founded on political and economic liberty, government schools have no place. Free men and women do not entrust to the state the molding of their children's minds and character.

A similar thread, it seems to me, runs through this snippet of Peter Robinson's interview with Milton Friedman:

ROBINSON: Here’s the argument some economists make against a tax cut. Again, quoting Robert Solow: "Tax reduction, especially income tax reduction, fattens the disposable income of households. Most of it flows into consumption; only a small fraction is saved. The choice between debt reduction and tax reduction as ways of disposing of a budget surplus is mainly a choice between adding to investment and adding to consumption, between provision for the future and enjoyment today." So, according to this argument, you cut taxes and all you’re going to do is enable the American people to go on a brief, giddy spree.

FRIEDMAN: It will enable the American people to do what the American people want to do, not what Bob Solow thinks they ought to do.

ROBINSON: But you’re making a moral argument, not an economic argument.

FRIEDMAN: Yes, that’s a moral argument, absolutely. Are there any other arguments? Fundamentally doesn’t it all come down to moral arguments? What’s an amoral argument?

I'm tempted to ask why the same people who believe that it is wrong "to impose my view" — as John Edwards put it in his own expression of asininity — believe that they can impose personal budgets. The answer's too easy, though: They're just fine with the government's imposing views and budgets, and out of some delusion, they're persuaded that they'll be able to grab the reins.

October 17, 2007

Now I Got Ya

Justin Katz

Knowing full well that it may keep you up too late tonight or get you off to a delayed start in the morning, I hereby introduce you to Chat Noir. Click the light circles to turn them dark and trap the cat before it escapes.

Anybody who still has an extra second in the day can calculate the dollar amount that this game will have cost the RI economy.

They Can't Enjoy Their Risotto If They Can't Pay Their !@#$%^& Bills?

Justin Katz

During a commercial break from Kitchen Nightmares, featuring master chef turned restaurateur self-help guru Gordon Ramsay, I read the following comment from George to my Too Cheery post:

Yesterday morning some drunk fell flat on his face at a RIPTA bus stop. 7 AM! Just think of the cost of having this loser in our state. What did it cost Cranston FD and PD to respond. What did the delays cost RIPTA. What was the cost of the delay to the 5% of the riders who were actually heading to do something productive. (The other 95%, not yet "falling-down" drunk, were only headed somewhere looking for a hand-out.) What was the cost of his emergency room treatment? By 9 am, this loser had probably sucked 20 grand out of the economy. The first step in the right direction is to stop making this state so attractive to losers AND make it attractive to productive, law-abiding citizens who speak English. People who contribute!

These people don't need "assistance," they take advantage of it. "Assistance" only perpetuates their condition. They need tough love. No assistance, no shelters, no hand outs! They'll either get it together or move somewhere else!

I really do feel bad for these people because I see first hand every morning how the "system" is doing absolutely nothing to improve their condition.

And Michael Morse's:

On an average day in Providence on Rescue 1 I take five intoxicated males to the hospital ER for "detox." There are six rescues in Providence. Sometimes every rescue has an intoxicated person getting a free ride. All this while tax paying, law abiding citizens wait for help from Warwick, Cranston, Lincoln, Cumberland, Coventry, Seekonk.... Every day. Day after day. Taxpayers in those towns wait longer for help because the rescues their tax dollars are paying for are tied up in Providence on mutual aid.

And it occurred to me that Rhode Island needs the Chef Ramsay treatment. Give him behind the scenes access to our government. Not necessarily to make substantial changes, but it would surely be helpful for somebody to give those who run our state a good profanity-laced dose of the ol' wake up dip!@#$.

The High Priority of Rising Sea Levels...100 Years from now?

Marc Comtois

Today's ProJo contained this story about the latest warnings from the enviro-Henny Pennys:

This fall, the state agency that regulates coastal development in Rhode Island plans to become one of the first local regulatory agencies in the country to officially recognize the likelihood of sea-level rise and write policies and regulations to prepare for higher water.

The rising waters will require that new buildings in flood zones be constructed at higher elevations, says Grover Fugate, executive director of the Coastal Resources Management Council. He says there should also be changes in the state building code for coastal development and different rules for septic systems. Sewer outfalls and bridges may be affected.

The CRMC website contains an explanation, too:
Climate change refers to fluctuations in the Earth’s climate system – a result of natural and manmade causes – and is evidenced largely by rising global temperatures, increasing weather extremes which result in more frequent floods and droughts, and rising sea level. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) 2007 report states a potential rise in sea level of 18-59 centimeters by 2100 (depending on the scenario chosen). State experts have agreed that for planning purposes, Rhode Island should expect a minimum rise of 3-5 feet by 2100. The actual sea level rise may be higher than that, however, if greenhouse gases are not reduced far before that time.
Set aside that we're talking about yet more onerous regulations and bureaucracy being imposed on the citizens of the state. That's nothing new around here. But now we're gonna spend tax dollars--and force citizens to devote portions of their paychecks to abide by these new regulations--based on what might happen 100 or so years from now. I'm all for scientific research and forecasting, but imposing government regulations based on a 100 year out forecast seems to be kinda low priority right about now.

This is the sort of misplaced prioritization that Bjørn Lomborg writes of in Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming .

Stephen Hayward reviewed the book in the latest National Review:

Notwithstanding Lomborg’s major concession that “global warming is real and man-made” and is “beyond debate,” environmentalists will not be happy. Lomborg questions “whether hysteria and headlong spending on extravagant CO2-cutting programs at an unprecedented price is the only possible response.” Any competent economist can tell you that deep CO2 reductions fail every cost-benefit test; this is true even of economists, such as Yale’s William Nordhaus, who accept the catastrophic-global-warming scenario.

Environmentalists, along with most liberals, snort at cost-benefit analysis...The virtue of Cool It is that Lomborg effectively translates the aseptic language of cost-benefit analysis into persuasive plain English...

...As Lomborg states, “the benefits from moderately using fossil fuels vastly outweigh the costs.” If anything, Lomborg understates this point. The tradeoff for arguably increasing the average global temperature by 0.8ºC in the 20th century has been nearly a doubling in life expectancy, a huge decline in infant mortality, and the steadily increasing spread of middle-class prosperity across the planet’s population. Does anyone outside the tiny ranks of environmental extremists really wish we had not made this progress, which depended vitally on cheap energy? Acknowledging this calculus is environmentally incorrect, but it is the silent ground upon which practical policymakers will build policy. There simply is no near-term, large-scale alternative to fossil fuels. Deal with it.

...Lomborg thinks we should aim at modest reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, invest heavily in energy research, and devote resources to adapting to changing conditions. Eventually, policymakers throughout the world are going to come around to Lomborg’s point of view (indeed they already are, if the tenor of the recent APEC meeting in Australia is any indication), though they will do so kicking and screaming and with multiple genuflections toward the alarmist totems.

In short, Lomborg advocates an adaptation strategy. Another review by Jonathan Adler further explains Lomborg's thinking:
The proper approach, according to Lomborg, is not to focus on emission cuts to the exclusions of all other policy options. Rather it should be to identify the major economic and environmental problems facing human societies, including those that could be augmented by an increase in global mean temperature, and to dedicate resources where they can do the most good. This, in turn, means adopting policies other than controls on greenhouse emissions. He explains: “Even though CO2 causes global warming, cutting CO2 simply doesn’t matter much for most of the world’s important issues. From polar bears to poverty, we can do immensely better with other policies. This does not mean doing nothing about global warming. It simply means realizing that early and massive carbon reductions will prove costly, hard, and politically divisive and likely will end up making fairly little difference for the climate and very little difference for social impacts.”

One of the primary reasons to fear global warming is that it could exacerbate other problems, from the spread of disease and water shortages to flooding and extreme weather events. Like others before him, Lomborg stresses that it is far more cost-effective to address these concerns directly than to seek greater protection through emission controls. If we care about controlling the spread of malaria or fresh water supplies — two problems that could be worse in a warmer world — direct interventions are far more cost-effective than climate change policies; “in the short and medium term we can help real people much better through alternative policies. We can cut diseases, malnutrition, lack of access to clean drinking water, and sanitation while improving the economy with much cheaper policies that will have much greater impact.” Building infrastructure and improving access to health care are far less costly than controlling the consumption of fossil fuels.

On one hand, I suppose the new regulations being proposed by CRMC could be viewed as government's way of forcing the sort of adaptation that Lomborg advocates. But maybe not...
The proposed regulations will authorize the CRMC to develop and adopt policies and regulations needed to manage the state’s coastal resources and property and protect life and property from hazards resulting from the projected sea level rise. The Council, under these regulations, would also be authorized to work with the State Building Commissioner and to adopt freeboard calculations to determine new development guidelines.
The actual regulations aren't available, so all we're left to is conjecture. Who trusts that the CRMC won't overreach? Not me.

The Latest, Not Greatest, Proposed Revisions to Electronic Surveillance Law, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here's a quick primer on the latest version of electronic surveillance law moving through Congress. Warning: there's some heavy (and not very well written) legalese in the portions of the new law excerpted below.

At the moment, foreign electronic surveillance is being conducted under a reasonably clear rule written into a temporary law (it expires in February) stating that no court-system involvement is required when one party (citizen or non-citizen) is believed to be outside of the United States…

Sec. 105A: Nothing in the definition of electronic surveillance under section 101(f) shall be construed to encompass surveillance directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States.
Democrats want to limit the "exception" to cases where both parties are non-"United States persons" located outside of the United States...
Sec. 105A (a): Foreign to Foreign Communications -- Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, a court order is not required for the acquisition of the contents of any communication between persons that are not United States persons and are not located within the United States for the purpose of collecting foreign intelligence information, without respect to whether the communication passes through the United States or the surveillance device is located within the United States.
...and also make explicit that intelligence agencies need to obtain court orders before conducting electronic surveillance in all cases not covered by section (a)...
Sec. 105A (b): Communications of Non-United States Persons Outside of the United States -- Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act other than subsection (a), electronic surveillance that is directed at the acquisition of the communications of a person that is reasonably believed to be located outside the United States and not a United States person for the purpose of collecting foreign intelligence information (as defined in paragraph (1) or (2)(A) of section 101(e)) by targeting that person shall be conducted pursuant to --

(1) an order approved in accordance with section 105 or 105B; or

(2) an emergency authorization in accordance with section 105 or 105C.

Reconciling section (a) with section (b) essentially requires court approval for any continuing foreign intelligence gathering operation. Without a court order in hand, an intelligence agency would have to cease surveillance immediately to comply with the law if a surveillance target unexpectedly contacted the U.S., or even contacted a resident alien outside of the U.S. The problem with this, as Mark Steyn has put it, is that…
If the U.S. government intercepts a call from Islamabad to London about a plot to blow up Big Ben, it can alert the Brits. But, if the U.S. government intercepts a call from Islamabad to New York about a plot to blow up the Chrysler Building, that's entirely unconstitutional and all record of it should be erased.
Wouldn't a rational surveillance reform seek to avoid creating situations where American intelligence agencies could run afoul of the law, just by diligently doing their jobs?

Just in Case You're Finding the Day's News Too Cheery

Justin Katz

Here are two additional rankings across which I've recently come:

  • Rhode Island is one of six states that spends more money from the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) on adults than on children
  • But perhaps that's because the states ranks 44th (that's bad) on the Milken Institute's Chronic Disease Index.

How many horrifying rankings, do you suppose, will it take before Rhode Islanders' apathy breaks?

Hey, Rhode Islanders: You Just Gotta Live with the Taxes. They're Immutable!

Justin Katz

Anthony DiBella's column in yesterday's Providence Journal has to be read to be believed:

The immutable fact is that the bulk of a state’s revenue is based on scale or size. Unless we are going to merge with Massachusetts or Connecticut or become part of the United States of New England, we will always be at a relative disadvantage when it comes to tax liabilities. Even the governor's experience as a corporate executive should tell him that operational efficiencies derive primarily from economies of scale.

There are fixed, unavoidable costs to run any organization: salaries for employees, utility bills to heat offices and expenses to buy, lease or maintain equipment. Large states can apportion expenses over a large set of assets that reflect taxing capacity. ...

With regard to land area, we all know that we are the smallest of the 50 states, but relatively speaking, we are even smaller than that. Alaska, the largest U.S state, is over 570 times the size of Rhode Island. Our biggest neighbor, Massachusetts, ranks 45th in size but is nearly 8 times larger than us. Then there's the size of our population. As of the 2000 census, Rhode Island ranked 43rd, but again, relatively speaking, the state with the largest population, California, is over 33 times our size. Putting together these data regarding land area and population, the only surprise about Rhode Island having the 7th highest property tax rate in the nation (according to a brochure used to promote the Narragansett Indian Casino last year) should be that it isn't higher.

Considering that DiBella writes as if Rhode Island's 30th out of 50 median household income (not, apparently, adjusted for our high cost of living) and as if our 37th out of 50 "competitiveness" are positives for the state, readers may be forgiven for suspecting that his conclusions are a priori. "It's foolhardy to presume that the principle cause of our high taxes is frivolous or unnecessary state services," he writes. Apparently, it is incumbent upon small states to offer extended welfare benefits compared with the rest of the nation, including their neighbors, and to give lifetime benefits to part-time crossing guards.

The centerpiece of any solution, according to DiBella, must be a consolidation of "as many functions as possible." Somehow, I suspect the state's power mongers have a fondness for such solutions. And somehow, I don't think the supposed naturalness of the high tax burden in Rhode Island will stop the people who actually pay the bulk of the taxes from leaving.

Myself, I'm more of the Edward Achorn school of thought:

Last week, the nonprofit research group The Tax Foundation released its annual rankings for business tax climate.

Where did Rhode Island finish? If you guessed dead last, you've probably been reading the newspaper during the last several years.

The report makes clear that the Ocean State could hardly do more to scare off economic growth — you know, the jobs people need if they are to survive and pay sky-high taxes to support all those who depend on government. Rhode Island beat out New Jersey, New York and California for the highly dubious honor. ...

Rhode Island ranked 50th — dead last — in job creation from 2003 to 2006 and 42nd in production growth, says Tax Foundation economist Curtis Dubay, citing data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

It ranked 49th in population growth, as the middle class (notably including retirees) fled for less punishing states. While the nation's population has grown almost 3 percent, Rhode Island's fell over half a percent

Its income growth was 48th. While America's income grew almost 19 percent between 2003 and 2006, Rhode Island's grew at just under 14 percent.

Its state and local spending per capita ranked 9th highest in the country.

Those are terrible, even scary, numbers.

The one correction that I would make to Achorn's column is that his characterization of Rhode Island's quality of life as "superb!" does not apply to those many families whom the state forces to struggle to get by. Or those who must watch their children depart in order to find opportunity, or (for that matter) those who find themselves without it. A family that can't afford a night of cultural events is not made richer by them. Parents who must work seven days a week experience festivals as mere news stories, and those could come from anywhere.

Telling Our Less Fortunate Citizens Where the Opportunity Is

Justin Katz

I've got a piece in today's Providence Journal explaining two realities that ought to be considered in tandem: that Rhode Island is toppling or driving away those who make enough to be net gains for the state to the benefit of those who are net drains, and that there are really much better opportunities for low-skilled workers elsewhere.

Readers interested in some relevant charts can find them here.


Donald B. Hawthorne

Julieanne Dolan writes about comments this week made by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas:

The most striking moment in his remarks was his response to a question about what he thought people would gain by reading his biography. His short answer was "hope." A simple, and perhaps common enough answer, but considered in light of the many struggles (something about which he spoke at length during the event) that permeate the chapters of Thomas's life; the answer turns out to be a rather extraordinary one.

The kind of hope that Thomas is selling is not the hope for a life lived without struggle, nor does his idea of hope glow with the overwhelmingly disappointing idealism that has become a standard connotation for public use of the word. Rather, like the man himself, the "hope" he offers is a refreshingly real kind of hope, one that does not preclude the existence of the very struggles that shape a person.

Every human life has its own struggles. What defines each of us is how we respond to the struggles we do face, whether we let them bring us down or guide us to new insights which make us better persons for our remaining years.

October 16, 2007

A Dark Cloud Down the Hill

Justin Katz

Such stories are terrible to hear:

Gail Corvello figured that if she and her neighbors held out for about five years, they would be able to get out from under the nightmare of the soil contamination in the Bay Street neighborhood that has had a stranglehold on their lives since 2002.

She was wrong.

On Friday, Corvello will say an emotional goodbye to the last of innumerable children she has nurtured in her home-based child-care center on Bay Street over the last 13 years. ...

Now both Corvello and her daughter, Becky, 23, have auto-immune connective tissue disorder. They suffer from severe joint pain and must take steroids and pain killers. Last spring, illness forced Becky to drop out of graduate school at the University of Rhode Island, where she had been studying molecular biology. ...

They’ve cashed in their retirement savings, losing 30 percent of the net value, and making settlements with creditors. ...

Her husband was working two jobs until he got hurt and was out for 10 weeks, she said.

The family has applied for an Environmentally Compromised Homeowner (ECHO) loan — a program established last year with the Tiverton neighborhood explicitly intended to benefit, and I hope it's sufficient. I still can't help but wonder, though, why concomitant infrastructure wasn't set up for private donations. Why the emphasis on government aid to citizens rather than government's facilitation of citizens' helping each other?

As I've previously suggested, other approaches to the problem would likely have yielded better results.

Warwick Eliminates Health-Care Buybacks, Waiting on Crossing Guards

Marc Comtois

From the Warwick Beacon:

In a unanimous vote last week, the city council approved an ordinance to outlaw healthcare buyback provisions as of January 1, 2008. The measure needs a second passage before becoming law.

The ordinance was the first of a series of proposals set forth by Councilman Robert Cushman (D-Ward 1), which he believes will help set the city on better financial ground.

“I think we’re in a position now where we can’t afford to be giving buybacks and double dipping just because people are not taking healthcare,” said Cushman.

Ray Gallucci (D-Ward 8) said the ordinance wouldn’t prevent the members of the school department from getting buybacks.

In response, Cushman said he would draw up a joining resolution [to be introduced at last night’s council meeting] that would ask the school committee to adopt a similar rule banning buybacks.

Cushman said he believes that Warwick can become an example for other communities, and the state, by regaining its management rights.

“I think we’re in a position where we can show that we’re proactive leaders. That we don’t need the state to come in and tell us what to do,” he said.
For his part, [Mayor Avedesian] said he’d forward the ordinance to city solicitor Peter Ruggeiro for review if it gains second passage, which seems likely.

The ordinance said buybacks won’t be legal after January 1, 2008, but current employment contracts, which allow for buybacks, will still be in existence. That fact could possibly violate collective bargaining agreements, he said.

The mayor refused to say whether he agreed with the measure in principle, saying he’d reserve comment until its second passage.

Hopefully the Council can get this applied in the school department, too. Meanwhile, they are also waiting for Mayor Avedesian to do something about those crossing guards and their lifetime benefit package (h/t, Dan Yorke).
The City Council has again put off voting on the municipal crossing guards contract, saying the Avedisian administration has reopened talks with the union representing the guards as it tries to hammer out a less costly contract.

“The administration has gone back to the bargaining table and is continuing to negotiate on this contract,” City Council President Joseph J. Solomon announced last night before continuing the public hearing on the subject until Nov. 19.

Mayor Scott Avedisian confirmed last night that the city has agreed to resume discussions with union representatives, despite having reached a tentative agreement with the union on a new contract back in July.

The City Council has not yet ratified that deal and some on the council disapprove of the municipal agreement on the grounds that it offers too sweet a deal in a bitter financial climate.
Chief among the concerns expressed by several council members is the attractive benefits package offered for the limited hours crossing guards work compared with other municipal workers. The lifetime benefits afforded to crossing guards after 10 years on the job were a particular sore spot for members, including Robert A. Cushman. Cushman reiterated his objection to that benefit during a presentation at last night’s meeting.

Avedisian did not say if the crossing guards benefits package, including lifetime health care, was among the bargaining chips under consideration.

Um, they better be?!! After listening to a few callers to Yorke's show, we can sum it up like this: You can become a crossing guard at 18, work 5 hours a week (with full health benefits), retire after ten years at the ripe old age of 28 and carry your crossing guard health benefits for life. Gotta love it.

We Don't Have a Tax Revenue Problem

Marc Comtois

The usual suspects are out complaining about Governor Carcieri's proposed budget cuts:

Even without details, Kate Brewster, executive director of Rhode Island College’s Poverty Institute, said the outcome is predictable and “slashing public services while not addressing the tens of millions of dollars that are being lost to some of the recently enacted tax cuts and tax credit programs is really not fair to the average Rhode Island taxpayer … Capital gains tax cuts, personal income tax cuts, movie picture tax-cuts. We have to ask ourselves whether these are affordable.”
Ah yes, the money that is "lost" to tax cuts. That means we're not getting as much tax revenue as before, right? Well, let's see.


For clarity, I'll break them out by category. First, let's see how much less Rhode Island businesses are paying in taxes:


Business tax revenue dipped in 2002 (after 9/11) but had rebounded by 2003/2004. However, it is predicted to dip in 2008, from $376.4 million to $354.9 million. I guess it is around $20 million less...but that certainly bucks the trend that has resulted in about a 50% increase in business tax revenue from 2001 to 2008.

Well, how about Rhode Island taxpayers?


Same sort of trend as the Business tax revenue, though there is no projected "dip" in 2008.
Income tax revenue has continued to climb, increasing by about 30% since 2001. The same trend and percent increase is also true for "other" tax revenue, which climbed from 2001-2005 but have leveled off since then (and that's fine by me!).


Basically, tax revenue from all sources hasn't gone down (though it will remain essentially the same in both 2007 and 2008). Between 2001 and 2008, it has increased from $2,011.9 to $2,543.6 million (about 26%), but increases in government expenditures have easily outpaced these revenue increases.


In short, expenditures have gone from $4,839.2 to $7,017 million (about 45%) over the same period.

The horse has been flayed and it's bones turned into meal....but for the millionth time: it's spending, not revenue that is the problem.

All data obtained from the RI State Budget Office web site. Figures for 2001-2005 are actual/audited, for 2006 are revised, for 2007 as enacted in FY budget and 2008 as proposed or projected.

Former Senator Chafee Questions the Patriotism of those who Display the Flag

Carroll Andrew Morse

From this past weekend's 10 News Conference on WJAR-TV (NBC 10)…

Bill Rappleye: Has patriotism been corrupted? We've had a controversy whether Barack Obama is going to wear a flag-lapel pin.

Former Senator Lincoln Chafee: I think he gave a good answer. If it's in your heart, you don't need to put it on your lapel, as some kind of a gimmick.

Jim Taricani: We've got to take a break…

Chafee: It's almost suspect, those who wear their flag. What, do you have to wear it on your lapel?

Earlier in the interview, when asked who he supported in the Presidential field, Senator Chafee took his traditional stance of I'll wait 'til the race is already over, and I'm even more irrelevant than I already am, before making an endorsement. However, he did suggest that Barack Obama might be his candidate of choice. If he does make that official, the headline on the story should read "Just-another-liberal endorses another just-another-liberal".


Ian Donnis has a few more snippets from the Chafee interview available over at Not-for-Nothing.

October 15, 2007

He's Baaack

Monique Chartier

Don Imus will return to the radio airwaves.

Embattled radio jock Don Imus is close to inking a multimillion-dollar deal to return to radio with Citadel Broadcasting, owner of ABC Radio Networks.

The deal, expected to be finalized this week, would put Imus back on the air Dec. 3 on WABC-AM in New York City, the nation's largest talk-radio station.

Imus will not be national at this point.

... unless Citadel syndicates the show or he lands a TV deal, Imus becomes a well-paid but local personality with limited national pull.

The Drudge Report, which broke the story this morning, is suggesting that one subject - possibly "target" is more accurate - of the show will be the junior Senator from New York:

Imus is said to be particularly incensed by Senator Hillary Clinton's "shameless exploitation" of the Rutgers situation.

The senator, who Imus has called "satan" and the "devil", traveled to Rutgers in April to praise the women's basketball team for its response to the controversy. In a campaign email, Hillary called Imus's comments "small-minded bigotry and coarse sexism."

Questions That Should Be Asked

Justin Katz

Jay Nordlinger poses a series of questions that ought to be asked of the current crop of presidential candidates:

Putin's latest attacks on U.S. missile defense remind me of something: Do Democratic presidential candidates agree with those attacks? Sympathize with them? And, if one of them is elected president, are our efforts to defend ourselves, and our allies, against missiles off — dead, suspended until the next Republican president?

Will someone ask Hillary & Co. about this?

His latest Impromptus column also makes me feel a little better about not getting into a certain Ivy League graduate program (despite grades, recommendation, GED, etc.):

The Nobel peace committee is not so much a peace committee as a standard left-wing pressure group — sending these Mickey Mouse "messages." They're like the board of the MacArthur Foundation, or the English department of Brown University or something — there is no connection between what they do and quality. It's just straight politics, or, more accurately, ideology.

A Haunting Biopsis

Justin Katz

Even a week after I read the related piece, this biopsis (if I may coin a term for "biographic synopsis") lingers on the mind:

Guevara, a physician with no formal military training, was also something else, critics say: prolific executioner, dogmatic totalitarian and co-designer of the Cuban police state and indoctrination apparatus.

The version in the Providence Journal made some minor, but important, editorial changes:

Guevara, with no formal military training, was a prolific executioner, dogmatic totalitarian and co-designer of the Cuban police state and indoctrination apparatus, say his critics.

I've little doubt that many who parade the villain's face would accept the characterization with a smile. It all depends on who is being executed and with whom is trusted the totalitarianism.

Quick Hit: Governor's Work Force Reduction Numbers

Marc Comtois

Governor Carcieri outlined his $200 million state budget reduction plan. He only mentioned two of the three points--$50 million in cuts to social service programs and $50 million in cuts to state employee health benefits--and focused on the $100 million he intends to save via a work force reduction plan.

According to the Governor, of the 15,000 employees in RI State government, 10,072 are directly under the Governor's authority. His administration has spent months analyzing current business plans to help determine how to make departments more efficient and cost-effective and to reduce duplication of services. He plans on cutting around 1,000 jobs via:

1) After a thorough review of current contract workers, it has been determined that 115 positions can be and will be eliminated ASAP.
2) In the 1st 2 months of Fiscal Year 2008, 87 state workers have retired or left and not been replaced. It is estimated that 400 will leave and not be replaced throughout the rest of the year.
3) 414 jobs will be eliminated throughout state government. Of these, 20% are non-union, 22% are outside contractors. The remaining 56% are union jobs. The point is that all workers will be feeling the pinch.

Finally, he asked other State government leaders--the legislature, Supreme Court, etc.--to do their part in cutting costs.

UPDATE: ProJo has more. Check out Steve People's editorializing:

Today’s press conference marks the attempt of a governor, with plummeting poll numbers, to take control of the Smith Hill spending debate months before lawmakers return to the State House and try to rehabilitate his image along the way.
The fact that the Governor is trying to "take control of the Smith Hill spending debate" is true enough, but the bit about poll numbers and image rehabilitation--though it also may be true--doesn't really belong in a "news" piece, does it?

UPDATE II: This morning's ProJo piece also contains essentially the same paragraph--with an appended adjustment:

The carefully scripted news conference marks the attempt of a governor, with plummeting poll numbers, to take control of the Smith Hill spending debate three months before lawmakers return to the State House, and try to rehabilitate his image along the way, according to political observers.
Maybe it's splitting hairs, but that qualification makes a difference. Of course, one wonders if the political observers are, um, the reporters themselves?

UPDATE III: The Governor appeared on John DePetro's show this morning to discuss his proposals. Of note, he was quite upset with the Journal's shaping of the story as some sort of PR stunt on his part. Guess I wasn' t the only one to notice.

Sharing the Tax Burden

Marc Comtois

Chris Edwards at CATO illustrates how Americans currently share the tax burden (h/t). First, the shiny graph:

Then Edwards' analysis:

1990 was before the Clinton tax increases of 1993. 2000 was after the modest tax cuts of 1997, but before the Bush tax cuts of 2001. 2005 was with the Bush tax cuts in place.
Folks at the top pay about 25% of their income in federal income taxes, which compares to less than 5% for half of the population at the bottom end.
The Bush tax cuts substantially reduced tax rates for people in every income group. Indeed, those at the bottom had the largest relative reductions in their tax rates.
Those at the bottom have paid little, and now they pay even less, due to legislation under both Clinton and Bush. Indeed, these data do not include the tens of billions of dollars sent to lower-income families as a result of the earned income tax credit, and thus it overstates taxes paid by the bottom group.
Then we hear from James Pethokoukis that Wall Street (Goldman Sachs, to be precise) is predicting tax increases when (not if) a Democrat is elected President. Some of what they say, as reported by Pethokoukis:
  • Marginal tax rates on high-income earners are likely to increase...through a combination of allowing the 33 percent and 35 percent brackets to revert back to 36 percent and 39.6 percent respectively, and increasing the rate paid under the alternative minimum tax for higher income earners, which is currently set at 28 percent.

  • The tax rate on dividends is likely to rise.

  • The capital gains rate will rise as well, but may be lower than the dividend rate once again. The long term capital gains rate looks likely to rise from its current level of 15 percent. ... An increase past 20 percent is possible but less likely. If it were to increase further, the next natural stop would be 28 percent, which was the rate that applied to long term capital gains before President Clinton and Congress agreed to lower it in 1997.

  • Tax changes could become effective in 2009, but are more likely in 2010 or 2011. Although it seems fairly clear that an all-Democratic government is likely to let some of the expiring tax rates expire, it is much less clear that they will proactively raise tax rates before they are scheduled to reset at the end of 2010. ... A tax hike in 2010 is more likely, but could also present political problems.
  • I'd guess that the Democrats will try to pin the tax rates of the highest 10-25% of wage earners back to 2000 levels. And they'll still excoriate these highly taxed, high-earners for not paying their "fair share." The class-warfare game plan seems to work, after all.

    Then again, maybe "over paid executives" will welcome higher taxes.

    Clinton Gaining Momentum in Head-to-Heads. Time to Panic Yet?

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    According to Rasmussen's latest head-to-head results, it's time for Republicans to start getting worried (survey conducted October 8-9)…

    • Hillary Clinton 48%
    • Rudy Giuliani 41%
    • Hillary Clinton 52%
    • Fred Thompson 37%
    Usual caveats: it's early, campaigns haven't gotten their messages out to the general election audience, normal people don't really make up their minds until late, etc. However, the counter-caveat to keep in mind is that Senator Clinton hasn't done anything dramatically different in her campaign that's different from any of the Republican frontrunners. The Republicans need to put some thought into why they're not breaking through, and adapt as quickly as possible.

    Republicans may want to try drawing some lessons from the history of Monday Night Football. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Monday Night Football was a dominant force in the TV ratings. Over time it declined. In 2000, ABC executives tried to recapture their past glory by adding comedian/talk-show host Dennis Miller to the broadcast, a move consciously intended to generate some personality-driven controversy they hoped would generate the high ratings that controversial broadcaster Howard Cosell had helped generate in the past.

    It didn't work, though it wasn't entirely Miller's fault. The real problem was that the sports-media landscape had changed since MNF's zenith. Winning the ratings battle in 1970s meant being the biggest sports broadcast at a time when very little national TV sports coverage was available. By 2000, with a proliferation of cable sports networks making various games from various sports available to viewers almost every night of the year (and also the weird rise of pro wrestling, which draws huge numbers of viewers from the football demographic), it was simply not possible for any non-championship sports broadcast to grab the share of public attention that MNF had in its early days.

    The hope that Fred Thompson would transform the Presidential race expressed in some Republican circles earlier this year was the equivalent of ABC executives hoping that Dennis Miller would transform Monday Night Football. (One guess as who takes the role of Howard Cosell in this analogy). The problem for the Republicans right now is not so much that their candidates are fatally flawed, but that they are not succeeding at breaking through into a diverse and cluttered media environment. Grabbing a commanding share of media attention is much more difficult than in past election cycles and conventional means of political messaging just aren't going to connect with same number of people as they have in the past. The person who really becomes the Reagan for the next generation will be the one who figures out what the political equivalent is to moving the marquee NFL game to Sunday and introducing the flex-schedule. (Does Newt Gingrich, via his American Solutions program, have a leg up on this for 2012, perhaps?).

    One last note on the Rasmussen results: they also conducted a recent poll on impressions that Democrat voters have about their candidates. The results support the analysis I offered last week of Barack Obama's stall…

    40% of Democratic voters see Obama as politically liberal while only 29% hold that view of Clinton. Fifty-one percent (51%) see Clinton as politically moderate while only 39% hold that view of Obama.

    These figures reflect quite a change from a month ago. For Clinton, the 29% who consider her politically liberal is down four points from 33% a month ago. For Obama, the 40% who consider him liberal is up nine from September.

    Senator Obama has established himself as just-another-liberal, not a unique position to hold in a Democratic field, no longer a particularly exciting alternative to Hillary Clinton or anyone else and, most importantly, unable to create the momentum he would need to overcome the Clinton machine.

    Call Me a Pro-Alcohol Conservative (i guess)

    Justin Katz

    There would seem to be a lesson here for folks prone to the sort of ultra-decisive decision making that occurred on the University of Rhode Island campus between the time when I was impressed, as a high school student, with URI's reputation as a party school and the time when I found myself there after a few years of wandering:

    LONGTIME RESIDENTS say the tension between students and homeowners has gotten worse over the years as people have sold their homes to escape the weekend disturbances, leaving more houses in the hands of seasonal residents and landlords. According to U.S. Census figures, more than 38 percent of the homes in town were rentals in 2000, the fourth-highest figure among Rhode Island communities.

    Things got worse in 1995, longtime residents say, when URI banned alcohol on campus, sending more partying Narragansett's way.

    One of the most tragic and high-profile incidents involving URI students in Narragansett occurred last year, when three students got into a rowboat and headed out onto Narragansett Bay, where they drowned. Witnesses told the police the students had been drinking, though the police said it was unclear what role alcohol might have played.

    The Narragansett/URI Coalition, a body of community leaders, URI administrators and students, started meeting in 2000 to address the alcohol/partying issue, but two of the most tangible responses came in 2005, when URI expanded its disciplinary reach to include off-campus behavior and the Narragansett council adopted the first version of the nuisance ordinance.

    I remember those parties down the line. I also remember the regular, well, poor decisions that those forced miles away to find bars would often make. The Kingston campus is not like others that I've seen that have bars available within walking distance.

    Sometimes, policies have to accommodate — rather than seek to quash — undesirable behavior in order to avoid that cascade of unforeseen consequences.

    Stunned by the Ray of Light in the Shadows

    Justin Katz

    Rhode Island, where the unbidden friendliness of a stranger is front page news:

    ... neither motorists nor pedestrians could ignore the man in the pale blue shirt and bright white sneakers yesterday morning standing between the Providence Biltmore and The Westin Providence hotels.

    Why, he wasn't asking for a thing; their befuddled faces finally began to register with the slimmest of smiles.

    He was offering something.

    "Good morning!" exclaimed Thad Davis to everyone around him. ...

    "I had heard that people in Maine were friendly but real quiet with a dry sense of humor and that people from Boston, well I went to school with a couple kids from Boston and I think there's a certain arrogance with people from Boston."

    Davis had heard little about those from the littlest state, but during his walk Thursday through downtown and Providence Place mall he came away thinking Rhode Islanders were, well, kind of glum.

    "I wouldn't say they’re friendly but they're civil."

    I'd have used "dour," rather than "glum," but the sad thing is that Rhode Island's treatment of outsiders deteriorates the longer they intend on staying. At least it seems that way sometimes.

    October 14, 2007

    Stem Cells Even a Catholic Can Love

    Justin Katz

    The following blurb (from page 12 of this PDF of the 10/11 Rhode Island Catholic) reminds us that stem-cell research can be moral and miraculous:

    Three year-old Andrew Mueting of Dodge City is a bright, happy-golucky, energetic little boy. But when he was four months old, doctors gave him a bleak prognosis. Born with malignant infantile osteopetrosis, an exceedingly rare blood disorder that affects approximately 20 U.S. babies a year, Andrew was expected to spend his few years of life fighting anemia and infections, struggling with weak bones and eventual blindness and deafness. Now Andrew is expected to live a long, healthy life with few ill effects. In treatments at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., "Andrew had to go through eight days of chemotherapy to completely wipe out his immune system," said his father, Nick Mueting. "During the last five days of his treatment, I took a medicine that helped my body produce a lot of stem cells in my blood. At the end of that period ... I was hooked up to a machine for five hours as it extracted the stem cells from my blood." After that, 50 cubic centimeters of the father's stem cells were injected into his son's blood.

    I'd note that embryonic stem cells have still not produced any actual cures, although of controversy, ill will, and (in my opinion) unhealthy worldviews they've produced much.

    Rhode Island Crossword Clue: Common Knowledge, Perhaps. Answer: Our Demise.

    Justin Katz

    Knowledge of the approaching precipice in Rhode Island — or rather, the precipice that Rhode Island is approaching — has moved off the commentary pages in the Providence Journal. Here's Lifebeat section columnist Mark Patinkin today:

    "Fascinating, Spock. It seems this planet has organized itself into the perfectly self-destructive organism."

    "Indeed, sir. As one example, the normal life forms here — taxpayers, they’re called — spent $350 million this year on the state pension system. Next year, it will be $400 million, meaning taxpayers have gone from footing 10 percent of government pension costs in 1999 to 25 percent today. Not to mention that the unfunded pension liability has risen to a preposterous $4.9 billion. But even whisper the words 'pension reform' and you'll be lynched."

    "Madness, Mr. Spock. Pure madness. There must be a solution. Can't this planet attract new businesses to expand the tax base?"

    "Not likely, Captain. Just last week, an objective tax-research group in Washington ranked Planet Rhode Island dead last in the whole galaxy of 50 planets for business climate."

    ... "There's got to be a solution. Can't this planet attract more high-net-worth taxpayers?"

    "Indeed, the 2 percent of Rhode Islanders who make over $200,000 pay 44 percent of all taxes, but oddly, Captain, they are being chased away. If you start to make a high income here, the state will tax you an unheard of 9.9 percent, not to mention that property taxes are almost the highest in the galaxy. All high-income life forms here are fleeing to planets like Florida, which have lower taxes. And ironically — is that the word, Captain? — such low-tax states have budget surpluses."

    "Why doesn't Planet Rhode Island try the same system?"

    "Like I said, Captain, it's a strangely illogical place."

    And here's Business section columnist Neil Downing:

    Higher-income people aren't stupid. They know how much they pay overall in taxes — often 50 percent or more of their individual incomes, especially when federal and state income tax and self-employment taxes are counted.

    They typically don't hold jobs in government or in nonprofits; they run businesses, creating wealth and jobs and money for charities — and they pay lots and lots of taxes.

    That's why we need to keep them here, not in Florida.

    Still want to raise taxes even more? Fine. If you're employed in the government or nonprofit sector, maybe it won't matter, at least not right away. But it will in the long run.

    And if you're employed in the private sector, you may feel the impact far more quickly.

    So while you're reading the usual blather from the usual commentators about taxing the rich, remember that seminar that's coming up in Warwick, and others like it.

    Keep an eye on the airport, as well. Flights to Florida are leaving daily. Raise Rhode Island taxes even more, and maybe the owner of your business will be onboard, leaving Rhode Island.

    Maybe your job will be leaving Rhode Island, too.

    The disheartening, even frightening, question to ponder is how deep the state will have to sink before this knowledge makes the leap to a medium with which even those who don't read the paper are familiar — say, their layoff letters and notifications that their public assistance is being cut.

    What's in a School?

    Justin Katz

    It would seem that Kiersten Marek has misunderstood my impetus for considering private schools for my children. Citing a study by the Center on Education Policy that finds "no evidence that private schools actually increase student performance," she notes:

    Over at Anchorrising.com, self-declared union-hater Justin Katz is wondering if he should send his children to private school. This study would suggest that perhaps he should save his paycheck for other things.

    The post of mine to which she links describes the atrocious behavior of a group of unionists who are well compensated by any standards — even more so in relation to Rhode Island's behind-the-curve economics — and are tangibly harming the community of Tiverton and its children because they think the money-strapped town ought to fork over an even greater increase than is on the table as a matter of course. My confidence in that group of unionists is not, let us say, of the highest degree that they may unreservedly be trusted with those other areas of influence that are generally considered to accrue to men and women in the role of teacher. Any student, for instance, who had attended the last school committee meeting — or even who is sufficiently interested to follow the controversy in local papers — is at risk of learning a very detrimental lesson from them. I'm not at all persuaded, that is, that there aren't other benefits to the private-school environment.

    To be honest, I'm not even persuaded that the argument of equivalence with respect to academic achievement is more than a numbers game. Studies achieve this end by controlling for such factors as parental income and involvement; in the succinct phrasing of Center on Education Policy President and CEO Jack Jennings, "private schools simply have higher percentages of students who would perform well in any environment based on their previous performance and background." But is it reasonable and fair to treat these factors as background noise when judging schools (especially from a parent's perspective)? Is that use of the word "simply" appropriate?

    In some respects, I may be pulling the carrots out of the stew, here, but I can't help but recall in this context a study that the NEA's Bob Walsh cited in a comment to Tom Wigand's recent Anchor Rising post that found that the "very lowest- and very highest- achieving students fared somewhat worse on standardized tests in unionized schools." Being as objective as I'm able, the chances that my own children will be in the latter category are sufficiently good that it would be worth a modest investment to avoid such worsening, especially if the worst-case academic scenario is that the private school would do no worse than no better.

    That sort of assessment from a personal perspective opens up another range of aptitude for discussion: I simply don't buy that children on the higher end of the "average" group don't benefit significantly from their placement among "higher percentages of students who would perform well in any environment." (One would expect all children to benefit from such company, of course, but with declining returns as one drifts down the scale of potential.) Controlling for self-selection, in other words, controls for a central benefit that private schools offer to the majority of their students.

    I don't doubt that there are likely correlations between parents' inclination to be involved with their children's development, parents' wealth, and children's native intelligence (or raw potential). Such qualities would seem naturally to flow from certain biological advantages. Still, it strikes me as prima facie foolishness to discount peers and the school environment that they create — and that is created with them in mind. I'm about as egalitarian as they come with respect to each individual's inherent worth and am heartily skeptical about the ability of wealth, per se, to create happiness, but the sort of children — the sort of families — with whom one's progeny interact certainly has an effect on their development. Furthermore, it isn't classist to suggest that one's children are better off learning the habits of the group that is more likely to have children in private school.

    As the product of public schools, myself, as a former dock worker, and as a carpenter, I do know the value of diversity in acquaintances. I also know that even the lives of the young encompass multiple environments. Within the school setting, I'd suggest that diversity's all well and good, but isn't necessarily desirable for its own sake. In a group that is homogeneous in some important respects — such as motivation and mutual respect — then it's good. If it comes with sheer difference, it has the potential to corrupt or even to reinforce bigotry.

    The striking thing about the public school versus private school debate is the tacit premise that the tendency to become involved in a child's education — to be self-selecting — is a sort of demographic quality that people either do or don't possess. If the critical element of a private school education is that the children are there with a sense of purpose, that would seem to be a quality that the public education system ought to emulate. The most straightforward way to accomplish such a goal would be to facilitate parents' becoming interested and involved by allowing them maximum opportunity to choose the schools to which their tax dollars allow them to send their children.

    I've drifted, though, from my intended point, which is that there is more to a school than curricula and academic opportunity. The attitudes creating the learning environment matter. The company that the children chance to keep matters.

    Upon first reading a letter to the Providence Journal by Dean Fachon of East Greenwich, my reaction was that his school committee meeting experience sounded familiar:

    At an East Greenwich School Committee meeting — attended by 200 or more people — fully 90 percent were teachers. The committee allowed 15 minutes at the start for public comment, and several people stood to speak on behalf of the teachers.

    "They're only asking for an average increase, in keeping with the private sector." "Let's give the teachers what they want; they're marvelous people and do a terrific job for our kids." Comments like these were greeted with thunderous applause.

    When a few brave townspeople stood up to express different opinions, the clapping was brief and sparse, and in one case there were nasty catcalls and hissing from the pro-teacher crowd. ...

    One gentleman at the school-committee meeting was brave enough to suggest that it's difficult for one party (the school committee) to negotiate an equitable deal with another party (the union) when the other party holds all the cards. That brought forth the aforementioned catcalls, and no one came to this man’s defense. It sure looked like a stacked deck to me.

    But the following Web Words letter from A Medeiros in the Sakonnet Times led me to consider the differences between my town and Fachon's:

    I can't help but contrast how nasty and disrespectful the negotiations have become here in Tiverton to the on-going contract talks in Burrillville and East Greenwich. Negotiations there also involve union folks from up-state (including Mr. Crowley). But the actual representatives from the towns — the school committee, superintendent and teachers — continue to demonstrate professionalism and devotion to their students by not making the conflict personal or lashing out in the press. Perhaps our school committee and superintendent could learn something from these folks on how to act like professional adults when faced with difficult circumstances.

    A. is clearly advocating on the teachers' behalf, and it's important to note that the Tiverton teachers are not blameless. The most visceral hostility that I've personally observed has come from them. Moreover, if I'm not mistaken, the East Greenwich teachers have not flipped the work-to-rule switch, as the Tiverton teachers have done.

    On the the other hand, I haven't seen any opportunity for "public comment" in Tiverton. That mightn't be a school committee dodge, however; I'd be extremely surprised to learn that anywhere near 10% of the audience that attends its meetings are parents or members of the public. In a crowd that's 99.9% teachers and union members, a public comment item on the agenda would simply become an opportunity for them to attack the committee, an opportunity that they snatch for themselves already.

    Two comparisons occurred to me after a tour of a private-school campus today. The first was that I've never seen nor heard of such a tour of a public school. The open houses that I've attended were more like "meet your teacher" events, nothing like the room-to-room stroll with the vice principal that I had this afternoon, giving plenty of time for questions to form and for the full breadth of the educational environment to seep in. Public schools have no reason to develop sales pitches — no reason to walk parents through the services that they offer.

    The second thought was that a meeting of interested parties during any sort of employment dispute would be entirely different with a private school. The parents would probably match or exceed the teachers in attendance. More importantly, they'd have something to leverage: namely, their willingness to pay tuition. Can it be doubted that involvement would begin to expand were public-school parents given similar leverage? At the very least, I suspect that the teachers would not be so apt to disrespect the townspeople and the parents through their elected proxies were the funding not guaranteed.

    The bottom line of my experience with public schooling is that I don't care who's to blame for acrimony. The more involved I become and the more I learn, the less enthusiastic I am about my children's sharing my public-school background. Even if a private school can promise nothing but some insulation from the looming collapse of Rhode Island's public sector, schools included, then it may very well be worth treating as one more of the many excessive burdens that a family must shoulder in order to live in this state.

    RE: RE: DMV Fake Ids

    Monique Chartier

    One of the disturbing aspects of the revelation of this activity at the DMV is the idea that the State of Rhode Island may have broken the law and hired an undocumented immigrant. This is not to focus on Ms. Dolores Rodriguez-LaFlamme. It may well turn out that she is compliant with our immigration laws. We do not know.

    More to the point, however, neither does the state.

    The 2007 session of the Rhode Island General Assembly saw the introduction of a bill to phase in the use of an on-line immigration status verification program by all companies in Rhode Island.

    Two Woonsocket legislators have submitted legislation to deter illegal immigration by requiring employers to use a simple, free system to verify the work eligibility of all new hires over the Internet.

    Sen. Marc A. Cote (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield) and Rep. Jon D. Brien (D-Dist. 50, Woonsocket) have introduced legislation (2007-S 0352 and 2007-H 5392) to require all Rhode Island companies to use the Federal Basic Employment Verification Pilot Program, also called “Basic Pilot.” The legislation has the support of 22 co-sponsors in the Senate and 39 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.

    A contributory editorial by Jessica Vaughan in the March 14 Providence Journal explains the value and effectiveness of such a program:

    The most widely accepted approach is to prevent the employment of illegal aliens by making sure that businesses, state agencies and their contractors confirm the immigration status of new employees with the federal government. Colorado, Georgia and Idaho have already passed some degree of mandatory verification, and a bill filed by Sen. Marc Cote and Rep. Jon Brien, two Democrats from Woonsocket, would establish a similar practice in the Ocean State. ...

    Realistically, the national population of more than 12 million illegal immigrants cannot be apprehended and removed one by one. Nor is the federal government likely to enact a mass amnesty to legalize them.

    By preventing employment and access to other benefits, eventually many illegal aliens will choose to return home on their own, and others will decide not to come at all. Not only will this reduce the fiscal burden of illegal immigration, it will open up employment opportunities for millions of our own workers, especially those lacking skills and education, such as many recent immigrants and young people who are new to the job market.

    Despite the mandate of twenty two co-sponsoring senators and thirty nine co-sponsoring representatives and after passing the House 48-18, this bill died in the Senate, reportedly because Senate President Joseph Montalbano deferred to the wishes of Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva-Weed.

    Senator Cote (D) and Representative Brien (D) have promised to re-introduce this bill in the upcoming session. In view of the federal government's spotty efforts to enforce our immigration laws and the growing cost of illegal immigration, there is clearly a need for this bill to become law. In view of the grotesque possibility that an undocumented immigrant could still use a state agency, the state seal and state resources to assist others in evading or breaking our laws, there is clearly also a need for the state itself to implement this program.

    The only question, in fact, is why the state would stand on ceremony and wait for the General Assembly to re-convene. Starting now, let the largest employer in the state lead by example.

    October 13, 2007

    Oslo Calling

    Monique Chartier

    The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced yesterday that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 would be shared by Al Gore and the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

    for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change

    But the intrinsic assumption of that statement is that the theory of anthropogenic global warming has been proven and that evidence accrued in recent years has only bolstered the conclusion that man is causing global warming. In fact, the reverse has been true.

    The attempted re-label - "climate change" - is in itself an admission by proponents of a weakness in the theory. But more substantively, problems have arisen in several components of the "evidence" to support the theory that the greenhouse gases generated by man are causing the planet's temperature to rise.

    Let's back up and start with what we know:

    > The Earth is warming. Since 1860 when man began putting all those icky fossil fuels into the air, the Earth's average temperature has risen less than one degree centigrade. [Not per year. For that 147 year span.]

    > Man has been generating greenhouse gases. Responsibility for the generation of greenhouse gases is apportioned thusly: Mother Nature 94% ~ man 6%.

    Now, the theory of AGW is that man, with the 6% of greenhouse gases he contributes, caused that rise in temperature. And AGW computer models predict that man's 6% will cause a further rise of 4 to 7 degrees fahrenheit over the coming century, with the attendant melt of certain ice caps and the well publicized projected rise in sea levels.

    "Houston, we have a ..."

    ... several, actually.

    > With the method of data collection; more specifically, the location of temperature sensor stations. Wish I could tell you more about this problem but

    the NCDC removed all website access to station site locations, citing "privacy concerns." Without this data (which had been public for years), the validation effort was blocked.

    > With the computer models, the scientific crux of AGW. These models do not (because they cannot) factor in the impact, either way, of clouds on the global temperature. Even more scary, they do not "predict" observed conditions.

    > With how high we think sea levels will go. Two of the darlings of AGW, Dr. James Hansen and the IPCC, disagree.

    In short, it is clear that the case against man as the cause of global warming is seriously flawed. Further, the above list of flaws, by no means comprehensive, also demonstrates that a non-scientist can easily ascertain the existence of such weaknesses.

    The Nobel Committee, then, could have done a modicum of their own research on AGW as a function of weighing the worthiness of all nominees. They did not do so. The result is not only damage to their own credibility but the further promotion of a far from proven theory for which draconian solutions are being proposed and even legislatively considered.

    October 12, 2007

    RE: DMV Fake Ids

    Marc Comtois

    More arrests in the DMV fake ID case, and a little more info on Dolores Rodriguez-LaFlamme:

    Dolores Rodriguez-LaFlamme, 40, of Providence, one of the two clerks arrested in the fraud scheme, had already been ordered deported. Her application for adjusted immigration status had been denied after a federal investigation discovered two fraudulent marriages, according to a state police affidavit. LaFlamme is appealing the deportation order.

    Some who know LaFlamme from her political action in the Latino community said they knew about her immigration issues. LaFlamme had volunteered on a number of election campaigns for Democrats, including those for U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline, and City Councilman Nicholas Narducci Jr.

    Yesterday, Narducci said he learned LaFlamme wasn’t a citizen last year when she tried to run for a seat on the Ward 4 Democratic committee. She had posted her campaign on a page on Narducci’s Web site — touting her employment at the Registry and that she’d come to this country from the Dominican Republic in 1996, and borrowing Narducci’s election slogan “A New Beginning.” But Narducci said another candidate eventually ran for the seat when it was discovered that LaFlamme was ineligible to vote. She was put on the Ward’s community action committee instead.

    This is obviously a woman who habitually attempted to circumvent the system. It doesn't sound like she was here illegally (pending deportation aside), so she could legally obtain a valid SSN. But she still can't vote, much less run for office! I wonder if she was aware that she was ineligible? Regardless, what's more troubling to me is that a lot of people simply looked the other way.

    Quick, What's the Difference Between a Magistrate and a Judge...

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    ...the answer is, if I may paraphrase Common Cause of Rhode Island using the words of Henry Hill from The Music Man: T that stands for "trouble" which rhymes with P that stands for "patronage".

    T also could stand for "traffic tribunal" (twice!). According to Edward Fizpatrick in today’s Projo, Common Cause would like to know why the process for selecting traffic tribunal judges should be different from the process for selecting other judges in Rhode Island…

    Candidates for the new job did not go through the Judicial Nominating Commission process required for state judges. Instead, the Assembly placed the appointment in the hands of Williams, who created a screening committee that interviewed the five applicants during public sessions last month. The committee did not eliminate any of the candidates and sent Williams the five names….

    Common Cause of Rhode Island has criticized the creation of new magistrate jobs, saying they represent a way of appointing politically connected people and getting around the judicial merit-selection process that voters approved in 1994. Guglietta’s appointment represents a clear-cut example of that concern, said Christine Lopes, executive director of the government watchdog group.

    [Nominee William R. Guglietta] might be qualified, but appointing someone connected to powerful politicians without Judicial Nominating Commission review is bound to raise questions, Lopes said. “Why not go through judicial merit selection?” she asked. “Why go through a different process?”

    Operation Clean Government has expressed similar concern over this issue for several years now.

    One Red Stater Proud to be Associated with the Blue

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Responding to a Birmingham News story on his longer than long-shot Preisdential run

    They're all Republicans who want to be president: Rudy Giuliani of New York, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, John McCain of Arizona, Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Hugh Cort of Mountain Brook, Mike Huckabee of - Whoa! Hugh Cort of Mountain Brook? Alabama?…All those other guys have millions of dollars in campaign loot. Most have decades in public office or long track records in big business and they regularly show up on programs like "Meet the Press." All have squared off in nationally televised debates. All would be classified as serious contenders at this stage for the GOP nomination.

    Cort has none of those things. He's basically running his campaign out of his own pocket. He hasn't been invited to participate in any of the debates. While he has campaigned in some key states such as Iowa and he has taken part in some straw polls, he shows up nowhere on Alabama's political radar, let alone that of the nation.
    …Hugh Cort proudly cites his first-place finish in the Narragansett-South Kingstown straw poll as evidence of his seriousness…
    The "straw polls" I have been in include:

    The Texas Straw Poll, where I spoke and was on the ballot with the top 12 Republican candidates. I got a standing ovation from many of the 2,500 Texans there.

    The first statewide South Carolina Straw Poll in Columbia Sept. 20, where I spoke and was on the ballot with the top candidates.

    And the first Straw Poll in Rhode Island in May, which I won.

    October 11, 2007

    Department of Motor Voter Fraud?

    Marc Comtois

    Understandably, the emphasis on the just-revealed Rhode Island DMV fake ID scandal is on how a "valid" driver's license can help an individual avoid some unpleasant questions about their citizenship and/or "activities":

    Dolores Rodriguez-LaFlamme, 40, of Providence, and Soraya Santiago, 42, of Pawtucket, are accused of working with two “middlemen,” who were paid about $2,500 to $3,000 by each person who wanted a valid Rhode Island license — with a fake identity.

    A valid license is a desirable item to have, especially if you’ve been deported and have illegally reentered the country, or if you’re wanted by the police. The valid license stops the police from further questioning someone’s immigration status, because the license assumes an identity has been established. And a person can hide their true identity when their photo is matched with a fake name and birth date on a real ID.

    State Police Capt. Stephen Lynch said the word was out on the streets among people involved in illegal activities about the scam.

    That's plenty to get steamed over. {UPDATE - Monique has distilled it down nicely: "By the way, thanks much to both the DMV dime-dropper and to the Rhode Island State Police for breaking up a serious criminal enterprise undertaken in a publicly funded building with publicly funded supplies carried out by publicly funded state employees."} Oh, but there's so much more. We also learn that LaFlamme shouldn't have even been in the U.S., much less working for the RI State government!:
    LaFlamme had been previously ordered deported to the Dominican Republic after her application for adjusted status was denied following an investigation into two fraudulent marriages, according to a court affidavit. LaFlamme is appealing the deportation order.
    OK, so she's appealing the order, but still....

    Finally, what to make of LaFlamme's interesting political ties.

    LaFlamme is well-known in the politically active Latino community in Providence...One is State Rep. Anastasia Williams, who said she is “devastated” by the news of LaFlamme’s arrest. They’re both members of the Rhode Island Chapter of the National Labor Council for Latin-American Advancement; Williams is chairwoman and LaFlamme is the treasurer....

    LaFlamme has also been involved “with a lot of different [political] campaigns,” Williams said, including for Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline, the campaign of U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and for Providence City Councilman Nicholas Narducci Jr. (Whitehouse and Cicilline didn’t return calls last night.)

    ...LaFlamme ran unsuccessfully for Democrat Ward 4 Committee, promising “A New Beginning.” She also volunteered for a neighborhood crime watch, neighborhood cleanups, Williams said, and with “every community — the Italian community, the Latino community, the African-American community.”

    ...LaFlamme was also the face of the DMV at the 2006 Latino Expo held at the Rhode Island Convention Center last September. During an “Ask projoCars!” seminar, LaFlamme was a co-presenter. The topic? “How to Save Time at the Department of Motor Vehicles.”

    I wonder if bribing her was one of her "tips"? Williams is quoted in the story as feeling as if she's "been punked" by LaFlamme and other associates are also surprised by all of this. No doubt.

    But then, I wonder. Here we have an obviously tuned-in Democratic Party partisan who work(ed) at the state DMV making fake ID's for illegal immigrants and felon's. I wonder how many of them voted? Or if LaFlamme also made up some "Motor Voter" IDs for other non-U.S. citizens.

    October 10, 2007

    Re: Corrente: Martineau latest to cop a plea

    Monique Chartier

    US Attorney Robert Clark Corrente reminds us in his October 9 press release

    Even though Martineau has signed an agreement to plead guilty, he has not yet entered a plea.

    This presumably will happen on Friday, the day Former House Majority Leader Gerard Martineau (D) is scheduled to be arraigned, according to the Providence Journal.

    In the meantime, one item in the Plea Agreement caught my eye.

    3. The defendant understands that the Government has developed evidence that the defendant also participated in and favorably influenced the outcome of Capital Gains Legislation at the behest of "The Pharmacy", as that term is defined in the Information, while being paid undisclosed income by The Pharmacy ("the Matter under Investigation"). This Criminal Information and Plea Agreement are intended to resolve all criminal charges related to the defendant's conduct as an elected official involving the Pharmacy and the "Health Insurance Company", as that term is defined in the Information, except for the Matter Under Investigation. The Defendant understands that, becausehe is not admitting to any criminal conduct involving Capital Gains Legislation, he may be charged in the future with an offense or offenses related to the Matter under Investigation. The defendant specifically waives any double jeopardy and statute of limitation protection he may have relative to any such charges.

    In short, even if the Plea Agreement is formalized on Friday, US Attorney Corrente may not be finished with Mr. Martineau.


    The Providence Journal reports this morning:

    Six years ago, legislative leaders Gerard M. Martineau and William V. Irons strongly advocated reducing the Rhode Island capital-gains tax.

    Martineau, the House majority leader, called it one of his priorities for the 2001 session.

    Irons, the Senate leader, told a Chamber of Commerce group that CEOs such as Thomas M. Ryan of CVS deserved tax breaks, because they helped drive Rhode Island’s economy.

    Today, the FBI is investigating that 2001 tax bill as part of Operation Dollar Bill, the federal State House corruption probe — one that could lead straight to Ryan, chief executive of the nation’s biggest drugstore chain.


    Business leaders tell The Journal that Ryan was a strong advocate for the tax cut.

    Ryan knew about Irons’ insurance business — Irons, through his lawyer, has acknowledged to The Journal that he asked his friend Ryan about getting the business. But CVS refuses to say whether Ryan knew about Martineau’s bag contracts, which Martineau was invited to bid on by another, unnamed CVS executive when the drugstore chain was seeking Martineau’s support on legislation.

    Nor will CVS say if Ryan had any meetings or conversations with Irons or Martineau about the capital-gains legislation.

    “That is part of an ongoing investigation,” said a CVS spokesman. “We have no comment.”

    Grassroots on the Quad

    Justin Katz

    You'll note the new ad at left for the College Republican Federation of Rhode Island. Click on over to see what they're up to these days. We rightward Rhode Islanders are always worrying that our opportunities are limited to change the way in which things are done here (and thought here), and it increasingly seems to me that collegiate organizations are in a uniquely auspicious spot to help us where we most need it: organization, enthusiasm, and resources.

    Unleashed a Beast, Eh?

    Justin Katz

    Among the qualities from which I recoiled during last night's school committee meeting in Tiverton was the teachers' apparent enthusiasm for playing the unionist role. I'm simultaneously amused and discouraged to learn that they have actually gotten so much into it that the union itself is having to do some reining in:

    Last week, Rearick said there was so much confusion about "contract compliance" that the union leadership had to hold meetings in each school building "to clarify for teachers what they can and cannot do."

    Before the building-level meetings, students were telling administrators and their parents that teachers had refused to serve as class advisers, Rearick said.

    "The parents are very upset that kids are being used as pawns, especially at the high school," Rearick said last week.

    "Another issue is that the teachers talk about the dispute at the high school and the middle school" in class, Rearick said.

    "The union had to send an internal memo to the teachers telling them to knock it off," he said.

    And of course, Mr. Crowley does his best to wear down whatever meager patina of credibility he has when it comes to concern for the students, the schools, or the community:

    Crowley replied, "It's baffling that he would rely on what the students are telling him to make determinations in a situation like this."

    "That's really immature," Crowley said.

    Ain't he clever? It almost makes you want to laugh.


    By the way, the woman who brought up the recommendations of Denise deMedeiros's daughter and (I believe) hissed "twerp" with reference to another school committee member is apparently guidance director Elizabeth Farley.

    Yes, the case for private school gets stronger by the day. (As does the case for making school choice a personal crusade.)

    It's the demography stupid! (At least partly...)

    Marc Comtois

    Mark Steyn pithily sums up a little-discussed truism undergirding many social welfare programs:

    This is why I'm opposed to universal social programs - because they were set up on the basis of mid-20th century birth rates.
    Defined benefit plans and the pending Social Security crisis seem to prove the point, no? He also links to this story about Europe, the laboratory of socialism:
    There are currently more elderly people than children living in the EU, as Europe's young population has decreased by 21 percent - or 23 million — in 25 years, 10 percent of which in the last ten years alone...

    Italy has the least young people (14.2%) and one out of every five Italians is more than 65 years old... However, the decrease in numbers has been greatest in Spain, where the young population has diminished by 44% in the 1990 to 2005 period...

    The decrease has been most significant in new member state Bulgaria, which has lost almost 8% of its population (7.94%) in the last ten years...

    On top of that, the number of births across the EU has been decreasing and in some member states, the birth rate is almost two times lower than in the US (2.09 children per family in 2006).

    I think the U.S. is holding its own, but the amount of workers it takes to support those not working (elderly, infirm, etc.)--regardless of the population breakdown--is declining. In the acute case of Social Security, demographic shifts are only partially to blame. We also have to "deal" with longer lifespans, which means longer retirements and more benefits paid out. That's why we're down to 3 workers per 1 SS recipient (versus 11 to 1 in the 1930s). That's why something has to change. Don't hold your breath for Washington to solve this one any time soon, though.

    Consensus Cascade: Fear the "Experts"

    Marc Comtois

    The New York Times piece, "Diet and Fat: A Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus" explains how a scientific "consensus" came into being that a low-fat diet was best (despite evidence to the contrary) (via Dale Light). How'd it happen?

    We like to think that people improve their judgment by putting their minds together, and sometimes they do. The studio audience at “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” usually votes for the right answer. But suppose, instead of the audience members voting silently in unison, they voted out loud one after another. And suppose the first person gets it wrong.

    If the second person isn’t sure of the answer, he’s liable to go along with the first person’s guess. By then, even if the third person suspects another answer is right, she’s more liable to go along just because she assumes the first two together know more than she does. Thus begins an “informational cascade” as one person after another assumes that the rest can’t all be wrong.

    Because of this effect, groups are surprisingly prone to reach mistaken conclusions even when most of the people started out knowing better, according to the economists Sushil Bikhchandani, David Hirshleifer and Ivo Welch. If, say, 60 percent of a group’s members have been given information pointing them to the right answer (while the rest have information pointing to the wrong answer), there is still about a one-in-three chance that the group will cascade to a mistaken consensus.

    Cascades are especially common in medicine as doctors take their cues from others, leading them to overdiagnose some faddish ailments (called bandwagon diseases) and overprescribe certain treatments (like the tonsillectomies once popular for children). Unable to keep up with the volume of research, doctors look for guidance from an expert — or at least someone who sounds confident.

    Hm. Sound familiar? As Dale Light notes:
    We should remember that "science" is conducted by human beings with all the weakness and fallibility that entails, and that credentialed "experts" are often disastrously wrong. With that in mind we should recognize that expert opinion is a weak and shifting base on which to construct public policy.
    While this is true in the hard sciences, it is especially true in the social sciences, which are less empirical no matter what anyone says. Usually the prescription written to solve a societal ill is more test run than cure. The reality is that it usually takes years, decades or even centuries for good ideas to percolate and solidify into something that works.

    East Greenwich Teachers' Union Contract Negotiations Update: School Committee Stays Focused on Priority #1, Educational Programs for Children

    Donald B. Hawthorne

    This official statement from the East Greenwich School Committee has been distributed to the media and updates us on the NEA teachers' union contract negotiations:

    The School Committee and the East Greenwich Education Association met last evening for over 5 hours with the assistance of a state appointed mediator. Unfortunately, we were unable to settle our contract differences.

    The Committee is not able to grant teachers the salary increases they are demanding. Funding those increases would require even more layoffs and program cuts than are already anticipated. Multiple factors, including the recently enacted tax levy cap and double digit increases in pension cost, have contributed to a tight budget situation.

    Indeed, we have asked the teachers to pay a slightly higher portion of their health insurance premiums to help defray the high cost of healthcare for the district. Our proposal would also provide every teacher a net increase in salary for each year over a three-year period. However, it will still necessitate teacher layoffs and program cuts in order to balance the budget.

    We recognize that this is one of the most difficult financial periods ever faced by Rhode Island public school districts and communities. We will continue to ask the teachers for their understanding and to work with us and the East Greenwich community to deliver a quality education program for our children during this difficult financial environment.

    More from the ProJo here.

    Congratulations to the East Greenwich School Committee for focusing first on the educational programs which are so important to the town's children. Doing that in a fiscally responsible way that looks after the interests of the tax-paying residents they were also elected to serve is very much appreciated.

    In spite of the NEA's rhetoric, the School Committee is also treating the teachers more than fairly. For example, if you look at Table II in the analysis linked in the Extended Entry below, you will also see how the School Committee's latest proposal offers $4,080-7,224 or 8.1-11.2% in annual salary increases to 9 of the 10 job steps in 2007-2008, before the offset from any higher health insurance co-payments. In fact, many of us think those salary increases are far too high. Step 10 teachers would receive a $1,675 or 2.4% increase, before any offset.

    (Note: Some of us would be willing to offer a higher salary increase to Step 10 teachers but only on the condition that the 8-11% annual increases for Steps 1-9 are brought down substantially. That approach, which the NEA does not appear willing to endorse, would require an overhaul of the existing 10-step salary schedule.)

    Separately, you may have noticed how Anchor Rising stopped the "pay cut" analysis hostage day count on September 30. There was no reason to continue. None of us expected a substantative response from the NEA and that 9-day series of posts was done for the express purpose of making that point publicly.

    So we made our point, town residents now know the real story, and that is all that matters.

    At some later time, I will pull together all the lessons learned from these developments into one summary post. It will remind everyone how many other NEA myths - besides the "pay cut" claim - were busted along the way.

    See the Extended Entry below if you want to review the analysis showing how there were never any "pay cuts" for East Greenwich teachers in contract proposals from the School Committee.


    Here is our blog post describing how there is NO "pay cut." It even includes spreadsheets with documentation of data sources and assumptions for public scrutiny.

    In response to prior questions about the model presented on Anchor Rising, I previously offered these points for your consideration:

    Some analyses are built on assumptions about assumptions and are, therefore, subject to analytical manipulation. We all would do well to be skeptical of such financial models.

    However, this analysis which debunked the "pay cut" claim was most certainly not that kind of model. Which meant that anybody could have independently confirmed every primary assumption used in my analysis. And the analysis itself could have been done by any student who successfully passed Finance 101.


    • I copied 10 historical salary numbers for 2006-07 from 1 salary table on page 34 of the recently expired and publicly-available contract.

    • I copied 2 historical co-pay percentages for 2006-07 off page 45 of that same contract.

    • I asked the East Greenwich School Department for publicly-available information on the actual 2006-07 and 2007-08 costs of family and single person health insurance premiums for teachers, a total of 4 additional historical numbers.

    • At my request, the School Department provided me with its assumed annual growth rate for health insurance premiums during the next two years, another 2 numbers.

    • I took the latest School Committee 3-year offer for salary step increases (3 numbers, 1 for each year) and co-pay percentages (3 more numbers, 1 for each year), as quoted previously in a public newspaper, and used them after confirming they were accurate.

    Those were the ONLY essential pieces of information needed to do the analysis and derive the NO "pay cuts" conclusion.

    24 confirmable data points, 16 of which were documented historical data, all of which came from just 3 public sources. It didn't come any more easily verifiable than that!

    Instead of responding with cogent arguments, all the opposition did was engage in name-calling. Meanwhile, as many of the blog comments showed, the public noticed their evasiveness and kept asking for a meaningful counter-argument from the NEA. In other words, the public asked the NEA and its supporters to stop with their dismissive tone toward East Greenwich residents where they declared the Anchor Rising analysis wrong without any analytical support and without having shown in a substantive way why they disagreed. At the same time, the NEA continued to propagate their false claim that the teachers are being asked to take a "pay cut."

    This was never rocket science. Think about what the opposition could have done if they were genuinely interested in engaging in a meaningful public debate: Confirmed the 16 publicly available historical data points and the 2 projected health insurance cost increase numbers central to my publicly available analysis. The good news was that nobody had to file any legal paperwork to get the information I used in the model because all of it has been publicly available to concerned citizens. An earnest call/meeting or two - like I did - was all that was required.

    Plus, once those 18 data were in hand (and I assure you they would be identical to mine) and using the latest publicly-disclosed School Committee offer, anybody could have then gone back to my model available here on-line for review. Walked through each table of the model to see how the confirmed data formed the basis for the analysis in it.

    And, for a sensitivity analysis, nobody even had to stop there: They could have varied the step increase numbers and copays for the 3 years using less favorable numbers that all of us were told were discussed - for example, step increases of 2%, 1.75%, and 1.75% with a 20% copay in all 3 years, which had been publicly disclosed in the media as the School Committee's original offer - and shown how even that did not yield a "pay cut."

    For anyone willing to make that effort, I stated with certainty that they would have been pleased to confirm the validity of the Anchor Rising analysis and reporting.

    So the issue remains clear:

    The NEA made its "pay cut" claim central to its PUBLIC relations campaign in East Greenwich during the current contract negotiations time period. Their "pay cut" claim has been shown to be false here on Anchor Rising, using verifiable data from public sources - not just unverifiable words like the NEA preferred to use. Anchor Rising invited the NEA to back up their public claim with facts, even to post it on this blog site. They refused. If the NEA really had the data which discredited an outspoken public critic, why did they hold back sharing it publicly? Could it be that maybe - just maybe - their "pay cut" claim is false and they knew it?

    Or, to have a little musical fun here and if you know your music history about the great blues master Robert Johnson and his "deal," the NEA remains at a crossroads.

    Move along, nothin' to see here: R.I. has nation’s worst business tax climate

    Marc Comtois

    The sun rose and somewhere a dog bit a man. And the Tax Foundation has new numbers {PDF} that paint the usual grim picture for Rhode Island. Here are some bullet points taken from the ProJo story on the matter (all are quotes from the piece):

  • The Tax Foundation based its rankings on five taxes: corporate, individual income, sales, unemployment and property. Rhode Island ranked 50th, meaning that its taxes overall are higher than any other state in the country.

  • Rhode Island also ranks 50th nationally in job creation from 2003 to 2006...42nd in production growth, and 48th in income growth.

  • Rhode Island has consistently ranked at the bottom of the pack since the study was first conducted in 2003. (Rhode Island used to rank 49th until 2004, before dropping to 50th.)

  • Of the five taxes measured, the worst individual score for Rhode Island was given to the state unemployment insurance tax and its property tax. Rhode Island’s unemployment insurance tax ranked 50th in the country in terms of business friendliness, while property taxes ranked 48th, according to the report. The unemployment tax, however, is given the least weight of all the taxes in the index.

  • The least onerous ranking was given to Rhode Island’s sales tax, which ranked 33rd in the nation. (The state’s individual income tax ranked 47th and its corporate tax ranked 34th.)

  • October 9, 2007

    What Kind of Conservative are you?

    Marc Comtois

    Fred Hutchinson has a quick summary of the 5 kinds (are there more?) of conservatism and their historical roots. Offered without comment and merely to pique your intellectual curiosity.

    They're Like a Mob

    Justin Katz

    I wish more parents and townspeople attended these school committee meetings, because were more to witness the behavior of the unionists (one hesitates to speak of them principally as teachers), I've little doubt that support for them would evaporate even more rapidly than it is currently doing.

    The committee discussed volunteers for various extracurricular activities, and just before the meeting moved on, teachers started taking the podium with somewhat related statements. The first (the woman who referred to a committee member as a "twerp" at the last meeting I attended, I believe) cited a press release in which a member of the committee had stated that teachers are not writing recommendations. "There are 63 recommendations in the file in my office," she said.

    In the back and forth, it wasn't clear when the letters had been written or whether students were aware that they had been completed. (Indeed, the mob took the opportunity to jeer at Committee Chairwoman deMedeiros over her asking whether they'd been handed to the children, which apparently is not how it's done.) Personally, I'd have liked to know whether they were recommendations that predated the union's "work to rule" action or perhaps whether a bunch had just been filed since the media mentions.

    Unfortunately, discussion didn't get that detailed, as the teacher noted that two of the recommendations in her possession were for deMedeiros's daughter. Hoots and laughter again. Ms. deMedeiros noted that her daughter and a friend had both been told that their teachers weren't sure whether they were allowed to write recommendations.

    At that point, the committee attempted to bring up the pertinent person for the next item on its agenda, but additional teachers took the microphone and refused to step aside. (If I were the requested Mr. Alves, I believe I'd have stayed away, as well.) Seeing no progress — in fact, hearing an escalation of the shouts to "stop lying!" and "do your jobs!" — the committee moved to adjourn, and everybody began filing out.

    Memo to the teachers: the school committee is the group whom the people of Tiverton have elected to conduct the town's business vis-a-vis the schools. You don't run these meetings. You oughtn't be attempting to intimidate the people with whom you're negotiating for increases to your already-generous remuneration packages.

    I know the Bob Walshes and Pat Crowleys have encouraged the teachers — most of whom took up their vocation for more noble reasons than to be paid for days of striking — to see this behavior as appropriate, but they have been deceived. This is not how professionals act. It's how thugs act. It might be appropriate if union members were being forced to work under hazardous conditions. It might be appropriate if all salaries (or the number of positions) were being cut to a disastrous degree. As the circumstances exist, informed citizens would surely be astonished to recall that these are people with enviable salaries and benefits for rewarding work in a comfortable atmosphere.

    And to be honest, speaking strictly as a parent, it sparks anxiety about my children's experiences as they (possibly) go through the school system over the next sixteen years.

    Pat Takes the Stand

    Justin Katz

    Patrick Crowley took the podium making his case for the teachers' to be paid for striking, and I can see that the teachers, at least those in attendance, are not but so embarrassed by his antics.

    He began his presentation by insisting that he be able to cross examine administrators. The committee's lawyer stated that it isn't a trial, so there would be no questions.

    A few minutes later, one of the committee members posed a question to Crowley, who asked, "Is that a question?" Then he turned around with a smirk and invited the audience to laugh and hoot; they complied.

    What seemed clear to me (a member of the public), as the committee wrapped up the issue and declined the grievance with respect to pay, was that Crowley and the union had set themselves up for such summary treatment. Frankly, I wouldn't feel obliged to offer courtesies either.

    Subsequent quips and jeers have solidified that impression.


    In fairness, I should note that I laughed aloud when Crowley misspoke and said that the teachers should be paid for "a day of work," quickly correcting his statement to something on the order of "a pay day."

    I encourage the school committee to fight this one as far as the union insists on taking it.

    In Attendance

    Justin Katz

    The number of cars in the parking lot of the Tiverton High School was surprising and forced me to park way out in a dark lot. The girls' basketball game accounts for much of that, but the school committee meeting is the most heavily attended that I've seen yet. So far all is proceeding without event.

    Corrente: Martineau latest to cop a plea

    Marc Comtois

    WPRO reports that U.S. Attorney Robert Corrente has announced a plea agreement with former House Majority Leader Gerard Martineau (D, Woonsocket), who was charged with mail fraud. Martineau apparently opposed pharmacy choice legislation until pharmacies would do business with his company. According to a ProJo piece in 2004:

    Two of his customers were CVS and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, companies that regularly lobbied the General Assembly on health-care legislation.

    A Providence Journal investigation has found that Martineau, while he was in a position to influence legislation affecting CVS and Blue Cross, was profiting from his private business with those companies.

    Martineau was selling bags to CVS, including the familiar white plastic bags with the red CVS logo, when he voted against pharmacy-choice legislation in 1995.

    Later, as majority leader, Martineau was instrumental in the passage of laws regulating health care and Blue Cross, the state's largest health insurer.

    "I am more committed to [health care] than any other because of the effect it has on so many folks," Martineau said in 2000, as cohost of a state health-care summit.

    In June of that year, the same month that the General Assembly passed Martineau's sweeping Health Reform RI 2000 Act, Blue Cross began buying paper bags from him. Over the next few years, Blue Cross purchased hundreds of thousands of bags, and distributed them to some of the pharmacies in its restricted network.

    Blue Cross paid CVS to run the network of some 120 drugstores, about a third of which were CVS pharmacies. The network also included Brooks drugstores and independent pharmacies.

    The legislature had repeatedly rejected legislation that would have allowed Blue Cross customers to get their prescriptions filled at any drugstore in Rhode Island, as opposed to just those in the network.

    Dan Yorke speculates that this is a move to flip an insider for bigger fish. We shall see.

    The Tax Foundation and Neil Downing on Income Tax Progressivity

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    I'll add the most recent Tax Foundation analysis (released October 5) to the discussion about incomes and tax rates being batted around in the comments section…

    This year's numbers show that both the income share earned by the top 1 percent and the tax share paid by the top 1 percent have reached all-time highs. In 2005, the top 1 percent of tax returns paid 39.4 percent of all federal individual income taxes and earned 21.2 percent of adjusted gross income, both of which are significantly higher than 2004 when the top 1 percent earned 19 percent of AGI and paid 36.9 percent of federal individual income taxes.

    The IRS data also shows increases in individual incomes across all income groups (see Table 3). Just as the highest earners lost the biggest percentage of their incomes during the recession of 2001, so they have prospered the most as the economy has continued to rebound. For example, from 2000 to 2002, the adjusted gross income (AGI) of the top 1 percent of tax returns fell by over 26 percent. In that same period, the AGI of the bottom 50 percent of tax returns actually increased by 4.3 percent. However, since 2002, as the recession has ended, AGI has risen by 61 percent for the top 1 percent and 10.7 percent for the bottom 50 percent.

    I'll also add this: if the high-tax ideologues out there believe that the primary purpose of the income tax is to level incomes, rather than to pay for government services, then they're going need to advocate a very draconian system to reach their goal, since the already progressive system we have doesn't seem to be doing the job they want.

    Also, in today's Projo, business columnist Neil Downing notes that income-to-tax ratios in Rhode Island's state income tax data are similar to the national figures…

    For 2005, the latest period for which figures are available, the overall Rhode Island income tax totaled about $961 million. Of that, $392 million was attributable to those with incomes of $200,000 or more.

    In other words, the state’s highest-income taxpayers are responsible for about 41 percent of Rhode Island’s overall income-tax burden — even though they represent only about 2 percent of all income-tax returns filed.

    You can quibble with those numbers if you like. For example, the report I looked at doesn’t make clear whether the income-tax figures I’ve listed above are before or after taking credits into account.

    But look beyond those numbers, because they’re limited in scope. They focus only on income tax.

    They don’t reflect what higher-income people pay in local property taxes, or what they wind up paying — one way or another — as a result of Rhode Island’s death tax (also known as the Rhode Island estate tax).

    So no matter how you slice the numbers, the overriding point is indisputable — although higher-income Rhode Islanders represent only a tiny portion of all taxpayers, they carry a huge chunk of the state’s overall tax burden.

    Finally, I came upon the original Tax Foundation item via Instapundit, who adds these thoughts worth considering…
    I think that everyone should pay at least some tax, and it should vary each year with how much the government spends, and should be enough to give people an incentive to care....A reader emails: "The optimal tax code for the political class is one where more than 51% of the voters pay no taxes at all and where the politicians and their friends receive exemptions from most of the taxes. Explain how this differs from the current system."

    Barack Obama: A Candidate for the 1960s

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    If you want to understand why Barack Obama has been unable to further his climb in this year's Presidential field since the initial burst of excitement that followed his entry into the race, look no further than his statement over the weekend to ABC news on why he doesn't wear a flag-pin on the campaign trail (h/t Greg Pollowitz)…

    You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin," Obama said. "Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we're talking about the Iraq War, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest.

    "Instead," he said, "I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism."

    This sums up, as well as anything, how there's very little new or exciting or different at Senator Obama's core; his positions are derived from the jumble of ideas that define garden-variety liberalism. In this specific case, we have…
    • Sincere but misguided doubts about the value of patriotism: When in doubt, why does Senator Obama err towards hiding displays of patriotism, instead of showing them?
    • The taint of elitism: Is Senator Obama taking the position that all Americans should discard their flag pins and displays, or is his position closer to saying that simple symbols of patriotism are suitable for simpletons in the population, but not for members of the ruling class (like him).
    • And of course, the general incoherence: How would wearing a pin actually detract from the patriotic ideas that the Senator wants to express? As John O'Sullivan asked over at National Review Online, would Senator Obama also refuse to wear an AIDS ribbon "on the grounds that it's a substitute for true charity"?
    The political problem this creates for Senator Obama in seeking the Democratic nomination is that if Democratic voters decide they want a return to 60s-style liberalism, they already have two candidates to choose from in Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. And for a general election, the problem for Senator Obama is that his retread liberalism doesn't have nearly the appeal to the center that he believes it does.

    Hillary Clinton: A Candidate for the 1990s and Before

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    According to NBC News, after a moment of contention, Senator Hillary Clinton offered some assistance to Randall Rolph, an Iowa resident who questioned her vote in favor of labeling Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organization…

    Clinton accused the man of being a plant who had been sent to ask the question, to which he took exception, saying the question was a result of his own research.

    "I apologize," Clinton said, explaining that she had been asked the very same question in three other places.

    The crowd applauded when the senator ended the back and forth by saying the two had a disagreement and offering to put Rolph in touch with her staff, who could provide him with the text of the legislation, which she suggested he had misunderstood.

    What kind of lousy offer was that? Hasn't Senator Clinton heard about this Internet thing that her fellow Democrat Al Gore invented? As long as Mr. Rolph has access into the Internet either at his home or at a local public library, he can already see the full-text of the legislation, by following the links available here.

    Senator Clinton either has not kept pace with how Internet-based communications are being used to update the public about Congress' daily activity, or she's just not interested in using the Internet to its fullest potential for keeping the public informed. Perhaps the Senator prefers the old system, where the ability to see legislation under debate, before it acquired the force of law, was a privilege reserved for a few politically connected officials, staffers and lobbyists. That would be consistent with her approach to healthcare in the 1990s, where the specifics of her plan were hidden from the general public (and even members of Congress not in her favor) for as long as was possible.

    If this is still Senator Clinton's ideal method of advancing her agenda, the Senator is in for a bit of a surprise if elected in 2008. Saying "trust me, I'm the leader, and I know best, so support what I tell you to support" is no longer a viable option for politicians who fail to use every available option to inform the public of their plans. George W. Bush learned this lesson the hard way, via the failure of his comprehensive immigration proposal.

    I wonder if Senator Clinton -- or if any of the Presidential candidate of either party -- would be willing to make a simple pledge to the American public: she (or he) will not sign any legislation unless Congress places it into the public domain for at least one month, free for examination by the general public, before sending a final version onto the President.

    Another Full-Scale Casino Proposal?

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Scott Van Voorhis of the Boston Herald's business and market blog has talked to Clyde Barrow of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth's Center for Policy Analysis, who says he has talked to William Murphy, Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, who has apparently said that a brand-new, full scale casino in Rhode Island, more than just an expansion of Twin Rivers, is still an option for the near future...

    Rhode Island’s General Assembly is expected to study in January expanding the Twin River racino, a slot machine hall and dog track, and Newport Grand, the slots and simulcast wagering center in Newport. Lawmakers plan to explore adding table games and creating 24/7 business hours at both venues.

    House Speaker William Murphy has indicated lawmakers may even explore the addition of a full-scale casino elsewhere in the state, said Clyde Barrow, a gaming industry expert and a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

    Is Rhode Island headed for another gambling dominated political season in 2008?

    Hillary's "Newest" Advisor

    Monique Chartier

    Senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D) has quietly brought President William J. Clinton's former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger onto her campaign as an advisor - unpaid for now, but let's keep an eye on those campaign finance reports.

    In April, 2005, Sandy Berger pleaded guilty to removing and destroying documents from the National Archives. Inasmuch as he was stripped of any security clearance for three years as part of his sentence, it is not clear how he will be able to advise her on such matters and, therefore, what his value to her campaign is.

    More importantly, however, by bringing Mr. Berger into her campaign in any capacity, Senator Clinton is endorsing his selfish and egregious conduct in destroying national documents and thereby casting a shadow on her own judgment.


    In view of Ken's inaccurate comment that

    Sandy has paid the price for playing with official copies (not the originals) of nationally classified documents

    let's take a look at what Sandy Berger did at the National Archives and then, most interestingly, after he reached a plea bargain.

    First of all, due to laxity on the part of the National Archives' staff, the complete list of documents which Mr. Berger removed and destroyed will never be known. But the fact that Mr. Berger took five copies of the same memo suggests that they were more than just copies:

    In addition to primary documents, Berger had access to copies, and the only plausible reason for taking five copies of a single memo is that some had original notes on them from key officials, maybe from Berger or President Clinton

    which would have made them originals in their own right. In any case, he sure was determined and thorough in his removal efforts:

    The committee's 60-page report makes it clear that Mr. Berger knew exactly what he was doing and knew that what he was doing was wrong. According to interviews with National Archives staff, Mr. Berger repeatedly arranged to be left alone with highly classified documents by feigning the need to make personal phone calls, and he used those moments alone with the files to stuff them in his pockets and briefcase

    And again

    Law enforcement sources said archive staff members told FBI agents they saw Berger placing items in his jacket and pants, and one archive staffer told agents that Berger also placed something in his socks

    Berger then

    stashed highly classified documents he had taken from the National Archives beneath a construction trailer at the corner of Ninth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW so he could surreptitiously retrieve them later and take them to his office

    and later

    used scissors to destroy three before placing them in his office trash, the National Archives inspector general concluded in a Nov. 4, 2005, report.

    Now, Part Two of this Addendum: How and Why Mr. Berger Jettisoned His Law License.

    Berger previously entered a deal with the Department of Justice after he was caught stealing and destroying highly sensitive classified material regarding the Clinton Administration's handling of terrorism issues. That deal allowed him to avoid jail time, pay a modest fine, and keep his law license. It also allowed him to avoid full explanation of what he had taken and why he had taken it.

    That is correct; Mr. Berger walked out of his sentencing and away from his criminal conviction with his law license intact.

    What information was worth risking his reputation, his career, and his freedom to keep hidden? And who was he risking that for?

    Recently, the Board of the DC Bar, which had granted Berger his license, began asking those questions. There was only one way to stop that investigation, to keep from answering questions about what he did and why he did it, to keep the Bar from questioning his colleagues in the Clinton Administration about what had been in the documents Berger destroyed.

    Berger took that step, surrendering his license, and stopping the investigation.

    Ordinarily, anyone who has spent the time, effort, and money needed to master one of the "learned professions" fights with the utmost determination to keep his license. That is not merely a ticket to practice your chosen profession - it is also a badge of honor and accomplishment. Ask any doctor or lawyer, any architect or CPA, any professional at all, what it means to give that up.

    That Berger didn't fight speaks volumes.

    The man who knew too much to keep his law license is now advising the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.

    October 8, 2007

    Not Slaves to the Synapses

    Justin Katz

    So conditioned have we become to the materialist construction that we find it surprising when somebody suggests that our bodies — even our brains — are something more than time bombs waiting to betray our spirits:

    A surprising study of elderly people suggests that those who see themselves as self-disciplined, organized achievers have a lower risk for developing Alzheimer's disease than people who are less conscientious.

    A purposeful personality may somehow protect the brain, perhaps by increasing neural connections that can act as a reserve against mental decline, said study co-author Robert Wilson of Chicago's Rush University Medical Center.

    Astoundingly, the brains of some of the conscientious people in the study were examined after their deaths and were found to have lesions that would meet accepted criteria for Alzheimer's — even though these people had shown no signs of dementia.

    "This adds to our knowledge that lifestyle, personality, how we think, feel and behave are very importantly tied up with risk for this terrible illness," Wilson said. "It may suggest new ideas for trying to delay the onset of this illness."

    Previous studies have linked social connections and stimulating activities like working puzzles with a lower risk of Alzheimer's. The same researchers reported previously that people who experience more distress and worry about their lives are at a higher risk.

    It's almost as if our brains are interactive material vessels for minds (some might say "souls") that aren't merely a byproduct of biological development.

    Baffling Our Way to Heaven

    Justin Katz

    John Podhoretz, who has been playing the Stop Hillary tune since before it made the charts (and giving her candidacy the tone of inevitability from before the first notes), doesn't get those enigmatic conservative religiosos:

    The conduct of Religious Right leaders has been entirely baffling. They've have several candidates they could have rallied around as a matter of principle — Huckabee and Brownback in particular. But they haven't done so. It's almost as though they're paralyzed.

    I'll admit that I've yet to receive the memo regarding the approved position on Huckabee and Brownback, although I will say that within the context of my deliberate non-attention to this premature campaign season, I've found both uninspiring. Still, I wonder if what baffles others on our side of the political line about rightward Christians is that results in this world aren't exactly the crucial consideration. We're at liberty, therefore, to play a riskier game with our votes.

    That said, I suspect that the Religious Right understands that backing either of the candidates whom Podhoretz mentions is to support a long-shot, and if we're going to do that, we might as well devote our efforts to proving to one of the two mainstream parties that it needs us to survive. We've faith, after all, that all of the damage can and will be put right.

    Republican Presidential Update

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    With the accelerated Presidential Primary schedule, there is much debate about whether the traditional, smaller-state early contests will matter as much as they have in the past.

    In reality, we won't know the answer to this question until it's all over, including the shouting.

    That said, the Des Moines Register's latest poll of likely Iowa Caucus goers shows Mitt Romney continuing his commanding lead in Iowa, with Rudy Giuliani basically tied with Mick Huckabee for 3rd (survey conducted October 1-3)…

    • Mitt Romney 29%
    • Fred Thompson 18%
    • Mike Huckabee 12%
    • Rudy Giuliani 11%.
    Meanwhile, the most recent CNN/WMUR-TV poll of likely New Hampshire Republican voters had Romney and Giuliani sharing the lead (survey conducted September 17-24)…
    • Mitt Romney 25%
    • Rudy Giuliani 24%
    • John McCain 18%
    • Fred Thompson 12%
    Those are both very different line-ups from the national-level pecking order, where Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani are tied for the lead, and Mitt Romney is running 3rd, just ahead of John McCain. Here's Rasmussen's latest weekly tracking survey of Republican voters (released October 1)…
    • Fred Thompson 25%
    • Rudy Giuliani 23%
    • Mitt Romney 13%
    • John McCain 10%
    Beyond the horserace analysis, the overriding question for Republicans should be: in fractured field like this, what can any of the contenders do to become the candidate that unites the Republican party?

    October 7, 2007

    Re: Black-Ties Have the Best Toasts, but Workers Eat Asbestos

    Justin Katz

    I have to admit to being somewhat astonished, Michael, at your protestation that the American worker is at the rock bottom of exploitation. Perhaps I've been distracted by the sheer volume of consumer goods that workers are able to afford. By their lengthening life spans. By their expanding educations. It is true that I lean toward the college-loans-as-indenture interpretation, but somehow that doesn't seem to be what you're talking about.

    On what grounds, I wonder, do you make your dehumanizing judgment of your private-sector peers? If, that is, you consider proudly indignant cattle to be your peers. I'll be the last to insist that Rhode Island is defined by an insistence on the empowerment of private sector workers. The state is a cauldron constructed to distill exploitation to its purest form. Still, I think my understanding of my own circumstances is sufficiently considered that a theoretician of the sort who founded our country might consider me free.

    In contrast, I'm not sure exactly how a system in which "people who decide who gets what are not spending their own money" is at all more likely to offer workers "decent wage[s] commensurate with their ability and value to the economy." Indeed, one need only look to the structure of teachers' salaries to find a tendency toward calculations that shun such distinctions (unless, of course, union bosses are taken as supremely valuable).

    Like it or not, there is a market rate for a given job — what the performance of that job is worth. If unions wish to embellish that amount, they must ultimately do so by limiting the number of people who can hold it. Either prices must be forced higher, reducing the amount of work available, or barriers must be erected to enter the field of work. In the case of arbitrary price increases, the battle will be made more bloody for the shrinking opportunity. Exploitation will increase, as will incentive to behave as powerless pawns. In the case of a shrunken employment gate, somebody must decide on its shape and location, and somebody must guard it, thus creating an additional position of power, at which exploitation and siphoning can occur.

    In any system that we might contrive to implement, some people will begin from positions of advantage. Qualitatively, these are the same folks (which is to say that they are equally human), whether they are businessmen, public policy intellectuals, union bosses, or career politicians. Whatever the basis for their initial advantage, I would prefer to see those strings in the tenuous grasp of men and women whose positions depend mostly on their ability to find work and ensure that it gets done.

    How much more the pawns are those who, by their submission to unions, haven't even the leverage that comes with the threat of switching from employee to competition. Unionization may serve to enhance the income of a minority — especially when they are negotiating with people who aren't spending their own money — but where they become universal, they become imperious and oppressive. Where they are not universal, they squeeze their advantage not from the powerful, but from the trapped herd.

    Michael Morse: "Re: Black-Ties Have the Best Toasts, but Workers Eat Asbestos"

    Engaged Citizen

    The hardest job I ever had was a line cook. 110 degree air, steaks on the grill, fries in the frialator, toast ready for the club sandwich, waitresses waiting, orders coming in, orders going out, sauté ready, steamer buzzing, this one well done, that one rare, fries are ready, I need that club, 86 corned beef, I need a Reuben! Too late, order up! Order in! Hour after hour. It took every ounce of energy to make it through the shift. I was good, one of the best. I barely made minimum wage. People won't pay $20.00 for a burger, that's life; I don't need an economics degree to figure that out.

    Construction wasn't much better. One November morning I lost the argument with the foreman and climbed the ladder to the roof of a four-story condo that was under construction. He had a deadline to meet or the company would be fined. The sun was on the horizon, no time to melt the thin layer of frozen dew that glazed the surface. I got to the peak, slipped, and then started sliding to the edge, nothing but icy plywood to grab on to. A foot from the edge, a roofing nail that wasn't fully embedded lodged into the skin just below my knee, slowing my momentum and stopping me just before I went over, fifty feet onto a pile of rocks. I still have the scar; it reminds me of how fortunate I am. I made ten bucks an hour, no benefits.

    Private employment is no picnic, I am well aware of that fact. I think the "market" needs to reassess itself and get its priorities straight.

    Public employees have a huge advantage over the private sector. The people who decide who gets what are not spending their own money. It makes it easy to pay well and offer decent benefits. Public outcry dies down when the economy improves and the private sector starts doing better. Everybody wants to keep their money in their own pockets; that is human nature. Private sector employees, especially those employed by small companies are at the mercy of the marketplace. What is right is not necessarily what is done. There is always somebody waiting to do the job for less regardless of the risk. If they are not willing to do it themselves, they will find some desperate soul to do it for them. Competition has replaced common courtesy and common sense. We are all in this together. Paying people what they are worth rather than what you can get away with is a dying sentiment in the private sector.

    Competition in the workplace keeps prices low and goods affordable. It is one of the basic principles of capitalism. My concerns are that we have gone as low as we can, our health and safety are being compromised, those with the power are exploiting those without, and those without are willingly being led to their own demise with a badge of righteous indignation proudly worn while suffering from the illusion that they are their own men in control of their destinies. They are like cattle being herded to the slaughterhouse, unknowing, thinking they are safe, the illusion of freedom and a fair market blinding them to the reality that they have become powerless pawns whose minds and backs serve those holding their purse. They want to take the public sector with them.

    I would prefer to see everybody paid a decent wage commensurate with their ability and value to the economy. Unions, far from perfect, are better than the alternative. The money is there; we need to figure out how best to make it work.

    Black-Ties Have the Best Toasts, but Workers Eat Asbestos

    Justin Katz

    Readers who have never gained the insight that comes with wearing a blue collar more extensively than for part-time teenager jobs might benefit from some explanation of the way in which incentives work in that world — specifically in residential construction.

    The boss wishes to make money and expand his business, both of which require, first, that he finds work and, second, that he finds people to do it. When a particular job becomes available, he submits a bid, or otherwise comes up with a price, and too often the size of the dollar amount is the sole determinant of who wins the bidding process. In fairness to the client, of course, there's a straightforward inverse correlation between the cost of work and the amount of home improvement that can be afforded.

    In the case of renovation, the house is usually intact, with furniture and so forth still in place, during this part of the process. In other words, the contractor can only stick his head in so many crevices. Unless he is either bold enough to request permission to bang in some walls in search of such snags as asbestos pipe insulation and to take various samples for lab analysis or a good enough salesman to pitch additional costs for remediation, his incentive is to give the best-case scenario price that he thinks won't come back to bite him.

    Bring in the workers.

    At some point in the demolition phase, somebody opens up a wall and finds corogated pipe insulation that looks like cardboard or pokes a hole in a ceiling and releases a small shower of spongy vermiculite insulation or pulls up a carpet covering ugly nine-inch floor tiles. Assuming anybody on the jobsite even knows that the material might contain asbestos, what are they to do?

    In a salaried corporate or unionized public environment, the workers might stop production, send samples out to a lab, consult the client, get estimates from remediation companies, make an appointment, wait for the process to be completed, and then resume work. If the asbestos' presence is moderately extensive, the entire demo phase might have to be subcontracted to a licensed remediation crew, during which time the original workers — in private-sector construction — are simply biding their time, most likely unemployed. Or they could just make the problem go away in an hour here and there throughout the project.

    Clearly, when the "right way" (the legal way) is too expensive and dilatory, the incentive is extremely strong just to make the asbestos disappear, and the fastest ways to accomplish that are also the most likely to contaminate the jobsite throughout the project. A more realistic solution — one not so amenable to the hopes and dreams of lawyers or likely to create a remediation industry — would make objective information easily accessible and require employers to ensure that their workers take reasonable (and minimal) precautions.

    Having periodically poked around the online body of knowledge about asbestos, and having discussed the matter with a variety of folks from different walks of life, I've discerned a wide range of opinions about it, usually regardless of the statistics and facts, or even personal experience. While we shouldn't allow those who feel that the danger may be dismissed to set the standards, we shouldn't allow those who feel that any risk ought to be stamped out of life and work to place the safety bar prohibitively high. There are those who simply wouldn't tolerate the possibility of asbestos in the air; there are others who'll reduce it to dust before their own laughing faces. The latter will gravitate toward a vacuum left by the former if a rational middle is disallowed.

    I haven't run through this exercise because I think asbestos to be one of the central issues of our times, or even especially relevant to Providence firefighters' cancer claims, but because it allows a tangible response to the the comments of one Providence firefighter, Michael Morse:

    Our society should strive to protect the workers who make this country work. Why emulate a company that puts profit before worker safety and financial security? Instead of knocking down government programs that ensure a decent standard of living for disabled workers our time would be better spent improving conditions for everybody. The money is there in the private sector, take a look around, it's right there in front of you. Getting people to do the right thing is the problem.

    That is the question of the modern era, isn't it: How do we get people in whose lives money has pooled to do the "right things" with it? That may be the defining difference between schools of economic thought. Arguably, wars have been fought over the answer. Me, I'd be lying if I pretended that I didn't believe one side to be right and one wrong, with the distinction mainly a matter of having mastered emotion sufficiently to think things through. I suspect that somewhere behind his good intentions, Michael understands as much, because he's attempted to divide the options unnaturally: profit for the business/owner versus safety and financial security for the workers.

    As the asbestos example shows, the options don't break down thus. If safety means specialized workers with expensive licensing requirements, then the regular construction workers are out of luck. If the profit motive doesn't exist for a contractor to expand or to take as many jobs, then the workers are out of luck. If requirements are such that construction becomes even more expensive, homeowners won't have as much work done (or perhaps they'll simply leave), and... workers are out of luck.

    Indeed, Michael elides the problem of social interdependencies in presenting "knocking down government programs" as something distinct from "improving conditions for everybody." Rhode Island has reached the point at which it can no longer pretend that it is taking away from the haves on behalf of the have-lesses. To the extent that our state and municipal programs continue to strangle our economy, the equations of risk, necessity, and willingness that govern life in the working world will require ever greater willingness to take risks just to keep food on the table.

    October 6, 2007

    Stanford 24, USC 23

    Donald B. Hawthorne

    I grew up in California, initially in the greater Los Angeles area where I was a huge UCLA fan - which meant never being a USC fan.

    I then attended Stanford University for graduate school.

    Stanford, a 41-point underdog with a first-time starter at quarterback, just beat USC - on USC's home field, ending USC's 35-game home winning streak.


    Artificial Life

    Monique Chartier

    The Guardian (United Kingdom) is reporting that

    Craig Venter, the controversial DNA researcher involved in the race to decipher the human genetic code, has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth.

    The announcement, which is expected within weeks and could come as early as Monday at the annual meeting of his scientific institute in San Diego, California, will herald a giant leap forward in the development of designer genomes. It is certain to provoke heated debate about the ethics of creating new species and could unlock the door to new energy sources and techniques to combat global warming.

    Supposedly, Mr. Venter has yet to take the final step of transplanting the artificial genome into a living bacterial cell.

    The team of scientists has already successfully transplanted the genome of one type of bacterium into the cell of another, effectively changing the cell's species. Mr Venter said he was "100% confident" the same technique would work for the artificially created chromosome.

    The new life form will depend for its ability to replicate itself and metabolise on the molecular machinery of the cell into which it has been injected, and in that sense it will not be a wholly synthetic life form. However, its DNA will be artificial, and it is the DNA that controls the cell and is credited with being the building block of life.

    It would be interesting to learn the composition of his "ethics committee":

    Mr Venter said he had carried out an ethical review before completing the experiment. "We feel that this is good science," he said.

    Possibly the "we" includes a larger circle than Mr. Venter realizes.

    The Dramatics of the "Professionals"

    Justin Katz

    I heard an eye witness account, last night, of the daily start-of-day ritual at Tiverton High School. Apparently, the teachers all sit in their cars until exactly the time at which they have to report to their classrooms, and then they all march in as a group. As anybody who has ever worked in a professional setting can attest, this sort of dramatic display is frequently seen outside office buildings. Right?

    Or perhaps Tiverton Budget Committee member Alexander Cote is correct in his assessment of the teachers' professionalism:

    Senior students are not receiving recommendations to colleges and internships. They are not allowed to work on class projects or accumulate the requisite community service. Nor are they allowed to participate in college awareness events, math clubs, mock trial teams, class trips, senior proms, yearbooks and whole host of events tat are part of every graduating class. Worse than declaring their intent to work to rule is the daily flaunting and badgering directly to students of their unwillingness to provide any assistance beyond contract. How quickly they have forgotten that someone early in their career provided the very services they are denying the youth of Tiverton. Working to "rule" is extremely hurtful to the very individuals these so-called professionals professed they wanted to help when they entered the field of teaching.

    Not too long ago, the town finalized police and fire contracts, which provided relief for both the community and the unions, after more than a year and a half of working without a contract. Not once during the contract dispute did any fireman/EMT fail to provide public safety services for our residents. Not once was a ride to the hospital held hostage over their contract dispute. Nor did any police officer fail to protect the citizens anywhere within Tiverton. Respect is earned through rational actions and appropriate demeanor, not through underhanded tactics that exploit the future of our youth and bombastic lies about the actions of the school committee.

    And any readers who have followed Anchor Rising's interactions with members of the NEA will find that this sounds very familiar:

    While the recent actions taken by the teachers against children are truly unprofessional, their statements condemning the School Committee for hiding a million dollars in their budget is so far out of line it can only be described as utter desperation. After repeated requests by the school committee to the union to substantiate their claim, the union has not offered one scintilla of financial evidence to support their allegation. Obviously, their latest negotiation tactics has resorted to throwing crap against the wall hoping some part of it will stick. Their willingness to say anything to rally community support is nothing more than a childish attempt to fractionalize the community.

    Take note, all students of the sort who haggle with teachers over their scores on tests and papers, of the example that those teachers' union is setting. Evidence is optional.

    Another Non-Truth from the Tiverton Teachers' Public Face

    Justin Katz

    Here's what the NEA's man in Tiverton, Patrick Crowley, had to say when I suggested that a particular legal claim of his — that a failure of the administration to pay the teachers for their day of striking proved that they were not considered salaried and were therefore entitled to overtime — was, well, deceptively selective:

    I am arguing that the law has many other sections and decades of case law. Maybe Justin should cite my entire letter since he seems to have been forwarded a copy of it. He seems to have left out a few sections, including the case citations, the RELEVANT section of law, and the other sections cited.

    If he doesn't. I'd be happy too.

    At the time, I thought that last word was a typo, but it may be the correct "too," after all, considering that Crowley never got around to further explanations or to sending me or publishing his letter. Luckily, a little persistence has paid off, and I've managed to find a copy of the original document, on NEA letterhead, no less (PDF). As readers can see for themselves, the letter contains a single case citation, and it is irrelevant to the point that I was making, relating, instead, to the penalties for not paying overtime "if it is the policy now of the school committee to consider the teachers non-exempt employees."

    Presumably some teacher or other in the Tiverton system will have occasion to correct any students who've gotten the idea from the teachers' union that lies of omission are perfectly acceptable in rhetorical writing.

    Western Union fees: Straining at a Gnat

    Monique Chartier

    The Providence City Council unanimously passed a non-binding resolution Thursday night endorsing a boycott of Western Union, making it the first city in the United States to do so.

    Activist groups nationwide have been organizing small protests against the company for the past month, charging that Western Union’s fees are too high, and that the company does not give back enough to the people and countries it serves.

    City Council members estimate that Western Union handles 55 percent of money transfers to and from Providence, and last night, the 15-member City Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the campaign.

    Setting aside for the moment that whole capitalist concept of allowing prices to be established by willing buyers and willing sellers, as of 2004, legal and illegal immigrants have been sending $39 billion annually out of the United States and back to their home countries. This is the "camel" which the Providence City Council appears willing to swallow.

    Let's be clear. There is no question that visiting workers earn the dollars which they remit home nor that they have the right to do so. However, it seems a bit incongruous for the Providence City Council to condemn on the basis that the company "does not give back enough to the people and countries it serves" the amount of the fees which enable the transfer of $39 billion annually out of the United States.

    October 5, 2007

    Math Mea Culpa

    Justin Katz

    An apology may be in order for my having not been fast enough on my feet as I've attempted to keep track of Tiverton teacher union negotiations amidst all of the other things on my schedule. I should have caught the accounting trick in this, but the reporter's and the union's presentation left me merely confused:

    Teachers changed their proposal from a three-year contract to a two-year contract, but deMedeiros said the percentage salary increases did not differ much from a previous proposal. Instead of asking for 3.75 percent each year for three years, the latest proposal was for a total of 8 percent over two years. ...

    A second offer made by the union at the end of the night was for 3.5 percent salary increases in year one, 3.75 in year two, and annual health benefit co-shares of $1,150 in year one and $1,300 in year two, Crowley said.

    The Providence Journal clarified some today:

    The financial impact of the two union proposals made on Tuesday appears to be in the eye of the beholder.

    The one with 2 percent raises every six months would have resulted a cumulative hike of 8.25 percent in teachers’ base pay at the end of the second year.

    The subsequent union offer raised the base pay by a cumulative 7.25 percent, or 1 percent less.

    But because of the way the 2-percent raises were timed in the first offer, the cumulative 7.25-percent increase proposed in the second proposal would have cost the town more.

    And here's how the NEA's Patrick Crowley attempted to deceive Anchor Rising readers into buying his spin:

    Their proposal would cost you, as a Tiverton Taxpayer, more money. You should be outraged. Also, even using their math, what is more... 8 or 7.25? Obviously, it is 8. Unless you are a Tiverton School Committee member, and then 7.25 is more than 8.

    Crowley's assessment is correct, I suppose, if one is mainly concerned with the rate at which teachers will find themselves when they negotiate their next contract in two years. But from the point of view of the school committee — and the taxpayers who elected them — the second proposal would indeed cost more. If (on top of step increases, remember) teachers get two percent raises every six months, that is equivalent to a little over three percent more money for the year.* Therefore, putting the first proposal in the terms that Crowley uses for the second proposal, the comparison is actually between 6% and 7.25%.

    I guess we can take comfort in the knowledge that any teachers seeking examples while explaining to their students how numbers can be used for deceptive (dishonest) purposes need look no farther than their own union. Me, I'm still shaking my head that teachers want this to be their representation to the public.

    * It's "a little over" because the second two percent would be based on the first two percent raise: Starting from $100 per year, the first raise would bring the six-month pay amount to $51, and the second raise would yield $52.02, for a full year salary of $103.02, or 3.02% more.

    Thomas C. Wigand: "Teachers' Unions — It's Time for Expulsion"

    Engaged Citizen

    A leading newspaper had this to say about Rhode Island: "In what can only be described as a phenomenal turnaround story, Rhode Island has gone from being an economic laggard to enjoying the most vibrant economy in the U.S.; its economic renaissance is often compared to that of Ireland, which is now called the 'Celtic Tiger.' How did Rhode Island accomplish this? First, by recognizing that public education is the linchpin of its economic competitiveness, and then committing to a public policy that its public education system would be worldclass, if not the world leader."

    Of course this newspaper account is pure fiction — but it needn't be.

    As we transition from manufacturing to a global knowledge economy, education is the crucial element. The better educated the workforce, the more skilled it is; the more skilled the workforce, the higher the standard of living. This dynamic bodes ill for Rhode Island. America's students fare poorly in international comparisons, and for Rhode Island the news is even worse. Recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked the fifty states' educational systems, and Rhode Island ranked far below even the U.S. Average. (In some categories, we're the only state that got Fs!) If there were an education Olympics, Rhode Island's children could barely hobble into the stadium.

    Our state therefore has both an economic challenge and a moral obligation to massively improve its schools; to do anything less sentences our children to a grossly diminished standard of living, which is unconscionable. Therefore, we must benchmark the highest performing countries and adopt a near-term goal of meeting, if not exceeding, their educational results. The task then becomes determining how to achieve that goal — both identifying actions required to get there and eliminating roadblocks standing in the way.

    The single greatest roadblock to worldclass education is the teachers' unions. Union-imposed practices such as seniority, tenure, and uniform pay are inherently incompatible with achieving the highest possible performance. Whether in East Greenwich or Central Falls, no school can realize its full potential under such a regime. If we agree that the overarching goal must be to thrust Rhode Island's schools into worldclass territory, then the inescapable conclusion is that the teachers unions and their strikes, "work to rule," and grievances offer no redeeming qualities. In other words, at a time when we desperately need institutionalized excellence, teachers' unions institutionalize mediocrity.

    Ultimately, educational achievement is driven by teachers' dedication and skill, and to have worldclass performance we must offer teachers the opportunity to receive commensurate compensation and working conditions. Great teachers don't need a union for this. Teacher compensation can be benchmarked to compare favorably with other professions, and enlightened management and progressive discipline can ensure fair, positive, and productive work environments.

    Teachers unions offer a value proposition only to union officials and teachers at the mediocre-to-incompetent end of the education bell curve, where positions must be protected by contract. Presently, the selfish desires of these two special interest dominate Rhode Island's public education system; this must stop, and it can.

    Conventional wisdom has it that the teachers' unions are so politically powerful that they are both invincible and perpetual. Not true. In 1966, the General Assembly, expressing a "public policy" interest in promoting collective bargaining, gave statutory permission for teachers to unionize. Those statutes can be repealed at any time. Poof! No more strikes, "work to rule," or protection of inadequate teachers!

    The conventional wisdom also holds that teachers' unions have such power over the Democratic Party that they effectively control it. While in large part true, in Rhode Island, Democrat control actually presents an opportunity: The Democrats in the General Assembly could repeal the teacher union statutes without any concern over losing majority status. In other words, the Democrat General Assembly could harness its near absolute power as a force for good. What a concept!

    Just as incorrigible students who impede the educational mission face expulsion, so too should it be with the teachers unions. Decades of experience have proven that the presence of teachers' unions is inherently detrimental to educational quality, so it's long past time for the teachers' unions to be expelled from our schools.

    The "public policy" favoring teacher collective bargaining must be subordinated to a "public policy" dedicated to thrusting Rhode Island's public education system into worldclass status. The Democrat General Assembly has a moral obligation to expel the teachers unions — if not for the rest of us, then at least "for the children!"

    October 4, 2007

    Re: The Way It's Done

    Monique Chartier

    While this post is a reply to Justin's about the controversy surrounding State Senator Stephen Alves and the failed A. Duie Pyle tax incentive, it is also a report on the way things are done in the General Assembly when a citizen is attempting to access information about bills and the legislative process.

    In the course of denying the allegations that he blocked a tax incentive for a company looking to locate in Johnston, State Senator Stephen Alves said:

    “If it was so important to them, why didn’t anybody come to see me about Duie Pyle or request a hearing? Nobody did.”

    So what is the legislative history of the Duie Pyle tax incentive legislation? Was it a stand alone bill or intended to be passed as part of the state budget? And most importantly, did it receive the same treatment as the other two tax incentives that did pass?

    I began my attempt this morning to clarify these matters by calling the office of the Secretary of the Senate Finance Committee, Ms. Donna LeBoeuf. I reached instead the Clerk of that committee, Mr. Ernest Balasco, who told me that Ms. LeBoeuf is on vacation this week. He further informed me - this is not news to anyone who follows the General Assembly! - that without a bill number, it will be impossible to track a bill.

    I then called the Office of Legislative Data. A woman there attempted to assist me but was unable to find a bill with the words "Duie Pyle" in it. And looking through the forty four articles of the budget as passed would have been pointless because the crux of the Alves controversy is that the tax incentive did not become law.

    In the face of all of these non-answers, you ask, why didn't I get some input from one of the proponents of the tax incentive, Senator Christopher B. Maselli, D-Johnston? Good question. It seems, however, that Senator Maselli is one of the few Senators for whom no telephone number is provided on the Senate website.

    I have e-mailed Senator Maselli and look forward to hearing from him on this matter.

    In the meantime, to summarize. Secretary of that committee on vacation this week. No phone number posted for Senator Maselli, precluding easy contact. And most importantly, a decades old rigid, petrified bill access system designed to shield rather than inform.

    Possibly it is paranoia, but I was left with the impression this morning that roadblocks had been added to what is already a difficult research route at the State House so as to prevent the legislative history of this doomed tax incentive from becoming public.


    ... specific to the Alves/Duie Pyle matter. Subpoenas have gone out. Senator Christopher Maselli received one and will not be answering questions publicly anytime soon:

    Maselli has also been subpoenaed to tell his story to the grand jury, which is investigating allegations of influence peddling at the Rhode Island State House.

    “Since I don’t want to do anything to hinder the ongoing investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office, I will have no further comment about Duie Pyle,” said Maselli. “I’ve already publicly said everything I know.”

    Apparently it will take a Grand Jury to establish the legislative path of these three tax incentives.

    Alves' Probable Defense: I'm So Powerful, I Can Kill Any Finance Provision for Any Reason, So Who's to Say I Did It for Corrupt Ones

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Senator Stephen Alves defense against allegations that he tried to use his position as Senate Finance Committee chair to compel Rhode Island cities and towns to give him their pension business is taking shape. It looks as if Senator Alves will argue that his committee chairmanship gives him such absolute power over Senate finance matters, he is able to kill any specific item for any reason he wants, making it impossible to prove that the town of Johnston's decision not to do pension business with him was the reason he spiked the Duie-Pyle tax deal.

    Mike Stanton, for instance, reports in today's Projo that Senator Alves is suggesting that the failure of lobbyists for Duie Pyle to approach him using proper protocol was enough of a reason for him to kill the deal...

    [Senator Alves] said that he wasn’t opposed to the tax break for Duie Pyle, but that advocates for the company failed to lobby him in a timely fashion....

    As Senate Finance chairman, Alves helps shape the budget that the House Finance Committee passes, sitting with his House counterpart, Rep. Steven M. Costantino, D-Providence, to hash out what’s in and what’s out. Those meetings are so secretive, said Rep. Jan. P. Malik, D-Warren, that he’s not even allowed to attend — and he’s a vice chairman of House Finance.

    “That’s where they barter — ‘I'm looking for this, you're looking for that,'" said Malik. "I can't even get into those meetings. They’re afraid that if word leaks out, then members will find out that they’re not going to get a project they want. By the time it comes out as a document, then it’s too late to start moaning and groaning.”

    Doesn't this matter highlight the need for Rhode Island to reform its archaic, 19th century legislative committee system that gives just a few legislators, unaccountable to the whole of Rhode Island, nearly absolute veto power over the matters the legislature can even begin to consider?

    Senator Alves' Stout Denial

    Monique Chartier

    State Senator Stephen Alves has broken two days of silence to firmly deny charges that he blocked a tax incentive out of political revenge. Describing the allegations as "ridiculous and baseless", he called his main accuser, lobbyist Jeffrey Britt, a liar and affirmed that he had never been opposed in principle to the tax incentive for trucking company A. Duie Pyle:

    “I never had an objection to Duie Pyle,” said Alves. “It was just never high on our priority list to spend $330,000 on it when we were cutting children off of RIte Care. It was a tough budget year. There were lots of winners and losers, lots of people who were disappointed.

    In his appearance on Turn to 10, the Senator denied even soliciting the pension account in question from either the Town of Johnston or Mayor Polisena.

    And WPRO's Dan Yorke interviewed him yesterday, though no calls were taken during that hour.

    Education in Context

    Justin Katz

    Reading Thomas's comments to my "What Profiteth a Community" post, I thought, at first, that we'd solved one area of disagreement. Consider:

    Isn't there a real chicken-and-egg problem here? Justin's right that, if we don't have decent jobs in RI, our well-educated children will flee for greener pastures. On the other hand, what potential employers want to start a business in a place where the available workforce is poorly educated? Will managers want to move to a state where the choices for their kids are poor public schools or expensive private ones? I think not. My view is that the solution to RI's economic problems requires addressing educational achievement.

    And yet, he's stated previously that he doesn't see anything amiss if "our wealthier communities subsidize our less wealthy communities." It seems to me that, on the whole, managers and other employees of the sort who determine where to open businesses would be inclined to move to the suburbs, not the city. Therefore, redirecting money from the wealthier 'burbs to the poorer cities only exacerbates the problem of economic development in Rhode Island. If we're looking at incentives for entrepreneurial people to enter the state, it makes little sense to bleed the communities in which they are likely to live.

    But if not for the dwindling wealthy, from where would the revenue come to answer Thomas's suggestion that, to improve education results, "we might have to spend some money"? He notes that adjustments for cost of living drop Rhode Island teachers' salaries from near the top in the nation to the bottom third (ignoring benefits), but the median private sector income in Rhode Island is below the national average. What's our national ranking on an adjusted basis?

    If the education establishment has faith in its ability to improve, then it should tighten its own belt while it proves it. We simply can't afford to increase the gap — already exceeding the national average — between teachers' pay and citizens' pay. The absolute best that doing so can reasonably be expected to accomplish is to improve the quality of the graduates whom we export.

    Thomas writes:

    Mssrs, Carcieri and Fox's approach, as well as that of the late Mr. Crowley has been, "let's cut the budget and force the schools to be more efficient". That's a unrealistic plan, because there's no mechanism to make sure that the cuts happen where they should. My guess is that the kids will lose before anything else goes.

    The reason the kids will lose is because they (and their parents) are trapped. That is why — even without exhaustive studies searching for regions to emulate — the development of a school choice program is strategically and morally attractive. The capability of withdrawing their children, and the related funds, from a particular school gives families leverage, relevance. From that angle, the following seems oddly contrived, with nearly deliberate disassociation from every other profession in the marketplace:

    ... what is the incentive for public school teachers to compete? My sense is that their rewards are not tied in any way to retaining students. Providence middle schools have a class size cap of 26. I don't know any teacher who would not be happier with 20 students. That's not laziness, either. You can be a more effective teacher with 20. 15 would be even better. Why would the teacher want more students? Competition increases performance only where there is an incentive to compete.

    This is only coherent from within a system that treats teachers' jobs as inviolable. Were a poorly performing school with, say, 100 children and four teachers in third grade to lose just 10 of those students to better schools, the decreasing funds would pressure administrators to look toward firing a teacher and giving the remaining three 30 students each. In contrast, provided it has sufficient physical capacity, were the same school to gain 10 students, it might consider hiring a fifth teacher and dropping each class's size to 22.

    Indeed, the perversion of systems of tangible and straightforward incentive is a distilled argument against attempting to manage, secure, and control a particular industry from without. At some level, the certified genius operating the switches has to treat people as static automatons that cannot but fail to behave like the actual people whom they represent, as when Thomas insists that comparisons of public and private schools should "control for self-selection and the educational attainment of parents who are able to afford the best private schools."

    The latter factor could be the merely incidental correlation of previous education with financial resources, making the former factor — the self-selection — the decisive one. School choice makes it a simpler matter for all mothers and fathers to self-select as parents who care about their children's educations, and if the children are enabled to move toward the front of the statewide class, they will know that a lack of effort can send them right back from whence they'd escaped.

    Facts and Figures in Tiverton

    Justin Katz

    Sometimes I find myself shaking my head at how teachers — of all people — are willing to allow themselves to appear:

    Teachers changed their proposal from a three-year contract to a two-year contract, but deMedeiros said the percentage salary increases did not differ much from a previous proposal. Instead of asking for 3.75 percent each year for three years, the latest proposal was for a total of 8 percent over two years.

    "We felt they were going backwards," deMederios said. "It's bad faith bargaining. They're still not recognizing that the money is just not there." ...

    A second offer made by the union at the end of the night was for 3.5 percent salary increases in year one, 3.75 in year two, and annual health benefit co-shares of $1,150 in year one and $1,300 in year two, Crowley said.

    "Their final offer is what did it," deMedeiros said of the committee's decision to seek arbitration. ...

    Several weeks later, teachers voted for "contract compliance," which calls for them to perform only work spelled out in the contract.

    The college fair, organized in past years by members of the guidance department, has been canceled, Rearick said. It was scheduled to be held in mid-October.

    The mock trial team doesn't have an advisor; neither does the math team or the National Honor Society. The haunted house that is organized by the senior class as a fundraising event may still take place with the aid of parent volunteers. Teachers also helped organize homecoming events in the past, but parents may be asked to take their place.

    "This hasn't made them popular," deMedeiros said. "I don't see how this works to their advantage. It's like they're holding the kids hostage. That's who they're punishing."

    Rearick said school officials have been informed that there will be no field trips. School officials are waiting for a reply from teachers about writing recommendations for seniors who are applying for early admission to college.

    Crowley said this morning that teachers have been writing recommendations and will continue to do so. He also said that teachers who are advisers to groups or classes are doing their advisory work, but only during normal school hours.

    The unions are a cancer in our education system. Cut them out, and teachers, parents, and elected officials can be on the same side again.

    October 3, 2007

    Would We Trust Us to Instruct?

    Justin Katz

    Disagreements would arise later in the conversation, but Mark Shea makes a point that too often (nearly always) goes unexplored:

    Two-year-olds Zola and Veronica Kruschel waddled through Folsom Street Fair amidst strangers in fishnets and leather crotch pouches, semi and fully nude men.

    The twin girls who were also dressed for the event wore identical lace blouses, floral bonnets and black leather collars purchased from a pet store.

    Fathers Gary Beuschel and John Kruse watched over them closely. They were proud to show the twins off.

    "They will see more than the kids with moms and dads in Iowa," said Beuschel, who wanted to expose his children to San Francisco's diverse community. "Every parent has to decide for themselves what is right for them. And I respect that. And we decided that this is right for our children."

    Beuschel and his girls were at the 22nd Folsom Street Fair, an annual leather event in San Francisco's South of Market district, which showcased outrageous costumes, fetish attire, and a community obsessed with bondage, whipping, and spanking.

    Now, when The Billion see such things and recoil, we have a choice. We can say: "They hate us for our freedom" or we can allow the dim suspicion to enter our minds that all is not well here in the Greatest Nation on God's Green Earth and that others are noticing the rot. In keeping with Zippy's point yesterday, there is a sharp distinction to be drawn between "understanding" and "justifying what the enemy does". But if we refuse to understand how we look, we will continue to talk as though things like the Folsom Street Fair and the blasphemies of Madonna and Christopher Hitchens (which we richly reward) are not marks of failure we regret but achievements to which we aspire--much as the residents of Sodom no doubt were filled with civic pride about their Way of Life.

    Quite simply, as we ourselves knew until fairly recently, such things are very rightly and properly worthy of the hatred and disgust of *any* sane person, not merely of Muslim radicals. It is a mark of the sickness of our culture that it is both necessary and dangerous to one's reputation to point this out. You risk being called a "fascist" or a "theocrat" to say it. Which is why so many don't. 9/11 was a great gift to the enemies of the Judeo-Christian tradition, because it provided them with the means to label every point of commonality between Judeo-Christian morals and Muslim morals as "Christianist" and to imply that anybody who has a moral objection to something a Muslim would object to is a budding tyrant.

    I thought something similar when I noted Sahar Zahedifar's use of the term "religious conservatives" to refer to reactionary powers in Iran. I don't know whether that usage is a device in Zahedifar's hands, but I'm sure that its potential for exploitation is not lost on those deceived by evil within our own culture.

    For Scheduling Purposes

    Justin Katz

    You might be interested in some of the events on the URI College Republicans' schedule for the semester, especially during Islamo-Facism Awareness Week later this month. I'm going to try to make it to both Donna Hughes's lecture on "Women's Rights and Political Islam" (October 23) and Robert Spencer's lecture the following evening (October 24).

    Conservative college groups are in a unique position to bring interesting speakers to the state, and we at Anchor Rising have certainly been talking about encouraging them to leverage that position. If you're similarly inclined, it might be worth your while to poke around the state College Republican Web site.

    Whitehouse Plays Politics with His State

    Justin Katz

    The Providence Journal editorial board is dead on in its criticism of Sheldon Whitehouse for furthering delays of judicial appointments in Rhode Island:

    Two important local federal judgeships on the U.S. District Court in Providence and U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (a seat long held by a Rhode Islander) have gone unfilled for 10 months.

    That's already an unfortunate delay. But Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D.-R.I.) argued recently that it's too late for the Bush administration to make these appointments. That means the vacancies would have to wait until well after a new president gets sworn in — in 2009!

    "There has been zero meaningful discussion between the White House and the Senate on these appointments," he complained.

    Such a stand, unfortunately, puts politics ahead of justice.

    Former Appeals Court Judge Bruce Selya, a Reagan appointee who left full-time service 10 months ago to create one of the vacancies, made some good points about this political brinksmanship.

    "I'm really very disappointed in the senator's remarks. This is not a political game. The courts and the country and the state need these judges, and the question ought to be not who makes these nominations but the quality of the nominees," he said.

    The Other Side of the Mediation in Tiverton

    Justin Katz

    Tiverton School Committee Vice Chairman Michael Burk offers the following response to some late night positioning from the NEA's spinner for Tiverton:

    Yes, the School Committee did decide to go to arbitration — which by state law is not binding for financial issues but is binding on non-financial issues (most of the non-financials were settled long ago). We did this because it is clear to us that the NEA leadership does not live in the same fiscal reality as we do and they seem to think we can simply find money that isn't there to pay for what they want. The last proposal they gave us last night actually asked for a greater salary percentage increase than the one they gave us earlier in the evening — which in our eyes is bad faith bargaining.

    The arbitration process allows the School Committee to consider recommendations made by the arbitration panel that are related to financial issues. However, if we still believe that we can't afford those recommendations, we can impose a contract for 1-year which does recognize
    current fiscal realities.

    There is one simple solution to all of this — the NEA leadership can acknowledge current reality, that funding their proposals on the backs of our property taxpayers is irrational and that we have the dollars we said we have to spend and not a penny more. Then we would be able to come to an agreement that is fair to our taxpayers, fair to our students, fair to our
    parents and fair to our teachers.

    S-CHIP Veto

    Marc Comtois

    The President vetoed the bill that sought to expand the S-CHIP program and our usual suspects piped up with the same old hyperbole:

    “Playing politics with the health care coverage of 10 million children is unacceptable, but that is exactly what President Bush did today when he vetoed H.R. 976, the reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, better known as RIte Care in Rhode Island,” Rep. Jim Langevin said.

    Langevin called it a "bipartisan plan" that would help more than 30,000 low-income Rhode Island children while not changing eligibility rules.

    "I look forward to the opportunity to cast my vote to override this unfortunate and misguided veto," Langevin said.

    Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said the veto “is a stunning rejection of one of America’s most deeply-held convictions: that every family, and every child, must have access to health care they can afford."

    Rep. Patrick Kennedy said it is “unconscionable" that Bush would veto something "aimed at providing 10 million children the health care they deserve. The President’s veto of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program is a slap in the face to families all across America."

    The fact is, the President would support a reauthorization, just not at the level Congress wants. And they knew it, so this is being played for political points, nothing else. Sure, there are some Republican Senators who are playing along, but I think it's because they like the idea of expanding government health-care into the middle-class for, shall we say, electoral reasons...Here's the President's explanation:
    First of all, the intent of the S-CHIP legislation passed previous to my administration is to help poor children's families buy the children health care, or get them on health care. That's what it is intended to do. Poor children in America are covered by what's called Medicaid. We spend about -- this year -- about $35.5 billion on poor children's health insurance....The S-CHIP program was supposed to help those poor families, the children of poor families have the ability to get health insurance for their children. I strongly support the program. I like the idea of helping those who are poor be able to get health coverage for their children....As a matter of fact, my budget -- the budget request I put in said, let's increase the spending to make sure that the program does what it's supposed to do: sign up poor children for S-CHIP....

    I want to tell you a startling statistic, that based on their own states' projections -- in other words, this isn't a federal projection, it's the states saying this is what's happening -- states like New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Illinois and New Mexico spend more money on adults in the S-CHIP program than they do on children. In other words, the initial intent of the program is not being recognized, is not being met.

    It is estimated by -- here's the thing, just so you know, this program expands coverage, federal coverage up to families earning $83,000 a year. That doesn't sound poor to me. The intent of the program was to focus on poor children, not adults or families earning up to $83,000 a year....

    Some have run the numbers and discovered the extent of the bloat:
    This would involve expanding the program to cover 4 million more children and adding $35 Billion to its cost, over the next five years. Assuming the dollars are base year and uniformly phased, the Senate version of S-CHIP makes the annual cost of the program increase from $4 Billion to $11 Billion. This would increase program costs by 175% on the top line.

    The unit cost per child insured also increases dramatically. The original program insured 6.9 million children, at a price of $4 Billion a year, for a unit price per child insured of approximately $580. The Senate program extension would insure roughly 11 Million children at approximately $11 Billion per year, for a cost of $1,000 per child. This is an increase of $420 per child, or a unit cost growth of 72%.

    Finally, one of the sponsors of the original S-CHIP legislation is against this new expansion:
    “I want to thank Majority Leader Henry Reid for recognizing that I cast the only correct vote about SCHIP in the state of Maryland,” said Congressman Roscoe Bartlett upon learning that the Senate Majority Leader mentioned today there was only one vote in Maryland to sustain the President’s veto of the SCHIP expansion.

    Congressman Bartlett added, “I’m proud that I voted to create the SCHIP program in 1997. I want to help the working poor, but Democrats are demanding that SCHIP be expanded to have government-controlled, taxpayer-paid health care for millions of children who already have private health coverage.”

    And so are some Republicans.

    Roland Benjamin: "It is time for a bold solution that eliminates the corporate income tax in Rhode Island"

    Engaged Citizen

    Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick visited Rhode Island last evening to discuss his state's triple-casino proposal, but Roland Benjamin thinks there are better ways for Rhode Island to compete with Massachusetts than by expanding gambling here…

    Quite a stir regarding the “not quite dead yet” Casino discussion. The debate reopens in response to rumblings from Massachusetts discussed in the Projo here:

    Murphy said gambling revenue critical to the state budget, which is projected to run a deficit for the next few years, will drain away to Massachusetts without action to protect Rhode Island’s slot parlors.
    It’s doubtful that the primary intent of the Speaker is to “protect” the slot parlors. It is more plausible that the revenue streams to the General Fund are more coveted. After all, that’s what they are looking for in Massachusetts.
    Patrick estimates the casinos would create 20,000 permanent jobs and raise $400 million in new annual revenues for Massachusetts.
    So the competing power brokers in the two states are looking to tap into a stream flowing largely into Connecticut, with some residual to Lincoln and Newport. The arguments always reference jobs and economic impact. But it is important and non-trivial to note that these casinos thrive off of wealth generated in other segments of the economy. They create no new wealth for anyone save a handful and end up effectively taxing the entire gaming population.

    Instead of taking the Me-Too approach, Rhode Island could view this as an opportunity to take an aggressive competitive stance with neighboring New England states. Why not go after an economic sector that creates wealth instead of one that consumes it? This would be a tremendous challenge given the current business climate of the state and the country for that matter.

    According to this KPMG study, the United States compares somewhat horribly to other countries with respect to corporate income tax rates. Of the 60 countries represented, the U.S. has a marginally lower rate than only 5 countries before adding in any state income taxes. Taken in conjunction with this study from the Tax Foundation, Rhode Island ranks worst among states in business tax climate. Add our own corporate income tax rate to the federal rate and the Rhode Island business tax climate is the worst on the planet.

    It is time for a bold solution that eliminates the corporate income tax in Rhode Island. After all, corporate income taxes are nothing more than an indirect tax on the employees working for the affected corporation or its owners. Dollars flowing to stakeholders (employees, shareholders, customers, etc.) will be taxed anyway, and dollars staying in the organization will be invested to generate more wealth for more people. Since corporations are far more able to move operations and capital to tax friendly regions, the brunt of this impact is felt by the actual workforce according to this CBO analysis.

    Given those values, when capital is perfectly mobile and the tax does not affect the world prices of traded goods, domestic labor bears slightly more than 70 percent of the long run burden of the corporate income tax.
    Because we do not have a competitive climate when compared to neighboring states, the effect on the workforce is even greater as many find employment in Massachusetts or Connecticut. But if Rhode Island were to slash the corporate income tax rate to zero, we would compete across ALL economic sectors, not just gaming. We would eat their proverbial lunch in attracting wealth creating business to our state. We would not have to worry about negotiating revenues from slot machines. Until we do something bold, every business that starts up or expands in Massachusetts is a missed opportunity here in Rhode island.

    East Providence: New "Heights" of Voter Fraud

    Monique Chartier

    Accusations of voter fraud in East Providence reached a hitherto unexplored level tonight when it was revealed that recently appointed School Committee Member Stephen DeCastro (D) is registered to vote in both Bradenton, Florida and East Providence, Rhode Island.

    In an emergency meeting at East Providence City Hall prompted by an inquiry from the Tax Assessor's Office, the East Providence Board of Canvassers reviewed documentation including certification that Mr. DeCastro was registered to vote in Manatee County, Florida as of July 27, 2004 and his Rhode Island Voter Registration Form indicating that he voted in the November, 2004 election in East Providence.


    It was noted that Mr. DeCastro had also voted in the 2006 election in East Providence but no documentation was presented because the East Providence Canvassing Authority had switched over to all electronic records by then. It is not presently known if Mr. DeCastro also voted in Florida in 2004 and 2006.

    While cautioning the Board that there may be mitigating circumstances (my characterization) to Mr. DeCastro's dual voter registration, East Providence City Solicitor William Conley also presented documentation or provided testimony that Mr. DeCastro had claimed homestead exemptions on both his Florida and Rhode Island residences (the latter potentially qualifying him for a 15% discount off the assessed value of his East Providence property); that he possesses a Florida drivers license; that he has vehicles registered in East Providence and that he specified his East Providence address on his personal income tax returns.


    On the basis of the considerable documentation placed in front of them, the Board of Canvassers voted to formally challenge Mr. DeCastro's right to vote in East Providence.


    According to Alisha Pina at the ProJo, School Committee Member DeCastro did not also vote in Florida.


    Images added.

    October 2, 2007

    Amgen Shows Economic Diversification is Best

    Marc Comtois

    I'm sure I've written something similar to this ProJo editorial before (I know the link is here somewhere....)

    What a state like Rhode Island must do to prevent being hammered by the decisions of one company is to focus less on attracting individual firms and sectors and more on creating an overall climate for companies, large and small, already doing business here or considering coming here. That means a solid physical infrastructure, building on the state’s comparative advantages (which the state has disastrously failed to do with its international-port potential), good schools and a tax structure not less attractive to business than neighboring states’. (The paucity of graduates in the Ocean State with the skills needed for high-level 21st Century work is probably the problem most frequently cited by executives of companies in doing business in the state.)

    Ignoring those requirements in favor of headline-grabbing deals with famous, glamorous individual companies and sectors is the road to economic disaster.

    Oh, here it is:
    Crafting specific, sweetheart deals seem to only work so long as they are in place. Once they expire, off go those who took advantage of them. Instead, we need to follow a holistic plan. The entire business climate needs to change to first attract, and then maintain, new employers. Targeted business tax credits aren't enough. What needs to be done is to lower the tax burden across the board and reduce the red-tape and regulatory roadblocks.
    Sheesh, if a Sox cap wearing yahoo like me can figure it out, what's taking all of the "smart" people so long?

    Gov. Carcieri Calls for Sen. Alves to Resign the Finance Committee Chairmanship

    Carroll Andrew Morse

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

    Speaking this morning on the John DePetro Show, Governor Carcieri added his voice to Gio Cicione in calling for state Senator Stephen Alves to resign his Senate Finance Committee chairmanship while he remains under federal scrutiny.

    Carcieri called for the state Ethics Commission -- which he has strengthened -- to take a harder line in policing potential conflicts of interest involving legislators.

    Justin Katz: Introducing Our Newest Contributor: You

    Engaged Citizen

    After a few years of blogging, during which the ebbs and flows of our writing have taken us each in several directions, on several levels of analysis, with multiple genres of writing, we've come to the conclusion that we can only cover so much ground. Would that we could develop in depth analysis — scatterplots, even — for every local, state, national, and global issue. Would that we could hound every town council and school committee in Rhode Island! Clearly, we need more eyes to see and fingers to type.

    On the other hand, we've been surprised at and encouraged by the personality that Anchor Rising has developed, with the aggregate influence of our individual voices. Although our door is ever open for new contributors, we've stood shoulder to shoulder in the opening, wary of inadvertent changes to the Web site's character.

    Engaged Citizen is our solution to these and other needs, desires, and problems. Our newest contributor is you. Rather, it could be you if you take the initiative. If you engage.

    As with everything we do, we're aware that the feature will develop of its own accord, so our rules for submissions will be very limited, at first. Each regular Anchor Rising contributor (with tenure of at least three months) has the capability of posting under the Engaged Citizen byline. When in doubt, email me. All entries must be published under your actual name, and your identity must be reasonably verifiable. All publication (and unpublication) is at our discretion, but all rights remain with you.

    Other than that, when it comes to thrust, length, detail, topic, and so on, the space is yours to define (under our watchful eyes, of course). Inasmuch as we're able to provide it, the opportunity is yours to help move this state out of the acrid waters in which it currently floats and to further the causes of reasonable discussion and the gradual acquisition of truth.

    To submit an Engaged Citizen post to Anchor Rising click "Email" next to my picture at left.

    Not to Be That Guy (Yet Again), But...

    Justin Katz

    I certainly don't want to raise opposition to men battling cancer, but I'm a little confused, and not entirely assuaged by this:

    Providence Firefighters James Petersen Jr. and Jay Briddy have colon cancer, and Lt. Steven Schora has lymphoma. All three are out injured — Petersen since 2005, Briddy since 2004 and Schora since 1997. They are still paid their full salaries and benefits in anticipation that they’ll return to work. But their doctors have told them they aren’t well enough.

    Firefighters can retire after 20 years with a pension equaling 50 percent of salary. An accidental-disability pension — which is what the union wants for firefighters with cancer — equals two-thirds of salary, tax-free, with full benefits. Disabled firefighters can also take back all the money they’ve contributed to the pension system, with interest.

    According to WebMD, while the causes of both colon cancer and lymphoma remain mysterious, environmental hazards are still considered likely suspects, and if firefighters are exposed to such hazards, the presumption ought to be in their favor. But for all of the noise, I'm not clear on the specifics of the current controversy.

    Mr. Schora, for instance, appears to have been collecting full pay and benefits for ten years while on the injured list. Presumably, even if he never makes it back to work, after 20 years, he can retire with the 50% pension. Is the union saying that, in that case, he ought to get the two-thirds pension (etc.), or would he be able to retire sooner because of disability? If he beats the cancer before retirement; does he go back to the regular pension, or would his designation be clinched? Do all other cities offer that deal, or are there a handful that the guys in Providence would like to emulate?

    I don't wish to be unduly contentious, but the union ought to consider other people's perspective. As somebody who periodically comes into contact with asbestos, for example, there's a chance that I could contract job-related colon cancer. If that were to happen, I'd be on my own.

    Now, I'm not arguing that everybody ought to be in my undesirable circumstances, but part of the reason I'm in them is the horrible absence of opportunity in this state, and part of the reason for that absence is the government and public sector's unsustainable generosity. That being the case, I guess I'm just not as ready to submit to the tone du jour and be relieved that the union didn't actually intend to threaten the disaster drill. Starting from my personal baseline of zero pension and zero concessions should I find myself battling cancer, I'm left with the question of why decades of full pay and a 50% pension isn't enough for people who are surviving their own battles. I also wonder whether improved tracking of hazardous incidents that may result in disease couldn't be put forward as a compromise governing future cases.

    October 1, 2007

    Consider the Children's Dreams

    Justin Katz

    Helen Glover feels for Stephen Alves, in a way similar to this frightening guy's feelings for Britney Spears.

    "The War"

    Marc Comtois

    I've finally started to watch Ken Burns' "The War" and just completed the first episode, "A Necessary War." It's an interesting social history to be sure and, not surprisingly, inspires comparisons between how war was perceived then and now, especially on the homefront.

    The centerpiece of the first episode was the battle for Guadalcanal and Sidney Phillips, a young Marine at the time, is a focal point. His narrative is compelling as he describes the hell that was Guadalcanal. He also provides glimpses into the mindset of the average Marine or soldier engaged in close combat. In one instance, he talks of finding fellow marines decapitated with their genitals cut-off and stuffed in their mouths. According to Phillips, after seeing that, he and his fellow Marines didn't take any Japanese prisoners.

    Meanwhile, his sister, Katharine Phillips, provides a counterpoint to Sidney's battle narrative. She talks of how a neighbor down the street would lose a son, and then someone across the street, then the next house over. All the while, her mother would visit and console and they would worry who would be next. Yet the most striking thing she said was that she didn't know how bad Guadalcanal was until after Sidney came home. No one on the homefront did. The 5,000+ casualties weren't reported. The brutal fighting wasn't shown on Movietone.

    In contrast, Katherine Phillips also talked about how the American public had been prepped for war against Nazi Germany for a few years prior to Pearl Harbor. The American public was shown some of the Nazi and Japanese atrocities on Movietone and they became convinced it was a moral imperative to act. When the time came, they were ready to go.

    They also didn't equate Nazi or Japanese propaganda with U.S. war reporting. Looking back, there can be no doubt that the U.S. glossed over things. But even then, even if the American people had known more, I doubt that they would have considered the press releases of the enemy as just "another point of view." It points to how much faster and accurate our wartime information has become since then and that difference helps to explain, at least partially, why WWII is considered "The Good War" and why subsequent conflicts aren't.

    There's much more to this episode and much more to the series as a whole. As I said, it is a social history most of all. Wartime tactics are only touched upon and it is the feelings of the average Americans involved that are explored most deeply. If you've seen your fill of documentaries on the "Hitler-story" Channel and want a different type of history of WWII, "The War" is worth watching.

    UPDATE: Edward Rothstein is more critical of Burns' historical method than I.

    By selectively telling history from below, by highlighting emotion and sketching everything else, Mr. Burns privatizes war. He takes one of the most necessary wars ever fought and leaves viewers wondering whether any public goal can be worth its price. Occasionally, we learn that during the war the government kept details about loss or film footage of suffering secret, out of fear that they would shake public purpose; here, such details and footage seem to serve that very effect. In interviews, Mr. Burns has suggested that his views of today’s American warfare affected his portrayal of the Second World War. Here too, though, he is letting feelings eclipse history.

    “The greatest sense I have about the war,” says one character at its end, is “relief we wouldn’t have to do any of that stuff again.” That is the teaching of this history from below. History from above tells us that unfortunately and terribly, we will.

    Good point.

    The Providence Firefighters' Teach-In: The Issue at the Core

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    As Providence Firefighters' Local 799 President Paul Doughty made clear, the union job action/teach-in on Sunday afternoon was not centered on the general contract dispute between the union and Mayor David Ciciclline, but on a specific situation involving firefighters Jay Briddy, James Petersen and Steven Schora, all of whom who have contracted cancers that prevent them from performing a full range of active duties.

    There are (at least) two different aspects to the grievance that Providence firefighters have with their city's handling of members of the department who develop cancer. One point of contention is that members of the Providence department do not receive the same level of cancer protection that firefighters in other Rhode Island communities receive. Amanda Milkovits explained this issue in her Projo coverage of the teach-in…

    The three firefighters’ applications for disability pensions went before the city retirement board this year. Doughty said the city solicitor found a “legal loophole” where Providence’s disability pensions don’t conform to the state law that presumes firefighters can contract cancer from their occupation.
    However, beyond the fact the Providence's handling of these situations is different from the rest of the state, an even more fundamental issue is in play, i.e. whether Providence will approve cancer disabilities under any condition.

    The individual doctors for firefighters Briddy, Petersen and Schora will not clear them to return to duty because, in their professional medical judgements, returning to active duty firefighting would pose an unacceptably high cancer risk. However, the city will not allow the firefighters to claim a job-related cancer disability because, according to the union, city policy is to not approve cancer disability claims unless a specific call where cancer was contracted can be determined.

    Given that it is extremely rare, if ever, that the cause of anyone's cancer can be tied to one specific event, the city policy doesn't seem wholly reasonable.

    The union's position is that if a doctor determines that a firefighter cannot perform his duties because of cancer, the presumption should be that he is entitled to a cancer related disability. And there is pretty solid medical evidence that the cumulative effects of firefighting duties do increase the risk of contracting cancer. The University of Cincinnati, for example, released an extensive study last year on this subject that was reported on by the BBC

    Firefighters are at a far higher risk of developing certain cancers than people in many other professions, US research suggests....Rates of testicular cancer were 100% higher and prostate cancer 28% higher among firefighters, their analysis of 32 US and European studies suggested....

    The US researchers looked at studies covering 110,000 firefighters, which compared cancer rates in that profession with the general population or other professions, the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reported.

    In addition to the 100% increase in testicular cancer cases among firefighters, the researchers also discovered a 50% increase in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

    At some point, when negotiating future contracts, the cold eyes of the actuaries are going to have to go over the figures, and make sure that benefits that are promised are reasonable, sustainable and won't bankrupt the city, which may require adjusting future disability levels, cancer or otherwise. But when an organization promises someone a benefit, it has a duty to deliver that benefit, especially in situations involving cancers and career callings, where there is precious little room for do-overs. If the City of Providence has been telling firefighters that they have special protection for cancer, then it has no right to create insurmountable bureaucratic rules intended to prevent anyone from taking advantage of that protection.

    The Providence Firefighters' Teach-In: Discussing the Public Alarm

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    The focus of yesterday's firefighters' union teach-in was on the cancer situation facing three Providence firefighters; we'll take that up directly in the next post. However, for better or for worse, attention became focused on Local 799's job-action because of its potential to shut down a statewide Homeland Security drill, a possible outcome that alarmed many citizens and public officials alike. I had the opportunity to ask Local 799 President Paul Doughty about the perceptions that were created...

    Anchor Rising: Sometimes things quoted in a newspaper read a little more harshly than they were said. In explaining your original job action plans, you said something to the effect of "how can we take care of you, when you won't take care of us". Do you understand how that might come across as frightening to the average citizens who depend on you guys?

    Local 799 President Paul Doughty: I do. The context I was trying to put it in was this: In the Providence Fire Department, it is an extra responsibility, a voluntary responsibility, to join the department's hazardous materials team. As a regular firefighter, you are routinely exposed to carcinogens, but as hazardous materials technician, it's even worse. You may be going into situations involving high concentrations of known carcinogens, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and the like. You have to go in and mitigate this situation.

    When I made the comment, I was saying how can you ask firefighters to do this extra but important work as hazardous materials technicians, knowingly sending them into carcinogen-laced atmospheres, but then telling them if they get cancer, they are on their own. That's what I meant. How can we provide a valuable and important service to the community, but if we get sick from that exact thing that we've agreed to do, not be allowed the cancer disability?

    AR: You've also said that it was never your intention to shut down the statewide drill.

    PD: That's correct.

    AR: If that was the case, why did you feel it was necessary make the comment to the effect that this drill wasn't too important to improving the tactical-level response of firefighters?

    PD: Again, that was a question about what the drill was going to do. As a street-line firefighter, for my exact membership, the skills that they're going over are tactical skills, getting in the suits and dragging people out. It's stuff that we're very comfortable with and we've done in other drills. For us, it wasn't a high-level drill. But I do recognize that my members benefit from state assets and Federal assets exercising together and coordinating their efforts.

    AR: Last question. I'm a silver-lining kind of guy. Do you think that one of the reasons this snowballed like it did was because you misjudged, just a little, how seriously the public takes disaster training and preparation, and how clued in they are to how important it is?

    PD: I will say yes directly to that question. And I think I also misjudged how much they care about our issues. I think there is an awareness of the cancer issue, and I think the public is concerned about it. Maybe I would have done better, just to raise the single issue. It's just that dealing with the Mayor has led to an unbelievable level of frustration.

    The Providence Firefighters' Teach-In: Paul Doughty Speaks

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Yesterday afternoon, following a statewide Homeland Security drill, the Providence Firefighters' Union (Local 799) held a teach-in on the steps of Providence City Hall. The purpose of the teach-in was to highlight the situations of Providence firefighters Jay Briddy, James Petersen, and Steven Schora, who have not been medically cleared to perform a full range of active duties due to cancer-related issues, but are not being allowed by the city to claim a cancer disability. Earlier in the week, Local 799 had planned an informational demonstration to run concurrently with the Homeland Security drill to bring attention to this situation, but altered their plans when the job-action threatened to severely curtail the training exercise. The president of Local 799, Paul Doughty, began the teach-in by explaining his union's position on the disability issue and on the choice of methods for bringing attention to it…

    Local 799 President Paul Doughty: My name is Paul Doughty, President of the Firefighters Local 799. On behalf of all Providence firefighters, and particularly those of our brothers who are engaged in another kind of fight, the fight against cancer, I am proud to welcome you to this first of its kind of teach-in. I'd like to introduce, to my left, Captain Jeff Varone and Lieutenant Mike Morse, and to my right, firefighter Jim Petersen, firefighter Jay Briddy, and Lieutenant Steve Schora.

    Before we begin our exchange on the issue at hand, which is the manner in which the City of Providence has chosen to ignore its firefighters afflicted with cancer, I'd like to clarify once more for the record the evolution of this event. Evolution is the best word I can come up with to describe our thinking, as we moved from the idea of a demonstration at the site of today's Homeland Security drill, to a post-drill teach-in at City Hall. Over the past 72 hours, many people have attempted to describe our change in plan as some sort of defeat. Nothing could be further from the truth. All along, our intention has been to take advantage of the intense media interest in the drill to hammer home our position on the tragic unfairness of the city's policy on cancer care for its firefighters.

    It was never our intention to negatively impact the drill itself. Anyone who would have you believe anything to the contrary is misinformed.

    Let me put it another way. Providence firefighters did not step back from their original plan to demonstrate. Rather we stepped forward, to a more refined and what we hope is a more effective method. In doing so, we're able to simultaneously support the drill and make our point here and now. I have no doubt whatsoever that many people are bitterly disappointed that the confrontation in which they had invested so much political capital has vanished and in its place, there has arisen an opportunity to communicate, teach and learn. I have no doubt whatsoever that they would have preferred to continue to invoke the holiest of holies, homeland security, to demonize Providence Firefighters as individuals who would place their own interests over the safety and security of our country.

    I have no doubt whatsoever that Mayor Cicilline intends to continue to use the members of the firefighters' union as rungs on his ladder to the statehouse. Well, we're sorry to disappoint you Mayor, but you will not be allowed to mischaracterize our goals and actions any longer. We're sorry that we've denied you the opportunity to make political hay by spinning this issue cynically and unconscionably for your own political benefit. Mayor Cicilline, you may think you hold the high ground, but no ground is higher than moral high ground.

    Firefighters have continuously demonstrated their wholehearted commitment to homeland security, not only in drills, but in real events. The smoke had not yet cleared when dozens of Providence firefighters voluntarily responded to New York City to participate in rescue and recovery efforts. The water had not yet receded when dozens of firefighters, again of their own choice, responded to the aftermath of hurricane Katrina to begin rescue and recovery efforts.

    Throughout the years, since the words "homeland security" were introduced to our vocabulary, Providence firefighters have stepped up and led, not only this department and this state, but parts of this country, in training and preparedness. Actions, not words, define our commitment to homeland security. Don't you dare try to depict Providence firefighters as being less than wholly committed to the security of the United States. Don't you dare try to paint our insistence at protecting our brother firefighters from cancer as petty, unreasonable and unjust.

    This fight, from the beginning, was about three members that were about to be forced off the job. One of those three members has cancer at this minute. In our mind, this is unconscionable. We had begun discussions in June of this year. The city turned their back both on the discussion and on this firefighter and they were prepared to send him out. If not for our actions this week, they would be on that path.

    Again I'll repeat, we wanted to highlight the event. We needed the event to go on. Otherwise, I can't imagine how many people would be here today, if we had only sent out a press release saying there's an issue about three firefighters who have cancer.

    We hope that the entire state takes notice of this unjust treatment, a situation where two firefighters, one from another community, and one from Providence, could be doing the same exact activity, both going into a hazardous material incident, much like what was simulated next door to here today. If they both contracted cancer, the one from the other community would be covered, and the one from Providence would not be covered.

    And that's our story.

    The Way It's Done

    Justin Katz

    This definitely has a very Rhode Island ring to it:

    When a family-owned Pennsylvania trucking company announced plans early this year to build a New England distribution center in Johnston and create 120 well-paying jobs, Governor Carcieri and Mayor Joseph M. Polisena hailed it as an economic triumph.

    But when tax-incentive legislation to help lure the company to Rhode Island went up to the State House, it ran into an unexpected roadblock — Sen. Stephen D. Alves, D-West Warwick, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.

    Now, the FBI is investigating whether Alves killed the measure to punish Polisena for not investing Johnston pension funds with Alves, a stockbroker.

    The federal investigation is part of a larger probe of the possible intersection of Alves’ private investment business with his public office — a probe that has reached into Johnston, Woonsocket, Cranston, Lincoln and Alves’ hometown of West Warwick, according to officials in those communities. ...

    A UBS spokeswoman in New York said Friday that the company is “cooperating fully” with the investigation, but declined to elaborate. She confirmed that Alves has left UBS, but would not say why.

    I have no idea how the FBI would prove such a thing. In some places, the controversy would be enough to cost Alves his position, as it may have cost him his job. In Rhode Island... well, in Rhode Island, I suspect we'd be surprised how few people in West Warwick know who he is.

    $300,000,000 OBO

    Justin Katz

    Mark Patinkin's hypothetical auction summary for Rhode Island (as in auctioning off the state) had me laughing out loud yesterday:

    Founded 371 years ago by a difficult cast of characters expelled from neighboring states, it was the first of 13 colonies to renounce the crown. It later became the last to ratify the Constitution. This is not inconsistent, as Rhode Islanders do not like to be told what to do. The state was once famously described by writer H.P. Lovecraft as “That universal haven of the odd, the free and the dissenting.”

    Unlike the pantywaists in Boston who merely tossed tea in their harbor to protest taxation, Rhode Islanders once burnt down an entire British tax ship. Oddly, now that locals are in control of the state treasury, Rhode Island may be the most heavily taxed state anywhere.

    Hopes for saner tax policy rest with the General Assembly, an evenly balanced body that is 85-percent Democratic. The Democrats, however, are independent thinkers who guarantee they will only vote what “they” feel is right. In this case, the word “they” means “unions.”

    The upside for the high bidder is that unlike other states, which are increasingly crowded, studies predict that 74 percent of the local population will soon move to Florida (otherwise known as Flahridder) because it has no income tax.

    Yup. It's a state of "friendly people," too, as he explains.