June 30, 2010

OSPRI in Congress

Justin Katz

I've been meaning to mention the Congressional appearance of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute:

The Ocean State Policy Research Institute (OSPRI) today issued an appeal to the Rhode Island Attorney General asking for intervention in the Open Records Request sent to his appointed counsel in the lead paint case who is now being considered for a federal court seat.

"While OSPRI is concerned that the facts about the 'Dupont Deal' be made public, we are equally concerned that government transparency not be frustrated by private firms representing the people who fail to make the records of the case available to their client, we the people" said Brian Bishop, Director of the Founders Project, the Institute's legal research and education arm.

Following citation of OSPRI's efforts in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee where Senator John Corny recognized the frustration we have had obtaining 'Dupont Deal' documents and placed OSPRI's letter to the committee in the record of those proceedings, OSPRI continues to try to get to the bottom of who got what out of the deal and why.

Executive Director Bill Felkner and co. have been toiling on for several years, now, and even this sort of action, gaining the attention mainly of wonks and insiders, illustrate precisely why such work must be done. Without somebody with a spotlight, the public never has a chance to see the creepers skulking along just beneath the bright lights of government and media.

ProJo Editors: Confused on Gambling

Marc Comtois

Ian Donnis points to the ProJo editorial pushing for an override of the Governor's veto of the most recent Casino ballot question and reminds us that, not so long ago, the ProJo was decidedly anti-casino. Ian puts the change in the ProJo's stance towards gambling at around 2006 and some digging in the AR archives supports that. Back in 2006, I posted on the aforementioned ProJo switcheroo and that post had an addendum re-stating the research done by Dan Yorke, who looked at previous casino-related ProJo editorials:

"Just Say No to Casino" 1994 - Against the economics of it vs. other options.
"No Casino" November 6, 1994 - About the inherent corruption around casinos.
"Vote No in West Warwick" June 1999 - Money spent by RIers in a casino will go out of state.
"Allow Vote on Casino" - June 6, 2000 - A big casino will raise cost of public services (police, fire), hurt local businesses, hurt the quality of life and send $ out of state. But voters should decide.
"Put Casino to Vote" June 20, 2004 - Harrah's casino would hurt RI, create a net outflow of $ and potentially fuel corruption. But voters should decide.
Their most recent editorial essentially says that while there is a lot of bad stuff and serious unanswered questions with the casino ballot question they still support it. (Kind of like what they said about the recent health care reform, incidentally). But they then argue that the General Assembly should return from their break, make some fixes and override the Governor's veto for fear of losing gambling revenue to Massachusetts. Confused.

Legislative Grants, "An Extra Perk or two...."

Marc Comtois

The ProJo highlighted the RI General Assembly's "Legislative Grant Program" (nee earmarks or the "rub-n-tug), focusing on the legislators (mostly State Rep's) who believe it's essentially a political spoils system. As reported by the ProJo's Randall Edgar, Rep. Karen MacBeth (D-Cumberland) is one of those questioning the "process":

Testifying before the House Finance Committee this spring, MacBeth said the program, while it may help worthy causes, is being used by the House leadership to hand out "rewards for votes or support." A case in point: She said that while her grant requests from last fall were being ignored, more recent requests from House Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello were approved.

"I think that's wrong," she said.

Committee members gave the freshman lawmaker a cool response.

"I'm a little confused," said Chairman Steven M. Costantino. "On one end, you're saying you didn't receive grants. And, on another end, you're saying let's eliminate the whole thing."

"I'm not upset I didn't receive the grants, I'm upset with the process," MacBeth replied. "As I said, if there's money for communities there, I'm going to absolutely advocate for my community. Do I agree with the process and the money? Absolutely not."

Her comments about Mattiello prompted Rep. Kenneth Carter, a nine-term lawmaker from North Kingstown, to chime in.

"Representative," he said to MacBeth, "if I was the leader of the House, I'd expect to get an extra perk or two for the time and effort they put in."

It's all there; the passive-agressive "I'm confused...", which really means you're confused; the implication that Macbeth was being a hypocrite instead of responding with a straightforward answer to the questions raised; the good ol' boy (imagine Foghorn Leghorn) lecturing the "young lady" as to how it's done up he-ah on the hill, ya see.

As many have long argued, there's no better example of all that is wrong with RI politics than the rub-n-tug. And that's especially true given the fact that so many think there isn't anything wrong with it! Veteran scribe Scott McKay has been around long enough to consider it "business as usual" and takes the "disingenuous state house whiners" to task while pointing to a double-standard:

The fact is, we have a representative democracy with elected leaders. To the victor belongs the spoils. At some level, political leadership demands some modicum of loyalty and meting out grants is one lever that legislative leaders have.

So Lima and the others should not act as if they are "shocked, shocked" to find politics being played under McKim, Mead and White's dome. She supported Rep. Gregory Schadone for speaker. He lost. (Schadone was also one of the complainers in the ProJo piece.)

It has never failed to amaze long-time legislative observers of the disconnect between the way state and federal lawmakers are treated by the media and others. There is a serious double-standard.

Rhode Islanders canonize federal lawmakers who bring the bacon back to the state. We revered Sen. Claiborne Pell for his eponymous grants to college students and named buildings after John Chafee for the federal largess he brought to the state when he was in the U.S. Senate. But a state rep who gets a few bucks for a senior center in his or her community to buy new bingo cards is somehow doing something bad.
Reminds one of that old adage about how one can tell a reformer in Rhode Island: A legislator who is out of power.

He's got a point, but there are plenty of people who think all of it--call 'em grants, pork, earmarks, rub-n-tug, whatever--is bad.

Again: Change the Focus to Students and Parents

Justin Katz

A subscription is required, but Reihan Salam's recent article in National Review on education is worth a read:

Earlier this year, the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform published a study assessing Milwaukee's School Choice Demonstration Project. For many voucher enthusiasts, the results were sobering. Students enrolled in choice schools performed no better on reading and math tests than students attending conventional public schools. Critics such as Kevin Carey, a leading center-left education reformer, suggested that the Milwaukee experiment is therefore a failure.

Yet as Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) noted, students enrolled in the choice program are educated more cheaply than district-school students. As of the 2008–09 school year, the maximum amount Milwaukee's choice schools received per student was $6,607. In contrast, the Milwaukee public schools spent approximately $14,520 per pupil. While these numbers aren't directly comparable, it certainly seems that the district schools are considerably more expensive than the voucher program. Moreover, parents were more satisfied with the quality of education at choice schools, which suggests that some of the schools' positive aspects were not captured in reading and math scores.

In 2006–07, we spent $562 billion on K–12 public education, or 3.9 percent of GDP. Let's be generous to the education industry and assume that we could trim its costs by only one-fifth. This would save taxpayers over $100 billion.

Salam goes on to suggest retaining that money in education in order to fund:

  • Targeted summer programs, because part of the problem that economically and socially disadvantaged students face is that their families habits don't help them maintain their gained knowledge throughout the summer, as wealthier families' habits do.
  • Add separate instruction for children who represent discipline problems, to allow teachers to focus on students who are eager to learn.
  • Student-centric technology that allows, for example, online courses on and off of school grounds.

The overall theme is one on which I've been focusing increasingly: Public schools' priorities must be adjusted to shift the focus to students and their parents — ensuring that they accomplish what society needs them to accomplish, but putting feedback from them (such as their actual desire to attend a particular school) ahead of the bureaucratic feedback in the form of expenditures of tax dollars and union feedback in the form of labor unrest.

A Line from the Town to the State

Justin Katz

On my wish list of general changes to Rhode Island government structure is bringing state representation more directly in line with voter residence. I've argued that legislators would thereby be more accessible and that such a system would create a more direct line for involved residents to move up the ladder of governance — moving from local committees, to town councils, to state senator. State Senate candidate Dawson Hodges adds some fuel to the fire:

So long as Rhode Island maintains home rule for its municipalities, a more prudent constitutional reform might be to reapportion the Senate to one seat for each city and town. Senators representing cities and towns would give municipal governments, which are responsible for the bulk of government expenditures and services, a voice in the State House.

Municipality-based Senate representation would also restore some influence to those well managed cities and towns whose residents shoulder a disproportionate share of Rhode Island's tax burden.

Of course, I might as well have added "imaginary" before "wish list," above, because gerrymandering is one of the mechanisms that keeps the old guard in power.

Rhetoric for the Times, at Least

Justin Katz

State Democrats' lopsided (88 to 32) endorsement of Frank Caprio indicates that party operatives understand, at least, what sort of rhetoric the electorate wants to hear, just now:

"We are going to be the party that holds the line on taxes. We are going to be the party that streamlines state government. We are going to be the party that says to small businesses: 'We want to get out of your pocket and out of your way,' "Caprio said from the podium at the head of the packed room. "And we are going say to state employees ... that the pensions that you have saved for, they're going to be there, they're going to be affordable for the taxpayers and they're going to be sustainable..."

The message — something that could have been said at a Republican convention — didn't dissuade his supporters.

Even if we assume that Caprio is sincere, his characterization of the RI Democrats is (his "we") is laughable. They'll keep on doing what they're doing — namely, striving to preserve the comfort of their special interests (unions and welfare statists) and assuage their ideologues (progressives) while continuing to protect themselves in any way possible. Then, when Rhode Island's situation persists in its deterioration, they'll point to Caprio's rhetoric, which will never have come anywhere near implementation as policy, and declare that Republicanesque policies have been proven not to work.

And Rhode Islanders will buy it.

June 29, 2010

Money for Nothing and Your Economy Cut Free

Justin Katz

This is interesting (subscription needed):

You don't have to be a scholar to know that congressional chairmen bring home the pork. But researchers at Harvard Business School, working with decades' worth of data, put a number on it: Earmarked spending targeted at a specific state increases by about 40 percent when one of that state's senators becomes chairman of one of the major committees, such as appropriations, and by about 20 percent when one of its representatives heads such a committee in the House. The surprise twist: The economy chokes on all that pork. Rather than thriving on the injections of federal cash, local businesses actually retrench.

Government money helps the government and hurts its private-sector competition for funds and for employees. The full report is available online as a PDF.

What's Worth Economic Disruption in a Recession

Justin Katz

This mindset is well beyond my capacity for sympathy, and almost incomprehensible:

Trains stood still and children played instead of going to school as workers around France went on strike to protest President Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to raise the retirement age to 62.

Neighboring countries suffered along with Paris commuters as walkouts by drivers delayed or canceled trains from Italy and Switzerland. Some flights were dropped or delayed. ...

The ranks of demonstrators swelled in comparison to a similar protest May 27. The Interior Ministry put the number of protesters around France at 797,000—double the number in May.

Such incidents should stand as a warning to the United States — a path not to take (any farther).

Ever More Money Still Leaving Students Unprepared

Justin Katz

A recent article on Rhode Island education and the high-tech sector ends with this discouraging testimony:

Prof. Edward Bozzi, coordinator for the biotechnology manufacturing program at the University of Rhode Island, said high school students need to learn physics, chemistry and biology, in that order.

He also said high-tech business is increasingly international, and that foreign language skills are important.

"I've talked to people who have taken foreign languages in high school here, and they can't speak a sentence," he said.

One notable differentiator between private and public schools in Rhode Island, that I've noticed, is that the former often begin teaching languages in the very earliest classes. Another is that grades are more reliably tied to performance; when children's report cards are exactly the same every quarter, parents should be suspicious that the method of tracking their abilities isn't functioning properly.

So, I'll admit that Education Commissioner Deborah Gist's talk of teaching methods leaves me unconvinced that she's correctly identifying the problem:

"Classrooms with rows of desks, and the teacher says turn to page 138, do the odd-numbered problems, and don't make any noise — that doesn't work anymore," she said. "Kids are living in an interactive world."

Sure, the odd numbered problems ought to be homework, leaving plenty of time for interactivity — which we used to call, simply, "teaching." Schools shouldn't have much trouble identifying teachers who think class time should be used for tasks better suited to the dining room table and encouraging those teachers to rethink their methods. But we've been hearing about the changing educational needs of America's children for decades, and still results do not manifest.

Blanket statements about what does and doesn't work should raise red flags. Rows of desks and rote work are entirely appropriate for some subjects, at some grades, with certain students, and particular teachers. It speaks no disrespect to suggest that Ms. Gist's Providence office is not the most appropriate perch from which to discern when that is and is not the case.

The fundamental problems with Rhode Island education are twofold: First, regulatory and financial incentives from the federal and state governments take the focus off students' individual potential and place them on improvements among below-average students. (It simply isn't possible for large government bureaucracies to address student performance on an individual basis.) Second, labor practices shape decisions to an unhealthy degree.

Basically, if we are to improve our schools, school systems must behave as if satisfying involved parents is the key to success. As it is, curricula are shaped to attract money (or, perhaps more accurately, to avoid loss of money on which districts are already reliant), and policies center on minimizing union unrest. Schools require the leeway to decline money that comes with tripping strings, to increase programs as student need dictates, and to modify employees' practices with sufficient rapidity to address the actual student bodies that arrive at their steps each year.

June 28, 2010

Always That Last Leap

Justin Katz

I would very much like to be won over by Ramesh Ponnuru's argument against libertarian reservations about the Civil Rights Act (recently in the public consciousness thanks to Republican U.S. Senate Candidate from Kentucky Rand Paul. But I cannot escape the conclusion that Ponnuru's dual structures of legalism and appeals to legislative judgment never quite eliminate the leap of just wanting it to be so — that is, just wanting Congress to have the power to compel private citizens acting in private capacity to determine the criteria by which they may act.

... Jim Crow was a deeply rooted social system with many facets that blurred the private-public distinction. Governments discriminated against citizens, and ordered the private sector to discriminate. Privately organized terrorism was allowed by the state. It was entirely reasonable for a constitutionally conscientious legislator to conclude that the only way for Congress to enforce the guarantee that states offer equal protection to all citizens was to uproot the whole system: Force the states to allow blacks to vote; require hotels and theaters to treat customers without regard to race; ban employers from considering race as well; end every part of the system that could be ended.

If this reasoning suffices to overcome constitutional scruples about the legislation, it should also suffice to overcome libertarian ones. One might believe that in general people should be free to hire or fire employees on whatever basis they wish, and set a high bar for the infringement of this freedom, while also believing that in the specific circumstances legislators faced in the 1960s this freedom had to be curtailed in order to end a wicked and coercive status quo.

Reading the essay, I was wholly with Ponnuru through this point and hoping that his considerable intellect would enable an a-ha against my libertarian tendencies, but then he goes on as follows:

Note, however, that this reasoning, depending as it does on the peculiar circumstances Congress faced, cannot justify just any congressional enactment in the name of equality. It would be implausible to argue, for example, that Congress had to outlaw age discrimination for the elderly to enjoy equal protection. Nor, I think, could a legislator argue with a straight face that requiring universities and employers to extend preferential treatment to black applicants would be justified as a way to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment.

Sure, the "peculiar circumstances" argument is plausible, and it's certainly one I would make against extensions of equality-by-dictat, but it's not quite adequate to the libertarian challenge. Ponnuru argues, essentially, that (owing to the 14th and 15th amendments) the Constitution gives Congress the power to pass such laws and that doing so remains a matter of legislative judgment. It may be implausible to say that Congress must include other forms of discrimination, but history has surely proven that legislators are perfectly capable of finding justification on other grounds.

After all, at root, the anti-discrimination movement takes as a given that all of the tendencies that they loathe are functions of "a deeply rooted social system." What libertarians would need — what I need, frankly — is a reason, in the law, that only matters of race — especially those tied to our national original sin of slavery — justify the governments telling people whom they must hire and with whom they must associate if they're inclined toward certain activities.

Furthermore, with the advantage of retrospect, it's still reasonable to wonder whether racial strife wouldn't have dissipated more rapidly had it come via the mechanism of private acts of condemnation.

Tangled Rhode Island Webs

Justin Katz

I hadn't had time to explore the new news site, but apparently, Go Local Prov (which is affiliated with WPRO) has been featuring regular commentary by RI Future founder Matt Jerzyk, including a Rhode Island "who's hot and who's not" column. The list typically has the slant that one would expect from Matt, but one example is of a particularly Rhode Islandish flavor. On the "not" list:

Jim Hummel -> Many in the media have done so much to expose the corruption of those in power. However, the "gotcha" stories targeting hard-working Rhode Islanders is really old. Perhaps its Hummel's corporate connection to right-wing groups like OSPRI, but his recent report that attacks a laid-off manufacturing worker in his 50s for trying to retrain himself in the computer sector is really outrageous. Instead of trying to nickel and dime the working class, it would be great if Hummel would go after those who are really fleecing the taxpayers.

As one can see in the current Hummel Report (also affiliated with WPRO), that "working class" fellow whom Hummel is "nickel and diming" is David Arruda, who was laid off from his job as a general manager of an electronics manufacturer last fall and has since been collecting the maximum unemployment from the state (over $500 per week). Mr. Arruda's "retraining in the computer sector" entails being the lone employee of D.A. Computers, presumably "David Arruda Computers."

Mr. Arruda asserts that he's doing nothing inappropriate because he doesn't draw a salary from his "job," and although his LinkedIn page calls him the owner, the company is actually in his wife's name. His wife, as it happens, is employed as a Legal Nurse Consultant with the law firm DeLuca & Weizenbaum, whose Web site header reads, "A Law Firm for the People." Also employed at this people's law firm? Matthew Jerzyk, who might consider putting himself on his next "not hot" list.

Portsmouth Institute Conference on Newman: Rev. Ian Ker

Justin Katz

The final lecture of the Portsmouth Institute's 2010 conference on "Newman and the Intellectual Tradition" was given by Oxford Theology Professor Rev. Ian Ker, on "Newman's (and Pope Benedict XVI's) Hermeneutic of Continuity." Introducing Rev. Ker was frequent Providence Journal contributor and Providence College Professor Fr. David Stokes.

(The remainder of Rev. Ker's speech is available in the extended entry of this post.)

As the title suggests, the conference closed pretty deeply into the specificities of its subject, Newman, and the Church in which he will soon be a saint, the Roman Catholic Church. One point, however, that is broadly relevant to contemporary discourse in the United States is that it was not a healthy turn of events for the Catholic Church to be established as a state religion. As Ker reports Newman's view: "Italy would be more religious were it necessary for religion to fight for its place."

Another supremely relevant point derives from Newman's observation that, in different times and places, monasteries became refuges for religious people when secular society became too oppressive. One application of that to the modern day might be that the Church must assert its presence more forcefully in education in order to extend that refuge beyond the proverbial monastery to the laity. How better could the Church model the signifying function of Christianity?

June 27, 2010


Engaged Citizen

On Thursday morning of this week, that is the headline that some of you might be reading in your local newspaper. UNLESS somebody comes forward to run in the next few days.

All candidates for State Legislature must file their Declaration Of Candidacy, at the City or Town Hall in the community where they are registered to vote, on Monday - Wednesday (until 4 P.M.). After that, it is too late. If no Republican has filed to run by 4 P.M. on Wednesday, then the Democrat is automatically elected on November 2nd. Even if he gets indicted before Election Day (something which always seems to be a possibility in this state).

There are a number of Districts where we have not been able to identify any possible GOP candidate; not even a place-holder candidate (we will explain what that means a little later).

In 2010, Republicans are going to win in some very unexpected places, where they would never stand a chance in other years. Voters all over the nation are very angry, and are throwing out incumbent office-holders, just because they are incumbents. Look what happened recently in South Carolina's Democratic U.S. Senate primary, where a total unknown, who did not campaign or spend any money, won only because his opponent currently held an office. This same sort of thing can happen in Rhode Island. But ONLY if the Republicans have a name on the ballot.

Many people have been assuming that someone else will come forward to run, and they do not need to do anything. Every election year, after the deadline has passed and no Republican filed to run in a District, we have people come up to us and say, "I wish I knew that you did not have a candidate in my District. I would have filed to run, just to keep the incumbent from being re-elected unopposed". Well, in the Districts listed below, we do NOT have a candidate, and you know about it now. If you live in one of these Districts, will YOU do something about it, and file to run before the Wednesday deadline? Reply to this E-Mail right away if you would consider putting your name on the ballot. (Please, no E-Mails saying "I agree, and I hope you find somebody, but it will not be me").

Now, the explanation of a place-holder candidate. If a candidate files to run, and gets enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but then withdraws from the race; the state GOP Chairman has the authority to appoint a replacement, up until September 17. But if nobody files to run by this Wednesday at 4:00 P.M., there is no way under R.I. election law for us to have a candidate on the ballot. (At that point, we are totally out of the race.)

Here are the Districts where we need a candidate in a hurry:

House 1 (Providence - Rep.John McCauley)

House 3 (Providence - Rep. Edith Ajello)

House 7 (Providence - Rep. Joanne Giannini)

House 9 (Providence - Rep. Anastasia Williams)

House 10 (Providence - Rep. Scott Slater)

House 11 (Providence - Rep. Grace Diaz)

House 12 (Providence - Rep. Joe Almeida)

House 14 (Cranston - Rep. Charlene Lima)

House 19 (Warwick, Cranston - Rep. Joe McNamara)

House 20 (Warwick - Rep. Al Gemma)

House 21 (Warwick - Rep. Eileen Naughton)

House 22 (Warwick - Rep. Frank Ferri)

House 42 (Johnston,Cranston - Rep. Stephen Ucci)

House 49 (Woonsocket - Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt)

House 51 (Woonsocket - Rep. Chris Fierro)

House 56 (Central Falls - Rep. Agostinho Silva)

House 57 (Central Falls,Cumberland - Rep. Ken Vaudreuil)

House 64 (East Providence - Rep. Helio Melo)

Senate 1 (Providence - Sen. Mary Ellen Goodwin)

Senate 3 (Providence - Sen. Rhoda Perry)

Senate 4 (Providence,North Prov. - Sen. Domenic Ruggiero)

Senate 5 (Providence - Sen. Paul Jabour)

Senate 6 (Providence - Sen. Harold Metts)

Senate 7 (Providence,North Prov. - Sen. Frank Ciccone)

Senate 8 (Pawtucket - Sen. James Doyle)

Senate 15 (Pawtucket - Sen. John McBurney)

Senate 16 (Central Falls,Cumberland,Pawtucket - Sen. Elizabeth Crowley)

Senate 25 (Johnston - Sen. Chris Maselli)

Senate 28 (Cranston,Warwick - Sen. Josh Miller)

Senate 29 (Warwick - Sen. Mike McCaffrey)

Dave Talan is a member of the R.I. GOP Candidate Recruitment Committee. His e-mail address is davetalan@aol.com.

Wondering What Comes Out of the Sea

Justin Katz

Even though my love of seafood is yet another taste that I rarely manage to indulge, I have to admit that cost was not my greatest concern when it comes to the consumable effects of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico:

Broadway Oyster Bar is not the only area business affected by the disaster. Retailers, distributors and other restaurants have had to tweak offerings, look for other seafood sources and pay higher prices, which are being passed on to customers. Prices of nongulf shellfish are going up, some buyers say.

Hagen has had to go to a different source for his gulf oysters, switching from a Louisiana company to a Texas operation west of the Mississippi River where harvesting areas are still open. But the change has pushed prices for gulf oysters up by about a third, and gulf shrimp prices could double by the end of the summer, Hagen predicts, though he hasn't had to raise menu prices on shrimp yet. Some have.

I'm eager for correction from those who know better — and it would be wholly irrational to see the spread of toxins through water to be immediate — but something just feels more communicable about events that occur under water. The fluidity of oceans gives local disasters a global feel to a greater extent than events on land. Even beginning with the introduction to maps in elementary school, segmenting Earth's land mass into continents made more apparent sense to me than drawing arbitrary lines between oceans, seas, and gulfs.

Perhaps it's a peculiar Sunday fancy, but I wonder how much more unified we'd tend to be, as a species, were we submarine rather than terrestrial. Wherever such imaginings may lead, for the sake of economic stability and personal well-being, I'll resist universalist superstitions with regard to the dark cloud currently spreading over the abodes of the merpeople to our south.

A Mega High Ratio of Stimulus-Money-Spent-To-Jobs-Created But Did the Dire Economic Crisis Even Exist?

Monique Chartier

Marc Doughty of Pawtucket [H/T the "RISC-Y Business Daily Newsletter" - sign up here] has done the math that I had been meaning to get to:

At the bottom of the June 15 article ("Stimulus-funded jobs appearing") are numbers that should truly frighten anyone who still believes that the government is equipped to put the unemployed back to work.

For $46 million, the state essentially bribed 86 employers to open 270 positions, of which only 32 were filled from a pool of over 800 applicants. Some simple division shows that the cost per job created so far is over $1.4 million. Even if the program succeeded at placing every single qualified applicant, the cost would be over $225,000 per job created, which far exceeds any sort of reasonable return on investment for taxpayers.

It would have been far cheaper to place the applicants on welfare and pay for them to attend GED or community college courses for the duration of their unfortunate circumstances.

Programs like this one (with 4 percent success rates and massive costs financed by public debt) will postpone, not hasten, true economic recovery.

Encouraged by the first wave of such dubious spending launched by his predecessor, President Bush, President Obama insisted that we were justified in saddling future generations with large amounts of our debt because there was a dire economic downturn lurking that absolutely had to be averted by the creation of jobs via lots of government spending. (We're going to pretend for this discussion that much of the stimulus money didn't go to many, many other unrelated "projects".) Yet while all of this government spending was occurring, the vast majority of jobs maintained were in the private sector without a dime of stimulus money. The result has been that the economy continues to stink, though not crash. In fact, despite all of the wild spending (our debt will equal 97% of our GDP next year) Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke observed this week that

financial conditions have become less supportive of economic growth on balance

All that spending. Comparatively few jobs created. Was there ever really an economic disaster about to unfold as President Obama foretold?

The Complaint and the Campaign Path

Justin Katz

Did you catch state Senator Lou Raptakis (D., Coventry) in the Providence Journal?

It is no accident or coincidence that as Rhode Island is mired in an economic and budgetary crisis, our General Assembly has been operating in the shadows. When hundreds of bills are considered at the last minute, when significant new proposals are brought forward for a vote without substantive public debate, and when House Speaker Gordon Fox suggests that members should vote on bills without reading them because it’s just time for everyone to go home, we have a broken legislative system.

Raptakis is keeping the light on his fallen legislation to require legislators' votes to be publicized more quickly and simply as he runs for... Secretary of State. Obviously, keeping track of such records would be a relevant task for somebody interested in that office, but it would take the action of legislators to make it available.

I feel like I'm missing something when it comes to the campaign path that Sen. Raptakis has chosen for this election cycle. Perhaps he could implement something resembling his proposed vote tallying process from within the secretary's office, but that's not the message of his op-ed.

June 26, 2010

Government as Lone Shark Collector

Justin Katz

I've written, periodically, about my belief that debt is the new method of indentured servitude. If we can get young adults to enter the working world with hundreds of thousands of dollars in education loans, some additional thousands in credit card debt (incurred on the expectation of profitable labor after graduation), with car loans a near necessity, and housing options pushing them toward entering into mortgages, we've taken away a great deal of the freedom that economic independence imparts. The situation gets chilling if this story is anything more than journalistic sensationalism of a few peculiar cases:

It's not a crime to owe money, and debtors prisons were abolished in the United States in the 19th century. But people are routinely being thrown in jail for failing to pay debts.

In Minnesota, which has some of the most creditor-friendly laws in the country, the use of arrest warrants against debtors has jumped 60 percent over the past four years, with 845 cases in 2009, a Star Tribune analysis of state court data has found.

Not every warrant results in an arrest, but in Minnesota many debtors spend up to 48 hours in cells with criminals. Consumer attorneys say such arrests are increasing in many states, including Arkansas, Arizona and Washington, driven by a bad economy, high consumer debt and a growing industry that buys bad debts and employs every means available to collect.

Whether a debtor is locked up depends largely on where the person lives, because enforcement is inconsistent from state to state, and even county to county.

In Illinois and southwest Indiana, some judges jail debtors for missing court-ordered debt payments. In extreme cases, people stay in jail until they raise a minimum payment. In January, a judge sentenced a Kenney, Ill., man "to indefinite incarceration" until he came up with $300 toward a lumber yard debt.

I expect we'll see this trend expand as the federal government takes on more responsibility in the finance sector, including the bailing out of too-big-to-fail banks. The reality that every loan shark has always known is that some debts cannot be collected. That's the risk of lending. If the government begins stepping in to jail those who fall behind, the public is taking the role of the crooked-nosed debt collector banging on the door and the balance of risk and benefit that makes lending a healthy application of free will and mutual benefit begins to evaporate.

Lamenting the Impossibility of Having and Eating the Cake

Justin Katz

This short article about job prospects for young adults in Greece catches many of the various nuances, but it still seems as if there's a disconnect of cause and effect. Consider:

From their settled perches, the elders criticize and cluck. The young, they say, have either no initiative, a dearth of opportunities, or some combination of the two. They fear that young people will be unable to start their own families and they fret over the prospect of Greece’s demographic undoing.

The youth of Greece are merely responding as the culture in which they were raised taught them. They feel owed — and their elders don't appear to be enthusiastic to undo the government catering that they've enjoyed in order to secure opportunity and a healthy polity for their children. This is the inevitable result of a big nanny-state government.

Now begins another phase, which one suspects was part of the intention of those who strove to set this international movement in motion:

[Twenty-year old Olga] Stefou believes that the government is bound to respond to her discontent. And she has suggestions: Greece should make up its budget shortfall by pulling its 122 troops from Afghanistan and levying steep taxes on the Orthodox Church rather than squeezing the workers, she says.

Moving six score troops from active to inactive duty and transferring wealth from a Church is not going to make up for the demands of unemployed youth with high expectations as to what the world owes them. It is, however, subtle evidence that there are people strategizing to turn a shiftless and insecure generation into a political, quasi-military weapon.

It makes for an interesting, frightening question to consider the addition of the Muslim fanatics currently permeating Europe to the dynamic. Secular revolutionaries may discover that the discontented troops that they've been carefully cultivating find something more compelling in the notion of jihad than of a worker's paradise.

The Rhode Island Latino Civic Fund Gubernatorial Debate: Question About Illegal Immigration

Carroll Andrew Morse

The third question asked at Wednesday night's debate hosted by the Rhode Island Latino Civic Fund at CCRI's Liston Campus Auditorium was from Roberto Gonzalez, who asked about illegal immigration, specifically whether candidates believed it was the paramount civil rights issue of this decade, and what were the candidate's positions on E-Verify, the Governor's Executive Order, in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and the Arizona immigration law. Mr. Gonzalez also asked what candidates would do to encourage minority participation in decision making bodies in Rhode Island.

Unofficial transcripts of the answers offered by the candidates are available via the links below, listed in the order that the candidates spoke.

Frank Caprio: I'll go through all of your specific questions, but let me say up front about immigration, you know I announced my candidacy a few weeks ago on the Fields Point state pier off of Allens Avenue. It's now a small business, but when my grandfather immigrated to this country, there was an orderly process for immigrants to arrive, to be documented, and to become citizens. We had a port of entry right here in Providence. It was the fifth largest port of entry in the United States at the time, and I thank God every day that that was there, because it provided a great opportunity for my grandfather and others....What is going on in our country right now is a shame, in that we do not have a path to citizenship, or the Federal government stepping up to have an answer for this pressing issue, and I fault Washington for that. Let me answer your specific questions.

The Arizona law I'm against.

The executive order, I would keep in place, because that is enforcing the current laws of our land.

In-state tuition, with three years of high-school, I'm in favor of that.

And businesses should be E-Verifying. We should not be having businesses taking advantage of those who are most vulnerable.

Jump to Frank Caprio's follow up.

Patrick Lynch: Let me get right to it...Is immigration the number one civil rights issue in America? I believe it is. If you look at a society that becomes more and more divided, there are more hate groups in America right now than there ever have been before. While we've made great achievements with an African-American president, and taken such strides, and the makeup of our state has changed so dramatically and beautifully and the census will show even more of that, we've become more divided as a society. I've spent a great deal of time, my first issue when I came into office as the Attorney General was creating an office of Civil Rights to preserve that in the office in law. It had not been created before and sadly, realistically we turn to it time and time again to stand up and protect people on housing issues...to push back both criminally through hate crimes and additionally through actions we can now take because I stood up for a civil rights advocate and that will be conserved in law.

The executive order, I couldn't disagree with more. This governor has a knack for putting out some cold-hearted, poorly-calculated, perhaps unintentionally-hurtful documents. That is one of them. I would get rid of that on day one of my administration.

In terms of Arizona, again, from a national basis, when the Federal government fails to act, which it has...Arizona laws are those types of laws that come up. It is not only hurtful and insulting, but in my estimation, legally it is unconstitutional. I find it very unfortunate that it was filed, although any bill can be filed. I would not only veto it, I wouldn't wait that long. I'd be downstairs fighting to make sure it never passed, God-forbid it is submitted again.

The issue of in-state tuition: I don't know if Representative Diaz is here, and the others who have worked on it, I want to commend them. Grace Diaz has been a tremendous leader...My office is reviewing it right now. I have significant concerns because of the incredibly conservative court, that if we just pass the law, and we send it up there to be challenged, that we're going down the wrong path. Instead, we have to establish policies that display intent.

Jump to Patrick Lynch's follow up.

Victor Moffitt: First of all, immigration is a very important issue. I believe that this country should look at its entire immigration laws and find new ways to expand them, so more people can get into the country legally and not have to get into the country illegally.

As far as the Governor's executive order, I would continue to support it because I believe that every state has the right to protect its citizens and its jobs for the legal people that are here.

As far as the Arizona law goes, again, this is a 10th amendment issue. States have the right to protect the people that live in their state, against people who are illegally in the state. I think that everybody in this room is legally here. We want to pass those laws to protect your jobs. A lot of you may be out of work. Some of the people that have your jobs my be illegal people, that are not here properly.

In-state tuition: I'm happy that Representative Diaz has promoted this in the past, but I believe that tuition is for students who should be legally here. Those students that are in Rhode Island deserve to have a break because they live here legally in Rhode Island.

And finally, I totally support e-verify. I have no problem with it. I do not believe it is racial profiling. I just think it is something that needs to be done to verify that when you are hiring someone that that person is a legal resident of the state.

Jump to Victor Moffitt's follow up.

John Robitaille: I do believe that immigration is a significant issue, next to getting our economy back on track.

I do support the Governor's executive order and would not rescind it, because it only does enforce laws already on the books, however with one exception: 287g with the state police, I would not do that. I would go with the Florida secure communities model which absolutely has safeguards against racial profiling embedded in.

As far as the Arizona style law, Arizona is not Rhode Island, I think there are components in that law that we could look at here in Rhode Island, but thank God we don't have drug lords running and shooting at ranchers across our border.

With the Nevada law also, let me tell you what I would like to see happen. I think both of those cases should go all the way to the Supreme Court, and I think that the Supreme Court should rule on how the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution is being interpreted in the United States. My opinion is that the Fourteenth Amendment was passed after the Emancipation Proclamation, which basically granted citizenship to freed slaves in the United States and made them citizens. The Fourteenth Amendment now, unfortunately, is being used to go around and by-pass immigration law, and I am against that interpretation of the Constitution. I know too many people who came here legally. Some are entrepreneurs who have started businesses, and I think that people who are here illegally diminish the citizenship status of those who stood in line and did it right.

As far as the tuition reimbursement, if that individual is not here legally, then my answer is no.

E-Verify, yes. There are 70,000 Rhode Islanders out of work in this state, and I think we sure ensure that anyone doing business in this state, taking a job, should be here legally.

As far as affirmative action goes, I was an affirmative action officer when I worked for Continental Can Company and I had responsibility for over 40 plants, and I ensured that everyone from every race and every sex had an opportunity for jobs and job progression within that organization, and in my administration, I will make absolutely certain that my administration mirrors the demographics of the community.

Jump to John Robitaille's follow up.

Lincoln Chafee: Firstly, I have to respond to the attacks on my record as a deficit hawk and certainly as a Mayor who had to have a balanced budget for seven years. And then in the Senate, we were handed a surplus when I was in the United States Senate, and I voted against the $1.5 trillion tax cut. I voted against the war in Iraq that's now costing us a trillion dollars. I voted against the $800 billion dollar prescription drug benefit, before we did any reforms to Medicare. There's three trillion. There's your deficit right there, my votes. It's a very strong record of being a deficit hawk, which I'm very proud of.

And I do agree that this immigration issue does have to be addressed at the Federal level, and I was there during the Kennedy-McCain bill, which I was a co-sponsor of, which was a path to citizenship, which was a law that required people to learn English, and was a good law and had bipartisan support, Senator Ted Kennedy and John McCain from Arizona, a border state. I was a supporter of that. Unfortunately, that bill failed because instead we were talking about forbidding states from enacting their own gay marriage laws. We were talking about new abortion laws or flag burning. That was the summer when McCain-Kennedy should have been debated, but we veered off and talked about abortion and beating up on gays and flag-burning which wasn't happening, it took three weeks to defeat a flag-burning amendment.

So to the specifics. Yes, I would repeal the executive order. One of my first acts as Governor would be to repeal the executive order.

I would not participate in E-Verify. Listen to the states that presently participate in E-Verify. Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and South Carolina. If it's so great , why do only six states participate. Is that the kind of company we want, I don't think so.

Secondly, the Arizona law, no, I would veto any Arizona-type law that came through the legislature.

And in-state tuition, yes, I think we should we should have undocumented citizens who have completed high-school go on to higher education, but unfortunately that rule comes from the board of higher education, and perhaps Mr. Caprio can work with some of the people he knows on the board of higher education, if indeed he is opposed to having an ban on in-state tuition for undocumented workers, to change that.

Jump to Lincoln Chafee's follow up.

Todd Giroux: America is the land of opportunity, and we are all brothers and sisters. Immigration is community building at its most basic level. My family Giroux, we came from the northern border ourselves. As far as being generous to the folks that are here, with families, absolutely. I believe in a work-for-status so we can document and support folks that have families here.

I would veto any attempts at a type of Arizona law in the future.

I don't think we're ready for an in-state tuition program right now, it's just too great a social burden on all of us.

E-Verify: I like the concept of E-Verify, mostly for reasons of terrorism and homeland security. I think it works on a Federal level and I would never support it to be expanded on a local level. Our local police force should focus on local crime, not profiling of any sort.

We are not a border state and, as brothers and sisters, we need to work together and build communities. We certainly don't need to incite or create reasons to separate us. So again, we all need to work together.

Jump to Todd Giroux's follow up.

Ken Block: As an employer in this state, I have helped two of my employees immigrate legally. I spent tens of thousands of dollars, and I got them H1B visas and green cards. And it is very difficult, as a business owner who has done everything per the letter of the law, to see a parallel immigration policy in place at the same time which operates under very different rules. I believe that illegal immigration is a problem that has to be solved and we do need the Federal Government to take the lead on it, and it's very difficult for a state to do much, other than try to work through the framework and the rules we have in place right now. That's the set-up for what we need to do, and once of things I believe strongly is that unscrupulous employers who take advantage of people who are here illegally have to be shut down. The arborist, whose illegal immigrant worker seriously hurt himself with a chainsaw, tried to have him deported, instead of trying to take care of the wounds that he suffered for him. There is not a healthy scenario here. We see the abuses in New Bedford. We have to protect the workers, we have to make sure that things are being done aboveboard. There are reasons that we have laws, and workmen's comp and paying taxes and all of the other things that need to be there have to be there, so running down the list...

I think the Arizona law is asinine. There is no possible way that that law can begin to address the problem of illegal immigration. I believe it's xenophobic and it doesn't serve any purpose, except maybe from Arizona's point, to prod the Federal government into doing something. Rhode Island shouldn't be there, doesn't need to do that, and it won't solve the problem.

I do believe E-Verify can be a very effective way to stem the tide of illegal immigration. If the jobs aren't here, which I believe is a big motivator for illegal immigration, then I believe illegal immigration will ease.

In terms of the Governor's Executive Order, I would tweak the language significantly. I want to make sure that there isn't any ability for profiling to factor into what needs to be done. It's crucially important.

At the meet-and-greet that we just participated in, we spent about 15 minutes talking about in-state tuition, and the compromise that I was very please to have reached [with the questioner] was the idea that anybody who's here illegally and in our school system who is in the process of becoming legal, through going through the right steps and has applied for their documentation, we should educate those children. But because of the financial straits that we are in, and because the stresses our educational system is already under, I don't believe we can afford to educate all of the world's children right now.

Jump to Ken Block's follow up.


Frank Caprio: When I am Governor, I will communicate with the minority community very clearly. I will also have my wife communicate with the minority community, she will be the first First Lady to speak fluent Spanish.

As to Senator's Chafee's comments about prescription drugs and voting against the prescription drug benefit: I don't know what you have against seniors, Mr. Chafee. You voted against the prescription drug benefit in Washington, and now, back home in Rhode Island, you want to put a new tax on prescriptions, as if the seniors are rolling in dough now. So, the failed policies of the past just aren't going to work. If we're going to get this state moving, it's not going to be by putting new taxes on our seniors.

Patrick Lynch: After listening to some of those responses, I have to say, I wonder if it's due process in America, but only due process for some, if it's a land of opportunity, but only a land of opportunity for some. That's not what I stand for, and that's not what I stand up for everyday, as the Attorney General, as a lawyer, and certainly as a Governor going into the future. It's about fairness, equality, and protecting all, and I think that is at the thrust of all of those issues that are brought up. The one that I didn't get to address was participation, and I guess I would just turn to my administration, from the head of personnel Aida Crosson to the attorneys in my office....they are representative of our community. That's what my administration would be all about. That's what the new Economic Development Council, because I am going to combine housing with it, will be all about, the inclusion of the entire community. That's what I've always stood for, that's what I will stand for when my administration takes hold in January.

Victor Moffitt: Well first of all, we want to think of one thing and one thing alone. We have a U.S. Constitution and we have a Rhode Island Constitution. I just believe in one thing. Let's just uphold our Constitution. If it's not in the Constitution, let's not do it. The people that wrote the Constitution wrote it very clearly. The people that want to come into this country, like I said earlier, let's give more opportunities to expand our immigration quotas to let more people come in legally, so they don't have to come under fences and in pick-up trucks across the borders. Give an opportunity to make it easier for people to get citizenship and let's uphold our Constitution in this country.

John Robitaille: I just want to make one comment on in-state tuition. We are in a crunch, a real budget crunch, and we're talking about higher education being underfunded. Let me tell you what really upsets me: we have veterans in this state who are homeless and living under bridges and we can't afford to fund a department of Veteran Affairs. We can't afford $50,000 to put flags on their graves for Memorial Day or $400 to engrave a dead soldier's name on a monument. We have seniors who are being driven out of their homes because of oppressive property taxes. We are in tough times. We have got to look at cutting costs everywhere. We've got to look at every single program that we fund and make sure that it's fair, make sure that it's equitable, and I have to agree with the Attorney General, what he said earlier about reorganizing our priorities. And I have to tell you that, as far as I'm concerned, there are two grossly underserved populations in this state, and they are veterans and they are our senior citizens and we need to do more for them.

Lincoln Chafee: I lamented in my earlier comments the fact that the Congress didn't pass Kennedy-McCain and of course I do think that was a mistake. But if I am elected Governor, I will be active in the National Governor's Association in making this a priority for all 50 governors. I believe that all 50 of us do not want to see Arizona state laws passed in our legislatures. So if I am elected, I will be active in the National Governor's Association to push Congress to enact a comprehensive immigration reform, similar to the Kennedy-McCain that I worked on when I was in the Senate.

And back to taxes of course: I'm running as an independent, and that was a courageous vote, to vote against the prescription drug benefit, because Rhode Island has one of the highest elderly populations in the country, I think we're fifth highest per-capita in elderly. That was such a courageous vote. But I'm such a deficit hawk, because I care so much about not getting into these deficits, I took that courageous vote and I've argued with my colleagues that we have to reform Medicare first before we put this added brick, on the high, high cost of Medicare. And then finally, on my plan to expand the sales tax...I didn't create the deficit that we all know is coming. We all know that's coming in the 2012 budget. I didn't create it, but I certainly want to solve it.

Todd Giroux: As you know I am also an independent candidate, and I think everyone here has the opportunity to demand of all candidates this year to follow my lead on civil rights protections. Many of us are part of minority communities. I also want to say that I've volunteered with the organization DARE. I have been door-knocking to put communities here in South Providence with translators. Folks that are in foreclosure in the Latino community are more vulnerable than many others to the language barriers and these leaders who have their existing positions have been serving well, thank you very much...The Treasurer's office, the Attorney General, and the Governor, they have to be in-line to be extremely creative to keep people in their homes during this time.

Ken Block: While our recycled politicians are busy slinging mud at each other and arguing, I consistently answered the question, and I realized that I only missed one question, and that is what will you do about minority representation in my administration. I'm going to ask my paid staff to stand up in the back, please...Ms. Cantwell, Ms. Alverez, Ms. Hunsinger, and Mr. Pierce. I think that basically wraps it up for me.

Portsmouth Institute Conference on Newman: Patrick Reilly

Justin Katz

According to its Web site, the Cardinal Newman Society works to "renew and strengthen Catholic identity in Catholic higher education." To that end, the organization's president spoke on "Newman and the Renewal of Catholic Identity in Higher Education" at the Portsmouth Institute's 2010 conference, here introduced by Portsmouth Abbey Headmaster James DeVecchi:

(The remainder of Mr. Reilly's speech is available in the extended entry of this post.)

Reilly began with some statistics from a recent survey showing that students at Catholic universities still tend to drift toward the views of the secular political left on social issues (most prominently abortion and same-sex marriage), although as I recall, religious schools do mitigate the effect somewhat and also preserve the connection to the Church (among its adherents), presumably easing a future return to Catholic ethics. Still, Reilly's argument is sound that Catholic institutions of higher learning have some readjustment to do when it comes to the balance between their religious mission and their educational mission.

Notably, following on Newman's view of the university, Reilly emphasizes the environment. In Newman's conception, the experience of college life was as important as the subject matter, and Reilly points out that many Catholic colleges put aside the Catholicism of faculty and staff in order to improve standing and educational product. As I said, there is an appropriate balance to be struck, but if professors and other institutional leaders are to be advisers and role models, it's hardly reasonable to expect those who do not believe in the Church's teachings to model them.

Reilly suggests that the control of campus life has been reduced to an administrative function that separates the intellectual and moral formation of students from their college experience. In other words, he believes that Newman's view of such institutions as an opportunity for holistic life training has fallen out of fashion. I think he's incorrect, here. The actuality — and the actual complaint that those who share our worldview should make — is that the training has become adverse to Catholic principles, in favor of those of the secular left. There is no void; the gap has just been left to non-Catholic — even anti-Catholic — forces with an interest in college-age adults to fill.

On the matter of education, Reilly argues in line with Newman that universities cannot remove the existence of God from other topics and still present it as something possible. If believers' concept of God is true, then every intellectual pursuit is ultimately a subset of knowledge of the divine. Religion, in other words, cannot be made a secondary elective to fill out students' schedules in a subordinate way to "important" topics like science, math, and art, because the foundations of those subjects necessarily rest in existential questions, and they all continually run into ethical choices that they cannot answer by their own discipline.

This isn't to say that every professor should be required to incorporate religion into the teaching of their courses. Rather, the claim is that a university cannot present its offering as comprehensive education if it dismisses a central topic of existence as unworthy of required research and debate.

An interesting moment came when Professor Paul Griffiths, who remained throughout the conference after his own lecture, ran into some disagreement with Reilly over the degree of concern that active Catholics should have regarding the Catholicity of Catholic schools. The Duke professor suggested, by way of argument, that the Catholic segments of non-Catholic schools are often stronger and more faithful to the Church's teaching.

It's an exchange worth considering in greater detail, but my initial thought was that parents and students should have the option between public and Catholic institutions, but insofar as they desire a Catholic one, it should be fully as advertised. Reilly's premise, it seems to me, points in the direction of emphasizing Catholicity as a differentiation of Catholic universities rather than something to be de-emphasized.

In any case, it mightn't be a bad idea for the Cardinal Newman Society, or some other organization, to rate all Catholic programs in all colleges and universities with respect to their fidelity to Church teaching and the opportunities that they offer for participation in a Catholic campus culture.

June 25, 2010

"But Rhode Island Is Still Asleep"

Justin Katz

Heavy metal/punk rocker Henry Rollins used to (and may still) do free-form monologue shows — sort of a cross between stand-up comedy and academic lecture. As you might imagine, his commentary was often sordid and aggressive, but in my youth, I found there to be an underlying goodness, even wisdom, in his talks.

One skit that illustrates my description well began with him speaking against hating people — as opposed to abstractions, like weakness. But he confessed that he couldn't shake his hatred of folk-pop singer Edie Brickell (she of New Bohemians fame), and he described a work of performance art by which he imagines expressing his feelings. Essentially, he would go through bouts of torturing himself, after which a voice would come on the PA system and say, "But she's still alive."

That's the voice I heard when Richard DiDomenico, of North Providence, ended a recent letter to the Providence Journal (no longer online) as follows, after scorning RI Speaker of the House Gordon Fox (D., Providence) for his heavy-handed opposition to e-Verify:

The U.S. in general seems to be awakening, but Rhode Island is still asleep!

I'm already hearing the echo of that line every time I hear of the contentious actions of New Jersey's new Republican Governor Chris Christie. Perhaps it should haunt Rhode Islanders' dreams until such time as we begin electing people who might attempt something more ambitious than preserving as much of the status quo as possible.

Knowing the World

Justin Katz

In a brief review of Alasdair MacIntyre's God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition (try here without a subscription), Ryan Anderson makes a point that echoes in a Portsmouth Institute speech by Patrick Reilly that I'll be posting tomorrow:

Scholars once sought unified knowledge of all being, in pursuit of which philosophy and theology played central roles, tying together findings from the various disciplines. But the modern university has largely eliminated theology, relegated philosophy to one technical discipline among many, and abandoned the quest for integrated wisdom about the cosmos.

I look back on my academic days bemused that I was both agnostic on matters of religion and impressed by the way underlying concepts seemed to stretch across all subjects that I studied, from physics, to music, to literature, to sociology, and so on. Students can't possibly form a comprehensive understanding of reality — and the major questions that they must answer for themselves — without studying and understanding the thought about God and philosophy that has drawn Western Civilization toward its current position.

To be sure, one can learn all sorts of useful facts and processes simply studying discrete subjects without delving into the meaning of any of them, but then, college is merely a training facility, and frankly, it leaves most students only generally prepared for the work that they'll be doing. If we've decided that young adults oughtn't enter the workforce, into career-type gigs, until they're in their mid-twenties, we'd do better, I think, to graduate them with a stronger concept of the world in which they'll be acting.

Of course, that brings us back to the question of whether college is really necessary or helpful to all of those who incur debt to attend, and from a broad view of reality, I believe that it is not.

In Defense of Realistic Taxation

Justin Katz

In defense of the Tea Party — in the broad movement sense — Fred Deusch of North Providence sums up the problematic thinking of those who advocate for progressive taxation:

Rhode Island has about 1 million people, but only 12,000 pay 41 percent of the state's taxes, according to Treasurer Frank Caprio. How much does Mr. Platt want from those 12,000? In a May 9 Commentary piece, Michael McMahon, former head of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, wrote: "Montgomery County, Md., similar in size and population to Rhode Island, tried to balance its budget by increasing taxes on the top wage earners from 4.75 percent to 6.35 percent. This was supposed to generate $106 million of additional revenue. But many of the wealthy, who are very mobile, left town. Revenue actually fell by $257 million as the number of millionaire taxpayers declined from 7,989 to 5,529."

When the wealthy leave for greener pastures, whether from Maryland or in Rhode Island, who does Mr. Platt think makes up the for the loss in tax revenues? Answer: We all do.

As I've pointed out multiple times, for much of the last decade, Rhode Island's tax policies — the flat tax and the capital gains tax — appeared to be maintaining our base of wealthy residents, while high property taxes (to fund unrealistic contracts for public-sector unions) and the general hostility of our political culture to economic growth continued to drive out the working-to-middle class folks who wish only to build on that base of wealth in order to improve their own circumstances.

Now, the capital gains tax is back with a vengeance, and the flat tax has been eliminated through a clever "overhaul" that appears to make the income tax more progressive, in its real effects, not less. And nothing has been done to improve the lot of those who've been fleeing all along. As Mr. Deusch suggests, we're all going to pay the consequences... all of us, that is, who stay.

The Rhode Island Latino Civic Fund Gubernatorial Debate: Question About Education

Carroll Andrew Morse

The second question asked at Wednesday night's debate hosted by the Rhode Island Latino Civic Fund at CCRI's Liston Campus Auditorium came from two young ladies from Classical High school and the Young Voices organization, who asked about Rhode Island's low test scores for minority students, implementing the newly passed funding formula to get the state's share of education spending to 50%, and funding for English-language learner programs.

In the first go-around, most of the candidates focused on the funding formula and general educational issues. During the follow-up phase, the moderator asked the candidates to focus on the issue of English language learners. Unofficial transcripts of the answers are available via the links below, in the order that the candidates spoke.

Todd Giroux: Parents always provide a leadership role...I think we should have healthy adult education, so they can provide strong role models for the children. I'll be honest, I'm not a lifelong candidate, or a lifelong politician to know how we're going to keep the funding formula up towards 50%, but I do know that my jobs plan to get people back to work is going to provide on-the-job training, so if folks volunteer themselves off long term unemployment, or these small business programs and low-interest loans to businesses, this is all going to funnel back into on-the-job training [which] promotes personal accountability and there's satisfaction in that. Jump to Todd Giroux's follow up.

Lincoln Chafee: I do believe that you have to have a past experience with having shown that you have education as a priority, and certainly as a Mayor, I continually put annual economic growth that we saw in our city, which we were fortunate to have over the course of my seven years as mayor, back into the schools, because it is a good investment. We want our schools to be the best in the country, and that's going to serve our economy well. We all know that. So I have a record of haven taken our economic growth, and funneled it back to the schools, and as Governor I'm going to do that in two ways. Firstly, with the state aid to the cities and towns. I'm going to monitor the cities and towns to make sure they take good care of their schools. 70%-75%-80% of city and town budgets, of their property taxes, go to their schools. So if we withdraw the state aid, they end up cutting sports or music or raising property taxes, so as I said earlier, I'm not going to let that happen. And secondly, the governor is in charge of higher education, URI, Rhode Island College and CCRI, and as governor, I'm going to make sure that those cuts that have been coming down to higher education are going to stop. It's going to go in the other direction. Jump to Lincoln Chafee's follow up.

Ken Block: Your question really comes down to finances. Now that we having a funding formula, how do we make sure that the money necessary to go to that funding formula is there and is distributed appropriately. And it comes down to the need for financial stability in the state, and half of that equation is making sure that we ramp up our economy and the other half of it is making sure that the dollars we are spending in many different programs are actually going to the purpose which they are targeted in the first place. We have a lot of money that gets stolen from us effectively in Medicaid fraud, in many different ways, and as a technician and a software engineer, I know exactly what we need to do to put systems in place to turn off this fraud and literally save hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. I plan on doing that immediately upon taking office, and it's one of the first things you need to do for the funding that you need. I have a third-grader and a first-grader. Education is crucially important to me. I am very supportive of teachers, I am not supportive of the current contracts that we have with teachers. I think we need flexible contracts, we need better flexibility in the schools. If we get that, we can begin to really make a difference and continue reforming our system. Jump to Ken Block's follow up.

Patrick Lynch: Education, it's got to be a priority...The only way we get to solutions and long term solutions and long-term sustainability of our state without further collapse, is to look at the education system. How do we prepare generations to come, and the only way we do that is with reform. The funding formula should be heralded, in as much as we've been waiting 15 years, and people have been working on it so well, but it is an imperfect mechanism. I'm very proud that it's passed, but there's more work to be done. The good thing is there some flexibility for it to be revisited over time, to see how it's impacting and adjusted, and that should be heralded. In terms of curriculum, I think one of the best documents that has been presented is by Young Voices, and I want to congratulate them for it. It's about communication, including the students at the table. When you talk about how is your voice maintained, I'm glad you have it today, but we need to maintain it going forward, because the only way we get it done is by keeping our eye on the ball, which is what is the impact on the student across the state, and that would be a priority in my administration. Jump to Patrick Lynch's follow up.

Frank Caprio: The funding formula is a great first step, but now we need to take what's been put into law and put the proper incentives in there so we'll have the resources to stick to the formula. When I say the proper incentives, we have too much duplication in school departments across our state especially in the urban core. We have Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls; in Central Falls, 100% of the funding comes from the state, in Pawtucket and Providence, a majority of funding comes from the state. I'd like to see those districts, on the administration side, have an incentive from the state, that when they reduce costs by doing things together and efficiently, just like what would happen in your household or your business when you need to save money, and there would be obviously incentives attached to that. That's the way we'll have the resources to stay committed to the funding formula. Education is the key. I wouldn't be sitting here today if it wasn't for my grandfather who came here, couldn't speak English, couldn't read English, all he had was a strong back and he got up early and delivered that milk...and what he knew is that when his kids and his grandkids got an education, it would be a better day for them. Jump to Frank Caprio's follow up.

John Robitaille: Personal empowerment is a very important part of education, and I strongly encourage you to keep that as an honorable goal. I too would congratulate those members of the General Assembly who are here, making Rhode Island, of course, the last state to have a school funding formula in the United States, it's about time. To answer your question about how are we going to fund it fully 50%, it's going to take time. And I think now when you look at the 39 communities, there were winners and losers in this funding formula, and it's going to take about 10 years for it to balance out. Many communities will feel a significant impact due to the loss of those funds. But I think the concept of the money following the students is a very good concept, I think parents need more choices, and there needs to be more competition in education. If you look at either the NAEP scores or the NECAP scores, our kids are beginning to do better, at least in the 8th and 11th grades, in math and in English, however we still have a significant gap between the urban and suburban schools that we need to focus on. I support Commissioner Gist and what she is doing to fix the broken schools and fix them now. Jump to John Robitaille's follow up.

Victor Moffitt: Well, now that we finally have a funding formula, we have a certain amount that's going to be given to every student in the state, it's time to tackle the real problem. We all know what it is, we have 36 school systems in our state. We need to talk about that dirty world, regionalization. I'm probably the only one that's been talking about it, mostly for the last three or four months. We all know what needs to be done. It's time to stop competing between our towns and cities and unify the state. I have a detailed plan to break the state into four regionalized school districts, East Bay, West Bay, North and South...When we unify and regionalize, what we do is we bring the quality of education up to a certain level. We take the lowest schools, and bring them up to a higher level by putting them with better school districts. This is the problem. Now that we have the funding formula, let's fix the real problem and talk about regionalization once and for all, and start getting our education system into the twenty-first century. Let's stop acting like California and start acting like Rhode Island, one school district. Jump to Victor Moffitt's follow up.


Todd Giroux: We have a tremendous amount of contracts of convenience in our school systems. We have large out of state corporations that are bidding on contracts and sending millions of dollars outside of our state borders. I fully support language enhancements to adult learning, so they can be stronger role-models for the children.

Lincoln Chafee: There is a great deal of research on what gets English as a second language students faster towards the goal of getting a degree and graduating from high school, and how that best works with being taught in their native language, as opposed to immersion in English. A lot of research is always being developed about what works best, and I certainly support the findings of those studies, and it's all over the country that this is taking place. The goal, of course, of anyone who wants to be good in math and science, they know they have to learn English in particular to succeed in this country. Ultimately, that's the path to success. We all know that. And how to best get there quickly? As far as the continuing debate we're having about the funding that's being passed down, either cuts in state aid to cities and towns, or the cuts to our higher education, I didn't create the $400 million deficit that's coming in the 2012 budget. I was a United States Senator, I was global level, but some of the candidates up here were in the General Assembly at the time that this catastrophe was upon us, a $400 million dollar deficit...and I'm the only one who has a plan to address that.

Ken Block: English language development for those who don't speak English primarily is crucially important. I think it highlights the need in our educational system for flexibility, and the need to teach different students in different areas to their needs. We need flexibility within our educational system and I know that there are many teachers who want to be flexible and ultimately I lay at the feet of the contracts that both sides have agreed to over time for putting us in the scenario we are in...We need contracts appropriate for teachers whose primary mission is the education of kids, as opposed to a contract that's most appropriate to the blue-collar assembly line manufacturing of widgets. We need to redo our contracts up and down the line, we should have a 15 page teachers' contract, that's about the professional job of teaching our children, period, end of story. Compensate the teachers well, and give us the flexibility that we need at the educational level for teachers and administrators to adjust and adapt and to best teach our children. We need it desperately, and it's time to change it.

Patrick Lynch: In terms of English language programs being available for assimilation, it's not just about assimilation. It's not about the well-being of that one person, child or adult...It's literally about their family, our community and our state, because if we fail to provide that opportunity, we're failing our community as a whole, where other costs will come up and we're not allowing them, whoever that person may be, to reach their potential, as a result, we all lose, so we have to fight to maintain those and strengthen those programs....We have to tie in companies, and have them give opportunities to those in high school so they are presented with a view of where the opportunities lie, so that instead of getting out of school and saying I have to leave the state, so instead they begin to see and companies will begin to show that there are opportunities presented here, if you prepare yourself.

John Robitaille: It is critically important that our young children become proficient in English quickly. English is the language of the United States. International airline pilots speak English, most international business transactions are conducted in English. Our children need to learn English quickly and early. It will give them a better advantage towards learning as they climb the ladder in school. We must focus on it, we must give our youngsters every opportunity that we can to help them learn English quickly, including additional online learning [and] access to tutoring. It will have a positive impact on our children's scores and schools, once they learn English.

Frank Caprio: When it comes to English in the classroom, and having students arrive at our schools without strong English skills, I am a strong supporter of getting resources into the classroom to ensure that the kinds can get up to grade level. But I also believe that we should also use this resource we have in our community of so many Spanish speaking families in our system. We should make available to all families across our state, if they would like, the ability for their children to start learning a foreign language much earlier than we offer, middle school or even high school is where they first get that opportunity.

Also, since Mr. Moffitt already went, and Senator Chafee wanted to talk about deficits: Senator, every year we balance the budget in this state. That's the law. When you were in Washington, you had no problem leaving us with $400 billion deficits year-in and year-out, so if you want to talk about balancing budgets, I think you have look at your own record.

Victor Moffitt: Obviously, English is our primary language in this country. We need to get everyone on board. But I think that one of the places that we fail, not only here in Rhode Island, but throughout the whole country, is that we don't teach our young people alternative languages. This is a big disadvantage for students coming out of high school and college, where they basically only have one language. We're an international business community today. I think even in the first, second and third grade, they could be introduced to other languages, whether it be Spanish, German, French, etc. This would give them a great advantage, because it is so easy for young children to pick up a language. When you get to be my age, it is much more difficult to try to learn a foreign language. But when you are in the first, second or third grade, you are never too young to be able to learn a new language. I know my son goes to school over at Old Saybrook Connecticut, and his children, by the Third Grade, have already been introduced to three foreign languages in their first three years of grammar school. We can do something like that here in Rhode Island.

Who to Blame for the Social Fabric

Justin Katz

Because he italicized it on a list of one-liners, I couldn't help but catch the following from Providence Journal columnist Bob Kerr:

The damage Wal-Mart has done to the social fabric, to the downtown connections and sense of community, is incalculable.

Blaming WalMart for the deterioration of downtowns is merely an indication of the human urge to find some group to hate. Given advances in technology, the ubiquity of automobiles, and other cultural factors, an opportunity existed for a large chain of one-stop shops, and the specific company WalMart happened to catch the wave. Had there been no WalMart, there would have been Target, a reinvigorated K-Mart, or the elevation of some other regional chain that most of us have never heard of.

More importantly, to my mind, in providing necessities cheaply and reducing the cost of luxuries, WalMart has made it possible for less well-off Americans to save money on their weekly expenses and to enjoy items that they couldn't possibly afford were the prices not driven down by the same dynamics that have priced downtown shops out of their storefronts.

I do not like the effects on communities — or, to be sure, on the culture at large — but I wouldn't presume to tell my countrymen that they must do without items that WalMart makes affordable so that the likes of Bob Kerr can buy them in small local shops. If there's blame to be laid — and that's a sincere "if" — it must ultimately fall on the people of the United States for the culture in which WalMart, like shopping malls and all of the other consumerist villains, thrives.

June 24, 2010

Change, We Fear Change

Marc Comtois

People hear what they want to. Or maybe what they expect to, based on their preconceptions. This was proven again to me recently. I had quickly skimmed the ProJo story about Education Commissioner Deborah Gist's visit to the John J. Moran Medium Security Facility to meet the inmates receiving their GEDs. Later, I heard through the grapevine that teachers were upset because Gist had told the inmates that they were there because "a teacher failed you", to which the response was, "What about their parents or themselves." I found it weird that Gist had said such a thing, so I went back and read the story. Here's what was reported:

"For many of you, part of the circumstances that you find yourself in is because the K-12 education system failed you," she said. "And I take that responsibility very seriously."

"The fact that you are here means you have made mistakes along the way and you have had difficulties," Gist said. "But the fact that you are here means you are lifting yourself above those circumstances. We've all made mistakes. You've decided to better your education. You've made a very important decision."

She said she plans to return to the ACI, to spend time with the inmates and their teachers.

"I want to learn from you...so we can prevent younger students from experiencing some of the same challenges you faced," she said. "We want to get it right the first time."

Part of the circumstances that you find yourself in is because the K-12 education system failed you.While it's understandable that teachers would (obviously!) identify themselves as being part of the "K-12 education system", it's pretty clear to me that Gist is talking about a systemic failure, not that of teachers, per se. She certainly didn't say what I heard: that "inmates were there because a teacher failed them." She even took responsibility for the "system" and hoped to learn from the inmates.

I've heard several teachers are trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. Yet, for a variety of reasons, they seem to have their "ready-to-be-offended" radar up where Gist is concerned. The Central Falls issue rubbed them the wrong way; they think Rhode Island is just a career way-stop for her; some aren't impressed with her resume. And this anecdote reveals a sincere belief among teachers--call it paranoia?--that they know what Gist "is really trying to say" and it isn't something they want to hear.

Its no great mystery why this happens. It's a very human tendency to distrust anyone who comes in with the clear intent of shaking up the way things are done. Then you add in an inherent wariness towards the "executive class"--a sort of iconoclastic populism--that permeates our society. We see it regularly when the virtually powerless RI Governor is blamed for everything wrong or when folks claim we could save a lot of money by cutting items in the School Administration while they ignore that real savings really can only be made be cutting payroll/personnel. It's easier to blame one person (or a few) and seek to "change" (get rid of) that entity than to go through the pain of real change. Shooting the messenger and all that.

The Rhode Island Latino Civic Fund Gubernatorial Debate: Question About the Economy

Carroll Andrew Morse

Brian Hull of Rhode Island's future asked the first question at last night's debate hosted by the Rhode Island Latino Civic Fund, held at CCRI's Liston Campus Auditorium. The question was about what the candidates would do to put the state's unemployed back to work "in jobs that pay a living wage", and what their plans were for increasing the availability of affordable housing in the state.

Unofficial transcripts of the answers from the candidates are listed below, in the order that they spoke.

Victor Moffitt: First of all, I have a plan to bring jobs into Rhode Island in two separate ways. Number one, reducing the sales tax to bring more retail jobs back to the state. We've been at a competitive disadvantage for 18 years against Massachusetts and Connecticut, so by reducing the sales tax to 5%, we're going to increase retail jobs here and actually have Rhode Islanders working in Rhode Island instead of in nearby Massachusetts and Connecticut. I also have several ideas on increasing tourism in our state, to bring jobs into the state. Many of you heard about my aquarium idea. It's not only an aquarium, but also the possibility of a science museum and hotels and restaurants to build up our state to be a resort destination where people will come here and spend a week, and spend their money. This would create literally thousands of jobs in our state helping to reduce our unemployment.

As far as the affordable housing goes, the only way we're going to improve affordable housing in this state, we've already seen a lot of our housing prices go down substantially due to the recession, but we have to do more with our banks. They need to make money available to people to be able to buy a house. Right now it's you lose...this has to be changed. We need to look at the banks and make the banks be more friendly to people who want to borrow. Jump to Victor Moffitt's follow-up

John Robitaille: I totally believe that government does not create jobs, the private sector does, and what we need to do in Rhode Island is become competitive, to create an environment within which private businesses and small businesses and large businesses can create jobs. Unfortunately, over the past few generations, Rhode Island has grown its government so that it is unaffordable and unsustainable. Our taxes are uncompetitive. I have friends who have businesses that are moving out of this state and taking jobs with them. And the answer to creating new jobs is to lower taxes, to streamline permitting and regulations, to sort of get government out of the way so we can rebuild this economy. And then we really need to start looking at job training and tie it to economic development so that we are training people in the skills and the trades for the twenty-first century jobs that we are trying to attract here. It's very complex, with a lot of moving parts, but the dominant thing here is to make Rhode Island competitive, so that the businesses that we have can stay, and we can attract new businesses. The answer is jobs, it's all about jobs.

As far as affordable housing goes, I don't think there's an easy answer there either. We have seniors living in houses that they can't afford. Because of the heavy property taxes in this state, we are driving seniors out of there own homes, the homes that they have been living in for decades. We have a serious problem here with affordable housing, at all levels, whether you are living in the inner city, or living in the suburbs, it is a major crisis. What we have to do is stimulate this economy, and I truly believe that a lot of these issues will begin taking care of themselves. Jump to John Robitaille's follow-up

Ken Block: I am extraordinarily optimistic that our unwound economy, our underperformance, our high unemployment relative to our immediate neighbor Massachusetts is wholly fixable and reversible. The only difference between Rhode Island and Massachusetts is a border, laws and tax policy. And what we've seen is that when you're uncompetitive as far as tax burden, you suffer a price and a penalty, and I personally know dozens of entrepreneurs who have taken tens upon tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars in payroll, with their businesses, across the border. This can be fixed. Right now, our top-end tax rate is 5.99%, Massachusetts is 5.3%. We are still 12% higher. I believe we have to get our tax rate underneath Massachusetts to incent the mobile businesses who've left this state to move on to less expensive environs to come back, and once we have a good success story, once we have a good product to sell, we need somebody who sits in the Governor's office, who can help sell the story of Rhode Island and bring the businesses back, not only from Massachusetts, but from around the country.

I have a vision to make Rhode Island the research triangle of New England. North Carolina took many square miles of cow pastures and turned it into a bustling hub of economic development centered around tech. Tech business are highly mobile, the jobs pay a lot, and if we can create and incent hundreds of tech businesses to set up shop here, we can begin to rejuvenate our entire economy. It's something that we have to do. If we can resurrect our economy, targeting very smartly, the mobile businesses first, then we can begin to tackle the harder problems of how to we create jobs for those who don't have the skills. Moving manufacturing businesses back here is going to be a massive challenge, because these are not mobile businesses. It can be done, but we have to get financial stability in our government. The Governor needs a line-item veto, to help bring financial stability back. Jump to Ken Block's follow-up

Lincoln Chafee: It is inexcusable that Rhode Island should have the third or fourth highest unemployment in the country. And there's no reason for that in this great state of ours. So my view is that we take those assets that we've invested in, and as I mentioned in my previous opening statement, even though I was voting against the war, even though I was voting against the tax cuts, even though I was voting against the environmental rollbacks of my party, [voting against] Justice Alito for the Supreme Court, I was able to deliver for Rhode Island, in three specific areas in particular. Moving 195, that's 630 million dollars...that's 15 acres of valuable real estate downtown. We have the Brown Med school moving downtown and just down the street, we have the Rhode Island Hospital campus. So it's natural, in this real estate that's going to be opened up by moving 195, that healthcare industries will come there. I saw it in Houston, I saw the tremendous growth in Houston. I said what's going on here, and they said it's healthcare related; it's the med school, the Baylor Med School and the Rice Med School. So it can happen, we need it here in Rhode Island.

The second area we have invested in is in the intermodal district, the new train station connector to the airport. It's the only place in the country -- in the country -- where we have an Amtrak line next to an airport and now we've connected them. They were never connected. My work on the environment and public works committee delivered $230 million to build the train station and connect it to the airport. It's going to bring great jobs to this area. Throughout all of civilization, growth has occurred at the crossroads where people travel. Here we have route 95, we have Amtrak, as I said we have the airport, so corporations will naturally want to come there, with the right leadership. Then finally, $120 million to put the road into Quonset and green jobs should grow there, with the right leadership. There's a billion dollars that I was successful bringing to Rhode Island. Now we need to build on those assets. Jump to Lincoln Chafee's follow-up

Todd Giroux: One of my major platform issues is homestead protections for folks, where we require banks mandatorily modify loans that are in trouble. What I want to do for the unemployed of Rhode Island: we have folks that are on long-term unemployment, with second and third extensions, I'd like to ask those folks to voluntarily participate in state teams where each town gets 100 people, so our communities get value for the unemployment dollars we spend, these folks volunteering their time, in exchange for their extended unemployment benefits. Every town in every corner of the state would have the opportunity to see results, to participate. Folks will greet each other, they'll buy their cup of coffee or their lunch. Every town will have activity and work for the money that we spend.

Secondly, I want to improve the cash flow to homeowners and business owners through low-interest revolving funds. We have programs in the state. One of these agencies, the Providence Preservation society, has a special relationship with the Fed, where these low-interest revolving funds are available. We've only got two agencies in the state that can provide these types of loans. New York, for example, may have 36 of those agencies, Rhode Island has 2. We need to grow these types of programs. So, low interest loans to homeowners give them cash to hire their local business, where they hire folks off of the unemployment rolls. Low interest revolving funds also provide cash to businesses, and again these same revolving fund concepts can refinance people away from the mortgage company that wants to foreclose on them. Not government handouts, this is personal accountability, without government handouts. Jump to Todd Giroux's follow-up

Frank Caprio: I will do my best to give specific answers. When you are talking about the economy in inner city or distressed areas, you are talking about small business. That's where the lifeblood of the community is. For the last six months, I've spent a lot of time meeting with and discussing small business issues with small business owners. I met with over a thousand of them, and I've heard a few things loud and clear. One is, don't raise our taxes. We pay enough in taxes. Don't nickel and dime us to death with all the fees and permits and all of the other things that the state likes to do. The other thing is get out of our way. Cut out all of this red tape, all the time it takes to solve issues when you are dealing with government. I got elected State Treasurer, and I said let's do something a little different in this office. Let's try to run it like a small business. When someone calls this office, let's have them talk to a real person, not voicemail. Let's answer their question. And if it's not something directly dealing with our office, let's not say you have to call this other department, no, take down what their issue is and you solve the problem for them and get back to them. That's my vision of how we'll get small businesses moving, get access to credit, cut through the red tape, and every decision at that statehouse needs to be made through the lens of how does this affect the small business.

On affordable housing, I was in the legislature, and I was very active in the fight on this issue and restored the neighborhood opportunity loan program when Governor Almond tried to cut it out, $5 million. The reverends were protesting at the statehouse, they got arrested actually, and we found a creative way of financing to keep it alive, and then put a question on the ballot, $50 million for affordable housing in our state [which] passed in every community in the state, every community. When I'm governor, we'll take programs like that, and continue them. If the people of Rhode Island want to invest in affordable housing, in the inner city and across the state, and we vote on it across the state, and if it passes, that's how you leverage the dollars to do good in our community. Jump to Frank Caprio's follow-up

Patrick Lynch: Again, this question is about our state getting its priorities back in order. It's about checking where our emphasis has been, and redirecting our energies in a new direction. We have both a legislature and a governor that has overemphasized the richest and the wealthiest and let small businesses die on the vine. I agree with Mr. Caprio and I think every person up here that the small businesses are the ones to revive our state. The question is what we are going to do for them. That's why I've laid out, months ago, a plan to get small businesses back on their feet. I call it the small business bill of rights. Two minutes isn't near enough to address it, but a couple of basic components are that we can think about making Rhode Island a hub zone. We can get loans out to small business and if we emphasize putting the money where it should be rather than putting in things like the flat tax, for the 1,800 most wealthy citizens in the state. Bad decisions after bad decisions and never forward looking enough. We have to have a leader who will step up and make those decisions.

In terms of housing, I've been in the housing fight and I have to congratulate Senator Pichardo, because the crisis that happened across America and still severely hits Rhode Island that started with the mortgage crisis and with his help and, obviously, other legislative leaders who are here, we passed initiatives to put protections in place for people that are getting run out of their homes. As a President of my National Association of Attorney Generals, I shut down Countrywide Household Financial, and returned millions and millions of dollars to thousands of Rhode Islanders because they were getting taken advantage of. And, by the way, that crisis is still here. It's not just about keeping them in their homes, and it is. I put out a housing policy that will also protect renters and inform people. Housing is an economic development issue and so I'm proud that it was included in this answer, and it has to be included in every platform and consideration for our economy in the future. Jump to Patrick Lynch's follow-up


Victor Moffit: Again I'm very glad to hear that over the past six months or a year, some of these candidates have talked with small business. I've been working with small business owners for the last almost 40 years in Rhode Island, in the tax and bookkeeping business. So I think I know what small business will need in this state. They need to have the government stay off of their backs, let them do their business without all of the rules and regulations that they have every day. You've probably seen Senator Raptakis, with his Venus Pizza business, where he has 36 licenses and permits, just to open a Pizza business. If you let small businessmen run their business, they work hard, they can make a profit and they do create most of the jobs in this state. And I think I know the best of any of these candidates up here what small businessmen need, because, like I said, I've been working with them for the last 40 years.

John Robitaille: With all of the emphasis on small businesses, I thought for a moment I was at the wrong debate, that this was the Republican primary debate. It seems like everybody has gotten religion all of the sudden on what it's going to take to stimulate the economy and solve unemployment. It's an interesting comparison, if you look at New Hampshire versus Rhode Island, New Hampshire is one of the most tax-friendly states in the United States, with the least combined tax-burden, and their unemployment rate has dipped below seven percent. We are one of the highest combined, according to the Tax Foundation, and our unemployment rate is still over twelve percent, so there is a correlation between how heavy the tax burden is, and what the opportunities are in terms of economic development, so we have to work really hard, to get our taxes down and competitive. And let's face it, there's no more money. We are in very much a significant downturn for the next few years. We are going to have to become leaner, and to learn to do more with less.

Ken Block: I'm no Republican, but I am a small business owner. In fact, I have two businesses in this state, a software engineering business and a manufacturing business, and it was the high cost of doing business that led me to where I am sitting in front of you tonight, competing for your vote for governor. There is no quick fix, there is no magic bullet, there is no single answer to fixing our economy. It requires long term planning, long-term thought processes, a five-year plan, to get you from where we are now to success with a thriving economy. That's the only way you'll get it, and anyone who tries to sell you any different idea is selling you some snake oil. As far as affordable housing is concerned, I've lived in Barrington for 20 years, and I recently moved in the last 5 years. My former house was a quarter-mile from the Sweet Briar development in Barrington. It's a terrific development, it is a very nice place, it is affordable, and we need many more developments like that in this state. I believe government has a role in ensuring that there is affordable housing for everybody, and I am fully supportive of that.

Lincoln Chafee: I do believe that if our economy was robust, that affordable housing would take care of itself. We do have a rich stock of housing in this state. We need to get our people back to work, so that the housing can be affordable, and you're going to hear a lot of talk about taxes here, but the facts are that Rhode Island is about at the national average on income tax and sales tax. Where we are way out of whack with the national average is on property taxes. And there's only one candidate up here who has the experience as a councilman and mayor with dealing with property taxes. And I am as Governor going to be the champion of the property tax payer, and that affects not only homeowners but renters, if your landlord raises the rent, and also, of course, small businesses that have to pay their property taxes. So it is very, very important to have a champion for property tax payers, as we try to get Rhode Island back into the national average. We keep seeing the legislature and the governor passing down the state problems to the cities and towns, and forcing either not to invest in their pension funds, which is going to come back, or not investing in their schools which is not a wise investment, or raising property taxes and that's a very, very onerous tax to pay.

Todd Giroux: The small business owner in the state is the first one to take a chance on our economy. Most small business owners do put 30% down on their homes so they can get a no-document loan. Those folks, most of them have been in their homes for ten years, putting 30% down, they may be at 40% or 50% equity level. Now, we are at a point in our economy were folks need those 30 years to repay those mortgages now, and the timing of a few payments for the banks to swoop in and get the 30% to 50% equity in your home is simply unfair. My plan is to get a citizens bond and tax-freeze on the table, where folks can participate at the two-year level if their property taxes are $2,500 a year. They can put in $5,000 and get a tax-freeze on their property and also a tax-freeze on their personal income tax. It will raise money so we don't have to create a new tax so we can pay off the debt.

Frank Caprio: People are talking about taxes and small businesses. Let me say one more time: small businesses have said loud and clear, and I grew up in a small business family, working washing dishes in a family restaurant starting 30 years ago, and those two restaurants are still going today, owned by the same partners, and I ran my own small business, before I ran for State Treasurer, and showed a profit every year -- people do not want new taxes. I respect Mr. Chafee, and all he's done in his career, I thank him for the investment that he's made in the community, and things like community health centers, sponsoring those. But Senator Chafee, we cannot put another bill on working families' tables across our state. Your tax plan will add $400 to the average family of four's bill of buying groceries, prescriptions and other necessities, and we have a bad history in this state of when we add things to the sales tax, like when we went from 6% to 7% to pay for the banking crisis. That 7% is still there, and the banking crisis was paid for. We put 1% on the meals tax a few years ago, the state did. That didn't reduce property taxes...adding more taxes is not going to cut any property taxes, it's just going to add another bill to the kitchen tables.

Patrick Lynch: Again, this is all about priorities and the strength to lead. In terms of housing, any reference to a rich housing stock hasn't walked around this neighborhood, where houses are boarded up, people are struggling to stay in those houses. People who are in their houses have had to move three houses down, because they've been thrown out, because an absentee landlord holding three houses didn't warn them. We have to fight to protect people at every level. And what nobody answered are the other costs that have been thrust on small businesses, and I'll give you an example that people aren't thinking enough about: the Governor's sweetheart deal with Deepwater. What does it mean? If you want to talk about bills on the table, it means that every one of us, every citizen will have $15 more dollars to pay every year, energy costs will escalate, every small business will pay more, and jobs will leave this state. That's bad decision making. That interests everybody in this state, particularly the communities that you all care about, and that we need to turn our attention to, to move our state forward.

What Kind of Choice and Accountability?

Justin Katz

Mary McConnell starts off a recent book review with an excellent anecdote. (If you don't subscribe to First Things, try here.)

"Catholic schools reap one benefit from poverty," the high-school principal hiring me commented ruefully (I'd just glimpsed my pay package). "By the time we've scrounged up money for the latest educational innovation, everybody else has figured out it doesn't work."

Only systems in which money is ultimately no object (indeed, in which failure often leads to more money) could tolerate public education's oddly combined tendency to leap on fads and to reform slowly. The factor that makes sense of the paradox is a desire for more public dollars and for less accountability. A new method of teaching math, for example, requires money for training and materials, while also creating the perennial excuse of adjusting to a new system.

This observation is in keeping with the subject of McConnell's review, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, by Diane Ravitch. The title of the review is "Apostasy Sells," because Ravitch is a former advocate of "school choice" and "accountability" who has changed her mind.

Unfortunately, as even occasional followers of the choice and accountability debates should have observed, those who oppose such reforms tend to attack the principle on the basis of a particular policy's results. Consider:

Enter choice. Ravitch contends that voucher programs and public charter schools have failed to demonstrate measurable educational gains. Putting aside the surprising reemergence of test scores as the preferred standard of performance, I wondered what she would say about Catholic schools. The data on charter-school performance is perhaps mixed, but a half century of research proves, as Ravitch acknowledges, that "minority children in Catholic schools are more likely to take advanced courses than their peers in public schools, more likely to go to college, and more likely to continue on to graduate school."

Claiming that she initially supported vouchers to "help Catholic schools," Ravitch now contends that charter schools are forcing Catholic schools to close. A strange complaint. Eight hundred of the 1700 poor children who receive District of Columbia vouchers attend Catholic schools. If, now that Congress has killed the program, their parents flee to charter schools, "choice" will not be the culprit.

The allusion to "the surprising reemergence of test scores" refers to McConnell's prior explanation that "accountability" has become synonymous with "standardized testing," which (whatever its merits), Ravitch finds herself using again and again as necessary evidence for her other arguments.

Those of us who support reforms in the mold of "choice and accountability" can only continue restating that we're not talking about "charters and tests." We're talking about a systematic rethinking wherein families can use at least some portion of the tax money allocated to the education of their children in order to help send them to any school that they would pick were money not an issue (although they'd remain responsible for whatever cost exceeded the program, of course).

Then, school districts need to be reworked to ensure that public schools can hold their own in the ensuing competition, which requires teacher pay and promotion based on individual merit, not seniority, and administrators' reclamation of the authority to make significant decisions and responsibility to accept the consequences when results are negative. You know, sort of like the working world that most of us in the private sector encounter.

Gov Vetoes Casino Bill

Monique Chartier

... pointing out that the bill lacks critical financial information, especially as to the state's take, and questioning why the bill by-passes the right of the proposed host communities (Lincoln and Newport) to hold their own referenda on the matter.

Now, it passed the House with an apparent veto-proof majority of 62-12. The Senate is more problematic. The margin was closer (21-14). Moreover, leadership of that body may prove to be a hindrance. The Senate President has indicated that she is not particularly amenable to reconvening the Senate, both because, as Justin highlights, she's just really looking forward to enjoying the summer and, more seriously, the community that she represents, one of the two proposed host communities, has reservations about becoming a destination city for a casino.

The other factor that shouldn't be overlooked here is the margin (wide) by which all other casino referenda in Rhode Island were voted down. Will this add to the reluctance of lawmakers in an election year to override the veto and put what would be, judging from prior elections, an unpopular item on the ballot? Or will this be overcome by the pressure from Massachusetts, poised to authorize - what, one? three? just let us know if your community wants one? - X number of casinos, regardless of the fact that Rhode Island would not pick up 100% of that "lost" revenue even if it did install two casinos and, a poor harbinger for potential casinos in both Mass and RI, the fact that gaming revenue in Connecticut is down?

RI Governor 2010 - Immigration Reference Chart

Marc Comtois

Based on Andrew's reporting as well as the ProJo and the GoLocalProv accounts, here is a quick reference chart detailing the 2010 RI Gubonatorial candidates' stance on four key Immigration related issues: Governor Carcieri's 2008 Executive Order, E-Verify, in-state college tuition for the illegal/undocumented, and the Arizona Immigration law.

Carcieri Exec orderAgainstAgainstAgainstApproveQualifiedQualifiedApprove
College TuitionApproveApproveQualifiedApproveQualifiedAgainstAgainst
Arizona LawAgainstAgainstAgainstAgainstAgainstQualifiedApprove

* Giroux - Not ready for an in-state tuition program, though implies eventual support.
** Block - Would tweak the language of the executive order to ensure no racial profiling. Approves of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants who are in the process of becoming legal.
***Robitaille - Supports Executive Order, but would use the Florida secure communities model instead of 287(g). Would consider some components of AZ law for RI, but states are different.

Portsmouth Institute Conference on Newman: Edward Short

Justin Katz

The Saturday session of the Portsmouth Institute conference on Cardinal John Henry Newman began with a speech concerning Newman's view of American religion.

(The remainder of Mr. Short's speech is available in the extended entry of this post.)

As one finds with a great many authors of the past few centuries, Newman treated the United States as an analog and a metaphor — typically in a positive light. A theme that arises specifically with religion, though, is the effect of economic mobility.and opportunity.

As Short puts it, self-made men and women have made their own success, tackled their own trials, exerted their own effort, and in the process of gaining status have had no time to develop intellectual habits. They are religious, therefore: "not for love and fear, but for good sense."

During the question and answer period at the end of the lecture, the audience proved more interested in current trends and controversies in the United States than in Newman's view of our ancestors — his contemporaries. Indeed, a bit of a debate broke out about the appropriate reaction of Catholics to the spirit of the day.

For his part, I'd say that Short was perhaps the most optimistic commentator on American Catholicism's prospects that I've yet heard.

The Rhode Island Latino Civic Fund Gubernatorial Debate: Opening Statements

Carroll Andrew Morse

The links below will take you to unofficial transcripts of the opening statements of the candidates for Governor of Rhode Island, speaking at last night's debate hosted by the Rhode Island Latino Civic Fund, held at CCRI's Liston Campus Auditorium. Candidates are listed in the order they spoke.

Victor Moffitt: : I am a lifetime Rhode Island resident. I've lived in Coventry my entire life. I also have 40 years experience and I did serve in the General Assembly for 6 years and was a member of the House Finance Committee, so I did work on budgets for 6 years and I do know many of the social issues and many of the cuts that were made between 2002 and 2008 when I was a member of the General Assembly. I do work in my investment and tax business with my wife, who is sitting in the audience, along with my daughter. I want to be your next Governor, because the governor needs to have a strong financial background and experience to work with the General Assembly, because for the last 16 years, our Republican Governors have had difficulty working with the Democratic controlled General Assembly, and I believe that with my 6 years experience there, I could make good legislation and get it passed.

John Robitaille: My name is John Robitaille, and just to fill out my bio a little bit, I was born in Central Falls, and lived on Grant Street. My grandmother and my aunts and uncles and my parents, we had quite a family grouping there on Grant St. I did start a business, when I finished my military service, and I ran that business for over 20 years here in Rhode Island and I completely understand what small business owners are going through right now in these terrible economic times. I guess if there's one clear message that I want to get out tonight, it is that your next governor needs to have a very broad background and experience, in many facets of life, in business, in government, both personally and professionally. The key issue everyone should be focusing on today is jobs. We need a healthy economy. We need to do everything that we can do to create jobs. Because with a healthy economy, when people are working, it solves and resolves a lot of the issues we will probably be talking about later on this evening. I believe I am the best candidate, I believe my background with prove that. Thank you very much.

Ken Block: My name is Ken Block...I find myself here as the Moderate Party candidate for Governor because of the utter frustration that I came to with politics as usual in this state, with a fairly non-responsive legislature and an inability for the executive branch and the legislative branch to most effectively deal with the issues that most Rhode Islanders care about. Those are the issues of the economy, and the issues of our educational system and the underperformance of both of those critical areas. In the 20 years that I've lived here, I've watched chronic budget deficits come and go, and I've watched a lot of short-term thought processes, how do we close this year's budget deficit, and very little in the way of how do we address next year's budget deficit. We need to change that. We need new blood in politics. We need new people, who are leaders in their own rights, to step up, and help fix the issues that are broken in this state. Thank you.

Lincoln Chafee: My name is Lincoln Chafee, and I'd like to thank the Rhode Island Latino Civic Fund for hosting this debate. It's the first time we've had seven candidates on this stage together...A majority of Rhode Islanders think Rhode Island is going in the wrong direction, and that is unacceptable, and the main reason is that our people aren't working. We have got to get this state back to work and, from my view, the Governor and the legislature have not worked well together. There's been some reference from previous candidates about the inability of the executive and the legislature branches to work together. Beyond that, there's been too much contention with the Latino community with E-Verify and too much contention with the unions and that has not helped our state move forward. There is only one candidate on this stage has the executive experience of working with a legislative body and of with working with unions. And I did that as Mayor...and of course as Senator, I was able to work with my majority party.

Todd Giroux: My name is Todd Giroux...and I am a candidate for Governor. I do not have the political experience that my fellow candidates do. I am a General Contractor. I work, I understand the downturn in the economy and what we've all gone through. I feel most qualified to bring programs to the people of Rhode Island. I understand the unemployed. I understand folks that don't have the cash supply to hire the local business. I understand labor, and I want to bring these programs to the people. I want you all to know that I am the most direct route for Federal and state programs to reach the communities.

Frank Caprio: Good evening, I am Frank Caprio, and I'd like to be your Governor...Let me tell you a few things about myself. I've live right now and for the past 20 years in a section of Providence that is a majority-minority neighborhood, and I represented that neighborhood in the state legislature for many years. I've been listening to the concerns of the minority community during all of those years and I will let the results speak for themselves, of the advancement that we made in our community. My wife is a first-generation American, her parents came here in the 1960s. She still speaks in Italian to her mom, when she will call her tonight to say goodnight. She teaches at Central High School. She's been there, teaching Spanish for 17 years...Our country and our state has been founded on making sacrifices and working hard, and I believe in doing that, and that's why I'm running for Governor; I want the ladder of success to stay that way.

Patrick Lynch: Good evening everybody, my name is Patrick Lynch. I am currently the Attorney General, and a candidate for Governor, and I am humbly seeking your support....My motivation for running for Governor is simple. It is to continue standing up for people. I grew up with a fundamental belief to use your voice for people, especially people who felt their voice didn't matter. I don't think there's been more of a time in history when we need someone with a backbone to stand up. Our system of government is fundamentally broken...Taxes are too high and there is too much regulation. The government gets in the way. Our priorities are messed up. The legislature, for many, many years has brought us down a bad road, by making short term decisions and not thinking about our future. We need somebody who will stand up, make decisions and move our state forward, for everybody in the state. Thanks very much.

A Recreational Call

Justin Katz

Marc gave a quick review of Anchor Rising's content, on last night's Matt Allen Show. The theme seemed to be recreation, with mention of fireworks, soccer, and Andrew's attempt to take Patrick Lynch seriously. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

June 23, 2010

Liveblogging the Rhode Island Latino Civic Fund Gubernatorial Debate

Carroll Andrew Morse

[6:22] Greetings from the Rhode Island Latino Civic Fund Gubernatorial Debate. Intros just finished, rules being discussed...

[6:25] Opening statements...

Victor Moffitt up first. He knows the social issues and cuts that have been made. Next gov has to have a strong financial background.

John Robitaille: Born in Central Falls, served in the military, then started a business. Next gov needs a broad background. Key issue is jobs, and we need a healthy economy to bring jobs.

Ken Block: Started new party because of frustration with politics as usual, and underperformance of economy and education. Too much short-term thinking in government, we need new blood to fix that.

Lincoln Chafee: Majority of Riers think RI is going in the wrong direction, we need to fix the economy. Too much contention with e-verify and with unions. Touts his executive experience, and his willingness to buck the party line.

Todd Giroux: He feels most qualified to bring programs to the people of RI, to bring them directly to the people, without interference from bureaucracy.

Frank Caprio: Looks forward to discussion of issues important to the minority community. Lives in a majority-minority neighborhood. Is married to a first generation American, who teaches at Central High. Our country and state is founded on people sacrificing and working hard, wants ladder to success to continue to be there.

Patrick Lynch: Running for governor to continue standing up for people. Our system of government is fundamentally broken; taxes are too high and there is too much regulation. Need someone who will make decisions for everyone in the state.

[6:52] First question: How will you improve the economy so everyone can earn a living wage, and what will you do about housing in RI and our foreclosure rate?

Victor Moffit: Reduce sales tax and build a resort aquarium. Re: housing, work with banks to make more money available to people that want to buy housing.

Robitaille: Private sector creates jobs, Rhode Island needs to become competitive in business. Bad governance has made RI uncompetitive. Reduce taxes, reduce regulation, streamline permitting. Improve education, including in the trades. It's all about jobs. Housing: Seniors are being driven out of their homes. If we stimulate the economy, other issues will take care of themselves.

Block: Our economic uncompetitiveness is reversible. No reason things here have to be different than in Massachusetts. We need to get our taxes lower than Mass. Once we have a good product to sell, we need a governor who will then sell Rhode Island. RI could be the Research Triangle of the northeast. Target mobile businesses first.

Chafee: Inexcusable for RI to have 3rd or 4th highest unemployment in the country. Was able to deliver for RI as a Senator, helped to move 195 -- healthcare industry has moved there, Intermodal train station, road into Quonset -- $1 billion brought to RI.

Giroux: Require banks to mandatory modify loans that are in trouble. Ask the unemployed to volunteer in state work teams. Improve cash flow to home owners and business owners with low interest revolving funds. We have room to grow these kinds of programs.

Caprio: Small business is the economic lifeblood of the community. Has heard from business owners, don't raise taxes and cut the red tape. Has run the Treasurer's office like a small business. Give access to credit. On housing, will support bond issues for affordable housing.

Lynch: Our state must get its priorities in order. Current administration has over-emphasized richest and wealthiest. Has offered a small-business bill of rights. Can get loans out if we put $$$ where it should be, instead of in the flat tax. On housing: As AG he shut down bad lenders, and he has put out a housing policy that will protect lenders.

[6:56] Caprio with first attack of the night -- says people cannot afford the Chafee tax plan; new taxes in RI will not lead to a reduction in property taxes.

[6:57] Lynch: Deepwater project will raise costs on businesses and everyone.

[7:08] Question about education with multiple parts. Most candidates take the funding formula angle...

Chafee: Has a record of re-investing in the schools. Won't cut state aid. Will protect higher education.

Block: Financial stability is needed to fund the funding formula. We need a growing economy and efficiently run programs. More flexible contracts to help with efficiency.

Lynch: Need education to prepare for the future. Funding formula should be heralded. Something about curriculum I couldn't quite follow.

Caprio: Funding formula must be supplemented with incentives. There should be incentives for large-aid recipients to work together.

Robitaille: Concept of money following the students is a good one, we need more competition in education. Supports commissioner Gist's efforts to fix broken schools.

Moffitt: Regionalize to stop competition between towns and cities.

[7:36] Immigration question with multi-parts. I'll give you the answers on the Governor's executive order, the Arizona law, and in-state tuition, for now.

Caprio: When my ancestors arrived, there was an orderly process for accepting immigrats. It's a shame there is no path to citizenship. Against Arizona. Supports exec order. Yes on in-state tuition.

Lynch: Immigration is the number one civil rights issue in America. More hate groups in America than ever before. We've become more divided as a society. Has defended civil rights. Disagrees with the cold-hearted poorly calculated executive order. Arizona law is hurtful, insulting and unconstitutional. Yes on in-state tution.

Moffitt: Let more people into the country legally. Supports exec order, protects legal people who are here. Arizona law is a 10th Amendment issue -- states should protect their legal residents. In-state tuition is for legal residents of Rhode Island.

Robitaille: Immigration is significant. Supports exec order BUT would not support 287(g), would use the Florida secure communities model. Arizona is not Rhode Island, would consider some components of AZ law. Opposes 14th Amendment being used to end-run immigration law. No in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

Chafee: Immigration should be addressed at the Federal level. Supported Kennedy-McCain comprehensive plan. Yes on in-state tuition, no on Arizona law.

Giroux: Immigration is community building. No on AZ. Not ready for an in-state tuition program.

Block: Has helped some of his employees immigrate legally. Shut down employers who take advantage of illegal immigrants. AZ law is asinine and xenophobic. Would tweak the language of the executive order. In-state tuition for illegal immigrants in the process of becoming legal.

[7:48] We're into closing statements now. Lot's of audio to come...

Let Them Drink Pina Colatas

Justin Katz

The article's about Governor Carcieri's failure to nominate a candidate to replace Child Advocate Jametta Alston, but this is the line that stands out:

"I don't expect we'll be back," [Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed (D., Newport) said. "I really want to enjoy the summer."

One wonders if that was the impetus for the mysterious feeling of House Speaker Gordon Fox (D., Providence) that the legislation had to come to an abrupt ending, this year.

World Cup

Marc Comtois

I'm a soccer guy. I play and coach, follow the sport and needless to say I'm really into the World Cup. But I'm not a soccer proselytizer: I won't force it on you, but don't tell me I'm stupid for liking it. To each his own, right?

This year's U.S. Men's Team has a different feel to it than in the past. 18 of the players compete internationally and, going into the Cup, the team was given a real shot to go into the Round of 16. Well, today they did it, albeit at the last minute and in dramatic fashion. As in the game against Slovenia, there was another goal disallowed on an iffy call. Yet, the player who scored the game winner, Landon Donovan, explained the setback was no reason for excuses:

"Like I said last week, we embody what Americans are about. We can moan about it or we can get on with it and we kept going. We believe, man."
No excuses, get the job done. Regardless of the outcome, there was little doubt the effort was there. And this time, it paid off. Next game is Saturday.

What Healthcare Is Like

Justin Katz

R.R. Reno makes a fair point that our pre-Obamacare healthcare system ultimately created "an ad hoc mechanism for extracting payments from the insured to finance a haphazard effort to provide at least emergency and critical care for the uninsured as well as decent care for the underinsured."

Seeing this as socialization, Reno argues that something like the individual mandate is preferable, to explicitly provide general care (cheaper than emergency) to the uninsured and those with preexisting conditions. I'm not so sure, first of all, that forcing the involvement of young adults and others who opt not to insure themselves — effectively looking to one segment of the "uninsured" to pay for another — will make for an even swap.

More to the point, though, I don't think avoiding the excesses is possible when government gets involved. We're sure to find, for example, that those young adults will be permitted onto their parents' plans at ever older ages. We're also sure to see mandatory coverage expanding, redistributing wealth from the healthy to the ill (and those who treat and advocate for the ill). Given Reno's reliance on "political realities" for his argument, that he doesn't anticipate this response and address it in greater detail suggests that some of his premises require reconsideration, such as:

Think about getting hepatitis or breast cancer. The risk of suffering from these misfortunes is similar to the risk of being mugged or shot. It's a life-and-death matter, and if human government has any justification for its power over citizens, then surely it rests in its unique capacity to pool resources to protect life. As Albert Camus recognized, one moral source for solidarity can be found in our common struggle against the dehumanizing power of suffering and untimely death.

In circumstances of interpersonal violence, government is arbitrating between people. That's not the same as arbitrating between a person and a virus or cancer. That government can exert force to stop individuals from doing the same in an acute act of assault does not mean that it's appropriate for government to step in as a life manager.

Common Sense Exploded

Justin Katz

On one level, it's peculiar that so much attention should be paid to a simple change of law to make some minor fireworks legal. On another level, the issue is emblematic of Rhode Island governance.

When I first read of the change, slipped into an article about municipal receivership, I made a light-hearted note in the margins: "finally, common sense."

Also signed by Carcieri over the weekend was a bill that legalizes certain " "hand-held" and "ground-based" fireworks, including sparklers, smoke devices and glow worms.

State lawmakers said they passed the bill because it will help businesses, help the state and allow Rhode Islanders to enjoy holiday items that are available in most states.

The idea that sparklers were illegal in Rhode Island always struck me as absurd, especially given such defining events as the Bristol Fourth of July parade. Of course, this being Rhode Island, lawmakers couldn't just research the language in other states with the desired policy and copy it or, alternately, research the technical names of the specific devices that they wished to legalize and name them. Given the stated scope of the law, I chuckled when the above article went on to explain legislators' motivation as the creation of economic opportunity, but then:

Welcome to Rhode Island’s own Wild Wild West of pyrotechnics, where Casey's Legal Fireworks of Conimicut Village — an empty storefront just five days ago — is the first of what's expected to be a horde of local stores to offer "hand-held" or "ground-based" flammable entertainment with little or no direction from law-enforcement or fire officials.

Store owner James Casey plans to open two more roadside fireworks tents this weekend — one along Post Road and another in Oakland Beach. He believes what he's selling is legal, but says there's "so much confusion about what you can and can't do."

I can't find the article, just now, but fire officials have confirmed that indoor fireworks displays (such as the gerb that started the Station Nightclub fire) are still banned, but nonetheless, it appears that either a lack of consideration or deliberate and careful wording has made the law much more inclusive than was the intent. Which is not to say that I oppose legalizing small consumer fireworks. It'd be nice, though, if legislators could be at least minimally aware of what they're doing when they vote at the State House.

June 22, 2010

The Much-Smarter-than-Unicameral Legislative Reform Plan II

Carroll Andrew Morse

I'm not sure if the idea put forth by potential Lieutenant Governor candidate Robert Tingle (h/t Steve Peoples) for reducing the size of the legislature involves eliminating an entire chamber as does Patrick Lynch's, but for fans of unicameralism for the State of Rhode Island, allow me to counter with the concise rationale for a bicameral legislature offered by either James Madison or Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 51...

In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit.
As has been noted before here at Anchor Rising, the spirit of this check is not fully implemented in Rhode Island state government, as the modes of election and the principles of action of our House and Senate are nearly, if not exactly, identical.

This is, of course, a flaw that would be fixed with the alternative legislative plan outlined here, which re-differentiates the roles of the RI House and the RI Senate, while increasing accountability to the voters (with annual elections for Representatives) and weakening Federal dominance over state elections (with elections in odd-numbered years).

Hull Selling RIF to Shadowy Board of Directors!

Marc Comtois

Brian Hull (h/t Ian Donnis), current proprietor of RI Future is putting the old girl up on the block again. This will be the 3rd ownership change for our erstwhile Progessive counterparts in as many years. Hull has been accepted into the Masters in Public Policy degree program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and the workload will be too much to both manage RIF and get the sheepskin. (I do believe we have a contributor here at AR who can relate).

However, Hull still intends to be part of the future of RI Future as a member of a new "Board of Directors" that will take ownership of the site with the intention of turning it into a non-profit. (Because--apparently--we need another progressive non-profit!). So, the blog founded by community activists will be run by a corporatist-like Board of Directors comprised of as-yet unknown individuals (with the exception of Brian). Meanwhile, this blog--oft-accused of being in corporate pockets like Big Radio, etc.--will continue to be run by volunteers. Ahhh, the Alanis Morrissette-like irony!

In all seriousness, best of luck to Brian in his studies. See you in the interwebs.

Highlander School Gets 3 Year Extension

Marc Comtois

As reported by ProJo

The public outcry over the fate of popular Highlander Charter School registered with state education officials, who Tuesday reversed an earlier recommendation to close the school next year unless it showed dramatic improvement and instead granted the school a three-year extension.

Highlander supporters said after the meeting that they were relieved the original recommendation was abandoned, but were disappointed the K-8 school was not granted the customary five-year extension permitted under state law.

The arguments made by the school's supporters swayed the Board of Regents and Education Commissioner Deborah Gist.
"We really listened to the feedback that we got, not only from the families but from the leadership of the school and from each of you," Gist said. "I met with the League of Charter Schools and ... with Rose Mary and her board chair and through all of those conversations, really got a better understanding of some of the things people had concerns about in the original recommendations."
I'm glad they extended. Based on Andrew's analysis, it seems like Highlander is getting some things right and deserves more time.

Not Working, Not Helping?

Justin Katz

A report on volunteer rates in the United States and in Rhode Island seems to make contradictory points:

Volunteering in Rhode Island hit a six-year low last year, as more people looked for work or worried about making ends meet.

The state ranked 42nd out of 50 states and Washington, D.C., in volunteer rates, according to a report released Tuesday by the government-run Corporation for National and Community Service. ...

"There's plenty of evidence that shows that when people are unemployed and they have to focus on their livelihoods, they are less likely to volunteer," said Bernie Beaudreau, executive director of Serve Rhode Island. "If you're not secure" about your job or the future, "you focus on changing that."

On the other hand:

Despite a tough economy, the number of American helpers increased by nearly 1.6 million to 63.4 million — the biggest increase in volunteers in a single year since 2003, the report says.

Americans spent 100 million more hours helping their neighbors and others.

Clearly, Rhode Island's economy and unemployment are at the head of the pack of failure, in the nation, and there's surely correlation with this finding about volunteerism. My gut tells me, though, that both facts are effects of something larger. Our intrusive government, for example, is premised on the local belief that government is meant to take care of problems. Why should people volunteer when they donate by way of their taxes, and why should they work to expand the economy when those donations are obligatory and confiscatory?

Getting the Kids to Work

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal's John Kostrzewa and the public officials on whom he reports miss some critical dynamics in their discussion of the problem of teen unemployment in Rhode Island:

More and more teenagers in Rhode Island can't find work because the recession has shrunk the number of job openings. The jobs that are available and that young people used to fill are being taken by seniors forced back into the labor market or out-of-work adults who can't find anything else.

Not to mention the factors of illegal immigrants and other unskilled labor attracted by our progressive welfare and tax policies. A more fundamental thought derives from this description of the problem:

When young people don't get jobs and are idle, they don't learn valuable behavioral traits and skills such as showing up on time, respect for supervisors, teamwork and the value of their labor.

Providence Mayor David Cicilline, Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, and others see the solution as more government programs, including education and training, but that's suspiciously helpful to bureaucrats and public-sector labor unions. The reality is that, as its policies across the board prove, Rhode Island is not designed for successful, upwardly mobile lives. Our state punishes success and rewards conformity and going along to get along. That dynamic leads to policies that restrict job growth and — in whom it attracts and what it encourages — floods out the opportunity to follow a clear course of opportunity from menial work to a successful career.

That's more of a cultural issue than an economic one, but if there's any hope to change it, it will come with the economic decision to encourage business activity — really encourage it, not by making forms easier to fill out, but my making business easier to conduct.

What a Nation Can Do

Justin Katz

David Goldman applies what he calls "Autustinian realism" to America's foreign affairs and comes up with a variety of interesting conclusions:

What we might call "Augustinian realism" is this premise, borne out in the world around us. To the extent that other nations share the American love for the sanctity of the individual, they are likely to succeed. To the extent they reject it, they are likely to fail. Our actions in the world can proceed from American interest--precisely because American interest consists of allying with success and containing failure.

Augustinian realism begins with the observation that civil society precedes the character of a nation. The American state can ally with, cajole, or even crush other states, but it cannot change the character of their civil society, except in a very slow, gradual, and indirect fashion--for example, through the more than 100,000 American Christian missionaries now working overseas. This realism insists that the state should not try to do what it cannot do.

For the most part, he finds the Bush administration's policies unrealistic, but Obama's "baffling":

Instead of a president determined to use American hegemony to rid the world of evil, America has a president determined to rid the world of hegemony. As Barack Obama told the United Nations last September, "No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold." Since America is the only nation capable of exercising hegemony on a world scale or maintaining the balance of power among other powers, President Obama's doctrine is the self-liquidation of American influence--an unprecedented and, on reflection, astonishing position for an American leader.

In Goldman's view, the United States is morally obliged to ally with and help other nations (and out-of-power factions) that share our understanding of civic society. That obligation is tempered, however, by a realistic acceptance that we cannot change other cultures in the same way that we can topple regimes and build schools.

It doesn't make for easy calculations, but in our messy world, no coherent political philosophy would. Prudential decisions must be made to remove threats, as I would argue Saddam Hussein represented and as most agree the Taliban did, but as Goldman argues, becoming "entangled in unrealistic objectives" has made our military a sort of hostage for the threats of Iran as it races toward nuclear weapons. But one could move on from there to lament years of mishandling Iran.

The difficulty that democracy presents is that foreign policy that is consistent over time requires a certain amount of cultural consistency among voters, and our culture has gained a distinct wobble over the past half-century.

June 21, 2010

Facing Up to Porn

Justin Katz

A line from Mary Eberstadt's recent summary of sociological research about pornography includes this telling observation:

Several experts have also noted one more interesting phenomenon that most people who have ever written on this thankless subject will verify: Telling the truth about pornography is practically guaranteed to elicit malice and venom unique in their potency from its defenders.

Citing some extreme examples of the backlash, Eberstadt counts it as evidence of addiction, and a particular desire to believe that it's not a problem. That's surely part of it, but I think pornography is also at a fault line of American political philosophies.

Libertarians, no doubt, would begin to bristle (as, I confess, I did) at the suggestion that First Lady Michelle Obama should take up an anti-porn campaign when she completes her efforts against obesity. Government involvement quickly raises the stench of prohibition, and it's easy to foresee things going horribly wrong on this particular issue.

On the other hand, libertarians are far too quick, in my opinion, to treat every movement against individual liberties — especially those having to do with sex — as if it is government oppression. The can be a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, in that, as it becomes left to those who don't so much fear the use of government force to address real social problems.

Such quotations as this ride the aforementioned fault line:

Yet with all due respect to the social science, not everyone needs it to know that pornography is more than just a private thing. Imagine your teenage daughter walking down the beach. Half the men on it have been watching sex on the Internet within the last few days, and half have not. Which ones do you want watching her? How can their "private" behavior possibly be said to be confined to home, when their same eyes with which they view it travel along with them everywhere else?

I certainly see Eberstadt's point, and I've made similar arguments about individuals' associations before. (It's bound to affect a man's treatment of a woman whom he's just met if she reminds him of some porn actress rather than, say, a saint in a classic painting.) But questioning the "privacy" of one's own thoughts begins to move toward dangerous ground.

My concern is that, if protectors of liberty push back whenever problems such as pornography are so much a mentioned, then they won't have much leverage should society decide that the problem must be addressed.

President Obama: "... if we secure the border, then you all won't have any reason to support comprehensive immigration reform"

Monique Chartier

This is simply unacceptable. The president has openly admitted that he has walked away from two of the paramount duties of his office: the preservation of his country's sovereignty and the protection of his country's citizens, legal immigrants and guests. [H/T Glenn Beck.]

On June 18, 2010, Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl told the audience at a North Tempe Tea Party town hall meeting that during a private, one-on-one meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office, the President told him, regarding securing the southern border with Mexico, "The problem is, . . . if we secure the border, then you all won't have any reason to support 'comprehensive immigration reform.'" [Audible gasps were heard throughout the audience.] Sen. Kyl continued, "In other words, they're holding it hostage. They don't want to secure the border unless and until it is combined with 'comprehensive immigration reform'."

Rhode Island... Something Other than a Democracy

Justin Katz

Given other content on the site, it seems like a good day to catch up with an excellent commentary by Capers Jones published in the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition's RISC-y Business newsletter:

The hectic conclusion to the 2010 summer legislative section illustrates once again that Rhode Island is no longer a true democracy. Rhode Island has become a tightly controlled oligarchy that is ruled by special interests and the Assembly leadership without any serious concerns for the good of the state, the towns, or the citizens. Here are the reasons why Rhode Island is no longer a true democracy:

Every year the General Assembly puts forth more bills than any other state, including large states such as California and New York. Usually more than 2,100 bills are submitted here in Rhode Island. Of these at least 2,000 are trivial and are used primarily to make it hard for voters to find out what is really going on about serious issues.

Jones's rapid succession of explanations of questionable legislative processes and then examples of the consequences for RI government makes it impossible to tease out a small, representative quotation. Read the whole thing, if you haven't already done so.

Ernie Greco Announces His Campaign for Congress in the Second District

Carroll Andrew Morse

Saturday afternoon, I was able to drop by Ernie Greco's fair-to-label-it surprise announcement of his campaign for the Democratic nomination for the Second District Congressional seat currently held by incumbent Democrat James Langevin...

"My name is Ernie Greco and today I am announcing my candidacy for the Democratic nomination to represent the Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives..." (Audio: 1 min 8sec)

"This campaign is based, in my judgment, on a few common sense principles. One principle of this campaign is that fiscal responsibility and social responsibility can and should be compatible..." (Audio: 1 min 23 sec)

"We are also going to see that politicians who break their promises need to be held accountable...When a Congressman says that he is committed to the defense of innocent human life, and he solicits support from other people who share those values and share those beliefs, we expect him to fight for those principles and not abandon them or trade them off for some type of other political purpose." (Audio: 1 min 15 sec)

"What I like to call common sense Democrats and independents know [is] that neither politicians nor judges have the authority to decide when human life should begin or when human life should end, they don't have the authority to redefine marriage and the family, and they don't have the authority to take our 1st Amendment religious liberty in the public square and subordinate it that to concerns of political correctness and multiculturalism..." (Audio: 0 min 40 sec)

"Common sense tells us that no sovereign nation can survive, if it allows foreign governments or foreign nations to dictate its immigration policy..." (Audio: 0 min 23 sec)

[Candidate Greco addresses the public in Spanish] (Audio: 0 min 43 sec)

While our public schools need reform and will always need reform...and I will certainly fight to protect and defend our public schools, the next Federal education reform that's passed, from my point of view, has to include a provision for tuition tax-credits and tuition vouchers to keep schools like this one, the Holy Ghost school here on Federal Hill open..." (Audio: 1 min 23 sec)

"This campaign is going to be a labor-intensive, grass-roots campaign..." (Audio: 1 min 40 sec)

After the formal announcement was completed, I asked Mr. Greco if he had any other goals, beyond an outright win, that he was entering a Congressional race as a Democrat to achieve...
"I have no other goal. I wouldn't devote this time and effort simply to send a message to anybody..." (Audio: 1 min 29 sec)

Rhode Island Corruption, a Tale of Two Stop & Shops

Justin Katz

From time to time, some insider or other will argue that Rhode Island isn't all that corrupt and use arrest statistics or some similar measure as proof. Thankfully, those arguments are correct to the extent that we still find unique such stories as the three councilmen in North Providence who appear to have taken bribes to manipulate zoning laws on behalf of a proposed Stop & Shop.

But Providence Journal reporter Mike Stanton's tale of another Stop & Shop, this one in Cranston, puts the spotlight on the more fundamental — and perfectly legal — political corruption that characterizes the state. Developer Richard Baccari has had trouble in the past gaining permission to accommodate the grocery chain on a particular lot near the Pawtuxet River, so for a second attempt, he sought to have the town redefine supermarkets, rather than provide a zoning variance. The more typical approach requires notice to neighbors; the new approach does not.

The corruption appeared when Baccari hired then-Speaker of the House Bill Murphy to get the ball rolling:

Murphy, who met with the mayor and his chief of staff, Ernie Carlucci, never showed them any plans, or identified the developer or the supermarket chain, says [former Mayor Michael] Napolitano. Murphy's pitch was that the project would bring the financially struggling city much-needed jobs and tax revenue. ...

A short time later, Napolitano’s city solicitor approached Councilman Richard Santamaria at City Hall and handed him a draft of the proposed ordinance. ...

Santamaria represented the Fifth Ward in central Cranston, not the First Ward where the proposed Stop & Shop would be located. He also worked at the State House as a $53,000-a-year legislative aide. Before he introduced the ordinance, Santamaria says, he talked to the First Ward councilman, Terence Livingston, who also worked for Murphy as a part-time, $65,000-a-year legislative lawyer.

Note that Murphy doesn't appear to have been actively involved, as a lawyer, other than in his capacity as behind-the-scenes advocate for the project, inasmuch as Baccari hired others separately to handle the details and appear in public.

Note, also, an "unintended consequence" whereby the change in zoning laws would have made violators of mom-and-pop stores in the city, based on a size minimum for "retail and service establishments." New Mayor Allan Fung ensured that the law addressed that concern, but one thinks of the many seemingly obvious mistakes that occur in the shell game of Rhode Island law making. This one would conspicuously have been helpful to large chains. It's surprising that the state's top legislator, at the time, would not seek and spot such problems for constituents before advocating for a particular project.

Anybody who has given passing thought to running for local office has done the calculation of time investment versus benefit, and it's difficult to make the scale tilt toward a campaign. Call it an "unintended consequence" that offices therefore fall to those with something to gain other than the direct rewards of public service.

June 20, 2010

A Perjurer Is Not Pure

Justin Katz

J.H.H. Weiler makes a mighty effort, in First Things, to argue that both Jesus and the Jewish leaders whom He faced in His culture-defining trial were innocent, within the boundaries that God had set for each. The core of Weiler's argument derives from Deuteronomy 13:1-5, which foretells of a prophet who, acting on God's behalf, tests the people in an attempt to lead them astray. Writes Weiler:

... what if a prophet were to step outside the law and appeal to the authority on which that law is predicated? The people are told in Deuteronomy that they are not to add or subtract from the commandments of God. But surely a prophet, adding or subtracting with the authenticating authority of signs and wonders from God, can be followed?

Not so, according to the text. The prophet may perform unmistakable signs and wonders that replicate the signs authenticating Moses as a prophet. But if that prophet were to insist on a breach with the Mosaic law, then he should be taken as a divine test — the real meaning of which is that the prophet is sent by God to test the love, loyalty, and fidelity of the people to God's revealed word to Moses at Sinai.

The problem with Weiler's proposition that Jesus authentically came to spread "an attractive and tantalizing message" and, as an joint act of God, to "put the Children of Israel to a new Abrahamic test" is that it necessarily makes a liar of Jesus. In Matthew 5, He asserts that he has not come "to abolish the law or the prophets," and that "not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place."

Since Weiler teaches his thesis as a course at New York University's School of Law, he might make the legalistic argument that Jesus, in fact, did not change the law for the Chosen People to whom it applied, but he thereby requires of the Messiah a tricky double-meaning in much of what He said that could not help but trip up His followers, even in the total absence of sin. He furthermore discounts efforts to convert Jews, which the closest disciples took up immediately upon imbibing the Holy Spirit.

No doubt, liberal theologians would find a tantalizing possibility in God's offering ethnically specific instructions. As we've explored before, however, liberal theologians succeed in nothing so efficiently as the evaporation of theology... and adherents.

BP: Boycotted Petroleum

Justin Katz

Filling in for Dan Yorke, on Friday, Channel 10 reporter Gene Valicenti (another transplanted Jersey boy, by the way) took up the question of whether people feel it's appropriate to boycott BP gas stations as a means of punishing the company for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Inasmuch as I was busy cutting seventy-two copes for massive crown molding in a coffered kitchen ceiling, I wasn't able to offer my two cents on the air.

I find it highly unlikely that anybody engages in a full boycott of a particular gas station. Rather, people will look for alternatives to a greater or lesser degree based on their impressions of the company. Nobody's going to walk or wait for AAA to bring a can of gasoline for an empty tank rather than pull in to a disliked station. On the other end of the spectrum, it's probably rather easy to push people to pick one or the other competitors on the same intersection and with a price differential of a couple of cents.

Personally, BP's pretentious environmentalish advertising had turned me off enough to engage in a boycott of the most mild sort (milder than my avoidance of dictator Chavez's Citgo stations) even before oil began to flow toward our southern coast. Increasing the intensity of my wallet-vote statement wasn't something that I'd considered, but I don't think it's an irrational decision for people to make.

Valicenti suggested that a boycott would only hurt the local store owner, but look, there has to be a consumer consequence for big companies. We've already got the federal government bailing out corporations that have gained a substantial claim on our economy; allowing companies to hide behind their employees and franchisees when they mess up would further undermine the very mechanism that makes capitalism a system for efficiency and quality. If a company like BP needn't fear consumer backlash, then it really will become solely the role of governments to impose penalties.

That ties in with a secondary argument that Valicenti put forward — namely, that boycotting BP would do no good, because the company would just move its product elsewhere. That's baloney on its face. That the company spends so much on developing and disseminating marketing materials in the Rhode Island market (for example) proves that it is very interested in ensuring that Rhode Islanders think well of it. The executives know that gas stations compete on the basis of mere pennies and that even something as superficial as dislike of a corporate logo can make the difference in consumer choices. Clearly, their response to pervasive anger at their brand is not something that they would brush aside.

To boycott or not to boycott BP is not a question in which I'm inclined to invest much passion. It's a matter of practicality and preference. By contrast, striving to argue against a boycott on philosophical or structural grounds could actually do harm to our economic and political system.

Portsmouth Institute Conference on Newman: Fr. Richard Duffield

Justin Katz

The after-dinner speech of the Portsmouth Institute's Friday, June 11, session centered around Cardinal John Henry Newman's residence, the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, in Birmingham, England, and efforts to collect and preserve his writings. With a video about the effort, Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick Reilly introduced the Oratory's current provost, Fr. Richard Duffield, who gave the lecture.

(The remainder of Fr. Duffield's speech is available in the extended entry of this post.)

I've quite a number of one-line quotations jotted in my notes, but they're much more profound in the context of Fr. Duffield's presentation. One that stands out, though, is his description of Cardinal Newman's "prophetic stand against 'compromises of the spirit of the age": "People don't like to have the consequences of their compromises pointed out to them."

Of more thematic significance, given the threads that I've been tracing throughout the Portsmouth Institute's conference, is Fr. Duffield's suggestion that the Oratory's project allows Newman scholars to conduct their research in harmony with the environment in which the Cardinal did his work. The conference itself presents a parallel, with its religious services and evening vespers on the grounds of a school-monastery.

Indeed, it further illustrates the cohesive whole of the Catholic tradition, in which it is possible to investigate the writings of a great intellect not only within the building that he inhabited, but very nearly within the lifestyle from which he drew his experience.

June 19, 2010

Breaking the Cycle of Expensive Education and Poor Economic Development

Justin Katz

The news hook was local, so I posted it over on the Tiverton Citizens for change Web site, but the topic applies to the whole state, so here's the upshot:

... if our investment in education — and let's put aside Rhode Island's and Tiverton's questionable results — leads to policies that drive up the cost of living in the state and the difficulty of doing business, here, it can only be self-defeating. In the first stages of pulling Rhode Island out of the dry well into which it's fallen, our attitude about businesses' importing workers has to be, "so what," followed by, "let's do better from here forward. An active economy will provide the revenue to invest in education without making a disincentive of our town and state cost structures. Moreover, an influx of success-oriented (non-public-sector) residents, many of whom will bring families with them, can only improve voter input to better shape our school system.

Claiming that our inflated costs for education — secondary and above — is a matter of economic development is a union-approved cop-out, and it will remain so until Rhode Island has excess jobs looking for workers... or at least until it's clear that business want to set up shop here but note the lack of skilled employees to be a lone hindrance.

It's the Authority, not the Debate

Justin Katz

Further to this morning's post about the use of science as an irrefutable cudgel in moral debates, I'd like to draw your attention to Eric Cohen and Yuval Levin's comparison of the Bush and Obama treatments of the President's Council on Bioethics. In effect, Bush's version was designed to have an authority of its own and to ensure that significant policy debates became public debates, while Obama's might more appropriately be compared with a hospital's ethics board: the objective is known and supported, and the board lies somewhere between rubber stamp and safeguard against excess.

The problem, rather, is that the commission seems designed to keep bioethics out of the news. Its members are a far lower-profile group than those in Bush's commission (or, for that matter, Bill Clinton's). Its charter, which the president signed in November, repeatedly insists that the commission should focus on specific and programmatic policy questions. The president stressed the same point in the statement the White House released at the time: "This new commission will develop its recommendations through practical and policy-related analyses."

The idea, no doubt, was to distinguish the focus of this commission's approach from the broader and deeper approach of the Bush council, whose own charter said its foremost task was "to undertake fundamental inquiry into the human and moral significance of developments in biomedical and behavioral science and technology" and whose work (including an anthology of readings from great works of literature called Being Human and a report that reflected on the meaning of human-enhancement technologies but did not offer policy proposals) was sometimes described as too ethereal.

As its designers surely recognized, the likely effect of directing the new commission to take up narrower policy questions will be to keep it from taking up the most basic questions underlying our approach to science and technology.

If the primary question guiding the commission is not what but how, the range of topics it may examine is constrained--as so much of bioethics in recent decades has been--to utilitarian concerns and matters of procedure. As with the president's implicit assertion that there is no debate to be had about embryo research, the idea is to treat the basic ethical questions as closed and to relegate the questions that remain to the judgment of experts. These remaining questions involve, for instance, not whether we should pursue the destruction of nascent life for research but how; not what advances in biotechnology mean for our humanity but how they can be made available to all.

One could suggest that our supposedly deep-thinking president apparently believes that all of the actual deep thinking has already been done. In electing him, we've freed ourselves of the need to consider difficult questions of morality and identity, because he's already figured out what's best and will impose it as necessary.

I can't help but think back to President Bush's Oval Office broadcast banning federal funding of new embryonic stem cell lines. Whatever one might have thought of his intellect, his approach was to lay out the issues as he saw them, including competing arguments, and explain his decision. Frankly, I've yet to see Obama say anything half as thoughtful.

At Last, Articulation of Etiquette for Cell Phones and I-Thingees

Monique Chartier

Further to my post about the inadvertent rudeness of modern technology, CNET's Jasmine France has put pen to paper ... er, electrons to screen and outlined some "Mobile Manners", starting with the date.

... I can't even begin to tell you how many stories I've read or heard regarding significant others' downright rude use of cell phones, so let's start with the cardinal rule: DON'T pick up your phone when you're out on a date. I don't care if you've been married to the person for 25 years--texting, gaming, surfing the Web, or otherwise engrossing yourself in your device while you're supposed to be enjoying a romantic evening with a real live human is completely unacceptable.

Yikes, this had to be specified??

Her list is fairly comprehensive and addresses the check-out situation I had witnessed at Whole Foods, one probably very familiar to most everyone,

On that same tip, DON'T talk on the phone while purchasing retail items or ordering food and drinks. Be polite to both the person serving you and the people behind you in line and end your call before you reach the counter.

as well as texting while walking down the street - that's a no-no because

We can all do without you running into us, and we'd hate to bear witness to tragedy when your distracted thumb-tapping causes you to meander out into traffic.

While Jasmine concludes with a crazy suggestion about occasionally leaving the device at home (let's not get carried away here), she has, without doubt, performed a major public service with the promulgation of these guidelines.

"We Want to Vote for It" - Speaker Fox Discovers a Novel Way to Handle Legislation

Monique Chartier

In yesterday's Providence Journal, House Speaker Gordon Fox describes how the new Rhode Island fireworks law came to be.

"It was my intention to put it in just to get the discussion going for next year," Fox said. "And the members just liked it. So next thing I know, they're like, 'We want to vote for it.' And boom -- I shouldn't say boom -- it passed."

So let's review. The bill was considered in committee, with testimony and everything. It was voted out of committee and onto the House floor. And then (drum roll), all seventy five House members got to, you know, express their sincere opinion about the bill by voting "Yea" or "Nay" on it.

It wasn't held in committee for further study. Once on the Floor, it didn't get sent back to committee with an extremely convenient, uniquely interpreted voice vote.

Amazing! Any chance this procedure will catch on for other - dare we say all - bills that are filed at the General Assembly?

It's the Authority, not the Science

Justin Katz

Jonah Goldberg spotted in the news an instance in which the Obama Interior Department appears to have misrepresented the opinion of some scientists whom it consulted regarding a possible ban of offshore drilling:

The draft these experts saw was substantively different from the document that bore their names. The draft called for a moratorium on issuing new permits, not stopping existing drilling (a move many experts believe would be unsafe).

One of the experts, Benton Baugh, president of Radoil, told the Wall Street Journal that if the draft had said to halt drilling, "we'd have said 'that's craziness.'"

As Goldberg writes, "there is something ugly and hypocritical about glorifying the absolute authority of scientists and sanctimoniously preening about your bravery in 'restoring' that authority" — only to ignore what they say when it's "politically expedient." Actually, I'm sure Goldberg would agree that progressives' periodic lauding of science is primarily, if not entirely, all about political expedience.

When candidate Obama said he would "restore science to its rightful place," he meant that he would treat it as an unassailable, procaimedly "objective," conversation-ending weapon in philosophical debates. The prerequisite, of course, is that science must agree with his own views on a particular issue.

The very necessity of politics arises because there is no objective measure when it comes to policy decisions that must balance competing interests and complement subjective considerations like religion and ethics with practical needs and objectives. Tyranny lurks behind the elevation of any particular input as if it alone settles the question, especially when determination is handed to a limited group with information beyond the comprehension of everybody else.

June 18, 2010

Third Democrat in the Second District Race

Carroll Andrew Morse

I just received a press release saying that Ernie Greco, currently a Professor of Political Science at Roger Williams University, will formally announce tomorrow his campaign for Rhode Island's Second District Congressional seat. He will run in the Democratic primary against incumbent James Langevin and former state Representative Elizabeth Dennigan...

The formal announcement will take place, Saturday, June 19, 2010 at noon at St. John's park which is at the corner of Atwells and Sutton st. on Federal Hill.
A quick perusal of the platform on the Greco for Congress campaign website shows that he probably won't be splitting the disaffected progressive vote with the Dennigan campaign.

Where Rhode Islanders Are Going

Marc Comtois

Forbes has an interactive map where you can look at where the people are moving. I found it via Ryan Streeter's post concerning the difference in migration between California in Texas (Texas is gaining, Cali ain't). Consider Rhode Island more a Cali than a Tay-has. Here's Providence County, for instance:


Kent, Washington (er..."South") and Newport counties are also in the red, so to speak. Unsurprisingly, it looks like a lot of retiring Rhode Islanders are heading to Florida, Arizona and maybe SoCal. Another group, probably more based on economic reasons, is headed to Georgia--particularly Atlanta--and the Carolinas.

Portsmouth Institute Conference on Newman: Edward Elgar

Justin Katz

Among the tremendous pleasures of the Portsmouth Institute's annual conference are the musical interludes. (Of course, I write that as a high-culture junky who can rarely afford a fix.) Friday night's concert feature music by Edward Elgar was no exception. The first three clips feature selections from Elgar's song cycle "The Dream of Gerontius," based on the poem by Cardinal John Henry Newman, and the rest feature an Elgar composition for string orchestra. The former were performed by Jeffrey Nardone (tenor), Kara Harris (mezzo-soprano), and Michael Kregler (piano), and the latter by the Portsmouth Institute String Orchestra.

Kerry King at the Rhode Island Republican Assembly Endorsement Convention

Carroll Andrew Morse

This past Saturday, the Rhode Island Republican Assembly held its endorsement convention for statewide candidates. Candidates were allowed to make a short statement, then took questions from the audience. As always, RI-RA members asked direct and pointed questions of the candidates.

Kerry King spoke to the convention about his campaign for Rhode Island General Treasurer, and received the endorsement made later in the day.

Opening statement:

"What I want to do is clean up the red ink that exists all across this state of Rhode Island and, in fact, exists all across the world today unfortunately. If you ask yourself what are the key conservative principles, we all might come up with a different answer. I think all of us would say that belief in God is the key one, but another one is fiscal conservatism, and it's a very, very basic principle. Only if we followed it, we wouldn't be in the mess that we're in today. And it's a simple principle. It says don't spend more than you earn and don't borrow money you can't pay back..." (Audio: 1 min 15 sec)

"I am going to give you 4 numbers that I want you to keep uppermost in your mind: 100, 300, 600, and 22 billion. 100 is the deficit that the General Assembly just passed our budget with, because they are betting on 100 million dollars of Federal money. 300 million dollars is the amount we are borrowing from the Federal government to pay unemployment benefits. 600 million dollars is the amount of revenue that's dropped off, since the high point was reached, just a few years ago. 22 billion dollars -- that's with a "b" -- is the amount of collective borrowing of the state, municipal governments, and the unfunded liabilities of the state and municipal governments..." (Audio: 2 min 1 sec)

"Let me tell you what I believe in, some of the things. I believe that the United States of America is still the greatest country on earth. I believe that freedom is not free, and that we ought to be grateful to the people that fight on our behalf every day to keep us free. That entrepreneurship, innovation and individual responsibility are values that everybody in this room share....I believe that capitalism has produced the greatest good for the people of the world, not socialism. The examples are there today. Look across the world, capitalism produces the greatest value for everyone..." (Audio: 1 min 58 sec)

Audience Question: What specific proposal do you have to bring the pension system more in line with what all of us deal with in the private sector?

Answer: "...I've written a comprehensive article that details all of the steps that have to be taken to reformulate the state pension plan and to merge all 150 plans...so that we have one plan for all that's fair to workers, but more importantly is something that the taxpayers can afford..." (Audio: 0 min 47 sec)

Audience Question: What would you say qualifies you, as opposed to your likely progressive, liberal opponent in this race, and are you running as a stepping stone to higher office?

Answer: "Let me just say, right now, that this is my last stop in public service. The reason I chose running for General Treasurer is that it fits my background...I want to fix the financials of this state. I want to clean up the red ink. That's the legacy I want to leave. That's all I want to do for the state of Rhode Island..." (Audio: 1 min 12 sec)

Audience Question: How much does illegal immigration tie into your plan to get red of the red ink?

Answer: "...I support efforts to curb the flow of illegal immigration in the state. Pretty clearly it has financial implications, because they are using our healthcare system, they are using our welfare system, and we have to address those problems..." (Audio: 0 min 27 sec)

Closing remark: "I have another engagement, so I'm going to take my signs with me. One of the aspects of fiscal responsibility is that you try to save money wherever you go." (Audio: 0 min 9 sec)

State Senator Christopher Maselli (D-Johnston) Indicted for Bank Fraud

Carroll Andrew Morse

From Amanda Milkovits of the Projo 7-to-7 blog...

State Sen. Christopher B. Maselli, D-Johnston, was federally indicted Thursday on seven counts of bank fraud.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha confirmed the indictment Friday morning.

Perhaps Those Who Ought to Know Better Oughtn't

Justin Katz

The relevance of education came up in an interesting conversation that National Review's Jay Nordlinger had with a Tunisian immigrant in Texas:

The driver was recently back in Tunisia. And a curious incident occurred, in the town. A horse reared up and injured somebody (not badly). The owner subdued the horse as quickly as he could. Later, a mob came and beat the owner up, as punishment. "My sister said, 'Good, he deserved it.' And she is a doctor, a psychologist. If she thinks this way — that a mob can just do what it wants — what about common people?" ...

... I know what he means when he talks about his sister and the common people. Shortly after 9/11 — maybe on 9/11, I can't remember — a doctor acquaintance in Alexandria e-mailed me. She said, "I know you live in New York, and I hope you're okay. And please know that Muslims could not have done this." She murmured about the Jews. I thought, "If she can think this — a doctor who lectures at the University of Alexandria — what hope does her janitor have? What about the man selling lemons on the street?"

I once might have assented to this generality, but having worked in such "common people" occupations as unloading fishing boats and construction for most of my adult life, I'm increasingly inclined to question it. While they may be less familiar with the specifics of current events, I've found that, when informed, salt-of-the-earth folks are more likely to translate them in terms of everyday experience. In other words, they don't often think about politics and culture, as such, but when they do, they rely on common sense.

The highly educated, on the other hand, habituated to the white-collar-professional world have learned as fundamental truths:

  1. That there is untold information in society of which they can only know a fraction.
  2. That specialists (which includes many such professionals) often know things that just don't make sense to non-specialists.

Both findings are accurate, productive, and necessary to a fully aware and intricate social structure, but they lose their relevance when it comes to matters of principle and politics. There are no specialists in determining how justice ought to be defined, and seeking specialists to follow in such areas merely stains non-rational preferences with the tint of objectivity. More likely, though, the assumption will be that there must be specialized knowledge behind the received wisdom of the seeker's clique, and that assumption recasts preferences and biases not simply as the way things are, but as the way it's been determined that they ought to be.

Such tendencies are broadly human. What I'm proposing, here, is that the habits of thinking and acquiring social status might actually make the individual more susceptible to the error.

Discrimination with Regard to Discrimination

Justin Katz

Hadley Arkes examines the Supreme Court case Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, which is addressing the question of whether the Hastings Law School of the University of California in San Francisco can refuse to recognize a student group for Christians that excludes anybody with "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle." The controversy arose, predictably, because the group counts, as one such proscribed lifestyle, active homosexuality and advocacy thereof.

In order to validate its revocation of the group's official recognition in such a way as to appear not to be engaging in invidious discrimination, itself, the university defined its policy such that any recognized group must accept any participants, even those with antipathetic beliefs. "To a questioner not quite believing, Dean Leo Martinez confirmed that a chapter of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League would have to admit Muslims, and a gathering of black students would have to admit Ku Klux Klan members and, presumably, skinheads." More: the university proclaimed that ill-fitting members must be eligible for leadership positions.

Thus, if they were disposed toward an oppressive lark, a group in the campus majority — say, far-left liberals — could join, take over, and entirely subvert the message and activities of a campus minority — say, traditionalist Christians.

The point that I wish to raise comes up with the judges' attempt to understand how distinctions could be made between unacceptable discrimination and discrimination that remains permissible as the expression of truly held beliefs:

[Lawyer Michael] McConnell said that of course those kinds of racist groups could be barred because they were founded on discriminations based on "status," not belief. Presumably he meant that the wrong in discrimination based on race and sex inhered in drawing adverse moral inferences about people as though race or sex actually controlled or determined their character. But the distinction between "status" and "belief" did not explain itself, and so Justice John Paul Stevens chimed in: What if a group was simply founded on an earnest "belief" in the inferiority of black people and the superiority of whites? Justice Anthony Kennedy was tempted to give a certain standing to claims of "belief" as a ground of association that could claim a certain standing to be respected, mainly because the beliefs were held. Earnestly held, that is, and not to be tested by any indecorous probing into their truth.

The question pressed by Sotomayor can be answered only by explaining why a moral discrimination based on race would be wrong in all instances, whereas discrimination based on "sexual orientation" simply could not claim the same standing. For one thing, the moral discriminations based on race or sex worked by making moral predictions about the conduct or the moral worth of people based solely on their race or sex. But the groups defined by homosexual acts or "sexual orientations" are marked as groups precisely by the acts they commit. People are described as "arsonists," for example, when they commit arson, and the recoil from arsonists is a recoil from the crime of arson.

The problem here is that any activity we could name could be directed to a hurtful or wrongful end. Sexual acts, whether heterosexual or homosexual, can be deployed as assaults to injure and degrade. Some people may be "oriented" to rape, or to sadomasochism or bestiality. Even gay and lesbian activists will argue over the question of whether they regard members of the Man-Boy Love Association as standing legitimately in their circle, with a "sexual orientation" they respect.

McConnell (and Arkes) head in the rhetorical direction of when exclusion should be allowed, but one can reach the same point by stating when it should not be. Employing the distinction between "status" and "belief," one could argue that a white supremacist group would have to be recognized if it would not bar a black man who believed in his own inferiority. That this is absurd — and the group could be reasonably rejected for that reason — does not prove that it is equally absurd to hypothesize about people with homosexual inclinations who believe their desires to be wrong; it proves that race and sexual orientation are substantively different.

As Arkes explains, discrimination based on race assumes an inferiority of the person on the basis of his or her ethnicity. It is a statement of superiority without any possibility of dispositive proof of individual equality. In the case of sexuality, the individual is not presumed to be less deserving of standing and respect as a human being. He or she is considered to be in error on a particular matter, but questions of essential worth and character are available for him or her to answer positively or negatively, to impress or to disappoint, in equal measure to those whose sexual lives conform with traditionalist standards.

When political correctness undermines our ability to make such distinctions, we lose the ability to devise objective rules that tolerate those with whom we disagree. Everything, that is to say, comes down to expressions of power — whether the university administrator is empowered to impose his or her own views as the measure of discrimination, or students in an active majority can subvert and suppress the organized expression of contrary views.

June 17, 2010

Update: Rhode Island Municipalities May be Able to Open Existing Contracts, if Democracy is Suspended First

Carroll Andrew Morse

Attorney Joseph Larisa, who helped initiate the current "municipal receivership" action in Central Falls, is quoted by John Hill of the Projo as advising the Central Falls City Council to consider going along with the new process defined in the "fiscal stabilization" law signed by the Governor last week...

He cautioned that it was up to the City Council, not him, to decide if the city challenges the law. But he said he would advise the council that the new law would accomplish the same things the city had sought with the receivership filing.

For the city, he said, the key provision in the new law is one that allows a receiver appointed by the state Department of Revenue to file for federal bankruptcy on behalf of an insolvent municipality, if all other efforts fail to balance its budget.

Larisa said a federal bankruptcy filing, which carries the ability to break union contracts, or at least the threat of it, was needed to win the kinds of concessions the city needs to close its budget gap.

The law lays out a three-step process for "stabilizing" a community that is having fiscal troubles. Ideally, if problems can be fixed at an earlier step, the community doesn't have to proceed to the next step; presumably, Central Falls would have to go through steps 1 and 2, before ending up in step 3 full-blown receivership. (See update below).

The specific steps specified in the "fiscal stabilization" law are...

  1. ...the fiscal overseer stage where a "fiscal overseer" is appointed who is something more than an adviser to a town or city government. Local elected officials retain most of their formal powers, but both the overseer and the state's Director of Revenue get final vetoes over the municipal budget. The overseer is also required to be involved in all new contract negotiations, but is given no special authority regarding existing contracts.

    If the fiscal overseer can't fix the problem (with his or her super fiscal overseer powers that mere mortal elected officials apparently don't possess), then we go to...

  2. ...the budget commission stage where a commission is created, with 3 members appointed by the state's Director of Revenue, and 2 drawn from elected officials of the town. All decisions by the budget commission are made by majority vote. Formally, the elected town or city government still exists, but it must defer to the "budget" commission, whenever the budget commission decides anything...
    In addition to the authority and powers conferred elsewhere in this chapter, and notwithstanding any city or town charter provision or local ordinance to the contrary, the budget commission shall have the power to...exercise all powers under the general laws and this chapter or any special act, any charter provision or ordinance that any elected official of the city or town may exercise, acting separately or jointly; provided, however, that with respect to any such exercise of powers by the budget commission, the elected officials shall not rescind or take any action contrary to such action by the budget commission so long as the budget commission continues to exist.
    And if the budget commission cannot solve the problems (with their super-budget commissioner powers), then we go to...
  3. ...the receivership stage where the Director of Revenue appoints a single individual who is given the power...
    ...to exercise the powers of the elected officials under the general laws, special laws and the city or town charter and ordinances relating to or impacting the fiscal stability of the city or town including, without limitation, school and zoning matters; provided, further, that the powers of the receiver shall be superior to and supersede the powers of the elected officials of the city or town shall continue to be elected in accordance with the city or town charter, and shall serve in an advisory capacity to the receiver.
    So the citizens of a city or town still get to participate in local elections -- just not for the single person who has absolute authority to make all decisions about taxes, budgets or any other municipal matter.
Now, the receiver is granted a power that could ultimately lead to the reopening of existing contracts:
The power to file a petition in the name of the city or town under Chapter 9 of Title 11 of the United States Code, and to act on the city's or town's behalf in any such proceeding.
...i.e. the power to file for municipal bankruptcy, but this is not a power given to the budget commission, or to the fiscal overseer, or to the schmucks in town or city government acting on their own.

So the most basic question is, why is suspension of municipal democracy viewed as a necessary or even preferred condition for the filing of bankruptcy?

UPDATE (6/18/10):

Apparently the "fiscal overseer" and "budget commission" stages are completely optional. The law contains a provision says that if a fiscal emergency is severe enough, in the opinion of the Director of Revenue and the Auditor General, they can move immediately to suspend municipal democracy and appoint a receiver, without meeting any of the conditions specified in the earlier steps of the process...

In the event the director of revenue determines, in consultation with the auditor general, that a city or town is facing a fiscal emergency and that circumstances do not allow for appointment of a fiscal overseer or a budget commission prior to the appointment of a receiver, the director of revenue may appoint a receiver without having first appointed a fiscal overseer or a budget commission.

Portsmouth Institute Conference on Newman: Dr. Kreeft

Justin Katz

The third lecture of this year's Portsmouth Institute conference, on Newman and the Intellectual Tradition, was an overview of Cardinal John Henry Newman's famous poem, "The Dream of Gerontius," by Boston College Philosophy Professor Peter Kreeft, with Portsmouth Abbey Chaplin Dom Julian Stead introducing the speaker:

(The remainder of Dr. Kreeft's speech is available in the extended entry of this post.)

The poem — and the speech — is an artistic exploration of the notion of Purgatory. Indeed, during the Q&A of Prof. Paul Griffiths' presentation an audience member related the anecdote of having successfully used the poem to persuade a fellow Christian of Purgatory's reality. One thread of that topic that Dr. Kreeft drew out for consideration was the existence of demons, suggesting that (in general) there are two "recipes for failure" against an opponent: denying your enemy's existence and/or underestimating him, and overestimating him and thinking him insurmountable.

The second error set my thoughts in motion when Kreeft suggested that just the sight of demons is "real despair," drawing a distinction between them and cinematic monsters, however visually scary they may be. It is the stench of insurmountability. The fear isn't fright, but a feeling of ultimate hopelessness.

Here, we come again to an area in which it becomes difficult for believers and non-believers to communicate, because on spiritual matters, we inevitably use physical representations in describing immaterial things, and non-believers take their lack of tangible experience with corporeal beings as evidence that "immaterial" means "non-existent." It's difficult to conceive of volitive creatures not as monsters, but as abstract emotions like (say) depression. But we lose a dimension of reality, I think, a fruitful way of considering the world around us, when we systematize everything as mechanical and without intention.

Erik Wallin at the Rhode Island Republican Assembly Endorsement Convention

Carroll Andrew Morse

This past Saturday, the Rhode Island Republican Assembly held its endorsement convention for statewide candidates. Candidates were allowed to make a short statement, then took questions from the audience. As always, RI-RA members asked direct and pointed questions of the candidates.

Erik Wallin spoke to the convention about his campaign for Attorney General in Rhode Island, and received the endorsement made later in the day.

Opening statement:

"It is time to take back the office of Attorney General and Return it to the people, and that is exactly what I am going to do as your next Attorney General. This is an opportunity we've rarely had in Rhode Island to capture an office that affects so many of us, from protecting and standing up for those who have been the victims of violent crimes, to making sure our state's rights themselves are protected..." (Audio: 1 min 23 sec)

"I am also going to crack down on public corruption like no one has before. I rolled out a public corruption bill two weeks ago, with the most severe penalties for those who betray the public trust. This is at the core of what's wrong in Rhode Island..." (Audio: 1 min 43 sec)

"I am a former Air Force officer and JAG. I come to this race with the experience of having been in the office of Attorney General, knowing how it works and, sadly, knowing how it doesn't work..." (Audio: 1 min 16 sec)

Audience Question: What are you going to do about illegal immigration in the State of Rhode Island?

Answer: "I have spoken without any sort of reservation about a couple of issues. One, I firmly believe in e-verify. I believe that e-verify should be rolled out to the private employers as well, besides just individuals doing work for the state or state contractors or the state itself..." (Audio: 1 min 26 sec)

"I also have said that I believe that law enforcement should cooperate with ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It's no different than co-operating with the FBI, and I've said that as well when I've been challenged by activists..." (Audio: 1 min 6 sec)

Audience Question: Those under indictment in the North Providence case could still have their town council seats. What would you do about that as AG?

Answer: "Under the HOPE Act [the anti-corruption legislation proposed by Mr. Wallin], anyone who is under indictment for a public corruption crime would be removed from office, not removed permanently, but suspended until such time as they were exonerated, or if convicted, they would be permanently removed from office..." (Audio: 1 min 37 sec)

Audience Question: Do you believe that we are endowed by our creator with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and if so, will you remain anchored to those principles as you meet the challenges in the times in which we live...

Answer: "So help me God..." (Audio: 0 min 11 sec)

Audience Question: How do you feel about the concept of expungement of criminal records, and what's going on up in the legislature on that subject?

Answer: "I'm against it. Let me tell you something, this is what infuriates me. We have a General Assembly that couldn't be a better friend to criminals...whether it's through the expungement law, where they want to expunge public records of crimes, or whether it's the example of releasing probation violators or cutting their sentences shorter, these things are all in the General Assembly while we have these tremendous other issues, like our financial crisis at hand, and they're worried about criminals..." (Audio: 1 min 4 sec)

"We have one of the most liberal expungement statutes in the country. Unfortunately, they want to make it even more liberal..." (Audio: 1 min 21 sec)

A Sham of a Hot-Air Government

Justin Katz

Rather than simply cut the Public Utilities Commission out of the process of approving an off-shore wind project, the General Assembly, with the enthusiastic assent of Governor Don Carcieri, has effectively permitted the commission a single stamp — a rubber one:

The new law changes that measuring stick by dramatically narrowing the window for the PUC assessment. Rather than ruling whether the price is broadly commercially reasonable, the PUC must now approve the contract if it is deemed to be "commercially reasonable for a small offshore wind-demonstration project that is limited to eight wind turbines, even if there may be other energy alternatives in the region that could produce electricity at a lower unit cost."

"It's designed to make it difficult for the Public Utilities Commission to come up with a decision other than what the General Assembly wants it to decide," said Tricia Jedele, director of the Conservation Law Foundation's Rhode Island Advocacy Center. "They're essentially asking the PUC to compare the cost of this proposed project against itself."

In fact, the law is even more overt than that. It cuts the amount of time for review, appears to limit the amount of input that the PUC will accept, and requires Deepwater Wind to pay for an "expert" (via the Economic Development Corporation) to give an air of authority to the proceedings. Furthermore, in one of those cute little tricks of governance, the law states that the PUC should affirm that the "amended agreement contains terms and conditions that are commercially reasonable," and then subsequently, under a separate bullet on environmental benefits, defines the term as follows:

Notwithstanding any other provisions of the general laws to the contrary, for the purposes of this section, "commercially reasonable" shall mean terms and pricing that are reasonably consistent with what an experienced power market analyst would expect to see for a project of a similar size, technology and location, and meeting the policy goals in subsection (a) of this section.

In other words, the General Assembly and governor might just as well have passed a law approving of the project. At this point, the PUC is little more than a fig leaf of political cover.

Tiogue School's Insane Idea of a Weapon

Monique Chartier

A half inch piece of plastic. H/T WPRO's John Depetro; kudos to WPRI Eyewitness News for exposing this palpable danger (or something) to the students of Tiogue School:

Eight-year-old David Morales says he made the camouflage hat with army men on top, as a school project. The hat was more than just a fashion statement, it was meant to honor military members.

When Morales wore the hat to classes he was informed by Tiogue School officials that it violated their no tolerance policy that prohibits students from bringing drugs or weapons to school.

... because of the tiny plastic guns that the tiny plastic army men were carrying. Get a magnifying glass as you click on the WPRI link to view the hat and the "weapons" and to fully comprehend the danger that they posed. The only question is why the Tiogue School didn't call out a SWAT team ...

Putting a Stop to Citizen Action

Justin Katz

As he often does, Andrew used his appearance on the Matt Allen Show, last night, to put a topic on which he's been expounding on Anchor Rising in the plain terms by which it affects Rhode Islanders. This time, that topic was the new municipal receivership law. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

June 16, 2010

Can the New Fiscal Stabilization Act Be Used to Exceed the Rhode Island Property Tax Cap?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Monique asks a question about the state's new "fiscal stabilization" procedures...

In view of the fact that receivership involves entities that are bankrupt, i.e., that lack sufficient money to operate and/or pay their debts, did lawmakers identify the source that would fund these inexplicably inviolable contracts?
Actually, in the new law, there are two-steps that precede the receivership stage. In the first stage, a fiscal overseer is appointed by the state. A mayor and/or city or town council retain most of their authority, but the state's Director of Revenue gets a final (non-overrideable) veto over the municipal budget...
The division of municipal finance shall ascertain whether the budget for that fiscal year contains reasonable revenues from taxation and other sources to meet the appropriations and other amounts required by law to be raised, and the division of municipal finance shall report its conclusion to the director of revenue. If the director of revenue determines that the municipal budget as presented does not contain reasonable revenues from taxation and other sources to meet appropriations and other amounts required by law to be raised, the director of revenue shall certify this determination in writing...and notify the city or town that its tax levy has not been approved and that the city or town is not authorized to mail or otherwise transmit tax bills to city or town taxpayers. If the director of revenue has made the foregoing determination, the city or town shall prepare a revised budget for review and approval by the director of revenue.
Note the bias in the phrasing of the law -- the potential problem is a lack of tax revenue to pay for mandated spending, never too much spending to be paid for by appropriated tax revenue.

More importantly however, the act also contains a declaration of its supremacy over all of the other laws of Rhode Island...
45-9-15. Inconsistent provisions. -- Insofar as the provisions of this chapter are inconsistent with the provisions of any charter or other laws or ordinances, general, special, or local, or of any rule or regulation of the state or any municipality, the provisions of this chapter are controlling.
So if this law supersedes all others, and if the Director of Revenue decides on a "reasonable revenue" amount that exceeds what can be raised under Rhode Island's property tax cap, does that then mean that the property tax cap becomes null and void? After all, it's not like the law is a contract or something.

Proving Sex Ed Policies a Failure

Justin Katz

One hears, from time to time, that abstinence only sex education has been proven to be a failure.
Not only is the proof arguably incorrect, but the entire premise misses the mark. Abstinence education hardly enjoyed meager implementation, let alone the pervasive reinforcement that would be necessary for society-wide effect.

But I do wonder what those who continue to offer the common complaint that a small devotion to abstinence in the broad sphere of public school sex ed didn't change anything would say about this:

The United Kingdom’s Daily Telegraph has an article this morning documenting the high rate of repeat abortions among young girls in Great Britain. According to the article, 89 girls aged 17 or under who terminated a pregnancy last year had had at least two abortions previously. Furthermore, 2009 figures from the Department of Health indicate that for the first time, more than a third (34 percent) of abortions were performed on women who had already ended one or more pregnancies.

While these statistics are tragic, the article unfortunately fails to link these outcomes to Britain's permissive policies with regard to abortion, contraception, and sex education. For instance, England has no parental-consent requirement. In both 1982 and 2006 the courts ruled that minor girls can obtain abortions without their parental permission. These high rates of repeat abortions provide good evidence that effective parental-involvement laws might be able to prevent minors from obtaining multiple abortions by providing parents with an early indication of their child's sexual activity.

Abortion isn't the only indicator that "comprehensive" sex ed, British-style, has failed to resolve or has in fact made worse. But it's such an article of faith that all we have to do is teach children how to have sex safely that few stop to notice that the operative clause in that belief is "teach children how to have sex."

Mark Zaccaria at the Rhode Island Republican Assembly Endorsement Convention

Carroll Andrew Morse

This past Saturday, the Rhode Island Republican Assembly held its endorsement convention for statewide candidates. Candidates were allowed to make a short statement, then took questions from the audience. As always, RI-RA members asked direct and pointed questions of the candidates.

Mark Zaccaria spoke to the convention about his campaign for Congress in Rhode Island's Second Congressional District, and received the endorsement made later in the day.

Opening statement:

"I was born and raised as an American by proud Americans. My parents fought the Second World War and taught me to have those kinds of values...I began my service to my country in uniform, like many of the rest of us in this room, and what I learned there was that the ideals I had been taught were worth my life, if it came to that..." (Audio: 1 min 6 sec)

"...we have each gone out there and participated in the raising of our kids and we have worked together to use our self-sufficiency and our self-reliance to make a life here in America. Today, that possibility is the thing that is most under threat." (Audio: 0 min 48 sec)

"...but while many have been asleep, the forces that are always nibbling away and trying to get something for nothing have nibbled and gotten fat, and we are way down the wrong path...So I am asking you here today, for us to get together, so that we can take back our government..." (Audio: 1 min 54 sec)

Audience Question: Is there any company in America that's too big to fail?

Answer: "Absolutely not. The thing we have to watch out for is that America is not too big to fail, so we've got to manage it, if we want it to be there for our children and our grandchildren." (Audio: 0 min 10 sec)

Audience Question: What's your position on gay marriage and don't-ask-don't-tell?

Answer: "My opinion is that marriage is a sacrament, and it should be conferred by ordained clergy. The job of government is to manage civil/judicial systems so that contracts can be enforced..." (Audio: 0 min 34 sec)

Answer: "As for gays in the military, it's a much more complicated situation. The fact of the matter is that, in all of our professional lives, we've always had to work side-by-side with people who under other circumstances, we might be sexually attracted to, and we all do it because we're professionals, and you don't have a lot of problems with that. What you do have problems with is that the military is a large, integrated small-town that goes all over the world..." (Audio: 1 min 22 sec)

Audience Question: Would you support legislation to audit the Federal Reserve?

Answer: "Absolutely yes. My fear with that is that the Fed, being a private organization that has no responsibility to maintain bookkeeping standards as we might understand elsewhere, you can audit them all you want, but you won't find anything....My problem with the Fed is that allows the kind elasticity of money that allows weak politicians to have some anytime they want and to defer the day of reckoning..." (Audio: 0 min 58 sec)

Audience Question: What kind of proposals would you support to protect Americans from the impending disaster of Obamacare?

Answer: "That's pretty easy. Repeal it. Get rid of it. It is not care in any way, shape or form, it's just another layer of overhead being put on an already strained business model..." (Audio: 0 min 29 sec)

Audience Question: What's your position on illegal immigration?

Answer: "Illegal immigration is pretty simple, it's right in the title. It's illegal. Certain things that are said in Washington these days go right up my left nostril, and one of them is that we have to have a comprehensive review of our immigration laws. No we don't. We have to enforce the darn things..." (Audio: 0 min 59 sec)

Bill Clegg at the Rhode Island Republican Assembly Endorsement Convention

Carroll Andrew Morse

This past Saturday, the Rhode Island Republican Assembly held its endorsement convention for statewide candidates. Candidates were allowed to make a short statement, then took questions from the audience. As always, RI-RA members asked direct and pointed questions of the candidates.

Bill Clegg spoke to the convention about his campaign for Congress in Rhode Island's Second Congressional District.

Opening statement:

"America is a great and wondrous country, but America is in mortal danger right now. America is being besieged on all sides, internally which is the most dismaying thing of all..." (Audio: 0 min 50 sec)

"But let me talk about Jim Langevin for a minute. Jim Langevin is a follower, and he's an incompetent follower at that....Jim Langevin has not earned your trust. In fact, he has abused your trust in a critical vote only 3 or 4 months ago..." (Audio: 1 min 25 sec)

"So let me tick off the necessary qualifications real quick for you. New face, no political baggage that can be attacked, meaningful real-world experience, solid record of significant achievement, more money coming into the campaign everyday and a positive checking account balance in the campaign which is a huge plus, and last, energy and commitment to take on Jim Langevin..." (Audio: 1 min 46 sec)

Audience Question: What's your view on gay marriage?

Answer: "...I'm OK with the civil union concept, equalizing tax laws. I think marriage should be the province of religion and is reserved for men and women." (Audio: 0 min 19 sec)

Audience Question: How come you haven't been recently active in Republican politics until now?

Answer: "When I first moved to Rhode Island after law school and took a job, I became active in Republican Party politics. I became City Chair in Warwick...and I actually ran for office in the early '90s..." (Audio: 1 min 9 sec)

Audience Question: Will you support repealing the parts of the Patriot Act the violate the Bill of Rights?

Answer: "The Patriot Act has done some good things as well for us. It has given us great transparency into the accounts of terrorists...and while there are some parts that concern privacy, I'm more concerned with the issues of terrorism..." (Audio: 0 min 38 sec)

Audience Question: Would you support making English the official language of the country?

Answer: "I hope we never become like Quebec, where you have to have every sign in French and English. I think the first thing as an obligation as American citizens is to learn the language, so you can function in the country..." (Audio: 0 min 13 sec)

Audience Question: What is your position on gays in the military?

Answer: "There's no issue with gays in the military...I think the military can be integrated, just like it was with race back in the 50s..." (Audio: 0 min 22 sec)

Audience Question: What is your position on closing up the borders and stopping illegal immigration into the United States?

Answer: "We should have done it yesterday. Not only tightening up Federal borders, but the issue, as we know, is the enforcement of Federal immigration laws which are on the books but not enforced at all..." (Audio: 0 min 49 sec)

Is it any wonder why, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" is so appealing?

Marc Comtois

To paraphrase, "Government acres is the place to be, government jobs are the life you see...":

Under the Obama administration, the government is doing such a good job that it's decided to reward itself. Last year, Uncle Sam paid out $408 million in bonuses to 1.3 million federal workers...That $408 million figure only counts bonuses that were handed out to about 65 percent of the federal work force. The FOI request didn't cover awards handed out by the Defense and Treasury departments, security agencies, the White House, Congress and various other federal agencies and commissions. In 2008, the last year information was available, the Department of Defense alone handed out $92 million in bonuses to its 687,000 employees.

Federal bonuses are being doled out liberally, even as federal salaries are exploding. From December 2007 through June 2009, the number of federal workers earning six figures increased from 14 to 19 percent. In 2008, average federal compensation, including pay and benefits, was $119,982 -- considerably more than the $59,909 average in the private sector, according to the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the midst of a brutal economic downturn that saw millions of jobs lost and unemployment soar above 10 percent, the Office of Personnel Management data shows the federal workforce actually added nearly 100,000 jobs from December 2008 to December 2009.

Bonuses for good performance are nice in theory, and in they work in private sector, when they are paired with consequences (you know, getting fired) if you don't perform. As the article points out, though, in government, it's "all carrot and no stick."

Portsmouth Institute Conference on Newman: Prof. Griffiths

Justin Katz

The lecture on Cardinal John Henry Newman's Grammar of Assent, by Duke Divinity School Professor Paul Griffiths, reminded me what I miss about college. To think of such high and fundamental reasoning being a subject of everyday contemplation and discussion! (We strive for some small taste of that, on Anchor Rising, but it's just not the same when partaken during 15-minute coffee breaks on the construction site.)

Portsmouth Abbey teacher Dimitra Zelden gave a humorous introduction of the speaker:

(The remainder of Prof. Griffiths' speech is available in the extended entry of this post.)

Among the quotations that I jotted in my notebook (a neat imprinted one included in the Portsmouth Institute's registration package) is: "Credulity is the first principle of good cognitive functioning." Put differently, thought must be premised on belief in something. This belief — a general sense, really, of how the world functions — forms an "illative sense" that intellectual and even empirical argumentation cannot ultimately change.

At first stating, the conclusion seems bleak. Prof. Griffiths denied the possibility of ultimately convincing others of a proposition to which their illative sense will not allow them to assent, because the first belief necessary for a change of position — that the world can be such that a proposition to which we're opposed can be true — is not subject to rational dispute. "When we disagree fundamentally, argument is almost always useless."

In response to an audience question about whether argument therefore comes down to a resort to force, Griffiths offered the alternative strategies of "prayer and fasting" and the emphasis on (I'd term it) argument by aesthetics. Appeal to people's sense of beauty, of which truth is a natural component.

A number of directions for exploration present themselves. First, it seems to me that the end of argumentation's fruitful run brings us to the realm of politics, and that democracy's signal purpose is to redirect the impulse of sides to impose their views on those who disagree (which, objectively considered, circumstances will sometimes require) toward a non-violent process. Second, Griffiths' thesis (or Newman's, if the speaker was not adding his own extrapolation) risks eliding everything between intellectual argument and political or military force for those habituated to emphasize rationality.

It is critical to be aware that argument is really just one form of appeal. Debate appeals to logic. Beauty appeals to aesthetics. Violence appeals to survival instinct. Furthermore, there's no border between logic and aesthetics; it's more of a spectrum, with the upshot being a conclusion that Christians have understood even where they could not state it: To convince ultimately requires a change in illative sense, which must be accomplished through proof of action. That is to say charity, as well as an attractive relationship with the world, whether comfortable or challenging. Christ's indomitability — even as His material circumstances thrust Him toward the cross — stands as the stark model.

In NY Town, Vote Early and Vote Often (Legally)

Marc Comtois

Apparently, this is the new definition of "fair voting":

Voters in Port Chester, 25 miles northeast of New York City, are electing village trustees for the first time since the federal government alleged in 2006 that the existing election system was unfair. The election ends Tuesday and results are expected late Tuesday.

Although the village of about 30,000 residents is nearly half Hispanic, no Latino had ever been elected to any of the six trustee seats, which until now were chosen in a conventional at-large election. Most voters were white, and white candidates always won.

Federal Judge Stephen Robinson said that violated the Voting Rights Act, and he approved a remedy suggested by village officials: a system called cumulative voting, in which residents get six votes each to apportion as they wish among the candidates. He rejected a government proposal to break the village into six districts, including one that took in heavily Hispanic areas....

It's the first time any municipality in New York has used cumulative voting, said Amy Ngai, a director at FairVote, a nonprofit election research and reform group that has been hired to consult. The system is used to elect the school board in Amarillo, Texas, the county commission in Chilton County, Ala., and the City Council in Peoria, Ill.

The judge also ordered Port Chester to implement in-person early voting, allowing residents to show up on any of five days to cast ballots. That, too, is a first in New York, Ngai said.

I get that everyone gets 6 votes, be they white, black, brown or Martian, so it is "fair"...but if you can't understand the fundamental problem with this...

Losing Faith in Our Government

Justin Katz

Ed Achorn joins those of us for whom the just-passed session of the General Assembly had the effect of bringing the representative nature of our state government into question:

Rhode Island leaders enjoy having the power to defy the public and render its representatives impotent.

But that power trip costs us dearly. An informed and active citizenry actually makes a state stronger and more vibrant. Citizens bring ideas to the table, help stop bad legislation, and form an important check against public corruption. That makes for a better-run state, with a stronger economy, less waste, lower taxes and fewer cozy deals for special interests.

I'll tell you truly that I'm finding the evidence to point toward the possibility that our current leadership actually does represent the majority of Rhode Islanders — a blend of self-dealing interests (whether corrupt politicians, unions, or welfare-statists) and apathetic sheep beholden to some notion of government, society, and themselves that reality ought long ago to have proven as false. I mean, look to Andrew's review of the new municipal receivership law, which (in advance) removes from the table of struggling cities and towns the possibility of repairing the single greatest factor in local governments' travails: excessively generous employment contracts.

More fundamentally, though, consider a provision of the law that Andrew had previously highlighted:

Upon the appointment of a receiver, the receiver shall have the right to exercise the powers of the elected officials under the general laws, special laws and the city or town charter and ordinances relating to or impacting the fiscal stability of the city or town including, without limitation, school and zoning matters; provided, further, that the powers of the receiver shall be superior to and supersede the powers of the elected officials of the city or town shall continue to be elected in accordance with the city or town charter, and shall serve in an advisory capacity to the receiver.

Financial difficulty, at the municipal level, is now cause for the elimination of democracy, assuming the benevolence of a state-appointed dictator. The only way this provision would make any sense whatsoever would be if the state government clearly understood our political and economic problems and would provide a better result. And the only perspective from which that opinion is conceivable is that of the special interests who are strangling the state. (This, I'd emphasize, is the problem with "regionalization.")

The behavior of the governments of the cities and towns and of the state as a whole reinforce each other and suggest that a handful of aristocrats are not to blame. They are merely puppets in a corrupt system with no chance of reform or improvement. There will be no outrage as the strategies for keeping the scam alive become more and more egregious as a matter of lost democracy and oppressive taxation. Most Rhode Islanders will lack the awareness to understand the origin of their increasing pain, and most of those who do will take the attitude of, "that's not how it should be; oh well."

June 15, 2010

The First County of Aztlan

Justin Katz

This is stunning, and it ought to be thrown in the faces of those North Easterners who point their sanctimonious, oh-so-tolerant fingers at Arizona. Swaths of land within our borders are being closed to Americans because the invasion of illegal-immigrant smugglers, human traffickers, and drug runners from Mexico has simply made them too dangerous.

Perhaps Rhode Island should send Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed and Speaker of the House Gordon Fox there on a fact-finding mission.

Rhode Island: The Place Where 'Da Contract Outranks 'Da Constitution

Carroll Andrew Morse

When the news story of Central Falls' entry into receivership first broke, there was chatter from some quarters and maybe even a little glee -- perhaps a bit too much glee -- that an era of fiscal reckoning in Rhode Island had begun. But what the terms of the reckoning were, no one was really sure. "Municipal receivership" did not have a clear definition anywhere in Rhode Island law and different news stories reported on a wide range of options that had been put onto the proverbial table. For instance, on May 20, John Hill from the Projo reported that...

The court-appointed receiver has the power to approve or reject purchases and payments and, if the court approves, change contracts with unions and vendors and hire and fire municipal employees.

[John Savage], who said he'd be paid between $100 and $375 an hour for his work as receiver, said it was too soon to predict what he might ask the court to do, from imposing new contract terms or increasing taxes.

On the same day, Donna Kenny Kirwan of the Pawtucket Times reported that...
Savage is authorized to oversee the municipal business of the city, which includes making purchases, paying vendor bills, meeting payroll obligations and any and all other actions that involve daily operations. He also has final approval over the hiring and/or termination of "any and all" city personnel....

Under questioning by reporters, he did not rule out a re-negotiation of union contracts, or some type of a property tax increase, but said that any such actions would have to first be approved by Superior Court, which has the final say in all such matters involving the receivership.

...and on the day before, Eric Tucker of the Associated Press had said that...
The appointment transfers day-to-day operational control of the city to Savage, who specializes in receiverships and says he'll have the authority to recommend the renegotiating of municipal contracts or tax increases.
Last week, the Governor and legislature gave definition to the terms of the supposed reckoning. They agreed on a new municipal fiscal stabilization law, passed with the Governor's signature, that spelled out an exact meaning of "municipal receivership" (and several legal steps that have to precede it). And of all of the possibilities that had been discussed as measures that might be taken in Central Falls, only one was taken off of the table by the new law: the modification of existing contracts.

Politics, of course, requires compromise. So what did the Governor get in return for signing on to this law? Did he ask in return for contracts being made exempt from emergency fiscal stabilization measures, for example, that cities and towns be given the fiscal "tools" they've been asking for in order to have a better opportunity to balance their budgets on their own, before the occurrence of full-blown crisis requiring emergency stabilization measures? Well no, the "tools" legislation died in committee.

How about insisting on inserting a little accountability to citizens and taxpayers into the fiscal stabilization process? No, that wasn't part of the plan either. Instead, the Governor and the legislature together created a plan for decapitating local governments and replacing them with state appointees not accountable to local voters, blatantly contravening the home rule provisions of the Rhode Island Constitution. If a receiver or state-appointed "budget commission" (another possible emergency fiscal stabilization measure) orders taxes to be raised, there is no direct recourse for the taxpayers, either via an administrative process or via the ballot box. The citizens will pay what they are told and they won't be allowed to get in the way of determining how much of their income is enough.

In short, Rhode Island's governing class, Democrat and Republican alike, have decided that the state Constitution is wholly ignorable while union contracts are sacrosanct. If our political class does not see a fundamental problem with this, then there can be no denying that government has truly become primarily a private interest of public sector unions and connected pols, aided and abetted by Republican officials who have decided that their job is to be middle-managers within a system owned by and operated for unions and special interests.

Tax Changes as Blatant Gimmick

Justin Katz

John Kostrzewa is much more positive about Rhode Island's revamp of its income tax structure. I tend to see "revamp" in terms of a cosmetic makeover for a vampire. Kostrzewa apparently believes that's better than nothing:

... the origins of the plan to simplify the tax code and send a message outside the state that Rhode Island is serious about changing its reputation as tax hell stretch back to summer 2008.

That's when the Tax Policy Workgroup, the group of 21 accountants, lawyers, economists and other tax specialists appointed by Carcieri, began sweating out the details of a long-term strategic tax plan.

I'm sure many of the same points were made when the capital gains tax phase-out — now reversed — became law, or when the flat tax option was implemented. But as I've argued, this "revamp" appears to be little more than a means of stopping the flat tax in its tracks. But at least the cap-gains and flat tax efforts were an effort to introduce new cards, not to reshuffle the marked and sticky ones already on the table. When the governor's workgroup began with the principle of being "revenue neutral" the inevitability of scheming was built into the process.

Naming the Civic Illness

Justin Katz

Veronique de Rugy gives a name to the political ploy, whose success is indicative of a civic illness, in which Rhode Island school committees, town councils, and state-level politicians specialize:

President Obama's recent plea for another $50 billion... to save the jobs of teachers and firefighters in the states is a great example of the "Washington Monument Syndrome." This refers to the bureaucratic practice of threatening to close down the most popular and vital programs in response to prospective budget cuts; it gets its name from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which always threatens it will have to close the Washington Monument if its budget is cut.

de Rugy goes on to describe some of the ways that governments might close their gaping budget deficits without gutting school systems and fire departments — including the obvious step of decreasing teacher salaries, assuming that "teachers have an incentive to accept a salary cut rather than to lose their jobs all together." Of course, teachers also have an incentive to fund union activists and stack committees and legislatures with people who don't mind watching well-paid adults soak up resources that might otherwise go to, say, books and programs for students and who see increases in taxation as a Dickensian pickpocket saw his trade: a legitimate means of taking money that is only made questionable to the extent that it is so overt as to alert the victim to the process.

The linked post also presents a chart showing that teachers were the big winners of the federal government's "stimulus" program, which (as I've said several times in the past) wasn't about "stimulus" at all, but about insulating the nation's various governments from the effects of the recession. Some day, when I've time, I'll work that idea into a poem, à la Lewis Carroll, about a bureaucrat who endeavors to explain that his own girth contributes to the health of his starving neighbor.

Warwick Dips into Reserves, Cuts School Budget

Marc Comtois

The Warwick City Council approved a $267 million budget and avoided raising car taxes (as proposed by Mayor Avedisian) by dipping into reserves to the tune of $2.7 million to offset city-side cuts. They also basically agreed with Mayor Avedisian's budget proposal and funded schools at 95% of last year ($117.7 million), which was $9 million less than the school department requested ($126 million). In the past, municipalities could not fund schools at a level less than the previous year, but the 95% level of funding for schools is allowable thanks to a new state law passed this year by the General Assembly.

The City Council also followed Mayor Avedisian's lead over the objections of the School Commitee and Administration and decided to sequester an earmarked $850,000 for funding school sports and activities. Based on information provided by the city, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League had no problem with the city funding the sports instead of the school department. I expect there will still be some contention regarding this money.

The end result is that the Warwick School Committee has little choice but to renegotiate the contract with the Warwick Teacher's Union and to come to a contract agreement with the Warwick Independent School Employees Union, who's contract expired in 2006. Based on looking at the numbers, the only way to achieve savings will be to increase the healthcare co-pay and to remove raises for the next fiscal year. The School Committee meets on Thursday at the School Administration Building to formally begin dealing with their downsized budget.

Overall, as research by the Warwick Tea Party shows, the city managed to foist off most of the reduction in state funding back onto the schools. Thus has been written yet another chapter in the ongoing contentious saga between the city and school department. Because there appear to be few options, as explained above, I suspect that at the conclusion of negotiations, the school employees--both unionized and non--will be paying more into their health care than their city-employed counterparts and that they will not be receiving raises (outside of the regular step increases, of course!) this year, unlike their city employed counterparts.

These are the common sense savings that Warwick taxpayers demanded, but they expected the city to do its part, too. For while it's true that the city did renegotiate contracts over the last year or two (as did the school department), those savings consisted of short-term reductions that would be made up in future years or reductions of previously promised increases. Additionally, it is plainly obvious that those renegotiated contracts still fall short given the current economic climate: things have gotten worse and what looked like "serious concessions" back then to some don't really even pass muster when compared to the private sector realities (if the ever really did). There is still plenty of room to cut. The City Council recognized that to be the case on the school side of things. It's too bad they didn't look in the mirror.

David Potts: Enforcing the Constitution Is Our Responsibility

Engaged Citizen

One of the largest, if not the largest, fault lines dividing American politics today is that between progressives and liberals — and by liberals, I mean conservatives. Since the theme of this post is the need to restore some honesty to philosophical debate, I am starting by attempting to reclaim the word "liberal" from the radicals who hijacked it early in the twentieth century.

How can someone be a conservative and a liberal at the same time? Because the definition of "conservative" varies from society to society, since in each society, those who call themselves conservative are seeking to conserve institutions and traditions that are unique to that society. In the United States, the values that conservatives seek to preserve are classically liberal — individual liberty, limited government, and the rule of law. By contrast, the modern left in America identifies itself with collectivism, pragmatism, and an activist government. These values make up what used to be called "progressivism," a term that many people on the left, including Hillary Clinton are trying to reclaim.

The distinctions between liberals, conservatives, and progressives are interesting, but not nearly as important as developing an honest appraisal of the Constitution and the irrelevance of this document to modern American government. For while there is legitimate debate to be had about the proper role of government, no objective, fair-minded observer can come to any conclusion other than that the federal government long ago exceeded the lawful bounds placed upon it by the Constitution, and almost no public officials give any thought whatsoever to whether or not federal programs being debated come within the Constitutional purview of the federal government. In fact, virtually all persons elected to public office today perjure themselves as their first official act, when they take an oath to uphold the Constitution while having absolutely no intention of actually doing so.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a woman famously approached Benjamin Franklin and asked what form of government the convention had provided for the nation, a republic or a monarchy. Franklin replied "a republic — if you can keep it." I've always been fascinated by that quote, because Franklin was clearly placing the responsibility of preserving constitutional government on the citizenry, not on the judiciary or any other branch of the government. The idea of leaving the interpretation of the Constitution solely to any branch of the federal government is ludicrous on its face. The Constitution is the law that regulates the federal government, and giving the federal government the final say on its application is as ridiculous as allowing British Petroleum to interpret the laws and regulations governing offshore drilling. But this is what we citizens have done. We take the latest pronouncements from the Supreme Court as gospel because we are, in the main, constitutionally illiterate. Even in law schools, future lawyers don't study the Constitution; they study “Constitutional Law,” the collection of court decisions that purport to interpret and flesh out the Constitution but instead bury it under a huge pile of judicial manure. In one particularly egregious case, Wickard v. Filburn, the Supreme Court ruled that a farmer who grew wheat without federal permission to feed his own family and livestock could be prosecuted for a federal crime based on Congress' authority over interstate commerce. Note that there was no commerce involved, and the wheat not only did not cross state lines, it never left the farmer's property. When the Supreme Court calls that interstate commerce, it becomes very hard to take the body seriously.

The position of the Constitution today is very similar to that of the Bible in the Middle Ages. The medieval church considered lay people incompetent to read the Bible for themselves. The Bible had been translated from Hebrew and Greek into Latin and, as far as the Church was concerned, that was the way it would stay. Some of the earliest Protestant martyrs, centuries before Martin Luther, were convicted of heresy for the crime of translating scripture into English, German, or some other language that people actually used. People were not supposed to read the Bible; they were supposed to listen to whatever the clergy told them about the Bible and accept that as holy writ.

Among many people in the United States, today, the Constitution is seen as equally dangerous in the hands of the hoi polloi. Last year, the Rhode Island Tea Party was threatened with expulsion from the Bristol Fourth of July Parade for the crime of passing out booklets that contained the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. One publisher is currently selling a copy of the Constitution with the philosophical equivalent of the surgeon general's warning on the first page. The disclaimer states, "This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work."

Benjamin Franklin said "a republic — if you can keep it." As with many things, the ultimate responsibility for the performance of government rests with us, the electorate. It is up to us to educate ourselves about our Constitution and to measure the performance of our elected officials against it. I suspect many Americans would just as soon junk the Constitution and continue on our present path, but they should at least consider the consequences and make that decision deliberately. If we pretend that we are currently governing ourselves according to the Constitution, then we are just lying to ourselves. Finally, there is very little point in repeatedly criticizing elected officials if the voters are unwilling to do anything about their actions. Politicians may be a collection of crooks and poltroons, but we hired them.

Portsmouth Institute Conference on Newman: Fr. Rutler

Justin Katz

As with last year, Rev. George Rutler — pastor of the Church of Our Savior in New York City and well-known author — gave the opening speech of the Portsmouth Institute's annual conference, although this year, his wasn't a lone Thursday speech, limiting his audience, but a fully attended Friday morning affirmation of anticipation.

Introducing Fr. Rutler, writer Edward Short made much of the shared Anglican beginnings of the speaker and the subject of this year's conference, Cardinal John Henry Newman. The recently deceased founder of First Things journal, Fr. Richard Neuhaus, also began as an Anglican, as I recall. It needn't be a slight against mainline Protestantism to note these high-profile conversions as evidence that the Roman Catholic Church excels in acknowledging and fostering the habits of intellectuals.

(The remainder of Fr. Rutler's speech is available in the extended entry of this post.)

Joining that observation with my initial musings at the conference's beginning — having to do with my religion's understanding that everything in human society, notably religious structure and wealth, can point toward a spiritual undercurrent in life — one can't help but marvel at the comprehensiveness — the catholicity — of the Church. Intellectual habits can also bore down to that flowing well of internal peace, although as with structure and wealth, it must be cultivated in right order.

The tragedy (although that may be too strong of a word) is that such blessings are difficult to convey to the young, and modern society certainly doesn't encourage the accumulation of wealth, for example, on the grounds that it helps to create an environment conducive to contemplative strolls. If that were more a point of emphasis, perhaps more young adults would follow other paths toward the same ends, whether intellectual, charitable, or religious life.

There's ever hope, though, I suppose. I think of Ryan Bilodeau, who had been an active and well connected young Republican activist in Rhode Island and is now well into the seminarian's procession toward the priesthood. In conversation, last year, he made clear that the possibility of an intellectual life, with the space for prayer and deep consideration, in proximity to the incomparable context and content of God, was an attractive part of such a life. Indeed, it is.

On a tangential shoot of this notion of an accessible current, running through and beneath society, I note that the moderator of Fr. Rutler's question and answer period, Vincent Millard, referenced the priest's staying at Millard's house in Little Compton, the town directly south from my home in Tiverton. Little Compton comes up, from time to time, with a surprising number of connections to national scenes — particularly with a conservative bent. Having gotten myself lost on the rural byways of the town a time or two, it's not difficult to see why successful people of various professions would take up residency there. Once again, though, I find I'm hovering on a fringe, in a neighborhood more properly seen as a suburb of urban and deteriorating Fall River, Massachusetts. (Where, I recall, Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton once mentioned staying.)

June 14, 2010

John Robitaille at the Rhode Island Republican Assembly Endorsement Convention

Carroll Andrew Morse

This past Saturday, the Rhode Island Republican Assembly held its endorsement convention for statewide candidates. Candidates were allowed to make a short statement, then took questions from the audience. As always, RI-RA members asked direct and pointed questions of the candidates.

John Robitaille spoke to the convention about his campaign for Governor and received the official endorsement.

Opening statement:

"Our country is going in the wrong direction. Our state is going in the wrong direction..." (Audio: 0 min 35 sec)

"Let me tell you what it means to be a Republican to me. I am a Reagan Republican. I believe that government should be small, taxes should be low, we must hold people personally accountable for their decisions and their choices in life, and we need to protect our individual freedoms and liberties..." (Audio: 0 min 41 sec)

"I am not going to be a governor who goes along to get along. I will take on the public employee unions. I will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our next Attorney General, Erik Wallin, to fight corruption. And I am not going to get along with the Democratic controlled General Assembly. They have controlled this state for over 70 years, they are to blame..." (Audio: 1 min 8 sec)

Audience Question: The Rhode Island Dept. of Education is both inefficient and arguably corrupt. What's your thinking about changing it?

Answer: "Well, I'm not sure they are corrupt, but we've got to do something...I am supportive at this point still of the format of Race-to-the-Top, not so much of the money that is coming in, but I like the concept of looking at a school, and giving one of four options..." (Audio: 1 min 3 sec)

Audience Question: What's your position on voter initiative?

Answer: "First of all, I am supportive of representative democracy. However, when that doesn't work, like it's not working in the state of Rhode Island, where we have no balance in our General Assembly, then yes, I am very much in favor of voter initiative." (Audio: 0 min 15 sec)

Audience Question about regionalization and consolidation on Aquidneck Island.

Answer: "Regionalization and consolidation...are great buzzwords, but I know other states that have tried it, and what we have to do is walk very carefully. I am very supportive of the state forming a BRAC-like base-realignment commission that the military uses to shut down and relocate military bases. It's a very thoughtful process, where a commission is formed and empowered with significant powers to study and come up with recommendations and then to bring it to Congress for an up or down vote..." (Audio: 0 min 56 sec)

Audience Question: What is your position on abortion?

Answer: "I am and have been pro-life. When I was twenty-one years old, my wife gave birth to twin daughters, and the problem was that she was only five-months pregnant, and I stood in the emergency room and the nursery for hours watching my two daughters struggle for life. No one will ever tell me that life does not begin at conception..." (Audio: 0 min 24 sec)

Victor Moffitt at the Rhode Island Republican Assembly Endorsement Convention

Carroll Andrew Morse

This past Saturday, the Rhode Island Republican Assembly held its endorsement convention for statewide candidates. Candidates were allowed to make a short statement, then took questions from the audience. As always, RI-RA members asked direct and pointed questions of the candidates.

Victor Moffitt spoke to the convention about his campaign for Governor.

Opening statement:

"The most important thing this year is that we cannot let a Democrat be Governor in November..." (Audio: 1 min 0 sec).

"The next governor has to have a strong financial background. I don't have to tell you what's going on with the budget; we all know what we have. I don't want to talk about gloom and doom...we don't need any more taxes, that's one thing I'm definitely against..." (Audio: 0 min 32 sec)

"...and to prove that I was a true conservative, one of the first things I did [as a state legislator] was put in the Defense of Marriage bill...I'm the only person in the state who had enough guts to get up and say I support traditional marriage, one man, one woman..." (Audio: 0 min 38 sec)

Audience Question: What are you going to do for Rhode Island to get small business built back up again?

Answer: "...in my business for the last 38 years doing taxes, I've done the bookkeeping and taxes for several hundred businesses -- unlike the General Treasurer, who's got this great bill for small business...$50,000,000 he's going to put into a small business loan fund. Shouldn't someone ask him where that money is going to come from..." (Audio: 1 min 22 sec)

"Another thing that I'm proposing is to reduce our Rhode Island sales tax..." (Audio: 0 min 45 sec)

Audience Question: Unions and union contracts are out of control. What can we do to give more autonomy to the communities?

Answer: "I'm actually going to say that I think the problem is the opposite of that. As most of you know, I've been talking about regionalization and consolidation services since 1998....How good would Rhode Island be if we could replace 36 teacher contracts with 4? If we could replace 80 fire contracts with 5? Do you think that would be a little improvement for the state of Rhode Island?" (Audio: 0 min 47 sec)

Audience Pushback: "No", "What do you mean by that?"

Answer: "The point is that, under my regionalization plan, there will still be local autonomy. What I am saying is that by regionalizing, we have to stop competing between our towns and cities...So what we do by regionalizing is take the poorer communities and bring them up to a higher level. Now I also know that when we regionalize, we have to take the school money out of our local property tax..." (Audio: 1 min 9 sec).

Audience Question: If you win the primary, you'll be going up against a well-funded opponent. Can you be competitive?

Answer: "That's a very, very good question. I can answer it very simply...the office of Governor is not for sale to the highest bidder...This is going to be the year where the person with the most money may not necessarily win. I myself plan on raising half-a-million dollars..." (Audio: 0 min 52 sec)

Tonight's the Night in Warwick

Marc Comtois

As the ProJo 7to7 reports:

Increased car taxes and deep cuts to the school systems are two likely options Monday night as the City Council has to come up with a budget for fiscal 2011 that is not only balanced but fills a roughly $14 million hole caused by slashed state aid.

Council members put in marathon sessions last week as they combed through the roughly $267 million budget that Mayor Scott Avedisian is proposing for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Under the City Charter, if the council cannot agree on amended version of Avedisian's budget, then the mayor's budget will stand. The public hearing on the budget ended Thursday and the council is expected to take action at Monday's meeting which begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Once the Council acts, the School Department will have an actual number from which they will have to decide how to move forward. Cut sports, activities and other things that directly affect students or go to the Warwick Teachers Union (WTU) and Warwick Independent School Employees (WISE) and ask to renegotiate (or negotiate, in the case of WISE) their contracts.

Governor Carcieri Should Veto Have Vetoed the Suspension of Rhode Island Municipal Democracy Act of 2010

Carroll Andrew Morse


Looks like I was too late; the bill has been signed into law. Governor Carcieri, I fear that you've been had. Details tomorrow.

Governor Donald Carcieri should veto the hastily assembled set of rules for "municipal receivership" introduced to and passed by the General Assembly under the guise of an act "providing financial stability" last week. The bill, both an attempt to retroactively address the financial situation in Central Falls motivated by the growing realization that there is nothing in Rhode Island law that authorizes the actions that have been taken in CF so far, and a measure that could be applied to any Rhode Island community in the future, is nothing less than a set of procedures for suspending democracy at the municipal level, violating both the spirit of democratic, constitutional governance and the specific letter of Rhode Island's Constitution.

The most egregious provision of the financial stability act is the powers granted to a municipal receiver, the culmination of a three-step process by which democratic governance in a city or town can be suspended for financial reasons...

Upon the appointment of a receiver, the receiver shall have the right to exercise the powers of the elected officials under the general laws, special laws and the city or town charter and ordinances relating to or impacting the fiscal stability of the city or town including, without limitation, school and zoning matters; provided, further, that the powers of the receiver shall be superior to and supersede the powers of the elected officials of the city or town shall continue to be elected in accordance with the city or town charter, and shall serve in an advisory capacity to the receiver.
This provision is clearly incompatible with the home rule provision of the Rhode Island Constitution (Article XIII) prohibiting the state legislature from taking any action that changes the form of government in a city or town, without the approval of the voters in that city or town...
Section 4 -- The general assembly shall have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs and government of any city or town by general laws which shall apply alike to all cities and towns, but which shall not affect the form of government of any city or town. The general assembly shall also have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs and government of a particular city or town provided that such legislative action shall become effective only upon approval by a majority of the qualified electors of the said city or town voting at a general or special election...
Decreeing that elected mayor and a city or town council can be reduced to the role of offering non-binding advice to an appointed official is inarguably a change in form-of-government.

Several of the events that can help trigger the suspension of municipal democracy under the potential new law relate to the actions of private financial institutions...

(3) The city or town has been downgraded by one of the nationally recognized statistical rating organizations;

(4) The city or town is otherwise unable to obtain access to credit markets on reasonable terms in the sole judgment of the director of revenue,

...which means that, while Rhode Island law contains no statewide provision allowing voters to have a say in removing local officials in cases of outright criminal behavior, private financial institutions lacking any local presence will be given a voice in scrapping all of a municipal government.

These and other provisions of the bill reduce democratic self-governance to something citizens are allowed to play at, but something that is definitively less than the process by which a community comes together to make the most important civic decisions affecting its members. The proposed law runs counter to centuries of democratic practice where decisions relating to revenue must be approved by a body of local representatives freely elected by the people. And it embodies the odious principle that the best way for solving difficult problems of governance is to subordinate democracy to the will of a benevolent strongman. That may be the ideal way to do things within the limited imaginations of our state legislature, but it is not a philosophy that should be imposed on the cities and towns of Rhode Island.

The Mysterious Activities of Our Betters

Justin Katz

An exchange that Ed Fitzpatrick reports from the floor of the General Assembly speaks volumes about legislators' view of their role in this state:

When the funding-formula bill came up Thursday, [Rod Driver, D-Richmond] asked, "Why do we have to do this right away, the moment we see it?"

House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, replied, "Today's the last day. If you hold it over, you effectively kill it, and I don't think you want to do it."

Driver said, "I'm wondering why today is the last day. Is it in the Constitution?"

Fox said, "There comes a time, you just know it's time. It's time."

Mr. Fox, it would seem, views legislators less as a body of officials elected by residents of Rhode Island to represent their interests and conduct their business in the course of governing themselves than as an almost priestly class of aristocrats interpreting the will of some political deity. As history proves, a secular emphasis amplifies, rather than mitigates, such classes' tendency to insert their own will as the divine.

In other words, they wish to get on with their summer breaks, and furthermore, they find it politically expedient to rush important legislation into law (or direct it into the grave) in a massive push that prevents public involvement in the debate, gives legislators' an excuse to suspend all rules, and makes it more difficult for voters to determine who took what position when. If the voters weren't so complicit in electing their representatives out of corrupt self-interest and dogmatic habit, one might question whether democracy exists in Rhode Island.

As it is, the real question is whether democracy can be made to serve the general interests. As long as the likes of Fox run the show, the answer can only be negative.

Campaign Season Appeal

Justin Katz

I've tended to post this sort of content under our Community Crier contributor, but my reasoning is a bit more personal, this time around, so my own face and name seemed more appropriate.

You wouldn't know it to observe the electorate, but election seasons, in Rhode Island, have been of increasing importance, and this year is critical. I'd be lying if I rolled a veneer of optimism on my expectations, but even with the darkest of prognoses, we must strive to do all that we can.

Unfortunately, this dire need for attention and action corresponds with a languishing economy, and honesty compels me to admit that my positioning was particularly poor at the time that things went sour. My household was in the process of digging itself out of the hole that past errors had created when the Great Recession hit, and preventing a backslide has become about all that we've been able to achieve for the past couple of years.

These are personal matters, but they become relevant to Anchor Rising in that I'm at the point of having to consider such actions as canceling high-speed Internet in the home — a luxury, to be sure, but one that makes operating a Web site quite a bit more efficient (especially when it comes to audio and video). Taking unpaid days off from work for Anchor Rising purposes is entirely out of the question, at this point. Similarly, expanding the liberties that AR's resources allow me to offer other contributors isn't currently conceivable.

We'll all continue to do what we can in our capacity as hobbyists, but most of you will agree, I think, that the times call for considerably more. So please, if you're able, help us to draw that extra effort from our busy schedules and tight budgets. Every penny helps maintain what we've built, and larger windfall gifts could bring us to another level of activity.

Subscriptions of $0.25 per day (payments of $7.60 per month) and donations of any size may be made using credit cards via PayPal (no PayPal account is necessary) by clicking the following:

Those who would prefer the more direct route of checks or money orders can make them out to Anchor Rising and send them to:

Anchor Rising
P.O. Box 751
Portsmouth, RI 02871

For advertising, whether along the sides of the blog or as one of these here Community Crier posts, email Justin.

The Much-Smarter-than-Unicameral Legislative Reform Plan

Carroll Andrew Morse

Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Patrick Lynch mentioned the idea of moving to a unicameral legislature in Rhode Island during last Thursday's gubernatorial debate. He's even tweeted about it...

RI government needs to change the way we do biz. It takes a total overhaul. Let's start with unicameral legislature
But if we are going to discuss a large-scale overhaul of the structure of state-government, I've got a much better reform plan, one that can garner support from those enamored by the idea of a full-time legislature as well as from those who believe that increasing the accountability of Rhode Island's elected representatives is sorely necessary. (Though, in the spirit of truth-in-advertising, I have to say that there's nothing in this for those who believe in the boneheaded idea that creating a unicameral legislature will be an improvement over what we have now).

For those who think a full-time legislature is the answer to Rhode Island's governance problems, we will invoke the spirit of Federalist 62, and make the Senate full time, with Senators serving three-year terms, with 1/3 up for election every year the same way 1/3 of the Federal Senate stands for election every two years. Now Rhode Island will have a body of professional legislators that in theory can devote more time and energy to deliberating and crafting legislation. (My mention of this theory does not mean that I necessarily believe that this is necessarily how things would really turn out, nor that it is my opinion that not having a full-time legislature is a significant problem for RI. I'm compromising with the full-time legislature advocates here).

However, to address the problems of a further diverging of interests between the people and the governing class that a full-time Senate would almost certainly exacerbate, we will compensate by providing more opportunities for the popular will to discipline the House of Representatives, by having all representatives stand for election on an annual basis, enhancing what is supposed to be a tradition of the House of Representatives being the province of true citizen-legislators, and avoiding the creation of a legislative system where the passage of laws may depend solely upon legislators whose entire livelihood depends on pleasing the special interests that help get them elected.

As an added bonus, there will be elections held in the odd-numbered years under this system, breaking the link between Federal and state elections and creating a series of electoral choices where state issues will be the issues of broadest scope on the Rhode Island ballot.

Finally, we can add another set of changes addressing Rhode Island's specific problems of legislation being passed in dark-of-night marathon sessions, without either adequate deliberation between members or information about what is about to become law being shared with the public. If the leadership wants to introduce a bill, hold its committee hearings, change the original bill through amendments and put the result to a floor vote all in the same week, a 2/3 majority will be required to pass the House. In fact, a 2/3 requirement will be applied to any bill introduced for the first time to the Senate and the House in the same session. However, if a bill first passes the Senate at least three-weeks prior to a general election, thereby providing the people with an opportunity to vote for or against their reps based on positions on pending Senate bills, a bill can then be passed in the next session by a simple majority of the House. And at the other end of the calendar, since we will be requiring the House to adjourn by June 30 each year, Senate floor action between the months of July and December sending a bill to the governor will only be possible on bills that have already passed the House earlier in the session, with no last-minute, vote on this 5-minutes after you've seen it amendments possible.

This is a straightforward and simple set of changes that restores meaning to having two separate legislative houses, and that strengthens the mechanism of accountability of representatives to their constituents, all while preserving the representative nature of democracy in state government. It wouldn't take a whole lot changes to the Rhode Island state Constitution to implement all of this. An example of how specific amendments could be written is below the fold...


Proposed Changes to the Rhode Island Constitution, to Utilize Bicameralism in Service of Better Government

Adjust Article VI, section 1, to replace the current provisions for electing the legislature with...

Elections for senators and representatives in the general assembly shall be held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Representatives shall be elected annually, and shall severally hold their offices for one (1) year from the first Tuesday of January next succeeding their election and until their successors are elected and qualified.

Immediately after Senators shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election under this section, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the first Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the second Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the third Year, so that one-third may be chosen by election every Year. Senators chosen in any election following division into three classes shall hold their offices for three (3) years from the first Tuesday of January next succeeding their election and until their successors are elected and qualified.

Add article VII section 3...
The assent of a simple majority of a quorum of Senators shall fulfill the requirement for Senate concurrence established by Article VI section 2 of this Constitution, for passage of any bill into law, with exceptions as specified in Article VI section 11, Article IX section 14, and Article XI section 2.

Add article VIII section 3...

The assent of two-thirds of a quorum of the the House of Representatives shall fulfill the requirement for House of Representatives concurrence established by Article VI section 2 of this Constitution, for passage of any bill into law, with exceptions as specified in Article IX section 14 and Article XI section 1, and with the exception that the assent of a simple majority of a quorum of House members shall fulfill the requirement for concurrence established in Article VI section 2, in the case of any bill not subject to Article VI section 11 that is identically worded to a bill that was passed by the Senate in the previous year between the date of the day following the previous year's House of Representative's adjournment and the date twenty-one (21) calendar days prior to the previous year's general election, inclusive; this exception shall not eliminate the requirement that identically worded bills be passed in the same session, by both the House and Senate, in order to fulfill the requirement for concurrence established by Article VI section 2.
Adjust Article VI, Section 3, for the existence of a full-time senate and part-time house

There shall be a session of the general assembly at Providence commencing on the first Tuesday of January in each year. The session of the House of Representatives shall adjourn on or before June 30 of the year...
This is also where the full-time compensation of Senators would be implemented. Also, adjust Article VI section 9 regarding concurrent adjournment.

A Local Budget Correction

Justin Katz

I've referred, on Anchor Rising, to an erroneous conclusion of mine related to state aid and Tiverton's school budget, so I should point to my correction, here, as well. In essence, when I stated that Tiverton was receiving more than predicted in state and federal aid, I didn't realize that the state's methods include "restricted" funds in the total on which it votes within its budget. Assuming the same allocation for those funds, this year as last, the state is actually providing $55,514 less.

The error, I'd note, suggests that the school department should stop teasing "restricted" aid out of the numbers that it presents to the public.

June 13, 2010

A Leaked Document Followed by a Reluctant Confirmation: Under ObamaCare, 50% or More of Americans Will Not Be Able to Keep Their Health Care Plan

Monique Chartier

Friday's Investor's Business Daily.

Internal administration documents reveal that up to 51% of employers may have to relinquish their current health care coverage because of ObamaCare.

Small firms will be even likelier to lose existing plans.

The "midrange estimate is that 66% of small employer plans and 45% of large employer plans will relinquish their grandfathered status by the end of 2013," according to the document.

In the worst-case scenario, 69% of employers -- 80% of smaller firms -- would lose that status, exposing them to far more provisions under the new health law.

This contradicts the repeated reassurances made by President Obama as he was attempting to sell health care "reform":

If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.

There is one seemingly small characteristic of this document which is chilling in its long-term implication to American health care should ObamaCare remain unchanged before its implementation.

The 83-page document, a joint project of the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the IRS

Confirmation that the federal government is well on its way to edging market forces altogether out of the system and replacing them with the tax gun. Commenter David P correctly points to the next inevitable step, which is for government to dictate "the terms under which it provides service".

In Massachusetts, we are getting a preview of how this will unfold as government price controls combined with government mandates now begin to squeeze and then whittle down the number of health care providers willing to stay and dance to the tune of MassCare.

June 12, 2010

MassCare: Ominous Developments in the Precursor to ObamaCare

Monique Chartier

So in early April, Governor Deval Patrick's Division of Insurance rejected most of the rate increases for individual and small business plans which Mass insurers requested, marking the first time the state had flexed its authority in this way.

But, though most of us have a love/hate view of them, insurers are just the man in the middle. Note that Patrick's action in freezing premiums, which meets with the approval of the Obama admin, did nothing to address the underlying reason for cost increases. What it did do is pile ever more losses on the industry which, as it was, had entered 2010 in the red.

Sure enough, six weeks later, in mid May,

The four major Massachusetts health insurers yesterday posted first-quarter losses totaling more than $150 million, with three of them blaming the bulk of the losses on the Patrick administration’s decision to cap rate increases for individuals and small businesses.

The carriers attributed $116 million of their $152 million in losses to the April 1 ruling by the state Division of Insurance to deny most proposed premium increases for the so-called small-group market.

The next step for the carriers, naturally, is to attempt to pass the losses along to providers.

Massachusetts health insurers say they want to freeze or slash payments to some hospitals and large physician groups this year, setting up the toughest contract negotiations in memory and creating the potential for disruptions in where patients get their care. ...

Unlike in past years, insurers believe they have widespread backing from politicians, regulators, and employers to aggressively push back against large price increases, even if it means some unhappy providers drop out of insurers’ networks, forcing patients to find new doctors and hospitals.

Whoops. Sounds like Bay Staters may be on their way to losing their right to choose (... a doctor, anyway).

Now the latest development (h/t Michael Graham). The Patrick administration has moved to place three carriers into administrative oversight.

State officials said they sent letters to three health insurers earlier this year asking them to accept more intense oversight and supply additional data because of concerns about their financial health.

One of the insurance companies has agreed to administrative oversight, while regulators are negotiating details with the other two, the officials said. Administrative oversight is a first step regulators take when they determine there is a need to monitor the financial condition of insurance carriers more closely. It does not mean the companies are insolvent.

Officials said the heightened concern is related to the fragile economy, which caused several major insurers to lose money in 2009.

Really, a fragile economy? Or something else, like a government has taken a strangle-hold on your business? Michael Graham:

Was it really the "fragile economy" that's causing Massachusetts insurance companies to go broke, as the Patrick administration claims? Or is it the lousy Romney-Care plan they’re working under, and the fact that more and more people are getting services they're not paying for? Those costs are being shifted onto taxpayers and the insurance companies.

In Massachusetts, we are getting a real life preview of what will happen when, in four years, under Congress' orders, MassCare becomes a national pandemic. It's not pleasant. Can we please observe, learn and react accordingly, even if it means a "drastic" course change (back to the status quo)?

A Familiar Face Running for Office

Justin Katz

Karin Gorman (daughter-in-law of Terry) has tended to be just outside the spotlight's range, in Rhode Island politics, but anybody who attends right-of-center public events related to government will recognize her. Her visibility will increase, no doubt, when she wins a seat in the General Assembly:

Karin Gorman, director and vice president of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement (RIILE), has announced she is running for state representative in District 43, Johnston, as an independent candidate. Gorman, a political newcomer, hopes to unseat two-term incumbent Deborah A. Fellela.

Gorman will officially launch her campaign during a coffee hour at 10 a.m. Sunday at Brewed Awakenings, 1395 Atwood Ave.. The public is invited.

Strange Agreement on Income Tax Changes

Justin Katz

So, the revised income tax scheme is now law, and we'll soon enough find out whether it's actually beneficial or just shuffles some numbers around. I continue to be suspicious that it's just a roundabout way of freezing the flat tax with a positive spin. I'm also concerned that it further favors those who are less productive and less economically active, which puts me in an uncomfortable agreement with left-winger Peter Asen, of Ocean State Action:

Peter Asen of Ocean State Action, a coalition of community organizations and unions criticized the law, saying it does not do enough to help taxpayers. He said that some of the credits being eliminated, such as the mortgage-interest deduction, may hurt middle-class families.

As I've said, the flat tax and phasing-out capital gains tax had been maintaining Rhode Island's wealthy population, but the productive class (including, essentially, the middle and upwardly mobile working classes) has been fleeing the state. On top of which, Rhode Island's welfare system and tax code have actually being attracting those who would be an overall drain on our economy. This legislation appears to worsen the situation for productive working/middle class families (by eliminating itemization) and to worsen the expected situation for upper-income residents.

Consider this, from the folks at the Tax Foundation blog, which generally likes the new law (albeit tempering its praise with a list of other things the state should look at):

I should note that at the last minute, the proposal was made revenue-neutral by phasing out the standard deduction for high-income earners, a tactic also used in Utah and Maine recently. This results in a higher marginal effective tax rate than the statutory rate...

June 11, 2010

Portsmouth Institute Second Annual Conference, Newman and the Intellectual Tradition, Day One

Justin Katz

It's hard to believe that it's been a full year since I attended and covered the first annual conference of the Portsmouth Institute of the Portsmouth Abbey School in (you guessed it) Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

I'll admit that, as much as I've looked forward to this event, the disruption of my habits and quotidian obligations creates an unavoidable drag. Little wonder that, in modern times, we gravitate toward convenient entertainments and consume materials for entertainment and edification in portionable bites. But the act of stepping away from daily life and the atmosphere in which content is consumed is as important as the content itself.

Which raises a theme on which I've touched, before, including with reference to last year's Portsmouth Institute conference: There's sort of subterranean stream that courses through life that one can tap by multiple means, and its sensation over the fingers and taste on the lips will differ depending on the point and method of access. Religious life is one route. Wealth can be (but is not necessarily) another. I suppose, to gelatinate the thought into a word, I'm referring to freedom, but not so much freedom of action, in the recognizably American sense, but freedom from the existential stresses of life. More familiar methods of relaxation offer but a fleeting shadow of the blessing that comes with an understanding, through faith, that, come what may, the trials of the day cannot touch the soul or, through wealth, that economic fluctuations cannot be so substantial as to leave one destitute.

As I type, between lectures that I'll describe subsequently, it occurs to me that the value of such locations as this campus to the general public is the representation of safety — the evidence of order protected from immediate deterioration (as distinct from immediate destruction, which our universe leaves as an inevitable possibility).

But here I'm trying to describe in real time a thought that will take years and multiple iterations to express and the second lecture is about to begin.

In$ight Into the Overpriced C.F. School Repairs? (And What About AG $piderman?)

Monique Chartier

Further to my post pointing to the Hummel Report about overpriced school repairs carried out by Iron Construction under the authorization of Mayor Moreau, someone kindly sent along a list of campaign contributions made by the president of that company.

Let's see. Thanks to Hummel, we know what Mr. Depasquale appears to have received by nearly maxing out campaign contributions to Mayor Charles Moreau for the last three years. Now the question is, what did he expect from fully maxing out his contributions to the Attorney General for the last three years?

Another night in Warwick

Marc Comtois

The City Council met with the Warwick School Department and School Committee, represented by School Committee Chair Chris Friel and Superintendent Dr. Peter Horoschak, respectively. They explained to the City Council that for the past two years they had been flat-funded from the City at $123 million and were requesting approximately $126 million this year. Councilmen Steve Merolla, Joseph Solomon and Steve Colantuono all worked to narrow in on the problem. Mayor Avedisian helped clarify his proposal, explaining that he had proposed $117 million initially, but that was modified down to $115 million in light of further cuts from the State House last week. It was concluded that, assuming that the schools accepted flat funding again, the difference was approximately $8 million that had to be made up on the city side. It was basically agreed that the way forward lay in re-opening contracts with the Teacher's union and in finally negotiating a new contract with the WISE union (secretaries, custodians and other support personnel--the old contract expired in 2006).

Then the incoherent portion of the evening kicked off with Councilwoman Donna Travis bringing up non-budget related items (traditional end-of-school cookout at Oakland Beach shut-down by school food vendor and a cheerleader getting an "absent" for attending a mandatory competition) and Councilwoman Helen Taylor focusing on various budget line items that were either minor (a couple thousand dollars) or were for programs that she knew nothing about, like the West Bay Collaborative, a regional program for troubled students that Warwick hosts, thus defraying some of the cost for Warwick's own students. Taylor also personally called the integrity of the Superintendent into question for which she was chastised by Council Chairman Bruce Place.

The performance by Travis and Taylor is nothing new: over the past week--and through the years--both have taken every opportunity to grandstand at the expense of the school committee and administration. Criticism is warranted, of course, but Travis and Taylor consistently focus on minutiae for the sake of scoring cheap points. Apparently they are unaware that their performances reflect more poorly on them than the school department.

During public comment, various members of the Warwick Tea Party explained that it was time for the elected officials to stop pointing fingers at each other and to work with each other and the city's workers and teachers to make the needed adjustments, such as health care co-pays of 20-25% and pay freezes for this fiscal year. As WTP member Bob Cushman explained, mistakes had been made in the past, but the can can't be kicked down the road anymore. Further, Cushman, the former School Committee Chair and member of the City Council, was well versed in the history recent Warwick budgets and he was able to highlight that most of the cuts in Warwick's budget (around 90% or more) were being shouldered by the School Department while most of the budget increases since 2004 had gone to the city side of the budget. After a criticism from Solomon that he had a hard time believing the School Committee would be able to renegotiate with anyone if they couldn't resolve a 4 year expired contract, Bob Cushman had explained that it takes two sides to bargain and that they had turned down an offer of 9% raises and an $11/week co-pay four years ago.

There were also members of the WISE union who were in attendance and pled their case for being willing to negotiate their contract, which expired 4 years ago. They explained that every year they worried because they heard rumors about the privatization of their jobs. One worker explained that a 20% health care co-pay on a salary in the mid-$30 thousand's would be tough to take.

Other members of the public reiterated the call for everyone in City government to make sacrifices and one speaker chastised the members of Warwick's legislative delegation for never coming to these meetings and not fighting hard enough for more state aid. Finally, Councilman Merolla explained that while cuts in spending were certainly on the table now, going forward the city needed to work to get more businesses up and running. Good point, hard to do. And not something that will solve the immediate problem facing the city.

The City Council will meet again on Monday and it is expected that the budget will be passed at that time. Then it will be up to the various departments, including the schools, to make the cuts needed to abide by the budget. Stay tuned.

Rhode Island Republican Assembly Biennial Endorsement Convention

Community Crier

This Saturday, June 12th, our state's largest Conservative organization — the Rhode Island Republican Assembly — will hold its Biennial Endorsement Convention. The Convention will also serve as a family-friendly fundraiser to benefit state Republican candidates, many of whom will be present. All Republicans and Conservatives in Rhode Island are invited to attend. The Convention will be held from 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m. in the Rotunda of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, at 801 Greenwich Avenue, in Warwick. Registration will be from 12:00 noon to 12:30 p.m., with the Convention to be called to order promptly at 12:30 p.m.

The theme for the Biennial Convention will be "2010: The Conservative Comeback."

Working toward making that a reality, a number of federal and state Republican candidates have been invited to address the RIRA delegates and our special guests. Confirmed speakers include:

John Loughlin, First District Candidate for Congress
Mark Zaccaria, Second District Candidate for Congress
William Clegg, Second District Candidate for Congress
John Robitaille, Candidate for Governor
Victor Moffitt, Candidate for Governor
Erik Wallin, Candidate for Attorney General
Kernan "Kerry" King, Candidate for General Treasurer

The Convention will start with a fundraiser for the Rhode Island Republican Assembly State Political Action Committee (RIRA-PAC). RIRA-PAC is the only political action committee in Rhode Island specifically devoted to aiding Conservative Republican candidates for office. The event will feature speeches by the above Republican candidates; a fantastic selection of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres will be served; and there will be a cash bar available. For your enjoyment, Live Musical Entertainment will be provided throughout the afternoon by the easy-listening band Wing-It

Candidate speeches, as well as brief question and answer periods for each, will probably last until 2:30 p.m. RIRA Delegates will then vote by secret ballot on candidate endorsements. RIRA endorsements require two-thirds super majorities and may be made in federal, statewide, and RI House and Senate races. In addition, delegates will consider Resolutions on several issues of current importance.

The suggested minimum contribution for the Conservative candidates' fundraiser is only $25.00 per person. However, you are certainly encouraged to donate much more, if it's within your means! All funds raised in excess of our costs will be used to directly support RIRA-endorsed state candidates.

Your RSVP by Facebook or by email would be appreciated for planning purposes, but it is not required to attend... just bring your personal check for $25.00 or more with you on Saturday! Tickets may be paid for in advance or at the door. Personal or PAC checks may be made payable to "RIRA-PAC."

You may securely pay for your tickets online with by credit card or electronic check through our Website at http://ri-ra.org/convention. If you would like to make a contribution to the PAC by mail, the address is:

Rhode Island Republican Assembly PAC, 19 Bakers Creek Road, Warwick, RI 02886

All event tickets will be held at the door. For any inquiries, you may contact RIRA President Raymond T. McKay at 487-2514 or by e-mail at: president@ri-ra.org. Media is welcome to attend.

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday!

Conservatively Yours,

Raymond T. McKay
President, RIRA
Chairman, RIRA-PAC

About RIRA: Founded in 2001, the Rhode Island Republican Assembly is a private membership organization of conservative Republican activists who work at the grassroots level to promote conservative values and ideals within the framework of the Republican Party of Rhode Island. Although an independent organization, many RIRA members are also officers or members of the Rhode Island Republican State Central Committee and/or the various city and town Republican committees throughout the state.

A Formula, but It's Just Numbers

Justin Katz

It looks like the General Assembly actually did get around to passing a state aid formula for Rhode Island's schools. As we've been pointing out all along, folks at the local level have seemed to assume that a "fair funding formula" would be one that gives them, specifically, more money, and this legislation does acknowledge some districts as "over funded," therefore reducing their aid.

From a taxpayer perspective, though, this is a critical component:

Besides correcting inequities in state aid distribution, the legislation would help local communities by providing predictability for school district and local budget planners. Without a predictable formula, school districts and municipalities have been forced to guess at the amount they will receive when they are preparing their budgets each spring. Their budgets must be created in time for the start of the fiscal year on July 1, but the amount of state aid they can expect to receive is in flux until the General Assembly passes the state budget, which usually happens in late June.

In Tiverton, for example, the School Committee predicted a low aid number and frightened parents into believing that schools were going to be closed and every program cut. As it turns out, our 8% tax increase could have been almost to the state cap of 4.5% without a change in the practical outcome. Now, ostensibly, school districts will have to find other ways of creating doomsday scenarios to shake down property owners for money to keep up with the promises of inadvisable contracts. In particular, it will be more difficult for districts to compensate for losses in "restricted" — about which they tend to be less vocal — without acknowledging that they are doing so.

There is a reason for concern, though. The current system hasn't been unpredictable because the General Assembly has heard pleas from individual districts and shifted money around on a whim. It's been unpredictable because the state is in perpetual deficit and long-term economic decline, leaving the state government ever in need of places to cut. Although the existence of a big scary formula might make legislators a little more timid about reducing aid to cities and towns, it will hardly prevent them from doing so, whether on a permanent or this-year-only basis.

June 10, 2010

Liveblogging the First Rhode Island Gubernatorial Debate

Carroll Andrew Morse

The comments section of this post will be host to an open thread, where you can join Anchor Rising contributors in posting your reaction to tonight's Rhode Island gubernatorial debate in real time.

Click here to follow and partake of the discussion.

Hummel! Overpriced School Repairs - Mayor Board-Up Strikes Again

Monique Chartier

This week's Hummel Report [h/t WPRO's John Depetro] returns to the scene of a prior potential crime to discover that Mayor Charles Moreau has had a heavy hand in choosing the vendors for repairs to Central Falls schools

[Superintendent Fran] Gallo quickly found out, though, Mayor Moreau held the checkbook, and was calling all of the shots, with virtually no input from a Facilities Committee made up of representatives from both the city and the school department

with a very predictable result for the work awarded on the Captain Hunt Elementary School.

Despite that, the company kept working well into the fall and the price of the original bid more than doubled. The original bid was $587,000. With more than $620,000 in change orders, the total came to $1.2 million. The building had the entire brick exterior on one side replaced, extensive roof work and a brand new ceiling and lights in the cafeteria.

The company was Iron Construction and - surprise! -it turns out that the "president played a major role in the mayor's re-election campaign". (No indication so far that the mayor received a discounted furnace or other discounted items for his personal abode in connection with this matter.)

Some questions:

- In a state where the unemployment rate among building contractors is far higher than the state average of 12%+, how did the city receive only one bid for this work? Or did the mayor deliberately wait until the last minute to make these repairs so that he could once again invoke his "emergency" powers?

- Is it even legal for a vendor to change the specs of an awarded contract to the extent that he gets paid double the original tender?

- Did the Mayor sign off on those changes?

Presumably, this becomes yet another matter for the RI State Police to look into as the RI Attorney General has made it clear that, when it comes to this particular friend public official, "recusal" means "I ain't looking at it no matter how bad the accusation or how persuasive the evidence".

Warwick Schools: They Know Where to Cut, but Will it Get Done?

Marc Comtois

Warwick Superintendent Dr. Peter Horoschak knows where to go to make budget cuts that would save sports and other activities:

Superintendent Peter Horoschak calculates that even with the mayor's plan to save sports and extra curricular activities, the schools still face a $6.1 million budget deficit. In his opinion, the best place to start plugging the hole is with an across-the-board 20 percent health insurance co-payment.

"I advocate that because I think it is the most sensible and fairest thing to do," Horoschak said Tuesday. He estimated if all school employees paid 20 percent of health care costs, the department could save $3.7 million.

Currently teachers are paying $11 a week for health care as are administrators and middle management. Members of the Warwick Independent School Employees (WISE) that have been unable to reach a contract since the last one expired four years ago have no co-pay.

But while the superintendent favors a uniform co-payment for all employees, implementing it is another matter. Co-payments are a part of the Warwick Teachers Union contract that doesn’t expire for another year and unilaterally imposing higher co-payments, Horoschak believes, would lead to a court battle that he doubts the schools would win. Likewise, the superintendent said the department could save about $3.1 million if it eliminated teacher raises next year. Again, however, this would violate the contract unless the union was to agree to revisions.

Horoschak said schools have asked the union to reopen the contract following Mayor Scott Avedisian's announcement that schools would shoulder about $6 million of the $10 million cut from the city's state aid projections.

Similar concessions could be made on the city side of things, too, where workers pay a flat rate, not a percentage, of their salary for Health care. Back to the school budget, though. A salary freeze for FY 2011 would also be a good move. But--surprise, surprise--good luck with any of it.
Teacher union president James Ginolfi said yesterday that he had received a letter some weeks ago about reopening the contract, but heard nothing until yesterday when Horoschak called.

"We've been waiting and waiting. There hasn't been much talk; it"s been in their hands for a response," Ginolfi said.

"I guess I have a problem that they tell you what they're looking for and not me and they have had plenty of opportunities," he added. He did not comment on Horoschak's proposals, saying those discussions would have to take place at the bargaining table.

The School Committee, Superintendent, Mayor and City Council will all be meeting about this tonight at 6 PM at City Hall.

Weakness and Blame

Justin Katz

Chris Stirewalt makes a point about President Obama's hypocrisy when it comes to blame taking and partisanship. Pop culturally, we make a great deal of hypocrisy in this country, but as Stirewalt intimates, it's really the weakness beneath that tastes of blood in the water to political sharks.

I thought of something similar during the two-day "whose ass to kick" media flash. If you missed it, somehow, in explaining why he wasn't expressing more heat against the evil-doers of BP, the president said that he'd been talking to experts to figure out "whose ass to kick." Most commentary has focused on the unpresidential nature of such comments. Filling in for Dan Yorke, the other day, Matt Allen focused on the faux passion from our college professor chief executive. Stirewalt focuses on Obama's turning away from the federal government's responsibility.

What struck me was the president's statement that he had been in the Gulf region well before "any of the talking heads." Again, weakness. Why should the president be setting his bar by the response time of news and commentary celebrities? It's a bit like a doctor's defending himself on the grounds that he had visited the patient well before any flower delivery guys had found the room.

Four Bills to Be Heard by the House Finance Committee Today

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to the Rhode Island General Assembly website, four bills are to be heard by the House finance committee this afternoon, and be eligible for floor-action on what is purportedly going to be the last day of this legislative session...

  1. What looks to be a good-goverment bill regarding state purchasing and bidding (S2442). Most of the sponsors have solid good-government credentials, but Senator Frank Ciccone is also a sponsor, so I am a bit suspicious.

  2. A 7.5% income tax on the income of 527(c) political organizations (S2501). 527s are organizations that can make independent political expenditures, so long as they don't "coordinate" with campaign organizations. In the past, 527s were prohibited from engaging in direct electioneering communications (i.e. running ads that say to vote for or vote against a candidate), but this has almost certainly changed in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United vs. FEC.

  3. The state education "funding formula" (H8094). I doubt the text posted at the moment is the most current version of what is being discussed, as it is the original version of the bill that was introduced, and according to funding formula advocate Jennifer D. Jordan, last minute negotiations concerning issues like capital project financing and blunting the removal of regionalization bonuses are ongoing.

  4. An act "supporting" this year's budget bills (H8270), which rolls chagnes related to Medicaid reimbursements, the car tax, and fire-district levies all into a single piece of legislation. Are there any bean-counters out there who'd like to take a look at this one, and explain why it is a priority?

Craziness and Hope

Justin Katz

Matt and I consoled each other about the craziness of Rhode Island politics on last night's Matt Allen Show, with the reasons for hope to be found in conversations such as we have here, on Anchor Rising. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

June 9, 2010

Socializing the Missing Link

Justin Katz

Maybe it's just my sense of the underlying humor of humanity, but I had to chuckle when reading a recent article about an RI Kids Count event. The piece starts out with RI Federation of Teachers and Allied Health Professionals head Marcia Reback advocating for a massive wave of unionized public-sector early-childhood workers. Then it moves through Ed. Commissioner Deborah Gist and others talking about the need for "serious money" devoted to younger children... because (I guess) the serious money that we're allocating for children over five years old hasn't been able to produce the desired results. With all of the pining for taxpayer dollars, the last paragraph seems to come from out of nowhere:

Everyone agreed that parents are the missing link in early childhood education. Community groups need to do a better job of explaining the importance of getting their children to school no matter how nasty the weather. Educators also need to offer literacy-rich summer programs so children do not lose ground between June and September.

Actually, it seems as if everyone agreed that the missing link is more money and more union jobs. The rejoinder, of course, would be that uninvolved parents come first and the need for public resources is a response to that, but the nuance leads in a different direction than the assessment.

That is to say that draining money from the private sector to filter through the government in order to purchase union-inflated child care will weigh down the economy and make it even more difficult for parents to afford time with their children (much less to foster one-income households). Moreover, removing the burden of child care from parents will lower the pay rate that they require before both working makes financial sense, thus expanding the workforce, suppressing wages, and adding yet more difficulty for those who'd like to be more involved with their children.

Of course, the alternative path requires more work to be done, culturally — encouraging marriage and the self-sacrifice of gadgets and modern life's trappings as part of parenthood. Even those who oppose further government intervention in citizens' lives bristle when a conservative, like me, so much as suggests considering whether the Freedom of Perpetual Adolescence oughtn't be reevaluated and adjusted in the social sphere.

Warwick Tea Party Budget Analysis

Marc Comtois

At the Warwick School Committee meeting last night--in a virtual repeat of Monday night's City Council meeting--residents and students voiced their dismay over the idea of cutting school activities, including sports, to make up looming budget deficits. Perhaps the most insightful, eloquent and forceful defense of sports was given by former Pilgrim standout and Syracuse University football player Emerson Kilgore, who is now an assistant Principle in Providence. All will get another opportunity to let all of the entities hear it at 6 PM on Thursday night, when the City Council, Mayor and School Committee will meet over the school budget.

In anticipation of the meeting, the Warwick Tea Party has provided their analysis of the 2011 Warwick City Budget (Download file). According to their research, since 2004 Warwick taxes have continued to increase with the majority (57%) of the increase going towards city-side (municipal, fire, police, etc.) spending, not schools. In 2011, 91% of Mayor Avedisian's proposed cuts are from the school-side of the budget. Overall, if memory serves, schools account for approximately 63% of the city budget.

That being said, the WTP's analysis also confirms what we all know: most of the area ripe for cutting is in employee salaries and benefits in ALL departments, by far the largest line-item in ANY budget--private or public sector. That doesn't necessarily mean firing anyone, just pay freezes, step freezes and implementing fiscally responsible health care and pension plans NOW, not in 2012.

Is the Highlander School Doing Well Enough to Have its Charter Renewed?

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Jennifer D. Jordan of the Projo, the Highlander school, a K-8 charter school located in Providence, is in danger of having its charter not renewed by the state's Board of Regents for education...

[State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist] said she is concerned by a weak curriculum and uneven test scores that continue to trail state averages.

"I don't have confidence they are on the right track because their performance declined last year," Gist said in an interview.

However, according to the most recent New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) data available, Highlander appears to have been on a definitively positive track for a while now. At the most basic level, NECAP results show that over the past two years, more Highlander' 8th-grade students have scored proficient-or-better in both reading and mathematics than did Highlander 5th-grade students from tests taken three years earlier.

Highlander Reading Math
# of 5rd-Graders, Prof or Better
2005 & 2006 NECAP
18 14
# of 8th-Graders, Prof or Better
2008 &2009 NECAP
34 20
Change in # Students Prof or Better +16 +6

An improvement in the number of students proficient has also occurred in the last two classes of Highlander 7th graders, as compared to 4th-grade results from three years prior; and in the last two classes of Highlander 6th graders, as compared to 3rd grade results from three-years prior.

Highlander Reading Math
# of 4th-Graders, Prof or Better
2005 & 2006 NECAP
22 16
# of 7th-Graders, Prof or Better
2008 &2009 NECAP
48 23
Change in # Students Prof or Better +26 +7

Highlander Reading Math
# of 3rd-Graders, Prof or Better
2005 & 2006 NECAP
18 13
# of 6th-Graders, Prof or Better
2008 &2009 NECAP
24 14
Change in # Students Prof or Better +6 +1

But how does the degree of improvement compare to what is happening elsewhere in Rhode Island?

To begin to answer this question, we can employ a method outlined a few months ago here at Anchor Rising, based on expressing changes in numbers of students in a district who demonstrate proficiency in a subject in terms of...

  • The percentage of students who began as less-than-proficient, in cases where the number of students proficient-or-better increases, or
  • The percentage of students who began as proficient-or-better, in cases where the number of students proficient-or-better decreases.
This metric is a better means of comparing results between districts (or between schools) than are single-moment-in-time comparisons of proficiency levels, because considering the change over time begins to incorporate the fact that different school districts are working with students who are beginning from different achievement levels, and a school that has 50% of its students proficient now when only 30% were proficient three years ago (28% of less-than-proficient students improved) might be viewed as doing as well or better than a school that has 80% of its students proficient now and had 80% proficient three years ago (0% of less-than-proficient students improved). More of the rationale and some caveats and limitations of this method as applied to NECAP data is discussed here.

Making the usual disclaimer that comparing NECAP results from different years is only an approximation to results describing a true cohort of students, because the publicly distributed NECAP data doesn't contain the information needed to adjust for student mobility in and out of a districts over a multi-year score-comparison period, the change in Highlander's proficiency percentages, as compared to other Rhode Island school districts over the same three-year period, shows that the percentages of students at Highlander who moved to proficiency relative to the number of students who began the three-year stretch as less-than-proficient 1) are significantly higher than the district-average changes in most RI urban communities and 2) are often comparable to results in suburban districts.

The details are displayed in the tables below. 6th, 7th, and 8th grade reading and math results from the NECAP summed over the last two years and compared to results from three-years earlier are included for Highlander, 4 urban districts (Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Woonsocket), and the two districts which would rank immediately above and immediately below Highlander, according to the metric described above, if Highlander were a district unto itself.

Rank Community # of '08/'09 8th-Graders, PoB at Reading # of '05/'06 5th-Graders, PoB at Reading Change in # PoB at Reading, between 5th and 8th Grades # of '05/'06 5th-Graders, LtP at Reading Change in # PoB at Reading, as % of '05/'06 5th-Graders LtP(+) or PoB(-)
7 Narragansett 216 195 21 57 36.8%
- Highlander 34 18 16 48 33.3%
8 Bristol-Warren 399 351 48 149 32.2%
23 Pawtucket 718 689 29 730 4.0%
25 Providence 1368 1338 30 2240 1.3%
32 Central Falls 192 208 -16 315 -7.7%
33 Woonsocket 390 433 -43 517 -9.9%

Rank Community # of '08/'09 8th-Graders, PoB at Math # of '05/'06 5th-Graders, PoB at Math Change in # PoB at Math, between 5th and 8th Grades # of '05/'06 5th-Graders, LtP at Math Change in # PoB at Math, as % of '05/'06 5th-Graders LtP(+) or PoB(-)
10 Smithfield 307 291 16 121 13.2%
- Highlander 20 14 6 52 11.5%
11 Jamestown 76 72 4 35 11.4%
29 Pawtucket 519 619 -100 820 -16.2%
31 Central Falls 139 184 -45 355 -24.5%
32 Providence 922 1236 -314 2412 -25.4%
33 Woonsocket 244 372 -128 587 -34.4%

Rank Community # of '08/'09 7th-Graders, PoB at Reading # of '05/'06 4th-Graders, PoB at Reading Change in # PoB at Reading, between 4th and 7th Grades # of '05/'06 4th-Graders, LtP at Reading Change in # PoB at Reading, as % of '05/'06 4th-Graders LtP(+) or PoB(-)
5 Lincoln 478 399 79 139 56.8%
- Highlander 48 22 26 46 56.5%
6 Johnston 407 317 90 189 47.6%
24 Woonsocket 534 480 54 513 10.5%
26 Pawtucket 732 662 70 719 9.7%
28 Providence 1431 1278 153 2409 6.4%
30 Central Falls 231 223 8 295 2.7%

Rank Community # of '08/'09 7th-Graders, PoB at Math # of '05/'06 4th-Graders, PoB at Math Change in # PoB at Math, between 4th and 7th Grades # of '05/'06 4th-Graders, LtP at Math Change in # PoB at Math, as % of '05/'06 4th-Graders LtP(+) or PoB(-)
6 Exeter-West Greenwich 216 201 15 108 13.9%
- Highlander 23 16 7 52 13.5%
7 Little Compton 53 51 2 24 8.3%
21 Central Falls 147 161 -14 385 -8.7%
24 Pawtucket 509 566 -57 833 -10.1%
27 Providence 933 1073 -140 2690 -13.0%
31 Woonsocket 329 397 -68 603 -17.1%

Rank Community # of '08/'09 6th-Graders, PoB at Reading # of '05/'06 3rd-Graders, PoB at Reading Change in # PoB at Reading, between 3rd and 6th Grades # of '05/'06 3rd-Graders, LtP at Reading Change in # PoB at Reading, as % of '05/'06 3rd-Graders LtP
8 Chariho 411 386 25 136 18.4%
- Highlander 24 18 6 33 18.2%
9 Narragansett 173 166 7 39 17.9%
14 Pawtucket 705 669 36 709 5.1%
15 Providence 1465 1367 98 2408 4.1%
16 Central Falls 231 220 11 310 3.5%
18 Woonsocket 501 497 4 546 0.7%

Rank Community # of '08/'09 6th-Graders, PoB at Math # of '05/'06 3rd-Graders, PoB at Math Change in # PoB at Math, between 3rd and 6th Grades # of '05/'06 3rd-Graders, LtP at Math Change in # PoB at Math, as % of '05/'06 3rd-Graders LtP(+) or PoB(-)
15 Pawtucket 614 551 63 847 7.4%
- Highlander 14 13 1 37 2.7%
16 Johnston 269 271 -2 230 -0.7%
24 Central Falls 154 162 -8 386 -4.9%
31 Providence 967 1088 -121 2742 -11.1%
32 Woonsocket 365 413 -48 635 -11.6%

The initial conclusion is that, over the most recent three-year stretch, Highlander and Highlander students seem to have shown an improvement in both reading and math that is comparable to districts not usually considered to be in crisis, at least within the intra-Rhode Island world of education policy (with the results from 3rd-to-6th grade math being on the bubble). But as always, when giant charts of numbers are presented at Anchor Rising, the floor is open for commenters to offer their own analysis and suggestions for refinement...

An Establishment Rebel in the State House

Justin Katz

Ed Fitzpatrick catches a telling rhetorical cliché in a column about state representative and congressional candidate David Segal (D., Providence) (emphasis added):

"I have a constituency in (his House district) that voted for me at a 70/30 rate over the years in primaries, and I think that I will be framed as a progressive as such," Segal said in fielding questions from journalists before Wednesday's event. "But I think the issues that I talk about, when people care to listen — banking reform, jobs, the environment, insurance reform and structural reform — are almost non-ideological issues at this point. They are things almost everybody agrees need to happen. I think people are fed up with the status quo and want somebody who has not been a political insider for his whole life."

Segal, 30, has been a politician most of his adult life, having served four years on the Providence City Council and four years in the General Assembly.

As somebody who comes from money, as I understand, Segal has gone through the Ivy League, served on a city council and in the General Assembly, started a blog, and is employed by a fellow State House Democrat. One doesn't get much more insider than that, at his age.

Segal argues that he's not "exactly accepted by the political establishment," but he's a political insider in a more essential sense than his connections clearly prove: almost nothing he has ever done — at least that would make the short-list biography of a columnist — involved action outside of government or (at broadest) a political movement with deep ties to powerful local forces. That's not entirely a slight — accomplishment is accomplishment — but it does speak to a perspective on what it means to "make it" that is antipathetic to the fading strain of American culture that so needs reinforcement at every political level, at this juncture in history.

Formerly Admirable, Now a Bad Example on the Way to Obviation

Justin Katz

Bringing his military eye to the topic, Theodore Gatchel provides an astute summary of the Obama movement in government:

Two competing schools of thought have developed. One holds that the government's role should be one of educating people about the risks so that they can make informed decisions. The other school holds that the issues are too complex for most people to comprehend, thereby requiring the government to make the decisions for them.

President Obama is clearly in the latter camp, which fits nicely with his promise to fundamentally change America. In this case it means transforming the country from one in which people who take risks are admired and rewarded to one in which risk taking is regarded as harmful to the common good.

To be sure, it's possible to go too far lauding unnecessary or ill-considered risks (or those that involve others without consent), but the freedom and opportunity of turning from security en route to improvement as the individual defines it has been essential to the American character — and should remain so.

June 8, 2010

Senator Marc Cote: A Call to Action - Representative Government at Risk in RI

Engaged Citizen

If you or members of your family are currently unemployed, please take notice of the following.

Whether or not you've spoken out about past government abuse, now is the time to be heard!

Last week's orchestrated procedural shenanigans by the leadership of the State Senate to stifle debate and deliberation, and temporarily kill reasonable legislation to address a labor injustice that is caused by illegal immigration should outrage Rhode Islanders who expect open and accountable government.

The bill in question (2010 S-2348 E-Verify) is cosponsored by 19 of 38 senators, and statewide polling shows that the majority of Rhode Islanders support this legislation. The Rhode Island House of Representative has passed this legislation during the past two legislative sessions, and has yet to vote on the bill this year.

Recent news reports have provided concrete evidence that there are employers in this region and within our state that are intentionally violating the law by hiring individuals who are not legally authorized to work in this country. In some cases, employers are also conspiring with individuals who participate in the fraudulent document and identity theft industry to advance this scheme.

These rogue employers are driven by their greed and self-interest. They take advantage of these unauthorized immigrants by hiring them at less than market labor rates - recognizing that the employees' illegal status prevents them from pressing for fairness and equality in the labor marketplace.

The 2007 enforcement action at the Michael Bianco Company in New Bedford has demonstrated that United States citizens and legal immigrants are being deprived of employment by unscrupulous employers. The owner and upper management of this company were arrested for hiring 360 illegal workers -- and within days, over 400 formerly unemployed New Bedford area residents applied for the job openings after the enforcement action.

On April 4, 2009, U.S. District Judge Mary Lisi sentenced the owner of Falcon Maintenance LLC of Johnston to 60 days of imprisonment in a federal halfway house, three years of probation and a $10,000 fine for the long-time practice of hiring illegal immigrants, of not withholding the appropriate taxes from their pay, and of lying about participating in the E-Verify system which is now required of state contractors.

On July 28 of last year, a Channel 12 investigative reporter revealed that a subcontractor hired an illegal immigrant to work under-the-table to build, of all things, the new federal immigration building in Johnston. The scandal came to light after the undocumented worker claimed a subcontractor failed to pay him and others for their work. The worker also claimed he was not the only one working illegally at the site.

Some employers unwittingly harbor violent criminals when they employ illegal aliens. In 2008, a young Providence woman was raped in Roger Williams Park by an illegal alien with a prior history of assault who had been employed at a local Texas Roadhouse restaurant. This criminal was sentenced to 30-years at the ACI at our collective expense, which will likely exceed $2 million dollars, adjusted for inflation.

It is estimated that there are about 20,000 unauthorized immigrants currently working in Rhode Island – working in jobs that should be made available to the 72,000 currently unemployed Rhode Islanders.

The legislation that was procedurally and unjustly "killed" by the Senate leadership last week would accomplish this objective by requiring that Rhode Island employers register and participate in the federal basic employment verification program known as "E-Verify".

In Rhode Island, the program is currently mandatory for state and federal contractors only. However, it is already used by over 2,200 Rhode Island employers, and this legislation would make it mandatory for 16,000 additional employers in this state. This would level the playing field for those conscientious employers, so that they are not disadvantaged by doing the right thing and hiring only legal workers.

If you care about the costs of illegal hiring practices to your family and friends by unscrupulous employers in Rhode Island, please call Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed at 222-6655, and Majority Leader Daniel Connors at 222-3310 and respectfully ask for a vote on the E-Verify bill by the full Senate.

This is your opportunity to make your voice heard, and I respectfully ask for your support. Should you have any questions, you can contact me at 765-3360.

State Senator Marc Cote (D) represents Woonsocket and North Smithfield.

Busy Week

Carroll Andrew Morse

Three questions about what is happening at the Rhode Island Statehouse this week...

  1. Given that a Constitutional referendum on the expansion of gambling looks to have been fast-tracked, will the referendum be simply a yes-or-no decision on the casino, with all of the details to be decided by the legislature later, as at least one early report from Katherine Gregg of the Projo seems to suggest...
    Asked how quickly Twin River could become a casino, and how much it expected to pay the state on its new offerings, [Twin River spokeswoman Patti Doyle ]said: "With respect to timing and tax rate, we remain focused at this juncture on receiving voter feedback on the will to expand gaming at Twin River. All other issues will be explored should the ballot question win voter approval."

  2. Will the Senate take up the ethics reform amendment (h/t Ian Donnis of WRNI 1290AM) that has already been passed by the House, restoring the State Ethics Commission's jurisdiction over state legislators to the scope that Rhode Island voters intended in 1986? Or will the Senate leadership team of Teresa Paiva-Weed and Daniel Connors refuse to let the ethics bill be voted on, because they believe that a code of ethics that prohibits the casting of votes based on bribes or other personal financial gain will overly impede the normal operation of the Rhode Island legislature?

  3. Will a funding formula for education be passed? Is the Rhode Island Department of Education plan still the favorite, and how might it be combined with pieces of the Gallo plan (such as the hold-harmless provision regarding aid-changes) or the Ajello plan (such as more more more for current big-aid recipients)?

Spend to Punish

Justin Katz

In response to the Providence City Council's useless declaration condemning Arizona's controversial immigration law, Domenick Fabrizio, of Cumberland, has a suggestion:

Since this city council wants to use economics to punish Arizona, my wife and I have decided to draw an economic line in the sand. We've decided to boycott organizations in Providence that we have frequented for years, including the Barker Playhouse, the Providence Performing Arts Center, the Providence Place mall, the Rhode Island Philharmonic and several restaurants.

We urge others who agree with us to do the same.

The first consideration ought to be the state of the economy, and anything that hinders that is inadvisable. More deeply, though, an economic boycott in response to the foolishness of city officials seems to punish the wrong people; those who are actually out there being productive are probably not the decisive factor in electing such goons. Of course, one must adjust for the left-leaning inclinations of the specific industries, mainly in arts and entertainment, that Fabrizio lists. Increasing economic pain and government dependency would conceivably have an opposite effect to that desired, when it comes to electoral politics.

So, don't boycott. Spend more, but in targeted fashion in order to encourage business and maybe to put money into the hands of folks who'll support a change of government in the city.

Brian Bishop on Why the Deepwater Project Isn't a Good Up-Front Alternative Energy Investment

Carroll Andrew Morse

I am usually willing to give the benefit of the doubt to alternative energy projects, on the grounds that I believe that the development of new energy sources which can help the United States reduce its entanglements with demented foreign governments who happen to sit above fossil fuel reserves is, in general, a good thing. Based on this premise, I asked Brian Bishop of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute, who has been lobbying against Deepwater Wind's efforts to establish an offshore wind farm in Rhode Island (as well as a regulatory regime favorable to their efforts), why their project couldn't be regarded as a little upfront investment in this vein...

  • Mr. Bishop agreed that geo-political and environmental considerations are reasonable factors to include in the cost-benefit analysis associated with any energy project (Audio, 1 min 9 sec).

  • But, as far as the Deepwater Wind project is concerned, since Rhode Island gets most of its electricity from natural gas originating in the United States and Canada (Audio, 0 min 27 sec)...

  • ...at a cost of between 6 and 9 cents per kilowatt-hour, and since Rhode Island already has access to renewable energy, sold at prices between 9 and 12 cents per kilowatt hour (Audio, 1 min 49 sec)...

  • ...the price that Deepwater wants to charge for its wind-generated electricity, beginning at 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour, with a 3.5% automatic rate increase every year, won't ever make economic sense (Audio, 0 min 32 sec)...

  • ...and probably will do economic harm (Audio, 1 min 7 sec).
The numbers presented make a convincing case that the Deepwater project, at least as currently structured, cannot be regarded a serious step towards a permanent, non-subsidy dependent reduction in US consumption of foreign oil.

The Line to Our Future

Justin Katz

Would it count as a lighter note to consider, for a moment, Mark Patinkin's report from the lines of the Pawtucket DMV?

By 2:30 p.m., my wait was officially longer than the one I'd experienced at Moscow Airport in 1989. It was a remarkable achievement. The Rhode Island DMV proved better at creating endless lines than Eastern European communism.

There were still 150 people in front of me, which left plenty of time to go receive a child home from school. I drove home and soon returned. I got back to the DMV at 3:19. There was a security guard blocking the entrance. He said the door closed at 3:15 p.m. and only those still inside would be processed. I showed him my ticket and explained I’d waited four hours. He told me that was too bad. No entry allowed.

Considering that we're on a path to government-centered healthcare, I'd say that the tribulations of vehicle regulation aren't the light commentary they used to be. After all, the reason for the historic wait times, according to Patinkin, is computer training, and that is necessary no matter the service being provided. As Mark writes, "I have never heard of an entire company being closed a day a week for six months for computer training." Perhaps not a company, but that's government — the entity to which we're entrusting more and more of our society's activities.

ADDENDUM (10:21 a.m.)

Well, look what press release has just hit the email:

Starting this week, the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will be returning to regular business hours at its Pawtucket office; at the Middletown, Woonsocket, and RI Mall branch locations; and at the Operator Control office in order to service the increased number of customers who transact business during the summer months. ...

The agency has been closed to the public on Wednesdays to work on data issues and systems testing and training related to the implementation of the DMV's new computer system. The new system, dubbed RIMS, will allow the DMV to offer new customer benefits, as well as providing more timely services to the public and other agencies with whom the DMV works.

So is that the power of Patinkin at work?

"The fight is about who is going to run public education"

Donald B. Hawthorne

New Jersey Governor Christie

The fight is about who is going to run public education in New Jersey. The parents and the people they elect or the mindless, faceless union leaders who decide that they're going to be the ones who run it because they have the money and the authority to bully around school boards and local councils. So, listen, I know I don't make myself the most popular guy in the world by having this fight, but [if] we don't win this fight, there's no other fights left. This is the fight we have to fight, this is the fight we have to win for the kids.

Watch the video.


Remember 2007 in East Greenwich, RI? Anchor Rising was the first to break the news about a teachers' strike in East Greenwich, beating both the newspapers and TV stations. The NEA was arguing that the teachers were being asked to take a pay cut, using that as a public relations hammer to mislead and manipulate town voters in order to maintain their extreme contract terms. So, I sat down with the school administration's Finance Director to get actual and publicly available information as well as reviewed the contracts, did the analysis, showed the NEA claim was a lie, and visibly posted it all on AR. And then dared the NEA to quit whining about pay cuts and actually prove their claim. Which, of course, they could not do and never did.

Here is a sampling of blog posts from that time -

Excuse me, but this is NOT how to win friends & influence people in East Greenwich

There are more earlier blog post links at the bottom of that post.

Several subsequent ones -

"Pay Cut" Analysis Hostage Day Count: Day 2

NEA "Pay Cut" Analysis Hostage Day Count: Day 9

RE: Warwick School Activities Latest to Face Cuts

Marc Comtois

Students protested against a potential cut in school sports and other activities outside of Warwick City Hall last night prior to and during the scheduled City Council Budget hearing. One of the prime movers was information provided by Warwick Schools Superintendent Dr. Peter Horoschak explaining the budget crunch and the various budget scenarios being floated. The best case scenario for the schools would have them level funded at $123,968,068 (which is $2,814,466 below the School Committee's budget request).

To make up this difference, the Superintendent outlined the few areas of discretionary funding available for cuts. Line items categorized as discretionary funding included such things as field trips (which are mostly covered by PTO/PTAs these days, frankly), gifted and talented student programs, student mentor and assistant programs and, the largest item, school activities, including sports. All together, these cuts would total $2,475,126, which was still not quite enough to cover the shortfall. However, the Superintendent did include an important qualifier that was missed by many. "Any further reductions will require negotiation of concessions from the two school department collective bargaining units." That is where the real cost savings can be made up.

Mayor Avedisian spoke to the issue and explained that he had found $850,000 in his budget to fund student programs and would ask that the money be earmarked for that purpose only, not to be sent to the School Committee to be spent at their discretion. Where did he find the money? The car tax, of course.

Dr. Horoschak also addressed the meeting last night and explained that the School Committee and Administration would consider a Carullo action depending on which version of the budget was approved. That would be unfortunate and probably quixotic, given the recent history of such attempts. A Carullo action would not be needed if the contracts are reopened and responsible fiscal steps--no pay raises and a 25% co-pay on medical insurance, for instance--were negotiated. That is why it behooves students and parents to keep the pressure on the city council and the school committee to go into the areas of the budget where there is the most spending--and potential savings: personnel costs. Many speakers made this point to the members of the City Council and the Mayor last night. There is a School Committee Meeting tonight. Now it's their turn.

ADDENDUM: It wasn't only the School Department that was seeking to cut sports. The Warwick Police Department proposed defunding the paid positions (Director and Secretary, I believe) of the Police Athletic League and folding them into the Parks and Rec departments. Many parents and members of PAL were on hand to defend their program as well, and explained the importance of PAL in the community for keeping kids off the streets and learning about leadership and discipline.

They also explained that while money would be saved by cutting these positions, the program would suffer because the various grants and funds and nation wide contacts to which a PAL has access would be lost. In other words (using arbitrary numbers here), cutting $100,000 out of the Police budget would cut 2 positions and may save money for the City, but it would end up losing $300,000 in donations and other money that is regularly raised for PAL by those who fill the positions.

They certainly painted an bleak picture. But I ran a sports league as an unpaid volunteer and I find it hard to believe that there is any requirement that the PAL pay it's leaders. I'm fairly certain that the grants and contacts and benefits of a PAL affiliation could still be realized if the positions were made all-volunteer.

William Felkner: The Treacherous Waters of Deepwater Wind (Part Two of Two)

Engaged Citizen

Add it all up and that rounds [down] to the paltry sum of $500 million or half a billion dollars above and beyond what we could buy renewable energy for from the market (are we talking about real money yet?).

The Deepwater sales pitch contains ephemeral "system benefits" and glowing statements about how we can become the leader in the renewable industry – ignoring the facts that we would have to overcome our crippling tax structure, crumbling infrastructure, and our well-deserved reputation for corruption, in order to leapfrog ahead of neighboring states that already have wind farms in operation or production.

Governors from California to Delaware, from Michigan to Ohio, and even nearby Massachusetts and Maine, are all convinced that they are the next Silicon Valley of Wind Energy.

And if the Quonset facility is so singularly appropriate for a turbine manufacturer, then surely purchasing eight turbines isn't going to be the make or break for such a decision – don't take my word for it, listen to Deepwater (per PUC report):

Deepwater admitted that it "does not expect suppliers of principal components to the Block Island Wind Farm to establish manufacturing facilities in Rhode Island or to hire from the RI labor force simply to supply the Block Island Wind Farm Project."

But outside of sworn testimony, Deepwater has a different sales pitch.

Deepwater tells us to ignore the high price because it compares favorably to the Cape Wind project, in Massachusetts. But Cape Wind is also a state imposed monopoly, priced at more than twice the market rate, and RI is still 1/3 more expensive.

Then they tell us to ignore the high price because the "fixed" price of Deepwater electricity may well be lower than the price from foreign fossil-fuel sources at some point during the contract. But two independent estimates were presented to the PUC which showed energy prices rising approximately 50% over the next 20 years. For the Deepwater price to look competitive, we would have to see a 410% increase.

And Deepwater tells us we can become the "Saudi Arabia of Wind" which would provide the State with a product to export. But who would buy energy from Deepwater when they can get the same energy from someone already on the grid for half to one third the price?

Then they tell us not to worry because it will only be about $1.50 on your electric bill. Putting aside the "new math" used to create that figure, common sense tells us that you can’t pay a $390,000,000 bill with $1.50 per month installments. Excluded from this figure is the cost to businesses. National Grid estimates the increased (not total) cost to Rhode Island’s fifteen largest businesses at $2,001,512.

Even the cost to run government will go up considerably because of the Deepwater Project.

First, the Project would increase energy costs for governmental entities. The impact on the State of RI's aggregate electric costs would be an initial annual increase of $476,630 ... municipalities would be $1,008,803, with a strong likelihood of escalation each year thereafter.

No matter how you slice it, Deepwater makes the cost of government and the cost of doing business in Rhode Island more expensive and that is bad for the economy.

Why the urgency in pushing this legislation in the face of a PUC rejection and in the final hours of the legislative session? Because federal loans are on the line and Deepwater stands to make a lot of money – over 28%, according to testimony provided to the PUC. And that amount just isn't reasonable.

For more information, please visit www.nodeepwater.com.

William Felkner is the President and Founder of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute.

Tax Hikes and V Number 2

Justin Katz

Not to kick off a beautiful Tuesday with gloom, but it seems inescapable. Environmental catastrophes, lingering war, emboldened terrorist states, and shifting demographics in the West that give those terrorist states reason for optimism about the future would each be bad enough, but the economy is what brings the world's problems to the front doors of every American. And on that topic, there appears to be an expanding feeling that recovery is not pending.

Indeed, Arthur Laffer foresees a likely scenario in which 2011 brings a second dip to the Great Recession:

Now, if people know tax rates will be higher next year than they are this year, what will those people do this year? They will shift production and income out of next year into this year to the extent possible. As a result, income this year has already been inflated above where it otherwise should be and next year, 2011, income will be lower than it otherwise should be.

Also, the prospect of rising prices, higher interest rates and more regulations next year will further entice demand and supply to be shifted from 2011 into 2010. In my view, this shift of income and demand is a major reason that the economy in 2010 has appeared as strong as it has. When we pass the tax boundary of Jan. 1, 2011, my best guess is that the train goes off the tracks and we get our worst nightmare of a severe "double dip" recession.

I hope he's wrong. Given everything else going on in the world, an economically depressed, socially dispirited United States will be an ineffective beacon during the dark days ahead.

June 7, 2010

William Felkner: The Treacherous Waters of Deepwater Wind (Part One of Two)

Engaged Citizen

The Deepwater Wind Project will be heard in both the House and Senate on Tuesday in a last minute attempt to pass legislation that will burden Rhode Islanders with a $500 million "Windmill Tax". Supporters of the Project (which appears to be just the Governor and Deepwater Wind) say the price, 24¢/KWH escalating to 47¢/KWH, could be a bargain some day and will open the door to economic development. Opponents, who come from all political stripes (Common Cause, Operation Clean Government, RI Tea Party, RI Alliance for Clean Energy, Save the Bay, RI Republican Assembly, the Wiley Center and local tea party and tax payer groups, just to name a few), skeptically say they've heard all the promises before.

If you haven't followed the issue, you might be surprised at the twists and turns we've seen.

Deepwater was one of seven respondents to the Governor's non-binding inquiry, but once National Grid made it official, Deepwater seemed destined to become Rhode Island's wind farm. They opened the door with a bid of about 18¢/KWH but, after crowding out the competition, the price went up to 30¢/KWH. When National Grid balked they brought it down to 24¢/KWH. Keep in mind that if the legislature would allow us to purchase the same renewable power from the NEPOOL grid (the regional energy market) we could get it for 9¢.

The only thing standing between Rhode Islanders and a $500 million dollar "windmill tax" increase, then, was a decision by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), and after numerous expert witnesses from all areas of interest, they rejected the Project with 3-0 unanimous vote.

So a bill was introduced (Senate Bill 2819 from Senator Sosnowski, D-SK) to bypass this ruling and give the approval of this contract over to department heads. Not only does this bill completely disregard the efforts of all the experts who worked with the PUC, but it also opens the door for others to bypass this consumer protection agency as well. And, indeed, it didn't take long to prove this point.

Shortly after S 2819 was introduced, Senate Bills 2841 and 2842 popped up.

S 2841 also bypasses a PUC decision rejecting a request from National Grid to decouple infrastructure costs. The concept is defensible, but the numbers weren't right so the PUC rejected it.

S 2942, on the other hand, doesn't bypass a PUC decision. It bypasses the PUC completely. This bill all but forces energy consumers to purchase renewable energy from a single-source provider (Ridgewood), under a proposed agreement to construct a methane gas energy generating plant at the Johnston Landfill.

But those are small potatoes when compared to Deepwater's "demonstration project" which would be the most expensive public works project in RI history yet only provide 1% or our power and create a paltry 6 permanent jobs. And that's not our estimate; it comes from Deepwater's sworn testimony.

Again, renewable energy is readily available in the 9¢ range. That means if we weren't forced to purchase from Deepwater we could get the same amount of renewable energy for about $400 million less. And, again, that’s not our estimate; it comes from National Grid, the people who will be passing the charge onto our electric bill.

Note that that figure does not include the cost of the cable necessary to get the electricity to the mainland, estimated at a capital cost of $45 million, or nearly $100 million with interest over the 20 year period. And then there is the 2.75% "sweetener" National Grid receives on every renewable contract. The Deepwater deal would bring National Grid an additional $19.25 million.

William Felkner is the President and Founder of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute.

When it Comes to Energy, Government Knows Best

Justin Katz

The project to harness energy from trash at the Central Landfill is impossible not to like, in concept, and I'm not inclined to badmouth it. I do think, though, that state Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt (R., North Kingstown) has a worthy argument when it comes to process and oversight, saying that the just-passed legislation:

    Authorizes the companies to enter into a no-bid, sole source contract for as much as $600 million for electricity. The contract is subject to minimal oversight and standards. We actually don’t know how much it will cost because the only limitations in the bill are the physical capacity of the plant and the number of years for the contract. (While sample prices were referred to frequently in the debate, they are not included in the bill itself.)


  • Instead of a full review by the PUC that has the staff and experience to deal with such matters, the contract requires approval, within thirty days, by four agencies, each headed by a direct appointee of the Governor. Negative rulings by three of the appointees can be overruled by the fourth so the absolute authority is actually vested in only one person. None of the four testified before the House Environment Committee as to their readiness or ability to do the job.
  • Each of the four appointees is restricted to very narrow and different grounds on which to base his or her decision. They are not required to hold any hearings and members of the public will be given only 15 days to submit written comments to any of the four.
  • Deliberations by the appointees are not subject to the administrative procedures act or the open meetings law so they will be able to meet with interested parties and do their decision making in secret.
  • The four appointees are not required to explain the reasons for their decisions and there is no appeal.
  • The House voted down, by a margin of 2 to 1, my amendment that would have at least required the rate of return to the company to be "just and reasonable."
  • The House voted down, by the same margin, my amendment that would have required the appointees to publish their decisions on the internet along with their justification for making the decision.

Ehrhardt goes on to note that this process is mirrored in the proposed change in regulation of the Deepwater wind farm. At least by appearances, it would seem reasonable to worry that even good-government types, like Governor Carcieri, are so persuaded that they must race to corner the renewable energy market that usually central considerations (like transparency) are being put aside.

Charlie Hall on the Proposed Offshore Wind Project

Monique Chartier


Courtesy Ocean State Follies

Warwick School Activities Latest to Face Cuts

Marc Comtois

The story reported by NBC10 focused on proposed cuts to Warwick school sports. In fact, all school activities and a few other discretionary items are all that is left to cut out of the Warwick Schools budget (around $2.5 million if my memory serves correctly) if they are to begin to meet the funding limits proposed by Mayor Avedisian. Even then, more cuts will be required. The focus is on cutting discretionary spending because all other cuts require the re-opening of contracts.

However, if the public expresses their outrage over such potential cuts, the chances that the School Committee, Administration and Unions will re-visit those line item(s) that dominate the school budget (87%)--salaries and benefits--are greatly increased. The Warwick City Council will be dealing with this (and many other items) tonight at 6 PM.

Should We Be Willingly Fooled by the Tax Overhaul?

Justin Katz

I'll tell you the honest truth: I really desire to play along and cheer the proclaimed income tax revision just passed by the General Assembly, but that "revenue neutral" thing gives the whole endeavor the feeling of a scam. Consider:

An analysis of the plan by Paul L. Dion, chief of the state Office of Revenue Analysis, showed the following:
  • About 60 percent of resident taxpayers — 297,489 — will see a tax decrease, averaging $226 apiece.
  • About 21 percent — 103,434 — will see no change.
  • About 19 percent — 96,461 — will see a tax increase, averaging $654 apiece.

In the past decade, Rhode Island's flat tax reduction and (since-abandoned) capital gains tax phase-out have helped to maintain our base of wealthy taxpayers, but we've been bleeding what I've called "the productive class": motivated, upwardly mobile folks in the working and middle class range. So, the question of how many people will gain or lose according to the new policy is less important than the matter of which people will gain and lose. I lack the time for an analysis of my own, but the General Assembly's press release provides some clues:

The legislation would lower tax rates, simplify the system by reducing the number of tax brackets, exemptions and credits, eliminate itemizing and increase the size of standard deductions. It would go into effect Jan. 1, 2011, and it is estimated that it would save taxpayers whose adjusted gross income is less than $175,000 a total of about $4 million in 2011.

It would eliminate the flat-tax option for the highest earners, instead reducing the top marginal income tax rate from 9.9 percent to 5.99 percent. That amount would still make Rhode Island more competitive with neighboring states in terms of attracting high-earning taxpayers and help shake the state’s reputation as being unfriendly to high earners, but would not give the highest earners as low a rate as the flat tax would have eventually become if it were to continue being reduced, as it would under current law.

Notwithstanding the proclamations of folks (like Gary Sasse) whom one expects to be on the right side of such issues, it looks like the state government has mainly orchestrated a freeze of the flat tax with a positive spin. In other words, they've made the tax code more progressive.

And it may be somewhat worse than that. I'd be in favor of a flat, percentage-based tax that everybody pays and can figure out in minutes with a calculator, but disfavoring those who itemize, in favor of a standard deduction, would seem to turn against economic activity. At least to my experience, the years that I've itemized have all, first, been years during which I carried a mortgage (i.e., invested in the state by buying a house) and, second, made significant investments in the work that I do (i.e., buying tools for carpentry and equipment for writing).

The basic problem with focusing on the visible tax rates — as this legislation does as its central premise and objective — is that the families that can help to pull Rhode Island out of its death spiral will also be disproportionately likely to look past the headlines. To the extent that taxation makes a difference (and it isn't all-determining, to be sure), those who are wealthy and those who are most motivated to build wealth will take a moment to figure out whether they're among the 19% whose taxes are going up.

Rhode Island Republican Assembly: "2010: The Conservative Comeback"

Community Crier

The fifth Biennial Endorsement Convention of the Rhode Island Republican Assembly - our state's largest Conservative organization - will be held this Saturday, June 12th, 2010, from 12 Noon to 4:00 PM. The Convention will be held under the Rotunda of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, at 801 Greenwich Avenue, in Warwick, RI 02886.

The theme for the Biennial Convention will be "2010: The Conservative Comeback."

Working towards that goal, several federal and state Republican candidates have been invited to address the RIRA delegates and our guests. Confirmed speakers include:

John Loughlin, Candidate for Congress (First District)
Mark Zaccaria, Candidate for Congress (Second District)
William Clegg, Candidate for Congress (Second District)
John Robitaille, Candidate for Governor
Victor Moffitt, Candidate for Governor
Erik Wallin, Candidate for Attorney General
Kernan 'Kerry' King, Candidate for General Treasurer

All Republicans and Conservatives in Rhode Island are welcome to attend this event. Suggested minimum contribution for the PAC fundraiser is $25.00 per person or only $15.00 for R.I. Young Republicans (of course, individuals may choose to donate much more!). Reserved "Tables of 6" are available for $150.00 each (a great option for candidates!). All funds raised in excess of our costs will be used to support RIRA endorsed state candidates. Check-in and Registration will be from 12 Noon to 12:30 PM, with the Convention to be called to order promptly at 12:30 PM.

The Convention will kick-off with a great fundraiser for the Rhode Island Republican Assembly State Political Action Committee, featuring speeches by Republican candidates seeking our organization's endorsement. A great selection of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres will be served, and there will be a cash bar available. For your enjoyment, live musical entertainment will be provided throughout the afternoon by the band, Wing-It.

Candidate speeches, as well as brief question and answer periods for each, will likely last until about 2:30 PM. Immediately thereafter, RIRA Delegates will vote on candidate endorsements. All nominations will be made from the floor. Endorsements may be made in federal, statewide, as well as in R.I. House and R.I. Senate races. Per our bylaws, RIRA endorsements require a two-thirds affirmative vote of those eligible RIRA Delegates present. All voting in contested races will be conducted by secret ballot. In addition, Delegates will also consider several important resolutions.

RSVP in advance by Facebook or by e-mail would be greatly appreciated for planning purposes, but is not required. Tickets may be paid for in advance or at the door. Personal or PAC checks should be made payable to "RIRA-PAC." To reserve your tickets by mail today, please send your request and payment ASAP to:

Rhode Island Republican Assembly PAC
19 Bakers Creek Road
Warwick, RI 02886

You may also quickly and securely pay for your tickets online with a credit card or electronic check via http://ri-ra.org/convention/. All prepaid tickets will be held at the door. For any inquiries, you may contact RIRA President Raymond T. McKay at (401) 487-2514 or by e-mail at: president@ri-ra.org.

Government Doesn't Create Jobs...

Justin Katz

... at best it borrows them, and while I certainly hope I'm wrong, I'm concerned that we're just not going to experience significant job growth for the foreseeable future:

A burst of government hiring of temporary census workers pushed the nation's unemployment rate down a fraction in May, but private-sector employers added a mere 41,000 new jobs last month — a figure so disappointing it sparked a huge sell-off on Wall Street and sowed fresh angst about the economy's future.

Adding to the worries was the fact that, so far this year, the bulk of the new private sector jobs have been going to workers with a high school education or less instead of to the middle-class workers on whom any long-term return to prosperity depends.

On the radio, Friday, I heard President Obama claiming the gradual success of the economic policies that "we" put in place over the past year, but I didn't get the impression that he was referencing the hiring plans of the Census. The reality, at the national level, is that the Democrats have made advancing their agenda and preserving past gains (as with public-sector growth) a higher priority than jobs and the economy. At the Rhode Island state level, the Democrats are shuffling chairs around and hoping for some sort of windfall miracle.

It may or may not be reasonable to extrapolate local evidence to national government, but one interesting aspect of the local debate is that the General Assembly clearly understands what sorts of noises it needs to be making. The budget is notable in its attempt to wash state government's hands of tax increases; the tax system "overhaul" makes some revenue-neutral tweaks without addressing the fundamental problem of too much government confiscation; and the legislation "making business easier in Rhode Island" cleans up some government-imposed nuisances but doesn't touch the mandates and regulations that create the real disincentives to economic activity, here.

June 6, 2010

Thousands of Monuments to the Fiscal Non-Feasibility of Wind Power (Even Offshore)

Monique Chartier

In an American Thinker article in February, Andrew Walden points to a startling and very unpublicized fact about wind power.

In the best wind spots on earth, over 14,000 turbines were simply abandoned. Spinning, post-industrial junk which generates nothing but bird kills.

Now, some of the older ones would have been discarded for newer technology. But many were abandoned because the tax credits had run out and, along with then, the wherewithal to pay for maintenance. See, if wind power were truly profitable and fiscally self-sustaining, those windmills could be maintained and continue to operate from the revenue that they generated. But when the revenue is limited to tax credits or other government mandate, the project is going to last exactly as long as the artificial subsidies.

That hasn't stopped wind farm developers, however. Far from it.

... a new batch of colonists, having looted the taxpayers of Spain, Portugal, and Greece, seeks to expand upon their multi-billion-dollar foothold half a world away on the shores of the distant Potomac River. European wind developers are fleeing the EU's expiring wind subsidies, shuttering factories, laying off workers, and leaving billions of Euros of sovereign debt and a continent-wide financial crisis in their wake. But their game is not over. Already they are tapping a new vein of lucre from the taxpayers and ratepayers of the United States.

And Rhode Island. In fact, the names of the developers may have changed but the actual selling points have moved seamlessly across the Atlantic and up Narragansett Bay. As I researched this topic, the arguments being made to sell offshore wind farms in Europe - local jobs and an industry based upon clean, indigenous energy which would "establish Europe as world leader in offshore wind power technology" - sounded strangely familiar to those which have been made here in Rhode Island in recent weeks.

Proponents of offshore wind generation are attempting to distinguish it from ordinary on-land sites on the basis that the wind offshore is stronger and relatively more reliable. Unfortunately, offshore wind power suffers from exactly the same flaw as onshore: it simply doesn't work without either tax credits (i.e., a taxpayer funded handout) or a government mandate that compels consumers to pay an artificially high rate for the electricity generated.

Here's the bottom line on this issue: we're allowed to say "no!' to an energy source because of its high price. If the bill pending on Smith Hill passes, Rhode Islanders would be locked into paying unnecessarily higher electric prices and, worse, Rhode Island would exacerbate its already abysmal business climate by needlessly adding to the cost of doing business - especially for what is left of a manufacturing industry - in the state, all for some non-substantiated, feel-good reasons. (Want to bolster the state's economy? Create the business climate to draw industries that do not require tax subsidies or government mandates to survive. Want energy independence from foreign baddies? Drill near-shore and on land within the United States. Want to talk about global warming? Wake me when they've made a case that doesn't involve manipulated data, flawed computer models and a spokesman that has just purchased yet another property near an allegedly rising ocean.)

Walden's conclusion is pertinent both to Congress and to the RI General Assembly:

... the wind-subsidy proposals being floated in Congress suggest that American political leaders have yet to understand that "green power" means generating electricity by burning dollars.


Photo by Gary Arndt at Everything Everywhere.

Tightening the Union Loop into a Noose

Justin Katz

It could just be that I'm in my annual phase of presummer burnout, or it could be an indication of the complexity that Big Government imposes on a democratic society — to such degree that it ceases to be possible for the individuals who comprise that democracy to function as they must — but the number of fronts for manipulating the public sector feel like they've been multiplying, lately.

The issue that brings that statement to mind is the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) legislation that Democrats have brought to the table in Washington, which Bradley Smith describes, here. Given my usual areas of focus, this part earned a bracket in the margins of my issue of National Review:

DISCLOSE's partisanship is apparent in its different treatment of corporations and unions. Every major federal campaign-finance-reform effort since 1943 has attempted to treat corporations and unions equally. If a limit applied to corporations, it applied to unions; if unions could form PACs, corporations could too; and so on. DISCLOSE is the first major campaign-finance bill that has not taken this approach. For example, it prohibits corporations with government contracts of as little as $50,000 from making independent expenditures in elections or engaging in "electioneering communications." This very low threshold would bar not only large contractors such as Boeing but also thousands of small businesses from exercising the rights recognized in Citizens United. Yet no parallel provision exists for unions that bargain with the government for multimillion-dollar benefit packages. Corporations that received TARP funds are prohibited from spending, but unions at those companies — which in many cases benefited far more from the bailouts than shareholders — are not.

Smith doesn't go far enough, to my mind, by raising this as a matter of teams in a partisan dispute. It's actually part of a broad effort to shift the role of unions in our political society. Recall a post from November that noted, tangentially, that hospitals receiving federal money are barred from lobbying the government while their workers' unions are not (see "addendum," below). As the federal government continues to grow — especially in the amount of our economy for which it takes direct authority — the loop whereby businesses rely on the unions with which they negotiate to lobby the government will tighten into a noose, excluding organizations that are not unionized and siphoning off more money for politicians, bureaucrats, and the unions that serve as the middleman transferring economic wealth to the public sector.


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

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

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

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

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

Thwarting the Senate on E-Verify: Why Did the Senate President Go with the Highly Unusual Voice Vote Rather Than the Far More Accurate Electronic Vote?

Monique Chartier

[See my post for a recitation of events and Andrew's post for a description of bill procedure and why democracy within the Capitol is too often considered a "parliamentary trick" by leadership.]

This is the question that I asked the office of the Senate President four times over the course of three days last week: why a voice rather than an electronic vote on the smirky motion by the Majority Leader to send the e-verify bill back to committee, effectively killing it?

In the conspicuous absence of a reply and an alternate explanation, we gravitate towards the most obvious answer: a voice vote permitted the Senate President to "hear" the result that she desired - a vote to kill e-verify - and if an electronic vote had been taken, the members of the Senate would have had the opportunity to cross and contradict their leader. This was a risk that she was evidently not prepared to take.

Now we need to look at what compelled the Senate President to take the egregious step of thwarting the will of the Senate. Let's see, the continued exploitation of undocumented workers, the deprivation of jobs to legal immigrants and citizens in the face of 13% unemployment, the suppression of precious tax revenue to the state with the perpetuation of under-the-table employment, disrespect for those people who immigrated here in conformance with our laws. References have also been made to the employers - mostly restaurants - within the Senate President's district who use cost-saving illegal labor.

Ultimately, however, the answer is that nothing should have come ahead of the will of the Senate. Quite simply, in putting her own interest and desires ahead of the Senate, she went too far.

And while some senators may have agreed with the Senate President on the outcome of this particular matter, they need to ask themselves: what happens when something that they care about comes up in the future but, unlike this week, they find themselves on the "wrong" side of the issue in the eyes of a Senate President who has demonstrated that she is willing to set aside the sledge hammer traditionally wielded by Smith Hill leadership and pick up a lighter and a stick of dynamite?

Andrew was not altogether wrong. Leadership is only as powerful as rank and file legislators permit. When a leader overreaches, members are well within their right to seek a leader more amenable to placing personal/political self interests secondary to the will of the body.

June 5, 2010

UPDATED: Doggedly Raising the Contraceptive Point

Justin Katz

Frankly, the comments to my post on contraception were about what I expected. The Pill, condoms, and their less common company are secular sacraments, and people are very reluctant to place them on the table for skeptical scrutiny. (It might... or might not... go too far to imply an underlying sense of prickliness about their insinuation of naughty behavior.) One comment I'd like to highlight, though, comes from Dan:

I think not having three kids by the time I got out of school has worked out pretty favorably for me. A girl in my high school class did things the old fashioned way and is now a mother of three who works at a local Stop and Shop (along with significant government aid). I suppose for the 10% or so of young adults who can, voluntarily or involuntarily, plausibly commit to total abstinence until marriage it works out alright.

The first thing to say is that it's a little peculiar for a libertarian principalist to argue such things from anecdote. If that's the standard, I'll see Dan's "girl from high school" and raise him dozens of men and women with whom I've been acquainted, during my adult life, who've spent their lives childless and still wind up menially employed and in need of assistance. If readers wish to head in such a direction, we could take up the question of whether effective self-sterilization leads to perpetual adolescence among people who never face parental responsibility.

The larger point comes with the second thing I'd say in response to Dan. He's reluctant to accept the notion that modern contraception bifurcated the "mating market" into distinct "sex" and "marriage" markets, but it doesn't contradict the argument to ignore it. Indeed, his rejoinder is fully in keeping with the analysis that I cited by Timothy Reichert, who notes (for example) that two-income couples have decreased the value of labor and increased the cost of such essentials as homes. Reichert summarizes this aspect of his argument as follows:

By now, it should be clear to the reader that, in my view, contraception is, contrary to the rhetoric of the sexual revolution, deeply sexist in nature. Contraception has resulted in an enormous redistribution of welfare from women to men, as well as an intertemporal redistribution of welfare from a typical woman's later, childrearing years to her earlier years.

In other words, the benefit that Dan has derived has arguably come at a cost to young families — with an emphasis on women and children. In my earlier post, I suggested that the loosening of young women's inhibitions has overall been to the benefit of men. Dan's reply, as a young professional male, is that he's enjoyed that benefit quite a bit. Well, fine.

It's interesting, in this context, to introduce a recent study of teens' attitudes toward sex. I note, in passing, that contrary to Dan's 10% number, a majority of the teens reported having not had sex. As the full report (PDF) makes clear, teen sex has actually been decreasing. Unfortunately, there's a dark lining to the study:

It found that most teenagers do not frown on having children outside of marriage, however.

"The majority of teens -- 64 percent of males and 71 percent of females -- 'agree' or 'strongly agree' that 'it is okay for an unmarried female to have a child'," the report reads.

I offer the hypothesis that the bifurcation of the "mating market," following the contraceptive revolution, was among the factors that placed our society on a path away from the "marriage market," perhaps suggesting that the "sex market" will ultimately replace the "mating market." With the commonplace declarations that pregnancy and childbirth are ultimately the woman's choice and the market dynamics described by Reichert, men have been moving away from the sense of responsibility for their offspring, which is not an option for women, who have nonetheless had incentive to begin behaving, culturally and sexually, more like men.


As I began this post by implying, something strange happens when one raises this topic — or any topic having to do with the behavioral revolutions of the past half-century. It's as if we all become teenagers defending our habitual misbehavior.

To clarify what I'd thought was clear: I'm not suggesting that we could or should put the contraceptive cat back in the bag. There are circumstances in which they're necessary, and truth be told, I wouldn't restrict their usage by adults were I able to conform the law entirely to my liking. (Although, I would still argue that the residents of individual states should have that authority, acting democratically.)

But the fact that something is — on the whole — good, neutral, or just not worth repealing does not mean that it is beyond reproach, just as the fact that something has harmful effects does not mean that we must attempt to rip it out of the law and culture in its entirety. Rather, by openly discussing problems, we can make the slow cultural adjustments that conservatives tend to prefer on such matters.

UPDATED: Every Which Way They Can Stick It to You Slyly

Justin Katz

So, yeah, the General Assembly has managed to keep its hands pretty clean when it comes to raising taxes, but Rhode Islanders shouldn't expect to have more money in their pockets — at least not unless they get involved in local government right now. As we've seen, in Tiverton, the state bureaucracy is willing to be complicit in complete flouting of the law and regulations when it comes to local officials' desire to tax residents more.

Now, as Marc mentioned, yesterday, the General Assembly has removed almost all of the exemption that prevents towns from taxing the first $6,000 of your car's value, enabling town governments to increase taxes almost passively. In Tiverton, that means another $105.27 per year on cars valued over that amount.

But here's an interesting edit of the legislation, on the General Assembly's part:

The excise tax rates and ratios of assessment shall be maintained at a level identical to the level in effect for fiscal year 1998 for each city, town, and fire district; provided, in the town of Johnston the excise tax rate and ratios of assessment shall be maintained at a level identical to the level in effect for fiscal year 1999 levels and in no event shall the final taxable value of a vehicle be higher than assessed in the prior fiscal year, and the levy of a city, town, or fire district shall be limited to the lesser of the maximum taxable value or net assessed value for purposes of collecting the tax in any given year.

Inasmuch as there's no language restricting increased assessments to classics, it would appear that a town now has the ability to decide that your car is worth more than it was last year. Presumably if the mileage goes down or you remodel its kitchen.


In the comments, John offers the explanation:

The language was changed because the taxable value of most cars will necessarily increase due to the lowering of the exemption. My $15,000 car would have a $9,000 taxable value with a $6,000 exemption. When the exemption drops to $500, the taxable value is increased to $14,500. Therefore, if the locals are to tax the vehicle at the higher "taxable value", the law needed to be amended.

June 4, 2010

Cross Every Picket Line

Justin Katz

Circumstances have made me slow to respond to this, and my position will hardly be a surprise, but I did want to express — ahem — solidarity with RIGOP Chairman Gio Cicione (as well as the RI Young Republicans) on the matter of crossing a union picket line to hold a Central Committee meeting at the Westin Providence hotel:

Explaining why the state Republican Party, along with the Rhode Island Young Republicans, decided to hold its State Central Committee meeting at the hotel, party chairman Giovanni Cicione said: "If Democrats continue to torture every local business with threats of strikes and boycotts, especially in the midst of this recession, Rhode Island will soon find itself with no employers left."
I'll go further: All taxpayers should make a point of doing business with companies that are facing union strikes. Trying to hurt employers in the midst of this recession is among the most asinine strategies that Rhode Island's unionists have yet conceived.

Mark Zaccaria on James Langevin's Official Entry into the Second District Race

Carroll Andrew Morse

Second District Congressional Candidate Mark Zaccaria was in attendance at the announcement of Cranston Mayor Allan Fung's campaign for reelection on Wednesday evening. By coincidence, Wednesday also happened to be the evening that Second District Congressman James Langevin announced his reelection bid, giving me the opportunity to ask candidate Zaccaria if he had any reaction to the incumbent's announcement in his own race...

Mark Zaccaria: I need to go to the people of the Second District in this upcoming general election and say, "Ladies and Gentlemen, here is the guy that did this to you, and I'm the guy that's going to undo it for you", which one do you want to choose....The grotesque overspending has essentially eroded the foundations financially of the Republic, and it seems like people aren't thinking when they simply borrow more money from the Federal Reserve, so that they can put it to a blowtorch, which is what we are doing with programs that do not have any sustainability or long term impact to the nation..." (Full audio, 1 min 14 sec)

Budget "Highlights"

Marc Comtois

For commenter edification, here are the three "highlights" of the just-passed House Budget, cribbed from the ProJo:

* Car Tax - 50-22 voted to cut around $120 million in car tax subsidies from cities and towns. Gave cities and towns the ability to implement their own car tax "to make up for the losses" by taxing car values after the first $500. So now, even your winter-beater is taxable.

* Education Aid - 50-19 to cut school aid by $31.3 million. $6.1 million offset by proposed pension cuts. Rep. Brian Newberry tried to offset another $2.3 million by killing the rub-and-tug (the legislative-grant money that Rep's and Sen's pass around to little leagues and the boy scouts, etc.), but that was shot down 43-29. Gotta keep the gravy train.

* Pension - 39-33 to limit the pension COLA to the first $35,000 in benefits. Requires pensioners to wait until age 65 before collecting COLAs. Rep. Joe Trillo tried to get it down to the first $12,500, but that was defeated.

* Restored - Proposed subsidized-housing cuts, the state's renewable energy fund, arts programs, and cancer screening programs for low-income women.

* Welfare - Did not extend July 1 deadline for cash-assistance and job-training program (welfare).

A Revolutionary Tax Twitch

Justin Katz

Here's a humorous note for perspective: That revolutionary tax "overhaul" that the folks in the General Assembly are trumpeting as such a big deal, but that still needs to be watered down to remain "revenue neutral"? It will move us past a whopping three states in business tax climate:

Rhode Island's tax climate for business would improve somewhat if the state adopted a tax-overhaul plan proposed by the General Assembly's Democratic leadership, the Tax Foundation said Wednesday.

Rhode Island now ranks 44th of the 50 states, among the 10 worst nationwide, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., that monitors government fiscal policy.

If the plan were implemented for this year, the group said, Rhode Island would rank 41st. "This indicates the plan would be a modest but positive change for the state's tax system," the group said in a report.

Look out Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Vermont! (PDF)

June 3, 2010

Don't Believe Senate President Paiva-Weed; the Judiciary Committee Was Not Circumvented, It Chose Not to Act on the E-Verify Bill

Carroll Andrew Morse

On Wednesday morning's John DePetro Show (WPRO 630AM), Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed described Senator Marc Cote's efforts to bring the E-verify bill to the Senate floor as being a circumvention of the hearing process in the Senate Judiciary Committee -- meaning either that Senator Paiva-Weed is unfamiliar with Senate procedures or that she is intentionally attempting to mislead the public.

Senate rule 6.5, utilized by Senator Cote to advance the e-verify bill, did not prevent committee action. Once the Senator notified the Senate Secretary that he was invoking his right to have the e-verify bill follow the process laid out in 6.5, Judiciary Chairman Michael McCaffrey had eight legislative days to schedule a hearing, then another eight legislative days following the hearing to act on the bill. If the hearing had been held and the committee had voted to defeat or table the bill (i.e. "to hold it for further study"), it would have been done for the session. Instead, the bill moved directly to the Senate floor, only because the Committee chairman failed to schedule a hearing for it.

Ultimately, the final decision not to go through the regular committee process was made not by Senator Cote, but by Chairman McCaffrey (or by whoever gives Chairman McCaffrey his orders). All Senator Cote did was trigger a safety-valve built into the Senate rules that is intended to prevent the leadership from being able to make a bill disappear through inaction, without any record of who was for or against it ever being reported to the public.

Senate Rule 6.5. is a more-than-reasonable check on the formal power of a small number of legislative leaders to control the entire legislative agenda, but a check that has been rarely used in the State Senate, because in the Bizarro World of the Rhode Island Democratic Party's political leadership, giving one or two people the power to make a bill disappear is the preferred way of doing things, while involving everyone in decision making and putting their votes into the public record is considered a parliamentary trick. Rhode Island Senators and Representatives -- and the voters who give them their jobs -- need to make a decision on how much undemocratic behavior from the Bizarro World they are willing to tolerate, especially given that they have the power to change things by choosing different leaders.

Always Money for the Trifles

Justin Katz

I don't know enough about the project in question to endorse his insinuations, but William Stanley, of Cranston, does point out a curious allocation of limited resources:

Both of these bridges are critical to the residents, especially because without them, such emergency services as police, rescue and firefighting must travel a considerable distance, and in that lost time a person could die.

What bothers me is that new sidewalks are being constructed in various places in West Warwick. Is it a coincidence that this is being done in the town that state Representatives William Murphy and Timothy Williamson, both powerful political figures, represent? Perhaps the money was earmarked to do the sidewalks, but under these emergency conditions, should not the money have been diverted to repair these critical bridges? Politics in Rhode Island? Nah!

Sometimes, complex systems like government simply allocate resources inefficiently, so corruption isn't necessarily in play. At the very least, though, we could suggest that Mr. Stanley's observation would be an excellent place to begin looking for means of improvement of government operations.

Allan Fung to Seek Second Term as Mayor of Cranston

Carroll Andrew Morse

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung announced last evening that he will seek a second term as Mayor. After he made his formal announcement, I had the opportunity to ask him a couple of quick questions...

Anchor Rising: Given your two-year track record, and what you'd like to accomplish, what's the reason people should vote for you to be Mayor of Cranston again?

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung: "We've gotten a lot done in the short year-and-a-half that we've been in office, getting hard concessions from the unions, not only in monetary savings to the tune of about 12 million dollars from all of the bargaining units, but also structural changes, stuff that's being talked about in every city and town in Rhode Island, from pensions and co-share increases to healthcare buybacks...I want to make sure that we have fiscal stability for generations to come..." (Audio, 1:00 min)

AR: At the state level, the magic word often being thrown around is "regionalization". What does that mean to you?

AF: "I am a strong supporter of a lot of consolidation issues. Actually, we've done a lot of consolidation in the short time I've been in office. I've joined a healthcare collaborative that's saved the cities hundreds of thousands of dollars on our healthcare administrative costs. I've been working with the city of Warwick on other types of consolidation of different departments that make sense for us..." (Audio, 1:30 min)

AR: Your two years as Mayor seem not to have produced a high-profile, establishment candidate on the Democratic side, at least not anyone who is admitting to it right now. Any comment on that?

AF: "The voters have a very big choice. They can vote for someone who has been here, leading in difficult times, not only in difficult budgetary times but also during the time of the floods...or we can go back to the old way..." (Audio, 0:52 min)

Contraception and Distortion of a Market

Justin Katz

Timothy Reichert had a very interesting analysis in the May issue of First Things applying economic and social science principles to the effect of the Pill on American relationships. (Unfortunately, the magazine appears to be having long-term technical difficulties with its firewall, so even a subscription might not enable access.) Here's the premise with which he begins:

What are the social processes that should be logically included under the rubric of contraception? First and foremost, contraception divides what was once a single mating "market," wherein men and women paired in marriage, into two separate markets — a market for sexual relationships that most people now frequent during the early phase of their adult lifetimes (I will refer to this as the "sex market"), and a market for marital relationships that is inhabited during the later phases (I will refer to this as the "marriage market").

Challenging the unmitigated blessing of birth control has been a secular apostasy for most of my adult life, but that's just another indication of the recklessness with which our society pursues immediate gratification without consideration of consequences. Even clearly positive developments — such as the end of racial segregation and the beginning of women's liberation — can have negative consequences that are exacerbated by the way in which a change of practice comes about and is sustained. It behooves us, then, to be frank about those consequences as something distinct from the emotional cry against recrudescence.

In the case of contraception, writes Reichert:

The result is easy to see. From the perspective of women, the sex market is one in which they have more bargaining power than men. They are the scarce commodity in this market and can command higher "prices" than men while inhabiting it.

But the picture is very different once these same women make the switch to the marriage market. The relative scarcity of marriageable men means that the competition among women for marriageable men is far fiercer than that faced by prior generations of women. Over time, this means that the "deals they cut" become worse for them and better for men.

Reichert doesn't take the obvious tangent of observing that women — especially young women — have been responding to this new dynamic by behaving increasingly like men in the sex market. Indeed, it's not a new point to suggest that the loosening of young women's inhibitions is overall to the benefit of men — young and old. Indeed, if letches of old had sought to design a system that played to their lusts, they couldn't have done much better than the path that we're currently on.

Reichert goes on to explore the effects of the split of the "mating market" on various aspects of life and relationships, and consistently finds that the changes are ultimately to the detriment of women — and the children to whom women are naturally more deeply bonded. The details are too extensive to summarize, here, but a passage that Reichert quotes from a 2009 article by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers offers the upshot:

... measures of subjective well-being indicate that women's happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women's declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups in industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging — one with higher subjective well-being for men.

RI has 2 of 7 "Junkiest Cities"

Marc Comtois


Think Greece and Spain are drowning in debt? Look a little closer to home. Seven U.S. cities recently had their municipal bonds downgraded below investment grade. Their debt is now junk, considered more worthless than that of the so-called PIIGS.

"America's short-term budget crises, long-term growth perspectives and needs for austerity are similar [to Greece]," said Matt Fabian, managing director at Concord, Mass.-based consulting firm Municipal Market Advisors.

Last quarter, Moody's Investor Services declared the debt issued by Harrisburg, Penn., and Woonsocket, R.I., to be junk, or below-investment grade. Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings currently has four other cities in the basement -- Detroit and Pontiac, Mich.; Harvey, Ill.; and Littlefield, Texas -- while Standard and Poor's has one -- Central Falls, R.I.

These seven cities are struggling under the weight of the recession. Residents are unemployed, and without a job, they can't pay their property taxes, which are the foundation of local budgets. And cities' operating expenses continue to soar; pension and debt payments don't go away. And as their credit gets worse, the cost of borrowing for municipal projects -- such as sewer plants and roads -- just gets more expensive.

"The fiscal stress is severe in cities around the country, and it's likely to stick around for at least a couple of more years," said Chris Hoene, director of policy and research at the National League of Cities.

2 of 7 from little Rhody? Ignomious distinction to say the least and reflective of deep cultural and political problems that we're all familiar with.

E-Verify and the General Assembly

Justin Katz

When Marc called in to the Matt Allen Show, last night, the two discussed E-Verify and the political system in Rhode Island. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

June 2, 2010

A Lament of Superficial Opposition

Justin Katz

David Hart is, above all, disappointed at the recent wave of "New Atheists" — at their superficiality and intellectual laziness, at the way (in essence) they present themselves as petulant adolescents still impressed with the fact that God does not strike them dead when they turn mom's crucifix upside down. Hart mainly wishes for some sense of profundity, and all believers should be keenly aware that it is more difficult to grow in faith when the faithless don't rise to the challenge of initial responses.

Contrast the current debate with Nietzsche, about whom Hart writes:

Because he understood the nature of what had happened when Christianity entered history with the annunciation of the death of God on the cross, and the elevation of a Jewish peasant above all gods, Nietzsche understood also that the passing of Christian faith permits no return to pagan naivete, and he knew that this monstrous inversion of values created within us a conscience that the older order could never have incubated. He understood also that the death of God beyond us is the death of the human as such within us. If we are, after all, nothing but the fortuitous effects of physical causes, then the will is bound to no rational measure but itself, and who can imagine what sort of world will spring up from so unprecedented and so vertiginously uncertain a vision of reality?

For Nietzsche, therefore, the future that lies before us must be decided, and decided between only two possible paths: a final nihilism, which aspires to nothing beyond the momentary consolations of material contentment, or some great feat of creative will, inspired by a new and truly worldly mythos powerful enough to replace the old and discredited mythos of the Christian revolution (for him, of course, this meant the myth of the Ubermensch).

Current atheists are right to shy from t Nietzschian project; the notion of an Ubermensch wrought a great deal of death and destruction in the last century. So, those who disclaim God based on their gut impressions of reality have little to offer beyond sniping as a means of ignoring the reality that, even if God were a created concept, He has served a purpose. Hart cites New Atheist A.C. Grayling as an example. The atheist points out, in his writings, that he prefers a painting of Aphrodite to those of a crucified Christ, and Hart responds:

Ignoring that leaden and almost perfectly ductile phrase "life-enhancing," I, too—red of blood and rude of health—would have to say I generally prefer the sight of nubile beauty to that of a murdered man's shattered corpse. The question of whether Grayling might be accused of a certain deficiency of tragic sense can be deferred here. But perhaps he would have done well, in choosing this comparison, to have reflected on the sheer strangeness, and the significance, of the historical and cultural changes that made it possible in the first place for the death of a common man at the hands of a duly appointed legal authority to become the captivating center of an entire civilization’s moral and aesthetic contemplations—and for the deaths of all common men and women perhaps to be invested thereby with a gravity that the ancient order would never have accorded them.

As a passing fancy, sex from the sea may be more compelling, but at some point lusting after a naked deity has to give way to the question of what the image indicates for humanity. One doesn't have to come to my conclusions, at that point, but the alternative is hardly life-enhancing if it eventually requires the suppression of our intellectual faculties.

One Degree of Disconnect, Part Two

Marc Comtois

I previously commented on the one degree of disconnect that I've come to believe is the core political problem in our state. The event that motivated that post was an immigration reform-related bill that was brought up in the RI House (kinda). Now, as Andrew and Monique have explained, the same shenanigans--again related to an immigration reform-related bill--have gone on in the Senate. And the problem is the same, but this event has pulled back the curtain even more.

This time it was the Senate President, Theresa Paiva Weed, with the help of Majority Leader Danel Connors, who killed the vote on E-verify. As I explained before, it's only a single degree of disconnect between the average RI voter and the Senate President or Speaker of the House. That "degree" is our local Senator or Representative, who we may think of as a good guy or gal and can't bring ourselves to punish for the actions of their leaders. Even though they selected them in the first place.

As Andrew pointed out, there are avenues that Democrats could have used to call the leadership on the procedural shenanigans on display last night. It took political courage to do it--which some of the Democrats appear to have--but in this case it also took some acumen to realize what was going on. They didn't: apparently (as brought to light on the Dan Yorke Show) Sen. Marc Cote was led down the procedural primrose path by Paiva Weed herself. Now we have another instance of a Democratically elected leader, Senator Paiva Weed, exercising unilateral power to quash a bill that had strong support publicly and within the Legislature.

So what happens now? Will the Democrat Senators take this into account when judging whether or not to select Paiva Weed as their leader next session? Will voters take this into account before voting to re-elect those who continue to enable this type of "leadership"?

Re: The Legislative Leadership Is Not Nearly As Powerful as our Rank and File Legislators Let Them Be

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Karen Lee Ziner of the Projo, the e-verify bill that was recommitted to the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee last evening had 19 co-sponsors, exactly half of our 38-member Senate...

[Senator Marc Cote] said he felt so strongly about, and had such support for his bill (19 co-sponsors) that he decided to invoke a parliamentary procedure apparently last used in 1995. That rule, 6.5, allowed him to put the bill on the calendar without committee deliberations, circumventing years of resistance to a floor vote.
A few Senators were absent from the floor session last evening, so we don't know if supporters of the bill comprised a majority of those present and voting, but we do know that a roll-call vote should be used when the numbers are this close. The question is, besides waiting for the Peter Palumbos and the Marc Cotes to wait too long to take action yet again next year, can anything be done now?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. The antidote to politics is often politics. If the 19 co-sponsors are serious about their responsibilities as elected members of a legislature which is supposed to be engaged in deliberative decision making, they should announce publicly that they can no longer support current Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed in any future Senate leadership election, on the grounds that she is unable to carry out the basic responsibilities of her position in a manner consistent with the principles of majority rule.

    Of course, this will not occur if we have a bunch of Senators who are happy to give away to someone else the legislative responsibilities that they have been entrusted with by their constituents, in which case the willingness of legislative candidates to support leaders who will not allow their votes to be counted becomes a legitimate campaign issue, i.e. a vote for Christopher Maselli is a vote for Teresa Paiva-Weed, and a vote to let Teresa Paiva-Weed make all of the important decisions that Christopher Maselli should be making.

  2. However, Senator Marc Cote and the other primary sponsors of this year's e-verify bill (including Republicans Leo Blais and David Bates) need to be asked why they were unprepared to exercise their rights to have their votes included as part of the record, and specifically, if they really had a majority, why they did not bring the e-verify bill out of committee via the procedure specified in Senate rule 6.10, which would have required that every Senator wanting to speak on the subject to be heard at least once, before a vote on a motion to recommit could be taken.

  3. Finally, it is worth making a note of a quirk of the Senate rules, which Senators who are serious about the principle that votes need be counted when a legislative body makes a decision (if there are any) could use today. RI Senate rules allow for a motion to reconsider a bill. However, the rules are explicit that a motion to reconsider must be offered on the same legislative day that the original vote was taken, so this is not what I am suggesting. There is also a provision in the Senate rules allowing a Senator to change his or her vote (with permission of the majority of the Senate) again provided that the request for a change is made on the same day as the original vote. And there is also a provision in the Senate rules that allows any Senator to have his vote recorded in the Senate Journal on matters where the roll was not called but without any expressed time-limit on when this right can be invoked. So if there are a majority of Rhode Island State Senators who wanted to pass the e-verify bill that was killed by the leadership last night, they should at the earliest available opportunity exercise their right to enter into the Senate Journal how they voted, and make the Senate leadership's undemocratic action a part of the official public record.

    This assumes, of course, that we have Senators who are more interested in good government than in obedience to Senate leadership. But if nothing else, wouldn't you like to see Democratic Majority Leader Daniel Connors respond to Senators asking to have their votes recorded by hopping out of his seat and shouting that counting votes is out of order in the Rhode Island legislature; individual votes don't matter here.

The Underlying Assumption of the Leftist Taxers

Justin Katz

In a review of some of the tax consequences of Obamacare, Grafton Willey conveys this bit of policy that one suspects underlies many of the assumptions of those who advance policies in the mold of nationalized healthcare:

Imposing a 3.8 percent "unearned-income Medicare contributions" tax on higher-income taxpayers. The 3.8 percent unearned-income Medicare contributions tax is imposed on the lesser of net investment income or the excess of modified adjusted gross income (AGI) over the threshold amount ($200,000 for single individuals or heads of households; $250,000 for married couples filing a joint return and surviving spouses; and $125,000 for married couples filing separate returns).

Neither the $200,000 nor $250,000 amounts are indexed for inflation. Modified AGI is adjusted gross income increased by the amount excluded from income as foreign earned income less deductions attributable to such income.

Net investment income includes interest, dividends, royalties, rents, gain from disposing of property from a passive activity and income earned from a trade or business that is a passive activity. In determining net investment income, investment income is reduced by deductions properly allowed to that income.

Net investment income does not include distributions from qualified retirement plans, including pensions and certain retirement accounts. For example, income from individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401(a) money purchase plans, 403(b) and 457(b) plans would be exempt.

Some of the hardest work that I've ever done was the back-room labor involved in selling fish from a truck, and there were times, while hauling crates in the snow or cleaning putrid wooden boxes in the beating sun, that I marveled that it should be so difficult to earn $7 per hour and wondered what one could possibly do to "earn" the salaries of the wealthy. (For clarity: I look back on those days very fondly and came around to appreciating them even while they were in process.)

I don't offer that anecdote as a means of transforming economic ignorance into a populist cry. To the contrary: the notion of "earned income" is hopelessly subjective and, therefore, merely a dash of political rhetoric to justify confiscatory taxation. Consider the amount of money that President Obama has earned as an author. Personally, I love writing and undertake it as a compulsion and balm. But in the course of lugging a table saw up the narrow steps to the third floor of a Newport mansion, I might be inclined to challenge the assertion that Mr. Obama "earned" that money in the sense implied by the Medicare tax.

When Management Acknowledges Its Own Cards

Justin Katz

Two factors are obvious in making Rhode Island school committees behave as if authority over the jobs is ultimately a weak card in negotiations: Some members see giving as much money as possible to teachers as one of their rightful objectives (whether they're teachers, themselves, or have some other reason for alliance), and other members are people who see their positions as a matter of community service, and they entered them not expecting to have to stand against organized, bare-knuckle negotiators.

Of course, Rhode Island has also set up a series of implied rules and what one might call "legal insinuations" that have led motivated school committee members to hesitate. That's why it took East Providence's challenging those insinuations — and winning — before its school committee could arrive at this point:

While it seems one-sided, the pact secures teachers' salaries and benefits. The School Committee imposed its 2009 salary and benefit cuts after the previous contact expired.

Read the article for the details, but the point that I wish to highlight, here, is that running the school system is not exactly a powerless position, when it comes to negotiations. It's well past time for Rhode Islanders in positions of authority to stop shirking their responsibility to think and act independently of the deadly, draining illusion drawn for the benefit of the state's public sector unions.

June 1, 2010

Stop This. The Legislative Leadership Is Not Nearly As Powerful as our Rank and File Legislators Let Them Be.

Carroll Andrew Morse

I watched the Capitol TV replay of the recommission of the E-verify bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed announced the bill, Majority Leader Daniel Connors immediately made the motion to recommit, and a voice vote was taken. Senator Connors was correct in saying that Senate rules do not allow any debate on a motion to recommit.

However, as is frequently the case in the Rhode Island legislature, the commands of the leadership are not nearly as final as the legislators we elect allow them to be.

There were at least two fundamental actions that E-verify supporters, supporters of democracy and supporters of the general principle of counting votes had available to them to make sure that the E-Verify bill was not disposed of via unilateral leadership action.

  1. According to Senate rule 8.1, just one (1) Senator requesting a roll call vote would have made the roll call vote a requirement...
    Method of Voting. The electronic roll of the senate shall be called upon any vote pertaining to a public bill and for passage of the consent calendar and on any other vote at the request of any senator present; otherwise, votes shall be put by yeas and nays. In naming sums or numbers, and fixing times, the largest sum or longest time shall be put first.
    ...but no Senator made that request.
  2. According to Senate rule 8.8.2, even when an issue is decided by a yays-and-nays vote, any Senator has the right to have his or her vote entered into the Senate Journal...
    Upon request, on any non-recorded vote, any senator shall have his or her vote recorded so that it shall appear in the journal of the senate.
    ...which raises an interesting possibility: what would happen if, after a voice vote was declared by the leadership to have passed, a majority of Senators immediately followed by requesting that their individual votes be recorded in the negative (that is, what would happen to the bill, after the leadership immediately resigned in disgrace)?
Alas, we will never find out the answer to this question, as long as we keep electing Senators (and Representatives) who choose not making waves with the leadership when it really matters over presenting their views on important legislation to their constituents and to the general public.

E-Verify to Be Voted on by the Rhode Island Senate Late Today

Monique Chartier

Under Marc's post, Joe Bernstein points out that

RI needed E-verify

Yes, it does. Present tense: it needs e-verify.

Jobs are the single biggest enticement for people to come here - here to the United States and here to Rhode Island - without respect for the law. This was clearly demonstrated when our economy tanked a year and a half ago: millions of jobs evaporated and the rate of illegal immigration dropped correspondingly.

Further, there's a sleazy but undeniable competitive advantage to businesses who hire undocumented immigrants. Quoting RISC,

Over 2,200 Rhode Island employers already use E-Verify, but an additional 16,000 would be added with passage of S-2348. Our bill would level the playing field for those 2,200 conscientious employers, so that they are not disadvantaged by doing the right thing and hiring only legal workers.
Not to mention the exploitative situation posed by employers who hire undocumenteds under the table.

If you get a minute, please consider calling your state senator (click here or call the Senate President's office at 222-6655 to obtain your senator's phone number) to urge them to vote for legal immigrants, citizens and conscientious employers and against exploitation and sleaze.

UPDATE - Democracy quashed on Smith Hill

Senator Ed O'Neill just advised WPRO's Matt Allen that as soon as the bill came up, Senator Connors moved to recommit it to committee; i.e., to effectively kill it for the year. There was then inexplicably a voice rather than an electronic vote. The Senate President "heard" a majority vote in favor of sending the bill back to committee and, in due course, the loyal Parliamentarian upheld her ruling.

Senator O'Neill opined to Matt that the bill itself would have passed. It's hard to argue in view of the fact that the bill had 19 co-sponsors.

It appears that the Rhode Island Senate has been replaced by a monarchy.

(Thanks to MadMom for the initial heads-up.)

Obligatory June 1 Horse-Race Post

Marc Comtois

It's June, the first day in fact, and there's a new poll out from Rasmussen (via ProJo) with a snapshot of the RI Governor's race. The scenario summary:

Lincoln Chafee (I) - 35%
Frank Caprio (D) - 32%
John Robitaille (R) - 25%
Undecided - 9%
= = = = = =
Frank Caprio (D) - 35%
Lincoln Chafee (I) - 33%
Victor Moffitt (R) - 22%
Undecided - 10%
= = = = = =
Lincoln Chafee (I) - 37%
John Robitaille (R) - 29%
Patrick Lynch (D) - 19%
Undecided - 15%
= = = = = =
Lincoln Chafee (I) - 35%
Victor Moffitt (R) - 28%
Patrick Lynch (D) - 24%
Undecided - 13%
= = = = = =

Moderate Party candidate Ken Block wasn't included in the poll. Doesn't look good for Lynch and it looks like it doesn't matter (too much) who runs for the GOP.

The Guardian's Conspicuous Armor

Justin Katz

A recent column by John Derbyshire was more entertaining than usual. I say that, in part, because I greatly sympathize with his suspicion of the medical arts — although I've never calculated out the risks entailed with various tests as compared with the risk of not taking them.

But what's really lodged in my imagination is the summary of a short story with which he opens the piece:

Science fiction writer Robert Sheckley wrote a story titled "Protection" whose first-person protagonist acquires a guardian angel. The angel is actually a validusian derg — an invisible, immaterial being from another plane of existence, present only as a voice in one's head. The derg's sole satisfaction is to keep a human being safe from harm.

Like all pacts with the supernatural, this one turns out to have a downside. By taking on the derg, our narrator has made himself conspicuous to that other realm. Dangers multiply. The derg explains:

"If you accept protection, you must accept the drawbacks of protection ..."

"Are you trying to tell me," I said, very slowly, "that my risks have increased because of your help?"

"It was unavoidable," he sighed.

In a practical sense, one can observe that accepting protection inherently entails choosing a side, making the protector's conflicts one's own, so it's a subject for Derbyshire's calculation of risks. But there's also an element of tempting fate.

A client asked me, the other day, whether I'm an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist. I replied that I believe that good things are bound to happen... but only to other people. It's probably pessimism to be looking for the other shoe, when things are going well, and to expect exacerbation when things are going badly — although the individual can certainly plea realism, given particular experiences. When it comes to tempting fate, however, one might as well take the route of conspicuity; if doom is inevitable, the more interesting and dramatic path thereto is surely preferable.

Which brings in the underlying optimism, I suppose, that in the end, we're just gathering anecdotes to share in Heaven (one hopes)

While Your Eye Is on the Tax Cutting Hand

Justin Katz

Something just isn't adding up with the news out of the General Assembly about this supposed "tax overhaul." According to some details explained by Neil Downing, it looks like all taxpayers would make out pretty well under the Senate's version, although the rich and the single appear to get the best deal, relatively speaking. Those on the lower end of the scale would appear to do pretty well, also, with only middle-income families facing a question mark. The one possible trick toward which Downing points is that the flat tax would disappear, and although the new top bracket would equal the current flat tax, those expecting it to drop to 5.5% for next year would be disappointed.

The peculiarity — as distinct from the vague sense that something isn't right — emerges with a subsequent article:

But the plan cannot be approved as it stands because it would result in lower state tax revenue, forcing the state's budget out of balance, a top negotiator said. ...

But the plan would also implement other provisions to reduce taxes. As a consequence, overall, 61 percent of taxpayers would see a tax decrease, 18 percent a tax increase and 21 percent no change, according to Senate fiscal office figures.

But the plan would also reduce state tax revenues by about $11.5 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2011 (and more in later years), Senate fiscal office figures show.

The key question is who the 18% seeing a tax increase would be, especially in light of the fact that they'd be taking the burden of 61%. The curious question is why such a big deal is being made of an $11.5 million shortfall. Personally, I'd like to see government revenue decreased by many times that amount, but if the goal is to pass something revenue neutral right away, it shouldn't be difficult to make that up.

Perhaps my RI-skepticism is too finely tuned, but if we see another General Assembly session come and go, in the next few weeks, without fruits from all of this hype, I'll be inclined to wonder what they were actually trying to distract us from. (Apart, of course, from the mountain collapsing beneath our feet.)