January 31, 2010

And Then Fell the Rainforest Claim...

Justin Katz

Boy, when people finally start looking into the claims of climate alarmists, dominoes start to fall:

A STARTLING report by the United Nations climate watchdog that global warming might wipe out 40% of the Amazon rainforest was based on an unsubstantiated claim by green campaigners who had little scientific expertise.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its 2007 benchmark report that even a slight change in rainfall could see swathes of the rainforest rapidly replaced by savanna grassland.

The source for its claim was a report from WWF, an environmental pressure group, which was authored by two green activists. They had based their "research" on a study published in Nature, the science journal, which did not assess rainfall but in fact looked at the impact on the forest of human activity such as logging and burning.

Look, they've been making environmental doomsday claims in cartoons and pushing "common knowledge" since I was a kid. There's a whole industry dependent upon the continued panic of people who don't pay much attention to the world around them.

Global Warming: Not Nearly as Warm as It Should Be

Monique Chartier

Under my post "Stop the Check...", commenter David says

Only a moron could fail to recognize that the earth is warming.

Sure, the planet is warming. Most people don't deny that fact. The problem for AGW scientists and advocates - in addition to the minisculity of man's role in the generation of greenhouse gases - is that it has not been warming nearly enough. Science Daily reported a couple of weeks ago that

According to current best estimates of climate sensitivity, the amount of CO2 and other heat-trapping gases added to Earth's atmosphere since humanity began burning fossil fuels on a significant scale during the industrial period would be expected to result in a mean global temperature rise of 3.8°F -- well more than the 1.4°F increase that has been observed for this time span.

So the theory and the computer models have over-estimated - by 240% - the warming that should have occurred as a result of man's greenhouse gases. (By the way, has this important development been splashed all over major newspapers and cable and network news for the last two weeks ...?) This is far from being the panic situation that Al Gore and others portray with increasing hyperbole. More importantly, this significant differential between predicted and actual temperature indicates something very wrong with the science of the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

This leads inevitably to the question: if global warming isn't all that warm, maybe it isn't anthropogenic, either. This conclusion becomes all the more acute when we factor in the size - a whopping 6% - of man's contribution to greenhouse gases.

More Refreshers: RI Academic Achievement, Teacher Salary Ranking, Student to Teacher Ratio

Monique Chartier

Further to Justin's post, national ranking of the Rhode Island public school system in certain areas of interest.

Academic Achievement: 40th
[Source: ALEC Report Card on American Education, 15th Edition]

National Ranking of Rhode Island Teacher Salary: 9th highest

[Source: NEA, middle column, Page 37, of this PDF]
Ratio of Students Enrolled per Teacher: 51st (lowest ratio in the country)
[Source: NEA, Page 35 of this PDF]

School Committees and parents around the state may wish to keep these rankings in mind as contract renegotiation nears.

Fresh Data Alert: the NEA report, "Rankings & Estimates", linked above twice, was issued just last month.

A Refresher on Teacher Salaries

Justin Katz

Pat Crowley's in the comment section slinging mud at my numbers. For consistency's sake, here's the relevant chart for the state as a whole:

Crowley's claim is that the increases in teachers' salaries are not keeping up with inflation. One could argue the relevance of that fact on the grounds that everything else must therefore really not be keeping up with inflation. One could argue the relevance of that fact, I should say, if it were a fact. There are two ways in which Crowley likes to make the inflation claim deceptively. The first, less applicable here, is to look at the category of "instruction" and draw his inflation numbers from that.

When he tried this trick back in 2007, I explained that, while the "instruction expenditures" category increased 19.8% from 2000 to 2006, in comparison with 19.9% inflation, teasing out teacher pay showed their salaries increasing 28.1%. Last year, I put the point in graphical form:

Another method that Crowley employs, that is probably more relevant in the current context, is to lump all teachers together to hide the continual increases in all of their salaries. I've looked at this, too, and the trick is that Rhode Island has been on a teacher-hiring spree:

Obviously, hiring young teachers will bring down the average salary. Indeed, the more teachers we hire, the more it appears that their pay isn't going up:

Of course, the system must then deal with this mass of teachers as they progress through their sometimes double-digit salary increases, what with cost-of-living adjustments and steps combined. Brace yourselves, Rhode Island; salaries and benefits are going to be absorbing much more of the budgets for your students' schools, and the odds that the very same teachers will be able to turn around their abysmal results with even fewer resources are slim to none.

January 30, 2010

The Inadvertent Rudeness of Technology

Monique Chartier

Bob Kerr writes in yesterday's Providence Journal

The first time I saw a laptop on a bar top was at Local 121 in Providence a few months ago. It was a moment of social breakdown. In a place meant for the soothing embrace of a cocktail, a woman apparently saw no problem, no code violations, in plopping down her slab of technology and hooking up with the universe.

I know some bars where putting a laptop down next to the beer coasters would probably bring the threat of a laptop flying, followed closely by its owner. But Local 121 is a subdued and tasteful place, retaining much of the original elegance from the days when it was the bar of the Dreyfus Hotel. The bartender did not lean over and threaten to bounce the laptop off the wall. The clueless offender was allowed to click away.

The rudely placed laptop came not long after a woman at Borders bookstore in Garden City told me all about her troublesome daughter. I’m pretty sure she didn’t intend to tell me anything, but she shared every anguished word with me and others who were looking for a good book. She poured her worries into her cell phone with a voice that spilled out beyond the latest nonfiction and paperback mysteries. She was in a bookstore, cutting into literary considerations with a private conversation turned public. Like the laptop user at the bar, she appeared to have not a clue that she was pushing her life in the way of others.

So we've got two separate matters here. A computer at the bar and the public cell phone conversationalist who believes s/he is perpetually surrounded by deaf people.

I am 150% with Bob on the latter. The loud cell phone user is in a slightly different rudeness category as the point-of-purchase cell phonist, though both involve the inflicting of personal information, willy nilly, on the public. I was in a Whole Foods check-out line a couple of weeks ago behind a woman who carried out the entire process - loading of the conveyor, scanning of items, bagging and paying - talking intensely into a cell phone. When the clerk turned to me and my items, I observed that she needed a "No Cell Phone" sign at her register. She replied in cheerful bemusement and a killer Southern accent, "Ah just learned all of that girl's business!" Indeed. Whether or not she was interested.

So, absolutely. The mis-placed and/or loud cell phonist. Inconsiderate and boorish.

What I'm not getting is the laptop computer at the bar. Why is this rude? What unspoken bar etiquette has been breached? How is this "a moment of social breakdown" that makes Bob think wistfully of direct, corrective action?

... the bartender faced with a customer who sits down at the bar and opens a laptop might have a few practiced suggestions picked up in technology etiquette classes. The bartender might say, for example: “If you don’t want 16 ounces of Irish stout poured on your keyboard, you might want to take you and your laptop somewhere else.”

Life as a Preparation for Writing

Justin Katz

The non-political aspect of this advice from Mark Steyn is well worth heeding by anybody with an interest in writing:

Whenever aspiring writers ask me for advice, I usually tell 'em this:

Don't just write there, do something. Learn how to shingle a roof, or tap-dance, or raise sled dogs. Because if you don't do anything, you wind up like Obama and Fineman — men for whom words are props and codes and metaphors but no longer expressive of anything real.

Of course the politicized insight is worth considering, too.

Asking the Most Indebted Entities to Lend

Justin Katz

Does the capacity to have government do it — "it" being everything and anything — ever end? I ask in response to Brian Hull's musings on small-businesses' access to capital:

How do we solve the lending problem? One way to increase lending is for the state to do it directly. If banks are unwilling to lend, and lack of access to capital is stymieing growth in Rhode Island, then I would argue that it is contingent upon the government to assist. Rhode Island should establish a loan program targeted specifically for expanding access to capital for locally-owned and operated small businesses that wish to expand their business, but are unable to do so because of rigid lending practices.

[Note: I think he means "incumbent upon government."]

Realizing that the money would have to come from somewhere, Brian lists all of the possibilities but those from a conspicuous category:

There are a couple places to look, and each has benefits and challenges. The state could borrow the money from the federal government or from national lending institutions. The state could change its tax laws to generate more revenue in order to lend. The state could eliminate existing corporate subsidies that benefit large employers with no positive economic effect (the state should eliminate these anyway). The state could establish a state-run bank funded by the current deposits held by the state and its cities and towns (I’ll write more about the benefits of a state-run bank in another article).

Without even bothering to list the possibility that the funds to lend could be shifted from some other area of current spending, Brian suggests that the most deficit-ridden entity in the state of Rhode Island should put itself into further debt in order to lend. And one way it could do so entails asking to borrow from the most indebted entity in the world — the United States government!

As far as I can tell, the only advantage that a government entity has, in just about any capacity, is that it can take money by force. That shouldn't be the first principle of economic recovery — especially for a small state that is easily left.

The Usual Ommission from School Budget Fights

Justin Katz

Anchor Rising readers shouldn't have any trouble guessing (let alone discerning) what's missing from this report out of Cranston:

Wednesday night, on what was the first chance for the public to speak on the proposed budget, students, coaches and parents flocked to Cranston West's auditorium, where the School Committee budget hearing was moved to accommodate the expected crowd.

Many donned team jerseys (revealing a clear home-team advantage) and defended the value of sports and the added push that rivalry brings.

"Don't expect us to give up without fighting for what we have worked so hard to build up," Deanna Archetto, a senior who swims for Cranston West, told the School Committee.

"There have to be other options that don't involve chopping from the bottom," she said.

The $1.1-million in proposed cuts — which include the elementary school enrichment program along with strings, band and chorus, following the recommendations of a court-ordered performance audit — follow the state Supreme Court ruling last month that found the district ignored the financial reality, continued to overspend its budget and then sued the city for additional money.

For readers who may be new to the site, I offer this clue:

At a time when the executive director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island is playing games with an application for nine-figures of federal assistance so as to keep his union's members above accountability,* residents who wish to protest cuts to sports and other services should target their ire where it belongs.

* Which is not to say that I support the continued federal takeover of our educational system. I'm merely pointing to the clear priorities of the teachers' union.

Protesting on Behalf of Vanity

Justin Katz

So, from this report, the situation appears to be as follows: A bookstore/cafe serving Yale in New Haven is happy to hire immigrants and makes a point of helping them to learn English — a sure social and economic advantage.

However, when owner Charles Negaro made it company policy that English should be spoken in publicly accessible areas of the establishment, the Ivy League community rushed to illustrate its own vapidity. Ostensibly on behalf of the workers, people are protesting and boycotting the business that employs them.

I say "ostensibly" because the real motivation for such protest is the petulant vanity of people with too much time and too narrow a perspective.

January 29, 2010

Senate Dems to Pres Obama: No Freeze on Spending

Monique Chartier

The applause had barely ended on the President's State of the Union Address before the Senate had put the kibosh on one of the initiatives therein. From the AP yesterday:

Just days after President Barack Obama endorsed a partial freeze on domestic spending, his Democratic allies in the Senate have rejected a plan attempting to do pretty much the same thing.

Old-school Democrats were the driving force in killing the bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions and Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill. Their plan was slightly modified version of Obama's that would have permitted domestic agencies an increase of just about 1 percent, with slightly higher boosts for the Pentagon.

I'm not sure what's more astonishing: the incomprehensible level of spending that this Congress and this administration have achieved (let us anticipate a popular criticism that often crops up at this point by noting that it was no better when George Bush was over-spending) or that there are actually people who couldn't limit themselves to incomprehensible plus 1%.

The AP also noted that

A 56-strong majority of senators supported the plan but it failed because 60 votes were required. The vote came the morning after Obama threatened to veto spending bills that would exceed a domestic spending freeze.

Roll call here. H/T the Fred Thompson Show.

Spreading Your Wealth Around

Justin Katz

Marc already offered the only commentary necessary on the idea of taxing workers during a recession to pay the unemployed, but there's a tangential point to be teased from this:

Under one scenario, the maximum amount of the new tax on a worker could be about $58 a year.

Doesn't look like much, does it? We all chip in and help those who are down on their luck, just now. How could one object?

Well, $58 per year is a small amount. But so is an increase in the municipal water bill. So is another $100 or so for a local pay-as-you-throw garbage program. So is the incremental increase in taxes to pay teachers' step increases. So is the annual increase in RIte Care. So is the per capita cost of the stimulus program. This list could go on and on.

Before you know it, that little bit of money to help out struggling families is creating disincentive to spend cash and thereby finance businesses. It's raising the cost of hiring new employees. In short, it's generating more struggling families.

When Activism Becomes Ocean's Ten

Justin Katz

Internet technology and revolutions in communications create a razor's edge between magnificent and dangerous. People are decreasingly held down by a lack of connections or resources, but by the same token, there is less of a vetting process for advancement, and the direct chute to stardom obviates a sense of long, slow investment in one's position.

So, it's disappointing, but not entirely surprising, to learn that one of the kids behind the revelatory ACORN videos appears to have dived too quickly into the movie in his head:

A conservative activist who posed as a pimp to target the community-organizing group ACORN and the son of a federal prosecutor were among four men arrested and accused of trying to tamper with phones at Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's office.

Activist James O'Keefe, 25, recorded two of the other suspects with his cell phone as they walked into the office dressed like telephone repairman and said they needed to fix problems with the phone system, according to an FBI affidavit.

The interesting blend of Candid Camera, political activism, and alternative media coalesced into an extremely powerful tool to expose ACORN. Turned toward nakedly partisan espionage, it's offensive and stupid.

Howard Zinn

Marc Comtois

It shouldn't go unremarked that radical left historian Howard Zinn has passed away at the age of 87. Zinn, Matt Damon's favorite historian, is best known for his A Peoples History of the United States, a controversial work that has generated mountains of debate within (and outside of) the historical profession. (He even caused a stir around here back in 2004 when he was invited to speak at South Kingstown High unbeknownst to many parents). Disagree with him or not, Zinn will remain hugely influential in the fields of history and political thought for years to come.

That being said, there is plenty of ammo to refute the Zinn-ites. Perhaps the most recent and thorough critique of the work was written in 2004 by Michael Kazin in Dissent magazine (no right-wing rag, that!). Kazin explains how Zinn has been a buttress for the leftist/progressive ideology of those who idolize him:

Pointing out what's wrong with Zinn's passionate tome is not difficult for anyone with a smattering of knowledge about the American past. By why has this polemic disguised as history attracted so many enthusiastic readers?

For the majority of reviewers on Amazon.com (381, as of February 2004), A People's History has the force and authority of revelation. "Zinn single-handedly initiated a Copernican revolution in historicism," writes "eco-william" from Oregon. Others rave about his "compassion and eye for detail" and proclaim the survey "a top contender for greatest book ever written." Zinn's admirers have a quick retort to conservatives who claim his work is "biased." Writes "culov" from Anaheim: "The book is purposely meant to be biased. It tells the story of American history from the point of view of 'the losers' because we all know that the winners write history. If you want something written from George Washington's point of view, go buy a textbook . . . those are as biased as possible."

The unqualified directness of Zinn's prose clearly appeals to his readers. Unlike scholars who aspire to add one or two new bricks to an edifice that has been under construction for decades or even centuries, he brings dynamite to the job. "To understand," wrote Frederick Douglass, "one must stand under." Although Zinn doesn't quote that axiom, the sensibility appears on every page of his book. His fans can supply the corollary themselves: only the utterly contemptible stand on top.

Many radicals and some liberals clearly want to hear this moral stated and re-stated. Even Eric Foner, whose splendid scholarship delivers no such easy lessons, praised Zinn's book in the New York Times as "a coherent new version of American history." The Story of American Freedom, Foner's own 1996 attempt to write a survey for non-academic readers, is far more scrupulous-and far less popular.

Zinn fills a need shaped by our recent past. The years since 1980 have not been good ones for the American left. Three Republicans and one centrist Democrat occupied the White House; conservatives captured both houses of Congress; the phantom hope of state socialism vanished almost overnight; and progressive movements spent most of their time struggling to preserve earlier gains instead of daring to envision and fight for new ideas and programs....

Perhaps the greatest flaw of his book is that Zinn encourages readers to view so formidable a force as just a pack of lying bullies. He refuses to acknowledge that when they speak about their ideals, those who hold national power usually mean what they say. If FDR lied to Americans about the threat posed by Japanese-Americans during World War II, why should anyone believe his prattle about the Four Freedoms? So there's no point in debating conservatives who prescribe libertarian economics, Victorian moral values, and preemptive interventions for what ails the United States and the world. All right-wingers really care about is keeping all the resources and power for themselves.

This cynical myopia afflicts an alarming number of people on the left today. The gloom of defeat tends to obscure the landscape of real politics, which has always witnessed a clash of ideologies as well as interests, persuasion as well as buy-offs and sellouts. Zinn fiercely details the outrages committed by America's rulers at home and abroad. But he makes no serious attempt to examine why these rulers kept getting elected, or how economic and social reform improved the lives of millions even if they sapped whatever mass appetite existed for radical change.

No work of history can substitute for a social movement. Yet intelligent, sober studies can make sense of how changing structures of power and ideas provide openings for challenges from below, while also shifting the basis on which a reigning order claims legitimacy for itself. These qualities mark the work of such influential (and widely read) historians on the left as Eric Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson, Gerda Lerner, C.L.R. James, and the erstwhile populist C. Vann Woodward. Reading their work makes one wiser about the obstacles to change as well as encouraged about the capacity of ordinary men and women to achieve a degree of independence and happiness, even within unjust societies. In contrast, Howard Zinn is an evangelist of little imagination for whom history is one long chain of stark moral dualities. His fatalistic vision can only keep the left just where it is: on the margins of American political life.

Further, historian Aileen Kraditor predicted the path that Zinn would go down ("American Radical Historians on Their Heritage"), as explained by Ron Radosh:
Kraditor began by noting that the first thing a historian has to do is respect “the pastness of the past.” She goes on to write that a new group of Left historians clearly ignore that. “I believe,” she wrote, “the judgement applies with particular force to those on the Left who have endeavored to find in American history justifications for and forerunners of their own party or movement,” and that many “have been interested in little else.” History, in their eyes, becomes a “cheering section as they root for the same victims or reformers struggling against the same Oppressors or Interests.” It is a conflict paradigm shared by both liberal and Left historians. They believe only that the people fight the elites, and they never ask about the “consensus about all the values and beliefs that really matter to the maintenance of the established order.” Instead of asking for examples of the people fighting the interests—as Zinn does today—she says the real question is “Who fought whom and over what issue,” and whether or not the fight affected “the basic structure of the system.” These are, of course, precisely the kind of questions Howard Zinn and his followers never ask.

Kraditor’s observations are so adroit it is as if she read Zinn’s book before he even wrote it. The Left historians, she writes, “have tended…to focus on Our Side’s heroism, dedication, love for
The People—non-historical qualities that they of course see in themselves and want their contemporaries to see in them. In both their views of historical events and their views of their own vocation as radicals they have often underestimated the importance of ideology as a mechanism of class rule.” When they deal with the radicals of the past they eulogize- they almost never discuss what the majority of the people believe or the ideas of the elites of the day. In fact, she argues, when the masses take positions they do not like, they simply see them as “obstacles to overcome, illusions to be dispelled.” They never look at their actual beliefs to see “elements of truth” that led common people in the past to not follow the radicals of their own day.

Pick Your Authoritarian

Justin Katz

Commenting to my "That Anti-Republican Feeling," Dan writes:

Most people in this country self-identify as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. When people have to constantly choose between what they consider two evils (the socially authoritarian R's or the economically authoritarian D's), they either become utterly confused and vote for familiarity like this caller, or they become discouraged and stop participating in the system altogether, both of which support the corrupt status quo.

This false dichotomy is precisely one of the methods of cultural leverage that I was suggesting keeps voters feeling as if a vote for Republicans is a vote for evil. If the Democrats are too enthusiastic about the size of government (measured along a sliding scale of ever-greater intrusion), well, they're just wrong, but well intentioned. People who are just wrong can be persuaded. But if the Republicans are too enthusiastic about controlling personal behavior (measured along a sliding scale of ever-greater liberty), well, they must be animated by animus and are therefore beyond reason.

On the first analysis, these two "authoritarianisms" aren't comparable. Elected officials who advocate for smaller government are advocating their own limitation. To be sure, actual Republicans often fall far short of the ideals that the party espouses, but generally speaking, their social policies are defensive and aimed at preserving aspects of society and culture, not aggressive, and aimed at expanding their reach.

On the second analysis, the two categories aren't distinct. Sure, Democrats are happy to open the door for sexual dysfunction and permit the womb to be a killing field, but on matters of personal association and other liberties, such as those of religion and speech, they're not so sanguine. Moreover, their libertinism is married to their affection for government assistance. As I noted, the caller to Dan Yorke who began this conversation cited opposition to the welfare state as an example of his fiscal conservatism, but the welfare state is rooted in support for political policies and cultural trends that undermine self control.

Phrased from the opposite perspective, to the extent that Republicans are "authoritarian" on social issues, the purpose is to nudge society toward practices that ultimately enable greater liberty and alleviate the urge to use the government as a backstop. We can argue the specifics of implementation, of course. My view is that the federal government's role should not go much beyond maintaining the integrity of the states and the ability of individuals to affect state and local policy.

The point is that, to some extent, the choice that Dan describes really is an either/or that fiscally conservative social liberals strive not to address; a higher level of behavioral control must be maintained in order for a smaller government to be socially sustainable. More accurately, though, it's a choice between a nanny state that is actually authoritarian and a political philosophy in support of cultural developments that regulate some individual desires so as to enable a more profound freedom.

Cranston School Cuts

Marc Comtois

Cutting or consolidating sports programs is grabbing the headlines as Cranston tries to deal with it's school budget deficit, but other programs are in danger as well. It's not just the jocks.

The $1.1-million in proposed cuts — which include the elementary school enrichment program along with strings, band and chorus, following the recommendations of a court-ordered performance audit — follow the state Supreme Court ruling last month that found the district ignored the financial reality, continued to overspend its budget and then sued the city for additional money.

Now, the district must repay the city some $8.4 million from loans for the 2007-08 school year, while trying to close the projected $1-million deficit for the current school year.

People are understandably upset at the school committee:
Accusations flew back and forth during the four-hour meeting with students blaming the School Committee members for ducking their obligations and making the students pay for the consequences. School Committee members pointed their fingers at the City Council for level-funding the School Department while increasing funding to other departments by as much as 11 and 12 percent.
But that's a tough sell when it was the school committee that negotiated a teacher contract containing, on average, 12% yearly salary increases for teachers on the "step program" (according to an OSPRI analysis). And it's even more interesting when the school administration and school committee members try to shirk their responsibility:
“Again, we don’t want basic either,” said School Supt. Peter Nero. “No one does.”

“Someone else made the decision,” Nero said, referring to the auditors, “and we have no choice but to follow it.”

“Understand, what the Supreme Court has said: in 2007, we should have cut [the enrichment program], and we didn’t,” School Committee member Frank S. Lombardi said. “We should have cut the bands and string, and we didn’t. We should have cut 25 percent of [the sports budget], and we didn’t. So, we held the line for three years for you guys, and now it’s ‘do or else.’”

Wow. "Held the line" for the kids...how noble. You didn't hold the line when it came to contract negotiations, though, did you? Let's hope Cranston voters remember who is truly responsible for this mess come November.

Jeffrey Deckman: A Clarification

Engaged Citizen

I noticed some confusion surrounding my recent remarks pertaining to the distinctions between the RISC Business Network and the Tea Party.

Unfortunately, communications in, and with, the media require a level of forced brevity at times. I appreciate the opportunity to provide some clarification on my statements.

My point is this: The Tea Party has been highly effective at mobilizing people and helping them to get in the political debate as individuals. My understanding is that they educate folks on what is going on and assists them to get their message out and for it to be heard loud and clear. For that they are to be commended for playing a role in helping people to become more involved in the political process. I think any group with any political leanings who accomplishes this task is doing something good for the people and for our state. I also believe they will be an effective force in helping to increase voter turn out, which is also a good thing Rhode Island.

However, where they differ from the RISC Business Network (not to be confused with RISC, the umbrella organization) is that their effort is primarily focused upon energizing the individual, whereas the RISC Business Network is a multi-partisan effort focused specifically upon the owners of small and medium-sized businesses. Business owners have a different set of concerns than do non–business owners. While they have much common ground with the average taxpayer, their specific interests extend into other areas. So the RISC Business Network is designed to address the needs of that specific constituency.

Another area in which I see a distinction between the two efforts is that any candidates who would like to engage us will be vetted on several levels to determine if they are pro-business and the likelihood of their being able to run competitive campaigns. If they become "investment grade" candidates, we will make that information available to the small business community.

The next step in our process is that we are also galvanizing the small business community and encouraging them to make pledges of support to candidates whom they agree are worthy. It is reasonable to think that some of the candidates they support will be on our list and some may not be. But as long as small business owners are more engaged in the process, we feel the result will be more pro-business candidates' being elected to the General Assembly.

In this capacity, we are a conduit for information to flow between candidates and "funders," which should result in well-funded campaigns for pro–small business candidates.

The final distinction I will make is that our group is narrowly focused on the General Assembly. The Tea Party movement addresses issues on a much wider scale. They are heavily involved in national issues and the Congressional races as well as statewide issues, and I am assuming they may be involved in local matters that are of concern to them.

So, while the Tea Party may also be affecting elections, it will be using a different model, will be focused on races on different levels of government, and is focused on mobilizing individuals first, whereas we are focused upon those who own small businesses in Rhode Island and the General Assembly races.

From Tiverton to Patrick Lynch

Justin Katz

Monique took to the air on the Matt Allen Show once again, Wednesday, to discuss sundry matters appearing on Anchor Rising. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

January 28, 2010

A Rhode Island Frame of Mind

Justin Katz

Was on my way to dinner in North Attleboro, MA, when that burst of winter weather hit, this evening. I took the wrong Rt. 1 exit off of 95 north and ended up in Pawtucket.

I have never been timid about driving in any weather whatsoever, but I have never driven on roads so poorly prepared for adverse conditions. Four-wheel-drive trucks were skidding and spinning out on even slight inclines. It's as if the local department of public works had prepared for the cold snap by saturating the streets.

But here's the part that's truly becoming indicative of Rhode Island: The thought that immediately came to mind was: "Just make it to the border. The roads will be better at the border."

In case you're wondering: They were. Ready for change, yet, Rhode Island?

Anchoring the Violent Roundtable

Justin Katz

Whatever you're doing, tomorrow night, be sure to tune in to 630AM/99.7FM WPRO from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. Marc, Monique, and I will be storming the WPRO studios to take over Matt Allen's Violent Roundtable.

(Alright, alright, we've been invited, and Matt will still be running the show, but it always makes for an engaging hour.)

For Less Judicial Ideology, Shorten Government Reach

Justin Katz

Something about this line of thinking, in an AP essay about the Supreme Court by Mark Sherman, doesn't sit right:

As in dozens of earlier cases, Kennedy was in the majority each time. He was the author of the campaign finance decision.

The rulings demonstrate the extent to which ideology — not fidelity to precedent or a particular interpretation of the Constitution — is the driving force on the court.

The immediate peculiarity is the failure to comprehend that ideology affects methods of interpreting the Constitution, and vice versa. That isn't to say that judges will necessarily choose the interpretation that best suits whatever their ideology dictates on an issue-by-issue basis, but that beliefs about the role of government will lend themselves toward certain approaches to the law.

The larger point that ought to be made, however, is that the underlying problem is the reach of the government overall. If every aspect of American life, and all tiers of government, were not relevant to the Supreme Court, ideological factions wouldn't have the incentive to put so much emphasis on procuring "the right kind" of judges. Moreover, ideology would be less relevant.

Blah, Blah, Spin, Blah, Blah, Big Government

Justin Katz

I caught about 25 minutes or so of President Obama's State of the Union address on 630AM/99.7FM WPRO on my way home last night, which served to make me even more relieved to pull into the driveway. Put aside all the cortex-numbing spin, the take away message from what I heard, and what I've read since, is that Obama still doesn't get the message that the people of the United States are sending him.

Americans don't want to hear "our country" and think first of all of its government. We don't want to hear what government is going to do for us; we want to hear what the government is going to stop preventing us from doing. In other words, the subtext of the President's message is that he'll lead the government in coming up with a plan to assist we little folk who are wandering clueless in a complicated reality. And surely I'm not the only person in the global audience who noticed that every time he spoke of "hard-working Americans," he went through a list of union — especially public-sector union — roles before grudgingly mentioning such afterthoughts as "people who start businesses."

On top of it all, the brilliant orator's style long ago began to grate. Listening on the radio, I could picture him doing his teleprompter-left, teleprompter-right head oscillation. "Word word [pause] word word word word [pause] word."

Obama Avoids the "V" Work in Iraq

Marc Comtois

I don't have too much to say about the State of the Union Address, except for one question: has there ever been a military victory that has been so diminished in our nation's history?

As we take the fight to al Qaeda, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as President. We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August. We will support the Iraqi government -- we will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and we will continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake: This war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.
That's all that victory in Iraq warrants in President Obama's SOTU. Well, like most Americans, I'm glad it's ending. But why is it ending? Could we call it a "victory"? Is that too much to ask? I know the President is familiar with the term--he used the word elsewhere in his speech (albeit, only twice).
But when the Union was turned back at Bull Run, and the Allies first landed at Omaha Beach, victory was very much in doubt.

I didn't choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt.

Apparently, victory is something that used to happen or that can happen in politics. Just not when it comes to Iraq. Yes, the President expressed our thanks to the troops:
Tonight, all of our men and women in uniform -- in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and around the world -- they have to know that we -- that they have our respect, our gratitude, our full support. And just as they must have the resources they need in war, we all have a responsibility to support them when they come home.
But how about commending them for victory? Despite the stumbles and bumbles, which then-candidate Obama used to his political advantage during his Presidential campaign, our soldiers and sailors and marines and airmen saw it through to victory. They'd appreciate hearing that from their President, I'm sure. But I fear our President is wary of pronouncing a victory in Iraq because that could imply that he was wrong. And we can't have that, can we?

RI Tea Party Meeting Video

Justin Katz

Because the inquiries started before I'd gotten to the door, here is as much video as I was able to get up before most of y'all are awake. I'll add the presentations of Bill Felkner, Mark Zaccaria, and Sandra Thompson as soon as I'm able. Seven of ten segments are up (click on the extended entry).

January 27, 2010

Late Night "Huh?"

Justin Katz

Staying up a little later than usual tonight to process some video, I noticed this quotation from Steve Peoples's report about the Tea Party meeting:

The Statewide Coalition's Business Network, which is trying to raise $500,000 to support pro-business candidates this fall, has no relationship with the Tea Party either, according to the head of the initiative, Jeffrey Deckman.

"The Tea Party is more a taxpayer group," Deckman said. "I'm in the business of getting people elected and unelected, and I don't see them becoming that relevant on the political level."

Does anybody understand what Mr. Deckman is saying, as a presumably coherent point, or what he intended to accomplish with this statement?

Political turf guarding is an ugly thing. In an upstart movement that might have already lost too many potential constituents to emigration, it would be fatal.

RI Tea Party Meeting

Justin Katz

Rather than traverse the state all night, I came straight to the RI Tea Party meeting in Quonset. People other than me have finally begun to arrive, which is good, because I was fearful that the channel 6 reporter would interview me simply out of boredom.

6:25 p.m.

The cocktail hour has officially begun, and the room is filling up very quickly. The advantage of arriving at events before even the hosts is that it's easier to pick a presumptuous seat right up front. The disadvantage is that I've ended up at the speakers' table, and Colleen Conley asked me to prevent the rabble from taking places at it, which really isn't an activity toward which my personality lends itself. I scrawled a quick "Reserved" sign, which has helped, but I have had to issue a few "Colleen told me to" proclamations. (Sorry, Will!) I'm trying to look mean as I type, but it isn't keeping folks away. If only I looked more like my Anchor Rising drawing.

6:41 p.m.

Here's the scene:

I just had to block Governor Carcieri from sitting at the speakers' table. Just kidding; I haven't had to do that... yet...

6:54 p.m.

Several cameras and radio coverage from the left (Ian Donnis) and right (Dan Yorke). Ian found a satellite loophole to the speaker table block, pulling up a chair right next to me, but away from the table, and Dan sat next to him. I'm not sure it's really applicable, but for some reason it occurred to me to call this a sort of Rhode Island Follies for the Rhode Island right.

7:00 p.m.

Dan Yorke told me that he came by to see if there would be a "rock star effect." His judgment is that there is, and here are two of the reasons:

There's also a clear and direct link of the atmosphere to the Senator Scott Brown win.

7:05 p.m.

Colleen Conley's talking about the "Colorado model" that progressive billionaires used to turn Colorado from red to blue.

I didn't expect it, but Colleen including Anchor Rising among the necessary pieces (perhaps to justify my seat — literally — at the table):

  • Hummel
  • OCG
  • Legal arm to be determined
  • Anchor Rising
  • RISC
  • RI Tea Party

To this list, she'd like to add a People's PAC to help candidates. Me, I'm interested in the plan to find four billionaires...

7:12 p.m.

Steve Laffey has taken the microphone.

A participant who had expressed an intention to get an actual head count just handed me a piece of paper to say that two counts have confirmed 315 people in the room.

Laffey mentioned that people are fleeing the state, and now he's going over the PowerPoint presentation that he released recently (PDF). Driving around the country, he said, he couldn't help but notice that people from coast to coast live better: "People in Boise, Idaho, live better than we do."

7:23 p.m.

Laffey is summing up very well the many things that we talk about so frequently on Anchor Rising that are wrong and happening in the state. He noted, too, the conspicuous departure of so many people from state government, retiring, relocating, taking other jobs. The image that's been presented in our comment sections is of rats jumping off a ship.

On a performance analysis point, I'll say that Mr. Laffey has honed his speechifying from the night I saw him at a Portsmouth Republican event some years ago. I've commented before, liveblogging from an event with national-level speakers, that the speeches were definitely at another level from those given locally (even those that are good). Laffey's certainly there, although the more-than-friendly, very enthusiastic crowd is definitely helping.

7:37 p.m.

Very compelling bit about how people in other cities that have big airplanes and large trains running through the state, and so on, don't complain because "they see jobs."

7:40 p.m.

Beginning with the example of cigarette taxes, Laffey said that Rhode Island should always be just below the taxes of our neighbors. "But you need to be running surpluses to do that."

He then showed a map of right to work and non-right-to-work states. "All that means is that you can work at a union shop and not be a part of the union. Nobody gets hit in the head, or anything." He pointed to the sea of non-right-to-work states in the Northeast and said that we could be like Switzerland for workers rather than bankers.

7:44 p.m.

"There has to be a direct confrontation with the powers that be."

He's saying that people in media and in government respond when people show up and make a stink. I've certainly seen that on a small scale in Tiverton, and we all know the reality: This has to happen at the state level.

7:47 p.m.

"It's beyond a Democrat/Republican thing. The people in power need to leave!"

7:53 p.m.

"There's no magical way [to balance the budget]. It's over. Not coming back. The choices are to take extraordinary risks (which this general treasurer has done)."

7:55 p.m.

Bill Felkner's up.

Bill's going over the tools that Ocean State Policy offers. One thing he mentioned was that OSPRI has made it easy to search the names of people in local government, citing Monique's November 2008 post on the relatives of former Senator Alves currently or formerly employed by Rhode Island state or local government.

8:12 p.m.

Candidate for Congress Mark Zaccaria is giving a quick teaser for what he can do to help people who want to run for office:

8:14 p.m.

Noting that Steve Laffey is a graduate, Sandra Thompson of Operation Clean Government is explaining what the Candidate School is, whom it's for, and how to sign up.

"No more should we have offices for which there's no contention and incumbents get elected."

8:18 p.m.

Describing what would be happening for the "breakout" sessions, Colleen noted that there are candidate recruiters here for the Republican Party. She called the Democrats, but they didn't return her call. She called the Moderates, but their answering machine was full.


Just to clarify: Bill Felkner has included Anchor Rising in his vision of the "movement" since he first heard about the Colorado model quite some time ago. In other words, I wasn't surprised to be mentioned; I just didn't assume that I would be.

I should also clarify that Governor Carcieri wasn't at the event, as far as I know, so I never had to tell him that he couldn't sit among the VIPs.

One Way to Shrink Government

Justin Katz

Anybody catch this little nugget?

A one-time chief of staff to former Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano, [Former state Sen. Edward] Morrone has spent the last year as the $94,100 "director of intergovernmental affairs" in the office of Montalbano's successor: M. Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport.

In recent days, Superior Court Presiding Judge Alice B. Gibney nominated Morrone to replace David E. Perry, who retired in December, as clerk of the Kent County Superior Court. Morrone's current salary includes a 10 percent longevity bonus. Even with that bonus, it appears the court post -- advertised at $66,177 to $74,996 - would result in a pay cut for Morrone, who worked in the courts once before as the first manager of the Adult Drug Court.

Why does a part-time legislature require a full-time "director of intergovernmental affairs"? And why should the position pay so well?

More importantly, the career of Mr. Morrone is one more indication of the importance of a viable second party. If particular seats, including the senate presidency, were to change political hands from time to time, it might dislodge patronage careerists.

If "A" Equals "B", Then "C" Equals Patrick Lynch is a Racist

Monique Chartier

Patrick Lynch's campaign issued a press release (thanks, Ian Donnis) implying that the Statewide Coalition must be racist because they associate with the Tea Party movement which is, in turn,

responsible for a number of ugly protests around the country featuring racist rhetoric and signage over the past year.

The plot thickens, however. Harry Staley reported yesterday afternoon on the Dan Yorke Show that Patrick Lynch sought to associate himself a couple of weeks ago with the Statewide Coalition - wha-a-a-a-t? - by soliciting their support on the matter of the LNG terminal.

It seems clear that by his own logic and definitions, when Patrick Lynch is doing his round-up of racists, he needs to include the man in the mirror.

A Couple of Comments on the VRT

Justin Katz

Last week's Violent Roundtable on the Matt Allen Show featured Rep. John Loughlin (R, Tiverton, Little Compton, Portsmouth) and Senator Leonidas Raptakis (D, Coventry, East Greenwich, Warwick, West Warwick) and is, as always, worth a listen. As one might expect, the three participants (John, Lou, and Matt) were in agreement on most issues, albeit with differences of emphasis, but two points stood out as worthy of further comment.

First is the humorous moment in which Loughlin caught Matt not knowing the names of his state representative or legislator. In fairness, Matt hasn't been in Tiverton but so long, and I've gotten the sense that his living arrangements are transitional. Still, I've increasingly been wondering whether gerrymandering helps to create a distance between residents and their representation. We've got all of these towns, with their unique character, and representatives often cover swaths of three or four of them.

My senator, for example, Walter Felag, covers Tiverton, Bristol, and Warren. One needn't drift into stationary Rhode Islandism to think it inappropriate to lump Tiverton with the other two, and one can be forgiven for not associating Felag with the town. (To be sure, I don't see him around very often.)

Second is the disagreement of Loughlin and Matt on compensation for legislators. Matt puts a hard-line emphasis on the "service" in "public service," suggesting that remuneration (especially healthcare) shouldn't be a factor. That might have been arguable in a time when Americans' lives progressed at a different pace, when families typically had one spouse staying home and seeing to property and family matters during the day, but in the current context, it pretty well ensures government by the independently wealthy. Or worse, people whose jobs allow for and encourage such participation, such as lawyers and union workers. Some sort of pay or benefits might make the difference toward encouraging participation.

Of course, so might changing the start time to an hour convenient for people who work more normal business hours. There's a reason most public meetings start no earlier than 6:00 p.m.

Bankrupted for Solidarity

Justin Katz

Ted Nesi reports:

The increase in the share of all Rhode Island workers belonging to a union posted an even more dramatic increase, jumping to 17.9 percent. ...

In New England, no state had a larger share of workers in a union than Rhode Island. It was followed by Connecticut (17.3 percent), Massachusetts (16.6 percent), Vermont (12.3 percent), Maine (11.7 percent) and New Hampshire (10.8 percent).

The Labor Department also reported that the median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers were $908 for union members last year, compared with $710 for employees not represented by a union.

Given that a majority of union workers are now employed by government, the declining pool of non-union workers is increasingly having to fund the livelihoods of their better-paid neighbors. Moreover, with unions by definition highly organized, where public policy is apt to lean in their favor, in opposition to the private sector, especially within the public sphere, where market forces apply only weakly.

January 26, 2010

As the Governor Speaks; Tiverton School Committee to Parents: Flee now!

Justin Katz

This is absurd. Superintendent Bill Rearick is going over budget woes with the Tiverton School Committee. First came the bad news that the district has to budget an additional $248,715 for healthcare, putting its current working budget $1.1 million over the spending cap.

Rearick's recommendations were to:

  • Use the $229,546 that it has this year (after TCC supposedly cut its budget) from changes to the pension system (to $911,000 over cap).
  • Eliminate 2 special ed assistants, one part-time physical ed. high school, one in-school remediation position, and a part-time high school nurse (to $744,268)
  • Cuts to office and student supplies, text books, and technology (to $624,440)

He says that the last couple of years, "we've been level funded," speaking, I guess, of non-personnel expenses. Regarding unions, they're "hoping to obtain certain concessions, but that's not going very well."

Things that Rearick blames for driving up budgets: end of magic Obama money, special ed requirements, career center tuitions, heating oil, electricity. No mention of the massive retroactive pay increase that the school committee approved last year. Rearick used that odious phrase about not having any more rabbits to pull out of the hat.

School Committee Chairman Jan Bergandy suggested that they might as well add $200,000 to the overage to cover litigation, because there's no way through the mess otherwise (he likened it to a messy divorce). Data point: eliminating 10 full-time teachers would get to the whole $1.1 million. Oddly, nobody has calculated that a few percentage points of salary/benefits packages across the board would easily do the same.

Committee member Danielle Coulter suggested that the district go out to bid for healthcare coverage. Union-friendly committee member Carol Herrmann brought up the new healthcare panel that the General Assembly created in the dead of night and suggested that it "makes no sense to come up with our own alternative." (Thanks Legislative Stooges!)

8:40 p.m.

TCC President Dave Nelson just suggested that nothing should be cut. He pointed out that we're cutting paper and pencils while the salary/benefit line item is increasing by more than $700,000. "We need to develop the political will to get the concessions."

Doing anything else is unconscionable, especially with the NEA playing games with the state's federal Race to the Top application.

8:45 p.m.

Former school committee member Mike Burk doesn't think many people want to cut teacher pay. In fact, he thinks the school committee's current contract proposal is unreasonable. He wants to offer an "olive branch" to the union. Because they're usually so agreeable. Burk also implied that those who wish to take a harder line with the unions are irrational.

9:25 p.m.

I got up to suggest that it isn't irrational for parents and taxpayers to look at charts such as these and notice that everything that the committee is talking about cutting has been essentially flat, on a per-student basis, for the past 10 years or so and suggest that it's time to stop the other line, which grows reliably year after year, from growing year after year. Year after year. Again: the entire overage translates into a few percentage point reduction in pay and benefits. And that's off an increased baseline (by more than $700,000).

Another active resident and parent (reliably supportive of every policy that is strangling the town and the state), Deb Pallasch, suggested that we all need to be cool headed and reasonable and not take any hard lines and all work together. Clearly, the committee is not interested in debates among the audience, so I didn't return to the microphone to remind the committee that the last time I showed them my chart, they approved a large pay increase for teachers, with retroactive raises.

Last year, I spoke in response to their expressed hopes, and Pallasch's suggestion, that they would just approve the contract so that the district could move on in a positive fashion and get the next negotiation off to a better start than implied by the acrimony of the last one. I warned the committee that it was obvious that the union would not negotiate according to schedule but would delay and delay until the economy improved and they could procure yet another retroactive raise, because to their experience, that is always the how things go.

For those who don't recall recent history, I was right. This town and this state need to stop playing community (think "playing house") when entrenched special interests are playing for keeps. The analogy I used while speaking a few minutes ago was that we have to stop playing footsie when the other side knows we're boxing. These meetings are like a window into a bizarro world.

Perhaps that's what was indicated by General Assembly Speaker of the House Bill Murphy and his chosen successor, Gordon Fox, were indicating that they don't have to follow the rules of economics.

That Anti-Republican Feeling

Justin Katz

An interesting call to the Dan Yorke Show as I was nearing home on my commute. The caller started out complaining about the corrupt, one-party political system in Rhode Island and then suggested that he simply couldn't vote for Republicans because, while he's fiscally conservative, he's socially liberal. He included opposition to the welfare state in his fiscal conservatism (erroneously, in my opinion). So, when Dan asked about social issues, he came up with abortion and same-sex marriage.

Dan got the caller to agree that abortion is a national issue, not a state issue, and asked (paraphrasing), "You're not putting same-sex marriage above the economic collapse of the state, are you?"

At that point, the caller switched to, "Well, Republicans can't govern." He said they're typically a rubber stamp. Assuming we're able to tease out the Rhode Island context, the caller thereby illustrated two of the attitudes that have helped to doom this state.

The first is the need for saviors, whether in the form of a person or a party. Having such a small minority is not going to be conducive to expert performance from Republicans. They do what they can, no doubt, but sometimes the going along thing can seem like a fair trade for some small pittance of success. To turn things around, one must vote Republicans into office so that (1) what they do carries the minimal weight of, well, mattering, and (2) people who might be reluctant to spend valuable time on a futile effort will increasingly see public office as worthwhile.

The second attitude, under which the first arguably falls, has been bred by decades of manipulation in movies, art, education, media, magazines, and so on that voting Republican is just a bad thing to do. Special interests have gotten a lot of return on that particular investment. The impression of too many Rhode Islanders that good people have to vote for Democrats has certainly helped unions and the welfare industry, and we're seeing the consequences, nationally, when the Democrats cash that chip in.

"Social issues," in other words, can be cover for intellectual laziness and moral cowardice. It's nice and vague and allows the voter to give in to the fully flourished seed of propaganda... without having to hurt the brain trying to dig up a plausible reason.

Tax Workers? Yeah, That's Brilliant

Marc Comtois

Really, guys?

A state advisory board is considering a new tax on workers to help bail out the beleaguered state trust fund that pays benefits to the unemployed....[It] could take the form of an addition to the tax that employees already pay into the state’s Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) program. Revenue so raised would be diverted to the state unemployment insurance trust fund.

The TDI tax rate for 2010 is 1.2 percent of the first $57,900 of a worker’s wages. Raising the TDI tax rate to 1.3 percent for 2011 would yield an extra $13 million or so, according to state labor agency calculations. (The increase could amount to a tax of $57.90 a year for higher-income workers, less for lower-income workers.)


Whatever Progressives Might Wish to Be True, Money Must Be Made in the State

Justin Katz

Financial analyst Lou Mazzucchelli offers the sort of economic opinion piece that we should expect from professionals in the field:

Entrepreneurs build businesses where there is economic opportunity. A large pool of investment capital is one measure of that opportunity. A cursory comparison of Rhode Island and Massachusetts shows the pool of venture capital in Massachusetts is at least 882 times Rhode Island’s. With six times our population, Massachusetts has 142 times the available venture capital per person. Why are Rhode Islanders chagrined about new business creation here? It only makes sense for entrepreneurs to go fishing where there are fish.

Measuring venture capital investment in Rhode Island and Massachusetts from all sources, not just in-state investment, we see the total amount invested in Massachusetts since 1995 was $45.5 billion across 5,773 investments, or about $7,000 per capita. Rhode Island attracted $687 million across 104 investments, or $654 per capita. Massachusetts saw 55 times the number of investments, and almost 11 times the investment per capita compared with our state.

Mazzucchelli speaks of "heavy assets" and "light assets," the former being structures and established communities and the latter being more mobile. Universities are the former; military installations are the latter. Unskilled workers are the former; highly skilled workers are the latter. What Rhode Island needs, in a nutshell, is to attract light assets and leverage them to build heavy assets.

One method of doing so would function through taxation. Eliminate and decrease taxes of concern to people who invest preexisting wealth as their source of income (the rich) and who are sufficiently successful in their careers to generate a lot of income (the productive). That means eliminating the estate tax and the corporate tax and decreasing income and sales taxes to the lowest rates in the region. Then, structure investment taxes in such a way as to encourage investments to be made within the state. That means reducing the capital gains tax and eliminating it entirely on long-term investments within the state of Rhode Island.

I'd expect any revenue loss to the state to be temporary, pending the take-off of our way-over-burdened economy. But in the meantime, the state's leaders simply have to admit reality. First, they should lower all social welfare expenditures below others in the region; give healthier states the opportunity to assist those for whom we lack resources. Second, resolve imbalances in goverment operations, such as the pension liability.

All it will take is a little intelligence and a lot of political will (which is why it probably won't happen, leading the state toward insolvency).

Hurry to Pass Big Stuff Now and We'll Fix it Later (Promise!)

Marc Comtois

As I've pointed out, one of the arguments made by the Healthcarism advocates was that we must pass something, anything and "the warts can be removed later." Apparently, that attitude exists amongst global climate changistas, too (h/t):

Some researchers have argued that it is unfair to attack the IPCC too strongly, pointing out that some errors are inevitable in a report as long and technical as the IPCC's round-up of climate science. "Part of the problem could simply be that expectations are too high," said one researcher. "We have been seen as a scientific gold standard and that's hard to live up to."

Professor Christopher Field,director of the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution in California, who is the new co-chairman of the IPCC working group overseeing the climate impacts report, said the 2007 report had been broadly accurate at the time it was written.

He said: “The 2007 study should be seen as “a snapshot of what was known then. Science is progressive. If something turns out to be wrong we can fix it next time around.” However he confirmed he would be introducing rigorous new review procedures for future reports to ensure errors were kept to a minimum. {emphasis added}

Let's look at what I emphasized:
1) "...errors are inevitable in a report as long and technical as the IPCC's round-up of climate science.": Yes, it is a compounding kinda thing: the bigger the report, program, idea, the more likely there will be mistakes, oversights, fraud, waste, abuse....
2) "...the 2007 report had been broadly accurate at the time it was written.": Global Warming? That's soooo 2007. Good thing there was enough resistance to that "consensus" about the inevitability of global catastrophe. If we'd all marched along blindly, can you imagine the sort of already obsolete government regulations and restrictions we'd have had? (Hope I'm not speaking too soon...)
3) "The 2007 study should be seen as “a snapshot of what was known then. Science is progressive. If something turns out to be wrong we can fix it next time around.": There it is. Based on "what we knew then" we were harangued about the need for the massive imposition of "environmental" safeguards that will impact the global economy negatively. And we're assured that things will be fixed next time around--just like health care.

How confident are you that a massive governmental program will be flexible enough to integrate such "change" on the fly? Or that the political will is there to do it. (Social Security, anyone)? No, every time I hear promises about fixing problems down the line, I recall that infamous line from Animal House about trust. My guess, in the wake of the Scott Brown win, is that most Americans are a little wary of Big Government for much the same reason.

Unspinning the Union

Justin Katz

Capers Jones responds in an edition of the RISCy Business newsletter to the pension-related spin of Patrick Crowley, of the National Education Association, Rhode Island. After citing a number of statistics related to public-sector employees and education with which all Rhode Islanders should be passingly familiar, Jones writes:

These statistics show that government pensions have been impacted by the rapid increase in government employees compounded with the rapid increase in government salaries and benefits. This information indicates that it is time to do a serious analysis of how many government workers are actually needed to run our towns, schools, and the state itself.

For more than 30 years Rhode Island has experienced meteoric increases in government and educational employment compounded by much higher salary increases than private business. Now these two compound issues are coming together in massive and unsustainable pensions. Nationally, unfunded government pensions are approaching a trillion dollars and may trigger the fiscal collapse of more than half of the states.

The sooner those whom Crowley ostensibly represents realize that collapse of their system and of the local economy is the only likely outcome of a failure to reform, the better it will be for everybody.

Further Study for Stooges

Justin Katz

Somebody in the room for the surprisingly close vote to eliminate "hold for further study" as an acceptable method of killing legislation in Rhode Island's General Assembly wrote to tell me that he's sure that, at one point, the green lights outnumbered the red, indicating passage of the good-government change. Then, House Speaker Bill Murphy said something that my source didn't catch, and enough votes suddenly changed to put the revolt down.

In other words, legislators know that this is one of the methods whereby the leadership rules the coop. They know it's a slimy way whereby legislators avoid accountability for their votes. And so, those thirty-three votes against the amendment that Rep. Rod Driver (D, Charlestown, Exeter, Richmond) proposed deserve a place on the Legislative Stooge List.

New to the list as a result of the vote are Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, Kenneth Carter, Christopher Fierro, Douglas Gablinske, John McCauley, Helio Melo, Peter Petrarca, Deborah Ruggiero, and Patricia Serpa.

Anchor Rising's (Do Not Vote for the) Legislative Stooge List - House

Name Party Constituents Reason
Edith Ajello D District 3, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Joseph Almeida D District 12, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Samuel Azzinaro D District 37, Westerly H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Lisa Baldelli-Hunt D District 49, Woonsocket H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
David Caprio D District 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
John Carnevale D District 13, Providence, Johnston H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Kenneth Carter D District 31, North Kingstown, Exeter H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Elaine Coderre D District 60, Pawtucket H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Steven Costantino D District 8, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Roberto DaSilva D District 63, East Providence, Pawtucket H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
John DeSimone D District 5, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Grace Diaz D District 11, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Mary Duffy Messier D District 62, East Providence, Pawtucket H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Deborah Fellela D District 43, Johnston H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Frank Ferri D District 22, Warwick H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Christopher Fierro D District 51, Woonsocket H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Robert Flaherty D District 23, Warwick H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Gordon Fox D District 4, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Douglas Gablinske D District 68, Bristol, Warren H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Raymond Gallison D District 69, Bristol, Portsmouth H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Joanne Giannini D District 7, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Scott Guthrie D District 28, Coventry H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Arthur Handy D District 18, Cranston H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Peter Kilmartin D District 61, Pawtucket H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Donald Lally D District 33, Narragansett, North Kingstown, South Kingstown H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Charlene Lima D District 14, Cranston H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Karen MacBeth D District 52, Cumberland H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Peter Martin D District 75, Newport H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Nicholas Mattiello D District 15, Cranston H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
John McCauley D District 1, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Joseph McNamara D District 19, Cranston, Warwick H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Helio Melo D District 64, East Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Rene Menard D District 45, Lincoln, Cumberland H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
William Murphy D District 26, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Eileen Naughton D District 21, Warwick H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Patrick O'Neill D District 59, Pawtucket H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Edwin Pacheco D District 47, Burrillville, Glocester H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Peter Palumbo D District 16, Cranston H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Peter Petrarca D District 44, Johnston, Lincoln, Smithfield H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Michael Rice D District 35, South Kingstown H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Deborah Ruggiero D District 74, Jamestown, Middletown H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
William San Bento D District 58, North Providence, Pawtucket H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
John Savage R District 65, East Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Gregory Schadone D District 54, North Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
David Segal D District 2, Providence, East Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Patricia Serpa D District 27, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Mary Ann Shallcross-Smith D District 46, Lincoln, Pawtucket H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Agostinho Silva D District 56, Central Falls H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Scott Slater D District 10, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Raymond Sullivan D District 29, Coventry, West Greenwich H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Stephen Ucci D District 42, Cranston, Johnston H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Kenneth Vaudreuil D District 57, Central Falls, Cumberland H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance, against ending "for further study" rule
Donna Walsh D District 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Peter Wasylyk D District 6, Providence, North Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Anastasia Williams D District 9, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Thomas Winfield D District 53, Glocester, Smithfield H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance

Anchor Rising's (Do Not Vote for the) Legislative Stooge List - Senate

Name Party Constituents Reason
Frank Ciccone D District 7, Providence, North Providence S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Daniel Connors D District 19, Cumberland, Lincoln S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Elizabeth Crowley D District 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket, Cumberland S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Frank DeVall D District 18, East Providence S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Louis DiPalma D District 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Jamie Doyle D District 8, Pawtucket S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Paul Fogarty D District 23, Burrillville, Glocester, North Smithfield S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Hanna Gallo D District 27, Cranston S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Maryellen Goodwin D District 1, Providence S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Paul Jabour D District 5, Providence S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Charles Levesque D District 11, Bristol, Portsmouth S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Erin Lynch D District 31, Warwick S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Christopher Maselli D District 25, Johnston S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
John McBurney D District 15, Pawtucket S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Michael McCaffrey D District 29, Warwick S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Harold Metts D District 6, Providence S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Joshua Miller D District 28, Cranston, Warwick S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Teresa Paiva Weed D District 13, Jamestown, Newport S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Rhoda Perry D District 3, Providence S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Roger Picard D District 20, Woonsocket, Cumberland S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Juan Pichardo D District 2, Providence S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Dominick Ruggerio D District 4, Providence, North Providence S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
James Sheehan D District 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Susan Sosnowski D District 37, New Shoreham, South Kingston S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
John Tassoni D District 22, Smithfield, North Smithfield S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance

January 25, 2010

A Packed House for Town Council

Justin Katz

The town hall is pretty well packed, tonight, probably for some combination of the "pay as you throw" trash pickup and the solicitor's intention to suggest an anti-tax-payer interpretation of the requirements for exceeding the 3050 tax cap on municipal budgets. Representatives of RISC are here for the latter. Representative Jay Edwards (D, Tiverton) is probably here for the same reason. Here's the agenda: PDF).

7:43 p.m.

Pay as you throw is up. Some repeated suggestions... controls for those who lack resources, an-opt out, elimination of no-bin-no-barrel recycling policies, some adjustments for developments that don't use bags at all, and (my suggestion) that the estimated revenue and expenditures should be included as a line-item in all budget documents. A new suggestion was to put the new policy on the November ballot.

Council Member Louise Durfee is suggesting that the adjustment be made by way of eliminating roughly $300,000 from the budget for the landfill closure. At best, I'm guessing that would serve to keep the council nominally under the cap. I think the estimated revenue should entirely be applied to the cap. Otherwise, what is the cap for? Only regular expenses, with all one-time expenditures and such paid with new fees that are, but don't count as, taxes?

Council President Don Bollin is suggesting that each household get to put out one bag for free.

7:56 p.m.

Budget Committee Chairman Jeff Carron suggested that all revenue should be subject to the cap. Louise Durfee tried to argue that it's a good thing to "free up money" and that it has no relation to the cap. I'm not sure if she just doesn't get it or is trying to obfuscate the obvious point that this brings more money into the town government.

8:15 p.m.

It looks like the program could go in the direction that gives every household a free bag. If that were to be the case, my own experience, and that of people with whom I've spoken, suggests that the life of the town's landfill would be greatly extended, and nobody would experience an unavoidable tax, because they'd have an option.

Put the program within the regular budget, and you've got a great solution on which just about everybody in town should be able to agree.

8:39 p.m.

The council unanimously passed language that allows it to actually create a program. In short, Tiverton will have some kind of program, but now begins the process of putting it together for real. They're putting together some guidance for the solicitor, including a review period, a possibility of a free bag, etc.

8:58 p.m.

Now we're in the midst of a "presentation on annual financial report by auditing firm." Makes one wonder if the solicitor put his item on the agenda (which he did on Wednesday evening, I believe) in the hopes that people would lose patience and leave before his turn at the tail end of the meeting.

9:20 p.m.

Much thinning of the crowd. Not, though, of the principals, if you get my meaning.

9:43 p.m.


9:46 p.m.

Solicitor Teitz handed over a suggested change in legislation on the cap. Louise Durfee suggested that the council isn't interested in that, because the General Assembly could respond unpredictably, but the council could adopt a policy, namely that the town council is explicitly the "governing body" and would send a request for approval to exceed the cap, requiring a super-majority of the town council. Upon receiving that approval, a simple vote of the financial town meeting would suffice to follow through.

9:53 p.m.

The language for the GA is tabled (unanimously). Solicitor Teitz will bring some language back for consideration in early March.

10:01 p.m.

Durfee has taken explicit exception to the press release put out by TCC President Dave Nelson.

From home:

The interesting exchange of the evening came toward the end, when Durfee accused Dave Nelson of misrepresenting facts and moved to unseal the relevant executive session minutes. (The movement failed 3 to 3, with one abstention.) Subsequently, Rob Coulter, whose wife is the claimant in the lawsuit that kicked this all off, read from a letter the couple had received regarding a lawsuit that they filed, kicking the whole thing off, which proved that there was no misrepresentation.

One sort of wishes, after these meetings, that there were a way to know how things would have gone without taxpayer attendance. Had TCC not sent out a press release and packed the town hall with people willing to sit through a 3+ hour meeting, would the result have been so reasonable-seeming? Maybe. Probably not. Best not to find out for real.

When Presidents Lose It

Justin Katz

Has anybody else been writing "What is he thinking?" in the margins of stories like this?

President Obama's latest broadside against big banks may have more bark than bite.

Obama's plan to limit banks' size and risky trading has spooked investors, but analysts say it would have only marginal effect on institutions like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup - and would be hard to enforce. And it's not clear the rules would reduce taxpayers' risk of having to bail out another big bank.

As if on impulse, Obama fired a shot at the finance industry and, in an utterly predictable development, the markets tanked. My theory is that the administration foresaw Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts and wanted to circumvent headlines like "Markets surge on election of Republican." That would be far too straightforward of a lesson for the Democrats to allow the electorate to learn. (Of course, the electorate is learning the lesson by other means.) Roger Simon appears to agree:

I don't think it's accident that the Stock Market is tanking after a very short rally that coincided with the then coming victory of Scott Brown. The business world is scared — as is evidently our Secretary of the Treasury who has wandered about as far off the reservation as cabinet officers normally go, allowing the world to know his skepticism about Obama's new reining in of the banks. (How long before Geithner goes under the bus now?)

The scary thing is that many of us believe the President hardly knows much of anything, certainly not economics, and is surrounded by an increasingly paranoid and defensive group of advisers. It's shades of Nixon, but worse. Tricky Dick, at least, knew what he was doing and could accomplish things. Obama is the biggest windbag to ever ascend to the presidency. He has no idea what he is doing and now things are getting rough. Frankly, I'm worried for our country because this man doesn't really understand what the public is telling him. He just thinks we're "angry.” He’s wrong — we're furious and we're furious because he blames everyone but himself and seems psychologically incapable of taking responsibility. One can imagine a ninety-year old Obama stumbling around in some rest home shaking his walking stick at George Bush. But for the moment Bush is being replaced boy. Now evidently it's the banks fault. The evil bankers are to blame. It's capitalism, stupid.

Simon goes on to suggest that Obama has never really faced adversity before and may be unpredictable for the next year. Moreover, I can't help but think back to those conservatives and moderates who were just positive that Obama would grow and learn once in office, surely coming around to their point of view. An introduction to adversity doesn't appear to be teaching the president such lessons.

Identifying the Stealth

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal ran this story on the front page, Saturday, with the headline "Stealth GOP effort helped Brown win." The first paragraphs surely give comfort to those who continue to prefer that the upset not be proof of real grassroots unrest and voter discontent with the Democrats' policies:

The stunning Republican come-from-behind victory in Massachusetts' special U.S. Senate election wasn't entirely a shock to Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The Texas senator had led a stealth Republican operation in the Bay State since December that quietly funneled top staffers, $1 million in cash and campaign knowhow to backstop Republican candidate Scott Brown.

But what constitutes stealth ought to be a question. Here, the Republicans just didn't advertise their financial support of a candidate in a critical (if long-odds) race. Further along in the article, reporter Maria Recio looks to give the other side's interpretation:

State Democrats dispute that they were in the dark about the national Republicans being in the state.

And what Democrat does Recio present as comparable to a Republican in elected office who sits on a committee to elect more Republicans?

"We were very much aware that this was a national election," said Tim Sullivan, the legislative and communications director for the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. "Contrary to popular belief, our side was running a campaign. When it came down to the race being a race, everyone got mobilized."

Perhaps the acronym needs an addition: D-AFL-CIO. Indeed, on the very same interior page as the above quotation is Randal Edgar's application to Rhode Island of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance legislation. The lead reads:

Campaign finance ruling could lead to more spending on ads by corporations and unions.

But three-quarters of the way through the story, one comes upon this:

"It allows too much special interests and lobbying," said Edward Eberle, a professor at the Roger Williams University School of Law. "And I think it makes whoever is up for reelection beholden to the special-interest groups."

Also critical were William Lynch, chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, and George Nee, president of the AFL-CIO of Rhode Island.

I'm not sure how much more beholden Democrats could be to their major interest group when journalists treat party activists and interest group activists as interchangeable. One suspects that the unionists oppose loosened campaign finance rules because they're already so thoroughly interwoven with a political movement — and political party — that the slight leveling of the playing field that comes with allowing corporations to spend more money independently is far more of a threat than being able to spend their own money more overtly is a benefit.

Educational Formulating

Marc Comtois

As the only state without a funding formula, there is certainly something to be said for putting something in place so that cities and towns can have some ability to forecast what they're going to have for education spending. That being said, I'm sure I'm not alone in having mixed feelings when I hear such things as this:

Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist...points out that the current distribution is unfair, insofar as it gives some school districts too much, and other districts too little...“What I want to see is a system that in every respect, whether it’s finance policy or curriculum or professional development, is built around what students need and not what adults need or are used to having,” said Gist, who became commissioner last summer.

“This is going to require that some people step up and have the political courage to say to their communities, ‘We will have to make some changes … and let’s look at why that is the case.’ ”

First part is good, second part makes me wary. Adding to my wariness is the involvement of Brown University--"Kenneth Wong, a Brown education professor, and two of his graduate students"--in the formulating (yes, I'll admit this is probably biased on my part, but there you go--so convince me).
Unlike previous approaches that added more money on top of what districts were already spending, the new proposal starts from scratch.

Using a “market-basket approach,” the Brown team members added what they considered the most important elements for a quality education: the salaries of key personnel such as teachers, teacher assistants, guidance counselors, nurses, librarians, principals and assistant principals; books and other instructional materials; training for teachers; and a portion of teacher-pension costs.

Those elements form the basis of what the team calls a “foundation” formula, resulting in a cost of $8,200 per student per year. That figure could change if elements are added or subtracted.

The state average per-pupil cost in 2009 was $7,246, but that figure does not include $78 million the state contributes to teacher pensions, a cost included in the $8,200 figure.

Districts with large numbers of poor children would receive more money to address their higher levels of need. Education officials say the poverty level is also a measure for other student needs, such as special education and English classes for non-native speakers.

Sounds sorta redistributive, doesn't it? Under this formula, I'm guessing most of us will, and should, take an even keener interest in the urban schools. Looks like more of our money will be heading there.

Top Baseball Prospect Signed by God's Team

Marc Comtois

I heard about Grant Desme this morning on the radio. He's a pretty good baseball player.

The Athletics picked Desme in the second round of the 2007 amateur draft and he was starting to blossom. He was the only player in the entire minors with 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases last season.

Desme batted .288 with 31 homers, 89 RBIs and 40 steals in 131 games at Class-A Kane County and high Class-A Stockton last year. He hit .315 with a league-leading 11 home runs and 27 RBIs in 27 games this fall in Arizona, a league filled with young talent.

But he's picking another team:
Desme announced Friday that he was leaving baseball to enter the priesthood, walking away after a breakout season in which he became MVP of the Arizona Fall League.

"I was doing well at ball. But I really had to get down to the bottom of things," the 23-year-old Desme said. "I wasn't at peace with where I was at."

A lifelong Catholic, Desme thought about becoming a priest for about a year and a half. He kept his path quiet within the sports world, and his plan to enter a seminary this summer startled the A's when he told them Thursday night.

General manager Billy Beane "was understanding and supportive," Desme said, but the decision "sort of knocked him off his horse." After the talk, Desme felt "a great amount of peace."

"I love the game, but I aspire to higher things," he said. "I know I have no regrets."

Good for him.

Mainstreet Loses an Anchor and the Council Looks to Tax

Justin Katz

So, Bank of America is abandoning the Main Street location in North Tiverton that it has inhabited for decades (most of the time as Fleet bank). According to somebody in a position to know, the branch remains profitable, but corporate executives have analyzed the prospects of Tiverton, Rhode Island, and determined that there will be insufficient small business activity to justify a presence in the town. Municipal officials may dream of a down-town-style business district, but when one of the two institutions that would anchor the community with access to capital and money management expresses its skepticism by packing up and leaving, residents should stop daydreaming and look at what's happening in reality.

In reality, Town Solicitor Andy Teitz has put it on tonight's agenda (PDF) for the town council to discuss the state law that places a cap on the amount that towns and cities can increase their taxes. At issue is this statutory language:

Any levy pursuant to subsection (d) of this section in excess of the percentage increase specified in subsection (a) of this section shall be approved by the affirmative vote of at least four-fifths (4/5) of the full membership of the governing body of the city or town or in the case of a city or town having a financial town meeting, the majority of the electors present and voting at the town financial meeting shall also approve the excess levy.

What the solicitor is expected to argue is that the town should entirely disregard the word "also" and accept it as town policy that a simple majority of the electorate in attendance at the financial town meeting should be able to authorize an increase above the tax cap. A lawsuit is already in process, in the town, to test that reading of the law, so one avenue that the solicitor and certain town councilors may be interested in pursuing is to change the above language, through the General Assembly, to remove the "ambiguity" of the law to conform with their reading.

Residents should decline to join in the imaginative exercise of pretending there's any ambiguity at all beyond the grammatical error of using "or" rather than a semicolon in the statute. The town council ultimately approves the baseline budget that the residents consider at the town meeting, and elected officials should therefore have to submit themselves to accountability. Otherwise, voters should take it to be their duty to reconstruct the budget line-item by line-item, perhaps with constituencies developing complete and competing budgets.

Also at tonight's town council meeting, by the way, will be a vote on the "pay as you throw" policy by which the town is seeking to more than double the cost of trash pickup for residents. Not coincidentally, I'm sure, its plan to charge households for the garbage bags that they use will not figure into the tax cap. Put it all together, and over the course of a few Monday night hours in January, Tiverton's council of seven could lay the groundwork for a truly massive increase in taxes and fees in the midst of a deep economic recession in a town and state in long-term economic decline.

Catching a Constituency Before They Flee

Justin Katz

Among the more disconcerting inevitabilities of Rhode Island's method of self-destruction is that the policies that are destroying the state drive away what I've called "the productive class," so as the situation gets worse, the proportion of the electorate that would be inclined to change things for the better shrinks. By productive class, I mean those Rhode Islanders in the working to middle classes who are smart, skilled, and driven — the sort of people whom a civic mentality that despises success harms.

I'm encouraged, however, to see an increasing effort among the politically active on the right side to harness the clout of this group before its attrition tips the scales irreversibly toward decline. RI Senator Ed O'Neill (I, Lincoln) puts it thus:

In addition to providing financial support, Rhode Island business should bring its vitality and intellectual horsepower into our state government. We need candidates with business experience and skills to run for office. We cannot expect positive and proficient movement in the legislature without fully involving the people resources of our business community. There are thousands of skilled business people and 55-plus retirees or semi-retirees in Rhode Island who could make a tremendous difference in our state government.

There is a fight going on. It’s time for Rhode Island’s businesses and taxpayers to show up.

As a vessel for such action, the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition (RISC) is developing a Business Network for which it encouragse political donations and support across district lines, diminishing the state's "my guy's alright" problem. The idea is that businesses pledge a donation amount, give RISC a percentage to cover administrative costs, and then follow the organization's advice as to where to donate the rest, in whatever town it might do the most good. After all, residents of every municipality are affected by a General Assembly in which most of the senators and representatives are elected elsewhere.

As Dan Yorke's interview with General Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio (D) at RISC's introductory event illustrates, even just the existence of such a group can give politicians cover to move in the only direction that can pull the state out of its free fall. Personally, I'm concerned that it may be too late — that those with special deals to protect already outnumber those who simply want a better living and working environment for everybody — but one needn't be as hyper-involved as I am to test the theory, and it's most definitely worth testing.

January 24, 2010

Putting Rhode Islanders in the Slow Lane

Justin Katz

Sometimes, it's difficult to know what to say about an idea. Such is the case with the following example, in which Bridgewater State College Economics Department Chairwoman and Massachusetts Council on Economic Education President Margaret Brooks endeavors to illustrate how Rhode Island can "find new and creative ways to raise revenue that don't cause undue burden to businesses or homeowners":

... why not have a speed-pass system at the Department of Motor Vehicles that gives people the option of moving to a fast-track line by paying a $50 or $100 premium? Like the speed passes offered at amusement parks, this type of system would extract additional revenue from those who place the highest value on time, and who could most afford to pay. If we put our heads together, we can generate creative solutions such as these that will help us successfully navigate through the state’s economic crisis.

As if a trip to the DMV isn't demoralizing enough without having to watch rich people skip on through. You rearrange your workday to sit in a painful plastic chair for untold hours, and they swing by between tennis and spa.

Class envy aside, it is supremely discouraging to see an economics professor so enamored with gimmicks. Of all people, such academics should be able to identify the state's long-term problems and suggest corrections.

If anybody's interested, here's a solution that I just thought up: How about we cut taxes, eliminate mandates, and lighten regulations? It doesn't take a dozen words to describe my official title, but I think something like that just might work. Although, if we're going to "put our heads together" in the fashion advised by Ms. Brooks, my suggested gimmick would be to offer preassembled packages of documents that would assist productive Rhode Islanders in cutting ties with the state.

Towns on the Teat, Too.

Justin Katz

This article is a few weeks old, but I've been holding on to it because the statement contained therein really requires philosophical correction:

One by one, mayors and municipal managers from Cumberland to Westerly told the House Finance Committee on Thursday that the midyear aid cuts proposed by Governor Carcieri will wreak havoc on local services and tax rates, shifting a state budget crisis onto the backs of municipal employees and property owners already feeling the bite of previous state-aid cuts.

If the towns and cities have allowed themselves to rely heavily on the state for financial support and the state is having a budget crisis, then the crisis isn't shifted, it's shared. We should expect our municipal leaders to be more self-motivated, active, and demonstrative than welfare queens.

What really irks me about the attitude expressed in the article, though, is the degree to which government operates as if behind a wall of glass. Mayors and managers shouldn't be wasting time on their knees at the state house. Even were groveling successful in staving off cuts to "state aid" this year, circumstances are only going to be more dire in the next budget unless things change dramatically in Rhode Island.

In other words, officials should be turning to the people who elected them (or who elected the people who appointed them), explaining what the state must do to turn things around, and more importantly, encouraging residents to get involved — not to join in the groveling, but to run for office and join taxpayer groups and the like. After all, they pay the taxes whether it's to the town or the state, and when revenue improves for the state, it will improve for the municipalities, as well.

Of course, this assumes that municipal leaders have a clue about what might save Rhode Island — an optimistic assumption if ever there was one.

Stop the Check: Grant Applications Cited Bogus Glacier Melt

Monique Chartier

On Wednesday came the revelation that the UN IPCC - the United Nation's global warming panel - had grossly exaggerated the rate at which the Himalayan glaciers will melt. (They had said it would melt in decades; the correct estimate of "centuries" is probably inadequate in light of the cooling trend that even AGW advocates admit we are entering.)

Touching in part on motive, the Daily Mail (UK) reports that

A scientist responsible for a key 2007 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warning Himalayan glaciers would be completely melted by 2035 has admitted that the claim was made to put political pressure on world leaders.

Some would point out that these "scientists" lied to shape public policy. But let us be not so quick to condemn: after all, Uncle Al said it was perfectly fine to do exactly that.

Now the lastest development. The Sunday Times (UK) reports that

The chairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has used bogus claims that Himalayan glaciers were melting to win grants worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Rajendra Pachauri's Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), based in New Delhi, was awarded up to £310,000 by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the lion's share of a £2.5m EU grant funded by European taxpayers.

Whoops. Looks like some revisions to those grant applications are in order.

"When we said 'decades', we actually meant ..."


"The 'decade' is the new 'century' ..."

What does that mean??

"We employed the term 'decades' in the bibical sense ..."

Think, man, think! Four million dollars is at stake ...

I was considerably amused by a stout disclaimer in the earlier IPCC statement which admitted the glacier error but defended the balance of that section of the report.

This conclusion is robust, appropriate, and entirely consistent with the underlying science and the broader IPCC assessment.

Science? Really? Let's review. We had the breaking of Mann's hockey stick . We have substantial problems with AGW computer models upon which the warming conclusions of the IPCC relies. There was the stunning expose of the "Hide the decline" ClimateGate data scandal. (British Parliament announced on Friday that they are opening an investigation.) Dare we mention that an uncooperative Earth has not warmed nearly as much as expected? Could that be attributed to the minisculity of man's role in generating greenhouse gases? And the IPCC glacier meldown Wednesday was followed by an admission that, contrary to the IPCC's prior assertion, severe weather is not a symptom of global warming.

It's becoming more and more clear that the "underlying science and the broader IPCC assessment" on global warming may be consistent, just not necessarily consistent with science and some facts on the ground.

Victory Is Matter of Cultural Context

Justin Katz

Among the magnificent effects of the Internet is that people in dramatically different cultural environments can interact in real time, offering proclamations of principle that may or may not require adjustment. Mark Shea, for example, expresses what is likely a common gripe among pro-lifers across the country about local reactions to the Scott Brown victory:

Sure it's a "prolife victory" in that, if all goes according to plan, Brown torpedos the Abortion Care behemoth due, not to his prolife convictions (he has none) but to his economic theories. But so what? At the end of the day you now have a pro-abortion *and* pro-torture politician extolled to the prolife faithful as the guy you have to support or the baby gets it and you have the prolifers, once again, complying--cheerfully and even enthusiastically! And all just in time for Roe v. Wade Day.The GOP organ grinder plays the tune and laughs. The little prolife monkey claps his cymbals and hope he gets thrown a treat. And the tune plays on.

I'll concede that the current reality is frustrating for those who find it to be an atrocity that our nation kills more than a million unborn children every year. Even just to type that makes me squeamish. I'll also admit that, when I heard a woman on the radio explaining her vote for Brown on the grounds that "he's pro-life," I winced.

However, as I suggested in Mark's comment section, the idea that the GOP primaries should have been more contentious so that the state's Republican Senator would be more pro-life is laughable... or at least was laughable until about two weeks ago. The idea that a Republican could win — a candidate well to the right on abortion from just about every politician, media outlet, and non-religious cultural institution in the region — was inconceivable. Put another way, a Republican's losing the senatorial race because he failed to get the pro-life vote would have been indistinguishable from a Republican losing the race with the pro-life vote, which is what everybody expected until very, very recently. In order for politicians to have something to lose by not garnering our votes, they have to have something to lose in the first place. Now Northeast Republicans do, even if it's mainly momentum, for the time being.

Given context and a call to charitable treatment of others, a sense among local conservatives of "we did it" is to be permitted, and even a little excess of enthusiasm, within the week after the election, is to be forgiven. Standing across the country in purity and mocking us as wind-up monkeys is... let's just say... not very helpful.

How we proceed — once the euphoria of having an unexpected effect subsides — is the thing. We, first, must ensure that those who would pull the Republican Party to the left understand that we haven't made a deal with the Devil; we've made a political calculation that can be re-figured without compunction. We, second, must hold our newly minted political superstar's feet to the fire, convincing him not only of our political significance, but also of the rightness of our cause.

Protestations to ProJo Pronouncements

Marc Comtois

1) The ProJo editors on global warming:

Still, that a few scientists are accused of manipulating a bit of data from some climate research does not do away with the preponderance of evidence. The latest controversy revolves around the validity of the collection and use of data behind a U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 report that Himalayan glaciers will shrink dramatically, or even disappear, in a few decades. However, the scientific consensus that Himalayan glaciers will dramatically recede is unlikely to be overturned anytime soon.
"[A] bit of data", huh? That interpretation explains why the ProJo has ignored Climategate. The attempt to hide data, manipulate data, leave out non-conforming readings from Siberia, etc.? Aw, no big deal. I suppose they're right about that "scientifice consensus" concerning Himalayan glaciers....
The scientist behind the bogus claim in a Nobel Prize-winning UN report that Himalayan glaciers will have melted by 2035 last night admitted it was included purely to put political pressure on world leaders.

Dr Murari Lal also said he was well aware the statement, in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), did not rest on peer-reviewed scientific research.


2) Froma Harrop is ticked about Massachusetts electing a senator to stop national health care reform, especially since Masachusetts has already enacted state health care reform. (Echoes of the temper tantrum the ProJo editors published a few days ago--guess we know who penned that one!). Harrop thinks the national plan superior to the Mass. one, particularly in that it does a better job containing costs. But Massachusetts is going to fix it, which gets us to Harrop's favorite rejoinder to critics of national health care: "Politically, the Massachusetts program could serve as a national model. Pass universal coverage now, fix it later." Here's an idea: let's revert to the the "laboratory of the states" idea. The reason for the reputed success of national health care programs in other countries rests largely on their relatively smaller populations and cultural homogeneity. Neither of these are comparable in the U.S. So let states handle it, if they choose, like Massachusetts did.

3) Some minor quibbles with Ed Fitzpatrick's piece on what went wrong with Coakley, mostly with his parrotting of two memes that don't have much substance, but apparently make Democrats and liberals feel a little better. First:

Republicans might convince themselves that Brown’s victory heralds a new level of affection for the GOP. But voters aren’t expressing love. They’re expressing anger.
No kidding. I really haven't seen many Republicans convinced that they're suddenly the darlings of the polity. Hardly. File under, "I know you are, but what am I...." Second:
But after a year of economic turmoil and seemingly endless debate, many people remain unconvinced that a complex health-care overhaul should top government’s priority list. (If I had to guess, the top three priorities are simple: jobs, jobs, jobs). And now Brown, who as a Boston College law student posed nude for a Cosmopolitan magazine centerfold, has stripped Democrats of any easy way to move forward with the existing bill.
It's become an obvious tactic, let's call it Scott Brown Commentary Rule #1: reference his nude modeling "career" no matter what. The attempt is clearly to imply an unseriousness about Brown. Well, sorry, too late. Oh, and one more thing: like all proper thinking columnists, Fitzpatrick is worried that we're headed towards "partisan gridlock.' And that's a bad thing?

Learning to Be Good

Justin Katz

A comment section recently brought out the topic of whether children are born with a moral sense and ended with BobN arguing as follows:

... Young minds are very plastic and amoral.

As Reagan said, freedom is never more than one generation away from being lost.

Today's society is filled with examples of young people without moral compasses. From the gangs of Los Angeles (or Providence) to the children in madrassas preparing to become the suicide bombers of al Qaeda at the extreme, to the welfare queens and "baby mamas" and their no-strings impregnators who view welfare as a career, to business-school students who cheerfully admit to cheating to get ahead and think it is a normal part of business, to politicians who speak of democracy while plotting to seize tyrannical power, there are an awful lot of people who are not wired to see the truth.

Of course there are many counterexamples. In fact, the vast majority of people still understand right and wrong and act accordingly. And at the extreme of this end of the spectrum are the valiant patriots who volunteer to serve our country and literally fight for freedom and our way of life.

My own belief is that morality is just like everything else in that it is a process of development. We're all born with an innate sense of what is right — a conscience that seeks for God. Genetics set boundaries and probabilities for our behavior, but the rest develops over time based on experiences and cultural input. I once heard some celebrity suggest that pit bulls are a danger because they have such big hearts, and if people pervert their loyalty and desire to please, the dogs can become monsters. Just so with people: Our drive to do what is right can be perverted so dramatically that an impulse toward transcendence can be made to point toward that which is immoral.

As Archbishop George Niederauer writes:

How do we form and guide our consciences? While the Church teaches that each of us is called to judge and direct his or her own actions, it also teaches that, like any good judge, each conscience masters the law and listens to expert testimony about the law. This process is called the education and formation of conscience.

It is by following our inherent longing for Truth up the structure built of revelation and tradition — of history and cultural experience — that we achieve both moral goodness and independence.

January 23, 2010

Flight of the Golden Geese

Justin Katz

For those disinclined to understand, here's a video parable about a goose that lays golden eggs (via TaxProf):

As we're learning, in Rhode Island, the video doesn't tell the whole story. The same mentality that plagues the fictional farm affects not only the golden-egg-laying geese, but also the industrious animals that find ways to produce new things (or old things more efficiently). And not only does the farmer take more of the fruits of their labor, but he also places restrictions on their operations, while expanding the burden that must be "shared."

Rhode Island's Poor National Representation

Justin Katz

Could there be anything more indicative of poor representation than Rep. Patrick Kennedy's dogged insistence that he's going to shoot for the healthcare stars, no matter what the people say?

Kennedy flatly endorsed a strategy for passage of the pending health-care overhaul that many fellow Democrats are wary of pursuing: a swift vote in the House to accept the Senate version of the bill verbatim.

"We can come back and fix those problems," Kennedy argued, perhaps by using arcane budget-writing rules that might let Democrats win controversial votes by a simple majority in the 100-member Senate. As it stands, Brown represents the 41st Republican vote that could permit them to block the health-care initiative. Kennedy said the alternative to immediate action may be the loss of a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity to advance national health-care legislation.

Kennedy's post-mortem on the Massachusetts result appeared to jibe with Democratic sentiment expressed Tuesday by White House senior advisor David Axelrod for a preemptive populist campaign that would brand Republicans as handmaidens of a special-interest status quo represented by Wall Street and the insurance industry.

The clear message of the right-of-center populist trends, of the past year, from the Tea Parties to Scott Brown's proclamation of "the independent majority, is that Americans understand that both parties are indebted to special interests (although there's increasing appreciation of the fact that the interests don't line up perfectly with the parties as if they were opposing teams). In the current policy disputes, we just prefer the policies associated with interests, such as Wall Street, that Kennedy despises. That could change, of course, were Republicans to pursue real healthcare reform to that limited the importance of large insurance carriers; in such a case, the independent majority would likely part ways from the insurance lobby.

One can only hope that the upcoming elections prove that Rhode Islanders are tiring of the simplistic analysis that our current delegation insists on serving up. Many of us are also fed up with dead-end promises such as this, from Langevin:

Langevin also said that it's essential that Democrats indicate their solidarity with angry voters by heeding their message from Massachusetts. He said he wants to signal to his Rhode Island constituents "that I'm listening and I hear them."

All I can picture is Rep. Langevin's town hall meeting in Warwick, this summer. Among his peers, his performance was certainly the least scripted, and for that, he gets courage points, but little evidence emerged, subsequently, that Mr. Langevin's listening and hearing had any effect on his doing.

"Mugged By Ultrasound"

Marc Comtois

A new poll finds that "56% of all Americans and 58% of those 18-29 years old say abortion ‘morally wrong’."

“Millennials” (those 18-29) consider abortion to be “morally wrong” even more (58%) than Baby Boomers (those 45-64) (51%). Generation X (those 30-44) are similar to Millennials (60% see abortion as “morally wrong”). More than 6 in 10 of the Greatest Generation (those 65+) feel the same....

Advances in technology, show clearly – and ever more clearly – that an unborn child is completely a human being. That, coupled with the large number of Americans who know one of the many people who has been negatively affected by abortion are certainly two of the reasons that Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with Roe v. Wade’s legacy of abortion, and with abortion generally. The majority of Americans now understand that abortion has consequences, and that those consequences are not good.

Indeed, as this Weekly Standard piece, Mugged by Ultrasound, explains (h/t):
...advances in ultrasound imaging and abortion procedures have forced providers ever closer to the nub of their work. Especially in abortions performed far enough along in gestation that the fetus is recognizably a tiny baby, this intimacy exacts an emotional toll, stirring sentiments for which doctors, nurses, and aides are sometimes unprepared. Most apparently have managed to reconcile their belief in the right to abortion with their revulsion at dying and dead fetuses, but a noteworthy number have found the conflict unbearable and have defected to the pro-life cause.

[Some] converts were driven into the pro-life movement by advances in ultrasound technology. The most recent example is Abby Johnson, the former director of Dallas-area Planned Parenthood. After watching, via ultrasound, an embryo “crumple” as it was suctioned out of its mother’s womb, Johnson reported a “conversion in my heart.” Likewise, Joan Appleton was the head nurse at a large abortion facility in Falls Church, Virginia, and a NOW activist. Appleton performed thousands of abortions with aplomb until a single ultrasound-assisted abortion rattled her. As Appleton remembers, “I was watching the screen. I saw the baby pull away. I saw the baby open his mouth. .  .  . After the procedure I was shaking, literally.”

Others were converted after being traumitized by having to handle and dispose of "fetal remains"...baby parts (the Standard piece includes some graphic conversion accounts). I wonder if this increasing disapproval of abortion helps explain the apparent rise in teen pregnancies, as written about by Dr. Gregory Fritz on today's ProJo op-ed page (Dr. Fritz does not bring up abortion):
Perhaps the fear of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS has faded as a deterrent to unprotected sex. The increase in the number of Latinos in the U.S., who now have the highest rate of teen pregnancy of any group in the country, may provide a demographic answer. Alternatively, the rising rate of pregnancy among adolescents may be part of a broader societal trend, since birth rates have also increased among women in every age group and among older, unmarried women. It’s even been suggested that the change represents “prevention-fatigue” associated with the ubiquity of prevention programs.

In any case, if the end of the decline in the teenage-pregnancy rate is in fact a real pattern, we need to address it head on. Delaying pregnancy is critically important for improving the life opportunities for both teenage girls and their babies.

I think that's something everyone can agree on. Preventing teen pregnancy by teaching abstinence (it works every time), contraception in a responsible (not promotional) way and showing how screwed up your life will become if you cross over into babymommahood are essential.

On Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court Decision: Reflections from April 30, 2005 on Correcting the Bizarre Incentives Created by Campaign Finance Reform Laws

Donald B. Hawthorne

A nearly five year old blog post, reposted here in response to this week's Supreme Court decision about free speech:

Andrew has a terrific, focused posting entitled First They Came for the Radio Talk Show Hosts... that gets to the heart of the latest fallout from campaign finance reform here in Rhode Island. Once again, we have an example of how legislation has unintended consequences that, in this case, affect our freedom of speech.

Dating back to the post-Watergate reforms in the 1970's, I continue to be amazed at how people think it is possible to construct ways to limit the flow of money into politics. And so we have concepts such as hard money, soft money, donation limits by individuals, donation limits by corporate entities, political action committees, 527's, etc.

Like water flowing downhill, money simply finds new ways to flow into politics after each such "reform." Does any rational person really think all these limitations have reduced the influence of money on politics? Surely not. Have all these limitations changed behavioral incentives for people or organizations with money? Quite clearly, as the 527's showed in the 2004 elections. But all we have done is made the flow of money more convoluted and frequently more difficult to trace. Are we better off for all the changes? Hardly. And, the adverse and unintended consequences will only continue into the future.

What can we do differently? Here is an alternative, and arguably more straightforward, view of the world:

1. Government has become a huge business, which means there is a lot of money for various interest groups - of all political persuasions - to grab, some for legitimate reasons and much in the form of pork. Money flows into politics to buy influence because so much is at stake financially. While no one wants to talk about it openly, the flow of large sums of money into politics is yet another unfortunate price we pay for allowing government to become such a pervasive part of our lives. If we truly had limited government, the pressure to buy influence would be much reduced. It is nothing but foolish ignorance to seek limits on the flow of money without first reducing the structural incentives that currently give people an economic reason to buy influence.

2. Since money is going to flow into politics, one way or another, then we should stop setting up barriers to free speech like Morse notes have come out of the latest campaign finance reform law. Rather, why not take all limits off political contributions in America in exchange for requiring ALL details about such contributions be posted in a standardized report format on the Internet within 24 hours of receipt by either an individual politician or by a political party? Total transparency and accountability, unlike today. If a George Soros or a Richard Scaiffe contributes vast monies, anyone paying attention will see it and the public scrutiny will be immediate. No more PAC's, no more 527's, no more hard versus soft money distinctions, etc. Eliminate the incentives to play fundraising games like the alleged misdeeds by Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign.

Such reform even has the potential to weaken the power of incumbents in both parties and create real competition in our political races. Think about Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and Ronald Reagan's various campaigns where each challenged the status quo and all of which were the result of having committed financial sponsors. Today many candidates have to be wealthy so they can spend their own money. Limiting the pool of candidates does not result in a better pool of candidates.

Total transparency and accountability in politics, with the potential for greater competition. Should not those be the policy objectives underlying our campaign finance laws? And, if successfully implemented, wouldn't that be a novel concept?

Of course, it is sadly ironic that achieving such transparency, accountability and competition will only happen if our incumbent politicians vote for new laws. Yet, given their own self-interest, our politicians have no incentive to support such changes and that lessens our freedom as American citizens. Yet another price we pay for big government.

Numerous links to commentaries about the Supreme Court decision can be found in the Extended Entry. If you do nothing else, listen to the Cato Institute video.

Other blog posts:

September 17, 2006: George Will on Upholding the Idea of Liberty

...There is no greater threat to liberty in this country than the fourth kind of politics, the politics of speech rationing. It is commonly called campaign finance reform, but it's nothing of the sort. It is simply the assertion of the government of a new, audacious right: the right to determine the timing, content, and amount of political advocacy about the government. It is the most astonishing slow-motion -- although it is gaining speed -- repeal of the First Amendment anyone could imagine...

May 15, 2006: The Hypocritical Straight Talk Express Man: The Ongoing Problem With John McCain

...Unfortunately, none of this surprises people anymore because it is now clear that the only right to free speech Senator McCain believes in is his own...

Important posts about or related to the current Supreme Court decision:

Rubin: Supreme Court vindicates political speech, pulverizes McCain-Feingold

In a landmark 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court today in Citizens United v. FEC struck down major portions of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law. The Court left in place the disclosure requirement for corporations and the disclaimer requirement that identifies whether an ad is not paid for by the campaign. But little else remains…

…It will certainly increase the amount of speech…

…Republicans may see some tactical advantage here, as corporations wary of the Obama regime may now help fund Republican Senate and House candidates seeking to block the Obama anti-business agenda. But it would be a mistake to assume that corporations that seem to have perfected the art of feeding at the government trough and which are vulnerable to the ever-increasing reach of the Obama administration won’t cover their bets by giving to both sides. Moreover, this is a victory plain and simple for the Constitution and for the essential notion that if there is a “problem” with certain types of speech, the solution is more speech, not the heavy hand of government censors.

Ira Stoll: A Big Victory for Free Speech

…The case also highlighted the way both Republican and Democratic politicians trample the Constitution, at least as defined by today's Supreme Court majority…

"The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether," the majority opinion by Justice Kennedy said. "As additional rules are created for regulating political speech, any speech arguably within their reach is chilled."

The majority said that "Campaign finance regulations now impose 'unique and complex rules' on '71 distinct entities.' These entities are subject to separate rules for 33 different types of political speech. The FEC has adopted 568 pages of regulations, 1,278 pages of explanations and justifications for those regulations, and 1,771 advisory opinions since 1975. In fact, after this Court in WRTL adopted an objective 'appeal to vote' test for determining whether a communication was the functional equivalent of express advocacy, the FEC adopted a two-part, 11-factor balancing test to implement WRTL's ruling."

The majority said all these rules amount to an unconsitutional restraint on free speech…

Said the majority: "the FEC has created a regime that allows it to select what political speech is safe for public consumption by applying ambiguous tests. If parties want to avoid litigation and the possibility of civil and criminal penalties, they must either refrain from speaking or ask the FEC to issue an advisory opinion approving of the political speech in question. Government officials pore over each word of a text to see if, in their judgment, it accords with the 11 factor test they have promulgated. This is an unprecedented governmental intervention into the realm of speech."

The opinion went on: "The law before us is an outright ban, backed by criminal sanctions. Section 441b makes it a felony for all corporations—including nonprofit advocacy corporations—either to expressly advocate the election or defeat of candidates or to broadcast electioneering communications within 30days of a primary election and 60 days of a general election. Thus, the following acts would all be felonies under §441b: The Sierra Club runs an ad, within the crucial phase of 60 days before the general election, that exhorts the public to disapprove of a Congressman who favors logging in national forests; the National Rifle Association publishes a book urging the public to vote for the challenger because the incumbent U. S. Senator supports a handgun ban; and the American Civil Liberties Union creates a Web site telling the public to vote for a Presidential candidate in light of that candidate's defense of free speech. These prohibitions are classic examples of censorship.

The court noted that independent election expenditures weren't banned by Congress until 1947, which, in so doing, overrode the veto of President Truman, who warned that the expenditure ban was a "dangerous intrusion on free speech."

It also complained of differing treatment under the law of businesses that one news organizations and those that don't. "This differential treatment cannot be squared with the First Amendment," the opinion said.

Chief Justice Roberts stressed the essential point in his concurring opinion: "Congress violates the First Amendment when it decrees that some speakers may not engage in political speech at election time, when it matters most."…

All the justices except for Justice Thomas agreed that the requirements of disclosure of the identities of donors or of who had paid for an ad did not amount to an abridgement of free speech; Justice Thomas, dwelling on the consequences for those whose opposition to gay marriage in California had been disclosed, dissented from that portion of the majority opinion…

Want to know what campaign finance reform is really about? Watch this Cato Institute video

The Freeman: Campaign Finance is The Symptom, Not the Problem

...In essence, the cause of large political contributions and spending is the government’s possession of the power to redistribute wealth. Originally, the U.S. Constitution properly and powerfully limited that power. Governments could not take private property without compensation, and then only for "public use"; governments could not interfere in private contracts; state governments could not interfere in interstate trade. On the civil side, governments could not interfere with freedom of speech, religion, and association. But over the last century, the constitutional prohibitions against the major means of redistributing wealth have been greatly eroded, opening the door to the offensive and defensive purchase of this power through political contributions.

The superficial response is to simply outlaw those contributions. But this does not get at the cause of the problem. As long as the supply and demand exist, such prohibitions will be largely ineffective...If there is supply and demand, there will be exchange, regardless of what the law says.

It is the same with campaign finance. The only real solution is to deal with the root cause: the supply and demand for the redistribution of wealth. And the way to do that is to return to the constitutional prohibitions against it. Then there would be nothing to buy.

Tobin: Free speech, not the GOP, is the winner in court campaign-finance ruling

…McCain-Feingold allowed the Federal Election Commission to stop the showing of the film because a corporation produced it, even though the corporation in question was a nonprofit. This case aptly illustrated the way this law did not so much protect the electoral process from the corrupting influence of money as it protected politicians from the effects of political speech that they did not like. Far from bolstering the democratic process, McCain-Feingold suppressed it. Like just about every other campaign-finance law that has been passed since the 1970s, when the Watergate scandal gave impetus to a drive to “reform” election spending, this law did not eliminate the influence of money on politics, but it did play favorites as to which sort of speech may or may not be legal. While efforts to bring transparency into campaign finance remain laudable, the process by which money began to be shunted first into political action committees and then, in the wake of McCain-Feingold, into new classes of unaccountable groups did nothing to make the system fairer or cleaner. Instead, it granted a government agency the power to regulate or suppress the one kind of speech that the founders of our republic would have agreed was inviolate: political speech…

Taranto: Censorship Inc - A division of the New York Times Co. wants free speech all to itself

"The majority is deeply wrong on the law," according to a critic of yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC . "Most wrongheaded of all is its insistence that corporations are just like people and entitled to the same First Amendment rights. It is an odd claim since companies are creations of the state that exist to make money."

Whose opinion is this? We don't know exactly, because it is not attributed to any individual. It is an unsigned editorial in the New York Times. That is to say, it reflects the collective opinion of the Times editorial board, a division of the New York Times Co., a corporation that exists to make money.

It's lucky for the New York Times Co. that the Supreme Court upheld its First Amendment rights. Otherwise, it could not have exercised its First Amendment right to denounce the court for upholding its First Amendment rights. Right?

Not quite. As Justice Anthony Kennedy noted in his opinion, the McCain-Feingold "campaign finance" law--which until yesterday's ruling made it a felony for corporations to engage in certain political speech--exempted "media companies" like the New York Times Co. (and News Corp., publisher of The Wall Street Journal and this Web site) from this restriction.

McCain-Feingold, in other words, granted a small group of companies, including the New York Times Co., the privilege to speak freely about politics, while denying it to all other corporations--not only "companies . . . that exist to make money," but also taxable nonprofits that exist to represent a point of view, including the advocacy arms of the Sierra Club, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association.

The editorial published by the New York Times Co. includes no mention of the special privilege the New York Times Co. enjoyed under McCain-Feingold--a privilege that creates at least the appearance of a journalistic conflict of interest. Is not the failure to disclose the New York Times Co.'s interest in McCain-Feingold a serious violation of journalistic ethics?

The Times's opinion is wrongheaded as well. Under the paper's cramped view of the First Amendment, the privilege the New York Times Co. enjoyed under McCain-Feingold was just that: a privilege, not a right. The First Amendment does not say "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech of media corporations." If the Constitution doesn't protect corporations, it doesn't protect the New York Times Co. And if Congress had the power to grant an exemption to media companies, it also had the power to take it away...

WSJ: A Free Speech Landmark - Campaign-finance reform meets the Constitution

…The 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Finance Act, aka McCain-Feingold, banned corporations and unions from "electioneering communications" within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. Yesterday, the Justices rejected that limit on corporate spending as unconstitutional. Corporations are entitled to the same right that individuals have to spend money on political speech for or against a candidate.

Justice Kennedy emphasized that laws designed to control money in politics often bleed into censorship, and that this violates core First Amendment principles. "Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy—it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people—political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence," he wrote. The ban on corporate expenditures had a "substantial, nationwide chilling effect" on political speech, he added.

In last year's oral argument for Citizen's United, the Court got a preview of how far a ban on corporate-funded speech could reach. Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart explained that, under McCain-Feingold, the government had the authority to "prohibit the publication" of corporate-funded books that called for the election or defeat of a candidate.

That was a shock and awe moment at the Court, as it also should have been to a Washington press corps that has too often been a cheerleader for campaign-spending limits. Mr. Stewart was telling a truth already familiar to campaign-finance lawyers and the speech police at the Federal Election Commission. Former FEC Commissioner Hans von Spakovsky recalled yesterday that in 2004 the agency investigated whether a book written by George Soros critical of George W. Bush violated campaign laws. Liberals as much as conservatives should worry about laws that allow such investigations.

The Court's opinion is especially effective in dismantling McCain-Feingold's arbitrary exemption for media corporations. Thus a corporation that owns a newspaper—News Corp. or the New York Times—retains its First Amendment right to speak freely. "At the same time, some other corporation, with an identical business interest but no media outlet in its ownership structure, would be forbidden to speak or inform the public about the same issue," wrote Justice Kennedy. "This differential treatment cannot be squared with the First Amendment."…

Matt Welch of Reason magazine: Government can't squelch free speech (via Marc's earlier post)

Free speech really does mean free speech, and the laws that the "Citizens" ruling overturned directly and heinously restricted the stuff. Forget for the moment the broad characterization of the ruling -- such as The New York Times claim that it "sweep[s] aside a century-old understanding" -- and drill down to the individual case in question.

Citizens United, a conservative 501(c)(4) nonprofit that has funded a dozen political documentaries over the years, produced a critical documentary about Hillary Clinton in 2008 entitled "Hillary: The Movie." By a decision of the federal government, which was enforcing the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (known more broadly as McCain-Feingold), this piece of political speech was banned from television.

Let's boil it down to the essential words: Political documentary, banned, government.

You don't have to be a First Amendment purist to intuit that political speech was, if anything, the most urgent subcategory covered by the First Amendment's "Congress shall pass no law" restrictions. And you don't have to be a Hillary-hater to imagine the shoe on the other foot. What if MoveOn.org's 501(c)(4), Campaign to Defend America, had been blocked by George W. Bush's Federal Elections Commission from broadcasting "McCain: The Movie"? Wouldn't that stink, too?

Ilya Somin: Corporate Rights and Property Rights are Human Rights - Why it’s a Mistake to Conflate a Right with the Means Used to Exercise it

...When I criticize decisions like Kelo v. City of New London, the objection is not that government has violated the rights of land or buildings, but those of the people who own them.

This rhetorical tactic is most often used by liberals and leftists to criticize rights advocated by conservatives and libertarians. However, it’s important to understand that the same ploy can easily be turned on rights favored by the political left. Consider, for instance, the right to use contraceptives upheld by the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut. Contraceptives, after all, have no rights. They are inanimate physical objects, like any other property. Under the Connecticut law banning their use, women were still free to avoid pregnancy (e.g. — by abstaining from sex, or by using the rhythm method). They just couldn’t use this particular type of property to do it. It’s easy to see that any such critique of Griswold would be specious. After all, contraceptives are just a means that women use to exercise their rights to reproductive choice, albeit a particularly effective one.

The same point applies to corporate speech and property rights. When corporations "speak," they are just a means that individuals use to exercise their rights of free speech — often a more effective means than the available alternatives. And just as the right protected in Griswold actually was a human right rather than a right belonging to the contraceptives, property rights are rights of human owners, not rights belonging to tracts of land or objects.

Rubin: Left's meltdown over Supreme Court decision

...So why is the Left in a frenzy over this? Well, let’s face it: they will need an excuse for the 2010 elections. Better to say they were "swamped by corporate interests" than to say their agenda was rejected. And this is frankly something else for them to talk about in a week when they lost the Massachusetts senate seat and ObamaCare is going down the drain. It is also the ever-so-helpful Obama echo chamber at work. Obama is going nasty-populist so the liberal-media cheerleaders are following suit.

Now, part of what is going on here is the Left’s exaggerated sense of the boldness and deviousness of corporate America. Unlike the caricature painted by the Left and amplified by popular culture, most corporate executives are cautious, controversy-shy and ever aware of the long arm of the government to tax, regulate, and generally make their lives miserable. So I wouldn’t be so sure that corporate America is going to plunge into the political-ad business overnight. For one thing, business isn’t doing so well right now and there is not a lot of cash sitting around. And for another thing, given the political environment, businesses may not need to spend all that much to knock out Obama-philes in Congress. It seems as though ordinary citizens, thinking for themselves, organizing and turning out to vote, are able to do that on their own.

National Review editors: Free to Speak

...The Founders wrote the First Amendment specifically to protect free speech for the purposes of political advocacy and criticism. The Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law” abridging that right. But that is precisely what Congress did by restricting the right of Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation, to release a documentary film critical of Hillary Clinton while she was a candidate for president. Fortunately, the Court held that the government does not have the right to distinguish between different classes of speakers and to disfavor some of them, such as corporations. The provisions of the law acted as an outright ban on some kinds of speech, and they set up a complex regulatory framework for others, limiting them in a way the Supreme Court found equivalent to a prior restraint on communication. The law also gave the FEC the power to decide what political speech was allowed and to punish those who violated the law with severe civil and criminal penalties.

The idea that the government ought to be empowered to punish any party for engaging in political speech is not only a violation of the First Amendment, it is a fundamental affront to the founding principles of our republic. As Justice Kennedy wrote, speech is an essential mechanism in a democracy, helping to hold public officials accountable to the people. For that reason, the right of free political speech must prevail against laws that suppress it or impose such a burden on it that criticism, advocacy, and debate are stifled.

It speaks volumes about the so-called campaign-finance reformers, and their attitudes toward our constitutional rights, that they are positively apoplectic over this decision. Rep. Alan Grayson (D., Fla.), the Left’s epitome of decorum and nuanced thinking, calls Citizens United v. FEC “the worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott case.” Senator Feingold is demanding new campaign-finance legislation, while Senator Schumer wants congressional hearings on the possibility of limiting the decision’s application. Representative Grayson’s comment, and the fevered reaction among his fellow Democrats, suggests a thin commitment to the Bill of Rights and our most basic freedoms.

It is worth noting that the four liberal members of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Stevens, were so willing to give a free hand to government censors that they wrote a 90-page dissent in which they attempt to justify allowing the government to decide who has the right to engage in political speech and on what terms...

Ponnuru: The Supreme Court got it right

Instapundit: Comments by Clarence Thomas and Barack Obama about decision

...Meanwhile, an interesting passage from Clarence Thomas’s partial dissent, regarding disclosure requirements for donors:
The success of such intimidation tactics has apparently spawned a cottage industry that uses forcibly disclosed donor information to pre-empt citizens’ exercise of their First Amendment rights…..

I cannot endorse a view of the First Amendment that subjects citizens of this Nation to death threats, ruined careers, damaged or defaced property, or pre-emptive and threatening warning letters as the price for engaging in "core political speech, the ‘primary object of First Amendment protection.’"

Rubin: Obama demagogues the Supreme Court ruling

The president issued a written statement yesterday on the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down most of the McCain-Feingold campaign statute. It read:
With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington–while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That’s why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.

This is as noxious a statement concerning the Supreme Court that has, in my memory, ever been issued by the White House. Let’s count the ways. First, the president — who tells us he is a serious constitutional scholar – offers not a single word of substantive criticism about the Court’s analysis. He treats the Court — as most liberals do, frankly — as a policymaking body. In this case, he doesn’t like the outcome and blasts away at the result, transparently using the Court to regain his populist footing with the public.

Second, what in the world is a bipartisan response to a First Amendment ruling? He’s going to amend the Constitution? He’s going to pack the Court? The lack of acknowledgment that this is a principle of constitutional law, one at the foundation of our democracy, is jaw-dropping. You’ll notice what is not in the president’s statement — "First Amendment" or "Constitution." There isn’t a legislative "fix" to the First Amendment.

And finally, let’s just remember that liberals for years inveighed against any public figure who dared criticize a court ruling. They were doing damage to the political system, lessening respect for the rule of law and even encouraging violence against judges, they finger-wagged. Well, it seems the rules have changed. And from a law professor yet.

Again: It Wasn't Stimulus; It Was a Government-Insulation Program

Justin Katz

We've argued multiple times, 'round here, that the federal government's approach to "stimulus" — especially as defined by President Obama — was not, in fact, designed to stimulate the economy and yield job growth. Rather it was designed to insulate government structures from the effects of an economic recession... at the expense of the economy. In case you missed it, here's one more bit of evidence from recent weeks:

A federal spending surge of more than $20 billion for roads and bridges in President Barack Obama's first stimulus has had no effect on local unemployment rates, raising questions about his argument for billions more to address an "urgent need to accelerate job growth."

An Associated Press analysis of stimulus spending found that it didn't matter if a lot of money was spent on highways or none at all: Local unemployment rates rose and fell regardless. And the stimulus spending only barely helped the beleaguered construction industry, the analysis showed.

As Rhode Islanders who follow state and local politics should be amply able to attest, such infrastructure money from the feds only serves to take the pressure off lower tiers of government, which tend to neglect obvious, necessary expenditures in favor of less popular, more ideological ones. They typically float bonds and create targeted taxes to accomplish the building and repairs that must obviously be done for the good of the local society, but in the current environment, taxpayers were likely to resist either strategy, requiring governments to cut back on other areas of spending.

The "stimulus" money, in other words, didn't create any new work. It merely enabled continued profligate behavior. And the reason it "only barely helped the beleaguered construction industry" is that the government has instituted policies that create high barriers to entry in order to compete for its contracts, sending the money mostly to companies that were already prepared (and expecting) to receive it.

Winning in Race by Making Policies Primary

Justin Katz

Watching the tears of joy streaming down the faces of black attendees at the Rhode Island Democrats' election-night gathering in Providence, in 2008, knowing candidate Obama's centrist rhetoric to be completely contrary to his life history and political record, and believing that his likely policies would be an unmitigated disaster, I worried what effect it might have on race relations were the Obama administration to be as catastrophically inept as I'd have predicted. To be sure, my view is that racial strife has been effectively over for decades, kept alive mainly by those who profit from the grievance industry. That doesn't mean racism does not exist, though, and the hype surrounding candidate Obama made the crashing of expectations a frightening position.

Thomas Sowell suggests that Republicans should begin the long, slow process of pulling the black community away from the self-identity link that they have with the Democrat Party by creating bonds through actual policies:

There is no point today in Republicans' continuing to try to win over the average black voter by acting like imitation Democrats. Those who like what the Democrats are doing are going to vote for real Democrats.

But not all black voters are the same, any more than all white voters are the same. Those black voters that Republicans have any realistic chance of winning over are people who share similar values and concerns. ...

Blacks have been lied to so much that straight talk can gain their respect, even if they don't agree with everything you say. Republicans need all the credibility they can get. When they try to be imitation Democrats, all they do is forfeit credibility.

Sowell covers specific policies too broadly to allow brief quotes, so read the whole thing.

January 22, 2010

A Local War Against Reality

Justin Katz

In keeping with the War on Reality theme, our state's most egregious propagandist has been striving to insert another grain of sand into the minds of Rhode Islanders who don't like to think too hard:

The key feature of the pension system is that the bulk of the funding comes not from the taxpayers but from the workers themselves and the investment decisions made by the pension fund. This is why for every one dollar spent by the taxpayers on the public retirement fund there is $4.56 generated in economic activity — money that is spent in local economies and in local businesses. A return on investment like this is something the state should celebrate, not denigrate.

Luckily, even the General Assembly is not wholly amenable to Patrick Crowley's charade:

"That dollar comes from someone," [Rep. Laurence] Ehrhardt [R, North Kingstown] said. "Doesn't it then have the same effect on the other end?"

"No, it doesn't" Crowley responded.

Ehrhardt listened to the explanation but gave no ground.

"I have a graduate degree in economics," he said when Crowley had finished. "I completely disagree with you."

Need this be explained? Every dollar that a union member puts into the pension fund comes directly out of the economy in the form of taxation or spending that he or she might otherwise undertake. The same is true of every dollar that the taxpayer contributes. (Actually, the taxpayer contributes it all; one major aspect of Crowley's scam is to treat these as separate contributions.) Where those dollars would be spent, rather than invested, they necessarily take away from expenditures on which Rhode Islanders place a higher value, whether dire necessities or quality of life indulgences, and where they would be invested, anyway, there's no reason to assume that a pension fund will have better returns.

I fear too many of our fellow residents, especially those who occupy seats in government, will be all-too content to store Crowley's grain of imaginary sand and allow it to turn into a pearl for unionized public sector workers and bankruptcy for the state.

Supreme Court and Campaign Finance

Marc Comtois

The Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is being extolled or excoriated as the end of McCain/Feingold type campaign finance reform. There are many places to go for extended analysis and I won't even pretend to understand the intricacies of the legal arguments. However, Matt Welch's explanation is the most cogent I've seen:

Free speech really does mean free speech, and the laws that the "Citizens" ruling overturned directly and heinously restricted the stuff. Forget for the moment the broad characterization of the ruling -- such as The New York Times claim that it "sweep[s] aside a century-old understanding" -- and drill down to the individual case in question.

Citizens United, a conservative 501(c)(4) nonprofit that has funded a dozen political documentaries over the years, produced a critical documentary about Hillary Clinton in 2008 entitled "Hillary: The Movie." By a decision of the federal government, which was enforcing the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (known more broadly as McCain-Feingold), this piece of political speech was banned from television.

Let's boil it down to the essential words: Political documentary, banned, government.

You don't have to be a First Amendment purist to intuit that political speech was, if anything, the most urgent subcategory covered by the First Amendment's "Congress shall pass no law" restrictions. And you don't have to be a Hillary-hater to imagine the shoe on the other foot. What if MoveOn.org's 501(c)(4), Campaign to Defend America, had been blocked by George W. Bush's Federal Elections Commission from broadcasting "McCain: The Movie"? Wouldn't that stink, too?

Besides, it's not like there is no money in politics now?

The President's New Initiative

Justin Katz

Admit it... we've all known this announcement was coming:

[Press Secretary] ROBERT GIBBS: Tonight at 9 P.M. Eastern time, President Obama will declare a War on Reality. He will call on all branches of government and volunteer organizations to stand together and fight against reality in all of its forms. ...

Q: Turning to the economy, it seems that the trillion-dollar stimulus package passed last year has been a failure. Even using your own White House yardstick of unemployment. Are you contemplating another stimulus?

ROBERT GIBBS: Yes. Of course. The president believes along with his economic team that another round of stimulus spending is crucial.

Q: But isn't that just throwing good money after bad?

ROBERT GIBBS: No, Wendell, it's not. As part of the president's comprehensive War on Reality, our view is that the first stimulus package worked perfectly.

Move from Management to Insurance to End Payment Disparities

Justin Katz

Rhode Island's health insurance commissioner, Christopher Koller, has released a report showing huge disparities in what health insurers pay local hospitals for the very same procedures. The reason is that members of the Care New England hospital group offer services not elsewhere available, so insurers have no choice but to include them, and the hospitals leverage those services for better payments throughout their organizations.

Note the way reporter Felice Freyer insinuates regulation as the strategy for resolution:

Koller’s report shines a flashlight beam into the murky world of hospital finance. Hospitals negotiate privately with insurers to establish how much they will be paid for each service. These talks are largely unregulated, and always private, so that no hospital knows exactly what its neighbor is being paid. All are forbidden by contract to reveal their rates.

Diving into the regulatory pool would only drive up rates. Whether government mandates forced insurers to pay above the rate that the market dictates, within its regulatory strictures, or one or more of the state's three insurers bow out, the cost will ultimately be borne by consumers.

The better approach would be to move away from a system that uses insurance as a healthcare management plan. If patients paid more directly for the services that they receive, the market would set prices based on those services, not on the leverage of hospital groups. That a hospital is the only one with a newborn intensive care unit matters less to an individual who needs heart surgery than it does to a large insurance company that must negotiate a full menu of services.

RIPEC's Analysis of Firefighter Pay/Contracts

Marc Comtois

My post concerning the Warwick Beacon's look into Warwick firefighter pay/contracts has generated some commentary regarding the RIPEC report (mentioned in Russell Moore's story) that found:

On average, [a RIPEC] report showed that Rhode Islanders spend about $6.24 on fire services for every $1,000 of personal income, or just under double the national average of $3.21 per $1,000 of income.
Those who doubt these numbers seem to have these questions (cribbed directly from actual comments):

1) EMS services are included for Rhode Island but not the other states. By including EMS, you couldn't even compare Providence to Worcester- two very similar sized cities, but Worcester's EMS is provided by UMass Hospital, and Providence's by the Fire Department.

2) The cost represents the total cost of fire protection in RI, meaning sprinkler systems, alarms and other additions, not just the actual fire department budgets.

3) Belief that pension costs are included in the RI costs but not in those for other states.

All the RIPEC report says about it's methodology is:

Fire Protection comprises expenditures for the prevention, avoidance and suppression of fires and for the provision of ambulance, medical, rescue or auxiliary services when provided by fire protection agencies.
To be clear, I'd like more particulars myself. RIPEC appears to have used data taken directly from U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Government Finances, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (for personal income data) as well as their own calculations. Based on the Census Bureau's explanation of their methodology, the data is provided by the states. (Right now, I don't have the time to weave through the tables myself--and the links I provided are my best guess). All that being said, here are my thoughts on the 3 main contentions.

1) Whether cities and towns pay for EMS or not is not as relevant as some think. Having tax dollars pay for EMS is still a governmental (taxpayer/resident) choice. Just because some don't cover EMS via taxes doesn't mean it should be excluded from a comparison of tax dollars spent on fire/safety services. Those are real dollars no matter what column on the spreadsheet you want to put them in. Don't let the inconsistent accounting methodology obscure the fact that other cities and towns in other states appear able to provide EMS services through private companies or hospitals and not through taxpayer supported fire departments.

2) It is probably true, given the brief explanation by RIPEC, that they include expenditures for fire suppression (sprinkler systems, etc.) the state paid to have installed in government buildings (for instance). There can't really be any doubt that much of that expenditure is a direct result of government over-reaction to the Station Night Club fire. We all know that small businesses have screamed that they can't afford to pay for the new requirements. Unsurprisingly, local governments didn't because, well, they had the money, right? (Ours....)

3) There is no way of knowing whether pension costs were included or not without the raw data.

I'm sure this won't satisfy RIPEC's critics, though I wonder if they have similar reservations about the rest of RIPEC's analysis regarding other areas of government expenditures?

A Glimpse of Competitive Possibilities

Justin Katz

I've been meaning to note this little clue of a possible reality under a more rational government:

One effect of the recession, however, was a fall-off in private construction that left contractors hungry for work. They moved into government construction work, competing with the contractors who usually do those jobs, driving prices down.

The result, Lewis said, was "a very favorable bidding environment." Last year, two projects came in more than $1 million under budget. DOT officials expect to have an extra $12.4 million that they can spend to nibble away at a huge backlog of unfunded highway, bridge and related work.

You know, this needn't be a recession-only phenomenon. If there weren't so many excuses to pay more at the various levels of government, this introduction of competition into the budgeting processes would be relatively mild by comparison. From gender requirements, to police patrols, to wage and benefit requirements for the contractors, government purposefully makes its projects more expensive. After all, those who benefit from the false minimums have more incentive to affect policy than does the individual taxpayer... except, perhaps, when the system becomes so ludicrous that bridges begin to threaten to collapse and the roads are all in disrepair, with no money to fix them.

January 21, 2010

Hummel Report: The Abuse of Power of the Emergency Board-Up

Monique Chartier

Jim Hummel's original report available here.

In addition to the issue of Mayor Moreau's third party billing arrangement for his new furnace, Hummel's report throws a spotlight onto the Mayor flexing emergency powers to deal with empty, foreclosed houses.

These – and more than 200 other houses – were boarded up by Bouthillette’s company, under the mayor’s ``emergency powers’’ – which meant Bouthillette was the only game in town. The Hummel Report has also learned it meant Bouthillette’s company had the building official and in some cases the police department, behind him when he went to board up a house – sometimes charging more than 10 times what other companies we spoke with would charge for the same job.

By keeping emergency powers in place, the Mayor was able to avoid putting the work out to bid. Competition drives down prices. But when you're designated as the only company for the job, you set your own rates. Property owners, then, were at the mercy of Certified Disaster Restoration Corporation, which was

one of several companies owned by Mike Bouthillette, a close friend and campaign contributor to Mayor Charles Moreau.

Except that, at ten times the going rate, Certified Disaster did not show much mercy.

I called City Hall this morning to ask how long the emergency powers were in effect. The Mayor's Executive Assistant, Kristin Sullivan, did not know, which is puzzling because she works for the man who put them in place and couldn't avoid being familiar with this detail. Kristin did inform me that the Mayor himself could not answer my question because is presently away at the US Conference of Mayors in DC. Why the City Solicitor, who presumably assisted the Mayor in establishing the emergency board-up powers, is also attending this event is not clear.

I also reached the Central Falls Building Official, Todd Olbrych, and asked him the same question: how long were these emergency powers in effect? After two "no comments", he abruptly terminated our conversation.

By the time the Mayor had lifted the emergency powers, the company of the "close friend and campaign contributor to Mayor Charles Moreau" had boarded up over 200 buildings. This turned out to be, in Hummel's words, the "lion's share" of foreclosed buildings. Interestingly, then, while everyone at City Hall is studiously refusing to 'fess up to the duration of the state of "emergency", we know that, at a minimum, it was long enough to allow a close friend of the Mayor to vacuum up most of the high priced work.

Hummel reports today that the RI State Police have visited Central Falls City Hall to check into various details of this matter, including the strange billing arrangement for the Mayor's new furnace. Possibly they can also establish the duration of the "emergency" and whether the Mayor was more entranced with exerting power than he was by the definition of "emergency" or with preventing a "legal" mugging of property owners that he purportedly represents.

A Note on Availablegate

Justin Katz

By now you've caught wind of Senator-elect Scott Brown's joking around about his daughters' availability on the dating scene:

I appreciate that it's an interesting topic about which to talk, but the conversations really tell you more about the people having them than about Brown. Even taking the joke as a significant gaffe (which I don't), there are too many off-stage factors that would mitigate the import.

I'm picturing a conversation, as the campaign really began to demand the family's time and effort, in which Brown's daughters joked with their father about his having to do something to make up for the effect on their social lives. That's pure conjecture, but it's an example of the sort of inside jokes and running gags that families can develop.

The line would have been better made at a more-private post-game celebration, but sheesh, the guy just came from out of nowhere to win a seat in revolutionary fashion the U.S. Senate.

Warwick Beacon Looks At Firefighter Pay/Contracts

Marc Comtois

The Warwick Beacon's Russel Moore has a piece on the 32 Warwick Firefighters who make more than $100,000/year (salary and O.T.--benefits NOT included) .

The Beacon recently requested a list from the City Treasurer of the number of firefighters in Warwick earning $100,000 or more, and a brief description of how those firefighters are paid.

There are 217 firefighter positions in the city, with 200 of those positions filled. That means 32 members of the 200-member fire department make a total of $3.5 million before factoring in benefits like pension or health care insurance.

The list is comprised exclusively of the Fire Department’s ranking officers, including the Chief, Assistant Chief, Fire Marshal, Superintendent of Fire Alarms, Rescue Captain, EMS Coordinator, Battalion Chiefs, Captains, and Lieutenants. There were no privates on the list.

Meanwhile, John Howell has another piece on how the the firefighter's contract is too complicated to make cutting easy.
With the exception of schools, Fire is the costliest of city departments. The department’s operating budget is almost $20 million this year, seemingly making it the best place to start to look for savings.

But cutting costs isn’t simple.

Remarkably, even though closing a station would free up a minimum of 12 firefighters, it wouldn’t save on overtime payments. The most the city would pocket are utility costs, perhaps $20,000 to $30,000, if that much.

In addition, points out Warwick Fire Chief Kevin Sullivan, minimum response times would be increased heightening the risk to the residents and property owners of Warwick. Sullivan also raises the question of what station to close. His point is twofold. First, what neighborhood is going to accept a reduction in fire and rescue service – a choice that would certainly meet strong opposition from that ward’s council member and elected representatives? Second, Sullivan points out that Green Airport makes Warwick unique. Its placement in the geographic middle of the city makes it difficult to supplant or augment service from one area by another. It is like a chain where each link is connected to two others rather than a weave were links are interconnected on multiple sides.

Interesting point about the bi-furcated city that is Warwick. Basically, economies of scale may not translate as well due to the geography of the city. As for Chief Sullivan's warning about response times, well, you can spin it any way you want, but that (self-fulfilling) legitimization is why Warwick is exemplary of the rest of the state.
On average, [a RIPEC] report showed that Rhode Islanders spend about $6.24 on fire services for every $1,000 of personal income, or just under double the national average of $3.21 per $1,000 of income.
Look, where there's a will, there's a way. There just has to be a real will. Other states seem to do just fine at half the cost.

A Coalition of the Reasoning

Justin Katz

Lee Edwards's review of Reappraising the Right: The Past & Future of American Conservatism, by George Nash, in the current National Review is certainly timely:

Nash ends his thoughtful reappraisal asking "Whither conservatism?" and responding that the following points should be kept in mind. Modern American conservatism is a "coalition with many points of origin and diverse tendencies." By the end of the Reagan presidency, there were five distinct impulses: libertarianism, traditionalism, anti-Communism, neoconservatism, and the interfaith Religious Right. Reagan gave "each faction a seat at the table and a sense of having arrived."

Conservative scholars have now noted the rise of "populist" or majoritarian conservatives, accompanied by a weakening of the anti-statist ideology that had long united conservatives. As the conservative universe has expanded it has also divided into subgroups like the paleocons, theocons, crunchy cons, immicons, and Leocons (disciples of Leo Strauss). I cannot resist suggesting another category--con cons (constitutional conservatives). The possibility of a coalition's dissolving is always there, Nash admits, but the dissolution of the conservative coalition can be avoided if conservatives remember "the ecumenism of Reagan," and avoid the temptation to "retreat into a fatal passivity" induced by disillusionment or despair.

It's a bit odd to see those factions broken out as "distinct impulses." From my perspective, they're all necessary components of a coherent conservative political philosophy: A libertarian inclination rooted in a due appreciation of tradition will inherently incorporate opposition to big government (anti-Communism) with an understanding of social responsibility (neoconservatism) that is, itself, rooted in religious faith. Not only should those who identify more strongly with one of those "tendencies" be willing to work together, they should acknowledge that they rely upon each other as counterpointing ballasts on both the movement and the nation. Put differently, in a different context earlier in the essay:

The one thing, Nash argues, that has enabled the nation to overcome all its economic, social, political, and military crises is the people's "Christian religious belief." While conceding that America is a modern nation, Nash concludes that its modern elements must be conjoined with what Russell Kirk called the "permanent things"--things of the spirit and the institutions that sustain them. Without this fusion, "the American experiment may fail."

Without the elevation of notions of freedom and individual liberty to overarching principle, the ponderous weight of "permanent things" can lure humanity into self-contradictory oppression and justify self-defeating expediency (think mandated conversion). But without the substance of transcendent foundations, insistence on the inviolability of the individual conscience spins off into solipsism and nothing has firm justification.

A Quiet Revolt Put Down... Barely

Justin Katz

Judging from a note in my email box, one of Rhode Island's procedural travesties almost went the way of double-Democrat Senators in Massachusetts:

Something unusual happened in the R.I. House of Representatives this week. A proposed critical rule change failed by the thin margin of 30 to 33 despite opposition by the House leaders.

The rule in question, adopted in 2005, has provided an easy way for committees to kill bills without ever actually voting to kill them.

Committees simply vote to “hold bills for further study.” A committee may not have heard testimony on a bill, nor discussed the bill nor even seen it. Yet the motion to hold “for further study” passes (almost always unanimously) and the bill is dead -- unless at a later date the Speaker of the House gives the committee permission to have a real vote.

The motion which came close to passing would have repealed this rule. Then committees would have had to vote for or against bills.

Freshman representative Rod Driver (D, Richmond) who made the motion argues that even without repealing the rule the practice can be changed. “We must just beware of motions containing the words ‘hold for further study’,” he wrote to his colleagues after the vote.

He says some representatives do not realize the deadly effect of voting for such a reasonable-sounding motion.

I'll keep an eye out for the vote tally. This one might be worth some additions to the Legislative Stooge list.

(P.S. --- Is it still appropriate to be calling Rod Driver a "freshman representative"?)

ProJo Editors Throw Tantrum, Call Names Over Brown Victory

Marc Comtois

With their preferred candidate going down to Scott Brown, the ProJo editors can't help but throw a little tantrum excoriating the easily fooled and selfish voters of Massachusetts (remember, it's all about healthcare for 'em):

Part of this was the well-financed campaign pumping up fears of higher taxes for the middle and upper classes to pay for national health-care reform, and anger at the Wall Street bailout. As always in such races, misinformation machines worked overtime.

Although about 95 percent of Bay Staters have health care in a program similar in many ways to congressional plans — and most seem to like it — the 52 percent who backed Scott Brown seem unwilling to extend such comfort to the rest of America. (Mr. Brown voted for the Massachusetts plan!) There’s a growing disinclination among many Americans to help their fellow citizens with health coverage, or with anything else, as the country’s political tone becomes ever harsher. “I’ve got mine! Fend for yourself!”

Again, no distinction is made between the mythical, ideal "universal healthcare" (though they cried again about their preferred "like Medicare" option, which doesn't account for the non-Medicare subsidization!) and the actual plan being bandied about in Washington. And no mention is made of Coakley's misinformation campaign against Scott Brown, largely composed of disingenuous negative ads, which the ProJo regularly opposes (except when it fits their agenda, I suppose????). Oh, and they blamed Bush (really).

They also engage in a little class-warfare:

...as often happens in special or mid-term elections, turnout among lower-income people, who tend to vote Democratic, was fairly low, while it was very high among affluent suburbanites who fear higher taxes and/or reduced benefits in any national health-care reform.
One of the commenters (FACTSONLY) to the ProJo's whine pointed out that the Coakley won both the urban areas and the affluent "elite" in the cities and suburbs. This reflects the Democratic Party's current core constituencies since Obama took office.

Finally, there's this:

And now the insurance industry has another vote in the form of Scott Brown.
Who was meeting with the insurance lobbyists to raise money about a week ago? Is there any clearer example of why the MSM--particularly newspapers--are in trouble? Maybe there once was a time when such slanted editorials could be produced without fear of being called on the supposed "facts" that support it. No more.

The Uneducable Must Be Replaced

Justin Katz

With the legislature back in session, the press releases have resumed, and I'll tell ya: If all Rhode Islanders received them in their emailboxes and gave each a moment's thought, there might be more discouragement across the state. Those whom we elect don't seem to understand cause and effect and the 1,000-papercuts principle.

So, here we get Rep. Joanne Giannini (D, Providence) conspiring to ensure another incremental increase in the baseline cost of health insurance:

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Joanne M. Giannini would require health insurers to cover the cost of donor breast milk for infants who are severely allergic to formula and whose mothers are unable to produce milk.

"For women who, for whatever reason, are unable to lactate, formula is usually the solution. But for those whose babies are allergic to formula, donor breast milk is the only option, and although it is extraordinarily expensive, the child's life depends on it. That's exactly the type of extraordinary but critical health expenses that insurance should cover," said Representative Giannini (D-Dist. 7, Providence).

If the government is to the point of deciding every minute benefit that health insurance should offer, what need is there of a public option?

Then, we get Rep. Charlene Lima (D, Cranston) illustrating why Rhode Island's strategy of "targeted" tax cuts for businesses is an extremely diluted method, at best:

Representative Lima is calling for an immediate halt to the distribution of more [business] tax credits until the state has a system in place that complies with the requirements in the law that was passed allowing the tax credits. She is also calling for a temporary halt to film tax credits until it is proven that the state is getting enough value in return and making the tax credit dollars worthwhile to Rhode Island taxpayers. ...

To that end, Representative Lima will be submitting legislation today requiring any business applying for tax credits to sign a waiver of confidentiality and an affidavit stating they will turn over all financial records needed by the state to verify the benefit to the State of Rhode Island. Under the bill, before any tax credit can be issued to a business, those requirements must be met.

Additionally, any business already receiving tax credits would also be required to sign and comply with the waiver and affidavit or pay the state an amount equal to the tax credit previously given. Because the law already requires verification, any business not willing to turn over requested documents immediately would be breaking the law and would have to forfeit and reimburse the state for any tax credits given. Representative Lima said she will be asking the Attorney General to investigate any company unwilling to comply with the verification requirement.

So, the General Assembly passed targeted tax credits to attract and support economic development in Rhode Island, and because the government is having difficulty compiling data related to its targets, Lima wishes to shut the incentive down and hereafter require all businesses that wish to be developed to open up their books to the ravenous state. The next step, one supposes, is to have public battles over every bonus that a business receiving tax credits hands out.

What business would want to bind itself to a state in which this crew of clowns might swoop in on any given year and demand either financial documents or the return of tax credits already given? The state should stop with the "targeted" and stop with the presumed right to be invasive and just loosen its grip on the economy. Say it with me: cut taxes, eliminate mandates, lighten regulations across the board.

A Brown Radio Call

Justin Katz

A certain northern Senator elect was the topic of conversation when Monique called in to the Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

January 20, 2010

Taking the Less Traveled Path

Justin Katz

Folks who remember Ryan Bilodeau from his days as a prominent College Republican at the University of Rhode Island might not know that he's entered Our Lady of Providence Seminary. He tells his inspiring story in the current Rhode Island Cathotlic:

My journey to OLP, like that of my brother seminarians, is a unique one. My high school years were spent on the straight and narrow path, attending Mount Saint Charles Academy and dedicating my extracurricular time to the Catholic Youth Organization Center. This path began to diverge, however, with the advent of my involvement in politics while an undergrad student at The University of Rhode Island. With one foot in the classroom and the other working for campaigns, consulting firms and interest groups, the path on which I traveled brought me throughout Rhode Island and around the country, all the while away from God.

Thankfully God’s fervent grace threw a fork in the road. It was at fancy cocktail parties at Bellevue Avenue mansions or conventions in Washington, D.C. hotels that I heard in the silence of my heart Christ asking me the same question He once asked two disciples: "What are you looking for?" Through prayer and with the help of the priests at OLP, I was able to answer that question in the form of an application to enter the seminary.

I've asked myself that question — What are you looking for? — at political events, and the answer most often turns out to be human interaction and the opportunity to represent God well in the world. I congratulate Ryan on heeding the call before he'd invested his soul in a business that allows only a very narrow path to righteousness.

Banks as Tax Collectors

Justin Katz

Here's the ruse (emphasis added):

President Obama expressed confidence Saturday that lawmakers would approve his proposed tax on banks to recover bailout money, despite opposition from Republicans and the financial industry.

And here's the reality (emphasis added):

The proposed 0.15 percent tax would last at least 10 years and generate about $90 billion over the decade, according to administration estimates. It would apply to about 50 of the biggest banks, those with more than $50 billion in assets, and include many institutions that accepted no money from the $700 financial industry bailout.

And here's the president's faulty premise:

Obama challenged those who say banks can't afford the tax without passing the costs on to shareholders and customers.

"That's hard to believe when there are reports that Wall Street is going to hand out more money in bonuses and compensation just this year than the cost of this fee over the next 10 years," he said. "If the big financial firms can afford massive bonuses, they can afford to pay back the American people."

The financial firms could afford to do lots of things with their profits, but what they do typically rewards those in charge, especially those responsible for the strategies that generated their revenue in the first place. Taxing all banks in order to pay for handouts to a few of them doesn't change the industry dynamics around competition for top talent. That is to say that the banks will look for other areas to make up for losses from taxation rather than the pay scales of those whom they credit for their success, largely by passing them on to customers.

The bigger point, though, is that this plan will suck $90 billion directly out of the global economy, with the focal point of the United States. For example, consider some number crunching from the Providence Business News:

Citizens Financial Group Inc.'s parent company, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, may owe $625 million a year if Congress passes a new tax on financial institutions proposed by President Barack Obama.

From where does Mr. Obama believe that money is going to come? Out of the bonuses of executives? If one believes the narrative of the left, bank executives are immorally greedy connivers. From a rightward perspective, the bonuses are the price that the market has placed on their talent (hugely distorted upward through the meddling of government, to be sure). In neither case are financial leaders likely to simply accept an indirect tax on their income.

As I've said before, if one wishes to curb outrageous pay and bonuses, the best method would focus on increasing competition, making excess unsustainable. Taxation favors incumbency, exacerbating the underlying problem.

Carter: Kennedy "Killed the [Healthcare] Bill" in 1979

Marc Comtois

Thanks to a caller to the Matt Allen Show, I was tipped off to something I'd never heard before. In an event at his Presidential Library (broadcast by C-SPAN on September 15, 2009), former President Carter explained that, back in 1979, he had bi-partisan support for a health care reform package that was completely financed and approved by various committees. Well, except for one powerful committee chair who was opposed: Senator Ted Kennedy. That Carter's revelation came just a few weeks after Senator Kennedy's death may explain the dearth of media coverage.

Here is a link to the video (The question and answer begins at around 41:45 of the video and the explanation that Kennedy "killed the bill" is at around 43:30). Here is the relevant snippet as explained by President Carter:

[My health care proposal] would have passed except for---at that time we had the full approval of all of the committee chairman of the House and Senate; Republicans endorsed it with me in a press conference---except for the key Senator and that was Senator Kennedy, who at that moment had decided to run against me for President and didn't want to see us have success. So he killed the bill.
Thirty years ago, Senator Kennedy was willing to unilaterally--not even as one of 40 filibusterers, but all by himself--stop health care reform solely for his own political benefit. Legacy indeed.

UPDATED: Here's a brief, contemporary story from the Harvard Crimson about the plan. CNN covered the speech last September, but reported the above as follows:

Carter blamed "political problems" for his inability to overhaul the nation's health care system in 1979 so that all 15 million Americans then without health insurance would have gotten coverage. That number has tripled in the intervening years.
One is left to infer that the problems must have been partisan based (ie; the GOP must have stopped him), just like they are now. And they wonder why they have the reputation they have. Finally, according to the Wikipedia entry on Jimmy Carter, similar accusations by Carter against Kennedy can be found in Carter's book Keeping Faith (pp. 86–87).

Seeing Office as a Possibility

Justin Katz

I found this email, posted in the Corner, last night, to be very encouraging:

I am a 28 year old WASPy Conservative. I never went through a liberal period. This race made me actually ask myself the question, "Could I run for our House seat and make a go of it?" I know the answer, and it is a resounding "no" as I have no political experience whatsoever. But, I wonder how many good conservative-minded people who DO have that experience are wondering the same thing! Nobody thought Mass. could elect a Republican. It looks like it'll happen. This gives so much hope to the rest of us living in seemingly hopeless districts or states . . . I need to live vicariously through these Massachusetts voters who finally have a voice that matters!

Hopefully, the tea party movement and general disaffection with the way government has been run, from the town to the national level, is inspiring people to reengage with civic processes. Ultimately, that's the only way for democracy to maintain itself — if people who believe in limited government actually participate in governing.

For my part, I superficially toyed with the idea of running for lieutenant governor on a promise to compile a browsable list of all of the foolish mandates and regulations in state law — actually using the position for something useful. It turns out, however, that in order to run, one must be willing to campaign, and my preferences for civic engagement lie elsewhere.

Patrick Kennedy on Notice

Marc Comtois

If it can happen in Massachusetts, why not here, right? For years we've wondered what it would take for Patrick Kennedy to actually be challenged. Yesterday we learned that not only does it look like Kennedy will be forced to run in a primary against Woonsocket Rep. John Brien, but that Republican John Loughlin is looking to hire the Brown team to take on Kennedy in the general election. People are rarin' to go.

But the difference is that Kennedy has a heads up. Though "how" is a mystery to many of us, he has been an effective campaigner in his advantageously drawn Congressional district. He has perfected his "good little boy" act for the seniors and has the unflinching support of the urban core and he has time to get his ground game in order and all that. But then again, likening the electorate to a bunch of blood-thirsty Romans may not be helpful:

The son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy says a Republican victory in the race for his father's Senate seat is a sign that the American public is out for "blood."

As election returns came in Tuesday night, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) said it's clear that voters wanted “a whipping boy” for all the lost jobs and foreclosed homes.

“It’s like in Roman times, they’d be trotted out to the coliseum and the lions would be brought out,” Kennedy told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday night. “I mean, they’re wanting blood and they’re not getting it so they want to protest, and, you know, you can’t blame them. But frankly, the fact is we inherited this mess and it’s becoming ours.”

Yes, those poor Democrats, martyred for the sins of the GOP. Right.

It will be interesting to see if Brien can gain traction amongst the traditional and union Democrats to counter Kennedy. If he does--if Brien actually wins in the primary--it will indeed signal a sea change if there will be no Kennedy in Washington for the first time since.....when?

I wonder if Betsy Dennigan wishes she hadn't changed Congressional districts.

Senate President: Paperwork Required for This One, Not for Those 12 Million

Monique Chartier

While Senator Jim Webb (D-Virginia) has called for all further votes on health care reform to be suspended until Scott Brown is seated, Mark Steyn points to Senate President Reid's new-found enchantment with documentation.

Harry Reid's reluctance to seat Senator Brown (R., Mass.) — boy, I enjoyed typing that — until "the proper paperwork has been received" seems awfully finicky for a man who famously declared he wanted to bring "12 million undocumented Americans out of the shadows."

A duly elected freshman Republican? Check his paperwork!

Twelve million potential supporters of me and my party? Waive them right in!

A compromise, Mr. Senate President? Let's check everyone's documentation, including that of the new Senator from Massachusetts.

Choice Is the Best Accountability

Justin Katz

In Julia Steiny's second article about the Laborers Construction Career Academy charter school in Cranston, she focuses on the difficulty of measuring such schools according to standardized criteria:

But the work that [Executive Director Paul] Silvia and his team do is not captured by data in the state's accountability system. EQ [i.e., emotional adjustment], to use Silvia's term, can make or break a kid and his academic career. Currently, accountability systems take no notice of which schools actually support their kids and their parents. They should. The state could develop and publish indicators on par with the almighty test scores to hold schools accountable for supporting the kids' social and emotional success. If it did, communities would have far fewer unsuccessful kids, fewer dropouts, fewer lost 20-year-olds.

I'm not sure it's possible to measure such intangibles in a standardized way without the potential for fudging that winds up capturing nothing and protecting incompetence. The fact that subjective criteria are important can only adequately be answered through a system of choice. Parents will know whether their children are doing better in a particular school than they would elsewhere, even if scores don't compete well on statewide standards.

To quote a song, those who strive for a government hand in all judgments and decisions are trying to catch the wind, and in the meantime, generations are failing to acquire necessary knowledge and academic habits.

Brown Victory: A First Hand Report; a Widespread Sentiment

Monique Chartier

Michael Graham via The Corner.

My radio station in Boston has been non-stop on the Brown/Coakley race for weeks. Three of our hosts are pro-Brown, two pro-Coakley. We were broadcasting from our own victory rally tonight in Braintree, Mass., at the very moment Scott Brown got the concession call from Coakley. He joined us on the air almost immediately to share the good news.

The crowd of several hundred, packed into a room designed for half their number, exploded. Having not been in Boston when they broke the Curse, I can only speculate, but it must have been a similar moment. The crowd wouldn't let Senator Brown speak. The cheering, clapping and crying wouldn't stop. All Senator Brown could say was "I really can't hear anything, but I'll speak to all of you soon."

For at least five minutes, we stood looking at each other in disbelief. Some people kept looking at the TV looking for confirmation from AP. Could it be true?

Finally it sank in. The cheering began to subside, and then came the cry: "Who's next?"

Another roar, and then came the names: Kerry, Frank, and loudest of all Gov. Deval Patrick.

These people have had their first taste of political success in a long time. They feel hope again, for the first time in years. And they're spoilin' for another brawl in the Bay State.

Not just in the Bay State are people spoilin' for a brawl, Michael.

January 19, 2010

Local Results

Justin Katz


Drudge is reporting that Coakley has conceded by telephone. Here's the story in the Globe, but high traffic appears to have crashed the site.

Local election returns in Massachusetts, tonight, make for an interesting map that will bear further analysis as time progresses. Note, for instance, the huge margins for Coakley in Fall River and New Bedford.

The live results map from the New York Times, however, shows that this isn't a regional result, inasmuch as the two precincts between the cities are red. Urban blight seems to suit the Democrats just fine, it would seem. Perhaps the blighted should think on that.

Charlie Hall Passes Along an Admonishment from the President ...

Monique Chartier


Courtesy the Ocean State Follies.

Mandated Monitor Waste

Justin Katz

Here's the scene: Shortly after 7:00 a.m. on a semi-rural road that locals often use to avoid a mile or so of Middletown's two main roads, the school bus pulls up to a modest split-level house, and the driver opens the double doors. A middle-school girl skips up the driveway and stops a few feet from the bus. She waits. She hooks her thumbs in her backpack straps. Motorists crane their necks to see what's going on.

Finally, first one leg then another appear. An elderly woman in an reflective vest climbs backwards onto the street. With one arm still attached to the handrail, she leans a little out of the way, and the young girl bounds effortlessly up the stairs. The bus monitor bows her head, takes a deep breath, and begins the laborious climb back up to her seat.

Now, if the people of Middletown feel that the benefit of intergenerational cooperation is worth the expense of such morning-time chaperons, then I'm hardly in a position to object. However, we have, here, a living, breathing example that the arguments proffered for a state-level bus-monitor mandate are not actually the most significant motivations. The woman in question makes no pretense of inspecting the underside of the bus for suicidal children, and were a child about to enter into danger crossing the street, or something, she would likely prove physically unable to prevent the calamity. The bus driver and the horn would be more effective.

This, folks, is one small emblem culled from daily life explaining Rhode Island's deterioration.

The Template?

Marc Comtois

It looks like Rep. John Loughlin likes what he sees from the Brown campaign. From NBC 10's Bill Rappleye (emphasis mine):

The horrifying performance of Democratic Senate candidate Martha Coakley could be equalled by the supreme campaign run by Scott Brown…no matter who wins tonite. RI State Rep. John Loughlin (R), has noticed. He figures if a state legislator can win a former Kennedy seat in Massachusetts, or at least erase a double digit poll lead during the campaign, then the same team can take on the last elected Kennedy in the Rhode Island 1st District race. The Rapp Session has learned Loughlin will be hiring Beth Myers, Peter Flaherty and Eric Fehrnstrom, all veterans of the Romney Presidential bid, as soon as their race with Scott Brown is finished.

Democrats "Gingrich-Bush" Shield No Longer A Factor In Northeast

Marc Comtois

Ross Douthat comments on Steve Kornacki's contention that:

… the rise of southern/religious-based conservatism in 1994 — when Newt Gingrich and the GOP won control of Congress — triggered an immediate and enduring cultural backlash among swing voters in places like Massachusetts. Before ‘94, they still saw the GOP (generally) as a big tent party with room for moderate/social libertarian-types. But ‘94 disabused them of that notion and they stopped even listening to Republican candidates.
As Douthat explains, Kornacki dubs this the Gingrich-Bush shield, which, contra what you may initially think, protected Democrats in the northeast. Douthat observes:
Now, of course, both Bush and Gingrich are gone, taking the shield with them, and suddenly northeastern swing voters are willing to consider “voting for a Republican candidate as a way of expressing frustration with the ruling Democrats.” Thus Chris Christie in New Jersey; thus Scott Brown in Massachusetts; thus Pat Toomey’s small lead in the Pennsylvania polls.

Whether this Northeastern G.O.P. surge can be sustained will depend on a host of factors — but Kornacki’s right, I think, to imply that it will depend on whether the Republican Party can find leaders, for 2012 and beyond, who don’t make the party seem too Southern. On this front, though, I think that style and symbolism probably matter more than substance....What turns off Northeasterners, as Caldwell suggested a decade ago, is less a specific issue like abortion than “the broader cultural claims of those who put it forward” — the sense, that is, that a vote for the G.O.P. is a vote for the habits and mores of Alabama or Mississippi (or a caricature thereof), complete with guns in the cupboard and creationism in the schools....

But if you’re trying to be a national political party, you want your leadership to fall relatively close to the American mean culturally, even (or especially) if you’re going to govern from the right or left politically. That means that...if I were a Republican politician from New England, New Jersey or New York, I’d be hoping that the G.O.P. nominates a Mitch Daniels or a Tim Pawlenty in 2012 — so that Yankee voters can pull the “Republican” lever without worrying that they’re casting a vote for the Old Confederacy along the way.

Based on conversations I've had over the last decade with conservative-leaning independents who used to be Republicans, it always seems to boil down to this. It seems silly, but there it is. And, for most of 'em, the same attitude extends to Sarah Palin.

Patrick Kennedy to be Primary-ed?

Monique Chartier

Rep Jon Brien (D-Woonsocket) has been on the Dan Yorke Show since 2 pm. Ya knew something was up when he asked Dan and his listeners whether they are satisfied with their representation in Washington.

After a couple of point blank questions, Brien confirmed that he is giving serious consideration to running against Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI).

What Consolidators Are Missing

Justin Katz

I suppose this Projo editorial opposing the newly legislated board for statewide health insurance benefits for teachers is better late than never, but the editors continue to keep two and two from being joined:

Obviously, Rhode Island can do much better than rushing through a new system whereby a panel of special interests reward themselves at the taxpayers' expense. The approach adopted is, in essence, a new and costly mandate on local communities, with less, rather than more, local input into spending decisions that affect the bottom line.

That will always be the case, once the messy reality of human self-interest is introduced to the shiny machinations of planners. Better policies on a case-by-case basis may delay the deterioration as power and money are consolidated, but they will never prevent it.

More importantly, though, we all should have learned by now that there are other aspects of Rhode Island's government that must be fixed prior to consolidation. Handing a mandate to consolidate to the ruling class that has brought Rhode Island to its knees is like buying a home-owner's insurance policy from the thief who just broke in and stole all of your belongings.

A Fortieth Municipality

Justin Katz

At a time when common wisdom is marching straight toward a cliff labeled "consolidation" (at the bottom of which are sharp rocks of incumbency, special interests, and political corruption), I'm encouraged to see that the independent spirit lives on in some corners of the state:

Started in early December by Prescott Avenue resident and Riverside native William J. Hurley, a group officially titled the "Coalition to Secede The Riverside from East Providence" has expanded over the last five weeks to include more than 100 members. While many have joked in the past that Riverside should become it's own town, Mr. Hurley and his peers say they want to see the idea come to fruition.

Of course, Riverside residents should be made aware of the huge additional cost of going it alone, but if they're comfortable bearing it, then the desire for more local control is a healthy one. One East Providence city councilman puts his finger on the most prominent benefit (emphasis added):

City councilman Bruce DiTraglia, whose ward is contained entirely to Riverside, said the idea definitely has its advantages.

"I would like it," he said. "I would think it would be a lot cozier and a lot more personal. I think you could get a lot more people involved. I think it's a good idea."

When the playing field to change policies is smaller, more people will think it worth their time. As gravity pushes control out to state and national governments, more and more people conclude that the possibility of change is so remote as to make civic engagement fruitless. Moreover, as the pain of errors in governance spreads more broadly, it takes a higher degree of incompetence to teach the electorate the lessons that it needs to learn.

ProJo's Last Shot at Brown - Scare Tactics

Marc Comtois

On election day in Massachusetts, the desperate ProJo editors have resorted to listing a bunch of "what ifs?" should Scott Brown be elected and Obamacare not pass. Notwithstanding that a counter-argument can be made that passing this particular monstrosity called health care "reform" would make all of the items they identify even worse, the panicked essay reveals that the fatal flaw in their reasoning still exists. They clung so stubbornly to a mythical, ideal single-payer system--like Medicare for all!--that they've been blind to other (yes, free market) reforms that would accomplish many of their desired goals, if differently. So they're left to exclaim that we need to pass something, anything ("the warts can be removed later") before it's too late.

Blame and Motivation in Education

Justin Katz

Friday night's Violent Roundtable on the Matt Allen Show featured Rhode Island House Minority Leader Bob Watson and legal analyst Lou Pulner, and I was surprised to find Pulner nearly standing alone when the conversation turned toward the teachers unions' blocking the state's federal Race to the Top application (on which the RI Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals has just changed its position):

Matt Allen: The teacher unions in Rhode Island are stuck, because they do not want teacher evaluation to be dependent upon student performance. I guess Deborah Gist's proposal is 51% of teacher performance and evaluation will be based on student performance and standardized tests.

Lou Pulner: Gee, what a bummer that would be, huh? Think about it --- that we're actually going to rate our teachers based upon how they're students are doing in class and on exams.

Bob Watson: And you know what's always interesting is you wonder if you inventory the rank and file, how many of them are in agreement with the positions that the teachers union's take.

LP: I'll bet you 80%. They don't want to lose their job because they're doing a poor job.

BW: On certain core issues, I think you're right. But then there are other areas, I think that there are certain areas where some of the better teachers --- and I happen to have a brother that's a teacher and a sister that recently retired, my mother's a teacher, having retired, so I've got some bias, I suppose.

MA: My soon-to-be wife is also a public school teacher.

LP: But she's not political, you told me.

MA: She's not political.

BW: And when I knocked on doors in East Greenwich and campaigned for office, I found one of the predominant ...

LP: Where is your brother a teacher?

BW: In Cranston.

LP: OK. Good schools. East Greenwich, good schools. But if your brother were a teacher in Central Falls or Pawtucket, maybe you wouldn't be taking this position.

BW: As I said, one of the predominant second incomes in East Greenwich is a teacher's salary, and I've often found myself talking to a teacher from all sorts of parts of the state. They live in East Greenwich; they may teach in Central Falls. They have the same interests in having quality teachers in the schools, because when the good teachers are in a classroom next to a teacher that's slacking off and just not carrying their weight, trust me, all morale is reduced.

LP: But what happens, then, Bob? Then they bump in to a Classical High School because they have seniority.

BW: When it comes to certain issues relative to compensation, they share common ground, but I also think that, were it put out to a vote --- maybe it would have to be a secret vote, not one of those hold a paper card up in a room full of peers --- but if it were to come to a vote, I think more teachers than not would support this.

LP: But we're talking about a hundred million dollars that could come to the state of Rhode Island for educational purposes.

MA: Here's the thing, and I gotta tell you my soon-to-be bride's job has affected my opinion on this, because I get to see the inside, and let me just tell you this. Let me offer you up a piece of information. I know --- this is not from her, but from other situations that she's told me about --- where you have classrooms that might as well be hospital wards, because they are required by law to teach all sorts of kids and in all sorts of situations and all sorts of backgrounds and everything else.

LP: But special-ed can be backed out.

MA: Let me tell you something: Special ed is not backed out. Special ed, at least where she teaches, is in the classroom, with everybody else, and so you have these kids in this room, and they all have to pass the same standards that everybody else does, and then you gotta... you know... what kid didn't take a shower this morning, what kid didn't get breakfast this morning, what kid had to deal with a mother's boyfriend that night, what kid had to deal with this and the other thing, and one kid's got restive leg syndrome, so he can go and do jumping jacks in the back of the classroom whenever he wants to do it.

LP: Matty, I love you, but pillow talk aside between you and your betrothed is the fact that we need $100 million to enhance our education here in the state of Rhode Island, and the fact is that teachers ought to step up, and maybe they ought to work a little bit harder to make sure the students in their class are achieving.

BW: You know, Lou... show me a bad student, and I bet there's a bad parent at home waiting for that kid.

LP: Every time? Not every time.

BW: More times than not, Lou, and let's face it: We have too many people having children, and they don't keep the responsibility of raising those children properly.

LP: That's the babies are having babies argument. You're getting violent, Bob; you're getting violent right now. [Laughter.] This is VRT at its best.

BW: I can't use words on the radio, but I want to make my point: blame the parents; don't blame the teachers. A lot of good teachers try to do what they can, and Matt just explained just a typical day in a classroom.

LP: Bob, you don't think there are teachers in there who have the same curriculum and the same syllibus for forty freakin' years, and they're going through the motions.

BW: Because certain things don't change. Math doesn't change. Reading, writing, arithmatic shouldn't change.

MA: Let me just say this: I think that there's a happy medium. I think that student performance should be a factor. I just don't know how much of a factor it should be.

LP: For $100 million, I say raise it up a notch.

MA: I think we do need to go through and separate the wheat from the chaff, though, in the teachers' ranks, because some people I hear about need to go.

Coming from the legislative leader of the opposition party in Rhode Island, Watson's position is just not acceptable. Indeed, if it's an indication of the alternative that voters have in November, parents needn't wait until then to determine that they have to move or find a way to pay for private school. Watson's commentary is so knee jerk as to be dumb and so biased as to be offensive.

According to the latest Infoworks! document (PDF) from the state Department of Education, fewer than one-fifth of Rhode Island high school students are proficient in science, and just about one-quarter of them are proficient in math. Are 75-80% of Rhode Island's public school students living with bad parents? Or is Mr. Watson a bit too sanguine about 40-year-old lesson plans? (I use that reference emblematically, not literally.)

Matt's introduction of the conditions in some classrooms only highlights the critical factor. Note that he had to become intimate with a teacher before hearing about the challenges that education policies can present for them. As somebody who pays attention to local news, he's surely been very well aware of proposed salary cuts and healthcare copay increases, but when was the last time teachers worked to rule because their working conditions made it impossible for them to perform?

Perhaps if teachers' pay were strongly tied to the performance of their students, they'd be taking the lead in education reform, rather than standing in its way as a unionized matter of course. That probability brings us to the bigger problem of our blameless system. Let's quote Watson again:

Blame the parents; don't blame the teachers.

In the archetypal example of the Rhode Island Way, Watson here attacks the one group in the educational chain that is not on a government payroll. The General Assembly blames the towns, because after all, they have direct control over contracts and policies. The school committees and administrations blame the General Assembly for mandates and insufficient funding and the unions for contractual demands that drain control and resources. The teachers blame all of the above as well as the parents.

Well, if the folks on government payrolls have no power to improve the quality of education in the state, then those payrolls ought to be decimated. They're a waste of money. Redirect the resources to "good parents," so they can select an appropriate private school, and to social workers, so they can assist the "bad parents."

But I don't believe that the blame lies solely with the group whose main interest in the education system is through the well-being of their children. If we step back from the finger pointing and look at the situation as adults seeking to develop a functional educational machine, it is clear that mechanisms for incentives and accountability must be introduced. Evaluate teachers almost entirely on their performance, with formulas that adjust to the actual students — their challenges and their prior performance — and give the ultimate say to administrators, who are in a position to know all of the less-tangible considerations. On the other end, keep the General Assembly and federal government out of the equation.

In that way, the communities that are most affected on a personal level will have the ability to trace and change problems from the school committee dais down to the classroom in a chain accountability rather than evaded responsibility.

January 18, 2010

Go Ahead, Democrats

Justin Katz

Seal your doom:

The White House and Democratic Congressional leaders, scrambling for a backup plan to rescue their health care legislation if Republicans win the special election in Massachusetts on Tuesday, are preparing to ask House Democrats to approve the Senate version of the bill, which would send the measure directly to President Obama for his signature.

The moment the Democrat leaders' request becomes official is the moment we find out just how little other elected Democrats understand what's happening around them. I'm not prone to confident predictions of the future, but it strikes me as entirely possible that passing the healthcare legislation now, in this way, out of fear of an undeniable declaration of public opposition to doing just that will result in many Democrats' losing their seats and then the next Congress (and perhaps next president) undoing the legislation anyway.

Early Peaking in Massachusetts

Justin Katz

Much discussion about the Massachusetts special election over in the Corner, including a thread about whether Republican Scott Brown "peaked early." Naturally the thread began with an email from a self-confessed Massachusetts liberal; then followed a statement of jitters from a New Hampshire conservative:

Over the weekend, while reading the "Globe" online and watching political ads on TV, I had this odd sense that Brown had peaked at the wrong time. It feels like the Dems finally "get it;" they finally understand that Brown had a real shot at this thing. I feel like if the election had been Saturday Brown would have won, but now I fear that the fear of defeat has driven the Dems to frantic GOTV effort that will topple the Brown insurgency.

We certainly shouldn't lose sight of the fact that a Brown win would be dramatic and unexpected, and I guess we'll find out tomorrow whether two days of lag time between peak and election is enough to turn the tide back to Coakley. However, if we consider what voters are doing, in these slightly down days, it seems to me that anything but a major loss on Brown's part will only be more profound for the "early peak."

This ties into the Northeastern Republican discussion that we had a few days ago, in which I suggested that there was no doubt that the huge red surge in the region was motivated precisely by the conservative and tea party enthusiasm that David Frum fears. Now comes the second part of my proffered equation, during which time Massachusetts voters are actually looking at Scott Brown beyond the headlines. These are the days that they'll discover that he's hardly Sarah Palin with less estrogen. That he is, in a neutral sense, moderate. That they can palatably give him a shot in office.

And from my seat next door, here in Rhode Island, it looks to me as if the Democrats are continuing to misunderstand how unbought Americans think and operate. As Massachusetts voters investigate the man behind the unexpected hype, Senator John Kerry (D, MA), he of the slanderous anti-military testimony, added unconfirmed claims about intimidation of his preferred candidate to the list of negative attacks on the political unknown who might derail the Obamamotive.

As Shannen Coffin points out, Massachusetts voters are right now looking at a candidate, on the Republican side, and desperate political machine, on the Democrat. If they choose the candidate, then the machine — and all those who thought they'd purchased a slate of nation-toppling policies by building it — will begin to collapse on itself.

Market Policies, Not Marketing

Justin Katz

May I offer two suggestions for GOP gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille without setting off counterattacks and inspiring retrenchment? For good reason, he gives the impression of a marketing guy, and he's really got to break down the policies and principles that he expresses in direct, active sentences and then layer in the marketing. So, thought #1 is that what he intends to do should always emphasize his insight and power, not his powerlessness; I wrote "ugh" in the margins of the newspaper when I read this:

For starters, he told a news conference the first thing he intends to do is to write Rhode Island's U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse a letter this week that says "stop this foolish Stimulus II bill [moving through Congress] that is sending $373 million to the State of Rhode Island, almost $200 million of which is to build more sidewalks."

This puts the governor in a subservient role to the legislators. Citizens write to their senators; governors shouldn't have to. If the policy is to redirect stimulus money, the prospective governor should declare his intention to push resolutions through the General Assembly expressing Rhode Island's desired change; he should go directly to the president and insist that the state should have more of a say in how it uses money allocated for it.

I wrote "ugh x 2" when I read this part:

"The next thing we have to do is build consumer confidence. We have to stop talking down the economy. We have to start giving people hope. This is the state of hope," he said. At least, "I think it’s still hopeful ... [but] people are afraid. People are trying to save more money … and when people feel comfortable enough that that they've got some money to spend, they start spending it."

"I think everybody right now, tonight, should go out and take their husband or their wife to dinner and put twenty bucks, forty bucks, fifty bucks into that small restaurant that's struggling right now. That's how it is going to work," he said.

The first problem is that the expressed idea is essentially a marketing campaign, and Rhode Islanders are finally waking up to the fact that their problem is far deeper than perception. We're past the point of recoiling for the nation's bad image of us and are admitting that there's a reason for it. The governor that our state needs, right now, will be able to identify and attack the problem that blackens our view of our economy.

Robitaille's misdirection, here, continues with the notion that people should go out and blow money on dinner. People like to go out to dinner. If they felt comfortable spending the money, they'd be doing it without urging from a guy who wants to be the state's chief executive. But they don't feel comfortable spending on such things, right now, and not only does it send the wrong signal to ask consumers to save our crooked state, but it suggests that Robitaille doesn't understand the crux of what he's asking. Namely, our government is in its current condition because elected officials have spent too much money, with good intentions and bad. Encouraging residents to do the same gives the impression of the victim of some horrid disease insisting that a kiss on the lips by a healthy neighbor can save him.

Not So Much of a Head Start

Justin Katz

Here's some news you're not likely to hear trumpeted throughout the media or proclaimed in town and state meetings of education officials:

After some prodding, yesterday the Obama administration released the long-overdue first grade evaluation of the federal Head Start program. As expected, the results show that the $7 billion per year program provides little benefit to children — and great expense to taxpayers.

The evaluation, which was mandated by Congress during the 1998 reauthorization of the program, found little impact on student well-being. After collecting data on more than 5,000 three and four-year-old children randomly assigned to either a Head Start or a non Head Start control group, the Department of Health and Human Services found "few sustained benefits".

You'll want to store this information somewhere in the mind. An ear to the tracks of education policy in the state reveals that expanding public education to younger ages is a favored idea among administrators, teachers, and unionists. At the education policy event that I attended in Warren, recently, the need for pre-K education was certainly mentioned multiple times.

This federal report suggests that a simple principle still applies: Early education definitely starts a child on a potentially more erudite path, but it isn't a remedy for inadequate instruction each and every year. The burden should be on the public education system to become more effective at its current task before its role expands.

(One wonders how conscious big-government types are of the dynamic that finds them with more power and influence the less competent they prove themselves to be.)

Dr. King

Marc Comtois

Aside, from his obvious importance in the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of this nation's great, effective orators and writers. His "I Have a Dream" speech and "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" are, respectively, great examples of his talent and ability to call upon central tenets of our nation's founding--upon the promises made, and too often unfulfilled--to help make the case for his righteous cause. But he also had an ability to be both sincerely empathetic, as heard and seen in his "Eulogy For The Young Victims Of The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing", while explaining the deeper meaning of actions and events that occurred during the struggle in which he engaged.

"Pensions as stimulus"?

Marc Comtois

Apparently, we're supposed to believe that it's a net good to be spending more taxpayer dollars on pensions because it's good for the economy:

While several speakers were telling the House Finance Committee last week that cities and towns were spending too much on employee pensions, another, representing public school teachers argued that the state and its municipalities should be concerned about spending too little.

According to Patrick Crowley, an assistant director at the National Education Association of Rhode Island, putting money into public-employee pension plans is a good investment. So good that every $1 contributed by taxpayers reaps a return of $4.56 in local economic activity.

Crowley was citing figures from the National Institute on Retirement Security, which concluded in a 2009 “Pensionomics” report that the yield was good because investment earnings and employee contributions provide “the lion’s share” of employee pensions. The people receiving those pensions then go out and spend money, helping the local economy, the report says.

Crowley’s statement led to a spirited exchange with Rep. Laurence W. Ehrhardt, R-North Kingstown, who questioned the Crowley’s logic.

“That dollar comes from someone,” Ehrhardt said. “Doesn’t it then have the same effect on the other end?”

“No, it doesn’t” Crowley responded.

Ehrhardt listened to the explanation but gave no ground.

“I have a graduate degree in economics,” he said when Crowley had finished. “I completely disagree with you.”

Well, maybe it is good for the local economy...in Florida. In actuality, the tax dollars that go towards pensions are only a piece of the problem--maybe the least. The ability to retire at a relatively young age with a generous benefit package means more money spent over a longer time. To say nothing of the penchant for retirees to embark on a second tax-payer financed career (and their pensions, benefits, etc.) and the buybacks, buy-ins, etc.

Fighting the Mandates

Justin Katz

A quick skim of Rhode Island's General Laws didn't reveal anything to contradict what Providence fire fighter union head Paul Doughty says, here, although through the finger pointing and blame shifting of Rhode Island politics, the perception that he's incorrect is probably widespread:

"There's no requirement in state law, in state rules, or anywhere that says there needs to be a certain number of firefighters on a fire truck," said Providence Firefighter Paul A. Doughty, president of Local 799 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. "It becomes a necessity that we put these terms in our contract."

Whatever the lay of the law, Doughty does point toward an important distinction. Rhode Island must begin dismantling the mandates that ensure high costs for towns and businesses alike, but we shouldn't install negative mandates ("towns cannot...") as a remedy. Where a mandate is a matter of state law, it should be scrapped. Where it's a matter of local charter and contractual agreement at the municipal level, voters need to get to work, and if property taxes increase, it's a matter to address with the mayor and/or the town council, not the governor and/or the General Assembly.

Corrupted by Association

Justin Katz

My Rhode Island Catholic column, this month, takes up the corrupting influence that associations and images can have on our thoughts:

We live in a society that's much too quick to dismiss the significance of simple associations, taking on faith that the images that splash across television screens and flood public spaces couldn't possibly lodge in the mind with any effect. But surely they do. A man upon meeting a woman will have different thoughts behind his eyes if she reminds him of a model whom he's seen in a provocative pose than if she resembles an actress known for a role as a loving wife or if he’s seen her likeness on a prayer card.

One should hope that decorum and maturity will adjust mental images before they translate into behavior, and in this example, the woman will have the greatest effect on the man’s perception of her. Still, when vile associations pile upon each other, ever greater adjustments and contradictions will be necessary in order to dispel the collage that they create.

January 17, 2010

Patrick Stumps for Senate Candidate What's-Her-Name

Justin Katz

It's so Patrick Kennedy to enlist in a partisan battle and offer passionate support for a candidate whose name he doesn't know:

Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), speaking with a gaggle of reporters after the event, said that while state Sen. Scott Brown (R) offers voters a quick fix, in reality, the problems created by "George Bush and his cronies" are not so easily solved.

"If you think there's magic out there and things can be turned around overnight, then you would vote for someone who could promise you that, like Scott Brown," Kennedy said. "If you don't, if you know that it takes eight years for George Bush and his cronies to put our country into this hole ... then you know we have a lot of digging to do, but some work needs to be done and this president's in the process of doing it and we need to get Marcia Coakley to help him to do that."

And it's so Rhode Island U.S. legislator to have nothing constructive to say and concentrate, instead, on declaring superiority to a former president.

What makes it funny (apart from the natural humor of all things Patches) is that the Democrats' very behavior belies his claims. Clearly, everybody from President Obama to Congressman Barney Frank (D, MA) to candidate Martha Coakley, herself, believes in the magic of a Scott Brown victory to turn national politics around overnight.

Tuesday night, to be precise.

Don't Let Randomness Validate Chaos

Justin Katz

The photograph of the two-year-old Haitian being handed into his mother's arms has got to be among the most amazing captures of human expression that I've ever seen. The ordeal from which the boy has just been rescued is still discernible in his face, but his focus on his mother mixes with, well, almost surprise, as if of relief that the calamity did not wholly recast reality. The permanent remains — air and light and mom.

Of course, among the first lost dreams of youth is that parents are not permanent, and we adults know that this particular boy's ordeal was only just beginning when the Belgian and Spanish rescuers pulled him from the wreckage. Still, there's something in Redjeson Hausteen Claude's eyes, in the photograph, that needn't ever become an impossibility and that, indeed, we ought to strive to preserve at all times, for ourselves and for our culture.

Such preservation begins by addressing the inclination to see the catastrophe as an example of cruel randomness. From my perspective, randomness is hardly applicable. We live in a volatile world — on a planet of stone, fire, and fluid — and during a time that offers tremendous opportunity for preparation. Haiti is an overpopulated and underdeveloped nation that is far from fit to withstand the inevitable shocks that its location makes inevitable. Its condition, in that respect, results from accumulated decisions of human beings the world 'round.

This is to blame neither the victims nor those who've victimized them, but to point out the aggregate manifestation of choices — of free will in a reality that is punctuated with hard stops that we lack the knowledge to predict. Take it one step farther: such free will could not exist if there were no real choices to make or consequences to them. That one person should suffer for others' decisions is certainly unfair, but it's an injustice of human origin, not (if I may finally introduce the unspoken) of divine making.

Acknowledging as much is critical because a sense of meaning and purpose — a sense of a caring parent with whom we will ultimately be united — repercusses in our behavior. Without it, human cruelty takes something of the absolution of natural disaster. A loss of the rightly ordered perspective ultimately results in the piling of travesty upon tragedy:

As we hear reports of gunfire overnight, FEMA reports deteriorating security conditions continue to rise with widespread looting and armed gangs brandishing firearms. There are also reports of unescorted aid workers being assaulted for supplies are rising The problem also is the supply chain. Right now I am looking at a massive amount of food and water here at the airport, but only the U.S. Military is doing anything.

It allows fear to overcome responsibility:

Earthquake victims, writhing in pain and grasping at life, watched doctors and nurses walk away from a field hospital Friday night after a Belgian medical team evacuated the area, saying it was concerned about security.

The decision left CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta as the only doctor at the hospital to get the patients through the night. ...

CNN video from the scene Friday night shows the Belgian team packing up its supplies and leaving with an escort of blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeepers in marked trucks.

Perhaps we cannot confidently predict the decisions that we'll make under pressure of panic, and surely nobody is innocent of poor, even unjust, choices made at a distance of time and space and probability from their consequences. But the likelihood that we'll choose well increases, it seems to me, to the extent that we keep Redjeson Hausteen Claude's expression ever poised just beneath the skin.


Wonderfully, there are no shortage of methods of donating toward the assistance of the people of Haiti. Here are two opportunities:

  1. Catholic Relief Services
  2. American Red Cross

The Federal Church of the United States of America

Justin Katz

By now, you're likely to have heard Martha Coakley's interpretation of the First Amendment's application to the matter of abortion. In conversation with radio talk host Ken Pittman, the Democrats' candidate for U.S. Senate spoke as follows:

Ken Pittman: Right, if you are a Catholic, and believe what the Pope teaches that any form of birth control is a sin. ah you don't want to do that.

Martha Coakley: No we have a separation of church and state Ken, lets be clear.

Ken Pittman: In the emergency room you still have your religious freedom.

Martha Coakley: (...uh, eh...um..) The law says that people are allowed to have that. You can have religious freedom but you probably shouldn't work in the emergency room.

Kathryn Jean Lopez suggests that Coakley's view of more profound relevance:

Coakley betrays a prevalent tendency of the liberal mind: If we go by what she said to Pittman, Coakley believes that religious liberty is not something endowed by our Creator, but something the law allows, something the state can change depending on who is in power, or what's polling well. If she were his student, Richard W. Garnett of Notre Dame's law school has a few questions he would want to ask Coakley: Is religious freedom a concession by the State? Or is religious freedom really about the fact that government is limited in its scope and competence, and that some realms of life stand outside the circumscribed authority that a free people is willing to grant its government?

The problem may even go more deeply than the hypothetical options suggest. If the Party of Death has its way, the freedom to be true to your religion will translate into a right to select from a list of careers in which the government has determined your beliefs will not interfere with worldviews of which it approves. This, simply put, is a religious establishment by the federal government.

How Many Years Behind Are Our Students?

Justin Katz

Mick Schulz has been considering the American condition, with respect to education, as a story in the Texas v. California saga, and he posts a reader anecdote that ought to make every Rhode Island parent uncomfortable:

A new neighbor (former migrant worker from northern California who opened a family business, and had to move to Houston for a young daughter's cancer treatments) reports to me that when she enrolled her 10 year old in the neighborhood elementary school, they determined that the child was at least a year behind. This is a school with an English-as-a-second-language program, and despite normal demographics which would put it in the bottom rung of schools, won an exemplary rating from the state.

I think the writer meant to suggest that the California school that the student had previously attended had been the "exemplary" one. Which makes me wonder: How far behind are the students of Rhode Island's "high performing" schools? I've long had the impression that these measurements of performance are artificially inflated and, frankly, don't trust them to provide any useful information for judging our system as a state.

And Let's Not Move Too Quickly Past the (Previously) Absurd Proposition that the Race for Ted Kennedy's Seat Should Even be Competitive

Monique Chartier

Mark Steyn didn't make that mistake in his column yesterday.

... If you were at the Hopeychange inaugural ball on Jan. 20, 2009, when Barney Frank dived into the mosh pit, and you chanced to be underneath when he landed, and you’ve spent the last year in a coma until suddenly coming to in time for the poll showing some unexotically monikered nobody called Scott Brown — whose only glossy magazine appearance was a Cosmopolitan pictorial 30 years ago (true) — four points ahead in Kennedy country, you must surely wonder if you’ve woken up in an alternative universe. The last thing you remember before Barney came flying down is Harry Reid waltzing you round the floor while murmuring sweet nothings about America being ready for a light-skinned brown man with no trace of a Negro dialect. And now you’re in some dystopian nightmare where Massachusetts is ready for a nude-skinned Brown man with no trace of a Kennedy dialect. How can this be happening?

Another Learning Lesson from Brown - This One for Democrats -

Monique Chartier

may be developing out of the Mass senatorial race. [Marc's "lesson" pertained to Republicans.]

If Coakley defies certain polls and pulls out a win this Tuesday, the margin will almost certainly not be the thirty point gap she started with two months ago. At that point, a proportionality exercise will, inexorably, flash into the minds of every incumbent Democrat around the country and their campaign consultants:

This is a Massachusetts - worse, Ted Kennedy's - senatorial seat. Therefore, she should have won by thirty points. She only won by X. I won my last campaign by Y, a lot less than thirty points. What does that mean for my margin this November??

Genius and Well Behaved? Nonsense.

Justin Katz

Theodore Dalrymple's look back at Sherlock Holmes, the literary, not cinematic, character, makes a conservative desire to read the books again and avoid the movie. When the film's trailer appeared, I lamented the cultural insecurity that requires every hero to be a such a superhero as to exist outside of societal etiquette. Robert Downey Jr.'s Holmes is a boorish ninja. Dalrymple notes the cultural thread, as well, when speaking of Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

Conan Doyle's fundamental humanity and decency, as evident in his life as in his work, shine through the canon. This in itself is a matter of interest, if it is accepted — as I think it should be — that the canon is itself a manifestation of literary genius. We have been so persuaded that genius and disgraceful conduct go together that we find it difficult to believe that an affable man such as Conan Doyle can be possessed both of goodness and of superior talent; indeed, appalling conduct is sometimes itself taken as evidence of the greatest talent. If geniuses are badly behaved, ought that not to mean that the badly behaved are geniuses?

It is as if, in the current era, we despise rules so thoroughly that we fantasize about being so magnificent, as individuals, that we needn't heed them. Of course, Dalrymple also highlights something in Holmes that a declining civilization should consider:

He is a model of self-mastery of the kind that allows eccentricity to flourish, as it so richly once did in England.

Eccentricity must follow from self-mastery. Our culture has been so effective because it has learned millennia of dos and don'ts for us. The rules no longer apply when you've followed them so scrupulously as to no longer need them, and it is not with disdain that we transcend them, but gratitude.

(None of which to say that rules don't sometimes work their way into the culture that deserve to be discarded with disdain so that the civilization can advance. My topic, above, is the collection of behavioral expectations that our anti-heroic superheroes ignore as a matter of course.)

January 16, 2010

Successfully Avoiding Divorce Requires Marriage

Justin Katz

I've been meaning to point out a problem with Lefteris Pavlides's objection to a recent report that Rhode Island is among the unhappiest states in the country. Declares Pavlides:

Year after year the so-called "happy" states are on the top of broken homes and children in single families. For my money whole, two-parent families have a better chance at true happiness. The states with the highest divorce rates also have the lowest taxes, which means they have the lowest services for those suffering and the worst educational opportunities for their children. These not very children-friendly places can not be very happy.

His evidence for this claim is that the supposedly most happy states have higher divorce rates than the unhappy states. It's been a while since I dug into these numbers deeply, but I'm sure my 2004 discovery holds: Divorce rates are calculated per 1,000 of the population, not of marriages, and the states with the highest divorce rates per 1,000 residents also have much higher marriage rates per 1,000 residents.

If I were inclined to provocation, I'd suggest that married Northeasterners should hold on to their spouses for dear life... miserable people might find it difficult to find gold twice.

The Federal Strings That Bind

Justin Katz

In my December column for the Rhode Island Catholic, I included federal spending among the mechanisms whereby we're losing local — and therefore overall — control of the shape of our government. Neil Downing points out just such a deal with the Devil with respect to unemployment insurance:

Rhode Island has a chance to obtain a cash infusion of up to $23.5 million from the federal government to boost the unemployment trust fund, which pays benefits to out-of-work Rhode Islanders.

But to receive the money, Rhode Island first must liberalize the rules for the unemployment program, including changes that would make more people eligible for benefits.

It certainly makes for a difficult political proposition to refuse millions of dollars that could be siphoned directly to constituents, but consider:

The federal cash infusion is intended to cover the cost of changes to a state's unemployment insurance system, at least in the early years, Vroman said. Employers eventually would have to pick up the cost of broadening a state's unemployment program — through higher state unemployment taxes, he said.

The money, that is, comes as start-up costs for a program that is meant to be permanent. Just as I've pledged to myself that I will never again live beyond my means (if I'm fortunate enough to dig out of debt before I die), state governments should resolve not to fritter away their sovereignty in the name of immediate handouts.

If We're Going to Be Setting Tax Rates Based on Your Membership in a Group, Why Stop With a Health Insurance Tax?

Carroll Andrew Morse

What could possibly say Saturday in Rhode Island more than a blog post written in a form of an homage to a Bill Reynolds "For What It's Worth" column...

There's no truth to the rumor that independent RI Gubernatorial Candidate Lincoln Chafee will be combining his revenue raising ideas with the the recently proposed Democratic health insurance tax structure to develop a new plan for a two-tier sales tax, where union members pay one rate and non-union members pay a higher rate.

Or that non-membership in a union will now translate into a lower standard deduction on your Federal income tax form.

RE: Frumians

Marc Comtois

Apparently, my earlier post came off as me being quite a bit more amenable to the "Frumians" than intended. To clarify, when I wrote that Frum made some "good points", I was referring to his description of Brown and his positions. I most certainly don't agree with Frum's sullivanesque paranoia with the "right wing."

Despite the fact that Brown doesn't pass all of the traditional "right wing" litmus tests, Justin's point that Brown isn't running a moderate campaign is absolutely correct. The danger of shorthand labels is apparent; for while Brown may not be a "right winger", he's not a Chafee/Snowe/Collins moderate either. How about "right of center"?

The acute point I was trying to make was that Chafee--a social liberal and economic mess--had come to exemplify a Rhode Island moderate Republican to not only voters but also within the RI GOP itself. With his break from the party, my hope is that the fallacy can finally end and the idea of what it is to be moderate can better approximate the national norm. All that being said, and assuming all candidates are competent, I think it's safe to say I'll support the more conservative candidate every time.

Political Spin on a Used Car Salesman Scale

Justin Katz

Anybody who watches politics must be prepared for spin to the border of falsehood, but in Brian Riedl's telling, it's difficult not to conclude that the Obama administration has stepped well into the range of what would more accurately be called scams and con jobs:

Last spring, President Obama proposed $11.3 billion worth of discretionary spending cuts. Today's Washington Times notes that Congress accepted $6.9 billion worth of these cuts, a 61 percent success rate.

In a $3.6 trillion federal budget, that comes to just 0.2 percent of the federal budget.

But there is a larger issue:100 percent of the savings from these "cuts" were automatically shifted into new spending. Total federal spending was not reduced by one dollar.

Moreover, the cuts were mainly in defense spending, so spending on things that most of us associate with "big government" actually increased as a result of these "cuts." Unbelievable.

Re Lessons Learned: If They Can Win, Let Them Win

Justin Katz

Marc cedes too much to the Frumians, if you ask me. It isn't just that Scott Brown is more conservative than Linc Chafee, or Arlen Specter, or whomever. It's also that, in the brightest issue on the field, healthcare, he appears to be a reliable Republican. By contrast, the RINOs give the impression that they'll vote with the Republicans, but only when it's convenient for them.

More importantly, though, the accusation of a right-wing search for "purity" mixes up distinct segments of the political landscape. If a Republican can beat a Democrat and offers a more-right alternative, conservatives will back him or her. They may try to defeat such candidates in primaries (with adjustments made for the extremity of their moderateness and the likelihood of victory in the election), and they'll battle with them when defining baseline opinions of the party (as in the platform), but purity has never been a refusal to work with with others as much as possible. It's been a refusal to redefine the core of the party to be more amenable to them.

Moderates like Frum want to sell moderateness qua moderateness, not establish a neutral right-leaning playing field on which all Republicans can interact. Indeed, he illustrates perfectly the attitude that conservatives despise in moderates: His goal clearly isn't to secure a place for his relatively liberal fellows, but to overtake the party in order to advance his own ideals. Moreover, he's apparently delusional:

It would be a travesty if Brown’s victory is seized upon as a victory for anger, paranoia, and ideological extremism.

I don't think it uncharitable to interpret "anger, paranoia, and ideological extremism" to be Frum's characterization of Tea Party types and farther right conservatives. If that's the case, he misses the obvious fact that Brown is, indeed, benefiting from a national surge from that group. He is benefiting from the angst of conservatives. Without that angst, and without Brown's agreement on central issues, such as the healthcare bill and cap'n'trade, there is no phenomenon in Massachusetts.

It is likely helping Brown, locally, that Massachusetts moderates find they don't disagree with him on every issue when the national attention pushes them past their suspicion of Republicans. But Brown isn't winning because he's running a campaign as a moderate. He isn't having million-dollar fundraising days because he's tirelessly shaking hands and interacting with voters. He's winning because he's part of a national backlash.

Moreover, as Boris Shor puts it, in a post with a very interesting chart showing the political leanings of parties in all fifty states:

What this shows, however, is that the conservative base in the United States, far from dragging their party moblike into an unelectable extreme, has made the decentralized decision to support the realistically best candidate they can relative to the context in which he’s being elected. The 23rd special district election can also be seen in this light; throwing Scozzafava overboard made far more sense in the context of that electorate.

That, to my ear, is the argument being made by Rhode Island Republicans who wish to close the primary. They want to pick the best Republican candidate they can without having unaffiliated voters ensure a choice between two liberal "moderates."

In the context of this debate about "Northeastern Republicans," Rhode Island's row on Shor's chart has interesting implications. According to the data, between 1995 and 2006, Rhode Island's elected Republicans were the most liberal in the United States, while the Democrats were pretty much dead center in the national range for their party. In other words, whatever strategy one might derive from Scott Brown's success does not necessarily apply to current circumstances in our own state next door, where Republican "moderates" are far left and elected legislators overall are left of center. The fact that the RIGOP has had so little success in the General Assembly suggests that more unnatural liberalism is not the answer.

January 15, 2010

A Battle of the Medias

Justin Katz

I'm not entirely sure what it was, but I found hilarious Matt Allen's tete-a-tete with Bill Rappleye about the latter's performance during John Robitaille's press conference announcing his GOP gubernatorial candidacy. Audio here.

On the substance of the discussion, I sorta split the difference. On the one hand, Matt's concern that Bill holds a personal grudge against a gubernatorial candidate is justified, and placing Bill's questions in the press conference context of other journalists with an ax to grind about Governor Carcieri's relationship with select media venues gives the whole thing the sound of hyenas who've found the Lion King's son out rambling in an elephant graveyard. Frankly, the notion that "objective" reporters should be able to disguise their personal feelings has things precisely backwards, if you ask me... readers/viewers/listeners should know that reporter X is ticked that she couldn't get an interview with a candidate's former boss.

On the other hand, Bill had a point that his skirmish was a small part of the press conference, and that it'd be helpful to know the origin of the perceived slight. But that points to something that I'm surprised neither Matt nor Bill brought up: Robitaille had no productive way to answer that line of questioning. Even if it were his intention, he couldn't declare, as a candidate, that he intends to stonewall journalists whom he doesn't like once he's elected to office. Moreover, he's not currently in a position from which he can be expected to badmouth the governor and/or reveal the administration's strategic discussions.

I'd note, in closing, that Rappleye did say he found Robitaille's openness and lack of overt political handling to be refreshing.

(Note: Yes, I'm aware that "media" is plural.)

Pants on the Ground

Marc Comtois

Joe the Plumber....Rick Santelli...."General" Larry Platt? There's something about wannabe American Idol auditioner Larry Platt's song "Pants on the Ground" that is striking a chord.


Pants on the ground
Pants on the ground
Lookin’ like a fool with your pants on the ground

With the gold in your mouth
Hat turned sideways
Pants hit the ground
Call yourself a cool cat
Lookin’ like a fool
Walkin’ downtown with your pants on the ground

Get it up, hey!
Get your pants off the ground
Lookin’ like a fool
Walkin’ talkin’ with your pants on the ground.

Get it up, hey!
Get your pants off the ground
Lookin’ like a fool with your pants on the ground

Funny, yes, but the General's joyful earnestness seems to be resonating with the American public. Both Joe the Plumber and Rick Santelli amplified the economic concerns of average Americans. Could the "General's" simple song do something similar for the cultural concerns of average Americans? Well, that's one way to think about it. Maybe it's just a whimsical opportunity for many of us to have a good-natured "Get off of my lawn!" moment....

How a Ruling Class Is Maintained

Justin Katz

Ed Achorn makes a familiar observation when he writes:

Ocean State politicians have long supported a two-tiered society in which there is a privileged class of public employees — about one in six workers in Rhode Island two years ago, probably a higher percentage today — and an underprivileged class of private-sector drones.

We should remember, though, that the dynamic isn't entirely of two groups buying each other's support. It's more of an incestuous cabal. Look no farther than newly elected RI Representative Mary Duffy Messier (D, Pawtucket), who leaped directly onto our Legislative Stooge list:

But Messier was among the 47 House members who successfully voted to override Carcieri's veto [of the bill mandating teacher health insurance].

[Rhode Island Association of School Committees Executive Director Tim] Duffy said his sister, who recently retired as a Cumberland school teacher with a $46,536 annual state pension, "has always been a strong union advocate."

Duffy Messier is 57. The average per capita personal income in Rhode Island is $37,523. Sometimes political victory is a matter of who has the time to make noise and join legislative bodies that pass harmful laws. And sometimes, I wonder whether we should stop complaining when public-sector workers who retire at a young age have their retirement largess sent to their new homes out of state.

Are We All in the Same Boat, Here?

Monique Chartier

As though anticipating former Senator Chafee's answer to WPRO's Matt Allen,

Matt just asked about whether the unions will have to give more concessions. Seeming to ignore the public/private sector distinction, Chafee said — unbelievably — "Everybody's in the same boat, here."

in his column Tuesday, Ed Achorn enumerates the ways that we are not.

And [accumulation of] sick days are only the tip of the iceberg.

Similar “buybacks” are available to employees who decline to take health insurance. See if you get that in the private sector. Then there are the extraordinarily munificent health benefits, negotiated co-pays that are based on static dollar amounts rather than percentage (meaning the taxpayer gets hit with 100 percent of the cost of any increases in premiums), step increases on top of pay raises, longevity pay, early retirements with remarkably generous payouts and health care for spouses, etc., etc.

And in yesterday's Valley Breeze, Arlene Violet (great job questioning the current AG on Lively, Arlene) points to more dissimilarities in compensation between the public sector and the private.

fat contracts which reimburse sick days, holidays not taken, seniority boosts, automatic cost of living increases, etc. Taxpayers should not be paying for advanced degrees for state or municipal employees. As it is, there are salary increments for advanced degrees, but it is a "double dipsey do" when the very degree or courses are paid for by taxpayer, Joe Blow, who still has to shell out tuition for his own kids.
Yes, in one regard, we are all in the same boat, a boat which is about to capsize from decades of very generous, unnecessary and unfunded promises of questionable moral legitimacy.

As to the underlying premise of Matt's question, however - who has benefited and continues to benefit from those promises - it seems pretty clear that we are in two distinct boats.

Stratifying the Student Body

Justin Katz

A supporter of school choice must accept that schools will experiment with, and families will opt for, educational strategies that he or she doesn't like. I've never been a fan of Fame-style schools specializing in music, for example, and for the same reasons, I've reservations about Laborers school in Cranston, which Julia Steiny described in her Sunday column:

At Laborers, Cranston academic teachers and instructors who are journeyman laborers themselves jointly craft an academic program geared to the construction trade. For example, math involves everything from learning financial literacy to calculating the volume of concrete needed for a job. The skills are the same as those taught in traditional schools, but applied to the world of construction. ...

Shortly after the school opened, it was clear that some of the students were more interested in finding an alternative school than they were in construction work. So the school developed a second strand of learning, called The World of Work (WOW), which [cofounder Armand] Sabitoni considers consistent with the union’s mission.

Having had my own feet in several dramatically different social pools, so to speak, as an artist-type, an academic-type, a white-collar cubicle dweller, and now a carpenter, I'm uncomfortable with the social implications of stratification at such an early age. Surely, for example, all children would benefit from practical lessons in math — both for current learning and for a minimum of familiarity when one day they encounter tasks outside of their professions. Before I began in construction, about five years ago, I was utterly clueless when it came to repairs around the house, let alone do-it-yourself modifications.

Extracting the labor segment of the student body will decrease the incentive for general-ed schools to cover material relevant to them. From another perspective, while practical lessons might help a particular student pick up academic concepts, the career from which those lessons are drawn isn't necessarily a fit for him or her.

More significantly, though, there's a benefit to having all social types and career tracks interacting within a generation through high school. This is true, first, because cultural coherence and social empathy are a prerequisite to a healthy democracy. A second consideration is that very young students shouldn't find themselves on fated tracks. A creative, dynamic society increases the likelihood that its members will come to fresh conclusions, combining previously disconnected ideas for new purposes, and cradle-to-grave career tracks do the opposite.

Learning Lessons from Brown

Marc Comtois

Win or Lose, the Scott Brown candidacy in Massachusetts has shown that there is a motivated bunch of people looking to upset establishment apple carts, mostly those being pushed around by the in-power Democrats. Brown has struck a chord with these folks based on his common-sense, man-of-the-people approach. Yet, as both Erick Erickson and David Frum note, Brown is certainly a big tent Republican. Erickson thinks the media is blinded by their own preferred narrative:

Right now the media is missing a really big story. It does not fit their narrative.

The narrative, of course, is that conservatives want a totalitarian pure party with a purity test for the GOP. You want gay marriage? No way. Pro-choice? No support. For government assisted health care options? We don’t recognize you. At least that is what the media claims.

So the media has and is ignoring the alliance between left and right among the GOP in Massachusetts.

Scott Brown is not a conservative. He makes no pretension of being a conservative. He defends Romneycare, which most conservative have rejected. He is pro-choice. But he is for less government interference in the free market and less spending. Like Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, he is the perfect sort of Republican candidate for New England.

Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund is encouraging its members to support and donate to Scott Brown.. Marco Rubio is supporting Scott Brown. RedState is supporting Scott Brown. We, well . . . I, suspect he’ll give conservatives heart burn as New England Republicans do. But all of us know he is a good, pragmatic fit for Massachusetts. He’ll vote against Obamacare and he’d vote against a second stimulus. Conservatives do know, despite media and liberal Republican (called “moderate” by the media) claims to the contrary, that the GOP needs 51 seats in the Senate to have a majority.

Conservative and liberal Republicans are united behind Scott Brown. You’d think a mainstream media that has generated millions of words on television, radio, and print about conservatives demanding a pure party would take notice.

But that would shatter their whole narrative. And the last thing anyone wants to do at the next party at the Met or Sally Quinn’s house is mention the latest liberal friend in rehab or that maybe their group think on conservatives is shallow, self-serving, and vain.

Frum makes much the same observation, but, as usual, is attacking his fellow, more conservative Republicans, if preemptively this time.
A Brown victory will rejoice Republicans nationwide. We will revel in it, triumph in it, deploy it, argue from it. Question: will we learn from it?

The Scott Brown who may rescue the country from Obamacare is not a talk radio conservative.

Strong on defense and school choice, opposed to the Obama administration’s signature initiatives, Brown voted in favor of Mitt Romney’s health plan in Massachusetts. He describes himself as pro-choice (subject to reasonable limitations), accepts gay marriage in Massachusetts as a settled fact, and told the Boston Herald editorial board he would have voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor. He calls himself “fiscally conservative and socially conscious.” He’s got an environmental record too: In the state senate he voted in favor of a regional initiative to curb greenhouse gas initiatives.

Most important: Unlike his arrogant, brittle opponent, Brown has shown himself an open and accessible candidate, optimistic and without rancor. In short – he’s running exactly the kind of campaign that we alleged RINOs have been urging on the GOP for months now.

It would be a travesty if Brown’s victory is seized upon as a victory for anger, paranoia, and ideological extremism.

They both make good points that, from a strictly political viewpoint, are worth considering here in Rhode Island. To me, Erickson's tone is preferrable. Frum has embarked on a new career based largely on hyperbolizing the right side of the GOP because, well, they don't agree with him, apparently. Nonetheless, there are a lot of left-leaning Republicans and Moderates in the Ocean State who probably are in line with Frum and think that the "right wing" seizing the RI GOP (via a closed primary) would be the antithesis of the Brown candidacy.

Perhaps, but I think that the moderate GOPers have, in the past, made the mistake of too-closely defining such a pragmatic Republican with the current independent candidate for governor Lincoln Chafee. Chafee is more liberal on social issues than many Rhode Island Democrats (not to mention Brown) and, as for economic issues, his recent gubernatorial kick-off displayed his unfortunate predisposition to have a plan for tax increases before having anything concrete on budget cuts (and is but the latest example of his zero-sum, baseline budgeting version of fiscal conservatism). In short, the term "moderate" came to mean "like Chafee," which is a disservice to other moderates who may not be quite so....quirky. I think conservatives would be able to support a moderate candidate who displayed the same traits and competency as Scott Brown if one were to arise out of the RI GOP and run for national office. At least I would.

Looking for the "U" in Unemployment

Justin Katz

Rep. John Carter (R, TX) has posted a chart illustrating the depth and time to recovery of various recessions throughout recent U.S. history. The upshot is that the current recession has seen the largest drop in employment since 1948 and has been falling for as long as almost all job troughs have lasted, from start to finish. He goes on:

Unemployment continues to stand at an official 10% for the third month in a row, the worst joblessness in 27 years. The real unemployment rate is far worse. Included in the December economic figures was a shocker — the percentage of adult men who are working has fallen to the lowest level in recorded U.S. history at just 80%. That means that one in five men in this country between 18 and 54 are neither working nor claiming unemployment. They have fallen completely out of the workforce.

That helps explain why December's unemployment rate remained at November's 10% rate in spite of an additional 85,000 Americans losing their jobs. At the same time the new jobless claims were added, many of the previously unemployed were simply removed from the workforce numbers altogether.

And yet the big-government policies continue, with talk of yet more "stimulus" give aways to government workers and the politically connected. Little wonder the "anybody but Obama" ticket is starting to attract so much support.

The Glitch in Progressive Software

Justin Katz

One sees an uncomfortable degree of reflection in Fred Siegel's article about early progressive author Herbert Croly. Here, for example, one can't help but see Rhode Island:

Croly hoped to see geographic representation, with its accompanying two-party system, replaced by syndicalist-style functional representation. In Croly's ideal, government would not be built around states (which would be dissolved into the federal authority) but organized in terms of "associations of businessmen, of farmers, and of wage earners ... of civic societies, voters' leagues, ballot associations, women's suffrage unions, single tax clubs and the like." Croly's goal has, in fact, been partly achieved, helping to cause the current fiscal crises of the deep-blue states. In California and New York, for instance, politics has been partly syndicalized, with virtual representation by racial interest groups and the public-sector unions to a degree displacing the old moderating ideal of geographic representation, under which a variety of interests had to be considered.

And here, we see the federal government:

In Croly's scheme, echoes of which can still be heard in demands to abolish the Electoral College, local parties and their bosses would be bypassed through plebiscitary democracy based on the ballot-initiative, referendum, and recall processes, with power concentrated in the hands of the national executive. The executive, in turn, would govern through commissions staffed by experts--an idea that endures in Obamacare. The commissions, in anticipation of the New Deal, would serve as what Croly called the "fourth department," or fourth branch of government. "The planning department of the progressive democratic state is created for action." What sort of action? "It plans," wrote Croly, with his customary vagueness, "as far ahead as conditions permit or dictate. It changes plans as often as conditions demand. It seeks above all to test its own plans, so as to discover whether they will accomplish the desired result."

That last part highlights the fatal flaw in the progressives' governance software: Sometimes what works — the necessary change to The Plan — is not to plan, not to regulate. Of course, planners who allow themselves to conclude that the society would benefit without their ministrations cease to be planners (and they cease to have the power progressives crave). Unfortunately, it's easier to sell supposed solutions than to encourage trust in each other and in the nature of the world.

January 14, 2010

The Haves and Don't Have Tos of Healthcare

Justin Katz

Mark Patinkin begins a brief examination of "why there's all this fuss about revamping the [healthcare] system" with a faulty premise:

I'm guessing there have been two distinct audiences for the health-care debate.

Those who have an affordable plan and those who don't.

If you don't, you doubtless paid a lot more attention.

Patinkin's essay stands as evidence that there are at least three audiences, and since the third implies an antipode, there must be four:

  1. Those who have an affordable plan and believe something like the Democrats' plan will not affect them.
  2. Those who have an affordable plan and believe something like the Democrats' plan will threaten them.
  3. Those who don't have an affordable plan and believe something like the Democrats' plan will ensure one.
  4. Those who don't have an affordable plan and don't believe something like the Democrats' plan will ensure one.

So dramatically different is my understanding of the landscape than Patinkin's that he assumes the "don't haves" to be the most interested in the debate, while I've perceived the debate mainly to be between the factions of the "haves." Note that the Tea Party phenomenon was heavily populated by working and middle class folks, and that much of the advocacy for the Democrats' policies has come from Patinkin's peers in the media, academia, and government, all likely having excellent benefits.

A telling bit of the perspective difference between the "have" groups comes when Patinkin investigates the options that "have nots" can pursue. Just after explaining to his readers how a deductible and copay would work on a $2,000 MRI, he writes:

I was told you might be able to get that $660 monthly fee down to $487 if you proved you were very healthy. But you'd still have the deductible, leaving folks to debate every procedure.

Here's my question in response, as somebody who has decent (although too expensive) coverage and fears that the Democrats are on track to price me out of it: What is wrong with folks debating every $2,000+ procedure? Simply put, there will never, ever be an effective mechanism for controlling healthcare costs unless every potential patient weighs the value of every test, drug, and procedure. Pretending otherwise is going to cause a whole lot of suffering among a whole lot of people.

Come to Rhode Island! (We'll Take Your Money.)

Justin Katz

Even without taking up the debate about Rhode Island's flat tax, a press release announcing legislation to eliminate it, sponsored by Rep. Helio Melo (D, East Providence), illustrates why Rhode Island's economy will go nowhere until there's massive turnover in the state house:

"The flat-tax was championed as a way to attract employers to our state, but it's really more of a no-strings-attached gift to the fortunate few who just happen to be very well-off," said Representative Melo, a Democrat who represents District 64 in East Providence. "That's certainly not real tax relief to our citizens, the majority of whom are working people struggling to pay their bills. If one group gets a tax cut, that money has to be made up somewhere, and the result is that it's deepening our state's deficit and creating more of a burden for us all to pay. We all keep hearing that taxes will have to increase. Does that mean more taxes for the working-class people in my district while the high-income people get tax cuts? I don't think so."

If you were evaluating locations in which to invest your life to build a business, would you be comfortable choosing a state in which legislators believe that the rewards of your labor would be something that "just happened"?

If Mr. Melo wishes to help his working-class constituents, he should advocate for lightened tax burdens all around, compensating for potential losses of revenue by cutting government expenditures. Rhode Island's politicians would rather play ideological games than get results.

Believing in the Echo

Justin Katz

In a This I Believe - RI segment on WRNI, Jim Stahl, the former publisher of the children's magazine, Merlyn's Pen, talks about the creative wisdom of children. Me, I don't believe this notion of the wise youth. Almost by definition, wisdom is impossible for the young.

To the extent that children seem wise, it is not creative but recitative. They're simplifying and reflecting what we've taught them — often with their own unique twist, to be sure, but not with an insight unavailable to adults.

Consider a poem from his magazine, of the thumb-in-the-eye-of-God variety, that Stahl offers as an example. He says:

In hundreds of classrooms that read this poem, discussions took off, all of them launched by the words of one creative teen.

With the poem's authorship a generation after John Lennon had sung that "God is a concept by which we measure our pain," I'd suggest the somewhat different perspective that it was a hit because a Baby Boomer publisher thought it provocative and an army of boomer teachers thought it was subversive to teach it, utilizing the classroom to reinforce or subvert cultural norms taught in the home — all with the perfect comfort of a groupthink attack on a safe target.

Stahl goes on to advocate for an escalation of our appreciation of smart and creative kids to a level similar to our celebration of star athletes, and with that I agree. In the context of schools, however, we run into the problem that challenging children who are advanced academically, rather than athletically, takes time and resources — at a minimum, hiring an adult competent to direct a discussion of Moby Dick, say, or to create an insightful presentation of current events, providing a context that the students inevitably lack. As we've witnessed to tragic degree in Rhode Island, the resources that might be thus allocated are apt to be sucked up into teacher contracts or mandated for use on special needs children.

And then there's the ideological problem. One gets the impression, as from the single example highlighted from Stahl's entire career as a publisher, that those who might advocate for the encouragement of teenage creativity have a decided preference for smart kids to come to particular conclusions. The really smart kids will discern those conclusions to be wrong, but most will follow them into their destructive circularity.

Labor Gets its Special Health Care Deal

Marc Comtois

At the end of this post I alluded to the special deal that unions--after much b***ing and moaning-- have extracted from Team Obama Health Care Force. In short, the tax on so-called "cadillac plans" won't be applied to collectively bargained health plans. Heritage's James Sherk observes:

What a deal. Unions want the health care spending, but they do not want to pay for it. Obama gave them just that. It also makes for a great recruiting pitch: join a union, get a tax cut.
No doubt. But wait, there's more!
That is just one of the many handouts unions get in the health care bill. It sets aside $5 billion to subsidize the costs of employer health benefits for early retirees. Few nonunion employers, of course, pay pension and health benefits for workers to retire at 55.

Or consider the small business exemption from the employer mandate for businesses with less than 50 employees. All businesses, that is, except construction companies. The costly employer mandate applies to any construction firm with more than four workers. Why would Congress kick small construction contractors when they are down? Because the construction unions asked Congress to. They did not want their small competitors to get out from under the bill’s costs and gain a competitive advantage. What if those costs put small contractors out of business? That is just too bad.

Nothing like looking out for the little guy, eh? But back to the exemption: Daniel Foster looks at the tea leaves:
Look for Obama and Congressional Democrats to the expand the union carve-out to cover a swath of the "middle-class" (the universal solvent of American politics), so they can camouflage this massive giveaway to a pet constituency.

One House Democrat is already saying a "consensus" could be built around such a scheme by further increasing the Medicare payroll tax and applying it to capital gains to make up for lost revenue.

This would amount to nothing less than a bill of attainder against on all constituencies that are not especially useful to the president and his party.

The shell game continues.

But for a Government Gone Too Far

Justin Katz

Kevin Williamson notes an unfamiliar state of affairs:

It's a world gone mad: The Euro-welfarized 'Nucks are hard at work, their wages up 2.3 percent year over year, while the Aussies, who have a 45 percent top rate for personal income taxes plus a 5 percent payroll tax, are booming. But the rugged individualists toiling in the fields of freewheeling American capitalism are suffering Gallic levels of unemployment. How can that be?

Granted, some of the key causes of this recession were unique to the United States, but Williamson suggests that there's something more at play:

There will be no new firms without new investment, and that's the fundamental problem. Investors are terrified. The big guns are worried about the tax hikes that will be necessary should Obamacare pass, about new regulatory burdens like cap-and-trade, and, most of all, about the apparently boundless jurisdiction of Washington meddlers who have arrogated unto themselves the authority to micromanage every nut and bolt of the economy, from the design of cars to the size of Wall Street traders' paychecks. Individual investors are feeling the continued pinch of the recession and, rather than pouring money into their 401(k)s, are paying down consumer debts and thinking about rainy days. ...

One surprising finding: It's not the size and expense of government alone that has sent the United States downward in the economic-freedom rankings--it's corruption. "We're not talking here about outright bribery or petty corruption," Miller says. "It's the perception that the United States has a political system that is about rent-seeking and dispensing favors. Canada and Australia have different electoral processes, and very disciplined party structures, so they have less of that. It may not be illegal, but this kind of political bribery, with people buying access and Washington picking winners and losers, creates a perception about the U.S. that shows up in these corruption scores."

The supposed experts keep predicting that things will return to normal in X number of months, but a great number of us laypeople fear that President Obama really did accomplish change... just not a change that voters would have wished on themselves. In the context of the War on Terror, Mark Steyn recently called the election of Barack Obama "a fundamentally unserious act by the U.S. electorate." The description applies in the area of the economy, as well.

Big government is a burden on investment and economic growth, but if its rules are predictable and the burden calculable, it's just an accepted moderation of profits absent a better opportunity. For decades, centuries, the United States has offered that better opportunity, but we've been busy, recently, illustrating to the world that our form of democracy can be taken over by redistributionists and thieves. That's an image that will take more than a couple of elections to shed. If we shed it.

Doughnut Capital of the World!!

Marc Comtois

Hey, we're number 1!!!!

A recent study by the market-research firm NPD Group Inc. found that the Providence metropolitan area has more doughnut shops per capita than any other region in the Untied States.

NPD said the Providence-Fall River-New Bedford area has 25.3 doughnut shops per 100,000 people. The Boston area ranked second, with 20.4 shops per 100,000 people.

The news should come as no surprise for diehard doughnut lovers, who may remember when NPD delivered the same news five years ago. But the new survey, conducted last fall, confirmed that Rhode Island is a mecca for those bundles of dough – or perhaps the coffee that goes with them.

The top 10 list confirmed the doughnut’s central place in Northeastern cuisine.

After Providence and Boston came the Hartford-New Haven area (16.7 doughnut shops per 100,000 people); Portland, Maine (14); Springfield, Mass. (12.9); Buffalo, N.Y. (10.8); Presque, Maine (10.8); Bangor, Maine (10.5); Albany, N.Y. (9.9); and Rochester, N.Y. (9.8). NPD compiled the list at the request of Providence Business News.

News of the updated list comes as Honey Dew Donuts Inc. prepares to expand its operations in New England. In Rhode Island, the company competes for coffee dollars with other players such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Tim Hortons Inc., Starbucks Corp. and McDonald’s Corp.

Is it the doughnuts or the coffee?

On Activism & Chafee

Justin Katz

On last night's Matt Allen Show, Matt and I discussed his interview with gubernatorial candidate Linc Chafee and the great need for good-government types to pay minute attention to our government, this year. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

By the way, Matt's interview with Chafee is up here.

January 13, 2010

No Comparison of Need

Justin Katz

I couldn't but scale back my pitch during my call to Matt Allen, knowing that he'd subsequently be speaking with a representative of the Red Cross concerning the dire need for money to help the people of Haiti. Simply put, there's no comparison to be found in everyday life to this sort of catastrophe:

Haitians piled bodies along the devastated streets of their capital Wednesday after a powerful earthquake flattened the president's palace, the cathedral, hospitals, schools, the main prison and whole neighborhoods. Officials feared hundreds of thousands may have perished but there was no firm count.

Prayers and assistance the world over should turn toward that small island.

Chafee's Self-Illustration on Matt Allen

Justin Katz

Gubernatorial candidate Linc Chafee is on Matt Allen's show until 7:00 tonight (after which I'll be calling in for our weekly appearance), and it's comforting to know that everything you suspect about him is accurate.

Right at the beginning, Mr. Chafee emphasized cooperating with the General Assembly as something of primary importance and shortly thereafter insisted that, if he had his way, his new sales tax would be temporary. How perfect an illustration of Chafee's inability to address the world as it exists. Subsequently, Matt asked Chafee whether he can understand the plight of the average resident, and his answer was that, of course he could... he often had to raise property taxes on them when he sat on the Warwick city council.

Tune in.


Matt just asked about whether the unions will have to give more concessions. Seeming to ignore the public/private sector distinction, Chafee said — unbelievably — "Everybody's in the same boat, here."

Guard the Local Control in Education Reform

Justin Katz

I notice that Mike, of Assigned Reading, is cynical about the ratcheting up of consequences for failing schools that Andrew mentioned yesterday. Here's Mike:

This is why education bureaucrats drive me crazy. Today Commissioner Deborah Gist announced that five schools in Providence have been performing so poorly for so long that the Department of Education is stepping in. Radical change is being mandated that could result in the closing of these schools. And how does Superintendent Tom Brady respond? ... My best translation: We have utterly failed, but offer no apology, and are pleased that someone else will now be making the decisions.

Mike goes on to wonder why, if there's such enthusiasm among education leaders who face the new reforms, the schools have been allowed to deteriorate so drastically. Andrew emphasizes an arguably contrary perspective:

Significantly, unlike the usual RI options, these new options involve making changes directly at the individual school level. The message is that schools, as a fundamental unit of education, matter.

One could cast the statements to which Mike objects as precisely what one would expect from bureaucrats; they can't exactly proclaim the untranslated message. Still the subtext of the interactions — the projected submissiveness of highly paid professionals with substantial responsibility — is important. That's why I find this news vaguely disconcerting:

PAWTUCKET — The quest for a new school superintendent is getting more attention than usual.

The search committee that convenes Tuesday will include the usual School Committee representatives as members, but also Mayor James E. Doyle and Deborah A. Gist, the state commissioner of education.

It may be that I'm making too much of it, but it seems to me that the inclusion of Commissioner Gist on such a committee is a signal of obsequiousness. Perhaps she'll favor a district whose leadership she helped select, but it would be in the nature of a powerful person to expect the controlling influence to continue beyond the date of hire.

Is anybody in Rhode Island educational sufficiently motivated and confident to enunciate an understanding of the real problems of the system and declare an intention to address them without the intervention of a state-level appointed official? Commissioner Gist may do wonderful things for education in Rhode Island, but (one) she won't hold the seat forever, and (two) when it becomes clear that policy decisions rest not with local elected officials accountable to the people of the municipality, but to an unelected director, the strategies of the people behind the current mess will change, with the prize being more-direct and less-correctable control.

Without Grounding, There Is Only Personal Preference

Justin Katz

Another founding father of modern progressivism described in the series of National Review essays that I mentioned yesterday is Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose repercussions in modern jurisprudence Bradley Watson describes thus:

There is a residual incoherence to the progressive jurisprudence that has followed Holmes. It alternates between two poles. On one hand, it expresses the desire to make decisions that are legitimate in the eyes of the community--decisions that respond to something like, in Holmes's words, the "felt necessities" of the age. On the other, it encourages decisions that oppose what it claims is illegitimate majority will. But neither pole is rooted in constitutional text, tradition, logic, or structure. Rather, they are both rooted in the judge's view of which necessities are most deeply felt and most likely to encourage social and personal growth. The practical result, in contemporary jurisprudence, is that art trumps economics, expression trumps the common good, subjectivity trumps morality, freedom trumps natural law, and will trumps deliberation. Such is the face of progressive jurisprudence, a face that now seems tremendously weather-beaten from its triumphal march of a hundred years' duration.

In sum, the preferences of an elite statist class, as inculcated in a given judge, trump everything. It's outcome first, reasoning post hoc, and there's no way to oppose it in common terms among countrymen, because the arguments aren't, as Watson says, rooted in anything. That is to say that the argument itself is a mere performance in support of a peremptory opinion.

Massachusetts Senatorial Race: The Taliban May or May not Still Be in Afghanistan

Monique Chartier

... according to the Democrat candidate, but they clearly have a presence on her campaign.

On a slightly more serious note, is the mood in Coakley's campaign so pessimistic that they feel they must resort to stonewalling very reasonable questions and physical intimidation?

Let Them Throw Coins in the Water

Justin Katz

Mike, of Assigned Reading, laments that union old-liners and their allies have taken the opportunity of hard times to smash positive education reforms:

Hope High School in Providence has been a beacon in Rhode Island school reform. It was undoubtedly the worst school in the state just five or six years ago. But with RIDE intervention, Hope has turned around. No one can deny the dramatic gains made by the students and teachers at Hope.

The city, however, according to the Journal, is seeking to significantly alter the academic model that was instrumental in Hope's success. Bureaucrats want to curb the autonomy granted to the school, and eliminate the block schedule that has brought teachers together and established a much needed school community. School leaders want continuity among schools, and claim they cannot afford the additional costs of the Hope model.

That last point, additional costs, rears its head in Mike's subsequent post:

Today, the Providence Journal reports the city has allocated $112,000 to restore the Henry Bowen Anthony Fountain. This fountain is located at the head of Blackstone Boulevard in the affluent East Side neighborhood, with the extravagant homes of some of Providence's wealthiest residents.

The same turn of events prompted the following reader email:

This just reminds me of the terrible things I used to hear about the Soviet territories in grade school, where the local political leaders would put themselves into lavish properties while presiding over hunger and poverty, all in the name of 'serving the workers'. Here is the most upper-class, liberal, educated neighborhood in Providence, a city full of crumbling infrastructure, awarding itself a monument (in the name of 'better neighborhoods' and 'fiscal stimulus'). The irony of the fountain being shut down thirty years ago to help close a budget hole does not escape me. The park's main recurring event is the new uber-expensive upper-class farmer's market, which I suppose will now be accompanied by the delightful sound of the entirety of two dozen households' tax dollars percolating through polished marble.

The takeaway for those of a reformist bent is that the governing power base in the city and state has no concern that Rhode Islanders can muster the will to turn them out. Perhaps we can rebrand the fountain as a "citizen request kiosk." Tying wishes to coins is as apt to turn the state around as following the due processes of local government.

ProJo Ideology Identified: Healthcarism

Marc Comtois

With the ProJo editorial board's endorsement of Martha Coakley for Senate, it's become more apparent than ever that the ProJo editorial board has become a single-issue shill for health care reform at all costs.

Most important to us is that she is the candidate most likely to carry on the work of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy in health-care reform.
This really isn't a surprise. In October, after the death of the late Senator Kennedy, the editorial board gnashed their teeth over the "contortions" that Massachusetts Democrats went through to enable Governor Duval Patrick to select a seat-warmer, but legitimized it to themselves:
Mr. Kirk’s immediate duty will be to ensure that the Democrats keep 60 votes in the Senate so they can push through major legislation, especially on health care. That is why Massachusetts’s Democratic leadership went through contortions to change the law to get their man in there. We’d be happy to see health reform pass with his help, of course.
Yeah, it kinda stunk, you see, but the ends justify the means. Just so.

Over the past few months, we've witnessed them twist and turn with every permutation of the various, nebulous health care reform bills that weaved through Congress. First, while they didn't necessarily like the Baucus bill (preferring a single-payer system), they urged Democrats to be ready to go it alone because "[t]he stakes are too high to let political wrangling stop Congress from addressing the many flaws of our chaotic health-care 'system.'” In October, they did accurately portray the opponents of this nebulous version of health care reform at one time:

One is the principled conservative, or at least libertarian, view that the less government role in health care the better. Another is just old-fashioned bribery, in which some legislators take care of health-insurance and pharmaceutical companies, which pay vast campaign contributions and thrive from the current arrangements. And another is the worry among Republicans that the Democrats might get long-term credit for health-care reform, as with Social Security and Medicare –– two other very popular “socialistic” plots opposed by much of the GOP when they were started....

Of course as often is the case in the sausage-making of legislation, the public’s memory of the hypocrisies involved is dim — for instance, that while many Republicans now in Congress voted for President Bush’s $1 trillion Medicare drug plan (which had no stated way of paying for itself and was a grandiose gift to the drug companies), they now oppose plans that would offer close to universal health coverage to non-elderly Americans –– including kids and poor working adults, of all people.

Yet, setting aside the disingenuous implication that the opponents breakdown equally into these three groups, the ProJo's subsequent editorials have focused on the two worst factions--the hypocritical Republicans who previously supported the Bush-era Medicare hike (which many, many conservatives opposed) and the insurance company water-carriers. The arguments that principled conservatives have made for alternative plans remain unaddressed. Instead, the ProJo editors lump good-faith opposition together with the so-called hypocrites and bribe-takers. For example, they complained that "the public option was forced out of the legislation by Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman, an 'independent' who is quite dependent on insurance-industry contributions." Big insurance bad. Big government good!

Now, even as their dreams have come true and a purely partisan bill has passed the Senate and moved into conference (or whatever the House and Senate Dems are doing behind closed doors), the ProJo editors are trying to have their cake and eat it too. They've argued for the passage of anything, explaining that "the warts can be removed later" and, as an example, recently urged the Democrats to remove the special deal cut by Nebraska Senator Bill Nelson that would exempt his state from any health reform related tax hikes. Fine and dandy. Now we await the editorials on the numerous other deals cut by Senators and other interest groups that enabled the passage of this health care "reform" that the ProJo editorial board has pushed at all costs. Right.

For now, they seem content to blame the majority of the public that opposes this mess for our "vast willful...ignorance of what’s actually in the House and Senate health-care bills." Silly us. And here we thought we were opposing a pastiche of bloated government power-grabbing and special deals masquerading as health care reform. I, for one, am all for reform. But this ain't it and calling it such doesn't make it so, no matter what the ProJo editors want us to believe.

ADDENDUM: It's being reported (h/t) that the leaders of organized labor have twisted enough arms to get an exemption for "collectively bargained health care plans" that would otherwise be considered "cadillac plans" and thus subject to taxation that would help pay for the current health care reform proposal. I wonder if the Providence Journal will draft an editorial against this "wart", too? It seems like creating a billion dollar program that everyone supposedly wants requires an awful lot of sausage making.

Electing Somebody Other than Ted Kennedy

Justin Katz

Jeff Jacoby takes the unique tack of emphasizing policy differences between the candidates in Massachusetts's special election:

Coakley supports ObamaCare, opposes the war in Afghanistan, and favors higher taxes on the wealthy. Brown is against the health care legislation, backs the president's surge in Afghanistan, and wants across-the-board tax cuts a la JFK. Coakley is an EMILY's List prochoice hard-liner; Brown condemns partial-birth abortion and is backed by Massachusetts Citizens for Life. Coakley has no problem with civilian trials for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Brown thinks it reckless to treat enemy combatants like ordinary defendants.

Most commentary has been related to Republican Scott Brown's affirmation that, you know, the senate seat is allocated to the people of the state, not to a political dynasty. Me, I find it interesting that Rhode Island Democrat Party Chairman Bill Lynch apparently can't think of a reason to support Martha Coakley more enthusiastically than one would support a brainless blob with a "D" after its name:

The eyes of the nation are on Massachusetts.

In one week, Bay Staters will go to the polls to elect a new United States Senator to replace Ted Kennedy.

I knew Sen. Kennedy well, and was proud to call him a friend. Over the years I watched him fight to improve the lives of countless Americans and do everything he could to make Massachusetts a better place to live, work and raise a family.

By now you've probably heard that the race between Attorney General Martha Coakley and and her Tea Party-backed GOP opponent has tightened, as special interest groups are flooding the air with gutless attack ads. They're trying to stop the change that you and I fought for last year, and they're getting pretty desperate.

Sen. Kennedy was a true friend to Rhode Island, which is why I'm asking you to help elect a candidate who will honor his legacy and pick up the fight where he left off. I'm asking you to get involved today and help Martha Coakley.

We're looking for energized volunteers from Rhode Island and southeastern New England to make phone calls, knock on doors and get every Democrat to the polls on Election Day.

There's too much at stake next Tuesday to sit this one out, so please, do whatever you can and help send Martha to the Senate!

Message to Democrat voters from Democrat operatives: Keep your betters in office; we'll select the heirs.

January 12, 2010

Budget Season Begins

Justin Katz

Tonight's the first meeting at which the Tiverton School Committee will address next year's budget. The upshot is that Superintendent Bill Rearick is offering, as an initial budget, an increase at the state cap (4.5%). Of course, he included in last year's budget "surprise" federal "stimulus" cash, so this budget is actually 7.13% above the allocated amount at last year's FTM.

ADDENDUM (from home):

My coverage of tonight's meeting wasn't exactly comprehensive, because I was following the conversation with especial intentness and offering comments from time to time. A few points:

  • I was incorrect about the reason, but correct about the result, when it comes to budget discrepancies. The "stimulus" money wasn't included in the number for last year's budget, but it shows up as a deficit in the coming budget, meaning that current projected spending exceeds the amount laid out in the budget by $892,268.
  • Superintendent Rearick mentioned several times that the taxpayers' attempted level funding (thwarted by the federal gift) was to blame for the large shortfall, but it fell to me to point out that the district could have planned for that when it discovered itself flush with revenue.
  • Owing to pension changes, the district currently has something like $235,000 lying around, but since midyear cuts in aide from the state are on the table, the committee and administration are inclined to leave that completely out of the picture, for now.
  • The teachers' union, which is currently without a negotiated contract, is concentrating on "ground rules" and such rather than taking up actual dollar amounts and negotiations.
  • The currently proposed budget assumes no changes to healthcare-copays and zeroes out salary increases, excepting steps and an AFSCME raise scheduled at 2%.
  • There does not appear to be much support from the folks on the state (metaphorically speaking) to impose labor policies unilaterally.
  • Rearick was not shy about speaking the phrase "program cuts."
  • I estimated that a 3.5-4% across-the-board cut in combined salaries and benefits would entirely erase the deficit, and nobody contradicted my math.
  • Tiverton Citizens for Change President Dave Nelson was not happy.

So basically, we're looking at a district administration that's pushing for the maximum tax increase that it can secure, a school committee that isn't ready to commit to anything, a union that wants to delay, delay, and delay until the economy improves, as I predicted they would do back when the school committee made the ill-advised give-away that the last contract represented, and the TCC is not going to simply watch this budget float away.

Funny That Progressive Thought Hasn't Made Any Progress

Justin Katz

The current print edition of National Review includes a collection of pieces on turn-of-the-last-century founders of modern liberalism that are valuable not the least in the degree to which they shed light on current strains of thought on the Left (strains that seem not to have progressed very much, in the last hundred years). Although it does not appear to be in free online form, yet, subscribers can read Jonah Goldberg's article on economist Richard Ely here. Of particular note is the imagery that Ely offers with respect to a leftist understanding of how society should function:

"The nation in its economic life is an organism," he wrote, "in which individuals, families, and groups . . . form parts." Hence competition and self-interest are generally bad things, working against the tide of progress. After all, organs in the human body do not compete against one another, so why should organs of the body politic? History, like evolution itself, was moving toward greater social cooperation. And it fell to experts to decide how to advance that process. "A new world was coming into existence, and if this world was to be a better world we knew that we must have a new economics to go along with it." Not only did this vision provide a perfect rationale for empowering social planners, it necessarily consigned the rights and liberty of the individual to being an afterthought — hence Ely's advocacy of what he called "coercive philanthropy." If experts can glean which way social betterment lies, who is the individual to object? The job of the economist is not to consider discrete questions about how to, say, maximize productivity or measure discretionary income. It is to fix society in all its relations, right down to each individual. The goal of the economist, Ely believed, was to hasten "the most perfect development of all human faculties in each individual." Whether the individual wanted that development was irrelevant.

The equation of society with an organism ought to be more disturbing than it appears at first glance. For one thing, the statement that organs cooperate, rather than compete, is arguable. Each organ will attempt to draw to itself what it needs and absorb that sustenance until it is sated. The difference, from human beings, is that organs aren't exactly mobile within the body; they must await the allocations of more dominant parts of the body. Which brings us to the second thing — namely, that organs exist within a hierarchy. On a cold day, your body will draw heat, as necessary, from your feet in order to supply your torso and your head. (I recall an article from my youth titled "To Keep Your Hands Warm, Wear a Hat," or something similar.)

Think of the disruption to the body if the pinkie toe could move and took up the notion that it could be a heart or a brain. Thus do progressive planners think of society. Sure, they'll take care of each and every appendage, but every citizen must know his or her place, and not surprisingly, the planners themselves are confident that they belong in the skull, with its warm comfort, thick walls, and incomparable view.

And Then There Were Four - Robitaille in for the GOP

Marc Comtois

John Robitaille has made it official, from the ProJo:

John Robitaille, has made it official: he is running for governor on the Republican ticket....He touted his experience as one of Carcieri's senior advisers, saying: "It has been an extreme honor to have served Governor Carcieri over the past two years. The experience I have gained in the executive branch of state government will be invaluable to me as I move forward with the campaign.''

Robitaille is a native Rhode Islander and a Providence College graduate. Upon graduation from PC, Robitaille was commissioned a second lieutenant and served on active duty in the U.S. Army for more than five years. While on active duty, Robitaille served with the First Armored Division in Germany and then with Headquarters Special Forces Command at Fort Bragg, according to his resume.

He has 10 years of employee and labor relations experience as well as more than 20 years experience in marketing and communications.

Robitaille will be on the Dan Yorke show at 5 PM to talk about his candidacy. Hopefully it goes better for him than it did for Rory Smith...

Making America Just Another (Subordinate) Country

Justin Katz

Amid political battles locally and race scandals nationally, let's not lose sight of the newly immune global-government police force operating within the United States. A recent column by Andrew McCarthy is must-reading on the topic, as he explains why the Obama administration is disinclined to explain why the president would quietly remove protections of the American people against the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol):

Here's how the game works. International-law professors, jurists, and bureaucrats announce some piety that they think everyone should follow (e.g., the death penalty is an unconscionable human-rights violation). Once enough of them have followed it for long enough (in recent years, "long enough" seems to have become "ten minutes" . . . or the time it takes to announce these new international standards), the piety is deemed — at least by transnationalists — to be universally binding. In their view, it thus becomes the obligation of every nation to fall into line, changing their laws to whatever extent is necessary to do so. That is, the sensibilities of the "international community" (i.e., the elites of the global Left) void the democratic self-determinism of the American people. ...

This is surely another reckless gesture designed to eviscerate America's special status and self-determinism — to make us just one of 192 other countries, no better, no different, no superpower. The president knows that Americans don't share his view of America, which is a big reason behind his tumbling approval ratings. Saying out loud that we need to immunize Interpol — to put it above the U.S. Constitution — in order to be more like Kenya, Thailand, Zimbabwe, etc., would not go over well. That would bode ill for the administration's agenda to subjugate the U.S. to such transnationalist schemes as the Law of the Sea Treaty and the International Criminal Court. Better to say nothing.

If You Don't See It, You Don't Feel It

Marc Comtois

For those who remember when health insurance used to be only "hospital insurance" or "catastrophic", this chart shouldn't be a surprise.

Veronique de Rugy puts it in context:

Much of the rationale behind the current reform of the healthcare system is about controlling inflation in healthcare costs. However, based on the trend presented above, a better alternative to the semi-nationalization that the president has in mind would be to increase individual responsibility for medical decisions and costs. When people aren’t exposed to the true cost of their care—even if they pay for it in foregone wages and higher taxes—they consume more.

Will Angry Voters Merely Want a Change of Party, or Will They Want a Change of Philosophy?

Justin Katz

As today's entry into the Republican wars, I offer a quotation from Carcieri communications adviser and apparent gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille, from Ed Fitzpatrick's Sunday profile thereof:

... he said he opposes closing the GOP primary "because I think this year is going to be a year for us to build the party. Why should we close the door on people who have traditionally voted in Republican primaries and have traditionally voted for Republicans?" Many unaffiliated voters believe in conservative principles, he said, and this year offers a big opportunity to "reaffirm the original brand of what it means to be a Republican" and to recruit people to both vote in the primary and join the GOP.

It seems to me that the way to "reaffirm" the brand and bring in folks who've "traditionally voted in Republican primaries" is to use rightward voter angst as the motivation and a closed primary as the mechanism to finally commit them to registering. Moreover, if Republicans wish to benefit from the backlash against the Democrats' doing what anybody willing to see predicted they would do, it will be critical that the GOP offers a real distinction.

By election day, I suspect the enthusiastic support that Patrick Lynch and Linc Chafee offered to candidate Barack Obama will be a political liability. A Republican candidate should be able to explain why that's only one of the many important distinctions between his beliefs and theirs, and the fact that he emerged from a Republican-only primary would be a sign of that difference.

A Real Reform Menu for Education?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Traditionally, Rhode Islanders have been offered a choice of two options for improving their troubled educational system…

  1. Spend more money on district-level bureaucracies, with minimal change to existing school practices.
  2. Spend more money on non-educational social service programs.
According to Jennifer D. Jordan of the Projo, however, in the case of six currently underperforming Rhode Island schools, while the spend-more-money piece is still in play, state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist is putting forth four new options to replace the above two...
  • “School closure and sending students to other schools“.
  • “A turnaround model which replaces the principal and retains 50 percent or fewer of existing teachers and staff.”
  • “A restart model which invites in a regional collaborative or a charter management organization to take over the school”
  • “A transformation model which replaces the principal, evaluates all teachers, revamps classes and offers ‘expanded learning time’ including longer school days or weekend classes.”
Significantly, unlike the usual RI options, these new options involve making changes directly at the individual school level. The message is that schools, as a fundamental unit of education, matter. Expect wailing and gnashing of teeth to commence soon.

The Great Obaman Recession

Justin Katz

Charles Gasparino explains the mechanics of our jobless economic recovery:

The issue is strikingly similar to what the banks face. As we're all aware, the banks are making big money and waiting to pay out bonuses in the coming days. But the cash isn't coming from lending the money out. Instead, the banks are cutting costs, hoarding cash and investing some of it in low-risk bonds.

Businesses are doing the same even if the economy "grows" according to official statistics. Why risk expanding operations and hiring workers amid a wild boom in government that will lead to massive tax hikes when you can make money simply by doing nothing or laying people off?

All of which translates into a jobless recovery -- the economy appearing to grow while unemployment remains unnaturally high -- unless of course, you work in government.

To be fair to the President, he's not accomplishing suppression of the national economy on his own; the Democrats in Congress are playing a large role, too. There's therefore at least some room for hope that a Republican resurgence in the legislature will be a sufficient signal that the era of hopenchange is over. Or perhaps not; the economic paranoia surely derives, in part, from the memory that the Republicans had drifted far from their Reaganite roots over the past decade, leaving no hope of a solid turnaround.

Of course, whatever the case, Rhode Island exacerbates the problem. All the gimmicks, as I've been calling them, are meaningless without large structural change, including an overhaul of elected officials. Businesses needn't even be all that perceptive to fear that the "targeted incentives" that the local Democrats have increasingly been citing as their economic plan are merely a lure into a trap. The people running our state government want businesses here so that they can take their money and transfer it to friends, unions, and government-dependents, not so that their state can return to economic health and opportunity.

January 11, 2010

Legal Basis for the Teachers' Health Care Board: Solid as Fissured Bedrock

Monique Chartier

Under Marc's post, Roland observes

anyone in office will and can make mistakes but it's important to catch them before they're carved in stone such as [Rep John] Loughlin catching himself

Indeed. This is an approach that needs to be extended to the newly legislated teachers' health insurance board.

Every legislator who voted to override the veto of the bill to consolidate teacher health care coverage into the hands of organized labor - oh, sorry, into the hands of a twelve person panel consisting of ten people who will directly benefit from a maintenance of or increase in benefits - needs to catch their mistake and remove this new law from the books.

Assembly members should do this for their own sake as much as taxpayers' as this law has at least two fatal flaws. The first is the matter of constitutionality; try though he might, Andrew was unable to find a home for the board in the Rhode Island constitution. The second is that it violates the laws that clearly delegate school budgets and teacher contracts to local school committees and the amount of school funding to city and town councils. ... wait, make that three flaws: those who mandate these benefits will directly benefit from them. (Act now before the list gets even longer!)

These flaws are so blatant that even our most labor-sympathetic judges will see them.

Accordingly, when this law is struck off the books by various courts, any legislator who voted to override the veto of this bill will look foolish and incompetent. Better to get ahead of the curve and correct the error before it is carved in constitutionally-faulty stone.

It's Our Habits, Not Our Healthcare

Justin Katz

Redington Jahncke explains why "skepticism turned out to be the correct impulse in the case of the WHO rankings" of nations' healthcare systems, as well as in the case of a Commonwealth Fund study of the "health of nations." It's his conclusion, though, that points toward a new question about Obamacare:

Indeed, lifestyle and behavioral factors, including unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, smoking, etc., are the prime causes of America's number one killer — heart disease. And the reversal of these factors is as important in preventing death from heart disease as any medical treatment. A doctor cannot "administer" lifestyle changes and behavior modification the way he can administer drugs.

Let's put aside, if we can, the probability that the Democrats' healthcare plan, whatever it ultimately turns out to be, will drive costs up even more while decreasing the effectiveness of the healthcare system overall. If we concede that lifestyle and behavior are critical contributors to health — and how can we not concede it? — then what sort of system would be more likely to encourage healthy behavior: A system that requires financially painful, but not physically fatal, treatments and procedures, or one that hides their costs in a combination of employer withholdings and welfare?

A more frightening question: How will the government seek to make you live more healthily when it turns its giant eye toward that problem?

How the Economy Interacts with the Poor

Justin Katz

As economic units is perhaps the last way in which clergy should consider human beings, but it's worth their while, on prudential matters, to take into account the ways in which economic principles affect charitable intentions. Unfortunately, in the quotation that Ed Fitzpatrick recently utilized, I fear Roman Catholic priest John Kiley has the mechanism reversed:

"When many of our fellow citizens are constrained by unemployment and illiteracy, and even by hunger and disease, the whole society suffers," said the Rev. John Kiley, ecumenical officer of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence. "Because of poverty, civilization's greatest resource, the human person, is prevented from sharing his intelligence, his gifts and his uniqueness with the world at large. Thus, mankind's social capital is depleted. Poverty makes poorer persons of us all. The elimination of poverty in Rhode Island over the next 10 years will improve the living standards of all citizens. Elevating the poor will actually enrich the prosperous."

An accurate assessment would find an organic give and take, but if the dominance tilts in one direction or the other, I'd say that it's more true that improving the economy will elevate the poor than the other way around. Prosperous people who increase their charitable giving — and, more generally, behavior — during hard times will certain reap rewards in many ways, but if the suggestion is for society to reallocate funds from the wealthy to the poor by means of government coercion, the economy will slip even farther, and the most vulnerable will wind up being harmed more profoundly and with an increasing number of fellows.

Dependency and the dilution of natural motivators for self improvement can also prevent the human person from growing and sharing. Nothing depletes social capital and human potential more surely than a government with its fingers in everybody's pockets, whether it's taking or giving.

Bait & Switch? Shovel Ready Stimulus Dollars Not Evident in "Shovel" Related Employment Figures

Monique Chartier

Rush pointed out today that while the hype was about stimulus dollars going to shovel ready jobs, much of the money went instead to budget deficits of states and municipalities, as evidenced in part by an unemployment rate in the construction industry of 22.7%.

Never to be outdone in Rhode Island, we went them one better: we used the money to plug some budget holes AND we jacked overall spending by 12%, very little of which went to "shovel" projects.

There would be little justification, stimulus or fiscal, for most of the stimulus spending anyway. That it was advertised as targeted to one thing and ended up elsewhere adds an unnecessary level of dishonesty and mistrust.

Sweeney's Plan to Perpetuate Government's Centrality

Justin Katz

In a commentary piece in Providence Business News, Bryant Economics Professor William Sweeney insists that it's crucial that the Rhode Island government borrow a quarter-billion dollars for targeted investments in small businesses (there's that slippery "targeted" word again):

To recover from the Great Recession and to expand in the future, [the small-business] sector, while resilient, will require state help.

My proposal for an economic-development plan is designed to place its greatest effort on encouraging local small businesses to expand here. But it should also attempt to lure fledgling, out-of-state companies to locate in Rhode Island. To be effective, such a dual-edged, aggressive, economic-renewal program is likely to cost at least $250 million, based on the number of potential beneficiaries. ...

Rhode Island can make an economic metamorphosis, if it puts together an aggressive economic-development program, one that would establish a strong connection with young, fledgling firms captained by entrepreneurs.

In addition, this plan must nurture old-line growth companies as well. These two economic driving forces are always searching for a lower-cost location in which to operate. Rhode Island can exploit this golden opportunity with generous tax breaks and financial assistance to small businesses that have plans to expand in the Ocean State. The net result should be an updraft in the creation of new jobs.

Must we continue banging our head against this wall? Like many others, Sweeney ignores the essential problem that Rhode Island faces (a practice that's beginning to look deliberate in certain instances). Our local aristocracy lacks the intelligence and objectivity to pick winners. Where they're not ideologically blinded, they're bound by personal loyalties and a cliquish mentality. We cannot, therefore, trust them to direct the state's economy with further money for ideas that they, personally, like and people with whom they, personally, can do business.

Furthermore, government-initiated investments will always bear the risk that politics will wash them aside, perhaps just when businesses most need them. All of the gimmicky solutions to the state's problems have the taint of the temporary, and our leadership has neither long-term vision or patience.

In short: slash taxes, erase mandates, and lighten regulations. Let the productive make the decisions with their own investments of time and money. Send the signal that Rhode Island is open for business, not for reciprocity. That is the only way forward, and the governing class must be almost completely overturned and the advisory class ignored en route.

Will Ricci: Re: Closing the Primary

Engaged Citizen

To respond to RIGOP Chairman Gio Cicione's commentary about closing the Republican primary in this election cycle:

The Executive Committee meeting was held, and with little or no debate on the merits of a closed primary, a 26 to 10 vote was cast to recommend holding a special meeting on January 19th.
This is technically true. However, it's completely out of context. The purpose of the RIGOP executive committee meeting and vote on January 5th was "whether or not" to hold a special meeting on January 19th for the "purpose of discussion of the merits of a proposed bylaws change." The proposed change, which was presented in writing to the executive committee, was to "close the primary to registered Republican voters." The executive committee voted 26-10 to have a timely discussion on the 19th. The whole idea was to get the subject out of the way as quickly as possible! In addition, a motion (following the 26-10 vote) was made by Representative Joe Trillo to have discussion (at the executive committee meeting) on the merits of closing the primary. It was quashed by Gio based on an objection by Mayor Scott Avedisian (which Gio sustained), with the explanation that the possibility of a non-binding vote on it was not already on the meeting agenda.
It is my understanding that more than a week before I had even made my decision, they had already discussed how to force my resignation and had circulated a no-confidence petition that was signed by approximately eleven committee members.
False. The "no confidence" petition was initially signed by 32 committee members, virtually ALL of whom are party chairs or representatives of their local GOP committee. "11" was the number of members of the Executive Committee who signed a petition to force a meeting of the Executive Committee (only 5 were needed). There were multiple votes, based on the idea that "if Gio does not do this, then this is how we should react." The idea was to offer him tasty carrots, but have a stick available if absolutely necessary. More importantly, no one other than Gio himself publicized in the media that several votes of that sort had been held over the course of several weeks, each time followed by in person consultations with Gio by a delegation of GOP city committee chairs. The votes had been "secret," in the hopes of not causing unnecessary embarrassment to Gio, unless all alternatives had been exhausted.
Please keep in mind that this is a debate about scheduling one meeting two weeks prior to another. It is not a debate about whether the Committee gets a say in closing the primary. It does. It is not a question of democracy versus dictatorship.
Hardly. When exactly would the committee "get a say" in closing the 2010 primary, if it isn't being allowed to have timely meetings to first hold a discussion and to then possibly later vote on the proposal before the deadline by which it must be submitted to the state? The logic is something like letting people choose a candidate in an election that was held the previous day! Unless there is a chance — no matter how remote — that potential passage of a bylaws change might actually result in implementation of the proposal, then it is not a good faith effort. Not that it matters a whole lot, but the time interval between January 19th and February 9th is exactly 3 weeks, not 2 as stated several times in Gio's letter.
So something has changed — I will not deny that. Unfortunately what has changed is that a small group of party officials have put a higher priority on jabbing at me than on winning 120 state and federal level and hundreds of more local elections this year.
A small group? Since when did virtually all of the RIGOP party officials, including both of your vice-chairs and both party representatives to the RNC, and virtually all of the GOP town committee chairs throughout the state suddenly become a "small group of party officials"? I recognize a lame attempt to minimize when I see one. Most importantly, none of this is about Gio! Most of us rather like Gio and working with him. We simply assumed he would be reasonable. This is about majority rule. Period.
It is worth noting that the person asking me whether I would do so was David Cote, a former committee member who has not been active in the party for well over a year.
Has it occurred to Gio to ask Dave, the past chair of the largest GOP committee in the state, why that is?
A few days later David [Cote] circulated an email expressing his anger with my decision and calling on me to resign.

As one of the recipients of the original email from Dave Cote, I'll quote from it in context:

Further, as the RIGOP Chairman, what precedent are you setting to dismiss Democracy within the State Republican Party? As a loyal Rhode Island Republican, I urge you to gracefully step aside if you cannot honor clear directives from your / our own RIGOP Executive Committee that was elected to represent our RIGOP Members.

Does that sound particularly angry? The gently worded "if/then" statement by Dave was conditional.

I therefore find it most unfortunate that this debate has devolved into public insults.

Only one person in this whole debate has used "insults" in public and in the media. Look in a mirror.

One would hope that such a fight — a fair fight held in a manner consistent with our bylaws and among people with a common purpose — could be put behind us.

How can a fight be considered "fair" when only one person gets to decide the winner of the fight? None of this is over by a long shot; it's just beginning. At every turn, I and many others have sought to deescalate this and to come to a satisfactory and fair result for everyone. Even as this is being read, there are still people working behind the scenes to come to a swift, but fair conclusion. Instead, we've only been met with insults and pathetic attempts to minimize, as well as negatively characterize our actions.

If some individuals think we lack unity today, then perhaps they should ask themselves what has changed.

I believe we have a tremendous sense of unity; we're possibly the most unified we've been on anything. However, it's "unity" against Gio's attempt to enforce his will over that of the majority of the committee.

What hasn't changed is my approach to leading the RIGOP.

I think we ALL agree on that! Gio is right about one thing: There is nothing in the RIGOP bylaws that directly allows for his removal. Fortunately for us, there's also nothing in them which allows for ours. We are not going away!

Will Ricci is a member of the RIGOP Executive Committee (appointed by Gio).

Laffey Still Not Running

Marc Comtois

Those convinced that the motivation for closing the RI GOP primary begins and ends with former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey's possible bid for governor have lost a talking point:

Former Republican Cranston Mayor Stephen P. Laffey has opted against running for governor this year, despite a "Draft Laffey'' campaign by a conservative bloc within the state GOP to try to change his previously announced decision to sit out the 2010 elections.

Laffey told disappointed supporters over the weekend he was not running, and reaffirmed that in a statement issued early Monday morning that said:

"There has been quite a bit of speculation over the past several weeks as to whether I would enter the 2010 gubernatorial race in Rhode Island. This statement will put to rest any further speculation regarding my entry into the race... I am not a candidate for governor of Rhode Island and I have not changed my position.''

He continued: "To date I have not seen sufficient evidence to convince me that the majority of Rhode Islanders are in favor of the kind of fixes that I know Rhode Island needs to save it from financial collapse. Therefore, I am convinced that a campaign based on these ideas would not be successful.''

Hm. Gee, perhaps the ideological-based arguments being made by the primary closers (really "shifters"; the idea is to move the registration requirements back from "at the polling place" to 90 days before) are genuine after all....

Taking the Battle Out of the Boy

Justin Katz

It's odd how details can lodge in the memory. On an annual basis, my parents would take me on the short trip over the border from our home in New Jersey to The Renaissance Faire in New York state. Each ended with a joust and hand-to-hand combat over a noble lady's honor, and the children in attendance were permitted to run out onto the field, when the dust cleared, and gather up chunks of the lances, which were invariably made of soft, easily broken wood.

These lengths of weaponry — one year cedar, one year pine — were ideal for the important work of battling a particular bush behind my apartment. When the villain swallowed my souvenir beyond reach amidst its innards, one year, I learned that lances are best wielded as swords than as spears. My mission had apparently already been accomplished, however, as evidenced by the many years of peace at the apartment complex.

Those of us who were formerly boys are likely to have ample examples of such martial exercises to bring to mind when reading entries into culture-war literature such as Sally Thomas's explanation that "a desire," among boys, "to commit violence is not the same thing as a desire to commit evil." When a spring morning at the tail end of the millennium staggered at news of a school shooting in Colorado, there was much familiar about the perpetrators. The difference — profound in outcome, although perhaps subtle in origin — is that my in-school fantasies were of repelling attack, not initiating it. Whenever a helicopter flew overhead, it was Red Dawn, calling for heroic resolve.

The cultural and personal shifts that lead in these two opposing directions are likely manifold and difficult to tease from the rest of life, but I can't help but see something significant in an anecdote that Thomas presents:

Meanwhile, psychologist Leonard Sax, author of the 2007 book, Boys Adrift, cites the example of a typical junior-high literature assignment on William Golding's Lord of the Flies that a preteen boy has crumpled and left, with other unfinished homework, in the bottom of his backpack. "Write a short essay in Piggy's voice, describing how you feel about the other boys picking on you," reads the assignment. This is stupid, the boy says, and he isn't doing it. Why not? "I’m not Piggy," the boy says. "I'm not some fat loser. If I'd been on that island, I'd have smashed his face myself!"

I can't think of a mother, myself included, who could hear her child voice that sentiment and not cringe. To consider that your baby not only could want to smash another person's face but could assert with perfect certainty that he would if the chance arose, is to recoil in horror. It is to realize, as Anne Roche Muggeridge did while watching her sons take turns throwing each other into a brick wall, that what you have in your house is not a human like you but a human unlike you. In short, as Muggeridge puts it, you are bringing up an alien.

The author of the assignment was, clearly, seeking to encourage empathy in the students, and empathy is a valuable trait for both caregivers and heroes, alike. But as with much else in modern educational culture and psychology, the above example is crafted in a form more suitable for girls than for boys. It's been some years, but as I recall, Lord of the Flies was not bereft of good boys. This young reader was reacting to the enforced feminization of the question itself and rebelled by associating with the rougher, more viciously violent characters. A healthier, more productive question might have been, "If Piggy were your friend, how might you have defended him?" Implicitly, then, not protecting the downtrodden would have been evidence of fear.

There will always be those, male and female, who seek to dishonor the noble and innocent. There will always be students who incline toward meanness. That reality, however, is not evidence of a need for sensitivity training, but of a need to produce sufficient numbers in each generation who feel called to engage evil in battle. Not the least is this true because, as we've had cause to relearn in the past decade, the enemy will not always be within.

A GOP-Heavy Beginning

Justin Katz

On the first Anchor Rising call of the year to the Matt Allen Show, last Wednesday night, Marc took up the topics of legislators' letter to the governor and the possibility of a closed Republican primary. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Gio Cicione: Closing the Primary - Not in Haste, Not During an Election Year

Engaged Citizen

Dear Members of the Republican State Central Committee:

I am writing to you today to discuss the recent debate arising from a request last week by the Executive Committee of our organization to schedule a special state Central Committee meeting. This debate has, unfortunately, become something of a public spectacle, and in my opinion has unnecessarily hurt our party because of its public nature and the tone it has taken. I have made every effort to refocus public discussions in the last few days on the important work this party should be doing as the election season kicks off. However, I have instead had to spend an inordinate amount of time responding to media inquiries and internal questions about this debate.
I hope in spite of all of this you have taken note of the four substantive press releases issued last week addressing our concerns about Linc Chafee as a candidate for Governor and his plan to raise taxes if elected. I hope that you appreciate that instead of sharing with voters the hard facts that our researchers have dug up on his free spending ways as mayor of Warwick, we have instead had to respond to questions about our own inter-party squabbling.

And because I have tried to shift the discussion back to our strategic messaging rather than this dust-up, I have not taken the opportunity to fully explain my reasoning relating to the decision to not hold a special meeting. I do, however, feel that as committee members you have the right to hear both sides of the debate and judge for yourselves who is acting in the best interests of the party. While I fully expect this public embarrassment to escalate over the next few days, including calls for my resignation, please be assured of two things: I will continue to try to limit the time wasted on these matters, and I have no intent to abandon this party as we begin the most productive election cycle we have potentially seen in over a decade.


For those who may have missed it, let me start with some background. The RIGOP bylaws and state law currently allow voters to register as Republicans on the day of a primary election and vote in our primaries. The same applies to the Democratic Party. This is referred to as an “open primary” system. For many years some advocates of a “closed primary” system for the RIGOP have been suggesting that we require voters to be registered as Republican for at least 90 days prior to casting a primary ballot.

The process for considering such a change is clear. Under our bylaws it would require that a resolution be submitted to the Executive Committee, then to the state central committee at a full meeting, and then voted on favorably at a successive full meeting of the state Central Committee by two-thirds of the delegates present.

There are good arguments on both sides of the debate as to whether a closed primary would help or hurt Republican candidates in Rhode Island, and I don’t intend to restate them here. I will leave it to the advocates of each position to state their arguments before the state Central Committee as a whole. I myself have not yet seen enough facts to allow me to determine one way or another whether this type of move in other states has had a positive or a negative impact.

There is also some debate about whether we can make this change on our own or if it would require a change to state law. The Board of Elections has publically stated that they don’t believe we can, and so a legal fight is likely if this were to move forward. I have assumed, based on assurances given by an attorney for a specific campaign, that we would eventually win a legal challenge. Nonetheless, I have asked the promoters of this initiative to provide written assurances from a lawyer who will take on a potential dispute without cost to the party (we cannot afford a legal battle, and I have been assured that they have secured such a commitment from Joe Larisa, who is more than qualified to do the job.)

I also believe that any such change would require a concrete plan of action and dedicated resources to educate voters, register those who want to participate in our party primary as Republican is time for the elections, and control the perception of this move so as not to allow it to be positioned as a ‘snub’ to unaffiliated voters. The Republican brand is not at its strongest today. It is vital that if we close our primary we take strong public steps to reach out to the citizens of this state to welcome them into the fold, because the news media and our opponents will unquestionable try to make it look like we are simply closing our doors to those who don’t agree with us.


Given these three points – the need for a full assessment of the merits, the potential time and expense of a legal challenge, and the potential time and expense of a voter education effort – I feel strongly that this discussion should not be made in haste and should not be made in an election year. Not only is it questionable whether any change would be implemented in time for the 2010 elections (in large part because the time required to fight a legal battle is an unknown), it is unavoidable that in an election year this debate becomes tainted with the biases of its impact on particular candidates. In other words, rather than doing what’s best for the party and all of the hundreds of state and local candidates, the decision is influenced by how it might affect an individual race.

I had discussed my concerns about the timing of this potential change with closed primary advocates over a year ago. In response to these concerns they had submitted a proposal for the change early last year. That proposal was put before the Executive Committee last summer and received a negative recommendation. At that point the proponents withdrew the proposal.

For reasons I will leave to them to explain, five proponents of a closed primary came back to me again in December and asked to meet with me to discuss a re-submission of the proposal. We met in my office and they laid out a very accelerated schedule that would require me to call a special meeting of the full state central committee on January 19^th , just two weeks before another tentatively scheduled full meeting on February 9^th . They argued at that time that this was the only way to close our primaries in 2010. They also understood that only the chair has the authority to call a full meeting of the state Central Committee.

While I again restated my concerns about attempting this in an election year, I told the proponents that I would at least agree to schedule the required executive committee meeting to allow them to submit the proposal, and would in the meantime talk to the Governor and other interested parties and constituencies about the schedule.

Having consulted with dozens of people over the following days to gauge the interest of the party leadership, elected officials, donors, candidates, and other in this fast-track approach, I determined that this accelerated effort did not have broad support and would not be good for the party as a whole. While the party should _and will_ have the opportunity to debate the possible closing of the primary, I was unwilling to exercise my discretion to cut short the decision making process.
Prior to the Executive Committee meeting held last Tuesday, I informed the proponents of the measure of my concern, and of my intent not to schedule a special meeting. I also asked them to withdraw the proposed bylaws change in order to avoid a negative public debate at this time. At that point, their tactics and approach changed dramatically. It is my understanding that more than a week before I had even made my decision, they had already discussed how to force my resignation and had circulated a no-confidence petition that was signed by approximately eleven committee members. I view the timing of those actions as a clear sign that this effort was at least in part an attempt to undermine my leadership without reference to the merits of my pending decision on whether or not to fast-track the debate. Why they would attempt to derail the party at the start of an election year remains a mystery to me.

The Executive Committee meeting was held, and with little or no debate on the merits of a closed primary, a 26 to 10 vote was cast to recommend holding a special meeting on January 19^th . As the Executive Committee can only recommend such action and has no authority to schedule full meetings, the discretion remained with me, and I indicated immediately after the meeting that because of a balance of many interests, I did not intend to schedule such a meeting on the 19^th . It is worth noting that the person asking me whether I would do so was David Cote, a former committee member who has not been active in the party for well over a year.

A few days later David circulated an email expressing his anger with my decision and calling on me to resign. When asked by the press – Kathy Gregg from the ProJo appeared to have a copy of the email almost immediately – I responded that I have no intention of resigning and that I have the full support of the Governor, the majority of elected state Republicans, and state party activists. It remains my intent to ignore any such calls from this splinter group and more importantly, I intend presently to get back to the business of this party – electing Republicans in November.

Balancing Interests

It has been asserted that there is no reasoned argument for the decision I made, and therefore I must be acting at the direction of someone else. Of course, that’s insulting on its face, but the specifics are actually funny: I have heard that the Governor asked me to do it in order to favor one candidate over another (when it was I who asked him to weigh in, not the other way around), that I’m supporting the Chafee campaign because we held the executive committee meeting in Scott Avedesian’s office, that I’ve been offered a job by Frank Caprio in exchange for not addressing his record, and that I’m really a moderate who has fooled the republicans into putting me in charge. If anyone thinks these absurdities merit a response, feel free to ask me. I could use a laugh.

Please keep in mind that this is a debate about scheduling one meeting two weeks prior to another. It is not a debate about whether the Committee gets a say in closing the primary. It does. It is not a question of democracy versus dictatorship. We are a party of rules, not pressure groups.

My hope would be that we raise the question at our December meeting, after the hard work ahead of us in this election season is done, but the proponents would be fully within their rights to have it raised on February 9^th and then again at the next scheduled state central meeting. While I personally think that debating the issue before December is a bad idea and a distraction, I would not lift a finger to stop them from properly moving the question forward.

My decision to not fast-track this process was not made in haste. Many factors were taken into account, and while there are persuasive arguments on both sides, in the balance I consider it most consistent with my duties and responsibilities as Chair to not do so. Aside from the reasons stated above, there were other factors that weighed on the decision. Some – for example the impact on candidates in various races who have already committed resources to their campaigns with the expectation of an open primary – are easily discussed. Others – which may relate to broader strategy questions or matters of candidate recruitment – are better off left private.

All I can really say is that in my three years as Chair and my twelve years as a party activist, I don’t think I have done anything that would lead anyone to question my commitment to this party, my integrity, my character, or my goals. Those of you who know me well know that I consider subterfuge and secrets a waste of time. Perhaps that is a flaw in the political world, or perhaps people just can’t believe that a political leader doesn’t have a use for Machiavelli or Alinsky. But to say that after fifteen years I’ve suddenly changed my approach strains credulity.

I therefore find it most unfortunate that this debate has devolved into public insults. I have always welcomed open and vigorous debate, but I have also tried to consistently practice and recommend Reagan’s 11^th commandment – we gain nothing by criticizing fellow Republicans. Yes, I did say on the radio that people who thought there was some vast conspiracy behind my decision were ‘crack-smoking lunatics’ (I thought it was a way to inject a little humor into an incredibly frustrating discussion), and I apologize if anyone took that personally. But even understanding that we are all imperfect and will slip up from time to time, I do not see how we can be expected to support people who publically question my character or my integrity and insult our elected officials and the party itself. While I will not publically call out individuals on this point, please understand that I will focus my efforts and the efforts and resources of the party on working with those Republicans who share a positive vision for 2010 and see the value in working towards a common goal as a team.

So something has changed – I will not deny that. Unfortunately what has changed is that a small group of party officials have put a higher priority on jabbing at me than on winning 120 state and federal level and hundreds of more local elections this year. And every poke, every insult, every criticism of the party itself - no matter how un-credible – costs our candidates votes in November. Every minute we spend continuing this discussion is a minute we are not productively striving for our goal.

Let’s be very clear. Votes for Republicans in Rhode Island are now being sacrificed because a party faction lost a fight to force my hand. Not a fight over some core organizational value, or over a violation of rules, or over corruption. A fight over holding a meeting two weeks early.

One would hope that such a fight – a fair fight held in a manner consistent with our bylaws and among people with a common purpose - could be put behind us. The arguments were made, and inevitably one side had to end up unsatisfied. That’s life. If some members of this party find it impossible to lose a fight, pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and move on with the business of the organization, that is not a flaw of the RIGOP. It is their choice as individuals.

What hasn’t changed is my approach to leading the RIGOP. Although this is the first time in three years in this office that I have had to take such a firm stand, that is only because we have we have been focused and unified behind a common purpose during that period. If some individuals think we lack unity today, then perhaps they should ask themselves what has changed. While they ponder that question, I will continue as Chair to strive for consensus and unity in guiding this party and our candidates forward.

Victory in 2010

It would have been my preference to start the year with a 2009 recap and a few thoughts on 2010 strategy. With another good off-season year of investment in donor prospecting, a banner year for volunteer recruitment and organizing, outfitting the office with new furniture and resources, the establishment of a technology committee, and many other notable improvements, we have made the state party a more effective tool for our candidates in 2010. With help from the Governor we were able to secure commitments for a new website and a 2010 voter ID project from the RNC. With the help of national consultants and a few key donors we were able to set up a “Dump Kennedy” website and fundraising project to keep the heat on the shame of our First Congressional District and provide resources to a Republican challenger. With the help of our legal and research volunteers, we were able to publicly target our most likely challenger for Governor in 2010, Patrick Lynch, and over the course of seven months, see his approval numbers dive down by a heavy 18 point margin.

All these actions, along with dozens of other projects, have put our candidates in a better position to win in November. It is my intent to build upon these gains over the next eleven months rather than focus on internal disputes. I appreciate the time you have taken to read this very long note, and I hope every one of you will choose to join with me this year as we work hard to move the Rhode Island Republican Party forward to victory.


Giovanni D. Cicione

Gio is the Chairman of the Rhode Island Republican Party.

BUMPED & CORRECTED: Making the Legislative Stooge List

Justin Katz

The following correction (initially made Saturday morning) is sufficiently important that I've bumped this post so that it is not diluted by the lightened weekend readership.


Although readers may offer partial mitigation based on the fact that Rhode Island's method of providing legislators' votes is not exactly helpful when it comes to pre-dawn data collection, an error on my part in the compilation of this list was egregious, and I apologize to the parties involved and to you. While reviewing the relevant Senate journal (PDF), a stray click of the mouse brought the wrong vote tally onto my screen, and although the overlap was extensive, I've made the following corrections:

  • Senators who actually voted to sustain the governor's veto and have therefore been removed from the Legislative Stooge list:
    • Dennis Algiere (R, District 38, Westerly, Charlestown.
    • David Bates (R, District 32, Barrington, Bristol)
    • Marc Cote (D, District 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield)
    • Leonidas Raptakis (D, District 33, Coventry, East Greenwich, Warwick, West Warwick)
  • Senators who did not vote on this override and have therefore been removed from the Legislative Stooge list:
    • Daniel DaPonte (D, District 14, East Providence, Pawtucket)
    • Walter Felag (D, District 10, Bristol, Tiverton, Warren)
    • William Walaska (D., District 30, Warwick)
  • Senator who voted to override the governor's veto and has therefore been added to the Legislative Stooge list:
    • Jamie Doyle (D, District 8, Pawtucket)

Again, I apologize to readers and to the senators for the error.

Frankly, it's a little hard to stomach the following from House Minority Leader Bob Watson, with reference to the RI House's override of the governor's veto of 2009-H 5613 Sub A, mandating healthcare benefits for public school teachers (including charters):

House Minority Leader Robert A. Watson said those who supported the override were "voting against the interests of every city and town in the state, and for that you should all be thrown out of office."

After all, he voted to pass the legislation in the first place; every legislator did. Granted, that vote was taken in the late hours of a special autumn session, and nobody among the media or right-leaning reformist community had noticed that the bill did much more than create a benign research committee. But what good is a powerless minority party if it at least doesn't spot and decry the sneaky state-killing legislation making its way into law?

That said, Watson and the 22 other Representatives and four Senators who changed their opinion between passage of the legislation and override of the veto get a pass on inclusion in our new Legislative Stooge list of politicians who, because of a dramatic and unforgivable overreach and catering to special interests, should under no circumstances receive your vote. This isn't meant to be a comprehensive balancing of a legislator's career, and not every piece of legislation will be enough to put politicians on the list, only the most egregious, and getting off of it will require stunning examples of wisdom and leadership.

For explanation of why this veto override is enough to make the list, see here, here, and here.

Anchor Rising's (Do Not Vote for the) Legislative Stooge List - House

Name Party Constituents Reason
Edith Ajello D District 3, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Joseph Almeida D District 12, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Samuel Azzinaro D District 37, Westerly H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
David Caprio D District 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
John Carnevale D District 13, Providence, Johnston H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Elaine Coderre D District 60, Pawtucket H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Steven Costantino D District 8, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Roberto DaSilva D District 63, East Providence, Pawtucket H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
John DeSimone D District 5, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Grace Diaz D District 11, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Mary Duffy Messier D District 62, East Providence, Pawtucket H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Deborah Fellela D District 43, Johnston H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Frank Ferri D District 22, Warwick H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Robert Flaherty D District 23, Warwick H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Gordon Fox D District 4, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Raymond Gallison D District 69, Bristol, Portsmouth H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Joanne Giannini D District 7, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Scott Guthrie D District 28, Coventry H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Arthur Handy D District 18, Cranston H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Peter Kilmartin D District 61, Pawtucket H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Donald Lally D District 33, Narragansett, North Kingstown, South Kingstown H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Charlene Lima D District 14, Cranston H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Karen MacBeth D District 52, Cumberland H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Peter Martin D District 75, Newport H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Nicholas Mattiello D District 15, Cranston H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Joseph McNamara D District 19, Cranston, Warwick H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Rene Menard D District 45, Lincoln, Cumberland H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
William Murphy D District 26, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Eileen Naughton D District 21, Warwick H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Patrick O'Neill D District 59, Pawtucket H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Edwin Pacheco D District 47, Burrillville, Glocester H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Peter Palumbo D District 16, Cranston H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Michael Rice D District 35, South Kingstown H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
William San Bento D District 58, North Providence, Pawtucket H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
John Savage R District 65, East Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Gregory Schadone D District 54, North Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
David Segal D District 2, Providence, East Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Mary Ann Shallcross-Smith D District 46, Lincoln, Pawtucket H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Agostinho Silva D District 56, Central Falls H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Scott Slater D District 10, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Raymond Sullivan D District 29, Coventry, West Greenwich H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Stephen Ucci D District 42, Cranston, Johnston H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Kenneth Vaudreuil D District 57, Central Falls, Cumberland H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Donna Walsh D District 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Peter Wasylyk D District 6, Providence, North Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Anastasia Williams D District 9, Providence H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance
Thomas Winfield D District 53, Glocester, Smithfield H5613A, mandating teacher health insurance

Anchor Rising's (Do Not Vote for the) Legislative Stooge List - Senate

Name Party Constituents Reason
Frank Ciccone D District 7, Providence, North Providence S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Daniel Connors D District 19, Cumberland, Lincoln S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Elizabeth Crowley D District 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket, Cumberland S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Frank DeVall D District 18, East Providence S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Louis DiPalma D District 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Jamie Doyle D District 8, Pawtucket S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Paul Fogarty D District 23, Burrillville, Glocester, North Smithfield S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Hanna Gallo D District 27, Cranston S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Maryellen Goodwin D District 1, Providence S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Paul Jabour D District 5, Providence S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Charles Levesque D District 11, Bristol, Portsmouth S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Erin Lynch D District 31, Warwick S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Christopher Maselli D District 25, Johnston S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
John McBurney D District 15, Pawtucket S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Michael McCaffrey D District 29, Warwick S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Harold Metts D District 6, Providence S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Joshua Miller D District 28, Cranston, Warwick S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Teresa Paiva Weed D District 13, Jamestown, Newport S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Rhoda Perry D District 3, Providence S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Roger Picard D District 20, Woonsocket, Cumberland S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Juan Pichardo D District 2, Providence S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Dominick Ruggerio D District 4, Providence, North Providence S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
James Sheehan D District 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
Susan Sosnowski D District 37, New Shoreham, South Kingston S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance
John Tassoni D District 22, Smithfield, North Smithfield S0777Aaa, mandating teacher health insurance

January 10, 2010

Hoyas as Poster Child

Justin Katz

Is it me or does everything about the Chip Hoyas check scheme story make him the perfect poster child for Rhode Island political corruption? Sure, the most damaging corruption in the state is entirely legal, but Hoyas's shadow amply covers that, as well: The obese political insider, pathetically sunken into a gambling addiction by those stupid slot machines, saw the mountain of state dough lying around and concluded, from his perch as deputy chief of staff for the Senate president, that nobody would notice if thousands of dollars went missing.

Sharper players maneuver fancy dives into positions as magistrates or rewards for public "service," or they figure out ways to make their larceny legal. Hoyas slipped off the wire and, by his splash, exposed the whole system. Those who'll argue that he's just an individual, cutting a sad figure in the state's political class, are entirely correct. But we all know, don't we, that if he weren't so pitiful, he'd have done more fundamental harm and, perhaps, been more typical?

I hope Mr. Hoyas finds his way out of the dull hell through which he appears to have been living for quite some time. I hope the same for Rhode Island.

Extremity Doesn't Necessitate Impracticality in Politics

Justin Katz

Matt Allen's Violent Roundtable on last Friday night is worth a listen even if only for the encouragement that there are such folks as Joe Trillo (R, Warwick) and Jon Brien (D, Woonsocket) in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, and there are multiple specific statements worthy of thought.

One suggestion that merits targeted comment, though, is the notion that closing the parties' primaries would lead the extremes of each to leave moderate voters with no attractive option in the general election. That outcome strikes me as hugely improbable. For one thing, it's reasonable to suppose that the sorts of voters who are inclined to participate in primaries in the first place would also be more likely than the average to take a moment to register for one or the other.

More importantly, the "extremes" of the parties will quickly learn that it's unwise to put forward the most pure candidates they can find. Rather, they'll favor of the most pure candidates they think they can get away with. That may move the candidates slightly away from center, but hardly to a choice between unpalatable options. Indeed, one could argue that it would actually give voters a real option.

Inclusiveness Shouldn't Require Us to Let You Govern by Your Principles in Our Name

Justin Katz

Even apart from the much-deserved attention to Rhode Island Republican Assembly President Ray McKay, Ed Fitzpatrick's recent column on intra-party debates is worth consideration:

... I'm reminded of a documentary that debuted at the Rhode Island International Film Festival in August. HouseQuake documented the Democratic Party's takeover of the House in the 2006 midterm elections, showing that Democrats ran candidates with conservative views on issues such as abortion, gun control and gay rights.

In the film, Rahm Emanuel, who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006 and is now President Obama's chief of staff, said he didn’t care about ideology — he only cared about picking up 15 House seats.

So, for the Democrat takeover, voters in certain regions elected conservatives and ended up with far-left leaders in the most powerful positions. If one applies a mirror-image principle, as Republican "moderates" would seem to encourage, then Northeastern conservatives should vote for local liberals within their party in order to ensure that real conservatives at the national level have the opportunity to govern. I'm not sure the mirror image applies, though.

Conservatism and liberalism are fundamentally different in their alignment with power. Liberals think government should control just about everything, so getting the levers of power in the hands of their allies is, in fact, the goal. Conservatives don't believe most of those levers should exist in the first place. Getting them into the hands of heretofore conservative politicians results in a coin toss as to whether that particular elected official will turn the machine off or become corrupted by it. The evidence of the Aughts — which saw a massive expansion of government that only appears modest by comparison to what's happened since the Democrats took total control — suggests that the latter tendency will ultimately prevail.

No, conservatism requires a long-term project of persuasion. We have to stop the downward slide as much as possible, but we'll ultimately fail unless we build up an understanding of the proper roles of government from the bottom up. Pragmatism in local politics, of the scale that Rhode Island liberals like Chafee and Avedisian suggest, is therefore counterproductive.

The same approach applies to the question of "to social issue, or not to social issue":

Avedisian said social issues are not the most pressing concern right now. With the state unemployment rate at 12.7 percent, Rhode Islanders want to hear about "building jobs here in Rhode Island and building an economy that will encourage people to stay here after college," he said.

To the extent that the electorate will prove to consist of single-issue voters on the economy, why should the Republican Party allow the liberal side to slip in an uninterrupted win on social issues, in the meantime, rather than counterbalance that inclination or even slip in a conservative win or two? If the economy really is "the most pressing concern," why wouldn't a liberal like Avedisian compromise on social issues in order to maintain the historically conservative base of Republican support? And if the concern is that the Democrats will run on a fiscally conservative, socially moderate, platform, then what can the RIGOP offer in opposition beyond than the opportunity to pursue the same policies from an ineffectual minority position?

I've enunciated my view on these things before: The economy is certainly the most pressing issue, but that doesn't mean that it's the most profound or important for the long-term health of our state and nation. Indeed, the economy is mechanical, meaning that the correct policies will yield a recovery. There's a delay, to be sure, especially in a state that has a lot of work to do to overcome a record of false starts, but economic policy operates more like a switch than does social policy, for which the metaphor of a barrier against erosion is more appropriate.

That is to say that ceasing to state the case on social issues in order to concentrate on the economy is to engage in battle at the gate only to find the thing worth fighting for stolen through the window.

Devotion to Truth and to Evil

Justin Katz

Joseph Bottum places two anecdotes side by side:

It's hard to keep up the illusion of abortion as a positive good when the ugly reality of it is always lurking just behind the abstract idea. The wall of illusion came crashing down for Abby Johnson when, after working for Planned Parenthood in Texas for eight years, she witnessed an actual abortion on ultrasound. In a television interview, she explained, "It was actually an ultrasound-guided abortion procedure. . . . And my job was to hold the ultrasound probe on this woman's abdomen so that the physician could actually see the uterus on the ultrasound screen. And when I looked at the screen, I saw a baby. . . . I saw a full side profile. So I saw face to feet. . . . I saw the probe going into the woman’s uterus. And at that moment, I saw the baby moving and trying to get away from the probe. . . . And I thought, "It's fighting for its life. . . . It's life, I mean, it's alive."

Ms. Johnson quit her job and joined a pro-life organization after what she'd witnessed. Next up is another professional in the abortion industry:

... a doctor in the Midwest who wrote about her own moment of disillusionment. It came as she performed an abortion on a woman eighteen weeks pregnant while she herself was eighteen weeks pregnant. "I felt a kick—a fluttery 'thump, thump' in my own uterus. It was one of the first times I felt fetal movement. There was a leg and foot in my forceps, and a 'thump, thump' in my abdomen. Instantly, tears were streaming from my eyes—without me—meaning my conscious brain—even being aware of what was going on. I felt as if my response had come entirely from my body, bypassing my usual cognitive processing completely. A message seemed to travel from my hand and my uterus to my tear ducts. It was an overwhelming feeling—a brutally visceral response—heartfelt and unmediated by my training or my feminist pro-choice politics."

The doctor soldiered on, though. and is struggling to overcome these inconvenient pangs of conscience. Training and politics demand that she continues to slaughter babies, so her instinctive understanding of the evil of the act must be suppressed.

There are, of course, historical comparisons that could be made, but people don't like to hear them.

January 9, 2010

The Horror of Modern Youth

Justin Katz

In response to an essay in which David Goldman suggests a connection between current events and recent trends in the popularity of horror films, Fr. Benjamin Sember, of Wisconsin, produces the following wisdom:

Rather than trying to attach the recent rise of the horror genre to September 11, 2001, your article ought to have looked at April 20, 1999, the day of the Columbine High School shooting. Our teens are terrorized, and the real possibility that they might be shot to death by a classmate while sitting in second-hour algebra is only the tip of the iceberg. High school has become a nonstop calendar of classes, heavy loads of homework, sports, drama club, choir, band, and endless practices. Teens are being eaten alive by the demands and tugged apart by the many activities. Rarely are these activities carried out in pursuit of what is true and beautiful. Instead, they become a constant competition to avoid falling short against a hundred measuring sticks as teens compete with each other for breathing space and attention.

An adjustment should be made for the apparent possibility that Fr. Sember's experience with today's youth is somewhat selective in a way that tilts his observations toward over-achieving kids. Also among the pre-adult demographic — and no less attracted to the horror genre, I'd assume — are those whose anxiety derives from a conclusion that they cannot compete. They'll not likely admit that concern — might not know it's there — and it often manifests as a rebellion against the premise that there's something worth competing for.

What occurred to me, while reading Sember's letter, is that young adults face all of these stressors while inhabiting a society that offers them no ballast. They're supposed to be liberated theologically, socially, and sexually. They're supposed to blaze their own path in the realm of behavioral standards, even as they strive to live up to high expectations of achievement. One needn't be a dyed-in-the-wool conservative to agree that well-learned behavioral standards are a prerequisite for success that derives from merit rather than luck.

A plausible argument could be made that the characteristic plot of the horror genre appeals to the modern youth not so much in their expression of pure violence, nor in the voyeurism of watching others suffer, nor the comfort of presenting (for a time) horrors as the stuff of fantasy, but because it leaves viewers feeling that they can strive and overcome challenges even when all the rules of reality are thrown out. On the broad tasks of defining our lives, our society tends toward challenges without rules — expectations without instructions — and it is indeed the stuff of fantasy to believe that a society that rejects principles of self control could defeat the most terrifying creatures of the imagination.

Perhaps There Should Be a Pal Party

Justin Katz

I take it that Monique is responding to later segments of Dan Yorke's Thursday interview with Warwick's Republican mayor, Scott Avedisian (audio here). This is the very first exchange in the interview:

Dan Yorke: What is your position on the governor's race, what are you going to be doing with your friend, Linc Chafee, and talk to me about your support for him.

Scott Avedisian: Obviously, Linc Chafee and I have been friends for — I'm 44 — so probably thirty years, when I went to first work for his father. When I was in high school, I moved to Washington to work for John Chafee. Linc went on the City Council; I followed him onto the council. He went into the mayor's office; I followed him into the mayor's office, when he went on to the Senate. So, we have thirty years worth of political history together. He is a good friend of mine, and I think it would be difficult to walk away from someone you've been friends with for thirty years.

DY: Alright, got that. So, what does that mean? What role will you play? Let me ask you this: Do you endorse him for governor?

SA: He has not asked me to play any role. I would go to an event for him, and I would help him as best I could, but he hasn't asked me to do anything more than that.

DY: Are you actively supporting Linc Chafee to be the next governor of the state of Rhode Island?

SA: I would vote for him, and he hasn't asked me to do anything, so I'm not actively doing anything.

DY: When asked if you will support the nominee of the Republican Party for governor, your answer will be, then, "no," correct?

SA: I don't know who the nominee will be. One of the things that's interesting is that there may not be a reason to have a closed primary at all.

DY: Well, I didn't get to that part, yet. Whoever ends up becoming the Republican nominee for governor will not get the support of the top Republican municipal elected official in the state, because he is pledged to support Linc Chafee the independent, correct?

SA: That's correct.

Friendship's an important thing, but politics are supposed to be about governance, and political parties are supposed to stand for something, not just be collections of arbitrary teams. Those who advocate for open primaries (I'm ambivalent, so far) and would lash out against the suggestion that Avedisian should stop calling himself a Republican need to answer the question of what they believe the Republican Party should be. Should its message be that its label and organizational structure are available for anybody in the state, whatever their beliefs, whatever their affiliations, and whatever their willingness to support the party? That reduces the the Republican "R" to only a slightly narrower version of the unaffiliated "I."

It's one thing for an individual voter to choose a particular candidate while in the voting booth. It's one thing for registered Republicans to advocate against candidates within their party with whom they disagree. But as an elected official, Mayor Avedisian owes his job, at least in part, to his political affiliation; if that were not the case, then he'd have no reason to keep the "R" after his name on the ballot.

At this point, it is indisputable that Avedisian would more appropriately be seen as a member of the Chafee Party, and as long as he continues to call himself a Republican, his honesty is a matter of dispute.


Let me add, here, that the obviousness of this point may be obscured by The Rhode Island Way. To Rhode Islanders, personal associations supersede everything in all contexts. In other words, Avedisian's unqualified support for his friend in a political race, no matter what his own political party may do or may need him to do, is of the same category as the corrupt old-boy system that is dragging Rhode Island back to pre-modern forms of government.

Communicating the Wrong Message

Justin Katz

How can a struggling Rhode Islander not shake his or her head every time this subject comes up?

The [Emergency Management Agency] EMA, charged with cutting $200,000, was struggling to meet the figure because the agency had gained an employee from, of all places, the governor's office.

Steve Kass, the former radio talk show host who later served as the governor's communications director, became the EMA's communications coordinator in the spring of 2008. At the time, a Carcieri spokesman said Kass was being loaned to the agency, but the governor's office continued to pay half his salary until September of this year, when the full cost was transferred to the EMA.

Todd Tinkham, chief financial officer for the adjutant general's office, estimated the cost of the position at $100,000.

Sounds like the EMA has a high-cost employee that it's not empowered to lay off. Just like Rhode Island, isn't it? However dedicated we are, individually, to the welfare of the state, our own cliques always come first, even to the extent of six-figure salaries. I know; I know; government is really public service.

January 8, 2010

Raptakis Chooses Secretary of State

Justin Katz

Rhode Island Senator Leonidas Raptakis (D, Coventry, East Greenwich, Warwick, West Warwick), who has been open about his intention to run for statewide office, has chosen the Secretary of State position as his target:

As a State Senator, I have worked to effectively represent the interests of my constituents. I have successfully fought for passage of legislation, worked to bring important issues to the forefront of the public debate, and pushed to make the operations of the General Assembly more transparent. And as a small business owner, I think I have brought an important perspective to the legislature.

In recent weeks, I have talked about my interest in running for statewide office. I believe that in this time of crisis, Rhode Island needs active, engaged leadership to make sure that state government is operating in the most efficient, open and accountable manner possible.

After speaking with my family, friends and many supporters, I have decided to run for the office of Secretary of State. I believe the responsibilities of that office will allow me to put my background and experience to work in the most effective manner possible for the people of Rhode Island.

We need a Secretary of State who is a watchdog for the people of Rhode Island. We need a Secretary of State who is committed to promoting public access to the decision-making process, not simply by making legislative information easily available but by fighting to make sure the public has full access to legislative meetings and the votes taken in those meetings. And we need a Secretary of State who will finally help to reduce the red tape facing small businesses and make sure that state agencies are sharing information rather than demanding excess paperwork from businesses seeking licenses and permits.

Rhode Islanders have seen what happens when we have a state government which is operated in a manner which puts the interests of the decision-makers ahead of the public interest...when the work of government is conducted behind closed doors and the rest of us are forced to deal with the consequences. Over the last few months, we have been dealing with record unemployment, countless foreclosures, a dismal business climate, and chronic budget deficits. This is what happens when decisions are left in the hands of the few and the public is largely shut out of the decision-making process.

We recently saw a special session of the General Assembly which took up some 200 pieces of legislation in just two days. To do this, the General Assembly suspended their own rules of operation and ignored the state's Open Meetings Law. Why? Was it done to benefit the people of Rhode Island? No. It was done strictly for the benefit of legislative leaders who wanted to control the outcome...to get their people in for two days, cast their votes and send them home without any questions or debates to delay the outcome. That is shameful.

In that same session, a bill was taken up unexpectedly which would have allowed for the speedier expungement of criminal records. This legislation was opposed by the Attorney General, yet it was brought back to life after being left to die in committee during the regular session with next to no notice to the state’s chief law enforcement officer. That is shameful and another example of a broken system.

When things like this can happen in our legislative process, we have a fundamental problem. And it is no accident that these things are happening when our state is in a crisis situation, with so many challenges facing us. There is a phrase in information technology—"garbage in, garbage out". It means that if you feed bad data into a computer, you are going to get bad results. If we have a legislative process where decisions are made in violation of the Open Meetings Law and the legislature's own rules of conduct, we are going to have bad public policy outcomes.

As Secretary of State, I am going to be a watchdog for our citizens. I will push the General Assembly to follow their own rules and to follow the Open Meetings Law which local Town Councils and School Committees are required to follow. I will call them out when they don't follow the rules. And if that doesn't change their behavior, I will take them to court. And if that doesn't work, I will work to put a constitutional question on the ballot to make sure that the people making the laws of our state are required to respect the law themselves.

Rhode Island government is in crisis. We need a tangible change in the way we run things. We need to make government accountable and make sure our citizens are engaged in the decision-making process. The Secretary of State's office must be the cornerstone for making that change...for promoting open government which is responsible for meeting the needs of our citizens and accountable for acting in their best interest.

I look forward to taking my message to the people of Rhode Island in the months ahead and earning their support in my campaign to be a Secretary of State who fights for the interests of our citizens and serves as their advocate in working to make state government open, honest, and effective.


In initially creating this post, I cited Sen. Raptakis's inclusion on our Legislative Stooge list. That inclusion has turned out to be the result of an error on my part. I apologize to the Senator and to readers.

What Good Are Judges' Sales Pitches?

Justin Katz

With the judiciary as important as it is, and with those who typically populate its benches being, by nature, somewhat less prominent, in the public eye, than politicians, the Providence Journal's series of profiles of the five people whom the Judicial Nominating Commission has passed along to Governor Carcieri as candidates to fill a state Supreme Court vacancy could have been a valuable resource. But the pieces that reporter Tracy Breton actually offered — here, here, here, here, and here — read more like the self-promotional blurbs that actors submit about themselves for playbills than as reportage intended to serve the public. That is to say that they're useless and not worth the time to read.

Sure, actual research of the potential judges' pasts, with an eye toward opposition and problems, could create an uncomfortable position for the subject and journalist, both. If a reporter can't find anything good about one candidate or anything bad about another, that could create the impression of favoritism. But in any employment competition, facts should favor the candidate who ultimately wins. The governor's task shouldn't be seen as the selection of the most darned nice and inspiring personage on the slate, but of the one whose experience and proven disposition — in positive circumstances and negative — suits the mission of the court.

Friendship and Politics: Avedisian @ Chafee

Monique Chartier

All this week, WPRO's Dan Yorke has heavily questioned the party loyalty of Mayor Scott Avedisian (R-Warwick) for attending A Certain Gubernatorial Announcement, going so far as to call for the RIGOP to throw him out of the party. This culminated yesterday in an extensive and frank interview with the Mayor [podcast not yet available].

As the interview progressed and it became clear that hizzoner was not going to back down, Dan got to the nub of the matter, saying somewhat incredulously to the Mayor (paraphrasing), so you put friendship ahead of a political structure.

Actually, no, he didn't. He attended an event that was important to a friend. As he apparently will not be supporting the candidacy in any substantive way, the fact that the event was a campaign announcement was secondary. But let's say the Mayor had put friendship ahead of a political structure. The General Treasurer put a political structure ahead of his friend the Governor in a big way. Does Dan think this was just peachy? Of course he doesn't and I agree.

Would the Mayor's attendance at this event have been awkward had there been a declared Republican gubernatorial candidate? Sure it would. Possibly beyond awkward to problematic. As it happens, it's early; there presently is no Republican candidate. So, no issue.

And another thing. Why was Dan attacking Mayor Avedesian for opening his campaign HQ to the RIGOP for the recent Executive Committee meeting? I was working assiduously yesterday afternoon (let my supervisor take note) when Dan was grilling the Mayor so maybe I missed something. But wouldn't that constitute a material show of support of the RIGOP that Dan had, ten seconds earlier, accused the Mayor of deliberately failing to demonstrate? It strikes me that the Mayor should be commended, not criticized, for the HQ hospitality that he regularly extends to Republican candidates and the RIGOP.

No, Mayor Avedisian did not demonstrate party disloyalty by attending the announcement of a friend. No, he should not be asked to leave the Republican party for doing so. It is silly and inconsistent of Dan to suggest this. Let's have a little more focus on the actions, past and present, of the gang that has trashed our state and a little less on irrelevant or miniscule side issues involving the loyal opposition.

An Obligation on the He Who Cannot Be Obliged

Justin Katz

To some degree, the theological principle that Bruce Marshall describes here can be seen as a core division point of human ideology:

If God had remitted our sins by sheer forgiveness—sent them away or simply declared them nonexistent—then our sins indeed would be gone, and we no longer would be sinners. We would, however, be mere spectators to our own salvation: observers who simply noted this fact about ourselves, without any involvement of our hearts and wills. By treating our sins as a debt for which he will accept payment, God gives humanity a genuine share in its own salvation. As any child knows whose father has given him or her money to buy him a Christmas gift, there is joy in this that can come in no other way, even though—or, better, precisely because—we know well that we are simply giving back what we have freely received.

Theologically, I'd suggest that the salvific transaction is actually more profound than that. Undeserved blessings are arbitrary and may be removed arbitrarily. God's granting us an ability earn salvation conversely creates an obligation on Him to provide it — to reward.

Thinking of the myriad people, in modern society, who appear to believe that they are owed happiness and comfort, in material matters, and should face no strings along with spiritual beneficence, it's difficult to avoid the impression of a paradox: Many are eager to trade that which makes them human — the ability to judge the world and choose a path through it — for creature comforts, yet in so doing, they inflate their importance in the universe.

The image that comes to mind is of an impetuous child who understands that he or she is gong to receive a reward, anyway, and scorns and challenges his or her parents for imposing a chore — a game. The parents are giving the child an opportunity to place a binding claim on them, and the child is insisting that he or she already owns that claim, and more, as payment for deigning to exist.

A Mainstreet Scam

Justin Katz

A commenter to yesterday's post on unemployment insurance appears to believe that I misunderstand the way the system works. He or she is wrong.

The point is that the system is not able to address times of economic hardship. Since the federal government won't allow the state to hold off repayment of the relevant loans when it meanders into a good economy at some undefinable point in the future, the missing resources can come from one of only three places: 1) cutting the benefits to the unemployed, 2) increasing the tax on businesses, or 3) looking elsewhere in state government for the money.

Something similar to number three is done as a matter of course across government. Consider the telephone tax/fee in Rhode Island:

The money raised by the phone surcharge is used to provide and upgrade Internet access at 460 public schools and libraries across the state, but revenues have dropped by 35 percent since 2004, forcing the state to contribute out of the general fund, said Carolyn Dias, chief of operations at the state Department of Education.

So here's a program in which a tax was sold to the people of Rhode Island as a relatively painless way to finance school technology (rather than using the money that we've already provided for such things by way of our regular taxes). The model turns out not to work, so the government takes the money from something else.

Of course the phone surcharge is in the news because Governor Carcieri has a plan to decrease it as a trade-off for creating a similar surcharge on cell phones:

The cell phone proposal would add a 16-cent monthly surcharge to all cellular phones (or numbers), while reducing the existing surcharge on landlines to 16 cents from 26 cents.

With the number of cell phones rising and landline accounts dropping, the measure could boost revenues by $300,000 in the current budget year and $600,000 during fiscal 2011, according to the governor’s budget office.

Given the ubiquity of cell phones, one is tempted to argue that this is merely another broad-based tax disguised as a user fee, but it's actually worse than that. It's a tax on the productive and fruitful, benefiting those who are neither. The only people who would actually benefit by the shift toward cell phones are people who don't have them, probably the elderly, most prominently. Young families and businesses often have more than two. And:

... speakers from Verizon and T-Mobile opposed the new surcharge, saying Rhode Island already has among the highest cell-phone fees in the country.

The sentence before that, in the report, points toward another indication of the scam that is big government: "The state receives two federal dollars for every dollar it contributes to the program." In other words, the federal government uses taxpayer dollars to create incentive for states to take taxpayer dollars in order to fund some preferred program.

If a program is worth funding, officials should be honest and straightforward and pay for it from the general tax base. Carcieri should be ashamed to perpetuate this government card trick, which disproportionately harms the demographics that the state should favor... if it wants to survive.

January 7, 2010

Gates to Stay On As Secretary of Defense

Carroll Andrew Morse

For anyone theorizing that Rhode Island Senior Senator Jack Reed might become Secretary of Defense in time for either Patrick Lynch or Frank Caprio (but most likely Lynch) to opt to run in a special Senate election, instead of for Governor, the dream is now dead. From the Associated Press...

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, will remain in his Cabinet post for at least another year, his spokesman said Thursday.

Gates, who has said he considers himself a Republican, told President Barack Obama in December that he would stay on at least through the end of 2010, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told The Associated Press.

Rule by Funding and Memoranda

Justin Katz

I'm one of two people in the audience of an "emergency" Tiverton School Committee meeting, which was called in order to approve a memorandum of understanding from the Rhode Island Department of Education for the state's Race to the Top application, and the sense that I'm getting from the discussion is not encouraging.

Here's the upshot: School committees are under a lot of pressure to sign the MOU so that the state can prove "political will" to implement the program to the federal government. The problem is that the document that the local officials are being asked to sign is apparently not wholly inclusive of the information on which they believe they're voting. Some supposed facts are in a repeatedly changed FAQ document. Others were conveyed during in-person meetings. Some of it is in documents from the federal government. And the really-honestly-truly final document won't be released until Monday.

So, in the name of chasing after taxpayer money, the people whom taxpayers have elected to guide their local investment in childhood education are being asked to sign on to mandates and requirements from state and national officials without, as far as I can understand, even receiving assurances that the higher tiers of government will provide more money than they're requiring districts to spend.


Here's an interesting point from School Committee Member Leonard Wright, who seems extremely suspicious of this whole thing: There is language in the memorandum that the district agrees to comply with the terms of the federal grant and a "RIDE subgrant" that apparently has not yet been produced.


And isn't this FAQ point interesting:

Are there "supplement, not supplant" requirements for Race to the Top?

Race to the Top contains no "supplement, not supplant" requirements.

Furthermore, the language that Mr. Wright cited about a state "subgrant" suggests to me that the state could take advantage of the lack of "supplement, not supplant" language while still imposing that very rule on individual districts.

Another point that's coming up is that the town is probably going to be subject to increasing regulations and mandates whether it signs on for Race to the Top or not. It's the old "nothing to lose" lure. But imagine this outcome: The collapsing state causes a political surge for reform, among which is the elimination of state-driven mandates... except, of course, where those mandates are part of contractually agreed grant programs.


The school committee has added, as a condition of its agreement, stipulations that all program requirements will be fully funded and that the funding from Race to the Top would supplement, not supplant, allocated state and federal aid to the town.

A Change in the Winds

Justin Katz

Michelle Malkin presents an exhibit to go with the almost daily announcements of retiring Democrats:

Rasmussen rings in the new year with a new poll showing that the number of Americans who identify as Democrats has fallen to its lowest level in seven years:

In December, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats fell to the lowest level recorded in more than seven years of monthly tracking by Rasmussen Reports.

Currently, 35.5% of American adults view themselves as Democrats. That's down from 36.0 a month ago and from 37.8% in October. Prior to December, the lowest total ever recorded for Democrats was 35.9%, a figure that was reached twice in 2005. See the History of Party Trends from January 2004 to the present.

Short-term Republican gains, in the poll, have exceeded Democrat declines, although the former still lag the latter when it comes to voter self-identification. One hopes, however, that the days of one party benefiting more from the unpopularity of its opposition than from its own merits are over and that Republicans will build a long-term majority by leading, not catering. Not being the other guy makes for fickle support.

Loughlin Follows Through

Marc Comtois

As he promised Dan Yorke yesterday, Rep. John Loughlin has penned a letter (via Dan Yorke) to Governor Carcieri apologizing for co-signing a letter drafted by Democratic Rep. Amy Rice and also explaining steps he would take to help ameliorate some of the problems that the Governor's budget cuts are causing at the city and town level. An excerpt:

Dear Governor Carcieri:

I am writing to you about my signature on a letter dated January 5, 2010 regarding your proposed supplemental budget.

I signed the letter because I was frustrated with what I perceived to be unwillingness by some in your administration to even acknowledge substantive ideas relative to the budget. The letter was not fair to you or your staff because it should have included suggestions that would make a difference to the economic well being of Rhode Island.

While, in retrospect, I can be critical of the letter I signed, it does contain some truth which I will attempt to convey in a more constructive and respectful manner.

Good job, sir. I encourage you to read the rest of the letter for some good ideas proffered by Rep. Loughlin.

ADDENDUM: In the spirit of full disclosure, Anchor Rising's Justin Katz was asked for, and provided, feedback on a rough draft of this letter.

A Desperate Industry

Justin Katz

Here's an interesting tidbit, from the very last bullet paragraph, at the bottom of the page here:

Times are tough for magazines and newspapers, and necessity still seems to be the mother of invention. The New York Times, in an apparent effort to increase readership and influence, has begun marketing aggressively to college students. This means we can expect to see more free copies of the Times handed out on college campuses, right? Well, no. It’s actually a bit more aggressive than that. An email sent from the Times to college professors informs them that they are entitled to a complimentary subscription if they include the Times as required reading for one of their courses. That’s right, required.

Personally, I'm less concerned that desperation will be the mother of invention, for the mainstream media, but the impetus for calls for intervention by the government. By their failed business models and ideological restrictions, a state-controlled media may be born.

Open Forum on Closing the RIGOP Primary

Marc Comtois

The RIGOP Executive Committee voted to have a meeting to vote on closing their primary (roll call and more info provided by Will Ricci in the extended entry). Chairmain Gio Cicione has stated that he won't call the meeting until after the 2010 elections and the rank and file are upset, arguing that he's abusing his executive power to put off a meeting that may result in an outcome he doesn't want (ie; a closed RI GOP primary).

Setting aside those more immediate internecine political machinations, is having a closed primary good or bad for the party? Do you care? As I said on Matt Allen's show last night, "What has an open primary done for the RIGOP so far?" I understand the argument based primarily on the belief that the party is so small and it doesn't want to freeze anyone out. But appealing to the independent/moderate masses has not done much for the GOP as far as I can tell. My belief is the RI GOP needs to decide what the heck it wants to be and it can best do that by having people willing to actually call themselves Republicans showing the way.

What do you think?

RI GOP Executive Committee member Will Ricci has provided the roll call vote and also clarified some things from the ProJo story:

This article in Wednesday’s Providence Journal is largely accurate, except for an assertion that a ’slight majority of elected officials’ voted against meeting on the 19th. 3 current officials (Bob Watson, Joe Trillo, and Joe Almond) and 1 former official (Carol Mumford) voted in favor of having the January 19th meeting, 2 were opposed (Mayors Avedesian and Fung) to having a meeting on the 19th. 4 were in favor, 2 were opposed. Last time I checked, 4 was greater than 2.

The confusion may have been caused in part by House Republican Leader Watson’s John Kerry-esque vote in favor of having a meeting on the 19th, but telegraphing that he would likely vote against the bylaws change if it comes up for a final vote before the whole committee at a later date (we’ll take what we can get).

Anyway, it was a good night: 26 in favor, 10 opposed, 2 abstentions {see roll call below - ed.}.

Against (10):

Gio Cicione – Chair, RIGOP
Robert Coupe – Secretary, RIGOP
John Harpootian – Governor’s Designee
Hon. Scott Avedesian – Mayor of Warwick
Hon. Allan Fung – Mayor of Cranston
Dr. Daniel Harrop – Chair, Finance Committee
Robert Manning – Chair, Platform Committee
Marge Gartelman – At-Large
Tom Curry – At-Large
Sean Gately – At-Large

In Favor (26):

Nancy Richmond – 1st Vice Chair, RIGOP
Lester Olson – 2nd Vice Chair, RIGOP
Barbara Holmes – Treasurer, RIGOP
Dave Talan – Corresponding Secretary, RIGOP
John Clarke – Parliamentarian, RIGOP
Hon. Carol Mumford – RNC National Committeewoman
Hon. Joseph Trillo – RNC National Committeeman
Travis Rowley – Chair, RI Young Republicans
Renay Omisore – Chair, African-American Republicans
Raymond McKay – President, Rhode Island Republican Assembly
Patricia Morgan – Past Chair, RIGOP
Hon. Joseph Almond – Lincoln Town Administrator
Mia Caetano-Johnson – Chair, Nominations Committee
Hon. Robert Watson – House Republican Leader
Phil Hirons – President, City and Town GOP Chairmen’s Caucus
Robert Carlin – Providence County Vice-Chair
Diane Allen – Washington County Vice-Chair
Judy Orson – Kent County Vice-Chair
Thomas Carroll – Bristol County Vice-Chair
Antone Viverios – Newport County Vice-Chair
Mark Zaccaria – At-Large
Ted Richards – At-Large
Charles Vacca – At-Large
Jonathan Scott – At-Large
William Ricci – At-Large

Abstentions (2):

John Robitaille – At-Large
Kerry King – At-Large

How About the Philosophical Questions?

Justin Katz

Part of our problem, in Rhode Island, is that our political class likes to treat each issue separately. It focuses on whether policy A is good or bad, but rarely considers whether funding A ought to have implications of the funding of B, C, and D. In other words, our elected officials don't like to answer large, self-definitional questions, which is to say that they aren't too keen on leading.

So, we get concerns about the solvency of our unemployment benefit system:

Even before the recession struck, Rhode Island employers had to pay a comparatively high tax to provide benefits to the unemployed.

Now, with the state's 12.7-percent unemployment rate the second-highest in the nation (behind Michigan), and as thousands of out-of-work Rhode Islanders keep drawing benefits, the tax is higher — and could increase further.

The result could be a blow to businesses at a time when many are struggling just to survive, said state Rep. Steven M. Costantino, D-Providence, chairman of the House Finance Committee.

"There's a potential that business, under these very difficult times, will be incurring an additional tax," he said.

And we learn that (as usual) our public services are generous in this area:

Rhode Island's maximum weekly unemployment benefit is set each year at an amount that equals 60 percent or so of the statewide average wage.

As the average statewide wage rises, so does the maximum amount of benefits.

This puts Rhode Island among the top states for benefits, according to a recent report prepared by the Department of Labor and Training for a state advisory board.

The first link describes various mechanisms that will force taxes on RI businesses up with continuing high unemployment, but nobody asks or offers opinion on whether the money necessary to assist down-on-their-luck Rhode Islanders who are generally productive should come from somewhere else. Government revenue is fungible, meaning that the unemployed and the businesses that would like to employ them are not the only sources of revenue. Maybe, just maybe, it's time for our state to begin considering whether civic survival might have to come at the expense of benefits to which certain of its residents have come to rely on a long-term basis.

Perhaps it's possible to defend, on moral grounds, the proposition that the government should not allow maintenance of the lifestyles of working and middle class unemployed to eat into the resources allocated for the less fortunate, and maybe it's defensible, on political grounds, to argue that the government should protect against erosion of what it provides as an employer. Unfortunately, the practical reality is that not everybody can (or wants to) work for the government, and those who wish to work and prosper are not going to assent to descent onto the welfare rolls. They're going to leave.


Donald B. Hawthorne

Thomas Sowell:

...It may seem strange that so many people of great intellect have said and done so many things whose consequences ranged from counterproductive to catastrophic. Yet it is not so surprising when we consider whether anybody has ever had the range of knowledge required to make the sweeping kinds of decisions that so many intellectuals are prone to make, especially when they pay no price for being wrong.

Intellectuals and their followers have often been overly impressed by the fact that intellectuals tend, on average, to have more knowledge than other individuals in their society. What they have overlooked is that intellectuals have far less knowledge than the total knowledge possessed by the millions of other people whom they disdain and whose decisions they seek to override.

We have had to learn the consequences of elite preemption the hard way — and many of us have yet to learn that lesson.

Warwick Sick Pay Imbroglio

Marc Comtois

UPDATE (bumped): Jim Hummel and the ProJo have now covered the Warwick sick time controversy. The ProJo reports different figures--$358,000 in total sick time bonuses--than those previously reported by the Warwick Beacon (a combined $694,000).

The contract language that grants these incentives for the three separate bargaining units dates back more than two decades, according to city officials, but the topic is percolating again these days as the City Council reviews an accounting of the roughly $358,000 the city paid out in bonuses for 2009.

Mayor Scott Avedisian said Wednesday he is issuing an executive order that will eliminate the benefit for non-union classified employees. That group includes most division heads and will save about $54,000 this year, he said.

Mayor Avedisian was on the John DePetro show to briefly discuss this and stated that the ProJo numbers were correct as opposed to those earlier reported by the Warwick Beacon. (On the other hand, Jim Hummel's report is in line with the Beacon's, including links to pertinent documents--PDF1, PDF2). Mayor Avedisian explained that it would take a re-opening of contract (PDF) negotiations to remove the provisions for union employees. The disconnect between private and public sector is all too obvious:
Daniel Beardsley, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, said that paying benefits to employees for unused sick time “is a very common contract provision” in the public sector and, in many cases, dates to the late 1970s when many cities and towns were having financial problems and were looking for things other than pay raises to offer employees....

Bob Eubank, executive director Northeast Human Resources Association in Waltham, Mass., said that giving bonuses for unused sick time is a rarity in the private sector.

Not to mention getting 15 sick days (3 weeks!) a year. Who gets that in the private sector?

Original post "below the fold".


I've failed you, according to a couple commenters. So, in an attempt to make up for an apparent lack of diligence on my part over the holiday season, I thought I'd offer a quick thought regarding the revelations that Warwick paid $531,000 for unused firefighter sick time and other city workers $163,000. Former Warwick School Committee member and City Councilman Bob Cushman lays the blame at Mayor Scott Avedisian's feet:

What makes this expenditure so egregious is that the mayor has been one of the most vocal critics denouncing the cuts, preaching that he and other leaders have done all they can to cut spending and consolidate departments.

In the last two years, over a million dollars in Warwick tax dollars have been spent on sick pay bonuses and buyouts. That, on top of the $2 million spent for the $600 annual cap on employee-family prescription drugs, and the millions that would be saved with healthcare co-pays more in line with the private sector for all employees, would provide Warwick with more than enough to survive the proposed cuts without reducing municipal jobs, reducing services or increasing property taxes.

Obviously, these sick pay bonuses need to be looked into and, pragmatically, suspended during this crisis. As for Mayor Avedisian, it's pretty tough to take seriously a cry of poverty when such largesse is on display.

ADDENDUM: I usually don't acquiesce to antagonistic charges that I've somehow performed my unpaid, free-time job inadequately during the holiday season whilst dealing with numerous ailments amongst my family. But I checked the archives and didn't readily find anything about this story on the blog and I agree that the story is important--if already well covered elsewhere. So, there you go...

January 6, 2010

Mr. Sweetheart Mortgage Will not Seek Reelection

Monique Chartier

From the Wall Street Journal today.

The departure of [Senator Chris] Dodd, first elected to the Senate in 1980, carried the most symbolic value because of his seniority and his close association with the financial system bailout and other economic policies. He has drawn criticism for backing a measure that allowed the embattled insurance giant AIG to dole out bonuses to its executives.

Mr. Dodd, once closely associated with the insurance and hedge-fund industry, is one of the highest profile Democratic casualties of the financial crisis and its political fallout. Under fire for receiving what some charged was a sweetheart mortgage from Countrywide Financial, and for land deals in Ireland, Mr. Dodd had tried to reinvent himself as a populist, going after big banks and credit-card companies from his perch as chairman of the Senate banking committee.

And suddenly, the Dems are scrambling to fill four open Senate seats.

The uplift of optimism that accompanies this news is tempered slightly by a sense of perplexity. Why announce this decision now, before committing the terrible deed of voting in favor of health care reform? Doesn't that cast doubt on the moral credibility of the Dem's health care reform plan, while at the same time make these senators look like weasels who want it both ways? "Yes, I will vote for this legislation. Note, however, that I will shortly be departing this chamber."

Meanwhile, the meeting, out of sight of C-Span and the American people, between Speaker Pelosi and Senate President Reid to reconcile the Senate and House bills iron out the first steps to the systematic disassembly of the US health care system and to mandate jail for anyone who fails to exercise an inalienable right will take place as scheduled, though presumably with a heightened sense of urgency. There has been no immediate confirmation to the rumor that someone sounding strangely like presidential advisor Rahm Emanuel has already called the offices of Speaker Pelosi and Senate President Reid shrieking, "Pass it! Pass anything! Gone! Our beautiful super-majority will soon be gone!"

Whitehouse Gets Things Backwards

Justin Katz

Of all the letters that have appeared decrying or endorsing Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's recent screed against those who oppose Obamacare, one by Pamela Burdon, of Warwick, was especially poignant:

The Nazis took my parents from their families when they were teenagers. My parents miraculously survived under impossible conditions. They then fled communism, coming here to become American citizens and work their hardest to provide for their children.

They were so proud to be Americans that they would rarely speak the many European languages they knew. ...

As a way of honoring their memory, I feel it is my responsibility to preserve the freedoms that they valued so highly. Can I sit idly by and let their America be destroyed? Could I live with the knowledge that they sacrificed everything to come here, for a better life for their future generations, only to let hastily passed legislation eventually turn this country into a replica of the ones they fled?

RE: Budget Misery - Moderate Solutions

Marc Comtois

Over at the FrumForum (a moderate Republican blog run by David Frum) Eli Lehrer explains:

Many of the biggest budget items for states—Medicaid, bond payments, pension obligations to retirees—are virtually impossible to reduce. Big , broad-based tax increases, although difficult to avoid under many states’ balanced budget laws, will simply discourage investment and growth. Without indulging into liberal (“tax the evil corporations”), moderate (“run government like a business”), and conservative (“cut taxes to increase revenue”/”privatize all education”) fantasies, states looking to balance their budgets aren’t totally out of luck.
He offers six suggestions for balancing budgets, two of which address some familiar problems here in Rhode Island: pension reform and eliminating "special tax abatements and business 'relocation/retention' grants." As to the latter, Lehrer explains:
In efforts to attract new enterprises, revitalize decrepit areas, boost politically favored types of business, nearly all states run massive corporate welfare programs including “enterprise zones,” “TIF (tax increment financing) districts,” “job retention tax credits,” state “HUB (historically underutilized business) zones.” Although a few states simply give grants to private businesses, most of these programs involve issuing bonds, building infrastructure, or granting tax credits that benefit only a particular business or development. The practice produces headlines for politicians but largely serves to let political leaders decide on the location of development that would happen anyway. These business subsidies tend to feed on themselves: cities like Chicago and Syracuse, New York have made such widespread use of them that almost all new development requires some sort of tax abatement or other assistance since unabated tax rates are so high as a result. Although it appears almost certain to cause some short-term pain, many states would almost certainly increase revenue while cutting base tax rates if they simply quit the abatement drug cold turkey. Certain areas, many of them in need of help, probably would lose out. But, in the end, the free market would make better decisions about business locations than central government planners ever could.
As we've argued before, the goal should be to make the state more business friendly in general by lowering taxes and regulatory barriers across the board. This can be accomplished by simplifying and streamlining, not creating a web of loopholes and "incentives" that result in one-off deals benefiting a particular business instead of all.

RE: Opening the Year With Fatal Steps - Loughlin

Marc Comtois

Following up Justin's earlier post, WPRO's Dan Yorke took Rep. John Loughlin to task for adding his name to the Rice letter and thereby seeming to endorse the overall "it's not the legislature's fault" message that it tries to spin. Loughlin admitted his mistake and told Yorke he would be retracting his name from the Rice letter and writing his own. Well, he should have done that in the first place!

Based on what he told Yorke, Loughlin's letter will apparently detail his attempts to work with the Carcieri administration to create some sort of matrix of funding expectations for cities and towns to follow. It will also probably express his frustration about how the Governor and his staff essentially blew him off.

I understand why he is upset, but hopefully Loughlin will realize that his signing on with the Democrats sends an inconsistent message and that he's better off standing on his own. Further, his discussion with an understandably adversarial Yorke revealed a defensive prickliness that Loughlin needs to manage better. No one likes to be criticized, but its part of the rough-and-tumble of politics. Calmly and successfully dealing with criticism--whether from natural political allies or opponents--is crucial to the overall positive impression a viable candidate needs to project. Fingers are crossed that Loughlin will take some lessons from this episode and go on to run a strong campaign against Patrick Kennedy and, hopefully, win.

A Way to Affect National Politics Quickly

Justin Katz

Turning his Tennessean eyes to our neighbor to the north, Glenn Reynolds offers a useful suggestion:

MASSACHUSETTS SENATE RACE HEATS UP: Rasmussen Shows Brown Within 9 Percent. This is huge given that it's Massachusetts, and a [Scott Brown (R)] win would probably kill healthcare. I don't know how his online fundraising is going, but so far he hasn't gotten much (er, any?) help from the national Republican party. I imagine that will change, if only because people like William Jacobson are asking: "Will the national GOP, which has ignored Brown, get involved now? I'm not sure I care anymore." Whatever else they do, they can't afford to look irrelevant.

Part-time RI resident William Jacobson has updated the first-linked post to note that Brown is within 2% with "definite voters" and leads by a whopping 44% among independents. Republican or otherwise, those who oppose the Democrats' version of "healthcare reform" and the overall direction in which our government is headed should consider the shockwaves that a Brown victory would send through the national political landscape.

Budget Misery and the Government Payroll Economy

Marc Comtois

Rhode Island is not alone in facing budget deficits as many other states (if not most) are in the same predicament. As a recent study by the Cato Institute shows, a lot of the deficit problems stem from generous public employee compensation packages.

State and local governments face large budget deficits as revenues have stagnated and spending has remained at high levels. To reduce deficits, large savings can be found in the generous compensation packages of the nation’s 20 million state and local workers. In 2008, wages and benefits of $1.1 trillion accounted for half of total state and local government spending.
Cato's charts speak for themselves.




Part of the problem is that there are now more government workers than "goods producing workers" (construction, manufacturing, mining, agriculture) in the U.S. (source, h/t):

As John Carney and Kamelia Angelova (who produced the above chart) explain:
We've gone from providing jobs in profit-making private industry to providing jobs in profit-eating government work. Toward the end of 2007, the total number of government jobs exceeded the total number of goods producing jobs. Welcome to the government payroll economy.

In a Spiritual Dimension

Justin Katz

One hears, from time to time, statements that suggest that advancements in neurological science will negate belief that the self is anything other than an illusion created by electrical and chemical processes. I've always thought such a view to be astonishingly wrong-headed and, in some cases, deliberately misleading.

Stephen Barr takes up the topic in a review of a book about the related science and religion:

It is no less reasonable to accept the existence of both mental and physical aspects of reality and to say that they do in fact affect each other in predictable ways that can be described, without having in hand or even supposing that there exists a “mechanism” for that interaction. Indeed, this is really all that neuroscience itself can do. For instance, it can tell us that a lower than normal concentration in the brain of a molecule called dopamine (a certain arrangement of eight carbons, eleven hydrogens, one nitrogen, and two oxygens) leads to the subjective experience of boredom or apathy. It can find that the electrical stimulation of a certain tiny region of the brain produces mental states ranging from mild amusement to hilarity. It can report, as Jeeves and Brown do, that “damage to a certain small area of the cortex serving vision (called ‘V4’) can strip color” from one’s visual experiences.

But in none of these cases can it explain the connection between motions of material particles and mental experiences any better than Descartes was able to do. For neuroscience, in effect, the entire brain is just Descartes’ pineal gland writ large.

But there is one key difference. Neuroscientists, unlike Descartes, tend to see the action as one-way: Matter can affect mind but not the other way around. Some justify this by saying that any effect of mind on matter would violate the laws of physics. Nothing that is known about physics, however, compels that conclusion.

What's amazing? That the application of chemicals and electricity to an organism that runs on chemical and electrical reactions can elicit a physical and emotional response, or that some well-chosen squiggles on a piece of paper can do the same thing? The former merely offers a shortcut for something that we've always had the power to accomplish.

We would be foolish to dispute that there is some mechanical process for the entirety of an exchange of humor, for example. There's an economic reason, rooted in biological need to support one's self, for a comedian to make jokes. There's a culture and a society through which he knows what makes something funny. There are mental processes by which his brain coordinates that information, mechanical processes whereby his mouth enunciates its conclusions, economic processes that put him on a stage in front of cameras, electrical processes whereby the cameras function and send those signals to your television. And then there are biological processes that bring the light into your eyes and the information to your brain.

Even without minute detail about each step, we can trace the whole thing from beginning to end. That doesn't mean that there's nothing more. Much like the movement of electrons begets an electrical field and a magnetic field, the existence of those electrons does not make the field less real. Moreover, you can act on the field without any knowledge of the mechanical basis for it. Just so, we can acknowledge the mechanics of the self and still understand there to be a sort of spirit field.

The major risk of the scientific inclination is that the more efficiently we can manipulate processes — as we move from having to go through an elaborate system of getting a comedian to learn how to make jokes and practice his delivery and work through a major network and a whole industry of entertainment in order to spark the pleasing sensation of laughter to simply being able to offer a pill or a shock to the brain — we can manipulate much more significant and dangerous things than laughter. As we advance, it becomes imperative that we develop our appreciation for this spirit field, and yet, our tendency to give credence to such a dimension at all decreases.

This, indeed, may be the mechanics of the Eschaton. The theological end of the world may have something to do with the fact that, as we "play God," our appreciation for what God has done, our belief in God, decreases. There are two paths based on increasing knowledge: You can become more God like, more like Jesus (for the Christian), in your actions, or you can become more arrogant and prideful in what you can do to manipulate reality, more skeptical that there is a God. If a series of accidental process, and not an intention, brought us to this point in reality, then there's less reason to be concerned about the idea of messing with it.

The intelligent being who has mastered laughter has reason to believe that he can put that power to better use than arbitrary circumstances of nature. If, however, there is a God who has thought the whole thing through from beginning to end, we ought to have a greater respect for, and be more humble in our application of, our new powers.

An apocalyptic narrative appears in the assurance that, no matter how far our civilization goes, we can move closer to God as individuals. The more skeptical, secular, and anti-religious the world becomes, the more opportunities there are to behave in a Christ-like manner. Those who take seriously the promise that they are blessed when persecuted will have plenty of opportunities for that blessing, and those who distrust the promise will have plenty of evidence that conversion will mean persecution. In other words, the separation of humanity into binary categories of religious belief and irreligious belief, which sciences dealing with the nature of being accelerate, might, itself, be the process of the end times.

Opening the Year with Fatal Steps

Justin Katz

If you felt a dip in the collective intelligence of Rhode Island life, yesterday, it was probably because the General Assembly is back in session, gleefully lighting the fuse of 2010 with no indication that legislators intend to turn the state around. The first spark came with a veto override bonanza, including the legislation that arrogates to a union-heavy unelected board the power to define healthcare benefits for teachers across the state, mandates that districts offer that coverage (even in charters), and vomits on the principle of separation of powers.

Prudent school committees will have no option but to adjust for the control that this power grab has taken from them in the salary column, which is probably one reason that binding arbitration is so high on the union lobbyists' list. With healthcare effectively off the table, unions will offer up impossible pay demands and look to arbitrators to split the difference in favor of slightly less impossible remuneration packages.

From the General Assembly's press release on the override, one would never suspect that this board is much more than another investigative committee with no real power. It is more than that, and when the tally for yesterday's vote is available, I'll take this legislation as an opportunity to inaugurate a "legislative stooge" list of people for whom you should not vote under any circumstances. As issues in the range of "do or die" for Rhode Island come up, I'll add to the list, as merited, and explain each inclusion.

Another spark lit the caverns of the State House when 41 of 75 members of the RI House of Representatives signed on to the following letter, penned by Rep. Amy Rice (D - Portsmouth):

Dear Governor Carcieri,

We write to you today to assert our opposition to your proposed FY2010 Supplemental Budget. Rhode Island, like almost every other state in the nation, is facing a deep fiscal deficit due to the national and global economic crisis. How we deal with the economic crisis now will determine Rhode Island's future economic well-being. As such, we need real, honest leadership from your office as we strive to work together to fix our state's budgetary problems.

Your supplemental budget, which you proposed without serious consultation with municipal leaders or the General Assembly, depends mostly on slashing $125 million in aid to Rhode Island's cities and towns. Let there be no doubt about it: This drastic mid-year cut is nothing more than a passing of the buck to our municipalities. Rhode Island's municipalities have already done so much to balance their budgets in these difficult times, including eliminating after-school programs, renegotiating collective bargaining agreements with municipal employees' and teachers' unions, laying off employees including police officers and firefighters, and, of course, raising property taxes - the most regressive tax.

Your claim that your proposed mid-year cuts to cities and towns will not result in raising property taxes is either cynical or an exercise in self-deception. Rhode Island already has an exceptionally upside-down tax system that results from our over-dependence on property taxes and our low rate of state support for school funding. Your Supplemental Budget proposal would severely exacerbate this imbalance by increasing our reliance on the property tax - the worst thing in this recession.

To disinvest in our communities and the public infrastructure and institutions that form the foundations of a strong economy, is not the forward-looking leadership we need. Given that the bulk of our deficit is due to decreased revenue, we must find responsible and balanced ways to raise new revenue. We need to create opportunities for success for all Rhode Islanders.

We realize that there are no easy solutions but urge you not to choose the worst option. We look forward to having you collaborate on this with the General Assembly and our municipal leaders.

From this bit of political literary theater, one would never suspect that the General Assembly has any budgetary authority at all, let alone the final determination of what the budget is. Rice's letter perpetuates the utterly farcical spin that the General Assembly is not centrally responsible for the collapse of our state. The appropriate response from legislators to a budget with which they disagree is a better budget, not a political pronouncement to hide their collective incompetence.

Especially disappointing was to see Congressional candidate John Loughlin's name as the sole Republican to sign on to the letter. Happily (although it took a bizarre and disconcerting email exchange to get the information), I can confirm that Loughlin was on the right side of the above-mentioned veto vote, although he did vote for the insurance board the first time around.

January 5, 2010

Prudential Differences from Pulpit to Pew

Justin Katz

Whenever the issue of immigration comes up with some reference to religious groups, especially where Roman Catholic clergy are involved, somebody inevitably calls in to talk radio to declare that it's really just a scheme to increase the number of church-going Hispanics. The claim is more cynical than is merited, but to the extent that such considerations potentially play a subconscious role, Mark Krikorian points out another dynamic that should be considered:

The three Christian groups had remarkably similar views, with born-agains slightly more hawkish and Catholics slightly more dovish, as you'd expect; in any case, overwhelming majorities thought overall immigration was too high and preferred attrition over legalization as a way to deal with the current illegal population. While Jews were most permissive, again as expected, even there a plurality preferred attrition, and ten times more said immigration was too high as opposed to too low. These views are the opposite of the leadership of the various denominations, which uniformly, and with increasing stridency, support amnesty and increased immigration.

Given that the difference of opinion between religious leaders and followers spans denominations and even religions, the underlying cause seems more likely to be one of perspective than of self-interest:

Overwhelming majorities of all groups [of lay people] thought illegal immigration was caused by inadequate enforcement rather than by limits on legal immigration, and also that there are plenty of American workers to fill low-skilled jobs, if the wages and working conditions were improved, as opposed to needing to increase legal immigration.

Perhaps church leaders should adjust their prudential judgment in light of the experience of their flocks, who by the nature of their vocations, spend more time interacting with the economy. By advocating for increases in the nation's low-end workforce, as well as for social welfare and amnesty policies as incentive for crossing our border by any means possible, clergy are helping to suppress the economy's ability to improve working and living conditions for everybody.

Putting the Rabbit in the Dark, Restrictive Hat

Justin Katz

John Kostrzewa explains that Rhode Island's economy is done harm by "inconsistent, zig-zag public policy decisions that have kept business owners, investors and people from locating" in the state. He's talking about tax policy, there, but he goes on:

... for yet another year, political leaders have put off the hard choices until well into the new year, with no clear idea of when the budget will be balanced and how.

Elsewhere in the same Sunday paper, Rhode Island Speaker of the House Bill Murphy illustrates his prior wisdom in staying out of the press and out of the public eye:

The lawmakers are hoping for other options, including a possible new round of federal stimulus dollars. "Over several of our budgets, it seems that we've been able to pull a rabbit out of a hat. I don't know if there's any rabbit left, but if there's one left down there, we'll come through," Murphy said. The governor's tax overhaul may provide another rabbit.

There you go, Rhode Island. You're being governed by people whose leadership plan is to hope for tricks that give the illusion of miracles. Apparently, Speaker Murphy doesn't consider it to be a matter of deep concern that the magician is supposed to be the one who puts the rabbits in the dark, restrictive hat in the first place. The General Assembly is standing on stage reaching through the trap door in the table hoping, just hoping, that somebody else will slip another rodent in the empty space beneath, and all of our livelihoods depend on that bit of luck.

Want further indication of the reason for our state's collapse? Here's Murphy, again, on the reason that the Rhode Island public sector doesn't need to make the same sorts of adjustments to pensions that economic reality has forced on the rest of the economy:

"We're talking about state government," he said. "State government is different."

The speaker continued: "We can control state government. We can't control what an individual company does."

In other words, given the power of the General Assembly, the government can simply force taxpayers to continue funding unworkable benefits for unionized special interests, whatever the effects on everybody else. Murphy's fellow stooge and chosen successor, House Majority Leader Gordon Fox, digs the hole more deeply:

Fox quickly chimed in, saying lawmakers are concerned that Governor Carcieri's latest proposal — to eliminate the guarantee of annual cost-of-living increases — could hurt future state retirees, and by extension, the state budget and the economy.

Fox believes that a failure to ensure perpetually increasing pensions for the small segment of workers who actually receive them (often residing outside the state) will damage the economy, but a leadership class that has no solutions other than adding to an already oppressive burden on the local economy will not. Perhaps Mr. Fox should devote some meditation time to Murphy's magician metaphor. After all, the audience is always free to leave and decline to pay for the entertainment thereafter.

Proof of the Existence of Government

Justin Katz

Somehow, one is not surprised that this instance of governance has not sparked the shock and outrage that accompanied the decision of Swiss voters to ban minarets:

... the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, has ruled that the government of Italy must remove crucifixes from public school classrooms throughout that country. According to the decision of the court, "The presence of the crucifix . . . could easily be interpreted by pupils of all ages as a religious sign." This, the court said, could be "disturbing for pupils who practiced other religions or were atheists."

Yes, public/private distinctions apply, but the question is one of governance. The Swiss have determined public scenery to be subject to public considerations of culture, and the Italians should be able to do the same with public classrooms. If a distant, largely unaccountable government in another country can decide such matters of local taste, then — whatever one's belief in God — there's no such thing as self-government.

Narcisse an Example for Us All

Marc Comtois

Today, Bill Reynolds writes about Floyd Narcisse, the much-beloved Central High basketball coach who recently passed away from cancer:

I first met him at a summer league game in North Providence in the late 1980s. He had moved here from Springfield, Mass., transferred then by AT&T. From the beginning he brought an energy, a love of kids, and a big heart.

In those early years he used to host his own AAU tournaments, bringing in teams from New England and New York, then getting on my case when we here at The Journal either didn’t cover them, or did so sparingly. He always was an advocate for inner-city kids back then, something that often must have felt like always pushing a large rock up a long hill.

What I didn’t know then was how active he was in the community, whether it was in the Allen A.M.E. Church in the West End, or the John Hope Settlement House. It soon became apparent, though, that Narcisse was one of those people who never was going to stop pushing that rock, an activist in the best sense of the word.

The first column I did on him was in 1993, when we sat in a McDonald’s in Seekonk. He had been doing his AAU tournaments around here for six years then, and if he was frustrated by the lack of coverage, it never seemed to stop him.

I asked him why.

“We as black men — for the most part — don’t give back to the community,” he said. “I wanted to do that. I think we have to do that. And don’t tell me you don’t have enough time. I have a family. I have two children. You have to find the time.”

"You have to find the time." That's so true. Whether its on the field or court, or at your school or church or community, we need more people to give of their time, especially to our kids. The basketball court was Narcisse's "in", but...:
“It’s not about basketball,” he said one night before a game at La Salle. “It’s about teaching these kids to become people. Why is this important? Because this is an inner-city school and these kids face those stereotypes every day. You know the ones. That these kids are hoodlums. That they disrespect people, scare people. These are the stereotypes these kids face every day, the stereotypes all inner-city kids face every day.

“Our job is to teach these kids the real facts of life,” he went on. “Not to sugarcoat things. Because when they go out in the real world it matters how people perceive you. It matters how you dress, how you act, how you deal with people.”

These lessons need to be taught and reinforced every day. Not just to the inner-city kids, but to the suburbanites and the rural farm kids, too. It's a big world and we are all judged, every day. It's not fair, but that's the way it is. Floyd Narcisse taught young men these lessons and many more. He changed lives. All because he was able "to find the time" for kids who couldn't get the time of day from so many other adults. Floyd Narcisse was a true man and an inspiration. May he rest in peace.

Rights and Benefits

Justin Katz

As Monique insisted, last night, healthcare is not an "inalienable right." Because it requires other people (doctors, et al.) to provide services, it is actually a consumer good. It's a vital one, to be sure, and one for which people will exchange significant percentages of their resources, but that doesn't make it a right.

It does, however, make it an attractive target for people who would like to control your life, such as the current collection of Democrats and their armies of government bureaucrats, who believe doing so to be their right. The ideological distortion of the nature of healthcare serves no purpose but to disguise the fact that government cannot provide this "right" at a lower cost than people can procure it for themselves. If the Democrats' motivation were otherwise, their solution would exclude all of the interference and fluff and provide for the government to grant healthcare to those who want it but can't afford it, and deliberations would consist of a debate about what aspects of "healthcare" are rights, and which are extra. Instead, the objective of legislation has clearly been to determine who controls the industry and how.

Recasting the structure of healthcare "reform" with the assumption that healthcare is a right shows the notion to be nonsense. What other "right" do we require citizens to purchase? What other right requires that people provide the services and that employers offer access to those services as a benefit? Again, rights aren't the sort of things subject to determination of cost effectiveness.

Ezra Klein makes a related point when he suggests that "health-care coverage is not a benefit. It's a wage deduction":

Cost control is not, in fact, all pain and no gain. It's some pain in return for a fat raise. A 2006 study, for instance, by Harvard's Katherine Baicker and Amitabh Chandra used malpractice payments to estimate the effect of premium increases on wages. They found that a 10 percent increase in health-care premiums "results in an offsetting decrease in wages of 2.3 percent" and an increase in unemployment of 1.2 percentage points. Compensation is basically a set sum for employers, and they don't seem to care much whether it goes into wages or into health-care costs.

Assessments of value exist all along the healthcare service chain. Doctors become doctors because the career presents an opportunity to earn the standard of living that they desire through an occupation in which they have an interest. Employers provide health insurance because it helps them to attract and retain employees more effectively than simple cash remuneration. Heretofore, as with all benefits, workers could presume the exchange to be worthwhile; they were giving up part of their natural pay in order to gain something that would cost them more were they to pay for it individually. If one spouse's employer provides better value, the couple switches. If the employee is healthy, he or she opts to take the money instead. The legislation on track to become law merely layers on disguises that enable citizens to ignore the fact that healthcare has a cost.

Back to Klein:

When Americans rejected managed care [such as HMOs], in other words, they didn't know they were ending wage increases, too. But since 1990, wages have tracked changes in premiums more closely than they've tracked the growth of GDP. Maybe if more workers knew that, they would be more interested in efforts to control health-care costs.

Anybody who has watched unions negotiate their contracts can appreciate the point. They'll give up wage increases if their negotiators believe that health insurance benefits will ultimately result in a greater transfer of wealth, and vice versa. What legislators who profess the healthcare-as-a-right doctrine are effectively doing is declaring that somebody must pick up the bill for extensive coverage without reference to the exchange in wages or economic activity or whatever else the burden will land on. And because those ultimately paying the cost won't know the dollar amount (indeed, they probably won't realize they are paying it at all), the bill can only increase.

Personally, I see it as more appropriate to insist that we have a right not to pay more for a service than we are willing to pay for it.

January 4, 2010

Really? Health Care is an Inalienable Right?

Monique Chartier

Glenn Beck this morning dissected remarks that Senator Tom Harkin made following upon the passage of a health care reform bill in the Senate. [Emphasis added in both quotes.]

What this bill does is we finally take that step. As our leader said earlier, we take that step from healthcare as a privilege to healthcare as an inalienable right of every single American citizen.

This is a real leap. True inalienable rights, along with true "human rights", another phrase that the Senator has used to characterize health care, are on a much higher plane than health care. To define health care as an inalienable or human right is to dilute true inalienable and human rights.

Further, there is the question of where those rights come from - or, more precisely, from where they do not flow. Beck:

Are created equal and endowed by their creator. With certain inalienable rights. Now, that's important to understand. Because [Senator Harkin] used this language. He used inalienable rights. We have taken it and made it an inalienable right. This is Senator Harkin making, declaring himself and the government God. Our creator. Rights no longer come from the creator. They come from congress. They come from Washington. This is the end of the American Constitution. This is the end or the beginning, I should say the last, the last piece of turn the engine on, of fundamental transformation of the American system. Once they tell you without fear that they can create inalienable rights, the whole system is upside down.

Beck's point that inalienable rights come from God does not altogether ring with me as I am mostly atheist. I do know that they do not flow from Congress. Senator Harkin's attempt to accrue to Congress the power to create and define inalienable rights comes across as an excessively paternalistic, disturbing and completely overreaching power trip.

Why the Proposed Teachers' Health Insurance Board is an Unconstitutional Violation of Separation of Powers

Carroll Andrew Morse

A non-trivial question concerning the new teachers' health insurance board proposed by the legislature but opposed by the Governor is which branch of government it would belong to.

It's obviously not the judiciary.

And as currently structured, the board cannot be an offshoot of the legislature. A legislature has no power to delegate its statewide lawmaking authority to a group of non-legislators operating outside of the normal lawmaking process -- unless it is through the rule-making authority of an executive branch agency.

That leaves the executive branch, which makes sense, as this new board is basically a regulatory agency charged with overseeing the actions of school committees in certain aspects of teacher contract negotiations. However, the legislature does not have the power to designate anyone it chooses as makers of administrative rules that ultimately carry the force of law; according to the principle of separation of powers, this power can only be delegated to a constitutionally recognized executive.

This aspect of separation of powers, fundamental to the structures of our state and Federal governments, is spelled out directly in Article IX Section 5 of the Rhode Island Constitution…

The governor shall, by and with the advice and consent of the senate, appoint all officers of the state whose appointment is not herein otherwise provided for and all members of any board, commission or other state or quasi-public entity which exercises executive power under the laws of this state; but the general assembly may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they deem proper, in the governor, or within their respective departments in the other general officers, the judiciary or in the heads of departments.
Rhode Island legislators have no basis for ignoring Article IX and replacing the Governor with labor unions or other organizations in making appointments to state boards (no matter how much they might like to) unless they're claiming the authority to create new branches of government without needing a constitutional amendment.

Modeling for Political Gain

Justin Katz

Christopher Horner's wry observation concerning policies that rely on result modeling suggests a valuable perspective adjustment on a variety of issues, especially when it comes to the environment and the economy:

You may have seen the Washington Times' lead story reporting that, when Obama's Department of Agriculture computer model assessments of cap-and-trade's impact revealed that it would encourage farmers to plant trees for carbon credits instead of food, the administration told the modelers to change the assumptions to get a different result. ...

So the administration rushed to tell us there were problems with the models, wrong assumptions, etc. The modelers, without the intervention of politicians, had gotten it wrong, you see. But now that the pols have told them what to do, why, all will be well.

Horner then widens the picture to include climate modeling, ultimately applying the perspective that we lose all too quickly when we jump into the fray throwing bombs about scientists and talk radio talkers:

But of course, everyone knows that models predicting the weather are very reliable. Trillion-dollar-policy reliable, apparently.

The burden isn't on skeptics to prove that climatological models are wholly false; it's on those who would take economy-changing steps in order to save the planet who must prove that those particular measures will have the predicted effect on the predicted circumstances.

The Right Immigration

Justin Katz

As frequently as right-wingers have to insist that they aren't opposed to immigration, per se, we have to begin making a better effort to tie our views on the discrete issue to our broader understanding of culture and economics. Reuven Brenner puts it well:

The histories of Israel, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and West Germany have much in common with that of Amsterdam. In each of these places, the state provided a relatively decent umbrella of law and order compared with what was offered by neighbors. This gave people a greater stake in what the business society was doing: attracting immigrants and entrepreneurs from around the world. In turn, the influence of these critical masses of talent radiated around the world and made people richer in distant places, too. Other places such as Malaysia and even Australia and Europe, as hard as their governments have tried with massive investment funds to create venture capital, have not been as successful. You need the vital few in a tolerant environment to properly deploy that capital. If a place does not attract them, governments create statistical venture capital but not real capital. It's the ability to attract and retain talent that sheds light on the above miracles.

A leftist spin on this observation might be that "a relatively decent umbrella of law and order" must include a safety net that protects residents from calamity and union-built gates that prevent backsliding. In order to gain those features, however, a society must turn its government into a thief. The immutable reality is that productive, innovative people who are also selfish will avoid regions that siphon their money away, and productive, innovative people who are not selfish do not need a government intermediary to ensure their charity.

Failing to craft immigration policies that favor the immigrant population that Brenner presents as high-value human capital strains safety nets while giving "the vital few" reason to fear that they will not be permitted to harvest the fruits of their hard work. Sensitivity about discrimination (neutrally intended) may have a salutary effect on self-image, but it really isn't healthy for anybody involved.


Brenner works his way through an interesting parenthetical note that's worth considering:

These policies no longer fit today's more mobile world. Until they are changed, however—and the sooner, the better—the least the United States can do is try, explicitly, to attract the vital few to its shores and, at the same time, speed up the domestic production of talent. (This is achievable by reducing the number of years youngsters spend in school.)

A disposition toward contrary conclusions makes this suggestion particularly attractive in an environment in which one is more likely to hear of a need for schooling to begin at a younger age, with longer days, and through more-advanced degrees. (Of course, one must pay attention to the parties making those declarations.) If we're looking to foster self-motivation and innovation, though, our society ought to provide exits for young generations to blaze their own paths.

Chafee Floats Expansion of Sales Tax in Gubernatorial Coming Out Party

Marc Comtois

After loaning himself a couple hundred grand, former Senator Lincoln Chafee announced his expected bid for Rhode Island Governor as an independent this morning. The headline is his willingness to expand the sales-tax base. From Katherine Gregg's story:

While he would prefer the state generated new revenue from economic growth, "not by raising taxes and fees,'' he said: "We have to honestly confront the immediate gap between the revenue we take in as a state government, and what we need to spend to support the services we provide, particularly our schools and state colleges.''

Chafee said he believes "the least harmful tax to job growth and economic development is a broad-based sales tax."

While Rhode Island's 7 percent sales tax is "already the nation's second highest, surpassed only by California...Rhode Island has one of the broadest lists of exemptions, including: food, clothing, over the counter drugs, over 70 categories that total $9 billion a year.''

"Make no mistake; I will oppose any changes to our taxes without first reforming our spending, particularly the mandates,'' he said. But "we have to make choices,'' he said, and "rather than forcing our property taxes to rise across Rhode Island, we should carefully examine a two-tier sales tax. Other states have this system and it is working.

"Illinois has a 6.25 percent sales tax but a separate 1 percent tax on food and over the counter drugs. Tennessee has a 7 percent sales tax but a 5.5 percent tax on groceries. Working together, we can find the right formula for Rhode Island, one that provides the revenue we need to spare property taxpayers an ever-increasing burden, while taking into account the strain that families already feel from taxes.''

This isn't the first time this idea has been floated--the Poverty Institute has been throwing this idea out there for a few years, for instance--and it's in line with Chafee's track record of favoring tax increases to "pay for" things while also proposing budget cuts. The only problem is that Chafee's brand of fiscal responsibility seems to always get the tax increase side of things through and not the promised cuts. I have little faith that a gravitas-challenged Governor Chafee will be able to persuade RI's General Assembly to do any different.

UPDATE: Chafee offers more ideas HERE (I assume this is the prepared text of his announcement speech).

In a Land of Waning Religion?

Justin Katz

Ted Nesi has culled the local data from a national survey concerning American religion:

Rhode Island residents are among the least religious in the country, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life in Washington.

Just 44 percent of Rhode Island and Connecticut residents surveyed by Pew said that religion is "very important in their lives." The two states ranked No. 42 out of 46 in their share of deeply religious people. (The center surveyed 482 people in the two states, which were combined because of their small sample sizes.)

One could layer all sorts of caveats over this sort of data. In a state in which religion isn't an overt and explicit part of quotidian interactions, for example, it may be that a survey respondent has to be even more devout in order to declare the importance of religion and expressions of certainty in the existence of God.

That said, there's a reason public statements of religiosity feel like missionary work around here. One could suggest that New Englanders just like to treat their faith as a private matter, but by any standards &151; religious, sociological, psychological — cordoned faith is vulnerable faith, especially as new generations get the impression that nobody really believes anything.

Re: A New Year Begins...

Donald B. Hawthorne

Trying to effect change in Rhode Island at even the local level has been a monumental struggle with almost no success to show for it. Frankly, after years of trying, I have concluded it is not worth the effort.

I crossed the state border again this Fall, this time leaving Rhode Island permanently. I recommend it highly. It's relatively easy, too.

And it is liberating to rediscover that the need to fight the colossal failure that is Rhode Island is optional.

It appears that nothing will change until there is a total collapse. So let the rats go down with the Rhode Island ship. It's apparently the only possible way to get rid of them.

It's sad, isn't it? Because it did not (and does not) have to happen that way. Which is a common conclusion when looking retrospectively at crises.

Meanwhile, some (updated) previous reflections:

Meaningless talk and inaction in a crisis: Why Rhode Island's crisis will get worse before it gets better & what to do about it
Lessons for Rhode Island from Silicon Valley: An historical reflection on an actual innovation economy
Innovation and the entrepreneurial business culture revisited

A New Year Begins...

Justin Katz

... with the Providence Journal declaring itself part of the old, dead Rhode Island. Some of the paper's journalists have been doing an admirable job of trying to cover Rhode Island as we all see it, but its list of "10 people to watch" in 2010 consists of:

This isn't to say that the choices aren't individually defensible from a "news maker" perspective — some of them are even obvious — but the only one even close to arguably involved in deep statewide reform is Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, and as I indicated, she's a hired dynamo working from within government. Where's OSPRI, RISC, RIRA, the RI Tea Party, Operation Clean Government, Common Cause Rhode Island, RIILE, the Moderate Party, or any one of the various talk radio hosts? Anybody. The Providence Journal ignored the fight for Rhode Island's soul in preference for identity groups and special interests, and even by that attenuated method, it didn't consider right-leaning reform worthy of inclusion.

My characterization of an old, dead Rhode Island is not a statement of braggadocio with regard to political and cultural victory of a new Rhode Island. It's a description of our choice as between killing an old way of doing things in this state or watching the state itself die. In some respects, one could suggest that the Providence Journal compiled a list of people to watch with the intention of stopping their political activism.

To be honest, if this weren't an election year during a dire time, I'd be moving Anchor Rising back to the category of occasional hobby in my personal scheduling. We've been at this for half a decade, now, and although we've grown a respectable readership and thereby gained some satisfying privileges, all of the opportunities that have arisen through that effort have been to provide more free content in exchange for the potential for vague additional opportunities. I reach the down-slope of my '30s, this year, and I need better prospects with greater definition.

That state of being applies to Rhode Island, as well. If things don't turn around with this budget cycle and with the coming election, productive, ambitious Rhode Islanders will have very little reason to stay. The next ten years won't be a period of rebirth and exciting growth, but a lost decade of struggle and wallowing. We're off the cliff, and salvation is do or die.

So I, for one, am taking the Projo's new-year step into line with the old guard as a motivator for renewed effort. Somebody's got to do something. We've got to make every feasible effort to turn the tide. Anchor Rising was created for that purpose, but in order for the purpose to be served, we're going to need your participation and your support. I'll hurl myself at the wall of Rhode-apathy for another year, but if we're going to break through, 2010 will have to see not just a shift in increment, but in level of combined effort and response.

January 3, 2010

Global Warming Proponents: Not So Much Adhering to the Scientific Method as Choosing from an Evidence Buffet

Monique Chartier

What better time than the end of a snowy January day eleven years and counting into a global cooling trend to examine the latest global warming panic mongering?

Global alarm over climate change and its effects has risen manifold after the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Since then, many of the 2,500-odd IPCC scientists have found climate change is progressing faster than the worst-case scenario they had predicted.

In point of fact, the "global alarm" may pertain more to the lack of political will that led to the conclusion of COP15 without (thank heavens) substantive commitments and the corresponding perceived need among proponents of the theory to ratchet up the rhetoric yet another notch.

In any event, the case for "climate change ... progressing faster than the worst-case scenario they had predicted" is a compilation of facts that are incomplete or irrelevant. Interestingly, for example, an increase in the number of extreme hot and cold temperature events is cited, as well as an increase in the heavy-osity of snow and rain falls. Setting aside the question of pertinence (how is this evidence of global warming?), the authors are to be commended for making this assertion with a straight face on the basis of only 150 years of records, thereby dismissing outright climate patterns from the preceding four and a half billion years. In point of fact, dismissal of the entirety of Earth's climate history is a major component - and a fatal weakness - of the theory of AGW.

Most notably, however, this latest list demonstrates the hallmark of the theory of AGW: exquisite selectivity. The promotion of the theory has turned away from science and now, more than anything, resembles a visit to a Chinese buffet: "I'll take one of those, and two of those. No, Miss, don't bother refilling that one. Ooo, these look good! Eww, what's that?! Keep it off my theory ... er, plate!"

Such an approach, of course, eschews the scientific method. Some significant facts carefully disregarded by AGW proponents:

3.) "No Rise of Airborne Fraction of Carbon Dioxide in Past 150 Years, New Research Finds"

From Thursday's Science Daily.

To assess whether the airborne fraction is indeed increasing, Wolfgang Knorr of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol reanalyzed available atmospheric carbon dioxide and emissions data since 1850 and considers the uncertainties in the data.

In contradiction to some recent studies, he finds that the airborne fraction of carbon dioxide has not increased either during the past 150 years or during the most recent five decades.

As John Loughlin dryly observed when he sent me this item,

... looks like Cap & Trade must already be working (even though it hasn't passed the Senate)

Indeed, it's worked for all 150 years that it hasn't been in effect.

2.) The tainted global warming data of ClimateGate is not a localized phenomenon.

It turns out that ClimateGate - the wholesale mix-n-matching of massaged data followed by the shocking revelation that the raw data itself was destroyed in the 1980's - is not limited to the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit but extends to Russian data utilized by the Hadley Center for Climate Change at the British Meteorological Office in Devon, England. Courtesy James Delingpole at the Telegraph.

Analysts say Russian meteorological stations cover most of the country’s territory, and that the Hadley Center had used data submitted by only 25% of such stations in its reports. Over 40% of Russian territory was not included in global-temperature calculations for some other reasons, rather than the lack of meteorological stations and observations.

The data of stations located in areas not listed in the Hadley Climate Research Unit Temperature UK (HadCRUT) survey often does not show any substantial warming in the late 20th century and the early 21st century.

So to prove that the planet is warming, "scientists" combed through the data, picked out those stations that showed a warming trend (and it appears that many of those readings were tainted by the location of instruments) and discarded those readings that showed a level or cooling trend. "Cherry-picking" may not be a strong enough term for such data-handling.

1.) The meagerness of man's contribution to greenhouse gases.

At 6% of total greenhouse gases generated (with Mother Nature, at 94%, picking up the slack), the entire proposition that man could have a role in the warming that may or may not actually be occurring becomes quizzical. Proponents of the theory, however, skip lightly over this fact and call for man to stop using fossil fuels - now! now! it's almost too late! In the absence of anything remotely like a realistic alternate fuel supply, however, this translates into a command to give up all quality of life advances of the last three hundred years: heat, electricity, transportation; most food, most employment, most merchantilism; a command, in short, to dive off a cliff for a completely unsubstantiated reason.

Let me whole-heartedly echo Chris Mooney's call for scientists to speak up. Let the scientists come forth. Let there be an end to the finicky selecting of data and a return to the scientific method.

Re: Is a New Way for Labor to Limit the Options

Justin Katz

Turning on my home computer after a weekend on the road, I was relieved and concerned to see the legislative bomb that Andrew has spotted. Relieved that we've come across this in time to shine some light. Concerned because I recall glancing at these bills back when they were on the agenda and making the conscious determination that I didn't have time to sort through them for pluses and minuses; the reform movement, in Rhode Island, really has to find some way to finance folks who'll take it upon themselves to comb proposed laws for this sort of thing.

Having reviewed the language, I'd add one more reason that legislators who refuse to let the veto stand should face a heavy political cost. Note this language in the House version:

... School district employees whose collective bargaining agreements expire on or after July 1, 2010 shall, upon expiration of such collective bargaining agreements, receive benefit plans authorized in accordance with chapter 27-72. ...

Upon implementation of the uniform health care benefit plan designs or at such other time as specified herein or as specified in sections 28-9-3.2 and 28-9.4-3, all public school districts and charter schools shall implement one or more benefit plan design(s) authorized in accordance with this chapter.

Not only does this law place any healthcare benefits in the hands of a union-dominated board accountable only to union members, it mandates that schools must offer them. Whether there's a feasible public or private alternative or schools just can't afford healthcare benefits anymore, they'll have to provide them. And not only union schools, but charter schools, as well. Once again, the sinking ship of state reveals the rats trying to shore up all that they can, rather than helping to keep the vessel afloat.

Again, now that it's been vetoed and noticed, any legislator who helps to make this a law should find him or her self out of office at the earliest opportunity.


We can also take this legislation as evidence that reformers must be very, very careful about any budgetary or developmental strategy that calls for consolidation.

Is a New Way for Labor to Limit the Options of School Committees in the Legislative Works?

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Rhode Island General Assembly has posted the list of bills from the 2009 session vetoed by the Governor that will be considered for overrides. The House's list is available here, the Senate's list is available here.

One bill (passed unanimously by both houses in the last week of the regular session) scheduled for an override that hasn't garnered much attention as of yet is H5613/S0777, which would limit school committees negotiating heath-benefits in teacher contracts to a choice of plans approved by a newly-created statewide board...

Upon expiration of collective bargaining agreements, only benefit plan designs approved by the board in accordance with this chapter may be specified in future collective bargaining agreements...
And who is it that would be siting on this statewide board?
The board shall consist of twelve (12) members, as follows:
  1. Two (2) members shall be appointed by the president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals and may be active or retired teachers or officials from the union;
  2. Two (2) members shall be appointed by the president of the National Education Association of Rhode Island, and may be active or retired teachers or officials from the union;
  3. One member shall be appointed by the president of RI Council 94 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees;
  4. One member shall be appointed by the president of the Laborers International Union of North America;
  5. Two (2) members shall be appointed by the president of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees;
  6. Two (2) members shall be appointed by the Rhode Island School Superintendents' Association;
  7. Two (2) members shall be appointed by the president of the Rhode Island Association of School Business Managers.
Each appointing authority may remove or replace any member appointed by that appointing authority at any time.
Governor Carcieri vetoed this particular bill despite his support in principle for consolidating school-system health plans, stating that...
The Board consists of twelve (12) members, at least ten (10) of whom are potentially direct beneficiaries of whatever benefit plans are negotiated. Additionally, none of the proposed membership represents municipal or state government or Rhode Island's taxpayers. Municipal officials and the people elected by the voters to balance budgets, fund education and set property tax rates should have more control over school budgets, not less.
As the Governor explains, this legislation is yet another attempt to subordinate the budgetary authority of elected representatives to an unelected panel, to move some actual decision-making power to a body whose members are are directly accountable to special interests, rather than to the taxpayers whose money is being spent.

Or, stated more pragmatically, if the citizenry doesn't like the limits on their representatives that are imposed by this new board, how exactly do they go about changing its membership?

H5613/S0777 would also continue Rhode Island's unfortunate tendency to obscure the clear lines of responsibility that should in exist in a government budgetary process. The ever-increasing layers of indirection added by the state serve mainly to allow officials to point fingers at someone else for the problems that exist -- think of a school committee suing a city or town council in court through the Caruolo Act -- and claim there's nothing they can do to help correct bad situations (other than raise taxes), because the important decisions have already been made somewhere else.

Unless I'm missing something here, this is one bill that legislators should think twice about and have to explain to the public before voting to override.

January 1, 2010

The Future We Face

Justin Katz

So another year closes, and another company comes under the umbrella of United States of America, Inc.:

The federal government said Wednesday that it will take majority control of troubled auto lender GMAC and provide an additional $3.8 billion in aid to the company, which has been unable to raise from private investors the money it needs to staunch its losses.

As it happens, one of my family's vehicles is currently subject to a GMAC loan, leading me to wonder, first, why my debt shouldn't disappear if my government is purchasing the company and, second, how penalties for failure to pay might change if the feds settle in to ownership. Debtors prison, perhaps? Of course, the government has been meddling in the lending game for years, helping to dig the population's debt hole to its current globe-crossing depth (to China), and as a National Review editorial blurb suggests, the president, at least, has conflicting intentions:

With unemployment persisting at painful levels, President Obama casts himself as the scourge of the "fat cats"--he has taken to the language of vacuous populism--castigating banks for making too many risky loans.

At the same time, he dressed down a group of bankers, demanding they make more loans, which means riskier ones.

Arguably, GMAC is in its current position because it made loans that its business model did not support. With government involvement, politicians can sift through potential borrowers and determine which groups are high-risk/high-value (and therefore deserving of subsidization by taxpayers) and which groups are just high risk. That way, risky loans can be rephrased in moral terms and promoted as a debt that society owes the oppressed.

Combine that debt with another that politicians with too much power have incurred and which Nick Gillespie foresees as bringing us to this state of affairs:

There is a looming showdown in American society between public-sector employees and the rest of us, in terms of job security and, especially, unsustainable gold-plated retirement and health benefits that are working hard to bankrupt whole states such as California, New York, and New Jersey. As with some parts of the private sector (domestically owned auto companies, for instance), basic compensation packages were hammered into place in a very different America, and conferred massive future benefits when politicians were either too stupid or too cowardly to confront basic questions of fiscal responsibility.

Government has long been the answer for those who wish to play philanthropist with other people's money and for those who wished to ensure ever-increasing comfort and security through collective manipulation of a democratic system.

Which brings us to an essay by Patrick Deneen, which I found via Mark Shea. One must swallow a very particular interpretation of history in order to agree with Deneen's entire essay, but his conclusion has the resonance of truth:

The choice facing America today is grim: it shows every sign of a willingness to embrace the Chinese model, a model it will likely choose to remain "competitive," but also daily demonstrates its habits of blandishing a citizenry that demands to be coddled. The "democracy" continues to demand its fair share of a dwindling pie, an expected denoument when citizens have been redefined as "consumers." I wager that in 10 years' time, the nation will either have sunk itself beneath the untenable weight of continuing payment of a bribe that could never be sustained — and will look like a third world "banana republic" — or, it will have "successfully" made the transition to another regime, an form of autocratic capitalism in which the State will change the terms of the bribe, paying us with materialist distractions in exchange for our political rights and equality. I daily see signs of both prospects, and can't clearly discern at the moment which will arise. Either way, our culmination is grim, for in either event we will cease in any real sense to be a Republic.

Either way, the strategy is to beg, borrow, and steal for a continuing supply of illusory comfort, the difference being whether we chase denial into the mentality of a basket case or give totalitarianism a try, trading freedom for cheap loans, subsidized toys, and deteriorating healthcare. Neither choice is sustainable, but some minority portion of society might squeeze another half-century or so out of the delusional scam.

Of course, there's a third option, entailing real tolerance of political differences and a widely dispersed government structure. Luckily, we're all familiar with the necessary terms — federalism, checks and balances, representative government, property rights, due process — requiring us merely to reaffirm their meaning and importance.

It is in this last possibility that I find room for hope for the new year. Calamities may loom, but Western civilization will not collapse over night. Our national memory of principles of freedom will not dissipate with the winter clouds. Therefore, start where it all must begin: with your self, your family, your town, your state, and your nation. Be vigilant of changes and affronts far and wide, but begin where you can have the most effect.

Your example and lessons to loved ones will ripple throughout society. Your affirmation of principle in the town hall will echo to Providence, to Washington, to Brussels. Such could be the catalyst expanding a new invigoration around the planet, one well-lived life at a time.