October 31, 2008

Re: Any bids for $75,000?

Monique Chartier

Donald notes the latest lowering of the income level at which a taxpayer "will not see one dime's worth of tax increase" in an Obama administration. Let's be clear that it has been a steady and orderly backing down from that $250,000.

> Starts at $250,000.

[The campaign presumably figures out shortly thereafter, either from calculations put forth in the media or by Senator Obama's own redistribution supporters, that the tax initiative cannot work at such a high income level.]

> It then goes to $200,000 during the half hour commercial. Remember that the commercial was taped a week earlier.

> Joe Biden makes it $150,000 on Monday.

> Enter Governor Richardson who today, takes it down another notch to $120,000.

Politicians usually wait until they get in office to begin breaking campaign promises. It took Bill Clinton two years, for example, to break the campaign promise (China and human rights) that flipped me away from him and got me to vote Republican in a presidential race for the first time.

Not so with Senator Obama, who has punctuated the campaign trail itself with substantial flip-flops. Public campaign financing, promptly getting out of Iraq, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the embargo on Cuba - now a steady narrowing of the qualification to escape higher taxes.

The question is, how does one determine that Senator Obama has well and finally settled on a particular stance? Would it be possible for his campaign to arrange some sort of signaling system? "The green flag is up and waving. Yes, that's it - $120,000 is the tax-hike ceiling."

Any bids for $75,000?

Donald B. Hawthorne

You gotta love these pillaging Dems:

For the second time in a week, a prominent Democrat has downgraded Barack Obama's definition of the middle class -- leading Republicans to question whether he'll stick to his promise not to raise taxes on anyone making under $250,000.

The latest hiccup in the campaign message came Friday morning on KOA-AM, when New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson pegged the middle class as those making $120,000 and under...

"What Obama wants to do is he is basically looking at $120,000 and under among those that are in the middle class, and there is a tax cut for those," Richardson said in the interview, according to a clip posted on YouTube.

Joe Biden caused headaches for the campaign Monday when he told a Scranton, Pa., TV station that Obama's tax break "should go to middle class people -- people making under $150,000 a year."...

Geez, these fools can't even keep their stories straight. And we haven't even gotten to the topic of whether the numbers work in the first place, something even AP is reporting as a problem. LOL.


Oh, for those of you who have the audacity to resist the One's call to let the government forcibly take more of your hard-earned monies because He thinks politicians and bureaucrats in government know how to spend it better than you and your family do, He has now scolded you:

"...The point is, though, that -- and it’s not just charity, it’s not just that I want to help the middle class and working people who are trying to get in the middle class -- it’s that when we actually make sure that everybody’s got a shot – when young people can all go to college, when everybody’s got decent health care, when everybody’s got a little more money at the end of the month – then guess what? Everybody starts spending that money, they decide maybe I can afford a new car, maybe I can afford a computer for my child. They can buy the products and services that businesses are selling and everybody is better off. All boats rise. That’s what happened in the 1990s, that’s what we need to restore. And that’s what I’m gonna do as president of the United States of America."

"John McCain and Sarah Palin they call this socialistic," Obama continued. "You know I don’t know when, when they decided they wanted to make a virtue out of selfishness."

Yep, you fools who don't willingly pony up are both unpatriotic and selfish. So there! Guess this is how things work on the corrupt streets of Chicago: Keeping your hard-earned monies is selfish.

Remember that the next time you think that liberty in America means having the freedom to work hard and build wealth by keeping what you earn.

Some related thoughts:

Misguided Incentives Drive Public Sector Taxation
"Who You Gonna Call?" The Little Platoons
The Radically Different Visions of Tax-Eaters Versus Taxpayers


A very telling story from John Hood:

Speaking in front of a huge audience at downtown Raleigh rally yesterday, Barack Obama threw off a humorous line about John McCain's accusation that the Obama tax plan is redistributionist:
McCain has "called me a socialist for wanting to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans so we can finally give tax relief to the middle class," Obama said. "I don’t know what’s next. By the end of the week he'll be accusing me of being a secret communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten."

Ha ha. [Well, actually, He was the first one to raise how He hung with Commies.]

Only, in this passage Obama revealed precisely why he is vulnerable to such charges: he can't seem to tell the difference between a gift and a theft. There is nothing remotely socialistic or communistic about sharing. If you have a toy that someone else wants, you have three choices in a free society. You can offer to trade it for something you value that is owned by the other. You can give the toy freely, as a sign of friendship or compassion. Or you can choose to do neither.

Collectivism in all its forms is about taking away your choice. Whether you wish to or not, the government compels you to surrender the toy, which it then redistributes to someone that government officials deem to be a more worthy owner. It won't even be someone you could ever know, in most cases. That's what makes the political philosophy unjust (by stripping you of control over yourself and the fruits of your labor) as well as counterproductive (by failing to give the recipient sufficient incentive to learn and work hard so he can earn his own toys in the future).

Government is not charity. It is not persuasion, or cooperation, or sharing. Government is a fist, a shove, a gun. Obama either doesn't understand this, or doesn't want voters to understand it.

Based on His and Biden's charitable giving history, He doesn't seem to understand charity either.

All of which is why Mona Charen offers this perspective:

Barack Obama is rallying his supporters with the words "One week until we change America." I find that creepy. Other politicians have talked of changing Washington, or hoping to "get this country moving again" or even promising to "come home America." Voters who think they're just being asked to change the party affiliation of one administration should take his words to heart.

And this man thinks He is qualified to lead the FREE world? I think not.

Candidate of Death

Justin Katz

Just in case you're pro-life and have somehow talked yourself into believing that Obama will be tolerable as president:

When Barack Obama admitted to Joe the Plumber that he planned on spreading the wealth around, he didn't mention that the tax dollars he will take from you will be used to pay for elective abortions for others. The following is a brief outline of three ways that current pro-life protections against federal funding of elective abortions stand to be repealed and routed under an Obama presidency.

1. President Obama will spread the wealth to fund elective Medicaid abortions with your tax dollars. ...

2. More of your tax dollars will to go to fund Planned Parenthood, and the Crisis Pregnancy Centers in your neighborhood will be defunded. ...

3. Your tax dollars will fund organizations that perform or promote abortion overseas.

According to the writer, Dorinda Bordlee, Planned Parenthood killed 264,943 unborn children in its 2005–2006 fiscal year. Think about that staggering number before giving your vote to the Chosen Candidate of Vague Change.

Happy Halloween

Marc Comtois

They say good humor always includes a bit of truth....


Hey, it's a convergence of Halloween, Election Season and the creation of Rhode Island's own H.P. Lovecraft all wrapped up into one--how could I resist (h/t Michael Drout)!?

Contract Games

Justin Katz

Some last-minute pre-election teacher contract controversy has arisen for Tiverton voters' edification:

Superintendent William Rearick and School Committee Chairwoman Denise deMedeiros thought they were close to approving a contract for the teachers this week, saying this is the closest they have been in more than 16 months of negotiating, but teachers union President Amy Mullen said there is no deal because the terms of the agreement keep changing.

Mullen said she thought they had a deal Oct. 15 when she met with Rearick and Fiore, but Rearick said the union's figures did not mesh with the amount of money that is available for the teachers and some tweaking was needed.

"We've gone backwards," Mullen said Wednesday. "We thought we had an agreement. We shook on it. I thought for sure they'd vote to approve it (Tuesday night at the School Committee meeting)."

Rearick gave the union a last best offer Wednesday morning after meeting with the School Committee.

"We're pretty far apart," Mullen said.

DeMedeiros was surprised to hear that Wednesday.

"We're very, very close in salary. We're almost right on," said deMedeiros, who hopes to avoid costly arbitration that is scheduled to begin again this Wednesday. "When we first filed for arbitration, we were miles apart. We are now extremely close. There is no need for any of this anymore. If they want to go to arbitration, that's fine, but I don't understand it."

So the union is blaming the school committee, and the school committee is blaming the union. That's all unremarkable, and since the taxpayers who'll be footing the bill don't have access to the terms of the negotiations, there's no way to tell who's closer to the truth.

The cast of candidates for school committee gives some reason to think it's the union that's playing games. Of the five committee members, three seats are up for grabs, and two incumbents are running. Three non-incumbents are in the race — two who would be more amenable to union demands and one who would be more inclined to hold the budgetary line, Danielle Coulter. In other words, the union has reason to believe that the next school committee will be more apt to vote in its favor.

Union President Amy Mullen is on the right track on one count, though:

"We have no confidence in his educational leadership of this system," Mullen said of [Superintendent Bill] Rearick. "He is dragging us down. He has no vision for this system. He's shown no leadership."

Watching from the outside, it has seemed that Rearick is more inclined to compromise with the union than the school committee is. If he wanted to show visionary leadership, he'd walk into negotiations, toss on the table a contract that the school committee has already approved, and tell the union that it's a take it or leave deal. (And, no, I didn't forget an "it" in that sentence.)

Debate: Second Congressional District Race

Monique Chartier

Mark Zaccaria (R) and Congressman James Langevin (D) square off this afternoon at 4:00 on WPRO's Dan Yorke Show.

A New America

Justin Katz

Jeff Jacoby notes that Bush haters have been surprisingly unharassed, considering that they often decried the President's "dictatorial" rule. He goes on:

Will we be able to say the same of his successor?

If opinion polls are right, Barack Obama is cruising to victory. As president, would he show the same forbearance as Bush in allowing his opponents to have their say, unmolested? Or would he attempt to suppress the free speech of those whose views he detested? It is disturbing to contemplate some of the Obama campaign's recent efforts to stifle criticism.

When the National Rifle Association produced a radio ad last month about Obama's shifting position on gun control, the campaign's lawyers sent letters to radio stations in Ohio and Pennsylvania, urging them not to run it - and warning of trouble with the Federal Communications Commission if they did. "This advertisement knowingly misleads your viewing audience," Obama's general counsel Bob Bauer wrote. "For the sake of both FCC licensing requirements and the public interest, your station should refuse to continue to air this advertisement."

Similar lawyer letters went out in August when the American Issues Project produced a TV spot exploring Obama's strong ties to former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers. Station managers were warned that running the anti-Obama ad would be a violation of their legal obligation to serve the "public interest." And in case that wasn't menacing enough, the Obama campaign also urged the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation.

In Missouri, an Obama "truth squad" of prosecutors and other law-enforcement officials vowed to take action against anyone making "character attacks" on the Democratic candidate - a threat, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt later remarked, that had about it the "stench of police state tactics."

Perhaps these efforts to smother political speech are simply the overly aggressive tactics of a campaign in its adrenaline-fueled sprint to the finish. But what if they are the first warning signs of how an Obama administration would deal with its adversaries?

During a related conversation that I had the other night, while labeling and stamping thousands of postcards for Tiverton Citizens for Change, somebody asked if I really had that little trust in the American people. It seems to me that, these days, one is compelled to request clarification: which America?

Look, citizens of the United States do not have the long genetic mutuality that one finds in most other countries. What history we have, as a people, has been broadly taught in a dark, divisive light over the last few decades. In other words, the defining quality of "the American people" — more so than is true anywhere else — derives entirely from culture. Our tendency toward independence, ingenuity, respect for liberty, and general toughness aren't imbued with our water or inhaled in the air. We are what we believe ourselves to be.

How long do you suppose the United States can remain a 50:50 nation, with the stark difference being nothing less than the essential meaning of our nationality, before one side decides to press an advantage? I'll go further and suggest that the likelihood of which side will break the truce is not, itself, a 50:50 proposition. One side is defined by the primacy of government in resolving social and cultural problems, and it will be quite natural for that side to define its opposition's views as beyond the pale.

October 30, 2008

The Spendthrift

Carroll Andrew Morse

Neither the Associated Press

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was less than upfront in his half-hour commercial Wednesday night about the costs of his programs and the crushing budget pressures he would face in office.

Obama's assertion that "I've offered spending cuts above and beyond" the expense of his promises is accepted only by his partisans.

…nor CBS News
[Obama] seems blind to the concept his numbers don't add up.

Let's start with his highly suspect, and widely discredited, claim that he can find federal "spending cuts beyond the costs" of his promises. Very few independent economists believe he has identified the savings needed to offset his remarkable list of tax credits, tax cuts and spending pledges.

…believe that Barack Obama has an actual plan to pay for all of the government expansions and increased resdistribution he's promising.

This comes as no surprise to conservatives. But what about the Obama supporters out there? Are you expecting him, if elected, to advance much more aggressive “revenue enhancing” proposals than he’s talked about so far? Or are you expecting him not to deliver most of what’s he’s promising? Or do you think all this policy talk is for losers, and that the only important thing is to have the right man in charge, no matter what he has to say to get there?

Getting the Message Out

Justin Katz

I just passed a woman standing at the corner of Union and West Main in Portsmouth holding a home-made sign reading:

Try the REPUBLICANS for Change

Now, I don't know if she intended just to buck the national mantra or if she's referring to state and municipal elections, to which her message is more clearly applicable. But I love the idea that she had a thought and set about conveying it to hundreds of people, with no apparent direct personal benefit.

Common Ground: I Don't Want David Cicilline Making Decisions About My Healthcare Either

Carroll Andrew Morse

To the members of the six Providence municipal unions who, in the words of Philip Marcelo of the Projo, “[oppose] the city’s decision to change its health care benefits manager”, let me one more time pitch the most obvious solution to your dilemma…

  1. Your health insurance should be separated from any direct employer involvement; David Cicilline should have zero say who any individual has as their health insurer.
  2. The money now going to pay for a city-negotiated healthcare plan would then be distributed to the individual employees, in the form of increased salary. It’s your money anyway.
  3. Employees could then pool their money together and have their union negotiate directly with the insurer or insurers of their choice, to get the deal they want.
A slightly more detailed explanation of how this would work is available here.

A Clear Non-Dividend

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal editorial writers have this one right:

Should the taxpayers now bailing out some big banks let the troubled companies pay dividends to their stockholders? We think not.

A dividend is a distribution of earnings to shareholders. The nine banks don't have earnings; they have losses. If they had earnings, the banks at issue that have sought federal aid wouldn't need a $125 billion bailout. The funds that taxpayers are funneling into their vaults should not be confused with earnings.

Keeping companies alive and the credit market on its feet does not require that shareholders not feel the pain of business executives poor decisions. Indeed, the only way the bailout has a hope of not making the investment culture worse is if those involved throughout have reason to avoid similar behavior in the future.

Admitting What Must Be Done

Justin Katz

Even just a hint that Governor Carcieri likes the notion of eliminating the income tax, almost as a philosophical matter, is enough to induce the fury of Johnathan Berard (emphasis added):

As a taxpayer, I'm mad because the state decided to go more than $33 million dollars over budget, but as a student, I'm absolutely furious that the solution to make up some of that loss is to take funding from state schools, necessitating tuition increases. This makes some of us losers on both ends! Part of the reason students like me go to schools like URI, RIC, and CCRI is because of the affordability of the education provided. Now, because of these rate hikes, current students and their families, who have already received their financial aid award packets for the year, are forced to come up with even more money to fund their educations. This is especially tough on families on already restrictive budgets who now have to somehow cough up hundreds or thousands of extra dollars to continue their or their loved one's education. Unfortunately, unlike the executive branch of their state government, when Rhode Island families go over their budgets, they have no one to take funding away from in order to make up for the shortfall.

Following Berard's reasoning in principle ought to lead one to small-government conclusions. Take his thought another step: When citizens face a shortage of income, because they lack jobs, they can't just turn to wealthier neighbors and take the money from them. Instead, they tighten their belts and focus on improving their circumstances for the future.

There are two explanations on the table for the current state of our state's budget. The first, presumably Berard's, is that Rhode Island has been allowing its wealthier citizens to keep too much of their money. The second, the correct option, is that the government is spending money on things that it oughtn't be spending money on — from extravagant worker benefits to an imbalanced welfare industry. Reluctance to admit the second conclusion leads Berard to miss his rhetorical mark in two significant ways.

The first relates to his mistaken inference that the governor would intend to make up the full loss of revenue from the eliminated income tax through sales tax, "assuming that taxpayers will just spend their extra money on retail purchases":

Rhode Island is in a recession, has the highest unemployment rate in the country, and we rank 18th in home foreclosures. Besides that, a great majority of residents' retirement savings are in question due to the volatility on Wall Street and the instability of financial markets. What makes the Governor think that we'd choose to spend that extra income on a new car, iPod, or plasma TV, rather than paying our mortgages, purchasing groceries for our families, or saving for our retirements? Or paying our tuitions?

Note the implication that Rhode Islanders can't pay for mortgages, groceries, retirements, or tuitions as things stand. How then is it moral to take money from their paychecks? No, a shift in the state's method of taxation wouldn't likely be a wash as a matter of revenue, but more of its citizens would have more money in their pockets in order to support their families, save, and invest, whether by investing we mean purchasing stocks, investing in real estate (i.e., a home), or investing in their own educations. If, financially, they need to avoid taxes, they can do so by eliminating consumption.

The second assumes that the working and middle classes won't act out of self interest (ironically, because it is clearly in Berard's self interest to push this line):

What if, instead of gambling that business will take root in Rhode Island by abolishing taxes, Rhode Island instead decides to provide initiatives for and incentives to the students in its higher education system who aspire to help grow the statewide economy? What if, instead of allowing the lower and middle classes to bear a larger percentage of the tax burden, Rhode Island instead provided a way for those same people to increase their level of education, which induces economic growth? Instead of helping to better the lives of Rhode Islanders, though, the actions of the Carcieri administration have simply served as hindrance to our advancement, both financially and educationally.

So, it is a gamble to attract businesses by allowing them (and their employees) to keep more of the money that they make here in Rhode Island, but it is somehow not a gamble to hand cash to students in the hopes that they'll leap from the graduation stage to slay the state's economic demons with their diplomas. That's worse than a gamble; it's unrealistic. Newly credentialed citizens generally lack the resources, the experience, and the tolerance for risk to build businesses from the ground up. Graduates will go where the jobs are, and the jobs are currently more likely to be found anywhere in the United States other than Rhode Island. Any coins that the government plunks into the educational slots, in other words, just fall out the back of the machines.

The difficult reality that many of those who've read Berard's commentary on RI Future are ideologically disposed to deny is that a state so desperately in need of economic expansion must shave off all expenditures that do not serve that single-minded objective. That means paying less to keep the government operating. That means paying less for the education that its towns provide. That means regretfully admitting that those in need of assistance have to look elsewhere.

Because their constituencies rely on it, those on the left emphasize the health of the politcal entity, of the government. At this moment in history, Rhode Island needs to focus on the well-being of its people.

How Will You Express Your Displeasure With the Decision by the Rhode Island Superior Court to Legalize Bribery in the Legislature?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Francis Darrigan ruled yesterday that it is legal for state legislators to try personally to enrich themselves through their votes, or even to cast votes based on bribes that they accept. Bruce Landis has the details in today's Projo.

So now if a sitting Senator – even the Senate President, perhaps – were to decide to support a casino to be built in town X (or in town W; or even in town WW) for no other reason than officials from town WW promising some extra fee-paying legal work to that Senator, that decision to cast a vote based on personal gain is now perfectly legal.

It's one more thing for voters to consider when they cast their votes for state senators and representatives next week: can RI afford to send the current crew of incumbents back into office, now that bribed voting has been given legal sanction by our state's courts?

In It 'Til the End

Justin Katz

After confessing to being such a political junkie that she maintains interest right up to the last moment, last night on the Matt Allen Show, Monique summarized some of the posts hereon. She noted a little bit of a shift from national to local matters in our posts; perhaps we're subconsciously shifting around to avoid fatigue! Stream by clicking here, or download it.

October 29, 2008

Senator Tardy

Marc Comtois


Redistribution Obama Is Opposed To

Marc Comtois

Well, this struck me as apropos of so many things. Sorry if you've seen it elsewhere:


Monique: Radio Star!

Justin Katz

Monique will be calling in for Anchor Rising's regular pre-7:00 spot, tonight, on the Matt Allen Show, and she also took a few minutes to discuss Barney Frank with John DePetro on Monday morning. Stream the latter by clicking here, or download it.

A Reformist Quip in the Air

Justin Katz

I've been saving this line for future use, but District 17 candidate for the RI Senate, Edward O'Neill, beat me to it in his race against Joseph Montalbano:

O'Neill acknowledges that his campaign is centered on his opponent. "He's running on his record; I say, I'm running on his record," O'Neill said.

For his part, Montalbano seems inclined to continue offering O'Neill material. Consider this paragraph, a little farther down the column:

He estimates he will have spent $40,000 on the race by Election Day. His most recent campaign finance report, filed yesterday, shows he spent $13,615.36 between Oct. 7 and Oct. 27 on "campaign-related expenses." Over the same period, O'Neill spent $3,043.16.

But the reports show that one third of Montalbano's expenses went to "food, beverage and meals" at various restaurants in the greater Providence area, a practice that's not uncommon among Assembly leaders.

Apparently, to RI incumbents, campaigning entails dining out at a cost of $225 per day. Good thing they walk so many neighborhoods!

But Tax Policies Have no Impact on Behavior in the Real World

Monique Chartier

From the Orlando Sentinel.

Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga said Sunday no date has been set for selling up to 45 percent more of the team to Stephen Ross, but the presidential election is among the issues weighing on his decision.

That's because a Barack Obama administration is expected to mean higher capital-gains taxes.

"He wants to double the capital gains tax, or almost double it," Huizenga said.

Ross purchased 50 percent of the team and Dolphin Stadium for $550 million earlier this year with the intention he would eventually become majority owner. NFL owners approved the eventual transfer this month, meaning it can take place anytime.

"If you do it this year or you do it next year, the difference is humongous because of the taxes," Huizenga said.

Transportation Bond: Let Them "Scramble"

Marc Comtois

The Governor was out pushing the $87.2 million transportation bond yesterday. I understand the pragmatic reasons--especially in a tight budget year--but the fiscal irresponsibility of taking on 30 years of debt to fund a portion of what should be a regular budget item has to stop.

Gov. Donald L. Carcieri and R.I. Department of Transportation Director Michael P. Lewis today used a news conference touting Warwick’s Intermodal Train Station to push – or “advertise,” as Carcieri said – the $87.2 million transportation bond that will go before state voters on Nov. 4.

“The voters of our state have been very supportive of transportation bonds, they have,” Carcieri said. “We’ve been very judicious this year, in terms of things we’ve put on the ballot … We need this transportation bond to pass because a piece of it is going here.”

Lewis, the DOT chief, said that about $100 million of the $267 million intermodal project is dependent on the bond, which appears as Question 1 on the Rhode Island ballot. (READ MORE) The state bond issue would be matched with $440 million in federal transportation funding, Carcieri added.

But if the bond question doesn’t pass, “we’ll have to scramble, but we’ll come up with it,” the governor added.

Remember, throw in the debt service over the life of the $87.2 million transportation bond (and the others we pass every couple years) and Rhode Islanders are paying more than the amount indicated on the ballot. Maybe the Governor is dropping a hint here? If the bond doesn't pass, the Legislature will find the money. Further, maybe it will get them used to the idea of including transportation and infrastructure in the regular budget. So I say let 'em scramble. It's better for the short and long term.

ADDENDUM: Tom Sgouros recently provided a more detailed explanation of the history of RI's Transportation bonds and why they're a bad idea. A snippet:

Counting debt service paid from within the department's budget, we now pay almost $100 million every year in DOT interest payments. How does that make you feel about borrowing $40 million more next year? Do you think that's a sensible way to run the state? {emphasis in original}
And here is a list of the recent RI Transportation bonds: 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008.

Can RI Do Better Than Just Hoping for Change?

Carroll Andrew Morse

In a South County Independent op-ed, State Representative candidate Jim Haldeman (District 35, South Kingstown) asks how trusting the political leadership that has brought Rhode Island to the brink of economic disaster is a strategy that makes any sort of sense…

The incumbent General Assembly members in the [South Kingstown Town Council Candidates Forum] a few weeks ago described with pride how they held the line on taxes with some tough decisions on last year’s budget. Those decisions left us in the bottom five of all states by just about any independent economic study. The General Assembly has denied this reality for too long. The only revenue streams that can help us from the state’s budget problems will come from new and growing businesses. Yet they deter both with over-taxation and hyper-regulation.

Industry-specific tax credits amount to tinkering on the margin and assume that bureaucratic experts in Providence will be able to identify, court and ultimately attract the most productive economy into Rhode Island. But when they do not, we pay the price in South Kingstown.

Clichés dominate popular descriptions of our economic condition. Suffice it to say, the problems that affect our national economy have been made worse by decisions made on Smith Hill. Our lawmakers have shackled our economy and our ability to weather economic downturns. They push our most productive away and punish communities like South Kingstown.

Mr. Haldeman is raising the question that voters in every Rhode Island community need to consider.

Already Weakening the Rhetoric

Justin Katz

I preferred David Anderson's press release to this concession, made even before he's won office:

... David Anderson, the Republican challenging House Majority Leader Gordon Fox, in Providence, said he would consider higher income and sales taxes if that is what was required to reduce local property taxes, and shift more of the responsibility for financing the state's public schools to state taxpayers.

"Especially in my district, the [property tax] is very unpopular because Brown University and other nonprofits don't pay anything for the services they get for their properties. I would fund education at the state level ... We may have to have higher state-level taxes, income and sales taxes, but I would not change the tax structure in such a way as to raise overall taxes."

By pushing the tax burden toward the state, you decrease the voters' proximity to the levers of power, making reform movements less likely. By centralizing education financing (and therefore control), you give more leverage to entrenched forces, like the unions.

The challenge right now is waking up and educating Rhode Island's citizens. Creating a buffer and moving to tax to less visible forms — property tax is unique in that people know the total amount for the year, whereas withholding, refunds, etc. muddy the income tax, and nobody knows what they pay in sales tax — will allow the powers who be to perpetuate their habits.

The Cash and Carry Politics of Obama

Marc Comtois

With a week to go, former Democratic Senator Bob Kerry, CNN's Campbell Brown and the Washington Post have decided to pipe up about the gobs of cash Barack Obama has raised. Kerry notes the Democratic Party's hypocrisy on the subject:

On the question of public funding of presidential campaigns, we Democrats who strongly support Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy and who previously supported limits on campaign spending and who haven't objected to Obama's opting out of the presidential funding system face an awkward fact: Either we are hypocrites, or we were wrong to support such limitations in the first place.
For now, Kerry says he's probably a hypocrite but that he's also changed his mind. Heh. Funny how that works. For her part Brown, possibly inspired by Kerry, notes that Obama broke a campaign promise regarding campaign finance and takes issue with one line of his reasoning:
Without question, Obama has set the bar at new height with a truly staggering sum of cash. And that is why as we approach this November, it is worth reminding ourselves what Barack Obama said last November. One year ago, he made a promise. He pledged to accept public financing and to work with the Republican nominee to ensure that they both operated within those limits.

Then it became clear to Sen. Obama and his campaign that he was going to be able to raise on his own far more cash than he would get with public financing. So Obama went back on his word.

He broke his promise and he explained it by arguing that the system is broken and that Republicans know how to work the system to their advantage. He argued he would need all that cash to fight the ruthless attacks of 527s, those independent groups like the Swift Boat Veterans. It's funny though, those attacks never really materialized.

The Post report on the questionable on-line donations coming into the Obama campaign made Page 2 (why not Page 1?):
Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign is allowing donors to use largely untraceable prepaid credit cards that could potentially be used to evade limits on how much an individual is legally allowed to give or to mask a contributor's identity, campaign officials confirmed.

Faced with a huge influx of donations over the Internet, the campaign has also chosen not to use basic security measures to prevent potentially illegal or anonymous contributions from flowing into its accounts, aides acknowledged. Instead, the campaign is scrutinizing its books for improper donations after the money has been deposited.

The Obama organization said its extensive review has ensured that the campaign has refunded any improper contributions, and noted that Federal Election Commission rules do not require front-end screening of donations....

"They have opened the floodgates to all this money coming in," said Sean Cairncross, chief counsel to the Republican National Committee. "I think they've made the determination that whatever money they have to refund on the back end doesn't outweigh the benefit of taking all this money upfront."

Mark Steyn and others have been on this story for a few days now. Steyn elaborates on the Post report and offers this spot on insight into why the MSM is playing this story up so late in the day:
There is an element of art to these calculations: The Obamatron editors in the media want to be able to cover themselves by saying they raised the story, but the trick is to do so at a time and place that prevents it going anywhere before November 4th.

Re: Unionists Like the Shadows

Carroll Andrew Morse

Nine Rhode Island School Committee members from eight different communities have signed a letter supporting the East Providence school committee in its bid to make contract negotiations public

School Committee members across Rhode Island support the East Providence School Committee and its commitment to holding contract negotiation meetings open to the public. Currently, public sector contracts are negotiated behind closed doors. The public is denied the right to know how their money is being spent until the deal is signed and it's too late to change it.

The opponents of transparent negotiations claim that opening the process would stifle negotiations with 'onerous public input,' 'grandstanding' and 'political maneuvering'. However, Florida, Tennessee and Minnesota actually require open negotiations and they are all exhibiting positive results.

Hiding contract negotiations from public scrutiny is not required by law. Prior to each negotiation, the two parties establish ground rules. It is within these voluntary ground rules that the public loses their right to participate…

The signed public school committee members below would like to request that open sessions be required for all public sector contract negotiations and express their support for the efforts taking place in East Providence. There are other committee members expressing support but did not respond in time to participate. Others wish to remain anonymous. The co-signers represent their own opinions and not that of the committees they serve. A copy of this release will be sent to the RI Board of Regents.

Douglas Roth, North Kingstown
David Coughlin, Pawtucket
Renee Cockerill, North Kingstown
Sandra Gabaree, Johnston
Mark Baker, Glocester
Jean Ann Guliano, East Greenwich
Paul Cannistra, Warwick
Joseph Quinn, Tiverton
Bill Felkner, Hopkinton/Chariho

Alisha A. Pina of the Projo has details on the specifics of the East Providence situation here.

Let the Shrieking Commence...

Carroll Andrew Morse

From the Associated Press, via the Projo...

Governor Carcieri said today he supports abolishing the state income tax, which could drastically reduce tax revenue just as Rhode Island's state government faces large budget deficits.

Carcieri said this morning during an appearance on WPRO-AM that he would "love" to find a way to eliminate Rhode Island's income tax, which provides about a third of state revenue. He said the state should tax people on what they spend, not on what they earn.

An Incorrect Mitigation of RI's Gloom

Justin Katz

This statement, from an article describing the abysmal state of RI's economy, is incorrect in a very important way:

Six months ago, those who gathered in the State House basement for the semiannual Revenue & Caseload Estimating Conference learned that Rhode Island was the only New England state "in recession," and just one of nine states nationally with that unwelcome distinction.

"You could say Rhode Island has sort of set the trend for the United States," said Andres Carbacho-Burgos, an economist with Moody's Economy.com and one of a handful of independent analysts who shared a dismal economic forecast with state budget officials yesterday. "Misery loves company. And Rhode Island has plenty of it."

No, you can't really say that Rhode Island has set a trend, because it is incorrect to see us generally as a leading edge. I've heard excuse-making murmurs that Rhode Island's size makes it quick to reveal changes, but there is absolutely no reason to believe that we'll precede the country in getting out of recession.

"We know that this goes far beyond housing. We're losing jobs in every category," said Gary Ciminero, executive director of the House Policy Office.

The state earlier in the month learned it had edged out Michigan for the highest unemployment rate in the country, 8.8 percent, the highest in 16 years. The ranks of the jobless last month swelled to 50,200, the most on record, according to the state Department of Labor and Training.

Job losses affected most sectors: manufacturing (down 6.5 percent since last September), retail (down 3.7 percent), construction (down 3.3 percent), financial activities (down 4.1 percent), professional and business services (down 2.2 percent) and state government (down 7 percent).

Rhode Island is expected to continue to lose jobs through the end of 2010, according to the Moody's analysis.

If Rhode Island doesn't act quickly, we may actually see an acceleration of taxpayer and business flight when other states begin to recover. And if RI doesn't even follow the nation on an up-trend, we're in more trouble than most of us care to consider.

October 28, 2008

Unionists Like the Shadows

Justin Katz

The shadow that unions cast over our education system never ceases to sting:

[East Providence's] current contract with its teachers expires on Friday, and talks are at a deadlock. The sides can't agree on ground rules and the sticking point is the School Committee's demand that the bargaining be done in public.

"The union representatives say open negotiations will cause 'grandstanding' and 'political maneuvering,'" City Councilman Robert Cusack said last week.

Well, yeah. That's the point. Open negotiations would enable the public to offset the grandstanding and political maneuvering at which the unions are so proficient. In other words, not only do the unions involve teachers in the bullying of local communities, but they put them in the position of preferring that the other side not be able to fight back — or even to know what's going on.

The Selfishness of Thinking Ahead

Justin Katz

Financial columnist Michelle Singletary pauses amid the economic crisis to give a hard kick to the notion of privatizing Social Security as a method of preserving its long-term prospects.

The column resists selective quoting, so I recommend that you read the whole thing, but the essence is that Singletary describes retirement planning as a three-legged stool:

One leg of the stool is supposed to represent retirement savings. In the past, this meant a company pension. Now for many workers, it's a retirement plan they fund themselves, such as a 401(k).

The second leg represents personal savings, such as cash bank accounts or certificates of deposit. The savings component might also include other assets, such as your home.

The third leg is Social Security, which provided at least half the income for 64 percent of seniors in 2006.

She goes on to admit that fewer people have any sort of pension plan or retirement savings, and more and more people, far from saving, are in debt. As for Social Security, it "remains problematic":

"Social Security's current annual surpluses of tax income over expenditures will begin to decline in 2011 and then turn into rapidly growing deficits as the baby boom generation retires," the report said.

Growing annual deficits are projected to exhaust Social Security reserves in 2041.

That doesn't quite tell the whole story, as I recall, because the "Social Security reserves" aren't actually money. They're IOUs that the government — debt-laden, itself — is going to have to raise revenue to make whole. In other words, either taxes are going up or benefits are going down. By the time I reach the age at which this and previous generations have retired, the likelihood is that my financial stool won't have three "wobbly legs," but no legs at all.

And yet Singletary offers no solutions. She calls President Bush's attempt to allow workers investment access to some of the thousands of dollars that they pay into the system "selfishness." Social Security, she writes, "isn't just about you." It's about establishing "a net that [is] in place for times like what we're going through now."

Actually, at times like this, the social security net resembles a trawler in shallow waters. It takes from generations with a precarious future in order to pay out to older generations that are doing and have done better financially. Personally, I'm in that teeter-totter position at which the hundreds of dollars taken from my family's paychecks for social security would be enough to cover bills that we currently can't pay, making it more difficult to avoid increasing an already crushing debt. Apparently, though, altruism requires that we continue to struggle, with no real prospects of retirement, so that the Baby Boomers can sit pretty in their Golden Years.

A Brief History of TCC

Justin Katz

For those interested in some video highlights of the last six months' events in Tiverton budgetary politics, Tiverton Citizens for Change has a video up on its Web site. Watching it all unfold again, it's remains difficult to believe the scam that the local government pulled to get the budget that it wanted. It also manifestly recommends against a charter amendment on the ballot next week that would put the budget entirely in their hands.

One Way to National SSM

Justin Katz

Look, I'm not making any claims as to whether and how Obama will seek to silence the political right wing, or how much he'll succeed if he tries. As I've been reading various news items throughout the campaign season, a plot has begun to form. It's not a matter of predicting the future; it's a matter of imagining a scenario and considering whether there's a plausible path from here to there — not to argue that it will happen, but to entertain the imaginative question of whether it could. Behind all the writing, I'm a novelist at heart, and the emergence of a storyline intrigues me.

So, again, I'm not arguing that the following is likely, much less probable. I'm pointing out that something is possible, depending on a wide variety of other factors, and creating that world in a work of fiction would make for an interesting story.

To the above-linked post, msteven comments (in part):

How would Obama or anyone for that matter implement same-sex marriage nationally? Presidents or any political executives don’t have that type of power. Just ask the Mayor of SF. This is not to mention that Obama has already gone on record being against SSM? ...

There is a significant difference between changing positions on taking public campaign money and on same-sex marriage, where the majority of the public is against it. The only reason he would even pursue implementing SSM is if it were to benefit him politically.

Put aside msteven's faith that Obama's relative silence on same-sex marriage indicates a lack of ideological drive rather than the existence of political calculation that would be subject to change. As far as I can tell from his Web site, Obama isn't saying much about the marriage issue, probably for the very reason that msteven notes: his views conflict with those of the majority of the public. From what I've gleaned of Obama's position, though, it's consistent with the "civil unions" solution of giving homosexuals the same benefits and privileges, but without calling it marriage.

Well, unhappily, that's precisely the route to the redefinition of merriage that California and Connecticut have blazed in recent months: Create a "different in name only" institution and then leave it to the courts to declare it unconstitutional not to fold them together. At the national level, that could negate every state law or constitutional amendment defining marriage as strictly an opposite-sex relationship, as well as every federal law (e.g., the Defense of Marriage Act) meant to keep the issue in check.

There are a variety of preconditions required for this to happen, of course, but in a (probably fictional) future that casts Obama in an attempt to suppress the conservative movement, the steps are not implausible. And if, in that world, the president (with the help of a supermajority of his own party in Congress) has successfully minimized the power of talk radio and the Internet, and perhaps begun to manacle private enterprise through unionization, he would have political reason — and cover — to gun for the churches.

October 27, 2008

Dean Barnett, RIP

Donald B. Hawthorne

Dean Barnett has died after a long battle with CF. My fondness for Barnett dates back to a 2007 post entitled Muddling Nobly, Happily and with a Sense of Purpose Through Life's Unexpected Twists & Turns:

...And that’s where "muddling through" comes in. Regardless of who you are, at some point life plays some rotten tricks on you. Some people get terrible blows from fate; some people make their own bad luck. But everyone at some point realizes that life is at times a slog, and sometimes a cruel one.

But we "muddle through." As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become ever more convinced that one of the keys to happiness is enjoying the "muddling," and being cognizant of your blessings while doing so.

Some people just can’t do that. The muddling makes them bitter and angry; they enter a spiral of self-pity...

Life is one big muddle. Sometimes you have to muddle more, sometimes you have to muddle less, but for all of us "muddling through" is the natural state of things. Luckily, while we muddle, we can surround ourselves with things we cherish. We can muddle nobly, happily and with a sense of purpose. We can choose to love and allow ourselves to be loved as we muddle.

Ultimately, if you want it to be and let it be, it’s a beautiful muddle indeed.

I am grateful to have had a chance to thank Dean personally for this column in an email and will always treasure his kind response.



Tributes from Mark Steyn, John Podhoretz, and Peter Robinson.


More from Hugh Hewitt and Bill Kristol.

Finally, there is no better way to end than with Barnett in his own words:

As I grew sicker, I had what for me was an extremely comforting insight. I came to view serious and progressive illness as an ever constricting circle with oneself at the center. The interior of the circle represents the contents of one’s life. As the circle gets smaller, things that were inside get forced out. Some of these things are dearly missed; others that were once thought precious get forced to the exterior and turn out to go surprisingly unlamented.

At the innermost point of the circle are the things that really matter: family, faith, love. These things stay with you until the day you die. At the very end, because the circle has shrunk down to its center, they’re all you have left. But as we approach that end, we finally realize that all along, they were what mattered most. As a consequence, life often remains beautiful and worthwhile right up until the end.

Thanks, Dean, for all you taught us about how to live.

Sayonara Stevens

Marc Comtois

I referenced the Ted Stevens conviction earlier, here are more details. There are several counts against him, but count #1 contains the gist of it:

Stevens engaged in a scheme to conceal from his Senate financial disclosure documents home renovations and other gifts he received from Allen and VECO from 2000-2006. Stevens contends he never asked for any freebies and believed he paid for everything he received.
The rest of the counts are related to the cover up (ie;false statements). Meanwhile, the Senate dithers and hopes they won't have to unduly embarrass their colleague by booting him out. Instead, they hope he just goes away and isn't re-elected. That's probably what will happen, though there's no guarantee. Too bad more of them weren't like Sarah Palin, who stood up to Stevens and the rest of the corrupt GOP machine in Alaska. But no one ever accused your average Senator of being a person of action.

UPDATE: Gee, sorry to disappoint the left side of the local blogosphere. In the comments to the aforelinked post, they wager that we AR folks were going to somehow defend Stevens. I presume this is based on what their own knee-jerk partisan reaction would be if the shoe was on the other foot. (This is what's called projection). After all, there are plenty of bad actors on both sides of the aisle, but when's the last time (ever?) they devoted a post to calling out a Democrat for impropriety. And I don't mean buried in the comments or including them as part of an overall list: I mean an explicit calling out. So I'm still waiting for their detailed post discussing the indictment William Jefferson, the real-estate deals of Charles Rangel or the sexcapades of Tim Mahoney. But I'm not holding my breath.

UPDATE 2: Matt J. has responded:

Marc -

In response to your request for times that RIFuture.org has "explicitly called out" a "Democrat for impropriety" I offer you the following posts as evidence:

Recall Democratic Mayor of Woonsocket Susan Menard

Democratic Mayor Menard Plagiarizes

Menard as DINO candidate

Menard's Corrupt Attempts

then Democratic NP Mayor Ralph Mollis (we broke the campaign contributions from town employees story)

then Democratic NP Mayor John Sisto

I could go on, but don't really have the time.

Does this sample satisfy your question?

Instead of commenting, I'll answer here: Nope. My point of contention is pretty clearly regarding NATIONAL Democratic politicians. However, I will certainly give RI Future credit for going after the local corrupt Dems (fertile ground, that). I also note none of the Dems Matt mentions are on the "progressive" side of the Democratic Party ledger. Make of that what you will.

Making It Through to the Wallop

Justin Katz

Well, RI General Treasurer Frank Caprio sold his $350 million in bonds today:

General Treasurer Frank Caprio announced today that the State of Rhode Island raised $350M from the sale of Tax Anticipation Notes (TANs).

Just over $25M was sold directly to Rhode Islanders. In a rare retail push of TANS, Bank of America and local brokers aided the sale, reporting substantial retail investor activity, despite the lower than expected yield. Given priority, Rhode Islander's stepped up, with retail interest building momentum that was "felt by institutional investors," according to trading desk reports.

We now return you to an inadequately alarmed tone of government. Thanks to Mr. Caprio, the General Assembly will get through the election without any major fires, leaving it free to boost our taxes once the ballots are all counted. They'll probably do so largely by expanding the application of the sales tax, thus driving more business across the border and worsening the problem.

The Final Week (Thank God!)

Marc Comtois

It's the final week of this never-ending election and people who can make up their minds await the decision of the 10% (or so) who can't. I can never figure out how you could be undecided at this point, but people are.

In the Senate, despite the conviction of Ted Stevens (AK), it still looks to me like the GOP will hold on to 41 seats, with McConnell and Chambliss stronger than they look and Wicker holding on in Mississipi and Al Franken will win Minnesota. Regardless, we're a whisker away from Democrats having total, unchecked control in Washington, D.C.

But that won't bother Rhode Islanders, except the few who wonder how much further we will tilt towards one-party government. No, most will go to the polls and pull the same old lever, thus enabling more of the same that enabled the NY Times and This Week to use us as the canary in the recessionary coal mine for the rest of the nation.

But our particular political insanity ("doing the same thing over and over...") is exhibited by more than the leaders we elect. We'll probably also approve the highway bond again, just like every year, because we never seem to figure out that the General Assembly could appropriate the money through normal, budgetary means, which would still allow us to obtain the Federal funds "we got comin' to us." On the flip side, though Rhode Islanders will probably fall for that particular shell game again, we might make themselves feel better by denying $3.5 million bond towards open space. We'll buy the car and refuse the performance package (including a rear spoiler and alloy wheels!) and pat ourselves on the back for being sharp bargainers. Oy.

But, who knows, maybe Rhode Islanders will finally get cranky and make some changes. Maybe the transportation bond will fail and a few local, high profile pols will be defeated. Small victories are victories nonetheless.

Getting from Here to There

Justin Katz

The notions of the mainstream media and its demagogue and the transformation to something hardly recognizable as the United States of America spark an imaginative exercise. Admittedly, one begins to edge toward the line from analysis to creative writing with this stuff, but a few threads in current events point to an interesting tangle.

Picture this:

Shortly after his inauguration, Obama sets out to reward the mainstream media for its support. Oh, he won't put it that way. Instead, he'll express his gratitude that the "objective" press was able to overwhelm the "smears" of the propaganda machine on talk radio and the Internet. "What a shame," he'll say, "that those swamps of anger and divisiveness are draining the financial lifeblood from professional journalism." Surely, it'd be in the nation's interest — in the name of unity and fundamental change — to implement a modern day Fairness Doctrine, along with something new, something to ensure that the knowledge and experience of consummate professionals were able to dominate the Web, as well.

Having lost valuable ground with the undermining of two media that have enabled it to flourish over the past few decades, the political right would have seek other venues for communication and other spheres for influence. An obvious one, for social conservatives, is the territory of religious organizations, both the churches themselves and the groups and networks of groups that spring up around faith-based action. Since they don't proclaim themselves as sources of information, blocking them off would require an indirect strategy. The administration would have to find other issues with which to barricade the door.

One opportunity would be to institute same-sex marriage throughout the nation. Any groups that have anything to do with marriage would face the loss of their tax exempt status and any licenses necessary for operation (as with the Catholic adoption agency in Massachusetts) if they wouldn't fold. Any group with publicly available assets could be flushed with applications to allow events that are contrary to their religious beliefs, again facing the loss of government recognition and allowances.

One by one, the bastions of the right, the opposition, the subversives, could be felled beneath the benign smile of tolerance and fairness. Unity. Every discrete argument about this civil right or that government protection might come together until the line is reached at which the government would have license to jail and ruin dissenters.

Provided it doesn't come true too quickly, it's probably a story worth thinking through and composing.

Shocked, SHOCKED at Such Mortgage Terms

Monique Chartier

Not a.r.m.'s or balloon payments this time. It seems that Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), in addition to millions in campaign contributions from the industry he purports to regulate, also received a couple of sweetheart mortgages totalling $800,000 from Countrywide Financial. Kevin Rennie in Sunday's Hartford Courant:

Sen. Christopher Dodd's bewildering odyssey of entitlement, evasions and deceptions continued last week. He shed more credibility as he staggered through new excuses for concealing from the public documents related to his cut-rate mortgages of nearly $800,000 from subprime giant Countrywide Financial.

On Wednesday, Dodd announced he wants to wait until the Senate Ethics Committee completes its investigation of his mortgage deals. There's no Senate rule requiring Dodd to remain silent during the investigation. There's no legitimate reason for Dodd to withhold from the public the array of documents, e-mails and letters from the mortgage swag bag Countrywide gave him.

The Senator from Connecticut has also been moving money between his campaign accounts - from presidential to senatorial - so that he can legally spend such funds on attorneys' fees. Were supporters aware of such a prospective use of their contributions?

Dodd has put forth the same weasley, non-believable defense as two other members of Congress, Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) who is currently on trial for corruption and Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY), who probably ought to be. From Wednesday's Hartford Courant:

Dodd said he was unaware that he was getting special treatment.

"I never sought any special treatment," Dodd said. "I was never offered special treatment. I was never aware of any unique or special treatment. Had I been so, believe me, I would have terminated the relationship with that institution immediately."

On a more serious note, we now have to ask: what other members of Congress are "unwittingly" receiving gifts and preferential treatment as a result of their official power?

What We'll Know When the Center Isn't So Critical

Justin Katz

Surely we've all had experiences with those deceitful practices that get us every time. Perhaps you've had the lover whose word you, for some reason, take every time he or she promises not to cheat again. Perhaps you've had the boss whose nakedly arbitrary and false deadlines always manage to ratchet up the stress. Well, the great political feint to the center during general elections is like that.

Even if Melanie Phillips's fears of a post-election Barack Obama prove to be partially true, it ought to be enough to demotivate some among his throngs:

Obama assumes that Islamic terrorism is driven by despair, poverty, inflammatory US policy and the American presence on Muslim soil in the Persian Gulf. Thus he adopts the agenda of the Islamists themselves. This is not surprising since many of his connections suggest that that the man who may be elected President of a country upon which the Islamists have declared war is himself firmly in the Islamists' camp. Daniel Pipes lists Obama's extensive connections to Islamists in general and the Nation of Islam in particular, and concludes with this astounding observation:
Obama's multiple links to anti-Americans and subversives mean he would fail the standard security clearance process for Federal employees. Islamic aggression represents America's strategic enemy; Obama's many insalubrious connections raise grave doubts about his fitness to serve as America's commander-in-chief.

Phillips isn't saying that Obama is himself Muslim, or that he supports Islamic nations' domination of the West, but that he's of that liberal "camp" that comes to common conclusions with the Islamists. We'll have to wait with bated breath, if Obama wins the race, to see whether actually running the most powerful nation on Earth forces him to discard the cherished platitudes of the academy or, with his presumption of divine destiny, he believes that he will be The One to soften America's hand just enough to win over the good will of the peace-loving Muslim world.

If the latter, many voters' refrain is likely to be "How could we have known?"


Donald B. Hawthorne

Barack Obama in 2001.


An analysis.

...There is nothing vague or ambiguous about this. Nothing...

The entire purpose of the Constitution was to limit government. That limitation of powers is what has unlocked in America the vast human potential available in any population.

Barack Obama sees that limiting of government not as a lynchpin but rather as a fatal flaw...

There is no room for wiggle or misunderstanding here. This is not edited copy. There is nothing out of context; for the entire thing is context — the context of what Barack Obama believes. You and I do not have to guess at what he believes or try to interpret what he believes. He says what he believes...

...we have never, ever in our 232-year history, elected a president who so completely and openly opposed the idea of limited government, the absolute cornerstone of which makes the United States of America unique and exceptional.

If this does not frighten you — regardless of your political affiliation — then you deserve what this man will deliver with both houses of Congress, a filibuster-proof Senate, and, to quote Senator Obama again, "a righteous wind at our backs."

That a man so clear in his understanding of the Constitution, and so opposed to the basic tenets it provides against tyranny and the abuse of power, can run for president of the United States is shameful enough...

I happen to know the person who found this audio. It is an individual person, with no more resources than a desire to know everything that he or she can about who might be the next president of the United States and the most powerful man in the world...

I do not blame Barack Obama for believing in wealth distribution. That’s his right as an American. I do blame him for lying about what he believes. But his entire life has been applying for the next job at the expense of the current one. He’s at the end of the line now.

I do, however, blame the press for allowing an individual citizen to do the work that they employ standing armies of so-called professionals for. I know they are capable of this kind of investigative journalism: It only took them a day or two to damage Sarah Palin with wild accusations about her baby’s paternity and less time than that to destroy a man who happened to be playing ball when the Messiah decided to roll up looking for a few more votes on the way to the inevitable coronation.

We no longer have an independent, fair, investigative press. That is abundantly clear to everyone — even the press. It is just another of the facts that they refuse to report, because it does not suit them.

Remember this, America: The press did not break this story. A single citizen, on the Internet did.

There is a special hell for you "journalists" out there, a hell made specifically for you narcissists and elitists who think you have the right to determine which information is passed on to the electorate and which is not...

Closer to the Mark

Justin Katz

David Anderson, who's running for the 4th representative district seat in the General Assembly is closer to the necessary strategy than Edward Mazze:

If elected I will sponsor or support legislation aimed at:

Lowering taxes on businesses and individuals. The state must spend less to lower taxes. Let's cut unnecessary government activities while making essential government services more efficient. If we spend less, we'll tax less. That will attract and keep businesses here. That means more jobs for Rhode Island citizens. And it means higher wages.

Managing an optimum regulatory environment. Let's get smart about regulations. Let's educate ourselves about the best practices proven in other states and implement them here. Doing this will attract businesses to our state

Reducing the cost and expanding the availability of clean energy. Instead of paying foreigners for our energy why not pay Rhode Islanders for it? I applaud the state's recent decision to bring wind power to offshore areas in the ocean. When the need develops or when the current gas fired power station is decommissioned, I will work to bring clean, safe and cheap nuclear power to the state.

Encouraging the development of a fair and healthy labor market. When workers are unionized at a work site, instead of forcing them to join one union they should be allowed to join any legitimate union or guild to represent their professional interests. Kind of a "different strokes for different folks" approach. While sharing characteristics with right-to-work systems found in many western and southern states, it would remove the coercive powers currently held by unions and we think would foster more harmonious relationships with employers. Businesses would flock to our shores.

I'm not sure why it's so in vogue to list clean energy as a separate jobs item, these days, but it's not objectionable. I'd also suggest, with regard to the fourth point, that workers ought also to be allowed to represent their own interests without any group behind them.

October 26, 2008

In a Word, Professionalism

Justin Katz

Julia Steiny recently heard a speaker whose conclusions point to the same problem in education, but from a different aspect:

University of Chicago Prof. Charles Payne spoke recently on the subject of his book So Much Reform, So Little Change. ...

"Because you have institutions in which the adults fail to cooperate. Grown-up people unable to work together bedevils the system from bottom to top."

Yes! Payne is so on to something.

He says, "All decisions are politicized. Failure is valorized. Sit in a teachers lounge and listen to them compete with one another about how much their kids are failing." When districts actually get good leadership, they chew him up, they buy her out. Payne cites Rudy Crew's excellent record in Miami and his ignominious departure as only the most recent example.

That's a proximate cause, but Steiny extrapolates the factor that creates the detrimental setting:

... the central relationship at the heart of public-school districts, big and small, is the structurally adversarial relationship between labor and management. Historically, labor-management stances often erupt into war-like conditions with strikes and the ugly work-to-the-rule labor actions hurtful to children. When school or district grown-ups battle among themselves about who's entitled to limited, tax-generated resources, students don't matter.

Unions create a power group whose interests are ultimately distinct from those of school children. They create an environment in which a teacher seeking to advance has incentive to invest in the union structure, rather than proving her or his own value in the objective of the school (i.e., education).

Mazzey Fluff

Justin Katz

Edward Mazze has a commentary piece in the Providence Journal business section today (that doesn't appear to be online) that completely reverses the order and emphasis of the steps that Rhode Island must take:

Here are 10 ideas for job creation our legislators should consider:
  • Recruit Rhode Islanders, specifically business leaders, to serve as ambassadors in sharing with others in their industries the benefits of living and working in the state.
  • Create programs to attract and keep young professionals in the state.
  • Use trade and professional associations to attract businesses from neighboring states.
  • Allocate more resources to attract foreign investment and to support existing businesses that want to sell their products and services abroad.
  • Promote the transfer fo scientific and technological knowledge from colleges and universities to the private sector.
  • Provide more competitive grants to entrepreneurs for research and developmnet activities that lead to the commercialization of business ideas.
  • Utilize agriculture and natural resources, namely the ocean, for economic development.
  • Develop a branding/marketing initiative to change the state's image as an unfriendly business state to a business-friendly state after removing some of the barriers to doing business.
  • Get business retention and expansion activities done with little bureaucratic delay.
  • Build a regional partnership to keep businesses in the New England states.

Perhaps I'm not alone in having the impression that most of these items — some benign, some potentially helpful, some harmful because they further entrench our government in our economy — are meant mainly for the purpose of seeming busy while waiting for good times to come around again. Government and business leaders can twiddle their thumbs with these initiatives and programs until some new boom arises and then claim partial credit. Well, that next boom may never make it to Rhode Island.

Take especial note of the third to last bullet, because it really tells the tale of Mazze's reversal of emphasis:

Develop a branding/marketing initiative to change the state's image as an unfriendly business state to a business-friendly state after removing some of the barriers to doing business.

Removing some of the barriers to doing business in Rhode Island is so far beyond everything else in importance that it amounts to mere fluff to list "ideas for job creation." If the legislature wants advice, I'll break down that single mandate into three components:

  1. Slash taxes.
  2. Erase pages of regulation and mandates.
  3. Ease up on registration and licensing requirements.

Do those three things, and everything on Mazze's list will actually be possible.

Add One More Name to the Invite List of that Forum, Gov

Monique Chartier

Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric was a guest this morning on ABC's This Week. He describes his company's first hand experience with Rhode Island's anti-business climate and how it is the "Don't" model for dealing with a financial crisis.

[Commenter Mike points us to this item.]

The New York Times this morning ran the greatest ad John McCain could ever have. It was the lead column on the right hand side. It talked about the crisis that is coming, the unemployment that is coming.

But then it featured the State of Rhode Island. And it talked about Rhode Island, they had a two page article in the paper, of all places, the Times.

Rhode Island is the most highly taxed state in the nation. It talked about the fact that Rhode Island, 80% of RI's industries are small businesses employing less than twenty people.

RI has an enormous corporate tax rate of 9%. It has the hightest unemployment tax. Small business is being murdered [George Stephanopoulos begins to overspeak him] and big business like GE pulled out.

* * *

We pulled out of Rhode Island fifteen years ago because of the crazy tax burden there. And that is something you cannot do in these times.

Video of the segment "Welch: Light at End of Tunnel" available here. The New York Times article he references is here. This is the announcement of the November 6 Economic Forum called by Governor Carcieri.

Rhode Island and Sex Trafficking

Justin Katz

Even as San Francisco contemplates legalizing prostitution, people who pay attention to such things in Rhode Island — where prostitution is already legal — say the regime attracts the sex-slave industry:

But in fact, said Wells, slavery is occurring now in neighborhoods around Rhode Island, in the form of the forced prostitution of women and girls — some runaways, some brought here from other countries. Their captors are attracted to Rhode Island, she said, because it is one of only two states that consider prostitution legal, as long as it occurs indoors between consenting adults.

"The word has gone out that Rhode Island is the place to come to to open your brothel," said Donna M. Hughes, a University of Rhode Island professor who has studied international sex trafficking. "We are rapidly becoming the sex trafficking capital of the Northeast."

A resort casino and legalization of some currently illicit drugs would surely have similarly beneficent results.

Isn't This Just Social Security on Steroids?

Monique Chartier

Possibly hoping to tap disenchantment with the recent performance of the stock market, Workforce Management reports that

Powerful House Democrats are eyeing proposals to overhaul the nation’s $3 trillion 401(k) system, including the elimination of most of the $80 billion in annual tax breaks that 401(k) investors receive.

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-California, and Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, are looking at redirecting those tax breaks to a new system of guaranteed retirement accounts to which all workers would be obliged to contribute.

A plan by Teresa Ghilarducci, professor of economic-policy analysis at the New School for Social Research in New York, contains elements that are being considered. She testified last week before Miller’s Education and Labor Committee on her proposal.

At that hearing, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, Peter Orszag, testified that some $2 trillion in retirement savings has been lost over the past 15 months.

Under Ghilarducci’s plan, all workers would receive a $600 annual inflation-adjusted subsidy from the U.S. government but would be required to invest 5 percent of their pay into a guaranteed retirement account administered by the Social Security Administration. The money in turn would be invested in special government bonds that would pay 3 percent a year, adjusted for inflation.

Firstly, as with social security, is this not simply a pyramid scheme, where it becomes impossible for contributors at a certain point, probably fairly soon, to receive promised retirement funds because the kitty has been distributed to people ahead of them on the list? Or do these Congressional Democrats propose to augment this revenue by reinvesting it, say, in the stock market ...?

More importantly, given the ease with which any future Congress can switch the flow of that new, 5% tax from those "special government bonds" to general revenue, it is not possible to create a secure, credible lockbox for this proposed program. In addition to all the perfectly valid drawbacks of efficacy and logistics which will be cited, this is perhaps the most significant flaw of the proposal. No matter how loudly and sincerely current members of Congress proclaim the sancity of that revenue, "Guaranteed Retirement Accounts" will never be viewed as "guaranteed" or as an "account" by anyone even slightly familiar with Congress' track record of keeping promises in the area of taxpayer funds and other important matters.

Incompatibility and a lack of shared goals should also fuel this scepticism and resistance. With this program, millions of people would be placing their retirement funds in the hands of officials who, too often, are not guided by considerations of the long term or what may be best for their constituents but by what they think they need to do legislatively to get reelected in a couple of years.

This is not necessarily a defense of the stock market. The bursting of the bubble created by the Community Reinvestment Act (oh, look, another unnecessary crisis covered with the federal government's fingerprints) has pretty much trashed our retirement accounts. But subjecting retirement funds to our government's whim, i.e., to values and actions which are the antithesis of good retirement fund management, and then expecting to receive retirement income when we hit sixty five strikes me as untenable and ill-advised from the get-go.

[Thanks to commenter Anthony for the prodding on this subject.]

ProJo Endorses Obama

Marc Comtois

I wonder if local liberals feel like they're in bizarro world? What to do when the much maligned "BeloJo" endorses The One?

The next president will have to deal with a Congress that, although almost certainly Democratic, will sometimes want to go its own way. And all successful American politicians must be willing to shift course and endlessly experiment in that broad center that Americans want to stay in.

“We do not know what the future will bring except that it will be different from any future we could predict,” said John Maynard Keynes. So above all, our choice comes down to broad themes and a sense of a candidate’s judgment, temperament and experience, and hence ability to lead the country as unforeseen events roll in. Thus we endorse Barack Obama.

There's that word "temperament" again and they favor Obama's over McCain's. Like others, the ProJo editors put much stock in Obama's "experience" of running his own Presidential campaign while ignoring that this agent of change and reconciliation has rarely, if ever, reached across the political aisle to work with his ideological opponents. But they have faith that he will now, even with a Democratic Congress. All in all, it's of a piece of other endorsements that have been coming out in favor of Sen. Obama. Style and promise trumps all. And it apparently goes unrecognized that--if you strip it all away--what you have is a candidate who has spent his relatively short political career advocating for....himself.

On the Happiness of Conservatives

Justin Katz

Something has seemed tellingly erroneous about liberals' declarations of conservatives' desperateness and their premature schadenfreude related to the presumed outcome of the election. Liberals misapprehend something very basic in the conservative philosophy, which, although it varies in form and degree across the right-wing spectrum, is partly definitive. Those perplexed by the partisan or ideological happiness gap are missing the same something:

This year, when things seem so rosy for Democrats, the joy gulch yawns wider than ever. The fraction of very happy Republicans has never been so much larger than the very happy Democrats.

What's the Republicans' secret to feeling groovy?

"They have more money," Paul Taylor, director of the Pew Social & Demographic Trends project, writes in the new report. "They have more friends. They are more religious. They are healthier. They are more likely to be married. They like their communities better. They like their jobs more. They are more satisfied with their family life. They like the weather better." ...

Brooks says a lot hinges on the answer to this question: Do you believe that hard work and perseverance can overcome disadvantages? Conservatives are more likely to say yes.

Pew found that Democrats are more likely to say that success in life is mostly determined by outside forces. Republicans lean toward thinking that success is determined by one's own efforts.

The hypothesis: Those who think they can control their destinies are happier.

The notion of controlling one's destiny begins to go off the mark, because core to conservatism is a material realism. As Peter Robinson describes in a summary of an interview with Thomas Sowell:

He prefers an older way of looking at American politics--a much older way. In his classic 1987 work, A Conflict of Visions, Sowell identifies two competing worldviews, or visions, that have underlain the Western political tradition for centuries.

Sowell calls one worldview the "constrained vision." It sees human nature as flawed or fallen, seeking to make the best of the possibilities that exist within that constraint. The competing worldview, which Sowell terms the "unconstrained vision," instead sees human nature as capable of continual improvement.

You can trace the constrained vision back to Aristotle; the unconstrained vision to Plato. But the neatest illustration of the two visions occurred during the great upheavals of the 18th century, the American and French revolutions.

The American Revolution embodied the constrained vision. "In the United States," Sowell says, "it was assumed from the outset that what you needed to do above all was minimize [the damage that could be done by] the flaws in human nature." The founders did so by composing a constitution of checks and balances. More than two centuries later, their work remains in place.

The French Revolution, by contrast, embodied the unconstrained vision. "In France," Sowell says, "the idea was that if you put the right people in charge--if you had a political Messiah--then problems would just go away." The result? The Terror, Napoleon and so many decades of instability that France finally sorted itself out only when Charles de Gaulle declared the Fifth Republic.

What role have the two visions played in the campaign? Sen. John McCain, who is trailing, has by and large embraced the constrained vision; Sen. Barack Obama, who is leading, the unconstrained vision. Asked if Obama represents the purest expression of the unconstrained vision since Franklin Roosevelt, Sowell, himself an African-American, replies: "No. Since the beginning of American politics. This man [Obama] has been a left ideologue for 20 years."

In the constrained vision, in contemporary politics, there's no such thing as perfectibility, so its implication for mood is to be happy anyway — to do our best. The unconstrained vision, ever chasing impossible structure insists that our work is not done, and it doesn't take much objectivity to see that our work can never be done. The Right sees the world's ebbs and flows and seeks meaning that isn't essentially linked to floods; the Left creates a narrative of progress, ever tangibly near, too often thwarted. One worldview casts setbacks as ultimately temporary and opponents as misguided; to the other, humanity is an ugly crowd that must be led, and saved by any means necessary from those who would repress it.

On a personal note, I can testify that I spent most of my adulthood thus far never long surpassing the positive threshold of any happiness index, and the idea that things beyond my personal control were precisely the things most in need of change has only recently receded. Now, I'd have to pause before telling a pollster whether I'm "very happy" or only "pretty happy." (I'd definitely be in the top group if I could manage to get my finances at least into break-even territory.) Oh, there are various forces that keep us all from achieving everything we desire, and sometimes they manifest in ugliness among our brethren, but our victory is not necessarily their defeat. Indeed, they cannot be defeated in a worldly sense, only ignored.

Not surprisingly, my improved mood in recent years has correlated most closely with my increasingly confident religiosity. My health has remained constant, and if anything, my sense of personal wealth has decreased. The foundation of true happiness may be a sense of progress and chance of success, and then contentment, but progress is never consistent, and success is never assured. What I find conservatism to provide is the promise that, when it comes to life's important answers, we are our ancestors' peers, not an improved iteration of them. What I find Christianity to provide is an understanding that progress needn't be toward worldly goals and a willingness to redefine the measurement of success.

The Mirror Speaks, the Reflection Lies

Justin Katz

Mark Levin is concerned that media brazenness and the various vague endorsements of Obama indicate that "this election will show a majority of the voters susceptible to the appeal of a charismatic demagogue":

I've been thinking this for a while so I might as well air it here. I honestly never thought we'd see such a thing in our country - not yet anyway - but I sense what's occurring in this election is a recklessness and abandonment of rationality that has preceded the voluntary surrender of liberty and security in other places. I can't help but observe that even some conservatives are caught in the moment as their attempts at explaining their support for Barack Obama are unpersuasive and even illogical. And the pull appears to be rather strong. Ken Adelman, Doug Kmiec, and others, reach for the usual platitudes in explaining themselves but are utterly incoherent. Even non-conservatives with significant public policy and real world experiences, such as Colin Powell and Charles Fried, find Obama alluring but can't explain themselves in an intelligent way.

The matter could have more weight than just a gamble on a chief executive. Enough fair-weather libertarians of the left may prove that what they've hated about the last eight years were not the president's methods (as exaggerated as their characterization may have been), but that it wasn't their guy employing them. Such is inevitably the case: In the service of your objectives, bending the rules is a risky abrogation of fail-safes; in the service of mine, they are necessary, well, over-interpretations.

There are good reasons especially to lament the final plunge of the mainstream media. If Obama wins the election, the media will have played a significant role in putting him there. Do you think that will make journalists more or less likely to report and excoriate abuses of power?

October 25, 2008

Not Knowing What They're Doing

Justin Katz

It's becoming unremarkable to remark upon the lack of substance in the latest round of Obama endorsements. Saying he'll bring "change" or be "transformative" means little. As Thomas Sowell points out, recent pages of history have their share of stories about transformation toward something worse. Of course, as Sowell notes elsewhere, a con man's "job is not to convince skeptics but to enable the gullible to continue to believe what they want to believe." In that capacity, Obama is certainly a uniter.

Mark Steyn follows up on Sowell's comments thus:

McCain vs Obama is not the choice many of us would have liked in an ideal world. But then it's not an "ideal world", and the belief that it can be made so is one of the things that separates those who think Obama will "heal the planet" and those of us who support McCain faute de mieux. I agree with Thomas Sowell that an Obama-Pelosi supermajority will mark what he calls "a point of no return". It would not be, as some naysayers scoff, "Jimmy Carter's second term", but something far more transformative. The new president would front the fourth great wave of liberal annexation — the first being FDR's New Deal, the second LBJ's Great Society, and the third the incremental but remorseless cultural advance when Reagan conservatives began winning victories at the ballot box and liberals turned their attention to the other levers of the society, from grade school up. The terrorist educator William Ayers, Obama's patron in Chicago, is an exemplar of the last model: forty years ago, he was in favor of blowing up public buildings; then he figured out it was easier to get inside and undermine them from within.

All three liberal waves have transformed American expectations of the state. The spirit of the age is: Ask not what your country can do for you, demand it. Why can't the government sort out my health care? Why can't they pick up my mortgage?

Steyn goes on to make a point that I've sounded before, in conversation and writing, and never heard so much as an attempt at a defensible reply:

More to the point, the only reason why Belgium has gotten away with being Belgium and Sweden Sweden and Germany Germany this long is because America's America. The soft comfortable cocoon in which western Europe has dozed this last half-century is girded by cold hard American power. What happens when the last serious western nation votes for the same soothing beguiling siren song as its enervated allies?

Sowell counts the Soviet Union among the historical transformations toward something worse, and one can imagine a similar trajectory for the United States. One can imagine many things, of course, and if we recall the ideological parity that the last few election cycles have proven to exist between right and left, it's clear that the path from here to there would necessarily be a bloody one — so much so as to be surpassingly unlikely. However, even just the loss of the United States as an exemplar of stalwart individualism would be an unprecedented shift in the world stage.

Optimist that I am, I'll predict — in the face of the mantric conventional wisdom — that an Obama presidency would be the last gasp of liberalism. When the hidden supports of Belgian Belgium et al. cease to exist, so will the illusion of many cherished policies of the left. Either the wishfully thinking conservatives who've admitted a fondness for him will luck out and Obama will discover the necessity of governing from the right, or the liberal government in the United States will be such a globally abysmal failure that the world will be forced to give up the fantasy.

Get Thou to the Other Party!

Justin Katz

Thomas Schmeling and Pat Crowley have been engaged in an interesting conversation that began when a commenter told Crowley the following:

I'm a democrat and I think the state employees unions are one of the biggest problems with the state at the moment. Public employees paid by tax dollars should not be union (emergency workers and possibly even teachers are an exception, though I have serious issues with the teachers unions).

Crowley's response?

then your not a democrat
there is another party for you, it is called republican. They need your help. Feel free to join them

Schmeling, being a man of great integrity (albeit often applied toward erroneous ends, in my opinion), took exception to that push toward the door, and conversation continued, including this from Crowley's boss at the National Education Association in Rhode Island, Bob Walsh:

There may be room to argue about the various stands and positions for which unions may advocate, but if you are arguing against the very right of unions to exist, public or private, then you are not a Democrat.

It is, and should be, a threshold issue - a litmus test - an entrance exam.

To begin with, let's note the sliding measure. Even I support the "right of unions to exist" as a self-standing proposition. I also support people's right to hold any particular job without belonging to a union — that is, I oppose unions' claimed right to maintain monopolies of significant swaths of the employment landscape. Even in the public sector, unions would be tolerable if they had to compete — collectively — with an array of talented and motivated individuals who are more flexible in their demands and more willing to acknowledge the twists and turns of economic reality.

Of course, it's clearly in the financial interest of the NEA's well-remunerated executives to impose such a litmus test. But it's also part of the left/Democrat scheme that has performed such wonders in Rhode Island. Democrat partisans pull together a coalition of interest groups that won't stray from the party even if they disagree on virtually every other aspect of the platform. Indeed, considering unions and the welfare industry, one could say that the party has created interest groups. So, a socially conservative state worker votes for Democrats to preserve his employment package. A recipient of public assistance (and the army of workers who administer it) does likewise. Throw in the blue-at-birth Democrats and the left-wing ideologues.

There's nothing wrong with coalition building, but the strategy is now expanding beyond the point at which various constituencies vote together and then encourage elected officials in their own ways. Consider this tidbit that I came across while developing this post (emphasis added):

Having been out-fundraised by more than 5-to-1 this month in large donations, supporters of a California constitutional marriage amendment are warning they will lose on Election Day unless they receive a heavy influx of donations in the next week.

Thanks mostly to money from Hollywood, homosexual activist groups and the California Teachers Union, opponents of Proposition 8 have raised $11.3 million this month, supporters $2.3 million, according to data on the California secretary of state's website. This week alone, from Sunday through Thursday (Oct. 19-23), opponents raised $3 million to supporters' $844,000. The aforementioned state data includes only donations of $1,000 or more.

The union's leadership, in other words, is not merely supporting candidates who uphold its members' interests; it's behaving as an ideological action group. Money siphoned from the public, crouched behind the education of children, is directed toward another group's "litmus test."

I don't know where the anonymous RI Democrat who sparked Crowley's ire stands on any particular issue, but all Rhode Islanders should keep an eye out for evidence of this chain of links, because it's the very thing that's strangling the state. Furthermore, members of the various Democrat constituencies should have no illusion about the cost of being sated. Your union perks also cost the state in welfare and in increasingly liberal public policy. Your liberal predilections empower the unions to create rigid rules preventing the state from salvaging its collapsing education system.

If a particular item is part of the "entrance exam," then your group and party leadership will feel no compunction about assuming that you support it.

When Realities Collide: Surreality

Justin Katz

Video games are getting serious:

A 43-year-old Japanese woman whose sudden divorce in a virtual game world made her so angry that she killed her online husband's digital persona has been arrested on suspicion of hacking, police said Thursday.

The woman, who is jailed on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data, used his identification and password to log onto popular interactive game "Maple Story" to carry out the virtual murder in mid-May, a police official in northern Sapporo said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

"I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning. That made me so angry," the official quoted her as telling investigators and admitting the allegations.

The woman had not plotted any revenge in the real world, the official said.

She has not yet been formally charged, but if convicted could face a prison term of up to five years or a fine up to $5,000.

Perhaps it's a silly question, but inasmuch as it's a completely manipulable world, can't the game owners resurrect the character and punish the woman by banning her?

The Year of Saving Face

Justin Katz

One needn't have been an economic guru to understand that, when calamity comes, folks will look to save face. Some will point fingers. Some will bow their heads in contrition, but with resolve. And some will disavow their beliefs in an attempt to do both. Alan Greenspan appears to be doing that last:

Greenspan's interrogation by the House Oversight Committee was a far cry from his 18 1/2 years as Fed chairman, when he presided over the longest economic boom in the country's history. He was viewed as a free-market icon on Wall Street and held in respect bordering on awe by most members of Congress.

Not now. At an often contentious four-hour hearing, Greenspan, former Treasury Secretary John Snow and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox were repeatedly accused by Democrats on the committee of pursuing an anti-regulation agenda that set the stage for the biggest financial crisis in 70 years.

"The list of regulatory mistakes and misjudgments is long," panel chairman Henry Waxman declared.

Greenspan, 82, acknowledged under questioning that he had made a "mistake" in believing that banks, operating in their own self-interest, would do what was necessary to protect their shareholders and institutions. Greenspan called that "a flaw in the model ... that defines how the world works." ...

"A critical pillar to market competition and free markets did break down," Greenspan said. "I still do not fully understand why it happened."

I've no information, of course, that Mr. Greenspan had indeed been operating under a better model, but I note that this report, at least, skirts the catalyst of that breakdown. It has seemed to me that banks initially stepped outside of their self-interest-driven caution because the government had, via Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, given the impression of protecting their investors for them. That shift created a bandwagon onto which investment leaders were compelled to leap when it turned out to be a monetary bonanza.

The principle is similar to the unexpected expansion of those depending on a social safety net, when one is installed. A group on the margins finds it worth its while to let go of the sheer face of economic struggle and recline in the net. Others observe the disparity in lifestyle (and the decrease in stigma) and join them, without much thought to the maximum capacity of the supports.


I've always thought the name "Greenspan" to be a curios one for a money man, but it's nowhere near the league of the name of "the Treasury official overseeing the bailout program": Neel Kashkari. As I've quipped before, I wouldn't dare use such obvious names in a work of fiction.

October 24, 2008

A beautiful picture and reflections

Donald B. Hawthorne

Edward Cardinal Egan, Archbishop of New York.

Academic Theatrics as Indication of the Future

Justin Katz

This is shocking:

DeHayes would not provide the exact contents of the messages, which he said were found on a computer in the Memorial Union, the student life building, and at Swan Hall. In an interview yesterday, he would say only that they were a "characterization" of Obama.

DeHayes said a student brought the messages to his attention. As the computers are accessible to the public, he pointed out that the messages weren’t necessarily left by a member of the university community.

On campus yesterday, more than a dozen students interviewed said neither they nor their peers knew about the messages. Some, including junior Hadyn Serby, 20, had seen the provost's e-mail and said that was the first they heard of the incident. Others, among them sophomore Bianca Parker and junior Jalesia Terry, both 20, hadn't seen the provost's message, perhaps, they said, because they sometimes overlook the multiple university-wide e-mails they get or those messages automatically go to their e-mail accounts' junk boxes.

So somebody put a stupid message on a couple of computers (I'm picturing an open Word document with the note typed in), and rather than simply deleting them and instructing folks responsible for the computers to keep an eye out for that sort of thing, the "provost and vice president for academic affairs" proceeds to ensure that the messages' existence receives the greatest possible audience.

As a matter of sensible leadership, that's bad enough, but Donald DeHayes when further to the point of involving the police and giving a stunning example of the totalitarian mindset:

In his e-mail, DeHayes wrote, "While each of us is entitled to our own political views, none of us should be allowed to openly and maliciously insult others on the basis of race or religion without consequences."

DeHayes said he has asked the campus police to investigate the matter, and they are working to determine where the messages came from. While he said in his e-mail that the messages "may rise to the level of a hate crime," he characterized them as "hate speech" in the interview yesterday afternoon.

There should be consequences, but they should be to wallow in obscurity and be insulted when caught in the act. Instead, this ostensible educator corrupts the minds of young adults by trampling with impunity the presumption of free speech — probably because he has a foggy understanding of the principle, himself.

Council 94 Accepts "New" Deal

Marc Comtois

In July, Council 94 tried to ignore economic reality and rejected this deal:

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

One primary reason given for the rejection was related to the latter. Because 70 percent of the membership make less than $40,000 each year, changing the employee health-care contributions from a percentage of salary to a percentage of the health-care premium was considered to have a "disproportionate effect on Council 94’s lower earners."

Today, the membership of Council 94 accepted this agreement:

1) Pay raises of zero, 2.5 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent during each of the next four years;
2) Employee health-care contributions that are a percentage of premiums, though in a graduated scale. For instance, those who make less than $45,000 pay 12% in the first year while those who make over $90,000 pay 25%.
3) Increase in co-pays for emergency-room care and specialists.
4) Wellness program whereby employees can reduce co-share payments by as much as $500 if they quit smoking or visit their primary care physician (before going to a specialist).

Which deal would have been better for the membership? In the end, were they well served by their leadership?

A CEO for Rhode Island

Justin Katz

Eleven "business and community leaders," and only one gives the right answer to the question of what 'can be done in the next 90 days to turn" RI's economy around. Here's Strategic Point Investment Advisors President and CEO David Brochu (emphasis added):

Governor Carcieri should announce the creation of a business advisory committee, made up of volunteers from the business community, to help new businesses form and enter the market. In addition, a new state office should be created to walk prospective businesses through the state's regulatory hurdles.

"We need to announce that Rhode Island is going to be the business incubator of the country," Brochu said.

In addition, Rhode Island should allow business owners to deduct passive losses, up to the amount of their investment, on their state tax returns. Brochu also called for an across-the-board tax cut of perhaps 10 percent until the unemployment rate falls to the national average, along with a 20 percent cut in state employment. In addition, he said, the state employees pension system should be terminated for people who are not already vested in it, with newer employees shifted to 401(k) plans. To pay for shortfalls in the state budget, including the underfunded pension system, the state should float a general obligation bond. "The bond issue will be greeted very well," he predicted. "The state will have cut its spending, get its pension system under control, and in two or three years, it's going to be in great shape."

Frank: Democrats Will Cut Defense Spending by 25%

Marc Comtois

As Monique mentioned, the ProJo has endorsed Barney Frank. I wonder if they would reconsider, given that Frank now says he will cut defense spending--an important piece of Rhode Island's economy--by 25%.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said Democrats will push for a stimulus package after the November election, and called for a package reducing defense spending by 25 percent while saying Congress will "eventually" raise taxes.

Frank told the editorial board of the SouthCoast Standard-Times that he wanted to reduce defense spending by a quarter, meaning the United States would have to withdraw from Iraq sooner.

"The people of Iraq want us out, and we want to stay over their objection," he said. "It's extraordinary."

Frank also said the post-election stimulus package will focus on spending for building projects, extending unemployment benefits, and further supporting states' healthcare costs. "We'll have to raise taxes ultimately," Frank said. "Not now, but eventually."

See what economic stimulation a Democratic Congress will bring? Higher taxes and lost jobs! Just ask 'em.

Suspending Disbelief on Tax Policy

Justin Katz

Bill Clinton's state of the union speeches encouraged running tallies of impossible promises. Everybody got more, at no cost to anybody. Obama's tax policy has that feel. There are so many ways to massage the numbers that the various claims are almost as impossible to assess as the likelihood that the candidate will actually follow through once in office.

Take one example. According to Obama's tax policy fact sheet (PDF; emphasis added):

Obama's plan will cut taxes overall, reducing revenues to below the levels that prevailed under Ronald Reagan (less than 18.2 percent of GDP). The Obama tax plan is a net tax cut — his tax relief for middle class families is larger than the revenue raised by his tax changes for families over $250,000.

A look at the table on page 24 of the Tax Policy Center report (PDF) that Obama uses to support his claims, however, reveals that this is true "against current law," but false "against current policy." The former compares the candidate's plan to the reality if Bush's tax cuts expire, and it results in a $2,796,400,000 decrease in tax revenue under Obama's plan. The latter compares the plan to a scenario in which Bush's tax cuts remain, and in this case, Obama's plan actually increases tax revenue by $778,300,000.

The long and short of the matter is that, even in this sunniest, most gratuitously promissory version of a possible tax policy, Obama is going to increase taxes from what Americans are currently paying. McCain, by contrast, will cut taxes by any measure.

Let's Learn the Lesson Now

Justin Katz

So in the spring, the General Assembly and the governor passed a smoke-and-mirrors budget, and we're well on our way to the nine-digit midyear shortfall that was obvious from the moment the state's finances were declared "balanced." What's the next grand illusion? A third of a billion dollars in tax anticipation notes to kick the problem a few more months down the road:

Government leaders are turning to the citizens of Rhode Island to help avert a financial disaster, according to an unprecedented plan released last night that allows the state to borrow $350 million in the coming days by selling short-term bonds to residents, small businesses and financial institutions. ...

The deal will operate largely like an eight-month certificate of deposit, or CD. For a minimum investment of $1,000, the state will offer an interest rate "in the 3 percent range" (the actual rate will be set by the market Monday).

The interest earned is tax free for Rhode Island and federal tax filers; the notes will be repaid June 30, 2009.

My fellow Rhode Islanders, a 3% (ish) return on an investment is not worth the protraction of the state's problems. The state government is desperate because the state government has been relying on miracles. We should give it instead a slap of reality.

October 23, 2008

Endorsing Bad Government

Monique Chartier

You know, for a gang that claims to be enamoured of regulations and regulating, too many Democrats sure dropped the regulation ball when it came to mortgage guidelines and Fannie and Freddie. One of the more egregious offenders as we now know was Congressman Barney Frank. From September 9's Wall Street Journal.

At least the Massachusetts Democrat is consistent. His record is close to perfect as a stalwart opponent of reforming the two companies, going back more than a decade. The first concerted push to rein in Fan and Fred in Congress came as far back as 1992, and Mr. Frank was right there, standing athwart. But things really picked up this decade, and Barney was there at every turn. Let's roll the audiotape:

In 2000, then-Rep. Richard Baker proposed a bill to reform Fannie and Freddie's oversight. Mr. Frank dismissed the idea, saying concerns about the two were "overblown" and that there was "no federal liability there whatsoever."

Two years later, Mr. Frank was at it again. "I do not regard Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as problems," he said in response to another reform push. And then: "I regard them as great assets." Great or not, we'll give Mr. Frank this: Their assets are now Uncle Sam's assets, even if those come along with $5.4 trillion in debt and other liabilities.

Again in June 2003, the favorite of the Beltway press corps assured the public that "there is no federal guarantee" of Fan and Fred obligations.

A month later, Freddie Mac's multibillion-dollar accounting scandal broke into the open. But Mr. Frank was sanguine. "I do not think we are facing any kind of a crisis," he said at the time.

Three months later he repeated the claim that Fannie and Freddie posed no "threat to the Treasury." Even suggesting that heresy, he added, could become "a self-fulfilling prophecy."

In April 2004, Fannie announced a multibillion-dollar financial "misstatement" of its own. Mr. Frank was back for the defense. Fannie and Freddie posed no risk to taxpayers, he said, adding that "I think Wall Street will get over it" if the two collapsed. Yes, they're certainly "over it" on the Street now that Uncle Sam is guaranteeing their Fannie paper, and even Fannie's subordinated debt.

In their endorsement (yes, endorsement) today of Congressman Frank, the ProJo breezes past all these pesky details and, remarkably, cites the congressman's

pivotal role in negotiating the financial-rescue package approved by Congress this month.

This amounts to commending Jesse James for restocking with taxpayer gold some of the banks he himself knocked over during a decade of quite lucrative holdups. Yes, indeed, public officials who fail to regulate an industry so badly that seven hundred billion one trillion tax payer dollars are needed to correct its collapse is the moral equivalent of a bank holdup in the private sector.

Me, I say to the voters in Massachusetts' Fourth Congressional District, "Be jolly, vote for Sholley". Send Jesse James packing.


Michael Graham of the Boston Herald [via Free Republic] last month articulated the critical role that non-regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac played in the fiscal collapse.

That’s when Freddie and Fannie stepped in. As Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute put it: “They fueled Wall Street’s efforts to securitize subprime loans by becoming the primary customer of all AAA-rated subprime-mortgage pools.”

Lenders asked themselves, why should I care how shaky these borrowers are or risky the loans if a government-backed body is going to buy them up anyway?

The loans were made, the housing market bubbled, contributions from F&F flowed to Democrats like Chris Dodd and Barack Obama, and everyone was happy. Until they weren’t.

Without Freddie and Fannie’s reckless expansion, the housing bubble doesn’t happen. Without the implied promise behind F&F’s money, investment banks don’t dive into the derivatives market.

Why We're in the Mess We're In

Justin Katz

In a Sakonnet Times story about the advantages that incumbents have in Rhode Island, Senator Charles Levesque inadvertently gives a small indication of why Rhode Island is in its current predicament:

Sen. Levesque makes no apologies for obtaining what he calls "civic support" for the library and reaping a little publicity in the process.

"Is there altruism involved? Yes. Is there self-promotion? Yes," said Sen. Levesque, who's been senator since 2004 and previously served as state representative from 1993 to 2002. "But, I can't apologize for the fact that I've been working hard for my community for a long time."

Of course. Altruism. That's when a legislative body takes money from taxpayers and then divvies it up for chosen representatives to get that "self-promotion." The question is whether it's worse if Mr. Levesque is only providing lip service to good deeds or if he honestly believes the rub'n'tug system to be a charitable endeavor.

25th Anniversary of Beirut Barracks Bombing

Marc Comtois

Today's the 25th anniversary of the Hezbollah bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut. On my way to work, I pass a memorial to Edward Iacovino of Warwick, who lost his life that day.

Though it’s been a quarter of a century, for Elizabeth Iacovino, who lost her son Edward S. Iacovino at the age of 20 to the blast, it still feels like yesterday.

“This anniversary is very sad. It brings back all my memories of when he was a child,” said Iacovino on Monday.

“The pain has never gone away. I have pain in my heart that will always stay with me.”

A Lance Corporal at the time of his death, Iacovino was promoted to Corporal posthumously. There is a monument to Iacovino at the intersection of Beach Avenue and West Shore Road.

Brenda Gomes, a disabled veteran of Desert Storm/Desert Shield, who is also president of the local Disabled American Veterans Chapter, said it’s unfortunate that many Americans don’t take the time to adequately honor those killed in that attack.

“The years continue to go by, and there is less and less that is remembered about this tragedy. It seems like once there is a new conflict and a new tragedy, all of the old conflicts and tragedies are forgotten,” said Gomes.

Mayor Scott Avedisian, however, has by executive decree, named Oct. 23, Edward Iacovino day in the city of Warwick to honor his memory.

In her Conimicut home, Iacovino has a curio cabinet with her son’s Purple Heart and military ribbons, pictures and citations on display. One of the pictures depicts Edward in fatigues and wearing a helmet leaning on the hood of a jeep.

“They were his two favorite things,” she says of the vehicles Edward maintained as a mechanic and the uniform he wore.

ADDENDUM: I thought hard about calling attention to this comment given the source. But it illustrates a fundamental difference in outlook and priorities.

Was this the attack that made Regan [sic] cut and run from Lebanon? ~ Posted by: Pat Crowley at October 23, 2008 9:57 PM
I posted this item to acknowledge the sacrifices made by one of our own. But while I sought to memorialize, others can't help but politicize.


They shouldn't have been there and they served no purpose in being there. This makes their death a double tragedy. You might want to reflect on the ill conceived plan and planner that put them in such a vulnerable position in the first place. ~ Posted by OldTimeLefty at October 24, 2008 12:26 PM
Anyone else want to politicize?

Dressing Up the Spin

Justin Katz

In case anybody's wondering, Clothing-gate is a non-story. Governor Palin didn't hit the streets of New York on a Pretty Woman shopping spree. The campaign sent out aids to outfit a sudden candidate who had an Alaskan wardrobe for a whirlwind tour of the country in an environment in which campaigning has become showbiz. Rich Galen's got it right:

"If they hadn't done this, Saturday Night Live would be doing jokes where Governor Palin would be dressed in elk skin," said Rich Galen, a Republican consultant not associated with the McCain campaign.

The linked New York Times story doesn't mention it, for some reason, but according to top McCain adviser Nicolle Wallace, the clothes will be donated to charity upon the completion of the campaign.

Money Well Spent?

Marc Comtois

$605 million and $350 million. That's how much Barack Obama and John McCain, respectively, have raised in this year's presidential run. Almost $1 Billion. Of that, Obama has raised slightly more than $543 million from individual donors while McCain has raised a little over $151 million. Almost $700 million sent from individual Americans to two politicians.

Imagine what that money could do in local communities across this country.

Imagine if people would take a breath, let the emotions ebb, and reconsider before writing those checks and living their lives for a politician. Even if they were to just cut that total in half. Instead of sending $40, send $20 and give the rest to a local organization. Spend some time and money by directly helping friends and neighbors. That would have meant an additional $350 million spent locally.

Obviously, politics are an important part of our society. There are big issues that can only be dealt with on a national scale and electing a President who can do the job is crucial. But it is a misbegotten belief that a remote, national government is the best way to solve local problems. But every four years, we turn to politicians and politics as our salvation and continue to get disappointed. When we're promised the moon and the sun, we're disappointed even if we actually get one.

In this silly season, we seem to have forgotten that, if we indeed are the "change we are waiting for," then the most effective implementation of that change is to do it ourselves in our own communities.Instead, we've sent nearly a billion dollars to politicians based on nothing more than promises and hope.

Hard and Soft News: A Difference of Candidate

Justin Katz

Last night on the Matt Allen Show, Marc and Matt chatted about the egregious media bias evident in the current campaign. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Leaving Obama in the Impulse Rack

Justin Katz

In the comments to "The Passive Vitriol of the 'Intellectual' Left," Joe Bernstein gives a personal weight to a phenomenon that many of us have observed:

Maybe they'll continue using the "racist" taunt until they get the reaction they weren't expecting.

It wouldn't be a bad thing if the US DID elect an Afro-American president.It would put it in the world's face that we walk the walk with regard to anyone being able to do whatever they want here.This man just isn't the right candidate.He acts entitled and swaggers around while trying to make it seem like he's just a regular guy.

I wonder what McCain was thinking when he chose Palin over Romney.Or did he cave in to James Dobson & Co.? She is really hurting McCain's candidacy at this point.Romney obviously had what was needed to step into the Oval Office the second it became necessary.I know too many of my own friends who are voting for Obama for this specific reason.They seem convinced McCain may not make it through 4 years.I find that to be a poor attitude,but that's the way a lot of people think.The clothing spree and the kids' travel is just another pile on or two that are adding up to help Obama.His half hour infomercial may be the make/break point.

Hopefully he will be suitably arrogant and talk down some more. ...

These are people I know for decades.I don't get it,but there have been a lot of surprises as far as people supporting Obama,and I'm not referring to Powell,because everyone is aware of that endorsement.

Nothing's true for everybody, of course, but there are two factors playing strongly in Obama's favor:

  1. Americans are parellized by identity politics. Not for nothing has the left spent decades investing heavily in the racist, sexist, otherist notion that people's categories are an overriding aspect of who they are and how they should be treated. It would, indeed, be a great thing for the country to elect a black man president (or a woman of any race). The grandness of that milestone, however, has been perverted such that many folks feel, deep down, that it would be morally better to vote for a black man than a white man — not just voting for the best candidate without regard to race.
  2. People naturally want to be part of something. They want to vote for the hero, the one knighted as Good among those who write the public storyline. They want to vote with the celebrities, and to feel that they've been on the "right" side of an historic event.

And yet, the questions and concerns about Obama are manifold. The left will only have one chance to cash in on its investment with the first ever black American president, and it's pressing its advantage. For all the downsides and questions that have been suppressed, voters have a sense that something unsavory lingers behind the smooth words and star power.

The United States of America has been walking around the store with two items in its hands — one trendy and expensive (that will probably end up costing twice its price as it lingers on the credit card bill) and one safe and affordable (the old cash-in-pocket standby). The country is pacing the aisles trying to talk itself into buying the fashionable one. It doesn't want to acknowledge its flaws, even as it amplifies the flaws of the other one. We're standing in line at the register imagining how impressed our friends will be and how we'll be able to take credit for being ahead of the curve, before the maker works out the bugs and lowers the cost.

Deep down we know we should leave Obama in the impulse rack.

If he loses, that will have been the reason, although we'll collectively be accused of racism. On that count, however, an Obama victory won't finally get us over the line to a new future unburdened by racial discord and pressure. If an Obama presidency proves catastrophic, it will be blamed on Americans' racism. If he fails to implement the full liberal Democrat agenda, that will be the fault of racism. Of he succeeds in the task and the policies fail, that will be attributed to racism, not the governing philosophy's lack of merit.

There is no redemption down this road, because the sin has been enshrined as the penance. One man's success — to the point of free license to change the course of history — has been made the price of slavery and racism, and the left has made sure that no course will count but its own.


As for Joe's incredulity over McCain's choice of Palin, the urge to second guess ought to be resisted. No doubt, many of the campaign's potential running mates would have been less susceptible to the unfair accusations of inexperience (unfair by comparison with the candidate leading the other ticket), but with Romney, for example, McCain might never have had his second and third winds. He might never have bounced, instead fading slowly toward Obama's fait accompli.

In other words, the fact that Palin's weakness was another potential VP's strength doesn't mean that the latter's weaknesses wouldn't have been more substantial.

October 22, 2008

Old Arguments and an Older Profession

Justin Katz

It's jarring to read familiar arguments put forward in the context of prostitution:

Proponents say the measure will free up $11 million the police spend each year arresting prostitutes and allow them to form collectives.

"It will allow workers to organize for our rights and for our safety," said Patricia West, 22, who said she has been selling sex for about a year by placing ads on the Internet. She moved to San Francisco in May from Texas to work on Proposition K.

Unions, it seem, want to get into the pimp business. I suppose it's a fit.

Be that as it may, however, I simply don't believe this assertion:

"We feel that repressive policies don't help trafficking victims, and that human rights-based approaches, including decriminalization, are actually more effective," said Carol Leigh, co-founder of the Bay Area Sex Workers Advocacy Network and a longtime advocate for prostitutes' rights.

To the extent that a law creates demand anywhere in the world, it creates a willingness to seek out supply, and although I'll avoid giving the assertion religious significance, there's a reason certain behaviors tend toward corruption.

Me-Too "Conservatives"

Marc Comtois

Tony Blankley provides some historical and practical context for the rash of conservative commentators who have become enamored with Obama based on his "temperment". He calls them "me-too Conservatives." He also forecasts what will happen post-election:

I suspect that the conservative movement we start rebuilding on the ashes of Nov. 4 (even if McCain wins) will have little use for overwritten, over-delicate commentary. The new movement will be plain-spoken and socially networked up from the Interneted streets, suburbs and small towns of America. It certainly will not listen very attentively to those conservatives who idolatrize Obama and collaborate in heralding his arrival....As I did at the beginning of and throughout the Buckley/Goldwater/Reagan/Gingrich conservative movement, I will try to lend my hand. I certainly will do what I can to make it a big-tent conservative movement.
Me too.

Hassett Calls for Utility Rate Cuts

Marc Comtois

Providence City Council member Terry Hassett wants the Public Utilities Commission to revisit this summer's rate increase (h/t):

"If the rationale was to boost the rate for electricity here in Rhode Island because it is directly related to the cost of oil, then the PUC is obligated to summon National Grid before them to reconsider the more substantial change in the world market price of oil,” Hassett said.

“As the cost per barrel of crude oil has plummeted, it is the PUC’s turn to act on behalf of the consumers in Rhode Island and reduce the rate of electricity,” Hassett said.

I agree. If the previous justification for raising rates is gone, then lower them. Too bad the same philosophy didn't get applied to government spending.

The Passive Vitriol of the "Intellectual" Left

Justin Katz

This MClatchy "report" by David Lightman is really too much:

An ugly line has been crossed in this presidential campaign, one in which some people don't mind calling Barack Obama a dangerous Muslim, a terrorist and worse.

"To me, this all feels much worse than we've seen in some time," said Kathryn Kolbert, the president of People for the American Way, which monitors political speech.

No evidence is provided. Instead we get feelings from a member of People for the American Way, presented as if that group is some non-ideological arbiter. The tone is that half-smile with a knife twist sometimes performed by those who think they're too clever to be seen as being vitriolic in their own way.

Just doing their part, I guess, to hammer home the message that anybody who doesn't vote for Obama is a racist. Predicting the future is risky business, but I wouldn't be surprised if the operative word used in historians' description of an Obama presidential term is "silenced."

A Free and Fair Press

Marc Comtois

By now, conservative complaints about media bias is well-trod ground and indulging in them tempts the tune-out factor, but when Mark Halperin of Time magazine, former CBS newsman Dan Rather and sci-fi writer and registered Democrat Orson Scott Card are publicly acknowledging the media slant in this year's presidential campaign, well, it's worth a mention.

First, though, it's important to note there is some nuance involved. It's not that the MSM doesn't report negative stories about liberals. Instead, they have a different standard that must be reached before running a negative report on a liberal/Democrat and they display a certain vigor when the topic redounds negatively towards a conservative or Republican.

Halperin was asked by CNN's Howard Kurtz, "If a Republican had not taken public financing and had raised all that money, and the Democrat was struggling financially, wouldn't we see a lot of stories about one candidate essentially trying to buy the election?"

We would. We'd also see a lot of stories about his going back on his word saying that he would accept the public money and would reach out to Senator McCain to try to work out a deal. So I think this is a case of a clear, unambiguous double standard, and any reporter who doesn't ask themselves, 'Why is that, why would it be different if it's a Republican?' I think is doing themselves and our profession and our democracy a disservice.
Rather was asked about the media coverage of Sen. Biden's remark concerning an attack in 6 months should Obama be elected President and replied, "...if Sarah Palin had said this, the newspapers would have jumped all over it and so would have the major television outlets." Meanwhile, some media outlets left the most damaging parts of Biden's statement out of their coverage. On the same topic, another journalists even confirmed that there is bias:
CNN: I guess we have to wrap it up.

Palin: Yes.

CNN: I mean I could go on with you forever.

Palin: So could I, on that one especially.

CNN: [LAUGHS] I mean, did Joe Biden get a pass?

Palin: Drew, you need to ask your colleagues and I guess your bosses or whoever is in charge of all this: Why does Joe Biden get a pass on such a thing? Can you imagine if I would've said such a thing? No, I think that, you know, we would be hounded and held accountable: What in the world did you mean by that, VP presidential candidate? Why would you say that, "mark my words, this nation will undergo international crisis if you elect Barack Obama?" If I would've said that, you guys would clobber me.

CNN: You're right. [LAUGHTER] You're right.

Card took the entire media to task for playing down the Democrats role in the Fannie/Freddie portion of the recent financial crisis:
Your job, as journalists, is to tell the truth. That's what you claim you do, when you accept people's money to buy or subscribe to your paper.

But right now, you are consenting to or actively promoting a big fat lie — that the housing crisis should somehow be blamed on Bush, McCain, and the Republicans. You have trained the American people to blame everything bad — even bad weather — on Bush, and they are responding as you have taught them to.

If you had any personal honor, each reporter and editor would be insisting on telling the truth — even if it hurts the election chances of your favorite candidate.

Because that's what honorable people do. Honest people tell the truth even when they don't like the probable consequences. That's what honesty means . That's how trust is earned.

And that trust isn't helped when the media so obviously swallows every rumor about Sarah Palin or carefully scrutinizes Cindy McCain all while ignoring similar items on the Democratic side of things. Or investigating the background of a plumber who asked a question of Obama with more vigor than they have with the candidate himself. Maybe the ratings drops the big 3 networks are experiencing are a reflection of this loss of trust.
The Obama-McCain match-up is proving to be a lackluster election ticket for the Big 3 network news programs, according to NIELSEN MEDIA RESEARCH.

As the shouting from the trail and the frantic spinning from the anchor desks intensify, the audience is voting with their remotes.

All 3 evening news shows experienced audience drops year-to-year for the week of Oct. 13-19, 2008.

CBSNEWS w/ Couric shed a half a million viewers, falling from 6.4 million to 5.9 million; ABCNEWS dropped from 8.1 million to 7.6 million; NBCNEWS slumped from 8.2 million to 7.8 million.

Yet, while bias may be one cause, it's also likely that people simply continue to move away from the 6:30 news hour and are going to cable and the internet for their information because it's just more convenient. In particular, news outlets providing partisan-slanted information are popular while being upfront about their biases. Politically engaged people know where O'Reilly and Olberman are coming from and less tuned-in people can quickly figure it out. But the same can't be said for the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. Be that as it may, it is a free press and the internet and talk-radio have given partisans of all stripes the opportunity to get their viewpoint out there.

All of this explains why conservatives are so skittish--moreso than liberals--when the spectre of a reimplementation of the Fairness Doctrine is raised. Even if Sen. Obama has stated he would not seek to reimpose it if elected President and if there is supposedly bipartisan opposition. Hopefully they'll continue to avoid the temptation. If the radio airwaves become regulated, will the internet soon follow?

Ethical Motivations

Marc Comtois

From the ProJo:

[Rhode Island] Ethics Commission members said yesterday that they suspect that if a Rhode Island official (Governor Carcieri, for example) did what an investigation in Alaska found that [Alaska Governor Sarah] Palin did — used her office to advance a personal, although not financial, cause — it would probably not violate the Rhode Island Code of Ethics.

Nonfinancial conflicts of interest have been a sore point with the commission for some time, and members said yesterday that they want to look into adding a provision like Alaska’s to the Rhode Island rules. Chairwoman Barbara Binder said she’ll ask that the question go on the agenda of a future meeting.

What caught Cheit’s eye was the provision of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act that the legislative investigator cited in his findings. It says that officials hold office as a public trust and that “any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust.”

Ethics Commission members have repeatedly expressed frustration that the Rhode Island code isn’t clear enough about conflicts of interest that are not financial. The code says that officials it covers cannot “have any interest, financial or otherwise” in the use of their office, and the commission has stayed away from trying to apply the “otherwise” provision.

Interesting that the commission is finally deciding to address this long time "sore point" only after being, well, inspired by a partisan-influenced investigation into the VP nominee of the Republican Party. Yet, regardless of the merits of the Palin case, it's fascinating how the goings-on in a state thousands of miles away brought them to this tipping point while several local examples just didn't similarly inspire them. Perhaps all that was needed was the proper partisan focus?

Changing Toward Decline

Justin Katz

It's not quite comprehensive, but this multimedia review of some of the arguments against Barack Obama is certainly extensive. There's been an inclination, with Obama, to hope against reality, but it isn't enough to recycle the candidate's slogans as justification for giving him your vote.

Rhode Island: The Least Advisable Place to Go

Justin Katz

If such a thing is possible, news that Rhode Island has — perhaps for the first time in history — the highest unemployment rate in the country is both stunning and unsurprising. With all of our assets and attractions our state's leaders can't even keep us ahead of a single other state, let alone in the middle of the pack:

Rhode Island has often recorded jobless levels near the top, but this marks the first time that it has ranked highest in the country since comparable data started being compiled 32 years ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. ...

Rhode Island’s 8.8 percent unemployment rate is the highest in 16 years, and the ranks of the jobless last month swelled to 50,200, the most on record, according to state labor officials. ...

Federal labor officials reported the September unemployment rates for the other New England states as follows: Connecticut 6.1 percent; Maine 5.6 percent; Massachusetts 5.3 percent, Vermont 5.2 percent, New Hampshire 4.1 percent.

One of the state's top elected Democrats has rushed to make the predictable Democrat request of more help from government:

Rhode Island’s new ranking as the state with the highest unemployment rate yesterday prompted U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin to write to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterating his strong support for a new economic stimulus measure to extend federal unemployment benefits and create jobs.

"Communities across the state are seeing a marked increase in families seeking help to keep their homes, pay their bills, and put food on the table," Langevin wrote. "This economic situation has taken a toll on our state's social service centers, food pantries and homeless shelters, and it is clear that the worst is yet to come."

What are we going to do, Jim, when the federal government can't come to our rescue anymore — just as the towns are finding that the state can't come to theirs? The letters Langevin ought to be writing are to the legislature's Democrat leaders, demanding that they push back against the unions, cut government assistance, and slash taxes to blowout rates — to get customers in the door, as it were.

Rhode Island has to set aside a decade during which it will behave as if it's interested in attracting commerce and encouraging entrepreneurship, rather than drawing people to rely on government.

October 21, 2008

Work and Health Should Be Only Indirectly Linked

Justin Katz

I'm with Jeff Jacoby:

De-linking medical insurance from employment is the key to reforming healthcare in the United States. McCain proposes to accomplish that by taking the tax deduction away from employers and giving it to employees. With a $5,000 refundable healthcare tax credit, Americans would have a strong inducement to buy their own, more affordable, insurance, rather than relying on their employer's plan. As millions of empowered consumers began focusing on price, price competition would flourish. And as employers' healthcare costs declined, most of the savings would return to employees as higher wages.

For 60-plus years, a misguided tax preference for employer-sponsored health insurance has distorted America's healthcare market. The price of that distortion has been paid in higher costs, fewer choices, and mounting anxiety. The solution is to restore market forces by fixing the tax code, and liberating Americans from an employer-based system that has made everything worse.

The Worst of the Campus in the White House

Justin Katz

In a chilling piece, yesterday, Andy McCarthy argues — I would phrase it — that Barack Obama is the fruit of the leftist lunacy that has flourished on American campuses:

For Obama, that society is an ineradicably racist "white world." He is more opaque than mentors like Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, who mince no words in portraying America as an apartheid state. Still, as Hank De Zutter wrote in a fawning 1995 profile, Obama learned to see "integration was a one-way street, with blacks expected to assimilate into a white world that never gave ground." One hears the echoes of Obama's wife, Michelle, whose Princeton thesis decried the thought of "further integration and/or assimilation into a white cultural and social structure that will only allow me to remain on the periphery of society; never becoming a full participant."...

As Obama wrote in his chapter [in a tribute to Saul Alinsky], "Why Organize? Problems and Promise in the Inner City":

The debate as to how black and other dispossessed people can forward their lot in America is not new. From W.E.B. DuBois to Booker T. Washington to Marcus Garvey to Malcolm X to Martin Luther King, this internal debate has raged between integration and nationalism, between accommodation and militancy, between sit-down strikes and boardroom negotiations. The lines between these strategies have never been simply drawn, and the most successful black leadership has recognized the need to bridge these seemingly divergent approaches. [Emphasis added.]

Breathtaking. Observe that the organizer does not reject separatism, menacing, and civil disobedience. They are iterations of the hard power he "bridges" with soft power, the exploitation of the system's regular politics. And in a society that venerates dissent and free association, there is much to exploit in the blurry line between critiquing our society and advocating its destruction.

In his partial review of laws likely to be signed into law by an "unchecked" Obama, David Freddoso is correct to note that Republicans' abandonment of their principles has helped to bring us to the point at which the likes of Obama have a shot of running the country, but if he wins, dark days seem to be looming for freedom in the American sense.

If Clinton's era was a "vacation from history," Obama's will be nostalgia for the fantasies of co-ed years, during which several generations learned to pump their fists in a show of disconnected, play-acting vanity. He'll be a "transformative" figure, indeed, but not in a way amenable to the spirit in which that banality has so often been uttered.

"... we’re going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy"

Monique Chartier

Setting aside for a moment matters of substance as well as my own preference in the presidential race, Senator Obama has to be saying to himself right about now, "Why didn't someone tell me about this guy's mouth?"

Enter Joe Biden.

Yesterday, the Republican camp was trying to score some points from speeches the Delaware Senator gave on Sunday where he guaranteed an international crisis if the Obama-Biden ticket is elected.

“Mark my words: It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy,” Biden told the crowd. “The world is looking. We’re about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Watch, we’re going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.”

“He’s going to have to make some really tough - I don’t know what the decision’s going to be, but I promise you it will occur. As a student of history and having served with seven presidents, I guarantee you it’s going to happen,” he said.

The Power of Headlines and Scandal

Justin Katz

So, if you were to see the headline "Priest compelled to reveal he's gay," what would you expect to see in the story? That the Church (or somebody) forced him to admit his orientation as a targeted effort laced with malice. But in actuality, the LA Times story to which the Providence Journal gave that title is about a Fresno priest who couldn't stand to be reminded of the Church's teaching on marriage and took his homily as an opportunity to contravene it:

With Proposition 8 on the November ballot, and his own bishop urging Central Valley priests to support its definition of traditional marriage, Farrow told congregants he felt obligated to break "a numbing silence" about church prejudice against homosexuals.

"How is marriage protected by intimidating gay and lesbian people into loveless and lonely lives?" he asked parishioners of the St. Paul Newman Center. "I am morally compelled to vote no on Proposition 8."

Not only that, but he was apparently compelled to notify the local media and do a television interview before Mass and then skip town after Mass. In other words, Farrow's was a premeditated action bringing scandal to his diocese.

The news stories mention Farrow's loss of position and salary, as well as possible defrockment, but it takes an egregious aversion to the nature and purpose of religious organizations not to see how declaring one's Church to be "an accomplice of injustice" provides a fine example of what Roman Catholics mean when they say that a person is not so much actively excommunicated as acknowledged as having excommunicated him or herself. It also provides a taste of the paradigm that will exist in American society if same-sex marriage were to become a part of the law.

In the meantime, Christians should pray for Mr. Farrow — that he overcomes whatever demons have been whispering in his ear and seeks reconciliation.


It's also worth noting that the Providence Journal excised several paragraphs between these two:

"He ambushed us," Gallegos, 44, said while leaving the white concrete-block church with his wife and two children.

Farrow's statements, they said, were not in accord with church teachings.

Non-Catholics might scoff at the presumption of a lay family's correcting a priest with decades of experience on a matter of church teachings. The "they" in the second paragraph, however, was actually "parish leaders," including the parish's Deacon, who read from the bishop's letter that sparked Farrow's action.

The Guilty Husband

Justin Katz

In the past decade or so, every divorce of which I've been aware has been initiated by the wife. That's hardly a broad or representative sample, but I do wonder whether the post-divorce cards are so heavily stacked in women's favor that it affects their understanding of and behavior toward their marriages. With this sort of cultural and legal reality (and anecdotal evidence suggests that it is a reality), it's not surprising that the divorce coven would expand:

Some of the fathers on Illinois's Department of Healthcare and Family Services' "wanted" list got there in the following manner — the wife or girlfriend ended the relationship, left with the kids, and then went to the state to get public assistance. Illinois DHFS then went after the father for child support to repay the cost of the assistance. The father — against whom no wrongdoing has been charged — has probably been deprived of custody of his kids and may not even have any visitation rights, and might not even know where his kids are.

While paying the state, the father also has to hire an attorney and fight his way through the courts just to attempt to see his children. Even if he is awarded visitation rights, recalcitrant mothers often flout these orders with impunity. Low- and moderate-income fathers frequently must choose between paying for legal action to obtain contact with their children, and risk jail time for not paying child support, or paying child support and losing the ability to have contact with their children. These men are hardly "walking away" from their "families and responsibilities."

Sometimes a father in this situation has been paying the teenage children directly because the mother has been using the child support for everything but the children. Nevertheless, the father is saddled with arrearages and declared a "deadbeat." When he presents his stack of canceled checks, the state says, "Sorry that money you paid is a gift — you still owe us child support to reimburse the cost of the public assistance." It is irrelevant that the money was used by the children to buy food, clothing and the necessities of life.

Working for Change in Tiverton

Justin Katz

Anybody interested in changing the way in which Tiverton's government conducts business should consider attending Tiverton Citizens for Change's volunteer/candidate night tonight. We'll be looking for people to help in myriad ways, from canvassing neighborhoods to putting up yard signs, but even those who aren't able or willing to help out are invited to meet the endorsed candidates and learn about the organization.

The meeting is at 7:00 p.m. in the CountryView Community Center, 325 Hurst Lane, Tiverton.

October 20, 2008

On Murder and Politics

Justin Katz

I'm probably not alone in having allowed my mouse to hover over links to Denver Archbishop Chaput's speech on civic participation in accord with the Roman Catholic Church. It's worth a click and a read, though:

As adults, each of us needs to form a strong Catholic conscience. Then we need to follow that conscience when we vote. And then we need to take responsibility for the consequences of the vote we cast. Nobody can do that for us. That's why really knowing and living our Catholic faith is so important. It's the only reliable guide we have for acting in the public square as disciples of Jesus Christ. ...

... None of the Catholic arguments advanced in favor of Senator Obama are new. They've been around, in one form or another, for more than 25 years. All of them seek to ''get beyond'' abortion, or economically reduce the number of abortions, or create a better society where abortion won't be necessary. All of them involve a misuse of the seamless garment imagery in Catholic social teaching. And all of them, in practice, seek to contextualize, demote and then counterbalance the evil of abortion with other important but less foundational social issues.

This is a great sadness. As Chicago's Cardinal Francis George said recently, too many Americans have ''no recognition of the fact that children continue to be killed [by abortion], and we live therefore, in a country drenched in blood. This can't be something you start playing off pragmatically against other issues.''

The Non-Case for Same-Sex Marriage as a Republican Issue

Justin Katz

So Damien Baldino, blogger at RIRepublican.com and candidate for the Rhode Island House, supports same-sex marriage. I sympathize. I do. In fact, when I began considering the issue back in the spring/summer of 2001, I held the libertarian view, as a government matter, but I rapidly discerned the weakness of the pro side for SSM, and I'm increasingly appreciating how fundamental marriage is for many of the very principles that Baldino emphasizes. Consider:

First, Republicans tend to support small government. To me, that means having a government that focuses on the "basics", preserves individual liberty, and stays out of the private lives of its citizens. Among the most private of these decisions is who one should marry.

On the first point, I recommend that people begin to keep an eye on seemingly unrelated stories, such as the one I noted yesterday, describing hardship and difficulties, with the implication that the government ought to step in and help. Marital dysfunction is often at the center of them, even if the subjects and reporters gloss over it.

Fortifying familial ties, as in nuclear households, is what allows us to preserve freedom in the law and minimize the size of government. Making the necessary edits to the image of marriage in order to include same-sex relationships changes the meaning a very important way. Yes, there ought to be rights and allowances for adults who commit to supporting each other, but I can't for the life of me see why they ought to be limited to people of the same sex who have sex, nor for the life of me why they have to be held up as equivalent to the basic melding of the sexes across generations. If you want the government to focus on "basics," in other words, we need social institutions that secure everything else.

As for the second point, characterizing marriage as a hugely private matter flatly ignores the significance and purpose of the category. It is a public institution; it is a public declaration of intent and a public recognition of responsibility for each other and for the children that married couples typically produce. Indeed, the public approval that marriage allocates is precisely the reason that gay rights advocates have switched from dismissing marriage to coveting it over the past fifteen years.

The need to protect the marriage culture similarly negates Baldino's subsequent paragraph:

Republicans tend to emphasize family values. In my view, supporting family values should involve encouraging marriage. Many couples have children from previous relationships, and may be living together. They are couples in every sense of the word, yet they lack legal protections afforded to heterosexual couples. If these couples are living as families, they should be treated as any other family, with all the legal protections that entails.

This view evades the fact that mothers and fathers are uniquely valuable to children. Same-sex pairings are not "couples" in the sense that they can provide children with both. For the purposes of forming a family, however, they are "couples" in the sense that any pair could be, whether sexually involved or not, whether related in some other way or not. It doesn't take sexual intimacy for people to remain mutually supportive "for years," to purchase property together, or to work together to raise families. Baldino's right that the government shouldn't tell citizens in any such arrangements "who they can marry," but it has to admit that the limitless variety of human relationships cannot all be defined under the umbrella of marriage.

Throw in the damage being done in the judicial and procedural implementation of SSM and the likelihood that an SSM victory will lead to legal presumptions against the practice of many mainstream religions, and it becomes increasingly difficult to justify either acquiescence or the redefinition of conservatism to support this most radical of causes.

Powell Latest to Endorse the Obama Aesthetic

Marc Comtois

Progressives are excited by Colin Powell's endorsement of Sen. Obama for President.

It will be interesting to see how some will square it with their anger at the then-Secretary of State for purportedly helping the Bush Administration lie us into war, etc. (Though some liberals haven't forgotten). Hey, maybe they were right after all and Powell's judgment really isn't that great.

For their part, the NY Times thinks Powell is engaged in a bit of legacy building. To that end, stay tuned for stories about how Powell was bamboozled, railroaded, lied to, etc. in the prelude to the Iraq War.

Most of Powell's endorsement was devoted to explaining why he didn't like the GOP ticket. Fair enough. But all in all, the reasons given by Powell for supporting Obama are more of the same we've seen from other Republicans or conservatives who have decided to go the Obama route. "Transformational figure," "reaching out," "inclusive nature", etc. Aesthetics and emotion with few facts but a lot of "hopes." Not much scrutiny of Obama's actual record. But I guess as long as we all feel better on November 5.

Welcome to Stuart Smalley's America--where Stuart himself may end up in the Senate.

Carrots Down the Rabbit Hole

Justin Katz

The range of protected groups continues to, umm, grow:

For years, Swiss scientists have blithely created genetically modified rice, corn and apples. But did they ever stop to consider just how humiliating such experiments may be to plants?

That's a question they must now ask. Last spring, this small Alpine nation began mandating that geneticists conduct their research without trampling on a plant's dignity. ...

Many scientists interpret the dignity rule as applying mainly to field trials like Dr. Keller's, but some worry it may one day apply to lab studies as well. Another gripe: While Switzerland's stern laws defend lab animals and now plants from genetic tweaking, similar protections haven't been granted to snails and drosophila flies, which are commonly used in genetic experiments.

It also begs an obvious, if unrelated question: For a carrot, is there a more mortifying fate than being peeled, chopped and dropped into boiling water? ...

Seeking clarity, Dr. Poirier recently invited the head of the Swiss ethics panel to his university. In their public discussion, Dr. Poirier said the new rules are flawed because decades of traditional plant breeding had led to widely available sterile fruit, such as seedless grapes. Things took a surreal turn when it was disclosed that some panel members believe plants have feelings, Dr. Poirier says.

Frankly, the highest purpose in a vegetable's life must be to be eaten, although I can't say but that those called upon to serve mankind in the world of science, rather than be served to mankind at the dinner table, find their own callings meaningful, as well.

A Question on Public Contracts

Justin Katz

I understand that arbitration is a wildcard that Rhode Island officials might not wish to risk, but something about the latest deal — as with previous deals — worked out with public sector union leadership brings into relief the practices that have gotten our state into its current difficulties:

Council 94's new agreement — like the original proposal — would provide no pay increases in the first year, but include raises of 2.5 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent in the subsequent years.

We certainly shouldn't take the attitude that public employees should never get raises, but on what grounds does our floundering government promise to pay almost 9% more for its workforce in four years?

Putting up Roadblocks to More Spending

Justin Katz

Whether or not Rhode Island voters pay so little attention to what they're doing that they'd confuse political ads from Massachusetts as applying to ballot questions in Rhode Island, I don't know. But as always, my recommendation is to vote "no" to transportation bonds — our Question 1:

Although it's described as an $87-million bond issue, the actual cost to the taxpayers would be much more when the associated costs are counted. The total cost would be $152 million, according to the secretary of state's Voter Information Handbook, including $64.7 million in interest, assuming that the bonds were paid off over 20 years at a 6-percent interest rate.

If money for transportation is as important as the government folks are saying — and we all know that it is — then it should be a primary expenditure in the budget, not an afterthought that requires voters to commit to more money. That's the game, of course: spend the general revenue on things that would never pass a direct vote and then ask for more money to fund what's necessary. The game has to end.

Rhode Islanders should shoot down the bond question and then demand that our representatives fund the DOT anyway.(without raising taxes). If we don't put our foot down, they'll never stop scamming us.

October 19, 2008

Poise by Contrast

Justin Katz

Ann Althouse isn't sure how to understand Saturday Night Live's script as delivered by Alec Baldwin, standing next to Sarah Palin:

Alec Baldwin got to stand next to Palin and insult her -- by accident, thinking she was Tina -- and then got to say something that's true: Sarah Palin is more attractive than Tina Fey. Did Fey deserve that? No. Palin seemed like a seasoned actor, which is nice... but disturbing. If our politicians are great actors, we have a big problem. [ADDED ON REWATCH: Did Baldwin say Palin is more attractive than Fey? He mistook Palin for Fey, then, corrected, told Palin she was more attractive in person. I think that means he believed Palin was less attractive than Fey, but now, seeing Palin in person, he acknowledges Palin's equivalent attractiveness. Or something. The disrespect to Fey that I thought was there is, technically, not.]

Considering that Baldwin goes on to express incredulity that SNL would allow a woman like Fey to play a woman like Palin, I think the joke was meant to be Baldwin's sycophancy. If taken at face value (again, analyzing from within the script), that would certainly have been disrespectful of the actress).

For my part, I wouldn't go quite so far as his feigned compliments, but even in the short clip, there is a stark contrast between Palin and Fey that highlighted the exaggerations in Fey's characterization and the fact that one is a woman of poise and power while the other is an actress.

Don't Overlook This Part of the Story

Justin Katz

It doesn't pass judgment upon nor level recriminations against Regino Romero — who appears to be doing his best to support his family and do right by his children — to note an easily ignored and often dismissed piece of his story (emphasis added):

If money were not so tight, Regino Romero would use the basement of his Lorton, Va., town home some other way. But with his former wife gone, his paycheck flat and his bills rising, he sees no option but to rent the place out.

In the course of the Washington Post report, we learn Romero's salary, place of employment, the general terms of his benefits package, how much he charges tenants to rent rooms in his house, and the influence of Wall Street on the economy, but nowhere are the circumstances of his divorce or separation explained. Surely that's a significant part of a family's economy.

That disconnect is endemic in our society, and it seems to me that we do ourselves and our fellow citizens no favors by ignoring it and excluding the topic of marriage and divorce from our economic discussions.

Detrimental Effects and the Responsible Party

Monique Chartier

Under Donald's post "Multiple choice options regarding Obama's "spread the wealth" comment", commenter Phil remarks

I cannot ignore the presence in R.I. of Republican conservatives and the detrimental effect it has on the place I live.

Yes, let's talk about some detrimental effects inflicted on the state by a particular political party and ideology.

- The second highest sales tax and fifth highest property taxes in the country.

- Education results in the bottom twenty percent.

- Business tax climate ranking: forty sixth out of fifty.

- A recession and an alarming unemployment rate of 8.5%.

- Upside down priorities like underfunded universities and very badly maintained highways and bridges.

Quite a record has been racked up by Democrat officials on the state and local level and it is one that neither Republicans nor conservatives in Rhode Island come close to matching. In fact, it would be a very good thing, indeed, if "conservative" tenets such as smaller government, less taxes, a more narrow focus on critical functions and simply standing back and allowing businesses to florish came to Rhode Island. (Conservative in quotes because such policies are in actuality not partisan but simply good business practices.)

I am genuinely pleased that Phil comments at Anchor Rising, in part, because he does so without name-calling or irrational lashing out. Often, however, and certainly in this case, Phil seems to subscribe to the philosophy that simply saying it makes it so.

[Thanks to the Tax Foundation and RIPEC for the data.]

The State of the System

Justin Katz

Just in case anybody missed this nugget from our state's leading education unionist:

Robert A. Walsh Jr., executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, said repealing the tax levy law would also alleviate the problem.

Said Walsh, "We simply can't continue to produce a competitive public education system in our current state."

Put aside Walsh's dubious usage of the word "continue." "Repealing the tax levy law" is a one-step-removed synonym for "raise property taxes by more than 5% every year across the state." Those who believe that the unions will behave as a partner in education reform should be well aware that the core component of their solution is, yes, to make Rhode Island's tax burden even greater.

Furthermore, the only way in which Walsh's statement of possibility "in our current state" can be taken as true is if he excludes the possibility of real, substantial, change to the way in which education is administered and financed. One recent call for such change came from Bishop Hendricken High School Vice Principal John Jackson:

At first glance, it seemed like a feel-good story about a young girl from a war-torn country (Liberia) who was living a dream here in the United States. She was in a school (St. Raphael Academy) where she felt free to speak out, where teachers push students to do their best, and where she has aspirations of attending college. Her prior experience in the public schools of Providence was poor, to say the least — being teased and mocked, and even beaten up a few times.

Wouldn't everyone who is concerned with every qualifying student being given an opportunity for a great education be inspired and energized by a tax-credit program that allows businesses to donate money to help in this cause?

Apparently not, because once again, along comes the union perspective, and again the focus is not on education, but on protecting their own, and funneling money into a failing public school system. That the education of this young girl has improved dramatically is inconsequential to some, evidently.

As paradoxical as it may sound to the blue-state mind, all viable solutions for repairing Rhode Island's ailing educational system require that the money going to the public schools be decreased, whether it goes instead to private educators or to private citizens to improve their lives and our economy (or some combination of the two).

Hatch Act Violations? Here?

Monique Chartier

The RIGOP has filed a formal request to investigate possible Hatch Act violations by the following candidates for the General Assembly.

Elaine Coderre, House District 50 (incumbent)

Grace Diaz, House District 11 (incumbent)

Arthur Handy, House District 18 (incumbent)

Beatrice Lanzi, Senate District 26

MaryAnn Shallcross, House District 46

Anastasia Williams, House District 9 (incumbent)

Excerpt from the request:

... the Hatch Act restricts political activities of federal, state and local employees, as well as employees of certain private, non-profit organizations. In passing the act, Congress determined that partisan political activity by employees such as these must be limited for public institutions to function fairly and effectively.

I was surprised and pleased to learn that the Hatch Act does not just apply to federal employees but, in fact, also to state and local employees. On any level of government, tax dollars in the form of salaries spent in a way that enables that employee to continue drawing a taxpayer funded paycheck by advancing or extending the political career of his or her elected patron confers an obvious and unfair advantage in the political process. (Next stop: members of public employee unions and their immediate family members serving on school committees.)

Changes in Responsibility and Import

Justin Katz

In his two-part (one, two) revisitation of Humanae Vitae, Fr. John Kiley misses the mark in one instance. From part two:

[Contraception] destroys unitive intimacy by dividing the couple: the condom places all responsibility on the husband; the pill or diaphragm places all responsibility on the wife. By passing responsibility to one or the other, artificial birth control is blatant sexism, dividing a couple instead of drawing them together in mutual restraint.

As I suggested some years ago, when I traced the psychological progression from contraception to cloning, contraception actually places the responsibility on the birth control method itself. One or the other of the parents is responsible only when he or she fails to use the contraception (in which case there may be practical reasons to mitigate responsibility yet by blaming the nature of the contraception, as with the inconvenience and sensation-dulling qualities of condoms).

Putting the Inside In

Justin Katz

Mark Patinkin's mea culpa back on the twelfth gave a vaguely unsettling impression that he believes skill at being a Washington insider ought to translate to promotion as a Washington insider:

I'll admit, Palin did better in the debate than I expected, and certainly deserves credit for becoming governor. But when you picture a possible first woman president, I'm surprisingly thinking: Shouldn't it have been Hillary Clinton? ...

... Obama earned his way onto the ticket through a year of debates, primaries and scrutiny, outgunning all rivals. Joe Biden, too, has been tested by decades in office and two presidential runs. Certainly, John McCain is unequaled in his experience as a national figure.

Note that the main qualification that Patinkin cites for the presidency is politics — playing the game. I'd suggest that we've lost sight, in these days of mass media and cults of personality, of the fact that the president is a leader, not just a leading practitioner of the campaign. Note that Joe Biden's never come close to actually winning the office. Say what you will of him, but few Americans look at Mr. Biden and think, I would follow him.

Another Patinkin column expounding on the theme of "regular Joe" politicking points to the heart of the matter. Comparing Sarah Palin's ascension to that of a mediocre pitcher who exudes an everyman quality, Patinkin writes:

... in this campaign, it's how many are ready to pick a leader. I doubt that history will consider Sarah Palin a political visionary, but she draws tens of thousands to rallies because, well, she's a folksy hockey mom, and that sells.

If you applied for a job as a carpenter, accountant or plumber, and your skills didn't outshine other interviewees, I doubt you'd get hired by being folksy. You do in politics.

Even if Obama is not your candidate, let's focus for a moment on his gifts as an orator who is well-spoken in interviews. That may be hard to do if you're a McCain person, but humor me for a moment.

You'd think people would consider this a positive. Historically, our most notable figures, from Lincoln to Roosevelt, have used soaring language to move policy and inspire a nation. Fine oratory enhances leadership. And what better for America’s children than to have a president model superior speech.

But in this campaign, Obama's oratory has been attacked as a negative. Both Hillary Clinton and John McCain have implied it proves Obama is nothing but fancy words — and that his soaring speech even makes him an out-of-touch elitist. Who knows, maybe he is. But they're not just attacking Obama, they're attacking eloquence itself and saying prose — even on the stump — beats poetry.

Fine. Let's stipulate that compelling oratory "enhances leadership." So does empathy with those whom one leads. Obama's good at relating to intellectuals (whether actual or self-presumed); Palin's good at relating to just about everybody else. Neither skill is leadership, per se.

With that admission ought to come a further note that presidents have cabinets and commissions. Advisers and (sometimes) astrologers. The key determinant of our votes, in a representative democracy, is whether we trust those whom we elect to take the various forms of input and respond in a way that's consistent with our beliefs and needs as we understand them.

In that respect, being an insider truly ought to be a hindrance, because insiders are invested in the solutions that they've helped to contrive in the past. What we need are leaders who will sort through the file cabinets of government and create a "stupid idea" pile. Obama promises that sort of leadership, but his claims have become increasingly laughable as the partisan days have passed. Sarah Palin (running for VP, let's remember) may or may not be that sort of leader, but she's articulated the spirit with an eloquence beyond words.

October 18, 2008

The Judiciary as Impediment to Compromise

Justin Katz

A recent editorial from National Review highlights one of the procedural detriments that has been advanced in conjunction with the cause of a progressive marriage regime:

... Connecticut, at least, decided the matter democratically. Those people who objected could try to persuade their fellow citizens to repeal the law.

Now Connecticut's supreme court has decided that marriage in all but name is not good enough, and imposed same-sex marriage on the state. Like other courts, the Connecticut court treated the legislature's attempt to meet gay activists halfway as a reason to throw out the compromise and hand the activists a victory. If the legislature was willing to recognize same-sex unions as though they were marriages, the court reasoned, why not call them marriages too? Opponents of same-sex "marriage" should be warned: Thanks to the courts, compromise is now folly.

As a strategy, "by any means necessary" embeds a belief in the justificatory power of the ends. Me, I worry that the result will be to end more crucial beliefs and practices than our society can afford to lose.

Blocking Education Reform

Justin Katz

Putting aside the pun in this post's title (on the grounds that I couldn't resist it), Moderate Party Chairman Ken Block's prescription for education reform in Rhode Island offers some worthy suggestions:

  • Provide life skills courses to non-college-tracked children. ...
  • Let uncertified professionals who are content experts teach in our schools. ...
  • Ban the practice of “bumping” in our school systems. ...
  • Convert day-care expenditures for low-income households into pre-school aid for these same households. ...
  • Provide incentives to the best teachers to teach in the toughest schools.
  • Apply lessons learned from our charter schools to our education system, and allow the development of more of these very successful schools, which are leading in education innovation.
  • Evaluate all teachers and administrators annually and provide incentive pay for the top performers, while providing mentoring, training and a financial disincentive to the worst performers. ...
  • Publish a model teacher’s contract created at the state level and make state aid to local school districts contingent on how closely the locally negotiated teacher’s contract adheres to the model’s guidelines. ...

The problem — perhaps resulting from the aspiration to appear "moderate" — is that Block strives to undermine the villain without naming it. In other words, he seeks to snatch some of the unions' most prized assets without open assertion that the unions are at the core of Rhode Island's educational (and financial) problems. Running forth with such a proposition is likely to have two results:

  1. It will detract from more explicit attempts to strike at the underlying issue, as unionists leverage Block's "moderation" to discredit and distract from stronger initiatives.
  2. It leaves open a familiar maneuver whereby the powerful players lasso and spin around attempts at unleashing reform, as they take the opportunity to expand their membership (with those "uncertified professionals" and converted day-care workers) and manipulate statewide model contracts and funding formulas to their own benefit, while allowing bans against bumping and institution of merit pay to slip from the agenda.

Ending the unions' monopoly on public education must be the first step of any plan to improve our schools, which is an end that a voucher system would achieve.

Multiple choice options regarding Obama's "spread the wealth" comment

Donald B. Hawthorne

John Podhoretz:

Is Obama’s "spread the wealth around" remark to Joe the Plumber the 2008 version of:
a) "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe"?

b) "I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day, before I came here, to ask her what the most important issue was. She said the control of nuclear arms"?

c) "Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did"?

d) "I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it"?

e) Eh, no big deal.

Here's a big difference: President Ford, President Carter, Walter Mondale, and John Kerry did not respond like this to criticism of their revealing comments:

Welcome to the "thugocracy": the Obama camp wants to Department of Justice to investigate not voter registration fraud, but people talking about voting fraud–including the GOP ticket. If you don’t believe it, read the bizarre letter sent by the Obama campaign’s lawyer. This one follows on the heels of another letter asking the DOJ to "investigate" the 527 independent group which ran one of the first Bill Ayers ads.

The McCain camp is naturally not pleased and put out a statement which reads in part:

Today’s outrageous letter to Attorney General Mukasey and Special Prosecutor Dannehy at the Justice Department asking for a special prosecutor to investigate Senator McCain and Governor Palin’s public statements about ACORN’s record of fraudulent voter registrations (including in this week’s Presidential debate) is absurd. It is a typical time-worn Washington attempt to criminalize political differences. For someone who promises ‘change,’ it is certainly only more of the same.

The letter’s request that the Department of Justice investigate 'recent partisan Republican activities throughout the country' is almost a parody of the Obama campaign’s attempt to intimidate their political opponents. In case Sen. Obama’s lawyer did not notice, we are in the midst of a political campaign, not a coronation, and the alleged criminal activity he calls ‘recent partisan Republican activities’ are what the rest of us call campaign speeches and debates. All of this is unfortunately reminiscent of the Obama campaign’s recent creation of a 'truth squad' of Missouri prosecutors and sheriffs to 'target' people who criticize Sen. Obama.

And if you are wondering where civil liberties groups and the mainstream media are, you have to understand: the First Amendment ranks considerably lower than getting The One elected. On his way out the door, Attorney General Mukasey might perform one last bit of public service and give a series of lectures on the centrality of free speech, the sanctity of free and fair elections, and the utter inappropriateness of using the power of the state to silence your opponents.

And, as we start to bear an uncanny resemblance to a banana republic — complete with a cult of The Leader, roaming thugs in support of the same, and fraud-tainted voting – you’ll know that we really are experiencing "change." Whether this is a passing spasm of election exuberance or a frightful look at the future remains to be seen.

More on thuggish behavior by the Obama campaign here and here. All of which reminds me of Richard Nixon.


In response to the NYTimes hit piece on Cindy McCain, her lawyer responds:

...It is worth noting that you have not employed your investigative assets looking into Michelle Obama. You have not tried to find Barack Obama’s drug dealer that he wrote about in his book, Dreams of My Father. Nor have you interviewed his poor relatives in Kenya and determined why Barack Obama has not rescued them. Thus, there is a terrific lack of balance here.

I suggest to you that none of these subjects on either side are worthy of the energy and resources of The New York Times. They are cruel hit pieces designed to injure people that only the worst rag would investigate and publish. I know you and your colleagues are always preaching about raising the level of civil discourse in our political campaigns. I think taking some your own medicine is in order here...

Jennifer Rubin adds these thoughts on what the media is not looking into:

...If MSM wants to be treated as impartial arbiter, a "watchdog" and not a lapdog of one candidate, its members should consider some behavior modification.

Demand not just medical records but earmark records from Joe Biden. Ask Barack Obama why he served on the Woods Fund with Bill Ayers for years and if he specifically approved grants to ACORN and a host of leftwing groups. Do a 3000-word piece on Obama’s earmarks and ties to corrupt Chicago officials to counterbalance the dozens of 3000-word pieces going after the other side (e.g. "Palin annoys Wasilla librarian" and "Cindy McCain was addicted to pain killers").

Even more shocking, not a single one of the networks news outlet or mainstream national newspaper has looked at Obama’s unprecedented attempt to use the Justice Department to chill speech. In all the pieces on "temperament" no one has reminded voters that the last president to try to employ law enforcement officials — as Obama did in Missouri — to go after opponents exercising First Amendment rights was Richard Nixon, not exactly the model of presidential temperament...

More on Obama and the presidential temperament issue here:

With the sudden emphasis on temperament in election coverage, you’d think that Americans are going to the polls on November 4 to pick the White House dog. Focus on this farcical dimension is due to the fact that the MSM is madly in love with Barack Obama, but have run out of reasons to say exactly why.

They used to cite his objection to the Iraq War, but the U.S. is now winning, and a troop withdrawal plan has been negotiated without his input. They used to talk about his plan to tax the "rich" and relieve the poor, but with the market meltdown, raising anyone’s taxes sounds petrifying–plus Joe the Plumber brought out Obama’s socialist side on this issue and the press would rather try to discredit Joe. They used to praise his eagerness to re-establish America’s standing in the world, but in the nearly two years he’s been preparing his penance, America’s image has gotten a boost from its military achievement, the rise of the Right in Europe, the need for an ally against Russian aggression, and the call for leadership on the global financial crisis. They used to rave about his willingness to upset the status quo, but with his tacking to the center on a dozen different issues, that’s out the window. His outsider status? Sarah Palin swooped into the election from outside of the continental United States, while Obama is now running with a career D.C. benchwarmer.

They could never tout his experience.

So what’s left? This amorphous, quasi-mythical thing everyone’s decided to call temperament. And Obama’s, we’re told, is just right for the job: Measured, unflappable, and patient. And how far are legitimate media outlets willing to go to push the temperament line? Far enough to make Nancy Gibbs declare, in her contribution to Time, that "[t]he presidency is less an office than a performance."

In other words, the MSM is now telling us this isn’t really Election 2008, but a spin-off of the West Wing, and we therefore should be superficial in choosing the leader of the free world. The problem is: when the world outside the borders of the television screen erupts, Obama is caught out like an Emmy-winner having a cue-card malfunction. After Russia invaded Georgia, Obama improvised some line about both sides needing to cease hostilities. It was only after John McCain identified the aggressor and where the U.S. interest lay in the conflict that Obama felt comfortable following suit. But while he was calm and collected, he said absolutely nothing about the potential start of the second cold war.

Here–after the most hyped-up, over-analyzed media-circus of an election in American history–is the distillation of the final pitch for the Democratic nominee: Vote Obama, he’s cool.

How cool indeed: Obama wants to redistribute your wealth in the spirit of "fairness" and chill your free speech, like Nixon tried, when you dare to challenge him by asking why.

Fighting the RI Machine

Justin Katz

My return to the Providence Journal editorial pages today offers a synopsis of recent establishment v. reform events in Tiverton, with the suggestion that, since the powers who be are interconnected across the state, so should the reformers be aware of and cooperate with each other:

There seems to be little reason for residents of one municipality to take much interest in the controversies of another, but when once one hears them, they all have a familiar sound. Play the tones in concert, and the chord is that peculiarly Rhode Islandish dissonance that fosters apathy, inculcates a feeling of helplessness, and drives the American dreamer from the state.

Whether that effect is the fruit of careful orchestration or circumstances have merely attracted improvisational manipulators is a matter for debate during healthier times. At this moment, it is enough for Rhode Islanders to understand that defense of the unsustainable status quo will span all layers and branches of government, and the only hope for change is for us regular folk to unite in empathy and strategy.

Crisply defining the core problem with Obama's economic and tax policies

Donald B. Hawthorne

Expanding on the problems with Obama's economic and tax policy issues described here, John McCain finally nailed it today in describing the true essence of Obama's economic and tax policies:

My opponent’s answer showed that economic recovery isn’t even his top priority. His goal, as Senator Obama put it, is to "spread the wealth around."

You see, he believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that help us all make more of it. Joe, in his plainspoken way, said this sounded a lot like socialism. And a lot of Americans are thinking along those same lines. In the best case, "spreading the wealth around" is a familiar idea from the American left. And that kind of class warfare sure doesn’t sound like a "new kind of politics."

This would also explain some big problems with my opponent’s claim that he will cut income taxes for 95 percent of Americans. You might ask: How do you cut income taxes for 95 percent of Americans, when more than 40 percent pay no income taxes right now? How do you reduce the number zero?

Well, that’s the key to Barack Obama’s whole plan: Since you can’t reduce taxes on those who pay zero, the government will write them all checks called a tax credit. And the Treasury will cover those checks by taxing other people, including a lot of folks just like Joe.

In other words, Barack Obama’s tax plan would convert the IRS into a giant welfare agency, redistributing massive amounts of wealth at the direction of politicians in Washington. I suppose when you’ve voted against lowering taxes 94 times, as Senator Obama has done, a new definition of the term "tax credit" comes in handy.

At least in Europe, the Socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives. They use real numbers and honest language. And we should demand equal candor from Senator Obama. Raising taxes on some in order to give checks to others is not a tax cut, it’s just another government giveaway.

What’s more, the Obama tax increase would come at the worst possible time for America, and especially for small businesses like the one Joe dreams of owning. Small businesses provide 16 million jobs in America. And a sudden tax hike will kill those jobs at a time when we need to be creating more jobs.

Jennifer Rubin continues:

There it is — finally. The "it" is the argument against Barack Obama: he’s wedded to income re-distribution, not growth, which is exactly the wrong philosophy at the worst possible time...This is the heart of the "choice election" formula (as opposed to "experience vs. choice") which McCain has been struggling to articulate.

If he gives this speech (or the Alfred E. Smith roast remarks) every day and repeats the substance in every interview — with a reminder that the trio of Obama-Reid-Pelosi will be an unchecked liberal juggernaut — he might make the race very interesting...

Ah, the Years to Come

Justin Katz

The forces of tolerance strike again:

While the Democrat-leaning media continues to scare undecided voters with bedtime stories about some mythical angry McCain supporter whom nobody has seen, here is a real district attorney's complaint documenting an unprovoked assault by an enraged Democrat against a McCain volunteer in midtown Manhattan: "Defendant grabbed the sign [informant] was holding, broke the wood stick that was attached to it, and then struck informant in informant's face thereby causing informant to sustain redness, swelling, and bruising to informant’s face and further causing informant to sustain substantial pain." ...

I followed him down the stairs to the subway until I could get the police and I said, "You're not going to get away with it." And as soon as he saw the police he immediately went calm. He still had the stick in his hand, and you could see the injury on my face, and he admitted it. He was arrested. He actually said, "I don’t know why I did this. It's just those signs, and this election, it has me so upset."

And again:

In a violent display of intolerance, an opponent of Proposition 8 attacked and seriously injured a man who was volunteering on Sunday for the initiative to define marriage as between and a man and a woman.

Prop. 8 supporter, Jose Nunez, 37, was brutally assaulted while waiting to distribute yard signs to other supporters of the initiative after church services at the St. Stanislaus Parish in Modesto.

The assailant grabbed about 75 signs and yelled at Nunez accusingly, "What do you have against gays!" Although Nunez replied that he had nothing against gays, he was attacked anyway. The assailant punched Nunez in the left eye and ran off with the signs.

Nunez, his eye dripping with blood, walked into a building on church grounds where a fellow parishioner called 911. Police and paramedics responded to the scene.

An Obama supporter attacks a woman; a same-sex marriage supporter attacks an immigrant. Stoked to a frenzy with messianic visions and black-and-white certitude of good and evil along political lines, the Left can hardly be expected to calm itself should it grab the levers of power.

To Democrats, "Cutting" Taxes Means Not Raising Them

Justin Katz

Surprisingly, here's a point I haven't heard made:

One thing: the 95% number is fundamentally dishonest because I'm pretty sure it measures against the CBO baseline — which assumes all of the '01 and '03 tax cuts expire in 2010. Politically, that's nonsense. But it allows Obama to count extending the politically popular Bush tax laws as an "Obama tax cut."

October 17, 2008

The Mainstreaming of Taibbi

Justin Katz

Whenever Matt Taibbi's name appears on my computer screen, I pause for a moment to regret that the mainstream has apparently been moving toward him. The first time it happened was in February 2003, when Projo blogger Sheila Lennon gushed over his raw freshness. At the time, I wondered whether it wasn't a bit unseemly for a professional journalist to be so enamored of such a street-sputterer, spewing such epithets as "corpulent Oreo," to describe a black Republican.

Nowadays, Taibbi is apparently a writer for Rolling Stone and being afforded the opportunity to ply his shtick against the likes of Byron York. Here's a sample, following up on York's tempered suggestion that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were one key component of the financial meltdown:

I'm saying that you're talking about individual homeowners defaulting. But these massive companies aren't going under because of individual homeowner defaults. They're going under because of the myriad derivatives trades that go on in connection with each piece of debt, whether it be a homeowner loan or a corporate bond. I'm still waiting to hear what your idea is of how these trades work. I'm guessing you've never even heard of them.

I mean really. You honestly think a company like AIG tanks because a bunch of minorities couldn't pay off their mortgages?

The game works — if you're impressed with the same sort of argumentative tactics that the clever kids deployed in high school — because the speaker feigns ignorance (or backs it up with an actual, blithe lack of knowledge) in order to tap dance around arguments that are necessarily subtle. Yes, the various derivatives and swaps constituted a house of cards that, yes, ultimately relied upon the viability of risky mortgages, but yes, what made those mortgages and derivatives attractive to enough investors to make their failure catastrophic was the belief that Fannie and Freddie would mitigate the risk.

Of course, if one's goal is to show off for peers by "proving" an opponent's racism, well, sober assessment of blame really isn't helpful.

Funding Formula Follies in South County

Carroll Andrew Morse

Liz Abbott of the Westerly Sun has a summary of a local-forum debate between the three candidates for District 36 State Representative: incumbent Donna Walsh, Republican Dave Cote, and independent Matt McHugh. Here are their answers on the topic of education…

QUESTION: In these challenging economic times, should the Paiva-Weed Act, which was adopted to provide some relief to taxpayers from the cost of funding the schools, be amended to provide more school aid?

COTE: Citing Rhode Island’s poor educational performance compared to Massachusetts, and the fact that Massachusetts has provided greater property tax relief than Rhode Island, Cote said, “Money does not make for better education.” If elected, he would work to “reorganize” public education by reshaping curriculum to include more math and science. He would also seek to eliminate “bumping’’ and other union-sanctioned practices that do not always benefit students.

MCHUGH: McHugh said he still endorses the idea behind the Paiva-Weed legislation, and it should be left alone for the time being. He would handle the need for more state aid by finding savings in the existing system, exploring ideas such as regionalization, and by calling for a moratorium on state educational mandates that cost local school districts a lot of money.

WALSH: She supports the idea of providing relief for taxpayers and would not seek to amend the Paiva-Weed legislation at this point in time. “I think it has merit,” she said. But the General Assembly needs to follow through on what it has already said it would do, namely, review the state educational mandates and keep working to find a new formula to fund public education.

But all a "funding formula" does is shift money from one community to another; it does not and can not by itself create revenue. For a "funding formula" to be part of a coherent policy proposal, an explanation of the source of the funds to be shifted must also be provided.

I wonder if Representative Walsh is aware of how much money the most recent version of the "funding formula" would have shifted away from the four communities of District 36…

  • State education aid to Chariho District (which includes Charlestown) would have been cut to $2 million, resulting in a loss to the school system of over $12 million.
  • State education aid to New Shoreham (Block Island) would have been cut to $0, resulting in a loss to the school system of over $100,000.
  • State education aid to South Kingstown would have been cut to $0, resulting in a loss to the school system of over $10 million.
  • State education aid to Westerly would have been cut to $0, resulting in a loss to the school system of over $6 million.
As this example shows, telling the public you are in favor of a "funding formula" does not tell the public all it needs to know in order to gauge the impact of what's being proposed. When Representative Walsh states that she supports a "funding formula", she could be saying that she only will support a funding formula that reduces the percentage of state money going to the current big-recipients (but no one has made a concrete proposal in this direction as of late). Or she could be saying that she supports a statewide tax-increase that will give the government new monies to transfer between communities on top of what it is already transferring (but is raising your income and/or sales tax to reduce your property tax really "tax relief" in any meaningful sense?). Or she could be saying that she is ideologically committed to the idea of a funding formula, is happy to let someone else decide the transfer structure, and will hope for the best.

Voters in District 36 -- and in every House and Senate District in Rhode Island -- need to ask any candidate attempting to sell a "funding formula" as the solution to the state's education problems about where they are expecting the money they'd like to see transferred between communities to come from.

The Problems with John McCain

Donald B. Hawthorne

One of the most striking observations in reading comments by Obama partisans here on Anchor Rising is their utter unwillingness to engage in any debate about the substantive policy issues with people who oppose their viewpoints. Just like their candidate has raised the "racist" label when pushed to explain himself. Charles Krauthammer, who has previously praised Obama, offers an updated perspective.

But this is not new behavior by the Left; more on all that later. The point is that some of the rest of us have always been perfectly willing to criticize anybody in politics when we think they made bad decisions or said improper things - whether we generally support them or not.

At the macro level, I believe the national Republican Party is in a state of near-total disarray thanks to George W. Bush, with lots of support from Congressional Republicans. They have deserved to spend some time roaming the wilderness to rediscover its philosophical and policy bearings. To rediscover bearings, though, requires acknowledging being lost and it is far from clear they have had the courage to look in the mirror. It is not like they haven't had opportunities as the Democratic Party in Washington, DC has looked like a bunch of buffoons since they regained the Congressional majorities in 2006.

Some personal history: I voted Libertarian in 1992. Why? Because George H. W. Bush broke his no-new-taxes pledge from 1988 and there was no way I was going to vote for either Bill Clinton or Ross Perot.

Fast forward to 2008: None of the Republican candidates in this election cycle excited me. I wanted to get enthused about Fred Thompson but was never convinced he had the requisite fire-in-the-belly. So I began the 2008 election deeply dissatisfied by all candidates in both parties. Like for many people, Obama was a blank slate with a troubling set of beliefs and associations. McCain was not a blank slate and that was the problem.

Until recent weeks, I fully expected either to vote Libertarian as I did in 1992 - although I don't care for Bob Barr - or sit out the November election in protest like I did the 2006 RI Senate race. Rather unexpectedly for me along the way, though - as some of my rather humorless philosophical opponents have noted in the Comments sections to past posts - my concerns about Barack Obama's beliefs have grown tremendously as more information about them has seeped into the public domain. Obama and his supporters have shown audacity along the way but it has no connection to hope.

But that doesn't mean John McCain gets off easy and here is why:

I have written about how McCain's campaign finance reform beliefs reflect a lack of commitment to free speech, a flawed approach when a more realistic view of incentives and human nature would lead to better public policies. George Will discusses the broader issues at stake in the never-ending debate about liberty.

I abhor McCain's preferences for amnesty for illegal immigrants, which differs from my broader view of the strategic issues.

I thought McCain's Gang of 14 approach to Senate ratification of judges reflected an unwillingness to address the deeper philosophical issues underlying the polarized public debate about our judiciary. That polarization will continue until some people show the courage necessary engage in a genuine public debate which tackles some of the hard issues. Sometimes more political and moral strength is gained by losing a political battle for strategic reasons and the judiciary issue was one of those issues.

I disagreed with his prior opposition to the Bush tax cuts, an opposition which is consistent with his self-professed ignorance about economic issues. His lack of fluidity in discussing economic issues is an ongoing concern.

McCain does deserve great respect for his support of the surge in Iraq. And I appreciate his ability to discuss foreign affairs with knowledge and the underlying recognition that there are evil people in the world who seek to destroy our country.

I also think his speech at the Al Smith dinner, noted in Marc's earlier post, showed a commendable humor that Obama's speech did not come close to matching. That matters.

All in all, though, I consider McCain to be effectively a Democrat except for some foreign policy differences, a man who has no strategic vision which integrates his various beliefs into a narrative to share with the American people. Peter Wehner describes it this way:

...It’s true that John McCain has never provided the country with a compelling economic vision and an overarching, easily accessible governing philosophy. That may be because McCain himself is a man animated not so much by ideas as a sense of "honor politics" and causes that catch his attention. Senator McCain is a man of unquestionable bravery and considerable talents, and the fact that as recently as mid-September he was tied with Senator Obama in the polls is remarkable, given the tremendous headwinds he has faced this year.

Unfortunately for Senator McCain, his limitations are being exposed at precisely the moment when they are costing him the most.

More thoughts here.

On a related note, I don't understand why McCain lets Obama and Congressional Democrats off the hook so easily. Frank Warner writes about Why does John McCain avoid attacking Democrats’ abuses?

...McCain has made it clear he’s willing to take on the Republican Party when it’s wrong. Why McCain avoids attacking the disastrous Democratic Congress is beyond understanding.

Why McCain is so accommodating when there are such deep philosophical and political divides is simply beyond me and speaks to a weakness in both his vision and leadership skills.

So the choice this November 4 is a poor one where there is no compelling choice. But the fact pattern now does not justify sitting out the election. More thoughts on the latter in the coming days.

Fighting My Inner Pollyanna

Marc Comtois

OK, I could be accused of trying to "turn those [conservative] frowns upside down" with the imminent Democratic takeover of our government. Part of it is because I'm trying to take the long view, part of it is because I'm basically an optimistic guy. So, more for myself than perhaps others, here's a little cold water. Should the Democrats get the super-majority, here's what we can expect, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:

Those would be some significant setbacks. But then, there is hope. (I can't help myself).

The Palin Effect with an Exclamation Point

Justin Katz

I've had the same reaction to the investigation of Joe the Plumber that Don noted earlier this morning. It's frightening, and one gets the sense that it's a taste of what would be to come (perhaps outside of public view) were Obama to be elected.

One wonders whether the stage was set by the American elite's preparation for Obama's coronation (as indicated by some conservative intellectuals' RSVPs). Watching video of Obama actually mocking the man and his profession, it struck me that this may be a Sarah Palin redux, only with an exclamation point. In his comfort, he's letting slip dinner party remarks for public consumption. "Who ever heard of a plumber making a quarter-million dollars?" If they made that much, they wouldn't have to cling to God and guns.

So now Joe is being told, in not so many words, "Go away. We'd decided." Americans were sickened by the instasmear campaign against Palin when she leaped onto the national stage, but his is worse: This is just some guy who asked a question. It could be you.

Yeah, he owes some taxes. Perhaps he's been working without a license or without the proper registration. He's divorced. Scarcely an American alive could emerge unstained from such scrutiny, but we sense there to be a protective gap of public interest. We muddle along understanding that the Eye of Sauron tends to focus on those who step forward to be seen. Even such common practices as undeclared cash-paid side work would look shady in its accusing glow.

Just answering a candidate's question when approached on one's own lawn oughtn't qualify one for the same treatment as those who scrub their lives in preparation for the big time. But Obama's army of zealots won't be able to stop themselves now or if they gain the presidency's power.

Presidential Candidates Put Things in Perspective

Marc Comtois

The Al Smith Dinner is an opportunity for presidential candidates to take a break and poke a little fun at each other and themselves.

Here is John McCain (part 1 and part 2) and Barack Obama.

Kinda puts things in perspective. As I've written before, while politics is important, they need to be kept in their proper perspective and the candidates themselves seem to recognize that. A good lesson for their supporters.

People resort to "moral equivalence" arguments when they don't have the facts on their side

Donald B. Hawthorne

David Boaz of the Cato Institute shreds more illogical thinking by the Left:

Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post has a column titled "Gods That Failed." He’s referring to a famous book:
In 1949, a number of famous writers, among them Arthur Koestler, André Gide, Richard Wright, Stephen Spender and Ignazio Silone, wrote essays explaining why they were no longer communists. The essays were collected in a volume entitled “The God That Failed."

And then he makes this analogy: “Today, conservative intellectuals might want to consider writing a tome on the failure of their own beloved deity, unregulated capitalism. ”

Where to begin? Certainly we haven’t had any unregulated capitalism lately. As I put it the other day, the kind of capitalism that has encountered the current crisis is "the kind in which a central monetary authority manipulates money and credit, the central government taxes and redistributes $3 trillion a year, huge government-sponsored enterprises create a taxpayer-backed duopoly in the mortgage business, tax laws encourage excessive use of debt financing, and government pressures banks to make bad loans."...

Communism’s failure involved Stalin’s terror-famine in Ukraine, the Gulag, the deportation of the Kulaks, the Katyn Forest massacre, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Che Guevara’s executions in Havana, the flight of the boat people from Vietnam, Pol Pot’s mass slaughter — a total death toll of 94 million people, according to the Black Book of Communism. Prominent American leftists — from Lillian Hellman and Dalton Trumbo and lots of other writers to Alger Hiss of the State Department and FDR speechwriter Michael Straight, who became the publisher of The New Republic – were members of the party that did these things. And that party had total control in the countries that it ruled. There were no opposition parties, no filibusters, no election-related maneuverings that prevented the party in power from getting what it wanted.

What the Communist Party wanted, it got. Communism in practice was communist theory made real.

In the United States, on the other hand, economic and political outcomes are always the result of jockeying between parties and interest groups. So even if Ronald Reagan and his advisers wanted to give Americans "unregulated capitalism," they had to deal with Tip O’Neill and the Democrats, and with critics in the media, and with many other players. As these forces played out, in the late 1970s and early 1980s some deregulation did occur, along with some tax-cutting. And indeed there was some financial deregulation in the Clinton years as well.

And what is the "failure," as Meyerson puts it, of this semi-deregulated capitalism? Does it involve mass starvation? Does it involve terror-famines? Does it involve millions of deaths? No, so far it involves a sharp decline in the stock market from record levels. Taking 1980 as the starting point for Meyerson’s nightmare vision of "unregulated capitalism," here’s what has happened to the S&P 500. It’s had some dips, but it still reflects vast wealth creation, and vast increases in the assets of our IRAs and 401(k)s. [Click on link to article to view graph.]

The "failure" of capitalism and the failure of communism are not morally equivalent, and Meyerson should be embarrassed to even imply such a comparison.

People resort to "moral equivalence" arguments when they don't have the facts on their side.

Meanwhile, Peter Robinson writes about What would Milton Friedman say?. More from Robinson.


Jonah Goldberg on The Forgotten Man:

For fans of Amity Shlaes' excellent book, this might not seem like such a novel insight (heck maybe nobody will). But it seems to me that Joe the Plumber fits William Graham Sumner's conception of the forgotten man quite well. And Obama's attitude is exactly like FDR's.

Sumner wrote:

The type and formula of most schemes of philan-thropy or humanitarianism is this: A and B put their heads together to decide what C shall be made to do for D. The radical vice of all these schemes, from a sociological point of view, is that C is not allowed a voice in the matter, and his position, character, and interests, as well as the ultimate effects on society through C's interests, are entirely overlooked. I call C the Forgotten Man. For once let us look him up and consider his case, for the characteristic of all social doctors is that they fix their minds on some man or group of men whose case appeals to the sympathies and the imagination, and they plan remedies addressed to the particular trouble; they do not understand that all the parts of society hold together and that forces which are set in action act and react throughout the whole organism until an equilibrium is produced by a readjustment of all interests and rights. They therefore ignore entirely the source from which they must draw all the energy which they employ in their remedies, and they ignore all the effects on other members of society than the ones they have in view. They are always under the dominion of the superstition of government, and forgetting that a government produces nothing at all, they leave out of sight the first fact to be remembered in all social discussion — that the state cannot get a cent for any man without taking it from some other man, and this latter must be a man who has produced and saved it. This latter is the Forgotten Man.

Healthcare Intrigue

Justin Katz

Granted, they devoted some time to debate talk, but it says something encouraging that Andrew and Matt Allen actually pushed past the time slot on Wednesday to further discuss healthcare. I, for one, would have liked a whole hour of that conversation. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

October 16, 2008

Yep, that'd be my reaction

Donald B. Hawthorne

Getting a lot of emails along these lines:

I don't know why I'm e-mailing you, except that I just need to vent to someone on The Corner. Pass this around to the others if you like — I bet I'm not the only one.

I really don't like McCain. I'll probably vote for him just as a vote for divided government. I'm far too libertarian in my leanings to be comfortable with McCain (or Obama, for that matter).

That said, the way the pro-Obama media and bloggers, and Obama himself, have responded to Joe has got me nearly shaking with rage. They are attempting to destroy a man — a private citizen — who had the audacity to ask The One a question. Mind you, Joe was on his front lawn playing football with his son when Obama strolled up to give him his hopenchange spiel. Obama approached Joe, not the other way around. And Joe asked Obama an honest question. And Obama gave him an honest — and very, very revealing — answer. Again, mind you, the embarassment was on Obama's end, not Joe's. It wasn't a gotcha question.

And yet, for that Joe is being pilloried, every aspect of his private and professional life being sorted through and exposed. To prove ... what? What does that have to do with Obama's answer? What does Joe's situation have to do with Obama's philosophical answer — that he wants to "spread the wealth"? Obama's answer goes down the memory hole while the nation concentrates its fire on obliterating Joe the Plumber.

It's sickening, it's maddening and it's downright chilling.

Sorry for the length. But I am just SEETHING.

Elsewhere, there were these additional perspectives:

...They've done more investigations into Joe the Plumber in 24 hours than they've done on Barack Obama in two years...

The harassment of Joe the plumber is the singular biggest mistake of the Obama campaign. The MSM is making Joe a martyr. Heck, DKos just published Joe's home address. Obama is now not only a Marxist but a Marxist bully - just another Chicago thug. America roots for the underdog and they will not take this action kindly. If Joe were a hero yesterday, wait a few days.

Obi Wan's line in Star Wars when fighting Darth Vader comes to mind - "Strike me down and I will return more powerful than you can possibly imagine." Americans will realize what happened to Joe could easily happen to them. And they will remember this come November...

What I find really fascinating is the fact that the media elites are treating Joe the Plumber as if he is the one who is out of step with mainstream America, while Bill Ayers is an 'Eagle Scout'...

There is a stench of desperation surrounding this, as if they sense defeat coming from a moment of honesty from Obama about his real intentions to institute a regime of redistribution. They want to discredit the man who only asked the question as if he’s some political operative who magically forced Obama to sound...well, a little like a Marxist. Why? They want to distract people from Obama’s answer by sliming the man Obama picked at random to ask a question...The Tanning-Bed Media seems to feel that they have a duty to expose every last part of Wurzelbacher’s life, but that asking Obama to explain his political partnerships with Tony Rezko and William Ayers, and his long friendship and financial support of rabid demagogues Jeremiah Wright and Michael Pfleger, are not just out of bounds but downright racist." Whatever it takes.

This, too:

The MSM can’t destroy Joe the plumber, because everyone is Joe the plumber. If he does have a tax lien on his property, he will be more sympathetic to average Americans. Aren’t we all in fear of losing our personal property because we can’t afford the taxes on it??

They can try to destroy him all they want, his basic question remains: "Does Barack Obama have a right to take my property and give it to someone else?"

And this:

ABC News reports on Joe the Plumber, who seems to be the most effective spokesman for the McCain tax position:
"To be honest with you, that infuriates me," plumber Joe Wurzelbacher told Nightline’s Terry Moran. "It’s not right for someone to decide you made too much—that you’ve done too good and now we’re going to take some of it back."

"That’s just completely wrong," he added.

Joe is now everywhere explaining why raising taxes on little businesses is wrong. He is now a handy reference point for the argument that Obama’s tax scheme is not just going to impact Warren Buffett. (Obama never did answer in the debate why he’s raising anyone’s taxes.)

This is no small bit of luck for McCain...

Obama's response to Joe the plumber crystallizes what a lot of people have instinctively felt was the problem with Obama but could not verbalize or be heard over the worshipful response of the MSM.

This development could be one of those unplanned pivot points that sometimes alters the course of elections...as long as the multi-state voter fraud efforts by Obama's friends at ACORN don't overwhelm it.

Time will tell soon enough.



The Los Angeles Times reports:
According to court records, creditors have secured at least two liens against [Joe the Plumber] Wurzelbacher, whose legal name is Samuel. Ohio has a $1,182 lien for owed taxes and St. Charles Mercy Hospital has filed a 2007 lien for $1,261.

I think we can all agree that this is critical information.

Not because it says anything about Joe the Plumber, mind you. But it does serve a useful function: it warns any future citizen who might dare question Barack Obama that his life will be closely scrutinized for any irrelevant but embarrassing information.

So, you know. Critical in that sense.

Oh — I almost forgot to mention: Martin Nesbitt, the treasurer of Obama’s campaign, has tax liens. So do his companies.

You’d think that matters more than the tax liens of Joe the Plumber, wouldn’t you? But good luck finding a Big Media story about Nesbitt’s liens.


Jennifer Rubin:

The liberal media throng and Democratic elites never learn the right lesson. It’s been only a month since they vilified Sarah Palin, leading to a gigantic backlash and the largest surge in John McCain’s standing in the polls yet. But they didn’t learn. They are at it again with Joe the Plumber and, once again, are exercising no self-restraint.

They don’t, at bottom, respect non-elites from middle America or listen to their concerns. They treat them as cartoon characters or as frauds sent to foil their own quest for power. So they set upon Joe the Plumber in the mistaken view that what was significant about the interchange with Barack Obama were Joe’s concerns. And–surprise, surprise–you’ve got the makings of a backlash.

There are two problems with the approach of the Obama supporters. One, as with the Palin feeding frenzy and Bittergate, it convinces ordinary voters that the Democrats are vicious snobs. Two, it doesn’t address the problem: voters may begin to suspect that Obama is fixated on wealth re-distribution. That’s the idea the Democrats should be working to dispel. But since they can’t imagine that the public would have a problem with raising taxes in a recession, they don’t even bother to reassure voters that of course Obama wants the private sector to grow and of course he understands that you must tread carefully in tax-burdening small businessmen.

The McCain team must be pinching themselves: they can hardly believe their luck that the Democrats have attacked an everyman and prolonged a dangerous storyline...


On sliming Joe the plumber.

Mary Katharine Ham:

...While the media and Left blogs continue to dig into Joe's personal life and affairs for asking The One a question.

If Obama were truly a purveyor of a new kind of politics or a decent leader, in any sense of the word, he'd stick a different sentence into his stump speech. Something like, "Hey, everyone chill out. Joe is a man who asked me a question. As presidential candidates, John McCain and I have faced plenty of tough questions. The good citizens who ask those questions don't deserve to be torn down for their efforts."

Obama's frowning upon the practice would go a long way toward quelling the bad practice of vetting every townhall and ropeline questioner as if he were a Supreme Court justice.

But you see, Obama is not a man of new politics or leadership. He is a man who endorses raising the cost of free speech for everyone who disagrees with him. He is a man who sends out Action WIre alerts to mobilize voters to shout down detractors who appear on the radio. He is a man who sends letters to the Department of Justice to ask it to investigate political ads that aren't even inaccurate, much less criminal.

Joe's experience is making every sensible American voter wonder whether it's worth asking their representatives that question they have on their minds. The man who talks endlessly about the value of getting new Americans involved in the democratic process is allowing their intimidation without comment.

It seems Obama only approves of getting dead people, cartoons, and the Dallas Cowboys involved, via voter registration fraud. Mickey Mouse just don't talk back like Joe the Plumber does.


Jim Lingren via Instapundit:

...I was stunned to see some document showing Joe the Plumber's tax problems on my 10pm (CT) newscast on the local NBC affiliate in Chicago on Thursday night. They have very little time for any national news and they actually spent time on Joe the Plumber's tax problems. Amazing!

But when an actual candidate — Barack Obama — released his tax returns, which on their face seemed to show an ethics violation of Illinois law, the press couldn't care less.

Just to remind you, Illinois prohibits state legislators from taking speaking fees, and Barack reported "speaking fees."...

Gotta love the MSM doing the work for it's favored candidate.

USA Today: No Card-Check

Marc Comtois

To follow up on Don's post, from the editors of America's middle-of-the-road (to be generous) national newspaper, USA Today, an essay against "card-check" legislation:

A win for Obama and big gains for Senate Democrats could remove the remaining obstacles to the euphemistically named "Employee Free Choice Act."

Cajoled choice is more like it. The proposed change would give unions and pro-union employees more incentive to use peer pressure, or worse, to persuade reluctant workers to sign their cards. And without elections, workers who weren't contacted by union organizers would have no say in the final outcome.

Labor leaders, such as AFL-CIO President John Sweeney in the space below, argue that the proposed law wouldn't prohibit private balloting. This is accurate but misleading. Union organizers would have no reason to seek an election if they had union cards signed by more than 50% of workers. And if they had less than a majority, they'd be unlikely to call for a vote they'd probably lose.

The legislation has other questionable provisions as well. For example, once a union is formed, if labor and management can't agree on a contract, a federal arbitration board would be called on to go beyond the normal role of facilitating talks and actually dictate terms.

Labor has seen its role decline since the 1950s, when about a third of all private sector employees belonged to unions, compared with about 7.5% today. So it's understandably eager to find ways to expand membership, particularly at a time when workers are feeling economically vulnerable. But undermining democratic principles is not the answer.

Patrick Kennedy on Why He Has Better Things to do With His Time than Explain His Positions to the Public

Carroll Andrew Morse

Patrick Kennedy just explained to WPRO radio why he refuses to debate his opponent…

Debates at this stage are usually theatre and gotcha games.
Unbelievably, Congressman Kennedy made this statement while spending the day with actor Martin Sheen!

So Congressman Kennedy considers discussing issues with his opponent in front of the public to be theatre.

Yet he considers traveling around his district in the company of an actor to be a substantive use of his time -- or maybe he just doesn’t care about keeping the public informed.

The Congressman, you may recall, just voted to spend $700 billion on a financial bailout for private businesses. His opponent, Jon Scott, has some ideas about how that money could have been better spent. Various members of the public may also have some ideas about how the $700 billion could have been spent, or if it should have been spent at all.

Doesn't Congressman Kennedy, at the very least, owe the public an explanation before the election of how he intends to see that the bailout money is well spent? Or does he consider the ideas of fiscal oversight and government accountability to be mere theatre as well?


Here's the series of debates that Jon Scott has proposed, where Congressman Kennedy could explain to the public how he thinks Congress should approach oversight of the bailout money, along with other issues...

Scott has challenged Kennedy to a series of four debates; one on Radio’s Buddy Cianci Show, one on Channel 10’s Sunday morning show hosted by Jim Taricani and Bill Rappleye, one hosted by the League of Women Voters (which will not happen) and a 90 minute debate with only a timekeeper, no moderator, to be hosted at Brown University. Kennedy’s spokeswoman has repeatedly denied that there has been a formal request for those debates yet the text of the formal request has been widely circulated and was sent to Kennedy at his campaign email at KennedyforRI.com
There's still time to get most of these scheduled, if the Congressman Kennedy is interested in keeping the public substantively informed on what's going on in government.

RI Supreme Court Denies Alves' Appeal

Carroll Andrew Morse

Mike McKinney of the Projo has the details.

The Wisdom of Joe the Plumber

Marc Comtois

Google "Joe the Plumber": you'll get 1,953 news articles, like this. For those who don't know, Joe Wurzelbacher had this conversation with Senator Obama last weekend:

Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?" the plumber asked, complaining that he was being taxed "more and more for fulfilling the American dream."

"It's not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they've got a chance for success too," Obama responded. "My attitude is that if the economy's good for folks from the bottom up, it's gonna be good for everybody ... I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."

Is this something that can resonate with the American voter? Perhaps. It certainly featured prominently in last night's debate. And though some in the media are trying to show that, despite his concerns, "Joe" will actually benefit from Obama's plan, they miss the actual point that Joe Wurzelbacher is trying to make.
I mean, not that I don't want to be taxed. You have to be taxed. But to -- just because you work a little harder to have a little bit more money taken from you, I mean, that's scary. You know, as opposed to other people. I worked hard for it. Why should I be taxed more than other people...? Well, I mean, quite honestly, why should [the top 5%] be penalized for being successful? I mean, that's what you're telling me. That's what it sounds like you're saying. That's wrong. Because you're successful, you have to pay more than everybody else? We all live in this country. It's a basic right. And Obama wants to take that basic right and penalize me for it, is what it comes down to. That's a very socialist view and it's incredibly wrong. I mean, $250,000 now. What if he decides, well, you know, $150,000, you're pretty rich, too. Let's go ahead and lower it again. You know it's a slippery slope. When's it going to stop?
Yes, when? And this is but another example of the sort of down-to-earth wisdom that too often gets overlooked and dismissed in the coastal regions. An accent doesn't indicate stupidity. Nor does the lack of a sheepskin. To quote Victor Davis Hanson, writing about Sarah Palin:
Half of what I learned did not come from books or graduate school or teaching or writing, but from some rather rough characters who taught me how to prune, hammer, wire, and fix things—as well as their world view that came along with those tasks. Thank God, we have that experience represented in Sarah Palin. Can’t her critics grasp that? It ain’t easy to step up to the city-council, mayorship, or governor’s office while raising kids, on a short budget, without family money or connections, and out in Alaska? Did not the career of Truman teach us anything? We have plenty of highly educated politicos, so there is no worry we are a nation of populist yokels; what is lacking in public life are just a few people who aren’t lawyers, professors, consultants, and bureaucrats.
As a former merchant mariner who also holds an MA, I've got to second that. I've gained wisdom from the stories of old salts and from the annals of History and scholarly journals, but not everyone can have that experience. So, as Hanson argues, we should really listen some of both to get a more complete picture. I know she drives some people crazy, but Sarah Palin resonates with some people. So does Joe the Barber.

John Paul II

Donald B. Hawthorne

John Paul II was elected Pope 30 years ago today.

This posting contains links to many articles about him:

John Paul II, Requiescat in pacem

Two additional postings about Pope John Paul II:

Follow Me: John Paul II Roused Us From a Lethargic Faith
A Poignant Reflection on John Paul II

Redistributing Your Own Earnings Back to You

Marc Comtois

Last night, Barack Obama stated:

I think Exxon Mobil, which made $12 billion, record profits over the last several quarters, they can afford to pay a little more so that ordinary families who are hurting out there, they are trying to figure out how they are going to afford food, how they are going to save for their kids' college education, they need a break.
Pretty much liberal boilerplate and it's so unsurprising that one is inclined to just let it pass. But it does deserve a closer examination.

Obama thinks businesses--and note how he uses a mega-corporation instead of a more typical small business as an example--"can afford" to pay higher taxes. But ExxonMobil isn't some benign entity that will fork over the money on it's own. It is owned by someone, many people in fact, and it is they who will be paying higher taxes to support Obama's plan. So who are the mysterious owners of oil companies, like ExxonMobil? Probably you.

So when Obama explains he wants to tax a large company, it is not the "company" that will foot the bill, but its shareholders--average folks like us.

Looking specifically at education, many of us are saving for college by putting money into a 529 savings plan, which is essentially a mutual fund designed to grow for the purpose of paying college tuition in the future. The same sort of mutual fund that has a stake in ExxonMobil, for instance.

So what's the effect of Obama's plan? He'll raise taxes on public companies, which will reduce their earnings, thereby reducing the amount that average people as individual investors can accumulate on their own as they try to save for college. Further, Obama's plan will then pass a portion of that corporate tax money--with all the efficiency of government--back to some of these same families as well as others who are not saving for college in this manner.

The net effect: people saving for college via a 529 will also be saving to put other people's kids through college. Same with those of you saving for retirement via a 401(k) or a pension fund. And here you thought only the rich were going to pay their fair share. Ain't redistribution grand?

Looking into the Wilderness

Marc Comtois

Markos Moulitsas (Daily Kos himself) recently wrote (h/t) that he wants to "break the conservative movement's backs and crush their spirits." He wants to "destroy their most beloved leaders" and silence "some of their most cherished voices." Further, he writes, with the 2008 election, the liberal/progressive/Democratic movement "[has] been blessed with an opportunity to help that process along." The neo-religious terminology is indicative of how "Kos" and many of his ideological allies view politics: "spirits", "beloved leaders", "cherished voices", "blessed with an opportunity".

I suppose that's the difference between the role that politics plays in the daily lives of leftist, partisan ideologues and traditional conservatives like me. My psychological well-being is not tied to whether or not Obama becomes the next President of the United States. I don't first look to politicians and government for answers. My optimism won't be undone by the success or failure of a particular politician or political party. And my faith resides in a higher power, not in the workings of fallible men. In short, I don't invest in the political careers of strangers as a way towards personal fulfillment.

Now I'm not naive and I know that there will be many conservatives emotionally devastated by an Obama presidency and a Democratic super-majority in Congress. I suppose they will be the proof to Moulitsas' theorem. But most conservatives won't "turtle" simply because a shiny new, liberal administration is in Washington, D.C. Remember, conservatives generally don't exactly view a potential McCain presidency as a new high-water mark for conservatism. No, the writing has been on the wall for a few months now, and conservatives are well prepared.

While I've chosen to side with the Maverick over the Messiah--my least worst of the two--I fully expect to disagree with whomever is elected President in 2008, if only by differing degrees. As such, I've made my serious philosophical differences with Barack Obama known. But my critique is not based on hatred or dislike for a man I don't know. Instead, it is based on my disagreement with his stated policies and his apparent worldview. Questioning his judgment based on past associations isn't a personal attack. Doubting the sincerity of a smooth orator with a sparse track record is not hate speech.

Yet, after years of GOP leadership, the American people seem ready to hand the keys of government over to the Democratic party and the cipher at the top of the ticket. It doesn't look like any minds are going to be changed this far along. So we will soon be witness to the Democrats' grand plans. They are sure they have all of the answers and are smart enough and good enough to see them through. They don't have much time to pay attention to the proponents of the past. Progress, after all, has won.

And no doubt they will take great pleasure in denigrating the conservative ideas they purport to have failed. Well, I suppose they will have earned their day in the sun.

But any potential success will depend less on the theory behind the policies implemented than on the practical effect those policies have on the lives of every day Americans. And the role that contingency plays--Will the economy continue to stagnate? Will we be attacked again?--and the concomitant reaction--Will Obama's policies hurt or help...or matter? Will a huminatarian peace-keeping mission turn into a war?--shouldn't be overlooked. The American people are not as patient as they used to be and will blame the President and Congress whether deserved or not. Lest we forget, way back in 2004 there was a so-called permanent Republican majority. It lasted all of 2 years. Voters could very well experience buyers' remorse in 2010 or 2012 as they did in 2006. The times change. Quickly.

As a traditional conservative, I believe that our society and culture was built on and continues to require certain principles that have proven successful over time. Though political winds may shift, bedrock principles aren't so easily changed. They have allowed us to prosper as individuals, as families, as communities and as a nation. They must be constantly defended and, where appropriate, modified, if slowly (to paraphrase Edmund Burke), to meet the new challenges of the time. And they endure, even if unheeded, no matter the ephemeral presence that occupies the Oval Office. After all, if conservative principles can survive long years in the wilderness of Canada (and Europe, for that matter), they can certainly survive an election cycle or two here in the U.S.A.

So, regardless of who is "running the country," I'll still continue to devote most of my energy to--and derive the majority of my happiness from--my family and friends and neighbors. And I'll continue to espouse and defend and debate over the principles upon which, I believe, offer us all the best chance for success. And, hopefully, I'll do it all with a smile and a chuckle in-waiting. It's only politics, after all.

October 15, 2008

Open Thread: McCain/Obama III

Engaged Citizen

Offer your own thoughts in the comments on the beginning of the end of the campaign...

Emulating Fannie Mae in the Health Insurance Industry; Yes We Can!

Carroll Andrew Morse

Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama’s health plan has the Federal government getting directly into the health insurance business. He wants the government to create "a new public plan" for health insurance that would compete with existing private insurers. Senator Obama also wants the administrators of this new plan, or some other government-created insurer, to assume nationwide responsibility for catastrophic health insurance -- creating a government monopoly over one segment of America's healthcare economy.

If the idea of a targeted, government-backed monopoly sounds vaguely familiar, it's because another government created monopoly, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae, for short) has been in the news lately, and not in a good way. Fannie Mae was the "government sponsored enterprise" that held a virtual monopoly in the secondary mortgage industry whose mismanagement and collapse helped trigger the current worldwide financial crisis.

Fannie Mae collapsed because it was allowed to take risks that regulators would have quashed had they been attempted by a company identical in every way to Fannie Mae, save for the government backing. As blogger Mickey Kaus has noted, the unsound financial practices were accepted because of Fannie Mae’s aggressive advocacy of its social agenda -- increasing the rate of homeownership -- when challenged and because Congress and executive branch regulators responded to Fannie Mae's lobbying with a collective cognitive non-sequitur: because the organization’s intentions were good, no one needed to pay serious attention to its financial situation. Enmeshed in a culture that denied the need for oversight, warning signs were missed and Fannie Mae’s problems built up until a multi-hundred billion dollar bailout (separate from the much publicized $700B bailout of private institutions) became necessary to keep it and the mortgage industry which it dominated functioning.

Here’s the question for the future: why, in the long run, should the public expect the fate of Barack Obama's government created insurer to be any different than that of Fannie Mae? Like Fannie Mae, Barack Obama's new insurance company will be created in pursuit of a social goal (expanding access to health insurance). Like Fannie Mae, the government created insurer will be inextricably tied to the Federal government. And like Fannie Mae, the government created insurer will almost certainly be given regulatory advantages over its private competitors -- which may or may not make fiscal sense -- to help it achieve its social goal.

If you view government entities as organizations created and staffed by the same flawed humans that exist in every other walk of life, the potential danger here is obvious; allowing an organization, in this case, the Federal government, to create and run a national scale monopoly and then expect it to effectively regulate itself is an invitation to more Fannie Mae levels of mischief.

Will government remember this lesson by the time it takes up an Obama healthcare plan? Or is an assumption the government-does-it-better, no need to think this through, all that Democrats need to know when formulating their health plans?

Explanations on the Other Side of the Coin

Justin Katz

I caught a snippet of U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse on WPRO this morning remarking on the great mystery of Rhode Island's horrible economy. Paraphrasing: "I don't think anybody knows why it's so bad. We should be in the middle of the pack."

Well, perhaps such outcomes are puzzling when the actual explanation is ruled out for ideological and political reasons. "Nobody knows the reason" sounds an awful lot like "we don't want to admit that we're responsible," whether the distinction is conscious or subconscious.

Who's Got the Solutions?

Justin Katz

There's something peculiar about the tack that the incumbents of Tiverton are taking against Tiverton Citizens for Change (TCC) — implying some shadowy intention to be vague about our agenda. We have no solution, they say, and it doesn't require much political savvy to imagine their fingers twitching in anticipation that we'll offer something up that they can use either to demagogue or to declare our ignorance.

We don't claim to have all the answers. Rather, a few hundred of us (for starters) have had a strong reaction to the results and methods of the current crew of town officials and wish to change the playing field a bit. To that end, we asked candidates questions about various topics that seemed either core or emblematic, we considered the candidates' answers (i.e., their solutions), and we endorse those whose answers we liked. Simple as that.

The negative campaign is particularly odd coming from School Committee Chairwoman Denise deMedeiros, because we liked her answers enough to offer her an endorsement. She complains that TCC is "not telling us solutions" and how we're "going to run the town," but we're not going to be running the town. She is. The other elected candidates will be.

In other words, TCC's solutions are none other than those that she enunciated in her responses to our questionnaire. If Ms. deMedeiros would like to refresh her memory as to what she told us should be done, all questions and answers are available at TCC's Web site.

October 14, 2008

Obama vs. McGovern on eliminating secret union elections

Donald B. Hawthorne

Power Line discusses Obama's support for the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation which would effectively eliminate private votes for union elections.

Not even George McGovern agrees with Obama on this one.

If elected, maybe Obama could send union members who resist coercive pressures off to a re-education camp run by Bill Ayers!

Hey, if our federal tax dollars can underwrite voter fraud, why should our options be restricted here? Now, that would be change you can believe in. LOL.

The Rhode Island State Police and the West Warwick Primary

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Projo's Talia Buford has details on the Rhode Island State Police's explanation of why there is an investigation into the Michael Pinga/Stephen Alves Democratic primary, but not into the Erin Lynch/David Bennett result…

The complaint filed by Democratic Party Chairman William Lynch asked the State Police to investigate “voter irregularities” in both the Warwick and West Warwick Democratic primaries. In the complaint, Lynch offered anecdotal evidence of people impersonating registered voters and fraudulently voting in the Alves’ race, and made reference to Republicans who voted “knowingly and intentionally” in both Democratic primaries.

State police are looking into both cases, but Lt. Col. Steven O’Donnell said that evidence offered in the Alves case gave police more to go on than the sweeping allegations lobbed in the Warwick case.

“It’s hard in any election to chase leads that may or may not exist,” O’Donnell said. “We tried to go after substantiated information, rather than fishing expeditions.”

In addition to Lynch’s letter, police received several anonymous letters that laid out alleged violations that residents said occurred during the primaries, though O’Donnell would not elaborate. In recent days, troopers have visited residents at Msgr. DeAngelis Manor in West Warwick because, O’Donnell said, complaints came in that residents voted in the primary who shouldn’t have voted, and that some votes were influenced prior to the election….

Records show that at least 10 voters listed as Republicans with the West Warwick Board of Canvassers voted in the Democratic primary. The Providence Journal attempted to reach those listed and found that four of them said they’d disaffiliated in a previous primary and were listed as Republicans incorrectly. Five others could not be reached or declined to comment, and one voter, a Republican, said he was told his vote was taken out of the ballot box after he was mistakenly allowed to cast a ballot.

On Obama's extreme abortion beliefs

Donald B. Hawthorne

Robert George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He is a member of the President's Council on Bioethics and previously served on the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

Professor George explains Obama's extreme abortion beliefs.

Read the whole thing.


Here is Obama in his own words. More.


More about infanticide from Robert George and Yuval Levin.

UPDATED: Obama and ACORN's overt and criminal voter fraud acts

Donald B. Hawthorne

Building on Marc's earlier post, comes this latest report from CNN. Listen to the video.

Instapundit has more.

More on ACORN here and here.

Which brings us to the question: Is ACORN Stealing The Election?

...What does all this have to do with Obama, besides the fact that he'd be the beneficiary of most, if not all, of these new votes?

For starters, Obama paid ACORN, which has endorsed him for president, $800,000 to register new voters, payments his campaign failed to accurately report. (They were disguised in his FEC disclosure as payments to a front group called Citizen Services Inc. for "advance work.")

What's more, Obama worked as executive director of ACORN's voter-registration arm, Project Vote, in 1992. Joined by two other community organizers on Chicago's South Side, Obama conducted the voter-registration drive that helped elect Carol Moseley-Braun to the Senate that year.

The next year, 1993, Obama joined the civil-rights law firm Davis Miner Barnhill & Galland, where he sued the state of Illinois on behalf of ACORN to implement the federal "Motor Voter" law, which the GOP governor at the time refused to do. Then-Gov. Jim Edgar argued, presciently, that the Clinton law would invite voter fraud.

Obama downplays his ties to ACORN, and his campaign denies coordinating with ACORN to register voters...

And why isn't anyone asking Obama about his $800,000 funding of ACORN's efforts?

Guess we now know part of what a "community organizer" does...commits voter fraud.

If you can't trust the integrity of votes, we don't have a functioning democracy anymore.

But maybe that's the point Obama's campaign has been making already. More here. Will restoring the Fairness Doctrine be the next step?


The ACORN criminal voter fraud issue will not die because it is so massive across the nation, Obama has extensive ties to ACORN, and his campaign gave over $800,000 to ACORN.

This overview is a very good place to get a quick summary of the extensive voter fraud efforts by ACORN.

More from Instapundit. On a related issue; more here. And why stop at voter fraud?

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial entitled Obama and ACORN: Community organizers, phony voters, and your tax dollars:

...It's about time someone exposed this shady outfit that uses government dollars to lobby for larger government.

Acorn uses various affiliated groups to agitate for "a living wage," for "affordable housing," for "tax justice" and union and environmental goals, as well as against school choice and welfare reform. It was a major contributor to the subprime meltdown by pushing lenders to make home loans on easy terms, conducting "strikes" against banks so they'd lower credit standards.

But the organization's real genius is getting American taxpayers to foot the bill. According to a 2006 report from the Employment Policies Institute (EPI), Acorn has been on the federal take since 1977. For instance, Acorn's American Institute for Social Justice claimed $240,000 in tax money between fiscal years 2002 and 2003. Its American Environmental Justice Project received 100% of its revenue from government grants in the same years. EPI estimates the Acorn Housing Corporation alone received some $16 million in federal dollars from 1997-2007. Only recently, Democrats tried and failed to stuff an "affordable housing" provision into the $700 billion bank rescue package that would have let politicians give even more to Acorn.

All this money gives Acorn the ability to pursue its other great hobby: electing liberals. Acorn is spending $16 million this year to register new Democrats and is already boasting it has put 1.3 million new voters on the rolls. The big question is how many of these registrations are real...

Which brings us to Mr. Obama, who got his start as a Chicago "community organizer" at Acorn's side. In 1992 he led voter registration efforts as the director of Project Vote, which included Acorn. This past November, he lauded Acorn's leaders for being "smack dab in the middle" of that effort. Mr. Obama also served as a lawyer for Acorn in 1995, in a case against Illinois to increase access to the polls.

During his tenure on the board of Chicago's Woods Fund, that body funneled more than $200,000 to Acorn. More recently, the Obama campaign paid $832,000 to an Acorn affiliate. The campaign initially told the Federal Election Commission this money was for "staging, sound, lighting." It later admitted the cash was to get out the vote.

The Obama campaign is now distancing itself from Acorn, claiming Mr. Obama never organized with it and has nothing to do with illegal voter registration. Yet it's disingenuous to channel cash into an operation with a history of fraud and then claim you're shocked to discover reports of fraud. As with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers, Mr. Obama was happy to associate with Acorn when it suited his purposes. But now that he's on the brink of the Presidency, he wants to disavow his ties...

Rubin has these comments:

...It is almost inconceivable that Barack Obama should not have been grilled on this – either by his opponent or the media...Obama’s ties are deep and extensive with an organization that embraces goals and tactics well outside the political mainstream and that has engaged in a pattern of illegal activity usually seen only in RICO indictments. ACORN’s present involvement in coast-to-coast fraud is jaw-dropping and should raise the issue as to whether an Obama Justice Department would vigorously investigate and, if warranted, prosecute this entity and all involved.(A helpful compilation of ACORN’s suspect activities is here.) Put simply, Obama worked for and helped funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to a fraud-infested, corrupt organization and has yet to explain himself, let alone apologize for the same.

If the voters want such a president they will have him, but he should first explain himself and justify why his participation in and assistance to such an enterprise should not be serious grounds to question his fitness for office.

Character does matter in our leaders, as we learned in multiple ways with Bill Clinton, including this instance. Along the way, we continue to learn more troubling things about Obama nearly daily, like this.

We can all — Republicans and Democrats — be against voter fraud ... right?

Let's start with this idea:

There ought to be a law. In fact, there ought to be 50.

Every state from Hawaii to Maine and from Alaska to Florida should adopt emergency measures to require photo ID for every American who goes to the polls on November 4. Legislatures, executives, and courts should move quickly to avoid what has become a pending electoral crisis.

The 13 states investigating the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) are discovering “toxic vote registrations” to rival the “toxic mortgages” that triggered the current turmoil rattling financial markets. While roughly 95 percent of homeowners are paying their mortgages on time, the other 5 percent in default and foreclosure were all it took to spin the global economy out of control.

Similarly, the relatively small number of fraudulent vote registrations discovered so far could represent just enough systemic infection to sicken the entire body politic, especially if this election turns out closer than most now expect.

Still-unfolding revelations of shenanigans by ACORN and a handful of other groups should worry voters of all parties. Notwithstanding the fact that Barack Obama was ACORN’s one-time attorney, former trainer, and Woods Fund donor — and, more recently, the purchaser of its campaign services and its endorsee for president — these questions cannot be dismissed as one or two isolated incidents that Republicans are flogging for partisan advantage. As of Monday, ACORN was under investigation in Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin...

With the election exactly three weeks away, the hour is late to sift through all of the nation’s voter rolls and separate live voters from dead ones, citizens from aliens, the law-abiding from felons, adults from minors, and real people from those merely fabricated. This needs to be done, but is unlikely to be accomplished in time.

What could be done quickly is to require photo ID at the polls, something the U.S. Supreme Court ruled constitutional last spring. Only seven states (Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, and South Dakota) mandate photo ID before citizens can step into voting booths. Beyond these Sensible Seven, 17 states require ID, though it need not include a photo. The remaining 26 states demand no proof that voters are who they say they are.

Requiring photo ID, and making it available for free to any voter who needs it, is the easiest way to assure that corrupt or overzealous people do not show up and vote while ineligible or impersonate someone who has moved away, passed away, or never even existed...

But voter ID requirements won't solve absentee ballot problems like this.

Oh, silly us, this voter fraud is just a distraction, according to Obama. Some distraction.

This is a HUGE deal that goes straight to the issue of a conscious intent to subvert our American democracy by fraudently stealing an election through a massive fraud effort across the country.

McCain Has Opportunity in Maine-2

Marc Comtois

As I mentioned Friday, I spent the weekend visiting family in Maine. I also had the chance to talk to folks, observe the local media and get a gauge of how the political winds are blowing in the Pine Tree State's 2nd Congressional District. The region I visited was in the southern part of Maine-2, close to the more liberal/Democratic Maine-1 that surrounds Portland and travels along the coast to August, Maine's capital. Based on a non-scientific survey of campaign signs, McCain/Palin placards outnumbered Obama/Biden by at least 20 to 1.

More importantly, in talking to people, including some who supported Clinton and Kerry in the past, I got the impression that Obama was simply too much of a blank slate, had too little experience and was too liberal. This view was espoused by both conservatives and independents, including some union members, who indicated that they weren't alone amongst the rank-in-file in not following the union leadership's endorsement of Obama. Basically, people don't trust Obama because of his stated policies and lack of a track record.

As a native of thise region, I'm not surprised that many of its residents don't support a candidate who seems to put a lot of stock in government "help." They are independent (and not racists) who fundamentally distrust "big" anything, whether it be business or government.

That being said, others explained that they knew quite a few Mainers who had bought into Obama's "change." I was told that one gentleman--a politically astute and intelligent individual--had explained that he didn't know exactly why he was voting for Obama other than it just seemed like the way to go. Perhaps he didn't want to get into a debate, though.

Finally, Todd Palin also visited Maine-2 over the weekend and Governor Palin will be visiting this week. For their part, the McCain campaign obviously thinks there may be an opportunity and I agree.

ADDENDUM: In my previous post, commenter "Rhody" theorizes that Mainers will be cold to Palin because they would have preferred McCain picking one of Maine's Senators, Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins, instead of Palin. Rhody is right in his implication that Maine's independents are more likely to vote for moderates like Snowe and Collins than a conservative like Palin. However, that appeal to moderates is more important for a statewide office, like Senator, than for a rural congressional district like Maine-2. There are plenty of independents in Maine-2, but they are generally more conservative than moderate. They don't like any political party! Insofar as Palin is appealing solely to this district, she will find a welcoming audience.

Education Success Is Possible, If Rhode Island Will Allow It

Carroll Andrew Morse

Two quick suggestions for anyone reading today's Jennifer D. Jordan's Projo article on Rhode Island's tax credit scholarship program…

Amelia Kah struggled through her freshman year of high school in the Providence school system. She was teased and mocked by classmates when she raised her hand in class, and was even beaten up a few times, she says….Her parents, Genesis and Zoe Kah, refugees from the civil war in Liberia, worried their daughter would not fulfill her potential. They began hunting around for other schools. But with seven children at home and limited finances, their options were limited.

Then friends told the Kahs about St. Raphael Academy, a Catholic high school in Pawtucket, and a new state scholarship program for low-income students that could help the family send Amelia there.

Last fall, Amelia was accepted to St. Raphael for her sophomore year, aided by the Rhode Island Scholarship Alliance, a tax-credit scholarship program supported by Governor Carcieri and passed by the General Assembly three years ago.

Amelia was one of 278 students last year to receive the tax-credit scholarships in the program’s first year. The average scholarship ranges between $3,000 and $5,000, and the scholarships are available to families who earn 250 percent or less of the federal poverty level, defined in 2007 as a yearly income of $51,625 or less for a family of four.

Suggestion #1: Read it in conjunction with this Wall Street Journal op-ed, also from today, on what's being done with charter schools in Los Angeles…
This month the Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF), a charter school network in Los Angeles, announced plans to expand the number of public charter schools in the city's South Central section, which includes some of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the country. Over the next four years, the number of ICEF charters will grow to 35 from 13. Eventually, the schools will enroll one in four students in the community, including more than half of the high school students....

ICEF has been operating since 1994, and its flagship school has now graduated two classes, with 100% of the students accepted to college. By contrast, a state study released in July reported that one in three students in the L.A. public school system -- including 42% of black students -- quits before graduating, a number that has grown by 80% in the past five years.

Suggestion #2: Ignore the utter inanity in the Projo article about the ability to effectively evaluate the tax-credit scholarship program somehow depending on the creation of a "funding formula".

Expanding Laffer

Justin Katz

Close readers will have noted that I did not propose to prove the accuracy of the Laffer curve; rather, my stated intention was to dispute Tom Sgouros's argument that it can't be accurate.

To be honest, I find argumentation over Laffer to be somewhat of a distraction. Clearly, I'm ideologically predisposed to a preference for shrinking government revenue, not enlarging it, although economic growth is the best way in which to do the latter. Our larger concern ought to be the point at which government becomes a detriment to the society in question, and I'd argue that Rhode Island has far surpassed that point.

If cutting taxes only serves to increase the number of employment opportunities and generally raise the financial well-being of Rhode Islanders, then I'm inclined to take the result as good enough. It seems, unfortunately, that many on the progressive side fall into the trap of using government revenue as a gauge for the health of the society.

An argument for divided government

Donald B. Hawthorne

Many of us don't like McCain and also think he has run a terrible campaign.

But the more we learn about Obama, the more willing some of us will be to hold our nose and vote for McCain.

Because, in the end, it's not just Obama. It's the risk of Obama, possibly a filibuster-proof Senate under Reid, and a Pelosi-led House. Unrestrained left-wing politics.

Which leads Fred Barnes to these thoughts.

If we can't send the entire Federal government home on an extended paid vacation, then a vote for divided government may be the best we can hope for.




Power Line on Charles Kesler's assessment of Obama:

...Based on a comprehensive reading of Obama's books and speeches, Professor Kesler deduces that Obama's ambition is not merely personal, but is political and Rooseveltian in scope...This is the possibility that Fred Barnes contemplates...In a sense, however, Barnes only scratches the surface. Professor Kesler's important contribution -- from which I have only quoted the set-up to Professor Kesler's extended exploration -- makes out the scope of Obama's ambition and the seriousness of his purpose.


Mona Charen:

All of a sudden, this election is shaping up as a verdict on capitalism. The Obama campaign wanted it to be about George W. Bush. The McCain campaign wanted it to be about character. But instead, because the markets are shooting off in all directions like bullets from a dropped pistol, the stakes have suddenly been raised dramatically.

We are in the midst of the worst panic in history, it’s true (because it is global). But as historian John Steele Gordon helpfully pointed on in the Wall Street Journal, panics are not unusual in American history. We’ve experienced them almost every 20 years since 1819...Gordon believes more sensible banking policy would prevent future panics. But if we elect a crypto-socialist like Barack Obama and give him a bigger Democrat majority in the House and a filibuster-proof Senate, banking regulation may be the least of our troubles.

Well, you may say, "Win some, lose some. McCain isn’t all that great anyway. Conservatives and Republicans will simply have to examine their consciences and come up with a winning strategy for next time." Perhaps. But there are a few problems with that sanguine approach.

In the first place, the Democrats can, with a super-majority, change the rules of the game. They can make the District of Columbia the 51st state with two new senators (guaranteed to be Democrats in perpetuity). They can reinstitute the so-called Fairness Doctrine that required radio stations to provide equal time to all political viewpoints. While the doctrine was enforced by the Federal Communications Commission, radio stations shied away from politics altogether. With the demise of the doctrine, conservative talk radio flourished. Liberal talk radio has never found much of an audience. Reviving the doctrine would kill one of the principal irritants to liberals and Democrats — to say nothing of disemboweling the First Amendment.

To elect a super-majority of Democrats at a time of economic dislocation is to flirt with depression. Nearly all economists agree that two moves by the Hoover administration deepened and prolonged the panic of 1929 and turned it into the Great Depression. One was raising taxes and the other was imposing protectionist trade policies. Senator Obama proposes to do both of those things...

...He seems determined that more people will ride in the wagon than pull it.

"Well," you may say, "if the Democrats drive the country into a deep recession, so much the worse for them. The Republicans will come back strong — even with two senators from D.C.!" Perhaps...this tumble started while George W. Bush was in the White House. Franklin Roosevelt continued to invoke the boogey man of Herbert Hoover long after the Depression was his own...

Finally, there is a one-way ratchet in public policy. Liberal reforms are never undone. How hard have conservatives tried to eliminate the Department of Education or subsidies to public television? Would they have more success uncreating a new nationalized health-care system?

An Obama/Pelosi/Reid regime — if it were to get a filibuster-proof majority — will certainly be able to shift the country’s direction sharply to the Left. The only question is — would the shift be permanent?

Joe Biden's Flashbacks

Monique Chartier

... not to a drug incident but to a prior campaign. From Toby Harnden, US Editor of the Telegraph (UK); h/t the Drudge Report.

Joe Biden is enjoying himself so much on the campaign trail that occasionally he gets to thinking he's about to become president. "In a Biden...an Obama-Biden administration," he said during an event at an American Legion hall here in Rochester, New Hampshire this morning, catching himself just in time.

"We know, we know," he responded jovially as the crowd realised what he'd said. "It's hard to get used to. We got his thing the right way."

* * *

Last month at an event in Fort Myers, Florida, he referred to the "Biden administration" before correcting the phrase and adding as he laughed and crossed himself: "Believe me, that wasn't a Freudian slip. Oh Lordy day, I tell ya."

October 13, 2008

On Obama's disarmament priorities

Donald B. Hawthorne

From Power Line:

We are now three weeks out from the presidential election, and so far as I am aware Barack Obama has not been asked a single question about the disarmament credo he sets forth in the video...

Isn't it time for someone who covers politics for a living to ask Obama a few serious questions about this credo? Or for John Mccain to note it?

Watch the video and hear Obama in his own words.


Rubin describes one of the obvious implications of a unilateral disarmament mentality:

Joe Biden said it again today: "We will end this war." Referring to Iraq neither he or Barack Obama ever say "win." They never even say "secure the gains." One hopes they don’t really believe their campaign hooey. They must understand victory is nearly at hand, and all that is required is a patient transition and a deliberate plan for insuring that violence does not resurface, right? We really don’t know, but at some point the rhetoric becomes reality and he, his supporters and the overwhelmingly Democratic Congress will act accordingly.

This all might be a good topic for the final debate: why is "end" always the goal and not "win"? What does that message transmit to our enemies?...

On Obama's healthcare policies

Donald B. Hawthorne

From The Corner:

Obama says we shouldn't allow people to shop for insurance across state lines because some states allow health insurers to exploit nefarious loopholes.

Doesn't this argue for, not against, letting people in shop across state lines to get more favorable coverage?

In other words, if you are trapped in a state where these dubious entities are duping innocent policy holders, shouldn't you have the freedom to get on the Internet and escape to another plan?

Obama is in effect saying no. We have to be trapped in the tangle of our state's regulatory mess even if there is a better deal just over the fence.

I would ask Obama if he supports generic prescription-drug importation. I suspect the answer is yes, in which case he is saying we can get our drugs from Mexico, but we can't get our health insurance from Michigan. Pills from Canada "yes." Policies from Connecticut "no." Does that make any sense?


The Cabinet of Dr. Obama: Dissecting the health care proposals of Obama and McCain

The Dems’ Health-Care Distortions: Seeing through the Obama smokescreen

Obama’s Glass House: It’s his health-care plan that would push people out of job-based coverage


By contrast, McCain in today's Daily Standard:

McCain's remarks on health care in his speech today are worth highlighting: "I will provide every single American family with a $5000 refundable tax credit to help them purchase insurance. Workers who already have health care insurance from their employers will keep it and have more money to cover costs. Workers who don't have health insurance can use it to find a policy anywhere in this country to meet their basic needs."

Few know how ironic it is that post-WWII government actions created the problem in the first place where health insurance was "owned" by your employer instead of the insured person.

Meanwhile, Don Boudreaux shreds E. J. Dionne's equally stupid thinking on healthcare policy.

On Obama's economic and tax policies

Donald B. Hawthorne

From TaxProfBlog, with H/T to Instapundit:

Hundreds of economists (including Nobel Prize winners Gary Becker, James Buchanan, Robert Mundell, Edward Prescott, and Vernon Smith) have signed letters opposing Barack Obama's economic and tax plans (here, here, and here):
We are equally concerned with his proposals to increase tax rates on labor income and investment. His dividend and capital gains tax increases would reduce investment and cut into the savings of millions of Americans. His proposals to increase income and payroll tax rates would discourage the formation and expansion of small businesses and reduce employment and take-home pay, as would his mandates on firms to provide expensive health insurance.

After hearing such economic criticism of his proposals, Barack Obama has apparently suggested to some people that he might postpone his tax increases, perhaps to 2010. But it is a mistake to think that postponing such tax increases would prevent their harmful effect on the economy today. The prospect of such tax rate increases in 2010 is already a drag on the economy. Businesses considering whether to hire workers today and expand their operations have time horizons longer than a year or two, so the prospect of higher taxes starting in 2009 or 2010 reduces hiring and investment in 2008.

Seems like Obama needs to discover Economics 101. From an earlier series I did in 2006, excerpting thoughts from other leading economists:

Part I: What is Economics?
Part II: Myths About Markets
Part III: Why Policy Goals are Trumped by Incentives They Create & the Role of Knowledge in Economics
Part IV: The Abuse of Reason, Fallacies & Dangers of Centralized Planning, Prices & Knowledge, and Understanding Limitations
Part V: The Relationship Between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom
Part VI: More on the Relationship Between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom
Part VII: The Role of Government in a Free Society
Part VIII: The Unspoken, But Very Real, Incentives That Drive Governmental Actions
Part IX: More on the Coercive Role of Government
Part X: The Power of the Market
Part XI: Prices
Part XII: I, Pencil - A Story about the Free Market at Work
Part XIII: It is Individuals - Not the Society, Government or Market - Who Think & Act
Part XIV: On Equality
Part XV: Consequences of Price Controls
Part XVI: The Ethics of Redistribution
Part XVII: What Does "Social Justice" Mean?


The Wall Street Journal's editorial entitled Obama's 95% Illusion: It depends on what the meaning of a 'tax cut' is:

One of Barack Obama's most potent campaign claims is that he'll cut taxes for no less than 95% of "working families." He's even promising to cut taxes enough that the government's tax share of GDP will be no more than 18.2% -- which is lower than it is today. It's a clever pitch, because it lets him pose as a middle-class tax cutter while disguising that he's also proposing one of the largest tax increases ever on the other 5%. But how does he conjure this miracle, especially since more than a third of all Americans already pay no income taxes at all? There are several sleights of hand, but the most creative is to redefine the meaning of "tax cut."

For the Obama Democrats, a tax cut is no longer letting you keep more of what you earn. In their lexicon, a tax cut includes tens of billions of dollars in government handouts that are disguised by the phrase "tax credit." Mr. Obama is proposing to create or expand no fewer than seven such credits for individuals...

Here's the political catch. All but the clean car credit would be "refundable," which is Washington-speak for the fact that you can receive these checks even if you have no income-tax liability. In other words, they are an income transfer -- a federal check -- from taxpayers to nontaxpayers. Once upon a time we called this "welfare"...

There's another catch: Because Mr. Obama's tax credits are phased out as incomes rise, they impose a huge "marginal" tax rate increase on low-income workers...the marginal rate for millions of low- and middle-income workers would spike as they earn more income.

Some families with an income of $40,000 could lose up to 40 cents in vanishing credits for every additional dollar earned from working overtime or taking a new job. As public policy, this is contradictory. The tax credits are sold in the name of "making work pay," but in practice they can be a disincentive to working harder, especially if you're a lower-income couple getting raises of $1,000 or $2,000 a year. One mystery -- among many -- of the McCain campaign is why it has allowed Mr. Obama's 95% illusion to go unanswered.

From The Corner:

The Democrats want another round of tax-rebate checks, in addition to the $100 billion in tax-rebate checks that went out last spring. Democrats are essentially conceding that tax cuts are good for the economy, but they are opposed to the kind of long-term tax relief workers and businesses can count on. They'd rather confiscate your money first, so they can take credit for giving it back. Viewed in this light, it is appropriate that so much of Obama's tax plan consists of "tax credits."

Ed Morrissey writes, "Put it this way: does it cost more to take money from taxpayers and then pay bureaucrats to filter it back to us, or just leave it in our pockets in the first place?"

This is economic amateur hour, all at the expense of small businesses and American families.


Listen to this. It's called socialism.

More on Obama's exchange with the plumber here.


More on Obama's "spread the wealth" statement and a history of taxation in America, including who pays how much right now.


Philip Klein writes about Searching for Obama's 95%:

...It's a claim that the Wall Street Journal editorial board dubbed "Obama's 95% Illusion," noting that more than a third of Americans don't pay any income taxes, and that what Obama's plan does do is offer a raft of subsidies and government payments to individuals and families that he redefines as "tax cuts." His proposal looks more like a redistribution scheme than an honest effort to reduce taxes -- as he revealed on Monday when he told a now famous Ohio plumber that his plan aimed to "spread the wealth around."

So when Plouffe reiterated the 95 percent claim, I asked him a simple question aimed at clarifying whether Obama's tax plan was about cutting rates, or merely handing out government checks. "What rates would actually go down"? I asked.

"Middle class people are going to see, systemically, their taxes reduced, and small businesses," Plouffe responded.

"But what rate would go down for lower-income Americans?" I persisted, seeking more information.

"We'll have to get you the exact details on that," Obama's campaign manager told me.

I followed up, recapping the claim he had just made moments ago: "Well, you said that there's going to be a tax cut on 95 percent, so what rate would go down?"

He replied, "I'll have to get you the exact rate differential."

Given that he wasn't clear on the actual rate changes involved, I asked, "but which type of tax would go down?"

He insisted that under Obama's plan, income taxes would be lower, as well as capital gains taxes on start up businesses and small entrepreneurs (though the capital gains tax would otherwise increase)...

In fairness, politicians long ago began to use the tax code as a tool for crafting social policy rather than merely as a way to raise revenue. Republicans and Democrats alike have abused terms such as "tax credit" and "tax rebate" to make their policy goals more palatable. But Obama is getting away with defining tax cuts so broadly, that future candidates will simply claim any form of increased government spending as a tax cut...

If Barack Obama can effectively claim that his plan cuts taxes on 95 percent of Americans, then the term "tax cut" has no meaning.

On McCain

Donald B. Hawthorne

Jennifer Rubin:

...GOP angst about the McCain team is bubbling over: make character an issue or don't, come up with a comprehensive economic plan or don’t. It’s the indecision and half-heartedness that are so frustrating. Few would quibble with Bill Kristol’s assessment that "it’s really become a pathetic campaign in the sense that there’s no strategy." (It’s tempting to go one step further and "fire the campaign.")...

McCain finally finds the "divided government" argument. It’s a compelling one for Independents who don’t trust either party and have seen Nancy Pelosi in action...

I’m not alone in surmising that McCain’s campaign isn’t about anything because he has no core governing philosophy: "He’s been running for president, more on than off, for almost a decade, but his determination hasn’t had much to do with a highly defined ideology, program or set of policies. What underlies his ambition are values: service, patriotism, duty, honor." That’s all well and good, except if the country needs a defined ideology, program or set of policies to guide us through an economic trauma...

Another Alves Discrepancy

Carroll Andrew Morse

(h/t, Commenter Aldo).

From Talia Buford of the Projo on October 3…

The Supreme Court yesterday ordered the state Board of Elections to recount all ballots cast in the disputed West Warwick Democratic primary race in which political newcomer Michael Pinga defeated state Sen. Stephen D. Alves.

The amended court order mirrors one issued Wednesday in the case of a candidate for state Senate in Warwick, David Bennett, who lost his bid for a place on the November ballot to Erin Lynch in the Sept. 9 primary...

Meanwhile, state Democratic Party Chairman William Lynch Wednesday [October 1] asked the Rhode Island State Police to investigate the registered Republicans who were allowed to vote in the Democratic primaries in both races.

And again from Talia Buford, this time on October 11…
Yesterday, the court gave some insight into its decision. According to Craig Berke, spokesman for the state judiciary, the court withheld its decision on the Alves case because of the call from the state Democratic Party for a state police investigation into the primary. There is no inquiry into the Warwick race.
What is the basis of the Rhode Island State Police investigating one case, but not the other?

The Government Just Allows You to Keep Some Things

Justin Katz

How quickly we could slide into tyranny! All it takes is a perceived need to reveal that human beings are very comfortable asserting government ownership and leveraging its power:

What if Congress suddenly awoke from its spineless ho-hum existence and passed a law that stated that heretofore every American's body would become the property of the federal government immediately upon death. And that all such bodies would be subject to inspection and all suitable organs harvested before the bodies would be returned to the families for burial.

Immediately all waiting lists for organ transplants would become a thing of the past and many new life-saving transplants would be developed. Gone would be a family's long agony as they awaited the availability of a vital organ to preserve the life of a loved one. Gone would be the risk of accepting a borderline organ in fear that a healthy one might not arrive in time. And gone would be the reluctance of doctors to accept older patients into a transplant program, preferring instead to selectively award rare organs to younger people with longer life expectancies.

Of course, the author, George Champagne of Greenville, isn't thinking just transplants. He also lauds the potential for "countless new medical procedures." I imagine sympathizers would also find advantageous the opportunity to inspect every American corpse after death for other reasons.

October 12, 2008

Whoa! Not So Fast Linking Obama to Another Violent Thug

Monique Chartier

(The first was American. This one is African.)

NewsBusters's Kerry Picket asks

When Will The MSM Report On Obama's Support for Kenyan Tyrant Raila Odinga?

In 2006, US Senator Barack Obama went to Kenya (at the expense of the American taxpayer) and campaigned for Raila Odinga, a man running for the presidency of that country. Senator Obama apparently did so because he is a distant cousin of Odinga.

The NewsBusters post refers to an article in today's Washington Times describing the terrible election violence in Kenya carried out by Odinga supporters. That article also reports that Raila Odinga signed a secret Memorandum of Understanding that he would bring Sharia law to Kenya if elected president. The article then goes on to describe in a disapproving tone the campaigning Senator Obama did for Odinga in 2006.

However, the terrible violence which followed Kenya's elections began in December of 2007. And Odinga signed that odious memorandum in August of 2007. So these events took place after Obama had campaigned for Odinga.

In the interest of telling the whole story, we should note here that Mr. Raila Odinga was not a saint even prior to 2006, participating as he had in a violent coup attempt in 1982. Now, should Senator Obama have informed himself fully of his cousin's history before campaigning for him? Probably. If any of us had been contacted by a cousin from the Old Country asking us to assist in his or her run for president, would we have stopped to do some research before flying off? A lot of us probably would not have.

But Obama's failure to know of his cousin's past is not the allegation levelled by NewsBusters, the Washington Times and others. From the same Washington Times article:

Mr. Obama's judgment is seriously called into question when he backs an official with troubling ties to Muslim extremists and whose supporters practice ethnic cleansing and genocide.

What am I missing? Don't we judge people on their actions? How could Senator Obama have judged Odinga or his character on the basis of actions he had not yet committed?

There is enough to criticize about Senator Obama's candidacy and his own history, including but not limited to his deliberately choosing to associate with some shady Americans, without adding the charge that he failed to see into the future of an African cousin.

R.I. Democrat Party: Champion of the Powerful

Monique Chartier

Aren't Democrats supposed to represent the common man? The work-a-day joe? Sure, here we go - from the official website of the Democrat National Committee:

an abiding faith in the judgment of hardworking American families, and a commitment to helping the excluded, the disenfranchised and the poor strengthen our nation by earning themselves a piece of the American Dream.

Why, then, did the Rhode Island Democrat Party step into the Pinga/Alves primary and ask for an investigation by the Rhode Island State Police but not do so for the Lynch/Bennett primary? Identical problems - voting by ineligible Republicans and missing ballot applications - were cited in both elections. In fact, it turned out that these problems were more numerous in the Lynch/Bennett face-off than in the Pinga/Alves contest. Shouldn't the party find all such allegations equally troubling?

Ah, but neither Erin Lynch nor David Bennett currently chairs a finance committee in the General Assembly. Contrary to the goal espoused by its national committee, it appears that the Rhode Island Democrat Party is committed to helping only the powerful and the entrenched.

Creating a Void, or Filling a Vacancy?

Justin Katz

I just caught a few moments of Beyond the Politics with Bill Bennett, and on a question pertaining to the government's tendency to usurp the powers of civil institutions, black leftist academic Cornel West argued that the two could enhance each other, "if its done right." What's needed to make the difference, according to West, is strong leadership.

The obvious conservative response is to note that definitions of strength and leadership are subjective. However, even those who believe that their own views will be reflected in the applied force of a pervasive government ought to pause for reflection and consider process. How does one implement a system that places just the right leadership in just the right position to conduct the government-society cooperative? Given human nature, I'd suggest that it can't be done.

One approach would be to give those currently in power the authority to reach deep into the culture to shape its progression and then push better leaders into position. Clearly, though, the more strength granted to incumbents, the more difficult it is to give that strength to somebody else.

Another approach would be to find the Great Leaders, bring them to power, and then unleash their fabulosity. The problem here is that the momentum of the intention would attract charlatans and invite corruption, tainting the future government from the start. Moreover, mortality and the gravity of concentrated power being what they are, the Golden Honeymoon will necessarily be temporary, leaving a pool of power available for the claiming.

Looking Too Closely to See the Reality

Justin Katz

On one level, Tom Sgouros's attempted proof that the Laffer Curve can't be accurate is rhetorically ludicrous:

Let's go to the numbers. The corporate tax is 9% of income and is paid by about 2,500 corporations. Not counting the companies who pay the $500 minimum (44,000 of them!), this tax raised $134 million in 2007. Were we to trim it to 8%, we'd need to raise $14 million in new revenues to make the cut pay for itself. Counting income and corporate taxes, that's the equivalent of 130 new companies with income of around half a million each, and with an average payroll of more than $2 million. Do you think this is a likely outcome of a small cut in one tax?

What about the income tax? Rhode Islanders earn around $40 billion a year these days. Out of that, we pay about $1 billion in income tax each year. In order for a 5% cut in the income tax to pay for itself, it would have to cause a 5% rise in personal income, roughly equivalent to the growth rate in 2003 and 2004. But ask yourself: what effect would a 5% cut in your state income tax have on you?

If you're part of a family earning around $75,000, a 5% cut in your income tax will be worth around $100. That's going to net a lot of economic stimulus, isn't it? Maybe you expect more rich people to move in, or put your hopes on the merchants and tradespeople they pay to re-spend the money they receive (the "multiplier")? Well, if we were actually an island, if nobody put their tax cut in the bank, if everyone spent it all as fast as they could on local businesses and if five hundred really rich people moved in because of the cut, then there'd be a fighting chance of making it pay for itself. Maybe. A larger cut would require a larger effect. Applied to the real world of Rhode Island's taxes, the whole proposition is completely absurd, but it so often comes masked in economic gobbledy-gook that people are routinely taken in.

Regarding the first paragraph, on what experiential basis does Sgouros expect his readers to answer his question? Will a 1% lower tax rate generate specifically $14 million dollars? I don't know, but I'd remind Sgouros that not every source of additional revenue has to be "new companies"; that percentage decrease in taxation (although clearly too small, in my estimation) might be the determining factor for some multimillion-dollar businesses to shift or add operations in the state.

Regarding the second paragraph, note the inconsistency in Sgouros's handling: With the corporate tax, he wants us to consider the hugeness of aggregate amounts; with the income tax, he wants us to consider the smallness of effects on the individual family. Nice trick, but his mocking the amount of economic stimulus would seem less credible if stated in the context of a new $50 million in disposable income pumped into the state's economy.

On a related note, the fact that Sgouros ignores the sales tax points to the larger issue at hand — namely, the state's business and commerce environment:

According to the 2008 U.S. Economic Freedom Index from the Pacific Research Institute, which measures how friendly or unfriendly state government policies are toward free enterprise and consumer choice, the northeast region of the country continues to lag behind the rest of the United States. New York stood out as the most economically oppressive state for the third time in a row.

Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont all ranked in the bottom 10. Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut came out slightly ahead, ranking 33, 35 and 39, respectively.

The lesson of the Laffer Curve is that taxation is an active force in the economy, not some disconnected stream, and when taxation discourages economic transactions, as it does in Rhode Island, it has counter-intuitive results

A Consequence of Pulled Strings

Justin Katz

If, after all of the technicalities are applied, Stephen Alves returns to his seat in the Rhode Island Senate, Rhode Islanders ought to take it as a final straw:

Yesterday, the court gave some insight into its decision. According to Craig Berke, spokesman for the state judiciary, the court withheld its decision on the Alves case because of the call from the state Democratic Party for a state police investigation into the primary. There is no inquiry into the Warwick race.

"The Supreme Court cannot act on the District 9 race at this stage of review by law enforcement, a review that has become public knowledge," Berke said.

The state police said earlier that they were inquiring into the primary, but had not launched a full investigation. On Thursday evening, troopers did speak to selected residents of Msgr. Deangelis Manor in West Warwick to ask them whether they voted in the primary, residents said.

In fewer words, at Democrat leaders' request, the state police are knocking on doors, feeling out the situation (and, I imagine, intimidating voters), so the Supreme Court postponed its decision until after the deadline that would avoid the entire electoral system's being disrupted. Citizens should not take this lightly, and our rulers should know that they're playing with fire.


For clarification: My parenthetical about intimidated voters wasn't meant to suggest any particular behavior on the part of police. I imagine, however, that having state police show up at one's door for some form of inquiry is an intimidating experience of itself.

Ruling the Culture from the Bench

Justin Katz

Same-sex marriage advocates can make erroneous emotional appeals to Americans' sense of equality, but the pattern that Connecticut's Supreme Court further solidified will have broad and oppressive consequences:

Striking at the heart of discriminatory traditions in America, the court — in language that often rose above the legal landscape into realms of social justice for a new century — recalled that laws in the not-so-distant past barred interracial marriages, excluded women from occupations and official duties, and relegated blacks to separate but supposedly equal public facilities.

"Like these once prevalent views, our conventional understanding of marriage must yield to a more contemporary appreciation of the rights entitled to constitutional protection," Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote for the majority in a 4-to-3 decision that explored the nature of homosexual identity, the history of societal views toward homosexuality and the limits of gay political power compared with that of blacks and women.

The small minority imposed philosophy, rather than interpreted law: from the deliberate elision of factual differences between male-female relationships and same-sex relationships to the self-aggrandizing attempt to be a history maker to the presumption of writing "contemporary appreciations" into law.

At a time when our culture should be fortifying its cultural building blocks, the segment of society that assumes its own moral and intellectual superiority not only over the rest of us, but over all of Western tradition, is instead intent on recreating the world in its own image.

October 11, 2008

The Drama of Steyn

Justin Katz

Have I mentioned that I'm glad to see Mark Steyn columns again? With his latest, I laughed:

Gaze into the giant zero of the Obama logo, the hole in the star-spangled donut, the vast fathomless nullity that is the gaping keyhole to the door of utopia. To a sad shriveled Republican cynic, there's nothing there but the wide open spaces of Obama's blank resume. But a believer will see therein the healing of the planet and the receding of the oceans. The black hole of Obama will suck you in through the awesome power of its totally cool suckiness.

I cried:

Epic events swirled all around, but the two men fighting to lead the global superpower could only joust with cardboard swords: Why, Obama was such a bold leader on this issue that only two years ago he "sent a letter" to somebody or other. Why, long before Obama sent his letter, McCain "issued a statement." Rarely has the gulf between interesting times and the paperwork of "big government" yawned so widely.

I screamed:

If the more frightening polls are correct, America is about to elect the most left-wing government in history: an Obama Oval Office, a Pelosi House of Representatives, a filibuster-proof Senate and a year or two down the road maybe three new Supreme Court justices. It would be a transformational Administration that would start building (in Michelle Obama's words) "the world as it should be." That big empty hole in the heart of the Obama logo will not stay blank for long.

Still Not Understanding Governance

Justin Katz

This has been floating around my inbox for a few weeks because it's worth noting, but I'm not sure how much there is to say about it:

Saying that the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission is not effectively doing its job of implementing and enforcing reasonable rates for consumers, Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Smithfield) is calling for the disbandment of the commission.

Senator Tassoni said next session he plans to introduce legislation, which is already being drafted, that would disband the PUC and require the commission to be regulated through the General Assembly. ...

"Members of the Assembly are elected by their constituents to represent their best interests. However, consumers have no say in who is appointed to the PUC, a body that determines how much they're going to pay for electricity and natural gas and in many cases, whether they're going to be able to put food on the table for their families. Our current system just doesn't make sense. Legislators are the ones who are out in the communities, hearing about how these inflated utility costs are hurting consumers. Therefore, it should be our responsibility to regulate the utility rates that affect our constituents."

Well, one thing is obvious: Mr. Tassoni could use a seminar on the concept of separation of powers. The PUC is currently appointed by the governor "with the advice and consent of the Senate." In other words, it is ultimately accountable to voters, but with a degree of separation to prevent economically unfeasible demands from being imposed on the energy industry in the state.

Once again, though, we see the socialist impulse: "Oh, just let me decide!" And all those who agree with the intended outcome (or who drool for a pool of power in which they can strive to dip their hands) pant in agreement.

When Bullying Is What We Can't Do Individually

Justin Katz

Soon-to-be-former Town Councilor Brian Medeiros (who isn't running to maintain his seat) expresses a potentially alarming notion about governance:

Government is supposed to help us all do things we can't do individually.

If he's talking about communal defense against plausible military attack, then I'd agree. If he's talking about making teachers into an unaccountable class with disproportionate earnings and benefits, then I disagree. The point is that humanity developed societies to accomplish its larger, more complicated goals, but government and society are not synonymous. Some communal tasks are best assigned to families, to businesses, to religions, to cultural institutions.

It's particularly galling to hear a town councilor's protestation that we should have "an honest, respectful debate about what kind of town we want to live in" mere months after the body of which he is a part subverted public confidence in our financial procedures in order to pass a budget that faced tangible opposition. It's difficult to take seriously admonitions to work together as a community in order to avoid the loss of services when the local government maintains the character of the town — as they call it — by rezoning swaths of land to forbid commercial development and then leverages procedural technicalities to brush off applications submitted hastily to beat the zoning switch.

I kid you not that there's a local political action committee (PAC) that calls itself the Alliance to Preserve Tiverton's Quality. From my place in the working class quarters, that sounds like a group advocating on behalf of "quality" residents to ensure aesthetic lifeboats from our sinking economy. In that spirit, thwarting developers and squeezing ever more tax dollars out of residents is something that those pulling town levers couldn't accomplish individually.

October 10, 2008

Argument by Example

Justin Katz

John's comment to my "Not a Trick Question, but Close" post is well worth a read:

Let me use a real life, real RI example to rebut your argument. Let's assume that your theoretical factory owner in fact owned a jewelry factory. Now let's look at what happened to his economics over the past decade. As an economist would say, they were "non-stationary" -- there was a major structural break called the entry of China into the global economy, followed closely by radical fall in the cost of communications and computing. Now what did this mean to our jewelry factory in Pawtucket?

First, our factory owner now faced competitors who had drastically lower wage costs. Second, many Asian competitors had invested in the latest generation of equipment. For example, such equipment enabled them to translate designs into finished products much more quickly. Third, the odds are quite high that the Asian (read Chinese) competitors probably had a more educated workforce.

The result was superior productivity and time to market on the part of Chinese competitors, which translated into brutal competition for our Pawtucket based jewelry factory. Rather than raising their wages to the "living wage" you propose, most of them went out of business instead.

Now I know what you will say at this point. The difference is all about China's weaker environmental laws, labor laws and undervalued exchange rate.

And I say to you: not true. You could raise the level of environmental compliance in the Chinese factory to Western standards, and the productivity difference alone would sill give them an incredible pricing advantage. Evidence? Most Western countries operating in China (due to pressure from their shareholders, the media, watchdog groups and the like) actually comply with Chinese environmental laws (unlike many of the locals) -- and China's environmental laws, on paper at least, are quite stringent. Actually most Western companies have to comply with global company standards, which are generally even more strict. But do you see this additional cost driving those companies from China? No, you don't.

Ditto for the labor laws. Western companies in China actually do quite a good job treating their workers -- if they didn't, the NYT would be writing front page stories about it. But here's what they don't report (often enough): the relatively stunning level of education and training available in huge quantities in India and China. I know of a global chemical company with a plant in India where all the first line operators are degreed chemical engineers. Think about that. And guess which of this company's plants is number one in productivity and quality on its internal benchmarking charts? Right -- the one in India.

Finally, let's look at your inevitable argument that our Pawtucket factory owner can't offer a living wage to his workers (or keep them employed at all) because China undervalues it exchange rate. I will not deny that this has happened, as part of China's strategy (the same one used by other Asian countries) to rapidly grow its economy via exports. But if you take the IMF's analysis of where an equilibrium exchange rate for the Renminbi might lie, and you then impose it on the Chinese company's cost structure, guess what? The Chinese company is still more than competitive because of its superior productivity, which is enabled by newer capital and better educated workers.

So turning back the clock a bit, was there anything our factory owner in Pawtucket could have done to preserve jobs and, in Matt's wildest dreams, pay the mythical living wage?

Since some companies have successfully competed against Chinese competitors, it is obvious that the answer is yes. Our factory owner could have invested in new equipment, or, over time, built strong customer relationships (e.g., based on integrated IT enabled supply chains), funded in renminbi denominated debt, and focused on improving productivity.

But the more important question is whether this would have been possible in RI, as opposed to, say, North Carolina. Capital investment per worker across multiple industries in RI has long been among the lowest in the country. Why? Part of the reason has been high energy and tax costs, which depress the return on capital and thereby discourage new investment. Improving worker productivity requires highly educated workers as well as superior equipment and organizational changes. RI's public schools have done a terrible job at creating a highly educated workforce, while its high costs and taxes have discouraged highly productive workers from moving here.

Finally, it is also likely that our Pawtucket factory owner had what I call the "RI attitude." Top down, command and control, I'm in this for myself, I know a guy, etc. Basically, the antithesis of what modern management researchers say is the attitude needed to compete in today's world. So, even if the superior equipment and educated workforce was there, I'm not sure our factory owner would have been capable of the organizational change required to maximize productivity. Why not just suck out as much profit as you can and then, like so many other private and public sector workers, retire to Florida? The cynicism bred by RI's highly dysfunctional political culture has inevitably infected the private sector here too -- just ask any business person who has moved to RI from another state, and wondered what time warp they hit.

Finally, Matt, let's make the further assumption that our factory in Pawtucket is a public company, whose CEO decides to tell his shareholders that he is going to cut their returns in order to pay workers a "living wage", despite the competitive conditions facing the company. How long do you think it would be before he or she was fired? With institutional investors (like those from union and public sector -- who, in order to pay pension benefits, must earn high returns) leading the charge?

Matt, there is a word for all this: it is called "reality." But don't take it from me. Call your father, and ask him where he disagrees with what I've written.

Basically, your writing provides consistent evidence that you don't have a clue about what goes on in the private sector, whose struggles you degrade and whose success you seem to deeply resent.

Northern Exposure

Marc Comtois

In the wayback, I kinda enjoyed Northern Exposure, especially the quirky Alaskan Maggie O'Connell as portrayed by Janine Turner. Turner is a big Sarah Palin fan, pro-life and conservative.

I was always so proud to portray the spunky, self-reliant, smart Maggie O’Connell. Maggie flew her own plane, shot her own moose, marched to the beat of her own drum. She was a breakthrough television character at the time. I am very flattered when the comparisons are made between Maggie O’Connell and Governor Palin. I created a character, but Governor Palin is the real deal.

I am supporting Governor Palin with pride. I actually cried when I heard she was nominated and heard her acceptance speech via Fox News XM radio. (I was driving to Austin to film Friday Night Lights). I am supporting and applauding her character, moral fiber, intellect, feistiness, and spunk. She is the essence of the independent spirit of America — the pioneer spirit — the type of spirit that made and makes America great. I have always supported Senator McCain, and I am sure I would have supported his vice-presidential candidate, but Governor Palin has really motivated me. I am making public/press appearances to rally support for her ( Inside Edition, ABC News, Bill Bennett radio, etc) and I am also sporting a McCain/Palin bumper sticker on my car — which I am driving onto the FNL set) and wearing my McCain-Palin hat around town. I have also joined a fabulous group of women in a movement called, “Team Sarah” dedicated to advancing and defending Gov. Palin’s candidacy.

To preempt commenter "Rhody," there goes the Hollywood left-wing conspiracy.... (Though the east-coast intellectual one is alive and well).

Anyway, I'm heading north to Maine for the weekend and will be getting some northern exposure myself. It'll be interesting to hear how "my" people view the election up there. As a native, I can tell you that "real" Mainers--ie; not the transplants living around Portland--are an iconoclastic, independent-minded bunch (Perot did very well up there in '92). They don't have much time for a slick guy like Obama and they'll lend a sympathetic ear to John McCain. Not for nuthin' does the McCain camp consider Maine's 2nd district up for grabs. I'll see if there's any merit in that idea.

Pinga/Alves: Rhode Island Supreme Court's Fatal - yet Inadvertant? - Inaction

Monique Chartier

In view of the stunning effect - the voiding of an election - of their non-action yesterday in the matter of Stephen Alves' request for a new election, I wonder if the RI Supreme Court was simply unaware in pragmatic terms of the effect of their decision in the context of dates and ballot printing deadlines.

The cutoff date for printing ballots seems to be October 20. Accordingly, whatever happens at that hearing before the Supreme Court on October 23 matters not. However they eventually decide - even if they uphold the three ballot counts and the ruling by the BOE - another primary election will have to be held. (It should be noted, though it is a secondary consideration at this point, that another general election will also have to be held.)

The Supreme Court, then, would be giving the losing candidate a do-over. With no factual reason to do so, they would be stepping into a duly held election with a winner recognized by the duly appointed authority and ordering that a second election take place.

"No factual reason". Let's review that. The smallest margin by which Michael Pinga won any of the ballot counts was seventeen. The West Warwick Board of Canvassers has stated that possibly up to ten Republicans may have voted in this Democrat primary. Further, there are apparently three ballots for which signature cards cannot be found. Set aside the fact that these irregularities, presumed to be clerical and accidental, were found acceptable in the Lynch/Bennett race, not to mention in so many other elections. More fundamentally, those thirteen ballots are insufficient to make up Mr. Alves' vote deficit.

In short, it is not that there is a flimsy basis to revisit this election. It is that there is no basis to do so.

And this is the crux of the matter. The RI Supreme Court is now being criticized for interceding, with no basis whatsoever, in a fundamental and critically important democratic process and for doing so deliberately.

This I refuse to believe. This was not done knowingly. It is some sort of terrible misunderstanding - once again, probably clerical in nature - on the part of the honorable court. It is easily and swiftly remedied.

Denying Separation

Justin Katz

No doubt, many of us find ourselves impeded by the finer points of legalistic legerdemain, but is it possible to see the argument put forward by the RI House of Representative's lawyer on the matter of Separation of Powers and the Coastal Resources Management Council as anything other than specious?

Lawyer Sandra Lanni, representing House leaders, argued that the coastal council is not a core part of the executive branch, as for instance, is the Department of Administration.

Rather, she said, it is special and independent, a creation of the legislature to fulfill its responsibilities to protect and regulate the coastal areas.

"There is a difference between a body that exercises some executive functions and one that has executive powers," Lanni said. "As government has become more complex, we have all of these boards and agencies to help the legislature do its job.

"This is a case where the legislature has taken some of its powers and delegated them to an independent agency which operates in a nonpartisan way," Lanni said. "This creates an independent regulatory agency which clearly crosses boundaries."

Helping the legislature do its job means helping it to reshape the laws to the benefit of Rhode Island. Putting those laws into action by forming specific policies and applying regulations is an executive function. It would be different if, for example, the CRMC were charged by the legislature to review the effects of policies and regulations and recommend changes to the law. But that is not its role; its role is so clearly a function that the Separation of Powers amendment removed from the grip of the General Assembly that only Rhode Island's leaders could make it seem opaque.

Trying Different Things unto Socialism

Justin Katz

Yeah, I gotta vote "no" on this one:

Having tried without success to unlock frozen credit markets, the Treasury Department is considering taking ownership stakes in many United States banks to try to restore confidence in the financial system, according to government officials.

Treasury officials say the just-passed $700 billion bailout bill gives them the authority to inject cash directly into banks that request it. Such a move would quickly strengthen banks' balance sheets and, officials hope, persuade them to resume lending. In return, the law gives the Treasury the right to take ownership positions in banks, including healthy ones.

The Treasury plan was still preliminary and it was unclear how the process would work, but it appeared that it would be voluntary for banks.

"Restore confidence" is another way of saying "promise public backing and rescue." That's exactly what created the environment in which Fannie and Freddie allowed things to get so out of whack.

If we're not going to let the market be the market, then give a quick infusion of cash, with some strings ensuring repayment to the government, and leave it alone. You can't cure a sickness with more of the same poison.

Not a Trick Question, but Close

Justin Katz

Asks Matt Jerzyk in a comment to a previous post:

Is it too much to ask for that American workers who work full time be paid a living wage with affordable and accessible health insurance?

Well... yes. The reality is that we can't just wish and make it so. Like it or not, every job has an economic value to society, and overvaluing it is like undervaluing gravity: You leap, but you fall.

It goes without saying that each of us will disagree with particular results of the complicated interplay that determines the worth of a particular task. Head Start employees ought to be well compensated, I'd say, but the way to work toward that end is to advocate for more money (not discounting private donations) and to institute a system that creates the necessary wealth. Trying to manipulate things in the other direction — starting with the salaries — is sure to do harm.

Rhode Island is just about as clear of a test case as one is apt to find. The state has developed a dire mandate to attract productive people and to encourage economic activity. We need to streamline government and increase the money and the opportunity that private citizens and businesses have in play. A failure to do so will mean less and less money available for Head Start (for one), whether the employees are unionized or not. If they're unionized they and the organization will just have less flexibility to deal with financial reality.

More troubling thoughts about the One

Donald B. Hawthorne

Charles Krauthammer on Obama & Friends: Judge Not?.

Kimberly Strassel on Obama's Magic.

Mark Halperin interviews Obama spokesman Gibbs about when Obama knew about Ayers' terrorist past. Andy McCarthy has more and Jonah Goldberg adds these thoughts.

[ADDENDUM: Andy McCarthy puts the Ayers matter in perspective, elaborating on its implications for Obama.]

Washington Times on Obama's apparent efforts to undermine Iraqi negotiations.

Don't forget Marc's recent post about ACORN. More here.

It also looks like Obama belonged to a Socialist party just last decade. Contrast the media's lack of interest about it versus the fake story about Palin and the Independent Party of Alaska.

More from Andy McCarthy about Obama here. Jonah Goldberg adds more thoughts here.

Jay Nordlinger reflects on the situation here, here, and here.

All of which is why I enjoy reading Don Boudreaux.

October 9, 2008

And the Alves Beat Goes On

Justin Katz

RI Supreme Court, according to script:

The state Supreme Court has deferred a decision in the case brought by Stephen D. Alves in West Warwick's Senate District 9 until Oct. 23, according to Armando E. Batastini, lawyer for Alves' Democratic primary opponent Michael J. Pinga. The court denied the identical request for a new primary election in Warwick Senate District 31 between David A. Bennett and Erin P. Lynch.

One would think the court would want to get election-related matters wrapped up as soon as possible (what with the election looming in just a few weeks). The odor is thick around this one. As Aldo writes in the comments:

As expected, the Williams' Court has once again demonstrated they don't base their decisions on the law or justice but on political expediency!

In the Alves / Pinga Appeal, they've put off any action until 23 Oct.

This is three days after the date that RI Board of Elections' Executive Director Bob Kando has stated is the deadline for printing and mailing ballots to military and other absentee voters, the Supreme Court has effectively denied the military a vote in the November 4th General Election. Why a two week delay? This isn't a priority? They have placed their own convenience above that of our troops overseas.

Another issue is that when the BOE's decision certifying Pinga as the winner becomes final, Pinga then becomes the "endorsed" candidate of the "Democratic" party and would benefit from the straight ticket vote.

Something that would prove absolutely devastating to any attempt by Alves to mount a write in campaign.

A Sincere Question from the Other Side

Justin Katz

Putting aside my biases, I truly do wonder: Do folks who are voting to unionize — as have five Providence-region Head Start faculties — ever ask themselves from where the money will come, or do they just decide that they need an organization protecting their interests, without giving much consideration to the hows and wherefores?

Conservatives at RISD?

Marc Comtois

Apparently, conservatives can be found everywhere, even at RISD (via Ian).

Zach Brown, founder and president of RISD Conservatives and a sophomore illustration major, said, “I became politically involved once I came to college because I was constantly being fed liberal propaganda.”

Brown, who considers Ronald Reagan his personal hero, described Rhode Island School of Design as an “isolated environment which attracts mostly liberal students and faculty. RISD is a haven for extremely left-wing ideology.”

School policy mandates student groups must have a faculty sponsor to become an officially-recognized club. Leaders of the new, student group said there are currently no known conservative faculty members at the school, but the students hope to find a professor who values diversity of thought and will consent to be their sponsor.

“Students and professors at RISD are extremely open-minded, until you disagree with them,” Brown explained. “If you do, you are either wrong or a redneck hillbilly.”

Brown compared being conservative on a modern college campus to being a suspected Communist during the Red Scare: “It seems like a similar situation to the Hollywood blacklisting of the late 1940s and 50s.”

Mitigating Circumstances?

Marc Comtois

I don't know anything other than what's reported below, but this strikes me as heavy-handed, no?

A 20-year-old woman pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty charges this morning after authorities accused her of muzzling her two pit bulls and abandoning them in an apartment before she went to a hospital to give birth.

Judge Jeanne E. LaFazia in District Court, Warwick, ordered Diana Tetrault to have a mental-health screening and released her on $2,000 personal recognizance, according to a clerk.

Tetrault is scheduled to return to District Court on Oct. 24 for a pretrial conference.

Johnston’s animal control officer found one of the pit bulls leashed to a closet door in Tetrault’s second-floor apartment on Sept. 26, according to police Maj. Ralph Bubar III. At the time Tetrault was in Women & Infants Hospital after having given birth.

The other pit bull was caged in the kitchen at 28 Osgood Ave., he said. Neither animal had food or water, he said.

At the time, residents in the apartment house said they hadn’t seen anyone visit the second-floor apartment since the morning of Sept. 23.

The two dogs remain in the custody of the Johnston Police Department, which placed them at the Providence Animal Rescue League.

The Department of Children Youth and Families received notification of Tetrault’s arrest and the alleged abuse.
{emphasis added}

Gee, where were her priorities?

Extrapolating Alves

Justin Katz

With foreboding of a procedural mess of a national election, something in yesterday's Stephen Alves story indicates a perverse incentive (emphasis added):

The change in the number of Republicans does not change Alves' argument, Taveras said last night. In addition to the 15 questionable ballots cited by the Town Clerk, he says three ballots were cast that had no signed ballot application. By his count, the number of questionable ballots is still 18.

"This is no different," Taveras said. "They should have all been provisional and not been counted pursuant to existing law."

The Town Clerk has released the names of the 10 voters who are registered Republicans, according to the canvassers' records.

In addition to King, Susan L. Harris, Angela Gonsalves, and Anne Helmstetter all said last night that they had disaffiliated after voting in Republican primaries two years ago. Of those who disclosed their votes, three said they voted for Alves.

So, it would seem that encouraging voters of questionable stripe to vote is a win-win calculation for a candidate. If the vote stands, he or she gets the tally mark; if it does not stand, he or she gets an excuse to request a revote (or some other action originating with the judiciary).

The Mayor's Call to Close the Pension Loophole is Welcome But ...

Monique Chartier

... does anyone else have the impression that he wouldn't be quite so indignant about the Providence Pension Board's decision or quite so passionate about excluding future convicts from receiving a municipal pension if Frank Corrente had been a member of his rather than the prior administration?

Mayor David N. Cicilline wants the City Council to change an ordinance in order to bar city employees who serve time for corruption from getting taxpayer-subsidized pensions. And the mayor said he has retained a lawyer to try to stop a former City Hall official from collecting pension.

The mayor's office said today the submitted proposal is prompted by the city Retirement Board's recent decision to award a partial pension to Frank E. Corrente -- once a top official in former Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr.'s administration -- who was convicted for racketeering, conspiracy and attempted extortion as a result of the Operation Plunder Dome probe at City Hall.

Talking Over the Outro

Justin Katz

Given so much negativity floating around, I was happy to offer some long-view optimism last night on the Matt Allen Show on 630AM/99.7FM WPRO. Boring debates, inept candidates, and the end of the world are certainly worthy justification for talking over the outro as the academy seeks to usher one off the stage. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

October 8, 2008

Today's Peculiar Statement on RI Future

Justin Katz

Even beyond the implicit suggestion that a change of the credit score system ought to be imposed, it's very clear from the following that Matt Jerzyk and Co. see the world very differently than I do at the basic level of the brain's first impressions:

Shouldn't there be some kind of financial reward for those Americans who chose NOT to be a part of the housing bubble (and lived within their means and didn't use the house like a credit card)?

Isn't the reward that they aren't left holding over-priced assets that they can't afford?

Don't Count the Turtle Out of the Race, Yet

Justin Katz

As Anthony pointed out at the tail-end of our debate blog, a new Zogby poll shows Obama's margin shrinking. Of particular note is that his lead went entirely into the "Others/Not sure" column. That's why I'm not buying the spin that McCain had to do very well last night (even though the poll was conducted before the debate).

In all political races, and to an exponential degree with Obama, the storyline is the thing. Obama's storyline is the lightning flash of The New, and in these debates, he sounds like nothing so much as a run-of-the-mill candidate. His negativity and egregious anti-Bush partisanship won't help.

John McCain, on the other hand, is the steady hand (albeit connected with an often wrongheaded mind). Nobody expects him to do well in these debates. His image is entirely consistent with a bit of awkwardness at the nuts and bolts of campaigning.

Put slightly differently, if the broadest mood of the electorate is fatigue with Washington, smooth campaigning could prove to be a detriment during the general election's slide toward the middle.

This Pinga/Alves Moment Brought to You by the Numbers Ten and Fifteen

Monique Chartier

When the RI Supreme Court decides tomorrow whether to take Senator Stephen Alves' appeal for a do-over of the September 9 Democrat primary, perhaps we can also learn the source of the senator's quizzical statement that fifteen Republicans voted in that election.

Alves has asked the state Supreme Court to order an entirely new election. His appeal is based on 18 questionable ballots that were cast in the primary election — 15 of which were cast by Republicans voting in the Democratic primary. And there were three fewer signed voter forms than there were ballots cast.

In fact, the West Warwick Board of Canvassers has officially stated that only ten Republicans voted in that primary.

Are those five phantom voters the manifestation of some repressed regret on the part of Senator Alves who perhaps feels more strongly about staying in office than he has publicly disclaimed?

Popping My Head Up

Marc Comtois

For those wondering, yes, I'm still around, but priorities are elsewhere at the moment (nothing wrong, just a temporary shift in priorities). I'm keeping up with the news, if not my commentary (no great loss, that, I hear some saying). FWIW, some scattered thoughts....

I watched the first 15 minutes of last night's debate and switched. Boring stuff. If you haven't made up your mind yet, and are relying on that sort of spectacle to help, well, good luck. Heck, if you haven't made up your mind yet, what kind of mind do you have! (Why do I suspect that a lot of the undecided's simply like the attention? Is that a bit too cynical?). Nevertheless, does it worry anyone--on either side--that every election year we end up counting on the decision-making process of those who can't make up their mind on a matter as important as this---until the last minute?

On the broader election, I'm still where I've been for about a year: we're truly looking for the least worst guy this time around. None of us should be under the illusion that problems will be solved in Washington, either by a grumpy old guy or a charismatic young cipher. Given that, since it looks like the Democrats will surely hold onto the House and Senate, I’m worried about the candy store that will open with a President Obama in office, too. A President McCain with a Democratic Congress probably won’t "help" us much. At this point, I think that’s the best we can hope for.

If the 6 years from 2000 to 2006 taught us anything, it is that having one political party (the GOP, supposedly the party of “small government”) in control of both Congress and the Presidency is not in the best interest of the country. They may have a good year, or two, but eventually they will focus more on keeping power than on legislating. It's human nature, I guess. In the eyes of the average American, less partisan voter, President Clinton and a Democratic Congress overreached in the '90s and President Bush and a Republican Congress eventually did the same. They did so because they convinced themselves that they needed to compromise their principles for the short term so that their long term ideas could be put into effect. Instead, they got locked into that short-term thinking and the American voters turned them out. Should Obama win with a Democratic Congress, it'll probably happen again. So perhaps the most effective way to mitigate the damage is to ensure that one party doesn’t control it all from the outset.

I see ProJo editor Robert Whitcomb has entered the blogosphere with This New England. Interesting given his recent take on the ills of the internet in today's society. Welcome, Bob!

Given our local, and the national, economy, none of us should be surprised that state revenues are down. My only question is if that means State spending will follow, or taxes will go up. How long can the Democratic legislature deny their natural inclination? Be ready.

Camille Paglia has an interesting read on Sarah Palin.

Red Sox in 6.

Finally, thanks to my fellow AR bloggers for carrying me along for the last few weeks.

Lessons in the Muck

Justin Katz

To the surprise of few readers, I'm sure, after just the first quarter, Rhode Island is now more than $50 million behind its budget. (I'll stick with my $150 million prediction for the mid-year review.) There is, however one interesting bit of information in the disheartening revenue picture (emphasis added):

The state derives its revenues from taxes and a myriad of other sources, including federal aid, licensing fees and departmental revenues which include the state Lottery. And some were up, including cigarette tax collections, which the state's chief revenue analyst Paul Dion attributes to a hike this past summer in neighboring Massachusetts, where the cigarette tax is now $2.51, compared with $2.46 in Rhode Island. Dion pegged the average price of a brand-name pack of cigarettes at $7.09 there, $6.10 here. He believes the disparity in tax rates, minimum markups and price accounts for the $1 million-over-estimate surge here. Alcohol taxes were also up.

Do you suppose cigarettes are the only product, good, or service to which this dynamic applies?

Scenes of Rhode Island

Engaged Citizen


A reader sent in the following, and it took us some time to consider what steps to take — the difficulty being a request for anonymity. Given the whistleblower tinge of such notes, we thought it acceptable, provided the threshold is higher against personal attacks and unalloyed opinion.

We welcome future submissions along this line.

Well, I finally figured it out.

Every weekday I take the Gano Street exit off of the new I-Way (or the Suicide-Way as it's called since it came out that Rhode Island had been fined because it didn't inspect the concrete). Everyday I see a young woman working for the Department of Transportation standing by her truck at the end of the exit ramp. She stands, or leans, by her truck and watches us go by.

She is located at the end of the Gano Street exit ramp where a stop sign allows us to enter the new section of road. We stop at a "T" but there are no other vehicles coming or going from any other direction because it is a new road and doesn't go anywhere yet.

I looked at the payroll and see that the average semi-skilled or level 1 operator for the Department of Transportation is $34,869. And that doesn't include healthcare ($14,000) and pension. Why on earth, when we are all struggling to make ends meet, do we spend tens of thousands of dollars to have someone stand at the end of an exit ramp and watch cars go by?

But today I got it. I finally figured out why we spend that money. Today, the woman in question finally worked. She stepped out from beside her truck and carried another stop sign (different from the one posted at the end of the exit ramp) and held it in front of my car while a work truck went by.

So, there you have it. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation does not hire truck drivers who are capable of navigating around traffic so we have to hire assistants to make sure they don't run into us. Hopefully, the DOT is saving enough money by hiring these less-skilled drivers so to afford the assistants.

A Welcome Idea

Justin Katz

I can't say I've got a problem with this:

So you think junior is a little too lead-footed when he drives the family car? Starting next year, Ford Motor Co. will give you the power to do something about it.

The company will roll out a new feature on many 2010 models that can limit teen drivers to 80 mph, using a computer chip in the key.

Parents also have the option of programming the teen's key to limit the audio system's volume, and to sound continuous alerts if the driver doesn't wear a seat belt.

Of course, nothing beats prior education and trust, but my teenage years were a testament to the case-by-case ineffectuality of that strategy.

October 7, 2008

Group Liveblog: McCain v. Obama Debate II

Engaged Citizen

Given the mildly confusing results of our improvised group liveblogging of the vice presidential debate, we thought to try something a bit different this time around: We're going to liveblog in the comments to this post, which has the added benefit of allowing you to participate. Please note, though, that we'll likely be more particular about what comments we allow in such circumstances.

Click here to follow and partake of the discussion.

It's Your Duty to Pay More

Justin Katz

In principle, the "buy local" attitude is wonderful, but would it have been too much for state Representative Richard Singleton (I, Cumberland) to spare a sentence or two urging his fellow legislators to take a look at any policies that encourage the "strange attitude" of shopping elsewhere?

Unlike the tired rhetoric we hear from some of our politicians, I would like to offer some practical advice to help Rhode Island businesses and citizens. It is quite simple — do your business in Rhode Island!

If you own a business in our state, take a good look at who you are buying from. Is it necessary to buy a copy machine from a Massachusetts company or could you spend a little more time and find the same deal locally? What about cleaning supplies, accounting services, legal work, and advertising? Are you sure you can’t find good people or companies here to do the job? I know you can.

How 'bout the General Assembly take away the necessity to "spend a little more time" (and money) looking for comparable deals in Rhode Island?

October 6, 2008

A Timely Question

Justin Katz

With the economic downturn still in the news while a fresh wave of "saying he's inevitable makes it true" passes through the opinion world, one question comes to mind: How does a family prepare for a Great Depression? Keeping in mind that I'm an optimist on religious grounds, that particular trajectory carries fair odds with an Obama presidency.

With no technological revolutions on the horizon, we're surely not in for a rapid economic recovery — do the media what it will to declare that the sun has risen in a giant, shining O. The Democrat executive and Democrat legislature can be relied upon to respond by giving away money to people who'll use it to pay down debt or waste it and to increase government spending as a form of economic stimulus. To pay for this renewed attempt at socialism, they'll borrow money and raise taxes on wealth and productivity. Consequently, the rich will sit on their wallets, and the productive will wallow in a lack of opportunity.

The silver lining is that the ruling regime of the United States of America will be so weak that our enemies will waste no time coalescing and pushing the world toward some brink or another, ultimately spurring the American people to rally the West toward a war-driven economic boom.

But again: How ought a family to prepare for such a future?


On a related note, I wonder whether the Saturday Night Live folks realize how close to a cultural divide they are when they give the following line to Tina Fey/Sarah Palin:

We don't know if this climate change whoseywhatsit is manmade or if it's just a natural part of the end of days.

Reactions to the Bailout Bill

Carroll Andrew Morse

Reaction from Second District Congressional candidate Mark Zaccaria on the bailout bill that passed Congress on Friday…

This week Rhode Island's entire congressional delegation voted in favor of an open ended plan to nationalize private property on a scale that boggles the mind. If this had been done using the government's authority under Eminent Domain the legal term for it would be 'A Taking.' Since this bill has been characterized as the cavalry charging to the rescue from over the hill there has been no outcry against it in the press. Too bad. Life is full of compromises, of course, but I wish we had thought more about the pain we were trying to avoid vs the pain we will now induce as the federal government takes ownership of a giant piece of the country.

Think about it. With plenty of blame to go around in Congress you could make a case that those who induced this crisis, through misguided incentives to Fannie Mae and out-and-out quotas for sub-prime mortgages to private banks, have now taken management control of ⅓ of all residential properties. In the military the term for that is Screw Up & Move Up. What kind of financial horsepower have we just given to the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee? What will that kind of authority do to the men and women who now hold its keys?
…and from First District Congressional candidate Jon Scott, on the same subject…
This bailout bill, which supposedly benefits "Main Street America" contains tons or Pork Barrel projects that have nothing to do with the financial crisis. Mr. Kennedy's actions suggest that he is fighting to empower the power brokers on K Street at the expense of those who live on Main Street. Does he even know where Main Street is? It is time we asked him.

David Anderson for State Representative: Concrete Priorities for Education Reform

Carroll Andrew Morse

David Anderson, candidate for State Representative in Rhode Island's 4th District (Providence), and opponent of House Majority Leader Gordon Fox, has presented some concrete ideas for reforming public education in the state of Rhode Island…

Given the large number of failing schools in Rhode Island I would not try to overhaul all of them at once. I would begin with the "basket cases" where less than 10% of the children are estimated to be at or above grade level as judged by the Nation's Report Card. In terms of the NECAP examinations this threshold would approximately be 20% proficient for the primary levels and 10% for high school. Such schools would be closed at the conclusion of the academic year. All staff would be discharged. Such schools would be reopened as charter schools operated by a professional education management organization (EMO). The EMO's fee would be performance based. The possible rehiring of former staff would be at the discretion of the new managers…

Once all of the dysfunctional schools of the preceding category are under new management, I would raise the threshold for reform upward in phases until all schools with less than 50% of children at or above grade level had been converted to the charter

Current and past practices that have been used to deceive parents and other stakeholders would be replaced by ones that provide an honest accounting of public school performance. This means rescoring the NECAP examinations to provide proficiency estimates comparable to the Nation's Report Card. It also means withholding regular academic diplomas from all who have not achieved NECAP proficiency on the high school tests. Students not seeking a regular academic diploma would receive a certificate of completion that would show their respective proficiency levels in the subjects tested by the NECAP. In such a system diplomas would mean something.

Partisan Spin, or Something Else?

Justin Katz

Does Froma Harrop even try to understand the other side? A couple of columns ago, she laid the entire economic crisis at the feet of Phil Gramm, and now, she dismisses a contrary explanation by reducing it to one component:

ACCOMPLISHED GOOGLERS can probably find the original talking points off which dozens of conservatives have made essentially the same case: The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 caused the financial crisis. For example, a Wall Street Journal editorial lumped CRA together with far more plausible causes of the meltdown. This liberal-inspired law, it complained, "compels banks to make loans to poor borrowers who often cannot repay them." In fact, the CRA had about zero to do with today's problems.

One need only watch that ubiquitous explanatory video to know that the CRA is only the beginning of a long tale. For her part, Harrop doesn't so much as mention the Clinton administration's modifications to the law.

October 5, 2008

Palin's Lack of Experience Solved

Monique Chartier

... by commenter BobC who, under Justin's post "Obama's Nightmare in Passing", points out

To be sure if McCain should pass during his time in office, all Palin has to do is pick her "Biden" for Vice-President. That would take care of her lack of experience. It seems to have worked for Obama.

Surprisingly Accurate SNL Skit about the Financial Mess

Monique Chartier

H/T NewsBusters.

Update: Click on this link to view.

Back with a Bullet

Justin Katz

It seemed as if Mark Steyn took a hiatus from regular punditry, and it's good to have him back:

By contrast, Senator Biden was glib and fluent and in command of the facts — if by "in command of the facts" you mean "talks complete blithering balderdash and hogwash." He flatly declared that Obama never said he would meet Ahmadinejad without preconditions. But, on Debate Night, the official Obama website was still boasting that he would meet Ahmadinejad "without preconditions". He said America spends more in a month in Iraq than it's spent in seven years in Afghanistan. Er, America has spent over $700 billion in Afghanistan since 2001. It's spending about $10 billion a month in Iraq. But no matter. To demonstrate his command of the "facts", Senator Biden sportingly offered up his own instant replays...

When Regular Joe Six-Pack Bluecollar Biden tried to match her on the Main Street cred, it rang slightly wacky. "Look," he said, "All you have to do is go down Union Street with me in Wilmington or go to Katie's Restaurant or walk into Home Depot with me, where I spend a lot of time." Why? Is he moonlighting as a checkout clerk on the evening shift? Or is he stalking that nice lady in Lighting Fixtures? As for Katie's Restaurant, ah, I'm sure it was grand but apparently it closed in 1990. In the Diner of the Mind, the refills are endless and Senator Joe is sitting shootin' the breeze over a cuppa joe with a couple other regular joes on adjoining stools while Betty-Jo, the sassy waitress who's tough as nails but with a heart of gold, says Ol' Joe, the short-order cook who's doing his Sloppy Joes just the way the Senator likes 'em, really appreciates the way that, despite 78 years in Washington, Joe Biden is still just the same regular Joe Six-Pack he was when he and Norman Rockwell first came in for a sarsaparilla all those years ago. But, alas, while he was jetting off for one-to-one talks with the Deputy Tourism Minister of Waziristan, the old neighborhood changed.

A Quick Question on Granting Power

Justin Katz

Why does my Sunday newspaper inform me that "an American member of al-Qaida... taunted Americans over their economic crisis" in a half-hour video? That's quite a reward of notoriety for a twenty-nine-year-old terrorist based on little more than a dull YouTube rant.

Should the State Purchase Twin Rivers?

Monique Chartier

In the event their financial troubles lead to foreclosure, General Treasurer Frank Caprio has proposed, though not as a first option, the state purchase of Twin Rivers. The Treasurer further proposes to do so without voter approval. (By the way, where have we heard about a chunk of the taxpayers' change being spent against taxpayer will? Oh, yes.)

Certainly if the worst happened to Twin River, due to the condition of the real estate market, anyone purchasing the operation's land and all improvements at foreclosure auction would do so at an advantageous price. Say the bidding stopped at half of the assessed value of $186,036,888. Even setting aside the state's $400 million annual deficit, would $93,000,000 be a prudent use of tax dollars for such a purpose?

Suppose the bidding stopped much lower and the state were able to acquire the property at a real bargain. The big picture question becomes: is it a good thing for the state to own a gambling venue?

Second Chances for Incumbents

Justin Katz

Yeah, it's not difficult to see where this is going:

In a court-ordered recount yesterday, victories by Michael J. Pinga and Erin C. Lynch were upheld by the Board of Elections, but state Sen. Stephen D. Alves' quest to retain his seat on Smith Hill isn't over just yet.

After already recounting the votes from the primary elections in Warwick and West Warwick a month ago, the state Supreme Court demanded they be counted again, this time including all regular, mail and provisional ballots.

Pinga still beat Alves, the Senate Finance chairman, this time by 17 votes...

Alves has asked the state Supreme Court to order an entirely new election. His appeal is based on 18 questionable ballots that were cast in the primary election — 15 of which were cast by Republicans voting in the Democratic primary. And there were three fewer signed voter forms than there were ballots cast.

Because there are more questionable ballots than Pinga's margin of victory, Taveras says a new election is warranted.

So, they tried a few different recount methods until they got one that achieved the "questionable ballot" threshold, and now they'll seek a redo. The interesting behind-the-scenes question (should the legislature's investment in judicial goodwill pay off for Alves) is whether the unions that endorsed Pinga will consider Alves duly chastened and in-hand and give him his seat back.

October 4, 2008

Why blaming the current financial turmoil on "greed" doesn't work

Donald B. Hawthorne

Once again, Don Boudreaux, a George Mason University economics professor, cuts to the chase:

...[the] explanation of the current financial turmoil -- as being caused by "greed" -- is inadequate...Saying that "greed" caused today's problems is like saying that gravity caused the death of someone pushed from the top floor of the Empire State building. Some things are sufficiently constant in human affairs - and self-interest, even greed, is among them - that they explain nothing.

"Greed" certainly can be unleashed to do harm, but it can also be harnessed to do good. Any compelling explanation of any observed economic reality must take "greed" as a given while identifying the specific incentives provided by prevailing social institutions. If these institutions make serving the needs of others the best path to personal gain, then "greed" is harnessed for human betterment. But if these institutions make predating on others - either through force or fraud, or either intentionally or unintentionally - the best path to personal gain, then "greed" will indeed lead people to act destructively. In either case, though, it is the institutions and their accompanying incentives, rather than "greed," that explain economic reality.

Rhody Politics at the Local Level: Use Their Fairness Against Them

Justin Katz

To be clear, I don't speak for Tiverton Citizens for Change with what follows (or, really, in any sanctioned sense). However, I do have some insight into the group's candidate-endorsement process, which may be summarized with two words: fair and open.

Every candidate received a questionnaire specific to the position that he or she sought, and a volunteer committee (of which I was a member) considered the answers, conducted interviews when needed, and spent long hours debating the merits of each candidate individually and as part of a broader strategy for improving municipal government. Wanting ideas, knowledge, and disposition to be of substantial import, we didn't employ a litmus test against incumbents and ended up extending endorsements to three of them.

Two of those three declined politely and took the opportunity to run to the Providence Journal's Gina Macris to provide a front page story for the East Bay section of the paper:

The TCC has made accusations without having all the facts, [School Committee Chairwoman Denise DeMedeiros] said.

And she said she doesn't like what she calls the negativity of some TCC members, alluding to letters to a local newspaper attacking the incumbent leadership of the Town Council and the Budget Committee. ...

The TCC has suggested that the School Committee failed to fully inform the community about the financial impact of the school bonds before voters approved an overhaul of all three elementary schools in 2004.

But deMedeiros said "a lot of these people didn't even live in this town when this campaign was going on."

Yup, we regular citizens simply don't have all those facts that make it palatable to drive our neighbors out of town with taxes. I further am sorry, I must say, to see Ms. DeMedeiros hop on Town Council President Louise Durfee's nativist campaign wagon.

Macris also gave some running room for (essentially) a free attack ad to two school committee candidates who might be termed as "on the other side" from TCC. By contrast, absent from the piece was any word from actual members of the group — most notably member and school committee candidate Danielle Coulter. One would think that a professional journalist would have considered Danielle's two cents to be a crucial component of the article.

If, however, Ms. Macris intends to extend her coverage beyond joint statements issued by candidates Carol Herrmann and Deborah Pallasch, I'd be happy to respond to this:

"Our top priority as School Committee members will be to provide a high quality public education to all students with the limited dollars available to us," they said.

I'd advise voters to be wary that past evidence (particularly from the last Financial Town Meeting) suggests that the pair's actual top priority will be to make those dollars a little less limited. For that reason, I still intend to vote for DeMedeiros and Black... even if I'll be careful never to turn my back on them.

Well, take your pick

Donald B. Hawthorne

Gotta love that Harry Reid.

And, if Obama wins, the Dem majorities in the Congress will allow him, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi to do most anything they want in DC. Lovely.

Harry Reid: reckless and ignorant OR an extreme partisan. Take your pick.

Why won't McCain and Palin take it to Obama and the Dems over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

Donald B. Hawthorne

Why McCain Goes Easy on Fannie and the CRA.

How McCain could respond.

More on how McCain could respond.

An ad.

More historical particulars here and here.


And now this news about Barney Frank's conflict of interest.

Creepy, again....

Donald B. Hawthorne

More, following this.


Instapundit has more.


More: Dear Leader.

Another Direction for Wealth Redistribution

Justin Katz

This has to stick in the craw of anybody who's struggling to make monthly housing payments and considers continued employment to be a month-to-month thing (emphasis added):

Carcieri immediately put legislative leaders on notice of the likely need to borrow from the state-run disability-insurance fund earlier in the state's budget year than anyone could recall. In one such letter to Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere, the governor noted that he can only do so when: "All cash in the General Fund, including the payroll clearing account has been or is about to be, exhausted." ...

Approximately 420,000 private-sector employees in Rhode Island, and some municipal employees, pay 1.3 percent of their gross wages — up to a maximum wage base of $54,400 — into the TDI trust fund.

When it comes to government-run insurance, everything is ultimately part of the general fund, and it's clear, when push comes to shove, where the government's priorities lie.

... the state is lurching from pay period to pay period in an atmosphere of increasing uncertainty about the state's ability to raise the revenue that the governor and legislative budget-writers anticipated when they cobbled together this year's budget.

It's time to cut expenditures and shrink the size of Rhode Island's government. Any other solution will only exacerbate the problem.

October 3, 2008

And the Old Is New

Justin Katz

I see Bob Whitcomb — editorial page editor of the Providence Journal — has his inaugural blog post up. Projo readers may be find the format to be reminiscent of his Divers Ruminations columns, which is appropriate, because those columns were essentially printed blog posts, as they were.

Looking Forward in Tiverton

Justin Katz

I've got a letter in the current Sakonnet Times looking ahead in the effort to get Tiverton on a better, more sustainable track:

In short, if a revolt is to be successful and enduring, it must be considered, and from that necessity derives the difficult, often tedious work that must be done. Razing the town square requires only a match and the flick of a wrist; rebuilding Main Street requires thought and mutual action.

We have to come to understand our town and its governance intimately in order to apply pressure just so, just there (a little to the right) — with light prods to reposition policies where they are awkward or detrimental, with caressive persuasion to relax resistance to new, sometimes frightening ideas, and with the occasional painful tug through which we may find relief. That, in my estimation, is the framework within which TCC must act and in which citizens should participate. Change is a regimen, not a pill.

Effects of the Obama Tax Plan

Carroll Andrew Morse

From my liveblog of last night's Vice-Presidential debate…

[9:15] I don't believe the "no one under $250,000 will see a tax-increase" claim. Isn't the Obama tax plan based on a child tax-credit?
The exact statement by Joe Biden I was referring to was…
No one making less than $250,000 under Barack Obama's plan will see one single penny of their tax raised, whether it's their capital gains tax, their income tax, investment tax, any tax.
The source of my skepticism is the Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution. According to their "Analysis of the 2008 Presidential Candidates’ Tax Plans", because Obama's plan is based on various credits and deductions, rather than a direct change in rates, taxes will go up for some households making less than $250,000, if they don't qualify for the full package of adjustments…

Senator Obama's Tax Proposals of August 14, 2008: Economic Advisers' Version (No Payroll Surtax)
Distribution of Federal Tax Change by Cash Income Percentile, 2009

Cash Income PercentilePercent of Units
With Tax Cut
Percent of Units
With Tax Increase
Lowest Quintile67.87.7
Second Quintile86.18.4
Middle Quintile93.35.7
Fourth Quintile86.412.1
Top Quintile76.622.3

…The breaks are (in 2008 dollars): 20% $18,981, 40% $37,595, 60% $66,354, 80% $111,645, 90% $160,972, 95% $226,918...

Note the the entries in the column at the far-right are not all zeros, as Joe Biden and Barack Obama claim they should be except for the "top quintile" entry.

So should the claim of "no one under $250,000" be considered an exaggeration within the usual bounds of politics -- or should the standard that progressive bloggers have been applying to the McCain campaign be applied here also, and the statement that Barack Obama won't raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 be considered an outright lie?

Defining government's role in the current financial mess

Donald B. Hawthorne

In addition to the links found here, Russell Roberts of Cafe Hayek offers one of the clearest explanations of the current financial mess in How Government Stoked the Mania: Housing prices would never have risen so high without multiple Washington mistakes -

Many believe that wild greed and market failure led us into this sorry mess. According to that narrative, investors in search of higher yields bought novel securities that bundled loans made to high-risk borrowers. Banks issued these loans because they could sell them to hungry investors. It was a giant Ponzi scheme that only worked as long as housing prices were on the rise. But housing prices were the result of a speculative mania. Once the bubble burst, too many borrowers had negative equity, and the system collapsed. Part of this story is true. The fall in housing prices did lead to a sudden increase in defaults that reduced the value of mortgage-backed securities. What's missing is the role politicians and policy makers played in creating artificially high housing prices, and artificially reducing the danger of extremely risky assets.

Beginning in 1992, Congress pushed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to increase their purchases of mortgages going to low and moderate income borrowers. For 1996, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gave Fannie and Freddie an explicit target -- 42% of their mortgage financing had to go to borrowers with income below the median in their area. The target increased to 50% in 2000 and 52% in 2005.

For 1996, HUD required that 12% of all mortgage purchases by Fannie and Freddie be "special affordable" loans, typically to borrowers with income less than 60% of their area's median income. That number was increased to 20% in 2000 and 22% in 2005. The 2008 goal was to be 28%. Between 2000 and 2005, Fannie and Freddie met those goals every year, funding hundreds of billions of dollars worth of loans, many of them subprime and adjustable-rate loans, and made to borrowers who bought houses with less than 10% down.

Fannie and Freddie also purchased hundreds of billions of subprime securities for their own portfolios to make money and to help satisfy HUD affordable housing goals. Fannie and Freddie were important contributors to the demand for subprime securities.

Congress designed Fannie and Freddie to serve both their investors and the political class. Demanding that Fannie and Freddie do more to increase home ownership among poor people allowed Congress and the White House to subsidize low-income housing outside of the budget, at least in the short run. It was a political free lunch.

The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) did the same thing with traditional banks. It encouraged banks to serve two masters -- their bottom line and the so-called common good. First passed in 1977, the CRA was "strengthened" in 1995, causing an increase of 80% in the number of bank loans going to low- and moderate-income families.

Fannie and Freddie were part of the CRA story, too. In 1997, Bear Stearns did the first securitization of CRA loans, a $384 million offering guaranteed by Freddie Mac. Over the next 10 months, Bear Stearns issued $1.9 billion of CRA mortgages backed by Fannie or Freddie. Between 2000 and 2002 Fannie Mae securitized $394 billion in CRA loans with $20 billion going to securitized mortgages.

By pressuring banks to serve poor borrowers and poor regions of the country, politicians could push for increases in home ownership and urban development without having to commit budgetary dollars. Another political free lunch.

Fannie and Freddie and the banks opposed these policy changes at first through both lobbying and intransigence. But when they found out that following these policies could be profitable -- which they were as long as rising housing prices kept default rates unusually low -- their complaints disappeared. Maybe they could serve two masters. They turned out to be wrong. And when Fannie and Freddie went into conservatorship, politicians found out that budgetary dollars were on the line after all.

While Fannie and Freddie and the CRA were pushing up the demand for relatively low-priced property, the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 increased the demand for higher valued property by expanding the availability and size of the capital-gains exclusion to $500,000 from $125,000. It also made it easier to exclude capital gains from rental property, further pushing up the demand for housing.

The Fed did its part, too. In 2003, the federal-funds rate hit 40-year lows of 1.25%. That pushed the rates on adjustable loans to historic lows as well, helping to fuel the housing boom.

The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 and low interest rates -- along with the regulatory push for more low-income homeowners -- dramatically increased the demand for housing. Between 1997 and 2005, the average price of a house in the U.S. more than doubled. It wasn't simply a speculative bubble. Much of the rise in housing prices was the result of public policies that increased the demand for housing. Without the surge in housing prices, the subprime market would have never taken off.

Fannie and Freddie played a significant role in the explosion of subprime mortgages and subprime mortgage-backed securities. Without Fannie and Freddie's implicit guarantee of government support (which turned out to be all too real), would the mortgage-backed securities market and the subprime part of it have expanded the way they did?

Perhaps. But before we conclude that markets failed, we need a careful analysis of public policy's role in creating this mess. Greedy investors obviously played a part, but investors have always been greedy, and some inevitably overreach and destroy themselves. Why did they take so many down with them this time?

Part of the answer is a political class greedy to push home-ownership rates to historic highs -- from 64% in 1994 to 69% in 2004. This was mostly the result of loans to low-income, higher-risk borrowers. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, abetted by Congress, trumpeted that rise as it occurred. The consequence? On top of putting the entire financial system at risk, the hidden cost has been hundreds of billions of dollars funneled into the housing market instead of more productive assets.

Beware of trying to do good with other people's money. Unfortunately, that strategy remains at the heart of the political process, and of proposed solutions to this crisis.

More here.

And now this news about Barney Frank.

West Warwick and Elsewhere

Justin Katz

On Matt Allen on 630AM/99.7FM WPRO last night, Monique brought up the West Warwick situation and summarized other happenings hereabout. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

October 2, 2008

Obama's Nightmare in Passing

Justin Katz

I mention this only because I caught it out of the corner of my eye and thought it was striking: On the FoxNews "focus group" of undecided voters who watched the debate together for the network, they were discussing reactions to Governor Palin and whether she's qualified, and one gentlemen pointed out that she'd been a governor and a mayor — i.e., an executive — and a black woman sitting near him cut in: "She's been there, she's done that, and she'll do it again."

I attribute no broad significance to this one speaker (people being, you know, individuals), but the image would have to give the Obama campaign chills.

Liveblogging the Palin-Biden Vice-Presidential Debate!

Carroll Andrew Morse

[Final] The more I hear "ya know, people don't really vote for the Vice-President" from Dem-leaning analysts, the more I will think that Palin "won". If I had to make a lame sports analogy, I would say that Palin pitched a scoreless 7th with her team one run down.

[10:33] Nothing remarkable in the closing statements.

[10:27] Palin's answer of I don't need to compromise because I can be bipartisan is not a model of coherence.

[10:25] Biden says his decision to apply ideological litmus tests to judges was a change away from what he previously believed.

[10:24] Good emotional appeal by Biden in response to the "maverick" issue.

[10:22] ...except she just choked while trying to force "McCain" and "maverick" into her answer yet again.

[10:20] If you're into it's all about expectations reasoning, Palin is winning the last third of this debate with safe but coherent answers.

[10:18] I predict lots of chatter from the more serious parts of the blogosphere tomorrow that Biden's answer on the VP, the executive and the legislative branch was just Joe being Joe.

[10:15] Still here. Just not finding anything worth typing about.

[10:13] If I'm lucky, I'll lose my connection again during this "what's the importance of the Vice-President" question.

[10:10] Lost my connection for a second. Fortunately, it was during the stupid how-would-your-administration-be-different-from-your-running-mate's question.

[10:08] Biden just criticized the Bush doctrine he tacitly endorsed in his previous answer. Just Joe being Joe, I guess.

[10:05] Biden is pretty much articulating the Bush doctrine right now, we should intervene if we think we can make a difference, and countries that harbor terrorists lose the full protection of sovereignty.

[10:04] Palin supports a no-fly zone in Darfur.

[10:03] Biden supports pretty direct military involvement in Darfur.

[10:00] The pool camera-guy gave Palin a good angle on her answer on counter-insurgency principles! She cowed Biden for a moment, then he defaulted over to fibilbuster mode.

[9:57] Palin's answer on nukes: see my comment at 9:24.

[9:54] What's Biden's point on Israel? I got the we'll stand behind Israel part. But we'll stand behind Israel and then...

[9:51] Biden's point about Spain saves his substantively incoherent answer.

[9:49] To use the progressive lingo, Ifill goes with the Obama "frame" on pre-conditions and negotiations. Palin gets the anwer right, but probably too subtly for most of the public to pick up on.

[9:48] On no, it's the preconditions issue again...

[9:46] Ifill is a terrible moderator. Lots of charged, contentious stuff is left hanging there, and she just moves on.

[9:44] Call me biased, but I don't think the "McCain voted to cut off funding for the troops" charge is going to stick.

[9:42] Wait...calling the Obama plan a "surrender" is a pretty strong charge. How will Biden respond...

[9:41] I'm not learning anything new from either candidate's Iraq answer.

[9:38] No support for gay marriage from either candidate. Andrew Sullivan might have a fit about Biden saying he doesn't support gay marriage, then going on to say he supports full civil rights for gay couples -- if Biden were a Republican, of course.

[9:36] I'm still confused on the clean coal issue.

[9:33] Will Ifill push Biden on his clean-coal answer? Stay tuned...

[9:32] But the mention of the Alaska climate-change sub-cabinet is fair. It does involve actual governing.

[9:31] Palin obviously doesn't like talking about the details of climate change.

[9:27] Biden is winning on the who's a better financial-industry reformer question because he's being more specific.

[9:24] Palin has mastered the art of the televised debate: give good, coherent statements, even if they're only marginally related to the questions.

[9:22] Biden is apparently going to pay for $700B in new spending by not cutting taxes.

[9:20] Let me get this straight. Biden wants us to be shocked that health insurers will receive the payments for health insurance?

[9:18] Palin should be asking is a Fannie Mae for healthcare a good idea? Otherwise, a pretty good defense of the McCain tax plan.

[9:15] I don't believe the "no one under $250,000 will see a tax-increase" claim. Isn't the Obama tax plan based on a child tax-credit?

[9:12] Neither side is glorifying themselves on substance...

[9:09] Palin noticably relaxes whe she doesn't feel she has to work McCain's name into her answer. SO STOP TRYING TO FORCE IT IN.

[9:08] Good defense against Biden's canned talking point against McCain.

[9:06] Palin was doing well until she started robotically mentioning McCain's name.

[9:03] First gaffe is Ifill's -- the bailout "passing" the House on Monday!

[9:02] No book promo in Gwen Ifill's intro.

[9:00] Chances are, either the race is even tomorrow, or conservatives are on day #1 of planning for the aftermath, so this is a good night to do a liveblog.

Pinga/Alves: Latest from the Board of Elections II

Monique Chartier

The Rhode Island Board of Elections advised today that a second recount of the Pinga/Alves primary election will take place tomorrow at 1:00 pm. All ballots, including mail-in and provisional, will be counted.

In another contested primary, the Lynch/Bennett race will be recounted at 9:00 am. This ProJo article states that the RI Supreme Court ordered a recount for the Lynch/Bennett race but not the Pinga/Alves race. Unless the ProJo article is in error, BOE has apparently ordered the Pinga/Alves recount on its own initiative.

Side question: don't provisional ballots have to be verified after they are cast? If they are then verified, don't they cease being "provisional"?

Tools for Future Subjugation

Justin Katz

Alright, so let's allow that David Richardson pushed the envelope to an imprudent degree — that it was wrong of him to harass customers to his store for the reason that they were speaking Spanish. Mark my words: Such precedent will expand until it crowds out our freedom:

Providence storeowner David C. Richardson has signed a public apology for demanding to see a customer's Social Security card last March after hearing the customer speak Spanish with a friend. Richardson signed the apology and agreed to give $500 to charity after two human-rights commissions found probable cause that he discriminated against the customer. ...

The encounter, during the sale of an $18 plumbing supply, made national headlines. Richardson's store, Rhode Island Refrigeration, has since closed.

Once our society stops defending people's right to be boorish, we're apt to find the adjective to be more subjective than we might like.

A Creative Lack of Imagination

Justin Katz

In search of a Why for my heartbroken disappointment at finding the fifth installment of George R.R. Martin's excellent Song of Ice and Fire series absent from the bookstore shelves although long expected, I found my way to this post on the author's blog:

Doing Good Is Its Own Reward...

... but when you can Do Good and add some nifty autographed books to your collection at the same time, well, that's even better.

So here's your chance to end the war, defend the constitution, and help take back this country from the corrupt plutocrats who have given us this latest financial crisis. And get some great swag at the same time.

I'm talking about Books for Barack.

Shortly thereafter, I came across the following blurb on the cover of the Providence Journal's Lifebeat section:

Rock stars Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel are teaming up for their first joint concert to benefit Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

Obama plans to attend the concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City on Oct. 16, the day after Obama's final debate with Republican John McCain at Hofstra University, located several miles outside the city in Hempstead, N.Y.

Seeing the two superstars together won't come cheap. Tickets start at $500 and range up to $10,000.

What's painful — from this talented writer, my fellow Jersey boy made it big, and one of the principal comforters of my churning adolescence — is how little imagination they display. Their advocacy, their message, and their promises and expectations are all according to script and serve to reinforce the laughable trope that liberals are anti-establishment rebels fighting for all that's good and true. Think of that the next time some left-wing conformist strikes the Brave One pose.

And think of it the next time the Obama campaign pushes an agenda of silence and, in Andy McCarthy's words, "severing of our body politic from the moorings that make us America."

Senator, You're Sweet Enough

Monique Chartier

A ton of pork, referred to as "sweeteners" - i.e., sweetening the deal so as to obtain the commitment of an individual senator to the bill - made it into the bailout bill passed by the Senate last night.

If this is indeed the major financial crisis represented by some of our elected officials, why do senators have to be bribed to do the right thing and vote in favor of this bill? If they believed this measure was necessary, they should have voted for it without insisting on the addition of pork. If they do not believe this measure is necessary, then what they did was vote for pork (itself defined as unnecessary spending) with a $700 billion surcharge.

Bumped, Not Displaced

Justin Katz

As some readers may have noticed, Anchor Rising's usual Wednesday night slot on the Matt Allen Show was preempted by Matt's interview with Governor Carcieri.

Not to worry, though, we've merely moved the feature to this evening at the usual time (around 6:50 p.m.).

Insufficient transparency and yet more unanswered questions

Donald B. Hawthorne

For a guy who already has associations with unrepentant terrorists, America-hating preachers, and convicted felons, this latest information does not inspire trust or confidence in his judgment, now does it?

(H/T to Instapundit.)


Joe raises a fair point in the Comments section about NewsMax and I posted this because the article's author, Timmerman, has been a generally credible reporter over the years in my opinion.

I believe the bigger issue here is the refusal by Obama's campaign to disclose his donors. Unlike McCain who has. I have been extremely critical of McCain's definition of campaign finance reform and the resulting impact on limiting free speech but at least he has told us who has given money to his campaign.

More to the point, as I have written before, if I could set the campaign finance laws of this land, I would strip away all dollar limits by donors and require that all donations be given to the candidate directly, the party directly or to defined third parties...on the condition that the names of specific persons making the donations to any such entity are posted on the Internet within 24 hours of the donation. Complete and immediate transparency. I don't care if George Soros wants to give Obama $25 million tomorrow. But I do care about knowing it within 24 hours thereafter. And I don't want Soros or anyone else hiding anonymously behind some PAC entity.

Maybe Obama's getting foreign donations. Maybe he isn't. The problem is that we don't know the answer today and that means there could be unacceptable foreign influences on this campaign. It is unacceptable to only find out the answer to that after the election. I want everyone to know the answers now and I want Obama to have to explain any anomalies. Same with any Republican. One standard: complete and immediate transparency...and then let the public decide if the resulting information influences their opinions.


More here, here, and here.

October 1, 2008

Explaining the current financial mess

Donald B. Hawthorne

Confused by all the posturing by Republican and Democratic politicians regarding the current financial problems? Well, that is no surprise is it? Politicians typically know little-to-nothing about economics, rarely grasp how incentives drive human behavior, and usually don't pay attention to the consequences, intended or otherwise, of their actions.

To assist in peeling away the confusion, this post offers a series of links. No attempt has been made to confirm whether all arguments are valid, let alone logically compatible with each other. They are offered in the spirit of putting more information out there so we can begin to improve all citizens' knowledge about the situation in a way that leads to a more informed public debate about the financial problems and whether the bailout addresses them.

Building on Andrew's recent post, here you go:

The Financial Crisis: What Went Wrong?
Who caused "the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression?"
A Memo Found in the Street: Uncle Sam the Enabler
Blame Fannie Mae and Congress For the Credit Mess
How the Democrats Created the Financial Crisis
A mortgage fable
Kling on Freddie and Fannie and the Recent History of the U.S. Housing Market
The Long Road to Slack Lending Standards
Shiller and fundamentals
High Anxiety: We went from playing inflation-era Monopoly to playing depression-era Monopoly in mid-game
Neither Fish Nor Fowl: An Overview of the Big-Three Government-Sponsored Enterprises in the U.S. Housing Finance Markets
Hindsight regulation
How close was the financial system to melting down?
Bear Stearns, the CRA, and Freddie Mac
No money down, revisited
Stubborn ignorance
It's not the CRA
The role of the CRA
The Real Culprits In This Meltdown
Deregulation Not to Blame for Financial Woes
Because it wasn't a complete deregulation at all
Did the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act cause the housing bubble?
Bill v. Barack on Banks: Clinton instructs Obama on finance and Phil Gramm
Various on Instapundit
Principled Libertarians Put Their Money Where Their Mouths Are
Bankruptcy, not bailout, is the right answer
Frank's fingerprints are all over the financial fiasco
Party like it’s 1999 redux: The New York Times predicted Fannie Mae failure
Why We're Floundering: And a better way forward
A Simpler Solution
S.E.C. Concedes Oversight Flaws Fueled Collapse
The Conservative Case for Unlimited Deposit Insurance
Why the Bailout is Bad for America
The Paulson Sale
Bailout Politics
Congressman Mike Pence
New Capitalism: Market capitalism in the United States will never be the same
Before D.C. Gets Our Money, It Owes Us Some Answers
Pop! Welcome to the 'Mentos Economy' - Like Mentos in Soda, Today's Economy Is Full of Bubbles
The Bailout

McCarthy: Stifling political debate with threats of prosecution is not the "rule of law" — it’s tyranny

Donald B. Hawthorne

Andy McCarthy:

In London last week, a frightful warning was sounded about encroaching tyranny. At an important conference, speaker after impassioned speaker warned of the peril to Western values posed by freedom-devouring sharia — the Islamic legal code. Like all tyrannies, sharia’s first target is speech: Suppress all examination of Muslim radicalism by threats of prosecution and libel actions, and smugly call it "the rule of law."

But we may already be further gone than the London conferees feared. And without resort to the Islamicization that so startled them. For that, we can thank the campaign of Barack Obama.

I’ll be blunt: Sen. Obama and his supporters despise free expression, the bedrock of American self-determinism and hence American democracy. What’s more, like garden-variety despots, they see law not as a means of ensuring liberty but as a tool to intimidate and quell dissent.

We London conferees were fretting over speech codes, "hate speech" restrictions, "Islamophobia" provisions, and "libel tourism" — the use of less journalist-friendly defamation laws in foreign jurisdictions to eviscerate our First Amendment freedom to report, for example, on the nexus between ostensible Islamic charity and the funding of terrorist operations.

All the while, in St. Louis, local law-enforcement authorities, dominated by Democrat-party activists, were threatening libel prosecutions against Obama’s political opposition. County Circuit Attorney Bob McCulloch and City Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, abetted by a local sheriff and encouraged by the Obama campaign, warned that members of the public who dared speak out against Obama during the campaign’s crucial final weeks would face criminal libel charges — if, in the judgment of these conflicted officials, such criticism of their champion was "false."

The chill wind was bracing. The Taliban could not better rig matters. The Prophet of Change is only to be admired, not questioned. In the stretch run of an American election, there is to be no examination of a candidate for the world’s most powerful office — whether about his radical record, the fringe Leftism that lies beneath his thin, centrist veneer, his enabling of infanticide, his history of race-conscious politics, his proposals for unprecedented confiscation and distribution of private property (including a massive transfer of American wealth to third-world dictators through international bureaucrats), his ruinous economic policies that have helped leave Illinois a financial wreck, his place at the vortex of the credit market implosion that has put the U.S. economy on the brink of meltdown, his aggressive push for American withdrawal and defeat in Iraq, his easy gravitation to America-hating activists, be they preachers like Jeremiah Wright, terrorists like Bill Ayers, or Communists like Frank Marshall Davis. Comment on any of this and risk indictment or, at the very least, government harassment and exorbitant legal fees.

Nor was this an isolated incident.

Item: When the American Issues Project ran political ads calling attention to Obama’s extensive ties to Ayers, the Weatherman terrorist who brags about having bombed the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol, the Obama campaign pressured the Justice Department to launch an absurd criminal prosecution.

Item: When commentator Stanley Kurtz of the Ethics and Public Policy Center was invited on a Chicago radio program to discuss his investigation of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an "education reform" project in which Obama and Ayers (just "a guy who lives in my neighborhood") collaborated to dole out over $100 million, the Obama campaign issued an Internet action alert. Supporters, armed with the campaign’s non-responsive talking points, dutifully flooded the program with calls and emails, protesting Kurtz’s appearance and attempting to shout him down.

Item: Both Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, have indicated that an Obama administration would use its control of the Justice Department to prosecute its political opponents, including Bush administration officials responsible for the national security policies put in effect after nearly 3000 Americans were killed in the 9/11 attacks.

Item: There is a troubling report that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Section, top officials of which are Obama contributors, has suggested criminal prosecutions against those they anticipate will engage in voter "intimidation" or "oppression" in an election involving a black candidate. (Memo to my former DOJ colleagues: In a system that presumes innocence even after crimes have undeniably been committed, responsible prosecutors don’t assume non-suspects will commit future law violations — especially when doing so necessarily undermines the First Amendment freedoms those prosecutors solemnly swear to uphold.)

Obama may very well win the November election but he, like Sen. McCain, should be forced to win it fair and square: by persuading Americans that he is the superior candidate after our free society has had its customary free and open debate.

One understandably feels little sympathy for McCain here. His years-long assault on the First Amendment under the guise of campaign-finance "reform" has led inexorably to the brazenness of Obama’s Chicago-style strong-arming. But the victim here is not McCain. The victim is democratic self-determination. The victim is our right to informed participation in a political community’s most important decisions. The victim is freedom.

The Justice Department’s job is to prosecute those actively undermining our freedom, not to intimidate citizens in the exercise of that freedom. Consequently, instead of threatening criminal investigations of phantom future civil-rights violations, it should be conducting criminal investigations into whether public officials in St. Louis are abusing their offices to affect a national election.

The federal Hatch Act (codified in Title 5 of the U.S. Code) prohibits executive officials (such as prosecutors and police) from using their offices to interfere with federal elections. The statute may be of limited utility in St. Louis since it principally targets federal officials. Still, state and local government may come within its ambit if their activities are funded in part by the national Leviathan — as many arms of municipal government are these days.

The same bright-line demarcation does not limit application of the federal extortion and fraud laws. The extortion provision (also known as the Hobbs Act and codified at Section 1951 of the federal penal code) makes it a felony for anyone, including public officials, to deprive people of their property by inducing fear of harm. Property interests have been held to include, for example, the right of union members to participate in a democratic process; the harm apprehended can be either physical or economic. Inducing voters to fear prosecution and imprisonment unless they refrain from exercising their fundamental right to engage democratic debate may well qualify.

An easier fit may be fraud, which under federal law (Section 1346 of the penal code) prohibits schemes to deprive citizens of their "intangible right of honest services" from their public officials. Prosecutors and police who abuse their enormous powers in order to promote the election of their preferred candidates violate their public trust.

Regardless of the legal landscape, however, it is the political consequences that matter. Day after day, Obama demonstrates that the "change" he represents is a severing of our body politic from the moorings that make us America. If we idly stand by while he and his thugs kill free political debate, we die too.

Bailout Primer

Carroll Andrew Morse

This is what I understand the reasoning behind the bailout to be. It’s based mostly on what I’ve learned from speaking with Rhode Island Congressional candidates Mark Zaccaria and Jon Scott.

1. The bailout is not a plan to rescue anyone, banker or borrower, from bad mortgages. It's about getting the credit market moving again.

2. The problem began with lenders creating "mortgage backed securities" based on the mortgages they held. Roughly speaking, they did the same thing as creating options on a stock. Banks and other lenders began trading these mortgage backed securities with one another, in the same manner that options are traded.

3. When the housing market tanked, many of these MBS's that banks had put money into lost value.

4. Nobody knows how to determine the value of the different varieties of mortgage backed securities out there. More to the point, nobody knows how to reliably estimate how much you should expect to gain or lose if you have to sell your MBS portfolio a week from now.

5. Partially because of regulations related to the fact that the value of MBS portfolios have been dropping, and partially because of a real fear of future drops, banks owning MBS's need to keep a pile of extra cash on hand, to cover the costs of sudden losses that may occur.

6. A bank can't be loaning out the extra cash it needs to be keeping on hand. Hence the credit crunch.

7. Many "main street" businesses, to use the cliché, use short-term credit to keep their operations moving without interruption. If short-term credit is not available or its costs go up, businesses have to find some way to trim their costs, or face bankruptcy.

8. The Paulson plan, more or less, is to have the government take the mortgage-backed securities off of the hands of the banks by buying them directly. The hope is that, relieved from the threat of crashing MBS values, banks will feel free to start loaning again, and the credit market will return to its pre-crisis state.

9. But then the government would own all these exotic mortgage-backed assets that no one can accurately value.

Optimists say of the Paulson plan: Don't worry, if the government owns a wide spectrum these MBS's, the gains made by the "good" derivatives, over time, will cover the losses of the junk ones. (I'm not sure what the mechanism to prevent banks from dumping the really trashy MBS's while holding on to the ones most likely to recoup their value is supposed to be).

Pessimists say of the Paulson plan: You're telling me that buying everything in sight and hoping that there’s a net improvement in value is a workable investment strategy?

Economist Jeffrey Miron offers another perspective – why should anyone be expecting economically rational bankers to get things moving on their own, when dumping their MBS's a day too early may cost them their slice of a big government bailout?

Any bailout plan needs to be evaluated against the entire context above

After Monday's failure of the bailout bill in the House of Representatives John E. Mulligan of the Projo reported on the reaction from Rhode Island First District Congressman Patrick Kennedy…

“Unfortunately, the president hasn’t done a good job of explaining” the need for the rescue, Kennedy said.

“You’d want to prevent a crisis before your constituents had to feel it,” Kennedy said, “but maybe now we are going to have to find out the hard way.”

But instead of waiting for his constituents to “find out the hard way”, perhaps Congressman Kennedy should himself try explaining the rationale for the bailout to Rhode Islanders. Discussing public policy with the people is not exclusive the job of the President – it’s the job of Congressmen too.

It’s long past time for Congressmen James Langevin and Patrick Kennedy to return to Rhode Island and debate the merits of a bailout plan in a public forum with two gentlemen who are up to speed on the subject, Mark Zaccaria and Jon Scott. Under present circumstances, standard-issue political thinking of “it’s not a good idea for me to recognize my opponent” doesn’t cut it. As we approach the election this November, the people of Rhode Island deserve to hear clear statements on their options regarding the big fiscal and economc choices that our country is now facing.

Pinga/Alves: Latest from the Board of Elections

Monique Chartier

At around 10:10 this morning, I spoke with Mr. Robert Kando, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Board of Elections. He advised the following:

> No recount of the Pinga/Alves election is scheduled or contemplated at this point.

> The BOE met in conference with a Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice and certain other parties. [Sorry, I didn't get the date of that conference.]

> At that meeting, the matter of the mail-in and provisional ballots and, more specifically, the "Larissa" decision of two years ago, which has a bearing upon mail-in and provisional ballots, were raised. [No link to provide to the Larissa decision. Larisa Decision here - thanks to commenter Brassband for providing.]

> As a result of this conference, the BOE will be meeting in closed Executive Session tomorrow to determine if they will reconsider their decision in the Pinga/Alves matter in the light of the Larissa decision. To be clear, during this Executive Session tomorrow, they are not undertaking to reconsider their decision. They will decide whether to reconsider it.

> Yes, this matter is still pending before the Supreme Court.

End of Mr. Kando's remarks.

Two editorial guesses by yours truly:

1.) Presumably, if the BOE does decide to reconsider their decision, it will be taken up at a future meeting or hearing to be scheduled, not during the same Executive Session tomorrow.

2.) It sounds like the Supreme Court is holding itself in abeyance until the BOE makes their decision tomorrow. Going further out on a limb, they will probably continue to hold themselves in abeyance if the BOE decides to revisit their own decision tomorrow and the matter is reopened at the BOE.

"Fixing" Rhode Island

Justin Katz

In a comment to my post on Bob Kerr's column, Aldo writes:

Not so fast.....

Alves' Election Appeal Update - Your taxes at work!

Quick update on the fiasco in the RI Supreme Court ....

All parties involved in Alves' appeal were supposed to have submitted their briefs / supporting documentation by 4:30 on Friday as Justice Robinson was going to review it over the weekend.

On Monday morning, the news is that there has been a change, it's now Justice Goldberg vice Robinson and she wanted a mtg of all the lawyers involved at the RI Supreme Court at 4PM.

Of note, Alves' attorney failed to provide a copy of the transcript / tape of Board of Elections' hearing as required by RI law. This alone should have been enough for her to deny his appeal.

Instead of denying Alves' appeal, Goldberg apparently wants all 5 members of the RISC to rule on this.

The full court will discuss this matter in closed chambers on Thursday 9 Oct.

Why is the court even considering intervening in an election?

Remember, according to the law, this is only supposed to cover what transpired since the election. It seems as though Alves now wants to raise any issue he possibly can even though that is not in accordance with RI law.

What is going on here?

This is a travesty

Alves' attorney didn’t even comply with RI law in submitting his appeal concerning the BOE hearing and now it seems that RI taxpayers are going to have to cover some of the cost of providing the information that Alves was required to submit.

How much are the taxpayers paying for this nonsense?

Don't we have a budget problem?

In the interim, the Board of Elections will begin printing the other ballots.

If the Court rules in Alves' favor, then the taxpayers would have to cover the cost of a new primary in November AFTER the General Election and another Election in December.

If I were a betting man, I'd say that they will grant him his request. Not based upon the law but because of political pressure....

They will find some excuse to defer to him but one has to ask if any other RI taxpayer would be accorded the same privileges that are being extended to Senator Alves.

And now for the latest. The Board of Elections will conduct another recount on Thursday 2 Oct.

There are a few questions though.

1. On whose authority?

2. What will be recounted?

3. If Goldberg issued a stay pending a review by the entire court, why is there another recount?

4. The law states that the appeal is to be based upon the evidence presented to date. Why is the BOE doing this?

Anyone really think that the RISC will not rule in Alves' favor?

Add the increasingly probable bailout of Senator Alves to the as-yet unlit conflagration in Rhode Island.

Oh my, it just never stops: In the tank for Obama

Donald B. Hawthorne

Gwen Ifill, moderator for this Thursday's VP debate, is in the tank for Obama.

From Instapundit:

A READER AT A MAJOR NEWSROOM EMAILS: "Off the record, every suspicion you have about MSM being in the tank for O is true. We have a team of 4 people going thru dumpsters in Alaska and 4 in arizona. Not a single one looking into Acorn, Ayers or Freddiemae. Editor refuses to publish anything that would jeopardize election for O, and betting you dollars to donuts same is true at NYT, others. People cheer when CNN or NBC run another Palin-mocking but raising any reasonable inquiry into obama is derided or flat out ignored. The fix is in, and its working." I asked permission to reprint without attribution and it was granted.

It just never stops, does it?


More on Ifill's questions about Palin at the RNC. The earlier link shows how she wrote a positive magazine article about the Obama family while she negatively questioned Palin. Also, Ifill appears not to have disclosed the existence of the book to the people selecting the moderator and the McCain campaign didn't know about the book. As Greta writes elsewhere, the failure to disclose would be reason for a mistrial in the legal world.

Even more:

The problem with the Ifill selection is not that she is for Obama (how could the media easily find any moderator who was not?), but that her Age of Obama encomium is, according to press releases, set to appear on January 20, Inauguration Day — the implication being that the book will sell far more copies as a timely analysis of Obama just as he assumes office. Yes, moderators are usually liberal, and yes, authors of books on contemporary politics usually try to find timing gimmicks to sell them; but in this case, the problem is that Ifill's book stands to do far better should Obama be elected, and her publishers seem in advance to have recognized, and thus counted on, that. That's the rub, and the result is that it will make it hard for her to seem unbiased when moderating a debate in which one side is trying to demonstrate to the nation why we should not have embrace an age of Obama. As a matter of ethics, this is a no brainer.


More from the Columbia Journalism Review.