February 29, 2008

The Wrong Side of Every List

Justin Katz

A sharp-eyed reader points out the following mention of yet another comparative list for which Rhode Island is to the extreme on the wrong end, asking "Why does everything cost more in Rhode Island?" (emphasis added):

In 2007, according to the National Association of State Budgeting Officers, states spent $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections. That is up from $10.6 billion in 1987, a 127 increase once adjusted for inflation. With money from bonds and the federal government included, total state spending on corrections last year was $49 billion. By 2011, the report said, states are on track to spend an additional $25 billion.

It cost an average of $23,876 dollars to imprison someone in 2005, the most recent year for which data were available. But state spending varies widely, from $45,000 a year in Rhode Island to $13,000 in Louisiana.

An Anvil to Break the Camel's Back

Justin Katz

This press release put out by Immigrants United the General Assembly, announcing a campaign of legislation, is a jaw-dropper:

-(2008 - H7967), by Representative Segal, which ensures a person's race, color, ethnicity, national origin, or lack of English language proficiency shall not constitute reasonable grounds for the police to inquire into a person's immigration status. And furthermore forbids local enforcement by Rhode Island police of federal immigration law.

-(2008 - S2556) /(2008 - H7660), by Senator Levesque and Representative Segal, which makes sure that all protections, rights and remedies available under the law for labor, employment, civil rights and housing, are available to all individuals in Rhode Island regardless of immigration status.

- (2008 - H7871), by Representative Diaz, which makes sure that all children who go through and graduate from Rhode Island's high schools, qualify for in-state college tuition regardless of immigration status.

- (2008 - S2487), by Senator Levesque, which ensures that the roads will be safer for all Rhode Islanders by allowing every qualified driver to obtain a driver's licenses regardless of immigration status. Allowing all who need to get to work and take care of their families to register their vehicles, have insurance, and prove their identity through proper ID.

- (2008 - S2735) /(2008 - H7700), by Senator Metts, Senator Pichardo and Representative Slater, which prevents discrimination in housing by making sure that landlords are not permitted to guess or inquire into the immigration status of a tenant or potential tenant.

- (2008 - H7660), by Representative Segal, which prevents discrimination in employment by making sure that employers are not permitted to demand any additional documentation other than what's already required by federal law.

- (2008 - S2689) /(2008 - H7922), by Senator Goodwin and Representative Dennigan, which makes sure the Department of Human Services provides appropriate interpreter services.

- (2008 - S2499) /(2008 - H7600), which allows complaints of labor law violations to proceed when an employee is rendered unavailable to pursue remedies on his or her own.

- A resolution opposing implementation of the Basic Pilot / E-Verify program.

-(2008 - H7875), by Representative Diaz, which ensures all children in Rhode Island have access to healthcare regardless of immigration status

I submit for your consideration the notion that a political grouping — be it a nation, a state, or a town — is heading toward death throes when its own leaders endeavor to make "sure that all protections, rights and remedies available under the law for labor, employment, civil rights and housing, are available to all individuals... regardless of immigration status." Protected by a wall between local law enforcement and the federal government and bars against residents' considering immigration status when making decisions concerning potential employees, tenants, and so on, illegal aliens have access to the full slate of citizenship, right down to in-state college tuition and easy access to drivers' licenses, with the added perk of freedom to receive public services with no pressure to learn English.

What, one wonders, would it even mean to be a citizen of this state? Would it bring any benefits whatsoever, or just burdens?

Rep. Grace Diaz (D, Providence) offers us the service of illustrating just how dense these legislators are:

Everyone working in Rhode Island makes our economy stronger by paying taxes, buying locally and investing in local resources," said Representative Diaz (D-Dist. 11, Providence). "Our state benefits from ensuring that all Rhode Islanders have access to opportunity, work and the protections of Rhode Island labor law."

Representative Diaz, the sponsor of 2008-H 7871, said that it's a documented fact that college graduates have increased opportunities for economic success, and when a Rhode Island graduate succeeds, Rhode Island succeeds.

No, Ms. Diaz. When Rhode Islanders graduate from college, they leave. The state is drowning under the weight of ignorant, dangerous, legislative testimonials to policy makers' vanity, and there is no opportunity here for those who wish to follow the rules toward independence and success, and a left-leaning species of parasites is seeking to recruit a dependent army on whose shoulders to float.

February 28, 2008

What Should We Throw in the Bay?

Justin Katz

So I'm at the Tea Party event hosted by the Portsmouth Republicans. So far, Steve Coaty and Mayor Laffey have spoken. (Unfortunately, I didn't get set up in time to catch some of Laffey's pithy phrases, but I'm sure we'll be hearing them around the state over the next few years.)

The striking thing — at least for a guy whose involvement is mainly via Democrat-run municipal meetings and while sitting in my basement office at the computer — is how clearly the core problems facing the state are understood. (Really, how many different examples do we have to pile on the list?)

The problem is that a sizable segment of the people who understand those problems are in this room. There's a fair crowd, but the space is small. (I will note, by the way, that I'm thankful that not everybody put on their complementary flashing elephant pins. This time on a Thursday night, I don't know if I could take it.)



In case you're wondering, the pith of the discussion is that spending is out of control, taxpayers can't afford increases in taxes, we need to get outraged, people need to run for office as Republicans, and others need to get involved with and contribute to the party (or get involved in other ways).

ADDENDUM II (7:50 p.m.)

And in walks the governor (with Gio Cicione)...

"We're at a key, key point."
"Right now, RI's tax burden... ranks sixth highest in the country."
We've used up the money we've inherited from our rich uncle ("somebody called the tobacco settlement").
Three things we've got to do (aka "what's in this budget"):
1. Reduce spending by bringing public sector benefits into line with the private sector and making government more efficient.
2. Reduce handouts, but protect the safety net. "We've got people who are dependent on the state, and we can't abandon them."
3. Reduce aid to cities and towns. ("Out of $1.1 billion, I've reduced just $42 million.") In response to the complaint that he took one budget problem and made it 39: "That's exactly right." They've got the same problems. "We need, at the city and town level, to do the same thing" as at the state level.


ADDENDUM III (8:11p.m.)

A bit of advice from a novice in the audience: keep the speeches down. These things should be held in every town — and often — but they really have to be more interactive. Save the lectures; we all agree; we've all heard our leaders speak. Mayor Laffey seems to be the only guy who gets the logistics of stoking political flames. Here is what happened to his emotional momentum after the speeches (and I think he mirrors the crowd):


ADDENDUM IV (8:21p.m.)

Now we're having a heart-to-heart seminar on ensuring proper nursing care as we age.

Did I mention that we've got to get fired up, run for office, donate to candidates, and discuss death-related personal financial planning with strangers into the night?

ADDENDUM V (35 minutes until Lost starts):

The governor and Bob Watson have drifted away from a great question/suggestion from the audience to put together a Republican-reaction network that can get people on the phone and to the statehouse to counteract similar activities from special interests.

ADDENDUM VI (8:30 p.m.):

The governor is gone. The audience is following. (Did I mention that Lost starts soon?) While answering a question about illegal immigration, Mayor Laffey is offering to help any candidate who wants to run for office as a Republican. That's what we needed two hours of: not specifically Mayor Laffey, but suggestions, offers, and encouragements for involvement. Laffey's closing line: "Do something!"

What's 1% of 100?

Justin Katz

I finally managed to take a look at the Providence Journal story about the abysmal math scores of Rhode Island's high-school students, and I have to say that I think Dan Yorke's show may be underrepresenting the problem.

The woman from the Department of Education whom he was in the process of interviewing when I left my job site asserted that the old way of teaching math (you know, memorizing and treating mathematics as essentially a system of facts, rather than impressions) worked for 25–30% of students. The average listener might have compared that percentage to Rhode Island high schoolers' current 22% proficiency rate, while her figure is probably more appropriately compared with the "proficient with distinction" category.

It's anecdotal, but I'd say that around 30% of my early-'90s high school class (around 45 students) could be counted on to achieve distinction on such tests, which in this case means a score of at least 554 of 580, or about 95%. According to the current data, 123 students in all of Rhode Island managed that feat. That's one percent.

Just Stop It!

Justin Katz

Why do our legislators have such difficulty seeing the problem with bills like this:

Already successful in securing enactment of legislation to increase the level of hearing aid coverage in health insurance policies, Rep. Robert B. Jacquard (D-Dist. 17, Cranston) has introduced a bill aimed at assisting more hearing-impaired citizens.

Under Representative Jacquard’s bill, health insurance providers in Rhode Island would be required to provide coverage for cochlear implant surgery. A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that is used by individuals who are severely hard-of-hearing. Rather than amplifying sounds as a hearing aid does, cochlear implants bypass damaged portions of the ear and stimulate the auditory nerve, which sends a signal to the brain, enabling deaf people to hear speech more clearly. More than 35,000 children and adults in the United States have received a cochlear implant, and the number of surgeries performed grows each year by about 30 percent. ...

Costs for the implantation procedure have a price tag of between $45,000 and $55,000. If there are complications with the surgery or the patient requires extensive rehabilitation, the total costs can amount to over $80,000. Although many health insurance companies cover the surgery in their policies, some are reluctant to pay for the procedure due to the high up-front cost.

From where does Jacquard think the reluctant insurance companies will get the money to pay for these expensive procedures? They'll tack it on to everybody's premiums, and if they can't get away with that, they'll stop providing health insurance in Rhode Island.

Perhaps the point isn't simple enough for members of the General Assembly to comprehend: what we need in healthcare more than anything is competition. We need more providers, and to manage that, we may need to allow for a non-cochlear-inclusive program or two.

A Nunu Testament

Justin Katz

Mark Shea pens some gospel truth:

1:11 Blessed are those who Believe, for they shall say, "Yes We Can!"
1:12 Blessed are those who say, "Yes We Can!" for they shall audaciously Hope.
1:13 Blessed are those who Hope, for they shall speak of Change.
1:14 Blessed are those who speak of Change, for they shall Get Fired Up.
1:15 Blessed are those who Get Fired Up, for they shall be baptized with the Spirit of the Age.
1:16 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst during long rallies, for they shall drink the waters of Evian and I shall not lose my photo op.
1:17 Blessed are we. For we are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the Change that we seek.
1:18 Blessed are you, when men shall question you, and ask specifics, and seek all manner of policy detail for clarity's sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for so persecuted they the vague-minded which were before you. They shall drag you before TV cameras and microphones, and ask all manner of questions about specifics and you shall give testimony to me before the kings of the earth. But he that remains vague until the end shall receive a great reward in the Administration that is come.

Of course, the germane question is for which gospel this is truth.

Re: Cicione Takes on RI Insiders

Justin Katz

Marc's already mentioned RIGOP Chairman Gio Cicione's op-ed in yesterday's Providence Journal, but two related points are worth making.

First, Gio reins in his argument a bit more than is accurate. This is dead-on:

We face a choice between a centrally planned economy run by and raided by the leadership on Smith Hill, or an economy where all Rhode Islanders can pursue the American dream and actually keep what they earn for themselves and their families. One choice has driven us to the brink, where we can no longer even afford to provide the most basic government services. The other choice lies in front of us.

What goes unsaid is that basic government services are also (and more so) impeded by the surfeit of non-basic government services as well as the unreasonable cost of our government's provision of them. In other words, he doesn't attack government handout programs or public-sector unions.

The second point is that this is precisely what the GOP chair ought to be doing. Calculate a message and drive it home for the broadest possible audience. Then leave it up to folks like us to fill in the gaps and explain to our sub-constituencies why our objectives fit within (and will be easier to achieve in cooperation with) the Republican Party.

Pecked to Death by Taxes

Monique Chartier

The broad based tax proposal predicted by many has reared its ugly head on Smith Hill. House Bill 7873, introduced by Representatives Slater, Segal, Ferri, Diaz and Almeida on Tuesday, would lower the state sales tax from 7% to 4.5% but apply to just about every service offered in the state, as well as food and clothing purchases over $150.

This tax would subject advertisers in print and radio and television to the tax. It would subject financial services, pharmaceutical services, Chambers of Commerce dues, professional association dues and other type dues to the tax. If a business outsources its web design, printing, photocopying, landscaping, public relations, advertising, cleaning services, etc, it will be taxed. This tax would also be imposed on personal services, such as haircuts, manicures, golf lessons, entertainment, marina dockings, dance lessons, etc.

... oh, medical and legal services would be exempted. (There are no attorneys serving in the legislature, are there?)

The Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, which sounded the alarm, is correctly skeptical, especially as

There is no state agency, legislator, tax official or person in general, who can give a true estimate as to how much money the state would realize if this legislation were enacted. The fact is that the fiscal staffs of the Legislature can account for a general estimate of what would be raised by including all sorts of new services subject to the sales tax, but they cannot account for how much revenue would be lost by a slowdown in purchasing, cross boarder purchasing, etc. It is not responsible right now to give a projected figure. (The Chamber maintains that the state could actually lose revenue.)

One would not have thought that this was the wisest course of action to contemplate, in view of Rhode Island's abysmal business tax climate and ranking as the fourth highest taxed overall.

[Thanks to commenter ChuckR for bringing this development to our attention.]

February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr.

Donald B. Hawthorne

John Podhoretz offered these words about WFB:

He was the model of the modern American intellectual. He published a small magazine of ideas whose influence and centrality to the country in which he lived vastly outdistanced publications with 100 times its readership. He wrote a newspaper column for a half-century, twice or three times a week, at which he grew so expert that he could dash one off in the time it took his driver to navigate the length of the Bruckner Expressway, and with a quality of prose that made other newspaper scribes seem as simple-minded as the anonymous authors of Dick and Jane. He ran for office once, a fool’s errand that led to the publication of one of the best books ever written about politics, The Unmaking of a Mayor. He was one of the first writer-thinkers to find a home on television with his show Firing Line, and his wit made him a superb talk-show guest. For all these reasons, he transcended his roots and became a pop-culture icon, the only writer to have appeared as a caricatured figure in a Disney movie (when the genie in Aladdin, voiced by Robin Williams, converts himself into Buckley, complete with his patented lean-back in a chair, as he details the “three-wish” rule). From the first to the last, however, he had an intellectually transcendent purpose from which he never deviated: The explication of, defense of, and advancement of, traditional mores and traditional beliefs, and a concomitant commitment to the notion that social experiments are very dangerous things indeed. He was, ever and always, a serious man in an increasingly unserious time.


Cost of Government - Which Town Has the Cheapest Cost/Resident?

Marc Comtois

I don't want to overwhelm with charts, but I've got 'em! Similar to my previous posts--based on the ProJo's work--on cost per resident for footing the payroll for schools (with some elaboration), I've compiled the same data for other areas of government. But instead of "embedding" all of those into this post, I'll just give you the links and they'll "pop-up" for you (just click 'em): Public Safety; Social Programs; Public Services; Administration; Regulatory; Legislative; Other Government.

Now I can focus on the one uber-chart I want to present: the Anchor Rising Cost/Resident Index.

Basically, I assigned a number ranking to each community based on the cost/resident for each component of government as broken out above. I then added the rankings for each and came up with the Index number: the higher the number, the lower the cost/resident. (For municipalities that shared school systems, I gave each town the ranking number for that system. For example, Bristol and Warren each got a 31 for Schools). The benefit of ranking the cities and towns this way is it somewhat mitigates against the cost/resident in one category from overpowering the others.

Below you'll find the list, ranked by cheapest cost/resident to most expensive. (But remember, this is based on just payroll costs, not benefits). So, if you're thinking of moving, but would like to try to stay in Rhode Island (ahem, Justin), perhaps the communities at the top of this list may be worth taking a look at.


R.I.P. William F. Buckley Jr.

Marc Comtois

William F. Buckley, Jr., part of the bedrock foundation--some would say the cornerstone--of the modern American conservative movement died this morning. From the National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez:

I’m devastated to report that our dear friend, mentor, leader, and founder William F. Buckley Jr., died this morning in his study in Stamford, Connecticut.

He died while at work; if he had been given a choice on how to depart this world, I suspect that would have been exactly it. At home, still devoted to the war of ideas.

As you might expect, we’ll have much more to say here and in NR in the coming days and weeks and months. For now: Thank you, Bill. God bless you, now with your dear Pat. Our deepest condolences to Christopher and the rest of the Buckley family. And our fervent prayer that we continue to do WFB’s life’s work justice.

Cicione Takes on RI Insiders and Corporate Welfare

Marc Comtois

RI GOP head Gio Cicione takes on "corporate welfare queens" and Rhode Island's Groundhog Day-like "economic development strategies" in an op-ed in today's ProJo. A portion:

For eight years, I was responsible for policy development for the Economic Development Corporation....I realized that the economic development strategies of this state were never intended to grow the economy. Instead, they were simply the ultimate source of political handouts, insider trading, and corporate welfare....we have nothing but a quasi-legitimized system of stealing from the poor and giving to the rich — and only a select few of the rich, at that.

When one state tries to outsmart the rest by targeting a particular industry or company, it is trying to do something even Wall Street can’t do consistently. We’ve created special deals for software companies, investment companies, call centers, and many more, and still we are in the tank. We excel at addressing the symptom, not the cause, of our economic woes. (Of course, the cure is great for the companies that took the handout — they always feel better).

Now our legislative leaders want more of the same, and, unfortunately, they want to do this on the backs of the small businesses that make up the core of our economy. What they fail to understand — or intentionally ignore — is that only broad-based strategies help the economy, and that targeted strategies only help the politicians and the corporate welfare queens.

We are in “tax hell” because our rates are too high. We can’t lower them because, after all the special deals are accounted for, only the little guy pays full freight. Alas, there are too many hands in the cookie jar for the legislators to seriously consider fixing this. Even if they know better, they prove repeatedly that they are just political cowards, more afraid of losing elections than hurting the economy.

This leads in to his call to arms for help in changing the system by voting Republican. It's a slightly different message than previously offered, I think. Making the case that RI Republicans believe that big business shouldn't be benefiting from a Rooseveltian managed economy and taking up the cause of the mom-and-pop's by fighting against the embedded interests and government insiders and the aforementioned corporate welfare queens all taps into Rhode Island's populist vein. Will it work?

The State as Bizarro Company

Justin Katz

Is it me, or is there just something fundamentally bizarre about this construct:

The pressure comes as the authority is already having trouble carrying a large influx of riders. More Rhode Islanders are taking the bus since the spike in gas prices that began after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Public transportation provides a reasonable check on one's own priorities and principles, because it's technically a public service, yet it's hardly a public entitlement. Although folks will have differing opinions about the efficacy and boundaries of such programs as welfare, there's pretty universal agreement among those who don't draw income directly from them that the fewer people who need the "safety net," the better. By contrast, we want ridership to increase, and one would think that it has the potential, at least, to be a source of revenue, rather than an expenditure.

Granted, there may be intricacies to the world of buses and boats that I haven't considered, but how is it possible, given that they travel their routes according to schedule rather than immediate demand, that filling more seats could represent an additional burden? That seems a bit like McDonald's complaining about an increase in burger sales.

RE: Cost of Government - Schools

Marc Comtois

To my recent post that featured a table of the Cost/Resident to foot the payroll for their local public schools, Thomas Schmeling commented:

It's probably also useful to recognize that some communities have higher proportions of children than others so that, even if two communities are spending the same amount per resident, they might be spending different amounts per student.
I agree. So here are a couple more tables that help to illustrate that difference.

First, here is the data ranked by Cost/Student (I used 2006-2007 numbers to coincide with the 2006 government payroll numbers provided by the ProJo). The Statewide average is in blue, the mean in orange(-ish):


Second, here is a comparison of the various "cost pers":


Finally, here is a chart showing the differential between the Cost/Student and Cost/Resident. A negative number means that, relative to how the districts compare to each other, the Cost/Student for a given municipality is less than the Cost/Resident, a positive indicates the opposite.


So what does all of this mean? Tough to tell. So I added one more component by calculating the ratio of residents per student for each district. Here's how that looks, with the differential number included.


Generally speaking, the fewer residents that support each student, the bigger the differential between a districts relative rank in the cost/student and cost/resident ratios.

Negotiating Child Abuse

Justin Katz

So what are the odds of this becoming law?

Amending state law to clearly prohibit strikes is the task force's first recommendation. If Carcieri supports the plan as expected, he would have to ask lawmakers to submit the bill to the General Assembly for a vote.

Officials at the state Department of Education researched tougher labor laws in Pennsylvania and New York when crafting the amendments, according to Deputy Education Commissioner David V. Abbott. One amendment would force teachers who strike to pay a penalty of two days' pay into a state school fund for every day on strike. When teachers strike now, they suffer no financial consequences.

The changes also would prohibit strikes and expand the definition to include "any strike or other concerted job action commonly referred to as 'work to rule' including, without limitation, any stoppage of work, slowdown or curtailment of one more customary teaching practices that are typically provided or performed by teachers in the absence of a strike." Superintendents and principals told the task force they consider "work-to-rule" actions more detrimental to students than strikes, as the action can drag on for years, as it did in Warwick. West Warwick, Tiverton and East Greenwich have also recently experienced periods of "work-to-rule," also called "contract compliance."

Teacher strikes and work-to-rule aren't "negotiation tactics"; they're extortionary child abuse. They take advantage of children's innocence and taxpayers' lack of choice concerning schooling.

Although he's obviously not banned or vocally denounced strikes and work-to-rule within his own organization, the NEA's Bob Walsh says (in the Projo's paraphrase) that he "prefers third-party binding arbitration." No doubt he does! Put the contracts in the hands of unelected bureaucrats, and everybody else can disclaim responsibility for the crushing increases in government spending.

Want an alternative to strikes and work-to-rule? How about teachers individually negotiate with their employers to reach agreements that reflect their actual value to the district, as well as the district's value to them?

February 26, 2008

Heeding Mark Krikorian: A Job This American Will No Longer Do

Justin Katz

Wow. Mark Krikorian whacked his own cause in the head, today, on the back swing of a stupid attack:

Another Job Americans Won't Do? [Mark Krikorian]

Maybe this helps explain the RC bishops' support for open immigration, contrary to the views of those in the pews:

Among U.S. adults, about the same percentage — 24 — call themselves Catholic as in the past, but that statistic masks significant turnover. The percentage has held up primarily because of the huge number of recent Latino immigrants, who are largely Catholic, the survey found. Sixty-eight percent of people raised Catholic still identify with their childhood denomination, compared with 80 percent of Protestants and 76 percent of Jews.

The point that he's trying to make is worth discussion — if only to bring the counter-argument that David Freddoso provides into the light. But the underlying presumptions required for Krikorian's method of presentation — and the hints of comments that would never make it into print — will henceforth make me less receptive to the message when I see his name tacked to it.

My American Dream May Be Dying in Tiverton

Justin Katz

A bout of cynicism kept me from last night's town council meeting. Here's one of the revelations that I missed (emphasis added):

Also last night, the council received a warning from its auditor that the town’s rainy day fund is too low.

Standing at about $1.2 million for the fiscal year that ended last June, the fund represents a reserve of only 4 to 5 percent of budgeted expenses, far less than the 10 to 15 percent fund balance that bonding agencies look for when they rate municipal bonds, according to Paul Dansereau.

Dansereau indicated that the town fund is likely to shrink even further before it gets and bigger, since the current budget relies on $900,000 from the surplus to offset taxes.

The town is planning to discontinue the practice of using the surplus to keep down the tax rate in the budget year beginning July 1.

Dansereau, of the accounting firm of Parmelee, Poirier, and Associates, of Warwick, also said the School Department had a $14,000 deficit in its unrestricted fund last June 30, a shortfall that must be made up.

I don't know whether the new high-tax practice was included in the former town administrator's expectation of a 12% property tax hike, but either way, it looks like the council is set to push my monthly mortgage payment past the limit that we can afford. So much for moving to Tiverton as one of the last towns in the area able to sustain a budding family's dream of homeownership.

See, when families find themselves facing tightening budgets, they cut back. They dip into reserves. When a municipal government finds itself unable to sustain its multimillion-dollar "rainy day fund" during an economic storm, it opts to discontinue the heroic practice of limiting tax inflation (which apparently happens as a matter of nature, not by explicit action by a limited group of elected officials). Thanks for holding the line, guys. I know those wealthy enough to keep their homes will appreciate the healthy bond rating.

Anybody got a house that they'd like to rent at a discount to a nice young family headed by carpenter? Willing to move out of state...

Cost of Government - Schools

Marc Comtois

Working off of the data provided by the ProJo, I've come up with a few lists of what it costs per resident of every city and town in the state to pay the salaries (important: salary only, benefits not included) of each state and local government employee. To start, here is the data on Schools (statewide average and median are color-coded).

Keep in mind that some towns control their own elementary and/or middle schools, but share regional High Schools. More to follow.

Four Interesting Things Said by Mike Huckabee at his Rally in Warwick

Carroll Andrew Morse

On the connection of the pro-life position to the American founding…

There are many of us across this country not into the pro-life movement because of the politics of it, but into the political world because we believe that being pro-life is one of the most important ways in which we affirm what our Founding Fathers' believed. Listen to what they said when signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776. They made a pretty bold and audacious statement. They said "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"…

Now, the idea of everyone being equal was dramatically different from what the rest of the world was practicing. It was such a radical idea because, up until then, there were variations in people's perceived worth and value. With the signing of that document, they established a government unlike any other that said that no person was more valuable than another, which meant that no person was less valuable than another. What that still means, after all these years, is that where we live, what job we have, our abilities, or our disabilities do not factor in to who we are in terms of our worth as a person. And at any point in our personhood, our value is equal to that of anybody else...

On how a pro-life culture stands in stark contrast to our Islamofascist enemy (and kudos to Governor Huckabee for his willingness to use the term Islamofascism)…
Contrast this to the Islamofascists. Theirs is a culture in which it is OK to strap a bomb on to your own child, and send that child into a room like this and detonate it in order to make a political point. Ladies and gentleman, I prefer a culture of life.
On his basic defense philosophy…
As Commander-In-Chief, I am going to make sure that America has the most prepared, well-equipped, well-trained, well-financed army Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, so that nobody on this earth would want to engage us in a battle, because they would know that the outcome would be determined by the quality of the forces we have in place to overcome them.
And on the logic of a consumption tax system over an income tax system in a globalized world…
A table built in Rhode Island has a 22% embedded cost from the government, for every unit that is built. If that same table is built in China…it's not taxable when it's being made, and it’s not taxable when it comes to this country. And we wonder why American made things are struggling?

Mike Huckabee on School Vouchers

Carroll Andrew Morse

I was able to attend Governor Mike Huckabee's Rhode Island press event last evening, immediately preceding his rally in Warwick. During the press conference, Russell J. Moore of the Warwick Beacon broke a chain of horserace and identity politics questions being asked by other reporters to -- get this -- ask an actual question about policy, inquiring about Governor Huckabee's position on school vouchers…

Governor Mike Huckabee: I think [vouchers are] a state issue. And the only thing I believe is that the Federal government shouldn't tell a state whether they can or can't do. If a state believes vouchers will improve educational opportunities for it students, they should do it. So I'm for them, if that's what a state chooses to do. What I don't want is a Federal mandate telling a state it has to have them or that it can't have them, because that is not a function or role or right of the Federal government.

Anchor Rising (Er, perhaps shouting out a bit louder than is normally done at a formal press events. Retroactive apologies for being a surly New Englander): How about a judicial ban?

MH: Pardon me?

AR: What if a court says you can't have vouchers?

MH: It depends on why they said it. If it is because it creates a racial imbalance or some issue that goes to the heart of the constitutional question, then the courts would have to be followed. But I don't know about any case like that, I didn't confront that in Arkansas.

Now, at a mainstream press event, I don't expect a candidate to be in full wonk mode, but I found this answer to be unsatisfying. It is true that the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2002 in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that there are no federal grounds for blocking voucher programs, even when vouchers are applied to religious schools, but there is still much that will be litigated with respect to vouchers. The year after Zelman, the State Supreme Court of Colorado struck down a voucher program that had been approved by the legislature on the grounds that it violated a state constitutional provision on local control. And, at the beginning of 2006, the State Supreme Court of Florida used even vaguer language to strike down an "opportunity scholarship" program, on the grounds that the state constitution requires that education be "uniform".

It may be legitimate to say that cases like the recent Florida and Colorado cases shouldn't involve the Federal government, but that's different from taking the position that there are no court issues involved. When the well-financed, well-organized opponents of vouchers take to the courts to block programs passed by state legislatures, would a President Mike Huckabee use the bully pulpit (and maybe support the writing of a Justice Department amicus brief or two) to support giving parents the maximum resources for finding the best education for their child, or will he be OK with an education policy that tells teachers and students that their job is to meet federal goals (Governor Huckabee is a proponent of No-Child-Left-Behind) while limiting them to a narrow range of means deemed allowable by judges in the name of "uniformity"?

Plus, there is still at least one remaining issue with vouchers at the Federal level, the so-called "Blaine amendments" written into the constitutions of 36 states that expressly ban the public financing of religious-based schools. New Hampshire's provision provides one of the most direct examples…

. . . no money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools or institutions of any religious sect or denomination."
(Incidentally, Rhode Island is one of the states that doesn't have a Blaine amendment, which would make implementing a voucher plan easier here than in other states.) Does Governor Huckabee believe that vouchers are a cut-and-dried federalism issue when their implementation is blocked by state constitutional provisions that mandate discrimination on the basis of religion?

Unfortunately, Governor Huckabee's squishy answer on the subject of vouchers reinforces the idea that if elected President, he is not someone who will be an innovative policy guy. Yes, I know he's in favor of a national sales tax, but say that his tax plan, which is a longshot at this moment in history whether it's a good idea or not, fails to win Congressional approval. What comes up next on President Huckabee's domestic agenda? De-centralizing things so that people have maximum freedom to use their tax dollars as they see fit, however they are collected? Or is he more of a Rockefeller Republican than his blue-state critics give him credit for, someone who is satisfied with saying, well, with a good guy like me in charge, we can make big bureaucratic government work! Mike Huckabee has to show a little more creativity on policy to convince conservatives that his positions don't tend towards the latter.

I hope that the Governor's supporters will take this as a constructive criticism, as Governor Huckabee could be a figure who could help unite the different wings of the Republican party -- if he is truly open to the full range of conservative ideas on domestic policy.

Who Wants to Kill Barack?

Justin Katz

When speculation becomes front-page news, one gets the impression of legend building. If Barack Obama wins and lives to tell the tale, he'll be the One Who Lived. The great hope whom they managed to protect (unless the reality disappoints terribly):

His wife, Michelle Obama, voiced concerns about his safety before he was elected to the Senate. Three years ago, she said she dreaded the day her husband received Secret Service protection, because it would mean serious threats had been made against him.

The thing is: I've yet to hear of any actual serious threats being made. The fears appear all to be grounded in assassinations from decades ago. The Kennedys and King (somehow the attempt on Reagan's life is never mentioned).

Of course, more than one narrative can be constructed around the idea of a dead candidate, and I, for one, can't think of any more dangerous act — in a culture that produces semi-annual mass murders perpetrated, it seems, mainly for posthumous attention — than to splash across the news media fears of having to write a candidate's murder into the history books. That risky behavior raises an interesting question, though: Who would benefit most from the candidate's death?

February 25, 2008

School Spending in Rhode Island

Monique Chartier

Jennifer Jordan has an article in today's Providence Journal's about a recently released RIPEC report, “How Rhode Island School Finances Compare”.

The ProJo headline, "R.I.’s Reliance on Local Taxes for Schools Deepens" and the subject of the first five paragraphs of the article, was actually only one of eight major findings of the report. This was immediately followed by a discussion of the state's lack of a "predictable school funding formula".

But Rhode Island, along with Pennsylvania, lacks a predictable school-financing formula. Lawmakers, educators and watch-dog groups including RIPEC have been working together to hammer out a formula they say would shift more of the burden of paying for schools to the state. [RIPEC Executive Director John] Simmons said the ad hoc group plans to submit legislation on a financing formula next month.

As has been noted recently, this too often seems to be code not only for moving the collection and expenditure of education revenue away from local control but also its increase. In view of Rhode Island's ranking nationwide as fourth highest taxed and the finding by the report that Rhode Island ranks ninth in per pupil spending, shouldn't the emphasis be on the stabilization of spending rather than the shifting around or even amplification of revenue?

One other item specific to the article. Jordan refers to the amount of state aid to education as $672,000,000. In fact, the State Budget FY2008 has the figure for Elementary and Secondary "Expenditures from General Revenues" at $909,429,659. I've e-mailed her requesting the source of her figure which may provide clarification.

The last third of the article discusses the other major findings of the report. Below are all eight, in order:

• Per pupil education expenditures across the country have increased at a significant rate
over the past ten years. The national average increase was 60.6 percent.

• In Rhode Island, per pupil expenditures have increased 56.3 percent since the 1996-97
school year, slightly outpacing the rate of increase in Connecticut (55.0 percent) and
lagging behind Massachusetts (79.6 percent).

• In 1997, Rhode Island ranked 7th highest for per pupil expenditures; in 2007 the State was
ranked 9th highest.

• While Rhode Island spends less than both Connecticut and Massachusetts on a per pupil
basis, the Ocean State significantly outspends its neighbors when education expenditures
as a percent of personal income are considered.

• On a per $1,000 of personal income basis Rhode Island has seen slower growth in
education expenditures than Massachusetts; however, the Ocean State has seen education
expenditures per $1,000 of personal income increase faster than both Connecticut and the
national average.

• Rhode Island ranked 16th highest in the country for current education expenditures per
$1,000 of personal income in 2006-07 and 18th highest in 1996-97. Connecticut and
Massachusetts also rose in the national rankings, from 31st to 30th highest, and 38th to 25th
highest, respectively.

• Rhode Island continues to depend more heavily on property taxes to finance education
than the rest of New England and the country. Over 60 percent of education revenues
came from local sources in 2007, an increase of 6.2 percent from 1997. Nationally, 43.5
percent of education revenues came from local sources in 2006-07.


Jennifer Jordan e-mailed the following response regarding the figure of $672,000,000 which she used in her article:

The figure I quoted was SCHOOL AID to cities and towns only, not other monies the districts might receive for education purposes.

Thank you.

Kudos to ProJo for Their City and Town Report

Marc Comtois

I crack on them enough, but this time I'm sending kudos the ProJo's way for their story--and the research made available--on the cost to Rhode Islanders for running our state, city and town governments.

Rhode Islanders paid their city and town employees more than $1.6 billion in 2006, a Providence Journal analysis of municipal employee records shows.

Add that to the nearly $1 billion paid to state employees that same year, and the total government payroll in Rhode Island — without including the cost of benefits — tops $2.6 billion.

In short, 1 in 6 Rhode Islanders are employed by some aspect of state and local government (federal government employees weren't included). I'm not sure where that ranks RI nationally, but the data compiled by the ProJo (the story is by Paul Edward Parker) on payroll costs and number of employees will be useful in comparing RI towns to each other.

UPDATE: Here's an example. I've been playing around with the numbers and came up with a couple lists by ranking Cities/Towns based on the cost/employee and the cost/resident for the government services outlined in the ProJo piece (Schools, Public Safety, Social Programs, Public Services, Administration, Regulatory, Legislative and 'Other'). Here's the Top ten most expensive cities/towns in these two categories (The towns in Yellow are on both lists.):

Cost of Government per Government Employee

Cost of Government per Resident

In the second list, New Shorham (Block Island) is an outlier, which is self-explanatory. It's a small island with a small population and basic services require a certain minimum of employees (a ratio of 5 residents per 1 government employee). That Providence and Warwick are on both lists is unsurprising: bigger, more diverse populations usually mean more government (like it or not). But I think if I were Middletown or North Kingstown, I may wonder what was going on. Those of you who reside in some of the communities listed probably have a better idea than I as to the particulars that go into these rankings.

Outgoing Families

Justin Katz

Based on various trends, including taxpayer migration to and from Rhode Island, I've suggested a theory that working and middle class families have been selling their homes and leaving the state. While I wouldn't claim the following real estate data as absolute proof, it certainly does fit the scenario:

Across the board, homebuyers in Rhode Island last year were less likely to be married and have children living at home, compared to the national average, according to a survey by the National Association of Realtors.

The difference was most pointed in the group of first-time buyers — only 41 percent of this Rhode Island group was married, compared to 51 percent in the United States. Among all homebuyers, 55 percent were married in Rhode Island, versus 62 percent nationwide.

Rhode Island may be on the leading edge of a trend: the number of married-couple buyers has declined nationwide in the past 12 years, from 70 percent of the buyer pool in 1995 to 62 percent last year. However, home sellers in Rhode Island were more likely to be married (77 percent) than the national average (75 percent).

People with families to raise are, I suspect, more sensitive to political and economic deterioration, and they are probably less likely to want to tough it out, rather than avoid it altogether.

February 24, 2008

Evolving Corruption

Justin Katz

Part 2 of Kenneth Payne's series on the evolution of political corruption in Rhode Island is worth a read (emphasis added):

The forms of government were familiar. For those in control, the system worked. The Yankee establishment held the reins of power.

The State House was an expression of that power — political and economic. Rhode Island was urbanizing, industrializing and generating wealth. Cities were burgeoning with immigrants. Together Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Woonsocket held more than half of the people in Rhode Island. Yet in 1901, political power was consolidated and effectively placed beyond popular control. ...

Three sections at the end of Chapter 809 became infamous and merit a full reading. While their tone is matter of fact and lawyerly, their effect was a stark fixing of undemocratic power.

It might be interesting also to keep an eye on the Projo's advice columns for submissions by despairing readers of Payne's series.

More Derb on Mrs. O

Justin Katz

John Derbyshire has done what few non-college professors are willing to do: he's actually read Michelle Obama's senior thesis. Overall, he believes (and I agree) that it will and should have minimal effect on the presidential race, but he makes a worthy point:

... the slight negative is negative because the thesis reveals a cast of mind that most voters find deeply unattractive. Plainly Mrs. Obama had that cast of mind in 1985. Recent remarks suggest she still has it. The fact that Barack Obama chose her as a wife and seems to get on well with her, indicates that he shares it. It's that deeply, unrelentingly critical way of thinking about the U.S.A., and about most of our citizens, that characterizes the "victicrat" — the person who has been taught, or who has taught herself, that she is a pitiful figure buffeted by hostile forces, whose only hope for survival is to return the hostility, and to band together with others like herself ("the Black community") for mutual aid, all of them in a hostile posture to the out-group.

Most Americans don't see our country like that, and have a low opinion of people who do. Millions of white — or, as Mrs. Obama writes, "White" — Americans would love to have had the breaks Mrs. Obama had, and resent the fact that they didn't have them because they don't belong to a designated victim group. They resent the ease with which two beneficiaries of those breaks can parlay their victim status into two six-digit salaries and a seven-digit house, without ever doing any kind of work that adds to the nation's wealth or security. And they especially resent that people who have attained those heights of success, with the assistance of those breaks, seem to nurse nothing but hostile emotions towards the country that made it possible for them.

This "slight negative" for the Obama campaign has been a tremendous negative for race relations over the past few decades, and to the extent that an Obama presidency reinforces the victimhood separatism of our recent history, it will prove to be a net loss for interracial harmony.

February 23, 2008

So What Difference Does Dictatorship Make, Anyway?

Justin Katz

Perhaps a new Cuban declaration could assert the right of all people to life, liberty, and the pursuit of par (paragraphs rearranged):

Golf had been played on the island since the 1920s. At the time of the 1959 revolution, Havana boasted two award-winning courses, at the Havana Country Club and the Biltmore, which hosted such greats as Sam Snead and the rookie Arnold Palmer. A third course, where Mr. Castro would lose to Che Guevara, had just opened. U.S. tycoon Irénée du Pont had a private nine-hole course in Xanadu, his fabled Varadero beach estate. ...

In 1962, Mr. Castro lost a round of golf to Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who had been a caddy in his Argentine hometown before he became a guerrilla icon. Mr. Castro's defeat may have had disastrous consequences for the sport. He had one Havana golf course turned into a military school, another into an art school. A journalist who wrote about the defeat of Cuba's Maximum Leader, who was a notoriously bad loser, was fired the next day. ...

The famous game between Messrs. Castro and Guevara took place shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis, according to José Lorenzo Fuentes, Mr. Castro's former personal scribe, who covered the game. Mr. Lorenzo Fuentes says the match was supposed to send a friendly signal to President Kennedy. "Castro told me that the headline of the story the next day would be 'President Castro challenges President Kennedy to a friendly game of golf,'" he says.

But the game became a competitive affair between two men who did not like to lose, says Mr. Lorenzo Fuentes, who recalls that Mr. Guevara "played with a lot of passion." Mr. Lorenzo Fuentes says he felt he couldn't lie about the game's outcome, so he wrote a newspaper story saying Fidel had lost. Mr. Lorenzo Fuentes says he lost his job the next day, eventually fell afoul of the regime and now lives in Miami.

It's an iffy thing to live in a society in which one must constantly fear that the supreme leader's tastes will run afoul of one's own.

(via Instapundit)

In Case of Emergency, Break Rules

Justin Katz

My first reaction to Steve Peoples' story, yesterday, about legislation to expedite rules changes in light of fiscal emergency was that the day we listen to the Poverty Institute's Linda Katz on the topic of "the way to run a business" is the day we ought to listen to her on the topic of "the way to run government." My reaction upon returning to the story when time allowed this morning was to wonder why Peoples and the heavy-breathing Matt Jerzyk, while relying on usual suspects Linda Katz and ACLU-activist Steven Brown (as well as some anonymous "community leader," in Jerzyk's case), failed to point out the time-limited nature of the legislation and to explain explicitly what the bill does.

Here, offered with "partisan glasses" left on the endtable, is the bill under scrutiny:

35-3-16.1. Emergency rules and regulations required to address state fiscal crisis. – [Effective January 1, 2008 until August 1, 2008]. Any rules or regulations necessary or advisable to implement the reduction or suspension of appropriations to address a current or impending state fiscal crisis shall be effective immediately as an emergency rule upon the filing thereof on behalf of the sponsoring agency or department with the secretary of state and state agencies or departments related to such rules and regulations are hereby exempted from the requirements of subsections 42-35-3(b) and 42-35-4(b)(2) relating to agency findings of imminent peril to public health, safety and welfare and the filing of statements of the agency's reasons thereof.

Here are subsections 42-35-3(b) and 42-35-4(b)(2):

If an agency finds that an imminent peril to the public health, safety, or welfare requires adoption of a rule upon less than thirty (30) days' notice, and states in writing its reasons for that finding, it may proceed without prior notice or hearing or upon any abbreviated notice and hearing that it finds practicable, to adopt an emergency rule. The rule so adopted may be effective for a period of not longer than one hundred twenty (120) days renewable once for a period not exceeding ninety (90) days, but the adoption of an identical rule under subdivisions (a)(1) and (a)(2) is not precluded. ...

Subject to applicable constitutional or statutory provisions, an emergency rule may become effective immediately upon filing with the secretary of state, or at a stated date less than twenty (20) days thereafter, if the agency finds that this effective date is necessary because of imminent perils to the public health, safety, or welfare. The agency's finding and a brief statement of the reasons therefor shall be filed with the rule in the office of the secretary of state. The agency shall take appropriate measures to make emergency rules known to the persons who may be affected by them.

So, in the timespan between the passage of this legislation and August 1 of this year, solely toward the end of "implement[ing] the reduction or suspension of appropriations to address a current or impending state fiscal crisis," an administrative agency would be exempt from litigation claiming that "appropriate measures" were not taken to notify affected parties and could enact policies with a longer duration than 120 days. Explanations and statements are required, by other statutes, upon filing.

Unless I'm missing something, this legislation would — within the limited scope of appropriations — accomplish simply a flip of onus, from the executive authority attempting to reduce the budget to the interested parties attempting to expand or maintain it. All rules will be made public and will be amendable through the usual democratic means. Folks who want the money back will just have to bring their case to the public, rather than simply waiting for an expiration of the hold or turning to the courts on procedural grounds.

A President You Can't Get Out of Your Head

Justin Katz

In today's Providence Journal, a young Ivy Leaguer with a hyphenated name adds too my still-short list of old-man moments (note the sentence that I've italicized):

But that is all that I have ever known as an adult: a reviled America under George Bush, and a Congress dominated by petty bickering instead of big ideas. The 2004 election offered an opportunity to vote for a Democrat, but few people my age were excited about Kerry. I have come of political age at a time when America is divided, disliked, and fading as the leader of the Free World. There is a thirst among young Americans for a new era of politics at home and abroad and for an America that is creative at home and respected abroad. And there is an overwhelming sense that only one person can usher in that new era: Barack Obama.

I was a bit younger than Mr. Cook-Deegan at the time, but my how that sentiment brings me back to the late-'80s/early-'90s. You want divided and disliked, whippersnapper? Take a look at the video that the British band Genesis aimed at our president in 1986. And as for our "fading leadership," I remember high school debates about Japan's ascendancy. (A curiosity for consideration at another time: Doesn't it seem that those who believe that the United States ought to be chastened by the world are often illogically quick to worry about our diminishing stature?)

Further stoking my incipient fogeyism, young Master C.-D. writes:

Now, at 22, I am a voting adult who comprehends the consequences of that election. I have friends from high school serving in Iraq. Now I understand the grave danger of alienating the Muslim world. I have traveled to over 25 countries. Nearly everyone I meet tells me how his or her respect for America has plummeted during the Bush presidency.

Central among the convictions of which the last decade of life has disabused me is that a twenty-two year old in modern society is necessarily (put aside legality) "an adult." "I was only a sophomore in high school," Patrick writes of the 2000 election, "I did not really understand what was going on." Myself, at 32, I'm daily more appreciative of how little I really understand what's going on.

But I do know enough to question the "nearly everyones" whom a traveling college student is likely to engage in discussion. I'd have to make a tally before I could confidently claim to have visited over 25 cities. One needn't travel far, however, to understand that this world contains all sorts of people, and that the best of them make decisions based on whether they are right or wrong, not on whether they will meet the approval of a foreign moral authority or bring into unadulterated harmony factions with wildly divergent beliefs and interests.

I wonder: Does our Brown history major understand the danger of not alienating the Muslim world? It's telling that he turns to personal conversations, rather than historical studies, to determine what his country ought to do.

Ah, this g-g-g-generation — "free from any huge upheaval like the 1960s" growing up "in a time when young men and women... have [all] had the same opportunities" in a post–Cold War, Internet-besotted era marking "an opportunity in history for the world to come together in a new way." Somehow, I suspect that many boys and girls have, in fact, not had the opportunity to be nation-hopping globalists. Some of them might even think to include 9/11 in a survey of their generation's formative experiences.

These colts of the academic world, chomping at the bit to apply their knowledge in the service of all that they have learned to be Good, would do well to consider the thoughts of elders with whom they disagree. Peggy Noonan, for example, has some edifying things to say about Mr. Obama:

Are the Obamas, at bottom, snobs? Do they understand America? Are they of it? Did anyone at their Ivy League universities school them in why one should love America? Do they confuse patriotism with nationalism, or nativism? Are they more inspired by abstractions like "international justice" than by old visions of America as the city on a hill, which is how John Winthrop saw it, and Ronald Reagan and JFK spoke of it?

Have they been, throughout their adulthood, so pampered and praised--so raised in the liberal cocoon--that they are essentially unaware of what and how normal Americans think? And are they, in this, like those cosseted yuppies, the Clintons?

Why is all this actually not a distraction but a real issue? Because Americans have common sense and are bottom line. They think like this. If the president and his first lady are not loyal first to America and its interests, who will be? The president of France? But it's his job to love France, and protect its interests. If America's leaders don't love America tenderly, who will?

And there is a context. So many Americans right now fear they are losing their country, that the old America is slipping away and being replaced by something worse, something formless and hollowed out. They can see we are giving up our sovereignty, that our leaders will not control our borders, that we don't teach the young the old-fashioned love of America, that the government has taken to itself such power, and made things so complex, and at the end of the day when they count up sales tax, property tax, state tax, federal tax they are paying a lot of money to lose the place they loved.

And if you feel you're losing America, you really don't want a couple in the White House whose rope of affection to the country seems lightly held, casual, provisional. America is backing Barack at the moment, so America is good. When it becomes angry with President Barack, will that mean America is bad?

Patrick Cook-Deegan hears a "catchy new song with the sweet phrase, 'President Barack Obama.'" It's an infectious tune, I imagine, among those who trust (as I once did) that the world beyond the graduation podium is practically humming with the promised life. And the lyric suggests that those old-time Americans ought, if the world is good, to lose. It's progress, my aged friends. We must step aside so that fields of plenty may sprout on land that we only managed to trample in our own time.

We non-matriculating students of history — and of current events — may wonder whether we are merely clearing a path for an assault, an invasion, against which a dahoo-dorray refrain will prove to be little protection.

February 22, 2008

Obama's Effect on Race Relations

Justin Katz

A few weeks ago, Dan Yorke brought one of his coworkers (a sports guy) into the studio to discuss his Massachusetts primary vote for Barack Obama. That coworker characterized himself as the only non-racist person he knew and sought to explain why it was appropriate to look at Obama and see only a black man who would help to advance race relations in America.

Dan posed the question of whether that approach to voting was racist. To those who'd say "no," because the vote wouldn't be motivated by the candidate's race so much as his effect on a particular issue of defining import in this country, I'd ask whether the same would hold true for somebody who voted the other way for the same reason. That is, would it be racist to vote against a black man simply because the voter believes that doing so would exacerbate race relations?

John Derbyshire offered some thoughts in this line over in the Corner, yesterday:

... Imagine an Obama presidency overwhelmed and floundering, like Carter's. There are enough issues, domestic and foreign, coming down the pike to make this very possible — you know them, I don't need to enumerate. Black Americans will of course go on voting for the party of a black president regardless. Nonblacks will flee from the Democrats in droves, though. A Republican landslide in the 2010 midterms (think 1994); a clear GOP victory in 2012 (think 1980).

By that point the Democratic Party might be nothing other than the party of black Americans. To the degree that black and nonblack Americans get on with each other at all, it is largely thanks to the coalition of black citizens and nonblack liberals and interest groups represented in the national political life by the Democratic Party. A permanent sundering of that coalition would be greatly to America's peril. Black Americans would be shut out of our political life.

Plausible? More to the point, even assuming it's plausible, would it (of itself) justify an anti-Barack vote?

A Solution for the Taking

Justin Katz

East Providence's Silver Spring Elementary School parent teacher club ought to make its letters available to citizens for use in other municipalities:

[Club president Tracy] McCaughey and others met with City Manager Richard Brown and Schools Supt. Jacqueline Forbes earlier this month. The city leaders allegedly confirmed one or more school closings is a "very really possibility" as well as the elimination of sports. ...

McCaughey said Brown also allegedly told her and club co-president Missy Andrade that "if all city employees [municipal, police, fire and teachers] agreed to a 20-percent cost share of their health insurance and gave back this year's raises, the deficit would be completely wiped out and [would] put the city in very good shape for next year."

The group has drafted letters for parents to send to the representatives of the local teachers' union as well as the General Assembly in preparation for tonight's gathering. One form letter is addressed to Rep. Steven M. Costantino, House Finance Committee chairman. It supports passage of two proposed bills that would give financial relief to districts for their special-education costs. ...

The second letter is for local teachers' union delegates and leaders, such as union president Roberta Brady. It asks for their help in resolving the city's "critical budget shortfall." It says other local unions would be more willing to make similar concessions if the teachers agreed to relinquish their salary increase this year, which is why they are asking for the educators to "take the first step."

What do you say, teachers? Lead by example?

Roland Benjamin: Ask Not What Your Country Can Do (to Make You More Productive)

Engaged Citizen

Elements of Senator Obama's economic plan described in this Washington Times editorial have the makings of a staggering economic impact. If you subscribe to the notion that individuals should earn as much as their skills, talents, and minds will permit, then you will be incredulous at the alternative Senator Obama is presenting to the household earning around the median income level (the middle class, as defined by the IRS).

The National Center for Policy Analysis put out this synopsis of the plan:

... Obama has gone hog wild over "refundable tax credits":
  • He promises a $4,000 refundable tax credit to finance college tuition for students who spend 100 hours performing community service.
  • There will be a refundable 10 percent mortgage-interest tax credit for married couples who take the $10,900 standard deduction because their itemizable deductions (including mortgage interest) fall below that level.
  • Taxpayers will also finance a $500 refundable tax credit to augment a $1,000 savings-account deposit made by families earning up to $75,000.
In addition, Obama also promises to triple the EITC benefit for minimum-wage workers:
  • For a married couple with two children working full-time and earning the minimum wage, their refundable EITC would rise from $3,225 to $9,675.
  • He would increase their refundable child-care tax credit to $3,000 and offer a refundable $1,000 tax credit to partly offset their $1,500 Social Security taxes, which had already been more than offset by their nearly $10,000 refundable EITC.
  • If they put that $1,000 in the bank, they would get another refundable tax credit of $500.

Now consider what this means to a typical family of four assuming the following:

  • The breadwinner is capable of earning $18.25/hr with his or her skills, talents, and mind. The oldest child is about to enter her first year at a community college and can work 6 hours per week at minimum wage to offset tuition costs (or augment household income) or can choose to simply work 100 hours of community service.

  • The other child is sufficiently young to receive existing or new child tax credits.

  • At the $18.25/hr job, the breadwinner can insure the family's health at a co-share cost of $73/week through his or her employer.

  • At higher earnings levels they are able to itemize deductions including $8,144 of mortgage interest.

Under Obama's plan, the breadwinner has a new option for choosing an employer or career.

In other words, if the household decides to work as productively as possible while encouraging the daughter to contribute to the household income, then the family will net $206 per year more than if the breadwinner simply takes a minimum wage position. Tax dollar redistribution will close the rest of the gap to the tune of more than $25,000 via refundable credits, reduced contributions into social security, and public funded health care.

I cannot grasp how providing incentive for nearly half of the population to work at less than 40% of their productive capacity could help our economy.

This plan mutates the "Welfare Trap" into a malignant monstrosity that entices all households earning below median income to work at a significantly reduced productive capacity in order to qualify for the progressive expectations of an "enlightened" society.

In contrast, we can only hope that the American spirit, as described in this piece in the Aspen Times, will prevail:

... [among] common traits are that he isn't looking for anything from anyone — just the promise to be able to make his own way on a level playing field.

Of course, I think the writer underestimated the "Angry" demographic by singling out one segment within this category. With a few exceptions to the broader depiction, we can all list scores of individuals who behave according to the above statement yet do not fall into the writer's narrow demographic.

As the social safety net morphs into the predominant lifestyle, individuals fitting the above description will have a more and more diminished say on election days. In the state most likely to proceed down this path, Rhode Island could be the first to experience its consequences. The saying "Last one out, turn off the lights" comes to mind.

February 21, 2008

Wanted: Everything You Aren't, for Nothing You Understand

Justin Katz

Just to see what's going on out there, I ran a Monster.com job search for the first time in years. I had forgotten how completely unqualified the ads can make you feel. That seems to be the result when corporate HR departments are given more twenty words to describe a job opening. A made-up example:

You are: a self-starting, autonomous copy-editing genius with fifty years of experience and the ability to follow instructions carefully. Passion for semiconductor technology a must. Fluency in more than half of the world's spoken languages a plus.

Your responsibilities are: to conduct broad-based research for the creation of high-impact marketing, advertising, instructional, psychosomatic media and corporate packages (print and Web), translated into three programming languages and Pig Latin in a fast-paced environment emphasizing attention to detail.

We are: a completely unknown company, but the only organization hiring people with your skill set, just now.

Benefits revealed upon hire; salary commensurate with experience.

Joint Audacity

Justin Katz

As the budget clock ticks, the General Assembly has been taking its precious time figuring out how to resolve the mess. One imagines the legislators hiding in dark corners awaiting a miracle. What they need to be doing, at the very least, is making the sorts of noises that would show their comprehension of the problem — noises soundly rejecting audacious overtures such as that put forward jointly by the Sierra Club's Chris Wilhite and the AFL-CIO's George Nee:

If we are going to re-energize the Ocean State's economy, we must start working today. We re-commend that all new publicly funded projects involving building construction have a requirement for a meaningful percentage of clean energy technology and transit-oriented design as part of the plan. Once the building is operational, this will result in ongoing savings to the taxpayers and an overall reduction in costly energy imports.

I'm all for making Rhode Island a leader in the newest energy technologies, and I'm certainly for investments in our economy, but those investments must not bring with them the taints that have helped to bring Rhode Island to its current state. Requiring all projects to incorporate a new layer of expense will simply drive up costs unnecessarily, with an unnecessary layer, also, of indirectness in the encouragement of the inchoate industry. George Nee lets slip his motivation, and the fatal attribute of the proposal, when he writes:

It would generate many new good union jobs and move us toward energy independence.

If we're looking to race ahead with the future of energy, it makes little sense to charge the unions with the task of building the industry. Better to loosen the government's hand, rather than tighten the union's. If anything, legislation requiring environmentally conscious energy provisions should also exempt such projects from the requirement to go union at all.

I fear that, whatever the merits of forward-looking proposals, Rhode Island will manage to squander its opportunities for the benefit of the four horsemen of its apocalypse.

Accentuate the Conspicuous

Justin Katz

Honestly, I'm not always looking to accentuate the negative, when it comes to Rhode Island. It's just important for us to have a clear picture of what's going on (going wrong) with our state. Consider Lynn Arditi's coverage of the decreasing demand for building permits:

Rhode Island's new home construction slowed last year, with the number of single-family building permits falling 9 percent for the second straight year, according to a report from the Rhode Island Builders Association.

There were 1,458 single-family building permits issued in the state last year, compared with 1,606 permits in 2006. The permits are a rough proxy for new home construction.

Rhode Island's slowdown in single-family building is far less severe than in the rest of New England, where single-family building permits last year declined an average of 23 percent, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Nationally, single-family permits last year declined 29 percent from 2006, the national association reported.

Doesn't sound so bad for Rhode Island, does it? Read on:

Unlike the rest of the country, Rhode Island’s new home construction has been falling every year since 2000. Even during the national housing boom, single-family building permits in the state declined. In all, permits during the last 7 years in the state have fallen 35.4 percent, according to the Rhode Island Builders Association.

So what's the seven year number for "the rest of the country"? I don't know, but given the real estate trends that this decade has seen, I find the perennial decrease to be surprising. Do "single-family building permits" include only new construction or renovations, as well?

February 20, 2008

If I'm Tearing Up...

Justin Katz

.. it must be the glass that I'm chewing. It certainly couldn't have anything to do with a song about dancing with one's daughter before "the clock strikes midnight."

I pass this along because I'm not sure how many New Englanders allow their radio dials to pause on 91.1FM. It's an "inspirational" station. [Whisper] That means "Christian."

5 Years

Marc Comtois

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that Phoenix Rising: A Benefit for The Station Nightclub Fire Victims was happening on February 25th. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention it again on this, the fifth anniversary of the tragedy (and here).

God bless the victims and their families.

Geldof - Press Has Shortchanged Bush's Successful Africa Policy

Marc Comtois

Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof is chastising the US Press corps for under-reporting the positive effect that President Bush's Africa policy has had:

Mr. Geldof praised Mr. Bush for his work in delivering billions to fight disease and poverty in Africa, and blasted the U.S. press for ignoring the achievement.

Mr. Bush, said Mr. Geldof, "has done more than any other president so far."

"This is the triumph of American policy really," he said. "It was probably unexpected of the man. It was expected of the nation, but not of the man, but both rose to the occasion."

"What's in it for [Mr. Bush]? Absolutely nothing," Mr. Geldof said.

Mr. Geldof said that the president has failed "to articulate this to Americans" but said he is also "pissed off" at the press for their failure to report on this good news story.

"You guys didn't pay attention," Geldof said to a group of reporters from all the major newspapers.

Bush administration officials, incidentally, have also been quite displeased with some of the press coverage on this trip that they have viewed as overly negative and ignoring their achievements.

And more...
Mr. Geldof said that he and Bono, U2's lead singer, have "gotten a lot of flak" for saying that Mr. Bush has done more for Africa than any other U.S. president.

Mr. Geldof said that "the main thing now is asking the candidates, 'What are you going to do?'"

Mr. Bush, said Mr. Geldof, has "put in place a whole foundation" in the form of aid for disease prevention, government institution building with accountability measures, and investing capital in African countries to build up their economies.

"The next guy really must take it on," Mr. Geldof said, referring to the next president.

If the press has underplayed the success of such policies that liberals would otherwise find compelling (say, if a Democrat had implemented them), then what else has the media underplayed or spun differently? In some simple minds, the man can do no good.

First, the Stick

Justin Katz

Amazingly, even as they stumble into understanding of that which is making it hard to breathe in Rhode Island, they continue to tighten the noose:

In an effort to slow down the steep rise of health insurance costs in Rhode Island, Sen. Joshua Miller has introduced legislation that would prohibit health insurers in the state from increasing subscribers' premiums by more than 10 percent a year.

"Huge increases in premiums are pushing health insurance out of reach for more Rhode Islanders every year. Even people who have good jobs and decent salaries are struggling to pay their share of it, let alone those who aren't insured through their employers and have to pay the whole cost on their own," said Senator Miller, a Democrat who represents District 28 in Cranston and Warwick. "Of course insurers have to be able to raise their prices to cover costs, but average Rhode Islanders simply can't afford the size of some of the increases that have been proposed. There has to be a limit on them." ...

He says those experiences have made him aware of the pressures on the insurance industry, and also of the possible solutions that are available to make rates more reasonable.

"We've been examining both sides of this issue, and there are many underlying components that contribute to increased costs for health insurers. There are a wide range of solutions available, but until consensus has been reached within the industry about implementing them, the state should step in with some limits. In fact, these limits may accelerate the implementation of those reforms," said Senator Miller.

So, the legislator understands that there are "solutions" that we ought to pursue, but in the meantime, he's just gonna go ahead and continue with the approach that has had such wonderful results in Rhode Island thus far. Do these people think that if they mix a bit of "I know we shouldn't be so demanding" into their rhetoric, then folks will cease to be concerned about the increasing demands?

(Let whining about "right-wingers on the side of corporations" begin.)

February 19, 2008

The Soft-Peddling of Castro's Tyranny

Monique Chartier

Ken Shepherd of the media blog NewsBusters has an excellent post about the noticeable absence of a certain word in main stream media reports about Fidel Castro's announcement that he is stepping down as ruler of Cuba.

The level of excusing and tip-toeing around the truth about Castro is staggering. As of 2:13 ET when you do a Google News search for "Fidel Castro" you come up with 7,520 results. Add the word dictator after it and you come back with 1,417. That's 81 percent less.

* * * *

None of those articles directly referred to Castro as a dictator.

Some quick history so we're all on the same page. The US Department of State summarizes Castro's ascension to power thusly:

Although he had promised a return to constitutional rule and democratic elections along with social reforms, Castro used his control of the military to consolidate his power by repressing all dissent from his decisions, marginalizing other resistance figures, and imprisoning or executing thousands of opponents. An estimated 3,200 people were executed by the Castro regime between 1959-62 alone. As the revolution became more radical, hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled the island.

To this day, there is a complete absence on the island of free speech, a free press or anything ressembling a genuine justice system demonstrated, for example, in 1989 by the kangaroo court trial and swift execution of Cuban General Arnaldo Ochoa Sánchez and his associates.

Turning back to one of the themes (the locale?) of Anchor Rising, I stumbled across some Castro sympathy here in Rhode Island completely by accident last week. In the process of researching late night eateries in Providence for the sake of Senator Juan Pichardo (there are none open past 1:00 am on a weeknight so it looks like the Senator will have to continue using his Pichardo Card to obtain after hours restaurant service), I clicked on the website of a Providence restaurant called the Cuban Revolution. After checking out their hours, I glanced over the rest of the front page, where I was a little dismayed to find the following:

Borne of a desire to rid Cuba of the US supported dictator Fulgencio Batista who ran Cuba as a Mafia-controlled "Latin Las Vegas," the Cuban Revolution was a popular rebellion of the masses led by the charismatic Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Athough it’s primary goal was to rid Cuba of decades of corporate and political corruption fueled by the heavy hand of American imperialism, it sought to restore basic human rights and an identity to a beautiful land of proud and distinguished people completely independent of the corporate interests of the United States. Although we sympathize with those whose lives may have been horribly disrupted by the Revolution, we blame a failed and misguided US policy that for decades supported the tyranny of Batista while allowing the Mafia to run wild... notwithstanding the subsequent failure of the US to embrace the Cuban Revolution and the US historical inability to support an independent and vibrant Cuba.

My understanding is that the food at the Cuban Revolution is excellent. The problem is the views of the Cuban revolution expressed on their website, to wit: Is the writer of these words under the impression that basic human rights were restored to Cuba when Castro (literally) took office? Are we to understand that corruption is acceptable in the pursuit of some things but not others? Do evil deeds - in this case, of certain US officials - justify evil deeds? If so, does that mean that evil deeds hypothetically provoked by Castro are in turn justified? Suppose another coup occurred in Cuba, one which employed the same violence as Castro, Guevara and the gang, and a pro-capitalist dictatorship were installed in Cuba. Would the writer pen the same words of sympathy and justification about that coup as s/he did about Castro's? As for the last phrase, I'm sure I speak for lots of Americans and American politicians when I say, we most certainly do support an independent and vibrant Cuba. How would embracing a dictatorship advance that vision?

The sentiments in the above excerpt are not exclusive to their author; that was the point of referencing them. On the contrary, they are representative of an unfortunate tendency seemingly to adhere to a section of the political spectrum instead of to principles.

The Most Basic Requirements

Justin Katz

In a letter to the editor of the Sakonnet Times (not online), Tiverton High School physics and chemistry teacher Richard Bernardo offers general encouragement to everybody involved in the contract disputes to "roll[] up [their] sleeves and [get] the job done." In light of news released since Mr. Bernardo penned his letter, this part sticks out:

The teachers are desperate; they are desperate because, in reality, they are in the fifth year of a three-year contract. Lying underneath the fact is the reality that they knew a long time ago that they had chosen a profession such that they would be underpaid and under-appreciated. However, the current development was not expected; this is their livelihood, their bread-and-butter, on the table; in spite of everything, they fear that they have failed at this most basic of life's requirements.

Having looked at the step levels of Tiverton teachers (which increases they've continued to receive, along with annual raises, except for this year... so far), I'd say Mr. Bernardo's being a bit melodramatic. Those teachers, however, who are affected by the news that I mentioned above, would be justified in feeling desperate:

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the School Committee agreed to send nonrenewal notices to 34 teachers for the next school year. State law requires teachers be notified before March 1 if there is a chance they might be laid off the following school year.

The notices will go to 15 teachers at the middle school, 12 at the high school, and 7 at elementary schools, Fiore said.

Squirm as the union might, the money is simply not there, and the union method requires an all-or-nothing approach that is leaving 34 teachers with nothing (at least when it comes to a contract for next year). Making matters worse, Tiverton's teachers won't be alone in the East Bay answering education want ads.

I'm truly sorry to hear about lost jobs, not the least because, as a parent, I'd prefer for the services that the district offers to be increasing. That might save me the time (at least) of looking into private schools. But as long as teachers continue to tie their fortunes to an organization that handles them as factory workers and must justify its existence — with emphasis on those with longevity — solutions for accommodating everybody will be illusory.

Reopening the Dorr

Justin Katz

I'm disappointed to see that the Providence Journal is apparently not printing Kenneth Payne's series on Rhode Island's political history online. It's worth a look, if you've access to Sunday's paper. This paragraph, in particular, caught my attention:

Rhode Island government in 1900 was still colored by the dark shadows of the Dorr War, the brief, armed insurrection in 1842 that had sought to win greater fairness in the Rhode Island political system, including by extending manhood suffrage and by reapportioning the House of Representatives. After the Dorr War, Rhode Island electors approved a constitution that replaced the old Royal Charter of 1663. But the new "Law and Order" Constitution was not a liberal extension of political rights; it preserved the existing system of dominance by property-owning and native, mostly Protestant, men.

Being a non-native, I've had no reason to become acquainted with the biography of Thomas Dorr, but at first blush, it appears that we moderns would do well to resume his cause.

February 18, 2008

Michelle Obama: "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country"

Donald B. Hawthorne

Michelle Obama just said these words:

...What we have learned over this year is that hope is making a comeback. It is making a comeback. And let me tell you something -- for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change...

Instapundit has a round-up of various reactions to Michelle Obama's comments, including John Podhoretz:

...Michelle Obama is 44 years old. She has been an adult since 1982. Can it really be there has not been a moment during that time when she felt proud of her country? Forget matters like the victory in the Cold War; how about only things that have made liberals proud — all the accomplishments of inclusion? How about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991? Or Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s elevation to the Supreme Court? Or Carol Moseley Braun’s election to the Senate in 1998? How about the merely humanitarian, like this country’s startling generosity to the victims of the tsunami? I’m sure commenters can think of hundreds more landmarks of this sort. Didn’t she even get a twinge from, say, the Olympics?

Mrs. Obama was speaking at a campaign rally, so it is easy to assume she was merely indulging in hyperbole. Even so, it is very revealing.

It suggests, first, that the pseudo-messianic nature of the Obama candidacy is very much a part of the way the Obamas themselves are feeling about it these days...

Second, it suggests the Obama campaign really does have its roots in New Class leftism, according to which patriotism is not only the last refuge of a scoundrel, but the first refuge as well — that America is not fundamentally good but flawed, but rather fundamentally flawed and only occasionally good...

And third, that Michelle Obama — from the middle-class South Shore neighborhood of Chicago, Princeton 85, Harvard Law 88, associate at Sidley and Austin, and eventually a high-ranking official at the University of Chicago — may not be proud of her country, but her life, like her husband’s, gives me every reason to be even prouder of the United States.

Unfortunately, this kind of talk by Michelle Obama is not new. (Nor is the topic of liberal fundamentalism new, as this 1984 WSJ editorial reminds us. Some reflections on the broader issues can be found here, where this linked post offers these clarifying thoughts from Richard John Neuhaus:

Politics and religion are different enterprises...But they are constantly coupling and getting quite mixed up with one another. There is nothing new about this. What is relatively new is the naked public square. The naked public square is the result of political doctrine and practice that would exclude religion and religiously grounded values from the conduct of public business...

When religion in any traditional or recognizable form is excluded from the public square, it does not mean that the public square is in fact naked...

The truly naked public square is at best a transitional phenomenon. It is a vacuum begging to be filled. When the democratically affirmed institutions that generate and transmit values are excluded, the vacuum will be filled by the agent left in control of the public square, the state. In this manner, a perverse notion of the disestablishment of religion leads to the establishment of the state as church...

The conflict in American public life today, then, is not a conflict between morality and secularism. It is a conflict of moralities in which one moral system calls itself secular and insists that the other do likewise as the price of admission to the public arena. That insistence is in fact a demand that the other side capitulate...

The founding fathers of the American experiment declared certain truths to be self-evident and moved on from that premise. It is a measure of our decline into what may be the new dark ages that today we are compelled to produce evidence for the self-evident.)

In that context, John O'Sullivan explains Obama this way in The Obama Appeal: He's post-racist, but also post-American (available for a fee):

...More important even than that is his recent rhetoric on American unity. Obama has mastered the lost art of delivering patriotic speeches that sound sincere and sensible. Such rhetoric used to be a Republican specialty, but liberal opinion long ago bullied them out of it ("super-patriotism"), and now they have lost the knack. The American people retain a taste for patriotic unity, however, and will likely respond to it with added respect when it comes from a post-racist black American.

But there are two kinds of American unity: the natural unity of citizens with equal rights, and the managed unity of groups with equal rights. These are in direct conflict with each other. Obama's rhetoric is undoubtedly sincere, but it gives the impression that he favors the first sort of unity when he actually wants to ratify and advance the second. A glimpse at his speeches and programs demonstrates that he is committed, like all the Democratic candidates, to such policies as racial preferences, multiculturalism, liberal immigration laws, and the transfer of power from America's constitutional republic to non-accountable global bodies and international law. For Obama is not merely a post-racist; he is a post-nationalist and a post-American too...

Apparently a post-American world view means it is acceptable not to wear a USA flag lapel pin as he runs for the USA Presidency. Or to attend a church where, if whites said the same things in reverse at their churches, they would be labeled racists. [ADDENDUM #1: More on the latter from Kaus, Kaus, Cohen, Hill, Dreher, and Knippenberg.]

This world view suggests We Are Paying Quite a Price for Our Historical Ignorance, a problem Ronald Reagan warned us about in his 1989 Farewell Address:

...Finally, there is a great tradition of warnings in presidential farewells, and I've got one that's been on my mind for some time. But oddly enough it starts with one of the things I'm proudest of in the past eight years: the resurgence of national pride that I called the new patriotism. This national feeling is good, but it won't count for much, and it won't last unless it's grounded in thoughtfulness and knowledge.

An informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? Those of us who are over thirty-five or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn't get these things from your family, you got them from the neighborhood...Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed, you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the midsixties.

But now, we're about to enter the nineties, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren't sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven't reinstitutionalized it. We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom - freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It's fragile; it needs protection.

So, we've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's important...If we forget what we did, we won't know who we are. I'm warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let's start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual. And let me offer lesson number one about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven't been teaching you what it means to be an American, let 'em know and nail 'em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.

So, as an antidote to this ahistorical, multicultural and relativistic world promoted by the Obama's, we would do well to go back and rediscover the first principles of our American Founding and ponder what it means to educate Americans in our unique heritage:

Calvin Coolidge:

...In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignity, the rights of man - these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in religious convictions...Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish...

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776..that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final...If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people...

In all the essentials we have achieved an equality which was never possessed by any other people...

Mac Owens:

Before the American founding, all regimes were based on the principle of interest - the interest of the stronger. That principle was articulated by the Greek historian Thucydides: "Questions of justice arise only between equals. As for the rest, the strong do what they will. The weak suffer what they must."... The United States was founded on different principles - justice and equality...It took the founding of the United States on the principle of equality to undermine the principle of inequality...Thanks to the Founders, the United States was founded on a principle of justice, not the interest of the stronger. And because of Lincoln's uncompromising commitment to equality as America's "central idea," the Union was not only saved, but saved so "as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of saving..."

"Every nation," said Lincoln, "has a central idea from which all its minor thoughts radiate." For Lincoln, this central idea was the Declaration of Independence and its notion of equality as the basis for republican government - the simple idea that no one has the right by nature to rule over another without the latter's consent...

Indeed, it is the idea of equality in the Declaration, not race and blood, that establishes American nationhood, constituting what Abraham Lincoln called "the mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land..."

The United States is a fundamentally decent regime based on the universal principle that all human beings are equal in terms of their natural rights...

Roger Pilon:

Appealing to all mankind, the Declaration's seminal passage opens with perhaps the most important line in the document: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident." Grounded in reason, "self-evident" truths invoke the long tradition of natural law, which holds that there is a "higher law" of right and wrong from which to derive human law and against which to criticize that law at any time. It is not political will, then, but moral reasoning, accessible to all, that is the foundation of our political system.

But if reason is the foundation of the Founders' vision...the method by which we justify our political order...liberty is its aim. Thus, cardinal moral truths are these:

...that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness...That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.

We are all created equal, as defined by our natural rights; thus, no one has rights superior to those of anyone else. Moreover, we are born with those rights, we do not get them from government...indeed, whatever rights or powers government has come from us, from "the Consent of the Governed." And our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness imply the right to live our lives as we wish...to pursue happiness as we think best, by our own lights...provided only that we respect the equal rights of others to do the same. Drawing by implication upon the common law tradition of liberty, property, and contract...its principles rooted in "right reason"...the Founders thus outlined the moral foundations of a free society.

Contrary to Michelle Obama's viewpoint, the American Founding - however imperfectly practiced over the years - is something to be proud of for a lifetime.

And even a "plagiarizing" Barack Obama assures us that those American Founding principles aren't "just words." As a first step to show their seriousness that they are not "just words," perhaps Barack and Michelle Obama could acquaint themselves with and develop some pride in these core principles of the very country he seeks to lead and which gave each of them the freedom to live the American Dream as they have. As a next baby step, they could even encourage their partisans to hang posters in their campaign offices which celebrate that Founding instead of the late murderous communist thug Che.

If they are unwilling to take those tangible steps, then I agree with Kathryn Jean Lopez, when she writes: "Maybe the Obamas do take after the Clintons. It's all about them too."

More on the left-wing messianic posturing by Obama from Lopez, Steyn, Charen, Krauthammer, Last, and Brooks.

[ADDENDUM #2: More from Lowry, Hanson, Derbyshire, Goldberg, Henninger, Stuttaford, Geraghty, Lopez, Samuelson, Blankley, Levin, Malkin, Hemingway here and here, and Stein, a blogger for that right-wing attack machine, Mother Jones. Bronson writes: "I think pride in the country doesn’t come from what the government or the military or even our heroes do; I think it comes from realizing that every day, in every thing we do, we are making our country into something new. If you don’t believe in where we came from, how can you expect to get to someplace worthwhile?"]

Or, as Malkin writes: "When Republicans talk about broken souls in the context of civil society, the nutroots start screaming about the obliteration of the church-state line. When the Obama campaign uses the same rhetoric to get him elected to the White House, everyone swoons."

[ADDENDUM #3: Goldfarb writes this about Obama's attempts to clarify his wife's comments: "It's still the same creepy message. Apparently the only thing that might redeem this country in the eyes of Michelle Obama is the election of her husband as president of the United States. That's not good enough. This implies that the Obamas aren't running for office in order to serve the country that they love--because this country has, in fact, been so good to them--but in order to save the country from itself."]

Liberal fundamentalism is alive and well, albeit with some fancy new packaging.

Denmark Burning

Justin Katz

Ah the idyllic land of Northern Europe, to which the world's eyes turn for a vision of society as it ought to be:

Groups of youths torched schools and cars in a sixth consecutive night of violence across Denmark, mostly in immigrant neighborhoods, police said yesterday. Forty-three persons were arrested.

The spate of vandalism started last weekend and some think it intensified with the reproduction of a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad in Danish newspapers Wednesday.

"Some observers said immigrant youths were protesting against perceived police harassment, and suggested the reprinting of the cartoon may have aggravated the situation." Roger Kimball's got some suggestions, too:

One thing we all do know is that Muslims are "offended" by depictions of the Muhammad. In fact, the list of the things Muslims are offended by would take over a culture. They don't like ice-cream that (used to be) distributed by Burger King because a decoration on the lid looked like (sort of) the Arabic script for "Allah." They are offended by "pig-related items, including toys, porcelain figures, calendars and even a tissue box featuring Winnie the Pooh and Piglet" appearing in the workplace. They take umbrage at describing Islamic terrorism as, well, Islamic terrorism and have managed to persuade Gordon Brown to rename it "anti-Islamic activity." But here's the thing: one of the features of living in a modern, secular democracy is that there is always plenty of offense to go around. No Muslim is more offended by cartoons of their Prophet than I am by their barbaric reaction to the cartoons. But their reaction when offended is to torch an embassy, shoot a nun, or knife a filmmaker. I write a column deploring such behavior. You see the difference.

Final moronic comment from Reuters: "Social workers said the arrests, the reprinting of the cartoon and protests against its appearance might have fuelled the riots." You don't say? How many social workers did it take to figure that out?

There's much work left to do, apparently, kicking such Westerners as supply the culture of the world's news services out of their dogged fetal position. One gets the impression that many hope that electing the right president will allow Americans to join the Europeans in donning the armor of PC pieties. Then, in our much deserved vacation from history, we'll all be able to go back to marveling at the wonder of gay marriage from the North to the Baltic Seas.

Until, of course, the next building falls or, God save us, our first city evaporates.

Can't Blame 'Em

Justin Katz

Filling in for Dan Yorke on 630WPRO, Matt Allen's been talking about the ability of apparent prosperity to elevate men's chances when it comes to wooing attractive women. I emailed him that the thought that money bought love used to really bother me. Recently, though, the amount that I work, the struggles to get by, the lack of resources for anything that falls short of necessity, especially in light of our children — these things have helped me to understand why the guys driving by my Newport construction site in their BMW SUVs so often have attractive passengers.

I can't blame the women. The life that you'll be able to have together is certainly a factor in one's attraction to potential mates, and money, prosperity, is a key marker.

I will say, however, that I'm glad that I looked unreasonably likely to be successful, when I was younger. It's too late for my wife; she's too heavily invested, at this point.

If Nothing Else, Sympathy

Justin Katz

One of the great boons of the Internet is the ability of a few keywords to lead random citizens to sympathetic conversations — replete with research, back-story, and action — already in progress. In my emailbox this weekend:

I am writing today after having stumbled upon your "Anchor Rising" website which described the 2005 East Greenwich School Contract.

I thought I was reading my own mind...let me explain. I am new to the Town of West Greenwich, 2 years. The teachers are in the middle of negotiating a new contract and have been working though they have not settled on a contract. What made me start researching these things was...

[Personal info removed.] My daughter's teacher suggested to me, not me asking her, that my daughter come to school at 8:00 a.m., prior to the school day starting and she would tutor her. I agreed and had taken my daughter in a total of maybe four times. My wife was contacted the other evening by the teacher saying how embarrassed she was at having to make this phone call. The teacher stated that she had been advised that she could no longer tutor my daughter without being paid. The teacher didn't even know how much she should charge. The teacher stated that she was told that she had to "work to rule." She also sent me some emails, of which I still have, with the same language as what you wrote about on your website. She stated that she had to side with the union and wished the parents would also support them.

She told how she works very hard outside of school, that we should support the union, that our children are not being hurt. I am appalled and disgusted that as our economy continues to be devastated almost daily, where we are losing jobs and benefits at an alarming rate, the union and the teachers are still of the opinion that they deserve MORE, not less and that we need to pay them to live the lifestyles they lead.

My wife informed the teacher that we are both self employed, have no work to rule, have no paid days off, summers off, paid healthcare etc... My wife and I pay $1,300.00 per month for healthcare. The teacher stated that she didn't even know what she pays as it is taken
out automatically from her check. My wife told her that if she didn't even notice what has been deducted, then it couldn't be very much!

This nonsense needs to stop. It's amazing how history seems to repeat itself. I could not believe what I was reading as I read your site. Thanks for at least showing me that I'm not completely losing my mind and that the NEA and teachers are out of control.

The teacher, of course, "has no choice but to go along." As seems to be the case in all unionized fields, members are apparently professionally obligated to participate in strong-arm tactics to ensure that their salaries and benefits are far beyond what's currently available in the private sector.

February 17, 2008

The Latter Day Kennedy? Not Really.

Justin Katz

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby doesn't think JFK would be amused by the association of Che Guevara with a presidential candidate whom some have crowned as his (JFK's) political heir:

In December 1962, Kennedy offered a blunt summary of the Castro/Che record. "The Cuban people were promised by the revolution political liberty, social justice, intellectual freedom, land for the campesinos, and an end to economic exploitation," he said. "They have received a police state, the elimination of the dignity of land ownership, the destruction of free speech and a free press, and the complete subjugation of individual human welfare." Eleven months later, in a speech intended for delivery on the day he was assassinated, Kennedy regretted that Castro's "Communist foothold" in Latin America had "not yet been eliminated."

Were he alive today, it's hard to imagine JFK feeling anything but contempt for those who extol a dictatorship that has been crushing freedom and human beings for nearly 50 years. And it would surely pain him that so many of the cheerleaders are members of his own party.

The lionizing of Che, a sociopath who relished killing and acclaimed "the pedagogy of the firing squad," is not just "inappropriate." It is vile. No American in his right mind would be caught dead wearing a David Duke T-shirt or displaying a poster of Pol Pot. A celebrity who was spotted with a swastika-festooned cap or an actress who revealed that she had gotten a tattoo depicting Timothy McVeigh would inspire only repugnance. No presidential campaign would need more than 30 seconds to sever its ties to anyone, paid staffer or volunteer, whose office was adorned with a Ku Klux Klan banner. Yet Che's likeness, which ought to be as loathed as any of those, is instead a trendy bestseller and a cult favorite.

Judging from the policies that the fashionable Left promotes, it's not always a simple matter to discern whether it's the symbol of revolution that so captures the movement's imagination or a deep-seated sympathy with the lustful totalitarian impulse.

Parsing Regularity

Justin Katz

In the comments to my Sides Taking Shape post, RI Future's Matt Jerzyk objects to my characterization of Bruce Lang and Ryan Curran as "regular Rhode Islanders." According to Jerzyk, the former is a "longtime Statehouse activist" (founder, apparently, of Operation Clean Government) and the latter once ran for a General Assembly seat. I simply did not know either's history, and the names did not ring any bells. I think the characterization still applies, though.

But the objection does raise an interesting question: What circumstances disqualify one from being a "regular Rhode Islander"? I imagine, for example, that Matt would disqualify we Anchor Rising contributors, while by my estimation, we're precisely "regular" — simple taxpaying citizens who've taken an interest in the betterment of our state. Does becoming vocal automatically make one not regular?

There's certainly a line to be crossed — somewhere between Anchor Rising and RI Future. Somewhere between citizens making arguments, even advocating policies, even running for office and coordinated activists tapped into the major pipelines of influence in the state. To be sure, it's far easier to cross this line on the Left than the Right in Rhode Island.

One sure marker, though, may just be the ability to recognize and allocate even minor players in the state's civically involved community. Personally, I hope never to take up as much of my brain with such information as would be required to transcend regularity.

February 16, 2008

Anticipating History

Justin Katz

Mark Steyn's good today on Obama worship:

... it seems to me that Barack Obama is the triumph of flesh, color, and despair over word — that's to say, he offers an appealing embodiment of identity politics plus a ludicrously despairing vision of contemporary America (sample: "Trade deals like NAFTA ship jobs overseas and force parents to compete with their teenagers to work for minimum wage at Wal-Mart") that triumphs over anything so prosaic as a policy platform. Mrs. Clinton, the earthbound wonk, is reduced to fulminating that this race is about "speeches versus solutions." But a lot of Democrats seem to have concluded that Hillary's the problem, and Obama's speech is the solution. ...

On the other hand, if you’re running for president not as an unexceptional first-term senator with a thin resume but as the new Messiah, the new Kennedy, the new Gandhi, the new Martin Luther King, you can’t blame folks for leaping ahead to the next stage in the mythic narrative. Around the world, a second instant sub-genre has sprung up in which commentators speculate how long it will be before some deranged Christian-fundamentalist neo-Nazi gun-nut deprives America of its fleeting wisp of glory. Setting a new standard for fevered slavering Obama-assassination porn, Earl MacRae warned Canadians in the Ottawa Sun this week:

To be black and catapulting towards the presidency on charm, intellect, and popularity is unacceptable to the racist paranoid and scary in America the beautiful... They do not want to hear that he is a better American than they are, these right-wing extremist fascists in the land of America who no doubt believe it's God's will Barack Obama not get to the White House, no method of deterrence out of bounds, in their zealotry to protect and perpetuate Roy Rogers, John Wayne, Mom's apple pie, and the cross of Jesus in every home.

My own feeling, although I believe that anybody who thinks in these terms dramatically misunderstands God's operation, is that a better interpretation would be that Obama's on a divine mission to keep Hillary out of the White House. Either way, the nation is probably charging toward another daydream respite from history, with an even more calamitous cost for inattention.

Perhaps it's a subconscious sense of this truth that leaves so many desperate for fantasies — murderous or otherwise.

It's One Thing to Have Company in Misery; It's Another to Be a Leader

Justin Katz

Rhode Island can't be doing so badly if it's only one of at least 25 states facing budget shortfalls, can it? Well, considering the sour mood about the economy across the nation, it's perhaps surprising that 25 states don't have shortfalls. In judging between those that do, though, one would want more information than a snapshot in the midst of an economic downturn. Some of the states might have reserves that Rhode Island lacks. Unique circumstances such as decreasing Katrina aid affect others.

But even based on the information we're given, it presumes a bit much to minimize Rhode Island's problem with this sort of context. Notice anything about the following table of states' projected budget gaps?

Amount Percent of FY2008
General Fund
Alabama $784 million 9.2%
Arizona $1.7 billion 16.2%
California $14.5 billion 13.9%
Florida $2 billion 6.5%
Illinois $2.5–3.0 billion 9.1–10.9%
Iowa $350 million 6.0%
Kentucky $266 million 2.9%
Maine $57 million 1.8%
Maryland $550 million 3.8%
Massachusetts $1.2 billion 4.2%
Minnesota $373 million 2.2%
Nevada $565 million 7.8%
New Hampshire $50–150 million 1.6–4.8%
New Jersey $2.5–3.5 billion 7.6–10.6%
New York $4.7 billion 8.7%
Ohio $733 million–1.9 billion 3.6–9.4%
Rhode Island $380 million 11.2%
South Carolina $160 million 2.4%
Virginia $1.2 billion 6.9%
Wisconsin $652 million 4.8%

How about on this New England–only version?

Amount Percent of FY2008
General Fund
Maine $57 million 1.8%
Massachusetts $1.2 billion 4.2%
New Hampshire $50–150 million 1.6–4.8%
Rhode Island $380 million 11.2%

It's one thing to be "sharing the pain" with other states. It's another when that pain is almost three times as acute for us as for our closest neighbors, at a minimum.

The Sides Take Shape

Justin Katz

If the published letters in the Providence Journal are at all representative of the volume that the editors receive, regular Rhode Islanders — the true "voiceless" of the state — are beginning to speak up. Here's Bruce Lang of Newport:

... the best way to improve economic development in Rhode Island can be summed up in two words: Cut taxes!

Mr. Costantino does make two vital observations: "State revenue is growing at 1 percent, while expenditures are growing at 6 percent," and he says that we have "a fiscal crisis on our hands." Both statements are true and both have only one solution, three words: Reduce government spending!

It's truly unbelievable that most of our elected legislators (from the most powerful branch of our state government) either "don't get it" and/or are so influenced by the powerful public-employee unions that they "don't want to get it."

And here's Ryan Curran of Providence:

We now learn that state legislators, whom we had hitherto believed to be the voice of the people, are so riddled with special-interest conflicts that the feeble desires of private-sector citizens are met with accusations of bigotry and selfishness. With at least six important assemblymen being paid over $100,000 a year by unions to — well, to do what, indeed? Represent us? How can anyone believe in "the voice of the people" ever again?

In fact, state legislators are the voice of the unions and special interests. While we private citizens were busy working and leading our lives, they were busy unionizing and organizing. And, as we now see, they have succeeded spectacularly. ...

They face no consequences for their actions. As proof: Already, some legislators have called for broad-based tax increases in contrast to the governor's call for no new taxes in the face of a rapidly declining economy and one of the highest tax burdens in the United States. The vast majority of taxpaying Rhode Islanders is working in the private sector and has no desire to send more of its hard-earned money into this corrupt and unrepresentative system.

But who represents us?

In conjunction with a front-page story about record voter registration (although cast in a national-election light), these letters make me wonder whether the sides are gathering for political war in Rhode Island:

More than 43,000 voters signed up over the last year, with about half of those (21,000) coming in the four months before the Feb. 2 deadline to register for the March vote, according to a Journal analysis of state voter files.

Of those 43,000, roughly 20,000 are between the ages of 18 and 29, a group once derided as stay-at-homes on election days, but since 2004 a group that has been casting ballots in increasing numbers. ...

Independents can vote in either presidential primary. Of the last four months of voter signups, about 6,800 enrolled as Democrats, roughly 1,900 became Republicans and more than 12,000 registered as independents, a category deemed "unaffiliated" in state political argot.

The Langs and Currans of Rhode Island could just as easily be independents as Republicans, so there's hope that they'll compensate for any uptick in out-of-state kids with no understanding of local problems and no real stake in their resolution (assuming a high percentage of college students). Still, we may see, in these numbers, part of the reason for the excitement of local organizers and establishmentarians on the Left about Obama. Any draw of young voters to the polls on his account is likely to benefit the corrupt powers that be locally, when in their ignorance the kids vote D. as they've been trained to do.

February 15, 2008

Slipping into Marriage

Justin Katz

It's only because I know the dispersal of accountability to be a specialty of Rhode Island politicians that I'm suspicious, but a couple of items related to marriage have caught my attention this week. First is news of legislation to be proposed by House Minority Leader Gordon Fox (D, Providence) making same-sex divorce a reality in Rhode Island:

Following December’s 3-to-2 state Supreme Court decision to ban same-sex divorce in Rhode Island, advocates say it is time to take the issue to the General Assembly.

House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox will sponsor the bill to be submitted in the coming days.

"I think the divorce [legislation] is a high priority and I’m going to be working with the people from [Marriage Equality RI] and the ACLU. That's something that should be corrected," Fox said yesterday. "Obviously there was a Supreme Court decision that I agree with the dissent, but even the majority opinion talked about how it's a legislative purview, so I think it's something we should have before the legislature to discuss this year."

Providence Journal writer Cynthia Needham's advocacy-cum-reportage clearly frames the divorce bill as part of the movement for same-sex marriage, which makes me wonder about the following part of the house rules bill (PDF) that Dan Yorke has made infamous for a more egregious matter (underlines and strike-throughs denote proposed additions and deletions):

There shall be a consent calendar on which shall be entered such bills and resolutions as the Speaker, the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader or their designees shall agree upon, and shall be proposed to the House by the Majority Leader or the designee of the Majority Leader on each Thursday during the session in the form of a motion to move the consent calendar. The consent calendar shall contain bills for the restoration of corporate charters and bills for the solemnization of marriage (which shall be assigned to the consent calendar immediately upon introduction), and other bills and resolutions which are of a routine or non-controversial nature, whether originating in the House or the Senate, and in no event shall the consent calendar be considered as a substitute for the regular calendar. Matters of substance shall be placed on the regular calendar and be fully debated and considered by the membership according to these rules. No bill or resolution shall be included on the consent calendar on the date the consent calendar is moved unless copies of the consent calendar in the same form as shall be moved form as it is intended to move the same have been made available to the membership no later than two (2) legislative days prior to the day on which the consent calendar shall be proposed to be moved. All bills and resolutions included on the consent calendar shall be made available in printed form and/or electronically to the Majority Leader, the Minority Leader, the State House library and the Clerk of the House at the same time that copies of the consent calendar are made available under this rule. At the request of a member any bill or resolution shall be removed from those included in the motion. All bills and resolutions designated for action on the consent calendar shall be passed on motion without discussion unless, prior to adjournment on the Wednesday preceding such Thursday a member shall have requested at any time prior to the motion for passage, a member requests removal of a bill or resolution from the consent calendar, in which case such bill or resolution shall be so removed and placed on the regular calendar. Any bill or resolution so removed shall be considered as having appeared on the regular calendar for a period of time equivalent to that during which it appeared on the consent calendar.

Unless I'm misconstruing the process, legislators will be able to solemnize (which means "grant," I believe) marriages on the undebated all-or-nothing consent calendar provided they put forward the proposal before the end of the day Tuesday. The calendar is meant to be for uncontroversial items, but the decisive factor appears to be whether anybody objects, thus moving the item to the regular calendar. In that regard, the new rules cut the window for objections to the end of the session on Wednesday. Come Thursday, the whole calendar must be passed (without discussion) or struck down.

Could it be that the Democrats in the General Assembly are hoping to create an avenue for same-sex marriage without ever having to admit to their constituencies that they have done so?

Reactions to the Chafee Endorsement of Obama

Carroll Andrew Morse

Part of me says that one conventional liberal endorsing another isn't really news. Still, given the history involved, the Chafee endorsement of Barack Obama for President is a legitimate news blip, if only for a brief moment.

At yesterday's John McCain rally in Warwick, Tom Shevlin of Rhode Island Report, MTV & the AP captured a few reactions (former Chafee camapaign manager Ian Lang, current RI GOP chairman Gio Cicione, former Congressional candidate and Republican activist Jon Scott) to the endorsement announcement…

Cross-Purpose Reform

Justin Katz

Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts's healthcare proposal (PDF) strikes me as a hodgepodge with components at odds with each other. There doesn't appear to be a guiding principle, creating the risk that the good points of the program would put a reform-like light on the bad parts, potentially without even passing themselves.

New representative Frank Ferri (D, Warwick) today put forward a bill advancing one of the better suggestions:

The legislation (2008-H 7493) — which Representative Ferri is submitting in conjunction with Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts as part of her "Healthy Rhode Island" health reform act — would allow health insurers licensed in Massachusetts and Connecticut to offer insurance products in Rhode Island without having to get any additional licenses.

This reciprocal licensing would make Rhode Island a more inviting market to insurers, and could increase the number of insurers in the state. Currently, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island and United HealthCare of New England are the only insurers licensed in Rhode Island.

But other parts of Healthy RI increase state government involvement, fine employers that don't provide health insurance coverage $1,000 per employee per year. and layer on mandates, such as the requirement that all dependent "children" up to age 25 may be covered under their parents' policies whether they're in school or not. Representative (D, Providence) Edith Ajello's mandate appears to be additional:

A state mandate already requires insurers to cover fertility treatment for women between the ages of 25 and 42 who are otherwise healthy but are unable to achieve or sustain pregnancy for a period of a year or more. But under current law, the mandate applies only to married women.

Arguing that that the stipulation is discriminatory and would not be permissible in other areas of state law, Representative Ajello has submitted legislation (2008-H 7239) to eliminate the word "married" from the mandate and extend coverage to all 25- to 42-year-old women, regardless of their marital status.

So the state is seeking to attract insurers to Rhode Island, and it may force employees to finance the policies, and it's going to require everybody over four times poverty to have a plan, while layering on regulations that will drive the price up — all under the increasingly pervasive watch of the nation's most corrupt and (arguably) incompetent government. Shouldn't health-conscious politicians be attempting to lower citizens' stress levels?

Russell Morgan Jones, RIP

Carroll Andrew Morse

I didn't know Russell Jones personally, though he was often in enthusiastic attendance of various political events I covered for Anchor Rising. Mr. Jones touched the lives of a great many people in his 84 years, many of whom would like it known that with his passing, our state, local and national communities are just a little bit less than they were before.

Re: RI School Performance

Justin Katz

My word won't be taken on this, but I would love to learn that impressions of Rhode Island's public education are unjustifiably poor. The ax that I grind is with the amount that we pay for the results that we get, and mathematics proficiency of 50% or less is simply not acceptable in a state that pours so much into its education system. But evidence of improvements would be wonderful.

That is why I'm disappointed that I have to play to type and point out problems with the sunny picture painted by the Learning First Alliance/Rhode Island (LFA/RI) report (PDF) that Marc mentioned yesterday.

Plainly put, all of the bullet points highlighting improvements in proficiency (on which all of the proffered assessments are based) are arguably invalid because of changes in the testing beginning in 2004. From page 2 of the report:

Over the past 10 years, in respect to changes in federal mandates, students in Rhode Island have participated annually in two different statewide assessments. The New Standards Reference Examination (NSRE) was administered yearly to students in grades 4, 8, and 10 during the 1998-2003 academic years. In 2004, the high school grade changed to grade 11. Eleventh graders continued to take the NSRE through spring 2007; the statewide assessment for elementary and middle school students, however, changed after the 2004. Beginning in fall 2006, the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) was administered to all students in grades 3-8. High school students will transition to NECAP in the fall of 2007.

In other words, that roughly ten point jump in the percentage of proficient high school students from 2003 to 2004 is likely attributable to the fact that the students took the test a year later. For the lower-aged students, changes in the test itself appear to account for the large improvements that same year.

These complications carry over into the measurement of Regents Commended Schools, because that jump could very well have given the impression of "exceptionally high" performance in 2004. They also carry into the No Child Left Behind data because those, too, are based on progress and targets. Note, for example, the high school chart on page 5: The number of schools in the "moderately or high performing" category jumped in 2004 and has been drifting down ever since.

The somewhat confusing NCLB measure of "targets" is made less reliable (at least as it's being used in the report) because the final results appear to be inflated. Consider this footnote from page 4 (emphasis added):

The accountability rating was based on the aggregation of 3 years of testing on the statewide assessment in grade 10. The school as a whole and students in each of the eight student groups must meet the targets for the school to make Adequate Yearly Progress as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Schools without sufficient numbers of students (e.g., at least 45 students over the 3 years) in any one category were credited with meeting that particular target.

The bottom line is that some progress appears to have been made over the past decade, but there have been sufficient changes that it isn't as easy to make a fair assessment as it could be. Making matters worse is that many of the folks on whom citizens might want to rely for sober analysis seem more interested in "focusing on the positive."

February 14, 2008

Senator Pichardo and the After Hours Dog

Monique Chartier

This is possibly an insignificant incident but too fun to pass up.

"Do you know who I am?"

One of my favorite expressions, often used by an elected official or semi-famous person in a jam or trying to get his or her way. Generally delivered in an imperious rather than a tactful tone, it is a wonderful statement because it instantly conveys something quite different than the speaker intends.

Intended message: "I am an important person. How dare you question or hinder me?"

Received message: "I am a jackass."

This MSNBC link to a Turn to Ten I-Team story does not report whether State Senator Juan Pichardo (D-Pawtucket) actually used that phrase during his attempts to get into a closed hot dog restaurant in Olneyville shortly after 1:00 am last week. But when a New York Systems Wieners' staffer informed Senator Pichardo that he could not be allowed into the restaurant because it was closed, he certainly made it clear who he was, flashing his i.d., emphasizing his elected rank and insisting that he be let in to eat. In his own words:

"I would like to see if I could eat inside," Pichardo said. "He said, 'Well, we're closed.' I said, "Well, there's still some people there.' I said, 'I'm a state senator.'"

It worked, though with attendant commotion. When the Senator was finally inside, restaurant regular Scott Bonelli pointed out to the Senator and then to Jim Taricani that Pichardo was

using his position of authority for an embarrassing reason, to be seated at a hotdog joint at quarter past one [in the morning]

And Greg Stevens, the restaurant's owner, said

I'm not commenting on this incident; but in general, it's inappropriate for politicians to abuse their office.

You know, there are some smart people in Olneyville.

UPDATE - The Pichardo Card

Helen Glover at 920 WHJJ recommends an excellent new product.

(Thanks to Helen's producer Tim Staskiewicz for the heads-up.)

RI School Performance - Getting Past Simple Categories

Marc Comtois

Learning First Alliance/Rhode Island is out with a report (h/t) in which they try to explain that the simple categories used to describe the progress (or lack thereof) of our schools are insufficient to the task. They have a point. Earlier this month, when digging into the latest reports on our state high schools, I noticed that some schools dubbed with the "Insufficient Progress" tag were actually outperforming the majority of other RI schools and, conversely, that a few schools making "Adequate Yearly Progress" were well below the average.

While I tended to focus on the fact that tagging a school with AYP sometimes obscures just how below average the school is, the LFA/RI report looks at it from the other direction.

Each year Rhode Island schools are evaluated on student performance on the statewide assessments in English language arts/reading and mathematics. The percentage of students meeting or exceeding proficiency often times gets overlooked by school classifications. We want to focus on the rest of the story. This story includes the increase in student performance in English language arts and mathematics at all grade levels, the percentage of schools commended for their sustained improvement, and the misconception that schools labeled as making insufficient progress are not improving.
It is worth remembering that AYP does denote, well, "Progress." But LFA/RI is going further by explaining that insufficient progress in a few categories is enough to doom the overall rating of the school. They provide several examples of how the general label obscures the overall progress being made. Their ultimate goal is to "start focusing on the positive." Their case is compelling and adds a different perspective to our overall evaluation of the degree and pace of Rhode Island's effort to better it's education system.

Finally, while LFA/RI condemns the overly-simplistic classification system set up by No Child Left Behind, they say very little about the fact that the implementation of NCLB--flawed though it is--has given us a system of accountability such that we can measure the improvements LFA/RI now laud.

ADDENDUM: Incidentally, I was trying to find some stuff at the RI Dep't of Ed. web site and apparently the domain name has expired. What's going on, a budget crunch or something?

UPDATE: Via commenter Bob W., RI Dept of Ed is here... http://www.ride.ri.gov/

I think I knew that, but I tried the Google route and then the ri.gov route and both showed it as www.ridoe.net.

Chafee's (Last?) Day in the Sun

Marc Comtois

So former Senator Lincoln Chafee has endorsed Barack Obama, primarily, he says, because Obama (like Chafee himself) was against the Iraq War from the beginning. Can't say anyone should be surprised. As the ProJo reported last week, Chafee was leaning this way for a while and he has a book coming out that is critical of Democrats for rubber-stamping President Bush's "rush to war."

In his upcoming book, Against the Tide [due April 1 from St. Martin’s Press], Chafee excoriates congressional Democrats who voted in 2002 to give President Bush the authority to invade Iraq.

He writes: “Being wrong about sending Americans to kill and be killed, maim and be maimed, is not like making a punctuation mistake in a highway bill.” Some leading Democrats “argue that the president duped them into war, but getting duped does not exactly recommend their leadership. Helping a rogue president start an unnecessary war should be a career-ending lapse of judgment.”

Spare me any stories of Chafee being principled and all that. The guy was more than happy to take money from his former party in 2006. And this endorsement effectively places him in opposition to his "good friend" John McCain, a man who campaigned for Chafee back then. Once again, I guess loyalty is a one-way street in Chafee-land.

A Note Between Elections

Justin Katz

Amazingly, I'm still getting accused of being a Chafee supporter — this despite my having voted for Laffey in the primaries and Whitehouse in the general, just to get rid of the guy.

Granted, I had my reservations about Laffey, mainly because I thought it unwise to export his proclivities and skillset to the national level, and I didn't think he'd made the case for Rhode Island's doing so.

And now, at the beginning of '08, I note that Steve's still around and is widely expected to run for governor next time around. Well, folks, that gives us two years to let bygones be bygones.

The Baseball Steroid Thing

Marc Comtois

Yeah, I caught quite a bit of the dog-and-pony show that was the Congressional hearing on steroids. On one hand, I agree with those who wonder why Congress is wasting time and money looking into it. On the other, I'm glad they are wasting their time (if not the money) on this and not screwing something else up. As for what we learned? Well, that people lie, some better than others and sometimes liars tell the truth about their lying and sometimes they don't. If you believed Rogahhh or The Accuser going in, you probably felt the same way going out (though most people--and body language experts--think Rogahhh came off bad). The only burning question that remains: How the hell did this become a partisan issue, with all of the Republicans seemingly siding with Rogahhh and the Democrats siding with The Accuser?

"We Have Been This Young Before"

Justin Katz

Some interesting reading from Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic:

All this even before we attend to the elimination of poverty. And into this unirenic environment strides Obama, pledging to extract us promptly from Iraq and to negotiate with our enemies. What is the role of a conciliator in an unconciliating world? You might think that in such conditions he is even more of an historical necessity-but why would you think that all that stands between the world and peace is one man? George W. Bush was not single-handedly responsible for getting us into our strategic mess and Barack Obama will not be single-handedly responsible for getting us out of it. There are autonomous countries and cultures out there. The turbulence that I have described is not caused by misunderstandings. It is caused by the interests of powers and the beliefs of peoples. Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, Pyongyang, Islamabad, Gaza City, Khartoum, Caracas-does Obama really believe that he has something to propose to these ruthless regimes that they have not already considered? Does he plan to move them, to organize them, to show them change they can believe in? With what trick of empathy, what euphoria, does he hope to join the Shia, the Sunni, and the Kurds in Iraq? Yes, he made a "muscular" speech in Chicago last spring; but I have been pondering his remarks about foreign policy in the ensuing campaign and I do not detect the hardness I seek, the disabused tone that the present world warrants. My problem is not with "day one": nobody is perfectly prepared for the White House, though the memory of Bill Clinton's "learning curve" is still vivid, which in Bosnia and Rwanda cost more than a million lives. My problem is that Obama's declarations in matters of foreign policy and national security have a certain homeopathic quality. He seems averse to the hurtful, expensive, traditional, unedifying stuff.

February 13, 2008

Breaking Campaign News at the Katz Household

Justin Katz

John McCain just became the first candidate of the season to turn me off with an automated political telemarketing call just as we were succeeding in getting all the children to bed. Couldn't McCain-Feingold at least have done the good deed of preventing that?

For the Record

Justin Katz

I didn't make as directly a causal argument as Nandini Jayakrishna makes it sound in her Brown Daily Herald article as her final rendering makes it sound:

Though Maselli and Ucci said the bill is consumer-friendly, others think it might end up harming shoppers.

"Businesses are not just going to eat the cost of this legislation," said Justin Katz, who writes a conservative blog on Rhode Island politics called Anchor Rising. "They will pass on the cost to all consumers."

Katz, who criticized the bill in his blog, said such bills drive businesses out of the state.

"Rhode Island is driving out people with money year in and year out," he said. "In the past two years, half a billion dollars of taxable income has left the state."

Katz said a surcharge is the price customers pay for convenience and that a bill banning it reflects the "totalitarian mindset" of the legislators.

"I hope it doesn't pass this year again," he added.

But Ucci said it is "ludicrous" to think the legislation will force businesses to leave the state.

"That's crying wolf," he said. "If you see who is charging a surcharge - it's Providence Place Mall. It's not going to close."

Yes, it would be ludicrous to claim that businesses will have to close their doors and cross the border because they can no longer charge a couple of dollars extra for gift certificates. My point, as I emphasized here, was that, in response to Rep. Maselli's insistence that, if companies are losing money on the sale of gift certificates, they should just stop providing them. If a company finds that to be the case, but still sees a high demand for gift certificates, it will just pass the cost on to consumers one way or another.

The article goes on to quote local businesses that do not charge for gift certificates; indeed, one of them offers a 10% discount on them. That's because these boutique stores understand that they profit just by getting more people in the door. It's like a payment toward word-of-mouth advertising, and that's a wonderful approach. It seems to me that allowing larger companies — which have invested in brands in which gift recipients are specifically interested — to charge for gift certificates only benefits the smaller stores.

Bringing the Providence Place Mall into the picture doesn't help Ucci's point. The mall doesn't directly profit from offering a gift-certificate service. Now, one can argue (and I would do so, by the way) that the mall gift certificates attract people to the mall, and that those folks shopping and stopping by the food court encourage the stores to continue to pay the surely high rent. One can argue, that is, that it doesn't make business sense for companies to charge for gift certificates, but legislators in this state seem to have a very difficult time understanding that not everybody in the state works for them.

That is the totalitarian mindset that I'm decrying: under the guise of helping the helpless consumer, the legislators get to play dictators.

Congratulations to the Jerzyks

Marc Comtois

We see eye to eye on nary a thing, but Matt Jerzyk and I will have one thing in common very soon: fatherhood. Congrats to Matt and his wife on the impending birth of their first child. As proof that he has not yet gone through the birthing rite, Matt is apparently blogging from the delivery room. (Incidentally, he called it a "labor" room...no word yet on how Mrs. Jerzyk is "progress" - ing ... heh). Methinks his priorities may be about to change ... Anyway, "preemptive" congratulations and God bless to the Jerzyk family.

Update: (From Matt) COLIN BENJAMIN JERZYK born at 4:17pm at 8lbs. 15oz. Mother and son are doing great and resting at Women & Infants.

Sharing the Pain in Tiverton

Justin Katz

I don't support residency requirements for such public employees as teachers. It's nice to think that your children are being taught by your neighbors (as inaccurate as that characterization of fellow townspeople may be), but schools should find the best teachers they can, and teachers should be free to decide where to live.

That said, my disagreement with Tiverton School Committee member Leonard Wright about whether it's more fair to "set teachers back" based on benefits or to set taxpayers back based on taxes made me wonder how many of the town's teachers are in both groups. I offer these charts with no real conclusions attached; they're just interesting.

I'm curious what this data looks like for other towns. That information wouldn't happen to be centralized (or at least readily accessible) anywhere, would it?

Obama and the Teleprompter

Marc Comtois

Dean Barnett of the Weekly Standard took in a recent Obama speech and noted that the lack of a teleprompter changed the effectiveness and substance of Obama's typically soaring rhetoric:

The results weren't just interesting because they revealed Obama as a markedly inferior speaker without the Teleprompter. Obama's supporters have had ample notice that the scripted Obama is far more effective than the spontaneous one. The extremely articulate and passionate Obama that makes all the speeches has yet to show up at any of the debates. For such a gifted and energetic speaker, he is an oddly tongue-tied and indifferent debater.

What was especially noteworthy about his Virginia speech were the diversions Obama took from the prepared text. Because of Obama's improvised moments, this speech was different than the usual fare he offers. We didn't get the normal dosages of post-partisanship or even "elevation." Virtually every time Obama deviated from the text, he expressed the partisan anger that has so poisoned the Democratic party. His spontaneous comments eschewed the conciliatory and optimistic tone that has made the Obama campaign such a phenomenon. It looked like the spirit of John Edwards or Howard Dean had possessed Obama every time he vamped. While Paul Krugman probably loved it, this different Obama was a far less attractive one.

What makes Obama's Jefferson-Jackson speech especially relevant is where he went when he went off script. The unifying Obama who has impressed so many people during this campaign season vanished, replaced by just another angry liberal railing against George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Exxon Mobil, and other long standing Democratic piñatas. The pressing question that Obama's decidedly uninspiring Jefferson-Jackson oratory raises is which Obama is the real Obama--the one who read beautifully crafted words from a Teleprompter after his victory in Iowa, or the tediously angry liberal who improvised in Virginia?

Should he get the Democratic nomination, I expect "hope" we'll find out.

Letting Them Open the Door to Correction

Justin Katz

Dan Yorke was livid, yesterday, about attempts by General Assembly leaders to grease the legislative chute for the next budget. From the relevant Providence Journal story:

Although [House Majority Leader Gordon] Fox [D, Providence] withdrew one provision, the rule changes scheduled for House Rules Committee review following this afternoon's House session will contain several proposals opposed by House Republicans. They include limiting debate on budget-related votes and blocking members from introducing budget-related proposals already heard by a House committee, without the written permission of the Finance Committee chairman.

"That's going to cut off essentially all minority budget amendments," said Rep. John J. Loughlin, R-Tiverton. "That was one of the biggest ways we had of getting our issues out."

The committee discussion has been postponed for a couple of weeks, and I wonder whether it mightn't be counterproductive to try to stop the attempts of House Speaker Bill Murphy (D, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) to curtail our representatives' abilities. After all, the little dictators in the GA may be charging full bore at Article IV, Section 4, of the Constitution, which guarantees to all states "a Republican Form of Government." Maybe the feds will give us the gift of a redo order.

(Yeah, I'm half-kidding in a daydream. This rule change must die.)

February 12, 2008

Tough Decisions for the Tiverton School Committee

Justin Katz

Superintendent William Rearick of the Tiverton school district just announced that federal grant funding is being reduced $200,000. He's gone back through the budget and found $27,513 in reductions (e.g., $4,000 from high school textbooks). Another $77,464 can be saved by reducing a middle school Math Literacy position by 4/5.

Now begin the pleas for cuts to be found anywhere but where they look likely to be taken.

Teacher applause.

Well, look. The single largest chunk of the budget is their pay and benefits, and those are still under negotiation. In the private sector, when the company's revenue is dropping, at the very least, demands for raises, especially up to double-digits, would be entirely inappropriate.

The detriment of unionization is increasingly stark.

"Pain, Captain?"

Monique Chartier

Further to the remarks (the gift that keeps on giving) of Senator Stephen Alves at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce’s legislative lunch last week - specifically:

“I think we have been fair to the business community,” Alves, D-West Warwick, said. “The pain should be shared equally.”

Gosh, that sounds good in theory. The hitch is that, to date, distribution of the pain has been quite uneven, as the numbers starkly reveal.

Rhode Island taxpayers are the fourth highest taxed. Rhode Island corporations literally could not be in a worse position, tax-wise and, further, probably would like evidence of the fairness purportedly shown to them.

On the flip side, Rhode Island spending on social service programs is in the top third nationally. Rhode Island teacher pay (the ultimate destination of much of the Education Aid to Cities and Towns) ranks eighth highest nationally. And benefits for Rhode Island state employees constitute an additional 88% of salary versus 29% in the private sector.

In light of these numbers, it is understandable that the reaction of Rhode Island corporations to Senator Alves' statement would be, "Thanks, Senator, but we've been 'sharing' the pain for a while. Is it someone else's turn yet?"

Snow Storm Arrival - Update

Monique Chartier

They had said it would arrive at 2:00 pm this afternoon. Now it's projected to arrive at 6:00 pm, thereby pre-empting the opportunity for work day mayhem.

Nevertheless, this is the radar loop to track the storm.

And for those of us working until 6:00 or later today, here are DOT highway cameras to keep an on traffic, road conditions and to map our route home via bread-and-milk sources.

Look at the Consumption Gap Instead of the Income Gap

Marc Comtois
Income statistics, however, don’t tell the whole story of Americans’ living standards. Looking at a far more direct measure of American families’ economic status — household consumption — indicates that the gap between rich and poor is far less than most assume, and that the abstract, income-based way in which we measure the so-called poverty rate no longer applies to our society.
That's what W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas wrote in a compelling presentation in yesterday's NY Times (h/t). According to them (and referring to this chart helps):
The top fifth of American households earned an average of $149,963 a year in 2006. As shown in the first accompanying chart, they spent $69,863 on food, clothing, shelter, utilities, transportation, health care and other categories of consumption. The rest of their income went largely to taxes and savings.

The bottom fifth earned just $9,974, but spent nearly twice that — an average of $18,153 a year. How is that possible? A look at the far right-hand column of the consumption chart, labeled “financial flows,” shows why: those lower-income families have access to various sources of spending money that doesn’t fall under taxable income .... While some of these families are mired in poverty, many (the exact proportion is unclear) are headed by retirees and those temporarily between jobs, and thus their low income total doesn’t accurately reflect their long-term financial status.

So, bearing this in mind, if we compare the incomes of the top and bottom fifths, we see a ratio of 15 to 1. If we turn to consumption, the gap declines to around 4 to 1. A similar narrowing takes place throughout all levels of income distribution. The middle 20 percent of families had incomes more than four times the bottom fifth. Yet their edge in consumption fell to about 2 to 1.

Let’s take the adjustments one step further. Richer households are larger — an average of 3.1 people in the top fifth, compared with 2.5 people in the middle fifth and 1.7 in the bottom fifth. If we look at consumption per person, the difference between the richest and poorest households falls to just 2.1 to 1. The average person in the middle fifth consumes just 29 percent more than someone living in a bottom-fifth household.

They also explain that the quality of life we lead has been enhanced over the decades as products once too expensive for average families (cars, air conditioners, cell phones, homes) became more affordable as wages rose and prices dropped, which resulted in less time required to work to pay for these items. (Robert Rector at Heritage has made this point before). Finally, Cox and Alm take it one step further and also argue that globalization has been a net-plus contributor to this leveling effect.

Apparently, Watching the Horse Race is Easier

Marc Comtois

Blogging about Darrel West's latest poll yesterday, I mentioned that the Clinton/Obama race would probably get the major play. This morning, I see that both the ProJo and Ian at the Phoenix have taken that line and extended it to reporting on the approval ratings of various public officials as well as the right track/wrong track bit. Now, to be fair, there is a substantive difference between Ian blogging about the results and the ProJo reporting on it. That's why it's disappointing (if unsurprising) that the ProJo buried the answers to the question, "Which of the following items would you support or oppose to close this deficit," deep in their report.

As I mentioned yesterday, I think those answers are important insofar as they give our state officials a heads up on how the average Rhode Islander thinks we should solve our current fiscal mess. Then again, even West chose to focus on the "track" question versus the solutions preferred by the Rhode Island public...and he seemed a little disconnected from the results of his own poll:

“People’s assessments are influenced much more by what they are seeing in their personal circumstances … [than] how politicians try and spin the situation,” West said. “People are worried about the economy. They don’t like all of the budget proposals that have been put forward and they want better results than they are getting.”
Wha...? The Governor had to clean it up:
Carcieri chose to look at the upside. A statement issued by his office said: “By wide margins, Rhode Islanders support the Governor’s efforts to significantly reduce state personnel costs, to privatize state services, to reform the state welfare system and to make Medicaid more effective for Rhode Island seniors. And like the Governor, Rhode Islanders also oppose broad-based increases in the income and sales taxes.”
Finally, four paragraphs later--after sufficiently framing (or burying) the issue--the ProJo actually provides the answers to the poll question, which confirm that the public essentially does agree with the Governor's proposals . But that's less important than the popularity of various state officials in February, I guess.

Destination, Heaven

Justin Katz

Apparently, it presents a particularly acute public safety hazard to cause discomfort among those walking by abortion clinics, per these "legislative findings" (PDF):

  1. Preservation of public safety is a fundamental obligation of state government.
  2. Pedestrians have a right to travel peacefully on Rhode Island streets and sidewalks.
  3. Clearly defined boundaries around reproductive health care facilities will improve the ability of safety officials to protect the public

One suspects that the unwritten finding is that "regular protests are effective at persuading women not to abort their unborn children, and Planned Parenthood is losing business." Otherwise, the law (if necessary) could simply require all sidewalks (everywhere) to be passable and all businesses accessible. Instead, it declares that "no person shall knowingly enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk adjacent to a reproductive health care facility within a radius of one hundred feet (100') of any portion of an entrance to, exit from, or driveway of a reproductive health care facility."

It seems to me, by the by, that the exception for "persons using the public sidewalk or street right-of-way adjacent to such a facility solely for the purpose of reaching a destination other than such facility" provides a bit of a loophole. Even if a destination of Heaven wouldn't suffice in court, one could contrive destinations (e.g., cars or posters) on either side of the fatality facility.

February 11, 2008

Rhode Island's Corporate Tax is an Income Tax

Monique Chartier

Effectively, for nine out of ten corporations. Source: Senator Steve Alves.

Let's remember that the corporate tax (already $500 per year) is assessed regardless of profit generated by that corporation. If the corporation lost money, this tax must still be paid. So if, as Senator Alves asserts, 94% of corporations in Rhode Island are paying the minimum corporate tax, it's a good bet that most if not all are losing money or at best, breaking even. That means that the owners of over 90% of Rhode Island's corporations are reaching into their own pockets to pay this tax.

Reviewing once again Senator Alves' comments at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce's legislative luncheon:

Of the 45,840 corporations registered in Rhode Island, 94 percent pay only $500 in annual corporate income taxes to the state

The modifier "only" is inaccurate from the jump. Most Rhode Island corporations are not Coca Cola. So $500 is a lot of money. More importantly, it is grotesque for a legislator to imply that corporations are not paying their fair share when the basis of his accusation is a mandatory minimum tax payable regardless of profits. Essentially, Senator Alves is saying, "Look, they're paying $500 (that we're forcing them to pay). That must mean they can afford to pay more."

Senator Alves has confused the tax gun with affordability. Just because someone is forced to pay doesn't mean that they can afford to pay. Or that another waggle of the tax gun ("cough up more dough") is the correct course of action for a state which does not lack for revenue and already ranks dead last for business tax climate.

Latest Poll: Looks Like Rhode Islanders Get It...will the GA?

Marc Comtois

Darrell West is out with his latest poll. The headline grabber is apparently that Hillary is slightly ahead of Obama with the March primary coming up. Yeah, ok. However, the most interesting and important question is the last (emphasis added for those proposals that met with majority support):

The state faces a substantial deficit in its fiscal budget. By law, it is required to eliminate this deficit. Which of the following items would you support or oppose to close this deficit:

a) layoffs of state employees: 52% support, 36% oppose, 12% don’t know or no answer
b) an increase in the state income tax: 22% support, 71% oppose, 7% don’t know or no answer
c) reduction of state aid to local communities: 28% support, 60% oppose, 12% don’t know or no answer
d) raising the state sales tax: 23% support, 70% oppose, 7% don’t know or no answer
e) reducing state aid for local education: 18% support, 75% oppose, 7% don’t know or no answer
f) imposing a two-year time limit on welfare benefits: 71% support, 19% oppose, 10% don’t know or no answer
g) raising the capital gains tax: 42% support, 43% oppose, 15% don’t know or no answer
h) changing the public employee work week from 35 to 40 hours: 71% support, 19% oppose, 10% don’t know or no answer
i) reducing subsidized health care for low-income families: 24% support, 65% oppose, 11% don’t know or no answer
j) raising public employee contributions to their health care plans: 68% support, 23% oppose, 9% don’t know or no answer
k) adding furlough days without pay for public employees: 43% support, 43% oppose, 14% don’t know or no answer
l) raising income taxes on high-wage earners: 61% support, 31% oppose, 8% don’t know or no answer
m) making changes in Medicaid that would encourage senior citizens to use visiting nurses instead of nursing homes: 63% support, 24% oppose, 13% don’t know or no answer
n) privatizing housekeeping, janitorial, and dietary services at some state institutions: 55% support, 26% oppose, 19% don’t know or no answer

Of these, raising taxes on "high-wage earners" probably has the best chance of passing, huh? But I wonder if the General Assembly is listening. Or if they'll actually suffer the consequences in November if they aren't...

Taking Care of Rhode Island (In the Hit Man Sense)

Justin Katz

The business section of the Providence Journal was full of discouraging words, yesterday. Consider this from the dangerously clueless Senate Finance Committee Chairman Stephen Alves (D., West Warwick):

When I asked him afterward about his remarks, Alves said that state tax collections were down last month, compared not only with January 2007, but also with January 2006.

"This is getting larger and larger," he said of the state’s budget problem, "and passing it to cities and towns" isn't the way to go.

He said he doesn't favor increasing the state's personal income-tax rates. Nor does he favor raising the state's sales-tax rates (although he said he would consider "expanding the scope" of the sales tax).

What about raising the minimum corporate income tax? "It's certainly something we're looking at," he said.

For example, he said, raising the tax to $1,000, from the current $500, would mean an increase of about $10 a week for 94 percent of the companies that do business in Rhode Island, he said.

That seems reasonable, he said, especially given the deficits that Rhode Island is facing, and the costs that workers must shoulder, Alves said. "The pain has to be shared equally," he said.

Senate President Joseph Montalbano throws in increases to the flat-tax and the capital gains tax.

Then we get this gobbledegook from some URI electrical and computer engineering professor named Donald Tufts:

We need greater tax fairness in Rhode Island and a spirit of sharing and common sacrifices like that of the "Greatest Generation" of the 1940's. Then we can come through our state's difficult financial period, as we did during the credit union crisis. The present crisis, like the credit union failures, was caused by inappropriate special-interest legislation, which needs to be quickly reversed.

Only, by "special interests," Tufts doesn't mean unions and entitlement grabbers; he means the wealthy. You know, the few percent of Rhode Islanders who pay 40% of the taxes. People who are free to leave, as the residents in the income categories below them have been doing.

These folks have us on a course to find out just how much pain Rhode Island can share among its residents — at least those who pay the bills.

The Final Day

Justin Katz

Today is the final day to get in on our order of Anchor Rising sport shirts. (Although we'll welcome donations at any time throughout the year.) As I've said, we'll keep Anchor Rising going as long as we're able, simply out of passion and interest, but having greater resources at our disposal would dramatically broaden the range of things that we could accomplish.

If you're planning to donate $60 or more, send me an email (with your shirt size) before 4:00 this afternoon, and I'll add you to the list. That might also be a good idea if you've sent your donation through the mail within the past few days... just to make sure.

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.

Donations are not tax deductible. That means that we have to pay taxes on it, and that you can't claim it as a charitable contribution. However, it also means that we can write anything we want and that your identities are safe with us.

February 10, 2008

If There's No Free Ride, then Ride Away

Justin Katz

Maybe it's my irredeemable conservatism, but something about the news that the Providence-Newport ferry will be giving its swansong rides this year doesn't quite make sense to me:

The state's popular high-speed ferry from Providence to Newport, a breezy way to see the Bay from one end to the other, will end this fall, Rhode Island Public Transit Authority officials say.

The cause is the expiration of the last of a series of federal grants that the authority has used, sometimes imaginatively, to keep the seasonal service going. ...

Ridership hit 47,002 last year, its highest, he said. ...

The adult fare this season will be $8 one way and $16 for a roundtrip. Meanwhile, the federal government is paying $575,000 per year, Moscola said, for a total of $5.17 million. The operating loss last year was $107,000, according to preliminary RIPTA figures.

Adding the feds' contribution and last year's operating loss leaves RIPTA $682,000 short. Divided among last year's ridership, that's $14.51 per person. The article reads as if "ridership" measures either tickets or people, so the cost per one-way trip would actually be less. If it's such a wonderful ride, why not try increasing the ticket price?

Why, put another way, do folks around here seem to look at everything as subsidized perks that must be financed by others rather than as valuable services for which users should be willing to pay?

Which Way the Population Blows

Justin Katz

With the numbers debate becoming increasingly involved, and now that it is clear that we RI bloggers are no longer merely talking among ourselves, I thought to expand my examination of population and wealth trends in Rhode Island. The most straightforward method is to start where I began with my proclamations of middle-to-upper-class flight from the state:

As I've explained before, this chart shows that, from 2005 to 2006, Rhode Island lost about 30,000 people whose households had been over three times the poverty level (roughly $60,000 for a family of four), and almost 22,000 over twice poverty. As a matter of personal history, I made limited use of this information until, at the tail end of December, WPRO's Matt Allen spurred me to look again, at which point I was actually surprised at how high the number had been.

Of particular concern, as I began to broaden my inquiry, was the observation that, stepping back a year, from 2004 to 2005, the number over five times poverty actually grew 22,058, over three times poverty 21,754, and over two times poverty 21,166. In other words, 2005 saw a spike at the high end, and although the 2004–2006 results still show losses of 2,498 (5x), 6,495 (3x), and 471 (2x), I have to admit that I had begun charging as if I carried a sharper sword than I actually held.

Unfortunately, 2004 was the first year for which the Census broke out the income to poverty ratio with such a degree of granularity. However, the income to poverty ratio is provided up to twice poverty beginning in 2002, with the following results:

Whether it has something to do with the measurement of the statistics or actual events in the state, I haven't been able to determine. It is clear, though, that the spike in 2005 was more the oddity than the plunge in 2006. Trying to explain the data, I turned to U.S. Census household income data.

As is plain, the spike was specifically among households earning between $100,000 and $199,999 in the twelve months before the 2005 survey. For a view that highlights the range on which we've been focusing thus far, the following chart zooms in on households with incomes over $50,000.

By the numbers, households with incomes over $75,000 per year (which one can very roughly compare with three times poverty) increased 12,364 from 2004 to 2005 and 5,032 from 2005 to 2006. Households with incomes over $100,000 per year (which one can somewhat more accurately compare with five times poverty) increased 14,092 from 2004 to 2005 and 23 from 2005 to 2006. Although both groups advanced more slowly in 2006 than 2005, all of the numbers are still positive.

However, factoring in household size helps align this data with the income to poverty ratio data above: From 2004 to 2005, married households earning over $100,000 per year increased 11,048, but from 2005 to 2006, they decreased 815. All of that decrease came from married with kids households, which only increased 6,007 in 2005 and which decreased 1,033 in 2006. What I'm getting at is that the decrease on the household income chart came in large part from families, whereas the income to poverty ratio data is individuals whose households have that much income. That doesn't explain all of the difference, but it does describe one ripple in the wave.

Because the clincher of this post (as long in coming as it's already been) comes via IRS data, let me offer the related figures from that data set. Perhaps the most significant finding is the support that the comparison lends to the hypothesis that families are partly (maybe mostly) responsible for erraticism of the income and income to poverty ratio trends. Lower income households are less numerous than lower income returns, while the opposite is true at higher incomes, which would happen if couples filed separately or households had a third income earner.

Don't forget, when comparing these to the Census charts, that the IRS has not yet released data for 2006, so the downturn is not present in the data.

And now, without further delay, here — purchased with a small percentage of readers' generous donations over the past couple of weeks — is the data that ought to simply end the conversation about what's happening and propel the conversation about what we ought to do about it.

Lest disbelief lead you to doubt your reading ability, the chart does indeed show net losses in tax returns of 1,818 from 2003 to 2004, 3,869 from 2004 to 2005, and 4,427 from 2005 to 2006. The corresponding loss in citizens' adjusted gross income over that total period was indeed $513,117,000, and to the surprise of nobody who's read the above, 2005 marked a huge increase in that amount.

One might surmise, although my research hasn't gotten far enough to state it as more than a theory, that the leap in "wealthy" citizens in 2005 was the result of houses sold in the course of leaving the state. The migration data is attributed to the year in which the return was filed (i.e., the year after the income in question), while the Census data is income over the previous twelve months for a survey that took place throughout the year, so both would be in keeping with a large burst of income at some point during 2004 and 2005 and tax returns filed in 2005 and 2006.

As one final piece of the puzzle (for now), I compared the average AGIs of those coming to the state from and leaving it for the five counties in Massachusetts and Connecticut that are right across the border. These populations, it seems to me, are the most likely to include migrants who either work in or have close ties to the areas that they are leaving. They might include, among other groups, low-income families pursuing Rhode Island's extended benefits (incoming) and workers who just can't take the taxes and poor infrastructure of their home state (outgoing).

I suppose the shadow of doubt is in the eye of the beholder, but it would take quite a bit of argument to persuade me that middle-class and above citizens of Rhode Island — especially families — are not loudly declaring — by placing their families beyond the tax collector's reach — that they will not accept the likely solutions of the General Assembly to our financial crisis.

Now what do we do about it?


One factor on the table that I didn't address above is the Phoenix Marketing data that has Rhode Island climbing from the 20th highest percentage of millionaires to the 17th. Thus far, I've mostly pointed out that our neighbors, Connecticut and Massachusetts, are consistently in the top 5, and some have suggested that we can't make that comparison. However, upon closer inspection, it turns out that Rhode Island's "improvement" was largely due to the number of non-millionaire households that have left. (We also have a discouraging foretaste of the likely results of Census and IRS data collection for 2006 and 2007.)

2006 2007 Change
Total households 428,941 424,216 -4,725
Millionaire households 20,229 22,550 +2,321
Millionaire % of total 4.72% 5.32% +0.6%
Rank 20 17 +3

If Rhode Island had not lost 1.1% of its households from 2006 to 2007 — that is, if its household population had remained the same — then millionaire households would have accounted for 5.26% of the total, which would have put us right back in slot #20, just keeping pace with national trends, perhaps because of some of the very policies that the progressives and the Democrats are heaving onto the chopping block.

February 9, 2008

Najarian: The Providence Journal Statehouse Bureau Strikes Again

Monique Chartier

The ProJo reported on Thursday:

Governor Carcieri has withdrawn his nomination of Beverly Najarian for reappointment as director of the Department of Administration less than 24 hours before she was supposed to face a Senate committee hearing and confirmation vote.

The article went on to strongly imply that Governor Carcieri had done so because he and Ms. Najarian were fearful of a difficult confirmation hearing.

Friday morning, an exasperated Bev Najarian appeared on the John Depetro Show (am 630 WPRO) confirming that nothing could be further from the truth and that she had asked to be removed from consideration for reappointment over a year ago.

This morning, the ProJo took another whack at the matter. While continuing to hypothesize about difficult matters that Ms. Najarian might have faced at a confirmation hearing that was not going to take place, they did include this time a statement from the subject of their article:

“In all honesty, a year ago December I had made a decision that I did not want to continue in this particular office. I had served here four years, I loved the job, but I wanted to play another role,” said Najarian, who is paid $113,631 a year. “Since that time, two of my key lieutenants, Brian Stern went to work as [the governor’s] chief of staff, Jerry Williams went to DOT. Therefore there was not a viable candidate. Either one of those gentlemen could have assumed my position.

This incident was preceded by the contention last week that the Governor had declared war on Rhode Island nursing homes (or some such silliness) which had been preceded by other reporting mis-fires. As such inaccurate but satisfyingly sensationalist-toned articles are usually followed the next day by a corrected reference in a related article or even an entire corrective article, management of the Providence Journal may want to implement a twenty four hour cooling off period for stories promulgated by certain reporters in their Statehouse bureau. That seems to be about how long it takes to assemble the truth.

The Percent of the Percent, or the Additional Percentage?

Justin Katz

It's good to see that the gatekeepers over at RI Future have allowed somebody actually to address the points that I'm making (as opposed to making distinct points and scoffing at whatever it was that some right-winger was saying elsewhere). That somebody turned out to be sometime Anchor Rising commenter Thomas Schmeling, and his argument is that my analysis of Rhode Island's, Massachusetts's, and Connecticut's increases in $200,000-earners measures the wrong thing. I encourage readers interested in the debate to read Schmeling's lucid post in its entirety before returning to my reply, below.

As well as Schmeling has illustrated the differences in approach between Crowley's/the Poverty Institute's/ITEP's statistics and mine, when it comes to arguing that one or the other is more useful or applicable to RI's current situation, it seems to me that he just swirls the water. He posits two identical states, both increasing the percentage of their populations earning over $200,00 per year at 10% annually, with one starting from a smaller proportion. He then states that the one's "lag is because, and only because, its starting point was lower." But the "only because" is the assumption under contention. I say again: when you're talking about a number of anything that doesn't self-multiply — households, in this case — it's easier to double 1% than to double 2%.

Ask yourself this (answers may differ): If I were to say that an economic boom is coming that would benefit all states equally, which of the following circumstances would you believe me to be describing?

  • The percentage of every state's population earning over $200,000 per year would increase at exactly the same rate.
  • An equal percentage of every state's population would advance into the $200,000 per year category.

Admittedly, the question is contrived; in reality you'd probably expect the boom to raise every state's average by the same percentage. In that case, according to the IRS data, Massachusetts's average AGI increased 40.31% from 1997 to 2005, while Rhode Island's increased only 34.94%.

But of the two options targeting the rich, I'd choose the latter, because (for the most part) rich people don't multiply; rather, others join their ranks. The economic boom doesn't cause the wealthy to bifurcate as might some chemical in a petri dish of amoebas; rather, it creates circumstances in which... umm... new amoebas can enter the petri dish.

Schmeling is correct that, "if RI's growth rate is larger then MA's, as it is in reality now, it must eventually catch up, even though in the early years MA appears to be pulling away." But that requires Rhode Island to add an ever-larger number of people to the group each year, to keep up its percentage. Moreover, the formulation implies that both will eventually reach 100%, which isn't a plausible percentage of the population for "The Rich" to reach.

Of course, it's very plausible that everybody who works will eventually earn at least the specific dollar amount of $200,000, because of inflation. To illustrate how this new consideration works into the discussion, I'll switch to U.S. Census data, because it breaks the population into narrower categories, although the relevant information is only available from 2002 to 2006.

According to InflationData.com, the inflation rate from 2002 through 2006 was 13.95%, which means that $200,000 in 2006 was equivalent to $175,515 in 2002. Assuming that households were spread evenly across the $150,000–$200,000 category, it's reasonable to suggest that, as a pure matter of inflation, the number of households over $200,000 in 2006 should have been the number of households in that category in 2002 plus one-half of the households in the lower category in that year. The following figure illustrates how this result compares with the actual change:

The red column above "inflation only" is the percentage of the households earning over $200,000 in 2006 if nobody did anything to advance their income beyond inflation and if everybody who entered the state during that period had incomes below that amount. Any citizens sufficiently surpassing inflation and any immigrants above the $200,000 mark would have increased the column, and as you can see, the actual results were lower than the purely inflationary results.

It's interesting to note — and indicative of this illustration's lack of practical utility — that Massachusetts actually fared worse by this measure. Schmeling might want to claim that note as evidence for his argument — that it is in keeping with RI's better growth rate in the highest-income category (the state came closer to matching inflation) — but I'd suggest that it ultimately supports just the opposite conclusion.

For one thing, using Schmeling's preferred measure — the rate of growth — even the pure inflation result favors Rhode Island. Rhode Island's wealthy group would have grown 70% to Massachusetts's 57%.

For another, consider the Phoenix Marketing data recently introduced into the comment discussion on Anchor Rising. In 2006, 5.64% of Massachusetts households were millionaires, in the sense that they had $1 million readily available in liquid assets. Rhode Island's percentage was 4.72. This difference brings to the fore the reality that Massachusetts's wealthy class outstrips Rhode Island's in ways beyond the reach of inflation. A state with a higher percentage of citizens over the $200,000 line has a smaller pool from which to draw improvement.

Which brings us back to dough.

Yes, obviously people can slip below the $200,000 line or withdraw themselves from the state altogether. The point is, however, that it's more relevant (in my view) to observe the additional percentage of the population that crosses the line than to calculate the rate at which the category is growing.


I expect Schmeling to point out, with respect to the Phoenix Marketing data, that Rhode Island improved its nationwide rank on the millionaires list more than Massachusetts did in 2007. I'd respond with a whoop-dee-doo that RI climbed from 20th place to 17th when both of its neighbors have consistently been top 5, and then I'd promise that this finding will be incorporated into the post with which I intend to move on from the esoteric distraction of how to measure categorical increases.

A Surcharge of Dictatorship

Justin Katz

Last year, I referred to legislation to ban surcharges on gift certificates as going "the extra totalitarian mile," and the intrepid Senator Chris Maselli (D, Johnston) has put on his cross-country jackboots again this year:

When Rhode Island enacted legislation a few years ago prohibiting all gift cards and certificates sold in the state from including any maintenance fees or expiration dates, the word "surcharge" was not included in the law's language and therefore not expressly prohibited.

Businesses being ever innovative, some firms dutifully abided by the prohibition on maintenance "fees," only to replace those with a "surcharge." Providence Place Mall gift cards, for instance, suddenly had a $2.50 surcharge added.

Sen. Christopher B. Maselli (D-Dist. 25, Johnston) tried to stop the practice last year when he introduced legislation to ban any person, firm or corporation from adding a surcharge of any kind relating to gift certificates or gift cards. The bill was held in committee for further study.

Senator Maselli is trying again this year, and for the same reason, he says, that he sponsored the bill last year. "If you sell someone a $50 gift card and you receive $50 from the purchaser, what's the point of charging more except pure and simple greed? If you are a business and you're losing money by selling gift cards, then stop selling them. But don't continue to find new ways to take the consumer for more than is fair," he said.

Got that? Customers increasingly want to purchase gift cards, probably because they provide the added value of avoiding purchases of gifts that the recipients don't really want (saving awkwardness and time spent in returns), and Maselli would prefer that businesses cease to offer this service rather than recoup the cost of providing it. The production and distribution of the card itself, the clerk's time spent processing its purchase, the clerk's time spent processing its use, and all of the paperwork entailed — the store must accept these costs as a matter of charity in the name of fairness.

That a senator (a lawyer, no less) would follow this train of thought right up to the big black hole of his own cluelessness in a press release (as opposed to an off-the-cuff remark in a live interview) illustrates how freely our state's governing class will seek to codify into law its every petulant whim. One can't help but link these small instances of poorly considered overreaching with our state's looming collapse. They're like the mild symptom of a dangerous disease — markers of a pernicious political philosophy that ultimately kills its host.


Just so the point isn't lost, though, let me state clearly that even if a store seeks to profit to a huge degree through its gift card services, it has every right to do so. Customers always have the option of negating the need for them by taking a variety of steps, from getting to know gift recipients better to taking them out shopping to simply writing checks. Of course, if this legislation passes, they may also have the option of driving to Massachusetts or Connecticut to pay the surcharge for gift certificates.

Environmentalists Mugged by Reality

Justin Katz

This article would have been noteworthy based simply on pure irony:

The rush to grow biofuel crops -- widely embraced as part of the solution to global warming -- is actually increasing greenhouse gas emissions rather than reducing them, according to two studies published Thursday in the journal Science.

One analysis found that clearing forests and grasslands to grow the crops releases vast amounts of carbon into the air -- far more than the carbon spared from the atmosphere by burning biofuels instead of gasoline. ...

Even converting existing farmland from food to biofuel crops increases greenhouse gas emissions as food production is shifted to other parts of the world, resulting in the destruction of more forests and grasslands to make way for farmland, the second study found.

But comments by University of Minnesota economist and ecologist Jason Hill (whose political persuasion I do not know) transform it into an emblematic text:

"We're rushing into biofuels, and we need to be very careful," said Jason Hill, an economist and ecologist at the University of Minnesota who co-authored the study. "It's a little frightening to think that something this well intentioned might be very damaging."

Yes. It's a frightening road between where you want to arrive and how you have to get there.

Four Reasons to Stick to Coursework

Justin Katz

Sadly, it seems unlikely that Brown philosophy professor Felicia Nimue Ackerman's attitude is the majority one on American (at least New England) campuses. Here are four reasons that she didn't "devote a portion of class time" on a particular week "to teach about climate change":

Reason 1: Climate change is not what students signed up to study in my courses. ...

Reason 2: I am unqualified to teach about climate change. ...

Reason 3: My students can have better opportunities to learn about climate change. ...

Reason 4: I do not think climate change is the most important social problem in the world.

No doubt Ms. Ackerman and most Anchor Rising readers would have strong disagreements about any number of things, but her attitude certainly establishes a shared principle on which to build further discussion.

Meet the Unions: A Sham Commission

Justin Katz

I don't suspect that it will take long for Anchor Rising readers to figure out what group isn't represented on the following list of folks on House Speaker Bill Murphy's pension study group:

According to the speaker’s office, the panel, when fully assembled, will include: Representatives Nicholas A. Mattiello, D-Cranston; Gregory J. Schadone, D-North Providence; Elaine A. Coderre, D-Pawtucket; Steven John Coaty, R-Newport; John J. Loughlin II, R-Tiverton; Peter L. Lewiss, D-Westerly; Mark Dingley, chief of staff to the state treasurer; state police Inspector Stephen Bannon; accountants Grafton “Cap” Willey of Tofias Rhode Island and Edward Sullivan of KPMG; George Nee, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO; J. Michael Downey, president Council 94, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees; Robert A. Walsh Jr., executive director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island; District Court Judge Elaine Bucci; Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline; Cumberland Mayor Daniel J. McKee; lawyer Jeffrey A. Mega from Hinkley, Allen & Snyder; and lawyer David C. Morganelli from Partridge, Snow and Hahn to represent the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.


One thing in particular concerns me: that Murphy put Coaty and Loughlin on the commission in order that they might be steamrolled behind closed doors, but still give the results the imprimatur of a bipartisan group.

February 8, 2008

Looking for a Good Beer?

Marc Comtois

If your looking for a good quality beer sometime over the weekend, Ian may have some pointers for you as he discusses Rhode Island's contributions to the burgeoning craft beer movement. He also places craft beer making (and imbibing) into a wider social and cultural context:

... the craft beer movement represents meritocracy at work, since small brewers — thanks to the quality of their products and the ensuing consumer demand — are succeeding in an industry still dominated by the majors. In this respect, supporting the efforts of small brewers, even if many drinkers might not think of it just so, is a pint-sized vote for variety.
Plus it tastes good. Cheers!

What Harm Could Four Years Do?

Justin Katz

Cliff May has a point:

This year's election will be unusually consequential. In 2006, Democrats regained control of both houses of Congress. Democrats also now hold a majority of governors' mansions and state legislatures. The left long has been regnant on America's campuses, in the mainstream news media, in the entertainment industry, and in the unions.

A Clinton or Obama victory would put all levers of power into the same hands. What would Democratic -party bosses do with that? How about statehood for Washington, D.C., which would provide two new Democratic votes in the Senate? How about appointing judges who regard the Constitution as clay, and using immigration policy to expand the Left's electoral margins? These and other creative maneuvers could create an anti-conservative majority that would last a generation or more.

Most worrisome of all: Americans today are engaged in a conflict as serious as any we have ever fought. Romney and McCain get that. Perhaps Hillary Clinton does, too, though you wouldn't know it from anything she's said recently. But does Barack Obama? Or does he think it's all a big misunderstanding, one that can be resolved through talk, appeasement, global anti-poverty programs and a sincere effort to make ourselves inoffensive to those sworn to destroy us?

Thinking hard about such questions over the months ahead would be not just alright; it would be commendable — and conservative.

The Chill Up Rhode Island's Spine

Justin Katz

Legislators — even those who are trying to sound conciliatory to RI businesses — are making some scary noises:

Stephen D. Alves, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, suggested yesterday that lawmakers may raise business taxes to balance the state budget.

The remarks, at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce's high-profile legislative luncheon, ran counter to what had appeared to be a growing consensus at the State House regarding personal and corporate income taxes.

"I think we have been fair to the business community," Alves, D-West Warwick, said. "The pain should be shared equally."

High on my list of priorities for this weekend is to roll out some research that (I think) prove that to be a very bad idea and even making the suggestion to be a detrimental action. But there are other possibilities that we have to watch out for:

Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, pledged to study consolidating school services, such as busing, student lunches and health insurance for teachers.

Paiva Weed also defended controversial limits on annual property tax increases. To help cities and towns cope, she said, the state plans to pay closer attention to spending by local school departments.

Consolidating health insurance under the watch of the union-controlled state government is tantamount to protecting the benefit from the gravity of the private sector's reality. They'll just try to shuffle the money around a bit less visibly. And "closer attention to spending by local school departments"? I'm sure I'm not alone in my utter lack of confidence that the state would be any better than the local school committees at promoting the correct priorities; they'll just be less reachable by the taxpayers.

At What Point...

Justin Katz

... do they get tired of their own rhetoric? More importantly, at what point does everybody start to catch on?

I'm referring to the comments of Anne Nolan, president of Crossroads Rhode Island, with which Charles Bakst ended his column, yesterday:

I said Carcieri is well educated and asked Nolan what she thinks his problem is. She said, "I sometimes think that it's an easy target, to target people that don't have much of a voice."

Don't have much of a voice? These people have a megaphone. If they're poor, they attract advocates. If they're immigrants, they attract advocates. If they're Democrats, they attract advocates. If they're progressives, they attract advocates. They've got friends in the academy, in the churches, in the domineering party in our state government, and obviously, in the media.

One need look no farther than the headline just a few inches away from Bakst's photo in the paper:

Youth group seeks an apology

The Providence Youth Student Movement calls on Sue Carcieri to apologize for comments she made last month.

And where were those comments trumpeted, to start the calls from the "voiceless"? Why, in a Charles Bakst column. And they were in response to accusations of "racism" published in Karen Lee Ziner's coverage of a protest. If these kids are so voiceless, why does the governor's wife appear to be on the defensive?

Don't get me wrong (turning back to the housing issue); I'm thankful that there are people trying to help the poor to find housing and resources. I support them in that cause. But I can't see any other moral course than to oppose them as they — in a coordinated way — seek the easy target of the Rhode Island taxpayers.

Re: Jim Haldeman for State Representative, District 35

Monique Chartier

[Some images from the Super-Tuesday results party hosted by the Haldeman campaign.]


RI House Minority Leader Robert Watson and House candidate James Haldeman


Former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey and candidate Haldeman.


RI Rep. John Loughlin (right) looks on as Leader Watson is interviewed by RIReport’s Tom Shevlin.

February 7, 2008

Now We're Getting Lost Somewhere

Justin Katz

I think they're managing to bring Lost back from the dead.

That is all.

It's McCain's Party (You Can Cry if You Want To)

Marc Comtois

Mitt Romney has "suspended" his campaign (ie; he's done, via Byron York):

I disagree with Senator McCain on a number of issues, as you know. But I agree with him on doing whatever it takes to be successful in Iraq, on finding and executing Osama bin Laden, and on eliminating Al Qaeda and terror. If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.

This is not an easy decision for me. I hate to lose. My family, my friends and our supporters... many of you right here in this room... have given a great deal to get me where I have a shot at becoming President. If this were only about me, I would go on. But I entered this race because I love America, and because I love America, I feel I must now stand aside, for our party and for our country.

Classy move. Hey, it was obvious McCain was going to win, but Romney had the money to keep in the fight. Let's see what Mike Huckabee does next. Anyone wanna bet he hangs on a while longer? Methinks he likes the spotlight.

Time and Money

Justin Katz

My posting rate has been considerably lower this week in part because I've been neck-deep in statistics — some of the data purchased with our newly created expense account. We owe that luxury to those of you who've been so kind as to donate.

That being the case, it's worth mentioning that you have only five more days to get in on our Anchor Rising shirt order.

I should also mention something that I thought I'd left tacked at the end of each of these posts: your donations are not tax deductible. That means that we have to pay taxes on it, and that you can't claim it as a charitable contribution. However, it also means that we can write anything we want and that your identities are safe with us.

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.

Rescuing Providence, Rescuing Everywhere

Carroll Andrew Morse

Throughout his book Rescuing Providence chronicling an emergency medical services shift in the city of Providence, Lt. Michael Morse never shies away from offering social commentary relevant to the calls that he and his partners Mike and Renato answer. Here's an example, from page 69…

The Charlesgate apartments are another high-rise. Elderly residents are still the majority here, but younger, disabled people are quickly filling the apartments. When drug and alcohol addiction became an official disability, a lot of younger people flocked to these places…This program designed to help has gone horribly wrong.
After finishing the book, I was left with some questions about the overall state of firefighting and rescues and society-in-general that I thought Lt. Morse might like to comment on…

Anchor Rising: A constant theme throughout Rescuing Providence is how rescues are overworked and more difficult to staff than the regular fire crews, yet large fire crews have to be maintained to respond to the big emergencies that will arise a few times every year. Is there anything that can be done to utilize the department's resources more effectively?

Lieutenant Michael Morse: Tough question. The knee jerk response would be to take people from the fire trucks to staff the rescues. There would be fewer firefighters, more ambulances, but further thought makes you think how wrong it would be to take away from an effective fire fighting force to fill the needs of another division and hope that nothing happens.

A fire company (the people on the truck at any given time) is a well-trained force. Fires don’t just go out, people don’t just get extricated from crashed cars, and poisonous chemicals don’t just go away when leaked, CPR doesn’t just happen. We train on how to respond as a unit. Taking one of more people from that unit to man another vehicle because of need reduces the effectiveness of the entire fire department, not to mention safety issues for the firefighters.

In a perfect world we would have all the resources we need, and be able to pay for them. In reality, we make due with what we have and hope for a better day. Been doing a lot of hoping, don’t see much help over the horizon. The administration wants to take firefighters off of the fire trucks to man the rescues. They know there is a severe shortage. The firefighters, the ones actually doing the training and work don’t want to give that manpower up.

AR: Related questions: fire departments (along with police departments and nursing staffs) reflect the best American tradition of willingness to drop everything rush to the aid of people in need. Yet in recent times, the system set up to handle the emergencies that occur in a big, impersonal city gets regularly abused by people who think it's "free" (I believe you call it the red-and-white taxi service) and who don't understand their role in keeping it effective, e.g. not making stupid calls, driving a friend to the hospital when it's a non-emergency, etc.) Is this problem becoming worse, and, again, how can things be made better?

MM: I could go all day. People have no idea that there are limited resources. They think, call 911 and the government has to come. We do the best we can, but it is getting ridiculous. Nobody stops people from calling 911 for rides. There should be some punishment for abusing the system, but society has denigrated to a point where nobody cares about much of anything-except themselves. It’s awful to see, but worse to see them get away with it. I’ve seen the blank stares on people’s faces who have called 911 so they would get in faster for their sore throat when I turn up the portable radio and tell them to listen as somebody else in their neighborhood suffering from chest pains, or a possible stroke or whatever waits for a rescue to come from Lincoln, Warwick, Cranston etc. They just don’t care.

AR: You see a broader swath of Providence than most. In Rescuing Providence, you write about calls involving street people, college students, long-time residents in their homes, elderly residents in high-rises, bad drivers on route 95, and many others. Seeing all these different in the course of a day, do you feel like you're dealing with one society with many faces that has the power to pull itself together if it could figure out how, or are there different, isolated societies all trying to occupy the same space?

MM: I love this question. A few years ago I thought we might be able to pull together and work it out, now I’m not so sure. There are different worlds out there, and nobody makes an attempt to understand the world other than their own. Racism is rampant, not just in white who people pretend to like everybody but hold on the prejudices as well as anybody, but in Black people and Hispanic people and Asian people too. I sometimes wonder how we are holding it all together. The things I see I truly can’t believe are happening five minutes down the road from my home. There is an attitude of corruption that can be felt in the inner neighborhoods. “What can we get from “the man?” seems to be sport. There is no shame in getting handouts; rather it is considered bounty, and something to be proud of. You are a chump if you aren’t getting yours. Terrible.

This whole new marriage initiative by Carcieri is so out of touch I can’t believe it. The people he is aiming at want nothing to do with what we consider marriage. A lot of them are already married in their home countries, or are married in their own eyes and the eyes of their family and friends. There is no way they will give up what they believe is theirs for the taking by getting married. No way. Babies aren’t always “mistakes,” but too-often are planned events to further income and solidify a position here.

AR: Finally, I have to ask you a inside-the-writer's-studio question: When you decide to write about a call, does the narrative pop into your head all at once, or do one or two details stand out, with the rest getting filled in later? And where do you find the time?

MM: I usually dwell on things for a day or two, then start to write about it, sometimes in outline form sometimes just the way I think. The things I finish I put in my blog, the outline stuff kind of hangs around until I lose it. That’s the truth, if I didn’t write a little bit of my book every day for a year I would have lost the entire thing. I learned a lot while writing that book. Organization is everything. I can and do forget and lose things that were excellent, in my opinion anyway. I usually write in fifteen-minute increments, sometimes once, sometimes several times a day. Every now and then something tales over and I go for a couple of hours. I wish that happened more often.

Early Views of Islamofascism

Carroll Andrew Morse

Anyone who thinks the idea of Islamofascism is a recent invention will be surprised by the series of quotes from early 20th century intellectuals linking Islam with totalitarianism upturned by Providence-area native Andrew Bostom.

Here's a quote from Carl Jung, described by Bostom as the "founder of analytical psychiatry"…

We do not know whether Hitler is going to found a new Islam. He is already on the way; he is like Muhammad. The emotion in Germany is Islamic; warlike and Islamic. They are all drunk with wild god. That can be the historic future.
Mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell, on the other hand, suggested in the 1920s that Islam's sympathies lied more naturally with Communism…
Among religions, Bolshevism is to be reckoned with Mohammedanism rather than with Christianity and Buddhism. Christianity and Buddhism are primarily personal religions, with mystical doctrines and a love of contemplation. Mohammedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of this world.
These aren't fringe yahoos being quoted -- these were well-respected scholars in their fields (though not necessarily experts on political philosophy). Dr. Bostom pretty well establishes that multiple observers from the early and middle part of this century noted a totalitarian streak in the public expressions of Islam that they were exposed to.

However, I'm not sure that these kinds of quotes advance the central debate surrounding the nature of Islamofascism, whether Islamofascism is a natural outgrowth of the Islamic belief system (which I believe is Dr. Bostom's position), or a modern fascist movement that has adopted the trappings of religion to hide its totalitarian nature and broaden its appeal.

That everyone -- entire religions included -- had to be placed on one side or another by those who lived through the battles between Fascism, Communism and liberal Democracy in the 1920s and 1930s probably tells us more about the state of Western political philosophy at that time than it does about the development of either Islamofascism or Islam.

Reactions to the McCain Juggernaut

Carroll Andrew Morse

With John McCain's lead in the campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination now looking nearly insurmountable, Tom Shevlin of RI Report and MTV has recorded an interview with one of Rhode Island's earliest and biggest McCain supporters, House Minority Leader Robert Watson...

Rep. Watson argues that Republicans, especially in New England, should support McCain because he is a moderate.

Meanwhile, in a National Review Online article, Mac Owens argues that Republicans should consider backing McCain despite his lack of conservative credentials…

McCain is far superior to the Democratic contenders on the basis of character and virtue. For instance, once the North Vietnamese found out that McCain was the son of the U.S. military commander in the Pacific theater, which included Vietnam, they offered him the chance to go home before his POW comrades. Had he accepted, it would have been a great propaganda coup for the Vietnamese communists. But he refused. That’s character and it ought to mean something even to those who are not convinced of his conservative bona fides.

February 6, 2008

Jim Haldeman for State Representative, District 35

Carroll Andrew Morse

Jim Haldeman, Marine Corps Veteran, Iraq War Veteran, American Airlines Pilot, former PTA President, husband, and father, will again run as a Republican for State Representative in Rhode Island's 35th district for the seat currently held by Democrat John Patrick Shanley. Having seen Rhode Island politics up close in his first campaign, Jim is a natural person to ask about the challenges created by Rhode Island's sometimes frustrating economic and political habits. I posed the question last evening, during the Super-Tuesday results party hosted by the Haldeman campaign...

Anchor Rising: The feeling that the Rhode Island legislature has brought the state to the brink of fiscal collapse seems to be spreading. On the other hand, having run for State Rep before, you know that RI seems to love its incumbents. What's the hope for a real change this time around?

Jim Haldeman: There's going to be a change when I get elected from District 35. We've got a great support group here in the district and from the state party, from the Governor all the way down. The shot across the bow was Steve Coaty's election from Newport. People are starting to get an understanding that we've got to start thinking differently here in Rhode Island, that we've got to change the one-party system.

AR: And after you get elected?

JH: It is no big secret that we need to change the tax rates. We need to stay competitive with our neighboring states. Governor Carcieri has been trying to wine and dine businesses in the math and science and engineering fields to try to get them to move to Rhode Island, but it's not that big of a deal to get them here. Actually, it's simple, but the General Assembly is making it hard.

Businesses should like it here in Rhode Island. They'd be able to ally themselves with our great colleges and universities. And that would encourage the kids who are graduating to stay here in Rhode Island. But right now, they have to bug out, because there's nothing to stay for but state jobs. That's the bottom line. Massachusetts has got the jobs. Connecticut has got the jobs. Rhode Island doesn't. So where do you think our young people are going to go?

It's a sad state of affairs and the General Assembly should be especially ashamed of themselves for trying to confuse the issue with their fuzzy math. The solution is as easy as reducing the sales tax rate, reducing the corporate tax rate, allowing businesses to come into Rhode Island. Do that and voila, you've just taken care of a $600 million deficit. It's that easy. It really is.

Steve Laffey Explains the Origins of Rhode Island’s Fiscal Crisis

Carroll Andrew Morse

As part of a short address to the crowd gathered at last night's Super-Tuesday party in South Kingstown, former Cranson Mayor Steve Laffey offered this synopsis of how Rhode Island's now-annual fiscal crises have come into being...

There aren’t a handful of Democrats in the legislature that you would trust to hold on to $50 for you if you left town.

A Correction to the Letter

Justin Katz

Just a quick correction to letter to the Providence Journal refuting Crowley's refutation of me:

[Crowley] notes that cash handouts claim a small percentage of total state spending. This is among the Poverty Institute’s favorite talking points. He notes that such handouts are also a small percentage of our welfare system.

That last sentence shouldn't say "He notes that"; it should just start with "Such handouts."

Rep. John Loughlin on the Rhode Island Budget Deficit

Carroll Andrew Morse

Last evening, at a Super-Tuesday results party hosted by State Representative candidate Jim Haldeman, I had the opportunity to ask current State Representative John Loughlin (R - Little Compton/Portsmouth/Tiverton) about the future of Rhode Island's looming $450-$600 million dollar budget deficit…

Anchor Rising: Everyone knows what the number one question up on Smith Hill is this session -- handling the budget deficits, both for finishing up this year and heading into next year. What's going to happen?

John Loughlin: That's two different questions, what is going to happen and what should happen. What should happen is that we in the legislature should realize that in Rhode Island, we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. We need to curb our spending. Spending has been growing at a rate of about 7% to 9% percent annually while revenue has been growing by 4%. This is train-wreck that was years in the making.

What will happen, I believe, is that you are going to see the Democrats cave and attempt to raise taxes in one form or another. Whether it's fees, or broadening and lowering the sales tax, you will see an attempt by the Democrats to "enhance revenue". That's the code they will use -- "we're going to enhance revenue". That is something we have to fight against. A tax increase, by any other name, is still a tax increase.

AR: In a perfect world, where could the spending be brought under control?

JL: If you looked at just adopting the 2006 budget, there would be no deficit. The budget is already printed. All you need to do is bring it downstairs, stamp it and enact it. Our budget in 2006 was within our means, but we've basically outstripped the growth of revenue in the state. And by increasing taxes, trying to tax your way out of the problem, you create a death spiral. You make it less attractive for businesses to locate here, meaning less tax revenue coming in the door. If you continue to raise taxes as revenues continue to drop, it gets worse and worse and worse until you have a total economic collapse.

The Difference a Day Makes

Justin Katz

In attempting to match the Crowley/Poverty Institute/ITEP argument, I didn't include 2005 data (in part, ahem, because its availability didn't register in my whirlwind round of data collection). I've modified the charts in the previous post so that the scales match. The thing to note is how much more the columns grew for Massachusetts and Connecticut, even though it remains the case that this category of taxpayers increased "at a greater rate" in Rhode Island.

The same is true, here:

And when it comes to average adjusted gross income, Rhode Island compares even less favorably, now:

The reason that I returned to this information so soon was that commenter Chalkdust stated in the related comment thread that it is misleading of me "because it makes it appear as though the proportion or Rhode Islanders earning more than $200K is increasing at a slower rate than MA or CT, when the opposite is true." I argued that it's easier to almost double 1% than 2% and that wealthy people don't grow like spores; they're made (if only self-made) or imported. The race, if we want to see it as such, is more a matter of increments, and if MA starts one step ahead of RI and, over a period of time, takes one and a half steps, while RI takes less than one step, that isn't evidence that RI is moving more quickly.

To illustrate the point, consider the following line chart:

Rhode Island hardly looks as if it is catching up to its neighbors in this respect, especially when it is considered that the average AGI for this income group actually declined 6.7% from 1997 in RI, while increasing 5.6% in MA and 9.9% in CT. The combined result is that the total AGI of this group actually grew more in Massachusetts than in Rhode Island, and Connecticut wasn't as far "behind" as it appears by other measures. (One has to laugh at the numbers game, when a state with a total AGI for the wealthy group nine-and-a-half times the size of the corresponding AGI in Rhode Island is somehow behind.)

Moreover, Rhode Island's total tax returns increased at almost twice the rate as in Mass. and Connecticut (8.34% for RI, 4.20% for MA, and 4.99% for CT), which makes it less compelling to note that its wealthy population grew only 1.19 times that of Massachusetts and 1.57 that of Connecticut.

The real story of this round of charts, though, comes from the tax returns of those making between $75,000 and $200,000 per year:

If poverty ratio trends in the 2005–2006 U.S. Census data carry through to IRS data sets, Rhode Island's red line is about to turn south among what might be termed as the state's productive class — 17% of the population that paid 34% of the income tax liability in 2005 and likely accounted for an even larger share of the sweat and ingenuity behind our economy.

February 5, 2008

Impact of Illegal Immigrant Laws being felt

Marc Comtois

Tough laws in Arizona and Oklahoma are driving illegal immigrants to Texas (h/t):

Illegal immigrants are flowing into Texas across its long borders. But they aren't just swimming across the Rio Grande from Mexico or making dangerous treks through the rugged desert.

Instead, a new rush of illegal immigrants are driving down Interstate 35 from Oklahoma or heading east to Texas from Arizona to flee tough new anti-illegal immigrant laws in those and other states.

Though few numbers are available because illegal residents are difficult to track, community activists say immigrants have arrived in Houston and Dallas in recent months, and they expect hundreds more families to relocate to the Bayou City soon.

''They're really tightening the screws," said Mario Ortiz, an undocumented Mexican worker who came to Houston after leaving Phoenix last year. ''There have been a lot coming — it could be 100 a day."

The growing exodus is the result of dozens of new state and local laws aimed at curbing illegal immigration. The two toughest measures are in Oklahoma and Arizona.

The Oklahoma statute, which took effect in November, makes it a crime to transport, harbor or hire illegal immigrants. Effective Jan. 1, the Arizona law suspends the business license of employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. On a second offense, the license is revoked.

''It's a wave that's happening across the United States," said Nelson Reyes, executive director of the Central American Resource Center in Houston, which has helped immigrants who recently relocated in Houston from Virginia and South Carolina. ''There is a migration, within the United States, to the states and cities more receptive to the reality of the undocumented immigrant."

So far, results of the new laws have been dramatic.

The short-term affect on the Oklahoma City economy has been negative:
''Thirty percent of our Hispanic labor force left Tulsa — it was a huge hit, and it was almost overnight," said Greg Simmons, owner of Simmons Homes, Tulsa's largest home builder.

Based on his conversations with subcontractors, Simmons said they went to Texas and Kansas or returned to Mexico....Business leaders say local police in Tulsa have mounted a campaign to target immigrants and have deported many after they were arrested for minor traffic offenses.

''I think we swung the pendulum too far; we're hurting people, the immigrant families, and we're going to hurt the economy," said Mike Means, executive vice president of the Oklahoma State Homebuilders Association, which has 3,600 members across the state.

The effect of the new law can be seen in the many signs advertising rental property vacated by departing immigrants, said David Castillo, the executive director of the Greater Oklahoma City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

''There's been a tremendous impact in Oklahoma City," Castillo said. "We've had several companies close shop and leave the state. Banks have called us and say they're closing 30 accounts per week."

Requiring companies to hire legal workers (either with a work visa or who are American citizens) would eventually help the economy long-term as wages would inevitably rise. Too many companies have been operating under the assumption that cheap, easy (under the table) labor was available. A new reality has set in and they will have to adjust (kinda like state government, no?).

Finally, Enrique Hubbard, Mexico's consul general in Dallas, thinks that most immigrants "...will relocate [within the United States]. They will at least give it one more try... It's very difficult to cross the border, and expensive, too." Essentially, barring the passage of national immigration reform, we have a system that is evolving into states that either repel or attract illegal immigrants, based on their current laws.

Lying Down the Line

Justin Katz

Readers familiar with NEA Assistant Executive Director Patrick Crowley's body of work are to be forgiven if they took the opening line of the letter to the editor that he's been passing around to all the local papers — "repeat the lie, no matter how false it is" — as advice, not a complaint. Dan Yorke did a much better job dissecting Crowley's Newsmakers appearance than I did, but the take-away is the same — namely, that Crowley's professional objective is to get away with as much twisting, stretching, and convenient misspeaking of the truth as he can. Of especial interest with his latest offering, however, is how much help he has.

Crowley's letter (which is not available online) is nothing more than a distillation of a recent report (PDF) published by the Poverty Institute at the Rhode Island College School of Social Work (and hosted on a Web site, incidentally, that is registered using a RIC address). The Poverty Institute, in turn, gets some of its key data from the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a Washington think tank funded by a long list of progressive foundations — in conjunction with the National Education Association.

I offer this information not to cast a cloud of innuendo about broad progressive conspiracies to fleece the Rhode Island taxpayers of their money, but because it is a critical consideration when observing how the Poverty Institute research document and Crowley's letter are constructed. Point by point (from the Poverty Institute):

  • "The number of very high income Rhode Islanders is growing." This is really the credibility hook (so to speak) for the entire study, because the data comes from the IRS. As I'll show in a moment, however, the progressives' use of it is (surprise, surprise) misleading.
  • "Incomes at the top are rising rapidly." This is the jealousy-evoking component, meant to help the reader toward the conclusion that wealthy taxpayers can afford to be taxed more. It's also the component that comes directly from ITEP, using (as far as I can tell) an untraceable methodology that allows an opposite conclusion than the data used for the first point.
  • "More affluent taxpayers move to Rhode Island from Massachusetts than move from Rhode Island to Massachusetts." The Poverty Institute turns back to the IRS to bolster its point, but using data that is not easily accessible and offering little by way of actual numbers.
  • "Charitable contributions by affluent residents have been stronger in Rhode Island than in neighboring states." The last claim is also meant to bolster the more significant openers, it is also from hard-to-access IRS data, and the data is also limited, inasmuch as the Poverty Institute provides only percentage differences from year to year, without any context as to what those percentages signify.

Here's how Crowley presents the first point:

The number of very high-income Rhode Islanders is growing. Using data (that is, real numbers) from the IRS, the Poverty Institute shows that between 1997 and 2004, the number of people with incomes over $200k rose 87 percent, more than Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Of itself, the claim is true enough. The IRS processed 5,064 more RI tax returns with over $200,000 in income in 2004 than 1997. But the related increases were 46,059 tax returns in Massachusetts and 26,433 in Connecticut.

Our neighbors are larger, though, so consider that households over $200,000 accounted for 2.16% of total returns in RI, 3.53% in Massachusetts, and 4.42% in Connecticut. Over the eight years in question, an additional 0.92% of Rhode Island households entered the highest income group. Massachusetts pulled up an additional 1.44%, and Connecticut 1.47%.

Incomes at the top are rising rapidly. In 2005, the highest earning 1 percent of Rhode Island households earned $965,908, an 11.9 percent increase from 1999.

Income for the elite rich rose faster than neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts. Elites in Connecticut had their incomes rise by 5.3 percent and in Massachusetts they actually dropped by 4.2 percent between 1999 and 2005.

As I've said, this sources directly to ITEP, not the IRS, with no public data in a form that can be analyzed. The time span switches to 1999–2005, and the group under the microscope is now the top 1%, not those over $200,000. Not having access to the data, I can't guess the reasons for these differences.

It's interesting, however, that the Poverty Institute report shows that the top 1%'s average 2005 income of $965,908 represented a $113,705 leap from 2003 and was $115,908 higher than the 1999-2003 average. Whether the sudden spike was a fluke or a trend, I guess we'll see. Although, I doubt that progressives' tax-the-rich schemes will help to make it the latter.

Whatever the case, sticking with the IRS data already on the table, one finds that the average gross income (AGI) of those in the top earning category ($200,000+) was down 5.79% in 2004 from 1997 in RI. In MA, it was up 0.52%, and in CT, it was up 3.85%.

IRS data shows that Rhode Island is attracting more affluent people. Migration data based upon state of residency on tax returns show that more people are moving from Massachusetts to Rhode Island than the reverse.

It's suspicious that this is the only claim for which the Poverty Institute provides no illustrations — as if they wish the point to be made, but not considered. I'll take the Institute at its word that "the median income of in-migrants from Massachusetts has been higher than the median income of out-migrants to Massachusetts," although as an editor, I wonder whether "has been" means "has been consistently" or "has, at times over this period, been." As an intellectually curious fellow, it strikes me as odd that we're suddenly talking "median income," and I find it particularly peculiar that the only actual numbers come from the following:

This is true despite the fact that MA reduced its top income tax rate from 5.95 to 5.3 percent in 2000-2002 while Rhode Island’s top marginal rate at the time was 9.9%.

We've got quite a jumble of years, here. As I understand it, Massachusetts then raised its top rate, while Rhode Island lowered its rates. For these reasons, I'm confident that an analysis of the raw numbers would actually support the opposite argument from that which Crowley & Co. wish to make. Back to him:

Charitable contributions from the elite have rebounded better in Rhode Island than Connecticut and Massachusetts from the post-911 recession.

Based on the analysis above (not to mention long experience), it's easy to understand why readers ought to be wary of the Poverty Institute's presentation of percentages of increase and decrease. They give no dollar-amount basis for judging. Whatever the case, the overarching point is perverted: that Rhode Island's wealthy are particularly generous and therefore must be able to afford having more of their money taken by force of law.

I suspect that the Progressive Conspiracy's sky-ain't-falling points will become narrower and narrower as data approaching 2008 becomes available. Perhaps then they'll let their stripes show and declare victory over the rich.


I've corrected a misfire of the synapses: The latter date in all of the above charts should have been 2004 — same data, different label — so I've fixed the problem.

A Note on Advertisements

Justin Katz

A free way (or at least consumerist way) to help Anchor Rising is to click on any advertisements that we manage to procure. More than once, if you're so inclined. Daily, even.

Just be aware of what you're reading. We try to keep a reasonable eye out for ads of a dubious nature, but we're generally disinclined to restrict the message. I'd note, for example, that the founders of Bullitics (see ad at left) have progressive resumés, but there's no obvious twist to their polls.

February 4, 2008

Battling the Machine

Justin Katz

While conducting some research, yesterday, that is at the top of my to-post list, it struck me how extensive the machine is that pushes policies to take our money by force of law — much of it funded with our money, in one way or another.

There's no way that we could match the chain of effort that runs through the unions, the colleges, Washington think tanks, and the various progressive foundations, but anything that you can contribute to Anchor Rising will help us to put a few more loads into our slingshot.

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.

Whatever Happened With the Big Audit?

Monique Chartier

Though not always asked in the friendliest of tones, this is a good question.

And the answer is: quite a bit. Renamed "Fiscal Fitness" (not to be confused with the Governor's anti-donut "Healthy Weight in 2008" initiative), $279,000,000 was found and saved and the program has not closed up shop.

Some highlights of the 279 mill:

> $25,000,000 over three years in the state employee health insurance contract.

> $750,000/year in record storage expenses.

> On-line renewal of eight trade license categories covering 28,000 professionals.

> $15,000,000 over five years by opening the vehicle Emissions and Safety Testing program to competitive bidding. (This and the record storage. We really ought to check into this open bidding thing more often ...)

February 3, 2008

Now Here's a Tax Bill That Ought to Pass

Justin Katz

With the growing stack of tax-raising bills, it's good to know that the General Assembly will at least have to address a different approach (emphasis added)

In an effort to bring some much needed tax relief to Rhode Islanders, while generating revenue in this era of hundred million dollar budget deficits, Representative Victor Moffitt (R-Dist. 28, Coventry) has introduced a bill that would lower the state sales tax to 5% from the current rate of 7%.

"By lowering the sales tax, individuals would be more inclined to buy products and companies would be more inclined to do business in Rhode Island, which would create jobs, and that would generate more income for the state than the current tax structure does at its present rate," said Representative Moffitt. "Let me be clear, this is not a move to lower and broaden the sales tax structure. There is no broadening of the sales tax in my proposal."

Recently, the Tax Foundation ranked Rhode Island 50th in the Unites States in Business Tax Climate Index. That ranking, taken in context with our current and projected budget crises, lends credence to the idea that the solution to Rhode Island's fiscal problems is lowering taxes, as opposed to raising them.

"The current sales tax rate of 7% was established back in the 1990's during the banking crisis, and at the time was said to be temporary," said Representative Moffitt. "Given our high tax burden, and our stagnating economy, it is time that the tax rate be lowered to so that we can be more competitive with our neighboring states."

Two Events This Tuesday

Monique Chartier

In addition to that other thing going on around the country, there are two good government events happening here in Rhode Island on Tuesday.

The first, on the subject of illegal immigration, is a hearing at the State House for House Bill 7107, which would require Rhode Island employers to verify on line that new employees are legally present in the United States. In the maintenance of our sovereignty and borders, employment is one of the critical areas of focus - or perhaps dissuasion would be more accurate. House Lounge after the Rise of the House (around 4:00-ish). Those who wish to testify should sign in with Chairman Corvese.

The second event involves bringing much needed balance to the General Assembly. Jim Haldeman, Republican candidate for House District 35, is holding a "Watch the Super Tuesday Results" fundraiser. Casey's, Wakefield, at 7:00 pm.

Forgive this possibly selfish item but Mr. Haldeman's opponent, incumbent John Patrick Shanley, has not been looking after the best interests of the state or his South Kingstown constituents on Smith Hill. He opposed Voter Initiative. He was the legislator who put forward the bill to unionize - i.e., make into state workers - 1,200 day care providers. And he has never seen a bloated state budget to which he could say "no", a costly impulse which persists even this week as he follows up a statement to the South County Independent, “We are pretty much committed to no new major tax increases" with some perplexing and contradictory hand-wringing about where to raise more revenue. During that interview, he remarkably could not even bring himself to express opposition to the tax payer funding of social services to illegal aliens. (More on why this is problematic here.) A change to House District 35 would not only add party balance to the General Assembly but also a much needed incremental shift in budgeting and tax philosophies.

[Please note that no cross endorsements - by Jim Haldeman of House Bill 7107 or by legal immigrants of Jim Haldeman - should necessarily be construed by this joint announcement.]

Re: The All-American, Union Family

Justin Katz

Legend has it that, upon Napoleon's crowning himself emperor, Beethoven tore or scratched Bonaparte's name from his Eroica Symphony manuscript in a fury. The revolutionary inspiration had been perverted, but still, many followed the general even thereafter, some perhaps out of a nostalgic faith that the principles of liberté, egalité, and fraternité would win through until the end.

Thus must all movements that have gone sour barrel on with the blessings of well-meaning, good people whose lives are heavily invested in a formative period. Our narratives are surpassingly difficult to change, like watching the colors of the world invert, and the realities are almost irreconcilable in which, for example, a union local number evokes a contemptuous snort or the vision of a childhood barbecue, with its sense of safety and security.

I didn't live consciously through this change, but at some point over the past few decades American society shifted. Old ways of ordering our families and, extending that, our communities dissipated (or, more accurately, were attacked and decimated). It's easy, for example, to imagine public-sector unions of a previous generation voting, unbidden, to increase hours or cut pay for the benefit of the community. It could be the case, although I've no specific historical evidence, that a nearly universal impression of American union members in keeping with Michael Morse's memories helped to lead our society down the public union track, despite the obvious dangers that such an ordering presents.

If those days existed, they are gone, and who's to say but that the forward march of the union machine played a role in ending them. I can describe with confidence only the reality in which I find our state now, in the present. I can only testify to my experience, as a blue-collar worker, of being dismissed, in the Us v. Them bifurcation proclaimed by unionists, as a sycophant to the Establishment and that heartless class of avaricious businessmen.

Rhode Island desperately needs the all-American families of union members to look clear-eyed at the present and to ask themselves, with as much separation from their own circumstances as they can muster, whether their organizations further the American way of life, or just the Unionized American way of life.

Michael Morse: The All-American, Union Family

Engaged Citizen

[The following first appeared on Anchor Rising as a comment to this post.]

I grew up in a union household. My father belonged to the IBEW until he was promoted and took a job in management, taking with him the morality and ethics of his union membership. I remember my uncle, Bill, proudly wearing his Teamsters cap. Uncle Ron was a Warwick cop. Brian was president of his union at Rhode Island College. We would spend summer days at their homes, surrounded by family, the American flag always flying, either on a flagpole or attached to the house, the red, white, and blue flew proudly.

Modest homes meticulously kept, hard work, and an ability to enjoy the fruits of their labor and share them with friends and family was all they wanted. Uncle Bill was a WWII vet, my father a Navy signal man during the Korean War. Brian served in the Air Force during the Viet Nam War. They lived, and live, good, honest lives, are fiercely proud of their country, and fought for the freedoms we now enjoy. Union members. Not everybody in my family, but those I remember most.

My brother, Bob, just returned from Iraq. 500 days. Another union man. Myself, a firefighter in Providence. Union. We are living in the shadow of our uncles and father, and it is my belief we have made them proud.

Some of our union leaders have let us down, just as some of our elected officials have let us down. Politics is a cutthroat business, and like it or not, everything is political. Those that have risen to the top of our ranks thrive in that arena; most of us would rather do our jobs, do them well, and live our lives. We need people in positions of power for us to do that.

Relentless media attacks have insulated the union ranks. An us-against-them attitude prevails. Gone are the days when a union worked with management in a respectful, productive atmosphere. Maybe that never existed; I don’t know. "Gold Plated Benefits, Feeding at the Public Trough, Picking Our Pockets," and on and on. "Socialists, communists, serving the weak, protecting the incompetent...," enough already.

Maybe you grew up in a different world. Judging from some commentary here, you don't have a clue about mine.

Michael Morse is a lieutenant with the Providence Fire Department and the author of Rescuing Providence.

Increasingly Ham-Handed Spin

Justin Katz

It's a minor thing, almost not worth mentioning, but pixels are cheap, and it won't take but a moment to correct Crowley's pitiful attempt to find contradiction where there is none. Jim Baron, of the Pawtucket Times paraphrased Jeff Neal, spokesman for Governor Carcieri, as follows:

Neal deemed the claim that 90 percent of Rhode Islanders would see a reduction in their overall taxes "highly unlikely." He pointed out that the tax returns of those earning $75,000 or more already make up 70 percent of the income taxes collected.

Crowley attempts to twist this, thus:

... doesn't this mean, Jeff, that if the average person is reporting $75,000 a year in income that the state worker whose average salary is $46,000 (or, even as you often claim $58,000) is anywhere from 23 - 39% BELOW what the majority of Rhode Islanders make? You can't have it both ways, Jeff.

Called on the deliberate misreading, the intrepid Crowley pushed on in the comments:

Again, you guys can't have it both ways. It is ISN'T true that 70% people file returns making $75K or more, then in means that 90% of the people WOULD see a decrease. He just throws numbers out and lets people like you say it different than what he meant.

The difference between what Neal said and what Crowley claims he said ought to be clear to Anchor Rising readers, but just to sidestep the "lets people like you say it different[ly]" ruse, I emailed Mr. Baron to ask whether Neal presented the latter statement as evidence of the former (i.e., "unlikely because"), or as an additional, related consideration. Baron confirmed that "the two things were not as related as the juxtaposition in the story might imply. My impression is he was giving two different reasons why the proposal is a bad idea."

If Crowley had an ounce of integrity, he would issue a correction — even a clarification — with the same prominence as the original spin. It's an abomination that the teachers of Rhode Island allow this guy to have any official role in our educational system whatsoever.

February 2, 2008

Such a Disappointment

Justin Katz

Yesterday, Ian Donnis suggested that my latest Providence Journal op-ed "oversteps in prescribing [ascribing?] an advocacy role to [WPRI's Steve] Aveson, who like [himself] and other panelists, uses various rhetorical devices (the ever-popular devil's advocate, for example) in the interest of posing questions and stimulating discussion." Truth to tell, I didn't see myself as ascribing advocacy to Aveson. My impression was more that he was simply voicing his general opinion.

Yes, the "devil's advocate" defense is always available, but as with journalists' nigh upon pathological use of the word "alleged," that strategy of conducting interviews is generally heavily laden with such phrases as "some people say," and I don't recall Aveson deploying that device at all during discussion of illegal immigrant RIte Care. Indeed, I don't think a fair viewing of that exchange leaves any doubt that Aveson is speaking his own mind. At 3:53 of segment three, here, Aveson turns to somebody whom he knows agrees with the point of view that he's describing, Jennifer Lawless, and asks:

Jennifer, let's rally back to the question of depriving 2,000 kids who are illegal immigrants [sign language quotation marks], by definition, of access to healthcare. It seems like, of all the people that could be criticized for taking... solving the budget deficit on the backs of people, how do you solve it on the backs of kids who aren't able to go out and earn a living, for example.

And before she's even finished her thought, Aveson continues:

I mean, it almost feels a little bit like a harsh carrot and stick: "Okay, we can't solve this problem in a big way, so if we deprive children of this support, then at least they'll get the idea, those parents of those kids, and they'll go away from Rhode Island."

Let me be clear, here: I'm not faulting Aveson for expressing his opinion. I'm faulting him for having that particular opinion. But while we're on the topic of tough interviews, Donnis mentions that he poses a sticky question to Patrick Crowley on tomorrow's edition of Newsmakers (viewable already here). While I won't dispute that Ian's question is not an example of "rolling over," I have to admit that it struck me as pretty mild, considering that he and Aveson had just let Crowley get away with the following package of lies, after Aveson explained that "Governor Carcieri sat here.. and said that the rich are leaving the state":

Yeah, the facts don't bear that out. Since 2004, the number of people with incomes over $200,000 have actually risen in the state of Rhode Island. And while we have lost some population, it is a typical demographic shift, and we are not in any worse position than our neighboring states of Massachusetts and Connecticut. But what we have done is cut our taxes for the upper income people more deeply than Massachusetts and Connecticut has, and that's what's contributing to our economic problem, right now.

Ian should know better. He reads Anchor Rising and presumably skims my Projo op-eds. Even Crowley's latest propaganda (currently being published in local newspapers across the state) doesn't support his claims. In that letter, Crowley claims that the number of such people rose "between 1997 and 2004." The latest data that I've seen shows upper income Rhode Islanders disappearing by the tens of thousands between 2005 and 2006.

It's understandable that Crowley would find it advantageous to spread lies that undermine the reality that I and others have been trumpeting, but it's very disappointing how broadly those lies are enabled — even by respected and respectable media figures.

Four of These Fees, Doing The Same Thing; One of These Fees, Doing Its Own Thing

Justin Katz

To be honest, I'm reluctant to delve too deeply into the governor's proposed budget for next year; it's not as if the General Assembly is likely to let much of it stand. Still, the Providence Journal's report thereon strolls past an interesting lesson in government revenue:

Those with good driving records would have to pay more to get a violation dismissed. Instead of paying a $25 administrative fee, the driver would have to pay the full cost of the fine attached to the violation, a figure that averages $85, according to a court spokesman.

Telephone customers would pay 7 cents more, instead of the current 26 cents, to help pay for Internet service in schools and libraries. Released prisoners on probation would pay $20 monthly, a $5 bump toward the cost of keeping them under watch.

For the elderly, there would be a new $2 per trip fee for state-provided rides to the doctor, a meal site or what is commonly called "elderly daycare." Last year alone, the Department of Elderly Affair paid for more than 22,000 such trips.

The elderly also face increases in co-pays for home care and daycare. The minimum $3-an-hour co-pay for home care would go up by $1.50, and the minimum $5.50-a-day co-pay for time spent at a daycare center would also rise by a minimum of $1.50. Those with higher incomes would pay between $2 and $2.50 more.

These are sold as "fees," thus allowing the governor to make the "no new taxes" pledge (which is so rife with dubious connotations), but taxpayers should take note of one of these fees that doesn't seem to fit.

Drivers pay more for violations, which have administrative costs for the state (and have greater costs when they lead to accidents). The two fees targeting the elderly have to do with offsetting the cost of services that they, themselves, are using. And prisoners on probation pay a higher percentage of the cost of keeping an eye on them, which their own actions have persuaded the public is necessary.

The telephone fee, though, is a nearly arbitrary transfer of the costs of public services to people who use a vaguely related service, and almost all households are affected. That isn't a fee; it's a tax, albeit one tied to a designated expenditure.

Compared with the taxes that the General Assembly seems intent on including in its own budgetary actions, seven cents on the phone bill is barely a blip. But let's be sufficiently honest to call it what it is.

Stepping the Taxpayer Back

Justin Katz

For some reason, the Sakonnet Times publishes different letters online and in the paper. Therefore, I can't link to a letter of mine in the current edition. By all means, pick up a copy, but here's what I wrote:

To the editor:

Tiverton School Committee Member Leonard Wright made himself the union's champion when he declared that the district "should find another way to balance the budget" than "putting [teachers] behind" — that is, seeing a decrease — when it comes to their combined salaries and healthcare in the pending contract. Moments before, he'd asked Director of Administration and Finance Douglas Fiore to calculate the effect on teachers already at step 10 of one of Superintendent William Rearick's options for keeping the district's budget balanced.

For readers not familiar with the intricacies of collectively bargained teacher contracts, the step system is essentially a guaranteed raise for the first ten years of the teacher's tenure. Every teacher moves forward a step every year, until step 10, at which point their raises are limited to increases negotiated with each contract. The trick of the strategy (some might call it a scam) is that the unions negotiate those percentages to apply to every step, so newer employees' raises include not only the step, but also the global increase.

Following the previous contract, teachers moving into steps two through nine are slated to receive raises between 5.6% and 7.3%, with those moving into step ten receiving 10.6%. That's independent of any negotiated increases. So, when you read that Mr. Rearick is proposing a raise of 2%, or that the union is demanding an increase of 3.5%, they really mean that those percentages would be added to the steps. You can do the math. The percentages don't mean the same thing as the raises most of you get from your employers. (None of this, don't forget, takes into account additional teacher pay based on education, longevity, and extra responsibilities and activities.)

When it's time to negotiate, the union puts forward its most experienced members (currently earning in the mid-sixties, as a base) and decries their meager advances. At the same time, however, it requires that every teacher in the district — newest, oldest, best, worst — benefits by the same amount. For their role as leverage, those at the top get to be the only teachers who stand to see a decrease in their take-home pay (around $1,000 less for the year) under any of Mr. Rearick's proposals, assuming they take the healthcare benefit.

If that result is unfair, the step system would seem to be the place to look for equity. After all, in 2006 (the latest year for which information is available), the union's members claimed around 55% of the district's total expenditures. In a time of tightening belts, average guaranteed raises over 6% are a bit much to demand.

As a Tiverton property owner, I've noted reports that the Town Council may increase my tax rate by as much as 12.2%. That's several hundred dollars to every homeowner in the town. Why, I wonder, does Mr. Wright think it's fair to put us behind? Oddly, I didn't hear a single school committee member suggest finding another way to balance the budget than taking the maximum allowable increase in tax revenue.

Today's Reason to Give

Justin Katz

Because the Big Blue Bug saw its shadow. Six more years of political corruption unless we amplify our voices and scare the thing back into its hole. (Hey, whataya want? It's Saturday.)

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.

Piles of Bills to Increase the Bills

Justin Katz

Unsurprisingly, state Representative Charlene Lima (D, Cranston) has become the next legislator through the door with a tax increase bill, and it appears to feature some of the same measures and reasoning as the Economic Death and Dismemberment Act. It's as if they intend to flood the legislature with slightly variegated bills so that one of them will slip through as if it represents a compromise.

Her press release, though, does lead me to an interesting question:

"The governor's 'no raise in tax' declaration, while great political rhetoric, is totally disingenuous," continued Representative Lima. "By cutting state funding to our cities and towns in such an unanticipated manner, he is forcing the municipalities to raise property taxes- the most regressive and financially destructive form of taxation for the working men and women of our state. In fact, the governor is actually raising the property taxes of citizens in all our 39 cities and towns while claiming not to be raising state taxes."

"The governor knows full well that by proposing such a surprise reduction in state aid in this fiscal year, he is virtually forcing the cities and towns to raise property taxes while at the same time being able to gain politically by his 'no state tax raise' proclamation," she said. "By cutting state aid so suddenly and unreasonably the governor is really raising the property tax of every Rhode Islander-the Carcieri statewide property tax raise!"

Are any municipalities not raising property taxes by at least the maximum allowed? (That's not a non sequitur, because increases related to municipal bonds are exempt from the cap.) If not, then it would seem to be Ms. Lima et al. who are being disingenuous.

And not to nitpick, but according to Lima's fellow travelers, the sales tax is the "most regressive." Of course, the sales tax is among the tools of the state, rather than town, government.

February 1, 2008

Re: Well, Maybe if the Doctor's Office Was in the Mall....

Monique Chartier

A small but annoying point. This is a link to a Rhode Island craigslist posting which reads:

I wonder how many people go and get the free monthly bus passes with their medical assistance card and turn around and sell them???? In the past few days I've noticed people selling them on here....kinda makes you wonder.

He or she is correct. While browsing through craigslist postings under the "General" category a couple of weeks ago, I was a little surprised to come across someone who had posted a "January bus pass" for sale.

And here is a posting for four February bus passes. The location is Providence, RI. It is not clear if the $25 price is each or takes all four.

Do bus passes have pictures of the pass holder? If not, perhaps it is time. Selling tax payer funded bus passes is in the same category as selling food stamps. These services are available for people who really need them. They are not intended as a round-about way to provide casual spending money.

And if they are, we can just dispense with a good deal of effort and harrumph, cut out the middle man - the Division of Taxation - and leave those dollars in the pockets of tax payers to casually spend.

Higher Ed Anathema

Justin Katz

I'm sorry (dark times, and all), but I had to laugh. The student newspaper at URI, The Good 5¢ Cigar, has a story on decreasing state funding, and accompanying editorial contains this gem:

University President Robert L. Carothers said that the administration will have to do "some creative thinking." Has it really come down to this?

Creative thinking at a university? It is the end of the world.

Incidentally, although I haven't done the research, I suspect the claim that URI will be completely without state funds by 2024 is hyperbolic, related to this:

[Vice President for Administration Robert ]Weygand said state funding accounts for 26 percent of the university's revenue in the fiscal year 2008, while student tuition fees account for 62 percent of the university's revenue. The 2008 fiscal year began on July 1, 2007, and will end on June 30, 2008. ...

In the late 1980s, Weygand said state funding was about even with revenue from tuition and fees. In 2008, however, he noted that tuition fees were about $100 million higher than state funding, which varied little since 1989 when compared with the tuition and fee spike.

I think what they're doing is taking this ratio and continuing the line out until state funding accounts for 0%, which is hardly a likely trend line. I'd be surprised if actual-dollar state funding hasn't increased in the last twenty years, just with spending, and therefore tuition and fees, increasing at a much greater rate.

Ward: "Whether Walsh likes it or not, the party is coming to an end."

Marc Comtois

Both Justin and I mentioned NEA President Bob Walsh's rather intemperate anti-business comments last week:

"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
Tom Ward, publisher of the Valley Breeze (h/t Dan Yorke), is similarly unimpressed.
If Walsh's comments are a true reflection of what small business and honest taxpayers are up against, we should all sell our businesses to others and leave. Really. Obviously, Walsh wouldn't mind if we left - or died. Saturday's story centered around Rhode Island's overly generous pension system, showing how our state pays far more to retirees than other New England states. How, for instance, a 55-year-old Rhode Island retiree with 30 years of service, having earned $57,000 per year at retirement, would receive $37,620 per year - with annual raises for life - in his retirement. The same Vermont retiree would receive $24,966. Over the normal lifetime of the two retirees, the Rhode Islander would be paid almost $1 million more than his counterpart in Vermont.

Walsh doesn't like the reform talk, and seems to harbor some lingering bitterness over the state pension reforms put in place a few years ago that already save taxpayers millions each year....

Let me explain something to you, Mr. Walsh. You only have money for the rich pensions because you and your friends in the General Assembly have been given the power to confiscate our money. You don't earn anything. You don't create any wealth. You just take what you need, and when you come up short - like now - you just try to take more. In polite company, it's called "taxation," but you and I know it's just greed.

I and my hard-working employees, on the other hand, have to go out and earn our customers' money every day. And our customers have to go out and earn their customers money every day. When we fail, we go out of business. No pension. No safety net. We don't get to confiscate anybody's money to keep our sorry boat afloat. You can - and do.

All across Rhode Island, business is suffering today. We are the wealth creators, working long hours and risking it all to run a business against all the obstacles you and your friends place in our way. If we eventually succumb to the state's jack-booted thuggery, we stop filling your wallets. Get it? We don't succeed with you. We succeed despite you.

And despite having our state leaders picking our pockets with new fees and taxes at every turn, many of us provide the 401 (k) pension plans we can afford for our employees. For that, you call us "terrible people." What a disgraceful comment, Mr. Walsh.

Ward also gives an example on par with the example I gave regarding former Providence Administrator John Simmons' pending pension.
A few years ago, Macera was Woonsocket's assistant superintendent, earning on average $103,000 per year for her final three years of service in that post. Three years ago, she was promoted to superintendent. Upon her promotion, she called for the elimination of the assistant superintendent's post, asking the School Committee to fold those duties into her own and asking for a much larger compensation. The School Committee agreed, and in the past three years, Macera earned $152,900 in year 1, $162,900 in year 2, and now earns $172,900 this year.

In Rhode Island, a pensioner like Macera, with more than 35 years service, receives 80 percent of their highest three years' pay.

Union leaders like Walsh keep complaining that we just don't understand; that pensioners have to pay into the system. In fact, he's correct and Macera and others pay 9.5 percent of their pay into the pension system.

Was it a good investment for her? You decide.

Had Macera retired as assistant superintendent three years ago with a top three-year average pay of $103,000, she would have a pension of $82,400 per year.

Instead, she took the promotion and worked for a new three-year average wage of about $163,000. Her annual pension now? $130,320. For those of you without a nearby calculator, that's $2,506 per week. Oh yeah, she gets a 3 percent raise (about $75 per week) every year, too.

If you do the math, you'll learn that as superintendent Macera paid an extra $17,100 into the state pension system in her final three years. Her return? An extra $48,000 per year in her pension. She'll have all her money back in four months. Should she live 20 years she'll take away more than one million extra dollars for her $17,000 investment.

In Defense of the Dastardly

Justin Katz

Some will accuse me of defending the indefensible, but my piece in today's Providence Journal argues on behalf of Governor Carcieri's cuts to RIte Aide for illegal immigrants.

Being welcoming and compassionate is one thing, but are policies send the message far and wide that our invitation is for them to stay, and to remain under the government's wing. As cold as it may seem to withdraw benefits from children, it only perpetuates injustice all around not to insist that our invitation is not open ended.

Governor Carcieri's 2009 Budget

Marc Comtois

The Governor is presenting his 2009 budget right now. Here is the prepared text, the actual components of the budget can be found here.

This FY 2009 budget contains general revenue expenditures below our Fiscal Year 2008 spending, both enacted and revised. The reductions in this budget are necessary because our FY 2009 resources will be less than our FY 2008 resources. I am proposing sweeping changes to our State’s Family Independence Program in order to preserve the core principals of the federal TANF Program and increase work participation rates. My “Work First” initiative will encourage personal responsibility and promote family independence. I am also proposing major reforms to the State’s Medicaid funded programs to promote a person-centered, cost effective health care delivery system with transparency and accountability.

I am proposing efficiencies through reorganization of State government in four major areas, the Office of Health and Human Services, the Public Safety function, the Environmental function, and Advocacy for older persons and persons with disabilities. Concurrently, I am proposing efficiencies through the physical consolidation of agencies in order to reduce outside rental costs and better utilize state properties.

Concerning the last (efficiency through reorganization) I've only looked at a couple specific areas so far, but it seems like the efficiency is being done by eliminating upper-level positions (legal and business management types) and a few lower-level front office people. For example, in the case of DCYF, it looks like he didn't touch the "ground troops" (case workers and supervisors) but did cut such positions as Assoc. Director, Legal Services (DCYF), the Deputy Chief of Legal Services and the Principal Human Services Business Officer have been cut. The Governor also mentioned eliminating the Coastal Resources Management Council and Water Resources Board and placing their responsibilities under the purview of the Dep't of Environmental Management. That accounts for a reduction of 35 FTE's and close to $5 million.

Well, Maybe if the Doctor's Office Was in the Mall....

Marc Comtois

I gotta say, even I was surprised to learn that somehow RIPTA depended on Medicaid money to keep running.

A federal clampdown on the state’s Medicaid program will cost as many as 18,000 needy Rhode Islanders their free bus passes and will force the state to make up for millions of dollars in lost transit money to avert wreaking havoc on the state’s bus system, state officials say.

The state is also expecting an attempt by the federal government to demand repayment of millions of dollars in past Medicaid money that was spent on transit. Those payments, reaching back to 1995, total more than $60 million, according to figures from the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, although state officials say they expect the amount sought by the federal government in “recoupment” to be much smaller, between $4 million and $5 million.

The development means that the state, which paid an increasing amount of the cost of running the state bus system with Medicaid money, will now have to pick up that expense or face a major disruption, probably including bus service cuts and perhaps layoffs, at RIPTA.

Only a bureaucrat and/or the most committed government=mommy proponent could possibly think that a blanket ride-the-bus-for-free pass (versus a certain allotment per year, for instance) was a legit use of Medicaid funds.
DHS Director Gary Alexander said the change will affect about 18,000 of the 27,000 RIte Care members who now get bus passes, worth $45 a month. He said the other 9,000 will continue to get passes through the Family Independence Program, formerly the welfare program.

The reason for the change is that Medicaid doesn’t pay for general transportation, only for transportation related to medical treatment, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which runs the Medicare, Medicaid and related programs.

Hey, I can understand the need to pay for transportation to the doctor or hospital and how there is some justification for Medicaid dollars to be used to subsidize such transport. But how did they ever think that Medicaid could be legitimately used to pay for unlimited trips to the mall, too? I guess so long as they could get away with it, it was OK, right? And now 18,000 people will be ticked off because their "right" to free transportation will be yanked. Thus does the enablement of the entitlement mindset end up hurting those who are supposed to benefit from the "helping hand." At least until the money (about $10 million) disappears.

Burn Down the Mission Courthouse

Justin Katz

Well, this is a no-brainer:

Rep. Raymond C. Church has filed legislation rescinding legislative approval granted last year for a new courthouse in the Blackstone Valley, saying the state shouldn't be borrowing money for large projects when grappling with huge deficits.

"At a time when the state is trying to identify money to close a budget deficit of $171.9 million in the current fiscal year and a structural deficit of $412.3 million next year, it doesn't make sense to take on more debt," said Representative Church, a Democrat who represents District 48 in North Smithfield and Burrillville. "Now is just not the time to start a new project like this. Instead we should be looking for ways we can save money, and not building this courthouse will save about $7 million a year for the next 20 years.

The courthouse, which was approved as part of the state budget for the current fiscal year with funding to begin in Fiscal Year 2009, is estimated to cost about $70 million. If the state were to sell 20-year bonds to finance the project, it would likely double the total cost to $140 million.

Another no-brainer is the ouster of any legislator who actually votes against canceling the courthouse.

What's "Financial Aid" in Spanish?

Justin Katz

Consider this vignette from Katherine Gregg's Projo story on Rhode Island's misuse of federal healthcare funds:

Emma Villa told the lawmakers what would happen to her, as the operator of a small day-care business in her Laban Street, Providence, home, where she looks after two children in addition to her own.

With the help of a translator, the Spanish-speaking Villa, 40, said: "It is very important that we have health care," she said, "because we are the ones that hold the entire welfare-to-work system up. If parents, children and those of us who care for them lose our health care, we could face the spread of disease without treatment — maybe even an epidemic...Is that what we really want?"

Without health insurance, Villa said she will have to look for another job and if she is unable to find one with health insurance, she will be forced to seek financial aid from the state for the first time in her 20 years in this country.

The tale of Rhode Island's woes couldn't be told with much more concision. Here's a woman who watches two children as a job (the minimum she can take and receive healthcare), who apparently can't speak English well enough to be much help to those kids in that regard, and who sees the substantial money that the state pays toward her health insurance as something other than financial aid.

Online details of state financed health insurance are spotty, as far as I've been able to see, but assuming that she's married (which perhaps can't be assumed), Villa's entire family could be eligible for RIte Care at a cost to her of $61 per month if their income is up to around $39,000 per year, or free if it is less than around $32,000. At the high end, her family could make over $70,000 per year, and she and her children would still be eligible for the Child Care Provider Rite Care (CCPRC) Program for a monthly cost of $130.

I don't know what's standard, out there, but based on the little bit of information I've found online (PDF, PDF2, and this), I wouldn't be surprised if there are Rhode Island taxpayers who make nowhere near that amount and pay $130 per week for a comparable plan.

Villa throws up the specter of an "epidemic" if the healthcare gravy train were to stop, but the real epidemic lies down the path of continued state overspending, increasing taxes, and exodus of its victims.