May 31, 2008

The DNC Rules Committee Takes King Solomon's Suggestion

Monique Chartier

The Democratic Party Rules and Bylaws Committee wimped out this afternoon and allowed Michigan and Florida delegates to be seated at the convention, though the delegates from those states will have only half a vote to cast for either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama.

This decision seriously jeopardizes Senator Clinton's presidential campaign, which needed every Michigan and Florida delegate to have a full vote. The Clinton campaign has specifically not ruled out an appeal to the DNC Credentials Committee.

The committee's action marked a significant setback for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and makes her already improbable bid to overtake Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination even less likely. Out of today's proceedings, Clinton netted 24 delegates -- 19 from Florida and 5 from Michigan. She remains roughly 175 total delegates behind Obama heading into tomorrow's Puerto Rico primary, which Clinton is expected to win.

Primaries in South Dakota and Montana next Tuesday, both of which Obama is favored to win, will close the voting portion of the nomination fight. There now exists almost zero chance that Clinton can reduce Obama's delegate lead below 100 before the end of voting on Tuesday.

The magic number for either candidate to formally clinch the nomination rises to 2,118 (from 2,026), according to a release being distributed by the DNC.

* * *

In a joint statement by [Harold] Ickes and Tina Flournoy, another committee member and Clinton supporter, the New York senator's campaign made clear that they will strongly consider continuing the fight over delegate allocation in Michigan.

"We reserve the right to challenge this decision before the Credentials Committee and appeal for a fair allocation of Michigan's delegates that actually reflect the votes as they were cast," the duo said in a statement.

Michigan and Florida broke the rules by moving their state primaries ahead of the cut-off date set by the DNC. The DNC needed to hold firm on their prior decision barring those delegates altogether. Why should rule-breakers be rewarded, even by half?

UPDATE: Clinton Campaign Recalls Advance Teams

Ben Smith at Politico reports:

Members of Hillary Clinton's advance staff received calls and emails this evening from headquarters summoning them to New York City Tuesday night, and telling them their roles on the campaign are ending, two Clinton staffers tell my colleague Amie Parnes.

The advance staffers — most of them now in Puerto Rico, South Dakota, and Montana — are being given the options of going to New York for a final day Tuesday, or going home, the aides said. The move is a sign that the campaign is beginning to shed — at least — some of its staff. The advance staff is responsible for arranging the candidate's events around the country.

* * *

UPDATE: Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee says the advance staffers haven't been let go or told to find other jobs, just sent home. They aren't typically paid for off days. "We just haven't figured out our schedule past Tuesday," he said.

Someone Alert Paula McFarland

Carroll Andrew Morse

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (h/t Kathryn Jean Lopez)...

Koryne Horbal, the 71-year-old founder of the DFL Feminist Caucus, doesn't care whether her idea costs Democrats the White House.

Though she acknowledges it is a difficult sell, Horbal said she and other feminists are promising not to vote for Barack Obama and write in Hillary Rodham Clinton's name in November if the disputed Florida and Michigan delegations are not fully seated at the Democratic National Convention and Obama becomes the presidential nominee.

A petition drive to get feminists across the country to make a similar pledge began Friday, she said.

(DFL stands for "Democratic Farmer Labor" Party, Minnesota's state-level Democratic Party organization).

If you're confused by the title of this post, click here.

Everybody's the Boss

Justin Katz

There's a certain wrongheadedness — an insecurity — to the feeling of which Rita Lussier's expression is merely one example of many:

"Yeah, the $4-dollar-a-gallon thing is hard to take," he says as he puts the hose back on the hook and screws the cover on his tank. All the while, he keeps smiling, smiling, smiling.

And then, just before he hops in his truck, this is what he says: "I just pass the cost along to my customers."


He's not alone.

The electric company is asking for another rate hike. The airlines are raising their fares, some are even charging for baggage. No question, when companies have to pay more for fuel, what else can they do?

That's right. They just pass the cost along to their customers. ...

So here we are, standing at the pain station and what are we supposed to do? Who do you and I pass our costs on to? We, who are bearing the brunt of all the landscapers, the painters, the plumbers, the electric companies, the natural gas companies, the grocery stores, the buses, the trains, the airplanes, the state and federal government and everyone else who's putting their load on our backs.

What a declaration of helplessness! Sure, Lussier goes on to offer some ways to use less fuel, but she nonetheless misses the reality that everybody is both supplier and customer. I mean this in the sense that the landscaper with whom she's speaking still has costs for the fuel that he uses for his home and his private vehicles, but I also mean it in the sense that anybody with a job is ultimately supplying something to somebody and every business is seeking to "buy" money from clients with their goods and their services.

So, pass your costs on to your employer. If you don't think you've the grounds to seek more, find ways to make yourself more apparently valuable. On the other side (and probably more easily), pass your costs on to businesses by doing your own landscaping, painting your own house, learning basic plumbing and electric, perhaps growing some of your food, walking more, and demanding that your government take less from you.

Nobody's passive in the economy, and to turn to federal legislators for help — as Lussier suggests, even providing Sheldon Whitehouse's phone number — is to dig one's nation more deeply into helplessness, because nothing's free, especially when it comes from Washington.

May 30, 2008

Slightly More Violent

Justin Katz

All of you who (for whatever inexplicable reason) found yourselves at the movie theater watching Sex and the City, tonight, can listen to Matt Allen's Violent Roundtable featuring Rep. John Loughlin, Senator Leonidas Raptakis, and me here. Two notes from the scene:

1. Sen. Raptakis didn't answer my question about from where the money is supposed to come to pay for increased minimum wages. It doesn't just materialize.

2. Listening to the off-the-air conversation, I'm concerned that legislators aren't constantly taking every opportunity to shout about the things that they see. Yeah, politics is politics, but it's no longer enough to complain about the way things are done when the mics are off. All other business ought to come after exposing the grit and grime of Rhode Island government.

"Dollar Bill" Death Knell?

Marc Comtois

Looks like Bob Corrente is going to need a lot more than the "word" of John Celona to help him with Operation Dollar Bill....

Former CVS executives John R. "Jack" Kramer and Carlos Ortiz have been cleared of charges that they tried bribing former state Sen. John Celona to win favor in the State House for the Woonsocket-based drugstore chain.

The jury of eight men and four women reached their verdict in less than two hours, clearing them of all 23 charges lodged against each defendant. Jurors got the case at 10:35 this morning after receiving instructs from Chief U.S. District Judge Mary M. Lisi.

After the verdict, CVS issued a statement this afternoon, saying the company "believes that the judicial process has produced a fair and just outcome.

"Today’s verdict is consistent with the company’s long-held view that Mr. Kramer and Mr. Ortiz had not engaged in criminal conduct. We are pleased for these two men and their families that this long and painful ordeal has ended," the statement said.

Corrente said his office would continue with its investigation into corruption at the State House, "Operation Dollar Bill."

"If anyone thinks were going away, we're not," Corrente said.

Is Bill Irons next? Or someone else? Or is that about it?

No Comment Necessary

Justin Katz

Not to start the day with cynicism, but I just can't help myself:

On the evening of Wednesday, June 4, The American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) will travel to Providence with the first Indonesian ACYPL delegation to visit the United States since 2002.

The delegation will visit as part of an 11-day political study tour that began in Washington, D.C., and will be hosted in Rhode Island by State Rep. Peter L. Lewiss (D-Dist. 37, Westerly), a 2007 ACYPL delegate to China.

The delegates' program is designed to promote mutual understanding and introduce them to the American political system at the national, state and local levels. It will also provide them with opportunities to gain perspective on American culture, engage in dialogue on international issues, and forge friendships and professional relationships with American counterparts.

May 29, 2008

The Actual Upshot

Justin Katz

The Newport Daily News has the most thorough explanation of the outcome of Tiverton's Financial Town Meeting that I've seen:

More than 800 voters packed Tiverton’s reconvened financial town meeting Wednesday night and approved a slightly amended budget of $41.7 million for fiscal 2009.

Voters also approved a tax-levy override of $1.6 million, which will necessitate an increase of 99 cents to the tax rate, making it $11.25 per $1,000 of property value.

The tax rate is 10 cents less and the excess tax levy is $250,000 less than the $1.9 million override proposal presented to voters at the start of the May 21 meeting. That proposal was defeated by a majority of the 465 voters in attendance. Town officials initially proposed a $42.1 million budget for fiscal 2009, which begins July 1. ...

The amended budget that was approved includes a $100,000 cut to the school budget, a $100,000 reduction in the amount for uncollected taxes and a $50,000 reduction in the police pension fund.

The $100,000 from "uncollected taxes" will, presuming a revenue shortfall, have to be made up somehow in the future. The $50,000 not put into the police pension fund is even more of a mere postponement; if the pension is of the defined benefit sort (which I haven't been able to confirm with a quick search, but which is likely presumable), then the money not put in is of no immediate concern to the participants. That leaves the $100,000 school budget cut, which a Caruolo Act lawsuit could erase.

In other words, the "compromise budget" is very Rhode Island.

Like There's Something Better to Do on Friday Nights

Justin Katz

For those who wish to devote an hour of their Friday nights to productive, edifying ends, I'll be on Matt Allen's Violent Roundtable again tomorrow night, this time with Tiverton/Little Compton/Portsmouth Republican Representative John Loughlin and Coventry/East Greenwich/Warwich/West Warwick Democrat Senator Leonidas Raptakis.

Denial on da Banks of Da Pawtuxet

Carroll Andrew Morse

Based on David Scharfenberg's story in today's Projo, I have to conclude that Cranston City Councilwoman and possible Mayoral candidate Paula McFarland hasn't been paying much attention to her party's Presidential primary...

McFarland, who is finishing a fifth term on the council, said it is important for the party to settle on a candidate in the coming weeks and avoid a divisive primary.

And with three women weighing a run, she said, the party might have an easier time coming to a consensus.

"One of the things that women bring to the table –– we know we can set aside our ego for the benefit of the community," she said.

Scharfenberg is also reporting that State Rep. Peter Palumbo will announce tomorrow that he is not a candidate for Mayor of Cranston.

But Didn't He Play an Integral and Witting Role in the Alleged "Culture of Corruption"

Monique Chartier

Former White House Press Secretary (2003 - 2006) Scott McClellan has published his memoir, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception".

Why, all of a sudden, if he had all these grave concerns, did he not raise these sooner? ... This is 1 1/2 years after he left the administration. ... He is bringing this up in the heat of a presidential campaign. He has written a book, and he certainly wants to go out there and promote that book.

Scott McClellan in 2004 reacting to criticisms of President Bush's policies in the new book by his former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke.

Random Observations About Last Night

Justin Katz

* An older woman was passing jibes to a group of teacher unionists across the aisle from her, and a guidance counselor whose name I'd have to look up, but who is very active and vocal with union matters, brought over one of the policemen on duty to chastise her. I didn't hear any of the particulars, but it struck me as an example of an adult tattletale bully.

* School Committee Vice Chairman Mike Burk had a heated exchange with one speaker, demanding that he explain what services ought to be cut from the children's educations. I suspect an unspoken retort for many in attendance would have been that educational services for children shouldn't be cut, but benefit services for teachers should.

* Superintendent William Rearick at one point asserted that not a single resident had attended any of the school committee meetings and made his or her voice heard. That's a lie. I went to many school committee meetings, and my voice has been heard via email, via letters, and via op-eds. Nobody on the committee seemed to object when I was defending them from the union.

But in the course of that participation, I lost confidenc in the school system that threatens programs regularly as a mode of argumentation for more money, that already offers less than I enjoyed as a public school student, and that tolerates teachers' "working to rule."

* Republican Representatives John Loughlin and Joe Amaral were in attendance and both (although I didn't see Mr. Amaral as frequently) seemed to vote on the side of the tax-raisers at every opportunity.

* Now that I've got a private school tab to cover (somehow), I've been trying to shave every unnecessary penny from my spending, down to such things as a flavored beverage at lunchtime. The Town of Tiverton has now undone all of that effort.

Mac in WSJ: "Blame Congress for High Oil Prices"

Marc Comtois

Mac Owens has a piece in today's Wall Street Journal, "Blame Congress for High Oil Prices." A sample:

To understand the depth of congressional complicity in the high price of gasoline, one must understand that crude oil prices explain 97% of the variation in the pretax price of gasoline. That price, which has risen to record levels, is set by the intersection of supply and demand. On the one hand, world-wide demand has accelerated mainly due to the rapid growth of China and India.

On the other hand, supply has been curtailed by the cartel-like behavior of foreign national oil companies, which control nearly 80% of world petroleum reserves. Faced with little competition in the production of crude oil, the members of this cartel benefit from keeping the commodity in the ground, confident that increasing demand will make it more valuable in the future. Despite its pious denunciations of the behavior of U.S. investor-owned oil companies (IOCs), Congress by its actions over the years has ensured the economic viability of the national oil company cartel.

It has done so by preventing the exploitation by IOCs of reserves available in nonpark federal lands in the West, Alaska and under the waters off our coasts. These areas hold an estimated 635 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas – enough to meet the needs of the 60 million American homes fueled by natural gas for over a century. They also hold an estimated 112 billion barrels of recoverable oil – enough to produce gasoline for 60 million cars and fuel oil for 25 million homes for 60 years.

This doesn't even include substantial oil shale resources economically recoverable at oil prices substantially lower than those prevailing today. In an exchange between Sen. Orin Hatch (R., Utah) and John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Company during the May 21 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the point was made that anywhere from 800 million to two trillion barrels of oil are available from oil shale in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

If Congress really cared about the economic well-being of American citizens, it would stop fulminating against IOCs and reverse current policies that discourage, indeed prohibit, the production of domestic oil and natural gas. Even the announcement that Congress was opening the way for domestic production would lead to downward pressure on oil prices.

Meeting on Matt Allen

Justin Katz

Monique's conversation with Matt Allen last night can be streamed by clicking here (or download). They mainly discussed financial town meetings, and Monique teased a very interesting post on state-level nepotism.

Town Financial Meeting, In Summary (How Things Apparently Work)

Justin Katz

First off: if I am incorrect in any of the particulars that follow, please correct me. I've been playing catch-up, and I'm tired.

  • Last week, a body of 437 Tiverton residents rejected a tax levy of $30,200,000, which exceeded the budget cap by about $2,000,000. Specifically, "by a vote of 255 in favor and 151 against, [voters] directed the town to live within that [5%] cap."
  • During the following week, the budget committee devised a scheme to propose exceeding the cap by a little bit less: $1,659,505. Meanwhile, the superintendent (and other town officials, I believe) used public resources to encourage voters to come out and pass the budget.
  • An appeal to the decision to stop the Budget Committee's proposal (on the grounds that it was not "substantially different" than the one that was rejected the week before) failed by a narrow vote, with questions of overcounting. Then, a motion to recess and give the Budget Committee another month to pull the numbers down some more failed on (for some reason) a voice vote that pitted an opposition consisting of many older citizens versus interested parties consisting of police, firemen, and teachers, all of whom have career tendencies toward voice projection.
  • The Budget Committee's motion to exceed the tax levy cap by $1.659,505 passes, and almost half of the crowd storms out. That dollar amount should bring taxes to around $29,860,000, or $11.24 (an increase of 9.55%).
  • After some discussion of the fact that the crowd is teetering around the 437 mark needed to make changes to the previous week's voter instructions, the government officials push a vote to permit the Budget Committee to (I think) reduce or increase the amount set aside for abatements and uncollected taxes in such a way as to compensate for the $250,000 reduction with which the meeting started.
  • Somehow, the upshot is that the budget is $41,797,101, of which between 31,097,228 and 31,297,228 will be generated through taxes, for a homeowner tax rate of $11.78, or 14.8%. (To be as clear as possible, the $31 million number may include motor vehicle taxes, which aren't included in the property tax cap. If that's the case, then the total property tax revenue would come in at $29,892,228, or $11.25 per $1,000 of property, which is a 9.6% increase — of course, with the difference from the last budget apparently coming out of the money set aside for likely tax shortfalls, thus requiring some action midyear. On a total basis, that's an 11.08% increase over last year's $26,909,360, as opposed to the plan last week, which would have been an increase of 12.5%.)

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how your kindly government officials handle a taxpayer revolt.

The only question now is whether it's better to jump into local politics and wreak havoc from within or to focus efforts at the state level.

May 28, 2008

The Tiverton Powers That Be Try Again

Justin Katz

Well, my first financial town meeting is about to begin. As if knowingly, the woman at the rapidly moving G-L registration line stamped my admittance arrow to the right. (Or perhaps it was a sly political statement from her perspective.)

If you're coming, wear your walking shoes:

Of course, you get to go right by the school if you drive one of these:

Here's the audience as of the meeting's beginning:

The Budget Committee proposed another budget that raises the budget by $250,000 less than the previous budget proposal. A citizen appealed, and now we're debating whether the new proposal is appropriate given last week's occurances.

The woman who appealed the decision to allow another proposal just pointed out that doing so would disenfranchise those who voted previously and would be equivalent to allowing the losing side a week to gather the troops and try again.

I gotta say, by the way, that the joining of legal actions with a public gathering makes for some confusing discussion.

The official count of those in attendance, by the way, is around 750 (747), I think, but I was trying to pay attention to other things when it was stated.

The updated count: 775 786

A vote in which the appeal failed (with the effect that the new budget would be considered) will be retaken, because of confusion about the number of people voting and in the room (more people voted than appeared to be present).

They'll now be closing the doors during votes.

(It seemed clear to me that the "yes" votes were clearly more numerous, but I can't see the whole room.)

Current count: 789.

Appeal denied. Proposal goes forward for consideration.

Now an appeal to recess 30 days to allow more budget restructuring.

The appeal debate continues: The vote count exceeds the attendance count by 3, with the "no" (to the appeal) having won by 14.

Some controversy because the vote to recess was done by voice, not by count. I'm not sure what determines the method of voting. The "no" to the recess certainly was louder, but a few male voices were clearly prominent.

I'm really confused. The budget committee chairman (Mr. Cotta) suggested a slightly reduced budget excess over the cap than last year, and a couple of women amended that, I think, to be more, perhaps restoring last week's number (?).

Much more discussion on a proposal to reduce it than the two to increase it.

(The increase was, I believe, to the previous number.)

Note on voting method: the voice votes strike me as fundamentally biased, because many who can be presumed to want a larger budget (police officers, firemen, and teachers) are selected by their careers to have practice projecting their voices.

The first of three amendments to the budget committee's new number (currently the lowest number has failed). Of course, that's now four amendments that have to fail before the tax increase cap can stand.

Having just voted down an increase over the tax levy of $1,860,000, we just voted down $1,850,000. (Now 688 people in the room.)

Low battery.

The Budget Committee's motion to exceed the cap by $1,659,505 ($250,000 less than last week) passed 376 to 319 (with a body count of 689).

A large number of people got up and walked out, despite urging to stay for further votes. A motion was made and seconded to close the doors to keep them in. I shouted that they ought to just shoot them and inquired whether they constitute a quorum if they're dead. School Committee President DeMedeiros laughed.

Now they're recounting to see if we've maintained a quorum. (Now 442 remain.)

11:14pm (from my now more-expensive home)
Odd things happened after the walkout. Budget Guy Cotta proposed another motion that I didn't fully understand, but it apparently had something to do with resolution 7, which apparently passed last week:

RESOLVE, that the voters of the Financial Town Meeting approve setting aside a reserve sum of $474, 213.00 as a restricted expense for the purpose of accounting for annual abatements and uncollected taxes which amount to 1.5% of levied taxes on Real and Tangible Properties. Historically the Town of Tiverton allocated a reasonable percentage of abatements and uncollected taxes as a method of ensuring the town could operate as budgeted without requiring 100 percent tax collections. Because the town has received permission to levy taxes beyond the permitted tax cap, and there are presently insufficient unreserved general funds available to offset taxes, fiscal prudence requires the town to account for potential abatements and uncollected taxes.

An objection was made that the resolution passed with attendance of 437, and undoing that seemed imprudent. Meanwhile people were storming out. A request was made for another room count, and the two police officers keeping track conferred. The folks on the stage worked quickly to move to a vote in the meantime, and in short succession the police officers announced that 16 people had left (bringing the number to 426), and the motion passed. Objections followed that there was no longer a number exceeding 437, and the moderator (who didn't seem very unbiased, given some sarcastic remarks to certain audience members) asserted that the number had been in the room when the vote was called (or something along those lines).

The net result, at the end of the day (although numbers were flying, and the town clerk had to correct the motion several times, so I might have confused things a little), is that Tiverton will raise property and vehicle excise taxes to an amount not less than $31,097,228, and not more than $31, 297,228.

I've got to sort some things out, but it looks like the net effect could be to raise property taxes from $10.26 to $11.78, or 14.8%.

Welcome to democracy, Rhode Island style.

(Note, see here for a summary. It may be, by the way that the tax increase no a per $1,000 basis is actually 9.6%, although it's still an 11% increase from last year's collections on a total basis.)

Tiverton and Beyond - Quick 'N Dirty Background

Monique Chartier

WPRO's Matt Allen, in the last hour of his show yesterday, reported that at the Tiverton financial town meeting last week, a woman stood up to urge that the budget cuts be reconsidered, thereby at least tacitly (and perhaps overtly) expressing support for the 11% tax increase proposed by Tiverton's solons. Her suggestion was not well received by many citizens in attendance. [Public Service Announcement: the Tiverton financial town meeting continues tonight.]

It occurred to me that the woman may either be new to the state or only recently involved in government so may not be aware of some background - background common to most cities and towns as well as the state itself; background, by the way, that often seems missing from Providence Journal reporting (though not editorializing) on such matters, as evidenced in the article from which Justin's quotes.

To the woman who spoke in support of the 11% tax increase: you are to be applauded for getting involved. In preparation for the continuance tonight of the Tiverton financial town meeting, you might be interested to know:

> Rhode Island is eighth highest in education expenditures yet its schools are performing on the other end of the scale.

> Rhode Islanders pay the fourth highest taxes - much of which goes to fund our schools - yet must contend with all of the disadvantages of the second worst business climate in the country.

> Because of the misguided actions of many of Rhode Island's elected officials on the state and local level, good teachers are paid the same as mediocre and bad teachers and there is no mechanism for the removal of poorly performing teachers except in extreme cases . (Ed Achorn points out that Representative Nick Gorham is trying to change that.)

You can perhaps see, ma'am, why there is less than universal support for an 11% tax increase in your town.

Michigan's Lesson to Rhode Island

Marc Comtois

From an editorial in today's Wall Street Journal:

[T]he latest news of Michigan's deepening budget woe is a national warning of what happens when you raise taxes in a weak economy.

Officials in Lansing reported this month that the state faces a revenue shortfall between $350 million and $550 million next budget year. This is a major embarrassment for Governor Jennifer Granholm, the second-term Democrat who shut down the state government last year until the Legislature approved Michigan's biggest tax hike in a generation. Her tax plan raised the state income tax rate to 4.35% from 3.9%, and increased the state's tax on gross business receipts by 22%. Ms. Granholm argued that these new taxes would raise some $1.3 billion in new revenue that could be "invested" in social spending and new businesses and lead to a Michigan renaissance.

Not quite. Six months later one-third of the expected revenues have vanished as the state's economy continues to struggle. Income tax collections are falling behind estimates, as are property tax receipts and those from the state's transaction tax on home sales....The tax hikes have done nothing but accelerate the departures of families and businesses. Michigan ranks fourth of the 50 states in declining home values, and these days about two families leave for every family that moves in. Making matters worse is that property taxes are continuing to rise by the rate of overall inflation, while home values fall. Michigan natives grumble that the only reason more people aren't blazing a path out of the state is they can't sell their homes. Research by former Comerica economist David Littmann finds that about the only industry still growing in Michigan is government. Ms. Granholm's $44.8 billion budget this year further fattened agency payrolls.

There's another national lesson from the Granholm tax dud. If Democrats believe that anger over the economy and high gas prices have put voters in a receptive mood for higher taxes, they should visit the Wolverine State.

"What life was really like to grow up as a child of the feminist revolution"

Marc Comtois

Rebecca Walker (h/t Freeman Hunt), daughter of feminist Alice Walker, has a sad tale to tell.

I was raised to believe that women need men like a fish needs a bicycle. But I strongly feel children need two parents and the thought of raising Tenzin without my partner, Glen, 52, would be terrifying.

As the child of divorced parents, I know only too well the painful consequences of being brought up in those circumstances. Feminism has much to answer for denigrating men and encouraging women to seek independence whatever the cost to their families.

My mother's feminist principles coloured every aspect of my life. As a little girl, I wasn't even allowed to play with dolls or stuffed toys in case they brought out a maternal instinct. It was drummed into me that being a mother, raising children and running a home were a form of slavery. Having a career, travelling the world and being independent were what really mattered according to her.

I love my mother very much, but I haven't seen her or spoken to her since I became pregnant. She has never seen my son - her only grandchild. My crime? Daring to question her ideology.

Well, so be it. My mother may be revered by women around the world - goodness knows, many even have shrines to her. But I honestly believe it's time to puncture the myth and to reveal what life was really like to grow up as a child of the feminist revolution.

The story is a personal one dealing with the particular strained relationship between a daughter and her mother. But Rebecca Walker also explains her concerns with current feminist philosophy:
I know many women are shocked by my views. They expect the daughter of Alice Walker to deliver a very different message. Yes, feminism has undoubtedly given women opportunities. It's helped open the doors for us at schools, universities and in the workplace. But what about the problems it's caused for my contemporaries?

What about the children?

The ease with which people can get divorced these days doesn't take into account the toll on children. That's all part of the unfinished business of feminism.

Then there is the issue of not having children....Feminism has betrayed an entire generation of women into childlessness. It is devastating.

But far from taking responsibility for any of this, the leaders of the women's movement close ranks against anyone who dares to question them - as I have learned to my cost. I don't want to hurt my mother, but I cannot stay silent. I believe feminism is an experiment, and all experiments need to be assessed on their results. Then, when you see huge mistakes have been paid, you need to make alterations.

Coburn Attempts to Refocus the Nat'l GOP

Marc Comtois

From Senator Tom Coburn (R, OK):

Becoming Republicans again will require us to come to grips with what has ailed our party – namely, the triumph of big-government Republicanism and failed experiments like the K Street Project and "compassionate conservatism." If the goal of the K Street Project was to earmark and fund raise our way to a filibuster-proof "governing" majority, the goal of "compassionate conservatism" was to spend our way to a governing majority.

The fruit of these efforts is not the hoped-for Republican governing majority, but the real prospect of a filibuster-proof Democrat majority in 2009. While the K Street Project decimated our brand as the party of reform and limited government, compassionate conservatism convinced the American people to elect the party that was truly skilled at activist government: the Democrats.

Compassionate conservatism's starting point had merit. The essential argument that Republicans should orient policy around how our ideas will affect the poor, the widow, the orphan, the forgotten and the "other" is indisputable – particularly for those who claim, as I do, to submit to an authority higher than government. Yet conservatives are conservatives because our policies promote deliverance from poverty rather than dependence on government.

Compassionate conservatism's next step – its implicit claim that charity or compassion translates into a particular style of activist government involving massive spending increases and entitlement expansion – was its undoing. Common sense and the Scriptures show that true giving and compassion require sacrifice by the giver. This is why Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell his possessions, not his neighbor's possessions. Spending other people's money is not compassionate.

Regaining our brand as the party of fiscal discipline will require us to rejoin Americans in the real world of budget choices and priorities, and to leave behind the fantasyland of borrowing without limits.

ADDENDUM: Alex Castellanos makes a case for a more "natural" or "organic" government that conservatives can live with.

CBO's Data on the Distribution of Federal Taxes and Household Income

Marc Comtois

The Congressional Budget Office has released a new report, "Data on the Distribution of Federal Taxes and Household Income," which covers 1979-2005. Here's the "money graph":

Here's an explanation, including:
CBO’s analysis of effective tax rates assumes that households bear the burden of the taxes that they pay directly, such as individual income taxes (including taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains) and employees’ share of payroll taxes. The analysis assumes—as do most economists—that employers’ share of payroll taxes is passed on to employees in the form of lower wages than would otherwise be paid. Therefore, the amount of those taxes is included in employees’ income, and the taxes are counted as part of employees’ tax burden. CBO estimates payroll taxes and individual income taxes, including refundable tax credits, with a tax “calculator” that applies the tax law for the relevant year to the tax return data from the SOI.

Excise taxes are assumed to fall on households according to their consumption of taxed goods (such as tobacco and alcohol). Excise taxes that affect intermediate goods, which are paid by businesses, are attributed to households in proportion to their overall consumption. CBO assumes that each household spends the same on taxed goods as similar household with comparable income in the Consumer Expenditure Survey.

Far less consensus exists about how to attribute corporate income taxes (and taxes on capital income generally). In this analysis, CBO assumes that corporate income taxes are borne by owners of capital in proportion to their income from interest, dividends, capital gains, and rents....Over the long term, however, some models suggest that at least part of the burden falls on labor income. (emphasis added~ed.)

I emphasized what I did to remind all of our redistributionist friends out there of an economic truism: whatever extras you think you can extract from businesses will be passed along to employers and consumers. There is also this interesting graph:

Notice how consistent the "Social Insurance Taxes" (entitlements) are? Many more graphs to slice and dice here.

Seconding Whitcomb: Politicians Ain't the Messiah

Marc Comtois

My dispositional inclination is to agree with the ProJo's Bob Whitcomb:

Sen. Barack Obama visited the Capitol in his glory the other week, with other, lesser politicians crowding around to be photographed — testifying to his charm and to the tendency to suck up to the winner.

It recalls how we pay far too much attention to presidential candidates, as opposed to everything else. Much can be blamed on the sloth of the news media; they find it much easier and more glamorous to cover a presidential race — as daily soap operas, or games — than, say, the complex activities of the government bureaucracy.

And an increasingly infantilized society has attributed to presidents super-parental attributes. We invest absurd hopes and hates in this office, forgetting that America’s condition is far more dependent on changes in technology and other big trends than any president. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, changed our world a lot more than Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.

Mr. Obama has high intelligence, dignity, a smooth voice, close ties to some major economic lobbies — see the farm bill — and the ability to use and discard alliances at high opportunistic speed and (eloquently) contradict himself daily. He may or may not become a good president (and I may vote for him). Most of his success and failure, however, would depend on events far out of his control. And he would not create a heaven or hell on earth for most of us. We have to do that for ourselves. (emphasis added~ed.)

I second Whitcomb (except for the voting for Obama part) and would extrapolate his thoughts to include all politicians and political "movements." For sure, politics can engender change. But, for the most part, technology, science and even faith (or a disregard for any of the above) have had larger roles to play in the course of our society than finger-in-the-wind pols or faddish movements.

That doesn't mean we should all check out of the political process. But we certainly shouldn't believe that the entire fate of our nation will forever be determined by one election, held a few months from now. I mean, this country survived freakin' Andrew Johnson, right?

Napolitano Stepping Down

Carroll Andrew Morse

Cranston Mayor Michael Napolitano has announced he will not run for a second term.

I'm in with the commenters over at Kmareka who say that they are surprised, but not shocked by the news. There never seemed to be any long-term vision in Mayor Napolitano's plans that would be a top-priority for him to see through and, though it's possible to make mistakes trying to read these things from afar, he never seemed particularly comfortable in the job.

According to David Scharfenberg of the Projo, this leaves three contenders on the Democratic side, State Representatives Charlene Lima and Peter Palumbo, and retiring City Councilwoman Paula McFaraland, as challengers to Republican candidate Allan Fung.


The Cranston Republican City Committee offers gentle words of support, in response to Mayor Napolitano's decision not to seek re-election...

On behalf of Cranston taxpayers, the Cranston Republican City Committee would like to thank Mayor Michael T. Napolitano for his decision not to seek re-election as Mayor of Cranston. Following in the footsteps of his mentor, former Mayor John O’Leary, Mayor Napolitano is shying away from a re-election campaign after helping to create a fiscal crisis in Cranston.

Since Mayor Napolitano’s election the membership of the Cranston Republican party has been a relentless watchdog for the taxpayers through press releases, newspaper advertisements, internet websites, public comments at city council meetings and letters to the editor. From the early days of his administration when Mayor Napolitano decided to waste taxpayer money redecorating his office while using an allergy attack as an excuse, Cranston taxpayers have witnessed wasteful spending and financial incompetence from Mayor Napolitano.

Mayor Napolitano ran for office in 2006 on a series of false promises such as tax relief and more money for schools. Now, as he leaves elected office, he refuses to tell the truth as to the real reason why he is not seeking re-election. Mayor Napolitano is not seeking re-election due to the bad poll results he recently received. After spending millions to help his re-election bid by agreeing to an outrageous firefighters’ contract to spending millions to buy swamp land to concocting a phony tax freeze budget all while bragging that he is raising tens of thousands of dollars from political insiders, no one should believe that all of sudden Mayor Napolitano decided to drop his re-election bid because of personal reasons. Once again we see the Mayor’s dishonesty and his lack of courage. We already knew he did not have the courage to stand up to the special interests like the firefighters’ union. Now we know he does not have the courage to face the voters and justify his record. Mayor Napolitano’s internal poll must show that the voters of Cranston clearly reject his irresponsible fiscal policies. They will not be fooled again and that is why he is not running for re-election.

Regardless of whom the Democrats and Mayor Napolitano hand pick as their candidate for Mayor, there is only one candidate who has fiscally conservative policies, a proven track record, the courage to speak out over the last year and half against the current administration’s irresponsible policies, and the experience of dealing with a fiscal crisis in Cranston. That candidate is Allan Fung, and we believe the voters will not be fooled into making the same mistake again.

What's a Marriage Argument All About?

Justin Katz

The push for same-sex marriage must surely rank highly in recent history among movements that have doggedly ignored the opposition's core objection, and last Thursday's Providence Journal opinion pages encapsulate that myopia nicely. First, an editorial:

... Gays who wed [in California] will help accustom others to this quiet revolution — chiefly by demonstrating that they can be as drained, dulled and divided over housekeeping duties and expenses as anyone else.

Perhaps just as importantly, polls reveal younger Americans as far more accepting than their elders of homosexual relationships. This suggests that, in another generation, much of the fuss will simply wither.

No one would say that marriage is easy. But it affords stability, support and the deep satisfactions that come with commitment. It is also a fine foundation for nurturing families. That people have been denied the privileges of marriage because of their sexual orientation is both sad and unjust.

If only the most astonishing blind spot of these sentences were the assertion that this hugely controversialist, desperately in-your-face movement could conceivably be called a "quiet revolution." Of course, the phrase fits the fantasy that same-sex marriage supporters like to foster for themselves: that the advocates for this radical change are forwarding their goals mainly via righteous living, while the reactionary army shrieks and throws every conceivable social and governmental weapon at the growing inevitability.

No, what stuns is the nonchalance with which the editorial writer tags the essential historical and cultural component of marriage on as an addendum: "It is also a fine foundation for nurturing families." You know, not the ideal. Not even a highly advisable family structure. Just a "fine" setting.

At least Froma Harrop, writing on the opposite page, allows that "a stable marriage is the ideal institution for raising children." Unfortunately, she makes that point as a concession on her way toward the dismissive assertion that "we already have tax benefits focused on parents" — as if the tax code matches the culture in power to persuade. As if a few extra dollars come April balances a general sense — so affirmed as to be a matter of culture and law — that marriage is about families and children and constitutes such a unique and valuable institution that it is raised up at least beyond the level of buying a sawzall as an investment toward a career in carpentry.

Instead, Harrop uses the civil rights claims in Britain's sister-partner suit to eviscerate marriage into related taxable categories:

... they brought their case before the European Court of Human Rights. There they demanded the same tax benefits now afforded married gay as well as hetero couples in Europe. The court turned them down, arguing that their relationship was of a different nature than that of married people. Now what could that different nature be other than the presumption of sexual contact? By the way, do the English taxing authorities know whether a married couple is having sex?

Back in this country, 7 percent of respondents to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll said they had gotten married to obtain health insurance through their spouse’s plan. "Medically covered" should become a category on the dating sites.

It's easy to understand why gay people would want to get in on the marriage gravy train. There's just no logic for there being one. A stable marriage is the ideal institution for raising children, but we already have tax benefits focused on parents. Given the growing percentage of unmarried adult Americans, the whole obsession with same-sex marriage has become rather dated.

In her hoity ennui, Harrop has dubbed the radical movement as dated, providing evidence and instance, in the process, of an argument that I've been making for years on the marriage issue: If marriage is not about the one thing that only one man and one woman can do in combination, then there's really no grounds for allotting government benediction on the basis of intimacy.

So, Froma goes on to illustrate for all who wonder how same-sex marriage could affect the broader institution the mechanism by which the intrinsic logic of the movement proceeds to do just that. Let people define their romantic relationships as their preference and religion may suggest, but as for a consensus understanding of the institution of marriage, well, hey, there are tax breaks for parents, and there are prisons and (someday again, perhaps) workhouses for those children who might otherwise have benefited from a culture that allowed marriage to do what millennia had — until recently — honed it to do in Western society.

I know, I know, my notions of marriage are "dated." And one can have little doubt that, should the Harrops of the West ever have a fleeting pang of awareness of the damage that their casual revolution will have wrought, they'll persuade themselves that guilt and culpability are equally passé.

May 27, 2008

Pulling on the Hands Reaching Out

Justin Katz

We just received a call from Tiverton Schools Superintendent William Rearick (or, more likely, a recording) encouraging us, as parents in the town, to attend tomorrow night's financial town meeting in order to vote for the 11% increase in taxes so that the district won't have to tighten its belt anymore. A related Projo article today makes me wonder how many similar phone calls our town officials are making this evening:

The resumption of the annual Financial Town Meeting tomorrow night was to be largely a procedural affair, leading to yet another recess.

But town officials aren’t so sure about that anymore.

They say they have concerns that a relatively small number of voters could move forward with budget cuts deep enough to fundamentally alter the character of the town — without a word from those who want to maintain the current level of municipal services. ...

Town Council president Louise Durfee and council member Brian Medeiros urged those who want to maintain existing services to turn out for the resumption of the Financial Town Meeting tomorrow night at 7 in the high school gymnasium.

Medeiros predicted that those who want to limit the tax increase will take action to finalize budget cuts tomorrow.

"I hope enough people show up so that the Town Council gets a sense of whether [last week's] vote reflects the majority will of the town," Medeiros said.

"Does a majority want services to continue at a reasonable level, or do they want to take a meat cleaver" to the budget, he asked.

Durfee said she was concerned last Wednesday that she hadn't heard the voices of people "who enjoy summer recreation, a good education, the need for a rescue service and a police department."

Me, I'm in a meat cleaver state of mind. For one thing, in part to protect them from work-to-ruling teachers, and the related constriction of services and opportunities on offer in the public schools, I'll be pulling my children from the school system, so the tax money therein invested will merely be tacked on fruitlessly to the expense of the education that they'll actually be receiving. Beyond that, I'm not sure what services I'm supposed to credit the town with providing. The roads en route to my neighborhood are poor. The storefronts are increasingly empty. I don't have sewer service. My water pressure is horrid (even though my section of town pays more for water than does the wealthier side of town). The "free" garbage pickup has cost me an annual garbage can, and I receive a suspicious chastisement every time I try to bring home-renovation refuse directly to the landfill.

Mind you, I'm not complaining so much as explaining my reason for hope that drawing the line on tax increases will force some much-needed reflection among those in government and otherwise who — for whatever reason — have a different understanding of the cost-benefit balance of town services.

In the Fair Funding Formula, Some Communities Will Be Treated More Fairly Than Others

Carroll Andrew Morse

And the frontrunner for this year's Emperor's New Clothes Award for Stating the Obvious is Richmond Town Councilor Henry R. Oppenheimer, for his recent comments on the General Assembly's latest version of an educational "funding formula".

Andrew Martin of the Chariho Times reports on the effect the proposed "funding formula" would have on Chariho District…

The bill, S2650, also named the “Fair Share Education Funding Formula,” focuses on sending more money to the urban schools in the state. As a result, less funding would go toward the rural and suburban schools. Also, it would aggregate the three towns in the Chariho Regional School District – Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton – and the aid would be dispersed equally.

Basically, the bill would eliminate the regional bonus for regional school districts. For Chariho, it would equate to a loss of $12 million. The district gets $14.8 million now, but under this bill, it would only receive $2 million. According to [Richmond Councilor Oppenheimer], there would be total loss in Washington County of $37 million.

Here is Councilman Oppenheimer's award-deserving response, where he rightly questions the General Assembly's comprehension of the concept of "fair"...
"I guess [the bill] is fair in the eyes of the beholder, but in my eyes it wasn’t very fair," he said in reference to the bill’s title.

“It says that it cannot be disputed that this new system would enhance fairness and equality. If I lived in Providence where [state aid] goes up, I might believe that. But not one Washington County town would get an increase,” Oppenheimer said.

Martin also reports that the Richmond and Hopkinton Town Councils are officially notifying their statehouse delegations that they want to be notified anytime an education "funding formula" bill is introduced in the legislature...
The councilor then asked to have a strongly-worded letter written to the town’s legislators opposing the bill and any other legislation of its kind in the future. Also, Oppenheimer said he wants the town to be notified any time a bill like this goes before the General Assembly.

Hopkinton council President Vincenzo Cordone asked to have a similar letter written at the Monday, May 19 town meeting.

Apparently, the town councils believe their state reps need assistance in determining if education bills submitted to the legislature are really in their communities' best interests. City and town councils in other Rhode Island communities would be wise to offer their legislators the same help too.

Skipping Past the "Helicopter in Every Garage" Phase

Carroll Andrew Morse

Jay Fitzgerald of the Boston Herald reports on a long-shot but interesting economic development project for Rhode Island…

Woburn’s Terrafugia Inc. hopes its futuristic car-plane business takes off in Massachusetts.

The maker of the hybrid car-plane contraption - which theoretically will both drive on roads and soar through the sky - plans to meet with officials from Gov. Deval Patrick’s Massachusetts Office of Business Development next month to try to work out an economic-incentives package to keep the company in the state.

But Massachusetts may face stiff competition in its attempt to retain Terrafugia’s future production operations.

A number of states - eager to attract a cutting-edge manufacturer requiring potentially hundreds of highly skilled assembly and mechanical workers - are actively wooing the young aviation company, founded by an MIT grad and his colleagues.

"I’d rather stay right here in Massachusetts," said Carl Dietrich, co-founder and chief executive of Terrafugia, which hopes to start production of its two-seat car-planes sometime in 2009.
But "economics are economics," said Dietrich, who adds he’s listening closely to economic-incentives pitches being made by such states as Rhode Island and Maine.

The two states, both long known for their boat-making sectors, see aviation as a logical way to attract and keep highly trained mechanics jobs, he said.

The name of Terrafugia's intended first car-plane is the "Transition". According to Terrafugia's FAQ, car-plane means exactly what it sounds like, i.e. something that might exist in a Sean Connery era James Bond movie…
Q: Will the Transition fit in my garage?

A: The Transition was designed to fit into a standard household garage. At 6.75 ft (2.1 m) high, 6.5 ft (2.0 m) wide, and 18.75’ (5.7 m) long, the Transition will fit anywhere that you could park a larger SUV such as a Cadillac Escalade or Lincoln Navigator, and will fit inside a 7’ garage and a standard parking space.

Q: How fast will the Transition drive on the ground?

A: The Transition will be fully highway capable and able to easily reach the speed limit. A 100hp engine in a vehicle as light as the Transition will provide ample power on the ground.

Q: How fast will the Transition fly?

A: At 75% power, the anticipated cruising speed of the Transition is 100 kts (115 mph, 185 km/hr).

OK, well, maybe it's not exactly like a James Bond car-plane…
Q: Can I take off from the highway?

A: No. In addition to power lines, billboards, overpasses, and other obstructions that make this idea unsafe, the Transition will have to be parked with the engine off in order to deploy the wings and engage the propeller. It is also illegal in most states (emergency landings excluded).

I'm curious; does the possibility of luring this company to Rhode Island make any of the if- it's-not-being-taxed-right-now-then-it-needs-to-be crowd mellow their position on whether Rhode Island should help balance the state budget by ending its sales-tax exemption on aircraft?

A Profile in Bureaucratic Spending

Justin Katz

There's something emblematic about states' attempts to tweak homeland security programs in order to apply federal dollars to tangential matters:

More openly than at any time since the Sept. 11 attacks, state and local authorities have begun to complain that the federal financing for domestic security is being too closely tied to combating potential terrorist threats, at a time when they say they have more urgent priorities.

"I have a healthy respect for the federal government and the importance of keeping this nation safe," said Col. Dean Esserman, the police chief in Providence, R.I. "But I also live every day as a police chief in an American city where violence every day is not foreign and is not anonymous but is right out there in the neighborhoods." ...

Local officials do not dismiss the terrorist threat, but many are trying to retool counterterrorism programs so that they focus more directly on combating gun violence, narcotics trafficking and gangs — while arguing that these programs, too, should qualify for federal financing, on the theory that terrorists may engage in criminal activity as a precursor to an attack.

Could be I missed something, but I don't recall any of the 9/11 attackers having displayed any of those precursors. More likely these state and local authorities are providing an example of the inherent problem with big government: It creates a big pool of somebody else's money (taken under force of law) to be pulled and sliced across layers of bureaucracy, until its expenditure is scarcely related to the arguments for its allocation.

Narragansett's Loud Party Ordinance Being Challenged

Carroll Andrew Morse

It's difficult to see any way that the town of Narragansett's orange sticker anti-partying ordinance, in its current form, will survive the Constitutional challenge filed by the ACLU. Under the ordinance, police are instructed to affix a notice to a home where they determine a too-loud party is occurring. Penalties will follow any subsequent noise-related calls to houses with stickers attached. According to Mark N. Schieldrop of the South County Independent

If police respond to a house that has a sticker, $300 will be fined for a first offense, $400 for the second and $500 for a third offense – the maximum under state law for misdemeanors. Repeat offenders can face evictions and landlords can be fined.
The legal problem, reported concisely by WLNE-TV's (ABC 6) Robert Goulston, is that…
…there is no hearing or court-process involved before students, including landlords, are fined or ordered to do community service.
In the American system of government, no branch of government is allowed to impose a penalty -- and small as it seems, just the affixing of a sticker on private property is a penalty -- in the absence of a public proceeding where defendants are allowed to call witnesses and present evidence. That is one of the meanings of the right to "due process of law".

Narragansett's loud-party ordinance can probably be made procedurally compliant by 1) creating a hearing process where stickees are allowed to argue their case and 2) having police officers issue summonses to hearings, rather than publicly posting the orange stickers, as the first step in enforcement against violations.

The Injury Lottery

Justin Katz

The Projo headline should have been "Murder case could threaten ex-officers' pensions," because it shouldn't take the manifest ability of killing another human being to correct this clear fleecing of the public:

Gianquitti has been collecting an accidental disability pension since 1993, retiring at 24 after six months as a patrolman for the Providence Police Department. His disability pension is two-thirds his salary, tax-free, plus health care benefits for him and his family. ...

While Gianquitti’s pension received cost-of-living adjustments, the city never checked on him to find out if he was, indeed, still disabled, Cunha said.

The hand-wringing over whether the pension requirement of "honorable service" applies to crimes committed after retirement is sickening: Anybody still living on the municipality's deal for police officers ought to be held to the same standard. And taking advantage of an early injury for a lifelong vacation ought to be considered dishonorable on its face.

Election Season Ramping Up

Justin Katz

The likelihood that Rhode Island will move in the right direction over the next few years will become increasingly apparent as the election season ramps up. If the right kinds of candidates run, and if they can get some traction, then perhaps (just perhaps) the worst can be avoided.

One candidate to watch will be Robert Paquin, who is running for Representative Joseph McNamara's District 19 seat in Warwick/Cranston.

On incumbent side, Rep. John Loughlin, District 71 (Tiverton, Portsmouth, Little Compton), has gotten an early start with the YouTube campaigning.

Hopefully, the announcements will keep rolling in.

Re: A Developing Theme on the Environment

Monique Chartier

Under Justin's post, Mark Steyn observes

... if the House of Representatives has now declared it "illegal" for the government of Saudi Arabia to restrict oil production, why is it still legal for the Government of the United States to restrict oil production? In fact, the government of the United States restricts pretty much every form of energy production ...

There's a principle in psychiatry - you can't control what other people do but you can control what you do and your reaction to other people's actions. It has been the height of silliness for Senator Hillary Clinton and then other members of Congress to ineffectually hound OPEC as they themselves continue to block drilling in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

Steyn refers to the rising prices of oil and its end products. Has an explanation been offered by those who oppose the building of refineries and any new drilling for oil on US soil as to the benefits/advantages of high gas prices, not to mention higher prices for just about everything that involves or requires energy? Further, under the category of Conflicting Goals, most of those who oppose new refineries and drilling and advocate for a reduction in our use of fossil fuels presumably are not supporters of "big oil", either foreign or domestic, and do not wish it to florish. Is it possible that they do not understand that their policies, in addition to making people a little poorer, are also considerably enriching the very industry that is their bane?

Instead of making empty demands of unmotivated third parties, we need to take the steps necessary to help ourselves.

May 26, 2008

A Developing Theme on the Environment

Justin Katz

I was going to note that Colin Flaherty shows that there's at least some truth to every paranoia:

I am an ecophobe: I imagine environmentalists creating catastrophes all the time all over the world. I see great floods, famine, disease and death, and behind each is the same thing: a grinning environmentalist reveling in the mayhem as if it were magic. Before you commit me, hear me out. Then I'll go quietly.

Be the motivation what it will, Flaherty mounts a case that, if not convincing, ought to be cause for some reflection among the greens. Surely there's a balance to be struck (rearing its head even in book reviews concerning foreign nations' growth relative to the U.S.A.), but it seems to often to be the case that comeuppance isn't acknowledged as the foreseeable consequence of prior decisions.

With his inimitable way, Mark Steyn explains a recent example:

"It shall be illegal and a violation of this Act," declared the House of Representatives, "to limit the production or distribution of oil, natural gas, or any other petroleum product... or to otherwise take any action in restraint of trade for oil, natural gas, or any petroleum product when such action, combination, or collective action has a direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect on the market, supply, price, or distribution of oil, natural gas, or other petroleum product in the United States."

Er, okay. But, before we start suing distant sheikhs in exotic lands for violating the NOPEC act, why don't we start by suing Congress? After all, who "limits the production or distribution of oil" right here in the United States by declaring that there'll be no drilling in the Gulf of Florida or the Arctic National Mosquito Refuge? As Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz herself told Neil Cavuto on Fox News, "We can't drill our way out of this problem."

Well, maybe not. But maybe we could drill our way back to three-and-a-quarter per gallon. More to the point, if the House of Representatives has now declared it "illegal" for the government of Saudi Arabia to restrict oil production, why is it still legal for the Government of the United States to restrict oil production? In fact, the government of the United States restricts pretty much every form of energy production other than the bizarre fetish du jour of federally mandated ethanol production.

Of course, as Flaherty reminds us:

Warning: Misguided faith in the ability of markets to produce food and energy is just one of the early signs of ecophobia. So is using the term "market."

Palatable Decline

Justin Katz

It's a small thing, to be sure, but a comment that Ian Donnis made to his own recent post on economic development in Rhode Island points to an increasingly sore spot:

... hopefully the effort to promote "green jobs," which I've written about previously in the Phoenix, will also yield dividends.

It is not my intention to single out Ian — who is among the more reasonable of his ideological species — but here's a radical thought: How about we just try to create jobs, in general? Isn't the horrible state of our state such that we'd be well advised to avoid burdening its economic health with adjectives?

With the fad of "green jobs," echoed in Ian's reference to the Greenhouse Compact from the '80s, it seems that those on the left are less concerned with job creation than making the ideological most of an opportunity to promise any economic development at all — in this case, to leverage the thirst for work in order to promote the Kool Aid of environmentalism. The reason, it seems clear to me, even if it isn't of conscious origin for Leftists, is that they are opposed to taking those steps that would promote a generally business-friendly environment, so they cast their hopes on "inventing" or (more often) "reinventing" the market to suit their preferences.

They do not want to tell the unionists that the state can no longer afford to pay more for their work than it's worth, in market terms, neither do they wish to admit to civic dependents that, well, sorry, but the state of Rhode Island really isn't in the best position to sustain them, just now. So, to make the necessary investments — and allow the necessary reality of "high-paying jobs" — palatable, they insert that immunizing adjective: "green." They allow themselves to believe that, with just the right mix of incentives, a government-driven industry will materialize that provides high-paying union jobs, while filling the government's coffers with redistributable revenue, all with the ecological boon of saving Mother Nature from the ravages of mankind's selfishness.

I hate to go all capitalist populist on y'all, but it seems to me that anybody who's currently struggling to stay working in a state and at a time of shrinking employment probably doesn't care much for any green but the hue of cash. High paying, low paying, most of them probably agree with me that the time to embark upon "a strategic repositioning of the local economy," in Ian's words, is when things are going well. Not when people are watching as the local economy drains their lives of everything that they've worked so hard to build.

Between Burger Bites...

Marc Comtois

...Please remember why you are enjoying the long weekend.

Thank you to all those who have given the ultimate sacrifice and God Bless their families.

May 25, 2008

A Dark Cloud on a Sunny Day

Justin Katz

So didja see the Providence Journal jobs section, today? Perhaps it might be more accurate to say, "the near-lack of a jobs section."

I have two words for the state of Rhode Island: cut taxes... now... drastically. (Well, hey, if the Projo can double the size of its job section by plugging in two full-page ads for employment advertising, then I can inflate my advice by a couple of words.)

Promises Bought and Futures Sold

Justin Katz

Julia Steiny is must-reading today:

After collecting my thoughts and temper, I wrote back. It seemed to me that teaching a child to read was the principal mission of any school and was, therefore, funded. Rhode Island has one of the highest per-pupil expenditures in the nation. If not to teach reading, what is it going to the schools for? The Regents were only trying to get children actual help, instead of letting them be subjected to Jurassic practices like being put in the dumb-kids' reading group or passed on for the next teacher to deal with. That help seemed well funded already, at least to me. ...

Too many people in Rhode Island are in the habit of thinking that the schools have the right to do whatever it is they're already doing, effective or not, and expect that anything better has to be paid for as an extra. When research and experience in other states identify an educational best practice — for example, tailoring strategies to each struggling reader — our state's taxpayers have to pay extra to implement it.

The problem is that reform-minded diktats from the state never touch on the core problem, which Steiny rightly identifies as unlimited collective bargaining rights, leading to such outcomes as this:

... the existing resources continue to shift away from kids to support benefits for adults. The Educational Intelligence Agency, a national watchdog, reports that Rhode Island's public school population has dropped 4.6 percent since 2000-'01, while compensation to teachers went up 37 percent. Nationally, the average state enrollment has increased 2.5 percent since 2000-'01 while compensation went up 24.5 percent.

Frankly, I have a negative emotional reaction to unfunded mandates: If the educational bureaucracy of the state — with which the unions have made it their business to exert influence — wishes to send down requirements, then it seems only fair that the money to support them oughtn't be derived from sources with which they are not connected (i.e., local and property taxes). But perhaps a case-by-case assessment is necessary. Really, how much funding is needed for the development of reading plans for individual students? That sounds like something that schools and teachers ought to do as a matter of course.

It may be that the very quality of unfunded mandates to which I have an adverse reaction speaks in their favor. They put pressure on an artificially constrained system, and the central and most costly constraint is the unionization of the teachers. In a system in which every new task or idea requires additional money, stuffing more of them into the bag will increase the awareness of those who ultimately have to carry it — taxpayers — and eventually enough of them will come to realize that our public servants have become our masters, foisting what ought to be their responsibilities onto our shoulders.

If we want to see this detrimental pressure removed from our educational system, we need take only one step: end the unionization of public school teachers. Taking that step, we could just watch how quickly the system would learn to right itself.

May 24, 2008

Hit The Beach

Monique Chartier

Rhode Island beaches open this weekend.

In a couple of cartoons from last year, Charlie Hall reminds us to get our beach passes and warns us about beach ... perils.


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May 23, 2008

"I Am Your Father's Brother's Nephew's Cousin's Former Roommate"

Monique Chartier

A small clarification for the Chair of the RI Democrat Party who today on the Dan Yorke Show suggested that Governor Carcieri should have sought an opinion from the Ethics Commission before hiring the niece by marriage of his wife by marriage: if the Governor had done so six years ago, they would have approved it. His hiring of her conformed to the rules in place at that time. Grandfathering doesn't just apply to pension vesting. And if, conversely, we are going to start applying rule changes retroactively, by all means, bring it on. We'll start with pensions and work our way right through Rhode Island government.

As for Turn to Ten's Bill Rappleye who "broke" this "story" and will be grilling the Governor about it this Sunday on 10 News Conference. He normally does good work. In a state where the dominant political party seems to operate principally by nepotism and cronyism, however, this story conveys the impression that Mr. Rappleye went to the North Pole searching for ice, determinedly plowed past icebergs and glaciers on all sides and triumphantly came away with a potential ice cube.

[h/t the Helen Glover Show for the line from Spaceballs.]

Beauty in the Public Square

Justin Katz

I must say that I'm sympathetic to RI State Council on the Arts Director Randall Rosenbaum's point regarding arts in the public square:

Artists and advocates such as Rosenbaum emphasize that art is not just about being obviously beautiful; it's also about opening the people's eyes to new interpretations of beauty.

I happen to think that the public square would be much edified by a beautiful artistic interpretation of the Trinity.

Williamson Pulls Back the Curtain

Justin Katz

Timothy Williamson (D-West Warwick) — one of the two RI House members to vote against a legislator copay — let slip some of the behind-the-scenes politics:

"Don't start clapping yourself on the back too hard, you may break your hand," Williamson said. "The Senate is already telling you they are not going to pass this. So if they are not going to pass it, let's put the heat on them...Let's amend it. Let's get rid of the salaries. Let's get rid of the benefits. Tell the people of Rhode Island we're serving them: not for money and not for health insurance. Anybody with me?"

"Wow," he said after a few seconds. "Silence is deafening."

Somewhere, somebody in the legislature decided that members of the Senate could take a political hit more readily than members of the House, so the House is free to pass this reform-minded measure under full assurance that it will never actually become law. (Wouldn't it be neat if the governor had some means of anti-vetoing bills that pass one house of the General Assembly by a supermajority, thereby scuttling this sort of show?)

Here's some context on the money that the Senate is saving legislators:

At today's rates, paying 10 percent for the full package would cost $48.59 monthly for an individual plan, $135 for family coverage.

That is not as much as the average Rhode Island employee pays, according to a 2007 national survey by the United Benefit Advisors — an alliance of 142 employee-benefit companies. Among the key findings: the average Rhode Island employee contributes 28.8 percent of the premium cost for individual coverage, which equates to $118 monthly, and 40.4 percent — $397 monthly — for a family plan.

This, however, may be the award winner for legislator spit in the taxpayer eye:

... 15 [House members] are slated to receive $2,002 waiver payments in December including four who have pledged to return a 10-percent slice

Yeah, umm, that's not really how copays work for the rest of us.

A Glimpse of the Problem's Roots

Justin Katz

This factoid, coming out of the revolt in Tiverton, keeps ringing in my ears:

... Mr. Cotta and other officials said that legally the school budget cannot be cut below what it was for this year...

Is that true? If so, it's insane! Efficiencies, need, and priorities can't shift? I'll have to look into that one and add it to the top 10 list of Laws That Must Change in Rhode Island.

Building the Cleansing Fire in Tiverton

Justin Katz

Life kept me away from Tiverton's Financial Town Meeting, Wednesday night, although to be honest, I suspected that I would have been one of the few not falling into line in response to town official arguments such as the following:

... since Mr. Cotta and other officials said that legally the school budget cannot be cut below what it was for this year, that shifts much of the burden to the municipal side. ...

In addition to the town's obligation to pay the bond debt, Mr. Cotta said the town has employee contracts that must be honored. Other legal requirements were mentioned, such as public safety minimum staffing requirements in the police and fire departments, which will have to be dealt with.

As it turns out, however, the voice of the majority is such as would warm the hearts of most Anchor Rising readers:

"Let's make a stand and tell the state we can't take it anymore," said Joe Sousa.

"How about cutting some services," added Tom Morse. "I don't care, I would suggest you start talking about cutting." ...

And Roger Bennis, who supported the cuts, said, he cares less about where the cuts are made than that it happen. "I don't have any specific recommendations. I am looking to send a message."


Shouting "no," the voters signaled that they would not approve the final $2 million of the Budget Committee's proposed $30 million tax levy. ...

Joe Sousa asked fellow voters to “send a message upstate” that the town’s taxpayers reject unfunded state mandates, particularly those related to the schools, like the education of special-needs students.

“We can’t afford it any more,” Sousa said.

“The prices we’re paying to send these children to school are outrageous,” he said.

And from this week's Sakonnet Times Web Words:

Who should be surprised with the pay and benefits they give out. Who else in this world gets to retire at 45, like cops and fire, or 55 like teachers and get almost full pay for life — and we pay and pay. The benefits we throw around are crazy.

And a letter from Tiverton resident Chris Hart:

In regards to Tiverton's exhorbitant proposed tax hike, all I can say is NO,NO,NO!

Perhaps it is time that we take a good accounting of all our town services, with no exceptions. The police, fire, and water departments are all equiped with new vehicles, which I frequently see being used for personal uses (unless the Moose Cafe, Barcellos, Subway, Dunkin' Donuts, etc. are having water trouble, high crime rates, or fires on a daily basis? )

With the ever increasing fuel prices, a crackdown on all this running around to pick up lunches, coffee, and the like is in order. Hopefully, with all the taxes we are already paying there is someone under contract to keep track of all these expenditures.

Returning to the first link, above, one finds the spreading of a necessary crack in Rhode Island's corrupt veneer:

That prospect [that the money will reductions largely come from the municipal side of the budget] upset Bob Martin, a town maintenance worker and head of the town employees union.

"What we're talking about is the gross waste in the schools," he said.

It looks, however, as if sympathetic townies may not have the luxury of continuing to remain in the shadows, because the local government will probably try again:

When the town meeting does reconvene, Mr. Cotta said Thursday, the budget committee could recommend more than one budget, for example the original one recommended at last night's meeting and another reflecting $2 million in cuts. Parliamentary requirements would have to be met, he said.

"We can present more than one budget as long as we have the same or more than the number in attendance when we do as were present when the original vote was taken," he said. The quorum present at the time (approximately 9 p.m.) the vote was taken last night is thought to be close to what it was (437 voters) when the meeting was called to order at 7:20 p.m. The total vote on the motion was 406 voting, with 151 yeas and 255 nays. Mr. Cotta said people he knows of who voted on the prevailing side could move to reconsider, and thus bring the recommended measure back again that was rejected last night.

One can only hope that the peremptory and condescending tone of officials won't go unnoticed:

"What we saw were people angry at the oil companies; people who were angry at oil heating costs," [Town Council President Louise] Durfee said.

With the price of gasoline approaching $4 a gallon, they were saying, "this is not something that we can control. Let's take it out on the powers that be," Durfee said.

But voters did not think through the consequences, Durfee said. ..

[School Committee Chairwoman Denise] DeMedeiros said yesterday, "I do take offense" at the notion "that this was some kind of underhanded thing that we got that bond," deMedeiros said.

"It's disturbing to me that they're telling us we didn't do due diligence," she said. ...

"People just don't like the tax," she said. "Maybe some people weren't paying attention." ...

... when extra money trickled in, it went to the general fund, helping to replenish monies used to offset taxes, [Budget Committee chairman Christopher Cotta] said.

But there has been no such cushion in the last two years, when the town exceeded the state limit on tax increases, Cotta said, and the general fund has dwindled to about $1,266,000.

That amount is barely enough to meet a requirement of the Town Charter that the town maintain reserves equivalent to 3 percent of its operating budget.

Cotta said, "you got the benefit of the $900,000 (from the general fund) in your taxes this year. Now you want to cry about it."

Two observations:

  • Odd that our elected officials are responding to the night's democratically expressed voice as a personal rebuke rather than a direct instruction from the people who are ultimately in charge.
  • Curious — as much as the lower economic waters may have brought the rapids' rocks into sharper relief — that our elected officials remark upon the tide, but not the stones. Surely Cotta ought to include, in his "supercollision of everything wrong happening at the same time," work-to-ruling teachers, a contentious departure of the town administrator, repeated blocking of development efforts, and higher property tax assessments, even as property values decline.

Good morning Rhode Island politicians. Grab a cup of coffee and join us around the fire or we'll drag your sleeping bag into the river.

May 22, 2008

Glad to Know It's Doing Something Good

Justin Katz

Apparently, blogging may do the body good:

Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.

Scientists now hope to explore the neurological underpinnings at play, especially considering the explosion of blogs. According to Alice Flaherty, a neuroscientist at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, the placebo theory of suffering is one window through which to view blogging. As social creatures, humans have a range of pain-related behaviors, such as complaining, which acts as a "placebo for getting satisfied," Flaherty says. Blogging about stressful experiences might work similarly. ...

The frontal and temporal lobes, which govern speech—no dedicated writing center is hardwired in the brain—may also figure in. For example, lesions in Wernicke’s area, located in the left temporal lobe, result in excessive speech and loss of language comprehension. People with Wernicke's aphasia speak in gibberish and often write constantly. In light of these traits, Flaherty speculates that some activity in this area could foster the urge to blog.

Although I'd prefer gently to ignore the potential link between gibberish and the urge to blog, I can't let slide the reference to sleep: When it comes to blogging, I suspect that any somnolent effects are negated (and then some) by the compulsion.

No Faceless Throwers of Rotten Tomatoes

Monique Chartier

Will Ricci at Ocean State Republican points out that House leadership wisely sent back to committee H7767, which would have enabled political pamphlet anonymity.

“Disclosure,” when it comes to politics, is a very good thing. Sunlight is a great disinfectant — we need more; not less. If you allow people to make what are in effect anonymous, unlimited campaign contributions in order to support or oppose candidates, you are effectively neutering the need for any campaign finance laws.

We’re not simply talking about one person communicating with another. We’re talking about unions, myriad special interest groups, and perhaps even corporations directly influencing elections — anonymously. Anyone with enough money could cause as much mischief as they could afford without fear of repercussion.

"Without fear of repercussion". Specifically, prosecution of the inevitable, wildly libelous accusations would be rendered nearly impossible

And in the absence of such a dampening force, would that not in turn lead to a sharp degeneration of the atmosphere of a campaign? This strikes me as a depth that is unnecessary and undesireable to plumb inasmuch as the atmosphere can turn quite nasty even with disclosure laws in place.

The Meaning of "Self-Insured"

Carroll Andrew Morse

This is a recurring issue with school committees and town/city councils across the state; Matt Bower of the Warwick Beacon reports that the Warwick City Council has formally expressed its support for a General Assembly bill that would prevent specific health-insurers from being named in teacher contracts…

Members of the Warwick Teachers Union are not pleased with the School Committee’s approval last Tuesday of a resolution in support of two bills (Bill 7776 and Bill 7108) that would prevent teachers’ unions from naming a specific health care provider in their contracts.

The resolution, sponsored by Paul Cannistra, follows similar resolutions passed by school committees in Westerly, East Greenwich and North Kingstown.

Cannistra said the bills concern cost savings to taxpayers while restoring some management rights to school committees and administration.

Now, I'm not sure "provider" is the right word for Bower to have used in his opening paragraph. According to Committeeman Cannistra, quoted later in the article, the City of Warwick is "self-insured". That means that Warwick employees don't send premiums to an insurance company. Instead, they pay into a fund maintained by the city of Warwick and the city hires an insurance company to administer the fund. The distinction is important, I believe, because participants in a self-insured plan are not limited to an administering company's HMO/PPO network created for direct customers. It is the self-insuring body, not their hired administrators, who sets the terms of coverage.

However, in the Beacon article, there is disagreement on this point. Warwick Teacher Michele Landrie says that participants in a self-insured plan administered by, say, United Healthcare, are limited to United's network…

“Doctors don’t participate with United,” she said. “You’re limiting my health care options by switching. You’re taking away the protection we have to ensure a health care provider.”
Committeeman Cannistra disagrees…
“There’s no reason to be limited; with being self-insured we can dictate our coverage,” Cannistra said after the meeting.
This is a pretty straightforward question of fact, so let's put it to bed. Who's right about who sets the terms of a self-insured plan?

Senseless Tragedy in Cranston

Carroll Andrew Morse

Foremost, my prayers are with the family of Joseph Pagano, who by every account I've read was a well-liked and well-respected member of the community.

I'll agree with Lt. Pagano's former boss Michael Traficante, quoted in yesterday's Cranston Herald

“We have become a very sick society if we have to resort to a lethal weapon when a child steps on our lawn or if their balls go onto our property. This is a black mark on our community.”
And I'll respect the professional judgment of Cranston Police Chief Stephen McGrath before saying anything else…
He also said he was a little bit concerned about all the conflicting stories that have been treated as news.

“Until we know for sure what happened, all that is just speculation and it doesn’t help us at all,” he said.

Diagnosing RI's Problem with the Third "R"

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Jennifer D. Jordan of the Projo, a statewide mathematics "summit" held yesterday at Rhode Island College identified the following areas as contributing to the state's 22%-proficiency rate in high-school math achievement…

  • Some classroom teachers lack deep content knowledge in math, which makes it impossible for them to help their students reach the higher standards.
  • Many schools continue to “track” students, steering some students into easier math classes and away from higher-level algebra, geometry and calculus courses demanded by colleges and needed by today’s work force.
  • Students are too dependent on calculators and lack the ability to perform high-level work on their own.
  • Teachers are struggling to “differentiate instruction,” preventing them from adequately helping non-traditional learners, special-education students and others who find math challenging.
Seeing the "tracking" item on this list worries me. One well-known problem with standards established by remote bureaucracies -- in education and elsewhere -- is that, if not carefully thought-out, they can incentivize taking resources away from people and practices that are working best, i.e. already well-exceeding the standard. California's superintendent of public instruction explained this phenomenon to Time Magazine last year…
The do-or-die [adequate yearly progress] system creates perverse incentives. It rewards schools that focus on kids on the edge of achieving grade-level proficiency....There's no incentive for schools to do much of anything for the kids who are on grade level or above, which is one reason the law is unpopular in wealthier, high-achieving communities. And sadly, says [California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell], "NCLB provides no incentive to work on the kids far below the bar."
Identifying tracking as a problem, in effect saying that it's OK to slow down the progress of more-proficient mathematics students, as long as a shift in emphasis helps speed up the progress of less-proficient ones, is a classic example of this.

People on Matt Allen's Show

Justin Katz

Andrew brought together a couple of threads addressing economics, environment, and population growth for yesterday's segment on the Matt Allen Show. The conversation can be streamed by clicking here (or download).

Next Wednesday at 6:50 p.m., Marc will have his at bat..

May 21, 2008

Sexism or Politics Ain't Beanball?

Monique Chartier

While stating her belief that the 2008 Democrat presidential primary has not been racist, Senator Hillary Clinton on Sunday made the claim that she received "sexist" treatment during her presidential campaign.

"The manifestation of some of the sexism that has gone on in this campaign is somehow more respectable, or at least more accepted, and . . . there should be equal rejection of the sexism and the racism when it raises its ugly head," she said. "It does seem as though the press at least is not as bothered by the incredible vitriol that has been engendered by the comments by people who are nothing but misogynists."

Googling the words "Hillary Clinton sexism" quickly brought up incidents on the campaign trail characterized as sexist. From a CNN online story:

At a rally, hecklers yelled to her to iron their shirts. Radio host Rush Limbaugh told listeners, "Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?"

MSNBC's Chris Matthews suggested "the reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around."

Hillary Clinton's hairdos, ankles and even her cleavage have sparked discussion.

* * *

Online, Clinton is targeted, too. Clinton toilet brushes are being marketed as your "First Cleaning Lady" and a Clinton nutcracker is also for sale.

Do I need to compile and formally cite the childish or appearance-based or nasty attacks that have been made on male candidates to prove that they occurred? John Edwards being called the Breck girl. Implications (less so now) that Barack Obama is Muslim. The ugliness directed against John McCain during the 2000 South Carolina primary. The perfection of Mitt's hair. This list could be extended to a very long and negative post because (excuse the cliche) the stakes are high in politics and sharp elbows are thrown, especially to achieve a very powerful and prestigious elected position.

And that is the point. Senator Clinton is very much in that mix. Has she, in fact, endured more nastiness than other candidates? Or is it that the nastiness of political campaigns manifests itself uniquely to every candidate?


Arlene Violet, writing in today's Valley Breeze, asserts that female candidates do, in fact, encounter sexism.

A woman's negatives get highlighted more than a man's. In the Clinton-Obama stand-off, she appeared as a political insider more than he, or for that matter, Republican John McCain. Yet, they are all insiders. How else would they be respectively running with the imprimatur of major PACs and donors to the tune of tens of millions in campaign cash?

This truth, i.e., that a woman's negatives are highlighted more than a man's, not only explains Hillary's political demise but also the demise of women in Rhode Island who try to crack the glass ceiling for the governor's post. Democrat Myrth York found that three times was not the charm for being elected governor. Recently, the Providence Journal ran the pictures of the Republican and Democrat party's hopefuls for governor. Among all the white men was the picture of Lt. Gov. Liz Roberts. Ironically, none of the Democrat party's males are card-carrying John Birchers. They are just as liberal as she is, except she has the tag.

People, Who Need People...

Carroll Andrew Morse

Monday's call from the Projo editoral page for worldwide population control…

There are just too many people in the world, and there are, of course, more every day — and 80 million more each year. The effects, in declining standards of living in many places, as well as in environmental degradation, are obvious. The increase should be sharply slowed and then halted.
...returns me to Spengler's explanation of global finance in his Asia Times column from yesterday. According to Spengler, the basic division in the world is between an older generation in search of a stable and comfortable retirement and a younger generation seeking growth and opportunity. The system works for everyone when the older generation loans part its wealth, accrued over a lifetime, to the younger generation who combines the borrowed resources and their youthful energy to create new value, a piece of which is then returned to the oldsters, helping to fund their retirement.

But if a new generation is discouraged from ever coming into being, it will not be as easy as the Malthusians on the Projo editorial board and elsewhere assume it will be for current and future retirees to find the resources needed to maintain the standard of living they're expecting to have. Standards of living, as Spengler explained, depend not only on material resources, but also on complex interconnections to a world full of energetic, creative people. To believe that bureaucratic planning can be used to limit the number of people and their associated energies, without major impacts on financial and government systems built on the assumption of dynamic human growth, is sheer folly.

Mama Don’t Allow No Petroleum Cartels Around Here II

Carroll Andrew Morse

Although the Democrats deserve some credit for taking a decidedly non-blame America first position here, I still don't get how you could realistically enforce any penalty associated with this proposed law (short of say, declaring war) passed by the U.S House of Representatives yesterday…

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation on Tuesday allowing the Justice Department to sue OPEC members for limiting oil supplies and working together to set crude prices, but the White House threatened to veto the measure.

The bill would subject OPEC oil producers, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela, to the same antitrust laws that U.S. companies must follow.

The Killer's Livelihood

Justin Katz

It may be an insignificant detail in the context of the suburban birthday party shooting, but this bit of information about the alleged killer relates to a major topic of conversation on any given Anchor Rising day:

Nicholas Gianquitti became a Providence police officer in July 1991. He lasted just six months.

On Jan. 27, 1992, he fractured one of his knees while chasing a suspect off North Main Street. A year later, he was granted an accidental disability pension. ...

Gianquitti has been receiving a monthly accidental disability pension of $3,481, said Providence pension administrator Octavio Cunha. Gianquitti's neighbors noticed he was often at home.

That's just about $42,000 per year (plus medical, perhaps), which as I recall is within a few thousand of the median household income for a Rhode Island family of four.

Look, police officers have a dangerous job, and we most definitely want them to have the security of knowing that a serious injury on the job won't have the consequence of turning their public service into a life sentence of squallor. But a lifelong vacation for a hurt knee?

A promise of security is not too much to ask, but when getting hurt becomes akin to winning the lottery, a line has been crossed.

National Popular Vote: Is the Time Now?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Question for the National Popular Vote for President folks out there: If Hillary Clinton nets about 123,000 popular votes over Barack Obama in the remaining Democratic primaries -- enough to make her the popular vote leader, according to Byron York of National Review, working from RealClearPolitics vote totals -- should she become the Democratic nominee?

Just think what a great way this would be for Obama supporters to show that their commitment to National Popular vote is meaningful. If it is.

(And, of course, in the nomination process, there's no issue of Section 2 of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution to deal with).

On the Golden Path to Debt

Justin Katz

Related to Andrew's "Finance and Demography" post, I've been wondering, lately, how much economic growth of late has relied on increasing debt. Sure, production expands the economy, but somehow it has to correspond with consumption, no?

In particular, I'm thinking of Spenlger's line: "The financial markets, in turn, found ways to persuade Americans to borrow more and more money." It brings to mind Michele Singletary's suggestion that people make a comparison of their spending on and off credit cards:

I'm reasonably sure that many people do not make the same purchases when they pay with plastic. This isn't just a feeling or anecdotal evidence. Researchers have found that people's willingness to purchase more products or services increases with the use of plastic.

In their groundbreaking research, Drazen Prelec and Duncan Simester of the Sloan School of Management at MIT found that study subjects paid more when instructed to use a credit card rather than cash. In fact, they found that people were willing to pay up to 100 percent more with plastic. ...

"This customer behavior is at odds with standard economic theory, which argues that the method of payment should have no effect on spending, so consumers seem to be indulging in 'irrational' behavior,' " Davies says in a research article, "The Realities of Spending."

Davies explains that credit cards boost spending because of the psychophysics of how our brains work.

When one's spending fits within a tight budget, like mine, some of the "psychophysic" tendencies run into other limits (although I'm sure I slip more often than I would with cash). And it's nice to get those periodic checks for things that we'd be buying at BJs anyway. Still, that money isn't just a gift without cost; it's just that the cautious consumers are overbalanced by the not-so-cautious.

May 20, 2008

Finance and Demography

Carroll Andrew Morse

I found this article by the pseudonymous "Spengler" of the Asia Times interesting for at least two reasons...

  1. The big-picture view of finance, demographics and debt he offers suggesting that increased transfer of American capital to foreign markets and the sub-prime mortgage crisis are bigger than anything that's fixable with a few new regulations (note: in the excerpt below, the term "pension" is used in a European sense, closer to what we in America would call Social Security than to an employer-based pension plan)…
    The aging pensioners of Europe and Asia must find young people to pay interest into their pensions, and they do not have enough young people at home. Germans aged 15 to 24, on the threshold of family formation, comprise only 12% of the country's population today and will fall to only 8% by 2030. But one-fifth of Germans now are on the threshold of retirement and half will be there by mid-century.

    It is fashionable these days to blame the Americans for borrowing instead of saving. In effect, Americans borrowed a trillion dollars a year against the expectation that the 10% annual rate of increase in home prices would continue, producing a bubble that now has collapsed…[but] the monster is not the financial system, crooked and stupid as it may have been. The monster is the burgeoning horde of pensioners in Germany and other industrial countries. It is easy to change the financial system. The central banks can assemble on any Tuesday morning and announce tougher lending standards. But it is impossible to fix the financial problems that arise from Europe's senescence....

    There is nothing complicated about finance. It is based on old people lending to young people. Young people invest in homes and businesses; aging people save to acquire assets on which to retire. The new generation supports the old one, and retirement systems simply apportion rights to income between the generations. Never before in human history, though, has a new generation simply failed to appear....

    The world kept shipping capital to the United States over the past 10 years, however, because it had nowhere else to go. The financial markets, in turn, found ways to persuade Americans to borrow more and more money. If there weren't enough young Americans to borrow money on a sound basis, the banks arranged for a smaller number of Americans to borrow more money on an unsound basis. That is why subprime, interest-only, no-money-down and other mortgages waxed great in bank portfolios.

    America's financial market could not produce enough pork chops, so the Europeans bought Spam and scrapple. America's rating agencies assured them that derivatives created from subprime mortgages, second-lien mortgages and other dubious parts of the pig were the equivalent of pork chops, and foreign investors wolfed them down.

  2. The graph he presents on S&P 500 returns that those who have been following the recent Anchor Rising discussion on the rates of return of pension and 401(k) funds should find interesting...


So do you think that Spengler tells you everything you need to know, or do you think he's a bit too reductionist?

More Unionist than Professional

Justin Katz

West Warwick teacher Paul Bovenzi appears to have attended a few too many union prep and pump sessions:

Teachers drive education, and know what's best for children in their schools. Contrary to popular belief, administrators (or managers to use his misnomer) are no more educators than a hospital administrator is a doctor! Do you want a hospital administrator making medical decisions that affect your health?

Mr. Achorn wants to give these "managers" more power. I think they should get less. Administrators should do budgets, scheduling and handle disciplinary issues. Beyond that, we should let the educators take care of teaching children.

Mr. Achorn wants to give managers more evaluation power. I call for educators to push for a peer-evaluation system, much as the Rhode Island Bar Association evaluates its lawyers, Internal Affairs its police, or the American Medical Association doctors. Administrators have no business evaluating educators. The professionals in the field should evaluate and "police" themselves.

Besides, not to put too fine a point on it, but there is a dearth of any administrators out there, specifically good ones. Most administrators I have worked for can't handle the responsibilities that they have now and could never handle more, especially a more rigorous evaluation system. Who exactly are these managers who are going to turn things around in the public schools all by themselves? I am not saying there are not good people doing these jobs, but there are no super-administrators with all the answers. If they are out there, I haven't met them yet.

See, the problem with the union mentality is that the ostensible "professionals" lose credibility for their claims that they "know what's best for children in their schools" and "should evaluate and 'police' themselves." After some years of experience with strikes and "working to rule," the objective taxpayer and parent is apt to wonder how that's "best for the children," and to wonder what real consequences will be imposed in the course of self monitoring.

No, I don't want a hospital administrator making my medical decisions, but neither would I want doctors to be given too much rein to fashion the hospital with their own benefit centrally in mind. Indeed, were that to happen, I would go to all lengths to make sure that I received my medical services elsewhere.

And there's the rub. Doctors and lawyers have to perform. They may have routes toward accreditation and consequences administered through professional organizations, but they still have to convince clients that their services are worth employing. Moreover, through their control over "budgets, scheduling and... disciplinary issues," administrators exert influence over them, and over their organizations in whole.

As many of us have been saying for years: if teachers want to be respected as professionals, they have to begin playing that part, rather than the industrial unionist role that they've allowed to define them in Rhode Island.

Mayoral Injunctions to Stop the Dirt Being Dug Up on Your Administration

Monique Chartier

... can only be obtained and maintained if one continues to occupy the mayor's office. Addendum: link to the Providence Journal story.

[Woonsocket Mayor Susan] Menard, who won her seventh mayoral term last fall, announced that she would leave office on June 15, a year and half before her current term expires.

But as the weeks went by, controversy in the Police Department died down and the City Council’s investigation of misuse of city resources by city employees hit a snag when Menard filed an injunction to stop the investigation.

Last week, during her weekly visit with WNRI radio talk show host Roger Bouchard, Menard said she wanted to stay to see the adoption of the 2008-09 budget and the mailing of the first-quarter tax bills on July 1. Menard said she would decide on July 1 when she would go.

Taking a powder was a pretty reasonable course of action under the circumstances - an ethics investigation going full steam ahead, an off-the-books mayoral slush fund, hazy funding of the city pension, a phantom budget surplus, the aforementioned injunction to halt the questioning of city employees, not to mention hidden recording equipment in the mayor's office.

Then again, if the mess is bad enough, perhaps the only option is to stay in order to block prying eyes, fix or undo what you can and hope that, with time, it will all blow over.

May 19, 2008

Re: Department of Motor Voter Fraud?

Monique Chartier

Updating Marc's post of last October, a federal Grand Jury has indicted former RI DMV clerk Dolores Rodriguez-LaFlamme on twelve counts. From today's Providence Journal:

The 12-count indictment, jointly announced in a news release today by U.S. Attorney Robert Clark Corrente and Rhode Island State Police Superintendent, Col. Brendan P. Doherty, was returned by the grand jury May 14 and charges LaFlamme with producing fraudulent licenses that were sold to individuals ineligible to legally obtain them.

LaFlamme, 40, who worked in the Pawtucket office of the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles, pleaded not guilty to the charges on May 15 before Magistrate Judge David L. Martin, who ordered her detained.

* * *

The indictment charges one count of conspiracy, six counts of fraudulently producing identification documents affecting interstate commerce, and five counts of fraudulently using another person’s identity.

As of last October, some but not all of the licenses sold by Ms. Rodrigues-LaFlamme have been accounted for.

The clerks had sent the licenses to dozens of illegal immigrants and suspected drug dealers who’d paid middlemen between $2,500 to $3,000 apiece to conceal their identity with a valid license, according to the state police. Some of the “customers” have since been rearrested on drug charges in various states — where their true identity was revealed by fingerprints — but others are on the run.

As the state police search for the suspects, they are still trying to determine how the licenses were used — whether used in financial transactions, to buy guns, or exchanged in a different state for another license. In several cases, the licenses were used by people who’d been deported and illegally reentered, or who were wanted on drug warrants.

Anastacio Segura, 34, who also uses Martinez as his surname, was found at a work site in Boston Wednesday night with a fake Rhode Island license, said state police Capt. Stephen Lynch. He’d already been deported to Mexico, but had illegally reentered the country, Lynch said. Daniel Liranzo, 41, was arrested yesterday in New York City with a falsified Rhode Island license, Lynch said. Now, both Liranzo and Segura are being held for deportation. The two clerks, one of the alleged middlemen, and eight other alleged customers were also charged this week.

Speaking of Disheartening Tiverton Happenings

Justin Katz

The behavior is bad enough, but one detail of this story leaves me with a big "huh?":

Two 17-year-old Tiverton High School students have been charged by police and disciplined by the high school, following two separate incidents in which they allegedly broke into a home, stole cash and other items, urinated on a bed, and then two days later threatened the youth who lived there in violation of a no-contact order. ...

The two, accompanied by their parents, turned themselves in Tuesday, May 6, and were charged with breaking and entering, based on confessions, a police spokesman said. Police also said a shoe of one of the two youths matched a shoe print found on the television screen.

The two were arraigned on the breaking and entering charges the next day in Family Court, and a no contact order, prohibiting them from having contact with the victim, was entered.

On Thursday, May 8, however, both youths were charged again for actions against the victim that allegedly took place at school.

Apparently, a couple of days after confessing to this crime, the two were strolling the halls of the high school, enabled to further terrorize their target. Surely a policy change is in order.

Stamping an Increase

Justin Katz

So this Wednesday, at the annual Tiverton Financial Town Meeting (potentially among the last), voters will be asked to approve an 11% property tax increase:

Town electors who attend next Wednesday night's Financial Town Meeting will be asked to vote on a total recommended budget of $41.7 million.

To raise that amount, a tax levy is projected that will require an increase in the tax rate by 11 percent over this year's rate — up to $11.39 from $10.26 per $1,000 of value.

"Our committee is not happy about putting forward an 11 percent increase, but to retain current levels of public safety and services, this is what's required," said Chris Cotta, chairman of the town budget committee. "There's no fat in this budget that we're aware of."

Although the spending plan proposed by the budget committee falls within the state's 5 percent tax cap, debt costs, which are not counted toward that calculation, contribute to tax hike pressure for Tiverton property taxpayers. The tax cap legislation limits the actual dollar amount that can be raised in successive years by declining quarter percentage points. Last year the cap was 5.25 percent, this year it is 5, and next year it will be 4.75 percent.

However, the legislation allows for state waivers from the cap requirement when the payment of bonded indebtedness is involved. Tiverton committed to paying off $30.7 million in school bonds in 2004, before the tax cap legislation was passed.

The true abomination is how little of the budget voters are actually empowered to change. The debt service is beyond the tax cap; the school budget comes with the threat of a Caruolo Act lawsuit if the town returns a "no way"; many services and employment deals are contracted; unfunded mandates filter down from higher levels of government. In characteristic Rhode Island fashion, democracy is constructed to give the semblance of voice, but the reality of dictation.

And worse, for me, the meeting falls during one of the busiest, most stressful weeks that I can recall, between work and family obligations. Civic participation can't always have been like this.

May 18, 2008

Jim Baron: "Let's Put These Bills Out of Their Misery"

Monique Chartier


Ahem. It is with considerable embarrassment that I note that Andrew did a far more timely post on Jim Baron's column. My lame excuse for this duplicative post is ... that I wanted to give Jim extra exposure. Yeah, that's the ticket ...

In his column "Politics As Usual" of a couple of weeks ago, Jim Baron of the Pawtucket Times does an excellent job identifying some questionable measures being considered this session at the General Assembly. Below are extensive excerpts; I added bold to the subject titles. Additions to the list may occur to commenters.

Every year in the General Assembly there are good, thoughtful, worthwhile pieces of legislation introduced and passed to the betterment of the Ocean State.

And every year in the General Assembly there are truly lousy, ill-considered and meaningless or even counter-productive bills that are introduced. While many of these die a well-deserved, ignominious death in committee, others actually manage to become law, diminishing and demeaning this great state by their very existence as blots on our lawbooks. [...]

We Don't Need a Bottle Bill.

Just when you thought this horrible idea had been buried in the landfill forever back in the 90s, its bony hand reaches up from the grave to grab unsuspecting shoppers by the ankle, just like in that Stephen King movie. Perhaps all you have to know about this awful bill is that officials expect that there will be approximately $6.8 million in unclaimed deposits annually and the state is poised to scoop 75 percent of that or about 5.1 million for the general fund, leaving a paltry $1.7 million to the quasi-governmental corporation running the Johnston Landfill, the RI Resource Recovery Corp. (RIRRC).

The other thing you probably have to know is that it is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva Weed and any bill with heavy leadership support has an overwhelming chance of passing, its merits notwithstanding.

We already have to sort and categorize and arrange our rubbish, parceling it out to blue bins and green bins and some in the big green bags. Now we're going to have to subdivide, once again make another collection of cans and bottles, that we will then have to put in our cars and return them to the store where we bought them, or one of several collection facilities the deficit-plagued state would have to build. Do you really want to be made to put a couple of dozen smelly old beer bottles in your back seat and drive them to the recycling center?

We already have a perfectly good law that requires recycling and allows the state to make money on the recycled materials. If that law was properly implemented and adequately enforced, we wouldn't need a bottle bill, which was the reasoning when we passed the current law.

When we talk about state government nickel and diming us to death, what more literal example could there be, with 5 cents added to the cost of every beverage container you buy? A 12-pack of Pepsi or Budweiser? That will be an extra 60 cents on your register receipt. Two dozen bottles of Poland Spring? Add $1.20 to the store's price. I see where the state would benefit by skimming off the lion's share of the unclaimed deposits, but I'm not really sure where Mother Nature would benefit.

If people aren't adequately sorting recyclables in their own home before they put them out on the street, do you really expect they are going to chauffer their beer and soda bottles back to the store? Really? With gas costing what it does, how many bottles are you going to have to store up somewhere in your house or garage before it is worth going back to the store to get the nickels back on each of them?

This is either one of those well-intentioned, do-gooder bills that is never going to work the way its sponsor expected, or else it is a cynical attempt to raise money for the state by charging Rhode Islanders a deposit they aren't going to redeem, thereby working exactly as its sponsor expected. Either way, this bill should be hauled off to the dump.

Saturday voting? You've Got To Be Kidding!

Let's see, we're going to have a bunch of people vote on Saturday, and then all those machines and all those ballots are going to be stashed away somewhere Saturday night, all day Sunday, all day Monday, then trotted out again on Tuesday for more people to vote before they are counted. What could possibly go wrong with that? I mean, please. In Rhode Island you want to do this? You want Operation Dollar Bill to be succeeded by Operation Hack the Vote?

Even without assuming any skullduggery, incumbents would be able to get a whopping advantage, being able to see where voting is light or heavy at certain polling places and divert last-minute resources — phone calls, door-knocking, direct mailing — to those areas. I'm not saying that Election Day has to be Tuesday, although Tuesday has worked well for well over a century. If you want to hold the election on a Saturday, that's OK, just don't allow voting on two days that are two days apart; you are just asking for it. [...]

The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations

This is another one of those Rasputin bills. You can shoot it, you can stab it, you can poison it, you can hold its head underwater and you still can't kill it. It is going to continue to rear its ugly head every couple of years or so.

At least this year we were spared the effort (I think) to squelch the celebration of the end of one of mankind's worst horrors, World War II, which gave us, among other nasty things, Hitler, the Holocaust and Hiroshima. But Providence Plantations has returned with the demand that we strip away more than 400 years of history in order to formalize a misapprehension. To bow to the mistaken in the name of political correctness.

Some black people — I won't call them leaders, because if this is their idea of something important, given all of the other issues facing people of color and for that matter anyone else who has to work for a living these days, they are not leading in any meaningful way — want to change the official name of the state to cut of the "and Providence Plantations" part because, they say, it is offensive.

What they find offensive about growing crops is beyond me, because that is what the "Providence Plantations" in the name means. Just like Plimoth Plantation. No, what they find offensive is the non-existent link to the antebellum plantations of the Old Confederacy, where African slaves were imprisoned, bought and sold as chattel and forced to work in chains and live in unspeakable conditions against their will in gross contradiction to everything this country is supposed to stand for.

If that is what the "Plantations" in the state's official name stood for and celebrated, I would be the first to argue that it should be yanked. But it's not. Anyone who thinks that is what it means is wrong, mistaken, incorrect, in error, a victim of misunderstanding, repeating fallacy and just plan misinformed.

And we are going to change the official name of our state to accommodate that error? Why? Wouldn't it be better to use this as a "teaching moment" to correct the misapprehension and allow those who hold it to take pride in their state and its name once again?

Some people don't think so. Progreso Latino President Ramon Martinez reportedly testified before the House Finance Committee, that having "and Providence Plantations" at the end of the state's name is: "morally reprehensible, politically offensive and economically exploitive." Is he serious?

If he is, I for one will have to think long and hard the next time Martinez labels something morally reprehensible. Lynching is morally reprehensible, not allowing black people to vote or use public facilities is morally reprehensible, police stops of drivers for no reason other than their race or ethnicity is morally reprehensible. Maintaining a state name that has been around since the 1660s and has nothing to do with race is not. If that excess alone is not enough to derail the whole silly argument, I don't know what is. What should we do next after we take the Providence Plantations out of the state name? Rename global warming so the people who believe the Earth is flat won't be offended?

Those are just a few of the obvious clunkers in the legislative hopper. I'm sure there will be more before the session comes to an end in late June.

What Does Amnesty for Undocumented Farm Workers Have to Do with the Funding of our Action in Iraq?

Monique Chartier

Add Senator Larry Craig to Donald's list of Republicans who have gotten off track, in this case, by participating in the attempt to pass amnesty piecemeal.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday added to an Iraq spending bill a controversial provision to help pave the way for undocumented agriculture workers to win legal status, a move that may reopen the divisive immigration debate on the Senate floor.

The so-called Ag-Jobs amendment, sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho), would create a process that allows undocumented workers to continue to work on farms. Without the amendment, Feinstein warned that the U.S. would lose $5-9 billion to foreign competition, tens of thousands of farms would shut down and 80,000 workers would be transferred to Mexico. The bill would sunset in five years.

Agriculture needs a consistent workforce," Feinstein said. "Without it, they can't plant, they can't prune, they can't pick and they can't pack.

"This is an emergency situation," she added.

The prior failure of your branch of government to act responsibly in this matter does not constitute an emergency, Senator. Put me down as agreeing for once with Senator Robert Byrd (D) on both substance and procedure.

"No matter how one characterizes it, this enormous amendment still amounts to amnesty," said Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). "I oppose amnesty. All these immigration issues should be addressed through the regular order."

The one encouraging note is that the 17-12 vote that brought this amendment out of committee was not along party lines. Perhaps there will be a sufficient number of responsible, long-sighted lawmakers in both parties to decry and/or derail this sneakiness.

A Sentiment for the Times?

Justin Katz

Having conducted no research along these lines, I can only speculate, but I wonder whether the sentiments expressed here, by Jason Burns of Johnston, are increasingly permeating the state:

Regarding the May 1 letter "My job working in danger for peanuts": The problem with unions is that we taxpayers pay members' salaries, then the members pay union dues to have someone negotiate on their behalf to take more money from the taxpayers.

I work, or rather I used to work, in the private sector and was recently laid off, terminated at the whim of the business's owners, who brought in a new plant manager. This doesn't happen to union people. They have a bulletproof vest. They can't walk in on Friday and be walked out two hours later wondering what happened and how they're going to feed their family. ...

Every year I had to fight on my own, face-to-face at a table with the plant manager and one of the owners, explaining why I deserve a raise of 3 to 4 percent, explaining what improvement I've made and what problems I've solved. I had to defend my worth, only to see my health insurance go up 5 percent each year, taking my raise and then some. The company matching 401(k) wasn't bad, but after expenses for a family of four with a mortgage, there wasn't much left to contribute.

In ways direct and insinuated, Mr. Burns expresses a bit of envy, but that strikes me as being envious of the extortionist. Private sector unions' proving to companies that they are better off negotiating is one thing. When it comes to the RI public sector, one too often gets the impression that the attitude is "it's wrong, but let me in." The ill wind has perhaps changed for the better if that attitude is becoming "it's wrong, and the game is ending, so I can't get in."

The negative impetus is not ideal, of course, but Jason's description of the private-sector review process is illustrative of the contrast between union and non-union, which offers a more rational reason for change. Employees who know that hard work and demonstrable accomplishments will be their only real leverage come raise time will tend to be more productive; the huge (civically fatal) inefficiencies of government bureaucracy are evidence that unionization inclines the other way.

A fair assessment requires acknowledgment that there are certain automatonic careers in which opportunities to stand out are limited and the value to the company of an employee's longevity is minimal. In such cases, the union approach makes more sense — not the least because it suppresses the possibility of standing out mainly in willingness to take reckless risks in the workplace. In professions for which experience and individual talent are key and opportunities to prove them manifold — teaching, say — one might be inclined to wonder whether the sorts of people who desire unionization are the sorts of people one wishes to have on the job, especially when their direct managers are subject to ballot-box manipulation and the money to sate their hunger is taken by force of law.

President Bush's speech in the Israeli Knesset

Donald B. Hawthorne

Moving beyond the world of over-reactions and political drama, has anyone actually read President Bush's speech to the Israeli Knesset?

...We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel's independence, founded on the "natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate." What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David -- a homeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael.

Eleven minutes later, on the orders of President Harry Truman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel's independence. And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to be Israel's closest ally and best friend in the world.

The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul. When William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he quoted the words of Jeremiah: "Come let us declare in Zion the word of God." The founders of my country saw a new promised land and bestowed upon their towns names like Bethlehem and New Canaan. And in time, many Americans became passionate advocates for a Jewish state.

Centuries of suffering and sacrifice would pass before the dream was fulfilled. The Jewish people endured the agony of the pogroms, the tragedy of the Great War, and the horror of the Holocaust -- what Elie Wiesel called "the kingdom of the night." Soulless men took away lives and broke apart families. Yet they could not take away the spirit of the Jewish people, and they could not break the promise of God. When news of Israel's freedom finally arrived, Golda Meir, a fearless woman raised in Wisconsin, could summon only tears. She later said: "For two thousand years we have waited for our deliverance. Now that it is here it is so great and wonderful that it surpasses human words."

The joy of independence was tempered by the outbreak of battle, a struggle that has continued for six decades. Yet in spite of the violence, in defiance of the threats, Israel has built a thriving democracy in the heart of the Holy Land. You have welcomed immigrants from the four corners of the Earth. You have forged a free and modern society based on the love of liberty, a passion for justice, and a respect for human dignity. You have worked tirelessly for peace. You have fought valiantly for freedom.

My country's admiration for Israel does not end there. When Americans look at Israel, we see a pioneer spirit that worked an agricultural miracle and now leads a high-tech revolution. We see world-class universities and a global leader in business and innovation and the arts. We see a resource more valuable than oil or gold: the talent and determination of a free people who refuse to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny.

I have been fortunate to see the character of Israel up close. I have touched the Western Wall, seen the sun reflected in the Sea of Galilee, I have prayed at Yad Vashem. And earlier today, I visited Masada, an inspiring monument to courage and sacrifice. At this historic site, Israeli soldiers swear an oath: "Masada shall never fall again." Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.

This anniversary is a time to reflect on the past. It's also an opportunity to look to the future. As we go forward, our alliance will be guided by clear principles -- shared convictions rooted in moral clarity and unswayed by popularity polls or the shifting opinions of international elites.

We believe in the matchless value of every man, woman, and child. So we insist that the people of Israel have the right to a decent, normal, and peaceful life, just like the citizens of every other nation.

We believe that democracy is the only way to ensure human rights. So we consider it a source of shame that the United Nations routinely passes more human rights resolutions against the freest democracy in the Middle East than any other nation in the world.

We believe that religious liberty is fundamental to a civilized society. So we condemn anti-Semitism in all forms -- whether by those who openly question Israel's right to exist, or by others who quietly excuse them.

We believe that free people should strive and sacrifice for peace. So we applaud the courageous choices Israeli's leaders have made. We also believe that nations have a right to defend themselves and that no nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction.

We believe that targeting innocent lives to achieve political objectives is always and everywhere wrong. So we stand together against terror and extremism, and we will never let down our guard or lose our resolve.

The fight against terror and extremism is the defining challenge of our time. It is more than a clash of arms. It is a clash of visions, a great ideological struggle. On the one side are those who defend the ideals of justice and dignity with the power of reason and truth. On the other side are those who pursue a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies.

This struggle is waged with the technology of the 21st century, but at its core it is an ancient battle between good and evil. The killers claim the mantle of Islam, but they are not religious men. No one who prays to the God of Abraham could strap a suicide vest to an innocent child, or blow up guiltless guests at a Passover Seder, or fly planes into office buildings filled with unsuspecting workers. In truth, the men who carry out these savage acts serve no higher goal than their own desire for power. They accept no God before themselves. And they reserve a special hatred for the most ardent defenders of liberty, including Americans and Israelis.

And that is why the founding charter of Hamas calls for the "elimination" of Israel. And that is why the followers of Hezbollah chant "Death to Israel, Death to America!" That is why Osama bin Laden teaches that "the killing of Jews and Americans is one of the biggest duties." And that is why the President of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map.

There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain away their words. It's natural, but it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Some people suggest if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away. This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of the enemies of peace, and America utterly rejects it. Israel's population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because the United States of America stands with you.

America stands with you in breaking up terrorist networks and denying the extremists sanctuary. America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapons would be an unforgivable betrayal for future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

Ultimately, to prevail in this struggle, we must offer an alternative to the ideology of the extremists by extending our vision of justice and tolerance and freedom and hope. These values are the self-evident right of all people, of all religions, in all the world because they are a gift from the Almighty God. Securing these rights is also the surest way to secure peace. Leaders who are accountable to their people will not pursue endless confrontation and bloodshed. Young people with a place in their society and a voice in their future are less likely to search for meaning in radicalism. Societies where citizens can express their conscience and worship their God will not export violence, they will be partners in peace.

The fundamental insight, that freedom yields peace, is the great lesson of the 20th century. Now our task is to apply it to the 21st. Nowhere is this work more urgent than here in the Middle East. We must stand with the reformers working to break the old patterns of tyranny and despair. We must give voice to millions of ordinary people who dream of a better life in a free society. We must confront the moral relativism that views all forms of government as equally acceptable and thereby consigns whole societies to slavery. Above all, we must have faith in our values and ourselves and confidently pursue the expansion of liberty as the path to a peaceful future.

That future will be a dramatic departure from the Middle East of today. So as we mark 60 years from Israel's founding, let us try to envision the region 60 years from now. This vision is not going to arrive easily or overnight; it will encounter violent resistance. But if we and future Presidents and future Knessets maintain our resolve and have faith in our ideals, here is the Middle East that we can see:

Israel will be celebrating the 120th anniversary as one of the world's great democracies, a secure and flourishing homeland for the Jewish people. The Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved -- a democratic state that is governed by law, and respects human rights, and rejects terror. From Cairo to Riyadh to Baghdad and Beirut, people will live in free and independent societies, where a desire for peace is reinforced by ties of diplomacy and tourism and trade. Iran and Syria will be peaceful nations, with today's oppression a distant memory and where people are free to speak their minds and develop their God-given talents. Al Qaeda and Hezbollah and Hamas will be defeated, as Muslims across the region recognize the emptiness of the terrorists' vision and the injustice of their cause.

Overall, the Middle East will be characterized by a new period of tolerance and integration. And this doesn't mean that Israel and its neighbors will be best of friends. But when leaders across the region answer to their people, they will focus their energies on schools and jobs, not on rocket attacks and suicide bombings. With this change, Israel will open a new hopeful chapter in which its people can live a normal life, and the dream of Herzl and the founders of 1948 can be fully and finally realized.

This is a bold vision, and some will say it can never be achieved. But think about what we have witnessed in our own time. When Europe was destroying itself through total war and genocide, it was difficult to envision a continent that six decades later would be free and at peace. When Japanese pilots were flying suicide missions into American battleships, it seemed impossible that six decades later Japan would be a democracy, a lynchpin of security in Asia, and one of America's closest friends. And when waves of refugees arrived here in the desert with nothing, surrounded by hostile armies, it was almost unimaginable that Israel would grow into one of the freest and most successful nations on the earth.

Yet each one of these transformations took place. And a future of transformation is possible in the Middle East, so long as a new generation of leaders has the courage to defeat the enemies of freedom, to make the hard choices necessary for peace, and stand firm on the solid rock of universal values.

Sixty years ago, on the eve of Israel's independence, the last British soldiers departing Jerusalem stopped at a building in the Jewish quarter of the Old City. An officer knocked on the door and met a senior rabbi. The officer presented him with a short iron bar -- the key to the Zion Gate -- and said it was the first time in 18 centuries that a key to the gates of Jerusalem had belonged to a Jew. His hands trembling, the rabbi offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God, "Who had granted us life and permitted us to reach this day." Then he turned to the officer, and uttered the words Jews had awaited for so long: "I accept this key in the name of my people."

Over the past six decades, the Jewish people have established a state that would make that humble rabbi proud. You have raised a modern society in the Promised Land, a light unto the nations that preserves the legacy of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And you have built a mighty democracy that will endure forever and can always count on the United States of America to be at your side. God bless.

Noel Sheppard writes:

...From a speech that lasted over 20 minutes -- interrupted eight times by applause from Israeli Knesset members -- America's media exclusively reported 83 words they felt insulted the candidate for president they have been unashamedly supporting for over a year.

Everything else in the President's stirring and emotional address went completely ignored, so much so that the other 2,400 words were totally irrelevant, as was the signficance of the day and the moment...

Or, as Andy McCarthy said:

Can Somebody Explain to Obama sat in Wright's church for 20 years and managed never to hear anything, but hears 20 seconds of a Bush speech that doesn't mention him and perceives a shameful personal attack?


In response to the first comment from Greg in the Comments section, let me highlight my response:

The point of this post was not to be a Bush apologist but to point out the overall nature of Bush's speech and thereby provide a context for showing how Obama looked thin-skinned and defensive by over-reacting to the appeasement comment. And to point out how the media grabbed 83 words of the speech and focused only on them.

Separately, it is a blunt truth that Bush has greatly damaged, if not destroyed, the Republican "brand" through the reckless domestic spending which fell under his "compassionate conservatism" label (assisted in no small part by the then-Republican-controlled Congress), through his horrible handling of the illegal immigration issue, through poor execution for several years of the Iraq war, and for his general inarticulateness in defining and advancing a coherent policy agenda on a consistent basis.

It is why I have previously said I hoped the Republicans lost control of the House in 2006 and spent some time in the wilderness and why I have criticized McCain directly in the past on this blog site, saying he wasn't presidential timber. (And that doesn't even touch my problems with his policy preferences on illegal immigration.)

As a result, not only is the party direction-less but a generation of young people, unlike the 1980's, has been brought up with absolutely no reason to be part of the party's efforts.

And some of us older conservatives, who never completely bought into the party stuff anyway, are now adrift. McCain is hardly a viable alternative for some of us and it is far from clear at this time whether some of us will sit on the sidelines in November or not.

The real issue I am trying to highlight here in raising Obama's increasingly clear and worrisome foreign policy views is that those views, which only become more troubling with the passage of time, may drive some of us to hold our nose and vote for McCain when we were originally going to not vote for him.

Underlying the November politics of all this are two very different views of human nature, how the world works, and the scope of the battle against Islamofascism. My broader intent is to highlight the differences between those two vastly different world views because that is both worthy of debate and crucial to scrutinize, even as Obama attempts to declare such conversations as off limits.

May 17, 2008

Newsflash: Human Heaviosity & Inertia Contribute to Global Warming

Monique Chartier

So say two unknown medical types in the Lancet magazine.

By way of reference, this is the same magazine which published the discredited claim of 600,000 civilian deaths in Iraq - a number which proved to be four times too high. The Lancet requires a subscription or registration or something (sorry, no patience for a "science" magazine that seems to award contributing authors extra points for creativity) so this excerpt is courtesy of TierneyLab, a New York Times blog:

Compared with the normal weight population, the obese population consumes 18% more food energy. Additionally, more transportation fuel energy will be used to transport the increased mass of the obese population, which will increase even further if, as is likely, the overweight people in response to their increased body mass choose to walk less and drive more.

Urban transport policies that promote walking and cycling would reduce food prices by reducing the global demand for oil, and promotion of a normal distribution of B.M.I. [Body Mass Index] would reduce the global demand for, and thus the price of, food. Decreased car use would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thus the need for biofuels, and increased physical activity levels, would reduce injury risk and air pollution, improving population health.

If man even is causing global warming by his meager contribution of 6% of total greenhouse gas emissions, the margin represented by higher than average body mass indices is not at or near the top of the list of his impactful activities. Of greater concern is the understandable desire of less developed countries to acquire such "luxuries" as electricity, cars, heat, cooling, wider selection of food, etc, evidenced by China surpassing the United States in 2006 as the biggest producer of carbon dioxide.

While I am a great believer in exercise and doing errands on foot and bicycle as feasible, I am heartily sceptical of 1.) man's role in global warming; 2.) man's ability to reverse his impact, if any, without literally ending civilization as we know it; 3.) the adviseability of reversing global warming at all; and 4.) our obligation to the cute, cuddly polar bear. The propounding of this silly theory in Lancet, therefore, delights me because it vividly encapsulates the larger theory of anthropogenic global warming: it eschews scientific proof while attempting to make man feel guilty for his unproven role in a not unprecedented phenomenon.

Attitude Over Policies

Justin Katz

Mark Steyn's astute observation is applicable to much more than foreign affairs:

Increasingly, the Western world has attitudes rather than policies. It's one thing to talk as a means to an end. But these days, for most midlevel powers, talks are the end, talks without end. Because that's what civilized nations like doing — chit-chatting, shooting the breeze, having tea and crumpets, talking talking talking. Uncivilized nations like torturing dissidents, killing civilians, bombing villages, doing doing doing. It's easier to get the doers to pass themselves off as talkers then to get the talkers to rouse themselves to do anything. And, as the Iranians understand, talks provide a splendid cover for getting on with anything you want to do. If, say, you want to get on with your nuclear program relatively undisturbed, the easiest way to do it is to enter years of endless talks with the Europeans over said nuclear program. That's why that Hamas honcho endorsed Obama: They know he's their best shot at getting a European foreign minister installed as president of the United States.

One gets the sense that, for too many Westerners, the important thing isn't so much to solve problems or to make good things happen as it is to feel the right feelings and think the right thoughts. And if vanity is the target, then self-expression — talking — is the medium via which to hit it.

May 16, 2008

Yes, You Bear Some Responsibility

Justin Katz

In the obviously titled "State workers protest any pension cuts," one protester said the following:

Others, including social worker Michael Fallon, said they felt state workers had been unfairly made the "scapegoats" for both the ballooning unfunded liability in the state pension fund and the "poor management" that landed Rhode Island in its current fiscal mess.

Being the member of a union does not mean one's hands are clean of the stains that the union's behavior leaves — quite the opposite — and union behavior has been a key component in our state's management. If members have voted for specific candidates under union advisement, if they have stood by while their lobbyists worked back-room deals, if they have said nothing as their dues bought ads on progressive Web sites and financed the campaigns of the legislators who have done such grave harm to our state, then they are not mere "scapegoats," but active parts of the problem.

The first step to fixing that problem will be for them to realize that one-issue voting (the issue being "my employment deal") is self-defeating because so calamitous in its result.

Senator Obama's naive, ahistorical, and unrealistic foreign policy viewpoints: His Achilles Heel for the November election

Donald B. Hawthorne

In Israel for the 60th anniversary celebration of its founding, President George W. Bush gave a speech in the Knesset, saying these words:

Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along . . . We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Kathryn Jean Lopez writes about what happened next:

Immediately, the Democratic party responded in outrage, insisting it was an unprecedented political attack on their presumptive nominee from foreign soil. Barack Obama himself said: “It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack.”

Senator Joseph Biden called the president's remarks “bulls**t.”

The White House denied the remark was about Obama. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino responded, “I would think that all of you who cover these issues and for a long time have known that there are many who have suggested these types of negotiations with people that the president, President Bush, thinks that we should not talk to. I understand when you’re running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you. That is not always true. And it is not true in this case.”

The White House’s denial is believable, and the Democrats’ accusation is a distortion and a distraction. The commander-in-chief, believe it or not, might have been concerned with something besides The Situation Room running a clip of him hitting Obama. The presidency, you see, is about more than the spin-cycle, the next election, and even the next president.

The president could have been speaking of any number of Democrats. Say, Jimmy Carter, who in April, 2008 said: “Through more official consultations with these outlawed leaders [Hamas and Syria], it may yet be possible to revive and expedite the stalemated peace talks between Israel and its neighbors. In the Middle East, as in Nepal, the path to peace lies in negotiation, not in isolation.”

Or Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, freelance diplomat, who in December 2007 said: “the road to Damascus is a road to peace.”

Or, perhaps he meant Speaker Pelosi in April 2007: “I believe in dialogue. As my colleagues have said over and over again, unless you communicate, you cannot understand each other. You cannot reach agreement.”

Or maybe he meant recent Obama endorser and former North Carolina senator John Edwards, who, according to his own press release in February of last year, believes “the U.S. should step up our diplomatic efforts by engaging in direct talks with all the nations in the region, including Iran and Syria.”

Or Bill Richardson, who has said, about meeting with Iran and Syria: “They’re bad folks … But you don’t have peace talks with your friends.”

It could have been about Congressman Henry Waxman, who in April said: “A Democratic administration would go back and try to open that possibility up for discussions [with Iran] of a grand bargain of one sort or another ... Democrats would certainly have seen that as a missed opportunity.”

Or Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “I can go to Syria. I can go to Iran and work to craft a path towards peace. And I will … How can you change peoples minds if you don’t meet with them?”

Or former Democratic presidential candidates and senators Chris Dodd and John Kerry, who met with Syria’s al-Assad and said: “As senior Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee, we felt it was important to make clear that while we believe in resuming dialogue, our message is no different: Syria can and should play a more constructive role in the region … We concluded that our conversation was worthwhile, and that … resuming direct dialogue with Syria should be pursued.”

Or the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, from April 10: “[Diplomats] can deliver some pretty tough messages … You don’t begin with a president of the country, but you do need to talk to your enemy.”

You get the idea. The world does not actually revolve around Barackstar. It doesn’t even revolve around contemporary Democrats. There are two very different ways of looking at the world, represented by the two parties here in the U.S. President Bush, obviously, believes the other party’s approach is wrong. To say so, in his mind, was of historic importance, for obvious reasons. Obvious, at least, to any statesman who can see before and beyond this current election season. Thank you, Senator Obama, for helping make clear where you stand on that front.

Two different world views, for sure. John Podhoretz and Peter Wehner have more.

Ed Morrisey reports on what Obama has said on his own website and in political debates here. (And now Obama says this? Would that be change you can believe in?)

Power Line points out another significant and contradictory foreign policy position of Obama's here. Check out the photo at the bottom of the post and reflect on these words:

Commenting on the distinction that Obama vehemently observes between Iran and Hamas, Geraghty is unconstrained by the norms that Newsweek seeks to impose: "Obama contends a face-to-face summit with the guy on the left is long overdue; a face-to-face summit with the guy on the right is crazy talk."

Taking a further step back, recall Obama's NC victory speech when he said:

I trust the American people to understand that it is not weakness, but wisdom to talk not just to our friends, but to our enemies, like Roosevelt did, and Kennedy did, and Truman did.

To which, Tom Maguire writes:

Obama's supporters are too young to know any of this, but Roosevelt led the United States in the war against Hitler; the Allied policy was unconditional surrender, so there was very little for Roosevelt and Hitler to discuss, and in fact, the two did not meet at all (but they did exchange correspondence before the war).

So my guess is that Obama is thinking of the Yalta Conference with Churchill and Stalin as talking to "our enemies," although of course we were still allied with the Soviet Union against Germany and Japan at that point. Beyond that, is the Yalta Conference something Obama and his advisers view as a success worthy of emulation? Puzzling.

Power Line adds these additional words:

And the United States has been talking with Iran right along in any event. It's not for lack of communication that Iran has been conducting its war on the United States.

Michael Novak discusses the implications of Obama's world view.

Glenn Reynolds summed it up with this pithy statement:

MEMO TO THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN: When somebody condemns appeasement, it doesn't help things to jump up and yell "Hey, he's talking about me!"

I think Obama's views on this related set of foreign policy issues are his single greatest vulnerability in the general election. They are a vulnerability because they provide the clearest and deepest insights into his view of the world and human nature, at a time of an unrelenting global war against our country. And it is in the context of those insights about Obama's world view that it is possible to attach a related and unfavorable interpretation to his parallel relationships with Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers.

May 15, 2008

A Marriage of Culture and Disenfranchisement

Justin Katz

Apparently, it's time to dust off the Federal Marriage Amendment; the California Supreme Court has redefined marriage to include same-sex couples. For those who may have forgotten, the most prominent version of the FMA read as follows:

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

As I argued at the time, the effect of this language would be to prevent the expansion of the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples and, while enabling state legislatures to grant rights to same-sex couples (a moral, even necessary, capability in some respects), to require that all civil union–type laws to explicitly grant rights to any new unions without the shorthand of referring to marriage.

That arrangement is as it should be for a changing culture because:

  1. It leaves culturally central definitions such as that of marriage to the people
  2. It allows states to acknowledge and accommodate changing life arrangements and adapting social practices, while forcing them to consider what has changed and what that change requires.
  3. If the changes effected by number 2 become sufficiently thorough — and thoroughly accepted — the amendment can be stricken to erase the legal distinction to mirror the by-then erased cultural distinction.

This process is the appropriate one because it enables our society to bring about change in such a way as to preserve that which is good and necessary in marriage, while experimenting with the expansion of its principles to other groups. Of equal importance, it arrests divisive government trends that have made all cultural battles national in scale and hinged them on the largely unelected judicial oligarchy.

Of course, the more likely course of events is for people who think they're marching on "the right side of history" to push their preferred change by any means possible, consequences be damned (or consequences be dismissed and wished away), while other people seek to avoid making ideologically defining decisions that often put them at odds with their own emotional inclinations, as well as the emotional inclinations of those whom they love and respect, thus forcing the opposing side into ever-more-defensive maneuvers, thus ensuring further cultural division and an escalation of civic hostilities.

Ahem, look what they are trying to do next door in Massachusetts

Donald B. Hawthorne

While RI politicians continue to avoid dealing constructively and aggressively with the structural problems underlying the state's financial crisis, some of our neighbors in Massachusetts are heading in the completely opposite direction.

Yes, in the state formerly known as Taxachusetts, a band of activist citizens are pushing for a statewide vote to eliminate the state income tax:

A group of antitax activists launched a campaign over the weekend to abolish the state income tax, setting the stage for a contentious public battle if the measure is added to the ballot this fall.

After pushing a similar initiative that almost passed six years ago, a group called the Committee for Small Government is back for another round, asking voters to end the income tax and save the average taxpayer $3,600 a year. The group, led by libertarian Carla Howell, is almost certain to gather the 11,000 signatures needed to put a question on the November ballot.

To say that state officials are worried about the prospect would be an understatement.

Community, political, and business officials are grasping for words such as "chaos," "devastating," and "catastrophe" to describe the scenario that would unfold if the measure passes.

Six years ago, Beacon Hill didn't pay much attention to what seemed to be a pie-in-the-sky campaign. Confident that voters would reject the plan as folly, no one even organized a campaign to fight it.

But it almost passed, gaining the support of 45 percent of voters...

A fledgling coalition of city and town officials and union officials hired former Blue Cross Blue Shield executive and civic leader Peter Meade to head a battle against the income tax cut, and is interviewing high-powered public relations firms. Their Coalition for Our Communities plans a fund-raising and public educational campaign to combat the allure of the tax-cutting measure, which would cost the state roughly $12.7 billion - about 40 percent of the budget.

Some political observers are expecting a public tax battle the likes of which has not been seen since Governor Michael S. Dukakis was in office...

These are the kind of engaged, activist people I had in mind when I wrote earlier this week about the crisis in RI and how important it was for RI to have a coalition of citizens committed to change. Why do we almost NEVER hear of similar groups of people in RI?

On a concluding note, I got a chuckle out of Andy Roth's words about the Massachusetts' initiative:

I don't know what I like more about this article. The fact that Massachusetts citizens are pushing for a repeal of the income tax, or the fact that bureaucrats are going bonkers with the prospect that they might succeed.

And how would raising taxes even higher in RI not incentivize further flight from the state by more residents?


In the comments section, Ken is kind to pass along the link to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) report entitled Rich States/Poor States: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index. Key sections include the executive summary here and the section "America's Economic Black Hole: The Northeast" on pages 15-18 of the report. The Rhode Island summary can be found here, where they describe the economic outlook as 48th out of the 50 states.

There is no "moderate" solution option left anymore; the entrenched special interests and politicians have made sure of that. The state is headed for collapse under the status quo. So we might as well throw the state into bankruptcy and restructure it with some logic.

Anchor on the Air

Justin Katz

As those who listened already know, Don switched with Andrew for this Wednesday's segment on the Matt Allen show. His commentary related to his post on Rhode Island's failure to address its current crisis can be streamed by clicking here (or download).

Next Wednesday at 6:50 p.m., Andrew will have his moment in the spotlight.

What, Me Worry?

Justin Katz

Anybody who doesn't see what the big deal is when Don laments our state's lack of a sense of urgency need only read through yesterday's business pages. The values of assets are plummeting:

The median price of a multifamily house in Rhode Island during the first quarter declined about 39 percent, to $161,000, compared with $263,000 a year earlier. More than half the 261 multifamily houses sold during the quarter were bank-owned foreclosure sales, according to the Rhode Island Association of Realtors.

Condos aren't moving:

Sales of condominiums during the first quarter plunged 37 percent, as more units sat on the market unable to find buyers, according to data from the Rhode Island Association of Realtors. Only 244 condos sold during January, February and March, down from 390 during the same period a year ago, the data show.

At that pace, it would take 22 months — nearly two years — to sell all the 1,772 condos on the market during the first quarter of this year, according to an analysis of data from the statewide Multiple Listing Service.

"Holy smokes!" exclaimed Suzanne E. Mulvee, a senior real-estate economist in Boston with Property & Portfolio Research, upon hearing about Rhode Island’s condo inventory. "That sales volume is absolutely falling off the cliff."

And URI economist Leonard Lardaro is trying to shout us awake:

In a statement with the [Current Conditions Index], Lardaro said, "Anyone who denies that Rhode Island is in a recession is clearly delusional. More importantly, based on our state's 2008 economic performance, we have entered a second and deeper recession phase, where prior economic activity levels will continue to become ever-more unattainable. Having to eliminate large [state] budget deficits amid all this weakness will prove to be far more difficult than almost anyone here has imagined."

Folks, we're heading into a helluva time that some of us won't be able to make it through as Rhode Islanders. Whom we enable to remain, however, will determine the darkness and duration of the night.

Gio Cicione: "This is your moment that the citizens take back the state from the special interests"

Monique Chartier

From today's Valley Breeze.

It is said that every man and every woman - somewhere over the course of their life - must have their moment.

It is a moment of recognition that something larger than the day to day details of our own family life is beckoning and we must answer to it. I would propose to you that such a moment has arrived for Rhode Islanders.

The checklist of unfavorable economic conditions in which our state now exists should be by now frighteningly familiar:

* A structural deficit at more than half a billion dollars and growing.

* Seventh highest property tax burden

* Overall fourth highest tax burden

* Worst business climate - including small business climate - in the nation

* Among most generous states in pay and benefits to state workers

* Eighth most highly paid teachers/school results in bottom fifth of nation

Haven't you had enough? If you have, I ask you to take action.

The Rhode Island Republican Party asks you to make a run for the General Assembly to show you are not going to abandon our state. This is your moment that the citizens take back the state from the special interests.

The Rhode Island Republican Party does not owe anything to the grip of greed of the public employee unions and their contracts - and many who do their bidding in our legislature - which have driven this state to its present condition of bankruptcy.

The Rhode Island Republican Party firmly believes the smallest state in the nation has no business being among the most free spending in the nation to those employees in nearly every measurable benefit, especially for the size of their retirement pensions which we cannot afford.

A bankrupted state cannot adequately finance its schools or public universities. It will leave all of our school age children with inferior educations when compared to other states and diminished prospects for college and beyond.

A bankrupted state does not attract businesses that provide jobs, careers and financial stability to college graduates and young people hoping to start families. It drives your own college-educated son or daughter far away from home to more prosperous states where they take their future earning power with them.

A bankrupted state will not nourish the stable, safe, small business-thriving, friendly communities many of us grew up in. Rhode Island is headed toward deteriorating into a state of rundown, boarded-up, forgotten neighborhoods offering far less prosperity, stability and safety to families here. If this is not the future state you want for your children, it's time to say "Enough."

Come join us. We will help you launch your campaign if you will help us fight back.

It doesn't take lots of money or any sacrifice greater than the ones you would make for your family on any given day. Like all things worth doing in life, it just takes desire and hard work.

When you win, we will together pursue a plan to drastically cut our out of control spending, immediately reduce your property and income taxes, put education dollars back into classrooms not just contracts, protect our environment, and to bring companies and good jobs back to Rhode Island. Oh yes, we can!

Contact our office at 401-732-8282. Contact me personally at 401-289-2380.

Giovanni Cicione

R.I. GOP chairman

Sinking Rhode Island Like a Lead Anchor

Justin Katz

Maureen Martin's got it right:

If the [lead-paint] verdict is upheld, every dwelling in Rhode Island constructed before 1978 (about 240,000 total) will have to be inspected for lead-based paint, regardless of whether the owners agree to that inspection. Residents will be forcibly relocated if their homes need an "extreme makeover" to remove and replace everything with lead paint on it — siding, walls, stairs, even kitchen cabinets — all at the paint companies' expense.

This scenario is fraught with unintended consequences. First, because Rhode Island law already requires landlords to abate lead hazards in rental units at their own expense, those who neglected to do so would get a free renovation, paid for by the paint companies. Second, real-estate values, already in decline, would further plummet while repairs are under way. This will depress the real-estate resale market and impair the value of assets held by lenders.

Read the op-ed for a reminder of the details, but the sound one hears while reading such summaries is of a nation eating itself — no doubt with a toxic aftertaste for which somebody else will have to bear the consequences.

Giving Legislators the Chance to Turn Down Their Cake and Eat It, Too

Justin Katz

One wonders whether Senate Democrat Doyenne Teresa Paiva Weed feels that this came out wrong:

But while House leaders have declared themselves in support of the move [to require legislators to contribute to their healthcare costs], which has both financial and symbolic significance in a year when the state is facing a huge deficit and thousands face removal from state subsidized health-care rolls, Senate leaders are less enthusiastic. In a brief interview yesterday, Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Paiva Weed explained why.

Asked about her reservations about the bill, she said she believes lawmakers show more "leadership" by contributing voluntarily to the cost of their health insurance, as she decided to do in recent weeks.

You see, they have to give themselves the opportunity to soak the Rhode Island taxpayers for $17,620 fully paid family healthcare so that they can have the opportunity to decline to take it. Or not:

At last count, only 26 of the state's 113 lawmakers — more than half of them Republican — are voluntarily paying a portion of their health-care premiums. The majority pay nothing; 21 lawmakers each get a $2,002 annual waiver payment for giving it up.

Ah, such leadership as we have in Rhode Island!

... a handful of legislators fretted that ending the $2,002 waiver payments might run up the state's cost by spurring some legislators into taking state-subsidized insurance they are now doing without.

"A handful," huh? Guess we'll just have to vote them all out of office.

May 14, 2008

Where Are The Appraisals?

Monique Chartier

The appraisals which justified and, therefore, facilitated the purchase of wet, polluted, unusable land from former Mayor William Macera (D-Johnston) and his family by the RIRRC, aka the Central Landfill, for many times its actual value. Mike Stanton reported in Sunday's Providence Journal:

Resource Recovery paid $163,000 an acre for the property, the current audit notes — a price that would have been consistent with other area land prices “assuming the land was usable.” But because of the dump, not all of the land was usable. And auditors could find no appraisals or any information “regarding the value of the property.”

“Serious environmental issues do exist” that will require “substantial” cleanup costs, the audit concluded.

In addition to the appraisals, we have an A.P.B. out for either the invoice of services by the appraiser or the cancelled checks in payment of same. These appraisals must have been quite special; extraordinary, in fact. Was a correspondingly extraordinary fee invoiced or disbursed for it?

We should note also that the source of the $8m was compulsory fees collected from the people and businesses of Rhode Island. Inasmuch as the RIRRC was able to accummulate $8m from those fees to spend on unusable land, clearly, there is room for an adustment of the fee structure at the Central Landfill.

Allan Fung: "Please Join Me Once Again as I Embark on This Journey to Bring Cranston Back and Make it a Place Where Dreams Come True"

Carroll Andrew Morse

Allan Fung, former Cranston citywide Councilman who lost a 2006 Mayoral bid to current mayor Michael Napolitano by less than 100 votes, announced last evening his intention to run for Mayor of Cranston again this year; here are a few excerpts from his announcement address

Tonight, we stand here two years and a world apart from where Cranston was when I first announced my candidacy for Mayor two years ago. After serving on the City Council for four years, Cranston was headed in the right direction. The city was recovering from years of fiscal mismanagement, including having the lowest bond rating in the nation. I was proud to have been part of the team who worked to turn Cranston around....

Our city has suffered two years of broken promises. It is easy to shake hands and walk door-to-door telling people what they want to hear. Politicians who lack the basic knowledge of municipal finance believe that short-term fixes are enough. The current Mayor promised tax-relief at his campaign kick-off. Instead, Cranston residents were faced last year with the maximum tax increase allowed by state law after inheriting a city with a balanced budget, increased funding of the city's pension plan, and approval of three affordable labor agreements. This was the largest tax-increase that residents faced since the time when Cranston was merely days away from declaring bankruptcy. The Mayor's maximum tax-hike was uncalled for and was a betrayal of you, the taxpayer....

Mayor Napolitano's tax freeze budget this year is merely an election year trick, the same kind of trick that former Mayor O'Leary played on the voters of Cranston. Mayor Napolitano proposes to use a portion of the Rainy Day Fund in his budget while ignoring the multi-million dollar deficit that the City's schools are accumulating. Because the Mayor refuses to make real changes in how we operate, he will either raise taxes or spend substantially more of the Rainy Day Fund when the bills come due after the election. My friends, our City's future is in jeopardy as this Mayor makes decisions based on his own selfish political ambitions....

In these stormy times, Cranston needs a strong leader. It needs a leader who realizes that empty promises may win votes for a candidate, but do not result in a win for the people of Cranston. I will continue to tell you the truth as we move forward. I have the track record of being conservative with your money. During my tenure on the City Council, we ratified three reasonable labor contracts, ensured audits were completed on time, controlled expenses and ran surpluses that helped replenish the Rainy Day Fund. Together, we can stand up for the taxpayers of our great city....

So ladies and gentlemen, please join me once again as I embark on this journey to bring Cranston back and make it a place where dreams can come true…I am ready to take on that challenge -- and ask you tonight once again to believe in me and join me in facing the challenge. Together, let us lead our city back to greatness.

I was hoping to be able to bill this as Alan Fung's first official interview after announcing his candidacy, but the Channel 12 guys got across the room before I did, so here is the question I asked former Councilman Fung during his second official interview after announcing his candidacy…

Anchor Rising: Forgive me for using the wimpy formulation of this question; some people say that the problem with Rhode Island is that even though everybody knows what the problems are, Rhode Islanders keep sending the same politicians back into office who won't do anything about them. You have more direct experience with that than anyone. What's different about Cranston and/or about your campaign that's going to make things different this time?

Allan Fung: You know, my biggest platform plank is being honest with the taxpayers. I think they are frustrated with the broken promises they keep hearing year after year from the same politicians. I've always been forthright with them about where our city has been and where it's going, and during these next six months, I am going to be laying out my plan to get the city back on the right track, to make sure that Cranston is on sound financial footing, not only for the short term, but for the long term future.

Complicating World Views

Marc Comtois

Ya know, if the current resident of the Oval Office had talked about visiting all 57 States in America or had momentarily slipped up by complaining that we didn't have enough Arabic translators in non-Arabic speaking Afghanistan, I do believe the Daily Show and Colbert Report would have been all over it.

But when He Who Is Change does it? Nahhhhh. I mean, c'mon, he's a good guy and isn't the same kind of inherently evil, yet pathologically numb doofus that currently sits in the White House, right? Besides, you agree with The Prince. If you don't agree with someone, then it goes without saying that a simple difference of opinion ain't enough: they must also be evil and stupid and a poopy-pants. Right?

Some of the media elite have found that Karl Rove in his new role as a commentator is, to their apparent astonishment, a pretty good guy. Rove is now a FOX News contributor and also writes for the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek. The New York Times quotes Newsweek editor Jon Meacham as saying the former Bush political strategist is getting positive reviews from the staff.

The Times writes, "Mr. Meacham said Mr. Rove had been received surprisingly well in the magazines newsroom, where he has been a reliable colleague who files his articles on time and works diligently with fact checkers.

After one editor dealt with him, Mr. Meacham said, "The editor called me and said, 'This just complicated my world view. I may like Karl Rove.'"

Imagine that: you can disagree with someone and still think they're an OK person. Or, you can like someone and still call them out when they make mistakes. How very...nuanced.

Meaningless talk and inaction in a crisis: Why Rhode Island's crisis will get worse before it gets better & what to do about it

Donald B. Hawthorne

The state of Rhode Island is in a deep financial crisis. Resolving its large budget deficits will require real and significant structural changes to the status quo.

The status quo was best summed up in a passing comment by Representative Gorham last night on the Matt Allen show: Gorham talked about how the state budget deal is typically reached in a "clandestine" fashion in the office of a just a few state legislators and then rapidly moved to a vote.

That approach is, in no small way, how RI got into its current mess and maintaining such practices won't yield successful and lasting change.

As someone who has led corporate turnarounds for nearly 20 years and has read extensively on what it takes to lead successful change initiatives, it is appalling how little progress has been made to effect real change in the face of the current crisis here in RI. It's not like these structural problems are a new development!

One of my favorite authors on leadership and change is Harvard Business School professor John Kotter. He has been writing for years about the topic of leading change and is a world authority on the subject. More on his books can be found here.

For the last decade, Kotter has been writing extensively on what he calls the "Eight Step Process of Successful Change." Here is an excerpt from his "Iceberg" book, a book which uses a fable to describe what it takes to realize successful change. Easily accessible to the layperson, I recommend reading it.

Set the Stage

1. Create a sense of urgency: Help others see the need for change and the importance of acting immediately.

2. Pull together the guiding team: Make sure there is a powerful group guiding the change - one with leadership skills, credibility, communications ability, authority, analytical skills, and a sense of urgency.

Decide What to Do

3. Develop the change vision and strategy: Clarify how the future will be different from the past, and how you can make that future a reality.

Make it Happen

4. Communicate for understanding: Make sure as many others as possible understand and accept the vision and strategy.

5. Empower others to act: Remove as many barriers as possible so that those who want to make the vision a reality can do so.

6. Produce short-term wins: Create some visible, unambiguous successes as soon as possible.

7. Don't let up: Press harder and faster after the first successes. Be relentless with initiating change after change until the vision is a reality.

Make It Stick

8. Create a new culture: Hold on to the new ways of behaving, and make sure they succeed, until they become strong enough to replace old traditions.

As we all reflect on the severe crisis here in RI, one of the most disconcerting conclusions is how RI is currently 0-for-8 in moving in the right direction.

Where is the sense of urgency?

Where is the powerful guiding team?

What is the change vision and strategy?

There will be no successful structural changes in RI until those questions are answered in tangible and affirmative ways. If they are not, the crisis will worsen instead of getting better.

Avoiding the hard choices which go with implementing difficult changes is a part of human nature and, at one level, perfectly understandable. Which is why it is so important for there to be leaders who display the requisite courage to initiate the change dynamic.

The structural status quo in Rhode Island is built on a foundation of economic fiction. And, whether certain people like it or not, economic fictions simply cannot persist - even if many people choose to ignore the problems in the hope they will just go away. Which is exactly what causes bad situations to turn into crises.

Tackling RI's economic fictions matters for reasons beyond just balancing a budget. The well-being and futures of many families will be affected. As I wrote back in 2004:

...Even so, this debate is about more than current taxation levels and today's family budgets. It is about freedom and opportunity for all -- and family budgets in the future. The greatness of our country is that people can live the American dream through the power of education and hard work.

High taxation and mediocre public education create a disincentive for new-business formation in Rhode Island. That means fewer new jobs, and less of a chance for working people to realize the American dream. It also means people have an economic incentive to leave the state -- and the ones who can afford to do so will continue to leave.

Unfortunately, the ones who cannot afford to leave are the people who can least afford the crushing blow of high taxation and mediocre education. The status quo dooms these families to an ongoing decline in their standard of living. That is unjust...

We are at a crossroads in Rhode Island. If we tackle issues now, a turnaround with only some pain is possible. If we delay, we will doom multiple generations of working families and retirees to further tax hell and a reduction in their standard of living. That is wrong.

This public debate is about breaking the chains of bondage and giving all citizens the freedom to live the American dream here in Rhode Island. What greater legacy can we leave for our children than a fair shot at the American dream here in their state?

...Let's tear down this wall of economic fiction, and let freedom ring out across the state. Let's make Rhode Island a vibrant land of freedom and opportunity, for all working families.

Either we will do change here in RI or change will do us. The failure to act over the last 4 years means the changes will now be far more painful. And the pain will only deepen more if further inaction accompanies the passage of yet more time.

So, have you done your part to increase the sense of urgency? Have you stepped up to become part of a team dedicated to real change? Have you worked, even at your town level, to identify a vision for change?

One of the most striking observations I regularly find when going into troubled companies is how many people at all levels instinctively know what is wrong. One of the most heart-warming outcomes is how many of those people want to pitch in and be part of a solution. And one of the most satisfying developments is watching those people rise to the occasion, often in ways that would never have been predicted. Never under-estimate the power of the human spirit to be selfless and do great things. Even when it requires going through pain.

But before those wonderful developments can ever occur, we have to start with the basic first steps of a successful change initiative. Unlike the business community where companies die if they base their plans on economic fictions, change in the political world is much more difficult because entrenched special interests have no incentive to be part of constructive solutions. They have no incentive since their demands are funded by third-parties - taxpayers - while the special interests suffer no direct adverse economic consequences from making unrelenting demands.

Any real solutions in the RI public sector will require taking enough power away from those special interests so that the economic price of their demands is reduced. Yet the people to do that - politicians - usually have a focus on their own re-election and thus have no incentive to challenge the very interests who can subsequently cause them to lose an election. The problem is compounded further because the same politicians and bureaucrats have no incentive to help solve the problems because they also suffer no direct adverse consequences from their failure to act.

So any solution to RI's problems will require some selfless and courageous politicial leaders who care more about change and doing the right thing than winning elections. Part of their challenge will be to build a large enough coalition of citizens committed to change. It is only then that a courageous citizen coalition can exert the requisite pressure on enough fence-sitting politicians, providing the latter with a sufficient re-election incentive to join the change initiatives and the majority votes for change.

Bluntly, I don't see any of those dynamics even starting to happen in RI right now. Which says things will get far worse before they have any chance to get better.

We are faced with an ongoing political stalemate in place in RI: The window of opportunity for "reasonable" solutions passed some years ago. When RI already has one of the highest taxation rates among the 50 states, raising them even higher is a certain doom loop. It is too late to solve the problem by tinkering on the margin. Yet the special interests have shown zero willingness to back off their entitlement demands so as to make structural changes possible. With each passing month, there will be even less flexibility.

We are on a treacherous path as a state. But sometimes it takes going through sheer hell before the will to make tough decisions arises. Given the incredibly powerful and entrenched special interests and the political balance of power, maybe the only viable solution for RI is to let it all blow up and then pick up the pieces. Maybe we just have to become a statewide version of Vallejo.

Since the status quo political debate on these problems is an abject failure, here is my provocative proposal for public discussion:

    Building the sense of urgency: Begin talking publicly and bluntly about exactly how bad the structural problems are. No sense of urgency will be built until after these problems are crisply defined and transparently obvious for citizens across the state. Simply saying we have a budget deficit of $X million is insufficiently compelling; we need to talk about the ongoing budget deficit and how we have masked it previously, the structural problems which have caused recurring deficits, the unfunded pension liabilities, and the unfunded healthcare liabilities - all of which were incurred despite extremely high taxation levels.
    Pull together a team of leaders and active citizens: There has to be a conscious building of a powerful group of people from across the business community, policy community, and political community who are committed to change. It is a group which will only coalesce when we stop being so delicate in our conversations about the crisis. In RI, that means we need some people who are willing to take on previously unseen levels of personal risks. As they say, we need a few good men and women who have both the sense of urgency and the willingness to talk about the stark challenges faced in RI. Who are equally willing to talk bluntly about how the inaction of politicians and bureaucrats as well as the resistance from powerful special interests make it necessary to either do some major restructuring immediately or implement a radical solution of throwing the state into receivership/bankruptcy. Said another way, we need leaders who are willing to use that blunt public conversation to shake the foundation, thereby either stimulating real and previously non-existent policy ideas for serious change outside a legal restructuring or making the case on why there is no other alternative.
    The change vision for RI: By the middle of the next decade, do what Massachusetts did in recent years by going from taxation levels which earned it the nickname "Taxachusetts" to middle of the pack among the 50 states.
    The strategy for achieving the change vision: Set a specific and firm near-term time deadline for implementing the necessary major structural changes to realize the change vision. If the changes don't occur by the deadline, throw the state into some form of receivership/bankruptcy and then restructure everything by brute force.

What do you want the future of RI to look like? How are you willing to help bring about change?

Changing the scope of what is subject to union contract bargaining for RI public employees

Donald B. Hawthorne

On the Tuesday evening Matt Allen WPRO show, Matt interviewed State Representative and House Minority Whip Nick Gorham about Gorham's bill H-7664, which would redefine the scope of issues subject to bargaining for RI public employees.

During the interview, Gorham noted that there are very different approaches across the 50 states as to what issues are subject to bargaining by public employees. At one end of the spectrum, some states do not permit any such bargaining for certain public employees. Unsurprisingly, RI is at the other end of spectrum, where current law says the following is subject to bargaining for all public employees: wages, benefits and all other terms and conditions of employment.

Gorham notes that current RI law disenfranchises management, such as school superintendents and principals, and creates the structural incentive which results in the state spending significant financial resources while getting only meager results on its investment. As I have written for years about the teachers' union contracts, RI overpays for under-performance and has created an entitlement mentality instead of a focus on performance.

Gorham's bill would limit the scope of what is subject to bargaining to only wages and benefits, applying such a scope definition to fire fighters, police officers, state police officers, correctional officers, certified teachers, municipal employees and 911 employees. The bill would place RI in the middle of how the 50 states approach public employee bargaining. And, by default, leave the remaining issues of how they get their respective jobs done to the people who actually do the work - instead of union officials.

Ed Achorn had this broad observation about the current conditions in RI and how this entitlement mentality has gotten the state into a very deep hole:

...Thanks in part to unsustainable benefits for public-employee unions, the state confronts a budget deficit of a half-billion dollars or more. And it cannot effectively tax its way out of the nightmare, since its radically high taxes (including property taxes) have already driven out jobs, businesses and many middle-class taxpayers, cutting revenues and leaving Rhode Island one of the few states in recession, while Massachusetts right next door adds jobs and boosts its tax revenues.

Rhode Island, with its beauty, superb location, intellectual infrastructure and potential for port activity, should be one of America’s booming places. Instead, its politicians have left its citizens living in fear that they will lose their jobs or be forced to pack up and leave.

The kind of thinking that brought about this economic debacle also prevails in public education. Thanks to state labor laws that tilt the playing field against taxpayers, and local officials who consistently give away the store in contract negotiations (either deliberately or because they lack the intensity and experience of their well-funded foes), the Ocean State pays one of America’s highest tabs per pupil for public schools, and gets generally mediocre results. And when even more money is invested in the schools, it seems to go into the pockets of special interests in the form of unsustainable benefits, rather than getting to students in the form of new books, science labs, sports, art, music and first-rate teaching.

It doesn’t have to be this way, Mr. Gorham argues...

Indeed, it does not.

May 13, 2008

Good, Ol' Fashioned Generation Baiting

Marc Comtois

Mark Bauerlein has a new book in which he calls the current under-30 crowd the "Dumbest Generation," though it's not really their fault so much as that they are growing up in the "digital age." The Boston Globe has pruned out "8 reasons why this is the dumbest generation". I'll give you the reasons, but for their justification, read the whole thing. In short:

1. They make excellent "Jaywalking'' targets.
2. They don't read books -- and don't want to, either.
3. They can't spell.
4. They get ridiculed for original thought, good writing.
5. Grand Theft Auto IV, etc.
6. They don't store the information.
7. Because their teachers don't tell them so.
8. Because they're young.
In his review of Bauerlein's book, David Robinson writes.
Adults are so busy imagining the ways that technology can improve classroom learning or improve the public debate that they've blinded themselves to the collective dumbing down that is actually taking place. The kids are using their technological advantage to immerse themselves in a trivial, solipsistic, distracting online world at the expense of more enriching activities – like opening a book or writing complete sentences.

Mr. Bauerlein presents a wealth of data to show that young people, with the aid of digital media, are intensely focusing on themselves, their peers and the present moment. YouTube and MySpace, he says, are revealingly named: These and other top Web destinations are "peer to peer" environments in the sense that their juvenile users have populated them with predictably juvenile content. The sites where students spend most of their time "harden adolescent styles and thoughts, amplifying the discourse of the lunchroom and keg party, not spreading the works of the Old Masters."

Society seems to believe that more technology is inherently good, kind of like throwing more money at a problem. But technology and money are no substitute for quality time. I manage some of these young turks and some of the above observations do ring true.

But, I don't want to sound like the stock Scooby Doo villain complaining about "those darn kids" (especially because I always wanted to hang with the Mystery Machine crowd!). I tend to think that #8 from the Globe's list is the most relevant point of them all: "Because they're young." Remember, we were all pretty clueless once, and, like the current under-30 crowd, we didn't realize it either.

The trick is to get "those darn kids" up to speed in the ways of the professional and public world. And we need to be patient about it. We've all benefited from the guiding hand of old timers who set us straight--often with the help of a few well-placed, sarcastic "observations." It's called growing up. Eventually, they'll "get it."

What's Not in the Numbers

Justin Katz

A few important considerations are missing from Tom Sgouros's comment of his "review" of state tax revenue statistics:

I was reviewing some statistics about state tax revenues last week, and looked at business taxes. Along with the income tax and sales tax, business taxes were once the third important leg of funding state operations, but no longer. Between 1996 and 2006, income tax collections rose by 76%, sales tax collections by 97% and business taxes by -- wait for it -- 14%, far less than inflation over that decade.

Why have business tax revenue declined so much? The economy has suffered recently, but not for all of that decade. The biggest reason for the decline is a nearly endless stream of special tax breaks. We offer businesses several different investment tax credits, an R&D credit, a credit for wages paid in an Enterprise Zone, a jobs development credit, a job training credit, a biotechnology tax credit, an "innovation and growth" tax credit, and much more. Some of these are worth millions of dollars. For others, we simply don't know what the effect is on the state budget. But the result is that 94% of the businesses in our state pay the minimum corporate tax of $500.

For one thing, it's difficult to measure the significance of percentage change without knowing the dollar amount for each category. More to the point, however, Sgouros's analysis requires that one ignore economic realities: It may be, for example, that the same policies that kept business taxes down enabled or encouraged increases in salaries and sales, thus increasing those taxes. One ought also to remember that offshore outsourcing has also expanded during the period in question, peeling off business revenue and making it advisable for the state to decrease the cost of doing business here.

Rhode Island clearly doesn't do economic development well, but presenting percentage change statistics isolated from context and lamenting pro-business tax policies bespeak precisely the approach that will bury Rhode Island, if permitted to affect our tax structure.

A GOP Veepstakes Aside

Marc Comtois

Many conservatives are swallowing hard and coming to accept that John McCain is the best option out there. But I wonder if that will change should Mike Huckabee become the VP choice. James Pethokoukis has the scoop:

Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and defeated contender for the GOP presidential nomination, is currently at the top of John McCain's short list for a running mate. At least that's the word from a top McCain fundraiser and longtime Republican moneyman who has spoken to McCain's inner circle. The fundraiser is less than thrilled with the idea of Huckabee as the vice presidential nominee, and many economic conservatives—turned off by the populist tone of Huckabee's campaign and his tax record as governor—are likely to share that marked lack of enthusiasm. But here is the logic of picking Huckabee:

1) He is a great campaigner and communicator who could both shore up support in the South among social conservatives (Huckabee is a former Baptist minister) and appeal to working-class voters in the critical "Big 10" states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio.

2) As any pollster knows, voters search for candidates who "care about people like me," and Huckabee would probably score a lot higher on that quality than millionaire investor Mitt Romney. Plus, given all the turmoil on Wall Street, 2008 would seem to be a bad year to pick a former investment banker for veep.

3) Economic conservatives and supply-siders may balk, but the threat of four years of Obamanomics and higher investment, income, and corporate taxes might be enough to keep them on board.

Let me add that a top Republican political strategist told me about a month ago that he also believed Huckabee to be the leading veep contender.

It might seem like a smart political move in the short term as explained by Pethokoukis. However, should McCain go with Huckabee, setting him up as the presumptive heir, it would signal to conservatives that McCain was attempting to change the ideological foundation--and future--of the GOP from center-right to populist-middle. (Heck, he could go with Hillary Clinton and achieve the same thing). Of course, if Huckabee is the choice, I suspect that many conservatives will throw their hands in the air and just stay at home and McCain would lose anyway. We'll see.

Banking on a System Sure to Fail

Justin Katz

Andrew makes a central observation in the comments to his latest post on the pension deficit:

If politicians making bad fiscal decisions are the entire story of the pension funding crisis, that is a strong case against defined benefit plans, because there is no reason to believe that current and future pols are going to be any smarter than the ones who got us in to this mess.

For his part, NEA honcho Bob Walsh offers a worthy summary thereof:

... since you asked, here is a brief recap. While pensions systems started in the public sector to match the private sector models, they generally had a few major differences - public sector plans usually required employee contributions as well as employer contributions, and, while private sector plans eventually fell under ERISA regulations, such rules were lacking for public plans. Eventually, though, most public plans tried to follow private guidelines, but since governments were (correctly) considered on-going entities, getting to full funding was never a high priority and the typical 30-year amortization schedules were constantly being redrawn (there are still folks who argue they should be reamortized every year to keep management contribution levels down). RI last reset the counter 8 years ago, so we will be fully funded in 22 years IF we stick to the plan.

RI, of course, added to the problem in its own unique way - they were later to the game in requiring real actuarial studies to set the management contributions, and imagine their surprise when the funding levels were discovered to be so low. During the DiPrete years, the two early retirements saved the state money from the personnel budget by essentially giving away time in the pension system, which not only essentially transfered those costs to the pension system, it was the equivalent of borrowing the money at 8.25% (more, really, since the real returns have always been higher). DiPrete also gave us the banking crisis, which caused the state to decide not to make required contributions during that time. In the late 1990's, when funds all over the country were catching up due to stellar market returns, we decided to ignore the 5-year smoothing used to average out market returns and "mark to market" our portfolio, which lowered management contributions at the time and , all too predictably, caused them to increase years later.

Demographics have also played a part - while I disagreed with some of the Plan B changes, the concept of retirement at any age without any age-based actuarial reduction was not sustainable (as I testified at the time.) Of course, folks are living longer, etc., which also caused the need for those adjustments.

The missing piece is that — for professional and ideological reasons — he and his union-leader peers have backed the very politicians and policies that have brought Rhode Island to its current state. Giveaways, regulations, and micromanaged obfuscations of the free market — for the most part benefiting unions directly or indirectly — created the circumstances in which public-sector pensions are threatened as they are, and one suspects that those in the know, such as Mr. Walsh, have not raised the alarum because they've considered the pension benefits to be "guaranteed," if not legally, then morally. As Michael commented to a previous post in the series:

... the pension is part of a benefit package. The benefit package was offered to me when I accepted employment with the City of Providence. I didn't demand it or crunch the numbers or do an audit, I trusted the integrity of the people who hired me to have figured this thing out before offering the package. I've planned my future based on the numbers supplied to me and doing some investing and career building on my own. The only demanding I'm hearing is people who's future's are not tied to the pension systems demanding I sacrifice my future so they can save a few bucks on their tax bills.

Well, I'll agree that it was improper for politicians (and unions) to make unrealistic promises on which others would be expected to deliver, but Michael's undue dismissal of taxpayers' claims is telling. Sure, if everybody in Rhode Island threw me a dime (nevermind "a few bucks"), I could end my crushing debt, but I'd prefer policies that created an economy in which a hard-worker could thrive. I planned my educational investments based on indicators and advice, expecting those who'd constructed our social schema to have structured the market as promised. Life doesn't always work out as expected.

The thread running between Bob and Michael is the belief that the responsibility for fixing the pension system rests with those whose ostensible representatives enunciated the promises. And that points to a structure (deliberate, no doubt) in which those who bear the risks receive none of the rewards, while those who receive the rewards have no risks (in the sense of losing their pensions). From where, then, would those whose futures are actually in question — as Michael claims his is — derive incentive to keep an eye on the stewards of their retirements? To ensure that "too good" doesn't get swamped in "to be true"?

Tom W offers the important reminder that being entitled to vested benefits also means that benefits that aren't yet vested aren't an entitlement. It's the public sector workers' pension system that is at stake, and it seems to me that they ought to bear the brunt of the financial hit of having to return it to solvency. If the financial hit is too large, perhaps they'll decide to mitigate in small degree by canceling their union dues.

May 12, 2008

How the Reagan-Lincoln Day Dinner Isn't Just Another Fundraiser

Carroll Andrew Morse

We don't generally promote specific political fundraising events here at Anchor Rising, but will point out that this Wednesday's Reagan-Lincoln Day Fundraiser at Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet is a little different from the kind of event that RI Republicans usually sponsor. Though this year's Reagan-Lincoln Day Dinner has been planned and advertised as a statewide gala, the money raised will not go to the state party account. Instead, 75% of the value of each ticket purchased will go to the local city or town Republican committee it was purchased from (the other 25% going to Rhodes to cover the expenses of the event).

It is worth noting that this event represents a movement within the Rhode Island Republican party amongst those who believe that the top-down strategies favored by party leadership in the recent past, i.e. focus on a few statewide offices and hope for coattails, have hit the wall, and that the party can only become competitive again by rebuilding its grass-roots strength in the cities and towns.

Ending Bumping

Justin Katz

Perhaps no practice is a better distillation of the blight that is teacher unionization than bumping. I'm with Julia Steiny in thinking that it ought to end, but the suggestions of the Business Education Partnership that she describes in her column, yesterday, are worth considering as half-way measures:

To professionalize education personnel practices, Blais and her colleagues put the focus squarely on evaluation. Rhode Island is one of only a handful of states that do not mandate that teachers be evaluated. In fact, most Rhode Island teachers are never evaluated in any meaningful or helpful way.

Blais says the key to an effective and fair evaluation system is to use several different measures, instead of just one principal's say-so. Evaluations should include objective, quantifiable information, such as student achievement, as well as administrator and peer observations. The resulting evaluations should place teachers at one of four levels: master, pre-master, basic and below basic.

With these categories in hand, teachers would no longer be interchangeable. Any teacher with two consecutive below-basic evaluations could be let go. (At last!) No basic teacher could bump a master, no matter how long he or she has been in the system. Only master teachers should be peer evaluators.

It is an abomination that, in a profession that begs for inspiration, we permit no measure of quality.

May 11, 2008

Non-Public Employees in New York's Public Pension System

Monique Chartier

From an interesting blog called Pension Risk Matters:

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating "alleged abuses of the state pension fund" at school district, town and village levels. External contractors may be costing Empire State taxpayers a bundle in the form of "undeserved" retirement benefits. (See "Cuomo expanding pension probe," April 14, 2008.)

The TimesUnion blog, that second link, elaborates.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday is expected to announce that he is further broadening his probe into alleged abuses of the state pension fund to include not just school districts, but towns and villages as well.

Cuomo was already looking into the practice by some school districts of putting outside contractors, particularly lawyers, into the state retirement system. The practice has allowed some attorneys to rack up huge amounts of retirement credits — possibly illegally, Cuomo says, because they didn’t qualify as employees.

The attorney general is now turning his attention to a similar practice in local governments, especially the smaller ones, which also don’t always have staff attorneys but hire them under contract.

One of the lawyers who benefited from that system, James Roemer, accrued a taxpayer-funded pension worth more than $80,000 a year working for various cities, towns, counties and villages, in addition to being in private practice. Roemer, according to a person familiar with Cuomo’s investigation, has been subpoenaed in the probe.

By gum, Rhode Island may have the second highest unfunded public pension liability in the country. But we don't have non-public workers in any of our public pension systems.

(... Do we?)

Taking from the Not So Rich

Justin Katz

So proud of this little snippet from a Providence Business News piece is Patrick Crowley that he's mentioned it multiple times:

But what about the rest of us? After all, nearly 50% (48.7%) of the returns filed were for incomes BELOW $30,000 a year. And while this group pays 4% of the state’s income tax they actually earn only 3% of the income in the market. The $100,000-$200,000 group earns 24% of the wages but only pay 23% of the income taxes, and the $75,000-$100,000 group earns earn 14% of the wages but only pay 12% of the income taxes. This takes the “progressiveness” out of the “progressive” income tax. And because the other taxes people pay are “regressive” (property tax, sales taxes, etc) the picture becomes more clear – people at the bottom end of the income scale, not the top, are paying more than their fair share.

That's all one needs in order to conclude that it isn't worth the time or effort to pay for the article or the periodical in which it appears. It might be enough, for some, to observe that Crowley is not satisfied that just over half of all taxpaying households are paying 96% of the taxes, but so thick are the deceptions (or incomprehensions) embedded in his little paragraph that one can hardly stop there.

Although the numbers don't correspond precisely with the latest version online (2006, PDF), he appears to be working from the Rhode Island Division of Taxation's Statistics of Income Report on resident income taxes. If that's the case, then he's already skewed the data considerably for the claims that he's making, because he appears to be using the "RI taxable income" data for his percentages — the problem being that much of the progressivity for which he pines has already been figured into the numbers by that point. The picture changes considerably if one looks at AGI:

Under $30,000 $30,000 Under $50,000 $50,000 Under $75,000 $75,000 Under $100,000 $100,000 Under $200,000 $200,000 or More
% of total RI taxable income 2.4 11.2 15.0 13.7 24.6 33.3
% of total AGI 10.6 12.5 15.3 13.3 22.4 26.0
% of total RI income tax 4.0 7.9 11.4 11.1 23.7 42.1

The difference between the two are modifications, deductions, and exemptions — in short, those considerations by which the government addresses matters outside of raw income statistics that ought to affect the taxes that they pay. This manipulation becomes all the more notable when one considers the numbers on a per-tax-return basis and adds tax data:

Under $30,000 $30,000 Under $50,000 $50,000 Under $75,000 $75,000 Under $100,000 $100,000 Under $200,000 $200,000 or More
RI taxable income per return 1,860 23,401 40,185 59,433 96,854 472,615
AGI per return 12,393 39,127 61,609 86,450 131,809 551,011
Income tax per return 172 913 1,691 2,670 5,165 33,088
Tax % of RI taxable income 9.27 3.9 4.21 4.49 5.33 7.00
Tax % of AGI 1.39 2.33 2.75 3.09 3.92 6.00

The probability is that the likes of Crowley would look at the numbers and still decry the inequity across classes, and with that protestation we slip into more philosophical realms... except, of course, for a final adjustment of the picture to account for the distribution of those tax returns that were filed jointly by couples:

Under $30,000 $30,000 Under $50,000 $50,000 Under $75,000 $75,000 Under $100,000 $100,000 Under $200,000 $200,000 or More
% of returns jointly filed 11.5 28.8 55.5 78.5 86.8 85.7
RI taxable income per person 1,669 18,173 25,838 33,296 51,837 254,529
AGI per person 11,115 30,386 39,614 48,431 70,551 296,750
Tax per person 155 709 1,088 1,496 2,764 17,820

In short, when one accounts for different rates of joint returns, the average AGI in the lowest group decreases 10%, while the vilified $75,000-$100,000 and $100,000-$200,000 groups show decreases of 44% and 46%, respectively. Crowley distorts his data, that is, to the detriment most especially of working and middle class families. It would be fair to ponder for whose benefit he labors.

Little wonder socialists can't make the world work the way they want it to.


Rushing to post this earlier, in order to get to my husbandly duties in the yard, I had a persistent feeling that there was one final "and so" that I wasn't noting. Fresh air and dirty hands having cleared my head, I realize that it was the ratios of each group in each category — holding individuals in the Under $30,000 group to 1 and seeing how individuals in each other group compare by that measure:

Under $30,000 $30,000 Under $50,000 $50,000 Under $75,000 $75,000 Under $100,000 $100,000 Under $200,000 $200,000 or More
Individual RI taxable income ratio to lowest 1 10.9 15.5 20.0 31.1 152.5
Individual AGI ratio to lowest group 1 2.7 3.6 4.4 6.3 26.7
Individual tax ratio to lowest group 1 4.6 7.0 9.7 17.9 115.2

And so... taking into account jointly filed returns (the appropriate methodology for which is certainly up for discussion), and sticking with AGI numbers, there simply can be no doubt that our tax structure is disgracefully progressive, in the way in which Crowley desires.

Happy Mother's Day!

Donald B. Hawthorne

Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms out there! Thanks for all you do.

Each corner of the world is made a better place when there is a loving mother there. We always need more loving mothers, too.

A special Happy Mother's Day to my Mom out in California, where she is still going strong at 81. An active docent and always on the go, driving her '69 Chevy classic car around town. For all those times of love, encouragement and support - extending from my childhood to more recent times - I thank her from the bottom of my heart.


With a H/T to Instapundit, here is a touching Mother's Day tribute from Rachel Lewis to her Mom. I was particularly struck by her poignant reflection on what good parents do when raising their children:

...It wasn’t all perfect; but that’s what makes us normal. My parents went to a church none of us kids particularly cared for very much and that caused a lot of conflict in later years. But do you know what? I’m glad for it. I’ve always thought that if everything had been done exactly as I wanted when I was growing up, I’d be a real a**h*l* by now, out in the real world where almost NOTHING is how you want it. And the thing is, at some point you have to ask yourself if whatever your parents did that you didn’t like was done out of their true, sincere belief that it was the right thing to do. I asked myself that question and the answer was yes...

Every parent knows that it is natural for all children to want things done exactly as they desire it. But what appears to have changed in too much of our society today is the notion that Moms and Dads should accommodate these immature demands of children, thereby negating the teaching of an important life lesson described by Ms. Lewis. Failing to teach that lesson does children absolutely no favors, yielding only the unfortunate long-term side effect of making it harder for children to adapt when they leave the nest and discover, to their utter amazement, that the real world doesn't operate according to their whims.

So a special added thanks to the Moms (and Dads) who understand this "old" lesson of parental leadership and do their best to prepare their children for the responsibilities that go with living independently as an adult.

Obama Believes in Recycling

Monique Chartier

... old political scandals.

Senator Barack Obama said today that a scandal from Senator John McCain’s past – the Keating Five – was just as relevant to the presidential campaign as questions about who Mr. Obama has associated with over the years.

In a news conference here, Mr. Obama was asked whether his campaign intended to raise the banking scandal from the 1980s, which Mr. McCain has apologized for. Every piece of every candidate’s public record, Mr. Obama said, is “germane to the presidency.”

Senator Obama became the presumptive Democrat nominee this week, surpassing Senator Hillary Clinton's regular delegate count and either narrowing or exceeding her superdelegate accumulation. And pollster John Zogby is now predicting that Senator Clinton will drop out of the race even before the remaining primaries are held.

Naturally, Senator Obama is turning to his general election opponent.

"November is a long way away", "a lot can happen between now and then" and "this promises to be a lively campaign". But this is a pretty boring item by which Senator Obama is kicking off his new status.

May 10, 2008

The Color of Irony Is Crimson

Monique Chartier

In a leave-no-stone-unturned search for more revenue, the Massachusetts legislature has ordered a study of the implementation of a 2.5% "annual assessment" on college and university endowments which exceed $1 billion. Nine Massachusetts institutions of higher learning would be affected by what would be a first of its kind assessment.

Glenn Beck points out the fabulous reaction of an official of one of the institutions that would fall into that category. Harvard's Associate Vice-President for Government, Community and Public Affairs, Kevin Casey:

You'd be taxing success here.

* * *

Over time this would put us at a real competitive disadvantage which would drastically hurt the Commonwealth.

[Can we get him to address the Rhode Island General Assembly?]

Beck breaks it down.

No, you're kidding me. It's like you're taxing success by taxing people who are making money and who happen to be richer than others? You're taxing success? Boy, Kevin, I never looked at it that way. You might be onto something there. "Over time this would put us at a real competitive disadvantage." No, it would put Harvard at a disadvantage against those who didn't get taxed? No. Who might pay a lower tax? It might put that company at a disadvantage? No, no, Kevin, you're looking at it wrong.

* * *

In the final insult to injury he goes on to say, "And it would hurt the commonwealth. It would hurt the state." How? How? Are you saying because Harvard wouldn't be able to have so much money so they couldn't grow? So they couldn't hire more people? They couldn't bring more people into the state? I never thought of that when I was thinking about taxes and companies. I just thought, oh, they're screwing the state; the bigger they get, the more people they hire, the more people that live here. It's crazy. It's almost like you're talking about the philosophy of, oh, I don't know, Texas. It's almost like you're describing the philosophy of, oh, I don't know, a conservative. It's like you're taxing success. No, Kevin, you're wrong. It's not like we're taxing success. We would be taxing success.

May 9, 2008

Time Flying, Apology, and Preemptive Explanation

Justin Katz

My hour in the the spotlight of Matt Allen's Violent Roundtable tonight was one of the most fun that I've spent in awhile, although I suppose one can only hope that listeners were that engaged. (Streaming audio available here). Really, conversation from commercial break to commercial break felt not unlike a seaplane touching down on the water for a few moments at a time. As the one non-radio guy there, however, I fear that I should take some responsibility in the face of complaints that this edition wasn't sufficiently "violent."

In keeping with my mitigated personality, I'd like to offer a preemptive explanation of something that I said: While discussing gambling in Rhode Island, I joked that the government ought to begin supplementing decreases in the public assistance that people receive with lottery tickets. (Hey, match it dollar for dollar!) Before RI Futurites get out their fire-dance costumes and add this clump of hair to the effigy of my evil opinions, I'd like to clarify that I wasn't promoting a system of giving people in precarious situations an unsecured rope to grab. To the contrary, my intention was to lampoon the practice of using gambling revenue to support the government. Statistically, it's a very regressive form of taxation, and further soaking the poor and working class into further debt with the dubious promise of unlikely riches is tantamount to giving them a turn at the roulette wheel in exchange for money or public investments that might actually improve their lives.

But I could go on. Such roundtables are like rapid-fire brainstorming sessions for more contemplative writing, and the breadth of the topics are evidenced by the conversation that continues during the commercial breaks. For example:

  • How the storyline will go if Obama wins the nomination but loses the election. My thought was that there's plenty of time for the American people to forget the primaries and for Democrats to construct the much more comfortable storyline that it was the angry old white man who kept Barack down — not the storied woman. Matt, I believe, took the position that the next few years will see Hillary building on that impulse with a ready-made retrospective "if only" of her candidacy. Jason Martins seemed to believe that Hillary's done after this.
  • I got looks from the other panelists when I responded to a caller's question about Israel taking out Iranian nukes by suggesting that the Jewish nation would swing in with a last-ditch strike, that the world would be outraged for a day, but then everybody would go back to business as usual, knowing deep down that Israel had done not only what it needed to do to survive, but the right thing. Everybody else thought the radical Muslims wouldn't possibly tolerate Israeli military strikes inside Iran. My response was that these regimes are centrally concerned with maintaining their own fragile rule and realize that they cannot win an all-stakes battle with the United States and Israel. I'd add, now, that there isn't much amperage that they can add to their anti-Israel hate rhetoric.
  • Although we didn't get into it, the whole concept of the state's profiting from gambling is excellent fodder for some ruminations about church and state — to wit, that the state is committing us, via our representatives, to be in the position of profiting from others' misfortunes to so direct a degree that we're expanding the hours during which those people can lose their hard-earned money with the explicit intention of raising more to support our detrimentally large government. A theist might be tempted to suggest that thus do we pull ourselves further into darkness.
  • I was going to say that the comic book conversation should have come first, as a warm up, but then again, it did: before we were even on the air, we were discussing the likely plot setting of a forthcoming Captain America movie. I swore I'd read somewhere that rumors are of a Captain America who's part of a U.N. mission of some sort (which was the missing context behind Jason's on-air comment about Captain United Nations), but I can't find the article that gave me that impression.


The audio quality of the above-linked stream has been increased to a more comfortable level.

Facing the Violent Roundtable

Justin Katz

Just a reminder that I'll be participating in Matt Allen's Violent Roundtable tonight from 8:00 to 9:00. (I believe those are the times.)

Tune in at 630 AM, 99.7 FM, or online.

The Ultimate Act of Nepotism and Cronyism

Monique Chartier

The United Nations was forced to temporarily suspend aid shipments to Myanmar because the ruling junta confiscated the intial materiel sent, saying that it preferred to distribute aid "with its own resources".

In order, presumably, to control exactly who receives the badly needed food and supplies. Because of unprecedented and unconscionable foot-dragging by Myanmar's government, only eleven aid planes have landed since the cyclone hit almost a week ago. The U.N. estimates that the death toll could reach 100,000 if assistance is not expedited.

Turning the Nanny State to Your Advantage

Marc Comtois

Since it looks like the red light cameras are a go again, I wonder if some local entrepreneurial band will take a cue from Britain's The Get Out Clause and turn nanny-statism to their advantage:

Unable to afford a proper camera crew and equipment, The Get Out Clause, an unsigned band from [Manchester, England], decided to make use of the cameras seen all over British streets.

With an estimated 13 million CCTV cameras in Britain, suitable locations were not hard to come by.

They set up their equipment, drum kit and all, in eighty locations around Manchester – including on a bus – and proceeded to play to the cameras.

Afterwards they wrote to the companies or organisations involved and asked for the footage under the Freedom of Information Act.

"We wanted to produce something that looked good and that wasn't too expensive to do," guitarist Tony Churnside told Sky News.

"We hit upon the idea of going into Manchester and setting up in front of cameras we knew would be filming and then requesting that footage under the Freedom Of Information act."

Only a quarter of the organisations contacted fulfilled their obligation to hand over the footage – perhaps predictably, bigger firms were reluctant, while smaller companies were more helpful – but that still provided enough for a video with 20 locations.

"We had a number of different excuses as to why we weren't given the footage, like they didn't have the footage. They delete after a certain amount of time, so if they procrastinate for long enough, they can claim it's been deleted," Mr Churnside said.

Here's a link to the video. As they say, "good on you" boys.

The Anchor Rising Pension Simulation: The Walshian Assumptions

Carroll Andrew Morse

These results are so counter-intuitive, someone needs to double check that I haven't made a mistake, but I think I have all the formulas in the right place. Using NEA-RI Executive Director Robert Walsh's suggested pension analysis parameters, 13.5% of salary contributed to the fund each year, 8.25% investment growth and a 75% benefit after 38 years, plus (for now) an assumption of 3.25% annual salary increases, and a 3.0% COLA after retirement not kicking in until the third year, an employee who retires after 38 years will fund him or herself for a very long time.

The result is very sensitive to the number you assume for growth. With a 7.0% growth figure, the retiree "only" stays self funded for about 26 years. The result is also sensitive to the figure you assume for an annual salary increase, but because (in percentage terms) the big increases in teacher salaries are at the front of a career, when the absolute numbers are relatively small, my initial guess is that the step-system doesn't pose a problem for the retirement of long-career teachers.

But if the 8.25% that Mr. Walsh suggests is realistic, and I haven't made an error in my spreadsheet, it's a truly amazing feat that pols across the nation have managed to screw the public pension system up as badly as they have.

Assuming 8.25% growth...

Age Raise Salary 13.5% Annual
8.25% Annual
"The Kitty"
22 $0 $25,000 $3,375 $139 $3,514
23 $813 $25,813 $3,485 $434 $7,433
24 $839 $26,651 $3,598 $762 $11,792
25 $866 $27,518 $3,715 $1,126 $16,633
26 $894 $28,412 $3,836 $1,530 $21,999
27 $923 $29,335 $3,960 $1,978 $27,938
28 $953 $30,289 $4,089 $2,474 $34,500
29 $984 $31,273 $4,222 $3,020 $41,742
30 $1,016 $32,289 $4,359 $3,624 $49,725
31 $1,049 $33,339 $4,501 $4,288 $58,514
32 $1,084 $34,422 $4,647 $5,019 $68,180
33 $1,119 $35,541 $4,798 $5,823 $78,801
34 $1,155 $36,696 $4,954 $6,705 $90,460
35 $1,193 $37,889 $5,115 $7,674 $103,249
36 $1,231 $39,120 $5,281 $8,736 $117,266
37 $1,271 $40,392 $5,453 $9,899 $132,618
38 $1,313 $41,704 $5,630 $11,173 $149,422
39 $1,355 $43,060 $5,813 $12,567 $167,802
40 $1,399 $44,459 $6,002 $14,091 $187,895
41 $1,445 $45,904 $6,197 $15,757 $209,849
42 $1,492 $47,396 $6,398 $17,576 $233,824
43 $1,540 $48,936 $6,606 $19,563 $259,994
44 $1,590 $50,527 $6,821 $21,731 $288,545
45 $1,642 $52,169 $7,043 $24,096 $319,684
46 $1,695 $53,864 $7,272 $26,674 $353,629
47 $1,751 $55,615 $7,508 $29,484 $390,622
48 $1,807 $57,422 $7,752 $32,546 $430,920
49 $1,866 $59,289 $8,004 $35,881 $474,805
50 $1,927 $61,216 $8,264 $39,512 $522,581
51 $1,990 $63,205 $8,533 $43,465 $574,579
52 $2,054 $65,259 $8,810 $47,766 $631,155
53 $2,121 $67,380 $9,096 $52,445 $692,696
54 $2,190 $69,570 $9,392 $57,535 $759,623
55 $2,261 $71,831 $9,697 $63,069 $832,389
56 $2,335 $74,166 $10,012 $69,085 $911,487
57 $2,410 $76,576 $10,338 $75,624 $997,449
58 $2,489 $79,065 $10,674 $82,730 $1,090,852
59 $2,570 $81,634 $11,021 $90,450 $1,192,323
Age COLA Pension 8.25% Annual
"The Kitty"
60 $0 $57,491 $95,995 $1,230,827
61 $0 $57,491 $99,172 $1,272,508
62 $0 $57,491 $102,610 $1,317,628
63 $1,725 $59,215 $106,262 $1,364,674
64 $1,776 $60,992 $110,070 $1,413,752
65 $1,830 $62,822 $114,043 $1,464,974
66 $1,885 $64,706 $118,191 $1,518,459
67 $1,941 $66,647 $122,524 $1,574,335
68 $1,999 $68,647 $127,051 $1,632,739
69 $2,059 $70,706 $131,784 $1,693,817
70 $2,121 $72,827 $136,736 $1,757,725
71 $2,185 $75,012 $141,918 $1,824,631
72 $2,250 $77,263 $147,345 $1,894,713
73 $2,318 $79,581 $153,031 $1,968,164
74 $2,387 $81,968 $158,992 $2,045,188
75 $2,459 $84,427 $165,245 $2,126,007
76 $2,533 $86,960 $171,808 $2,210,855
77 $2,609 $89,569 $178,701 $2,299,987
78 $2,687 $92,256 $185,943 $2,393,675
79 $2,768 $95,023 $193,558 $2,492,210
80 $2,851 $97,874 $201,570 $2,595,906
81 $2,936 $100,810 $210,004 $2,705,100
82 $3,024 $103,835 $218,888 $2,820,153
83 $3,115 $106,950 $228,251 $2,941,454
84 $3,208 $110,158 $238,126 $3,069,422
85 $3,305 $113,463 $248,547 $3,204,506
86 $3,404 $116,867 $259,551 $3,347,190
87 $3,506 $120,373 $271,178 $3,497,995
88 $3,611 $123,984 $283,470 $3,657,482
89 $3,720 $127,703 $296,474 $3,826,253
90 $3,831 $131,535 $310,240 $4,004,958
91 $3,946 $135,481 $324,820 $4,194,298
92 $4,064 $139,545 $340,273 $4,395,027
93 $4,186 $143,731 $356,661 $4,607,956
94 $4,312 $148,043 $374,050 $4,833,962
95 $4,441 $152,485 $392,512 $5,073,990
Assuming 7.0% growth...

Age Raise Salary 13.5% Annual
7.0% Annual
"The Kitty"
22 $0 $25,000 $3,375 $118 $3,493
23 $813 $25,813 $3,485 $366 $7,344
24 $839 $26,651 $3,598 $640 $11,582
25 $866 $27,518 $3,715 $941 $16,238
26 $894 $28,412 $3,836 $1,271 $21,344
27 $923 $29,335 $3,960 $1,633 $26,937
28 $953 $30,289 $4,089 $2,029 $33,055
29 $984 $31,273 $4,222 $2,462 $39,739
30 $1,016 $32,289 $4,359 $2,934 $47,032
31 $1,049 $33,339 $4,501 $3,450 $54,982
32 $1,084 $34,422 $4,647 $4,011 $63,641
33 $1,119 $35,541 $4,798 $4,623 $73,062
34 $1,155 $36,696 $4,954 $5,288 $83,303
35 $1,193 $37,889 $5,115 $6,010 $94,429
36 $1,231 $39,120 $5,281 $6,795 $106,505
37 $1,271 $40,392 $5,453 $7,646 $119,604
38 $1,313 $41,704 $5,630 $8,569 $133,803
39 $1,355 $43,060 $5,813 $9,570 $149,186
40 $1,399 $44,459 $6,002 $10,653 $165,841
41 $1,445 $45,904 $6,197 $11,826 $183,864
42 $1,492 $47,396 $6,398 $13,094 $203,357
43 $1,540 $48,936 $6,606 $14,466 $224,429
44 $1,590 $50,527 $6,821 $15,949 $247,199
45 $1,642 $52,169 $7,043 $17,550 $271,792
46 $1,695 $53,864 $7,272 $19,280 $298,344
47 $1,751 $55,615 $7,508 $21,147 $326,999
48 $1,807 $57,422 $7,752 $23,161 $357,912
49 $1,866 $59,289 $8,004 $25,334 $391,250
50 $1,927 $61,216 $8,264 $27,677 $427,191
51 $1,990 $63,205 $8,533 $30,202 $465,926
52 $2,054 $65,259 $8,810 $32,923 $507,659
53 $2,121 $67,380 $9,096 $35,854 $552,610
54 $2,190 $69,570 $9,392 $39,011 $601,013
55 $2,261 $71,831 $9,697 $42,410 $653,121
56 $2,335 $74,166 $10,012 $46,069 $709,202
57 $2,410 $76,576 $10,338 $50,006 $769,545
58 $2,489 $79,065 $10,674 $54,242 $834,461
59 $2,570 $81,634 $11,021 $58,798 $904,280
Age COLA Pension 7.0% Annual
"The Kitty"
60 $0 $57,491 $61,287 $908,076
61 $0 $57,491 $61,553 $912,139
62 $0 $57,491 $61,838 $916,486
63 $1,725 $59,215 $62,081 $919,352
64 $1,776 $60,992 $62,220 $920,580
65 $1,830 $62,822 $62,242 $920,000
66 $1,885 $64,706 $62,135 $917,429
67 $1,941 $66,647 $61,887 $912,669
68 $1,999 $68,647 $61,484 $905,506
69 $2,059 $70,706 $60,911 $895,710
70 $2,121 $72,827 $60,151 $883,034
71 $2,185 $75,012 $59,187 $867,208
72 $2,250 $77,263 $58,000 $847,946
73 $2,318 $79,581 $56,571 $824,936
74 $2,387 $81,968 $54,877 $797,845
75 $2,459 $84,427 $52,894 $766,312
76 $2,533 $86,960 $50,598 $729,951
77 $2,609 $89,569 $47,962 $688,344
78 $2,687 $92,256 $44,955 $641,043
79 $2,768 $95,023 $41,547 $587,567
80 $2,851 $97,874 $37,704 $527,397
81 $2,936 $100,810 $33,389 $459,976
82 $3,024 $103,835 $28,564 $384,706
83 $3,115 $106,950 $23,186 $300,942
84 $3,208 $110,158 $17,210 $207,994
85 $3,305 $113,463 $10,588 $105,120
86 $3,404 $116,867 $3,268 -$8,479

The Hardest Times... If Only

Justin Katz

An odd tangential statement from a Rhode Island Catholic article (not yet online) about the need for young adults and children to be careful online:

"You're at the most difficult period of your life," Quirk began, describing the leap from childhood to adulthood as a "hard" period. "It's challenging to make it through in one piece."

That's District Court Judge Madeline Quirk, presenting with Attorney Laura Pisaturo, and I suppose perhaps for women in such professions, it may in fact have been the case that they've never found hardship beyond the natural transitions of youth. Blue collar workers with multiple children might beg to differ — as would people with debilitating age-related diseases, as would [insert example].

Update on Legistlative Grant "Sunshine" Bill

Marc Comtois

When both Anchor Rising and RI Future agree on the merits of a piece of legislation, one would think passage through the House would be a no-brainer, no? I haven't seen anyone who doesn't agree with Rep. Nick Gorham's Legislative Grant Sunshine Bill. It would require that all such grants:

...must be included in the annual state budget and must include the following information:
(1) Recipient's name and address;
(2) Name of contact person for the grant recipient;
(3) Name of the legislator who sponsored the grant;
(4) Statement of whether the finance committee of either or both houses of the general assembly have had a hearing on the proposed grant; and
(5) Brief description of the nature and purpose of the grant.
Alas, a look at the current legislative calendar reveals:
House Bill No.7627
BY Gorham, Coaty, Long, Mumford, Trillo
(provide that all legislative grants awarded by the general assembly must be included in the annual state budget)
02/26/2008 Introduced, referred to House Finance
05/06/2008 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
05/06/2008 Committee recommended measure be held for further study
Ah yes, the ol' "further study" canard. We all know what that means, huh? Never underestimate the ability of our legislators to stall on good government legislation (how's full implementation of Separation of Powers working out?). Perhaps it would be a good time to remind your legislator that you think this is a good idea.

All I Needed to Know About the Latest Ploy for Same-Sex Marriage, I Learned by Listening to Gordon Fox

Justin Katz

Only in the deliberately abstruse logogriph of same-sex marriage advocacy could such a statement be made:

"Divorce can be a more fundamental principle than marriage because it has to do with the due process that's the bedrock of American jurisprudence," Fox said before the hearing. Prohibiting it effectively denies "a fundamental principle of democracy."

Ah, the intellectual contortions that follow a denial of the obvious, which, in this case, means a denial that one cannot be granted a divorce from a marriage that is not marriage. With the smoke and mirrors of "due process" claims, Representative Fox wishes to obscure the reality that a couple must be married in order to end their marriage.

Of course, the goal, here, is redefining marriage, not ensuring procedural democracy... or making sense.

May 8, 2008

Excuses Over the Border For Raising Taxes

Monique Chartier

For almost thirty years, lucky Massachusetts has had Proposition Two and a Half.

But it can be overridden by voters on the local level. On Sunday, Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr highlighted some justifications offered to elicit "yes" votes in advance of Brookline's override ballot two days ago.

A snooty editorial writer for a local newspaper instructed the great unwashed as to how little money the Brookline hacks want to extract from workingmen:

“That difference of $110 a year is less than the cost of a Starbucks coffee per week.”

* * *

Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation, the best source for information about these votes, notes a new trend this year: raising the ominous specter of teen crime waves if, say, the high school chess club is eliminated.

“The kids may get lost and turn to destructive behavior,” wrote a woman from Ashland. “The crime threat to all citizens will increase.”

And my favorite, a euphemistic update of an oldie but a goodie:

The hacks used to say they needed to pick your pockets “for the children.” That’s become a cliche, although in Beverly they’ve tried to work around it. The override is no longer for the children, it’s for “our youngest citizens.”

While Brookline's override passed, Chip Faulkner, Associate Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation indicated this afternoon that most Prop Two and a Half override ballots have failed. He cited as the cause voter anger over ever increasing taxes and over the generosity of public sector benefits.

The beauty of Prop Two and a Half is that permission for a property tax increase over 2.5% must be obtained from those responsible for the bill. Contrast with Rhode Island, where the increase threshold is higher and, worse, authority to cross it does not vest with taxpayers.

Differing Perspectives on America

Marc Comtois

Historian Dale Light offers an interesting summary of how the candidates and their supporters view the country.

One benefit of this interminable Democrat nomination process is that fundamental issues do get discussed -- no I'm not talking about health care, or foreign policy, or the war, or any of those other transitory things; I'm talking about things that really matter in the long run, such as how the candidates and their supporters see America.

By now it is clear that "Hillary!" and her supporters see America solely in terms of competing interest groups. This is pretty standard for mainstream Democrats, has been ever since the rise of the "broker state" concept in the Roosevelt years. It's a social science vision of the country and in terms of electoral politics it consists of identifying and pandering to a sufficient number of interest groups to accumulate a majority.

Tonight in his North Carolina victory speech, "O-ba-ma!" went out of his way to disparage that sociological approach to America, emphasizing instead common approaches to common problems. This is at first glance similar to the unifying nationalistic themes on which Republican candidates have run ever since the party's inception in the middle of the nineteenth century. But there is a significant difference. Republicans love the country for what it is and what it has been as much as for what it might be in the future. Obama, with his strong liberal and radical associations, focuses almost exclusively on negative aspects of the American experience, and talks instead about an ideal America that has never been, but which he promises to bring into existence.

I think he's being a little too rosy with his description of Republicans, but his point is that, all in all, Republicans are more apt to view the country as a whole--the history, the institutions, the traditions--as being a net positive. (I include conservatives with this group, but they also view government as being naturally, and detrimentally, expansionistic. As the last few years have shown, not all Republicans believe this, too). I also understand Light's point about the Clintonian factionalism, but we also have a long tradition of that in our politics, despite the express desires of the founders. Finally, Obama truly is a Progressive with a belief that a group of experts--with Obama in charge--can lead our nation to a virtual (or, to some apparently, a very real) Heaven on Earth. We just have to trust him.

In Case You Missed It

Justin Katz

Those who were unable to catch my chat with Matt Allen about kids today can listen to the four-minute segment by clicking here (or download).

We'll be doing this every Wednesday; tune in at 6:50 p.m. next week for Andrew's at bat.

In the interim, by the way, I'll be participating in Matt's Violent Roundtable discussion this Friday night from eight to nine. (He clarifies the meaning of the name in the comment section of this post.) I heard it last week, and it's sure to be a must-listen hour of radio to cap each workweek.

May 7, 2008

When Violence Is TV

Justin Katz

It would seem that the manifest circle whereby violence on TV produces violence in life is complete:

An afterschool fight that drew 50 to 60 student onlookers in front of Roger Williams Middle School was posted on the Web site YouTube, making Providence part of a growing phenomena in which teenagers use technology to publicize acts of violence.

When the police arrived Wednesday around 3 p.m., they saw three to five girls punching and kicking someone in front of a large crowd of students from Roger Williams as well as a nearby high school, Cooley Health & Science Technology Academy on Thurbers Avenue. ...

"Kids live in cyberspace where popularity is based on page views," she said yesterday. "We're creating a generation of kids who live in virtuality, not reality. They see themselves as the producers of their own hit shows."

The act of videotaping allows teenagers to distance themselves from violence, turning them into passive observers rather than participants who feel the victim's pain, she said.

It's long been my sense that adults underestimated the risk of steeping children in advanced technology. As I've said before, for my generation, by the time we'd gotten to Mortal Kombat, we'd logged hours on games that were clearly games, whether Super Mario Brothers or Pong. Now, not only can kids control a virtual beating, they can become the producers of reality TV violence. It's wonderful to be able to actively produce things — videos, music, and so on — that once required corporate resources, but there were mollifying restrictions that came with accessing those resources.

Digging a Deeper Hole

Justin Katz

See, here's the sort of proposal that illustrates that our legislators truly do not understand and/or are unwilling to address the structural problems that plague Rhode Island:

After a lengthy debate, the House put off a vote on a bill sponsored by Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, that would require all state public works projects with price tags of $100,000 or more to be performed by contractors who pay apprentices in an on-the-job training program.

Supporters including House Labor Committee Chairman Arthur J. Corvese, D-North Providence, said the bill ensures that the construction industry prepares a future generation of laborers to replace what is now an aging work force.

But Republicans slammed the legislation as excluding smaller contractors and wasting money in a year when the state is struggling to cut costs.

House Minority Whip Nicholas Gorham, R-Coventry, said lawmakers need only look to a strongly worded letter from the state’s Division of Purchases to get a whiff of the proposal's flaws:

"By requiring contractors to have apprentice programs in order to bid, the bill essentially knocks [small contractors] out of the bidding process which favors larger contractors that have apprentice programs already in place," the state’s acting purchasing agent Lorraine A. Hynes wrote in a March 25 letter to Corvese. "Further, by decreasing the number of bidders, the bill will drive up the cost of State contracts which will hurt Rhode Island taxpayers.

"At a time when the State is facing large budget deficits, it is unwise to consider measures that potentially increase costs," she wrote.

The General Assembly ought to be stripping these regulations from the law, not adding them to it.

Cranston School Committee Approves a Caruolo Action

Monique Chartier

From today's Providence Journal:

The School Committee voted late Tuesday night to sue the city for $4.9 million in additional education aid, setting the stage for a costly, bruising legal battle.

The committee became the second in the state this year, after the West Warwick board, to authorize a lawsuit seeking more cash from a local municipality in what is known as a Caruolo action.

* * *

Talk of a Caruolo action has been swirling since the beginning of the fiscal year, when school officials said they could not run the schools with the $125.3 million they got from federal, state and local sources.

The school district has maintained, for months, that it would need something on the order of $4 million more from the city to meet its obligations.

But city officials have long speculated that the school district would be willing to settle for something closer to $2 million in the end.

That speculation, it now seems, was faulty.

Is it too obvious to point out that this could have been avoided if the School Committee had structured budgets and executed contracts that were within the means of the city?

Rhode Island Persuades My Skeptics

Justin Katz

Well, it took some time, but apparently, Roland Benjamin's been persuaded:

The info on shrinking tax receipts was predictable given Justin's demographic research here.

Because we have replaced around 29,000 people from above 3x FPL (about $60k in household income) with 25,000 below that threshold, the tax receipts should follow that. And they did.

Above $60k in earnings, a household is likely to be paying more in taxes than they are consuming in public services. The inverse will also be true.

My only skepticism with the original research was that tax receipts had not reflected the trend. Today's front page of the Projo removes any doubt.

"Holding the line" on taxes, when we are clearly chasing taxpayers out will simply preserve this outbound trend.

What the other side (which, to be clear, by no stretch includes Roland) has been desperately hoping to ignore is that these trends have a natural lag. The suggestion of the stunning income outmigration on the charts to which Roland links is that the exodus began in earnest in 2005. That's income reported on tax returns filed in 2006, some of it no doubt from people who continued to work in Rhode Island, thus making them liable for RI taxes, with some of the government revenue (as I've theorized) temporarily boosted by taxes on the activities entailed in packing up and moving.

I'm keeping my eye out for Census and IRS data for 2007, and although I'd be thrilled to find my prediction wrong, I fully expect to see the upper-income categories that have thus far held steady turning south. Once that happens, it's start-a-fire-or-lights-out time.

The Anchor Rising Pension Simulation

Carroll Andrew Morse

James Cournoyer's observation, made in his May 5 Projo letter-to-the-editor, that contributions from employees into the Rhode Island public pension system don't come anywhere near to covering the amount that the system is obligated to pay out, shouldn't take anyone by surprise. Pensions (and defined contribution plans, for that matter) work on the principle that contributions + investment growth = mo' money, given time. The investment component cannot be neglected in any attempt to determine reasonable payouts.

The basic assumptions that go into building a pension fund are that...

  1. Every year, an employer and employee will put some percentage of an employee's salary into a "kitty" of eventual retirement funds.

    (I can have a bit of an argument with multiple sides in the pension reform debate here. Especially when participation in a pension plan is mandatory, I don't see much point, from a fiscal perspective, in separating the "employer" contribution from the "employee" contribution.)

  2. As the employee's salary grows each year, so do the contributions to the kitty.
  3. The total in the kitty also grows (hopefully) through investment.
To get a sense of what the numbers are, we can start with the assumptions in Mr. Cournoyer's letter, an initial salary of $30,000 and annual raises of 3.25%. We'll also need to assume a figure for total employer-plus-employee contributions to the pension fund (I'll use 20%, for starters), and an annual investment growth rate, (I'll use 7%, relative to what's already in the kitty from the previous year plus one-half of the current year's contribution).

Under those conditions, after 20 years, Mr. Cournoyer's hypothetical employee will begin with about $287,000 to draw on for his or her retirement...

Age3.25% RaiseSalary20% Annual
7.0% Annual
"The Kitty"
25 $0 $30,000 $6,000 $210 $6,210
26 $975 $30,975 $6,195 $652 $12,420
27 $1,007 $31,982 $6,396 $1,093 $19,267
28 $1,039 $33,021 $6,604 $1,580 $26,756
29 $1,073 $34,094 $6,819 $2,112 $34,940
30 $1,108 $35,202 $7,040 $2,692 $43,871
31 $1,144 $36,346 $7,269 $3,325 $53,603
32 $1,181 $37,528 $7,506 $4,015 $64,198
33 $1,220 $38,747 $7,749 $4,765 $75,718
34 $1,259 $40,007 $8,001 $5,580 $88,233
35 $1,300 $41,307 $8,261 $6,465 $101,815
36 $1,342 $42,649 $8,530 $7,426 $116,541
37 $1,386 $44,035 $8,807 $8,466 $132,497
38 $1,431 $45,467 $9,093 $9,593 $149,770
39 $1,478 $46,944 $9,389 $10,813 $168,456
40 $1,526 $48,470 $9,694 $12,131 $188,658
41 $1,575 $50,045 $10,009 $13,556 $210,483
42 $1,626 $51,672 $10,334 $15,096 $234,048
43 $1,679 $53,351 $10,670 $16,757 $259,478
44 $1,734 $55,085 $11,017 $18,549 $286,905

Now, our hypothetical retiree begins drawing out of the pension fund at age 45 after 20 years of contributions. According to Mr. Cournoyer, the rules are that…

  1. The initial pension amount taken is 50% of the average of the highest (in this example, the last) five years of salary.
  2. There is a 3.0% cost-of-living adjustment on the size of the annual withdrawals.
But also, there's a third rule we need to add -- a rule, I suspect, often forgotten in initial perceptions of how pensions work -- that growth (hopefully) continues in the kitty throughout the retirement drawdown period. In particular, we'll assume the same 7.0% growth used in the building phase continues, in this case calculated relative to last year's kitty minus one-half of the current year's withdrawal amount. The quantity to be concerned about is not when the money-out equals employee-contributions-in, but when the total in the kitty, contributions plus investment growth minus distributions, falls below zero. At that point, our hypothetical employee's retirement is no longer self-funded and additional money must be found to directly cover the pension cost. (There are two basic sources of this additional money. One, of course, is tax revenue sent directly to pensioners. The other is money already in the fund from people who die before they collect everything their contributions + growth would pay for. Sometimes I think that actuarial science, rather than economics in general, should be called "the dismal science").

Anyway, here's what happens to the fund based on Mr. Cournoyer's assumptions ...

Age3.0% COLAAnnual
7.0% Annual
"The Kitty"
45 $0 $25,862 $19,178 $280,221
46 $841 $26,703 $18,681 $272,199
47 $868$27,571 $18,089 $262,718
48 $896 $28,467 $17,394 $251,645
49 $925 $29,392 $16,586 $238,840
50 $955 $30,347 $15,657 $224,149
51 $986 $31,333$14,594 $207,410
52 $1,018$32,352$13,386 $188,444
53 $1,051$33,403$12,022 $167,063
54 $1,086 $34,489$10,487 $143,062
55 $1,121 $35,610$8,768 $116,220
56 $1,157 $36,767$6,849 $86,302
57 $1,195 $37,962 $4,712 $53,052
58 $1,234 $39,196 $2,342 $16,199
59 $1,274 $40,469 0 -$24,270

I used Mr. Cournoyer's numbers, not because they are necessarily realistic (for state employees and teachers, for instance, I don't think that 50% pensions for 20 years of service are possible, and under some recent reforms, the COLA increase may not be so aggressive), but because they simultaneously illustrate...

  1. That with solid investing, it is reasonable for a pensioner to expect to get many multiples of his or her contributions back, but also...
  2. That many multiples may not be enough to cover the cost of an early retirement. Given that the average lifespan in the U.S. is around 75 years, a pensioner in the system above would require direct funding from some other source to pay for his or her retirement for about 15 years.
So, before going on and trying to figure out what is or isn't working in the pension system, are we anywhere close to having a method we can agree upon for analyzing it? (Also, I can tinker with the numbers, if people are interested in seeing the results under other conditions).

Surviving the Post-Transition

Justin Katz

The current news and politics atmosphere has something of the feel of a transition. We're between the passage of the supplemental and the initial markers presaging the debate over next year's budget. We've seen the parade of interested parties, and we're well aware that discussion has returned to the back room. What's next?

Well, the supplemental budget offered some morsels of hope that the General Assembly is beginning to figure out the problems that the state faces — with cash welfare held more strictly to limits, healthcare provision decreased (notably in the gift to childcare providers), and changes to the public sector's healthcare deal. Some further positive steps are at least receiving a hearing, such as Coventry Republican Rep. Nick Gorham's proposed reforms of the legislative grant system.

What concerns me is that, although some of the restrained spending apparently represents long-term changes of policy, none of the voices with substantial carriage are calling out proposals to fundamentally change the way RI does business. The cuts in expenditures are money-savers — sharing the pain and meeting our financial obligations. They aren't being cast as structural corrections. And that doesn't quite inspire confidence in the direction of the next round in the budgetary arena. We have already heard Senate President Joseph Montalbano declaring that a budget is "really a policy statement," and we can easily imagine legislators' claiming that those dependent upon social services and unionization have "already sacrificed."

"We've already stripped the extra fruit from that tree," one can hear. Thus the powers that be may declare a need to balance the reluctant plucking of low-hanging fruit from those imposing limbs with the unripe blossoms deep among taxpayers' branches. Moreover, cuts to services and benefits — presented as such — are ripe to be renewed with the first signs of an economic spring, whereas their presentation as structural changes would herald an intention to make Rhode Island a better sort of state.

A truly engaged and well-intentioned government would be announcing studies and bills to address the state's dreadful business climate. It would be looking to deregulate the many areas in which Rhode Island makes it more difficult than its neighbors to do business. It would be redirecting its limited funds to improve failing roads and bridges — changing the calculation whereby it makes almost no investments in transportation beyond federal funds and dedicated revenue from the gas tax. It would be taking dramatic steps to change the way our schools operate — not only in seeking proof of student learning, but in channeling more funds to resources and services that help those students to be capable of such proof, rather than to work-to-ruling unionists.

With the revenue gap expected to widen, our state needs nothing so much as a change of attitude. Allowing the oppressive largess merely to slip away as minimally as possible will extend the period of decay, while decisive action will spark confidence. For that to be a possibility, those who've vested their hopes in extracting gifts and promises from the state will have to begin siding with their fellow Rhode Islanders in the push for change. No longer can they back Their Guy — the one who pushes for their special interests — "even though..."

As for the rest of us, our hope must be that everybody involved is taking this moment of transition not as an opportunity to regroup the troops for another assault, but to reflect on the basics of government and economics, to cast their eyes toward long-term goals, rather than short-term exit strategies.

His Speculation is Predicated on a Major Presumption ...

Monique Chartier

... namely, the quality of his own presidency.

From the Telegraph (UK):

Standing in his cowboy boots on the back of a 1941 Ford pick-up truck in tiny Zebulon (population: 4,329), Bill Clinton bestowed on his wife Hillary what he perhaps considers the ultimate accolade. She would, he stated gallantly, be an even better president than he was.

May 6, 2008

Rain on Me

Carroll Andrew Morse

We interrupt this broadcast for a moment of hyper-local blegging...

Would anyone with a measure of civil engineering experience care to comment on whether the permanent shower occurring beneath the new overpass between Route 95 exits 18 and 19 is something Rhode Island drivers (or taxpayers) should be concerned about?

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Re: MIA: Voter I.D. and Scrapping of the Straight Party Lever

Monique Chartier

Secretary of State Ralph Mollis appeared on WHJJ's Helen Glover Show this morning. He attempted to explain why a voter I.D. law that passed a US Supreme Court challenge by six to three cannot be brought to Rhode Island during this legislative session

The only logistic barrier to this law is the absence of a mechanism for the state to provide, free of charge, picture identification to those voters who presently lack it. The Secretary of State has been aware of this requirement for several months and has even suggested that such a requirement could be fulfilled by the DMV. Yet he took no steps in the interim months to facilitate this solution in time for legislative action.

What, then, is the real reason for the delay to this important election reform?

Two Feel-Good Stories

Marc Comtois

Times are tough, but we shouldn't be blind to the uplifting stories that are out there. Here are a couple.

William Kamkwamba was a 14 year old school dropout from Malawi. He wanted electricity to help his village. So he went to the library, read some books and built a windmill. Here's more (h/t).

As a former jock (who still hasn't admitted that those days are over....), I firmly believe that sports are a mirror of our society. If that is the case, then the story "Touching them All" can give us hope that there are those in the next generation who have learned the importance of character.

RI Revenues Down Again

Carroll Andrew Morse

Steve Peoples of the Projo reports that Rhode Island's economic condition is amongst the region's and the nation's worst...

Economists reported last week that Rhode Island is one of nine states across the country and the only one in New England experiencing an economic recession. State Tax Administrator David M. Sullivan supplied data yesterday detailing the effect of widespread job losses, stagnant wages and weak consumer confidence.

Sales tax collections are down $23 million, or 3.1 percent, compared with the same period last year, Sullivan reported, while income tax revenue is down $9 million, or 1 percent. Should the trend continue through the end of the fiscal year in June, as expected, it would be the first time that the state’s largest two revenue sources collectively fell since the early 1990s.

Doing a Job on the State

Justin Katz

James Cournoyer, of North Smithfield, gets to the heart of the matter (after noting that public employees are paid workers, not volunteers):

... a public employee who starts working at age 25 with a $30,000 salary and annual raises of 3.25 percent will contribute $74,425 to the pension system over 20 years, assuming a contribution of 9 percent of his annual salary. Then, at the tender age of 45, that employee can begin collecting a pension equal to 50 percent of his highest five years that will grow by the almighty "cost of living" adjustment every year for 30 years, assuming a life expectancy of 75. Thus, the employee who contributed a mere $74,425 to the system will receive payments totaling $1,230,000 if he receives annual 3 percent cost-of-living adjustments. This is unsustainable, unfair and unacceptable.

Plowing streets and answering 911 calls entitles Hanson to a paycheck. It does not entitle Hanson to early retirement on the backs of his neighbors.

"Tricky" Sue Menard

Marc Comtois

It appears that Woonsocket Mayor Susan Menard has been channeling Richard Nixon. She had a secret recording operation set up in her office.

The mayor has a concealed audio/video recording system installed in a credenza behind her desk in her City Hall office.

The device recently came to light during a work session regarding the latest in the battle between the City Council and the mayor over the council’s investigation of whether city employees have misused city resources. The mayor has filed an injunction to prevent the council from conducting its investigation. In the latest twist, the mayor has asked that three council members be deposed regarding the investigation....

“It has recently come to light that there exists within the Mayor’s office a concealed audio/visual recording system, this notice shall also include any and all audio and video recording made with said system,” [Woonsocket City Council lawyer Raymond] Marcaccio says in the letter.


No Priority for Energy

Justin Katz

Michael Zey's op-ed, yesterday, enunciates the factors indicating that the United States of America is just not that interested in developing energy independence — much less developing energy as an export industry.

As the Platts report plainly states, without a growing energy supply, countries face "declining growth rates, diminished standards of living, and growing transfer of wealth from importing to exporting countries." In other words the U.S. either enlarges its energy pool or just waits for accelerating gasoline and electricity prices to erode its global economic competitiveness over the next several decades. ...

Last year saw the first applications for new nuclear-power plant construction in the United States since the 1970s, with 31 new plant-license applications soon to come. ...

Several U.S. governors, purportedly concerned about "greenhouse-gas emissions," have vetoed construction of coal-burning power plants in their states — at least 45 coal plants were abandoned in 2007. ...

The High Arctic region's resources are also critical to U.S. energy independence. But if the government accedes to demands to classify that region's polar bear as an endangered species, we cannot tap the estimated 10 billion barrels of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), equal to the next 10-15 years of oil imports from Saudi Arabia. A planned privately funded natural-gas pipeline to transport to the U.S. mainland some of the 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from Alaska’s North Slope would also be scrapped.

The list of such wasted opportunities is painfully long.

It's a positive thing that we're circumspect about our methods of creating energy, but by thus burdening our homegrown industry, we wind up funding anti-humanitarian regimes and doing the environment no good in the process.

May 5, 2008

Interpol Confirms FARC Data

Marc Comtois

We've heard a lot from Democrats for, what, the last 8 or so years, about how the U.S. should listen more to the "international community." Maybe we should (h/t):

The information found in the computers of the deceased leader of the rebel Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), Raúl Reyes, was not manipulated by Colombian authorities, according to an Interpol's report to be released next May 15, as disclosed by Bogota El Tiempo daily newspaper.

The report stated that a committee comprising computer science experts from Korea, Australia, and Singapore working for the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) completed last May 2 the investigation into the three computers found in Reyes' camp in Ecuador, Efe reported.

"The first finding was that Reyes' files were not manipulated and that security agencies and citizens who had the computer in their hands kept them safe," the Colombian newspaper stated.

Commenting on the story, Gatewaypundit summarizes the laundry list of info discovered on the computer.
-- FARC connections with Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa
-- Records of $300 million offerings from Hugo Chavez
-- Thank you notes from Hugo Chavez dating back to 1992
-- Uranium purchasing records
-- Admit to killing the sister of former President Cesar Gaviria
-- Admit to planting a 2003 car bomb killing 36 at a Bogota upper crust club
-- Directions on how to make a Dirty Bomb
-- Information that led to the discovery of 60 pounds of uranium
-- Letter to Libya's Moammar Gadhafi asking for cash to buy surface-to-air missiles
-- Meetings with "gringos" about Barack Obama
-- Information on Russian illegal arms dealer Viktor Bout who was later captured
-- FARC funding Correa's campaign
-- Cuban links to FARC
-- Links to US Democrats
-- $480,000 of FARC cash in Costa Rican safe house
-- $100,000 to President Correa's campaign for election
...And, more.

Pope Sees a Fragile but Inspirational America

Marc Comtois

Father Roger J. Landry of the Diocese of Fall River has some thoughts on the meaning of Pope Benedict's recent visit to the U.S. (h/t). In particular, he focuses on how the Pope called on our own founding traditions to reinvigorate us.

He came to speak to all Americans: to remind us who we are, what our particular cultural and political inheritance is, and inspire us to treasure, protect and advance it.

For Benedict, the greatest part of that inheritance is the way our constitution and culture has protected religious freedom. In an interview on the plane coming to our country, the Holy Father said that America’s founding fathers understood and applied a crucial paradox: that the best way to preserve religious freedom was to have a secular state.

Father Landry notes that the Pope, in a seeming echo of Edmund Burke, makes a critical distinction between the "positive concept of secularism" held--and handed down--by the American founders and the "negative European secularism flowing from the French revolution." The Pope believes America can serve as the “'fundamental model' for Europe," but that many Americans believe in the European model instead of that of their own heritage and they must be persuaded to re-think their position. Why?
If this corruption of the positive American secularism continues — whereby faith becomes a civic virtue rather than leads to moral virtues — then the entire American experiment in self-government is endangered. This is not an exclusively papal insight, but, as the Pope himself noted, the clear conclusion of Presidents Washington and Adams as well as Alexis de Tocqueville. The 265th pope quoted the first president, who in his farewell address said that “religion and morality represent indispensable supports of political prosperity,” and added, “Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation.”

Jim Baron's Biggish Thoughts on Smallish Legislation

Carroll Andrew Morse

I tried to excerpt down Jim Baron's weekly column in today's Woonsocket Call, but couldn't find much to cut out. It's worth fighting through the lack of proper spacing between paragraphs to read the whole thing.

Raising Concerns

Justin Katz

Methinks there's a missing "my" in Karen Lee Ziner's "Remarks raise concern" piece on the front page of yesterday's Local News section:

A nonprofit group whose board members include First Lady Sue Carcieri asserts that nearly 45 percent of all immigrants in Rhode Island — legal and illegal — lack high school diplomas and "this low-skilled cohort of immigrants to Rhode Island costs state taxpayers about $212 million per year."

"It is because such a high percentage of immigrants, legal or not, lack a quality formal education that they represent a relatively high cost to the taxpayer," said the statement by the Ocean State Policy Research Institute. Its executive director, William Felkner, said he wrote the statement.

Felkner called people who sponsor immigrants to this country "the new deadbeat dad." He said he means that the government has assumed the financial role for immigrants that "family, faith and friends" formerly played.

The only person whom the remarks seem to have concerned is Ziner. It was then Ziner who proceeded to drum up concerns among others — specifically OSPRI's board members (emphasis added):

Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal said Felkner's statements "are at odds" with Governor and Mrs. Carcieri's views on the subject of immigration. He said they were unaware of Felkner's news release until Neal brought it to their attention after The Journal sought comment. ...

Board member Edward M. Mazze said he also was unaware of the statement until a reporter asked him about it. Mazze is a regular contributor to the opinion and financial pages of The Journal.

In other words, if the Projo were to follow the editorial rule of avoiding the passive voice, the headline should have been: "Reporter raises concerns about remark." Perhaps the follow-up could have been: "Report raises profile of nonprofit group."

Anchor on the Air

Justin Katz

We wanted to give y'all some time to rearrange your schedules, cancel plans, and disregard obligations: Starting this week, Anchor Rising will have a (roughly) ten-minute spot on the Matt Allen Show, Wednesdays at 6:50 p.m. We'll be using the time to inform the 630AM/99.7FM WPRO listening audience about what we're discussing, here on our little patch of the Internet, discuss matters of general interest, and make the occasional intellectual lunge (hopefully with insight outweighing wordplay on especially heavy topics).

Tune in! If you're on the Right, for some edifying talk. If you're on the Left, to find out whether Matt will refer to us as a "think tank."

Singleton Retiring from the House

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Vinaya Saksena of the Woonsocket Call, former Republican currently Independent State Representative Richard Singleton will not seek re-election because he is moving out of state. This creates an open-seat election in House district 52 (Cumberland).

May 4, 2008

May 4: Rhode Island Independence Day

Monique Chartier

Will Ricci over at The Ocean State Republican points out that

Today marks the 232nd anniversary of the declaration of independence by the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations from Great Britain on May 4, 1776. As Rhode Island did not ratify the US Constitution until May of 1790, it was for all intents and purposes a “free and independent state” for 14 years!

Clarity on Profiling

Justin Katz

Race's status as an umbrella term for an amorphous category of qualities — from skin color to lifestyle choices — justify a significant degree of skepticism about claims of racial profiling. In the context of a recent University of Rhode Island investigation of state police traffic stops and searches (concerning which, I haven't been able to find more detail than that provided in today's Projo story), for example, there are various factors that could correlate with race and that would be of varying degrees of culpability when it comes to motivation for searches.

Suppose 90% of all people who were stopped and whose cars were searched were — as we used to call them — hoodies. A presumption of increased likelihood of finding something suspicious or illegal in the car is thus premised on visual clues about the character of the driver and the cultural significance of his or her comportment. Perhaps that oughtn't be grounds for searches, but it's certainly less sinister than the specter of racism, and general experience suggests that the criterion would affect races disproportionately. Driving habits and attitudes are other examples of factors that might inherently select for race without indicating racism (unless, as advocates and activists like to do, one treats them as definitional of a people).

Of course, for the analysis to be fair, we'd need more information than is available. Perhaps the presumption that hoodiness correlates with criminality is mistaken, thus making it an unfair reason to treat motorists differently. To answer the question, however, one would have to pull over and search random cars; if more hoodies have contraband, then the profile is reasonable. (In point of fact, we are operating under just such experience, albeit without the mooring of scientifically collected data.)

What numbers the Projo article does supply confuse more than they enlighten:

The authors conclude that if two drivers, one white and the other black, were driving vehicles of the same age, with no passengers, on similar roads in the same area at the same time of day, the black driver would be 1 1/2 times as likely to be pulled over as the white driver by troopers from the same state police barracks. Hispanic drivers would be slightly more likely to be stopped. ...

The study found "substantial evidence of racial and ethnic disparity" in searches where troopers had discretion in whether to search, and said there was little change from the previous studies. Blacks were twice as likely to be searched as whites, and Hispanics 1 1/2 times as likely. After adjusting for a number of factors that could explain some of the difference, the authors said, Hispanic drivers were no more likely to be searched, but blacks were still 1 1/2 times as likely to be searched as whites.

However, despite the more-frequent searches, no more contraband (mostly drugs) was found among nonwhites than among whites.

The fact that troopers searched black drivers more often than whites but found no more contraband, the study says, suggests that there was less legal basis for searching the blacks. In fact, the state police found drugs and other contraband slightly more often in the vehicles driven by whites as in those driven by minorities. (Contraband was found in vehicles driven by: whites, 42.9 percent; blacks, 42.2 percent, and Hispanics, 40.5 percent.)

Obviously, those percentages cannot be of the total number of drivers, because that information is not possible to collect, so they must represent the portion of either stops or searches. If they are percentages of those stopped, then they are noteworthy, because every car stopped but not searched would go into the "clean" category, and fewer minority-driven vehicles were not searched.

More likely, however, they are percentages of cars searched, meaning that more contraband was found in the minority-driven cars, in absolute terms. In that case, impropriety only exists if additional searches of white-driven cars would maintain the police's find rate for that group.

Reporter Bruce Landis writes that the study's "results are consistent with what one would expect from biased law-enforcement tactics," but given the very narrow range of discrepancy in these percentages, they are also consistent with what one would expect if state police officers' instincts are of roughly equal accuracy across races, but are more often triggered by drivers in minority groups.

The prescription for remedying that problem lie beyond the boundaries of law enforcement.

The Front-Page Fifteen Minutes

Justin Katz

I'm not in the least disputing the Martins' relevancy as a representative human interest topic (and my family would certainly not be so comfortable broadcasting personal financial information). Still, the Providence Journal's front-page profile of the family makes me curious about the genesis of the report. Did Journal Staff Writer Lynn Arditi advertise online for potential subjects? Does she know the family?

What stands out is the lack of general statistics or broad reportage, using the specific family as a point of reference. The story is constructed as if the family itself is of interest for some reason.

The Con-Victim's Choice

Justin Katz

Even conservatives may have difficulty finding fault with this

The Federal Reserve Board moved yesterday to place new regulations on the nation's credit card industry that would make it more difficult for lenders to raise interest rates and give consumers more time to pay their bills.

If enacted, the regulations would be the most sweeping change in decades, offering consumers more protection against late fees and stopping lenders from making credit offers that regulators deem to be deceptive.

"The proposed rules are intended to establish a new baseline for fairness in how credit card plans operate," said Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. "Consumers relying on credit cards should be better able to predict how their decisions and actions will affect their costs."

Representatives of the banking industry are, of course, making an argument that I'd likely make in other contexts (meaning other industries):

"The Federal Reserve's proposal is an unprecedented regulatory intrusion into marketplace pricing and product offerings," said Edward Yingling, president and chief executive of the American Banking Association. "We are deeply concerned that these rules will result in less competition, higher consumer prices, fewer consumer choices and reduced consumer access to credit cards. In short, everyday consumers will bear the real cost of these proposals."

Frankly, "reduced consumer access to credit cards" would probably be a good thing. It would, of course, be preferable for credit card users to be adequately versed in their usage and, even better, habituated to live within their means. That being quixotic, however, boundary-type regulation seems more conducive to free-market activity than would be barrier-to-entry-raising regulations such as requiring extensive paperwork and education initiatives of credit-granting institutions.

May 3, 2008

Bracing for Sunday's ProJo

Monique Chartier

... or, more specifically, what's-his-name's column, about which in recent months has been vocalized much disapproval from several quarters.

It appears that Charlie Hall would not disagree.


Capricious Iniquity!

Justin Katz

I expect it won't be long until courts begin to realize that this capricious obstinacy has no basis in rational adjudication:

Two elderly sisters who live together have lost their final appeal in a discrimination case that claimed they were victims of discrimination under Britain's civil partner law.

Joyce Burden, 90, and her 82-year-old sister Sybil (pictured) claimed that the partner law should have included any two people living in an interdependent relationship.

By not being included in the law they claim they could lose the their family home if either of them dies because the other could not afford to keep the home and pay Britain's death duty tax.

The women fought their case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. ...

The civil partnership law was passed in 2004. It grants same-sex couple of all of the rights and obligations of marriage except the name.

When the case began in 2006, Joyce Burden said that "If we were lesbians we would have all the rights in the world. But we are sisters, and it seems we have no rights at all."

In UK law there is a 40 percent inheritance tax an exemption for the first $500,000. Married couples, and couples in civil partnerships, are exempt from the tax.

The sisters’ house cost about $14,000 to build in 1965 but was recently valued last at about $1.6 million. That would mean the surviving sister would be required to pay nearly $600,000 in death tax.

Great Britain should ditch the oppressive death tax, and if it wants to maintain a law that grants partner benefits to people who cannot, by the nature of their relationship, conceive children, then it should do so fairly.

Re: Re: Another Reason to Private School in Rhode Island

Justin Katz

Actually, what struck me about Rhody's comment was how this early sentence betrays the ridiculousness of his point:

If any of us were sent back to work under a court order, our attitude might not be that great, either.

Most of us, I venture to suggest, cannot envision circumstances in which a court would have to order us back to work. We take jobs understanding the general structure of the career ladder and expecting that raises will be related to: 1) our performance, and 2) our employers' fortunes. The idea of banding with coworkers for a work stoppage with the intention of procuring even larger raises despite the employer's well-known financial hardships and a lack of notable improvement (to say the least) probably strikes the majority of us as a species of lunacy.

The same assessment of general experience applies to Monique's suggestion that elected officials ought to negotiate task-by-task responsibilities into contracts. Who among us has that degree of clarity when it comes to occupational delineation? Most of us do the jobs for which we were hired — broadly defined — undertaking all that is necessary.

If the job description is to educate children according to standards set by the community and the state, and the state and community define being educated as being able to produce a final project, then it is the job of the teachers to ensure that each student is able to clear the bar. Period. "You didn't negotiate for fifteen minutes of advice as I walked to the car" would be a profoundly selfish and unprofessional insistence, and there is little distance between that and acting as "an adult adviser."

Re: Another Reason to Private School in Rhode Island

Monique Chartier

Under Justin's post, commenter Rhody remarks:

The teachers are back to school (under a court order), they don't have a new contract, and still people are kicking them.

If any of us were sent back to work under a court order, our attitude might not be that great, either. Remember, kids coming out of college who want to be teachers see this, and will be more inclined to find professions where they can make more money without being trashed on talk radio, letters to the editor, blogs, etc.

Back to work under a court order and without a contract may mean work-to-rule but it does not mean work for free. Further, even if they are working under the terms of the expired contract, presumed to be less advantageous than the one to be signed, as Rhode Island teachers, they are still the ninth highest paid in the country. [This is as of 2005. Links to newer comparisons are welcome.]

My criticism for the conditions in Tiverton and for the larger issue of the state of our education system is not directed at teachers but is reserved solely for elected officials at the local level. They have executed, with other people's money, contracts of increasing generosity that have no bearing on whether the education of students has been advantaged (it has not) or on whether the contracts are fiscally viable (they are not).

It is interesting, by the way, how much is missing from the specific terms of these contracts. If the elected officials who negotiate and approve the funding for teacher contracts had included these and other requirements in the prior contract, seniors in Tiverton and other work-to-rule districts would not be experiencing such problems.

Another Reason to Private School in Rhode Island

Justin Katz

Here's another shining example of what public sector unions — specifically teachers' unions, specifically the NEA — have wrought:

The state Department of Education does not endorse the high school's plan for students to stand before their English classes to present their senior projects — a new graduation requirement here this year. ...

Most of the problems Tiverton High faces with its graduation plan can be traced to a long-running labor dispute involving teachers, who have been working under court order since last September. ...

Until now, a high school teacher has volunteered as a senior project coordinator, recruiting outside mentors to help students delve into their special interests and organizing and training judges for the culminating presentations.

But with the contract dispute permeating labor-management relations since last September, teachers have not volunteered to do much beyond their required duties. ...

Nor do the prescribed duties include teachers fulfilling another new state requirement that all high school students have an adult adviser: someone who knows them well and can help them over the rough spots that often occur in adolescence.

The General Assembly should end public sector unionization — specifically teacher unionization.

A System of Scapegoats

Justin Katz

Although I haven't yet managed to get a handle on the realistic role and responsibilities of Rhode Island's Economic Development Corporation (EDC), I can't help but feel that a little outrage on the part of its president, Saul Kaplan in response to legislative hammering:

Lawmakers yesterday demanded answers from Rhode Island's Economic Development Corporation about why the agency has not done more to curtail job losses and bolster the state's flagging economy.

"Your feet are to the fire ... things are looking pretty bad," Rep. Elizabeth Dennigan, D-East Providence, told EDC officials at a hearing targeting the agency's economic growth plan.

Dennigan, chairwoman of the legislature's Joint Committee on Economic Development, chastised the organization for allowing the state to slip into what economists earlier this week called the Northeast's only recession.

The lawmakers' position was clear yesterday: the agency must commit itself to more daily hands-on work to try and reverse the state's economic forecast.

Kaplan's response might have been that there's only so much that a policy organization can do in the face of a take-away-and-give-away legislature. As with much else, in Rhode Island, the EDC appears to be yet another scapegoat whom those who've ultimately brought about calamity may blame.

May 2, 2008

International Conservatives Continue Winning Streak

Marc Comtois

While many pundits still expect the U.S. to make a leftward move in November, it's interesting to note that political ground continues to be gained by the right in some important Western European countries. The latest example being the local elections in Great Britain:

Winning the London mayoral contest is expected to cap an historic electoral win for the Conservatives with David Cameron’s party on course for more than 44 per cent of the national vote. Labour is now expected to finish with as little as 24 per cent, humiliatingly pushed into third place by the Liberal Democrats on 25 per cent.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown admitted it had been a "bad" and "disappointing" night for the Labour Party in the local elections...The size of the Conservative majority is comparable to Labour’s local election win under Tony Blair in 1995. sparking speculation that Mr Cameron could be swept into power with a sizeable majority if repeated in a general election.

This follows wins by the more conservative parties (hey, we're being relative here) in Germany, France and Italy (off the top of my head), though Spain is still leaning left.

Same Rally, Less Filled

Marc Comtois

The ProJo wonders why there are fewer immigrants showing up at immigrant rallies, but Rev. Robert Beirne, a priest at St. Anthony’s in Providence has the answer:

The estimated 300 people in attendance were but a fraction of the participation seen at immigration-rights rallies in years past.

“I’m very disappointed,” said the Rev. Robert Beirne, a Roman Catholic priest at St. Anthony’s in Providence. “Two years ago, there were tens of thousands of people who were proud to be here. Look at this turnout. I think people are afraid.”

In 2006, as many as 20,000 people participated at a State House rally designed to showcase the positive social and economic contributions of immigrants on International Workers’ Day. By last year, the number of supporters at a similar rally had dwindled to an estimated 500 to 700, following a raid two months earlier on a New Bedford factory, when 361 workers suspected of being in the country illegally were detained by federal officials.

Guess we know where the ProJo is leaning. How about this: maybe the immigrants aren't here anymore. Or maybe they've just moved on. You know, they've got better things to do, like work.

Term Limits Proposed

Marc Comtois

Via N4N:

Rep. Stephen R. Ucci (D-Dist. 42, Johnston, Cranston) has introduced legislation that would allow voters to decide on a proposal to increase term lengths for and impose term limits upon members of the General Assembly.

Under the proposal, elections held after 2010 would be held every four years. Legislators would serve four-year terms and be limited to three terms (totaling 12 years) in the same chamber.

Here's the proposed amendment and Ian's post contains some of Ucci's reasoning. OK, setting aside the likelihood that this thing is probably DOA, it's an interesting proposal. Term limits at the expense of longer terms. Question is, is the that a trade off people are willing to make?

Re: Just Say No to Ethanol

Carroll Andrew Morse

On the blog of Set America Free(*), a coalition of individuals and non-profit organizations dedicated to promoting progress toward American energy security, Robert Zubrin, author of Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror and Breaking Free of Foreign Oil, challenges the idea that ethanol production is to blame for any recent increases in food prices (h/t Instapundit)…

The ethanol program has actually stimulated corn production so much that, after the part used for ethanol is taken away, the net US corn harvest available for food and feed is up 34% since 2002. Furthermore, contrary to claims in many articles, this has not been done at the expense of soy or wheat production. In fact, U.S. soy plantings this year are expected to be up 18% to a near record of 75 million acres, wheat plantings are up 6%, and overall, US farm exports are up 23%. Much more can be produced as demand requires, since of 800 million acres of US farmland, only 280 million are actually being farmed.
Which is not to say that Dr. Zubrin isn't an advocate for more efficient ethanol production than is available from corn. As quoted indirectly by Instapundit, he claims…
It's possible to make enough ethanol and methanol to replace OPEC's output using only agricultural waste.

(*)Check out this interesting sampling of names from the Set America free website; the organization does seem to embody a wide ideological spectrum. There aren't many Senators names on the list; those who are deserve some credit for taking the lead on this issue…

  • Gary L. Bauer
  • Senator Lincoln Chafee
  • Frank Gaffney
  • Cliff May
  • Daniel Pipes
  • Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
  • Hon. R. James Woolsey

The McCain Healthcare Plan

Carroll Andrew Morse

Presumptive Republican Presidential Nominee John McCain has sketched out his healthcare reform plan in the (electronic) pages of National Review Online

I believe the key to real reform is to restore control over our health-care system to the patients themselves. To that end, my reforms are built on the pursuit of three goals: paying only for quality medical care, having insurance choices that are diverse and responsive to individual needs, and restoring our sense of personal responsibility.

American families know quality when they see it, so their dollars should be in their hands. When families are informed about medical choices, they are more capable of making their own decisions, less likely to choose the most expensive and often unnecessary options, and are more satisfied with their choices. Health Savings Accounts are tax-preferred accounts used to pay insurance premiums and other health costs. They put the family in charge of what they pay for, and should be expanded and encouraged.

Americans also need new choices beyond those offered in employment-based coverage. They want a reformed system so that wherever you go and wherever you work, your health plan goes with you. And there is a very straightforward way to achieve this.

Under current law, the federal government gives a tax benefit when employers provide health-insurance coverage to American workers and their families. This benefit doesn’t cover the total cost of the health plan, and in reality each worker and family absorbs the rest of the cost in lower wages and diminished benefits. But it provides essential support for insurance coverage. Many workers are perfectly content with this arrangement, and under my reform plan they would be able to keep that coverage. Their employer-provided health plans would be largely untouched and unchanged.

But for every American who wanted it, another option would be available: Every year, they would receive a tax credit directly, with the same cash value of the credits for employees in big companies, in a small business, or self-employed. You simply choose the insurance provider that suits you best. By mail or online, you would then inform the government of your selection. And the money to help pay for your health care would be sent straight to that insurance provider. The health plan you chose would be as good as any that an employer could choose for you. And if a church or professional organization wishes to sponsor insurance for its members, they should be able to do so. The bottom line: Health insurance would be yours and your family’s health-care plan to keep without worrying that it will go away along with your job.


Carroll Andrew Morse

No one can be sure if Pawtucket's new weekly newspaper, All Pawtucket All The Time, will make it (h/t Phillipe and Jorge), but APATT will be starting out with one advantage that its daily competitor, the Pawtucket Times has never been able to achieve -- they've figured out how to insert space between paragraphs in their online edition!

A bellwether? Or an overly-snarky blogger picking an annoying nit? I report. You decide.

Are There Any Limits to What State Government Can Tax?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Saul Hansell of the New York Times reports on a challenge to the state of New York's attempt to extend its tax reach that is likely to have a big impact on the future of the Internet...

Before the ink on the bill has even dried, has filed a suit challenging New York State’s new law that forces online retailers to collect sales taxes on shipments to state residents.

On Friday, Amazon filed a complaint in New York Supreme Court in New York City, objecting to the law. The provision is meant to contribute about $50 million to the $122 billion budget that was passed by the state legislature April 9 and signed by Gov. David A. Paterson last week.

The issue isn’t whether people should pay taxes when they buy goods from out-of state sellers like Amazon, which is based in Seattle. For decades, New York and other states have required their residents to pay use tax — equivalent to sales tax — on out-of-state purchases for which sales tax wasn’t collected.

The question is whether the vendors must collect those taxes on behalf of the state. Generally, only those companies that have a physical presence, such as an office or store, in the state of the purchase are required to collect the taxes.

The new law is based on a novel definition of what constitutes a presence in the state: It includes any Web site based in the state that earns a referral fee for sending customers to an online retailer. Amazon has hundreds of thousands of affiliates—from big publishers to tiny blogs—that feature links to its products. It says thousands of those have given an address in New York State, although it does not verify the addresses.

May 1, 2008

Engaged Citizens and In-Group Activists

Justin Katz

As commenter Will noted in response to Marc's post, Matt Jerzyk thought it worth pointing out something that surely we all noticed (indeed, on which we three mused when the photographer told us that he'd be shooting the RI Future gang the following night): that the Phoenix photos buck left/right stereotypes. In that quality, however, they do no more than express reality.

Ian elides a significant difference, I think, in his statement that we who founded AR "were motivated by a similar desire [to Jerzyk's] to provide a broader and more consequential forum for [our] ideas and philosophy." Here's RI Future's nutshell catalyst:

Matt Jerzyk launched his Rhode Island's Future blog in January 2005 because, after having worked locally in community- and union-organizing, "I saw first-hand how difficult it was to penetrate the media cabal with progressive stories of hope and change."

Here's what I told Ian:

At some point in late 2003 Andrew emailed me with the suggestion of a group blog. Around that time, he was writing periodically for TechCentralStation, and I was doing the same with National Review Online. The idea lost steam at that time, but a year later, an increasing sense that things were seriously awry in our state led us to take another look at the notion.

On one side, a local activist and unionist sees blogging as a way to sell "progressive stories." On the other side, a few opinion scribblers think there are important points to be made about local matters. Piecing together one blog is a law-school student; piecing together the other is a carpenter.

It would push real life a bit far toward fiction to make too much of this point, but the stereotype that the Left has found useful in a rebellious age is undermined by more than sweaters versus suit jackets.

(N.B. — For the record, I do not wish, with this post, to scuttle our little burst of comity, even if the Phoenix did give RI Future a color table-of-contents picture in the print edition. Bitter? I'm praying and polishing my gun even as I type.)

Supplemental Budget a Go

Justin Katz

The RI Senate has approved the supplemental budget, largely in the form that the governor proposed. I haven't had the time to figure out this, though:

The plan restores $5 million of the $7 million the governor had proposed to eliminate for the Neighborhood Opportunities Program, which supports affordable housing initiatives. That funding will go to projects that were already in the works and had been promised state support.

The General Assembly also saved the Historic Tax Credit program, which the governor had originally scrapped in his supplemental budget proposal, but did so in a separate bill passed by both chambers and signed into law earlier this month. While the bill closed the program to new proposals, it kept commitments to already-approved projects, albeit at a slightly lower reimbursement rate.

The press release isn't explicit about what the trade-off was in order to make these "saves."

RE: World Famous in Rhode Island

Marc Comtois

Not sure if Ian was chumming the waters with his headline, but I'll bite: Jerzyk looking to sell Rhode Island's Future. Heh, some of us would agree (ba dum bum).

Ian has more from Matt:

For me, I have given 3 years of my life to getting RI Future off the ground and I am ready to pass the torch sometime in the near future. In fact, I have been talking with interested parties about selling the blog. Ideally, I would like to sell it to someone who will maintain the character and the integrity of the blog.
Ian also covered Matt's entrepreneurial quest in his article and quoted Justin to the same, if less ambitious, effect. As for us Anchorites, well, perhaps we are a little less profit-driven in our motivation for blogging. To quote, um, myself (forgive the pretension) from Ian's piece
You have to do it because you love doing it for its own sake. Lots of blogs flame out. People get bored or realize how hard it is. But I think that so long as you are passionate about something — whether politics, music, food or whatever — you will be able to keep it going. Just don’t ever look at it as a way to make money or gain power.
Don't get me wrong: more power to Matt if he can make a nice profit from his investment. Speaking for myself, I just never envisioned making a buck off of this blogging stuff. It may sound all altruistic and naive--cue "Kumbaya"--but my goal is simply to do my part to help improve RI's future for my kids and their generation.

Indicative of Obviousness

Justin Katz

Times are so dark — and the general thrust of the solution so obvious — that special interests and other general-revenue soakers can't even escape to the Lifebeat section for relief. Credit goes to Rita Lussier for using her influence for the cause of sanity:

Not to alarm you, but this situation is a ticking time bomb. My fear is that if we can't get the numbers to add up, the problem is going to stay unresolved and while you and I are out sailing or playing tennis or watching the Red Sox or whatever sweet distractions of summer might capture our attention, our legislators might to be tempted to take THE EASY WAY OUT so that they too can go off and sail and play tennis and watch the Red Sox. ...

Keep in mind that part of the problem here is that everybody else besides us is organized. The lobbyists are organized. The social welfare groups are organized. The unions are extremely organized. We, on the other hand, are not, mainly because we're so busy working to pay for all of this.

Well, I say it's time to get involved, time to say good job so far, now stay the course. And this is coming from someone who has never written to or called her representative. This taxpayer is speaking up:


MIA: Voter I.D. and Scrapping of the Straight Party Lever

Monique Chartier

It appears that Secretary of State Ralph Mollis left the two most important reforms to Rhode Island's electoral process out of his "Voter First" Legislative Package.

The Secretary of State does not address at all his exclusion of a voter identification requirement from the package. As for the straight party lever, Secretary Mollis had this to say in yesterday's Providence Journal:

Mollis, however, said he does not want to get rid of straight party voting because so many state voters cast such ballots. In 2006 roughly 20 percent of Rhode Island voters chose to cast a straight party ballot, Mollis said.

“I’m opposed to removing something that, in 2006, one out of every five voters in Rhode Island used,” said Mollis.

Approximately one out of every five Rhode Islanders smokes, too. That is not a basis to encourage or faciliate such an unhealthy habit.