July 31, 2008

Two Cents on Obrangelina

Justin Katz

You know those small portrait pictures that newspapers include with stories after they've continued from the first page — so that the reader can gain the context quickly from the familiar faces? Well, seeing Obama's and Britney's pictures accompanying the same story in today's Providence Journal, I wondered how many papers around the country have similar juxtapositions. Even knowing the background story, I pictured a celeb-feud between the two, à la Trump and Rosie.

McCain should thank the Obamanation for transforming a relatively mild ad into a national news item that associates the Democrat candidate — fresh from a European tour (now with twice the pretension!) — with publicity-seeking tarts. Look for the next big YouTube video to be an Obama-related takeoff of this guy (explicit language).

In the Vacuum Left by Council 94's Vote, Gov Issues Executive Order

Monique Chartier

Following upon Governor Carcieri's press conference at 2:00, his office issued the following statement.

Governor Donald L. Carcieri today issued an Executive Order authorizing that all employees represented by unions that have not ratified the co-share and plan design changes outlined in the Memorandum of Settlement shall enjoy the same health, vision, and dental plan benefits, as non-union Executive branch employees and as employees whose unions have negotiated and ratified agreements containing these cost-savings and will be contributing accordingly

"I have a constitutional and statutory obligation to balance the budget," said Governor Carcieri. "If I don't take this action, I will be neglecting my primary duty to balance the budget on behalf of all our citizens."

"My administration spent six months and hundreds of hours negotiating the terms of this agreement with representatives of Council 94. Those representatives agreed to the terms that were finally negotiated. There were numerous concessions from the state, including not going forward with the layoff of hundreds of employees and guaranteed wage increases of 8.5% over the four year contract."

"It was my hope that Council 94 and the other unions would have recognized the severity of the State's fiscal crisis and seized the opportunity to be part of the solution, as have more than two-thirds of the other unions who participated in the collective negotiations. Instead, the action by these unions to reject the agreement has only weakened the State's fiscal situation, requiring this unilateral action to balance the budget."

By the authority of the Executive Order, the Governor directed that all eligible employees shall contribute toward the cost of health care coverage based on a percentage of premiums for either the individual or family plan as set forth below for medical insurance, dental benefits and/or vision/optical benefits. Said co-share percentages shall apply based on the employee's annualized total rate and shall be via payroll deductions. The Executive Order also authorized employee co-shares for dental coverage and employee co-pays for medical services and pharmaceuticals.

"The implementation of the plan design changes and the co-pays will allow the State to realize some of the budget savings expected by the ratification of the settlement, and will help prevent, for the time being, more aggressive personnel actions including layoffs and shut down days."

"This action is unprecedented in Rhode Island," continued Carcieri. "But, these are unprecedented times that require decisive action that is in the best interest of all Rhode Islanders. I would like to personally thank the union leaders and members who voted in favor of the new contract. I would also like to thank the General Officers - the Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, and General Treasurer - for their commitment to implementing the salary and benefits changes in concert with this Executive Order. Your leadership and willingness to work together is commendable."

Simultaneously, the Governor directed the Administration to notify the specific unions that have not agreed to the settlement of the intention to move swiftly to conciliation and arbitration in an attempt to finalize a new contract if possible. "I want to make this very clear. We have no intention of offering more than what was already negotiated and agreed to. That was our best and final offer."


At Not For Nothing, Ian Donnis has Council 94's response.

North Providence - Today, Rhode Island Council 94, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO voiced their strong opposition to Governor Carcieri's attempts to unilaterally impose his health care insurance premium co-share proposal upon members who democratically voted to reject the proposed contract settlement.

Dennis R. Grilli, Executive Director, explained, "Today Governor Carcieri has made a difficult situation worse. By attempting to unilaterally impose increased health care premium co-shares upon our members' and their families the Governor has chosen a path that will increase the level of tension and acrimony between state employees and this administration. While we want to have a contract that is fair to Rhode Island taxpayers and some of the lowest paid state employees, Council 94 will not be bullied, coerced, or intimidated. Further Council 94 is fully prepared to fight and respond to the Carcieri administration's actions swiftly and with all of the resources at our disposal."

Executive Director Grilli, continued, "In June 2008, Governor Carcieri refused to accept a proposed settlement that would have saved the state over $40 million dollars. When Governor Carcieri refused to accept the proposed settlement, Council 94 acted appropriately. We exercised restraint. The Governor should now exercise the same restraint. Now that our members have taken a democratic vote to reject a proposed settlement, he has decided to resort to scare tactics. Council 94 is not afraid. Unfortunately, the path that the Governor has chosen will cost Rhode Islanders more money in the long run. We sincerely hope that the administration will negotiate in good faith, instead of this reckless and irresponsible course of action."


WPRO just reported that Council 94's Executive Director Dennis Grilli has announced that the union will be seeking a restraining order on Monday [correction] today to stop implementation of the Governor's Executive Order.

UPDATE III - Hold it

The Governor's office just issued this statement.

At the request of the Honorable Superior Court Judge Patricia A. Hurst, Governor Donald L. Carcieri today agreed to defer the implementation of the Executive Order (08-06) to provide Judge Hurst with adequate time to review this important and comprehensive issue.

Council 94 was instructed to file its briefs with the Superior Court on Monday, August 4, 2008, with a conference scheduled for both parties at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, August 6, 2008.

Senator Irons' Flawed Defense

Carroll Andrew Morse

Former Rhode Island Senate President William Irons' initial line of defense against charges brought against him by the Rhode Island Ethics Commission rests, first, on a claim of immunity that has never before been recognized in the law and, second, on a claim that a judge can use an interpretation of the law without precedent to nullify the plain language of the state constitution.

1. According to (most recently) Bruce Landis of the Projo, the Rhode Island Ethics Commission has proceeded against Senator Irons for his casting of votes on legislation that directly affected a company he was taking commissions from, in their view, a violation of state ethics rules...

The Journal reported that Irons received $70,000 in commissions on a Blue Cross health-insurance policy for CVS employees in 2000 and 2001, and another $25,000 in 1999. Irons chaired the Senate Corporations Committee that handles health-care legislation, and opposed a controversial pharmacy-choice bill that Blue Cross and CVS also opposed.
2. The Ethics Commission derives it power to bring such cases from a 1986 amendment to the Rhode Island Constitution (Article III, section 8)...
Ethics commission -- Code of ethics. -- The general assembly shall establish an independent non-partisan ethics commission which shall adopt a code of ethics including, but not limited to, provisions on conflicts of interest, confidential information, use of position, contracts with government agencies and financial disclosure. All elected and appointed officials and employees of state and local government, of boards, commissions and agencies shall be subject to the code of ethics. The ethics commission shall have the authority to investigate violations of the code of ethics and to impose penalties, as provided by law; and the commission shall have the power to remove from office officials who are not subject to impeachment.
3. In defense, the lawyers for Senator Irons claim that the Ethics Commission can have no jurisdiction over official acts of legislators, due to the speech-in-debate immunity for legislators that is an original part of the Rhode Island Constitution (Article VI, section 5)...
Immunities of general assembly members. -- The persons of all members of the general assembly shall be exempt from arrest and their estates from attachment in any civil action, during the session of the general assembly, and two days before the commencement and two days after the termination thereof, and all process served contrary hereto shall be void. For any speech in debate in either house, no member shall be questioned in any other place.
In today's Projo article, Senator Irons' lawyer John Tarantino explains his client's basic position on speech-in-debate immunity vs. the Ethics Commission…
Tarantino said that because the Constitutional Convention delegates didn’t explicitly set aside the legislators’ immunity under the “speech in debate” doctrine, that immunity continues and legislators can’t be prosecuted for the way they vote.
4. The principle of speech in debate immunity is well-established in American jurisprudence. Courts have long held that the immunity extends beyond words spoken in floor and committee session, out to any official act associated with lawmaking. The key affirmation of this principle cited in the Irons case comes from the United States Supreme Court 1972 ruling in United States v. Brewster, where the Court made clear that speech in debate immunity prevented legislators from having their motivations for the votes probed by any branch of government seeking to enforce general statutes...
It is beyond doubt that the Speech or Debate Clause protects against inquiry into acts that occur in the regular course of the legislative process, and into the motivation for those acts.
In other words, as offensive as it may be to the sensibilities of honest citizens, it is established precedent in American law that a legislator cannot be sued or prosecuted under general statute for voting a certain way based on the influence of cold hard cash, instead of concern for the common good.

The Brewster decision was brought into Rhode Island law in 1984 by the Rhode Island Supreme Court in its decision in Holmes v. Farmer.

5. However, in its Brewster ruling, the Supreme Court also made clear that speech in debate immunity did not place the official acts of legislators above every law imaginable. The Brewster decision reaffirmed a principle established six years earlier, in the case of United States v. Johnson, that speech-in-debate immunity did not automatically extend to laws whose specific purpose is regulating the conduct of legislators...

Without intimating any view thereon, we expressly leave open for consideration when the case arises a prosecution which, though possibly entailing inquiry into legislative acts or motivations, is founded upon a narrowly drawn statute passed by Congress in the exercise of its legislative power to regulate the conduct of its members.
6. It's a dubious proposition, at best, to ever allow judges to circumvent the plain language of the Constitution, but in this case, the proper decision is especially a no-brainer:

The 1986 amendment to the Rhode Island Constitution charged the legislature with creating an ethics commission, specifically and narrowly empowered to create rules for the conduct of legislators. At that time the constitution was amended, the applicability of speech-in-debate immunity to laws specifically regulating legislator conduct had not been decided. The inclusion of direct language into the constitution subjecting legislators to Ethics Commission jurisdiction, therefore, resolved an ambiguity in the law -- using the most decisive means our system of government allows, a Constitutional amendment -- without creating any conflict with the existing body of speech-in-debate immunity law.

The only way for a court to rule that speech-in-debate immunity trumps the Constitutionally established powers of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission would be for that court to strike down the plain language of the constitution while ignoring established precedent at the same time. For the sake of the rule of law, let's hope that this attempted double-bank shot by Senator Irons and his lawyers doesn't hit its target.

....and can McCain Get Some?

Marc Comtois

Trying to undermine your opponents credibility is one thing. What can McCain do to make himself something other than the Unbama? David Ignatius thinks McCain should get back to his roots as the "maverick."

When he says he preferred political defeat for himself to military defeat for his country, he is telling the truth. With an ex-POW's stubbornness, he could not abide the notion of failure and dishonor for U.S. forces.

But what makes McCain's account of his captivity truly remarkable is not the heroism but the humility. In page after page, he praises men who he insists were braver than he was. Though even the toughest prisoners were broken by torture, he cannot forgive himself for signing his own confession....McCain's triumph, finally, was that he got over Vietnam. He didn't fulminate against antiwar activists....He accepted the ways America had changed in his absence. He didn't bear grudges. He had finally grown up. McCain wrote in a magazine article soon after his homecoming in March 1973: "Now that I'm back, I find a lot of hand-wringing about this country. I don't buy that. I think America today is a better country than the one I left nearly six years ago."

That healing gift is what McCain, at his best, brings to the presidential race -- not the brass marching band of military valor but the tolerance of someone who has truly suffered. It's evident in his achievements as a senator: He had been tortured himself, so he campaigned, against intense pressure from the Bush administration, for a ban on torture; he had been caught as one of the "Keating Five" in a sleazy campaign finance scandal, so he defied his party and became a crusader for campaign finance and ethics reforms.

What's damaging the McCain campaign now, I suspect, is that this fiercely independent man is trying to please other people -- especially a Republican leadership that doesn't really trust him. He should give that up and be the person whose voice shines through the pages of his life story.

Of course, he's done that already, which is why he's a known quantity. What we've got going on here is Ignatius pining for the "maverick" of old. The one embraced by many in the media because he was butting against those they loathed: GWB and the GOP. To boot, he championed causes that they, if no one else, held dear (like campaign finance reform). Now, even though McCain may not agree with the GOP "base" on some things, he still needs them to have a shot at winning and he recognizes that. So, like it or not, this is a marriage of convenience. Because the bottom line is that decision to be made is between Obama or Unbama.

Where's the Obama MoJo....

Marc Comtois

Andrew Malcolm wonders where the Obama mojo is and, after reciting all of the reasons why he should be way ahead, finally stumbles on the root cause of doubt amongst much of the electorate:

Obama's...a legislator who's been in Washington three years now, two of them as a member of a Democratic-controlled Congress that was elected in 2006 with great promise but currently holds historically low favorability ratings.

What's Obama done for D.C. change since arriving? What's Obama done for reform back home within the historically monolithic and corrupt Chicago Democratic machine, where some up-and-comers are sent off to Congress for seasoning before advancing to the big-time of City Council?

The mojo is also being damaged by the McCain campaign's latest tactics, which appear to be gaining traction:
It wasn’t until the last week, however, that the narrative of Obama as a president-in-waiting — and perhaps getting impatient in that waiting — began reverberating beyond the inboxes of Washington operatives and journalists.

Perhaps one of the clearest indications emerged Tuesday from the world of late-night comedy, when David Letterman offered his “Top Ten Signs Barack Obama is Overconfident.” The examples included Obama proposing to change the name of Oklahoma to “Oklobama” and measuring his head for Mount Rushmore.

“When Letterman is doing ‘Top Ten’ lists about something, it has officially entered the public consciousness,” said Dan Schnur, a political analyst from the University of Southern California and the communications director in John McCain’s 2000 campaign. “And it usually stays there for a long, long time.”

Following a nine-day, eight-country tour that carried the ambition and stagecraft of a presidential state visit, Obama has found himself in an unusual position: the butt of jokes.

Jon Stewart teased that the presumptive Democratic nominee traveled to Israel to visit his birthplace at Bethlehem’s Manger Square. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd amplified the McCain campaign’s private nickname for Obama (“The One”).

And the snickers about Obama’s perceived smugness may have a very real political impact as McCain's camp launched its most forceful effort yet to define him negatively. It released a TV ad Wednesday describing Obama as the “biggest celebrity in the world,” comparable to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, stars who are famous for attitude rather than accomplishments.

The harsher treatment from comedians and columnists — coupled with the shift by McCain from attacking on policy to character issues — underscores the fine line that Obama is walking between confident and cocky. Once at pains to present himself as presidential, Obama now faces criticism for doing it too well....

Obama and his supporters dismissed the line of attack as the latest desperate missive from a foundering Republican campaign.

Bloggers at the Huffington Post launched a backlash to the backlash against Obama’s overseas trip, arguing in part that he wouldn’t face such criticism of acting premature if he were white.

And there it is. As Glenn Reynolds has been observing, "...have you noticed that it's always Obama who's actually injecting race into the campaign, under the guise of warning about what those Evil Republicans will do?" And his supporters take their cue from him, as the above from the HuffPo illustrates. Reynolds provided a couple recent examples and I've added a couple more:
"So what they are going to do is make you scared of me. You know he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like those other presidents on the dollar bills." ~ Barack Obama

"I know that I don’t look like the other Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city." ~ Barack Obama

"I note with interest today, John McCain's new tactic of associating Barack Obama with oversexed and/or promiscuous young white women." ~ Josh Marshall, TPM

Jake Tapper own observations support Reynold's:
There's a lot of racist xenophobic crap out there. But not only has McCain not peddled any of it, he's condemned it.

Back in February, McCain apologized for some questionable comments made by a local radio host. In April, he condemned the North Carolina Republican Party's ad featuring images of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

With one possible exception, I've never seen McCain or those under his control playing the race card or making fun of Obama's name -- or even mentioning Obama's full name, for that matter!

I've seen racism in campaigns before -- I've seen it against Obama in this campaign (more from Democrats than Republicans, at this point, I might add) and I've seen it against McCain in South Carolina in 2000....What I have not seen is it come from McCain or his campaign in such a way to merit the language Obama used today. Pretty inflammatory.

Actually, it's altogether unsurprising: Obama's done it before.

What's It Mean to "Get" Math?

Justin Katz

With my children not yet to the age at which I might have to consider battles with their teachers for their young mathematical souls, my opinion of the "new math" isn't sufficiently strong to inspire rants. Still, such statements as the following raise fundamental questions:

One problem, [Pat Cooney, math coordinator for six public schools in Ridgefield, CT,] says, is that parents remember math as offering only one way to solve a problem. "We're saying that there's more than one way," Cooney says. "The outcome will be the same, but how we get there will be different." Thus, when a parent is asked to multiply 88 by 5, we'll do it with pen and paper, multiplying 8 by 5 and carrying over the 4, etc. But a child today might reason that 5 is half of 10, and 88 times 10 is 880, so 88 times 5 is half of that, 440 -- poof, no pen, no paper.

"The traditional way is really a shortcut," Cooney says. "We want kids to be so confident with numbers that it becomes intuitive."

Or, the parent might understand that numbers can be broken into their components, with the functions performed on each and then added together at the end. In that case, they would break 88 into 80 and 8, multiply each by five — referencing a chart that they memorized decades ago and never forgot — and then add the results together: 400 plus 40 is 440. That's ultimately what the traditional method teaches. Poof. No pen, no paper, and yet a fundamental understanding of what each digit represents and its relationship to the others.

Although, as I said, I don't have thorough experience with it, the New Math appears to treat numbers as whole things that may be broken up and combined. The traditional approach is to treat numbers as representative symbols of multiple things that can join together or break apart. In the former case, everything is ultimately a fraction of a greater whole; in the latter, everything greater than one is a collection of independent items that have relationships. (Even fractions, in that view, are smaller individuals that make up the larger grouping, sort of like discussing atoms in molecules.)

Would it be too much to inject a quip about the fundamental difference between the liberal and the conservative mind, here?

July 30, 2008

Now is the time on Sprockets when we Dance!

Marc Comtois

Via N4N

ProJo for Tolls

Marc Comtois

Having grown up in "toll booth" states, I'm not particularly put out by the idea of Rhode Island putting up a few booths on the RI/CT line to make some money for the state (especially for infrastructure), as suggested by the ProJo editors. But two points--one a great big, red warning flag--they make are worth highlighting:

...care must be taken lest the toll system, presumably to be run by the Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority, become a patronage nest to rival the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

More generally, we should remember that high costs from unfairly sky-high public-employee benefits (wages themselves are not the problem; they are fair); poorly managed social-service programs; and other administrative woes are the biggest state government fiscal problems, not too little revenue.

How RI's State Employee Unions And Everyone Else Would Be Helped By a More Rational Healthcare System

Carroll Andrew Morse

If there are any union folks still reading this site, let me use the Council 94 situation as the basis for explaining to you how conservatives would like to reform healthcare. Non-union folks might be interested in this too!

1. Instead of negotiating a plan and spending money with a health insurer, your employer would take the thousands of dollars currently spent per employee on health insurance, and give that money directly to the employees. In operational terms, every employee gets a multi-thousand dollar bump in their paycheck.

2. The employee can then use that money to buy an insurance plan directly from an insurance company. The laws would be changed so that people would be free to purchase insurance plans from any insurer in any state, and so that other government-created factors that artificially increase the price of non-employer health insurance would be removed.

2A. Most importantly, the tax-code would be changed so that individuals who purchase health insurance would get the same tax-break that companies who purchase health insurance for their employees currently get. Right now, businesses that buy health insurance for their employees are allowed to deduct that money from their corporate income tax calculations, but individuals who spend money directly from their paychecks on the exact same plans are not allowed to deduct from their personal income taxes.

(I'm not sure how the current employer tax-break works in the case where the state is the employer, but that only helps make my point: In the reformed system, the self-employed, the corporate-employed, and the state-employed will all be treated the same, which makes sense, as people's health needs don't fundamentally vary based on who their employer is.)

3. Finally, in this new system, a union like AFSCME could still use its negotiating prowess to go out and secure a preferred deal from a health insurance company for its members. AFSCME would bargain directly with the health insurers, choosing whatever health insurer in the country offered them the best deal, and not having to rely on the Governor to negotiate the details of its deal.

The night that Council 94 rejected the current contract offer, WJAR-TV (NBC 10) reporter Bill Rappleye interviewed state employee Sharon Moreno, who expressed a reasonable position about what she would like from the new contract...

Leave me where I am right now [in salary, but] don't touch my coverage.
The strength of the plan outlined above is not only that the state wouldn't have to touch health-coverage benefits during contract negotiations, but that the state would not be able to touch health-coverage benefits during negotiations. Unions and employees would talk salary with their employers, and talk health coverage with their health insurers.

I know it's too late for this kind of plan to help with the current situation, but this is the system that makes the most economic sense, the most political sense, and that gives workers the most direct control over their futures. This is the kind of system we need to be looking at moving towards for everyone.

define: Hubris

Marc Comtois
Main Entry: hu·bris
Pronunciation: \ˈhyü-brəs\
Function: noun
Etymology:Greek hybris
Date: 1884

: exaggerated pride or self-confidence

hu·bris·tic \hyü-ˈbris-tik\ adjective

example - "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions."

Were Council 94's "Non-Negotiations" Part of a Larger Plan?

Monique Chartier

Let's examine Council 94's urgent insistance that the thirty meetings with Governor Carcieri do not constitute negotiations in the light of the status of those negotiations informal discussions at meeting ninteen. On May 23, Governor Carieri appeared on WPRO's Dan Yorke Show:

They have not put a single thing ... after 19 meetings, hours, hundreds of hours in, they haven't put a single thing on the table. We laid out for them a proposal. They've sat with my team, the house finance team, the senate finance team, 'cause I don' think they believed what we've beeen saying in terms of the magnitude of the problem. And they got it from all three parties. And so if they're not willing to sit down and make the kinds of concessions that we need to get in the 09 budget, then we're going to have to come up with them other ways.

So now it is clear that, on the part of Council 94's leadership, those thirty negotiating discussion sessions were simply a passive-aggressive act. Why? Did they realize from the beginning that because of the serious budget deficit and the economic condition of the state - subsequently confirmed by the Governor's office and the legislature - they were not going to be able to bring back an "acceptable" offer; i.e., terms that were substantially better than the expired contract? So rather than bringing their membership up to speed and explaining that the facts on the ground made it likely that the administration's final proposal would be a highest and best offer (not to mention the charmingly archaic nature of an 8% premium co-share), was this a deliberate decision by Council 94 leadership to drag out the entire process?

"We sat there like bumps on a log so those thirty meetings were not negotiations. First we file a complaint with the labor board. Then we go to negotiations. When negotiations are over and we don't get what we want, we go to mediation. Then we go to arbitration. It's okay that it's non-binding; the point is to drag this out. If we still haven't gotten what we want, we start on the court system. At some point (fingers crossed), either we'll wear the administration down or obtain a favorable ruling from an ally along the way."

Council 94's redefinition of thirty meetings as "not negotiations, definitely not negotiations", while absurd on its face, may be the first step of a larger plan. If so, it is a plan with two potentially fatal weaknesses, requiring as it does both time and a passive Executive branch. A constitutional requirement to annually balance the budget places the former in scarce supply. The latter has yet to be determined but initial indications are not promising.

Quick Note: Frank Caprio

Marc Comtois

I caught State Treasurer Frank Caprio on Channel 10's Newsmakers (video) this past Sunday. He sounded like a conservative fiscal thinker to me and trotted out some examples of the forward-thinking policies he's enacted that have redounded well for the State of Rhode Island. He also described how he worked with the union to get what amounts to merit pay/promotions in place in his office. Overall, I gotta say I was intrigued with what I picked up about his political philosophy and demeanor. It's no surprise, as Ian Donnis explains, that Caprio could prove to be a problem for the progressive RI Democrats come the 2010 gubernatorial race.

Separation of Advocacy and State

Justin Katz

Tiverton's public hearing on charter-related questions potentially to be placed on the next ballot didn't let out until after 11:00, Monday night, although many in the audience (including the Providence Journal's Gina Macris) left after the headline-grabbing debate over the future of the financial town meeting had ended. I stayed so late — despite dying stealth-blogger-gear batteries and a lack of worthwhile reading material — out of interest in the penultimate question, the passage of which would result in the insertion of the following language in the town charter (with the deleted text removed, per Monday night's vote, I believe):

No officer or employee of the Town, including the School Department, shall use, or cause to be used, Town property, goods, money, grants, or labor to influence the outcome of or encourage or discourage elector voting with respect to, an election, ballot question, Financial Town Meeting, or referendum; the foregoing shall not prohibit the distribution or publication of election, ballot question, Financial Town Meeting, or referendum information by the Town Clerk, the Board of Canvassers, or a Charter Review Commission.

During the discussion period, Town Council President Louise Durfee let it be known that she had consulted an ACLU attorney who believed the question to be sufficiently broad that a suit could be brought against the town on First Amendment grounds even before the rule had been invoked in response to an alleged violation. Inasmuch as she must file a W2 with the town, and is therefore an employee, she is concerned that she might be restricted from offering her opinion to a constituent while waiting in line at CVS on the grounds that she had expended town "labor" to promote her side.

Thus do lawyers leverage their own proclivity for distorting plain understanding to argue that reformist legislation might be subject to invidious interpretation beyond the scope of its language. By constitutional law, the argument goes, all town employees must be free to speak their minds, and some judge might interpret the above language in contravention of that right, so the law must be unconstitutional.

One needn't be a lawyer (indeed, it might help not to be) to comprehend that no judge could produce such an interpretation because the First Amendment forbids it. The language clearly does not explicitly propose a restriction of free speech, and I believe that a fair reading cannot do otherwise than conclude that it doesn't implicitly do so.

To illustrate this point, I asked Ms. Durfee whether she is currently permitted to respond if a constituent in line at CVS asks her whether she believes there to be a God. Her response, in concert with Councilor Brian Medeiros, was that, as a secular servant of the people, her opinion on theology is irrelevant. It is not. That only seems to be the case because church/state boundaries in the law have been so thoroughly traversed, thereby illustrating the legal delineation of public "labor," specifically by precedent allowing public officials to express opinions on religion, whether in the course of their duties or in their private lives.

If Louise Durfee, as an always-on-duty public servant, can speak her mind about religion despite clear proscriptions against her implementing such views via the resources and privileges available by virtue of her office, then certainly she could offer her views on a budget despite a charter rule intended to "prohibit the use of Town resources to influence the outcome of a voting contest."

July 29, 2008

Trash Day Rant Redux

Justin Katz

Given past experience with the vulnerability of our trash receptacles on garbage day, we should have known better. We shouldn't have run out of garbage bags. The children shouldn't have filled an unlined can. My wife shouldn't have put that can out on the street to be emptied into the truck.

But it seems to me that it ought to have been perceivable that the whole thing wasn't meant to be taken, and I'm close enough to that line of work to imagine that we were on the receiving end of a lesson about pushing the boundaries of those who serve us. Personally, were I a garbage man in a sour mood, my instructional method would have been to leave the can untouched. Moreover, were they garbage men who stood to lose my business, they might have been more circumspect about the conclusions to which I might come, and were their employer not assured of my payment no matter my personal impression of his company, I'd be more confident that a complaint would be justly addressed.

Links from a Busy Blogger

Marc Comtois

I've been busy with "life" (work, family, volunteering, recreation, Citadel board meetings;) and haven't had a chance to post much of substance. That trend continues, so here are a couple things I've found interesting over the last few days.

Jim Lindgren has looked into--and exposed--the activities and agenda of a group calling itself Service Nation that is trying to implement compulsory volunteerism. Heh.

A recent "random thought" by Thomas Sowell comes to mind:

Some of the most emotionally powerful words are undefined, such as "social justice," "a living wage," "price gouging" or a "fragile" environment, for example. Such terms are especially valuable to politicians during an election year, for these terms can attract the votes of people who mean very different-- and even mutually contradictory-- things when they use these words.
Apparently, we've now gotta put "volunteerism" (and "change") into this category.

Historian Victor Davis Hanson explains why Europeans Love Obama.

The Tax Foundation has found 15 ways to define "Income" and explains that its no wonder we can't agree on whether it's going up, down or staying the same.

Finally, I've yet to read it, but Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam have written a new book, Grand New Party, in which they seek to chart a course for the 21st Century GOP. (Here's an article based on the book). Basically, they argue that the future is in appealing to so-called Sam's Club voters. Here are two (one - two) reviews.

Re: ProJo Watch

Carroll Andrew Morse

The news of buyouts at the Projo reminds me of this item, from Glenn Reynolds, on a major reason why he believes newspapers have fallen on hard times…

I've said for years that hard-news reporting is the killer app for Big Media, but they just don't want to do it. They want to tell people what to think, instead of telling them what's happening.
In most industries, when you're losing business, you assume that people don't like the quality of your product (or at least don't like the quality compared to what they have to pay for it) and adjust accordingly. So I don't understand how cutting reporting staff, making news reporting even more sparse, is going to lead to a turnaround in the long-term health of the Projo.

At least on the surface, the attitude on the business side reminds me of one those old Dilbert cartoons, where the pointy-haired boss wonders if he can cut costs enough to to make a profit without selling any products.

Another Instapundit item has more detailed thoughts on the general decline of newspapers, here.

Bob Barr on Global Warming and Other Subjects

Carroll Andrew Morse

At a conference call for bloggers, I was able to ask Libertarian Presidential Candidate Bob Barr about his views on global warming, an area where I had criticized him last week for some seeming inconsistencies. Here is candidate Barr's answer…

Although I certainly do not believe that there is anything approaching a clear linkage between CO2 emissions and global warming, as many maintain, I do believe that it is something we need to be looking at, to establish exactly what the parameters and correlations are, if any, between man-made phenomena such as CO2 emissions and industrial emissions and global warming.

If it bears out that it is simply a geological cyclical issue or whatnot, regardless of where we might wind up with regard to global warming, I do commend, for example, folks like Boone Pickens, who has indicated -- again regardless of what we find are the causes of global warming -- that we need to really start working towards developing alternative sources of energy over the long-term. Some people, as the former Vice-President has indicated, believe this is an imperative because of global warming. Others, like Boone Pickens, take a more market-driven approach, that is that global warming seems to be occurring, and we need to discover why and what the correlations are, but even regardless of that, we need to be developing alternative sources of energy over the long term.

Over the short term – and this is me talking, not Boone Pickens – we are and will continue to be petroleum-based economy. That is not going to change in the short term, and we need to therefore do everything we can to develop sources of petroleum, so that we have the energy we need in the short term so that in the long term, we will be able to develop the alternative sources we need, whether that is natural gas, solar to some extent, wind to some extent, or perhaps something that has not even been invented yet.

In response to other questions from other call participants, Congressman Barr laid out his positions on a range of other issues…
  • On social security, he wants to restore the idea of "ownership" of contributions, and move away from the entitlement assumptions that the program has taken on. He is opposed to any tax-increases to maintain solvency, but would consider raising the retirement age, as the assumptions about life-expectancy and retirement-age expectancy have changed from what they were when the current parameters were established.
  • Barr's top priority, if elected, will be cutting government spending. He will not support any increases in the debt-ceiling, nor any "emergency" supplemental spending, unless it is really for an emergency.
  • On foreign policy, Barr believes in "robust relations" with countries around the world, which includes exchanging political ideas to spread freedom and economic ideas to promote free-trade. Barr believes in a strong military, "but for defense, not for offense", and in maintaining the technological edge that the United States has developed. He would scale back American military commitments in places like South Korea, Japan, and Germany, and dramatically cut back foreign aid. He has "no use at all for the United Nations", though he is not opposed, in principle, to some American participation in multilateral institutions, in bodies that have narrow and well-defined goals.
  • With regards to immigration, Barr feels that the biggest flaw in the existing system is that our federal bureaucracies give second-class treatment to people who are trying to immigrate here legally, delaying their processing sometimes for years for no other reason than bureaucratic inertia; Barr would change that, and make lawful immigration much easier. Anyone discovered in the United States illegally would have to go to "the back of the line" and then wait for some penalty period before being able to re-enter the country legally.
Barr also discussed his problems with the new FISA reform, and his feeling that allowing warrantless surveillance of electronic communications when one party is outside of the United States is too broad an expansion of government power. For me personally, this is a deal-breaker. However, given the totality of Congressman Barr's views, this is clearly an objection to a specific program, and not a manifestation of a broader "if we conduct intelligence operations in other countries, they might get mad at us" mentality that sometimes infects contemporary libertarian thinking. Refreshingly for a high-profile libertarian, Congressman Barr seems to understand that most other foreign governments aren't as keen on liberty as the people of the United States are, and that the United States needs to take reasonable steps to protect itself from foreign dictatorial powers including, in the long term, bringing them about to our broader views of liberty.

July 28, 2008

Trying Out a Public Hearing

Justin Katz

With continuing interest in a visible rift in Tiverton politics, I'm at the public hearing at the high school at which the town council will decide which suggested change to the town financial meeting will appear on the next ballot. The current discussion is whether the town council has the authority to take the charter review commission's suggestions (months in the making) as little more than a suggestion.

Not surprisingly the council's lawyer says "yes," so Council President Louise Durfee has moved on without discussion to discuss the process of the meeting.

ADDENDUM (7:21 p.m.):

Pretty tame so far. The con arguments have most notably highlighted the degree to which the charter commission's proposal creates opportunities for litigation.

As for the temper, I imagine it will have much to do with the way in which tonight's process is manipulated. The stages strike me as inappropriate: public comment, official discussion, vote. To my experience, the audience doesn't really know what to say until the officials start to state their opinions.

ADDENDUM (7:41 p.m.)

Huh. The charter review commission president just submitted my live blogging of the financial town meeting into the record. No "Anchor Rising" plug, though.

ADDENDUM (7:56 p.m.):

Interesting proposal: hold a vote on the tax increase (or decrease) before the budget is even formulated.

ADDENDUM (8:33 p.m.)

I hate to speak at these things. For some reason, I get much more anxious than I ever did with musical or theatrical performances or even offering extemporaneous political opinion to much larger audiences than the 60 or so people here.

Basically, I pointed out that concerns about the divisive rift encouraged by the financial town meeting would only be exacerbated were the process to move further from direct democracy, toward a legislature-only process.

I also noted the talk, in this process, that the voting booth and the budget meetings are the people's opportunities to affect the budget process. Well, the review committee held meetings for months, and that was the opportunity for town officials to express their concerns and make suggestions with respect to its proposal.

ADDENDUM (8:51 p.m.):

Moving toward "official" conversation, VP Don Bollin suggested that the commission's proposal should be included, by virtue of the effort and the process. Presumptive state representative (because of a lack of competition) Jay Edwards said that the proposal is so flawed that he can't let voters decide. Councilmember Medeiros agreed. Mrs. Arruda, too.

Hannibal Costa noted that, following the last financial town meeting sparked 16 bids for town council (as opposed to the usual 8). He suggested that the commission's proposal be used as a template for future changes, but that Medeiros's council-only method (with a referrendal undo) as well as Arruda's date-chainging proposal go on the ballot.

President Louise Durfee noted the legal flaws of the commission's proposal and suggested that allowing the people such power to affect the budget would shirk the town's obligation to keep its services going.

But isn't that the point? Can't we force the town to pick from among its services and benefits?

ProJo Watch

Marc Comtois

As always, Ian Donnis has his finger on the pulse of what's going on at the Journal. Working off of his initial story about ProJo parent Belo Corp cutting around 500 jobs throughout the company, Ian also found out that ProJo will cut around 50 jobs or seek buyouts. He's talked to some veterans over on Fountain Street to get their thoughts:

A source indicates that Kathy Gregg, the Journal's longtime State House bureau chief, will not consider the buyout.

Metro columnist Bob Kerr, 63, says that he'd like to work indefinitely, but that he will feel compelled to consider the buyout. "I don't want to have to be told, 'If you stay, then some promising young reporter has to go,' " Kerr says. "I hope it doesn't come to that yet."

Political reporter Scott MacKay says, "You've got to think about it given the state of the industry. It's something a lot of veteran reporters are going to have to think seriously about."

Medical reporter Felice Freyer says she can't possibly even consider it, because she's can't afford it, and that a lot of people who might otherwise be logical choices to take the buyout won't do so, because "people don't feel like there are other opportunities out there for them."

Political columnist M. Charles Bakst, who had previously been thinking about retiring next year, says of the buyout, "I am definitely considering it."

Those are some substantial names.

Eileen Slocum Passes Away

Marc Comtois

ProJo's 7 to 7 reports that "Grande Dame" of the RIGOP Eileen Slocum has passed away:

Eileen Slocum, grande dame of Newport society and a nationally known Republican Party advocate and fundraiser, died yesterday at Newport Hospital, according to her son. She was 92.

Slocum, who hosted fundraisers in her Bellevue Avenue mansion and opened her gardens, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, to the public, was a doyenne of both Newport social life and the National Republican Party.

"I think she was a great supporter of Rhode Island," her son, Jerry Slocum said. "And a great promoter of Rhode Island."

Slocum worked for the GOP on many different levels, from presiding over the Newport Women's Republican Club to being the the party's national committeewoman until her resignation earlier this summer.

She regularly attended the Republican National Convention.

And even in her 93rd year, he said, "she had been planning earlier this year ... looking forward to going to Minnesota."


Spinning Off Pieces of the Surge

Justin Katz

Statements such as this suggest that Obama (probably among many Democrats and some Republicans) either doesn't think comprehensively when it comes to strategy or is anxious to diminish America's importance as an agent for change:

... the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," contended that the decline was brought about not just by the U.S. troop increase, but also by a combination of factors, including Iraqi Sunnis' decision to turn against al-Qaida.

The Sunnis' turn was hardly independent of a confidence that American troops were there in force (and for the duration) for assistance.

Blogging into Office

Justin Katz

I just noticed that Jonathan Pincince has translated his experience with the Rhode Island Law Journal blog to his campaign for school committee in South Kingstown. As an intellectual matter, I'm not sure I buy his reasoning for running as an Independent, but from what I've read of his over the past couple of years, I'm sure the tag applies.

July 27, 2008

Fair Is Fair

Justin Katz

Wholly with the intention of making light of an increasingly threatening strain in the opposition's demeanor, I offer the following for your chuckling amusement. The sad thing is that the picture isn't doctored. The redeeming thing is that it's thirteen years old. (Fortunately, the hairstyle simply wasn't possible in Rhode Island's Ocean State atmosphere.)

(The Photoshop bonus challenge would be to blend the picture with the source of this post's title, which dates me even more than the picture.)

Friday Night on Sunday

Justin Katz

I've been remiss in not noting that readers who missed Andrew's appearance on Matt Allen's Violent Round Table can download the hour here.

Checking in on Jobs

Justin Katz

Just wanted to note my observation that the Providence Journal Sunday help-wanted section is now up to two-and-a-half pages. Gone are the days when the job seeker would be dizzy after scanning column upon column of inapplicable jobs.

The New Refrain That We've Heard So Many Times

Justin Katz

Conservatives don't seem to be "attacking" Obama so much as expressing a lack of surprise at his hollow recitation of trigger phrases. Consider the ending to a piece by Andrew Ferguson:

To pump a little vigor into his limp sentiments, Obama attached them to a hypnotic refrain. "This is the moment," he said in Berlin, repeatedly. But where's the urgency come from? What's the rush? In the long train of platitudes he suggested no discrete, definable policy that needed to be adopted urgently, beyond his call to unity, which isn't a policy but an aspiration. You get the idea that the urgency doesn't arise from an assessment of reality but from a rhetorical need. He's got to keep the folks on their toes somehow.

Obama couldn't come to Berlin and deliver a speech full of portent, as Reagan and Kennedy did before him, and as his publicists suggested he might. For all the talk about this being our time and us being the people, Obama shows no sign of really believing we live in portentous times. This is surely part of his appeal. It's not surprising that when he came to Berlin and said nothing at all, none of his admirers seemed disappointed. After eight years of overheated history, nothing comes as a relief.

For his part, Jeff Jacoby offers a notable contrast:

... Obama seemed to go out of his way not to say plainly that what saved Berlin in that dark time was America's military might. Save for a solitary reference to "the first American plane," he never described one of the greatest American operations of the postwar period as an American operation at all. He spoke only of "the airlift," "the planes," "those pilots." Perhaps their American identity wasn't something he cared to stress amid all his "people of the world" salutations and talk of "global citizenship."

"People of the world," Obama declaimed, "look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one." But the world didn't stand as one during the Cold War; it was riven by an Iron Curtain. For more than four decades, America and the West confronted an implacable enemy on the other side of that divide. What finally defeated that enemy and ended the Cold War was not harmony and goodwill, but American strength and resolve.

Back to Ferguson:

The thing about wars, even cold ones, is that the world doesn't stand as one; that's why there's a war. And in the Cold War the Soviet side was as united as the West; more so, probably. Left out of Obama's history was any mention of the ferocious demonstrations against the United States in the streets of Paris and West Berlin during the 1960s and 1980s, when American presidents were routinely depicted as priapic cowboys and psychopaths. Probably a fair number of the older members of Obama's audience had been hoisting those banners themselves 25 years ago.

Obama's fellow travelers have been on the wrong side when American confidence and fortitude have been required. Their intellectual forerunners decried actions that today they must embrace, however indirectly. Not through the toil of leftists did the Berlin Wall fall. And the empty echo to be heard in his representation of history and its lessons for the present and future suggest that a President Obama would not make those sorts of courageous decisions by which great men carve a path through history toward freedom.

July 26, 2008

Lessons to Be Drawn

Justin Katz

In response to Mary Eberstadt's thought-provoking piece about the accurate prognostications of Humanae Vitae, Todd Zywicki notes (and Glenn Reynolds seconds) the possibility of a cost-benefit analysis with respect to the sexual revolution. It's difficult to draw a boundary around the topic; to put it in the form of a question that I posed a few years ago: "Would a married couple requesting the pill for the first time [in the 1960s] have believed anybody loony enough to suggest that gay marriage — let alone cloning — would be the result?"

If we seek common ground beyond all of those sticky issues, though, we might salvage a common point from among the rancor. Specifically, we might note that a different procedural course of implementing the sexual revolution might have preserved that which has been lost as "unintended consequences," while allowing exploration of the benefits of change. Had the Supreme Court not made contraception a positive right, with Griswold v. Connecticut, perhaps the people of the United States would have pursued their federalist experimentation in the way that is only possible when there are actually territories to be gained and lost. Thus would our national community culture have swirled around between drastically different sets of priorities, bringing what was common to the fore.

That is to say that we might accurately be able to include among the "unintended consequences" of the sexual revolution the undermining of a political philosophy that allowed the blending of subcultures to the benefit, ultimately, of all.

We Can Change What We Believe In

Justin Katz

Catholic blogger Mark Shea has been keeping an eye on the messiahfication of Barack Obama, and I have to admit that there's something foreboding about the fanaticism. The feel is not unlike that sparked by a piece, years back, reporting that Pat Buchanan's young staffers referred to him reverently as The Candidate.

Enthusiasm for a particular candidate can be a great thing, if he or she merits the dedication, but we humans have a tendency to forget that our leaders rank among us.


For the record, this photo of Obama is probably Photoshopped to include the cigarette, but my point wasn't an anti-smoking one, merely a non-celestial being one. Referring to the photos on Mark Shea's post, I'd suggest a high likelihood that pictures of Obama glowing or floating among clouds are manipulated, as well.

After a World Wide Search

Monique Chartier

... once again, an open position in the Rhode Island court system goes to someone connected to the General Assembly.

An assistant legal counsel to the Senate majority leader has been chosen for a $128,650-a-year job as a Family Court magistrate.

Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah Jr. last week selected Colleen M. Hastings and Armando O. Monaco II for a pair of Family Court magistrate jobs, which carry 10-year terms. The appointments are now subject to Senate confirmation.

Hastings has been assistant legal counsel to Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, since 2006, and she has been president and owner of a Newport law firm called the Family Law Center of Rhode Island since 1993.

The ProJo's Edward Fitzpatrick reviews the "precedents".

Other recent court appointees have had ties to the General Assembly leadership.

For example, Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. Williams last month chose R. David Cruise, chief of staff to Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano, D-North Providence, to be a Traffic Tribunal magistrate. Last year, Williams chose William R. Guglietta, chief legal counsel to House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, to be the Traffic Tribunal’s chief magistrate. And Governor Carcieri last year chose Montalbano’s chief legal counsel, William E. Carnes Jr., to be a Superior Court judge.

On another front, Christine Lopes, Executive Director of Common Cause of Rhode Island, points to the abridged procedure whereby magistrates are selected.

[She] said the latest magistrate appointments provide additional examples of why the government watchdog group believes that magistrates should go through the same merit-selection process that applies to state judges. That process, which was approved by voters in a 1994 state constitutional amendment, involves public hearings and screening by the Judicial Nominating Commission.

“In Family Court, they have expanded the duties of magistrates to reflect those of judges,” Lopes said. “They are a clear example of magistrates performing the functions of judges, and they should be appointed by the public process.”

Lopes said candidates such as Hastings might be the most highly qualified applicants for a job. But, she said, “Their connection to political leadership and the way they were appointed continues to raise flags. I don’t know these people. They might be great legal minds, and they might do great things in the courts. But when they are appointed this way, it clouds the issue.”

In a Providence Journal OpEd last October, Attorney Keven [edit; spelling corrected] McKenna also expressed reservations about this method.

CHIEF JUSTICE Frank Williams’s Oct. 11 [2007] “appointment” of William R. Guglietta, chief legal counsel to Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox (D.-Providence), to the position of chief magistrate of the state Traffic Tribunal was an impeachable act, a violation of the constitutional principle of separation of powers, and a violation of the chief justice’s oath to enforce the state constitution.

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

The position of chief magistrate is such a “principal officer.” It has not only the same powers as a judge, but also the power to appoint other Traffic Tribunal magistrates within the judicial branch. Magistrates themselves are also principal officers of the state, subject to appointment by the governor.

Pursuant to the will of the electors expressed in the 1994 merit-selection constitutional amendment, judges are to be appointed by the governor, after recommendation by the Judicial Nominating Commission, with the subsequent approval of the Senate. A judge is an officer who enters judgments. Magistrates enter judgments. Magistrates must be appointed by the governor.

July 25, 2008


Justin Katz

I gotta say (as I live-blog Matt Allen's Violent Round Table [in a sense]) that Andrew is really good at hitting the pith of the conservative perspective in a discussion.

It's interesting how we all approach discussions differently, with different strengths coming into play given the opposition, the topic, and even the specific point made. I suppose that's how very different people can all come to think each other brilliant.


During the Lightning Round call-in, Joe Bernstein got on the radio with an immigration question. I love that he introduced himself as "Joe from Anchor Rising."

We've had some heated debate about who is and who is not an "Anchor Rising blogger," but we hope to develop a community feel, even as we resist efforts to peg us officially with commenters' statements.

I guess the proof is in the fact that I knew exactly who "Joe from Anchor Rising" was.

Andrew on "Violent" Tonight

Marc Comtois

Andrew will be in-studio for Matt Allen's Violent Roundtable tonight from 8:00 to 9:00. So watch Sox/Yanks, turn down the volume (or click on the CC) and tune in at 630 AM, 99.7 FM, or online for the action. Multi-tasking!

Governor Carcieri: "There will be no resumption of negotiations with Council 94"

Monique Chartier

The Governor's office released this statement about an hour ago.

"There will be no resumption of negotiations with Council 94," said Governor Carcieri. "My administration spent six months and hundreds of hours negotiating the terms of this agreement with representatives of Council 94. Those representatives agreed to the terms that were finally negotiated. There were numerous concessions from the state, including not going forward with the layoff of hundreds of employees and guaranteed wage increases of 8.5% over the four year contract."

"The results of this vote can lead me to only one or two conclusions. Either the representatives of Council 94 who were part of this agreement have not been negotiating in good faith, or that there is an internal power struggle between the union heads within Council 94 that undercut the vote. In either case, there is no basis for further discussions. Two-thirds of the other state employee unions have ratified the agreement, including the United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 5019, which voted to ratify the agreement last night. They do appreciate the severe financial pressure the state faces, and have chosen to be a part of the solution."

"The state's financial status is not improving. In fact, there are signs that the national economic slow down, with high energy prices, may prolong the weak economy in Rhode Island. As Governor, I am obligated by law to balance our state's budget and will do so."

"I am carefully reviewing our options with my legal and administrative staff. I intend to announce a course of action next week that will be in the best interest of our state and all its citizens."


Today's Providence Journal has more details, including how many other public employee unions have and have not signed on to this contract.

Council 94 rejected the same deal that went to 13 smaller unions that make up the other two-thirds of the state’s work force. At least seven of the independent unions have voted to accept the four-year contract, while three have voted it down. The rest will vote in the coming days.

One puzzling item (not referenced in the article) is the assertion yesterday by Council 94 leadership that no negotiations took place between the state and the union prior to their bringing this contract to their members. If that's the case, what exactly took place in the thirty meetings between Council 94 leadership and the administration?


Marc Comtois

Many in the press have recognized that the surge in Iraq has worked. USA Today (no right-wing paper), for instance:

Why then can't Obama bring himself to acknowledge the surge worked better than he and other skeptics, including this page, thought it would? What does that stubbornness say about the kind of president he'd be?

In recent comments, the Democratic presidential candidate has grudgingly conceded that the troops helped lessen the violence, but he has insisted that the surge was a dubious policy because it allowed the situation in Afghanistan to deteriorate and failed to produce political breakthroughs in Iraq. Even knowing the outcome, he told CBS News Tuesday, he still wouldn't have supported the idea.

That's hard to fathom. Even if you believe that the invasion of Iraq was a grievous error — and it was — the U.S. should still make every effort to leave behind a stable situation. Obama seems stuck in the first part of that thought process, repeatedly proclaiming that he was right to oppose the war and disparaging worthwhile efforts to fix the mess it created. Hence, his dismissal of the surge as "a tactical victory imposed upon a huge strategic blunder."

The great irony, of course, is that the success of the surge has made Obama's plan to withdraw combat troops in 16 months far more plausible than when he proposed it. Another irony is that while Obama downplays the effectiveness of the surge in Iraq, he is urging a similar tactic now in Afghanistan.

There's More to Life...

Marc Comtois

Yes, politics, wonkery, ideology are part of the AR raison d'etre, but Peter Robinson lends some nice perspective:

Opening my in box just now for the first time in some 30 hours, I found several emails asking if I’d like to comment on Barack Obama’s speech this afternoon. I missed it. When the senator rose in Berlin, I was in Brunswick, Maine, joining my oldest son and daughter on a tour of Bowdoin. A compact, exquisite campus dominated by several elegantly simple brick halls from the late eighteenth century and a series of imposing stone structures from the nineteenth. Oaks on the central green and dark, aromatic pines on the edges of the campus. Lowering skies. Gusting sea breezes. Tablets commemorating Hawthorne and Longfellow, and a fine bronze statue of Joshua Chamberlain, the professor who commanded the 20th Maine at Gettysburg, saving Little Round Top—and the Union. And, through an open window somewhere, the sounds of a violinist practicing for the summer music festival.

As Jeff Hart once remarked, life consists of more, thank God, than politics.

I'm sure this resonated with me because I'm a Maniac myself and spent many-a day on the "campii" of various small Maine colleges attending sports camps (or meetings) of one sort or another while growing up. Of course, as a kid focused on training for a sport, I didn't appreciate the aesthetics then as much as I do now. Politics has its place, but we should be wary of having our lives swing into orbit around a political sun.

Telling Returns

Justin Katz

Based on data that I posted back in February, I hypothesized in April that various financial and demographic trends in Rhode Island suggested that working and middle class families were selling their homes and leaving the state. Although the more demographically focused Census data won't be updated for another month, the IRS has moved its research forward a year with some interesting results that bear directly on public policy. The good news, according to IRS taxpayer migration data, is that Rhode Island only lost $162 million in adjusted gross income after tax year 2006:

Of course, the net loss of taxpayers (counted per their tax returns) was still in the thousands, at 3,733. Within those numbers is a net loss of 561 taxpayers to counties in Massachusetts and Connecticut that abut Rhode Island, taking with them an aggregate $23.6 million in AGI. As I've pointed out before, such folks have switched government regimes while remaining near to friends, family, and work, which smells of taxpayer flight. That, however, is where something interesting emerges. Note that the lost AGI was significantly less on tax returns filed in 2007 than in 2006 and that the average income of immigrants to the state was slightly higher than that of emigrants for the first time in the range under inspection:

The same was true of immigrants and emigrants overall (to and from anywhere), who had average AGIs of $56,940 and $54,907, respectively, compared with $46,168 and $48,075 during the prior period. This result obtained despite the fact that the number of tax returns with income under $50,000 increased for the first time in years:

The reason comes into view if we zoom in on the over-$50,000 range:

In summary, from tax year 2005 to tax year 2006, Rhode Island imported 6,976 "households" with income under $50,000, lost 32 with $50,000-74,999, and gained 1,757 with $75,000-99,999, 4,794 with $100,000-199,999, and 1,011 with $200,000+. Among those totals are 24,817 returns filed with the federal government from new hometowns outside of Rhode Island. It could be that the increase in the upper bounds came from middle-classers who'd sold their houses and moved out of state, but the fact that the average income of incomers was higher suggests that something different occurred.

One might surmise, that is, that those "tax cuts for the rich" that URI professor Donald Tufts recently decried in the business section of the Providence Journal are doing precisely what they were meant to do: draw families with disposable income to the state (and keep them from leaving). And lest those of opposing ideology whip out numbers making the cost appear too high for the benefit, herewith the state taxes claimed on the tax returns:

Despite decreasing taxes at the higher end, the total taxes paid are higher, and at least some of the effect is attributable to increased numbers of taxpayers. The only complaint that lefties can possibly have with such trends is that our increasingly progressive tax structure isn't moving quickly enough.

Although making the disclaimer that this data obviously lags the current date, I'd suggest that the next steps for Rhode Island are to:

  1. Expand the strategy that appears to have worked with upper income households to target those in the middle income ranges.
  2. Make spending money in Rhode Island — as commerce and business — sufficiently attractive that the benefit from the latent financial resource of our growing wealthy class is maximized.

July 24, 2008

Council 94: If We Ignore It, It'll Go Away

Marc Comtois

From 7to7:

The largest state employees union has overwhelmingly rejected a four-year deal brokered by its own leaders and the Carcieri administration, by a vote of 2,870 to 196.

Council 94, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, announced the election result this afternoon, after tabulating the votes of its 24 member local unions this afternoon in the basement of its Charles Street headquarters. Union leaders counted the ballots -- there were more than 3,000 -- by hand.

"Our membership has spoken by voting, and they have rejected the proposed settlement with the state," Council 94 President J. Michael Downey said in a written statement. "Council 94's membership strongly believes that the proposed settlement would hurt their economic/job security and their families. There simply were not enough positive aspects of the proposed settlement to outweigh the harsh economic hits which were spread out over four years."

Among the highlights of the master agreement were: pay raises of zero, 2.5 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent during each of the next four years; a one-day pay reduction in the current year that employees can recoup as a paid leave day; and escalating increases in the percentage of premium the employees will be required to pay for their health insurance....

It's unclear what will happen to Council 94 and those independent unions who rejected the deal, given that the Carcieri administration issued letters late last month terminating the unions' most recent conracts, which expired July 1.

The governor's chief legal counsel, Kernan F. King, said earlier today that the Carcieri administration could force changes on those unions. "The state has some options that it can take unilaterally, which would be interesting," he said.

Using Government-Run Healthcare to End Age Inequality

Carroll Andrew Morse

William Saletan of Slate Magazine's Human Nature Blog says one of the purposes of government run health care system should be to reduce age inequality. And he's not just talking about making people with shorter lives live longer (h/t Mona Charen)…

Isn't health, like wealth, an unequally distributed asset? Isn't it, in fact, the ultimate asset? And if that's the case, should we means-test people on Medicare not just for wealth, but for age?

Actually, means testing is the wrong term. Age isn't really a means; it's more like an end. So let's call it an ends test. The theory is that just as some people have enough money, others have had enough time.

If you make it to 100 and can fund your own surgery, that's terrific. But Medicare should focus its resources on people who haven't been as lucky as you. Living to 99 is no tragedy. It's a blessing.

Remember, if you ever get stuck in a Medicare-for-all or other fully socialized type of healthcare system, the people who have ultimate control over your healthcare access could end up being people like William Saletan, who believe that it is a function of government to decide how much life is too much.

One of the reasons I chose healthcare as the topic for Anchor Rising's most recent appearance on the Matt Allen Show is that regular people need to start thinking about these kinds of arguments right now, as there is a very high probability that the next President of the United States is going to put some kind of major healthcare before Congress, and people need to be aware of how much "if there are fewer people living shorter lives, the people who are left will be better off"-type thinking is influencing American policy makers -- and whether that thinking needs to be vigorously challenged.

Finally, it is my sincere hope that Saletan's item makes a few people on the left ponder, even if just for a few moments, whether it is a good idea to always uncritically accept "ending inequality" as a legitimate goal for government policy.

Are There Valid Criticisms To Be Made of Sanctuary and Amnesty Policies?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over at RI Future yesterday, Matt Jerzyk wrote…

When the immigration debate becomes about “them” and the “them” is largely determined by race and ethnicity, then racism is a clear component of the debate.
But how about the definition of "them" in other areas of public debate? In a post from just two days earlier, Paul Bovenzi is certainly more than comfortable with defining his view of "them" largely in terms of race…
Last I checked, the White, Conservative, Male still had a firm (and disproportionate) grasp on the power and wealth in this country, so why is he so terribly unhappy?

One more thing about the White, Conservative Male - he is also a top notch complainer!

So if you buy into Mr. Jerzyk's premise, unless a highly suspect double standard is to be applied, it seems that racism has to be considered a "clear component" of Mr. Bovenzi's argument too.


Look, what's really happening here is that the special interest groups who favor sanctuary and amnesty with respect to illegal immigration have hit a wall in persuading the general public that ignoring immigration laws is sound public policy. Unable to persuade, they've taken to trying to de-legitimize criticism of their policy positions, in the hopes that those who disagree with them can be bullied into silence.

Healthcare on the Radio

Justin Katz

Andrew brought the healthcare conversation to the Matt Allen Show, last night; stream the discussion by clicking here or download it.

July 23, 2008

Confront Healthcare Inflation or Die: A Broad View of Healthcare Reform

Carroll Andrew Morse

This past Sunday, the Projo ran a contrarian Froma Harrop column, where she questioned the conventional healthcare reform wisdom that a focus on preventative care will lower costs in the long run…

The word “prevention” has a nice ring in any health-care discussion. Thus, many politicians argue that programs to stop smoking, improve diets and otherwise promote wholesome living save money in the long run. A healthier population at less cost. Sounds like a win-win situation.

Unfortunately, that formulation is a pleasant fantasy…

Let’s put it bluntly: Longer lives cost money. Those who make it to 90 thanks to exercise and six daily servings of vegetables are more likely to suffer the expensive ravages of old age. Everyone dies of something. So he who avoids a fatal heart attack at 70 is more at risk of cancer at 80. Those extra 10 years can mean extra CT scans, hip replacements and physical therapy, even for those in relative good health.

There is fodder for many important discussions here, but for now, I want to focus on just one aspect -- the costs of those extra CT scans.

Later in her op-ed, Harrop makes reference to the exorbitant rate of medical inflation…

Rapidly rising prices for health-care also add to the expense of moving big-ticket medical procedures into later years, explains [Arthur Garson Jr., provost at the University of Virginia Medical School]. “In today’s world, where the rate of medical-care inflation is twice the rate of regular inflation, anything done 10 years from now is, in real dollars, 25 percent more expensive.”

There are two ways to deal with that problem, according to Garson. Get medical costs down, and “keep people as healthy as possible as long as possible so that they don’t spend as much money being sick.”

But why should hyper-inflation in healthcare prices, for decades at a time, be accepted as some unalterable force of nature? As technologies mature, why shouldn't the costs of producing and using medical hardware come down in exactly the same way that hardware costs in other economic sectors do; for example, think of cell phones or printers, which were once expensive luxury items, but are now affordable to nearly everyone. And then consider the CT-scans. A medical facility that has recently purchased CT equipment should be able to charge a lower price to each patient while paying off the costs of the equipment off just as quickly if they can treat 100 more of Froma Harrop's longer-living people per year than they would have if people were dying off more quickly. Why aren't these kinds of effects bringing the rate of healthcare inflation down to reasonable levels?

It is not possible to improve the combination of healthcare quality and access in the U.S. without grappling with the economic irrationality of continuing, runaway medical inflation. If policy makers involved in healthcare reform ignore the inflation question, declaring it to be some kind of iron law of modern society, the "best" they are going to be able to come up with is -- by definition -- a permanent regimen of forcing people to pay more for less, aka a program of rationing.

Of course, to do the right and effective thing, healthcare policy makers are going to have to confront the problems that have been created by poorly thought out government interference with individual medical choices. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt wrote about a particularly egregious example earlier this month in the Wall Street Journal

For years, the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general have been saying Medicare is paying too much for Durable Medical Equipment (DME). Just compare what Medicare pays to the prices of equipment for sale on the Internet.

DME prices are based on a fee-schedule established by law in the 1980s and subsequently updated for inflation. But the fee-schedules weren't based on competitively determined market prices. It is a price-fixing program, and the equipment suppliers like it because they get overpaid and don't have to compete.

An oxygen concentrator, for example, is a device that delivers oxygen through a tube to patients, and it costs about $600 on the open market. Medicare beneficiaries typically rent the machines. The rental period, set by statute, is up to 36 months. The monthly rental payment, also set by statute, is $198.40. So renting an oxygen concentrator for 36 months costs $7,142.

As with most items and services in Medicare Part B, beneficiaries pay 20% of the costs, and Medicare pays the remaining 80%. The government, therefore, pays $5,714 – almost 10 times the free-market price of purchasing a concentrator outright. The patient pays $1,428 – more than twice the free-market price of purchase. Even allowing for the costs of setting up equipment, training and fitting the beneficiary, and other things, the rental fee is way out of line.

Do you think this is the only case where the cost of medical hardware has been grossly inflated by strange government priorities, or just the worst?


Marc Comtois

obamagerman.jpgThe Obama campaign's worldwide campaign--er, fact-finding--tour continues. (h/t)

For days, campaign advisers have attempted to present the trip as a listening tour with key leaders who Obama said he expects to forge relationships with for years to come. But the extent of the stagecraft and planning makes it hard to ignore that the campaign, long intent on positioning Obama as commander-in-chief material, has its eye on a much broader audience.

Yet, a campaign aide at the briefing said the Berlin speech “is not for campaign purposes.”

“I don’t think the fact that large numbers of people gather to hear a speech makes it a campaign speech,” the aide said. “The substance of what he addresses is what’s important. And what he is addressing has nothing to do with campaigns. It has to do with his view of where we are today in the world.”

Aides suggested the speech would not target Republican John McCain, but might draw contrasts with President Bush’s policies.

When pressed by reporters, aides could not rule out that the campaign might use a film crew to shoot footage for an ad.

Yup, that poster certainly doesn't seem campaign-ish. It's not like there is any overt campaign iconography included in the poster, or anything.

“It is not going to be a political speech,” said a senior foreign policy adviser, who spoke to reporters on background. “When the president of the United States goes and gives a speech, it is not a political speech or a political rally.

“But he is not president of the United States,” a reporter reminded the adviser.

Minor technicality. Just ask the German press.
“The German press, looking from Berlin, behaves as if the election of Obama is a foregone conclusion,” said Josef Joffe, publisher-editor of Die Zeit, a weekly German newspaper. “He’s being celebrated like a victorious Roman general who comes back from the conquest of Gaul or something.”

ProJo Offers Clarity on "Immigration"

Marc Comtois

Golf clap to the ProJo for providing some clarity on the terminology games being played with the word "immigration" (emphasis mine):

[F]ew Americans oppose immigration or immigrants per se. After all, every citizen is an immigrant or a descendent of one (Native Americans, by the way, came from Siberia) and is well aware of that fact. But those who favor illegal immigration like to drop the word “illegal” and say that those who want to enforce the laws on the books hate immigrants. This is very intellectually dishonest.

Just because someone favors an orderly, predictable and transparent immigration system instead of the present near-chaos and corruption doesn’t mean that that person is a xenophobe. There are, sad to say, plenty of bigots around. But most Americans who favor enforcement of the immigration laws on the books are not. They just realize that for a country to lose control over who comes into it is dangerous.

That’s why most countries, including Latin American ones, enforce their immigration laws far more zealously than does the United States its own.

The rest of the editorial offers sound observations, too.

Re: Signs of the Apocalypse

Carroll Andrew Morse

Daniel Barbarisi has a story in today's Projo on the strip clubs vs. the Puerto Rican Cultural Festival. Apparently, there's much more to this story; it is but a single battle in Providence's larger waterfront development war…

The waterfront flare-up between developer Patrick T. Conley and businesses on Allens Avenue is starting to burn out of control and has now drawn the businesses and the strip clubs on the avenue into a fight that threatens to cancel the Puerto Rican Cultural Festival planned for this weekend.

Conley and the waterfront businesses, known as the Working Waterfront Alliance, have been battling for years over the future of the industrial strip.

In 2006, Conley opened Providence Piers, a mill housing artists’ studios, function space, and an art gallery, in between Sprague Energy and Promet Marine Services, a shipyard. He wants to see the zoning changed in the area to allow for more than just industrial use. He had originally proposed condominiums, but appears to have altered that proposal to suggest that some sort of commercial use might be more appropriate.

In the interim, Conley has been holding carnivals, concerts and festivals at a vacant lot at his Providence Piers site since last summer, although they are prohibited by the area’s zoning....

At a Zoning Board hearing last night on whether Conley should get his variances, the festival’s timing shone a light on the fact that the site is not zoned properly. And when festival organizers went to get their permits Monday, they were shocked to discover that there was serious opposition to the event, and learned that they would have to wait for their permits and liquor license until Conley’s zoning variance was dealt with.

Among the opponents at a liquor license hearing Monday were lawyer David Tapalian, who acts as the agent for the Allens Avenue adult business Cheaters, which is owned by his father, Charles. Also in opposition were representatives of some of the Allens Avenue industrial businesses, such as Promet, Sprague, and Narragansett Improvement Company, an asphalt manufacturer.

Also, the cultural festival organizers have circulated a second press release (which still doesn't mention the broader context), containing several quotes from Charles Tapalian where he says he never had any intention to stop the 2008 festival from occurring…
“I was not trying to stop the festival.” “My feeling is that the Puerto Rican community has worked too hard to get this event together for the city to just pull the plug on them,” Tapalian went on. “I am on record at the previous hearing and have said that they SHOULD have the festival, particularly due to this late date. What I don’t want to see is anyone believing that we should allow a ‘carte blanche’ license for events at Providence Piers in the future without proper zoning and due to the potentially dangerous cyanide contamination.”

”I can understand that in the sudden shock of the city taking this to a hearing that they misunderstood my intentions, but honestly I think the festival should go forward. I’ll be there tonight and I will make it known again that I believe the festival should go on,” he said.

Mayor Menard's Strange Accusation

Monique Chartier

Twenty minutes ago on the John DePetro Show, Mayor Susan Menard repeated her belief that

This would not happen in South County or Barrington or East Greenwich."

"This" refers to the on-again off-again closure for lack of funding of the World War II Memorial Park in Woonsocket. It is difficult to reconcile her charge of "discrimination" by the state against the City of Woonsocket with the revenue section of the city's budget; more specifically, that 75% supplied by the State of Rhode Island.

If discrimination were the goal, wouldn't it have been far more effective, not to mention public relations savvy, for the state to have kept the multimillions in aid all these years for boring, invisible stuff like schools and municipal operations and popped up in the bright spotlight at just the right moment with $200,000 for Social Ocean?

July 22, 2008

Waiting for the Lightning Flash

Justin Katz

Personal stress and strain is always a factor, but I've had a vague sense that dialog is becoming more difficult and the tone of political/ideological debate is becoming more vicious of late. The disclaimer, here, is that I remain deliberately naive; heck, I've been surprised to gather first-hand experience of the extent to which the day-to-day activities of my industry are governed by dishonesty.

An all-too-predictable post by an unsurprising Rhode Island blogger about a certain columnist using his regular space to explore something on his mind other than politics and the comments to that post solidify the impression. (Normally I'd link to the thing regardless, but either you've already seen it, will come across it and recognize it, or really would derive no value from reading it.)

Yeah, I know, bring on the comments about my companionship with vitriol. Accuse me of hypocrisy with respect to honesty. Rant all you want. And in doing so, confirm that, to the extent that national politics bear on the mood, this season will end with a surge of either bitter vexation or haughty triumphalism. (This video is what seems always to come to mind in such circumstances, especially after minute 2:00.)

Rasmussen: Presidential Race Tightens

Marc Comtois

We haven't done a lot of Presidential poll tracking around here, mostly because of the "meh" factor we feel for the two candidates, I suppose. But in case you're wondering, it looks like Obama and McCain are neck and neck.

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows Barack Obama attracting 43% of the vote while John McCain earns 42%. When "leaners" are included, it’s Obama 46% and McCain 46%.... McCain is viewed favorably by 57% of voters, Obama by 55%.
Just thought I'd bring it to your attention since I couldn't find this info on any of the other local blogs that devote a lot of time to Obama and the like. 'Course, they seem to never miss the chance to post the Obama-in-a-landslide type poll numbers......

RE: Taxing Thoughts

Marc Comtois

Along with the chart that Andrew mentioned, the related WSJ piece included some observations worth mentioning. But first, earlier this month, Stephen Moore previewed the same IRS data used for the chart:

New data from the IRS will be out in a few weeks on who pays how much in taxes. My contacts at the Treasury Department tell me that for the first time in decades, and perhaps ever, the richest 1% of tax filers will have paid more than 40% of the income tax burden. The top 50% will account for 97% of all federal income taxes, while the bottom 50% will have paid just 3%.
And that richest 1% isn't comprised of a bunch of old money, Hamptons-dwelling WASPs. As today's WSJ piece explains, millionaires aren't just born, they are also self-made:
We also know from income mobility data that a very large percentage in the top 1% are "new rich," not inheritors of fortunes. There is rapid turnover in the ranks of the highest income earners, so much so that people who started in the top 1% of income in the 1980s and 1990s suffered the largest declines in earnings of any income group over the subsequent decade, according to Treasury Department studies of actual tax returns. It's hard to stay king of the hill in America for long.

The most amazing part of this story is the leap in the number of Americans who declared adjusted gross income of more than $1 million from 2003 to 2006. The ranks of U.S. millionaires nearly doubled to 354,000 from 181,000 in a mere three years after the tax cuts.

And, with more millionaires....
Taxes paid by millionaire households more than doubled to $274 billion in 2006 from $136 billion in 2003. No President has ever plied more money from the rich than George W. Bush did with his 2003 tax cuts.
Moore explained that we shouldn't be surprised by this:
Economist Glenn Hubbard of Columbia University has shown that in 1970, when the highest tax rate was 70%, the top 1% shouldered 16.7% of the income tax burden. Today the top tax rate is 35% and the same class of taxpayers pays a whopping 39% of the burden. The worst way to "soak the rich," Mr. Hubbard finds, is to raise tax rates.

Charles Bakst’s Illegal Immigration Paradox

Carroll Andrew Morse

Projo news columnist Charles Bakst suggests that supporters of Rhode Island Governor Donald Carceri should be troubled by the recent discovery that many illegal immigrants were employed by firms with state contracts…

Some taxpayers who admire [Governor Carcieri] on immigration must have been disappointed and puzzled by the possibility that so many illegal immigrants could be working in so many state agencies, some right under his nose.
…but, in the same column, wonders why anyone should care…
By the way, while I don’t urge people to come here illegally, why would the federal or state governments focus so much energy on these particular folks from Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil and Mexico?
So unless I’m missing something, Bakst is arguing that Carcieri should be embarrassed by the number of illegal immigrants working for state contractors, BUT shouldn’t be trying to do anything about it!

Does that make sense to you?

Taxing Thoughts

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Wall Street Journal published a chart yesterday breaking down IRS data from 2006 on federal-income taxes collected as a function of income level…


Given that 50% of the people are paying the taxes that support the other 50%, it's hard not to believe that there's something to science-fiction author and blogger Jerry Pournelle's recently expressed view of the nature of modern government

The purpose of modern government is to take money from the folks who save and pay their bills and live within their means, and use that to hire government workers; and to keep their power by using the money to buy votes from those who do not save and pay their bills and live within their means. And of course the money comes from those who work and save and pay their bills and live within their means -- who else will have any money for the government to take?

Signs of the Apocalypse, or There Are Some Things a Strip Club Just Won't Put Up With

Carroll Andrew Morse

From Anchor Rising's newly opened Bizarro-world bureau: Owners of Providence strip-clubs are worried that nearby cultural events will drag their neighborhood down.

Organizers of the Puerto Rican Cultural Festival scheduled for this weekend at Providence Piers are circulating a press-release claiming that a lawyer representing an Allens Avenue strip-club has formally objected to the festival, because of risks to public safety…

Opponents of the festival were represented by David C. Tapalian, son of H. Charles Tapalian who owns or controls neighboring sex oriented businesses like Cheaters and others through corporations like Spur Track Properties, a limited partnership that does not list any officers. David C. Tapalian is on record as the registered agent.

Tapalian alleged that public safety was their main concern, and shot-gunned objections ranging from dust as an environmental health issue and concern to insufficient Police and then blocked fire hydrants and parking. As each concern was addressed in turn, opponents moved on to the next, finally settling on limited parking as their prime concern.

The "merits" of the objection will be decided at a hearing scheduled for this evening.

July 21, 2008

Scott Prevails at Board of Elections. However, Status of Due Process in Rhode Island Still Unclear.

Carroll Andrew Morse

Democratic Party Chairman William Lynch has withdrawn his challenge to Jon Scott’s ballot certification as a candidate for Congress in Rhode Island’s First District. On Friday, candidate Scott was informed by the Board of Elections of the challenge to the Secretary of State's certification, but was not informed of any specific signatures under challenge, nor of any basis for the challenge at all. According to Scott, he was simply informed that an initial hearing would be held on Monday at 10 am.

The lesson here is that if you decide to run against a powerful figure in Rhode Island, you are subject to being summoned before a state board, without being informed of the specific charge against you. Due process rights, apparently in Rhode Island, don’t extend to those who dare challenge the local political aristocracy -- yet ironically enough, protecting people from the aristocracy was one of the reasons that the idea of due process was developed in the first place!

The vagueness of the charge, followed by its immediate withdrawal, makes it pretty clear that Lynch was engaging in an electoral-board version of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (a SLAPP), where the goal is not to win a claim on its merits, but to force a party being sued to expend resources and effort trying to defend themselves. Unfortunately, activities associated with running for office are not covered by the letter of Rhode Island’s anti-SLAPP law, which specifically names the rights of petition and free speech as the activities protected. With political corruption in Rhode Island being what it is, Rhode Island’s good-government forces should seriously consider a campaign to extend SLAPP protections to the right to run for office.

Finally, the fact that the state Board of Elections was ready to follow through on a vague, unspecific charge suggests that things haven’t improved much since March of 2006, when Judge Stephen Fortunato made public note of the BOE's failure to protect the rights of individuals under its jurisdiction…

Fortunato had criticized the Board of Elections at length for failing to address the First Amendment and due-process rights of targets of an investigation or enforcement action.

Dear Ink-Stained Wretches: People Think You're in the Bag

Marc Comtois

Ian Donnis has been keeping tabs on the fall of the newspaper business, particularly the ProJo, for a while, most recently noting that "[t]he bottom line...is that the erosion of newspapers hurts us all." That's certainly true. And a couple recent Rasmussen polls point to some of the problems newspapers (as part of the larger Mainstream Media) face. In one poll (h/t):

49% of voters believe most reporters will try to help Obama with their coverage, up from 44% a month ago.

Just 14% believe most reporters will try to help John McCain win, little changed from 13% a month ago. Just one voter in four (24%) believes that most reporters will try to offer unbiased coverage.

In another:
Only 34% of Americans believe the United States has the world’s best economy, but 50% believe the media makes economic conditions appear worse than they really are, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey....

A plurality of Americans (41%) similarly believe that the media has tried to make the war in Iraq appear worse that it really is, while 26% say reporters have made it look better than reality and 25% think they’ve portrayed it accurately.

Legislative Leaders Should Be Very Concerned When the Opposition Starts to Throw in the Towel

Justin Katz

Not that I'm happy to see any of these legislators go specifically or in general, but the brazen optimist in me hopes that this is the backdraft before some sort of explosion:

The already lopsided balance of power in Rhode Island's state legislature could tip even further left come November.

Five of the Assembly's 18 Republicans will not seek reelection, the majority of them in the House, where one-third of the anemic GOP caucus has bowed out.

Their reasons for leaving are as varied as the part-time legislature itself — work and family commitments, grandchildren, and in one case a fleet of 50 new cows that need looking after. ...

... the Assembly chambers — the House especially — can be a frustrating place for Republicans, who represent less than 16 percent of the 113 legislative votes.

Burnout is a reality.

"You start to say, 'hey, is it worth fighting this battle up here?'" said Susan A. Story, of Barrington, one of four House Republicans not seeking reelection. Story has cited personal reasons for her departure, though she acknowledges that fatigue is a factor. "Sometimes you say, 'well, maybe someone else could fight it for a while.'"

Whether we're actually approaching a watershed, and whether the explosion would be a positive or negative thing, is unknowable, but even the Rhode Island electorate can't be so dense as to think encroaching monopartisanism represents a healthy trend. Right?

July 20, 2008

Misunderstanding Maliki

Justin Katz

Via Instapundit comes re-reportage that reports of Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki's support for Obama's withdrawal plan were over-hyped. From CNN:

But a spokesman for al-Maliki said his remarks "were misunderstood, mistranslated and not conveyed accurately."

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the possibility of troop withdrawal was based on the continuance of security improvements, echoing statements that the White House made Friday after a meeting between al-Maliki and U.S. President Bush.

As with much else in the Obama legend, his supporters are quick to run with reports that just seem too good (from their perspective) to be true.

Irrelevant by Association

Justin Katz

It occurs to me, while reading through the comments to last week's post on religion and evolution, that a bit of common, subconscious legerdemain infects those making the secularist argument. By way of context, here is my lone statement of intentions with respect to my own voting intentions:

I'll vote every time for children to have at least the sense that such a reality is plausible, and I submit that a society that insists that children receive only the cold, hard lessons of the skeptics would be doomed.

That statement bears on my own community. Elsewhere, I hold that, down to the community level, regions ought to have a wide degree of latitude to shape the education that their children receive. Yes, the United States needs well educated scientists, but who am I, as an overeducated New England carpenter to judge for a town in rural Mississippi that the utility of scientific knowledge outweighs the utility of religious faith — even if we exclude spiritual well-being from the judgment. A person who believes that there is no child in the country who would not be better served by an accurate, if rudimentary, understanding of evolution than by an affirmation of some particular religious worldview is a prima facie zealot and, unless claiming to know every American child, ought to cede stronger authority to those closer to them.

Beyond those civic principles, my writing on this topic presents merely my own view of God, offered with the intention of honestly conveying the personal intellectual foundations on which I construct my specific policy suggestions and illustrating what I feel to be at stake. I'm not, in other words, presenting Bible passages to be included in public policy or in classroom instruction.

Unfortunately, discussion of religion has worn deep ruts into our society's intellectual habits. For example, the statement is commonly made (often with strains of condescension) that humanity has manifold understandings of God, creating a necessity to exclude Him from public discourse. It is inappropriate — the case in point argument goes — to mention God in the context of evolution because various religions have offered various competitive explanations for the development of the universe, which, being of a religious nature, are beyond our ability to judge.

This is a clear non sequitur — one directly related to a process whereby many people wrongly conclude that God does not exist. Having once labeled something as "religion," which requires some degree of faith, the person asserts the assumption that all such thinking must be wholly based on relativistic "myths" and therefore tainted by indecipherable criteria. One needn't possess much faculty for reason to spot the faith-based taint in such a conclusion: namely, the underlying belief that there is no God and, therefore, no more or less accurate understanding of Him.

Ported to discussion of public school curricula, it can seem as if the secularists are arguing that government schools cannot suggest the compatibility of God with evolution for the reason that some religions are clearly not compatible with it, thus triggering a violation of church/state separation. The consequence becomes that the lessons develop a decidedly atheistic tone, given the impression that no theology can account for the mechanical process. It becomes science versus religion because we lack the cultural confidence to stand our religious traditions beside our scientific accomplishments.

The only constitutionally reasonable way to address this sort of conundrum is to allow maximum freedom across the nation. As may be inferred from my willingness to make suggestions about societal doom, I'm of the opinion that a society that allows intellectual progress fully in a reciprocal relationship with theological development is most likely to prove successful in every way about which we should be concerned. Allow people to hone their local societies according to their beliefs and some will thrive while others languish, providing valuable lessons for our broader collective as we move forward.

Of Signatures and Sardines

Monique Chartier

Three commenters, Oz, Rhody and Anthony, expressed the view under Justin's post "Is Getting on the Ballot Half the Battle?" that the task of collecting signatures for a state or local candidate's nominating papers can be accomplished fairly quickly with some diligence and focus on the part of the candidate.

None of those commenters mentioned the sardine factor.

[Caveat: kids and candidates, don't try this at home.] See, if you're collecting signatures at a family cookout and some people are over at the barbeque grilling sardines, they can't simultaneously sign your papers. So it's necessary for someone else to sign all their names on your nomination papers. But this is okay as long as they call over from the grill, presumably with spatula in hand, and give that person permission to do so.

Actually, no, it's not. East Providence School Committee candidate Brian Monteiro learned this first hand last week. 131 of the 285 of the signatures he submitted on his nomination papers were disqualified, leaving him forty six signatures short. Third party signing for sardine-occupied family members disqualified half a dozen of those signatures.

While one wonders how such an unusually high number of unqualified signatures made it onto his nomination papers, this is after all Mr. Monteiro's first run. So his lack of familiarity with every requirement of this process is understandable.

Potentially less forgiveable, because unlike Mr. Monteiro, they will not be able to claim ignorance of election law, could be the actions tomorrow night of the East Providence Canvassing Authority. They will be meeting to hear challenges to the nomination papers of two candidates whose papers the Authority has already certified. I'd point out the party affiliation of two out of three Canvassing Authority members (Democrat) and the affiliation of the candidates to be challenged (not Democrat). But that might make me appear inordinately suspicious. Let's just leave it by quoting Justin. In the event nomination papers are disqualified tomorrow night,

[I'll be] curious which reason accounts for the most disqualifications, and if the former, I'd like to see some samples of illegibility.

July 19, 2008

Which Way to Economic Health?

Justin Katz

Perhaps some wishful thinking is involved, but it has seemed as if the various help wanted sections have seen a slight up-tick in ads. Could be seasonal; could be my imagination. At any rate, viewed from a different direction, the economic news continues to be discouraging:

Rhode Island's recession continues to deepen, as payrolls shrink and the ranks of residents unable to find work grows.

The state unemployment rate last month climbed to 7.5 percent, two percentage points above the national average, and payroll jobs fell for the sixth straight month, according to a report to be released today by the state Department of Labor and Training.

So far this year, Rhode Island has shed 8,600 payroll jobs and the ranks of unemployed residents have swelled to 42,600 — the largest in 15 years, the state reported.

Yet, just over the border, in Massachusetts, payroll jobs last month rose by 2,800 following a 1,900-job gain in May, according to a report yesterday by Massachusetts' Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

Expanding the First Congressional District, to Include the South Kingstown Town Council?

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Rhode Island Secretary of State's website lists 3 candidates who have qualified for the ballot for the U.S. House of Representatives seat for Rhode Island's First Congressional District. The candidates are Patrick Kennedy of Portsmouth, Jon Scott of Providence and Kenneth Capalbo of South Kingstown.

You read that right. Somehow, for the purposes of this Congressional election, South Kingstown has moved to the First Congressional District. The Federal Election Commission's website, in the link to the one filing that Mr. Capalbo made during his 2006 candidacy for the same office, lists "South King" as his community of residence (type the name "Capalbo" in here, to see for yourself), so this appears to be more than a typo.

There's more. Campaign finance paperwork filed with the state Board of Elections on July 8 shows that Mr. Capalbo indicated "Town Council" as the office he is seeking. An entry for his South Kingstown Town Council candidacy appears on Secretary of State's website, though no signatures are indicated. The entry for his Congressional candidacy, on the other hand, indicates over 600 signatures.

So how does a guy who says he's running for Town Council in South Kingstown end up collecting over 600 signatures for Representative in the First Congressional District?


Commenter "Brassband" reminds me that there is no Constitutional requirement that a Congressional candidate live in the district he or she seeks to represent...

A candidate, or Member, of the U.S. House of Representatives must live in the state from which he or she serves, but need not live within the district that he or she represents. Here are the qualifications for the House, from Art. I, sec. 2 of the U.S. Constitution:

No person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty five years, and been seven years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state in which he shall be chosen.
Now that Brassband has jogged my memory, I have a vague recollection of this issue being discussed in the 1990s when term-limits for Congress were seriously under consideration, and that there is a definitive consensus in the courts that no restrictions, beyond those specified in the Constitution, can be placed on the qualifications for Federal office.

July 18, 2008

Open Thread: The Future of America and the Future of Conservatism in America

Carroll Andrew Morse

New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks believes that the government needs "to act in gigantic ways over the next few years"...

We’re entering an era of epic legislation. There are at least five large problems that will compel the federal government to act in gigantic ways over the next few years.

First, there is the erosion of the social contract. Private sector firms are less likely to provide health benefits, producing a desperate need for health care reform.

Second, there is the energy shortage. Rising Asian demand strains worldwide supply, threatening industry and consumers, and producing calls for a bold energy initiative.

Third, there is the stagnation in human capital. During the 20th century, Americans were better educated than the citizens of any other power. Since 1970, that lead has been forfeited, producing inequality and wage stagnation. To compete, the U.S. will require a series of human capital initiatives.

Fourth, there’s financial market reform. In an intricately connected world, even Republican administrations cannot allow big institutions to fail. If government is going to guarantee against failure, then it is inevitably going to get more involved in regulating how businesses are run.

Fifth, there’s infrastructure reform. The U.S. transportation system is in shambles and will require major new projects.

Has Brooks set the right priorities? Has he missed anything or overstated anything? And how will conservatism fit into the future domestic policy agenda, Brooksian or otherwise?

Rhode Island: The Curious Timing State

Justin Katz

It's the time line that's the thing:

  • Early in the week, Dana Peloso was informed that only 14% of the signatures on his state House nomination forms for Barrington would be accepted.
  • On Wednesday, the Barrington board of canvassers certified those results at 3:00 p.m..
  • On Thursday, the candidate had to drag at least 13 of his signers to Town Hall by 2:30 p.m..

That's not much time from the perspective of the candidate or of those who've exercised voting rights to nominate him. We should list, among Rhode Island's problems, that folks don't realize how significant positions such as those on a board of canvassers can be.

July 17, 2008

Identify that Historic Figure

Monique Chartier

A snippet from his life and writings.

- Hundreds were reportedly executed on his watch, and that doesn't include the deaths incurred in the wars he was constantly trying to start.

- When describing the differences in the strife between "Europeans" and "the black," ... [he] wrote, "their different attitudes of life separate them completely: the black is indolent and fanciful, he spends his money on frivolity and drink; the European comes from a tradition of working and saving which follows him to this corner of America and drives him to get ahead."

Also the subject of posters, tee-shirts, CD cases and many other retail items, this was Che Guevara.

Glenn Beck's complete commentary about Guevara, excerpted above, and a fashion tip on how to blend in when infiltrating a group of terrorists can be accessed here.

Is Getting on the Ballot Half the Battle?

Justin Katz

With reports of Rhode Island Republicans' difficulties getting on ballots continuing to roll in, it's difficult not to decry something as criminal (if only metaphorically):

The Warren Board of Canvassers is investigating whether signatures were improperly collected on nomination papers returned by Dana Peloso, a Republican challenging incumbent Democrat Jan Malik for the District 67 House seat.

The three-member board is set to schedule an emergency meeting to discuss "discrepancies" in the list of signatures, according to its chairman Vinny Calenda. ...

As of yesterday afternoon, neither Calenda nor anyone in the town clerk's office had contacted Peloso regarding the potential problems. When notified by a reporter, Peloso said, "This is news to me." ...

But [Peloso] said he had contacted all of the people whose signatures had been disqualified and that they had confirmed signing his papers.

Typically, a person's signature can be disqualified if it is illegible or if the person who signed is not a registered voter in the relevant town or district.

I'm curious which reason accounts for the most disqualifications, and if the former, I'd like to see some samples of illegibility.

The Communication Breakdown Between Governor and Mayor -- in Illinois

Carroll Andrew Morse

Glenn Reynolds is looking at this as a gun-control story, however, for Rhode Islanders, it serves reminder that tensions between Governors and Mayors can be more than simple partisan politics. …

Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) on Wednesday raised the possibility of bringing in state troopers or even the Illinois National Guard to help Chicago combat a recent increase in violent crime -- an offer that Mayor Richard Daley(D) didn't know was coming….

Blagojevich said Daley had not asked for help and he had not talked to the mayor about offering it, adding he would call Daley after he met later in the day with the state police, National Guard and others.

Daley's office said the mayor did not know anything about Blagojevich's comments and did not know he was going to make them.

Governor Blagojevich and Mayor Daley are both Democrats.

Sometimes, urban mayors just have different views about what’s important and what’s successful than do statewide officials.

Life as Bobby O

Justin Katz

As a writer (lamentably too little of creative works), I find it difficult not to spend some paragraphs indulging in imaginative exercises concerning what the experience of being Bobby Oliveira. Inasmuch as I've no interest in addressing the likely consequences of such an indulgence, I'll offer herewith only a link to his thoughts on his peculiarly timed arrest.

It's enough to say that it makes for interesting reading.

Is it Enough to Make Tom W Into At Least a Tepid John McCain Supporter?

Carroll Andrew Morse

From John McCain's remarks delivered yesterday to the 99th NAACP Convention in Cincinnati…

If I am elected president, school choice for all who want it, an expansion of Opportunity Scholarships, and alternative certification for teachers will all be part of a serious agenda of education reform.
Does this kind of statement make any McCain skeptics willing to give the candidate a fresh look? Or does the fact that, in a McCain administration, we're likely to see an education proposal like this shoved into the background, while amnesty for illegal aliens moves to the top of the agenda, too much of a dealbreaker?

(Just trying to help the McCain folks understand why their candidate isn't catching fire in conservative circles).


Tom W responds...

I’m ALL FOR real school choice (i.e., choice among “public” and “private” schools). And I give him credit for raising the subject before the NAACP (which if it really worked toward its stated mission would be screaming to high heaven for school choice … instead it’s just a front group for the Democratic Party’s welfare wing).

But it’s a throwaway line – there’s no way that a Democratic Congress is going to sign-off on school choice, for the Democratic Party is addicted to teacher union money and influence, children be damned.

And we will get amnesty under McCain (btw, how does he define “secure the borders first” – what does he really mean)? Amnesty will bring “family reunification” and tens of millions of “legal” children and senior citizens who will not be coming here “to do the jobs that Americans won’t do”...

... but to go to our schools and take advantage of taxpayer funding for ESL and “special needs” programs (you can just picture the dues whores at NEA salivating at the prospect of hundreds of thousands of new dues units hired to service this new influx of millions ESL and “special needs” children). Now add in the millions of “legal” seniors who presumably will be immediately eligible for Medicare / Medicaid, if not Social Security.

Think your taxes are high now?

This, coupled with reluctance (if not active resistance) to assimilation, will result in an increase of tens of millions in the government program dependent class (no wonder the Democrats are so hot for this – this alone could give them a permanent majority).

In turn, this will certainly lead to the demographic suicide of the Republican Party (at least for the GOP as it should be – folks like Arnold Schwarzenegger; Rudy Giuliani and John McCain are actively trying to morph the entire GOP to resemble its Northeast wing - which is curious given that the “moderate” GOP here keeps shrinking (as is predictable and warranted).

I attribute their actions to self-interest, the “moderate” capitulation of Reagan Republicanism works for them individually, and that is their primary focus, not the long-term viability of the Republican Party or the long-term good of this country).

If I really believed that John McCain was serious about border security first and appointing conservative judges my position might change. But to put it bluntly, I believe that he is lying.

Once in office he won’t need the Republican Party anymore, much less conservatives, and will revert to form (if not move even further left) in “reaching across the aisle” to the Democrats (which in his case means crossing the aisle to be one of them).

So I’m convinced that we will get “comprehensive immigration reform” a.k.a. amnesty without secured borders and with "family reunification," and nominations in the mold of David Souter, not Antonin Scalia. McCain’s vaunted “lifetime conservative rating” his belied by his past decade’s record, where he is smack dab in the middle of Susan Collins and Lincoln Chafee and their RINO ilk.

The GOP has been drifting left since Reagan left office. We’ve had 20 years of being told that we must “vote for the lesser of two evils” - and all we have to show for it is the enactment and implementation of the Democrat agenda, albeit at a slightly slower pace than would have occurred under Democratic presidents.

McCain’s election will mark the final victory of the RINO / professional politician wing of the Republican Party. Four years of McCain will finally purge the remaining conservatives and bury the last vestiges of the Reagan Revolution.

I choose to make a principled stand hoping that out of the ashes the Republican Party can be reborn, and we can again get conservative leaders like Reagan who will force the Democrats to choose more conservative candidates and force their people to start “voting for the lesser of two evils” in an attempt to slow down the Republican reversal of the socialization of our government and economy and restoration toward constitutional government, the federal government acting within its constitutional role and no more, and restoration of a true free-market system.

Obama is a Marxist, and will be a disaster for this nation. I have no illusions to the contrary. And in the short run we will be better off if McCain wins. But the cost of that will be no viable Republican Party left, opening the field wide-open for future Obamas to complete the transformation of the U.S. from the letter and spirit of our Constitution into a European Socialist-Democrat model. So in the long run I believe that we will be better off if McCain loses and we can start working to restore the Republican Party.

My decision is made easier because in Rhode Island the electoral votes will all go to Obama anyway, so no matter what I do my vote is symbolic only and so I can afford to “throw away” my vote on a third-party candidate. I will admit that if I were in a swing state I would be agonizing much more, and perhaps with my hand on the lever would be forced at the last minute to pull it for McCain, even as I vomited.

Having Energy for Capitalism

Justin Katz

Monique took the mic with Matt Allen, last night, to talk about our congressional delegation and its difficulty applying economic principles consistently when it comes to oil (segment streamable by clicking here, or download).

July 16, 2008

Bob Barr Already Giving Up on Pretending He's a Libertarian

Carroll Andrew Morse

This is from a Bob Barr-for-President media advisory I received via e-mail…

Libertarian Party presidential nominee Bob Barr to attend former VP Al Gore's *We* Campaign event…

Bob Barr and former VP Gore have met privately to discuss the issue of global warming, and Barr was invited by Mr. Gore to attend the *We* Campaign event. Barr believes warming is a reality and is aware that scientists differ on its causes, impact and remedies.

…which is a very different sentiment than candidate Barr expressed during a June 6 Glenn Beck interview on CNN…
Bob Barr: Global warming is a myth. And yet it`s being used by the environmental folks, by the internationalists. A lot of the pressure is coming from the United Nations and other countries. Some of which, like China, of course, are pushing the Kyoto Protocol. Why? Because they`re exempt. It`s going to saddle us.

And what is McCain doing? He`s out there buying into this global warming, carbon emission cap and trade.

…or on Beck's radio show on May 22…
GLENN BECK: Do you believe in manmade global warming and to what extent will you try to correct it, if you do believe in manmade global warming?

BOB BARR: Mankind has done a lot of good in the world. They have done a lot of bad as well, but change in the climate is not one of them. I've seen no legitimate scientific evidence that indicates that the cyclical -- and they are very much cyclical -- you know, increases and drops in global temperatures over the decades and over the centuries is the result of, you know, mankind.

Is a politician who flip-flops his positions in order to gain access to one of the biggest-government guys around really the guy Libertarians want to put forth as the best they have to offer?


In a Wall Street Journal op-ed running today, Barr certainly sounds like he's more comfortable with the thought of Barack Obama choosing judges than he is with John McCain…

Mr. McCain is a convenient convert to the cause of sound judicial appointments. He has never paid much attention to judicial philosophy, backing both Clinton Supreme Court nominees – Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He also participated in the so-called "Gang of 14," which favored centrist over conservative nominees as part of a compromise between President George W. Bush and Senate Democrats…

Nor is it obvious that Barack Obama would attempt to pack the court with left-wing ideologues.

So if you like Al Gore on global warming and Barack Obama on judges, then Bob Barr is your kind of Libertarian!

If the Libertarian Party was anywhere before, it's going to take them a decade to recover from the damage they've done to themselves by nominating Bob Barr as their Presidential candidate.

Next Stop: the '70s

Justin Katz

The depressing thing is that the "bright spot" of this finding is that Professor Lardaro's index doesn't go back far enough to have captured pre-Reagan economic periods:

Economically speaking, Rhode Island is in the midst of the "worst year" in a quarter century, according to a local index released today.

After a brief uptick in April, the Current Conditions Index in May plunged back to its lowest value in the index's 25-year history.

Eleven out of 12 indicators deteriorated, as the unemployment rate spiked to 7.2 percent and consumers hit by rising food and fuel prices cut back on spending, causing retail sales to plunge, according to the index's manager, University of Rhode Island professor of economics, Leonard Lardaro.

Perhaps more depressing is that some of us believe Rhode Island could quickly rise at least to a sea-level float if it were to discard some of its all-too-familiar baggage.

If Supply is not a Factor, Why Should Oil Companies "Use It or Lose It"?

Monique Chartier

Those opposed to new domestic oil drilling attempt to deflect criticism of their stance by pointing to factors other than supply which may be contributing to the high and climbing price of gas and heating oil. Count all four members of Rhode Island's Congressional delegation in these ranks. In Sunday's Providence Journal, John Mulligan describes the pro-drilling feedback they have received from constituents. [Paragraphs quoted out of order.]

Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy said energy prices were easily the top concern among voters who greeted him during the Bristol parade. “It must have been 30 times along the two-mile route” that constituents raised the topic. “They are saying the most about that over any issue in the 15 years” he has been in the House, Kennedy said.

* * *

Sen. Jack Reed heard it on the Fourth of July parade routes and other members of the local congressional delegation have detected a similar message from Rhode Island constituents worried about the soaring price of gasoline and other oil products: “Drill. Drill. Drill.”

Senators Reed and Whitehouse and Congressmen Kennedy and Langevin have so far resisted the calls, pointing instead to other factors such as oil speculation and attempting to make the case that any new drilling would not affect retail prices for a very long time. Certainly speculation in oil futures and a weak dollar have had an upward influence on the price of oil, though the extent of the former is difficult to quantify.

Contradictorally, however, our Senators and Congressmen have indicated support for the so-called "use it or lose it" bill, legislation currently pending on Capitol Hill that would compel oil companies to promptly drill on the sixty eight million acres for which they currently hold exploration leases or hand the land back to Uncle Sam.

And here we reach the crux of the matter. Let's hold off for a moment consideration of some reasonable questions of the efficacy of forcing exploration on the sixty eight million acres where the location and existence of oil is problematic (unlike in Anwr and off US shores) and remain focused on the logic and thought process of our elected officials. If drilling will not solve the problem, if supply is not the issue, why do all four gentlemen support this legislation? In a related matter, do they support the call by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to tap US strategic oil reserves? If yes, why?

Corruption and a Criminal's Rights

Justin Katz

Regardless of the identity of the alleged harasser, I agree with Will that the timing of Bobby Oliveira's arrest is suspicious. I'd even go so far as to suggest that it's reason for concern, given its Rhode Island political context:

The police yesterday picked up School Committee candidate Robert. T. Oliveira on a year-old arrest warrant, charging him with making harassing phone calls to a Tiverton woman who described herself as an ex-girlfriend. ...

Tiverton police obtained the most recent arrest warrant on June 26 of last year after the woman complained to them about more than one call Oliveira allegedly made to her on her cell phone. ...

A Newport patrolman saw Oliveira jogging on Bellevue Avenue in front of The Elms mansion shortly before 8 a.m. yesterday, said Lt. William Fitzgerald. He said the officer believed an arrest for Oliveira was outstanding and, after confirming his belief, stopped Oliveira and took him into custody. Newport turned him over to Tiverton police around 10:30 a.m. ...

Neither Maltais nor Fitzgerald could specify why it took a year for the police to arrest him on a year-old warrant.

"It's not unusual that some period of time will lapse when someone is wanted on a warrant," said Maltais, who wasn't sure exactly how Newport police knew to pick up Oliveira.

Fitzgerald couldn't speak to the Oliveira case, but said that departments communicate with each other, sometimes by phone and sometimes by teletype. The information is related to patrol officers at roll call, but they may learn about warrants from other sources, he said.

Inasmuch as he'd continued to walk the streets unharassed, Bobby presumably did not know that he was a wanted man. Now, in response to some unknown stimulus, a Newport police officer happened to believe that an arrest was pending for a particular jogger, who happened to be notable on the local political stage.

Speaking from personal experience, I'm sure that the woman who filed the complaint did so with sufficiently credible evidence to justify a warrant, but the story still gives the impression that somebody out there in the state could file a report that could sit dormant until such time as an arrest would be particularly inconvenient, no matter the merits of the charge. Shouldn't even criminals have a right to a timely arrest and fair resolution?

July 15, 2008

Fenway: Should You Have to Be This Tall To Get In?

Monique Chartier

Over at Not For Nothing, Ian Donnis raises the critical question of youngsters - real young youngsters - at the ball park.

In the course of a recent discussion of Pink Hats (male and female), some of the hosts on WEEI vented about what they called an excess of babies and toddlers during games at Fenway, as well as too many fans who are utterly oblivious to the game and/or ignorant about Sox history.

N4N had the good fortune to be there yesterday for the 2-1 win that moved Boston into first place, ahead of the Rays. And, yes, there were three toddlers (all under three years old) within about 15 feet of me, causing a stream of anxiety about whether they'd provide a caterwauling soundtrack for Dice-K's start.

To his credit, the 13-month-old to my left tolerated the afternoon heat in RF Box 87 like a champ, without benefit of a few of those $7.50 cups of Sam Adams, and the other kids weren't bad, other than being cute and vying for occasional attention.

Still, let's be real, people. Do children under six really belong at a baseball game? Are they even going to remember it? Are their caretakers going to spend too much time fussing about them instead of mulling Youk's VORP?

Cleaning the Attic

Marc Comtois

Time to clean out the "To do" link "attic" I keep handy. So, before they vanish into the ether, here are some that may be interesting to others.

Part I: Politics and Economy

Obama, Shaman by Michael Knox Beran:

Obama-mania is bound in the end to disappoint. Not only does it teach us to despise our political system’s wise recognition of human imperfection and the pursuit of private happiness; it encourages us to seek for perfection where we will not find it, in politics, in the hero worship of a charismatic shaman, in the speciousness of a secular millennium.
But Obama is for school choice...and for union "card-checks," as Mickey Kaus mentions in his refutation of the same:
It seems to me that a) a tight 90s-style labor market and b) direct government provision of benefits (e.g. health care, OSHA) accomplishes what we want traditional unions to accomplish, but on a broader basis and without encouraging a sclerotic, adversarial bureaucracy that gets in the way of the productive organization of work.

A Newsweek report on the economic feasibility of oil shale.

Megan McCardle
on Sweden, cultural homogeneity and the welfare state.

"A behavioral economist explores the interaction of moral sentiments and self-interest." Surprise! The guy who wrote about the "Invisible Hand" and The Theory of Moral Sentiments was on to something.

Part II: History

A piece on America's "special grace" :

If America has been given a special grace, it is because its founders as well as every generation of its people have taken as the basis of America's legitimacy the Judeo-Christian belief that God loves every individual, and most of all the humblest. Rights under law, from the American vantage point, are sacred, not utilitarian, convenient or consensual. America does not of course honor the sanctity of individual rights at all times and in all circumstances, but the belief that rights are sacred rather than customary or constructed never has been abandoned.

"The Paranoid Style Is American Politics" reminds that conspiracy theories have abounded in American politics since, and including, the American Revolution. Mentions one of my favorites, Bernard Bailyn.

How "luck" is an important, if often overlooked, factor in American History (or any History, for that matter). It's not all about conspiracy or inevitability.

A long and interesting piece on Herodotus and why he wrote his history (from the New Yorker--if you're not banning it or anything...).

Book review of Sean Wilentz's Age of Reagan.

A review of a book about the "Black Death."

Part III: Culture

A "conservative" review of Iron Man (I haven't seen it):

The fantasy wish-fulfillment that makes Iron Man so winning is not being a guy who can fly around and shoot fire from his robot suit. It's being the guy with all the money in the world, the guy who can afford to make that suit.

In "Cleavers to Lohans: The Downhill Slide of the American TV Family", Katherine Berry traces the devolution of "quality family TV" to the reduced importance of parental figures. (Isn't the Lohan show reality tv?).

"Violence and the Video Game Paradox," a fairly recent ProJo op-ed by Dr. Gregory K. Fritz:

...the boom in violent video games correlates with the sharpest decline in youth violence in many decades....The answer to this apparent paradox is that correlation does not prove causation.
But, says Dr. Fritz, parents should still pay attention!

Finally, Where'd Generation X go?

An Opportunity for Empathy

Justin Katz

There's a lesson in empathy available in this:

And several thousand other state workers are caught in the middle of a war between leaders of the largest employees union, Council 94, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that has put that union's executive director — and lead negotiator — Dennis Grilli on the defensive about his own raise and the $10,044 "waiver payment" he got for taking his wife's state-provided health insurance, instead of a union package.

Stunned that after 30 years in the union trenches he has become one of the targets of the angry debate, Grilli this week said he would give up the 3 percent raise awarded him by his union's leadership board last spring that boosted his salary to $102,900 a year.

A five digit windfall for not taking a benefit. So whose turn is it to make the argument that employees who save their employers money by not taking benefits ought to reap some of the rewards?

Perhaps one can hope that reality is beginning to sink in, for Rhode Island's public-sector unions. The days of squandering the state's economic health may by necessity (and by necessity only) be coming to an end. It's interesting to note, by the by, that one apparent hold-out is an affiliate under Bob Walsh's shadow.

The New Yorker Misses Its Mark (And Then Some)

Monique Chartier

Looking at the cartoon on the cover of this week's New Yorker magazine, it struck me that cartoons do not easily lend themselves to third party satire. In a press release announcing its latest issue, The New Yorker describes the cartoon thusly:

On the cover of the July 21, 2008, issue of the The New Yorker, in “The Politics of Fear,” artist Barry Blitt satirizes the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the Presidential election to derail Barack Obama’s campaign.

The press release goes on to preview other items in this week's issue and presumably was generated solely as a marketing tool, not to explain one of this week's cartoons. Except in this case, an explanation is needed. And that makes the cartoon a failure.

Cartoons, satirical and otherwise, are intended to stand on their own. Readers usually take cartoons at face value and attribute the statement/criticism/humor therein to it subject, not to a third party. When glancing over a cartoon, readers won't, nor should they, go looking for a description, a disclaimer or directional arrows outside of the cartoon. "This isn't how we think of Senator Obama. This is how his critics are trying to portray him. The tweaking is intended for them, over there."

A cartoon requiring an explanation is untenable also for archival purposes and future readers. Suppose the cartoon gets separated from the explanation. Fifty years from now, will someone look at the cover and think, "Oh, The New Yorker didn't like Barack Obama; look at how badly they portrayed him"? In point of fact, they clearly are not averse to his candidacy inasmuch as the issue also contains a nuanced article interpreting (not to say excusing) his recent changes of stance on several issues.

But a cartoon that requires any kind of exterior text to be understood fails an important requisite: that the message of the cartoon be stand-alone and fully contained within its own four lines. This New Yorker cartoon, judged within its own four lines, ends up lampooning the object for which it was attempting to advocate.

July 14, 2008

Local Candidate Arrested in Newport

Carroll Andrew Morse

Will Ricci of the Ocean State Republican has the scoop on a breaking news story involving a name very familiar in Rhode Island's blogosphere...

When Does the PPD Fax the List to ICE?

Monique Chartier

Mayor David Cicilline stated on the Helen Glover Show this morning that the Providence Police Department informs ICE of suspects in custody before they are released from court. He is flatly contradicting his own Chief of Police.

But [Providence Police Chief Dean Esserman] later acknowledged that Providence police don’t do any investigation on their own but simply fax to ICE a copy of their arraignment sheet, which shows the names of anyone who has been arraigned that day.

Why this discrepancy between the statement of the Mayor and the statement of the Chief? When is the list faxed? While the suspect can be retained at ICE's request or when there's no point in even faxing the list?


Podcast of the interview, including the Mayor's exchange with former INS Agent Joe Bernstein, available here, courtesy Talk Radio 920 WHJJ.

Tollbooths on I-95? Good Luck

Marc Comtois

I grew up in northern Maine (Bangor-area), where the Maine Turnpike Authority kicks in around Augusta and you pay on down the road until you hit New Hampshire. One of the things I like about Rhode Island is not paying tolls on the regular highway. But we may be headed that way, according to the ProJo. Now, some of the ideas are better than others, but one has "unintended consequences" written all over it:

[URI Prof. Henry] Schwarzbach said that most travel on Route 95 is within the state, and that traffic volume more than triples between North Kingstown and Warwick.

Putting a toll booth north of the Route 295 interchange, he said, could raise $75 million per year with a cheaper toll, $1.75, even allowing for some discount passes. It could also have this beneficial side effect: Drivers wanting to avoid the toll would take Route 295 around Providence, reducing traffic jams there.

You know what else they'll avoid? That toll booth altogether. More than a few commuters will duck around them, especially anyone who lives in Warwick. That, in turn, will lead to more congestion on the east-west routes within Warwick and Cranston. You see, one toll booth, no matter how strategically placed you may think it is, won't "capture" the revenue you think it will. Drivers will go to great lengths to avoid 'em. The only way to implement a toll system is to take a broad approach, which means you'd need booths on Route 6 or Route 10 and I-195, too. I don't think Rhode Islanders will go for that!

July 13, 2008

The Light Burden

Justin Katz

Apropos of our discussion of religion and evolution, a story from the Second Book of Kings comes to mind.

Naaman is a foreign military commander, valiant and respected, who has become inflicted with leprosy. A military campaign brings a captured Israelite girl into his house as a servant, and she suggests that he seek out the prophet Elisha. When the leper follows her advice and travels all the way to Elisha's door, the prophet doesn't even make an appearance — merely sending a message that the inflicted man should wash seven times in the Jordan River. Disappointed at the lack of import to the event, Naaman prepares to head for home; there are rivers in which to wash there, after all.

But his servants came up and reasoned with him. "My father," they said, "if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, 'Wash and be clean,' should you do as he said."

So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

The counsel that Naaman's servants offer is a repeating theme in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments: God is reality, and those who expect Him to express Himself more in the form of pagan mystics — behaving in ways strange and unfamiliar — are apt to be disappointed. Instead, He'll take an ordinary act, such as bathing in the Jordan, and by way of a prophet or, perchance, a messiah, invest it with divine proclamation and in that way express miracles.

Thus do we see the hand of God: not in that which oughtn't be, but in that which is. The showmanship is in the Truth, not in the deliberate oddity.

They are wrong who insist that God's direction of reality's progression must be bizarre and in contradiction to the natural order. It's nearly an absurdity; that which God does is the natural order. In the accounts of Elijah's and Elisha's miracles of sustenance, as in Jesus', there is no strange alchemy when they generate food. The prophets don't scatter sand in bowls, twirl it with their fingers, and pour out stew. They say, "pour the oil into all the vessels, and as each is filled, set it aside." They gather up the food and simply feed those in need. Indeed, it is among the temptations of the Devil for Jesus to "command that these stones become loaves of bread." God acts via what is, not what is not.

Therefore, Andrew's qualification when arguing on the side of science in the evolution/intelligent design debate makes all the difference: evolutionary processes "may appear from the perspective of mere mortals to be driven by random processes." This is the heart of all disagreement on this issue. By what authority does one even proclaim the appearance of randomness at the existential level? The fact that species A apparently developed attribute 471 in response to stimulus theta offers no information on the question of whether theta or A's thetal environment was random. It illustrates only that species may be influenced by their surroundings. Randomness — which we may, for this limited purpose, treat as synonymous with a lack of intention — is entirely a presumptuous human superimposition.

Yeah, a fly might have a longer proboscis if it had evolved in a different hemisphere, but it did not. Yeah, a capacity for rational thought may have led evolution down its path with another phylum, but it did not.

Yet, when advocates at the state level, or lower, seek to make this particular message available to school children — that, whatever the science finds, their parents aren't necessarily deluded in their beliefs — opposing advocates the nation over behave as if interrupting the science education of distant tweens for a philosophical qualification is equivalent to recrucifying Galileo. At the end of our grown-up arguments, we can often agree that "science ends here," but to insist that children receive such a message as part of their science education is treated as tantamount to the imposition of dogma.

In the irreducible element of the fight, John West is entirely correct: "If it really is a 'fact' that the evolution of life was an unplanned process of chance and necessity (as Neo-Darwinism asserts), then that fact has consequences for how we view life." Consider last week's doom-and-gloom reportage du jour:

Even folks in the Optimist Club are having a tough time toeing an upbeat line these days. Eighteen members of the volunteer organization's Gilbert, Ariz., chapter have gathered, a few days before this nation's 232nd birthday, to focus on the positive: Their book drive for schoolchildren and an Independence Day project to place American flags along the streets of one neighborhood. ...

But then talk turns to the state of the Union, and the Optimists become decidedly bleak.

They use words such as "terrified," "disgusted" and "scary" to describe what one calls "this mess" we Americans find ourselves in. Then comes the list of problems constituting the mess: a protracted war, $4-a-gallon gas, soaring food prices, uncertainty about jobs, an erratic stock market, a tougher housing market, and so on and so forth.

It is necessary, for such leanings to be sensible, that the mess of the modern day be seen to constitute the aggregation of random circumstances. The "list of problems," in this view, didn't have to be the case, and the "uncertainty" is a consequence of faith in randomness. Contrast this with last week's Gospel reading in the Roman Catholic Church:

At that time Jesus exclaimed:
"I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to little ones.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him."

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."

The "wise and learned" may not know it, but our yoke is easy and our burden light. The hand of God is obvious to those who will see, and His existence makes playthings of our anxieties and concerns. I'll vote every time for children to have at least the sense that such a reality is plausible, and I submit that a society that insists that children receive only the cold, hard lessons of the skeptics would be doomed. And that it would probably be a good thing, in the end.

The Coming China Wars

Marc Comtois

I recently finished reading Peter Navarro's new book, The Coming China Wars: Where They Will be Fought, How The Can Be Won.

The purpose of this book is to warn that unless strong actions are taken now both by China and the rest of the world, The Coming China Wars are destined to be fought over everything from decent jobs, livable wages, and leading-edge technologies to strategic resources such as oil, copper, and steel, and eventually to our most basic of all needs--bread, water, and air.
To achieve his purpose, Navarro explains and examines how various Chinese policies affect its people and government and those of the rest of the world. For example, the book is replete with examples of how China's government has set-up uneven economic playing fields domestically and globally through currency manipulation, protectionism, worker mistreatment, lax regulation--if any at all--and ignoring product piracy within its borders (80% of pirate products seized at U.S. borders come from China). Such practices have fueled China's economic growth at an unsustainable pace, according to Navarro. Throw in a growing appetite for natural resources, both its own and those of other countries, and China is a ravenous beast not easily sated. Its economic needs affect its judgment as the pressure to maintain the rate of economic growth encourages the maintenance of the same unfair and immoral practices.

Given the way China operates within its own borders, it is no surprise to learn that it makes no moral ties to its economic needs abroad; looking the other way when dealing with dictators in Africa or Iran or North Korea for natural resources in exchange for weapons or help with infrastructure, which in turn helps China extract the aforementioned resources. Environmental issues are also not high on their list of priorities. 18 of the 20 smoggiest cities are in China and that so-called "chog" finds its way into the air of its Asian neighbors and the West Coast of North America. Then there is the disastrous treatment of the Chinese waterways: the Yellow River is often also blue, green or red; the three Gorges Damn is proving to be an environmental and health disaster. Recent coverage of the upcoming Beijing Olympics has revealed to the world such things as a particularly large algae bloom and Beijing's poor air quality.

Their willingness to take environmental short-cuts buys them economic growth because such a lax atmosphere proves too tempting to foreign companies. Here, Navarro makes an important historical point:

There is both a danger and a paradox here that should not be lost on any student of Chinese history aware of the "foreign humiliation" that China was subjected to in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The danger is that these powerful foreign economic interests are overpowering the political will of the central government, thereby rendering it impossible for China to get a handle on its own pollution problems. The paradox is that as China's Communist Party seeks to mold the country into a superpower, it is quickly losing control of its own destiny to powerful foreign economic interests.
Thus do foreign companies and countries (and their consumers) prop up Chinese economic practices. However, Navarro does suggest that such a climate is causing worker unrest upset over unpaid wages, revoked or reduced pensions and poor health. Then again, the Chinese government has also engaged in repression (Falun Gong, Tibet, Uighur), often with the implicit help of foreign companies (Yahoo! is singled out). This belligerence is also turning outward as China is amidst a dramatic military buildup with the apparent goal of power projection around the world and even into outer space. (An aside: this was the first time I'd heard that the moon may have rich deposits of Helium 3, a rare isotope that scientists believe could help with nuclear fusion.)

So what should we do about all of this? Navarro's concluding chapter offers some suggestions to both governments and to we the people. Focusing on his prescriptions for the individual, Navarro explains that we haven't really, truly been paying attention because of "the narcotic effect that cheap Chinese goods have had on us" or we've been more worried about the Middle East. Or, perhaps most importantly, there "is a general lack of awareness of the far-ranging implications of a world increasingly 'Made in China.'" As to this last, The Coming China Wars is a quick and succinct way to get up to speed. Cheap goods are good for the American consumer, but not if they are produced on playing field tilted as dramatically as portrayed by Navarro.

Note: Original version posted at Spinning Clio.

July 12, 2008

RE: Tony Snow, R.I.P.

Marc Comtois

As Don has noted, Tony Snow has passed away after a battle with cancer. Snow recently served as Press Secretary for the current Bush Administration, but he was perhaps best known as a conservative commentator and newsman (FOX). Undoubtedly partisan, he was also a class act. Snow's tone and tenor is something sorely lacking in these politically charged times. God bless he and his family. He'll be missed.

RIP, Tony Snow

Donald B. Hawthorne

Tony Snow died today, at age 53, of cancer. We remember his family in our prayers as we pay tribute to the memory of a wonderful man.

Some tributes:

Cal Thomas
Byron York
Shannen Coffin
Kathryn Jean Lopez
Michelle Malkin
Fox News

Several selections from Snow's writings about Reagan, Parting Thoughts on the Ultimate Sacrifice, and Message to GOPers.

Finally, Snow wrote a poignant and powerful article last year entitled Cancer's Unexpected Blessings: When you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change where he discussed his cancer:

Blessings arrive in unexpected packages—in my case, cancer.

Those of us with potentially fatal diseases—and there are millions in America today—find ourselves in the odd position of coping with our mortality while trying to fathom God's will. Although it would be the height of presumption to declare with confidence What It All Means, Scripture provides powerful hints and consolations.

The first is that we shouldn't spend too much time trying to answer the why questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can't someone else get sick? We can't answer such things, and the questions themselves often are designed more to express our anguish than to solicit an answer.

I don't know why I have cancer, and I don't much care. It is what it is—a plain and indisputable fact. Yet even while staring into a mirror darkly, great and stunning truths begin to take shape. Our maladies define a central feature of our existence: We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give out.

But despite this—because of it—God offers the possibility of salvation and grace. We don't know how the narrative of our lives will end, but we get to choose how to use the interval between now and the moment we meet our Creator face-to-face.

Second, we need to get past the anxiety. The mere thought of dying can send adrenaline flooding through your system. A dizzy, unfocused panic seizes you. Your heart thumps; your head swims. You think of nothingness and swoon. You fear partings; you worry about the impact on family and friends. You fidget and get nowhere.

To regain footing, remember that we were born not into death, but into life—and that the journey continues after we have finished our days on this earth. We accept this on faith, but that faith is nourished by a conviction that stirs even within many nonbelieving hearts—an intuition that the gift of life, once given, cannot be taken away. Those who have been stricken enjoy the special privilege of being able to fight with their might, main, and faith to live—fully, richly, exuberantly—no matter how their days may be numbered.

Third, we can open our eyes and hearts. God relishes surprise. We want lives of simple, predictable ease—smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see—but God likes to go off-road. He provokes us with twists and turns. He places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance and comprehension—and yet don't. By his love and grace, we persevere. The challenges that make our hearts leap and stomachs churn invariably strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and joy we would not experience otherwise.

'You Have Been Called'

Picture yourself in a hospital bed. The fog of anesthesia has begun to wear away. A doctor stands at your feet; a loved one holds your hand at the side. "It's cancer," the healer announces.

The natural reaction is to turn to God and ask him to serve as a cosmic Santa. "Dear God, make it all go away. Make everything simpler." But another voice whispers: "You have been called." Your quandary has drawn you closer to God, closer to those you love, closer to the issues that matter—and has dragged into insignificance the banal concerns that occupy our "normal time."...

The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies. Think of Paul, traipsing though the known world and contemplating trips to what must have seemed the antipodes (Spain), shaking the dust from his sandals, worrying not about the morrow, but only about the moment.

There's nothing wilder than a life of humble virtue—for it is through selflessness and service that God wrings from our bodies and spirits the most we ever could give, the most we ever could offer, and the most we ever could do.

Finally, we can let love change everything. When Jesus was faced with the prospect of crucifixion, he grieved not for himself, but for us. He cried for Jerusalem before entering the holy city. From the Cross, he took on the cumulative burden of human sin and weakness, and begged for forgiveness on our behalf.

We get repeated chances to learn that life is not about us—that we acquire purpose and satisfaction by sharing in God's love for others. Sickness gets us partway there. It reminds us of our limitations and dependence. But it also gives us a chance to serve the healthy. A minister friend of mine observes that people suffering grave afflictions often acquire the faith of two people, while loved ones accept the burden of two people's worries and fears.

Learning How to Live

Most of us have watched friends as they drifted toward God's arms not with resignation, but with peace and hope. In so doing, they have taught us not how to die, but how to live. They have emulated Christ by transmitting the power and authority of love...

[Snow's best friend, dying of cancer several years ago] gift was to remind everyone around him that even though God doesn't promise us tomorrow, he does promise us eternity—filled with life and love we cannot comprehend—and that one can in the throes of sickness point the rest of us toward timeless truths that will help us weather future storms.

Through such trials, God bids us to choose: Do we believe, or do we not? Will we be bold enough to love, daring enough to serve, humble enough to submit, and strong enough to acknowledge our limitations? Can we surrender our concern in things that don't matter so that we might devote our remaining days to things that do?

When our faith flags, he throws reminders in our way. Think of the prayer warriors in our midst. They change things, and those of us who have been on the receiving end of their petitions and intercessions know it.

It is hard to describe, but there are times when suddenly the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and you feel a surge of the Spirit. Somehow you just know: Others have chosen, when talking to the Author of all creation, to lift us up—to speak of us!

This is love of a very special order. But so is the ability to sit back and appreciate the wonder of every created thing. The mere thought of death somehow makes every blessing vivid, every happiness more luminous and intense. We may not know how our contest with sickness will end, but we have felt the ineluctable touch of God.

What is man that Thou art mindful of him? We don't know much, but we know this: No matter where we are, no matter what we do, no matter how bleak or frightening our prospects, each and every one of us, each and every day, lies in the same safe and impregnable place—in the hollow of God's hand.

RIP, Tony Snow.


Snow's 2007 commencement address at Catholic University
Bill Kristol

...I’ll remember Tony Snow more for his character than his career. I’ll especially remember the calm courage and cheerful optimism he displayed in his last three years, in the face of his fatal illness.

For quite a while now, optimism has had a bad reputation in intellectual circles. The fashionable books of my youth — and they are good books — were darkly foreboding ones like Aldous Huxley’s "Brave New World" and George Orwell’s "1984." Young conservatives of the era were much taken by Whittaker Chambers’s gloomy memoir, "Witness." We who read Albert Camus — and if you had any pretensions to being a non-Marxist intellectual, you read Camus — loved the melancholy close of his essay "The Myth of Sisyphus": "One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

The basic attitude one derived from these works was that pessimism is deeper than optimism, and existential angst more profound than cheerful confidence. This attitude remains powerful, perhaps dominant, among many thoughtful people today — perhaps especially among conservatives, reacting against a facile liberal belief in progress.

Tony Snow was a conservative. But he didn’t have a prejudice in favor of melancholy. His deep Christian faith combined with his natural exuberance to give him an upbeat world view. Watching him, and so admiring his remarkable strength of character in the last phase of his life, I came to wonder: Could it be that a stance of faith-grounded optimism is in fact superior to one of worldly pessimism or sophisticated fatalism?

Tony was one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet — kind, helpful and cheerful. But underlying these seemingly natural qualities was a kind of choice: the choice of gratitude. Tony thought we should be grateful for what life has given us, not bitter or anxious about what it hasn’t.

So he once wrote that "If you think Independence Day is America’s defining holiday, think again. Thanksgiving deserves that title, hands-down." He believed that gratitude, not self-assertion, was the fundamental human truth, and that a recognition of this was one of the things that made America great...

NRO symposium
John Podhoretz

...Tony was a fascinating type. He was, literally, the opposite of a paranoid. He was a “pro-noid.” He assumed people liked him. It is a rare quality for any person. It is almost unheard-of in Washington. Tony lived a wonderful life in large measure because he believed the universe was on his side, and it was. Until it wasn’t...

Fred Barnes
Mona Charen

...From the start I could see that Tony was blessed not just with brains and great looks — he had a far rarer virtue: God gave him the most superior temperament I've ever seen in a man of his prominence. Unfailingly gracious, sweet, and genuine, he was always a pleasure to be around. We kept in touch over the years and when he was hit by cancer, the entire world saw that what had at first seemed like just niceness was something far more, something approaching greatness. Constantly dismissive of his woes and worries, steadfast in his faith in a loving God, he bore his affliction with a most surpassing grace...

David Limbaugh

...He had a uniquely jovial demeanor; he got along with people of all political persuasions; he treated everyone with respect; he was deeply knowledgeable in all matters with which he would deal and a quick study as to the limited others; he was a fierce advocate for positions he believed in -- and most of those aligned nicely with this administration's; and his verbal agility was unparalleled. Even in fierce debate, he was always of good cheer.

But in my opinion, Tony's greatest attributes were his genuineness and authenticity, his impeccable character, his abundant decency as a human being, his likability, his work ethic and, most of all, his profoundly held life priorities, beginning with his paramount and unshakable commitments to God and family.

Many have already spoken of Tony's consuming love for his wife and children and his passion for God. I am but another firsthand witness to his "walking the walk" and, like so many others, greatly admired him for it.

People tend to say very nice things about people who pass away -- and that is as it should be; it's the right thing to do. But be assured in Tony's case, all the eulogies you are hearing about and reading are heartfelt and utterly without reservation. Tony was the real article -- he and the life he led were examples to which we should all aspire...

Mark Steyn

...He was an amazing man who gave the impression he had all the time in the world for everyone he met. Which, of course, was the one thing he didn't have...

Bill Bennett
Yuval Levin

...the quality that most struck me then about Tony, whom I hadn’t met before, was not his energy and enthusiasm (which were wonderful—"a breath of fresh air" is quite right) but his deep and intensely cheerful curiosity.

In his first week in the job [as White House press secretary], I made the mistake of sending Tony a half page of “talking points” about an issue I was charged with that was likely to come up that day. This was how his predecessor had preferred to get information from the policy staff. I quickly got a call from Snow saying that was all very nice, but why don’t we talk in some detail instead about what had happened, the background, the people involved, the history, the parts reporters may not know about that ought to shape our response...it was also one of the most peculiar telephone conversations I’ve ever had. We didn’t know each other when he called, and by the end of that fifteen or twenty minute conversation, he not only knew all about the issue in question, he knew all about me, my family, and my life, and I knew more about him than I do about some people I’ve known for years. Needless to say, in that afternoon’s briefing, when the subject did come up, Tony batted the question out of the park, putting things much better than I had on the phone.

...it became clear that he wanted to learn everything he could not only so that he could speak with some depth and authority to the press...but also because he himself was moved by a love of the little details and the big stories. This was an important part of his infectious enthusiasm. His love of life and his amazement at our country had to do with an appreciation for how the little pieces added up, and what extraordinary things happen here every day. His deep reserve of principle, love, and faith was never far from the surface, and he drew on it easily and often, even as the surface was always bubbling with excitement, confidence, and optimism...

Bob Beckel and Cal Thomas on Bill O'Reilly
Mark Hemingway
Kathryn Jean Lopez here and here on Snow's interview with David Gregory, which is here; Lopez concludes with these words:

Live life until you can no longer. "Every moment's a blessing." Tony's moments with us are up, but don't let that be the takeaway from his life, that he died; we all die. Focus on how we can live — as you can see, it can make people take notice, and that's a good thing when it's for the right reasons.

Progressive Culture Shock

Justin Katz

Believe it or not, I'm not a big fan of class warfare. I'm a blue-collar capitalist, after all. I break my back merely to get by, but I'm deeply suspicious of plans to grant the government authority to redistribute income away from those who are more likely to have their backs massaged than strained.

Still, when a behind-the-scenes architect of the progressive Economic Death and Dismemberment Act laments that working stiffs aren't helping to make his commute to work via public transportation more pleasant, it's a bit much to take:

Last week, I was a little startled to get a phone call from my daughter, who is 14. She plays the viola, you see, and is traveling with her high-school orchestra in Europe for ten days this summer, and I'm the kind of 20th-century guy who is surprised by phone calls from Germany.

But it was a happy call, and she reported to me that they were in Berlin, and told me about the Checkpoint Charlie museum (giving me the opportunity to reflect that the Berlin wall, which seemed eternal to me once, came down three years before she was born), and the Fernsehturm, a giant TV tower with a rotating platform from which to view the city. But she also reported that the trains and buses were cool, too. She was thrilled that she and her friends could get wherever they wanted to go -- by themselves. We had a 3-minute call, and probably half of it was about the feeling of independence and how much fun the trains were to use. ...

The problem [in Rhode Island] is that the system is stuck: endlessly starved of resources by a legislature and Governor who don't ever ride the bus themselves and don't see its value. The result: overcrowded and unpleasant riding conditions, schedules so sparse they barely work at all, and unreliable service to boot. The truth is that RIPTA is barely adequate as public transit, and the proof is in the number of cars parked at RIPTA's Elmwood Avenue garage each day -- even the drivers and managers who get a free ride don't take it.

My question for Tom Sgouros: If my wife and I don't have the global mobility that his teenage daughter enjoys, why should we subsidize her vehicular independence back home? If we haven't been able to afford to take a whole week off in two years or to take those sorts of vacations that involve, you know, hotels and stuff for about a decade (since our honeymoon), perhaps it isn't merely the elitism of the governor and the GA that limits the distribution of public finances.

If Mr. Sgouros wishes to transfer more of the state government's current spending toward public transportation and infrastructure, he'll earn my support. But he'll have to explain to his union and other public-dime friends and employers that their largess must be the source of the funds. The rest of us are tapped, and those who need to carry van-loads of tools (rather than laptops and leather briefcases) to work don't derive quite the same cost-benefit analysis.

And if public transportation is such a great deal, by the way, why can't its managers charge enough of a fare to make ends meet without tax dollars? Their doing so might deprive a viola or two of international airfare, but at least Dad wouldn't have to ride to the office on the backs of the proles.

July 11, 2008

'Round the Table at Your Convenience

Justin Katz

The audio file of Marc's appearance on the Matt Allen Violent Round Table, with Ian Donnis and Lou Pulner, is available here.

My Turn to Get "Violent"

Marc Comtois

I'll be taking a seat at Matt Allen's Violent Roundtable tonight from 8:00 to 9:00. The other scheduled guests are media legal analyst Lou Pulner and Ian Donnis of the Providence Phoenix. Between Ian and myself, I bet we'll get some Red Sox talk in there somewhere.

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

Rhode Island 48th Most Attractive State to Business (Again)

Marc Comtois

CNBC rated the business climate of the 50 states. Well, at least we didn't get worse....


Interestingly, while RI was pretty static in most categories, there were gains in Workforce and Education (almost into the upper 1/3 in each). Here is CNBC's description of each category, respectively:

Many states point with great pride to the quality and availability of their workers, as well as government-sponsored programs to train them. We rated states based on the education level of their workforce, as well as the numbers of available workers. We also considered union membership. While organized labor contends that a union workforce is a quality workforce, that argument, more often than not, doesn’t resonate with business. We also looked at the relative success of each state’s worker training programs in placing their participants in jobs....

Education and business go hand in hand. Not only do companies want to draw from an educated pool of workers, they want to offer their employees a great place to raise a family. Higher education institutions offer companies a source to recruit new talent, as well as a partner in research and development. We looked at traditional measures of K-12 education including test scores, class size and spending. We also considered the number of higher education institutions in each state.

It appears as if the aforementioned gains were offset in the overall rankings by a big dive in the ranking of Access to Capital, which CNBC explains
Companies go where the money is, and venture capital—an increasingly important source of funding—flows to some states more than others.
Plus we're still way at the bottom in most other categories. So it would appear that the business climate in this state is so poor that even our relatively attractive workforce can't lure businesses to open up shop. Instead, they stay away. And that young and educated workforce? They leave.

A Small Correction, Mr. President (or maybe not)

Monique Chartier

From the Telegraph (UK); h/t Mark Steyn filling in for Rush Limbaugh.

Departing the G-8 Summit yesterday, President George Bush

who has been condemned throughout his presidency for failing to tackle climate change, ended a private meeting with the words: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."

He then punched the air while grinning widely, as the rest of those present including Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy looked on in shock.

Of course, China surpassed the United States in the category of carbon dioxide emissions a year ago.

In a way, though, the president is not wrong. With all aspects of anthropogenic global warming, the facts are secondary to perception and feelings. "It feels like the US is the worst polluter." "It looks like we are causing global warming." "It feels like we can stop global warming (if we are even causing it)." "It feels like we can cut 50% of our greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (even though the magical fuel source has not been identified and more countries are well down the road of fossil fuel consuming development)."

All of this despite the current scientific status of the supposed scientific theory of AGW; i.e., flat lined. Every component proven wrong and all alleged unprecedented facts - oops - with historic precedents. No one wants to call the M.E. and make it official, though, which, in the world of facts and real science, has rendered AGW a joke.

President Bush's jocularity on the subject and apparent mistake in naming us the world's worst polluter, then, is very much in keeping with the spirit and current state of affairs of AGW.

Against PC

Justin Katz

Jonah Goldberg notes an incident of a county commissioner in Texas being attacked for using the phrase "black hole" in precisely the metaphorical manner in which it is used regularly across the nation. Writes Goldberg:

Obviously, there’s something to be said for ignoring the childish grievance-peddling that motivates so much of this nonsense. But the simple fact is that ignoring political correctness has done remarkably little to combat it. Meanwhile, people who make a big deal about it are often cast as the disgruntled obsessive ones.

Meanwhile, in a Corner post, he offers some evidence from Britain of the PC path if taken farther:

Okay, toddlers who don't like foreign food are racists. Non-Muslim kids who won't kneel to Allah are bigots. Tall shrubs for gay swingers are a civil right. And Al Qaeda's "Ambassador in Europe" lives in a million and half dollar house and enjoys nearly $100K in government benefits.

What sets the "black hole" story apart some what — and indicative of a more insidious strain — is that the phrase was leveraged to insert racial grievance into a debate that, as far as one can tell, had absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand. I observed such "argumentation" frequently when I was in college, when rhetorical opponents would seize on any word in order to distract from the fact that they were losing the argument.

July 10, 2008

Re: No Scientific Theory

Justin Katz

Andrew's disagreement with John West, it seems to me, comes down to a single word: "directs." In essence, West presents two opposing possibilities:

  1. "God... intentionally directs the development of life toward a specific end."
  2. "God himself cannot know how evolution will turn out."

Andrew's hypothetical of God's experimenting with "multi-creation," picking "the one He likes best and [making] it permanent" would fit within possibility #1, with God's method of "directing" being, essentially, a series of model runs. I'd argue that such a possibility would have, in West's words, "consequences for how we view life" that are more similar to the tweaking God than the ball-rolling God, because the critical difference is the belief that God has a preference that may be understood (admittedly to a limited extent) by observing that which he has made, as St. Paul put it.

My own view is that all realities that could exist do exist in the only way that it makes sense to call "real." (In religious terms, one might say that God's imagination is reality.) What we experience as the linear progression of time is actually the movement of our souls across a playing field of options, and God acts mainly by drawing our souls toward a particular range of those possibilities.

Moving more than a clarification or two beyond that stage in the discussion requires many, many more paragraphs than I intend to pile on, here, but the salient point is that there remains an indication of "intelligent design." If there is a distinction worth making between West's statements and Andrew's, I wouldn't characterize it as one of West limiting God's rules, but one of Andrew limiting God's definition of "directing."

Poll Numbers and Government Priorities

Carroll Andrew Morse

Two recent newspaper articles have suggested that the results of the Rhode Island College Bureau of Government Research and Services poll released on July 1 imply that immigration enforcement is not an issue of interest to Rhode Islanders; one article was from a source with an established track record of writing thoughtful, long-form news-analysis pieces, Ian Donnis of the Providence Phoenix

[Providence City Councilman Luis Aponte] calls Cicilline’s liberal stance on immigration “absolutely right for the city,” but, he adds, “[I] think it does not play out well in a broader discussion.”

This might be a safe assumption, considering how the mayor and Providence Police Chief Dean Esserman have faced considerable public criticism for bucking Carcieri’s executive order on immigration. (Then again, in a recent Rhode Island College poll, just four percent of respondents ranked illegal immigration among the state’s biggest problems.)

…the other was from Scott MacKay of the Projo
Last night, Governor Carcieri was again on national television –– conservative Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly’s show –– to talk about his executive order cracking down on immigration.

While Carcieri, some legislators and the talk-radio hosts may think the issue is gaining traction locally, a recent public opinion survey by veteran pollster and political science Prof. Victor Profughi, of Rhode Island College, shows a substantial disconnect between average Rhode Islanders and political figures pushing illegal immigration as a top issue.

When asked “what do you think is the biggest problem facing Rhode Island right now,” hardly any respondents mentioned illegal immigration. Thirty-three percent said the economy, 17 percent said the state budget, 6 percent mentioned gas prices, 8 percent listed government corruption, 6 percent said taxes, 5 percent said education and 4 percent said illegal immigration.

In reponse to both excerpts, let me suggest that using polling results from open-ended questions to determine what people believe government's day-to-day priorities should be is a premise flawed from the start. In the present-day Rhode Island that we know and love, we have a perfect example of the limitations.

According to that same RIC poll, a whopping total of 1% of people surveyed gave an answer of "roads" when asked what the biggest problem facing the state was. We can safely take an answer of "roads" to include the sub-category of "potentially collapsing bridges", a problem the RI public is well-aware of.

Now, as far as I know, no one is seriously arguing that any plans for addressing Rhode Island's bridge maintenance troubles should be placed on the backburner until a bunch of other problems with better polling numbers are "solved”. I haven't seen anyone in the mainstream media, in the blogosphere or in person argue that Governor Carcieri's March announcement (the same month the illegal immigration executive order was issued, by the way) of Rhode Island’s need to effect 600 million dollars worth of "bridge repair and replacement" was a distraction from the “real” issues that government should be paying attention to. Indeed, the reaction to the bridging troubles has been exactly opposite, more along the lines of why wasn't state government paying better attention to this all along -- again, despite a meager 1% polling number for the problem of "roads".

So if a one-one-hundredth polling response does not delegitimatize the decision by Rhode Island’s executive branch of government to take some high-visibility steps to address problems that have developed over the long term in the area of “roads”, then why should Governor Carcieri's decision to address the problem of illegal immigration -- a problem also that also has been allowed to build up over the long term -- be viewed as controversial because of a similarly low (but higher) polling response?

Would it make sense to stop repairing the bridges too?

Look What Happens When Local And Federal Law Enforcement Work Together

Carroll Andrew Morse

The general public keeps hearing from various quarters that immigration is a federal matter, therefore local police authorities shouldn't take any initiative in enforcing immigration laws.

That refrain brings to mind Amanda Milkovits' story from the Projo of two Saturdays ago…

At dusk, a dozen Providence police officers and state police troopers in unmarked cruisers drove into the back of the Manton Heights housing projects, where the teenage boy killed on Wednesday had lived, and they created a ripple in the neighborhood....

Last night, without public fanfare, the police quietly launched a new street-crime task force –– made up of city and state police, and agents from the FBI –– with the intention of driving down the violent crime rate in the city’s most troubled neighborhoods.

I wonder if the FBI agents assigned to this task force told the Providence Police Department that though they would be riding along with this detail, they would only act in instances where Federal crimes were being observed, because it was up to state and local police to enforce state laws and federal agents to enforce federal laws.

Or is it more likely that the FBI agents offered their full cooperation, to help a fellow law enforcement agency do its job. Wouldn't that be ironic.

Jesse Jackson Unintentionally Weighs In

Monique Chartier

In his quest for the Presidency, has Senator Barack Obama been talking down to African Americans? [For my part, I have no idea; I haven't been able to get past the price tag of some of his proposed initiatives.]

If he has, was the reaction by Reverend Jesse Jackson appropriate and proportional?


Video available here.

For the record, Reverend Jackson has apologized for his remarks.

No Scientific Theory Can Place Limits on God

Carroll Andrew Morse

I can get out of my depth on philosophical topics rather quickly [Insert your own "And this is different from the other topics that you write about, how?" joke here], but I found John G. West's defense of the idea of "intelligent design" in his National Review Online article on the recently-passed Louisiana Science Education Act deeply unsatisfying…

If it really is a “fact” that the evolution of life was an unplanned process of chance and necessity (as Neo-Darwinism asserts), then that fact has consequences for how we view life. It does not lead necessarily to Richard Dawkins’s militant atheism, but it certainly makes less plausible the idea of a God who intentionally directs the development of life toward a specific end. In a Darwinian worldview, even God himself cannot know how evolution will turn out — which is why theistic evolutionist Kenneth Miller argues that human beings are a mere “happenstance” of evolutionary history, and that if evolution played over again it might produce thinking mollusks rather than us.
West is mixing science and theology here in a way that just can't be done.

Consider this: An omnipotent God could evolve an infinite number of universes, from big-bang to big-crush (or big fade-to-black, depending upon if He's creating closed or open universes), an infinite number of times, all in a single instant. When the instant of multi-creation is done, maybe He picks the one He likes best and makes it permanent, or maybe he skips the whole process of making them all, and jumps right to the end He knows will be best -- He is God, He can know the outcome to everything before it has begun -- bringing us to where we are now. Indeed, to say that God has to plan a universe the same way we humans would plan a big project, with a set of linear, step-by-step milestones and checkpoints along the way, is to place some rather unimaginative, human limits on His power.

What we call "science" is the study of the observable and repeatable rules that God has set for the universe we live in. But the fact that the physical universe that we experience is limited by a set of natural laws and processes created by God doesn't imply that the Maker of the laws is limited in any way at all -- it just means that mortal minds can't fully fathom the ways of an omnipotent God.

Tangled Finances and the Ed. Partnership's Demise

Justin Katz

It appears that the collapse of the Education Partnership may have more to it than a drying up of revenue:

The Education Partnership, an advocacy organization backed by local businesses, went into receivership last month, in part because several contracts to produce research and reports for municipalities and school districts fell through, said Shine. He was appointed permanent receiver by the court yesterday after serving as temporary receiver since June 18. At the hearing, Shine gave an update to the judge on what he has discovered about the organization's finances.

Shine said that money from different sources — including federal grants earmarked for specific programs, grants from private sources and scholarship money — apparently was mingled with the Education Partnership's operational expenses. "There were no separate escrow accounts," Shine said.

The "mingled" finances may or may not have been the underlying sickness that led to the Partnership's demise, but it certainly would have been in the best interests of those counting on the group, especially scholarship recipients, had the money set aside for their benefit been, well, set aside. A failure to receive "contracts to produce research and reports for municipalities and school districts" shouldn't have affected dedicated revenue streams, although it would be interesting to know the story behind the loss of those contracts.

The Triumph of Cafeteria Libertarianism?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over at RI Future, diarist PDM has posted a video that, I think, is intended to shock Americans into realizing what their country is becoming, or something like that.

Here's what I don't understand. PDM, I believe, is a Ron Paul supporter. If a similar incident happened in say Sudan or Zimbabwe or Iran, but instead of being escorted away, the protester was shot between the eyes, the response we saw from Ron Paul of the Republican Presidential debates would basically be to say "none of our business"; "someone might not like it if we try to help change the system that allows that, so we should do nothing".

So, if Ron Paul and his supporters don't believe that we should care enough to act when other human beings are treated cruelly at the hands of a foreign dictators, on what grounds do they expect anyone to care enough to act about much milder treatment of citizens by a government, for example when a lady is escorted away from a political event for what appears to be a legitimate, peaceful expression of her First Amendment rights?

Something Pervasive

Justin Katz

I took the call last night to Matt Allen to talk about the RI governance philosophy on display at the Tiverton School Committee meeting this week (segment streamable by clicking here, or download). I'm not sure whether it's a good thing or reason for concern, but I think I'm starting to get the feel of Rhode Island politics.

July 9, 2008

Waiting for that Hard-Hitting, Old-Time-Journalism Scott MacKay Column on Barack Obama's Misplaced Priorities

Carroll Andrew Morse

Presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama had this to say yesterday, in an address to the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington D.C…

I fought with you in the Senate for comprehensive immigration reform. And I will make it a top priority in my first year as President -- not only because we have an obligation to secure our borders and get control of who comes in and out of our country. And not only because we have to crack down on employers who are abusing undocumented immigrants instead of hiring citizens. But because we have to finally bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows.
Projo news columnist Scott MacKay criticized Obama for making the immigration issue a top priority…
You might think our political leaders would have something more important to do than wrangle over the illegal-immigration issue.
Wait?!?! You’re telling me I’ve made an error? You mean the above statement wasn’t directed at Senator Obama, but at Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri and Providence Mayor David Cicilline?

But if the idea that immigration reform is a distraction from real issues applies to Governor Carcieri and Mayor Cicilline, then columnist MacKay must believe that it applies to Senator Obama too, and that (as well as John McCain, for that matter) is wrong for making immigration reform a top issue in his platform, right?

Mid-Year Tax Increase in Cranston?

Carroll Andrew Morse

It passed so quickly, Cranston residents may have missed it, but reporter David Scharfenberg in Sunday’s Projo referred to the possibility of a “mid-year” tax increase in the city of Cranston…

In Cranston, the mayor and City Council never seriously entertained a tax increase this past budget season.

Elections were approaching in November, after all.

And [Mayor Michael Napolitano], who has since announced he is not running for reelection, was still expecting a tight race.

But as the city’s financial problems mount, there is a growing sense in the halls of government that something has to give.

A midyear property-tax increase is a distinct possibility. Officials say salaries should be frozen and employees should pay more for their health care.

I asked Allan Fung, the Republican candidate for Mayor of Cranston, for his thoughts on a possible mid-year tax increase; here is his reply...
Cranston residents are in this financial mess because the current Mayor and his allies on the City Council were afraid to cut spending. Instead, in 2007 Napolitano and his Council allies raised taxes to the maximum allowed by state law while giving little additional money to the schools. Napolitano and his rubber stamp City Council wasted this new revenue by entering into an unaffordable Firefighters contract filled with jaw dropping benefits and spent millions on unnecessary legal settlements. Now the school bills are due, and the financial house of cards Napolitano and his followers on the Council built is starting to come tumbling down. Unfortunately, it will be the Cranston taxpayers who will have to pay the price and pick up the pieces.

Jim Quinlan, Republican candidate for one of Cranston's three citywide City Council seats, also weighs in...

Not only is a supplemental tax increase possible, but Councilman John Lanni (D-City Wide) has already announced publicly, at the June Council Meeting, that it was to be expected in order to fund the Council's irresponsible spending.

In 18 months, this Council and Mayor have undone the financial repairs made to the City of Cranston prior to their term. They have given unaffordable contracts to Firefighters, bought swampland that the City does not have the money to pay for, and dipped into the rainy day fund on three occasions.

Cranston residents have a chance in November to put a stop to the waste and demand a little Common Sense in Cranston City Hall.

We need to elect leaders who understand priorities and know that Cranston taxpayers can not be expected to take any tax increase without first seeing a dramatic cut in spending and an overhaul of how business is done in Cranston.

Rhode Island Government in Miniature

Justin Katz

A habit of governance in Rhode Island came into view after an interesting item from the Tiverton Schools Administrative Policy came up at last night's School Committee meeting:

Distribution of literature as to candidacy, bond issues, or other public question to be submitted at election: prohibited. No literature which is any manner and in any part thereof promotes, favors or opposes the candidacy of any candidate for election, or the adoption of any bond issues proposal, or any public question submitted at any general, municipal or school election shall be given to any public school pupil in any public school building or on the grounds thereof, for the purpose of having such pupil take the same to his home or distribute it to any person outside of said building or grounds, nor shall any pupil be requested or directed by any official or employee of the public schools to engage in any activity which tends to promote, favor or oppose any such candidacy, bond issue, proposal, or public question.

There are several areas of particular concern to the Board with respect to this law:

1. No school paper or supplies or reproducing equipment nor any other facilities of the school are to be used for the purpose of campaigning for or against passing of the budget or for any candidates. These provisions apply to all formal school publications.

2. Lists of student names are provided only when needed for school activities and are not to be used for other purposes and should contain a warning against their unauthorized use.

The committee's lawyer, Stephen Robinson, argued that various suspect uses of public resources — a PTO letter on school letterhead and a recording of Superintendent Bill Rearick issued via the district's telephone notification system, both encouraging attendance at the financial town meeting — did not violate this policy because the materials did not offer instructions "for or against" the budget. "Where public bodies get into trouble," he explained, "is when they go out and hire a PR firm" — when they take up a political campaign "to maximize the troops."

Even putting aside the fact that at least one of these communications used language suggesting that attendance was necessary for cuts to be "avoided," the context leaves little doubt about the intention, no matter what linguistic legalistic niceties might permit. It was only after voters rejected an excessive increase in taxes that the communications went out from public bodies with reference to the follow-up meeting, at which that vote was ultimately reversed (with undertones of disenfranchisement).

Indeed, both Committee Chairwoman Denise DeMedeiros and Vice Chairman Michael Burk evinced no compunction about their belief that it is their job to advocate for the budget on which they've settled as elected representatives. Mr. Robinson might be better equipped than I to address the question of whether there's a hidden clause in area of concern #1 (quoted above) to the effect of: "except when citizens behave as if direct democracy is actually supposed to allow contrary outcomes."

This is where something more broadly typical of Rhode Island governance comes into play: One of my fellow small-government types in the audience pointed out, after the meeting, that some of the strongest voices in defense of the district's political activities have also been among the strongest holding the budgetary line, especially when it has come to negotiations with the teachers' union. Targeting DeMedeiros and Burk for elimination would not likely serve tax-conscious voters well, and yet they apparently both possess a view of governmental processes that ought to be of grave concern.

By their ire last night, they gave the impression that the voting booth ought to be the only point of public interference with their authority. In their view, they've done their best in accordance with elective mandate to develop a budget, and it follows naturally from that mandate that they are to advocate, promote, and push their result toward passage. The idea that any means at their disposal ought to be disallowed from that end seemed visibly to agitate the pair. If (hypothetically) they pushed an envelope while flexing their muscle as part of a coordinated, cross-municipality campaign to effect a particular democratic result, then the only legitimate forum for grievance is the next ballot with their names on it.

The local effect of such a regime is to dilute public input, as voters misconstrue which officials are most directly to blame or are bedazzled by political maneuvering. It also discourages participation beyond general election votes. As the arrogance moves up the governmental scale, however, the corrupting influence of believing that the "democracy" ought to be minimized in a "representative democracy" becomes more problematic. "Take me or leave me" presents an elected official with compoundingly greater leeway than "take me, but forbid me that." I imagine it's a relatively simple matter to conclude that it is in the public interest for its officials to prosper, after all.

Factor in the consideration that these particular elected officials are our neighbors, whom we see regularly and whom we know personally, and the Tiverton School Committee is Rhode Island government writ small. In it we can observe, as in a model, the intellectual strains and policy structures that have brought us to the leading edge of state-level corruption in the U.S.A. If there were a good-government advocacy group with an interest in civil rights and constitutional litigation, these small axes would certainly worthy of some grinding; the sparks might start fires more broadly than might initially seem likely.

July 8, 2008

Grumbling to Power

Justin Katz

Well, exhausting schedule notwithstanding, I'm at the Tiverton School Committee meeting because a concerned citizen is on the agenda to raise questions about the superintendent's use of public resources to invite interested citizens to vote for higher taxes at the last financial town meeting.

Speaking of which, I see the town council is taking careful steps toward undermining the year-long efforts of the Charter Review Commission to come up with a potential alternative to such meetings:

"We need to let the citizens weigh in before we nix any of these proposals," said council Vice President Donald Bollin, even though he and others said they would not support the main question that would ask voters if the annual financial town meeting should be replaced with an all-day referendum.

Council President Louise Durfee said that question is so "fatally flawed" that she couldn't even bring herself to vote to have it heard at a public hearing.

If voters do not approve the budget at the all-day referendum, the proposed process calls for the previous year tax levy to be adopted and increased by a percentage equal to an indexing factor of no more than 4 percent.

Durfee contends that a "no" vote could have a chaotic effect on the town — "the likes of which we have not seen."

Just in case your jaw didn't drop, let me repeat that Town Council President Louise Durfee "couldn't even bring herself to vote to have it heard at a public hearing." The "fatal flaw," apparently, is that citizens could limit budget increases to around four percent — which is about what state law will soon limit them to, anyway. It would seem that Ms. Durfee doesn't take the state cap very seriously. (She must think that the small-government contingent in town has now been noticed and can be squashed as a matter of course in the future.)

To remedy this "fatal flaw" of citizen activism, the council proposed its own change to financial processes in the town, taking our government in completely the wrong direction:

A counter amendment to replace the annual financial town meeting was submitted by Councilman Brian Medeiros and calls for the Town Council to adopt an annual town budget, including the School Department budget. Any resident not happy with the budget could petition for a referendum that would have voters decide the dollar amount.

So the system would shift from a regular, expected, meeting at which everything in the budget is available for change to a representative-only decision that citizens would then have to petition (with signatures in the hundreds, probably) to vote on.

One can only hope that a goodly number of Tiverton residents will prove unable to bring themselves to return a majority of council members to their offices as election cycles go by.

ADDENDUM (8:00 p.m.)

The meeting is back in session. Rob Coulter will be taking the microphone after some regular business. The delay may prove to have been worth the time, though, because it gave some worthy candidates who'll move the town government in the right direction a chance to gather signatures to appear on the ballot. Among those candidates were Rob, for Budget Committee, his wife Danielle, for School Committee, as well as a gentleman name Tom Parker for Budget Committee.

ADDENDUM (8:20 p.m.)

The difference between summer meetings and school-year meetings during teacher contract negotiations is palpable. It'd be nice, though, if the citizenry were sufficiently engaged to keep the meetings lively year-round.

ADDENDUM (8:35 p.m.)

Rob: "The morale of the town is pretty low, and this is an opportunity for this body to address what did or did not happen." The council seems skeptical that "the town" is upset.

Denise DeMedeiros (chairwoman): "A group is upset, I'll give you that."

Rearick: "I think the confusion, if there is any confusion, is that a letter may have gone out on our letterhead that was not signed."

DeMedeiros: "In my opinion, the more people that you get in that room at the financial town meeting the better." Of course, especially if those voters might be inclined to "redo" the will of voters at the previous meeting.

Rob noted that the language of the committee's messages suggested that the budget cuts should be "avoided." DeMedeiros explained that it's the school committee's job to advocate for the school, and a budget cut is part of that.

The committee's lawyer cited state law suggesting that the school committee communicate with the public. "Where public bodies get into trouble when they go out and hire a PR firm." It's the political campaign, he suggests, "to maximize the troops" that is contrary to policy and law. One wonders how a last ditch effort to undermine citizen unrest isn't an effort to "maximize the troops."


Committee member Leonard Wright has moved for Supt. Rearick produce a report on the use of town resources. Other members seem content with this current conversation.


DeMedeiros is trying to close the meeting. "This isn't a public hearing." Boos from the crowd.

Jeff Caron, of the Budget Committee, pointed out that school resources have been used to distribute PTO advocacy.

ADDENDUM (from home):

I'm no constitutional scholar, but it seems to me that the school committee admitted that the PTO frequently uses school resources, and it was an "oversight," but not a travesty, that the group managed to send some of its advocacy out on official school letterhead. Be opinions on that as they may, no doubt the next budget cycle will see small-government groups permitted to send messages via school children also "offering information" to parents with regard to the need to vote on budgetary matters. Surely letterhead in the name of "Tivertonians for Non-Crushing Taxation" would be acceptable... so long as the message didn't advocate a vote in any particular direction.

Sowell:"Conservatives for Obama?"

Marc Comtois

Thomas Sowell, noting that more than a few conservatives/Republicans are voicing their intent to vote for Obama, opines as to why they may believe they have legitimate reasons for taking the leap of faith.

Partly what is going on is that, in recent years, the Congressional Republicans in general-- and Senator John McCain in particular-- have so alienated so many conservatives that some of these conservatives are like a drowning man grasping at a straw.

The straw in this case is Obama's recent "refining" of his position on a number of issues, as he edges toward the center, in order to try to pick up more votes in November's general election.

Understandable as the reactions of some conservatives may be, a straw is a very unreliable flotation device.

If all that was involved was Democrats versus Republicans, the Republicans would deserve the condemnation they are getting, after their years of wild spending and their multiple betrayals of the principles and the people who got them elected. Amnesty for illegal aliens was perhaps the worst betrayal.

But of course, that isn't all that is involved. And Sowell explains how the difference between Obama's past actions and current words should be enough for conservatives to reassess.
But, while the media may treat the elections as being about Democrats and Republicans-- the "horse race" approach-- elections were not set up by the Constitution of the United States in order to enable party politicians to get jobs.

Nor were elections set up in order to enable voters to vent their emotions or indulge their fantasies.

Voting is a right but it is also a duty-- a duty not just to show up on election day, but a duty to give serious thought to the alternatives on the table and what those alternatives mean for the future of the nation.

What is becoming ever more painfully apparent is that too many people this year-- whether conservative, liberals or whatever-- are all too willing to judge Barack Obama on the basis of his election-year rhetoric, rather than on the record of what he has advocated and done during the past two decades.

Many are for him for no more serious reasons than his mouth and his complexion. The man has become a Rorschach test for the feelings and hopes, not only of those on the left, but also for some on the right as well.

I know: here I go again, being the Obamapostate. But I keep harping on this stuff because I'm fascinated by how people can put so much faith--and that's what it is--in any politician with a track record as sparse as Obama's. Especially combined with his recent, quite remarkable, tendency to change positions on some of the fundamental issues that got him the nomination in the first place. Further, while I can understand how this typically political action ("moving to the center") is ignored by the converted, I don't understand how conservatives can't see through this aspect of Obama's, ahem, change.

Then again, I get the emotional satisfaction, the temptation, of supporting the compelling, and potentially historical, figure that is Obama. And I get that conservatives have had it when they see a GOP that has forsaken some key conservative principles and then topped it off by nominating a guy who predicated his primary run on attracting non-Republicans!

But is the logical reaction against a 70% solution to succumb to a negative political emotionalism and vote for the guy who you might agree with 20% of the time? Of course not, but this all about emotion. The temptation to contribute to a crash and burn scenario is strong, as we Rhode Islander conservatives know. But how can we be sure he's going to fail spectacularly? What if he does just enough to get re-elected, entrenches a couple Supreme Court Justices and enlarges government beyond what it is now? Then who will get burned?

Alert David Mittell...

Carroll Andrew Morse

From Andrew M. Seigel, Associate Professor at the Seattle University School of Law, posting at Prawfsblawg (h/t Orin Kerr via Instapundit)...

Without further ado, here is my highly subjective lists of the ten people most likely to find themselves on the Supreme Court at the end of a first Obama term...

(8) Deval Patrick--Was already on a lot of lists before we knew his friend was going to be the nominee. The rare elected official with all the right legal credentials. Would be much higher if not for the rockiness of his term as governor.

Protecting the State's Gambling Investment

Carroll Andrew Morse

ChasWalker has a good post up at RI Future, adding some color to the new procedures implemented by the state for protecting the nightly haul from Twin River, in the event of the casino operator suddenly declaring bankruptcy.

Based on ChasWalker's parameters and using special pre-cognitive predictive software just installed on my computer, I've run a simulation that visualizes what the last day at Twin River could look like, if Twin River goes bankrupt after part of the equity in the state's lottery system has been given to the employee pension fund, meaning that there are three parties with a direct and major stake in all winnings.

To see the results, click here.

Providence Phoenix Political Hit-"Journalism"

Justin Katz

One hopes that some vestige of integrity left Mary Ann Sorrentino feeling dirty as she submitted a hit piece on McCain to the Providence Phoenix. Inasmuch as the paper actually published it, however, that hope is likely baseless.

The more than 1500 pages detailing McCain's medical information do not dispel the notion that the candidate's notorious temper may be related to his more than five years in a Vietnam prison camp. Reporting on his health in May, the New York Times noted how McCain's doctors called him robust. The end of the story also noted: "As a prisoner of war, Mr. McCain told doc-tors, he had tried to commit suicide twice. But by 1977, he said he had 'all but forgotten the traumas of captivity.'" ...

In John McCain: An American Odyssey (Free Press, 2007) author Robert Timberg (who knows, the candidate has said, "more about me than I do") calls McCain's legendary rages "out of all proportion to the provocation." He has also cited the sound of jangling keys as a trigger for McCain's POW-related nightmares.

The second paragraph is a freshman-year "paraphrasing" of a passage from this Salon piece by Mark Benjamin, and the "more about me" line apparently comes from promotional materials for Timberg's book, the most complete rendering of which that I've been able to find being: "Bob Timberg...often gives me the unsettling feeling that he knows more about me than I do." As with all such press-kit one-liners, however, the absent context likely makes all the difference; the next sentence could have, for example, been "But most of the time it seems as if he's just making stuff up." (I'm trying to track down the full source.) The limited context that Benjamin/Sorrentino brush off certainly diminishes the quotation's usefulness of proof that McCain affirms Timberg's telling.

No doubt — for the sake of fairness and in the name of journalism — the Phoenix will seek out reportage explaining that Obama's medical records do not "dispel the notion" that he suffers from black rage.

July 7, 2008

Now That's an Entitlementality

Justin Katz

In the midst of a story about Rhode Island government's hard financial times, one finds the following nugget:

... local officials say they need more.

They want state legislators to change the pension rules for municipal employees, requiring them to work longer before they can retire.

They are also pushing for the repeal of a state law that allows third-party arbitrators to impose sometimes costly police and fire contracts on municipalities after union talks break down.

Those proposals face opposition from the state's powerful labor lobby.

Tony Capezza, Rhode Island state director of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, said the binding arbitration law is only fair, since police officers and firefighters do not have the right to strike.

"If you don't have binding arbitration, you would have to have the right to strike," he said. "Lincoln freed the slaves years ago."

Yeah. Working at will an environment in which employers have the final say in running their organizations and employees with jobs critical to public safety can't put those jobs on hold, en masse, as a negotiating tactic is just like being owned as chattel.

ProJo Spins 75% Approval of E-Verify

Marc Comtois

Hey, you. The one who was part of the 75% percent of Rhode Islanders who said they approve of Governor Carcieri's E-verify Executive Order (and presumably the E-verify bill that just got killed by Senator Theresa Paiva-Weed). Guess what? The Journal's Steve Peoples and/or Cynthia Needham think you were just confused...or something...by the question (the only one they commented on, btw):

Seventy-five percent agree with the governor’s executive order cracking down on illegal immigrants. The order, according to a vague and rather long survey question, “requires that the Federal E-Verify system be used to screen state workers and employees of companies doing business with the state and directs certain state agencies to work cooperatively with Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel in enforcing federal immigration laws.”
You poor, ADD-ridden rubes, you must have gotten distracted by a shiny object while listening to the question and just answered "Yes."

The Strings of Government

Justin Katz

Without regard to the topic, this article is worth a read for the insight it provides with regard to state government:

In a meeting of the House environmental committee on the next-to-last day of the legislative session, all the members had worn neon yellow stickers publicly declaring their support for companion bills that would raise maximum fines against industrial polluters from $1,000 to $25,000 a day — without compromise.

The committee chairman, wearing his own yellow sticker, said he was determined to bring one of the identical bills up for a vote and get it on the House floor, even if it cost him his chairmanship.

But the committee vote never materialized. ...

By all accounts, Malik needed a green light from the House leadership — House Majority Leader Gordon Fox in particular — before he could call for a vote on a bill in his own committee. And that signal did not come. ...

... "Nothing happens without the concurrence of the leadership," [Rep. Joseph Amaral, R-Tiverton] said. "There is no discretion given to committees.

"If they don't vote the way the leadership wants, their personal bills don't get passed. People don't get promoted or put into certain places," Amaral said.

"The concentration of power is delegated to too few individuals," he said.

July 5, 2008

Can Obama, or Anyone, Live Up to the H(y)ope?

Marc Comtois

Brown U. senior and Darfur activist Scott Warren had a piece in Saturday's ProJo describing his recent visit to Kenya where he saw first-hand how much the Kenyan people love the idea of one of their own--Barack Obama--on the doorstep of becoming President of the U.S. The enthusiasm in Kenya may match or even exceed that in the U.S., but in both places, while Warren doesn't quite put it this way (heh), Obama has succeeded in becoming an empty vessel of hope and change to be filled by whatever is needed. But Warren warns that this exuberance, this dependence on a man to make it all better for each person according to their own desire, is a dangerous thing:

Obama’s Kenyan supporters, not unlike much of his domestic constituency, often carry unrealistically high expectations, thinking that he can single-handedly cure AIDS, materially improve the lot of Kenyans and end economic inequality. Kenyans may be disappointed if their lives do not significantly improve after four years of an Obama White House.

The enthusiasm for Obama’s candidacy has intrigued many Americans, who marvel that Kenyans have named beers after him. This enthusiasm, however, carries real consequences. The American president is not only held responsible for peace in his own country, but also for stability around the globe. Obama’s excitement could generate unprecedented levels of international support for American policies. Heightened expectations, however, could lead to real disappointment.

Arlene Violet on the Immigration Verification Policy of the PPD

Monique Chartier

This awful crime brought into focus the technologically retarded procedure whereby the Providence police check the immigration status of people who come into their official custody. We should note here that it was the Mayor of Providence, not the police department, who arranged and ordered this procedure.

Arlene Violet did some research and determined exactly how and why this procedure is so infeasible. [Courtesy the Valley Breeze.]

The local ICE (Immigration and Control Enforcement) office has been gutted by a reduction of personnel. In response, the ICE passed out equipment to large police departments. This computer responds to a typed in name by alerting officials that the person is not in the country legally since there is no record of him. What happens if a person "borrows" the name of somebody who is here legally? Well, a picture pops up of the legal immigrant. The police officer than can compare the suspect to the picture and determine if the use of the name and address is purloined.

The Providence police did not use the equipment where it takes less than a minute to check the status. Instead, the department sends over a weekly list of all arrests for the staff-starved ICE to check. It already knows that the officers there don't have the manpower to check the list since that was the reason why the Providence Police got the database equipment. In fact, sending an entire list masks the one or two who should have been checked.

The sad reality is that the Mayor of Providence panders to the immigrant community. He thinks he can protect his posterior by claiming that they sent the list. The excuse doesn't work. ...

Beating the "Inevitable"

Justin Katz

No political strategist am I, but Jonah Goldberg's suggestion for the McCain campaign strikes me as wise:

As many have noted, it's ironic that Obama supporters who profess to want bipartisanship are indisputably voting for the wrong guy. There's next to nothing in Obama's record that suggests he's better equipped to reach across the aisle and work with the opposition party, against the wishes of his own party's activist base. Obama is bipartisan on popular issues, not on controversial ones. Meanwhile, that's McCain's whole schtick.

What's more ironic is that bipartisanship wouldn't be an issue for a President Obama. If, as expected, the Democrats win large majorities in the House and Senate, Obama won't need Republicans for anything, and there's no reason to expect he would find common cause with the GOP against the base of his own party. In the Illinois Legislature, Obama was a pliable creature of the corrupt Democratic machine. Why, McCain might ask, should we expect that he will be otherwise at the national level?

Obama may be moving rapidly to the center, embracing faith-based initiatives and backpedaling on Iraq and NAFTA, but he is not "triangulating." He has not picked any serious fights with his base, no doubt in part because he doesn't think he has to.

This is a potential opening for McCain to exploit. Obama's thin record offers little ammo for McCain. But the Democrats who would truly run the country if they controlled both the Congress and the White House do indeed have a long record.

The reason the Obamanation is willing to overlook his move to the center is likely that nobody believes that he'll stay there, especially with his party's control of the legislature. McCain, therefore, must push him to choose: keep his messianic grip on his base, or fulfill the promise (or promise to fulfill the promise) of substantive compromise.

Even for his own sake, McCain must hammer home how plain wrong Obama is on most issues, because the Republican's biggest problem has arguably been his years of testy relationships with his party's base. He has to hammer home the message that voting against him isn't just a protest vote, it's a "let it burn" vote.

July 4, 2008

Dolphins on the Greens

Monique Chartier

Semi-retired columnist Dave Barry attended the Miami Dolphins' annual charity golf tournament a couple of weeks ago and files a report of sorts on the Dolphins, who apparently did not do so well last season.

I decided to go scout the Miami Dolphins on Monday, to see how they look this year. This is important, because the Dolphins represent South Florida's manhood, and last season we had the same community testosterone level as the audience for a Barbra Streisand concert. The Dolphins lost 15 games and won only one, which I believe was against Princeton.

So there's a lot of pressure on them to not suck so much this year. But the preseason news has been troubling, especially the feud between Jason Taylor and the Big Tuna.

[Click here for the entire column. Courtesy the Miami Herald.]

Myths and Conclusions

Justin Katz

Without gainsaying my own potential culpability, I have to admit that a recent business-section column by URI business administration professor Edward Mazze left me confused. He asserts five myths of varying persuasiveness, but his explanations don't consistently jibe.

He and I agree on the first myth, which he states as follows:

First, without financial incentives or tax subsidies companies will not relocate to Rhode Island or stay in the state.

Rhode Island's ostensible leaders spend too much time trying to be micromanagers of the state's economic success, and Mazze is precisely correct in his explanation:

Taxes and incentives are important if they fit into a plan that targets specific geographic areas, population groups and industries for economic growth. ... We need to move from Rhode Island being the “let’s make a deal” state to the right climate for business to succeed state.

His second "myth," however, he treats as ambiguously mythical:

Second, we need to have infrastructure for economic development.

He argues that, in reality, "the infrastructure develops as a result of economic progress," but then he concludes that Rhode Island should "rethink our priorities and make sure that infrastructure investments receive top priority from the governor and legislature." It seems to me that, rather than attempting to adhere to a rigid structure of supposed myths, Mazze would have done better to argue for economic holism. In this case, infrastructure and progress represent a self-reinforcing cycle, whereby each makes more of the other possible.

In the case of his third "myth," Mazze slips such a large consideration bearing on unionization under the table that he comes close to contradicting himself:

Third, the unions make it impossible to do business in Rhode Island.

He argues that "unions are the greatest supporter of economic development since it leads to jobs," but in failing to emphasize the qualifier that unions support jobs for union members, he misses the underlying relevance of the burden of "legislation [that] is often introduced that adds new rules, regulations and fees for businesses": those rules, regulations, and fees build protective walls around the state's powerholders, including established unions. Mazze doesn't even draw the obvious connection of unionization with a necessity that he rightly declares:

The state needs to make tough decisions regarding the consolidation of services and departments and restructuring education, police, fire and other services on a county basis.

What do public education, police, fire, and other services all have in common in Rhode Island?

With myth number 4, we're back to agreement:

Fourth, projects that create large numbers of jobs such as the expansion of the airport, the location of a port and the building of a resort casino are not the types of jobs Rhode Islanders need.

I differ with respect to the advisability of Rhode Island's getting into the casino business, but the broader point that our leaders' (again, micromanaging) tendency to seek just the right economic development ultimately hinders progress. Young workers need education as well as the financial stability provided by working parents. If a carpenter cannot find work in Rhode Island, he can't lift his children toward more lucrative careers; if families cannot find regular ol' work in this state, they'll bring their children elsewhere. If adults cannot make their livings with less glamorous occupations, leaving sufficient time for independent pursuits, they cannot develop new skills (e.g., by attending night school).

Myth #5 is another with a point well taken, but perhaps without the mandate that it be cast in terms of popular error:

Fifth, economic development is a government responsibility.

I'd posit that economic development is a government responsibility, but it is one answered by getting out of the way. If it is not a government responsibility, then one cannot blame the government for its insidious and disruptive meddling. Our "leaders" responsibility requires them to cease behaving as if they've the wisdom and experience to guide our economy toward the sort of businesses that they'd prefer.

Forgetting the Other Paths of History

Justin Katz

Mark Patinkin's column takes a massive military analytical document as a springboard to declare the "incompetence of those" who put our troops in harm's way:

Up to now, that second point has mostly been made by those labeled war critics. But this week, the Army itself came out with a major report essentially saying the critics are right.

It didn't use the word "incompetence," but it might as well have. In short, the 700-page report, titled "On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign," said there was a rush to war with almost no planning to secure the peace, and negligent decisions — like disbanding the Iraqi military — that led to the instability and violence that continues there today.

I haven't read the entire book cover to cover, but what I have read and perused left me with a much different impression. For its part, Patinkin's column left me with the impression of a man rolling gleefully in the B.S. of hindsight's perfect vision:

Remember the looting that followed the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime? I wondered, as does this new report, why Washington let it go on for days. Anyone with a television could see this wasn't just a few folks grabbing things from stores, it was a catastrophic stripping of everything of value. I later talked to a soldier returning from an Iraq tour who said that even window frames were torn out. ...

The report says our leadership assumed things would quickly stabilize in Iraq as they did after the war in Bosnia and Kosovo. That's another way of saying there was no planning for what to do after Saddam's fall. ...

Indeed, the new report says the leadership believed post-combat Iraq would need "only a limited commitment by the U.S. military."

It was a false assumption, one of many mentioned in the new report.

Like the dismissal of the Iraqi army. Others have said this was a huge mistake that instantly created tens of thousands of disaffected, armed, resentful Sunnis ripe for recruitment by the insurgency. Apparently, no one on high worried about that, or seemingly worried about much at all.

I remember another early sense of dread when stories came out about ammunition dumps not being secured. The report cites this as a mistake, too, and it's not just Monday morning quarterbacking to say it should have been done. You'd think that would be a major priority — taking control of the very arsenal just used against us.

The line that "no one on high ... seemingly worried about much at all" is viciously uncharitable and suggests that Patinkin is writing his malignant prose based on others' summaries of the document, because On Point II puts the apparent errors in the context of other considerations. Yes, the looting and unsecured ammunition depots were worrisome at the time, but we hadn't yet cleared our minds of the possibility of WMD attacks, and concern still existed that the deposed parties would set about destroying the nation's oil wealth (as we understood to be a possibility from the first Gulf War). If things had turned out differently, Patinkin might be drumming his fingers on his belly in consternation that we wasted time with window frames and mere bullets as the resources necessary for the rebuilding of Iraq burned and biological weapons were unleashed. He might be decrying the lack of thought behind keeping the enemy military armed and in place only to undermine our efforts from within.

Patinkin's facileness extends to his churlish insinuation that those who planned and orchestrated the war failed to consider Iran. To the contrary, that nation's inclusion in President Bush's Axis of Evil proves that Iran has been front and center in our efforts toward the broader War on Terror, and removing the simpler threat next door — procuring staging grounds and hopefully an ally within stone's throwing distance — has surely had an effect. Are there doubts about the future? Of course. But war and foreign affairs are not like writing, in which a pundit hits a deadline and walks away confident that his point's been successfully conveyed. Adjustments must be made, and success is not ensured. Things can turn sour. The stages are strategic, not sequential.

What might Iran have been doing these past several years if we'd shown an unwillingness to dive militarily into the heart of the Middle East? For one thing, it wouldn't have been investing resources in battling us on the conventional battleground. For another, it would certainly have been devoting thought to the policies suggested by the new world of global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction unleashed by proxy. An amorphous network of global terrorists provides a medium for cooperation between otherwise contentious groups and nations against a common enemy: us.

With Patinkin's suggestion that Saddam "had been doing our work keeping al-Qaida from turning Iraq into its new base," he proves that he is no longer conveying the findings of the official document with which he began, but rather is chewing the cud of revisionist history. Indeed, On Point II offers this reminder of the context in which the war in Iraq began:

With the Taliban removed from power and al-Qaeda on the run in Afghanistan, President Bush turned his attention to Iraq. Saddam Hussein's behavior following the 1991 Gulf War had established the dictator's willingness to flout international law. Saddam continued to obstruct the weapons inspectors (who had become known as the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission and returned to Iraq), bragged that he would use WMD on Israel if he possessed them, and maintained contact with Islamic terrorist groups.13 In light of the terrorist attacks of 11 September, the possibility of a nuclear-armed Saddam passing WMD or related technology to terrorists, or actually using WMD, could not be permitted by the United States. The Iraqi dictator's obstructionist tactics and maltreatment of Hans Blix's team of weapons inspectors provided further cause to view him as a serious threat.

The accuracy of our assessments at the time is a matter of legitimate debate (as is the relevance of particular inaccuracies), but recent efforts — toward which human beings are indubitably prone — to cast actions as clearly identifiable along axes of right and wrong, wise and incompetent, and to reposition ourselves within the light of what we now believe to be correct, such efforts open a path for fatal misjudgments in the future. Yes, we all err frequently in both moral and factual terms in the present, and yes, we oughtn't shirk our obligation to assess the errors of the past, but we ought to be clear-eyed as we do so, and clarity requires that we recall that the future viewed from the past contained paths that differ dramatically from the present that we're experiencing.

Happy Birthday, America!

Donald B. Hawthorne

Once again, in celebration of America's birthday, here are excerpted gems from previous postings about our beloved country - brought together in one posting:

President Calvin Coolidge gave a powerful speech in 1926 on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. If you want to rediscover some of the majesty of the principles underlying our Founding, read Coolidge's entire speech. Here are some key excerpts:

There is something beyond the establishment of a new nation, great as that event would be, in the Declaration of Independence which has ever since caused it to be regarded as one of the great charters that not only was to liberate America but was everywhere to ennoble humanity.

It was not because it proposed to establish a new nation, but because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles, that July 4, 1776, has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history...

...Three very definite propositions were set out in [the Declaration's] preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed...

While these principles were not altogether new in political action, and were very far from new in political speculation, they had never been assembled before and declared in such a combination...

It was the fact that our Declaration of Independence containing these immortal truths was the political action of a duly authorized and constituted representative public body in its sovereign capacity, supported by the force of general opinion and by the armies of Washington already in the field, which makes it the most important civil document in the world...

...when we come to a contemplation of the immediate conception of the principles of human relationship which went into the Declaration of Independence we are not required to extend our search beyond our own shores. They are found in the texts, the sermons, and the writings of the early colonial clergy who were earnestly undertaking to instruct their congregations in the great mystery of how to live...

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

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

In all the essentials we have achieved an equality which was never possessed by any other people...The rights of the individual are held sacred and protected by constitutional guarantees, which even the government itself is bound not to violate. If there is any one thing among us that is established beyond question, it is self-government -- the right of the people to rule. If there is any failure in respect to any of these principles, it is because there is a failure on the part of individuals to observe them. We hold that the duly authorized expression of the will of the people has a divine sanction...The ultimate sanction of law rests on the righteous authority of the Almighty...

...We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all of our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it...We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed...

This Power Line posting elaborates further on the uniqueness of the American creed:

Knowledge of American history holds the key to much of the current discussion of political issues, such as the ongoing liberal attack on Christian belief and on arguments premised on belief in God...Absent knowledge of American history, one would never know that the United States is founded on the basis of a creed, rather than on tribal or blood lines, in which God plays a prominent part. Absent knowledge of history generally, one would never know that this fact makes America unique.

What is the American creed?...The American creed is expressed with inspired concision in the words of the Declaration of Independence...

But does the Declaration have any legal status such that these words can be truly deemed to state the American creed? It does, although virtually no one seems to know it. In 1878 Congress enacted a revised version of the United States Code that included a new first section entitled "The Organic Laws of the United States."

The Code is Congress's official compilation of federal law; the organic laws of the United States are America's founding laws. First and foremost of the four organic laws of the United States is the Declaration of Independence...

Professor Jaffa [of the Claremont Institute] teaches us that the Declaration contains four distinct references to God: He is the author of the "laws of...God"; the "Creator" who "endowed" us with our inalienable rights; "the Supreme Judge of the world"; and "Divine Providence." Americans declared their independence, "appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions."

The Declaration states the American creed, the creed that recognizes the source (Nature and Nature's God) of our rights.

Anchor Rising's own Mac Owens gave a speech entitled Limited Government to Protect Equal Rights, published on this blog site, which elaborates further on the uniqueness of the American Experiment:

Before the American founding, all regimes were based on the principle of interest - the interest of the stronger. That principle was articulated by the Greek historian Thucydides: "Questions of justice arise only between equals. As for the rest, the strong do what they will. The weak suffer what they must."...

The United States was founded on different principles - justice and equality...It took the founding of the United States on the principle of equality to undermine the principle of inequality...Thanks to the Founders, the United States was founded on a principle of justice, not the interest of the stronger. And because of Lincoln's uncompromising commitment to equality as America's "central idea," the Union was not only saved, but saved so "as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of saving..."

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

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

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

...the only purpose of government is to protect the equal natural rights of individual citizens. These rights inhere in individuals, not groups, and are antecedent to the creation of government...

Roger Pilon wrote the following in a 2002 Cato Institute booklet containing the Declaration of Independence and Constitution:

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

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

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

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

Dr. Pilon concluded his essay by writing:

In the end, however, no constitution can be self-enforcing. Government officials must respect their oaths to uphold the Constitution; and we the people must be vigilant in seeing that they do. The Founders drafted an extraordinarily thoughtful plan of government, but it is up to us, to each generation, to preserve and protect it for ourselves and for future generations. For the Constitution will live only if it is alive in the hearts and minds of the American people. That, perhaps, is the most enduring lesson of our experiment in ordered liberty.

The powerful words from and about our Founding appeal to timeless moral principles grounded in both our Declaration of Independence and the great moral traditions that preceded our Founding. It is these principles that make America unique and inspire us to be proud, engaged citizens who are vigilant stewards of freedom and opportunity for all Americans.

Happy Birthday, America!


Power Line has these words from Abraham Lincoln.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation released its E Pluribus Unum: The Bradley Project on America's National Identity report last month.

I received an email last night from The Claremont Institute which included these words by Christopher Flannery about our Founding:

American children are not born understanding the principles of their country, and most American college students—if reports can be believed—are still largely unfamiliar with them when they graduate. So it is a useful tradition, as the Fourth of July comes around each year, to reflect again—and again—on the American political principles famously proclaimed on the original Independence Day, which, as many college graduates know, happened sometime in the past, possibly during summertime. Lest we seem to rest all our political expectations on the capacity of the next generation for self-government, let us admit that the grownups, as well, can benefit from an annual refresher.

As Thomas Jefferson said late in life, when explaining the genesis of the Declaration of Independence, the ideas expressed in it were "the common sense of the subject" in Revolutionary America. In drafting the Declaration, he had not meant to proclaim any "new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of," but merely to express "the American mind." The Declaration contains a stunning summation of the principles of free government; but it was only because the American people had already learned to understand and to embrace these principles that it was possible to establish an American republic. As the Declaration proclaims, the just powers of government are derived from "the consent of the governed." Only a people prepared to consent to a republic is capable of establishing one—or capable of keeping it, as Benjamin Franklin later reminded his fellow citizens. Are we still such a people? No one else can answer this question for us. It is up to this generation, as it has been up to each generation that preceded us and will be up to each generation that succeeds us, to demonstrate our capacity for self-government. This we do for our own sake and for the sake of the cause to which our country was dedicated on that Fourth of July long ago.

Through the Declaration of Independence and the long war that followed it, the American people "assume[d] among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle[d] them." The most famous passage of the Declaration explained to the world what Americans regarded as the principled foundations and purposes of their political independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.

The self-evident truth "that all men are created equal" is the most fundamental and far-reaching principle affirmed in the Declaration. This is the central idea of the American political experiment from which all other ideas radiate. It is a philosophical idea about human nature, the natural relation of each human being to all others, and the place of all human beings in the natural or created universe.

The revolutionary and founding generation of Americans expressed this idea of human equality in a variety of ways. The language of the Declaration of Independence is "that all men are created equal." To express the same idea, the Virginia Declaration of Rights (June 12, 1776) stated that "all men are by nature equally free and independent." The Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (March 2, 1780) stated that "All men are born free and equal."

All of these phrases are different ways of expressing a doctrine about the "state all men are naturally in," which the American colonists had learned in large part from the English philosopher John Locke. Locke had written, less than a century before the Declaration of Independence, that all men are naturally in

a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man.

A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another: there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the Lord and Master of them all, should by any manifest declaration of his will set one above another, and confer on him by an evident and clear appointment an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.

To say that all men are by nature equal is to say that human beings are not naturally subordinated one to another: No man is by nature a master; no man is by nature a slave. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, in his last extant letter, written just the week before he died: "the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God." Human beings, then, are naturally free as they are naturally equal. It is from natural human equality and freedom that the founders derived the idea that government could only justly be founded on consent. Because human beings are not naturally subordinated to one another—that is, because they are equal and free—their consent must be obtained before any human being may rightfully exercise authority over them. It is the voluntary consent of the people that gives authority to government.

Government among free and equal men is formed, the American Founders would say, by "social compact." In the words of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780: "The body-politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals: It is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people." The American body-politic is a social compact in which each citizen is pledged to the defense of all and all to the defense of each for the sake of the ends set forth in the American Declaration of Independence, through the means established in the United States Constitution. This is the political community begun when, in the last words of the Declaration of Independence, "for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge[d] to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

Because they are equal and free by nature, human beings may not rightfully consent to just any government—to a form of tyranny, for example. In the idea of natural human equality and freedom is the recognition of human rationality and of the limits of human rationality. As Locke wrote, "we are born free as we are born rational." Because human beings are by nature rational beings, one man may not rightly rule over another as he may rightly rule over a non-rational being (like a dog or a horse). But also, because no man is all-knowing or all-good—that is, because human reason is limited and fallible and subject to human passions—one human being may never rightly subject himself to the unrestrained will or unlimited power of another. This is what James Madison meant when he wrote that "government... [is] the greatest of all reflections on human nature[.]"

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.

Human nature or human equality—the fact that human beings are neither angels nor mindless brutes—gives rise to the idea of constitutional or limited government. This is a political constitution that conforms to the natural constitution of man. Because human beings are fallible and because their reason is subject sometimes to their passions, human government must be subject to law. Human beings would only reasonably consent to be ruled by laws made by another if that other agreed to be bound by the same laws.

A nation "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" will—if circumstances permit—be under a "government of the people, by the people, for the people." In other words, the principle of equality gives rise most naturally to a democratic or republican form of government. James Madison expressed this idea in Federalist 39, where he considered whether the government proposed under the new constitution would be "strictly republican." "It is evident," he wrote,

that no other form would be reconcilable with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the Revolution; or with that honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.

This brings us votaries of freedom back to where we began. So let these suffice for our Fourth of July reflections this year, save one final thought. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld thought it prudent recently, in the Wall Street Journal, to offer his fellow Americans the following sober reminders:

The years after our war of independence involved a good deal of chaos and confusion. There were uprisings such as Shays' Rebellion, with mobs attacking courthouses and government buildings. There was rampant inflation caused by the lack of a stable currency and the issue of competing paper monies by the various states. There were regional tensions between mercantile New England and the agrarian South. There was looting and crime and a lack of an organized police force. There were supporters of the former regime whose fate had to be determined. Our first effort at a governing charter—the Articles of Confederation—failed miserably, and it took eight years of contentious debate before we finally adopted our Constitution.

Even for the heroic Revolutionary generation of Americans, there was much to learn and much to overcome on the way to ensuring that free government would be good government. So let us gather again on Constitution Day, September 17, to continue the conversation. It will do us all good—young and old alike.

Happy Fourth.


Roget Kimball writes about Thoughts on July 4, America, and multiculturalism.

Happy Independence Day!!!

Marc Comtois

July 3, 2008

Crossroads and the Issue of Charity

Monique Chartier

The website of Crossroads, Providence, describes it as "a national leader in providing a continuum of care to the homeless". This post is in no way a criticism of its staff, who are undoubtedly dedicated and work very hard, or of those residents who find themselves in genuine straits.

On his blog Rescuing Providence, in the process of relating his conversation with a young lady he was transporting, Lieutenant Michael Morse says this about Crossroads.

Our rescues are called there daily for assaults, overdoses, drunks and every reason you can think of, then some. The clientele there is poisoned with chronically homeless people who know the system and how to abuse it.

Doesn't this get to the crux of the question of charity, whether publicly or privately funded? If you - in this case, Crossroads - set out to help people, how do you 1.) stop your good intentions and deeds from being abused and 2.) ensure that you are not faciliating an individual's self-destructive behavior?

RI Senate Discovers Secret of Time Compression

Marc Comtois

Christine Lopes of Common Cause Rhode Island had an op-ed in today's ProJo detailing the hurdles, hell, "rhode blocks" that RI citizens encounter when trying to find out various bits of info related to state boards. She takes both the Governor and Legislature to task, and explains that CC uncovered this interesting bit of Senatorial calendar-keeping:

We discovered something interesting about how the Senate records its activities. State law provides that if the Senate does not act on a gubernatorial appointment within 60 legislative days, the appointment will take effect as if confirmed. A typical session lasts about 60 legislative days. However, the Senate routinely “bundles” multiple meeting days into one official journal, which is then counted as a single legislative day.

In 2005, 16 days the Senate actually met were reduced to six legislative days. In 2007, four days the Senate met were reduced to two legislative days. The stratagem has been used once so far in 2008. This practice postpones the deadline when an appointment would automatically take effect, thus allowing the Senate to “stall” an appointment past the end of the session in which it was made.

Artificially reducing legislative days in this manner creates the strong impression that the Senate is playing games with the statutory deadlines governing its advice-and-consent responsibilities.

Ya think? The entire report, “Democracy Deferred II,” can be found here.

The Best John Adams Quote Ever

Carroll Andrew Morse

In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.

Partisan Adams

Justin Katz

Marc and Matt Allen had a bit of back-and-forth about John Adams on Anchor Rising's Wednesday spot on Matt's radio show (segment streamable by clicking here, or download)

July 2, 2008

Rhode Island High School Capstone Projects Lauded

Marc Comtois

I missed this (and this) back in May (h/t Matt J.), but it's worth noting that RI's compulsory High School Capstone Projects are being eyeballed across the country, according to a ProJo report about a symposium convened to discuss RI's program.

Some states are considering the merits of adding such student exhibitions to their own graduation requirements, relying less on standardized tests that in some cases have done little to improve student performance or better prepare graduates for life after high school. In Massachusetts, for example, a study released last month found that thousands of high school graduates arrive at college unable to do the work required of them, despite having passed the state MCAS exam.


“I believe Rhode Island is the wave of the future,” said Ray Pechone, co-executive director of the School Redesign Network at Stanford University and former head of curriculum and teacher assessment for the Connecticut State Department of Education. “The state is really a pioneer.”

How often do we here that!? To continue.....

Pechone said that 27 states use portfolios or projects as part of their diploma system, but usually as an alternative to traditional measures such as test scores. Another 23 states use “high-stakes tests” to determine whether a student should graduate.

Rhode Island, in contrast, uses three measures: grades from four years of classes; results from standardized tests administered in October of junior year; and “performance-based assessments,” such as portfolios, senior project or end-of-course exams.

Education commissioner Peter McWalters, who came in for high praise amongst this group, spoke to the symposium:
“The exhibition movement isn’t new,” McWalters told the audience in his introductory remarks. Elite private schools had a history of requiring seniors to recite Greek and Latin and prove their mastery of subjects prior to graduation, for example. Standardized testing is most valuable “as a dipstick, a barometer,” of how both students and schools are doing, but should not be used as the sole factor for graduating, McWalters said.

“Do these kids, when we say they are proficient, do they have a deep understanding? Does that understanding show up when they land in college or the work force? Because it all means nothing if they end up at the community college needing remedial courses. That has to be our final measure of how well this new system works — where do they land after high school?”

What makes Rhode Island stand out is that all three elements are considered essential and that students are expected to complete work in all three areas, Pechone said.

“Rhode Island is using good, New England, old-fashioned common sense in recognizing that four years of courses and grades and tests should count for something,” Pechone said.

Confession: I don't have kids old enough to go through this, but as Justin pointed out back in March, expanding the basis for evaluation in this way seems like a good idea all around. I don't know if these individualized presentations can be used to evaluate the overall ability of a school and its staff, but I think that there is more to performing an adequate school evaluation than the application of some rather broad labels (though they were a good start) and maybe the performance of students on these projects can be added to that mix.

By the way, the article also points out that the symposium was hosted by the Coalition of Essential Schools, who have promoted innovative pedagogy throughout the country for many years. CES is affiliated with a few schools in Rhode Island and a whole host of public and charter schools in various states.

Block Island Ferry Collides with Coast Guard Vessel

Marc Comtois

A local contact has informed me that the Block Island Ferry has collided with a Coast Guard vessel. I don't want to sound any alarms because I'm not sure of the severity of damage or of any injuries. Apparently, the fog banks are rolling pretty heavy out there today.

Bottom Line: : NO INJURIES, MINIMAL DAMAGE. (Running commentary found below).

UPDATE: It sounds like there aren't any sort of rescue operations underway. That's a good sign.

UPDATE II: NBC 10 has a bit more:

A Coast Guard vessel collided Wednesday with the Block Island Ferry, the Coast Guard said.

There were no reports of injuries. The Coast Guard said 257 people were on the ferry.

The Coast Guard said the Morro Bay, a Coast Guard vessel based in New London, collided with the ferry about four miles northeast of Block Island. The collision happened at about 12:15 p.m.

There was exterior damage to the ferry, but neither vessel was taking on water.

The Coast Guard sent a 47-foot vessel to assist.

The Morro Bay is an ice-breaking tug like this. The Morro Bay was re-commissioned in 2002:
The Morro Bay will be homeported in New London and will also be used as a training ship for cadets and officer candidates at the Coast Guard Academy and Officer Candidate School.
Uh-oh. I wonder if someone is going to fail their seamanship or navigation class?

UPDATE III: More sources indicate that the Morro Bay has been in Newport for a repair period for the last month.

UPDATE IV (and last): Via 7to7:

Visibility was about 200 yards at the time of the 12:15 p.m. collision, according the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard vessel Morro Bay, a 140-foot buoy tender, had been on its way back to its home port, in New London, Conn. Reports originally described the boat as a cutter.

The ferry -- named the Block Island -- had left its berth in Point Judith in Narragansett at 11:45 p.m, according to passengers on board. It was carrying 257 people, the Coast Guard said.

The ferry has a 44-inch-long dent about 5 feet above the water line, Petty Officer Etta Smith said.

The ferry arrived at its port in Old Harbor on Block Island at about 2:25 p.m., escorted by two Coast Guard boats.

The collision occured in thick fog, according to passengers John and Michelle Daveau, of Webster, Mass.

Shortly before the collision, John Daveau said he heard the ferry sounding its horn and noticed it trying to slow. Then he saw the Coast Guard vessel cutting across the bow of the ferry. He said the ferry hit the cutter in the stern.

It was a bump "like hitting a dock," Daveau said.

"People started running for life jackets," Daveau said. "All the kids put on lifejackets."

His wife, Michelle, said, "It took 20 years off my life."

John Adams

Marc Comtois

Ed Achorn had a piece yesterday on John Adams and recommended taking in the HBO mini-series that is now out on DVD (I hope to). Coincidentally, I had been thinking about Adams thanks to Matt Allen's (gratuitous plug!) Independence Day show over the past weekend, during which he read the Declaration of Independence and extolled the virtues of our great nation. The conversation was wide-ranging, and along the way he made an off-the-cuff remark along the lines that John Adams was a Democrat and Thomas Jefferson was a Republican.

Wha.....? I thought. I suspected it was based on the fact that Adams was a prominent member of the post-Revolution Federalist Party (along with George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, incidentally), which advocated a strong central government. Given Matt's, shall we say, inclination against big government, I can understand why he'd think that anyone for a strong national government--no matter the time or place, I suppose--was akin to what we would call a contemporary, big government Democrat.

Unfortunately, I think Matt is anachronistically attributing the Federalist's desire to centralize power as the equivalent of today's conception of "big government." But he's missing the historical context surrounding the rise of the Federalist philosophy of government, which was based on a belief that they urgently needed to strengthen and tighten the internal ties of their nascent nation so it could survive in a belligerent world.

If anything, Adams is considered by most conservatives to have been the first American conservative; one of their own, much less a Founding era Democrat! He wasn't interested in encroaching on the rights of the population or imposing arbitrary taxes or monetary redistribution or instituting a vast bureaucracy or creating programs to address every ill, whether real or perceived. In fact, neither were his political opponents, Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans. I guess the truth of the matter is that, in the Founding era, there really was no equivalent to the modern conception of a big-government Democrat. They came along with Woodrow Wilson and, later, FDR.

If so inclined, read on for a little of the historical context I mentioned.

After the Revolution, it was becoming clear to many of the Founders that the Articles of Confederation simply didn't have enough teeth. The government they provided for was very weak and the particular interests of the various states trumped those of the nation to the detriment of all. European powers played the states off of each other and threatened to economically, or even militarily, divide and conquer the young nation. For example, on economic problem was the inability of the national government to place duties on imports. This was a key economic weapon against great powers like Great Britain who restricted imports from America. In 1781 Congress, under the Articles, asked the states for permission to enact duties, but all such actions required "unanimous consent" and--would you believe it--Rhode Island refused.

As for foreign affairs, with no national army, Great Britain made excuses for not abandoning their forts in the American west; with no navy, the Barbary Pirates attacked American merchant ships and put their crews into slavery; with no consolidated diplomatic "vision", virtually no national treaties could be signed (again, because of a high hurdle of approval) while individual states made their own treaties. The colonies had won independence together, but in their freedom, they were drifting apart as each state viewed itself as a sovereign nation. In reality, they were setting themselves up to be cherries ripe for the picking. The states had become their own worst enemies.

In the debate over the creation of a new government, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers to explain why the new Constitution, one that described a stronger central government than that of the Articles of Confederation, was required for a young and vulnerable nation. They were opposed by the Anti-Federalists, who argued against the centralization of power put in place by the Constitution. (Eventually, the Anti-federalist inspired Bill of Rights were thrown in as a compromise to get passage of the Constitution).

During this debate, Adams was in Great Britain, and was asked to hastily compile something to help convince the states of the wisdom of passing the new Constitution. His A Defence of the Consitution of Government of the United States of America helped elaborate further on the principles of the balance of power within government and how a more complicated government guided by laws was necessary to maintain the liberty so desired by the American people. (In this, he was informed by his own work as the chief personality involved in the drafting of the Massachusetts Constitution). A selection from Defence--in this case Adams' theory on the importance of property--is probably enough to show why many consider him a conservative:

Suppose a nation, rich and poor, high and low, ten millions in number, all assembled together; not more than one or two millions will have lands, houses, or any personal property; if we take into the account the women and children, or even if we leave them out of the question, a great majority of every nation is wholly destitute of property, except a small quantity of clothes, and a few trifles of other movables...if all were to be decided by a vote of the majority, the eight or nine millions who have no property, would not think of usurping over the rights of the one or two millions who have? Property is surely a right of mankind as really as liberty. Perhaps, at first, prejudice, habit, shame or fear, principle or religion, would restrain the poor from attacking the rich, and the idle from usurping on the industrious; but the time would not be long before courage and enterprise would come, and pretexts be invented by degrees, to countenance the majority in dividing all the property among them, or at least, in sharing it equally with its present possessors. Debts would be abolished first; taxes laid heavy on the rich, and not at all on the others; and at last a downright equal division of every thing be demanded, and voted. What would be the consequence of this? The idle, the vicious, the intemperate, would rush into the utmost extravagance of debauchery, sell and spend all their share, and then demand a new division of those who purchased from them. The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If "Thou shalt not covet," and "Thou shalt not steal," were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free.
Sound like a modern day "Democrat" to you?

But it does get more complicated as we look away from political philosophy and towards actual politics. During Washington's first term as President, two factions emerged with different ideas and priorities as to how the new government should operate. Washington, Adams and Hamilton eventually identified themselves as Federalists, which wanted a strong army and navy, central banking (especially consolidation of state debt into national and the establishment of national credit), strong courts and also favored Great Britain in trade and foreign affairs. Jefferson and Madison would dub themselves Democratic-Republicans and they and their party opposed a strong central government, banking, a standing army--and especially navy--and looked to France for political and philosophical inspiration.

In reality, Washington mostly tried to stay above the partisanship. He was all about noblesse oblige and, as Father of the Country, he could pull it off (though he still came under some criticism for being too "kingly"). Hamilton was the heart-and-soul of the Federalist Party and leader of the so-called High Federalists, who, without pushing it too far, thought that Great Britain had the right idea with an aristocracy and all. For his part, as indicated above, Adams believed in the balance of power, but also in the necessity of a strong central government to facilitate the unification of the disparate colonies and factions when needed. Such was, according to Russell Kirk, Adams' "practical conservatism."

After the nasty election of 1796, Adams, who didn't get along with Hamilton and his allies, was a man very much alone as President. He was left to carve his own path during his single term. But with no allies in either party, he weathered a few crises (XYZ affair and the Quasi-war with France most notably) and served only one-term, losing to the popular Jefferson in the election of 1800 (sometimes dubbed the second revolution).

The legacy of John Adams is hard to encapsulate, and a scattershot blog post can't do him justice. But his writings and political philosophy as well as his determination in the face of personal unpopularity stand out for me. And I've got a soft spot because he managed to keep a foundering U.S. Navy afloat when so many, including Thomas Jefferson--who would later benefit from Adams investment in the Navy against the Barbary Pirates--wanted to sell it off. Adams believed in a strong national defense and strong financial institutions and a central government that could stand up to enemies "foreign and domestic." His idea of a strong national government was meant to deal with these issues, not to encroach into every aspect of Americans' lives.

ADDENDUM: Conservatives have long pointed to John Adams as the first prominent proponent of an American-style conservatism. Russel Kirk and Peter Viereck both wrote histories of American conservatism and each regard Adams as an American conservative touchstone. Many historians--Joseph Ellis, David McCullough and Richard Brookhiser come to mind--regard Adams as essentially conservative, too. They base their classification on Adams' on political thought as expressed in his voluminous writings.

The Encyclopedia Britannica offers a helpful and concise summary of Adams' political thought (the entry was written by Joseph Ellis):

Adams wished to warn his fellow Americans against all revolutionary manifestos that envisioned a fundamental break with the past and a fundamental transformation in human nature or society that supposedly produced a new age. All such utopian expectations were illusions, he believed, driven by what he called “ideology,” the belief that imagined ideals, so real and seductive in theory, were capable of being implemented in the world. The same kind of conflict between different classes that had bedeviled medieval Europe would, albeit in muted forms, also afflict the United States, because the seeds of such competition were planted in human nature itself. Adams blended the psychological insights of New England Puritanism, with its emphasis on the emotional forces throbbing inside all creatures, and the Enlightenment belief that government must contain and control those forces, to construct a political system capable of balancing the ambitions of individuals and competing social classes.

His insistence that elites were unavoidable realities in all societies, however, made him vulnerable to the charge of endorsing aristocratic rule in America, when in fact he was attempting to suggest that the inevitable American elite must be controlled, its ambitions channeled toward public purposes. He also was accused of endorsing monarchical principles because he argued that the chief executive in the American government, like the king in medieval European society, must possess sufficient power to check the ravenous appetites of the propertied classes. Although misunderstood by many of his contemporaries, the realistic perspective Adams proposed—and the skepticism toward utopian schemes he insisted upon—has achieved considerable support in the wake of the failed 20th-century attempts at social transformation in the communist bloc. In Adams’s own day, his political analysis enjoyed the satisfaction of correctly predicting that the French Revolution would lead to the Reign of Terror and eventual despotism by a military dictator.

By the way, Jefferson was decidedly pro-French Revolution, along with the rest of his party, the Democratic-Republicans. Ellis also wrote the EB entry forJefferson, which includes this bit about the Adams and Jefferson retirement correspondence:
The reconciliation between the two patriarchs was arranged by their mutual friend Benjamin Rush, who described them as “the North and South poles of the American Revolution.” That description suggested more than merely geographic symbolism, since Adams and Jefferson effectively, even dramatically, embodied the twin impulses of the revolutionary generation. As the “Sage of Monticello,” Jefferson represented the Revolution as a clean break with the past, the rejection of all European versions of political discipline as feudal vestiges, the ingrained hostility toward all mechanisms of governmental authority that originated in faraway places. As the “Sage of Quincy (Massachusetts),” Adams resembled an American version of Edmund Burke, which meant that he attributed the success of the American Revolution to its linkage with past practices, most especially the tradition of representative government established in the colonial assemblies. He regarded the constitutional settlement of 1787–88 as a shrewd compromise with the political necessities of a nation-state exercising jurisdiction over an extensive, eventually continental, empire, not as a betrayal of the American Revolution but an evolutionary fulfillment of its promise.

These genuine differences of opinion made Adams and Jefferson the odd couple of the American Revolution and were the primary reasons why they had drifted to different sides of the divide during the party wars of the 1790s. The exchange of 158 letters between 1812 and 1826 permitted the two sages to pose as philosopher-kings and create what is arguably the most intellectually impressive correspondence between statesmen in all of American history. Beyond the elegiac tone and almost sculpted serenity of the letters, the correspondence exposed the fundamental contradictions that the American Revolution managed to contain.

Let's Not Forget DuPont

Monique Chartier

Under Andrew's post "RI Supreme Court Overturns Lead-Paint Verdict", commenter Greg brings up the unwritten agreement - don't call it a "settlement" - by which R.I. Attorney General Patrick Lynch excused DuPont paint from his lawsuit and the potential of a very expensive verdict.

While Attorney General Lynch said of the settlement in July, 2005 that details of exactly how the money will be spent will be worked out later (is it later yet?), the proposal was for $1,000,000 of it to go to Brown University at the specific request of Mr. Lynch. The bulk of the money - $9,000,000 - was to go to a non-profit called the Children's Health Forum. However,

On closer scrutiny, the Children's Health Forum turns out to have extensive ties to the giant chemical company; per the AP, "It was founded by a lawyer hired by DuPont to work on lead poisoning issues; it received most of its funding from the Wilmington, Del.-based company and most of its board members have ties to DuPont."

Possibly some points to raise when, following upon yesterday's verdict by the R.I. Supreme Court, the Attorney General's office starts making "at least we salvaged $12,000,000 from this case" noises.

Beware the Pied Piper of Progressive Populism

Marc Comtois

Local NEA agitator Patrick Crowley recently had a piece in the ProJo in which he piggybacks a call for a popular uprising within a book review (The Uprising by David Sirota). I haven't read the book, but I'm familiar with Sirota's progressive populist leanings and take them for what they are (ie; I don't dig the class-warfare aspects, but I'm sympathetic to workers losing jobs overseas to places like China, which engages in all sorts of unfair trade practices). However, while Sirota's Uprising is a work of non-fiction, I'm not so sure that Crowley's review can be considered entirely the same, particularly when he tries to marry some of the points made in Sirota's book to the current political and economic climate here in Rhode Island.

Here's what I mean. According to Crowley

For more than a decade, the one-party Democratic monopoly in Rhode Island’s General Assembly and weak leadership at the executive level have created a conservative consensus on tax and economic issues — a consensus creating, perhaps deliberately, the economic crisis we now face in the state. A $450 billion deficit doesn’t happen overnight.
Apparently, Rhode Island's "conservative consensus on tax and economic issues" continues to saddle us with some of the highest tax rates in the country. Yup, that's right in line with accepted conservative tax policy. (Unless RI unknowingly has been engaging in one of those "new conservatism"'s we've been hearing about). I do agree with Crowley that a $450 billion deficit doesn't happen overnight: it happens when more is spent on government programs and handouts than is collected in "revenue" (taxes). But those of us familiar with Crowley's rhetoric know that any sort of broad-based cutting--either in taxes or in spending on most government programs--don't figure into his plans. This is indicated by what he leaves out of his explanation of an economic populist platform:
Politicians across America, such as [Montana Governor Brian] Schweitzer, or U.S. Senators Sherwood Brow [sic ~ Sherrod Brown] of Ohio, Jon Tester of Montana and Bernie Sanders of Vermont (all of whom Sirota interviews for the book), have learned that economic populism — beating back corporate tax-break give-aways, fighting tax breaks for the wealthy at the expense of popular programs, and demanding that tax cheats pay up — are planks in successful election platforms.
No one likes a tax cheat and I'm not big on corporate welfare myself (though one man's corporate welfare is another's economic--or environmental--development), but those are only some of the planks of broad floor that is economic populism. I'm pretty sure that low tax rates across the board--income, sales, property--would be welcomed by most Rhode Island workers. Yet, lower taxes, much less reduced spending, rarely seem to make it into the progressive argument, even when a less onerous tax policy is something that Montana's Schweitzer, to use one of Crowley's examples, champions and promotes as a crucial part of making his state successful:
* Montana now has the one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, with more people working at higher wages than any time in history.

* More taxes have been cut for more Montanans than at any other time in history.

* $1.6 million in new funds for economic development committed in Indian country

* Our state’s wages and income are growing 3rd fastest in the United States.

* Montana has one of the top ten fastest growing economies in the nation.

* Montana has the ninth lowest combined state and local tax burden and the eighth best business tax climate in the country.

Unfortunately, Crowley can't promote tax cuts because those "popular programs" he cites need to be "financed" and, like most progressives, Crowley is ideologically unable to believe that lower tax rates don't automatically lead to less revenue. Instead, the answer is always to tax the rich, regardless of the fact that higher taxes on anyone contributes to the overall image of RI being a high tax state. I don't think that Schweitzer's Montana lowered taxes only after they managed to attract business and workers. Instead, they had a business and worker friendly tax climate in place. Even the small step of holding the line on the state budget is too much for Crowley, who thinks we've already been down this path for too long.
Meanwhile, Rhode Island’s leadership seems intent on following the same path it has been on since the Lincoln Almond days. If Rhode Island is going to make progress, the economic populism energizing other parts of America needs to continue to bubble up from the bottom here at home.
Where Crowley sees "the same path", most of us would say that, finally--with this year's reduced state budget and holding the line on taxes--the Democrats in the General Assembly are going down a new path. Or at least they've stopped in their tracks.

But Crowley and his fellow progressives in the unions and advocacy groups have had a rough year and I suppose that losing one budget battle out of the last 30 or so is a major shock to the system when you've come to view increased spending on your favorite programs as a birthright. In reaction, according to Crowley, he and his progressive populists are channeling their inner Alinsky and taking it to the streets.

Sirota repeatedly refers to Alinsky’s admonition to young organizers to “start where the world is, not where [they] want it to be.” It is a cogent reminder for those of us engaged in the uprising here in Rhode Island, and I believe it truly is an uprising. Teachers are organizing against the economic chaos of our state’s refusal to enact a funding formula while passing the tax cap Paiva-Weed bill. Such non-traditional labor organizations as Jobs with Justice and Fuerza Laboral are linking with such community groups as DARE, and Immigrants United to engage in direct-action events.
Funny thing is, to most of us, "where the world is" in Rhode Island is a heavily taxed state with too much money going into government. This exacerbates the business unfriendly image of RI. Crowley's idea of an uprising, which includes calls for higher taxes on "the rich" and businesses for the sake of expanding government programs, is neither revolutionary nor different from what has been business as usual in Rhode Island for the past several years. And if the current Democratic leadership is so bad, why not promote the good-government/clean elections reform of doing away with the straight-party vote option?

Make no mistake, Crowley's goal is to re-brand boilerplate union- and community organizational tactics by calling it something else. (Sounds like someone has been reading their George Lakoff). Crowley's program is in the tradition of Saul Alinsky-style community organization, which urges the organizer to let people know just how bad they have it and then direct them to take action against those whom the organizer says is to blame. Cleverly, Crowley is trying to co-opt the anger and disgust felt by the average Rhode Islander towards our state government into his progressive brand of economic populism, heavy on the class-envy, hold the tax- and spending cuts please.

This is not to say that there aren’t legitimate reasons for a push back against real economic injustice. Our politicians have implemented policies and programs that have done well by the unions and advocacy groups and it is this undisciplined fiscal behavior that is the real economic injustice being perpetrated against tax-paying Rhode Islanders. It would be a shame if Rhode Islanders mistook Crowley's call to action as anything other than what it really is: an attempt to maintain the failed tax and spend policies that led Rhode Island down this path of fiscal ruin in the first place. Rhode Islanders should heed the spirit of Crowley’s call, but vote according to their own, not Crowley’s, self-interest.

July 1, 2008

Whitehouse in the White House?

Marc Comtois

This is a true not for nuthin': Obama announced his candidacy for President about two years after being elected to the U.S. Senate and look at him now. Well, we're just about two years into the Senatorial Career of one Sheldon Whitehouse. If the timeline were right, how seriously would we take a Whitehouse announcement that he's running for the White House after two years of national political experience? Why do I think the term hubris would get thrown around? Yeah, it's probably simplistic as all hell, but maybe it shows how much luck and timing , and how little experience, plays in this arena. Anyway, just a thought.

FY 2009 Supplemental Budget: Senate Finance Chair Drops A Shoe

Monique Chartier

From the Warwick Beacon:

State Senator Steven Alves (D-West Warwick), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said he believes it is 99.9 percent likely that the state will face a supplemental budget of at least $100 million next year.

Question. Why did the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee vote "Aye" on the 2009 budget twice knowing full well it contained a deficit of at least $100m?

Obama, Unscrupulous Developers and Campaign Cash

Marc Comtois

The Boston Globe recently took a look at the sort of public/private partnerships that Sen. Obama forged in an attempt to make public housing in his Chicago district "better."

As a state senator, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee coauthored an Illinois law creating a new pool of tax credits for developers. As a US senator, he pressed for increased federal subsidies. And as a presidential candidate, he has campaigned on a promise to create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that could give developers an estimated $500 million a year.
I support the concept, but such public/private arrangements require oversight and, shucks, a little bit of morality on the part of the developers. In this case, both were missing.
But a Globe review found that thousands of apartments across Chicago that had been built with local, state, and federal subsidies - including several hundred in Obama's former district - deteriorated so completely that they were no longer habitable.

Grove Parc and several other prominent failures were developed and managed by Obama's close friends and political supporters. Those people profited from the subsidies even as many of Obama's constituents suffered. Tenants lost their homes; surrounding neighborhoods were blighted.

Close friends and supporters, indeed. They include:

Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama's presidential campaign...chief executive of Habitat Co., which managed Grove Parc Plaza from 2001 until this winter and co-managed an even larger subsidized complex in Chicago that was seized by the federal government in 2006, after city inspectors found widespread problems.

Allison Davis, a major fund-raiser for Obama's US Senate campaign and a former lead partner at Obama's former law firm. Davis, a developer, was involved in the creation of Grove Parc and has used government subsidies to rehabilitate more than 1,500 units in Chicago, including a North Side building cited by city inspectors last year after chronic plumbing failures resulted in raw sewage spilling into several apartments.

Antoin "Tony" Rezko, perhaps the most important fund-raiser for Obama's early political campaigns and a friend who helped the Obamas buy a home in 2005. Rezko's company used subsidies to rehabilitate more than 1,000 apartments, mostly in and around Obama's district, then refused to manage the units, leaving the buildings to decay to the point where many no longer were habitable.

Campaign finance records show that six prominent developers - including Jarrett, Davis, and Rezko - collectively contributed more than $175,000 to Obama's campaigns over the last decade and raised hundreds of thousands more from other donors. Rezko alone raised at least $200,000, by Obama's own accounting.

You get the picture. One could say that Obama has at least partially financed his campaign thanks to the money generated by his friends' ability to exploit poor. Of course, Obama denies any knowledge of the widespread problems, including in his own district. As the Globe points out, other politicians did, but even then, they still have Obama's back:
Other local politicians say they knew of the problems.

"I started getting complaints from police officers about particular properties that turned out to be Rezko properties," said Toni Preckwinkle, a Chicago alderman.

She had previously received campaign contributions from Rezmar and said she had regarded the company as a model, one of the city's best affordable housing developers.

But in the early 2000s, she called Rezko to ask for an explanation for the declining conditions. He told her Rezmar was "getting out of the business," she said - walking away from its responsibility for managing the developments.

"I didn't see him nor have anything to do with him after that," she said.

Preckwinkle, who will be an Obama delegate at the Democratic National Convention, said she would not answer any questions about Obama's role in her district, nor his relationship with Rezko.

Preckwinkle isn't alone in the apparent dilemma she faces:
...some people in Chicago's poorest neighborhoods are torn between a natural inclination to support Obama and a concern about his relationships with the developers they hold responsible for Chicago's affordable housing failures. Some housing advocates worry that Obama has not learned from those failures.

"I'm not against Barack Obama," said Willie J.R. Fleming, an organizer with the Coalition to Protect Public Housing and a former public housing resident. "What I am against is some of the people around him."

Jamie Kalven, a longtime Chicago housing activist, put it this way: "I hope there is not much predictive value in his history and in his involvement with that community."

It's Time to Hold the Line, Down the Line

Marc Comtois

As some of Justin's "adventures in town government" have revealed, the town of Tiverton has decided they simply "have to" break the 5% cap on annual property-tax increases because they can't cut anything. They are not alone, according to Susan Baird at the Providence Business News:

Nine cities and towns so far have requested permission for property-tax increases exceeding this year’s state cap of 5.0 percent, according to data released today by Gary S. Sasse, director of the new R.I. Department of Revenue. But 28 are seeking tax increases “at or below” this year’s statutory cap of 5.0 percent, he said.

The largest planned increases were in rural West Greenwich (14.05 percent), North Smithfield (13.19 percent), Foster (12.48 percent) and Tiverton (12.20 percent). Also seeking tax-levy increases that would exceed the state cap were Glocester (8.59 percent), Exeter (8.33 percent), Richmond (8.06 percent), Bristol (5.40 percent) and Westerly (5.15 percent).

PBN also has this handy chart:


In addition to the 9 towns who "went over," there are 8 more who went right to the 5% cap and 11 more who upped their rates at least 4%. So that's 28 towns jacking up rates over 4%, which I suppose we we could consider to be (a bit generously) the cost-of-living increase. To try to be optimistic, I figured that more towns would spend to the 5% cap. Regardless, I'm sure the towns are feeling the pinch this year. And so are the taxpayers, yet again.

To be fair, some of the cuts made by the General Assembly are being manifested at the city and town level, so property tax increases aren't a surprise. That doesn't mean that local governments can't spend more wisely and make cuts in city "services." If taxpayers are upset by these increases, then it's up to them to send the right message to local town and city politicians at the ballot box in November. If they don't, they can expect more of the same. And they'll only have themselves to blame.

ADDENDUM: Good points made by "John" and "Tom W" in the comments. Basically, as John noticed, some of the communities that didn't go to the 5% cap are also those who are labeled as "distressed" and receive lots of state aid. And he asks the question, "Should they be commended or is the state giving extra where it isn't really needed?:

Tom explained how "state aid to education" is a vehicle of redistribution from rural and suburban communities to the "urban core."

The suburban people pay income taxes (while many if not most urban dwellers do not), and those taxes go into the general fund. From there the "education aid" money is disproportionately directed toward the urban systems.

So those in the suburbs are then hit with disproportionate property taxes to make up the difference. In effect, they're paying for two school systems at once - their local one through property taxes, and urban ones through their "progressive" income taxes.

RI Supreme Court Overturns Lead-Paint Verdict

Carroll Andrew Morse

From Brandie Jefferson of the Projo's 7-to-7 blog...

The Rhode Island Supreme Court today reversed a lower court’s judgments in favor of the state in its suit against companies that manufactured and sold lead paint in Rhode Island.

The court reversed the Superior Court’s decision calling for Millennium Holdings, NL Industries and Sherwin-Williams to participate in an abatement program to clean houses that may have cost the companies upwards of $2.4 billion.

The complete opinion is available online. Here is the court's decision on the central issue, that the case against Millennium Holdings, NL Industries and Sherwin-Williams should have been dismissed...
For the reasons set forth herein, we reverse the judgment of the Superior Court as to the liability of defendants, Millennium, NL, and Sherwin-Williams, because we conclude that the trial justice erred by denying defendants’ motion to dismiss. More specifically, we conclude that the state has not and cannot allege any set of facts to support its public nuisance claim that would establish that defendants interfered with a public right or that defendants were in control of the lead pigment they, or their predecessors, manufactured at the time it caused harm to Rhode Island children.

In reaching this conclusion, we do not mean to minimize the severity of the harm that thousands of children in Rhode Island have suffered as a result of lead poisoning. Our hearts go out to those children whose lives forever have been changed by the poisonous presence of lead. But, however grave the problem of lead poisoning is in Rhode Island, public nuisance law simply does not provide a remedy for this harm. The state has not and cannot allege facts that would fall within the parameters of what would constitute public nuisance under Rhode Island law. As set forth more thoroughly herein, defendants were not in control of any lead pigment at the time the lead caused harm to children in Rhode Island, making defendants unable to abate the alleged nuisance, the standard remedy in a public nuisance action. Furthermore, the General Assembly has recognized defendants’ lack of control and inability to abate the alleged nuisance because it has placed the burden on landlords and property owners to make their properties leadsafe.

Environmental Discipline in Denver

Monique Chartier

If you're attending the Democratic National Convention in Denver, get ready to put your best green face on. The convention will certainly be sporting one.

Naturally (get it??), you'd expect that 70% of food items on all menus would be organic or locally grown. But with the slightly inexplicable mandate that "each meal should include at least three of the following colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white", there's the added bonus that your food will also be colorful. (The prohibition on fried foods is a little past me.)

And, of course, the convention has hired an

Official Carbon Adviser, who will measure the greenhouse-gas emissions of every placard, every plane trip, every appetizer prepared and every coffee cup tossed. The Democrats hope to pay penance for those emissions by investing in renewable energy projects.

If you're a volunteer who was looking forward to sporting that fannypack or baseball cap made in the USA of organic cotton by unionized labor, however, you're in for a disappointment - it was determined, after an exhaustive, country-wide search, that such an item does not exist.

[This would be a good place to quote Andrew: none of this is from The Onion]

To end the suspense about the fannypacks and baseball caps, these items will be

made in the USA of undyed, organic fabric. [Official merchandiser Bob] DeMasse vows to get a union shop to print the logo, but he says the ink will be petroleum based. Unless, that is, he decides to get the logo embroidered -- with biodegradable thread.

Petroleum based ink? With the advent years ago of soy based ink, this is inexcusable.

What about rubbish per se, you ask? Good question.

Perhaps [Director of Greening and longtime environmental activist Andrea] Robinson's most audacious goal is to reuse, recycle or compost at least 85% of all waste generated during the convention.

* * *

To police the four-day event Aug. 25-28, she's assembling (via paperless online signup) a trash brigade. Decked out in green shirts, 900 volunteers will hover at waste-disposal stations to make sure delegates put each scrap of trash in the proper bin. Lest a fork slip into the wrong container unnoticed, volunteers will paw through every bag before it is hauled away.

"That's the only way to make sure it's pure," Ms. Robinson says.

"Make sure". Trust but verify seems to be Ms. Robinson's motto. Not content to take the manufacturer's word about the biodegradability of "celebratory balloons",

Ms. Robinson buried samples in a steaming compost heap.

Initial results are not promising. But the convention is more than seven weeks away. A lot of decomposing can take place in that time. Ooo, seven whole weeks. That should be plenty of time to make the ultimate request for the sake of environmental purity: that all attendees travel to the convention without using fossil fuels.