August 31, 2009

A Warm Anchor Rising Critique Welcome to Brian Hull

Justin Katz

We'd like to welcome, of course, Brian Hull to the RI blogscene in his new role as proprietor of RIFuture. I, for one, am hopeful for a return to the collegiality of the Matt Jerzyk years and am determined not to be the cause should that prove unworkable.

That said, what better method of offering a cyber handshake and slap on the back could there be than highlighting our fundamental differences? And they must be fundamental, because this argument seems flatly erroneous to me:

There is a real big problem with the [state government] shutdown days, over and above the forced pay cut of 4.6% that the employees will have to absorb. We already have a weak economy, and to essentially take another $17.3 million out of it won't make things any better. Consumer spending makes up the bulk of GDP, nationally and in the state. Add the multiplier effect and every dollar spent generates a dollar plus in economic activity. By stripping out $17.3 million from the local economy of Rhode Island, we're going to depress the economy by much more than $17.3 million. This is not a good thing.


We're in a recession, and while the recession might be getting better, there is no indication that employment will bounce back anytime soon. This will mean a suppressed economic situation in RI potentially for years to come. The unfortunate reality is that we need to raise revenues. And that means higher taxes.

We could certainly dip into the argument over whether state workers or taxpayers would use money in a more economically productive fashion. Even if we ignore the fact that it costs the government money to collect taxes, but nothing not to collect them, and even if we accept that new taxes would skew toward the higher end of the economic spectrum (which I assume would be Brian's preference), I'd argue that the business owners and wealthy residents thus implicated would be apt to spend additional money in a way that maximizes the multiplier effect.

The more direct point, though, is that Brian's appeal to the need to leave money in the economy ought to suggest a different form of government cut than to the labor force. Instead, he merely argues for redistribution.

He doesn't even advocate for easing restrictions, regulations, and mandates on businesses and productive individuals as a way of increasing economic activity and, thus, government revenue. One gets the impression, from his post, that "taxpayer dollars" exist in some sort of pool outside of the economy that folks won't "be happy about paying" to the government, but that they otherwise won't use.

Practicing the Healthcare Reform Preach: House Resolution 615 and a Suggested Amendment

Monique Chartier

Last night, a friend forwarded me House Resolution 615.

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that Members who vote in favor of the establishment of a public, Federal Government run health insurance option are urged to forgo their right to participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) and agree to enroll under that public option.

Indeed, if the public option is as admirable as we are told, members of Congress should have no qualms about signing on to this resolution, which presently has fifty seventy five co-sponsors.

The bill does, however, need amplification. We'll call it the Watson Amendment.

... with the exception of Congresswoman Diane Watson, who is urged to forgo her right to participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), who is further urged to enroll in the Cuban health care system and to avail herself exclusively of the care received by most Cubans, but specifically not the care received by the tiny percentage of the famous and the political elite at Cuba's show clinics, clinics that have succeeded in persuading a small handful of delusionists like herself and Michael Moore that public-only health care under a Socialist/Marxist government is a perfectly adequate and acceptable option for all countries.

It is possible that final phrasing of the amendment will need to be worked out in committee ...

Self Interested Members of Unions and Taxpayer Groups

Justin Katz

I'll be the first to acknowledge the prominence of self interest in the development and ascendance of local taxpayer groups. Members take up political arms, as it were, for a variety of reasons, and often those reasons are decidedly materialistic in nature. Therewith comes the sliver of truth to Phil's cartoonish characterization of the simmering conflict in multiple Rhode Island communities:

Individual union members are taxpayers and voters. They like all the rest of us act out of self interest. It is in their self interest to join the workplace union and be represented by professionals. Too bad this choice is not nearly as available in the private sector. They like the rest of us have the right to try to effect the policies of their government. They also have the right to effect the policies of their unions through democratic means as David writes, something that is not available to private sector workers unless they belong to a union or an association. Most of these public sector workers will work in their communities for 30 or more years. They will see politicians come and go. Teachers particularly will see administrators come and go. They will see many school committee people come and go. Also they will see the taxpayer groups that form and make their noise come and go. But through that time they will stay and continue to do the essential work in those communities. That and their selflessness in joining together as a group will sustain them and their respective communities. Not so with the taxpayer groups. As you mention, Justin, when times are bad, people pay more attention to their local government. That's not a bad thing at all, but do not try to equate that with the longtime commitment to a community of the teacher or other public sector worker. Formed out of anger and selfishness these taxpayer groups fall apart after a short time. It's hard to keep people worked up and angry enough to overcome their basic selfishness. They stay involved for a while and then move back to more comfortable pursuits or to things that meet their self interest more directly. Most people would rather be with their families than sitting in overheated rooms being bored to tears or trying to manufacture outrage that amounts to pettiness. How could anyone keep doing that for thirty years?

In this picture, the unions are sustained by their selfless devotion to each other and to the community, while taxpayer groups appear in a flash of anger and then dissipate, leaving no trace. The intricacies of human relationships between people of differing personalities, goals, and interests seems not to enter Phil's design.

Whatever the motivation for their formation, taxpayer groups pull together residents who share certain principles and worldviews, and not surprisingly, find themselves forming lasting friendships. Meanwhile, they learn the ropes of local politics and policies, and some percentage continue their civic involvement ever after. Such groups also build structures, from PACs to transparency mechanisms that a handful of them, at least, will think it worth the minimal effort to maintain. In short, pretty much for the lifetimes of those involved, the public eye will remain more open than it was.

But sure, I'll acknowledge that an improved economy and achievement of some threshold of repair to the damaged governing system will drain fuel from the political machine that makes such groups a force to be reckoned with. There is a need to fulfill, in a local society, and these groups arise to address it, and the time and effort involved act as a mechanism for defusing them when they are no longer needed.

That, in essence, is the problem with public sector unions. A union, by its nature, pushes for the benefits of its members, and when workers are oppressed and individually powerless, the society pulls them together in an organized way to address the problem. There is no mechanism, however, to cause them to dissipate or hibernate when their purpose has been served. If a union were to shift gears to neutral because the circumstances of its workers had achieved an equilibrium of comfort and occupational demand, the workers would soon do away with the costly advocacy structure. So, the unions keep the push going, so that they can convince their members of their value.

The community suffers, because the unions demand increasing percentages of local resources. They become, indeed, the focus of local government, and avarice sets in. Even in a short time of observation, I've seen too many union decisions favoring raises at the cost of young teachers' jobs to buy the selflessness argument. Moreover, anybody who's compared public-sector and private-sector jobs in Rhode Island can't but laugh at the notion that those in the public sector stick around for thirty years out of a sense of altruism and community.

Bradley's Health Care "Grand Bargain" Unlikely

Marc Comtois

August has been a tough month for Team Obamacare Force and prospects look pretty grim for their version of "comprehensive" amorphous health care reform. But as current Democrat politicians are being put on notice that they are in trouble come 2010, the old Warhorses are coming out to buck up the whippersnappers and remind them that they had better keep on keepin' on and pass health care reform. One of them is former Sen. Bill Bradley. In a Saturday New York Times (h/t) piece, Bradley recalled that President Reagan's tax reform plan of 1986 required real bi-partisanship, including the willingness of both sides to give up on some closely-held policy positions.

None of this would have happened had the Reagan administration not taken on some of the Republican Party’s sacred cows — the oil and gas industry, real-estate interests and large industrial enterprises, all of which benefited disproportionately from loopholes. Similarly, the bill would never have passed had some Democrats not taken on an ingrained party orthodoxy — the belief that equity demanded higher tax rates.
According to Bradley, a compromise bill could achieve two long term goals held by each party:
Since the days of Harry Truman, Democrats have wanted universal health coverage, believing that if other industrialized countries can achieve it, surely the United States can. For Democrats, universal coverage speaks to America’s sense of decency and compassion. Democrats also believe that it will lead to a healthier and more productive country.

Since the days of Ronald Reagan, Republicans have wanted legal reform, believing that our economic competitiveness is being shackled by the billions we spend annually on tort costs; an estimated 10 cents of every health care dollar paid by individuals and companies goes for litigation and defensive medicine. For Republicans, tort reform and its health care analogue, malpractice reform, speak to the goal of stronger economic growth and lower costs.

The bipartisan trade-off in a viable health care bill is obvious: Combine universal coverage with malpractice tort reform in health care.

I agree with Steven Hayward: "I give it less than one chance in ten of happening." Why? As the Washington Examiner editorializes:
Howard Dean proved last week at Rep. Jim Moran’s health care town hall meeting that even a veteran Washington politician can level with people once in a while. The former Vermont governor and Democratic presidential aspirant was a practicing physician before he got into politics, so perhaps we should not be surprised by his explanation for why medical malpractice caps [i.e. tort reform] is not in Obamacare: “The reason tort reform is not in the bill is because the people who wrote it did not want to take on the trial lawyers in addition to everybody else they were taking on. And that’s the plain and simple truth.” Put otherwise, trial lawyers have effectively bought themselves veto power.

In the ranking by of campaign contributions by the top 100 special interests during the past 20 years, the American Association for Justice (AAJ) – formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America – ranks sixth overall. The AAJ is the trial lawyers’ Washington lobbying group, and 90 percent of its $30.7 million in contributions since 1989 went to Democrats. At the other end of this pay-to-play process in the nation’s capitol, AAJ has spent nearly $14 million lobbying Congress just since Democrats won control of both chambers, including $2.3 million thus far this year.

Maybe Hayward's estimate of the chances of a Bradley-like compromise should be revised further downward.

Roland Benjamin: A Saving Health Reform

Engaged Citizen

It should be no surprise that great unrest arises when our representatives casually dismiss health care reform ideas that are contrary to their agenda. Senator Reed’s comment demonstrates this:

Health savings accounts — another proposal dear to conservatives — are not effective for people who have lost their jobs, Reed wrote. "In addition, with the demands facing many families today, including saving for college, there is a pressure to set aside funds for health care rather than other needs," he added.

Health savings account (HAS)-eligible health plans have achieved great progress toward the major stated goals of reform, yet the ideological left dismisses them out of hand in ways similar to the above. The HSA route provides for the highest level of individual accountability and liberty. The antithesis of the HSA, namely the public option/co-op/insurer of last resort, does the exact opposite. By leaving benefit design to elected officials and bureaucrats, the public option strips away preferences one might have as an individual buyer of insurance.

Few issues frame the ideological divide better than healthcare reform. The conservative looks to increase individual liberty, while the liberal does not believe individuals can handle that responsibility. At root, this is driving the anxiety we see in town halls across America. Most may not completely understand the details of a 1,017 page bill, but we know our liberties may be compromised in the name of reform from the ideological left.

I began this as a reply to a legitimate question posed by a commenter on Anchor Rising regarding HSAs:

So do you have an HSA? How about you folks with kids?

I have an HSA and three kids. We made the decision to switch while trying for our third child back in 2006, knowing full well that we would hit the $5,600 deductible when my wife eventually got pregnant.

I pay for the healthcare we use from the premium savings of about $4,000 per year for the plan plus approximately $2,000 in tax savings I get by pushing it through the HSA. In the three-plus years that we've had the plan, we've hit the max out of pocket in two of the years. I now have roughly $4,000 in the HSA and have saved another $800 or so in taxes that, had I chosen a more conventional plan, would have gone to United Health Care in the form of higher premiums.

And the HSA has literally transformed the relationship we have with our kids' pediatrician. We are in at least once a month for one thing or another, and happily find value paying out of pocket for much of it in ways that most never do when paying a $15 OV copay. Because routine physicals are covered fully, we haven’t missed one yet.

I have 38 of 50 employees who have selected the $2,850/$5,600 plan over the $300/$600 deductible plan in the same boat as me. Collectively, these employees have more than $80,000 in their HSAs amassed in the last two-plus years. (None opted for the plan the first year, although many kicked themselves after looking at their 2006 spending) that otherwise would have gone directly to United Health Care. These employees are not simply the healthy ones. Most have kids, some are single professionals, others require treatments that cause them to hit the $5,600 deductible in February. Not one person has dropped the HSA once they got on the plan, and all have saved money. I wrote to the Providence Business News about the early success of this option.

Inflation of the healthcare spending in our group has stayed flat to moderate (0% to 3%) according to our account manager, although HIPAA prevents United from seeing actual spending data, as our group is relatively small. And because there is no coshare for the HSA-eligible plan, all employees who want insurance can have it.

So, for at least 50 people, I have an insurance option that:

  • Trims the inflation rate of health care spending,

  • Provides universal coverage to all who want it

  • Provides a better experience when accessing the healthcare system (i.e., better quality)

  • Encourages greater access to primary care and preventative behavior.

That sounds like the Holy Grail of healthcare reform to me. But to our Senator and most on the left, such an approach would leave too many Americans without a dependence on the government.

The only thing missing is breaking the linkage that requires my employees to buy this plan through me. The tax incentive individuals receive when buying insurance through their employers deters all from going out on the market to select their own plans. Increase the HSA contribution limit to $15,000, and you erode that linkage.

Once that link is severed, the states will need to free up the insurance market to sell to individuals. In Rhode Island, this is the most heavily regulated of all segments. ObamaCare, as defined by HR 3200, would eliminate this private segment altogether. I guess they do not trust people to select their own health plans, thinking it is bad enough when their employers do it. The left is confident that it can design a better choice for you and then force you to make it. Hayek actually has a term for this.

Mine is not the only company to experience the above. Whole Foods accomplished identical results and detailed it recently in the Wall Street Journal. The response from the left: boycott the heretic offering proven solutions that differ from their agenda.

When the response to opposing views is that aggressive, you have to wonder: Is this really about reform?

Last Weekend in August

Justin Katz

It was a final lazy summer weekend, although I spent most of it doing behind-the-scenes work that will emerge in the weeks to come, but we did manage to take up some topics:

  • Education Commissioner Deborah Gist challenged the Woonsocket School Committee and gave Julia Steiny some vague objectives.
  • In response to steps taken in Venezuela, Monique pondered threats to free speech and press.
  • Commenter David and I may have found the first hints of common ground among tactics of Tiverton contract negotiations.
  • Michael Fine advocated for "a public option"... despite it all.
  • And Rep. Peter Palumbo (D, Cranston) managed an inside track on some government contracts that don't exist, yet.

August 30, 2009

An Application of the Inside Dealing Sniff Test

Justin Katz

And so the method goes: After a nationwide search for a green energy company to utilize as-yet unsecured federal grants... Johnston and North Providence signed agreements with RI Representative Peter Palumbo (D., Cranston):

[Johnston Mayor Joseph] Polisena and [North Providence Council President Joseph] Burchfield signed the agreements with Palumbo's company, which was incorporated in March, without knowing how much the projects would cost and without a comprehensive analysis of other ways their towns might use federal stimulus money to save energy. ...

In North Providence, Burchfield signed the agreement with Palumbo’s company on June 2. He did not inform the Town Council beforehand and more than a month later, Mayor Charles A. Lombardi was not aware of the agreement.

So what do you think? Does it pass?

A Public Option, Despite It All

Justin Katz

Sometimes a conclusion seems actively to grapple with the reasoning that precedes it. Such is the case with Michael Fine's Friday op-ed in the Providence Journal. Having complained of the rampant malpractice suits that current law allows, having lamented the "3 zillion government oversight agencies, having observed that "money distorts the public process of reform," and having acknowledged the power of lobbying public officials, Dr. Fine still concludes:

A few years ago, many doctors who thought they were self-employed realized they were working for health-insurance companies. If we are not careful, before long we'll all be working for health-insurance companies, and the U.S., as a nation, will be in a worsening economic mess.

That's why we need the "public plan." It ain't perfect, but it provides a way to control the power of the health-insurance companies and the other health-care profiteers while we provide health insurance for all Americans. We'd really be better off if we just focused on what works, and built a health-care system for these United States, but as Winston Churchill so wisely observed, the U.S. usually gets the right answer, after it has tried all the other ones.

Why doctors would rather work for the government than for insurance companies, Fine doesn't explain. Neither does he grapple with the necessity of defining "what works" with reference to the corollary "for whom." But he does, through it all, highlight the common purposes that exist between those who desire government-centered reform and those who prefer government-averse reform. Far from empowering insurance companies, the conservative prescription is to ease the opportunity for others to compete and to transition health insurance back toward true insurance, rather than the whole health management programs that the term currently describes.

Our nation does need doctors to be self-employed business owners, offering personal care to clients whom they can rightfully call theirs. That requires a shortening of the distance that patients' dollars must travel, and changing the path from employer-insurer-biller-doctor to employer-tax collector-bureaucracy-doctor moves in the wrong direction.

Still in the Vague Phase

Justin Katz

We have to give the woman some time to build up momentum (or not), but per Julia Steiny's column today, Education Commissioner Deborah Gist is still in the phase of offering vague goals:

1. "Ensure educator excellence": Recruit, support and evaluate highly effective teachers and leaders.

2. "Accelerate school performance": Engage broad community support, especially from parents, in promoting excellence and equity. Intervene assertively in persistently struggling schools.

3. "Establish internationally competitive standards and high-quality assessments": Rhode Island's ongoing efforts to anchor our standards in internationally-recognized best practice must remain a priority.

4. "Develop data systems that drive student performance": Upgrade our current systems and get more user-friendly data into the hands of all stakeholders.

5. "Develop finance systems that drive student performance": Establish fair and equitable funding, and become vigilant stewards of the taxpayers’ investment.

Steiny characterizes Gist as "a jolt of pure energy," which could mean that she intends to take the state's apathy by the throat. Of course, I've also seen such jolts emanating from "sales people" promoting direct marketing pyramid schemes. Some folks take their first rule as "you've got to be excited to get the mark excited," and I've always been wary of those who've tried to stir hot emotion rather than well-reasoned and optimistic determination. As for those who are genuine in their uncontainable energy for change, inasmuch as the world has its store of recalcitrance to storms of personality, they cannot always succeed, and their response to delay can be difficult to predict.

So, we're left waiting to see whether Ms. Gist wins quickly; buckles down for the grit of long-view transformation despite human lethargy; faces obstacles and determines the effort not worth the sacrifice of some other opportunity that has suddenly appeared; or some other possibility. In sum: There are encouraging sounds coming from the commissioner's office, but it's too early to tell whether it's just the burble of some inspirational movie playing in the background.

The Unions and Their Jobs

Justin Katz

David makes a perspicacious comment to my post on the item in the teachers' contract that the school committee approved in January that effectively extended the contract for an additional year because the deadline for notification of intention to negotiate had already passed:

Actually, justin, you may be on to something. Union officials act as legal representatives for their membership and are charged with only that mission. The example that you wrote about- well that's all on the school committee for not knowing their own contract with the union. You insist on calling it a union contract when it is a contract between two parties. Both are held to its terms. Where you have something is in the reality that individual union members are often times members of the community where they work, and, are often times very interested and concerned about issues facing their community. In the case of teachers, police, firefighters, and social workers it is often the case that they are more concerned- because they have a closer view and knowledge of local issues and problems than say a Boston area worker who leaves their home in Tiverton at 6:30 in the morning and returns at 6:30 at night. Teachers often times know the community through the children better than anyone else. If you can convince those community members that their union representatives are the problem and change is needed in their own workplace than you will have a chance. Union members acting in the democratic framework of their union could help affect the changes you seek.

Realizing that it would be too much to hope that one party in these "fair-minded" negotiations would have clarified with the other that it was effectively approving the contract for an additional year, I do and did hold the school committee members responsible (and will, via future elections). Truth be told, I also allocate some blame to myself for having not been sufficiently familiar with previous contract language to have raised this question during public commentary. I suspect that might have been the one thing that could have scuttled what was clearly a fait accompli at the fateful January meeting.

With that clarification, I'd note that David is dead on to raise the importance of individual union members in changing the dynamic. Just as I'd be tempted to make it a civic requirement that every resident attend at least one school committee meeting during contract negotiation season, so as to observe, first hand, the undertone of violence that the union audience stirs up to waft onto the dais, I'd encourage teachers to spend some time pondering the structures and regimes of their non-educational organization.

As I've been given to understand, for example, a typical negotiation session involves the superintendent and couple of committee representatives at a table with two or three leaders of the local union, while a larger union negotiating committee waits in a nearby room, sometimes with a rep from the statewide organization manipulating the temper among them. (Pat Crowley, I understand, can be heard through the walls.) The small group will bring items back to the larger group and return with ostensible instructions, and ultimately the negotiating committee brings the result back to the entire membership for approval. Meanwhile, as we've seen in Tiverton, the union will go public with unverifiable claims and complaints that the entire school committee isn't available in the theatrically controlled space to negotiate the contract. (A con is much easier when there's no opportunity for head-clearing air.) Moreover, at no time is the administration or committee permitted to appeal directly to the professionals whose contracts they're negotiating.

While times were flush and the citizenry was inactive, this might have seemed like a fun pastime — and remunerative, too! Union members across the Rhode Island public sector should consider, however, the effect of shifting public opinion as taxpayer groups generate an institutional investment in continued awareness. That is to say that we aren't going away, and with the processes coming out, the folks who've ultimately suffered from the game are going to be less inclined to tolerate it.

Because the pendulum always swings too far, a clever gotcha in one year's contract could ensure that somebody with a set jaw and brow as furrowed as my own will end up at that negotiating table, demanding that public-access video cameras be set up to capture the edifying performance.

August 29, 2009

Bringing Transparent Excuses and Modern Technology to Good Old Fashioned Censorship

Monique Chartier

In 2007, President Hugo Chavez shut down a television station that was critical of him. Less than a month ago, he ordered the shut down of thirty four radio stations for the "crime" of belonging to the "bourgeoisie".

(Golf enthusiasts, check out what else is "bourgeoisie" and had to be shut down in Venezuela a couple of weeks ago.)

Listening with half an ear a couple of days ago to Glenn Beck as he was plugging [correction] DirecTV - I think; in any case, Dish Network - a company that allows you to remotely order the recording of your favorite programs on your television back home - it occurred to me, obviously in a first amendment vacuum, how convenient it would be for a dictator president to hook up all of the media outlets in his country to such a device. An offending outlet could then be easily and swifty shut down with a couple of key strokes.

That got me musing on a slightly more serious matter: what exactly is the difference between shutting down media outlets because they're "bourgeoisie" and elbowing them out on the basis of insufficient diversity or localism?

“The FCC must ensure that the communications field is competitive, generates widespread opportunities, and is open to new ideas from all sources,” said Chairman Genachowski. “This exceptionally talented team will collaborate on the policies and legal framework necessary to expand opportunities for women, minorities, and small businesses to participate in the communications marketplace.”
[NewsBusters' Seton Motley has more about the FCC's new "Chief Diversity Officer" - is such a position even legal? - here.]

Though one sounds slightly more noble than the other, aren't these reasons - bourgeoisie bad, diversity good - simply a cover to accomplish the same thing: censorship and a hijacking of airwaves?

Conflict Is a Big Black Marker

Justin Katz

Developments in Woonsocket are fascinating:

Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist has warned School Committee members that they could be sued and Supt. Robert J. Gerardi could have his superintendent's certification questioned if the committee follows through on its threat to defy state rulings on hiring new staff for its literacy program. ...

She warned the committee that willfully failing to comply with state and federal education laws could provide "good cause" to examine Gerardi's state certification as a superintendent. It could also leave the School Committee members personally liable under federal and state laws that require government officials to fairly discharge their duties and enforce the laws that apply to their positions.

School Committee Chairman Marc A. Dubois said the response to the committee's Wednesday night vote was not a surprise, but the tone was.

"I expected a reaction," he said, "but not as harsh or personal."

It would be easy to scoff that Dubois had a small-town understanding of the role and responsibility of municipal school committees and didn't comprehend the powers with which he was contending, and there may prove to be a certain amount of accuracy to that assessment if he is unwilling to face consequences of which is legal council should have been able to warn. More central, though, is his apparent expectation that the conflict would more immediately be addressed at a higher level of authority. If Commissioner Gist had moved the conflict up the chain in the form of an inquiry — perhaps to the judiciary — it would have entered the purview of somebody able to dictate a broader range of changes. Hearing Dubois's complaints, a judge might have gone so far as to prescribe a course of action for the school committee or the town council, thus absolving the locals of the blame.

But Gist chose to halt the process with a test of her own remedies' strength. Inasmuch as she lacks a police force, threats will have to be carried out from above, anyway, but her order for the town to address the issue will be first in line. In other words, before a judge decides whether the Woonsocket School Committee is correct in its claim that the members are merely choosing between conflicting laws and resolves the matter for them, he or she must consider the weight of the education commissioner's assessment that they are shirking their responsibility as government officials.

In essence, the question will be whether the committee's responsibility to taxpayers, and the authority deriving therefrom, or its obligation to enact state education policy is primary. Opinions about which outcome would be preferable likely break along the lines of reform strategies:

  • If the commissioner's authority is such that she can manage municipal finances under threat of superintendent decertification and challenges to elected officials' execution of their legal duties, then we've got a system of de facto regionalization, with Gist as the statewide executive.
  • If the commissioner is unable to assert her authority in this way, towns across the state will be more inclined to test their capacity for unilateral decisions, expanding the range of options open to local officials when setting policies for cities and towns.

Those who see locals as too weak and incompetent to stand against powerful interests (mainly the unions) should welcome the stronger hand of a state-level administrator. Those who see municipal offices as the most accountable to voters and available for change should prefer an education commissioner whose authority extends pretty much to the setting of guidelines and performance of assessment.

Personally, I'm of the latter mind. An authoritarian commissioner may, at first, mix forced property tax increases with new restrictions on union power, but the unions are massive organizations with endless resources, and after the initial round of hits, they'll direct those resources toward controlling the single seat in which the power of public education in Rhode Island will have been made to reside.

August 28, 2009

A Little Further Thought on German Medical Innovation

Justin Katz

Among the greatest benefits of blogging is the speed with which one often receives reminders against lazy thinking, and there was certainly a taint of laziness to one of the shorthand quips that I made while simultaneously liveblogging and videotaping the second Whitehouse & Reed healthcare community dinner:

A 75-year-old from German is testifying that his wife's small business has been having trouble keeping up with payments for employees health insurance. Germany, by contrast, is a nirvana of free healthcare. Not sure when the last time Germany led the world in healthcare innovation.

The allusion that I'd intended to express was to my periodic observation that the U.S. system for X (healthcare, military security, etc.) is often a prerequisite for related European systems that leftists turn around and use as a cudgel against the States. My first error was to state the thought in a negative fashion rather than a positive one, to wit: "But the U.S. system is the foundation for national and global innovation." Unfortunately, my first error was facilitated by my second, which was to stop shy (amidst my multitasking) of articulating the particular item I had in mind — a table of the "10 Most Important Recent Medical Innovations," on which I remembered Germany's absence.

The aforementioned reminder came with the following comment from Russ, after I'd provided a link to the table that I'd had in mind:

Interesting stuff, but hardly convincing unless you don't dig into the history:
- CT scans were the result of US and British research... check
- MRIs were discovered by Felix Bloch (and an American who shared the Nobel Prize for Physics), a Jew who fled the Nazis to the US from... you guessed it, Germany!
- balloon angioplasty is a terrible example for this debate (the first angioplasty was performed by German physician Werner Forssmann), later to win the Nobel Prize (along with 2 Americans) for his contributions to medicine.
- Statins were discovered and initially researched in Japan and then picked up in the 1970s by Merck. Yep, the US subsidiary of the German firm.
- Mammography? Also discovered by a German, Albert Salomon, the first to use x-rays to study breast cancer and later expanded by research by German scientists, including W. Vogel, who described how x-rays could detect the difference between cancerous and noncancerous tissues.

Some proof!

My concession that the idea deserved more considered phrasing than I gave it does not dilute the fact that Russ has moved the bar considerably. My statement wasn't that Germany has never accomplished anything of value in the medical field, but that it isn't the world leader, and Russ's list doesn't contradict that proposition. If we separate CTs and MRIs, as he does, the list to which I referred has 11 items, of which he addresses five. Of those, he treats it as dispositive to find any German association with a given technology, even including corporate ownership of an American organization working from Japanese beginnings.

Again, I don't believe minimizing the achievements of German nationals to be critical to the point that I'd intended to make, but I do find it curious how many of Russ's examples progressed outside of their country. His reference to Bloch raises the methodology to the point of absurdity: A quick look at the link that Russ, himself, provides confirms that Bloch was Swiss and only happened to be in Germany when Hitler came to power. By the time of the achievement on the top 10 list, he had been in the United States for years and was a naturalized citizen.

Think about that, though: Russ wants to credit German society with the medical achievements of a Swiss scientists whom the Nazis chased out of Europe. I derive no small motivation for carefulness from the realization that my intellectual elisions are apt to drive those who would prove me wrong to such lengths.

A Union Gotcha in the Contract

Justin Katz

Given recent developments, I thought I'd review my notes and the audio from the Tiverton School Committee meeting at which the members approved a largely retroactive contract. Several townsfolk warned the committee that approving the contract in the current economy was reckless. I specifically suggested that, former Vice Chair Mike Burk's suggestion to "hold the line" with the subsequent contract notwithstanding, the union would have every incentive to avoid negotiations at this time. But four of the five committee members thought it would be the fair, community-minded thing to pass the contract (PDF) and move on to negotiations for the next one — which should cover the upcoming school year — in a spirit of collegiality.

Well, the union must have been snickering behind its hand, with Article 31 of the approved document (carried over from the previous contract) in mind:

The provisions of this Agreement shall be effective as of September 1, 2007 and will continue and remain in full force and effect until August 31, 2009. Said Agreement will automatically be renewed and will continue in full force and effect for additional periods of one (1) year unless either the School Committee or the Association gives written notice to the other not later than December 1 of the year prior to the aforesaid expiration date, or any anniversary thereof, of its desire to reopen the Agreement and to negotiate over the terms of a successor Agreement.

Never mind that the contract wasn't approved until after the deadline, the union is insisting that notice was not given, so the contract remains in force until next year. As the Newport Daily News reports, that serves to keep all salaries where they are — with step increases continuing, of course — and prevent the school committee from realizing the increase in healthcare contributions for which it had budgeted.

Even union-friendly committee member Sally Black was "surprised" by the move. Gotcha.

See, to the union, talk of community, fairness, openness, honesty, education, and the good of children is merely a pack of cards to play. It's all about the adults and their remuneration and their benefits and their occupational comfort and soaking taxpayers for the maximum amount possible. If I were a teacher, I'd be ashamed to be associated with such an organization. As a taxpayer, I've certainly got my eye out for school committee candidates who won't be so easily fooled.

As services for students begin evaporating and taxes go up, parents and their neighbors should be careful to allocate blame where it belongs: With the calculating, manipulative union that represents the single largest expenditure in either of the town's budgets.

The Oregon Trail, in Healthcare

Justin Katz

There are warnings related to healthcare to observe in the experience of our neighbor to the north, but we should also turn our eyes westward:

You may have seen the headlines last summer, when Barbara Wagner, a 64-year-old Oregon great-grandmother with advanced lung cancer, got an unsigned letter saying that the Oregon Health Plan (OHP) would not pay for a $4,000-a-month chemotherapy drug, but would pay the $50 cost of physician-assisted suicide.

That's because in 1989 Oregon decided to make a comprehensive list of all treatments and diagnoses and rank them by importance to society in preventing disease and doing the most good. ...

... When it first took effect in 1994, Oregon had about 18 percent uninsured. That number dropped to 10 percent but then climbed back up to 17 percent as budget woes in 2004 caused the Oregon legislature to cut back on services and close new enrollment. The latest cuts are in vision care and dental care.

Government-managed healthcare "reform" will not cure the ills that are driving up costs, so it will increasingly have to (1) raise more money via taxes and fees, or (2) decline to pay for procedures. A government body deliberating in the service of number 2 is about the coldest, most dehumanizing methods imaginable.

By contrast, if the critical principle behind reform is freedom, then society can work out the intricacies, leveraging its multiple spheres (e.g., culture, church, and, yes, state). Americans will also have the benefit of whatever additional money they were not taxed for healthcare upfront (whether directly or by pass-alongs from those people and organizations that do shoulder the burden).

Whitehouse and Reed Community Dinner, Take 2

Justin Katz

Complete video of Wednesday's community dinner with Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed is available in the extended entry.

On a behind-the-scenes note, the tripod and new software have definitely helped. In fact, they helped so much that I was able to liveblog the meeting while filming it, which explains why it periodically takes a moment for the camera to adjust for movement of the speakers.

August 27, 2009

What's the Procedure for Impeaching Legislators?

Justin Katz

As a general proposition, Rhode Islanders should be more comfortable in the absence of their legislators, but this is a jaw dropper:

House Speaker William J. Murphy has notified lawmakers in his chamber that the House will not return next week, as originally contemplated, but on Oct. 7 and 8.

It remains unclear what the lawmakers will do when they reconvene, and whether they will be open to considering new legislation, acting on the handful of high-profile bills that languished at the end of the regular session in June, or simply overriding vetoes.

Don't some of the governor's methods of balancing the budget require legislative approval? Won't the cost only grow as time passes with no resolution? Does legislative negligence at some point become criminal?

(Initially spotted by Mike Cappelli.)

They Must Have Some Thoughts, Mustn't They?

Justin Katz

From a Providence Journal editorial on the General Assembly's annual avoidance of structural change:

And this series of cuts may be minuscule compared with the ones Rhode Island may face soon. Ms. Mumford estimates that the state may confront a $1.2 billion deficit in the coming months, given overly optimistic forecasts of tax revenues in a bum economy. Former Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey warned that "the deficit could be north of $800 million and is leading to insolvency." As painful as the state's 12-day shutdown will be, the savings from that measure — $17.3 million — pale in comparison with such eye-popping potential deficit numbers.

And Rhode Island faces the question of what to do when the hundreds of millions of federal stimulus dollars that have been used to sustain government budgets run dry.

Do you suppose most legislators have some sort of a strategy list, such as:

  • First, hope for things to work themselves out.
  • If that doesn't work, trim some blatant fat.
  • If that doesn't work, raise taxes.
  • If that doesn't work, cut social services.
  • And so on.

Or are most of them just winging it — trying not to think about the inevitable.?

Reed's Unimpressive Spinnage

Justin Katz

As I catch up with my Projo reading, an article describing a Web chat with Senator Reed reinforces my impression that he's spectacularly unimpressive. I see no intellectual interest in the man, only talking-point recitation:

When readers mentioned two proposals that Republicans tend to embrace, Reed pointed out what he views as their limitations. When a reader expressed support for tort reform to cut down on the practice of "defensive medicine" to avoid costly malpractice lawsuits, Reed replied, "Tort reform is not a primary or sole solution to the problem of accelerating health-care costs."

Health savings accounts — another proposal dear to conservatives — are not effective for people who have lost their jobs, Reed wrote. "In addition, with the demands facing many families today, including saving for college, there is a pressure to set aside funds for health care rather than other needs," he added.

The tort reform retort merely shuffles the deck in an attempt to make the savings disappear under the assertion that they wouldn't solve the problem all on their own. The health savings account answer is simply shallow. First, with substantial resources saved in such an account, a temporarily unemployed American could more easily afford COBRA or other individual healthcare option. Second, the Democrats insist that people will continue to invest in their own healthcare, so they're already setting aside those funds for that purpose.

This is a man who claims to be able to invent a better healthcare system?

Senators Reed and Whitehouse in Johnston, Before the Main Event

Carroll Andrew Morse

At a short press conference prior to last night's community dinner in Johnston, I asked Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed if there was any support amongst Democrats in Congress for making the changes to the Federal tax-code that would help undo the biases against individual purchasers currently present in the health insurance market. The audio of their response is available at the link below...

A few of the other interesting items from the questions-and-answer session were…

  • In response to a question about whether the Senators expected the tone of the evening be more respectful than the tone of last Thursday's community dinner, due to the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy earlier in the day, Senator Whitehouse volunteered that...
    "I thought we had quite a respectful crowd, the last time…"
    Look, I know that Senator Whitehouse will never be the most popular Rhode Islander on a conservative blog, but he deserves credit here, for encouraging his constituents of all ideological stripes who have come out and engaged the democratic process. Yes, that is part of the job of an elected representative, but Senator Whitehouse, as well as Senator Reed, have embraced this aspect of their jobs in response to recent events a lot more wholeheartedly than some other members of Congress -- and especially those in the leadership -- have done.
  • Senator Whitehouse gave an update on whether the "reconciliation" process might be used to allow a healthcare bill to bypass a Senate filibuster and pass with just 51 votes (or 50 plus the Vice-President's?), explaining that reconciliation could be applied only to a limited portion of the content of the healthcare program that is being proposed, and he believes that...
    "…the best avenue is to continue to fight towards 60 votes."
  • Senator Reed answered a question about whether he would support a bill without a "public option"...
    "We're both going to work hard to make sure there is a pubic option…"
    [WRNI radio's Flo Jonic] "That's not an answer…"

Two Sides of the Budget

Justin Katz

So I note from the town-by-town chart (PDF) showing the amounts saved by Governor Carcieri's plan to withhold motor vehicle tax reimbursements from the towns that Tiverton stands to lose $344,616 this year. From where, I wonder, will the money come to replace it?

As much as I don't wish to darken a potential dawn arising from the school committee, it strikes me as worth mentioning that the district received $500,951 in stimulus funds, above and beyond the explicit cap that voters placed on its appropriation at the financial town meeting. The law being what it is, it's probably not worth a taxpayer group's time and resources to fight the committee's decision to ignore that cap (even to the point of declining to put some of the windfall aside for next year), but with the municipal side of the budget suddenly short hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps the town council should consider an objection.

Just a thought.

The Comedy Duo of Whitehouse and Reed

Justin Katz

When Monique brought up our liveblogging from the healthcare community dinner hosted by Senators Whitehouse and Reed, on the Matt Allen Show, the conversation drifted toward the oddity of the Senators tackling this issue, locally as a team. Matt's thesis is that Reed doesn't care about the issue, while Whitehouse has all the background, yet he still knows that he'll take a political hit by not appearing to care. Frankly, having watched both events, now, I have to say that I think he's going to take a political hit based on the stark contrast in facility between him and his junior senator. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

August 26, 2009

Cart-Before-Horse School Budgeting

Monique Chartier

During tonight's Citizen Good and Welfare (public comment portion - cities and towns around Rhode Island, take note: in Woonsocket, this item is close to the top of the agenda) of the School Committee meeting, a citizen asked a question about a payment received by the city from the state, how it was applied to the deficit and how the school budget wound up in the red to begin with. Superintendent Dr. Robert Gerardi answered the question and, in the process, revealed a potential flaw in the Woonsocket School Committee's budgeting process.

The words are paraphrased; the order of events is not. Dr. Gerardi said, the original budget was presented and approved by the School Committee; then, the Mayor and the City Council gave us our appropriation and we were $7.1m in debt.

Okay. Except that Rhode Island law dictates that the city/town council sets the amount of the school budget. It is the role of the school committee of that municipality to determine how the money will be spent.

Presuming that Dr. Gerardi did not misspeak as to the order of events, wouldn't it have made more sense for the School Committee to have ascertained from the City Council the amount that would comprise the school budget before the spending got under way?

Dinner in Johnston

Justin Katz

Rhode Island roads are designed for people who already know where they're going. That's why I barely made it to Johnston in time to set up for the community dinner hosted b y Senators Reed and Whitehouse. And what do I find when I arrive:

Andrew sneaking up on Pat Crowley! We're a violent mob we right wingers. (No YouTubable video came out of that incident, unfortunately.)

6:03 p.m.

Whitehouse is listing ways to reduce costs in healthcare, most of which are unacceptable (e.g., throw people off the roles). His vague response is that we have to "reform the delivery system in ways that save money." No real solutions.

Jack Reed just repeated the lie that folks who like their insurance can keep it. He didn't add the necessary qualification that it would only last five years.

6:07 p.m.

A 75-year-old from German is testifying that his wife's small business has been having trouble keeping up with payments for employees health insurance. Germany, by contrast, is a nirvana of free healthcare. Not sure when the last time Germany led the world in healthcare innovation.

6:10 p.m.

Whitehouse is trying to explain that foreign companies have an advantage in exports because they don't have to incorporate healthcare for employees into their costs. Of course, the taxes must be worked into the price.

6:15 p.m.

Reed used a popular comeback when an older attendee spoke against the Democrats reform: "Well, what insurance do you have." When the answer is Medicare, he makes a face that says, "Well..."

6:22 p.m.

It's certainly the most quiet crowd tonight. Plenty of shushers when opposition voices make such suggestions as economics lessons in the Senate.

6:25 p.m.

An elderly man, who testified that he's happy with American care, brought up tort reform. Reed is downplaying the importance of that issue, and he looked to the table of planted Brown University medical students .

6:31 p.m.

A 14 -year-old asked whether a national healthcare would be Constitutional, and both Senators said "probably" and brought up a number of state-level public systems (e.g., colleges) as examples of its plausibility. Uh-huh.

6:35 p.m.

Will Grapentine just asked why, if America has the best of hospitals, medicine, etc., as he says Reed suggests, then why change it? He also suggested steps toward privatization.

Whitehouse is also bragging about America's medical facilities. "My concern is that we take all of that talent and excellence, and then we grind it through a system..." that kills people and leaves people out.

6:45 p.m.

Asked about free market competition, Reed said that they're trying to build a better system. Makes me wonder why, if they're such geniuses, in federal government, they went into "public service" instead of applying that insight throughout the economy as private actors.

6:52 p.m.

More repeats of favorite stories, such as Sheldon's example of hospitals not wanting to invest in efficiency equipment because it costs them billable minutes.

I've yet to hear anybody ask or explain why the feds aren't looking at specific problems, first, and then expanding to rewrite the entire system, if necessary.

6:58 p.m.

Whitehouse once again stated that the problems with Medicare originate in the fact that it hasn't been funded, as if some other entity than the government making those decisions.

7:11 p.m.

Whitehouse asserted that Obama has already cut taxes for the middle class, so we can trust him not to break the pledge only to tax rich people.

7:13 p.m.

Whitehouse expressed that the reform is intended to make the system, better, more efficient, and even more super duper. When asked how Congress will pay for it, he brought up digital medical records. First of all, can't that be done on its own? Second of all, is that really the big plan for saving money to pay for a public option et al.

7:20 p.m.

A young woman just noted that businessmen are not accountable to her, but these two senators are. Ah, youth.

A social worker just synopsized the liberal point of view by putting his entire perspective in terms feeling good about helping neighbors, equating a refusal to back a government system naked cruelty of soul.

7:26 p.m.

I have to say that I'm suspicious of the folks who come to these things in white jackets and stethoscopes around their necks are suspicious when they declare themselves doctors. Maybe it's just too much television as a youth, with the whole "I'm not a doctor but I play one on TV" thing.

One such doctor just said that a public option must be big enough to negotiate. That seems to conflict with earlier efforts to diminish the significance of a public option.

Overselling the Public Option, Continued

Carroll Andrew Morse

On WPRO radio's (630 AM) John DePetro show this morning, Senators Jack Reed and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse advanced their position that "the public option" portion of healthcare reform, i.e. a government owned and operated insurance company, would be simply one additional insurance company added to the market, on equal footing with the already existing players.

However, in their answers to a Tim White question on Sunday's WPRI-TV's (CBS 12) Newsmakers program on whether the public option is essential to the Democratic plans for healthcare reform, both Senators seemed to suggest that a public option was not just another choice, but an entity that could achieve goals that private insurers couldn't…

Senator Jack Reed: What we'd like to do is have [the public option] there in place to provide the kind of integrated care, the kind of we hope sophisticated care that raises quality and lowers costs

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse: I think that the success of healthcare reform over time, particularly in terms of improving the quality of care, driving down costs, getting rid of some of the unnecessary waste and conflict and duplication in the healthcare system will be driven by these different public options in 50 different states, finding ways to improve the way that they deliver care…

Aren't there are obvious problems with simultaneously claiming that the public option will be just like the other insurers, yet will also have impacts beyond those of "regular" insurance companies, having significant effects on the practice of medicine?

The idea of the public option being a new source of medical innovation doesn't make immediate sense -- and you don't have to assume noble motives on the part of private insurers to see this. If the public option is truly just another insurance company, except for being owned and operated by the government, then the assumption that it will open the doors to cost-lowering quality-improving innovation is based on the idea that it will do things that private insurers could do, but won't. Er, because private insurers have no interest in lowering costs? If there are ways for private insurers to significantly lower medical costs in the existing employment-based system, why wouldn't private insurers already be doing them (if only to increase their profits, by not passing all or any of the savings along to their customers)?

The contradiction illustrates how much of the argument for "a public option", right now, seems to be based more than anything else on the idea that the problems in American healthcare can be solved by an insurance company that tells doctors and nurses how to be better doctors and nurses -- as long as the insurance company is run by the right people, of course. If the public is to believe that that desire for "a public option" is not driven by unrealistic expectations that government involvement can fix anything, and that it is not a stalking horse for much more intrusive government involvement into medical decision making, advocates for a "public option" need to start resolving their contradictory claims about its structure and the presumed impact it will have on healthcare practice beyond just the dynamics of the insurance market.

And the Crowd Gasps: Menard Pulls Nomination Papers

Monique Chartier

Contradicting her own repeated affirmations, including one as recently as ten days ago to the Woonsocket Call, incumbent Mayor Susan Menard took out nomination papers Monday, signaling an apparent intent to seek reelection.

Russ Olivo at the Woonsocket Call correctly points out that the

declaration period that ended Tuesday [yesterday] is merely a preliminary placeholder designed to allow candidates to formally announce their intentions to run. To secure a place on the ballot, candidates must follow up their preliminary declarations by returning nomination papers to the Board of Canvassers, signed by no fewer than 100 properly registered voters.

The tantalizing question, then, remains very much unanswered at this point. Does the Mayor truly intend to collect signatures and run once again for the seat? Or did she pull papers merely as a feint to torture her critics?

A Trillion Dollars per Year

Justin Katz

President Obama has put the government on track to realize nearly one trillion dollars per year of cumulative deficit for the next decade:

In a chilling forecast, the White House is predicting a 10-year federal deficit of $9 trillion -- more than the sum of all previous deficits since America's founding. And it says by the next decade's end the national debt will equal three-quarters of the entire U.S. economy.

Do you suppose Americans are finally waking up to the hangover resulting from their campaign-year binge of moral vanity and political superficiality? It's becoming difficult to miss the scam-pitch in such nonsense as the assertion by Obama's Budget Director Peter Orszag that rewriting our healthcare system with an emphasis on regulation and government involvement will decrease the deficit. Sorry, Pete, more and more of us simply aren't buying.

But before President Barack Obama can do much about it, he'll have to weather recession aftershocks including unemployment that his advisers said Tuesday is still heading for 10 percent.

I submit that the solution to both problems is one and the same: shrink government. Define the United States as something grander than its government, and the tidal economic rewards of freedom will lift the bureaucrats' boat, as well.

Gist Reacts to RI SAT Scores

Justin Katz

State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist is still in what may be termed a discovery phase of her new job — working her way through Rhode Island's abysmal statistics. To the extent that process is made public, she's already doing important work, and today, she's put our low SAT scores on the front page of the Providence Journal:

Gist said that she is also disappointed that the percentage of public school students taking the voluntary test is so low, at just 54 percent.

(About 2,800 private and parochial school students also took the SAT, raising the statewide average by about 10 points per subject.)

Usually, test scores drop as the number of students taking the test increases. Rhode Island, Gist said, suffers from lackluster scores even with a frustratingly low number of students aspiring to take the test — a requirement for most colleges.

As we showed, here, last August, Rhode Island joins an average median income (by national standards) with high public school teacher pay, high private school attendance, low public school SAT scores, and high private school SAT scores. Every marker points to a systemic problem, originating with teachers unions. That's why I hope the following comment from Gist is more political flourish than indication of dogma on which she'll premise future actions:

"We need to make sure we are developing and supporting teachers," she said, "and we need to make sure we are moving out educators who are not serving students well, which I believe is a small percentage of teachers."

A "small percentage of teachers" have dragged Rhode Island's SAT scores to their current standing as the worst in New England? I don't think so.

August 25, 2009

Flanders Denies Any Interest in Running for Governor

Carroll Andrew Morse

Scott MacKay of WRNI's On Politics blog is reporting that Robert Flanders is denying any interest in running for Governor of Rhode Island, as a Republican, or a Moderate, or under any other party banner…

Flanders, a lawyer, says that he "has no intention'' of running and is focused on his legal practice and his post has chairman of the state Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education....Flanders also says he did not look forward to having to "raise the awful lot of money'' that a run for governor would entail.

A Quiet Rumble in the Tiverton School District

Justin Katz

As I pulled up to the Tiverton High School at the usual time for a school committee meeting, I saw two of my Tiverton Citizens for Change co-conspirators leaving. The committee scheduled an executive session for 5:00 p.m. and had worked through all of tonight's interesting public discussions before 7:00. The key results, as conveyed to me in the parking lot:

  • Chairman Jan Bergandy read a letter from local union President Amy Mullen that suggested that the union and school committee had agreed to accept the current contract as expiring next year (a brazen ploy that surfaced out of nowhere a few weeks ago). Mr. Bergandy declared Mullen's statement to be an outright lie, and the committee authorized its lawyer to take some sort of action.
  • The committee agreed to issue a statement to the General Assembly opposing any sort of legislation calling for binding arbitration.
  • The committee also put on the agenda for its next meeting discussion of conducting union negotiations openly and in public.

They've Heard Us

Justin Katz

An understandably frustrated Karin commented to a recent post:

Does it really matter who yells and screams. They have no intention of changing the way they vote. The yelling is out of pure frustration that we have zero control over these guys.

One needn't read Sunday's Providence Journal article about our delegation's backing off the public option to comfort Karin that the voices of opposition are making a difference. Of course, it helps to read such things:

For that reason, Langevin suggested that it was a blessing in disguise that both houses of Congress failed to meet Mr. Obama's early-August deadline for passing a bill.

"I'm glad we had this break to slow this down a little bit," Langevin said, adding that the prospect of historic changes in health care has provoked his constituents to a rare outpouring of deep and personal feelings. Langevin said a powerful theme of the public response has been, "We have to do this the right way. Don't rush it."

Yes, the community dinner hosted by Senator Whitehouse and Senator Reed was a bit more subdued than Langevin's town hall the night before, and we'll see how things go for Whitehouse and Reed in Johnston, tomorrow night But our elected political insiders and their staffs can see the wind shifting away from the hard left.

That's no excuse, of course, for turning down the volume, if only to discredit such statements as this:

"If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan."

But Langevin quickly acknowledged that it may not be possible to keep such a sweeping promise. "There is no guarantee" against at least some disruptions of health insurance coverage, he said.

For example, Langevin said, "It's true that some employers could opt for a penalty" rather than let their workers keep their current health plans.

"Certainly there are always unaccounted for, unpredictable and unintended consequences," in an enterprise as vast and complex as Mr. Obama's planned health-care overhaul, Langevin said.

Similarly, Reed was unwilling to repeat Mr. Obama's promise to the satisfied customer that "you can keep your health plan."

"That is our goal and that is our purpose," Reed said. "We will try our best."

I'm not referring to the persistent statement about keeping one's healthcare, which is a lie wherever it isn't followed by the phrase, "for up to five years." Rather, I mean to indicate the suggestion that consequences described by opponents of the plan are "unpredictable and unintended." The fact is that hundreds of Rhode Islanders — thousands of Americans across the country — have been showing up at their representatives' events explicitly to make such predictions, to the degree that not seeking to avoid the consequences would be strongly suggestive of intention.

Running into the Arms of Government

Justin Katz

The reader really must sympathize with Froma Harrop's frustration and ire, and I'm truly sorry for the loss of her husband. The conclusions to which she comes, from that point of view, are, however, plain wishful thinking based on an idealization of an alternative straw to grasp:

An economic note: In 2006, William "Dollar Bill" McGuire, CEO of parent-company UnitedHealth Group, walked off with a $1.1 billion golden parachute (on top of the $500 million he had already raked in) — though he had to return some of it in an options-backdating scandal.

What we wouldn't have done to have traded Dollar Bill's minions for a government bureaucrat. The bureaucrat would have given a simple "yes" or "no" based on official guidelines. He or she would have had no personal stake in denying you care.

Government office workers are not mere binary switches in a machine of rigid operation. Observe, even, the ordeal of some Tiverton students who wished to attend an out-of-district public school. Officials within the system led the families to believe that they were all set until, with less than a month to go before the resumption of classes, five strangers with no qualifications beyond the ability to garner a few thousand townie votes decided that the district could not risk setting a precedent.

Rather than simply imagining the purity of a government system, we would be better served to focus on the question of how McGuire was able to siphon billions from his company without putting it at a fatal competitive disadvantage. Until some employment changes enabled me to switch, a month or so ago, I also had UnitedHealth insurance, and were that still the case, I would have no realistic means of reacting, as a consumer, to Harrop's dramatic warning about the company's method of "service."

The problem that we face is that government mandates and regulations have created a mirror image, in the private sector, of a government program. With or without a public option, increased regulation means fewer entities able to clear the bar and enter or remain in the market, which means fewer providers seeking to exploit each other's excesses and affronts.

Harrop laments that her family had to leverage political influence to get the care that her husband required; the value of such political connections can only go up to the extent that the government involves itself in healthcare.

The Rhode Island Lack-of-Blame Game

Justin Katz

Whether by ignorance or deceit, there's a curious omission from the Providence Journal's coverage of Governor Carcieri's plan to bring the state government's budget out of deficit. It's not in the summary article by Cynthia Needham and Katherine Gregg. It's not in the article conveying state workers' anger, by Richard Dujardin. And at best, it receives a vague allusion in Barbara Polichetti's article about municipal mayors/managers' anger, when East Providence Mayor Joseph Larisa says, "We understand why this is being imposed."

Inasmuch as the alerts of Dan Yorke and Matt Allen are broadcast fleetingly over the radio, one has to dig deep into the comments section of the middle link, above, to find it stated by somebody calling him or her self TPaine:

If the General Assembly continues to be spineless cowards, then it is up to the governor to get the budget in line. Since the General Assembly removed the Governor's power to remove items from the budget (something 38 OTHER governors have) last decade, the tools at his disposal are blunt and heavy. Blame the General Assembly that you all elected. You reap what you sow.

So far, five out of six people have given the comment a thumbs down.

The bottom line is that the General Assembly handed Carcieri the requirement to find some $68 million in "unspecified cuts." The governor's authority to actually make cuts has a limited scope, while the Democrats in the GA have the entirety of state expenditures at their disposal. The gnashing of teeth that we're hearing, today, is orchestrated and loosely conducted by a design that directs heat away from the den of Rhode Island's corruption. With another $65 million that apparently must be found to make up for the final deficit of the last budget year, that heat is reaching furious temperatures.

In conversation after the recent picnic hosted by the Rhode Island Republican Assembly, I half-joked that the RIGOP should forswear all state-level races in the next election cycle. Focus resources at the national and municipal levels, but let the Democrats own the hollow center. Based on the electoral results, last time around, the broad failure of the state's mainstream media to explore beyond the scripted political outline, and the absence of substantial healthy skepticism among the general public, one can only prescribe an emulation of God's lesson for Jerusalem in Ezekiel 16:43: "Because you did not remember what happened when you were a girl, but enraged me with all these things, therefore in return I am bringing down your conduct upon your head."

When a structure is rotted to its very foundation and the owner refuses any expense beyond minimal cosmetics, the only remaining possibility is to allow its collapse, clear the rubble, and rebuild something new.

Ajami: Obama Cult of Personality = FAIL

Marc Comtois

Fouad Ajami:

American democracy has never been democracy by plebiscite, a process by which a leader is anointed, then the populace steps out of the way, and the anointed one puts his political program in place. In the American tradition, the "mandate of heaven" is gained and lost every day and people talk back to their leaders. They are not held in thrall by them. The leaders are not infallible or a breed apart. That way is the Third World way, the way it plays out in Arab and Latin American politics.

Those protesters in those town-hall meetings have served notice that Mr. Obama's charismatic moment has passed. Once again, the belief in that American exception that set this nation apart from other lands is re-emerging. Health care is the tip of the iceberg. Beneath it is an unease with the way the verdict of the 2008 election was read by those who prevailed. It shall be seen whether the man swept into office in the moment of national panic will adjust to the nation's recovery of its self-confidence.

RI Radio Town Hall Meeting: Senators Reed & Whitehouse on WPRO with DePetro

Monique Chartier

Senators Reed and Whitehouse will appear together on the WPRO Morning News with John DePetro tomorrow morning, 7:30 - 8:30. Yes, they will be taking calls and questions:

(401) 438-9776

(800) 321-9776

UPDATED: Langevin Town Hall Video

Justin Katz

UPDATE: The video below is now complete; I've also managed to take some of the echo out of the audio, so it might be a little easier to understand what people are saying.

Given that Andrew and I attended a separate press session before Congressman Jim Langevin's town hall meeting in Warwick, tonight, and that the event itself went well over the scheduled hour, there's a lot of video to process. It doesn't help that YouTube won't accept videos longer than 10 minutes.

My plan is to upload all the raw footage — and some of it proves definitively that I need practice with my new blogging tool — in one swoop and then to go back and upload segments that merit a closer look for one reason or another. The raw footage phase will take place within this post.

Stay tuned.


Congressman Jim Langevin 08/19/09 Town Hall, Warwick, RI, Preliminary Press Q&A (1):

Congressman Jim Langevin 08/19/09 Town Hall, Warwick, RI, Preliminary Press Q&A (2)

Additional videos in the extended entry.

Congressman Jim Langevin 08/19/09 Town Hall, Warwick, RI, Mayor Avedisian Intro:

Congressman Langevin:

Outside, after:

August 24, 2009

The Difference a Word Makes

Justin Katz

Remember how quickly it seemed that the words "quagmire" and "Iraq" seemed to become joined after the U.S. invasion some years back? I couldn't help but chuckle at the headline that the Providence Journal gave to this story: "Obama's headache in Afghanistan."

A headache, we can presume, is much preferable to a quagmire. The latter is an unwinnable war (even if history proves it to have been winnable). The former is a mere political difficulty.

Apparently, the key to being a political Superman isn't to leap tall issues in a single bound, but to make big issues small enough to step around.

Re: Edward Fitzpatrick Versus Scott MacKay

Justin Katz

Having not had cause to develop much of a sense of Scott MacKay — beyond noting his chumminess with Matt Jerzyk, who introduced us at the most recent Ocean State Follies performance — I have to say that I'm astonished at how shallow a well of insight is indicated by the quotation that Andrew posted earlier:

The meetings with members of the state's Washington delegation were magnets for a grab-bag of unfocused rage, much of it aimed at issues far afield from health-care. There were folks protesting abortion, illegal immigration, the banking and auto company bailouts, socialism, President Obama and even the end of the gold standard.

"Far afield from health-care"? Abortion — a [monstrous] medical procedure — is far afield from healthcare? The question of whether illegal immigrants will have access to free health insurance is far afield from healthcare? Whether a government that has already rewritten the rules guiding other large sections of our economy should add the medical industry to the list is far afield from healthcare? The observation that injecting government into the middle of every citizen's health, well-being, life reeks of socialism is far afield from healthcare? Should the president ostensibly guiding the nation not be brought up in these discussions? Amazing.

The only partially redeeming possibility is that MacKay was making a sly statement that the government itself should remain far afield from healthcare, but somehow I doubt that that's the case.

Edward Fitzpatrick Versus Scott MacKay, Dueling Critics of Art and Democracy

Carroll Andrew Morse

Projo political columnist Edward Fitzpatrick and WRNI (1290AM) political analyst Scott MacKay have come to very different conclusions about what they witnessed at Congressman James Langevin's town hall meeting in Warwick last week.

MacKay quite clearly didn't like what he saw…

The iconic image of a New England Town Meeting was painted by Norman Rockwell in his World-War II-era Freedom of Speech illustration. The 1943 painting, inspired by a Vermont town meeting, shows a plainly-clothed working man speaking up while his white collar neighbors look on....Now, roll the clock ahead 66 years to last week's two raucous Rhode Island gatherings on national health care.

Boorishness and shouting have replaced respect and civility. The meetings with members of the state's Washington delegation were magnets for a grab-bag of unfocused rage, much of it aimed at issues far afield from health-care. There were folks protesting abortion, illegal immigration, the banking and auto company bailouts, socialism, President Obama and even the end of the gold standard.

The sight of zealots last Wednesday at Warwick City Hall screaming at Congressman Jim Langevin, a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, wasn't pretty. And it wasn't civil or respectful.

…but Fitzpatrick came away with a very different impression (albeit with a reference to the same painting!)…
Inspired by a 1941 speech by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, artist Norman Rockwell created a series of paintings called the Four Freedoms. Perhaps the most famous is Freedom of Speech, which pictures a sincere, determined everyman standing to speak at a New England town hall meeting....

Certainly, we did not get that idealized version of a town hall meeting on Wednesday night when 430 people packed Warwick City Hall (and hundreds more gathered outside) to tell Democratic U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin what they think of the proposed health-care overhaul.

The meeting amounted to an amazing mix of bad behavior and good points, absurdity and poignancy, interruptions and interactions. People were nutty and nuanced, cloying and annoying, frightful and insightful. It was ugly at times, but a beautiful thing to behold. It was a First Amendment festival, a carnival of democracy, complete with a few freaks and sideshows. In short, it was more Salvador Dali than Norman Rockwell.

Having been inside at Congressman Langevin's event, I have to say that I am more partial to Fitzpatrick's description. And I can't help but be reminded of a quote I once heard from author Charles Rappleye, regarding a description offered of Rhode Island in its early days, not in a positive sense: It's a "downright democracy" around here!

But of course, we've got complete video of Congressman Langevin's event here at Anchor Rising, to help you decide for yourself…

An Attack on Legal Representation

Justin Katz

I hadn't heard of this (or don't remember having heard of it) before reading Maggie Gallagher's recent summary of the battle over same-sex marriage:

When word spread at Harvard Law School last month that one of the most successful recruiters of its graduates, Ropes & Gray, was helping Catholic Charities explore ways to prevent same-sex couples from adopting children, gay and lesbian students wanted to stop the law firm it its tracks. ...

Two weeks ago, Ropes said it would no longer do legal work to assist the bishops in their efforts to stop gay adoptions, and last week Catholic Charities said it would end its adoption program because it could not reconcile church doctrine, which holds that gay adoptions are "gravely immoral," with state antidiscrimination laws.

Unless I'm missing something, it would be more accurate to say that Catholic Charities wanted help avoiding same-sex adoptions, for its own operations, not preventing other groups from allowing them. That's not a small distinction.

Readers may find some relief in the fact that, according to the first link (from which I drew the blockquote), the young future lawyers had some qualms about bullying a lawfirm from serving a client, but as with much else, the gay agenda trumps.

Following-Up the Newsmakers Follow-Up on Illegal Immigrants and Healthcare Reform

Carroll Andrew Morse

Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse appeared on this week's Newsmakers program on WPRI-TV (CBS 12), offering substantive answers to some very good questions on healthcare reform asked by panelists Tim White, Arlene Violet and Ian Donnis. On at least one issue, however, the issue of how illegal immigrants are being addressed in the proposals currently being considered by Congress, viewers were left with a bit of ambiguity about the Senators' positions.

Tim White asked a question (originally posed by a viewer) on this subject and did his best to get a direct answer from Senator Whitehouse…

Tim White: Albert sent this via Facebook. He writes: "What are the unintended consequences of this reform. For example, I hear politicians state that nowhere in the reform does coverage include undocumented aliens but, conveniently, they don't state that nowhere (sic) are they are excluded either." This is, Senator Whitehouse, one of those hot-button issues. You got a lot of these questions last night. How about it, language to exclude illegal aliens…

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse: I think it's clear enough to my satisfaction that this bill does not provide coverage for illegal aliens. A number of our colleagues in the Senate consider this to be a make-or-break issue, and they seem comfortable with it. I think we can safely say that this is not a bill that will provide Federal support for healthcare for illegal aliens.

TW: But would you support any specific language that excludes them?

SW: I have a bill that we've supported already, and it excludes them to my satisfaction. I'm comfortable that we're in the right place on that.

In his answer, Senator Whitehouse is referring to a Senate proposal different from the House bill (HR3200) which has generated much of the current discussion of the details of Congress' plans for health reform; for its part, HR3200 does not extend new coverage or subsidies to illegal immigrants.

But even if the Senate proposal copies exactly the approach of HR3200, the issue is still not a settled one. Writing in the Hill earlier this month, Congressman Lamar Smith expressed concern about HR3200's failure to define the kinds of eligibility verification procedures used in conjunction with other Federal entitlement programs -- and about active resistance from House Democrats towards adding those requirements…

The legislation contains no verification mechanism to ensure that illegal immigrants do not apply for benefits. Republicans offered an amendment to close this loophole — it would have required verification using the existing methods that are already in place to verify eligibility for other federal benefits programs. But, when they were asked to put the language of the bill where their words were, in a party-line vote, House Democrats rejected the amendment to require verification and close this loophole.
At an August 19 panel sponsored by the Center for Immigration Studies, carried on C-SPAN, Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation went into a bit more detail…
If we were to look at the current healthcare reform legislation, this takes an unprecedented step in opening up the US welfare system to illegal immigrants. Under the current law, really forever, we have had a system of identity checks that largely prevents adult illegal immigrants from getting on to these means-tested welfare programs. You have to be able to substantiate that you're in the country legally and you have to be able to substantiate, if you're a legal immigrant, that you've been here over the time-limits for eligibility.

The healthcare reform legislation turns that on its back and tramples it into the dust. It basically says we will not verify, we will not check….If you are going to do that with respect to healthcare, why would you not also establish the same precedent with respect to food stamps, to public housing, to the earned-income tax-credit and so forth, and I believe that that is indeed the direction that the Congress wants to go to, to allow all welfare benefits to be fully available to all illegal immigrants.

As health reform legislation moves forward, the relevant question concerning this issue is likely to be whether the eligibility verification requirements for new healthcare entitlements are at as least as stringent as the requirements on other means-tested Federal programs, and if not, why there is a difference.

We All Need An Obama Vacation

Marc Comtois

The Prez is off:

Seven months after taking the oath of office, President Obama on Sunday began his first vacation, traveling to this tony hideaway for Hollywood stars, the wealthy and the occasional politician....Past presidents have been queasy about what they called their time away from the White House, fearing the image of a checked-out president. Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs had no such fear last week, saying that "I don't think the American people begrudge a president taking some time with his family that's well earned and well deserved for a few days to see and spend time with them."
Yeah, just like all of the regular folks who vacation on the Vineyard. We'll soon be inundated with pictures of the Obama's cavorting about the island (but I suspect there won't be a Bush-era type juxtaposition of those pics with others of homeless people are parked in front of the White House). Maybe a week off from him is what we all need with the health care debate, bulging deficits, reduced social security benefits, and a double-dip recession looming. "Well earned and well deserved" vacation? For who? Many of us certainly think we deserve it after the drama of hope and change of the last 7 months.

Take a Step Back to See the Socialization

Justin Katz

Since she began targeting a national audience, losing the local flavor, reading Froma Harrop has become a chore that I'm less and less inclined to undertake, but she does still have a knack for highlighting the errors in the thoughts that she's repeating, as is the case here:

Reforming health care should be both a liberal and conservative mission. Securing medical coverage for all Americans is the liberal part. The conservative part is containing the explosive rise in health-care spending, which fuels government deficits and hurts American business in the global marketplace.

The problem is that the monstrosity currently being billed as "health care reform" isn't liberal merely in its motivation, but in the first premises of its strategy: regulate and socialize. Actually, let me stipulate that these are in fact the same premise, as Michael Cannon explained one National Review ago:

Although Romneycare included no insurance program explicitly run by the government, it gave Beacon Hill politicians so much power over the health care of Massachusetts residents that it might as well have. The individual and employer mandates, operating entirely within the private sector, imposed what amount to new tax burdens, gave government the power to regulate all aspects of health insurance and medical practice, and subjected residents' access to medical care to political calculation. Moreover, the fruits of Romneycare have been exactly what you'd expect from a government program. Before reform, Massachusetts's health-care sector was rigid and expensive, with some of the longest waiting times in the nation. Since reform, it has grown even more rigid and expensive — though the politicians have managed to hide more than half of its $2 billion cost. Waits are longer as well, though they hardly merit a mention compared with the more odious forms of rationing involved. ...

Like any government health-care program, Romneycare has spurred its share of garden-variety "send a check to Uncle Sam" tax increases. Yet those taxes don't account for even half of Romneycare's costs. Individual and employer mandates are the taxes that politicians prefer when they don't want you to realize they're taxing you. As President Obama's National Economic Council chairman, Larry Summers, wrote in 1989, employer mandates "are like public programs financed by benefit taxes. . . . There is no sense in which benefits become 'free' just because the government mandates that employers offer them to workers." The same is true of an individual mandate: To the extent that government forces people to purchase something they do not value, it is a tax, even if the money never enters the treasury.

Thousands of pages of regulations don't leave much room for competition and choice; indeed, they read much like a specific health insurer's explanation of benefits. Public option or not, this healthcare "reform" is de facto socialization. That is why, despite all the repetition of the half-truth about keeping your coverage if you like it, the bill explicitly ends plans that don't conform to its manifold regulations within five years and forbids any new customers before that time. Otherwise, Americans would flock to the plans that were grandfathered in.

With so many mandates, a healthcare "exchange" will be a bit like a choice between large and extralarge, with most customers making up the difference for those who can only pay for a small.

The Weekend After a Busy Week

Justin Katz

Personally, much of my weekend was spent trudging the learning curve of digital video, but I began Saturday blogging from an RIGOP fundraiser, of which I subsequently posted video. For a breath of fresh (if not optimistic) air, I pointed readers to Mark Steyn's thoughts on the signals that Democrats are sending about the direction of the United States.

Sunday morning arrived with some thoughts on Bob Kerr's soft condescension and Frank Caprio's lapse into the RI political style. Meanwhile, Andrew stopped by an RI Tea Party healthcare protest. And I closed out the day with another example of typical politics in RI, this time with the governor's nomination of his chief of staff to a judicial opening.

August 23, 2009

And Then There Are the Judgeships

Justin Katz

Per Anchor Rising's rule of thumb for whether inside connections should disqualify one from receiving a particular appointment: After an exhaustive nationwide search, the governor has nominated... his chief of staff to fill a Superior Court opening. I'd say the nomination doesn't pass the test.

Again, I'm sympathetic to the arguments that people who've been in government and law for years know the ropes and that familiarity is a valid consideration for nominations, but at this point, enough damage is done to Rhode Island by the perception and reality that the government is a self-rewarding spoils system that it outweighs these benefits. Some might suggest that some positions would be more difficult to fill if accepting them foreclosed other possibilities in the future, but such are the decisions of life.

The RI Tea Party President on the Town Hall and the Community Dinner

Carroll Andrew Morse

On Saturday, I stopped by the Rhode Island Tea Party's roving protest at its stop in front of Senator Jack Reed's offices in Cranston, where RI Tea Party founder and President Colleen Conley was one of the demonstrators.


Ms. Conley has also been on the inside (literally) at Congressman James Langevin's town hall meeting held in Warwick this past Wedensday and at Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's and Senator Jack Reed's community dinner held in West Warwick this past Thursday.

I asked Ms. Conley for her impressions of what transpired in the public forums with the members of our Federal delegation. The audio of her answer is available below...


Beneath the Bright White Veil, the RI Way

Justin Katz

And this is the sound of General Treasurer Frank Caprio breaking the glass rod that made him appear to be arm's length from the Rhode Island way of politics:

He acknowledged the perception of a conflict with donations from eight out-of-state firms that specialize in class-action securities lawsuits.

The national litigation firm Grant & Eisenhofer is one example.

In June, the firm became the lead counsel in a class-action securities suit brought by Rhode Island against Security Capital Assurance Ltd., which allegedly reported inflated income that ultimately cost investors across the country millions.

The case, according to terms released by the treasurer’s office, could produce legal fees as high as $50 million if the suit is successful. Three months before being named lead counsel, four Grant & Eisenhofer employees, who list Delaware and New York addresses, made combined donations of $4,000 to Caprio's campaign.

The treasurer returned those contributions Tuesday, in addition to donations from more than 50 individuals employed by securities-monitoring firms dating more than two years in some cases, according to a spreadsheet and copies of checks provided by the treasurer’s staff. The decision came several days into a Journal inquiry of Caprio’s political fundraising and hiring decisions.

Mr. Caprio is, however, keeping similarly situated donations from Rhode Islanders. Blame the size of the state, argue that elected officials shouldn't be afraid to consider personal comfort with contractors when seeking to expend public dollars, and I'll likely agree with you. But there's something disconcerting about this dynamic:

"We're talking about these local firms, individuals that have known me, have supported me for many years, in some instances, and people that I know well and I'm proud to have their support," said Caprio.

Frankly, I'm not sure what the remedy should be, but it's difficult to have faith in a government when it is characteristic for old pals to donate to their friends' campaigns and then reap professional rewards when they win.

Bob Kerr's Condescension

Justin Katz

Sometimes Bob Kerr is really difficult to take, and I'm beginning to put my finger on the reason. In his Friday column, he characterized Rep. Barney Frank's quip that conversation with a particular town hall participant would be like "trying to have a conversation with a dining room table" and query as to her planet of origin as "a small, witty and welcome comeback." From Frank and Kerr's perspective the response was justified, but it takes a smarmy condescension objectively to declare that a powerful man telling a young lady among the public that she's like a table was merely small and witty.

The statement recalls another instance, just after the election, when Kerr described this bumper sticker as "clever and funny and not mean-spirited": "Joe the Plumber, Meet Barack the President." Not mean-spirited because Kerr says it to be so. And now, with anxious Americans crowding town hall meetings and unable to keep the cool tone of a LaRouche supporter making Nazi comparisons, Kerr opines:

So maybe, just maybe, a big bunch of us will look at how close we are coming to a total breakdown in the way we are supposed to conduct our public business. We might even be embarrassed and disturbed at how a calculated sideshow of irrational raving has threatened to keep us from learning the things we need to know. We might want to try reasonable debate again.

Does Kerr allocate some of the blame to an administration that, as one of its first acts, released a report broadly citing conservatives as potential terrorists, thus signaling how it perceived opposing views? No. Does he urge restraint from a Democrat Congress that's been passing expensive, power-grabbing legislation like rectal gas, in such a way as to diminish the opportunity for the American people to have their opinions considered? Nope. Does he take to task members of the mainstream media — ostensibly objective reporters — who openly mock citizens who disagree with the liberal line? Yeah, right. Does he sympathize that a ravenous government and the various strata of elites who unquestioningly support it are scaring a large number of the hoi polloi? Not on your life.

How fortuitous that the same issue of the Providence Journal should print an op-ed by James Haught drawing our attention away from the current administration to call President Bush "a religious crackpot, an ex-drunk of small intellect who 'got saved.'" Should we expect critiques from Kerr of the visceral hatred from his co-leftists?

I suspect not. The opinions of the likes of Kerr is clear: We, the smart people, are now in power, and the rest of you should just shut up and listen.

August 22, 2009

The Weekly Steyn

Justin Katz

Sing it, brother:

That's why the "stimulus" flopped. It didn't just fail to stimulate, it actively deterred stimulation, because it was the first explicit signal to America and the world that the Democrats' political priorities overrode everything else. If you're a business owner, why take on extra employees when cap'n'trade is promising increased regulatory costs and health "reform" wants to stick you with an 8 percent tax for not having a company insurance plan? Obama's leviathan sends a consistent message to business and consumers alike: When he's spending this crazy, maybe the smart thing for you to do is hunker down until the dust's settled and you get a better sense of just how broke he's going to make you. For this level of "community organization," there aren't enough of "the rich" to pay for it. That leaves you.

RIGOP Fundraiser Video

Justin Katz

The video from this morning's RIGOP fundraiser with RNC Executive Director Ken McKay is available in the extended entry.

My apologies to RIGOP Chairman Gio Cicione; I was trying to learn on the job, as it were, and figure out how to improve the picture because of the bright backlighting of the windows and missed most of his opening remarks.

Saturday Morning with Republicans

Justin Katz

It's been a busy couple of weeks. Two picnics, two to town halls, and now a breakfast fundraiser for the RIGOP. So far, this location has been the most difficult to find, a consideration that the party should perhaps take into account in the future; I imagine a significant proportion of its potential base consists of transplants, like me, who might be dissuaded by a local's instructions to "pass where you used to go over the railroad tracks." And it doesn't take many frustrating experiences for people to decide against subsequent participation.

It's a beautiful spot, though, Water St. in East Greenwich. Of course, Rhode Island has many more than its share of those.

10:45 a.m.

My first thought, as this thing wraps up, is that I really wish there were more time in a day. Ken McKay made some interesting and compelling points that would be great to isolate for y'all to absorb discretely, but I simply don't have the time to filter through the hour-plus of video with that sort of specificity.

My second thought is that you really don't realize how much a table and even a whole room shakes until you're trying to hold a camera steady with your elbows on the table. I'll be stopping on the way home to pick up a tripod or some such.

10:51 a.m.

One thing that I just can't leave the room without saying: Much of McKay's talk was encouraging, but he did make a statement along a thread that one picks up from time to time among Republicans: He spoke of his discovery of Saul Alinsky's rulebook and his astonishment at how closely Democrats follow it. That sort of insight is obviously very important to have, but then he suggested an intention to replicate the strategy.

Strenuous moralist that I am, I think that impulse ought to be resisted for ideological and spiritual reasons. It mightn't be a stretch, though, to think that it's best avoided for strategic reasons, in this environment. One lesson of Obama's candidacy was that people want an end to the meet-the-new-boss-just-like-the-old-boss cycle. In his case, that positioning was deceptive in the extreme. Mightn't it form a stronger and more lasting Republican resurgence to effect that change genuinely?

August 21, 2009

UPDATED: Senators Whitehouse and Reed Meet in West Warwick

Justin Katz

UPDATE: The collection of video clips (below) from this event is complete.

Thursday night's community dinner with Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse did indeed have its drama. It also had moments of should-have-been-revelation that we'll be exploring in the days to come.

In the meantime, I'm collecting the raw video in the extended entry section of this post.

Stimulus Jobs: Finagling the Definition of "Retained"

Monique Chartier

In a scene presumably also unfolding in other municipalities, the Woonsocket Education Department has applied for $2.4m of federal stimulus dollars so as to retain forty positions in the school system; more specifically, to prevent the closing of the [correction provided by MikeinRI] Davies technical school Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center.

The goal of stimulus spending was stretched from the get-go with the clever addition of the qualifier "saved", as in "3.5 million jobs created or saved". I understand and sympathize that Woonsocket has serious budget problems. At the same time, isn't it now stretching the goal of stimulus dollars beyond recognition to utilize them to address budget issues on the local level, especially in view of the state's upside down teacher pay to student achievement ratio?

Woonsocket school officials would contend - in fact, do so in the application - that they are applying for these funds in part to address academic shortcomings identified in the district. But is this not a matter that would have been more appropriately and effectively addressed during the course of contract negotiations over the course of the last fifteen years?

Now, if we multiply Woonsocket's request to spend stimulus dollars for this reason by school districts around Rhode Island and the United States, we are faced with the questions of utility, efficacy and possibly even honesty. Does the expenditure of stimulus funds - which are, we should remind ourselves, not free money but tax dollars - on public sector contracts of questionable feasibility truly benefit the economy?

A YouTube Star Is Born

Justin Katz

While I was toiling away in obscurity inside the West Warwick Senior Center, last night, Andrew was outside getting famous:

Re: Wonks, to the Barricades!

Carroll Andrew Morse

Commenter "Mario" offers some substantive numbers on the number of people without health insurance at any one time in the US...

The CBO helpfully laid out the characteristics of the uninsured population in a paper last December (pg. 38).
CBO projects that among the uninsured in 2009, 17 percent will have family income above 300 percent of the poverty level (about $65,000 for a family of four); 18 percent will be eligible for but not enrolled in Medicaid; and 30 percent will be offered, but will decline, coverage from an employer. Some people will be in more than one of those categories at the same time—so overall, about half of the uninsured will meet at least one of those three criteria.
A census report (pg. 30) about the 2007 statistics show that 21% of the uninsured were foreign-born non-citizens (doesn't necessarily mean illegal), 20% made over $75k (40% made over $50k, but that doesn't control for family size), and about 17.5% were 18-24 (again, though, some could be all three).

I have seen people use 8 million as the "real" number of uninsured, but I can't find anything to back that up. If you were to remove illegal aliens, the people that could buy it if they wanted, the people who could have government coverage if they were to apply, and the people who are only temporarily uninsured (which very much depends on your definition of temporary), my guess is that the number would be somewhere around 25 million.

Up or Down, It's All Good News

Justin Katz

So, despite a decrease in the national rate (because Americans have begun giving up on finding work), Rhode Island's unemployment moved up to 12.7%. Not to worry, though; see, when the national rate decreases because folks give up, it's a positive sign, and when Rhode Island's rate goes up, it's also a good sign:

The news is not all bad for the state. The total labor force — a number that includes the unemployed — grew to 573,700, its highest level in more than two years. A rise of 1,700 in the number of employed state residents contributed to the overall jump in the labor force, although that growth was outpaced by the increase in unemployed workers.

The silver lining, it would seem, is that, despite growing unemployment, there are more people competing for the fewer jobs. Yay!

A few minutes ago, I made a quip on the jobsite that the world is turning, the grass is growing, and RI's unemployment rate is going up. One of the electricians smiled and said, "Yeah, but that's a good thing."

I think the public's starting to discern another way in which the "analysis" with which news stories are served up isn't to be taken seriously. I can't help but wonder if this is the sort of banter that goes on under regimes with state-controlled media.

August 20, 2009

Re-Re-arranging Massachusetts' Succession Law

Monique Chartier

The senior senator from Massachusetts has written a letter urging the Mass state legislature to change the method by which a US senate seat would be filled in the event of a vacancy.

Change it ... back to the way it was the first time he urged them to change it five years ago. John Fund, writing for the Wall Street Journal. (h/t Howie Carr)

Until 2004, Massachusetts had a law allowing the governor to appoint a Senator to hold a vacant seat until the next regular election. In that year, faced with the possibility Senator John Kerry succeeding in his bid for the presidency, the Democratic legislature balked at the idea of an appointment being made to fill his seat by then-GOP Governor Mitt Romney. When the legislature hesitated to pass such a blatantly self-serving bill, Senator Kennedy made two direct appeals to the state senate's president to revive the stalled bill, including a phone call to his home over a weekend.

It worked. In 2004, the Democrat-controlled legislature

passed a law creating the special election process and taking away the governor's right to make a temporary appointment.
See, 'cause it's so important that the people and not the Governor fill a vacant senate seat.

... er, unless the Governor is a Democrat and we've got unpopular legislation pending in Congress. In that case, Senator Kennedy ...?

it is vital for this Commonwealth to have two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens and two votes in the Senate during the approximately five months between a vacancy and an election.

In the Back Door, Again

Justin Katz

Thanks to Andrew's emailwork with Sheldon Whitehouse staffers and Tim White's willingness to open the door for a loitering blogger, I've gained entrance to Senators' Whitehouse and Reed's healthcare dinner. I had my PB&J sandwich in the van on the way down, so I've got a moment to chat with you. Congressman Jim Langevin's staffers led us right to the room in which the press Q&A was to be held; tonight, I don't think I attached myself sufficiently tightly to Mr. White in order to make my way into the room where the senators currently are.

There are apparently two rooms, and the senators will only be in one; assuming I'm in the right one, there are some familiar faces from last night, including the Tea Party's Colleen Conley and some of the people who spoke last night. I have seen a number of folks with pro-reform stickers, though.

One thing that struck me in the hall was the general tone of familiarity, and I have to say I was disappointed to see state Senator Leonidas Raptakis body-hug Senator Whitehouse.

5:51 p.m.

I'm seeing a lot of people with "Health Care for America Now!" stickers and name tags, many of them sitting with folks in medical-provider-type uniforms. It would be disappointing to learn that the room in which the senators will be spending the evening is stacked in their favor, with the other one consisting of spillover.

7:45 p.m.

It's wrapping up, now. I'll say this: Although I did get the impression that some of the questions were, well, not unanticipated, there was definitely a healthy representation of the opposition.

Another thing I'll say is that it's edifying to see these guys talk off script. The holes that popped up in the statements and arguments could keep a full-time blogger busy for weeks. Perhaps the healthiest thing that can come out of these town halls — and the point came up that they would not be as big a deal as they are if the administration and Congress hadn't been so blatantly conspiring to push the bill through to law in the dark of a summer night — is to expose the flawed logic of those who lead our nation.

Blogging makes it a different world. Hopefully our politics will catch up before it's too late.

Takeaway #5 from Congressman Langevin's Town Hall: Wonks, to the Barricades!

Carroll Andrew Morse

Two questions of fact regarding healthcare in America, where consensus on all sides does not exist, came up during last night's town hall meeting with Congressman James Langevin

  1. What is the count of uninsured people in America, major points of contention being…
    • How many of the oft-quoted figure of 47 million unisured includes people who change jobs and don't have insurance for just a few months or even a few weeks during the year, and
    • Does the 47-million figure include illegal immigrants?
  2. Where does the United States rate in quality of care?
    • Although it wasn't asked directly, answering this question has to preceded by answering the question of how quality-of-care can be accurately measured.
Authoritative references, anyone?

Blame the Betcha Gal

Justin Katz

When the Pawtucket Times' Jim Baron lobbed Congressman Langevin the "death panel" volley ball to smack down during the pre-town hall presser, it occurred to me that if (and I repeat: if) some monstrosity of a socializing healthcare bill becomes law, at least some of the blame with fall to Sarah Palin.

When she initially waded onto the ice with the notion of the government's making healthcare decisions, she was on reasonably solid footing:

The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's "death panel" so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their "level of productivity in society," whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

This is an argument that can be made as a natural progression from the first principles of the reform, and with evidence from other countries to boot. But when the administration responded, the Palin camp saw the opportunity to declare "got 'im" and jumped on provisions concerning end-of-life decisions. Suddenly, the Democrats could dodge questions on the gravity of government healthcare controls by insisting that a "living will" is not a death panel.

Takeaway #4 from Congressman Langevin's Town Hall: There May Be Some People Thinking that the "Public Option" is Akin to Free Healtcare

Carroll Andrew Morse

At least twice during Congressman James Langevin's town hall meeting last evening, the idea was brought up that a "public option", i.e. a government created and run insurance company, needs to be included in any health reform proposal, as a safety valve for people who lose their jobs (in an employer-based system) and still need coverage.

But does this concept make sense? Unless the "public option" is engaged in seriously predatory pricing, or it is eligible for much bigger subsidies than the private plans on an "exchange" are eligible for, how does a "public option" become any more affordable than a private plan, for someone who has lost their job?

Could it be that some of the support for a "public option" is coming from people who believe it is going to be an entirely-taxpayer funded program?

Takeaway #3 from Congressman Langevin's Town Hall: Of Goals and How to Reach Them

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over the course his town hall meeting last evening, Congressman James Langevin expressed support for healthcare reform goals that would contain costs, expand coverage to the uninsured and prevent monopoly-like behavior from insurance companies. I didn't get any sense from the Congressman's responses that any of these goals were most or least important.

But given that an exact mix of policies that is supposed to brings about cost control (as opposed to providing subsidies to help some people pay their costs) has not yet been made clear, people have a reasonable fear of getting caught up in the government two-step, where the government says first we'll take more control of the healthcare system and then, only after we're in charge, we'll tell you how we're going to cut costs. Whether you like our plans or not.

If the government really knows how to cut costs, why can't they tell us now (in a way that the Congressional Budget Office would believe) -- or even better, why not use their strategies to bring Medicare costs into line?

On the revenue side, Congressman Langevin spoke very decisively in favor of a surtax on upper-income individuals, in order to generate the revenues required by new healthcare programs. But when large revenue is being generated from a narrow base, what is going to happen in the down years? Can we trust government to spend conservatively in the up-years, so there will be something left in the kitty to help bridge the down years -- or would it be more reasonable to expect government to follow its recent pattern and blow through everything it's got in the up-years, forcing big tax increases further down the income spectrum in the down years?

Takeaway #2 from Congressman Langevin's Town Hall: Employment-Based Healthcare May Have More Supporters Than You Think

Carroll Andrew Morse

The most surprising thing I learned over the course of last night's town hall meeting with Congressman James Langevin was of the Congressman's strong commitment to maintaining the employer-based system as the basis of American health insurance. I had thought that most current support for the employer-based system (outside of the insurance industry) sprang from a small-c conservative reluctance to alter what's in place now. Contrary to this idea, Congressman Langevin spoke very actively of wanting to maintain the employer-basis. (He also made it clear that he does not favor a change to a single-payer or a Canadian-style system).

If there was one big-picture healthcare issue I would ask the Congressman to reconsider, the wisdom of maintaining an employment-based system would be it.

Congressman Langevin spoke of ending insurance company "monopolies" over their customers as one of his policy goals. But those monopolies as currently structured are largely artifacts of the employment-based system, where employees are directed to a single insurance company by their employers and told that they can deal with that company, or else get nothing. "Exchanges" are supposed to remedy this take-it-or-leave-it aspect of health insurance, by giving everyone a choice of different companies to deal with, but while the goal here is a laudable one, using "exchanges" to achieve it is a gimmick.

The problem is that the employment-based system did not grow out of an unregulated market; it was created by advantages granted to corporate purchasers of health insurance, by the Federal government, including 1) tax-advantages for corporate insurance purchasers, but not for individuals 2) liability advantages for corporately purchased insurance plans, but not for individually purchased ones and 3) prohibitions against purchasing insurance across state lines, limiting the insurance pools that individuals can choose to join.

Having the government use its tax and regulatory power to strongly tilt the system in favor of employment-based monopolies, and then try to fix the problems it has created by adding new regulations and a new bureaucracy in an attempt to simulate a market is a Rube Goldberg approach to health coverage. The more efficient and more rational solution is to simplify things, by removing the advantages the government has given to corporate health insurance purchasers over individual ones and allowing people purchase their health insurance like they purchase their other kind of insurance.

When regulation has failed miserably, it doesn't automatically mean that the answer is more regulation. It often means that the government has to get out of the way and let people make their own choices

Takeaway #1 from Congressman Langevin's Town Hall: The Point of Failure in American Democracy

Carroll Andrew Morse

The first takeaway from Congressman James Langevin's town hall meeting last evening (actually, it was a city hall meeting, but why quibble) is bigger than the issue of healthcare alone. It concerns one of the weakest points in the American democratic system, the committee system used for creating legislation.

When asked if he had read the "current" healthcare bill, Congressman Langevin responded by saying that there was no final bill yet, but that there would be "a finished bill that we will all have plenty of time to read". There's no reason to question the Congressman's sincerity on this issue -- but remember, President Obama originally wanted a healthcare bill passed by both chambers of Congress before the beginning of the August recess. On that schedule, there would have been no time for either Congressmen or their constituents to substantively review a 1,000-page bill filled with technical language and cross-references, after committee work had been completed.

I submit that a significant reason that the town halls of 2009 have become as contentious they have is because citizens have a legitimate fear of a process that could finish with their waking up one morning, reading their local political blog (or maybe their newspaper or something) and finding out that a final or near-final healthcare bill was passed out of committee yesterday, that it will be up for a floor vote by the end of the week, and that their chance to impact or prevent or improve a major change in the government's role in their lives has passed.

The American people and their elected representatives -- at both the state and Federal levels of government -- need to come to a clearer mutual understanding about a standard, consistent place in the legislative process when the public has its opportunity to offer meaningful input on legislation.

Maybe an official public comment period on proposed legislation, just like there are official comment periods on executive-branch regulations, needs to be created. Or maybe we need a new rule that says for every 100-pages that a bill spans, 1 week has to be allowed to pass between its approval by a committee and consideration on the floor (minimum allowed period of two weeks).

It's That "Arbitration" Word

Justin Katz

Yeah, there are several distinctions that could be drawn, but it's difficult not to see this as a significant anecdote as the General Assembly plays with the idea of binding arbitration for teachers:

An arbitrator has blocked for the foreseeable future Mayor David N. Cicilline's attempt to switch the health-care benefits administrator for city employees who are represented by labor unions.

Arbitrator Girard R. Visconti declared in effect that by making the switch, Cicilline would have violated labor contracts by diluting employee health-care benefits. Cicilline had insisted repeatedly that there would have been no change in benefits.

The decision, which was distributed to the litigants Monday, is a sharp setback in the mayor's campaign to better reconcile employee costs with the city's ability to pay. Cicilline had claimed that switching from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island to United Healthcare of New England would save the city nearly $6 million over three years.

Health and the Town Hall

Justin Katz

Monique and Matt hit on various topics related to healthcare and last night's town hall on the Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

August 19, 2009

Langevin Town Hall from the Media Perspective

Justin Katz

Thanks to Andrew, the two of us were able to sneak through the media entrance to Congressman Jim Langevin's town hall meeting at the Warwick city hall.and to sit in on the private media Q&A. Andrew even got in a question (that wasn't directly answered. Me, I was takinbg video.

The place is packed, probably already at the 300-person capacity, and when I walked up, the line to get in stretched around the building.

Whether It Is or Not, It's What Rationing Will Sound Like

Justin Katz

TPublico constructively offers correction of my mention of proposed healthcare-reform changes to wheelchair purchases under the Social Security Act:

That specific section in the Health Reform Bill has nothing to do with rationing, or as the source says '...if you don't specifically need the motorized chair for complex rehabilitation, Obamacare says you can freaking walk or crawl from now on. Or pay for it yourdamnself. ...'

Here's the section of the Social Security Act as it is now that the HRB would modify:

(iii) Purchase agreement option for power-driven wheelchairs.—In the case of a power-driven wheelchair, at the time the supplier furnishes the item, the supplier shall offer the individual the option to purchase the item, and payment for such item shall be made on a lump-sum basis if the individual exercises such option.

So if someone needs a motorized chair, they'll still be able to get it... it only modifies a purchase agreement option - an option that is only in there because payment for the rental item (wheelchair) must be made on monthly basis. That source's interpretation is completely false, and way off base.

(I) In general.—Except as provided in clause (iii), payment for the item shall be made on a monthly basis for the rental of the item during the period of medical need (but payments under this clause may not extend over a period of continuous use (as determined by the Secretary) of longer than 13 months).

Following on the Lee Drutman piece to which I linked this morning, I lack the time and motivation to research this minute point across the range from Congressional debates to somebody actually buying a wheelchair, but the "way off base" accusation strikes me as a bit strong. Begin with the fact that, in the actual SSA language, the part about rentals (subsection I) is at a lower level of a different branch than the part about purchase agreements (subsection iii). The end user has three options: rent, rent to own, and straight-out purchase.

Heretofore, the choice to buy the machine outright, rather than rent it, followed the language that TPublico quoted. The Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 changes that language such that it only mentions "certain complex rehabilitative" power-driven wheelchairs and limits the equipment to "complex rehabilitative power-driven wheelchair recognized by the Secretary as classified within group 3 or higher."

It's entirely possible that this amounts to a mere clarification of a practice already in effect, but it would seem likely that there's a more substantial reason for the change. It could be that this specific measure will cut down on waste, because people have been buying equipment that they really only needed for a few months. Or maybe, in the other direction, dealers want the rental option pushed because, by the time they turn over ownership after thirteen months, they've charged 105% of the purchase price. Or the government may be looking to limit people to a few months of rentals when they really could use the wheelchair in perpetuity. The bottom line is that a payment option that was available for power-driven wheelchairs is now only available for a limited class of power-driven wheelchairs. If that's not rationing, it sure sounds like it. (Keep in mind, of course, that I personally don't think the government should be paying for private medical equipment at all.)

More to the point — inasmuch as I raised this as an example of method, not of implementation — it remains serviceable as a taste of how a massive government-directed bureaucracy will sweep away benefits: with a few words requiring deep expertise in the midst of large, complicated legislation, and with references that snake from the legislation, through another piece of legislation, to a document or judgment from another government office, and then to who knows where, such that we blog disputants can debate at length what the whole thing means. And let's not forget that the current debate is over the House version of the bill. The Senate version will be different, and then the legislation presented for the president's signature could be different again.

The Special Interests Are in the Details

Justin Katz

Lee Drutman reminds readers of a point that Milton Friedman made often:

And yet, start reading the actual legislation, and you quickly realize the U.S. health-care system is a dizzying jumble of a thousand and one interconnected pieces, which means a lot of little rules and incentives to get right if any reform is going to work (hence the very long bill). And so, while the public debate carries on in two colors and one dimension, a handful of Washington policy "experts" who actually can grasp the infinite subsections and crevices of health-care law work tirelessly to shape legislative language far from the spotlight.

And who are these "experts"? Well, mostly (though not entirely), they are the representatives of doctors, hospitals, insurers and pharmaceutical companies, i.e., the special interests that have both the resources and the stake to actually invest in the expertise one needs to deal in the details. The health-care industry is now reportedly spending more than $1.4 million a day on lobbying.

This is a fundamental problem with treating government as an overarching means of social organization. By the time activists and partisans have riled enough people to get an assertion of government power rolling, entrenched forces and special interests have positioned figure out how to roll it in their favor. One suspects, by the way, that the overlap between those doing the riling and those guiding the roll is significant.

Open Thread: Questions on Healthcare

Carroll Andrew Morse

As we head towards our town hall meetings in the state of Rhode Island where the subject of healthcare reform will be a major issue, here is the big picture question regarding the proposals currently under consideration by Congress: The President and Congressional Democrats are promising that by expanding the Federal role in healthcare regulation (including an individual mandate and various tax penalties on both individuals and companies that don't provide insurance), increasing subsidies and maybe creating a government-run insurance company -- all while simultaneously leaving the Federal tax and regulatory advantages that corporately purchased insurance plans hold over individually purchased insurance plans in place -- they will...

...what exactly?

  • Is the answer reduce healthcare costs? If so, could the public be provided with a few examples to use as a model from economic history where Federalizing regulation, providing subsidies, and mandating spending has brought down the cost of something?
  • Is the answer expanded coverage? If so, could the public be provided with a few examples (in broad terms) of the kinds of regulations that will needed to achieve this goal, and why a vastly-expanded Federal regulatory structure for healthcare is needed to implement them?
And if I might add one slightly-more specific question...
  • Would a government-run insurance company be granted the same legal protections that employer-based plans currently enjoy, and not be held legally responsible for the consequences of erroneous decisions to deny treatment? If so, how will this not lead to a competitive pricing advantage over the non-employer based plans sold through a government "exchange" (which presumably would be held responsible for the consequences of their mistakes) and eventually to predatory pricing on the part of the government-run company?
Other questions, and even answers, are welcome in the comments...

The White House's Pesky Friends

Justin Katz

Opinions have, predictably, been split about the verbal ping-pong match of Fox News's Major Garrett and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. On the left, that pushy reporter from the conservative propaganda network was forcing baseless accusations into the public discourse. On the right, he was speaking truth to power.

Well, well, well:

The White House said Sunday night that it will change its e-mail sign-up procedures after some recipients of a health-care e-mail complained that they had not asked to receive updates.

"We are implementing measures to make subscribing to e-mails clearer, including preventing advocacy organizations from signing people up to our lists without their permission when they deliver petition signatures and other messages on individual’s behalf," spokesman Nick Shapiro said in a statement Sunday night.

After a few such recipients appeared on Fox News, White House officials determined that advocacy groups on the right or left could have sent in the names without the person knowing it.

It's possible, I suppose, that right-wing groups have been signing folks up for White House talking-point emails, but it's also conceivable that this has been a method of merging mailing lists at arm's length. The latter possibility wouldn't exactly be out of character for this administration.

Gut Feeling Confirmed: ACORN Disavows Langevin Event E-Mail

Monique Chartier

Following up on Justin's unease, I conveyed the e-mail in question to the Rhode Island office of ACORN. They responded quickly with the following statement.

An e-mail from Rhode Island Young Republicans that supposedly included an e-mail message from ACORN to our members is entirely a hoax and a fabrication. We have seen this pattern across the country, where right wing and Republican elements are attempting to stoke up their base using these entirely fabricated lies about ACORN. Around the country ACORN is engaged in the fight for quality, affordable health care, and believe it is every American's right and privilege to voice their opinion and attend town hall meetings. But for the record:

a) ACORN has never had a plan to attend Congressman Langevin's Town Hall meeting; and

b) The e-mail that was supposedly from ACORN to our members is a total fabrication.

Let us pause here to note the inherently non-solid, often non-verifiable nature of electronic mail. The Young Republicans may well have received and then passed along the e-mail in good faith. (I've e-mailed them to ask the source of the e-mail, though, upon reflection, that might have been a silly question.) ACORN has denied sending the e-mail. Still a mystery, however, is its author and originator, who may be

- a friend of ACORN,

- a friend of the Young Republicans or

- an uninvolved third party trying to create mischief.

August 18, 2009

Just a Gut Feeling

Justin Katz

By now, you've probably seen somebody or other mentioning this:

As you are aware in our prior email, we need your presence at Congressman James Langevin's Town Hall Meeting at the Warwick police Station 99 Veterans Memorial Drive, Warwick, Rhode Island. We are planning on arriving early at 1:30PM to fill the hall before the radical right protestors arrive. A box lunch will be provided for those on the bus. We will meet at headquarters for those wishing to join us on the bus. Thank you!

The Acorn Team

Something about it just doesn't resonate right, for me. I suppose poor grammar mightn't be a stretch in an authentic email from ACORN, but the fact that the signature doesn't all-cap the group's name is odd. The fact that the announcement gives the address of the destination, but not the address of "headquarters" is peculiar, too, for a leading organizational group on the dark side.

It could be legitimate, of course, and even if it is not, those who've been spreading it around aren't necessarily aware of its fraudulence. But a whole collection of groups have posted or forwarded the email, and I believe it's been mentioned on talk radio, as well. If tomorrow comes and there's no gang of ACORN members wiping crumbs off their chins, a number of folks are going to have unnecessarily lost some credibility for future announcements.

It Might Be Better to Face the Swine

Justin Katz

Folks might want to consider this before signing up for inoculation:

A warning that the new swine flu jab is linked to a deadly nerve disease has been sent by the Government to senior neurologists in a confidential letter.

The letter from the Health Protection Agency, the official body that oversees public health, has been leaked to The Mail on Sunday, leading to demands to know why the information has not been given to the public before the vaccination of millions of people, including children, begins.

It tells the neurologists that they must be alert for an increase in a brain disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which could be triggered by the vaccine.

GBS attacks the lining of the nerves, causing paralysis and inability to breathe, and can be fatal.

There's a whole lot of context that one requires from a doctor before issuing a notice of avoidance, but still...

It refers to the use of a similar swine flu vaccine in the United States in 1976 when:
  • More people died from the vaccination than from swine flu.
  • 500 cases of GBS were detected.
  • The vaccine may have increased the risk of contracting GBS by eight times.
  • The vaccine was withdrawn after just ten weeks when the link with GBS became clear.
  • The US Government was forced to pay out millions of dollars to those affected.

Hard-Luck Cases Make Bad Law, Especially When the President Doesn't Understand Them

Carroll Andrew Morse

The third example used by President Barack Obama in his Sunday New York Times op-ed arguing for more Federal control of healthcare contains serious errors at both the factual and at the conceptual levels (as opposed to his first example, where the error is entirely conceptual)…

OUR nation is now engaged in a great debate about the future of health care in America. And over the past few weeks, much of the media attention has been focused on the loudest voices. What we haven’t heard are the voices of the millions upon millions of Americans who quietly struggle every day with a system that often works better for the health-insurance companies than it does for them.

These are people like Lori Hitchcock, whom I met in New Hampshire last week. Lori is currently self-employed and trying to start a business, but because she has hepatitis C, she cannot find an insurance company that will cover her. Another woman testified that an insurance company would not cover illnesses related to her internal organs because of an accident she had when she was 5 years old. A man lost his health coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because the insurance company discovered that he had gallstones, which he hadn’t known about when he applied for his policy. Because his treatment was delayed, he died.

The third example is that of Otto Raddatz of Illinois, who was initially denied a stem-cell treatment by his insurance company (Fortis). However, as Mr. Raddatz’s sister described in Congressional testimony, the decision was eventually reversed…
My brother was accused by Fortis Insurance Company of falsely stating his health insurance history, despite the fact that he had no knowledge of ever having any gall stones or aneurysms.

Luckily, I am an attorney and was able to aggressively become involved in solving this life threatening situation. I contacted the Illinois Attorney General's office and received immediate and daily assistance from Dr. Babs H. Waldman, M. D., the medical Director of their Health Bureau.

During their investigation, they located the doctor who ordered the CT scan. He had no recollection of disclosing the information to my brother or treating him for it.

After two appeals by the Illinois Attorney General's Office, Fortis Insurance Company overturned their original decision to rescind my brother's coverage and he was reinstated without any lapse.

Forget the fact that treatment was ultimately approved; the more important question, from a healthcare policy perspective, is why payment for the treatment was denied in the first place -- especially when there is a very good chance that the decision made by the greedy bastards at the insurance company not to pay was strongly influenced by Federal insurance law, which says that insurers are not liable for the consequences of their decisions to deny treatment, in cases where policies are sold through an employer.

Since we don’t know what was actually going through the minds of the Fortis employees involved in the "routine review" that led to a decision to deny payment, let’s suppose for a moment that the decision really was an honest mistake of some sort. Had the denial gone unchallenged and Mr. Raddatz died as a result, even if the denial was later determined to have been improper, if the insurance policy was provided through his employment, (let’s emphasize this one more time) Federal law (the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) dictates that the only damages recoverable would have been the costs of the treatments themselves. The Raddatz family would have not been able to recover anything related to the fact that a mistake by an insurance company led to loss of life.

Now, suppose the people of Illinois decide that this situation needs to be fixed, at least in their state. They bribe their legislators (What, you think I’m being unfair to Illinois here? Remember, I am writing this from Rhode Island, where the courts have ruled it legal for legislators to make their decisions based on bribes. I just thought that was the way things worked everywhere. But I digress…) into passing a law that holds Illinois insurance companies liable for costs that follow from their failure to properly honor the agreements they enter into.

If the state of Illinois tried to enforce such a law, the Federal Government would step-in and prevent them from doing so, on the basis that Federal law pre-empts state law when insurance is purchased through an employer and therefore that state liability laws cannot be any more stringent than Federal ones. (Presumably there is some boundary where state laws against fraud take over, if insurance companies collect money for policies that they never intend to pay out on, but the courts have yet to set clear rules defining this boundary at the present time.)

Ultimately, this leads us to an important question yet to be asked about the "public option" that may or may not still be a part of the President's health reform plans. If a so-called “public option”, i.e. an insurance company created and run by the Federal government, is included as part of the reform package, will this company be protected from being held liable for consequences resulting from its decisions to deny treatment, in the same way employer-based plans are protected from liability today? Are the American people ready for a reform that allows the big, new insurer on the block to evade responsibility for the mistakes that it makes?

And before promising that more Federal intervention in healthcare is guaranteed to improve things, shouldn't the President and Congressional Democrats show they are capable of remedying the inequitable treatment of individuals versus corporations that the Federal government has already created?

Ending a Long History, I Guess

Justin Katz

Here's a bizarre explanation for Blount Fine Foods' pulling sponsorship from the traditional marriage event on Sunday:

Corporate philanthropy and good citizenship has been part of Blount's mission since inception. In keeping with that, we have a long track record of donating Blount-brand chowder and other products to all non-profits in our home area that request it for events. These donations of soup are just simple gestures of goodwill and were certainly not intended to be interpreted otherwise. It's very concerning to us that anyone would think otherwise and as a result, we are reviewing our policy going forward.

Additionally, Blount notified the organizers of the Rhode Island event in question that the company would not be providing a donation, soup or otherwise.

A long history of goodwill... until same-sex marriage activists insist that there is no social sphere free of their politics. This speaks to a long-running cognitive dissonance behind positioning of SSM as a live-and-let-live movement. This gay activist (astonishingly the only "news" result for a Google search for "Maggie Gallagher Rhode Island) expresses scorn that Rhode Island is the only state "in the northeast that will tolerate these folks."

Yup, can't tolerate those traditionalists and Christians who gather together to listen to music, have a meal, and renew marriage vows. Rout us out. Lock us up until we swear to conversion.

On Medical Absurdity

Justin Katz

Wading through the self-defeating snideness of Ed Fitzpatrick's Sunday column on the healthcare debate (sorry to be harsh, Ed, but it oozes off the page), I wondered whether Fitzpatrick has heard the term "quality-adjusted life year." Here's the definition provided by

A year of life adjusted for its quality or its value. A year in perfect health is considered equal to 1.0 QALY. The value of a year in ill health would be discounted. For example, a year bedridden might have a value equal to 0.5 QALY.

As the Wall Street Journal describes, the measure is particularly popular among bureaucrats in the United Kingdom:

The [National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence] NICE board even has a mathematical formula [to dictate limits on certain kinds of care to certain classes of patients], based on a "quality adjusted life year." While the guidelines are complex, NICE currently holds that, except in unusual cases, Britain cannot afford to spend more than about $22,000 to extend a life by six months. Why $22,000? It seems to be arbitrary, calculated mainly based on how much the government wants to spend on health care. That figure has remained fairly constant since NICE was established and doesn't adjust for either overall or medical inflation.

Proponents argue that such cost-benefit analysis has to figure into health-care decisions, and that any medical system rations care in some way. And it is true that U.S. private insurers also deny reimbursement for some kinds of care. The core issue is whether those decisions are going to be dictated by the brute force of politics (NICE) or by prices (a private insurance system).

The last six months of life are a particularly difficult moral issue because that is when most health-care spending occurs. But who would you rather have making decisions about whether a treatment is worth the price -- the combination of you, your doctor and a private insurer, or a government board that cuts everyone off at $22,000?

Attempting to impose objectivity on these decisions is clinically monstrous. A hugely successful British composer recently decided that a year of decline without his wife was actually worth paying to avoid. But what was the value — to himself and to society — of Stephen Ambrose's final days? Randy Pausch's? Me, far from a 50% detriment to my QALY, I'd see a bedridden year as an opportunity, probably to write a book, especially if I got to get out of bed and go on with my life afterwards.

Fitzpatrick winds up his essay with some powerful testimony from Rhode Island Medical Society President Dr. Diane Siedlecki, but she and he miss a key reality:

"I am the person you tell when you can no longer afford the medication prescribed, so you cut the doses in half or take [them] every other day, hoping at least for partial coverage," Siedlecki said. "I am the person patients call when they wish to be squeezed in for one last visit or for their annual physical exam because they are no longer covered after the end of the month. I am the person called when a patient loses his job and cannot afford to both come in and renew his medications. Or even when she has two jobs and still no has no insurance."

Involving government in healthcare does not alleviate these equations; it does not change the fact that a particular person has a certain amount of resources to contribute to the medical system and requires a certain amount of care. It merely offloads that judgment from the person him or her self. Rather than an individual's deciding whether the benefits of a given pill justify economizing in another area (whether food or the daily lottery ticket), a governing structure — a "death panel," if you will — decides whether one person's medication outweighs another person's cancer treatment or another person's contact lenses.

Whereas a free system allows patients to make their own quality-of-life adjustments, and advocate for themselves among friends, communities, and charities, a system manipulated through government regulation operates on a deceptive and presumptuous objectivity and political power.

The easy self-deception is that those folks calling up Dr. Siedlecki will no longer have to ration their own care, because the government will cover the expense. The other possibility is that they'll find a cold "system" making those decisions for them.

Projo Endorses Term Limits

Carroll Andrew Morse

Somewhat out of the blue, the Projo editorial page has come out in favor of term limits for Congressmen...

Now, it’s time for Americans to look at limiting the terms of members of Congress....A good way to start the discussion would be proposing to limit the time in office to, say,10 or 12 years (five or six terms) in the House and 12 years (two terms) in the Senate. That’s enough to provide a necessary learning curve but not so much that these legislators become life-tenured barons whose incumbency, supported by economic interests giving campaign money, thwarts democracy
However, the main question about reviving the term-limits movement is a strategic one; is this really the best time for those dissatisfied with the direction of government to be focusing their energies on a notoriously difficult-to-achieve process goal, when there's so much happening in the realm of substance requiring careful scrutiny and public involvement?

On the other hand, perhaps if it were part of a larger movement to reform the Federal Government at the Constitutional level...

Congressman Langevin's Town Hall Has Changed Venue

Carroll Andrew Morse

Congressman James Langevin has changed the location of his town-hall meeting with constituents this week. It will be held at Warwick City Hall at same time as originally scheduled, 6 to 7 pm on Wednesday, August 19.

Relieved of the Need to Defend Foolishness

Justin Katz

Political maneuvering can involve such minute actions as to seem arbitrary. Consider this account from state Representative Rod Driver (D, Charlestown, Exeter, Richmond):

During consideration of the state budget, on June 24, I offered an amendment (requested by several towns) to relax the mandate that public-works projects must be performed by contractors who pay "prevailing wages," i.e., union scales. (Try explaining to a person living on Social Security that she must pay higher real-estate taxes so that painters or roofers — perhaps from out of town — working on a town building can be paid $44 an hour, including benefits. Meanwhile, willing workers in town remain unemployed.)

My amendment would have removed the prevailing-wage mandate only for small projects, under $50,000, and only for the fiscal year July 2009 through June 2010.

But House Finance Committee Chairman Steven Costantino suggested that it was "not germane." House Speaker William Murphy consulted the parliamentarian, and then announced that my amendment was indeed "not germane."

Subsequently, Rep. John Loughlin (R, Little Compton, Portsmouth, Tiverton) offered an amendment to withdraw all mandates on school committees except those related to safety. The House leadership permitted that amendment to be voted down.

It's possible the reason was mere arbitrary whim, but it could be that opposing Loughlin's amendment could be spun as protecting kids, while opposing Driver's is much more directly a sop to a special interest. Even for the handful of people who actually pay attention to this stuff, parliamentary procedures are abstract and allow a bit more slither room if anybody takes notice.

August 17, 2009

The Casual Assumption of Correctitude

Justin Katz

There are surely practitioners of the stratagem on both political wings, and it's the sort of ploy into which one can slip from time to time, but it seems to me that it is much more characteristic of liberals to weave rhetorical comforters that allow them to slip opinions through as objective fact. This, from Jamison Foser of the liberal Media Matters, is a fine sample. After 75% of a conspicuously benign essay on the need for substantive discussion of the healthcare legislation, this paragraph rolls across the table:

When you see people yelling, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare," that's a clear sign that the public needs some solid facts. How many people do you think know that health-care reform with a strong public option would cost taxpayers less than a plan without such an option? I bet that a distressingly large number of members of Congress don't know that, and that very, very few voters do.

Thus, wrapped in a blanket of mutually agreeable observations about a heated debate, Foser slips through the talking point that really ought to be the object of his argument — because it's a point that actually requires argument. Given the organization for which he writes, promulgating the assertion about costs probably is the objective of the piece, even though it's offered in a tone of "for example."

Ponder, for a moment, the not-so-fine distinction between error and misinformation. On the surface, here, Media Matters is requesting bias; in actuality, the group is endeavoring to insert it.

He Could Be the Perfect Man for the Job

Justin Katz

So, last week, Pat Crowley intimated that he may run for General Treasurer of Rhode Island. Those familiar with his body of, ahem, work will likely find it difficult to believe that the notion isn't a put-on at some level. Today, Crowley announced that RIFuture is something like the state's online hot potato:

RUTURE has been sold. After much consideration, and after receiving a substantial offer of purchase, I have decided to sell RIFUTURE. The sale creates an opportunity to pursue other state wide goals while still maintaining a voice in the progressive blogosphere. I will continue to be an active contributor to RIFUTURE, amongst other activities.

So, Patrick Crowley "small business owner" is no more, but based on his experience, I'm tempted to endorse his candidacy for the treasurer job. Who better to occupy that seat as Rhode Island plunges into the chilly waters toward which our gleeful leap off the economic cliff sent us rocketing?

White House Shuts Down Snitch Line

Monique Chartier

So we can no longer drop dimes?

After the White House took heat for asking people to report "fishy" information about health care reform, the e-mail address set up for that purpose became inactive Monday.

It's unclear whether the White House pulled the plug on the controversial account,, or whether there is a bug in the system.

But the error message that shows up indicates it is a permanent change.

"The email address you just sent a message to is no longer in service," the message says. "We are now accepting your feedback about health insurance reform via:"

But wait! All is not lost. As long as you inform the snitchee ...

Through the "reality check" site, set up last week to address what the White House said were health care reform rumors, the White House is still asking people to send in their "myths" on health care. But that site now includes a warning that says, "please refrain from submitting any individual's personal information, including their e-mail address, without their permission."

The Daily Advocate

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal outdoes itself with a much attenuated version of this AP filing. The Projo splashes the headline and lead:

Fighting gay marriage hurts Mormon image
Observers say the church's heavy-handed intervention into California politics will linger and has left the faith's image tarnished.

What observers does the article cite? The organizer of a gay "kiss-in" and the executive director of a San Francisco lesbian advocacy group, the latter of whom bases her observation on what she's hearing "from my community and from straight progressive individuals."

I wonder how much of the current angst in American society has its origin in the utter distrust of the news media to even attempt to offer an objective explanation of current events and policy debates.

The Bill of Federalism: Amendment #9

Carroll Andrew Morse

I mentioned at the start of this series of postings that the Bill of Federalism is a stronger alternative to "Tenth Amendment resolutions" and the like. In the ninth proposed amendment of the Bill of Federalism, the subject of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments of the US Constitution -- the rights retained by the people -- is directly addressed via two related prongs…

  1. In terms of substance, the ninth proposed amendment erases any doubt that the Constitution protects "fundamental" rights, such rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, from governmental infringement, in the same way that enumerated rights in the Bill of Rights are protected.
  2. In terms of process, the ninth proposed amendment specifies "due process" as meaning that the government in defending its actions has the burden of proving that it has acted in conformity with its powers as granted by the Constitution and that it is not infringing on the fundamental rights of any citizen, which is different from the process that exists now.
The text of the ninth proposed amendment states...
Section 1. All persons are equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights which they retain when forming any government, amongst which are the enjoying, defending and preserving of their life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting real and personal property, making binding contracts of their choosing, and pursuing their happiness and safety.

Section 2. The due process of law shall be construed to provide the opportunity to introduce evidence or otherwise show that a law, regulation or order is an infringement of such rights of any citizen or legal resident of the United States, and the party defending the challenged law, regulation, or order shall have the burden of establishing the basis in law and fact of its conformity with this Constitution.

There is a long, technical but interesting, and very important legal history behind the need for this amendment. If you were allowed just two sentences to describe that history, you'd be hard pressed to do better than the Bill of Federalism's author, Georgetown University Law Professor Randy Barnett, has done with these…
The Constitution that was actually enacted and formally adopted creates islands of government powers in a sea of liberty. The judicially redacted Constitution creates islands of liberty rights in a sea of governmental power.
His more detailed explanation of the specific need the ninth proposed amendment, as explained on the Bill of Federalism website, is as follows…
The existing Ninth Amendment says that "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." Section 1 of this proposal elaborates on the original meaning of "rights . . . retained by the people" with language that is adopted from the wording of amendments proposal to the first Congress by state ratification conventions and by James Madison, and from the very similar wording found in several state Constitutions at the time of the Founding. For example, the constitution of Pennsylvania read: "That all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights, amongst which are, the enjoying and defending of life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety." Likewise, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 protected the right of any citizen "to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property. . . ."

Section 2 corrects the current approach of the Supreme Court that precludes citizens and legal residents from contesting the necessity and propriety of restrictions on their retained rights unless the Court deems the right in question to be "fundamental" and provides all liberties with the same type of protection now accorded the rights of freedom of speech, press, and assembly, and the right to keep and bear arms.

Though I have nominated the fourth proposed amendment as the Federalism Amendment I would choose if I could add a single one to the Constitution right now, you can make a solid case that this amendment is actually the most important of the group.

Links to the earlier proposed amendments are below the fold...

The Road Not Mentioned

Justin Katz

The scoffs that have been so prevalent in response to right-wing talk of "death panels" and such repeat a common liberal tactic of missing the point through deliberate myopia: "Why, this bill merely provides for consultations about end-of-life options, hardly a group of bureaucrats voting to pull the plug. As for rationing, show me one instance in which such a thing will occur." This citation assists in response to both paraphrased points:

Hey, you know those Scooter commercials, where the owner of the company promises that Medicare will pay for 100% of the cost of your motorized wheelchair or they'll eat the difference? In §1141, the phrase "power-driven wheelchair" shall now be replaced in the Social Security Act with "complex rehabilitative power-driven wheelchair." In other words, if you don't specifically need the motorized chair for complex rehabilitation, Obamacare says you can freaking walk or crawl from now on. Or pay for it yourdamnself. On the one hand, the Czar can see how this is a claim to save money—right, GOP? Why do those pesky elderly folks need taxpayers to help them live normal lives? On the other hand, there's something wickedly disingenuous about this. If AARP lived up to its name, this would be the first thing to decry.

That's the sound of rationing in a big government system. A couple of multisyllabic words added in the middle of a legal document so complex that it's barely English and so heavily cross-referenced that it's more like a kidnapper's cut-and-paste ransom note than a coherent narrative. And as Mark Steyn explains, the "death panel" has more of a passive authority:

The problem with government health systems is not that they pull the plug on Grandma. It's that Grandma has a hell of a time getting plugged in in the first place. The only way to "control costs" is to restrict access to treatment, and the easiest people to deny treatment to are the oldsters. Don't worry, it's all very scientific. In Britain, they use a "Quality-Adjusted Life Year" formula to decide that you don't really need that new knee because you're gonna die in a year or two, maybe a decade-and-a-half tops. So it's in the national interest for you to go around hobbling in pain rather than divert "finite resources" away from productive members of society to a useless old geezer like you. And you'd be surprised how quickly geezerdom kicks in: A couple of years back, some Quebec facilities were attributing death from hospital-contracted infection of anyone over 55 to "old age." Well, he had a good innings. He was 57.

The point is that criticism of healthcare reforms takes a longer view, accounting for that which the installed principles make inevitable. Technically, leaving a man floating in the mid-Atlantic on a 2x12 board isn't killing him, but it's likely a death sentence. Although progressives — who admit by their very name that they've got their eye on a broader project — may wish to hold the debate to the immediate effects of specific provisions, a wise electorate should workshop and brainstorm their lasting consequences.

A similar sleight-of-hand is behind the administration's apparent change of tactic in backing away from "public option" talk. In the end, without that fundamental change, the legislation will only exacerbate bureaucracy and complicate a healthcare system already crawling under the weight of regulation. Both political parties will lift up their arms in a declaration of victory, but the necessary reform would merely have been postponed.

There are two paths to the future enabled by the current legislation: a single-payer system that impinges on freedom and ensures the erosion of healthcare around the world, or the gradually corrosive over-medication of a regulatory bonanza. The path that we ought to follow — decreasing regulation and allowing choice to blossom from fertile demand — has scarcely been mentioned.

Through a Busy Weekend

Justin Katz

It was a weekend of events and video. First, I checked in from the Rhode Island Republican Assembly's "Victory over Statism" barbecue and posted video of the speeches (made possible with a camcorder funded via the advertising and reader donations by which we piece together a limited budget). The next day brought the National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island's celebration at Aldrich Mansion in Warwick, from which I also checked in and posted video.

Other issues on the table, this weekend:

  • Andrew noted a change in presidential emphasis on a public option in healthcare.
  • Teachers' unions maintained their emphasis on rigid and destructive personnel practices in Rhode Island's schools.
  • Bob Dylan maturely accepted that young police officers don't necessarily know who he is.
  • The Moderate Party of Rhode Island felt a bit of political undertow as the Board of Elections fielded calls from signers to remove their names from the party's birth petition, as it were.
  • And I tipped up my nose at the black-bladed windmill in the uncouth Rhode Island West.

August 16, 2009

NOM Marriage Picnic

Justin Katz

Conservatives in this state must share a certain apprehension as they drive to ideologically tinted events — hoping that somebody shows up, but not the wrong people, and maybe it'll be an indication of our powerlessness, but what if we have to prove ourselves in front of a one-time crowd... Well, tea parties aside, the traditional marriage event that National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island is hosting at Aldrich Mansion in Warwick is definitely among the best attended right-leaning events that I've attended thus far. In fact, I may have to allocate some Anchor Rising resources to pay a parking ticket, since I'm not sure the line of cars down the street is actually legal:

And talk about gemstone corners of Rhode Island:

From where I sit on the stairs overlooking the lawn and the bay, I think I'm looking directly at the hill down which I walked my dog countless times and marveled at the view though I had no idea what I was looking at. How can Rhode Island encompass Rhode Island? [I apologize if that thought seems scattered, but I was interrupted midsentence by somebody who wanted to impress his young charges with the fact that I speak regularly with Matt Allen... certainly not an interruption that I minded!]

Whatever else this event proves, a major takeaway is just how abstract and intellectual is the argument that "fiscal conservatives" and libertarians can jettison us social conservatives. Attendance aside, this is by far the most diverse crowd that I've seen at any conservative event. You want hope shaking the opposition to its core? Come to an event like this.

I wonder if that explains some of the disgusting vitriol that social and religious conservatives attract from progressives...


Here's NOM-RI Executive Director Chris Plante:

And NOM President Maggie Gallagher:

And to be fair and balanced, here's the protest out on the street just after Gallagher's speech:


I don't agree with everything that the speaker who initiated the marriage vow renewal section of the program said. He ends the following clip, for example, thus:

You have not defined marriage, you have not shaped marriage, and you have not set its boundaries in place; rather, marriage has defined you. It has shaped you, and it has set boundaries in goodly places. And so it should be. We all choose to submit to marriage and should never seek to have marriage submit to us.

In terms of the functioning of marriage, as an institution, married couples do indeed define and shape the institution, which is why society must encourage them to respect the boundaries that it imposes. Put differently, it is because our own relationships define marriage that we must submit to it.

But minute disputes aside, hearing this speaker (especially in the context of the day) contributes to the sense that there's something peculiar about protesting such an event:

There were children running around with their faces panted. There were bouncy houses. The bulk of the performances weren't political, but musical. If right-wingers were to protest a similar gay family day organized by a group that advocates for same-sex marriage on a lazy summer Sunday, they'd rightly be lumped in with the Phelps family, but on the left, the impulse to protest — to frighten away attendees concerned with what their children might witness — is mainstream.

The small group of protesters who showed up, however, did evoke the tragedy of the issue. For the most part, they only wish to be accepted, to live their lives in as close an accord as possible to the ideals that the culture had put forward to them, but their ordering inclines incompatibly. Their predicament (meant neutrally) is one through which our culture has only recently begun to wend its rules, and understandably, they wish for it to bend as they desire.

Marriage is what it is, though, and it would be to universal detriment to divorce it from the principle that men and women are uniquely compatible with each other in ways of breadth and depth that no other relationship to similitude.


One absence that didn't strike me until I was getting ready to leave was that of politicians. The only candidate or current elected official whom I saw was Will Grapentine, and he's more ubiquitous at conservative events than either Caprio or the governor.

Status of the Public Option

Carroll Andrew Morse

At the time of this posting, the Drudge Report is displaying a big red headline that reads...

...which links to an Associated Press story that opens by saying...
President Barack Obama's administration signaled on Sunday it is ready to abandon the idea of giving Americans the option of government-run health insurance as part of his ambitious health care proposal.
As Drudge himself would say, developing...

Rhode Island Republican Assembly "Victory Over Statism" BBQ Speeches

Justin Katz

Per our usual practice of reinvesting just about every dollar that we take in, for Anchor Rising, we're expanding our capabilities to include video, and the collection of short speeches presented at the Rhode Island Republican Assembly's Victory over Statism Barbecue presented a fantastic first run. Videos (with quotes and commentary as I'm inspired) for the following speakers may be found in the extended entry:

  • Erik Wallin, Candidate for Rhode Island Attorney General
  • Bill Felkner, Executive Director of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute
  • Mark Zaccaria, Candidate for United State Congress
  • Helen Glover, 920 WHJJ Radio Personality
  • Rep. John Loughlin, Candidate for United State Congress
  • Terry Gorman, Founder of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement
  • Colleen Conley, President of the Rhode Island Tea Party
  • Barth Bracy, Executive Director of Rhode Island Right to Life
  • Travis Rowley, Chairman of the Rhode Island Young Republicans
  • John Robitaille, Communications Director for Governor Carcieri
  • Dan Reilly, Candidate for Rhode Island House
  • William Sousa Grapentine, Candidate for Rhode Island House
  • Robert Paquin, Candidate for Rhode Island House
  • Kathleen McCurdy Dennen, Candidate for Rhode Island Senate

Rhode Island Attorney General Candidate Erik Wallin

"I'm ready for a fight to crack down on public corruption."

Executive Director of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute William Felkner

"These are pieces you need to fight the Left. They showed us the blueprint on how to do it; we need to replicate it."

Congressional Candidate Mark Zaccaria

"We have allowed our representatives to start working for somebody else, working for a select group, working for special interests, but not working for all of the people of the district or the state."

WHJJ 920 Talk Host Helen Glover

Funny thing: Driving to a job site in Newport, on Friday morning, I passed by a topless Richard Hatch trying to jog off (one imagines) the extra pounds put on during idle jail time. Hearing Helen giving an entertaining and encouraging talk the subsequent afternoon really highlighted the contrast between these two of the local celebrities emerging from Survivor. Considering how blue Rhode Island is, politically, it's interesting to note that the state's third Survivor star, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, is now the token conservative on The View.

We're fortunate, on the RI right, that Glover found herself on the path that she's currently traversing.

Congressional Candidate RI Representative John Loughlin

I don't know that I've ever heard Loughlin give this sort of a speech before. He's often been the guy I've chatted with while others spoke or another of the local politicians making the rounds, but it shouldn't be surprising to learn that he gives an entertaining talk.

When I was in my late teens, I crossed the bridge onto Long Island to catch a performance by George Carlin, and something about the performance gave the impression that he was working out material for an HBO special or some other major production — seeing what fell flat and what got laughs. (I wonder to this day whether he kept the joke that drove a dozen overweight women to get up and leave en masse.) I get something of that sense from Loughlin, and with so much rehearsal time, as it were, there's reason to believe he could be a successful candidate even against Patches.

Somebody with a familiar name in the Rhode Island media (other than my friends on WPRO) asked me, the other day, what I thought of John's viability, and I wasn't sure what to say. Based on his speech and off-camera conversation, this event may prove to have been the moment that began to push me toward a more favorable view.

Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement Founder Terry Gorman

In the first of the following two clips, Gorman runs through some relevant facts and figures: "In Rhode Island, there are approximately 21,000 illegal aliens that have jobs, while 66,000 Rhode Islanders are unemployed."

In the second clip, Terry adds anecdotes to his data. The first is about teachers and school counselors who require interpreters to communicate with English-speaking children. "Providence had to hire a lot of Spanish-speaking teachers, but they hired them under the guise that they were bilingual. When they got in the classroom, nobody could understand the bilingual part of their teaching, so they had to hire interpreters to teach the kids in English." Others involve healthcare and incarceration.

RI Tea Party President Colleen Conley

"We're at a defining moment here in America, and I think that, when we look back in retrospect in twenty or fifty years, we are going to be amazed at the danger that our republic faces at this point in time. Because we're going to look back, and it's going to be evident to us that, what we're facing, now, is really a war. We are at war. It's not a war violence, but it's a war of words; it's a war of ideas; and it's a war against an ideology that, if it continues to blossom, will swallow this country whole and spit it back out, and we will not recognize it for what it was in the past."

Rhode Island Right to Life Executive Director Barth Bracy

Bracy makes a very strong case for the importance of the pro-life cause to any conservative or Republican movement, tracing threads through the judiciary, marriage, and even healthcare.

"The most insidious, pervasive, despicable and destructive form of statism occurs when government declares itself as the arbiter of which human beings are entitled to fundamental human rights, which human beings are entitled to the right to life, and which are not."

"Constitutionalism, conservatism, and capitalism are simply not enough. Left to themselves, without the guiding light provided by the Declaration of Independence, they can be perverted to exploit, oppress, impoverish, and even enslave the very human beings that they're intended to serve. A fiscal conservatism that is not rooted in a deep commitment to the social values on which our nation was founded and which have inspired the whole world is like a body without a soul."

Rhode Island Young Republicans Chairman Travis Rowley

"The Left's number one talent is that they're able to make themselves seem bigger than they are and conservatives seem smaller than they are."

Rhode Island Office of the Governor Communications Advisor John Robitaille

"This is not a church revival; this is about winning elections. Because I've got to tell you, unless we win more seats locally, at the General Assembly, in Congress, nothing is going to change."

That said, Robitaille argued that the RIGOP's branding problem is that it hasn't branded itself. Neither raw ideology nor raw logic is adequate without the communication of those principles to the practical needs and desires of constituents.

"I've learned in the last eighteen months that mainstream media is not your friend. I don't care what they tell you; I don't care what relationships they try to build with you. They are liberal, and most of them are guilty of journalistic fraud."

Rhode Island House Candidate Dan Reilly

Rhode Island House Candidate William Sousa Grapentine

Rhode Island House Candidate Robert Paquin, III

Rhode Island Senate Candidate Kathleen McCurdy Dennen

Curiously Immoderate Signature Withdrawals

Justin Katz

An interesting email from the Moderate Party's Ken Block:

A flurry of phone calls has been coming into the BOE with folks asking to have their names removed from the MPRI petition sheets.

Enough calls have come in such that this could only be a coordinated effort.

It won’t amount to much, since we have many more signatures than partisans could have provided to us in the first place (most hard core dems or reps declined to sign), but it does say something about how we are being perceived, no??

Actually, I'm not sure what it says. I haven't heard anything indicating this sort of action on the RI right, and it doesn't seem likely in any case. There are some folks, in Rhode Island, who just like to organize against anything that represents change and challenge.

August 15, 2009

Tinctured Parochialism in Green Rhode Island

Justin Katz

Maybe it's my East Bay snobbery coming through, but the black blades of the windmill by the New England Tech Automotive building off Rt. 95 strike me as tacky:

Not like the pretty, monochromatic versions across the bay:

A Reminder to Boomers That They're Blowin' in the Wind

Justin Katz

What better outtro could there be to the fortieth anniversary of the Summer of Love than this?

A 24-year-old police officer apparently was unaware of who Dylan is and asked him for identification, Long Branch business administrator Howard Woolley said Friday.

"I don't think she was familiar with his entire body of work," Woolley said.

The incident began at 5 p.m. when a resident said a man was wandering around a low-income, predominantly minority neighborhood several blocks from the oceanfront looking at houses.

The police officer drove up to Dylan, who was wearing a blue jacket, and asked him his name. According to Woolley, the following exchange ensued:

"What is your name, sir?" the officer asked.

"Bob Dylan," Dylan said.

"OK, what are you doing here?" the officer asked.

"I'm on tour," the singer replied.

It's nice to see history putting the romanticized era of the Baby Boomers' youth in perspective. It'll be nicer, some day, to see the culture recover from their corrosion and the government from their presumptuousness.

Picnicking with RIRA

Justin Katz

What a place is Rhode Island.

As a matter of general impression, I wouldn't have characterized Rhode Island much differently than my native Northern New Jersey. High-density suburban. Some areas that tilt a little more rural; some that escalate to the density of cities. I recently took a moment to fiddle with Google Earth and was actually surprised at the difference. An aerial view of Bergen County, NJ, where I grew up, is like the plant organism through a microscope, properties abutting like cells. Rhode Island has some pockets of that, but it's almost as if the state has striven to fit more geographic diversity into the same space.

That's been my thought as I've traversed Rhode Island for various purposes over the past few years, and today's trip to the Masonic Shriners' Family Center in Warwick for the Victory over Statism picnic of the Rhode Island Republican Assembly contributes to the impression. Here, tucked in a corner of the state that you wouldn't expect, is a wooded park on the river:

And here gathered is a political alcove of conservatives in a deep blue state.

4:10 p.m.

In one of the selfless investments of Anchor Rising largess, I've upgraded technology in order to be able to post videos, which I'm currently endeavoring to do.

Andrew made a comment early on in the meeting that — with the disclaimer that we haven't been going to these things long — it seems as if the right/reform group has begun to pick up some steam. I don't know if the limited movement is kicking into gear or if something new is emerging. Judging from the youth of the candidates who've spoken, there's reason to hope that it's the latter.

Objectivity Isn't Always the Best Approach

Justin Katz

Like fairness, objectivity is a generally positive principle that needn't be — shouldn't be — the guiding principle in every circumstance. One circumstance in which a degree of subjectivity is appropriate, applied to a collection of objective criteria is the hiring of teachers, whatever their argument might currently be in Providence:

The union claims that Brady's hiring practice "eliminates in its entirety impartial and objective decision-making" because it requires the district to offer only an "adequate explanation" for teacher assignments.

So, as we've heard before, standardized testing is inappropriate because of all of the intangibles of teaching (i.e., it must be measured subjectively), and the hiring methodology of most of the rest of the economic world is inappropriate because it isn't sufficiently objective. Is Rhode Island done falling for this stuff, yet?

August 14, 2009

The Toll Plan Continues Apace

Justin Katz

This progression was in plain view when Rhode Island began sidling toward transponder-based tolls:

The authority has also begun planning what could lead to reinstituting tolls on the Mount Hope Bridge, which is now free, and eventually impose tolls on the new Sakonnet River Bridge, which is under construction. The authority has commissioned a study that Chairman David A. Darlington said will look at tolls on all three bridges and various combinations of the three.

The board said it expects to raise tolls regularly, perhaps every three years, depending on its repair and maintenance expenses. The increases would be based on the Consumer Price Index, on an index of construction costs, or other inflation indicators.

With each new toll booth, more Rhode Islanders will bite the bullet and include a toll-paying device as another cost of daily life. With each new transponder, and with each Rhode Islander thus moved one step further from actually handing a piece of currency over for the ability to use a particular piece of public infrastructure, each new toll will be easier to implement and each increase politically easier to accomplish. (And let's not forget that residents' movement will become that much easier to track.)

In my view, this is nothing other than an incremental duplication of taxes that we already pay.

Contrasting Portraits

Monique Chartier

... painted by Michael Morse over at Rescuing Providence.

When one of them, a twenty something shirtless tattooed tough guy refused to get out of the way I had to give him a “little” nudge. The time to show you are a man is not when your aunt is dying in front of you. If you want to be a tough guy, join the Marines, fight for your country, learn to speak English and take care of your family. And get the hell out of the way if you can’t.

* * *

An hour later I found myself in a different home, a Hispanic couple in their early sixties. ...

Before Voting on a 1,000-Page Bill, Shouldn't We Understand the Problem We're Trying to Fix?

Carroll Andrew Morse

In his defense of a Canadian-style single payer system for health insurance appearing in today's Projo, Dr. Michael M. Rachlis either makes a case that President Barack Obama is badly misguided in his belief that government has to get more heavily involved with medical decision-making as a part of healthcare reform, or else he calls his own basic assumptions into question…

On costs, Canada spends 10 percent of its economy on health care; the U.S. spends 16 percent. The extra 6 percent of GDP amounts to more than $800 billion per year. The spending gap between the two nations is almost entirely because of higher overhead. Canadians don’t need thousands of actuaries to set premiums or thousands of lawyers to deny care. Even the U.S. Medicare program has 80 percent to 90 percent lower administrative costs than private Medicare Advantage policies. And providers and suppliers can’t charge as much when they have to deal with a single payer….

Because most of the difference in spending is for nonpatient care, Canadians actually get more of most services. We see the doctor more often and take more drugs.…

If the problem of runaway costs is driven mostly by administration and overhead -- as Dr. Rachlis plainly asserts -- then by what rationale have government-commissioned effectiveness panels that will "bend the cost curve" by determining treatments to be denied (i.e., we've decided we'll pay for the red pill, but not for the blue pill) become so central to the President's discussion of healthcare reform?

Czars Are Un-American (That's Why We Use a Russian Word to Describe Them)

Justin Katz

It doesn't take a stethoscope to hear the reckless "what could it hurt" beat behind the creation of a "pay czar":

Q: So what happens Thursday?

A: Thursday is the last day the companies can submit proposed pay packages for the 25 highest earners at each one. At least one company, General Motors, said Tuesday it already had submitted its plan.

Q: What's next?

A: [Special Master for TARP Executive Compensation Kenneth] Feinberg has 60 days to review the proposals, then accept or reject them. He is expected to meet and negotiate with the companies during this period. He also will approve broader compensation formulas that will apply to the 75 next-highest-paid workers at each company.

Seven hundred of the wealthiest, most powerful corporate types in the United States, and the infrastructure that has heretofore granted their proclaimedly outsized remuneration, now have incentive to exert influence on a single person. It doesn't take a dyed-in-the-wool libertarian to see where this is going.

The Bill of Federalism: Amendment #8

Carroll Andrew Morse

The eighth amendment proposed in the Bill of Federalism would increase the power that the President of the United States has for bringing Federal budgets into balance…

Section 1. The budget of the United States shall be deemed unbalanced whenever the total amount of the public debt of the United States at the close of any fiscal year is greater than the total amount of such debt at the close of the preceding fiscal year.

Section 2. Whenever the budget of the United States is unbalanced, the President may, during the next annual session of Congress, separately approve, reduce or disapprove any monetary amounts in any legislation that appropriates or authorizes the appropriation of any money drawn from the Treasury, other than money for the operation of the Congress and judiciary of the United States.

Section 3. Any legislation that the President approves with changes pursuant to the second section of this Article shall become law as modified. The President shall return with objections those portions of the legislation containing reduced or disapproved monetary amounts to the House where such legislation originated, which may then, in the manner prescribed in the seventh section of the first Article of this Constitution, separately reconsider each reduced or disapproved monetary amount.

Section 4. The Congress shall have power to implement this Article by appropriate legislation; and this Article shall take effect on the first day of the next annual session of Congress following its ratification.

This amendment goes beyond the notion of a "line-item veto" and allows the President to reduce or zero out any amount in any legislation (save for the exceptions in section 2) in the year following the passage of an unbalanced budget. Congress does retain its power to restore funding reduced by the President through the usual 2/3 override process.

I would consider modifying this just a bit, allowing the President to reduce amounts until the budget is balanced, but not beyond.

In his commentary on this proposed amendment, Georgetown University Law Professor and Bill of Federalism author Randy Barnett explains the budgeting practices he feels make this amendment necessary…

The practice by Congress of aggregating thousands of lines of expenditures into "omnibus" appropriation bills has greatly diminished the veto power that the Constitution reposes in the President. Because of their reluctance to threaten a government shut down, Presidents are loath to veto such bills. Knowing this, Senators and Representatives can load spending bills with pork, knowing that Congress will never have to give an up or down floor vote to a particular line item and that the threat of a presidential veto is empty. While there is great demand for constitutional requirement of a balanced budget, mechanisms for this that have been devised to date are highly complex, typically contain numerous exceptions and loop-holes, and lack effective means of enforcement. By linking the goal of a balanced budget with a temporary presidential line-item veto, the eighth proposed amendment provides a real incentive for Congress to devise a balance budget; if Congress fails to do so, the President would then have a temporary line item veto power over any appropriation in the budget. For example, should Congress enact a budget with a deficit, the President could veto Congressional earmarks and be held accountable for failing to do so. The amendment also ensures that Congress will retain the same power to override any presidential line item veto as it currently has for a traditional veto.
Links to the earlier proposed amendments are below the fold...

Where the Progressive View of Life Becomes Very Narrow

Carroll Andrew Morse

There are many nits to be picked with David Scharfenberg's article in this week's Providence Phoenix anticipating the growth of progressive power in the Rhode Island legislature, but the one that really leapt out at me was near the end

Public opinion on abortion and same-sex marriage seem destined to catch up with the state's political class soon, particularly as a new generation of voters with live-and-let-live views comes to maturity at the ballot box.
Applying a "live-and-let-live" label specifically to the liberal/progressive view of abortion is a significant gaffe that moves the article away from the category of objective news analysis, as it advances a decidedly pro-abortion view that no human life (or maybe that no human life of consequence) is ended by an abortion procedure.

Circuits Demystify the Brain

Justin Katz

Michael Hanlon does raise the ethical hurricane that spins at the end of the effort essentially to create a human brain with computer technology:

Well, a mind, however fleeting and however shorn of the inevitable complexities and nuances that come from being embedded in a body, is still a mind, a 'person'. We would effectively have created a 'brain in a vat'. Conscious, aware, capable of feeling, pain, desire. And probably terrified.

And if it were modelled on a human brain, we would then have real ethical dilemmas. If our 'brain' - effectively just a piece of extremely impressive computer software - could be said to know it exists, then do we assign it rights?

Would turning it off constitute murder? Would performing experiments upon it constitute torture?

Note the quotation marks around "person." Putting aside questions to which we do not have answers, such as the inherent morality that we should expect from digital life, we can observe that the likely response of our culture is tilted by the very assumptions with which it will achieve the innovation. Earlier, Hanlon writes:

So what is it, in that three pounds of grey jelly, that gives rise to the feeling of conscious self-awareness, the thoughts and emotions, the agonies and ecstasies that comprise being a human being?

This is a question that has troubled scientists and philosophers for centuries. The traditional answer was to assume that some sort of 'soul' pervades the brain, a mysterious 'ghost in the machine' which gives rise to the feeling of self and consciousness.

If this is the case, then computers, being machines not flesh and blood, will never think. We will never be able to build a robot that will feel pain or get angry, and the Blue Brain project will fail.

But very few scientists still subscribe to this traditional 'dualist' view - 'dualist' because it assumes 'mind' and 'matter' are two separate things.

Instead, most neuroscientists believe that our feelings of self-awareness, pain, love and so on are simply the result of the countless billions of electrical and chemical impulses that flit between its equally countless billions of neurons.

So if you build something that works exactly like a brain, consciousness, at least in theory, will follow.

The implication of this sort of non-dualism is that the self isn't real. Look at it this way: Hanlon misses the possibility that the simulation could tap into or generate a soul. Rather like the mystery of the Trinity, I suspect the relationship of mind to body is more subtle than the binary dualism/non-dualism phrasing allows, but the salient point is that, by relegating soul to the mysteries of the gray jelly, Hanlon implicitly accepts the conclusion that cyber-consciousness would disprove soul, and yet he still wishes to count the creation as a "person."

The problem is that, if there's no "ghost in the machine," conceptually, then there is only machine, and machines can be turned off without moral complication. At some point, a human society with pervasive familiarity with this sort of humanoid lifeform might learn to recoil at the notion that one can simply erase the hard drive, but in the interim, it would have internalized the principle that "personhood" is "simply the result of the countless billions of electrical and chemical impulses." The "simply" is out of place, there; whatever the mechanism, there's something substantial about the soul, and our inherent value hinges on its recognition.

Rhode Island Republican Assembly: Saturday's "Victory Over Statism" Day BBQ

Community Crier

This is a reminder that the RHODE ISLAND REPUBLICAN ASSEMBLY PAC will be hosting a big "Victory Over Statism" Day barbecue event outdoors at the Buttonwoods — Masonic Shriners' Family Center, located at 116 Long Street in Warwick, on SATURDAY, August 15th, from 1:00 P.M. until at least 4:00 P.M.

Like many of you, we are deeply concerned with the direction that our nation, and especially our struggling state is heading in. We've had enough of one-party rule in Rhode Island and all the ills that go with it. We want to do something about it, but to do that, we need your support. Through this and other outreach efforts, we will be working to support the growth of a robust conservative coalition in Rhode Island. We welcome the participation of all pro-freedom and pro-Constitution individuals, as well as other local conservative groups. We want to emphasize that this is not a "Republican only" event. All conservatives are welcome.

There will be plenty of Barbecued Chicken, Angus Hamburgers, Ball Park Hot Dogs, Kosher Hot Dogs, Corn-on-the-cob, various side dishes, and all the fixings for you and your family to enjoy. Besides acres of well-kept park land and walking paths with a great view of Narragansett Bay, the Buttonwoods — Masonic Shriners' Family Center has volleyball courts, tennis courts, basketball, horseshoes, swimming pools, swing sets, and other amenities for you and your whole family to enjoy. In addition to all the food and fun, we will have a great speaking program of conservative leaders who will share their thoughts about what we can do to become more engaged in the political process. Confirmed speakers currently include:

HELEN GLOVER, Local Radio Personality
REP. JOHN LOUGHLIN, Candidate for United State Congress (Dist. 1)
MARK ZACCARIA, Candidate for United State Congress (Dist. 2)
ERIK WALLIN, Candidate for Rhode Island Attorney General
COLLEEN CONLEY, President of the Rhode Island Tea Party
TERRY GORMAN, Founder of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement
BARTH BRACY, Executive Director of Rhode Island Right to Life
JOHN ROBITAILLE, Communications Director for Governor Carcieri
BILL FELKNER, Executive Director of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute
TRAVIS ROWLEY, Chairman of the Rhode Island Young Republicans

TICKETS: We have made every effort to keep this event affordable. Tickets for the "VS-DAY" event are only $25.00 per person; Children 12 & Under are only $10.00 each; Children 5 & Under get in for FREE!

PAY ONLINE: If you would like to quickly and securely pay for your BBQ tickets online by credit card or electronic check, please use the "check out" on the RIRA-PAC Web site.

PAY BY CHECK: Please make your personal check payable to "RIRA-PAC." Due to the short time left until "VS-DAY," please e-mail Ray McKay at to RSVP. You can bring your check with you to the event on Saturday. It would greatly help us for planning purposes to know that you're coming!

Funds raised in excess of our costs will go towards helping the Rhode Island Republican Assembly Political Action Committee (RIRA-PAC) support conservative state and local candidates in 2010. Of course, even if you cannot attend this event, we still welcome your financial support! RIRA-PAC is neither affiliated with, nor endorsed by the Rhode Island Republican State Central Committee or any Masonic organization.

Please visit for more details or to Register Online ASAP. For all event inquiries, please contact RIRA-PAC Chair Raymond McKay at or (401) 487-2514.

Whitehouse Responds About Reading

Justin Katz

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's office has sent a response to my inquiry as to the senator's knowledge of the complexities of the healthcare bill:

Thank you for your interest in the important work of reforming our health care system. As a temporary member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee over the last several months, I read the Committee's health reform bill closely and participated in the drafting and markup process. Indeed, the Committee's markup of the Affordable Health Choices Act was the longest and most deliberative in the Committee's history. We considered the legislation for 56 hours and 23 separate sessions.

During the markup, Chairman Dodd led an open, bipartisan debate in which we
considered about 300 amendments. 161 amendments offered by our Republican
colleagues were accepted and incorporated into the bill.

I believe this transparent and thorough process produced excellent legislation,
and I look forward to its consideration by the full Senate.

It appears to have been rash of me to make my initial quip, although I will say that, in this particular case, ignorance of the bill's provisions might have been the charitable assumption when it comes to the legislation's advocates.

August 13, 2009

Supplies and Trends in Fund Allocation

Justin Katz

In the comments to my post on teachers' paying for classroom supplies, Mike from Assigned Reading offers his objection:

You know I'm a public school teacher Justin, and I am generally on your side. I believe the unions and bureaucracy are the significant problems in public education.

With that in mind, I found this post to be way off the mark. Yes, you need to buy expensive tools to be a carpenter. That's part of the initial investment in your profession. Teachers invest in five or six years of education, and continue to invest in education as their tools of the trade. I regularly buy professional texts to learn more, and better my practice. I pay to attend professional conferences and workshops for the same purpose. I should.

When you build a structure, you don't pay for the materials. You figure that into the amount of the job. The party that contracted you pays for the materials. The contractor determines the profit after the cost of the materials are figured in.

I could go on and on about how much I spend on my classroom. I won't. I'm not complaining. But it seems ridiculous that teachers should have to buy pencils, crayons, paper, folders, books, and the like for 25 students as part of their salaries.

I know your argument will be that teachers get too much. But this post is petty, and adds to the idea that you are anti-teacher. Teachers should not be responsible for buying classroom supplies. How much they should be paid is another argument.

I must tell you that I've been disappointed lately. The liberal RI blog is all about the unions and the teachers, and this blog seems all about the taxpayers. It mirrors the entire debate. It's the children that don't have strong advocates. I'm working on that.

Just in case there's misunderstanding as to what sorts of things carpenters need beyond hammers, nails, and wood, I jotted down a quick inventory of disposable items with which I keep my van stocked at my own expense, not including such things as screws and nails or tools: pencils, notepads, shoe guards, latex gloves, ear plugs, dust makes, garbage bags, grinder discs, flushcut blades, sawzall blades, skilsaw blades, jigsaw blades, drill bits, rotozip bits, palm sander discs, belt sander belts, masonry bits, screwdriver bits, sandpaper, light bulbs, snap line chalk, wood filler, bondo, wood cleaner, wood glue, PVC primer and glue, zip ties, caulk, silicone, construction adhesive, painter's tape, duct tape, aluminum tape, electrical tape, caution tape, air gun oil, pumice, wood putty, rope, string, primer, chip brushes, shims, Goo Gone, metal straps, and sheet plastic.

Some of these items duplicate supplies provided when needed in bulk for a job. Some of them are regular items to which I periodically have access for stocking purposes. Some of them I buy because I prefer a product other than what my boss provides. But like tools and specialty fasteners, having such things on-hand whether or not a specific need was foreseen makes me a more effective and efficient carpenter, with one of its benefits being the ability to ask for higher pay. Just so, Central Falls teacher Pam Barnes told the Providence Journal that buying school supplies "makes it easier for us to teach" — that is, it makes them more effective as teachers.

By assenting to a cookie-cutter seniority system of remuneration, the public school system has drained the practical reason for teachers to strive to be uniquely effective in this way (although many clearly continue to see moral and emotional reasons), so it's understandable that they'd develop the sense that they ought to be collectively entitled to a well-stocked supply closet courtesy of the taxpayers.

With that word, I've likely given those who share Mike's perspective an "A-ha!" moment, so the moment is opportune to insist that he is incorrect. To the extent that I make my arguments in terms of the "taxpayer," it is implicit that the complaint is against the failure to realize value, which is to say, the interest of the students. Honestly, my opinion has changed on this matter as I've listened to teachers, administrators, and school committee members talk as if the only financial options are to increase revenue or to cut programs and other direct benefits to students, and as I've collected data for charts like these.

From 2000 to 2007, Rhode Island's per-pupil expenditures increased 40% on instructional teachers and 242% on retiree benefits while per-pupil spending on instructional materials decreased 9%. If the adults who have been soaking up our ever-increasing investment in education find it necessary to cover expenses that districts can no longer afford, it strikes me as, well, not worthy of front-page news coverage. At least no more worthy than would be a story about carpenters in search of good deals on router bits or copy editors looking for sales on reference books.

The Pot Calling the Market Black

Justin Katz

Somewhere in the mire of Rhode Island's approach to legalized medical marijuana is a lesson about the way in which various forces operate in our legislature:

Law-enforcement officials are uniformly opposed to the program that allows an illegal drug to be legally grown and distributed to licensed patients. They also are troubled by the lack of oversight of the program and their inability to get the names of the caregivers and patients.

State police Lt. Col. Steven G. O'Donnell said there is nothing prohibiting caregivers from lacing their marijuana with phencyclidine (PCP) or other powerful drugs.

"It's very unregulated," he said. "It makes no sense to us. We regulate hamburger and food, but we do not regulate medical marijuana. There are no checks and balances." ...

"We like to think that people who are part of the program do have common sense," [Health Department spokeswoman Annemarie] Beardsworth said.

By creating distributors licenses for individuals and random folks from whom they'd like to buy their drugs, legislators have created a somewhat cozier corner for the black market. The story begins with the discovery that a pot "caregiver" (as suppliers are surreally named) may be dabbling in a harder trade. Another "caregiver" recently had his license revoked for seedy behavior. If the medical marijuana law hadn't been designed in such a way as to cloak every dealer with the shield of privacy concerns, it's likely that others could be proven to justify the Orwellian echo of the term "caregiver."

To the point, though, when a state government that repeatedly shows itself disposed to suspect the inability of constituents to take care of themselves assumes the common sense of drug dealers, it suggests one of two things (or both):

  • The law was passed as a fashionable statement, without regard to consequences.
  • Those who passed and advocated for the law have an interest in the illicit industry.

If the supposition is that pot is a medicine, then it ought to be distributed as such, and the legislature could have created a regulated supply chain. If, on the other hand, the supposition is that marijuana simply shouldn't be illegal, then the doors ought to be flung open so that the free market could bring down prices and draw a bright line between what's legal and what is not. Instead, government proves, once again, that it inclines toward worst-of-all-worlds solutions.

The Bill of Federalism: Amendment #7

Carroll Andrew Morse

No need for any extended explanation on this one; the seventh proposed Amendment in the Bill of Federalism is term limits for Congress…

No person who has served as a Senator for more than nine years, or as a Representative for more than eleven years, shall be eligible for election or appointment to the Senate or the House of Representatives respectively, excluding any time served prior to the enactment of this Article.
…which doesn't mean that there isn't plenty of room for an extended discussion on the merits!

Prof. Barnett, also taking the minimalist approach, adds only that…

The seventh proposed amendment establishes congressional term limits by allowing two full terms for Senators and six full terms for Representatives. It phases in these limits by exempting the time already served by incumbents from the calculation of the limits on their terms.
Links to earlier proposed amendments are below the fold…

Things Around the Site

Justin Katz

With his habitual light-hearted panache, Marc gave a rundown of the topics on Anchor Rising during his conversation with the host on the Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

The Role of the City Manager

Carroll Andrew Morse

Is anyone else at all squeamish about a city manager asserting the authority to go ahead with layoffs without City Council approval, as has happened in East Providence? For the background, here's the Projo's Alisha A. Pina from yesterday…

[East Providence] will lay off 13 of its 100 police officers immediately to save $1 million, City Manager Richard Brown announced at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting….

He also said he did not need the council’s approval and planned to have the Human Resources Department act immediately on his decision. The changes — from a budgeted force of 104 to an actual force of 87 — are estimated to save $1,057,500.

I thought the job of the city manager in a council-manager system was to implement the decisions made by the City Council, and I'm pretty sure the East Providence City Council approved a police budget that specified a certain number of positions (then again, they may also approved a budget that said spend only so much money, and charged the CM with finding "savings").

I suppose the Council retains the ultimate say, in that they could fire the city manager if they really don't like a decision that is made, but especially in Rhode Island, allowing yet another layer of indirection to be placed between decisions impacting public services and the accountability of the decision maker to the public does not strike me as particularly wise.

An Old Tale in a New Context

Justin Katz

Bill Sammon recalls a day, back in 2002:

When Bush visited Portland, Ore., for a fundraiser, protesters stalked his motorcade, assailed his limousine and stoned a car containing his advisers. Chanting "Bush is a terrorist!", the demonstrators bullied passers-by, including gay softball players and a wheelchair-bound grandfather with multiple sclerosis.

One protester even brandished a sign that seemed to advocate Bush's assassination. The man held a large photo of Bush that had been doctored to show a gun barrel pressed against his temple.

Oddly, as Sammon points out, the media that is so keen to make readers, viewers, and listeners aware of the anger of those who oppose (if I may reuse the phrase) the Democrats' federal powergrab in a porcine "healthcare reform" costume was uninterested in Bush's riotous reception. This, of course, is merely one example of history repeating itself with a different accent. When President Obama derides "scare tactics," I can't help but recall this:

That, for those who weren't blogging seven years ago, is a screenshot from an online advertisement put out by the Democratic National Committee. Scare tactics were institutional, back in the day.

While routing around in my old archives, I came across this quotation from FBI profiler Gregg McCrary, conveyed to Washington Post readers that same month:

"White males belong to a long-advantaged group that is now having to share power and control. But I think it has less to do with race than social class."

The context was the search for the Washington sniper. You might recall that, of the various possible profiles, the one about which we heard most frequently was of the angry white supremacist Christian militia variation. You might also recall that the snipers turned out to be black, which fact didn't seem to matter to some aspects of the coverage:

The interesting parallel, though, comes in this paragraph from Harold Meyerson, which arrived in my morning paper the other day:

When future historians look back at this passage in our nation's history, I suspect they'll conclude that this Obama-isn't-American nuttiness refracted the insecurities and, in some cases, the hatred that a portion of conservative white America felt about having a black president and about the transformation of what many thought of as their white nation into a genuinely multiracial republic. But whatever the reasons, a mobilized minority is making a very plausible play to thwart a demobilized majority.

Unsurprisingly, Meyerson's reflections spring from the healthcare townhalls. "What's particularly curious about these two protests," he writes, "is that they took place on very liberal turf — Philadelphia and Austin — yet the local liberals and people of color seemed absent." Bused-in angry white mobs, you might say. In contrast to the bused-in friendly multicultural mob with which Obama set the scene for his own townhall appearance thereby disproving the "demobilized majority" thesis.

The lesson, it would seem, is that angry whites are the villains whether they're the majority, the minority, the origin of a particular policy, the opposition, guilty, or innocent. What ought to be as clear blue as whitey's eyes, at this point, is that racial division has long been serving a leftist agenda, and whether there is a new, emerging majority or a left-wing minority has been deftly pulling together the strings of power, the tone has colored opposing voices not merely as wrong, but as hateful and illegitimate participants.

Those who present such a view as part of a political strategy manipulate the insecurities of the public. And although it's a too easy psychological analysis to make, one does wonder whether those whom the manipulators thus persuade are, themselves, uncomfortable with a multicultural society, giving themselves moral credit for resisting the impulse and believing those who disagree on unrelated political matters to be succumbing to it.

(Links compiled from various sources, but conspicuously from Instapundit both then and now.)

August 12, 2009

Staley Cheats with His Wand

Justin Katz

At about minute forty-four of the podcast of Dan Yorke's interview with RISC Chairman Harry Staley, Dan poses the "magic wand" question that I'd answered in a union-busting way, and Harry answers as follows:

More than anything else, I would like to effect a change in the citizens of Rhode Island from the terrible apathy that they have. I'd like for the citizens of Rhode Island to wake up and look at what's at issue, because their lives are going down the tubes, and they don't realize it. The terrible things that are coming out of the lack of good management of our government is desperate for these people.

For reasons partially explained here, I find the notion of manipulating others' consciousness to be such dangerous territory that it's best avoided even in impossible theoreticals. Practical realities make it easy to abide by the aphorism to manipulate the world, not the soul, but whether one internalizes it makes a difference in what is considered to be acceptable. Propaganda deliberately unattached to truth, after all, is a method of attempting to bend people's will by inciting them to react to a false reality, and conservatives and other rightward reformers mustn't slip into a mentality of using ends to justify means.

Even in the abstract, if the goal is to "wake the people up," the object of the waved wand ought to be to change a policy or remove a material obstacle in such a way as to accomplish as much. This isn't merely a moral or aesthetic preference; if we can figure out what policy we would change by magic, we might find it worth attacking politically.

(Don't take this post to imply that nothing else in the interview was edifying; this is just a point that I thought might move the discussion forward by its being made.)

Self-Defeating Government Systems

Justin Katz

First things first, Grafton Willey deserves a round of applause for speaking truth:

"This is a deep recession which we worked hard in Rhode Island to get into. We have to take a long-term recovery view," said Willey, who is also a managing director of CBIZ Tofias, a CPA firm with offices in Providence and Newport.

Don't let anybody tell you that Rhode Island has reached its lowly state without effort. Of course, it would be accurate to suggest that some of our problems do flow naturally from basic assumptions of political philosophy, and those intellectual problems will continue to hinder our recovery. The above-linked report from Neil Downing, for example, proclaims that the General Assembly has given employers a little boost by waiving a surtax that would have more rapidly passed on the cost of borrowing unemployment funds to them. But that doesn't mean that business owners won't see an increase in their insurance that's directly proportional to the difficulty that their operations have faced:

Thus, it is "very likely" that employers will have to pay more in regular unemployment insurance tax, starting in January, to help replenish the fund, [state Department of Labor and Training Director Sandra] Powell said.

On average, employers may wind up paying $674.50 in state unemployment insurance tax per worker next year, up from $628.20 this year, an increase of 7.4 percent, according to the agency's preliminary estimates.

Rhode Island's unemployment insurance tax rates (which are set by state law) range from a minimum of 1.69 percent to a maximum of 9.79 percent. That range of rates probably won't change for 2010, Powell said.

But some employers will probably wind up facing a higher tax rate within that range next year because of layoffs. (In general, the more layoffs an employer has had, the higher the tax rate.)

In other words, the human beings who thunk up this system managed to yoke the companies that have been the hardest hit with a higher proportion of the post facto costs of recovery, and to retard new employment to compensate for previously lost employment. I'm not saying that I could have come up with something better, but this is why government solutions are problematic. Of course, a problematic emphasis in the following likely contributes to our woes:

Carcieri proposed that the budget be amended to include the waiver. The General Assembly approved the waiver mainly because levying a surtax on employers now, amid a global recession, would not be fair, said Steven M. Costantino, D-Providence, chairman of the House Finance Committee.

The waiver is prudent, without a doubt, but the question of fairness shouldn't be more than an afterthought. Wisdom is what is required, and it's in short supply in government generally and Rhode Island government especially.

Challenging Those Fishy Healthcare Claims

Carroll Andrew Morse

So far, the best e-mail sent to the White House tip line on health care discussions has got to be former National Economic Council Director Keith Hennessey's…

I call to your attention several fishy statements about health care reform legislation made by a gentleman named Dr. Douglas Elmendorf. He claims to be Director of the “Congressional Budget Office” and has posted frequently about health care reform on his website, appears to have several hundred followers in his organization, which has extraordinary influence over many in Congress. I understand that some right-wing Members of Congress support and even vote for his annual funding source.

CBO and Elmendorf make extraordinary claims about bills moving through Congress that attempt to implement the President’s plans for health care reform. I bring them to your attention so that you can refute them....

  • The House bill would increase the budget deficit by $239 B over the next ten years. This conflicts with the President’s goal of not increasing short-term deficits.
  • Ten years from now the House bill would add $65 B to the budget deficit. This conflicts with the President’s insistence that legislation must not increase the deficit in that year.
  • The House bill would increase long-term budget deficits by ever-increasing amounts, making our long-term debt problem worse than under current law. This of course conflicts with the President’s statements that “health care reform is entitlement reform,” and that health care reform is essential to addressing America’s long-term budget problems.
  • Rather than “bending the cost curve down” as the President has laudably insisted, Dr. Elmendorf said the Senate HELP Committee bill would “raise the cost curve.”
  • Under the House bill, in the year 2015 about 8 million uninsured Americans would remain uninsured and pay higher taxes. This would violate the President’s pledge not to raise taxes on anyone earning less than $250,000 per year.
  • Under the House bill, about 3 million people who now have employer-sponsored health insurance would lose that coverage because their employer drops it, violating the President’s bold promise that no one will lose the health plan they have now.
  • The President’s Medicare Commission proposal would probably save only $2 billion over ten years, and there is a high probability it would save no taxpayer money. In the long run the saving would be “modest.”

Many Employees Pay into Their Careers

Justin Katz

There's already been much talk about the Providence Journal's front-page story about teachers' paying out of pocket for classroom supplies. It's a story we've heard and a discussion we've had before.

And it's not a tale unique to teachers. As a carpenter, I could rewrite this complaint in terms of my trade:

"When I walked into my classroom for the first time there was nothing in it besides the basic furniture, everything else had to be purchased by me," said Tessa Cooney, a newly hired teacher at Wakefield Hills Elementary School in West Warwick. "As a new teacher, I was unaware of how much money I needed to put into my own classroom. I never knew I would be purchasing books to stock a library in my room. It has been overwhelming and incredibly expensive."

It wouldn't be far off the mark to state that I averaged $10,000 of investments in tools and supplies for each of my first three years as a carpenter (on beginning pay of $12 per hour), and I continue to invest in tools, equipment, and disposable items like saw blades and health and safety gear for the reason that Central Falls teacher Pam Barnes expresses here:

"The school districts know we're going to go out and buy this stuff, because we can't get along without it," she said. "It's not that we're happy to do this, but we're resolved to do this, because it makes it easier for us to teach."

One could argue that paper, pencils, crayons, and the like are not comparable to my professional expenditures, but other costs of teaching are clearly parallel, such as classroom decorations, books, and other educational tools. In a perfect world of which I hear rumors, from time to time, contractors would keep their employees well appointed, stocked up with items that they might need on any given day, but until we've found that promised land, most of us will have to take ownership of our careers.

As for public school teachers, Marc probably puts his finger on the pulse of a growing majority of Rhode Islanders when he wonders why our nation-leading education expenditures don't provide supplies. As far as I'm concerned, that purchasing is already built into the teachers' salaries.

The Bill of Federalism: Amendment #6

Carroll Andrew Morse

In a very important sense, the sixth proposed amendment of the Bill of Federalism is compensation for the change brought about by the Seventeenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which provided for the direct election of Senators, when they had previously been chosen by state legislatures.

Now, as a resident of the state of Rhode Island and an observer of its politics, I am definitely NOT in favor of repealing the Seventeenth Amendment.

However, it must be noted that passage of the Seventeenth Amendment dissolved the only direct check that States had on the power of the Federal government. Given this fact, should we be surprised that the power of the Federal government has grown at the expense of the states?

In order to remedy this problem, the sixth proposed Federalism amendment would create a new mechanism that allows states to check Federal action…

Upon the identically worded resolutions of the legislatures of three quarters of the states, any law or regulation of the United States, identified with specificity, is thereby rescinded.
Professor Randy Barnett of the Georgetown University Law School and author of the Bill of Federalsim offers this rationale for the sixth proposed amendment…
At present, the only way for states to contest a federal law or regulation is to seek an amendment to the Constitution by applying for a constitutional convention to propose amendments that must then be ratified by three-quarters of the states. This proposed amendment provides an additional check on federal power by empowering the same number of states to rescind any law or regulation when they concur it is necessary. Such a power provides a targeted method to reverse particular Congressional acts and administrative regulations without the risk of permanently amending the text of the Constitution.
Links to earlier proposed amendments are below the fold…

No Matter How You Slice It, RI a Leader in Education Compensation

Marc Comtois

With the stories about teacher's buying their own supplies and student athletes having to pay participation fees in North Smithfield, I wondered: Why? Recent Census Bureau data showed Rhode Island's cost per student was #8 overall in the U.S. Where is that money going? Well, as I discovered, 85% of that cost went to compensation (salaries and benefits) for adult employees in the school system (from bus drivers to teachers to superintendents).

The below chart shows the overall cost/student rankings (left-most column) and compares it to the data for the amount of compensation that went towards adults for each student (the center column). There wasn't much difference in the rankings, with Rhode Island comfortably in the top 10 measured each way.

But using real dollars doesn't take into account that costs are more expensive across the board here in the Northeast. As you can see, Northeastern states dominate the top 2 quintiles when real dollars are used as a measure. So I decided to try to account for the regional disparities and evaluate the rankings by using the percentage that employee compensation comprises of the overall cost/student rather than using dollar figures (the right-most column, below). The results show a wide variation as compared to just using raw dollar amounts.


The total cost per student and compensation cost essentially line up. But the latter as a percentage of total cost (rather than as a dollar figure) reveals a more diverse result. To clarify, here is the same data resorted by % of cost that goes towards compensation.


This confirms to me that using a percentage versus actual dollar figures is more illustrative when it comes to evaluating actual education costs. It shows that low-spending states like Utah or Kentucky put a high percentage of that money towards compensation for employees. (It's up to you if you think that is good or bad). On the flip side, Washington, D.C., which is a top overall spender nonetheless spends more non-compensation related money on their kids than anyone else. To lesser degree, the same could be said of Alaska. Then there are states like Oklahoma and South Dakota that don't spend a lot and don't spend as much on employee compensation.

Regardless, as you can see, only Rhode Island is in the top quintile (ie; most expensive) when measuring either real dollars or the percentage spent on compensation. So, no matter how you slice it, Rhode Island is a top spender when it comes to compensating our education industry workers.

Facing the Healthcare Committee

Justin Katz

Sure, it would take a few stolen bases to present the thought in the form of an argument, but watching the Tiverton School Committee stand firm against requests from parents for permission to move their children out-of-district to be better served (they believe) elsewhere, I couldn't help but flash forward to some similar plea within the structure of public health insurance.

"Ma'am, we understand that you feel you've had horrible results with our local doctors and that you think your son would have a better chance of a healthy life if he had access to the children's facility across the state, but if we make this exception for you, the precedent would bankrupt us. According to these statistics, the doctors participating in our program are just as competent under various criteria as the doctors in that facility, so we really can't justify the cost."

To be sure, there's already too much of such decision-making in our system based on insurance companies typically contracted through the workplace, but that's an argument for deregulation, not omniregulation.

But is it the Cause or the Effect?

Carroll Andrew Morse

There is now a set of state-by-state listings that Rhode Island has placed near the top of. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the Federal Government's Department of Health and Human Services (as reported in the New York Times), Rhode Island is…

  • #1 in the percentage of the population using illicit drugs (12.47%)...
  • #2 in the percentage of the population using illicit drugs other than marijuana (5.51%)...
  • #1 in marijuana use (16.12%)...
  • #2 in cocaine use (4.11%)...
  • …but only 6th in binge alcohol use (27.92%).
Somewhere in this, there are some politically incorrect observations about Congressman Patrick Kennedy being an appropriate representative for the state. Or maybe Representative Elizabeth Dennigan should work this data into her Congressional campaign, saying that Rhode Island really does need help from a nurse.

Waxman-Marke: Bad for the Economy

Mac Owens

i have a piece in today's ProJo about Waxman-Markey, which will be debated later this year in the Senate. The link is here. This legislation is on a par with Obamacare as an economic nightmare.

Re: Rhode Island Board of Regents Approves Teacher Evaluation Plan

Justin Katz

Whispers among administrative types are expressing skepticism about the regents' call for teacher evaluations (PDF). Perhaps, like Monique, the current system has beaten them down to the point of not believing such a thing to be possible, in Rhode Island, but they point to this paragraph as the potential trap door:

Establishing parameters for evaluation systems that are at the basis for the development, deployment, and advancement stage of the model begins with the development of standards for district‐based educator evaluation systems. This document presents a set of six draft standards that describe a high quality system. The draft standards identify expectations for all districts. RIDE will develop recommendations for how to support districts as they begin to implement these standards and processes that will lead to how local systems will be reviewed for compliance with the standards. It is important to remember that educator evaluation is only one element of an educator performance management system, but it represents a critical starting point.

The regents are telling districts to go out and negotiate these new standards with the unions and the state will figure out how to support them. It's a step in the right direction, certainly, but there's plenty of room for delays and game-playing.

August 11, 2009

Strange Moments in Liveblogging and Support for School Choice

Justin Katz

It probably isn't even accurate to call this "liveblogging," but I'm at the Tiverton School Committee meeting, mostly researching contract issues online while the committee handles small matters of the sort in which most people in the world would have no interest. On the agenda are two families seeking permission to send their children to Rogers High School in Newport, and the committee and Superintendent Bill Rearick were discussing with the parents the option of handling the matter in executive session for the sake of their children's privacy.

Out of nowhere, committee member Leonard Wright "warned" the parents that I'd be putting their statements on the Internet. Not sure how I feel about that. Presumably, the meeting is being recorded for the public record anyway, and the notion that I'd dip into private details on Anchor Rising suggests that Mr. Wright has been dealing with unions for too long.

As I listen, though, it occurs to me that this sort of discussion is probably among the most important for residents, and especially parents, to be able to hear. The crux of the matter is the parents' right to enroll their children in academic programs in other districts that would better suit their needs. Their personal circumstances are largely irrelevant.

These students are already on track to participate in a part-time vocational program at Rogers (periods one and two every day), which is apparently their right under Rhode Island law. At least one of the parents is extremely disappointed in the education that her child has received over the past four years in Tiverton Middle School — specifically with the lack of helpfulness and motivation among multiple teachers — so she wants him to enroll full-time in Newport for high school.

School Committee Chairman Jan Bergandy has made the argument that other parents will come forward and request to send their children to other schools — public and private — under the same logic. Good. This friction is utterly unnecessary and should be alleviated with the implementation of a statewide voucher program.

What all parents should witness is this group of five people — the school committee — standing in judgment of parents' circumstances. I don't mean this as an insult to them, but to a system in which towns collect property taxes and the state collects various other fees and taxes for the purpose of educating children, but only those who can afford to pay an additional tuition on top of that can make decisions for their own. Otherwise, they have to beg the school committee.

The district should be in the position of selling the value of their programs, not explaining why they cannot permit students to go elsewhere.

8:34 p.m.

Nobody wanted to make the motion, so Chairman Jan Bergandy took it upon himself. Carol Herrmann seconded. The vote to deny the appeal was unanimous. (They actually took a separate vote for each student, but the results were the same.)

8:36 p.m.

I wonder if the reduction of students to such utter despondency that they kick over chairs when five strangers deny them the ability to attend a school of their choice will be part of the new teacher evaluation standards. Perhaps contracts could fund the out-of-district tuition of students who've been poorly served locally.

The State's Spending Practices

Justin Katz

Former state representative Carol Mumford deserves a hear, hear for her op-ed in yesterday's Providence Journal:

Those who believe that Rhode Island is a poor state would be surprised to know that during most of my 10 years in office, the state's revenue increased at the approximate rate of 3.5 percent a year. While our revenue increased at this modest but steady rate, our expenditures increased approximately 7 percent to 11 percent a year. That says it all, doesn't it? No matter what the income, those people or entities that live beyond their means find themselves in the situation Rhode Island faces today. ...

On another note, those who believe our state population figures are static at about one million should look closely at the composition change. The Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation testified before House Finance that in the last decade those who are considered affluent in Massachusetts have doubled in number. The number of people who are considered affluent in Rhode Island has decreased by 50 percent. The affluent did not lose their assets; they fled. An examination of the latest "Kids Count" figures shows that the number of poor children in Rhode Island has mushroomed. The population numbers remain static, but many who used to pay the bills are elsewhere.

But how can that be? An opposition analyst assures us rich taxpayer interests have won battle after battle at the State House, and welfare benefits are difficult to procure.

The Continuting Folly of the Funding Formula

Carroll Andrew Morse

Talia Buford’s report in today’s Projo on the pay-to-play sports proposal in North Smithfield concludes with a quote from School Committee Chairman Robert Lafleur that helps illustrate how Rhode Island’s focus on a lack of a closed-form "funding formula" as the source of its educational troubles obfuscates more than it clarifies…

“We’re hoping the commissioner and the Department of Education will look at this as an attempt to deal with the economic conditions we’re all facing in Rhode Island as a result of the lack of a fair and equitable state-aid formula and lack of waivers from the Department of Education for the unfunded mandates that were imposed upon us by the General Assembly.”
Now, according to a Patricia A. Russell story that appeared in the July 30 Valley Breeze, Mr. Lafleur is right to believe that a "funding formula" might benefit his community…
A state Board of Regents study last year found 19 districts would receive extra money [under one possible funding formula], while 17 would lose aid according to a calculation [Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee] is suggesting is likely to be similar to the coalition's final recommendation. Winners tend to be communities that have been in McKee's so-called 30 percent club, those receiving 20 percent to 30 percent of the cost of education from the state while property taxpayers make up the remaining 70 percent or so.

Cumberland picks up $4.5 million under one scenario, and Lincoln $4.5 million. North Smithfield gains $2 million while Woonsocket loses $2.2 million.

But wait a moment; we must also be mindful of Philip Marcelo’s Projo story from mid-July, about the aforementioned community of Woonsocket joining with several other communities, to possibly pursue a "fair funding formula" lawsuit in the courts…
Providence, Pawtucket and Woonsocket are trying to rally support from other Rhode Island cities and towns and community groups for a lawsuit against the General Assembly for failing to enact a school funding formula....

“Legislators know what the issue is, they just lack the political will to do it,” says Stephen M. Robinson, a Providence lawyer who has been retained by the school committees in Pawtucket and Woonsocket to work on a school formula lawsuit. “The only way to do it is if the court orders them to do it”....Robinson says that the communities are still trying to gather a broad coalition of communities and community groups for the suit, which may come as soon as September. “It is time to impress upon the Assembly how serious this is for us to have a fair and equitable formula,” said Providence City Council President Peter S. Mancini.

I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb in assuming that Woonsocket officials aren’t going to court to get a formula which will cost them over $2 million.

Surely, officials from both Woonsocket and North Smithfied sincerely believe that increases in aid to their communities are necessary components of a "fair funding formula" -- demonstrating, more than anything else, that the term "fair" as used by advocates often describes plans to take money from someone else and give it to them. But for citizens, voters and taxpayers, hearing that a politician supports a “funding formula” doesn’t reveal in any meaningful way what actual choices are under consideration, e.g. is priority being given to delivering even more to the communities that are already the big recipients of state education aid, or to equalizing the wide per-pupil disparities that currently exist? (There are plans currently before the Genenral Assembly for doing either). Will the plan be paid for with a statewide tax increase, with money taken from other state programs, or by taking existing money away from some communities and giving it to others? All of these options are possible, in the framework of a “funding formula”.

Ultimately, our state will be better off when the leaders of our communities spend less of their energies on trying to grab money from one another (and from the taxpayers), less of their time hiding behind process, and more of both working together to actually improve education.

Where's the Money for Sports and Supplies?

Marc Comtois

Kids paying for school sports. Teachers paying for their own supplies. The PTOs and PTAs being asked to do more and more every year. According to the Census Bureau (2007 data published in 2009), Rhode Island is 8th in the nation in per pupil spending at $12,612. Where does all of that money go?

Of the $12,612 Rhode Island spends for each student (on average), $10,852 (86%) goes to salaries ($7,642) and benefits ($3,210) for adults (teachers, administrators, bus drivers, etc.). Of the money that goes to the Census Bureau category of "Instruction", which I take to mean the actual teaching component of the education system, compensation accounts for $7,223 ($5,161 for salaries and $2,062 for benefits) of the $7,334 per student (98.5%). That leaves $111 for things like, well, school supplies and the like, I guess.

Rhode Island Board of Regents Approves Teacher Evaluation Plan

Monique Chartier

Is it too early to say: pinch me?

The Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education approved a proposed set of standards that would, for the first time, require that all educators –– new and tenured teachers, principals, assistant principals and support staff –– be evaluated annually and that the evaluations meet a rigorous set of state standards.

Currently, very few districts have substantive teacher evaluations and even fewer administer them routinely, said Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist. The proposed standards would link how well students learn to a teacher’s evaluation. They would also be sophisticated enough to recognize and reward exemplary teachers, offer support to struggling teachers and establish guidelines for the removal of ineffective teacher.

"Would link how well students learn to a teacher’s evaluation"? Be still, my heart! A public hearing is anticipated though not yet scheduled for the fall.

In the meantime, one troubling matter has already surfaced.

All evaluations must collect data and feedback that will improve the teacher’s performance and will recognize the most exemplary teachers in the district — possibly even rewarding them for their effectiveness.

Reward of a monetary nature? So excellent teachers would make more than their current compensation level? Already, teacher pay in Rhode Island is in the top 20% nationally while student achievement is in the bottom 20%. And would it be crass to mention that many if not most Rhode Island communities are struggling mightily - to the point of implementing pay-to-play sports and putting forward ... er, "creative" ideas like eight unpaid work weeks per school year - to meet their current school payroll?

Sorry to be a potential skunk at the picnic. But baseline teacher pay around the state must be addressed if any reward for excellence under the Regents' plan is to take a monetary form.

Unions Sowing Fear in the Streets

Justin Katz

As a follow-up on the subject of organized labor stoking civil violence, it turns out that one of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members who crossed into physical violence in St. Louis wasn't just a overexcited layman:

Elston K. McCowan is a former organizer - now the Public Service Director of SEIU Local 2000 - and board member of the Walbridge Community Education Center, and is a Baptist minister, has been a community organizer for more than 23 years, and now, he is running for Mayor of the City of St. Louis under the Green Party.

As Clarice Feldman observes, McCowan "is the union"; he's one of the guys who "issues the cards."

Join that with an SEIU memo in Connecticut that explicitly instructs supporters to "drown out" those who oppose the healthcare power grab. The line between "being heard" and "making not heard" is not so subtle. The former is an expression of democratic process. The latter indicates an intention to bully the opposition into simply staying home in the interest of their own safety.

In Michigan, a man who confronted Rep. John Dingell (D., Michigan) about the availability of resources, under Obamacare, for his son's cerebral palsy subsequently received a visit in the middle of the night. Welcome to hope and change.

The Bill of Federalism: Amendment #5

Carroll Andrew Morse

The fifth proposed Amendment in the Bill of Federalism seeks to reverse various encroachments on the freedom of expression…

The freedom of speech and press includes any contribution to political campaigns or to candidates for public office; and shall be construed to extend equally to any medium of communication however scarce.
The meaning of this one is pretty direct, as the proposal's author, Professor Randy Barnett, explains…
The fifth proposed amendment makes it clear that the freedom of speech and press now protected by the First Amendment extends equally to all media, including for example radio and television, as well as to financial contributions to political candidates and campaigns.

The earlier proposed amendments...

The Case for Fixing Corruption First

Justin Katz

With the return of producer Maverick from vacation, Friday night's Violent Roundtable is now up on Matt Allen's PodCast page.

Somebody commented, after the show, that it was interesting to hear me respond to news from the Democrat representative from Cranston, Peter Palumbo, of a possible "Traditional Values Caucus" in the State House with the admonition that repairing Rhode Island's corrupt system must take precedence over all else. In case it wasn't clear what I was saying, it should be obvious that I'd support the goals and probably the actions of such a group.

I'm just very wary of being distracted by showmanship about social conservatism if it means that the things that'll destroy the state continue. Basically, I don't want conservatives being roped into the coalition of the corrupt because they're promised some thin gruel on causes about which they care. And there may be a danger, here, of being outmaneuvered by progressives if they can neutralize the importance of corruption issues because they have a "traditional values caucus" to run against. For one thing, it disrupts alliances with those who fancy themselves moderates.

Such a position relies upon a sort of holistic view of corruption: Although it has existed under every shade of government, structural corruption of our political system (e.g., statism) has arrived hand in hand with corruption of our morals. It's possible that things didn't have to progress in that manner, but I suspect that traditional values will not long survive in a politically corrupt system, in part because such a regime stokes envy and greed. But in a healthy system, the case for morality can be made to win, though non-governmental instruction and pressures, because it's correct.

It may be a choice between winning on political corruption with the real chance to strengthen traditional values and losing on political corruption only to see wins on social issues prove ephemeral.

Asserting Local Control in School Districts

Justin Katz

Although it's a travesty that circumstances have come to this, the school committee in North Smithfield is absolutely correct to do what it believes to be necessary for the community that it serves despite instructions from micromanaging bureaucrats on high:

The School Committee unanimously approved a plan to restore middle school and junior varsity sports Monday night by requiring students to pay to participate in the programs. ...

The vote flies in the face of a letter from Commissioner of Education Deborah A. Gist, who told the committee that charging students to participate in sports is against state law. Gist noted in the letter that as far back as the 1800s, the state has held firm to the position that fees should not be charged for educational activities. She also pointed to legislation passed this session by the General Assembly that allows districts to accept donations earmarked by the donor for specific purposes as a way to plug waning budgets.

What better example of the "logic" of government operation could there be than the demand that families should not be required to pay extra for something that otherwise would not be available? The illogic can't be missed, and the next step is for parents and taxpayers alike to begin querying where the money that they're already paying in state and local taxes is actually going.

August 10, 2009

Hillary Diplomatically Educates a Congolese Student

Monique Chartier

... or possibly an erroneous translator. Thanks to the BBC News/Americas for the heads up that sent me to this YouTube flash of insecurity on the part of our Secretary of State.

Healthcare Makes for a Dog's Life

Justin Katz

The ever-worth-reading Theodore Dalrymple, himself a doctor, compares international — and inter-species — healthcare programs and comes to some insightful conclusions, including this one:

Across the Channel, there is very little that can be said in favor of a health system which is the most ideologically egalitarian in the western world. It supposedly allots health care independently of the ability to pay, and solely on the basis of clinical need; but not only are differences in the health of the rich and poor in Britain among the greatest in the western world, they are as great as they were in 1948, when health care was de facto nationalized precisely to bring about equalization. There are parts of Glasgow that have almost Russian levels of premature male death. Britain’s hospitals have vastly higher rates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (a measurement of the cleanliness of hospitals) than those of any other European country; and survival rates from cancer and cardiovascular disease are the lowest in the western world, and lower even than among the worst-off Americans.

Even here, though, there is a slight paradox. About three quarters of people die of cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and therefore seriously inferior rates of survival ought to affect life expectancy overall. And yet Britons do not have a lower life expectancy than all other Europeans; their life expectancy is very slightly higher than that of Americans, and higher than that of Danes, for example, who might be expected to have a very superior health-care system. Certainly, I would much rather be ill in Denmark than in Britain, whatever the life expectancy statistics.

Perhaps this suggests that there is less at stake in the way health-care systems are organized and funded, at least as far as life expectancy is concerned (not an unimportant measure, after all), than is sometimes supposed. Or perhaps it suggests that the relationship of the health-care system to the actual health of people in societies numbering many millions is so complex that it is difficult to identify factors with any degree of certainty.

Mr. Dalrymple also seconds a point that I've made several times: that the United States' current healthcare is disproportionately expensive, compared with the rest of the world, in part because we're carrying some of the load for those other countries, particularly in continuing innovation. The healthcare "reforms" currently in discussion within the federal government will begin the process of retarding technical development.

Taxes, Wealth, and Recovery

Justin Katz

With the reminder that Rhode Island is at the top of the list when it comes to stimulus spending per capita, I thought of a table that I'd seen predicting the years during which each state's economy would recover to pre-recession employment levels. Curious what it would look like, I added the recovery information to the table that I used while assessing whether there might be a correlation between tax burden and the proportion of wealthy residents.

The result is below. The colors still correspond with tax burden (red being the highest), and the middle column still ranks states according to the number of IRS tax returns showing income over $200,000 (highest at the top). The patterns in the new column are meant to group the states by the year in which they'll recover, with those at the top matching previous employment levels by 2011 and those at the bottom doing the same some time after 2015.

Nothing decisive, but interesting.

An Unstimulated Recovery

Justin Katz

Having just read promises of impending economic recovery, readers may have a common question in response to news about the implementation of the "stimulus" program:

THE STATE HAD SPENT $254.2 million of the $1.1 billion [promised to Rhode Island] as of July 24, according to data released by the state Office of Economic Recovery & Reinvestment. Close to $207 million — more than 80 percent — has gone to help plug budget holes, although $31 million was used to increase unemployment benefits and another $5.6 million was spent to expand food stamp access.

Which URI Economics Professor Len Lardaro reinforces as follows:

"I will say, not that the stimulus is perfect, but the fact that there is so much criticism is because the economy is doing so much better. We can afford to gripe," he said.

So, if only $10.6 million has gone toward projects that do more than plug budget gaps and mitigate the experience of the unemployed, and yet the economy is recovering, why do we have to spend the millions and billions of taxpayer dollars still in the pool? One begins to suspect a scam:

Andres Carbacho-Burgos, an economist at Moody's, notes that Rhode Island so far has received more stimulus dollars per capita than any other state, save Alaska.

There was no immediate impact on job growth, he says. But hundreds of jobs were saved as cash-strapped schools and state and local governments used stimulus funds to plug budget holes that would have caused widespread layoffs.

The government has done little more, it would seem, than redistribute wealth from the private economy — present and future — to government workers. Sure, we know you're hurting, they say, but be encouraged about how healthy we are!

The political gamesmanship from RI Democrats, of course, is to blame Governor Carcieri for failing to spend the money more rapidly, but that is the nature of government. If he'd dumped $1.1 billion on the stairs of the State House and the corruptocrats who loiter in the shadows, there, had soaked it all up, the Democrats would be pointing to him when it came time for reckoning.

Look, if you pour money into the machine of the economy, it's going to run for a bit. Not efficiently. Not in a self-refueling way. But it'll run. That doesn't change the fact that government spending is minimally stimulative, slow, and prone to fraud. The slower it is, the less stimulative it will be, and the faster it is, the more prone to fraud it will be. Moreover, it can do no more, for this inefficient and wasteful effort, than steal money from other parts of the economy, including the economy of decades to come.

You Don't Get to Decide About Keeping Your Current Healthcare Coverage, Unless You are One with Your Employer

Carroll Andrew Morse

A number of analysts have begun to note that, under current Democratic healthcare proposals, President Barack Obama's promise that "if you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan" is not reality-based. Under the Democratic plans, "you" don't get any choice in whether to keep your existing coverage if your employer decides to discontinue coverage under the new rules.

If the President and Congressional Democrats were serious about helping "you" keep the coverage you have now, they would support two basic reforms…

  • They would give individuals who purchase health insurance directly from an insurance company the same tax-breaks that are given to corporate-provided health plans. Presently, corporate-purchased health plans qualify for tax-breaks that individually-purchased plans do not; the proposals favored by the President continue this disparity.
  • They would end the disparate legal treatment of insurance-company coverage decisions that is an unintended consequence of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. ERISA has driven insurers towards offering their products only through employers, because a wide-range protections from lawsuits over improper coverage decisions is granted to employer-based plans, but not to individually-purchased ones. The effect of ERISA is an important underdiscussed factor in creating the unsatisfying health insurance system we have today.
These reforms are also worth supporting out of a basic sense of fairness, as well as prime examples of how the distortions in the current system have not been created by out-of-control market forces, but by strange government regulation. But I suspect that Democrats aren't interested in them, because they don't help push us towards a totally government-run system.

p.s. Does the fact that this post illustrates that the claim made in today's USA Today by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer...

[The proposals passed by Committees in the House] will allow every American who likes his or her current plan to keep it.
…requires some very heavy qualification mean that I am un-American for posting it?

The Bill of Federalism: Amendment #4

Carroll Andrew Morse

If I could choose a single amendment from the proposed Bill of Federalism to place into the US Constitution, it would be this one…

No treaty or other international agreement may enlarge the legislative power of Congress granted by this Constitution, nor govern except by legislation any activity that is confined within the United States.
In other words, if a proposal by the Executive branch, a Senator or a Congressman doesn't have the support it needs to pass through the regular lawmaking process, treaty-ratification cannot be used as an alternative mechanism for legislating. Allowing some government actions to short-circuit the law-making process and acquire the force of law, on the basis that deals cut between governments are entitled to a special consideration not given to measures fully deliberated by the representatives of the people, is an affront to the democratic legitimacy that forms the basis of self-government.

Georgetown University Law Professor Randy Barnett, author of the Bill of Federalism, offers these thoughts on the proposed Amendment…

The framers of the Constitution were profoundly wary of entangling the United States in international legal commitments, so they required two-thirds of the Senate to ratify all treaties, and they assumed that treaties would only reach matters of truly international concern. These principles have been subverted by several misinterpretations of the Constitution. First, the treaty power has been interpreted to reach every imaginable subject, including many subjects of purely local concern. Second, the treaty power has been interpreted as a mechanism to increase the legislative power of Congress, thus creating a doubly perverse incentive: an incentive to enter into new international legal obligations simply to attain increased domestic legislative power. This amendment would correct these errors and restore the original meaning of the Treaty Clause and the Supremacy Clause.

The earlier proposed amendments:

"It's More Like a Debt Sun Roof"

Monique Chartier

This was the reaction last hour by Glenn Beck's producer Stu upon being told that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had requested (on Friday - do you suppose they were trying to minimize media attention?) that Congress raise the national debt ceiling.

It is critically important that Congress act before the limit is reached so that citizens and investors here and around the world can remain confident that the United States will always meet its obligations

As Daily Markets Kenneth Bell dryly points out

So, if I’ve maxed out my credit card it only makes sense that my credit card company further boost my credit limit so that my other creditors can remain confident in my debt-paying ability.

The Origin of Civic Violence

Justin Katz

It does more than prove the group's extremely low opinion of its audience's awareness and intelligence that a propaganda video from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) ends with the scene just after a half-dozen of its members, with racial slurs on their lips, had beaten up somebody protesting Congress's intentions with healthcare. Just after the incident, an overweight man with a cane, and wearing an SEIU t-shirt, walks toward the dissipating scuffle; the video strongly implies that the violence originated with the conservative activists and victimized peaceful union demonstrators. After the fade to black, we hear, "You just attacked that guy," and the video's producers are content to let the viewer infer the opposite of the truth.

The larger point that this audacity proves is that the people behind organized labor have little concern for truth and will rush to rewrite history in the most brazen fashion. So let's recall the time line:

  • Per established strategy, the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats declared an urgency to pass healthcare-overhaul legislation before legislators' knees could be weakened by expected constituent opposition, or perhaps by simply reading and understanding the bill that they were being asked to transform into law.
  • Many of those constituents set out to have their voices heard before the Democrats' urgency crossed the line to a done deal. Not surprisingly, when they had an elected representative's attention, their passion came through.
  • Union thugs tipped one such event beyond the border into violence, although it should be noted that there's no indication that the conservative activists fought back with more force than necessary to stop an attack.
  • Now, union leaders wish to foster a sense of victimhood and impending threat among their supporters.

And now the face of Rhode Island union thuggery, Patrick Crowley, stops only a few breaths from declaring, "Get the brass knuckles, boys":

This is nothing.

And if this scares the people who support health care, or voted for Obama, or a good liberals/progressives, my question to you is: what are you going to do about it?

Are you going to send an email? Maybe call the RNC to complain?

Or are you going to do something more? Do you really think an email is going to stop people like this?

His latest update to the post shouts, "NOW WHAT ARE YOU PREPARED TO DO?"

And thus do leftist organizers usher in the fascism that motivates their lesser activities. Conservative citizens of the United States of America have showed no desire to step beyond letting their representatives know in no uncertain terms that they want the legislative process to work in their favor. Unions and progressives, by contrast, are itching for an excuse to roll over the objects of their hatred in a steamroller of fists and jackboots.

The most disgusting part is the complicity of school teachers, via their union, in promoting people who promote violence. It was the National Education Association of Rhode Island, after all, that lent Crowley an air of credibility.

Luckily, sunshine frightens a troll, so if anybody asks members of the right, "What are you prepared to do?," we can stand firm on principle. "Pull them into the light," we can say. Just keep talking (and taping). When the truth is on your side, it isn't a stretch to suggest that email is going to stop people like this.

Posts This Weekend

Justin Katz

Our weekend posting began with an investigation of whether the claims of some on the RI left that taxation has no correlation with the number of wealthy residents hold water. They don't. Which adds a bit of emphasis to my exhortation (with events listed) that right-leaning reformers need to begin to get together. In a sense, we have to organize ourselves against followers of The Organizer.

In a local context, attempts by the establishment left to change the topic from the obvious fixes to Rhode Island policies require a rebuttal and resistance that only an organized movement can provide. That said, when we do come together to act, what Jon Scott calls "New Yankee Republicans" should realize that social issues can't be cleared from the table, for both strategic and philosophical reasons.

Mac checked in to mention his Wall Street Journal piece on Israel and American policy.

Monique considered the financial equations in Massachusetts healthcare law, and I considered the numbers behind proclamations that the economy is turning around.

A short documentary on a student council president campaign at Brown led me to ponder why our culture won't grow up. And a Deal Hudson review of Andrew McNabb's book of short stories led me to ponder the importance of perspective along the line between art and religion. Not unrelated are the speeches that are now available from the Portsmouth Institute conference on William F. Buckley.

It all seems to come together, somehow, in testimony from a woman formerly in the life that the world of stripping and prostitution is a form of modern indentured servitude.

And, by the way, Paul Kelly has still not been allowed to move back into his own home.

August 9, 2009

Still Out of a Home

Justin Katz

By way of an update to the bizarre story of the veteran against whom an ex-girlfriend and the Rhode Island Superior Court conspired to keep him out of his own house for more than two years, now, I heard from Paul Kelly this week, and he's still locked out. Apparently, the trial that would remove Pocahontas Cooley from the premises with a restraining order is complete, but Judge Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson has decided not to issue a ruling until she conducts a separate trial involving Cooley's appeal of an eviction order that would have given Paul his home back many months ago.

The courtroom insanity resumes September 10.


Policy Baubles to Distract from the Pocket Picking

Justin Katz

Tom Sgouros used his just-about-regular column in the reputedly right-wing Providence Journal, yesterday, to promote his new book. Obviously 800 words is insufficient to synopsize such a work and present much depth from the arguments that appear therein, but one thing Sgouros accomplishes is to convey his role in the left-wing–labor alliance in Rhode Island: He's the showman distracting the mark (i.e., the taxpayer) with baubles while accomplices slip as much out of the victim's pockets as possible.

It's long been clear that Tom's on a quest to find explanations other than the obvious for Rhode Island's sorry state, and he has solidified his results as follows:

So what's the problem? Well, labor certainly has allies in the state legislature, but it has lost almost all the high-profile battles it has undertaken over the past decade, from pension cuts to mayoral academies. Welfare benefits are stingy and hard to get here, just like in other states, and the rolls have declined dramatically over the past dozen years. Meanwhile, few municipalities are spending any more than the bare minimum necessary to meet legal requirements.

For context, here's his summary of the point of view that he's refuting:

Rhode Island is in a crisis. Hamstrung by a legislature in thrall to powerful unions and the lobbyists for social-service agencies, we have spent far beyond our means. Profligate spending by cities and towns is bankrupting local government, and threatens to take the state down, too. Meanwhile, to satisfy the unquenchable demand for government services and benefits, taxes are rising every year without end.

The game is easy to spot, for anybody who's paid attention. In the face of popular demand (mayoral academies) and utter necessity (pensions), the General Assembly and the unions have made the bare minimum of concessions in order to get by politically, while weighing them down with regulations and hedged bets so as to encourage their failure.. Welfare benefits are only "stingy" if one deliberately defines away most of the forms that it takes (typically refusing to include anything other than direct cash payments via a specific government program; search this site for "TANF"). And those "legal requirements" that municipalities are scrounging to pay aren't the result of some divine decree; they're the result (1) of imposed policy from the labor-friendly State House and (2) the contracts by which the towns have spent their residents' money.

Pay no attention to these impossibly complex disputes, says Mr. Sgouros. You can't possibly prove your position based on the available data. If that's not an exact quote from some of my own arguments with Tom, it's pretty close.

So, what Tom's calling "Ten Things You Don't Know About Rhode Island" is really a list of ten projects to occupy our ADD-besotted citizenry while maintaining the status quo for his friends and clients behind the scenes. Here, unravel this one:

Since the 1950s, we have built what amounts to an entire second state's worth of roads, bridges, schools and police stations. Yet the state's population is up only about 30 percent since that time.

One suspects that he's not proposing that we immediately break out the bulldozers, so the entire fleet of current public sector employees would be well into their Florida retirements before even the preliminary "studies" were completed. Here's a nice related project we can resolve in the meantime:

Almost all the police hired in the past decade have been in the low-crime parts of the state. Many communities with high crime rates have been forced to cut their police departments, while low-crime towns added jobs.

Clearly, this has nothing to do with organized labor in the state. And, by the way, I thought the towns weren't overspending?

Some of the items that Sgouros wiggles before our eyes fit precisely with the analysis of Rhode Island's problems that he explicitly rejects. Others are irresolvable without further entrenchment in the progressive policies that underlie his own analysis — which is to say that the "solutions" are incompatible with freedom.

Pace Sgouros, analysis of Rhode Island's problems is not so tricky a matter, and the solutions are easily defined, albeit difficult to implement: cut taxes (and spending), reform regulations and licensing, and ease mandates. Sgouros's contention that we've "tried" these measures "to little effect" is flat deception from an up-and-coming master of legerdemain.

The Brand of Freedom

Justin Katz

The important thing to remember is that prostitution is a matter of individual choice and freedom. Right?

Although the atmosphere [at Cheaters] is often chaotic, Ruth said that the pimps had a very strict "system" of unwritten rules that the girls have to follow. For example, new girls have to be careful not to sleep with other girls' pimps.

Many of the women are branded with the pimp's mark. Ruth said the women have tattoos which "dubbed them as prostitutes." Their tattoos depict different sexual acts or positions, literally creating "advertising on their bodies." Service providers in other states say that up to 80 percent of girls controlled by pimps are tattooed or branded with marks of ownership, according to Donna Hughes, professor at the University of Rhode Island.

When new girls arrived at Cheaters, Ruth characterized them as "vulnerable, young, and with no other options." Many of the women have a troubled past which create emotional and substance abuse problems. Ruth said the dancers "almost never get on stage sober. While they get dressed, they snort a line of coke together."

The pimps prey on the young women's vulnerabilities. The girls are tightly bonded to their pimps, who they call their "daddies." Ruth said "their 'daddies' may be the only ones who pay attention to them and they convince themselves that the pimps care about them." Some of the women say they have a "nice pimp," which Ruth says is an oxymoron.

On further thought, this might be just the sort of business that the Rhode Island government ought to target as a profit center. Who could doubt that most members of the General Assembly would prove to be "nice pimps"?

WFB-Related Edification

Justin Katz

For some Sunday reading, you indubitably would profit from a visit to the Portsmouth Institute's Web site, where the diligent administrators have been posting transcripts of the talks given by the various speakers. For anybody with an interest in a particular speaker, Mr. Buckley, Catholicism, or conservatism, the offerings amount to a literary collection.

My own "coverage" of the event, by the way, is here.

Recovering Backwards

Justin Katz

To the extent that believing in economic recovery precipitates it, it is arguably a good thing for the Providence Journal to splash the headline, "Economic rebound seen as job losses drop in July," over a story from the New York Times. On the other hand, the whiff of dishonesty to the project may prove more powerful than the cheerleading:

Employers eliminated 247,000 jobs in July, a huge number by the standards of an ordinary recession, but the smallest monthly loss since last August, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. And the unemployment rate, rising for months, actually ticked down, to 9.4 percent from 9.5 percent in June, mainly because so many people dropped out of the hunt for work, ceasing to list themselves as unemployed.

One must read way down (thumb through the pages in the print edition) to read the obsidian lining elaborated:

Thousands of others are giving up. More than 400,000 who had been looking for work dropped out of the labor force in July, not even bothering to tell government pollsters that they would accept a job, part time or full time, if one came their way. ...

A broader measure of the nation’s unemployment, which includes people too discouraged to look for work or forced to work only part time, slipped to 16.3 percent from its peak of 16.5 percent in June.

If the slowing decreases continue and the economy turns the corner in the near future, then people will likely infer that it just happens this way. If the recession continues beyond expectations, readers will have more evidence that the news industry is less interested in information than in promotion, in this case of the American president who made the haughty claim that his administration "rescued our economy from catastrophe."

It would seem that circumstances are already pretty catastrophic for the 400,000 who just gave up looking for work during a one-month span.

Penalizing the Non-Participant: National Health Care Reform IS Massachusetts Health Care Reform

Monique Chartier

Andrew had a contemporaneous post on Massachusetts health care reform, which includes the stick of a tax penalty on those who refused to participate. Note that the stick gets bigger from 2008 to 2009. Note also that Mass' reform has not accomplished its goals, though the author provides little to bolster her conclusion that national health care reform would fix everything that ails the health care system of Massachusetts and the rest of the country.

Now, from HR3200:

(a) Tax Imposed- In the case of any individual who does not meet the requirements of subsection (d) at any time during the taxable year, there is hereby imposed a tax equal to 2.5 percent of the excess of--

(1) the taxpayer's modified adjusted gross income for the taxable year, over

(2) the amount of gross income specified in section 6012(a)(1) with respect to the taxpayer.


(A) IN GENERAL- The tax imposed under subsection (a) with respect to any taxpayer for any taxable year shall not exceed the applicable national average premium for such taxable year.

So the penalty equates to the premium you "should" be paying. Let's see, pay a tax penalty or pay a premium. If I chose the penalty, will I dodge this experience?

By the way, HR3200 exempts the following groups from the penalty.

(1) DEPENDENTS- Subsection (a) shall not apply to any individual for any taxable year if a deduction is allowable under section 151 with respect to such individual to another taxpayer for any taxable year beginning in the same calendar year as such taxable year.

(2) NONRESIDENT ALIENS- Subsection (a) shall not apply to any individual who is a nonresident alien.

(3) INDIVIDUALS RESIDING OUTSIDE UNITED STATES- Any qualified individual (as defined in section 911(d)) (and any qualifying child residing with such individual) shall be treated for purposes of this section as covered by acceptable coverage during the period described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of section 911(d)(1), whichever is applicable.

(4) INDIVIDUALS RESIDING IN POSSESSIONS OF THE UNITED STATES- Any individual who is a bona fide resident of any possession of the United States (as determined under section 937(a)) for any taxable year (and any qualifying child residing with such individual) shall be treated for purposes of this section as covered by acceptable coverage during such taxable year.


Contemporary for a Catholic or Catholic for a Contemporary?

Justin Katz

It's not quite explicit, but one gets the impression that Deal Hudson, director of, likes the short stories of my friend, Andrew McNabb, because they're gritty for a Catholic writer:

Every now and then the real thing comes along: a Catholic writer who writes well enough to satisfy literate readers who judge fiction by the canons of fiction, not theology. It's a bonus when that Catholic writer occasionally peoples his narratives with familiar characters -- like the sexually confused ex-seminarian or the young, excessively certain priest. You recognize him not by his profession of faith, or his attention to clergy and rituals, but by his well-crafted works of imagination infused with a sacramental intelligence. ...

McNabb's stories juxtapose the pure and the impure, the violent and the tender, the body and the spirit -- yet there is nothing in them suggesting a Gnostic dualism. The unity of his stories is achieved by drawing our attention to a dogged mortality we would rather ignore. The Body of This is a sustained, poetic meditation on one character's message to her injured husband: "There you are, and here I am."

For most, it may be a distinction without difference that my own take is that Andrew is palpably Catholic for an artsy modernist. The difference is this: Those who revel in Catholics' willingness to walk the fine line of impropriety wish for challenges to authority, ultimately to God; those who emphasize the pull of piety even within circumstances far removed from religious life leave clues toward Truth for drifters. (A sample from Andrew's local reading emphasizes the point.)

I'm insufficiently familiar with Hudson's writing to know how thoroughly he's immersed in the mindset against which I'd advise, but he's facing the wrong direction when states that Andrew's stories draw "our attention to a dogged mortality we would rather ignore." Turning around, he'd see that our culture has thoroughly immersed itself in the dark thickness of mortality; what Andrew does is to draw our attention to the immortality of which we're deliberately made suspicious.

August 8, 2009

Why We Won't Grow Up

Justin Katz

I wasn't sure what to expect when I responded to Michael Morgenstern's offer to grant me access to a digital copy of his movie, Castle on High, which is currently part of the Rhode Island Film Festival, with a screening tomorrow at the Columbus Theater. It was definitely more engrossing than I'd expected.

The documentary follows the race for president of the student council at Brown University, with three candidates who couldn't have been better scripted were the film fiction:

  • The overly involved and not immediately likable, umm, studious member of the council who looks the cliché of a villainous mastermind, but who is clearly the most qualified for the job.
  • The languorous and ever-tardy council member about whose attractiveness his acquaintances gush.
  • The Asian rocker dude who's never participated in student government and whose motivation for running is never explained to satisfactory degree.

Watching the film, the politically inclined over-thirty-something may still catch him or her self choosing a side according to adolescent criteria, rather than applying that elusive adult clarity and logic. The broader context of that tendency is the predictable impression that real campaigns and matriculated politics are not much different than those involving a campus governance body with no apparent authority. The random students whose extemporaneous commentary illustrates a profound superficiality, one suspects, are not that much worse informed than the grown-up electorate at large.

And that's where Castle on High is most revealing. Where are the teachers?, I wondered. Early on in the film, council members note that it seems all they do is debate parliamentary procedure; a faculty adviser could offer the perspective that mastering that aspect of governance is among the most important things they can derive from the experience. An experienced coach could have helped the, umm, studious young man to mold himself into a stronger candidate — a stronger person — with some obvious pointers (telling him, for example, how his repeated referral to the university president by her first name contributed to others' impression that he's pretentious*). Other instances that scream for instruction abound.

Independence is a critical lesson of college life, to be sure, but even as it brings back fond memories, watching the kids cavort to a children's song during a concert on the lawn jars against the knowledge that, during filming, others of their generation were participating in a military surge that would help to secure a nascent democracy in the desert of civilization's cradle. Not all young Americans need or should be soldiers, and there should be space for youthful indiscretion, but if we find the similarities between the practice democracy of a student council and the functional democracies that constitute Western civilization disconcertingly similar, perhaps the problem is that we're not teaching our children, or ourselves, that there's something greater toward which to aspire.

* I've been informed that calling President Simmons "Ruth" is a "Brown thing" that all students do, in which case it would have seemed odd for the candidate to differ — although his emphasis on personal conversations contributed to the impression. This was just an example, however, that I'd found particularly pointed, being uninitiated; the characterization of the student as "pretentious" isn't mine, but was voiced by several other students in the film, and professorial instruction could have been helpful. (I realize, of course, that snickers might be justified at the suggestion that Ivy League professors might have helped a student to avoid pretension.)

Sit Down, Community, and Be Organized!

Justin Katz

If anything, Mark Steyn's latest lays on the wordplay a bit too thick, but apart from his usual humor, this one's worth reading if only to sow the last four sentences of this block quote into the conservative repartee:

"The right-wing extremist Republican base is back!" warns the Democratic National Committee. These right-wing extremists have been given their marching orders by their masters: They've been directed to show up at "thousands of events," told to "organize," "knock on doors" ...

No, wait. My mistake. That's the e-mail I got from Mitch Stewart, Director of "Organizing for America" at But that's the good kind of "organizing." Obama's a community organizer. We're the community. He organizes us. What part of that don't you get?

Be Regional Differences What They May, Yankee Republicans Must Be Made to See Their Own Drift

Justin Katz

To be sure, Jon Scott doesn't articulate anything that followers of the intra-Republican debate 'round here haven't heard, but that doesn't mean he isn't treading precarious ground:

"New Yankee Republicans" are fiscally conservative, believe in our nation and our troops but have little passion for social issues. "Live and let live... just don't make me pay for it," they say. "Leave us alone to make choices for our families, our businesses and our faith." These voters lie dormant because they rarely have candidates who reflect their beliefs.

That's not to say that a candidate who is pro-life shouldn't say so. The best message is one that a candidate can say with conviction. But in an area whose history is woven with rugged individualism, the focus must be on a strong message of liberty.

From where I sit, the area's "rugged individualism" is in need of repeated defibrillation. Even New England libertarianism has the taint of desiring to be left alone... to collect government largess in peace or to guard collected wealth against economic challenge. Similarly, practitioners have "little passion for social issues" because they're protecting either the public trickle that leftists have lured them to suckle or their own private indulgences. (I don't mean to implicate Jon, specifically, in any of this.)

What promoters of the "moderate" vision of Northeastern Republicanism fail to incorporate into their political philosophies is the Rip Van Winkle snooze into which our society has been lulled by liberals' perversion of the concept of liberty — allowing, encouraging, skin-deep pleasures as an opiate to anesthetize against the crushing of soul-deep rights.

In order for a Republican or (more broadly) right-of-center coalition to function, "New Yankee Republicans" have to acknowledge that the seat of individual liberty is currently to the society's right, and that it isn't sufficient to ignore social issues, allowing the Democrats to heave them left. The result of such attempts was evident in Lincoln Chafee and will likely be the downfall of the Moderate Party: The effort to prove disinterest in "imposing our will" when it comes to social issues will translate into acceptance of liberals' imposition of theirs.

Busy Times for Right-Leaning Reformers

Justin Katz

It's possible, of course, that I'm more aware, this year, but perhaps there's reason to be encouraged by the number of events that right-leaning groups in Rhode Island have been placing on the calendar in the coming weeks.

  • Saturday, August 15th: As advertised in the sidebar on the left side of your screen, the Rhode Island Republican Assembly is hosting a barbecue event in Warwick with a variety of conservative and reform speakers
  • Sunday, August 16th: The National Organization for Marriage - Rhode Island has planned an afternoon/evening picnic at Aldrich Mansion in Warwick to celebrate traditional marriage with a free concert, children's events, and vow renewals, as well as a catered meal (requiring tickets).
  • Saturday, August 22nd: The RIGOP has scheduled a morning breakfast and presentation from RNC Chief of Staff Ken McKay (location not yet settled).
  • Wednesday, August 26th: The RI Tea Party has arranged for a free dinner with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse at the Johnston Senior Center to have (ahem) a polite discussion on matters of policy.
  • Thursday, September 10th: Grover Norquist will join the Ocean State Policy Research Institute for an evening of conversation, with details to be determined.
  • Friday through Sunday, October 2nd to 4th: The Republican National Committee Northeast Conference will be held in Newport.

All of these events are on my calendar (for liveblogging, as possible and appropriate), and I hope to see a lot of you in attendance, as well. Conservatives seem to have different aesthetic preferences, when it comes to organizing, but if we don't begin intermingling and networking — getting to know each other — we won't be able to stop Rhode Island from winning the states' roll to the bottom. Part of the motivation for the creation of Anchor Rising was the contributors' mutual feeling of isolation in this deep-blue mire; above all, that sense of Hopelessness must be remedied.

A Hard Line for an Ally

Mac Owens

My recent piece in the Wall Street Journal addressed the incentives that the Obama Administration is creating by pressing hard on Israel. Oddly, this is the very same U.S. president who believes it's important not to appear to be "meddling" in Iranian affairs.

Self-Reflective Disproof on the Left

Justin Katz

As fun as it may be to roll rhetorical balls down the lane and topple simple propaganda and otherwise erroneous talking points on the Rhode Island left, the state would profit from a more credulous and balanced discourse. Plainly put, Oswald Krell's supposed proof that "there is no negative correlation" between "high taxes and percentage of high-end earners" is incorrect on every level of analysis.

On the first level, Krell is wrong about the argument that he's professing to disprove. Inasmuch as he cites me specifically, I can attest his error without qualification. The argument is not that taxes are the end-all-be-all of people's decisions about where to live. Krell and friends wish to attack a simplistic strawman because the actual observations of the other side (our side) are unarguable. The argument is that taxes are a factor, and changing them amidst the other factors that people are already considering will have a predictable outcome. If all else remains constant, raising taxes within a state will decrease the population that pays those taxes. Consider an automobile: increasing or decreasing the amount of gas that flows through the engine will affect its speed, even though the results will vary based on other factors, such as the vehicle's prior speed, the size and type of the engine, the weight of the car, and the terrain that it's currently traversing.

On the second level, Krell is wrong about the necessary disproof even of his strawman. He ranks the states according to their tax burden and then according to the percentage of tax returns showing income above $200,000. He takes as the hypothesis for disproof that the lowest taxes would instantly equate to the highest percentage of rich residents, but failure to obtain those results hardly disproves correlation. To even get close to so dramatic a demand, he'd have to be much more specific in his rankings. The question wouldn't be tax burden, but tax burden on those making over $200,000 per year; if a state taxes those households less, but the majority of its citizens, whose income is much lower, more, then its tax burden could be high while its wealthy remain in place. (I've long been arguing that this has been happening in Rhode Island, although the tragic solution of the General Assembly and, even more, the state's progressives is to increase taxes on the wealthy rather than lower taxes on the majority.)

Even more egregious, though, is that Krell takes the extremes of tax burden (the ten highest and the ten lowest), ranks them with respect to rich folks in isolation from the other thirty states, and then raises his arms with a giant "See!" that there's no correlation. To the contrary, by this foolish methodology, if there's any intermixing of the states at all, there is correlation. It appears that the only outcome that Krell would accept as evidence of his opposition's position is if the tax burden ranking and the rich percentage ranking were perfectly inverted. But there are degrees; it's only a question of the strength of the correlation.

Which brings us to the third level, on which Krell's assessment of his own data is just wrong. At least in his first attempt at this analysis, he made some attempt to keep all categories limited to quintiles. Simply putting the top and bottom quintiles of states from one ranking in their relative order for another ranking is useless. Consider the table at left, for which I ranked all 50 states using Krell's sources. (Although, I had different results with three states; given that all the rest are the same and my double-checking of the data for those states, I suspect he miskeyed a couple of numbers on his spreadsheet.) The left column is the ranking by tax burden, with highest at the top; the right column is the ranking by percentage of $200,000 tax returns, again with the highest at the top.

Clearly — and as nobody is denying — wealthy people find the states between Washington, DC, and Boston to be desirable places to live. It makes sense that the state governments whose territory is desirable for reasons that don't relate directly to taxation (geography, resources, proximity to industrial and financial centers, etc.) can get away with higher taxes. The tax burden becomes a premium that residents are willing to pay. The question that the people of each state must answer for themselves is whether their level of taxation exceeds the theoretical premium that productive people are willing to bear given other attractions of the locality. In Rhode Island's case, high taxes, combined with poor public services and crumbling infrastructure, constitute a severe restraint on the economy and, therefore, our well-being.

Returning to the table, though, a few interesting observations work very well with the broad theory that I've been proposing. The Northeast and California (which amounts, essentially, to our entire region on the West Coast) hold up pretty well in the wealthy column, but high-tax states outside of our region drop precipitously. It fits the general hypothesis to suggest that taxation matters more in the mass of states that have less to distinguish themselves from each other, which describes (e.g.) Ohio and Wisconsin.

The states with no shading, which make up the middle quintile on the tax burden side, distribute with remarkable evenness across the the rich ranking. The orange states appear to have tax burdens well out of proportion to their attractiveness, and they fall away into the bottom three quintiles.. The green states, by contrast, appear to benefit significantly from their low tax burdens, and the light-blue states more or less stand in place while the green states surpass them in percentage of wealthy residents, with three rocketing up the chart.

As I always disclaim, making grand assertions from this data would require much more extensive research and analysis. But for the purposes of online discussion of local policies, it makes for another interesting consideration among the mound of evidence concerning the direction in which Rhode Island should head. And for the purposes of disproving Oswald Krell's disproof, I'd say that it's decisive.

August 7, 2009

Putting the Politics to Music

Justin Katz

As a production of serious musicianship, Kathleen Stewart's lyrics are heavy-handed and the music programmed and canned, but for a few moments of light entertainment, she does evoke some chuckles. I particularly liked "Dumbing Down Our Youth":

Preparing kids for failure on the job.
Preparing kids to join the clueless mob.
They'll yield to the state,
'Cuz sheep will never debate.
We gotta help our children learn.
Before the point of no return.

Dumbing down our youth.
You know I'm tellin' the truth.
Instead of education.
Dumbing down our youth.
You know I'm tellin' the truth.
Instead of education.

We should take up a collection to bribe the DJ to play this song at the next Winter Solstice party of the National Education Association Rhode Island. I'm sure Crowley does an impeccable Carmen Miranda.

The First Murmurs of Political Ugliness

Justin Katz

John Loughlin, the presumed Republican candidate for Patrick Kennedy's seat in Congress, has issued a press release stating that "the Congressman has a basic obligation to share his in-depth knowledge" about healthcare legislation at three to five town-hall-style meetings. As a matter of an elected representative's responsibility, Loughlin is absolutely correct, but constituents might have cause to worry that the ordeal of such meetings might send Patrick back into preventive rehab. The "debate" is getting ugly.

After a few instances of citizens' displaying their passion about the Democrats' federal powergrab in a porcine "healthcare reform" costume, party figures have been striving to prove that nobody does divisiveness as well as they do:

Democrats and the White House are claiming that the sometimes rowdy protests that have disrupted Democratic lawmakers' meetings and health care events around the country are largely orchestrated from afar by insurers, lobbyists, Republican Party activists and others.

Jonah Goldberg goes into further detail about the Democrats' attacks on American citizens. Peggy Noonan took up the topic for the must-read piece to which Marc linked earlier. Noonan highlights the looks of shock that have been characteristic of the Democrats who've been experiencing Americans' frustration. "They had no idea how people were feeling," she writes, and she ends on a note of concern that their leaders and allies see more need for forehead-to-forehead response than for the much-invoked empathy:

Absent [President Obama calling for a pause in the debate], and let's assume that won't happen, the health-care protesters have to make sure they don’t get too hot, or get out of hand. They haven’t so far, they’ve been burly and full of debate, with plenty of booing. This is democracy’s great barbaric yawp. But every day the meetings seem just a little angrier, and people who are afraid—who have been made afraid, and left to be afraid—can get swept up. As this column is written, there comes word that John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO has announced he’ll be sending in union members to the meetings to counter health care’s critics.

If, like me, you've come across news of a beating that apparent members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) delivered to a grassroots activist in Missouri, and watched the video of the aftermath, Noonan's final chord is chilling.

To be sure, meeting constituent unrest with union thuggery is probably not what White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina meant when he told Senate Democrats, "If you get hit, we will punch back twice as hard," but the imagery is telling. And dangerous. Citizen ire is going to turn into bloodsport politics, in part because ostensible leaders prefer to battle than to listen.

One Thing's For Sure, They Won't Be Using Them to Meet with Constituents at Health Care Town Halls

Monique Chartier

As reports of a less than agreeable reception for members of Congress at health care town halls have circulated, other congressional delegations around the country, not excluding Rhode Island's, have been strangely slow to schedule town halls in their own states. However, the tax-payer funded body which characterized the use of private jets by taxpayer funded auto executives as "arrogant" has found the time to ... er, order eight new jets for their own taxpayer funded use. Looks like Congress has gotten around to Speaker Pelosi's shopping list.

Again from today's Wall Street Journal.

The 737s, known as C-40s by the military, are designed to be an "office in the sky" for government leaders, according to Air Force documents describing the plane. The plane is configured with all first-class leather seats, worktables, two large galleys for cooking and a "distinguished visitor compartment with sleep accommodations."

Quoting Rep. Gary Ackerman (D., N.Y.)

“Couldn’t you have downgraded to first class or something, or jet-pooled or something ...?”

Our thoughts exactly, Congressman.

Where Some (American) Presidential Empathy Would Be Entirely Appropriate II

Carroll Andrew Morse

Monique has noted in the comments to a prior post that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has taken a definite stand on the matter of Lubna Hussein, the woman who may be sentenced to 40 lashes for the "crime" of wearing trousers in Sudan. AFP described described his reaction yesterday…

President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed Thursday that France would continue to support a "courageous" Sudanese woman who faces 40 lashes for wearing trousers.

"We will continue to work with her to help in her struggle which is the struggle of all women and which honours her," he wrote, in a letter made public by his office.

Sarkozy spoke of his "emotion" and "deep concern" for the fate of Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein, whose trial on public indecency charges is "an intolerable attack on women's rights".

President Sarkozy is hardly a neutral observer on this issue. In late June, as reported by the BBC, he went as far as suggesting that his country might consider a ban on the public wearing of burkas, the traditional Islamic garb that covers a woman from head-to-toe...
"We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity," Mr Sarkozy told a special session of parliament in Versailles.

"That is not the idea that the French republic has of women's dignity.

"The burka is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French republic," the French president said….

A group of a cross-party lawmakers is already calling for a special inquiry into whether Muslim women who wear the burka is undermining French secularism, the BBC's Emma Jane Kirby in Paris says.

I, for one, am not inclined to support this kind of extreme ban on what individuals are allowed to do in public. Government shouldn't be in the business of telling people how to dress.

President Barack Obama has expressed support for this general proposition, for instance during his response to a reporter's question during a joint press appearance with President Sarkozy on June 6 of this year…

Q: President Obama, the ban on headscarves and veils for young girls in French schools and President Sarkozy’s position on Turkey’s entry into the European Union, is this likely to hinder the new approach to Islam that you presented in Cairo two days ago…

PRESIDENT OBAMA: … What I tried to do in Cairo was to open up a conversation both in Muslim communities, but also in non-Muslim communities; both in the Middle East, but also here in the West.

I will tell you that in the United States our basic attitude is, is that we’re not going to tell people what to wear. If, in their exercise of religion, they are impeding somebody else’s rights, that’s something that we would obviously be concerned about.

But my general view is, is that the most effective way to integrate people of all faiths is to not try to suppress their customs or traditions; rather to open up opportunities and give them a chance for full participation in the life of their country.

Yet so far, President Obama has had nothing to say about Lubna Hussein, despite the fact that she is involved with a clear-cut case of government telling its citizens what to wear.

Why does Ms. Hussein's situation not qualify for the "conversation" that President Obama desires to have? Why is a real situation involving authoritarian governments banning the wearing of pants a less worthy of discussion than is a possible situation of democratic governments banning the burka?

Here Are Yer Angry Mobs!!!

Marc Comtois

Dana Loesch has some pictures of the "angry mobs" showing up at the Health Care Town Halls (you know, where there is supposed to be an open discussion, yada yada yada). Here's an example:


Peggy Noonan:

The leftosphere and the liberal commentariat charged that the town hall meetings weren’t authentic, the crowds were ginned up by insurance companies, lobbyists and the Republican National Committee. But you can’t get people to leave their homes and go to a meeting with a congressman (of all people) unless they are engaged to the point of passion. And what tends to agitate people most is the idea of loss—loss of money hard earned, loss of autonomy, loss of the few things that work in a great sweeping away of those that don’t.

People are not automatons. They show up only if they care.

What the town-hall meetings represent is a feeling of rebellion, an uprising against change they do not believe in. And the Democratic response has been stunningly crude and aggressive. It has been to attack. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the United States House of Representatives, accused the people at the meetings of “carrying swastikas and symbols like that.” (Apparently one protester held a hand-lettered sign with a “no” slash over a swastika.) But they are not Nazis, they’re Americans. Some of them looked like they’d actually spent some time fighting Nazis.

Violent Tonight

Justin Katz

I'll be back on the radio, tonight, participating in Matt Allen's Violent Roundtable. The other guest is Rep. Peter Palumbo (D, Cranston).

The Bill of Federalism: Amendment #3

Carroll Andrew Morse

The third proposed amendment to the US Constitution contained in the Bill of Federalism places express limits on the Federal government's ability to use the extensive machinery of modern government to compel state governments to act in certain ways…

Congress shall not impose upon a State, or political subdivision thereof, any obligation or duty to make expenditures unless such expenditures shall be fully reimbursed by the United States; nor shall Congress place any condition on the expenditure or receipt of appropriated funds requiring a State, or political subdivision thereof, to enact a law or regulation restricting the liberties of its citizens.
As Georgetown University Law Professor Randy Barnett explains, this amendment has two distinct purposes 1) disallowing unfunded mandates by the Federal government on the states and 2) disallowing the practice of threatening to withhold Federal tax money, in order to force states to do what the Federal government is unable or unwilling to do directly…
The third proposed amendment addresses two sources of persistent federal intrusion into the powers of states. The first is federal laws mandating state action necessitating the expenditure of state funds without reimbursing the states for their expenditures. In this manner, the federal government can take credit for adopting measures without incurring the political cost of increasing taxes or borrowing. The second problem is the use of federal spending to restrict liberty for purposes not delegated to the United States. For example, the 55 mph speed limit was imposed by the states by conditioning the receipt of federal highway funds upon compliance with this mandate. This amendment makes this type of condition on funding unconstitutional.
I wonder if this could also serve as a model for a state Constitutional amendment, prohibiting states from applying unfunded mandates to cities and towns…

Earlier Proposed Amendments:
Article II: Limiting Federal Powers under the Interstate Commerce Clause
Aritcle I: Reconstituting the Taxing Power of the Federal Government

Challenges Must Be Issued in Woonsocket

Justin Katz

Amidst all the talk about what can and might be cut in Woonsocket, this paragraph stands out:

The 40 no-pay days were intended to save about $5 million. Council President Leo T. Fontaine questioned why the committee considered that approach, saying it was a violation of federal labor law. Schools Supt. Robert J Gerardi Jr. said the plan was dead anyway, after an official notice from the Woonsocket Teachers Guild that it would not agree to it, leaving the committee trying to find other big-ticket items to eliminate.

Oh well. The union issued an "official notice"; gotta look in other places than the — by far — single greatest expense that the school district has in order to shave 10% of its budget. If that's the case, then elected officials in the town must, of course, take into account changes in the work environment in light of the cuts that have to be made.

For example, Superintendent Robert Gerardi suggested canceling all busing for all students except those classified as special education. Clearly, accommodations for parents would have to be made, to assist them in transporting their children. One helpful tweak might be to give them an extra two hours to get their kids to school in the morning, moving the lost hours to approximately twenty weekdays in the summer. On page 19, the teachers' contract (PDF via Transparency Train) states only that "the maximum hours of the school day and the number of school days shall coincide with the minimum established by the RI Board of Education."

Unless I've missed it, nowhere in the contract or in the law is a "school day" defined as occurring in tandem with a "calendar day." So, each school day would be scheduled to correspond with two calendar days, with an overnight recess. According to regulations (PDF), Commissioner Deborah Gist would have to sign off on any non-standard schedule, but she does have the authority to approve plans that maintain the number of classroom minutes over the course of the year.

I'm sure there are a number of similar... adjustments... allowable within the contract and the law that might persuade the union to be a little more altruistic. Call the strategy "employ to contract" or "employ to rule." A secondary benefit is that flooding the commissioner's and regents' offices with requests for waivers would shine a great bright spotlight on the degree to which the state is conspiring with unions to increase property taxes.

Moreover, it ought to go without saying that the school committee has an unequivocal mandate to change the terms of the contract that it offers the union next time around so as to reinstate all of the sports, extracurriculars, busing, and whatever else it shaves to meet its budget, in addition to a healthy cushion. That future contract ought to be compiled and published for the public's approval within a week. Six, ten, twenty million dollars would be easy to shake out of the deals that teachers currently get when their financial comfort is measured against the decimated education experience of young Rhode Islanders who can never have their childhoods repaired.

"Burdensome" Union Transparency Reforms to be Repealed?

Marc Comtois

Apparently, the Obama Administration thinks the transparency requirements for labor union leadership are too stringent:

John Lund, the newly appointed deputy secretary in the Office of Labor Management Standards (OLMS), told The Examiner that Obama Administration officials will conduct a thorough review of financial disclosure requirements in response to complaints from labor officials that Bush-era reforms are too burdensome.

Under former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, union officers had to account for all of their compensation benefits on LM-2 disclosure forms. These reports helped to create "red flags" that would alert investigators of possible embezzlement activity, according to Bush administration officials.

Chao also modified the LM-30 forms so that shop stewards would be required to report information needed to expose "no show jobs" in which paychecks go into union coffers instead of a real worker's bank account.

"Elaine Chao made an effort to hold the union leadership accountable to its members, [Rep. John Kline, R-MN] said. "So it's not surprising to find that with the change in administration the union leadership does not want to have these records. But if I were a union worker I'd want the OLMS office beefed up so someone was holding labor officials accountable....Labor union political action committees (PACs) donated over $66 million to members of Congress in the 2008 election cycle, with 92 percent of the money going to Democrats, according to

Yes, it's not like there wasn't anything to find:
Since 2001, over 900 union officials have been convicted on embezzlement, fraud and conspiracy charges {more here - ed.} and courts have ordered $88,280,099 in restitution to be paid to defrauded unions and other parties investigated by OLMS, according to DOL...."We are not just talking about someone at say the headquarters for the AFL-CIO or the Teamsters because these are locals all over the country, where people are taking money and it's very widespread, [Kline] said. "These disclosure forms exist to protect the union members. It does not seem to resonate that this kind of activity exists."

Although congressional Democrats posture as advocates for union workers, they are in reality doing the bidding of labor bosses who continue to resist heightened accountability and transparency standards, he said.

"When you hear rhetoric and talk from the Democratic side of the aisle about how they are in favor of labor and workers, what they are really talking about is the union leadership," Kline said. "I think this is underscored by the cut in funding for the only office that has the job of keeping an eye on union leadership and by legislation that takes away the secret ballot and puts in binding arbitration.

I wonder if things like corruption in Chicago-area unions have anything to do with it? Carl Horowitz of the National Legal and Policy Institute thinks so.
It's no secret many union pension funds lack the funds sufficient to cover their liabilities. And a major reason lies with the gullibility, and on due occasion dishonesty, of their fiduciaries. Major case in point: the theft of tens of millions of dollars from pension plans sponsored by six unions and entrusted to Chicago-based equity fund manager John Orecchio. On July 22, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois filed an information count against Orecchio, charging him with embezzling approximately $24 million from his clients. The action, which follows a similar Securities & Exchange Commission complaint of nearly three years ago, provides a window into the overlapping worlds of high finance and organized labor. It also should serve as a reminder to the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil Obama Labor Department that union members have a right to maximum transparency as to how their dues and retirement contributions are being spent.

Re: Board of Elections Dismisses Lynch Complaint

Justin Katz

Few folks probably pay much attention to the campaign finance controversies that pop up from time to time, and it's difficult to get riled up about numbers so small. That presumes, of course, that the rules and penalties are applied equally; otherwise, minor errors and infractions are suggestive of the more systematic corruption that we all know to be prominent in this state. I know of candidates for such positions as small-town budget committee who've made errors on campaign finance reports, who've updated their filings, and who've still had to pay their fines. That an attorney general who's running for the office of governor should get a stern look and a pat on the coiffed head suggests that there are two sets of rules in Rhode Island politics:

In dismissing the allegations, elections officials concluded that while Lynch had in fact violated state statute by labeling thousands of dollars in campaign expenses as "petty cash," his actions did not appear deliberate. ...

"Mistakes were made, but again, I do not believe it was deliberate," said Richard Thornton, the Board of Elections' director of campaign finance, whose advice the board ultimately followed. "I think a warning is warranted. I do not believe however that a fine is necessary."

Thornton said elections officials spotted the problems when the reports were first filed, but failed to follow through with the candidate. Board of Elections Executive Director Robert Kando said the personnel responsible for that oversight have been reprimanded.

Immediately following Thornton's presentation of his findings Thursday, the Board voted to dismiss the complaint with no discussion, despite objections from a GOP lawyer who asked why he was not allowed to crossexamine Thornton about those conclusions.

Think about that: Even the most airy spin in Patrick Lynch's favor suggests that the attorney general of the state of Rhode Island was insufficiently aware of the law to comply with it. If the Spider-Man quoting politician had the integrity that voters ought to demand of candidates, he'd volunteer to pay the fines so as to affirm the principle that we're all equal participants in an unbiased system. The Republican Party is entirely correct about the lesson for political insiders and their allies:

Going forward, the GOP warns the decision not to issue fines for Lynch's violations could set a problematic precedent. In a letter to the Board of Elections, party lawyer Steven Frias wrote that it "would send a message to the public and all who file campaign-finance reports with the Board that filers can ignore the disclosure requirements of the law, wait for a complaint to be filed, and then file an amended report without suffering any consequences."

The lesson for Rhode Islanders who might be considering participation in the political process is that outsiders face an obstacle course of thorns designed to discourage them. (Time would be better spent staying home and adjusting the color settings on the flat-screen TV.)

Kudos, by the way, to Chairman Gio Ciccione and the Republicans for leveraging this objectively minor issue to illustrate why partisan hegemony is unhealthy.

August 6, 2009

The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History

Marc Comtois

Peter Berkowitz reviews Patrick Allitt's The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History in the latest Policy Review. Berkowitz explains that Allitt helps explain the "paradoxes that constitute conservatism in America."

The questions that guide his study are straightforward: “Where did conservatism come from, what are its intellectual sources, and why is it internally divided?” In answering them, however, he is obliged to undertake considerable intellectual legwork because a recognized conservative movement in America only came into existence after 1950. This doesn’t prevent Allitt from reconstructing “a strong, complex, and continuing American conservative tradition” stretching from The Federalist to the Federalist Society. It does mean, though, that to justify his decisions about whom and what to include and exclude in the absence of a formal conservative tradition, a common canon, and an established set of spokesmen, Allitt is compelled to spell out the conflicting elements that distinguish a distinctively conservative approach to politics in America.

Allitt does not seek to go beyond his role as a historian. Yet his learned and fair-minded reconstruction lends support to the view that the proper way forward for conservatives is neither greater purity nor a more perfect unity, but a richer appreciation of the paradoxes of modern conservatism and a more assiduous cultivation of the moderation that is necessary to hold conservatism’s diverse elements, frequently both complementary and conflicting, in proper balance.

I particularly liked Allitt's definition of American Conservatism (as summarized by Berkowitz):
According to Allitt, conservatism is, first, “an attitude to social and political change that looks for support to the ideas, beliefs, and habits of the past and puts more faith in the lessons of history than in the abstractions of political philosophy.” Second, it involves “a suspicion of democracy and equality.” This can be divided into a concern that the formal equality of men before God and law not be confused with equality in all things, particularly virtue, and that too much government power not be placed directly in the people’s hands. Third, conservatism reflects “the view that civilization is fragile and easily disrupted” and therefore it teaches that “the survival of the republic presupposes the virtue of citizens” and calls for “a highly educated elite as guardians of civilization.”

MORE: Tod Lindberg reviewed Allitt's book in the latest addition of National Review and gives Allitt high marks for focusing on conservative history back to the founding and, more importantly, for helping to focus on the central problem of conservatism:

An affection for what’s best in the social order and the urge to protect it are qualities that inevitably lead to a degree of tolerance for the defects of the social order. This is the problem of conservatism, then and now. A conservative sensibility would not necessarily lead to a defense of slavery or toleration of it: See Allitt’s characterization of Lincoln. One might instead note that Calhoun’s racial theorizing was novel and radical more than it was conservative. But a defense in the 1830s or 1850s of slavery as a social institution would necessarily have been conservative.
Lindberg hopes Allitt will turn to an examination of Progressivism next:
Progressivism has its central problem as well: the tendency to take the positive aspects of social order as a given and to assume that the attempt to remedy its defects can be achieved without risk to what’s already good and perhaps essential. One would welcome a book by Professor Allitt about the progressive tendency in American intellectual history, one that would bring this central problem of progressivism into similarly sharp relief.
For more, read on....

Berkowitz explained that Allitt considered the founders "conservative innovators", with Allitt writing that the Founders: was simultaneously revolutionary, in that it created a written blueprint by which the nation would live, and conservative, in that it drew from the wisdom of the ages and aimed to embody the political lessons taught by the experience of generations.
Further, Lindberg describes that Allitt considers both the Federalist Papers and Democracy in America "conservative classics." Back to Berkowitz:
While federalists led by Adams, Hamilton, and George Washington were seeking to consolidate the power of the national government, a conservatism emerged in the antebellum south that emphasized states’ rights and small government. John Taylor (1753–1824) and John Randolph (1773–1833) defended agrarian life and deplored city life, opposed standing armies and favored state militias, feared the participation in politics of the poor and propertyless, emphasized the political relevance of inequalities among men, stood against territorial expansion as a threat to citizens’ virtue, and argued that states had the inherent authority to reject congressional action that they determined to be inconsistent with the Constitution.
This points to the different varieties of conservatism that grew up in America. Thus, as Lindberg explains, there is no central conservative philosophy:
It will not do, then, to look for “conservatism” in a single set of policy positions or even a single stance on the central question of the day. The conservative sensibility begins with an attachment to some aspect of the social order and the impulse to protect it from threats arising from any and all directions. But what the qualities of the social order in need of protection actually are and what truly threatens them are issues that have always been highly contested. We find different kinds of conservatives taking different positions on major issues; what they have in common is the understanding that change often if not always comes with risk. A conservative crank who hates America because he thinks egalitarianism’s leveling tendencies have paved over the possibility of great achievement is no less a conservative than a conservative who cherishes American society for doing away with arbitrary hierarchical or class barriers to personal achievement.

The picture is further complicated by the fact that the American constitutional order itself and the principles on which the American political system was founded are unmistakably liberal in the classical sense of the term, as was the colonial society out of which the United States arose. One essential element of liberal society is dynamism born of free-market economic arrangements. Thus we have a branch of conservatism paradoxically dedicated to protecting the conditions that allow for change.

Because the task many conservatives have set themselves to (whether they see it that way or not) is the conservation of classical liberalism, in many cases they are not simply enemies of liberalism, even if progressives see them that way. Because progressives know that progressivism entails forward motion, most of them conclude that conservatism must entail backward motion. This view is mostly wrong. More often than not, the conservative position amounts to nothing more than a brake applied in the name of stability on the forward motion that classical liberalism set in train.

A Fireside Chat with Dan

Justin Katz

Alright, there wasn't really a fire, but since we're talking radio, I like to imagine that there was one. Dan Yorke and I had that sort of conversation, yesterday, on 630AM/99.7FM WPRO. Those who missed it or who would like to revisit something (for kind or scurrilous reasons) can stream the whole segment (about an hour, without commercials) by clicking here, or listen to portions:

  • On Anchor Rising, my writing habits and schedule, and blogging specifics (traffic, money, etc.): stream, download (5 min, 49 sec)
  • On our blogging mission (or obsession) and the effect that AR and blogs in general are having: stream, download (3 min, 46 sec)
  • On profiting (or not) from online writing: stream, download (4 min, 03 sec)
  • A call from Mike and discussion of "excellence" in Rhode Island and the effects of local participation, with Tiverton Citizens for Change as an example: stream, download (12 min, 45 sec)
  • On Dan's opinion that RI reformers need a "big win" and my belief that we focus on smaller victories: stream, download (2 min, 52 sec)
  • On hopelessness and a magic wand policy change in Rhode Island (public sector union busting) and the problem of regionalization: stream, download (6 min, 48 sec)
  • On what to do about unions: stream, download (2 min, 18 sec)
  • On the coalition of problems in RI and whether all are addressable by the same principle (dispersing power and building from the community up, as well as a tangent about binding arbitration: stream, download (6 min, 2 sec)
  • On the Republican Party in Rhode Island and awareness of reform groups: stream, download (4 min, 7 sec)
  • On prescriptions for Rhode Island and the lack of leaders: stream, download (6 min, 34 sec)
  • A call from Robert and discussion of Republicans and the Tea Party as a political party: stream, download (3 min, 14 sec)
  • On the Moderate Party: stream, download (2 min, 9 sec)
  • A call from John and discussion of Steve Laffey's plan: stream, download (1 min, 42 sec)

The Bill of Federalism: Amendment #2

Carroll Andrew Morse

The second Amendment of the proposed Bill of Federalism is a limit on Congress' powers under the Interstate Commerce Clause…

The power of Congress to make all laws which are necessary and proper to regulate commerce among the several states, or with foreign nations, shall not be construed to include the power to regulate or prohibit any activity that is confined within a single state regardless of its effects outside the state, whether it employs instrumentalities therefrom, or whether its regulation or prohibition is part of a comprehensive regulatory scheme; but Congress shall have power to regulate harmful emissions between one state and another, and to define and provide for punishment of offenses constituting acts of war or violent insurrection against the United States
The Interstate Commerce Clause has been Congress' workhorse for expanding its reach over time. When Congress wants to take an action that is not within the scope of its powers delegated by the Constitution, it often claims the right to do so by asserting that it is regulating activities that have an impact on interstate commerce.

A recent example of this was the Gun Free School Zones Act, passed in the mid-1990s, which made it a Federal crime to possess a gun within 1000 ft. of a school. A Federal District court upheld the law in response to a Constitutional challenge, saying that "is a constitutional exercise of Congress' well defined power to regulate activities in and affecting commerce, and the `business' of elementary, middle and high schools . . . affects interstate commerce", a rationale that stretches the meaning of "interstate commerce" to the point where there are virtually no limits on what the Commerce Clause allows Congress to legislate. The Supreme Court rejected this broad argument and overturned the law, but Congress re-passed the act the next year, simply adding a requirement that the some kind of interstate commerce impact be proven by the prosecution.

Prof. Randy Barnett of Georgetown Law School, author of the Bill of Federalism, offers this comment on the proposed Amendment…

As Congress has exercised powers beyond those delegated to it by the Constitution, the powers of states that were reserved by the enumeration of delegated powers have been usurped. The second proposed amendment restores the Commerce Clause to its original meaning, thereby leaving wholly intrastate activities to be prohibited or regulated by the several states, or be left completely free of any regulations as states may choose. And it negates three constructions adopted by the Supreme Court to expand the reach of Congress under the Necessary and Proper Clause -- sometimes called the "Sweeping Clause" -- of Article I: that Congress has power to regulate wholly interstate activity that either (a) "affects" interstate activity, (b) uses instrumentalities obtained from outside the state, or (c) is part of a comprehensive national regulatory scheme. This amendment makes clear that Congress retains the power to regulate interstate pollution and the power to define and punish acts of war and insurrection against the United States, for example, the possession of weapons of mass destruction. This provision leaves untouched the delegated powers of Congress to regulate wholly intrastate activities to enforce civil rights as expressly authorized by, for example, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments; it only restricts the improper construction of the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses to reach wholly intrastate activity.

UPDATE: RIDE - Charging Fees for School Sports Not Allowed

Marc Comtois

Updating my post of a couple weeks ago (and confirming a comment by WJAR's Bill Rappleye at the time), the RI Department of Education has issued a statement that school districts can't charge fees for interscholastic sports (via ProJo 7to7):

School districts cannot, under current state law, charge fees for interscholastic sports, and if a district wants to, they'll have to get the General Assembly to change the law, the state Department of Education advised the Rhode Island Interscholastic League in a letter the league released Thursday.

The letter, signed by Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, reiterated a position taken by the department for decades. It cited laws dating back to the 1800s that it said set a clear state policy of not allowing fees to be charged for school activities.

"These principles compel us to the conclusion that public education in Rhode Island in not a means-tested welfare program," the letter said.

Gist acknowledged the widespread financial distress that the state's municipalities find themselves in this year, but said the law and court cases on the matter were clear and left the department no other possible ruling.

The department has issued similar advisories over the past decade, she said, and none of them have been challenged by the courts or the legislature.

"The General Assembly has never acted to overturn this position," she wrote, and that has led the department to assume "that the assembly does not disagree with the interpretation we have given."

Gist said districts might have fund-raising alternatives. She pointed to legislation passed this session by the legislation that allows school districts to accept donations targeted for specific purposes set by the donor.

"Perhaps this funding mechanism could be employed to greater effect to secure additional support for school sports," she said.

ADDENDUM: North Smithfield is going to go ahead and charge sports participation fees anyway. Looks like this one is going to the courts.

Board of Elections Dismisses Lynch Complaint

Carroll Andrew Morse

Cynthia Needham of the Projo's 7-to-7 newsblog is reporting that the Rhode Island Board of Elections has dismissed the state Republican Party's complaint against Attorney General Patrick Lynch, for reporting over $9,000 in campaign expenditures as "petty cash". The dismissal was based on an amended filing submitted by the Lynch campaign...

The Board of Elections Thursday dismissed a complaint against Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch, who was accused by the state Republican party of violating campaign finance laws.

The board dismissed the complaint on the grounds that Lynch had updated his filing this week to include more information.

He was not penalized, but the board did issue a warning to Lynch.

A statement by the "Friends of Patrick Lynch" campaign organization skips past the warning and claims full vindication, because they've just been doin' what they've always done…
This last minute complaint by the Rhode Island Republican Party has misused the entire process....For 7 years Friends of Patrick Lynch has filed documents and filings that the Board of Elections has accepted. We are pleased that the non-partisan Board of Elections has unanimously dismissed this complaint.

Well-Dressed Grass Roots? Just can't be!

Marc Comtois

Polls continue to indicate President Obama's and the Democrats' health care reform is in serious trouble. And the Dems are worried...and paranoid. They haven't been able to drum up support with their much-touted netroots apparatus and are instead encountering protests against their proposals. But it couldn't be that their grand plan is wrong...instead, the Democrats are claiming this opposition is nothing more than "astroturf." (Kinda like the Tea Parties, I guess). California Senator Barbara Boxer thinks that well-dressed protesters to Obamacare must be put-ups. Local progressives theorize that the media is conspiring ("which side are you on"?) against President Obama. And, as Michael Barone summarizes:

So now we have the spectacle of the White House trying to demonize the health insurers which it was not so long ago romancing and trying to label as “mobs” and “astroturf” voters who show up at town meetings and voice opposition to Democratic health care proposals—this from a president who during his campaign urged his supporters to respond to those opposing him by “get[ting] in their faces.” These seem like desperation tactics to me. Most Americans are pretty happy with their health insurance because, for one reason, they can choose a different plan every year. It's not irrational for them to fear getting shoved into a government plan which, to save money, will ration care.
Barone acknowledges that, usually, there is more enthusiasm by those on the outside looking in, but he thinks there's something more going on, too.
One of the less commented on features of our politics in this decade has been the huge expansion of voter turnout, from 105 million in 2000 to 122 million in 2004 and 131 million in 2008. These increases were generated by campaign organizations (including the brilliantly targeted efforts of the Obama campaign) but were also a spontaneous expression of enthusiasm—both for and against George W. Bush in 2004, for Barack Obama and against Bush in 2008.

You don’t do an unnatural thing like going to a congressman’s town hall meeting to express opposition to a health care proposal just because you got a robocall from someone from Cigna or Aetna. They don’t dragoon poor people into buses the way Acorn does. You go because you feel really, really strongly about some issue. There are, after all, organizers on both sides. The organizers favoring the Democratic health care plans aren’t able to generate any significant. The organizers opposing the Democratic health care plans are. And, as in the 2008 Obama campaign, a lot of people are turning out of their own spontaneous accord.

Democrats/Progressives are projecting their organizational model onto the average citizen. Believe it or not, folks can get upset enough all on their own: we all don't require "community activists" to identify our problems for us. When asked the generic question if health care needs to be reformed, the majority of Americans say "yes" (myself included). But this isn't what we have in mind. Instead, keep it simple by focusing on two words: portability and competition. Then work from there.

Blame the Government for Healthcare Foolishness

Justin Katz

The government (abstractly speaking) has somehow wiggled its way into a comfortable position in which, as an entity, it need never take blame. Consider a letter from Ben Jones, in Providence:

When my wife and I moved to Rhode Island, my wife's employer-provided insurance plan increased its pricing to over twice the cost, with fewer benefits, than rates for me as an individual. Unfortunately, I discovered that I could not buy insurance in Rhode Island as a sole proprietor, since I had rejected my spouse's employer's plan. Being forced to choose a group plan that cost us more and delivered less didn’t seem like much of a choice to me.

A public health-insurance plan might have offered a true choice, or at least kept the private insurers' rates competitive. In Rhode Island, two insurers cover 95 percent of people with health insurance, limiting our choices further.

Tracing the history of Rhode Island healthcare — of which there is no helpful summary for the immigrant — one observes that the General Assembly created Blue Cross as a non-profit. Apart from that, the state has layered on sufficient mandates and regulations, some microspecific in scope, that we arguably have experience with a "public option."

Take Jones's specific complaint: His lack of eligibility for health insurance as a sole proprietor is a statutory allowance created as part of legislation with the following purpose:

The purpose and intent of this chapter are to enhance the availability of health insurance coverage to small employers regardless of their health status or claims experience, to prevent abusive rating practices, to prevent segmentation of the health insurance market based upon health risk, to spread health insurance risk more broadly, to require disclosure of rating practices to purchasers, to establish rules regarding renewability of coverage, to limit the use of preexisting condition exclusions, to provide for development of "economy", "standard" and "basic" health benefit plans to be offered to all small employers, and to improve the overall fairness and efficiency of the small group health insurance market.

This is what it looks like when a government imposes "options." The only difference under the regime that Jones advocates is that the government would not be forcing distinct (or semi-distinct) entities to operate its preferred plan; it would just regulate and mandate directly as a definition of its offering.

The Other Side's Frightening Arbitration Numbers and Blindspot on Taxing the Rich

Justin Katz

Oh happy day! Patrick Crowley has endeavored to bend numbers to his purpose, once again, and as usual, he seems incognizant of the degree to which his data actually illustrates the problem that he hopes to dismiss as a paranoid fantasy. The fact that he doesn't provide his source simplifies matters, because we needn't be distracted by the complexities that municipal negotiations can entail.

So we note, from his Figure 3, that the ratio of arbitrated contracts to negotiated contracts during the decade beginning in 1995 is typically somewhere around 6 arbitrated to 50 negotiated. Clearly, in Connecticut (which appears to be the data pool), arbitration is the final resort for the hardest cases, where the town and the union each put up the greatest fight.

In that light, turning to Figure 1, it's stunning how well unions do in arbitration. On average, arbitrators awarded 95% of the salary increases that negotiations procured during a given year. That includes two years during which the raises granted in arbitrated contracts were 33% and 10% higher than those in negotiated contracts. If we leave those two years out, we find only a 13% penalty in arbitration (e.g., a 3.06% raise instead of a 3.48% raise); again, that percentage describes the raises that the contracts granted, and none of the cited contracts called for flat or negative salary growth (and probably doesn't account for step increases and longevity). It's also worth considering the possibility that the perks, compensation, and rights that the arbitrators gave to the unions with the other hand far exceeded the salary "compromise" in value.

On a different topic (while I'm absorbing the appearance of actual numbers on RIFuture), one of my biggest fans, Oswald Krell, declares that "the level of taxation is completely irrelevant to where rich people live." Huh. (Clarification, here.)

The necessary disclaimer is that my argument about taxpayer flight has focused on the working and middle classes. That said, here's the list that strikes Krell as nakedly random; the states are listed according to the percentage of population with income over $200,000 (highest percentage on top), and the number following the state's name is the Tax Foundation's ranking for tax burden (#1 being the heaviest burden and #50 being the lightest):

  1. Connecticut: #8
  2. New Jersey: #10
  3. Massachusetts: #28
  4. New York: #3
  5. Texas: #43
  6. Wyoming: #42
  7. Delaware: #47
  8. Rhode Island: #4
  9. Alaska: #50
  10. New Hampshire: #49

Personally, I'd be reluctant to make grand claims based on such rankings, because the factors that come into play are endlessly complex — especially when one is generalizing about the intersection of multiple criteria. But is there really nothing observable about these top 10 rich-folk states? Nothing that distinguishes those with high tax burdens from those with low tax burdens?

The high-tax-burden states are all coastal abutters of New York City. Massachusetts is right there, as well, and has the added benefit of a lower tax burden (or had that benefit). They're also pretty small, so the geographic variation isn't as pronounced as in, say, California. The five low-tax-burden states are literally scattered across the country.

If the project is to see whether there are observations to be gleaned from the combination of these two rankings, it would be eminently reasonable to hypothesize that rich people like to live near New York City and in states with low tax burdens. Obviously, a multitude of factors come into play, but it takes a nigh upon willful blindness to proclaim the complete irrelevance of taxation.

August 5, 2009

Principles of Different Types

Justin Katz

Of all the topics covered in my wide-ranging conversation with Dan Yorke, my inarticulateness on the application of principles to discrete issues is bugging me the most. My intended meaning was much broader than the ideological platform that I described. "Principles," in my usage, was meant to indicate not only general rules of thumb, but also habits of mind and a gut understanding of reality.

Dan asked about my writing practice, and I mentioned my belief that I have some species of learning disability. I've often found it difficult to understand subjects in the way that they are taught, with a given fact applied under a set of rules, requiring instead the time to break the lesson down to a sort of molecular level of intellectual mush, the defining property of which is that it's "just the way the world works." So I'll stir a new subject or a new fact or a new perspective into the mush, and its essential hue and texture will change accordingly. When a problem presents itself — whether it's repeated or unique — I've found it necessary to figure or refigure it out from the scratch of the mush, because the directly relevant instructions have often been lost in the poorly organized jumble of my brain.

Perhaps this contributes to my being a good "test taker" — which term seems most often to be used as a mild pejorative. It also has the effect of encouraging continual reevaluation.

An obscure example: I've written books, studied piano, and built houses. The first and third of these activities are mainly different in externals; at the fundamental level of the intellectual mush they're different applications of the same mental processes. The underlying meaning of a house is the distribution of weight, which must transition down coherently from the roof ridge to the foundation. The architect must have a reasonably secure vision of the ending before the first blobs of concrete are poured; just so, in order for a book to have a solid purpose, the author's first words must take into account the very last, and all phrases between.

Rooms have the same relationship to the distribution of weight that a story's plot has to the underlying meaning. Sometimes the structure is dictated by spaces that make the building functional or appealing, and sometimes the spaces seem to have been fated to exist within the structure. Either way, their development is mainly an intellectual exercise prior to construction.

Aesthetic details — such as trim and repeating shapes and amenities — help to define the sense of the house in such a way as to make the plot seem plausible and the underlying meaning coherent. Ultimately, the details may be superficial (unless they are the meaning), but no one will believe the story if the setting and characters are not well drawn.

As to the piano playing, music has many of the same aspects as just described, but its greater contribution to the mush is a set of principles of performance. Typing takes on a flow like a piece of music, and the tapped rhythms and accents can help to coax appropriate words from the mind through the fingers. Similarly, rhythm brings fluidity to the act of building, and aesthetics contribute as much to the pursuit of efficiency as monetary incentive. (Indeed, among carpenters who enjoy their work, the aesthetic satisfaction of efficiency often outweighs a monetary incentive to slow down or work in a muddle.)

The upshot is that, when a topic comes up on which I'm disposed to write a blog post, the process is a reconstitution of my opinion based on the series of principles and intellectual practices that I've established to be true. In a sense, it's easier to write about disparate topics because I'm always writing about the same thing, ultimately.

With that all laid out, to be read or not, as you desire, I apologize for the self-indulgence. My lips betrayed me by falsely intimating my thought process to be "what should a conservative believe," rather than the more accurate "how does the world function around this topic." But I had to work these thoughts into written words, because whatever my brain's been up to, I've always been better with my hands than my mouth.

The Thing About a Wand

Justin Katz

Back in my Dungeons & Dragons days (Surprised? I didn't think so.), the gang at day camp had a surplus of Dungeon Masters, and they would compete for the role by making various promises, among which was my procurement of a three-wish sword. In a lesson on the desirability of being desirable, the subsequent bartering produced a waiver permitting wish number three to be for a refill. As it predictably turned out, exercising the power of my infinity-of-two-wishes sword rapidly made for boring role playing.

The hypothetical wand that Dan Yorke handed me in the studio, this afternoon, had the power to change one thing. Being a realist, even in the midst of fantasy, as well as a believer in the sanctity of the individual person, I opted not to manipulate people with my magic (e.g., by wishing for a smarter, more-conservative electorate). The question, then, may be understood to be: If you could cause one policy explosion in the current system — as it exists and as we all endure it, now — what would it be?

In approaching the question in those terms, the slopes of the state's political terrain become crucial, because the wand doesn't change the nature of the ball nor negate the need to keep working to move it in a beneficial direction. Some affronts in our state's way of doing business might be more irksome or more fundamentally wrong, but the complexities of cause and effect come into play; as the ball rolls, it will flatten some of those unnatural affronts under the weight of a properly functioning representative democracy.

Would an immediate dispersal of authority, as Monique suggests, produce the greatest long-term improvement? I'm not so sure. It would represent a substantial improvement, no doubt, but in the end, it only changes the seats for which interests must battle.

On the other hand, think of the mental effort that could be expended elsewise were we not dragged into constant labor battles at every level of regional government. All other issues would instantly be thrown into play, because Rhode Islanders who currently vote in their union interests would be free to mark their ballots according to other criteria.

In this light, there's a peculiarity to Ian Donnis's use of my answer to trumpet Ken Block's Moderates as a "favorable civic model" compared with, I gather, the more conservative Republicans:

[Republicans] have not demonstrated an ability to run and support a competitive slate of legislative candidates in successive election cycles -- a minimum standard for long-term success.

Considering this, Ken Block and his Moderate Party offer a favorable civic model. They are patiently, diligently pursuing the early steps of a long slog to offer an alternative to the status quo.

It may be that we'll soon see a showdown of the two tectonic plates in the RIGOP as more conservative players strive to build their movement within the shell of the party and the Democrat-lite right-leaners try the Moderates on for size. It would be healthiest for the state if both groups were to manage a degree of cooperation with each other whenever possible, but eventually one faction or the other will be vindicated in its declaration that the other hobbled the Republican party.

I must protest to Ian, though, that my "impish sense of humor" will flash as it may, but Rhode Island's Robin Goodfellow, I am not. Frankly, given my continued advocacy (including on Dan's show, today) for slow-growth reform, from the towns up, "patiently, diligently pursuing the early steps of a long slog" would fit nicely in my private mission statement.

"If You Could Wave a Magic Wand, What is the One Thing You Would Do?"

Monique Chartier

... to improve the state. This is what WPRO's Dan Yorke asked Justin, his in-studio guest for a second hour.

Justin responded that, for him, the elimination [Edit: Will corrects me under comments] of unions public unions would have top priority.

I would point out that unions public unions are one of many special interests in this state, albeit a powerful one, and that their wishes are implemented by the real power in this state, the leadership of the House of the General Assembly. Accordingly, given the wand, I would dissipate the power that is vested in that group more appropriately and more typically throughout the legislative and executive branches.

What would you do?

WPRO During Daylight

Justin Katz

Just so's anybody with an interest has an opportunity to tune in: I'll be on 630AM/99.7FM with Dan Yorke for the 2:00 hour today on WPRO.

Introducing the Bill of Federalism to Rhode Island

Carroll Andrew Morse

Forget your wimpy resolutions reaffirming the Tenth Amendment; Professor Randy Barnett of Georgetown Law School has a much stronger suggestion for you.

Professor Barnett has proposed recalibrating the relationship between the Federal Government and the states -- and more importantly, between the Federal government and the people -- that has drifted over time towards ever-increasing Federal power through a set of 10 amendments to the US Constitution that he has labeled a "Bill of Federalism".

Remember, according to Article V of the Federal Constitution, the amendment process can originate in the state legislatures…

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof,
…so for the same scale of time and effort that would be involved in getting a 10th amendment resolution passed, it would be possible involve a state in the more decisive action of amending the Constitution.

For each of the next 10 days, I'll post one of the proposed Federalism Amendments, and invite commentary, pro or con.

The First amendment of the Bill of Federalism would redefine the taxing power of the Federal Government…

Section 1. Congress shall make no law laying or collecting taxes upon incomes, gifts, or estates, or upon aggregate consumption or expenditures; but Congress shall have power to levy a uniform tax on the sale of goods or services.

Section 2. Any imposition of or increase in a tax, duty, impost or excise shall require the approval of three-fifths of the House of Representatives and three-fifths of the Senate, and shall separately be presented to the President of the United States.

Section 3. This article shall be effective five years from the date of its ratification, at which time the sixteenth Article of amendment is repealed.

This is probably the most radical amendment of the group, as it proposes the biggest substantive change to how the Federal government currently operates. Professor Barnett offers the following commentary...
The income tax has vastly increased the power and the intrusiveness of the federal government, far beyond what the framers of the Sixteenth Amendment ever imagined. The first proposed amendment restores the original taxing power of Congress by denying it the power to enact income estate or gift taxes, or to circumvent this restriction by levying an annual tax on net consumption or expenditures. Lest the prohibition on an aggregate consumption tax raises any doubt, the provision makes clear that Congress retains the power to impose a sales tax that is uniform. Sometimes called a "fair tax," a national sales tax would be paid by all persons residing in the United States, whether legally or illegally, without the need for intrusive reporting of their activities. As people buy and consume more, they would pay more in taxes, but all their savings and investments would appreciate free of tax. To give Congress ample time to fashion an alternative revenue system (and do away with the IRS) the implementation of this amendment is delayed for five years. Of course, Congress may end the income or estate tax sooner if it so chooses.
Is this a good idea? And if you think it is, do think it's so good that it belongs in the first slot?

What It Means to Settle in Woonsocket

Justin Katz

It may be that news coverage of municipal issues falls into a cycle of confusion leading to disinterest leading to ignorance leading to confusion. Yesterday, John Hill and Richard Dujardin reported an event in Woonsocket as follows:

The City Council on Monday night gave its unanimous approval to a proposed out-of-court settlement that could stave off continued litigation by the School Committee over $3.69 million that the School Department is seeking from city coffers for the fiscal year that ended in June.

Today, the story has moved from the Rhode Island section to the front page with a more thorough explanation:

The good news for the city administration Tuesday was that the School Committee agreed to drop its lawsuit over a $3.69-million deficit in the last budget year.

The bad news: The anticipated deficit in the current school budget is much bigger.

There's a $6.9 million difference between the School Committee and the City Council over how much to spend on schools in this fiscal year; it jumps to $10.6 million when the 2008-09 deficit is added in. The reconciliation of those numbers is set to start Wednesday at a joint budget workshop session between the committee and the City Council.

Essentially, the school committee plugged its 2009 hole with 2010 money, and the town council, which legal precedent leaves with no authority to stop that from being done, acknowledged as much and agreed to move on to the next budget. The downside is that even the school committee's impossible plan for the next year will come up 62% shy of the budget gap. With the teachers' union digging in, the school committee surely expects the money to be found, somewhere, and that somewhere would have to be the town's taxpayers.

Of course, it's possible that all of the committee's proposed cancellations that are not protected by contract and law — sports and extracurricular activities — will remain in the final result of the wrangling to come. The people of Woonsocket, in other words, will have their elected representatives to thank for the inexorable trend in Rhode Island government of paying much, much more for much, much less.

It seems to me that taxpayers and the parents of school children should begin negotiating contracts with those whom they elect. Union contracts are held up as inviolable, while, as we're learning in Tiverton, even democratically mandated expenditure caps may be dismissed with a puff of administrative hot air.

Where Some Presidential Empathy Would Be Entirely Appropriate

Carroll Andrew Morse

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.
-- President Barack Obama, June 4, 2009 @ Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt

Police used teargas to disperse protesters rallying in support of a Sudanese woman facing 40 lashes for wearing trousers in public Tuesday, a case that has become a public test of Sudan's indecency laws.

Lubna Hussein, a former journalist and U.N. press officer, was arrested with 12 other women during a party at a Khartoum restaurant in July and charged with being indecently dressed.

-- Andrew Heavens, Reuters News Service, August 4, 2009

What say you Mr. President? Am I being "hostile towards religion" for opining that Sudanese authorities are acting barbarously in this situation?

Well, If RIFT's Onboard...

Justin Katz

Did you know that the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers opposed proposals for binding arbitration? Neither did I. But hey, now that the union has dropped its opposition, we might as well move forward with the practice, right? That's the implication of Jennifer Jordan's online report:

A change of position by one of the state's teachers unions could pave the way for the state to adopt binding arbitration as a way to avoid teacher strikes, an approach used in Connecticut since 1979.

One must turn to the longer version that appears in the print edition, which is significantly harder to find online, to discover that there might be any downside to this attempt to "save communities from spending money on attorney fees while eliminating the threat of teacher strikes or work-to-rule situations," in Majority Leader Gordon Fox's words. But there it is, in paragraph 12 (of 23), appearing on page A6, after the NEARI's Bob Walsh has laid out the union position to Fox's second:

The Rhode Island Association of School Committees opposes binding arbitration, said executive director Tim Duffy.

Read down a bit farther, and you find that the Connecticut boards of education and finance, as well as municipal officials, all want binding arbitration to go away, or at least be reformulated, because it "costs communities tens of thousands of dollars." Moreover, according to Patrice McCarthy, deputy director and general counsel for the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, it "impacts even those communities that never reach binding arbitration, because it forces communities to enter into agreements they don't want to, because they are so concerned about the cost."

If the concern is the damage done by strikes and work-to-rule, Massachusetts shows the way by treating such practices as the hostile and immoral acts that they are and fining the teachers. In Rhode Island, we get this curious bit of intelligence:

"We decided to shift our position because the House leadership asked us to give them a piece of legislation that would bring finality to the question of what happens when there is no contract in place," said Marcia Reback, RIFT executive director. "Given the question, the only mechanism that brings you finality is binding arbitration."

So Rhode Island's so-called representatives approached the union. A better characterization would probably be that the corruptocrats and unions are engaged in behind-the-scenes strategizing to lock in the unions' current deals and ensure that they can never go down. The winds of public opinion are shifting, and Fox & Co. up at the State House are desperate to sell out their constituents in order to protect their parasitic pals in the teachers' unions.

August 4, 2009

Elizabeth Dennigan on Running in the Second District and on Reading Bills Before Voting on Them

Carroll Andrew Morse

Earlier this evening, State Representative Elizabeth Dennigan formally announced her Democratic primary challenge to Second District incumbent Congressman James Langevin. Normally, we don't devote too much attention to Democratic v. Democratic battles here at Anchor Rising, but since I posted a question a couple of weeks ago regarding Rep. Dennigan's decision to run in the Second District though she currently resides in the First, I thought I should take the opportunity to ask her about this directly…

Anchor Rising: You've mentioned the residency issue. Does that fact that you're moving out of the district that you currently represent mean that you think that Congressman Langevin is less suited to represent the people of Rhode Island than is Congressman Kennedy?

State Representative Elizabeth Dennigan: Let me say first of all that I'm not moving, I have both residences [in East Providence and Narragansett] and I'm just changing my primary residence, and that's where I'll be staying.

AR: So you could run against either then…

ED: I'm running in the Second Congressional District. I think Congressman Kennedy has been an effective Congressman, and Congressman Langevin has been less effective as our Congressman.

AR: My second question is about a debate going on in the blogosphere right now, about whether our representatives in Congress should be expected to read bills before they vote on them, which sounds ridiculous to some people…

ED: I know!

AR: Do you have an opinion on this?

ED: Yes I do, in fact. Because it was hard to read online, I just downloaded the 1,000-plus page health care reform bill because I do take things seriously. I won't say I've read every word, but I've marked it up and I have read every section. I think it's important to know what you are voting on.

It's important to study policy and the things that might be missing. I don't think we've had a conversation about some of the intricate details in that bill that need more awareness. I'm happy to say that I do my homework.

Flagging the Fish

Justin Katz

Apparently, the White House has set up an email account to gather inconvenient rhetoric about healthcare reform:

There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to

I agree with Tevi Troy that the "flag" idea is inspired and have forwarded Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse's recent op-ed to the email address. I just know that he hasn't read the bill with sufficient attention to justify his professed "confidence" about its effects and his entire op-ed is consequently "fishy."

A Few Lingering Thoughts from the Meeting

Justin Katz

Driving home from the RISC meeting on Saturday, my MP3 player happened upon's "Yes We Can" propaganda song, which is essentially an audio collage of famous and semi-famous people singing and reciting along with a Barack Obama speech.

It occurred to me that the content is sufficiently vague that, if one strips away external knowledge about the policies being implied, it can actually be a universally inspiring tune. (Therein the secret to Obama's success, I'd say.) Yes we can heal this nation! Amen; we can cut government, lower taxes, make our country, once again, a beacon of hope in a world drifting off, this time, into a post-modernist malaise. Yes we can defend the free world from dictators and theocrats who want only to expand the reach of their oppressive claws. Yes we can!

Yes we can bring balance back to the tiers of government in Rhode Island. Yes we can overcome the ruts and obstacles that unions have laid across our path to prosperity. Yes we can!

As this frame of mind might suggest, I crossed Aquidneck Island, on Saturday, feeling like an outsider among political subversives. In retrospect, there are three core reasons.

We need fresh faces.

I wonder if it would be contrary to etiquette (or political wisdom) for reform groups to begin declining to allow the governor to speak when he shows up at their events. Don't get me wrong; I like Don Carcieri, and at the RISC meeting, he was by far the most rousing speaker. And I understand that not everybody has heard the points that he's been making over and over again, in the past few months. But he's a politician, and he's where we've been. We need folks telling us where we need to go.

We need speakers whom we perhaps don't recognize but within a twenty-minute talk give us a sense that they'll be remedying their obscurity in the weeks to come, raising us all up with them. We need fresh faces to emerge from the periphery and instill confidence that they can move to the front.

Regionalization is the wrong way to go.

We will succeed at neither finding those fresh faces nor ushering them through the gauntlet of Rhode Island politics if we stumble into the comfortable functionality of regionalization. In the first place, it's a method for increasing efficiency at the margins; being a dispersed polity is not the origin of our problems, and making it the issue will only give the corruptocrats, unionists, and money grabbers a bandwagon to join.

Join it, they will, because in the second place, consolidation benefits entrenched interests. We need to build a statewide movement that ties together local activists. Folks who aren't interested in the mud and difficulties of state-level activism or political campaigns will be more easily persuaded to step forward for town-level offices and activities. Some might see our problem as being the diffuse base of support for the reform movement, but that can easily be made a strength. Fewer resources are needed to challenge the tendrils of the establishment that are rooted in town councils and school committees; encouraging people to become involved will both acclimate them to civic participation and educate them about the sources of our difficulties at the local and state tiers.

In the third place, call them fiefdoms, call them hamlets, villages, whatever, the local variations of Rhode Island are a charming part of its character, blending in with the geography as if the civic structure is a natural phenomenon. Rhode Islanders sense and like this quality of the state, and any reform movement that ties its promises to challenging the innate parochialism is doomed. The key is not to erase the unique qualities of cities and towns — and at some point, regionalization will accomplish just that — but to infiltrate the governments of those cities and towns with people who appreciate them while still understanding the need to change the way they're run.

We're not pushing a boulder up a hill; we're crossing a collapsing bridge.

On Saturday, I objected to Governor Carcieri's metaphor of Rhode Island pushing a boulder up a hill. He exhorted us to keep pushing, because it's moving; I suggested that, at best, we're slowing its downward roll. Rumbling over the Sakonnet Bridge, a better metaphor occurred to me.

Rhode Islanders are repeatedly crossing a crumbling bridge with a fabulous view. We look out at the water and the islands, and then we go about our lives content with the glimpse of the natural advantages of our local environment. We don't really want to know about the nuts and bolts of the bridge's structure, because every time we begin to explore them, bitter-faced trolls spit profanities at us. What we need to learn, though, is that the status quo cannot continue, and the view isn't quite so spectacular from under water.

By Their Rhinestone Ban You May Know Them

Justin Katz

Walter Olson, of Overlawyered, highlights Rhode Island as the base of "America’s costume jewelry industry" in his coverage of the Consumer Product Safety Commission's ban on rhinestones and crystals and has collected multiple telling details, including this one:

It doesn’t even matter whether a kid’s health is at more risk (by way of traffic accidents) from being driven to the mall to buy a substitute garment than from going ahead and wearing the rhinestone-bedecked tiara or camisole in question.

The crux of the issue, of course, is this:

To a large extent the Commission's hands were tied by the absolutist, not to say fanatical, prescription of CPSIA itself, which directs that exemptions be turned down if they could lead to "any" — not "infinitesimal", not "too small to worry about" — absorption of lead or public health risk.

Which makes consumer protection legislation a "practice exam" for healthcare overhaul, in Hugh Hewitt's words:

In short, the CPSIA is a perfect example of Congress's inability to write reasonable, coherent legislation free of devastating though unintended side-effects even in a relatively simple area of legislative endeavor.

Imagine what havoc it will unleash when Congress turns to the massive and massively complicated area of health care and begins to mandate that all or almost all businesses in America adopt certain policies and make obligatory choices. It has done so in the past with regard to important matters such as retirement savings programs and union elections, and always the roll-out of such undertakings has been difficult and marked by uncertainty and difficult questions of legislative intent. ...

... The refusal of Congress to move to clean up the mess it made with CPSIA also announces what will happen after Congress passes its magic wand over health care and blows up who knows what: nothing. Tough luck. Deal with it. They will all have campaigns to run which won't want to focus on the new laws failures and shortfalls.

Gimme Back My Clunker

Justin Katz

My first car cost me $700, which I just barely managed to scrape together back in the early-mid '90s. The purchase price of my 1975 Oldsmobile 98 included an adapter to play tapes in the in-dash eight-track player. Whenever my inexpensive patches gave way, the beast would roar like a Harley through its rotting exhaust pipe, and I'd periodically find myself without amenities like power steering. But the fixes were inexpensive and easily rigged, and the car kept me mobile for the first of my two years as a college drop-out. Without it, I'd have been unable to commute from my shared five-room apartment to my two part-time jobs — one making about $5.50 per hour at a record store and the other making a princely $7.00 per hour selling fish off a truck on a suburban New Jersey street corner.

There was something about those old cars — almost as if they had souls. Whether they were killers, like Steven King's Christine, or cute pals, like Herbie the Love Bug, it was easy to imagine sentience in a way that modern vehicles don't as readily permit. They were substantial; cars weren't yet throw-away commodities.

None of which should imply that I wasn't thrilled to trade in the 98 for a fresh-from-the-factory Pontiac Grand Am GT that made me, as a teenager with no prospects, feel a little more substantial. The dealer gave me $150, so my year's worth of transportation wound up costing less than two months of my subsequent car payments.

Of course, if the year had been 2009 instead of 1995, Uncle Sam might have given me $4,500, more than a 500% profit on my one-year investment, on top of the year of mobility. As wrangling over additional funding for the Cash for Clunkers program continues, those of us who put in time driving cheap cars to small-time jobs might wonder whether the architects of this bit of "stimulus" considered the personal economic equations of the poorly paid. The difficulty of finding passable three-figure vehicles will probably prove proportional to the duration of government giveaways, and some folks might decide that it just isn't worthwhile to work at all.

August 3, 2009

En Route to a Single-Payer

Justin Katz

Just in case there's anybody who still believes that the "public option" is intended as anything other than a catalyst for a fully single-payer system:

Out of Touch Every Which Way

Justin Katz

Something's curious about Mark Barabak and Faye Fiore's presentation of the lack of street creds in Congress when it comes to healthcare:

Too much, too fast, too expensive. Those are some of the objections lawmakers have voiced against the healthcare overhaul Democrats are attempting on Capitol Hill.

But many Americans think Congress is out of touch. How, they wonder, can lawmakers empathize with the underinsured or those lacking insurance when they receive a benefits package -- heavily subsidized by taxpayers -- that most of us can only envy?

It isn't the editorializing that's striking; at this point, that's expected. What's odd is the one-sided insinuation that comfy legislators can't empathize with a public that lacks a "public option." Put aside the reality that there isn't anything fundamentally more secure about Congress's benefits than those of Americans in the private sector. They can lose their jobs, and sufficient pressure from the public would ultimately succeed in decreasing the benefit.

Most peculiar is the implicit notion that, even as legislators cannot empathize with the healthcare realities of their countrymen, they ought to take upon themselves the responsibility of rewriting those realities.

2010 Community Service Grants

Marc Comtois

Dan Yorke had former State Rep Nick Gorham (R-Westconnaug) on to discuss the General Assembly's 2010 "Rub-and-tugs". Like those last year and the year before, the list is long....The dollars spent are about half of that spent in 2008 (around $19 million versus $8.6 million), but just about the same as last year ($9.1 million). Tough financial times?

This year (like last) only the Department of Human Services ($2.7 million) and the Department of Elderly Affairs ($1.1 million) doled out more than $1 million (in 2008, 7 departments went over $1 million). Expect to soon see pics of local pols at senior centers or with "community action" groups as they execute drop-offs throughout the state. Heck, you too might be part of a group getting some face time. "Juz remembuh where you got dis from, 'K?"

The End Game of a "Public Option"

Justin Katz

Given the political philosophies of some of the strongest supporters of a "public healthcare option," it would be reasonable to suspect that this sort of invasion is a desired outcome, not an unfortunate development, in the quest to engineer a healthcare and well-being system for the people's own good:

The Children's Secretary set out £400million plans to put 20,000 problem families under 24-hour CCTV super-vision in their own homes.

They will be monitored to ensure that children attend school, go to bed on time and eat proper meals.

Private security guards will also be sent round to carry out home checks, while parents will be given help to combat drug and alcohol addiction.

Targeting root causes is a productive principle for organizing a social response, but the unavoidable conclusion is that people very often turn out, themselves, to be the root causes of their own problems. Two routes around that reality exist: claim an ever-more-invasive right of public manipulation of their lives to force them to live by an imposed definition of "correctly," or guide them philosophically toward a worldview that tends to contribute to the desired conclusions and behaviors. The latter is a much more extensive project, and typically requires that public coercion not be central to implementation — the exceptions coming only when government inaction is tantamount to favoring the other side and to be indulged only to the most minimal degree possible.

Unfortunately, the latter approach has been systematically targeted and decried as "oppressive" by movements that (surprise, surprise) wind up advocating for the former approach.

(via Mark Steyn in the Corner)

Really? The State Can only Provide One Kind of Relief for Local Budget Woes?

Monique Chartier

Woonsocket's Caruolo lawsuit kicks off today. (Side note: you were correct the first time, Your Honor: a performance audit must be conducted). In the meantime, the attorney for the plaintiff - i.e., the school committee - has identified the cause of Woonsocket's school budget shortfall.

when the real problem isn't the city's or the school committee's, it's the state's failure to fund education properly.

To stay local for a moment, surely it didn't help that the Woonsocket School Committee listened to the siren song of a well paid superintendent who presented budget "scenarios" instead of working with the s.c. to formulate one realistic budget (as required by law)

Attorney Stephen Robinson expresses an erroneous belief shared by many around the state that the sole solution to be provided by the General Assembly for local budget woes is more money. So nothing to be done on the expenditure side?

During the course of a well informed comment regarding Woonsocket's school finances a couple of months ago that Andrew turned into a post, commenter John points to one way that the G.A. could lend a hand.

I know it [the school budget shortfall] can finish out at $5 million if the GA passes real pension reform

Indeed, pension reform was one of two badly needed structural reforms that the General Assembly either got a good start on (not the same as completing) or simply left untouched.

As a prelude to ascertaining whether Woonsocket itself would benefit from the other structural reform - lifting of state mandates such as minimum staffing - we can debate some of John's other points, including whether teacher/pupil ratios in Woonsocket have been cut to the bone (probably) and the fact that teacher pay in that municipality is in the bottom third state-wide (so ... bottom third of the top 20% pay scale nationwide),

Minimally, however, Woonsocket needs pension reform from the state legislature. And unquestionably, most other cities and towns would benefit from both pension reform and the lifting of many unfunded state mandates. Even Mayor David Cicilline, not exactly an anti government right wing nut job, supports the latter.

Many members of the General Assembly have been reluctant to augment the disbursement of local aid, understandable in view of a second (third?) year of sliding tax revenue. Honorable solons, don't allow Attorney Robinson and others to artificially narrow your options for helping to address local budget shortfalls. There is an alternative to your writing a check: you can empower local governments to reduce their expenditures.

The Import of Civil Rights Talk in Education

Justin Katz

After the RISC summer meeting, Ocean State Policy's Brian Bishop elaborated on his specific objection to the commentary of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist with respect to civil rights. The following is the relevant segment of her talk (stream, download, 42 sec):

In particular, our students whose families are poor, who are black, Latino, whose first language is a language other than English, who have special needs, those children in particular are not being served well, and in fact, we have some of the highest achievement gaps in the country. The gap between the students who are poor or children of color and the gap between our white students who are children of needs is so dramatic that they are among the highest in the country, and that is completely unacceptable. And it is a violation of the civil rights of those children. And in addition to that, it's not good for any of us.

Here's Brian's question (stream, download, 4 min, 31 sec, with response):

I certainly support, you'll forgive the pun, the gist of your remarks, but I did take exception to the characterization of Rhode Island as violating the rights of any of its citizens with regards to education. I mean, with modest exception, this is a white-bred audience, and I certainly appreciate that it's appropriate to challenge people here to embrace the larger social contract in the state, but I think that the specific characterization is of the sort that has Ms. Sotomayor on the ropes at this moment, over remarks of convenience that were intended, I think, not to speak to a legal specificity. So, I think that's a very unfair and unwise characterization of the current situation in education.

I took Gist's invocation of "civil rights" as essentially a broad moral mandate, and I think that's how she intended it. The context against which Brian meant to caution was the legal implications of that invocation, whereby, in his words, the courts end up "running the schools" as a remedy to invidious discrimination. It's definitely a reasonable point to make, and Ms. Gist's flat response of "I disagree" suggests that, like me, she didn't discern what Brian was saying.

In my view, the introduction of civil rights into the equation by the state education commissioner is a distraction. Our system is failing, and it's tautological that disadvantaged groups will feel the effects disproportionately, particularly as they require their schools more fundamentally. Minority groups, therefore, are an indicator of our deeper problems, and I'm not persuaded that the new commissioner appreciates what those are.

Expanding Cargo Operations at Quonset

Marc Comtois

As I was commuting to work via Airport Road in Warwick the other day, the light turned red and a single UPS truck pulled out of the T.F. Greene Cargo terminal. This normal everyday occurrence got me wondering about how this was a really inefficient way to get cargo from airport to the highway. If cargo operations are to grow, then they need to have a more efficient method of getting the cargo to the major highways than through 5 or so sets of lights via Airport Road and Rt. 1 (Post Road) through Warwick. It looks like Kevin Dillon, head of RIAC, thinks Quonset may be the solution:

Dillon said the Quonset airport, as a result of more than $7 million in recently completed infrastructure improvements, including a new hangar, is a “real gem,” with the port, rail lines and enhanced Interstate 95 access part of or near the complex.

In addition to the Rhode Island National Guard facility, the Quonset airport is used for general aviation, with about 20,750 operations per year, including 5,800 by the military, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Dillon noted that Quonset has “lots of room, so it lends itself to cargo growth.”

Cargo carriers in the past were concerned about limited highway access, but improvements to the Quonset access roads within the last 18 months should have satisfied those concerns, according to Dillon.

Most cargo in New England now goes through Logan International Airport in Boston and Bradley in Hartford, Conn. However, Dillon said, Logan is “constrained” by passenger flight needs, so there is opportunity for Green or Manchester “to step in and fill that void.”

Dillon also cited the voluntary curfew at Greene (midnight to 6 AM) as a restrictor on growth. Warwick's Mayor Avedisian responded:
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian said he was surprised to hear Dillon’s concerns about the curfew because the airport “violates it all the time.” Avedisian said the curfew has been in place more than 20 years, but “they don’t pay attention to it most of the time” and there are “many nights when they deviate from the curfew.” At the holiday season in December, Avedisian said, the curfew usually is lifted.

Told of the plan to redirect cargo traffic to Quonset, Avedisian said it was news to him and that airport officials, including Dillon, have assured him that cargo service would not be moved from the Warwick airport. “This just leaves the city further confused about what [the airport’s] plans are,” he said.

That confusion aside, there is real economic potential here.
“This represents a big opportunity, not only for the airport system, but for the entire state,” Dillon told Providence Business News. Cargo service “is a huge generator of employment.

“Just think of all the processing that takes place [when cargo is delivered],” Dillon continued. “This is more than just parochialism. I believe there’s a lot of employment opportunities that can be generated” by increasing cargo flights to the state....“It stands to reason [that more jobs would be created if cargo activity were expanded]. Just think of the nature of cargo, the processing and the handling. It creates a number of jobs just in terms of the airline itself,” he said.

However, the larger picture, Dillon said, suggests that for manufacturing and commercial sectors to flourish, “you need good cargo processing.” He spoke of spinoff jobs that would be created in manufacturing, the commercial sector, trucking firms and at support facilities, such as the FedEx office in Warwick, if more cargo came into Rhode Island.

A Weekend in August

Justin Katz

The big event of the weekend, for those of us who would push and pull Rhode Island toward a healthier political culture, was the summer meeting of the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, audio here.

In an Engaged Citizen post, Kathy Santos lists some critera by which voters should gauge their state-level representatives. A reader email about the state's relationship with small businesses that collect taxes on its behalf provides an example of an advisable change in perspective.

On the related front of employment, I suggested that among the state's services to Rhode Islanders who haven't been able to find work, here, for over a year and a half should be the provision of information and assistance relocating somewhere that might be a better professional match. Although, perhaps Monique points toward another solution, with her mention of the young lady in New York who is suing her institute of higher education because it failed to place her in a job.

Monique also took a look at some legislation that would continue Rhode Island on its path of providing a quality of education that, if not litigable, certainly deprives our children, on average, of their due (for all we pay for it).

On a political note, Monique wondered why the Board of Elections seems intent on confusing the nascent Moderate Party. And on healthcare, I suggested that recipients of foreign "single-payer" benefits probably have a more complicated set of emotions and motivations than would tend toward objective assessment of their systems, and in any case, they ought to think twice before recommending that the United States follow their lead.

August 2, 2009

... Did She Move to Rhode Island after Graduating?

Monique Chartier

From the UPI.

A 27-year-old Monroe College graduate is suing the New York school, contending it has done little to help her find a job.

Trina Thompson, who graduated in April with a bachelor's degree, alleges in a Bronx Supreme Court lawsuit that she did not receive adequate employment leads and advice from the school's office of career advancement, the New York Post reported Sunday.

"They have not tried hard enough to help me," the information technology degree graduate alleges in the July 24 suit.

Actually, as I recall, the procedure was to put in a thousand applications, do a thousand interviews, distribute a thousand resumes. Those of us who were not sufficiently motivated or energetic at least had the sense to either keep our mouths shut or limit our whining to a very small group of family or friends. Who knew about Option #3?!

Comparative Feelings About Healthcare

Justin Katz

Before yesterday's RISC meeting, somebody of my general political philosophy mentioned that she'd just returned from Canada, and her associates in that country were well satisfied with their healthcare. Such testimonies are worth considering, of course, but anybody who feels anything other than utter bewilderment at the Mac v. PC spats, in either direction, should understand their subjective nature. If the techie analogy doesn't work for you, just about any product type will do — cars, game systems, shampoos, comic book publishers, sports franchises, or, directly to the point, nations. We human beings tend toward chauvinism, broadly speaking, on matters large and small.

The United States of America has long been the global superpower. The grand economy. The military giant. The entertainment king. The innovator. Being more a philosophical individualist than a nationalist, I see that mainly in functional terms; our system of society has gotten something important right (amidst all of the many things that our culture has undeniably gotten wrong). But as with other components of identity, folks the world 'round evince a natural affinity for their own countries and a desire to defend them on qualitative grounds.

One gets the impression, reading around, that it's a point of pride for foreign nationals that their governments "are able" to provide universal healthcare, and ours is not. In the presence of an American guest, therefore, it would be natural for them to, well, downplay the bad and emphasize the good. Pervasive horror-story propaganda about non-government healthcare systems likely stoke that subtle nationalism.

From amidst my vast internal archive of high-end cultural memories, an example emerges: During an episode of MTV's Real World, London, which aired in 1994, Sharon became ill and had to be whisked to the hospital, where the doctors were able to remedy her potentially fatal (if usually benign) ailment. Neil, who was pursuing a career as a rock star during his hiatus from Ph.D. studies in experimental psychology, berated his American flatmates (too clueless to have a response) that their friend would absolutely have died had she been uninsured in their home country.

His passionate vitriol was patently odd. In retrospect, though, it was understandable. Sure, his country has long been waning — and in a manner bound up with cultural insecurity and guilt — but at least his countrymen had the good hearts to save each others' lives.

It would be interesting to get a reaction from Neil, or from my acquaintance's Canadian friends, to this list that's been making its way around the right-wing blogosphere:

  1. Americans have better survival rates than Europeans for common cancers.
  2. Americans have lower cancer mortality rates than Canadians.
  3. Americans have better access to treatment for chronic diseases than patients in other developed countries.
  4. Americans have better access to preventive cancer screening than Canadians.
  5. Lower income Americans are in better health than comparable Canadians.
  6. Americans spend less time waiting for care than patients in Canada and the U.K.
  7. People in countries with more government control of health care are highly dissatisfied and believe reform is needed.
  8. Americans are more satisfied with the care they receive than Canadians.
  9. Americans have much better access to important new technologies like medical imaging than patients in Canada or the U.K.
  10. Americans are responsible for the vast majority of all health care innovations.

Number 10 pops up in various contexts. For example, over the course of decades, other developed nations have been able to spend a lower percentage of their budgets on military forces, because they've fallen under the protective umbrella of the United States. Just so, the (somewhat) free-market system in the U.S. has kept incentives alive for continued medical innovations and technologies. The page from which I took the above list also has a table of ten critical medical innovations, and the prominence of our country is conspicuous.

In that regard, however much they may be inclined to extol the approach of their own nations to the provision of healthcare, our fellows across the border and across the sea should keep their fingers crossed that Americans aren't so persuaded as to emulate them.

Juxtaposing Rhode Island’s Student Achievement to Teacher Compensation Rankings and a Plan to Make it Worse

Monique Chartier

Further to the dissatisfaction that Justin expressed yesterday with remarks made by Rhode Island's new Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist at the RISC Summer meeting ...

STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT – Brushing the bottom 20% nationally

ALEC 2008 Report on American Education [PDF]
Ranks RI academic achievement at fortieth out of fifty first. Note that this is up one step from Rhode Island’s 2007 ALEC ranking [PDF] of forty first.

US Chamber of Commerce "Leaders & Laggards" [PDF]

“Academic Achievement”. “Academic Achievement of Low-Income and Minority Students”. “Rigor of Standards”. “Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness”. In all of these categories, Rhode Island gets D's & F's.

TEACHER PAY – Brushing the top 20% nationally

The John Locke Foundation's “Annual Report on Teacher Pay” [PDF] compiles a state by state comparison of teacher salaries, adjusted for pension contribution, experience and cost of living. Rhode Island ranks 11th highest, though in that same report, the NEA pegs Rhode Island at 10th highest.

In a related category, the US Census Bureau’s 2009 report on “Public Education Finances” [PDF] notes that Rhode Island has the seventh highest “Spending on Instruction”.

I highlight this significant gap not to pick on teachers but to pick on school committee members, city/town councilors and executives (mayors) who have, for the last ten-fifteen years, fallen for the trap of negotiating new contracts that build on teacher contract achievements around the state but not on the academic achievement of the students within their own municipality.

Enter now Bill S0569 [PDF], brought to our attention by commenter BobC, who referred to it as "Caruolo on Steroids". It would further dilute the responsibility of school committees to facilitate a good education by placing greater distance, if that’s even possible, between education dollars and students.

Some low points of the bill:

> It would prevent school committees from applying for waivers of regulations.

> It would mandate that any court order pertaining to programs and funding obtained from a lawsuit in Superior Court would be in effect for three years, not one.

> In the event of a dispute over the school budget, it would order the usurpation of certain of the powers and responsibilities of both the school committee and the city/town council by the installation of a special master who would conduct, at his or her leisure because no timeframe is specified, exhaustive and expensive fact-finding mostly of items well known by the committee and council. The expenses of said special master would be funded not from the school budget, but equally from the school and municipal budgets.

This blatantly ant-child, anti-education bill is presumably offered to counter some recent abolish-Caruolo rumblings. “Let’s compromise and let Caruolo stand as is.”

Any such “compromise” should be rejected out of hand. Yes, student achievement in Rhode Island has been slowly improving. Does anyone contend that it is a result of the Caruolo Act? In fact, not only must Caruolo in any form be rescinded, but in view of the progress rate of education achievement in Rhode Island, legislation needs to be passed mandating that municipalities begin tying compensation to student achievement.

The status quo of student achievement in the bottom twenty percent and compensation in the top twenty percent will only change when education dollars are expended with children rather than adults in mind.

A Program to Help Unemployed Rhode Islanders

Justin Katz

In yesterday's Providence Journal, Neil Downing reported on the thousands of Rhode Islanders who are running out of unemployment benefits, after being unemployed for up to 79 weeks, or about a year and a half:

In response, the state Department of Labor and Training, the agency which administers unemployment benefits, began mailing notices on Friday that offer people tips on where they can turn for help when their benefits run out, said agency director Sandra M. Powell.

The initial mailing is going to about 3,200 people, including those who have already exhausted their benefits, and those who will run out of benefits soon. Hereafter, the agency plans to mail the notices to about 150 people a week. The notices provide information on how to obtain food stamps, government-sponsored health insurance and other assistance.

I propose that the DLT's packet ought also to include information assisting recipients in find work in other states and relocating. If Rhode Island hasn't managed to create a job for a particular person in eighteen months, the best advice that person can receive is to find a location with an economy that can provide work.

August 1, 2009

Why is the RI Board of Elections Giving Erroneous Instructions to the Moderate Party?

Monique Chartier

Major congrats to the Moderate Party and their signature fiends ... er, petitioners for the 30,000 signature that they have collected in jig time.

Now, unnecessary confusion is being created as to where those signatures must be turned in.

A little incident arose out of last year's election that Republicans remember with a wince and the Moderate Party has been studying warily. In July, 2008, the BOE voted to disallow five Republican candidates

because the names had been filed with the Secretary of State instead of being submitted to their boards of canvassers.

Additionally, Rhode Island General Law 17-1-2(9) states

If the political organization wishes to select its nominees in a primary election, the petitions, bearing the requisite number of valid signatures, shall be presented to the appropriate local boards of canvassers no later than June 1 of the same year. If the petitions are validated by the local boards as containing the requisite number of valid signatures, the political organization shall be deemed to be a political party for all elections held during the year and may select its nominees in a primary election. If the political organization does not wish to select its nominees in a primary election, then the petitions need not be returned to local boards of canvassers until August 1 of the same year.

In three spots, then, Rhode Island law refers to the necessity of turning signatures in to local canvassing authorities. Further, as anyone who has collected signatures for a statewide candidate knows, signatures must be segregated by city/town and then turned into that city or town as only the local canvassing boards are in a position to verify the eligibility of all signers.

But the BOE is telling the Moderate Party of Rhode Island - insisting, in fact - that it turn in its 30,000 signatures to the Board of Election, not to the corresponding municipalities.

Does the BOE intend to simply turn all signatures over to local canvassing authorities? But that would be an unnecessary and unauthorized step; further to date, such a representation has not been made by BOE that such is their intent.

In view of both the history in this matter as well as the small matter of the law, wouldn't the Moderate Party have to be chumps to follow the verbal instruction of BOE instead of complying with the specifications of Rhode Island Law?

Kathy Santos: Guidelines for Choosing General Assembly Candidates in 2010

Engaged Citizen

Your representative and senator need to be replaced if...

  1. They didn’t vote to eliminate unaffordable mandates to help cities and towns.
  2. They approved a budget without knowing the costs
  3. They voted to keep their free healthcare or just pay a "token" co-pay while everyone else pays 20%+ if they even have health insurance
  4. They voted against Voter ID and the elimination of the straight party ticket or didn't even let it out of committee
  5. They voted for never-ending teacher contracts and/or related bill
  6. They allowed a fresh coat of paint to be sprayed onto the rotting corpse of that bill, which died in March, and then pulled a "New Caruolo" out of their hat
  7. They voted against eVerify or didn't let it out of committee
  8. They have scared businesses away from RI and now prostitutes have more job security than the average college graduate
  9. They go to Las Vegas for "gambling information" when Twin Rivers is going bankrupt in their own backyard
  10. They are too good to brownbag it and stick us with the tab for their meals
  11. They think it's a good idea to eliminate part of the name of our historic state
  12. They didn't strengthen child molestation laws
  13. They allowed prostitution to continue in RI
  14. They voted to legalized medical marijuana when it's still against federal laws
  15. They voted against a bill that would have allowed we the people access to public information in a more timely manner
  16. They didn't strengthen drunk driving laws
  17. They ignore your letters, emails, phone calls, and testimony at the State House. Then, they insult you by coming into committee late or leaving early, eating in front of you, making and taking phone calls and text messages, carrying on conversations with someone else, and falling asleep when you are giving them important information
  18. They actually think they are doing a great job
  19. They belong to public sector unions
  20. They won't allow voter initiative
  21. They leave the State House while huge protests are being conducted outside by their constituents

The Sounds of RISC Summer

Justin Katz

For those who were unable to attend, or who would like to revisit this morning's RISC Summer Meeting, the following audio corresponds with my liveblogging:

  • RISC Chairman Harry Staley's opening remarks: stream, download (10 min, 23 sec)
  • RISC Vice President & Secretary Harriet Lloyd's unveiling of the new RISC Web site: stream, download (3 min, 29 sec)
  • Board of Regents member Angus Davis: stream, download (8 min, 20 sec)
  • Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist: stream, download (16 min, 44 sec)
  • RISC Jim T. Beale: stream, download (3 min, 54 sec)
  • Federal Government Affairs Manager of the National Taxpayers Union Jordan Forbes: stream, download (9 min, 47 sec)
  • Governor Don Carcieri: stream, download (37 min, 54 sec)
  • Bruce Lang question, with Gov. Carcieri responding: stream, download (4 min, 34 sec)
  • Martha Staten question/commentary: stream, download (3 min, 5 sec)
  • Dick Smith question/commentary: stream, download (1 min, 33 sec)
  • Brian Bishop question, with Commissioner Gist and Gov. Carcieri responding: stream, download (4 min, 31 sec)
  • Sue Story question, with Jim Beale responding: stream, download (1 min, 45 sec)
  • Steve Santos question, with Jim Beal, Gov. Carcieri, and Harry Staley responding: stream, download (3 min, 51 sec)
  • Paul Tavares question, with Harry Staley and Gov. Carcieri responding: stream, download (4 min, 06 sec)
  • Jim McGuinn question, with Commissioner Gist and Gov. Carcieri responding: stream, download (7 min, 20 sec)
  • Anthony Carcieri question, with Gov. Carcieri responding: stream, download (3 min, 13 sec)
  • Ed Rollins question, with Harry Staley responding: stream, download (2 min, 31 sec)
  • Commissioner Gist, noting that "pay for performance" measures for teachers should be judged based on student growth universal milestones: stream, download (24 sec)
  • June Gibbs commentary on master lever, with Harry Staley responding: stream, download (1 min, 37 sec)

RISC Summer Meeting

Justin Katz

So I've taken up the invitation to sit at the Press table provided by the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition for its summer meeting (at the Hyatt on Goat Island in Newport — reasoning that it's a way to get a good seat up front without having to sit next to VIPs and speakers. Actually, inasmuch as the program is scheduled to begin at any moment and I'm the only person at the table, it also provides a good position from which to catch audio with a minimum of table shaking and glass clinking. The room is a little smaller than the one down the hall in which RISC held its winter meeting, but once the crowd in the hall filters in, it looks like attendance will prove healthy.

9:15 a.m.

I've been joined at the Press table by Julia Steiny from the Providence Journal, although she slipped away from the table before I had an opportunity to introduce myself. Otherwise, the crowd consists of many familiar faces, including Governor Carcieri, who's making the rounds.

RISC Chairman Harry Staley is giving the opening speech, introducing the new member group from Woonsocket, making a plea for more involvement, and so on.

The Providence Journal's Neil Downing has joined me at the Press table. I do wonder: as an ethical matter, should I take off the "I've joined the R.I. Revolt!" sticker on my shirt, given my seating?

9:39 a.m.

RISC Vice President & Secretary Harriet Lloyd officially unveiled the new RISC Web site, through which 7,000 emails have already been sent to legislators. RISC President James Beale ran through some official business that the group's bylaws require. And Board of Regents member Angus Davis is filling in for that group's chairman, Robert Flanders, who was unable to make it here for his speech.

Davis shared the anecdote of a two-time teacher of the year in Providence who, due to bumping, was also a two-time layoff victim.

10:01 a.m.

I've been having some technology glitches while Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist has been speaking. She began by saying that the number 1 question that people ask her is: "Why did you come here." She says that she came here "to make a difference." (Of course, I'm sure the unprecedented paycheck had something to do with it.)

"The students across Rhode Island have to be achieving at higher levels."

On economic and racial levels, "we have some of some of the highest achievement gaps in the country," which she says is a violation of their civil rights. I wonder how the progressive NEA feels about that.

"We're the ninth highest in state investment in education."

"The most important factor in a child's education is the quality of the teacher."

Mentioned bumping. Suggested more evaluation of everybody, from her right down to teachers.

"We have brought [the teachers] into this broken system."

She did not, however, use the "U" word. "There are models" for improving children's performance. Somehow she's gotten around to talking about world class teachers in excellent schools. The only time she's coming close to using specifics is to talk about "using data effectively," although she's not giving examples about what sort of data she means.

"We need a funding formula for Rhode Island schools." She said that we need money to "follow the child," but she didn't suggest anything that would define that beyond a bland talking point.

Consolidation... food, transportation, blah, blah, blah.

"Some people [around Rhode Island] are a little discouraged." You may have picked up on the fact that this is not the speech that I was hoping to hear.

She's done, and people are giving her a standing ovation, but I'm really not sure why.

10:27 a.m.

Next up, Jordan Forbes, Federal Government Affairs Manager of the National Taxpayers Union.

"Tax incentives are great, but do nothing for long-term tax policies."

Rhode Island "is in a good position," given its location and natural attributes. She recommends Heritage Foundation principles:

1. Not all tax cuts are created equal: they must improve incentives to work, invest, and save.
2. The change in tax rate matters, not the size of the cut.
3. Consumer spending is a consequence of growth, not a cause of growth.
4. Long-term tax policy is the best short-term stimulus.

Governor Carcieri has, as ever, offered to speak (as I promised Neil Downing he would).

The one reason the governor's tax plan (which the previous speaker lauded) didn't come to be was that we just didn't have enough people in the statehouse who believed in its benefits.

"I've got a year and a half left, and I'm not stopping on this one."

At last: the governor introduced the "U" word to the conversation, in the context of the forces against which RISC must stand as a "countervailing force."

Governor Carcieri pointed out East Providence School Committee Chairman Anthony Carcieri and noted that the difficult things they're going through in that town are necessary for the changes that have to happen.

10:39 a.m.

Regarding the budget: "The reality is that we did pretty well on this budget." Although, the General Assembly gave the executive branch a $70 million "lump" to find.

Not surprisingly, the governor predicts that the unions will lose their pension-related lawsuit.

He mentioned that the flat-tax remained, but that the capital gains tax cuts fell away. He expressed hope that Massachusetts shoppers will begin coming to Rhode Island thanks to a 25% increase in their sales tax. (Of course, they're still lower than Rhode Island's.)

We'll be seeing in the next few weeks that the $70 million "lump" is going to have to come from state employees in some way.

"I think we should have a defined contribution [retirement] program for new hires."

10:43 a.m.

"The 39 cities and towns are spending over $3 billion per year — 50% more than the state."

"The vast majority of the spending of the state is actually being done by the cities and towns."

I see no indication on Ms. Gist's face that she understands that the majority of that money goes to the schools, and the majority of that money is allocated to union teachers.

10:47 a.m.

The consequence, according to the governor, is that further cuts are going to have to come from cities and towns. One possibility is consolidation, citing Aquidneck Island.

10:53 a.m.

Although he's emphasized that the state government did not raise broad-based taxes, he hasn't noted that RI government spending increased some 12%.

Indoor prostitution loophole is a "black eye" for the state. "I know it's the ACLU."

"Good news: wind power."

As an aside, the long-running litany of accomplishment that the governor, as a political leader, runs through with each speech belie the trouble that this state is actually in. My impression of this meeting, so far, is that there still is nowhere near the necessary heat and ire (not a typo) necessary.

For example, the governor just said: "We're pushing a boulder up hill. The good news: it's moving. The bad news: you can't stop pushing or that baby rolls back downhill."

Wrong. We're mildly slowing the descent. It's not enough. We have to turn things around.

Another standing ovation.

11:23 a.m.

The Q&A moves along:

Bruce Lang: "There's not a business in America that could afford the sorts of fringe benefits that public employees get."

"How do we win this battle?"

My muttered answer: We don't. We're going under. Then we have to build up again.

The governor's answer. We need the counterbalancing voice to the unions, which (again) he states is acting in an understandable self-interest.

"Shame on us if we can't figure out how to get more votes, because that's the only way we're going to win.

Brian Bishop of Ocean State Policy Research Institute disliked the mention of racial balancing from Ms. Gist. She stated disagreement, but I might not be alone in having missed something in Brian's question.

Sue Story just expressed dismay at the possibility of binding arbitration for teachers. RISC's Jim Beale stated that RISC has radio ads against such a thing ready to go whenever the General Assembly reconvenes.

Steve Santos of the East Providence School Committee seconded the opposition to that sort of legislation. Beale thinks the RI Senate has heard the message. I think we've moved to talking about the legislation to maintain contract terms before renegotiation.

Best line of the meeting comes from Harry Staley. On the topic of folks who might be thinking about running for state office: "If you don't think you're qualified, spend a day up there." Then he qualified: "Present company excluded, of course."

11:43 a.m.

A question about controlling school district fiefdoms didn't elicit an exciting answer from Deborah Gist. She said that her authority comes mainly from results, as when a district isn't performing adequately. Again "data" and "models" made an appearance in the response.

Anthony Carcieri is asking how Ms. Gist intends to implement "pay for performance" in Rhode Island.

"I think it's really important that we recognize our excellent teachers." "This is another of those really complicated issues." She's going to make sure we have goals and that there will be some connection between remuneration and student results.

Anthony Carcieri: "What about contracts in reference to that."

Gist: "That's where it starts to get complicated." The state's policies must actually be implemented at the local level.

It occurs to me that the state could increase the bind on districts and towns to force them to make big — and public — decisions on which voters can pass judgment. The Ed Commissioner could also use the bully pulpit... say to oppose the Caruolo Act. (Yeah, I know, crazy talk.)

Here's hoping it was the freezing temperature at which the hotel keeps this room that made my "R.I. Revolt" sticker fall off a few moments ago.

And the meeting comes to a close.

Pushing It as Only Rhode Island Can

Justin Katz

The latest news on the business sales tax front — which isn't online, because is still down — is that Liberty Elm diner has come up with the $5,000 needed to prevent closure, while the Carcieri administration will begin notifying local police about which businesses to keep closed sometime next week. As I suggested yesterday, discussion of this matter must begin with the acknowledgment that businesses collected the sales tax money and then, apparently, spent it. That said, this is more than a bit heavy-handed:

For the Liberty Elm, the reprieve will be short. The diner must pay another $5,000 by the end of August before the state will allow it to establish a monthly payment plan.

Granted that the state has a right to that money, but the impression begins to be of an extortionist with his thumb on a "client," especially in light of anecdotes such as the following email that I received this morning:

One of your points need a little clarification: "businesses find it necessary to help themselves to free loans from the state." Its worth pointing out that the state charges a hefty 18 percent interest rate and late fee on delinquent payments. Hardly giving them an advantage over other businesses that pay on time. In fact the debt that piles up on late payments is in many ways more holes in a leaky boat. I was in the same situation with my business in November. (You have to be paid in full by December for license renewal and again by July for your sales tax permit.) Business started to fall off. I went through my savings and then maxed out my credit cards to try and keep things going. I managed to come up with the tax money that was owed but was short on the interest and penalty. The business was employing people, making money, and I would have been able to have everything paid in about 3 months. The state refused a payment plan. I was looking at being unemployed, broke, and seeing a business that I gave 11 years to go away. I had to bring them to court and get a court order for a payment plan. Got that news 3 days before the deadline. So I one-hundred-percent agree with you that the state should make payment plans with these businesses. In an ideal world maybe even lower the interest rates.

The way the system works now, a business that employs people, pays vendors, and does not leech off the welfare system could be closed for hitting a rough patch. But I can't complain; after all, the state pays all their bills exactly when they are due.

It certainly fits the image of this state to squeeze those who are trying to be productive while coddling those who demand handouts.