October 31, 2009

Trick or Treat Traffic Report: South Kingstown is Off

Monique Chartier

Just back from spending Halloween evening at the best decorated yard and front walk in South County. (Scary branches with lanterns, floating heads, cob webs, lighted jack-o-lanterns, chattering skeletons, organ music, spooky fog, "real" zombies grabbing at ankles as the young guests select candy.) The hostess shook her head throughout the evening at the dearth of trick-or-treaters compared to last year, a trend confirmed by a tween trick-or-treater who stopped by after making the round of the neighborhood and reported "90% fewer kids" over last year.

Was this paralleled around the state (hopefully not)? We speculated about the cause and came to the tentative conclusion that (sigh) fear of H1N1 may have kept people home this year.

Consolidation as Another Means of Redistribution

Justin Katz

If you should attempt to discuss state-to-state migration trends related to taxation, Tom Sgouros will proclaim the whole thing far too complicated, with insufficient data available, to make broad statements. When it comes to people moving from town to town within the state related to taxes and services, well, he's not so reserved:

When a family moves from Cranston to Exeter, Cranston loses a little of its tax money, and Exeter sees an increase in the demand for its services. For most services, Cranston can't cut expenses as fast as they lose dollars. This isn't because of unions, but simply because of arithmetic. A hundred fourth-graders in a school make four classrooms. But ninety-nine students also make four classrooms. Just because you've cut the students doesn't mean you can cut the payroll, and the same effect is apparent with police, fire protection, sewers and more.

On the flip side, many studies have shown that the new residents of a town like Exeter seldom pay enough in taxes to cover the services they demand. This is especially true since most services cost more to provide way out in the burbs, where people are far apart from each other. It's why towns invented developer impact fees.

But what this means is that when people move from one town to another, the town they move from feels pressure on their tax collections and the town they move to feels pressure on their services. The result is that taxes can go up in both towns.

At best, you can say that this assessment is true under a certain, extremely limited, range of household types, and even then, the scenario by which taxes always go up everywhere whenever anybody moves requires a slew of assumptions. For example, if the property left behind in Cranston is reoccupied by somebody else, there is no loss of taxes. The same is true in the opposite direction in Exeter, unless the house was newly built. If the family has no children, there is no change in the schooling requirements for either town. And in the same way that removing a child from a class doesn't necessarily reduce the need for teachers, adding a child to a class doesn't necessarily increase that need.

In order for cities and towns even to come close to functioning, they must have somewhat of a balance between taxes and services, which means it simply can't be the case that every resident uses more in services than he or she provides in public revenue. And were that the case, to the extent that some other source of municipal income supplements the budget, loss of a taxpaying resident must represent a net gain.

Sgouros wants you to believe that towns aren't able to raise taxes quickly enough to cover new residents and that cities aren't able to cut services quickly enough to make up for lost revenue, but what he's claiming to be true doesn't make any sense:

The paradox of Rhode Island town finance is that today, the places with low taxes are the suburbs where the services are most expensive to provide, while the places with the highest taxes are the cities, where services are cheapest. It's the movement of people, and what it does to the tax rolls in towns, that bring us to this peculiar, and probably not stable, spot.

The problem is that the paradox only exists if one blacks out half of the relevant information. Consider some various data for the two towns that Sgouros uses as a hypothetical resident movement — from Cranston to Exeter:

Cranston Exeter
Residential tax rate (per $1,000) $15.34 $12.33
Municipal residential tax levy $101,633,398 $9,516,802
State aid $16,361,405 $1,053,443
Population 79,269 6,045
Occupied housing units (OHUs) 30,954 2,085
State aid per capita $206.40 $174.27
State aid + tax levy per capita $1,488.54 $1,748.59
State aid + tax levy per OHU $3,811.94 $5,069.66

Even though the tax rate is lower in Exeter, and even though it receives less per person in state aid, the actual amount of money that it collects per person is higher. Services may cost more to provide in the suburbs, but there's no paradox, because the towns are paying more for those services. And it isn't just that families are larger in Cranston, because Exeter pays even more on a per-household basis.

When one digs through all of the rhetoric and odd mathematical assertions, the disparity between urban and suburban areas derives from the fact that property is worth more outside of the city while city dwellers tend toward the end of the spectrum that uses more public services. (We're leaving political waste and corruption out of the picture, to allow clearer thinking.) What Sgouros actually sees in consolidation, therefore, is another means of redistributing money.

Like me, he's skeptical that consolidation will save appreciable money through economies of scale, but at the end of the article, and the end of the day, he's not concerned with saving money, but "reduc[ing] pressure." He wants to "insulate" town finances "from the effects of people moving." That is, to the greatest extent possible, he wants to trap Rhode Islanders into paying for expensive government programs that urbanites demand and government functionaries are only too happy to provide.

As some of us have begun to suspect, "consolidation" and "regionalization" are merely newly en vogue terms for big government and a decrease in citizen influence.

What a Scam

Justin Katz

Here's the stimulus story in a sentence: The government — in which I'm including the entire structure from the town to the nation — insulated itself from the souring economy and is now attempting to justify and perpetuate the scam by touting its own health. A little bit of basic math puts this in perspective:

Nearly 650,000 jobs have been saved or created under President Obama’s economic stimulus plan, the government said yesterday, and the White House declared the nation on track to meet the president’s goal of 3.5 million by the end of next year.

A $787 billion program "creating or saving" 650,000 jobs comes at a price of $1.2 million per worker. Alright, fine, the whole amount hasn't been spent, yet. But look at it this way: The federal government could have given 650,000 people the nation's median income of roughly $52,000 at a total cost of $33.8 billion. For $50 billion, the government could have given one million Americans $50,000 and said, "You've got a year to figure out a way to make a living."

It's a matter of plain deduction to observe that a lot fewer people must be getting a lot more money thanks to government action.

Of course, as I began by implying, the audience of the government's self-congratulations isn't the group of people whom it merely represents. Rather, the government is advertising its success for the benefit of its real clients: its various codependents. Look to some of the details in Rhode Island:

Nearly all of the 1,489 jobs created or saved through the state's allocation of funds were in three areas: corrections, education and labor and training. ...

"There aren't a lot of sustainable jobs in those numbers," [gubernatorial spokeswoman Amy Kempe] said.

Transferring money from productive, economy-growing segments of the population in order to maintain the government workforce at a cost of over a million dollars per job is a teetering model.

Are We Right or Should We Be Left?

Justin Katz

Concise and clear as it is, Matt Jerzyk's Providence Monthly piece (PDF) brings into relief an inconsistency in the narrative of the local left:

Conservatives are quick to blame the majority Democratic General Assembly for most of Rhode Island's ills, but that's not fair or accurate. First, many of the so-called Democrats in the General Assembly are DINOs (Democrats in Name Only). These DINOs support tax breaks for the rich, oppose women's rights and gay rights and gang up on immigrants and the poor. In other words, they would be Republicans if they could win an election under that party banner.

And yet, with reference to Republicans' dislike of Linc Chafee:

Of course, the irony of this tale is that Republicans historically maintained a power base in New England because of their social liberalism, not in spite of it. The fringe elements of the GOP who are casting out the moderate Republicans might as well be conducting a circular firing squad.

So, Democrats win in Rhode Island as conservatives, but Republicans don't win because they're not liberal? The inconsistency, here, needn't be Matt's; it could originate with voters. Personally, I'd dispute the notion that a decisive number of RI Democrats are very conservative, and I'd point out that conservative Republicans are decisive within their party. We have as much right not to vote for liberal (read, "moderate") Republicans as liberals have not to vote for conservative ones — point being that the question of whether conservative Republicans can win is open, even dubious, given our two-term governor, but it's more clear that liberal Republicans can not win, given the current electorate. There's no objective reason that conservatives must be the ones to compromise their values.

Whoever's inconsistency it is, Matt's reference to it does highlight that "Rhode Island's ills" aren't a result of those vague liberal shibboleths about "women's rights and gay rights" and affinity for "immigrants and the poor." Leftists are free to lament the state of social affairs, but it's difficult to link any of those issues to our economic stagnation from a left-wing perspective. (We on the right would argue that policies pertaining to immigrants and the poor are certainly contributors from ours.)

Frankly, the left/right divide is less useful, in assessing our state's frightening direction, than is the special interest/taxpayer battle, and it doesn't take much imagination to understand why those special interests would like the electorate to keep their eye on political distractions rather than concentrate on political reform.

October 30, 2009

Noonan Now and Then

Justin Katz

To a post on Peggy Noonan's latest column, Glenn Reynolds appends a reader's observation that Ms. Noonan should take some responsibility for helping her man, Mr. Obama, gain office. Indeed, a contrast of Noonan a year ago and now is instructive. October 30, 2008:

The case for Barack Obama, in broad strokes:

He has within him the possibility to change the direction and tone of American foreign policy, which need changing; his rise will serve as a practical rebuke to the past five years, which need rebuking; his victory would provide a fresh start in a nation in which a fresh start would come as a national relief. He climbed steep stairs, born off the continent with no father to guide, a dreamy, abandoning mother, mixed race, no connections. He rose with guts and gifts. He is steady, calm, and, in terms of the execution of his political ascent, still the primary and almost only area in which his executive abilities can be discerned, he shows good judgment in terms of whom to hire and consult, what steps to take and moves to make. We witnessed from him this year something unique in American politics: He took down a political machine without raising his voice.

October 30, 2009:

When I see those in government, both locally and in Washington, spend and tax and come up each day with new ways to spend and tax—health care, cap and trade, etc.—I think: Why aren't they worried about the impact of what they're doing? Why do they think America is so strong it can take endless abuse?

I think I know part of the answer. It is that they've never seen things go dark. They came of age during the great abundance, circa 1980-2008 (or 1950-2008, take your pick), and they don't have the habit of worry. They talk about their "concerns"—they're big on that word. But they're not really concerned. They think America is the goose that lays the golden egg. Why not? She laid it in their laps. She laid it in grandpa's lap.

They don't feel anxious, because they never had anything to be anxious about. They grew up in an America surrounded by phrases—"strongest nation in the world," "indispensable nation," "unipolar power," "highest standard of living"—and are not bright enough, or serious enough, to imagine that they can damage that, hurt it, even fatally.

Or maybe they don't think America should be so strong — so exceptional. They believe that they should be strong and exceptional, of course, in the mold of their icon — the steady he of guts and gifts — and that they should be above responsibility for their corruption and excesses. And maybe Ms. Noonan should pause before calling them "they."

Last year, Noonan reveled in the symbolism of Obama's primary victory in Alabama, as we all should, as an isolated instance of racial progress outside of broader context. But it's not divorced from the context of all of the rest of history — which, pace the liberal arts academics, doesn't revolve around the American black-white divide — and symbolism only goes so far for the bright and serious people for whom Noonan pines.

The Time for Investment Has Passed; Now We Need to Produce

Justin Katz

Can't Republicans at least agree that the last thing the state needs is more government "investment"?

Governor Carcieri Friday morning said Rhode Island must invest more in higher education and mentoring programs if it wants to encourage young, educated people to stay here for the long haul.

"As you invest in higher education, you make a statement to young people about what you value and what's important to the state," Carcieri told the crowd at the Knowledge Retention Symposium, a gathering at Brown University focused on preventing what's known as brain drain in the Ocean State.

Even within the brief article is evidence that the governor is misassessing the actual problem, with the following from Providence College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley:

"I hear this all the time and it drives me crazy. They come to Rhode Island to these great institutions and they fall in love with Providence and the state of Rhode Island, but they don't think this is a place they can stay. They think this is a launching pad to New York or Boston, or Chicago and Washington, and it's critical to the future of our state that our students, when they come here, think 'This is a place I can stay.' "

The students are already coming; the problem is that they leave, and to the extent that further government investments (read: taxes and bonds), regulations, and mandates continue to hinder the Rhode Island's private sector, the state will continue to circle the bowl and graduates will flee before they're sucked in.

The Hero from Elmhurst

Monique Chartier

Catching up on yesterday's ProJo this morning, I came across this jawdropper development to the terrible story of two men hit and one man impaled in a windshield.

[Albert] Garcia was approaching the Branch Avenue exit, on his way to pick up his brother at a Providence club Saturday night when he saw a two-car crash, “a football field away,” in the high-speed lane on Route 95 south.

Garcia said he saw the Honda Civic “on the left, going about 75 mph.”

“He tried to brake a couple of times and tried to move to the middle lane,” said Garcia. Then Garcia saw the car, driven by Christopher J. Swiridowsky, hit two men standing outside crashed cars.

“One I saw on the middle of the road,” Garcia said. “The other, I never saw again.”

Motorists stopped to help the victims.

Swiridowsky appeared to stop briefly, Garcia said, but then sped off, taking the Branch Avenue exit.

Garcia said he thought of staying to help the victims, but decided instead to chase the car.

“It was late at night. It was dark, and it was a black car,” Garcia recalled, adding, “Nobody is going to get this guy’s plate. This guy’s going to get away.”

Driven by adrenaline, Garcia followed the car off the highway onto Branch Avenue.“I got a license plate, but I was so nervous that I couldn’t write it down, couldn’t find a pen” and couldn’t juggle the cell phone.

So, he stayed on Swiridowsky’s tail until the car pulled into the National Office Products parking lot on Mechanics Avenue a mile and a half away from the crash site. He positioned his car behind Swiridowsky’s, blocking it.

Reacting to the initial report of the accident, Providence EMT Michael Morse over at Rescuing Providence observed

I don’t know if it is a Providence thing, but over half of the MVA’s we respond to are hit and runs. It doesn’t matter the severity, some people are so self consumed they just don’t care if another human being lives or dies.

Were it not for the focus and bravery of one man, a depraved, reckless scumbag might not have been brought to account.

Bravo, Albert Garcia.

Providence Monthly: Katz and Jerzyk on Governor's Race

Marc Comtois

Anchor Rising's Justin Katz and Matt Jerzyk (former proprietor of RI Future) were asked by the Providence Monthly to handicap the presumed 2010 Rhode Island gubernatorial candidates. But there was a twist: Justin took a look at the Dems (and Chafee) and Matt looked at the GOP (and Chafee).

Matt has helpfully provided links to each piece (thanks Matt). HERE is Matt's piece on the Republicans and HERE is Justin's take on the Democrats.

Who's Keener on Current Events?

Marc Comtois

The pro-Republican results of the Pew Research Poll, "What Does the Public Know?," (h/t) has led to some "rah rah" chatter on the right side of the blogosphere, partly inspired because the MSM isn't covering the results the same as they did previous polls showing opposite results. True enough, self-identified Republicans performed better than Democrats. Here's the snapshot:

What I'd like to point out, though, is that INDEPENDENTS also did better on most questions than DEMOCRATS. I wonder if this is a reflection of the Democrats recent political success. Have a portion of the Democratic voting electorate "checked out" from current events in the belief that "their guys/gals" will handle it? Does this reflect a hangover effect amongst the younger-skewing Democratic co-hort? More:

Overall, Americans ages 50 and older answered an average of 5.8 questions correctly, while those younger than age 30 answered an average of just four questions. College graduates got the highest scores among all of the groups analyzed (7.1 correct answers), while those with some college education averaged 5.3 correct answers and those with a high school education or less got 4.2 right.

Republicans and independents each averaged 5.7 correct answers, compared with five correct among Democrats. Men correctly answered an average of 5.9 of the 12 items; women answered an average of 4.7.

So, reading these results (warning: potential non-PC content!!!) it looks like that, on average, the most knowledgeable person is a 50+ year old Republican or independent man with a college education. The least knowledgeable is an under-30, Democratic woman with a high school education (or less). That is, generally speaking, of course!!!

A Black Spot in the Northeast

Justin Katz

Rhode Island's saving grace, on this sort of graphic showing state-by-state unemployment rates, is that the folks creating the images continue to use "higher than 10%" as the top category. So, a baker's dozen of other states have joined us in that group, but conspicuously, none of them are north of the Carolinas or east of Ohio. We're a little black dot in a sea of purples and maroons.

Imagine what would happen if we made a concerted effort to shed our business unfriendly image... instead of continuing to elect legislators who are apparently intent on pushing us in the other direction.

The Old "Further Study and Hearings"

Justin Katz

Environmentalists needn't be on the same page on every initiative, of course, but there's nothing in Tricia Jedele's letter to the Providence Journal that negates the NIMBYism suggested in their expressed concerns about wind turbines on Black Point:

Some of the signatories to the letter to the governor may ultimately support or oppose particular wind projects or the use of certain categories of public lands. A call for standards and transparent process, however, is not itself opposition. Allowing for a public process and establishing objective criteria to govern site selection will assure both reasonableness and fairness. In the end establishing a process will enable renewable-energy development in places that make sense for Rhode Islanders.

The Projo reported that Save the Bay opposes the project, transparency notwithstanding, as an infringement on a "pristine landscape" (Projo's phrase). Jedele may disagree, but her letter uses the vague language of obfuscation, and one suspects that "places that make sense for Rhode Islanders" will turn out, in the environmentalists' eyes, to be places that are not pristine — which locations, by their nature, have the most room.

October 29, 2009

Don't Turn on Capitol TV

Justin Katz

I made that mistake, and the House is debating H5582, which would mandate the number of apprentices who can be supervised by journeymen in trades. Majority Leader Gordon Fox just gave an impassioned speech about good workmanship, living wages, people of color, etc. In short, it's a lot of rhetoric by people who have no idea what they're talking about.

The simple economic fact is that the proposed ratios are ludicrous wastes of opportunity that will protect large, union contractors and prevent small entrepreneurs from advancing. Reviewing the legislation, it wouldn't be outlandish to suggest that special interests are attempting to adjust the market because Rhode Island's commercial market is drying up.

Every crew working on a residential job would require one journeyman or master for every apprentice.* You don't need to have experience with construction sites to understand that bricklaying is the sort of work that allows an experienced guy to supervise several workers of varying experience somewhere below the level of journeyman. (Often such workers have enough experience to become journeymen but fall short by some other criterion.)

Carpenters. Laborers. Painters. Glaziers. All would be one to one on residential projects, under this bill. That's crazy, and it is very suggestive of ulterior motives that there's no difference from trade to trade.

Rep. Trillo and my representative, Jay Edwards, who actually works in construction, are trying to explain how a jobsite works to the rest. Deaf ears, I'd say.

This is why the state is in its current condition and getting worse every time this legislative body meets.

* There's been some talk on the floor that the residential ratios only apply to projects with four or more units, but that appears to only apply to certain trades, including (for example) sheet metal and pipefitters, but none of those that I list above.


Edwards made the point that it's difficult to get apprentices, anyway, hypothesizing the reason as a desire to go to college. Part of that desire, I'd propose as somebody who entered the trades after receiving a college degree and working in offices for a couple of years, results from the lack of clear and quick opportunity in trades.

A number of years ago, I explained how Rhode Island's approach to licensing results in fewer tradesmen than our neighboring states — specifically in terms of the hurdles one would have to clear upon identifying a particular trade as a market opportunity:

Starting everybody green, and assuming everybody passes the tests immediately, after 12 years, Rhode Island's system will have turned one master plumber into four masters and four journeymen, able to take eight apprentices. The Massachusetts system? Double in every category. Not only will twice the customers receive service, but twice the unemployed people can step onto the career path. Moreover, the gap ripples outward into the economy in innumerable forms — from the cost of home renovations to the rates of pay for less-skilled jobs.

If the trades were such that smart people could hop in, learn the profession at a self-direct pace, and quickly turn the job into a profitable career, more would make the attempt. With labor laws and union influence as they are, the choices are skewed. As a young adult graduating from high school, would you rather work full time in crawl spaces and bathrooms for five years while taking night courses in order to become a master plumber or party for four years and do enough classwork to get a degree that opens a door into an air conditioned office in which you'd begin learning an actual occupation only generally related to your education?


The legislation passed by a healthy but not overwhelming majority. The governor should veto this particular bill. The voters should upend the legislature.

Update: Permanent Contracts Sent Back To Committee

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here is the status report on the permanent contracts bill, from the state legislature's website...

Senate Bill No.713
BY Perry, Levesque C, McCaffrey, Miller, Sosnowski
(would amend section 28-9.3-9 to provide that if a successor collective bargaining agreement has not been agreed to by the parties)

02/26/2009 Introduced, referred to Senate Labor
04/01/2009 Scheduled for hearing
04/01/2009 Committee recommended measure be held for further study
06/03/2009 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
06/03/2009 Committee recommends passage
06/04/2009 Placed on Senate Calendar
06/11/2009 Senate read and passed
06/16/2009 Referred to House Labor
06/25/2009 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
06/25/2009 Committee recommends passage in concurrence
06/25/2009 Placed on House Calendar
10/29/2009 Placed on House Calendar
10/29/2009 House voted to recommit to House Labor

Total Bills:1

Legislative Data System Room 1 10/29/2009
State House, Providence, Rhode Island 05:41 PM

This should finish the issue for this session, barring a literal back hallway meeting of the Labor Committee, which is still procedurally feasible -- but no longer politically feasible.

Where Even the Watchdogs Are Corrupt

Justin Katz

WPRI's been promoting its newest Target 12 investigation as "The Biggest Yet"; reporter Tim White sends along some specifics in advance of the official revelation:

CRANSTON – The Rhode Island State Police have opened a criminal investigation following a Target 12 Investigation into government waste.

The investigation, which airs tonight at 11 p.m., reveals four state workers at the Department of Labor and Training at home or on personal errands while on the clock. The investigation implicates the entire "Fraud Unit" at the DLT, a division designed to root out unemployment fraud and phony disability claims.

State police Lt. Colonel Steven O’Donnell says they were approached by state officials after Eyewitness News presented the DLT with their findings. O'Donnell says detectives are looking into possible charges of obtaining money under false pretense.

The four employees, identified by Eyewitness News as Debra Lombardi, Allyn Bosworth, David O'Brien and Claribel Terrero are suspended with pay pending the outcome of both the internal and criminal investigation, according to DLT spokesperson Laura Hart.

Their supervisor, Katherine Catanzaro has temporarily been reassigned, Hart says.

Target 12 obtained time sheets and itineraries of the fraud investigators that show they were not only on the clock when they were at home or on errands, but the itineraries reveal they claimed to be out on an investigation at the time.

On Sunday, I wondered whether it's possible to recycle something so thoroughly rotten as the Rhode Island government. When even the people assigned to seek out fraud are behaving fraudulently, the wondering may cease; tear the whole thing down and start again.

Update: Yorke Reporting that the Permanent Contract Won't be Passed Tonight

Carroll Andrew Morse

Dan Yorke of WPRO (630 AM) is reporting that he has spoken with House Speaker William Murphy's spokesman Larry Berman, who says that the permanent contract bill has been placed on the House calendar for procedural reasons only, because it needs to be officially tabled before the end of the session.

Perpetual Contract: Making a Spark in a Gunpowder Factory

Justin Katz

Andrew's news might explain the lack of the usual angst from the state's unionists over legislative assurances that binding arbitration is dead, for the time being: The unions' first choice — perpetual contracts — is alive and well. You'll recall that the deadly bill, S0713, passed the Senate and the House Labor Committee and then mysteriously disappeared during the time of tea parties and ramping up town hall anger.

Binding arbitration grew in it's place, of course, and wouldn't it explain a lot of strange behavior from the General Assembly and the unionists, especially those associated with the National Education Association, if the pair of bills are a connivance to inflate an over-sized union life-raft as the ship of state goes down? Get everybody to react to binding arbitration and then send in the more vicious animal through the back door. Ed Achorn's column on binding arbitration reads even more darkly in this new context:

Many Rhode Islanders, suffering from "learned helplessness" and biding their time until they too can join the great middle-class migration from the state, have given up whimsical notions that legislators here would ever serve the public interest. In their view, the politicians will never be happy until the sign that adorns Dante's Inferno is placed along all roads and highways leading into the state: "Abandon hope all ye who enter here."

If this legislative ghoul does come to life, this week, the backlash should be quadruple what it would have been against binding arbitration: not only based on the demerits, but also in reaction to the deception.

"He Wasn't No Bad Man."

Marc Comtois

The ProJo's follow-up to the story about the murder of accused woman-beater and "serial father" George Holland only adds to the frustration earlier expressed.

On Wednesday afternoon, the five other mothers and Holland’s relatives gathered at an apartment on Hymer Street to talk about his life. They said Holland had been characterized unfairly in The Journal as an abuser.

“There was also love there,” said Candace Smith, a niece. “He took care of his children. He spent time with them. The mothers [of his children] put aside all of their differences, and the kids spent time with all of their mothers.”

Leihani Rose — who has three children with Holland — and Silvia Vides, Melissa DeCosta, Keiojfa Hie and Jessenia Delossantos –– each with one child from Holland –– said that he made them all a family. They hugged each other and said in unison, “We love our baby mamas!”

I must admit that I'm just not that familiar with the apparent societal norm on display here. There is no obvious sense of shame or fear of chastisement, no stigma. There are no consequences for bad decisions, to the point that further bad actions taken to cover for previous mistakes are all completely understandable, you see.
As Holland had other children with other women, he painted houses and was also dealing drugs, his parents said. He could make money that way to help support his eight children, their mothers and his family –– and because his criminal record and lack of an education made it hard for him to find work, said Clement.

He paid the rent on their apartments, and got cable TV, a flat-screen television, new sneakers and new clothes for his mother. “He always got me what I needed,” she said.

He had money for anyone who needed help, they said. “He wasn’t no bad man. He took care of all of us,” DeCosta said.

The ends justified the means. I'm in no position to doubt the sincerity of those who have come forward to say Holland was a good man. Yet, I'm struck by how low the bar has gotten.

ADDENDUM: Comments are open, but be forewarned: I'll close them, as the ProJo was forced to do, if they get outside the bounds.

BREAKING: The Permanent Contract is Still Alive in the Legislature

Carroll Andrew Morse

Following a comment from "Madmom", I checked the General Assembly's official online calendar, and found this...

Senate Bill No.713
BY Perry, Levesque C, McCaffrey, Miller, Sosnowski
(would amend section 28-9.3-9 to provide that if a successor collective bargaining agreement has not been agreed to by the parties)
02/26/2009 Introduced, referred to Senate Labor
04/01/2009 Scheduled for hearing
04/01/2009 Committee recommended measure be held for further study
06/03/2009 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
06/03/2009 Committee recommends passage
06/04/2009 Placed on Senate Calendar
06/11/2009 Senate read and passed
06/16/2009 Referred to House Labor
06/25/2009 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
06/25/2009 Committee recommends passage in concurrence
06/25/2009 Placed on House Calendar
10/29/2009 Placed on House Calendar

Total Bills:1

Legislative Data System Room 1 10/29/2009
State House, Providence, Rhode Island 10:06 AM

This is not the binding arbitration bill, but the bill that says that expired contracts remain in force, if no new agreement is reached. The verbiage added to state law is...
(f) In the event that a successor collective bargaining agreement has not been agreed to by the parties, then the existing contract shall continue in effect until such time as an agreement has been reached between the parties.


Speculation: The argument you will hear made in support of this bill is that the legislature needs to freeze everything as is, while it figures out how to create new rules for cities and towns, new rules intended to limit the decision making authority of the democratically elected local governments on local budgets. (Of course, you won't hear this last part in any of the "we temporarily need permanent contracts" arguments I suspect will be heard today. Also, remember that even if this is pitched as a "temporary" fix, temporary permanent contracts are likely to last "only" as long as the temporary increase in Rhode Island's sales tax passed 20 years ago and still going strong has lasted).

The people need to take a direct message to the legislature: Fix your own fiscal mess first, before you even begin to consider extraordinary measures like stripping locally elected officials of the authority to make meaningful fiscal decisions for their communities. Don't deny local representatives of the people the ability to decide how to spend the people's money on local matters.


No matter what trickery the legislature attempts with this bill, today is not the end of this matter. This bill will certainly be vetoed by the Governor, meaning that another session will be necessary for a veto-override. This does not mean that people can afford to wait to express their opposition on this matter beginning right now, but as we head into the 2010 elections, every candidate for General Assembly needs to be asked to explain to what degree they believe that state-authorized unelected arbitrators and permanent contracts should be allowed to override the power of elected officials, when it comes to making the best decisions for their cities and towns.

Fiddling at the State House

Marc Comtois

The procrastinators in the RI House continue their torrid pace, today joined by the Senate. Governor Carcieri points out the obvious:

“They need to deal with the budget,” Carcieri said at an unrelated event. “They’re not doing that, and I think that’s really unfortunate because the problem is not going away; it’s getting worse.”
Though lip-service is being paid:
[House Finance Committee Chair, Rep. Steven] Costantino vowed to push Thursday for a joint resolution requiring Carcieri to submit a mid-year budget-balancing plan, known as a supplemental budget, by Nov. 16.
Yup, it's up ta the Guvnah!!!! Meanwhile, legislative Nero's proudly and indignantly fiddle:
House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox...erupted when notified of the governor’s comments.

“We’re addressing real societal needs in these two days, so I don’t want the word to go out that they’re here and they’re doing nothing,” Fox said.

The Assembly, he continued, is addressing issues for “people who need services, or the people who are concerned with indoor prostitution, [as well as] the scourge of text messaging. Those are real issues. They don’t go away.”

Ah yes, the "scourge" of text messaging (how are we gonna enforce that, btw?). Hm. Scourge: "A source of widespread dreadful affliction and devastation such as that caused by pestilence or war." Unemployment? Bad economy? Budge deficit? Apparently, not scourge-worthy...but that text messagin'......!

A View into Government

Justin Katz

Monique and Matt called for more content, specifically streaming online video, coming out of the State House on last night's Matt Allen Show. Such a feature could not only provide a window into committee meetings about which few people are interested, but also remedy very odd omissions, such as the blackout of the House Labor's binding arbitration hearing. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

NY-23: Conservative vs. Republican

Marc Comtois

The Congressional race in New York's 23rd District pits a Democrat against a Republican against a Conservative (New York has a Conservative Party), all of whom have polled around 30%. It has been an interesting object lesson in showing how conservatives aren't automatically Republicans. In a nutshell, through typical back-room arm-twisting, the local GOP nominated a liberal Republican, Dede Scozzafava, which ticked off many in the conservative base, who have thrown their support behind the Conservative party candidate, Doug Hoffman. The race has gained national attention and Republicans have split, with Scozzafava garnering the endorsements of the GOP establishment, Newt Gingrich and the NRA while Hoffman has gained those of Fred Thompson, Sarah Palin and other conservatives. (More background here). Jonah Goldberg offers this concise explanation of what small "c" conservatives are thinking:

I've said a million times that I'm a Republican by default because the GOP is the more conservative of the two major parties. If a sensible conservative can beat a liberal Republican than I see no reason to support the Republican out of some team mentality.

William F. Buckley's policy was always that he was for the most conservative candidate electable. This has always struck me as the most pithy and most sensible statement on these kinds of questions. Protest votes on ideal candidates are ultimately ill-advised and self-indulgent. Though it can be hard to accept the truth of it.... I agree entirely that the GOP needs more moderates. It needs more everybody. But in NY 23 Hoffman can win. That means he's not a protest vote, he's a vote for the most conservative candidate electable.

Buckley's axiom--vote for the most electable conservative candidate--is worth keeping in mind around here.

First Trickle of News

Justin Katz

Probably the most significant item to emerge, thus far, from the legislative appendix underway at the State House was House Majority Leader Gordon Fox's assurance that binding arbitration for teacher contracts is not going to make a surprise appearance:

Fox confirmed that a proposal to allow binding arbitration in contract disputes with teachers' unions is dead, at least for now.

"It's not going to come up in October," Fox said, minutes before the House session began, while praising recent efforts by the House Labor Committee to examine the issue. "I wouldn't want to do anything like that. [It would be] a disservice by trying to bum-rush this through."

It was surely significant that we all — online, on the radio, and on the State House steps — didn't sigh from relief and look away when binding arbitration didn't make the initial agenda. Of course, it's too early to know what has appeared in the flurry of bills, some of them freshly rewritten, that are flying through the legislature's fingers.

The other hot item is the ban on indoor prostitution, which passed the House by a wide margin. It's interesting that only one fewer representative (eight) didn't bother to vote on the measure than voted against it (nine); notably abstaining were progressive friend Betsy Dennigan and ostensible cultural conservative Peter Palumbo.

Beyond that, we've got advancement of Patriots license plates, anti-texting-while-driving legislation, a citizen vote on "plantations" in the state's name, and compulsory chemical testing by police of drivers involved in serious accidents.


Bill Rappleye and Andrew correct me in the comments section, noting that Dennigan and Palumbo have good reasons for not having voted: The former's resignation from the General Assembly was effective immediately, so she's not participating in the two day push, and the latter is home with the flu.

October 28, 2009

A Grid That's Smarter than You

Justin Katz

Frankly, I suspect the whole "clean energy" thing is a fad that will wind up costing much more money than it saves or than the benefits justify (catastrophically so as we dip into cap-and-trade-type policies). But whatever. There are so many ways that the government is wasting money and economic strength that it's difficult to isolate just one about which to be outraged. But I'm still suspicious about unspoken intentions with "smart grids." Consider:

A smarter grid, for example, might help hook wind farms in North Dakota with power consumers in Chicago and synchronize those consumers' energy use to match the times when the wind blows strongest.

It would be helpful, certainly, to be able to set timers on appliances, and even to have a setting that will run them when power is least expensive, but the push could head in a different direction. If the grid and the people who run it are the ones "synchronizing" supply and use, it's conceivable that you'd set your dishwasher to run at some point in the next 24 hours, and the government would choose the specifics. (What if you miss your slot? Well, that's a bit too deep into speculation even for me.)

I'm not saying it's worth getting hyped up about, but the issue meets phraseology in a way that's worthy of attention moving forward.

East Providence's New Transparency of Government in Action: A Model for the General Assembly

Monique Chartier

As we recently learned, the broadcast of General Assembly committee hearings is not automatic but, remarkably, left up to the discretion of the committee chair. Further, if the committee chair makes the correct decision to flip on the camera, viewership is then limited to cable television customers, leaving out in the cold those of us who, several years ago, turned our cable boxes in with disdain and a certain smugness.

Contrast, now, to the City of East Providence which, last Thursday - cue horn florish - began live streaming and archiving city council meetings on the internet. No longer are East Providence citizens and fans concerned citizens from around the state desiring to observe the latest actions by the city council subject to the whim of an elected official or subjugated to an overpriced method of communication.

What say you, Mr. Speaker and Madam Senate President? In the meantime, perhaps some counseling is in order for those committee chairs who have a irrational fear of circuses and basic legislative functions.

[H/T ABC6 Providence.]

The Audacity of the Union

Justin Katz

If you've paid even moderate attention to union squabbles in this state, you've got to drop your jaw at some of the pro-binding arbitration ads that the National Education Association is putting out. Look at the clippings at the top of the picture highlighting all of the lawyers fees and other bad effects of recent negotiation disputes; all of them originate with the unions. They file the lawsuits. Their intransigence leads to work-to-rule.

I'm also reminded of a comment that local Tiverton unionist and guidance counselor Lynn Nicholas made when the union was pushing for retroactive pay, last year. The audio is available at the end of this post, but the relevant portion is as follows:

Has anybody... tried to figure in what it's going to cost for lawyers fees once we get back into arbitration? Have you begun to think about that?

Two observations: First, lawyers are still needed in arbitration and the steps leading up to it, and negotiations that ultimately land on an arbitrators desk for a binding decision will surely be hard-fought. Second, the cost of lawyers that the union intended to impose on school districts has been a repeated threat during negotiations; are we to believe that the unions are going to give up this weapon — indeed, promote its relinquishment as a salable benefit — for an arbitration regime that won't unduly benefit them?

Let the word go out: No legislator who votes for binding arbitration should be considered worthy of being reelected, no matter what else he or she might do while in office, because not only would that have been a vote to benefit the unions at the expense of the residents, but it would also affirm deceit as a central tool in Rhode Island's political system.

Societies We Can Imagine

Justin Katz

Thomas Sowell pauses for a moment of disbelief at the conversation in America:

Just one year ago, would you have believed that an unelected government official, not even a Cabinet member confirmed by the Senate but simply one of the many "czars" appointed by the President, could arbitrarily cut the pay of executives in private businesses by 50 percent or 90 percent?

Did you think that another "czar" would be talking about restricting talk radio? That there would be plans afloat to subsidize newspapers-- that is, to create a situation where some newspapers' survival would depend on the government liking what they publish?

Did you imagine that anyone would even be talking about having a panel of so-called "experts" deciding who could and could not get life-saving medical treatments?

There's a parallel in Rhode Island. You know, it's not that difficult to imagine a reality in which we wouldn't be discussing whether or not prostitution will finally be made illegal and binding arbitration for teachers contracts might make a midnight appearance on the State House floor, but rather whether the tax code would be restructured to improve the business environment of the state and legislators would be explicitly barred from selling their votes.

One can dream on a rainy autumn day...

RE: Medicare Fraud

Marc Comtois

I referenced a 60 Minutes report on Medicare fraud earlier this week. Mark Hemingway adds some additional context:

Medicare fraud amounts to $60 billion dollars a year. That is one heck of a lot of money. In fact, Medicare loses seven times as much money in fraud every year than the combined profits of the 14 health insurance companies on the Fortune 500. Medicare currently covers 46 million people. How much more money will be lost to fraud when an additional 88 million people are dumped off of employer health insurance rolls in favor of a public option?

And remember, one of the primary reasons that the public option is supposedly better than private insurance is low administrative costs. Well, a major reason why private insurance has higher administrative costs is that, unlike the federal government, they make a genuine effort to combat fraud.

A Fantasy of Practicality

Justin Katz

Comments Joe Bernstein to a post on prostitution:

If everyone can just stop the morality arguments for two minutes, and think of the practical results,something should be apparent.

I like less wasteful government spending. I think most people on this blog would agree.

Incarcerating women who engage in off-street prostitution is very expensive.It takes prison space that could be better used for dangerous individuals.The state will,in many cases,be put on the hook financially to support the children of incarcerated women.

If you're conservative,this doesn't make a lot of sense for a "crime" that is non violent in nature, and please spare me the crap about spreading STD's. STD's are mainly spread by ordinary people being careless.Most prostitutes who aren't servicing drive up traffic on the street take precautions.

This is very similar to the ridiculous mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.The prison is jammed with long term inmates who don't pose a great danger to the general public.Drug dealer one never made a living for a minute without hordes of willing customers.If anyone here could've spent the nine years in narcotics enforcement that I did,they'd likely reach the same conclusion.

Meanwhile,sexual predators including pedophiles,manage to get released in too little time.THOSE are the people I'm willing to see my tax dollars spent on to keep locked down until they're too old to function.

I'm not here on earth to preach to anyone else about what sin they commit by engaging in a behavior that is looked down upon by a lot of people.I'm way too burdened by my own shortcomings for that.

My attitude is that the government should spend money and time on tracking down and neutralizing those people who commit violent offenses and serious property crime.

By the way,my previous comments on drug offenders related to people on the lower end of the spectrum.Major traffickers are indeed dangerous to society,prticularly when they resort to frequent violence to achieve their ends.

The first thing to note is that the post to which Joe appended his comment did not make a moral argument, but a practical one — namely, that Rhode Island's approval of prostitution on practical grounds will not create a firewall at our border making the business fundamentally different here than it is everywhere else. There's a tendency in modern discourse to disregard the practical points of those who also promote morality, as if the former must be post facto scampering to layer an illusion of a considered opinion. The paradoxical effect can be the assumption that the immoral must be practical.

Whatever the case, because he did not address it, my argument applies as well to Joe's comment: Making prostitution explicitly legal in Rhode Island will not cleanse the sex industry of its objectionable — and publicly expensive — elements. Rather, it will make Rhode Island a hub, a home base, for an industry that is illicit everywhere else and therefore habitually corrupt. A business that is built on bribes and political corruption in every other state will not resemble a mom and pop grocer just because it exists five minutes from a border between legality and illegality.

Moreover, sexual license at this degree, and of this degree of uniqueness, tends to lump together. People with sexual dysfunctions — especially in the extreme, like sexual predators — will have a natural affinity for a state in which prostitution is legal. Especially when another of that state's iniquitous "loopholes" allows them to remain anonymous for longer than they should be able. It's no mere coincidence, I'd suggest, that Rhode Island happens to be home to both policies.

Perhaps we should coin the term "fallacy of practicality" — or perhaps "fantasy" would be better. The notion that the sorts of people who are willing to engage in child sexual slavery will find Rhode Island's acceptance of prostitution to be a hindrance rather than a boon is ludicrous. Our state, for example, was not included in a federal sting that is rescuing children from such a condition because slavery is legal, here. If anything, plucking an illegal version of an activity from the midst of a legal industry will require more extensive investigation.

That's not to mention the additional costs that our being a beacon for the nation's seedier elements will entail. Some of the costs will be in direct public safety, some in social spending, and then there will be the intangible cost to families and their children. Frankly, for all families' willingness to endure the slings and arrows of Rhode Island's misfortunes, the sex industry's setting up shop in Little Rhody could be the final message that our little coastal playground for the rich and the corrupt is not intended to be a family friendly location. As the economy improves everywhere else but here, the growth of the sex trade in the state will certainly be added to my "why we should leave" list.

Prostitution can be made illegal without requiring that all women caught selling their bodies be thrown in prison. Unfortunately, the people who might put pressure on forthcoming legislation to mitigate that aspect are so enamored of the idea that they could take a principled stand despite moral reservations that they're requiring the decision to be legal versus illegal. Rhode Islanders who are practical, moral, or both should support the "illegal" option and then advocate for compassion and thrift in the application of the law.

October 27, 2009

Michael Morse: Mutual Aid: A Simple Start to Regionalization

Engaged Citizen

We are taught at an early age to call 911 in case of an emergency. People’s perception of what an emergency is may differ, but one fact does not; we expect our calls to be answered expediently. Fire departments handle most 911 calls in our area. Those departments pride themselves on a speedy response to calls from the community. When the bell tips at a fire station, everything stops, personnel drop whatever they are doing and hit the apparatus floor. Meals go cold, showers stopped half taken, cleaning and maintenance jobs are not finished. Those things can wait. Nothing matters but the call. Within thirty seconds, the trucks hit the street. People know that help is on the way. They assume the closest units are answering their calls, and they are correct in that assumption. What they may not be aware of is how far the closest unit actually is.

Providence Mayor David Cicilline recently proposed legislation aimed at clearing potential hurdles in the way toward regionalization of city departments. In a carefully worded statement, he cites the need to maintain services and cut costs in difficult economic conditions. Planning for regionalization would not begin in earnest until legislation is passed, the Mayor stated.

North Providence’s Mayor Lombardi notes that the closest responders are not always the ones that are sent, due to jurisdictional complications. Our elected leaders have begun the process of considering consolidation of our emergency response departments. Consider how many years the consideration will take before any progress is made.

A good place to begin consolidating emergency service organizations in and around the Capitol City is to expand existing mutual aid agreements. An automatic dispatch of the closest unit makes sense. The logistics of doing so will be a difficult, but far from impossible task. All considering could be done quickly, and a plan could be put in place within months, not years.
On any given day the cities of Providence, Pawtucket, Cranston, East Providence, North Providence, Johnston and Central Falls provide mutual aid to each other, mostly in the emergency medical services departments. As the system currently works, a municipality must drain all of it’s resources before another town can be called for help. People who live on or near town lines are particularly at risk. If a life threatening emergency occurs, they could, and often do wait for an advanced life support vehicle to arrive from the other end of the town or city while a rescue from the next town sits in the bay, in service, a few blocks away waiting for a call from inside the borders of their own city.

Because of the population’s increased use of 911 for routine medical problems, urban municipalities cannot keep up with the demand for emergency services. It is an ebb and flow system, one on the brink of collapse on a daily basis. Meeting the needs of every caller would bankrupt most municipal budgets.

Presently, each city or town is responsible for providing coverage inside it’s own border. Some stations were built “close to the line,” prior to the construction of major highways. It was a different world when these places were built, the planners of those long gone days had different problems to consider, different political alliances to placate and a completely different landscape.

Without scrapping the current system and implementing better policy regarding the dispatch of emergency resources, cities and town departments must rely on each other. An ultimate goal of consolidating these departments is desirable, but in reality is decades away. Consolidation based on need already happens on the street level, and with few exceptions runs smoothly.

An automatic mutual aid system and agreement will greatly increase the effectiveness of our public safety departments. Mayors and town managers will be forced to work together to make a system badly in need of repair more efficient. The opportunity for grandstanding will be taken away, political gain would be nil, and simple, good governance shown to be an effective tool in bettering the lives of the citizens by providing quicker emergency response to whatever needs may arise. It is the response times that need improvement, and automatic mutual aid will help save lives.

Michael Morse is a Providence EMT and firefighter and writes a blog, "Rescuing Providence".

Did You Know That the Archbishop of New York Has a Blog…

Carroll Andrew Morse

…and that he’s not happy with Rhode Island First District Congressman Patrick Kennedy

Over this past weekend, several people mentioned to me Representative Patrick Kennedy’s blast at bishops for allegedly dividing the nation on the issue of healthcare….His remarks were sad, uncalled-for, and inaccurate.

The Catholic community in the United States hardly needs to be lectured to about just healthcare. We’ve been energetically into it for centuries. And we bishops have been advocating for universal healthcare for a long, long time.

All we ask is that it be just that -- universal -- meaning that it includes the helpless baby in the womb, the immigrant, and grandma in a hospice, and that it protects a healthcare provider’s right to follow his/her own conscience.

Anti-Prostitution Bill Passes House Judiciary Committee

Carroll Andrew Morse

If I heard the roll properly on Capitol TV, Segal, Ajello and Driver were the only votes against.

Encouraging Signs from a New Guy

Justin Katz

Well, he's a Democrat and a lawyer, which means he's got two strikes against him, but Scott Pollard (D., Coventry, Foster, Glocester) counterbalances with a dozen good ideas on saving Rhode Island. Here's the first:

Problem: Rhode Island's tax structure is not business- or citizen-friendly, which harms the state's reputation and potential for growth.

Solution: In one painful yank, eliminate the entire Rhode Island tax code, except the flat-tax option, and replace it. We should adopt a tax code similar to that of Virginia, Alabama or New Hampshire. These are states heralded for growth. The substantive change, in conjunction with the perception of such a massive shift, would do wonders for our state's future.

He should run for speaker... if only to trumpet his message.

All You Can Do is Just Shake Your Head...

Marc Comtois

...at stories like this, about the Providence woman who stabbed the father of her son to death. The short version is that 14 years ago a 15 year old boy was statutorily raped by a woman 10 years his senior. She bore him the first of many children by multiple baby-mamas. Two weeks after the birth of their child, the troubled youth threatened his son's mother, so she put a restraining order on him. Yet, they eventually reconciled and she even took it upon herself to care for his children by other mothers (whom he also beat). Several charges were filed and dropped. Finally, it came to a head and the rapist stabbed the serial woman-beater to death.

There are no winners. Not the beater, not the rapist, not the kids, not the other baby mamas. And not the taxpayers who continue to support this unaccountable sub-culture, which helps the victims less than it does the politicians and bureaucrats and advocates who feed off the programs purported to help. So we're left to shake our heads and throw our hands in the air. Is there a solution? I don't know. But how can we ever hope to "fix" society when we maintain the current lax environment of moral enablement and mitigate, if not unintentionally reward, bad decisions while people are allowed to get away with, well,.... murder?

A Lesson We've Unlearned

Justin Katz

Given recent events, I found it difficult not to sigh and worry upon reading this parenthetical note from Paul Lettow's review of Nicholas Thompson's book about two early American Cold War strategists:

(Thompson helpfully quotes a later reflection from Andrei Sakharov that the Soviets would have perceived any U.S. refusal to pursue the hydrogen bomb as either a trap or a "manifestation of stupidity and weakness.")

Can there be any doubt that future reflections will reveal a perception of just such a manifestation in the current administration? The years ahead could be perilous, indeed.

Profiting from Confusion

Marc Comtois

As Justin warily explained, we're about to witness two fun-packed days of legislative confusion--at least to outsiders. For, as Lt. Holden said in Operation Petticoat, "In confusion, there is profit." Just so. The line was uttered at a point in the movie when the submarine aboard which Holden served as the supply officer was in port during an air raid. While the bombs dropped and the average sailors and grunts scurried about, Curtis led a detachment of men to the warehouse to commandeer items required to repair his vessel. And now, while average Rhode Islanders practice "duck and cover" during this economic air raid, our legislators will be taking advantage of the distraction to implement all sorts of pet causes. We all live in a pink submarine.

The Method Is the Message, in RI Recovery

Justin Katz

Reviewing a recent RIPEC study (PDF), Brian Hull pulls back from the most relevant question:

When we look at the 2007 Per Capita Personal Income for RI, MA and CT we find the following: Rhode Island is $39,829, far less than Massachusetts ($48,995) and Connecticut ($54,981). The per capita personal income of MA is a little more than 23% than that of RI. Likewise, the PCPI of CT is 38% more than RI. With these numbers, it's easy to see why general expenditures per $1,000 of PI is higher in RI than in MA and CT. There are fewer "$1,000s of personal income" here to support the government's expenditures.

Does this make the expenditures more expensive, or even less necessary? No. It just means that, as a society, we earn less money than our neighbors to fund these services. All things being equal, if we raised the per capita personal income in the state, then the spending per $1,000 of personal income would decrease. We should aim for that!

An interesting tidbit of information that I learned from Tom Sgouros, in his book "Ten Things You Don't Know about Rhode Island," is that blue-collar, working-class jobs in the state pay much less than comparable jobs in MA and CT. This is in contrast to the relative equivalent salaries earned by professional, white-collar jobs (even though RI still earns a little less). And this helps explain why RI earns less, but that's a discussion for another day.

His heavy reliance on Tom Sgouros notwithstanding, Hull presumably does not buy into the idea that our problems require the reduction of spending through consolidation and the like. After all, consolidation, of itself, will not prime the job-creation machine, and it will not bring Rhode Island salaries up to the levels of our neighboring state. It is not, in other words, the reason that Rhode Island fares so much more poorly than the states by which we're engulfed. Since the problem is too few $1,000s — not who holds them — the answer cannot be that our tax structure doesn't take enough from the rich (which is nonsense, anyway).

If he asks the right questions, Hull may be dangerously close to agreement with we who believe that Rhode Island's government must get out of the way of its economy. Schemes that allow for continued regulations and mandates and wealth redistribution will fail. Have failed. We cannot mandate that people have more money. We have to allow them to make it.

Mischief on the Hill

Justin Katz

This is not encouraging:

[Rhode Island's] Legislative leaders have scheduled hearings or floor votes for 196 individual proposals between Tuesday afternoon and Thursday night. And that number is expected to grow. ...

The scope of the agenda apparently surprised several political observers.

"I thought it was going to be more targeted," said John Marion, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause. "It seems like they're going to try to finish the bulk of what was left on the table the morning of June 27." ...

Legislative leaders have suspended the rules, which normally require 48-hour notice of all committee and floor action. That means committee hearings can now be held with a few minutes notice in unusual places, such as State House balconies and hallways, just as has happened in the final days of recent Assembly sessions.

No explanation has been given for the sense of urgency, strongly suggesting a desire to exchange political capital (whatever the effects on the state) while Rhode Islanders are distracted by an activity-rich holiday (parties, trick-or-treating, scary movie marathons, etc.). The possible allusions for a quick strike done in the autumn shadows are too plentiful to require my choice of one; readers should pick their own favorite.

The governor should prepare to wield his veto pen like a glowing holy artifact.

October 26, 2009

If GM and Chrysler Don’t Make It, Well That Was the Plan All Along

Carroll Andrew Morse

Remember those big auto bailouts? Did you know they were never really intended to save Chrysler or GM? At least that’s what Newsweek Senior Editor Dainel Gross says (h/t Mickey Kaus)…

By the time the government got there, the companies had essentially failed. A year ago, the choice facing the bondholders, shareholders, and executives of GM, Chrysler, Citigroup, and, to a lesser degree, Bank of America, wasn't between accepting government help or accepting the offer of other suitors; it was between Washington, D.C., and liquidation....Sure, there was brave talk of reviving these once-proud brands and returning them to their rightful place in the pantheon of American corporations. But from the outset, I've believed that the interventions were simply efforts to delay liquidation rather than to avert it altogether, to provide a breathing space in which managers could find homes for valuable assets (other companies) and find chumps to absorb the losses from bad decisions (that would be the taxpayers)....

It's frustrating for taxpayers that the banks and car companies in which they have stakes aren't performing better. But Washington isn't to blame for the change in the competitive landscape. The struggling companies we now own are taking losses because, for years, they engaged in the types of business practices that cause businesses in their industries to lose market share and rack up losses—and to seek government help.

Apparently, Gross’ sources aren’t betting on GM or Chrysler becoming profitable again, ever. And the bankruptcy of a government-owned manufacturer, the event that will bring an unevadable public challenge to progressive economic ideas of more government and more spending being solutions to everything, continues to draw closer and closer…

Rhode Island as Prostitution Satellite

Justin Katz

You may have noticed that "a compromise bill" has emerged on the prostitution issue that may actually have a shot at passage, this week. In response, A largely anonymous Web site (with the exception of Marc Doughty), Citizens Against Criminalization, has gone live (notably named in parallel fashion to Donna Hughes's Citizens Against Trafficking).

Look, I'm not without sympathy for the libertarian argument, on this one, honestly, but I don't believe the sale of sex to be a right. That is, a state is within bounds to make such financial transactions illegal, and I support doing so for cultural reasons, but even more so for the image and society that Rhode Island will build by explicitly accepting the whore trade. Since illegality is the case pretty much from sea to shining sea, across the United States, this argument, from the anti-criminalization site's FAQ is pretty much negated:

Q. What about organized crime? I heard that these places are run by the mafia. A. Surely one would come to this conclusion if one visited other parts of the country. Luckily, because sex work is not illegal in Rhode Island, nobody needs to be 'paid off' in order to carry on business below the radar of the authorities. Organized crime has no place and no purpose when business is carried out legally, as it is in Rhode Island. Investigations into Rhode Island's spas by law enforcement have showed no evidence of corruption.

Rhode Island simply won't become a beacon of a "clean" sex industry simply because within its very narrow borders the transactions can be conducted openly. We will become the Prostitution State, and the social implications of that status will be defined by the illegality of prostitution everywhere else. "Legitimate" businesses aren't going to isolate themselves from the criminal enterprises elsewhere (even if they set up some degree of technical insulation).

Preemptive Support for Evaluations

Justin Katz

Is it too cynical to be suspicious of union enthusiasm to develop evaluation standards for teachers?

The Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals has received a $200,000 national grant to develop a much more demanding method of evaluating and mentoring new teachers. The union will work closely with four urban school districts: Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls and Woonsocket.

"The union is tired of being portrayed as a protector of bad teachers," said union president Marcia Reback. "We have no interest in having incompetent teachers in our classrooms. We want to have good, rigorous, substantial evaluations."...

The peer-evaluation system would work as follows: a consulting teacher would observe, evaluate and mentor between 8 and 10 novice teachers over the course of a year. In the spring, the consulting teacher would recommend whether the new teacher should be awarded an additional contract. A board comprising administrators and union representatives would make its recommendation to the superintendent, who, in turn, would offer advice to the local school committee.

So a group of union reps and administrators (often previous members of the union) translate a union member's review of another union member to the superintendent, who brings it to the elected representatives on the school committee. Sounds like an attempt to derail evaluations that would involve more stakeholders, such as students, parents, and taxpayers, at a more fundamental level.

It always rankles, by the way, to hear union executives talk about "our classrooms." Perhaps public clarification of ownership is in order.

Interesting Anecdote from Steyn

Justin Katz

Mark Steyn tells a tale of two bridges:

A few weeks back I mentioned a couple of bridges in a neighboring town of mine, both on dirt roads serving maybe a dozen houses. Bridge A: The town was prevailed upon to apply for some state/town 80/20 funding plan, which morphed under the stimulus into some fed/state 60/40 funding plan. Current estimated cost: $655,000. The town's on the hook for 20 per cent of the state's 40 per cent — or $52,400. There's no estimated year of completion, or even of commencement, and the temporary bridge the town threw up has worn out.

Bridge B: Following their experience with Bridge A, the town replaced this one themselves, in a matter of weeks. Total cost: $30,000.

Government is simple provided two conditions are met: You do it locally, and you do it without unions.

The higher the level of government, the more unnecessary burdens other people can manage to assert as requirements for conducting business. Steyn goes on to describe a program costing nearly a half-million dollars intended to assist the State Library of Illinois in educating employees about "'social networking' tools such as Facebook and Blogger." $420,000 could buy quite a comprehensive user manual. Perhaps the government could save a few bucks by recruiting authors from some local middle schools.

Medicare Fraud: "They would pay first and send an auditor later. "

Marc Comtois

Proponents of the "public option" like to point to MediCare. It ain't the panacea they say, as 60 Minutes reported:

President Obama says rising costs are driving huge federal budget deficits that imperil our future, and that there is enough waste and fraud in the system to pay for health care reform if it was eliminated.

At the center of both issues is Medicare, the government insurance program that provides health care to 46 million elderly and disabled Americans. But it also provides a rich and steady income stream for criminals who are constantly finding new ways to steal a sizable chunk of the half trillion dollars that are paid out each year in Medicare benefits.

In fact, Medicare fraud - estimated now to total about $60 billion a year - has become one of, if not the most profitable, crimes in America.

An example:
Once criminals like Tony get their hands on usable patient numbers, they try and charge Medicare for the most expensive equipment possible, which requires having access to a list of Medicare codes.

Asked what some of the best codes were, Tony told Kroft, "Artificial limbs, electric arms, electric wheelchairs. I mean, a regular patient, you can put them on two artificial legs and an artificial arm and they'll pay for it."

And that's what happened to former Federal Judge Ed Davis. He was one of those patients who started getting charges on his Medicare statement for artificial limbs.

"And I looked at it and it had charges for prosthesis. And I knew I had my arms," Judge Davis explained.

Though he has two healthy arms, his statement showed Medicare had been billed for a left and a right arm.

"Didn't anybody in Medicare check to see if any of these charges were valid?" Kroft asked Tony.

"Sometimes they'll do it. But by the time they did it, it was too late," Tony said. "We've already made $300,000, $400,000, $500,000 on it. And then we will never send 'em nothing back. And then at 30 days they'll send an inspector to your office. And by that time…it's all closed down."

They would pay first and send an auditor later.

How could this happen?
Kim Brandt, Medicare's director of program integrity...[said] "Well, it really does come down to the size and scope of the Medicare program, and the resources that are dedicated to oversight and anti fraud work. One of our biggest challenges has been that we have a program that pays out over a billion claims a year, over $430 billion, and our oversight budget has been extremely limited," Brandt said.

About that there is little dispute: Medicare has just three field inspectors in all of South Florida to check up on thousands of questionable medical equipment companies.

"Clearly more auditing needs to be done and it needs to be done in real time," Attorney General Eric Holder said.

Asked why it has taken Medicare so long to figure out they were being scammed, Holder told Kroft, "I think lack of resources probably. And then I think people I don't think necessarily thought that something as well intentioned as Medicare and Medicaid would necessarily attract fraudsters. But I think we have to understand that it certainly has." {emphasis added}

That statement by Holder is about as naive as it gets.

What's Ailing RI?

Justin Katz

John Kostrzewa's description of Hasbro Chairman Alfred Verrecchia's speech at the recent dinner hosted by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council brings to mind a few questions:

"Unless we change the way we do work we will not achieve long-term sustainable cost reduction nor will we eliminate the structural budget deficit and be able to provide a more competitive and stable tax environment," he said. "... We can't afford to have 39 fire, police and public works departments; we can't afford to have 36 school districts. We need to consolidate the backroom activity of government at both the state and municipal level."

Presumably, Rhode Island once had a stable economy and a sustainable public budget; did it have fewer towns and school districts, then? On the matter of structural budget deficits, does Verrecchia have evidence that consolidation would save towns — some of whose total budgets are only in the tens of millions — the hundreds of millions that the state's budget is perpetually lacking?

Lastly, would consolidation solve this problem, enunciated by Ed Mazze, or would solving this problem be more likely to end the structural deficit?

In Rhode Island, there is a high underemployment rate since virtually no jobs have been created since late 2007. Some of the underemployed remain in Rhode Island rather than look for jobs in other states because their spouses have good jobs and they want to focus on their children, the family or other personal matters. Presently, the average time it takes to find a job is longer than the time unemployment benefits are paid.

The whole consolidation thing seems faddish to me, and I don't see how it saves sufficient money or resolves Rhode Island's manifold problems.

October 25, 2009

Kennedy's Got a Friend at the Projo

Justin Katz

It's a small thing, really, but curious to note: The Providence Journal's "In Quotes: The Week That Was" section touches on Patrick Kennedy's attack on the Catholic Church and Bishop Thomas Tobin's reply, but it puts the bishop's call for an apology first and then doesn't quote the more aggressive line from Kennedy's interview.

"If the church is pro-life, then they ought to be for health-care reform" is unduly political, but not really offensive. By contrast, declaring the Church's insistence that federal healthcare dollars not fund abortion to be dishonest (i.e., "a red herring") and contributory to civic violence (i.e., fanning "the flames of dissent and discord") does justify a call for apology.

As I said: curious. But then, we already knew that Patches has a friend at the Projo.

Send the State to the Dump and Rebuild

Justin Katz

Some explanation may lie with the crappy discount coffee that I bought in a pinch at CVS, Friday night. I'd forgotten to pick up my usual brew on the way home, and because the cold snap and the replacement of heavy winter socks in my work-clothes dresser bring the threat of rapid defeat in my battle against athlete's foot, I was headed to the pharmacy, anyway. Difficulty walking comes at a steep price, for a carpenter, so financial considerations no longer justify forgoing the weapon of prescription cream, as I have for some months. In other words, since I was splurging for medicine, I thought to compensate by scrimping on addiction.

A mild bug may also be to blame, but inasmuch as I've no other symptoms of illness, the bad-tasting coffee certainly comes under suspicion for my feeling of mild disorientation — as if I'd spent the previous night drinking alcohol in an amount just shy of that which produces a hangover.

Some explanation must also derive from this week's payment of the bills, or (more accurately) non-payment of the bills. It looks like some additional conveniences, such as cell-phone Internet access, will have to give way, this week, blog-efforts notwithstanding. The mortgage payment hovers just out of reach, and the fact that it's missed the arbitrary deadline means that roughly three hours of my hard-earned pay will evaporate in fees again this month. Fortunately, I've a jar full of pennies from which to draw resources for a stamp to send an obligatory auto insurance payment.

Which all contributes to my utter lack of sympathy for anybody associated with the story of Nathan Hannon, who, by Mike Stanton's telling in the Providence Journal, is another dirt-bag who's been bilking the state by not doing the work that he'd claimed to be doing as (get this) a $45,000-per-year "education coordinator" for the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation. He was a teacher at the dump, who appears to have taken credit for off-site educational presentations that never happened:

Of 27 instances in which Hannon filed paperwork for mileage reimbursement, The Journal could only confirm three trips: he went to the Blackstone Valley Charter School in June and West Warwick High School in July and dropped off educational materials to a woman affiliated with the South Providence Youth Ministries in June.

But he didn't go to the South Providence Youth Ministries for presentations in July and August, as he reported, officials there say. Those were among at least 17 appointments that people say didn't happen. At the remaining seven places, two could not be reached and the others said they could not confirm or did not recall his visiting.

What Hannon might have done to accumulate the mileage for which he submitted reimbursement claims is an open question. Perhaps his significant other, "former [RI] senator and top Senate aide who is now a Rhode Island traffic-court judge" David Cruise has some idea. (According to the judiciary's Web site, by the way, Cruise's actual title is "administrative magistrate," which means that his path to a six-figure job in the judiciary was different than that taken by a judge; then– Chief Justice Frank "Chiefy" Williams nominated the lifelong political actor to the court, and the Senate confirmed him.) Perhaps Senate Majority Leader Daniel Connors — who walked a mile and a half to the home of Hannon and Cruise after crashing his brother's car in the middle of the night after a fundraiser, back in 2004 — could make inquiry now that his schedule is clear of the string-pulling that he appears to have been doing behind the scenes to ensure that Hannon is eligible for unemployment payments.

What is less and less in question is whether it's worthwhile for residents to continue supporting a government structure that makes of the state a playground for political insiders. Somehow, our discount-brand representatives leave the rest of us feeling disoriented and hung over while they pass around the cup of patronage.

When the state gets around to hiring another garbage education director, we can ask him or her whether it's possible to recycle that which is thoroughly rotten, but it seems to me that we should just throw the government in the trash and start from scratch.

Re: A Constitutional Glitch in the Ciccone Consolidation Bill?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Monique points out that the state Constitution has to be considered in any plans to "consolidate" or "regionalize" Rhode Island's cities and towns. And a direct reading of the first 4 sections of Article XIII of the Rhode Island Constitution certainly seems to rule out the top-down pile-driver consolidation recently proposed by Senator Frank Ciccone, unless a major set of Amendments are first approved by the voters…

Section 1: Intent of article. -- It is the intention of this article to grant and confirm to the people of every city and town in this state the right of self government in all local matters.

Section 2: Local legislative powers. -- Every city and town shall have the power at any time to adopt a charter, amend its charter, enact and amend local laws relating to its property, affairs and government not inconsistent with this constitution and laws enacted by the general assembly in conformity with the powers reserved to the general assembly.

Section 3: Local legislative bodies. -- Notwithstanding anything contained in this article, every city and town shall have a legislative body composed of one or two branches elected by vote of its qualified electors.

Section 4: Powers of general assembly over cities and towns. -- The general assembly shall have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs and government of any city or town by general laws which shall apply alike to all cities and towns, but which shall not affect the form of government of any city or town. The general assembly shall also have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs and government of a particular city or town provided that such legislative action shall become effective only upon approval by a majority of the qualified electors of the said city or town voting at a general or special election, except that in the case of acts involving the imposition of a tax or the expenditure of money by a town the same shall provide for the submission thereof to those electors in said town qualified to vote upon a proposition to impose a tax or for the expenditure of money.

Section 2 quite clearly denies the General Assembly the power to eliminate home-rule charters. Section 3 says every city or town gets to have a city or town council of its own. Then -- most importantly for this discussion -- the final clause of the first sentence of Section 4 says the General Assembly can't act to change the form of government in any city or town, preventing (among other things) any end-runs around Sections 2 & 3 by changing the definition of city and town through statute alone.

However, there's nothing in the state constitution regarding cities and towns, similar to the provision in the Federal Constitution that says "equal representation in the Senate cannot be changed, even through an amendment", that prevents Amendments being adopted that would allow for county-level governance. Perhaps an Amendment to the state Constitution that says no regionalizing a city or town, without the consent of "a majority of the qualified electors of the said city or town voting at a general or special election" should be considered. Nick Gorham could make such an Amendment the centerpiece of a campaign for the statehouse in 2010, depending on the position of the current state Rep in his district on the Ciccone plan…

White House Acknowledges Economic Reality?

Justin Katz

Well, here's a surprising admission:

Christina Romer, the chair of President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, said the initial jolt of the $787 billion stimulus expanded the economy in the second and third quarters of this year. But she said the remaining spending will simply keep the economy from slipping.

In other words, shoving money into the economy expanded it to fit the new dollars, and that spurt must become a constant flow in order to maintain the size of the economy. Of course, to the extent that the new money was borrowed, it will have to be repaid out of the economy (with interest), and to the extent that the new money was printed, it will deflate in value.

The sooner we let the economy return to an unstimulated state, the less the bill will be when it comes due. The economy should be encouraged, through policy changes, to grow on its own.

October 24, 2009

A Constitutional Glitch in the Ciccone Consolidation Bill?

Monique Chartier

Andrew brings to our attention Senator Frank Ciccone's pile driver consolidation bill, enumerating the ways that this is a bad idea and adding some shrewd speculation about the (possibly calculated) existential threat that the bill poses to the Mayor's office of North Providence, a position currently occupied, it would seem, by a trouble-maker obsessed with stabilizing local taxes.

Part of the senator's consolidation proposal would involve passage of a separate bill eliminating Rhode Island's home rule charters, thereby returning all such power, including the power to tax and spend on the local level, to state government.

Now, Rhode Island's current home rule charters came to exist at a Constitutional Convention in 1951. So how could they be revoked simply by an act of the General Assembly? Wouldn't it take another Constitutional Convention to accomplish this dramatic change to the structure of Rhode Island government?

No Easy and Safe Options

Justin Katz

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton's assessment of the options available to the United States in dealing with Iran's drive for nuclear weapons ought to be absorbed and addressed by those on any side of the debate:

Sad to say, Obama's Iran policy is not much different from that of George W. Bush in his second term. Relying on multilateral negotiations (the Perm Five-plus-one mechanism), resorting to sanctions (three Security Council resolutions), and shying away from the use of force are all attributes inherited directly from Bush. Bush's policy failed to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions, and Obama's will fail no less, leading to an Iran with nuclear weapons.

The issue now, however, is not this bipartisan history of failure, but what to do next. The Qom disclosure only highlights just how limited, risky, and unattractive are the four basic options: allow Iran to become a nuclear power; use diplomacy and sanctions to try to avert that outcome; remove the regime in Tehran and install one that renounces nuclear weapons; or use preemptive military force to break Iran's nuclear program.

In practical terms, the options boil down to two: tolerate a nuclear Iran or pursue regime change. In brief, I favor a military strike — a NATO-type venture in an ideal, although fantasy, world; a green-lighted Israeli effort in all likelihood — to provide time for the West to encourage internally motivated regime change, in part leveraging the apparent progress of Iraq.

Okay, I'll Bite

Justin Katz

Presumably, Pat Crowley — by his strenuous logical standards — would also believe that we needn't listen to pacifists, or even military minimalists, were we to consider dropping a nuclear bomb on Iran:

Look, if the answer is you simply don't believe teachers have the right to collectively bargain, I wish you would stop beating around the bush and just say it. If so...fine, then there is no need to debate the merits of binding arbitration with you. We can simply move on.

Yes, teachers should have a right to bargain as a collective, but individual teachers should have a right to bargain as individuals, and districts should have a right to construct the policies that will best serve their students and their communities. The unionist might object that the collective couldn't function without including every potential employee, that giving management an alternative would decrease the union's leverage, but we're talking rights, here, not the policies that most benefit labor organizations.

Personally, I believe that unions have become a cesspool of stultifying principles, metastasizing humanity's baser motivations and producing an hospitable environment for evil. I'd further decry the extent to which they tend to weigh public discourse down to the level of reasoning that Crowley exhibits in the linked post (and to which his boss, Bob Walsh, disappointingly gave voice in multiple appearances on WPRO, yesterday).

Only within the acrid womb of such a beast as a public-sector labor union could one be so immune to objectivity as to believe that all statements are necessarily cynical ploys that may be dismissed based on the underlying assumptions of the orator. The bottom line is that binding arbitration will have particular effects on contracts and therefore on municipal and state budgets. The National Education Association of Rhode Island desires those effects. Various allied citizen groups do not. Those who are not yet convinced, either way, should observe the debate and seek what makes sense to them in the exchange.

October 23, 2009

A Gadget for the Times

Monique Chartier

Several years ago, in the course of antique/curio shopping, I picked up a coin counter. (Note that despite its slightly old fashioned look and manual operation, the attendant zero carbon emissions makes it environmentally au courant.)

Last night, I pulled it out, along with a couple of containers of coins, and began absent-mindly dividing, loading and rolling. (This is not to say that the economic policies of the current presidential administration have placed me in financial straits necessitating a dip into coin assets. That is presumably still to come as the Pay Czar gets around to identifying, one by one, the financial connection of every job in America to the federal government, thus establishing his right to set the salary cap thereof.)

Only several rolls later did I turn the base around and noticed the phrase along the bottom ...


Kennedy and Obama vs. Catholic Church and Fox

Justin Katz

Something's been gnawing at me since Andrew posted video of Congressman Patrick Kennedy proving once again why we should all hope his handlers keep him well away from any real power, and it took a revistation of Ed Achorn's concern about the Obama administration's jihad against Fox News to jar the pest loose. Here's Achorn:

The White House's declaration of enemy status for Fox seems to reflect a growing disrespect throughout our society for free speech, the wellspring of America's greatness and generous spirit. A president of all Americans, even those who disagree with him, should have the grace and bigness to realize that.

Ominously, growing numbers of Americans seem to think that it is illegitimate for anyone to have an opinion at variance with their own. And that those who disagree — or would report facts that challenge their viewpoint — become a fit target for retaliation, punishment, abuse, even the coward's art of slander.

Kennedy's dismissing the Church's easily foreseeable objection to the probability that the Democrats' version of healthcare reform will fund abortions as a "red herring," and his declaration that the bishops are sowing "dissent and discord" is precisely in the line of Achorn's criticism.

Gist: No More Seniority-Based Teacher Hiring

Marc Comtois

Rhode Island Education Commisioner Deborah Gist has quickly become a breath of fresh air, indeed (via 7to7):

Dropping a bombshell on Rhode Island's teacher unions, state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist announced Friday that districts must abolish seniority as a method of assigning teachers.

Gist, in a letter to all superintendents Thursday, said the Board of Regents' new Basic Education Plan, which takes effect in July 2010, requires that highly effective educators work with students who have significant achievement gaps.

"In my view," she wrote in a press release, "no system that bases teacher assignments solely on seniority can comply with this new regulation."

The state has 12,000 public school teachers who are represented by one of two unions, the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Care Professionals or the National Education Association, Rhode Island.

The Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Care Professionals has already promised to take Gist to court, claiming that she has exceeded her authority under state and federal law.

I think Gist is willing to fight them on that. No more seniority, pushing for higher teacher standards, taking a hands-on approach....Gist has been impressive so far.

UPDATE: Gist talked to Dan Yorke and explained that this is not a "bomb" and she is doing nothing more than explaining an aspect of the Basic Education Plan that everyone should have realized. Further, she thought it unfortunate that union leaders were trying to use it as a wedge issue between herself and teachers. (Incidentally, lest we forget, Gist was a teacher of the year....).

When Reform Doesn't Fix What's Wrong

Justin Katz

Firefighter and EMT Michael Morse, as he works to get his body back into occupational shape, reflects on the future of healthcare in a system that calls a city ambulance rather than permitting patients to take their cars to another building in the same medical campus:

... The medical community is as clueless as the rest of the population who abuse the 911 system on a daily basis. I can hardly wait for whatever healthcare reform comes out of Washington. Something tells me I'll be driving people to Physical Therapy appointments, at taxpayer expense.

And then what happens when the heathcare system planners work the cost of such transportation into the total cost of the therapy and begin denying treatment in some cases because the total expense is too high? I know, I know. It'll never happen. We can trust our government and its functionaries to be reasonable.

The Idea of "Consolidation" Takes Its Biggest Hit Yet, as Senator Frank Ciccone Enthusiastically Signs On

Carroll Andrew Morse

State Senator Frank Ciccone (D - North Providence/Providence/Anyone with a Monetary Interest in Dog Racing) has introduced a bill to implement about a strong as consolidation plan as is possible in Rhode Island -- abolishing all city and town governments in Rhode Island, replacing them with county-level government (h/t Brian Hull). To make sure that no uppity city or town tries to keep control of its own affairs, Senator Ciccone's package of legislation will include this little bit...

To allow the state to seamlessly transition into a county-type form of government, Senator Ciccone will also introduce a bill to eliminate all home rule charters- which allow cities and towns to adopt their own forms of government.
At the same time, the Senator wants to make the current legislature full-time but smaller...
Saying that Rhode Island needs a General Assembly comprised of legislators who answer solely to the people who elected them, he also plans to reintroduce legislation to establish a full-time legislature....

He also plans to introduce a bill to reduce the size of the General Assembly from 113 members to 75 members. Under his proposal, the House of Representatives would be reduced from 75 to 50 and the number of senators would decrease from 38 to 25.

Conclusion: Rhode Island's union Democrats are apparently so unhappy with officials in cities and towns who view high-levels of government spending as a problem that needs to be addressed, they want to eliminate the local self-governance structures that can produce results like the current East Providence school committee or Charles Lombardi as Mayor in North Providence, replacing them with a structure that maps more closely to the structure of the state legislature.

By the way, Senator Ciccone's district includes part of North Providence. Yes, the union-backed state Senator from North Providence wants to take out the Mayor of North Providence -- who has never been hesitant on multiple fronts to challenge his town's municipal unions. Draw your own conclusions about what's going on here.

Beyond the politics, for reasons that I outlined a few months ago, in response to former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino's six-region consolidation plan, I'm skeptical that dumb consolidation, i.e. top-down consolidation, imposed within legacy boundaries, can actually save much money without reducing the quality of public services in many places. Here's the example I used before...

The town of Foster still uses a volunteer firefighting force; how will a consolidated Providence address this issue going forward? Will residents of Former-Foster pay the same taxes as everyone else, but receive no municipal fire-service in return? Or will some kind of sub-jurisdiction be created, where Former-Foster residents pay a different tax rate and receive a different mix or services? And if the answer is the latter, by the time you have created the administrative structure capable of dealing with the variations in the different communities that get merged together, is it realistic to believe that the result is going to be any more efficient -- and less expensive -- than separate municipal governments?
How does the Ciccone plan deal with details like this -- beyond, of course, implementing standard the Obama-era progressive philosophy of giving more power to more remote units of government, then having them figure out the details later.

Turning back to politics for a final note: Without the intention of endorsing any particular opponent, but instead to show how popular Rep. Ciccone seems to be with his constituents, here are the results of the 2008 Democratic Primary in Senator Ciccone's district...

  • Frank A. CICCONE, III (DEM) 1114 54.8%
  • Catherine E. GRAZIANO (DEM) 920 45.2%
...in case anyone is thinking of mounting or supporting either a 2010 primary or a general election challenge in District 7 -- where a central question would be: people of North Providence, are you ready to have your town run out of Providence City Hall?

Congressman Kennedy Would Prefer Less Dissent from the Catholic Church on Abortion and Healthcare

Carroll Andrew Morse

CNS News has posted a video of an interview with Rhode Island First District Congressman Patrick Kennedy, where he says that the Catholic Church's opposition to including funding for abortion in healthcare reform plans "is an absolute red herring" that does nothing but "fan the flames of dissent and discord".

You have to start to wonder, is there any time ever that Congressman Kennedy believes that someone can reasonably dissent from his positions?

An Argument for the Second Amendment

Justin Katz

Sometimes news out of Europe suggests the possibility that another revolution may be coming, such as this story from England:

On Monday afternoon, the mother gave birth to a girl by Caesarean section.

And 28 hours later, social workers arrived at the maternity ward to take the baby into care, after serving child protection papers on the patents.

Yesterday morning, a meeting of the Children’s Panel of Dundee Council decided the three youngsters still living at home should also go into care.

They are expected to be removed from the family home before the end of the week.

The family called "social services" over one child's developmental problems, and the government turned around and imposed weight limits and exercise regimes. (A picture of the family shows them to be heavy, but hardly unbelievably so.)

As Mark Steyn notes, the children are being take based on social worker "fears" of what their future "might" entail, and measuring parents on a literal scale is not many steps removed from assessing them on other grounds. Unhealthy can be a state of mind, and if the government controls healthcare, and if (through the efforts of Congressman Patrick Kennedy) it defines and covers emotional and intellectual well being, bureaucrats and social workers might not see much difference between being overweight and being, say, religious.

I'll tell you this: Any social workers who come to take my children away had better come armed, and everybody who approved the decision on up the chain of command had better lock their doors. If this is the government's wing under which our society is preparing to nestle, it would be an act of patriotism — of moral imperative — to cut it off.

Taxes Aren't Mysterious; the Question Is Merely Who Pays

Justin Katz

Could be I'm missing something:

Governor Carcieri's administration director, Gary Sasse, gave a roomful of state senators a list of "two to three things" to do over the next few months as the state tries to climb out of its financial abyss. ...

The third was a variation on a key piece of an ambitious proposal to solve deficit-wracked California's budget crisis: lower the tax burden on the wealthy, repeal sales taxes and replace the corporate profits tax with a new levy pegged to business revenues. ...

According to information compiled by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, a business-backed research group, most states, including Rhode Island, have corporate income taxes that are levied against profits, defined as gross receipts minus expenses. Gross receipts taxes apply to all business revenues with few or no deductions. All transactions are taxed, including business-to-business purchases of supplies, raw materials and equipment.

Rhode Island has already taken a very small step by taxing public utilities (telecommunications, electric, gas) on their gross earnings; insurance companies on their gross premiums; and certain health-care providers on their gross revenues.

We all know that Rhode Island's business environment is the state's core problem (to which other central problems contribute, of course). Even if we assume that the untrustworthy state government of Rhode Island follows through with step 2 and eliminates other taxes, rather than just keeping the additional revenue, the gross receipts tax would essentially shift the tax burden to businesses.

Perhaps there would be a modest bump in perceptions of the state, but it would be founded on a gimmicky trick: Two of the ways in which businesses would adjust to the new tax would be to pass it on to consumers and decrease the salaries that it pays. With the principle that state government revenue must remain flat, all these changes can do is to transfer the burden, and in this case, it appears likely to take less from wealthy families and more from everybody else — especially the working and middle class families who are already hollowing out our society by emigrating.

Why waste waning political equity on this? As I said, I may be missing something, but as it stands there's a taint of benefiting upper class Rhode Islanders as an a priori consideration in the name of economic development.

The Scoop You May Have Missed from the Comments Section (or Corrente in the Running for Running with Moderate Party)

Carroll Andrew Morse

Before Steve Peoples of the Projo, or Tim White of WPRI-TV (CBS 12), or the Associated Press, commenter Mike Cappelli had it first…

Funny how things happen. I'm in line at a coffee shop this morning and a group of people are saying the Moderate Party candidate is Robert Corrente.
However, according to the WPRI story, potential candidate Corrente and the Moderate Party are far from sealing the deal…
Robert Corrente, the former federal prosecutor who made a name in fighting political corruption in Rhode Island, met this morning with members of the newly formed Moderate party for a potential run for governor…

[Moderate Party Executive Director Christine Hunsinger] tells Eyewitness News the party is in talks with “more than six people” for a potential bid for governor.
Corrente's possible entrance into the RI gubernatorial field was also noted in a web publication called Main Justice, which ended on this interesting paragraph…
Also of note is attorney Bob Healey Jr., who is running on the Cool Moose ticket. According to the party platform posted on Healey’s Web site, the Cool Moose party stands for “as limited a government intrusion into private life as possible.”
…raising the question of how many more candidates entering the race it would take to give Healey an actual shot at winning. (Note: According to a Projo news item from July, Healey says he's leaning against a gubernatorial bid).

October 22, 2009

Last Word on Smith... From Me... For Today

Justin Katz

Here's my bottom line: Under no circumstances will I support or vote for any Republican candidate who would enter the State House in any more mild a manner than with figurative guns blazing. It isn't sufficient to correctly identify the state's problems and offer a plan that would probably fix them. A candidate for governor must declare whose heads he or she will knock and whom he or she will chain to the ship so that they'll be sure to go down with it.

A style of Republican such as Smith threatens to be will fail to enact his plan (with failure inversely proportional to the degree that it would actually work), spread the blame for that failure to the powerless party, and let all of those "less important" issues about which conservatives care tilt to the progressive winds. I also question the wisdom, as a political matter; commenter Rhody offered the following earlier today:

I'm torn. On one hand, Rory's got a raging sense of entitlement, but on the other, he's not Phil Leotardo like the currently presiding CEO from EG.

And if it lessens the chance we'll ever have to utter the words "Governor Laffey," it's all good.

Not so fast. It's conceivable that, if both Chafee and Laffey were to run as independents of some kind, the latter would be the only conservative in a field with four shades of liberal (Democrat, Moderate, Chafee, Smith). The tea party wing of the Rhode Island right may not be that big, but it could be decisive in such a race, especially if suffering Rhode Islanders of all political stripes are in the mood to make a protest vote.

"Modified" Binding Arbitration: A Bad Idea is Still Bad Even if It's Tweaked

Monique Chartier

Following upon a very well attended hearing yesterday,

Opponents clogged the State House committee room, spilling into the marble hallway and lining the walls. Some held signs of protest above their heads for hours.

It was an unusual display for a workday hearing on a legislative proposal entitled simply, “School Teacher Arbitration.”

the Providence Journal's Steve Peoples reports this morning on the latest status of binding arbitration.

[Spokesman for House Speaker William Murphy Larry] Berman characterized the draft legislation discussed Wednesday as “a touchstone for a larger discussion of the issue itself,” suggesting a modified version may emerge.

Andrew had pointed out that binding arbitration undemocratically (and possibly unconstitutionally?) removes the expenditure of tax dollars from the hands of elected officials and places it in the hands of (usually biased) non-elected ones who do not answer to the taxpayer/voter.

And Justin highlighted the cost of such a system in Connecticut; namely, compensation adjustments that go only one way.

What would a modified version of binding arbitration look like? Compensation adjustments that continue to go one way, just at a slower rate? (As tax revenue on Smith Hill and around the state has been going in the other direction for the third year in a row, this doesn't seem terribly feasible.) Would elected and non-elected officials take turns writing checks on the taxpayers' account so it's non-democratic "only" 50% of the time? (Still sounds undemocratic to me.)

So let's throw it open to suggestions. How would you "modify" binding arbitration - still leaving in place the current precedents and arbitrators which tilt significantly to one side of the table - to make it a fair, equitable and democratic process?

The Moderate Party Should Woo Rory Smith

Justin Katz

Those who suggested that Monday was too early for Dan Yorke to be writing off Rory Smith may have been correct, but, well, it's Thursday, and I'm inclined to sign on with Dan's point of view. If you haven't heard the interview between the two men, from last night, it's a must-listen Podcast. Achingly clear is that Smith wants to choreograph every release and every statement, and while Dan complains mainly that such political rote isn't appropriate in a time of crisis, I think that's precisely why Smith and his advisers are so adamant about the strategy: They want a chance to charm a sufficient percentage of the center-right electorate before we're able to discern that Smith isn't really the sort of Republican whom most of us know we need, and without whom we might as well let the Democrats take the full credit for the state's final collapse.

Dan pushed and pushed to get any indication from Smith about his positions on, well, anything, even a general approach to addressing the state's core economic problems. Smith essentially described the problem itself — which is so obvious that it's nearly a tautology to define it — and promised to roll out his plan over the coming "weeks and months." When finally Dan's exasperation must have finally filled the room to a suffocating pressure, asking "what sort of Republican are you," Smith's answer was: "I'm the sort of Republican who can win in this region."

I think readers of Anchor Rising know what that means in our state's political dialect. He supported Chafee over Laffey. Providence Journal reporter Randal Edgar pinned him down as somebody who "supports abortion rights [and] civil unions between homosexuals." (Yeah, the article adds opposition to binding arbitration to the list, but Smith would be driven into the bay if he'd not taken that side.) In short, Smith is from that wing of the RIGOP meeting most frequently at the nearest golf course to discuss how they and all their friends agree that Republicans lose because they're not liberal enough on everything but some basic economic matters.

Smith declares himself to be the sole "outsider" in the race and, I'll tell you, he really isn't going to sell that branding. He's in the club, even if he hasn't yet played the politics table. If he were a true outsider, he wouldn't be able to restrain himself from giving direct answers at least to a general thrust of his solution to the state's catastrophic problems. And then there's this:

I did something crazy. I entered an iron man triathlon about a year ago... I didn't know if I was going to be able to finish the race, but I believed that I could, and I've learned in life believing is a lot more powerful than knowing. ... When I signed up, I had never run a race longer than five miles; I'd never been a biker or a swimmer. I had to learn how to swim and how to bike, and over the course of about 360 days, training two to eight hours a day, I finished in the top third of all racers.

Three hundred and sixty days of intensive training is not something that many folks who work full time and longer every week — some of them at jobs that ravage their bodies — are able to do. Finishing a triathlon is an achievement, no doubt, as would be winning the governor's seat, but outsiders don't enter into such things as personal challenges so much as desperate statements.

Mr. Smith Goes to Providence?

Marc Comtois

Riordan Smith has filed papers as the first official candidate for the Governor's race in 2010. The ProJo and Ian Donnis at WRNI have more info. Smith was also all over the radio yesterday and today explaining his personal background (small-business owner, married with 3 kids, lives in East Greenwich, ran the Iron Man) and, to a much vaguer extent, his political.

Smith said that fixing the state’s economy and budget woes will mean cutting spending and making the state’s tax structure more competitive. He said that includes cutting taxes on the wealthy, if Rhode Island is taxing more than other states.

He did not offer specifics on how the state could cut spending when it faces massive budget deficits, saying he was only launching his campaign and would offer details in the coming weeks and months. But he did say that Rhode Island spends more per-capita than other New England states on areas such as education and health and human services.

“We have enough money,” he said. “It’s a question of how we spend it.”

That's a broad view, to be sure. We also know he donated to David Cicilline and he told Dan Yorke he voted for Lincoln Chafee (over Steve Laffey) in the 2006 GOP Senatorial primary. His reason was that he thought Chafee was more electable. Well, there's probably more to it than that. Like Chafee, Smith is pro-choice and, reading between the lines, it seems Smith had problems with aspects of social conservatism in general. He didn't come out and say so, but he did disaffiliate to become an independent in 2006, explaining that he did so because of the direction the national GOP was taking. (That's generally code for, "I didn't like Bush, especially his social politics").

My impression is that, while Smith truly seems to be just getting his act together, he may be only a shade or two away from Frank Caprio on the ideological spectrum. If that turns out to be true, he won't offer a compelling option to just giving the state's Democratic Party the whole shebang in 2010, which would at least remove the convenient scapegoating of "insert-powerless-GOP-governor's-name-here" to which we've become accustomed.

Mark Zaccaria: "If the laws governing Social Security benefits provide inadequately for the needs of retirees, the answer is to revise the law, not to paper over the problem with a one-time payment that puts us all farther into the hole."

Engaged Citizen

On Friday, October 16th, 2009, the Providence Journal and other news outlets highlighted a story with great impact on senior citizens. Due to negative economic growth over the last 18 months recipients of Social Security retirement benefits will not receive a Cost of Living Allowance, or COLA increase, in their monthly checks during 2010. This is the first time since COLA increases were added to the benefit that economic conditions have not warranted them.

It was reported also that Rhode Island’s Second District representative in Congress, James Langevin, echoed the president’s call for a special one-time payout to Social Security recipients to compensate them for the otherwise flat rate of payment. While anyone would welcome an extra $250 next year, there are other approaches that our sitting Congressman might have taken under these circumstances.

As currently enacted, the law authorizing the payment of Social Security retirement benefits is intended to provide for stable purchasing power during times of price inflation. Since there has been none in the last 12 months, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), that goal should have been achieved with the level payment. So Mr. Langevin’s call for a cash bonus to our senior citizens must have been made for some other reason.

He might argue that Social Security retirement benefits are inadequate to keep seniors living comfortably. I might argue that, too. But does that mean a one time payment that probably will not bring seniors into a real comfort zone of income but will go away again in 2011 is the answer? Certainly not.

During his re-election campaign of 2008 Mr. Langevin complained bitterly about the multi-billion dollar deficits run up by the Bush Administration. Now, however he has willingly gone along with every heart stopping spending measure proposed by the Obama Administration, which now has our nation ringing up multi trillion dollar deficits. With numbers of that size being bandied about it seems that Mr. Langevin feels we can overlook the $20 billion increase in those deficits that will result from the one time spending he proposes to soften the blow to Social Security recipients.

His proposals ignore the fact that we do not have the money to pay for them. The United States of America can no more live on its high interest credit cards than you or I can, especially when we cannot foresee any future income that might help pay them off.

If the laws governing Social Security benefits provide inadequately for the needs of retirees the answer is to revise the law, not to paper over the problem with a one-time payment that puts us all farther into the hole. Mr. Langevin is a professional legislator, after all. Shouldn’t he work at his craft to forge a long term solution? Shouldn’t we consider his offer of a one-time check quite disingenuous since he knows very well it does nothing to fix the structural problems of the program? Is he really trying to make our proud retirees into indentured servants who have to come back to him every year asking, “Please, Sir, may I have more?”

Or do you think that there’s politics afoot? Could it be that the artificial concern over the long term independence of retirees on Social Security is there to mask some other purpose? Senior citizens, after all, have recently recognized that they have by far the most to loose under any of the multitude of national health insurance plans being floated this fall. Is the idea of a single $250 payment to pensioners really a Public Relations ploy to quiet them down on another subject?

We need financially sound, long term solutions to our problems, not trial balloon headlines that camouflage the real agenda of our political leadership. There is only one issue facing us as we begin to think about the 2010 Election. It is the financial stability of the nation. Unless we resolve that favorably we will be unable to tackle anything else. The deficits America has notched over the last few years, and especially over the last few months, are a cancer on each of our bank accounts. The coming price inflation they will trigger will certainly get our seniors their COLA bump in 2011. Unfortunately, even that will be of little practical benefit as the prices of everything we need are skyrocketing.

New England Patriots Coach, Bill Belichick, has an oft quoted motto painted on the wall of the team’s locker room: Do Your Job. We need our political leaders to pay heed to that sentiment now, more than ever. Unless they do, they will not properly represent the needs of the people who elected them. The result will be economic servitude for all of us, not just those trying to get by on Social Security.

Mark Zaccaria of North Kingstown is running for Congress in Rhode Island's Second Congressional District.

No, This Would Be the Best Form, If We Were Going to Allow You to Produce Energy

Justin Katz

This is one of those stories that leaves the reader unsure of whether to laugh or cry:

Save The Bay, the leading environmental organization in Rhode Island, is opposing a plan to erect a wind turbine at Black Point, a coastal property in Narragansett that was preserved two decades ago using state open-space bonds.

The Providence-based organization joined Tuesday with five other environmental advocacy groups — all supporters of green energy — to send a letter to Governor Carcieri that raises questions about the project. The plans being developed by the state Department of Environmental Management and the Town of Narragansett include the installation of up to six large wind turbines at various sites in the town.

First of all, I wonder whether it mightn't be time for Save the Bay to consider a name change, inasmuch as thwarting wind turbine projects takes the group out of the water, so to speak. Moreover, to the extent that we hinder production of energy of any sort, we increase pressure for alternate solutions, such as the LNG terminal that would bring large, traffic-clearing vessels into our waters, where they'll unload their product through a pipeline away from the dock.

The underlying issue is a bit more fundamental, though:

Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save The Bay, said his organization is against any plan to put up a wind turbine at Black Point because, he contends, it would be an industrial use that would mar an otherwise pristine landscape.

Call it NIMBYism, or whatever you like, but there's a strain in the modern mentality that wishes for everything to be produced — whether dinner or electricity — with no visible sign... at least in the lives of the advocates.

Andrew & Matt Talk Binding Arbitration

Justin Katz

Last night's Anchor Rising on the Matt Allen Show was a bit more expansive than usual, as Andrew and Matt discussed binding arbitration's relationship to governing philosophy. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

October 21, 2009

Passing Laws Without Legislators

Justin Katz

Anybody catch the following in a Sunday Projo article about yet another economy-restricting practice?

The solution he refers to is the Home Valuation Code of Conduct, a set of standards for residential real estate appraisals that grew out of an investigation of the mortgage industry by New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo. The code seeks to guarantee the independence of appraisals by building a "firewall" that prevents mortgage brokers from dealing directly with appraisers.

In exchange for being removed from Cuomo's investigation, mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac agreed they would not buy mortgages whose appraisals did not adhere to the code. The two government-sanctioned corporations buy individual mortgages, collect them into packages and sell the packaged mortgages to investors. The code took effect May 1.

Although the rules are not binding on anyone but Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, lenders follow them because, if they didn't, they would not be able to sell their loans to the two companies. Because of their size, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can drive what happens in the mortgage industry. "Once Fannie does something, everybody else kind of jumps on board," says [Keith White Jr., owner of White Appraisal Co. in Warwick].

Without any legislation's being passed or even, presumably, proposed, the mechanism of leveraging huge, government-backed lenders has imposed new, costly regulations on the housing market. One can see how a similar principle might result in the proliferation of — oh, I don't know — derivatives based on insecure loans granted to lower-income borrowers and crash the economy.

The new policies, by the way, add two layers to produce that "firewall." One wonders what an investigation of names and relationships branching between those layers and various government officials might uncover.

Conservatives Are Dead Before They're Born

Justin Katz

Jonah Goldberg has a good buck-up-young-conservative-soldier essay in a recent National Review (subscription required) in which he makes the observation that media liberals are suspiciously likely to predict that any emerging conservative movements will never get off the ground and then that their doom soon awaits, when they do. This line is particularly valuable as a spark for contemplation:

When liberals chalk up the tea-party protests and the like as racism, it is a slur, but it's also a wonderful sign that they won't even consider thinking seriously about their opposition.

Never forget to take that lack of consideration — that rank underestimation — into account when devising political strategy.

Rory's Next Step

Justin Katz

Monday's radio and blog sturm und drang seems not to have dissuaded Mr. Smith from the road to Providence. This just in:

Today Rory Smith filed a "Notice of Organization" with the Rhode Island Board of Elections, forming a candidate committee in order to begin the process of organizing a campaign for Governor.

"We need to put Rhode Islanders back to work. We cannot continue with business as usual in state government and expect to fix the problems we face. It is time for fresh ideas and a new perspective. I want to be that new voice," said Smith.

Smith, a founding partner of Providence based business Nautic Partners LLC, is a first time candidate for public office.

"I've spent my career providing businesses with the capital, tools, and leadership required to grow and prosper even through difficult economic times. I want to use that experience to help grow Rhode Island's economy and create jobs," continued Smith.

The father of three, Smith cares deeply about the future of Rhode Island. He and his wife Betsy are very involved in their community through their church, youth sports, and local charities.

"I love Rhode Island. It is a great place to live and raise a family. I want to work to make sure that Rhode Island is a place that my children can get a first-class education, find a good job, and raise children of their own," concluded Smith.

ProJo Notices the Stacked Arbitration Deck

Marc Comtois

A couple days ago I noticed that, with the arbitration bill coming up, Sen. John Tassoni had just been approved as a mediator. (The ProJo story reporting this also mentioned a few others). That led me to remark that it looked like the arbitration/mediation deck was being stacked ahead of time. The ProJo editors have also noticed and they also bring up a good point: familiarity won't benefit the taxpayers:

Citizens also have a right to wonder: Just how fair would “unbiased” mediators be under such a system?

There’s good reason to wonder. Under the system, both sides of the table would choose an arbitrator. But here’s the rub: Chiefs of either the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers would be dealing with arbitrators over and over, while each city and town would interact with arbitrators only occasionally. This would place a strong financial incentive on an arbitrator to shade his or her calls toward the unions, in hopes of being hired the next time. Ruling against the taxpayers in one community would pose far less of a career risk.

UPDATE: Allow me to piggyback on this clarification from ProJo:

The Oct. 21 editorial “Sen. Tassoni’s new job?” — about legislation mandating binding arbitration in disputes involving teachers unions — referred to both labor arbitrators and mediators. While the binding-arbitration legislation has not yet been approved, typically state-approved arbitrators are chosen from among a group of different names than state-approved mediators. As the editorial states, Sen. John Tassoni has landed on the state’s list of qualified mediators.

Should Arbitration Rulings Outrank the Law? It's a Feature, not a Bug Say Advocates!

Carroll Andrew Morse

I'm not entirely sure how authoritative this reference is, but the website called Rhode Island Arbitration –dot- com is promoting the fact that the decisions of arbitrators can take precedence over the law…

Did You Know…Courts cannot overturn an arbitration award.

Typically, the courts cannot overturn an arbitration award because the arbitrator made a mistake of law or fact. Even if a court would have decided the case differently under existing law, the court will still enforce an arbitration award that differs from what it would have decided.

The site has a definite astroturf feel to it, so the above "feature" may not be referring specifically to the law in Rhode Island.

But it sure does give a strong hint as to how much power arbitration advocates feel should be given to a few individuals over the lives of others, outside of any regular framework of electoral or legal accountability.

Rhode Island Sleaze Brings Left and Right Together

Justin Katz

You know the Rhode Island way of doing government is sickly when the habits and practices of elected officials drive the political left and right so close as to leave no space whatsoever between them. Witness Bob Kerr's suggestion that the state replace its current system of selecting its Speaker of the House through back-room schmoozing and deal making with a tour of the state's hardships, which would conclude as follows:

When they are done, when they get off the bus back in Providence after looking into the faces of those who pay the hard price, they will be asked why it all happened.

And the one who keeps the straightest face while saying "It's the governor's fault" will be the new speaker.

For now, I'll just renew my call for some legislator to use the speaker fight as an opportunity to showboat. Even if I don't agree with the upstart's policies, it would at least provide some reason for mild, abstract hope to see a politician actually "playing politics" with the goal of getting a message out.

Of course, the hope would be even greater were that message delivered from the political right (which is to say, were the message correct). How about it, Trillo, Watson, Newberry, Ehrhardt? The process (the entire government) is a joke, anyway; if all you accomplish is to emphasize that fact, you'd have done the state a service.

Williams Gone

Justin Katz

So, Chiefygate has driven former Chief Justice Frank Williams from his post-retirement seat on the court:

[Chief Justice Paul] Suttell called Williams' decision to step aside "best for the court." He said he will not ask Williams to perform any further judicial duties, but that Williams will continue to deliberate and write decisions on cases heard by the court through Oct. 6. "There's no question that this matter has become a distraction," he said in a news release. "It is clearly in the best interests of the judiciary that the former Chief Justice be relieved of judicial responsibilities at this time."

When the court reconvenes Oct. 27, it will operate with four justices until a new associate justice is appointed to make the high court complete, according to Craig Berke, spokesman for the state judiciary.

The peculiarity of Williams's surprise withdrawal from the Chief Justice office, in December, has certainly taken a bizarre turn. Imagine if this isn't the reason he made that move two years shy of receiving his full retirement?

October 20, 2009

Exhibit #129,224,798 Proving That Rhode Island Is Doomed

Justin Katz

Want another bit of evidence that Rhode Island ain't done sinking, yet? Tune into the Speaker of the House race, as Ed Fitzpatrick does, here. Ed's right that this story is very Rhode Island:

In the small world of State House politics, the contest is coming down to three lawyer/legislators who shared a Broadway office building in the 1990s — House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, Rep. Gregory J. Schadone, D-North Providence, and Rep. Stephen R. Ucci, D-Johnston.

"This is truly a Rhode Island story," Fox said. "Greg and I were next door to each other, renting offices that were side by side. I can still hear him: 'Fox, I need your help.' I remember I used to give him advice when he was running for his first election."

In most places, the phrase "the political class" means the general population of people who hold, have held, or are running for office. In Rhode Island, it appears to indicate an actual class of our stratified society, from which most of our elected officials are drawn.

What I find especially dispiriting, though, is the fact that — in the current climate of calamity — there isn't a single politician making a no-chance run for the office simply to grab the microphone and proclaim his or her solutions for fixing the state. To be fair, one must know and care enough to find out what those problems are and formulate a plausible solution...

The Disrespect for Democracy that is Binding Arbitration

Carroll Andrew Morse

More vigorously than at anytime since the 1960s, America's political left has been promoting its two-point all-purpose plan for solving domestic problems: More government spending (point 2) paid for by higher taxes (point 1). At the Federal level, the focus of applying this philosophy has been on healthcare. At the state level in Rhode Island, look for education "funding formula" advocates to ramp up their push for higher state taxes, so that spending can be raised in some communities. And at the local level...

Well, at the local level, the story is a bit different. Members of the progressive/union alliance in RI are afraid that local elected officials are not on board with the idea that everything can be fixed with higher taxes and more spending, so they've decided that the influence of local elected officials on municipal budgets must be reduced. Specifically, at the behest of the leadership of Rhode Island's core-left, the state legislature this week could vote to impose binding arbitration procedures on cities and towns unable to agree upon teacher contract terms within a certain time-frame. Such action would remove true decision-making authority concerning the largest single item (personnel) of the largest chunk of most local budgets (school system) from elected officials and turn it over to electorally unaccountable panels of arbitrators.

As much as binding arbitration is intended to minimize the influence of locally elected officials, it is also intended to minimize the influence of the voters who elect those officials -- an intent that runs contrary to the most basic notions of self-government. Any meaningful definition of democracy, from the classical ideas of the Enlightenment to the starker, more cynical theories of modern political science, involves the idea that actual decision makers must face the possibility of being replaced by election when the public disapproves of the decisions that are made. And since the late 17th century, dating back to the English Bill of Rights, a fundamental tenet of democratic rule has been that decisions to raise revenue properly belong to a body of freely elected representatives of the people. To replace a system of electing fiscal decision makers with a system where the role of the people is mostly to choose a panel that will present their case to an electorally unaccountable final decision maker is to disregard the principles and ideals of centuries of democratic practice.

I don't know if binding arbitration advocates shrug or laugh when asked to consider the non-democratic nature of the means they are willing to use to advance their agenda, but what is abundantly clear is that they believe that government needs the power to spend more money even when the elected representatives of the people don't want to -- and that when the democratic process doesn't facilitate an agenda of more spending, then a different kind of process is needed that will.

Fortunately, we still live in a country and in a state where the marginalization of public influence on local spending decisions can occur only for as long as the public is willing to accept it, i.e. only for as long as the public is willing to re-elect legislators (and city and town councilors) who approve of replacing democratic rules with a system of governance that transfers power to unelected arbitrators. Keep this last point in mind -- because if you don't like the decision the Rhode Island legislature makes on binding arbitration this week, it can be easily reversed by the legislature that is seated following the 2010 elections.

The Slow, Painful Burn of a Dysfunctional Government

Justin Katz

Yesterday, at lunch time, two younger carpenters were discussing the dirt-cheap real estate that's available and one opined that now might be the time to buy, with values expected to increase in the near future. I suggested that they be cautious about assuming proximate economic recovery in Rhode Island, as if a healthy economy is some sort of natural state of being. In fact, I argued that a national recovery will drive Rhode Island deeper. Consider John Kostrzewa's article in the Sunday Providence Journal focusing on one small business — long in local history — that has no option but to close its doors:

That's one of the tragedies of Rhode Island's recession, now in its third year.

Small businesses are disappearing at an alarming rate.

That's important because of the clusters of jobs that are lost, and the income, sales, property and other taxes that will no longer be collected to pay for state and municipal services.

It's also important because when the national expansion starts, there will be fewer Rhode Island companies ready to fill orders or provide services. It will take time for new small companies to organize, get financing and open to do business. That means Rhode Island's recovery will be slower and shallower than in other states that compete for the same contracts.

I wouldn't even count the delay in new businesses as the biggest concern: Rather, the likelihood that the sorts of people who would start new businesses and make them successful, as employees, will see recovery elsewhere as an opportunity to leave. Even if they don't follow local news and politics as closely as we all do, they pick up the general reality that nobody in government (with the mild exception of the outgoing governor) is even making substantial noises about fixing what's wrong with the state that they ostensibly run.

And the opportunity to make even minor shows of comprehension and concern are so plentiful that the negligence can only be deliberate. Back to Kostrzewa and the lamp shop that can't:

"It's not a friendly state to get people to come to," [store owner Patricia Lena] said, "If anything, they leave."

She mentioned the inhospitable business climate. She said the inventory tax on unsold lamps left on the shelves was costly. She said at one stage of the business she would have liked to hire more employees, so she didn't have to work seven days a week. But the taxes, specifically under the workers' compensation law, made the cost prohibitive.

The current General Assembly — whose members the last election gave no electoral reason to change — is more likely to increase the burden on such entrepreneurs with "living wage" legislation and the like than to respond to their plight. Brace yourselves, Rhode Islanders; we're chasing an ignorant fantasy to the bottom of the well.

Messages to the Enemy

Justin Katz

It looks like the Obama administration is casting about for some excuse to do the wrong thing in Afghanistan:

Before President Obama commits additional troops to Afghanistan, the United States needs assurances that Afghan leaders preside over a stable government that is seen as legitimate in the eyes of its citizens, top Democratic officials said in TV appearances on Sunday.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, appearing on CNN's State of the Union, said the overriding question facing the Obama administration is whether it has "a credible Afghan partner for this process that can provide the security and the type of services that the Afghan people need."

Stabilizing the region is not a prerequisite for our mission in Afghanistan; it is the mission. Our own military decisions should not be contingent upon the emergence of a strong and uncontested government, there; it should be seen as a temporary base on which such a thing can be built. The United States has now signaled to its enemies that increasing efforts toward destabilization — or even just giving the impression thereof — will be rewarded.

And should this be evidence of the administration's intention to extricate from a difficult problem, no amount of Obamanian rhetoric is going to change the conclusion that actions will have proven: That the American president is not willing to make the difficult calls that are necessary during war. The fact that this particular rhetoric apparently entered the public sphere without the knowledge of key military and security strategists suggests that President Barack has little concept of the lives that such slips can cost.

October 19, 2009

Moderate Speculation

Justin Katz

For those listening to the Dan Yorke show, here's the YouTube clip featuring Joe Trillo and Rory Smith that Dan's been playing (the relevant video starts at 6:20 in the clip):

In the last hour, Christine Hunsinger, executive director of the RI Moderate Party called in to discuss her party's "discussions" with potential candidates. She refused to give anything away, but her response was very interesting when Dan asked whether she'd confirm that the person with whom they're speaking is not Steve Laffey: "I can't answer that without giving away which prominent former official it is."

Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but it seems to me that the only way a yes-or-no on Laffey tells us which public official is if it's "yes."

Laffey Meets with the RI Tea Party

Marc Comtois

Colleen Conley of the RI Tea Party was on WPRO AM 630's Dan Yorke Show talking about the movement, including the upcoming "Welcome Back Tea Party" for the Legislature on October 28th at the State House. Conley revealed that she had a 3 hour conversation with former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey but she didn't delve too far into the details. Based on Laffey's earlier declaration that the state's voters aren't ready for the kind of reform a "Governor Laffey" would implement, Yorke has hypothesized (and I agree) that Laffey is looking for some group to call on him to save the state. Yorke also believes that Laffey isn't too keen on going through another primary, so he's looking to be courted by the RI GOP (with a clear slate) or by a grass roots organization like the Tea Party.

Binding Arbitration, the Board Game

Justin Katz

Let's you and I play a game. We'll start out with you giving me a certain sum of money. Then every five minutes, I'll propose how much more money you should give me, and you can propose a slightly lower increase, and if I refuse to accept those terms, we'll take our disagreement to a "neutral" third party who'll give me the increase I demand about 60% of the time and give me the increase you offer the other 40% of the time. Sound good?

Not surprisingly, the Providence Journal's newest regular contributor, Tom Sgouros, union consultant and an intellectual force behind the 2008 Economic Death and Dismemberment Act, thinks that's a nifty way to resolve the hardest fought teacher contract battles. As he writes, with the folksy, personalized calm of an infomercial:

To me, binding arbitration seems as good a way as any to resolve these kinds of conflicts. In binding arbitration, two sides present their "last best" proposals to a neutral panel of three arbitrators (one chosen by each side and one chosen by both) who decide between them. The arbitration statute spells out the permissible grounds for a decision, too, so it's not as if arbitrators can just make up stuff.

Of course, as Andrew put it on Matt Allen's Violent Roundtable, Friday night, we don't take that approach in other public interactions. The General Assembly doesn't take issues that it's having difficulty resolving to a "neutral" third party to set policy on, say, prostitution, gambling, or a school funding formula. The people whom we elect and hire just have to work things out or pay the political consequences. Also of course, as I describe in the current issue of Providence Business News, binding arbitration seems somehow always to result in an increase in teacher remuneration, in Connecticut, even in the most struggling towns. And it's never below a 2% raise. Curious.

The tack that the union backers have decided to use in opposition to such observations is to explain that binding arbitration is not to blame (or credit) for Connecticut's having the highest-paid teachers in the nation, the Education Enhancement Act of 1986 is. That's fine, so far as it goes, but the point isn't that binding arbitration will give Rhode Island that last little kick to the top, from the fourth highest-paid teachers in the nation to the absolutely highest-paid teachers. The point is that binding arbitration would prevent communities from adjusting remuneration downward when the towns run out of money, the parents realize that less and less money is available for the programs that define a well-balanced and opportunity-rich education, or the residents realize that their big bucks are buying pitiful proficiency in math and science.

And union-promoted clichés notwithstanding, teachers are very well paid and are not likely to suffer a change in that reality. Sgouros makes a play for just such an insinuation, with the following:

In 1986, despite seven years of binding arbitration law, Connecticut teachers were only 19th in the country in surveys of teacher pay. The average teacher salary then was around $13,000, and it was not hard to find teachers moonlighting as weekend bartenders, editors, writers, and construction workers, where they were paid more than in their "main" gig.

In the interest of charitable discourse, we'll assume that it was an innocent error that Tom cites the number for the average beginning teacher salary but calls it the average salary overall. Perusing data compiled by the American Federation of Teachers, one finds that the average salary in Connecticut was actually around $27,000 (11th highest in the nation) — and let's not forget that we've seen roughly 96% inflation since 1986, so those salaries are actually twice as valuable as they seem, from our current perspective.

As for beginning teachers — fresh out of college, or in the middle of a career change — having to work additional hours at a second occupation, well, such is not a foreign experience to other young professionals. Stepping back from the pro-union rhetoric, emphasized in the binding arbitration debate, it's clear that what's being requested is not fairness, but continued treatment as some special class removed from the experiences of fellow Rhode Islanders.

Moderating Expectations

Carroll Andrew Morse

I heard Rhode Island Moderate Party Chairman Ken Block on WPRO (630 AM) with John DePetro earlier this morning, discussing how he believes a "fresh face" may be the best option for a Moderate candidate for Rhode Island governor.

Sounds like the Moderate party's talks with that "prominent former public official", whoever he or she was, didn't end very well.

The Sweet Irony of Bumper Stickers

Justin Katz

Driving into Providence for a photo shoot in the rain, yesterday, I parked next to the statehouse. Through the streaks in my windshield, when I climbed back into the van, I spotted this antiquated bumper sticker:


The anti-Bush and anti-Republican stickers that also scarred the vehicle confirmed which regime the driver intended, but for a moment, I had to chuckle.

RE: Binding Arbitration

Marc Comtois

As Monique notes, the bill requiring binding arbitration in union/town disputes is slated to be heard this Wednesday. You can also hear NEA/AFT funded radio advertisements touting the bill. I wonder why labor unions--which traditionally take pride in being negotiating pit bulls--are apparently going all warm and fuzzy over the prospect of a supposedly fair and equitable process? What happened to taking pride in all of their victories? Well, in addition to Justin's explanation, could it be they know what the local roster of arbitrators looks like?

State Sen. John Tassoni, a Smithfield Democrat who until last spring was a senior business agent for the largest state employees union, has landed on the state’s list of qualified mediators to call when there is a state or local labor dispute.

Though his newly formed company — The Sentinel Group — has not yet won any state or local mediation contracts, it is now within a small, select group that the state purchasing office has deemed qualified for use. Tassoni has offered his services for $125 an hour, $1,000 a day.

Some on the list are better known than others, including Bernard Singleton, a state pensioner, former top official in the National Education Association of Rhode Island and state labor director in the DiPrete administration; and Gerard P. Cobleigh, who is one of the lead lawyers for the largest of the state employee unions and Tassoni’s former employer: Council 94, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees.

Deck = stacked? It would seem those "in the know" know that the winds are shifting in a particular direction, regardless of the "hearing" on Wednesday.

UPDATE: NEA's Bob Walsh writes in the comments that I'm "mixing up mediation and arbitration, and mediators and arbitrators." I'm not mixing it up. I understand the difference: Mediators try to help parties come up with a mutual decision; arbitrators are selected by both parties to make a decision for them. As the ProJo report continues, it seems like the qualifications for mediators and arbitrators are similar and that they come from the same pool:

The minimum qualifications to get on the state’s list of potential mediators include “a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university” and five years experience “as an arbitrator and/or mediator for labor management matters, or a lawyer representing parties” in such matters.

Tassoni is a 1976 Smithfield High School graduate, who lists the New Horizon Computer Learning Center in Cranston, the George Meany Labor Institute in Washington, D.C., and the Institute for Labor Studies and Research in Cranston as his higher-education experience.

As for his “relevant skills and experience,” his resume notes that he is chairman of the Senate Committee on Housing and Municipal Government, and a member of the Senate Labor Committee who has over the years, in his union roles, had to “negotiate union contracts and resolve union grievances” and research, prepare and present cases for arbitration.” {emphasis added}

So, is there any chance that cross-pollination between mediators/arbitrators occurs? That's the impression I get. If not, my apologies.

Grassroots, Multimedia, and Being Bound

Justin Katz

It was a variegated weekend, with:

  • Video from the first RI Voter Coalition Meet the Candidate Forum here, here, here, and here
  • And thoughts on the tea party movement here
  • Two of us on the Violent Roundtable there
  • One of us on the topic of binding arbitration elsewhere
  • Information about offering testimony thereon here
  • Assisted suicide sparking debate here and here
  • The loss of taxpayers surprising few here
  • A head-stapling teacher and local authority here
  • And a snowy, global warming day here

October 18, 2009

Binding Arbitration Bill to be Heard Wednesday (Probably)

Monique Chartier

H5142, which

would expand the scope of the binding arbitration process to include monetary issues for teachers and non-teacher educational employees. It would also streamline the actual binding arbitration process itself.

is scheduled to be heard by the House Labor Committee at 2:00 pm this Wednesday in Room 313 at the State House.

Let's remember, however, that

in the closing days of the session this past June, we [the General Assembly] suspended the rules. We are still technically in session, just on extended recess. What that means is they could change the date / time [of the hearing] 30 seconds before the scheduled start

In other words, the hearing could be postponed without warning. (Thanks to Rep John Loughlin for clarifying.)

So if you're planning to attend, you may want to call ahead and make sure that the hearing is still on. The Committee Clerk is William Souza, 222-2587. In case he stepped away, the Speaker's office is 222-2466.

(Just out of curiosity, how does a legislative body purporting to carry out the people's business on behalf of the people justify exempting itself from all manner of open meeting laws?)

Climate Data from Foxboro

Carroll Andrew Morse

I turned on the last two minutes of today's Patriots game, after not having taken in any broadcast communications over the previous 4-5 hours. In addition to noticing the Patriots leading 59-0, I also happened to notice it snowing in Foxboro in mid-October.

Do proponents of the theory of “climate change” not caused by natural cycles -- one time known as proponents of “global warming” not caused by natural cycles -- take this development to be completely irrelevant, or as evidence that government attempts to control the weather are more pressing than ever?


The Bills-Jets overtime that CBS went to after the Patriots game may be the worst quarter of football I've ever seen.

Small States, Lost Income

Justin Katz

Duncan Currie tells a tale of economic happenings in my childhood state of New Jersey that should ring familiar to Rhode Islanders:

Hughes, Seneca, and Irving estimated that, between 2000 and 2005, net domestic out-migration cost the state a total of $7.9 billion in adjusted gross income. "Although this loss is relatively small--3.3 percent of total adjusted gross income in 2005--it is a permanent loss that will persist (or increase) each year unless net out-migration is reduced or eliminated," they wrote. ...

One need not be a demography expert to understand why New Jersey is hemorrhaging human capital. According to according to state rankings compiled by the Tax Foundation, it now has the highest state and local tax burden, the highest per capita property taxes, and the worst tax climate for business. The Pacific Research Institute's latest U.S. Economic Freedom Index says that only two states (Rhode Island and New York) offer less economic freedom. The 2009 State Economic Outlook Index, co-authored by legendary economist Arthur Laffer and published by the American Legislative Exchange Council, ranks New Jersey 46th. Democratic governor Jon Corzine recently suspended property-tax rebates for most New Jerseyans and raised the state's upper individual income-tax rates to help close a yawning budget gap. New Jersey's uppermost rate (10.75 percent) is now higher than California's (10.55 percent).

Readers will recognize the measure of economic health as one that I've been tracking, in our state, for a couple of years. The dark topic aside, it's nice to see my concern about lost AGI echoed by real scholars — especially after the unions' favorite analyst (and regular Projo opinion-page contributor), Tom Sgouros, called such a measurement "farcical." I'll concede that, when it comes to that particular adjective, he may be an expert.

Rhode Island Voter Coalition Meet the Candidates Forum Video: Q&A 3

Justin Katz

By way of a reminder: Any of these posts that have a "Continue reading" link at the bottom include additional videos in the extended entry.

Broke by Binding

Justin Katz

I've got an op-ed in the upcoming Providence Business News addressing a topic that's on a great many Rhode Island minds: binding arbitration.

Rhode Island Voter Coalition Meet the Candidates Forum Video: Q&A 2

Justin Katz

Can't Be "Private, But"

Justin Katz

A comment from Joe Bernstein, to yesterday's post on assisted suicide, points us toward a deeper conversation:

I am pro-life on the issue of abortion, but on this I believe that if someone with all their mental faculties intact makes a decision to commit suicide due to a hopeless, painful, or tortuous medical situation it is not a crime for someone else with the correct credentials to help them make sure they go out with the least discomfort to themselves and the least trauma to their loved ones.

Sticking a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger is a surefire way to accomplish suicide, but not everyone can do it, and it leaves a scene families will never be able to put out of their minds.
I sat with my grandmother who lived with us, and my father many years later as they declined in severe pain due to terminal cancer-neither considered suicide, in one case due to religious belief, and in the other case, just the opposite.

I agree with Patrick here. What I don't want to see is the demonic social engineers that infest this administration set up a bureaucracy for this kind of thing. It is a private matter.

The problem is that, once you introduce restrictions such as judging mental faculties and credentialing assistants, the matter is no longer private, strictly speaking. Indeed, it is the argument of the Wesley Smith essay to which I linked that assisted-suicide ideologues are not inclined to dwell very long, on an individual basis, determining whether somebody is mentally fit to enlist their services, and they're certainly not inclined to report questionable cases to the authorities.

Moreover, the "private matter" boundary is anything but an impermeable barrier. Take this story as allegory:

The case came to the attention of Minnesota authorities in March 2008 when an anti-suicide activist in Britain alerted them that someone in the state was using the Internet to manipulate people into killing themselves.

Last May, a Minnesota task force on Internet crimes searched Melchert-Dinkel's computer and found a Web chat between him and the young Canadian woman describing the best way to tie knots. In their search warrant, investigators said Melchert-Dinkel "admitted he has asked persons to watch their suicide via webcam but has not done so." ...

The report also said Melchert-Dinkel checked himself into a hospital in January. A nurse's assessment said he had a "suicide fetish" and had formed suicide pacts online that he didn't intend to carry out.

Few people are as overtly demented as Melchert-Dinkel, of course, but if we're going to determine who is or is not fit to kill themselves, we're also going to have to determine who is or is not fit to make that judgment and to assist. Either determination ultimately draws arbitrary, debatable lines that will not withstand the human slide toward tragedy that is nigh upon inevitable when our society pushes "compassion" in advance of the tragic.

Rhode Island Voter Coalition Meet the Candidates Forum Video: Q&A 1

Justin Katz

The question and answer section of the Rhode Island Voter Coalition Meet the Candidates Forum pretty much began with what sounded like a withdrawal from the governor's race by Joe Trillo and the introduction of probable candidate Rory Smith and only got more interesting from there. Be sure to click the "continue reading" link for more videos.

Two on the Roundtable

Justin Katz

If you missed Andrew and Monique on Friday night's Violent Roundtable with Matt Allen, the online audio is definitely worth a listen. I'll tell you right now that I intend to... ummm... appropriate some of the points made thereon, and the only way in which to catch me is to listen for yourself.

Download it to your mp3 player (or your iPod, if you're one of those people).

October 17, 2009

The Prick of Local Authority

Justin Katz

What to make of the story of the teacher who accidentally stapled a student's head?

A Superior Court judge has upheld the firing of a Smithfield social studies teacher for stapling a student's scalp during a classroom stunt three years ago.

Judge Daniel A. Procaccini ruled that the Smithfield School Committee, the state education commissioner and the state Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education Appeals Committee showed "good and just cause" in finding that Bethany St. Pierre should be dismissed from her job as a Smithfield High School social studies teacher after injuring a student and then urging the class to cover it up.

The education commissioner's finding of facts, in February 2008, offers a good summary of the incident (PDF). As ever, multiple issues come into play. Should the teacher have been fired for the accident? Absolutely not; our attempts at an antiseptic society contribute (I believe) to a bevy of our current problems, including educational mediocrity. Should she have been fired for not taking appropriate steps that would have alerted other adults to the incident and suggesting that the students keep the incident in the classroom? Probably not, although her first reaction clearly should have been to send the student to the nurse, personally notify the principal, and send a note to the parents (or pick up the phone) to explain the incident. But was the school within its rights to fire her for a mere error of judgment? Yes.

Look, the courts should not be a mechanism for interested parties (such as unions or private associations, like church groups) to leverage higher tiers of government to micromanage the decisions of officials in lower tiers. Resolve the issue through the administrative and political processes available for that purpose. Relying on the judiciary merely lets everybody in power off the hook.

Killing in the Name of the Law

Justin Katz

Put assisted suicide on the long list of issues that ought to be left to the states, but that I'd oppose in my own. In the name of civil liberties that conflict with the (until recently) long-standing moral consensus of our culture, we're building a giant trap that will at some point close on us all — probably too slowly to cause alarm — and leave us absolutely free to drug ourselves into a stupor for a neighborhood orgy as a sendoff to a middle-aged friend who'll be visiting the city death dispenser because public healthcare won't cover his methadone anymore. As for practicing religion, speaking our minds on politics during campaign season, and engaging in productive economic activity... well, a culture's got to draw the "unfree" line somewhere.

But back to states' rights and euthanasia — sorry, assisted suicide. The problem with the state-by-state experiment model is that those who advocate for the creation of innovative culturally discordant laws have incentive to make their ill effects difficult to trace, and so we get a scenario such as Wesley Smith describes here:

These advances would not have happened but for a powerful myth promoted by assisted-suicide advocates and helped along by a compliant media: the notion that Oregon's experiment with legalized assisted suicide has been a success, in which problems and abuses are rare or nonexistent. It is true that the annual statistical reports published by the Public Health Division (henceforth OPHD) of Oregon's Department of Human Services have revealed very few problems. But there's a reason for that: The reporting system was designed by the authors of the assisted-suicide legislation to be incapable of vigorous policing and in-depth data gathering.

As a result, nobody knows precisely what is going on in Oregon. The data in the state-published reports are based overwhelmingly on self-reporting by death-prescribing doctors — who are as likely to admit violating the law on this matter as they are to tell the IRS that they have cheated on their taxes. Indeed, as the bureaucrats charged with publishing the annual report admitted to an investigative committee from the British House of Lords, the OPHD engages in only very limited and random checking of the information it receives. Moreover, the department has no budget or authority to investigate apparent violations of the law, and all documentation relied upon in writing the annual report is destroyed once the report has been published. Dr. Kathleen Foley, perhaps the nation's premier palliative-care doctor, and suicide-prevention expert Dr. Herbert Hendin wrote in the Michigan Law Review last year that the OPHD "does not collect the information it would need to effectively monitor the law and in its actions and publications acts as the defender of the law rather than as the protector of the welfare of terminally ill patients."

The cliché of the distopia is a sepia-hued society in which everybody fears to act — fears to do anything but work and support the government. The reality, I prognosticate, will be much more a colorful pictures of people free to indulge their darkest notions but undermined wherever they seek to build something positive.

Rhode Island Voter Coalition Meet the Candidates Forum Video: Opening Remarks

Justin Katz

Herewith, video of the opening remarks and initial speakers from the four invited candidates at last night's forum:

Tea Parties and Rhode Island

Justin Katz

As illustrated in a recent National Review print edition piece, Mark Steyn gets the tea party movement more than most:

... The signs on display get the underlying principles of the Obama era: "LET THE FAILURES FAIL!" Teenager: "STOP SPENDING MY FUTURE!" Senior: "THIS GRANDMA ISN’T SHOVEL-READY." Just as importantly, the demonstrators understand the essentials more clearly than many of the think-tankers and Sunday pundits and other insiders hung up on the fine print. "Death panel" took off because it clarified the health-care stakes in ways none of the other oppositional lingo quite managed. My NR colleagues were sniffy about it, and, like many health policy wonks, seemed to think it an extreme characterization of whatever this or that provision in paragraph 7(d)iii on page 912 of the bill actually entailed. All irrelevant. Yes, once the governmentalization of health care is fully accomplished, there will be literal "death panels", like Britain's NICE (the National Institute of Clinical Excellence), an acronym one would regard as Orwellian had not C S Lewis actually got to it first — NICE (the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments) in his novel That Hideous Strength. But that's missing the point: The entire reform package, not page 1,432, is the death panel, in the sense that it will ultimately put your body under the jurisdiction of government bureaucrats.

What's really disconcerting, though, is how accurately, if inadvertently, he describes the end-game through which Rhode Island is suffering (or game-ender, if you prefer to assume ignorance rather than malice in those who brought us here):

If you expand the dependent class and the government class, you can build a permanent governing coalition, and stick the beleaguered band in the middle with the tab. ...

At a certain point, why bother? As fast as you climb the ladder, you'll be taxed and regulated down the chute back to the bottom rung. You'll be frantically peddling the treadmill seven days a week so that the statist succubus squatting on your head can sluice the fruits of your labors to Barney Frank and the new "green jobs" czar and whichever less hooker-friendly "community organizer" racket picks up the slack from Acorn, as well as to untold millions of bureaucrats micro-regulating you till your pips squeak while they enjoy vacations and benefits you'll never get. Who needs it? If you have to work, work for the government: You can't be fired and you can retire in your early 50s. But running your own business is for chumps.

October 16, 2009

Just like a banana republic

Donald B. Hawthorne

Power Line:

Today the Obama administration's "pay czar" demanded that Ken Lewis, Chairman of the Board of Bank of America, work for free. The "czar," Kenneth Feinberg, pressured Lewis not only to forgo all remaining compensation for 2009, but to repay the $1 million he has already received this year. Lewis acquiesced, saying that "he felt it was not in the best interest of Bank of America for him to get involved in a dispute with the paymaster." I'm sure he was right about that.

Response to this outrage has been surprisingly muted. In my view, it is hard to imagine anything more un-American than a "pay czar" empowered to order businessmen to work for free.

The main point here is not sympathy for Mr. Lewis, although I am, in fact, sympathetic to him. He is about to retire and will receive a substantial retirement package--only, perhaps, because the pay czar lacked jurisdiction to negate it. But the idea of empowering the federal government to dictate businessmen's compensation based on political favoritism is absolutely chilling.

This episode illustrates the problem perfectly. Lewis took on the federal government by testifying that Fed chief Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson, a Democrat who was then Secretary of the Treasury, bullied him into committing what was, in effect, an egregious violation of the securities laws. Bank of America was due to close on its purchase of Merrill Lynch, and Lewis knew that Merrill's value was plummeting. Lewis testified under oath that Paulson and Bernanke threatened to fire the entire management and board of Bank of America, including Lewis, if Lewis backed out of the Merrill deal or communicated to the bank's shareholders what a bad deal the purchase had become.

So, according to Lewis, the federal government forced him to violate his duty to his shareholders in order to advance the government's objectives. The feds were unhappy with Lewis's blowing the whistle on their actions, which I believe would have been criminal if carried out by private citizens. Bernanke, at least, denied Lewis's version of events.

So Lewis took on the feds, and now he's paying the price. The Obama administration has taken away his entire salary for 2009. Political payback, or just a coincidence? In a banana republic, you never know.

Where is the outrage from those who love liberty? In a banana republic, your "freedom" only lasts as long as you are favored by those in power. Some definition of freedom; it is certainly not the historic definition in America.

Meeting Candidates You've Met

Justin Katz

Hey, is it just me or is Rhode Island a difficult place to find your way around? I don't think I've ever seen, before, the letters used on exit numbers (6A and 6) when the roads are entirely different. But I've made it to the Elks in West Greenwich for the Rhode Island Voter Coalition Meet the Candidates forum. If I'd known they'd have free pizza, I wouldn't have eaten on the way over.

The event was slated to begin at 6:00, and it's 6:18, but I only see two of the four advertised candidates/politicians; AG candidate Erik Wallin and Congressional candidate Mark Zaccaria are here, but State Representative Joe Trillo and state House candidate Moe Green, from Providence, are not. About 30 folks are in the audience, not all of whom do I know.

I suppose it'd be fair to say that there are tiers of events in the center-right reform milieu, but it's disappointing not to see more of the folks who make it to higher-profile happenings. Yeah, it's Friday night. Yeah, you know the candidates. Yeah, the event is scheduled for a daunting four hours. But there are new people, here, and the degree to which they'll continue to be involved and to tell their friends to become involved is surely proportional to the attendance and especially the apparent interest of allies whom they hear on the radio and see on television.

Are we trying to build a movement, here, or a loose social club?

6:57 p.m.

Coming up on 7:00, the crowd has grown to about 40 people. Joe Trillo is here. I overheard Dave Talan explaining that Moe Green was called in to work. (He's a detective in Providence). The speeches and Q&A have yet to start, though. It looks like I would have had time to go home, after work, after all... and avoid that ridiculous $4 fee for the Newport Bridge.

7:08 p.m.

By the way, Terry Gorman and the RIILE crew is here. RISC is represented in a behind-the-scenes way. It looks like the guys at We the People of Rhode Island are handling audio/video. (Yet another site that I have to make a point of visiting more often.)

7:15 p.m.

Joe Trillo's speaking: "The biggest problem with the state right now is the unions."

Trillo lambasted the political-cultural set that attends events like last night's RIPEC meeting: "I'm sick and tired of hearing how we're business unfriendly," but do nothing.

7:16 p.m.

Trillo: "The most important thing you can do is support" candidates.

And with that, one candidate takes the podium: Mark Zaccaria, whose first statement was one of encouragement about the number of grassroots groups that are emerging. I agree, but I'll be even more encouraged when they figure out how to work together.

7:19 p.m.

Zaccaria's slogan: "Clean house." As in: "if your representatives are supporting some group other than, you hired them, you can fire them. Clean house."

7:22 p.m.

Sorry, but I had to laugh (in a snorting way) when Erik Wallin opened his speech by mentioning the great things about Rhode Island, starting with: "We have wonderful, hard-working people who have made the state what it is." Perhaps that statement can be taken in multiple ways.

Incidentally, I notice that rumored gubernatorial candidate Rory Smith is here.

7:29 p.m.

Dave Talan, Moe Green's campaign manager has clarified that he isn't Moe Green, and "the real Moe Green" is not the sleazy casino owner who meets a bad end in the Godfather movie.

Green's number 1 issue is taxation, and as you may already know, he readily signed Grover Norquist's pledge not to vote for tax increases. He's also going to work against unfunded mandates.

7:34 p.m.

Moe Green is for education vouchers.

7:39 p.m.

During Q&A, Zaccaria stated that he's running for Congress to make laws go away, not to enact more of them.

7:42 p.m.

Trillo has taken the microphone to say that he has decided against a run for governor and put Rory Smith in the spotlight and request that he introduce himself. He's never spoken in front of a political group before, and he's not prepared for a speech, so he's giving some personal background.

He's humbled at the fact that politics requires the help of others, "and when they offer it, it's like the grace of God."

7:50 p.m.

A man who appears to be somehow closely affiliated with the event declared himself a Ron Paul Republican. Neo-conservatives apparently don't believe in the sovereignty of this country. Zaccaria played the hand well by speaking against labels and dismissing people whose support will be needed to win an election. He described some narrow terms of action and placed himself in the same camp as Paul.

Next question strongly implied disapproval of NAFTA. Oddly enough, it's possible that I'm to the left of the room (in physical location and ideology).

7:58 p.m.

Summary of various questions and answers: Zaccaria's conservative on just about everything, but then the wall: somebody asked about abortion. Making it illegal would cause three things:

  • Drive it underground
  • Would create two class, because some could fly to countries with more liberal laws.
  • Would condemn people in the second category to dangerous procedures

But then the utter confusion: He declared that life begins at conception, and abortion is the taking of a life. He then said that we must "make government get people to choose life" by — get this — replicating the stop smoking effort.

Only because I very much dislike asking questions at these things did I resist the urge to ask whether Zaccaria believes the government should kill a greater number of criminals until such time as we're able to stop crime via the culture (by means of the government, no less).

I'm really not sure what to make of that answer. We should maintain the right to take innocent human life until we find away to increase the breadth of the government in such a way as to change the culture to eliminate abortion as we've "eliminated" smoking. Ugh. Horrible, horrible answer.

8:15 p.m.

After a speech that'll be worth watching on our YouTube channel, an audience member (former Democrat trying to "make up" for what he did in that capacity") asked Trillo about gaming. The answer: We're addicted to it, so hey, we might as well go full out and get the voters to act on it.

8:18 p.m.

Trillo's gone on to talk about mandates, but I have to admit that I'm stuck on Zaccaria's answer. Perhaps a better hypothetical would be making gang-on-gang violence legal. If we can keep them from killing innocent people, it would ultimately save lives (compared with those unsafe back-room drivebys), and the government could pursue an anti-smoking-like campaign against gang violence.

But now that I think about it, perhaps there's something to the anti-smoking thing. The government could get abortion providers to admit that they know that their service kills people and then force them to advertise against it.

Did I already say "ugh"?

8:26 p.m.

Coincidentally, Erik Wallin was speaking against gang violence as I typed. He's now facing a question in favor of making drugs legal.

Wallin is against the legalization of drugs. "I've seen first-hand what drugs do to individuals" "People who are addicted to drugs are going to commit crimes in order to get those drugs."

On marijuana: "We should not be presenting more opportunities for young people to take drugs." He makes the point that the assumption that kids will have a harder time getting pot if it's legal is incorrect on the grounds that kids can get alcohol freely enough.

Personally, I think it ought to be a states-rights issue, and I think the illegality should not involve prison time for users, but I do think drugs should remain illegal, although I'd cede pot.

8:38 p.m.

I should note that this event has turned out to be very good. Some very strong points (and certainly passion) from the audience and the politicians. All candidates should be called on to participate in these things regularly, and all citizens should be pressured to attend.

8:45 p.m.

Representative Trillo just came over to me to clarify his position on the governor's race (somehow he's already heard what I wrote above): He is not withdrawing entirely the possibility that he'll run; he's waiting to see if somebody acceptable emerges, but if nobody steps forward whom he's comfortable endorsing, he will run.

8:54 p.m.

Some of the more, well, libertarian audience members seem a little incredulous that the attorney general would apply healthcare mandate laws duly passed by the legislature. Here we see, again, the peculiar circumstance of libertarians' wishing to dictate policies (in like manner to progressives/liberals) by wholly unconstitutional means... in the name of the Constitution.

8:59 p.m.

Great point from Wallin: "I'm running as a Republican, but I am independent" when it comes to the execution of his responsibilities as attorney general.

9:10 p.m.

Terry Gorman ran through the high-nineties percentages with which our Congressional delegates vote along party lines (100% for Langevin) and asked Zaccaria whether he'd do the same. Easy answer... of course not.

On a personal note, I could put my head down and go to sleep on the table.

9:13 p.m.

On the topic of immigration and the amount that hospitals are required to give to them (down to free cough medicine), Trillo noted a House Democrat who makes the argument that illegal immigrants wash all the dishes in restaurants such as that Democrat's family owns, and were that not allowed, the restaurants would not be able to stay in business.

Interesting juxtaposition... perhaps we should learn from the hospitals' conundrum in handling restaurants: Make them provide food to hungry patrons who cannot afford to pay. I mean, how can a moral society refuse food to starving children?

Binding Arbitration as Viewed by One of RI's Public Labor Unions

Monique Chartier

The following e-mail was distributed today to members of NEARI.

A message from NEARI President Larry Purtill:

URGENT!!!! The RI House Labor Committee will hear legislation on binding arbitration for teachers Wednesday, October 21, 2 PM at the State House, and the full General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene October 28-29.

After over two decades of lobbying for binding arbitration, our time has come. It is imperative that NEARI members call, email, or write their representatives and senators urging their support for binding arbitration. Our opponents have been contacting members of the legislature – now it is time they hear from us. Binding arbitration will provide a closure mechanism to the collective bargaining process that we have needed for a long time. We cannot allow another East Providence situation to occur in Rhode Island !

You can find contact information for your legislators here. Below are talking points to help you craft your message.

Binding Arbitration Talking Points

- Under present law, there is no final dispute resolution mechanism to settle teacher contracts. Collective bargaining depends on compromise from both parties. Now, those across the table can refuse to talk for as long as they want. If one believes in a collective bargaining process, then one must also believe in a way to bring such a process to a reasonable end. There must be a means to bring finality and fairness to the contractual process for students, teachers and taxpayers.

- When contracts remain unsettled, teachers are left with lousy choices to get their message across. Both strikes and “work-to-rule” strategies are frustrating to all involved. Binding arbitration legislation can end teacher strikes and work-to-rule forever.

- In polling conducted earlier this year, 70% of Rhode Islanders agree that binding arbitration is the appropriate solution to resolve teacher contract disputes that cannot be resolved through collective bargaining. Rhode Island law already calls for binding arbitration when police, firefighter and correctional officer contracts remain unresolved.

- Connecticut has had binding arbitration for teachers for 30 years. A lot of people incorrectly believe binding arbitration in Connecticut favors teachers, but the evidence doesn’t support it. According to the Connecticut Education Association, between 1994 and 2003, 75 contracts out of 638 – fewer than 12 % – went to arbitration. In judging those contracts, arbitrators chose the district’s side on 379 of the 756 issues – roughly half the time. The arbitrated salary increases averaged 2.39% while the negotiated salary increases averaged 2.48%.

- It is true that teacher salaries in Connecticut rank first or second in the nation. It is also true that a law passed in 1986 at the behest of the governor was responsible for setting a minimum salary and boosting state education funding by $300 million. Prior to its passage, Connecticut teacher salaries ranked 14th in the country – the same before and after binding arbitration became law.

- The point behind binding arbitration is to force two sides to negotiate. The real hope is that no contracts have to be arbitrated, and that both sides will see arbitration as an unwanted last resort. Fair and evenhanded legislation can bring to an end teacher contract disputes in Rhode Island once and for all.

Out and About, Tonight

Justin Katz

Andrew and Monique will be on Matt Allen's Violent Roundtable tonight, from 8:00 to 9:00. I'm going to try to get there, as well, but starting at 6:00, I'll be doing my usual liveblogging-youtubing thing from the Coventry Elks in West Greenwich, where the Rhode Island Voter Coalition is hosting a Meet the Candidates forum.

Krauthammer on the problem with Obama's foreign policy

Donald B. Hawthorne

Nobody says it like Charles Krauthammer does in Debacle in Moscow: Obama’s foreign policy is amateurishness, wrapped in naïveté, inside credulity:

About the only thing more comical than Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize was the reaction of those who deemed the award “premature,” as if the brilliance of Obama’s foreign policy is so self-evident and its success so assured that if only the Norway Five had waited a few years, his Nobel worthiness would have been universally acknowledged.

To believe this, you have to be a dreamy adolescent (preferably Scandinavian and a member of the Socialist International) or an indiscriminate imbiber of White House talking points. After all, this was precisely the spin on the president’s various apology tours through Europe and the Middle East: National self-denigration — excuse me, outreach and understanding — is not meant to yield immediate results; it simply plants the seeds of good feeling from which foreign-policy successes shall come.

Chauncey Gardiner could not have said it better...

Henry Kissinger once said that the main job of Anatoly Dobrynin, the perennial Soviet ambassador to Washington, was to tell the Kremlin leadership that whenever they received a proposal from the United States that appeared disadvantageous to the United States, not to assume it was a trick.

No need for a Dobrynin today. The Russian leadership, hardly believing its luck, needs no interpreter to understand that when the Obama team clownishly rushes in bearing gifts and “reset” buttons, there is nothing ulterior, diabolical, clever, or even serious behind it. It is amateurishness, wrapped in naïveté, inside credulity. In short, the very stuff of Nobels.

String of foreign policy posts can be found here.


Meanwhile, Anita Dunn, White House Communications Director, is on video here saying that Mao, a tyrant who killed tens of millions of people, is one of her heroes.

In other words, we have an administration that not only doesn't believe in American exceptionalism and conducts a foreign policy based on denigrating America's interests but has key staffers who consider a murderous communist thug as their hero.

Said another way:

...Later in Beck’s show (before he started crying…again) he suggested that Dunn may as well have cited Hitler as one of her favorite political philosophers. Usually Beck’s histrionics turn me off, but he’s got a point with that. How can any high-level American political official seriously cite Mao as a favorite political philosopher and not be driven from office immediate with jeers and derision?

Mao was a mass murder. A tyrant and a dictator whose teachings amount to a cruel ideology that murdered tens of millions and oppressed hundreds of millions more.

Obama needs to explain to us why someone like Dunn is serving in his administration.

Does anyone find this troubling?


Andy McCarthy has more, responding to Hans von Spakovsky. McCarthy notes the presence of other communists in the Obama administration.

Openly unapologetic communists. And many people yawn out of disinterest.

If Not the Law, the Culture

Justin Katz

Two well-placed articles — by virtue of their proximity to each other — in the September 21 National Review point to a necessary conclusion for a modern conservative political philosophy. The first item is an interior quotation by American Medical Association lobbyist William Woodward within a book review by Kyle Smith (emphasis added):

The trouble is that we are looking on narcotic addiction solely as a vice. It is a vice, but like all vices, it is based on human nature. The use of narcotics ... represents an effort on the part of the individual to adjust himself to some difficult situation in his life. He will take one thing to stimulate him, another to quiet him.... And until we develop young men and young women who are able to suffer a little and exercise a certain amount of control, even though it may be inconvenient and unpleasant to do so, we are going to have a considerable amount of addiction to narcotics and addiction to other drugs.

The solution, in short, is cultural. Rather than struggling to stop our fellow Americans from doing something that they've decided they want to do, we should address that which sparks the desire. That point in itself could be the beginning of an extensive prudential and practical tangent, but let's take it as given on principle and move on to the second item: Ross Douthat's review of Quentin Tarantino's latest gorefest, Inglourious Basterds. Douthat's core dilemma is whether Tarantino's film-making talent makes up for the characteristic violence:

As for whether the many pleasures of this counterfactual fantasia are sufficient to justify enduring the interludes of sophomoric and debasing violence, well, I'm still wrestling with that one. But it's clear that where the wildly talented, permanently adolescent Quentin Tarantino is concerned, we're unlikely ever to get the one without the other.

If, for item 1, we're going to arrive at a solution along the conservative-libertarian compromise, then the conservative's answer to Douthat must be "no." It's not impossible for violence to be redeemed within a work of art, but then it ceases to be sophomoric and debasing, because it isn't gratuitous — much like the violence that God allows in life. But if the scale houses, on one side, a continued cultural desensitization to violence and pollution of the individual's conscience, then placing aesthetic pleasure on the other side will hardly move the needle.

(Note for libertarians: I'm not, here, proposing a ban — just a posture for conservatives.)

Work of the Hand Is Not Exclusive of the Mind

Justin Katz

Marc's post on education and "dirty jobs" — the entire recent discussion about college and the necessity thereof — brings to mind this passage from Walter Rose's wonderful book The Village Carpenter, which reflects on Rose's family business as the era of the automobile and the machine came on strong:

These words are not to the old who, like myself, have passed the years of prime, but to the youth, whose years of promise lie before him. He seeks to acquire a personal knowledge of the craft, the ability to achieve as others have done and still do. Is he prepared to pay the price, in time and study of the principles of the craft, and the details of its execution? In my father's day seven years of apprenticeship was not thought too long to obtain this knowledge. When I was a youth the term had become reduced to four or five years. To-day there is a general disinclination for any apprenticeship at all, and a sad misconception as to the amount that has to be learned. But all the quickening processes of science have failed to train the human mind at a more rapid pace, and those who have studied woodcraft for half a century find themselves still learning and quite unable to pack all their knowledge into a nutshell for the convenience of a beginner. The training is not that of the university; it is, however, quite as exacting in its own way and so merits equal recognition and respect, and it is encouraging to note that this idea is slowly gaining ground.

Slowly,indeed. The Village Carpenter was originally published in 1937.

ProJo Editors Support Single-Payer and Higher Taxes

Marc Comtois

In his Wednesday column, "The trouble with health care is paying for it", Michael Barone wrote:

We know now that it costs a lot of money to pay for insurance policies with expanded coverage for an expanded number of people. And we know that no one wants to pay the price.

We may be in the process of learning something else. Which is that insurance coverage that further insulates patients from costs results in unanticipated increases in health care spending. Yes, it bends the cost curve, but in the wrong direction. That's what has happened with the much-praised Massachusetts system.

It also happened in Maine and other states that tried to offer a "public option." For their part, the ProJo editors see the mish-mash of problems reflected in the current plans being considered in Washington and think the problem is lack of a "public option". Further, they remain convinced that the best option is not less government intrusion into health care, but more. Particularly in the form of a universal, single-payer system:
....how much more economical and efficient a single-payer plan would be than the mosaics being created in Congress to please the insurance companies spending so much money there. Health insurance works best for the public when the pool covers as wide a spectrum of the population as possible.
However, as they admit, we'll have to be taxed more to pay for this "economical and efficient" system:
Such devices as taxes on fancy “Cadillac” insurance plans, meant to move people into less-expensive ones, and smaller federal subsidies for private Medicare plans, which have been wonderful cash cows for insurers though very expensive for the public and providing no real benefit to public health, would help a bit.

But broad-based taxes will have to be raised (or invented) to pay for universal coverage and for Medicare costs for the Baby Boomers as they slide into decrepitude.

Well, at least their honest. If we really want the European style health care the ProJo continually trumpets, we'll have to pay European style taxes to support it. With the current recession, that's really good timing, guys

The End Not in Sight

Justin Katz

Maybe there's something about an article that begins by saying that the now-13% unemployment rate in Rhode Island "fulfill[s] experts' predictions that the state's job market will get worse before it gets any better" and then proceeds to quote experts who keep adjusting their predictions to chase the dark reality, with the latest being as follows:

[Edinaldo Tebaldi, assistant professor of economics at Bryant University] and Edward Mazze, distinguished university professor of business administration at the University of Rhode Island, will give a somewhat gloomier forecast for the state at a conference next month in Boston organized by the New England Economic Partnership. They predict the jobless rate to rise to at least 13.5 percent and hover there next year. By 2011, it will fall, but only to around 12 percent, their preliminary calculations show.

My unscientific gut assessment, based on general understanding of the problem and the signals of people who could fix it were they not simultaneously clueless and corrupt, remains that we're going to 14% indefinitely — although I'm tempted to put Rhode Island's new status quo at 15%. Take, for example, a companion article about a RIPEC event at which neither of Rhode Island's legislative leaders appeared willing to do more than offer empty phrases in the dialect of their audience. At least Governor Carcieri called for abolishing the corporate income tax, but that's only a start.

Take, also, the latest tidbit related to the foolish illusion of the stimulus program:

The federal government reports that at least 30,383 jobs have been created or saved across the United States as a direct result of federal contracts made possible by the stimulus package signed by President Obama in February.

Rhode Island, however, received just 6 of those jobs, according to federal data reported this week on the Obama administration's stimulus Web site, recovery.gov.

The Ocean State ranked dead last, even behind Puerto Rico (126 jobs) and the District of Columbia (370 jobs), in the national rankings.

To the extent that the "stimulus" has "created or saved" jobs, they are temporary — based on the continued provision of taxpayer dollars. And I'd hypothesize that Rhode Island's poor showing is evidence of the fact that our system is so constrictive that there aren't jobs waiting to be created, merely lacking investment. Rather, Rhode Island doesn't even have the machinery for job creation.

Sure, the article goes on as follows:

The numbers do not include, however, the number of jobs saved or created by stimulus dollars funneled through the state, which the state's congressional delegation said would exceed $1.1 billion and produce at least 12,000 jobs through transportation projects, green energy initiatives and job training programs.

Those figures -- which will likely show many more jobs created -- will be released Friday, according to the Carcieri administration.

But consider one component of that effort:

The state Office of Energy Resources, which has received tens of millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds in recent months for energy projects, announced Wednesday that it is finally distributing about $15 million, largely to help weatherize homes for low-income people.

Most of the money ($12.2 million) is going through local "community action agencies" as a sort of income redistribution to low-income households in the form of home improvements. In other words, it's being processed through Rhode Island's corrupt system in perfect harmony with the entrenched poverty industry and union constituencies that latch onto this state as a sixty-pound tumor. At the very minimum, one can infer that the effect of the money will be greatly diluted by the imbalanced pay that union workers will receive to do the public work.

This project from the energy office, although relatively small, is even more indicative of the deadly thinking in state government:

$250,000 to the state building commissioner to develop new building codes that would require more energy-efficient houses. The money may also be spent on training building officials and contractors.

Apparently, it is now "economic stimulus" to contrive ways to make it more expensive to build homes. That's not stimulus — it's asphyxiation. And it's the way Rhode Island operates and will continue to operate for the foreseeable future.

Maybe 15% isn't a high enough prediction.

October 15, 2009

Irresistible Entry into the Left-Right Thumb Wrestle

Justin Katz

Alright, so it's low-hanging fruit, but the letter to the editor reply of Nicholas Kondon (Hope Valley) to a prior letter by Evelyn Zifcak (North Smithfield) simply begs a response. Wrote Ms. Zifcak:

Tea parties get a bad rap, especially the Washington, D.C., march where 1 million folks from all over the country exercised their God-given and constitutional right to assemble and protest peacefully. Thank heaven that right is still alive and well!

To which Mr. Kondon rebuffs:

To begin with, can anyone provide us with the word of God that gives us the right to assemble and protest? Would we find that in the Old or New Testament? I’m sure it's there; God seems always to provide citations for the right wing.

Hmmm. I'm pretty sure the founding documents of our nation — not the Bible — offer the philosophical acknowledgment of our God-given rights as something prior to and superseding the state. The Declaration of Independence relates God, people, and the government thus:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

God grants rights, and the government secures them. Toward enumerating some of the more important or vulnerable of these rights, the U.S. Congress collected, and the United States adopted, a Bill of Rights, the first one of which includes the following language:

the right of the people peaceably to assemble

Kondon goes on:

With a casual wave of her hand, Ms Zifcak says some placards, only a few, "were in poor taste." In my lexicon, poor taste does not include comparing this president, or any president, to Hitler, or advocating his death.

One wonders what he thinks of the pictures to be found here of anti-Bush rallies. Perhaps he'll hold them to be something other than "poor taste," but whether he'd call them outrageous or well justified, I have my suspicions.

A Justification for Anything

Justin Katz

My demonstrated ambivalence about near-torture of terrorists (perhaps even crossing that line) may be immoral, in itself, but there are many layers to the matter, and given the unlikelihood that an individual's opinion will make much difference, the deep consideration that the question requires has been perpetually postponed. Clearly, an interrogation technique needn't be unambiguous torture before it risks objectification of the subject. Clearly, too, the reasoning required to arrive at a stamp of moral and legal legitimacy for acts that push the boundaries sets dangerous precedent. Such is the case with this, from National Review editor Rich Lowry:

The interrogations really should be viewed as a continuation of the war by different means. When the detainees were compliant, they weren't subjected to harsh techniques--they were no longer in the fight. But if they had knowledge of ongoing plots that they were keeping from us, they were, in effect, still combatants. And coercion was appropriate. Their cell was just the battlefield in a different form.

If that's the framework, and we can kill on the battlefield, what wouldn't be allowed against prisoners of war? And although we certainly shouldn't lose sight of the fact that our enemy is not a state actor, making definition difficult, if that war is not declared and defined in detailed terms, what's to stop the "battlefield" from expanding to include any suburban home in the United States?

Arguably, it's among the benefits of a mixed culture that the just reservations of one group will not always be adequate to restrain those whose beliefs allow venturing into morally murkier waters, and given the stakes, it isn't unreasonable to be relieved that we've learned what we've learned, however we arrived at the information. But torture will always appear vindicated, to some extent, if it contributed to avoiding substantial loss of human life. The problem is that we cannot know beforehand what information the prisoner possesses.

"The Hummel Report" Launches

Carroll Andrew Morse

Former WLNE-TV news reporter Jim Hummel has released the first video from his recently-opened-for-business website that is attempting to add something new to the local blogosphere: investigative reporting meeting television-level production standards, sans the television station. (Initial release of the videos is through the WPRO (630AM) radio website; Anchor Rising has a promotional relationship with the Matt Allen show on WPRO that this post and any future commentary on Hummel videos have nothing to do with.)

A major component of the success of any new-media venture hinges on its ability to uncover and explain news items of potential significance that traditional media has been missing. Judging by Hummel's first entry, about a Woonsocket police officer who has been on full salary for a decade despite not having to report for work, there's plenty of stuff out there that's been missed and that the public should be aware of for him to work with -- or perhaps more appropriately, to work against.

Bonus item: See Hummel confront Woonsocket Mayor Susan Menard -- and live to tell about it!

The "Jobs Bill" That Decreases Employment

Justin Katz

In politics, every policy is critical to every social need, provided that the politicians desire the policies and the people are currently concerned with the need. So, President Obama declares cap-and-trade energy legislation to be "a jobs bill," even though it will cost the economy jobs overall, as a Heritage study shows. Ben Lieberman explains:

Sure, the president can visit wind-turbine factories and boast about the few hundred green jobs at each. But the billions of dollars in government subsidies to the wind industry siphon resources and jobs away from other parts of the economy.

Worse, the higher cost of wind-generated electricity and other alternatives kills even more jobs, especially in the manufacturing sector, which needs reasonably-priced energy to compete in the global marketplace.

The next decade looks bleak, indeed. Hopefully, American voters will see the error of their ways — and force American politicians of both parties to see the error of theirs — in time to repair the damage before the subsequent decade begins testing just how low our nation can sink.

Obama's foreign policy simply isn't working and, more importantly, is putting America at greater risk

Donald B. Hawthorne

Pete Wehner on Obama's foreign policy in The God That's Failing...:

...President Obama looks to have been taken to the cleaners by the Russians. The United States bowed before Russian demands when it came to retooling a missile-defense system for Poland and the Czech Republic. We gave up something tangible and important — and in return we got a vague promise that Russia might be amenable to tougher sanctions against Iran. Now that vague promise appears to be inoperative — but the decision to scrap the Bush-era missile-defense program remains in place.

This episode captures Obama’s approach to international affairs and underscores its dangers. The president is weak and flaccid when it comes to our adversaries, and unreliable and unsteady when it comes to our allies. America’s enemies don’t respect us, and our allies increasingly don’t trust us. President Obama garners praise from the man attempting to lead a Marxist revolution in Latin America, Hugo Chavez, and is criticized by the hero of Solidarity, Lech Walesa. We pressure friends like Israel, Honduras, Poland, and the Czech Republic, and place our hopes in the goodwill and reasonableness of regimes like Russia, North Korea, and Iran. And in the process, some of the world’s foremost spokesmen for democracy publicly express their concern that Obama is "softening on human rights."

It was not supposed to be this difficult when Obama ran for president, when tyrants would bend to the will of America’s "sort of god." But reality is turning out to be a tough task master for our young president. All around the world, Mr. Obama is increasingly seen as impotent; he is both popular and largely ignored, viewed more as a celebrity than as an imposing leader.

It is all quite alarming and dangerous.


...Obama has been sucked into — or rushed into, depending on your assessment of his motives — talks that have forestalled sanctions and provided Iran breathing room. In fact, the Iranians are no longer in the spotlight, facing harsh judgment for their violations of existing sanctions, a secretive enrichment site, and human rights atrocities. No, they’re sitting in cushy meeting rooms in Geneva getting encouragement to keep at it. Are we further ahead or further behind from six months ago in preventing a nuclear Iran?

It seems that the entire engagement gambit was based on a false premise: the administration would be competent and maximize its leverage. Instead, we’ve tossed leverage away like confetti and have been, as Pete says, taken to the cleaners at each encounter with an adversary. At some point, even those inclined toward soft power will recognize that it’s time to get out of conference rooms if all we’re going to do is make concessions and provide cover for despots.

David Satter on Calming the Iranians.

Jennifer Rubin in Failure Everyone Can See Now:

At some point, not even the mainstream media can spin sufficiently for the hapless Obama foreign policy. This Washington Post report is blunt....

In other words, Obama’s Middle East gambit, apparently inspired by those known Middle East policy wonks Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, has failed. Spectacularly so. Putting daylight between the U.S. and Israel and sneering at the Bush team for being too close to Israel didn’t really get the Obami anywhere, did it? The Post is candid that the fixation on settlements "backfired." As virtually every pro-Israel conservative commentator predicted, "It raised hopes among Palestinians, who began to demand nothing less than a full freeze, and led to severe tensions in U.S.-Israeli relations."

And all that ingratiating with the "Muslim World" in Cairo? Not much was gained; in fact, the parties are more estranged than ever. Our relations with Israel have not been this strained since...well, ever...and the administration’s credibility is arguably worse than any of its recent predecessors.

What can be learned from all this? Sanctimonious speeches and fractured history-telling don’t make for "peace." Savaging your allies doesn’t get you anywhere. And ignoring hard truths — including the Palestinians' unsolved internal divisions and refusal to renounce and root out terrorism — also doesn’t get you anywhere. Moreover, Obama’s appearance on the scene doesn’t change any of the fundamental issues; neither does chanting "diplomacy" or "dedication to the peace process."

This should be a wake-up call for the administration. The Obama team might want to consider letting domestic pols run foreign policy. And they might put away some of their egocentric misconceptions about the power of Obama’s aura.

More Rubin on The Seminar Presidency:

David Ignatius concedes that Obama is conducting a do-over on Afghanistan. ("What’s odd about the administration’s review of Afghanistan policy is that it is revisiting issues that were analyzed in great detail — and seemingly resolved — in the president’s March 27 announcement of a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.") But what is most horrifying is the description of the process — academic, indecisive, and seemingly designed to get to the lowest common denominator...

Yikes. Works smoothly? Well, if the point is to reach some blissful, mushy middle ground on virtually everything without regard to the real-world consequences of the actions, then it’s like silk. But is the presidency a graduate course on international relations? This one appears to be — filled with platitudes and catch-phrases one would hear in the Ivy League ("interdependence" is right up there), disdain for military force ("Never solves anything!" — er, except slavery and Nazism), and the fetish for "consensus." It’s all very smooth and polite and the results are very well disastrous.

A half-measure in Afghanistan, the quagmire of "engagement" with Iran, and jerking missile defense out of Europe may engender "consensus" among essentially like-minded advisers, but all will leave the U.S. more vulnerable and the world more dangerous...

Previous AR foreign policy posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Families and the Lion

Justin Katz

Last night's Matt Allen Show appearance by Marc featured talk of political families and a cowardly lion's courage. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

October 14, 2009

Strength Is Relative, I Guess

Justin Katz

The headline for the article on the governor's race that Andrew mentioned at lunchtime (and that Matt Allen's teasers say he'll be discussing, tonight) bears the title, "Strong field surfaces in race for governor," both in print and online. I can't help but wonder whether this is really what qualifies as a "strong field" in Rhode Island.

Sure, they're all well known politicians to those who follow state politics, but as a quick anecdote for context: I was about to bring up the Gordon Fox cartoon controversy among the carpenters at lunch, today, but stopped when I realized how much explanation I'd have to offer regarding the key players. Promoting "the general treasurer, a former senator and the attorney general" as a contest of strength proves nothing so much as the lack of anything beyond the public sector, in Rhode Island.

Where are the business tycoons? The media magnates? Is there anybody in the private sector who would justify an "ooo" from the citizenry? Sure, as the article says, Rory Smith is at the precipice of jumping in, but most of you just asked, "Who?" Former Cranston Mayor and current hermit Steve Laffey would be a "strong candidate," but shouldn't there be at least a handful of names that we could put on a list for a fantasy political race? (In addition to Elisabeth Hasselbeck, of course.)

This state needs something other than government. And when it comes to government, it needs people from outside of the establishment. I mean, come on:

Their friendship dates to high school, where they played on competing basketball teams for rival schools, Caprio for Bishop Hendricken and Lynch for St. Raphael Academy.

"I used to cover him because I was usually assigned to cover the top scorer on the other team," Caprio says of Lynch. "I think we beat them every time."

Lynch offered this response: "You've got to love that Harvard wit and Hendricken Pride and admire them both. It goes to show that there's spin in both sports stories and politics."

Haven't you had enough, Rhode Island? (Whether to include that comma required deliberation...)


This, by the way, is worth note taking:

"On social issues, I have a track record of not dictating to people how they should lead their lives," said Caprio, who is pro-choice and supports gay marriage.

Guess we've moved from field-prepping to primary positioning.

Private School Teams on Public Fields

Marc Comtois

I don't know if this will go anywhere, but the lawsuit by the ACLU against the Pawtucket Parks and Rec Department for supposedly giving parochial schools priority over public schools for athletic field use caught my attention. As summarized at 7to7:

The ACLU, in a news release Wednesday, alleged that parks and recreation gave the preferential treatment in issuing permits for athletic field use to parochial schools over public schools.

The suit has been filed on behalf of seven Pawtucket parents and their children and it asks for the court to declare unconstitutional "both the preferential treatment to religious schools and the city's lack of any objective standards" for issuing the permits for fields use.

As an example, the suit claims that O'Brien field has "been reserved exclusively" for Saint Raphael Academy after it was refurbished using tax dollars.

And junior high school teams at the city's public schools have been denied use of two other fields, which are used by athletic teams from Saint Raphael and/or Bishop Keough Regional High Schools, the suit alleges.

I'm much more persuaded by the claim that the city has no objective standards for determining field use than by any supposed religious preferential treatment. (I suspect that any preference has more to do with who in the Pawtucket Parks and Rec may or may not be an alumnus of a particular school or not). Perhaps the most persuasive argument (PDF) is that these athletic fields were built and are maintained by public tax dollars, but the permitting has undeniably favored the athletic teams at St. Raphael's over the public schools.
[F]or most of the period before and since the O’Brien Field has been refurbished through the use of public monies, Saint Raphael Academy has enjoyed the exclusive use of said field, particularly on week-day afternoons in the fall season, despite repeated requests by various public school officials for use of O’Brien Field for public school sponsored interscholastic sports, submitted to the City of Pawtucket’s Office of Parks and Recreation, by and through Defendant William D. Mulholland.
This is part of a larger debate: to what degree should public dollars support private education? Many (all?) municipalities are required to bus students to private schools within their zone, for instance. If private school is a choice--often made out of necessity--should the public (ie; the taxpayer) be expected to subsidize any portion of that education? (Keeping in mind that parents who send their kids to private school subsidize public schools via their taxes)? Would this all go away if a voucher-type system was enacted?

That PwC Report on Healthcare Costs

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal headline was "Insurance lobbyists take the gloves off," and the AP report above which it appeared cast the story in terms of the political battle, as if it is immaterial and unknowable whether a study issued by PricewaterhouseCoopers is accurate:

The firm's study projected that the legislation would add $1,700 a year to the cost of family coverage in 2013, when most of the major provisions of the Baucus bill would be in effect.

Premiums for a single person would go up by $600 more than would be the case without the legislation, it estimated.

In 10 years' time, premiums would be $4,000 higher for a family plan, and $1,500 more for individual coverage.

From the voter/consumer perspective, this is a bit like watching two giants wrestle over who gets to eat more of us. Neither of them is interested in measures that would actually set us free or in our desire to explore the marvelous facilities that they've promised will be found in their belies. So, put the article aside and refer back to it, in a decade, so we'll know whom it is we hear saying "I told you so" as we're digested.

Party of the Rich

Marc Comtois

USA Today:

Democratic members of the House of Representatives now represent most of the nation's wealthiest people, a sharp turnaround from the long-standing dominance that Republicans have held over affluent districts.

A USA TODAY analysis of new Census data found that Democrats represent a far different constituency today than they did in 2005, when they were the minority in the House, or in 1990, when they were the majority.

The Democratic-controlled House is now an unusual combination of the richest and poorest districts, the best and least educated, and the best and the worst insured. The analysis found that Democrats have attracted educated, affluent whites who had tended previously to vote Republican.

Democrats now represent 57% of the 4.8 million households that had incomes of $200,000 or more in 2008. In 2005, Republicans represented 55% of those affluent households....

"The story is really education," says David Wasserman of the non-partisan Cook Political Report. He says "educated, wine-drinking Democrats" and poorer minority voters are an effective coalition because both groups are increasing in numbers.

No wonder there are so many Democrats opposed to taxes on the "gold-plated" health care plans!

Moderately Mysterious

Carroll Andrew Morse

Alright, I'll take the bait that's dangling from Steve Peoples' gubernatorial race preview appearing in today's Projo

Moderate Party Chairwoman Christine Hunsinger confirmed last week that her organization was courting a “prominent former public official” aside from oft-discussed former Republican Attorney General Arlene Violet to represent her fledgling party.
How many "prominent" former officials are there in Rhode Island to choose from? I can think of three people off of the top of my head who have either run for or held statewide office that might described as “prominent former public officials”: Robert Weygand (former Lt. Governor, could fit the bill as a "moderate" Democrat, was occasionally mentioned as having gubernatorial aspirations very early in this cycle), Anthony Antonio Pires (who I think was less Progressive than either Sheldon Whitehouse or Myrth York, and thus ran 3rd in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary) and Ron Machtley (former U.S. Congressman, could fit the bill as a "moderate" Republican, gave up his Congressional seat to run for governor in 1994).

Are there other names to add to the list?

Unfree Energy

Justin Katz

Is this the future of energy?

Planners envision installing a new kind of power meter in homes - a wall-based unit that can monitor how much electricity is being used by various appliances and turn them off when demand for energy is higher, and thus costlier to consume. The project also would upgrade the utility’s computer systems so it can integrate more renewable energy. ...

"There's a lot of opportunities for us to improve our knowledge of what's using power, and making it easier for us to shut off the power when we're not around," said Bob Gilligan, a GE vice president. "Most consumers aren't really aware of how much energy they're using at any time of day."

A consumer unit that monitors energy in the house, giving the homeowner more information and control, would be a worthwhile product, but this sounds like more of a top-down initiative with some disconcerting possibilities for the future:

The smart grid would help integrate additional clean energy into the grid through computers that could quickly manage Maui's power needs, adding and subtracting alternative power sources when desired.

"It will give the utility another knob to turn when wind suddenly calms on an afternoon, or when people are coming home and turning on their air conditioning," said Devon Manz, an engineer at GE's Global Research Center.

Maybe there are two distinct components to this "smart grid" — the appliance-monitoring device and the new knob back at the power company's office — but even if that's the case, it's a short step to computers' rationing energy through appliance-specific restrictions.

2009 Nobel Prize in Economics

Donald B. Hawthorne

Cafe Hayek on More on the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics. More here.

Hey, these awardees actually did something to earn their Nobels! LOL.

Valuable reading to be found in the links.


David Boaz of the Cato Institute on What is Regulation?

A Nobel Prize to End the World

Justin Katz

Well, there you have it, from the chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize committee:

Jagland singled out Obama's efforts to heal the divide between the West and the Muslim world and scale down a Bush-era proposal for an anti-missile shield in Europe.

"All these things have contributed to - I wouldn't say a safer world - but a world with less tension," Jagland said by phone from the French city of Strasbourg, where he was attending meetings in his other role as secretary-general of the Council of Europe.

"Peace" is all about the release of tension, it would appear. Tension for whom? Well, for global elites and bureaucrats, of course. The hand-wringing from which Obama has rescued them was starting to foster calluses. And this sort of thing can be sighed away as purely the background noise of international relations:

Clinton urged her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, to work together on developing possible sanctions in case international negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program fail, said a U.S. official close to the talks.

But the Russian was cool to the idea, saying he was concerned about backing Iran into a corner, the U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive sessions.

Emerging from four hours of talks with Clinton, Lavrov told reporters that "threats, sanctions and threats of pressure" against Iran would be "counterproductive."

Time will tell, of course, but I'd argue that the Obama administration has made war and death on a massive scale much more likely. As has the Nobel Peace Prize committee.

The Absence of Race: In Science, In a River Bank 9,300 Years Ago, In a Political Cartoon This Week

Monique Chartier

In a prior post, a comment by Warrington Faust sent me to research Kennewick Man, the name given to a man who lived 9,300 years ago and whose remains, discovered in 1996 in the bank of a river, became the subject of a legal tug-of-war between archeologists and the Native American community of the state of Washington. One of the articles I found ended thusly.

The political battles over the Kennewick man were framed in a large part by people who want to know to what "race" he belongs. Yet, the evidence reflected in the Kennewick materials is further proof that race is not what we think it is. The Kennewick man, and most of the Paleo-Indian and archaic human skeletal materials that we've found to date are not "Indian," nor are they "European." They don't fit into ANY category that we define as a "race." Those terms are meaningless in prehistory as long ago as 9,000 years--and in fact, if you want to know the truth, there are NO clearcut scientific definitions of "race."

Cliff Monteiro has objected to Jim Bush's cartoon [scanned image courtesy WPRO] in the Providence Journal on the basis that Gordon Fox is "multicultural"; i.e., part African-American.

My reaction upon hearing this bit of information was, really? Who knew?

Let's see, looking at him, he could be Italian. Or Spanish. Sure, you could see Portuguese. Or is he French? French French, though, not Canadian French - you can tell by his hair.

To this rather silly train of thought, the vast majority of us respond - who cares? We judge him solely on his political values, his conduct in office, how he has used his power.

It is those qualities, not any irrelevancy, which inspired this cartoon, a clever and revealing encapsulation of the top-heavy structure of Rhode Island's government as well as of the history and character of two of its key players. Any hint of race or racism therein has been projected from the mind of the reader, not placed by the pen of the artist.

October 13, 2009

The Science of Running Schools

Justin Katz

The Tiverton School Committee meeting has gotten around to the abysmal NECAP science scores, which I described when they came out. Superintendent Bill Rearick has run through the process of evaluating the problem, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda. It takes some years to turn things around. The East Bay Collaborative is attempting to come up with money to fund new "kits." The district is applying for grants.

News flash: There are kids graduating every year. There are students taking inadequate classes right now.

This is a bottom-line kind of thing for me. Screw contracts and hierarchies and standards and all the other grown-up junk. The district has resources allocated to it within which it must work. This is a basic function at which it is utterly failing. Expand the time that science teachers must work, if it's necessary. Fire anybody who isn't willing to put in the same degree of effort that any other professional who is utterly failing would have to put in.

Everything must stop until students are receiving the education that they deserve, and for which the town is already paying.

7:51 p.m.

Chatter. Starting the conversation with the statement, "this is obviously unacceptable," isn't sufficient. I don't want to hear what balls the district has started to roll. I want to hear what they're doing to roll them faster.

7:55 p.m.

Committee Member Danielle Coulter is trying to push the conversation toward what can be done immediately and what further effort can be pushed. You know, any private company, in any industry whatsoever, seeing a public release of this level of badness would be out in the public with a plan for repairs within a day. The tone of the administrators of Tiverton school district is what one unfortunately expects in the public sector. Essentially: "We're doing all of the steps that you're supposed to do. We need money. We're looking into tools."

These results (and not just science, either) should be keeping administrators across the state up at night.

7:59 p.m.

Supt. Rearick just said that there is no local money left to invest in this. Earlier in the evening, Director of Administration and Finance Doug Fiore proclaimed that the budget is balanced. I hate to contradict that, but there are clearly holes therein.

One Must Be Fit to Move Forward

Justin Katz

The following is a sentiment that I seem to have been hearing in multiple contexts, recently, written in this case by George Cardinal Pell in a review of Peter Seewald's book on Pope Benedict (emphasis added):

... by his own account, the answers Seewald received "grabbed him by the scruff of the neck." He started to read the gospels regularly and to go to Mass. Belief became a burning issue for him and he was horrified by the possibility that his questions had no answers. He has now quietly returned to the Church, acknowledging that, by Catholic criteria, only a conservative can be progressive—which is to say, only someone who keeps the treasure of faith complete and intact is able to achieve progress.

In our overgrown labyrinth of a reality, one can only get so far lunging forward, naked and desperate for progress. One must be adequately dressed, with such maps and guidebooks as are available, and with implements for self-provision and defense. That, in a metaphor, is conservatism, and I'm obviously inclined to expect the principle to follow from my religion as well as my politics — even prior to my politics.

College Isn't Required to Earn a Good Living

Marc Comtois

Two stories in last week's ProJo have been jangling around in my head. Then Justin noted Deborah Gist's "anger" over kids not wanting to go to college and, correctly, pointed out that college ain't for everyone. I agree, especially when the value of a B.A. seems to be less and less while we pay more and more. The first story that caught my attention last week was that the RI Board of Governors for Higher Education raised tuition and fees by almost 10% at URI, RIC and CCRI, continuing a trend. Yet, Rhode Island isn't alone, it's a national problem. One cause of these increases is what's called the "cookie monster" effect, says Ronald Ehrenberg, who directs the Higher Education Research Institute at Cornell University.

Colleges and universities like to grab as many resources as they can. We want to make ourselves as good as we can. We want the best facilities, students, resident halls and labs, so there's this tremendous drive to be better, and that costs money....[For a long time] there's been no check on this drive to get better, because the lines of students wanting to get into institutions keep getting longer.
As Andrew Gillen explains (PDF), colleges want more because spending more on students is looked upon favorably by such college "rating" organizations as U.S. News and World Report.
Schools generally cannot compete with each other by demonstrating that they provide a better education than others, because the outputs of school (learning and its consequences in a value added sense) are not measured. Since there are not generally accepted measures of outputs, and it is reasonable to think that high quality inputs will lead to high quality outputs, schools compete on inputs instead. Any input that is plausibly thought to affect learning (superstar faculty, world class laboratories, fancy dorms, etc.) becomes the focus of competition, and each school tries to have the best inputs. The result has variously been described as the Bowen Rule, the Ehrenberg Cookie Monster, or more generally the academic arms race, and it inevitably leads to an explosion in costs. Is it any wonder that when we measure schools based on inputs, which are costly, that costs continually rise?
They spend more, jack up tuitions and the portion of financial aid has to go up too. And the cycle continues. There are some solutions, as Richard Vedder explains (sub. req'd):
Reduce, do not increase, the federal student-loan programs that have raised both demand and prices. Give money directly to students, rather than to institutions, and restrict aid programs to those who are truly needy and perform well (40 percent of students do not graduate within six years; support should be cut off after four years of full-time undergraduate study). Substitute a system of good consumer information for most of the current accreditation process, which stifles competition. Make it easier for students to transfer between institutions, and favor lower-cost community colleges that are not as afflicted with the ailments described above. Develop non-university programs for certifying vocational competence — for example, tests similar to the CPA examination.
Which brings me to the second ProJo story from last week, which described a report by The Workforce Alliance that found that Rhode Island doesn't train enough “middle-skill” workers.
In 2008, the report says, there were 225,350 middle-skill jobs in the state. Projections through 2016 say that 42 percent of job openings will be for middle-skill jobs, compared with 32 percent for high-skill jobs that require a four-year college degree and 26 percent for low-skill jobs requiring a high school degree or less.

The report urges the state to focus its work-force investments on middle-skill jobs.

Rising college tuition costs and a greater demand for jobs that don't require a four-year college degree seem to point in a direction that comports with The Workforce Alliance's recommendation. I'm not sure what "work-force investments" the state actually has at its disposal right now, but the recommendation is one that should be considered by individual Rhode Island workers (both current and prospective) regardless of what the state does. Robert Verbruggen (sub. req'd.) expounds on some of what Vedder wrote:
Of those who go to college, only 60 percent graduate within six years; at any given time, only about 60 percent of college graduates are employed in jobs that require degrees; and of these, many could have achieved equal or greater success in less time and for less money.
Yet, as the Workforce Alliance explains, there is a gap between actual jobs and the type of education we encourage. George Leef (sub. req'd.) explains:
There are insufficient alternatives to the traditional B.A. because our educational system is built upon the notion that the more time spent in classrooms, the better, and this makes it extremely hard for people to get a hearing for the case that college is often a poor choice. The consequence is that large numbers of Americans spend more time in postsecondary education than they need to and take many courses of no lasting benefit to them.
But, at some point, people need to educate themselves, Mike Rowe, host (and participant) of Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs has made it his mission to spread the word about the nobility and value (personal and monetary) of hard work (h/t commenter EMT).

Rowe has also started his own website---Mike Rowe Works--to help promote his cause. "Work is not the enemy."

Doesn’t it seem strange that we can have a shortage of skilled labor, a crumbling infrastructure, and rising unemployment? How did we get into this fix? Are we lazy? Our society has slowly redefined what it means to have a “good job.” The portrayals in Hollywood and the messages from Madison Avenue have been unmistakable. “Work less and be happy!” For the last thirty years we’ve been celebrating a different kind of work. We’ve aspired to other opportunities. We’ve stopped making things. We’ve convinced ourselves that “good jobs” are the result of a four year degree. That’s bunk. Not all knowledge comes from college. Skill is back in demand. Steel toed boots are back in fashion. And Work Is Not The Enemy.
Rowe's website offers advice and links for people looking to get into blue-collar types of "dirty" jobs or the like. For instance, there's a piece giving advice for new apprentices or one that explains how plumbers help us maintain civilization (and they make a pretty decent buck doing it) or how "brown" should come before "green." We need to revitalize the notion that blue-collar or "middle-skill" work has value--personal, societal, monetary--even if it isn't backed by a lambskin earned over a 4 (or more) year period at a college or university. That doesn't mean we should dissuade people from striving for college, just that we should put all of the information in front of them.

Is the Gig Up for the RI Education Industry?

Justin Katz

It's worth your time, if you haven't already read through the Sunday Providence Journal article about RI Education Commissioner Deborah Gist's elevation of the state's standardized test requirement for prospective education students to the highest in the country. The college and university estimates of how many students would miss the mark are head shakers, but of particular value is revelation of the gig, the game, the scam of educator education:

"Everybody understands what Commissioner Gist wants to do and I think her goals are laudable," [acting higher education commissioner Steven] Maurano said. "We absolutely want to work with her to do whatever we can to improve the quality of teachers in Rhode Island Schools. The concern that the institutions have is that if you raise the score for the Praxis I too high in one fell swoop, we will deny a significant number of students the opportunity to get into teacher prep programs."

Limiting the "opportunity" to enter into teaching programs is kind of the point, isn't it? It gets better:

Teacher training programs argue that there are several other safeguards before a student graduates, including requiring that students pass a series of exit exams in specific subjects toward the end of their program, called Praxis II, and perform student teaching for a semester.

Rhode Island requires high cut scores for these exit exams and they are a better indicator of the kind of educator a new teacher will become, say Byrd and Eldridge.

Reporter Jennifer Jordan doesn't explore how the percentage of students who pass the exit exams correlates with the estimates of how many would fall short of higher entrance scores, but the underlying argument is telling. Those who run training programs want a low bar for the students rushing to give them money, but a high bar for achieving the goal that motivated the exchange. In typical Rhode Island fashion, the objective appears to be to introduce waste (of time, money, and human potential) for the benefit of those who live off of it.

The most suitable names for such behavior might make a good question in the vocabulary portion of the Pre-Professional Skills Test.

There Will Be Rationing

Justin Katz

Further to this morning's vlog, John Goodman's got a good explanation of the reason that Sarah Palin's "death panel" comment was broadly accurate. He touches on the public sections of the healthcare industry, but then moves on:

As currently envisioned, private health plans and at least one public plan would compete. The plans would be free to set their own premiums but would have to charge all enrollees the same price, regardless of their health status. Because some plans will attract a greater percentage of sick enrollees than others, a government administrator will have the power to "tax" plans with healthier enrollees in order to subsidize plans with sicker enrollees, through a process called risk adjustment. And it is through this process that the government will have enormous power to control what is done for the sick.

Suppose a plan attracts an above-average number of people whose doctors say they need hip replacements. The company asks the government risk adjuster for a subsidy to cover the cost. The risk adjuster may decide these hip replacements constitute "unnecessary care" or "futile care" and deny the request. In this way, the risk adjuster will effectively force doctors to deny people care.

The risk adjuster will be aided by a national health board, which will do "comparative effectiveness" analyses. If the health board decides that a hip replacement is "unnecessary" or "futile," it will offer cover for the risk adjuster to deny payment and for insurers to deny care.

Vlog #9: Planning Against Human Nature

Justin Katz

Herewith, further thoughts emerging from things said at healthcare town halls. The focus is, obviously, healthcare, but the argument is against socialism in general (ahem).

October 12, 2009

Swine Flu Disconnect

Justin Katz

Is it just me, or is there an odd disconnect with this swine flue thing? The White House human services secretary has been giving the vaccine a round of marketing, and I know that schools in Tiverton, at least, are offering it to students on the premises. Yet, our pediatrician doesn't recommend it (which is not to say that she recommends against it).

It's a bad bug, as Mark Hemingway attests, but as Hemingway also attests, it's hardly a beast more fearsome than many of us who've made it into adulthood have already experienced several times. We face such illnesses down and survive, appreciating what it means to be healthy and sick.

Personally, I can't shake the feeling that there's something more to this hysteria. Some model to prove or cultural impulse to change, and being conservative, once suspicious, I'm resistant.

Don't Drop Out, but Stay for the Right Reasons

Justin Katz

A "summit" addressing the high-school drop-out rate in Rhode Island has gotten some attention, as the topic certainly deserves. Talk about students' coming to see their teachers as the "enemy" rightly made the Providence Journal article and the WRNI audio report, but it may be that a statement of pro forma outrage from the education commissioner deserves more attention:

Deborah A. Gist, the state's new commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said Thursday she had a disturbing conversation with a group of teachers recently. They told her that many of their students aren't interested in attending college.

"That made me really angry," Gist said at a dropout-prevention summit. "Afterward, I asked nearly every student what they wanted to do after high school and every single child talked about going to college."

Apart from any occupational interest that she might have in encouraging high attendance rates, why should students' lack of attention to college make Ms. Gist "really angry"? Not every career path does, can, or should lead through an expensive few years of higher education, involving hours of effort and thousands of dollars for undesired lessons (whether fluff or culturally significant).

In fact, I'd hypothesize that decades of higher education's being presented as a must-take next step after high school has contributed to dropout rates. If college is a seamless continuation of secondary school, then achieving a diploma at the earlier stage is marginally more significant than not achieving one, and if a student isn't interested in the careers for which they expect college to prepare them, then they've no reason to be interested in an earlier curriculum intended to prepare them for college.

As a society, we have to make the pitch as to why high school graduation is important in its own right, and that will require a straightforward enunciation of the opportunities available thereafter — even if some students might find them adequate or even more attractive than continued time in plastic chairs with bolted-on desks.

An Association of Associates

Justin Katz

I've procured a copy of the proposed change in the Ethics Commission's general advisory pertaining to union members' voting, as elected officials, on contracts and such that affect other locals of their unions (PDF). There's nothing in it that will surprise those who've been following along, and frankly, with the exception of replacing "adequate" with "expanding," it's hard to argue with this:

Individual labor union members pay dues to the local bargaining unit of which they are a member, a portion of which is retained by that local unit, with some other portion ordinarily flowing up to the statewide and, when applicable, nationwide, umbrella organizations. While each local bargaining unit and statewide organization is structured and functions somewhat differently, it is generally the case that one of the primary missions of any given union is to secure adequate compensation and benefits for its membership; this being the case, we opine that an individual dues-paying member of any given local bargaining unit is a business associate, as that term is defined by R.I. Gen. Laws section 36-14-2(3), of both the local bargaining unit to which the individual pays dues and the statewide entity to which a portion of those dues flow. What this means in practical terms is that when a duly-authorized representative of a local bargaining unit or its statewide affiliate is representing the local or statewide entity before a person subject to the Code who is also a member of that local or the statewide umbrella entity, the person subject to the Code must recuse from taking official action in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws sections 36-14-5(f) and 6.

Closing any of these corruption loopholes (not unlike the prostitution loophole) that we're able will only benefit the state. Of course, it's probably too little, too late to prevent the state's financial collapse.

The Weekend Autumn's Chill Arrived

Justin Katz

This weekend brought assorted topics:

October 11, 2009

Godwin's Law in Paragraph Seven

Justin Katz

Some columns are best ignored, and Tom Plate's recent op-ed would easily have been one of those were it not for a telling little slip of the old Reductio ad Hitlerum (emphasis added):

Not even the most mature and sophisticated of columnists are immune to the temptation to occasionally hurl a shoe at someone. My own list of current targets starts off with America's top commander in Afghanistan for shooting off his mouth in a recent speech in London. It seems Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is against an Afghan pullback — wow, what a surprise!

Sorry, Herr General: It's Barack Obama who has to make the difficult decision on whether to send more troops to troubled Afghanistan, or bring the boys and girls home over time. Why not let the president make his decision without such public pressure? A soft shoe for him.

Perhaps in a world in which pundits fantasize about throwing shoes as a means of disapproval it is necessary to toss some reality: General McChrystal has requested more troops because he believes it to be necessary in order to succeed in his mission and bring the theater to a condition that doesn't entail a regular trickle of American blood. If a speech can light a fire under his inexperienced lightweight of a commander in chief, then that speech should he should give.

And, for the record, I suspect that — fantasy or reality — Tom Plate would quickly find his shoes in a much darker (less comfortable) spot, should he begin flinging them at American military officers.

Reasons for the Obama Justice Department to Prosecute ACLU/"John Adams" Project Lawyers

Monique Chartier

Let's hope that the Justice Department's investigation (see Justin's post) leads in due course to prosecution. If it does not, the United States may well be left blind, without an intelligence/counter-intelligence department because no one will be willing to take or keep such important jobs.

And who could blame them? In the absence of prosecution in this case, misguided ACLU lawyers and other individuals will be emboldened in the future to take similar actions against agents and government officials who commit these and less serious "offenses".

In the process of doing a little research on this matter, I came across a remarkable statement by one of the ACLU attorneys involved.

["O'Reilly Factor" Producer Dan] BANK: Ma'am, you've hired researchers to follow CIA agents around all over the place and then show them to Al Qaeda terrorists, the same people who organized September 11th.

[Attorney Nina] GINSBERG: What they did was try and find out who the names and the identities of the people who tortured, illegally tortured people because the government won't turn over that information, and people in this country have a right to defend themselves. Sir, get out of my way.

BANK: Ma'am, hold on one second.

GINSBERG: Sir, get out of my way.

BANK: Because there are federal laws prohibiting sharing classified information like that.

GINSBERG: It's not classified. If there's a person walking in the street who has a picture taken of himself, that is not classified information.

So she denies that the actions of the "John Adams" Project have endangered those CIA agents. Though this was not originally one of the reasons for prosecution, possibly Attorney Ginsberg would better comprehend the implications of such actions if they were systematically presented during a trial.

The other reason to prosecute pertains to the more pragmatic matter of turf. Looked at another way, this is an extreme example of getting justice by taking the law into one's own hands. (It could also have become a form of unofficial rendition, something that the ACLU presumably deplores, as do most of us.) While some in the Justice Department and in the administration may secretly sympathize with those who attempted to help and/or get revenge for those who may (or may not) have been tortured, the Justice Department hopefully has the attitude that it will suffer no unofficial competition in the area of justice and law enforcement.

The Cross as Symbol

Justin Katz

The Mojave Cross boxed in plywood so as not to offend may be the perfect symbol of tyrannical multiculturalism. Erected 75 years ago in memory of the nation's World War I casualties — and with strong visual correlation with the plain crosses that have a long cultural pedigree along roads — the cross has been the subject of a separation of church and state dispute that has reached the Supreme Court. Moreover, it fittingly reflects the zealous drive to rid America of any public reminder of Christian heritage.

A new twist, though, has the potential to unite religious and libertarian conservatives:

Several conservative justices seemed open to the Obama administration's argument that Congress' decision to transfer to private ownership the land on which the cross sits ends any government endorsement of the cross and takes care of the constitutional questions.

"Isn't that a sensible interpretation" of a court order prohibiting the cross' display on government property? Justice Samuel Alito asked.

The liberal justices, on the other hand, indicated that they agree with a federal appeals court that ruled that the land transfer was a sort of end-run around the First Amendment prohibition against government endorsement of religion.

The argument against permitting religious symbols on public land is that it implies an endorsement of the represented beliefs. Even if we accept that as a plausible argument, the idea that the endorsement is furthered by divesting of the land in order to avoid destruction of the symbol is perverse. It also illustrates the dangers of permitting government ownership of anything: the opportunity to force beliefs — or disbelief — is too attractive for fanatics not to erase and rewrite.

The General Assembly's Persistent Free Pass

Justin Katz

It's one of those things that, once you've noticed, it's difficult not to see everywhere: How in the world does the General Assembly always manage to step forward as the great authority and protector without shouldering any of the blame or responsibility? Consider:

"Any way you slice it, [next year's budget] is going to have to focus on how we get the cities and towns to get by on less, do some of the same cost-saving things we're doing with state employees and do some consolidations," Carcieri said.

But several Finance Committee members said they want to see more of an effort from state agency directors to cut their budgets before the administration targets local communities.

Why isn't the governor making allies of the cities and towns by hammering again and again the need for the General Assembly to get off their backs with mandates and regulations? And why didn't reporter Cynthia Needham redirect along those lines when the Finance Committee members tightened the rhetorical screws on the relatively powerless administrators?

Whatever the case, municipal and school officials had best be doing some screw tightening of their own, because the state apparatus is intent on bringing them down with the ship.

What Sort of World Authority?

Justin Katz

Douglas Farrow takes up one of the more difficult questions for the right-wing Catholic: Pope Benedict's call for a "true world political authority" in his recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. Farrow doesn't fully assuage fear that the pope has erred in the direction of his European intellectual surroundings, but he does provide the context of Benedict's previous writings, which assure us that the pope does see the danger of secular governmental consolidation.

From the Christian perspective, we must begin with the assumption that the world will converge in some way, making the question how, not whether, to govern that interconnected society:

Globalization, Benedict insists, is something more than the inevitable consequence of technology. In fact, it tells us something about the way humanity is made. Globalization, in other words, is a consequence of divine design. It is no mere accident of history affording "unusual opportunities for greater prosperity," as John Paul II said. History, as Paul VI suggests, is the site of development, and development is the function of the human vocation, at once personal and corporate, to an end that lies beyond history. On the way to that end, something like globalization was bound to happen. Humanity has been called together by God in Christ, and it will come together. ...

In Caritas in Veritate, Benedict speaks of globalization in much the same terms. "Globalization, a priori, is neither good nor bad. It will be what people make of it," he notes, quoting from John Paul II. "We should not be its victims, but rather its protagonists, acting in the light of reason, guided by charity and truth. Blind opposition would be a mistaken and prejudiced attitude, incapable of recognizing the positive aspects of the process, with the consequent risk of missing the chance to take advantage of its many opportunities for development."

The resolution to the problem, it seems to me, comes into view if we take a classically American view of government rather than the more European view that we fear Pope Benedict to be promoting. In practical terms, this means that, taking a global tier of government to be inevitable, the only tolerable version is after a democratic, federalist model with authority and power inversely proportional to the distance from the individual. The higher one goes, the less the governing body should actually be authorized to do.

In more substantive terms, and here I think it unquestionable that the pope agrees, taking the American view means beginning with the idea that human society is governed by more than just a political government. Our Constitution acknowledges and provides for the maintained health of other spheres of authority, such as religion, commerce, and media, and any higher level of government must do the same to a heightened degree.

Of course, with America herself drifting from those principles, the fear that a "world political authority" formed during these times would have oppressive, totalitarian tendencies is eminently reasonable. What's needed, in other words, is a cultural conversion before such secular mechanisms would be tolerable. As the head of the Church, Pope Benedict surely sees that, and his encyclical, as Farrow suggests, should be seen less as an instructional document for immediate advocacy than as a presentation of where the world is headed and what final destination Catholics should envision.

If It Takes a Thief to Catch a Thief, Does It Take a Lawbreaker to Make a Lawyer?

Monique Chartier

From yesterday's Providence Journal.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has ordered that the Stephen M. Hunter’s license to practice law be suspended for one year. Hunter has been convicted of five crimes.

One felony and four misdemeanors. And just one year later, Mr. Hunter will once again be able to practice law with the blessing of the State of Rhode Island.

In view of the confidentiality that shields the criminal records of both lawyers and non-lawyers and presumably precludes the ability to obtain some basic statistics, all we can do is ask questions. How many lawyers with a criminal record possess or anticipate recovering their Rhode Island law license? Percentage-wise, how does this stack up to the leniency demonstrated to felonious lawyers in other states?

One other important point, not to be found in statistics but in the law itself. Are the terms and conditions for lawyers to obtain, lose and re-obtain their law licenses dictated by the lawyer-heavy General Assembly of Rhode Island? Or does the statute on this point confer latitude and discretion to the RI Supreme Court?

Congressional Candidate John Loughlin Healthcare Town Hall, 9/30/09

Justin Katz

As I said, I was a little late to John Loughlin's healthcare town hall, a couple of weeks ago, but I did get most of it on video and capture a good number of interesting points from all involved.

October 10, 2009

The Thinking Behind It Is the Thing

Justin Katz

Most folks, including Marc, seem to agree that opposing $5 per year parking for students at a Warwick school is unreasonable but is likely to have its roots in frustration with a system that has slowly but surely been bleeding educational programs in order to bloat employee contracts. The aspect of the story that strikes me is the professed thinking behind the program:

Secondly, [Toll Gate Principal Stephen] Chrabaszcz said, the parking privilege would be used as a way to discourage tardiness. Any student who is late for more than 10 days would lose their parking privileges for 30 days.

So the punishment for tardiness will entail increasing the difficulty of arriving in the classroom on time. The foolishness of such a program on its face suggests that it's more of a post hoc excuse for exempting the well-paid grown-ups to whom justifications of safety and orderliness of parking would also apply.

Protesting the Brown U Protest of Cristoforo Colombo

Monique Chartier

Noon, Monday, by the flagpole on Brown University's Main Green. Organized by WPRO's John DePetro, the Brown Spectator and the Brown College Republicans.

From John DePetro's press release.

... the decision by the faculty at Brown University to change the name of the Columbus Day holiday is "a tremendous insult to all Italian-Americans." DePetro said he would be happy to accept the resignations from members of the Brown faculty at the rally," to clear their conscience of teaching at a school built upon the slave trade." " This grossly misguided farce to try to ignore and destroy the historic contribution made by one of the world's greatest explorers is not only insulting to Italian-Americans, but is a very disturbing reminder of how America's traditional heritage is under attack in many quarters of the Ivy League and on other college campuses," DePetro says.

[Irreverent side note: does the fact that Columbus apparently navigated by a map given to him by aliens - space aliens - at all mitigate his image in the eyes of his Brown critics?]

From Marc's post in April when the Brown faculty voted to recognize the boycott.

Of course Europeans didn't cover themselves in glory with the way they treated the indigenous people of the New World. Man has made war upon man for time immemorial. As "anyone who has studied history" should know, the difference is only a matter of degree.

It does make me wonder. Is it only the violence committed by the "victors" that is objectionable?

Wasn't John Adams Against Treason and Sedition?

Justin Katz

I'm a little slow to this one, but inasmuch as it hasn't gotten much coverage, it's worth a little catch-up:

The Justice Department is investigating a group of lawyers working for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for taking pictures of covert CIA agents at Guantanamo Bay and handing them over to known al Qaida operatives. The lawyers, representing several detainees charged with organizing the September 11, 2001, attacks, have been accused of participating in an elaborate scheme to "out" as many as forty covert CIA agents, by tracking them to their homes and photographing them.

The ACLU lawyers are accused of conspiring in what is being called the "John Adams Project," along with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), and using lists and data from "human rights groups," European researchers and news organizations that were involved in tracking international CIA-chartered flights and monitoring hotel phone records. The John Adams Project allegedly developed a list of 45 CIA employees, which the ACLU team tailed and photographed surreptitiously; often as they were leaving their homes.

The ACLU proclaims confidence "that no laws or regulations have been broken." The rest of us can increase our confidence that such advocates for "civil liberties" incline toward one side of a larger cultural struggle, with a decidedly wrong-for-you, right-for-us tilt.

What Governs a Town?

Justin Katz

That layoffs of police in East Providence are "the first in years" in Rhode Island is surprising, but not particularly noteworthy. In fact, we should hope that organizations — whether companies or municipalities — will operate in such a way as to ensure consistent, long-term employment. It's difficult, however, not to see some sort of relationship with a story out North Providence:

[Mayor Charles] Lombardi said he held off on filling vacancies in the Police Department in recent months for financial reasons, which triggered several union grievances and set off a legal debate about the extent of his control over police staffing. Lombardi argues that the Town Charter gives the mayor discretion to determine whether a replacement will be appointed when a police officer leaves the department.

The police union argues that the department's organizational chart is governed by the contract, which prohibits "changes resulting in reduction in ranks" or "department strength."

Employment contracts should not be allowed to modify the rules by which a constitution or charter is operated. Elected officials lack the right — and should lack the authority — to negotiate such documents away.

Add this scheme to the list of practices that reformers must end if Rhode Island is ever to recover.

The Williams Story and a Different Caste

Justin Katz

The story of former RI Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Williams's second family is certainly worthy of the adjectives that have thus far been used to describe it — "odd," "creepy," and so on. With or without further details, though, it's essentially a window into another world in which such creatures thrive, and in which such facts as this swill about:

They brought in $198,000 in salaries last year, according to personnel data gathered by state controller Marc Leonetti. Pamela DosReis, 44, earned a $58,000 base salary, plus $9,709 in overtime and bonuses.

Her husband, Frank, 45, had a base salary of $50,455, plus just shy of $80,000 in overtime and bonuses.

On a personal level, one can congratulate the DosReises for their good fortune in acquiring attractive financial circumstances. As the people funding those circumstances, suspicion and recriminations are more in order, whether focusing on a powerful man who could pull such lucrative strings, on a system that makes an elite of public servants in an economically struggling state, or both.

The Peremptory Definition of a Child

Justin Katz

It's a delicate story, but beyond the strength of Matthew Milliner's witness is a telling anecdote. Milliner's unborn child has died in the womb:

The next day our doctor called in a rushed tone, and said something must quickly be done. We were to go to our local "Women's Center" for a procedure. This did not appeal to me, but my wife was in danger. I called the clinic.

"I need the remains of this child to be treated with respect," I said. "We've never had that request before," the receptionist replied. "Let me check with my supervisor." After a wait, the receptionist returned with the news that this would not be possible, as "it" was "medical waste."

Through a family connection, Milliner and his wife found a clinic that treated the "it" as what they believed it to be (what it was): their child. In a democratic society, such belief is a manifest threat to an industry that reaps its revenue in millions of tiny corpses. Try as we might, public policy will not rest on absolute relativism when it comes to life and death.

My wife held our baby, a tiny pietà. We both mourned and prayed.

The nurses took the footprints of tiny feet. They even dressed Clement in an outfit and took a picture, wrote out a birth card. The undertaker came and handled the body with a reverence of movement that ministered more than ten chaplains' prayers. We buried him in a family plot, where we told the story of how his life began. He has parents and grandparents who love him; nurses and an undertaker who cared for him in his short life.

Either this is absurd sentimentality or just and appropriate acceptance of and mourning for a life lost. A being worthy of the latter has an innate right not to be killed intentionally, especially for little cause.

October 9, 2009

Republican Northeast Conference, Day 2 Afternoon, Video: Young Republicans

Justin Katz

Concluding the Saturday session of the Republican Northeast Conference was a trio of Young Republicans: Rhode Island's Ryan Neil Lund, Massachusetts' Matthew Boucher, and Britny McKinney, in from D.C.

Obama's Agenda and the Nobel Peace Prize

Donald B. Hawthorne

Thoughts on the strategic issues and political agenda driven by Obama's world view:

Power Line: Paul Rahe on Obama's Agenda

Charles Krauthammer on Decline is a choice

Peter Wehner links the two concepts of Obama's agenda and his winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. More thoughts from Jonathan Tobin, Jennifer Rubin and the NR editors.

Bill Whittle reminds us of the American exceptionalism Barack Obama doesn't believe in.

More valuable thoughts from Andy McCarthy and Peter Kirsanow. Human rights groups are skeptical as are certain liberal opinion leaders.

Previous AR foreign policy posts here, here, here, here, and here.

reason.TV ridicules the award while Obama finally says something many people can agree with.

Meanwhile, let your thoughts and prayers be with the people who were nominated for the Peace Prize but lacked the celebrity status of Obama or Gore. It is truly these people who are making valiant efforts to bring peace to the world.


As a reminder, more thoughts on the alternative view of American exceptionalism here: Happy Birthday, America! and William Allen: George Washington as America's First Progressive.

More on who awarded the Nobel to Obama.

Victor Davis Hanson adds his thoughts on Lessons from Oslo and Mark Steyn asks Who Really Won? In diminishing American power abroad, Obama and the U.S. choose decline.


SNL on Nobel Peace Prize.


Just One Minute on Peggy Noonan wants to write Obama's Nobel Speech.

Jennifer Rubin on America’s Not Big Enough for Him.


It could have been so different and influenced the future for the better.


Neville Chamberlain would, no doubt, approve of Obama's latest with Russia. How does this advance the cause of peace or America's interests?

The Process for Judges Like the Process for Politicians

Justin Katz

Michael McConnell uses a book review on the topic of judicial philosophy to bring forth an image of the new process for being confirmed to the Supreme Court:

Sotomayor's repudiation of the president's empathy criterion raised eyebrows and not a few questions about her sincerity. But in truth her answer was a powerful tribute to the traditional American commitment to the rule of law. Even facing no serious threat to her confirmation, Sotomayor found it necessary to embrace an ideal of judging as old as the republic.

One prominent law professor, however, found Judge Sotomayor's response "disgusting." Michael Seidman asked, "How could someone who has been on the bench for seventeen years possibly believe that judging in hard cases involves no more than applying the law to the facts? First-year law students understand within a month that many areas of the law are open textured and indeterminate—that the legal material frequently (actually, I would say always) must be supplemented by contestable presuppositions, empirical assumptions, and moral judgments." Ronald Dworkin likewise took on the notion of being "faithful to the law," arguing that "the phrase means nothing, because there are so many contesting views about how to discover what the law is that 'fidelity to law' means fidelity to your own conception of law." Surely many more in the academy were thinking the same thing.

It is a shame that no one on the judiciary committee asked Sotomayor the question posed by Seidman and Dworkin: When the law is not clear, what does it mean to say that "the job of a judge is to apply the law"? Without elaboration, the statement is more platitude than commitment. What could it mean? And it would have been interesting to ask Judge Sotomayor why a judge should not decide hard cases based on her own moral judgment.

It has long been the case, but with Sotomayor the judicial confirmation hearings have become more a matter of showmanship than judicial philosophy, making statements that are, at best, arguably in conflict with previously stated beliefs and actions, giving politicians cover to vote for candidates who were nominated on the basis of their actual behavior. One more reason (if you need one) to edge our country back from its creep toward judicial tyranny. When the latest president and the latest Supreme Court justice have both achieved their positions by repackaging themselves to the point of falsehood, government is surely at a tipping point — at least in the sense of needing to be tipped.

Starting Small on a Big Stage?

Justin Katz

Those who missed it (and are interested) can hear my WRNI Political Roundtable appearance here. (A preemptive admission: The different format from AM talk radio threw off my oratorical pacing, leaving me something to keep in mind next time.)

The speed of the show necessarily leaves many worthwhile thoughts unspoken, but one that I really wish I'd managed to make sparked from the collision of two distinct points made by Scott MacKay and Maureen Moakley: Scott had just complained that promising conservatives and Republicans always shoot for the high-profile federal jobs, when they should start at the state level, and Maureen jumped on the centralization train. These two concepts are in inevitable conflict.

If we acknowledge that one of Rhode Island's major problems is the dearth of fresh voices in government and the wall of intellectual and habitual rubble that protects entrenched interests and keeps citizens from becoming more involved, then collecting the state's power base into larger groups is clearly the wrong move. Scott had it right that Republicans and other reformers in the state should start small and view their ascent in long terms. In order to make that path attractive — or even plausible — there must remain local positions that have the responsibility and authority that enables newly minted public servants to learn and maintain their motivation.

The "regionalization" and (now) "centralization" buzzwords have strong currency on the right, of course. Some in the right-leaning minority of the state seem to have an inexplicable belief that we'll be able to impose a libertarian-conservative structure from above as we simultaneously reform the manifold governing systems into fewer. The problem with this intellectual approach is that it's a back door to statism: We solve the problem not by moving authority toward the people and other social mechanisms, but to an increasingly legitimized Big Brother.

More importantly, advocating for a reform on the basis of the abstract final product ignores the predicament that we're actually in. Those with imbalanced and undeserved power, in Rhode Island, will not sit idly by while their subjects build a parallel system. They'll take it over and either destroy it or use it to increase their advantage.

Tollgate's Five Dollar Revolution

Marc Comtois

For the price of a $5 footlong, Tollgate High students can park their car for a year in the school parking lot.

Toll Gate Principal Stephen Chrabaszcz said he decided to institute the policy for two reasons. First, to make the campus safer and reduce auto break-ins. Students would have to register their cars and license plates and use a sticker that will mark their vehicles as belonging in the Toll Gate lot.

Secondly, Chrabaszcz said, the parking privilege would be used as a way to discourage tardiness. Any student who is late for more than 10 days would lose their parking privileges for 30 days.

The $5 fee is being collected to cover the cost of the stickers and the recent striping of the lot; each student would have an assigned space, Chrabaszcz said.

But that's too much to pay for some.
Michelle Foss, whose daughter is a senior at Toll Gate, said Wednesday that she already knows what she thinks of the plan. “I think it’s ridiculous to make students pay for parking at a public school we pay for and in a community where we pay taxes,” she said.

Foss, who has registered her complaints with school officials, said it’s mostly a matter of principle, but the school should be aware the many teenagers will have to pay the fee themselves.

“My daughter’s working for minimum wage,” she said. “Are they also going to charge the teachers who make a lot more than that? And is Mr. Chrabasczcz going to pay for parking?”

Foss told the Warwick Beacon:
She questioned what right the school has to implement the charge; whether faculty and custodians would be required to buy stickers and whether she would have to buy two stickers since her daughter would use her car or her father’s car depending which is available.

Chrabaszcz had some answers. He said she would need two stickers.

“He didn’t want to hear any of it,” she said. “‘This is the way it’s going to be,’ he said.”

Foss’ daughter Sharon, who is a senior at Toll Gate and enrolled at the Warwick Area Career and Technical School, said she needs a car in order to complete her internship program. She said students are talking about boycotting driving to school, an action she claimed would require the School Department to put on additional buses that they can’t afford.

Again....$5. But setting aside that Tollgate used to charge for parking and that other schools, include Warwick Vets, charge for parking, there is a deeper anger being exposed here.

You see, some of the parents argue that their problem with the fee is more over principle than the $5 price. They rightly point out that parents are asked to buy more school supplies than ever; pay more via PTO's and PTA's for school activities; pay more in property taxes year after year. And now $5 for parking? C'mon!

They have a valid point, but it seems remarkable that these parents who have, for the most part, grumblingly acquiesced to previous piling up expenses are finally inspired to revolution over five bucks a year. Perhaps this is the straw breaking the camel's back. Be that as it may, the deeper problems cited aren't going to go away if the Tollgate kids "win" this battle and keep getting their free parking.

For the simple fact remains that most school budget money is going to keep being put towards payroll and benefits, leaving less for everything else. That's just the way it is. Yet, I'm betting that while the school budget or teacher contract haven't brought parents to a school committee meeting, this $5 annual parking fee will. Who knows? Maybe that will get them interested in the deeper financial issues and they'll start being more active in the future.

But I'm guessing that, if they win, the free-parkers and their parents will go back to spending their minimum wage money on their D-n-D coffees and $5 footlongs and won't want to be hassled with that other stuff. How could we blame them? After all, they will have won their Five Dollar Revolution.*

*Credit to Dan Yorke for coining the term during his show yesterday.

ADDENDUM: We have these "$5 Revolutions" from time to time: little outrages--often stemming from larger problems--that put people momentarily over the edge. Yet, when the minute issue is resolved, the anger is alleviated and the outraged people feel as if they accomplished something...when they haven't, really. It's a form of populism and it helps illustrate an inherent problem within populism. A movement built on emotion (anger) or feelings (hope) instead of a concrete philosophy is resting on a perilous foundation. Maintaining emotion--or passion--at a high level is exhausting, especially if it is unfocused or unsupported by a framework of cogent thought.

Checking in from the Construction Site on the Nobel Prize

Justin Katz
The ideas being expressed about Obama's Nobel Prize win around Marc's office water cooler are also finding voice around my construction site — where the crew had an affiliative reason to tune into NPR for the morning news, today. The consensus (which, admittedly, I had no small role in developing) is that the Nobel Peace Prize is little more deserving of honor than the cover of a magazine. All previous winners should feel slighted. If there was any doubt that the Nobel Peace Prize is nothing more than an opportunity for European elites to make a political statement, then Barack Obama's surprise win is the clincher. Being the world's foremost figure for "peace" is now nakedly an achievement of political rhetoric.

Nobel Peace Prize Jumps the Shark

Marc Comtois

One could argue that having Yassar Arafat awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was the true "Jump the Shark" moment for the Nobel Peace Prize...or even that Al Gore winning for a Power Point presentation on Global Warming Climate Change. But at least Arafat had been involved in something--no matter how disingenuously--that looked like a peace process and Gore had been around for a while doing his shtick (and I realize these are extremely low bars to hurdle that I've set up!). But now the Nobel Committee has awarded the Peace Prize to a President who has done....nothing (heck, they nominated him 10 days after he'd been inaugurated). Hope indeed. As the TimesOnline editorializes:

Rarely has an award had such an obvious political and partisan intent. It was clearly seen by the Norwegian Nobel committee as a way of expressing European gratitude for an end to the Bush Administration, approval for the election of America’s first black president and hope that Washington will honour its promise to re-engage with the world.

Instead, the prize risks looking preposterous in its claims, patronising in its intentions and demeaning in its attempt to build up a man who has barely begun his period in office, let alone achieved any tangible outcome for peace.

Mickey Kaus suggests the President should politely decline:
Turn it down! Politely decline. Say he's honored but he hasn't had the time yet to accomplish what he wants to accomplish. Result: He gets at least the same amount of glory--and helps solve his narcissism problem and his Fred Armisen ('What's he done?') problem, demonstrating that he's uncomfortable with his reputation as a man overcelebrated for his potential long before he's started to realize it. ... Plus he doesn't have to waste time, during a fairly crucial period, working on yet another grand speech. ... And the downside is ... what? That the Nobel Committee feels dissed? ... P.S.: It's not as if Congress is going to think, well, he's won the Nobel Peace Prize so let's pass health care reform. But the possibility for a Nobel backlash seems non-farfetched.
Worth considering because, if some of the statements around the local water cooler are any indication, the backlash has begun. Plus, by declining the award, Obama would show the world that he, like most Americans, still believes that accolades should be earned for actions completed, not promised.

ADDENDUM: This is the best pro-"Obama wins the Nobel Prize" reaction I've read so far:

"Obama won? Really? Wow," said David Hassan, 43, of Pine Brook, New Jersey. "He deserves it I guess, he's the president. He's a smart guy and I guess he's into peace."

ADDENDUM II: President Obama will accept the prize. He's also being very careful:

"I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee," Obama said Friday. "To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of many of the transformative leaders who have received this prize."

Obama downplayed his own role in having one the prize, asserting it as more of "an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."

In that light, the president said he would accept the prize.

"I will accept this award as a call to action; a call for all nations to confront the common actions of the 21st century," he said.

A Personal Appeal

Justin Katz

I brought our "blegathon," asking for donations, to Wednesday night's Matt Allen Show: Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Going on the radio regularly and participating in all of the events and activities that Anchor Rising affords us the opportunity to attend are unambiguous perks of the occupation. More than simple interest and enjoyment, observing interactions and personal behavior across a deep swath of human society is pricelessly edifying for somebody who, like me, should probably confess to being a writer before all else. This is not to suggest that those whom I meet should expect (or fear) to be recast as thinly disguised fictional characters in some future novel, but that a broad experience with humanity enhances authorial sympathy, enabling art to reflect life and the artist to perceive the brilliance of Creation.

Such familiarity cannot be gained, of course, without the periodically painful pinch of contrast. Rubbing shoulders with moguls and masters, politicians and professors, inheritors, icons tends to bring into sharp relief the poorly hidden stitches in one's own tattered suit. (No doubt, some of the aforementioned have noticed worn shoes and loose buttons.) My financial difficulties are mostly of my own doing. They are also edifying, in their way, and a sense of humor rooted in religious faith makes their burden not entirely bereft of enjoyment. But they exist and they require answer each month in a stack of unpayable bills.

The plain reality is that Anchor Rising now lacks the resources to free me from any more mornings or days away from the construction site. At my own current trajectory, 2010 may find me unable to afford the gasoline to traverse the state in the evening. It would not surprise me on any given morning to awake and find that the high-speed Internet that makes posting video a matter of minutes, not hours, has been cut off. That's just the way it is. It's embarrassing, to be sure, and it's perhaps too easy to find experiential value in such a state of being, as well. An author will always be inclined to have the most sympathy for his or her own situation. But as romantic as the notion might be, it simply wouldn't be plausible to pen Anchor Rising on assorted papers and hop upon cargo trains to travel from one event to the next. It's all well and good to jot the bulk of a blog post on a fingerjointed and preprimed scrap of one-by-ten, but if that's where the words remain, the storage costs would quickly become astronomical.

With that, we end our week of financial appeals. Please help it to have been a success.

Subscriptions of $0.25 per day (payments of $7.60 per month) and donations of any size may be made using credit cards via PayPal (no PayPal account is necessary) by clicking the following:

Those who would prefer the more direct route of checks or money orders can make them out to Anchor Rising and send them to:

Anchor Rising
P.O. Box 751
Portsmouth, RI 02871

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October 8, 2009

Republican Northeast Conference, Day 2 Afternoon, Video: Jim McLaughlin and Curt Anderson

Justin Katz

Continuing with Saturday afternoon's presentations, pollster and campaign strategist Jim McLaughlin and campaign strategist and media advisor Curt Anderson took the stage. Of particular interest is the exchange about tea party goers between RI candidate for attorney general Erik Wallin (off camera) and Mr. Anderson, which got a little testy (starting around minute seven of clip 10).

How About Memory; Does That Bestow Personhood?

Justin Katz

Turning, again, to Joseph Bottum, we find this bit of information... just so's you know:

Researchers have learned that unborn babies at thirty-weeks gestation are forming short-term memories. By the time unborn children reach thirty-four weeks in development, they are "able to store information and retrieve it four weeks later."...

The "unless" to that finding would be unspeakable if a handful of judges hadn't written it into the law.


In response to the stimuli of comment section chastisements, I found more-detailed information on the study referenced in the above paragraph. I should have done so, before, but being busy, and mainly intending to enter into the discussion on a philosophical level, I convinced myself that the additional step wasn't necessary.

Consider that the core distinction in the comments was between "memory" and "habituation." Drawing the line down the rough center of the abortion debate and throwing those words into the mix, you'll likely find that one side takes "habituation" to mean that the fetus reacted to a repeated stimulation, while the other takes it to mean that the fetus remembered its reaction to the repeated stimulus and the subsequent outcomes.

In a debate about whether a fetus — right up to the moment of total extrication from the whom — is a human being, or even just a distinct living being worthy of a basic presumption of a right not to be killed, the semantic difference between "memory" and "habituation" is not likely to spur revelations. The skeptics would, as an a priori matter, require evidence of a sort known to be impossible (at least for the present). We cannot, for example, ask an in utero child to point to a picture that matches a card displayed ten minutes earlier.

Putting aside the fact that the title of the study appears to be "Aspects of Fetal Learning and Memory," I'll concede a change to my initial statement to read that "by the time unborn children reach thirty-four weeks in development, they are" able to recall a learned response to stimuli, unless they have been cut into pieces or had their brains sucked out of their skulls in accord with their mothers' "choice."

The Problem Is Big Government, Not Dispersed Government

Justin Katz

Roger Williams University Political Science Professor Matthew Ulricksen provides an impressive list of public-sector functionaries in Rhode Island:

Rhode Island claims a population of slightly more than one million people in a territory of about 2,000 square miles. Yet, it is feudalized into 39 municipalities, governed by nine elected municipal chief executives, 25 appointed chief executives, 237 council members, 209 school committee members, 38 tax assessors, 14 deputy tax assessors, 38 building-code officials, 39 town or city clerks, 37 deputy town or city clerks, 16 town or city engineers, 31 finance directors, 23 fire chiefs (not including the chiefs of incorporated fire districts), 24 highway supervisors, 14 minimum housing officers, 18 management information system directors or coordinators, 15 personnel directors, 35 planning directors, 38 police chiefs, 34 probate judges, 11 purchasing agents, 29 recreation directors, 34 superintendents of schools, 15 sewer officials, 21 tax collectors, 14 town or city treasurers, and 16 water officials, not to mention legions of rank-and-file government workers from clerks and maintenance workers, to teachers, police officers and firefighters.

The first question that comes to mind is what these people do all day. It's not an idle thing to wonder, because if each town generates enough work to keep a planning director busy (for example), then economies of scale won't save all that much by pushing them under the aegis of the state government. The people who actually do the work might make a little less money each, but somebody above them would have to coordinate. And if "centralizing" them — as Ulricksen advocates — will save money mainly by eliminating payment for work that municipal employees aren't doing, then we ought to squeeze that waste out on a town-by-town basis.

Having spent an enjoyable few minutes on the radio with the University of Rhode Island's Maureen Moakley, who shares Ulricksen's vocation of political science professor, I'd suggest that the state of Rhode Island has more such instructors than an outsider might believe to be necessary. Putting aside public/private -university distinctions, the point is that centralizing the oversight of Rhode Island's political science education would not save all that much money, but would affect the function.

The lure toward a big, centralized government is attractive and many colored, but looking behind the curtain, one sees only intellectuals and power seekers who believe that they could conduct the world better than it conducts itself... or at least wish to be paid for trying.

Consider: Do we really want the General Assembly controlling more of our state's civic sphere?

An Update on Response

Community Crier

With Thursday comes an irresistible urge toward honesty: None of our previous "blegathons" asking for donations have broken the bounds of "meager," and this week would probably best be described as "pitiful" (which, the conservative optimist must admit, is better than "utter failure" and "death.") And yet our readership continues to expand.

The economy surely accounts for the lion's share of that discrepancy, but a couple of other factors, unique to us, might come into play. For one thing, as a content base grows on the Internet (as Anchor Rising's archives grow every day), an increasing percentage of traffic likely comes by way of search engines and the ripples of links spreading out into cyberspace. Transient readers, like brand new readers, aren't likely to become instant sponsors.

Conversely, in certain cases, familiarity might lead to a hesitance to offer financial support. It would be a suspicious outcome, indeed, if readers didn't find somewhere, at some level, to disagree with us, and to do so very strongly. We're not here to hit some middle line of conservative thought (let alone Rhode Islander thought), making the occasional off-putting stand an inevitability.

But the fact is that a significant number of people read this site on a regular basis. Whether the motivation is political ammunition, enlightenment, a chance for rhetorical battle, or even just mild entertainment during a coffee break, please consider answering our voluntary work with a voluntary donation.

Subscriptions of $0.25 per day (payments of $7.60 per month) and donations of any size may be made using credit cards via PayPal (no PayPal account is necessary) by clicking the following:

Those who would prefer the more direct route of checks or money orders can make them out to Anchor Rising and send them to:

Anchor Rising
P.O. Box 751
Portsmouth, RI 02871

For advertising, whether along the sides of the blog or as one of these here Community Crier posts, email Justin.

AG: Warwick City Council Violated Open Meetings Law

Marc Comtois

Flashback to June, during budget hearings held by the Warwick City Council:

School Committee member Paul Cannistra has made good on his promise to file an open meetings violation complaint with Attorney General Patrick Lynch, and the AG has agreed to look into it.

Cannistra was recently ejected from a City Council meeting in which the council was deciding whether to cut the school committee’s budget by $2.9 million, after Finance Committee Chairman Ray Gallucci admitted that he had a meeting at his residence with council members Donna Travis (Ward-6), Steve Colantuono (Ward-1) and Council President Bruce Place (Ward-2). Gallucci said the four council members worked on amendments to the budget at the session.

Immediately after revealing this, Cannistra popped out of his seat and asked Place if he would “indulge” him on a point of order. After Place refused, Cannistra shouted out that the council had just admitted to a violation of the state Open Meetings Law because the full council finance committee had met at Gallucci’s house—a private residence—and without proper notice.

Place then asked a police officer on detail to remove Cannistra from the meeting.

The Attorney General's office has rendered a decision (PDF) in favor of Cannistra: the Warwick City Council's Finance Committee did violate the Open Meetings law. Further:
....this Department is troubled by Councilman Galluci's statement at the June 2, 2009 Council meeting that, "[t]he reason that I could not ask more than four members, at my home to discuss this, is that would be breaking the Open Meetings Law." The obvious implication of this statement, and the evidence set forth above, is that one or more members in attendance at the May 31, 2009 meeting was cognizant of an appreciable possibility that the OMA may have applied to this meeting and did not take reasonable steps to resolve that doubt. In fact, the evidence could be construed that despite their awareness of the OMA [Open Meetings Amendment], Finance Committee members took steps, which were unsuccessful, to avoid the mandate of the OMA.
Clearly, the mistake the Finance Committee members made was actually admitting their private meeting during the course of a public one. I'd be willing to bet that the OMA is violated routinely in Warwick and across the state. And this is one of two legal binds the City Council got itself into in June. It has also been sued by United Healthcare for violating its own rules regarding contracting out municipal/school department healthcare management services.

An Hour in a Different World

Justin Katz

I've arrived very early for a taping of WRNI's Political Roundtable with Ian Donnis and Scott MacKay that will air tomorrow at 5:40 a.m. and 7:40 a.m. on 102.7FM and 1290AM (and then appear online). On the way into Providence, I drove past Lincoln Chafee walking toward the office building next to Hemenway's. The ACLU's Stephen Brown was in one of the interview rooms when I arrived. On top of a table of assorted literature in the waiting area — the only political publication in the pile — is a copy of The Nation., to which the radio station apparently subscribes.

It's a little discomfiting to think that a friendly smile won't serve me very well on the radio. But the good news is that I found a parking spot with a missing meter. (That doesn't mean I'm sure to be towed, does it?)


Sheesh, a ten minute segment is by no stretch adequate to address multiple issues in a room of four strongly opinioned people. Just as a turgid writer type like me begins to formulate a coherent response to one panelist, another introduces a related, but distinct question, and the mind veritably explodes in the effort to respond to everything in a sentence. Which raises the old question: to talking point or not to talking point? But it was fun.

Incidentally, one of the WRNI folks from the office side came into the studio after the recording to correct me on one point: The Nation just sends issues to WRNI; the station does not subscribe in the sense of paying money or of having requested issues.

A Little Less Tilt on the Union Playing Field

Justin Katz

Perhaps there is hope that the winds are changing (too slowly, of course) in Providence Journal reporter Steve Peoples' story on the RI Ethics Commission's movement toward a decision that would expand the prohibitions against union members' participation, as public officials, in matters pertaining to other locals under the same umbrella organizations. A 2008 advisory opinion from the Commission provides a good example:

The Petitioner, Vice Chairperson of the Narragansett School Committee, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether she may participate in subcommittee negotiations with the bargaining unit of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Education Association, to negotiate the Narragansett teachers’ union contract, given that she is a member of the Professional Staff Association at the Community College of Rhode Island, which is also represented by the National Education Association.

Heretofore, in the consensus view of 31 opinions since 1995, according to RI Ethics Commission staff lawyer Esme DeVault, the answer has been "go ahead," but would become, under the proposed change, "better not." Hopefully, the guardians of Rhode Island's public trust have caught on that unions are organizational structures, not vague clubs entailing mutual interests. Imagine the outcry from the usual suspects with union affiliations if a local manager of (say) a CVS were to involve himself as a public official in the affairs of a different CVS store in his hometown.

One option for resolving conflicts of interest that ought to be on the table, but isn't, is for those public officials to quit their unions without losing their jobs. Rhode Island is like one of those games in which two knobs tilt a maze through which the player must work a marble, only the knobs only change the degree to which the board tilts toward the union hole — never away.

Another Republican Candidate for Governor?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Cynthia Needham of the Projo has the first official gubernatorial-race interview with Rory Smith, the political newcomer with a possible interest in running as a Republican for Governor of Rhode Island…

Providence businessman Rory Smith says he's considering a run for Rhode Island governor in 2010 as a Republican.

"People have approached me about it and I'm certainly thinking about it, but I have not made any decisions yet," Smith said in a brief interview Wednesday afternoon.

The East Greenwich resident and self-described "outsider" said he has not set a deadline to make that decision and declined to discuss his potential candidacy in any detail.

Discussing the Undiscussable in Westerly

Carroll Andrew Morse

On the agenda at Wednesday night's meeting of the Westerly School Committee, in the words of Victoria Goff of the Westerly Sun, was "[finalizing] the termination of Schools Superintendent Steven Welford's two-month employment with the school district". Mr. Welford had begun a three-year contract as Westerly's superintendent of schools in July of this year.

Goff's article quoted the statement offered jointly by Welford and the Westerly School Committee that had announced the unexpected end of the new superintendent's term of employment...

On Friday evening, the school board and Welford issued a joint statement saying Welford's employment would end today because of a "differing philosophy about the operation and direction of the school district." Murano said he would offer no comments other than what is in the joint statement.
A number of Westerly residents used the open comment period of Wednesday's meeting, attended by close to 100 people, to express their dissatisfaction with the vagueness of the official explanation.

I know there is a reluctance amongst governing bodies of all kinds to discuss anything defined as a "personnel matter" in public that rooted in some valid legal concern. Still, when a decision of this magnitude is made without any credible explanation being put forth, how can the people of a community trust that their current school committee is providing truthful and transparent explanations on other matters that it decides upon?

Republican Northeast Conference, Day 2 Afternoon, Video: Tony Blankley

Justin Katz

Columnist, commentator, and long-time Republican figure Tony Blankley spoke during the lunch hour on Saturday. (Full speech in the extended entry.)

October 7, 2009

Marriage Is a Social, Procreative Institution

Justin Katz

In the current issue of The RI Catholic Fr. John Kiley has a worthwhile counterpoint to the pro-SSM event that I covered last night. Unfortunately, Fr. Kiley's essay doesn't appear online, but the he captures the gist in the following:

... Nowadays marriage has become almost entirely a matter of personal relationships. Marriages are supposed to be romantic affairs, or so most of Western society would like to believe. Yet love as the sole basis for marriage is fairly new in history.

As the popular musical "Fiddler on the Roof" testified, it was the matchmaker who drew couples together in peasant villages. Elsewhere it was parents and property and inheritances and religion and nationality that largely guided the marital destinies of young people.

The unifying principle behind various examples that Fr. Kiley describes is that marriage is about lineage and community development. Over time (notably in parallel with increases in economic comfort and medical proficiency), Western society has rightly increased individuals' right to decide how to participate in and define that development, but same-sex marriage would undermine the very principle. It would make marriage, by its definition, nothing other than a legal compact between two currently extant individuals.

Divorced from the biological possibility of children — explicitly rejecting the idea that marriage has anything inherently to do with their creation — the institution whereby society has set apart the specific circumstance in which two people, two families, and potentially two cultures are literally joined and embodied in a unique human life would relegate that continuity to the whims of individuals.

A Continuous Growth Curve

Community Crier

It's been encouraging to watch, over the past month, our visitor statistics recover from the typical summer doldrums, which this year followed upon some post-election exhaustion. (Although astonishing government activity served to mitigate that dip.) Thus has it been every year and every election cycle: ups and downs, but a continuously upward trend line.

Many of you make it part of your routine to stop by Anchor Rising and often to participate, and from our perspective, that is really the most significant thing that you can do to keep the site going. If, however, you have the means, we ask you to consider keeping it going in that additional — financial — way. Maintenance is not so inexpensive or light of workload as it used to be, and every amount, large or small, helps and encourages.

Subscriptions of $0.25 per day (payments of $7.60 per month) and donations of any size may be made using credit cards via PayPal (no PayPal account is necessary) by clicking the following:

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Anchor Rising
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The Stultified Population

Justin Katz

Odds are that readers of Anchor Rising have come across it, already, but Ed Achorn raised the apropos problem, yetserday:

Rhode Island, according to Forbes, suffers from job-killing regulatory burdens, high taxes and steep energy costs, reflected in an astonishingly poor growth rate in gross state product of 0.9 percent over five years. The only states that performed more pitifully during that period were the Rust Belt disasters of Indiana (0.6), Ohio (0.4) and Michigan (minus 0.9).

It was not a question of factors beyond our political control, such as geography. Nearby New Hampshire (19), and even Massachusetts (34) and Connecticut (35), had significantly higher growth rates.

In a healthier state, such a frightening report card might prod the public to turn off the TV, call their legislators, convene protests, write letters and demand the politicians’ heads on a platter. Leaders, driven by shame or fear, might produce legislation to turn this around.

But here, in the land of zombies, no one apologizes, no one is held accountable, no one even seems to care.

It's really the darndest thing, and I bet we'll see it again in the next election cycle. At some point, the parasites have so thoroughly captured their host that there's no salvific possibility.

"Judiciously Empathetic" Thompson Nominated to 1st Circuit

Marc Comtois

President Obama has nominated O. Rogeriee Thompson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. This is the same Judge Thompson, who, as Bob Kerr recently explained, "granted continuance after continuance as [Pocahontas] Cooley claimed various physical ailments or requested additional evidence..." in Cooley's attempt to take over former-boyfriend Paul Kelly's home. (Justin has written extensively about this case). In particular, the impression that emerges of Thompson is that of a judge showing a liberal amount of "judicial empathy" to Cooley and not so much to Kelly. As Justin detailed:

[Cooley's] first ploy was to demand thirteen subpoenas for information — some of which actually proved to support the case against her, and all of which Judge Thompson granted at taxpayer expense. During one subsequent appearance in court, Cooley insisted that she was awaiting subpoenaed information from the Pentagon, a clear impossibility. At other times, she challenged the reality of Kelly's deployment.

In December, she had the good fortune to fall on the way into the courthouse. In the intervening months, Ms. Cooley has appeared in court on a regular basis, each time finding ways to err in her attempts to prove that she is not physically capable of a hearing. While granting continuance after continuance, the judge has provided Cooley with further instructions on acquiring the proper doctor's note.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kelly is living in his sister's basement (without his dogs), awaiting his next chance, on May 29, to receive a hearing date at last. Judge Thompson rotates out of the county at the end of June, at which point she may either take the case with her or leave it for one of her peers — one more whim over which Kelly is powerless. Even more so is Thompson's potential elevation to federal court a variable in his fate.

One wonders if Thompson's recent finding that Kelly is in the right and that the home is indeed his own was prompted by word that she would, indeed, be so elevated.

Tackiest Post To Date

Carroll Andrew Morse

I thought former Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Frank Williams’ role model was Abraham Lincoln, not Dwight Eisenhower.

"Multiculturalism" Is a Lack of Culture

Justin Katz

Ah, the not-so-rich tapestry of multiculturalism:

"We're supposed to be the most multicultural city in the world and it doesn't seem terribly inclusive," Denny Alexander explained. It, as it turns out, is ten-year-old playground equipment found in two parks in the west end of Toronto. The offending objects depict the biblical story of Noah's Ark, complete with cute pictures of animals in male-female pairings. In the most multicultural city in the world, that just won't do. The equipment won't be removed immediately, but the city had decided that, when it "wears out," it won't be replaced. "Toronto's motto is Diversity our Strength," wrote councilman Adam Giambrone. "City policies across the board look to reflect our multicultural city. One way of doing that is not focusing on any specific cultural or religious tradition." You really can't better that line about how awful it is for an inclusive city to, um, include something biblical.

A story about an old guy who gathers procreative pairs of all animals into a giant boat in order to preserve their species from extinction during a great flood is apparently harmful to children, in the public sphere. One wonders whether it's the fact that it's in the Bible that causes the problem or the participation of God in the narrative.

In third-grade public school music class, we learned a song about Noah's building the ark — "Who built the ark? Noah! Noah!" We're getting to the point, I fear, that Mr. C, as the teacher requested that we call him, would be brought before an international tribunal for teaching us such propaganda. In the United States, that sort of thing is preserved for the president.

Marriage from Their Perspective

Justin Katz

Yes, I still have video to post from the afternoon session of the Republican Northeast Conference, as well as from John Loughlin's healthcare forum in Tiverton, but since RI Future's Brian Hull was at last night's same-sex marriage event, as well, a competitive streak spurred me to secure initial bragging rights for coverage. (I say "initial" because he was closer and will probably have better results.)

Click the "continue reading" link below for the rest of the video. Of potential interest to some is RI Democrat Chairman Bill Lynch's spiel spanning clips six and seven about the importance of electing liberal Democrats, which non-liberal Democrats might want to consider as we move toward the next election.

October 6, 2009

Taking in the Other Side

Justin Katz

Maybe it's a creeping infection of journalistic curiosity, spurred on by the purchase of an inexpensive camcorder and a new addiction to YouTubing, but I decided to come to the panel discussion hosted by the RI Young Democrats and some college student lawyer groups on The Future of Same-Sex Marriage in Rhode Island. I'll say this for the Left: if this venue is any indication, they opt for much more comfortable seating. (Although, the downside is that, after a day spent climbing up and down ladders custom-milling exterior trim to patch rot, the comfort may not be conducive to my continued lucidity.)

Within moments of my arriving, Kim Ahern came over to introduce herself and to forewarn me that it wasn't the intention of this event to present both sides. I assured her that such was not my expectation.

I see that Brian Hull from RI Future is also videotaping. I wonder if my doing the same will make him feel any pressure to cover right-leaning events, too.

7:11 p.m.

Roger Williams University Law Professor Courtney Cahill is currently reviewing the legal history of the issue, tracing through Hawaii in 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Massachusetts Supreme Court Goodridge ruling.

7:14 p.m.

Cahill spoke against the argument that marriage is inextricably linked with procreation, offering the usual claims about fertility and such. That goes right to the basic, frustrating difficulty that emerges with the defense of traditional marriage: The link with procreation is so implicit that the laws built on top of it essentially did little more than adjust the application of the principle, but folks treat those adjustments of evidence against the essential nature of child birth and parenting.

Curiously, one of Cahill's points was that, if marriage were about procreation, then the law would permit couples to sue for divorce after a period of proven infertility. What's odd is that one doesn't need such an excuse to sue for divorce. A law allowing such a thing would be redundant. As I've written many, many times before, advocates for same-sex marriage would likely find waning opposition if they promoted, in concert, stronger divorce laws.

7:22 p.m.

Representative Frank Ferri (D., Warwick) just took the table with Representative Art Handy (D., Cranston) to bring the audience up to speed on relevant legislation in Rhode Island.

Ferri began by saying that his experience with his Canada-granted marriage has been that, as neighbors and others have gotten to know the couple, opposition to same-sex marriage has faded with familiarity. That's certainly understandable, given a common difficulty among people to partition their thinking such that liking somebody who wants a certain change in the law becomes the main reason to support it. Understandable, but not conducive to civic or social health.

7:31 p.m.

I was going to note that Elizabeth Dennigan is here and speculate about her relationship to the progressives, but then Frank Ferri noted all of the lawmakers in the room, and there are allmost a dozen.

7:34 p.m.

RI Democrat Chairman Bill Lynch began by saying: "I think I'm here because I've sort of become the punching bag for Governor Carcieri on this issue." He specifies that he's here in personal capacity.

7:37 p.m.

Lynch noted that, if he had been hit by a car on the way over here, "a chain of events" would have helped her wife through it, but his sister's same-sex spouse would not have the same benefits. Personally, I agree that people should be able to set up such legal entanglements with whomever they like, but I fail to see why it should be a prerequisite that they're sexually intimate (or in a relationship that mirrored such).

7:40 p.m.

The ACLU's Stephen Brown thinks "the writing is on the wall, no matter what anybody on the other side might say."

Rev. Eugene Dyszlewski expressed happiness to be sitting on the "far left of the table."

7:47 p.m.

First question: Why was this state in the vanguard to offer homosexuals protections for various matters, but slow on this particular one.

The general answer has been the Catholics in the state. Lynch read a letter chiding him about effectively calling Roman Catholic "sectarian extremists." He didn't really address the charge; he just says he sometimes likes to "have fun at the governor's expense" and in no way intends to disrespect others' rights to believe what the like. Bull.

7:48 p.m.

Second question, directed first to the reverend, had to do with religions' standing on the issue. His response was, essentially, that the Roman Catholics shouldn't try to impose their beliefs on the state. That's a distraction.

Frank Ferri says minds are changing, and he expects SSM in RI within the next two years.

7:52 p.m.

Ferri: Catholic preachers have been telling parishioners that gays "are evil, that we're going to hell." You know, I've been Catholic for a number of years, now, and I've never, ever heard that sermon. Indeed, I've periodically be disheartened to hear insinuations in the other direction.

7:53 p.m.

Lynch noted that President Bill Clinton has, within the past couple of weeks, saying that he's chanaged his mind and believes that the nation should institute same-sex marriage state by state.

Lynch: Vitriol about the governor's speaking at the Massachusetts Family Institute as an "insult" to Rhode Islanders. Somehow he doesn't see the parallel to his ability to come here and declare that he's speaking on his own behalf, not the party's. He's repeating, again and again, that people should vote out Catholic Democrats and those who agree with them. As I've said before, no Roman Catholic Rhode Islander can support the party of Bill Lynch.

7:57 p.m.

The Democratic list is now at 30%, with about 60% unaffiliated.

7:59 p.m.

Art Handy thinks the real obstacle to SSM legislation has been the inevitability of a gubernatorial veto that the legislature couldn't overturn. That may (or may not) have a bearing on the Democrat primary.

8:02 p.m.

It would be nigh upon a statement of fact that I'm the attendee most opposed to same-sex marriage, but I wonder if there's even anybody in the room with reservations.

8:04 p.m.

Audience question about the slippery slope argument to poligamy et al. Handy is stating, pretty much, that all arguments against same-sex marriage are all red herrings.

Stephen Brown is likening opposition to same-sex marriage to racism prior to Loving v. Virginia, which erased bans on interracial marriage. Interestingly, Maggie Gallagher frequently points out that, following the legalization of SSM, those who believe in traditional marriage will be treated as racists are now treated. Not quite a red herring, huh?

8:11 p.m.

A woman who says she works in a very Catholic law office in which the common wisdom is that the state is just too Catholic for same-sex marriage to pass. She then cited the recent Taubman Center poll finding support for same sex marriage, which reminds me that I have yet to hear back about demographic factors in the survey.

8:18 p.m.

Stephen Brown just derided the absurdity of the RI Supreme Court ruling against same-sex divorce, even as the law allows the nullification of marriages (e.g., in cases of bigamy and incest) entered into elsewhere. Do these folks not understand or just ignore the obvious point that there is a difference between holding a marriage to be illegal and holding a relationship not to be a marriage in the first place.

8:27 p.m.

If I may echo, with tongue in cheek, a statement to which I've objected in other events that I've covered: Surprisingly, the evening went off without any violence... or even violent rhetoric. (Of course, I haven't made it to my car, yet.)

I missed her name, but I do want to compliment the moderator, who kept an admirably tight ship.

Aggressive Disinfecting

Justin Katz

Mark Bowden characterizes recent counterinsurgency methods not as "nation building" so much as a strategy in war:

Counter-insurgency doctrine is as warm and fuzzy as war can get. It embraces distinctly liberal, humanistic values like protecting civilians, cultural sensitivity and rigid adherence to ethical standards and the law. It is geared toward partnership, not dominance, and always seeks to minimize violence. In Iraq it rapidly (in months) isolated the murderous extremists who were trying to provoke civil war. The new effort set up a sharp contrast between their methods and goals and those of America. As one Marine officer, Col. Julian Dale Alford, said at a conference in Washington last week, “"e gave the people of Iraq a better choice."

The one dispute I have with Bowden is his choice of image, in this case:

It turns out that an insurgency can only be killed by poisoning the sea in which it swims.

It is an error, I'd say, to characterize the insurgents as a healthy organism to be killed by something unhealthy to everybody. Rather, what is needed is to kill the insurgency by disinfecting the water — cleaning it so that true healthier organisms can thrive.

In a Necessary Niche

Community Crier

We're on all the mailing lists, of course, so we're aware of the dozen or so groups in Rhode Island with similar objectives and related activities to ours, and we support them all. That said, we're all looking for big donors, small donors, grants, advertisements, subscribers, and members, and it's a relatively small field that we're attempting to sow.

Among these right-leaning harvesters, however, Anchor Rising is unique in method and in focus, and there's clearly a necessary role that we strive to fulfill. As made evident by our continued posting, we're not in this for the money and will continue as long as we're able, and as long as we seem to be having a net positive effect. But the more time we're able to compensate from our lives, the more equipment we're able to procure, and the more expenses we're able to cover, the better we'll be armed to fill gaps in knowledge and to analyze the myriad issues that Rhode Island (and the country) must resolve in order to turn itself around.

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Negotiating Balance in the Middle East

Justin Katz

With such results as this, can there be any question about why Palestinian leaders take the strategy that they do?

In the first video images since he was captured by Palestinian militants in 2006, Israeli Sgt. Gilad Schalit — looking thin but healthy, his hair freshly trimmed — sent love to his family, appealed for his freedom and held up a newspaper to prove the footage was recent.

Israel freed 19 Palestinian women from prison on Friday in exchange for the video, raising hopes for the young soldier's release and taking a step toward defusing a key flashpoint in Israeli-Palestinian hostilities.

In the West Bank, jubilant Palestinians cheered and waved flags as the freed women returned home, some with prison-born babies in tow. And in Gaza, ruled by the Hamas militants holding Schalit, the prime minister called the swap a victory for Palestinians.

Nineteen women for a video. And there's an air of congratulations to the fact that Hamas has kept its prison "healthy" (if thin) and presented him with a haircut, while it's quickly passed by that the women have clearly been receiving thorough medical care.

Hamas's next step in "negotiations" is to request the release of 1,000 prisoners, some of them terrorist murderers, for Schalit. And so it goes.

More of the Same from Kennedy

Justin Katz

Hiding behind his quaking fear of "violent rhetoric," Congressman Patrick Kennedy staged a comfy tele-town hall meeting:

Most of the participants — each of whom had their questions screened ahead of time by Kennedy staffers — appeared sympathetic toward changes to the nation's health-care system. ...

Tiverton resident Teresa Rudd said she remained on the line for much of the hour to ask Kennedy about how the proposals now in play treat the abortion issue. She didn't get the chance to ask.

"It didn't seem like there was any opposition," Rudd said afterward. "It seemed like one big commercial for health-care reform."

However much outrage Kennedy may express on behalf of the powerless rabble, it's clear by his actions that he doesn't hold his constituents in very high regard.

October 5, 2009

Following Up the "Prostitute" Accusation

Justin Katz

Callers to Dan Yorke's show, after the exchanges with both Megan Andelloux and Donna Hughes were particularly incensed by the latter's referring to the former as a "prostitute." What Hughes meant (and said that she meant) was Andelloux's sideline as a "foot fetish model." A 2008 Providence Phoenix article about her offers the description that she goes to parties monthly at which men pay to "admire her feet."

The article is not specific about where the boundaries of "admiration" are (and I, for one, am not particularly interested to know). One would hope, on Hughes's behalf, that she knows a bit more that might justify the accusation of "prostitution" — as opposed to, say, "stripper" or "erotic model" or something. Take my word for it, though, that Professor Hughes has information about activities in Rhode Island that would make even the worldly shudder.

Given limited information — especially in the context of a targeted conversation on talk radio — it isn't unreasonable to suggest that "prostitute" might have been hyperbolic but not, strictly speaking, inapplicable. It's worth noting that Andelloux's response, when Dan pressed her on the accusation, was that she doesn't "call [herself] a prostitute," has never taken money in exchange for intercourse, and has never done anything "illegal."


Not unrelatedly, Andelloux dissembled when Dan asked her, in response to an email from me, about her husband's affinity for abortion, casting it as simply a procedure that he — like many medical students and doctors — knows how to do. In actuality, it's the one specific medical intention he lists on his Daily Kos bio:

RPCV Senegal 99-01, Resident Family Doc in RI, Future abortion provider.


Just realized that this post doesn't link to my June post about Mr. and Mrs. Andelloux.

A Matter to Resolve as Professional Growth

Justin Katz

A couple of weeks ago, a professional television journalist in Rhode Island suggested that I should pay some attention to the audio for my video blogs, especially that which I've collected from public meetings. I agreed of course — could not reasonably do otherwise — but there's a difficulty that bloggers face in other ways. It's sort of like the science of physics, in which one must account for the act of observing within calculations. If I were to put a microphone in the faces of people speaking at a school committee meeting, as the journalist suggested, it would substantially change the results.

I bring this up because I seem to be making a habit, recently, of ticking off people with whom I share just about every goal and with whom I'd previously gotten along well. Today, as you're more likely than not to know (because he has more listeners than I have readers), that person was Dan Yorke. After a contentious exchange between Dan and URI Professor Donna Hughes — with both of whom I've had many amicable communications over the past couple of years — I sent Dan two emails from the parking lot of the Portsmouth Post Office (first mistake, I guess). The first raised pertinent information related to his guest, and the second attempted to convey my reason for empathy with Professor Hughes's being way too evasive in answering questions.

In the second email, I was sloppy with my language. I apparently miscalculated with regard to the attention that Dan would think my opinion worth. And I definitely didn't anticipate how my note would come across. It was a mistake along the line between interpersonal communications and professional activity, and as a now-public one, wisdom suggests that I take it as the final catalyst for my prior intention to devote some prayerful thought to the series of such instances of tension.

Which is not to say that I believe myself to have been equally wrong on the previous occasions (although I won't raise them, here). Moreover, I expect it to be a recurring difficulty because, as with the audio at town meetings, the "citizen journalism" captured under the vague boundaries of the word "blogging" is enriched, in my opinion, by some of the non-professional attributes. The phrase "big shot blogger" is denotatively incoherent. I'm a guy who offers my opinion. That's what I do, and I intend never to write anything for the primary purpose of having it advance my career or have a political effect. Those will hopefully be the results, on occasion, but the moment I become a self-conscious "player" — more than an engaged citizen — is the moment I hope to have the perspicacity to switch back to poetry and fiction.

I do, though, have to strive for a greater empathy with my audience, particularly individual members thereof — and perhaps especially when I think that the individual is the entire audience. So, all of you individuals out there know this: In part because I've never really had all that high an estimation of myself, my public and private writing begins with the assumption that the reader is in every way my superior — even if he or she has inexplicably erred on a particular topic or in choosing a particular pathway of thought.

That's all I have to say about that.

Out of the Democrats' Black Heart, a Force Grows

Justin Katz

Alright, the title of the post is a bit dramatic, but there's an interesting tidbit obscured under the walk-on-by headline of "Brown grad hired" in today's Political Scene:

The Democratic National Committee has announced the hiring of recent Brown graduate Emilie Aries to lead the Rhode Island chapter of an Obama campaign off-shoot organization called "Organizing for America." ...

[State] Party Chairman William Lynch sent a letter to several party leaders, including the Rhode Island's Congressional delegation, noting that "numerous Democratic state chairs throughout the country who were not, frankly, overly enthused by the plans to unleash OFA across the country."

"As the Rhode Island Democratic State Chair, I did not think then, nor do I think now, that it is generally advisable nor beneficial to have a separate and distinct Democratic political organization working in the state of Rhode Island as opposed to joining forces with our existing state party structure," Lynch wrote. "This, however, was not a decision that was left up to me by OFA and, in fact, I have had virtually no input into OFA's plans here in Rhode Island."

Whom are the Obamanauts trying to elbow aside? Interesting to see these subdivisions emerge.

As was a repeating theme at this weekend's Republican Northeast Conference, the Right is aware of the need to craft messages and build alliances that allow us to work together, even if one region's or faction's emphases are antithetical to another's, but the Right tends to be more patchwork (coalitional, if I may coin a term), in general, so such loose affiliation along irreducible principles accords with our nature. The Left can pragmatically put one faction's goals aside, if all agree that doing so represents a necessary, but temporary, action, but my sense is that its structure is more of a giant consensus than an agreement to work together within the limited contexts that are possible.

The Looming Challenge for the Advancement of Euro-Style Soft-Socialism in America…

Carroll Andrew Morse

…is most likely to come from the automobile industry. Did anyone else note the statistics related to automobile sales released at the end of last week (via Reuters, in the excerpt below)…

U.S. auto sales tumbled by 23 percent in September as showrooms emptied after the government-funded boom from the "cash for clunkers" program, with General Motors Co and Chrysler hardest-hit.

Sales for General Motors Co and Chrysler -- the two U.S. automakers struggling to regain momentum after emerging from bankruptcy -- dropped by 45 percent and 42 percent, respectively.

Ford -- the only U.S. automaker to have avoided bankruptcy -- managed to hold its sales decline to 5 percent from a year earlier despite low inventories and reduced incentives for car shoppers.

Assuming that Reuters is presenting an apples-to-apples comparison with Ford, the GM and Chrysler percentages would be one-month totals compared to the prior year.

General Motors and Chrysler, you may recall took copious amounts of bailout money from the government -- along with copious government conditions attached -- as part of the Obama administration's economic program, which is premised largely on the idea that businesses run better when they are more aggressively regulated or directly managed by the government.

So what will be the response, if government-ownership fails in a major industry? Will advocates of government planning of the economy begin to accept that government ownership of something doesn't provide an exemption from the laws of economics, and actually look for the underlying sources of GM's troubles, instead of blithely assuming that government ownership solves them whatever they are? Will they double-down and say the problem with the auto bailout was that the amount of taxpayer money was too small and that more bailout money is needed?

Or will they say that looking that GM and Chrysler's success in conventional business terms (was more taken in than was spent) is just a distraction, and the important thing is that government has more control than it did before?

To Win, Leftists Hide Views

Justin Katz

Isn't there something fundamentally dishonest about the sort of calculation that RI House Majority Leader Gordon Fox is making in his campaign for speakership?

... with one notable exception, he is guarded about where he stands on some of the more volatile issues the 2010 legislature is likely to face, including casino gambling, gay marriage and calls for the legislature to place itself back under the jurisdiction of the state Ethics Commission after a late-June decision by the Supreme Court left the commission's powers in question.

Shouldn't one's positions on all of the major issues of the day constitute the platform for any political race — especially for a current legislator seeking a powerful central post? If he isn't able to articulate his position, after so much time in office, then he's an incompetent boob, and if he thinks his intentions will sink his candidacy, he's a plain deceiver for withholding them. The statement — not unfamiliar in Rhode Island — becomes, "Elect me because I'm next in line, and I'll tell you how I'll govern after I've got all of my political protections in place."

This General Assembly — this state, politically — is unbelievable.

Anchor Rising Making the Autumn Ask

Community Crier

Times are tough, and in Rhode Island, they're going to get tougher. Everybody is fully justified in keeping their wallets closely held, no matter how much politicians and media types strain to cast it as a sort of civic duty to make sure consumer spending (and debt) doesn't drag government redistributors and wealthy investors down. It is only more fitting, therefore, that we make our appeal as it ought to be made: on the merits.

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A Political Weekend

Justin Katz

With a few exceptions, it was a weekend of two political events. Of course, there's the Republican Northeast Conference, which I liveblogged here, here, and here, with the following video footage (thus far):

  • The first evening brought introductory remarks, including from RIGOP Chair Gio Cicione and Governor Jim Douglas of Vermont.
  • Governor Carcieri kicked off Saturday morning.
  • Rhode Island politico turned RNC Chief of Staff Ken McKay talked horse race.
  • Former Congressman and U.S. Senatorial Candidate from Connecticut Robert Simmons revved the crowd.
  • Congressional Candidates Justin Bernier (CT), John Loughlin (RI), and Charles Lollar (MD) introduced themselves, with Lollar emerging as somebody to watch on the national scene.
  • My personal favorite was Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (MI), who turned his speech into a Q&A session, providing answers that few could have matched even if written.
  • Former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu got down into the nitty gritty of politics and clearly had a profound effect on the crowd.

The other event of the weekend was Glenn Beck's book signing in Providence, which Marc previewed and Andrew covered. The notable thing was the huge crowd of fans juxtaposed with the almost non-existent handful of protesters. (Guess which the Providence Journal emphasized.)

On other topics, Monique looked at Attorney General Patrick Lynch's travel record, and Marc responded to Mark Patinkin's experience traveling to the site of actual Communism.

Republican Northeast Conference, Day 2, Video: John Sununu

Justin Katz

The speech by former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu certainly increased the enthusiasm of the audience, and a great many laudatory comments could be heard in the halls on the way to lunch. (Based on viewing trends, I get the impression that it would be worthwhile to clarify that clicking the "Continue reading" line at the bottom of each of these posts leads to additional videos from each speaker; I've only been putting one in the main post because the site would quickly become a beast to load.)

October 4, 2009

Republican Northeast Conference, Day 2, Video: Thaddeus McCotter

Justin Katz

He surely benefited from contrast with our Congressional delegation, here in Rhode Island, and perhaps his dry mid-country humor and his intellectual phrasing appeals uniquely to me, but the Q&A speech with Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (R, MI) was probably the highlight of the conference, from my perspective.

Republican Northeast Conference, Day 2, Video: Congressional Candidate Panel

Justin Katz

Of local interest, RI House Minority Whip and Congressional Candidate John Loughlin is clearly increasing his comfort on the campaign trail. One pleasant surprise, though, came with the short speech of Charles Lollar from Maryland. (Both candidates' clips are in the extended entry.) Lollar exudes that articulate-northeast-southerner confidence in conservative values and principles and is very persuasive in his declarations that the rest of us ought to be, too. Whatever the outcome of his race against Stenny Hoyer, I'd peg Lollar as one to watch.

Republican Northeast Conference, Day 2, Video: Robert Simmons

Justin Katz

Former Congressman Robert Simmons, from Connecticut, is currently running in the Republican primaries for the U.S. Senate.

Republican Northeast Conference, Day 2, Video: Ken McKay

Justin Katz

RNC Chief of Staff Ken McKay went over the current standing of the party, with the emphasis on issues.

Republican Northeast Conference, Day 2, Video: Carcieri

Justin Katz

Herewith, the video corresponding with my liveblogging of the Republican Northeast Conference. First was the welcoming presentation of event co-chair Louis Pope; Governor Carcieri's speech is in the extended entry.

October 3, 2009

Re: Socialists to Protest Beck

Carroll Andrew Morse

Desperately trying to avoid several household projects I should be working on, I decided to see if anything interesting would happen associated with the protest of Glenn Beck's book signing at Borders Bookstore in Providence. Here's a quick photosummary.

The world's mellowest angry mob, inside of the store, about a half-hour or so before Glenn Beck's arrival (also before I figured out that I should be using the "incandescent" rather than the "flourescent" setting on my camera phone when inside of the store)...


The protesters outside, also about a half-hour or so before Glenn Beck's arrival...


The crowd inside, a few minutes after Beck's arrival...


The protesters outside, a few minutes after Beck's arrival...


Republican North East Conference, Day 2, Afternoon

Justin Katz

Tony Blankley's been giving a lunchtime speech; I've been eating. He's been talking organization, digital technologies, the Obamenon. One interesting point he's made is that there's some comparison between Reagan's accomplishment and Obama's. The difference about which he's hopeful is that Reagan changed people's minds about governing philosophy. Obama sold himself on one theme and is governing according to another.

2:06 p.m.

Blankley agrees with me that self-labeled Republicans have to be careful not to go too far into the dirty politics game, offering the attack on Bill Clinton as an example. He notes that Americans don't like it out of respect for the office. I wonder if there's also a degree to which it makes the electorate feel foolish. The respect for the office, for example, grows out of their feeling of responsibility for putting the person in office.

2:15 p.m.

Blankley: Most of the opportunity for the out of power party is the negative that the governing party is incompetent, but that that the public doesn't like negativity. A second Contract for America would do that, but, as came up earlier, he suggests that the issues are so big and divisive, right now, that it'd be hard to enumerate them as a platform.

2:35 p.m.

Ah, the perils of lingering around the edges with recording equipment: one looks like staff. Carol Mumford made sure to let me know that the ceiling was leaking in the dining area. That's what I get for wearing my bellhop cap everywhere.

2:41 p.m.

Pollster Jim McLaughlin is reviewing polling data, and he noted that more than half of the people elected in the Republican surge of the '90s had never done politics before.

2:50 p.m.

Once again, the economy leads the issues polls, over healthcare, and nobody believes Obama's spin that "fixing" the healthcare system will help the economy. In fact, they think the current proposals will make the system worse economically and when it comes to quality.

2:57 p.m.

Curt Anderson is giving a speech on strategy. He characterizes it as a recovery program: grieve, accept the problem, admit the problem, charge the hill, and look for positive way forward.

He notes that, contrary to common wisdom, money isn't all in politics. The money backing healthcare is hugely outbalancing opposition, yet folks aren't buying it.

3:03 p.m.

Anderson: Party leadership is more important in the Northeast than elsewhere, because we're not in an environment in which everybody agrees with us.

3:12 p.m.

McLaughlin: "On the things that matter most to voters, you've got to have better ideas."

3:14 p.m.

Anderson: "Something has popped in the last three months." People are suddenly caring about deficits.

Erik Wallin has taken the microphone to chastise the various Republicans who have, today, suggested the craziness of the tea party groups.

3:20 p.m.

Anderson: "They're shell-shocked in the White House," because they're learning that, in governance, the Big Speech doesn't fix everything.

3:25 p.m.

Three Young Republicans are talking technology Rhode Islander Ryan Neil Lund is making the excellent point that candidates have to actually be the personality behind their use of technology. That means writing the blogs, tweets, or whatever.

Yay. I got to hold my hand up as somebody under 35. Not for long, though...

3:31 p.m.

While Neil tries to get the technology working to show slides, Brittny McKinney, from D.C., is explaining that young folks need excitement. Contests. T-shirts. Pizza. Not sure how far I think that actually goes.

3:35 p.m.

Matthew Boucher, from Massachusetts, doesn't think kids want to read. Everything's got to be right up front where you can see it.

Y'know, there's a degree to which every generation has a style, but the principles are nothing new, whether it's online or on paper. Maybe I'm just an old conservative, but realizing that young adults are all excited to learn processes and techniques, I think what they really, really have to begin helping with is how to explain the principles — how to counter false impressions about conservatives and the apathy natural to them.

3:45 p.m.

Hey, it just occurred to me that maybe the reason I find this all so obvious is that I'm still in the under-35 demographic. Next year, I'll have to ask.

Socialists to Protest Beck

Marc Comtois

I don't watch or listen to Glenn Beck, but I do know he stirs up those on the left (and some Republicans). He's going to be in Providence late this afternoon and the local branch of the International Socialist Organization is organizing a protest. Talk about playing to type and feeding the beast. (At least one local, prominent NEA operative plans on hanging with his socialist brothers). Glenn's new book is called Arguing with Idiots and I suspect he assumed he'd be able to demonstrate his techniques during his book tour. (Though I do wonder if the ISO protested Beck when he toured promoting his earlier book, America's March to Socialism)?

Patinkin's First Hand Exposure to Failure of Communism

Marc Comtois

I don't usually associate ProJo lifestyle columnist with hefty political writing (that's not a slam at Patinkin--I generally enjoy his columns--but politics isn't his usual "beat"), so I was impressed with his Saturday column in which he writes about his first-hand observations on the failures of communism.

Much of the 20th century was a contest between Communism and capitalism. It seemed a valid race, because Russia was the one other superpower, a military giant that beat us into space.

I was stunned when I looked behind the scenes.

Communism was an economic disaster. That’s why it failed.

The theory was for the state to erase the rich-poor gap by guaranteeing jobs for all at equal pay. In countries like Russia, laborers made the same as bosses. That way, instead of working selfishly for personal gain, people would supposedly strive for the common good.

That sounded fine in the time of the czars, when the masses starved while the rich had palaces. It may even sound good today when Wall Street CEOs make $50 million while undermining the economy.

There’s only one problem. Communism doesn’t work, and for a simple reason. It goes against human nature.

Capitalism, on the other hand, recognizes the truth about people. We are selfish. We only will work our hardest — and thereby build up society — if it gets us ahead.

But what about the Communist theory that folks will work harder still for community and state?

I thought I’d find at least some of that. I didn’t.

Read the rest of his column to read what he did find. Patinkin's experience rings very true with on of my own. In 1992, I spent Christmas in Riga, Latvia while working on an American cargo ship. The Iron Curtain had fallen, but the country was still in the middle of a transition out from under Soviet power. There were still Soviet troops in the streets and Soviet memorials (guarded by the aforementioned troops) and Communist propaganda was still in evidence. These contributed to a lingering resentment among native Latvians. For instance, I witnessed a young woman get harangued by two or three older Latvian ladies and found out it was because she was a "White Russian", in other words, an interloper.

Yet, there was also optimism in the air, the feeling amongst the native Lativians I talked with (OK, in the "American Bar"!) was that they were ready to embrace freedom and an open economy. And the currency of choice--as Patinkin also described--was the US dollar. I haven't been back since then, but I'm sure Latvia has experienced the growing pains of capitalism. However, despite the failures and missteps, I'd bet that most Latvians don't want to go back to the "good old days" of a planned economy where everything is depressingly "equal."

Republican North East Conference, Day 2

Justin Katz

Speaker Co-Chair Louis Pope (from Maryland) is opening the day. He put attendance around 170 and continuing to grow. He also pointed out a group of about eight Republicans who flew in all the way from Puerto Rico. ("They don't get a lot of snow, in Puerto Rico, but the RNC puts them in the North East.")

9:10 a.m.

Governor Carcieri's giving the first talk. He just tasked the Rhode Islanders in the room to make sure that the out-of-staters leave with wallets empty.

9:13 a.m.

Governor Carcieri is describing the economic situation in Rhode Island, and he laid the fault at the real estate budget. It seems to me it'd be a very effective — not to mention accurate — theme to acknowledge that it wasn't just the housing bubble. The state was in a terrible position to begin with. Our government was running hundreds of billions in deficits each year even during the bubble.

Differentiating between the private sector and the public sector: "In the public sector, the cash isn't real. It's just a number on a piece of paper."

9:22 a.m.

"After eight years running a small government, I have a hard time saying anything that we do well." There are good people, he says, but it's a matter of motivation.

This isn't exactly news, but there's no question, by the way, that the Republicanism of Don Carcieri is strongly, unabashedly conservative.

9:27 a.m.

On healthcare: "You gotta hand it to the Democrats. They make it so you can't figure out what you're going to argue on. Because what's the bill? ... There's never any substance."

He pointed out that Medicaid costs are unsustainable. But isn't that always Democrats' model for what they want to do and why?

"Does anybody believe that eliminating waste and fraud is going to pay for this program? If it is, why aren't we eliminating it now?"

Final thought: The nation is craving Republican leadership. And he closed with a story about a talking dog, to which Republicans are comparable.

9:35 a.m.

Jody Dow is introducing RNC Chief of Staff Ken McKay. More info on party contributions: They're pulling in between eight and nine million dollars per month, with the average donation at $41.

McKay: "I wish right now, I were an investment. Getting into this job, when I did, was really 'buying low.'"

Slide 1: Republican self-identification has been on the slide but is returning.
Slide 2: On election day 2008, Republicans "were losing on every issue except security," which was a tie.
Slide 3: The GOP lost ground among various demographics, including Hispanics, youth, moderates, women, etc.
Slide 4 (or so): Since the election, Democrat affiliation has been falling; Republican affiliation has been falling more slowly; and Independents have been increasing mainly at the expense of Democrats.
Slide 5: Republicans now lead just about every issue (tied for Iraq; behind on government ethics). There's also a notable increase in the "not sure" category.
Slide 6: Obama's approval-disapproval ratings have been converging extremely rapidly. "Folks are not thrilled with his job performance, and on virtually every issue, he's upside down with everybody except Democrats."
Slide 7: Strongly disapprove is now above strongly approve for Obama. "We have to work for moderates and we have to work for independents." But McKay wishes the election were tomorrow.
Slide 8: Obama's sliding on every issue, including healthcare.
Slide 9: Everybody, even Democrats, believes that the president should focus on fixing the economy rather than reforming healthcare. All voters: 57 to 19.
Slide 10: People sick of spending.
Slide 11: GOP wins on the generic ballot, right now, 42 to 38. Congress approval: 36% favorable, 61% unfavorable.
Slide 12: Pelosi: 29% favorable, 47% unfavorable. "You could put a picture of Nancy up and win just about anywhere, and we haven't spent a dime on it; she's done it all herself."
Slide 13: Reid: 16% favorable, 21% unfavorable. "The problem we have with Harry Reid is that nobody knows him yet." But he's behind every Republican on the ballot in his home state.
Slide 14: People aren't happy with the direction of current events.
Slide 15: 53% to 38% disapproval of current healthcare legislation. McKay: Americans have the common sense to see the taxes behind these programs, and they know what's coming.
Slide 16, 17, 18, 19: People do not believe the promises made in favor of healthcare reform.
Slide 20: Virginia governor's race is within the margin of error, and the RNC is concentrating on it.
Slide 21: New Jersey has a Chris Christie (R) leading, but the independent, named Daggett, is muddying the waters.

10:11 a.m.

Q&A: McKay says there are just too many races for the RNC to devote too much money to races, but it can promise people.

Q: What is the RNC doing to support the tea parties.

McKay: "Frankly, they're people who don't want to be organized, right now. They want to organize among themselves." The GOP is courting such groups at the leadership level. "It's going to be a slow process, but at the end of the day, they're with us."

A woman from Vermont suggested that they've got evidence of other factions (Campaign for Liberty, Ron Paul) using the tea party movement as a means of infiltrating the GOP structure.

10:21 a.m.

Former Congressman (and current Senate candidate) in Connecticut Robert Simmons is up and assures the room that national Republican organizers have assured him that New England is on their target list for rebuilding the party. "Now is the first time in 180 years that there are no Republican members in the Congressional delegations from New England."

10:25 a.m.

"Thank you to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and President Obama for bringing the Republican Party back again."

He's hitting all of NE Republican talking points (which I say not to diminish them). Free enterprise, individual initiative, public service as a service, natural conservation, and education (as a prerequisite to having an individualistic and active population.

10:29 a.m.

"No more self interest above the interests of the people that you serve"... naming Dodd, Rangel, et al. The Democrats did, in fact, inherit the deficit, but they're making it worth. "Even the Chinese Communists are complaining about our overspending."

Every child born today is starting life with a bill of $40,000 from the federal government

10:32 a.m.

"When President Obama says, 'I will allow you to keep your doctor,' I say, 'No you won't; I have a right to keep my doctor."

10:38 a.m.

Up now is a panel of Congressional candidates.

Justin Bernier — with whom I conversed about the peculiarities of being Justin, last night — is from Connecticut.
John Loughlin — who is very, very unhappy with yours truly for my post about his pension scheme — is from here.
Charles Lollar — about whom I've gathered no anecdotes — is from Maryland.

10:43 a.m.

Justin held up a copy of Time magazine asking, on the cover, whether the Republican Party is an endangered species. "I think Time magazine will be extinct before the Republican Party."

"A jobless recovery is like a foodless meal."

10:50 a.m.

"Being House Minority Whip in Rhode Island is like being Vice Admiral of a canoe."

10:56 a.m.

Having brought the audience up to speed on local happenings, Loughlin is reading Bill Lynch's response in Patrick Kennedy's stead to last week's healthcare forum in Tiverton. (I hadn't know that Lynch spelled "Kennedy" wrong.)

"We tend to think that the Democrat machine are pros. They're not; they're morons."

11:00 a.m.

Lollar has taken the podium. He pointed out the two things from Carcieri's speech that bespoke of the governor's character: he's been married over 40 years, and he's got four children.

11:02 a.m.

Lollar: We [Republicans] aren't popular, but our policies are. They [Democrats] are popular, but their policies aren't. The only way they can beat us is to try to combine our policies with their popularity, which is to what

"Because we are conservatives and because we are Republicans, the American people are going to expect more of us." When Republicans sink to the other side's level, the response is therefore more dramatic and more rapid.

With my three minutes of experience with Mr. Lollar has definitely captured the audience's attention. I don't have any knowledge of his race against Stenny Hoyer, but I'll suggest that Lollar is one to watch. Talking Reagan. Family values. Clear, crisp analysis of what Republicans have to do.

11:10 a.m.

His closing story was about going into a bar to campaign in rural Maryland, with a big Confederate flag in the back, and the music literally stopped, as if it were a movie. (He's black.) He walked the room, talked to everybody about issues, and gained a lot of support.

11:19 a.m.

Will Grapentine asked Loughlin to comment on Kennedy's reference to the violence of tea party types. Loughlin pointed to me and asked whether I saw any. Being more a script than an improv guy, I couldn't think of the obvious come back quickly enough: "No, and that was with a bar in the back of the room."

11:29 a.m.

Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (R, Michigan) has made a point of turning his entire speaking time to a Q&A to emphasize that Republicans have to listen to people more. "We began to think that we represented Washington to our constituents," when it should be the other way around."

McCotter's got a very dry sense of humor and solid mid-country confidence.

11:30 a.m.

Wow. McCotter's response to a question about Afghanistan is the stuff of think tank panels. Very smart, clear, and concise. Definitely worth watching in my YouTube clips yesterday.

11:33 a.m.

To an audience question about the procedural likelihoods among Democrats for the healthcare bill: "Life is short, so I don't spend a lot of time trying to figure out what incompetent people are doing, because they themselves don't know."

11:38 a.m.

In response to another question: "We can't continue to mythologize the Contract with America" The situation is similar, now to then, but the problems that are the issues are too big for such a limited document. McCotter also thinks now isn't the time to start an inside-Republican debate on a list of what we have to believe. Instead he puts forward five principles, after which the rest should be entrusted to the people actually elected as representatives:

  • Liberty is from God not government
  • Sovereignty is from souls
  • Security from strength not surrender
  • Prosperity is from private sector not public
  • Our truths are self evident

This is definitely a developing theme: Back to diversity of thought; back, in a word, to federalism.

After the next question, he's defending the bailout of auto manufacturers on the grounds that "America is not an economy or a bureaucracy. America is a country." Point being that you can't bail out Wall Street financiers and let auto workers lose everything.

11:49 a.m.

A local Chafee Republican (I'm guessing) asked about the instinct to push such people as he and Jeffords and Specter out. McCotter's answer: "Ideologues — there's a reason that they purge all the time: because they're nuts." Of course, he broke the application out in individual cases.

I suspect the Congressman would likely agree (if informed) that the voters who actually lived beneath Chafee were right to oust him. Just a guess, from his Specter-related statement: "We're sorry to have lost him. We were sorry to have him."

11:55 a.m.

Sorry. I lapsed and didn't get a picture of McCotter. Here's one of former governor of NH John Sununu:

12:02 p.m.

Sununu is describing the Democrats' strategy of collecting gobs of money at the national level from radical groups and billionaires and then pouring it into small, targeted races, even at the local level, which ultimately turned New Hampshire blue. "They did the nitty-gritty of politics better than we did."

12:07 p.m.

New England Republicans need to remotivate the business community, which is sitting around wondering what happened to their previously profitable region. Taxes. Regulations.

12:09 p.m.

Sununu thinks that, even if we all do nothing, the next cycle will be good for Republicans, simply as a matter of electoral trends. But, inasmuch as the Northeast is at the end of its rope, "Shame on us if we sit on our hands."

And again: "Internal fighting within a party is luxury that only a supermajority party can afford."

Well... I don't know. The key is to focus on issues of common concern and push differences to smaller areas (states, towns, etc.). But a coalition requires some common defense when the opposition pushes aggressively on issues that one contingent of the coalition deplores.

12:19 p.m.

Sununu noted that Republicans in New England should take advantage of the fact that we're a magnet region for higher education to communicate to young Americans that the Democrats really aren't serving their best interests.

12:22 p.m.

"The Europeans weren't in love with George W. Bush, but even though they didn't like him, they respected Americans. Now the world loves Obama, but they've got no respect for America."

The trip to Copenhagen tells Sununu two things: There really are no smarts at the top, and there are a bunch of crooked self-dealers around the president who pushed him over there to make a bunch of money.

12:30 p.m.

On a question about how to combat the Hollywood strength in culture and money, Sununu suggests supporting those who do similar things on our side, such as talk radio hosts (I'd add, ahem, bloggers). He also suggest that we not be "polite": Hang Roman Polanski around the necks of everybody in Hollywood. Also, we need to explore ways of communicating with teachers to counterbalance rhetoric that filters down to them.

12:34 p.m.

Gov. Carcieri just described the erosion — on both sides of the aisle — of local party committees and such, but the Democrats had the substitution of labor unions and organizations like ACORN. (Once more, I'd suggest, that top-down model that modern conservatives tend to resist on a gut level.)

12:37 p.m.

Sununu's now describing the Democrats' destruction of public sector pensions. He suggests to Carcieri a 13-month offensive to communicate to unions that there will no longer be pensions unless they let Republicans begin taking the reins of the states.

12:41 p.m.

In response to a question: "The dirty little secret: The unaffiliated voters are really Republicans." W.'s style turned a lot of people off — "What I call 'Texas cocky'."

The answer (say it with me): bring the issues back into the light.

12:43 p.m.

In response to a question about recruiting: "You cannot attract good candidates to a moribund party." In New Hampshire, they're now moving from having to work to recruit to having to work to manage primaries so as not to cause internal damage, because there are so many candidates.

Message: The current Democrat Party isn't the old Democrat party. "It isn't the party of Jackson; it isn't even the party of Jack Kennedy."

Republican North East Conference, Day 1 - Video and Follow-Up

Justin Katz

Following the opening event of the Republican North East Conference (video of which is in the extended entry), I followed up with Vermont Governor Jim Douglas regarding the need to define a "Northeastern Republican": stream, download. His answer wasn't particularly Earth-shattering, but it struck me as astute, in an understated Vermontian way. His emphasis is on local issues and local character, citing the diversity of the country and (therefore) the Republican Party and standing up for moral principle when the opposition forces the issue (as on same-sex marriage).

If I may paraphrase his answers in the terms of the intra-GOP debate: We shouldn't attempt to market a sub-brand of a particular type of Republican for local consumption, emphasizing our difference from Republicans elsewhere; rather, we should prove our character and intentions on issues of direct concern to local constituents and rebuff attempts to tie us to the most extreme statements of any minor Republican figure anywhere in the United States by lauding the inclusiveness of the party and the willingness to work together on matters of agreement.

The Traveling Lynchbury

Monique Chartier

The RIGOP this week filed an ethics complaint against Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch (D) for

violating the state’s $75 gift cap by accepting a roundtrip plane ticket worth $428.50 from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association

The genesis of this complaint - the impetus for the RIGOP to look more closely at the AG's travel - is almost certainly Katherine Gregg's eye-opening expose in the Providence Journal three months ago of the Attorney General's penchant for out of state travel.

In the eighteen month period below, the Attorney General traveled out of state on average once a week per month. However, this figure is almost certainly on the low side as it includes only the travel that he was required by law to report for expense reasons. The Attorney General has declined to enumerate how many additional out of state trips he took for personal or campaign reasons.

Readers will note that many of the trips related to NAAG, of which the Attorney General was president during 2008/2009. When asked how all of this travel is justified, the Attorney General offered the following explanation on Wednesday's Buddy Cianci Show on WPRO.

... what the attorneys general do is kind of get together and look as a lawyer for the state and a lot more at what they've been doing is to go out particularly starting with the [inaudible] get together and bring efforts on behalf of the states collectively to strengthen their efforts to get better results for their people

In view of the numerous, convenient methods of communication available, however, it is unclear why these joint efforts and sharing of information must so frequently (at least in the case of Rhode Island's Attorney General) take place in person.

We are still left with the question, then: how has all of the Attorney General's travel benefitted the pursuit of justice and the state of Rhode Island overall?

Date Location/Organization
May 11-14, 2009 Philadelphia/NAAG Year of Child
May 7, 2009 New York/Women’s E-News Gala
April 13-15, 2009 Tenn & Miss/Nat AG Training & Research Institute
March 1-4, 2009 Wash, DC/NAAG Spring Meeting
Feb 25-27, 2009 Orlando, FL/2009 Sex Offender Regis & Managm Conf
Dec 18, 2008 Wash, DC/NAAG
Dec 2 – 5, 2008 Wash, DC/NAAG Winter Meeting
Nov 20-22, 2008 Sarasota, FL/Nat Foundation for Women Legislators’ Annual Conf
Nov 6, 2008 Wash, DC/American Bar Assoc
Oct 4-14, 2008 Taiwan/NAAG
Sept 23-24, 2008 Not Indicated-Seattle?/NAAG
Aug 19 –21, 2008 Wash, DC/NAAG
Aug 2-7, 2008 Seattle, WA/Conf of Western Attnys General
May 18-20, 2008 New Orleans/Cable Show 2008
May 7-9, 2008 PA/Conf held by Pew Center & Nat Ctr For State Courts
March 2-5, 2008 Wash, DC/NAAG
Jan 27-30, 2008 Wash, DC/NAAG

October 2, 2009

RNC Northeast Conference, Day 1

Justin Katz

Breaking my rule of thumb never to enter into Newport after working hours, I've arrived at the Marriott to attend the opening events of the Republican National Committee's Northeast Conference. Inasmuch as I almost drove an eight-foot-high van into a 6'3" parking garage, I'd like to take the opportunity to renew my economic development advice for the city of Newport: Free centralized parking, at the end of a clear path from all entrances to the city and cheap trolley service in all directions. With the long traffic lights, the confused tourists, and groups of people understandably choosing to walk, it's very frustrating to have to rethink parking plans on the fly.

But now that I'm sitting, with a healthy Internet connection on my wireless card (the hotel charges $12 bucks per day for wireless access), I can say that it's very nice to see people I've never seen before at a Republican event. If only we didn't have to fly them in...

5:17 p.m.

Massachusetts GOP National Committeewoman Jody Dow opened with some general comments about the RNC. Gio Cicione (you know Gio, the RIGOP chairman) is giving welcoming remarks and some orientation — explaining the differently colored drink tickets.

"The pendulum swings, and right now, it's swinging in our direction."

5:23 p.m.

Ms. Dow just explained that large numbers of small donations are coming in to the RNC ($41 average), proving that people are worried and that the GOP is the big tent, not the party of the rich.

Up next is Governor Jim Douglas of Vermont. Having spent quite a bit of time in Vermont, as the son of a Green Mountain State mother, I'm qualified to opine that Mr. Douglas looks very much of Vermonter.

5:29 p.m.

Governor Douglas is suggesting that one trend they've seen begin in Vermont may be the conversion of incumbent Democrats to the Republican Party. "Republicans can win in New England." Of course, that's the beginning of the conversation of what sorts of Republicans we should run.

5:32 p.m.

Governor Carcieri just arrived. I wonder if he's got any complaints about parking in Newport.

5:34 p.m.

Governor Douglas is laying out the philosophical differences between the parties on healthcare: e.g., controlling costs versus mandating coverage.

5:40 p.m.

Wow. Speaking about the graying of the Northeast, Gov. Douglas just mentioned that Vermont has 13% fewer school children than it did a decade ago. The moral is that our states' economies have to become more inviting to young families.

Well, on to the opening cocktail party/dinner. I'm never sure where to strike the balance between blogger, activist, and affable schmoe, so I'll bring my blogging equipment (which I bring just about everywhere, anyway), but my inclination whether to pretend to be a journalist is to be determined.

A Turn to 10

Justin Katz

Well, I'm off to the Republican National Committee Northeast Conference in Newport, but Bill Rappleye just stopped by to interview me about the survivability of unions in Rhode Island. Watch for the segment on channel 10 on either the five or six o'clock news. I'll keep an eye out for online video.

A Camcorder on the Other Side

Justin Katz

I'm happy to see Brian Hull making sure that it isn't only the Rhode Island right that's always on camera. Over on Rhode Island Future, he's posted video of the Democrat Primary Debate in Providence's District 10.


On a related topic, I haven't rushed to publish my footage of Rep. Loughlin's healthcare forum, because the Ocean State Policy Research Institute is going to be posting a more professional video on its Web site. If I get a moment, this weekend, I'll put mine up.

Re: Solidarity in Kicking the Blind Veteran into the Street

Monique Chartier

Justin says

Think of the thoroughness of the union mentality (or dementality) necessary for no union members, of several occupations, to see the immorality of preventing disabled veterans from reaching the hospital or to take pains to minimize the effects of their "action."

Indeed, a mentality is at fault here but it is important to focus on the parties with the faulty mentality who bear direct responsibility for these unacceptable incidents. Commenters Joe Bernstein and RIBorn have identified them.

Joe B: On the other hand the misguided action by the transit workers is impacting people who are disabled as a result of serving this country who also have exactly zero involvement in the labor dispute.

RIBorn: While the state may have no control over the picketers, there should be discipline coming to the bus drivers and police officers.

In point of fact, those veterans would have safely arrived at their destination despite the picketing if another group had simply done their job: the bus drivers and, secondarily, those police officers who came to the scene and failed to abate the situation.

It's one thing for a group to picket. It's a completely different, much darker, thing for a second group to make the conscious decision to place the health and well being of disabled or ill veterans behind excessive deference to a particular group's first amendment expression.

Yes, over the course of two days, everyone realized their mistake. In the case of the bus drivers and police officers who have an official capacity and responsibility, one that specifically involves protecting public citizens and especially veterans, that was two days too long.

There's a time and a place for solidarity. This clearly was neither. Shame on those bus drivers and police officers for not immediately recognizing that fact and thereby allowing an allegiance to warp their priorities; i.e., to become a mindless mentality.

Simple Combinatorics Say Congressman Kennedy Should Debate Now!

Carroll Andrew Morse

In the final stage of his 2008 Congressional campaign, Rhode Island First District Congressman Patrick Kennedy had this to say about the possibility of debating his opponent…

Debates at this stage are usually theatre and gotcha games.
This past weekend, the Projo's Steve Peoples got the Congressman's thoughts on appearing by himself in front of the public, for a discussion of issues in what is the early stage of the 2010 Congressional campaign…
Seizing on Kennedy’s reluctance to host a public forum, his likely Republican opponent in next year’s election, state Rep. John J. Loughlin II, has scheduled a health-care town hall of his own in Tiverton this Wednesday….Kennedy on Saturday dismissed the move as a political stunt, and said he would not host a town hall, largely because they fail to produce real discussion.

“Unfortunately, these town hall meetings have been hijacked by these Tea Party folks and extremists who really take away from the honest dialogue on the facts of the debate and end up seeing this issue devolve into fear mongering and the peddling of misconceptions,” he said, referring again to the sign that referenced his father’s death.

Combinatorics fans will note that Congressman Kennedy's closing off of two possibilities; appearing in debates to discuss issues in the late stages of a campaign and meeting directly with the public to discuss issues in the early stages of a campaign, still leaves open a third possibility: appearing in debates to discuss issues in the early stages of a campaign.

Will Congressman Kennedy make himself available for debates in the early stages of his 2010 Congressional campaign, or will he ultimately take the position that there is no time when the job of United States Representative involves appearing in front of the general public, for an extended discussion of issues?

Re: Dennigan

Justin Katz

I wonder if revelations about House Speaker Bill Murphy's intention to step down change the context in which we should consider Dennigan's drama. The previous common assessment had held, I believe, that Dennigan's challenge to Langevin was (on the issue of abortion or just generally) a shot from the progressive faction — either to move him left or with the impression that he could actually be beat.

Could Dennigan instead be an early indication that General Assembly insiders are finally losing hope that the annual unexpected windfall or pot of money to be drained from the future will emerge? Rather than stay and fix the problem, perhaps they're interested in finding ways, individually, to cash out.

Dennigan Resigns

Carroll Andrew Morse

The AP is reporting that State Representative Elizabeth Dennigan (D – East Providence/Pawtucket) has resigned her (now former) state legislative seat, in order to devote more time to her Second District Congressional campaign against incumbent Democrat James Langevin. Will Ricci at the Ocean State Republican is quoting a source saying that a special election will be held to fill the seat in the next 70 – 90 days, meaning it is likely to occur just before Christmas…

According to a well-informed source, the Special Election should occur within the next 70 to 90 days, with a primary, if necessary, to occur about 5 weeks prior. This would place the special election in mid to late December, with a primary in early to mid November.
Apparently, Rep. Dennigan doesn't think anything worth voting on will be occurring in the special state legislative session scheduled for the end of October.

Headline: "Iran talks ease tensions"

Justin Katz

Well isn't that what always happens? Tension. Ease. Tension. Ease. And always Iran moves a little closer to nuclear capability. With consequences such as this looming over the country's head, I'm sure Iran understands how serious the United States is:

Tehran "must grant unfettered access" to international inspectors within two weeks, he said, warning that if Iran fails to follow through, "then the United States will not continue to negotiate indefinitely and we are prepared to move towards increased pressure."

Two questions: Why is the word "negotiate" appearing in this context? And why is this supposed to be comforting:

Western officials at the session said the Islamic republic had also agreed to allow Russia to take some of its enriched uranium and enrich it to higher levels for its research reactor in Tehran, a potentially significant move that would show greater flexibility by both sides.

October 1, 2009

Gambling to be Murphy's Swan Song?

Marc Comtois

Current RI House Speaker William Murphy announced his retirement and it sounds like he'd like to get gambling done before he exits the stage (via 7 to 7):

A day after confirming his plans to leave the rostrum after next year, House Speaker William J. Murphy is saying the General Assembly needs to "revisit'' casino gambling.

He said he "would not be averse'' to putting another referendum question on the 2010 ballot, asking voters whether they would allow full-scale gambling.

"We have to look at it,'' he said.

During an interview with Buddy Cianci on WPRO-AM radio, Murphy, D-West Warwick, said he believes Rhode Island needs to pay close attention to what Massachusetts does on the gambling front, because any such move could make a huge dent in a major source of Rhode Island revenue.

He did not immediately specify whether he was talkiing about expanding the options at the state's two existing slot parlors: Twin River and Newport Grand. Murphy was a chief backer of the failed 2006 ballot proposal to allow a Harrah's-financed Narragansett Indian casino in his hometown of West Warwick.

Wonder if he has a future with a gambling interest in his plans?

This would tie in with Dan Yorke's thesis: That Murphy has been holding off on calling the House back to avoid the House having to consider legislation that could be submitted by those who want dog racing back at Twin River. If that were to occur, it would muck up the ongoing Twin River bankruptcy proceedings (change the revenue stream picture, etc.) and also ruin the expansion plans (ie; full-fledged casino), which is something Murphy doesn't want for personal and professional reasons. So, he's stalled on calling the House back to "bring around" some of the dog-racing proponents and, hopefully, until after the bankruptcy proceedings are over.

Solidarity in Kicking the Blind Veteran into the Street

Justin Katz

Somehow I missed the story from last week that Joe Bernstein raises in the comments to the previous post. The Providence Journal story appears to have run on Saturday:

On Monday and Tuesday morning, [blind veteran Michael] Graichen said Friday, the bus driver explained there was a picket line [at the VA Hospital] he wasn’t going to cross, and he let Graichen out at Roger Williams Hospital. ...

A VA spokesman said his efforts to speak with protesters on Monday were met with profanities. Bullhorns and shouting disrupted traffic on Chalkstone, said James W. Burrows, director of communications at the VA Hospital. When he called the police, he said Thursday, the responding patrol cars honked in solidarity with the protesting unions.

On Wednesday, a 12-foot banner was added to the display. It said: "VA Medical Center / Construction workers with NO Health Care Insurance. / Shame on the VA."

On Thursday, Burrows said, a Providence police officer responded to the VA Hospital to tell protesters they had to stay on the sidewalk and not use the bullhorn.

By Friday morning, the tone had changed.

Think of the thoroughness of the union mentality (or dementality) necessary for no union members, of several occupations, to see the immorality of preventing disabled veterans from reaching the hospital or to take pains to minimize the effects of their "action.". The kicker? The picket wasn't even over current jobs, but was anticipatory of stimulus dollars potentially flowing out of state.

Yet, we allow the organizations that foster such an atmosphere and mentality to interweave themselves, through metastasis, into such critical public roles as police, fire, and education.


Comments Michael to the previous post:

It happened for a day, the bus drivers realized their mistake, the workers who were picketing apologized, in writing and the story should be over.

It appears to have happened for two days. More importantly, though, this was a "mistake" like mugging an old lady on a street corner is a "mistake." The point is that the perpetrator ought to know in advance that what he's doing is wrong.

And the story will not be over until the principles and practices of unionized groups are diverted from the culture of selfishness and aggression that fosters such "mistakes."

The Never-Ending Union Contract

Justin Katz

Marc confessed, on last night's Matt Allen Show, that he's tempted to forsake all and join a union, arguing that they're impervious: as individuals, union members get away with everything, and as bodies, their contracts can't be allowed to expire. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Shouldn't Consolidation Savings Go to Cities and Towns?

Justin Katz

Could be I'm missing something, but Rhode Island Senate Finance Committee Chairman Daniel DaPonte's proposed solution to the state government's money problems sounds like an answer to a different question:

Offering a hint of what might be to come in the legislative session that starts in January, DaPonte said lawmakers must seriously look at "municipal and school consolidation throughout the State of Rhode Island" as a long-range cost-cutting measure.

Legislators and Governor Carcieri have in the past called for merging certain municipal and school services, but rarely in recent years has a lawmaker with such standing suggested consolidation of different districts.

"It's too early to talk about what any final recommendations look like. But I think it's very fair to say that the numbers are large enough and the concern is enough that there are very, very serious conversations taking place about this," DaPonte said.

He declined to discuss what other budget cuts may be in store if revenues continue to fall.

Consolidation is a good feint, because Rhode Islanders across the political spectrum have a vague feeling that it would be a good thing — "Yeah, yeah, consolidation would save money." — but the only way helps with state fiscal problems is if the General Assembly sucks up all the savings. In the case of school districts, that means less state money per student, probably with the claim that the state is giving more money to each larger district than it had to each smaller one. In the case of municipalities, it means less assistance offsetting property taxes and even less money to account for mandates.

And that assumes that consolidation saves significant money, which isn't at all proven, as far as I'm concerned. Towns could secure most of the savings through joint purchasing agreements and the like.

Only one thing can keep this state from a perpetual decline in the decades to come: economic activity. For that to be a real possibility — beyond reverberating ripples from national growth — the General Assembly is going to have to overhaul our tax system, erase the long list of mandates on towns, residents, and private businesses, and take a big red marker to the regulatory regime. Of course, that would require enduring the howls of special interests and undoing the pet bills for which legislators sold their souls.