January 31, 2008

Facing the Dietary Realities of the State

Justin Katz

On the back of the Rhode Island section of today's paper is a Timothy Barmann piece on Governor Carcieri's efforts to "encourage healthy lifestyles":

The majority of Rhode Islanders could stand to shed a few pounds, and Governor Carcieri wants to help.

Yesterday, the governor launched what he’s calling Healthy Weight in 2008, a campaign designed to educate residents about eating properly and encourage them to exercise. ...

In Rhode Island, 38 percent of adults are overweight and another 18 percent are considered obese. That means that 56 percent of Rhode Island adults weigh more than they should. ...

Treating these illnesses is expensive, and taxpayers pick up about half the cost of treatments directly attributed to obesity, according to the governor, citing a report by the National Governors Association. In Rhode Island, the costs for medical expenses covered by Medicaid and Medicare for obesity-related illnesses cost each taxpayer $185, the governor said.

Doesn't anybody want to argue that the governor just isn't facing the dietary realities of the state? That he's got an anachronistic vision of housewives who have the time to prepare healthy home-cooked meals for their families? I ask because, at the tail end of Steve Peoples's front page story on Carcieri's state-house press conference, such objections arise to the governor's intention to "encourage two-parent families, a move that would likely reduce dependency on welfare benefits and other social programs":

Linda [Of No Relation to the Anchor Rising Guy] Katz, policy director for the Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College, said the governor's perspective is skewed.

"He's got a very '50s model of what a family looks like with mom home cooking the meals while dad goes off to the job. Then you don't have to pay for childcare, mom's home raising the kids," she said. "I think his vision doesn't meet the economic realities of the state."

Personally, I think it sails over Ms. Katz's head that the distance between Carcieri's vision for the state and its realities is precisely the point. A healthier society — in both dietary and familial concerns — would make for a healthier Rhode Island. That, after all, is why the governor believes it is necessary to encourage the behavior and change the culture of the state in that respect.

It's possible that Mr. Peoples misses this point, as well, given his second paragraph:

The plan would begin diverting hundreds of seniors and disabled Rhode Islanders on Medicaid away from expensive institutional care as soon as July, pushing them to depend on visiting nurses, assisted-living situations, or even their families.

Not their families! What sort of evil society would encourage (let alone insist on) families' taking care of their members, even during difficult years of decline? We really need a social worker in the governor's chair, not a businessman — cold-hearted bunch that businessmen are.


I notice that Mr. Peoples (in conjunction with multiple reporters on the political beat) takes a moment to explain that the Family Independence Program (that is, cash payments to the poor) is "commonly known as welfare." Perhaps I'm not the only one complaining about Projo reporters' overuse of Poverty Institute legerdemain. At any rate, a review of the various definitions under "welfare" on m-w.com suggests that most usages of the word involve the whole collection of "services for the assistance of disadvantaged groups." That's why folks commonly refer to a "welfare system" or a "welfare state."


I'm guilty of a bit of style over justice. As Tim points out in the comments, Peoples's piece is a to-the-letter example of activist media. The front-page headline exclamation of "Medicaire Cuts"and the skewed text under it (which I tried to convey above) are a sucker punch aimed at the governor and those he represents. One must dig into the paper to learn that advocates for the elderly actually support the change. (Of course, Peoples does his best to corrupt even that bit of honesty with practical complaints unleavened with the governor's response).

Don't think for a moment that some of the Projo's staff aren't fully active members of the behind the scenes coalition to sink Rhode Island for profit and ideological pride.

Being the Homework

Justin Katz

Judging from the Providence Journal's letters section, social work students at Rhode Island College have been given the assignment of denouncing Bill Felkner's January 13 op-ed. Amanda Eyes is the latest "candidate for a master's degree in social work" to make the opinion page, and she contributes the following interesting statistic:

The problem with dialogue about public policy is that few are willing to share the full story. Finding a job in Rhode Island that pays enough to support a family without more than a high-school diploma or its equivalent is impossible. Without some form of post-secondary education or training, minimum-wage jobs are the only option (thanks to many of the manufacturing jobs that are now overseas). According to the Poverty Institute’s published document, the 2006 Rhode Island Standard of Need, the cost of basic necessities, food, clothing, health care, transportation, housing and child care for a family of four requires an annual income of $60,000, or $28.85 an hour.

I'll testify, as the breadwinner for a family of five who makes quite a bit less than $60,000 per year, that this standard of need is probably pretty accurate. Does that make me a candidate for welfare and special programs? I certainly hope not; if such families line up for public handouts, who would be left to finance them?

As I keep endeavoring to explain, that income line is the entry level of the group that is fleeing Rhode Island. They do not want handouts (they couldn't live on them anyway); they want opportunity, and the only way to provide that is to get the public sector out of the way.

The Economic Death and Dismemberment Act

Justin Katz

If the "Economic Growth and Fairness Act" proposed yesterday by RI Representative Arthur Handy (D, Cranston) and Senator Paul Moura (D, East Providence) becomes law, it will blow away any lingering wisps of hope that our state can pull out of its current crisis without utter collapse. Based on a report (PDF) issued by The Campaign for Rhode Island's Priorities — a frighteningly truthfully name, that — the legislation is essentially a plan for the unions and the poverty pimps to advance their causes during these hard times by further soaking everybody else, plying, most of all, the sensibilities of their liberal allies based on the premise that heavily progressive taxation is a moral imperative.

Here's where the foreboding music starts playing in the background as one reads the report:

... we must re-invest in state aid to education and move towards implementation of a predictable and fair formula for state aid to education so cities and towns will be relieved of the struggle to provide quality education on decreasing budgets.

Finally, we must address policy changes that will responsibly reduce state spending while also ensuring high quality services. The Campaign for Rhode Island’s Priorities supports the following measures.

• Implementation of the Long-term Care Act. Currently, elderly and adults with disabilities represent 25% of the state’s Medicaid caseload but account for 66% of Medicaid spending, much of it on expensive long-term institutional care. By shifting spending to quality community care alternatives, an option our elderly and disabled overwhelmingly prefer, we would save significant Medicaid dollars in a way that Rhode Islanders want.

• Implementation of Coordinated Health Planning to stem the rising cost of health care. A state health plan means a comprehensive approach to structural investments and service coordination, helping to make the overall health care system more affordable.

• Investment in reliable jobs by ending private contractor waste.

• Investment in prevention of crime, drug addiction, alcoholism and domestic violence to reduce the state’s prison population and budget. And, elimination of drug-related minimum sentencing requirements to reduce the number of Rhode Islanders sentenced to the ACI.

• Investment in appropriate foster parent recruitment and support to reduce high cost institutional placement of youth in DCYF care.

• Improvements in energy efficiency at state buildings to save on energy costs.

• Reinvestment in the state’s RIte Care, Child Care, and other work support programs to ensure every Rhode Islander has the opportunity to work, learn and stay well.

Even writing off, as typos, such conspicuous errors as forgetting to add non-home property taxes to the property tax total for every group except the bottom quintile (when, as a percentage of income, the top 1% of earners pay seven times more than the lowest 20%), one has to admire the chutzpa of the groups that have endorsed The Campaign.

The hook to silence the anxious majority is a "property tax rebate capped at $600," which enables the group's claim that the act will "reduce the taxes paid by nearly 90% of Rhode Islanders." Any citizens finding themselves attracted to the promise ought to consider the group's own example of how the numbers work out. According to the report, the following are the taxes currently paid by "a Cranston resident, married filing a joint return with a household income at the state’s mean of $51,498":

Income Tax $1,200
Property Tax $3,988
Sales Tax $1,175
Total Taxes $6,363

Here are the taxes for the same family under the "Economic Growth and Fairness Act":

Income Tax $1,320
Property Tax $3,988
Sales Tax $1,234
Total Taxes $6,542
Sub Total $6,542
15% Rebate from RI -$598
Total Tax $5,944
Total Tax Savings $419

Notice something? Even by these undoubtedly sunny numbers, the pre-rebate tax bill is actually higher for this "average family" under the proposed regime. Note, especially, that the property tax isn't actually reduced. Were a town to raise property taxes as much as the Tiverton town administrator has suggested for his town (around 12.2%), most families would see that "rebate" disappear. Perhaps more importantly, we mustn't forget that the process will be for the state to collect more in income and other taxes and then to send checks out to taxpayers as a titular rebate. Should revenue continue to decline and costs continue to increase, it would be a simple matter for the rebate checks to suddenly be deemed "unaffordable."

One reason that revenue might decline isn't given so much as lip service in the report: Those wealthy folks whom The Campaign proposes to tax in a variety of ways (including a 9% increase in income taxes) will have even more incentive to leave the state and/or not to invest in capital-related projects. Now, factor in the following, from the General Assembly's press release linked above:

Additionally, the plan would impose a 2-percent gross receipts tax on accounting and legal services, the largest part of which are business-to-business transactions. Legal services for Family Court proceedings would be exempt.

It's encouraging that the spokesman for House Majority Leader Gordon Fox (D, Providence) says that "right now, [Fox] does not support raising any taxes." It's worrisome that the spokesman for Senate President Joseph Montalbano (D, North Providence) doesn't think "anything's off the table at this point."

It's far too easy see some variation of this legislation's being enacted, and to predict the consequences.

Providence is #10 (Most Miserable City)

Marc Comtois

So sayeth Forbes:

Misery is defined as a state of great unhappiness and emotional distress. The economic indicator most often used to measure misery is the Misery Index. The index, created by economist Arthur Okun, adds the unemployment rate to the inflation rate. It has been in the narrow 7-to-9 range for most of the past decade, but was over 20 during the late 1970s.

There also exists a Misery Score, which is the sum of corporate, personal, employer and sales taxes in different countries. France took the top spot (or perhaps bottom is more appropriate) with a score of 166.8, thanks to a top rate of 51% on personal incomes and 45% for employer Social Security.

But aren't there other things that cause Americans misery? Of course. So we decided to expand on the Misery Index and the Misery Score to create our very own Forbes Misery Measure. We're sticking with unemployment and personal tax rates, but we are adding four more factors that can make people miserable: commute times, weather, crime and that toxic waste dump in your backyard.

We looked at only the 150 largest metropolitan areas, which meant a minimum population of 371,000. We ranked the cities on the six criteria above and added their ranks together to establish what we call the Misery Measure. The data used in the rankings came from Portland, Ore., researcher Bert Sperling, who last year published the second edition of Cities Ranked & Rated along with Peter Sander. Economic research firm Economy.com, which is owned by Moody's, also supplied some data.

Here is the top Ten:

  1. Detroit, MI
  2. Stockton, CA
  3. Flint, MI
  4. New York, NY
  5. Philadelphia, PA
  6. Chicago, IL
  7. Los Angeles, CA
  8. Modesto, CA
  9. Charlotte, NC
  10. Providence, RI

Perception is reality, folks. Here's what they say about Providence:

No. 10
Providence, R.I.


Commute times 69
Income tax rates 149
Superfund sites 111
Unemployment 121
Violent crimes 51
Weather 110

Misery Measure 611

Only New York City fares worst than Providence when it comes to income tax rates. The top rate for all of Rhode Island is 9.9%. Residents are fleeing the area, with a net migration of 20,000 out of the area over the past four years.

I'm No Fool, No Siree, I'm Gonna Live to Be Two-Hundred and Three Eighty-Three

Justin Katz

I'd have added some sort of spiritual fortification to Dogbert's advice, but his assessment is compelling.

It reminds me of one of my father's favorite topics: the notion that production and healthcare both are going to create a reality in which none of our historical social models apply. Everybody's going to live a very long time, and nobody's going to actually have to do anything (with automation and whatnot). So how are we going to order our society, especially with regard to distribution?

Personally, I think that analysis too greatly minimizes human hamartia, projecting the future based on the misleading present. Whatever the case, I'm also reminded of a small diner in the town in which I went to high school that served a particular breakfast sandwich called the Zebra. It was essentially an entire cholesterol-rich breakfast on toast.

It might be an appropriate use of government resources to distribute those around the country...

January 30, 2008

Working Toward an Ideal

Justin Katz

We thank everybody who's contributed to our fundraising efforts thus far, but we're still a ways off even from covering expenses. If you've yet to do so, please take a moment to consider what might be an appropriate contribution, for you, and make it.

Rhode Island is going to need alternative sources of information in the years to come. We're obviously not the only voices out there in the wilderness. We might not even be the best, and we're certainly a long, long ways from the ideal, but we're working on it.

We'll keep pushing Anchor Rising forward to the best of our abilities regardless, but there will increasingly be a direct correlation between how much help we receive and how much more we can do.

Donations of $60 or more will inspire a gift of this year's AR apparel choice, a navy blue sport shirt with red collar trim and the Anchor Rising logo on the left of the chest:

Here's a picture of the Anchor Rising logo as it was embroidered on the hats that we ordered last year, and as it will be embroidered on this year's shirts:

Donations of any size can be made via PayPal by clicking the "Donate" button. Checks or money orders — made out to me (for the time being) — can be sent to:

Justin Katz
Anchor Rising
P.O. Box 751
Portsmouth, RI 02871

Again, shirts are a limited-time offer for donations made before Monday, February 11. Be sure to provide an address and your shirt size.

Every Argument Will Be Made to Raise Taxes

Justin Katz

Beware unsigned opinion pieces phrased in the first person. The instance in mind is this post from A Blog Called Hope, which appears to be a somewhat official production of the Rhode Island Democrats:

I know everyone hates taxes, but a longer and more destructive recession would be much worse.

Actually, it simply isn't the case that "everyone hates taxes." Some folks' livelihoods depend on taxes. Some folks currently see the situation in Rhode Island as taxes versus their own largess. And some folks believe it to be a simple matter of justice for the right people to be taxed. Whether "I" is among these groups is impossible to tell. What's not impossible to tell is whether the argument that he or she puts forward reasonably applies to Rhode Island:

I invite Governor Carcieri to read a report written during the last recession by Peter Orszag and Joseph Stiglitz. The report essentially reads that given the two options of cutting spending or raising taxes, the latter option is the least harmful for the economy during recessions.

The reasoning is pretty straight-forward, although anathema to Republican thought. Basically, everything is dependent on an individual’s propensity to consume. And as Americans, we all love to spend our money on stuff! A reduction in government spending on goods and services will reduce consumption by exactly the same amount. For every dollar that the government does not spend, the economy does not generate that economic activity. Conversely, if taxes are increased by $1, there may be a drop in consumption by 90 cents while savings is reduced by 10 cents. This scenario is less harmful to the economy that the former.

Having skimmed the mentioned report, I'll go further than Orszag and Stiglitz: At the state level, unless the tax targeted for cutting is the sales tax or is realized in the form of a rebate, tax cuts probably have almost no tangible benefit toward ending a recession. (For simplicity, I'm ignoring intangible effects such as increased optimism based on the tenor of legislative debate.) By the time the government realizes that a recession is in effect and takes action, the downturn is likely to have run most of its course. In the case of tax reductions, actual cash yields from tax cuts are delayed even longer.

But recession (whether existing, pending, or threatening) is not the problem in Rhode Island; it's merely an exacerbation. Rather, the problem is the structural deficit and the economy-draining policies that make up the structure. Raising taxes to ensure that those to whom the state dollars go can continue to consume would not only not solve the long-term problem, because those taxes would have to be raised again as costs go up, it would make the problem worse, because the cost/benefit analysis of living in Rhode Island would cross a line for even more residents. And they'll take that taxable dollar — and the cumulative millions like it — out of play altogether.


Incidentally, I'm not ceding the Democrats' argument that government spending is good for the state during a recession. The type of spending that they usually mean — handouts and other social programs, which go straight to the consumer category — has less economic value. The $1 bill is spent, but it dissipates into the economy. Subtract taxes, subtract the cost of goods brought in from elsewhere, subtract the cut of the dollar that goes back to the corporations (including, liberals might shudder to hear, executives), and so on.

On the other hand, a dollar left in the hands of local entrepreneurs, business owners, and other active citizens — all in the producer category — grows more money. They invest in local real estate, order more goods from local suppliers, hire more local employees, and so on. Even when they consume, I'd wager that it's more likely to be for productive purchases. (Picture me buying a new nail gun, which helps me to work more quickly, to complete jobs in a more timely fashion, and to negotiate a higher salary based on the utility of my work van.)

Whitehouse's Actions Commensurate with Danger

Justin Katz

RI Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D, Ocean Drive) has personal experience with the dangers of global warming:

Scientists say the world needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.

Repeating the mantra of frustrated environmental advocates across the world, Whitehouse told a supportive audience that President Bush should "lead or get out of the way."

Whitehouse said he has seen the evidence of rising temperatures locally.

The senator said he was alarmed to see the cherry tree at his Providence home bloom in January, and expressed concern over the warming of Narragansett Bay, and how even just one degree can throw the delicate ocean ecosystem off balance, often with dire consequences.

The good Senator is so alarumed that he's going to sell all but one of his properties and split his profits between scientists and all of the people who will experience economic harm from stringent policies aimed at reducing the damage.

Sorry; couldn't keep a straight face. The Senator's actual course of action is to make high-profile speeches and work toward the election of "a president that will lead the nation, and complement the Democratic majority in Congress." No word on whether such a leader would pressure the hoities on Martha's Vineyard to accept the terrible inconvenience of windmills in their views and perhaps even in some areas in which they like to pleasure cruise.

January 29, 2008

Giuliani Making it Official?

Carroll Andrew Morse

ABC News is reporting (on Nightline) that Rudy Giuliani will withdraw tomorrow and endorse John McCain.

Florida GOP Primary: McCain Wins It

Monique Chartier

Senator John McCain has won the Florida primary. Further, those fifty seven delegates have given him the "yellow jersey" of the Republican Presidential primary.

Delegate-wise, here is where they stand:

McCain - 95

Romney - 67

Huckabee - 26

Paul - 6

Giuliani - 1

Station Fire Survivor Concert: Phoenix Rising

Marc Comtois

On February 20th, 2003 I started blogging. The next day, February 21, 2003, the Station Night Club Fire (<= link to original story) occurred and I blogged about it throughout the day.


Now it's five years later and the survivors still need our help. There will be a benefit concert on February 25 to help them out. Artists are from across the spectrum (including metal, rock and country) are scheduled to perform. Keep it in mind.

(More info below the cut)

John Rich (Big & Rich), Alabama’s Randy Owen, Dierks Bentley, Kellie Pickler and Gretchen Wilson have just been added to the Phoenix Rising! Musicians United to Benefit the Victims of the Station Nightclub Fire concert.

As previously announced, Tom Scholz (Boston), Aaron Lewis, Tesla, Twisted Sister, Kevin Max and Stryper are all confirmed to perform Monday, February 25, 2008 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island.

John Rich will host the country portion of the concert while Dee Snider will do the honors for the rock segments.

Additional confirmed artists include Emmy-nominated composer and musician Marc Bonilla who will serve as music director for the benefit, Carmine Appice’s SLAM!, Gary Pihl (Boston), Eric Martin (Mr. Big), Danny Seraphine with CTA, Gary Hoey and others still to be announced.

“Dee Snider of Twisted Sister reached out to me to put together a coalition of country artists to help raise money for the families that have lost their loved ones,” commented John Rich. “ All of my friends in country music responded immediately with yes. No matter what music you play or listen to we are all one family, and we need to help each other out especially in time of need.”

Dee Snider stated, “This event is about music fans desperately in need, so it’s important that “Phoenix Rising Musicians United to Benefit the Station Nightclub Fire Victims” be supported by musicians of all genres. We are so happy to welcome John Rich and his rowdy friends aboard for this very important mission.”

The charity event marks the fifth anniversary of the Station Nightclub tragedy in Rhode Island, the fourth largest nightclub fire in U.S. history. 100 lives were lost, 200 others were seriously injured and 65 children lost one or both parents. Five years later, funds available for the survivors are woefully inadequate. Only 15 survivors of the fire qualified for Social Security benefits, and many are still unable to meet their monthly needs.

All proceeds from ticket sales and charity auctions benefit the Station Family Fund, a non-profit 501 (c)(3) charitable organization founded by survivors of the Station Nightclub fire. The Station Family Fund is committed to providing survivor relief, including costs of ongoing treatment and rehabilitation.

Organizers would like to acknowledge the incredible generosity of the Dunkin’ Donuts Center www.dunkindonutscenter.com as well as East Coast Lighting, Scorpio Sound, WHJY and the many artists and others who are donating their time in putting together this event.

The Station Family Fund, founded by survivors, family members and community members affected by the fire and the Wake Up To Love Foundation founded by Tesla drummer Troy Luccketta and his wife, Phyllis Luccketta are event organizers. While $100,000.00 was raised in 2005 from a benefit concert featuring Tesla, Shinedown, Pat Travers and Carmine Appice, those funds are in desperate need of replenishing.

Personal Connection to the State of the Union

Marc Comtois

One of the people in the First Lady's Box at last night's State of the Union Address was Army Staff Sgt. Craig Charloux, and old high school friend of mine from Maine. He couldn't make our 20th reunion this past summer because he was in Iraq. Here's more about Craig:

After leaving the military, Charloux owned an automobile repair shop in Hermon, [Maine] and later re-enlisted in the Army in 2005. In total to date, he has served nine years in the military.

His re-enlistment "was a result of 9-11, and the other reason I came back in the Army was because I was missing the Army," he said Monday.

Once back serving in the U.S. Army, Charloux was assigned to the 1st Calvary Division out of Fort Hood, Texas. He deployed for 14 months to Diyala Province, Iraq, in 2006, where he served as a squad leader in an Armored Reconnaissance Squadron. Charloux’s squad was ambushed during a raid in September 2007, and his arm, face, eyes and leg were injured by two grenade blasts. Despite his wounds, Charloux called for a medical evacuation of his soldiers and the raid collected a large quantity of enemy weapons and explosives and resulted in the deaths of eight al-Qaida operatives.

Charloux has received two National Defense Medals, two Army Commendation Medals, an Army Good Conduct Medal and soon will be awarded a Purple Heart for his service. Although wounded in combat, Charloux did not leave Iraq immediately, and only reunited with his wife, Bobbi Jo, and son, Stephen, 9, at the end of his deployment on Nov. 26, 2007....

When asked to weigh in on troop withdrawals and some of the timelines outlined by campaigning presidential candidates, Charloux responded, "As an NCO [non-commissioned officer] in the U.S. Army I concentrate on the duties of my soldiers and perform the mission given to me."

I'm proud to know him.

Reviewing my Presidential Predictions, or I Like My Eggs Sunny-Side Up

Carroll Andrew Morse

Today is the official end of the beginning of the primary season, as the last "early" state, Florida, votes. One way or another, the Republican race will be transformed in a fundamental way, either with Rudy Giuliani emerging as a viable candidate in a three-way race with John McCain and Mitt Romney heading into Super-Tuesday, or, as seems increasingly likely, Giuliani fading fast after a poor showing, and the race becoming a two-way between McCain and Romney.

However, if you go to the tape, and review the Presidential predictions I made in my last appeared on On the Record with Jim Hummel (WLNE-TV, ABC 6), you may decide to disregard anything I have to say about Presidential politics anyway.

1. On the Republican side, my big predictions were 1) John McCain was dead (oops) and 2) we were waiting to see how organized the Fred Thompson campaign was, to determine how it would impact the race.

Since then, we've learned that McCain wasn't dead and Thompson wasn't organized enough to impact the race at all. I missed Mike Huckabee completely. Even if McCain doesn't win the nomination, there's really no way to spin this as me having coming anywhere close.

My error was buying into the idea that the compressed primary schedule meant that early state momentum wouldn't matter as much as it has in the past, but whatever the primary schedule is, to win a national campaign, a candidate must be able to effectively campaign across the nation. If a candidate can't make him or herself competitive in at least one early state (when there's a diverse mix of early states voting), it means that there's a good chance that he or she may not be able to connect with voters anywhere. Future prognosticators, learn from my experience, go forth and be wise.

2. On the Democratic side, I predicted that Hillary Clinton would probably win the nomination, barring a perfect Barack Obama campaign combined with a Clinton gaffe.

Though the Democrats appear neck and neck now, this prediction was closer to the mark. I don't know if I'd call Obama's campaign "perfect", but it's certainly been solid, while the Clinton campaign's decision to turn former President Clinton lose as a raging pit-bull certainly looks to have become a serious and unnecessary negative, reminding everyone (including some Dems who would never admit it publicly) what they didn't like about the Clinton years and giving establishment Dems a respectable reason for breaking ranks with the Clinton machine.

And now on to Super-Tuesday, for which I will be offering no predictions (just incredibly insightful analysis)...

Florida Today (officially and not...)

Marc Comtois

The Florida primary is the big story of the day for GOP presidential hopefuls...and unofficially for Democratic hopefuls who can't believe they may be losing.

Kinda like this.... (h/t):

So, Tu?

Justin Katz

I didn't catch the State of the Union last night, but I've explained, before, that I have a hard time getting riled up for state of the x speeches.

I will say that I continue to be struck by the irrational hatred of George Bush on the Left. Much of the fire, it seems to me, derives from his having twice stood in the way of Democrat rule, of destiny. No doubt Obama owes much to a nearly messianic narrative. He'll unite the country... without compromising the liberal vision. The heavenly gates of Camelot will pour forth their glory. Rolling Stone will lie down with the Nation.

Whoever has the honor of carrying the torch for the Republicans should brace himself, if he wins the general election, for some of the most vile treatment in American political history.

January 28, 2008

F.A.C.T.S. = Functional Absurdities Contorted for Teacher Salaries

Justin Katz

I originally posted this in response to Pat Crowley's ranting on RIFuture. Since he's published the same propaganda as a letter to the Providence Journal, I thought it worth bumping the post to the top.

It is sufficiently tedious to respond to "analysis" from the NEA's Pat Crowley that, when it's limited to RI Future, it's hardly worth doing so. When one considers that he has a direct financial interest in his conclusions, the rest looks like the pure static that it is — meant to be hypnotic, but a mere annoyance when so poorly executed.

I'm the "lead spokesperson" for the "I Hate Rhode Islanders" crowd, according to him. See, Crowley goes right for the demagoguery: "Justin hates you! Fork over more money to the government." Yup. I simply want my state to provide folks in my circumstances a fair shot at making a living. Crowley wants to raid taxpayers wallets to fund lavish salaries, benefits, and pensions for his clients (union teachers) and to stroke his ideological ego by forcing others to subsidize social programs. Pat may not hate Rhode Islanders, but the end results of his actions sure make his own emotions moot.

But anyway. To his points (if they can rightly be called that):

1/2 of 1% of total state spending goes towards the Family Independence Program (the results of all those poverty pimps is just a drop in the bucket)

The interesting thing about this ploy is that it shows that Pat, the unionist, is happy to play the cards of the local poverty industry. Happily, that makes this an easy response, because Anchor Rising contributors have been pointing out the spin of this trick for years. In a word, as our shared commenter Pragmatist puts it in a comment to Crowley's post: "Care to cite the percentage of the state budget taken up by all of the human service programs? No, I didn't think so."

Rhode Island Ranks 23rd in the country for over all Tax burden according to the conservative Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council. Not 50th, not worst. But right in the middle.

As Pragmatist notes, Crowley links to an irrelevant source. Be that as it may, Andrew has looked into this particular instance of carefully chosen statistics in the past. The upshot is that Rhode Island is top 10 when state-to-state tax burdens are compared. It's when one adds fees that we drop, and Andrew's post notes that Rhode Island is toward the bottom in collecting fees for a variety of activities, such as hospital activity and solid waste management.

The reasons for this would take more detail than Crowley's work merits, but comparing states on such things is problematic. For example, if (as Jeff Grybowski comments to Andrew's post) the reason RI's hospital fees don't amount to much is because the state has only one (small) public hospital, then this particular statistic would be more at home in an expenditures, rather than revenue, analysis. With respect to sewerage, if a high percentage of properties have septic tanks, rather than public sewer, then what isn't collected in public revenue is spent for private services.

I agree that fees ought to figure into a tax burden analysis, but one must review them carefully. If the tax burden is light on a particular service for which people pay anyway, then the fact that the check doesn't go to the government is hardly a positive point. If the fee structure is such that middle class and above citizens end up paying the bulk of the government's total collections, then that only contributes to my point, which was (lest we forget) that Rhode Island is driving out productive citizens in favor of unproductive ones.

The tax that hurts the average Rhode Islander the most, the property tax, needs to be changed but RIGHT WINGERS won't let that happen. Why? Because it would take an increase in the income tax to offset the change. People in the highest income quintile with an average household income of $196,419 pay only 2.85% of their income on property tax. People in the Lowest bracket pay 8.1% of their income to the property tax.

Here Crowley goes for a classic non sequitur phrased in such a way as to make the careless reader believe that the wealthy are getting away with something. Note that he provides no source for his numbers. Note, too, that he gives the average income for the "highest income quintile," but not for the lowest (and is that "bracket" a "quintile"?). It may surprise Crowley to hear that property taxes are based on the value of property, not on the owner's income. The poor man pays the same tax that a rich man would pay for the same property. Generally speaking, the asset has the same value.

So, if an income tax increase were necessary to offset a property tax decrease (because, say, one refuses to allow expenditures on unionized public workers to stagnate, much less decrease), then the "lower bracket" would still have to pay a higher rate on their income than the "highest income quintile." Otherwise, again, we're exacerbating our corrosive progressiveness of taxation.

In 1979, the corporate income tax accounted for 10.4% of general revenue. In 2002, that dropped to 1.3%. Did it work? You be the judge

Commenter johnpaycheckri explains that "the tax law changed in 1986 so that most corporations became s-corps which means that the income of the s-corp was passed through to individual shareholders," and that's sufficient answer, as far as I'm concerned. For my part, the factoid is most remarkable because of the stark light that it shines on one plain reality: None of Crowley's proclaimed "FACTS" does anything to refute my argument. People are leaving Rhode Island, especially people in the demographic that pays the majority of taxes, and folks with a vested interest in the system that is driving them away — Pat Crowley notable among them — are only tightening their grip on Rhode Island's throat.

Liberal Fascism

Carroll Andrew Morse

Jonah Goldberg's controversial new book, Liberal Fascism isn't beyond-the-pale as his most strident critics would have you believe. First, as Goldberg has repeatedly pointed out, he is not the person who invented the term Liberal Fascism. That distinction belongs to the influential early 20th century public intellectual H.G. Wells.

Beyond the provenance of the term, a key idea that Goldberg would like you to come away with is that much of what you may believe is essential to the definition of fascism is really a list of talking points created by Marxists to explain why their totalitarianism is "good" while other totalitarianisms are "bad". To distinguish themselves from other collectivists, Marxists explain that paradise on earth can only come about if all human economic and social activity is brought under the control of leaders who recognize the primacy of economic class in the unfolding of history. Any other way to organize a society is merely a scheme for dividing the members of the working class from one another, to prevent them from prevailing in the inevitable class struggle. That's why, sayeth the Marxists, you should sign up with and pay your dues to the Communist International and not the National Socialist Party.

But suppose you created a philosophy that retained the idea that paradise on earth could be built through collective struggle, but a) chose a different collective than "economic class" to organize around and b) relaxed the idea that direct state ownership of everything was necessary to the idea that government "only" needed to be strong enough to bully any other institution in society into do its bidding. Would you still be discussing Marxism or socialism or communism at this point?

This question has a number of possible answers...

  • You could say, no, this is not sufficiently different from socialism to justify its own category (and concede that fascism belongs on the left side of the political spectrum to an ever greater degree than Jonah Goldberg would).
  • You could deny that versions of totalitarianism that don't involve state ownership and economic class struggle can exist or are relevant to anything.
  • Or, you could do what Jonah Goldberg does -- posit fascism as the name of the political philosophy of government that seeks similar ends to communism, but involves different ideas of the role of "class" and the state.
Here's Goldberg's exact definition of fascism...
Fascism is a religon of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good. It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force, or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the "problem" and therefore defined as the enemy.
The point of Liberal Fascism is to try to trace the history of this form of collectivization through the 20th century.

I'll add, from my uber-important position as a yahoo-blogger, that I come into Goldberg's book with a different idea of what Fascism is than what he has laid out. I've always considered central to fascism the idea that individual fulfillment is found in robustly engaging violent struggle, where the ends aren't as important as fighting the struggle itself. Goldberg recognizes this idea as an influence on fascist thought (and writes in detail on its origins, especially of an idea called "syndicalism"), but not as central to its definition.

Still, in tracing the history of American progressivism starting from an open sympathy for fascism in the pre-World War II era, before the German Nazis obliterated the legitimacy of fascism in the popular consciousness, Goldberg raises questions that his critics are not going to be able to dismiss as easily as they'd like to.

Is the Bloom off the Clinton Rose?

Marc Comtois

So the Kennedy clan is coming out strong for Obama, saying that he is the next generation's very own JFK. Heck, I can understand what they mean. Of course, the cold political calculation of hopping on the bandwagon can't be dismissed. But what is most interesting is that--all of a sudden--the Clinton machine doesn't seem quite so unbeatable to a lot of the old guard Dems and even Bill's personal touch is going cold (h/t). Worse, the Clinton's are becoming (suddenly?) unlikeable to many of their former allies. Some are even wondering if (gasp!) the "right" has been "right on the Clintons" all along (that they lie--or will do anything--to get power). I guess we'll know for sure if Hillary wins the nomination and they still stay away (heh).

A Monday Reminder

Justin Katz

There are now only two weeks within which to donate sufficiently to Anchor Rising to receive this year's AR-wear as a gift.

Donations of $60 or more will inspire a gift of this year's AR apparel choice, a navy blue sport shirt with red collar trim and the Anchor Rising logo on the left of the chest:

Here's a picture of the Anchor Rising logo as it was embroidered on the hats that we ordered last year, and as it will be embroidered on this year's shirts:

Donations of any size can be made via PayPal by clicking the "Donate" button. Checks or money orders — made out to me (for the time being) — can be sent to:

Justin Katz
Anchor Rising
P.O. Box 751
Portsmouth, RI 02871

Again, shirts are a limited-time offer for donations made before Monday, February 11. Be sure to provide an address and your shirt size.

January 27, 2008

Another Source for Steve Peoples

Justin Katz

Talk about transparency (emphasis added):

The state will forgo an estimated $23.4 million next year as a result of the flat tax, according to an analysis of the Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College. The average tax cut will be $5,337. And the beneficiaries are overwhelmingly in higher-income brackets: 98 percent of the savings will go to taxpayers earning $200,000 or more; almost two-thirds will go to those making more than $1 million, according to the Poverty Institute.

Meanwhile, the reduction of the capital gains tax to 1.67 percent will cost Rhode Island $39 million in lost revenue from 4,384 taxpayers. The average savings for those taxpayers is estimated at $4,300, according to the Poverty Institute analysis. And 84 percent of the taxpayer savings will go to 7,500 people earning more than $200,000.

Since Mr. Peoples is so keen on using objective sources, I'd like to offer him another so that he can remove the "anecdotal" from the following:

Carcieri says he's asked his newly hired director of revenue, Gary Sasse, to study whether the tax breaks are indeed stimulating the economy. The governor cites anecdotal evidence that high-income earners are leaving the state because of Rhode Island's high tax burden, which is seventh-highest in the nation, according to an analysis of state and local tax collections for fiscal year 2005 by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, formerly headed by Sasse.

Here's a paragraph that Mr. Peoples can cut and paste into his next related article (based on data to be found here):

According to an analysis of the most recent U.S. Census data performed by Anchor Rising, a public-policy think tank, 12,084 fewer Rhode Islanders lived in households earning over twice the poverty level (around $60,000 per year, for a family of four) in 2006 than 2005. Around 30,000 fewer people earned over three times the poverty level, almost 25,000 fewer were above the five-times-poverty mark.

I realize that the Journal may be reluctant to rely on sources of less manifest objectivity than the Poverty Institute, but really, how many times are journalists going to throw up the following lob to be smacked down?

"Welfare is the most commonly used weapon in class warfare. People don't understand the facts, such as that we spend less than one half of 1 percent of state funds on cash assistance and that those families who remain on the program have significant barriers to employment, including disabilities and very limited skills," said Kate Brewster, executive director of the Poverty Institute. "Therefore, it is an easy target for politicians who want to scapegoat the poor for our state's budget problems rather than asking tough questions like — can we afford to continue certain tax breaks or tax credit programs that are costing our state tens of millions of dollars?"

For those without the time to click the link just above the blockquote, the upshot is that holding up cash assistance as Rhode Island's "welfare system" is like holding up its tail as the elephant. But Peoples isn't done acting as the Poverty Institute's proxy yet:

Carcieri will cut welfare much deeper in his 2008-'09 budget, reducing eligibility from 60 months to 24 months. The governor's office would not say how many people would be affected. But the cut would put Rhode Island in the minority of states.

Thirty-seven states have a 60-month limit and five states and the District of Columbia have no limit, according to an analysis provided by the Poverty Institute.

As has been pointed out several times on Anchor Rising (here, by Marc), 30 of those states have shorter consecutive time limits: "For instance, in Connecticut you can only receive assistance for 21 consecutive months and are capped at 60 months over your lifetime. In Massachusetts, you can receive assistance for 24 out of 60 months, but there is no lifetime cap." In other words, even with no lifetime limit, Massachusetts requires recipients to survive on their own for three years for every two of cash assistance. (If the Poverty Institute wants to be useful, perhaps it can research recidivism rates in Massachusetts — that is, how often people actually accumulate 60 months of handouts over their lifetimes in Mass.)

It may be that Anchor Rising's clearly stated ideological bent might deter reporters' usage of our analyses. Sometimes we even acknowledge a religious foundation for our beliefs. But then, in a state governed by theocrats, that should hardly disqualify us:

Meanwhile, [Sen. Harold Metts, D-Providence], a Baptist deacon, appealed to the public and other legislators to shift their priorities.

"Our mission is clear," he said. "Psalm 82:3,4 says to 'Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and the needy. Deliver the poor and needy; rid them out of the hand of the wicked.'"

January 26, 2008

Obama Wins South Carolina

Monique Chartier

CNN reports:

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Obama had 55 percent of the vote. Clinton was second with 27 percent, followed by Edwards, with 18 percent.

In the meantime, Christopher Hitchens warns the Senator from Illinois (...er, Obama, not Clinton) to watch his back:

On the very next day, I heard via three different people in New Hampshire that they had been approached by Clinton operatives and told that there was "something" about Barack Obama that would "come out" if he looked like getting the nomination.

The politics of personal destruction may not run in only one direction when it comes to the Clintons.

The Business of Business Is... Healthcare?

Justin Katz

As disappointing as it is that Ian Donnis would write approvingly of something spat onto the public square by the NEA's Patrick Crowley, it's more disappointing that he seems to agree:

Pat Crowley has a strong post up at RI's Future, pointing to a state report to indicate how Rhode Island taxpayers are paying more than $5 million (plus about $6M from the feds) to pay for health insurance for workers at some of the state's biggest and more profitable corporations

Yeah, it's a nice bit of spin disguised as presumption for those who share the view of Crowley's boss, Bob Walsh, that employers who don't provide public-union-like benefits to employees "are terrible people [who] shouldn’t be allowed to exist." In that view, many employers provide health insurance (often with a you-pay-for-it caveat) to their workers, so it must be considered a moral obligation. That obligation being presumed to be universally acknowledged, the progressives acquire the suspicion that, somewhere along the hierarchy, the companies let themselves off the hook with an assuagement of guilt that the public will pick up the slack. Hence the bizarre characterization of the process as "corporate welfare."

The obvious question, in response to the moralists' insinuations is what we should do about the problem, and one can imagine their answer being to make the employers provide health coverage. That would be the logical reaction to our discovery of such injurious behavior.

So what would be the consequence of government dictation of minimum benefits for employees? Will employers just throw up their hands — "fellas, they got us" — and take the financial blow? No. They'll attempt to make up the expense elsewhere. Perhaps they'll attempt to levy a sort of third-party tax on customers, passing on the cost of government mandates to them. Perhaps they'll lower salaries or lay people off. And if the cost of doing business in Rhode Island becomes too high, if customers will not accept increased costs, or if employees cannot be attracted with lower salaries (but higher benefits), then the businesses will close down or leave.

I wonder, were that to happen, whether progressives would then declare the various public costs of supporting the unemployed to be corporate welfare "going to" (Crowley's words) the companies that no longer employ the money's actual recipients.

The truly disheartening realization is that Donnis, whom I take to be somewhat representative of honorable and well-intentioned progressives in the state, apparently fails to make the connection between this very approach to issues facing the public and the state's problems, which he readily acknowledges:

While I'd like to claim credit for coining the subject line in this post ["Rhode Island and Sisyphus Plantations"], that honor goes to URI professor of economics Len Lardaro, who uses it to describe the Ocean State's seemingly perpetual budget problems. ...

Lardaro believes that voter dissatisfaction will bring a number of new lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, into office this year, and that that will have a salutary effect.

We'll have to wait to see if the professor is right. In the interim, state officials will have to keep rolling budget deficits up the proverbial hill.

Everybody understands (if they don't have a financial or ideological reason not to) that Rhode Island needs to improve its business environment. But that term doesn't just include tax rates. It isn't limited to infrastructure, roads, location, schools, real estate costs, and so on. It also involves the likelihood that a region's culture will lead it to push the government past its bounds in regulating corporations. There's a reason that only two insurance companies operate in Rhode Island. There's a reason healthcare expenses are so high. And there is a multiplicity of reasons that businesses choose not to operate in our state, making it difficult for Rhode Islanders to find work, let alone jobs with stellar benefits.

Enervating Energy Production

Justin Katz

The topic is energy production, but the implications are much broader for the cast of characters who call Rhode Island, and New England, home. Exhibit A:

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has given final state approval to a Somerset power plant to use a new technology called coal plasma gasification.

State environmental officials say the new process is a cleaner alternative than Somerset Power LLC's current emissions at its Riverside Avenue coal-burning plant. The technology uses high heat to convert coal to synthetic gas, which is then used as fuel.

The company says it will reduce some air pollutants by 95 percent.

But the state's action Thursday is being criticized by some environmentalists, who say it allows the plant to continue releasing carbon dioxide for decades to come. Opponents have 21 days to file an appeal.

The Fall River Herald News reported that community activists called the decision unacceptable and said it significantly undermined the state's policy against global warming.

To be honest, given life's twists and turns, I haven't followed this issue closely, and living right across the water, I'll be as happy as anybody to see that smoke-spewing monstrosity disappear. That said, it seems to me that every activist statement against the power plant, and every news story about it, ought to include some variation of the phrase "instead we should."

It seems almost to be a native character trait, in these parts, to indulge initial reactions. I dislike looking at those smoke stacks as I drive the local streets; the view that I'd enjoy during future dog walks would be much improved by their absence; and I hate the image of that tendril of smoke drifting toward my neighborhood.

On the other hand, if energy prices were to climb, much, based on the lower production, I might not be able to stay in the neighborhood long enough to enjoy the new scenery. In various scenarios, the economic upshot could be the loss of homes, of jobs, of health. And so, exhibit B:

The Ocean State has great potential sites for wind turbines, both offshore and on land, and it has plenty of room for wave-energy generators — less familiar but also promising given the state's coastal geography. There are several designs, but essentially a wave-energy collector is a large buoy containing some device — a piston or pendulum or air chamber — to generate electricity from the movement of water. These could be arrayed along the state's southern coast, for example, where they might have the added plus of reducing beach erosion. If we get to work, Governor Carcieri's call to generate 16 percent of energy consumed in Rhode Island from renewable sources by 2020 can be met and possibly exceeded. Indeed, the governor has expressed great enthusiasm for the idea of making the state a leader in the alternative-energy field.

But as renewable-energy companies approach the state with cutting-edge wind- and wave-energy proposals, the state Office of Energy Resources is taking its time, handing over a lot of initiative to University of Rhode Island scientists to study (and study and study and . . . ?) alternative-energy projects. It wants them to come up with a statewide alternative-energy zoning plan that would take into account impacts on wildlife, commercial fishing, navigation, coastline views and the environment.

It sounds reasonable enough until one gets to the fine print. Until this study is complete, all proposals are on hold. That gives political figures cover from incoming fire from local people wanting to make sure that the views in the pristine-wilderness area known as Rhode Island are unsullied by reminders that electricity doesn't originate in a switch in the wall.

Running the process backwards, in short, the emphasis is wholly different: study everything before agreeing to think about studying some more. Give those who oppose advances every opportunity to delay them.

When it is a matter of changing the accustomed landscape, no question must be left unanswered, even at the cost of lost opportunity. When it is a matter of improving such critical measures of life's quality as one's view from the car to the front door, the priorities seem more likely to be bulldoze first, ask questions later.

January 25, 2008

Rhode Island: Fourth Highest Taxed

Monique Chartier

"Our People are Taxed Too Highly."

So said Governor Donald Carcieri during his post State of the State media rounds. And - drum roll, please - the Tax Foundation concurs. For the third year in a row, they ranked Rhode Island fourth highest taxed, state and local combined.

Data source of the Tax Foundation's analysis: Bureau of Economic Analysis, US Department of Commerce.


In addition to compiling state by state tax rankings, the Tax Foundation is also the organization which calculates Tax Freedom Day. Will Ricci over at Ocean State Republican advises that there is a refutation rebuttal lame counter analysis of Tax Freedom Day which involves quibbling about the definition of the words "income" and "tax" (shall we add "is"?) and an inexplicable desire to exclude four fifths of tax payers from the calculation.

The Tax Foundation easily exposes the weaknesses of this criticism.

Note to Self, re: Future Research

Justin Katz

Here's how yesterday's Peoples and Gregg production begins:

Desperate to close the state's largest budget deficit in modern history, former Gov. Bruce Sundlun did not wait for labor union leaders to come to his office to discuss the situation.

The Democratic governor went to them.

In 1991, several weeks after he was elected, Sundlun personally appeared at the AFL-CIO's Providence office to negotiate a cost-cutting proposal to shut down state government for 10 days. The subsequent three-day shutdown and pay-deferral plan saved nearly $50 million over two years.

"That's the only way to get agreement," Sundlun said yesterday of the importance of collaborating with unions. "If you don't let labor in the door, you're going to get nothing but your head handed to you."

I'm not so thoroughly caught up on my Rhode Island political history studies to say one way or another, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if some of the components of Sundlun's "collaboration" ultimately laid the groundwork for the doom and gloom that we currently face. It'd certainly be a question worth investigating.


Speaking of collaboration, one of the photos accompanying this story just begs for captioning:


"Could you fax us some language to put in the bill, George. I always find it nerve-racking to try to rewrite your legislation in my own words."

Redefining Corporate Welfare

Marc Comtois

Ian Donnis points to a "strong post" (alluded to earlier) which illustrates how approximately $11.2 million of taxpayer dollars are going to government supplied health care for workers who don't get health care through their jobs.

Where is that money going, you might ask….

It is going to Bank of America, and their 382 employees on RIte Care / Rite Share/ or Medicaid. It is going to the 610 employees of Citizens Bank that are getting our taxes. It is only 310 folks at CVS (plastic bag, anyone) but 500 Wal Mart employees are paid for by the State. In total more than 4,000 workers for these corporations get us to pay for the health insurance. That, my dear reader, is corporate welfare.

First, a correction. The numbers above are taken from the Public Health Access Beneficiary Report and are equal to the combined total of employees + dependents covered by RIte Care / Rite Share / Medicaid, not just the employees as was claimed. In reality, the numbers of employees of Bank of America, Citizens Bank, CVS and Wal Mart that qualify for the aforementioned programs are, respectively, 112, 179, 86 and 140 (not 382, 610, 310 and 500).

Regardless of all that, underlying the charge is the false premise that companies should be obligated to provide all employees (including part time and temporary workers) health care. Last time I checked, there is no such law or rule. So companies aren't shirking their responsibilities--and taking "corporate welfare" from the government--if they never made the promise in the first place.

Additionally, as the Health Insurance Commissioner Christopher F. Koller explained in his overview of the 2005 Rhode Island Employer Survey Report (both referenced in the Public Health Access Beneficiary Report):

Faced with annual double digit premium increases, small employers are being forced to decide between increasing cost sharing with employees, dropping health benefits altogether, or taking a hit to core business performance. Employees are forced to decide between the risks of going uninsured or sharing in the rising costs.
Thus, even if employers had offered generous health care benefits in the past, the economics have changed and adjustments had to be made so that companies could remain competitive. (Something the public sector seems to have a hard time grasping, incidentally). This includes reducing their ability to subsidize employee health care plans (or offer defined benefit pension plans for that matter). So long as we continue to rely on an employer-centered health care system, that is the way it will continue to be. Such reductions don't mean employers are shirking their responsibilities. Often times it's just the opposite: they're trying to remain competitive and continue to employ people.

We've Gotta Talk

Justin Katz

Mark Patinkin makes a reasonable point — one that is often leveled in an accusatory tone at conservatives:

Stanley O'Neal, the ex-head of Merrill Lynch, was booted for losing billions betting on the garbage now known as sub-prime loans. His punishment? An estimated $161-million sendoff package. The issue isn't even that he didn't deserve it, it's that Wall Street rewards CEOs who mess up not just their own house, but the economy, which is why they don't care if they do it.

Shouldn't we demand accountability at that level of wealth and power? We on the right are properly hesitant to interfere with the operation of business, but the same argument whereby I would justify, in economic terms, government support for roadways and other infrastructure could be relevant to situations in which an upper-crust business elite rewards its own even when they play a role in disastrous business ventures that gash the global economy. If the consequence for risks gone bad is a mere $161 million severance package, then there's hardly incentive to fully vet strategies that look attractive in the short term. And as executives and board members become involved in such arrangements, the likelihood of a correction decreases.

I can hear the ghost of Milton Friedman arguing that the problem is self-correcting. The plight of Merrill Lynch will generate adjusted behavior, and future CEOs will think twice before dashing after the next subprime mortgage–type opportunity. I usually find that argument persuasive.

Maybe, amid my populist impulses, I just need reaffirmation of my faith, but I wonder. The solutions of those on the left are no solutions at all; indeed, they are apt to make the problem worse, but what would be the solutions of those on the right? If we were to decide that a problem exists, that is.

Presumptive Contempt

Marc Comtois
We are never going to compete with folks, with employers who are so ridiculous they do not provide retirement security plans for their employees....If they don’t, they are terrible people and they shouldn’t be allowed to exist and that’s always going to be the union position on those issues.” ~ Bob Walsh

I wonder if [Helen Glover] knows, or if the Governor knows, how much we taxpayers give corporations to insure their workers since they are too cheap to do it themselves. ~ Pat Crowley


Taken together, the statements by both Walsh and Crowley illustrate two things: 1) Their fundamental presumption that all employers owe their full-, part-, and temporary employees not just a salary, but also a defined benefit pension and full health-care coverage; 2) Their contempt (and ignorance) of the realities of private sector business. Of course, implicit in these charges is the notion that "if only all employees were unionized, it would all be better...." Well, until reality (and the free market) interrupted the good life in Labortopia.

Today's Pitch for Supporting Anchor Rising

Justin Katz

It would annoy — perhaps even disturb — all the right people. I mean, it's a stimulus of hoots of rage and gnashing of teeth when the Providence Journal decides to call us a think tank in our bio lines. Imagine the madness were we to prove able to raise money successfully!

For our part, donations of $60 or more will be stimulus for a gift of this year's AR apparel choice, a navy blue sport shirt with red collar trim and the Anchor Rising logo on the left of the chest:

Here's a picture of the Anchor Rising logo as it was embroidered on the hats that we ordered last year, and as it will be embroidered on this year's shirts:

Donations of any size can be made via PayPal by clicking the "Donate" button. Checks or money orders — made out to me (for the time being) — can be sent to:

Justin Katz
Anchor Rising
P.O. Box 751
Portsmouth, RI 02871

Again, shirts are a limited-time offer for donations made before Monday, February 11. Be sure to provide an address and your shirt size.

January 24, 2008

Stimulus Package

Marc Comtois

The stimulus package:

- Individuals must earn at least $3,000 to get a $300 rebate
- 117 million people will get rebates, 35 million of whom don't pay taxes
- Higher-income individuals would receive up to $600
- Couples could receive $1,200 plus $300 per child
- Rebates would be limited to individuals earning less than $75,000 and couples earning less than $150,000.

Next year, those paying taxes will be taxed on the "rebate" as regular income. Those who don't make enough income to be taxed will not. Does that still make it a rebate? At least a partial one for taxpayers. But it's simply a handout for non-taxpayers, not a rebate. Incidentally, according to the AP report:

Bush has supported larger rebates of $800-$1,600, but his plan would have left out 30 million working households who earn paychecks but don't make enough to pay income tax, according to calculations by the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. An additional 19 million households would receive only partial rebates under Bush's initial proposal.
So money intended for the average American tax-payers was pulled so it could be sent to non-taxpayers. Nice.

Additional components:
- The AMT will also be suspended for 2007
- Businesses will be given incentives to invest in equipment
- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be temporarily allowed to buy mortgages of up to $625,000, exceeding a $417,000 federal limit.

Not included:
- Extension of unemployment benefits
- Provide additional food-stamp aid

Hey, is it an election year or something?

Spin in Ink

Justin Katz

The National Education Association couldn't have asked for better coverage of the Tiverton School Committee meeting on Tuesday from the Providence Journal's Gina Macris if the union had paid for it:

Amid the continuing rancor over an unsettled teachers’ contract, School Committee member Leonard Wright injected a conciliatory tone.

The town has high-performing schools and high-performing teachers, he said,

"I don't think we should put them in the position of putting them behind" financially, Wright said.

"We should find another way to balance the budget," he said.

In the end, the rest of the committee took his advice — to the extent that it put off making any decisions that would ask teachers to take a cut in pay during the next school year.

After the meeting, Amy Mullen, president of the teachers' union, said she applauded Wright for quickly realizing that teachers would end up with a pay cut and "stating that it wasn't fair." ...

Schools Supt. William J. Rearick presented the committee with three scenarios for next year's budget that pit salaries against rising out-of-pocket premiums for health care, with teachers ending up in the red. ...

Wright said one of Rearick's options would give teachers an added $1,300 in salary — a raise of about 2 percent for those with the most experience — but make them pay $3,500 toward the cost of a family health insurance plan.

That figure, more than triple the $1,100 teachers now pay for family health care, represents about 25 percent of the total cost of a family premium.

The tell-tale phrase is "those with the most experience" — as opposed to, for example, "those who have been with the district longest." "Experience" makes it sound almost like a gauge of merit. More significant, though, is that the phrase allows Macris to avoid entirely her responsibility to explain the step system to her readers. Note that she actually flips the calculation so that the raise is $1,300, or "about 2 percent," when in fact it is the two percent that is given.

The math that Macris lays out is for teachers at step 10, which is the top step, relying entirely on the percent salary adjustments with each contract for raises. Teachers at every other step would receive the two percent on top of whatever percentage increase the step calls for. So, for Rearick's "Option 3," which is the one on which Wright and Macris focused, and his "Option 1," for which there is no salary increase, but only a 15% co-pay, the numbers would fall out as follows for teachers who take the family plan health insurance (with the "net change" as the dollar amount for teachers entering that step, including healthcare copay adjustment):

Option 3 Option 1
Step 2006–2007

Net Change

Net Change
1 35,484 36,194 NA NA
2 38,077 38,839 -145 493
3 40,672 41,485.44 -92 495
4 43,415 44,283 111 643
5 46,255 47,180 265 740
6 49,177 50,161 406 822
7 51,974 53,013 336 697
8 54,860 55,957 483 786
9 58,041 59,202 842 1,081
10 64,205 65,489 3,948 4,064
Above 64,205 65,489 -2,216 -2,100

In summary, it is not at all accurate for Macris to offer her numbers as if they apply to teachers as a whole. Indeed, under no scenario do any teachers who do not take the health insurance suffer a "pay cut," and the fact that Option 1 is better for teachers across the board, if they take health insurance, indicates that a not-insignificant number must not take it. (Otherwise, the options wouldn't be interchangeable from the administration's point of view.)

To be honest, it strikes me as indicative of the intellectual habits of those who are used to the bottomless pit of public revenue to calculate healthcare as part of the salary in this way, because it assumes that teachers oughtn't bear some burden of increasing costs, leaving it all to the taxpayers to eat the increase. That aside, it's quite a negotiating scam to position the "most experienced" teachers such that, for them to get raises, everybody else must, as well.

It's a Good Gig if You Know the Right People

Marc Comtois

Set aside whether or not he did it in a legit manner, there's just something wrong when 10 years of public service gets you a $110,000 / year pension:

At the end of last month, [former Providence City Administration Director John C. Simmons] retired from his $160,837-a-year post as director of administration for Mayor David N. Cicilline in order to succeed Gary Sasse as executive director of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council. The fiscal condition of state and municipal pension funds is one of the abiding interests of RIPEC, a public policy think tank bankrolled by the business community.

Simmons has not yet applied for his municipal pension, which, if left undisturbed, is expected to be worth about $110,000 a year. He did not return a call seeking comment....

After rejoining city government under Cicilline, public records show that in 2004 Simmons paid $112,883 into the pension fund to obtain 5 years, 11 months and 15 days’ credit for his prior municipal service and 2 years, 11 months and 10 days’ credit for his service in the Army.

Adding that time to his 4½ years-plus service for Cicilline means that Simmons was able to compile more than the necessary minimum of 10 years’ total service to be eligible to receive a municipal pension.

Fox watching the hen house? Shouldn't there at least be some sort of pension cap?

Deep Purple!

Donald B. Hawthorne

What a surprise to find Jonah Goldberg mentioning this morning a unique version of the song Smoke on the Water originally by the rock'n'roll band, Deep Purple, in one of his posts on The Corner.

If Deep Purple can make The Corner, then it can make Anchor Rising!

Now I know something about Deep Purple, having seen them in concert many times over the years and having over 30 CD's of their music. (Did you even know there were that many? And did you care!) For me, it all began back in the 1972-73 school year when Smoke on the Water (and Stairway to Heaven) were new songs played at my high school senior prom.

So, for a trip down memory lane, here are some other YouTube videos of the song, Smoke on the Water:

First found on the studio album, Machine Head, Smoke on the Water reached even greater popularity when it was one of the songs on Made in Japan, a 1973 album many consider one of the greatest live albums of all time. A quintessential version of the song, which they say had no remixing done to it.

Here is a video clip of the band performing the song in 1973, with what was called the MkII lineup of Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord and Paice.

After Gillan and Glover were replaced as members of the band by Coverdale and Hughes, Deep Purple performed the song when they headlined the California Jam near my hometown in 1974.

When Bolin joined after Blackmore left the band for the first time, this version of the song was performed in Japan in 1975.

The MkII lineup reformed in 1984 and this is a 1993 version of the song.

More recently, two versions are here and here (the former has some nice guitar riffs at the beginning and the latter with Ronnie James Dio and an orchestra) where Morse replaced Blackmore after the latter's second and final departure.

For when you are feeling Lazy (Catch the first 3+ minutes of keyboard playing here and the walking bass line later on; and you thought Deep Purple was only about lead guitar playing! Earlier live version of Lazy is here.) and like a Child in Time, then sit back and enjoy this live version of another classic song from the MkII era, Highway Star, recorded during their Made in Japan tour and the opening song of MkII concerts. An early live version of the song is also here.

Okay, enough already. Now you can return to thinking about dismal budget deficits and how you live in a place where many in leadership positions in the state of Rhode Island act like they are Perfect Strangers. What a Black Night we face; it is as if people in the state are Haunted by unresolved legacy issues. It's enough to make each of us say that Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming.

Guess that leaves us no choice but to go Space Truckin'.

Down Wind from the Fed

Justin Katz

That it hits so close to home makes the omission that much more glaring, but Lynn Arditi's article in yesterday's Providence Journal about floundering Rhode Islanders leaves out a huge component of their plight:

The Federal Reserve's surprise rate cut yesterday came too late for Steven A. Bigelow.

His home remodeling and carpentry business, which once grossed six figures, is now off by at least 40 percent, he says. The bank last year foreclosed on his house. And his wife took a job as a school bus monitor so they could get health insurance for their family. ...

Just a few miles from Providence's shiny hotels and Starbucks coffee shops, in the land of variety stores, boarded-up houses and ruined credit, the hope offered by a rate cut seems at best an abstraction.

On Cranston Street, small shop owners are the neighborhood economy's lifeblood. And their condition is critical.

Santos Areas, owner of Appliance Service Sales & Repair, says sales are so slow that he now trades stoves and refrigerators to his landlord to cover his $1,800-a-month rent.

"Right now, I'm a month-and-a-half behind," says Areas, who is 38 and married with a baby daughter. "I'm not even covering my bills and I'm working for free."

He no longer hires anyone to clean the used stoves and refrigerators; he and his wife do it themselves.

"If things keep up like this for five more months," he said, "I'm going to have to shut down."

Back when business was good, Areas used to sell a lot of appliances to people who were buying houses for investments. He bought some properties of his own to rent, too.

Then, the market turned. Tenants couldn't pay the rent. He couldn't pay his mortgage and his houses fell into foreclosure.

Yup. It's all the Fed's fault. Rhode Island's tanking economy, special interest–focused government, and fleeing middle class have nothing to do with folks' difficulties.

Surviving the Rough Seas

Justin Katz

As Anchor Rising readers know, tough times are looming in Rhode Island. Whether those times amount to a squall, a season, or an era depends in greatest part on the honesty and bravery of the General Assembly. Are we looking at a year of hardship? Three years? Even longer? Whichever it may be, the machine is in motion, and longer will almost definitely mean sinking lower, and I, for one, am not optimistic.

Therefore, it's either a bad time or just in time for Anchor Rising's contributors to get serious. This year, we'll be stepping toward more official existence. We'll be making plans to do more, to be more active, to have more of an effect. And that means raising more money.

As Anchor Rising readers also know, none of us are insulated from the hard times of the state. The months ahead threaten difficult decisions, and we're going to need your help if we're going to make those decisions in the way that we think (or hope) you'd prefer. It won't take much money to keep us afloat, by the standards of organizational players at the state level, but it will take more than the occasional ad to which we're accustomed. So in time-honored blogosphere tradition, we have no choice but to rattle the cup:

If Anchor Rising were a daily paper, a donation of $36.50 would be equivalent to a year's subscription at 10 cents per issue. To those who donate $60 or more, we'll send as a gift (in telethon lingo) this year's AR apparel choice, a navy blue sport shirt with red collar trim and the Anchor Rising logo on the left of the chest:

Donations of any size can be made via PayPal by clicking the "Donate" button. Checks or money orders — made out to me (for the time being) — can be sent to:

Justin Katz
Anchor Rising
P.O. Box 751
Portsmouth, RI 02871

We'll be looking for donations year 'round, but the shirts are a limited-time offer for donations made before Monday, February 11. Be sure to provide an address and your shirt size.

Donations — I should note — are not tax deductible. But then, we're not restricted by certain laws of dubious constitutionality.


In answer to a specific request, here's a picture of the Anchor Rising logo as it was embroidered on the hats that we ordered last year, and as it will be embroidered on this year's shirts:

January 23, 2008

Nit-Picking the Coverage? I Don't Think So

Justin Katz

Something jumps out about this isolated parenthetical "correction" in today's story about the state of the state address in the Providence Journal, by Katherine Gregg, Steve Peoples, and Cynthia Needham:

With respect to state workers, he said: “The average state employee earns $61,000 per year in salary with fringe benefits valued at another $34,000 (a total of $95,000) and a 35-hour work week. Bringing the health-care, pension benefits and work week into line with the private sector could save the state tens of millions per year. This will be the focal point of our contract negotiation with labor leadership.”

(A Journal analysis found that the median state employee salary was $46,600 as of last June.)

As I'm sure the professional journalists are aware, there's a difference between the average of a set of numbers and their median., and there are different circumstances during which each is more appropriate. I have a hard time believing, frankly, that the writers of both the speech and of the news article weren't very careful about which word they used.

If it is indeed the case that the average is 31% greater than the median, the implication would be that more than half of state workers make well above the that number. I'd have to do more research than I care to expend on this particular item to say for sure, but I'd wager that there are additional considerations (e.g., which jobs are counted) that make it inappropriate for the Projo to offer such a note unless it's willing to spend the column inches on a thorough explanation.

A Quick Thought on the State of the State

Justin Katz

I didn't see or hear Governor Carcieri's state of the state speech last night, and I haven't had a chance to catch up on my news reading, yet, so there's not much that I can say about the specifics. (Of course, I suspect that anybody who follows the local news without the inherent denial of a leftward eye must have been unsurprised.)

A larger truth, though, is that I've always found it difficult to get worked up about state of the X speeches. Perhaps back in the days before immediate media and ever churning cycles of policy statements and interviews these broad speeches had value, read in the newspaper the next day by the masses. But it didn't take me many viewings, when I first began paying attention to politics, to realize that nothing shocking was likely to be said.

Feel free, though, to correct or confirm my expectations in the comments.

State of the State: Governor Issues A Call to Arms

Marc Comtois

Here is Governor Carcieri's prepared State of the State speech. The ProJo covers it and gets reaction from the usual suspects complaining about how the Governor isn't working with them.

“He says, ‘This is my agenda and everybody has to work on it.’ That’s a corporate approach. That’s one-side unilateral approach. That doesn’t work,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer George Nee. “The governor should be a leader of bringing people together to have people solve joint problems, not just work on his agenda. That’s the problem.”

The executive director of the largest state employees union agreed: “I heard more of the same: Attacking the unions. Attacking the elderly. Attacking the poor. No job creation,” said Dennis Grilli, head of Council 94, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees.

But they only hear what they want to. From the speech:
Tonight, I ask the General Assembly, the public employee union leadership, and all municipal officials to work together with my administration to find ways to implement these changes.

They will transform our state and secure an exciting future for our children. In the world of politics, we may be Republicans, Democrats, or Independents – but we are all Rhode Islanders, and we’re here because we love our state. To fix this problem, it will take all of us in this room working together.

Good luck, Governor. To too many people in that room last night, "working together" means "do what I want". But I think Governor Carcieri knows that, which is why he attempted to appeal directly to the non-trough feeding citizens of Rhode Island:
...you should also know this. This plan faces many obstacles. Everyone with something to lose will lobby this Assembly furiously against these spending reductions. If they succeed, this plan will falter and your taxes will go up....

So, tonight, I call on you – the hardworking Rhode Islander; the average citizen anxious about your own rising costs and the nation’s economic outlook – to make your voice heard.

Your voice must be just as loud as the powerbrokers and special interests that regularly patrol these halls. If you want change, you must be a part of it!

January 22, 2008

Changing the Tenor of Contracts

Justin Katz

Although I missed the budget discussion, I'm glad that I stopped by the Tiverton Town Council meeting, because discussion of a particular contract for an administrative assistant turned into debate of the contract policy overall. (My money's on the likelihood that the position will remain unfilled.) Some key highlights that councilors throughout Rhode Island ought to be competing to out-do:

  • Councilman Jay Edwards suggested that all contracts going forward should call for 20–25% healthcare copays.
  • Councilman Brian Medeiros said that, although he understands the reasoning behind it, offering health-insurance "buy backs" might be a bad idea. He backed off a bit, suggesting lower amounts; me, I'd argue that the town should bring its healthcare benefit itself in line with private-sector offerings such that there's around a 50:50 chance that married employees will take the other plan for the reason that it's better.
  • Councilman Hannibal Costa absolutely refuses to be a part of passing any contract that offers merit-related pay but that does not enumerate the expectations and benchmarks for judging success. He argued that department heads (e.g., the fire chief) are highly trained professionals who ought to be able to impress the average person; their contracts, therefore, ought to set forth guidelines for judging standard, expected achievement versus stellar keep-this-one-at-any-cost achievement.

Budget Self-Immolation

Justin Katz

It looks like I've made it to the town council meeting just in time to miss the budget discussion, and I'm still shaking a bit from the school committee meeting. (Although, to be honest, I'm not sure what emotion is the cause.)

School Committee member Leonard Wright made one of the union's talking points by asking Superintendent Rearick's money man, Director of Administration and Finance Douglas Fiore, to calculate the amount of change in a step-10 teacher's income following one of the budget proposals, including healthcare payments. The upshot was that the average step-10 teacher would be out a little over $1,000 on the year. Wright said, essentially, that such a change would be unfair.

Here's where I almost did take (and probably should have taken) the microphone after the teachers' cheers subsided to testify as a taxpayer that I face dire financial circumstances this year. Moreover, my healthcare is pretty pitiful. A single-digit-aged child's fractured wrist cost me the better part of a week's take-home pay.

And given a probable increase in my property taxes, this year, it is possible that I will not be able to finish the year as a Tiverton resident. Forgive me if my heart doesn't bleed for an employee making plus-or-minus on $70,000 for a shortened work year.

Thankfully, committee member Michael Burk had the presence of mind to ask for the same information for a teacher going from step 9 to step 10. If I heard right, the total increase (accounting for healthcare) would be 15%. If Mr. Wright wants a contract that is fair to teachers and fair to residents, let him look at that dynamic.

It should hurt the pride of Tiverton's liberal citizens to know that some of their representatives seem willing to take from the poor to give to the relatively wealthy — at least when the former aren't union and the latter are.


It seems to me that there is a straightforward way to address the "inequity" of which Mr. Wright complained. The three options that the administrators offered to the school committee were as follows:

  1. Reduce the projected 2% salary increase for teachers to zero but reduce the co-pay on insurance from 18% to 15%.
  2. Reduce the projected 2% salary increase for teachers to (1) one percent but increase the co-pay from 15% to 20%.
  3. Maintain the proposed 2% salary increase and raise the co-pay from 20% to 25%.

If the numbers work out roughly the same for the district, then the difference is mainly how it is distributed among teachers. If the complaint is that teachers who no longer benefit from the guaranteed raises of the step system can actually go backwards on take-home pay because of health insurance, then the solution would be to go with option #3, because a 2% raise means more to somebody making $70,000 than somebody making less.

Of course, I'd say that the most fair system would adjust the step system (ideally by eliminating it) and increase percentages across the board. The next stage would be to eliminate group raises and judge the employees on their individual merits.

And the Budget Is...

Justin Katz

Given my inability to attend both significant budget meetings for the Town of Tiverton, tonight, I opted to be present at the School Committee's.

For one thing, the way Tiverton's budget process is structured, the Council's passage of the budget is merely the first step, and not necessarily an important one. As I've noted, the budget passes through so many sequential hands (ending with the townspeople's) that there are plenty of steps to absorb and affect the discussion.

Additionally, the ongoing teacher contract dispute adds an element of interest to the School Committee's budget. The single largest group of direct municipal revenue recipients has been making a good deal of noise that it ought to receive even more,and there really ought to be txpayers filling the seats.

... And as I type, the contention begins. During discussion of some projects to benefit children, union president Amy Mullen pointed out that a related (and necessary) position has not been filled. Superintendent Rearick pointed out that the work-to-rule prevented the position from being filled and suggested that this meeting is not the forum for negotiating the contract. After further discussion, Rearick pointed out that a non-teacher volunteer could be sought.

The committee moved on, with shouts and accusations from the ostensible professionals in the audience.


It's worth mentioning something that happened as I was getting situated: A local man who (as I understood) runs a field next to one of the elementary schools asked the school committee for $3,000–5,000 to help with maintenance for property of which the district makes plenty of use. After Superintendent Rearick's statement that money existed in the current budget that could be redirect to the purpose, Committeeman Burk moved to give the full $5,000.

The assembled teachers, as readers might expect, let their surprised be known. "He only asked for $3,000!" somebody yelled.

Flipping through tonight's budget handout, I notice that, even if the steps (and teachers already at step 10) receive no increase, the cost of their salaries would go up 3.5% — or $486,215, from $13,739,442 to $14,225,657. It brings to mind that old Cat Stevens lyric, something like this:

Well you picket schools, placards fill the air
If your salaries get much higher, there won't be a dime to spare
Every step increase must be for the kids
Though proficiency's straight across the grid

I know we've come a long way
Negotiating day by day
But tell me: where do the children play?

GOP Primary: Where We Are, What's Coming

Marc Comtois

First things first, here is the current GOP delegate count according to RealClearPolitics:


"Super Tuesday" is February 5, but there are two primaries before then: Florida and Maine. Florida is so important because it is a winner take all contest with 57 delegates up for grabs (it actually has more, but the GOP has penalized the state for moving their primary up in the calendar). Maine has 21 delegates at stake and awards them proportionally, like the previous states have done. Obviously, Florida is a big deal and marks the first time this primary season where a primary is actually as important as the media is playing it up to be. Here is the Real Clear Politics Poll Average for Florida:


It looks like McCain, Romney and Guiliani are all within striking distance of winning (I think we are witnessing the Huckabee Waterloo). If Giuliani can win, he instantly becomes a contender, which has been his strategy all along. If McCain or Romney win, that probably knocks Rudy out and (obviously) strengthens the winner going into Super Tuesday, which has 991 delegates up for grabs (with 373 coming from winner-take-all states).

That being said, there's a significant likelihood that I'm talking out of my posterior, so Michael Barone might be a better place to go for your primary prognostication!

UPDATE: Now that Fred Thompson has dropped out, there is a solid 8-10% of the GOP electorate now searching for a new candidate. I wonder who will benefit?

Lucre for Legislators

Justin Katz

Yesterday's Political Scene shouldn't fly under the MLK Day radar:

Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr., D-Smithfield, was paid $92,606 last year as senior business agent for the largest state employees union: Council 94 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Senate Majority Whip Dominick Ruggerio, D-Providence, was paid $181,041 in salary and benefits as the administrator of an arm of the Laborers International Union known as the New England Laborers Employers Cooperation and Education Trust. ...

On Friday, [Laborers lawyer Darren] Corrente said [Paul E.] Moura [D-East Providence] received $107,323 in pay and benefits from his employer, and [Frank] Ciccone [D-Providence], $151,558 in compensation from the District Council, and $22,944 from Local 808.

Sen. Beatrice Lanzi, D-Cranston, was paid $61,485 as the director of "labor community services" for the United Way of Rhode Island.

MetLife Auto & Home paid close to $50,000 in commissions to insurance agencies where two lawmakers work: $12,566 to Sen. David Bates, R-Barrington, and $35,751 to Rep. William San Bento, D-Pawtucket.

The Beacon Mutual Insurance Company has paid out more than $100,000 in commissions and legal fees for "representing injured workers" to a half-dozen lawmakers, including: $75,435 in legal fees and a $2,398 dividend to Warwick Sen. John C. Revens Jr.’s law office; $2,250 in legal fees to Pawtucket Sen. John F. McBurney III’s law office; a $14,244 agency commission to Bates; $9,220 in legal fees to the law office of Sen. Paul V. Jabour, D-Providence; a $255.82 dividend to San Bento's insurance agency and a $260 "dividend" to Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Paiva-Weed's law firm, Moore, Virgadamo & Lynch.

The Lifespan Hospital network paid $62,686 in salary to former Rep. Peter Ginaitt, and $17,148 under a "yearly pharmaceutical contract" with the Pawtuxet Valley Prescription & Surgical Center owned by Sen. Leo Blais, R-Coventry, who in September sought U.S. Bankruptcy Court protection for the company.

Rep. Elizabeth Dennigan, D-East Providence, who is both a lawyer and emergency-room nurse, was paid $15,602 by the Care New England hospital network.

The New England Cable and Telecommunications Association disclosed spending $1,060 on a dinner held last July at LaForge Casino, the Newport restaurant owned by the late Rep. Paul Crowley. Rhode Island Housing disclosed two dinners totaling $235.59 at Local 121, the popular downtown Providence eatery owned by Sen. Josh Miller.

It's curious how Crowley managed to cull that information away from something that he wanted to highlight. It's almost as if he'd rather keep his audience in the dark.

January 21, 2008

According to Script

Justin Katz

Catching up on some regrettably lapsed blog reading habits, I came across a post by Lane Core that notes a January 2 post by the Anchoress with the following bit of prescience:

What I dread most in this political season is the "genuine" moment - and it is coming, soon, sometime between today and tomorrow, or tomorrow and New Hampshire - when Mrs. Clinton, in her ongoing effort to turn herself into whatever the polls says she must be, cries in public. It's going to be genuinely ghastly.

And on such things does history turn. Too bad modernists killed poetry. A. Pope would have produced a classic.

Oh, Muse! Forgive my tempered state.
What cold decline can't tears make good,
When they, from poll-led candidate,
Still serve to warm the sisterhood.

Summarizing a Conservative World View

Donald B. Hawthorne

Mona Charen describes John Hood's definition as "the best one paragraph summation of what it means to be a conservative I've seen in a long, long time."

The conservative movement constitutes an alliance of those who accept unchangeable facts rather than trying to wish fantasy into reality, remake human nature, or avoid economic tradeoffs. Traditionalists embrace timeless morals, even when they deny one immediate gratification. Libertarians embrace the sovereignty of consumer demand and the sometimes-disorienting effects of technological change, even when the result isn't to one's personal liking. And hawks embrace the reality that America lives in a dangerous neighborhood, one full of bullies, pirates, and fanatics who respond to gestures of good will with contempt, larceny, and brutality.

Let's Not Spin the Spin, Mr. Donnis

Justin Katz

Over on Not for Nothing, Ian Donnis chortles about Hillary: The Movie, noting:

Among the things we learn from Ann Coulter and a host of other putative experts is that Hillary is "worse than Nixon." OK!

I'm disinclined to rush to the movie's defense as anything other than a political production, but this particular selectivity of information is indicative of the difficulty that folks on the Left and Right have communicating. Ian narrows in on the most easily dismissed commentator (among his own crowd), Ann Coulter, and the most outrageous comment (among his own crowd), which she didn't even say. Names like Michael Barone and Larry Kudlow (let alone Barack Obama) would presumably carry less of the ha-what-trash factor for liberals. Throwing out the Nixon cliché — as the gold standard for political corruption (outside of RI, anyway) — avoids uncomfortable discussion about just how manipulative and deceitful the Clintons actually are.

A Question of Process

Justin Katz

Kenny Cicerone, whom I mentioned last week, has some specific allegations against local politicians in North Providence (with details likely to be found on his Web sites) and a question that Anchor Rising readers might be able to answer:

How does an individual or group go about filing ethics complaints against elected officials?

January 20, 2008

Accidentally Taking the Good with the Bad

Justin Katz

By way of a functionality note: We're in the midst of a particularly voluminous and pernicious wave of comment spam, so if a comment of yours should happen to disappear, it's more likely to have fallen victim to my speed-weeding than to have been deliberately removed.

I've already caught one such error, myself, but don't be afraid to let me know if your words disappear.

Budget Commentary on WPRI's Newsmakers

Monique Chartier

William Felkner of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute appeared in the third segement of today's Newsmakers to discuss the state budget.

Felkner voiced the thought of many of us that while the Governor's proposed initiatives in the supplemental budget are a good start, they may not go far enough. [Side note: there are rumors that his proposed 2008/2009 budget will contain more ambitious measures.] He touched also upon the generous compensation to be found in state and municipal employment, introducing the novel and daring concept of public sector workers receiving the same level of pay and benefits as private sector workers.

In this segment, look also for The Phoenix's Ian Donnis to explicitly admit to a cell phone addiction as he expresses opposition to a proposed $50 fine for the use of a hand-held cell phone while driving.

Economic Perspective

Justin Katz

With all the talk that you're sure to hear over the next year about "Bush's recession" and (usually separately) Rhode Island's financial troubles, it'll be crucial to maintain proper perspective:

Rhode Island payrolls shrank for the second straight month in December and the unemployment rate climbed to 5.5 percent, its highest level in more than a year, a government report released today shows.

The state Department of Labor and Training reported that the number of unemployed people last month increased to 31,800, the highest number since June 1995.

Massachusetts last month lost 2,700 jobs, and the unemployment rate rose two-tenths of a percentage point, to 4.5 percent.

The national unemployment rate last month was 5 percent.

Anybody who wishes to lay the blame for Rhode Island's troubles at any other doorsteps than those of the state and local governments has to explain why the economic policies of Mr. Bush (to pick one likely target) leaves Rhode Island behind the national average, and twice as far behind its "closest" neighbor.

Barack Obama in Candidates and the Pulpit

Monique Chartier

From the AP:

Heading into the most racially diverse contest yet in the presidential campaign, [Senator Barack] Obama took to the pulpit at Martin Luther King Jr.'s Ebenezer Baptist Church on the eve of the federal holiday celebrating the civil rights hero's birth 79 years ago. His speech was based on King's quote that "Unity is the great need of the hour."

The words he spoke from the pulpit were certainly applause-worthy:

"The divisions, the stereotypes, the scape-goating, the ease with which we blame the plight of ourselves on others, all of that distracts us from the common challenges we face: war and poverty; inequality and injustice," Obama said. "We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing each other down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late."

But Senator Obama is a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. And this church presumably enjoys the tax-exempt status of most churches. How do we distinguish when someone is speaking from the pulpit as a candidate and when s/he is speaking as a private citizen to celebrate the ideas and achievements of a great man? Is it even possible to do so?

It appears, then, that this church may have committed a no-no:

Section 501(c)(3) of the IRC prohibits organizations that are exempt from federal income tax under its provisions, including Catholic organizations exempt under the USCCB Group Ruling, from participating or intervening in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. This prohibition has been interpreted as absolute.

That document, entitled "2007 Political Activity Guidelines for Catholic Organizations", is from the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and presumably applies equally to the Baptist Church at which Senator Obama spoke.

Even hypothetically, suppose this church allowed other candidates to speak from the pulpit? Would that equalize their invitation to Senator Obama? Or would that only exacerbate the problem of mixing politics with a tax-exempt institution?


Senator Hillary Clinton, also a candidate for the Presidency of the United States, visited the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem yesterday where she received the endorsement of its pastor, the Reverend Calvin O. Butts III. Such an action by the good pastor appears to fall well within the above list of prohibited activities.

A Public Disservice

Justin Katz

Let it be noted for the public record that it is patently unfair of the Tiverton Town Council and the Tiverton School Committee to have key budget-related meetings at the same time on Tuesday evening. Should interested citizens (few as we may be) follow the doings of those most directly able to take our tax dollars or of those who spend the greatest part of it?

Which do you, dear reader, think I should attend?

America's Long War(s)

Mac Owens

This past year I had the opportunity to serve as a member of the "Future War" panel of the Defense Science Board 2007 Summer Study. I have distilled my contribution to the final report in this piece for the Foreign Policy Research Insitute (FPRI). In it, I try to lay out some of the challenges that US defense planners will face in the future, including the continuing war against Islamic extremism, nuclear weapons proliferation, the rise of China, and a possibly resurgent--and hostile--Russia. I'm not looking for trouble, but it is alway prudent to consider all the possibilities and examine the risks. As a former Army chief of staff once observed, hope is not a very good strategy.

For those Anchor Rising readers who follow security affairs, you might be interested to know that I am the new editor of FPRI’s quarterly journal, Orbis.

The Voices on Either Side

Justin Katz

Tiverton School Committee member Jan Bergandy has an excellent letter (which is unfortunately not online) in the current Sakonnet Times:

The bird-flipping spiritual leader of the NEA has not been seen in town recently but I would not be surprised if his teachings inspired the followers. This is what happens when you do not have a mind of your own. You find yourself in a place where you do not want to be and you do not know how you got there. We teach this to kids and teachers cannot get it. This would not happen if you did not lose the compass of professional ethics. For teachers the single most important rule is: "If it can harm a student — do not do it!"

Well, who am I to give advice — just a parent, taxpayer, and a teacher of 30 years. How can my humble voice compete with the great wisdom of 13 "negotiation tactics" published by your spiritual leader, the tactics faithfully followed by the worshiping masses of Tiverton teachers? But for whatever it is worth, here is my advice:

  1. Break our hearts doing for the kids more than you have ever done before (some teachers are doing just that) instead of telling us what you are not going to do for them.
  2. Lead, encourage, and inspire young teachers instead of forcing them to "work-to-rule" or making them do your dirty work (publishing the letter).
  3. Serve as role models for our kids and inspire them by your actions instead of breaking the law by going on strike, making obscene gestures during your demonstrations, planning to picket the hospital, and at your "greatest" attacking a parent using her child as a hostage.
  4. Teach the kids by example how to behave rationally. Look at the numbers (financial data) before you lead 200 intelligent people to war with their proven allies (Tiverton citizens, superintendent, and school committee) for something that does not exist (money beyond what was offered) using a strategy that can lead to your self-destruction.
  5. Your spiritual leader, just before "flipping the bird," had the moment of his greatest inspiration. He was heard exclaiming "People (addressing the demonstrating teachers) help me. I am running out of options here!" It is a pity you did not hear him. Maybe he forgot to use his magic horn. After this he left to bless other communities of Rhode Island with his teachings.

    As parents we will never forget the great things some of you are doing for our children. But let there be no mistake, as parents and taxpayers we will also never forget the harm you may try to do to even one of our children. This community should stand united to condemn the despicable actions of a group of teachers who planned and executed an attack on a parent using her child as a pawn. Every child in Tiverton is special and every child in this town is our child! Yes, Ms. Mullen, no matter how much damage control you will do in the press there will be no bargaining even one child for a contract!

The one thing that Mr. Bergandy fails to acknowledge, considering his advice, is that, were the teachers to follow it, they'd have no use for a union. If the union can't get them money beyond what is offered, what good is it? Our awashedness in Democrat shibboleths notwithstanding, it's about time we stopped pussyfooting around this reality.

Tiverton Town Council member Brian Medeiros insisted, while proposing another resolution to support the school committee, that his action "is not in any way anti-teacher or anti-union," but on the latter count, it should be. Have we no trust in ourselves to treat teachers fairly if there are no bullhorn-wielding and politically powerful thugs behind them?

Let's take this ordeal as an opportunity for self-edification. Tiverton NEA President Amy Mullen explained the following to the Providence Journal:

Because of the committee's adverse reaction to [bird-flipping Assistant Executive Director Patrick] Crowley, however, Mullen said that the Tiverton union has distanced itself from him.

"The School Committee reactions and feelings toward Mr. Crowley made it very difficult for us to get anywhere" in negotiations, she said.

The presence of Mr. Crowley on the scene was only an outward manifestation of the illness within — infecting the entire state. Teaching should not be a unionized profession, because union goals, practices, and priorities are anathematic to those of education.

On Gaia's Good Side

Justin Katz

One hopes that most devout Christians — Catholics especially — have a wave of initial suspicion upon hearing such admonitions as "if we only care about heaven, then we've lost Jesus' sense of urgency about loving your neighbor. We're all kin, so my neighbor is also the polar bear and the bumblebee." It is wise, in such company as was to be found at the Rhode Island Interfaith Power and Light conference at Bishop Hendricken, last week, to resist the urge to run to one's Bible for contrary evidence. But...

I've thus far missed the passage wherein the disciples ask Jesus when they helped Him and He replies, "I was a polar bear, and you preserved my natural habitat." And I seem to recall His offering a statement about the comparative value of sparrows and people.

Oh, I'm fully persuaded that good stewardship of the natural world is among mankind's responsibilities, but embracing such bromides as "greening your congregation" and such fashionable solutions as those cute (mercury-containing) compact fluorescent bulbs feels a bit more like an answer to the call of Gaia, than of Yahweh:

The eco-conversion [keynote speaker and Episcopal priest Margaret Bullitt-Jonas] described, and encourages others to undergo, had three steps closely modeled on Christian theology.

First is "Creation" — developing an awareness of and appreciation for God's creation. Then, "Crucifixion" — feeling grief and guilt for the things humans have done to creation. Ultimately, "Resurrection" — working for justice, healing and reconciliation. She encouraged those in the audience to take stock of the things that they do to harm the planet and the things they can do to help it. Even doing something small, she said, will make you "wake up in the morning and have a little more integrity." She commended those who attended for taking at least the first step in this journey. "We together are the future we need to be seeing more of."

Justice for the planet? The dodo as the recrucified Lord? Recycling as a measure of human integrity? Just compare the confusing contrivedness of that last quotation with the awe inspiring concision of the very name of God.

There's something related, in the religious quarters of the greening movement, to the topic of Fr. John Kiley's latest Quiet Corner column in the print edition of the Rhode Island Catholic:

The heightened appreciation of the sacred element in church life by younger priests and seminarians (as well as by some older priests) might be a justified reaction to the social worker mentality that many priests adopted in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. Priests, and religious, became agents of change rather than ministers of the Gospel. A role proper to the laity was assumed by the clergy. The transformation of the secular world became the preoccupation of many priests, while loss of faith in the supernatural grew apace among both clergy and laity. ...

This assimilation of mainstream Catholic America into (let's be honest) mainstream Protestant America seems to call precisely for a renewed appreciation of everything that is uniquely Catholic: the parish priest as the embodiment of mediatorship within the Catholic community; the Eucharist as Christ's sacrifice renewed by the priest at the altar; the assurance of forgiveness offered through the priest's formal absolution; the word of authentic revelation and tradition preached daily from Catholic pulpits; the witness of celibacy as a firm affirmation of fulfillment in the next life; and, precisely as indicated by Pope Benedict in his recent encyclical on hope, a keen spiritual focus on heaven, eternity and the world-to-come.

We are called to look toward the Kingdom of God, which is not of this world. If the warmth of an incandescent bulb or, more to the point, the monetary and psychic resources not devoted to reduced carbon footprints can do more to lead us thereto than "eliminating disposable dishes," I say that we allow our churches to keep the hue that they naturally attain, whether by incense or energy-inefficient stained glass.

January 19, 2008

Snakes and Snake-Killers in the Providence Fruit Building Thing

Monique Chartier

While we try to understand how a city can issue a Demolition Permit for an historic building, let's take a look at the June 20, 2006, minutes of the State Properties Committee meeting at which the Purchase & Sale Agreement and the deed were approved, during which Chairman Jerome Williams repeatedly expressed concern that the building not be razed:

Chairman Williams understood the historical restrictions, however; he is concerned that if the State Properties Committee approves the sale of the property at four million five hundred thousand and 00/100 ($4,500,000.00) Dollars and then Carpionato Properties, Inc. is allowed to demolish the building, the State of Rhode Island will clearly not have received fair and equitable compensation for the subject property.

To these queries, Mr. Kelly Coates, Senior Vice of Carpionato Properties, made the following statements:

... that the exact legal language states that anything done by Carpionato Properties, Inc. is subject to the approval of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. Therefore, any plans for the property will require its consent and language to that effect is contained in the Purchase and Sale Agreement.

* * * *

... that a development plan has been reviewed by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission and they have executed the same. Mr. Coates indicated that a substantial amount of time has passed since the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission’s execution of the agreement, however, that signed development plan is also an exhibit to the Purchase and Sale Agreement. Mr. Coates reiterated that any work done by Carpionato Properties, Inc. relative to this property is entirely at the discretion and mercy of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission.

And Attorney Thomas V. Moses, representing Carpionato Properties...

...once again, reiterated the significant restrictions placed upon Carpionato Properties, Inc. relative to the development of the property.

* * * *

indicated that approval of Carpionato Properties, Inc.'s development plan is contingent upon its incorporating the existing structure.

While they were presumably not under oath at this meeting, are Mr. Coates and Attorney Moses permitted to overtly dissemble in this way?

Snakes will be snakes. The more edifying concern is whether members of the State Properties Committee, supposedly one of the snake-killing branches of our government, have verified for themselves that the requisite condition was a part of the Purchase & Sales Agreement by ... um ... reading the documents that they were asked to approve.

The name of Michael D. Mitchell, legal counsel to the state, is mentioned repeatedly in these and other minutes of meetings of the State Properties Committee at which the disposition of this property was discussed and eventually approved. Can we know, please, what role he played in this unfortunate little drama?


Commenter "Brassband" adds the Attorney General to Rhode Island officials m.i.a. in this matter:

I will reiterate -- it is the responsibility of the Attorney General to assure that all of the actual conveyancing documents are proper. The statute requires him to approve all deeds "as to form," and there can be no proper transfer of the state's interest in real estate if that is not accomplished.

The question is; who from the AG's office approved the deed? If the answer is "no one," then why wasn't that issue raised before Judge Silverstein last week?

RI General Law 37-7-3 states:

The deed shall be executed on behalf of the state by the acquiring authority, approved as to substance by the director of administration, and approved as to form by the attorney general.

Minutes of the June 20, 2006 meeting confirm the presence of Committee members Mr. Robert Griffith representing the RI Department of Administration and Genevieve Allaire Johnson, Esquire, representing the Attorney General's office. Additionally, in attendance were Marlene McCarthy Tuohy and Kevin Nelson from the RI Department of Administration.

Interestingly, the minutes state that Michael D. Mitchell "from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation" was in attendance at this meeting, though the RI Bar Association Directory presently lists him as Deputy Chief of Legal Services for the RI Department of Administration. Either Mr. Mitchell wore two hats at the time or he changed jobs in the interim.

How Disappointing Is This Administration

Justin Katz

As if to demoralize conservative hawks heading into an election year, the Bush administration is falling back to the U.S. political-class default with respect to Palestinian terror:

The "road map" for peace, conceived in 2002 by Mr. Bush, had become a hindrance to the peace process, because the first requirement was that the Palestinians stop terrorist attacks.

As a result, every time there was a terrorist bombing, the peace process fell apart and went back to square one. Neither side ever began discussing the "core issues": the freezing of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the rights of Palestinian refugees to return, the outline of Israel's border and the future of Jerusalem.

"The reason that we haven't really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is that we were stuck in the sequentiality of the road map. So you had to do the first phase of the road map before you moved on to the third phase of the road map, which was the actual negotiations of final status," Miss Rice said.

Was a time when this administration understood that a willingness to resort to terrorism was the "core issue" — not just in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but throughout the world. Rice goes on to explain that it was necessary to "break that tight sequentiality ... to say, you can do these in parallel, you can do road-map obligations and negotiation for the final status in parallel," but we've been through this before: The result is that Israel and the United States display their carrots and domestic and international pro-Palestinian (anti-Israeli and anti-American) forces pressure them to start handing the carrots on the promise that it will inspire the Palestinians to lower their stick just a little more.

I'm with Jeff Jacoby:

Whatever happened to the moral clarity that informed the president's worldview in the wake of 9/11? Whatever happened to the conviction that was at the core of the Bush Doctrine: that terrorists must be anathematized and defeated, and the fever-swamps that breed them drained and detoxified? ...

Now that policy has gone by the boards, replaced by one less focused on achieving peace than on maintaining a "peace process." No doubt it is difficult, as Rice says, to "move forward on the peace process" when the Palestinian Authority glorifies suicide bombers and encourages a murderous goal of eliminating the Jewish state. If the Bush Doctrine - "with us or with the terrorists" - were still in force, the peace process would be shelved. The administration would be treating the Palestinians as pariahs, allowing them no assistance of any kind, much less movement toward statehood, so long as their encouragement of terrorism persisted.

Now There's an Interesting Idea

Justin Katz

Not long after I'd circled the following paragraphs in my copy of today's paper, I noticed a typical bit of ad ignorantiam over on RI Future:

Carcieri's chief budget officer, Rosemary Booth Gallogly, suggested earlier in the week that the administration may have "another alternative if there were a fiscal crisis."

A provision in Rhode Island law gives the governor emergency power to suspend law during "disaster emergencies."

Rhode Islanders with anything above an eighth-grade reading level (whether that level is judged according to our standards or, say, Massachusetts's) might understand that the place to research "a provision in Rhode Island law" would be our state's General Laws, not its Constitution, and indeed, among the statutes is this definition (emphasis added):

(1) "Disaster" means occurrence or imminent threat of widespread or severe damage, injury, or loss of life or property resulting from any natural or man made cause, including but not limited to: ...

(vi) Epidemic; ...

(viii) Blight; ...

(x) Infestation; ...

(xiv) Endangerment of the health, safety, or resources of the people of the state

I'll leave it to lawyers to discern whether epidemic stupidity, a blight of legislative corruption, and infestation by parasitic moochers apply, but even if the governor must rely on the imminent endangerment of citizens' resources, it's at least plausible that a sufficiently reckless and harmful budget passed by the General Assembly this year might entitle the governor to:

Suspend the provisions of any regulatory statute prescribing the procedures for conduct of state business, or the orders, rules, or regulations of any state agency, if strict compliance with the provisions of any statute, order, rule, or regulation would in any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with the emergency, provided that the suspension of any statute, order, rule or regulation will be limited in duration and scope to the emergency action requiring said suspension.

Of course, the General Assembly "may terminate a state of disaster emergency at any time," but I'd say it would make for very interesting workplace and dinner-table discussion for Rhode Islanders to consider the description of "what actions are being taken to control the emergency and what action the public should take to protect themselves" that the governor would thereafter be required to produce.

Among the latter class of actions is an option that the NEA-RI's executive director, Bob Walsh, continues to ignore:

"It's crazy to tell some of the top earners in Rhode Island, people making millions of dollars a year, that they don't have to share in this burden," Walsh said.

Those "top earners" — many making much less than millions of dollars a year — already share a disproportionate amount of the burden that Mr. Walsh has worked so diligently to help foist on the state's shoulders. And in point of fact, it's simple truth to tell them "that they don't have to share in this burden": They can simply gather up their belongings and assets and leave.

Proposals as Defense

Justin Katz

In response to my inquiry to RI Senate President Joseph Montalbano as to the reason that "not one of the proposals that came out of last year's [small-business economic] summit, including revisions to the stringent new fire code, made it into law," Senate Director of Communications Greg Paré emailed that Senator William Walaska (D, Warwick) and Senator Joshua Miller (D, Cranston/Warwick) were the members of that body in attendance at this year's summit. Mr. Paré sent along Sen. Walaska's prepared comments for the meeting (which readers will find "below the fold" of this post), and I followed up by pursuing the thoughts of the Senate president, himself, about the meeting, as well as about this interesting bit of Walaska's speech:

I sponsored legislation last session to place a moratorium on mandates to health insurance companies, and I will introduce similar legislation this year.

Specifically, I asked to what Mr. Montalbano ascribes the failure of the moratorium to materialize and whether he intends to back the repeat bill this year. I haven't been keeping a tally, but my impression is that citizens hear a bit too frequently such formulations as: "I submitted potentially helpful legislation last year and will do so again." That's all well and good, but simply sponsoring legislation doesn't provide cover for a failure to see it through into law, bucking the General Assembly powers that be if necessary.

Once again, readers' sending Senator Montalbano a quick note requesting that he take a moment to answer my questions couldn't hurt. (I still haven't heard from House Speaker Murphy regarding this matter, by the way.)

Senator William Walaska's opening remarks to the SBA Economic Summit Plenary Panel Discussion, January 11, 2008:

It is wonderful to be here, and I am pleased to join my colleagues in government in this important interaction between the public and private sectors. This is a tremendous opportunity, and I welcome this dialogue with the small business leaders in our state. On behalf of President of the Senate Joseph Montalbano and Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva Weed, thank you to Mark Hayward and the Small Business Administration for again putting together this wonderful event.

The economic development committees that met today focused on issues that remain priorities for us in the General Assembly, and the exchange of ideas among small business leaders and government leaders has proven invaluable towards achieving results.

Indeed, we have made progress around many of the ideas introduced during last year's summit. For instance, last session I worked in conjunction with the Department of Business Regulation to pass legislation that allows Rhode Island to participate in a national, online licensing system for mortgage originators. This web-based system allows state licensees, companies, branches and loan officers to apply for, amend, update or renew licenses online in Rhode Island as well as other participating states.

Rhode Island is on the cutting edge in this regard. We are one of just seven states to offer this service. Over the next several years I would like to see more licensing services available online. It is the direction we should be heading ... utilizing technology to help small businesses cut through the red tape of government regulation.

Another example of the progress that has been made since last year's summit is the appointment of a Director of the Department of Revenue. Last year, you joined in our call for appointment of a director. The letter making the appointment of Gary Sasse official arrived in the Senate earlier this week. This position is essential as we try to make smart decisions to establish a more efficient government.

Around health care, we passed legislation last year establishing a commission to look at the restructuring of the health insurance market for small business, looking at the rules that apply to small business and the rules that apply to the individual market, and taking the best of both. Senator Miller has participated in that effort from the Senate side, along with Health Insurance Commissioner Chris Koller.

I sponsored legislation last session to place a moratorium on mandates to health insurance companies, and I will introduce similar legislation this year. Additionally, I would anticipate legislation related to development of a technology-based health information exchange, although it is likely to be controversial.

I would also anticipate legislation that would move us closer to universal health care. The senate has traditionally resisted efforts that would erode health care coverage.

On education and workforce development, I think a major step forward has been taken with the implementation of new graduation standards, designed to ensure workforce preparedness. Today, students must demonstrate a certain skill set in order to graduate high school.

This session, the education funding formula will remain a major issue. We need a funding formula. I would note that last session’s proposal took into account and sought to remedy discrepancies in career and technical education, increasing standards and accountability to improve quality.

Another important goal this year along these lines is to make the workforce training programs more user friendly. We look to small business for input in this area, and in all of the areas I have mentioned.

Finally, I have been pleased to have worked for a number of years on energy issues, particularly with regard to renewable energy. This year you can expect a proposal from the leadership in the Senate to create a Power Authority. The Senate passed a measure last year, but it did not become law. It is our view that a Power Authority is a critical piece of the puzzle for making renewable energy projects a reality.

The Senate welcomes this opportunity for us to work together to address the issues that we are all concerned with. Working together, we can make more progress this year to further improve the business climate in Rhode Island. Thank you for having me today.

Sen. Reed Suffering from Fonzi Syndrome*

Marc Comtois

Senator Jack Reed is in Iraq assessing the situation.

While revising his earlier view of the surge strategy — too small and too gradual to work, he said when Mr. Bush proposed it last January — Reed said he stands by his prescription for the path ahead in Iraq: a U.S. declaration of policy that fixes a date to begin reducing U.S. forces in Iraq and shifts their mission from combat to counterterrorism, and the training and support of Iraqi troops.
Ahh yes, "revising his earlier view." That's one way of saying "I was wrong."

*Fonzi Syndrome, sometimes called the Fonzi Factor.

William Felkner: Ideological Corruption on Campus

Engaged Citizen

Robert Shibley, vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), slammed Brown and URI for their blatant attempts to squelch First Amendment rights in Friday's Providence Journal:

Brown University was home to one of the most mysterious cases that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has ever seen — mysterious because the university never explained why it decided to trample on its students' freedom of religion. Brown's Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) was suspended in September 2006 for "non-compliance" with university policy. When the RUF asked what it had failed to comply with, the strange saga began.

After FIRE repeatedly reminded Brown University that it, too, must obey the U.S. Constitution, all charges and restrictions against RUF were removed. To date, no explanation has been given.

Next we turn our eyes to URI, where FIRE found the Student Senate, backed with institutional power, trying to force the College Republicans to write an apology for offering a $100 WHAM scholarship (white heterosexual American male). After a few letters and some embarrassing press, they finally got it: "no state authority can force people to say things they don't believe."

The timing is entirely coincidental, but my first piece on the Manhattan Institute's new Web site, Minding the Campus, tells a similar story to Mr. Shibley's — this time in another of our state sponsored schools, Rhode Island College.

My previous run-ins with the college suggest that RIC isn't at all new to exercising its dictatorial rights. Remember Lisa Church — the teacher taken to task for not punishing a parent for using "colorful" language? Or perhaps the infamous "keep your Rosaries off my ovaries" fiasco?

With those incidents, I decided to support the college for protecting students' right to be offensive (if rather dumb). In "I Pray Sacrilege Is Protected," I draw the line from the RIC "Jesus Cartoon" to 1943's West Virginia v. Barnette, which instructed that "no officer, high or petty, shall prescribe orthodoxy to a profession." In other words, professors (who, some would say, are both high and petty) may not require a politically, religiously, or otherwise restricted right of thought. They can't tell us what to think and say.

An RI Supreme Court Case, Lee v. Weisman, involving prayers stripped from public graduations, takes us back to RIC, which is still confused about which parts of the First Amendment it wants to or can restrict.

Politicians make back-room deals and close out the citizens for money and votes. The representatives of higher education act on behalf of an ideological currency. The first corrupt the political process, the second the minds of American students.

William Felkner is the president of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute.

January 18, 2008

A Rare Zen Moment of Simplicity

Donald B. Hawthorne

Roger Simon frames the debate:

While watching the endless pundit blather on TV tonight after the Republican Michigan Primary and Democratic Nevada Debate and reading the various opinion meisters commentaries online, I had one of those rare zen moments of simplicity. It all comes down to a simple question:

Who would you like to be in the White House if Pakistan fell to al Qaeda and the Islamists gained control of its nuclear arsenal?

Answer that question and you will know your candidate. All the rest, as they say, is commentary.

Well, It's a Start

Justin Katz

Representative Kenneth Carter (D, North Kingstown/Exeter) deserves credit for putting forward one piece of the solution:

"... a humane society is concerned about all its members, including those who must pay the bill for the needier," he said. "We cannot continue to drain others dry so that individuals on public assistance are able to do nothing for five years but hold out their hand and pick up a check. We are supporting a non-working class of people for too long, and driving many of our taxpayers to the brink."

Representative Carter's solution is to put a time limit on public assistance, shorter than the five years now allowed. His legislation, (2008 - H7021), would limit public assistance to 24 months in a continuous five-year period. The initial continuous five-year period would begin on January 1, 2009, for those receiving assistance on that date, or the date that a family unit first becomes eligible for assistance.

We'll see whither this goes, but even its passage is insufficient. As any public-dime activist in the state will tell you, the cash assistance program doesn't represent the bulk of social services spending in the state.

Watch for the General Assembly to either let this one die in committee or pass some version of Carter's bill with a compensatory increase somewhere else on the government hand-out menu.

Surveying the Punditry on the GOP Prez Potentials

Marc Comtois

According to various (fellow?) nattering nabobs....Fred Thompson is either callous or thoughtful...and he may be surging in South Carolina. However, SC will probably go to Scoop Jackson Democrat John McCain or the limited Mike Huckabee. Questions remain: can Romney catch on? Did Rudy miscalculate? One thing is for sure, we'll probably have to wait until Feb 5 to figure it out. Besides, the most important contest this weekend is occurring right here in New England!

Putting Out Fire Code Flare-Ups on a Discretionary Basis

Justin Katz

Any softening of Rhode Island's new wish-list fire code are welcome, but this seems a little too typical of the state's operating practices to inspire comfort:

Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano testified at an open hearing on the code regulation changes that was held last September, to re-emphasize the Senate's position that the code changes do not require General Assembly action.

"The Senate has maintained that this Board has the power and obligation to address implementation issues that arise relative to Rhode Island's updated fire safety code," said President Montalbano at that September hearing. "You (the board) have the ability to analyze technical public testimony, and the guidelines of the Administrative Procedures Act, to formulate a fair and consistent resolution to many of the issues at hand. Any further legislative changes should be viewed solely as a last resort, and only after all regulatory powers are exhausted."

So, after the Station Nightclub fire (for which not a single public official was pegged with any culpability), the legislature enacted a criminally arduous fire code, and now it is giving the unelected RI Fire Safety Code Board of Appeal and Review the power to ease the severity for specific parties or groups at its own discretion. Here's a question: Will the board be held liable if it grants an exception or other form of "relief" and the recipient of that leniency has the tragic misfortune of hosting a fatal conflagration?

Speaking Up in North Providence

Justin Katz

Kenny Cicerone, of North Providence, has caught the online-activism bug. His North Providence Taxpayers Association is seeking to file an ethics complaint against Senate President Joseph Montalbano "for being a municiple court judge in North Providence, where he solicits votes, and he was appointed as judge after voting to give the town council a raise from $1,500 to $8,000." Secretary of State Ralph Mollis is on Kenny's list, too.

For more, see North Providence Town Council Must Go and the less specific Rhode Island Elected Must Go.

January 17, 2008

Is There More to this Providence Fruit Building Thing?

Marc Comtois

As an admitted antiquarian, I've never met an old building I didn't think should be preserved and re-used. But that's just me and I recognize that--beauty being in the eye of beholder--not everyone thinks that the Providence Fruit and Produce Company Warehouse (more here) was worth preserving, restoring or reconfiguring. OK, fine. But what troubled me about the events leading up to the demolition of the building was the manifest failure of the government--state and City of Providence--to get their acts together. In particular, how the state's incompetence ended up in lost revenue:

The state bought the building from Amtrak for $14.1 million and evicted the remaining businesses. It held the property for six years while it debated what to do with it — either knock it down or sell it — and the property deteriorated, becoming a haven for the homeless and a draw for graffiti artists.

After lobbying by local preservationists, the state decided to put the building up for sale in the spring of 2004, with the condition that the original structure be incorporated into any new design.

The state’s request for proposals included a draft preservation easement that prevents the developer from knocking the building down for any reason — even in an emergency situation, only localized repairs are allowed without permission from state historic preservation officials.

But that preservation easement was never included in either the purchase agreement or the final property transfer last February....

Carpionato responded to the request with a $4.5-million bid, and on July 8, 2004, proposed a Quincy Market-style development featuring dozens of small shops. The state agreed in principle to the design, and consented to sell the building to Carpionato for $10 million less than the $14.1-million price it had paid to Amtrak seven years before. The reason, state officials said, was that half of the property had been sliced off to allow for the offramp construction. The other reason was that forcing the buyer to re-use the old building clearly reduced the value of the property....

So the state wanted to preserve the building, but did nothing to ensure compliance. Well, almost nothing:
A section of the deal requires the developer to set aside $250,000 to be paid if Carpionato breaches the agreement, Moses wrote. But that is the extent of Carpionato’s liability, he argued, and beyond that, the state does not have legal recourse; nothing prevents Carpionato from destroying the building if the situation changes for regulatory reasons — like issuance of a demolition permit.
I'm unsure if the $250,000 will be paid--but it's a small price to pay, anyway.

I'm not particularly impressed with the way that Carpianato has gone about this and my impression is that this was their gameplan (h/t) all along. But the whole way this went down has me wondering if this isn't a case of the State being incompetent....maybe someone on the State side of things had a reason to leave out the previously agreed upon guarantees and conditions in the final purchase agreement. I don't know. But the mystery of why they were left out remains.

So, to summarize, I'm not debating the aesthetics of whether to demolish or save. I am questioning the flow of events that led to the outcome. The property was sold under a certain set of pretenses that supposedly guaranteed preservation of the original structure in some form. As a result of these assumptions, the property was sold for cheaper than market value because preservation is more expensive than ripping it down. In other words, the property could have probably fetched more money if these supposed qualifications weren't in place to begin with. That would have meant more money to the State (ie; taxpayers), including no historic tax credit, incidentally. The end result is that the developer got the best of both world; a cheaper, "preservation price" for the property and then the eventual go-ahead to demolish and develop at a more "economical" price.

So, I wonder if a game was being played from the start to keep the price down based on a pretense of preservation that would ultimately prove unenforceable because the legal language guaranteeing preservation was mysteriously left out of the final deal.

Blue Cross: Who Is Holding the Bag?

Monique Chartier

In mid-November, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island applied for a 12% rate increase of its direct pay (i.e., non-group) products. Public hearings have been under way.

On December 13, 2007, US Attorney Robert Clark Corrente announced that as a part of Operation Dollar Bill, his office had reached an agreement with Blue Cross "under which the insurer will pay $20 million to resolve matters related to the government’s ongoing public corruption investigation" but that Blue Cross will not "seek any rate increases specifically to recoup the $20 million."

In a Providence Business News article posted December 13, 2007, however, the President of Blue Cross, James E. Purcell states that:

"The actual negotiations have been over the past several months and we concluded them just the other day.”

So Blue Cross was fully cognizent when it applied for this rate hike that it was facing a hefty monetary penalty.

Blue Cross is a non-profit organization. Its prime source of revenue is subscribers. If expenses rise, rates rise. Expenses rose in 2007 by $20million.

Is the substantial fine a part of the reason for the present rate hike request? Is a similarly motivated rate hike request for Blue Cross' other products in the works?

Blue Cross filings in support of the rate hike request lay out an elaborate case that the hike is or will be needed to maintain its reserves. Really? Affidavits by officers, directors and managers of Blue Cross that proceedings from this rate increase will not go towards the $20million fine or to replace existing monies that went to the $20million are not to be found among the filings. On that basis alone, the Health Insurance Commissioner must deny this rate increase request. In fact, unless and until the US Attorney's office reconsiders the $20million fine or correctly redirects it to the guilty parties, the Commissioner has no choice but to deny all future rate increase requests by Blue Cross.

Otherwise, Blue Cross subscribers will be left holding the wrong bag for the brown bag activity of Blue Cross.

January 16, 2008

Breaking Through the Media Meme on GOP "Disarray"

Marc Comtois

Ian has linked to a typical MSM piece that purports to show that the GOP is in disarray because there have been 3 different winners in the caucus/primaries so far. It's a common theme. My gut reaction is that--contra the Democrats--Republicans are fighting over ideas, not identity, and that takes some figuring out. But a more basic fact is that, for the most part, the primary calendar is such that the early states are outliers to a typical primary. In short, they are wide open to others than simply Republicans. If you look closely at the numbers, you'll find that, thus far, Mitt Romney is doing very well amongst Republicans. (Everything that follows has been distilled from here).

First: there is a long way to go. But the 4 states that have made decisions actually do provide some insight into how Republicans are thinking (at least, Republicans in those states). Again--remember--of the four states, only Wyoming has a GOP-only(ie; "closed") primary. The rest are "open" to independents (and even Democrats). That is why for Iowa, NH and Michigan, there is a disparity between the overall % of vote garnered and the GOP-only vote:


Now, there are benefits to open and closed primaries, but my point here is to argue against this idea that Republicans are in a state of flux. So, in addition to the above, Romney won 67% of the Wyoming primary (which is "closed") and Thompson got 25%--both are more traditional Republicans of the Reagan mold (...that is supposedly broken).

Finally, taking a look at both the current delegate count and the % of GOP votes cast so far, it's pretty clear that Romney is the GOP frontrunner.


The only social conservatives Huckabee has proven he can get are Evangelicals (who are falling for "identity" politics, btw) while McCain relies heavily upon center-left Independents. Romney is the only one who has consistently pulled traditional, conservative Republicans, no matter how you spin it. Obviously, these "standings" can--and will--change. Giuliani is banking on a Florida + Super Tuesday plan and Thompson is banking on South Carolina. Both are more traditional Republicans (of the left and right kinds) than either Huckabee or McCain, so there will probably be some cutting into Romney's hold on the core demographic of, you know, actual Republicans.

ADDENDUM: Contra to some of the comments, I'm actually not a Romney guy, fellas. And trying to cite the media for proof of anything is exactly the problem. It is they who are "vexed" because they rely upon a simplistic frontrunner/underdog narrative to push their product. The GOP voters aren't complying by selecting multiple winners in, as I said, 3 (or 4) very different states. What I think the numbers show is if you focus just on GOP voters only, you'll see that the majority favors a candidate--Romney--with a more traditional, Republican message. (I also agree that Romney's 11th hour Michigan bailout is most definitely not "Reaganesque." However, most of his philosophy is what can be classified as tradional Republican--especially when compared to McCain or Huckabee).

Also, to reiterate, the GOP vote may swing to Guiliani or even Thompson in the upcoming states and I think either are more traditional Republicans--Guiliani a typical Northeastern Republican and Thompson a typical southern one--than either McCain or Huckabee. As for a national poll, well, primaries (and caucuses) are 50 individual contests--most for Republicans only and not just those who say they're Republican over the phone--and they can change based on the latest "conventional wisdom" and actual, you know, changes on the ground as candidates campaign in each individual state. Finally, I think Romney has enough money to stick it out for a while whether he wins or loses the next few states.

Is an End to the Education Funding Formula Distraction Near?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Commenter "Mike" points out a Jennifer D. Jordan article in today's Projo that declares, if not dead, the idea of a statewide "funding formula" for education is now comatose…

An unlikely coalition attempting to develop a statewide school-financing formula has broken apart just as the state grapples with a $600-million budget gap over two years, leaving the future of the ambitious plan in jeopardy.

A hearing to discuss the formula was scheduled for 1 p.m. today at the State House. The House Finance Committee was to hear from a consultant hired last year to help lawmakers develop the formula.

Members of the Joint Committee to Establish a Permanent Education Foundation Aid Formula said they hoped the meeting would resurrect the discussion. But it is unclear if there is enough political support to approve the formula this year.

I suspect the political-slash-fiscal reality that the proposed "funding formula" was going to require significant tax increases across the state while only benefiting a few communities finally sank into the minds of many of the politicians who would have to vote on it. "I'm voting to raise your taxes but give you nothing in return -- it's all going to the urban core because their problems matter and yours don't" is not exactly a winning formula in the suburban ring and the exurbs. And the politicians outside of the urban core probably didn't feel good about the positions they were hearing from urban reps like Edith Ajello…
Last June, the joint committee, chaired by Rep. Edith H. Ajello, D-Providence, and Sen. Hanna M. Gallo, D-Cranston, ended the session without passing a formula.

“I am hoping to push forward the concept of a formula even if there isn’t any money,” Ajello said in a recent interview.

So if a formula were to be passed, without new money being allocated, what would happen? Would everything get pro-rated to the amount of revenue that actually exists, requiring cuts in aid to some communities, so others could get their formula mandated percentages?

Finally, the Projo article quotes Valerie Forti of the Education Partnership on alternative proposals…

“We didn’t want to give local districts more money without getting outcomes,” said Forti, whose group pulled out of the coalition last year. “The formula should require more from districts. It might require a certain kind of professional development for teachers, or give principals more control over teacher placement, or require a longer school day and year.”
…to which I'll add one more: open districting, with money allocated to schools based on parents and students choosing to attend them. In a small, densely populated place like Rhode Island, a plan similar to the "San Francisco plan" described here could be very effective.

Michigan Presidential Primary Results

Carroll Andrew Morse

100% of the precincts have reported to CNN. The results are…


  • Mitt Romney, 337,847 (39%)
  • John McCain, 257,521 (30%)
  • Mike Huckabee, 139,699 (16%)
  • Ron Paul, 54,434 (6%)
  • Fred Thompson, 32,135 (4%)
  • Rudy Giuliani, 24,706 (3%)


  • Hillary Clinton, 328,151 (55%)
  • Uncommitted, 236,723 (40%)
  • Dennis Kucinich, 21,708 (4%)
Barack Obama and John Edwards chose not to appear on the Michigan ballot, to support the Democratic party's effort to prevent states from moving their primary dates too far forward (According to CNN, no actual delegates are being awarded on the Democratic side as the result of this primary). Thus Hillary Clinton won only 55% of the vote in a Democratic primary where she was running virtually unopposed.

January 15, 2008

Nothing to Hope for...

Justin Katz

Mark Steyn's Sunday NRO column is a bit uneven, but much can be forgiven of the man who turns such masterful phrases as this:

Terrific. In a Huckabee administration, nothing is certain but hope and taxes. Did he poll-test the line? Was it originally "What I didn't raise was tobacco"? Or did he misread the line? Did he mean to say "hogs"? Is there any correlation between taxes and hope? If you cut taxes by 20 percent, does hope nosedive off the cliff? Not for those of us who were hoping for a tax cut. And is there any evidence that he "raised hope"? Hope of what? Huck's line is a degradation of FDR: We have nothing to hope for but hope itself.

Apart from the politics, that last line certainly sums up my life just about now. Make a good t-shirt.

Obama and Clinton Can't Escape Identity Politics

Marc Comtois

David Brooks says it better than I did:

Both Clinton and Obama have eagerly donned the mantle of identity politics. A Clinton victory wouldn’t just be a victory for one woman, it would be a victory for little girls everywhere. An Obama victory would be about completing the dream, keeping the dream alive, and so on.

Fair enough. The problem is that both the feminist movement Clinton rides and the civil rights rhetoric Obama uses were constructed at a time when the enemy was the reactionary white male establishment. Today, they are not facing the white male establishment. They are facing each other.

All the rhetorical devices that have been a staple of identity politics are now being exploited by the Clinton and Obama campaigns against each other. They are competing to play the victim. They are both accusing each other of insensitivity. They are both deliberately misinterpreting each other’s comments in order to somehow imply that the other is morally retrograde.

All the habits of verbal thuggery that have long been used against critics of affirmative action, like Ward Churchill and Thomas Sowell, and critics of the radical feminism, like Christina Hoff Summers, are now being turned inward by the Democratic front-runners.

Yet, now it seems both are backing off the race kerfuffle--perhaps because the controversy du jour is over Nevada polling places:
As this link shows, the Clinton campaign is supporting, if not actually inciting, a Nevada State Teachers Association lawsuit against the Culinary Workers Union. The reason? The Culinary Workers Union has arranged for its members to caucus in their workplaces, to cast their votes in the hotels and casinos that support that state's economy instead of taking time off to get to polling places -- at the risk of getting fired.

That lawsuit was filed right after the Culinary Workers Union endorsed Obama.

Gosh. What a coincidence. It's an unfair disadvantage, the teachers union lawsuit says -- they are supporting Hillary -- to let all those maids and bellboys vote while they are on the job.

The caucus is on the 19th. It's a Saturday. I guess the teachers are going to be -- really busy compared to those maids and bellboys?

I don't know this for a fact but my guess is that the Nevada's Teachers Association is more entrenched in the state power hierarchy than the Culinary Workers Union. It's more white, more middle class. I bet the teachers are much more spread out, demographically and geographically, firmly ensconced in tenured security.

The Culinary Workers Union, on the other hand, represents all the little brown people who clean hotel rooms in Las Vegas and Reno. Living and working from day to day.

Well, maybe the candidates are putting the identity politics behind them....

Willful Naivete on Healthcare

Justin Katz

Although I'm fully sympathetic with the inclination to ignore complications, I find it hard to believe that syndicated columnist Froma Harrop hasn't heard the basic argument against the following assumption, spoken this time with reference to health insurance (emphasis added):

You see, health care has become just another racket by which clever operators can scoop up fortunes. There's a ton of money to be made nickel-and-diming doctors and hospitals while making sure you don't sell insurance to sick people — and that's the legal part. Once government offers coverage, it's Game Over for the manipulators — and more of our health-care dollars go for health care.

She can't really believe such a bromide as "once government offers coverage, it's Game Over for the manipulators," can she? The manipulators just shift gears, becoming part of the government, pulling its levers, and pushing for laws favorable to them. It's a peculiarity of the liberal mind that identical problems transported to government somehow obtain a sheen of good intentions. Companies are evil because they cut corners and pressure providers in order to make a profit to sustain themselves; government is simply doing the best it can when it shaves corners through legislation and rations services to fit budgets.

From my experience, those greed-inspired businessmen are at least more likely to cut corners internally than the government, with its unionized and well-entrenched interests. The reason Harrop doesn't "hear Medicare beneficiaries clamoring for a return to private coverage" is that government services — financed systematically by somebody else's money — are more generous and less risky. They can only be so, however, at the expense of the rest of the industry and must, therefore, remain a relatively small percentage of the market.

January 14, 2008

Iraqi Civilian Deaths

Monique Chartier

In the October 11, 2006 issue of Lancet Magazine appeared a well publicized study of "excess Iraqi deaths" which occurred after the 2003 invasion. For the period March, 2003 - July, 2006, it placed that total at 654,965, of which 601,027 were attributed to violence. Scepticism was voiced by a few on the face of this figure, as nothing like five hundred deaths per day every day since the invasion had hitherto been seen or claimed.

But scepticism was not the dominant reaction. The figures were seized upon and trumpeted by both anti-invasion activists around the world and anti-American commentators in the Middle East.

Now, however, an article in this week's New England Journal of Medicine confirms the original nagging little doubts about the Lancet study. It places the number of Iraqi deaths by violence over a longer period (January, 2002 - June, 2006) at 151,000, bad in its own right but not close to the figure from the Lancet study.

It has further come to light that the Lancet study was funded in part by anti-war, anti-George Bush activist George Soros. This is actually less problematic for me than flaws pertaining to the study itself detailed in an article by National Journal Magazine ten days ago. These include:

Inadequate sampling

The design for Lancet II committed eight surveyors to visit 50 regional clusters (the number ended up being 47) with each cluster consisting of 40 households. By contrast, in a 2004 survey, the United Nations Development Program used many more questioners to visit 2,200 clusters of 10 houses each. The Lancet II sample is so small that each violent death recorded translated to 2,000 dead Iraqis overall. The question arises whether the chosen clusters were enough to be truly representative of the entire Iraqi population and therefore a valid data set for extrapolating to nationwide totals.

(The New England Journal of Medicine study surveyed 9,345 households.)

The non-release of the study's field data

Still, the authors have declined to provide the surveyors' reports and forms that might bolster confidence in their findings. Customary scientific practice holds that an experiment must be transparent -- and repeatable -- to win credence. Submitting to that scientific method, the authors would make the unvarnished data available for inspection by other researchers. Because they did not do this, citing concerns about the security of the questioners and respondents, critics have raised the most basic question about this research: Was it verifiably undertaken as described in the two Lancet articles?

Timing of publication

The publications of the 2006 article as well as a preliminary 2004 study of the subject were deliberately timed by Lancet to appear shortly before U.S. elections:

In 2004, [co-author Les] Roberts conceded that he opposed the Iraq invasion from the outset, and -- in a much more troubling admission -- said that he had e-mailed the first study to The Lancet on September 30, 2004, "under the condition that it come out before the election." [Co-author Gilbert] Burnham admitted that he set the same condition for Lancet II. "We wanted to get the survey out before the election, if at all possible," he said.

It appears that the strong anti-invasion sentiments of the authors led them to put forward an article that was a little removed from science and a little too close to politics. Shame on Lancet for publishing it.

Resolved to Resolutions

Justin Katz

Some of the numbers floating about at tonight's Tiverton Town Council meeting left me unable to suppress my guffaws.

The town pays, if I heard right, $13,000 per family healthcare plan. Indeed, according to the outgoing town administrator, Glenn Steckman, the reason he included a healthcare buyback in the contract that he put forward for an assistant to his office was to offer some level of disincentive to take the program because it's so top-notch fantastic.

As a resident of Tiverton who recently had to downgrade health insurance due to a change in employment circumstances, and who has been astounded at the additional, uncovered costs of a bottom-notch plan (with a child's hairline fracture limiting the mid-winter oil order to half-full), I have to wonder why it is that town employees should have a healthcare benefit that is so wonderful that the municipality finds it advisable to pay them not to take it. I've heard the intention of discouraging double coverage for spouses, before, but this is an admission entirely new to my ear: benefits that are so golden as to dim all others, therefore requiring (essentially) a subsidy of spouses' programs to bring them up to a parallel notch, so to speak.

What's particularly upsetting about this dynamic is that it is absolutely clear that the town council intends to increase taxes to the maximum amount allowed by law. There's no hope, here, as far as I can see, that my fixed rate mortgage won't keep going up, owing to my variable rate tax bill.

It doesn't help that the council's discussion reminded me that town employees actually work 6.5-hour days, with the standard (again, if I heard right) being that overtime is paid after that. Councilor Brian Medeiros suggest that, in the future, the policy should be changed to require 40 hours of work before the salary increases by half, and I hope that he puts forward a resolution to make that official policy.

Councilor Don Bollin expressed some reservations about the provision in the fire chief's just-approved three-year contract for 5% raises with up to 5% in potential merit pay, which has apparently been pretty standard among department heads, heretofore. According to Bollin, these are "numbers we used in the past when we weren't under the pressure of caps." Council President Louise Durfee assured the audience that she, for one, won't be shy about approaching department heads, if finances require, to ask their cooperation in accepting, say, 4.2% as merit raises.

Ms. Durfee, as it happens, was also the lone vote against Medeiros's resolution to discourage the introduction or increase of any bridge tolls in the surrounding area. Her reasoning was that, given the state's financial difficulties, nothing should be taken off the table.

So I suggest that all future employment contracts be explicitly put on the table, via a town council resolution. Something of the following flavor:

Whereas some hard-working residents of Tiverton face the very real prospect of losing their houses this year, and whereas the various governments of Rhode Island can no longer afford to constitute the single most generous employer in the state, be it resolved that all future employment contracts with the Town of Tiverton will seek to provide salaries, benefits, and schedules more in line with those enjoyed by workers in the private sector.

I was never privy to the discussions, of course, but my understanding was that the high tech market research company with which I used to be an editor would attempt to project the upcoming year's revenue, expenses, and so on and distribute raises based on the expected growth. The contract-only approach in Rhode Island — whether those contracts are individually or collectively bargained — are a bit like a defined-benefit retirement program in that they are promised regardless of future ability to pay. As Mr. Bollin noticed, problems loom if public employees are contracted to receive raises at a greater percentage than the town is allowed to apply to taxes.

Differences of What's on the Table

Justin Katz

Clarity on meaning is going to be absolutely crucial as competing visions are put forward to solve Rhode Island's ills, and one pair of concepts that may have confusing overlaps in education policy is "statewide funding formula" versus a "statewide teacher contract."

The former phrase, as came out in my discussion yesterday with Representative Joe Amaral (R, Tiverton/Portsmouth) refers to an equation whereby the state provides a predictable amount of money to districts based on set criteria. Such a formula could be devised fairly or unfairly, depending on how carefully the criteria are termed in order to benefit certain districts (such as Providence) according to a priori demands and on whether the formula makes unfunded mandates from the state less tenable.

The latter phrase appears to be the wishlist approach of officials in East Providence:

The school district has been running with a deficit for the last six years. The highest amount was over $2.7 million in 2004, but since then it has been reduced to as little as $1.3 million in 2006.

It's back up again and school and city officials said this week that it will take multiple measures to rid the nearly $3.3-million deficit that will be a reality at the end of this fiscal year.

At a joint meeting Monday, the City Council and School Committee brainstormed a slew of cost-saving possibilities. They included reducing the state's 36 school districts to five regional operations; privatization of some schools; selling or leasing the school administration building on Burnside Avenue; and pushing the General Assembly for relief and a statewide teacher contract.

Whether the state steps in to unify the districts or "just" to negotiate teacher remuneration via a single contract from border to border, the result would likely be catastrophic. All that such centralization would accomplish would be pulling the tax-draining practices of the education establishment (including the unions) further away from the voters and probably adding a few more layers of obscurity on the question of who should be held accountable for excesses.

My own preference would be for the state to act as little more than an escrow holder paying out tax funds to parents' chosen schools. Until such a system becomes politically feasible, though, state disbursement of education funds ought to be as straightforward and evenly distributed as possible, with no demands that aren't inherently tied to funds.

Dems are Split on President

Marc Comtois

Maybe it was inevitable?

Somewhat surprisingly, as the campaign has tightened, racial tensions have bubbled to the surface with the two camps exchanging accusations. Those tensions are reflected in this week’s polling data. Overall, Clinton and Obama are close nationally in the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll. But, among white voters, Clinton leads 41% to 27%. Among African-American voters, Obama leads 66% to 16%.
How can we be surprised when a Democratic party that has made a living out of exploiting the fears and desires of minorities and women suddenly finds itself split when their two main Presidential contenders are a black man and a white woman? Well, I suppose it was heretofore unimaginable that the party of "open-minded" liberals would split along such blatant interest-group lines. Right? Well, it isn't really that clear cut:
Hillary Clinton had said King's dream of racial equality was realized only when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of while Bill Clinton said Illinois Sen. Obama was telling a "fairy tale" about his opposition to the Iraq war. Black leaders have criticized their comments, and Obama said Sunday her comment about King was "ill-advised."

"I think it offended some folks who felt that somehow diminished King's role in bringing about the Civil Rights Act," he told reporters on a conference call. "She is free to explain that, but the notion that somehow this is our doing is ludicrous."

But no sooner had Clinton said she hoped the campaign would not be about race than it got even more heated. A prominent black Clinton supporter, Black Entertainment Television founder Bob Johnson, criticized Obama and seemed to refer to his acknowledged teenage drug use while introducing Clinton at her next event.

"To me, as an African-American, I am frankly insulted the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues—when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood; I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in his book—when they have been involved," Johnson said. {Remember, to some, Bill Clinton was the first Black President. - ed.}

Obama wrote about his youthful drug use—marijuana, alcohol and sometimes cocaine—in his memoir, "Dreams from My Father."

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Obama's wife rose to his defense over Bill Clinton's "fairy tale" comment. Michelle Obama said some blacks might be skeptical that white America will elect her husband, but advised them to look to his win in Iowa.

"Ain't no black people in Iowa," she said during a speech at the Trumpet Awards, an event celebrating black achievement. "Something big, something new is happening. Let's build the future we all know is possible. Let's show our kids that America is ready for Barack Obama right now."

John Edwards, a third candidate in the Democratic primary, waded into the dispute Sunday.

"I must say I was troubled recently to see a suggestion that real change came not through the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King but through a Washington politician. I fundamentally disagree with that," Edwards told more than 200 people gathered at a predominantly black Baptist church in Sumter, S.C.

Edwards has two get his two cents in. I'm just surprised he didn't mention that his class envy campaign is color blind!

Leaders, You Do Have a Choice

Justin Katz

Not to darken your day, but the latest bit of bad news brought to Rhode Islanders by Providence Journal business writer John Kostrzewa comes with a very important point:

When cities and towns do revaluations required under state law, they will find the total value of their residential property has probably declined. With a lower total valuation, municipal officials will have a choice — cut spending to match the new lower level of tax revenues, or raise the tax rate to collect enough money to meet the budget.

Yes, local officials, you do have a choice. The fact that my assets are worth less in now way necessitates that you tax them at a higher rate. What it does necessitate, if you ask me, is that you turn your focus to spending within the town's means and to finding ways to make my geographically based assets worth more.

When Evidence of Need Doesn't Matter

Justin Katz

"We teach our children every day not to accept the easy answers but to get all the information they need before they make a decision," writes NEA-Tiverton President (and teacher) Amy Mullen in a letter to the Sakonnet Times (which is not online). What follows that opener is, not surprisingly, another iteration of the union's talking points.

Mullen does, however, inadvertently point toward an interesting comparison that the school system's union mindset tends to obscure:

I received a tongue-in-cheek 13 tactics of the Tiverton School Committee which focused around the committee refusing to listen or do the job they were elected to do. Teachers see the realities of this every day. Just look at the lack of substitutes. We don't pay them enough so they go elsewhere. So now some classes go unsupervised, some are sent to study hall, some are covered by the principal, others are covered by teachers during their instructional planning time. What do we have to do to attract good subs? Well soon we will be saying that about our teachers.

One could note, of course, that classroom teachers are the largest line item within any given town's largest expense category (education), that substitutes' role is to relieve some of the pressure on teachers to be in the classroom come hell or high water, and therefore that money for substitutes would logically come from their oversized wedge of the pie. A way in which some districts have sought to attract subs is to free them from the discomforts of awaiting the 6:00 a.m. wake-up call, before which they've no idea whether they're working, by hiring them as full-time employees, often on a track to become full teachers themselves. Given budget constraints in Tiverton, of course, that option would probably require the loss of a position or two in some other area.

What's most interesting about Ms. Mullen's look down her dark slope, though, is the marker by which we realize that we've got a problem when it comes to substitutes and financing of them: we don't have enough of them to fill the demand. Mullen would like her readers to apply the sub-shortage principle to teachers, but there is no shortage of them. Rhode Island's public schools are not struggling to find professionals to take charge of their classrooms. And that indicates that there is room to lower their employment packages — salaries, benefits, perks.

I do see a parallel between subs and teachers, although not one that Mullen would like for many people to consider: The pool of substitutes has generally been treated as a collection of volunteers and next-step-up interns, when really what districts ought to do is to treat them as professionals (perhaps with some number of the old style on reserve). The pay wouldn't have to be much better, I don't think; it's the opportunity and the career track that matter.

Treating teachers as actual, individualized professionals, which would require the end of collective bargaining, might just lower their cost to tax payers and, counterintuitive as it may be, increase their quality.

January 13, 2008

Not a One on the Island

Justin Katz

I managed to restrain myself and hold on to a Christmas gift card to Barnes & Noble until Wednesday in order to put it toward the purchase of Jonah Goldberg's new book. (As readers know, I was otherwise occupied on Tuesday evening, which is when the book was officially released.) Liberal Fascism was nowhere to be found in the Middletown store; I even walked around and looked in possible places of giggly liberal concealment — historical fiction, fantasy, comedy. Having no success, I inquired at the customer service desk, and the woman behind the counter informed me that the store had not received a single copy.

Did I order one? Well, no. If I have to do that, why would I care to do so at a corporate storefront rather than choose either a small shop or an online source to which I'd prefer that my money went?

Representative Joe Amaral on Business, the Future, and the State of the State

Justin Katz

Of the four General Assembly members whom I've contacted regarding the RI Economic Summit article in yesterday's Projo, only Tiverton/Portsmouth Rep. Joe Amaral has gotten back to me. (That's more a plus to him than a minus to the others, considering that it's Sunday.) I'll definitely say this: I was much too hard on him based on the limited information that I collected via the Dan Yorke show on a long-week commute home.

During our phone conversation, Mr. Amaral did much to convince me that we see eye to eye on the problems facing the state, and that our differences on process are probably less significant than might seem to be the case after a focused conversation on a narrow area of disagreement. In keeping with my new perspective, our discussion reminded me that it's probable that I wouldn't caucus with the General Assembly Republicans were I among them. (And toward mitigating my previous declarations: Really, how culpable is an overtime-working conservative for the periodic out-lash?)

Regarding the rub'n'tug grant system, Mr. Amaral contextualized his view with the suggestion that "Anybody [in the GA] threatened by 10–15 thousand dollar grants isn't worth their salt." He would support a legislative resolution ending them and allocating the money elsewhere — whether equal distribution, property tax relief, or deficit paydown. He would support the governor's action, say, of erasing the "general appropriation for General Assembly grants" from the next budget.

But in the broader perspective, he believes that the real rub'n'tug comes in the form of legislative quid pro quo activity, supporting legislation requested by members. That, he argues, is what leads General Assembly members to vote against a particular bill in committee, but then vote for it on the floor.

One example (although Amaral didn't make this connection explicitly) of the more significantly corrosive problems in the General Assembly is in education. The legislature has been "going at the whim of the General Assembly leaders to determine what money is given to schools." Their strategy (although of course last year and probably this year have seen level funding) has been to "make up whatever indicators they want to use to distribute funds."

Consequently, Amaral emphasized a reliable, consistent funding formula, by which he means precisely that: a mathematical function by which various numbers — including among other things number of students, relative wealth, and the effort that the district puts into its own education system — are put into an equation and result in a dollar amount, which ought to be relatively predictable from year to year. As part of any such formula, the state would have to scale back its unfunded mandates, according to Amaral. (He told me that he was one of the few legislators to vote against mandated school breakfasts, which the state funded for a couple of years and then left in place sans money.)

Mandates also figure into the problems that the state has, in Amaral's view, with health insurance. I asked how he would answer the Economic Summit's concerns about health insurance, and he stated that "5–7% of all health insurance cost [in RI] has to do with mandates," specifically citing the requirement that in vitro services be offered during pregnancies. Beyond that, Amaral sees it as a problem that our state ranks at the top in terms of seniors as well as in terms of healthy self-employed people who don't take health insurance, leaving working middle-aged residents picking up higher premiums; he prefers free market solutions, but believes we have to find some way to spread the burden (with mild reference to the MA mandatory health insurance policy). Additionally, "tort reform, malpractice reform, has to happen."

In short, as Anchor Rising readers would agree, the costs of doing business in Rhode Island — whether the state imposes those costs on itself or is merely too permissive in allowing the likes of lawyers to impose them — are too high, and Representative Amaral noted the ease of living, shopping, and doing business in neighboring states several times during our conversation.

In that line, he promised me that he does not support tax increases, by which I confirmed that he means any measure that seeks to raise the revenue from taxes, whether or not one can speciously deny that it's technically a "tax increase." For seven years, he informed me, he has put in legislation to reduce the sales tax. He also would not support raising taxes by removing tax credits. "We need to cut spending."

"There are no more tricks" — no more futures, surpluses, tobacco settlements. Many legislators, according to Amaral, don't want to see any more spending. "If the Democratic leaders move in that direction, there'll be a revolt of the people in Rhode Island." In that respect, the GOP has to solidify its efforts to make people "cognizant of the representatives who are voting for a tax increase."

He believes that the Republicans have to choose the battles that are necessary to emphasize — picking, for example, "five core positions to fight on." In general, he says, the Democrats lack the courage to vote against their leaders, and the Republicans are "more thoughtful and educated" about what's going on with the state. The Republicans have to grow the party one person at a time, and they have to stop shooting for the "glamour" races. Although, Amaral points out that, even were the Republicans to double their numbers in the General Assembly in the next election, they still would lack the numbers to sustain a gubernatorial veto.

I probed, prompting with several questions, to discover whether Amaral has any intention of creative politicking to change things in Rhode Island, and I remain with the impression that this is an area in which he and I will continue to strongly disagree. As with the rub'n'tug conversation, Amaral wants to follow "the process." He wants to study issues, propose legislation, build the party step by step, build consensus conversation by conversation; I would argue that this approach hasn't been effective and will not become more so. It's laudable that he's not interested in gimmicks, but he doesn't appear to be interested in taking the head of a principled charge. He's got a vision for what would be effective for Republicans to do, but he's not going to push the party toward it.

All in all, although I reserve the right to make future adjustments to my opinion (which has, after all, been wrong in the past), Rhode Island conservatives and Rhode Islanders in general would be mistaken to look to Representative Amaral for a savior, but he's worth supporting as principled ballast as we push forward with a more daring charge than he might be inclined to support.

The Invisible, the Unaccountable

Justin Katz

A growing grumble in the comments sections relates to the odd exclusion of Rhode Island state legislators from news coverage of events in the state, particular related to its looming collapse, and the accusation is certainly something worth watching. The print edition of a Providence Journal story about the latest annual meeting fo the RI Economic Summit, for example, bears the lead "small-business people talk to the legislators," but the text doesn't mention a single legislator by name, much less by opinion. Reporter Paul Grimaldi writes:

... both the businesspeople and the elected officials assembled in a meeting room at the university's culinary museum spoke as if they all understood a "paradigm shift" is needed to get the state's finances back in order.

Governor Carcieri gets a quotation... and a criticism:

"You can't just sit back and say we're going to keep doing it the same way we've always been doing it," Governor Carcieri said. "That isn't a formula for success."

But Christopher Nichols, of Ettem USA, of Warwick, which develops underwater propulsion systems, asked whether the governor's efforts to consolidate agencies wouldn't simply create new bureaucracies.

Lieutenant Governor Roberts gets to make a sound-good political statement (without criticism):

Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts added: "Tough budgets are an enormous opportunity. You can have conversations you don't normally have. The politics of polarization, of name calling, finger-pointing are not going to work here."

Earlier meetings with actual legislators are noted:

Earlier in the day, the businesspeople met with state legislators in group discussions centered on five broad policy topics, all but one a repeat of the debate from the first small-business summit held last year. The topics were: taxes and budget; regulations; health care; education/work force development; and the newest, energy.

But no legislators are made to go on record with a response (let alone have their names associated with a particular criticism of the General Assembly). Moreover, after a list of legislative priorities for the business group, Grimaldi informs the reader that:

Not one of the proposals that came out of last year's summit, including revisions to the stringent new fire code, made it into law.

Small businesses are a group without a champion in the legislature. Of course, as far as the reader can tell, they are also a group without any vocal, principled opponents. One can hardly doubt that this is how the my-guy's-alright attitude is perpetuated in Rhode Island.

I've emailed Senate President Montalbano, House Speaker Murphy, and my own two representatives for comment. I'll let you know whether they've anything to say. In the meantime, feel free to email them your own questions or comments, even if only to encourage them to answer mine.

January 12, 2008

The Power of Snow

Justin Katz

So here's a question: Does the effect of snow transcend culture, or has Iraq absorbed enough of the culture that flowed from Northwestern Europe to have a similar cultural reaction?

After weathering nearly five years of war, Baghdad residents thought they'd pretty much seen it all. But Friday morning, as muezzins were calling the faithful to prayer, the people here awoke to something certifiably new. For the first time in memory, snow fell across Baghdad.

Although the white flakes quickly dissolved into gray puddles, they brought an emotion rarely expressed in this desert capital snarled by army checkpoints, divided by concrete walls and ravaged by sectarian killings—delight.

"For the first time in my life I saw a snow-rain like this falling in Baghdad," said Mohammed Abdul-Hussein, a 63-year-old retiree from the New Baghdad area.

"When I was young, I heard from my father that such rain had fallen in the early '40s on the outskirts of northern Baghdad," Abdul-Hussein said, referring to snow as a type of rain. "But snow falling in Baghdad in such a magnificent scene was beyond my imagination."

(No word, yet, on the effects of a couple of hours of snow on traffic in the desert country.)

January 11, 2008

The Political Game

Justin Katz

Think you've got what it takes to win an election? Well, try your hand at a campaign flash game. (It would have been better if the candidates had different attacks...)

Democrats Have Choices in Their Rhode Island Primary Too

Carroll Andrew Morse

Apart from the nine options Republican voters will have in the upcoming RI Presidential primary, I should mention that Rhode Islanders voting in the state's Democratic primary will also have a range of options to choose from…

  • They can choose Hillary Clinton, who promises that her iron-fisted management of every aspect of your life she can inject the government into will finally make conventional liberalism work.
  • Or they can choose Barack Obama, who promises that his ability to unite people through his youthful energy and good looks will finally make conventional liberalism work.
  • Or they can choose John Edwards, who promises that his ability to turn anger into a positive force will finally make conventional liberalism work.
  • Or they can choose Dennis Kucinich, who is the most qualified to work with aliens on beaming the signals directly into our heads that will finally make conventional liberalism work.

Bringing Rhode Island Class and Values to a National Campaign

Carroll Andrew Morse

The political blog of the San Francisco Chronicle relays a story told by Hillary Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe abount an unnamed Democratic dissident less-than-enthusiastic about the Clinton political machine...

Just one of McAuliffe's fond memories: ''We were all sitting at the Cafe Milano the night [John Kerry] wrapped up the [2004 Presidential nomination,] and a group of top Kerry campaign people came in, and I sent over a bottle of champagne,'' he wrote…
The group of Kerry aides drinking the champagne...raised their glasses to toast me from a few tables away, to thank me for the bottle....I raised my glass to them as well.

'Now we can get rid of McAuliffe and get control of the money,' a drunk Kerry fund-raiser from Rhode Island said, loud enough to be overheard.

A top Kerry media consultant nodded, but held up his hand to silence the inebriated Kerry fund-raiser.

McAuliffe's final jab: ''So as they were drinking my champagne, they were already plotting to get their hands on the DNC bank account.''

New Jersey's Apology for Slavery

Mac Owens

I have a piece in
today’s Christian Science Monitor about the recent resolution by the New Jersey legislature apologizing for slavery.

On the one hand, such an apology is harmless. But on the other, it feeds off of the idea that the United States has been racist from the start, obscuring the fact that it is precisely America’s founding principle that made the abolition of slavery a moral necessity.

New Jersey’s action is ironic in view of the fact that in 1999, this same legislature rejected a proposal to require all school children to recite a portion of the Declaration of Independence every day.

For those interested, there is also a short interview at the site.

January 10, 2008

Al Sharpton's Hollow Indignation

Monique Chartier

It's one thing for Reverend Al Sharpton to use the racial gaffes of others principally as a means of attracting a spotlight or a microphone to himself. It's an annoyance but the ultimate impact is on the credibility of Reverend Sharpton.

It's another thing for him to do so when the gaffe involves the word "lynch".

Tiger Woods might not be teed off about a crack that he should be lynched, but the Rev. Al Sharpton is swinging away.

The civil rights leader has demanded golf commentator Kelly Tilghman be fired for saying young players who wanted to challenge Woods should "lynch him in a back alley."

Woods, the sport's first black superstar, said in a statement he was not offended by the remark made Friday on the Golf Channel, but Sharpton vowed to picket the station if it doesn't fire her.

[I would interject here that I had a visceral reaction when I saw Kelly Tilghman's comment in a headline which abated somewhat as I read of her apologies and the reaction of Tiger Woods.]

In view of the incendiary statements he made prior to the actual lynching of Yankel Rosenbaum, Reverend Sharpton has nothing to say about a very stupid incident that involved only the word.

This one is a microphone too far.

No Dearth of Choices for Rhode Island Republicans!

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to an official press release from the Rhode Island Secretary of State's office, the names appearing on your official 2008 Rhode Island Republican Presidential ballot will be…

  • Hugh Cort
  • Rudy Giuliani
  • Mike Huckabee
  • Duncan Hunter
  • Alan Keyes
  • John McCain
  • Ron Paul
  • Mitt Romney
  • Fred Thompson

On February 1, the Secretary of State will hold a lottery to determine the order candidates will appear on the ballot.

Joe Amaral: A Test Case for the "Laffey Lesson"?

Justin Katz

During the commute home tonight (having worked some necessary overtime), I heard State Representative Joe Amaral — my representative — attempting to explain to Dan Yorke why he is the lone Republican in the House not promising to forgo the rub'n'tug grant system. His arguments were mostly about process and equity from town to town, but given his explanations about alternatives to rub'n'tug that he would support, I really don't think he gets what the General Assembly is doing wrong in the broader analysis.

It was edifying, of course, to hear Mr. Amaral extrapolate my neighborhood to his entire constituency. I imagine the rest of Tiverton (wealthier) and Portsmouth (wealthier, too), being not so "poor" (his word), wouldn't been as amenable a face to put on his argument that we need a few thousand dollars a year in legislative grants. I don't happen to be Portuguese (which is a feature that my representative emphasizes when characterizing his district), but I do work hard. I'm not wealthy. And I see that this entire rub'n'tug legislative regime is killing precisely the demographic for which Mr. Amaral is concerned.

Given the above, it seems to me that Mr. Amaral might be a good test case for what I've called the "Laffey Lesson," the central premise of which is that saving our state might require some creative destruction. We might have to knock down the Republican Party some in order to hone it to the edge that it has got to develop. And if the party isn't going to prove able to pull the state from the precipice, then perhaps it's best that its name not be associated with anything but precisely the chronic "no" of which Mr. Amaral complains with respect to his fellow RIGOP members (with whom he does not caucus).

Perhaps I should consider running for Mr. Amaral's seat next time around. How do you think I'd do, Joe? I very much doubt that I could win, but perhaps I could peel away enough of your votes to let a Whitehousian Democrat slip by. It might be that other conservative Republicans in the state would see the race as an opportunity to send a message to their own representatives.

Whatever the case, I'd suggest to Representative Amaral that keeping the rub'n'tug grants might come at more of a cost than giving them up. The question he'll have to answer for himself is whether he's more afraid of the wrath of those who benefit from the change that the General Assembly throws on the cobblestones or the wrath of those who understand how corrosive that charity system is to our entire state government.

Education Week Survey - RI Results

Marc Comtois

Dan Yorke reminded me about this story in today's ProJo:

Rhode Island has received mixed grades on the quality of its public education system, scoring poorly in two critical areas: student achievement and efforts to improve teacher quality, according to a national education magazine.

Education Week’s “Quality Counts 2008” report card gave Rhode Island D’s in those categories. The state fared better in its academic standards and testing system, earning a B+; the overall chance for student success, B-; and the amount of money it spends on education, B. The state received a C- for its efforts to offer high-quality early-childhood education programs and prepare students for college and work.

Overall, Rhode Island averaged a C, matching the national average, but lagging the other five New England states.

Education Week has their report online and offers a few ways of looking at the data. (Including a way to make your own report). To compare the New England states, go here. Here is their specific report on Rhode Island (PDF). The ProJo article points out a couple other findings by EdWeek:
•Rhode Island teachers are the highest paid in the nation when compared with other similar professions in the state. These include: accountants, architects, clergy, compliance officers, commuter programmers, counselors, editors and reporters, human-resources specialists, insurance underwriters, occupational and physical therapists, registered nurses and technical writers. Nationally, teachers earn just 88 cents on the dollar, when stacked against comparable professions. In Rhode Island, however, teachers earn about $1.12, or 12 cents more on the dollar than other comparable professions....[page 12 of the report - ed.]

•The report also found that Rhode Island ranks low — 44th — in the number of children whose parents are fluent English speakers, a potential risk for the future success of students whose parents do not speak English. [page 4 of the report - ed.]

•While the state ranked among the highest —7th — in its per-pupil expenditure (adjusted for regional cost differences), $10,581 a year per student, it scored at the bottom in school finance equity. Rhode Island ranked 42nd in its ability to bring all students to the same median level of what districts spend per pupil. [page 13 of the report - ed.]

The problem with the overall grade (Rhode Island gets a "C") is that it's misleading. Look at the categories:


It looks like the infrastructure and money is there, but the results aren't. As Yorke said, "We've raised the bar but no one can reach it." The question we need answered is, "Why not?"

Alzheimer's Research Breakthrough and the RI Economy

Marc Comtois

Take this with a grain of salt--it's early research after all--but there may have been a substantial breakthrough in Alzheimer's research:

A drug used for arthritis can reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer's "in minutes".

It appears to tackle one of the main features of the disease - inflammation in the brain.

The drug, called Enbrel, is injected into the spine where it blocks a chemical responsible for damaging the brain and other organs.

A pilot study carried out by U.S. researchers found one patient had his symptoms reversed "in minutes".

Other patients have shown some improvements in symptoms such as forgetfulness and confusion after weekly injections over six months.

The study of 15 patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer's has just been published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation by online publishers Biomed Central.

The experiment showed that Enbrel can deactivate TNF (tumour necrosis factor) - a chemical in the fluid surrounding the brain that is found in Alzheimer's sufferers.

When used by arthritis sufferers, the drug is self-administered by injection and researchers had to develop a way of injecting it into the spine to affect the brain cells.

Sue Griffin, a researcher at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said: 'It is unprecedented to see cognitive and behavioural improvement in a patient with established dementia within minutes of therapeutic intervention.

'This gives all of us in Alzheimer research a tremendous new clue

about new avenues of research.' Enbrel is not approved for treating Alzheimer's in the U.S. or the UK and is regarded as highly experimental, said Dr Griffin.

'Even though this report predominantly discusses a single patient it is of significant scientific interest because of the potential insight it may give into the processes involved in the brain dysfunction of Alzheimer's,' she added.

Lead author of the study Edward Tobinick, of the University of California and Director of the Institute for Neurological Research, said the drug had 'a very rapid effect that's never been reported in a human being before'.

He added: 'It makes practical changes that are significant and perceptible, making a difference to his daily living.

'Some patients have been able to start driving again. They don't come back to normal but the change is good enough for patients to want to continue treatment.'

For any who have been effected by Alzheimer's, this could be great news. What does this have to do with Rhode Island? The manufacturer of Enbrel--the drug used in the study--is Amgen and the drug is made right in her in its West Greenwich plant. The same facility has experienced a rough patch lately as Amgen attempted to make up for losses other areas by implementing cost-cutting measures (read: job cuts) here in Rhode Island (it appears to have worked). This new use for an established drug could mean an economic boon to the company and perhaps--eventually--more jobs here in Rhode Island.

Station Club Fire: Michael Derderian Applies for Parole

Monique Chartier

After pleading no contest to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter and serving one third of his four year sentence, co-owner of the Station Night Club Michael Derderian, has applied for parole.

One of the one hundred people killed in the fire was Nicholas O’Neill. Below is the statement of his parents, Joanne O’Neill and Dave Kane, to the Rhode Island Parole Board.

We, the parents of Nicholas P. O’Neill the youngest victim of the Station Nightclub fire, are writing to you to express our objections to the parole of Michael Derderian. In the period following this tragedy, facts in evidence presented to the Grand Jury have shown clearly that it was Mr. Derderian’s continuing self-interested decisions that were the chief cause of this horrible event. It was Mr. Derderian’s choice to ignore the laws pertaining to fire safety and capacity and his ability to convince city officials to assist him that was responsible for the dangerous and life ending environment that existed at the Station Nightclub.

It is important for the Parole Board to be clearly aware that Michael Derderian just doesn’t get it. He has always been about himself. He has constantly shown an attitude that the rules, regardless of whom they are meant to protect, just don’t apply to him. He has been found guilty of ignoring State law regarding Workmen’s Compensation. These were laws that would have assisted people he refers to and ‘friends’ and ‘family’. He certainly showed even less concern for the laws that would have protected the ‘strangers’ who came into his treacherous fire trap.

In addition to this, Mr. Derderian was obviously unconcerned with laws pertaining to underage drinking. We were recently informed by Nicky’s oldest brother, Christian, that Michael Derderian had on several occasions offered and indeed encouraged my 18 year old son Nicholas to ‘have a drink’. Nicky, who never drank, smoked or did any kind of drugs, declined these offers.

If this weren’t enough, Mr. Derderian’s disregard for rules and regulations has continued even while incarcerated. After receiving a stunning plea bargain, a Judge who was either incompetent or corrupt, immediately granted this man the privilege of being part of the Work Release program. However, Mr. Derderian promptly lost this unearned reward due to his inability to obey these rules. He was promptly returned to the general prison population for flaunting his disregard for the regulations relating to contraband.

Obviously, being found responsible for the deaths of 100 people, the injuring of 200 more, and the fact that he was now behind bars and in prison garb, have all failed to impress upon this man that the rules are also for Michael Derderian.

For these reason and many more, we the family of Nicholas P. O’Neill fervently plead with the Parole Board to deny Michael Derderian’s partition for parole.

The Ongoing Debate About Capitalism and Freedom

Donald B. Hawthorne

With a H/T to one of my favorite blog sites, Cafe Hayek, watch this YouTube "debate" between Naomi Klein and Milton Friedman.

Further videos on Klein vs Friedman can be found at the bottom of this post from Copious Dissent.

For more information on Friedman's underlying ideas, check out these Friedman-centric posts from my earlier 17-part series on Economic Thoughts, where the final post has links at the bottom to all prior posts:

The Relationship between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom
More on the Relationship Between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom
The Role of Government in a Free Society
The Power of the Market
On Equality

More from Friedman is here.

Several other key posts from the 17-part series on Economic Thought include:

Why Policy Goals are Trumped by Incentives They Create & the Role of Knowledge in Economics
The Abuse of Reason, Fallacies & Dangers of Centralized Planning, Prices & Knowledge, and Understanding Limitations
The Unspoken, But Very Real, Incentives Which Drive Governmental Action

Imbalanced, On Balance

Justin Katz

Alex Merchant got a picture and story in the Providence Journal for convincing the faculty at St. George's School in Middletown — of whom "most... consider themselves liberal" — to let him and other members of the Young Liberals organization skip class to drive up to New Hampshire and volunteer with the Obama campaign. Wouldn't it have been an amazing learning experience for the faculty to run with the idea and bring up some conservative students to work with a Republican campaign?

Ah, well. With no images to compensate from the high school level, herewith some RI College Republicans on the road for Mitt Romney:

Perhaps the College Republicans should offer outreach for younger kids.


Sarah Highland's posted a write-up of the College Republicans' trip. (She's the one on the right, by the way.)

Chris Mathews Thinks New England Democrats are Racists

Marc Comtois

We close-minded, xenophobic, mouth-breathing christianists are used to being called racists. I wonder how our fellow New Englanders of the "progressive" variety feel when the talking heads at MSNBC lump them in with us simply because they voted for Hillary over Obama in New Hampshire? (via Michael Graham)

JOE SCARBOROUGH: What the hell happened in New Hampshire?

CHRIS MATTHEWS:“You remember the Lone Ranger and Tonto? I think paleface speak with forked tongue. You hear me? Forked tongue....

I thought this was over. I thought it ended with “macaca."...

I thought white voters stopped being what they didn’t want to be. You know what it tells me? People aren’t proud of who they are. They aren't proud of who they are. If they want to vote for Hillary Clinton, fine. Why don’t they say so?

SCARBOROUGH: I’m used to people saying that we in the South have problems.

MATTHEWS: Tell me about it,

SCARBOROUGH: But talk about New England.

MATTHEWS: Boston? BOSTON? [with a tone of incredulity]

MATTHEWS: There’s different kind of prejudice in the North than in the South. But it exists. It may not be “I think I’m better than you,” but it might be "I don’t want to live next door to you.”

The Flaw in the Lt. Governor Legislation

Marc Comtois

On its face, making sure that the executive power is transferred to the Lt. Governor when the Governor can't act (like when he's in Iraq during an 8" snow "storm") is, well, a freaking good idea, no? But the problem is that there is a deeper root problem not being addressed by any of the legislation being proposed.

One bill, sponsored by Rep. Alfred Gemma, D-Warwick, restores the original language of the state Constitution and allows the lieutenant governor to take charge when the governor is out of state. Yesterday, committee Chairman John J. DeSimone, D-Providence, introduced a bill, which was not heard, that would put the lieutenant governor in charge when the governor leaves the continental United States. Any constitutional amendment would need voter approval in November.

While Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts offered her support for Gemma’s bill, Governor Carcieri opposes it. The governor believes the bill isn’t practical and could present problems, such as “chicanery” by a lieutenant governor who could meddle in day-to-day affairs, said Jeff Greer, Carcieri’s deputy executive counsel.

“But given the factual situation [of the snowstorm], you’d agree with the premise that something needs to be done?” questioned committee member Rep. Peter Kilmartin, D-Pawtucket.

“No, I can’t agree with that,” Greer said. “I think the governor has the discretion to call upon elected officials. … You can debate whether that should have been done [in the storm].”

I disagree with Greer on this one, but I understand the Governor's suspicion of pontential "chicanery". The solution is pretty simple: stop the asinine method we have of electing a separate Lt. Governor (usually of a different party). Make the Governor and Lt. Governor running mates. One would think that the trust inherent in a combined ticket would alleviate suspicions and make the whole transfer of power--both actual and constitutional--a lot simpler.

Shamelessness in Immigration

Justin Katz

Dan Yorke's been on this for a couple of days, so most of you have heard the same clips from the ICE as Gestapo "press conference" at St. Theresa's church that I have. Shameless. Despicable.

The gut-punch is the suicide of David De La Roca, but the heart-tug pictures are all of the children of Carmen Marrero, mother of a newborn baby to soon-to-be-deported illegal immigrant Mynor Montufar, who has a criminal record and who had been given a deadline by which to leave the country. (I still haven't read it stated, or even implied, that Marrero's other two children are also Montufar's, so I gather that they are not — since tearing three children from their father would make for better print.)

My fellow Catholics should be ashamed that one of their churches is mixed up in this propaganda. One insult after another, one offensive allegation after another, comes out of this mess. This is the latest that I've spotted:

Told that a witness to the arrest — Lilliam Muniz — alleged yesterday that ICE agents beat Perez as he was face down on the ground, [ICE regional spokesman Mike] Gilhooly said, "There is no indication that any such allegation you brought forward to us is true."

Reporter Arline Fleming doesn't bother to tell us that Ms. Muniz is Marrero's mother. Apparently, the special dispensations that give ACLU leaders church property on which to slander immigration officials extend to journalists to leave out eyebrow-raising details.

January 9, 2008

Dictating Fees

Justin Katz

The cost — to the company — of Bank of America's fees was all of my business. The final straw came when I found out the hard way that, when the bank automatically transferred funds from savings to checking to cover checks, it took the fee from the checking account, thus increasing the odds of further overdrafts. Somebody made the decision as to which account would decrease for the fee, and that slimy somebody chose the account that had already come up short.

That said, RI Senator Frank Ciccone's latest legislation is, at best, poorly considered, and at worst, cynically misinformed. It's of the genre of bills in which General Assembly members specialize whereby they try to come up with anti-annoyance legislation in order to distract from the fact that they're ripping off their constituents much, much more than any corporation could dream of accomplishing:

During these times of economic distress, said Sen. Frank A. Ciccone III (D-Dist. 7, Providence, North Providence), banks are taking advantage of their customers by charging exorbitant overdraft fees.

In an effort to prevent Rhode Islanders from paying overdraft fees which can amount to $35 or more, Senator Ciccone has introduced legislation that would limit the overdraft charge to $5.00 for a check issued with insufficient funds.

Now, $35 sounds like a lot to me, although I'd note (with a smirk) that Democrats generally like the idea of fees (or taxes) reaching punitive levels to discourage particular behavior. More important, though, is the question of Ciccone's research toward coming up with a number. Why $5?

I ask, because if Rhode Island forces banks to lower fees below a certain threshold, they'll just increase rates for everybody to cover those whom they can no longer penalize. If, for example, it somehow costs BoA $15 to deal with an overdraft, but it can only charge the customer $5, then it will simply take the further step (for example) of totaling its relevant losses and dividing them up among its all of its customers.

Once again, it's possible that the legislation would wind up making everybody pay for a limited group's bad behavior.

Calling All Armchair QBs - New Hampshire

Marc Comtois

New Hampshire voters just did what they do best--go against the Conventional Wisdom (or the establishment, in the case of McCain). All sorts of theories are out there about how the media misread the Democratic race. One interesting theory is that perhaps McCain pulled independents away from Obama because--to the NH independent voter--it looked like McCain needed them more. Maybe. Another is that people lied to pollsters--the Bradley effect--about voting for Obama.

Or maybe crying helps.

Exit polling showed that Clinton did much better among women of all ages than Obama. And while the youth vote that was supposed to come out for Obama did, there just aren't as many of them as we think. That's nothing new: pandering to the youth vote is sexy but doesn't yield substantive results. As Clinton showed, it's all about the older women (Except you Mom!) and traditional Democrats. Bottom line for the Dems is that the real contest is a generational one.

On the GOP side, McCain won as predicted, if not by as much. Romney came in 2nd (again), which both reflects a belief that he is everyone's second choice and that he may end up being the consensus GOP candidate. Regardless of perception, the fact is that Romney leads the delegate count with two seconds and a first in Nevada {thanks Jon} Wyoming (which has more delegates than NH, by the way--just not the publicity). Huckabee got no real Iowa bounce, but he wasn't paying much attention to NH to begin with. It's all about South Carolina for him. Then there is Giulianni, waiting for February...Meanwhile, the role that independent voters will play in party primaries will lessen significantly.

Ironically, despite the heavy play that domestic issues are getting in this election, maybe the NH results show that both parties voted for the candidate they believe to be the strongest on foreign policy.

Major Andrew Olmsted, 1969 - 2008

Carroll Andrew Morse

United States Army Major Andrew Olmsted was killed in northern Iraq on January 3. We knew each other in high school, when we were both members of the Model United Nations club! I've discovered, too late, that he was an active milblogger.

Major Olmsted wrote a final blog post, to be published in the event of his death in Iraq...

I am leaving this message for you because it appears I must leave sooner than I intended. I would have preferred to say this in person, but since I cannot, let me say it here.
-- G'Kar, Babylon 5

Only the dead have seen the end of war.
-- Plato

This is an entry I would have preferred not to have published, but there are limits to what we can control in life, and apparently I have passed one of those limits. And so, like G'Kar, I must say here what I would much prefer to say in person. I want to thank hilzoy for putting it up for me. It's not easy asking anyone to do something for you in the event of your death, and it is a testament to her quality that she didn't hesitate to accept the charge. As with many bloggers, I have a disgustingly large ego, and so I just couldn't bear the thought of not being able to have the last word if the need arose. Perhaps I take that further than most, I don't know. I hope so. It's frightening to think there are many people as neurotic as I am in the world. In any case, since I won't get another chance to say what I think, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. Such as it is.

When some people die, it's time to be sad. But when other people die, like really evil people, or the Irish, it's time to celebrate.
-- Jimmy Bender, "Greg the Bunny"

And maybe now it's your turn
To die kicking some ass.
-- Freedom Isn't Free, Team America

What I don't want this to be is a chance for me, or anyone else, to be maudlin. I'm dead. That sucks, at least for me and my family and friends. But all the tears in the world aren't going to bring me back, so I would prefer that people remember the good things about me rather than mourning my loss. (If it turns out a specific number of tears will, in fact, bring me back to life, then by all means, break out the onions.) I had a pretty good life, as I noted above. Sure, all things being equal I would have preferred to have more time, but I have no business complaining with all the good fortune I've enjoyed in my life. So if you're up for that, put on a little 80s music (preferably vintage 1980-1984), grab a Coke and have a drink with me. If you have it, throw 'Freedom Isn't Free' from the Team America soundtrack in; if you can't laugh at that song, I think you need to lighten up a little. I'm dead, but if you're reading this, you're not, so take a moment to enjoy that happy fact.

Our thoughts form the universe. They always matter.
-- Citizen G'Kar, Babylon 5

Believe it or not, one of the things I will miss most is not being able to blog any longer. The ability to put my thoughts on (virtual) paper and put them where people can read and respond to them has been marvelous, even if most people who have read my writings haven't agreed with them. If there is any hope for the long term success of democracy, it will be if people agree to listen to and try to understand their political opponents rather than simply seeking to crush them. While the blogosphere has its share of partisans, there are some awfully smart people making excellent arguments out there as well, and I know I have learned quite a bit since I began blogging. I flatter myself I may have made a good argument or two as well; if I didn't, please don't tell me. It has been a great five-plus years. I got to meet a lot of people who are way smarter than me, including such luminaries as Virginia Postrel and her husband Stephen (speaking strictly from a 'improving the species' perspective, it's tragic those two don't have kids, because they're both scary smart.), the estimable hilzoy and Sebastian of Obsidian Wings, Jeff Goldstein and Stephen Green, the men who consistently frustrated me with their mix of wit and wisdom I could never match, and I've no doubt left out a number of people to whom I apologize. Bottom line: if I got the chance to meet you through blogging, I enjoyed it. I'm only sorry I couldn't meet more of you. In particular I'd like to thank Jim Henley, who while we've never met has been a true comrade, whose words have taught me and whose support has been of great personal value to me. I would very much have enjoyed meeting Jim.

Blogging put me in touch with an inordinate number of smart people, an exhilarating if humbling experience. When I was young, I was smart, but the older I got, the more I realized just how dumb I was in comparison to truly smart people. But, to my credit, I think, I was at least smart enough to pay attention to the people with real brains and even occasionally learn something from them. It has been joy and a pleasure having the opportunity to do this.

It's not fair.
No. It's not. Death never is.
-- Captain John Sheridan and Dr. Stephen Franklin, Babylon 5

They didn't even dig him a decent grave.
Well, it's not how you're buried. It's how you're remembered.
-- Cimarron and Wil Andersen, The Cowboys

I suppose I should speak to the circumstances of my death. It would be nice to believe that I died leading men in battle, preferably saving their lives at the cost of my own. More likely I was caught by a marksman or an IED. But if there is an afterlife, I'm telling anyone who asks that I went down surrounded by hundreds of insurgents defending a village composed solely of innocent women and children. It'll be our little secret, ok?

I do ask (not that I'm in a position to enforce this) that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn't a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side. If you think the U.S. should stay in Iraq, don't drag me into it by claiming that somehow my death demands us staying in Iraq. If you think the U.S. ought to get out tomorrow, don't cite my name as an example of someone's life who was wasted by our mission in Iraq. I have my own opinions about what we should do about Iraq, but since I'm not around to expound on them I'd prefer others not try and use me as some kind of moral capital to support a position I probably didn't support. Further, this is tough enough on my family without their having to see my picture being used in some rally or my name being cited for some political purpose. You can fight political battles without hurting my family, and I'd prefer that you did so.

On a similar note, while you're free to think whatever you like about my life and death, if you think I wasted my life, I'll tell you you're wrong. We're all going to die of something. I died doing a job I loved. When your time comes, I hope you are as fortunate as I was.

What an idiot! What a loser!
-- Chaz Reingold, Wedding Crashers

Oh and I don't want to die for you, but if dying's asked of me;
I'll bear that cross with honor, 'cause freedom don't come free.
-- American Soldier, Toby Keith

Those who know me through my writings on the Internet over the past five-plus years probably have wondered at times about my chosen profession. While I am not a Libertarian, I certainly hold strongly individualistic beliefs. Yet I have spent my life in a profession that is not generally known for rugged individualism. Worse, I volunteered to return to active duty knowing that the choice would almost certainly lead me to Iraq. The simple explanation might be that I was simply stupid, and certainly I make no bones about having done some dumb things in my life, but I don't think this can be chalked up to stupidity. Maybe I was inconsistent in my beliefs; there are few people who adhere religiously to the doctrines of their chosen philosophy, whatever that may be. But I don't think that was the case in this instance either.

As passionate as I am about personal freedom, I don't buy the claims of anarchists that humanity would be just fine without any government at all. There are too many people in the world who believe that they know best how people should live their lives, and many of them are more than willing to use force to impose those beliefs on others. A world without government simply wouldn't last very long; as soon as it was established, strongmen would immediately spring up to establish their fiefdoms. So there is a need for government to protect the people's rights. And one of the fundamental tools to do that is an army that can prevent outside agencies from imposing their rules on a society. A lot of people will protest that argument by noting that the people we are fighting in Iraq are unlikely to threaten the rights of the average American. That's certainly true; while our enemies would certainly like to wreak great levels of havoc on our society, the fact is they're not likely to succeed. But that doesn't mean there isn't still a need for an army (setting aside debates regarding whether ours is the right size at the moment). Americans are fortunate that we don't have to worry too much about people coming to try and overthrow us, but part of the reason we don't have to worry about that is because we have an army that is stopping anyone who would try.

Soldiers cannot have the option of opting out of missions because they don't agree with them: that violates the social contract. The duly-elected American government decided to go to war in Iraq. (Even if you maintain President Bush was not properly elected, Congress voted for war as well.) As a soldier, I have a duty to obey the orders of the President of the United States as long as they are Constitutional. I can no more opt out of missions I disagree with than I can ignore laws I think are improper. I do not consider it a violation of my individual rights to have gone to Iraq on orders because I raised my right hand and volunteered to join the army. Whether or not this mission was a good one, my participation in it was an affirmation of something I consider quite necessary to society. So if nothing else, I gave my life for a pretty important principle; I can (if you'll pardon the pun) live with that.

It's all so brief, isn't it? A typical human lifespan is almost a hundred years. But it's barely a second compared to what's out there. It wouldn't be so bad if life didn't take so long to figure out. Seems you just start to get it right, and then...it's over.
-- Dr. Stephen Franklin, Babylon 5

I wish I could say I'd at least started to get it right. Although, in my defense, I think I batted a solid .250 or so. Not a superstar, but at least able to play in the big leagues. I'm afraid I can't really offer any deep secrets or wisdom. I lived my life better than some, worse than others, and I like to think that the world was a little better off for my having been here. Not very much, but then, few of us are destined to make more than a tiny dent in history's Green Monster. I would be lying if I didn't admit I would have liked to have done more, but it's a bit too late for that now, eh? The bottom line, for me, is that I think I can look back at my life and at least see a few areas where I may have made a tiny difference, and massive ego aside, that's probably not too bad.

The flame also reminds us that life is precious. As each flame is unique; when it goes out, it's gone forever. There will never be another quite like it.
-- Ambassador Delenn, Babylon 5

I write this in part, admittedly, because I would like to think that there's at least a little something out there to remember me by. Granted, this site will eventually vanish, being ephemeral in a very real sense of the word, but at least for a time it can serve as a tiny record of my contributions to the world. But on a larger scale, for those who knew me well enough to be saddened by my death, especially for those who haven't known anyone else lost to this war, perhaps my death can serve as a small reminder of the costs of war. Regardless of the merits of this war, or of any war, I think that many of us in America have forgotten that war means death and suffering in wholesale lots. A decision that for most of us in America was academic, whether or not to go to war in Iraq, had very real consequences for hundreds of thousands of people. Yet I was as guilty as anyone of minimizing those very real consequences in lieu of a cold discussion of theoretical merits of war and peace. Now I'm facing some very real consequences of that decision; who says life doesn't have a sense of humor?

But for those who knew me and feel this pain, I think it's a good thing to realize that this pain has been felt by thousands and thousands (probably millions, actually) of other people all over the world. That is part of the cost of war, any war, no matter how justified. If everyone who feels this pain keeps that in mind the next time we have to decide whether or not war is a good idea, perhaps it will help us to make a more informed decision. Because it is pretty clear that the average American would not have supported the Iraq War had they known the costs going in. I am far too cynical to believe that any future debate over war will be any less vitriolic or emotional, but perhaps a few more people will realize just what those costs can be the next time.

This may be a contradiction of my above call to keep politics out of my death, but I hope not. Sometimes going to war is the right idea. I think we've drawn that line too far in the direction of war rather than peace, but I'm a soldier and I know that sometimes you have to fight if you're to hold onto what you hold dear. But in making that decision, I believe we understate the costs of war; when we make the decision to fight, we make the decision to kill, and that means lives and families destroyed. Mine now falls into that category; the next time the question of war or peace comes up, if you knew me at least you can understand a bit more just what it is you're deciding to do, and whether or not those costs are worth it.

This is true love. You think this happens every day?
-- Westley, The Princess Bride

Good night, my love, the brightest star in my sky.
-- John Sheridan, Babylon 5

This is the hardest part. While I certainly have no desire to die, at this point I no longer have any worries. That is not true of the woman who made my life something to enjoy rather than something merely to survive. She put up with all of my faults, and they are myriad, she endured separations again and again...I cannot imagine being more fortunate in love than I have been with Amanda. Now she has to go on without me, and while a cynic might observe she's better off, I know that this is a terrible burden I have placed on her, and I would give almost anything if she would not have to bear it. It seems that is not an option. I cannot imagine anything more painful than that, and if there is an afterlife, this is a pain I'll bear forever.

I wasn't the greatest husband. I could have done so much more, a realization that, as it so often does, comes too late to matter. But I cherished every day I was married to Amanda. When everything else in my life seemed dark, she was always there to light the darkness. It is difficult to imagine my life being worth living without her having been in it. I hope and pray that she goes on without me and enjoys her life as much as she deserves. I can think of no one more deserving of happiness than her.

I will see you again, in the place where no shadows fall.
-- Ambassador Delenn, Babylon 5

I don't know if there is an afterlife; I tend to doubt it, to be perfectly honest. But if there is any way possible, Amanda, then I will live up to Delenn's words, somehow, some way. I love you.

January 8, 2008

New Hampshire: McCain and Clinton

Monique Chartier

But some hows and whys are needed to understand the surprise result of the Democrat primary.

Per the Drudge Report, with 73% and 76% of precincts reporting:

McCain 36.78%
Romney 31.74%
Huckabee 11.15%
Giuliani 8.52%
Paul 7.74%
Thompson 1.19%

Clinton 39%
Obama 36%
Edwards 17%
Richardson 5%
Kucinich 1%

Financial Reality Hits

Justin Katz

Tiverton Superintendent Bill Rearick just handed out a budget packet. Here's a key page:


Obviously, the teachers' increase is TBA and estimated. (Amy Mullen got up and asked how they can be considered if there's no contract.) The bottom line is that, "as of January 8, 2008, the School Department is $149,011 over the spending cap," and the difference has to be found somewhere. Salaries are slated to increase (whether via steps and non-teacher contracts alone or including guestimated teacher rate increases, I don't know) $723,294. The excess over the cap is 20.6% of the salary increases. The entire excess could be wiped out by keeping the salary increase at 4.2%, rather than 5.3%.

Instead, people are going to lose their jobs and children are going to lose opportunities and services.

Back to Normalcy (Or Is It New?)

Justin Katz

I'm not going to lie to you; solely in consideration of entertainment, I miss seeing Pat Crowley at the Tiverton School Committee meetings. He gives off the aura of a TV villain, and drama requires such characters.

But for the school system, for the town, and even for the teachers, the quiet, respectful atmosphere of the audience, tonight, is undoubtedly a good thing. NEA-Tiverton President Amy Mullen has a freestanding sign (which I cannot read from my seat) sitting in the third row, but other than that, things are quiet.

I'm very curious what discussion has gone on beind closed union-hall and teacher-lounge doors. I also kinda wonder whether I give off the aura of a villain. (Surely my major-key theme music is audible.)

On the Other Hand

Justin Katz

Would it be hoping to much to believe that more noises like this might bring advances for the RIGOP in the next election?

House Republicans have promised to boycott all legislative grants in the coming year and have threatened to sue the General Assembly leadership to stop the disbursement of the modest checks to local libraries, senior centers and Little Leagues. ...

Murphy and Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano distributed $2.3 million last year in specific grants to community organizations at the request of specific legislators. Most of the checks ranged from $1,000 to $3,000 and went to such entities as the George Hail Free Public Library, in Warren, the Gaspee Days Parade Committee, in Warwick, or Bristol's King Philip Little League.

All grants are individually reviewed and decided on by the House speaker or Senate president. ...

The issue came up on the House floor last week when Gorham asked the full chamber to approve checks he had received recently as part of last year's legislative grant disbursement. After House Majority Leader Gordon Fox objected, the speaker shut off Gorham, who had three checks in hand: $1,000 for the Tyler Free Library, $1,500 for the West Glocester Fire Department, and $1,000 for the Foster Ambulance Corps.

Keep forcing the Democrats to "object" and to "shut [you] off." What the situation requires is light; simple reasonableness and decency will do the rest.

The Luxury of Harming Citizens

Justin Katz

There could hardly be a better symbol for the errors — becoming ever more detrimental to the people of Rhode Island — in mindset of the General Assembly than Senator Dan Issa's perennial bill to tax expensive clothing:

At some point, though, he said, "expensive clothing goes beyond being about filling a basic human need and becomes a luxury and I believe that luxury items, including luxury clothing items, should not be exempt from our state sales tax."

This year, with the state facing a $450 million budget hole, may be the year the legislature passes a bill Senator Issa has introduced yearly for at least the last decade — a bill to impose a luxury tax on expensive clothing.

"I don't mean to suggest that these aren't important items, to some people," said Senator Issa. "I just don't think it is right for someone to drop $10,000 on a fur coat and be exempt from taxes on that item when there are people in our society who are scraping to put clothes on their kids' backs and pay their heating bills at the same time." ...

Senator Issa said he believes enactment of his bill could generate as much as $1 million annually in sales tax revenue and correct what he thinks is a fairness issue — one that allows shoppers from nearby states to avoid their state's luxury tax by shopping in Rhode Island.

"Most importantly, a million dollars is a figure that would have a significant impact on helping those in our state most in need."

As it happens, this year, I face the prospect of scraping to put clothes on my kids' backs, and as far as I'm concerned, the state of Rhode Island ought to engage in even more "unfair" practices that draw shoppers from neighboring states to our stores. Asserts the Senator, "this luxury clothing tax will not have a negative impact on the majority of Rhode Island citizens." We could quibble about the "majority" term, but on the general implication, Issa is wrong.

The citizens selling "$600 pair[s] of shoes" and "$1,000 Armani suit[s]" will lose sales to stores in buyers' home states — even sales to local well-to-dos, who will have a new reason to buy their luxury clothes in Massachusetts or Connecticut (not to mention New Hampshire). In turn, citizens who provide any goods or services to those who profit from luxury sales will lose their cup-fulls of the trickle.

It is becoming a dire necessity for Rhode Island's "leaders" to learn that not everything that has an effect on citizens' lives — every boon and every bane — follows from their relationship with the government. Indeed, on the whole, the government of the state of Rhode Island is their number 1 affliction.

Making a Difference in Education

Justin Katz

Thomas Schmeling passes on a bit of information of which we'd all do well to take note:

In December, I attended a meeting of the RI Board of Regents for Primary and Secondary Education. Parent/citizens were invited to comment on the question of how the teachers' contracts affect public education. It was not a large crowd and, given it was on a weekday at 3pm in Providence, almost everyone in the audience was from the city.

Our group concentrated on criticizing the practice of "bumping", by which senior teachers get to push junior teachers out of jobs, regardless of qualification. (There was a post on this issue on this blog back in October). The Regents, and chair Judge Flanders in particular, seemed
genuinely interested in hearing our stories.

At the end, noting the limited number of speakers, the Regents indicated that they would welcome further comment by email. I am passing this on to you because I know that some denizens of this blog have an interest in these issues.

The Regents seem to be taking this quite seriously. They are listening, and they are looking for practical ways to improve things. They have asked for comments about specific ways in which contracts affect public education. Stories about how the contract gets in the way of quality education would be welcome. (e.g. work-to-rule, teachers who refuse to meet with parents because of contract provisions, etc). So would stories about positive aspects of the contracts (e.g. how a contract protected a good teacher from unreasonable administrative retaliation). What is requested, and what is needed if actual changes are to happen, are specific examples tying provisions of the contracts to specific behaviors. Generalized polemics will probably turn out to be less than useful.

Send your comments to Regents' staff member Sharon Osborne at sharon.osborne@ride.ri.gov, they will be forwarded to the Regents.

Another Re: Marisol's Odds Go Down

Justin Katz

Andrew notes that marrying the future mother of his child would have put Mynor Montufar on the path to citizenship. The various considerations that go into figuring out why that was a road not taken highlight the fact that, while not all decisions follow rational thought processes, incentive structures still apply broadly.

As Andrew describes in the comments to his post, the process of becoming a citizen based on a spouse's status does require a number of forms and a $1,000+ in fees. An illegal immigrant would also not likely wish to enter into the system (although this one was willing to have his mug published in the state's major newspaper). Getting caught isn't the only disincentive, however. Although I don't know whether it applies in this case, adding a father's (or a husband's) income to the household total might decrease government benefits, and in Rhode Island, children (i.e., their parents) continue receiving support even when it has expired for the adults.

Illegal immigration and poverty advocates look at this set of incentives and see harmfulness in the restrictions. The fees and forms (and risk of getting caught) provide disincentive to get married, as do the decreases in public support. To them, illegal immigrants ought to be able to live openly, applying for licenses and benefits as if they were citizens, and recipients of government money ought to be able to collect up to higher boundaries. To the contrary, such an approach only makes the incentive structure more perverse: Immigrants have no reason to pursue citizenship, and many to avoid it, and women have incentive to produce even more children whom they lack the resources to support.

The villain in the scenario is ultimately the act of immigrating illegally. Its co-conspirator is destigmatization of living on the public dole. A third culprit, easily forgotten after its victory, is destigmatization of out-of-wedlock procreation.

Again, I've no information about the government support of the specific family in question, but it oughtn't be a matter of contention to suggest that the subculture affects their decisions regardless. In that context, the names of young Marisol's closest relatives convey discouraging information:

  • Father: Mynor Montufar
  • Mother: Carmen Marrero
  • Maternal grandmother: Lilliam Muniz

A shared name does not a family make, of course, but I don't think it's mere knee-jerk traditionalism to suggest that it is not entirely devoid of importance and that it often comes in conjunction with other qualities for which society ought to provide incentive, sometimes in the form of disincentive for alternatives.

The Hole We're In

Justin Katz

And the people who keep digging. That's what my latest Providence Journal piece is about. As I said the other day: We're in a race to move the state toward change before the four groups I describe in the op-ed manage to force too many others beyond its borders.

January 7, 2008

Stupid Question of the Day

Carroll Andrew Morse

From Katherine Gregg in Saturday's Projo

A [spokesman for Governor Donald Carcieri] confirmed that the governor’s staff had also “been approached about the concept of selling both the Rhode Island Lottery and the Pell Bridge.” Some proposals apparently came in unsolicited; others in response to a query from the budget office about opportunities for “public-private partnerships” that was appended to a recent request for proposals from underwriters.
Now, can somebody explain to me exactly what a private company can do with a bridge to make it more "profitable" that a state government can't?

Re 2: Marisol's Odds Go Down

Carroll Andrew Morse

I'm going to offer a quasi-correction here, to prevent Anchor Rising from propagating any misunderstandings created by Karen Lee Ziner's confusing reporting in today's Projo of the story of Mynor Montifar, Carmen Marrero and their daughter Marisol.

Puerto Rico is part of the United States. That means…

  1. Saying that "Carmen Marrero is here legally from Puerto Rico", as Ms. Ziner does in her Projo story, makes as much sense as saying that "Allison Alexander is here legally from Ohio" or "Matt Jerzyk is here legally from Kentucky", unless Ms. Ziner intends to imply that Ms. Marrero legally immigrated to Puerto Rico from someplace else.
  2. If being "here from Puerto Rico" does mean what it most directly denotes -- that Carmen Marrero is an American citizen from Puerto Rico -- then Marisol is also an American citizen, as the daughter of an American citizen. (UPDATE: Correction to my correction: Marisol would also have been an American citizen by virtue of having been born within the US, no matter the nationality of her parents.)
  3. Also, if Carmen Marrero is indeed an American citizen who was born in Puerto Rico, it means that Mynor Montufar, Marisol's father, could have become an American citizen by simply marrying the mother of his child can become eligible to become a permanent resident by marrying the mother of his child, which illustrates the core dilemma of illegal immigration in a very direct and sad way: People who don't want to take on any of the most basic responsibilities of society (like marrying before having children) expect to be given the full rights of those who do ("How dare you separate me from my family, even if it is a family I could never be bothered to acknowledge in the eyes of civil society or any church".)

Emotional Populism

Marc Comtois

Iowa rewards populists. That's how Mike Huckabee and John Edwards and, to a certain extent, Barack Obama did so well last week. According to George Will, Huckabee and Edwards are cut from the same cloth (more on Obama in a bit) and their class-warfare dependent messages are flawed:

[Huckabee] and John Edwards, flaunting their histrionic humility in order to promote their curdled populism, hawked strikingly similar messages in Iowa, encouraging self-pity and economic hypochondria. Edwards and Huckabee lament a shrinking middle class. Well.

Economist Stephen Rose, defining the middle class as households with annual incomes between $30,000 and $100,000, says a smaller percentage of Americans are in that category than in 1979 -- because the percentage of Americans earning more than $100,000 has doubled from 12 to 24, while the percentage earning less than $30,000 is unchanged. "So," Rose says, "the entire 'decline' of the middle class came from people moving up the income ladder." Even as housing values declined in 2007, the net worth of households increased.

Huckabee told heavily subsidized Iowa -- Washington's ethanol enthusiasm has farm values and incomes soaring -- that Americans striving to rise are "pushed down every time they try by their own government." Edwards, synthetic candidate of theatrical bitterness on behalf of America's crushed, groaning majority, says the rich have an "iron-fisted grip" on democracy and a "stranglehold" on the economy. Strangely, these fists have imposed a tax code that makes the top 1 percent of earners pay 39 percent of all income tax revenues, the top 5 percent pay 60 percent, and the bottom 50 percent pay only 3 percent.

But the class-warfare card is played so often because it works well, at least for a while. And a lot of people really think that their acute economic frailty is due to some "other" taking money away from them--or at the least, taking more than their "fair share." However, both think that government is the solution. Will, again:
Although Huckabee and Edwards profess to loathe and vow to change Washington's culture, each would aggravate its toxicity. Each overflows with and wallows in the pugnacity of the self-righteous who discern contemptible motives behind all disagreements with them, and who therefore think opponents are enemies and differences are unsplittable.

The way to achieve Edwards' and Huckabee's populist goal of reducing the role of "special interests," meaning money, in government is to reduce the role of government in distributing money. But populists want to sharply increase that role by expanding the regulatory state's reach and enlarging its agenda of determining the distribution of wealth. Populists, who are slow learners, cannot comprehend this iron law: Concentrate power in Washington and you increase the power of interests whose representatives are concentrated there.

Yet, Will thinks Obama is different:
He is the un-Edwards and un-Huckabee -- an adult aiming to reform the real world rather than an adolescent fantasizing mock-heroic "fights" against fictitious villains in a left-wing cartoon version of this country.
But he is a liberal and there is little doubt in my mind that his "reform" will also see a growth in government. Obama has also flirted with populism here and there--particularly the everyman, we-shop-at-Target variety--and mixes it in with a "unity" theme; all in an attempt to appeal across the political spectrum. It worked in Iowa and probably will in New Hampshire. For sure, Obama is a fine speaker and comes across as pleasant and likable. And while various wonks have been explaining that his rhetoric is "short on details," that hasn't hurt him so far. In fact, it is his ability to speak in heartwarming generalities and pleasant platitudes that has made him so appealing.

That makes him a populist of another sort.

While Huckabee and Edwards appeal to the emotions of fear and distrust and anger--which is generally viewed as the more traditional vein of populism--Obama is also a populist by appealing to the desire for hope and happiness via a non-ideological, "agent for change" image. The common denominator revealed in the rhetoric and records of all three is that none is afraid of turning to government to "help," but a government run by them, not the elite "other." Obama is similar to JFK and Reagan and even Bill Clinton in that he offers a hopeful message. But whereas the first two integrated their core philosophies into their rhetoric--indeed, they were persuasive because they believed in their philosophy (as for Clinton, he believed what he said, at the time)--Obama tends to hide his real governing philosophy--left-liberalism--behind his appealing rhetoric. At some point, Obama will have to begin to explain his ideas....won't he?

RE: Marisol's Odds Go Down

Marc Comtois

Justin was correct, the "first father" in Rhode Island in 2008, Mynor Montufar, was arrested by immigration officials (ICE). ProJo account is here.

Two days after local media featured Mynor Montufar and Carmen L. Marrero as the parents of Rhode Island’s first baby of 2008, federal immigration agents arrested Montufar at his apartment.

Now Montufar is about to be deported.

And David De La Roca — also an illegal immigrant, one of several people who shared the couple’s apartment — is dead in an apparent suicide.

De La Roca was found hanging from a belt in a locked bedroom at 174 Bellevue Ave. on Friday, several hours after immigration agents raided it and arrested Montufar and another man.

A Providence police report confirms an account given by Marrero’s mother, who said she was one of several people present when a friend of De La Roca jimmied open the door and found the body.

Whether these events are connected is unknown, but family, friends, and some in the Hispanic community are asking these questions:

Did De La Roca hang himself when federal agents entered the apartment because he feared deportation? Was he already dead before agents arrived? Why didn’t agents force the locked bedroom door?

Did immigration authorities pursue Montufar after seeing his picture on television and in the paper?

“It’s a coincidence,” a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said of Montufar’s arrest so soon after the publicity.

Paula Grenier, the ICE spokeswoman in Boston, said Montufar was arrested on an outstanding administrative deportation warrant.

The ProJo also reports that Marisol's mother, Carmen L. Marrero, is here legally from Puerto Rico.

ADDENDUM: Incidentally, Andrew clears up confusion on the ProJo's weird note that Marrero is "here legally" from Puerto Rico, here. I had one of those, "that looks weird" moments but parroted it anyway. My bad.

Marisol's Odds Go Down

Justin Katz

Although I'm not in a position to provide links right now, I wanted to mention something that I just heard on WPRO: The unwed, nineteen-year-old father of Rhode Island's first-born baby of 2008 was just taken in under suspicion of being an illegal alien. Apparently, a housemate of the young couple was found dead (perhaps suicide).

U.K. to Release U.F.O. Files

Monique Chartier

Rejoice, flying saucer buffs. Following the example of France this past March, the British Ministry of Defense is releasing its U.F.O. files.

The public opening of the MoD archive will expose the once highly classified work of the intelligence branch DI55, whose mission was to investigate UFO reports and whose existence was denied by the government until recently. Reports into about 7,000 UFO sightings investigated by defence officials - every single claim lodged over the past 30 years - are included in the files, whose staged release will begin in spring.

The decision to release Whitehall's full back-catalogue of UFO investigations was taken last month after the Directorate of Air Space Policy, the government agency responsible for filtering sensitive reports, gave its permission to publish the biggest single release of documents in MoD history.

One of the items that will be looked for in these files is the location or disposition of the radar film of this incident:

Another case reported to the intelligence branch DI55 - Britain's version of the 'Men In Black' - chronicles a series of reports sent to RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, by the crew of a Vulcan bomber on exercise over the Bay of Biscay early on 26 May 1977. According to documents seen by The Observer, five crewmen, including the captain, co-pilot and navigators, watched 'an object' approach their aircraft at 43,000ft above the Atlantic. The mysterious craft then appeared to turn and follow their precise course from a distance of four miles.

Initially, the crew said the object resembled landing lights 'with a long pencil beam of light ahead' but as it turned towards them the lights suddenly went out leaving a diffuse orange glow with a bright fluorescent green spot in its bottom right-hand corner. Then, according to signals sent back to Scampton, the crew noted a mystery object 'leaving from the middle of the glow on a westerly track... climbing at very high speed at an angle of 45 degrees'.

Followers of the U.S. Presidential race will be watching to see if Dennis Kucinich takes time off from campaigning this spring to do some research.

January 6, 2008

Spending on Social Programs - What Defines Compassion?

Monique Chartier

In expressing reluctance to cut social programs, some Democrat leaders in the General Assembly have placed such programs in the context of compassion.

In point of fact, Rhode Island spending on all social services in Fiscal Year 2005 was in the top third nationally [we are ranked fifteenth]. Our spending in the category of "Medicaid/Vendor Payments" was the fourth highest. Accordingly, lawmakers would have a good deal of reducing to do before they altogether "eliminat[e] whatever safety net we can provide", to quote an unduly alarmed Senate President Joseph Montalbano.

It should be noted that from FY2004 to FY2005, Rhode Island spending on social services dropped from eleventh to fifteenth. The General Assembly is to be commended for taking this step in the right direction.

Inasmuch as the operating deficit is now conservatively projected at half a billion dollars and Rhode Island taxes are the seventh highest in the country, the work cannot stop there. Spending reductions must continue across the board. Marc reports that the House Republican Caucus has suggested "5% cuts in the current year for all departments in 20 days" and "10% cuts in the 2009 budget for all departments in the first 10 days". Another goal for the General Assembly might simply be averageness in all above-average spending categories.

Returning to social spending, setting aside for a moment the question of the benefit of these programs - to the state as a whole as well as to recipients - and focusing on the matter of compassion, two issues arise. What level of spending constitutes compassion? If we were last in that spending category, would we not still be compassionate for offering such programs at all? No, says the poverty industry? How about being in the bottom third instead of the top third?

And secondly, is it possible, is it even appropriate, to discuss compassion - to contemplate compassionate programs - without bringing in the question of feasibility; i.e., affordability?

How Do They Not Believe...

Justin Katz

Michael Novak counts the ways. It seems to me that he misses one category of atheists, or at least that he ought to have teased it out from the six that he lists: those who've made science and rationality (more correctly: rationalism) their god. He's got good advice for believers, though:

Recall that in your own truth there is always some error, and in the errors of your current opponents, some truth. Each believing Jew and Christian has solid religious grounds for being respectful of the truths uttered by others, and humble about the degree of knowledge each of them has so far attained. No one of us "has" the truth. All of us, with very limited minds indeed, are held accountable under its infinite light.

It always gives me a feeling of unreality when others take me as the raving, narrow-minded theist. (Perhaps I'm just the closest thing that they've managed to encounter in New England.) But it's always a mistake, in my view, to feel — much less assert — that one has the Truth. We manage no more than to suspect it, albeit sometimes very strongly.

Having Found the Last Bastion

Justin Katz

On my way to the jobsite, the other day, I stopped at CVS because it's the only store in which I've found my preferred brand of pencil and, because it caught my eye in passing, I picked up a copy of the latest Rhode Island Monthly. It occurred to me, as somebody trying to keep up with happenings in our state, that I ought to subscribe to the magazine. Reading through the January edition, however, led me to reconsider.

The rag looks well positioned to be the last bastion of received the-sky-ain't-falling wisdom. One need go no farther than Ellen Liberman's article on page 29 (page 11, if one subtracts full-page advertisements) (emphasis added):

In 1729, Jonathan Swift suggested that the Irish could alleviate their poverty by selling their babies to the wealthy British to be eaten. A well-nourished one-year-old, he suggested, would make "wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout." A Modest Proposal: For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being A Burden to Their Parents or Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to The Public is now a classic work of political satire.

Pureeing poor children into the plat du jour seems to be the only measure policymakers missed in their zeal to slash spending. In the last two years, Rhode Island, once a national model for the care of its most vulnerable children, took significant steps backwards.

In what sort of a setting — and to what audience — can it be straight-facedly stated that the General Assembly "slashed spending"?

I'll note, here, that I've had a soft spot for Ms. Liberman ever since she presented me as a Rhode Island Diogenes back in November '06, and I enjoyed our conversation for that interview. I'd also note that her piece was not the sole stimulus for my impression of the magazine. The latest cover story, by Sarah Francis, "The Rhode Island Red Awards: The dumbest, weirdest, and most outrageous moments of the year," continues the tone. Governor Carcieri and his executive branch are clearly cast as the central source of ineptitude and waste in the state, even to such detail as the following:

Rhode Islanders spent nearly $2,000 a month to pay the rent on a lobbyist's D.C. office that stood empty for almost two years. Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal defended the $50,000 expense saying, "The governor believes we should maintain that office because if we ever gave up the lease we would never get it back."

No mention is made of the General Assembly's $70 million gift to Chief Justice Frank Williams. In fact, no mention is made of the legislature at all, except for its "law allowing seventeen-year-olds to be tried as adults." In fact, I didn't see a single legislator mentioned by name anywhere in the magazine, outside of the socialite section.

Little wonder Ms. Liberman believes her readers would find it newsworthy that the "state's child welfare community" predict as "future consequences" of cuts to their bread and butter "increased homelessness among young adults, mental illness, child abuse and crime." If Ms. Liberman wishes to present another side, I'll gladly speak with her again to offer the personal testimony that a failure to transform RI government will likely lead to increased homelessness (am I still a "young adult"?), mental illness (as some readers of Anchor Rising might wish to testify, as well), and crime. I'd also present Ellen with my own application for a statue:

"We have requested that the administration sit down to craft a thoughtful plan to make FIP a better workforce plan," says Kate Brewster of the Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College. "That request was denied. We hope their solution is not to make the program more challenging for families who desperately need it."

It is sad to those who walk through this great state when they see the malls, the street and triple-deckers crowded with poor women followed by three, four or six children, all in outfits from Ocean State Job Lot and draining our budget with their unceasing demand for healthcare, child care and court translators.

I think that everyone can agree that this prodigious number of children is, in the present deplorable state of Rhode Island, a big problem; and, therefore, whoever could find out a fair, cheap and easy method of making these children sound, useful members of the state would deserve a public statue in his honor.

My plan for Rhode Island is to listen very carefully to the solutions that Kate and the Brewsterites propose... and do the opposite. Increase the cost in effort of free-ride programs. Encourage personal responsibility, and foster real consequences for intransigence. The phrase "social stigma" comes to mind. In tandem, decrease the disincentives to be productive citizens, which would require removing some of the stigma flung at successful businesses and individuals.

Liberman jokingly suggests that we tax children and put them to work; that would be less abusive than the dark futures of dependence and stagnation to which Rhode Island currently leads them, and to which the General Assembly seems inclined to drag the rest of us. Perhaps a subscription to Rhode Island Monthly can be justified purely as a window into the minds of the last demographic likely to come to this realization.

In the meantime, perhaps we at Anchor Rising ought to come up with our own "dumbest, weirdest, most outrageous moments of the year." I'd start, but just the thought of sorting so many previous posts gives me a headache.

Affecting Columnists Across the Sections

Justin Katz

Perhaps it's grasping at straws for something on which to hang some optimism, but judging from the cross-section unity among columnists, perhaps the common wisdom in Rhode Island is rocking in the right direction. On page A2, LifeBeat columnist Mark Patinkin head-fakes a silver lining and then highlights the problems of the state in the form of a humorous wishlist, such as:

  • Interstate bridges strong enough to support trucks. ...
  • Requiring General Assembly members to demonstrate fifth-grade proficiency in math so they can make Column-A equal Column-B instead of having a $500-million-or-so deficit. ...
  • A post allowing Steve Laffey to take care of the few dozen other crossing guard-like contracts in the state.
  • Physician remibursement rates a bit higher than those in Ghana so we can keep good docs from fleeing the state. ...
  • A governor's veto that cannot be overridden by opposition leadership casually snapping its fingers.

Meanwhile, in the business section, looking toward Rhode Island's future made columnist John Kostrzewa so depressed that he leaped categories from business to history:

As I prepared a forecast of Rhode Island's economy, the data was so dismal that I decided to get out of the office for a different view. I headed for the ocean and stopped at a spot I’d passed by hundreds of times — Blithewold.

I walked the grounds of the 33-acre estate in Bristol, on Narragansett Bay, and learned about the fascinating history of Augustus Stout Van Wickle, the coal baron from Pennsylvania who developed the property.

But I had a question.

Of all the places he could have lived, why did he pick Rhode Island?

And of course, the drumbeat's echo can still be heard where it arguably began (within the paper), on the editorial page:

Rhode Island's beauty, superb location, coastline and institutions of higher education should make it a magnet for well-educated people and shrewd entrepreneurs. Yet, U.S. Census estimates say, its population has declined for the last four years — and, last year, declined more than that of any state, beating even Michigan, battered by the decline of the U.S. auto business.

Maybe one of the most crowded states could use a little more breathing space. But what is alarming is who seems to be leaving: It appears to be the state's working-age (and heavily taxpaying) population, including highly educated residents who are looking for work. Unfortunately, as mounting state and local budget deficits show, Rhode Island cannot function at its best unless it has a vigorous economy, with jobs to keep young, ambitious and educated people, and tax revenues to pay for its government programs.

Maybe — just maybe — the same refrain will start to enter the general public (even those with an interest in the status quo) and effect change.

January 5, 2008

We Might Have to Start Another Evidence Box

Justin Katz

Maybe we can plug the state deficit with Ethics Commission fines:

The Ethics Commission voted yesterday to prosecute state senator and union official Frank Ciccone on two charges, but dropped five other charges that his votes in the General Assembly amounted to ethics violations because they benefited unions he works for.

The decision means that in at least some circumstances, union officials who are members of the General Assembly can support legislation that benefits their unions. But commission Chairman James Lynch Sr. said that "this is not a blanket endorsement" for similar actions, and that the commission will deal with future cases one at a time.

The two charges the commission voted to prosecute relate to Ciccone's failure to publicly disclose his income from the Rhode Island Laborers' District Council of the Laborers International Union of North America — where he is president and a field representative and the union's Local Union 808, where he is business manager — for 2005 and 2006.

The Senator claims that it was a "mistake." You know, sort of like just happening to wind up with a half-billion dollar (and climbing) budget shortfall.

On the Immorality of Unions (Public or Private)

Justin Katz

Here's how even private-sector unions "negotiate":

A carpenters union that has been shut out of a $34-million renovation project at the Hyatt Regency Newport Hotel and Spa picketed yesterday at the Goat Island causeway, accusing the hotel of improperly removing mold.

Representatives of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, Local 1305, passed out leaflets stating that "mold is not being remediated in specification laid out in federal guidelines." A photograph on the leaflet purports to show mold on a wall being refurbished.

"Makes you wonder what your room looks like under that wallpaper," it read, adding, "Where a room with a view offers much more than an ocean view and a salty breeze."

The hotel yesterday called the allegations untrue and questioned the union's motives.

The union's motives are clear: to send the message that companies must hire union or face attacks on their business. Imagine if a private company that lost a bidding contest behaved in the same manner.

Let's Not Forget the Larger Problem

Justin Katz

Tiverton resident Jay Lambert makes a good point in a letter in the latest edition of the Sakonnet Times:

According to Mr. Medeiros, the lack of a contract with the teachers "is actually the result of the union refusing to accept the (financial) challenges we all face." This seems to be the view of several members on the Town Council.

Stated bluntly, the teachers shouldn't get a raise because of the town's financial mess. I think we can all fairly assume that the town's financial mess certainly will not affect the salary of Mr. Medeiros, or anyone else on the Town Council. So much for challenges we all face.

By coincidence, at the Dec. 17 meeting, the town administrator presented a town-side proposal budget that represents a 13.5 percent increase from last year. And we haven't even heard about the school-side budget. Doesn't Mr. Medeiros' argument really beg some questions? How did we get into this financial mess? Why are town officials talking to themselves about skyrocketing tax increases for the indefinite future? Why don't we have a broadened tax base? Why don't we have more commercial and industrial properties instead of the boarded-up buildings, empty storefronts and "for sale" signs on Main Road? At present, we can't even get a grocery store to move into our town. Most importantly, what are our elected officials doing to get us out of this mess?

I'd suggest that it is not, actually, fair of Mr. Lambert to assume that the council members are not affected by the town's problems. It's a part-time council, don't forget, and I don't believe (although I could be wrong) that it comes with a pay check.

But that slight adjustment has no effect on the larger point: Restraining the teachers' union has to be one component of the solution to budget problems. Municipal leaders can't expect standing symbolically firm against it to suffice.

Admittedly, I multitask at the Town Council meetings, so I periodically miss a word or two, but I've yet to hear the word "relief" spoken with respect to local taxpayers, although I have heard it stated as simple fact that lower property values, and the subsequently lower property tax revenue, require tax rates to be raised.

Townspeople contribute to the local atmosphere, too, of course, and we've all got an obligation to figure out ways to make our town as safe a haven as it will be possible to find during Rhode Island's coming Dark Era. I've faith in at least some of the councilors to listen.

January 4, 2008

Benefit/Cost Disconnect

Justin Katz

Marc offered the substantive commentary yesterday, so all I've got in response to bad news about Rhode Island's high schools is a quip (emphasis added):

But proficiency rates among students statewide are stagnant. Despite an aggressive statewide high school reform effort, test scores of high school juniors have remained flat for the past several years, with about 53 percent scoring proficient or better on the English portion of the test and 43 percent scoring proficient or better in math.

And yet the teachers continue to demand annual raises, on top of annual step increases. Personally, I'd be embarrassed to demand more money if I couldn't show improvement. Before anybody doubles down on the good work of individual teachers, let me remind y'all that the teachers have chosen to negotiate as a group. So thus must their performance be judged.

One of a Kind in the East Bay

Justin Katz

Nobody who knows him will have any difficulty picking out the quotation from Rocco DiPippo from the Sakonnet Times's "Who said it?" list of "memorable quotes overheard around our cities and towns in 2007":

  1. "I even ate sugared grasshoppers at a Sportsmen's banquet in Maine."
  2. "I had no thoughts in my head except to kill the first guy that got into that car."
  3. "I'm just in love with that girl and my wife is cool with it ... I think."
  4. "I know a little something about this Valentine's Day thing. Every once in a while my wife reminds me that I have to do something."
  5. "God, we give you thanks for both the chicken and the egg."
  6. "I've seen more skin than the public toilet seat!"
  7. "Don't ever — ever — rob a bank. I'm dead serious. Don't even be an accessory, like driving the car."
  8. "The wig, man. I'm sweating."
  9. "People who hated me before are hating me now."
  10. "When you rest, you rust."
  11. "I annoy my boss."
  12. "I hid under my desk. Everybody was gaping at me."
  13. "Please don't take the cows away."

Three More Republicans with a Shot at Getting on the RI Presidential Ballot

Carroll Andrew Morse

Thanks primarily to efforts he helped coordinate over the past month, Dave Talan reports that 3 more Republicans have a solid shot at getting on to the Rhode Island Presidential ballot…

Thanks to a great team effort by 124 volunteers and 22 GOP City & Town Committees, it appears that all 9 active Republican candidates for President have qualified to be on the ballot for R.I.'s March 4 Primary….We are still waiting for final results, as some local Boards of Canvassers have not yet reported in to the Secretary of State. But here are the UNOFFICIAL reports of valid signatures, as of 4:00 P.M. today (Thursday).

Eight (8) candidates have unofficially passed the 1,000 valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. They are DR. HUGH CORT; RUDY GIULIANI; MIKE HUCKABEE; DUNCAN HUNTER; JOHN McCAIN; RON PAUL; MITT ROMNEY; & FRED THOMPSON. A 9th candidate, ALAN KEYES, is at 999 valid signatures, and at least 1 town, where 15 signatures were turned in, not yet reporting. (The 10th candidate, TOM TANCREDO, dropped out of the race, and will not be on the R.I. ballot).

Mr. Talan also takes an opportunity to remind William Lynch, Chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, as well as the Projo's Political Scene bloggers, about the dangers of uninformed predicting…
To put this in perspective, let's look at the Democratic Party, whose State Chairman bragged to the Providence Journal's Political Scene reporter on December 17 that "Democrats face no such difficulties gathering voter signatures". It appears that only 5 Democrats have qualified for the R.I. ballot (Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Dodd & Kucinich). A 6th Democrat, Joe Biden, has only an outside chance to qualify. And 4 Democrats appear to have failed (Bill Richardson, Mike Gravel, and 2 minor candidates).
Of course -- always in the interest of maintaining an accurate historical record -- Anchor Rising will link to directly to the Projo's follow-up on this item as soon as it appears.

And maybe the Dems can use this as an example in a new truth-in-advertising based marketing campaign: Democrats: We're much better at promises than at delivery.

This Is What I Mean

Justin Katz

Charles Bakst does readers the service of eliciting the sort of comments from legislators that one would expect him to want to hear:

Interestingly, Senator Montalbano's speech quoted Hubert Humphrey's plea to care for the sick, the needy and the handicapped. Montalbano told me that, sure, the budget must be balanced and there'll be pain to spread. "But I really feel strongly that as Democrats we stand for not taking the most vulnerable in our society and eliminating whatever safety net we can provide."

I want to see what the ruling Democrats come up with — and how they do it. In the House, Majority Leader Gordon Fox was right to tell members that the 2008 session, with its fiscal challenges, might be a defining test. But it was unsettling to talk with him later. Fox said he can see the chamber's Democrats relying more on informal caucuses to thrash out "what does it mean to be a Democrat, what are the kind of steps that this General Assembly wants to stand for."

Bakst is worried about being left outside the room, as a media guy, during the meetings, but the General Assembly members are already telling Rhode Islanders everything they need to know. Their view is that all good Democrats should agree that the state has a moral obligation to protect union jobs and social services. That's what defines them. That's what makes them so gosh darned principled.

That's what's going to drive them to keep digging until the tunnel caves in on them, taking all of our futures with it.

Re: Yorke: We're Screwed

Justin Katz

I'm afraid I have to say that I don't share Dan Yorke's optimism. I'm coming to believe that the silent (read: apathetic) majority that many of us have assumed to exist is dwindling toward mythdom.

I've been beating this drum regularly, of late, but allow me to repeat: Almost 30,000 fewer Rhode Islanders lived in households making over three times the poverty level in 2006 than 2005. That's almost 3% of the total population in the latter year. I'll be very surprised if data shows a reversal — even a cessation, even a slowdown — of this trend in 2007. And despite all of the gaps in information, I'd be willing to wager that those leaving (or preparing to do so) are not those on the benefit side of Rhode Island's suicide-bender system.

In other words, if there does indeed remain any hope that Rhode Island doesn't have to hit rock-hard bottom for change to come, it's a race. What remains of the fleeing "outsiders" has to be joined by one or more of the RI Democrats' strangle-hold constituencies, and unless readers have a sunnier view of human nature than mine, that isn't likely to happen until the General Assembly runs out of ways to plug holes.

And if the legislators don't make huge changes this year, I'll lose all faith in the ability of reasonableness, or just plain sanity, to guide their decisions. Everything might be on the table. Dan predicts a revenue anticipation bond. Others have predicted the sale of the state lottery. Basically, anything that you can imagine that will provide the GA with a quick infusion of cash — no matter how detrimental to the long-term fiscal health of the state — might be on the table and will be increasingly likely as each year passes without some magic change in the state's fortune.

Meanwhile, taxpayers will continue to leave, widening the hole that must be plugged.

The question of the years to come will be how creative the General Assembly can be in mortgaging our state's future. My depressing gut feeling is that the parasites will make it through Yorke's 2010 deadline.

January 3, 2008

Huckabee, Obama Win in Iowa

Carroll Andrew Morse

From CNN, on the Republican side, with 76% of precincts in...

  • Mike Huckabee 34%
  • Mitt Romney 25%
  • Fred Thompson 14%
  • John McCain 13%
  • Ron Paul 10%
  • Rudy Giuliani 4%
...and on the Democratic side, with 94% of precincts reporting...
  • Barack Obama 37%
  • John Edwards 30%
  • Hillary Clinton 30%

More Holes to See Their Real Priorities

Justin Katz

A recent op-ed by House Finance Committee Chairman Steven Costantino (D, what else) further illustrates the game playing that our legislators apparently intend to perform instead of fixing Rhode Island's deep and structural problems:

RHODE ISLAND'S fiscal crisis is also our moment of opportunity. By finding ways to make our tax dollars go further, we can save money, keep taxes under control and provide better services.

I am proposing one way: the creation of a single, consolidated state Office of Health and Human Services, replacing and eliminating five separate departments that together cost over $2.7 billion annually and that are locked by their very structures into chronic operational inefficiency.

Sounds good so far, no? Unfortunately, he goes on:

The structural deficit threatens our ability to grow and to provide critical services. Raising taxes would risk putting further drag on our economy; cutting jobs and services will make the people who need them most suffer. Pitting our financial obligations against our moral obligations is a recipe for failure.

Yup. Mr. Costantino (or is it "cost-a-ton-o"?) hopes to "eliminate five separate, independent departments" without cutting jobs. He cites Gov. Carcieri's "fiscal-fitness" strategy as providing a "mere" baseline of $10 million annual savings, compared with Costantino's proposal, which "goes even further." But the text related to consolidation for the governor's program strongly implies (at the least) a reduction in workforce. Jobs can be redundant, too, and workers are expensive.

It appears that the General Assembly is going to attempt to sell its stick-it-to-the-public solution as some sort of balance against our supposed "moral obligation" to continue funding unproductive lives and inefficient workers. They may not understand that they also have a moral obligation to improve the health of our state, but they'll have no choice but to learn as their bad medicine only makes the symptoms worse.

Yorke: We're Screwed

Marc Comtois

Justin wisely warns that we should pay attention to what our legislators are (or aren't saying) when it comes to Rhode Island's "looming financial crisis."TM For his part, Dan Yorke has blogged his prediction for what's going to happen. For some reason (heh), Dan predicts that the state's political class will fail to properly address our dire circumstances:

our state government doesn't have a clue how to fix this 600 million cumulative deficit. they will first talk about "coming together" and "eliminating the partisanship". that will last about a week. with all the advance warning these people have had, nobody has generated an idea with a price tag attached.

by early spring there will be a revenue anticipation bond crafted to cure the current fiscal deficit of 150 mil and the 450 for
fiscal 09. it will be paid for by the new taxation proposal. the governor will veto it and the assembly will override. it's all they know how to do.

we will then fall more miserably into the bottom of the competitive barrel. we will get no real relief and no return on our high tax investment. more folks will leave. and it will remain this way through 2010 when the next statewide election is held.

then the blank will hit the fan. we'll be bottomed out as the rest of the country is rebounding. the electorate will wake up, finally.

the question for each of us is: can we make it till then? it's an individual decision .

Seems like a few commenters hereabouts have offered up this scorched earth remedy. Looks like you're not alone. Oh, and Dan would like to here if you plan on sticking it out in RI or not. Go on over to his blog and chime in.

Meanwhile, the House Republicans have a plan, issued today:

House Minority Leader Robert A. Watson (R) East Greenwich, today announced that the Republican caucus will propose six new initiatives in the first sixty days of the 2008 legislative season designed to move Rhode Island State Government toward physical wellness. The ambitious plan calls for a new element to be proposed every ten days for the first sixty days of the legislative season.

“The House leadership has not provided any real answers,” said Watson, instead they have abdicated their role in fixing the mess they created – we aim to change that.”

Outlined in detail below, the Republican plan calls for:
· 10% cuts in the ’09 budget for all departments in the first 10 days - Saving $310 million (from usable revenue)

· 5% cuts in the current year for all departments in 20 days - Saving $180 million (from usable revenue)

· Fully implement Separation of Powers in 30 days - Honoring the constitution

· Find real property tax relief in 40 days - Savings to be determined

· Free local school departments from unfunded mandates in 50 days - Savings vary from community to community

· Have all legislators pay 10% of health insurance costs in 60 days - Savings vary depending upon plan

Welp, they're trying, which is much more than can be said about the Democrat leadership. At least there are some hard numbers. As such, items 1-3 seem like stronger plays. I don't know how we're going to effect 4 and 5, so we'll have to take a wait-n-see approach with those As for #6? Well...why only 10%, guys?

RI Politics 101: Open with a Lie

Justin Katz

Members of the General Assembly were setting up a lie even before their first meeting of the year (if you can call it that). From Sunday's Providence Journal:

The legislature and the governor promise no tax increases. Legislative leaders repeat: "Everything [else] is on the table." Interest groups fear the coming session will be "the worst in decades." ...

... "At this point, I am not in favor of increasing any taxes," says Murphy. The governor and Montalbano agree.

Get out those dictionaries, kids, 'cause the rhetoric is going to require some editorial corrections to the definitions:

"For me the devil is in the details on any of those items," said Costantino, who is reluctant to support "any deal that ultimately is a one-time revenue source." He also worries about "protection of those assets." A hike in bridge tolls is a better bet: "I know the residents of Aquidneck Island won't be pleased, but again that's something that we have to look at," Murphy said.

Putting aside the fact that bridges are crumbling around the state and these dunderheads are looking to bridge tolls for general revenue, here's Merriam-Webster on "toll": "a tax or fee paid for some liberty or privilege." Next:

Advocates for the poor have suggested the state raise its recently reduced capital gains tax and reverse the tax break provided the state's highest wage earners through the adoption of a new flat tax, which will cost the state more than $30 million in tax revenue next year.

The first idea hasn't gotten much traction among legislative leaders. "At this point I am not open to it, unless somebody convinces me otherwise," says Murphy. But with respect to tinkering with the capital gains tax rate, Costantino said: "It's the one area where we are better than Massachusetts... so I'd rather not comment on that at this time."

Once again this year, the lawmakers are promising to take a closer look at millions of dollars in tax credits the General Assembly has bestowed on select businesses and industries and, in particular, the historic tax-credit program.

Followers of national politics will recognize the Democrats' famed ploy: Removing tax breaks doesn't count as an increase. I guess it just restores the natural order of the universe. And my favorite:

By mid-January, state leaders also hope to see the results of a study they commissioned of how much more the state's 7-percent sales tax might yield if it were expanded into exempt areas such as financial services, high-priced clothing and entertainment. Their long-stated goal: to raise enough new money to reduce the rate.

Perhaps I'm not alone in thinking that increasing the amount of revenue that the state takes via taxes is a synonym for raising taxes, no matter the titular rate. It seems the only area in which the General Assembly is interested in increasing commerce as a means of increasing tax revenue (rather than increasing revenue from commerce already engaged) is gambling.

Given all of the "buts" that accompany solutions for actually spending less, Rhode Islanders should prepare themselves — perhaps by putting more of their paychecks aside in advance — for increased taxes, more gambling, less money to communities and schools, more criminals released from prison, quick-fix sales of state assets (such as the lottery), and little more than stern looks directed at illegal immigrants and social-services leeches.

It's telling that the AFL-CIO's George Nee refers to the Quonset-Davisville port as an asset that "we have." By "we," the beaten taxpayer may conclude, Mr. Nee means his union.

So which politicians should be the first thrown into the bay? Think of all the toll revenue that could be collected from the mob as it marches the legislature up the Newport Bridge.

A Baby for the New Year

Justin Katz

What a sad, sad commentary that the first baby born in Rhode Island during 2008 was child number three to a nineteen year old girl. The picture of the mother with the baby and the father (different name; no mention of whether the other two are his) is worth a thousand words.

Mom expressed hope that the child's 1/1 birth portends an important life. Sad to say, Ms. Marrero, but you don't appear to be starting little Marisol off with the best of odds.

RI High School Report Card: Sorting the results

Marc Comtois

The RI Department of Education released the latest RI High School proficiency ratings. Not good:

Only half of Rhode Island’s 58 public high schools are making enough progress in English and math, while the other half are failing to make adequate yearly progress — a slight dip from last year’s 54 percent.

According to the results of tests given to 12,000 juniors last March, 40 percent of the state’s high schools are failing to educate all groups of students — including special education, low-income and minority students — to the state standard on English and math tests. Because these 23 schools have failed for multiple years, they are classified as making insufficient progress by the state Education Department.

Another 10 percent of high schools have failed to educate all groups of students to the state standard for one year, and therefore are placed on a watch list, including several rural and suburban high schools: Burrillville, Cumberland, Narragansett, Westerly and Chariho Regional.

The other 50 percent of Rhode Island’s high schools — 29 schools — made adequate yearly progress in the 2006-2007 school year.

The ProJo story includes a table, sorted by town, that lists the current status of the state's high schools (a PDF is here). But that table doesn't really breakdown the data in a useful way. So I downloaded the info into a spreadsheet and played around with the sorting (here's the xls file--sort it however you want.) One option is to parse out the schools according to category: Caution, Insufficient Progress and Adequate Yearly Progress. But, if you focus too tightly on the Insufficient schools, you'll miss the fact that there are some schools making AYP that have scores below some others that have a Caution or Insufficient Progress rating. To make things more clear, I averaged the ELA and Math scores together and came up with this list:

Obviously, there are some high performing schools that aren't progressing fast enough and others that we want to be sure don't slip back. But of more concern are those schools at the bottom.

Open Thread: Presidential Voting Finally Begins Today

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here's your last chance to make a prediction about how the Presidential election will turn out, before actual results start to be reported, tonight from the Iowa Caucuses, next Tuesday from the New Hampshire primary.

Will Ricci of the Ocean State Republican has already registered his predictions here; Sarah Highland of America's Frontier (and Providence College) goes on record here. Who do you think will still be in the running by the end of the month? And will there be anything left to decide by the time Rhode Island votes on March 4?

So Say All Dictators/CEOs/Presidents/Legislators Before the Fall

Justin Katz

I'm glad I wasn't in the midst of a gulp of coffee when I read this yesterday:

"We are not here today to cast blame on anyone," House Speaker William J. Murphy, D-West Warwick, said of the huge back-to-back deficits. "The time for finger pointing is over."

Uh, yeah. I'd say there's still a-plenty of finger pointing to be done, and the General Assembly seems likely to continue to create justifications for it.

From the same article:

In his own speech, Senate President Joseph Montalbano, D-North Providence, voiced concern: "We have made a decision as a society to provide a safety net for those most vulnerable Rhode Islanders. A budget is more than dollar signs and numbers. It impacts real people — our neighbors, our parents, our children."

Ain't that the truth, only I'm thinking of the neighbors, parents, and children whom Mr. Montalbano's government is driving toward poverty or out of their homes (and out of the state).

January 2, 2008

Cogs Aren't Usually Inspired

Justin Katz

Julia Steiny has a good column explaining one area in which the union model is a poor fit for teachers (the best parts aren't quoted):

Traditional "defined benefit" pensions motivate some teachers to become deadwood. Teachers who have lost their appetite for the work must continue to put in their time, however half-heartedly, to qualify for retirement benefits that are far more valuable than most private-sector employees get.

In general, one of the biggest problems in public education is that the field is rife with badly designed policies that motivate the wrong behavior. Pensions are only one example. ...

... not only are the pensions themselves unsustainably expensive, they can also richly reward poor service. ...

Labor-market pundits tell us that most people these days not only change jobs, but even careers several times during their lifetime. “Defined benefit” pensions presume a lifetime of employment in the same field, in the same state. There is no way of getting the full benefit of the pension unless you stay for the full haul.

If a teacher goes into a different line of work, or even moves to a cooler school in a different state, she loses all or most of her investment in her future. Big disincentive.

The essence of the thing is that the union approach — across the board — is designed for employees who are essentially machines in the workplace. Low skilled. Replaceable. Perhaps tough work, but no real leverage in the company.

That certainly oughtn't describe teachers, who should be encouraged to find ways to remain intellectually engaged, interested, and enthusiastic. Sometimes that'll require some experimentation — risks, even. (Gasp! Did I say "risks"?)

The NEA's local brain, Bob Walsh, will declare that his organization's goal is "a high-quality teacher in every classroom," but by their nature, unions aren't built to enhance the individualism and creativity that teaching ought to require. In the union frame of mind, "high quality" is indistinguishable from "competent," and neither comes near "inspired," except by accident, which is a contingency that pensions, bumping, seniority, and white-knuckled job security increasingly prevent.

A Story of Heartbreak and a Good Financial Decision

Justin Katz

Not to make light of others' hardships (even if those hardships are relative), but this line from Local 1033's "business manager," Donald Iannazzi, on the layoffs of his walking-guard clients truly deserves highlighting:

"Here we have 18 people from working-class families who are members of the Warwick community," he said. "They care about our kids, the neighborhoods and their city. They're heartbroken right now.

"We know that if we can get the city back to the bargaining table we can put together something that's fair for our union and for the city as well."

If they're heartbroken over the loss of their roles in the community, then I'm sure the city would be willing to hire them back at the new terms. If they're heartbroken at the loss of their golden egg, well, as understandable as that might be, I'm sure there are plenty of regular Rhode Islanders (or, more pointedly, ex–Rhode Islanders) who'd be willing to compare sob stories.

First Instinct: More Gambling

Marc Comtois

We all know we need to cut the state's budget deficit. And while Monique has laid out some specific areas for potential budget cuts, our legislature did what it has done so well over the years: looked for the quick fix.

Rhode Island’s part-time lawmakers returned to the State House yesterday, opening the New Year and the 2008 General Assembly session facing crushing budget deficits this year and next that are likely to dominate Smith Hill discussion over the next six months.

Within minutes, lawmakers in the House and Senate were introducing bills to allow round-the-clock gambling at both Newport Grand and the Twin River slot parlor and track in Lincoln, and citing the state’s financial plight as a justification.

OK, to be fair, I'm sure (heh) there are some real, long-term fixes being proposed. But what does it say about the legislative mentality when the first real budget cutting / revenue raising proposal is to expand gambling hours? Kinda symbolic.

Don't Make Your Daughter a "Skank"

Marc Comtois

As I've written before about the perils of allowing our kids--especially our daughters--to be to "in the know" about the latest tween pop culture icons. Being a Dad to a couple 'tween girls certainly heightens one's awareness of how our culture seems hell-bent on having our girls grow up too fast. Today's ProJo contains a piece by Debra Curtis, an anthropology professor at Salve Regina University, who argues that parents should resist our pop cultures penchant for sexualizing girls (Bratz dolls, for instance!) I don't know if Curtis is going too far, but she's worth listening too.

Men who prefer prepubescent girls sexualize them. In the eyes of a pedophile, girls are highly eroticized objects for their sexual pleasure.... I can say without a doubt that 99 percent of mothers would just as soon cut off their right arms as permit their daughters to be alone in a room with a known pedophile. And yet, these same mothers are seduced by, and let their daughters be seduced by, the demands of our popular culture, which sexualizes girls. We all know what this looks like — preteens dressed as young adults, the 6-to-10-year-old set wearing cropped tight-fitted T-shirts, low-cut jeans, jewelry and lip gloss — over-sized and hyper-sexed Bratz dolls. The message is clear, “looking fashionable means looking sexy.” On the positive side, a slow but growing social commentary is critical of this unhealthy trend. My personal favorite is Stop Dressing Your 6-year old Like a Skank!

Experts tell us that children who have been molested often live with depression, eating disorders and low self-esteem, all of which, negatively impact the quality of their lives. Guess what? A team of psychologists recently reported that exposing prepubescent girls to a media culture that teaches them to be prematurely sexual is also strongly associated with depression, eating disorders and low self-esteem.

Critical of the sexualization of girls, Rosa Brooks, in the Los Angeles Times, wrote that capitalism is “busy serving our children up to pedophiles on corporate platters.” I would add that many mothers are acting as the caterers. I’m not talking about the JonBenet Ramsey beauty-pageant mothers; that’s a given. I am pointing my finger at the mothers who buy their 6-to-10-year-olds platform shoes, short leopard-print skirts, and the childrens’ version of the bikini swim suits seen in Victoria’s Secret catalogs. I am pointing my finger at the mother who doesn’t say no when her preteen begs her to let her get her ears pierced — and who then allows her to wear dangly earrings....

When we buy into the rules set by popular culture, when we believe that our daughters have to dress like celebrities, when we limit their choices in life by teaching them early on that looking good always means looking sexy, we are seeing them through the eyes of pedophiles.

I am not arguing that when mothers dress their preteens provocatively they are asking for trouble from pedophiles. That’s not it. I believe that this world should be safe enough for women to dress as they please. The key word here is “women.” I understand why many mothers dress their daughters in the latest inappropriate fashions. It reflects the same complicated reasons why I enroll my daughters in private golf and piano lessons, drive a gas-guzzling SUV and take pride in my husband’s occupation — it speaks to the desire to fit in and present the proper social markers of status and prestige. But take it from a woman who did not shave her legs for most of the ’80s — we can resist dominant cultural norms. More importantly, we must change them.

Like I said; perhaps this is an over-reaction. But I can't deny what I've seen with my own eyes: too many parents seem in too much of a hurry to have their kids grow up.

The Kids Are Feel Alright

Justin Katz

I lack the interest to investigate every claim that Chairman and CEO of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) makes about teenagers, and some of them are indubitably positive, but this sort of thing is of dubious value:

A survey of more than 2,700 middle and high school students revealed that most young people have a positive sense of self: feeling good about their progress on the key developmental tasks of establishing an identity, achieving independence, and building meaningful relationships with peers.

Despite commonly held beliefs that adolescence is defined by anxiety, upheaval, and acting out — or "storm and stress," a phrase coined by G. Stanley Hall, the first president of the American Psychological Association — there is significant evidence from SADD that the majority of teens feel happy almost every day and perceive themselves as friendly (77 percent), honest (72 percent), and smart (72 percent). Similarly, more than six in ten say they can handle change well and are liked by others.

Is it necessarily to their own good, or society's, that kids think they're just swell? A healthy dose of sturm und drang can spur young men and women toward improvement and achievement. (Curious that Wallace should give credit for "coining" a translation to an APA president.) Let's see how these youngsters do in the future — what they achieve or what the wreak. Many, I've little doubt (and considerable experience), will hit a splenetic wall when the world doesn't duly reward them for being so well groomed.

How they react to that personal cataclysm will be the test.

January 1, 2008

The Solution for the New Year: Vote Right

Justin Katz

Of course, I've got to highlight the good sense of my townsman Stephen Miller (whom I don't believe I know, by the way):

The many issues facing Rhode Island today are not problems, they are symptoms of the real problem — us! Our extremely liberal, entitlement-based attitude permeates everything we do in Rhode Island.

The result of this approach to life is bloated government, union problems, widespread welfare, political scandal and the like.

The solution is likewise embodied in our own lives: We must pressure our legislators to move toward policies that give greater consideration to the bulk of the citizenry, as opposed to the demands of special interests.

One positive step in this direction is the election of a greater number of Republicans! We need a better balance between our spending habits (and abuses) and our ability to pay.

Speaking of Practices They Dislike

Justin Katz

My previous post cites the environment — global warming, specifically — as a religiously founded cause that allows believers to dismiss complications to their unrelated aversions, especially business. National Review's Rich Lowry argues that John Edwards is seeking to capitalize on that underlying impulse:

It is rare indeed to hear a politician brag about his fistfights as a child as Edwards does to establish his credentials for the "epic fight" ahead. Persuasion and negotiations are anathema to him and he explicitly forswears them: "People say to me, as president of the United States I want you to sit at a table and negotiate with these people. Never." He's willing to talk to Iran, but not to Pfizer. One is only a terrorist-sponsoring enemy of the United States, after all, and the other is a drug company.

For all its populist grievance, Edwards has a certain conservative appeal based on filial piety. He brings up his grandparents and parents constantly, and frames his fight against corporations in terms of all the striving our forebears have done to secure a better future. He complains that the mill where his father worked has now closed. In a change election, Edwards sells a kind of nostalgia, as if fighting the corporations will end the capitalist churning that so discomfits his listeners.

Anybody know the amount of CO2 released by a nuclear explosion? Alackaday. Some there are, perhaps, who believe that Iran is fighting — albeit in a different manner — the "dark corporate forces [that] are responsible for everything [Edwards] doesn't like" in his "down-home Manichaean vision" (magnificent phrase).

State Budget - Where to Cut

Monique Chartier

To close the half billion dollar operating deficit and back Rhode Island down from its ranking as the seventh highest taxed state, the focus must be on state spending which is funded by General Revenues - state income tax, lottery proceeds, business tax, gas tax, sales tax. Out of the 2007 state budget of $7,000,000,000, approximately $3,200,000,000 is funded from General Revenue. [The rest of the revenue - federal, etc - is free, right ...?]

Below is the breakdown for 2007 General Revenue spending. These are the areas in which cuts need to be made. For contrast, I added General Revenue spending for 2000, which totaled around $2,200,000,000.

It should be noted that while Rhode Island's General Revenue spending increased by $1,000,000,000 and total spending increased by $2,400,000,000 from 2000 to 2007, Rhode Island's population increased by only .009, from 1,048,319 to 1,057,832.


Commenter John correctly points out that this post, expensive (my characterization) as it is, does not include all General Revenue spending because it

obscures (within different line items) the other driver of spending increases -- increased costs for pensions and, especially, pay as you go costs for retiree health care. Those are broken out separately in a different set of analytical tables in the budget.

The question then arises, of all the categories, what is mandatory and what is discretionary spending? As the General Assembly has made costly promises throughout the budget that the state cannot keep, it becomes clear that the entire expenditure side of the budget has been rendered discretionary, even including the two sacred cows which John reminds us of.

FY 2000 Revised FY 2007 Revised

General Government

Administration $301,398,448 $451,453,511
Business Regulation 7,897,375 10,812,564
Labor & Training 6,745,759 6,997,013
Revenue 0 35,773,913
Legislature * 30,784,769 33,472,897
Lieutenant Governor 687,999 896,416
Secretary of State 4,470,547 6,106,546
General Treasurer 4,808,862 2,662,801
Boards for Design Professionals 315,350 380,240
Board of Elections 2,098,265 3,684,992
R.I. Ethics Commission 814,502 1,273,231
Governor's Office 3,729,907 4,681,601
Public Utilities Commission 740,530 737,811
R.I. Commission on Women 123,003 99,023

Subtotal: General Government




Human Services

Office of Health & Human Services 0 310,738
Children, Youth & Families 116,736,956 181,378,754
Elderly Affairs 19,715,333 19,364,571
Health 29,098,110 34,417,579
Human Services 465,187,755 716,426,058
Mental Health, Retardation & Hospitals 198,122,982 238,057,998
Office of the Child Advocate 412,965 558,674
Commission on Deaf & Hard of Hearing 239,627 342,524
Governor's Commission on Disabilities 254,780 552,672
Commission for Human Rights 693,927 989,630
Office of Mental Health Advocate 239,067 403,413

Subtotal: Human Services





Elementary & Secondary 616,104,140 884,303,258
Higher Education-Board of Governors 152,122,518 189,491,502
R.I. Council on the Arts 973,776 2,764,965
Atomic Energy Commission 593,929 810,531
Higher Education Assistance Authority 7,760,445 6,708,495
Historic Preservation & Heritage Commission 1,760,967 1,667,924
Public Telecommunications Authority 1,028,823 1,317,786

Subtotal: Education




Public Safety

Attorney General 13,438,974 20,313,531
Corrections 123,680,587 156,781,330
Judicial 51,469,015 80,842,834
Military Staff 2,272,265 2,826,113
E-911 Emergency Telephone System 0 4,098,361
Fire Safety Code Board of Appeal & Review 169,627 297,368
State Fire Marshal 1,271,547 2,596,825
Commission on Judicial Tenure & Discipline 121,209 111,216
R.I. Justice Commission 186,699 154,303
Municipal Police Training Academy 578,560 404,620
R.I. State Police 32,446,830 54,070,136
Office of Public Defender 5,031,835 8,882,554
Sheriff of Several Counties 8,361,750 0

Subtotal: Public Safety




Natural Resources

Environmental Management 31,939,123 36,632,436
Coastal Resources Management Council 963,746 2,130,724
Water Resources Board 912,123 1,825,672

Subtotal: Natural Resources




Total General Revenue Spending




* LEGISLATURE - While such an increase may seem moderate, keep in mind that the General Assembly had downsized itself from 150 to 113 members between 2000 and 2007.

Panic! Panic! Pay No Attention to the Scientist Behind the Curtain!

Justin Katz

Paul Driessen's op-ed in the first Providence Journal of the year is certainly worth a read. Regarding the U.N. Bali meeting on global warming:

Meanwhile, respected climate scientists were barred from panel discussions, censored, silenced and threatened with physical removal by polizei if they tried to hold a press conference to present peer-reviewed evidence that contradicts climate disaster claims, such as:
  • Climate change is natural and recurrent. The human factor is small compared to that of the sun and other natural forces. ...
  • The best approach is to adapt, as our ancestors did. ...

Other inconvenient arguments:

Even a 25 to 40 percent reduction over the next 12 years would impose huge sacrifices on families, workers and communities, especially poor ones — while leaving no room for population or economic growth.

Fossil fuels provide 85 percent of the energy we use. Slashing emissions by even 25 percent means slashing the use of these fuels, paying vastly more to control and sequester emissions, and radically altering lifestyles and living standards. Families will do so voluntarily, or under mandatory rationing systems, enforced by EPA, courts, climate police and "patriotic" snitches. Getting beyond 25 percent would require a "radical transformation" of life as we know it.

But here's the possibility that glares as the symbolic crux of the debate:

Perhaps newly unemployed workers could find jobs in China and other developing countries, where the tough emission standards won't apply ... China is adding the equivalent of another Germany every year to global greenhouse emissions, says climatologist Roger Pielke.

Whether or not the West's voluntary self-restrictions will ultimately enable global dominance of those oppressive regimes that simply refuse to play by the rules of panic isn't really the point. One gets the impression that the allure of climate-based jeremiadry is that it offers an overarching concern that excuses activists for ignoring all of those complicated considerations that wind up advising the allowance of practices that they dislike, such as consumerism, big business, freedom, and so on.

Telegraphing Higher Taxes?

Monique Chartier

In view of the RFP (Request for Proposals) that has been on the Rhode Island General Assembly's website for several months, it appears that a broad based sales tax is not off the table when our solons begin to tackle the half billion dollar annual operating deficit of the seventh highest taxed state in the country.

About halfway down the front page of the General Assembly's website, the visitor is invited to


Entitled "Sales Tax Model Description", it is a

Request for Proposals for development of interactive Rhode Island sales and use tax model to be used by the House Fiscal Staff, Senate Fiscal Staff, Division of Taxation and the Office of Revenue Analysis for the detailed economic analysis of the revenue and distributional effects of the sales and use taxes.

And for what, praytell, would the General Assembly need such computer software?

The model covered by the Request will be used primarily to assess the impact of proposed revenue yields from the sales and use tax on various consumer and business purchases and simulate detailed tax law changes and produce revenue estimates for those changes, accounting separately for consumer purchases and business purchases and distinguishing between products and industries.

These taxes could potentially be targeted (not that any more Rhode Island taxpayers need to be targeted) as the RFP specifies, among other things, that the tax software

must be capable of analyzing the incidence of tax proposals on individuals by income group, family size, and income source.

The RFP was to have been awarded in September so that the model could be fully operational by December 1. So even now, it could be spitting out broad based tax proposals, just in time for the opening of the 2008 General Assembly at 4:00 pm today.