November 30, 2009

The Projo’s Unintentionally Informative Juxtaposition of the Day

Carroll Andrew Morse

The online headline of Linda Borg’s article in today's Projo announces one community’s goal for education…

In Central Falls, the goal is getting pupils to read better.
…which, despite its seeming obviousness, is a bit different from the goal being emphasized by the National Education Association, according to a companion article written by Jennifer D. Jordan...
Charter schools are taxpayer-financed public schools that operate free of many of the restrictions of regular public schools. Charters often offer smaller class sizes, require students to wear uniforms, encourage parent involvement and provide a longer school day. State education officials say charters provide choice to low-income students, and can produce innovative approaches that school districts can replicate.

But the National Education Association of Rhode Island disagrees, saying charter schools siphon away badly needed resources from the public school system.

Got that? According to the NEA, providing money to “taxpayer-financed public schools” is taking money away from the “public school system”. Not all students in public schools are entitled to public funding according to the union’s logic, because only students in schools managed by a particular form of bureaucracy should be entitled to public money. This rationale unequivocally elevates the imposition of a particular bureaucratic form on Rhode Island students above more fundamental educational goals of the kind mentioned in Linda Borg’s story, e.g. teaching students to read.

Fortunately, in a ray of hope for Rhode Island, State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist offers a clear statement on the absurdity of an educational philosophy that emphasizes funding bureaucracies instead of funding public-school students…

“Ideally, as a state, we will be working to implement a funding formula, so that taxpayer investment in a child’s education is based on the student, whatever public school that child attends — regular or charter,” Gist said.
One final note: Compared to prior Projo offerings on the same subject, Jennifer Jordan makes a little progress on properly explaining to the public the relationship between the “funding formula” and charter schools. Instead of the voice of the omniscient journalistic narrator telling us that Rhode Island’s lack of a “funding formula” implies that taxpayers are paying “extra” for public charter schools, as occurred this past June, today's article attributes this connection only to the “critics of charters”. And the “critics of charters", of course, continue to be as wrong on this issue as they always have been, because…
You can direct money just as easily -- maybe more easily -- to charter schools through use a "funding formula" than you can without one. Or you could decide not to fund charters, without implementing a "funding formula". Either way, the decision by a state to fund or not fund charter schools precedes the creation of a "funding formula"; the formula only implements a policy decision that's already been made.

What Might Merit Mean?

Justin Katz

In a comment to my liveblog post, Thomas Schmeling asked me to "provide some information on the 'merit system' of compensation that [I] support." The short answer is that I don't have a tremendous amount of detail to put forward.

For one thing, I volunteered for the Tiverton School Committee Subcommittee on Evaluations in part to develop my understanding of the various considerations involved, and we have yet to meet. For another thing, a fair portion of he details should be left to administrators to hone according to the actual forces and dynamics in their own districts.

Basically, I just support the idea that compensation and professional advancement should be related to capability — not longevity. (Although one would expect longevity to result in escalating capability in most cases.) I don't think the one-time bonus structure is very effective, especially if the bonuses are small, and group bonuses probably wouldn't prove very effective unless the groups are very small. There should be an individually based spectrum, ranging from firing and probation to raises and promotion.

The "afterthought" of my earlier post included a sketch of factors that would be considered while adjusting pay, but the long and short of it is that everything should have an effect, from standardized scores to demonstrable extra work, to student and parent reviews, to peer reviews. By some process that suits the school and district, administrators would factor in these various considerations — a good amount of which could easily be incorporated via objective scales — and produce an annual raise and promotion result.

Harrop's Call for "rigorous journalists" on Climate Reporting Apparently Doesn't Include Herself

Marc Comtois


On November 19, 2009, climate science was severely shaken by the release of a collection of email messages, together with a collection of data and data processing programs, that were hacked or revealed by a whistle blower from the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit (CRU), one of the key centers of global warming research. These emails and text files have been the subject of intense debate, calling to question assumptions on anthropogenic (man-made) global warming.
As Iain Murray summarizes:
1. The data were manipulated to hide a decline in recent temperatures, meaning that we cannot be sure that the paleoclimatological record shows that the recent warming was in any way unusual. This is separate from the issue of whether or not it has been warming or cooling, which is a distraction from what Climategate tells us.

2. There was a concerted effort to subvert the peer-review process of journals that might publish "skeptical" articles (and thereby undermine the "consensus" argument).

3. There was an organized attempt to circumvent or obstruct the legal requirements of the UK's Freedom of Information Act 2000, which appears on its face to rise to the level of criminality.

All this was known last week. And then From Harrop penned a column, "On climate: More rigorous journalists needed". Giving Harrop--a known believer in anthropogenic global warming--the benefit of the doubt, I wondered if she was going to acknowledge the burgeoning climate-gate controversy. Nope. Instead, more of the same...
When President Obama attends on Dec. 9 the United Nations meeting on climate in Copenhagen, you can be sure that the deniers of global warming will go on a romp. They’ll dredge up weather forecasters, scientists hungry for attention and various grudge-holders to argue that the Earth’s temperature isn’t rising, or that if it is, humankind plays no part in the process.
Setting aside Harrop's willful mischaracterizations (a skeptic is different than a "denier"), it should come as no surprise that a cosseted journo like Harrop would hyperbolize the affects that the minority dissenters have on the public versus the received wisdom she so willingly accepts and dispenses.
That 72 percent of Americans still believe that global warming exists (down from 80 percent last year) seems a miracle, given the quality of much recent reportage. {Yes, it reeeaaaaalllly should be 100%, you see!}

The eve of the Copenhagen talks would be an optimal time for American journalism to start treating science with more care.

Yes, we're waiting for that.

Roundtable Redux

Justin Katz

Anybody who missed my appearance on WRNI's Political Roundtable on Friday can find the audio here. There were two points that I didn't manage to work into the extremely rapid format:

  1. In response to Scott MacKay's suggestion that the Roman Catholic Church would find its pews empty were it to be as intransigent on every issue as it is on abortion (vis Patrick Kennedy), it ought to be pointed out that few issues are as stark and straightforward as abortion. On one level, there is no room for prudential judgment on the question of whether it's morally proper to deliberately kill children for any reason short of life-and-death. On another level, there isn't really much room to work prudential judgment around abortion. In healthcare, for example, additional funding for abortion will be used for that purpose, but the expanded coverage and "improvements" to the healthcare system that Kennedy (for example) cited as justifying compromise are wholly prospective — mostly suspect.
  2. Regarding Gordon Fox's day out at the ballpark with lobbyists, I would have liked to point out the effect of this whole frame of mind on the citizenry. Fox (to recap) sat in a $120 seat purchased by GTECH lobbyists at a Red Sox game and claims to have paid his way. Whatever the specifics of the case, if a carpenter like me were to be elected to office and err in judgment over a $100 sports ticket, the potential $10,000 fine would be devastating. Another problem with the oppressive effort to pluck all influence peddling from government is the adverse effect of making government a game that only people insulated from the risks can play. Shrinking government would be a better approach.

The Union Shadow Government

Justin Katz

The "must read" label is a bit too easy to throw around, but a post on concerning union expansion — like a cancer in the canals of government bureaucracies — deserves it. We begin with this reminder of a peculiar story that some of you might have heard recently:

This past September Lisa Snyder, a 35 year old Michigan mother, made the news when she received a disturbing letter from the Michigan Department of Human Services. In it, the letter warned her that she was in violation of the law. Her offense? Watching a handful of neighborhood kids each morning for about 20 minutes as they waited at the end of her driveway for the school bus to arrive, with the blessing of their parents. State law in Michigan prohibits the home supervision of unrelated children for more than four weeks in a year without a child care provider license. Turns out a neighbor had complained and the Michigan Department of Human Services, the watchdog for home child care licensing, intervened by sending the warning letter. In Michigan, state employees for the DHS are represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW) labor union. Coincidentally, the union that represents the state’s home child care workers? Also the UAW.

Bring that mentality into the realm of healthcare, and the image begins to be frightening. Consider:

Also in Michigan, a story of three women who run their own independent businesses out of their homes, caring for neighborhood children. They each recently received a letter indicating that they are now dues-paying members of the Child Care Providers Together Michigan union — a complete surprise to them.

After a 2006 Executive Order by the Michigan Governor awarded the union (a partnership of UAW and AFSCME) bargaining rights for home child care workers, all it took for the union to convert all 40,000 child care workers to dues paying members was 5,900 signed union authorization cards. That left some independent home child care workers, who'd for years considered themselves self-employed, feeling dismayed and stunned.

A neat chart illustrates the path whereby government subsidies that parents used to help pay for independent child care services brought the self-employed professionals who accepted the payment under the dark shadow of "public service." In its current form, healthcare reform would move anybody who deals in health and wellness into the target zone of aggressive and politically powerful unions. In theory, in keeping with the Michigan example, "card check" would make it possible for a minority of people within a particular industry could unionize the entire group.

Such a structure would be good for people who like consolidated power within their own reach, but bad for the economy and bad for freedom.

November 29, 2009

Tiverton School Committee Merit Pay Workshop Video, 6

Justin Katz

Tiverton School Committee Merit Pay Workshop Video, 5

Justin Katz

Tiverton School Committee Merit Pay Workshop Video, 4

Justin Katz

Tiverton School Committee Merit Pay Workshop Video, 3

Justin Katz

Some Helpful "Don't's" for the Holiday Season (and Throughout the Year)

Monique Chartier

What not to bring grocery shopping. [Side note: regrettably, due to England's onerous laws regulating the movement of livestock, it will be six days before the "victim" is reunited with his flock.]

How not to effectuate a get-away should your holiday cash flow necessitate the mugging of an armored car driver.

What not to buy as a gift for that "special" female in your life (even in jest).

What not to say to airport security, no matter how tight the logic may seem. [H/T Dave Barry.]

The Conservative Eagle Has Two Wings

Justin Katz

Periodically, one picks up a hint from the libertarian quarters of the broader tea party movement that they see, in it, an opportunity to assert economic conservatism apart from social conservatism. As I noted while observing the size and diversity of the crowd at the marriage-vow-renewal ceremony hosted by the National Organization for Marriage - Rhode Island, I don't see that as a plausible political strategy. The point emerges, again, with this information from NOM's national head Maggie Gallagher:

Over in New York, the collapse of Dede Scozzafava is another big story. Scozzafava was handpicked to become the first openly pro-gay marriage Republican in a district where the vast majority of Republicans and independents (and even a big chunk of Democrats) oppose gay marriage.

A National Organization of Marriage poll of likely voters in New York's 23rd Congressional District revealed that fully 50 percent of her opponent's supporters said that Scozzafava's vote for gay marriage was a factor in their decision not to support her.

Granted, I watched that race only peripherally, and political horse-race commentary tends to focus on less, well, mushy subjects than social issues (which is to say it tends to be wonkish), but I hadn't seen the marriage issue mentioned as a factor in Doug Hoffman's out-of-nowhere wave. Obviously, Maggie has reason to emphasize her core issue, and the shorthand of "liberal v. conservative" still includes the social issues in most cases.

Still, it's worth reasserting that conservatism will fail if it doesn't apply its principles across the board. In conjunction with liberal morality, conservative economics only feed an aristocracy and modern conservative governance fails, but not before creating a seedy underclass.

Tiverton School Committee Merit Pay Workshop Video, 2

Justin Katz

Speaking of Healthcare...

Justin Katz

Here's another result found in Rasmussen's polling:

Forty-nine percent (49%) of voters nationwide now rate the U.S. health care system as good or excellent. That marks a steady increase from 44% at the beginning of October, 35% in May and 29% a year-and-a-half ago.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 27% now say the U.S. health care system is poor.

I suppose as people go through the compare and contrast process, they become increasingly wary of results like this across the pond:

The key findings of the report were:

- appalling hygiene and cleanliness in A&E
- patients left in A&E for ten hours and treated in full view of others
- four deaths among patients with learning disabilties
- a lack of children's nurses and doctors in A&E
- blood splattered on curtains and mould in vital equipment
- lack of basic nursing skills with failure to feed patients or give medication correctly
- elderly patients frequently developing bed sores, prompting concerns from nearby care homes.

Maybe it's time for the newspapers to run some more of those nice letters from doctors in Canada who just happen to think it worth their while to let far away opinion page editors know how great their system is.

Tiverton School Committee Merit Pay Workshop Video, 1

Justin Katz

So when I arrived at last Tuesday's Tiverton School Committee workshop on merit pay for teachers, I set up such that I could capture the faces of speakers in the audience. But the committee out-thought me and positioned a microphone at the table typically set aside for the stenographer, and by the time I realized it, the more-appropriate side of the room was filled (and with my political opposition). Consequently, my video features mainly the backs of non-committee member participants. Consider it an effort to make the viewer feel as if he or she is actually there.

Each of these posts will include three videos, two in the extended entry.

With Time, the Truth About Healthcare Is Coming Out

Justin Katz

So, according to Rasmussen, public opinion on the Democrats' healthcare plan is currently at 38% for, 56% against. The specifics are even less positive:

Only 16% now believe passage of the plan will lead to lower health care costs. Nearly four times as many (60%) believe the plan will increase health care costs. Most (54%) also believe passage of the plan will hurt the quality of care.

One wonders how much of an effect it has had that, as the longevity of the debate carries it over Americans' great wall of apathy, people are catching on to the oft-repeated falsehoods such as Ramesh Ponnuru addressed in a recent National Review article:

Earlier this year, Ceci Connolly reported, in another front-page story for the Washington Post, that people who go without health insurance raise premiums for the rest of us by $1,000 a year. Supporters of universal coverage routinely invoke this factoid. It's not a fact. The source is a left-wing advocacy group, and nonpartisan observers, including the CBO, believe that the real premium increase is much smaller, perhaps $220 a year.

In the same piece, Connolly reported that the U.S. spends more money on health care than other countries while generating less impressive statistics. She specifically cited our high infant-mortality rate--without mentioning that we have, for example, a higher proportion of low-birthweight babies than other countries, which is hardly the fault of our system of health finance.

Maybe Connolly's worst blunder was to report that there is a "consensus" that the cost of health care undermines the competitiveness of American business. That consensus includes other news outlets, such as Reuters, and President Obama. There is a directly opposed consensus that includes most health-care economists, the CBO, and some members of Obama's economic team. It holds that health-care costs come out of wages, not profits, and thus generally do not affect firms' competitiveness.

The mainstream media, by the way, is in a tough spot. If they continue with their current practices, many of its practitioners will be entirely devoid of credibility by the end of the Obama administration, and the same will be the case if they turn around to the opposite tack. Of course, the opportunity always exists for a great self-reckoning and a deliberate, visible effort to recapture objectivity.

November 28, 2009

And Then There's Open Season on the Right

Justin Katz

Further to Robert Wright's specious left-wing argument that we shouldn't battle terrorist organizations abroad because it might set off a few loons at home, take a moment to ponder this revelation:

A Kentucky census worker found naked, bound with duct tape and hanging from a tree with "fed" scrawled on his chest killed himself but staged his death to make it look like a homicide, authorities said Tuesday.

The lack of incidents notwithstanding, the American left and the mainstream media have made it such a forceful cliché that white, Christian, male conservatives are a violent horde stalking our nation that it's become the context for this sort of insurance fraud. You know, I don't think I've ever read a single opinion piece questioning the appropriateness of jumping to conclusions about and maligning right-wingers because of random incidents and statements on the grounds that it might drive us to a further sense of isolation and tendency toward violence.

Perhaps that's because the folks inclined toward such worries when it comes to other groups know that their worldview is a house of imaginary cards.

The Confused Post Hoc Rationalizations of Robert Wright

Justin Katz

Robert Wright's recent op-ed in the New York Times has the feel of a post hoc argument and is, simply put, confused.

The American right and left reacted to 9/11 differently. Their respective responses were, to oversimplify a bit: "kill the terrorists" and "kill the terrorism meme."

Conservatives backed war in Iraq, and they’re now backing an escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Liberals (at least, dovish liberals) have warned in both cases that killing terrorists is counterproductive if in the process you create even more terrorists; the object of the game isn't to wipe out every last Islamist radical but rather to contain the virus of Islamist radicalism.

Wright never gets around to explaining the positive steps that the left would employ; perhaps he means the general "be nicer" approach that would "contain the virus of Islamist radicalism" in a pink, sticker-covered envelope of love. His argument is constructed entirely in a negative light, explaining what he sees as the shortcomings of the approach of the right, as described succinctly in the second paragraph of the above quotation. Of course, Wright also wants to leave room for this morsel:

Concerns about homegrown terrorism may sound like wild extrapolation from limited data. After all, in the eight years since 9/11, none of America's several million Muslims had committed violence on this scale.

That's a reminder that, contrary to right-wing stereotype, Islam isn't an intrinsically belligerent religion. Still, this sort of stereotyping won't go away, and it's among the factors that could make homegrown terrorism a slowly growing epidemic. The more Americans denigrate Islam and view Muslims in the workplace with suspicion, the more likely the virus is to spread — and each appearance of the virus in turn tempts more people to denigrate Islam and view Muslims with suspicion. Whenever you have a positive feedback system like this, an isolated incident can put you on a slippery slope.

And the Fort Hood shooting wasn't the only recent step along that slope. Six months ago a 24-year-old American named Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad — Carlos Bledsoe before his teenage conversion to Islam — fatally shot a soldier outside a recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark. ...

Both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were supposed to reduce the number of anti-American terrorists abroad. It's hardly clear that they've succeeded, and they may have had the opposite effect. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ledger, they've inspired homegrown terrorism — a small-scale incident in June, a larger-scale incident this month. That's only two data points, but I don't like the slope of the line connecting them.

So conducting large-scale wars against terrorists and their allies in foreign lands will result in a backlash of lone gunmen, and yet, it's also the case that Muslims aren't inclined toward violence. To square this circle, Wright must mean to indicate that Americans have been accelerating both their wars and their workplace distrust over the last decade, thus pushing the peaceful Muslims to the brink. Personally, I see zero evidence of such developments. The wars have remained limited to the range that President Bush first articulated in his Axis of Evil speech, and the news is hardly peppered with reports of anti-Muslim violence or bias.

And again: What could "containing the virus of Islamist radicalism" possibly mean if we insist that it has nothing to do with Islam?

It's odd that Wright limits himself to two incidents of isolated Muslim shooters. If we include the Washington sniper and that guy who shot up an Israeli airline ticket counter at a Los Angeles airport, both in 2002, there's less of a slope than a periodic blip. Contrast that with the clear and gradual progression of Islamofascist terrorism against American interests in the decade leading up to 9/11, which the War on Terror plainly arrested.

At best, Wright could claim that a strong military response to terrorism has as one of its costs occasional small-scale incidents of domestic violence. The case for the leftists' (undescribed) alternative approach is hollow, inasmuch as there's no reason to believe that the information flow that brings enemy propaganda to the home front works in reverse. For one thing, suppressing the "Islamic" in "Islamic radicalism" has demonstrably hindered law-enforcement-type efforts to end and prevent the lone shooters. In the case of the Washington sniper, the entire East Coast wasted precious days looking for white men in a white van; in the case of the Fort Hood shooter, he did everything but swing by his commanding officer's building with a statement of intent prior to the attack. Applying this same approach to efforts to restrain coordinated attacks would be devastating.

For another thing, not everybody has access to free information, and the percentage goes down among populations most likely to be targeted by radicals. There are folks in the West who can absorb international media with the ease of flicking a switch. There are folks in the more advanced Muslim societies with access to a limited range of information controlled by local governments. And there are folks in the less advanced societies with access to almost no outside information. Moreover, while mere interest can bring people in the first group to the evil propaganda of militant radicals, there's no assurance that folks in the second two categories would have any interest in the gooey propaganda of the pacifist left, even were it available.

So, the American right's response to 9/11 requires some effort managing a handful of isolated incidents that could be better controlled were it not for the insanity of political correctness. The American left's response would require an extensive feel-good campaign of historic (imaginary) proportions. For some sense of the impossibility of such a campaign, look to a recent riot in Egypt:

Hundreds of Muslim protesters on Saturday burnt Christian-owned shops in southern Egypt and attacked a police station where they believed a Christian accused of raping a Muslim girl was being held, a police official said.

On a global scale, billions of dollars in good will offerings and messaging efforts — as well as the intolerable risks entailed in proving our desire for openness and fraternity — could be undone on pretense. Any misstep in the minefield of egg shells by any Western individual or group might spark violence among a militant cohort that has identified our willingness to absorb hits and strategy of self flagellation as signs of weakness. Indeed, the forces behind Islamofascism would immediately proceed to lay egg shells at the periphery of their field, thus expanding the geographic and ideological territory on which Westerners dared not to tread.

In short, the progressive response to terrorism would accomplish nothing but making American leftists feel morally superior between large- and small-scale attacks.

Why are We Trying Them if We're Going to Detain Them Regardless of the Verdict?

Monique Chartier

Under "John Loughlin on the Civil Trial of Terrorists", Joe Bernstein observes,

Nor can you explain how it is that Holder admits before a Senate committee that he doesn't know the consequences of an acquittal after these people are brought into this country under color of law to stand trial.

Quoting Attorney General Eric Holder in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

And so that if - if there were the possibility that a trial was not successful that would not mean that that person would be released into our country.

Does that mean that they might be released in another country? Or that they would not be released at all?

Senator Jack Reed got more specific a couple of weekends ago on FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace:

WALLACE: We've got about 30 seconds left. What if one of these guys gets off?

REED: Well, if — that is highly unlikely. The evidence is compelling.

WALLACE: But there are no guarantees in a trial.

REED: There are no guarantees, but under basic principles of international law, as long as these individuals pose a threat, they can be detained, and they will.

WALLACE: But — and very briefly — if someone is acquitted and then he's picked up again...

REED: I...

WALLACE: ... what's the message that that would send to the rest of the world?

REED: I do not believe they will be released, because under the principle of preventive detention, which is recognized during hostilities, we held...

So Attorney General Holder has implied and Senator Reed has stated outright that if the five terrorists are acquitted, we would simply detain them again.

Let's understand this scenario. If these five are found guilty, we would "detain" them by sentencing them to long jail terms. And if they are acquitted, we would also detain them, just under a different rationale; i.e., that they pose a threat to the United States?

If we detain them after acquittal, wouldn't that completely negate the principle - a demonstration of American justice and due process - for which the Obama administration has chosen a civilian rather than a military judicial venue? After all, one of the big payoffs of our - and any truly just - judicial system is that the defendant walks free if acquitted of the charge, he is not escorted back into jail.

Secondly, if they are so much of a threat as to warrant detention after a trial, are they not just as much a threat now? And does that not obviate the necessity to try them? Stated more simply, how will their threat status have changed - increased - after a trial? In the event of acquittal, will it not, in fact, have considerably diminished because a court will have declared them "not guilty" of plotting or committing violence against the United States?

Contrary to the Attorney General's assertion when he announced this decision, the risk of acquittal is higher in a civilian trial as opposed to a military tribunal. Now, there would be two substantially different consequences to an acquittal. The first would be an abrogation of justice. The second would be damage to political careers. The former is obviously far more important. Yet the politicians making and supporting this decision as to judicial venue seem more concerned about the latter given that they appear willing to telescope the execution, and therefore, the principle, of the former in the event of an unpalatable outcome.

The Desire for Relief

Justin Katz

A little bit of clarity about what charters and mayoral academies are all about could help our state in ways beyond education. This paragraph from an article about Cranston Mayor Allan Fung's interest in starting one of the latter puts it succinctly:

Like other charter schools, [Democracy Prep Blackstone Academy, in Cumberland] operates outside traditional rules and regulations, but it is free even from some rules that other charter schools must follow, such as those on prevailing wages.

State and federal mandates and oppressive union contracts are strangling our education system to line the pockets and stroke the vanity of adults. The very same factors are strangling our economy. Changing that reality could transform Rhode Island with astonishing speed.

November 27, 2009

A Proper Progress

Justin Katz

Father John Kiley steps forward to defend the Western period of exploration as a time when we "began to also hope in progress," not in religion alone. Indeed, Fr. Kiley credits the likes of Christopher Columbus and Leonardo de Vinci not just with their particular discoveries and innovations, but with the whole technological drive of our culture. There should, of course, be a restraint:

Pope Benedict correctly laments the fracture that occurred between hope in faith that marked the Middle Ages and hope in progress that distinguishes the modern era. Too much hope in human progress crowds out God in modern times just as exclusive hope in faith left little room for progress in the earlier era. Clearly, the two hopes are not incompatible. The God who made the spiritual world also fashioned the material world. Both heaven and earth are certainly worthy of investigation and exploration. Hope in progress alone sadly does lead to atom bombs and abortion procedures and corporate expansion. But progress enlightened by faith can fashion this world into a fuller reflection of the goodness and kindness of God himself.

Sadly, we are creatures of extremes. We seek a rule and insist that it must apply to everything and all. We tend to believe either that working with material reality is playing God or that any manipulation that gives the impression of benefiting us must be justified.

Guarding the State in the Church

Justin Katz

The person who brought my attention to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's scheduled appearance at Central Congregational Church, in Providence, this Sunday, suggested that the politician is likely to face a very friendly audience as he gives his national healthcare pitch. It's all too obvious to wonder what might be the reaction were a right-of-center politician giving a political presentation at a more conservative church, but it's curious the effect that the event's being held by a religious organization can have on political opponents.

My own religious observation would cause me to miss this particular gathering, anyway, but I have to admit a reluctance to crash an event on somebody else's holy ground, as it were. Even with explicit permission from the church's leaders, there would feel something surreptitious about attending as political opposition.

Others with challenging questions for the senator might not share my inhibitions.

The Focus of the Advocates

Justin Katz

Julia Steiny's column last Sunday focused on declining numbers of students in Rhode Island, but the paragraphs on the cause stick in the mind:

Mather elaborates, "In general terms, people leave New England because of job growth elsewhere. Many young people go to New England for college, but when they're finished or ready to start a family, they go where there are more opportunities, more affordable housing, and a warmer climate."

Well, but NCES shows that also-not-warm mountain states Idaho and Colorado both will enjoy double-digit growth, 26 and 19 percent respectively, between 2006 and 2018. Even Nebraska and Minnesota are growing.

So yes, says John Simmons of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, the state's economy is the issue. He sighed as he rattled off a laundry list of badly needed changes to the state's tax structure, health-care system, pensions, and onerous regulatory burden. "If we don't begin to make changes today, by 2012, the problems become unsolvable. This has to be faced."

If it were actually true that, as outgoing National Education Association General Counsel Bob Chanin put it, "what unions do first and foremost is represent their members," it seems to me their focus would be wholly different. They wouldn't be funding left-wing Web sites and advocating for growth-killing progressivism.

Over at Assigned Reading, Mike, himself an RI teacher, reacted to a speech by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten thus:

Weingarten reveals through her speech what is an essential conflict: teachers unions only play for one team. Teachers unions have become arms of the Democratic party, activists for liberal causes and champions of politicians on the left. By aligning themselves with one side, they have effectively created enemies of the other. And they are major players in the blame game.

It isn't only the divisiveness and political activism, per se, to which union members ought to object, in this. They should find it unacceptable that the union organizations to which they pay so much in dues, and whose baggage they must carry, locally, are ideologically hindered from advocating for policies that would help membership in the long-term — policies that increase the wealth of taxpayers and expand the class of young clients.

November 26, 2009


Justin Katz

In a sense, it oughtn't be surprising, but it does seem as if the degree is notching up, and each step is shocking: Even some among the better informed among the folks with whom I interact on a daily basis (who are, to be sure, less well informed than even the most disengaged among readers of online punditry) remain unaware of this story:

Some of the world’s top climate scientists have been accused of manipulating data on global warming after hundreds of private emails were stolen by hackers and published online.

The material was taken from servers at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit — a world-renowned climate change research centre — before it was published on websites run by climate change sceptics.

It has been claimed that the emails show that scientists manipulated data to bolster their argument that global warming is genuine and is being caused by human actions.

Go to just about any right-of-center Web site with a national or international focus, and you'll find the details (which, of course, most of you have already seen). James Delingpole provides a good starting point. Mark Steyn notes the expanding scope.

Most striking, though, is this reader email, sent to Instapundit Glenn Reynolds (link added):

I now have a sense of what it was like living under Communism in Eastern Europe. The state-owned (in our case, establishment) press won’t report on reality so people had to turn to Samizdat to learn what’s actually happening in their world. It’s rather amazing. Also, having an Army of Davids go through these emails will pay dividends for years.

It may be a tired formulation, but you can just imagine if there were even hints of this scale of controversy on an issue with which mainstreamers held an ideologically opposing view.

Charlie Hall Stopped by the State House Yesterday ...

Monique Chartier

Courtesy the Hummel Report Ocean State Follies.


Gelatinous Things

Justin Katz

Monique and Matt talked cranberry sauce and various topics on last night's Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Thankfulness, To and For

Justin Katz

"What are you thankful for?" is a tough question. It's sort of an annual version of "how are you doing?" One isn't supposed to embark on an extended dissertation on the profundities of life, but it somehow feels as if a packaged response diminishes the courtesy of the question. "What are you thankful for?" "Oh, the usual."

And so, at the tail end of last week's Violent Roundtable, on WPRO, my response to the question was, essentially, "ditto." During the taping of this week's Political Roundtable on WRNI (airing tomorrow at 5:40 and 7:40 a.m.), I found myself expressing gratitude for corruption.

Hovering between cliché and theological depth is a dangerous place to be.

Thanks, therefore, to Marc, for posting President Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation, which gives a helpful context for appropriate responses (emphasis added):

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houfes of Congress have, by their joint committee, requefted me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to eftablifh a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

To be sure, we're grateful to friends, families, and institutions for their affections and assistance, and we're grateful for the fact that friends and family exist. But if the particular gratitude for which we designate the day is to God, then those things that are more immediately pleasurable in the personal fulfillment that they provide should be joined by those things that enable us to strive and suffer and overcome, ultimately by God's grace.

Corruption and suffering are sometimes like the pain of muscles made sore through exercise, and they are sometimes the sharp lap of flames that urge us away from fatal danger. A deeper personal fulfillment cannot be reached with a skip and a waltz, and for the existence of that transcendent objective, we should be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving

Marc Comtois

To commemorate Thanksgiving this year, I thought it appropriate to post George Washington's original Thanksgiving Proclamation setting aside Thursday, November 26th (exactly 220 years ago!) as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.

General Thanksgiving

By the PRESIDENT of the United States Of America


WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houfes of Congress have, by their joint committee, requefted me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to eftablifh a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and affign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of thefe States to the fervice of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our fincere and humble thanksfor His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the fignal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpofitions of His providence in the courfe and conclufion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have fince enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to eftablish Conftitutions of government for our fafety and happinefs, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are bleffed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffufing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleafed to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in moft humbly offering our prayers and fupplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and befeech Him to pardon our national and other tranfgreffions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private ftations, to perform our feveral and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a bleffing to all the people by conftantly being a Government of wife, juft, and conftitutional laws, difcreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all fovereigns and nations (especially fuch as have shewn kindnefs unto us); and to blefs them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increafe of fcience among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind fuch a degree of temporal profperity as he alone knows to be beft.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand feven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington

November 25, 2009

A Teaching Moment

Marc Comtois

The Kennedy/Tobin flap has revealed the rank opportunism of those who, like the Kennedy's and so many other politicians, fall back on their Catholic heritage when it comes to getting votes from one segment (older Democrats who remember Jack) or excoriate the Church when it is advantageous to get them from another (pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage progressives). They've been allowed to have it both ways for so long--thanks to priests and bishops of the Church willing to turn the other way, no less--that they seem a little surprised that someone--Bishop Tobin--is finally calling them on the carpet.

In essence, the argument--both between the primaries and those who support them--has laid bare the fact that many Catholics don't abide by several of the Catholic Church's teachings. These Catholics, like Patrick Kennedy and the majority of Rhode Island Catholics (including myself), are basically cultural Catholics who have come to view Catholicism more as heritage than a religion with strict rules that should be followed.

For many of us, being Catholic is a fundamental part of our identity (much like being Jewish). It provides the form for our practice of religion, regardless of whether or not we abide by or believe the entirety of the catechism. We go to church as often as possible (or convenient) and strive to hit all of the milestones: baptism, first communion, confirmation and a Catholic wedding.

Yet, whether we Catholics like to admit it or not, there are rules and the church hierarchy--parish priests, bishops, cardinals, the pope--is charged with explaining and enforcing those rules. If we don't like the rules, then there are several other denominations that may be more in tune with both our personal beliefs and how we'd prefer to practice your faith. It is not up to the Church to change to fit us.

Recognizing that, there are many Catholics who, like myself, can't see being anything other than Catholic, especially when it comes to our religious expression. We were brought up in The Church: we know when to hit all of the cues and are used to the rhythm of the mass. The notion of becoming a mainline, much less an evangelical, Protestant strikes us as, well, almost cultish! Thus, has our faith transformed--by varying degrees--from being based on sincere belief practiced according to a dictated form and under prescribed rules into being an outward expression of our (religious) culture that is separate from our internal, personal beliefs. We think what we think, but still go through the motions.

So what if we disagree and ignore the Church's teachings on several--mostly procreational--matters. We don't necessarily buy into the idea that disagreement equals sin, you see. Well, mostly. Which is why the "hypocrisy" charge that is thrown out against the Church regarding priestly pedophilia too often seems to be an attempt to hide hypocrisies all our own. For, while I too believe that the church has failed grievously in the way they have handled the various sexual abuse controversies, it is pure sophistry to proclaim that its other moral teachings are rendered moot because of human failings in this area.

As Justin wrote, in so many words, we can't have our cake and eat it, too. Even if, up until now, that seemed to work pretty well. Whether one is inclined to side with the Bishop or Kennedy, the most important aspect of this episode is whether or not it has inspired all Catholics, full-fledged or cultural, to take a closer look at the true nature of their relationship with the Church.

Hey, Why Don't You Just Pay Yourselves?

Justin Katz

Didn't want to let this slip away:

In what it called a sign of progress, GM also pledged to start paying back $6.7 billion in U.S. loans. But the money will come from a contingency account full of government cash, leading critics to question just how healthy the automaker really is.

Welcome to government self-financing of its market wings, where debtors pay their loans by taking money from the lender. If the public companies can't compete, well then, they'll just make other companies' customers pay for it in taxes.

Boards and Commissions Out of Control

Justin Katz

The Rhode Island Way is taking insidious form in some of the public boards and commissions that are meant to help the residents of Rhode Island keep an eye on their government, and the Board of Election's attack on the Moderate Party gives a clear warning. I've reshuffled the paragraphs at the ellipsis to follow the narrative:

On Sept. 21, for example, [Moderate Party founder Ken Block] sent an e-mail to [director of campaign finance, Richard] Thornton asking three questions. This was the third: "Using the most extreme example, an individual donor can make a $10,000 'party building' donation to every State Committee and every Town Committee of every political party in the state every year"?

Thornton responded the next day: "I can confirm that items #1-#3 are correct as presented."

Two days later, however, Thornton sent another message, asking Block to "put your request in writing as the basis for the board issuing an advisory opinion on this question." ...

State officials have asked the three-month-old party to forfeit a $10,000 donation and its chairman to pay another $10,000 from his own pocket, according to the terms of a deal outlined behind closed doors last week. Board officials threatened, as an alternative, to have the attorney general's office launch civil or criminal investigations into a host of party officials for violating Rhode Island's finance laws.

In league with the case-by-case reviews that the Ethics Commission has taken to issuing, we're seeing a creeping governance by advisory opinion. As I pointed out in my recent Providence Monthly essay, all of these boards and commissions insert personal judgment essentiallyl to create laws and absorb resident discontent without anybody's having been elected. And as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the Board of Election's own literature explicitly permits "an additional ten thousand dollars" in party-building donations.

The Board has not taken the obvious and clear position that Block acted within the scope of public documentation and that it will proceed to change that documentation, by suggesting changes in the law, as ought to be necessary for a non-legislative body. Instead, it is stomping forward with an assertion of its own power. Dangerous stuff, and if it continues, the board should be disbanded and reformulated.

Battle for the Catholic Brand

Justin Katz

To some extent, I'm probably out of sync with the perceptions of the general public, on this one, but I find this sort of thing astonishing:

In a televised forum that was by turns casual and bitter, the two leading Democrats vying for US Senate were both heavily critical of the Catholic Church during a discussion of their own personal faith.

US Representative Michael Capuano and Attorney General Martha Coakley both said Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin’s overreacted in his written request that US Representative Patrick Kennedy not take communion because of the Rhode Island Democrat’s stance on abortion. ...

"I consider myself a Catholic and I disagree with my church on several items," [Capuano said,] listing abortion, gay marriage, and the restrictions on women and married men from serving as priests. ...

"I also disagree with the institution and the role they played in hiding pedophile priests for years," [Coakley] said. "It seems to me a little bit ironic that a church that was willing to overlook the victimization of many, many children over several years is now turning around and saying to people who are good Christians, good Catholics, that, 'You can’t join this.'" ...

City Year co-founder Alan Khazei, who is also Catholic, said he does take communion even though he is pro-choice.

He initially said he would still choose to take communion, even if a bishop told him not to, but later said, "If my priest said I can’t take communion, then I wouldn’t be able to do it."

It's as if some Democrat politicians are choosing to go to political war with the Church over the Catholic brand, which really amounts to an atrocious show of ego and vanity. Look, it's a sad development whenever people leave the faith, but it compounds the disagreement with aggression to reject its teachings while insisting on the justification for keeping its benefits. Indeed, doing so illustrates precisely why accepting the Eucharist while out of communion with the Church layers sin on sin. And as far as relevance of the scandal to bishops' right to shepherd, one expects the Democrats would reject attempts to tar them with any and all evils of their party.

Two things are increasingly clear: The Democrat Party is moving in a direction that Roman Catholics simply cannot follow and remain Roman Catholics. The particular Democrats in the quotation above are not fit to lead the nation.

(via RIFuture)

November 24, 2009

John Loughlin on the Civil Trial of Terrorists

Monique Chartier

Candidate for the First Congressional District John Loughlin appeared Sunday on NBC 10's 10 News Conference with Jim Taricani and Bill Rappley. Below is the discussion between Loughlin and Taricani on the decision by the Obama Administration to try five terrorists in a United States federal court.

Illegal immigration was the topic of another interesting moment. Starting at minute 7:00, Bill Rappleye, as devils advocate, makes a case against e-verify by relaying assertions on the part of hospitality and tourist businesses in Newport that they would cease operation were they deprived of illegal (i.e., cheap) labor. Loughlin, a proponent of e-verify, cannot seem to muster any sympathy for business plans built upon "false economics" and the breaking of the law.

[Minute 15:15]

Taricani: There is a trial that is going to take place. The decision was made by the Obama administration, or the Justice Department, for the five terrorists, one who claims to be the mastermind for 911, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Do you think that trial should be held in New York?

Loughlin: Well, I think that that should be a military tribunal and for a variety of reasons. First of all, a lot of the evidence that will be exposed during the discovery process of this trial, which is constitutionally safe-guarded, is going to be made public and ...

Taricani: Don't you think that, regardless of how you feel about the Justice Department, they know all that? And you don't think that they've had a phone call or two with the CIA and the FBI about this?

Loughlin: But during the discovery process in an actual trial, that information ...

Taricani: Yes, but don't you think they've considered all this?

Loughlin: Well, apparently they haven't.

Taricani: Are you kidding me? You really think that they haven't considered this? The Attorney General of the United States of America ...

Loughlin: If they have considered it, they've come to the wrong conclusion. The correct way to try KSM, I think, is with a military tribunal.

Taricani: What about the statement that Senator Jack Reed from this state made? When he was interviewed about this, he said this sends a strong message to the rest of the world that this is America. When people are charged with a crime in America, they get a shot in a courtroom.

Loughlin: And it basically says, do you believe that an act of war committed against the United States America is a crime or is it an act of war? I think clearly in this case, it's an act of war. And if you look, the Obama Administration actually tried the folks involved in the bombing of the Cole in a military tribunal because they said it was a military target. Well, last time I checked, the Pentagon was a military target as well and I believe this belongs in a military tribunal.

A Merit-Based Meeting

Justin Katz

Thankfully, the Tiverton School Committee's workshop on merit pay is much better attended than has been, well, any other meeting since the poorly considered passage of the retroactive teacher contract. Maybe 50 people.

School Committee Chairman Jan Bergandy mentioned some communications that he's received from teachers to the effect of: "How dare you let people discuss this."

Superintendent Bill Rearick just suggested that adding money to payroll may not be necessary, if the goal is to sort through teachers. He suggests stronger evaluations and the ability to dismiss bad teachers. I don't think anybody from Tiverton Citizens for Change would argue against that strategy.

7:27 p.m.

Some discussion has passed, but I was participating, so I couldn't be posting, as well. Former School Committee Vice Chairman Mike Burke is speaking against spending any further time discussing merit pay. He's clearly presenting his prepared remarks as a direct political response to some initial thoughts by Tiverton Citizens for Change. But that's what one is to expect from the people who've been running Rhode Island and its cities and towns: His position is that all change is blocked at contractual, legal, and budgetary considerations.

Tiverton Establishment: "No change. Keep funding a failing system. Let's do some research."

One interesting point that he's made is that the financing of the districts is too closely integrated for a district's merit pay system to work. I'd argue that a system that has relatively low pay for just showing up to work, but high pay for good teachers would tend — within the static system that Burke describes — to attract the better teachers within the state. Not surprisingly, he wants to wait for the state to act and force something from union-controlled top down.

8:24 p.m.

I haven't written much because the conversation has gone along pretty predictable lines, and there's been no deep investigation into specifics of a program. One notable thing is that merit pay does reshuffle the ideological deck, some. I know I've had behind the scenes arguments on my side, and it's clear that the other side is (or should be) having their own.

One lesson, perhaps, could be that merit pay isn't its own issue, apart from broader reforms, especially in Tiverton, which is currently working through the first stages of a strategic plan. I'll agree with some of the suggestions of folks with whom I generally disagree, that we don't want to derail other initiatives. So, perhaps merit should be built into the evaluation system currently in development. (I happen to be on the evaluation committee...)


Overall, the workshop had a productive, cordial tone, so one thing that stuck out felt inappropriate to explore — mostly because it could have devolved rapidly. Comments were made several times that, essentially, teachers aren't really motivated by money. Indeed, School Committee Vice Chairwoman Sally Black said that she found the idea insulting that teachers would work harder for money. A teacher in the audience said the same. School Committee Member Carol Herrmann suggested that perhaps "merit pay" could be refigured as a sort of merit acknowledgment, with no money necessary.

Having sat through school committees watching teachers visibly shaking with passion over raises that amounted to a few thousand dollars, I find tonight's assertions kinda hard to square with experience. Boiled down, they seem to be suggesting that it is insulting not to give them annual increases (on top of step raises) simply for being teachers, but that it is also insulting to promise them additional money for proving themselves to be good teachers.

I honestly believe that the teachers do hold these views sincerely and with honorable intentions, but it just goes to show how infantilizing union membership and propaganda can be.

The bottom line on merit pay, from my perspective, is that it shouldn't be just a bonus, but an entire system aligning compensation with performance. And it shouldn't be based solely on test scores, but on job performance as broadly written as is appropriate. Just like career advancement is in the private sector.

Sure, some component would have to be related to students' actual performance. But other components could be tied to district targets. For example, one argument that I hear all the time is that parents simply aren't sufficiently involved, so perhaps some component of the evaluation and merit increase could kick in for teachers who do something to bridge that divide. A perfect example: retired music teacher (and TCC member) Anne Parker spoke of her experience doing extra work with a parent/student choir. Or, if a target area is math, a shop teacher could prove merit by integrating lessons with the students' math classes, thus improving immediate understanding while illustrating the practical utility of an abstract subject.

When it comes right down to it, though, none of this is going to be free, and the real test of whether teachers are "motivated by money" is whether they think a system of objective, useful evaluations to be worth a few years of very minimal raises.

Will the Real Christine Ferguson Please Stand Up

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over at RI Future, they have a post up advertising a fundraiser for Rhode Island First District Congressman Patrick Kennedy. In the middle of the list of hosts, an interesting name appears…

…Maria Montanaro, Dianne Harrington, Tim DelGiudice, Jim Harrington, Christine Ferguson, Gregory Mercurio, Bill Fischer, Frank McMahon, Terry Fracassa…
Christine Ferguson, you may recall, was also the name of the former Rhode Island Human Services Director who ran in the 2002 Republican primary for the First District Congressional seat, losing to Dave Rogers, who eventually lost to Rep. Kennedy.

Do any Anchor Rising readers in-the-know about the doings of former Republicans candidates happen to know if this is perhaps just an odd coincidence? Or maybe the fundraising host is a relative of the candidate? Or is this yet another example of a "moderate" Rhode Island Republican eager to support a Democratic agenda?

Losing Sleep Over and Paying Attention to Education

Justin Katz

I've got a letter in the online version of the Sakonnet Times (prospectively in the print edition out tomorrow) that begins thus:

Residents who wish to understand the gradual deterioration of Rhode Island's public school system need only contrast school committee meetings addressing two issues: teacher contract negotiations and abysmal standardized testing results. The passion that sets the auditorium on fire when adults' high pay and lavish benefits are threatened with mild budgetary restraint is nowhere to be found when, say, only 25.8% of eleventh graders prove proficient in science (down from 30.5% the year before).

I go on to make some general suggestions regarding the necessary shifts in attitude and policy.

While I'm on the topic: The Tiverton School Committee's workshop on merit pay is tonight at 6:30, in the high school library.

Colleen Conley: What Will It Take For You to Take a Stand?

Engaged Citizen

Recently, I attended a GOP meet-and-greet, hosted by a group of beautiful women at one of their gorgeous “House and Garden” homes in an affluent neighborhood. The food was delicious, the wine sublime, and the hospitality of genteel, like-minded couples unparalleled. The Governor and his delightful wife made an appearance and both gave heartwarming speeches, as did a candidate for Governor of our state. It was a picture-perfect evening that went off without a hitch.

So why did I awake the next morning with a sinking feeling? I had just met a great group of educated and presumably informed people who had an understanding of the issues which face our state and our nation. These were not your average folks; the resources at their disposal put them in a unique position, somewhat buffered by the economy which ravages the average working folks, and with time, money, and access to information that gives them a distinct advantage over those who live from paycheck to paycheck.

As I watched speakers, perched on an impressive staircase in front of a rapt audience, discuss their ideas for a better tomorrow, I pictured similar scenes that might have taken place 240 years ago, in which our founding fathers stood to make their pitch for the creation of new nation; a nation of the people, for the people, and by the people. I imagined that those orators suggested to their listeners that the time had come for action; that as leaders of their communities with resources, means to spread the word, and ability to sway the masses working simply for their everyday survival, that now was the time to take a stand for freedom. And not just for their freedom, but for the freedom of generations to come.

In my state and my country, we are at a not so dissimilar point in history. Our freedoms are under assault in all corners of our state and federal government. As the leader of the Tea Party movement in RI, I am proud and honored to have met thousands of average working folks who have had “enough” and who are willing to take a stand for their freedom. Junkyard owners and nurses, retirees and teachers, stay-at-home moms, and small business owners; each and every one fills me with a sense of hope that all is not lost.

But some members of the political party which should embrace the tea-party ideals of fiscal responsibility, accountability, and a return to Constitutional principles seem content to converse amongst themselves and host beautiful gatherings with beautiful people. By and large, they do not show the fortitude to speak amongst a room full of foes, and debate the merits of their stances on the issues. Why is this? Why are people, even educated people of means, cowed by the opposition, which has nothing but tired, long disproved theories in their arsenal?

My charge to the leaders of our communities is this: it is time for bold action in defense of our freedom and freedom of our children. It is no longer acceptable to simply host gatherings and hope that change will come, for without the concerted action that only you can take, it will not. You could, and should, be the contemporary Statesmen of our time. You must consider running for political office (no matter how distasteful that seems), you must donate your time and money to go on offense against the corrupt status quo, you must speak the truth, even if you feel that it may offend some. Times which test us require men and women of strength and resources to reach outside of our comfort zones. Be models for your children. Our future, and theirs, depends on it.

Colleen Conley is a founder and the President of the Rhode Island Tea Party.

The Banality of the Separation of Church and State "Argument", vis-à-vis Bishop Tobin and Congressman Kennedy

Carroll Andrew Morse

Four points, on the continuing discussion spurred by Congressman Patrick Kennedy's statement that a true pro-life position requires the Catholic Church to support a healthcare plan that includes public funding for abortions:

  1. Cribbing a large dose of Robert George's exposition on philosophy and theology (Backfill: By which I mean I'm doing some cribbing from Robert George, not that the Church is -- the Church relies on sources more like St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, etc.), the Catholic Church recognizes a distinction between its teachings which are rooted in natural law, i.e. those derived from the observation and rational consideration of God's creation, and those which are rooted in divine revelation. The Church should never advocate writing matters of divine revelation into secular law, but in matters of natural law, such as the right of all persons to the equal protection of man-made law, the Church has as much right to speak out as anyone. And as the only power possessed by the Church is the persuasive power to speak out -- a power that depends heavily on the clarity and consistency of the ideas being communicated -- the Church has not only the right, but the duty to oppose the spread and the codification into law of ideas that it believes to be contrary to natural law and to be potential sources of harm.
  2. We know now that contentious relationship between Bishop Thomas Tobin and Congressman Patrick Kennedy on life-issues dates back to at least 2007. We also know that Bishop Tobin had nothing to say in public about this dispute, until last month, after Congressman Kennedy stated that the Catholic Church's pro-life position required support for a healthcare plan that includes government-funded abortions. To this statement, Bishop Tobin was compelled to respond, to stop an earthly prince from using his power and position to spread a poorly-thought out and destructive idea: that denying the protection of law to innocent lives is not only acceptable, but can be required, when it furthers a certain political agenda. Allowed to spread unchallenged, this idea can have dire consequences for individuals and society.
  3. Congressman Kennedy obviously is not the first Catholic office holder to support abortion. In 1983, in a speech delivered at Notre Dame University, New York Governor Mario Cuomo offered what many consider to be the pinnacle of the "personally opposed but publicly in favor" position on abortion. Some of Cuomo's arguments are severely lacking, for example, where he argues that abortion should remain legal because it offers people the opportunity to do the right thing of their own free will. Of course if you were to suggest repealing other laws consistent with Catholic social teaching, for example minimum-wage laws, I doubt there would be much support from Cuomo-thinking liberals to be found on the basis of the opportunity it would provide for people to choose a course of action without interference from the state. And he never seriously addresses the issue of the duty of government officials to guarantee that all persons are treated with an equal right to life under the law.

    But overall argument aside, Governor Cuomo was very clearly willing to state that the act of abortion was wrong…

    For me, life or fetal life in the womb should be protected, even if five of nine Justices of the Supreme Court and my neighbor disagree with me. A fetus is different from an appendix or a set of tonsils. At the very least, even if the argument is made by some scientists or some theologians that in the early stages of fetal development we can't discern human life, the full potential of human life is indisputably there. That – to my less subtle mind – by itself should demand respect, caution, indeed…reverence.
    Congressman Kennedy's stated position, whether he understands what he has said or not, tramples upon this idea. His statement that a true pro-life position requires supporting an expansion of the government's role in providing abortions is an argument that everyone must disregard whatever personal respect, caution and reverence for life they believe in to help to advance the agenda that he supports. Declaring that people should ignore their personal beliefs on serious moral issues, in support of a particular political agenda, is a long distance away from the position that Governor Cuomo's words were attempting to stake out.
  4. Finally, since when does "separation of church and state" mean that religious figures can express public opinions on matters of their religion only when they agree with secular governing authorities?!?!

Voter Forum, Part 2

Justin Katz

Although I haven't had the opportunity to watch it yet, it's good to see that We the People of RI has posted some YouTube footage from the second event held by the Rhode Island Voter Coalition:

On "Conservative Cases"

Justin Katz

Conservatives should appreciate the organic nature of public discourse. Leave it to leftists to long for a controlled setting — like a classroom or a non-profit board meeting — in which some mediator decisively declares points won or lost. In the broader society, topics move forward and swing back to the beginning as new participants make discoveries of arguments that others thought had been addressed long ago.

Admittedly, it does take some effort to appreciate such a process, and with the ease of the Internet as a record keeper, it's frustrating when obvious, already repeated counterarguments are not quickly found. For example, in Providence Journal columnist Ed Fitzpatrick's discovery, on Sunday, of the "conservative case" for same-sex marriage, this is the entirety of his summary of the opposing opinion:

In opposing same-sex marriage, some conservatives cite the Scriptures and talk about values. But they could just as easily cite those sources in support of same-sex marriage, talking about the values of fidelity and commitment, fairness and equality, love and acceptance.

Fitzpatrick dutifully spends several paragraphs rebutting the appeal to Scripture. He subsequently offers a bait-and-switch when he addresses the appeal to procreation as the unique marker of the male-female relationship, which justifies a unique category for their intimate relationships. For that, he relies on a California judge's questioning, of Proposition 8 supporters, what harm same-sex marriage could do to the goal of furthering stability in procreative relationships and why marriages between elderly men and women don't have the same effect.

This is well-trodden ground. The idea of marriage is a matter of basics and obvious realities that any sentient adult can perceive: Men and women who have sex tend toward procreation. That is, they can create children with no direct intention to do so. To say that marriage is a relationship between men and women, and only men and women, is a recognition that that fact is at least sufficiently important to merit a special institution that society can leverage to maximize the number of children born and raised by the parents who created them. The age of the spouses has no effect on this simple equation, not the least because it isn't obvious to all who see the couple at the grocery store that their relationship has never been procreative.

Fitzpatrick is correct, in his quoting of New York Times columnist David Brooks, that "we should consider it scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity." The problem is that, relative numbers being what they are, it would be a travesty to allow the "conservative case" for same-sex marriage to come at the expense of the conservative case for opposite-sex marriage. Several of Fitzpatrick's sources emphasize that marriage and fidelity are on the ropes, with adultery and the serial adultery of divorce and remarriage, but they leave it as implied (not argued) that broadening marriage's scope will somehow strengthen its force.

This 2008 article by Joe Kort, in Psychology Today, comes to mind:

I've wanted to write an article on this topic ever since I began working with a gay male couple who told me that they were monogamous. After several months, however, they informed me they had had a three-way. When I asked if they had changed from monogamy, they said, "No."

I was confused. Maybe I hadn't gotten the correct information in our initial consultation? I told them, "I thought you told me you were monogamous," and they said, "We are." Now I was REALLY confused! So I said, "But you just told me you were monogamous."

Their reply was, "We are monogamous. We only have three-ways together, and are never sexual with others apart from each other."

Here's something a little closer to home, by Timothy Cavanaugh and David Abbott, in Medicine and Health Rhode Island (emphasis added):

Without stereotyping gay men as promiscuous, providers need to address the role that sexual activity may play in their patients' lives. In a recent behavioral survey of gay men, 75% had more than one partner in the past year; 27% had 10 or more. Some gay men find their sex partners at bars, bathhouses, private sex parties, public "cruising" areas like parks and rest stops, and, increasingly, on the internet. Others have traditional dating experiences, and many gay men have been happily partnered for years, despite their inability to legally marry. A longstanding relationship does not ensure sexual monogamy: many gay men have sex outside their relationships, often with the consent of their primary partners.

Gay columnist David Benkof notes that even mainstream homosexuals might not mean "monogamy" when they say "monogamy." Similarly to the concept of marriage, they've redefined the word to suit their subculture.

None of this is meant to derail the debate into accusations of wickedness or to prove, in some sense, that homosexuals aren't worthy of marriage. Indeed, the weakness of heterosexuals is what makes a strong marital culture so important. The point is that introducing a radical element to the faltering institution of marriage won't affirm its principles, it will collapse them.

For all the talk of marriage and fidelity among them — and criticism of conservatives who've divorced — it's a glaring omission that nobody who finds the "conservative case" for same-sex marriage persuasive advocates for tighter divorce laws in the mix. Is nobody concerned with the practical and legal risks of modifying a designation with far-reaching implications (such as immigration, rights to employment benefits and pensions, and even protections against testifying in court) in such a way as to include any adult pair, while allowing that designation to remain easily dissoluble?

Of course, it's been clearly stated for years that homosexuals want marriage as it is: little more than a cultural nod with benefits. As I explained in my 2005 National Review article on Andrew Sullivan and his advocacy for same-sex marriage, they want the full range of choices available to heterosexuals, whatever those choices might be and no matter the relevance of a given choice to them.

By the nature of their relationships, homosexuals cannot create children as a nearly accidental matter. Therefore, while society should certainly develop some mechanism to encourage them toward more stable relationships, doing so should not be accomplished by flatly denying the consequence of that which makes opposite-sex intimate relationships unique.

November 23, 2009

Board of Elections Makes an Offer to the Moderate Party

Carroll Andrew Morse

I know that the Rhode Island Board of Elections is famous for its procedural creativity, but even so, am I the only one who thinks that the offer made to the Moderate Party of pay us a big fine and the Attorney General doesn't have to get your case is something less than above-board? From Steve Peoples of the Projo...

The state Board of Elections has quietly offered to settle a dispute with the newly-established Moderate Party of Rhode Island for what may be the largest fine in the board's history.

State officials have asked the fledgling party to forfeit a $10,000 donation and its chairman to personally pay another $10,000, according to terms of a deal outlined in a private meeting last week.

Board officials threatened, as an alternative, to have the attorney general's office bring civil or criminal investigations against a host of party officials for violating Rhode Island's finance laws.

"That was a rotten deal any which way you sliced it. And frankly, a deal designed to be rejected," said party chairman Kenneth J. Block, who discussed the details and travel of the case with The Journal Monday afternoon...."I'm ready to go to war on this," Block said.

Cuts Better Than Spending

Justin Katz

Via the Corner, some economic research out of Harvard (PDF):

Our results suggest that tax cuts are more expansionary than spending increases in the cases of a fiscal stimulus. Based upon these correlations we would argue that the current stimulus package in the US is too much tilted in the direction of spending rather than tax cuts. For fiscal adjustments we show that spending cuts are much more effective than tax increases in stabilizing the debt and avoiding economic downturns. In fact, we uncover several episodes in which spending cuts adopted to reduce deficits have been associated with economic expansions rather than recessions. We also investigate which components of taxes and spending affect the economy more in these large episodes and we try uncover channels running through private consumption and/or investment.

The irreducible bottom line is that the government is a burden and a drag on the economy. In some contexts, it's worth the cost, but when it comes to affecting the economy, we're better off lightening the burden — whether we're talking the United States or Rhode Island. (And that's not even getting into regulations and mandates.)

ProJo Comments on RI Invisible Districts

Marc Comtois

Six days after I noted the new congressional districts in RI, the ProJo has taken notice and did some digging:

We weren't sure who to call to clarify the confusion.

"We do not know who represents the 86th and 5th Congressional Districts," Governor Carcieri spokeswoman Amy Kempe told Political Scene with a chuckle. "Unfortunately, I don't have those phone numbers for you."

The phantom districts here and elsewhere were part of a national embarrassment for the Obama administration that was ultimately attributed to a glitch in the reporting system. Virtually all data on the site are posted by grant recipients, which range from state governments to universities to private contractors.

The Obama Administration's Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, at the direction of the Office of Management and Budget, investigated and adjusted the figures for several states late in the week.

Congressional District 5 was actually a company headquartered in Massachusetts' 5th District doing work in Rhode Island, according to the governor's office. District 00 represents money entered by the state reflecting crime victim compensation funding and a security grant.

And 86 "appears to be the Providence Housing Authority," Kempe told Political Scene. "We don't know how or why that happened," she said.

Just clerical errors. I'm sure that'll never happen with government run health care.

SNL Parodies Obama's "Wimpy Economics"

Marc Comtois

Saturday Night Live's most recent parody of President Obama (he's finally fair-game, apparently) calls attention to his "Wimpy Economics"--pay now, and we promise you'll receive later. Right.

“I am noticing that each of your plans to save money involves spending even more money.”

Health care "reform" is but the latest example--cuts and taxes will kick in immediately while benefits will start in 2013, for instance. And the promised savings are dubious anyway. For instance, the plan actually shifts Medicare costs onto the states, forcing them to deal with finding additional revenue (tax increases?) to handle the additional burden mandated by the federal health care "reform" plan.

The Cringing Generation

Justin Katz

The end of a recent Mark Steyn column on the nanny state's murder of the "reasonable man" standard rings too true not to pass along:

Sikhs like to carry their traditional kirpans — knives up to eight inches — and the New York City Board of Education and the Supreme Court of Canada, among many others, have ruled that boys are permitted to take them to school. Why? Because in the ideological hierarchy, multiculturalism trumps "safety". A cake knife is a "deadly weapon" but a deadly weapon is merely the Sikh symbol for "the power of truth to cut through untruth". If that isn't reason to ban it from public schools, I don't know what is. Nevertheless, if you're taking a cake to school, ask a Sikh classmate to cut it up for you. And be grateful that the FDA hasn't yet classified the cake as a deadly weapon.

Can such a society survive? I doubt it. After all, if you raise your young in such a world, what sort of adults do they grow into? A couple of years back, a neighbor's kid was given a plastic sword and shield as a birthday present. Mom refuses to let her boy play with "militaristic" toys, so she confiscated the sword but, in a moment of weakness, let him keep the shield. And for a while, on my drive down to town, I'd pass the li'l tyke in the yard playing with his beloved shield, mastering the art of cringing and cowering against unseen blows from all directions. In a hyper-regulated world, it's a useful skill to acquire. But I'm not sure it will be enough.

An Oversold Index

Justin Katz

Whatever its retrospective analytical utility, URI Economics Professor Len Lardaro's Current Conditions Index seems pretty useless as a gauge of future trends. The news reports that use it simply make no sense:

The Current Conditions Index dipped to 33 in September from 42 in August. ...

"While Rhode Island will not emerge from its recession until the first quarter of next year, the foundations for an eventual upturn are beginning to fall into place," he said.

What foundations? Lardaro's optimism derives from the index's improvement from last year, when it was alternating between 8 and 0, but the current year figure is relative to that period, so our economy is still shrinking. If last year was terrible, we're now doing worse than terrible.

November 22, 2009

Rhode Island's Unemployment Picture: Ahead of Lowly Michigan in One Way but Behind in Another

Monique Chartier

The good news is that with the highest unemployment rate in the country, Michigan still beats out Number Three Rhode Island. The bad news is that they also beat us on a positive front.

Paragraph four of the possibly over-optimistic ProJo article that Justin highlighted has Rhode Island's status in this area.

And the state continues to bleed jobs, losing 1,100 more in October, a separate survey of employers shows

And ABC News notes the Michigan element that the Ocean State lacks.

It wasn't all bad news for state, however: Michigan was one of six states, according to the government, to see significant job gains between September and October. With 38,600 new jobs, Michigan came second only to Texas in payroll increases.

So while their overall unemployment rate is higher, Michigan gained new jobs while we lost.

It is to be hoped that current members of the General Assembly have the fortitude to undertake the structural changes that decades of preceding G.A.'s have cravenly dodged. In the absence of a reformation of the business and regulatory climate, Rhode Island will continue to lag behind other states with unenviable economies in certain indicator areas as evidenced by an ongoing shedding of businesses, jobs and (Ground Control to Major Tom) the corresponding tax revenue.

Sorting out Exactly Who Appointed the (Now Borderline Criminal) Panel Who Made the (Apparently Execrable) Anti-Mammogram Recommendations

Monique Chartier

Gratifyingly, Democrats in Congress and the Obama Administration have reacted to this government panel's recommendation by setting land speed records distancing themselves from it.

But in view of the public outrage that ensued, a scapegoat had to be identified. Who appointed the members of this panel??

Brace yourself. Because, of course ...

It's George Bush's fault!

Yes, that threadbare excuse hilariously rears its hoary head yet again, this time, almost one year into the administration of a new president. [H/T NewsBuster's Mike Bates.]

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Wednesday on CNN's Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer:

This panel was appointed by the prior administration, by former President George Bush, and given the charge to routinely look at a whole host of services ...

And clearly reading from the same script, Senator Majority Whip Dick Durbin piped in. From Politico:

“The recommendation by this medical panel has been rejected by virtually everyone, including the current administration,” Durbin said. “They were appointed by President Bush.”

Yeah, good times.

Slight glitch, people. The New York Times's Gina Kolata, after some good, old-fashioned research, reports that the panel is apolitical and deliberately so. Further, panel members

said they never thought of themselves as being political appointees, much less being Bush appointees.

In fact, NewsBuster's Mike Bates, with more good, old-fashioned research, has determined that the person who had ultimate say in the current composition of the panel, Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy, is a Democrat. [Oh, the horror ...]

But setting aside, as Durbin and Sebelius did, the apolitical nature of this panel, I would still disagree with their conclusion. My own view is that the Office of the Presidency of the United States is responsible to act on and keep track of an incredible number of matters, large (mostly) and small. Accordingly, it is natural, indeed, necessary, for the occupant of that office to delegate some of those responsibilities, including the appointment of government health panels.

If, however, partisans ducking for cover insist on taking the slant that the President of the United States is personally responsible for the composition of this panel and for its odious recommendations, wouldn't it be far more accurate to point out that it has been eleven months since President Obama took office and, therefore, how much can he truly claim to care about women's health issues if he has not taken the time to appoint the right people to such a panel?

Again, this is not how I see it and neither do a lot of people, I would venture to guess. But this "re-slanting" would be a perfect understandable reaction to the fatuous attempt to blame an official who has been out of office for almost a year. [Side note: Dick Durbin is an elected official so presumably cannot be bothered to do minimal fact checking when deflecting political fallout. But isn't it slightly alarming that the head of Health and Human Services doesn't understand the nature and composition mechanism of one of the panels under her purview?]

More to the point, if the Democrat Party cannot determine with any accuracy who is responsible for a particular misstep, especially when it is committed by one of their own, they need to at least come up with a fresher blame target. The credibility shelf life of "It's Bush's fault!" having expired long ago, it is now not so much an excuse as a punch line.

... or, in keeping with the underlying theme, don't.

The Green Religion and Expensive Government

Justin Katz

Just wanted to mark this final stage in the incremental establishment of the green religion as the official doctrine of the land:

New major public projects and building renovations in Rhode Island, including schools, must be designed and constructed in conformance with high-performance green-building standards, according to legislation signed by Governor Carcieri.

The law applies to new construction of more than 5,000 square feet and renovation of spaces greater than 10,000 square feet if such projects receive funding from the state. The law takes effect immediately but will apply only to buildings entering the design phase after Jan. 1. Under the law, building design must conform to the internationally recognized United States Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system or an equivalent high-performance green-building standard, including the Northeast Collaborative for High-Performance Schools Protocol.

It almost reads like a comedic one-liner when Senator Louis DiPalma (D, East Bay Gerrymander) explains that "green building materials and systems [are] more affordable and available [...] than they used to be." Badum-bum. He goes on to assert that the investment "pays off in lower costs for energy, water and more over the life of a building," but if that's true, then the communities and organizations funding applicable projects should be easily persuaded without a state mandate.

To review: Our state is in the middle of a fiscal crisis, bleeding jobs for years on end; our government has structural deficits in the hundreds of millions in good times and bad; our communities are struggling to maintain the services that they provide; and the General Assembly and governor thought this would be an appropriate time to mandate a greater price tag on investments in public construction.

Thanks and Violence

Justin Katz

At the tail end of Friday night's Violent Roundtable on the Matt Allen Show (the podcast of which may be found here), Matt asked Andrew, Marc, and I what we're thankful for. I've always found that to be a tough question, binding me up in considerations of appropriate pithiness.

Back during the dark days of my early adulthood, I'd have probably tossed out some heavy sarcasm phrased as levity — that red M&Ms had reemerged, or something — meant to imply that I found very little worthy of gratitude. A dumb, pitiful mindset, that was.

My difficulty now is quite the opposite. What am I thankful for? Well, literally everything. Sure, some items on that extensive list I include grudgingly; it's difficult to be jubilant about, say, the periodic sharp pains that accompany standing when I've been working low to the ground, but there they are, and truth be told, I'm thankful for the reminder that I'm aging, that I'm active, and that physical reality does place boundaries on the ability to contort one's body so as to swing a hammer with the correct velocity while crawling around in dust from a 150-year-old wall. And yet, that dust (whatever else it introduces to my body) brings odors rich with memory and imaginings. If it appears that thankfulness requires contradiction, well then, I'm thankful for the faith that the appearance is deceiving and the challenge of sorting through to the underlying truth.

Yes, yes, "everything" includes in large supply of all those aspects of life for which it is easy to be thankful. Family, friends, food, conversation. And certainly, there are changes to my current circumstances that I'd welcome with boundless enthusiasm... even as I give thanks for having had the experiences from which I'd emerged.

You can see why I hesitated before offering a "ditto" to the others' replies to Matt. I'll say this, though: I'm grateful that the final moments of the show were not indicative of our performance throughout, which I'd suggest is worth a listen.

Diocesan Priests Ordered to Deny Communion? Congressman Kennedy Says Yes, Bishop Tobin Says No.

Carroll Andrew Morse

Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin and Rhode Island First District Congressman Kennedy are offering two different versions of the latest consequences resulting from Congressman Kennedy's public statement that a true pro-life position requires the Catholic Church to support a healthcare plan that includes public funding for abortions (h/t commenter "Tim", who pointed to this Ray Henry AP story at, which led back to the John E. Mulligan original in the Projo)…

Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin has forbidden Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy to receive the Roman Catholic sacrament of Holy Communion because of his advocacy of abortion rights, the Rhode Island Democrat said Friday.

“The bishop instructed me not to take Communion and said that he has instructed the diocesan priests not to give me Communion,” Kennedy said in a telephone interview.

Kennedy said the bishop had explained the penalty by telling him “that I am not a good practicing Catholic because of the positions that I’ve taken as a public official,” particularly on abortion. He declined to say when or how Bishop Tobin told him not to take the sacrament. And he declined to say whether he has obeyed the bishop’s injunction.

Bishop Tobin, through a spokesman, declined to address the question of whether he had told Kennedy not to receive Communion. But the bishop’s office moved quickly to cast doubt on Kennedy’s related assertion about instructions to the priests of Rhode Island.

“Bishop Tobin has never addressed matters relative to public officials receiving Holy Communion with pastors of the diocese,” spokesman Michael K. Guilfoyle said in an e-mailed statement.

As Congressman Kennedy is the only source making public the details of what the Bishop obviously considers to be a personal conversation, there is a reasonable possibility that what Bishop said is not being relayed accurately, not because of intentional dishonesty, but because the original message was not fully understood.


According to a new AP story from Ray Henry, Bishop Tobin's expression of concern regarding Congressman Kennedy's public positions conflicting with Church teaching predate the October, 2009 CNS video which brought the disagreement into the public light...

The Roman Catholic bishop of Rhode Island said Sunday that he asked Rep. Patrick Kennedy in a 2007 letter to stop receiving Communion, the central sacrament of the church, because of the congressman's public stance on moral issues.

Bishop Thomas Tobin divulged details of his confidential exchange with Kennedy after the Democratic lawmaker told The Providence Journal in a story published Sunday that Tobin had instructed him not to receive Communion. The two men have clashed repeatedly in the past few weeks over abortion.

Kennedy did not say where or how he received those instructions. He declined to say whether he has obeyed the bishop's request...

Tobin urged Kennedy not to receive communion in a February 2007 letter, a portion of which was released publicly by Tobin's office Sunday.

"In light of the Church's clear teaching, and your consistent actions, therefore, I believe it is inappropriate for you to be receiving Holy Communion and I now ask respectfully that you refrain from doing so," Tobin wrote.

Also About Refashioning America

Justin Katz

A fair number of people who might be said to lean right — libertarians and moderates and such — would do well to consider a review of the current standing of Catholic charities by Archbishop Charles Chaput, of Denver:

When we look closely at Church-state conflicts in America, we see that they now often center on a group of behaviors—homosexual activity, contraception, abortion, and the like—that the state in recent years has redefined as essential and nonnegotiable rights. Critics rarely dispute the Church's work fighting injustice, helping community development, or serving persons in need. But that's no longer enough. Now they demand that the Church must submit her identity and mission to the state's promotion of these newly alleged rights—despite the constant Catholic teaching that these behaviors are personal moral tragedies that can lead to deep social injustices. ...

In squeezing the Church and other mediating institutions out of the public square, government naturally assumes more power over the nation's economic and social life. Civil society becomes subordinated to the state. And the state then increasingly sees itself as the primary shared identity of its citizens. But this is utterly alien to—and in fact, an exact contradiction of—what America's founders intended.

Those who find their sympathies drawn to forced assertions of individual liberty have a tendency to miss the ways in which rules that allow for true plurality — even to the point of allowing individuals and organizations to discriminate in ways that we might not like — safeguard their own preferred freedoms. The reason big-government types like the notion that the government is the nation's "shared identity" is that, on that basis, they see a path toward reworking that identity with a direct application of their influence on the government.

It's a dangerously attractive notion to conceive of America's uniqueness as deriving from its non-ethnic unity. We are a nation of laws, to be sure, but that is only a positive, constructive innovation if the laws are not leveraged to define culture in the way that ethnicity traditionally has.

November 21, 2009

Michael Morse is No Huggy Bear

Monique Chartier

From a Rescuing Providence post of a couple of weeks ago.

Are his experiences unique and a result of his blogular fame or is he correct that there is a trend among younger men to give manly hugs as greeting?

What is up with all this handshake huggy stuff all the young guys are doing now? Every time I go to shake somebodies hand who happens to be under thirty they drag me in and give me a hug. Don’t like it. Nothing personal, but I like my space.

* * *

From here on, if anybody attempts to hug me during a handshake, I will be forced to assume I’m being brought close for something deadly, a shiv attack or worse, and respond with deadly force of my own. The ancient Babble-on-ians started the handshake as a means of holding their enemies hand to avert an attack. That’s when men were men, no hugging allowed. I like it that way, nice and simple. ...

Transforming Society to the Aristocrats' Tastes

Justin Katz

Perhaps you've come across this already, but information divulged by a former senior adviser to the British government is worth considering, here across the pond:

The [reports from the Performance and Innovation Unit, Tony Blair's Cabinet Office think-tank] were legendarily tedious within Whitehall but their big immigration report was surrounded by an unusual air of both anticipation and secrecy.

Drafts were handed out in summer 2000 only with extreme reluctance: there was a paranoia about it reaching the media.

Eventually published in January 2001, the innocuously labelled "RDS Occasional Paper no. 67", "Migration: an economic and social analysis" focused heavily on the labour market case.

But the earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural.

I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended - even if this wasn't its main purpose - to rub the Right's nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date.

In other words, borders were opened up both to transform the society toward the aesthetic preferences of its ruling class and to shift demographics' role in national politics. Working- and middle-class Americans — perhaps union members, especially, given the uses to which their dues are put — should pay attention:

Ministers were very nervous about the whole thing. For despite Roche's keenness to make her big speech and to be upfront, there was a reluctance elsewhere in government to discuss what increased immigration would mean, above all for Labour's core white working-class vote.

Preemptive Rebuttal on Property Taxes

Justin Katz

Yes, the common advice is simply to ignore NEA-RI Assistant Executive Director Pat Crowley, and for psychological purposes, that is certainly an attractive approach. Its problem is that it's in Crowley's nature to rush to expose more broadly forming strategies and flaws in thinking of the local left. So, when he devotes so much of his time as a professional agitator to proving that Rhode Island's property taxes really aren't that bad — here and here — we can be assured that we'll see such nonsense begin to spread as a self-justifying common knowledge among the segment of Rhode Island society whose selfish or vain interests are dragging the state down.

There's a bit of irony to this tack. After all, when progressives have brought up property taxes, it's typically been to decry the fact that they're regressive, as Tom Sgouros explains:

Property tax is regressive because the value of the house or apartment you live in doesn't scale with your income. If you earn $50k, you probably live in a house or unit worth $300k (give or take). If you earn $500k, you probably don't live in a house worth $3 million. Instead, your house is likely worth $800k or a million. So ten times the income goes to three times the taxes.

With reference to Sgouros, there's also some conflict with Crowley's latest spin in that the former has tended to ignore property taxes as a percentage of home value in order to stress the fact that the rates are lower where the values are higher, while the latter wishes to use high property values in order to explain why the government ought to be able take more money. The two leftists illustrate nicely why regular citizens are wise to be suspicious of statistics, because they can be twisted in multiple directions per the rhetorical needs of the propagandist.

So, take a moment to absorb all of the multiple rankings provided in Crowley's Tax Foundation source, limited to Rhode Island and the abutting counties of Massachusetts and Connecticut (Bristol County, RI, not included because of small population, not low rank). Rhode Island counties are shaded red, Massachusetts, blue, and Connecticut, green.

And for good measure, here's a similar chart for median incomes:

For the state-by-state comparison, Crowley likes the measurement by percentage of value for obvious reasons, even though progressives typically prefer to measure all taxes against income (to show that the rich don't pay enough). In fairness, my usual argument with respect to different taxes is that, if it's justified for the government to tax a particular transaction (sales or income) or property, then it should set rates according to the value of the thing being taxed, without adjusting for some external consideration. If we've decided that a town should receive its revenue from property taxes, then it ought to set a rate for all property, and those who possess a greater portion rightly pay proportionally more. That's fair. Otherwise every tax becomes a form of income tax.

For the purpose of deciding whether a particular state's property taxes are comparatively high, though, the percentage of home value isn't but so useful. For one thing, there's dollar value and there's the value to the user; taxes for a two-bedroom hovel might cost $4,000 per year in Rhode Island, but $1,000 in some other state. For another thing, the cost of government doesn't go up but so much based on residential property values. That is, it doesn't cost much more to send firefighters to a $200,000 hovel than a $75,000 hovel or to educate the children living in them.

If the question is whether the state of Rhode Island and its municipalities extract a large tax burden from their residents, the income comparison is more appropriate. As the above figures illustrate, even though Rhode Islanders have higher income than the median for the country, we pay an even larger percentage of that income in property taxes, and even though our counties' median incomes are dispersed among those of abutting counties, they cluster at the top for percentage of income absorbed in property taxes.

A Deadly Scheme

Justin Katz

Henry Aaron and Isabel Sawhill, of the Brookings Institute, provide a wonderful example of the insanity of allowing individuals to plan large segments of the economy:

So here is what we propose: Congress should enact a value-added tax, the equivalent of a broad-based sales tax on all goods and services. It should take effect only after unemployment has fallen to a predetermined level or in, say, five years, whichever comes first. Congress should link revenue from the new tax and other sources directly to public healthcare spending through a newly created healthcare trust fund. The trust fund would pay for all federal healthcare spending. This framework would mean that Americans would get the healthcare they are willing to pay for. If spending outpaces projections, Congress will have to choose between raising taxes and finding ways to slow the growth of spending.

By balancing revenue and healthcare spending, such a reform would help solve America’s long-term fiscal problems. In the near term, it would also support and sustain the economic recovery. Consumers would be encouraged to buy now, before the tax takes effect. And by showing financial markets that Congress is determined to put our fiscal household in order, it would help keep interest rates low and encourage investment. The trust fund mechanism would strengthen incentives to institute reforms that will actually bend the healthcare cost curve, because measures to slow the growth of healthcare spending would avoid unpopular future tax increases that would otherwise be necessary.

How is it possible that people who are paid, essentially, to think can argue that a looming tax increase equivalent to one-sixth of the U.S. economy will encourage consumers to splurge while the splurging's good without making the parallel assessment that the huge taxes will suppress the economy once implemented? One of the reasons given in a previous paragraph for rejigging the healthcare system in a public direction is that, with ever-improving "medical interventions... [p]atients will insist on having them." Well, if the government must thus bend to supply what patients demand, why won't consumers learn the lesson and start demanding the things for which Aaron and Sawhill assume they'll splurge?

This program — which one may suspect will be the end result of the Democrats' healthcare path — would be a recipe for the hollowing and destruction of the United States of America, beginning with its entrepreneurial soul.

November 20, 2009

Deny Fathers (and Reality) at Your Peril

Justin Katz

Fr. John Kiley makes an excellent point in an RI Catholic column that is, for some reason, not online:

And it is not just television that demeans men. Catholics would be surprised how often a priest goes to another parish to celebrate Mass only to find all the male pronouns penciled out of the Sacramentary and Lectionary. Some have taken the liberty of revising the Sign of the Cross with its explicit use of the male terms "Father" and "Son" into the gender neutral "in the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier."

Thus a warm relationship (father/son) is replaced by three anonymous functions. The recent novel "The Death of a Pope" narrates a discussion resulting in God being addressed as "Our Parent" rather than "Our Father." Mary Daley, a professor at Boston College no less, sees the fatherhood of God to be a mere extension of male domination. Man reads himself into God. Her book is chillingly entitled, "Beyond God the Father."

Our society has had (and will always have) work to do ironing prejudices and other markers of human error out of the culture, but attempting to expedite the process through the control of language is an attempt to recreate the world according to our own specifications. Jesus Himself used the "Father" construction frequently and deeply; it must have consequences to insist that the word choice was arbitrarily made within a context of patriarchal oppression.

The Students Who Say "Meep"

Monique Chartier

A serious level of absurdity has been reached when a real life incident evokes a scene from Python.

H/T Michael Graham, who points out today that an assistant principal at Danvers High School has unsmilingly attempted to extend the fun outside of the school.

Five Years

Marc Comtois

I believe it has gone unmentioned so far, so I'll do it: November 7th marked Anchor Rising's 5 Year anniversary. I'm not sure what the average blog shelf-life is out there, but I suspect (and based on my own experience!) that we've surpassed it easily. That is partly due to our own doggedness (and the plethora of local source material) to be sure, but it would have been much harder if we had found ourselves opining to no one. So, thanks readers, whether agreeing or disagreeing, for keeping the Anchor Rising.

"Smart" Like a Fox

Justin Katz

At least I'm not alone in my concern that the "smart grid" craze opens up new horizons of privacy infringement:

Smart grid technology -- including new "smart meters" being attached to businesses and homes -- is designed in part to provide consumers with real-time feedback on power consumption patterns and levels. But as these systems begin to come online, it remains unclear how utilities and partner companies will mine, share and use that new wealth of information, experts warn.

"Instead of measuring energy use at the end of each billing period, smart meters will provide this information at much shorter intervals," the report notes. "Even if electricity use is not recorded minute by minute, or at the appliance level, information may be gleaned from ongoing monitoring of electricity consumption such as the approximate number of occupants, when they are present, as well as when they are awake or asleep. For many, this will resonate as a 'sanctity of the home' issue, where such intimate details of daily life should not be accessible."

According to the study, examples of information that utilities and partner companies might be able to glean from more granular power consumption data include whether and how often exercise equipment is used; whether a house has an alarm system and how often it is activated; when occupants usually shower, and how often they wash their clothes.

It's far too easy to imagine such information tempting government officials to find ways of "checking on" peculiar energy usages. Maybe that consistently high energy consumption in the basement zone of residential lot 57 is related to an elaborate toy train track setup, but maybe it's an illegal marijuana nursery. Best to check.

And even apart from government, it mightn't be long before targeted direct-mail campaigns begin filling mailboxes based on information learned via energy usage. No doubt detergent companies and out-of-the-home laundry services would be interested in the frequency of families clothes washing. For example.

Anchor Rising on the Roundtable

Justin Katz

Although you all should listen to Matt Allen every night (and especially on Fridays), for planning purposes, it may interest you to know that Anchor Rising (Andrew, Marc, and me) will be filling the seats and taking the mics for his Violent Roundtable from eight to nine o'clock, tonight, on 630AM/99.7FM WPRO.

Unemployment Down, Lack of Jobs Up

Justin Katz

One wonders whether the editorializing in this Projo report of unemployment numbers follows some sort of template, because it's otherwise difficult to understand:

For the first time in nearly three years, Rhode Island's unemployment rate dropped, to 12.9 percent in October, offering a faint but reassuring sign that the state's economy may be on the road to improvement.

But in paragraph four:

And the state continues to bleed jobs, losing 1,100 more in October, a separate survey of employers shows. The work force also contracted, a potential signal that some of the most discouraged workers may have given up looking for work entirely.

How can it possibly be "reassuring" that the unemployment rate slightly decreased because thousands of people gave up their employment searches? Theoretically, unemployment could approach zero as the population admits utter economic ruin.

Republicans Less Likely to be Unemployed

Marc Comtois

According to Rasmussen (h/t):

Data from Rasmussen Reports national telephone surveys shows that 15.0% of Democrats in the workforce are currently unemployed and looking for a job. Among adults not affiliated with either major party, that number is 15.6% while just 9.9% of Republicans are in the same situation....The percentage of unemployed Democrats has grown less than a point from 14.2% in February....Among those not affiliated with either major party, unemployment has grown by more than two percentage points from 13.3% in February to 15.6% now.

As for Republicans, the percentage unemployed has also grown more than two points after starting at just 7.8% in February.

Looking at this map and comparing it to what we know about the usual red/blue breakdown might add some clarification. I'm not sure, but interesting.

The End of the Entitlement Road

Justin Katz

Is this astonishing video of a protest turned near riot related to a wrongfully imprisoned innocent, wanton murder of grandmothers, or government confiscation of children? Nope. It's over a proposed 32% tuition increase for the University of California system. It's a symptom of the inevitable collapse of a society built on an entitlement mindset.

Don't get me wrong. Such increases create real hardships and truly disrupt people's lives — and their plans for their lives. But intimidating administrators who have only so many dollars to allocate and declaring that it's "our university" only avoids the broader questions about how the situation came to be. What decisions have California and the United States made to create these circumstances?

UCLA Political Science Professor Mark Sawyer's point is true enough:

Sawyer said he is angry over the 9 to 10 percent salary cut he's taken because of mandatory furloughs. But he said he worries more for the status of the university system as a place for affordable education and how it will affect the "future leaders" of the country.

"I'm also worried about the mission of a public institution," Sawyer said. "It's a gateway to the middle class and to building the California economy and the nation's economy, and these institutions are where that all happens."

It might be too much for which to hope, but perhaps this era of hardship will remind Americans that they can't simply declare everything to be a priority. Either we can have loose immigration laws, or we can pay public university professors well. Either we can subsidize healthcare and retirement, or we can subsidize young adults' educations. Either we can regulate industry to the fine detail of our every preference, or we can hold open gateways to individual economic advancement. (Right-wingers will note that the protest sign pictured at the second link advertises for the AFL-CIO.)

In actuality, the long run may prove there to have been only one option, as a failure to build a self-propelling society (rather, a failure to allow it to build itself) undermines our ability to give resources away.

Terrorist Defendants and (No) Miranda Rights

Monique Chartier

It appears that no Guantanamo detainees, including those who will be tried in a New York civilian court, were given their Miranda rights, nor were their "normal Fourth Amendment rights" observed. This is a sincere request: can someone provide a legal scenario in which all five of these cases are not thrown out on that basis alone in the first ten minutes of the trial?

Even as this potentially fatal flaw in the case against five men accused of carrying out acts of terror against the United States is highlighted with urgency and consternation, both Attorney General Eric Holder and Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to uphold the Miranda rights of Osama bin Laden.


Well, let’s see, how many years has it been? Nine, eight years. Let’s worry about capturing Bin Laden and not worry about your, your question.


Again I'm not -- that all depends. I mean, the notion that we --

Let's look at this.

Is there any doubt that AG Holder and Speaker Pelosi would wish to try Osama bin Laden in a civilian court? So why would they not acknowledge one of the fundamental rights of a defendant in that venue? Is it that such defendants are entitled to a civilian trial but not all of the attendant rights? But then, wouldn't that be a show trial instead of a showcase of the American justice system?

Or does this arise out of a more base and self-protective concern; namely, that they fear being hooted out of the room at the mere suggestion of proffering Miranda and Fourth Amendment rights to the self-avowed mastermind of the 911 attacks?

Lindsey Graham, not my favorite senator, had it right yesterday.

The only point I’m making (is) that if we’re going to use federal court as a disposition for terrorists, you take everything that comes with being in federal court.

Including the substantive procedural flaws that inevitably attend the transition of a detainee from a war zone, in a larger or stricter sense, to a civilian courtroom. It is not at all clear that the Obama Justice Department took a careful accounting of these flaws and their implications to justice before undertaking this transition.

November 19, 2009

Patrick Unleashed!

Justin Katz

Rep. Patrick Kennedy gives the impression of a politician sprinting to catch a departing train. Take as evidence of the impression the fact that Patrick Crowley loves this clip of Kennedy in action while filling his seat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee:

No constituents to the right of the aforementioned progressive union extremist should take it as given that Representative Kennedy actually represents them in any real sense. He's now in Congress to prove his Liberal Cub bona fides and play rock star to the far left.

He's also proving that he doesn't know what the word "alien" means. His staff should buy him a dictionary... or show him that Sting video.

Details of the above session may be found here.

Incredulousness About Democratic Healthcare Promises is the Mainstream

Carroll Andrew Morse

If you didn't believe me last week when I posted

We know that very few seriously believe that the Democratic reform proposals, in their current form, are going to truly reduce medical costs or control medical inflation.
…will you believe Jeffrey S. Flier, aka the Dean of Harvard University's School of Medicine, who adds quality of care and access to care directly to the list of things that will not improve under the healthcare plan currently advancing through Congress…
Our health-care system suffers from problems of cost, access and quality, and needs major reform. Tax policy drives employment-based insurance; this begets overinsurance and drives costs upward while creating inequities for the unemployed and self-employed. A regulatory morass limits innovation. And deep flaws in Medicare and Medicaid drive spending without optimizing care.

Speeches and news reports can lead you to believe that proposed congressional legislation would tackle the problems of cost, access and quality. But that's not true....In discussions with dozens of health-care leaders and economists, I find near unanimity of opinion that, whatever its shape, the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care's dysfunctional delivery system.

A Southwestern Forum

Justin Katz

The Rhode Island Voter Coalition is hosting a follow-up to its Meet the Candidates forum a month ago. I liveblogged from the first, the complete video is up on our YouTube channel, and I encourage all who can to attend tonight.

Among the panelists will be Michael Gardiner, who is challenging Mark Zaccaria's claim to the Republican nomination for Congressman Langevin's job. Gardiner expresses the shady desire for "a more 'centrist' Republican party, although from the limited description in the Projo article, he appears to be to the right of Zaccaria on abortion. Some speculate that he's more of a plant to derail Zaccaria's momentum, which would hardly be unheard of in Rhode Island.

Unfortunately, I won't be there. In light of the meager response to our last round of fundraising, driving out to Westerly on a Thursday night, having spent the day trimming out a chilly roof deck in Newport, is a bit more than I can handle. And frankly, I simply can't afford the gasoline for the trip.

We'll certainly be interested in publishing any reports or commentary on the event.


Marc Comtois

According to i09, citing National Geographic, there is oxygen-rich water on Jupiter's ice-covered moon, Europa:

That amount of oxygen would be enough to support more than just microscopic life-forms: At least three million tons of fishlike creatures could theoretically live and breathe on Europa, said study author Richard Greenberg of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

"There's nothing saying there is life there now," said Greenberg, who presented his work last month at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences. "But we do know there are the physical conditions to support it."

In fact, based on what we know about the Jovian moon, parts of Europa's seafloor should greatly resemble the environments around Earth's deep-ocean hydrothermal vents, said deep-sea molecular ecologist Timothy Shank.

"I'd be shocked if no life existed on Europa," said Shank, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

No word yet on when the first fishing expedition will embark. Or if an off-planet fishing license will be required.

Gio Cicione on the RI Republican Platform

Carroll Andrew Morse

Using the medium that all enlightened political leaders of the new millennium realize is a indispensable means for reaching the people and fostering necessary debate, i.e. the comments section of AR, State Republican Chairman Gio Cicione has weighed in on the subject of the draft of the Republican platform posted on this site this past weekend…

Gio Cicione: "Atrocious reign of Gio" - Damn - I'm not even sure what to make of that...

In any case, I don't have any problem with this being posted and/or discussed on AR. This is the document that is going to the full committee, and no one should have to see it thirty minutes before they are asked to vote on it. And, as a practical matter, anybody who thinks that there are political secrets in RI is fooling themselves.

That aside, I can't say I support every point in the document. I do, however, support the process that led to the draft, and I support the hard work of the committee who met over the course of many months to debate every single word that is in it. I will be voting for it not because it is perfect, but because it is the collective best effort of a diverse and thoughtful group of my partisans.

I get that it is not in our nature to support collectives or decisions made by committee, but that is what a party does. Once you win an election, then you get to make the rules. Getting there is a democratic process and requires consensus. (And, by the way, if the RIGOP was a dictatorship, it would have read like some anarcho-capitalist white paper from the Cato Institute.)

I am also comfortable that it will be a good tool for our candidates. You should all know by now that I enjoy taking a hard line on issues, and I agree that Rhode Island voters are ready for Republicans to act like Republicans when it comes to rolling back the size of government. It will be up to the RIGOP to impose that sort of message discipline on our candidates, and without a platform to work from, that becomes extremely difficult.

A platform is tool to help win elections, not an encyclopedia of republican values. I hope you will all consider supporting it, if for no other reason than that a committee of your Republican peers thinks it will help us win some seats next year. (And, perhaps, will help make my reign a little less atrocious . . . )

Progressive Warns: "If Conservatives Ran Healthcare"

Marc Comtois

Maggie Mahar of the Century Foundation warns:

If you’re a progressive like me, and you’re upset by the Stupak amendment, which bars federally subsidized insurance from covering abortions, consider this: What if we had a single-payer health-care system and someone like Jeb Bush or Sarah Palin were running the country?

Many liberals remain angry and disappointed that single-payer legislation never stood a chance in Washington. To them, a government-run health-care system seemed an obvious way to put patients ahead of profits.

But a single-payer system would have put us at the mercy of whomever happened to take control of Washington. I’m very happy to have a public plan as an option. But since I don’t know who will be in the White House in the years to come, I’m glad that government-run health care won’t be the only game in town.

She then lists all sorts of bad things that bogey man Jeb Bush or the whirling dervish Sarah Palin could do if they controlled a theoretical single-payer system. The thing is, I wonder if she feels the same about all of the other liberal "must have" social engineering programs out there? Sounds like spin to me.

Backfilling the Stimulus Spending; "Who really knows?"

Justin Katz

And in a sentence, posted by Kevin Boland, we have the perfect summary of the government stimulus program:

Ed Pound, the director of communications for the Obama Administration's "stimulus" website (, dropped a bombshell in interview with the New Orleans Times Picayune, stating that the Obama Administration has no idea how phantom congressional districts - such as Ohio's 00th or Louisiana’s 26th - received "stimulus" funds. The Times Picayune story reported:
'We're not certifying the accuracy of the information,' said Pound ....Asked why recipients would pluck random numbers - 26, 45, 14 - to fill in for their congressional district, Pound replied, 'who knows, man, who really knows. There are 130,000 reports out there.'

Boland goes on to describe several of the myriad examples of error, misstatement, and probable fraud associated with "creating and saving" jobs. Marc speculated, the other day, about the location of Rhode Island's lesser-known Congressional districts. At this point, what should be coming into focus for every clear-eyed American is that the "stimulus" was little more than a scam to insulate the government from the effects of the downturn. For a further indication of that reality, look to Stephen Spruiell's National Review exploration of the relationship of the Obama White House with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU):

The stimulus bill was a top priority for SEIU because it contained massive bailouts for state governments and Medicaid. As mentioned above, states such as California, New York, and New Jersey have expanded their social-welfare systems beyond what they can afford, in response to pressures from SEIU and other public-sector unions. At the same time, their progressive income-tax structures have made them especially vulnerable to boom-and-bust cycles. When the credit bubble burst, these states were looking at massive deficits, layoffs, furloughs, and budget cuts. The stimulus bill included a $50 billion slush fund for state governments and $90 billion in Medicaid expansions, helping the states avoid a necessary round of belt-tightening and tax reform.

Witness the inevitable theft that big government perpetrates against the nation's people, and unions have a critical role to play. Spruiell notes elsewhere that hospitals receiving federal money are barred from lobbying the government... but the union whose members benefit mightily from those same dollars are not.

This sort of shadow structure will not fail to emerge when a single entity is empowered with the federal government's broad control over every other aspect of the society. They'll lobby. They'll bully. They'll launder. They'll lie about their intentions and then throw together phony explanations for what they've done. They'll crush the United States for their own narrow interests.


I've said before that among the greatest advantages of blogging to a mixed audience is that one is more likely than not to have errors or inadvertent stretches corrected. In that vein, a commenter in a subsequent post that refers to the above called me on the statement about hospitals receiving federal money being barred from lobbying the government. Going back to my initial citation, I see that I paraphrased the following poorly:

SEIU's corporate campaigns, however effective, are nothing new. Stern's real breakthrough came when he realized that labor could offer a carrot as well as a stick Around 50 percent of SEIU's members work in the health-care industry as nurses, hospital attendants, and lab techs. The facilities that employ such workers benefit from a number of government programs. SEIU's pitch was simple: Let us organize your workforce, and we'll use our lobbying power to push for increased government spending on health care.

It worked. Fred Siegel and Dan DiSalvo recently observed in The Weekly Standard that, "under the brilliant leadership of Dennis Rivera, [SEIU Local] 1199 built a top-notch political operation, and with the hospitals, which were barred from political activity, formed a partnership to maximize the flow of government revenue." The alliance has been so successful, they wrote, that New York now spends as much on Medicaid as California and Texas combined. Rivera now serves as the SEIU's point man on national health-care-reform legislation, with over 400 union staff members working full time at his disposal. Sen. Chuck Schumer called him "one of the few key players" shaping the final bill.

In essence, I joined concepts that were only related: The union offers lobbying clout, but the political activity from which hospitals are barred probably doesn't have to do with the federal dollars that the lobbying seeks, but rather with such things as bans on non-profit political activities. My understanding is that unions are not so restricted.

So, the statement in specific was incorrect, but the point remains valid. To the extent that government restrains the employer in political activity and speech, while leaving unions exempt from those restraints, the union and the government gain leverage versus the productive organizations.

Two Distinct Topics

Justin Katz

Marc brought the topics of Vegas and boobies to last night's Matt Allen Show, and yes, they were two distinct topics. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

November 18, 2009

To Hell With "Government Experts", Keep Feeling Your Boobies

Marc Comtois

As an engineer, I'm quite familiar with the concept of the feedback loop, root cause analysis, etc. when it comes to preventive maintenance. For example, lets say you're supposed to change your oil every 3,000 miles. But over time, it's discovered that your car's engine runs just as well and doesn't wear any worse when the oil is changed every 5,000 miles. The obvious cost-savings is further bolstered by costs saved due to a reduction in the chances that the local lube shop will break something while performing this routine maintenance. (Generally, studies show that up to 20% of machine failures are introduced through scheduled maintenance).

It looks like the new recommendations that include pushing breast cancer screenings to 50 years old from 40 years old and advising against women performing self-breast examinations is based on a similar process.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government panel of doctors and scientists, concluded that such early and frequent screenings often lead to false alarms and unneeded biopsies without substantially improving women's odds of survival.

"The benefits are less and the harms are greater when screening starts in the 40s," said Dr. Diana Petitti, vice chairwoman of the panel.

Dr. Eric Braverman, a clinical assistant professor of integrative medicine at Cornell Weill Medical College in New York, also backs the new guidelines, arguing that mammograms are not nearly as effective in detection as some other tests, like MRI's and ultrasounds.

"I'm not impressed by mammograms in general," said Braverman, who called manual examinations a "total failure."

"I support the new guidelines because I think it will lead to better testing. [The ultrasound] is a better screening procedure that's safer and easier and picks up things fast," he said, adding that he thinks women should receive ultrasounds as part of their routine medical exams, beginning at an early age.

The problem here is that people aren't machines. When your talking about human life, the anecdotal examples that fall outside of the guidelines prove to be the rule. For every 5 false-positive 43 year olds, there is another 43 year old (or younger) who caught her breast cancer thanks to the current guidelines. There is no commensurate dollar figure.

Meanwhile Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has said that "our policies remain unchanged" and that she "would be very surprised if any private insurance company changed its mammography coverage decisions as a result of this action." Wanna bet? Dr. Cynara Commer, a professor of surgery at Mt. Sinai's Surgical Oncology Department in New York... very concerned that the new guidelines are the top of a slippery slope toward rationing, and questioned the timing as the Senate is about to vote on health care reforms that could end up containing a so-called public option.

"The government-run insurance companies are definitely going to be using these federal guidelines as opposed to using the American Cancer Society guidelines, and the American Cancer Society is not going along with these guidelines, and we can only hope that the private insurance companies don't follow suit," she said.

"I think it's coming down to saving costs. I don't think we should be doing that at the expense of women," she added.

And men, don't take this sitting down. Your ass (colonoscopy guidelines) could be next.

Moving Money Around in Different Ways

Justin Katz

This quote from John Derbyshire's book, We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism, which I found via a review by Kyle Smith, in National Review, gave us opportunity for discussion and encouragement 'round the construction site:

American parents are now all resigned to beggaring themselves in order to purchase college diplomas for their offspring, so that said offspring can get low-paying outsourceable office jobs, instead of having to descend to high-paying, unoutsourceable work like plumbing, carpentry, or electrical installation.

In order to extend our conversation, I did a quick online search to see if anybody's posted a little more context and noticed — as I increasingly have — that the entire book has been posted online by Google, with searchable text. I'm torn.

It's great to have the high caliber of books bumping up Web content, and for hard to find literature, it's certainly a useful service. Everything that's entered the public domain would have to be fair game (and much of it was already online, somewhere). But I worry that nobody will ever manage to develop financial incentive to write books if they're readily available for free.

To be sure, it would be uncomfortable to read an entire publication in the format provided by Google, but e-readers are increasingly popular, and computer screens are increasingly readable. Our society is going to have to work something out, but with the current speed of technology, making the ability to process and distribute content at high speed, an entire literary culture could fall away while the lawsuits and compromises run their course.

Viva Rhode Island?

Marc Comtois

I've traveled all around the world, but one of the places I'd never been was Las Vegas. Until last week, that is. With the current recession, Las Vegas is offering several deals to get bodies into the casinos. With my wife and I looking for an economical getaway to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary, Vegas seemed to fit the bill.

However, while flights and accommodations may be cheap, the prices "on the ground" ain't like the old days (at least from what I've heard). There are no $5 all-you-can-eat buffets around every corner--everything costs about the same or more as every other tourist destination elsewhere in the country and shows (even at half price) are expensive for penny-pinching Yankees like us (especially if you have no burning desire to see boomer acts like Donny and Marie or one of the 6 Cirque de Soleil shows offered at different spots). There is still plenty to do with multiple, themed casinos up and down the strip and the throwback "Fremont Street Experience" (aka "Glitter Gulch") in downtown Vegas.

But there were some annoyances. Nearly all of the casinos had people stationed at entrances trying to reel you in with "deals" that usually involve hearing a pitch about timeshares. Then there were the street hawkers, including groups of people lined up on the sidewalk trying to hand you little cards with naked pics of ladies and phone numbers for anyone looking for some "company."

These so-called pornslappers (here's a good description and a picture) didn't care if you were man, woman or together..they still stuck them in front of you. And if you looked down at the sidewalk, you'd be able to see discarded cards all over the place. Then there was the "stripper bus" where strippers were driven up and down the strip in a plexi-glass bus advertising their wares by dancing around a pole. As I've said, I've been all around the world as a merchant mariner, and Vegas' overt hawking of sex is nearly unrivaled--even when compared to the seamier sections of port cities in 3rd world countries! So, suffice to say--despite recent attempts to advertise otherwise--Vegas still ain't no place for families. That being said, it is still a neat place to see, if nothing else than to watch people and take in hedonism at its "finest"!

Justin recently offered a qualified point about preferring table games over slots. I agree. If gambling on table games is like cocaine, video slots are like crack. Seat after seat filled with people, staring vacantly at monitors and pushing buttons. There is a serious disconnect going on there. While you can lose as much or more money at a table game, at least there is actual interaction with real people.

Casinos are designed to keep you amongst the slots and tables, spending your money:

Bill Friedman has made a career of analyzing casino design and profit, and consulting on casinos internationally, including Las Vegas' Mirage. His thirteen design principles include: "1: A physically segmented casino beats an open barn" and "8: Low ceilings beat high ceilings" to create a more intimate space for the gambler and "11: Pathways emphasizing the gambling-equipment beat the yellow brick road" which discourages creating obvious passageways that lead people past the gambling areas without stopping.

Professor Norman Klein describes a successful casino floor as a "Happy Imprisonment," a mousetrap for consumers. "You have infinite choice, but seemingly no way out. Casino spaces are scripted particularly as ergonomic labyrinths. Entrances and exits remain askew. The atmosphere is immersive. Finding your way back from the bathroom can be difficult." Walls of slot machines send you towards ... more slot machines.

Believe me, they do. Harrah's has low ceilings, while places like the Bellagio and Venetian have higher. (I preferred higher ceilings because they seemed to deal with the cigarette/cigar smoke better). I'm sure similar measures to keep 'em gambling have been taken in Twin River and the Connecticut casinos. Do Rhode Islanders really want their state government involved in a revenue generating operation that relies on "mousetraps" and "labyrinths" to keep working Rhode Islanders spending their money? Although it may be too late to stop the train in RI, after fully immersing myself in the casino culture for a week, I find I'm even more opposed to the idea of a state-run casino, for both aesthetic and economic reasons, than I was before.

This is especially because the core problem of having state revenue dependent on gambling exists in Nevada, too. Casino revenue continues to go down, with gambling returns decreasing for 23 straight months. With so much else going wrong with Nevada's economy, which joined Rhode Island as one of the 10 states in deepest trouble, the state is looking now more than ever towards gambling--30% of state revenues according to a local news report I saw while out there--as a savior. But it's not coming through for them now, though there is a hope that as the economy improves and tourist traffic increases, so will gambling revenue.

That outside gambling revenue from tourists, as Froma Harrop recently explained, is what makes Vegas "work" for funding government. That isn't really the case in other places, like Rhode Island, where the gambling infrastructure is more akin to Connecticut than Nevada. In Connecticut, revenues are also going down, so the Nutmeg state casinos banded together to market against Atlantic City. But the state's take is still going down. The problem is that competition for the Northeast gambler is intense already and the importance of proximity seems to trump anything else. Rhode Island is fooling itself if it thinks it will attract from farther and wider with a bigger and better operation.

Make no mistake, I'd expect a full-fledged casino (ie; with table games) to be able to pull in more revenue. Yet, despite all the glitz and lights, one can sense that there is a seamier underbelly to any casino operation. Now, I certainly don't think that some of the "sinful" things I saw in Vegas would translate to sleepy little Lincoln or elsewhere in the state, but there can be little doubt that as a gambling operation grows there will be a commensurate increase in the problems--and the infrastructure (police, fire) required to mitigate those problems-- associated with the "casino culture."

Finally, my main concern is with gambling addiction: the sort acquired by a state government that, over the last decade--and partly fueled by increasing gambling revenue--oversaw an increase in the state budget that far outpaced inflation. Doubling down pays off when you're rolling 7's. But, as the last few years in the gambling capital of Las Vegas has shown, even high rollers eventually you crap out.

Kennedy's Church of Personal Influence

Justin Katz

One aspect of the controversy between Congressman Patrick Kennedy and Bishop Thomas Tobin with a broader application is Kennedy's misunderstanding of religion's place in life:

U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy said he was "not going to dignify with an answer" Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin's public comments that Kennedy could not be a good Catholic and still support abortion rights. Kennedy called those comments "unfortunate," and said, "I'm not going to engage [in] this anymore."

Clearly, Kennedy sees this as a political problem, and the bishop as a constituent whom he was willing to indulge if it would make the problem go away. (Doesn't this guy realize I'm a Kennedy?) Read the above in the context of the bishop's revelation, on Dan Yorke's show, that Kennedy had requested that their "private" meeting be held in a prominent public place during the lunch hour. As I suggested in a vlog back in September, fame and fortune distort one's perception of life, which can be especially detrimental on spiritual matters.

Wherever he believes the origin of the dispute to be, Kennedy should find it worrisome that he's run into this conflict with his Church and seek to resolve it, honestly and with openness and charity. Of course, one suspects that the irreducible requirement of any worldview, for him, is that women must be permitted to kill their children prior to birth, an irreducible division.

As Bishop Tobin implies in his letter to Kennedy, the congressman is effectively excommunicating himself:

Your letter also says that your faith "acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity." Absolutely true. But in confronting your rejection of the Church's teaching, we're not dealing just with "an imperfect humanity" — as we do when we wrestle with sins such as anger, pride, greed, impurity or dishonesty. We all struggle with those things, and often fail.

Your rejection of the Church's teaching on abortion falls into a different category — it's a deliberate and obstinate act of the will; a conscious decision that you've re-affirmed on many occasions. Sorry, you can't chalk it up to an "imperfect humanity." Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your communion with the Church.

Kennedy may be able to find an ordained priest to administer Roman Catholic sacraments for him, but his religion appears to be more of the church of the individual sort — in his case, the Church of Kennedy. However strong his faith might be, it isn't Catholicism, not just because he rejects and actively, publicly works against a core consequence of its belief system, but also because he rejects its structure and authority. That's a pretty definitional consideration in the Catholic Church.

Indeed, for a sense of what Congressman Kennedy is doing to the Church whose faith he professes to share, look to his supporters. In a post titled "Stick to your guns, Patrick Kennedy" (illustrating an intention to attack the religious institution with militant imagery), by Sean South, Matt Jerzyk provides this nice little nugget as an update:

... as America seeks to undermine the influence of clerics overseas on other nations and groups, people of conscience should condemn Tobin's inappropriate attacks on Kennedy -- especially considering the fact that we are - after all - in the land of Roger Williams.

For trying to ensure the faithful representation of its beliefs — worked out as a matter of international cooperation through millennia of developing religious thought — the Church faces comparisons to radical terrorist regimes. One cannot expect better from irreligious Progressives, I fear, but even Patrick Kennedy should recoil from such rhetoric and take it as evidence that he ought to reevaluate his understanding of faith's requirements.

Rhode Island Must Solve This Problem

Justin Katz

Here's the Budget Office document showing the always-too-optimistic early revenue estimate for the state of Rhode Island: PDF. As you've likely read, the deficit is projected to be $219.8 million. It wouldn't be surprising to find that number come in hundreds of millions of dollars too low.

The reality is that Rhode Island has to cut a structural billion dollars out of its budget. Over the past few years, we've been chasing a sinking chest deeper under water.

Table 3, on the last page of the PDF, shows the decreases in revenue by source. Wading through the sloppiness of the table (mostly misplaced and missing minus signs and parentheses), the take-away is that raising taxes is not an option. Revenue is shrinking because people are doing less of the things that generate it. What's frightening is that Rhode Islanders don't seem interested in doing anything about it.

November 17, 2009

Liveblogging Tonight's Immigration Forum

Carroll Andrew Morse

I'm on the Brown University Campus, where a panel of Rhode Island all-stars is preparing for a panel discussion on the issue of immigration.

Panelists include RI State Senator Juan Pichardo, Judge Roberto Gonzalez, former U.S. Attorney Robert Corrente, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, RI State Representative David Segal, and Reverend Donald Anderson. Moderator will be Professor Wendy Schiller of Brown.

Audience members include Terry and Karin Gorman and Joe Bernstein.

Brown undergrads will present 3 views of immigration, "families first", "economy first", and "security first".

FFirst: Focus on family reunification, remove arbitrary per-country annual limits, "regularize" illegal immigrants (and make their income taxable). Border enforcement does not work -- it just makes the journey more dangerous. Enforcement within the US is even more disconcerting; violates civil liberties and leads to profiling. "Guest worker" programs should be ended.

EFirst: Immigrants play central role in keeping the US economically competitive. Immigrants take jobs that Americans won't take. Falling fertility rates mean that immigrants are needed to prevent a labor shortage. Hospitality, food-service and construction need low-skill immigrant labor. Costs of services and goods would increase if immigration was limited. High-skilled immigrants are important too. "Regularize" illegal immigrants and expand guest worker programs. Abolish e-verify.

Andrew editorializes: Other than the guest worker position, I don't see much difference between EF and FF.

SFirst: Concentration of Spanish-speaking immigrants leads to social isolation. They don't share the "Protestant Work Ethic" (I'm just reporting here.). Bi-lingual education eats up resources that could be used otherwise. If we can't control the border, we don't know who may come in. Drug and human traffickers take advantage of an open border. Immigration must be curtailed, until we can absorb the 35 million illegal immigrants who are already here. Significant resources should be used for border control, state and local police forces should be used as a force multiplier.

Over to the panel...Intros just finished...

Schiller throws out 3 questions. Andrew types only fast enough to record 2. What is the top immigration policy priority for the nation? What is you view on movements by "some groups" to discourage participation in the census? (Backfill: 3rd question was how might the RI priorities differ from Federal priorities)

Sen. Pichardo: Top priority is concentrating on comprehensive reform at the Federal level. RI priority is having a vibrant immigrant community and having family reunification. We also need stronger labor laws to protect workers. We need to help integrate the immigrant community by providing more services to them, for instance more state and local funding for English classes.

"We are a sovereign nation that must protect our borders", but we must do it in a humane way. And we can't do it with piecemeal policies -- we need comprehensive immigration reform.

Judge Gonzalez: We live in a society where lies and hate are promoted about immigrants. Praises removal of Lou Dobbs from CNN. Long history in this country of promoting the broken immigration system we have to today. Indigenous populations were decimated to make room for European settlers (I'm just reporting here). No need to apply for immigration papers in the past. CIA has toppled Latin American governments -- had the effect of making them poor and difficult to manage. Everyone agrees the immigration system is broken. We can do this if we're all honest about what the issues are (though I'm not sure the preceding commentary a great example of that.) Not convinced that an open border is a security problem.

Now a strange pivot: The Judge is not sure that legalizing immigrants is the "moral" thing to do, but it's good for the economy. Prof Schiller cuts him off, for time...

Currently Without Title Corrente: All 3 perspectives must be considered simultaneously, for both political and policy effectiveness reasons. Ignoring any perspective will just bog down the debate. Instead of surrounding the headquarters of ICE after an enforcement action, people should surround the capitol and demand better laws. It's unfair to blame the people enforcing the laws for the problems with our immigration system. A fence cannot solve the problem -- the full infrastructure needed of border security is an unbelievable expense. But knowing who is entering and leaving the country is critically important. ICE was the agency that was first to identify the September 11 attackers.

It's way past time for comprehensive reform. The current Napolitano proposal is similar to what was offered before.

Mayor Avedisian: Endorses Corrente's all-3-at-once view. Takes on census question -- declining to participate won't punish elected officials, it punishes residents. All kinds of grant money is based on census figures (and even one of our Congressional seats may be at risk in RI). Napolitano proposal is short on specifics; the Mayor is disappointed by the lack of detail. Family reunification issues need a framework that has latitude for case-by-case consideration.

Rep. Segal: Need census participation, so we can ultimately take civil-rights issues to the courts (I'm just reporting here). We're a stable and attractive country, but US policies have encouraged instability elsewhere. Ethnic enclaves aren't really a problem, they have been a source of strength and pride in RI, cites Rhode Island's portuguese community as an example.

Rev. Anderson: Addresses the Judge directly; every aspect of immigration is a moral issue. Our Senators and Congressman lack the courage to do the right thing, because they are too concerned about getting re-elected. A pathway to citizenship should be the priority. If more immigrants looked like his own ancestors did, the issue might not be such a big problem (Computer acting up -- I'll have to backfill in a little bit.)....

(I got up to ask a question here, so I wasn't able to liveblog the first few questions. When it was my turn, I asked Rev. Anderson about whether the use of the term "undocumented" in its various forms could be taken to mean that citizenship meant only having the proper documents. Rev. Anderson answered that there indeed was much more to citizenship. More on this to come in the near future.).

Wendy Schiller asks Joe Bernstein a question (I'll explain later): What one thing would you change in immigration law if you could? JB: Deportation of illegal aliens who commit crimes. And people who want the law enforced shouldn't be characterized by a handful of bigots [Backfill: Joe B. had taken offense to the characterization of immigration enforcement agents as using "Gestapo tactics", which I believe had been mentioned during the question-and-answer period, and related several personal experiences as to why he thought that was inaccurate, leading Prof. Schiller to ask him what he would change if he could."])

Terry Gorman also objected to the assumption of racist motivation to people who want the law enforced. Rev. Anderson answers that there is an "atmosphere" out there that could lead to problems. Gorman answers with the example of Newport; there are a large number of illegal immigrants there of European origin, and he wants the law enforced there as much as anywhere else.

Closing statements:

Sen. Pichardo: Debate cannot be piecemeal at the state level. It must be at the Federal level. E-Verify needs to be made more effective before it is implemented, and it should be a part of comprehensive reform. Everyone should participate in the census. Suggests a connection between the Governor rescinding his executive order and the census that I didn't quite follow (but the Senator is delivering a letter to the Governor tomorrow that will explain things).

Judge Gonzalez: We need to sift the hate, racism and xenophobia out of the debate (but tells Terry Gorman that he's not talking about him). There are technical and procedural problems with E-Verify. The state shouldn't be trying to work out solutions to what is a Federal problem. Also, he explains what he means by Gestapo tactics -- bring people out in irons during immigration raids, and pregnant women being shackled to their beds when delivering their babies.

(More technical glitches -- my touchpad is too sensitive, and I keep getting knocked to a different page, without stuff being saved. Justin, do you have this problem with your laptop?)

CWT Corrente: We can't afford as a country to have the immigration issue stall, as it has so far. We need a solution that address all of the concerns.

Rep Segal: It's a Federal issue, but the state legislature is having some success in helping the people who are here. (Another tech glitch -- not sure why these keep happening in the Segal/Anderson speakers bloc)

Rev. Anderson: Bypassess the "older" people to talk to the students. Immigration decisions affect real people. In the Kingdom of God, there are no second class citizens. We need to think about what put them in their current situations -- and if the roles were reversed we might understand their situations better. We have a moral responsibility that we have to live up to.

Apologies for the gaps. Signing off for now...

Weakness Will Beget Proliferation

Justin Katz

Folks over thirty may find it a strange reemergence to hear talk of nuclear disarmament. In what way is it plausible to expect those who seek leverage against us to decrease their efforts to correspond with our own unilateral dismantling of our weapons of mass destruction? That's among the questions that Keith Payne takes up in a recent National Review article, which includes this interesting point:

... the presumption that U.S. movement toward nuclear disarmament will deliver nonproliferation success is a fantasy. On the contrary, the U.S. nuclear arsenal has itself been the single most important tool for nonproliferation in history, and dismantling it would be a huge setback. America's nuclear arms, in combination with treaty commitments that connect them to the security of our allies, are what permits many of those allies to remain non-nuclear. The United States offers this "extended deterrent" (or "nuclear umbrella") coverage to over 30 countries, and if that coverage did not exist, some of them would seek nuclear deterrents of their own.

As with much else, on the global scene, other nations' more palatable behavior (to liberals) is wholly dependent upon the United States' taking a more difficult stand. And as with much else, talk of disarmament seems dependent on a presupposition that the world would be better of with a weaker United States, whatever the means of weakening it. Hopefully, President Obama and his party won't have the opportunity to finish proving how calamitously wrong that presupposition is.

Obama Stimulus Helps RI's Invisible Districts

Marc Comtois

Thanks to President Obama's stimulus package, RI's 86th Congressional District has netted $10.2 million in aid and has had 58 jobs created (or saved)! The district, which encompasses the Williams and Franklin households in Ashaway, was given funds based on a proposal to open a low footprint, "green" factory for the manufacture of 100% eco-friendly air lined containers. This product--invisible and lightweight--has gained the attention of the aspiration and exhalation industries.

86th District Congresswoman Envy Sibal Williams was thankful for the stimulus help to her district. In a written statement, she explained that, "...over the last two years, the snipe-flu has raged through our domestic snipe farming operation. While some farmers have successfully transitioned to snipe hunting, others were having a tough go....These green jobs will more than make up for those lost."

Additionally, the 5th Congressional District saw $1.3 million in stimulus money. The district, sandwiched between the Jones and Smith houses on Conimicut point, will use the money to develop an entertainment complex--including bleachers and a concession stand--for the purpose of viewing the submarine races that are a regular, nightly attraction.

Unfortunately, the 00th Congressional District, located on the 2nd floor of a tri-decker in Central Falls, reported that they have received no stimulus aid while district(s) 4 and 6 through 85 have not responded to our inquiries.

In other news, the population in Rhode Island is booming...

Pension Problems from Coast to Coast

Carroll Andrew Morse

This can't be a good sign. They're now making fun of Rhode Island in New Jersey, that bastion of good government practices, because of our inept pension fund management. John Bury of the website writes that…

Rhode Island's public pension plans are a basket case. They were 50% funded before the market collapse and bankruptcy is imminent for many. Sensing the seriousness of the issue the state set up a commission on January 30, 2008 made up primarily of politicians and union representatives which issued a report with attachments on June 5, 2009. There were no actuaries invited to be on the commission though they did specify that one of the 19 members should "be a practicing member of the Rhode Island Bar Association who shall have experience in pension law."
Then he gets serious…
Total it up, take into account recent asset losses, benefit payouts, and continuing accruals and Rhode Island might turn ponzi before New Jersey. This is not a situation that can be rectified by tinkering with retirement ages or moving new hires to 401(k) plans. This calls for either substantial revenue commitments or severe benefit cuts (including for retirees). Those solutions won't be implemented as long as the politicians and unions who bargained their people into this mess are looked to for ideas on cleaning it up.
And from the other coast comes a warning via the Los Angeles Times that a favorite proposed solution in Rhode Island -- consolidating all of the problems and handing them to the state to solve -- doesn’t guarantee that things will automatically get better for the localities
Slammed by huge investment losses in last year's meltdown of financial markets, the nation's largest public retirement plan faces questions about its long-term ability to make good on the benefits it owes more than 1.6 million workers, retirees and their families.

All Californians have a stake in the fund's performance: If CalPERS' $200-billion portfolio comes up short, and state and local governments refuse to cut workers' benefits, the bill falls to taxpayers -- many of whom have no guaranteed pension benefits of their own.

Already, CalPERS has notified state and local government authorities that their contributions to the fund will have to rise beginning in 2011 or 2012, reflecting the steep drop in the system's assets during the markets' crash.

Kicking problems up to a “higher” level of government doesn’t solve anything, if the higher-ups ignore the underlying causes of the problems -- and moving decision-making to more remote levels of government can often make changing bad policies more difficult.

And this is all, of course, before we even begin to consider the California situation in the context of why anyone thinks that defined-benefit retirement plans are not seriously impacted by market downturns. Just keep this one principle in mind when considering any of the options: in the absence of economic growth, nobody’s plan for a secure retirement is going to work.

Counting Every Ballot

Justin Katz

The one straw at which Democrats and progressives could grasp after the election was the 23rd Congressional district in New York. And grasp it, they did. "Tea Party Over?" asked a Village Voice blogger. Matt Jerzyk declared it a "HUGE" victory for the Democrats that third-party, last-minute candidate Doug Hoffman had only come within a few percentage points of winning. Even in our own comment section, Rhody called the loss a "slap" against the tea party movement corresponding to one against the president.

Which all makes this development rather interesting:

Conservative Doug Hoffman conceded the race in the 23rd Congressional District last week after receiving two pieces of grim news for his campaign: He was down 5,335 votes with 93 percent of the vote counted on election night, and he had barely won his stronghold in Oswego County.

As it turns out, neither was true. ...

Now a recanvassing in the 11-county district shows that Owens' lead has narrowed to 3,026 votes over Hoffman, 66,698 to 63,672, according to the latest unofficial results from the state Board of Elections.

In Oswego County, where Hoffman was reported to lead by only 500 votes with 93 percent of the vote counted election night, inspectors found Hoffman actually won by 1,748 votes — 12,748 to 11,000.

Sure Owens was quickly sworn in and helped to move the healthcare atrocity through the House, but if he turns out to have lost, he'll be removed. At any rate, even if Hoffman doesn't receive the two-thirds of the remaining votes that he'll need to actually win the race, it's ludicrous to describe his near victory as a rebuke to his supporters.

Interfaith Community Aligns Against Laypeople

Justin Katz

There can be no doubt that our society is better off with religious leaders who consistently urge against heated discord than who use their influence to rally factions against each other. I worry, though, that this level of disposition to unite with other religious leaders against impliedly barbaric masses comes at the cost of any influence at all:

The Rhode Island interfaith community united together to speak with one voice in its support of the local Muslim community throughout the aftermath of the shootings last Thursday at Fort Hood Army Base in Texas.

Representatives of the Diocese of Providence, the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island, and members of different faith communities gathered at the Jewish Community Center, 401 Elmgrove Ave., on Friday, November 6 to extend their support.

Somebody who had somehow missed the news out of Fort Hood would think that there'd been a killing spree against Muslims down South. Indeed, when the next paragraph explains that "authorities have attributed" the shootings to a Muslim — with no mention of any victims, it's important to note — the narrative becomes downright confusing. Who was targeted? Against whom is this "one voice" of religious groups speaking?

The Rev. Dr. Donald C. Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, said that the reason for this meeting was to stop placing blame on the entire Muslim community.

Who's doing that? Sure, one could find columnists here and there who come close, and yes, there are some among the regular population (me included) who humbly note that the link between Islam and such attacks is, well, not nonexistent and who make the unavoidable observation that international terrorists have taken Islam as a unifying and motivational ideology.

It seems to me that it would be would be much more productive and more conducive to peace for religious leaders to conduct a frank and mutually respectful discourse about how Western society can absorb that reality and help peaceful Muslims to wrest their faith from the grip of the theological fascists whose influence the Fort Hood shooter proves to extend even to Americans. It's easier, to be sure, to condemn a purely hypothetical backlash against too-real violence in a parade of moral vanity, but it damages the credibility of those who participate and minimizes the significance of religion in society.

November 16, 2009

The Economy as Trojan Horse

Justin Katz

It's Political Maneuvering 101 to encase your preferred issues within a popular Trojan Horse. So, if green is what you mean, declare its ability to end joblessness. However pretty a landscape that may paint, though, it's of questionable accuracy:

Green technology may help drive an economic recovery in New England but the fledgling industry will not be a major engine of growth for the region in the foreseeable future, economists said at a recent conference.

The sobering assessment came during the New England Economic Partnership's fall conference, which was held last week in Boston and focused on so-called "green-collar jobs" and whether their creation will help pull Rhode Island and its neighbors out of recession.

The real hope for "green jobs" is that a particular state will become the hub of the industry. The problem is that — as is typical of politicians — the opportunity is so obvious that multiple states are competing for the title. Government operatives are good at innovating by fad, but business people survive by innovating, period.

States — and I'm speaking mainly to Rhode Island, here — should ease regulations across the board and otherwise refurbish the track along which the economy runs and let investors and corporate types discern which has the environment most conducive to their industries.

Poverty Institute Breaking Ties with Rhode Island College

Carroll Andrew Morse

This week's Political Scene column in the Projo contains this interesting note at the bottom…

The Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College, a vocal player in the state budget debate, is ending its formal relationship with the public college.

The organization announced that this fall, 10 years after its inception within the college’s School of Social Work, it would incorporate as an independent nonprofit entity...

The organization has drawn criticism from conservatives for being a taxpayer-financed entity that regularly lobbies for “revenue-side” budget solutions that raise taxes or fees.

I think it's a bit of stretch to say that only conservatives object to the concept of taxpayer funds being used to lobby for tax-increases -- but I'm sure they'll be willing to take the credit for being the most vocal on the issue.

I wonder what new advantages the leaders of the Poverty Institute think they'll gain in a new organizational structure.


Denise Perreault of the Providence Business News has more detail on the impending separation.

A Tapestry of Issues for the Tenth Amendment

Justin Katz

The Tenth Amendment, for those who need reminding, reads as follows:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people

It's conceivable that a partial explanation for the states' permitting the erosion of this protection may be found in the ideological diversity of the nation. Massachusetts may not have much interest in protecting Texan sodomy laws that it finds extreme, and South Dakota would have no direct interest in protecting Rhode Island's shoreline rights.

Travis Kavulla's National Review article on Montana's enthusiasm for the Second Amendment, however, makes me wonder whether it would be possible to knit together a Tenth Amendment revival on a patchwork of issues:

LONG has Montana been enthusiastic on the subject of guns, but the Montana Firearms Freedom Act takes the cake.

Passed this spring by the state legislature, a group of folks who meet for 90 days every other year, the law declares that any weapon or round of ammunition made in Montana and remaining within state borders "is not subject to federal law or federal regulation, including registration, under the authority of Congress to regulate interstate commerce." This bold declaration of independence became law October 1, though even before then the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms had sent out a memorandum to gun dealers, the summary of which was: Don't even think about it. A lawsuit is pending.

A nearly identical piece of legislation had been defeated in the 2005 and 2007 sessions of the legislature, but this year a groundswell of public anxiety about federal regulation of guns led to votes that were not even close. The act won passage 85-14 in the house and 29-21 in the senate, with many Democrats--most of them town-dwelling folk--lining up behind their country brothers and voting "yea."

The commerce clause is one of the chief mechanisms whereby the federal government has expanded its power over the states, and one needn't believe as heartily in the right to bear arms as the typical Montanan to be able to find some local issue that piques one's anger. A concerted movement might be able to find an issue in each of the fifty states that could spur similar legislation.

Vlog #10: An Individual Constitution

Justin Katz

Wherein I respond to an op-ed by Rep. David Segal (D, Providence) suggesting that the grassroots tea party movement that so opposes the current establishment in Rhode Island would have naturally been inclined to support the old establishment back in the 1800s:

November 15, 2009

Continued Advocacy

Justin Katz

As expected, the Providence Journal Sunday edition marks the fourth out of the last five days that the gay-funeral/governor-veto story has landed on the front page, this time with the personal story, by Randal Edgar, of Mark Goldberg, one of the advocates for the legislation.

Goldberg's experience with the current law was terrible — so much so that it's difficult to believe that a more efficient government wouldn't have been able to resolve the matter much more quickly (and humanely) under existing policies. That said, I disagree with the governor; this "piecemeal" approach is precisely appropriate — certainly more so than legislation granting "all but the name" marriage-like partnerships for homosexuals. The reason is that, as we enact laws recognizing relationships, we should ask ourselves the questions of "what" and "why."

Take, for example, this explanation for Goldberg's motivation, in today's paper:

GOLDBERG SAYS the delays were all the more frustrating because he was grieving.

"Here's somebody just lying on a slab, and you're thinking, what is the dignity in this," he said. "I still loved the man and I wanted to do what was right for him, what was honorable, and respectful."

Are married people, homosexual partners, and people with nearby family members the only ones with a claim to dignity in death? Compassion provides no explanation for the expansive definition of "domestic partner" provided in the vetoed legislation. Why must one be "financially interdependent" in order to have a sincere desire to execute the last wishes of somebody for whom one cared? Why, for that matter, does the legislation contain language stating that such partners could not be "related by blood to a degree which would prohibit marriage in the state of Rhode Island? Under the funeral law, all such relations have rights to claim bodily remains.

It's difficult not to suspect an ulterior motive in injecting the definition at some highly emotional point in the law. Personally, I say we do away with that necessity: Put the legislation's description into the law somewhere more central, defining the "domestic partner" relationship for all purposes, and then on an issue-by-issue basis, decide whether a particular right or privilege ought to apply... or ought to be expanded more broadly.

A Same Old Same Old New Face

Justin Katz

While we're talking political platforms, it's worth noting that candidate Dan O'Connor has put himself forward as a candidate for whom those currently represented by John Loughlin (R., Little Compton, Portsmouth, Tiverton) should not vote. His letter to the editor of The Sakonnet Times isn't online, but it's adequate to summarize that O'Connor lists the various obvious problems that the state has, offers some political clichés, and writes revealing paragraphs like this:

I am a young, fresh candidate who hopes to make it to the General Assembly in order to shake the status quo while bringing a new perspective and new ideas to the State House. I have no ties to any elected officials and have not spent any time in "back rooms" working on deals behind the scenes [that] do nothing to help Rhode Islanders. I also intend to run as a Democratic candidate which is the party currently in power. As a Democrat, I will have the ability to work with the party to help our district.

So O'Connor advertises himself as an outsider and then explains that he's running as a Democrat in order to more easily become an insider. He has no experience in "back rooms," but he looks forward to entering them. He intends to "shake the status quo" by reinforcing it as a partisan.

I am running on three principles, the economy, the environment, and education. These are core principles so important to the well being of our state and are the principles I will be dedicated to working on once I am elected. Although the economy is an easy topic that so many politicians claim they are working on, we have seen no improvement here in Rhode Island. With the various challenges we face as a state, we need to tackle the issues with the economy in the same breath as education and the environment. In fact, all three of these are interrelated and need to be worked on in tandem. Creating green jobs and the people to fill them is one of the primary goals I will work on once elected to the state house.

It would probably be unfair to dwell on the possible meanings of O'Connor's pledge to "create" people to fill green jobs. It is not unfair to suggest that his vague plan illustrates precisely the wrong understanding of how government can positively affect the economy. It is also not unfair to scoff at his subsequent declaration that government "cannot solve all the problems our state faces." Why, then, should we rely on government to pick and choose the industrial direction of the state? Is Mr. O'Connor more qualified to construct profitable industries than the folks who'd actually research the benefits of setting up shop in Rhode Island and investing their own money to do so?

Dan's face may be fresh, but it's one we've seen before — far too frequently. Come on, Little Compton. We look to you for better.

To Fans of the Original Mercedes Gullwing

Monique Chartier

... who are now sputtering, as I did, that the latest addition to the Mercedes Benz line will require us to tack on a modifier (i.e., "original") when referencing that marvelous vehicle, Dan Neil of the Los Angeles Times offers a little salve inasmuch as he could not keep out of his review of the 2011 SLS AMG Gullwing an accurate - and therefore flattering - look at the 300 SL Gullwing. (Aficionados of the older Aston Martin are specifically advised not to click on the link.)

Semi related item: Birdman of Alcatraz Birdbrain of Texas

Rhode Island Republican Party Platform Draft

Carroll Andrew Morse

Anchor Rising has been provided with a draft of the platform document nearing approval by the Rhode Island Republican Party. To be formally adopted, the platform still needs to pass votes of the party's Executive Committee and then the State Central Committee, and it is possible that some amending could occur at those stages. And with that disclaimer out of the way, we can move immediately to letting the current version of the platform speak for itself...

Rhode Island’s Path from the Wilderness – a Platform for Jobs, Change, and Growth

Preamble – The Republican Party of Rhode Island believes that every American is endowed with the inherent rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We believe that our state must remain anchored by those key principles while developing new and innovative solutions to meet the challenges of the times in which we live.

Rhode Island is today facing the worst economic downturn in over half a century, with unemployment at record levels and the state budget badly out of balance. The national economic situation has been one cause of this, but the severity of the recession in Rhode Island, with over 13% of the working population jobless, can be directly traced to the high tax, union friendly, special interest focused economic policies of the Democratic legislature of the past 15 years.

Rhode Islanders need jobs, now. Rhode Island needs to refashion its economic policies, immediately, to attract businesses to the state, and to encourage existing businesses to invest in new job creation here at home. We need a state budget that is in balance, which has tax policies and rates which are the most competitive in the region.

Rhode Island needs Change, now. Business as usual means the death of our state economy for another generation. We cannot continue to appease union insiders with high taxes, high benefits, and out-of-date government structures when the regular working people of the state are losing jobs and the state its economic vitality. We must take a new path, one which leads out of the wilderness to a state of stable full employment, balanced budgets, and sustainable growth. We must do the following:

Jobs for Rhode Islanders
Rhode Island will see sustainable job growth start only when it is perceived by the business community to be a stable, tax competitive, low cost area in which to locate operations. We must:
  1. Reduce corporate income taxes to zero as recommended by the Governor’s Tax Study Group in 2009.
  2. Reduce the personal income tax to no higher than 5% to bring it in line with our neighboring states.
  3. Eliminate costly and time consuming regulatory hurdles that make our companies uncompetitive.
  4. Reinvigorate state support of higher education to create a highly qualified workforce.
  5. Continue to promote research at our local Universities that will lead to good paying jobs in the state.
  6. Fix our roads and bridges to improve our economic viability.
  7. Restructure the EDC to support both new and existing businesses.

Cut Spending, Balance the Budget
The Rhode Island governments at all levels must reduce spending, restructure operations, and live within the prudent limits set by our job creating revenue and tax policies. We must:
  1. Limit public sector wages, benefits, and co-pays to match those in the private sector.
  2. Reduce out of control state pension costs by moving to a defined contribution retirement plan for all state employees.
  3. Increase the minimum retirement age for state employees to 63 and eliminate cost of living adjustments (COLA) on pensions.
  4. Eliminate all unfunded mandates on our cities and towns.
  5. Oppose automatic contract extension for all public sector employees. All contracts should be fully negotiable on expiration.
  6. Consolidate state and local municipal and school functions in a common sense way to eliminate unnecessary duplication and cost.
  7. Bring our welfare benefits in line with neighboring states.

Make Better Health Insurance Options Available to Rhode Islanders
Rhode Islanders will get the best, most affordable healthcare results when competition among insurance providers is maximized, costs are carefully managed, and malpractice legal abuse is curbed. We must:
  1. Promote competition among multiple health insurance providers to lower costs to RI citizens.
  2. Ensure continuation of private health plans for any and all individuals, families, and businesses.
  3. Keep health insurance premiums for individuals and businesses fully deductible for RI Taxes
  4. Enact medical malpractice reform to reduce costs and improve consumer healthcare choices.

Get Better Results for What We Spend on Public Education
Despite one of the highest per student education expenses in the country, Rhode Island continues to have below average test scores and many underperforming schools. We must:
  1. Evaluate all teachers using rigorous performance standards and compensate them on a merit basis.
  2. Give school principals the authority to make teacher assignments primarily on the basis of teacher qualifications and certifications.
  3. Oppose binding arbitration for teacher contracts.
  4. Make available to every child in a failing school district a scholarship worth 75% of the cost of their public education.

Preserve and Use our Environmental Resources for Competitive Advantage
Narragansett Bay, our coastal location, and the natural beauty of our state give us great advantages. We must:
  1. Rapidly develop wind and other cost effective alternative energy sources within Rhode Island to lower the cost of energy to all Rhode Islanders and Rhode Island businesses.
  2. Develop Quonset as a deep water port to create jobs, promote alternative energy, and create investment for Rhode Island.
  3. Sustain Narragansett Bay as our most valuable resource for tourism, recreation, and commerce.

Increase Government Accountability at All Levels
Our state government continues to be plagued by anti-democratic concentrations of power and conflicts of interest at all levels. We must:
  1. End political dynasties in the state by imposing term limits in our general assembly.
  2. Eliminate the straight party master lever voting option in our elections.
  3. Strengthen the ethics commission so it can aggressively pursue conflicts of interest in the General Assembly and reduce corruption.

In the long standing tradition of New England Republicans, we respect the right of all of our candidates to hold and express their own considered views on social issues.

November 14, 2009

So is He Claiming to be Not Disconnected?

Monique Chartier

Justin references a comment by Senator Whitehouse.

To finish up, Whitehouse spoke about the apparent disconnect from reality that is exhibited by the Republican Party, whether it be about health care reform, or the climate bill, or same-sex marriage.

On all of these issues, Senator Whitehouse has indicated that he will vote "yea" if/when the corresponding bill arrives at the Senate.

Yet, less than a majority of Americans support health care reform [Rasmussen], only 35% support the cap and trade bill that passed the US House [Rasmussen] and 39% favor same sex marriage [CNN].

Just because the question is somewhat obvious does not diminish the importance of asking it. Does Senator Whitehouse purport to be "connected" to the American people with his contrary stances on these issues? (Defenders of the senator who may wish to pirouette away from the nub of the question are reminded in advance that the standard in this case has been established by the senator and is, paraphrasing, connectedness to the American people, not principle or a perception of what is best for the country.)

Issues-Based Politics and Government Philosophy

Justin Katz

Bishop Thomas Tobin makes a fortuitous juxtaposition in a recent edition of his "Without a Doubt" column (emphasis added):

Therefore I'm looking for candidates who will explain their stance on the dignity of human life and how that translates into action. I want candidates to address the value of marriage and family, and explain to me how homosexual marriages won't erode the traditional underpinnings of our society. I'd like to find candidates who’ll support the comprehensive reform of the health care system in a way that preserves important moral values. I'd like to see candidates embrace authentic educational choice and describe to the public how such competition would be good for our community. And I want candidates who can repair the economy and maintain fiscal discipline without placing the burden upon or targeting the unemployed, the homeless, the indigent elderly or the immigrant.

Certainly, there are "comprehensive reforms" of healthcare that would point in a direction of increased consumer choice and autonomy — which I believe to more fully conform with the Church's understanding of reality than increased socialization. However, none of the plans currently being described with that phrase are otherwise than degrees of government takeovers and mandates. In other words, they're precisely of a kind with the political theory that created the education regime into which the bishop would like to introduce choice.

It's a central plank in Christian social teaching that ends do not justify means. The end of helping ailing people does not justify the cost of diminished freedom of conscience and autonomy of action inherent in direct government manipulation of the society any more than the objective of ensuring an educated population did in the past.

It seems to me that the quality of our students' education has been on a steadily declining course, under government watch, and that the majority of young Americans are educated in an environment in which officials are explicitly forbidden from behaving as if it is more likely than not that God exists. Regrettably, it's not a topic that I've had the time to explore in detail, but I would hope that the Catholic Bishops would devote some resources and prayer to the question of what effect the Democrats' "comprehensive healthcare reforms" would have on Catholic hospitals, not to mention Catholic employers that cover employees health insurance... even if there are conscience clauses and restrictions on support for abortion.

Did Somebody Mention Propaganda?

Justin Katz

Curious to note that today marks the third time in four days that the Providence Journal has run the governor-as-bigot story on the front page. And unless I've missed it, the paper's reporters have yet to indicate that they've any interest in disrupting that there is nobody in Rhode Island whose views fall within any proximity to the governor's stance. Indeed, for today's article, Steve Peoples sought comment from Marriage Equality Rhode Island, but didn't apparently bother to call the National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island.

We'll see whether the newspaper's advocacy carries over to the big Sunday edition.

Anyone Else Got a Sinking Feeling?

Justin Katz

And the latest Friday news drop arrives:

In a move both politically and legally risky, the Obama administration plans to put on trial the professed mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and four alleged accomplices in a lower Manhattan courthouse.

The venue for the biggest trial in the age of terrorism means prosecutors must balance difficult issues such as rough treatment of detainees and sensitive intelligence-gathering with the Justice Department's desire to prove that the federal courts are able to handle terrorism cases.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced the decision Friday to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to trial in a courtroom barely a thousand yards from the site of the World Trade Center's twin towers they are accused of destroying.

It'd be a comfort even to believe that the Obama administration at least has a sense of the fire with which they're playing. Folks, the inmates are running the asylum.

Michelle Malkin's got details of what to expect, including this summary from Andy McCarthy:

So: We are now going to have a trial that never had to happen for defendants who have no defense. And when defendants have no defense for their own actions, there is only one thing for their lawyers to do: put the government on trial in hopes of getting the jury (and the media) spun up over government errors, abuses and incompetence. That is what is going to happen in the trial of KSM et al. It will be a soapbox for al-Qaeda's case against America. Since that will be their "defense," the defendants will demand every bit of information they can get about interrogations, renditions, secret prisons, undercover operations targeting Muslims and mosques, etc., and — depending on what judge catches the case — they are likely to be given a lot of it. The administration will be able to claim that the judge, not the administration, is responsible for the exposure of our defense secrets. And the circus will be played out for all to see — in the middle of the war. It will provide endless fodder for the transnational Left to press its case that actions taken in America's defense are violations of international law that must be addressed by foreign courts. And the intelligence bounty will make our enemies more efficient at killing us.

The question comes to mind whether this stunt will have a higher American death toll than the insanity of continued fealty to the suicidal mandates of vielfalt uber alles. (That's meant to be "diversity above all," in case I'm abusing the Internet translator.)

November 13, 2009

An Autumn Game

Justin Katz

Oh, happy day! It's been a rough week on a number of fronts, but not only have we made it to Friday, but Ferry Halim has a new game up on his Orisinal site, which is a more rare occurrence than it ought to be.

"Drifting Afternoon," the new game, doesn't have the addictive gameplay of "Winterbells" or "Monkeyslide," and it doesn't have the clear, achievable end that awaits in "High Delivery," "The Runaway Train," "The Bottom of the Sea," or "The Amazing Dare-Dozen," but it's certainly got Halim's trademark sensibility — soothing and somehow meaningful.

Never a Compelling Argument

Justin Katz

I'm left with the depressing conclusion that Brian Hull actually believes this:

To finish up, Whitehouse spoke about the apparent disconnect from reality that is exhibited by the Republican Party, whether it be about health care reform, or the climate bill, or same-sex marriage. Their strategy is to foment fear and worry by relying on propaganda and appeals to emotion, rather than reason, common sense, or reality.

The evidence for a fair play turnabout is too voluminous to make any choices. You want to talk propaganda related to gay rights? Shall we catalog the invariably positive presentation of gays in popular culture alongside the dark stupidity attributed to traditionalists? Or how about emotionalism? Look no further than Bob Kerr, today:

This is a governor denying homosexuals dignity in death, denying them the very human right to bring love and grief together in a final tribute. It's cruel, heartless and despicable — not to mention predictable.

Agree or disagree (in any degree), it's clear that Kerr is appealing, here, to emotion, not reason. Or how about fear mongering? Well, turn to the letters section:

I am despondent over the direction of this country. The Tea Party protesters, while by no means the majority, will terrify the ignorant, which in turn will intimidate our elected officials.

We are turning into Nazi Germany.

Clearly, neither side has the market cornered on reckless rhetoric and bad argumentation, but that's the point: Whitehouse and Hull either believe or are cynically perpetuating a Mickey Mouse view of political reality: If only we could ignore those bad people, then goodness would shine through! Whatever you do, don't be lured into believing that they might actually have honorable intentions and make a point or two worth considering.

It's an understandable tendency, to be sure, but inasmuch as Whitehouse is a U.S. Senator and Hull is sitting in a quasi-significant seat in Rhode Island's political scene, it threatens to continue to define civic discourse.

A Fishy Kind of Reform

Justin Katz

Andrew and Matt mulled evidence, on Wednesday night's Matt Allen Show, that there might be ulterior motives to current versions of healthcare reform. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Ain't No Wrong Now When It's Right

Justin Katz

Further campaign finance evidence proves pretty decisively that the Moderate Party's main misstep was to fall into one of the many traps that Rhode Island's political establishment has laid for those who might consider challenging their reign by methods that they haven't rigged. From page 30 of the Campaign Finance Manual (PDF) provided by the Board of Elections (emphasis added):

Notwithstanding the limits specified above, an additional ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00) within a calendar year may be contributed by an individual, political party committee or political action committee to a political party committee to be utilized solely for organizational and party building activities but which shall not be used by the political party committee for contributions to candidates for public office. Funds contributed to a political party committee for organizational and party building activities shall not be used for monetary or “in-kind” contributions to candidates for public office.

If one accepts that it is, indeed, "party building" for a town committee to send money to the state party, then Ken Block did absolutely nothing wrong. It's very Rhode Island to fault people for not following rules that the players simply know, among themselves, to apply, but it's not a very reasonable approach.

Which is not to say Block shouldn't take a political hit for this. On my end, I'm disappointed that he's amenable to preventing future activists from employing the methods that he apparently found to be necessary. He should declare campaign finance laws to be what they are: arbitrary and helpful to incumbents and powerful people.

Folks who actually support the Moderate Party, as such, should be disappointed that, with all the coverage and momentum that the group has gained over the past year, it still has to dip into the personal fortune of its founder.

Re: What Sort of Hope Are We Talking About?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Believe it or not, I think that Justin was being too kind to Rhode Island's leadership class yesterday, when he said that…

Strictly speaking, it probably isn't accurate to say that the "housing crisis" caused the recession, in Rhode Island. Rather, the housing bubble disguised a weak economy that would otherwise have begun its dramatic slide several years earlier, two years ago, there were already numerous indicators showing Rhode Island to be an economic basket case…
…as URI Economics Professor Professor Leonard Lardaro just noted" URI Economics Professor Professor Leonard Lardaro just noted, while Rhode Island's economy has been contracting, the national gross domestic product has been growing by 4%.

…as the National Governors' Association noted in June, Rhode Island was one of only three states that couldn't cover its beginning-of-the-year projected spending for fiscal year 2007 -- if Rhode Island's fiscal problems are rooted primarily in a national slowdown, then why are 47 other states able to stay within their projected budgets when Rhode Island can't?

…as the Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council noted in their analysis of Rhode Island's current operating budget, spending from general revenues in fiscal year 2008 increased by 5.7% over the previous year. How exactly is it reasonable to assume that it will take something as dramatic as a recession to prevent revenues from automatically "keeping pace"...with 5.7% expenditure growth?

Rhode Island's problems weren't disguised, as much as they were ignored. Indeed, for the better part of decade at least, Rhode Island leaders have been responding to obvious signs of fiscal and economic peril by saying hey we're Rhode Island, we're destined by forces beyond any control to be a little slower, a little more expensive, a little more inefficient than other places.

Whether you want to call it the "What Can We Do?" attitude prevalent amongst RI public officials (Justin's description) or the "putrid Rhode Island gene" (WPRO host Matt Allen's description) or an endogenous attitude towards the surrounding world (URI Economics Professor Leonard Lardaro's description), it is these kinds of attitudes towards the possibility and the necessity of reform held by too-many Rhode Islanders in power, and not immutable iron laws of economics, that cement Rhode Island's position as first in and last out of economic problems.

Death, Taxes, and the Impossibility of Separation

Justin Katz

In an essay in the current issue of The RI Catholic, I attempt to link my conversion from nihilism to Catholicism with the impossibility of truly separating church and state by way of introducing my heretofore monthly column in the publication:

Faith-filled or faithless, no such existential philosophies can be sopped off the skin like bath water. They have consequences. They show on the faces that we present to the world.

Moreover, they determine what sort of obligations we acknowledge. One hears often about a separation of church and state, but there can be no such thing. Even a culture that takes the impetuous stand that nobody has a right to impose restrictions will paradoxically find itself knocking down doors in search of hegemony, lest somebody, somewhere tells somebody else what to do. Even a government that preaches an individual autonomy to "define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life," as the Supreme Court put it when finding a Constitutional right to sodomy in Lawrence v. Texas, will collect taxes and allocate the dollars by its own mysterious process.

Technical Issues

Justin Katz

Our Web host upgraded our hardware and software, and most everything seems to have gone smoothly. For some reason, however, I'm not able to access Anchor Rising — the page itself — using my Cox cable modem. With my mobile Internet modem, however, I've got no problems.

Are other Cox users able to access the site? Anybody else having strange issues?

November 12, 2009

Mayor McKee on an Educational Funding Policy

Carroll Andrew Morse

In this week's Valley Breeze, Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee lays the groundwork for an educational "funding formula" proposal that looks to be substantially different from the other proposals that have been recently considered for Rhode Island. The key passage in the op-ed is this one…

Three attributes mark good governmental funding policy at any level: 1) the funding is equitable; 2) it's transparent; and 3) it rewards the right kinds of behavior. Our current state funding policies bear none of these hallmarks.
Neither of the options currently before the state legislature, the so-called Ajello or Gallo bills, contain anything like this third provision; they are simple redistributive plans based on tax rates, property values and theoretical estimates of per-pupil costs that give no consideration to factors like spending efficiency or educational outcomes.

With regards to the first point, alas, the fact that the term "equitable" has lost all meaning in the context of the RI "funding formula" debate -- officials from communities already receiving big amounts of state aid use "equitable" to mean they should receive even more, while officials from communities receiving lesser amounts use it to mean that per-pupil funding should be more, well, equitable -- makes it difficult to determine exactly what is meant there. Mayor McKee does discuss the concept of funding students instead of school-systems, but at least in this op-ed, stops well short of endorsing a true money-follows-the-student funding program.

Stay tuned. As anyone who has followed the development of Mayoral Academies in Rhode Island knows, Mayor McKee has shown a preeminent ability for getting changes that he's set his sights on implemented at the State House…

The Moderate Loophole Is Moral... If Only Block Would Admit It

Justin Katz

As it happens, I spent more than a few moments pondering the statutory language in which Moderate Party founder Ken Block found a campaign financing loophole:

17-25-10.1 Political contributions – Limitations. – (a) No person, other than the candidate to his or her own campaign, nor any political action committee shall make a contribution or contributions to any candidate, as defined by § 17-25-3, or political action committee or political party committee which in the aggregate exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000) within a calendar year, nor shall any person make contributions to more than one state or local candidate, to more than one political action committee, or to more than one political party committee, or to a combination of state and local candidates and political action committees and political party committees which in the aggregate exceed ten thousand dollars ($10,000) within a calendar year, nor shall any political action committee make such contributions which in the aggregate exceed twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) within a calendar year, nor shall any candidate or any political action committee or any political party committee accept a contribution or contributions which in the aggregate exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000) within a calendar year from any one person or political action committee.

(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of subdivision (1) of this subsection, a person or political action committee or political party committee may contribute an amount which in the aggregate does not exceed ten thousand dollars ($10,000) within a calendar year to a political party committee, which funds can be utilized for organizational and party building activities, but shall not be used for contributions to candidates state and local for public office.

My impression of the intent is for subdivision (2) essentially to allow a person or committee to donate his, her, or its maximum to one local committee. Block's argument is that the word "notwithstanding" overrides everything in subdivision (1) (the first paragraph), and as a matter of the law, that's clearly correct. Indeed, one must admit that my impression has no textual basis.

Of course, reading the whole of section 10.1, one is struck by the sloppiness of the legislation, which raises the relevant point, in my mind: The whole endeavor is dumb and overreaching. I'd be a whole lot more inclined to support Block — in this and in general — if he'd just come out and say, "These laws are inappropriate, and I feel no moral compunction about poking holes in them." Instead, he offers this, from Ed Fitzpatrick's column, today:

Common Cause Rhode Island executive director John M. Marion said, "I don't think the law, as it's written, prevents [what Block did]." But he thinks it did go against the spirit of the law. He said the law aims to place a $10,000 limit on the amount one person can give to a party, but with 39 cities and towns in Rhode Island, Block has found a way to funnel up to $390,000 to a party.

"I think we should plug the hole that Ken Block found in the dam," Marion said.

Money has found its way around such dams for years. "So that's why we have embraced public financing," Marion said. "Instead of trying to stick your finger in the dike, you create a new structure and chase the special-interest money out by putting clean money in."

Block said he supports publicly financed elections. "Ultimately, that's the right way to go," he said. "But you don't unilaterally go in and operate in ways you'd like everyone else to do it." ...

But Marion noted there's a reason for limits on money in politics: "So no one citizen can have an outsized voice in our political system. If the ideal is one person, one vote, money can act as a magnifier."

Actually, my objection is more directly to Marion: Lot's of things are "magnifiers," and money probably isn't the most insidious of them. Fame is a magnifier. Media access is a magnifier. So, it winds up being not just money that must be curtailed, but political speech. Why not take the next step and insist that all candidates must run anonymously? That way we might avoid any more Al Frankens.

Attempting to bottle political genies is a fools errand that only winds up giving advantage to people whose advantage can't be captured and who have the resources to exploit loopholes or work around the law — spirit and letter.

A Mayoral Academy for the West Bay?

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to the Cranston Herald's Meg Fraser, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is interested in bringing the "Mayoral Academy" model of education reform, currently being spearheaded by Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee, to Cranston and, if we assume that it would follow the regional design used by Mayor McKee, to the entire West Bay…

“I definitely want to start a mayoral academy in Cranston,” [Mayor Fung] said….

“With the mayoral academy you’re not going to have those handcuffs that are going to tie you down. You’re not bound by a lot of the contracts that you have with the traditional teachers contracts,” he said.

The school he would like to establish would use merit or outcome-based pay for teachers and, in line with the recent announcement by Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist, would not take seniority into consideration.

“With the charter schools, you just can’t take anyone. You’ve got to have someone who buys into the philosophy,” he said. “It’s not for every student and it’s not for every teacher.”

What Sort of Hope Are We Talking About?

Justin Katz

The person who emailed me Ted Nesi's Providence Business News article about the Pew research study that Andrew mentioned this morning began his email, "Hope you're well. Off..." At first glance, I misread that as, "Hope you're well off." That might be a fitting new motto for the state. (Is it too late to get it on the next ballot?)

Frankly, I'm not sure that even the folks sounding sirens about Rhode Island's economy and government deficits have the right mindset to address the problem. As Nesi quotes from the report:

"The country's smallest state has big problems," the report said. "It was one of the first states to fall into the recession because of the housing crisis, and it may be one of the last to emerge, hampered by high tax rates, persistent state budget deficits and a lack of high-tech jobs."

Strictly speaking, it probably isn't accurate to say that the "housing crisis" caused the recession, in Rhode Island. Rather, the housing bubble disguised a weak economy that would otherwise have begun its dramatic slide several years earlier.

Trillo Almost Officially Out, But Not Yet Backing Smith

Carroll Andrew Morse

Russell J. Moore's story in Tuesday's Warwick Beacon about State Representative Joseph Trillo's almost final departure from the Governor's race contains a number of interesting details.

  1. Asked if he was endorsing not-yet-official Republican candidate Rory Smith…
    Trillo said he wasn’t prepared to make an endorsement in the race just yet, despite the fact that East Greenwich businessman Rory Smith has jumped head first into the race.

    “I’ve heard a lot of good things about Smith, but it’s still too early for me to make up my mind at this point,” said Trillo.

  2. Rep. Trillo also says that because he was never sure that he would run, he never engaged in any serious fundraising -- and that other candidates unsure if they are running shouldn't be raising money under gubernatorial pretenses either…
    Trillo criticized Providence Mayor David Cicilline and Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts, both of which he said raised money under the guise of running for governor only to pull out of the race.

    “They should have to give back their donations,” said Trillo.

  3. The article also has information on a recent staffing announcement made by probable Republican candidate Rory Smith (begging the question of whether a "probable" candidate can have a staff, but there seems to be no avoiding this in the 2010 Rhode Island gubernatorial election)…
    Smith…found time to issue a press release saying that he’s hired professional campaign consultants and a national polling firm. The Norway Hill Consulting Firm, a Massachusetts-based firm led by David Carney, the political director under George H. W. Bush. Smith also hired The Tarrance Group as his pollsters.

    Dave Sackett, who will serve as Smith’s lead pollster, said in a press release, “people are looking for new ideas and new ways to approach the problems that we face. As someone who isn’t beholden to the special interests, Rory will bring a fresh perspective to state government.”

The California of New England, but Not in a Good Way

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here is the Christian Science Monitor's bleak summary of the results of a rapidly-circulating Pew Center on the States report, which says that 9 other states are facing California-like fiscal disaster in the near term…

The “great recession” may be over, but its impact on state governments is still unfurling – and could threaten America’s fragile economic recovery…

The Pew Center on the States released a report concluding that nine states have joined California in a condition of “fiscal peril.” Their budget troubles could cause a round of job cuts and tax hikes in states from Florida to Illinois and Oregon.

Rhode Island is one of the nine, achieving a score of 28 out of a possible 30 points for Californianess.

A link to the entire report and report summary is available here.

November 11, 2009

Carcieri (not that one, the other one) on EP - and RI - Politics

Monique Chartier

Extended excerpts transcribed from Justin's recording of the remarks of East Providence School Committee Chairman Anthony Carcieri at the EPGOP Fall Fundraiser last Thursday.

Most state senators are not so tactless or ill-advised as to attend a council meeting of the municipality that they represent and berate that body for attempting to budget responsibly. This, remarkably, appears to have happened at the November 3 [beginning at 1:57:00] City Council meeting in East Providence. That charming (local) incident aside, Mr. Carcieri's analysis and advice, while originally directed at East Providence, resonates for cities and towns throughout the state.

The school department ... it's primary function obviously is to provide an excellent education to the kids of East Providence. And we have to do that in an affordable way. That's the primary function. It's not about politicians. It's not about the unions. It's not about the teachers. It's about the kids. Sounds corny because everybody uses "it's about the kids". But there's a lot of poeple who use that phrase "it's about the kids" when, in fact, it's about money.

* * * *

We would like the support of our senators. We'd like the support of our representatives concerning this binding arbitration, perpetual contract. If that ever gets in, I guarantee everybody here, it's a wrap. Done.

The school committee runs the school department which represents over 50% of your tax bill. Your tax bill will go through the roof. And Joe Larisa and Bob Cusack and the majority on the City Council, they're fighting hard not to let that happen. But I was at the City Council meeting the other night and I watched our delegation come in and I watched them drop bombs on our city Council and indirectly to our School Committee. That's not the kind of support we need.

So there's been a lot of talk here tonight about state politics, national politics. That's all great. I'm just working on the j.v. squad right here in the city. And I think all politics should start in the cities and towns and work their way up rather than from the top down. Because if we get things squared away in East Providence, we'll get some people that we can run for the Senate and the House ... and maybe we can start changing the complexion of things at the State House. Because until the State House releases its grip with the union, unions plural, the State of Rhode Island is going nowhere. And this is the 900 pound elephant that's in the room that nobody wants to talk about. Nobody wants to talk about it. They talk about tourism, they talk about this, they talk about businesses and container ports. That's all great. Distill it down to the simple stuff. The unions, the politicians up at the State House are like this. They are strangling the state. The state is going down, down.

And nobody will say it's that. They'll talk about everything else except that. That's the big elephant in the room. So start calling up your senators and reps. Start sending them letters. And anybody who's connected with the unions, vote 'em out.

The Future of Healthcare Reform, If It's Built on Top of the Employer-Based System

Carroll Andrew Morse

An underreported aspect of the health reform proposals being advanced by Congressional Democrats (in both the House and Senate) is the conscious intent to maintain the current system of employment-based health insurance as the basis of the American healthcare system. Nobody implementing a healthcare system from the ground-up, from either the left or the right, would design a system that links health insurance eligibility to employment as American laws and regulations currently do, yet a majority of Congressional Democrats are firmly committed to extending into the immediate future, at least, the disproportionate role played by employers in access to health insurance.

Support for employer-based healthcare may make frighteningly raw political sense, if enough people have bought into the mistaken idea that employer-based healthcare is something that they receive for "free" (when in reality, it is no more free than any other part of employee compensation) and that tax-code and regulatory changes intended to remove the advantages that corporate health insurance purchasers have over individual insurance purchasers amount to corporate health plans being taken away by the government. Nobody likes to be told that something they already have is going to be taken away.

But I fear that an even more cynical calculation may underlie the Democratic commitment to employer-based health insurance.

We know that very few seriously believe that the Democratic reform proposals, in their current form, are going to truly reduce medical costs or control medical inflation. There just aren't that many convincing examples to point to where Federalizing regulation, providing subsidies and imposing mandates have historically reduced the cost of anything. Yet, Democrats are proceeding untroubled by this, mainly because of 1) a general detachment from fiscal reality that is the hallmark of the modern Democratic party and 2) a sincere faith that government can achieve any goal given enough power and treasure -- give government infinite resources and it will do infinite good!

Ultimately, the economics of the Democrats' plans depend upon cost-controls being imposed from the top-down, after the government has amassed enough power over healthcare to impose them. But Dems are not keen on explaining this aspect of their plan to the public -- they are quite fuzzy on what exactly the mechanism to control costs will be. So who will they blame, when it turns out that creating a government-run insurance company and new bureaucracies to oversee an employment-based healthcare system, in order to cover more people than are covered now without any reduction in quality of medicine, fails to reduce costs?

I suspect the blame will be directed towards the middlemen, to the employers placed by legislation and regulation between individuals and health insurers. Advocates for ever-increasing government power over healthcare will argue that their well-intentioned plans haven't worked because of choices made by greedy employers (who maintain disproportionate influence over healthcare choices under Democratic health reform plan) and that if more people can be moved into more directly government-controlled programs, then everything will improve as "planned".

In the end, the Democrats are setting up the American people for a choice between letting employers make their health insurance decisions for them and letting government make their health insurance decisions for them. If people are interested in a third option -- allowing individuals make their own health insurance decisions, without substantial interference from government or employers -- they need to let their representatives in Congress know that they want that choice, because the Democrats are in the process of creating a health care framework for the United States that could soon make this into an impossibility.

Medicare for None

Justin Katz

Howard Walker, of Rockville, had a good letter in the Projo in response to the "Medicare for All" component of Froma Harrop's single-minded theme, of late. Unfortunately, the letter doesn't appear to be online, but here's it's key point:

Ms. Harrop never tells us how Medicare for All would contain health-care costs. In Rhode Island, Medicare "contains" costs by paying hospitals and doctors less than 90 percent of the actual cost of treating Medicare patients. Private insurers make up the difference: They pay more than the actual cost of treating patients and pass that expense on to their policy holders in higher premiums.

That is, Medicare doesn't "contain" costs at all: It just hides them by shifting them to private insurance, which subsidizes Medicare. ...

There is no way private insurers can compete in such a marketplace. They will go out of business, leaving the government as the "single payer" — exactly the result left-wingers want but know they cannot sell to the public honestly.

How are Medicare and Medicare for All going to contain health-care costs once there are no private insurers left to shift them to? ... Medicare is already $35 trillion in the hole.

As with much else, when it comes to government involvement in the economy and our lives, it sounds good at first blush — and one can even get multiple 700-word columns whacking the same topic — but it doesn't withstand scrutiny.

Ah, Technology

Justin Katz

Just FYI: Some time in the middle of the night, my email stopped working. I'm trying to get it up and running, but in the meantime, that may explain my lack of response to any messages that you've sent.

"Why Do I Live Here?"

Justin Katz

That's a question that Rhode Islanders must be asking themselves almost on a daily basis.

It's not just that the November Revenue Estimating Conference set the baseline for the current year's budget deficit at $200 million. It's not just that, but for one-time fixes, the state government would have run deficits for several years even before the recession. It's not just that, as recently as two weeks ago, the General Assembly continued to pass legislation restrictive of businesses and the economy. It's that legislators still get away with junk like this, from the first link above:

"It's extremely bleak," said House Finance Committee chairman Steven M. Costantino, considered the legislature's budget architect. "Let's hope at some point this stabilizes."

Hope? That's it? People are losing their jobs, their homes, their health insurance because of you, Representative Costantino. Because of the damage that you have done to this state — in part (but only in part) because of your utter incompetence. If your constituents in Providence had any civic awareness whatsoever, they'd give your seat to a dog from the local animal shelter before returning you to the State House.

"Let's hope this stabilizes." News flash: You're a representative — the chairman of the Finance Committee — and Rhode Island's government is the fundamental contributor to our problems. How about you set your sights on stabilizing it.

Was there no one whom Providence Journal reporter Steve Peoples could contact for the article to call Costantino on this?

Talking About Merit Pay for Teachers

Justin Katz

The footage from last night's discussion of merit pay by the Tiverton School Committee begins with Tiverton Citizens for Change President David Nelson and continues in the extended entry:

November 10, 2009

Merit in a Meeting

Justin Katz

So I'm at the Tiverton School Committee meeting that begins the town's discussion on merit pay for teachers. Tiverton Citizens for Change President David Nelson proposed a workshop to discuss the topic, and even just the conversation sparked thereby illustrates the need for a more substantial forum to discuss strategy, funding, tie-ins with the state, and so on. The motion to set up a workshop passed unanimously.

An interesting note: the audience consists of five TCC members (me among them), the wife of one, and Newport Daily News reporter Marcia Pobzeznik. No union folks. No teachers. That's peculiar even when there's nothing at all on the agenda.

Well, hey, if they want us to control the field on this one, we're happy to oblige.

Some points that have already been raised for thought:

  • In Denver, merit pay took years to consider and pass.
  • The Chariho district in Rhode Island has a clause in the latest contract to implement merit pay, with $400,000 to be put toward the result.

Individual Assessment, Individual Allocation

Justin Katz

'Round here, we tend to be skeptical of buzzwords, generally, and "fair funding formula" talk, specifically, but I like what Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee says here:

A strong education funding policy would be based on individual student need, establishing the base level of state support every student requires and providing additional support through an equitable and transparent formula for special needs that require costly additional services.

This measurable amount of funding would follow a child to any Rhode Island public school parents choose. Only in this way can we get taxpayers' dollars where they were intended to go. Only in this way can we avoid the practically comic system under which we now live, where a district can continue to receive tens of millions of dollars for thousands of students who no longer attend its schools or, in many cases, even live in the district, while another district can face an influx of costly students and not receive one additional dime in state aid. Only in this way can the state stop providing fiscal incentives for bad results like high dropout rates.

Unless the money follows the student — wherever his or her parents wish to spend it — Rhode Islanders can't even trust the evaluations whereby students are determined to be "special needs," because the assessors have financial incentive to return a verdict of "yes." The only way forward is to increase parental freedom. And that doesn't mean "regionalization," so that the same core infrastructure can protect the object of its gluttony; it means "competition," so that districts begin to think of students and communities as the granters of revenue, not merely the raw materials that can be transformed into money by the machinery of politics and bureaucracy.

Looking at a Big "L"

Justin Katz

How fast can economists downshift expectations? Well, in just a few weeks, we've gone from this:

[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.

To this:

The state will shed an estimated 9,000 more jobs in the coming year, and unemployment rates will keep creeping up, hitting a high of 14.1 percent in the second quarter of 2010. Housing prices, meanwhile, will struggle in the short term before beginning a slow climb, starting in 2011, a report from the New England Economic Partnership, a nonpartisan forecasting group, predicts.

Of course, by way of assessing credibility, here's what the same crack squad was saying a year ago:

The latest jobs report is grim even in light of the economic forecast released yesterday by the nonprofit New England Economic Partnership. The NEEP economists predicted that during the next two years, Rhode Island would lose nearly 15,000 more jobs and unemployment would hit 10 percent, probably by the end of next year.

Mazze says we're looking at a U-shaped recovery. Face reality, Rhode Island: Until you radically change the way this state operates (and who operates it), we're looking at an indefinite L.

Caprio Confirms (But Doesn't Announce)

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to a Steve Peoples article in today's Projo, General Treasurer Frank Caprio is now officially a candidate for Rhode Island Governor…

Ending months of speculation, General Treasurer Frank T. Caprio on Monday confirmed that he intends to run for governor in 2010, joining a field of political heavyweights that already includes a former U.S. senator and the state attorney general…
…though his formal announcement won't come until next year…
His campaign will spend $100,000 this month to run political advertisements on every major television network beginning Tuesday.

“This is preparation of a formal announcement during the first quarter of 2010,”

A Sales Tax by Another Name

Justin Katz

Senators Frank Maher and Leonidas Raptakis were on Matt Allen's Violent Roundtable last Friday night, and the trio spent a bit of time discussing the potential gross receipts tax. As I wrote a few weeks ago, at bottom, this scheme merely shifts the tax burden to businesses, probably to the benefit of the wealthy. Be the gimmicks what they may — even if the state eliminates the sales tax or income tax — I just don't see how shifting the tax burden thus can be a positive development for the state's business environment.

Perhaps I'm looking at it too plainly.

The senators mentioned that the plan that they've heard would exempt businesses up to $600,000, but inasmuch as "gross receipts" means total revenue before expenses, it really doesn't take much to reach that total. They also suggested that the tax would apply more broadly than the sales tax does — including to service providers of all kinds — which makes me wonder whether that isn't the underlying purpose, for some.

The truth is that I simply don't trust the General Assembly to talk about a tax increase, even with a promise of a decrease elsewhere, because I don't believe that the powers who be won't work it out in such a way as to simply take more.

November 9, 2009

Talkin' Education Blues

Justin Katz

If I were a legislator of the "there oughtta be a law" sort, I think I'd put forward a law dictating that public meetings seeking citizen participation can't start before 6:30 p.m.

I'm at the Education Commissioner's event in Warren (PDF), and in typical non-Rhode Islander fashion, I came to an intersection with no signs in the wilds of Warren and followed the path that all the cars were taking. That was the wrong way.

Not that I hurt the attendance, though, the place is pretty well packed. Commissioner Gist's staff sat me at a small-group discussion table consisting mainly (as far as I can tell) of teachers and school committee members.

6:58 p.m.

The small groups are now sharing their key points with the room. This is all well and good, and I suppose some ideas might come out of it, although I have a hard time believing that the folks at the Department of Education couldn't come up with most of this stuff on their own.

Functionally, what is the purpose of these things? Is it the business/organizer thing... essentially just to keep moving?

7:33 p.m.

Two thoughts:

1. Bristol/Warren people like the idea of regionalization. My response is: great, from district to district, but it should be bottom up, not top down.
2. These forums are, well, dangerous. Everybody's talking about what programs are needed — all day kindergarten, universal pre-K, programs to involve parents, technology — the "then what" is the issue. You can see how the people in this room tend to go out into the communities with the notion just to "get more resources." They're not really addressing the core problem, which is the continual bleeding of limited resources into one component of the school budget: teacher remuneration.

7:52 p.m.

Yay! My table finally brought up the contract requirements.

Of course, the event's just about over, so we're not going to get to move on to why regionalization etc. will hurt that cause.

After thought:

One point that came up among school committee members opposing charter schools was that the charters receive from the district the average student cost, but they don't have to take the children who typically cost the most. To throw some arbitrary numbers out as examples: If a town's average per-student cost is $15,000, it might be that a general ed student only costs $10,000, but a special ed student costs $20,000. If the first student goes to a charter school, he brings that extra $5,000 with him.

It seems to me that this is an argument for shifting school policies to attract the lower-cost students. As I tried to express at the table, there's an underlying demand, among parents, for alternatives to public schools. That's why private schools are so popular, in this state. (And why there's political will to force districts to provide busing and textbooks to students who attend them, which was another complaint of some school committee members at my table.)

Of course, getting administrators and school committee members to begin thinking in terms of the services that they provide as a means of attracting, essentially, customers is just another way of bringing them toward the proper perspective to begin attacking the fundamental problem: the labor unions that force districts into inappropriate models, undermine innovation, and manipulate the political system for reasons other than education.

East Providence GOP Fall Fundraiser, Part 5

Justin Katz

RI Tea Party founder Colleen Conley capped off the East Providence GOP's Thursday night fundraiser with a message that GOP politicians should certainly heed:

East Providence GOP Fall Fundraiser, Part 4

Justin Katz

Interest in gubernatorial candidate Rory Smith is sufficient that his speech at the East Providence fundraiser on Thursday night, merits its own post:

East Providence GOP Fall Fundraiser, Part 3

Justin Katz

Next up, from the East Providence fundraiser on Thursday night, is East Providence School Committee Chairman Anthony Carcieri:

Followed, in the extended entry, by General Assembly Candidate Tom Clupny, Attorney General Candidate Erik Wallin, and East Providence School Committee Vice Chairman Steve Santos.

East Providence GOP Fall Fundraiser, Part 2

Justin Katz

The next batch of video from the East Providence fundraiser on Thursday night begins with Congressional Candidate John Loughlin:

In the extended entry: Loughlin's brief Q&A and East Providence Assistant Mayor Robert Cusack.

Fort Hood and Intolerance

Carroll Andrew Morse

On Friday, representatives from the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, the Diocese of Providence, and the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island publicly responded to the massacre at Fort Hood. As the Projo's Maria Armental reported on Saturday…

The Rev. Donald Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, said he called the news conference to “tell the Muslim community that they are not standing alone.”

“We are together as one,” Anderson said, flanked by religious leaders of the state’s Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities, “and we want to speak together with one voice.”

The religious leaders extended their prayers to the victims and their families.

“We know the actions of one individual did not represent the actions of one faith,” said Marty Cooper, community relations director of the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island.

The article provided no explanation of why the religious leaders feel that Muslims without a connection to Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan other then their religious faith might feel that they are standing alone, as a result of Hasan's actions. Asked immediately after the press conference by WPRO (630AM) radio's Dan Yorke why the Muslim community was the focus of the interfaith coalition's public announcement, Rev. Anderson cited several examples of religious intolerance that have occurred in Rhode Island -- none against Muslims -- but some definitely disturbing cases of vandalism involving images of swastikas and upside-down crosses.

But if the interfaith coalition's concern is general religious intolerance and the ugly ways in which it can mix with other human weaknesses and lead to violence against the innocent, what absolutely cannot be overlooked is the evidence coming to light that Hasan himself was associated with people who traffic in an intolerance at least as virulent as any of Rev. Anderson's examples.

On Sunday, the London Telegraph reported on Hasan's connections to radical Islamist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki…

Hasan, the sole suspect in the massacre of 13 fellow US soldiers in Texas, attended the controversial Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Great Falls, Virginia, in 2001 at the same time as two of the September 11 terrorists, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt....The preacher at the time was Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Yemeni scholar...

Hasan's eyes "lit up" when he mentioned his deep respect for al-Awlaki's teachings, according to a fellow Muslim officer at the Fort Hood base in Texas, the scene of Thursday's horrific shooting spree....[The officer] had previously argued with Hasan when he said that he felt the "war on terror" was really a war against Islam, expressed anti-Jewish sentiments and defended suicide bombings.
Awlaki's teachings include such beliefs as Christians and Jews living in Muslim majority countries should be banned from holding public office and be required to pay extra taxes, that infiltration is "the way of the Jews and the hypocrites" (I see a bit of a contradiction here, but I digress) and that....
Our position is that we will implement the rule of Allah on earth by the tip of the sword whether the masses like it or not.
Even if Hasan was a mentally disturbed individual, there is a strong possibility that his association with a particular brand of Islamist ideology that encourages violence for religious aims helped push him to murder. And according to the Cybercast News Service, Anwar al-Awlaki is continuing to encourage religiously motivated violence in the wake of the Fort Hood; he has said that he would like to see more Nidal Malik Hasans…
In a posting on his Web site Monday, Awlaki praised Hasan, calling him "a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people"…

"Nidal opened fire on soldiers who were on their way to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan," Awlaki said. "How can there be any dispute about the virtue of what he has done?"

"In fact the only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the U.S. army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal."

What message does that send to other "disturbed" individuals who might be on the edge of doing something similar?

Ultimately, if the members of the interfaith coalition are hypothesizing that the Fort Hood massacre could cause a "backlash" of attitudes of intolerance that might lead to violent acts , and that stopping the spread of misplaced rage and its potential consequences depends upon good people taking a stand in public against such attitudes, then they must also be willing to take as strong a stand against attitudes of intolerance connected to murderous acts that already have happened -- especially when the purveyors of intolerance are calling for the violence to be repeated. Different rules for different forms of religious intolerance are not acceptable, and our local clerics need to consider using their public presence to reassure peaceful people of all faiths that they do not stand alone when targeted by other clerics who encourage murder. Stopping with a dismissal of Nidal Malik Hasan's actions as definitively nothing more than the work of one deranged man, unconnected to anything else going on in the world, does not accomplish this.

Addicted to Gambling

Justin Katz

It would go too far to suggest that my position on casinos is evolving, but one could fairly say that my balance of the civic and the moral is shifting a bit. Maura Casey explains the following in a piece that calls on "the moral leadership of the country" to do something about the proliferation of casinos and the rapid increase in problem gambling (emphasis in original):

Slot machines have long been programmed to show "near misses" and give gamblers the impression that they came this close to winning, the better to encourage them to keep playing. The machines give back enough money in the process to make gamblers feel like winners even when they are losing. But Harrah's developed the technique of intervening when reality began to dawn on gamblers—when they lost so much the experience was becoming negative. The company tracked, in real time, customers' losing streaks and would send "luck ambassadors" to perk them up, give them a token gift—free lunch or some free credits on the machine—to reduce their perception of losing and keep them gambling longer.

In the process, Harrah's discovered that 90 percent of its profits came from 10 percent of its most avid customers, according to Binkley. This is unsurprising. Many reports suggest that addicts produce a disproportionate share of casino profits. A 1998 Nova Scotia study found that 6 percent of regular gamblers produced 96 percent of gambling revenue, and a whopping 54 percent of the revenue came from just 1 percent of problem gamblers—leading researchers to conclude that, at any one time, half the patrons in front of slot machines in Nova Scotia were problem gamblers. A 1999 study estimated that more than 42 percent of all spending at Indian-reservation casinos came from problem gamblers. A study in Australia concluded that problem gamblers were only 4.7 percent of the population yet generated 42 percent of machine revenues.

I still believe that people ought to be able to gamble, if they like, although I believe states and communities should be able to determine the shape of their society, and I oppose large gambling facilities in Rhode Island. On the other hand, I'm persuaded that regulations ought to favor table games over slot machines, and Rhode Island currently forbids the former while promoting the latter, creating an irrational predicament.

Whatever the case, I remain firmly convinced about the immorality and total lack of civic prudence for the government to take in more revenue from gambling than from any other industry within the state. It makes a junkie out of the regulator.

East Providence GOP Fall Fundraiser, Part 1

Justin Katz

Herewith, the first YouTube clips from Thursday night's GOP fundraiser in East Providence.

In the extended entry: RIGOP Chairman Gio Cicione, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, and Congressional Candidate Mark Zaccaria.

The Level of Political Discourse

Justin Katz

One doesn't have to know the specifics to be taken aback by this dirt-bag move from State Senator Daniel DaPonte (D, East Providence) (emphasis added):

Larisa has cost the city money, DaPonte said, by creating "monumental parks" named after the mayor's mother. And, DaPonte continued, Councilman Robert Cusack has cost the city "hundreds of thousands of dollars" by using city-provided health coverage to pay for his son’s extensive medical care.

One could argue that this or that public office does or doesn't justify healthcare coverage, and if so, of what kind and with what subsidy. But is DaPonte suggesting that it is illegitimate for elected officials to use such a benefit to care for their sick children? Or is he just such a low life that any attack that his small mind can conceive is fair game?

In a healthy civic society, a public apology would be forthcoming — indeed, those around and above DaPonte in the political scheme would demand it.

November 8, 2009

A Memory of Now

Justin Katz

If you're of a mind to direct your thoughts away from the particulars of the day — shootings and bombs and recession and government expansion — David Goldman's essay on the use of rhythm and expectation to imbue a sense of the sacred into music is worth your time. There is a point, though, where our imaginative limitations strain the grand theories:

Augustine is not concerned with time in the abstract, but rather with the possibility of communication between God and humankind. "Lord, since ­eternity is yours, are you ignorant of what I say to you? Or do you see in time, what passes in time?" Aristotle's Prime Mover has no need to communicate with humans and, for that matter, no means of doing so. Aristotle's static time can have no interaction with the eternity of the biblical God—which means that if Aristotle’s description of time as a sequence of moments were adequate, we could not hope to commune with an eternal being.

But Aristotle's theory, in Augustine's view, leads to absurdities. To consider durations in time, we must measure what is past, for the moment as such has no duration. Events that have passed no longer exist, leaving us in the paradoxical position of seeking to measure what does not exist. Augustine's solution is that memory of events, rather than the events themselves, is what we compare. "It is in you, my mind, that I measure times," he concludes. If the measurement of small intervals of time occurs in the mind, then what can we say about our perception of distant past and future? If our perception of past events depends on memory, then our thoughts about future events depend on expectation, and what links both is "
"consideration." For "the mind expects, it considers, it remembers; so that which it expects, through that which it considers, passes into that which it remembers."

Expectation and memory, Augustine adds, determine our perception of distant past and future: "It is not then future time that is long, for as yet it is not: But a long future, is 'a long expectation of the future,' nor is it time past, which now is not, that is long; but a long past is 'a long memory of the past.'" This is the insight that allows Augustine to link perception of time to the remembrance of revelation and the expectation of redemption.

If one knows the rules that a particular piece of music is following, then the musical moment has a sort of intrinsic memory even apart from the past and future, telling the tale of what's been and what is yet to come. In life, this is especially true. Imagine that you could freeze everything else but you in time; you could pick somebody you don't know and inspect the incidentals of his or her life and learn quite a bit the individual's past and future. Layer into that an ability to measure momentary emotions, and differences in perception of the passage of time aren't really an obstacle to communication.

My point is this (I suppose): We communicate with each other and with God through our actions. Indeed, it's central to the Christian understanding of Jesus that God communicated with us in precisely that manner.

Of course, my remarks, here, are wholly tangential to Goldman's discussion of the intersection of philosophical and musical theory, which, dealing in two human conventions, can be complete of its own accord.

An Even Bigger Bomb

Justin Katz

As much as it's more pleasant to spend Sunday morning talking about our near neighbors' building bombs, moral obligation requires us to note that, by a margin of five votes (out of 435), the House of Representatives passed an even larger bomb, in the night, one that is certain to destroy our nation:

In a victory for President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled House narrowly passed landmark health care legislation Saturday night to expand coverage to tens of millions who lack it and place tough new restrictions on the insurance industry. Republican opposition was nearly unanimous.

The 220-215 vote cleared the way for the Senate to begin debate on the issue that has come to overshadow all others in Congress.

A triumphant Speaker Nancy Pelosi likened the legislation to the passage of Social Security in 1935 and Medicare 30 years later. ...

The legislation would require most Americans to carry insurance and provide federal subsidies to those who otherwise could not afford it. Large companies would have to offer coverage to their employees. Both consumers and companies would be slapped with penalties if they defied the government's mandates.

There is no way that would-be nanny state totalitarians will be able to resist the temptation that this represents, or that our economy will survive it. It's times like this that I'm grateful that life forced me to learn a practical, hands-on trade.

We can only hope the behemoth collapses in the Senate.

Everyone a Bomb Builder

Justin Katz

I've got mixed feelings about this odd little story out of Tiverton:

James R. Lapre, 24, of 320 Hurst Lane, Tiverton, was charged with disorderly conduct and with threatening to place a bomb in a public place (a felony) after police took him into custody, then searched his residence and discovered makeshift bomb-making materials.

Police said that a co-worker Mr. Lapre had invited to his home said he saw there a section of PVC pipe, nails, and other materials that he lifted and described as heavy.

Police said that when the co-worker asked what the pipe and materials were for, Mr. Lapre told him that he was going to leave the bomb at their boss's business if he was laid off. The co-worker told the employer, who reported the matter to Tiverton police.

My first reaction is to think of Arlo Guthrie's line about "using up all kinds of cop equipment that they had hanging around the police officer's station" in "Alice's Restaurant":

Armed with a search warrant, Tiverton police officers and detectives, along with representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Rhode Island State Police, the Rhode Island Fire Marshall's office, the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA), and tactical and bomb squad units, surrounded Mr. Lapre's Hurst Lane residence.

More seriously, though, the incident seems to reside along a fine line of civil liberties. Consider this excellent comment from the first link above:

What you will need to make a bomb:
1. PVC Pipe
2. Nails
3. Items that when lifted can be described as heavy

What combination of legally purchased items are required in order for one to be arrested for credibly building a bomb? And should bomb-building be a criminal offense, anyway, given the Second Amendment? Working in construction, I've probably got everything I'd need to put together a makeshift bomb, if I cared to learn how to combine them for that purpose; does that mean that an army of acronyms could bang down my door if I make an off-hand quip that somebody ought to "blow up" this or that?

November 7, 2009

The Origin of Anti-Semitism

Justin Katz

Perhaps it's peculiar, given my Jewish heritage, or perhaps it's entirely predictable, given my progression from atheism to Catholicism, but I'd never thought to explain anti-Semitism in the way that Meir Soloveichik describes here:

As Stanley Hauerwas notes, Berkovits fails to understand that "societies putatively founded on values of 'universal validity' cannot help but interpret the particularistic commitments of the Jewish people as morally retrogressive." In contrast, many Christians have come to appreciate, and even celebrate, God's special relationship with the Jewish people. Wyschogrod, in his description of God's election of Israel, notes that anti-Semitism is, at its core, a resistance to, and jealousy of, this election. "Instead of accepting Israel's election with humility," he writes, the nations of the world all too often "rail against it, mocking the God of the Jews, gleefully pointing out the shortcomings of the people he chose," for "Israel's presence is a constant reminder to them that they were not chosen but that this people was." At the same time, as Kendall Soulen notes in his excellent introduction to Wyschogrod's thought, for Wyschogrod, it is through God's love of Israel that we come to know his love for all the world—or, in Soulen's words, "God also desires to be Redeemer of the world as the One whose first love is the people of Israel." Thus Soulen cites Wyschogrod: "Because [God] said: 'I will bless those who bless you, and curse him that curses you; in you shall all the families of earth be blessed' (Gen. 12:3), he has tied his saving and redemptive concern for the welfare of all humankind to his love for the people of Israel."

It seems to me that this assumes that anti-Semites ultimately believe in the God of Israel, and although a significant number may believe while proclaiming not to do so (even, in some sense, believing that they do not believe in Him), I'm not so sure this is sufficiently broad as a core theory. I'd be more inclined to explain anti-Semitism as a rebellion against Western civilization's heritage (expanded to include the Middle East). The Jews are a direct reminder and descendants of our foundational culture, particularly of the moral components thereof that complicate sinful desires and corrupt intentions.

Western and Middle Eastern civilization don't feel the same way about, say, the Greeks, because not only was their contribution more academic in nature, but modern Greeks' connection to ancient Greece is by mutable geographic nationhood, whereas Jews' nationhood is intrinsically related to their being the direct inheritors of their — and our — tradition.

No Coverage of Abortions Amendment to be Offered, in an Attmept to Get a Healthcare Bill Passed Today

Carroll Andrew Morse

Multiple sources are reporting that, in order to try to get the US House of Representatives to pass a Democratic version of healthcare reform today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has agreed to a floor vote on an amendment that would prohibit either a public-option insurance plan or any plan eligible for a government subsidy from covering abortions. Here's the New York Times' take…

[Congressman Bart Stupak’s] amendment would bar any insurance plan that is purchased with government subsidies and the new public plan from covering abortion. Other insurance plans, approved by the government for sale through new exchanges or marketplaces, would be allowed to cover abortion provided they did not accept federal money. Separately, people who purchase subsidized insurance, could buy separate coverage, with their own money, for abortions.
Also of particular local interest, the Politico website is reporting that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a letter stating that they believe the Stupak amendment provides enough of a restriction on the use of public money for abortions to enable them to support an overall healthcare bill.

Espionage and Esquires

Justin Katz

The whole Abu Omar affair stinks. By way of summary, Abu Omar, or Nassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, is a Muslim cleric suspected of close connections to terrorist organizations and the funding thereof, was abducted by the CIA in Milan and taken to Egypt, where he was imprisoned and, he claims, tortured. At one point, given reprieve by the Egyptian judiciary, Nasr phoned home and made the torture claim, which precipitated prosecution of American and Italian agents.

Earlier this year, the Italian judiciary threw out evidence, with the effect that Italian agents involved in the controversy were removed from the line of fire. Now, 23 Americans have been found guilty, in absentia, of kidnapping.

From the outside, it appears that the abduction should never have happened, not only because of the political cudgel that such practices have given to America's enemies (internal and external), but even for the practical advantage of spying on Nasr. Any subsequent torture is on the hands of the U.S. government. It is exceedingly suspicious that evidence implicating Italians should have been swept from the table. It sets dangerous precedent to have teams of lawyers spying on anti-terrorist spies. And now it appears that the political exit strategy may be to leave two dozen U.S. citizens effectively confined to their own nation (which I write with no insinuation of hardship).

As I said, the whole thing stinks from start to end... and hopefully this is the end of it.

November 6, 2009

Swing and a Miss

Marc Comtois

This morning, the NEA's Pat Crowley's lamely attempted to use Alinsky's Rules #5 (Ridicule) and #11 (" Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it") on Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and put up a post that displayed the sort of empathy and prudence we've all come to expect. In the post, Crowley vaguely alluded to getting the "Gist" (ha...ha...) of what the new Education Commissioner abilities were and then linked to this video with no further explanation. I suppose the reader was to anticipate that some egregious evidence contra the new commish was about to be laid out.

Instead, we saw a video that originally accompanied this story from the Washington Post from February this year (and which was mentioned in this story from the Johnston Sun Rise in October).

A few years ago, Deborah [Gist] said, she was flipping through a copy of the Guinness book and realized she didn't want to grow her toenails to epic lengths and had little chance of running 100 meters in less than 9 seconds. "Then I got to this record and it said 'Most Kisses in a Minute.' I've kind of been known for being affectionate in my kissing, and I thought, 'That's it. That's the one.' "

All she needed was 109 people -- you see, the record is for most consecutive kisses by different people.

On Saturday, about 140 people gathered at the house....She withstood the onslaught, and Vince and I clicked 118 kisses, minus six disqualifications, for a total of 112 and a record (pending Guinness's approval).

The event raised $20,000 for the Wellness Community, a cancer-support organization in Bethesda.

Gist was inspired to raise the money after her uncle died from cancer. I guess Pat thought this all was supposed to cast a negative light upon Gist, though I'm not sure what conclusions were to be drawn.

Understandably, the commenters to Crowley's post also apparently missed why this was so important to Pat and many praised Commissioner Gist for being light-hearted and caring (and even a community organizer!). I wouldn't have even commented on it...except now the post and the comments it generated have disappeared--"- This diary has been removed "--though reference to the comments can be found by checking some of the user profiles (like here, here or here) and this comment also mentions the disappearance of the post.

Why the post and comments were removed is obvious; it ends up putting Crowley, not Gist, in a poor light. But instead of blank space, maybe an explanation is warranted, guys? Regardless, it would appear the commissioner is winding Pat up so much with talk of teacher evaluations and dropping seniority that its affecting his well-known judgment and tact....ahem...or maybe he's just jealous that he didn't get a chance to kiss the commish himself.

Binding Arbitration & Tuesday's Special Election Candidates

Carroll Andrew Morse

I have tended to avoid the written-questionnaire format for interviews of political candidates and officeholders, because the ratio of informative-answers-from-the-candidate-himself-or-herself to canned-answers-written-by-committee can often be less than optimal. Or it could be that I'm just bad at writing questionnaires, as RIFuture's Brian Hull has been able to get substantive answers to some very good questions that he put via questionnaire to the candidates in the General Assembly District 10 (Providence) special election to be held this Tuesday.

In particular, Republican candidate Maurice Green gave as unambiguous an answer as you'll ever hear -- in a political context or elsewhere -- on the subject of binding arbitration…

Question: With persistent negotiations between cities and towns and teachers unions often failing to reach agreements, do you support or oppose binding arbitration legislation?

Maurice Green: I have been employed with the Providence Police Department for over 20 years, which makes me an active union member with the Fraternal Order of Police. And as such, I have personally benefited from binding arbitration on many occasions. However, I vehemently disagree with binding arbitration, because of the adverse effects it has on our citizens. Property taxes increase when cities lose binding arbitration decisions. Clearly, my personal gain is short lived if the state is in the tank, and the community's property taxes are driven out of control.

In contrast, Democrat Scott Slater expressed his support for stripping local government officials of final decision making authority over a large portion of their municipal budgets, as long as an arbitrator is working through a "fair" process…
Scott Slater: I acknowledge that the current system we have in place is dysfunctional and I believe that a binding arbitration model is needed. I think that binding arbitration could provide an effective solution to labor and management contract disputes. As of now, progress has been made on a legislative proposal to provide resolution to failed negotiations. As a state representative, I will work to have a fair piece of legislation to protect our children’s education,
…and Independent Wilbur Jennings opposed binding arbitration because teachers might not like it (begging the question of whether he'll change his position, if he finds out that both of Rhode Island's teachers' unions are in favor of it)…
Wilbur Jennings: I am not in favor of binding arbitration, because you cannot make the teachers sign a contract they deem unfair. If you force a contract on these professional, you will have an unhappy workforce and that will not be good for the teachers, students, or taxpayers.
This is an important issue, not just for District 10, but for all of Rhode Island's upcoming elections, Governor's race included. Which candidates running in 2010 will be supporting the legislature's attempts to impose non-democratic budgeting on all of Rhode Island's cities and towns, and which will be supporting having accountable officials make final decisions for their communities?

And who will be able to meet the Green standard, in terms of making their position on this matter clear?

The rest of the RI Future questionnaire is available here.

Absolutes Only Halt Debate When They Meet with Intransigence

Justin Katz

I'm straining for a silver lining, to be sure, but Congressman Patrick Kennedy does offer the useful service, from time to time, of stating rhetoric that is sufficiently blunt to expose the error underneath. With reference to the fight he picked with the Catholic Church:

Kennedy also said that no group "is getting everything it wants" in the medical overhaul. The church "has every right to promote its position," he said, but if a group "seeks to impose absolutes on the debate, we are left standing idle instead of moving our nation forward."

That's only the case if those determining the course of the issue are intransigent in the face of the absolute. Every party to a negotiation has a bottom line that it will not cross; the process moves forward by determining the proximity to that line that other parties find tolerable.

This is even true of folks like me, whose bottom line is that the government should not be a significant force in the healthcare system. The way forward would be to figure out my determination of "significance" and explore alternate methods of achieving hoped-for ends. (That assumes, of course, that the hoped-for end isn't in actuality government ownership of the healthcare system, which is probably the case for more than a few healthcare "reform" advocates.)

A Biological Ghetto

Justin Katz

In the June/July issue of First Things, Mary Eberstadt suggested commonality between pro-lifers and vegetarians that (she thinks) justifies closer affiliation. Think what you may about the thesis, on which I'm not sold, a subsequent letter from a gentleman named Gerald Lame brings us back to dualism:

So Eberstadt's "moral traditionalists" are really animist-vitalists. And the news these pro-lifers have not yet heard, trapped as many are in their scholastic ghetto, is that the scientific theory of vitalism was found in the twentieth century to be false. The entire science of molecular biology is a testament to this fact. It turns out that there is no life principle. Life is a set of properties belonging to a suitably organized physical organism. These properties are the same for humans and nonhumans, for animals and plants. What distinguishes us is not some mysterious entity called human life. It is the structures of our bodies, especially our brains, and what they do. So a person is not a life. Animism is false. The mere fact that an embryo is alive does not mean that the person who might later arise from it is in any sense present. Life is not a proper object of sympathy.

He provides insufficient evidence to confidently declare him guilty of the practice, but Lame appears to be of the sort who extrapolate from mechanical understanding inappropriate philosophical lessons. He relies on "personhood" as something outside of biology and "life" but doggedly stops short of the next step into mire. If "life is a set of properties belonging to a suitably organized physical organism," then one could define "personhood" as the combination of those properties with a genetically unique organism. Lame must inevitably fall back to the old argument about consciousness.

The pro-life argument, especially in a theological milieu, is that biological life and spiritual personhood are inextricably linked. Not unlike an aborigine believing that a photograph steals the soul, Lame implies that describing the biology negates the person. Accuse whomever he may of intellectual ghettoism, the track in which his argument lies is well traveled and fraught with moral pitfalls.

For example, in a previous paragraph, he describes the biological process of pain and notes that young fetuses are incapable of feeling it. But if opposition to killing a human organism is essentially a question of suffering, then inducing euphoria prior to ceasing the flow of impulses that animate a biological construct in the form of a human being would alleviate "moral intuitions" that even a person is "a proper object of sympathy."

November 5, 2009

Attacked at Home

Justin Katz

I'll be continuing to post from the East Providence GOP event, but this demands immediate mention:

Twelve people have been killed and 31 wounded in a shooting spree at a Texas military base in a murderous rampage that officials believe was carried out by an Army psychiatrist.

The suspected gunman was identified by ABC News as Major Nadal Malik Hasan. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, told Fox News that military sources informed her that the gunman was about to be deployed to Iraq.

With WPRO running commercials when I got in the car, I first heard the news on Christian rock station K:-OVE (91.1FM out of New Bedford), and there was something comforting about hearing extended prayers offered shortly after the news. Mine go out to the dead, wounded, and their families.

Now we can only wait for background information.

In the Heart of the New Revolution

Justin Katz

Anchor Rising is well represented at tonight's fundraiser in East Providence, as are the familiar faces of the RI right-wing, and Republicans, too. About 50 people here.

Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian had to be elsewhere and spoke first:

State GOP Chairman Gio Cicione went next:

Gio noted that he was glad to finally be able to express gratitude for the presence of people with blue hair:

I caught Gio between speeches and asked his thoughts on the possible primary challenge to Congressional candidate Mark Zaccaria. He said there'd be a primary and was very disciplined about not offering any sort of favoritism.

7:39 p.m.

Speech wave 2 began with Cranston Mayor Alan Fung, whom I last saw at a Northeast Republican Conference cocktail party at which the open bar regrettably had one of my favorite beers... an extra strong brew by Victory. Mayor Fung wasn't fond of my idea of the Republicans' forgoing the gubernatorial race.

Mark Zaccaria took the mic next:

And then Congressional Candidate John Loughlin:

8:07 p.m.

East Providence Assistant Mayor Robert Cusack started the third wave, making the point that a few people can really make a difference:

East Providence School Committee Chairman Tony Carcieri is up. Among the first things he said was that he's not a Republican, but an Independent. The audience wasn't sure how to react.

Carcieri called out certain state senators and representatives (ahem) to oppose binding arbitration. He says that the unions and their pals in the state house are dragging down the state. "Anybody who's in allegiance with the unions, throw them out." He amended: "Throw them all out."

Tom Clupny, who is running for Betsy Dennigan's abandoned seat, spoke next, with Cusack sneaking in to suggest that volunteers and money would be helpful, because Mr. Clupny really does have a shot. Refreshing to see somebody who really is clearly in the game because he thinks he can make a difference.

And by way of contrast (of practice, not motivation), Attorney General Candidate Erik Wallin swept in and launched into a well-practiced speech. One new and interesting item was his statement that we shouldn't have to rely on reporters Tim White and Jim Hummel to investigate corruption.

Back to local with School Committee member Steve Santos, more refreshing enthusiasm at the local level.

8:35 p.m.

Gubernatorial candidate Rory Smith is up. He brought papers up with him, so perhaps he's prepared this time. His initial point: My mission is to bring jobs back to Rhode Island. Lower taxes. Other high-tax states are economic powerhouses so "they can afford to be a little arrogant with their tax policy." Fix regulations. Stop the runaway spending. Save the educational system "from the brink of collapse," with incentive pay, teacher evaluations, leave management of education with administrators.

I think Rory's been reading Anchor Rising.

Last up, Colleen Conley of the RI Tea Party. Apparently, the group sent three buses down to the Washington protest.

Colleen's making the case for the GOP to court tea party members. This'll be a YouTube clip worth watching.

8:45 p.m.

A couple behind the scenes notes: RINO state representative Jack Savage, who had been here, left early, without speaking.

Not to pile on to the Moderate Party, but I'm hearing rumors that it's losing members because of intransigent kids who won't compromise in their left-wing social views. Not surprising.

Moderates Two-Block Themselves

Marc Comtois

I guess we now know why the Moderate Party's coffers are about as full as the RI GOPs. Ken Block has managed to bait the sharks thanks to his own situational ethics. The Warwick Beacon editorializes:

Moderate Party founder Ken Block has tried to get around campaign finance laws by funneling money to his fledgling state party through the party’s Barrington Town Committee.

State campaign finance laws allow individuals to donate up to $10,000 to political parties. Block donated $10,000 to the Moderate Party. But he then donated another $10,000 to the party’s Barrington town committee, which then turned the money over to the state party.

It may be perfectly legal for Block to funnel donations into the state party through town committees, which would make the situation a legitimate loophole in the state’s campaign finance laws. Even if that’s true, it still suggests hypocrisy on the part of Block, who has made “ethics” one his party’s platforms.

No kidding. But, as Dan Yorke has explained, the Moderates may have violated Federal election law.

If you draw a line in the sand, you'd better be sure you dance far away from it, much less on it! Because they couldn't do things the right--albeit difficult--way, the Moderate Party is in danger of turning from a breath of fresh air to more of the same, stale political wind that blows around here regularly.

Students Aren't Economic Gurus

Justin Katz

As a follow-up to this morning's post on Rhode Island's need to get out of the way of its economy, Tabetha recently offered a comment in our discussion of the economy and higher education to which I'd like to return:

If RI wants to keep college grads, the number 1 need is pretty simple: have jobs in the most popular fields available. Without jobs in their field, recent grads have no reason to stay in RI. It would make most sense to analyze the most popular majors and then try to attract businesses that would hire graduates in those areas. RI has a high unemployment rate and I suspect that a dearth of employment opportunities in popular fields of study most affects the decision to leave town. After 4 years (or more) of study and the probable accumulation of student loans, I doubt many recent grads are going to be content to work the counter at the local Dunkin' Donuts.

This approach comes at the problem from the wrong perspective. Students choose their fields of study for a variety of reasons, ranging from personal desire to experience with adults' careers to advice and research about economic directions. Even to the extent that a college degree dictates a particular industry or type of business (which is less and less the case), the student's research and preferences are not the most reliable criteria on which to build an economy.

It's like giving the folks in entry-level positions a decisive say in the company's big-picture management. To the contrary, the people who have invested their years and their fortunes in a particular business are the ones best suited to say what it should do and where it should be located.

Again: Rhode Island's focus should be on getting out of the way of people who are willing to imagine and build the economy, not on allowing government functionaries to try their hand at economic prognostication or selecting an array of jobs that might dazzle young adults who know little about the way of the world or even what a career should look like.

Mark Zaccaria: Respite Care vs Political Posturing

Engaged Citizen

As an avid follower of the activities of Representative James Langevin, I read with interest his recent release on the subject of Respite Care here in the Ocean State. I read it with interest, but also with a certain amount of approval.

The Congressman correctly highlights the aid rendered by the many uncompensated family caregivers here in Rhode Island, at least 114,000 by his count. All of us should celebrate the contributions made by these family members and friends of those in need of ‘round the clock care in an increasingly expensive world. Most of these important members of the health care chain became links in it due to circumstance rather than by choice. I know. For 28 years my wife, Ruth, and I were part of that team as we provided home care for our son Adam.

The eldest of our three children, Adam was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. It set our family on a path of gaining expertise about that syndrome which none of us ever planned on acquiring. Like the 114,000 Rhode Islanders the Congressman referenced in his release last week, though, Ruth and I did what we had to do. In fact, during the period of my business career when I was a corporate nomad we did it in several other states. None of them had programs or even formal support nearly equal to that we received when we got back here for good, ten years ago.

So I applaud my Representative in Congress for the focus on respite care he spotlighted in his recent release. It is a service to uncompensated caregivers that exists in this state but most certainly does not in many others. Respite care can also be a Godsend to parents, friends, or siblings who find themselves stretched to the breaking point. They can be recharged by a day-off from long term homecare duties. It frequently lets them return to the fray reinvigorated and better able to shoulder the load.

In reading my Rep’s account of his action in support of this cause, however, it was hard to miss a couple of glaring admissions. He wrote that he’d spent five years working to pass legislation to support respite care and he even referenced HR3248 of the 109th Congress, known as the Lifespan Respite Care Act of 2006. The bill was introduced in the House in September of 2005 by a New Jersey Rep. and it was passed in 2006 by both chambers and signed into law by President Bush on December 21st of that year. For the record, Congressman Langevin was one of this bill’s 84 co-sponsors in the House. Now, nearly 3 years after passage, he touts a grant of $200,000 for Rhode Island that has been secured under the legislation.

That amount, which averages out to just over $1.75 per Ocean State caregiver, will be split between three existing programs here. No doubt the money will be well spent to cover the on-going overhead expenses of keeping them running.

What I feel I do have to doubt is that this amount will be granted again at any predictable point in the future. It’s very nice that Mr. Langevin has brought home a couple slices of bacon, and chooses to trumpet that fact. It must mean that’s the best action on our behalf that he’s got to crow about right now. It also must mean that he has not set himself about assisting these important local programs with any kind of long term support that their managers could count on to help improve things for Rhode Islanders for years to come. Dare we ask why there was no talk in last week’s press release about expanding the availability of respite care as a direct result of the Congressman’s efforts?

They can’t all be home runs, of course, but it strikes me that our guy has tried to slip one past us with his recent puff piece on respite care. Right now the excess spending of past administrations has become the egregious and unsupportable spending of this one. It’s a time when I would have preferred to hear about how my Representative plans to assist in warding off the price inflation that looms on our horizon as a result. He seems to have voted in favor of every single one of the recent spending initiatives that have taken billion-dollar deficits and made them trillion-dollar deficits in less than a year. Can you help me understand how that’s a good thing for me, Congressman?

The saddest part of it all is that he must think we’re not watching. He must think he can get away with keeping his name in print with the legerdemain of an occasional misdirection press release while he attends to business as usual in Washington. As I said at the top, I’m watching. I bet you are, too.

Mark Zaccaria is a small businessman and former elected official who was Congressman Langevin’s GOP opponent in the 2008 election. Mr. Zaccaria plans to run again for the seat in 2010.

No Salt Water Fishing "Tax" In Ocean State

Marc Comtois

Governor Carcieri vetoed the bill imposing a $7 license fee for salt-water fishing. As the ProJo reports, "This is the Ocean State," Carcieri stated. "It is a place where people have been free, up to now, to cast a line into Narragansett Bay without government intrusion." He means the federal government, too.

Congress mandated the licensing of all saltwater fishermen several years ago, aiming to establish a more reliable way of tracking recreational fishing. Any state without a registry would have to submit to federal licensing, which costs more than the proposed $7 fee for Rhode Island.... Carcieri cited the Tenth Amendment, which states that "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

To which Carcieri added, "Mandating that all persons seeking to cast a fishing line in Narragansett Bay for the purposes of recreational fishing should be required to pay an annual licensing fee and register with the government is excessively intrusive."

Drowning in Desire for Other People's Money

Justin Katz

The state of Rhode Island's revenue take is like a chest of treasure sinking to the bottom of the ocean, and some folks are intent on having us all chase it to the bottom:

"We've already been cutting, cutting, cutting," said one of the few people watching Wednesday's discussion, Russell Dannecker, fiscal policy analyst for the Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College. He cited a study by State Policy Reports that reports 29 states have proposed tax increases for the coming fiscal year.

Frankly, Rhode Island has to stop "cutting, cutting, cutting" around the edges and give some serious thought to wholesale excisions of programs. Information from the first link above illustrates why that is the necessary direction:

Among the highlights of Wednesday's presentation:
  • Collections from the state's business-corporation tax plunged to $4.5 million from $14.8 million in the same period a year earlier, a $10.3-million drop.
  • Sales-tax collections fell by $19.77 million, or 6.6 percent, to about $278.6 million.
  • Net receipts from the personal-income tax (after refunds and other adjustments) fell by $14.3 million, or 4.5 percent, to $307.8 million.

The number 1 job of the state government must be to do whatever it can to help Rhode Islanders make money. The quick first step should be to cut taxes, and the larger step, still expedited, must be to slash regulations and mandates. We cannot afford to govern ourselves as we've been doing.

Holding Court in RI

Justin Katz

Matt and I talked about my Providence Monthly piece on last night's Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

November 4, 2009

Grow up

Donald B. Hawthorne

Real men don't whine and make excuses.

And they don't dither, either.


My first comment in the Comments section:

Dithering on Afghanistan while American soldiers die.

Meeting multiple times with Andy Stern of SEIU while not having time to decide on Afghanistan.

Calling Afghanistan the important war in March before it wasn't the important war in October. The man simply can't say the word "victory," let alone "victory" and "America" in the same paragraph.

Talking, talking, talking to Iran without conditions while being silent as Iranian tyrants arrest, torture and kill freedom-loving dissidents. And then continuing to talk when Iran thumbs their nose at us about their nuclear program.

Chairing the UN for a day and failing to disclose the existence of another Iranian nuclear facility, a clear violation of those meaningless/toothless UN resolutions. Forcing French president to drop any reference to it from his UN speech.

Refuses to meet with the Dalai Lama because relationship with Communist Chinese cannot be sacrificed.

Abandoning our allies in Eastern Europe while coddling Russia as they do war games threatening Eastern Europe.

Treating our historic friends, the Brits, with disrespect.

Refusing to participate in celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall falling.

Completely silent on anything to do with human rights and freedom while coddling tyrants.

Bowing to Saudi kings.

Pressuring Israel but not the Palestineans.

Backslapping and smiling broadly with tyrant Hugo Chavez.

Listening passively to 50-minute anti-American rants by Daniel Ortega.

Bullying Honduras democracy to reinstate Chavez acolyte who was violating constitution.

Contrary to CW, GW Bush had more effective relationships with various countries than Obama has. Obama is unable to convince anybody of anything anywhere, including actions on Iran and Afghanistan.

Going on world-wide apology tour about America while failing to speak up for our national self-interest.

Passing roughly $800 billion stimulus package that blows up deficit without positively impacting economy. Did I mention nobody read the bill before it was passed?

Running budget deficits that make that spendthrift GW Bush look like a tightwad. See here.

Trying to socialize medicine in America, which would blow up deficit even further and take away freedom.

Trying to pass cap-and-trade energy tax that would adversely impact economic growth and family economics.

Taking over industries instead of letting the marketplace sort it out, losing billions of taxpayer dollars in the process. Dictating outcomes for Chrysler bondholders, unilaterally declaring existing legal contracts don't have any standing.

Demonizing news organizations who don't toe the Obama party line, including trying to exclude them from interviews with Administration officials. In other words, arguing against free speech based on ideological differences.

Having endless number of czars who are effectively an unaccountable shadow Cabinet, operating without Congressional oversight or transparency. Telling Congress there will be no testifying by czars in front of Congress.

Having czars dictate pay for private companies.

Filling his administration with self-proclaimed Marxists and admirers of Mao.

Aligning self with ACORN-types, who commit voter fraud, etc.

Hey, that's the Obama track record. Who needs any more time? He is a wimp like Jimmy Carter on international relations but without any moral compass on freedom and human rights. He is a budget-busting spendthrift who is trying to socialize the American economy. His banana republic deficit levels are driving the international community to abandon the dollar as the preferred reserve currency, something that threatens to reduce our standard of living over time. He is allergic to the concepts of freedom, liberty and American exceptionalism, surrounding himself with people akin to long-time friends like Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers. And he doesn't know history.

In summary, running as a (faux) moderate in 2008 and governing from the far left in 2009. He most certainly has a track record already and it is not positive on any dimension. All while golfing more in 9 months than GW Bush did in 2 years and 10 months.

Okay, the man has a great sounding voice and can read off of a Teleprompter.

And, I repeat, does he ever whine and blame others. Real men and women don't do that. Successful leaders surely don't.

My second comment in the Comments section:

How fascinating to read many of the responses.

Few seem to want to talk about the substantive issue: Obama manufacturers excuses for his non-performance. And he is, I believe, the first US President to go overseas and publicly trash his predecessor. Call it what you want. I call it wimpy, lacking in courage, lacking in leadership, lacking in a moral foundation. You can call it whatever you like but, regardless, it is not what strong, principled men or leaders do.

And talk about thin-skinned! Politics is a contact sport so why is everyone aghast when Obama is criticized. Or feeling a need to twist any criticism into a suggestion of racism.

So, here is the other call out - Is criticizing Obama off limits because he is a black man? Sure seems that way. Which is itself a racist concept and worthy of challenge.

In a nutshell, the other substantive point is that Obama is a socialist who doesn't believe in the core principles of America. And he is a foreign policy wimp who dithers without any moral direction. My earlier comment to this post offers the particulars of an indictment.

By way of contrast with the overly sensitive types, some of us dish it hard in all directions, writing before the 2008 election that McCain wasn't presidential timber; that is summarized here. Some of us said the Republicans should lose majority control of the House in 2006 and spend some time in the political wilderness so they could rediscover principles. Some of us sat out the 2006 RI US Senate race because of a belief that neither of the candidates deserved support. Some of us trashed GW Bush and the Republican Congress for their spendthrift domestic policies. Some of us supported and raised money for a black US Senate candidate back in 1992 and have written on this blog site about the moral contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr.

So some of us are pounding Obama because we don't like socialist domestic policies that take away our freedom, spineless/unprincipled foreign policies that do not promote American interests - all from someone whose actions regularly suggest a lack of commitment to liberty.

Real Hope & Change: East Providence GOP Fundraiser

Monique Chartier

Tomorrow 6:30 - 9:00 pm at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 50 Crescent View Avenue.

Good food and lots of interesting speakers. Details here.

East Providence has been one of the major battlegrounds Ground Zero's for reform in Rhode Island. It's always fun (and enlightening) to drop in on events there.

No Price Tag Doesn't Mean No Price

Justin Katz

Professor Stephen Mathis has come across my post responding to his op-ed, and he comments, in part:

I think the ultimate problem with devaluing people or their organs is problematic precisely because it makes them vulnerable to more powerful folks. But I do disagree that disallowing a price tag on organs makes them worthless: I think it simply makes them incommensurable with money, which marks off their special status as things that are unlike everyday commodities. The same goes for laws outlawing the selling of sex. Making it impossible to buy or sell sex doesn't make it worthless, rather it delineates it as something so special it shouldn't be open to the pressures of the market (that usually come from the powerful/rich).

I don't know Mr. Mathis's background, but I'd suggest the possibility that he's just never encountered a situation in which he's needed a sufficient amount of money that would justify the sale of a body part. I'll tell you the honest truth: I'd part with certain bodily properties if I could thereby erase my debt.

The economics are unavoidable: Every body part has an abstract value; that we disallow their sale just removes the motivation to assign a dollar amount to it. The same is true of sex, although the value is so much lower, and unlike organs, its sale doesn't deprive the seller of its use, so some people will always make the transaction, whatever the law says.

Woonsocket's New GOP Mayor

Marc Comtois

Woonsocket City Council President Leo Fontaine, a Republican, was elected over Todd Brien to replace Susan Menard as Mayor yesterday. But, as explained by the ProJo's John Hill, there is something unique about the structure of Woonsocket politics that probably helped Fontaine:

Municipal elections are nonpartisan in Woonsocket; candidates do not run as members of parties; nor does it have districts or wards for its City Council. Like mayoral candidates, all council candidates run citywide and Fontaine had a long record of success there.

Besides wining eight straight terms since 1993, Fontaine had finished first in fields as large as 14 candidates in every council election since 1997.

So, in 8 previous elections, Fontaine was never saddled with the dreaded "R" next to his name on the ballot. This allowed him to build a resume and show his ability, build up name recognition and become a "known" entity. Plus, running city-wide, versus in a distinct ward, allowed him to focus on certain sections of Woonsocket where he knew he could rack up the votes. There's no denying that it's a good win for the RI GOP, but I'm not sure if it translates easily in a state where the "R" is like kryptonite.

Drawing the Wrong Conclusion from Statistics

Marc Comtois

Just a minor observation based on the story in ProJo about Tamiflu, which states:

A recent check of prescribing data from pharmacies around the state found that 15 percent of Tamiflu prescriptions were filled five days after they were written.

That means a lot of wasted Tamiflu, says Health Director David R. Gifford –– because the drug works only if you take it within a day or two after you start feeling ill.

Not so fast, doc. I have a prescription for Tamiflu given to me "just in case". I haven't filled it yet because I don't have the flu. I wonder how many other people do the same thing--get the scrip and wait until flu actually manifests before filling. I can understand the conclusion being drawn, but peoples actions aren't always so "A --> B".

As Maine Goes....

Marc Comtois

Maine became the 31st state to reaffirm via popular vote (and agree with President Obama) that marriage is between a man and a woman. The contrast was really between the coast and the inland/north. A look at the vote breakdown by county reveals that, in the end, the coastal counties of Cumberland (dominated by Portland and surrounding 'burbs) and Hancock (Bar Harbor, Acadia and various coastal "arts" towns) counties were the only to support gay marriage. Those voting to overturn the legislature-approved gay marriage law held a razor-thin margin in the 3 coastal counties of York, Sagadahoc and Knox, had a bigger margin in Lincoln and Waldo and handily won in Downeast Washington county and all of the internal counties. {There is a more detailed, town by town map here - ed.}

On the other hand, Maine voters approved medical marijuana, rejected a Taxpayer Bill of Rights and rejected a proposal to decrease the excise tax. Mixed message? Not really, if you consider the independent nature of the average Maine voter. Ideology doesn't fare very well in the Pine Tree state. Some may call it middle-of-the road, or moderate, others pragmatic. On the tax issues, Mainers don't think you should take away funding vehicles for programs that many have come to depend upon. Whether that dependence is good or bad is a different matter--if the programs are there now, they have to be paid for somehow.

On social issues, Mainers generally have a laissez-faire attitude. You leave them alone, they'll leave you alone. And, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. One would think that would translate into an opposite result on the gay marriage issue. But Mainers really don't like other people telling them what to do--or changing what things mean out from under them. If you're going to impose your will on them without asking them first (even if they elected you), they're not going to like it. That being said, I suspect that if a civil union arrangement similar to that proposed in Referendum 71 in Washington state (note, the same coastal/inland divide) were proposed, it would pass in Maine (and many other places). The word and traditional understanding of marriage still matters, for now.

Which Democrat Will Have the Last Gubernatorial Laugh?

Justin Katz

This piece was originally published in abbreviated form (PDF) in the November 2009 issue of Providence Monthly magazine.

Amidst the banquet of public power in Rhode Island, the term-limited governor stands mainly as a jester for activists to mock and insiders to blame. When their excess begets indigestion, angry lips shout his name. When indigestion begets offensive odors, the guilty gaseous point his way and giggle. And when, at last, the half-digested hopes of Rhode Islanders splatter upon the floor, he finds himself with mop in hand.

The General Assembly dominates state government, and it would be an understatement to say that the Democrat Party dominates it. Not excessively remunerated for their responsibility, the body consists of part-time political dabblers who seek office out of some mixture of ego, self-dealing intentions, political ambition, and (of course) genuine desire to serve their communities. Most of their constituents do not know who they are or what they do, with isolated exceptions related to narrow local issues, the occasional "legislative grant" (buying a smiling picture in the local paper for the price of a few grand in state taxpayer money), and the warm greeting on chilly community soccer-league evenings.

Absorbing the angst that inevitably bubbles up under government authority are various unelected groups that insert personal judgment into matters that might otherwise be determined by rule of law. The network of quasi-judicial acronyms (CRMC, LRB, DEM, DOE, and so on) doubles as a conduit for political reward and influence and the plumbing whereby sources of voter discontent may be diffused, keeping the focus off those who make the law.

The most intractable difficulties drain into the state's judiciary, whose edicts define subsequent law without risking direct voter response. Like legislators, judges have no constitutional limits on their time in office, with the exception being "magistrates," whose appointments can be more political. Politics also leave their mark with the General Assembly's allocation for the judiciary's budget and the inclusion of familiar names on staff rosters.

Over all of this preside the House speaker, the Senate president, and the majority leaders in both chambers, who guide the festivities by means of procedure and largess. Each representative and senator votes and proposes legislation, but the leaders may push them into the circular file of "further study" on a whim, controlling legislators by allowing or disallowing pet bills and by dolling out the tiny aforementioned grants.

While constituents on the street remain largely oblivious, segments of them collect under the Democrat umbrella and maintain a close watch on the fealty of individual legislators:

  • Government insiders, party insiders, and all of those who live and die by a political system that regular folks have trouble taking seriously have obvious reason to keep a keen eye on local players.
  • Special interests reliant on the kindly feelings of lawmakers — notably unions and the social-service industry — have money and manpower to spread around the public square.
  • Progressive ideologues are wholly comfortable working with both of the above, as long as they can inch the state toward an experiment in their utopia.

From the perspective of the right-wing reformer, therefore, the most valuable use of the governor's office would be to turn the jester's performance into a cutting commentary against the assorted nobles of Rhode Island government. With the legislature's edicts chained to one leg and its budget to the other, while judicial manacles bind his hands, the governor has no weapon but his voice.

Neither of the remaining contenders for the Democrats' slot on the ballot is likely to do the rabble's rousing, and the intriguing, potentially differentiating question is to where the fingers will point when the scapegoat is no longer a Republican Other.

General Treasurer Frank Caprio has been a political insider his entire adult life, and his public persona is hardly characterized by an inclination to cause waves for special interests. The progressive contingent, however, has watched with suspicion as he's mingled with the enemy, represented by groups like the Ocean State Policy Research Institute, the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, and Operation Clean Government. He ranked number 5 on Anchor Rising's Spring 2009 list of the Top 10 Right-of-Center Rhode Islanders.

His broad appeal — manifesting in his current fundraising lead — make his chances good for general election victory. As governor, he may stand strong against tax increases, and he's certainly perceived as a friend to Rhode Island businesses, but these positive attributes may serve primarily to place him (and them) on the defensive, even as the General Assembly persists in its fiscally deadly habits. The progressives will also strive to tangle him up in the tug-of-war over social issues, in which he's been reluctant to participate.

That's less of a problem for Attorney General Patrick Lynch, who is proficient in all of the soothing courtship calls of the Democrat-labor-Left coalition, which may provide an edge during primary season. Once in office, he'll likely evince comfort with progressives' agenda (where convenient) and work with his fellow Democrats to spread tissue paper over the state's cracking foundation. With those assumptions, we can expect Lynch to toss the governor's motley joker hat out of the room, to the state's conservative minority (including the religious), national right-wingers, and "greedy" businessmen.

If former Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey was correct, when he withdrew from the state and from speculative candidacy, that Rhode Islanders simply do not want to bring the feast to an end, then his opponent in the last Republican U.S. Senate primaries will prove to have the perfect head for that three-belled cap. Lincoln Chafee is an "independent" still bearing the stain of his years as a nominal Republican. His pretentions toward fiscal conservatism will make a target of free-market and small-government principles, even as his actual liberalism clears the way for increasing burdens on taxpayers and businesses and facilitates a drunken lurch toward the libertine left in the dark hours of apocalyptic night.

In any case, conservatives might find new liberty in lacking an ally in the hall of power; we'll be free to venture out and rebuild the kingdom from the frontiers in.

Looks Like a Turnaround

Justin Katz

We'll hear all sorts of contradictory analyses, in the days to come, among which will be assurances that there are no broad conclusions to be drawn, but key votes up and down the East Coast, yesterday, certainly don't disprove the notion of a turnaround toward our nation's Republican, conservative strain:

  • Republican Chris Christie took the New Jersey governor seat from Democrat Jon Corzine.
  • Republican Bob McDonnell took the Virginia governor seat from Democrat Creigh Deeds.
  • Democrat Bill Owens narrowly won a New York Congressional District race, with 49% of the vote, against Conservative Doug Hoffman's 46% and RINO Dierdre Scozzafava's 6%. Had the Republicans not gone with the "Republican who can win" and attacked the Conservative, it isn't unreasonable to suggest that they would have won that race, too.
  • Voters in Maine nullified the legislature's imposition of same-sex marriage, for the state, making it the 31st of 31 states in which the people have affirmed the traditional definition of marriage, regardless of the imperious maneuverings of judges and votes bought by ultrarich left-wing activists.

Actually, looking at that last bullet point, it mightn't be accurate to characterize the national results as "a turnaround." After all, President Obama supported traditional marriage, as a candidate, and ran overall as a centrist, even a fiscal conservative in some fevered minds. If there's a lesson in this for the president, it's probably that the people of the United States of America have figured out that he lied.

November 3, 2009

Grassroots Unrest Spreads to the NFL

Marc Comtois

The "political arena" isn't the only place where the grassroots are ticked off and ready to show it. Fans of both the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins are planning on making a public statement about the sorry state of their teams. In Cleveland:

Lifelong Browns fan and season-ticket holder Mike Randall, aka "Dawg Pound Mike," is encouraging other Cleveland fans to stay away from their seats for the opening kickoff of the Browns' Nov. 16 home game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Sickened by the nearly constant losing since the NFL team's return in 1999, Randall hopes the sight of empty seats for the start of the nationally televised Monday night game will send a loud message to Browns owner Randy Lerner and other club officials that fans have had enough.

"We're tired of losing," said Randall, 39. "We're tired of the booing, of seeing fans leave in the fourth quarter. There are fans who have had tickets for 30 years who are turning their seats in because they can't take it anymore. So many fans are fed up."

In Washington, D.C.:
Daniel Snyder wants to ban signs at FedEx Field? Then let's turn the stadium itself into a sign he can't ban.

Everyone sitting in the designated upper-level sections for the Washington vs Denver game (Nov. 15th at FedEx field) can be part of a giant "FIRE SNYDER" sign just by wearing the color designated for their seat.

These are more examples of how technology is helping average folks organize around an issue in hopes of making a statement. Sports and society do indeed mirror each other.

Could Have Been Worse, Will Not Be Better

Justin Katz

Unsurprisingly, Kate Brewster, of Poverty Institute fame, is inclined to cheerlead for stimulus money:

"It could have been worse" might not be an inspirational slogan, but it aptly describes the situation in Rhode Island and other states thanks to unprecedented federal efforts to fight back against one of the worst recessions in memory.

She goes on to list some big dollar amounts that have been handed out, but my mind keeps returning to her opening quotation. In the years and decades to come, we should pause from time to time to wonder whether, in those future days, things could have been better in the absence of all of that advance spending.

In Rhode Island, surely, and probably throughout the nation as a whole, we are likely to be measuring our progress in degrees of economic pain, rather than of success, for the better part of our lives. Unless, of course, we turn our nation from the path on which Brewster's ilk has set us.

No Sympathy for the Demented

Justin Katz

Not to go all social conservative on you, but I have to believe that there are (or should be) more pressing issues for the head of a civil liberties organization than protecting an industry set on selling the sexual objectification of children. But there goes the ACLU's Steven Brown:

Legislation passed last week to make sex-trafficking of minors a felony is so broad, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee, that it could make criminals of people who profit from sexually-explicit art depicting minors. ...

The allegedly offending language in the human-trafficking legislation defines "sexually-explicit performance" as "an act or show, intended to arouse, satisfy the sexual desires of, or appeal to the prurient interests of patrons or viewers, whether public or private, live, photographed, recorded or videotaped." Anyone found guilty of such an offense would face up to 40 years in prison and a $40,000 fine, or both.

"Theoretically, it could be a theater owner," the state's chief civil libertarian told Political Scene. Or "somebody who takes photographs of minors deemed to appeal to prurient interests ..."

Personally, I'd have stricken the phrase about "prurient interests," and been clearer about the meaning of "sexually-explicit," but several other factors make it unnecessary, even odd, to fear for theater owners who behave in ways that we'd all agree oughtn't be criminal:

  • It's fanciful to imagine that the judiciary, as constituted for the foreseeable future, will seek to interpret art as "intended" for the purpose of arousal.
  • Legal precedent providing first amendment protection to pornography ensures the first point, and if producers must take extra care with actual children, well, I'd be hard-pressed to explain why an artistic statement requires the use of actual children for sexual purposes.
  • I continue to believe that it should be deemed appropriate for states to be more stringent, in their rules, than is the federal government. If Rhode Islanders don't wish to allow the public display of children in sexually explicit situations, then there are 49 other states in which peddlers of filth could display their sickness.

Chariho Teachers Approve Contract: Stepping Away from Steps?

Marc Comtois

As the ProJo reports, the Chariho teachers have approved a new contract (PDF) that includes nearly the complete eradication of the traditional increases (go "here" to see what I mean by "traditional") in the hard-coded contract step increases. This is what the Chariho contract looks like:


Usually, a step contract would have something like a 2.5% annual salary increase for each pay step. Not here. This time the teachers' union and district agreed on a step schedule that remained constant over three years for steps 1-8, decreased for steps 9 and 10, fluctuated for step 11 and (apparently) added a new step 12 in 2010-11.

As I've shown by including the "Yr X Raise" column, that doesn't mean that teachers aren't getting a raise every year, it just means the usual increase in pay that comes via a step increase isn't being further compounded by a raise on each step, too. As an example, I've highlighted (in blue/green/red) what the "real world" salary increases would be for a new teacher as they progress to 2011-12 under this contract. Being guaranteed over a 6% increase per year still ain't a bad deal.

Whether or not we agree with the amount of increases from step to step, it is significant that there is no raise being applied from year to year for each step. Whether or not this will inspire--or embolden--other districts to follow suit will be interesting to see.

Error and Redundancy

Justin Katz

Congressional United Church Pastor Eugene Dyszlewski took to the Projo letters section, on Sunday, to attack Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin for his criticism of supposedly Roman Catholic Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who had attacked the Catholic Bishops for continuing to oppose abortion funding within healthcare legislation. Writes Dyszlewski:

The congressman poses a legitimate question about how the Catholic Church could be against the biggest social-justice issue of our time. It remains to be seen what specific language in what bill raises the abortion concern. Federal law already includes a ban on abortion financing; demanding redundant legislative language in the bill under the threat of opposition seems oddly unnecessary.

It would be preferable if religious leaders were less prone to logical error and the promotion of misinformation. For illustration of the first count, imagine a "comprehensive healthcare bill" that would cover all those millions of uninsured Americans (or non-Americans, as the case may be), but that had a provision for the execution of Protestant ministers. Would it be inexplicable opposition to "the biggest social-justice issue of our time" to require the removal of that provision as a prerequisite for supporting the bill? The reverend is merely trading in deceptive political rhetoric.

On the second count, Dyszlewski is astonishingly strident about the redundancy of the language for which pro-lifers are calling. At best, it appears that the only real question is the mechanism by which federal dollars would flow to abortion providers. If Dyszlewski is referring to the Hyde Amendment, he's simply wrong. That annual appropriations rider applies only to the Health and Human Services appropriation, from which healthcare legislation would have distinct revenue. The upshot is that unique legislation does, in fact, require a targeted ban.

If Rev. Dyslewski believes that financing the killing of unborn children is a small price to pay for a bill that will ensure the erosion of our healthcare system, then it would be more honest of him to come out and say as much. In the meantime, I'd caution him against making common cause with the likes of Stephan Brigidi, of Bristol, who used the same space a couple of days previous to express his zealotry for banning religious leaders and their beliefs from the public square. "For far too long," writes Brigidi, "this interference has gone unchallenged, such as the reciting of rosaries and prayers under the State House rotunda to oppose certain legislation."

There's a reason the "right" to abortion rises up in tandem with an urge to restrict rights of religion and free speech, and religious folk would do well to contemplate it.

November 2, 2009

Scozzafava's Parting Shot Inadvertently Revealing

Monique Chartier

Whatever happens in New York's District 23 election tomorrow, Dede Scozzafava's endorsement of her Democrat (former) rival will only confirm the reservations

The Republican nominee, State Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, on Sunday endorsed the Democrat in the race, Bill Owens, after coaxing from the White House.

of her critics about her Republican/conservative credentials, especially as she made the cross party endorsement at the urging of President Obama.

After this little turn of events, even those of us who would probably not be considered very conservative now wonder what the president could have talked her into had she stayed in the race and won the Congressional seat. Cap and Trade? A second stimulus package? Ever more bailouts and pork-laden budgets? One's wallet cringes at the thought.

Political vocabulary bonus courtesy Mark Steyn: DIABLO - "Democrat In All But Label Only"

FLASH: Corrente Not Running for Governor

Marc Comtois

Former U.S. Attorney for RI Robert Corrente told WPRO's Dan Yorke that he will not run for RI Governor in 2010. He confirmed that he did speak to the Moderate Party but ultimately determined that the timing wasn't right.

Fathers as Biological Stimulus

Justin Katz

One can only extrapolate so much from this news, but it's certainly interesting — especially given various discussions of family types:

Conventional wisdom holds that two parents are better than one. Scientists are now finding that growing up without a father actually changes the way your brain develops.

German biologist Anna Katharina Braun and others are conducting research on animals that are typically raised by two parents, in the hopes of better understanding the impact on humans of being raised by a single parent. Dr. Braun's work focuses on degus, small rodents related to guinea pigs and chinchillas, because mother and father degus naturally raise their babies together.

When deprived of their father, the degu pups exhibit both short- and long-term changes in nerve-cell growth in different regions of the brain. Dr. Braun, director of the Institute of Biology at Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg, and her colleagues are also looking at how these physical changes affect offspring behavior.

Generally speaking, it has seemed to me that nature sets upper and lower boundaries as well as proclivities, while nurture directs the individual within that range. Ultimately, it makes no sense to draw a stark line between biology and psychology; they're more of a continuum.

Not Breaking in the Least: People Don't Like to Pay High Taxes When They Get Nothing in Return

Carroll Andrew Morse

For those interested in the continuing debate about the relation between taxpayer mobility and tax-rates, Los Angeles Times op-ed contributor William Voegeli adds another analysis based on multi-state Census data…

One way to assess how Americans feel about the different tax and benefit packages the states offer is by examining internal U.S. migration patterns. Between April 1, 2000, and June 30, 2007, an average of 3,247 more people moved out of California than into it every week, according to the Census Bureau. Over the same period, Texas had a net weekly population increase of 1,544 as a result of people moving in from other states. During these years, more generally, 16 of the 17 states with the lowest tax levels had positive "net internal migration," in the Census Bureau's language, while 14 of the 17 states with the highest taxes had negative net internal migration.

In Favor of Options – Even Non-Government Ones!

Carroll Andrew Morse

Hurrah to the Projo editorial board, for recognizing that governmental regulations can artificially increase the price of health insurance in non-rational ways…

We noticed the other week, for instance, that an insurance policy in Maryland has a premium half the size, and with better coverage, than a similar policy sold by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island, but other than by moving to Maryland there is no way to buy it....

Getting rid of the antitrust exemption and letting people shop for insurance nationally would be good steps in controlling costs.

There is some chatter in the internet about the best route to change the laws (see here, for example), but the point is that medical inflation rates greatly in excess of the basic inflation rate are not the result of some unalterable force of nature. They've been created, in large part, by the unintended consequences of poorly-thought out laws -- laws that can be changed if their adverse impacts have created problems that are bigger than the original problems they were intended to address.

A Healthy Market

Justin Katz

Wheaton College Philosophy Professor Stephen Mathis questions "how appropriate it is to address health concerns using a for-profit model":

Consider that we have numerous treatments for erectile dysfunction, while drug companies have resisted putting resources into finding a cure for malaria, a disease most prevalent in poorer countries.

Professor Mathis might profit from a viewing of my video blog describing the effects of attempts at manipulating economic behavior. We have treatments for erectile dysfunction because people want them. Reformulating the healthcare system in such a way as to deny that sort of research and to force investment in other areas of less market demand will not have the intended effect and will require escalating infringements on freedom.

For the individual, the choice isn't between cures for erectile dysfunction and malaria research, but between cures for erectile dysfunction and a new car (or whatever else the individual might spend his money on). Push hard enough, and the choice becomes one between funding malaria research and declining to work so hard or take financial risks with the hope of prospering.

Mathis has other misconceptions about medicine and the market:

First, we tend to think it inappropriate to profit from others' misfortunes, whether they are illnesses or accidents. This also helps explain why our police and fire departments are all either government-funded or volunteer. So when it comes to protecting lives or saving them, we disapprove of those who profit from others' misfortunes because they take advantage of others when they are vulnerable.

Second, we have laws against buying and selling human organs. We do not let individuals buy or sell organs because we think it is inappropriate to put a price tag on such things as bodily organs. This also explains why we do let individuals donate organs.

In the first case, I'd suggest that it isn't an abstract sense of appropriateness at play, but of danger. Nobody begrudges financial gain for those who save lives; rather, we're wary of circumstances in which lifesavers could leverage dire need at a crucial moment in order to extort greater payment. It's not that we have a moral problem with police and firefighters making a healthy living for their services and the risks that they take; it's that we fear a scenario in which they stand at the door with their hands out before collaring the murderer or dousing the flames. The former is a matter of compensation; the latter is a matter of complicity in crime and destruction.

Similarly, in the second case, we don't fear that devaluing organs through sale will devalue their owners. The devaluation of the person comes first. If you're a person with explicit dominion over your body, then others must approach you as a being capable of making decisions, a peer; if you're a shell for valuable organs, then others can focus on plying those organs from you. Consider:

... outlawing organ sales is a way of making clear that, as a society, we think individuals should never have to face certain decisions — say, between filing for bankruptcy or selling a kidney.

Wrong. Outlawing organ sales is a way of preventing immoral actors from targeting your finances as a means of acquiring your kidney. Indeed, it cannot be moral, and it devalues organs, to declare that a man must watch his family suffer because we've erased his kidney's market value. Not allowing individuals to "face certain decisions" doesn't relieve them of the horror of their circumstances. In that case, organs are literally worthless, except insofar as they keep individuals sufficiently healthy to make of themselves workhorses. But it devalues the entire person — and his family, too — if constructing an economy full of pitfalls can push him toward harvesting his body. In other words, it isn't the decisions of the individual against which we're guarding, but the decisions of the entire society.

The implications for our healthcare system are straightforward. My premise is that we restrict acute freedoms (such as selling one's organs) and circumscribe the profitability of safety in order to protect the vulnerable from the powerful. Consolidating healthcare decisions and handing the powerful a right to make them hardly alleviates that danger.

A Difficult Judgmentalism

Justin Katz

While by no means condoning his behavior, some commenters decline to judge the lifestyle of George Holland, which Marc described on Thursday. Writes Joe:

I don't know - it seems the guy was genuinely liked by these women [with whom he fathered children] - they probably wouldn't all get on the same page to fabricate a story if he were that bad. I don't like to judge other peoples' lifestyle arrangements because there are "conventional" families wherein the worst imaginable types of abuse occur, out of sight, out of mind.

Our society has determined that non-judgmentalism is a virtue, but it seems to me to be as facile and irresponsible as a judgmentalism that follows a strict, unconsidered line and conveniently exempts the behavior of the person who's being judgmental. Passing judgment shouldn't be done frivolously or as a means of directing attention away from one's own behavior, but leveling all personal decisions ignores millennia of cultural experience and shirking the duty to exert individual social pressure ensures that we'll all pay the price, in the forms of both government cleanup and cultural decay.

Tabetha offers anecdotal evidence of one such abusive "conventional family":

Lakesha Garrett, who was recently accused of murder, was once a promising straight A student at Classical HS with 3 scholarships lined up for college. I know this because she and I were very close friends as teenagers. However, she was the victim of horrible abuse - abuse so terrible that there is actually a child abuse law in RI named for her family. To the outside world, Lakesha came from a "conventional" family. Her mom and dad were married, she and her siblings shared the same two parents, and her parents were outwardly religious, church-going folks who owned several rental properties in the West End and Southside area. However, there was a much darker side to this family. ... So, while the children of this guy Holland may not be living in what many consider ideal circumstances, perhaps they will turn out much more well-adjusted than some kids that you think are living with "proper" families. The mothers of these children may be doing a better job than some of the families you think are great. I don't know since I don't know these people myself. It is not always easy to see where children are most open to harm.

Perhaps. Maybe. Earlier, Tabetha implies that the children of folks like Holland might be justifiably removed, but it shouldn't be difficult to find examples of foster and adoptive homes that turned abusive.

Humanity isn't formed with cookie cutters, and few are entirely evil. Therefore, it isn't enough to say that one guy who resigned his children to an "unconventional family" was decent and tried to do the best for them, while this other family looked normal and did horrible things to their kids. If Holland had made the not-so-difficult decision to limit his fatherhood experience to the mother and children with whom he'd begun, it's reasonable to suggest that he would have advanced in a more healthy direction, rather than a direction such as Tabetha describes in the Garretts. On the other hand, imagine if Mr. Garrett had lived after Holland's example.

Holland's children and others who've observed his story have learned from him and from the women's reactions, that his behavior was just fine. And maybe we could accept that if the qualities that mitigated the effects, on his part, were universal. But his sons might not be so apt to consider their children. His daughters might not see similar behavior in their boyfriends as a warning sign. To the extent that societal approval affects those who are making the right decisions (and the effect isn't nil), why should they work so hard at building families and restraining their temptations when they'd avoid negative reactions were they to freewheel just shy of abuse and drug dealing?

Pretending that we don't know where this path leads when taken not by a single family, but by a society, is irresponsible and doesn't absolve us of guilt any more than freely pointing fingers at everybody else does.

November 1, 2009

Moody's Downgrade of Connecticut's Bond Outlook a Cautionary Tale for Rhode Island?

Monique Chartier

We are now broaching a topic about which I know almost nothing. But certain aspects of this situation sound familiar.

The bond rating agency Moody’s Investors Service announced on Monday it has lowered its outlook for Connecticut’s general obligation bonds from stable to negative. At the same time, the agency said it held its rating for the state’s outstanding GO bonds — amounting to approximately $12 billion — at Aa3.

The agency released a report describing the factors it used to come up with its negative rating, which included the state’s need to issue deficit bonds to resolve this year’s budget shortfall, and the non-recurring solutions and deficit financing used to close revenue gaps in the state’s 2010 – 2011 biennial budget.

Connecticut used one-time solutions to close slightly over half of the (biennial budget’s) shortfall,” the report says, and “these solutions create future structural budget gaps and leave the state with significantly reduced flexibility to address additional fiscal pressures that may arise due to a delayed and/or weaker than expected recovery from the worst economic recession since the depression.”

Rhode Island has tapped one time fixes - tobacco revenue in at least two years and, most recently, federal stimulus money - to close state budget gaps. This is clearly not something that makes bond raters comfortable.

Rhode Island has not, however, gone to the length of issuing bonds to cover the prior year's annual operating shortfall. (If we have, I don't think I want to know.)

Moody’s specifically mentioned the [Connecticut] General Assembly's issuing of $947 million in bonds to help cover last fiscal year’s shortfall.

Break out the champagne! Another state has done worse than us in the budgeting department!

Revelation: Russian War Games in September Simulated Nuclear and Conventional Attacks on Poland

Monique Chartier

... that would be right around the time President Obama announced that his administration would abandon plans for an American missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

In August, 2008, Poland had reached an agreement with the Bush administration to host components of a missile defense shield, an arrangement that had "deeply angered" Russia. Reacting to the news, a Russian general stated that

“Poland is making itself a target. This is 100 percent” certain, Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted General Anatoly Nogovitsyn as saying.

“It becomes a target for attack. ..."

Oops, he lied. A year later, President Obama cancelled the missile defense shield, which should have restored Poland's innocence. But it now appears that Poland is still very much a target for Russia.

The Telegraph (UK) reports today that the Polish weekly magazine Wprost (linked in conformance with blogotory style for the convenience of our Polish speaking readers) obtained documents pertaining to the Russian war games which targeted one of our allies.

The manoeuvres are thought to have been held in September and involved about 13,000 Russian and Belarusian troops.

Poland, which has strained relations with both countries, was cast as the "potential aggressor".

The documents state the exercises, code-named "West", were officially classified as "defensive" but many of the operations appeared to have an offensive nature.

The Russian air force practised using weapons from its nuclear arsenal, while in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which neighbours Poland, Red Army forces stormed a "Polish" beach and attacked a gas pipeline.

The operation also involved the simulated suppression of an uprising by a national minority in Belarus – the country has a significant Polish population which has a strained relationship with authoritarian government of Belarus.

Rumors about President Obama reconsidering plans for the missile shield had surfaced as early as March, 2009. Yet Russia proceeded with war games - clearly offensive and not defensive in nature - that can only be viewed as an explicit threat to a sovereign nation. Did they do so despite the missile shield or because it would soon be gone?

Whatever the exact order of events in September - war games followed shortly by President Obama's announcement or vice versa - this is a nasty development that simultaneously deals a blow to Poland's sense of national security and cannot but cast doubt on the foreign policy judgment of our own President.