April 30, 2009

Matt on the Mind

Justin Katz

While I'm thinking of it: Andrew and I will be on Matt Allen's Violent Roundtable tomorrow night from 8:00-9:00 p.m. That's on 630AM/99.7FM... as if you didn't know.

Justice Souter to Retire?

Carroll Andrew Morse

From National Public Radio, via Drudge...

NPR has learned that Supreme Court Justice David Souter is planning to retire at the end of the current court term.

The vacancy will give President Obama his first chance to name a member of the high court and begin to shape its future direction.

NBC, also via Drudge, says...
A court spokesman said Souter had no comment.

On the Mattapalooza Scene

Justin Katz

Two bridges and countless escalators, and I've finally made it to Dave & Buster's for Mattapalooza. Haven't made the rounds, yet, but here are a couple of pictures:

8:15 p.m.

Apart from Dan Yorke, I've spotted Terry Gorman. There's a contingent of WPRO people, of course. The rest of the room, I'm guessing is fans, friends, and family. That's the highlight of the evening, I think: seeing the callers in person.

8:27 p.m.

Terry was telling me about the Tom Tancredo event and the way in which a certain unionist stood by the door with his little camera in folks' faces and proceeded to layer, umm, untruths on his online spin machine. If only I were funded to spend my days agitating on the dime of public-sector union dues.

8:40 p.m.

Dan and Matt:

Warwick School Closings

Marc Comtois

There will be two public comment sessions regarding the potential closing of an elementary school in Warwick: both will be at Gorton Jr. High and are tonight from 6 to 9 PM and tomorrow from 3-6 PM. I discussed the initial presentation of the consolidation advisory committee last week (and the Warwick Beacon had a good report, too). My major complaint was how the Administration seemed to be caught flat-footed by some rather obvious questions.

The three major bones of contention revolved around Title I funding, the cost of a roof and what sort of savings did the city realize from last year's school closings.

The School Committee submitted questions regarding these issues and others and the Administration responded (PDF).

There was some concern expressed that, because John Greene is a Title I school while the schools to which its students would go are not, overall funding could be negatively affected. I thought the explanation was satisfactory last week (it was explained there would be no practical affect), but many were unwilling to accept the "short answer." The administration appears to have answered the question as to funding satisfactorily. However, some Title I related issues may not be acceptable (for instance, the loss of access to pre-K schooling and other programs for Title-I kids and their families).

A major taxpayer concern was the apparent need to replace the roof of Warwick Neck school, which, with other costs factored in, made it appear as if closing Warwick Neck would save approximately one-half million dollars more than closing Greene. As I wrote last week, "while they did explain that John Greene's roof was the same age as Warwick Neck's, and had in fact been patched a few more times in recent years than Warwick Neck, they never provided a dollar figure for potential roof repairs to Greene." This is the explanation that should have been provided in the first place. The bottom line is that both roofs are of similar age and in similar shape. The cost to replace Warwick Neck's will be $471,650 and to replace John Greene's will be $405,888. Overall, it still appears as if closing Warwick Neck vice Greene will save $100,000 more (back of the envelope), but that's just in this one area.

Finally, perhaps the big question yet to be answered is what sort of savings did the city realize by closing two schools last year. Hopefully, that will be answered tonight.

New GM: UAW To Bargain With Themselves

Marc Comtois

The Wall Street Journal editorializes:

President Obama insisted at his press conference last night that he doesn't want to nationalize the auto industry (or the banks, or the mortgage market, or . . .). But if that's true, why has he proposed a restructuring plan for General Motors that leaves the government with a majority stake in the car maker?
Yeah, and what a deal for private investors!
According the Treasury-GM debt-for-equity swap announced Monday, GM has $27.2 billion in unsecured bonds owned by the public. These are owned by mutual funds, pension funds, hedge funds and retail investors who bought them directly through their brokers. Under Monday's offer, they would exchange their $27.2 billion in bonds for 10% of the stock of the restructured GM. This could amount to less than five cents on the dollar.

The Treasury, which is owed $16.2 billion, would receive 50% of the stock and $8.1 billion in debt -- as much as 87 cents on the dollar. The union's retiree health-care benefit trust would receive half of the $20 billion it is owed in stock, giving it 40% ownership of GM, plus another $10 billion in cash over time. That's worth about 76 cents on the dollar, according to some estimates.

In a genuine Chapter 11 bankruptcy, these three groups of creditors would all be similarly situated -- because all three are, for the most part, unsecured creditors of GM. And yet according to the formula presented Monday, those with the largest claim -- the bondholders -- get the smallest piece of the restructured company by a huge margin.

While the WSJ seems to not like the idea that "At the next labor contract bargaining session, the union would sit on both sides of the table," Mickey Kaus points out:
Let the UAW, as new owner of GM, pay the price for the overgrown work rules of its locals. Let the UAW demand above-market raises from itself. Let the UAW try to raise money from new lenders after the previous round of lenders has been royally screwed (thanks, in part, to the UAW). And then let the UAW try to sell the cars that result.

The most efficient way to balance competing interests, as Michael Kinsley noted years ago, isn't an adverserial system where various singleminded interests duke it out--either in court or on picket lines--but in the head of a decisionmaker who will feel the relevant consequences. As long as the government steps out of the financing picture, the UAW will feel the consequences of its own excesses. Just don't bail them out again!

Wish I could be sure about that last bit...but as for the rest, it would certainly change the worker/management relationship.

Out on the Town

Justin Katz

Apparently, there will be strict adherence to the guest list at Mattapalooza tonight at Dave & Buster's in Providence, but I'll be there and will likely check in from time to time. (Not knowing what's in store, I don't want to promise liveblogging, per se.)

I'm also hoping to make it to the RIGOP Black Caucus kick-off at Tazza Cafe, but family-related scheduling may intervene. As readers know, I'm really not a fan of identity politics — quite the opposite — but the message that it is possible to believe in Republican ideals no matter the color of one's skin, as obvious as that should be, is an important one to make.

New Charter Schools Coming?

Marc Comtois

There are currently 11 charter schools in RI and the cap is 20. Now that a four year moratorium has been lifted, there are technically 8 entities seeking permission to open "new" charter schools (the Paul Cuffee school wants to expand to 9th grade, which is defined as "new"). I say, let them all go for it (assuming they're qualified). Here are the candidates, according to the ProJo.

•Two proposals have already received “preliminary approval” from the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education: the Segue Institute, a middle school in Central Falls; and the Urban League Middle College in East Providence. Segue still hopes to open this fall but the Urban League is unlikely to be ready then.

•The Paul Cuffee School in Providence hopes to receive $800,000 that would allow it to expand into ninth grade this fall. The K-8 school’s plan is to expand to a full high school.

•Two proposals — the Greene School, an environmental high school serving 210 students in Exeter and West Greenwich, and the Nathanael Greene/Potowomut Charter School in Warwick — have been “recommended” by the state Department of Education, but have not been granted preliminary approval.

•Three other groups have recently submitted proposals to the state Department of Education and public hearings were held earlier in April and are waiting for preliminary approval from the department. They are: a “mayoral academy” elementary school in Cumberland that would be run by Democracy Prep, a New York-based charter school operator; Enki Community School, a K-8 school serving 198 students, and Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts, a 7-12 performing arts school for 204 students, both in Providence.

A little something for everyone. Importantly (maybe I buried my lede?) the ProJo reports the state wants to prioritize schools in urban/inner city neighborhoods. I agree inasmuch as those kids are the ones most in need of alternative opportunities. So let's hope that most of these prove viable and acceptable and that RI students will have more opportunity--more educational choice--in the near future.

Friedman on Obama and the Memos

Marc Comtois

Thomas Friedman thinks President Obama has taken the most pragmatic approach regarding the Bush Administrations "torture memos." But he also explains why fighting a unique enemy, al Qaeda, brought us to this point. And he wonders what the attitude towards "torture" would be had another attack on American soil occurred.

[T]herefore, the post-9/11 environment remains perilous. One more 9/11 would close our open society another notch. One more 9/11 and you’ll be taking off more than your shoes at the airport. We have the luxury of having this torture debate now because there was no second 9/11, and it was not for want of trying. Had there been, a vast majority of Americans would have told the government (and still will): “Do whatever it takes.”

So President Obama’s compromise is the best we can forge right now: We have to enjoin those who confront Al Qaeda types every day on the frontlines to act in ways that respect who we are, but also to never forget who they are. They are not white-collar criminals. They do not care whether we torture or not — bin Laden declared war on us when Bill Clinton was president.

There are plenty of people who know more than I debating the topic and that there is such a debate indicates to me that we are dealing with a gray area here (not over the killing of detainees, but over what is acceptable--and to what degree--as "interrogation" nee "torture"). Does waterboarding and other methods seem unpleasant. You bet...I wouldn't want to go through it. Is it torture? I don't know. Like many others, when I think of torture, I think of the rack, pulling fingernails, beating people up, etc. Methods that don't leave physical damage don't seem to rise to that level. But just because a method is more psychological than physical, does that mean it's not torture? Like I said, it is a legitimate point to debate. So reasonable people can disagree (or go back and forth with themselves, as I've done...) without any of them being "war criminals."

And though we all want our country to listen to the "better angels" on our shoulder and take the high moral ground, in this new age of "pragmatism", what if dancing in the gray area achieves important, life-saving results? To some, such pragmatism--or moral compromise--is worth the lives saved. Others would say no, not at any cost. It's a personal line and tough to implement as policy. For myself, I'll take a little psychological discomfort for some terrorists over alternative (that doesn't mean I want to see detainees humiliated a la Abu Ghraib). Interestingly, Friedman doesn't credit these techniques for keeping Al Qaeda out of the U.S.: he credits the Iraq War.

I believe that the most important reason there has not been another 9/11, besides the improved security and intelligence, is that Al Qaeda is primarily focused on defeating America in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world — particularly in Iraq. Al Qaeda knows that if it can destroy the U.S. effort (still a long shot) to build a decent, modernizing society in Iraq, it will undermine every U.S. ally in the region.

Conversely, if we, with Iraqis, defeat them by building any kind of decent, pluralistic society in the heart of their world, it will be a devastating blow. Odd as it may seem, the most dangerous moment for us is if Al Qaeda is beaten in Iraq. Because that is when Al Qaeda’s remnants will try to throw a Hail Mary pass — that is, try to set off a bomb in a U.S. city — to obscure its defeat by moderate Arabs and Muslims in the heart of its world.

Taxes and a Possible Taxer

Justin Katz

Andrew briefed the audience of the Matt Allen show last night on the nature of Rhode Island taxes and fees, along with some notes on the bungling beginning of Lincoln Chafee's gubernatorial run. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

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What to Make of the Swine Flu?

Justin Katz

It's difficult to know how to react to the swine flu news blitz. Cases around the globe are broadly scattered, but not extensive. The death rate in Mexico, while certainly concerning and, moreover, tragic for those who've lost loved ones, doesn't seem all that high. Yet, the World Health Organization (WHO) has raised its warning level to one step below doom, the story's been on the front page of the Providence Journal for two days in a row (today including a map of the disease's reach), North Kingstown high school has shut down, and several cases have emerged across New England.

Reasonableness would seem to suggest that people not take more extreme precautions than increased hand-washing and such until those maps begin showing hundreds of cases where there are currently a few, but at that point, it could be too late if we're looking at a deadly pandemic. (Although, again, the fact that the peak seems to have been reached in Mexico suggests that it's not a doomsday virus.) We're certainly fortunate, however, to live in a time during which news can spread more quickly than the disease that is its topic.

Without delving into partisan criticism, I will say that this logic, which the president has echoed, strikes me as odd (from the first link above):

"Closing our nation's borders is not merited here," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at a mid-afternoon briefing, echoing comments she made earlier in the day while being pressed by senators at a hearing.

She said closing borders or U.S. ports would have enormous adverse economic consequences and would have "no impact or very little" to help stop the spread of the virus.

"This virus is already in the United States. Any containment theory ... is really moot at this time," Napolitano said.

That doesn't really jibe with my notion of containment. Fewer than a hundred people spread across a nation of more than 300 million is substantially less of a threat than travel to a country in which thousands of cases have been confirmed. It's not as if we're a single body that has been infected.

April 29, 2009

With Friends (and Moderators) Like These...

Justin Katz

Contrary to aspersions in the comment section of my previous post on this topic, my source was not incorrect that Town Council member Jay Lambert voted against Mike Burk as financial town meeting moderator. According to a Sakonnet Times article (not online), following a profiles-in-courage strategy, he changed his vote, apparently in a way, by tone or by timing, that kept the news from getting back to members of Tiverton Citizens for Change right away:

After an initial 5 - 1 vote made it clear that Mr. Burk had won, Mr. Lambert asked to change his vote to Mr. Burk "to make it unanimous."

I'll say this: TCC moved quickly last summer. For the next election, it may be that we'll need a better developed endorsement procedure.

As for Mr. Burk, himself, he's very confident in his own capacity for neutrality:

Council member Louise Durfee said that Mr. Burk, in his application, had addressed these concerns. In the e-mail, Mr. Burk said that while "I am certainly a passionate advocate for my beliefs, I also fully recognize that the Moderator's role is to be the neutral arbiter and facilitator of the Town Meeting and I take that role very seriously."

Mr. Burk went on to say he recognizes the need to put his own beliefs in his back pocket "to ensure a fair Town Meeting process" and said that others who had seen him in action leading meetings would say "I am a very fair and reasonable facilitator."

First, as I mention in the comment section to a letter that I sent to the Sakonnet Times, Mr. Burk has previously given some indication of his fidelity to rules by asserting it to be his job (as a school committee member) to advocate for their budget using resources available to the committee, even though that's explicitly against school department administrative policy.

Second, I'd point out that the back pocket is a nicely accessible location from which to draw a metaphorical knife. Moderators help to determine who speaks when, to determine what is and is not in order, and even to make the call on voice votes. It is not unreasonable paranoia to imagine that advocacy can have a way of creeping into one's judgments on such matters. Recall, for example, the moment at last year's FTM when an audience member challenged the one and only amendment — of the allowable three — to propose decreasing the budget on the grounds that he had been at the microphone first. He was lying, and even a toss of the coin would have been unfair.

Can we expect balanced judgment from this man?

  • Cursing at the Budget Committee (language warning): stream, download (4sec)
  • Same, only this time using a religious swear: stream, download (4sec)
  • Shouting at Budget Committee member Cynthia Nebergall: stream, download (1min 18sec)

Officially, He is Not Officially Running for Governor

Carroll Andrew Morse

Former Senator Lincoln Chafee claims that he has not yet officially begun his gubernatorial campaign.

Someone needs to let his web-team know this, because this is what the masthead of the Chafee for Governor website reads as of 3:00 pm today…

Lincoln Chafee: Independent Candidate for Rhode Island Governor
But the most important question comes from the line immediately below the masthead…
Rhode Island needs a bold new direction.
Is a "bold new direction" meant to imply that a Governor Chafee will work on advancing something like true pension reform, or something like a crushing tax increase? Knowing the answer to that question is much more important than knowing whether the current state of the campaign is official or unofficial.

Taxes Plus Fees In Rhode Island

Carroll Andrew Morse

This past Monday, the Projo's Neil Downing concluded his story on the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council's analysis of the state budget with this note…

RIPEC also urged that the state review the range of fees it charges. The group said that, when compared with other states, Rhode Island ranks near the bottom regarding income from charges and miscellaneous revenues.

The state should review fees and other such charges “to [ensure] the adequacy of charges for services, the need for the charges and whether the state can seek additional non-tax income,” the RIPEC report said.

Here's the opening step of the suggested review: using 2005-2006 state and local revenue data from the Census bureau (the latest year for which data available is online) and 2006 income data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Rhode Island's ranking per $1,000 of income in the fee and miscellaneous charge categories tracked by the Federal Government can be determined…

Housing and community development 4
Other general revenue 13
Air transportation (airports)17
Sea and inland port facilities29
Other charges29
Institutions of higher education32
School lunch sales (gross)34
Natural resources34
Parks and recreation41
Parking facilities42
Solid waste management44

However, ranking alone doesn't tell the entire story. For example, for a category like "Natural Resources, RI's lower-half ranking doesn't impact total revenue collected very much because no state collects very much in that category relative to its total budget. One way to evaluate the revenue impact from a state's policy in a particular fee area is add fees to the the total taxes collected, for each fee category in each state, then re-rank the totals and see how the results shift.

When only state and local taxes are considered, Rhode Island begins in the 2005-2006 Federal data from a rank of 8th from the top per $1,000 of income. The table below lists how inclusion of each individual fee category would change that rank...

Institutions of higher education-5
Other charges-4
Other general revenue-2
Sea and inland port facilities-1
Parks and recreation-1
Solid waste management-1
School lunch sales (gross)0
Air transportation (airports)0
Parking facilities0
Natural resources0
Housing and community development 0

In other words, Rhode Island's 8th place ranking in taxes drops to 24th when the sum of taxes plus hospital fees are considered, to 13th when the sum of taxes plus higher ed fees are considered, etc.

Obviously, whatever it is that makes hospitals in Rhode Island different from hospitals in most of the rest of the country (except maybe Vermont, who holds down the number 50 spot on the "hospitals" list) has to be determined, before anyone can advance a serious claim that our state's fees are too low.

The Specter of a Problem

Justin Katz

Senator Arlen Specter says it all in just a single sentence:

"I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate -- not prepared to have that record decided by that jury," he said.

After three decades in the federal government, the folks who've labored to keep you in office become less important than the power. Everything is apt to become less important than the power.

So we should all thank Mr. Specter for the reminder that term limits are worth bringing up at every opportunity. (Of course, with centuries of cumulative years of "service" currently sitting in Congress, there's a whole lot of power likely to be brought to bear against such a movement.)

Boats All Around

Monique Chartier

Or vacations. Or home remodeling. Or a down payment. Whatever a second home mortgage will buy.

Today's Washington Post reports that taxpayers will be picking up part of the cost of these goodies for distressed (second) mortgagors.

The Obama administration unveiled an expansion of its $75 billion foreclosure prevention plan yesterday, providing new subsidies to mortgage lenders and investors.

* * *

The administration's housing plan pays lenders to help borrowers stay in their homes by modifying their mortgages to an affordable level. But, the plan as first announced in February applied only to primary mortgages. Now, lenders will be eligible for payments when they modify the terms of a second mortgage, including a home-equity line.

About 50 percent of at-risk borrowers have a second mortgage, which can make it difficult for them to afford their homes even after payments are cut on their primary mortgages. Second mortgages were popular during the housing boom for buyers who could not afford big down payments.

Under the new plan, lenders would receive $500 for modifying the second mortgage, plus $250 a year for three years if the loan remains current. The borrower would be eligible for $250 a year for five years to lower their principal balance. The borrower could have the interest rate lowered to 1 percent, depending on the type of loan, with the government sharing the cost of the rate reduction.

How will this expansion of an already bad program be funded, you ask? That part's okay.

The program ... will be paid for through bailout funds already allocated to the program, officials said.

See, if the money has already been allocated, it really doesn't count as public spending.

The point of this post is, what about undistressed mortgagors? This Congress, the Obama administration and many of their supporters are big on "fair". But not everyone who owns their home was stupid smart enough to take out a second mortgage and buy that big ticket item. Wouldn't it only be fair if all of those people got to do so now? Then they can jump into this program, too. (Eventually, of course, we have to figure out how to get us apartment rats in on the action. Why should we get left out of "fair" just because we don't own our homes?)

Participate, Because Somebody Else Will

Justin Katz

Herewith, the text of my speech at the Tiverton Citizens for Change Taxpayer Forum on Monday night. (Audio, with some extemporaneous differences: stream, download [5min 29sec])

Let's be honest. For most of us, this whole civic participation thing is a chore. It's a responsibility. We stay informed; we vote; and really that should be enough. One reason we have elected representatives is to free up the rest of us to be productive, keep the economy going, and pursue happiness.

And yet the previous speakers who called for increased participation — to the extent of committing ourselves to campaigns and elective office — are absolutely right. We may have no desire to make a career, or even a sabbatical, out of public service, we may have no thirst for political power, but that is precisely why we are needed. Simply put, if we don't step forward, somebody else will. Somebody who doesn't see government as a chore.

As an indication of what I'm talking about, I'm going to read a few lines from the infamous fire-truck petition:

This proposal is being sought because the item was not considered by the Tiverton Budget Committee in the docket for this year and because numerous members of the Tiverton Budget Committee have advocated a maximum increase in the annual tax levy not to exceed one percent or zero, because the Tiverton Budget Committee is recommending a slashed school operational budget in order to achieve their desired goal ... and because these same Budget Committee members are squandering the limited ability to utilize tax revenues under the State mandated cap of 4.75% to improve the community as a whole.

There's no statement of dire need to buy such equipment despite the horrible economy. No research about the likely changes in property insurance. No examples of lives that would recently have been saved. The authors of this petition didn't even bother to note properties that might have been preserved in the past. According to news reports, they didn't even consult the fire chief!

Their primary motivation, in other words, is to out-maneuver people they don't like on the Budget Committee, and secondly, to claim as much of your income as possible. Their design is to take money from every taxpayer in Tiverton and allocate it to the priorities of a few people with the time and motivation to manipulate procedure.

Some of these people either benefit directly from town government or are close to people who do. Others of them, well, who knows? Maybe they've got their eyes on the State House and maybe, in their long-term aspirations, on Congress. Maybe they just like the feeling of a little local prominence. Or maybe it's more like a high school popularity thing.

I want to stress, here, that I'm not talking about everybody in local government, whether I agree with them or not. But this is certainly a segment — a vocal and active contingent that must be countered. And the reason it must be countered is that if somebody is in government for personal gain, whether of the wallet or of the ego, or even if he or she just thought it'd be a nice way to get involved in the community, then that person is going to be more susceptible to special interests.

For example, throughout the recent teachers' contract discussions, we heard again and again, from the union as well as people on the other side of the negotiating table, that the money was "in the budget." The people of Tiverton — the argument went — wanted that money to go to the teachers' union. And now, here we stand, with all of the town's major contracts up for negotiation during a down economy, and the school committee chairman told the Budget Committee that he's got no bargaining leverage. The Town Council President claims it's easier to have too much money in the budget for labor and to put some back in the general fund if negotiations go well.

What these representatives should be advocating is to force the unions to negotiate against a taxpayer-mandated cut. Instead, there's been a push, which we'll probably see again at the financial town meeting, to postpone budget decisions until after the unions are all settled up. The Committee and the Council want to negotiate with an admittedly weak hand rather than to be able to say to the unions, "The money is not in the budget. At least you have your jobs."

You probably already know the argument that we'll hear if the FTM occurs after the fact. "These contracts are signed. There's nothing we can do. Except raise taxes. Oh, and by the way, we're going to need more money to staff, equip, and fuel our new fire truck."

Folks, we do have to start small, and that means simply attending the financial town meeting. But we also have to build, because these people, these problems, already permeate our system at every layer of government. TCC is available to provide some structure — and some moral support — at the town level, and the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition is growing at the state level for the same purpose, but there really is no substitute for participation.

We've reached the point in Tiverton and in Rhode Island that participation is no longer a civic duty or chore. It's a matter of self defense.

William Felkner: Card-Checking Arlen Specter

Engaged Citizen

Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter has become a Democrat. Many view this as only a change of label, but it could have a significant impact nonetheless.

As you may all be painfully aware, card-check legislation is pending in Washington. If passed, it would eliminate the secret ballot for workers and give unions the ability to knock on potential members' doors and say whatever it takes to get a signature on a small card, which will still be a binding legal document that would force collective bargaining on an employer.

Elimination of the secret ballot also eliminates the assurance that the worker has ample opportunity to hear both sides of the argument.

This legislation has been struggling to be passed. Inside the beltway rumors have it that the swing vote, Senator Specter, hasn’t received enough "support" from the unions yet but was keeping the door open to persuasion.

My birdies that fly south-right for the winter tell me that the Republican National Committee has threatened Specter that if he supported card-check it would throw its support behind his likely primary opponent, Pat Toomey. Well, it looks like we can call him the general election opponent now.

Regardless of where this shakes out, it still bodes ill for workers' rights to secret ballots. The Democrats, who are clearly taking direction from the unions on this issue, are only one or two votes away from the 60 needed to close out the Republicans (depending on how the
Franken/Coleman race goes). Because card-check is such bad legislation, any compromise will be a step in the wrong direction.

Bill Felkner is the president of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute, sponsor of the LRB Watch website and the Transparency Train public information portal.

TCC Taxpayer Forum Audio

Justin Katz

The following speeches were given at the Tiverton Citizens for Change taxpayer forum on Monday, April 27.

April 28, 2009

Chafee Makes It Official

Carroll Andrew Morse

Richard C. Dujardin of the Projo reports...

Ending several weeks of “exploration” into whether he would run for the job, former U.S. Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee announced Tuesday night that he is an independent candidate for governor of Rhode Island.

Chafee put the news out on a Web site, www.chafeeforgovernor.com, as well as in an interview on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show.

Thoughts on Immigration: Tancredo Here; Howard Down Under

Monique Chartier

Former Congressman Tom Tancredo will have two public appearances tomorrow in Rhode Island: the first, at 4:30 pm outside of the gate (outside because the college did not invite him to speak inside; there are conflicting reports as to how and why this came about) of Providence College; the second, at 7:00 pm at the Euart Post, 55 Overland Avenue, Pawtucket.

On the slightly different matter of immigration (as opposed to the illegal variety), in 2007, then Prime Minister of Australia John Howard changed the name of the "Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs" to the "Department of Immigration and Citizenship". Asked why he did so by The Corner's Peter Robinson, Mr. Howard replied

The whole idea of immigration is to make citizens. Multiculturalsim is a very confused credo.

From the Prince Kennedy Hagiography's Cutting Room Floor

Justin Katz

Vincent Bzdek contacted me requesting a comment for a Patrick Kennedy profile related to mental health parity that he was beginning to write for the Washington Post back in early December. Well, it looks like he and the editors decided to go with the "no criticism" angle. To be sure, the following would have stood out as if in dark, bold text amidst all that glowing language:

To be honest, I think such healthcare mandates as the parity bill represent a harmful impulse. They help some small number of people — people who truly do face difficulties and whom society ought to help as a moral matter — but in doing so, they simply transfer, and probably broaden, the struggle. It's the sort of thing that politicians do to justify posturing as if they've solved a problem, when really they've likely increased the net amount of suffering in the world.

Insurance companies aren't simply going to eat the increased costs; there isn't a pool, somewhere, of the money that they've saved by not covering that which Kennedy will now force upon them. So they'll pass on the shortfall to others. Perhaps they'll compensate by decreasing coverage in some category that isn't thus protected.

In Patrick's case, however, it was certainly a shrewd move. The issue served to redirect attention toward a perceivedly positive goal to evolve his narrative away from the string of embarrassing and reckless comments and incidents that left some Rhode Islanders calling for his resignation. He's well liked by a segment of Rhode Island's population, but there's a significant contingent of us who can't react to him otherwise than by shaking our heads in disbelief. The former group now has a direct response to arguments from the latter.

Fortunately for the congressman, however, economic and political realities in the state are driving out thousands of Rhode Islanders, and it's a safe bet that a majority of them are from the side that would sooner see Kennedy as the straightman in a late-night comedy skit than in Congress.

Bzdek would have us believe that Patrick himself had the inspiration, rebuffing his political advisers, to transform his addictions into activism, but the pieces all fall together just a little too neatly for that to be wholly accurate. Kennedy's ailing father muscled the legislation through, making it the legislative vessel for the first "gotta have it" bailout. Now Patrick's declaring it to be his vindication as a Kennedy, linking him with his family's legacy of civil rights stances:

"How could I have ever imagined that this subject, which I think is going to be my undoing, becomes the platform that connects me to my family's legacy? And continues it."

How, indeed. The crown is being handed over, and the media is content to be complicit.

Pollster Rasmussen on State of the GOP

Marc Comtois

Pollster Scott Rasmussen offers this analysis of the current state of the national GOP (h/t):

Many Republicans had expressed concern about the growth of government spending throughout the Bush years. Then there was the immigration issue. On that topic, the Bush team championed a bill that was even less popular than the bailouts. Eventually, despite strong bipartisan support in Congress, the Senate surrendered to public opinion and failed to pass the Bush-backed reform. Beltway Republicans just didn't recognize the large gap between Mainstream American and the Political Class on this issue and assumed that those angry about it are angry at the immigrants. In fact, data shows that the anger is directed primarily at the federal government...

By the end of Bush's second term, the war in Iraq had dragged down the GOP, and Beltway Republicans became identified as the party of big business. That's not a good place to be when 70% of Americans view big business and big government on the same team working against the interests of consumers and investors.

The gap between Beltway Republicans and the Republican base is part of a wider gap between the Mainstream and the Political Class. On many issues, the gap between Mainstream Americans and the Political Class is bigger than the gap between Mainstream Republicans and Mainstream Democrats.

But Political Class Democrats control Congress and the White House while their GOP counterparts have little in the way of power and influence to overcome the disconnect with their base....Look for the Republican Party to sink further into irrelevancy as long as its key players insist on hanging around Congress or K Street for their ideas. The future for the GOP is beyond the Beltway.

Arlen Specter's party switch confirms the impression that many average Republicans have of inside-the-beltway-GOPers. Specter liked being a Republican because he could win as one and wield power. Now, he can't wield the power (in the minority) and he may not even make it out of his own GOP primary. So he's switching purely for self-preservation* because he had fallen out of touch with his party. He wouldn't be the first moderate to tack in a different direction based on some poll soul searching.

UPDATE: Surprise....former Sen. Chafee offers his two cents:

"The party is not changing, they are not learning from all of this. We've seen a huge wipeout in the Senate," Chafee said. "You'd think they'd want to change direction as they slip deeper and deeper into the minority and that's just not happening. They went after Arlen Specter in a blue state primary and look what happened, he just walked across the aisle."
Of course, the convenient mis-remembering here is that the National party didn't "go after" Senator Chafee, the Senate re-election committee stood by him, choosing pragmatism over ideological purity. It still wasn't enough for Chafee to defeat up-and-coming Democratic superstar Sheldon Whitehouse (ahem). The former Senator still has a knack for putting the blame for the short-circuiting of his political birthright on everyone except for the guy in the mirror.

*NOTE: Pennsylvania is a closed primary state, unlike Rhode Island. So when polls of Republicans in Penn. showed Specter way behind, the structure of Penn. primaries simply don't allow for the groundswell of independent (or Democratic) voters that saved Chafee versus Laffey in the 2008 RI GOP Senate primary. If RI was a closed primary state, it's a good bet Sen. Chafee would have found the Democratic party more comfortable, too.

The Nature of the Prostitution Business

Justin Katz

The other afternoon, Dan Yorke was discussing, on 630AM/99.7FM WPRO, the human trafficking side of Rhode Island's legal prostitution business, and several callers put forward the argument maintaining the occupation's legality in Rhode Island prevents a slide down the slippery slope of interference in our bedrooms. The obvious response that came to mind was that the slope seems otherwise no better preserved in Rhode Island than in the 48 states that explicitly outlaw whore-biz.

Until I'd read a recent story about an intervention program in Chicago to help women escape that life, a larger point lingered just beyond the edge of articulation. Here's the key statement:

Over the years, the department has discovered, more than 40 percent of the women in the jail have worked as prostitutes at some point in their lives. Prostitution was not a choice but rather a consequence of all the other failures in their lives, the staff says.

Selling sex, in other words, is an industry that tends toward depravity and abuse. It draws in and destroys the vulnerable.

What the ratio might be of such women to those who take up the trade as an economic calculation — the old "put myself through college" claim — I won't hazard to guess. As a matter of morality, I'd suggest that all who perform such acts are behaving immorally, but our pluralistic society ought at least to be sufficiently confident to declare it illegal to profit directly from this particular moral failing in our fellow human beings.

Corrected: Breaking Local News Related to FTM Moderator

Justin Katz

At the tail end of our Tiverton Citizens for Change meeting, I received word that Mike Burk won the position as financial town meeting moderator on a unanimous council vote a council vote of five to one, with Jay Lambert voting against and, with Council President Don Bollin suspiciously absent.

Well, I warned of the outcome should this come to pass.

Not How It's Supposed to Work

Justin Katz

One bullet stuck out in Mark Patinkin's latest scattered-thoughts column:

It doesn't work to seek your kids' sympathy by saying you had a harder day than they did, because as far as they're concerned, you're supposed to.

So true is this that it's typically a mistake to do the hardship tit-for-tat with one's children. Better to turn the emphasis around to encourage in them such fortitude as you display every day as an adult.

If anybody figures out how to do that, please let me know.

Operation Clean Government Panel Audio (Continued 3)

Justin Katz

Picking up from the end of the previous string of audio, the following audio is as described on Anchor Rising's live blogging of Operation Clean Government's spring forum:

  • WPRO's Dan Yorke asks how leaders can accomplish a major change in Rhode Island: stream, download (57sec)
  • URI economics professor Leonard Lardaro suggests that we have to look toward the future in our decisions and that "everybody's indirect motto is 'everything's negotiable'": stream, download (1min 32sec)
  • First audience question goes to the man who shouted out angrily at General Treasurer Frank Caprio, who predicts a Governor Caprio and winds up asking why Rhode Islanders vote so badly: stream, download (2min 38sec)
  • Representative Elizabeth Dennigan (D., East Providence, Pawtucket) suggests that voters should "be discerning" and vote based on issues, not personality: stream, download (27sec)
  • John Hazen White, Jr., President and CEO of Taco, Inc., expresses the opinion that people should vote for politicians who don't see it as a career: stream, download (19sec)
  • Buddy from Johnston asks Dennigan to stop legislative grants ("rub and tug"), and she replies, "It's not an equitable system, and it's not dispersed equallly, so it shouldn't be dispersed at all": stream, download (1min 49sec)
  • Caprio answers a call for a pitch from government to business by saying that the government should exist to serve businesses, period; "Over taxation; over regulation; every time a business deals with government, it's confrontational":stream, download (1min 29sec)
  • An audience questioner asks, as a landlord, where tenants are going to come from, and she and Yorke have an interesting discussion on citizen activism: stream, download (5min 23sec)
  • Another questioner decries government cronyism: stream, download (1min 57sec)
  • Terry Gorman of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement asks why the state can't pass E-Verify: stream, download (1min 29sec)
  • Dennigan is "glad to see that the Obama administration is working on a system that will secure our borders": stream, download (41sec)
  • Caprio says, "Pass E-Verify; we're a country of laws; enforce the law": stream, download (13sec)
  • Department of Administration director Gary Sasse notes that the state currently uses E-Verify and businesses should be able to, and Yorke notes the difference in citizen enthusiasm between illegal immigration (high) and government inefficiency (low): stream, download (2min 56sec)
  • Caprio turns the question toward state aid and minimum manning mandates: stream, download (39sec)
  • Harry Staley of Rhode Island Statewide Coalition takes the audience mic expresses the concern of suburbanites that regionalization and consolidation will only direct money to the maw of Providence, and Yorke suggests that RISC make this its issue: stream, download (2min 38sec)
  • An audience questioner promotes ending the straight ticket ballot option, and Dennigan says she "strongly supports" it, as do others on the panel: stream, download (1min 13sec)
  • An audience member offers her diagnosis of Rhode Island's problem: "Rhode Island is a victim of rape": stream, download (32sec)
  • Another audience members says Rhode Islanders don't know what to believe and are too trusting of their leaders and asks how to develop a relationship with their representatives; Caprio: "Run against them or get in their face with a lot of people": stream, download (2min 29sec)
  • Yorke talks about wrapping up: stream, download (24sec)
  • An audience question about searching for a new Economic Development director; Sasse answers: stream, download (1min 17sec)
  • Governor's wife Sue Carcieri mentions the problem of monopartisanism and raises voter ID: stream, download (1min 32sec)
  • Caprio notes his ranking on Anchor Rising's top 10 right-of-center list for RI and, after some prompting from Yorke, declares definitively that he is not considering switching parties: stream, download (1min 17sec)
  • A college student expresses fear about not finding a job in Rhode Island and asks whether the people leaving the state like him or are more established people packing up and going; general agreement of "both," including from Lardaro: stream, download (1min 16sec)
  • Former OCG director Bruce Lang speaks of reducing the size of government, implementing term limits for legislators, and the power of public employee unions ("run the legislature"): stream, download (1min 20sec)
  • Dennigan notes that 55% of the state budget is social services but refuses to answer whether unions and social service advocates should dominate government expenditures, instead giving an example of somebody who relies on social services: stream, download (1min 54sec)
  • Yorke recalls the question about having state government "get out of a business" or two: stream, download (27sec)
  • An audience member talks about cutting taxes and being more targeted in government solutions and citizen activism: stream, download (1min 23sec)
  • Another audience member recaps and raises the straight ticket issue again: stream, download (51sec)
  • Representative Rod Driver (D., Charlestown, Exeter, Richmond) decries prevailing wage requirements and other state mandates on cities and towns: stream, download (41sec)
  • The panel members state that which they learned during the morning's event: stream, download (1min 32sec)
  • Governor Don Carcieri offers a closing summation, saying that government is not the proper channel for charity and social justice: stream, download (6min 38sec)
  • Yorke offers his own closing summation: stream, download (2min 42sec)

April 27, 2009

Gearing up for the Financial Town Meeting

Justin Katz

I've arrived early at tonight's Tiverton Citizens for Change FTM-prep meeting, at which I'll be speaking. (FTM stands for financial town meeting). Even people who aren't speaking began walking through the VFW door about a half-hour early.

Hopefully turn-out will be good, although it would likely be too optimistic to expect an equivalent turnout to our meeting last year. After all, that one followed a controversial event. This year, we're trying to prevent a repeat.

I'll be checking in as I'm able. If you can come, please do.

6:52 p.m.

Well, we've already surpassed the average town council, school committee, or budget committee meeting. Harry Staley from the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition is here (he's speaking). General Assembly Rep. Jay Edwards (D., Tiverton) just arrived (he's not speaking).

7:10 p.m.

We're starting a little late, owing to a delayed speaker. Rep. John Loughlin (R., Tiverton, Little Compton, Portsmouth) just arrived, though.

7:23 p.m.

About sixty people are here. TCC President Dave Nelson opened the meeting, followed by TCC & Budget Committee member Tom Parker, who is currently reviewing budget amounts and processes.

7:34 p.m.

Harry Staley is up:

7:37 p.m.

Providing some anecdotes, Harry's describing the way things work in Rhode Island. He emphasized that it doesn't matter what party it is that has a monopoly on government; it's not healthy.

"Instead of facing up to the problems that we have, they're going to turn to the stimulus money to pump it in to the current deficit." That'll make things worse... and he's somewhat pessimistic.

7:56 p.m.

TCC member and Budget Committee chairman Jeff Caron is going through some financial changes that we'd like to see made moving forward:

8:12 p.m.

Bill Murphy of the East Providence Taxpayer Association has taken the microphone:

Bill's characterizing the current power of special interests in RI as "a hostile takeover of government."

8:19 p.m.

A great comparison of the U.S. Army, in which officers wait for the enlisted men to eat, with U.S. and RI government, in which the leaders take for themselves and then divvy up some of what's left.

There are no (retirement) Guarantees

Marc Comtois

In light of this story ("Auto Retirees Brace for Hardship"), Michael Barone observes:

Liberals like to argue that defined contribution pension plans, in which you and your employer contribute money and you invest it, don’t provide absolute protection, because you may invest the money foolishly or the whole market may go down. And they’re right. But it’s also true that a defined benefit pension plan, like those of Chrysler and General Motors, don’t provide absolute protection either. And one might add, as Megan McArdle does in a very wise blogpost, government pension plans don’t provide absolute protection either. Just read the recent stories about how CalPERS, America’s biggest public pension plan, long lauded for its sagacity, has lost oodles and oodles of money.
McArdle makes the salient point that government pension funds aren't much better:
Er . . . look at the state of state pension funds. They're often worse, because the private pension funds (now) have the government to sit on them and make sure their assets bear at least a theoretical relationship to their eventual liabilities. The government is rather too inclined to cut itself slack on that necessity.
That's for sure.

When the Majority Is Convenient

Justin Katz

Here in Tiverton, there's some growing grumbles about the latest property revaluation, which appears to have shifted the weight of the tax burden toward those with waterfront property. Our situation appears mild (so far) in comparison with Barrington's. Nonetheless, the phrase "class warfare" has been uttered, here and there, which is why a sentiment expressed by Barrington Town Council member Kate Weymouth raises a red flag:

"The majority of residents in this town are satisfied with their assessments and I am elected by the majority."

Not knowing Ms. Weymouth's history, I wouldn't apply this to her, but the thought occurs that public officials are keen to be the voice of the voiceless, when that suits their preferences, or the voice of the majority, when their inclinations are in sync.

School Committee Bill "May" Infringe on Spirit of Open Gov't

Marc Comtois

Warwick School Committee member Patrick Maloney has called attention to a proposed amendment to the "Open Meetings" law. According to House bill H5497 (sponsored by Representatives Hearn, Shallcross Smith, Marcello, Carnevale, and DaSilva):

Written public notice shall include, but need not be limited to, posting a copy of the notice at the principal office of the public body holding the meeting, or if no principal office exists, at the building in which the meeting is to be held, and in at least one other prominent place within the governmental unit, and electronic filing of the notice with the secretary of state pursuant to subsection (f); provided, that in the case of school committees the required public notice shall may be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the school district under the committee's jurisdiction...
Maloney writes, "In a time when we are looking for more transparency in Government, this bill calls for making School Committee meeting announcements in the newspaper optional. This is a step in the wrong direction." No doubt. The bill is being heard by the House Finance Committee's sub-committee on Education on Wednesday, April 29 at 2 PM in (Room 35) and by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, April 28 (no time available) in Room 205.

Head of Homeland Insecurity

Monique Chartier

Can we please trade in Janet Napolitano?

She has a seriously distorted take on the source and extent of domestic terror threats. (Her eventual apology for the worst of that report does not change the fact that she clearly possesses bad instincts for the job.)

She thought the 911 attackers arrived here from Canada. (They flew here directly from Saudi Arabia.)

Now, as some use the word "pandemic" with reference to the potential course of the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico and the US declares a public health emergency over it, she has declined to test or monitor arrivals from Mexico, much less impose a travel ban. Wouldn't this be a first line of defense, Madam Secretary? Not the only one, thanks to our elected officials lax enforcement of the border. But not to be omitted, either. Why such a passive approach to this potentially serious health threat?

A monkey would be preferable in the post. At least we'd have a fifty/fifty shot at a correct response to any given threat. This would be a considerable improvement over the batting average of the current occupant, who invariably makes the wrong call.

A Bleak Economy and a Lack of Solutions

Justin Katz

Making a prediction that employment trends won't turn around in Rhode Island until the end of 2011 or 2012, John Kostrzewa included a couple of points in his column, yesterday, that merit further thought:

While [Northeastern University labor economist Paul] Harrington argued that Rhode Island's education system helped get the state in trouble, it can also be the path to recovery.

That will require developing an educational system that prepares students for the workplace by teaching the skills needed to land a job. A skilled work force will attract employers, who are always looking for pools of qualified people to design and build their products or deliver their services.

The difficulty is that you can't keep workers without having jobs for them to fill. Especially with Kostrzewa and my shared expectation that Rhode Island will trail the country in recovery, the likelihood would seem to be that skilled workers will exit the state in search of jobs. If the state takes the attitude that it will build the workforce and jobs will come, it will likely find itself investing in education that ultimately benefits other states' economies, actually delaying our own.

This ties in with another point at which Kostrzewa and I diverge:

The real hard work is going to be focusing the state's leaders, their efforts and resources on figuring out the type of jobs that could come to Rhode Island and then crafting the courses and training sessions that match the workers with the jobs.

It's a huge undertaking.

But it's an absolute must if Rhode Islanders are going to have a future that is better than their recent past.

Put flatly, I don't trust our state's leaders to find a future direction for Rhode Island's economy. If that were their competency, they'd be leaders of industry, not of a lagging political entity. They won't find the proper balance between citizen expectations, special interests, and economic health. Instead, they'll spin special interests' desires in such a way as to pervert citizen expectations with a false promise of an improved economy.

What we need — all we need — is for the state government to withdraw from the economy over which it presides. We need lower taxes, less regulation, fewer mandates, and a focus on improved infrastructure. Clean off the runway, and the businesses that are a good match for Rhode Island will land here — having done the homework that survival necessitates.

See, businesses need a rolling economy to survive. Politicians just need votes, and with our corrupted philosophy of government, votes are solidified in several instances when the population is uncomfortable, even panicked.

April 26, 2009

Operation Clean Government Panel Audio (Continued 2)

Justin Katz

The following audio continues where the related post left off, in keeping with Anchor Rising's live blogging of Operation Clean Government's spring forum:

  • WPRO's Dan Yorke asked where the side that's supposed to counterbalance special interests has been, to some confusion over whether he means elected representatives or voters, with short responses from General Treasurer Frank Caprio: stream, download (29sec)
  • Representative Elizabeth Dennigan (D., East Providence, Pawtucket) says the public has to do its homework, seeming to imply that citizens ought to analyze portions of the budget; "help us out": stream, download (1min 7sec)
  • Yorke specifies the question to ask why the General Assembly leadership isn't in the room; "Do you think they give a damn?"; audience, "No!": stream, download (57sec)
  • Dennigan attempts to compliment her leadership, but slipped up to say, "I'll give them kudos for letting me be here"; 30 seconds of audience turbulence, including one shout of "there's the diagnosis"; Yorke pursued, and Dennigan responded awkwardly: stream, download (1min 29sec)
  • Yorke questions whether anybody is in the room from labor, alludes to labor YouTube videos, compliments Bob Walsh, calls labor's point of view "legitimate," and lists the various issues that politicians must be able to address: stream, download (2min 49sec)
  • Yorke prods Caprio on how he would battle the General Assembly and test labor if governor; when he said, "You dig in with the General Assembly," an irate audience member stood up and started shouting, "You're grandfathered in"; Caprio clarified that "you dig in against them": stream, download (3min 52sec)
  • Having turned the question toward the "one thing" that a governor has to insist upon to turn the state around, Yorke points to Department of Administration head Gary Sasse begins on cutting taxes: stream, download (32sec)
  • Prompted to provide her philosophy on taxation, Dennigan says, "No new taxes; why can't we decrease them?": stream, download (1min 1sec)
  • URI economics professor Leonard Lardaro jumps in to say that "the people of this state have to demand results": stream, download (1min 35sec)
  • Yorke asks what business(es) the state government ought to get out of: stream, download (2min 14sec)
  • John Hazen White, Jr., President and CEO of Taco, Inc., replies "government"; Yorke asks if he's "advocating for chaos": stream, download (1min 2sec)
  • Sasse cites pension reforms, management rights, and tenure reform as areas that need to be accomplished more efficiently; he enumerates that government should be in education, infrastructure, and "realistic safety nets"; "everything else is irrelevant"; "We haven't discussed what we can afford. That's why we've become an entitlement society, because we never assess what we can afford.": stream, download (5min 16sec)
  • Dennigan responds that we need "pension reform" and begins to ramble: stream, download (1min 33sec)
  • Sasse raises provinciality, which becomes a sort of take-away for the morning: stream, download (58sec)
  • Caprio says that we don't need "government layers on top of government layers": stream, download (1min 17sec)

The Mayor's Supplemental Budget: Not Necessarily Better Late than Never

Monique Chartier

On the one hand, the concessions requested by Mayor Cicilline from 5,000+ city employees sound reasonable and necessary given the constraints on both local and state revenue faced by budgeters. [Side note: Local 1033, the city's largest public labor union, is to be applauded for signing on.]

An increase in the health insurance co-share to 15 percent for union personnel, and 20 percent for non-union workers.

•An immediate wage freeze, effective up to and including fiscal year 2010.

•An increase in the retirement age from 55 to 60 years for employees with less than five years of experience and 62 years for new employees.

•An increase in the number of years of service before an employee is eligible to receive full pension benefits to 30 years.

•A decrease in the allowance for disability pensions from 66.67 percent of salary to 50 percent of salary.

•Elimination of a paid holiday.

Cicilline is also mandating two furlough days for non-union staff and said he does not intend to fill 22 vacant firefighter positions and 8 police officer positions.

The only question as to substance would be the intent of the mayor with regard to applicability to the school side of the budget, including specifically staffing levels.

On the other hand, Providence has never been awash in revenue. The Mayor and the City Council have been fully cognizant of this fact all along, of course. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, if this is good and responsible budgeting in 2009, wouldn't it have been better and even more responsible, say, five years ago?

For some reason, fiscal problems that were serious in nature were viewed as too premature to act on. Only when a situation arose that bordered on crisis did it become appropriate to formulate a responsible budget.

Yet if the Mayor and the City Council had, indeed, acted sooner

1.) the crisis could have been partially or largely averted;

2.) tax dollars would have been saved;

3.) the city would have been in a much better position to tackle the economic downturn that was headed its way.

In short, it isn't enough to say, look, we've finally formulated a responsible budget. Timing is also an intrinsic facet of responsiblility.

Comfort Means Your Eyes Are Down

Justin Katz

A few days ago, Associated Press writer Liz Sidoti issued perhaps the most disturbing bit of "journalism" in recent memory:

It didn't take long for Barack Obama — for all his youth and inexperience — to get acclimated to his new role as the calming leader of a country in crisis.

"I feel surprisingly comfortable in the job," the nation's 44th president said a mere two weeks after taking the helm.

A milder complaint was often made of President Clinton, but frankly, a president who claims comfort amidst the current circumstances — from the economy to continuing battles with Islamic radicalism and the various conniving regimes across the globe — is either lying or dangerously overconfident. This isn't to say that our national head ought to appear panicked, but "comfort" wouldn't be a word in the vocabulary of an appropriately realistic and circumspect leader.

President Obama ought to ponder why it is that a significant portion of his constituency doesn't find the title of Mark Steyn's latest to be all that extreme: "The End of the World as We Know It." Steyn enumerates a number of uncomfortable developments on the world scene, but among the most chilling thought comes as an aside (emphasis added):

On the domestic scene, he's determined on a transformational presidency, one that will remake the American people's relationship to their national government ("federal" doesn't seem the quite the word anymore) in terms of health care, education, eco-totalitarianism, state control of the economy, and much else. With a domestic agenda as bulked up as that, the rest of the world just gets in the way.

One wonders if the president's comfort level has something to do with the likelihood that his response to Steyn's title would be something along the lines of, "Yup. The country, too."

We will soon find out unequivocally, as our country shifts its stance, whether the United States, as it has stood in the world, really has been a force for good or for ill.

Operation Clean Government Panel Audio (Continued)

Justin Katz

As some have already noted in Anchor Rising's play-by-play, some significant and interesting things were said at Operation Clean Government's spring forum. Last night, I posted audio of Governor Carcieri's unscheduled speech; thereafter, the panel took the stage:

  • OCG President Arthur "Chuck" Barton introduces the panel, points out some significant people in the audience, and gives brief opening remarks: stream, download (2min, 9sec)
  • WPRO talk show host Dan Yorke kicks off the discussion, asking the panelists to give their diagnosis of Rhode Island's illness: stream, download (3min, 53sec)
  • Dan directs the question to RI General Treasurer Frank Caprio, who gives a solutioning speech (state must be "user friendly" to business), leading Dan to drive the conversation to the question: stream, download (4min, 10sec)
  • John Hazen White, Jr., President & CEO of Taco, Inc., repeats the governor's take, "We are creating a much bigger tax burden; at the same time depleting the tax payers": stream, download (41sec)
  • Unfortunately, an attempt to locate a beeping noise (which turned out not to be my equipment), rendered the short response of Director of Administration Gary Sasse, as well as the beginning of Rep. Dennigan's response, inaudible.
  • Representative Elizabeth Dennigan (D., East Providence, Pawtucket) points the finger at efficiency and transparency, saying "I can tell you as a long-time member of the finance committee that we don't know how we are spending millions": stream, download (29sec)
  • University of Rhode Island Economics Professor Leonard Lardaro blames an endemic approach of Rhode Islanders, specifically that "Too many people in this state have a very exogenous view of the world; things just happen; they don't really associate actions now with outcomes later": stream, download (2min 32sec)
  • Yorke redirects the question redirects the question to define Rhode Islanders: stream, download (3min 20sec)
  • Caprio mentioned the sacrifice of our parents and noted an inclination to help each other, to which Yorke responded that he's describing Americans: stream, download (2min 33sec)
  • Hazen White lauds ingenuity, creativity, etc: stream, download (1min 31sec)
  • Yorke specifies that he's looking more for the philosophical in order to resolve RI's status as "submerged": stream, download (50sec)
  • Dennigan says that we should stop "complaining and encouraging our young students to leave and go somewhere else" and market the state: stream, download (1min 58sec)
  • Yorke suggests that Rhode Islanders must and can be honest about themselves; "The doctor doesn't say, in his mind, you're dying of cancer, but you know what? You're a good egg.": stream, download (1min 34sec)
  • Lardaro says that Rhode Islanders are "deeply caring" but are "consumption oriented" and are "way too trusting of our leaders"; "Tone always seems to supersede accuracy": stream, download (1min 33sec)
  • Sasse expands that "what happened is we became an entitle-mentality state" based on political decisions, which fostered "an inferiority complex": stream, download (1min 42sec)
  • Yorke asks Dennigan whether Rhode Islanders have courage; the crowd says, "no"; Dennigan points to the people in the room as an example of courage: stream, download (33sec)
  • Yorke defines the question as having the grit to change our lifestyle, making it healthier; "Would Rhode Islanders rather die than do the things that the doctor has prescribed?"; audience member: "They don't believe it": stream, download (1min 9sec)
  • Hazen White says there's "a tremendous lack of courage and maybe an uninformed path" and that he was "dumbfounded" that the Democrats expanded their power in the last election; and another thing, "we've got a union problem": stream, download (1min 56sec)
  • To laughs from the crowd, Caprio shifts to call it "a special interest problem" in that there's no opposing force for the taxpayer against them: stream, download (1min 8sec)

April 25, 2009

Update to "E-Verify and Rhode Island's General Officers"

Monique Chartier

Original post of the stances (or lack thereof) of RI's General Officers on e-verify.

One of the many interesting details that Justin reported from the Operation Clean Government event this morning is a switch by General Treasurer Frank Caprio on the matter of e-verify. Treasurer Caprio has gone from Rorschach test (neutral) to supportive.

Pass e-Verify. We're a country of laws, and we should enforce the laws.

The GOP Chairman Hits the Right Note on Controversy

Justin Katz

Deliberately skirting the content of the news story, I'd like to note that I think RI-GOP Chairman Gio Cicione hit precisely the correct note regarding the drunk driving Democrat legislator:

"I have trouble getting myself outraged about this," state Republican Party chairman Giovanni Cicione said. "The guy should be a little more open about the issue .. But I'm much more concerned with the legislation he's submitting than his troubles with the law."

As I pointed out when the Raymond Sullivan drunk driving story first broke, some of his legislation is truly horrible, and moreover, the entire process of letting bad legislation disappear raises questions about the processes of state government. Among advocacy crowds, legislators get to point to bills that they've submitted, but they rarely have to justify those bills to the broader public. The most damaging thing that the RI Republican Party can bring to light is the method by which the Democrats run the state — or, more accurately, fail to run the state.

Today's Panel... and Others

Justin Katz

Having not attended many events like this, I can only take a general sense for comparison, but I thought today's panel courtesy Operation Clean Government was particularly good and, incidentally, provided further evidence of a growing intention to be heard among Rhode Island's regular citizens. Some of that may have been an effect of the tone that Dan Yorke set as moderator, but in context of broader observations, well, it leaves room to hope.

As the event came to a close, Andrew suggested to me that a similar event for the younger set would be worth organizing and participating in, and I agreed. The prospect brought to mind a possibility that has emerged every now and then, over the past few years, of a panel that crosses ideological lines, hosted, for example, by College Republicans and College Democrats and involving Matt Jerzyk and me. Sadly, I don't believe the current leadership (especially attitudinal leadership) among our counterparts on the left to be as prone to dialogue as I've always thought Matt to be — even as we strenuously disagreed.

Our increasing prominence and the bubbling expansion of a right-of-center reform movement may be playing a role in that shift.

But to return to the subject at hand: There were some very compelling moments throughout the panel discussion, as well as some newsworthy statements. I'll be rolling out the audio as I'm able over the next couple of days.

To begin with Governor Carcieri's opening remarks: stream, download (18min 21sec).

"We've got to control the spending, so we can sustain what we have, and the other piece of the equation is we've got to get competitive from a tax standpoint."

"We've got to shift the focus to creating a vibrant economic base in this state that's privately structured so that we're generating the jobs."

"Now is the time that we've got to ratchet up the game."

Rhode Island's (Excessive?) Generosity: First Hand Testimony

Monique Chartier

One of the things I admire about Michael Morse over at Rescuing Providence is that he calls them as he sees them.

From one of his reports posts of a couple of weeks ago.

She's twenty-four and homeless, and has been for four years. She has kids back in Ohio, had to leave them there when it was time to find a better life for herself. She found Rhode Island. At nine o'clock at night she wandered into Kennedy Plaza, the main bus station in Providence and slumped against a wall. A police officer told her to move on, she said she couldn't. The police called us.
"What's the matter?"

"I can't move."

"You can't move."

"I've been walking all day and can't walk anymore."

"Get in the truck."

I've given up. I used to fight to maintain some resemblance of dignity concerning EMS and the 911 system, now I operate as if I'm part social services agency, part homeless advocate, rolling medicine cabinet, part taxi and occasional emergency medical technician.

She managed to move, this time ambling into the rescue. She slowly stepped in and sat on the bench seat. I sat across from her, Adam drove toward Rhode Island Hospital where the cure for "inability to move" waited.

"Why have you been walking all day?"

"I have nowhere to go. I'm homeless."

"Where are you from?"

"Akron, Ohio."

"Why don't you go back?"

"They only have one homeless shelter in the state! They don't have no food kitchens, nothin! I can't even get a coffee!"

"Why did you come here?"

"Three hots and a cot. Everybody knows this is a good place. Every day of the week somebody's got somethin. Sundays at the Amos House, every day at the McCauley House, soup kitchens, shelters, people give you money just for holding up a sign."

* * *

A young girl from Ohio living on the streets of Providence, getting by mainly from the generosity of others. Our generosity is harming her more than helping her. She would be better off in Akron, learning how to be responsible and taking care of her children.

Operation Clean Government Breakfast & Panel

Justin Katz

Just checking in from Operation Clean Government's event at the Quonset Club. A little shy of 200 people are here, many of them familiar faces, but not all. My initial thought is that there are a number of people from different segments of local activism. Local Tiverton folks, RISC folks, politicians, activists, and so on. OCG seems to cut across the categories.

Hopefully I'll be more insightful after I've had some breakfast...

10:06 a.m.

The governor is giving a surprise speech, mainly focusing on pensions as the next stop. Some pictures thus far:

Governor Carcieri works his way into the room:

Carcieri at the podium:

Dan Yorke arrives & Senator Leonidas Raptakis walks the room:

Treasurer Frank Caprio moves table to table:

Len Lardaro at the panelists' table:

Sen. Raptakis chats with somebody and RISC's Jim Beale chats with RIILE's Terry Gorman:

10:10 a.m.

Governor: "It's time to ratchet up the game to a higher level so that the people who are going to make the votes at the end of the day understand." Referenced OCG, RISC, the tea party.

10:13 a.m.

OCG's Chuck Barton is pointing out people of importance in the audience, legislators, RISC folks, some business people, former OCG leaders. Also Colleen Conley of tea party fame.

10:19 a.m.

Dan Yorke has taken the podium. "My goal is to see if anybody will say something new... not repeat the same old crap."

He also expressed hope that the presence of Jim Baron and Ed Fitzpatrick will ensure coverage beyond his radio show.


OCG's Chuck Barton opens the panel:

Dan Yorke takes the podium:

The panel assembled:

10:24 a.m.

Dan presents the question as providing a diagnosis. "Quickly, because if I go to the doc, I want to know if I'm going to live or die."

Treasurer Frank Caprio is trying to give a solution-type speech, and Dan keeps trying to drive him back to the question.

Dan "This is just a little group to practice on if you're going to run for governor."

"Everybody on this panel is a great citizen, but they've got to answer the question."

10:32 a.m.

John Hazen-White: Higher taxes, fewer payers.

Gary Sasse: Tax structure

Elizabeth Dennigan: Lack of efficiency and transparency.

Leonard Lardaro: Costs beyond taxes. "Do a dynamic or temporal analysis." Addressing the governor directly. "Can't afford to raise taxes."

10:33 a.m.

Yorke: "A lot of smart things are being said, but nobody's answered the question." In advertising, the message is the most important thing. "What is the product of Rhode Island; who are Rhode Islanders? You have to know the patient."

"Can we have a philosophical discussion among the audience and the panel about who we are? What is the Rhode Island disease."

10:36 a.m.

Caprio: "We're the product of families that sacrificed for us to get where we are today. Are people willing to have shared sacrifice to get our government in order?"

Yorke: "Are Rhode Islanders of a mindset to know what quality of life is and to make it a goal?"

Caprio: I think Rhode Islanders are different. [Catholic and other community-engrained religious groups.] "That's who we are."

10:40 a.m.

Hazen-White: "[RI] is a very unique place from the standpoint that it's so small." Tremendous opportunities; tremendous problems. Tremendous ingenuity; tremendous people. "Perhaps the greatest available workplace of any place I've ever been."

Huh? Based on what.

10:43 a.m.

Dennigan: "Something that really annoys me" is RI's talking about all the problems. "If we're always complaining and encouraging our young students to leave and go somewhere else... there's no state that doesn't have problems with ethics... [one film producer} said to me, 'I just love Rhode Island'" --- referring to the geographic diversity.

Gimme a break.

Dan: "Obviously, there are wonderful things about living in Rhode Island." His point is that people who live in Rhode Island can be honest about the problems in Rhode Island.

10:45 a.m.

"The doctor doesn't say, 'You've got cancer, but you know what: you're a good egg.'"

Lardaro: It's a consumption-oriented, immediate state that's too trusting in its leaders. "Tone always seems to overweigh accuracy."

Sasse: What happened? "We became an entitlement-oriented state."

Yorke: "Why?"

Sasse: "Those were political decisions." Unrest from the crowd. "People voted that way. People were not informed."

10:48 a.m.

Sasse: Rhode Islanders have an inferiority complex, founded in the principle that government owes you something.

Yorke to Dennigan: "Do we have courage amongst the people of Rhode Island."

Crowd: No!

Dennigan: Blah, blah, blah.

10:53 a.m.

Yorke listed a pretty rigorous health regime and asked if Rhode Islanders would rather die.

Crowd: "They don't believe they're going to die."

Hazen-White: "There is a tremendous lack of courage." "If you keep doing what you always did, you're going to keep getting what you always got." He was "dumbfounded" that Democrats increased their share of state government. Voters... it isn't their guy; it isn't their gal. And another thing: "We got a union problem."

Crowd: Cheers.

Hazen-White: "And damn it, unless and until that whole thing is dealt with --- doesn't mean it needs to be squashed."

Caprio: "We have a special interest problem." "It's like a football game... If the other team doesn't show up, the other team isn't going to go home; they're going to score touch downs."

Yorke: Where was the other side?

The audience seems to think that he means the working people of Rhode Island. Dan's rightly pointing to our elected representatives.

Dennigan: "We need more of the public doing their homework."

10:55 a.m.

Yorke's observing that none of the legislative leaders are in the room.

Yorke: "Do you think they give a damn?"

Crowd: No!

Dennigan: Thanked the leadership for letting her be here.

Crowd: What???? Shouts; anger.

Bad, bad answer.

10:57 a.m.

Breaking news: The legislative leaders advised Dennigan to participate in this event.

Yorke is mentioning that nobody from labor is in the room. ("Usually they hide with YouTube cameras.")

Yorke: Bob Walsh is the only one who will come to the fight with his legitimate point of view.

10:59 a.m.

Yorke: "The general assembly runs the show." "The sick people of RI have let the general assembly run wild." To Caprio: How are you going to change that.

Audience member: "You're grandfathered in."

Caprio: "You dig in against the General Assembly." Lay out a plan, and if they don't want to go there: "If after the first year, if the legislature doesn't want to solve the problem, it's up to the leaders to get people elected who will solve the problem." I [he] can pull those resources together.

11:03 a.m.

Yorke's trying to elicit the one thing that the governor needs to bring things into line.

Lardaro: "The people of this state have to demand results."

Yorke: "Do they know what result they want?"

11:07 a.m.

Yorke: "Is it possible that Rhode Islanders instinctively know that they don't want a nanny state?"

Audience member: Define that.

Yorke: "I have to define that?" ... We have to get out of a certain number of businesses in this state. Those who don't listen to his show don't seem to understand that he's talking about government actions --- whole categories of them. Poses the question to the panel, what businesses do we have to get out of?

Hazen-White: Government. [Too many people work for the government.]

Sasse: Need efficiency. Pension reforms. Management rights. Tenure. ("I have people working in my departments who really don't deserve tenure.") Three things government should do are education, infrastructure, and realistic safety nets to move unfortunately people up the ladder, with emphasis on realistic.

11:13 a.m.

Yorke has redirected to what we have to get out of.

Sasse: "They're tough choices." A checklist, such as state libraries. "We haven't discussed what we can afford. That's why we've become an entitlement society, because we never assess what we can afford."

11:16 a.m.

These pictures are a little out of order (I took them earlier), but I think they catch good moments.

Several times, the discussion dipped into a Yorke v. Caprio battle:

Several times throughout the event, depending upon what she'd just said, Rep. Dennigan looked as if she felt physically ill. Here she is after admitting that the legislative leaders had allowed her to participate. (Right click and choose "view image," or equivalent, for a larger image.)

11:18 a.m.

Sasse: There are too many cities and towns.

Yorke: "Are you saying that we need to get out of the business of provinciality?"

Me, I disagree. I like the variety. Push more responsibilities to the towns. Reduce the repetition at the top.

11:20 a.m.

Q&A period. Many hands go up.

11:22 a.m.

The first questioner thinks Caprio is "grandfathered into being our next govenor." "Do the right thing." The question: Why don't Rhode Islanders vote for the right people? Yorke changed to, "What's the right kind of person to elect?"

Dennigan: Voters have to be discerning.

Hazen-White: "Being a public servant should not be a career."

Question 2: To Dennigan: "Why don't you stop the grants that are going out to everybody?" [Rub and tug.]

Dennigan: We need more information.

After prompting from Dan, Dennigan: It's not an equitable system, and it's not dispersed equitably, so it shouldn't be dispersed at all.

Question 3: One or two good reasons that companies should move to RI.

Caprio: "We're here to serve you, period." Shouldn't be overregulation, overtaxation, headaches. "Every time business deal with government, it's confrontational."

Question 4: As a landlord, I want to know where are the people who are going to come into Rhode Island to live. A lot of people can't afford to live here, and those who can are on system-supported incomes, and then the government regulates my property.

Dennigan: We need to keep the property taxes down, as a result of looking at our spending.

Questioner: I'm fed up with the little guy being tax.

Yorke: What are you going to do with your anger?

She goes to the statehouse. Has brought people together. Went to the tea party. "I don't want to run for office until it's cleaned up."

Dan brought it back to the "who we are." "You don't want to enter the lion's den until it's cleaned up for you." "We have mad-as-hell people" who won't put themselves on the line to fix problems. "We'll only put our toes in the water in our comfort zone to fix the system."

11:34 a.m.

Next questioner: Cut taxes. Diagnosis: for years, the people who run this state have been running the state as their own companies... friends, families, business associates, and so on.

Terry Gorman of RIILE: I have a solution for the whole thing. "Why can't the state of Rhode Island pass E-Verify?"

Dennigan: Kicked it back to the feds.

Caprio: "Pass e-Verify. We're a country of laws, and we should enforce the laws."

11:41 a.m.

RISC's Harry Staley: Regionalization will cause certain people to object to sending suburban money to Providence. He thinks that regionalization ought to be RISC's driving issue.

Another question for Dennigan; actually not a question, but a promotion of elimination of straight ticket.

Caprio answered: Eliminate the straight ticket.

Another question/statement answering the diagnosis question: "Rhode Island is a victim of rape?"

Next audience member: "We don't know what we believe in, and we don't know who to believe."

11:48 a.m.

Question: Should there be a search for a new economic development director, considering that previous versions haven't resulted in good people?

Susan Carcieri: "Because we are dominated by one party (without naming names), we have a serious problem." What does the panel think about voter ID?

Caprio: Referenced Anchor Rising's ranking of him on the top 10 conservative list.

Yorke: "You could save a lot of dough in a primary with Lynch if you hopped over to the other side."

Caprio: "That's not under consideration."

A college student asked if the people who are leaving RI are graduates looking for work or rich people. General answer: both. I'm not so sure. I think the people who are leaving, but whom we want to stay, are the "productive class" in between.

Bruce Lang: The unions and social services advocates run the legislature.

Dennigan: 55% of our budget is social services.

Her answer to whether these groups should control government was that they have a lot of influence. Dan pressed for a specific answer, and she replied by bringing it to specifics about reviewing cases on their individual bases. As I paraphrased her earlier: blah, blah, blah.

11:59 a.m.

Rod Driver: "I want to throw out a specific suggestion... We need to cut back the mandates," including prevailng."

Panelists on what they learned this morning:

Hazen-White: The level of frustration and the regionalization question.

Sasse: There's a need for change, but we don't have a game plan.

Dennigan: Learned about straight-ticket.

Lardaro: People are concerned by a wider range of things than I knew about. People are getting upset about things enough to do something.

Caprio: Don't give an inch; take the spirit of this room.

Governor Carcieri: "I'm going to become a radio talk show host." "We don't know what we want; we're really confused." Government is not the proper venue for charity and social justice.

Bank of America, TARP, and Government in Crisis Mode

Justin Katz

Among the problems of government central planning is that the segment of society that is apt to make decisions that skirt the rules is the same one that must enforce them. Take, for instance, information that's coming out as a result of Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis's testimony to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Lewis and the bank's board failed to fully inform shareholders of material circumstances during the run-up to the merger with Merrill Lynch, which is in violation of securities law.

Complicating matters is that government officials, prominently former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, appear to have forbid the transfer of that information.

"Everyone involved knew that was a clear violation, that's material non-public information, so basically we just closed the rule book during the crisis and said we don't care, we need to keep the lights on, and we'll deal with that manana," [portfolio manager Peter] Sorrentino said. "Logic went out the window and they were just acting out of fear," he said. It was "completely panic mode."

The shadow lengthens:

Lewis testified that he asked Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke to "put something in writing" regarding the U.S. government's plan to support Bank of America's acquisition in view of Merrill's mounting losses.

After Bernanke said he would consider the idea, Paulson called Lewis and said, according to Lewis, "First it would be so watered down, it wouldn't be as strong as what we were going to say to you verbally, and secondly, this would be a disclosable event and we do not want a disclosable event."

Attached to Cuomo's letter Thursday was a Dec. 22 e-mail from Lewis to his board. "I just talked with Hank Paulson," the e-mail says. "He said that there was no way the Federal Reserve and the Treasury could send us a letter of any substance without public disclosure which, of course, we do not want."

Plainly and simply, public officials should not be making promises to private institutions concerning public money with the explicit instruction that the public shouldn't know. Much like the trend for all of the laws, debts, and obligations of lower levels of government to flow back toward the broadly diluting sea of the feds, as well as the financial recklessness resulting from the implicit backing of Fannie and Freddie loans, backroom deals will erode responsibility in the private sector, insulating its actors and solidifying an untouchable class that cuts across the two sectors. The line of conflict will shift from public vs. private to elite vs. everybody else.

April 24, 2009

Crowley's Strategy: Repeat the Lie

Justin Katz

I remain reluctant to relinquish the innocence that leads to my being surprised that such people as Pat Crowley exist outside of Charles Dickens novels and the bureaucracies of totalitarian madhouse societies.

Last April, I informed readers of the Providence Journal opinion pages that, "according to tax returns filed in 2005 and 2006 (based on income from 2004 and 2005), Rhode Island lost, on a net basis, 8,296 taxpayers, with an aggregate adjusted gross income totaling $485 million, over those two years (IRS migration data)." The statement derived from some research that I'd posted here in February, and on which I later expanded here and here.

One recent evening, somebody working with the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce emailed me to inquire after my source, which I provided, and subsequently forwarded to me an "E-Brief" conveying the data (PDF). RI Representative David Segal (D., Providence, East Providence) got wind of the release and posted about it on RI Future.

Then Crowley got in the game, teasing a post in which he would get to the bottom of the Chamber's claim. Wrote Pat: "Needless to say, this has made the policy wonk in me very excited. Why? A number is verifiable. Or at least it should be." In the comments, Tom Sgouros chipped in to correctly identify the data source (IRS migration) and to concede, at least, that "there's no doubt that it's troubling information."

When Pat finally put the post up, it was incorrect in its core accusation:

In order to make their claim, the Chamber needs to make a leap of faith – that the migrants were only in one direction and that they were all taxpayers. This is pure speculation: for example, with higher education being one of our major industries, a graduating class is going to have a lot of comings and going; and the Chamber only accounts for the goings.

And went on to cite trends in the number of IRS tax filers in Rhode Island. Unable to keep my fingers out of the fishbowl any longer, I explained that "tax years 2005 and 2006 saw migration TO Rhode Island of 43,774, with an aggregate AGI of $2,037,577,000, but migration FROM Rhode Island of 52,070, with an aggregate AGI of $2,522,327,000." (I also explained why the filer data wasn't directly applicable.) It was a quick I-should-already-be-in-bed comment, and I pretty much copied and pasted from the Excel file that I built from the IRS data last year. If only for rhetorical reasons, I should have been more explicit that the data is based on counties, not states, so both the inflow and outflow numbers include people who moved within Rhode Island, because Tom Sgouros correctly specified:

For 05-06, the IRS data I have says that 17,395 2006 returns were from people who moved from here to elsewhere, and that 12,968 people moved from elsewhere to here.

I should note, here, that the Chamber of Commerce's language is insufficiently specific that the data accounts for two years of migration. Adding the second year to Tom's number, we get the following for net losses of taxpayers and AGIs over the two years:

Justin's taxpayers Tom's taxpayers
Inflow 43,774 26,128
Outflow 52,070 34,424
Net outflow 8,296 8,296

Unless you're employed by the National Education Association of Rhode Island, you'll likely notice that the two totals are exactly the same, because the in-state migrants cancel themselves out. The same is true for AGI.

But rather than admit the obvious and attempt, as Sgouros did, to move the debate onto ground that is actually, well, debatable, Crowley dug in, saying that I've been "caught in a lie" and "exposed" and updating the post to accuse the Projo of fraud for a related editorial. Exposed I've been: of a desire to review numbers with those who dispute my conclusions and to clarify where we're looking at different things.

Given his slight change of status when he became the owner of RI Future, I'd been attempting some level of interblog comity, but it's so clear that Pat is of the do anything/say anything school of propaganda that it's difficult not to suggest that anybody who aligns themselves with him thereby damages their own credibility.

More Kids, Now

Marc Comtois

David Goldman (aka "Spengler") writes in First Things:

After a $15 trillion reduction in asset values, Americans are now saving as much as they can. Of course, if everyone saves and no one spends, the economy shuts down, which is precisely what is happening. The trouble is not that aging baby boomers need to save. The problem is that the families with children who need to spend never were formed in sufficient numbers to sustain growth.

In emphasizing the demographics, I do not mean to give Wall Street a free pass for prolonging the bubble. Without financial engineering, the crisis would have come sooner and in a milder form. But we would have been just as poor in consequence. The origin of the crisis is demographic, and its solution can only be demographic.

Mark Steyn has been making a similar argument, primarily about Europe, for a while. In his piece, Goldman argues that the current economic crisis can be directly tied to there being fewer nuclear families in the U.S.

The declining demographics of the traditional American family raise a dismal possibility: Perhaps the world is poorer now because the present generation did not bother to rear a new generation. All else is bookkeeping and ultimately trivial. This unwelcome and unprecedented change underlies the present global economic crisis. We are grayer, and less fecund, and as a result we are poorer, and will get poorer still—no matter what economic policies we put in place.

We could put this another way: America’s housing market collapsed because conservatives lost the culture wars even back while they were prevailing in electoral politics. During the past half century America has changed from a nation in which most households had two parents with young children. We are now a mélange of alternative arrangements in which the nuclear family is merely a niche phenomenon. By 2025, single-person households may outnumber families with children.

He seeks at least a partial solution via tax policy:

Demographics & Depression
by David P. Goldman

Copyright (c) 2009 First Things (May 2009).

Three generations of economists immersed themselves in study of the Great Depression, determined to prevent a recurrence of the awful events of the 1930s. And as our current financial crisis began to unfold in 2008, policymakers did everything that those economists prescribed. Following John Maynard Keynes, President Bush and President Obama each offered a fiscal stimulus. The Federal Reserve maintained confidence in the financial system, increased the money supply, and lowered interest rates. The major industrial nations worked together, rather than at cross purposes as they had in the early 1930s.

In other words, the government tried to do everything right, but everything continues to go wrong. We labored hard and traveled long to avoid a new depression, but one seems to have found us, nonetheless.

So is this something outside the lesson book of the Great Depression? Most officials and economists argue that, until home prices stabilize, necrosis will continue to spread through the assets of the financial system, and consumers will continue to restrict spending. The sources of the present crisis reach into the capillary system of the economy: the most basic decisions and requirements of American households. All the apparatus of financial engineering is helpless beside the simple issue of household decisions about shelter. We are in the most democratic of economic crises, and it stems directly from the character of our people.

Part of the problem in seeing this may be that we are transfixed by the dense technicalities of credit flow, the new varieties of toxic assets, and the endless ­iterations of financial restructuring. Sometimes it helps to look at the world with a kind of simplicity. Think of it this way: Credit markets derive from the cycle of human life. Young people need to borrow capital to start families and businesses; old people need to earn income on the capital they have saved. We invest our retirement savings in the formation of new households. All the armamentarium of modern capital markets boils down to investing in a new generation so that they will provide for us when we are old.

To understand the bleeding in the housing market, then, we need to examine the population of prospective homebuyers whose millions of individual decisions determine whether the economy will recover. Families with children are the fulcrum of the housing market. Because single-parent families tend to be poor, the buying power is concentrated in two-parent families with children.

Now, consider this fact: America’s population has risen from 200 million to 300 million since 1970, while the total number of two-parent families with children is the same today as it was when Richard Nixon took office, at 25 million. In 1973, the United States had 36 million housing units with three or more bedrooms, not many more than the number of two-parent families with children—which means that the supply of family homes was roughly in line with the number of families. By 2005, the number of housing units with three or more bedrooms had doubled to 72 million, though America had the same number of two-parent families with children.

The number of two-parent families with children, the kind of household that requires and can afford a large home, has remained essentially stagnant since 1963, according to the Census Bureau. Between 1963 and 2005, to be sure, the total number of what the Census Bureau categorizes as families grew from 47 million to 77 million. But most of the increase is due to families without children, including what are sometimes rather strangely called “one-person families.”

In place of traditional two-parent families with children, America has seen enormous growth in one-parent families and childless families. The number of one-parent families with children has tripled. Dependent children formed half the U.S. population in 1960, and they add up to only 30 percent today. The dependent elderly doubled as a proportion of the population, from 15 percent in 1960 to 30 percent today.

If capital markets derive from the cycle of human life, what happens if the cycle goes wrong? Investors may be unreasonably panicked about the future, and governments can allay this panic by guaranteeing bank deposits, increasing incentives to invest, and so forth. But something different is in play when investors are reasonably panicked. What if there really is something wrong with our future—if the next generation fails to appear in sufficient numbers? The answer is that we get poorer.

The declining demographics of the traditional American family raise a dismal possibility: Perhaps the world is poorer now because the present generation did not bother to rear a new generation. All else is bookkeeping and ultimately trivial. This unwelcome and unprecedented change underlies the present global economic crisis. We are grayer, and less fecund, and as a result we are poorer, and will get poorer still—no matter what economic policies we put in place.

We could put this another way: America’s housing market collapsed because conservatives lost the culture wars even back while they were prevailing in electoral politics. During the past half century America has changed from a nation in which most households had two parents with young children. We are now a mélange of alternative arrangements in which the nuclear family is merely a niche phenomenon. By 2025, single-person households may outnumber families with children.

The collapse of home prices and the knock-on effects on the banking system stem from the shrinking count of families that require houses. It is no accident that the housing market—the economic sector most sensitive to demographics—was the epicenter of the economic crisis. In fact, demographers have been predicting a housing crash for years due to the demographics of diminishing demand. Wall Street and Washington merely succeeded in prolonging the housing bubble for a few additional years. The adverse demographics arising from cultural decay, though, portend far graver consequences for the funding of health and retirement systems.

Conservatives have indulged in self-congratulation over the quarter-century run of growth that began in 1984 with the Reagan administration’s tax reforms. A prosperity that fails to rear a new generation in sufficient number is hollow, as we have learned to our detriment during the past year. Compared to Japan and most European countries, which face demographic catastrophe, America’s position seems relatively strong, but that strength is only postponing the reckoning by keeping the world’s capital flowing into the U.S. mortgage market right up until the crash at the end of 2007.

As long as conservative leaders delivered economic growth, family issues were relegated to Sunday rhetoric. Of course, conservative thinkers never actually proposed to measure the movement’s success solely in units of gross domestic product, or square feet per home, or cubic displacement of the average automobile engine. But delivering consumer goods was what conservatives seemed to do well, and they rode the momentum of the Reagan boom.

Until now. Our children are our wealth. Too few of them are seated around America’s common table, and it is their absence that makes us poor. Not only the absolute count of children, to be sure, but also the shrinking proportion of children raised with the moral material advantages of two-parent families diminishes our prospects. The capital markets have reduced the value of homeowners’ equity by $8 trillion and of stocks by $7 trillion. Households with a provider aged 45 to 54 have lost half their net worth between 2004 and 2009, according to Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. There are ways to ameliorate the financial crisis, but none of them will replace the lives that should have been part of ­America and now are missed.
Illust : Population Age in (...), 75.3 kb, 436x289

This suggests that nothing economic policy can do will entirely reverse the great wave of wealth destruction. President Obama made hope the watchword of his campaign, but there is less for which to hope, largely because of the economic impact of the lifestyle choices favored by the same young people who were so enthusiastic for Obama. The Reagan reforms created new markets and financing techniques and put enormous amounts of leverage at the disposal of businesses and households. The 1980s saw the creation of a mortgage-backed securities market that turned the American home into a ready source of ­capital, the emergence of a high-yield bond market that allowed new companies to issue debt, and the expansion of private equity. These financing techniques contributed mightily to the great expansion of 1984–2008, and they were the same instruments that would wreak ruin on the financial system. During the 1980s the baby boomers were in their twenties and thirties, when families are supposed to take on debt; twenty years later, the baby boomers were in their fifties and sixties, when families are supposed to save for retirement. The elixir of youth turned toxic for the aging.

Unless we restore the traditional family to a central position in American life, we cannot expect to return to the kind of wealth accumulation that characterized the 1980s and 1990s. Theoretically, we might recruit immigrants to replace the children we did not rear, or we might invest capital overseas with the children of other countries. From the standpoint of economic policy, neither of those possibilities can be dismissed. But the contributions of immigration or capital export will be marginal at best compared to the central issue of whether the demographics of America reverts to health.

Life is sacred for its own sake. It is not an instrument to provide us with fatter IRAs or better real-estate values. But it is fair to point out that wealth depends ultimately on the natural order of human life. Failing to rear a new generation in sufficient numbers to replace the present one violates that order, and it has consequences for wealth, among many other things. Americans who rejected the mild yoke of family responsibility in pursuit of atavistic enjoyment will find at last that this is not to be theirs, either.

It will be painful for conservatives to admit that things were not well with America under the Republican watch, at least not at the family level. From 1954 to 1970, for example, half or more of households contained two parents and one or more children under the age of eighteen. In fact as well as in popular culture, the two-parent nuclear family formed the normative American household. By 1981, when Ronald Reagan took office, two-parent households had fallen to just over two-fifths of the total. Today, less than a third of American households constitute a two-parent nuclear family with children.

Housing prices are collapsing in part because single-person households are replacing families with children. The Virginia Tech economist Arthur C. Nelson has noted that households with children would fall from half to a quarter of all households by 2025. The demand of Americans will then be urban apartments for empty nesters. Demand for large-lot single family homes, Nelson calculated, will slump from 56 million today to 34 million in 2025—a reduction of 40 percent. There never will be a housing price recovery in many parts of the country. Huge tracts will become uninhabited except by vandals and rodents.

All of these trends were evident for years, and duly noted by housing economists. Why did it take until 2007 for home prices to collapse? If America were a closed economy, the housing market would have crashed years ago. The paradox is that the rest of the industrial world, and much of the developing world, are aging faster than the United States.

In the industrial world, there are more than 400 million people in their peak savings years, 40 to 64 years of age, and the number is growing. There are fewer than 350 million young earners in the 19-to-40-year bracket, and their number is shrinking. If savers in Japan can’t find enough young people to lend to, they will lend to the young people of other countries. Japan’s median age will rise above 60 by mid-century, and Europe’s will rise to the mid-50s.

America is slightly better off. Countries with aging and shrinking populations must export and invest the proceeds. Japan’s households have hoarded $14 trillion in savings, which they will spend on geriatric care provided by Indonesian and Filipino nurses, as the country’s population falls to just 90 million in 2050 from 127 million today.

The graying of the industrial world creates an inexhaustible supply of savings and demand for assets in which to invest them—which is to say, for young people able to borrow and pay loans with interest. The tragedy is that most of the world’s young people live in countries without capital markets, enforcement of property rights, or reliable governments. Japanese investors will not buy mortgages from Africa or Latin America, or even China. A rich Chinese won’t lend money to a poor Chinese unless, of course, the poor Chinese first moves to the United States.

Until recently, that left the United States the main destination for the aging savers of the industrial world. America became the magnet for savings accumulated by aging Europeans and Japanese. To this must be added the rainy-day savings of the Chinese government, whose desire to accumulate large amounts of foreign-exchange reserves is more than justified in retrospect by the present crisis.

America has roughly 120 million adults in the 19-to-44 age bracket, the prime borrowing years. That is not a large number against the 420 million prospective savers in the aging developed world as a whole. There simply aren’t enough young Americans to absorb the savings of the rest of the world. In demographic terms, America is only the leper with the most fingers.

The rest of the world lent the United States vast sums, rising to almost $1 trillion in 2007. As the rest of the world thrust its savings on the United States, interest rates fell and home prices rose. To feed the inexhaustible demand for American assets, Wall Street connived with the ratings agencies to turn the sow’s ear of subprime mortgages into silk purses, in the form of supposedly default-proof securities with high credit ratings. Americans thought themselves charmed and came to expect indefinitely continuing rates of 10 percent annual appreciation of home prices (and correspondingly higher returns to homeowners with a great deal of leverage).

The baby boomers evidently concluded that one day they all would sell their houses to each other at exorbitant prices and retire on the proceeds. The national household savings rate fell to zero by 2007, as Americans came to believe that capital gains on residential real estate would substitute for savings.

After a $15 trillion reduction in asset values, Americans are now saving as much as they can. Of course, if everyone saves and no one spends, the economy shuts down, which is precisely what is happening. The trouble is not that aging baby boomers need to save. The problem is that the families with children who need to spend never were formed in sufficient numbers to sustain growth.

In emphasizing the demographics, I do not mean to give Wall Street a free pass for prolonging the bubble. Without financial engineering, the crisis would have come sooner and in a milder form. But we would have been just as poor in consequence. The origin of the crisis is demographic, and its solution can only be demographic.

America needs to find productive young people to whom to lend. The world abounds in young people, of course, but not young people who can productively use capital and are thus good credit risks. The trouble is to locate young people who are reared to the skill sets, work ethic, and social values required for a modern economy.

In theory, it is possible to match American capital to the requirements of young people in venues capable of great productivity growth. East Asia, for example, has almost 500 million people in the 19-to-40-year-old bracket, 50 percent more than that of the entire industrial world. The prospect of raising the productivity of Chinese, Indians, and other Asians opens up an ­entirely different horizon for the American economy. In theory, the opportunities for investment in Asia are limitless, but political trust, capital markets, regulatory institutions, and other preconditions for such investment have been inadequate. For aging Americans to trust their savings to young Asians, a generation’s worth of institutional reforms would be required.

It is also possible to improve America’s demographic profile through immigration, as Reuven Brenner of McGill University has proposed. Some years ago Cardinal Baffi of Bologna suggested that Europe seek Catholic immigrants from Latin America. In a small way, something like this is happening. Europe’s alternative is to accept more immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, with the attendant risks of cultural hollowing out and eventual Islamicization. America’s problem is more difficult, for what America requires are highly skilled immigrants.

Even so, efforts to export capital and import workers will at best mitigate America’s economic problems in a small way. We are going to be poorer for a generation and perhaps longer. We will drive smaller cars and live in smaller homes, vacation in cabins by the lake rather than at Disney World, and send our children to public universities rather than private liberal-arts colleges. The baby boomers on average will work five or ten years longer before retiring on less income than they had planned, and young people will work for less money at duller jobs than they had hoped.

In traditional societies, each extended family relied on its own children to care for its own elderly. The resources the community devoted to the destitute—gleaning the fields after harvest, for example—were quite limited. Modern society does not require every family to fund its retirement by rearing children; we may contribute to a pension fund and draw on the labor of the children of others. But if everyone were to retire on the same day, the pension fund would go bankrupt instantly, and we all would starve.

The distribution of rewards and penalties is manifestly unfair. The current crisis is particularly unfair to those who brought up children and contributed monthly to their pension fund, only to watch the value of their savings evaporate in the crisis. Tax and social-insurance policy should reflect the effort and cost of rearing children and require those who avoid such effort and cost to pay their fair share.

Numerous proposals for family-friendly tax policy are in circulation, including recent suggestions by Ramesh Ponnuru, Ross Douthat, and Reihan Salam. The core of a family-oriented economic program might include the following measures:

• Cut taxes on families. The personal exemption introduced with the Second World War’s Victory Tax was $624, reflecting the cost of “food and a little more.” In today’s dollars that would be about $7,600, while the current personal exemption stands at only $3,650. The personal exemption should be raised to $8,000 simply to restore the real value of the deduction, and the full personal exemption should apply to children.

• Shift part of the burden of social insurance to the childless. For most taxpayers, social-insurance deductions are almost as great a burden as income tax. Families that bring up children contribute to the future tax base; families that do not get a free ride. The base rate for social security and Medicare deductions should rise, with a significant exemption for families with children, so that a disproportionate share of the burden falls on the childless.

• Make child-related expenses tax deductible. Tuition and health care are the key expenses here with which parents need help.

• Change the immigration laws. The United States needs highly skilled, productive individuals in their prime years for earning and family formation.

We delude ourselves when we imagine that a few hundred dollars of tax incentives will persuade individuals to form families or keep them together. A generation of Americans has grown up with the belief that the traditional family is merely one lifestyle choice among many.

But it is among the young that such a conservative message could reverberate the loudest. The young know that the promise of sexual freedom has brought them nothing but emptiness and anomie. They suffer more than anyone from the breakup of families. They know that abortion has wrought psychic damage that never can be repaired. And they see that their own future was compromised by the poor choices of their parents.

It was always morally wrong for conservatives to attempt to segregate the emotionally charged issues of public morals from the conservative growth agenda. We know now that it was also incompetent from a purely economic point of view. Without life, there is no wealth; without families, there is no economic future.

Tiverton Taxpayer Forum

Justin Katz

For any and all who are free and wish to attend, Tiverton Citizens for Change is hosting a taxpayer forum on Monday, April 27, at 7:00 p.m. at the North Tiverton VFW. Admission is free, and there will be a raffle for balloons filled with scratch tickets of various value as well as food. Speakers will include:

Dave Nelson, TCC President
Tom Parker, TCC and Budget Committee Member
Harry Staley, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition
Jeff Caron, TCC member and Budget Committee President
Bill Murphy, East Providence Taxpayers Association member
Larry Fitzmorris, Portsmouth Concerned Citizens member
... and me

The ACLU is Wrong on Legislative Immunity

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Rhode Island Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a legal brief supporting former Senate President William Irons’ claim that the Rhode Island Constitution's Ethics Amendment cannot be applied to the official acts of state legislators, because such an application would conflict with “speech-in-debate” immunity also granted to legislators at the Constitutional level.

However, the ACLU's brief (as well as in much other discussion on this issue) ignores an basic facet of the law being considered in this case, that in its rulings on speech-in-debate related issues, the United States Supreme Court has expressly declined to extend legislative immunity to laws intended to regulate legislative conduct (short version of the history available here, longer version available here). The people of Rhode Island, in the 1980s, chose to step into this unresolved area of the law and settle the issue of what the limits on legislative immunity are through a Constitutional amendment, the most definitive mechanism of government that is possible. Since the Constitutionality of laws regulating legislative conduct had been expressly left open by the Supreme Court, no conflict with the speech-in-debate clause requiring an alteration of the plain meaning of the Ethics Amendment can have been created.

The ACLU's brief warns of dire consequences, if the applicability of the Ethics Amendment to the official acts of legislators is upheld…

In sum, there are no acceptable limits to the Ethics Commission’s “implied limitation” argument, and it should be rejected for this reason alone. This Court, therefore, cannot, should not, and must not allow the Ethics Commission to drag this State into such uncharted territory...

At best, the Ethics Commission’s argument that the Ethics Amendment impliedly limited the Speech in Debate Clause is a launch down a slippery slope of eroding the civil liberties of all Rhode Islanders who come before the Ethics Commission, not just Mr. Irons.

This conclusion completely misses the most important issue at stake; it is the Rhode Island Superior Court's decision that judicial opinions based on non-existent precedent outrank plain Constitutional language that is dragging the state towards uncharted territory.

But should we really be surprised that the ACLU has a blind spot when it comes to defending nearly unlimited powers for the judicial branch of government?

Stranger in a Strange Land

Marc Comtois

An Ivy-leaguer from Brown goes undercover at "christianist" Liberty University and learns that, hey, Christians are people too!

[Kevin Roose] arrived at the Lynchburg campus prepared for "hostile ideologues who spent all their time plotting abortion clinic protests and sewing Hillary Clinton voodoo dolls."

Instead, he found that "not only are they not that, but they're rigorously normal."

He met students who use Bible class to score dates, apply to top law schools and fret about their futures, and who enjoy gossip, hip-hop and R-rated movies — albeit in a locked dorm room.

A roommate he depicts as aggressively anti-gay — all names are changed in the book — is an outcast on the hall, not a role model....

Roose said his Liberty experience transformed him in surprising ways.

When he first returned to Brown, he'd be shocked by the sight of a gay couple holding hands — then be shocked at his own reaction. He remains stridently opposed to Falwell's worldview, but he also came to understand Falwell's appeal.

Once ambivalent about faith, Roose now prays to God regularly — for his own well-being and on behalf of others. He said he owns several translations of the Bible and has recently been rereading meditations from the letters of John on using love and compassion to solve cultural conflicts.

He's even considering joining a church.

A liberal Ivy-league school and religiously conservative institution like Liberty are about as polar opposite as you can get and Roose is to be commended for his initiative. This is the sort of truly open-minded educational exposure that all college kids should be getting on the campus (at both Brown and Liberty).

Random Conversation at a Local Business

Marc Comtois

Conversation at a local gas station/convenience mart. {Sound of multiple police sirens in back ground}

Store Attendant: "Go get 'em, guys. Make some revenue!"
Customer:"They have to get it somehow."
Attendant:"Yup, they do. Wait 'til the road gets repaved. People will be going 90 mph down the road. They'll be stopping them then. They get them for going 1 mph over now. $75."
Attendant:"You read the paper?"
Attendant:"Did you see how they want to tax businesses because the unemployment fund is outta money?"
Customer:"I think I heard that on the radio."
Attendant:"That's a great move. Tax businesses more and drive 'em out. No wonder we can't grow this economy."
Customer:"No kidding. That's the kind of shortsightedness that's in this state."
Attendant:"Yeah. Never gets better. What are people thinking?"
Customer:"Just keep voting the same people in."
Attendant:"Ha ha ha. Yup. OK, take it easy."
Customer:"Have a good one."

How to Ensure Municipal Discord

Justin Katz

The name won't mean much to Rhode Islanders from elsewhere (except inasmuch as you've seen it on Anchor Rising), but I heard last night that the Tiverton Town Council is considering appointing Mike Burk as the moderator for the upcoming financial town meeting. Do they want unrest? Do they want to encourage discord across the town?

This is a man who has been not only open, but active in his contempt of local reformers in Tiverton Citizens for Change. He's expressed paranoiac class-warfare insinuations about them in the local media. He's paced the back of Budget Committee meetings, swearing and seeking to shout down TCC members on the committee. (He's captured in the background of the two audio clips here).

Having Burk stand as the ostensibly neutral conductor of the session would be downright hostile to democratic compromise and would ensure broad suspicion of the results even before the meeting's opening. The demeanor that he displayed during meetings when he was an elected official — even when he's been advancing policies that I've supported (such as holding the line for months against the teachers' union) — would be perfect if the town's aspiration is to stoke controversy, but wholly inappropriate if the objective is to host a thoughtful, productive meeting.

April 23, 2009

Racialism Reaches the Supreme Court

Justin Katz

And "post-racial" America continues to live up to its billing:

A divided Supreme Court took up its first examination of race in the Obama era yesterday, wrestling with claims of job discrimination by white firefighters in a case that could force changes in employment practices nationwide.

The New Haven case pits white firefighters, who showed up at the court yesterday in their dress uniforms, against the city over its decision to scrap a promotion exam because no African-Americans and only two Hispanic firefighters were likely to be made lieutenants or captains based on the results.

At issue is whether adjusting criteria in order to ensure equal outcome (read: "biased methods") isn't the maximum of what public bodies can do in the name of race consciousness. Depending which way Justice Anthony Kennedy swings, they may be able to experiment on the fly — setting up rules and them changing them after the fact when they don't like the results.

A Typical RI Solution for "Solving" a Nursing "Shortage"

Justin Katz

Our state is in dire financial trouble based on structural deficits, is on the wrong end of just about every state-by-state comparative list, and is losing its "productive class" by the thousands every year, but the matter of concern for a special legislative commission is, in the words of its Co-chairman Sen. James Doyle (D., Pawtucket):

Even if there are nurses without jobs now, the shortage of nurses, Doyle said, "is going to be a serious issue some day."

Some day. Okay. Let's take that as a plausible reason for at least strategizing methods of increasing the state's supply of nurses. What are some of the problems that must be addressed? Well, there's a reluctance to work more comfortable shifts and in more prestigious locations:

But many graduates want to work only the day shift in a hospital or don't want the less-prestigious nursing-home and home health-care jobs.

Meanwhile, employers are wary of investing in the training of young new hires:

In the hospitals where there are jobs, officials don't want to hire new graduates because they can be expensive to train and there is a fear that, once trained, they will leave to take another job, said commission Co-chair Lynne M. Dunphy, of the University of Rhode Island's College of Nursing.

Perhaps Ms. Dunphy's profession partially explains why the commission contrived such a peculiar means of addressing these specific problems:

A special legislative commission formally unveiled its proposal to give educators in the state's nursing schools an annual $3,500 tax credit, an attempt to keep them teaching so they can make a dent in what the panel said is a looming shortage of nurses in the state.

So, if there's a problem in the nursing profession life cycle, it has to do with matching candidates with difficult-to-fill positions; there's no indication that nursing schools are suffering a lack of students for whose educations they are unable to find teachers; and a legislative commission co-chaired by a nursing educator thinks shaving another "half-million dollars" out of the annual budget to benefit this extremely select class of citizens is the solution.

Yup. That's Rhode Island for ya.

Warwick School Committee Hears School Closing Recommendation

Marc Comtois

Faced with a shrinking revenues (ie; state aid), dropping enrollment and increasing costs, the Warwick School Department has proposed, for the second straight year, that part of the solution lay in closing an elementary school (the School Committee already renegotiated the teacher contract--though the amount of savings could have been more). Last year, two schools were closed and another converted into a city-wide learning center. Throughout the process, the administration was taken to task for not being transparent enough and accusations that they had already had their mind made up contributed to an already inherently negative process.

This time around, the Consolidation Advisory Committee (CAC) held several open meetings (though with no opportunity for public comment) and posted information to their website as they investigated which of 6 potential elementary schools should be considered for closure. They eventually narrowed their list down to two schools, John Greene and Warwick Neck, for further review. In the end, the CAC voted unanimously to close John Greene*.

Last night, as scheduled, the CAC presented their findings and recommendation to the Warwick School Committee. Several John Greene parents and a few students and staff were in attendance and, regardless of the fact that the meeting was not scheduled as a "public comment" session (those will be April 30th, 6-9 PM and May 1st, 3-6 PM), they intended to be heard (a radio ad campaign aired over the last few days probably contributed to the attendance and the feeling in the crowd). Despite an explanation from School Committee Chair Christopher Friel that this was a presentation--not a forum for public comment--audience members interrupted the presentation several times with shouted questions and comments. At least two people were removed for continually disrupting the proceeding.

According to the information presented, while closing Warwick Neck would save $17,000 more than closing John Greene (closing either would save in the mid $800,000s, according to updated numbers presented last night), other factors favored closing Greene over Warwick Neck (most important, it seemed, was impacting the least amount of students--in both sending and receiving schools--as possible).

However, information provided to the School Committee last night seemed to undermine the contention that cost-savings for closing either school was equal. In 2006, Warwick voters approved a $25 million bond to address school infrastructure problems (the fact that the money has yet to be appropriated is another story and a major bone of contention between the School Department and Mayor Avedisian). As part of that process, the School Department canvassed all of the schools and asked personnel and parents to identify any work that needed to be done and could be funded via the bond. This "wish list" was used by the CAC to evaluate what costs could be avoided by closing each school. One of those items was $471,650 for repairs to the roof of Warwick Neck. In all, John Greene reported $157,025 in prospective repairs and Warwick Neck reported $646,255. To the average taxpayer, that approximately half-million dollar difference in "avoided costs" seems like a substantial amount and, on the face of it, indicates that Warwick Neck should have been the school selected for closure based on cost-savings alone.

They did, in fact, get a report specifically concerning Wawick Neck's roof:

Paul Jansson (sic), Construction Coordinator discussed the projected improvements from approved bond 2006 (high priority). He noted that the Sherman and Warwick Neck roof projects were included for repair with this bond money. If the funds do not get released, Mr. Jansson said that both elementary schools (and Pilgrim HS) would constantly need to be watched and local personnel would be required to continue to patch work as necessary.
Mr. Jansson addressed a letter which challenged the estimating methodology for re-roofing. In reference to the Warwick Neck Elementary School roof, Mr. Jansson said the first issue is the existing roof condition. According to his records, the last roof replacement was in 1989 and 1992. His staff has evaluated the roof as one of the top 5 that will require replacement in the future. He prepares “conceptual” or “ball-park” estimates due to the unknown conditions that will affect a new roofing project. For instance, asbestos, adequate roof drains, condition of the structural deck and when will this work be done…one year, two to three years, five years. All of these factors will dramatically impact the roof cost. Upon completion of investigations and new designs prepared, the estimates are then adjusted accordingly.
Again, the administration didn't adequately justify why this half-million dollar difference was apparently not a factor. While they did explain that John Greene's roof was the same age as Warwick Neck's, and had in fact been patched a few more times in recent years than Warwick Neck, they never provided a dollar figure for potential roof repairs to Greene.

Thus, instead of having the foresight to proactively conduct an updated review of infrastructure needs for both Greene and Warwick Neck, they relied on an old report (though with updated numbers) that implies that Greene's roof is OK and heard testimony that bolstered the argument for closing Warwick Neck because of the roof costs. So the half-million dollar bill for Warwick Neck was left out there to dangle and, in the eyes of the public, serves to undercut the financial impetus for closing a school at all.**

Perhaps, during next week's public comment section, they will be prepared to answer that question.
*There was a minor controversy surrounding the difference between the initial, ballot vote of 6-1 in favor of closing Greene and the public re-vote that was 7-0. As was explained last night, the person who voted "nay" was confused by the ballot the first time around. The reason for the confusion stemmed from the final vote being between John Greene and John Wickes (not Warwick Neck). There are considerable questions surrounding the impact that potential airport expansion will have on John Wickes and the CAC apparently thought it worth considering getting ahead of events and closing a school that may eventually need to be closed. However, they unanimously decided to stick with closing one of the schools that was initially considered and extensively reviewed.

**Similarly, Chairman Friel asked if there were any figures to indicate what the actual savings were after closing the two schools last year. The administration was unprepared, but promised to forward those numbers to the committee. Again, a lack of foresight: one would think such a question would be anticipated.

Naysaying Man-Driven Global Warming on Earth Day

Justin Katz

Monique explained why she believes trying to affect global warming by changing mankind's behavior is pointless and disruptive on the Matt Allen show last night. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

April 22, 2009

Precursors of Unemployment

Monique Chartier

A forum entitled "A Budget that Reflects East Providence and Pawtucket's Priorities" and sponsored by

the Campaign for Rhode Island's Priorities, the Rhode Island Foster Parents Association, the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry-RI, the Rhode Island Chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Service Employees International Union, and the RI Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals

will take place this Monday in East Providence. The flyer announcing the event asks

How will the [state] budget affect our schools, our health care, our elderly care, and higher education? Funding for essential programs and services has been drastically cut over the past several years, including cuts to nursing homes, child care, hospitals, Head Start, and even our schools. Costs for health care and higher education have been skyrocketing. Can the residents of East Providence and Pawtucket expect this to continue? Will our State Representatives and Senators advocate for the right tax and budget choices that will help strengthen the economy in Rhode Island?

Well, I couldn't agree more about the importance of the last item. But inasmuch as a prior sentence deplores the cuts to various services, it is difficult to believe that the forum will not come to the conclusion that the "right tax and budget choices" means, regretfully, raising taxes, with other considerations such as the impact on the economy of such a course of action a distant second.

The timing is propitious, therefore, of an analysis by Jim Lindgren at the Volokh Conspiracy about the correlation between states with high unemployment and the level of their unionization and income tax rates.

With sincere apologies to my union friends (but not my tax-raising aquaintances), here goes.

As the nation considers increasing marginal tax rates and facilitating greater union membership, I thought it might make sense to look at the states with the highest and lowest unemployment rates to see if there might be any relevant patterns. The six states with the highest unemployment rates are:
12.6% Michigan

12.1% Oregon

11.4% South Carolina

11.2% California

10.8% North Carolina

10.5% Rhode Island

And the result?

Putting this together, 3 of the 6 states with the highest unemployment (California, Oregon, and Rhode Island) have both high marginal income tax rates and high union representation. Michigan has high unionization but moderate marginal income tax rates, and the Carolinas have high marginal income taxes, but low unionization rates.

Running Over the Entire Population

Justin Katz

As damaging as his arrest for drunken driving may be to the reputation of RI Deputy Majority Leader Rep. Raymond Sullivan (D., Coventry), more damning, still, is the slate of legislation on which Mr. Sullivan has placed his name. If Rhode Islanders take the opportunity of his appearance in the news to review his latest legislative activities, he ought to face even stiffer problems reclaiming his seat next time around. (I write that "ought to," of course, with full knowledge of the political habits of the state in which I live.)

Begin with this gem, rapidly withdrawn by primary sponsor Thomas Winfield (D., Glocester, Smithfield) (PDF):

No beverage container, plastic garbage bag or garbage can liner may be sold or offered for sale in this state on or after January 1, 2010, unless it is biodegradable, degradable or photodegradable.

Perhaps it was the loss of the proposed $100-per-plastic-bottle fine that spurred Sullivan et al. to eliminate the flat tax (PDF) and increase the capital gains tax (PDF), even though the lowered rates (and promises that they would decrease further) have arguably contributed to the roughly 50% increase in tax dollars collected from households earning over $100,000 per year.

And perhaps it is the dubious expectation that higher income tax rates would yield higher revenue for the state that led Mr. Sullivan, in legislation that he introduced, to suggest redirecting taxes collected from healthcare-related organizations from the perpetually inadequate general fund toward a new "Insurer Premium Tax Fund" that would "be used exclusively by the department of human services to fund expanded coverage for the uninsured through the RIte Care program" (PDF).

If tax dollars are so expendable, however, one would be hard-pressed to explain why Sullivan thought it necessary to introduce legislation that would risk scaring away larger businesses by requiring invasive "combined reporting," even empowering Rhode Island to demand income data for employees and business units that "are not, or would not be if doing business in this state" taxable here.

Also unduly invasive is Sullivan's notion (subsequently withdrawn) that all pharmaceutical and healthcare device companies can be required to submit annual reports detailing all marketing expenses related to advertising and promotion, from employee costs to radio ad costs, as well as the following (PDF:

Any other expense relating to the indirect promotion of prescription drugs, biologics and medical devices including without limitation, support of independent or continuing medical education programs, including payments to medical education companies; design, printing and production costs of patient education materials and disease management materials distributed within the state; consulting fees and expenses, participation in speakers’ bureaus and honoraria or other payments for time while speaking at or attending meetings, lectures or conferences; writing articles or publications; charitable grants, either directly or earmarked, even if unrestricted; product samples if allowed market research surveys or other activities undertaken in support of developing advertising and/or marketing strategies.

All of this, by the way, would explicitly not "constitute confidential information or trade secrets" and would be publicly available.

And while we're detailing new requirements for businesses seeking an RI market, Sullivan also wants to require college textbook companies to produce detailed lists of categorized books, including marketing intentions with respect to each edition's longevity as well as the wholesale price (PDF).

Finally, we'll close this quick review on a hot-button social issue and an eye-catching statement of perspective. On the former count, Sullivan has signed on to legislation (PDF) that would eliminate the current requirement that husbands be notified that their wives intend to kill their unborn children via abortion. On the latter, he felt it necessary to insist (PDF) that new requirements for public education concerning genocide ensure that students "recognize that genocide is a consequence of prejudice, discrimination and racism, which can be found here in Rhode Island." Think about that.

Fortunately, most of the above legislation has been either withdrawn or resigned to the committee limbo of "recommended to be held for further study." Of course, that high frequency of failure may not be a very salable point to the voters of Coventry.

Woonsocket Vote Proves Point of Tea Parties

Marc Comtois

In case you missed it, a Tea Party broke out in Woonsocket the other day (h/t).

As reported by WPRI:

Woonsocket's City Council has voted against a supplemental tax bill that would have raised property taxes by eight percent.

Councilors took the vote late Monday night, following testimony from dozens of residents. Council members said arguments against the bill changed their minds; it was originally expected to pass.

The bill was meant to close the school department's $3.7 million deficit. Councilors plan to meet Wednesday to decide on their next course of action, which could include a lawsuit against the state for more funding.

Why did it go from "expected to pass" to not passing? From the Woonsocket Call:
After some five hours of discussion, at just about midnight, the council...vot[ed] 4-3 against the measure. In the end, it was Councilwoman Suzanne Vadenais who tipped the balance. Early in the evening, she indicated a reluctant willingness to support supplemental taxes, but by the end of the night she had changed her mind.

“It was a very difficult decision,” she said. “After listening to all the people who spoke tonight, I can't vote for this.”

Vadenais joined Councilors Stella Brien, Christopher Beauchamp and Roger G. Jalette Jr. in opposing the measure. Council President Leo T. Fontaine, William Schneck and John Ward were in favor of it.

So, were Woonsocket residents inspired by the "Tea Party Movement" to take a more active role in local government? The signs seem to indicate that was the case. What is for sure is that something has happened to finally push average, apathetic taxpayers into having their voices heard.

Bringing the Anti-Prostitution Bill to the House Floor

Carroll Andrew Morse

I’m not sure if the leadership of the state House of Representatives intends to take action on the bill submitted by Representative Joanne Giannini (D – Providence) and others that would make indoor prostitution illegal in Rhode Island; the last action on the bill listed on the RI Legislature's website is "held for further study" dated April 8. One question worth asking, however, is whether supporters of this particular bill really need to wait for the leadership to act.

The rules of the Rhode Island House of Representatives provide a time-honored American legislative process, called a "discharge petition", for bringing bills stuck in committee directly to the House floor without the approval of a committee, a committee chair, or the House Speaker. Rule #22 lays out the relevant procedures for the RI House...

(22) On any day the prime sponsor of a bill or resolution may present a petition in writing to discharge a committee from further consideration of a public bill or resolution which has been referred to a committee, and by no other procedure, but only one petition may be presented for a public bill or resolution during the course of a session. The petition shall be placed in the custody of the recording clerk of the House who shall arrange some convenient place for the signatures of the members to be placed thereon in the presence of said clerk. A signature may be withdrawn by a member at any time before the petition receives sufficient signatures to become effective, and such petitions shall become effective, and shall serve to discharge a committee from further consideration of the public bill or resolution and shall cause said public bill or resolution to be placed upon the calendar for action, when any thirty-eight (38) representatives shall have affixed their signatures thereto, provided, however, that if, after the bill or resolution is calendared but before it is taken up, enough signatures are withdrawn so that the number of effective signatures falls below thirty-eight (38), the bill or resolution shall pass off the calendar. No such petition shall be presented for signatures to discharge a public bill or resolution unless the same shall have been in the possession of the committee for no less than sixteen (16) legislative days, and in no event until after the fiftieth (50th) legislative day. During House consideration of any discharged public bill or resolution, no motion to recommit or lay on the table shall be entertained by the Speaker until every member desiring to be heard has been recognized.
According to the RI legislature’s official site, the prostitution bill was referred to House Judiciary on January 8, so the 16-day requirement is easily met. We are currently on day 39 of the legislative session, so we’ll hit day 50 sometime in early May.

The only thing somewhat ambiguous about Rule 22 is the meaning of "and by no other procedure" in this context -- does that possibly create some limitation on the bills that are eligible for discharge? Perhaps the best way to find out -- especially if there are 38 members of the Rhode Island House who believe that the anti-prostitution bill should be moved from House Judiciary committee to the House Floor -- is to have Rep. Giannini exercise her right to begin a discharge procedure.

FBI Seeks Actual Domestic Terrorist

Justin Katz

Within a week of a Department of Homeland Security's report on the abstract potential of escalating domestic right-wing terrorism, the FBI has added an American to its Most Wanted Terrorists list:

A fugitive animal rights activist believed to be hiding outside the United States has become the first domestic terror suspect named to the FBI's list of "Most Wanted" terrorists.

Daniel Andreas San Diego, a 31-year-old computer specialist from Berkeley, Calif., is wanted for the 2003 bombings of two corporate offices in California.

Authorities say San Diego has unusual tattoos, including one that shows a burning field and proclaims, "It only takes a spark."

The FBI, at least, has not shifted to escalation of suspicion of people who share an ideology currently out of power.

It's worth mentioning, by the way, that DHS's April anti-conservative report (PDF) had somewhat of a corresponding left-wing release, mentioning the likes of Mr. San Diego (PDF), but a comparison of the two documents' titles is almost parodic:

"Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment"


"Leftwing Extremists Likely to Increase Use of Cyber Attacks over the Coming Decade"

Global Warming vs Climate Change: Clarifying Terms on Earth Day

Monique Chartier

Over the course of the last couple of years, environmental advocates have slyly substituted the term "climate change" for "global warming".

Climate change is quite a different phenomenon than global warming. How can this redefinition of terms be anything other than a tacit acknowledgement that AGW is no longer a viable theory? The theory of anthropogenic global warming had purported to be both scientific and quite specific as to effect. Al Gore so testified - "the planet has a fever" - before the Senate as recently as two years ago; the Daily Show with Jon Stewart "covered" his testimony below, starting at minute 1:10, ending at minute 3:00.

But if the very people who have posited the theory no longer acknowledge the effect, clearly, there is no need to search for a hypothesized cause; in this case, the actions of man in generating too much greenhouse gas. Global warming has turned into the all-encompassing climate change, a phenomenon simultaneously easy and impossible to prove. No danger is posed and, accordingly, no action by man is required.

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The Energy and Healthcare Issues Come Together

Justin Katz

Throw in environmentalism, too, because William Tucker's thoughts on windmilled energy bring some possibilities to mind:

The major limitation, of course, is wind's intermittency -- its lack of "dispatchability." Quite simply, you can never count on it. You can't even predict it from hour to hour with 100 percent accuracy and the windiest sites can go calm for days. On a national electrical grid, where supply and demand must be kept within 5 percent or each other in order to maintain voltage balances, this becomes very disruptive. ...

The utilities' generating capacity, as McCracken points out, generally falls into two categories -- base load and peaking. Base load runs day-and-night, week after week, to meet the underlying demand. It is almost universally provided by coal plants, which run for weeks at a time before shutting down for maintenance, and nuclear reactors, which can go almost two years between refueling. Peak loads, on the other hand, are generally met with natural gas turbines, which do not boil water and can be started and stopped almost instantaneously.

Unfortunately, as McCracken notes, wind falls into neithercategory. "As wind provides neither baseload nor peaking plant it has no impact on reserve capacity," he writes. ...

In other words, thanks to government mandates and subsidies, wind will be there to throw power onto the market any time the wind blows. This will not replace base load plants but will only drive down prices, cutting into their revenues. Nonetheless, base-load nuclear plants will have to remain in operation, both because they will be needed as back-ups in case the wind doesn't blow or -- in the case of nuclear -- because it doesn't make sense to keep stopping and starting a plant that runs best for two years at a time.

For some reason, this problem joined, for me, with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's suggestion on Newsmakers that one of the healthcare issues that government must address is obesity. If government takes ultimate responsibility for the healthcare of its citizens, it will gain some right to regulate individual health. What if we put overweight Americans to work generating energy?

Perhaps when the wind dies down, human treadmills could be hooked up to the generator to keep it going. Or, for an even more cartoonish suggestion, perhaps those in need of exercise could turn the wind propellers themselves by dangling off the edge.

Meanwhile, in Providence...

Carroll Andrew Morse

Combining Randal Edgar's story in today's Projo on the likely next step that follows the inability of the parties(*) in Cranston to agree upon a new police contract via negotiation…

After watching a tentative contract go down to defeat, the police officers union is taking its case to a new venue that could ultimately cost taxpayers far more — binding arbitration…

The [rejected] contract, retroactive to July 1, 2008, provided no raises — apart from longevity increases — until January 2010, when officers would have received a 1.5 percent raise. They would also receive a 2.95 percent raise at the start of year three.

…with some of the details from Philip Marcelo's story in yesterday's paper on the state of affairs in Providence between Mayor, City Council and Police Department…
The City Council, which has cast a critical eye over Mayor David N. Cicilline’s spending choices in light of a deficit approaching $16 million this year, has more to consider in its opposition to pay raises for high-ranking police officers and the mayor’s hiring of a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm…

The council maintains that it never authorized Cicilline’s administration to give pay raises retroactive to two years to the officers, some of whom are now retired. Cicilline’s administration has said that the retroactive pay for the nonunion officers matches those awarded to police union members in arbitration in the last fiscal year.

…again raises the question of why an 18-month pay-freeze, with no retroactive make-up in the future, is being considered as something less than a real concession by several members of the City Council in Cranston.

(*) And just so there's no confusion, I am including the City Council in the definition of "parties" in this post; there was some concern at Monday's meeting that the meaning of "parties" didn't include the City Council in the context of contracts with the City.

Imposed "Responsibility" Is Just Coercion

Justin Katz

It's disorienting to hear folks who follow politics for a living take speeches as sincere explanations of politicians' hopes and intentions. One would expect, as a case in point, David Brooks to understand the dangerous undercurrents of a speech by President Obama that Brooks describes as "a small masterpiece" of "explication."

His view was clear. The market is dynamic and important, but it makes people reckless, parochial and dangerously shortsighted. The market needs adult supervision — a leadership class made up of people who appreciate the market but who also have committed themselves to public service, and who therefore take the long view and are more conscious of the public good.

Obama is building this new leadership class. His administration has become a domestic I.M.F., consisting of teams of experts who can swoop in and provide long-term solutions when systems — finance, housing, health care, education, autos — have broken down.

When the members of this new establishment are confronted with a broken system — whether it involves hospitals, energy, air pollution or cars — their approach is the same. They aim to restructure incentives in order to channel the animal drives of the marketplace in responsible directions.

Brooks does put forward two significant objections, but they're easily rebuffed. The first is that this "leadership class" might fail, to which the plain response would be, essentially, that the current system has failed and that the administration feels a moral obligation to try to right it. The second is that Obama's spending spree does not exemplify the responsibility and "hard choices" that he wishes to impose on others, ranging from passivity to Congress's worsening of his proposals to the attempt to do all things at once to his recent "cynical Potemkin cuts." But the simple answers to this are that America's problems are deep, requiring the large dollar amounts to stabilize, and that an administration can only work within its context and must cooperate with coequal government branches.

The way I see it, there are only two possibilities that join the president's Georgetown speech and his actions. His words could be cynical political rhetoric intended to obscure for citizens the differences between his approach and that of his opposition. That, after all, is how he got himself elected: by convincing everybody that he was going to govern the way that they wanted, even if each preference was incompatible with the other.

The other possibility is that Obama is sincere, in which case raising the specter of fascism is not unreasonable. The emergence of "planners" and (being human) their inevitable failure are milestones on the road to serfdom. Indeed, this leveraging of a market system for the government's use in serving the "public good" is the central theme of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism.

To repeat my suggestion at the Providence tea party, if we aren't free to take risks, we aren't free. If the government can "swoop in" and save us, then our eyes will always look first to the dark shadow circling around us. Moreover, the rest of our society isn't free if it is obligated to pay for insuring others' risks, whether those others are businesspeople or public officials who, by corruption or incompetence, find themselves with failures to cover up and all the tools of government to apply toward that effort.

April 21, 2009

Tea Parties and Public Choice Theory

Marc Comtois

Put your wonk hat on. Economists Brian Wesbury and Robert Stein write:

While the theory of public choice can be broadly applied, it is the ideas of "special interests" and "rational ignorance" that are useful in understanding last week's tea parties.

Here's an example of public choice at work. Let's say teachers could benefit by $2,000 each per year (in higher pay or benefits, smaller classes, etc.) from a piece of legislation currently under debate. But the cost per taxpayer averages just $15 per year.

The "special interests" (teachers and politicians) have substantial personal incentive to see that the bill is passed. Teachers, who benefit directly, will use time and money to lobby for the bill. And lawmakers will expect campaign contributions, votes or both, in exchange for their support.

But the taxpayer will remain "rationally ignorant" of the whole process. Why spend time even thinking about an issue when the cost is only $15 per year?

....This is why government will tend to grow in excess of what a true democracy really wants. At least, it will grow until those $15 hits accumulate to such a level that people have finally had enough, and in a seemingly spontaneous eruption, the average voter finds the energy to fight back.

Apparently, this is what happened last week.

It also explains why we Rhode Islanders seem so apathetic when it comes to giving Joey Downthestreet a little more cake. Not for nothin', but it ain't really a big deal. At least for a while. Oh, and incidentally:
Here is an interesting set of facts. If the government increased the top tax rate from the current rate of 35% to 100% (yes, that's right 100%), it would only collect an extra $400 billion this year. In other words, confiscating all the income that is currently taxed at 35% would not raise enough revenue to cover any of the annual deficits projected in the next 10 years. There is no way that tax hikes on the rich alone can pay for proposed spending in the current budget.

More "Drinking Games" in Barrington

Monique Chartier

At a minimum, the Barrington police need to present the Places with a bill for a police detail. Two hours times however many police officers were involved.

Be sure to add in the detective who placed the ultimately futile telephone calls to the parents, Chief.

John Place had called the police on April 10, the night of the party, and asked them to check on his house at 7 p.m. and again at 11 p.m. because he didn’t want teenagers partying at his house.

When the police responded to reports of a loud party, they could hear yelling, laughing and music coming from the basement. When the police lifted the exterior bulkhead door, they said that they were “immediately overcome with a pungent odor associated with alcohol.”

Detective Lt. Dino DeCrescenzo immediately called John Place’s cell phone number, which he had left with the police.

“I told him about the odor or beer and alcohol,” DeCrescenzo said in his report. “I told him that I wanted his son to let us in the house so we could check on the safety of all the underage persons, seize the alcohol and then call everyone’s parents to ensure their safety and well-being.”

* * *

After speaking with the police off and on for 40 minutes, Place said he didn’t want them entering his house.


As to the cost of a police detail, the Barrington Police advised this afternoon that the rate per hour varies depending upon the seniority of the officer taking the detail but that the range would be $38 - $50 per officer per hour and there is a four hour minimum. Accordingly, presuming three officers (two responding to the house and one detective back at HQ making the telephone calls to the Places in Maryland) for the Place "detail", the cost would be $456 - $600.

The One Raises the Dead (And I Bet the Old Souls are Grateful)

Justin Katz

I suspect this would be much less of a story without the wordplay and image building that it enables:

After Lesh, who had never publicly supported a presidential candidate, threw his lot in with Obama, he was anxious to do a benefit concert for him. But he was all but done with The [Grateful] Dead, so it was going to feature his other band, Phil and Friends.

"My son Brian said, 'No Daddy, you've got to get The Dead together because it will be so much more meaningful and important,''' the musician chuckled during a recent phone interview.

One benefit performance led to another and then an inaugural ball concert. Next thing they knew, Lesh, guitarist Bob Weir and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann were back together.

"It came off so well that we thought we owe it to ourselves to play again,'' Lesh said. "It brings out something in all of us, in our gestalt and our totality, that we can't deliver, we can't find anywhere else.''

In real terms, what happened, here? A charismatic candidate stirred up a cultural happening that led a handful of aging hippies who'd had nothing significant to do since the death of their lead guy to jamb together. They found that they preferred the life to which they'd grown accustomed, and they've picked it up again, at least for a short-term basis. Process that through two products of pop culture myth-making, and you reinforce both.

About the Economic Knowledge of the Public...

Marc Comtois

Michael Barone writes, "Many of the sneering comments about the participants in last week’s hundreds of tea parties across the nation were premised on the idea that these people didn’t know much about public policy." (Sounds familiar). However, as Barone mentions, a Pew Research poll conducted at the end of March (you can take the related quiz here) "finds the American public reasonably well-informed about a number of basic facts pertaining to the current economic situation." Further, a new Rasmussen poll shows that 52% of Americans are worried that the government is getting too involved in the economy. This tracks closely with the results of another Rasmussen poll showing that 51% of Americans viewed the Tea Party protests favorably. That puts this slight majority at odds with the "Political Class" polled by Rasmussen:

[J]ust 13% of the political elite offered even a somewhat favorable assessment while 81% said the opposite. Among the Political Class, not a single survey respondent said they had a Very Favorable opinion of the events while 60% shared a Very Unfavorable assessment.
Then there's this:
Most Americans trust the judgment of the public more than political leaders, view the federal government as a special interest group and believe that big business and big government work together against the interests of investors and consumers. Only seven percent (7%) share the opposite view and can be considered part of the Political Class.

On many issues, there is a bigger gap between the Political Class and Mainstream Americans than between Mainstream Republicans and Mainstream Democrats. That was true on the tea parties, but Mainstream Republicans do express a more positive view of the protests than Mainstream Democrats. Still, a majority (54%) of Mainstream Democrats had a favorable opinion of the tea parties.

So, according to these polls, the tea parties were supported and attended by a basically bi-partisan, well-informed and populist crowd. Yikes!

Cranston City Council Rejects Police Contract

Carroll Andrew Morse

The full Cranston City Council has rejected a modified version of the tentative agreement reached between the administration of Mayor Allan Fung and the city's police officers union. Several amendments were made to the original agreement and the Mayor and members of his administration discussed the changes with the Council in an executive session that lasted for about an hour last evening, but the Council still rejected the contract by a vote of 6-3.

According to Mayor Fung (audio), his administration must now proceed with layoffs in order to rectify Cranston's financial situation.

When asked if the Council views layoffs as the next step, Council President John Lanni (audio) left the door open for further negotiations. Asked if the healthcare issue was the primary "structural" issue that the Council was concerned about, President Lanni cited longevity pay as an example of another area that could be considered for modification.

Several council members also expressed concerns about proposed changes involving departmental operations during the meeting.

Randal Edgar has a good summary of the various issues involved in today's Projo. One issue that is still not clear to me is the claim that most of the savings in this contract comes from not filling vacancies, when the union has (had?) agreed to an 18-month pay freeze with no retroactive make-up down the line. That sounds like a real concession to me, despite Council member Michelle Bergin-Andrews characterization of the deal with the union as involving something less, what she called "what they like to call concessions".

Councilman Terrence Livingston explained his vote, in part, by saying that that was "the first contract that came up during this bad time", neglecting the laborer's contract ratified in December (after the crash of the financial world that brought about the bad times) where a 12 month pay-freeze was deemed adequate for passage.

And in explaining his version of what "structural change" might involve, Councilman Emilio Navarro mentioned 20% co-shares for new hires only, an apparent change from his previous position of 20% across-the-board, though it is not clear that 20% for new hires would save more money than the across-the-board co-share the union agreed to.

Ultimately, the citizens of Cranston have to decide if this all makes sense.

Seven Council members explained their votes to the public before casting them. Speaking in favor of the contract were…

Speaking against were…

On Knowing the Statewide Facts and Hosting Rallies

Justin Katz

For his latest RI Policy Reporter column, Tom Sgouros has moderated his vitriol and, in one way of reading it, attempted to explain what he meant by his statement that tea party goers are "afraid if they do learn about [the issues they claim to speak about], they will lose the purity of their opinions." Herewith, two of Sgouros's "basic facts relevant to the policy proposals promoted by the tea-baggers":

The fact is that when we spoke, [tea party organizer Colleen Conley] didn't know some very basic facts about her own proposals, like how much any of them could save, or even about government spending. For example, if you're going to recommend that cuts in pension costs be used to balance our budget, it's worth knowing that our state's annual personnel costs are around $800 million, or less than a quarter of general revenue. The current budget deficit of somewhere around $400 million is almost half that, and two and a half times as large as all the pension payments we make each year. Trimming pension costs might help meet the budget goals, but it's not nearly enough.

The first thing to note is that Sgouros's statement of our annual personnel costs is not accurate. Referring to the FY 2009 column of the table on page 15 of the governor's 2010 budget personnel supplement (PDF), one finds that, while it may be true that the costs derived from the general revenue hover around $800 million, the total annual personnel costs for 2009 are listed as $1.632 billion. Even if we cut out federal funds, personnel still claims $1.261 billion.

None of the revenue lines that make up the difference appear to be such that it's reasonable to leave them out while discussing the high cost of Rhode Island's government:

  • Restricted receipts are dollars taken by the government for specific purposes.
  • Internal service funds are dollars listed under one department's operating expenses to pay another department for services.
  • Other funds represent government fees and other sources of income (e.g., college tuition).

A $400 million deficit is not "almost half" the non-federal-fund spending on personnel; it's less than a third. The total may be "less than a quarter of general revenue" expenditures, but that makes it the second largest category, after Assistance, Grants and Benefits. It would still be excessive to carve our deficit out of that single chunk of the budget, but that only means that some percentage has to come from elsewhere.

As for pension costs, well, this is a case of taxpayers' looking toward the future. According to the Pension Reform Panel (PDF), by "2010, taxpayers will be paying a total of $400 million to fund the pension system." According to a recent Projo article, the current projection is for an $835.3 million annual expense by 2017. Perhaps Mr. Sgouros missed all the tea party signs that were directed toward the future.

But all of this is moot, as far as I'm concerned, in addressing Tom's complaint that the tea party's organizers and attendees didn't show up at the State House with a proposal in hand. The event wasn't a policy summit; it was a political demonstration. The point wasn't to come to a consensus on what our representatives should do, specifically, in order to rein in government, but to convey the message that they have to start doing something.

Yes, we all know that the organs of the Left formulate policies and hold rallies as marketing events for their presentation, but once again, that's the difference between a popular movement and an establishment structure for special interests.

April 20, 2009

What's Keeping the Prostitution Loophole Open?

Marc Comtois

We've been remarking on the seemingly unconscionable inability of our General Assembly to close the indoor prostitution loophole (here, here, here) for a while now. The ProJo has editorialized about it and offered a fine investigative piece about it.

As I wrote in 2007, "Rep. Joanne M. Giannini...has done yeoman's work in presenting a comprehensive package of legislation that seeks to address all of the past issues that opponents have had." She's still submitting the bills (here and here) and still debating the vocal opposition. Opponents believe that closing the loophole will end up further victimizing the victims (prostitutes) because they fear the working girls will disproportionately bear the brunt of any enforcement. This is the argument that Senate Majority Leader Paiva-Weed has used in the past. But the truth of the matter is that the focus on human-trafficking, while related to prostitution, is simply the most socially acceptable ground to stand on for those who want to leave the loophole open. Rep. Giannini has taken steps to strengthen the penalties against human-traffickers and essentially exempt those compelled into the sex trade. Still, there is opposition.

Dan Yorke believes that the General Assembly leadership refuses to close the loophole for more personal reasons. In a nutshell, put some political leaders, their lifestyles and Allens Avenue all together and you'll see that they don't want to end the much-discussed heterosexual prostitution because it would bring an end to homosexual prostitution, too.

I don't know whether it's any, all or a combination of the above that is keeping the loophole open, but it's about time to close it. 48 other states and most of Nevada (heh) have a point.

Not So Steady

Justin Katz

This interesting consideration was to be found after the page 7 continuation of a recent story on Rhode Island's steady unemployment figure:

No industries in Rhode Island reported job growth in March. And while the unemployment rate held steady, the state lost 1,900 jobs.

That contradiction –– a stable unemployment level amid deep job losses –– could indicate a surge in the number of Rhode Island residents finding work outside the state. But it is more likely evidence of the growth in so-called discouraged workers –– unemployed people who have given up the search for jobs and are no longer counted in the jobless rate.

The number of discouraged workers equals 2.1 percent of the state’s labor force, up from 1.6 percent a year ago and the second highest in the country after Michigan, according to the Current Population Survey.

The state-to-state discouragement numbers weren't easily available, based on a quick search, but I wonder where Rhode Island's 12.6% overall unemployment rate puts us on a ranking.

Providence is the Hardest City For People to "Get By"

Marc Comtois

According to Forbes (h/t Buddy Cianci), the Providence metro area (Providence-Fall River-Warwick, R.I.-Mass., metro area) is the toughest for people to get by in.

There are few smiles among those who live in Providence, R.I., these days.

In February, the metro area reported an 11.6% unemployment rate, one of the highest in the country. Construction--one of Providence's major industries--is down; traditional manufacturing has been struggling for years. Like many across the country, few are spending at retailers. And while the area's median income is $54,064--about $4,000 higher than the national average--its cost of living index is steep, 22 points above the national average of 100.

All this means it's hard to catch a break in Providence. {Emphasis added}

First, it seems unfair to lump Providence (and Warwick) with the poor economic performing area of Massachusetts around Fall River and then basically lay all of the woe at the feet of Providence. Regardless, whether or not we agree with Forbes, the fact is that yet another national publication is proclaiming how bad it is to be in Rhode Island.

A Continuing Travesty of Justice

Justin Katz

I can't believe this is still ongoing:

Call it a farce, call it a travesty, call it legal loonie tunes. Paul Kelly still can't get into the cabin he owns in Exeter near the Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery. He pays the taxes and pays the mortgage, but he can't walk in the door.

"I've spent so much money," says Kelly, "and I haven't even gotten up to the plate yet."

Kelly, who went to war in Iraq at the age of 51, not only can't he get in his cabin, he can't even stand up in court and say why it's so crazy and unjust to keep him out.

He goes to court regularly with his lawyer, Pat McKinney. And he hears Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson grant yet another continuance before testimony can be heard. There were continuances in January, February and March.

The case of Paul Kelly-and-home-denied is scheduled for its next court go-round in May.

For those who aren't familiar with the details, Kelly allowed a down-on-her-luck exgirlfriend to stay at his place while he went off to war. Upon his return, she filed a restraining order and refused to leave and has, apparently, been gaming the system ever since.

Can't Blame Bush Forever

Marc Comtois

The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl makes an observation and then wonders...

New American presidents typically begin by behaving as if most of the world's problems are the fault of their predecessors -- and Barack Obama has been no exception. In his first three months he has quickly taken steps to correct the errors in George W. Bush's foreign policy, as seen by Democrats. He has collected easy dividends from his base, U.S. allies in Europe and a global following for not being "unilateralist" or war-mongering or scornful of dialogue with enemies.

Now comes the interesting part: when it starts to become evident that Bush did not create rogue states, terrorist movements, Middle Eastern blood feuds or Russian belligerence -- and that shake-ups in U.S. diplomacy, however enlightened, might not have much impact on them.

Indeed, as Victor Davis Hansen writes:
[D]id the “their old America did it, not my new one” Obama approach win his country anything? Russians helping out to prevent a nuclear Iran, or stopping the killing of dissidents abroad, or promises not to bully the former Soviet republics? More European combat units going to Afghanistan? Mexico vowing to curb illegal immigration? Turkey ceasing its new anti-Western Islamic screeds?

His supporters would rejoin, “Oh, but give him time. He’s sowing the field with good will for a bountiful harvest of future cooperation”. I do think he’s sowing, but a minefield rather than a crop, whose explosions will be as inevitable as they will be numerous. Sarkozy’s crude dismissal and appraisal of Obama (nothing is worse for a liberal administration than to have their idolized French brethren bite their extended limp hands) are the templates of things to come.

And back to Diehl:
Obama is not the first president to discover that facile changes in U.S. policy don't crack long-standing problems. Some of his new strategies may produce results with time. Yet the real test of an administration is what it does once it realizes that the quick fixes aren't working -- that, say, North Korea and Iran have no intention of giving up their nuclear programs, with or without dialogue, while Russia remains determined to restore its dominion over Georgia. In other words, what happens when it's no longer George W. Bush's fault?

Obama, Budget Cutter?

Justin Katz

Following a week of tea party rallies that the president professes to have barely noticed, a couple stories in today's Providence Journal suggest some modest attempts to puncture his big-spending image. Considering that some banks have suggested that they'd like to return bailout money to the feds, it isn't surprising that the administration thinks more money might not be necessary. Of course, there's a twist:

President Obama's top economic advisers have determined that they can shore up the nation's banking system without having to ask Congress for more money any time soon, administration officials said.

In a significant shift, White House and Treasury Department officials now say they can stretch what is left of the $700 billion financial bailout fund simply by converting the government's existing loans to the nation's 19 biggest banks into common stock. That would turn the government aid into available capital for a bank -- and give the government a large equity stake in return.

Lacking time for extensive research, I put this forward as only an impression, but this doesn't strike me as all that much of a shift from where we were a week ago.

Here's the other (little) bone the administration is throwing out there to the angry crowds:

President Obama plans to convene his Cabinet for the first time today, where he will order members to identify a combined $100 million in budget cuts over the next 90 days, according to a senior administration official.

The budget cuts, while they would account to a minuscule portion of federal spending, are intended to signal the president's determination to cut spending and reform government, the official said.

Precisely, that $100 million would represent 0.0028% of the $3.5 trillion 2010 budget — 0.0083% of the $1.2 trillion deficit. So how many protesters do we have to gather across the country to merit, say, a 1% decrease in the budget?

April 19, 2009

Leaving the Bench Behind

Justin Katz

Having previously confessed a susceptibility to the inevitable, cheesy scene in movies at which the underdog team prevails, I've held on to Mark Patinkin's recent column about bench-warmers and failures ranging from Harry Truman to Lucille Ball. Such stories are inherently compelling — hopeful and affirmative of a sense of justice and good in the world.

Those of us who continue to find the moment of vindication elusive may wonder whether it will come (if it comes) in that crystallized declaration that our lives will never be the same, or whether it will be an indeterminable shift of degree in the past, reviewed in a moment of pause after years of chin-up, shoulder-forward work. Most of Patinkin's examples seem to be of the latter sort — people who gradually built careers, reaching milestones, no doubt, but never so dramatically that the gains couldn't easily be lost.

The success of reality-TV contest shows may lie in their ability to capture successes of the former sort. Surely, most of you have already heard of, if not seen, the spectacular splash of Susan Boyle's singing performance on Britain's Got Talent. The segment strongly recalls that of Paul Potts on the same show two years ago. There's a shot, when Potts hits a musical crest, of the beautiful female judge gasping in a breath, redemptive, one imagines, of years of belittlement, doubt, and struggle in the life of the singer.

As I've watched my piano skills deteriorate with each month of overwhelmedness, I've been reminded that such talent never appears, and is never maintained, without labor, and one can imagine Susan and Paul rehearsing daily to the audiences of their living room walls and giving awkward recitals to the families of their teachers' younger students. One can imagine, to be sure, millions of such people, floating as if displaced through ordinary lives, being scorned by coworkers and put-upon by self-superior bosses.

The unfortunate truth is that most of those millions will never experience a cascade of justification. Life will merely go on as it has, with a highlight here and there, but never any utter liberation from the judgments and sneers of past experience. That is, of course, unless through an equal exertion of labor, we develop a spiritual sense of triumph, do the world what it may.

AGW: 6% - The Single Most Inconvenient Data Point (Part II of II)

Monique Chartier

Ah, yes, "the need for action". Certain scientists have called for a 60% reduction in manmade greenhouse gases. (A few advocates call this target inadequate.) Let us set aside for a moment the lack of any feasible alternate energy source and focus on the matter of effectiveness. Sixty percent of six percent is three point six (3.6%) percent. Those scientist, then, are asserting that if total greenhouse gases are reduced by 3.6%, global warming will be considerably slowed and possibly stopped. This seems questionable at best. What is their scientific proof?

We turn now to the scientific heart of AGW. It is computer models. And they are the dirty little secret of Al Gore's theory. Because they are flawed. Even the IPCC so acknowledges.

> They are based on a certain amount of temperature data that is unreliable, having been collected inconsistently or achieved with a "fudge factor".

> Not all of the computer models agree.

> All failed to "predict" current or historic conditions.

> All mishandle in some way the effect of clouds, "... the largest source of discrepancy among climate models"

> All fail to include the effect of aerosols (fine particles) in the atmosphere.

In the absence of a clean, economically equivalent alternate energy source, a source that is not even on the horizon never mind the drawing board, the proposed reduction of 3.6% of total greenhouse gases - 60% of the greenhouse gases which man generates - could only be achieved at a staggering cost, financial and lifestyle, to man. Yet looking at those flawed computer models, there is no conclusive evidence that such drastic measures would even work!

This is a good point at which to issue two disclaimers.

1.) No one denies that up until 1998, the planet was warming. Skeptics only question the extent of the role of man.

2.) Personally, I have no love of fossil fuels. Yes, compared to past energy sources - the burning of wood and peat, the use of animals - it is far more potent and clean, especially the way the United States, with its myriad of enviro regs, utilizes them. Nevertheless, they are not 100% clean. Accordingly, the day a clean, adequate energy source that costs the same as bitumen by-products is discovered, I'll be standing right there with a champagne glass.

Al Gore has notoriously urged AGW advocates to resort to "over-representation" when making their case. AGW skeptics are happy to stick to the facts, especially as one in particular provides remarkable perspective on both the extent of man's role in global warming and the very high price he would have to pay if his actions, indeed, are the tipping point for the phenomenon.

When Big Brother Starts to Come Together

Justin Katz

Such gradual expansions of programs appear innocent from up close and always present legitimate claims of practicality, but they create channels for illegitimate power awaiting application:

Law enforcement officials are vastly expanding their collection of DNA to include millions more people who have been arrested or detained but not yet convicted. The move, intended to help solve more crimes, is raising concerns about the privacy of petty offenders and people who are presumed innocent.

Until now, the federal government genetically tracked only convicts. But starting this month, the FBI will join 15 states that collect DNA samples from those awaiting trial and will also collect DNA from immigrants who have been detained - the vanguard of a growing class of genetic registrants.

Ironically, perhaps, the example of "a man found guilty of loitering for the purpose of prostitution" indicates a direction in which this program could head. If, say, the federal government begins attributing terroristic intent to gatherings of citizens with particular views, and if the action that triggers DNA collection is mere arrest or detainment, a broadly interconnected police and security system could begin amassing DNA information about a targeted political minority.

Approaching the matter from another direction reveals another spectrum of concerns. Who's to say where DNA-related technology will go? Imagine that an individual targeted by the law is known to have a genetic susceptibility to a chronic health problem; investigators would thereby have a means of narrowing their search. Suppose technology advances to the extent that DNA can be collected casually and analyzed on the spot, or that there proves to be genetic correlation for certain beliefs.

Speculation in this line rapidly moves toward science fiction, but so, too, does reality. DNA is the key to our biological constitution, and when it's clear how knowledge of it may be used as a tool for oppression, it's likely to be too late.

AGW: 6% - The Single Most Inconvenient Data Point (Part I of II)

Monique Chartier

The EPA has reached a proposed finding that

greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare because they contribute to climate change.

[Information on public hearings and how to submit written comment on this finding is here.]

Stated more succinctly, the EPA has fallen for the erroneous theory of anthropogenic global warming, which posits that man a.) causes global warming and b.) can stop global warming with only a reasonable expenditure of money and a quite modest sacrifice of lifestyle.

If the potential consequences of this ruling were not so drastic, their error would be understandable, if not excusable. After all, an international panel as well as many scientists and commentators have been saying over the course of several years with admirably energetic repetition, if not sufficient research or thought, that a.) man causes global warming and b.) man can stop global warming.

The hitch is that in their eagerness to confirm Al Gore's theory, these scientists and commentators have rushed past the single most important data point: the percentage of greenhouse gases that man contributes to the planet. It is six percent. Six (6%) Percent. Earth generates the other ninety four (94%) percent.

This is a simple yet crucial fact. Think about it. Think of the staggering amount of activity around the planet powered by coal, gasoline, diesel, natural gas. Factories, cars, heating, cooling, electricity. The millions of tons of goods and foodstuffs moved by ship, train, eighteen wheeler.

Yet it adds up to only 6% of greenhouse gases generated. Inexplicably, the theory of AGW has been passionately extolled, a US government agency has issued a potentially very expensive and onerous finding and ever more urgent alarms have been sounded about the need for action entirely in a vacuum without the acknowledgement of this most rudimentary of facts. Could it be that recognition of the tiny role that man plays in the generation of greenhouse gases would clarify too starkly the price that he would have to pay, even assuming that his paltry 6% is the tipping point for global warming, were he to "take action"?

Revenue-Driven Quota, or Union Stranglehold Workaround?

Justin Katz

A busy week moved this Hopkinton tidbit to the bottom of the pile, but the multiple angles make it of broader interest:

If you drive through Hopkinton, keep this in mind: The officers you see are each required to write 20 traffic tickets per month, "more or less," under a new Police Department policy.

Excuses, like being busy doing something else, or having taken vacation days, "are not acceptable," Lt. Daniel C. Baruti said in a March 3 internal e-mail that spells out the policy.

Drivers who think they have been ticketed unfairly often suspect that they were cited because of a police quota rather than their driving. The police almost universally deny that quotas exist.

The e-mail says, in bold, italic type, "Do not forward this e-mail."

Baruti tried to put a business-as-usual face on the controversy, with the emphasis on "business" by presenting law enforcement in terms of money-making:

Baruti and the other local officials said that the policy is a management tool intended to make the police more productive. Although it has drawn some criticism, Baruti said, the policy is legal and that they have no intention of abandoning it. ...

The e-mail said that officers who don't meet the quota — an average of one ticket for every shift worked — will have to fill out daily activity sheets to account for what they have done during their shifts. Baruti acknowledged that officers would rather not have to do that.

Baruti's e-mail said that the department's "production level" has fallen and that the town manager and some members of the Town Council "are very dissatisfied with our numbers." He said he thinks a decline in the department's ticket production reflects a lack of motivation.

Baruti wrote that he plans to send the officers' statistics to the Town Council, so members can "see for themselves who is producing and who is not." DiLibero said the council hasn't acted on the issue, which he considers an administrative matter.

Police Chief John Scuncio, by contrast, fires the union flare:

Scuncio, on the other hand, said the policy is aimed at a single officer who does practically no work. One example of his lack of effort, the chief said, is that month after month, the officer writes no tickets at all. The chief said the officer's inactivity "really creates problems" because new officers "see this guy doing nothing." He didn't identify the officer, saying he didn't want to single the officer out. ...

He said he's reluctant to try to discipline the officer because of the difficulty under the legal and contractual protections provided to Rhode Island police.

Maybe I'm getting tired of games in my ornery middle age, or maybe my incredulity results from daily experience with the demands and strains that exist in the private sector, but I'm inclined to offer solutions to both justifications for this policy, no matter which is the actual one: Make all officers fill out daily activity sheets, regardless of their "productivity," and stop negotiating contracts that make it difficult to discipline egregiously "unproductive" employees.

Seems like every time the public discovers an objectionable policy or practice in the government sphere, it's excused with reference to the deeper problems that it's supposedly attempting to solve. Well, let's do away with the deeper problems, even if it annoys big contributors, people in the family-and-friends camp, and special interests.

Choosing Politics over Children in Washington, D.C.

Marc Comtois

The decision by Education Secretary Arne Duncan to freeze the admission of students to Washington, D.C.'s voucher program is cause for concern, as editorialized last week by the Washington Post.

It's clear, though, from how the destruction of the program is being orchestrated, that issues such as parents' needs, student performance and program effectiveness don't matter next to the political demands of teachers' unions. Congressional Democrats who receive ample campaign contributions from the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers laid the trap with budget language that placed the program on the block. And now comes Mr. Duncan with the sword.
This morning's ProJo contains an editorial by Anthony A. Williams, former Democrat mayor of the District of Columbia and Kevin P. Chavous, a former Democratic member of the D.C. Council and author of Serving Our Children: Charter Schools and the Reform of American Public Education and a distinguished fellow with the Center for Education Reform.
[A]s elected officials of the District in 2003 [we promoted] the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program, which provides scholarships for low-income children to attend private schools, is part of the three-sector initiative that annually provides $50 million in federal funding to the District for education purposes. That money has been equally divided among D.C. public schools, D.C. public charter schools and the scholarship program.

Preliminary data suggest that the program has been an overwhelming success. An Education Department study released this month shows that students in the program have higher overall math and reading scores than when they entered the program. The study also points to high satisfaction with their children’s schools among parents with children in the program. In short, those in this program have clearly benefited from being in a new school environment.

Despite these obvious signs of success, though, some in Congress want to end the program. Its funding is set to expire after the next school year ends, but some have even suggested curtailing it immediately so that these students can be placed in D.C. public schools as soon as possible. Already, no more students are being enrolled. These naysayers — many of whom are fellow Democrats — see vouchers as a tool to destroy the public-education system. Their rhetoric and ire are largely fueled by those special-interest groups that are more dedicated to the adults working in the education system than to making certain every child is properly educated. {Emphasis added}

We know that unions don't like to give kids option. But it's worse when those with the ability to choose seek to remove that ability from others who are less fortunate:
That, after all, is what this program is about: giving poor families the choice that others, with higher salaries and more resources, take for granted. It's a choice President Obama made when he enrolled his two children in the elite Sidwell Friends School. It's a choice Mr. Duncan had when, after looking at the D.C. schools, he ended up buying a house in Arlington, where good schools are assumed. And it's a choice taken away this week from LaTasha Bennett, a single mother who had planned to start her daughter in the same private school that her son attends and where he is excelling. Her desperation is heartbreaking as she talks about her daughter not getting the same opportunities her son has and of the hardship of having to shuttle between two schools.

The Compromise of the Moment

Justin Katz

Does anybody doubt that President Obama's handling of the stem-cell issue is designed as a means of avoiding political heat while disregarding the beliefs of those who hold the culling of embryonic stem cells to be a form of murder? By placing determination of the "guidelines" for expanded funding under controle of the National Institutes of Health, he's made them easily changeable and at a political distance. Coverage of the guidelines' release is peppered with statements of "for now" (emphasis added):

"We think this will be a huge boost for the science," said Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington. "This was the right policy for the agency at this point in time." ...

The guidelines are "a reasonable compromise based on where the science stands now," said Dr. Sean Morrison, director of the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell Biology. "We may need to revisit some of the details down the road depending on how the science develops." ...

That's in line with legislation passed by the last Congress but never signed by President George W. Bush. Besides, Kington noted, no one has yet created a stem cell line using cloning techniques.

It sounds as if moral questions are hardly in play at all. Policy, in that case, is precisely a match for the general political approach of liberal materialists: Take steps as they're possible and pretend that there are still safeguards against leaps too far.

April 18, 2009

Giving Whitehouse an Easy Go

Justin Katz

Although Arlene Violet subsequently whacked him with a great question about using stimulus money to suppress changes to teachers' healthcare benefits, I'm very disappointed that the Newsmakers gang let Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse ramble on with this partisan mumbo-jumbo for three minutes:

I think it's sort of an ironic moment on this subject, and particularly to the extent that the tea party was orchestrated through the Republican Party and its organizations, because here we are in a bleak recession, which is the one time when economists agree that federal spending is really important, even when you have to borrow to spend, because families are contracting their budgets, businesses are contracting their budgets, states and municipalities are contracting their budgets, and so the whole economy contracts and collapses unless the federal government can engage in what they call "countercyclical spending" to moderate the downturn. So, this is the one time when it really makes sense.

When George Bush took office, we were headed for being a debt-free nation now. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office took a look at where the budget was when President Clinton left it, and we were in surplus, and we were headed for debt-free, and in eight years, George Bush changed that, nine trillion now, 8.9 trillion, to be specific, and that was fair-weather times. That was money for everybody. That was Wall Street on a roll, and he spent that 8.9 trillion on things like a war in Iraq and letting Wall Streeters rake in billions of dollars and get their taxes reduced while they were doing that.

So, there's a kind of sad irony in, now that we need it, people becoming so upset about the federal spending when nobody really paid attention to it, and there weren't tea parties going on when George Bush was running up $9 trillion in debt to give tax breaks to Wall Street millionaires.

First of all, the Republican Party did not "orchestrate" the tea parties. Watch, for evidence, big-spending Republicans being booed at them across the country.

On the financial points, what is Whitehouse talking about with that $8.9 trillion? The total national debt now stands at $11.1 trillion (PDF). When President Bush left office, it was $10.6 trillion (PDF). But when Bush took office, it was $5.7 trillion.

It risks a fatal tangent, but it's worth noting that this number includes intragovernmental holdings, most notably the infamous Social Security IOUs. Such internal borrowing is not typically included in annual deficit numbers. In a sense, the government owes this money in promised services, but there aren't lenders with bills for eventual payment. Excluding this total, the debt under Bush grew from $3.4 trillion (9/29/00) to $5.8 trillion (9/29/08).

Whether we count the increase in the debt as $4.9 trillion or $2.4 trillion, it's still too much — anything above zero is too much — but it simply isn't true that the federal government under President Bush ran up "$9 trillion in debt." It's a lie. And it doesn't take into account the fact that about half of the increase — by either measure — occurred during the two of Bush's eight years during which Democrats controlled Congress, which controls the federal purse.

Moving on to Whitehouse's assertion of Wall Street's being on "a roll" during the Bush presidency enables a nice return to the notion of that "countercyclical spending" of which he's so fond. In actuality, the DOW dipped about 2,000 points around the time of 9/11, recovered some, and then spent much of 2H02 and 1H03 even lower. According to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, private domestic investment dipped from 2001 through 2003. During and beyond this period, government revenues plummeted.

Bush and the Republican Congress increased outlays at the outset of this downturn and held them reasonably steady as a percentage of GDP. (The fiscal conservative in me, though, is still inclined to complain that outlays went up steadily in absolute terms no matter the economic situation, PDF.) Then the economy improved. Consequently, the deficits under Bush show a U pattern, maxing out in 2004 and then heading back toward zero, until the recession began to really sink in in 2008.

An inconceivable number of factors come into play, here, but the point is that, if you buy Senator Whitehouse's economic excuse for the Obama-Dem spending spree (which I don't), the Bush years would have to count as a prime example of mitigating recessions through government spending. This intellectual necessity is evidenced most strongly in the fact that the dot-com bust, an unprecedented terrorist attack in the U.S. financial core, and years of war did not prevent those years from being such that Whitehouse speaks so glowingly of the economy, then.

Even so, in the graphic shown at that last link, the jaw-dropping difference between the Bush deficits and those projected for Obama and beyond makes so much mumbling of Whitehouse's chatter. The Congressional Budget Office expects most of the next decade to have annual deficits that more than double Bush's worst year.

It's understandable that the journalists wouldn't have had the information at hand to rebut the Senator's talking-points nonsense on air, but Whitehouse was sufficiently brazen that they should have recognized a need for him to explain his numbers. Maybe an inevitable stumble or two would have at least given viewers a sense that he wasn't rolling through economic gospel truth.

American Hate Groups Exposed!

Justin Katz

There may really be reason for concern about terrorism among domestic hate groups:

After Tancredo entered the room, protesters kept him from speaking by shouting insults and holding a sign declaring “no dialogue with hate” in front of his face. Tancredo waited calmly while protestors held the sign and chanted…

After protestors exited the hallway, Tancredo spoke for about two minutes before a protestor outside the building banged on a window, shattering the glass.

Tancredo was escorted out of the room by police after he deemed the situation too volatile, Young said.

Protesters proceeded to chant “We shut him down; no racists in our town” and “Yes, racists, we will fight, we know where you sleep at night!”

They'll know much more detail than that once the Department of Homeland Security is done gathering information on people who hold those threatening conservative beliefs.

The Path Toward Suppression of the Opposition

Justin Katz

As Andrew McCarthy points out, government surveillance experienced a justifiable increase after "attacks that claimed more American lives than Pearl Harbor and capped a series of atrocities stretching back several years." As many on the left and right have been deliberate in emphasizing, however, that enhancement bears close watching.

Indeed, the greatest argument against all such steps is that, while the official first requesting such authority may use it for the stated purposes, those who come after may take advantage of increased apathy and abuse the power, stretching it beyond intent. Mr. McCarthy suggests that we might not have to wait long to see that process in action:

For eight years, we've been treated to hysterical rhetoric from Democrats, including Barack Obama, about the scourge of "domestic spying." Now that the Obama administration is openly calling for domestic spying — the real thing, not the smear used against President Bush — they're suddenly silent.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in coordination with the FBI, has issued an intelligence assessment on what it calls "Rightwing Extremism." It is appalling. The nakedly political document announces itself as a "federal effort to influence domestic public opinion." It proceeds, in what it acknowledges is the absence of any "specific information that domestic rightwing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence," to speculate that "rightwing" political views might "drive" such violence — violence, it further surmises, that might be abetted by military veterans returning home after putting their lives on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan. And for good measure, in violation of both FBI guidelines and congressional statutes, the Obama administration promises scrutiny of ordinary Americans' political views, speech, and assembly.

"Appalling" is certainly the apt term. Among the ideas that might land one on a watch list is apparently a preference for "state or local authority" on various matters. And in keeping with the view that state and local governments are mainly organs for the insinuation of federal power, the Department of Homeland Security "will be working with its state and local partners over the next several months to ascertain with greater regional specificity the rise in rightwing extremist activity in the United States, with a particular emphasis on the political, economic, and social factors that drive rightwing extremist radicalization."

If any of my fellow Rhode Islanders who happen to be of public employ — specifically those of the officious, wormy, power-grubbing sort — would like to bring the Anchor Rising contributors in for questioning, presumably you know where to find us.

Picking by the Side of the Road

Justin Katz

About a dozen members of Tiverton Citizens for Change are currently picking up litter around the Park and Ride on Fish Rd. in Tiverton, off Rt. 24, although cigarette butt remediation might be a better term for the actual activity.

To correct an impression that I might have left previously, our activity was apparently coordinated, at TCC's initiation, with the townwide effort. As I said: community.

It's surprisingly warm, I might add. It may be time to store away the wool sweater (after a good cleaning, of course).

A Sweepstakes and a Downpayment

Justin Katz

The daily roll-out of the "stimulus" spending is beginning to feel like a joke. One day, we're hearing about a "sweepstakes":

For nearly a year, city officials have been planning the 66th police training academy, intent on keeping up the size of the police force as the crime rate increased.

But the city's fiscal crisis has overwhelmed that plan, and the academy has been put off indefinitely. Police Chief Dean M. Esserman is now jumping into President Obama's $4-billion stimulus sweepstakes for law enforcement, eager to win a grant to hire the novice officers who would graduate.

The next it's yet another "down payment":

President Barack Obama on Thursday outlined plans for a high-speed rail network he said would change the way Americans travel, drawing comparisons to the 1950s creation of the interstate highway system.

Obama was careful to point out that his plan was only a down payment on an ambitious plan that, if realized, could connect Chicago and St. Louis, Orlando and Miami, Portland and Seattle and dozens of other metropolitan areas around the country with high-speed trains.

I like the idea of a high-speed railway system, but I do wonder whether it's practical to "invest" in such infrastructure. Americans can already crisscross the nation by plane, and for shorter distances, we seem to prefer our own cars. (Enhancing that individual, independent freedom was one difference that undermines comparisons with the interstate highway system.) Where a high-speed railway would be most attractive, its advantages would be self defeating: It would be wonderful to hop on a train in Fall River, for example, and zip to Boston in fifteen to twenty minutes, but because adding stops along the way would lengthen the trip, folks would find themselves having to utilize multiple modes of transportation where before one sufficed.

It isn't irrelevant to consider that, absent the willingness of the federal government to indulge in exploding debt and deficits, there would be no economic justification for this spending.

Re: The CNN Reporter Just Couldn't Stand the Opposing Views

Monique Chartier

Mark Steyn's take. (Heaven knows we need a free press and nosy reporters. But that's not license to be as stunningly misinformed as this woman.)

Well, for a start, let’s say she’s missing the point. The guy was right. Taxes are a liberty issue. When she stands there and she says oh, but you’re going to be getting a $400 dollar check from the government, I say keep it. I don’t want a $400 dollar check from the government, I don’t want a $4,000 dollar check from the government, I don’t want a $40,000 dollar check from the government. I want my liberty. I want to be able to live my life the way I want to live it without having to account to an all-powerful state that gives me lollipops in return. And the condescension of this woman, here is an informed man talking to her about Lincoln’s principles, the condescension of this woman, it’s sort of talking on a completely different track saying oh, but you’re eligible, you’re eligible for a $400 dollar check. This guy wants his freedom.

* * *

This guy understands the point of the original Tea Party. What’s pathetic is that the CNN reporter doesn’t. King George…this is why America rebelled against my king, George III. And if George III came back today and had been running against John McCain and Barack Obama, he’d be the small government candidate. That’s how out of whack things are.

See, That's the Difference Between a Popular Movement and an Establishment Structure

Justin Katz

National Education Association of Rhode Island Executive Director Bob Walsh expresses puzzlement over Colleen Conley's being allowed to be the spokesperson for the RI Tea Party:

on Buddy's show on Ch. 6 on Sunday - he went fairly easy on her after she could not answer basic questions about the size of RI's budget or where she was proposing to cut it. She was also on the second segment of Newsmakers. ...

Do you think if my side was having an event of this scale that we'd let one of out own appear on Buddy's show, or any show, that unprepared?

I'll confess that, on any given day in the recent past, I'd have been stumped by the question, "How large is Rhode Island's budget?" What I would cut is a different matter, but the notion that somebody could be prepared to that degree on such short notice likely strikes the reformist ear funny in a way that brings out two significant points. (Note that I'm putting aside the consideration that the Tea Party's focus was national.)

The first point is that the exact total budget number, of itself, isn't but so important from either an intellectual or rhetorical standpoint. Removed from context, it's meaningless. What's $7 billion (ish)? In order to assess whether that's too much, it is more significant to know that Rhode Island consistently ranks highly on matters of taxation, that its social programs are generous, that its public-sector unions are disproportionately well compensated compared with the private sector, and above all, that the budget deficit has been stepping up every year on a march toward a billion dollars of shortfall and that legislators won't take the steps necessary to turn it around.

The second, more critical, point is that the right-of-center reform movement in Rhode Island and across the country does not consist of folks who earn their living by reciting political arguments by which they stand to gain in their careers. Ask Ms. Conley a question about stationery, and she'll likely produce a more satisfactory answer. Ask me the standard rough opening for a three-foot door, and I'll ask you whether it's a six-six or six-eight and whether we're framing off finish or rough.

It would be more comparable, however, to ask me how many months worth of work I know my current employer to have or Colleen the size of the local market for custom illustrated cards, because the state budget is part of the public-sector total from which it is Mr. Walsh's job to extract amounts for his union's members. Personally, I've got too many numbers running through my head on a given day to have the capacity to recite the subsegment totals of RI government spending. We newly active citizens must rely on such strategies as generalizing the specifics that we read, hear, or see in the news into "too much," "too restrictive," "too generous."

This new dynamic — this increasingly engaged population — may be something for which Bob Walsh and his "side" aren't prepared. They won't be able to pull us into mutually canceling disputes over numbers, because we'll have to look them up, at which point we'll be able to explain how they're spinning them. And if they argue that we don't know what we're talking about — which they're already doing — well, that's more of a felt thing, from the audience's point of view, and not having memorized talking points is not a disadvantage if the speaker seems to have grasped the underlying issue and compensates for missing esoteria with good faith and honesty.

Buddy would likely stump Bob if he asked about the header size of his front entryway, but that wouldn't disqualify Mr. Walsh from suggesting that he'd like to be able to lock the door.

April 17, 2009

Raffle Behalf Hillary Clinton: Anything but the Grand Prize, Please

Monique Chartier

From the BBC News.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is offering the chance to spend a day with her husband Bill in exchange for help paying off her campaign debt.

The offer was sent to supporters of Mrs Clinton in an e-mail from her former campaign manager, James Carville.

Mrs Clinton owes $2.3m (£1.5m)from her run for the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency last year.

For a $5 donation, supporters enter a draw for several prizes including a day with the former US president.

The other prizes are tickets to the season finale of the hit US talent show American Idol and lunch in Washington with Mr Carville - a long-time Democratic strategist.

The State and the Local

Justin Katz

A quick Friday afternoon note regarding two events — one statewide and one in Tiverton — in which y'all might be (should be) interested:

  • The deadline to register for Operation Clean Government's Public Affairs Forum, which includes a breakfast and a panel discussion, is tomorrow. The event itself is next Saturday morning.
  • Tiverton Citizens for Change has organized a "Help Clean Up Tiverton Effort" as an example of the sort of activities that residents should take up in order to improve their towns — without having to increase taxes and in a way that builds a sense of community. We're meeting tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. at the Park and Ride across from Viti Auto Dealership on Fish Rd. (just off Rt. 24).

I'll be at both events, liveblogging the first... and perhaps the second, if it's possible to do such a thing.

The CNN Reporter Just Couldn't Stand the Opposing Views

Justin Katz

In the seven years or so since Fox News came on the scene in a real big way, the back and forth about which station is conservative and which is liberal has become redundant, and it's rare that examples are interesting, but an email from Our Country Deserves Better PAC highlights a telling scene.

Here is CNN's Susan Roesgen hectoring participants in a tea party crowd in Chicago. A sign likening President Obama to Hitler was the catalyst, but she then goes on to argue heatedly with a man whose statement had more to do with government principles than political rhetoric. Of course, during the previous president's term, she apparently thought it a splashy of levity that somebody in a Bush-Hitler-Satan mask made an appearance at a rally involving Catholic school girls.

My favorite part is in the first video, when she argues against the statement that President Lincoln believed in freedom from oppressive taxation by referencing the large amount of stimulus money recently apportioned for Lincoln's home state.

So Who Won?

Justin Katz

It would be silly to take the presumed competition seriously, but considering the Providence Business News headline Wednesday morning of "Dueling demonstrations to mark Tax Day," perhaps we'd be justified in asking who won:

Two groups with different views on how those tax dollars should and should not be used will hold demonstrations in the city today.

From 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., a group of activists plan to greet tax filers at the Corliss Street post office to protest the cost of the war in Iraq and the defense budget. The groups that will be represented include the American Friends Service Committee, Ocean State Action, Declaration of Peace Campaign Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Mobilization Committee to End War and Occupation. ...

Fiscal conservatives plan to hold their own “Tax Day Tea Party” protest in front of the Statehouse in Providence from 3 to 6 p.m. The event will coincide with hundreds of other rallies that will be held today in as many as 2,000 cities nationwide, organizers said.

Chaos in Cranston Continues

Carroll Andrew Morse

Entering last night's Cranston City Finance Committee meeting, both Mayor Allan Fung and the members of the city's police officer's union had hopes that a set of proposed changes to the recently-tabled tentative agreement would produce a contract acceptable to the Finance Committee. However, for reasons that are not fully understood, the Committee has declined to take any action on the proposed changes.

When Police Union President Steven Antonucci rose to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting, he was informed by Finance Chair Emilio Navarro that changes to the contract were not part of the evening's discussion.

After several other public comments, the Finance Committee voted unanimously to send the contract without changes to the full Council, along with a recommendation not to pass it. Apparently, amendments will not be considered at the full City Council meeting (next Monday). The decision to proceed in this manner seems to have been made in an executive session whose minutes have been sealed.

Both Mayor Fung (audio) and Mr. Antonucci (audio) were surprised by this outcome and unsure as to why amendments to the existing agreement couldn't at least be deliberated in public at this time.

If there's not some kind of political game going on, then the Democrats on the Cranston City Council are taking the Rhode Island governing attitude of "there's nothing we can do; the rules require us to act in strange and counterproductive ways" to bold new heights.

Finally, there was one unsolicited comment offered by a member of the public (audio) that seemed to pretty well sum up the feeling in the room after the meeting was (rapidly) adjourned.

Targeting People with Dark Skin So As Not to Be Racist

Justin Katz

Sometimes, one reads statements that leave the impression that the center line of American politics is a portal from one reality — with its own intellectual and moral standards — and another. Among the (predictable) criticisms being directed toward the Providence tea party is that the vast majority of those in attendance were light skinned, and in response to a comment by Real Deal Hope, on RI Future, that it was "an issue driven rally" with an open attendance opportunity, Matt Jerzyk offers the following:

While the event was an "open invitation," the event organizers did go around the state and speak at events, groups and businesses to drive up attendance. Anyone who has ever tried to organize an event knows that turnout is driven by specific outreach. Since my criticism apparently wasn't clear enough, let me give you a specific example. Did the event organizers go to Rhode Island's largest middle-class African-American church and ask for 5 minutes to speak about their event? Or the largest middle-class Colombian group in Central Falls or middle-class Cape Verdean group in East Providence? More to my point exactly, did they go on WBRU or PODER just like they went on every other radio station or did they sit down for an interview with UNIVISION or Providence en Espanol or the Providence American?

I could be wrong about this, but as far as I know, during the few weeks in which they organized the event, the RI Tea Party folks didn't "go around the state" speaking to groups, but made media appearances. They also didn't, I don't believe, go on WHJY, Cat Country, or "every other radio station" that doesn't have a news focus. If they did either of those things, I didn't hear about it.

That's ancillary to the point, which is the astonishing racial reductivism of Matt's suggestion. We on the right — particularly of the issue-driven, grassroots segment — target our message based on exhibited interests. When time is limited, we'll approach audiences that have exhibited receptivity to similar ideas and seek to work through media of general interest for the region. The assumption is that people exhibit their interests in accord with their individual beliefs and understanding, not on the basis of their skin or heritage.

To the left, tint is primary. In order to ensure that pictures of a crowd have color, they'll approach racially populated churches about government fiscal policy. They'll research ethnic enclaves in order to check off a hit-list of identity groups. By "racial inclusiveness," they clearly intend to divide and allocate people according to their race and then get representatives in a group photograph to promote their ideological cause. They mean to herd people into categories in order to more easily direct and manipulate them.

Matt may be correct that the hard-sell leftist effort to promote identity politics makes such a strategy politically savvy, in the current context, but I don't find it especially moral. And if I had skin of a darker hue, I'd be much more self-conscious about my physical appearance at a liberal rally than a conservative one, and I'd resent the effort to make me feel that I couldn't attend an event concerned with taxation without considering whether my fellow taxpayers were palpably conscious of my race.

As I walked around that crowd on Wednesday, I saw people. Contrary to the spin, some of them had darker skin than others, but I was paying more attention to signs and t-shirts.

A Disappointing Revelation of Character?

Justin Katz

I have to say that I'm disappointed at this quotation from Tom Sgouros in a Providence Business News article:

The burden of state and local taxes has shifted from upper-income to middle-income Americans over the last two decades, "so people have a right to be angry, because the vast number of people are paying more and getting less than ever before," Sgouros said. "But their response to it is short-sighted and dumb."

He said the demonstrators are "ignorant, because they choose not to learn about the issues they claim to speak about — and they’re afraid if they do learn about it, they will lose the purity of their opinions."

When I first began having exchanges with him, I would have said that Tom was above this sort of blunt insult and categorical psychoanalysis. Leaving open, as always, the possibility that context and editing might have affected his actual meaning somewhat, I find myself wondering whether increasing success is leading Mr. Sgouros to play to his audience or frustration that his success hasn't been greater has made him mean.

April 16, 2009

Pics from the Crowd

Justin Katz

A reader sent me the following pictures today. (My mother likes the last one.)

Total Bailouts to Date: Quantifying Why We "Threw Tea Overboard"

Monique Chartier

Further to Justin's post "Don't Let Them Convince You ..." and in the spirit of non-partisanship, a quick review of the original impetus for the Tea Parties is in order:

Two administrations. Two Congresses. An incomprehensible level of spending.

The U.S. government and the Federal Reserve have spent, lent or committed $12.8 trillion, an amount that approaches the value of everything produced in the country last year, to stem the longest recession since the 1930s.

New pledges from the Fed, the Treasury Department and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. include $1 trillion for the Public-Private Investment Program, designed to help investors buy distressed loans and other assets from U.S. banks. The money works out to $42,105 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. and 14 times the $899.8 billion of currency in circulation. The nation’s gross domestic product was $14.2 trillion in 2008.

Bloomberg, March 31, 2009.

Don't Let Them Convince You That It Was Something That It Wasn't

Justin Katz

This is a topic that I intend to consider from a couple of angles for some posts tomorrow, but it's worth making the general suggestion that attempts by various folks to define yesterday's tea party in Providence as something that it wasn't, or in a light that doesn't really apply, suggests that they just don't understand what's going on among right-of-center grassroots movements and the right side of the blogosphere. It could be that a basic difference in priorities, interests, and style precludes their understanding.

Consider the professional/mainstream media inclination to highlight a partisan aspect to the rallies — actually, to embellish for the purpose of highlighting it. Last night, as I waited in studio to go on the air with Matt Allen, WPRO reporter Steve Klamkin opened the door to discuss the tea party and was adamant that it was a "Republican event." The response that I gave on air to Matt was that the correlation is only a detracting factor — making it truly a "partisan" event — if the motivation for attendance was partisan regardless of the message. This was the opposite.

But this morning, Mr. Klamkin's report highlighted one speaker: Representative Joe Trillo, who said a few extemporaneous words after signing a no-tax pledge. Consider that: A reporter who wishes to see the event as a partisan event made a point of portraying it that way — not only picking a speaker who is known to be Republican, for one reason or another, but singling out one who is, by the nature of his office, a Republican figure.

The Providence Journal did something similar by using a picture of Republican candidate Dan Reilly for its front-page story of the event. It certainly isn't a denigration of either Mr. Reilly or Rep. Trillo to suggest that a picture of Colleen Conley, Bill Felkner, or Helen Glover would have been more appropriate as the signature image.

More than half of the other speakers are not explicitly partisan and would have conveyed a better sense of what the bubbling unrest is about: It's about people forming a popular movement, and that should be a much more frightening prospect to entrenched powers than the inevitable fact that politicians will find their way to microphones.

Why the Best Sign from Yesterday was the Best

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here are a few of the ideas encapsulated by the best sign from yesterday desperately needing some public discussion.

1. What exactly is it that happened, in 1776, when a new nation "conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" was born? (OK, so I threw a bit of 1863 in there too). Did something truly exceptional occur in the founding of the United States of America, or were the ideas of democracy and limited government just historical quirks made possible by favorable geography, access to natural resources and good luck?

2. 1984 is George Orwell's classic warning of the possibility of a totalitarian future. The events of 1776 occurred, obviously, long before the publication of 1984 (in 1949, to be exact) and before totalitarian ideas had gained traction in human affairs, as carrying out 1984-like repression requires the modern bureaucratic state that didn't exist as of 1776. The question is: is it reasonable to believe that the modern state, which we know can be a powerful force for taking things in the wrong direction, can also be a force for strengthening the ideals of 1776?

3. And is it even agreed upon that people have an actual choice at all? The Marxists (Orwell's target in 1984) tell us that the progress of history is dictated by material forces, that our forms of government move inevitably through different stages (although the stages seem to change, when the predictions of "scientific socialism" don't quite work out). Even more cynical schools of thought hold that regular people don’t have the capacity to make the choices to navigate the modern world and that they are better off having their lives managed by a technocratic elite -- though government may need to maintain the appearance of democracy for psychological reasons.

Are the cynics right? Have the ideals of 1776 in the minds of too many become a remnant of a pre-modern past that must be abandoned in order to get on the right side of history and modernity? Or are we the people willing and ready to re-choose those ideals today?


Charter Schools Part of Public Education Solution

Marc Comtois

Jay Greene writes about the unions declaring war on charter schools (h/t Assigned Reading), but in the midst of his piece is some interesting data. One of the big (usually union) arguments against charter school performance is that those who apply are highly-motivated, self-selected students (or parents) and that, of course, they perform better. Greene cites three studies that took on that oft-heard talking point head-on:

The highest quality studies have consistently shown that students learn more in charter schools. In New York City, Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby found that students accepted by lottery to charter schools were significantly outpacing the academic progress of their peers who lost the lottery and were forced to return to district schools.

Florida State economist Tim Sass
and colleagues found that middle-school students at charters in Florida and Chicago who continued into charter high schools were significantly more likely to graduate and go on to college than their peers who returned to district high schools because charter high schools were not available.

The most telling study is by Harvard economist Tom Kane (PDF) about charter schools in Boston. It found that students accepted by lottery at independently operated charter schools significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery and returned to district schools. But students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit. {Links added - ed.}

The last point is interesting and bolsters the argument that it is the flexibility available to charter schools that plays a big part in successful outcomes. But charter schools are only a limited solution. Where their real value lies is in what they teach us about teaching kids. As Kane says:
The fact that there are large differences in subsequent performance suggests that the charter schools were indeed having an impact. The next step is to identify what's working in charter schools that can be transferred back into the traditional public schools to improve student achievement.
Exactly. It will take a flexible education system to do that successfully.

An Important Distinction on the American Dream

Justin Katz

Semantic distinctions can be frivolous or they can be significant. Sometimes, as with Mart Martinez's letter supporting in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, they point to an underlying difference in how people interpret something, like the American dream:

I support H-5353 because I believe in the American dream. The American dream is about rewarding those who work hard.

No. That wording implies that there's a pool of rewards and that Americans acknowledge the legitimacy of having an authority to dole them out. The American dream is about allowing people to keep the rewards that they earn and minimizing the obstructions to opportunity.

Education should not be a privilege, it should be the expectation of everyone who dreams of having a bright future.

An education requires an individual's work and commitment. It therefore cannot be an expectation, but an objective, and when one wishes it to be subsidized, those putting forward the money have a right to impose some limitations, such as legal residency in their society.

They may seem like minor differences on the surface, but often discussions run on endlessly around such pivot points.

Talkin' Rally With Mr. Allen

Justin Katz

What else would Matt and I have discussed during last night's Matt Allen show, other than the tea party? For thoughts on what to make of it and what to do next: stream by clicking here, or download it.

Roundup: Tax Day Tea Party, Providence, RI

Engaged Citizen

Upwards of 3,000 Rhode Islanders who've already had enough of Change made their presence known at the Tax Day Tea Party in Providence, RI. For those from elsewhere, that is an absolutely huge crowd backing this particular range of issues in this particular state, in which some commentators were predicting attendance in the hundreds.

We'll be updating this post as we're able. Anybody who has links that they think should be added to this list should feel free to email them to any Anchor Rising contributor.


Anchor Rising: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Ocean State Republican: 1, 2
Assigned Reading
Ocean State Policy blog: 1
Providence Journal
John DePetro


Justin Katz (Anchor Rising): Text and audio
John DePetro (WPRO): Streaming audio
(If any other speakers send their text to an Anchor Rising contributor, we'll publish them as Engaged Citizen posts.)


Providence Journal
Brown Daily Herald


Matt Allen and Justin discuss the implications and the next steps


Providence Business News
Providence Journal
Anchor Rising: Post-facto Republicanization
Pawtucket Times

Providence, RI, Tax Day Tea Party Speech

Justin Katz

Stream, Download

This is one of those times in history when a society must make a decision. Social commentators of the near future will say one of two things about us: If we fail to be heard, then these tea parties, these expressions of outrage across the nation, are the final lunge of a fading culture, riddled with the errors of an unenlightened past. Or, if we can rein in our government, these demonstrations represent the reawakening of the American spirit, reasserting the principles of the United States.

Our country is defined by its principles. There is no picture of the typical American. We aren't a race. We aren't a religion. We aren't a tribe or a sect or a straight line of lineage. The typical American is a person in motion. With a swagger. Sometimes a smirk. Often a smile. But always, there's a set jaw and a confident stride toward the future — toward growth and improvement and a better life for all who'll but seek it.

Future historians will either tell the tale of a nation that tipped the scales toward the final decline of Western civilization, or they will celebrate the character of a people who saved the world once again. Because it was right, and because it was who they were. Who we are.

We are called, most critically, not to stand against an external enemy — although that exists — but against a corruption of spirit. There is a cancer running through our culture that wants ease instead of opportunity, that takes a life of stability to be a higher goal than a life of achievement. Powerful interests will punish those who strive and excel because they want to be the ones providing everybody else's comfort — defining everybody else's well-being.

We here today do not savor work, but freedom. If we aren't free to err and struggle, we aren't free to succeed. If we aren't free to build organizations and businesses and lives according to our beliefs and our goals, and based on our own experiences, then we just aren't free. There is no stability without risk, and freedom is the only defense against stagnation.

The forces of stagnation have waged a decades-long campaign to advance their cause incrementally. Little by little. While they hold sway in the halls of power they inject their principles of big government and nanny-state dictation into the body politic, and then, when the poison reveals itself in painful consequences, they recede into the shadows and await their next chance.

When a welfare and social policy regime results in a desperate underclass, these forces point to a bogeyman of bigotry. Conveniently, it's always to be found among their political opposition. When quasi-governmental lenders back unsecure investments and build an edifice of financial straw, would-be magicians of the political sphere spread our great-grandchildren's earnings around in order to establish the principle that government knows best how to run all things, large and small. They connive to foster dependency. They know that an antidote never fully overcomes addiction.

They take, and they tax. They regulate, and they assert authority. They preach their own superiority. And every year, they control a little bit more of our lives, telling a distracted citizenry that they are all that stands between our families and utter collapse and that only their guidance can protect us from our prejudices. They push the fallacy that an increasingly complicated society requires centralized oversight and central planning, when the polar opposite is true. Well, I'm sorry, Senators Reed and Whitehouse, Congressmen Langevin and Kennedy, but no matter how eloquent and genuinely intelligent our new president may be, even if he's the brightest bulb in that dim capital, his thinking is fundamentally flawed. It is dangerous. Oppressive.

If we cannot put a stop to the lapse in our national ideals currently seeping into Washington — very similar to the illness that has ravaged Rhode Island — we will cease to be the United States of America. If we cannot say to the president and his followers, "you lied — you sold us a break, a period of cooperation," if we cannot say that and make the schemers in our government stop pasting a radical pastiche where they promised the even lines of a new realism, then they will have no fear. They will march right into our lives. They will know that the nice image of helping our old country to cross the road to a time of undefined hope and dubious change is suitable propaganda to cover their power grab.

I suspect that most of you here today now understand that there was never any intention to compromise. Those who rule our nation — and who would rule the "global community" — have an idea of compromise that is merely to mouth some pleasing words about listening and then to do whatever they want, take whatever they want. And that is why we must be uncompromising in our message. Enough is enough. That is the statement that the people of these United States have to make. That we have to make here today. And that we must continue to make as we turn our country back toward the right direction in the months and years to come.

April 15, 2009

How Many of Us Were There?

Justin Katz

I'm hearing various media-approved estimates for the crowd at today's tea party, and they seem to hover just north of 2,000 people. Not being sure what the methodology might have been — and suspecting it had a bit of that old give a little credit here, take a little adjustment there — I thought I'd have a go at coming up with something with at least some attempt to be accurate.

So, I took two photos that I took in succession from up high on the steps (here and here) and joined them at a roughly central depth (overlapping the green signs to the left of the second picture), as follows:

As you can see with the buildings and the trees, the different perspectives from which I took the pictures causes some doubling, but the span of the crowd that I'm looking at is relatively narrow in height, and it's also central in the photo. In other words, what I gained slightly above the mid-point was reasonably comparable to what I lost beneath it.

I drew a 1x1 square (the number is arbitrary) and moved it around the field to estimate the average number of people within it at 7. I then drew a box around the crowd (rotated so as not to have empty space in the corners) and by calculating the box's size, figured there to be 2,597 people in that main cobbled area. I then added a conservative estimate of 50 more people on the walkways and down by the road, bringing the subtotal to 2,647.

Taking this picture of the steps from about the same time, I repeated the method for the lower and upper tiers, the former showing 245 people and the latter showing 287.

Granted the method is crude, but I'm reasonably sure that my fudges around the edges cancel out, which makes the total attendance at the time of this picture (roughly quarter to five) 3,179. Given that people were coming and going over the course of the three-hour event, the total attendance was probably in the 3,500–4,000 range.

Photoblogging Today's Tea Party: Special Appearance By...

Carroll Andrew Morse

...Old Glory...


...and related friends.


Photoblogging Today's Tea Party: Rhode Island's Medical Taxes

Carroll Andrew Morse

The most substantive signs of the day came from a pair of nurses who turned out to protest the recent tax increase on medical expenses…


One of the protesting nurses was kind enough to provide some additional detail…

I work at Toll Gate radiology, I schedule all the exams. There's a 2% tax increase for all the patients that come in, they end up spending 2% and it kind of defeats the purpose. They end up paying a lot more to get testing that they need to have done. Even with their co-payments, they end up paying $125 more than they should have to go in for a CAT scan.

The Rest of the Pictures

Justin Katz

The extended entry contains the last of my pictures from today's tea party. What an event! Several of Matt Allen's callers made an excellent point: No security was necessary. There will be no trash-pick-up crew needed. These were regular Americans, regular Rhode Islanders, gathering together to make their presence felt. And moreover, they were folks who aren't demanding that more be given to them, but given back to them.

By the way, I've reduced the size of all of the image files, so if slow loading kept you away before, take a look at the previous posts.

Photoblogging Today's Tea Party: The Best Signs (That I Saw)

Carroll Andrew Morse

Honorable mention...




And, for all of the ideas that it packs into a concise statement, the winner is...


Photoblogging Today's Tea Party: A Winner is Declared...

Carroll Andrew Morse

The runaway winner in the best metaphorical costume division was the American patriot drowning in taxes…


Photoblogging Today's Tea Party

Carroll Andrew Morse

One nice thing about Rhode Island Statehouse protests is that they provide some aesthetically pleasing backgrounds...


On the other hand, the reverse angle gives a better sense of the size of the crowd...


Technical Note

Justin Katz

I've moved the pictures into the extended entry for ease of loading. Another learning curve: I've been using a much better camera than usual, and it keeps reverting to large file sizes. When I get home to my main computer, I'll shrink the images down.

Best in New England?

Justin Katz

I'm hearing rumors that this tea party is actually bigger than Boston's. I don't know about that, but it is definitely a large (and diverse) crowd. I'll say this, too: I was embarrassed when Helen Glover introduced me as needing no introduction, but I've been finding that I'm not quite as anonymous in a crowd like this as I once enjoyed being.

Tea Party Continued

Justin Katz

Sorry for the lag; nerves made posting even more difficult than the bright sun. Here are pictures from the past hour or so. There have got to be 2,000 to 3,000 people here.

Tax Day Tea Party

Justin Katz

It's not three yet, and I'd wager that the crowd's on its way to a thousand (although I'm terrible at estimating). The most recent of these pictures was taken about ten minutes ago (before I sought a location in which it would be possible to see my screen), and people have continued to pour in.

Two Tax Day Protests

Marc Comtois

From the Providence Business News:

From 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., a group of activists plan to greet tax filers at the Corliss Street post office to protest the cost of the war in Iraq and the defense budget. The groups that will be represented include the American Friends Service Committee, Ocean State Action, Declaration of Peace Campaign Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Mobilization Committee to End War and Occupation.

“Rhode Islanders have spent billions of dollars on the war in Iraq and continue to do so,” Martha Yager of the Friends Service Committee said in a statement. “The military budget, bloated with funding outdated weapons systems and 300 percent cost overruns that would be completely unacceptable in any other part of government, continues to suck up over half of our nation’s discretionary spending.”

“With that money, we could have avoided the state’s deficit, funded Head Start, health care and education, and have been ready to help families hit hard by the state’s recession,” she added.

Fiscal conservatives plan to hold their own “Tax Day Tea Party” protest in front of the Statehouse in Providence from 3 to 6 p.m. The event will coincide with hundreds of other rallies that will be held today in as many as 2,000 cities nationwide, organizers said.

The event, which was organized by Pawtucket resident Colleen Conley and will be hosted by WHJJ-AM radio host Helen Glover, will feature more than a dozen speakers. They are scheduled to include the radio host John DePetro; Justin Katz, who writes the Anchor Rising blog; James Beale, president of the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition; and Robert Healey Jr., who ran for lieutenant governor in 2006.

The Tea Party protesters will call on politicians to reduce government spending and cut taxes. “On the part of both state and federal elected leaders, I think they need to take a hard look at what they’re spending our money on, and re-prioritize,” Conley told Providence Business News. “There’s a lot of wasteful spending out there.”

While each group is focusing on cutting spending on different areas of government, the broad sentiment is the same. (Yes, the devil is in the details...). It's too bad that local progressive insiders couldn't put away their rank partisanship for an afternoon and lend their voice to a broad-based clarion call.

It's really not that nefarious or difficult to understand: the Tea Parties are an opportunity for people to advocate for reduced government spending and to rail against the professionalization of politics; all in an effort to exhort our government to spend our tax dollars more wisely.They're fed up with a political class that is increasingly out of touch with regular American tax payers.

For progressives, this was an opportunity to actually lend their support to a non-partisan, grass-roots movement aimed at doing what they claim they desire: democratizing the political system by "waking up" politicians to the needs of the common man. The truth is, these self-proclaimed progressive political insiders aren't really keen on changing the system. Instead, they devoted all their time trying to denigrate the effort and looking for George Soros-like conservative funders (I guess you assume what you know, eh?). Ah well, as the kids say, whatev.

A Wild and Unwieldy Beast

Justin Katz

We must keep in mind, of course, that economic recoveries occur in fits and starts, and that factors of timing and non-economic events play a role in the month-to-month numbers, but we also shouldn't gainsay the possibility that disappointing results may in part reflect a lack of confidence that has been a byproduct of the declaration that only government can save our ailing economy:

The recession is easing? Not so fast. An unexpected drop in sales of just about everything from cars to clothes sent a sobering message Tuesday: The economy is still vulnerable.

That cautionary guidance was seconded by President Barack Obama and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, though they had encouraging words as well. Bernanke spoke of "tentative signs" that at least the economy is declining more slowly, and Obama repeated his recent analysis that he sees "glimmers of hope."

With Americans still losing jobs by the thousands, a major fear is that people will cut back even further on their spending, and that could plunge the economy into a sharper tailspin.

It's not just that people are worried for their own jobs. It could also be that they aren't sold on the idea of trillion-dollar deficits and stultifying bureaucratic control.

A Society Lacking Confidence Will Wither.

Justin Katz

Ed Achorn's column, yesterday, is more relevant to today's demonstration than may seem at first to be the case:

What's at the center of [Brown's Columbus Day] debate, and others like it, is whether we believe in our civilization anymore. Growing numbers of people seem to be losing faith in it.

To my mind, Columbus Day was never really about the man himself, or the historic events of 1492 and their immediate aftermath. It was about what he symbolized: courage, intelligence, endurance, a willingness to risk everything seeking new worlds. Columbus Day was a celebration of Western Civilization and, ultimately, the most magnificent country that arose in the New World, the United States of America.

The disparagement of Columbus, much like the disparagement of the Founders so popular in recent years, seems designed to break down the faith of young people, and in time most Americans, that this really is an exceptional place, a country that has achieved unique things in world history because of one thing: freedom.

A lack of belief in ourselves has much to do with America's current economic predicament. As we've drifted from a desire for opportunity to a demand for ease and stability, we've created the structure that enabled the "too big to fail" label and the concomitant greed. Furthermore, it is a loss of ideals that is leading us down the wrong path toward recovery.

More than anything, we must reclaim our confidence in the society that our founders intended to build.

April 14, 2009

The S-Word: Glenn Beck Refines the Reason Behind the Tea Parties

Monique Chartier

It's not so much taxes as what creates the necessity to tax. (And look, once again, Rhode Island earns a national mention for a dubious achievement.)

The mainstream media will report on the tea parties as if they're just a bunch of whack-job Republicans who only care about taxes on the rich (like New York's so-called "millionaire's tax" on individuals making $200,000 dollars and couples making $300,000); a third of the average New Yorker's cellphone bill goes to taxes; or smokers (like those in Rhode Island who are ticked off that their state's cigarette tax would rise to $3.46 a pack — the highest in the country); or the proposed 10 percent "tanning salon tax" in Utah; the proposed "streetlight user fee" that would add $51 a year to electric bills in Washington, D.C.; the 3 percent "bed tax" on anyone silly enough to spend the night in a hotel room in the state of Nevada, best known for Las Vegas, which has the largest hotels in the world.

If the Tea Parties were only about taxes, there would still be a great case for them. Americans pay more in taxes than on food, clothing and housing combined.

But, they're not. They're about the reason for our taxes, which is an out-of-control government that can't control its spending.

Add up all the bailouts so far and Congress, the Treasury Department and the Fed have spent, lent and guaranteed a total of $12.8 trillion, an amount that's practically equal to our country's entire GDP.

* * *

Oh, I almost forgot about the pesky issue of $1.25 quadrillion in total debt, which represents the worst-case scenario for our Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security obligations.

Tea Party Speakers List

Justin Katz

The RI Tea Party organizers have released speakers list:

  • 3:00: Helen Glover (WHJJ)
  • 3:10: Colleen Conley (RI Tea Party)
  • 3:25: Bill Felkner (Ocean State Policy Research Institute)
  • 3:40: John DePetro (WPRO)
  • 3:55: Walter Muzzy (descendant of Battle of Lexington fatality)
  • 4:00: Father Giacomo Capoverdi (Priest & OSPRI fellow)
  • 4:05: Jason Matera (Young Americans Foundation)
  • 4:20: Brian Buongiovanni (Motif magazine contributor)
  • 4:25: Justin Katz (Anchor Rising)
  • 4:30: Ellen Kenner (Rational Basis of Happiness radio host)
  • 4:35: Jeff Deckman (businessman)
  • 4:40: Bob Cushman (businessman and former Warwick elected official)
  • 4:50: Edward Hathaway (teacher)
  • 4:55: Jim Beale (Rhode Island Statewide Coalition)
  • 5:00: Brian Bishop (OSPRI)
  • 5:10: Stefan Tabak (Fairtax)
  • 5:15: Bob Healey (Lt. Governor candidate)
  • 5:25: Chuck Barton (Operation Clean Government)
  • 5:30: Jon Scott (OSPRI)
  • 5:40: Ambassador J. William Middendorf
  • 5:50: RI Tea Party closing

On the Steps at 4:00 High

Justin Katz

Anybody who can make it into Providence for the tea party at any point and for any duration should do so. I'll be liveblogging the whole event and will be taking the microphone for a speech just after 4:00. Like Dan Yorke, I'm not sure what to expect, either as a participant or a speaker, but it'll be interesting to find out.

Feel free, by the way, to send me pictures to post after the fact (or to either compliment or console me, as merited, after my performance).

Pulling Our Tail

Justin Katz

Drawing on an excellent quotation from Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Sowell makes a point that has been increasingly relevant, although it could be and has been made for decades — centuries, even:

Abraham Lincoln once asked an audience how many legs a dog has if you count the tail as a leg. When they answered "five," Lincoln told them that the answer was four. The fact that you called the tail a leg did not make it a leg.

It is too bad that Lincoln is not still around today. He might emancipate us all from our enslavement to magic words.

When you call something a “stimulus” package, that does not mean that it actually stimulates. The way individuals, banks, and businesses in general are hanging onto their money suggests that "sedative" package might be more accurate.

This is not a new phenomenon, peculiar to this administration. President Bush's "stimulus" package did not stimulate either. The same was true back in the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "pump-priming" by spending government money to get private money flowing.

The circulation of money slowed down then the same way it has slowed down today.

Some of our biggest political fallacies come from accepting words as evidence of realities.

Re: Federal Judgeships and Campaign Contributions - Two Completely Unrelated Items?

Carroll Andrew Morse

For those inclined to throw their hands up in the air and say “dat’s the way da game is played” in response to the appointment of Jack McConnell to a Federal District Court judgeship, take a moment to remember that before he was a Senator with direct influence on judicial appointments, Sheldon Whitehouse joined an amicus brief as Rhode Island’s Attorney General in support of campaign finance regulation that stressed the importance of combating the appearance of corruption…

“Democracy works ‘only if the people have faith in those who govern, and that faith is bound to be shattered when high officials and their appointees engage in activities which arouse suspicions of malfeasance and corruption.’”
So apparently, Senator Whitehouse is concerned (or at least was concerned, maybe he’s changed his mind) that giving too much money to political candidates would create the appearance of corruption. But when the guys taking the money decide to give judgeships to their party's big-time donors, what concern could there be about corruption there?!

This is a version of the same Rhode Island logic that says that it’s OK for legislators to vote based on bribes they might take, as long as giving the bribes is not legal -- because rules are for little people, not for the aristocracy bred to be our leaders.

The Mathematics of Sinking

Justin Katz

Struggling Rhode Islanders are certainly right to hope for signs of recovery, but URI Economic Professor Len Lardaro's take on the latest results of his Current Conditions Index for the state is counterintuitive at best:

... The index registered a value of 8 for February. ...

The index measures the behavior of 12 economic indicators, with a value of 50 being neutral. Anything above 50 signifies expansion, while anything below that signifies contraction.

In January, the index registered a 17, but was largely driven by 2 of the 12 indicators — manufacturing wages increased and new claims for unemployment insurance were down slightly.

The February score returns the index to the level it saw for most of 2008, which Lardaro calls a positive sign.

"The process of recovery begins when we start to consistently match or exceed each prior month's economic performance," he said.

For months, we have been within spitting distance of maximum contraction, as measured by this method, and that indicates that we're matching or exceeding performance? The index measures each month against the same month in the previous year, so the missing information is whether February 2008 also saw a downturn. According to Lardaro's historical table, Rhode Island began contraction in August 2007, following a largely neutral 2006, so we're into compounding declines, at this point.

If 50 is neutral — that is, no growth or contraction — Mr. Lardaro must go outside of his index to suggest that we've hit bottom as long as we're below that middle line. In most folks' understanding of the image, the bottom doesn't have a downward slope.

Fight Excess Power with Excess Power?

Justin Katz

Responding to my reference to Peter Schwartz's "Mob rule comes to Washington," RIC Professor Thomas Schmeling seems to think that I've written myself into a corner:

I'm confused. In this post you object to rule by the "mob" (which appears to be the democratically elected representatives of the people) and you object to "government unconstrained by the principle of individual freedom." I get that. We need, as James Madison told us, some protection against the "tyranny of the majority".

Now, it seems to me that what constrains government is the Constitution, and that constitution is best enforced against mob rule by an independent judiciary, free from political pressure (like the need for re-election)

However, you also denounce an independent judiciary as the "dictator branch" and a " judiciary supported by an aristocracy of bureaucrats".

So, what do you want...majority rule or protection of rights free from majority influence?

So, I'm confused. I'm happy to be edified on this but, for the moment, I'm tempted to think that your support for majority rule depends on whether the majority supports your substantive views. I hope that's not the case, as I'm sure you would not be so unprincipled.

One can see in this, perhaps, a foundation-level reaction to government growth that sends people down an erroneous strategic path. As our government becomes more centralized at the federal level, reaching more broadly and more deeply, the response that Mr. Schmeling advises for instances of executive and legislative overreaching is to elevate the authority of another branch of government sufficiently to respond.

Along that route, two ultimate outcomes are possible, neither of them attractive to those who privilege freedom. If we continue to cede social ground to government, one branch may eventually become so powerful as to actively impede the others unjustly; the executive might disregard the judiciary, or the judiciary might block efforts toward democratic reform. Alternately, the branches could coalesce even more thoroughly into a governing cadre, with the legislative and executive appointing allied activist judges and the judiciary affirming the right of the other branches to oppress.

Frankly, I disagree, philosophically, with Thomas's characterization that the Constitution "constrains government"; that implies the existence of a clear application to circumstances that the founders could not have foreseen, which I don't believe to be available for interpretation and which I don't trust a handful of unelected judges to discern. Whatever the legalities, it isn't mere semantics to insist that the Constitution be seen as delineating the boundaries of our government and defining its structure.

My objective in making points of order, so to speak, is to increase consensus that, whatever the ideology furthered by usurpation of power, the act itself ought to be opposed. When the President of the United States looks to be becoming the de facto CEO of any company receiving financial assistance from the government, and when the executive branch presumes to insist that such money be taken and/or not returned when the private organization wishes, that in itself ought to motivate sufficient opposition to bring about democratic correction.

In like principle, we also must return to a federalist approach that disperses power broadly, such that opposing "mobs," if you will, can grow in their own enclaves. It is very convenient for those who think they've got a full grasp of secular Truth to leverage the federal government to impose their views on the entire country, and to use that government to fix all problems, but the end result is an organic metastasis toward the death of liberty.

April 13, 2009

Federal Judgeships and Campaign Contributions - Two Completely Unrelated Items?

Monique Chartier

Kudos to John Mulligan and the Providence Journal for shining some light on the nice chunk of change that proposed federal judge John McConnell has contributed to his political sponsors.

The McConnells [John and his wife Sara Shea] gave $8,800 to Reed's reelection campaign. They gave $3,000 to reelect Rep. James R. Langevin and $4,600 to reelect Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, plus $5,000 more to the political action committee (PAC) that Kennedy operates to give money to fellow Democratic candidates. McConnell have $8,400 to Whitehouse's 2006 election campaign and has since given $3,500 to his PAC fund.

Don't forget his sponsors' party.

Over the past two decades, the contributions to party coffers by McConnell and his wife, Sara Shea McConnell, have approached $700,000, according to compilations by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Though he has no direct say in the picking of federal judges, we would be remiss if we did not add to the list the $11,000 which the campaign of Attorney General Patrick Lynch has received from Mr. McConnell, an attorney at the firm Motley Rice, one of "the nation's largest plaintiff's litigation firms", and his wife. Informed readers will recall that Motley Rice represented the state in the lead paint case by means of a contingency agreement. Well informed readers will recall that this potentially lucrative agreement was bestowed at the sole discretion of the Attorney General - Whitehouse, then Lynch.

Moderate Town Council Meeting

Justin Katz

The first thing of note at tonight's Tiverton town council meeting is consideration of appointments for the moderator at the financial town meeting. Apparently, the town has received a single réumé to date. It's not like the moderator has to do anything important; as we learned last year, he or she mainly relays town solicitor Teitz's findings related to Robert's Rules.

7:52 p.m.

Director of Public Works Stephen Berlucchi is currently suggesting a program that would begin charging for trash pickup (in addition to what comes out of our taxes). Councilor Louise Durfee just suggested that not all money raised in this way should go to putting money aside for the big pending expense of closing the town landfill, but that some should be redirected toward landfill operating expenses. (Apparently, she wasn't happy with the condition of the landfill on her last visit there.)

8:00 p.m.

If I heard correctly, Berlucchi's program amounts to another $750,000-plus tax increase on residents (a point that council President Don Bollin must made).

I'm new to this debate, but I'm not sure why the town can't allocate more land. Alternately, the town could do some of the back-end work to facilitate private pickup services for residents who want it.

8:47 p.m.

The council just voted 3 to 2 to "encumber" additional funds from their contingency fund for use in preparation for the financial town meeting. The issue is mainly an inability to predict the attendance.

One a positive note, the council voted unanimously to have voting machines available for use during votes at the FTM. In that setting, especially pitting police, fire, and teachers against senior citizens to some extent, voice votes are simply unfair, and hand votes are problematic for reasons both of accuracy and of political pressure.

8:52 p.m.

Councilor Jay Lambert is asking Solicitor Teitz whether the petition to put a fire truck on the docket at the FTM is actually allowable according to the town charter, given the size of the expense and the questionable accuracy of the expenses stated in the petition (lacking operational and other costs that would be implied by the purchase).

Fiji, the Tax Man and Joe's Estate

Monique Chartier

Under "Fiji: Undemocracy in Action", commenter Joe B reminds us that Fiji is a tax haven for many, including the family of the senior senator from Massachusetts.

The Obama administration and some members of Congress would like to begin cracking down on tax havens by giving

... U.S. regulators the authority to take special measures against foreign jurisdictions and financial institutions that impede U.S. tax enforcement.

When certain members of Congress decided to jack up the red herring of bonuses issued to some AIG staff members, they saw no problem with and vociferously advocated for an ex post facto law that would have retroactively taxed those bonuses at a rate of 90%+.

With that "precedent" in mind, if the tax status of Fiji is redefined under law, will Congress then pass an ex post facto law that would recover the many millions in estate taxes lost to trusts, including that of Joseph Kennedy, Sr., domiciled in Fiji rather than the United States?

Yeah. The Candidate of "Fiscal Responsibility"

Justin Katz

All one needs to know about Lincoln Chafee and his pending run for governor (including his status as a garden-variety left-wing Democrat) is revealed in this:

The Republican-turned-Independent Chafee has been out and about seeking support from George Nee, secretary-treasurer of the state AFL-CIO, among others. Late last week, Nee said he had lunch with Chafee six or seven weeks ago and told him that a year and a half out is way too early to make a commitment to anyone. But, Nee said, "I think that Linc Chafee has had a very good record with the labor community and I think he would be given very, very serious and respectful consideration."

He can run or not, as far as I'm concerned, but I'm not so sure that the common wisdom that he'd split the Republican vote is accurate. At best, he'll split both parties, but I imagine he'd cost the Democrats more, especially if they run a candidate who pleases the state's progressives.

The One's Direction of the Mob

Justin Katz

Peter Schwartz tallies some recent indicators of political mood:

The essence of mob rule is arbitrary and unchecked force, in disregard of all rights. If so, then when the government spends our money with virtually no limits — then trillions of dollars are gleefully disbursed through unrestrained horse-trading and arm-twisting among members of Congress — when trillions more are poured down the rat holes of failing companies at the uncontrolled discretion of bureaucrats — when government "czars" can select a company's CEO and dictate its product line — then what we have is government by mob rule. That is, we have government with arbitrary, unchecked power to do as it wishes — which means: government unconstrained by the principle of individual freedom.

As he goes on to explain, freedom is unjustifiably being made a scapegoat:

Like any mob, Washington desires a scapegoat. It blames capitalism for the mortgage and credit crisis, in order to divert attention from the real culprit, government intervention. Every housing-related measure taken by Washington has made the standards for homeownership looser than they would be in a free market. Government has stepped in to override private companies' aversion to undue risk. Regulators criticized banks for turning down too many mortgage applications. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were created to encourage the issuance of mortgages that would not be prudent in a free market. The FDIC anesthetizes depositors against risks taken with their funds. And the entire Federal Reserve exists to pump paper money into the economy, and to keep interest rates artificially low — often below the rate of inflation — so that more lending occurs. Yet when this house of cards collapsed, it is capitalism that was denounced and more government power that was demanded.

Congressman Langevin Should Tell Us What He Means

Justin Katz

Given its title, I had hoped for some blogworthy meat in Rep. James Langevin's Sunday op-ed, "U.S. needs more control over Internet," but having read the thing, I'd be hard pressed to describe what he's proposing. The reader gets this at the beginning:

A NEWLY INTRODUCED Senate bill, the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, which would establish cyber security standards for both the government and the private sector, and create a national cyber security officer within the office of the president, is a notable development in our nation’s effort to craft a comprehensive national cyber security strategy.

And this in the middle:

True protection requires cyber resilience. But that can only be achieved through collective action and cooperation on a scale rarely witnessed before: a national effort involving business, government and society — similar to the way "Y2K" was approached, but designed for the long-haul not just one event. No single organization has the capacity to build this resilience. We need to work as a large and inclusive community across government, industry and non-profit organizations — a mega-community of sorts.

But what does this mean? And how can a "mega-community" help but be open to infiltration and attack?

The underlying question is, I suppose, why Mr. Langevin thought his essay worth writing in the first place. A quick review of the Cybersecurity Act text suggests that its main thrust is to create panels, programs, and centers — another bureaucracy — that will assess and address problems related to cybersecurity, not only for national security purposes, but also to protect intellectual property rights. That's all fine, but is this what now constitutes "action afoot" in the federal government?

I'm afraid so. When we the voters are brought into the fold, the information is vague warnings and declarations of a need for collaboration and, of course, spending. Somehow, at the tail-end of the process, we seem always to be spending more of our money to finance somebody else's investigation into methods of curtailing our freedom of motion and of information.

Aren't there already agencies in the federal government tasked with ensuring our security? I'd suggest that we could add cybersecurity to their responsibilities and then require them to provide detailed explanations for why they need to reallocate or acquire additional funds to address specific problems. Instead, we get politicians who wish most to create the image that they are doing something — while pinning themselves to as few specific policies as possible — and an ultimately unaccountable bureaucracy that will never go away, even when the prefix "cyber-" is a quaint relic of the past.

What is the Procedure for Removing a Supreme?

Monique Chartier

United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg furnishes grounds to ask inasmuch as she has demonstrated that she misunderstands the fundamental requirements of both American laws and the function of the court on which she serves.

I frankly don’t understand all the brouhaha lately from Congress and even from some of my colleagues about referring to foreign law.

* * *

Justice Ginsburg said the controversy was based on the misunderstanding that citing a foreign precedent means the court considers itself bound by foreign law as opposed to merely being influenced by such power as its reasoning holds.

But if the court permits itself to be influenced by the reasoning of a foreign precedent and then shape or reshape an American law on that basis, doesn't that have exactly the same effect as if the court were were bound by that foreign law? Further, shouldn't the American Constitution, not a foreign law, play the primary role in the decisions rendered by American courts?

She added that the failure to engage foreign decisions had resulted in diminished influence for the United States Supreme Court.

So Justice Ginsburg believes that the US Supreme Court should have influence outside of US borders? That sounds colonialistic. Shouldn't the court aspire to influence only American law?

The Canadian Supreme Court, she said, is “probably cited more widely abroad than the U.S. Supreme Court.” There is one reason for that, she said: “You will not be listened to if you don’t listen to others.”

Is the Supreme Court involved in a popularity contest or some sort of global rap session? That's a section of Article Three, Section One that we appear to have overlooked all these centuries.

On the plus side, this may shed light on certain rulings by the US Supreme Court. Blatantly erroneous decisions become inevitable if the eyes of one too many justices are focused on far away horizons instead of on the nearby document that should be guiding them.

April 12, 2009

Richard Phillips Freed...

Carroll Andrew Morse

...according to ABC News.

Beginning Anew... and Continuing to Live

Justin Katz

Some folks will groan at the movie's mention, but I rewatched The Passion of the Christ on Friday night, and many of the points that struck me when the movie was new are still valid, although their social and spiritual implications have long since been integrated more deeply into my thought.

This time around, the scene that resonated most strongly for me was the Easter scene at the end: The mere moments when the stone rolls from the tomb, the death shroud shimmers, and Jesus steps forward to triumphant music. From years of conversations, taking both sides on the question of Christ's divinity, I've found a number of people who disbelieve the Gospel story mainly on the grounds that history continues to unfold. If that event, directly affecting a small group of people in the outskirts of civilization, was so profound, why then must we continue to face down our demons? If Jesus defeated sin and death, why then do we continue to fall to both? How the ebbs and flows of Christians' prominence and fidelity?

These are mysteries beyond my reckoning, but it does occur to me that the lessons given through His life would have been little more than a summary of how people ought to have lived if His death and resurrection were meant to end the need for their application.

Another difficulty that we have, being human, is that most of our lives are spent in anticlimax. One might suffer through immense pain if bolstered with the knowledge that its outcome will be an improved life, and yet life tends just to go on. Improvement becomes stasis becomes tedium becomes difficulty, requiring further struggle. Our task is never done, at least until we die, and perhaps not even then.

Here's where the symbol of a phoenix falls short of the Christian image. The former repeats in an endless cycle. For the latter, each resurrection is but a stage of development. Jesus suffered, died, and rose, and observing the world as it's been these two thousand years, one might discern that we've continued to make Him suffer in an even deeper sense. But then, in an even deeper sense will He rise again, raising us with Him.

So it is Easter once more. Most of us return to work tomorrow. We'll continue to stumble through life, to err in our judgment, to fall short of the ideals that we uphold. Having not died and risen, we will continue in our foibles, although perhaps a bit less with each passing year.

If it's true, though, that our salvation comes in stages, each deeper and more profound than the last, then today's suffering will seem as nothing tomorrow, like lessons that we once found difficult but now see to have been basic building blocks that we should not have permitted to frustrate us. We should take that lesson forward, understanding that tomorrow's perspective will make our current problems mere recitation. Let the triumphant music play, and don't think it foolish to be inspired and uplifted by it, but understand that the music does not end when we step into the light. Neither does it become boring with repetition.

April 11, 2009

Tivertonians: They Just Want Your Money

Justin Katz

On the last page of the main section of the recent Sakonnet Times comes news of a petition that has succeeded in putting a ladder truck for the fire department on the docket for the financial town meeting. The meat of the petition is as follows:

This petition seek [sic] to appropriate and expend the annual sum of $110,290.00 for twelve (12) years for the purpose of acquiring a ladder tower for the Tiverton Fire Department. The amount paid annually will represent a financed amount of $950,000.00 over a twelve (12) year period at 5.51% interest. This proposal is being sought because the item was not considered by the Tiverton Budget Committee in the docket for this year and because numerous members of the Tiverton Budget Committee have advocated a maximum increase in the annual tax levy not to exceed one percent (1%) or zero. Because the Tiverton Budget Committee is recommending a slashed school operational budget in order to achieve their desired goal of a maximum levy increase of one percent (1%) to a zero percent [sic], and because these same Budget Committee members are squandering the limited ability to utilize tax revenues under the State mandated cap of 4.75% to improve the community as a whole, we the Tiverton Taxpayers listed below believe it is in the best interest for the Town of Tiverton to acquire a Fire Apparatus Ladder Tower vehicle that will be used to save lives, provide fire protection to the community as a whole, assist in lowering our already too high insurance premiums by generating a more favorable national Fire Standard Rating than currently exists and to provide appropriate equipment for the health and welfare of the Tiverton Fire Department professional staff.

Before touching on its dishonesty, think of the small-mindedness behind this proposal. During the worst financial downturn in decades, perhaps since the Great Depression, a minority of the town Budget Committee supports a leveled budget. Therefore — because the committee is recommending a restrained school budget — a handful of revenge-seeking agitators and a few dozen folks who likely don't follow town finances very closely wish to spend over a million dollars on a fire truck, adding more than $100,000 to the town's annual debt requirements for so many years that students now entering first grade will be graduating high school at around the time we're done paying off the truck. (That number obviously doesn't include any extra expenses in maintaining, fueling, operating, and manning it.)

The dishonesty of the petition points to the more basic goal of its backers. As one discovers elsewhere in the Sakonnet Times, the Budget Committee's docket currently calls for a tax levy increase of 3.36%, not 1% and certainly not 0%, and that doesn't account for the additional $300,000 that the town council wishes to set aside for abatements. In this context, look again at this line:

... these same Budget Committee members are squandering the limited ability to utilize tax revenues under the State mandated cap of 4.75% to improve the community as a whole ...

In other words, the goal for this cadre is to achieve or exceed the state's cap on tax increases. It's to take money from every taxpayer in Tiverton and allocate it to the priorities of a few people with the time and motivation to manipulate procedure. That is why the rest of us can no longer afford not to participate.


It's worth highlighting a few notables among the petition's signers:

  • Former Budget Committee Chairman and thwarted Town Council candidate Chris Cotta
  • Former School Committee Chairwoman Denise deMedieros
  • Current Budget Committee member Alex Cote.


I'd be interested if anybody has information on this "national Fire Standard Rating." I'm not even sure that there's a rating with that name, and moreover, some light research on the matter has left me with the impression that insurance rates aren't easily calculable based on National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards. Insurance savings are being thrown about as a vague promise of cost-offsets, but such statements don't seem to be based on much more than a general sense that spending money might, in the words of the petition, "assist in lowering" costs.

A Crucial Matter of Support

Justin Katz

Thanks to reader donations and advertising sponsorship, I'll be able to take Wednesday afternoon off from work in order to attend, blog from, and speak at the RI Tea Party, from three to six on April 15th.

Most people, to be sure, don't keep a little pot of money on the side to enable involvement with such events, but I do want to stress how important it is that there be a strong showing. If even little blue Rhode Island can evince substantial opposition to the turn that our government is taking, we can contribute an outsized poignancy to the message that the broader tea-party movement is sending to Washington.

Whether you can go for a short time before leaving the city on your way home, travel into the city after work (in the opposite direction of rush-hour traffic, I'd note), or make room in your schedule for the whole three hours, this would be a wonderful catalytic event through which to accelerate reform — civic renewal, if you will — not only nationally, but in our state, as well.

I know that Portsmouth Concerned Citizens et al. have arranged for bus transportation from Aquidneck Island. (Contact Marlene Kane for information.) Other local groups — established and newly forming — may have similar opportunities. But however you get there, the important thing is that you participate.

The End of Education in Providence

Justin Katz

What kind of a school system would let this sort of thing happen? It's sure to be the end of quality public education as we know it (emphasis added):

Starting this fall, teacher vacancies in four Providence schools — Hope High School, Veazie Street Elementary School, Lauro Elementary School and Perry Middle School — will be filled based on whether the applicants have the skills needed to serve students in those particular schools. The principals of the district's two new schools — Nathan Bishop Middle School and the Providence Career and Technical Academy — will have the authority to hire their own teachers. The entire school district will move to this new plan at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.

For anybody who missed my sarcasm, I'll restate: What kind of school system would allow itself to decay so greatly that such a basic organizational practice seems like a radical innovation? Unbelievable.

April 10, 2009

Fiji: Undemocracy in Action

Monique Chartier

For those of us living in countries with democratic processes and smooth transitions of power, it's good to be reminded what the opposite looks like. From the Telegraph. (Scroll past the excessively long ad at the top.)

President Ratu Josefa Iloilo used a nationally-broadcast radio address to announce that he had abolished the constitution, assumed all governing power and revoked all judicial appointments. The move will deepen a political crisis gripping the troubled South Pacific nation.

It came one day after the country's second-highest court ruled that the military government that took power after a bloodless coup in 2006 was illegal

So, miffed that the court ruled against his government, President Iloilo abolished the constitution and fired the entire judiciary.


He also said Fiji would hold elections in 2014.

What matters is that they'll get around to it eventually.

The Wound of a Burden

Justin Katz

My observance of Good Friday is enhanced this year by virtue of the work that I performed yesterday afternoon: renailing old subfloor, with all the crouching and hammer swinging that entails, followed by the lugging of heavy plywood and medium-density fiberboard (MDF) up two racks of pipe staging and through a window just big enough to allow the sheets at an angle. For those who understand less than half of the previous sentence, the point is that I'm sore, particularly in my shoulders and my wrists.

Sometimes feeling some echo of an ache helps one to appreciate the pain and distraction of suffering.

On Wednesday night, I went to the Redwood Library in Newport for a book reading and signing for my friend Andrew McNabb, who was in the area promoting The Body of This, which I reviewed on Monday. In the audience were a couple of people who participated in the Third Thursday Writers Group at the Redwood, back before my writing took a political turn. None would meet my eye. When the library's executive director introduced Andrew, she described the group and suggested that it might be starting up again, if there's interest; for some reason, she omitted mention of the two literary reviews that I produced for the group and distributed for free around town.

It's possible that, over the past five years, my looks have changed dramatically enough (from editor to carpenter) that my fellow writers did not recognize me. It's also possible that the executive director has forgotten the books (which were not an official publication of the library) or that she doesn't wish to appear to be promising another such opportunity for writers. But the possibility that my ideological convictions and, moreover, visibility in declaring them have constructed an interpersonal burden that I must bear among those whom I once knew brought out, for me, the underlying profundity of one of the stories that Andrew read:

When we think of wounds — and of scars — we concentrate on the sharp pains in life, but the burdens that we must carry leave their marks, too. And if we recognize them for what they are, we can learn from them, perhaps even be glad of them.

(The Body of This is available on Aquinas & More as well as on Amazon.)

Fish On Fridays

Carroll Andrew Morse

Nothing symbolizes the supposed arbitrariness of religion to those predisposed towards skepticism towards religious belief than does the Catholic practice of eating fish on Fridays during the season of Lent. I’ll admit to having asked myself, especially on Good Friday, what connection there is between fish and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. And then there is the philosophical paradox. If my soul is lost after I’ve eaten meat on a Lenten Friday, does that mean I’m free to commit worse sins without making my situation worse? But if the rule doesn’t really matter, then why follow it? And on and on and on and on…

Here’s what I do know. With the choice of fish options available to a 21st century American, eating fish on Fridays is about as small a “sacrifice” in a material sense as can be asked for. But honoring the rule does require me to make some conscious choices that run contrary to what the surrounding culture tells me are cool and sensible. And if I am unable to make this little tiny sacrifice, because I find it too inconvenient, or because I’m afraid to explain myself to others who don’t share my belief or who might think that I’m being just plain silly, then on what basis do I believe myself to be capable of taking a stand in more serious situations, when the choices might be a little harder and the stakes a little bit higher?

Slightly edited re-post of an April 6, 2007 original.

A World in Which Marriage and Sex Are Not About Children

Justin Katz

The ACLU-type argument for general liberty to engage in destructive behavior for the preservation of a liberal aesthetic is easy to predict, but there's something new and disturbing in the following argument for the continued legalization of prostitution in the state of Rhode Island:

Critics, including Rose Perry, a Providence mother and member of the group Direct Action for Rights and Equality, said that even with the amendments the latest proposal ignores the harsh reality of what it takes for some families to survive in tough economic times.

"What about the woman who has children who is mainly prostituting to provide for them?" Perry asked. If she gets arrested "the children are going to go to [the Department of Children, Youth and Families] and that's going to be more state expense and then more expense for the woman going to jail. It's just ruining families. I feel what goes on behind closed doors should stay behind closed doors."

One could point out, of course, that Ms. Perry's point is extendable to a wide variety of behaviors, dealing and doing hard drugs notable among them. What's more profound is a juxtaposition, facilitated by the Providence Journal's physical layout, with Froma Harrop's latest column:

"Formality in the law serves some important purposes," Glesner-Fines responded. "It cautions people that what they are getting into is serious."

Yes, that's it. The seriousness of the legal bond between the parents — as well as from parent to child — helps foster a partnership in child-rearing, even if that bond later dissolves in divorce. Why so many women take on motherhood without such formality in place is a mystery. The sad result is a growing sisterhood of drudgery.

Whether she realizes it or not, that's a substantial progression from a woman who recently wrote this:

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

Keep marriage as a romantic and religious ideal for those who choose to partake. Public policy, on the other hand, should be marriage-neutral.

Perhaps it's a "rather dated" notion, but I'd say there's no "mystery" to continued childbirth without the "formality" of marriage: Men and women are strongly driven to copulate; they're also driven (although with less immediacy) to procreate. Yet, society has long been telling them that sex outside of marriage is just fine and is increasingly declaring that marriage is not, in its essence, about joining parents together with the children whom they create.

When a state supreme court asserts as a footnote (PDF, p. 54) that a child's needing a mother and father is a stereotype, when activists are arguing in the State House that prostitution is a legitimate fall-back during a difficult economy, when other judges are demanding that the morning-after-drug be available over the counter to minors, it isn't surprising that three out of four non-virginal teenage girls report having had unprotected sex. It also isn't surprising that some of them have or go on to have children outside of wedlock or that the fathers feel no obligation to be involved.

If sex is about pleasure (or financial gain), and marriage is about feelings (or benefits), committing to support a family even during the worst of times, even when there is no sex, the feelings seem to fade, and the children prove a challenge, is just one more burden on which a culture of narcissists will not insist.

April 9, 2009

Ambassador as Change Agent

Justin Katz

During my drive home, Dan Yorke was talking about rumors that Caroline Kennedy might be poised for appointment as President Obama's ambassador to the Vatican:

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Raymond L. Flynn is giving a thumbs down to Caroline Kennedy as a potential pick for his former diplomatic post, saying the pro-choice values of JFK's daughter would make the nod "a mistake." ...

According to the Italian publication Panorama, Sen. John F. Kerry asked Obama to consider Caroline Kennedy for the Vatican ambassadorship. Neither Kerry’s office nor the White House would comment yesterday.

Dan's core point was that the Vatican isn't just another country, but an ethnic entity to which it is traditional to send an ambassador of the Roman Catholic faith, and being pro-life is critical to such a role. I'd suggest that the special status of the Vatican (in contrast to a nation) is only relevant in the sense that its public character is more starkly drawn than normal.

Sending Kennedy would be like sending an anti-Zionist Jew as ambassador to Israel. It would be like sending somebody whose beliefs run absolutely contrary to those of France or England or Brazil or wherever — somebody who stands in opposition to a core value of the foreign power. Such treatment is only suitable with hostile, or at least unfriendly, countries.

The only reason the United States would send an inimical ambassador is if it is more concerned with challenging a nation's policies and beliefs than with ensuring good relations.

A Man Who's Sure Courts and the "Global Community" Will Remain on His Side

Justin Katz

Rick Santorum introduces his fellow Pennsylvanians (and us) to a man whom he says is on President Obama's short list for Supreme Court:

Watching President Obama apologize last week for America's arrogance - before a French audience that owes its freedom to the sacrifices of Americans - helped convince me that he has a deep-seated antipathy toward American values and traditions. His nomination of former Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh to be the State Department's top lawyer constitutes further evidence of his disdain for American values.

This seemingly obscure position in Foggy Bottom's bureaucratic maze is one of the most important in any administration, shaping foreign policy in the courts and playing a critical role in international negotiations and treaties.

Let's set aside Koh's disputed comments about the possible application of Sharia law in American jurisprudence. The pick is alarming for more fundamental reasons having to do with national sovereignty and constitutional self-governance.

What is indisputable is that Koh calls himself a "transnationalist." He believes U.S. courts "must look beyond national interest to the mutual interests of all nations in a smoothly functioning international legal regime. ..." He thinks the courts have "a central role to play in domesticating international law into U.S. law" and should "use their interpretive powers to promote the development of a global legal system."

And how's this for night-is-day speak:

He wrote that "the principles of human dignity and autonomy that are the essence of the modern right-protecting democracy demand that civil marriage be available to all couples and that the equality of all citizens triumph over historical attitudes."

In Koh's view, the underlying principles of democracy "demand" that the practice of democracy itself be circumvented. One suspects that Mr. Koh's personal beliefs align reasonably closely not only with principles, but practices, as well, that he believes a global judiciary ought to impose.

Feelings on the Radio

Justin Katz

WPRO listeners will have heard the audio of the female Brown student who felt that if people feel offended about Columbus Day she wouldn't feel there to be a problem with removing it from the calendar. On last night's Matt Allen show, Marc and Matt discussed feelings and some of the things that we've been thinking about on Anchor Rising. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

An Explanation for the Union

Justin Katz

The reaction of RI Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals lobbyist James Parisi to news that Governor Carcieri's 2010 budget includes a provision liberating charter schools from some personnel requirements suggests that the teachers' unions are frightened that charters might become even more successful:

"It's wrong, it's unfair, it's unconscionable, it's absolutely unnecessary and it wasn't the deal that was struck when the original charter law was put into place," James Parisi, a lobbyist for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, told the House Finance Committee in a hearing Tuesday.

Who knew the schtick of lawyer Jackie Chiles from Seinfeld worked for lobbyists, as well?

A more interesting quotation from Mr. Parisi comes at the end of Cynthia Needham's article:

"What I don't understand," Parisi said, "is how the governor could propose expanding charter schools when the public school districts are hurting as much as they are hurting."

The puzzle's not difficult to solve. The governor recognizes the need to apply education money effectively, where it would do the most good. In the public schools, it would be soaked up by the teachers as a matter of course, without substantial connection to change or improvement. When an organization is fundamentally broken and displays little will to repair the core problem, society will find a way around it.

April 8, 2009

Remote Control: Good for televisions; Not So Good for the Internet

Monique Chartier

Computer and internet tech stuff is not my forte. But wouldn't it be far more effective to build (or bolster as needed) protections and barriers into critical computer infrastructure - electric, water, banking - rather than create a shut-down switch to be operated remotely and, most likely, after the infrastructure has been attacked and damaged?

Under the new bill, a national cyber security adviser reporting to the president would coordinate the efforts of the U.S. intelligence community and civilian agencies on all cyber security matters. The adviser would have the authority to disconnect from the Internet any infrastructure network found to be at risk.

Not to mention a piddly item like giving the federal government ultimate control over the internet ...

Columbus Banned at Brown

Marc Comtois

They editorialized, they polled and now they've been seconded by the faculty: Brown University will no longer celebrate Columbus Day. Why? From an earlier editorial at the Brown Daily Herald:

Anyone who has studied history, especially at a mostly liberal institution like Brown, knows that Christopher Columbus did not "discover" the Americas. Not only are many of his accomplishments falsified or overstated - Columbus was not the first Westerner to explore the Americas, and he never set foot in the United States - but the claim that Columbus or other explorers "discovered" America ignores the civilizations built and sustained by Native Americans for hundreds of years.

To celebrate Columbus Day is to celebrate a colonizer's holiday. It is the celebration of European powers claiming land on this and other continents, and a celebration of violence toward and oppression of indigenous people and culture. White people, ranging from European colonizers to the government of the United States, have committed innumerable brutal offenses against Native Americans over the past 500 years. Honoring Columbus with a holiday glosses over a racist, blood-stained facet of our history and glamorizes the past as victorious manifest destiny.

Yes, Europeans are indeed unique in this:
For the Aztecs, warfare had a much different goal than for most of their counterparts. The goal of the battles was not to destroy the enemy and ransack the village but to capture the community and integrate them into the Aztec society, thus providing a much more productive and expanding kingdom. The temples of these cities were burned and the worship of Huitzilopochtli was installed. Warfare was also used to capture victims for ceremonial use. Prisoners of war were sacrificed on huge alters in front of large crowds. The heart of the victim was cut out, symbolically offered to the gods, and the lifeless bodies of the victims were rolled down the long stairs, staining the steps with blood.
In North America, Europeans were one among equals in the Beaver Wars. In what we now call southern New England, the wars between the Narragansetts, Wampanoags, Pequots and Mohegans were going on before the arrival of white Europeans. Of course Europeans didn't cover themselves in glory with the way they treated the indigenous people of the New World. Man has made war upon man for time immemorial. As "anyone who has studied history" should know, the difference is only a matter of degree. This exercise in PC-feelgoodism is based on a blinkered and anachronistic view of history.

RE: Message to Pirates....It was part of their training

Marc Comtois

First, to update the ongoing pirate story, it appears the Captain, Richard Phillips of Vermont, is still being held (it sounds like on a lifeboat).

Additionally, I remembered reading about a maritime school training its cadets in anti-piracy tactics a week or so ago. Turns out, it was Massachusetts Maritime...and the instructor of the course? Joseph Murphy, father of Shane Murphy, the Chief Mate (or First Officer) on board the Maersk Alabama.

The 1,000-student academy sends many graduates into seafaring careers where they might traverse pirate-plagued waterways, and joins other maritime academies in campaigns to thwart pillagers.

"The world has become a much more dangerous place, and it's a problem that is getting worse all the time," said Joseph Murphy, who teaches anti-piracy tactics in his maritime security class. "We're all keenly aware that the ante has been upped."

Murphy's teachings are personal: His son often travels in dangerous waters and was onboard a commercial ship sailing through the Gulf of Aden last April when pirates attacked a Japanese oil tanker a short distance away.

Guess its a good thing they've been trained, even if merchant ships don't carry any sort of firearms and current policy is to make every attempt to avoid being boarded and then, if boarded, retreat to safe rooms (well, for a while). It sounds like the crew of the Alabama had other ideas.

Despite the heroics of the crew of American sailors, there is still a fundamental question that needs to be answered regarding the seizure of the Alabama by Somali pirates: why now? Pending the release of the ship's captain, the positive outcome shouldn't be allowed to mask the root cause behind the attack. Nor should we let the current Administration gloss over their potential response. Or how their current foreign policy stance may have, or have not, emboldened these pirates.

Or maybe they just didn't expect to run into a real U.S. ship:

Douglas J. Mavrinac, the head of maritime research at investment firm Jefferies & Co., noted that it is very unusual for an international ship to be U.S.-flagged and carry a U.S. crew. Although about 95 percent of international ships carry foreign flags because of the lower cost and other factors, he said, ships that are operated by or for the U.S. government—such a food aid ships like Maersk Alabama—have to carry U.S. flags, and therefore, employ a crew of U.S. citizens.
But that's another discussion.

When the Dictator Branch Takes Over for the Representative One

Justin Katz

Andrew McCarthy puts it well:

Courts are not there to resolve national controversies, to stand outside and above the United States. They were created as a sub-section of government to remedy individual injuries, and they were given no power to enforce their judgments. That, indeed, is why Hamilton (in Federalist No. 78) anticipated that the judiciary would be the "least dangerous" branch: It would be "least in a capacity to annoy or injure" the "political rights of the Constitution." In fact, the law of "standing," which addresses what grievances litigants may bring before courts, teaches that the more a controversy affects the body politic rather than the individual citizen, the less appropriate it is for judicial resolution. It is for just such controversies that we have political rights.

We're on track to cede our rights of self-governance to a global judiciary supported by an aristocracy of bureaucrats. Needless to say, we'd be better off if the cart were derailed.

Message to Pirates: Don't Mess with U.S. Merchant Mariners

Marc Comtois

So Somali pirates decided to take a U.S. flagged ship. Except they apparently didn't realize that U.S.-flagged ships have something other ships don't--U.S. Merchant Mariners (including a couple from nearby Mass. Maritime Academy). So, while other countries bargain and dicker with pirates, this U.S. crew took matters into their own hands:

The crew of a U.S.-flag ship seized by pirates off Somalia has retaken the vessel, American officials said Wednesday, even as the national security establishment faced troubling questions about the hostage-taking at high sea.

Capt. Joseph Murphy, an instructor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, told The Associated Press that his son Shane, the second in command on the ship, had called him to say the crew had regained control.

The ship, captured by pirates near the coast of Somalia, apparently was the first such hostage-taking involving U.S. citizens in 200 years. In December 2008, Somali pirates chased and shot at a U.S. cruise ship with more than 1,000 people on board but failed to hijack the vessel.

"The crew is back in control of the ship," a U.S. official said at midday, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak on the record. "It's reported that one pirate is on board under crew control—the other three were trying to flee," the official said. The status of the other pirates was unknown, the official said, but they were reported to "be in the water."

The crew apparently contacted the private shipping that it works for. That company, Maersk, scheduled a noon news conference in Norfolk, Va, defense officials said.

Another U.S. official, citing a readout from an interagency conference call, said: "Multiple reliable sources are now reporting that the Maersk Alabama is now under control of the U.S. crew. The crew reportedly has one pirate in custody. The status of others is unclear, they are believed to be in the water."

As a proud graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, I was taught to live by the Academy's motto: Acta Non Verba (Deeds, or Action, not Words). Most of the mariners I know live by this creed, regardless of their schooling or training. It is the sort of attitude that has seen American merchant sailors through war since the founding of this country. And it's heartening to see that that spirit still thrives on the world's oceans, at least as long as the ship flies America's colors.

Heave Ho! My Lads! Heave Ho!
It's a long, long way to go.
It's a long, long pull with our hatches full,
Braving the wind, braving the sea,
Fighting the treacherous foe;
Heave Ho! My lads, Heave Ho!
Let the sea roll high or low,
We can cross any ocean, sail any river.
Give us the goods and we'll deliver,
Damn the submarine!
We're the men of the Merchant Marine!

House Judiciary Committee - Hearings of Interest Today

Monique Chartier

At the Rise of the House, 4:30-ish, in Room 313 at the State House. (True, all bills and resolutions before the General Assembly are of interest!)

House Bill No. 5298

BY Palumbo, Corvese, Malik, Gablinske, Jacquard


House Bill No. 5561

BY Slater, Diaz, Williams

ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO PROPERTY -- IMMIGRATION STATUS {LC1817} (would prohibit a landlord from asking the immigration status of a prospective tenant)

House Bill No. 5377

BY Segal, Silva, Williams, Almeida


House Resolution No. 5291

BY Almeida, Williams, Diaz


House Resolution No. 5929

BY Almeida, Williams, Diaz, Rice A


House Bill No. 5108

BY Almeida, Williams, Diaz


(amend the law banning racial profiling in traffic stops by state/municipal law enforcement agencies/requiring law enforcement agencies to collect data and complete regular reports of findings and statistics regarding traffic stops)

"Gambling" on Education

Marc Comtois

As reported in today's Providence Journal, thousands of Providence parents "gamble" on charter schools*:

That parents are looking for an alternative to traditional public schools is borne out by the numbers: this year, charter schools received 3,454 applicants for 559 openings. The Learning Community Charter School, in Central Falls, had 500 applications for 50 spaces while Highlander Academy, a Providence charter school, received 581 applications for 44 openings.
Time after time, when given the opportunity, parents are willing to "gamble" on sending their kids to alternative schools, particularly in urban areas. They feel they are trapped in the public school system that under performs and don't have the financial ability to send their kids to private schools. So charter schools are their only other choice. Meanwhile, teacher union leaders protest the easing of current charter school laws as proposed by Governor Carcieri.
Removing those requirements, supporters including the governor say, would eliminate the red tape that can hamper classroom innovation. Such freedoms give charter schools greater control over budgets and personnel and allow them to attract and pay for top teaching talent.

But teachers union representatives vehemently object, contending it amounts to an end run around collective bargaining units, giving management an excuse to pay lower wages and do away with seniority protections.

“It’s wrong, it’s unfair, it’s unconscionable, it’s absolutely unnecessary and it wasn’t the deal that was struck when the original charter law was put into place,” James Parisi, a lobbyist for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, told the House Finance Committee in a hearing Tuesday.

They offered similar objections to the proposed Mayoral Academies, for which the the ProJo recently professed editorial support.
The union chiefs have it backwards. Schools are not set up to assure teachers money and benefits. They are set up to serve the students. But, as Rhode Island’s longstanding financial commitment to public education should suggest, parents and the public will pay high taxes to compensate teachers handsomely if those teachers give it their all and are not afraid to be paid on the basis of how good they are.

"What Do We Need to Do to Get Out of This Mess?"

Justin Katz

If you're available on the morning of Saturday the 25th, you might consider joining me in North Kingstown, as a member of the the audience of Operation Clean Government's spring public affairs forum, which is intended to probe "the RI fiscal train wreck."

There's a breakfast beforehand, at 8:45 a.m., with the main event being a panel moderated by Dan Yorke and consisting of a list of familiar names, beginning at 10.

Reason (and, Therefore, God) Affects Morality as an Action in Itself

Justin Katz

Those who agree with the view, cited by David Brooks, that "moral thinking is more like aesthetics" should ponder whether they're missing a connection between this:

Socrates talked. The assumption behind his approach to philosophy, and the approaches of millions of people since, is that moral thinking is mostly a matter of reason and deliberation: Think through moral problems. Find a just principle. Apply it.

And this:

Moral judgments are like that. They are rapid intuitive decisions and involve the emotion-processing parts of the brain. Most of us make snap moral judgments about what feels fair or not, or what feels good or not. We start doing this when we are babies, before we have language. And even as adults, we often can’t explain to ourselves why something feels wrong.

In other words, reasoning comes later and is often guided by the emotions that preceded it. Or as Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia memorably wrote, "The emotions are, in fact, in charge of the temple of morality, and ... moral reasoning is really just a servant masquerading as a high priest."

Mr. Haidt's metaphor may be memorable, but I wouldn't declare it accurate. Emotions are the materials that we must use in building our temple, but the structure we build according to blueprints described in a tradition of reason. Statements of principle well argued become actions in their own right. They affect the culture that we imbibe as our individual personalities and moral senses develop.

Think of the powerful people influenced by Socrates, those who've built on his logic and who've put its consequences into policies. Think of the cultural markers and influences — those that set the moral instinct that we attempt to guide through our own reason — that have developed over the millennia following Jesus Christ. For ourselves, we may tend to find emotions too strong for reason — its master, even — but that proves only that moral reasoning has a delayed effect as it works its way into our collective intuition.

I'd go one step further, although non-theists needn't follow. This process is indicative of the manner in which God acts in the world: through us. A moral person might find a profound responsibility in that.

April 7, 2009

Insight Across Rhode Island

Justin Katz

Stephen DiGianfilippo of East Greenwich ponders whom the stimulus actually stimulates:

Like most members of Congress, I, too, lacked the time to actually read the 1,000-plus pages of the so-called "stimulus package." From what I understand from media coverage, however, it provides funds for things like Food Stamps and "free" health care; "tax cuts" for people who don’t pay income taxes (i.e., disguised welfare checks); environmental studies; automakers (which, ironically, are themselves largely victims of other special interests); governmental unions, and various projects that benefit private-sector unions.

Besides a measly check worth about $8 per week, however, the average American isn't being stimulated at all. In fact, he may now have a better chance of losing his private-sector job instead.

He goes on to note the hundreds of millions that labor unions invested in the purchase of Democrat votes, which leads into some thoughts on RI teacher union antics from Warwick's Joseph Weaver:

What is especially discouraging is that in a state that considers itself liberal, so much power is wielded by one of its most reactionary forces, the teachers unions.

Charter schools, school vouchers, mayors' schools, school consolidation — all progressive, enlightened steps designed to give parents and students a choice in their education opportunities and put the focus on the child — are constantly attacked and thwarted by teachers unions, which make it clear that they come first. The first question asked when change is proposed is not "Will the child come out better" but "Will the union come out better." If the answer to the latter is no, consider the issue dead.

Hey, I'll accept the notion of school choice and vouchers as "progressive"... if only because of whom it would annoy.

2009 Supplemental Budget: Gov Refuses to Sign

Monique Chartier

... nor will he veto it. Citing the absence in the budget of

statutory pension reforms which are absolutely necessary to ensure sustainability

Governor Carcieri has returned H5019 Sub A to the General Assembly, permitting it to become law without his signature.

Additionally, his letter to the G.A., available here, in Adobe Acrobat, stresses the importance of passing both relief for cities and towns for costly mandates and tax reform to make us more competitive on the job creation front.

From your lips to ... er, the leadership's ears, Governor.

A Tea Party Icebreaker: What Are You Getting for Your $6,000 in New Debt?

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to numbers put out by the Congressional Budget Office…

  1. President Obama's economic stimulus package will increase the debt burden on American taxpayers by over $6,100 per household ($719 billion in debt, divided by about 117 million households) by 2011.
  2. The total package of spending and revenue changes enacted by Congress between January and March of this year will increase the debt burden on American taxpayers by over $6,700 per household by 2011.
This might make for a good ice-breaker with the other tax-units, er I mean people, at next Wednesday's Rhode Island tea-party: What returns are you seeing on the $6,000 - $7,000 surge in debt that the government will be running up in your name over this year and the next two?

Chariho District Votes Today

Carroll Andrew Morse

Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton are holding a referendum today on the school budget for Chariho District. From Andrew Martin of the Chariho Times

Voters will have the final say all-day April 7 on the proposed $53.3 million Chariho Regional School District budget for fiscal year 2009-10.

The budget represents a small increase over the current fiscal year, which stands at $53.1 million. But, after revenue, the member towns’ contribution actually sees a decrease for the upcoming fiscal year.

The current 2008-09 fiscal year’s total member towns’ contribution is $49.5 million. This coming year’s budget proposal calls for $49.3 million – a decrease of $210,798.

A few sources familiar with the situation have told me that they expect the vote to be close.

Chafee Likely to Run for Governor

Marc Comtois

Ian Donnis has been admirably ferreting out hints for a while and now the ProJo has a story about it, so I suppose we should mention the likely entrance of former Senator Chafee into the Governor's race.


Propaganda in the Service of Good

Justin Katz

This sort of stuff has been going on for a long time, but it's still kind of creepy:

Now the Gates Foundation is set to expand its involvement and spend more money on influencing popular culture through a deal with Viacom, the parent company of MTV and its sister networks VH1, Nickelodeon and BET. It could be called "message placement": the social or philanthropic corollary to product placement deals in which marketers pay to feature products in shows and movies. Instead of selling Coca-Cola or G.M. cars, they promote education and healthy living.

Last week in New York Mr. Gates met with Philippe P. Dauman, the chief executive of Viacom, to go over a long-in-the-works initiative that would give Mr. Gates's philanthropic organization something any nonprofit would cherish: an enormous megaphone. The new partnership, titled Get Schooled, involves consultation between Gates Foundation experts and executives at all Viacom networks that make programming decisions. Their goal is to weave education-theme story lines into existing shows or to create new shows centered on education.

"We are committing the entire creative power of our organization," Mr. Dauman said. "The whole company is really engaged behind this."

The entertainment industry is well known for the excesses perpetuated as a result of its participants' ideological bent, but this is quite a different path. Sure, the messages are currently agreeable to the general population, but once the principle of direct and often subtle "message placement" is fully embraced and implemented, we can be sure that its targets will become gradually less benign.

Sex Is Not All

Justin Katz

It's a tragicomic truism that members of the cultural movement, with roots in the "Sexual Revolution," that presses for the acceptance of ever more licentious behavior, that peppers popular culture with lewd images and innuendo, and that leverages carnal lust as an enticement toward the trap of its radical worldview often accuse those who stand against them in defense of our society of being obsessed with sex. Here, in the words of commenter Pragmatist:

And why not just admit that this criticism of the president is really about sex Justin? We all know that religious conservatives, above all else, are obsessed with sex: the consequences of straight sex and existence of gay sex. Religious concerns about the environment, war, torture, income inequality seldom pop up on the conseravtive radar. But sex? Well then, hold the presses!

It doesn't take much capacity for objectivity to observe that none of the other issues that Pragmatist lists find anywhere near the concerted advocacy of sex when it comes to promoting sin qua sin, from the religious point of view. Nobody advocates lessons in safe-torture to grammar school children. (Abstinence is unrealistic, after all!) Nobody proposes that war should be a matter of individual choice made as free of consequences as possible.

Moreover, those not quite so blinkered by hostility to the expression of traditional views will likely comprehend that, for religious conservatives, chief among the "consequences of straight sex" is the creation of human life, and therein lies the motivation for determination. Note, for evidence, that the conservative radar is also well tuned to the overtures of scientists to transform human life into a utility. Progressives appear to believe that conservatives see protection of embryos and objection to cloning as front-guard barriers against the fundamental normalization of abortion, which (the story holds) we oppose because cannot keep our minds off the activity that creates a being to be aborted in the first place. The failure to see the true consistent core of this belief system is strongly suggestive of a desperate need to maintain the feeling of moral imprimatur for the commission of evil.

But what of torture? Isn't that an evil act? Yes, of course, and I've yet to hear a religious conservative argue for torture of an anything-to-extract-information degree, and general agreement that torture is unacceptable contributes to the skewed public perception. Because we all agree that our government should not be lopping off fingers one joint at a time, the discussion quickly moves to determination of the line. Truth be told, I've had discussions with other religious conservatives in which I voiced my difficulty seeing mild sleep deprivation and droning music, even stress positions, as torture; that doesn't indicate that conservatism is a philosophy in which torture isn't an issue, but that some of us believe that interrogations of unlawful combatants can be a bit more strenuous than a questionnaire. It's also relevant that the conversation would be a non-starter were the principle under scrutiny the permissibility of performing "enhanced interrogation" on innocent civilians.

What of income inequality? Isn't greed one of the seven deadlies? Aren't we called to serve our brothers and sisters? Yes, of course, but we on the right believe that opportunity is the more effective means of assisting the poor and that coercively redistributive power in the hands of a government body is a recipe for even more damaging outcomes.

Indeed, cycling through the issues that he mentions, one thought recurs with each: Pragmatist really hasn't followed internal debates among conservatives. What emerges from such a study is that there are basic principles held to be irreducible and a broad, fluid field of prudential lines.

At the core of them all, of course, is life, and among the most thoroughly agreed upon conclusions among religious righties is that a society that encourages (not forces) healthy personal choices endows its people with the most powerful possible protectant against a corruption that deadens the instinct for justice across the board. The most sure sources of instruction for discerning social necessities are the traditions that enabled the moral and corporeal advancement of our culture over millennia in the first place.

April 6, 2009

Re: Tea Parties and Federalist 33

Monique Chartier

From Federalist 33, Andrew pulled this quote:

If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers ...

It should be emphasized here that the federal government is not justified in doing so even with some noble intent: to revive an economy, to save the planet, to make things more fair ... Indeed, the advancement of good intent, however sincere, is the most insidious reason to exceed or usurp power.

"How can you argue with what we're doing? It's for a good cause." But in the process, what albatross are you saddling someone with? what are you destroying? What damage will you wreak by flexing your power in areas outside of your purview?

Moderating the Muddle

Justin Katz

Tiverton Town Clerk Nancy Mello has reason to fear that the town council may consider her to be the default appointee for the position of moderator at the pending financial town meeting. So, as she and I spoke amidst children hunting for Easter Eggs this weekend, I promised to make some inquiries. Count this as one.

Candidates need not be from Tiverton, but they must be comfortable with Robert's Rules. One will be appointed by the town council to open the financial town meeting, and another (or the same) will be elected at the meeting for a two-year term. A fair and strong person could do much to help the town of Tiverton through contentious times.

Interested people must file with Mrs. Mello by the 16th.

Tea Parties and Federalist 33

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here's a little Federalist 33 (scholars believe that Alexander Hamilton was the author) to remind us that, even before the Constitution of the United States of America had been ratified, our Founders were aware that activities like tea parties would be necessary from time to time to keep the government functioning in service of the people…

If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people, whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard they have formed, and take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify.
Rhode Island's tax-day tea party is scheduled for April 15, 3:00 - 6:00 pm at the Rhode Island State House.

The Body of This Transcends the Surreal

Justin Katz

Something in the atmosphere of the Redwood Library — and Newport more broadly — taps into subconscious wells of historical and artistic instinct for the writer. The greats feel somehow near amidst the stacks, and conversation among literary fiddlers seems only slightly less grand than the exchanges that one imagines upon a Berkshire evening between the likes of Hawthorne and Melville. When I attended the library's Third Thursday Writers' Group sessions regularly, in the first half of this decade, we would sit around an old table and critique each other's work, and none should doubt that the aging portraits around the room made their own contributions, as well.

Chief among the evidence that we undertook no mere extracurricular task were the offerings of Andrew McNabb. Such were the power of his written voice and the allure of his tales and characters that the rest of us felt as if the purpose of a given meeting had hardly been fulfilled unless he'd produced something from his folder. Certainly, we felt a wisp of trepidation when we ventured to criticize it.

Well, if I have a criticism — now that Andrew has offered his work to the public in a book of stories and sketches titled The Body of This — it derives from my desire for continuation and reprise. In the years since life swept me from the practice of regular writers-group attendance, during which time Andrew has transplanted to Maine, my book reading has been mainly mechanics and action: physics (to edify), project management (to advance), Robert's Rules (for politics). Body of This felt like a return to intangible substance, not the least because that is the underlying sense of Andrew's writing.

What makes his style resonate beyond the vast body of surrealistically tinged modernism is his sensibility as an even-on-weekdays Catholic. The imagery and subject matter lead one to expect a certain secular cynicism — doubt, scorn — that intriguingly isn't there; his sketches are moments of faith as it's lived. The churning stickiness of simultaneously budding sexuality and spirituality in the altar boy of "Blemished" doesn't stand as a mockery of religious superficiality, as it would for the zealous materialist, but as an honest confession of human nature.

As readers should expect from a mature writer, this pervasive theme manifests even in Andrew's strategy for description. One sentence painting the setting of "Their Bodies, Their Selves" reads like a clue to the whole collection: "If you took the building just for what it was — one level, three rooms — and ignored the dunes and the puffins and the sea grass and the few small pine-treed islands just offshore you wouldn't have much." So is it for Andrew's vignettes, wherein the typical fantasist of the surreal might find hollow meaning in the foolish striving of hairless monkeys. So is it in life, which taken as a series of things to do and places to be doesn't leave us with much. If we look beyond the what, to the where and how and why, we find ourselves to possess an infinite canvas of full and rich life.

That is the origin of my sole complaint: One longs to see Andrew's well-drawn characters in multiple settings, even if scarcely related, throughout the book. Similarly, those of us who've been privileged to read the magnificent longer-form shorts by Mr. McNabb can only wonder at their absence.

Perhaps, though, this mild disappointment can blossom into hope that The Body of This is most directly an introductory work, presented on Andrew's first night in our circle — an initial taste of his self revelation over the years to come.

Andrew McNabb will be in the Rhode Island area this week, giving readings from his book.

No End to the State's Financial Problems in Sight

Carroll Andrew Morse

Steve Peoples serves reminder in today's Projo that the passing of a supplemental budget hardly even qualifies as round one in Rhode Island's continuing fiscal crisis...

The business-backed Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council analyzed both sets of out-year figures and concluded that the legislature’s projections -- showing an average annual deficit of $462 million through 2014 -- are more accurate than the governor’s, which estimate the annual hole at $360 million.

The difference is largely attributed to assumptions in the projected growth of Medicaid programs, which annually consume more than $1.9 billion in state and federal funds. The governor’s budget office assumes Medicaid will grow at approximately 6.5 percent annually, while the House fiscal office used the nationally recognized projection of 7.9 percent, according to RIPEC’s policy and research director, Susanne Greschner...

The out-year projections already assume sweeping changes in the public pension system for teachers and public employees, a redesign of costly Medicaid programs and the permanent elimination of general revenue-sharing for cities and towns.

Anchor Rising's Top 10 Right-of-Center Rhode Islanders: On the Cusp

Justin Katz

What's particularly interesting about compiling a ranking of Rhode Islanders on the right is that there turned out to be such a close grouping that most of the list is subject to change with ease:

  • Joe Trillo's run for governor will surely increase his prominence and, therefore, his ability to affect the news cycle.
  • Harry Staley and RISC are working diligently to build up a grassroots taxpayer movement in the state, and as budgetary woes continue, RISC's profile will surely increase.
  • John Loughlin's status as House Minority Whip and hints of a run for higher office could launch him into the top 10.
  • 2009 could be the year that the RIGOP turns things around, moving a stronger spotlight to Gio Cicione.
  • If the immigration issue escalates, Terry Gorman of RIILE stands ready to make his case.
  • Travis Rowley's Young Republicans could play a unifying role on the right.
  • A few legal and political wins for Ken Block's Moderate Party are possible catalysts on his end.
  • Helen Glover will surely continue her efforts, and the right combination of issues and appearances are a distinct possibility.
  • And let's face it: with such a minority standing and such a wide open field, all of the names of which you can think (and many of which you can't) have every chance of rocketing through the ranks.

As for us Anchorites, well, assuming that our continual year-over-year readership growth continues and our involvement behind the scenes and appearances in other media increase, we'll be in there somewhere our official list, although we'll leave it to others to go so far as to place us on a public ranking.

April 5, 2009

Happiness Is Finding a Pencil

Justin Katz

I find this discouraging, although probably not for the reason one would suspect:

Children do not bring happiness. In fact more often they seem to bring unhappiness. That is the conclusion of one academic study after the next — and there are so many that it makes one wonder if researchers kept trying, hoping for a different result.

What's bothersome isn't that the hard work and substantial expense of being a parent puts a damper on one's sense of happiness; anybody who has children or knows people who have children should expect such a result. Rather, it's disquieting that not only is the finding presented as a surprise, but it's presented as if it ought to make procreation inexplicable. Raising children is among those experiences in life that we undertake because it is part of living — part of what Charles Murray refers to as "a life well lived."

A society that loses its ability to value the rich experience of being human may perceive itself to be more satisfied for a short time, as it rolls forward on the momentum of the health of previous generations, but it will surely decline and lose its feeling of happiness in the process.

However, because I'm not persuaded that one can tease apart demographic categories as these studies do, I'd suggest that it would be a mistake to see child rearing as a socially necessary drain on our individual well-being. Consider that marriage brings the greatest non-income increase in happiness, a finding that holds true even if we factor in parenthood's negative effect. (It's worth mentioning, of course, that the decrease resulting from children would also include the surveys of divorced parents, who would seem more likely to be adversely affected by the responsibilities of parenthood than married parents. There may also be an explanation somewhere in this breakdown for the fact that two children decrease happiness less than one.)

In other words, if we take the family form handed down to us through generations of trial and error, in which children and marriage are held to be inextricably linked, with parenthood and espousal standing as mutually reinforcing components of a person's identity, we find ourselves happier and our society healthier. If we lose faith in our instinctive understanding of what a full life should encompass, we will embark on a selfish path toward general misery.

Statistics and Reasoning

Justin Katz

At Rhody's suggestion in the comments to my post on the Iowa same-sex marriage decision, I took a look at Nate Silver's statistical assessment of the likelihood that Iowans will revoke the decision via constitutional amendment:

I looked at the 30 instances in which a state has attempted to pass a constitutional ban on gay marriage by voter initiative. The list includes Arizona twice, which voted on different versions of such an amendment in 2006 and 2008, and excludes Hawaii, which voted to permit the legislature to ban gay marriage but did not actually alter the state's constitution. I then built a regression model that looked at a series of political and demographic variables in each of these states and attempted to predict the percentage of the vote that the marriage ban would receive. ...

So what does this mean for Iowa? The state has roughly average levels of religiosity, including a fair number of white evangelicals, and the model predicts that if Iowans voted on a marriage ban today, it would pass with 56.0 percent of the vote. By 2012, however, the model projects a toss-up: 50.4 percent of Iowans voting to approve the ban, and 49.6 percent opposed. In 2013 and all subsequent years, the model thinks the marriage ban would fail.

The problem is that models don't think; they take what we put in. So, on one hand, the reality of same-sex marriages coming and going may soften Iowans' views. On the other hand, the Supreme Court of Iowa has just proven that statutory language is insufficient. People rightly seek the least extreme (and least difficult) method of accomplishing their goals, and if one's goal is to preserve the traditional definition of marriage, nothing within reach of the judiciary is now adequate.

To we who've been arguing this topic for years, that reality has been clear from the start, but it's been a core strategy of homosexual advocates (and progressives more generally) to limit expectations about the next step. Civil unions would never lead to same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage in Massachusetts would never be exported to other states. And so on.

I wouldn't presume to make predictions, but it's going to be more difficult for SSM rhetoricians to insist that leveraging state (and federal) constitutions is overkill.

Cell Phone Miscellany

Monique Chartier

[Nothing in this post should be interpreted as support for the various proposed bans on the use of cell phones, hand held or other, while driving. Frankly, some of us would like to amend the Constitution, or at least see a Supreme Court ruling, forever guaranteeing the use of cell phones while carrying on the otherwise unproductive activity of driving.]

It's not quite as anachronistic as a horse and buggy. But I still do a double take upon seeing a driver talking on a cell phone without an ear piece, blue or any other colored tooth. They're so handy! Why doesn't everyone use them? Though granted, some of us take it a little too far, wearing them even when not on a call so as to make up for the long, long years without one.

And, of course, the double take becomes a stare of alarm when it's someone carrying on their conversation as they navigate across an intersection in an attention deprived condition, two hands doing tasks intended for at least three, leaving the thoroughfare where traffic is coming in four directions to the parking lot where it's coming from all directions. As one hastily waves the multitasking driver across one's bow in the interest of everyone's safety, unbidden comes the thought, "There ought to be a law", followed quickly by a flash lecture from one's small government conscience: "We cannot save everyone from themselves".

As for cell phone ethiquette in public. It is considered rude to talk on your cell phone when you're in a face to face service situation - ordering food, paying a bill, inside a bank at a teller window. Some establishments have even posted signs requesting that their customers not carry on cell phone conversations while ordering or transacting.

I agree it's rude and I refrain from doing it. My question is, why? Why is it considered rude?

April 4, 2009

AFT Flyer: Find the Fib

Monique Chartier

This flyer, in PDF form, urged the removal from the FY2009 budget of those articles which would have bestowed much needed management tools (i.e., lifted costly mandates) on cities and towns. Sent to several state legislators, it apparently did the trick as the matter has been pushed off to FY 2010.

There is a major inaccuracy in the flyer. Can you identify it? (Hint: it's there in two places.)

The Pitchfork as the Symbol of Tyranny

Justin Katz

It's the pitchfork line that's attracting attention, but this strikes me as the more astonishing exchange to emerge from President Obama's meeting with banking bigwigs:

JPMorgan's Dimon spoke first. He began by complimenting the president on the economic team he'd assembled. And he said his industry needs to explain more directly to the American people that the economic recovery plans are already working. Dimon also insisted that he'd like to give the government's TARP money back as soon as practical, and asked the president to "streamline" that process.

But Obama didn't like that idea — arguing that the system still needs government capital.

The president offered an analogy: "This is like a patient who's on antibiotics," he said. "Maybe the patient starts feeling better after a couple of days, but you don't stop taking the medicine until you've finished the bottle." Returning the money too early, the president argued could send a bad signal.

Several CEOs disagreed, arguing instead that returning TARP money was their patriotic duty, that they didn't need it anymore, and that publicity surrounding the return would send a positive signal of confidence to the markets.

How is it that the newly elected president — previously a sparsely attending Senator, previously a state-level politician, previously some other things and a community organizer — is the one writing prescriptions that leaders of finance are too inexperienced to adjust? There's a dangerous side to this change-in-which-we-must-believe, and behind it is a hand to which a pitchfork is not unfamiliar.


Stuart Varney elaborates:

I must be naive. I really thought the administration would welcome the return of bank bailout money. Some $340 million in TARP cash flowed back this week from four small banks in Louisiana, New York, Indiana and California. This isn't much when we routinely talk in trillions, but clearly that money has not been wasted or otherwise sunk down Wall Street's black hole. So why no cheering as the cash comes back?

My answer: The government wants to control the banks, just as it now controls GM and Chrysler, and will surely control the health industry in the not-too-distant future. Keeping them TARP-stuffed is the key to control. And for this intensely political president, mere influence is not enough. The White House wants to tell 'em what to do. Control. Direct. Command ...

After 35 years in America, I never thought I would see this. I still can't quite believe we will sit by as this crisis is used to hand control of our economy over to government. But here we are, on the brink. Clearly, I have been naive.

Well, That Settles It; Tax the Rich

Justin Katz

My fellow right-wingers, I suppose we must rearrange our thinking. The governor of New York has spoken with some rich people, and they have assured him that they will not leave the state as a result. Clearly, taxation has no effect on the domestic decisions that wealthy families make.

I apologize if there's a nagging something — a poor choice of words, perhaps — that leaves me unable to disregard my prior suspicions entirely:

On Thursday, Mr. Paterson said his views on this matter had not changed. But fiscal and political realities had. And thus he yielded to fellow Democrats who insisted on raising the tax rate for the state's highest earners — up to 8.97 percent for those making $500,000 or more.

So if we correctly understood past warnings from the governor and the mayor, we should soon witness a mass exodus of the wealthy to other states, right? Well, maybe not quite, Mr. Paterson told reporters after his speech. He had spoken with rich people. "A lot of them said they're going to stay," he said, and "ride out this storm."

"Riding out a storm" is something that one does when the storm is expected to pass. The implementation of permanent principles of higher taxation are quite another matter, and New York should not be surprised if its unnamed fat cats renege on their pledge and quietly shift their full-year residencies elsewhere.

(via RI Future)

The Fundamental Dishonesty of an Antidemocratic Movement

Justin Katz

If one knows the history of the same-sex marriage debate, the opening paragraph of this editorialized report in the DesMoines Register strikes an odd note:

Basic fairness and constitutional equal protection were the linchpins of Friday's historic Iowa Supreme Court ruling that overturned a 10-year-old ban on same-sex marriage and puts Iowa squarely in the center of the nation’s debate over gay rights.

The redefinition of marriage in Iowa took a peculiar path, indeed, beginning in 1996:

  1. The Supreme Court of Hawaii declared a right to same-sex marriage.
  2. Although the state legislature ultimately circumvented the court, the federal government passed the Defense of Marriage Act to limit the ruling's implications for other states.
  3. Individual states, including Iowa, passed laws affirming that marriage is definitionally a relationship between people of opposite sex, typically with the intention of securing the protection of the public policy exception interpreted to exist to the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution. In essence, if a state explicitly does not recognize same-sex relationships as marriage, the Constitution cannot force it to treat as valid a same-sex marriage enacted in another state, so states like Iowa made their understanding of marriage explicit.
  4. The Iowa judiciary has taken that statutory affirmation of preexisting principles as an occasion to redefine marriage in the state according to the judges' preference.

In a direct way, the judges of Hawaii exported their activism across state lines not in spite of laws designed to prevent such a thing, but because of those laws. The process does nothing so clearly as illustrate the extent to which democracy is becoming an (at most) dilatory control on the implementation of the social system preferred by the powerful. All that is required is for the powerful to couch their diktats in some mutable principle introduced in a high-level legal source (e.g., the Constitution); the most common such principle is "equal protection," but there may be others that are as yet unexplored.

In an interesting conversational thread on RI Future, commenter Brassband points to this mechanism when he questions the following sentences from the Iowa court's ruling (PDF, page 16):

The process of defining equal protection, as shown by our history as captured and told in court decisions, begins by classifying people into groups. A classification persists until a new understanding of equal protection is achieved. The point in time when the standard of equal protection finally takes a new form is a product of the conviction of one, or many, individuals that a particular grouping results in inequality and the ability of the judicial system to perform its constitutional role free from the influences that tend to make society’s understanding of equal protection resistant to change.

As a matter of grammar, what the court argues, here, is that a society may consider groups to be different in some legally allowable way until a particular individual or several individuals perceive discrimination and take the matter to the courts, and the judges — "free from the [social] influences" under which we ordinary humans labor — declare in their favor. Rhode Island College professor Thomas Schmeling subsequently puts that perspective in the company of a fundamentally sacerdotal yet "well-respected theory" that judges rule based on hunches that are justified in the fact that a jurist "not only has his/her own preferences but is also acquainted with constitutional principles, precedents, the views of other (and higher) court judges, so it's not totally subjective." Schmeling goes on to state the matter in terms of his own take:

... I think the Court here is actually making a sensible point, one which which you may well agree. Here's my read:

1. The legislature creates a classification. (let's use bans on interracial marriage as an example). That classification will remain until two things happen:

a. somebody becomes convinced that the classification creates an inequality (one that violates equal protection) and challenges it in court.

b. A court invalidates it.

Now, the legislation presumably embodies society's understanding of what "equal protection" requires, which (as in the case of bans on interracial marriage) may be nothing more than its irrational prejudices. If the courts do nothing more than reflect that understanding, it will never find any classification violative of equal protection and the court will have failed to fulfill its duty. (Do you agree so far?)

If the legislature's/society's judgement/prejudices accurately reflect the principle embodied in the Constitution's equal protection clause (state or federal...there might be a difference)...there is no problem.

However, if the legislature's/society's judgement departs from an accurate understanding of equal protection, that's a problem. To do its job, the court must obviously get beyond this judgement. To do this, the court must be "free from the influences that tend to make society's understanding of equal protection resistant to change". That is, the court should not simply reflect the views of the people and/or the legislature, it must uncover the "true" principle behind the equal protection clause, and use that principle to judge the classification.

If the members of the court simply say "I think equal protection clause should embody MY prejudices", I think we'll agree that the court has departed from its proper role.

If, on the other hand, the Court adopts a principled interpretation of the clause (which must, of necessity be independent of the prejudices of the judges AND of the prejudices of the legislature/society), the court has fulfilled its proper role.

Consider for a moment who has been excluded from the interpretation of equal protection's "'true' principle": the judges' personal views don't apply, the relevant legislators' personal views don't apply, the people's personal views (as expressed democratically) don't apply, and certainly the personal views of those who penned the Fourteenth Amendment back in 1868 don't apply. So from whence — by whom — is it determined that the true meaning of the equal protection clause requires that the true meaning of marriage be something other than what it has always been understood to be — a relationship between men and women?

Ah, there's the nub. The reality is that, like the interstate process of bouncing judicial rulings, the whole thing is a performance to enact the preferences of an elite class as written into the "hunches" of judges. On the page following the above quotation, the Supreme Court of Iowa states:

The same-sex-marriage debate waged in this case is part of a strong national dialogue centered on a fundamental, deep-seated, traditional institution that has excluded, by state action, a particular class of Iowans.

The whole dance — costumes, streamers, stage props, and all — is a distraction from the truth that the "particular class of Iowans" are not excluded by "state action," but by definition and by the way in which they choose to live their lives.* They are excluded by the fact that humankind has recognized a natural distinction of the intimate relationships into which men and women enter and sought to guide those relationships in the direction of social health — as understood not through contrived experiments, but by centuries of observation and social evolution — through an institution called "marriage," which it acknowledges and privileges as something unique.

Our nation's founders pursued representative democracy as a means of layering social control such that the most basic and profound questions would not become subject to immediate battles of power, but would require engagement of the process and efforts toward persuasion. Progressives' broad-based campaign has been to corrupt process for their own ideological benefit, and it will spell calamity whether the masses respond with a forceful expression of the only forms of power that remain to them or by stepping back and watching their civilization collapse out of an aversion to conflict.

* I am not invoking, here, the "homosexuality is a choice" declaration. I'm merely pointing out that — quite reasonably — homosexuals opt to form their lives around their affections rather than a traditional family structure.

Loughlin in a Rat-a-tat-tat

Justin Katz

There seemed to be something different about the pacing of Newsmakers, last week, when Rep. John Loughlin was on. The questions came at a rapid-fire-pace. I think John did well, in that environment, although his answer didn't quite address what I would have liked to hear on the (now moot) question of delaying the financial town meeting in Tiverton.

The second segment of the show was instructive, as well. Republicans and Democrats in the public light seem to come from different places — especially, but not only, in Rhode Island. Republicans don't appear to be in it for the career prospects created by the political process in the sense that those prospects were their primary motivation; they're either fed up, unable to watch the world go in what they believe to be the wrong direction, or looking for ways to do something different with their own lives. That's not to say that Republicans don't get caught up in the political game or swept away in fantasies of personal importance, but they seem more apt to answer questions as they're asked rather than mentally flipping through a notebook of talking points. Again: at least among our crew in Rhode Island.

Some might say it's a measure of integrity, others a measure of incompetence. Me, I'd recast "incompetence" as "inexperience" and suggest that politics tends to keep integrity and inexperience in correlation.

April 3, 2009

Can We Afford to Do Everything?

Monique Chartier

Under Justin's post "Because They're Better than You" about the Chief Justice's nifty office renovation, commenter EMT points out that

... part of the cost was due to the historic status of the building.

Respectfully, regretfully, is it possible that we can't afford to keep or maintain historic buildings?

The renovation of Justice Williams' office highlights an unfortunate tendency when someone else's dollars are being spent. In the public sphere, when tax dollars are involved, the expenditure of certain budget dollars somehow doesn't count.

- It's a historic building so we had to overspend.

- We opened that new school/police station/fire station. That's why our budget went up that million dollars year over year. (Hello, Cranston.)

And the reaction too often is, "OOOH, okay." It's a one time expenditure that didn't go to salaries, benefits or supplies. The money to pay for it will come off the One Time Expenditure Money Tree.

Except, of course, that it doesn't. This is not to question the necessity of projects such as schools and public safety buildings. But in actuality, there is no money tree. However necessary the expenditure, additional tax dollars must be collected to cover this expenditure, whether it be up front or as a bond. (Bonds count as spending, too!)

The way it works in real life is that if an extraordinary expenditure comes up, either another item of an equal amount is cut from the budget or the extraordinary expenditure is not made. In the public sphere, there's a third option: hand the bill to someone else.

Case in point. The state has issued an RFP for the restoration of the exterior of the Statehouse Dome. All surfaces to be washed with a trisodium phosphate solution. Three coats of paint on some surfaces. Marble to be repointed, grouted and waterproofed. All seals checked and repaired. Et cetera. By the way, bidding contractor, the historic people will be looking over your shoulder.

We have the most beautiful capitol in the world. Design, construction, materials -- seriously, it's breath-taking. But how much is this restoration project going to cost? What will be cut from the state budget to fund it? Alternately, what has the state been spending money on that should have been set aside for this project or, even more expensively, to pay for the bond?

Some would say that it would have been wrong to save for such a project; the expenditures made were correct and should, indeed, come ahead of a historic renovation, which might be viewed as a luxury. Good, bring on the debate about priorities. The point is that there are a finite number of hard earned dollars in the kitty. And every reach-in counts.

Governor, Veto This Budget!

Justin Katz

The best indication that Governor Carcieri's decision on whether to veto or sign the General Assembly's modified supplemental budget comes in today's Projo story on the Senate's vote yesterday:

"It was an issue that without making restorations in municipal aid, the House apparently was not going to be able to pass a budget," [Senate Finance Committee head Daniel] DaPonte said. "As you all know, a budget and many other bills are arts of compromise."

The governor should make the General Assembly — that is, the Democrats — affirm that they are the ones who lack the will to pass even a slightly less inadequate budget patch. Let them own it.

Because They're Better than You

Justin Katz

At some point it just becomes clear that our rulers have so little concern for the rest of us that even considerations of appearances go out the custom-trimmed window:

Frank J. Williams stepped down as chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court in December, but he continues to work as a judge and recently moved into a new office in the Licht Judicial Complex that cost nearly $43,000 to renovate.

Most of the money was spent on custom mahogany cabinets, shelving and doors — at a cost of $29,475. The invoice for the work shows that the contractors used "custom knives" to duplicate molding and that it took 173 hours to refashion the office space, on the seventh floor of the courthouse, at a cost of $46.80 per hour.

Perhaps Home Depot was out of the $1.43-per-foot trim that most folks use in their homes. But that doesn't explain the hiding of the semi-retired judge's crib:

Supreme Court Administrator J. Joseph Baxter Jr. refused to let a Journal reporter see the remodeled chambers because, he said, "it's a private office in a nonpublic area" of the courthouse.

The Supreme Court offices, conference rooms and courtroom take the entire seventh floor of the sprawling courthouse on South Main Street. "It's Mr. Baxter’s feeling that you need the permission of the justice [Williams] to see those particular chambers," said Craig Berke, spokesman for the court system.

Williams, who used to invite reporters into his former chambers for interviews and was the subject of a Workspaces profile by The Wall Street Journal in 2001, was not amenable to showing off his new office to a reporter this week.

Methinks the new revolution shouldn't stop at tea parties.

A Theory on How the Leadership Controls the RI Legislature

Carroll Andrew Morse

I have always been curious as to how the leadership of the Rhode Island General Assembly actually wields power over the lawmaking process. Yet you may remember, for example, that last year's e-verify bill basically disappeared, because the leadership in the RI Senate wanted it to.

Yet according to a direct reading of both House and Senate rules, no single individual in either chamber has the power to kill a piece of legislation; every bill is entitled to a committee hearing and vote should its primary sponsor request one. Here is the Senate rule on the subject

30(a) Upon a written request by the prime sponsor of any public bill received by the secretary of the senate before the closing of the next legislative day after the deadline for introduction as specified in section 4.6 that a committee hearing be held with respect to such bill, the committee chair shall schedule a committee hearing within eight (8) days of such request unless a later date is agreed to by the prime sponsor. "Received" as used herein shall mean receipt in hand by the secretary of the senate or his/her designee. The secretary shall note the date and time of receipt on the request and such notation shall be dispositive. The committee chair may consider hearings on related matters. The committee shall consider said bill not more than eight (8) days after the committee hearing, unless a later date is agreed to by the prime sponsor. If the committee does not consider the bill then the committee shall be discharged of its responsibility to consider such bill and such bill shall be placed on the senate calendar pursuant to section hereof. Consideration by a committee shall be interpreted to mean any one of the following actions: recommendation of passage, recommendation of passage as amended, transfer to another committee, indefinite postponement, hold for further study or defeat of the bill.
So where exactly does this "power" of the House Speaker and the Senate President to kill legislation derive from?

A clue to the answer may lie in an interesting comment left by State Representative Brian Newberry (R -- North Smithfield/Burrilville) in response to Monique's post on voter-ID legislation, describing the customary process used in at least one RI House committee…

Every bill heard before House Judiciary is "held for further study" as a matter of course at its first hearing. The vote is pro forma and taken at the beginning of each hearing. I personally think that it is kind of silly, but at the same time, there are times when holding a bill "for further study" is appropriate.
If the rules are interpreted as meaning that a bill is entitled to one and only one hearing, could it be that these "initial" votes are being used to satisfy the formal requirements of the House and Senate rules, while leaving the list of bills that actually get deliberated under firm control of the leadership?

Is, perhaps, a rules-amendment requiring hearings upon sponsor request for bills "held for further study" for 15 days or more in order, as a way of improving the democratization of the Rhode Island General Assembly?

Opening Day is Coming

Marc Comtois

No deep thoughts to plumb (life can get like that, no?)....but I can offer this from National Review Online:

For the Love of the Game: Thirty Major League Baseball fans lay out the reasons for their devotion:

Walking through a Fenway Park turnstile is the sweetest feeling on earth. The charm of baseball’s oldest ballpark is largely thanks to its connection to the past. There’s the left-field home of Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice; the red seat in a sea of green bleachers where Ted hit the park’s longest ball; the hand-operated scoreboard; the five World Series flags earned between 1903 and 1918, and the anguished wait to raise a sixth in 2004. There’s personal history there, too: memories of waiting out rain delays in makeshift, garbage-bag ponchos as a little girl, and of my husband proposing to me in the very same bleachers years later.

The Sox have always paid tribute to their past, but recent history holds valuable lessons for the future, too. The miracle of 2004 taught Sox fans never, ever to give up hope; 2007 proved the benefits of disciplined persistence. And the 86 years between celebrations taught us to savor every happy moment.

— Courtney Myers works in public policy in Arlington, Va.

There's No Socialism in America – Except Where There Is (And That's Why We Should Want More?)

Carroll Andrew Morse

Projo columnist Froma Harrop provides what I think is an excellent snapshot of contemporary liberal logic on the subject of "is the government turning socialist?"

You see, according to Ms. Harrop, there really isn't any move towards socialism in American government…

Princeton economist Alan Blinder reasons: “Socialism means public ownership and control of business, right? So which industries does the president propose to nationalize?”

None that anyone has noticed. Obama’s economic team won’t even nationalize the broken banks. But that doesn’t matter. The S-word can signify anything conservatives want it to.

And besides, socialism is already here in certain sectors of the economy…
By the way, socialized insurance has already established a beachhead on our shores. Ever hear of Medicare?
So we needn't fret about creeping socialism, because nobody wants it and because it's already here even though it doesn't really exist.

Got it?

Fitzpatrick Not for Censorship

Justin Katz

Ed Fitzpatrick has emailed to correct my impression that he would prefer the Supreme Court to make a narrow ruling that bans Hillary: the Movie: "I am totally against banning this film."

I had read the "narrow ruling" sentence as suggesting one that would ensnare this movie without enabling the broad control that the cited government lawyer claims for campaign finance reform legislation. Fitzpatrick meant it more generally, as "one that wouldn't have big implications for other cases, such as scuttling McCain-Feingold or setting a horrible precedent for 1st Amendment law."

Anchor Rising's Top 10 Right-of-Center Rhode Islanders: 2, 1

Justin Katz

It isn't until one attempts to score people's influence and power that it becomes clear what separates the tiers — and what an opportunity and responsibility having the spotlight can be. By virtue of their offices, our top 2 are well ahead of the rest of the pack, and unless conservatives (or otherwise right-of-center players) begin claiming new positions — or creating them — it's difficult to imagine much change.

Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin is unique on this list in that he's much stronger in social conservatism than in economic, largely because we adjusted for his position on immigration in the latter category. Still, one can hardly deny that he belongs on the list, and once that's admitted, the rest is simple admission of reality. The bishop is frequently mentioned in the news — most substantially in a week-long Projo spread a short while ago — and both his influence and direct decision authority span parishes, schools, religious organizations, charities, and even the diocese's own newspaper.

As much as some of our fellow frustrated RI conservatives may wish to deny the obvious, Governor Don Carcieri clearly sets the top-end conservative benchmark in the state. Rail against his style, strategy, and effectiveness, if you must, but the governor is undeniably a right-wing stalwart in the social and economic positions that he states, and his influence and direct power are unmatched among the state's conservatives. That he leads our navy blue state sometimes seems to be a quirk of modern history, and with the political field as it currently appears, we aren't likely to repeat the miracle when his term is up.

More Savings in Cranston?

Carroll Andrew Morse

There was one bit of news that emerged from last night's Cranston City Council meeting on FY2010 budget. Speaking during the public comment section, Cranston firefighters union President Paul Valletta stated that his union has a deal on the table with Mayor Allan Fung's administration that involves $350,000 in concessions for this fiscal year and a total of $3.8 million in concessions over 28 months.

Hopefully, $3.8 million will be a big enough number for the Council to consider "substantial".

Mr. Valletta's remarks on the potential savings, and his exchange with City Council President John Lanni, can be heard here.

April 2, 2009

Supplemental Tax Bill? Mayor Lombardi Will Name Names

Monique Chartier

In his editorial today, Valley Breeze publisher Tom Ward writes

You've got to love that Mayor Charlie Lombardi, unless you hate him, of course. This week he's telling hometown state legislators that if they approve the state supplemental budget, the one with huge cuts in state aid to North Providence and other communities, he'll be forced to send out an extra tax bill to residents.

On it, he'll name the names of legislators who made the extra bill possible.

Of course, they might complain that it's Lombardi, Town Council and School Committee members who are to blame for years of overspending, but Lombardi counters that pro-union state mandates, like the ones that force minimum manning on fire engines, balloon the budget. Lift those mandates, as Gov. Donald Carcieri has suggested, and Lombardi can balance the budget and avoid large tax hikes.

What Difference Could $460,000 Make?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Speaking to Cranston Herald reporter Laura Lee Costello, Cranston City Council Finance Chairman Emilio Navarro had this to say about the projected savings in the police union contract negotiated by Mayor Allan Fung…

Navarro said the mayor’s contentions regarding the police agreement were baseless. He argued that the savings of $460,000 were not substantial enough to affect the budget and said one union’s agreements shouldn’t affect another.

“One thing that was very clear was that the savings of about $400,000 doesn’t make a dent in the budget having almost an $8 million deficit,” he said Tuesday.

The police department accounts for approximately $20 million out of a $230 million dollar city budget. Back out about $30 million in debt payments, and you’re talking about 10% of the operating budget.

Earlier in the article, Ms. Costello sets Cranston’s deficit at $7.4 million. Put $2.1 million back into the budget from the restored revenue sharing approved by the RI House last night and -- if you could get all departments to accept the same level of savings the police department has (or maybe had) -- you’d be $4.6 million of the way to closing a $5.3 million dollar deficit.

I don’t think that that falls under the category of “insubstantial” savings. Or are there people out there who want the entire city deficit to be made up within the police department?

The Sides Stay the Same on Abuse

Justin Katz

The headline splash: "Catholic bishops warned in '50s on abusive priests." The story describes some correspondence from Rev. Gerald Fitzgerald, who founded the Servants of the Paraclete to assist clergy facing various personal difficulties with their vows, such as alcoholism, emotional issues, and (on the extreme end) abuse of children. In religious terms ("charity to the Mystical Body should take precedence over charity to the individual"), Fr. Fitzgerald suggested that abusers would not often change.

Why didn't the Church listen to this man, who was especially well positioned to speak from authority? Well:

By the 1960s, Fitzgerald was losing control over the direction of the religious order, and medical and psychological professionals began working at the center — a change he had resisted. Those experts said some abusers could return to ministry.

If the take-away from the story is that the Church should be wary of relying on secular professionals who aren't first and foremost concerned with the organization or its divine mission, then perhaps I'd agree. Unfortunately, too many people won't get much past the headline in their comprehension — even if they read up to the end.

Snippets from the House Debate & Vote on the FY09 Supplemental

Monique Chartier

... which started early afternoon and ended around 10:00 pm. I attended the last two hours. A substantive description, courtesy the ProJo, of the budget as it will go to the Senate is available here.

> One of my favorite moments during the debate last came when Gordon Fox snapped at Bob Watson, "Sit down and vote". Ah, yes, in case we were unclear on the attitude and perspective ...

> The first vote on the hospital section of the budget resulted, remarkably, in a tie. Then, at least from the peanut gallery, it looked like a rule was broken when Steve Costantino requested to change his vote - from a mistaken nay - and obtained a re-vote on the item by the entire House. This, in turn, resulted in a change of outcome: from a tie to passage of the article. Chuckles and hisses of "Switched!" as a couple of representatives had obviously changed their minds on the matter over the course of five minutes.

> Ehrhardt, Loughlin, Newberry, Trillo and, most frequently, Watson did an excellent job articulating the many weaknesses of this budget. Ehrhardt asked about the mysterious disappearance of all of the budget articles that would have given badly needed management tools to cities and towns. Newberry observed a little crudely that the budget sticks it to cities and towns who will stick it to property tax payers and eventually to public employees. We'll skip lightly over Trillo's provocative remark that "this budget looks like it was drawn up by George Nee" and focus, instead, on his point that the Governor's budget "was a total plan. When you cut the plan up, it doesn't work". Watson expressed smiling scepticism of Charlene Lima's protestation that "no one wants to raise taxes", noting that there would be no need to do so if the House hadn't chosen to set aside some good budgeting ideas.

> Lastly, the following statements made immediately prior to the final vote on the bill are noted very much for the record.

- House Finance Chair Costantino promised that the management rights/budget tools for cities and towns which were removed from the 2009 Supplemental Budget "are still on the table" for the FY2010 budget. He "warned" human service providers and cities and towns that a "deep, deep amount of sacrifice will take place" in the next budget.

- Speaker Tempore Lima observed that this (the Supplemental Budget) "is not the end of change but the beginning". She promised that "this session, we will tackle pension reform and the tax structure for businesses" in the state.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of the state depends upon the General Assembly carrying out these promises.

Anchor Rising's Top 10 Right-of-Center Rhode Islanders: 4, 3

Justin Katz

Our ranking continues with a battle of the media, in a sense, the old media and the... well... young adult media. Among the interesting factors that are likely to affect this list by its next iteration will be trends in how people consume their news and commentary. For the time being, though, that folded paper thing is still a powerhouse.

Say what you will about the Providence Journal, it remains the standard for the news that's fit to print in the state. The local papers may be more of a must-read affair for those within their markets, but when it comes to Rhode Island and its capital, the Projo sets the record. And Edward Achorn has a strong voice in setting the tone of its opinion pages. We're not entirely sure about the full duties and responsibilities of the Deputy Editorial-Pages Editor, but Mr. Achorn contributes under his own name, as a member of the editorial board, and as a player in determining what other writers appear on the two-page spread. And of course, the "all the right enemies" thing applies once again. I mean, the unions actually dispatch people to disrupt his talks.

Whether he's describing the shared Battle of the Unplowed Roads, making politicians on both sides of the aisle squirm, or standing up for those of us who refuse to join the iPhone cult, Dan Yorke sets the topic for Rhode Island's drive home. With his vast audience, political connections, and considered opinions directly conveyed, Dan is a force in the Ocean State, and the good news is that — be strategic differences what they may — he's on our side (for the most part).

New General Revnue Sharing Figures for Local Communities

Carroll Andrew Morse

Based on...

  1. The language of last night's supplemental appropriations bill, which reads...
    For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009, the total amount of aid shall be twenty-five million dollars ($25,000,000) with such distribution allocated proportionately on the same basis as the original enactment of general revenue sharing for FY 2009.
  2. Katherine Gregg and Cynthia Needham's story in today's Projo...
    The state aid debate spanned hours, despite an early — and almost universally supported — decision by the beleaguered Democratic leadership to reinstate $25 million of the $55 million in local revenue-sharing dollars targeted for elimination.
  3. And the figures from the state's FY09 enacted budget document for general revenue sharing, which sum to about $55 million (see page 89),
...the table below gives the figures on how the revenues for each city and town in Rhode Island will be affected by the change in "general revenue sharing". The first column is the original FY09 appropriation, the second column is the "revised" appropriation, and the the third column is the difference and maybe deficit, depending on how optimistic or pessimistic your town was in planning ahead...

Barrington $206,206 $93,540 $(112,666)
Bristol $840,384 $381,217 $(459,167)
Burrillville $597,138 $270,875 $(326,263)
Central Falls $1,432,052 $649,611 $(782,441)
Charlestown $345,546 $156,748 $(188,798)
Coventry $859,727 $389,992 $(469,735)
Cranston $4,599,682 $2,086,520 $(2,513,162)
Cumberland $1,321,917 $599,652 $(722,265)
East Greenwich $149,812 $67,958 $(81,854)
East Providence $2,272,041 $1,030,649 $(1,241,392)
Exeter $76,718 $34,801 $(41,917)
Foster $262,927 $119,270 $(143,657)
Glocester $480,786 $218,095 $(262,691)
Hopkinton $191,394 $86,821 $(104,573)
Jamestown $124,220 $56,349 $(67,871)
Johnston $2,164,234 $981,746 $(1,182,488)
Lincoln $812,824 $368,715 $(444,109)
Little Compton $89,670 $40,676 $(48,994)
Middletown $829,818 $376,424 $(453,394)
Narragansett $747,514 $339,089 $(408,425)
Newport $1,564,737 $709,800 $(854,937)
New Shoreham $77,527 $35,168 $(42,359)
North Kingstown $754,148 $342,099 $(412,049)
North Providence $2,032,742 $922,098 $(1,110,644)
North Smithfield $556,079 $252,250 $(303,829)
Pawtucket $4,630,267 $2,100,394 $(2,529,873)
Portsmouth $554,736 $251,641 $(303,095)
Providence $13,135,563 $5,958,590 $(7,176,973)
Richmond $125,675 $57,009 $(68,666)
Scituate $383,576 $173,999 $(209,577)
Smithfield $1,582,243 $717,741 $(864,502)
South Kingstown $860,708 $390,437 $(470,271)
Tiverton $547,575 $248,392 $(299,183)
Warren $425,488 $193,011 $(232,477)
Warwick $4,128,906 $1,872,966 $(2,255,940)
Westerly $642,010 $291,230 $(350,780)
West Greenwich $189,201 $85,826 $(103,375)
West Warwick $1,245,850 $565,146 $(680,704)
Woonsocket $3,270,235 $1,483,453 $(1,786,782)

A Brief Chat with Number 10

Justin Katz

Andrew stopped by the studio to take our Wednesday spot on the Matt Allen show and to discuss our top 10 list as well as the political philosophy and action that the state of Rhode Island requires. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

April 1, 2009

Ed Fitzpatrick's Pick-and-Choose Censorship

Justin Katz

Most of us on the right have opposed campaign finance reform, as enacted, and it wouldn't be outlandish to suggest that the issue cost McCain votes and good will for his bid for president. Folks on the left, particularly in the mainstream media, tend to have a sunnier view. Of course, media types tend to like the idea of freedom of speech, so there's bound to be a conflict somewhere along the way.

A skeptical reader couldn't help but catch an interesting admission of inner conflict in Ed Fitzpatrick's most recent column about court proceedings to determine whether the right-wing flick Hillary: The Movie is a campaign ad or a work of free expression:

I'm hoping the high court issues a narrow ruling, but that might prove difficult because the government's lawyer pushed his arguments pretty far.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked whether it would matter if a 500-page book contained one sentence saying, "Vote for X," and he asked about "a sign held up in Lafayette Park saying vote for so-and-so." The lawyer said Congress would have the power to ban the book or the sign before elections if corporate money paid for them. ...

Ultimately, I see greater danger in allowing the government to suppress such films, books or signs — no matter how political they are.

Based on his implying that he'd like the movie banned, but without applying a broader, consistent principle, Mr. Fitzpatrick would like to empower the Supreme Court to determine what is and is not political speech, based mainly on content. Too many people see the judiciary as a mechanism for applying rules that nobody would be so gauche as to promote as legislation. (Although, perhaps I write too soon on that last count...)


Stating that he is in no way for government censorship, Ed corrects my impression.

When Somebody Else Picks Up the Tab

Justin Katz

Used to be I'd bring a sandwich, an apple, a beverage, and a packaged lunch dessert. I've been down to a sandwich and apple for quite a while now, although sometimes I'll substitute leftovers for the sandwich. Such is the daily routine for millions of Americans, especially during harder times: pack a lunch, usually a sandwich. That's why there are often lines — why they have numbered tickets to maintain order — at the deli counter on weekends.

Members of the General Assembly apparently prefer a different routine:

One night last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee ordered up a $459 grilled steak and chicken stir fry, an $85 fruit wedge and $75 dessert tray from The Butcher Shop on Providence's East Side. Everything included, the total for that dinner came to $879.86.

On a more recent day, there were platters of veal and peppers and meatball and roasted turkey sandwiches from Pauly Penta's Gourmet Italian Deli, in North Providence, set aside for the members of the House Finance Committee. The lunch tab that day: $114.58. ...

The Assembly's $163,000 annual food and drink budget is one of the untrumpeted perks available to the $14,089-a-year, part-time legislators in Rhode Island, along with free health, dental and vision care for lawmakers and their families, and the 50.5-cent-per-mile reimbursement for each legislative session day they attend.

In calendar 2008, the legislators spent $167,648 on bottled water, sodas and food, which equated to $2,619 for each of the 64 days they were in session last year. The total included $73,065 for beverages and $94,582 for food.

The argument for the practice — beyond "other states do it" — is that it enables continuous sessions. I'd suggest that there are plenty of ways to provide meals that don't hit the taxpayer wallet so hard. Perhaps a workshop on food budgeting is in order.

Anchor Rising's Top 10 Right-of-Center Rhode Islanders: 7, 6, 5

Justin Katz

This batch of right-of-center Rhode Islanders stands as evidence that disaggregating subjectivity can have unpredictable results. If we had been satisfied to wing our list without settling on criteria, one the following three members of the top 10 would have been lower, one would have been higher, and one probably wouldn't have made the list at all.

To those who object to any of the following placements, we can only shrug and make that favorite claim of Rhode Island officials: Our hands were tied by the process.

As a low-key worker behind the scenes (usually), Bill seems to be almost too much one of us to be some big deal conservative figure. But if you factor in his ability to generate news interest (by argument and by controversy), his local and national networking, his municipal office, and the investigative mission of his Ocean State Policy Research Institute, the points add up.

Had we compiled this list just a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Laffey would have certainly broken the top 5, and we are hopeful that circumstances and decisions will lead to turnaround rather than drift. For now, despite an announcement that he will not seek the governorship as expected, and despite rumors that he's headed out of state, it remains undeniable that Laffey has an open line into the news cycle and still counts many Rhode Islanders among his dedicated supporters.

To include Democrats or not to include Democrats? Well, if we're being honest (and if we acknowledge the state in which we operate), we have to admit that the political center line does cross through Democrat territory. The reality is that Mr. Caprio has been a news-generating machine, lately; he holds a reasonably powerful, high-profile office in the state; and he's been opening up channels across media as well as across the political spectrum. As for his conservatism, it's true that he looks likely to take the "personally opposed, politically ambivalent" cop-out on social issues, but for a Democrat, that's a marker of moderation. Economically, we're comfortable giving the treasurer the benefit of the doubt that he's well to the right of his fellow Ds.


To make the title of the list more accurate, we've changed it from Top 10 Conservative Rhode Islanders to Top 10 Right-of-Center Rhode Islanders. Sometimes a shift in emphasis emerges between concept and publication without the resulting changes' being as thorough as they should be; such was the case here.