July 31, 2010

A Post Facto Rival

Justin Katz

Don't these people realize the work that Rhode Island's leaders have already put into handing a lucrative government contract to a particular wind farm developer?

A Canadian company that says it can provide Rhode Island with renewable power at a cheaper price than Deepwater Wind is urging state regulators to stop their review of a long-term contract involving the offshore-wind developer.

TransCanada Power has filed a motion to dismiss a case before the state Public Utilities Commission for a power-purchase agreement between National Grid, Rhode Island’s main electric utility, and Deepwater, the New Jersey company proposing an eight-turbine wind farm in waters off Block Island. The PUC will hold a hearing on the motion Tuesday morning.

Sheesh. It's as if TransCanada thinks this ought to be relevant to the process of providing Rhode Islanders with power:

The total price of energy from the Kibby project would be lower than 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, said Tucker. At that price, the power would be less than half the cost of power from Deepwater's Block Island wind farm.

No, no, and no again. Rhode Island is going to become the wind-energy hub of the universe no matter how much it hurts our residents or economy, and no Maine project providing the same product for half the price is going to stop us!

Why Dependency Is Chronic

Justin Katz

The article, by Neil Downing, takes the tack of describing people who find their Social Security checks indispensable, but the recipient numbers are the important part, to my mind:

Now, 200,202 Rhode Islanders are collecting Social Security benefits, according to newly issued figures from the Social Security Administration’s Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics. ...

Nationwide, Social Security beneficiaries now number more than 52.5 million, up from 50.9 million as of December 2008, and 49.9 million as of December 2007.

Drawing on U.S. Census data, 19% —almost one-fifth — of Rhode Islanders receive some sort of Social Security benefit (which compares with 17% nationwide). The ratio is going to grow, given retiring Baby Boomers, shrinking generations, and longer lives, bringing the feasibility of the program into question.

The larger lesson (which one can see national politicians, especially Democrats, have learned) is that it's possible to buy constituencies. The trap of European quasisocialism (or the real thing) is that the political parties begin striving to prove that they can better manage benefits, not to admit that they are far less competent than the citizenry to manage individual lives.

Still Teaching While Catholic?

Justin Katz

Commenter Brassband notes, in the comment section of my post on the University of Illinois' firing of a professor of Catholic thought for teaching Catholic thought, has been offered his job back (via American Papist):

The university released a statement today saying that Howell's appointment as an adjunct instructor in the Religion Department — teaching Religion 127, Introduction to Catholicism — will be continued for the fall.

A review of whether Howell’s firing by the Religion Department violated his academic freedom is continuing, the university said.

In making the move, the university also announced it will now pay those teaching Catholic-related courses rather than have them paid by a church group.

That last point, though, is perhaps reason for concern:

... The prohibition against Dr. Howell's association with the Newman Center is another violation of his academic freedom and it is likewise a violation of his freedom of religion. How many other adjuncts or part time faculty are prevented from working for an organization associated with their faith as a condition of employment?

The U of I appears to be making an economically untenable offer with the intent of voiding a 90+ year relationship with the Newman Center. I suspect that they are banking on the fact that since Dr. Howell cannot work for the Newman Center, which paid him a full professor's salary, he will not be able to afford to take the position. The U of I is offering him perhaps a little more than a quarter of his Newman Center salary.

From a distance, it sure does look like an anti-religious political maneuver.

July 30, 2010

Issues Big and Small

Justin Katz

I've been preoccupied, today, with the sorts of thoughts that are hugely important to the individual, but quotidian details on a larger scale... and there's been so much on that larger scale that might otherwise have merited consideration. The economy, obviously:

The recovery lost momentum in the spring as growth slowed to a 2.4 percent pace, its most sluggish showing in nearly a year and too weak to drive down unemployment. ...

... the recovery has been losing power for two straight quarters. That raises concerns about whether it will fizzle out. Or worse, tip back into a "double-dip" recession. ...

In the revisions issued Friday, the government estimated that the economy shrank 2.6 percent last year -- the steepest drop since 1946. That's worse than the 2.4 percent decline originally estimated. The economy's plunge underscores why the unemployment rate surged to 10.1 percent in October, a 26-year high.

Businesses appear to have the resources to expand, but it's all about the uncertainty, and uncertainty has been the theme of the current Congress and administration. Thousands of pages of invasive law creating new bureaucracies to impose unwritten regulations. Those with resources, in other words, have reason to hold their breath.

The Gulf spill is another big item, today:

The generally accepted view of the Deepwater Horizon disaster has focused on the blowout preventer and the non-standard procedures BP conducted just before the explosion and fire. However, most of the damage and the main source of the spill came from the collapse and sinking of the DH platform rather than the initial explosion. A new report by the Center for Public Integrity, based on testimony from people on scene and Coast Guard logs, contains evidence that the platform sunk because of a botched response from the Coast Guard, which failed to coordinate firefighting efforts and to get the proper resources to fight the fire.

And the controversy will continue. Of course, now that BP has promised its billions in aid and the investigations into the incident pick up steam, we hear this:

Yes, the spill killed birds — but so far, less than 1% of the number killed by the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska 21 years ago. Yes, we've heard horror stories about oiled dolphins — but so far, wildlife-response teams have collected only three visibly oiled carcasses of mammals. Yes, the spill prompted harsh restrictions on fishing and shrimping, but so far, the region's fish and shrimp have tested clean, and the restrictions are gradually being lifted. And yes, scientists have warned that the oil could accelerate the destruction of Louisiana's disintegrating coastal marshes — a real slow-motion ecological calamity — but so far, assessment teams have found only about 350 acres of oiled marshes, when Louisiana was already losing about 15,000 acres of wetlands every year.

Sometimes, it's difficult to know what to believe, when the issue isn't right there in front of you. Another argument, I'd suggest, for small, decentralized government.

Now back to my personal preoccupations...

The Effects of Minimum Wage

Justin Katz

This is a familiar argument, but given the attractiveness of government fiat, it seems it must be had again and again:

Three years after the passage of federal wage legislation, teen employment prospects are suffering tremendously. The unemployment rate for 16 to 19-year-olds remains above 25 percent; for those ages 16 to 17, the unemployment rate is close to 30 percent. While the recession has been a significant cause of teens' employment woes, some advocacy groups have claimed that it's the only cause — downplaying any employment loss caused by the more than 40 percent increase in the federal minimum wage that occurred over the same time period. ...

Using state-specific variations in minimum wage growth, and carefully controlling for the effects of the recession and other state economic differences, Even and Macpherson are able to isolate only the decline in teen employment that was caused by the federal wage hike.

For the 19 states affected by all three stages of the federal wage hike, there was a 6.9 percent decline in employment for teens aged 16 to 19. This translates to approximately 98,000 fewer employed teens. Broadening the analysis to include all 32 states impacted by any stage of the federal wage increase, the authors find approximately 114,400 fewer employed teens.

Of course, teen employment is only one segment of the total entry-level employment pool, but it's surely representative, and it's particularly notable which subsegment is likely to be hardest hit:

When Even and Macpherson look specifically at 16 to 19-year-olds with less than 12 years of education, the proportional employment loss grows larger. In states impacted by all three wage hikes, there was a 12.4 percent decrease in teen employment.

Yes, this subsegment overlaps teens who are presumably still in school, but even so, they're losing valuable experience in the workforce. The ripple effects in the economy are surely substantial, from increased responsibility for higher-level employees, decreased opportunity for employers to expand, and growing attractiveness of immigrant labor.

July 29, 2010

Debt and Taxes — Big Either Way

Justin Katz

Brian Riedl likens our growing national debt to the bubble that's left many of us owing more for our houses than they're worth, forcing others into destitution, and holding our economy under water:

In short, between 2009 and 2020, Washington is set to borrow more than three times more than in the previous 220 years combined. How has this been possible? Because Washington, like many homeowners, was lured by temporary low- interest rates. Since 2000, the interest rate on the 10-year Treasury note has fallen from 6 to 3 percent. The U.S. Treasury has lowered its interest costs further by shifting toward cheaper short-term debt. Thus, nearly half of government debt will need to be refinanced in the next 12 months, and nearly two-thirds will require refinancing within 36 months. So even though the national debt has surged since 2000, the annual net interest costs have actually declined from $223 billion to $209 billion. Consequently, some commentators are downplaying the long-term cost of rising debt. In doing so, they display a failure to understand interest-rate trends.

Enter President Obama's Deficit Commission, which appears to be preparing to raise taxes to the tune of $26.7 trillion to make up 25% of the projected shortfall for Social Security and Medicare. At almost twice GDP, that means that even if the government manages to cut other spending enough to make up three-quarters of the problem, the equivalent of our entire economy will have to be siphoned away for two years.

Re: Federal Money, Federal Guidelines; and Local Control?

Justin Katz

It may be that I'm just more cynical than Marc, but with respect to Race to the Top, I can't help but muse that government reforms always sound good — otherwise, politicians wouldn't try to sell them. Suppose that the goal of education policy, at the national level, is to increase the federal government's role in that critical area of social development, while offering short-term political advantage to those who implement it.

The trick on the latter count would be to persuade those who want substantive reform that the new policy is not just talk — therefore, support for charters and standards for presumed accountability of educators — while comforting those invested in the broken system that they won't be harmed — therefore, the requirement that states' Race to the Top applications garner teacher union support. The trick on the former count would be to build the program in a way that allows the tendencies of growing government to finish the job quietly — as if natural and inevitable. Two points that Marc makes bring that trick into focus:

If something fails, stop doing it. If it looks promising but may need some modifications, tweak it.

The problem is that government (especially large, centralized government) is less inclined toward such modifications than the average group or individual. Somebody with political power is already invested in the something that is failing, and with the long process of accountability in a national bureaucracy, it takes quite a bit for general dissatisfaction with government services to overcome such investments and stop the failure.

However, a Common Core is just that--a "core" of educational standards, not the end-all, be-all. It is the baseline standard that should be met. It's not the ceiling, it's the floor. ...

Federal help only undermines local control if reformers view federal standards as the ultimate goal and not the jumping off point.

In a gradual federal takeover of education, the floor is enough (and too much), to start. It will henceforth be available to the political process to layer in all those "critical" baselines that statists and social engineers find much more interesting than basic math and English. First science enters the field — not just the basic facts of what we know about the interaction of particles and waves and such, but bleeding into the inevitable metaphysical questions. No doubt health and all of the behavioral implications thereof — sexual, dietary, and so on — will come up for application to the core. Perhaps civics and history will be next, with even more opportunity for government spin.

Every government program proposed will have attractive points, because human beings do have the capacity to work together intelligently toward common goals. Individual incentive for corruption is the limiting factor, though, and eroding the government structure that seeks to empower society to work cohesively while protecting it from invidious encroachment by those with tax and police authority will never end where our hopes declare that it might.

Clarifying a Point on Immigration

Marc Comtois

In my conversation with Matt last night about the Arizona immigration law court decision, I mentioned that I had come across an interesting point: that the Federal lawsuit against Arizona shows that comprehensive immigration reform probably won't work because the enforcement provisions of any such plan will be litigated (and thus implementation delayed) while the other aspects are enacted. Mark Krikorian is the one who posted about this and ascribed the point to Steve Camarota:

Any employer verification system will be challenged in court. So will any efforts to coordinate immigration enforcement with local police. Immigration lawyers also will fight every effort to detain more of their clients. Building new fencing and dealing with environmental and property rights issues at the border will involve legal battles. While in time these things almost certainly will pass legal muster, court injunctions and proceedings will hold up enforcement for years.

Borders, National and Educational

Justin Katz

Marc and Matt discussed (independently) immigration and education on last night's Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

July 28, 2010

Federal Money, Federal Guidelines; and Local Control?

Marc Comtois

So, in the Race to the Top sweepstakes (Round 2), Rhode Island has made the final 19, which is sorta like making the NHL or NBA playoffs where about half of the "regular season" competitors qualify. Some of the key components included in RI's application include recent reforms like the passage of a school funding formula, the raising of the charter school cap, an increase in the teacher exam "cut" score, and the integration of Teach for America teachers into RI schools. Prospective reforms include the development of a new teacher evaluation system and formally adopting the Common Core national standards (Rhode Island has already signed off on the concept). The recent actions taken in Central Falls and Providence (and perhaps East Providence) probably also help make the case that the state is ready to tackle reform head on.

If Rhode Island should "win" the $75 million up for grabs, that money will go towards implementing some reforms and helping the educational infrastructure in the state. In other words, it'll help pay for the development of a teacher evaluation system and a new bunch of state standards based on the national Common Core standards being formulated.

Concerns and debate about the Common Core are bubbling up. As Frederick Hess writes:

Fordham Institute honchos Checker Finn and Mike Petrilli argued last week in a thoughtful National Review Online column that the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) fueled an explosion of mediocre state standards, undermining accountability and reform. They see the Common Core as a remedy. University of Arkansas professor Jay Greene responded that there's good reason to believe that the Common Core won't deliver on its promises and that it will impose real costs.
That's where it gets tricky, of course. A pile of money that can be used on potential good stuff is different than a pile of money spent on programs that missed the mark or didn't get properly implemented, ie; No Child Left Behind. Hess thinks the points are all valid.
The Common Core standards are superior to those in place in most states, and transparency and market efficiency can benefit dramatically from a clear, rigorous national standard. Uniform standards and performance measures can help us test new educational techniques on a level playing field, so that we can deliver useful tools and techniques to more schools and students. These are all things that conservatives can embrace....But this "state-led" effort has been aggressively driven by the Obama administration, there's a huge chance that it will dramatically boost federal control of K-12 schooling, that teachers' unions and other status quo interests will make their influence felt, and that state and local control will be undermined.
However, a Common Core is just that--a "core" of educational standards, not the end-all, be-all. It is the baseline standard that should be met. It's not the ceiling, it's the floor. Unfortunately, getting people to shoot higher than above the minimum--whether their education bureaucrats or students--is always a challenge. And as Hess explains, while the big picture stuff is easy, it's the all-important small stuff that gets short shrift because, well, it can be boring.
Past experience teaches that the odds aren't great that states, funders, vendors, and the feds will maintain their stride when it comes to making the tedious, small-bore, and potentially costly--but critical--revisions to assessments, accountability, curricula, professional development, teacher education, and instructional materials....the aftermath [of No Child Left Behind] reminded us that grand political projects (conservative or liberal) tend to look best in the early days.
Follow-through and keeping the feedback loop flowing are critical towards implementing reform and maintaining reforms. Nothing is static; things change. If something fails, stop doing it. If it looks promising but may need some modifications, tweak it. If it works, do it more often and in more places. Easy to say, harder to do in today's arthritic and stratified 20th century industrial age education system. But that's the point of reform: to change what we've got into something better.

I have reservations about allowing the Federal government's foot, ankle and possibly knee into the local education door. But I'm hopeful that Race to the Top will be an effective means to implement much needed reform (we can agree reform is "much needed", right?). As Education Secretary Arne Duncan pointed out, just competing for the money has resulted in many states implementing reforms to be more competitive. That's certainly been the case in Rhode Island.

Yet, simply winning the RTTT isn't victory and piecemeal implementation won't work. It will only be a success if the RTTT funds are used wisely in the implementation of systemic changes tailored to Rhode Island's education system. It is possible to use federal money and abide by federal standards while also maintaining local control and setting our own educational priorities. Federal help only undermines local control if reformers view federal standards as the ultimate goal and not the jumping off point. Let's hope Rhode Island's education policy makers keep that in mind. Like I said, I'm hopeful (which is different than optimistic).

Turnaround Dictator Comes with Big Bucks

Justin Katz

If there are going to be public-sector pensions, then judges should receive reasonable ones, and somebody being paid to turn around a failing municipality should be compensated well for undertaking the responsibility, but state Senator William Walaska (D, Warwick) has a point about the amounts involved in Central Falls:

I was outraged when I read that retired Superior Court Judge Mark S. Pfeiffer would accept payment of $200 an hour, up to a cap of $164,000, as the receiver for Central Falls, on top of his $123,490-a-year state pension (Journal: "Retired judge steps in to run finances," July 17). His wife is District Court Judge Pamela Woodcock Pfeiffer, who is paid $148,900 a year. This doesn't even count the money that Judge Pfeiffer is making as an arbitrator.

Unseated mayor Charles Moreau, you might recall, was receiving the healthy sum of $71,736 in salary (plus plenty of perks, no doubt). Why the receiver — who already has much for which to be grateful to the State of Rhode Island — requires twice the mayor's old pay must be (let's just say) above my pay grade to understand.

Of Rates and Levies

Justin Katz

This intra-conservative debate in East Providence points to one of those issues that tends to slide under residents' awareness:

[Mayor Joseph] Larisa is now trying to solidify tax limits by putting language into the city's Home Rule Charter. Charter amendments have to be approved by voters in a referendum, while ordinances are approved — and can be repealed — by a council majority. ...

But Bill Murphy, spokesman for the East Providence Taxpayers Association, said the charter language isn't identical to the ordinance and the changes, although "subtle," are a "step in the wrong direction."

Larisa has changed the limit from one on the total tax "levy" to one on the tax rate.

I've noted before that, in Tiverton, those who set policy treat the tax rate as entirely incidental to the levy, while in Providence, the change in tax rate has been a major fight. On one hand, focusing on the rate more closely aligns with the meaning of the tax; you're paying based on what your property is worth, and if you property values decrease you have less wealth and should therefore pay less. On the other hand, focusing on the levy insulates the town from downturns in the market, but it also prevents the town from taking upturns in the market as well as the fruits of economic development as an excuse to grow — which could become a huge problem when the market contracts or the tax base decreases.

For the record, I'm with Murphy, on this one.

Teaching While Catholic

Justin Katz

There may be more to the story, but it appears that University of Illinois Adjunct Associate Professor of Religious Studies Kenneth Howell has lost his job for the offense of teaching Catholic thought as if it might be worth considering as something more than a curious human error.

Kenneth Howell was told after the spring semester ended that he would no longer be teaching in the UI's Department of Religion. The decision came after a student complained about a discussion of homosexuality in the class in which Howell taught that the Catholic Church believes homosexual acts are morally wrong. ...

One of his lectures in the introductory class on Catholicism focuses on the application of natural law theory to a social issue. In early May, Howell wrote a lengthy e-mail to his students, in preparation for an exam, in which he discusses how the theory of utilitarianism and natural law theory would judge the morality of homosexual acts.

That 1,500-word email clearly stays on the explanatory side of the line from advocacy, getting into trouble mainly at the end, at which point, Howell makes the mistake of suggesting that Catholic teachings are not small-minded gobbledygook, but the rational conclusions of long consideration and must be responded to with the same:

Natural Moral Theory says that if we are to have healthy sexual lives, we must return to a connection between procreation and sex. Why? Because that is what is REAL. It is based on human sexual anatomy and physiology. Human sexuality is inherently unitive and procreative. If we encourage sexual relations that violate this basic meaning, we will end up denying something essential about our humanity, about our feminine and masculine nature.

I know this doesn't answer all the questions in many of your minds. All I ask as your teacher is that you approach these questions as a thinking adult. That implies questioning what you have heard around you. Unless you have done extensive research into homosexuality and are cognizant of the history of moral thought, you are not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter. All I encourage is to make informed decisions. As a final note, a perceptive reader will have noticed that none of what I have said here or in class depends upon religion. Catholics don't arrive at their moral conclusions based on their religion. They do so based on a thorough understanding of natural reality.

This was too much for a student who had "a friend" in Professor Howell's class, who made it clear in his email to the head of the religion department, Robert McKim, copied to LGBT activists and a journalist, that he finds it offensive to be told that knowledge and learning should precede judgment:

Anyways, my friend informed me that things got especially provocative when discussing homosexuality. He sent me the following e-mail, which I believe you will agree is downright absurd once you read it.

I am in no way a gay rights activist, but allowing this hate speech at a public university is entirely unacceptable. It sickens me to know that hard-working Illinoisans are funding the salary of a man who does nothing but try to indoctrinate students and perpetuate stereotypes. Once again, this is a public university and should thus have no religious affiliation. Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing. Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another. The courses at this institution should be geared to contribute to the public discourse and promote independent thought; not limit one's worldview and ostracize people of a certain sexual orientation.

In actuality, Howell's position was funded by "the Institute of Catholic Thought, part of St. John's Catholic Newman Center on campus and the Catholic Diocese of Peoria," but even if that were not the case, Howell's firing — if based on this complaint, or even a string of such complaints — is evidence of a profound anti-intellectualism that conservatives believe pervades American higher education. Whether "homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man" is a matter of debate, and if it is the case that Catholic philosophy's centuries of development have arrived at such erroneous conclusions that undergraduate students who aren't even studying them can declare them "downright absurd," then that debate ought to be handily won.

Instead, "inclusivity" has trumped intellect:

In another e-mail, Ann Mester, associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, wrote that she believes "the e-mails sent by Dr. Howell violate university standards of inclusivity, which would then entitle us to have him discontinue his teaching arrangement with us."

A frightening phrase, that: "entitle us to have him discontinue his teaching arrangement with us." Beware your students, believing Christians. You may find yourself privileged to allow passive-voiced administrators to avoid uncomfortable ideas.

July 27, 2010

Seriously, It Was a Republican in a Barney Frank Disguise, Right?

Monique Chartier

And then there are those wholly voluntary, real-life incidents more valuable to the opposition than a million dollars in negative ads. If only the congressman had shown one tenth the passion and resistance for the loss of billions of our dollars via Fannie and Freddie that he demonstrated for a single one of his own dollars.

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank caused a scene when he demanded a $1 senior discount on his ferry fare to Fire Island's popular gay haunt, The Pines, last Friday. Frank was turned down by ticket clerks at the dock in Sayville because he didn't have the required Suffolk County Senior Citizens ID. A witness reports, "Frank made such a drama over the senior rate that I contemplated offering him the dollar to cool down the situation."

Brilliance Isn't Enough

Marc Comtois

Thomas Sowell, writing about a planned vs. free-market economy, remarks on the contrast between wicked smart planners and the small decisions made by the average Joes and Jills:

How was it even possible that transferring decisions from elites with more education, intellect, data and power to ordinary people could lead consistently to demonstrably better results?

One implication is that no one is smart enough to carry out social engineering, whether in the economy or in other areas where the results may not always be so easily quantifiable. We learn, not from our initial brilliance, but from trial and error adjustments to events as they unfold.

Science tells us that the human brain reaches its maximum potential in early adulthood. Why then are young adults so seldom capable of doing what people with more years of experience can do?

Because experience trumps brilliance.

Elites may have more brilliance, but those who make decisions for society as a whole cannot possibly have as much experience as the millions of people whose decisions they preempt. The education and intellects of the elites may lead them to have more sweeping presumptions, but that just makes them more dangerous to the freedom, as well as the well-being, of the people as a whole.

Yes, too many of our "brilliant" elites continue to mistake intelligence for wisdom.

When Scientists Became Scolds

Marc Comtois

Kenneth P. Green and Hiwa Alaghebandian think they have identified why Americans seem to have less regard for science--and scientists--than they used to.

Our theory is that science is not losing its credibility because people no longer like or believe in the idea of scientific discovery, but because science has taken on an authoritarian tone, and has let itself be co-opted by pressure groups who want the government to force people to change their behavior.

In the past, scientists were generally neutral on questions of what to do. Instead, they just told people what they found, such as “we have discovered that smoking vastly increases your risk of lung cancer” or “we have discovered that some people will have adverse health effects from consuming high levels of salt.” Or “we have found that obesity increases your risk of coronary heart disease.” Those were simply neutral observations that people could find empowering, useful, interesting, etc., but did not place demands on them. In fact, this kind of objectivity was the entire basis for trusting scientific claims.

But then they started telling us what we had to do.
So, objective statements about smoking risk morphed into statements like “science tells us we must end the use of tobacco products.” A finding of elevated risk of stroke from excess salt ingestion leads to: “The science tells us we must cut salt consumption in half by 2030.” Findings that obesity carries health risks lead to a “war on obesity.” And yes, a finding that we may be causing the climate to change morphed into “the science says we must radically restructure our economy and way of life to cut greenhouse gas emissions radically by 2050.”
As Green and Alaghebandian put it, this "authoritarian" turn doesn't sit well with Americans. They wondered when it all started and did a search on "authoritarian" sounding phrases in science stories.
[A]round the end of the 1980s, science (at least science reporting) took on a distinctly authoritarian tone. Whether because of funding availability or a desire by some senior academics for greater relevance, or just the spread of activism through the university, scientists stopped speaking objectively and started telling people what to do. And people don’t take well to that, particularly when they’re unable to evaluate the information that supposedly requires them to give up their SUV, their celebratory cigar, or their chicken nuggets.

The public’s trust is further undermined by scientific scandals, such as the recent ClimateGate affair, when it became apparent that climate scientists, if not overtly cooking their books, were behaving as partisans out to create a unified perception of the climate in order to advance a policy agenda. The climate community is probably the biggest user of the authoritarian voice, with frequent pronouncements that “the science says we must limit atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to 350 parts per million,” or some dire outcome will eventuate. Friends of the Earth writes, “For example, science tells us we must reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions to prevent dangerous climate change.” America’s climate change negotiator in Copenhagen is quoted by World Wildlife Fund as saying, “China must do significantly more if we are to have a chance to solve the problem and to arrive at an international agreement that achieves what science tells us we must.” Science as dictator—not a pretty sight.

So go back to objectivity in reporting your findings. Less advocacy, more science.

Mark Zaccaria: Lobstering Moratorium Another Example of Bad Government Policy

Engaged Citizen

In a climate of increasing regulation from Washington, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission recently recommended a five year moratorium be placed on lobster fishing all along the Atlantic seaboard. While the decision was fortunately voted down, it still represents a growing trend of dangerous restrictions being placed on individuals and industries by uninformed and misguided regulators.

The recommendation by the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission would have been a death sentence for the RI lobster fishing industry. It would have cost the state countless jobs. Just the idea that a government commission was considering a complete ban on lobstering demonstrates the bureaucrat's disregard for the local economy. There are legitimate concerns about maintaining a healthy population of lobster in our waters and the lobstermen that I know are first among those seeking to do so. A complete ban on harvesting would not have been productive for either the shellfish or RI business.

Since 2008, the federal government has spent more than $1 trillion attempting to artificially "stimulate" the economy. Despite the massive increase in spending unemployment in Rhode Island remains above 12% and the national debt has grown to more than $13 trillion. It's clear that something is not working.

The problem is that the federal government believes that it is more effective at creating jobs than the individual entrepreneur or business owner. The regulations and restrictions being placed on individuals and industries by an ever growing government is killing jobs and bankrupting our economy. Rhode Island's representatives should be encouraging businesses to come to our state, not driving it out with overbearing taxes and regulation.

Mark Zaccaria is candidate for Congress in Rhode Island's Second Congressional District.

Does Governor Wannabe Chafee Believe in Bloody Sock Conspiracy?

Marc Comtois

I try not to dwell on Sen. Chafee too much. But, since he's leading in the polls, it is worth asking if Rhode Island voters want an ill-informed, gullible conspiracy-believer as their next governor. From the ProJo 7to7 blog:

Former U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee is questioning whether Boston Red Sox great Curt Schilling faked his bloody sock in Game 6 of the 2004 AL championship series....Chafee said he doesn't know if he trusts Schilling, and incorrectly said Schilling's own teammates questioned whether Schilling faked his bloody sock. A Baltimore Orioles broadcaster claimed in 2007 that Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli said it was faked, but Mirabelli denied it, and the broadcaster later apologized.

A Chafee spokesman said later that Chafee's mistrust isn't because of the sock, but because he's using taxpayers' money for a business with no track record.

Well, that last is spin (and they're still spinning). Regardless of whether Chafee really does believe in the conspiracy or if it was indeed a "tongue in cheek" comment, it's important that Chafee--who supposedly bemoans dirty politics and likes to put forward a holier-than-thou, I'm-above-partisan-politics persona--chose to go with a personal attack. So, to re-phrase my first question: Even if he doesn't like the new deal cut between the State of RI's Economic Development Corporation and Schilling's video game company, 38 Studios (the efficacy of the deal is another discussion), do Rhode Islanders want a Governor who will publicly question the trustworthiness of the owner of a company that just agreed to relocate to your state? That's impolitic, to say the least, and this whole episode is yet another example of Chafee's questionable, um, reasoning ability. So, do we really want a nice, albeit sorta crazy, uncle running the state?

A Troubling Power Grab from the State

Justin Katz

Between its efforts to scrub religious heritage from the public square, the ACLU does occasionally address issues of wider concern, and I agree with its Rhode Island head on the issue of the state's placing Central Falls in receivership:

Brown's problem with the receivership law is Article XIII of the state Constitution, which concerns home rule for cities and towns. It says the General Assembly can pass laws that affect city and town governments, “but which shall not affect the form of government of any city or town ..."

Stripping the mayor of his authority to govern does just that, Brown said.

Speaking for Department of Revenue leader Rosemary Booth Gallogly, spokeswoman Amy Kempe argued that the receivership law is legitimate, in this case, because the elected leaders of the city requested the takeover, but that argument skirts the point. After all, a politically connected mayor shouldn't have the power to ask the state to eliminate his city's governing council, and a city council shouldn't be able to have the state make the mayor a dictator for life. More generally (and less extreme), it should require the explicit consent of the governed for their elected leaders to change their offices, even if they're admitting themselves incompetent rather than declaring themselves all-powerful. For those examples not to be included, the state constitution would require a process — preferably involving a popular vote, at some level — for a city or town to make such requests.

Following this conclusion, one might be tempted to suggest that the appropriate action of the state is to allow Central Falls voters to drive the city into the ground, if they so choose, and hopefully thereby learn their lesson. That Moreau won his office by such a large margin suggests that they've got much learning to do. But here's the problem with that approach:

[The judiciary's appointment of a receiver with powers closer to bankruptcy proceedings] alarmed the nation's bond-rating agencies, which quickly demoted Central Falls' bond rating to junk-bond status and warned state officials that if it was that easy for a Rhode Island municipality to file bankruptcy, they might start downgrading all Rhode Island municipal debt to reflect that risk.

That is: The incompetence of a particular municipality's electorate could affect every other city and town in Rhode Island. I'd suggest, though, that this is a dangerous frame of mind. Bond raters are certain to prefer strong, centralized governments with the power to force large numbers of people to do whatever suits the collective. If anybody needed one, here's another indication of the (sometimes unavoidable) evil of debt.

Brown doesn't affirm the ACLU's intention to challenge the law and, in fact, expresses puzzlement over who would have standing to take the state to court on the matter. It seems to me that any resident of a Rhode Island city or town should have such standing. It's our constitution.

Taxman as Enforcer

Justin Katz

Randy Barnett has been following litigation in response to the individual mandate of the healthcare legislation that the Democrats rammed through Congress. Noting that the Obama administration's reliance on a claim of Congress's taxation power proves that arguments against the legislation's claims of Commerce Clause authority were never "frivolous," Barnett explains that the law, itself, relies on the now-challenged self justification. In other words, for the Supreme Court to uphold the mandate, it would have to "look behind that characterization during litigation to ask if it could have been justified as a tax."

Even so, Barnett doesn't think the tax power argument will fly with the current Supreme Court (emphasis added):

Now, of course, the Supreme Court can always adopt these two additional doctrines. It could decide that any measure passed and justified expressly as a regulation of commerce is constitutional if it could have been enacted as a tax. But if it upholds this act, it would also have to say that Congress can assert any power it wills over individuals so long as it delegates enforcement of the penalty to the IRS. Put another way since every "fine" collects money, the Tax Power gives Congress unlimited power to fine any activity or, as here, inactivity it wishes! (Do you doubt this will be a major line of questioning in oral argument?)

But it gets still worse. For calling this a tax does not change the nature of the "requirement" or mandate that is enforced by the "penalty." ALL previous cases of taxes upheld (when they may have exceeded the commerce power) involved "taxes" on conduct or activity. None involved taxes on the refusal to engage in conduct. In short, none of these tax cases involved using the Tax Power to impose a mandate.

Of course, some not-insignificant portion of ObamaCare supporters ultimately believe that Congress does have unlimited power over individuals. It's encouraging to know, therefore, that there are folks with the interest and resources to fight on our behalf.

July 26, 2010

"Religious" Varieties, Ideology and the Man in the Mirror

Marc Comtois

Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic has written a piece that uses the latest Apple iPhone problems as a jumping off point to examine the "religious experience" of being an Apple "fanboy." In short, there are 4 myths surrounding the Apple "mystique", according to Texas A&M's Heidi Campbell:

1. a creation myth highlighting the counter-cultural origin and emergence of the Apple Mac as a transformative moment;
2. a hero myth presenting the Mac and its founder Jobs as saving its users from the corporate domination of the PC world;
3. a satanic myth that presents Bill Gates as the enemy of Mac loyalists;
4. and, finally, a resurrection myth of Jobs returning to save the failing company...
As Madrigal explains, these are myths in the Joseph Campbell vein "that helps people make sense of their relationship with the world." Madrigal wonders if "what happened during the [antenna failure] affair could undermine any of these key beliefs." Conclusion = nope.
Heidi Campbell, for one, doesn't think the company has much to worry about.

"This resurrection myth, and the belief in the infallibility of Mac technologies is going to keep people still invested," Thompson said.

Recalling the pricing and availability problems following the launch of the original iPhone, she concluded, "Antennagate will make waves for a little while, but if what happened to Apple around the launch of the original iPhone and all that rigmarole didn't shake people's faith, I don't think this will."

Humor can point to some of these underlying "truths" held by the Apple fanboys:
[A]s illustrated in this (hilarious) video that's garnered 5.5 million views on YouTube, it is hard to shake the faith of iPhone buyer that they are purchasing the world's best device.

"What the hell entices you about the iPhone 4, if you don't mind me asking?" an imaginary store clerk says. "It is an iPhone," the cartoon customer response. "You do realize that doesn't mean anything. It's a brand," the clerk responds, but to no avail.

But that's just it: the iPhone does mean something, and it's the type of meaning that transcends rational optimizing about features and raw performance. "Apple weathered the storm because there is such brand loyalty through the religious narrative," Campbell maintained. "When you're buying into Mac, you're buying into an ideology. You're buying into a community."

We'll believe in just about anything, won't we? So we "buy into an ideology," like a political one, or a movement, or a person or a company or its products. Once we've bought in, there are some very high hurdles that must be bounded over before we buy out. And, in many cases, it may not even be possible.

That's why both political parties are always garner around 33% support. Or why, once people cast their vote for someone, they are willing to give the benefit of the doubt--often well-past the point that they elected official should continue to accrue such benefits--before changing our mind. It's why sports fans cheer for a team, feel betrayed, but come back on the bandwagon when the franchise is "resurrected" (guilty). It's why people can be let down by a company's product--like a stupid phone--but still sing hosannahs when things get fixed (kinda)--because they've wrapped their identity up in being an "Apple person" and it would be an ego, perhaps even id-, crushing experience to lose that.

I'm not sure if they are components of this ideological/religious explanation for brand loyalty (no matter the "product") or if they are distinct from it, but I think part of this loyalty can be ascribed to a couple, very human, tendencies--one having to do with the heart, and the other with the head. Once our hearts are given, we don't want to deal with being betrayed. No one wants a break-up! We also like to think we're intelligent people with good judgment: and when that judgment proves poor, we don't want to admit we were w-w-w-w-wrong.

That's why, I think, we so often witness people (including ourselves) who--once we're proponents of a way of thinking or a product--are unable to admit when "mistakes were made" or we misjudged something; or that we've simply changed our minds or were convinced otherwise. Instead, too many of the newly unconverted say we were lied to or there was some sort of conspiracy going on that we didn't know about.

We react kinda like a spurned lover and take self-righteous umbrage against our betrayers. Anything to keep the finger of culpability pointing away from us and our own judgment. Many of us are too fragile, I guess. But it's not our fault...

The Illusion of an Improving Tax Structure

Justin Katz

A while back, I pointed out (see the addendum) that what looked, at first, to be an economic improvement — the increased percentage of wealthy people in Rhode Island — turned out to be evidence of the contrary. The percentage improved because the non-wealthy left the state in such great numbers while the decreasing flat tax and capital gains tax maintained our population at the high end.

It seems likely to me that such less-encouraging factors explain the tax-related findings of the Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council (PDF), which Marc mentioned here. From the Providence Journal summary:

From 1998 to 2008, individual income tax collections, as a share of personal income, declined by about 7 percent, sales tax collections increased by less than 1 percent, and property tax collections increased by almost 4 percent.Simmons says the increasing reliance on the property tax in recent years can be attributed, in part, to the state’s decision to cut state local aid for education during the economic recession.

That forced communities to make up revenue losses through a combination of trimming expenses and raising the property tax — its only other major funding source besides state aid.

The silver lining is that Rhode Island's property tax grew at a slower rate than the national average of about 8 percent.

Because these calculations are made based on total income and population, in the state, and since our local economy has been struggling, while population has decreased, and since the General Assembly hasn't actually cut the tax, the sales tax revenue result is likely attributable to declining consumer confidence and increasing incentive to shop out of state, where sales tax is lower. On the income tax front, those who pay in the mid-range brackets have been leaving and out of work, while the tax on the upper range has been decreasing. That Rhode Island entered the recession ahead of the rest of the nation probably facilitated our "improvement" by this measure even more.

This puts a different light on the property tax question. Sure, the immediate cause was the cut in state aid, but the decrease in revenue from state-level taxes has surely been a prior cause (along with excessive spending and an unwillingness to cut state budgets to the necessary degree). That the growth in property taxes was slower than the national average need indicate only that Rhode Island was already closer to the threshold that residents could bear, and since the decrease in tax revenue for the state hasn't corresponded an increase, but rather followed from a decrease, in discretionary income for residents that threshold has, at best, remained stagnant.

"Getting Unstuck"

Marc Comtois

I don't usually directly plug a blog, but Seth Godin's Blog is a pithy record of his thoughts, mostly applicable to business, but broadly applicable to life. Godin looks at things from different angles and, though some of his solutions may boil down to re-wordings of the familiar, his explanation and method is engaging.

For instance, his latest entry is about "getting unstuck" from a problem. As he explains, while there are all sorts of problems, the ones with an obvious solution get solved and so the only ones we ever really have left are "the perfect ones." These are the ones that get us stuck. Why? Because they're perfect problems:

Perfect because they have constraints, unbendable constraints, constraints that keep us trapped. I hate my job, I need this job, there's no way to quit, to get a promotion or to get a new boss, no way to move, my family is in town, etc.

We're human, that's what we do--we erect boundaries, constraints we can't ease, and we get trapped.

Or perhaps it's your product or service or brand. Our factory is only organized to make X, but the market doesn't want X as much, or there is regulation, or a new competitor is now offering X at half the price and the board won't do anything, etc.

There's no way to solve the perfect problem because every solution involves breaking an unbreakable constraint.

And there's your solution.

The way to solve the perfect problem is to make it imperfect. Don't just bend one of the constraints, eliminate it. Shut down the factory. Walk away from the job. Change your product completely. Ignore the board.

If the only alternative is slow and painful failure, the way to get unstuck is to blow up a constraint, deal with the pain and then run forward. Fast.

Basically, short term pain for long term gain. Government could learn from this, too.

The Cover Provided by 1 Administration Crony

Marc Comtois

The long, front page piece in Sunday's ProJo about current EMA PR guy Steve Kass reinforces every status-quoists talking point about cutting the fat outta the "administration" or "up top" before slashing the benny's and pay of the average working man and woman at all levels of government. For the truth is that the shuffling of Kass around Governor Carcieri's administration for the sake of, apparently, keeping him on the payroll to the tune of between $100-$200 K in salary and benefits is, quite fairly, viewed as putting the lie to the supposed "shrink government" / "big audit" bona fides of the Governor.

It doesn't matter if one crony's salary is a drop in the bucket compared to the smaller proportions that need to be cut from the wider array of "little guys." Simply put, it looks like cronyism from here, there and everywhere. It's one thing if the Administration damages itself by this inability to not live by it's own rhetoric. But it's much worse than that because such examples are hoisted up to undermine the legitimacy of the ideas that informed the rhetoric that was espoused. And that de-legitimization redounds to the people who actually believe in the efficacy of cutting government and making it leaner for the sake of fiscal sanity. So thanks for that.

So When Will the ACLU Be Filing the Other Suit Necessary to Protect "Separation of Church and State" in Cranston?

Carroll Andrew Morse

The controversy surrounding the banner displayed at Cranston High School West which uses the words "Heavenly Father" and "Amen" has unintentionally revealed another issue concerning the principle of "separation of church and state" in the City of Cranston. As was reported by Maria Armental in the Projo, Cranston's School Committee maintains an official policy telling people where they should practice their religious observances; page 686 of the Cranston School Committee policy document says that...

The Cranston Public Schools reaffirms the basic American tradition of separation of church and state. Such a policy is the logical outcome of our pluralistic society. The proper setting for religious observance is the home and the place of worship.
Declaring a limited set of places where religious observances are appropriate is pretty heavy-handed stuff to be coming from government, and if the display of a decorative banner can be considered movement towards the establishment of a government religion in violation of the First Amendment, then the adoption by the government of an official policy listing a limited number of sites where religious observance is deemed to be "proper" is an equally egregious violation of that same First Amendment's protection of the free-exercise of religion.

You might expect an organization concerned about "the separation of church and state" to object to a government statement defining proper places for religious observance, with the same urgency that has been shown in the objections to the banner. Instead, Steven Brown, head of the local chapter of the ACLU has approvingly cited the government-created statement of limits on where religious observance should occur as a part of the rationale for removing or altering the Cranston West banner. Based on the asymmetry of their approach, it certainly seems as if the local ACLU believes that maintaining stringent standards of "separation of church and state" is a priority in cases where such standards can be used to push religion out of public view, but that in other cases, separation of church and state is not so much of a priority, if even one at all.

Offense Against Sharia as Disorderly Conduct; Conformity with Sharia as Excuse Under the Law

Justin Katz

It's difficult to believe that this is real, but it appears to be:

Nearly a dozen uniformed police officers descend upon a few young men handing out English/Arabic copies of the Gospel of St. John on a public street outside an Arab festival in Michigan, take them into custody, and release them with instructions not to carry on their activities within five blocks of the event.

I came across the video in relation to a case out of New Jersey in which a state judge ruled that a Muslim husband who raped his wife (shortly before divorcing her) had no "criminal desire" because he truly believed his action to be permissible under the laws of his religion. An appellate court overturned the decision, but as the video above (and evidence from Europe) suggests, this cultural wrestling has only just begun.

Those with Time to Wait

Justin Katz

Money's somehow ever a factor in Rhode Island. Perhaps the tourist-attracting conspicuity of Newport mansions emphasizes the distinction between those with and those without (and the various gradations between). Perhaps the geography and historical, unplanned New England layout of the roads uniquely places working-class neighborhoods so near to the vistas that draw wealth. Perhaps the long life of the local architecture has led wealthy families to break up their land or subdivide their houses for apartments in proximity to others able to keep their estates whole.

Or it could be the discrepancy between those who can afford to tolerate the mess of the state's operations. After all, crumbling infrastructure has a sort of quaintness, and poorly run and business-unfriendly government only imposes a sort of premium, from the perspective of residents with the wealth to absorb the cost. Only those striving to improve their circumstances need suffer from the absence of opportunity.

It must be said, however, that money shapes the community in ways that can't help but be accessible to all. Unique (sometimes overwrought) architecture and the maintenance of the open spaces of bought-up land help to define an area. The specialty shops with crafts and arts that only the wealthy can buy may still be treated as free-entry museums. And then there's the interesting eccentricity that seems more refined among the rich. I think, here, of a statue that the distracted driver might spot on Rhode Island Ave., in Newport, while on the way to work.

Even if life leaves too little time or cash for more overt pastimes, only a slight turn of the head or turn of the wheel will lead to tastes of repose and feasts for the imagination — albeit with the pangs of longing for the time to linger and the observation that she's waiting for someone to come from within, not to pass by, without.

July 25, 2010

Looks Like Charlie Hall was In the Room When the Other Gov Candidates Got the Word

Monique Chartier


Courtesy Ocean State Follies

Today's First Reading and an Early Revelation

Justin Katz

Today's first reading for Roman Catholic Masses was the passage in which Abraham implores God to spare the city of Sodom for the sake of the innocents whom God might "sweep away... with the guilty." The typical reading of this passage — and the point most often emphasized during homilies — is that Abraham is daring to negotiate with God — and winning. The point often drawn from the scene is that prayer and intercessions can have an effect.

I can't recall the specifics, but I know that I've heard non-believers cite this interaction as evidence that the Bible can't be an accurate representation of the God whom believers profess it to describe, because an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent God couldn't possibly bend to the requests of mere mortals. There's a capriciousness evident in a Supreme Being who would slaughter innocents with the guilty and then change His mind upon the request of a human being who is more charitable than Him.

Expanding the quotation, though, a few lines before those presented in the lectionary suggests a different interpretation:

The men set out from there and looked down toward Sodom; Abraham was walking with them, to see them on their way.

The Lord reflected: "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, now that he is to become a great and populous nation, and all the nations of the earth are to find blessing in him? Indeed, I have singled him out that he may direct his sons and his posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord may carry into effect for Abraham the promises he made about him."

With this interior dialogue included, the exchange between God and Abraham reads less as a negotiation than as a revelation, for Abraham, about the nature of God. It's clear that Abraham thinks he's presuming to debate with the Lord, but nothing in the responses is inconsistent with the interpretation that God is merely answering questions about His previous intentions (in the knowledge, of course, that there were no such innocents to be found).

Two points follow from this reading. First, what Abraham accomplished wasn't to persuade God of a higher morality, but to affirm for his descendants that such a morality coincided with their God — in keeping with God's stated intention of directing Abraham's "posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just." Had Abraham not explicitly pursued his line of questioning, the mercy of God would have been an open question after He'd destroyed Sodom.

Second, we can take Sodom as representing a promise, in this biblical story, that God will spare all of human society as long as there are those among us through whom He can work. Owing to free will, we can go well astray from our purpose and from the path of "what is right and just," but the existence of just a few points of human light are sufficient for the long, slow process of broad salvation.

After all, God did not destroy Jerusalem in the New Testament, and the process of salvation continues, these millennia later. We're living in Sodom, in other words, and we must strive to be those few innocents on whose behalf God will spare the city.

Candidates Who Made the Ballot (Coverage Courtesy of Jim Baron at the Paw Times and Definitely Not of Some Apparent Neophyte at Fountain Street) and a Possible Challenge to Candidate Order

Monique Chartier

Naturally, being agog for the last week about who did and did not made the ballot, I clicked on an article in today's ProJo which looked like it might answer the question. Immediately, however, the headline

They’re off! Candidates for offices across R.I. file paperwork

posed more questions than answers. Candidates had "filed papers" - Notice of Intent to Run for office - over three weeks ago. Nor did the single sentence that comprised the article clarify whether the list of candidates that followed (and were posted on the Sec of State's website) had simply pulled papers or had, indeed, collected enough signatures to be certified for the ballot by the Sec of State. Grrr.

Fortunately, I remembered it had been a while since my last visit to the Pawtucket Times. Ahh - there, in red at the top of the front page, the self-evident headline to a Jim Baron (that's Jim Baron) article

It's official: state certifies nomination papers

confirmed by the first two sentences of the article by the estimable Mr. Baron.

We now know which candidates will be on the ballot for national and statewide offices in the Sept. 14 primary contests and for races where there will be no primary, the Nov. 2 general election. The secretary of state’s office certified the candidates’ nominating papers Friday. Secretary of State Ralph Mollis on Friday

To reiterate, this vital update brought to you by Jim Baron at the Pawtucket Times and not by the statewide paper, who apparently brought in an intern who is enthusiastic but clearly unfamiliar with the state's election process to report on this important development. Please excuse the fuss; it's just that there's nothing more frustrating than a newspaper article on a subject of interest that has been poorly - in this case, incomprehensibly - written.

Now, Baron doesn't stop there. He goes on to report that there may be a (in my opinion, long overdue) challenge to the method by which the state determines the order of candidates on the ballot.

As Mollis was calling out the ballot order as dictated by the ping-pong balls, Independent candidate for governor Joseph Lusi stood and announced he intends to sue to get the process declared unconstitutional.

“I will be filing challenge in to the constitutionality of this,” Lusi declared.

Lusi literally ran away from a Times reporter and photographer who tried to question him about the lawsuit as he left the Statehouse Friday.

Fun! Confirmation of the ballot qualification of candidates PLUS report of a possible political mini-drama. Could a political obsessive ask for better during the normally quiet days of summer?

With regard to the basis of the potential lawsuit, by the way, Mr. Lisi objects to both the existence of the master lever, which automatically excludes votes for non-affiliated (a.k.a. independent) candidates, and to the placement process, codified by the General Assembly, which dictates that non-affiliated candidates will always be last on the ballot after all party candidates. While his objections are most certainly valid - no civilized electoral system offers a master lever - it will be interesting to see whether they are determined to be unconstitutional.

All of this to say that you can click here to check out whether your favorite (or unfavorite) candidate has made the ballot.

Liberty Isn't Their Concern

Justin Katz

Somehow the headline "Voicing their views" feels a bit discordant over an article that includes this detail:

Speakers from the New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage seemed startled as they were encircled by counter-protesters who yelled, sang and waved the rainbow flag associated with the gay-pride movement. Then, as some 170 protesters — most wearing red T-shirts — rattled plastic bottles filled with coins as a distraction, the group's president pointed to their tactics as yet another example of why same-sex marriage should not be legalized.

Two days earlier, the same-sex marriage advocacy group Marriage Equality RI had held its own rally, got its free publicity, and if there was any counter-protesting on the scene, it wasn't so overt as to be noticed by reporter Randal Edgar. But allowing the opposition that much courtesy is apparently a step too far for SSM activists. For them, those who disagree must be silenced — driven from the public square.

I'd ballpark the likelihood that legalized SSM will satisfy that aggression at zero percent. The next movement to be drowned out and intimidated will be that seeking permission for traditionalists to hold to their views of marriage in their private capacity — in the way they conduct their businesses, associate in groups, and offer their charity.

Not to make too much of a theme of it, but once again, one can observe that the urge to be on "the right side of history" is easily manipulable to put well-intentioned citizens in league with those who would oppress others because they've woven a translucent cloak of victimhood from conflicts of the past. That force that we've personified as Evil is perfectly happy to switch from oppressing homosexuals to leveraging homosexuals to oppress traditionalists and knock down the social structures that enabled our society to advance to its current state.

(Indeed, a traditionalist, myself, I'm inclined to see that as the intention all along.)

They'll Find the Money or Change in Ways We Don't Like

Justin Katz

One wonders whether U.S. legislators don't understand the consequences of their work — which isn't implausible, inasmuch as it's a real question whether they read the legislation on which they vote — or don't care. Of course, the conservative critique of government is that big government will tend to work in the interests of those with the incentive to manipulate lawmakers who cannot or will not see pitfalls, leaving the only rational and ethical choice for legislators to be to decline to micromanage the private society that they're supposed to serve.

The point comes to mind, this time, on news following passage of the "sweeping financial overhaul":

Investors are worried about banks' future earning power after Thursday's passage of the most dramatic rewriting of banking rules since the Great Depression. Adding to the pessimism are falling trading profits — which all three banks mentioned in the their earnings reports — and weak U.S. loan demand. ...

Yet banks are already moving to recoup any losses. One approach: making traditionally free services premium offerings. A Bank of America pilot program in Georgia, for instance, charges customers $8.95 a month to get paper statements or use bank tellers. The bank could start the program nationally as soon as next month.

Bank of America is also considering raising minimum balances on some accounts and charging customers who fall below it, Moynihan told analysts during a conference call.

Locking more money in savings accounts is probably not the best outcome for our struggling economy. But more generally, it simply isn't the case that companies — banks or otherwise — sit on large piles of money that they know they don't need and that they are willing to give up at the wave of the president's magic pen, as if they were children refusing to share their candy. That's not to say that businesses don't hoard wealth or don't rationalize self-serving strategies; it's merely to make the obvious point that they'll seek to profit as much as the market will bear, saving as much as they deem wise and distributing their profits as they perceive their internal dynamics to require.

When government operatives pick a particular policy of the banks, such as debt card "swipe" fees, to disallow by fiat, the affected organizations will look elsewhere. They're obviously in a much better position to know what fees can conceivably be imposed, and with industry-wide rules (excepting government debt cards, naturally), they've less to fear from their competition as they impose them.

Perhaps the most chilling paragraph in the article, though, is this:

But banks won't have free rein to raise fees on whatever they choose. The financial overhaul calls for the creation of a new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. The agency will have vast powers to enforce regulations covering mortgages, credit cards and other financial products to ensure customers are getting a fair deal.

Unelected bureaucrats, in other words, will now have "vast powers" to make a laboratory of the finance industry for experiments in consequences. At least when private businesses engage in such experimentation, they do so at the risk of their own financial health. When government agencies muck things up, they tend to find themselves with more authority.

And that reality presents a golden opportunity for large incumbent players in the industry who can find ways to take over and influence their regulators in such a way as to ensure that they profit even in calamity.

July 24, 2010

The Slow March of Papa Government

Justin Katz

Public education is in keeping with much else during the Obama administration: The trends toward big-government control have long been in motion, their seeds well sown and fertilized, but are now being coaxed to the next stage of flowering. Lindsey Burke elaborates:

The New York Times reports that 27 states are planning to adopt the set of national standards developed by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) — standards being backed by the Obama administration with federal funds. ...

One thing the Times gets right — and which explains why the president is wrong to call these "voluntary" standards — is this: "Those states that are not winners in the Race to the Top competition may also have less incentive to follow through in carrying out the standards." ...

The administration is clearly aware of this little glitch. That's where Title I — $14.5 billion in federal funding for low-income school districts — comes into play. Earlier this year the administration released what they're calling a "blueprint" for No Child Left Behind reauthorization, which is likely to be debated next year. Within the blueprint, the Department of Education states, "Beginning in 2015, formula funds will be available only to states that are implementing assessments based on college- and career-ready standards that are common to a significant number of states."

The first ill effect that Burke cites with this development is that the federal program is likely to nationalize mediocrity (at best), because they are "a distraction from what really needs to be done to improve education." More importantly, and...

... most insidious of all, these national standards will come at the expense of parental control. Parents will have to relinquish the most powerful tool they currently have when it comes to their children's education: control over the content of state standards and tests. National standards will further diminish parental authority in education, and the federal government will gain more control as a result.

Moreover, the standards are already expanding from reading, writing, and arithmetic to science, and we can trust that the voluntary-if-you'll-forgo-money requirements will gather subjects like a black hole gathers celestial bodies and that non-public schools will rapidly be pressured to adopt the standards, as well. In the not-to-distant future, in other words, the debate may very well be the degree of autonomy that private religious schools have to reject federal standards for sexual education and ethics.

Which, from my perspective, brings us back to the imagined personifications of Good and Evil.

Making Room for Protection

Justin Katz

When I taught computer classes in a Catholic school, some years ago, my lunch hour reading habits periodically snagged me inexplicably in the system's Internet filter. The most unexpectedly blocked site was that of a Catholic writer caught up, perhaps, by hostile Web sites that linked to him or comments that he didn't delete quickly enough. Some filters keep lists. I've read about some that take into consideration the number of skin-tone pixels that a site presents to the screen.

Jonah Goldberg and Nick Schuz propose a child-safety system that would begin to change the way the Internet operates:

Right now, there are many "top-level domains" — .com, .org, .biz, .gov, .edu., etc. We propose the creation of a .kids domain that would be strictly reserved for material appropriate for minors 18 years and under. Most sites would probably be able to mirror themselves on a .kids domain with little to no extra effort. Most corporations, schools, and other organizations have perfectly harmless material that kids and teens can view without causing their parents to stay up at night. The sites of the Smithsonian, McDonald’s, Disney, PBS, and countless other institutions are already perfectly safe for minors. Other websites would need a little tweaking, but not much. Only a relative handful of them — porn, dating services, adult-themed chat rooms, R-rated movie sites, et al. — would be explicitly barred from the .kids domain. The others would simply have to tone down or pare down their offerings.

Top-level domains currently don't serve much purpose but to confuse visitors to who don't know which to type. The .gov domain makes some sense, in that visitors can at least trust that the site is government operated (for whatever that's worth), but .com and .org don't really tell one much about the site. Beginning to segment the Internet into communities does make sense and would require minimal additional effort on the part of administrators of small sites, unless they've got content that would have to be targeted to specific audiences.

Of course, from a parent's point of view, I've found that the only real option is to hover around when the kids are on the Internet. It can be a hassle, but parents have a responsibility to keep track of the inputs forming their children. Tools toward that end can help, and knowing that a a .kids filter is in place in a daycare or school would be a comfort, but there's no substitute for presence, on multiple levels.

July 23, 2010

Patinkin Back to His Comfort Zone

Justin Katz

Having chided Mark Patinkin for his colum lampooning Republicans (poorly), I think it only fair to note that he's offered an attempt at some fair-play turnabout. It would be fascinating, I think, for a literature class to devote some discussion time to the differences in sentence structure and related attributes as a means of discerning Patinkin's actual position behind the authorial screen.

Note the general presentation of the Republican piece:

I wondered why we’re trying 9/11 terrorists in federal court instead of a military court.

And why my state doesn’t have capital punishment.

I decided next time someone asks me for a handout, I’ll tell them to get a job. Which is actually compassionate conservatism. It helps no one to promote a culture of dependency. ...

Though I care about the environment, I decided I’m now against mandatory carbon emissions controls. Let the free market work it out.

I got cranky about activist judges banning the Pledge of Allegiance.

And so on. There's clearly an element of "wondering" about policies, an element of hyperbole, and assertions of principle, rather than argument. Contrast the Democrat piece; he does some character lampooning (which, unsurprisingly for multiple reasons, I find to be more accurately done), but then goes on to the socio-political opinions:

I wrote my congressman urging more money for social programs, since I believe it's government's obligation to help the needy.

As for those who say this leads to a culture of dependency among the poor — no, that’s society's fault.

I'm a die-hard union supporter, and as for those who say organized labor makes America uncompetitive, let's not forget the sweatshops of the 1920s and '30s, and thanks to unions, we don't have those anymore.

I felt good about myself for supporting health care for all, whatever the cost, as well as gay marriage, gun control and abortion. And affirmative action, too, because America is still a racist society.

The statements are significantly more demonstrative, are less hyperbolic, and, especially with the union point, begin to take up actual argumentation. That last is quite differently presented than this, from the Republican parody:

As for getting God out of education the last decade or so — how's that working out for us?

Note the lack of a concrete example of the writer's argument; he offers, instead, an open-ended question indicative of an assumed prejudice, rather than considered conclusion. It's reasonable to explain the difference by his own sympathies, which is why I suggested, with the Republican column, that Patinkin suffered from a lack of familiarity with his subject.

Is Rhode Island Getting Full Value of the G.T.'s Time?

Monique Chartier

The RIGOP is not wrong to raise this matter. (Press release.)

The Rhode Island Republican Party today called on General Treasurer Frank Caprio to account for the value of his time and energy spent campaigning rather than doing the job he was elected to do.

Citing a steady stream of campaign events this week, the RIGOP questioned how Caprio could justify taking his full salary while doing half his job.

“We know that Rhode Island has a reputation for creating ‘no-show’ jobs,” said party Chair Giovanni Cicione, “but usually the people who are slacking off try to avoid the TV cameras when they’re not at work.” “This week Frank managed to dedicate a homeless shelter, attend a taxpayer forum, and participate in a debate, all before the week was half over.”

“Even worse,” continued Cicione, “is that the Democrats called on Gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille to leave his public service job the second he even hinted that he was considering a run for Governor.” “What hypocrisy that Caprio continues to vigorously campaign on the taxpayers dime when he should be working day and night to fix the pension disaster his office is supposed to be managing – it's no wonder the unions, whose members' pensions are at risk, won’t support him.”

Citing a recent Pew Center on the States study that made note of the fact that the Rhode Island pension system had unfunded liability that equaled 277% of covered payroll, giving us a grade of 1 out of a possible 5, and making us the third worst state in terms of pension funding, the RIGOP requests an accounting of the Treasurers time spent campaigning to date and for him to step down if he would prefer, as it seems, to dodge the pension issue and focus on campaigning instead.

UPDATE - GT's office responds

... to Ian Donnis at WRNI, who asked the General Treasurer's Chief of Staff Mark Dingley

whether Caprio has a policy on making up time spent campaigning during business hours

And the reply.

Dingley said Caprio remains “in constant contact with the treasurer’s office,” and “is available to answer any questions” during campaign activities and/or other periods away from the office.

Dingley says he hasn’t discussed with Caprio the question of whether the treasurer should have a plan or policy for making up for campaign time, adding, “It seems like he hasn’t missed a beat.”

A Tale of Two Counties

Marc Comtois

I missed this when it was published in May, but this Washington Post article detailing the fiscal differences between the economically and demographically similar D.C. 'burbs of Fairfax County, VA and Montgomery County, MD is worth a read.

Take a snapshot of one year, 2006, when times were flush. In Fairfax, the county executive, an unelected technocrat, proposed a budget with a relatively robust spending increase of about 6 percent. In Montgomery, County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a career politician then running in the Democratic primary for governor, pitched a gold-plated, pork-laden grab bag of political largess that drove county spending up by 11 percent.

Mr. Duncan's budget that year capped a three-year spree in which county spending rose by almost 30 percent. It reflected major multiyear increases in pay and benefits that he had negotiated for police, firefighters and other county workers. At the same time, Jerry D. Weast, Montgomery's schools superintendent, negotiated a contract that promised pay increases for most teachers of 26 to 29 percent over three years -- about twice the raise Fairfax teachers got -- plus health benefits virtually unmatched in the region....The results have been striking -- and strikingly unaffordable -- in a county where more than half of all spending goes to public schools. The average teacher salary in Montgomery today is $76,483, the highest in the region. Average pay for teachers is now almost 20 percent higher in Montgomery than in Fairfax and has increased much faster than in most local suburban school systems. Since 2000, salaries for Montgomery teachers, as for many other county employees, have nearly doubled, rising at almost triple the rate of inflation.

Teachers are pillars of any community, and Montgomery's are highly rated. But their compensation has outstripped the marketplace. Today, Montgomery schools spend about 20 percent more per pupil than Fairfax schools; they consume a greater share of the public spending than in any other locality in the region. The spending gap is not about classroom quality and student achievement; in those terms the two school systems are comparable. Rather, the difference is compensation, which accounts for 90 percent of Montgomery's education spending.

But times aren't always good, and Fairfax was better able to handle the economic downturn. Why? Part of it has to do with the tax structure differences between the two states: Maryland relies on the more volatile income tax while Virginia doesn't. But there is another factor.
Virginia law denies public employees collective bargaining rights; that's helped Fairfax resist budget-busting wage and benefit demands. As revenue dipped two years ago, Fairfax officials froze all salaries for county government and school employees with little ado. By contrast, Montgomery leaders were badly equipped to cope with recession. County Executive Isiah Leggett took office proposing fat budgets and negotiating openhanded union deals after he succeeded Mr. Duncan. Then, as economic storm clouds gathered, he shifted gears and cut spending -- while still trying to appease the unions....The county has just about run out of revenue-raising options, having boosted nearly its entire menu of taxes to the legal or practical limit. Montgomery's higher taxes already put it at a competitive disadvantage with Fairfax, which has a wide lead in attracting business and creating high-wage jobs; now Montgomery risks a downward spiral.
Yeah, they wouldn't want to turn into, say, Rhode Island. Virginia's local county governments have the flexibility to make expenditure changes required without having to worry about doing the contract renegotiation kabuki dance. The genie is already out of the bottle here in RI, but, well, I guess we can take some solace from the fact that we're not alone (right?).

Their Best Weapon Is That Which Ought to Target Them

Justin Katz

Reviewing the background of hate-speech policies at the international level, Jacob Mchangama notes an interesting dynamic that one encounters in other areas of human interaction:

Human-rights agencies are sympathetic to hate-speech laws partly because international human-rights con­ventions at the United Nations were instrumental in globalizing and mainstreaming them. The U.N.'s International Cov­e­nant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) recognizes a right to freedom of expression, but it also states that "any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law."

The first working draft, as early as 1947, included only incitement to violence — universally recognized as a permissible ground for restricting freedom of expression — but the Soviet Union, Poland, and France wanted to include incitement to hatred as well. This was met by resistance from most Western states; the U.S. representative, Eleanor Roosevelt, hardly a libertarian, called the prohibition of incitement to hatred "extremely dangerous." The U.K., Sweden, Australia, Denmark, and most other Western democracies opposed the criminalization of free expression, counseling that fanaticism should be countered through open debate instead.

But these objections did not impress the majority of the U.N.'s member states — Saudi Arabia asserted at the time that Western "confidence in human intelligence was perhaps a little excessive" — and the "incitement to hatred" language was kept in. So it was that a coalition of totalitarian socialist states and Third World countries, many of them ruled by authoritarians, succeeded in turning a human-rights convention into an instrument of censorship.

That's a sort of general broad-brush view of totalitarians' leveraging of notions of freedom; Mchangama subsequently offers a more specific instance:

The Holocaust was still fresh in the minds of those who drafted the hate-speech-related U.N. conventions during the 1950s and '60s, and fresh memories of Nazi atrocities helped them to get those conventions passed. A lax attitude to Nazi propaganda, their argument went, had helped pave the way for Nazi rule and the annihilation of millions of Jews. But justifying hate-speech laws with reference to the Holocaust ignores some crucial points. Contrary to common perceptions, Weimar Germany was not indifferent to Nazi propaganda; several Nazis were convicted for anti-Semitic outbursts. One of the most vicious Jew-baiters of the era was Julius Streicher, who edited the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer; he was twice convicted of causing "offenses against religion" with his virulently anti-Semitic speeches and writings. Hitler himself was prohibited from speaking publicly in several German jurisdictions in 1925. None of this prevented Streicher from increasing the circulation of Der Stürmer, or Hitler from assuming power. The trials and bans merely gave them publicity, with Streicher and Hitler cunningly casting themselves as victims.

A modern tendency of people to try to be "on the right side of history" comes to mind in this context, because we're too inclined to count the wrong things as culpable. For simplified example, we see in retrospect how hate speech against a group contributed to the atrocities of the Holocaust, so we're apt to consider hate-speech laws to be a reasonable preventative measure. But this creates the opening for those who wish to silence ideological opposition to present themselves as victims and to cast their defense as a foresighted avoidance of potential atrocity.

Imagine a personification of two forces in history — we'll call them, I don't know, Good and Evil. The intent of Evil isn't to be mean or unpleasant, but to harm others, or at least to treat the harm of others as inconsequential. Sometimes that intention is accomplished by lamenting Evil's own strategies so as to benefit from the backlash against them, while painting Good with the tainted brush.

Rhode Island, "Haven....for tax-skirting luxury yacht owners" Like John Kerry

Marc Comtois

As first reported by the Boston Herald:

Sen. John Kerry, who has repeatedly voted to raise taxes while in Congress, dodged a whopping six-figure state tax bill on his new multimillion-dollar yacht by mooring her in Newport, R.I.

Isabel - Kerry’s luxe, 76-foot New Zealand-built Friendship sloop with an Edwardian-style, glossy varnished teak interior, two VIP main cabins and a pilothouse fitted with a wet bar and cold wine storage - was designed by Rhode Island boat designer Ted Fontaine.

But instead of berthing the vessel in Nantucket, where the senator summers with the missus, Teresa Heinz, Isabel’s hailing port is listed as “Newport” on her stern.

Could the reason be that the Ocean State repealed its Boat Sales and Use Tax back in 1993, making the tiny state to the south a haven - like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Nassau - for tax-skirting luxury yacht owners?

Cash-strapped Massachusetts still collects a 6.25 percent sales tax and an annual excise tax on yachts. Sources say Isabel sold for something in the neighborhood of $7 million, meaning Kerry saved approximately $437,500 in sales tax and an annual excise tax of about $70,000.

The senior senator’s chief of staff David Wade denied the old salt was berthing his boat out of state to avoid ponying up to the commonwealth.

“The boat was designed by and purchased from a company in Rhode Island, and it’s based in Newport at the Newport Shipyard for long-term maintenance, upkeep and charter purposes, not tax reasons,” Wade told the Track.

Sure. Hey, I don't have a problem with RI being a tax haven for something, but this just shows the "good enough for me, but not for thee" mentality of our self-dubbed betters.

The Government They Prefer

Justin Katz

It's always notably plausible that there's a larger truth in the mix when I agree with Bob Kerr, but while his column lamenting the possibly fatal restrictions that the Tiverton Town Council has placed on an annual charity event, this year, counts in that regard, I'd suggest that he should think on the larger lessons that the controversy teaches about government. As Kerr describes it:

For seven years, Jane Bitto, who owns Evelyn's Restaurant with her husband, Dominic, has gone to Town Hall to get the permit for "Singing Out Against Hunger," three days of music in September that has raised a lot of money and a pile of nonperishable food for East Bay Community Action’s food pantries. Last year, in a bad economy, it raised $25,000. ...

There have been complaints. That's what Bitto heard when she went to Town Hall. There have been complaints from people living on the opposite side of Nanaquaket Pond from Evelyn's. The music is too loud and it goes on too long, they say.

As Kerr touches on — and as I've seen occur time and again in local politics — the process wasn't one in which people with complaints were asked to step forward to make them and confront those whom they wished to restrict. Council members made general statements about hearing complaints — complaints submitted through the typical Rhode Island method of a note, visit, or phone call to people with power — and blindsided their target only when the time to the event was too short to mount an effective response.

Kerr calls it "the flip side of small town charm." Over on the Tiverton Citizens for Change Web site, I beg to differ. This turn of events is the entirely predictable consequence of small-town fiefdoms. "Community minded" tends to mean a town or neighborhood conforming with a small group's personal preferences, with differences resolved through imposition rather than compromise. Just like we weren't the ones who turned this year's financial town meeting into an offensive circus, or who strove to ban the Easter Bunny from the public schools a couple of years ago, it isn't us selfish tax-hawk newcomers who aren't willing to tolerate a little prime-time music come a late-summer evening.

Rather, it's the same folks who regularly squash businesses' attempts at economic development. It's the same contingent who skirted the law to raise taxes by an oppressive amount and who then sued TCC President Dave Nelson for having the audacity to complain about their tactics, including Town Administrator James Goncalo's sending of false documents to the state. In other words, Kerr and his sympathizers should look at their concept of a government that cares and question whether it's possible to preserve such an entity from people who care above all about themselves.

I've heard it stated many times that those who hate the town — as indicated by an aversion to massive mid-recession tax increases — should leave. Oddly, I don't expect to hear similar suggestions when the indication of that hatred is aversion to live music in a public place for an excellent cause.

Chicks in the City

Marc Comtois

Some folks--who I'll conveniently pigeon-hole as "Whole Foods" types--want to raise chickens in Providence.

About 35 people packed a small City Council meeting room on Thursday in support of a proposed ordinance that would allow residents to raise up to six chickens.

Proponents said raising home-grown hens provides a local source of high-quality protein, fertilizer and natural pest control. They said it also gives urban children a chance to interact with nature.

“It’s important for children to have an understanding of where their food comes from and an appreciation for the environment,” said Camille Smith, a South Providence resident who says she’s been raising chickens illegally for years.

A chicken in every pot? Bah! 6 Chickens in every home! They have state support, too:
Kenneth Ayars, of the state Department of Environmental Management, noted that chicken-raising helps meet a region-wide goal of boosting locally grown food sources. Currently, less than 1 percent of Rhode Island food is locally grown; in New England, it is about 10 percent, he said.
But wait--animal rights activists aren't too keen about this idea from their (what I presume to be) whole food pals:
Dennis Tabella, director of Defenders of Animals, says the change would open the door for chicken abuse and neglect and that, unregulated, home-grown eggs would lead to an increase in cases of food poisoning and other health hazards.

“It opens up Pandora’s box,” Tabella said prior to the hearing.

E.J. Finocchio, president of the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said in a letter to the council that chickens would only exacerbate the city’s rat problem.

Good point: there are plenty of chickens and rats at the State House, so apparently they do co-habitate. There are also concerns that the chicken license will cost too much:
Leo Pollack, education director at the Southside Community Land Trust, which helped develop the proposed legislation, said the land trust supported the idea of a permit, so long as it was not costly or difficult for poorer residents and non-English speakers to obtain.
Finally, they say "the law would ban roosters," but that strikes me as unfair--downright discriminatory!--and, apparently, unenforcable. There seems to be regular crowing emanating from both City Hall and the State House, so there must be some roosters, somewhere. As for what to do with the fecal matter generated by our urbane poultry? It can be mixed with the regular output produced at the two aforementioned buildings.

Digging into Government

Justin Katz

Calling in to the Matt Allen Show, Wednesday night, Andrew described the series of posts on and pending on Anchor Rising addressing some of the basic facts of Rhode Island governance. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

July 22, 2010

Concerns About Process in Central Falls

Justin Katz

The city of Central Falls is surely better off without Mayor Charles Moreau in office, and many of us likely share the opinion (from afar) that he'd best serve the state by taking this opportunity to quietly exit public service (which phrase I type with some difficulty, in this context). But let's take a moment to phrase in frank terms what has happened: The state has appointed a person, unaccountable to voters except through the multiple steps from him to the Department of Revenue to the governor, who has stripped an elected official of everything except the title of his office and some entry-level pay on the premise that "you can't have two leaders." If he so chooses, that appointee, retired Superior Court Judge Mark Pfeiffer," could do the same to the City Council.

On a personal level, the outcome for Moreau is probably just, but the bare facts of the case ought to give us pause.

Recent RI Budget History, Part 3 of 3

Carroll Andrew Morse

The final graph in this series shows the recent history of Rhode Island's combined state and local spending. Rhode Island's Municipal Affairs Office provides annual data on total municipal spending with state aid broken out in a separate column, allowing the state-aid contribution to local budgets to be subtracted out, avoiding the double-counting of intra-governmental transfers. Complementary to this, much of the yellow "education" section attributed to the state budget is money that is ultimately spent by municipal governments. (Municipal Affairs data available on the Internet goes back to 2001, and FY2011 data is presumably still being collected).

This graph has been normalized for inflation, so the roughly steady increase in the total represents a real increase in the amount being spent by goverment.


This pattern is one of government growth on autopilot for most of the decade, whether the national economic climate was good or bad, whether state revenues were increasing or decreasing.

This idea of government expansion that is automatic and inevitable -- with everything outside of government expected to adjust accordingly, of course -- is an important focus of the dissatisfaction being expressed with regards to the direction that our state and nation are headed, as more and more people come to realize that steady increases in the real amount spent by government cannot continue indefinitely.

Less Organized Freedom

Marc Comtois

In the latest Claremont Review of Books (sub req'd), Wilfred M. McClay discusses President Obama's resume, Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, the Tea Party and Turner's Frontier thesis as a preamble for his proposition that the path to national renewal lay in a less organized America.

There is a danger of overorganization in American life, of an over-emphasis upon credentialism and specialization, forces that taken in excess can cripple our sense of human possibility, and along with it the health of our communities, and our liberty. President Obama wants everyone to go to college, and he sees this, not unjustifiably, as the federal government's lending a generous helping hand of opportunity. But perhaps it is less generous than it seems. Perhaps we already have too much schooling in our culture, too much hegemony of the schooled, too much licensing, too much regulation of experience, too little space to move around and find our own way, to experiment and make mistakes, to exercise the power of personal initiative without the supervision of experts, nannies, busybodies, and others who should spend more time minding their own business.

Perhaps we have become too concerned with pedigree, with the right schools, the right career path, and so on....Indeed, there was a time well within the memory of many living Americans when one's advancement in life was not so heavily determined by the credential of where, or even whether, one attended college....One of the greatest of America's 20th-century presidents—and one of the most literate and historically informed since the time of the founders—was Harry S. Truman, who did not have a college education at all, but instead began working for the Santa Fe Railroad when he graduated from high school....

We need to restore and preserve a less regimented, less status-stratified, less school-sorted, more open-ended America. We need an economy and legal structures that are as open as possible to enterprise and innovation. An educational system that is open to all, and geared not to the manufacturing of credentials (or artificial and dysfunctional rites of passage) but to the empowering of individuals. A society that concerns itself with the knowledge and skills a person can acquire, not where or how he acquired them....

[We need to celebrate] the enduring frontier spirit in America, which far from being deplored, ought to be celebrated and nurtured. In doing so, we will be celebrating the ability of this country to give unprecedented scope to the amazing and unpredictable depths of the human person, depths that cannot be produced factory-like by the right schools or the right social arrangements, but emerge from the unpredictable and often surprising potential in the minds and hearts and spirits of ordinary people when they are left free to pursue their ambitions. The examples of Lincoln and Alaska exemplify qualities of character and spirit that are at the heart of what this country is at its best, and that we should want to foster and preserve in the years ahead.

Recent RI Budget History, Part 2 of 3

Carroll Andrew Morse

The graphs below show the recent histories of two important subcategories of spending by Rhode Island state government, spending from general revenues...


...and spending from Federal Funds (both adjusted for inflation)...


Slow Improvement, or Spinning Wheels?

Justin Katz

Little by little, we appear to be moving Rhode Island's political structure in the right direction:

A new law championed by East Providence officials has changed how its candidates and Central Falls' election contenders collected voters' signatures.

A provision in each of the communities' charters said voters could sign only one candidate's nomination papers. The candidate who submitted his or her papers first essentially owned every voter who signed his or her petition documents. ...

The matter was worse in East Providence because the charter also called for those seeking local office — such as School Committee and City Council — to get 200 signatures, four times the state requirement of 50.

It all seems so wonkish, but when these sorts of restrictions mount, they do create a significant disincentive to participation. The two questions, though, are:

  1. Are other instances of such policies being reinserted through the window as we shove these out the door?
  2. Are the changes happening quickly enough to pull Rhode Island out of the rut between balancing the budget and losing productive residents?

I'm afraid I'd have to offer the gut answers of: "probably" and "no even close," respectively. Although, it is possible that reform will accelerate from baby steps to a full sprint...

Stimulating Something Other than Lethargy

Justin Katz

Stephen Spruiell argues that there have now been five rounds of stimulus spending by the federal government, totaling $1.085 trillion, which surpasses the cost of both wars in which our nation has been engaged over the last decade. He further argues that the approach that the government has been taking has been flawed in its very principles.

This isn't just a matter of wasted money, because the mounting debt will eventually come due and, moreover, the debt is creating a bubble likely to pop, moving us (at last) to the ultimate "too big too fail" collapse. Not surprisingly, I like his proposal for a reworked stimulus policy:

Keynesian economists also argue that scaling back stimulus spending might actually hasten a debt crisis. Cutting spending during a period of economic weakness, they say, would depress growth, which would depress tax revenues, which would make debt service even more difficult. The reason they are enchanted with this argument is that it never occurs to them to cut spending and tax rates simultaneously. To be clear, I am not claiming that tax-rate cuts would foster enough economic growth to pay for themselves, but there is strong evidence that they would foster more growth than deficit-financed government spending would — evidence that economist N. Greg­ory Mankiw recently summarized in the journal National Affairs. The incentive effects of tax-rate cuts would more than offset whatever harm (my guess is: very little) might accompany spending cuts of an equivalent size. Meanwhile, the spending cuts would offset the revenue lost to the tax cuts.

One Teachers Union Endorses Chafee While Another Unendorses the Master Lever

Monique Chartier

Confirming what a teacher had told me last week, Katherine Gregg reports yesterday on projo.com that the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals has endorsed former Senator Linc Chafee (I) for governor.

Right around the same time, Ian Donnis breaks the news that NEARI Exec Dir Bob Walsh, in what is probably a massive coincidence, has gone all cold on the master lever.

I would certainly suspect that we won’t be encouraging any of our members to pull the master lever as they make their way down the ticket and make choices in each of the races . . . . So you can put us down as opposing the master lever.

You don't suppose this is related to the fact that the teacher union fave for governor is politically unaffiliated and would stand to lose tens of thousands of votes via the master lev ...?


Marriage Is What We Make It

Justin Katz

Commenter Rasputin scoffs at my suggestion that, as men become less useful as economic partners and less attractive as mates, heterosexual women will begin marrying each other. You can call the idea crazy, but remember that you did so when the New York Times or Dateline runs a story about the trend of "BFF second marriages" within a decade of pervasive same-sex marriage.

To the extent that the SSM movement retains the centrality of children to our idea of marriage, it insists that men and women are entirely interchangeable in their raising. They proffer having two parents as somehow the key to that task but insist that their genders don't matter. The overall message of SSM, however, is that marriage is not about children at all.

So what does that leave marriage to be about? It made sense, as our civilization came up with the social formula that brought us to our current level of advancement, for a layer of romantic mystique to be woven into the marriage culture for added profundity, but our society is burning the last fumes of such notions of soul mates and couples' being "meant for each other." Common and easy divorce and cultural narcissism are eliminating the last vestiges. Some people even argue that we're simply living too long for expectations of a single mate to be realistic. With the removal of the real miracle of childbirth — whereby a child literally joins the two parents in one body — from our understanding of marriage, there's no need for romance to play a role.

Best-friend marriages won't start out as sexual relationships. Divorced mothers will quickly realize the advantages of teaming up, and marriage will help them in that regard. (Kate & Allie was a popular TV show back when it was still considered craziness to predict the probability of same-sex marriage.) Over time, individual couples and next-generation pairings may move to satisfy each other's sexual desires, but it isn't really necessary for the cultural phenomenon to occur; it's long been a joke, after all, that married couples stop having sex, anyway.

We tend to forget, as these public debates develop, that our basic sense of what things mean — the essential understanding that everybody shares — changes. Everybody currently over thirty formed their sense of marriage before SSM was considered a possibility, so it's easy to fit the new relationships into the old formula and expect everything else to stay the same. That won't be the case.

Part of the very reason to have marriage is to create cultural expectations that men and women who behave in such a way as to create children will provide those children with stable homes consisting of their mothers and fathers. If that behavior is no longer in the equation, then there's no reason for sex to be, and to the extent that marriage continues to offer practical benefits to the spouses, it will become an attractive option to anybody (pairs, at first) who trusts somebody else — whether divorced mothers or shiftless young men.

July 21, 2010

Shutting Down the Alternative

Justin Katz

This is the sort of thing about which all Americans should strive to be aware:

Hot on the heels of recent threats from Vice President Joe Biden and Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel directed at sites offering unauthorized movies and music, last month U.S. authorities targeted several sites they claimed were connected to the streaming of infringing video material.

'Operation In Our Sites' targeted several sites including TVShack.net, Movies-Links.TV, FilesPump.com, Now-Movies.com, PlanetMoviez.com, ThePirateCity.org, ZML.com, NinjaVideo.net and NinjaThis.net. In almost unprecedented action, the domain names of 7 sites were seized and indications are that others — The Pirate Bay and MegaUpload — narrowly avoided the same fate. ...

Now, according to the owner of a free WordPress platform which hosts more than 73,000 blogs, his network of sites has been completely shut down on the orders of the authorities.

We're all interconnected, out here on the Internet, and it would be very easy to come up with pretenses to take out unquestionably legitimate Web sites with which the powers who be have problems. We're not to the point of virtual black helicopters, yet, but it's critical to have an eye on such developments.

Recent RI Budget History, Part 1 of 3

Carroll Andrew Morse

This is the first of several sets of posts intended to be rolled out over the next few weeks (the traditional summer slow season for political writing, though that will hardly be the case in RI this year!), related to issue discussions that will hopefully occur during the 2010 campaign.

For starters, here is a short history of the recent growth in the Rhode Island state budget. Data was compiled from two sources: the RI Department of Administration's Budget Office, for fiscal years 1998 to 2009, and this year's "enacted budget" document from the legislature, for fiscal years 2010 and 2011.

This first graph is total budget amounts, from all sources in terms of "current dollars" (meaning the actual dollar amount spent in that fiscal year), broken down by the state's official major categories for its spending...


Current dollars do not take into account purchasing power changes due to inflation. Consumer Price Index data by month, which can be used as an estimate of inflation and can be used to adjust the sepdning data across time, is available the State Department of Labor and Training website. Using FY2010 as the base year, I adjusted prior year totals upward (because of positive inflation rates) and assumed a small positive inflation rate for the current fiscal year, to create a set of inflation-adjusted spending figures

The results show that the growth in government spending has exceeded the rate of inflation, i.e. that government has steadily claimed more and more resources over the past decade...


Considering Unemployment

Justin Katz

Having followed the work of Providence Journal reporter Neil Downing for years, now, I'm confident that it was not a deliberate omission, but I can't help but wonder why a particular factor contributing to economic malaise didn't make it into his recent article about unemployment:

In the current recession — which began in late 2007, and is now in its fourth calendar year — people are often out of work for 6 to 12 months — "if they're lucky to find a job," [URI Professor Edward] Mazze said; many are out of work for more than a year — or longer, he said.

The main reason, Mazze said, is that "no jobs are really being created." Partly because of high rates of foreclosures and consumer debt amid this recession, "businesses are afraid to spend because consumers are not spending," Mazze said.

Businesses and consumers both are facing uncertainty not only because of the depth of the recession but because we've got a "transformative" regime running the country. Massive public debt. Looming changes to healthcare requirements. Environmental regulations appearing inevitable, whether Congressionally enacted or administratively implemented. And the list goes on.

In such an environment, planning for as-yet prospective demand is even riskier than usual.

Winging a "Prayer"

Marc Comtois

The banner has been on display at Cranston West High School since 1958. On it is a simple, innocuous prayer.

Our Heavenly Father,
Grant us each day the desire to do our best,
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically,
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers,
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others,
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win,
Teach us the value of true friendship,
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.
It wasn't a problem until someone took offense--enter the ACLU:
Steven Brown, executive director of the local ACLU, said she “was extremely concerned and troubled … upon observing a display of a prayer on the wall.”....Brown said the banner violates the First Amendment and his letter asks the committee to remove it, along with anything similar that might be displayed in other Cranston schools.

“I understand that this prayer may have been posted in the auditorium for a long time,” said Brown. “However, the crucial protections of the Bill of Rights have been around even longer.”

Brown cited Supreme Court decisions upholding the separation of church and state and referred to the district’s policy which states that “The proper setting for religious observance is the home and the place of worship.”

Familiar argument, heard it before. The hypersensitivity to this stuff is ridiculous, but, as Brown says, it's been pretty much "established" that this is a no-go (agree or not). So it looks like the Cranston School Committee is resigned to remove the banner because doing so would lighten the mantle of persecution imposed upon any non-believers forced to casually glance at the banner from time to time while attending a function in the auditorium--and it costs a lot less than a lawsuit. However, School Committee Chair Michael Traficante did offer some thoughts:
School Committee Chairman Michael A. Traficante said he has been to the auditorium many times but has never noticed the prayer on the wall...Traficante said this is the first complaint that he’s aware of concerning the banner.

“If it’s a violation of the First Amendment, we have no choice but to remove it,” he said, but suggested that the language could be changed.

“It doesn’t need to say Heavenly Father,” Traficante said.

To this, Brown chuckled.

“A prayer is a prayer,” he said. “I’m not quite sure how one changes the words of a prayer.”

Well, how about like this, Mr. Brown?
We desire to do our best,
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically,
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers,
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others,
To be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win,
To learn the value of true friendship,
To always conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.
That wasn't too hard.

From Within the Socialist Depths

Justin Katz

Granted, he's a sympathetic journalist, but Jay Nordlinger's profile of Norway's Progress Party (which aligns pretty closely with the American conservative movement) paints an interesting picture, with some notable moments:

The next winter, Israel went into Gaza, to stop these rocket attacks. In Oslo, there were riots, as the Muslim community reacted. Jensen gave a speech outside the parliament building, in support of Israel, and in support of peace and coexistence in the Middle East. The mob — howling, armed, and violent — threatened her. (You can get a taste of this on YouTube.) But she carried through with the speech. She tells me, "That was the scariest thing I've ever done in my life. It was surreal" — Norway prides itself on being a peaceable country.

Rioting in Norway over the actions of Israel is like rioting in Rhode Island over the domestic policies of Alabama. One must wonder: For whom is the message of the riot intended?

So, Progress must be a fringe party, right? Just a curiosity, in this strongly socialist culture. Not on your life. The country is getting less socialist. Progress is the second-largest party in the Storting (after Labor). It has 41 out of 169 seats; in the elections of 2009, it garnered 23 percent of the vote.

And why?

One of my habitual questions, for these conservatives and libertarians, is, "How did you get this way? How did you come to think as you do?" And they almost in­variably respond, "I grew up in a socialist country!" — as if that were all the expla­nation needed. They felt stifled, and were bursting to break free into a new way of living.

And now, the Internet and other playing-field-leveling technology has made it possible for such people to find each other, develop ideas and organizations, and bring their message to others. Nordlinger reports that the national media, in Norway, is overtly opposed to Progress. Until very recently, such opposition could keep reform groups at the fringe, even if their positions would have found majority support, if voiced.

Those with an eye on the trends of European demography might notice one dark spot, though. Nowhere in Nordlinger's piece is there mention of children — as in of having them. However many Europeans begin to think it best to pull back on socialist modernism, their victories are sure to short-lived unless they expand their numbers the old-fashioned way.

The Nine RISC Business Network Endorsed Candidates

Monique Chartier

Interesting mixture of Dems, Repubs and Independents; incumbents and challengers.


Lisa Baldelli-Hunt (D, Woonsocket) - Incumbent facing a primary

Jon D. Brien (D, Woonsocket) - Incumbent facing a primary

Douglas W. Gablinske (D, Bristol) - Incumbent facing a primary

Brian Newberry (R, North Smithfield) - Incumbent

Stephanie Santos Sivalingam (R, East Providence) - Challenging John Savage in Primary


Sean Gately (R, Cranston) - Challenging Bea Lanzi

Ed O'Neill (I, Lincoln) - Incumbent

Chris Ottiano (R, Portsmouth) - Challenging C. Levesque

Michael Pinga (D, West Warwick) - Incumbent facing a primary

We Didn't Agree to That

Justin Katz

As Marc noted yesterday (and as we've been talking about for quite some time), Rhode Islanders are due to see their annual expense for public-sector pensions grow into the foreseeable future. I wonder how much issues such as this have contributed to the increasing disaffection with government.

Partly, that angst is a function of the feeling that there's now a ruling class that cannot be dislodged from office notwithstanding our ability to vote. Partly, it's the realization that the public-sector has insulated itself from the effects of the recession, at the expense of everyone else. (The supposed "stimulus" programs count, too). But pensions are a hard, cold fact that surely prods many private sector residents toward the opinion that our representative government doesn't really speak for us, and that we are not really responsible for the promises that it makes.

From the second link, above:

Republican Governor Carcieri had urged the General Assembly to eliminate entirely the promise of any cost-of-living increase, leaving it to the General Assembly to decide how much — if anything — the state could afford to give its retirees in any given year.

But the Democrat-dominated General Assembly was unwilling to go that far in an election year.

That was a decision they made, and it's easy to question — philosophically and practically — why they have such power over our money. Look at the language that even reporter Katherine Gregg uses (emphasis added):

To keep the promises state lawmakers have made over the years to more than 50,565 current and future retirees, the state will have to increase its contribution to the pension fund from 20.78 percent to 22.98 percent of payroll for employees.

And the pension system was built with such unrealistic expectations for a return on investment (8%, I believe) that the entire thing leaves the aftertaste of an illegitimate scam:

In their report, they noted the fair market value of the state's pension portfolio had dropped from $7.88 billion to $6.07 billion during the critical 2009 period they looked at, the rate-of-return on the investment of these dollars was minus 20.1 percent that year and despite some good years along the way, the state's "average market return for the last 10 years is 1.83 percent."

At the state level, of course, residents can change their entire slate of representatives by moving. Those who remain may or may not be able to oust the old guard, whether or not the individual representatives change, but perhaps there's reason to hope that more folks are asking themselves what "representative" ought actually to signify.

July 20, 2010

Depends Where We Look... and Stop Looking

Justin Katz

It would presume too much to site the latter as disproof of the former, but in close proximity, last week, commenter Russ asserted that Iran has no designs on nuclear weapons and the following story broke into the news:

An Iranian scientist sought refuge in the Pakistani Embassy compound and asked to go home, an apparent defection gone wrong that could embarrass the U.S. and its efforts to gather intelligence on Tehran's suspected nuclear weapons program. ...

Reliable and timely information about Iran's nuclear program is of enormous importance to the Obama administration and other countries seeking to stop the Islamic republic from getting the bomb. Beyond using diplomatic means to try to stop Iran, the U.S. and Israel have not ruled out using military force.

Look, when it comes to global intrigue, we have to assume that there are multiple angles to each incident at which we can only guess. I noted, in the comments, that the National Intelligence Council report that Russ cited as evidence (PDF treads carefully in such a way as to make the assertion that no "nuclear weapons program" exists in Iran... you know, per se, for sure, with that title on its letterhead. On the other side, one could suggest (I suppose) that countries that appear to take the threat of a nuclear Iran seriously enough to threaten military force are putting on some sort of political show despite the imaginary nature of that threat.

Frankly, I'll wager with my writing and with my votes, that the threat is real and that we ought to conduct ourselves, internationally, appropriately to that assessment.

Boys and Men — Goodbye to All That

Justin Katz

Mark Steyn's talking about social engineering in the classroom (subscription required), but the method that he's highlighting — the elimination of individual friendship — broadens quickly:

... much of the contemporary scene owes its origins to silly little fads among "educators" that seemed too laughable to credit only the day before yesterday. I see the Times piece references those literary best friends of yore, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But Tom and Huck's boyhood is all but incomprehensible to today's children. I believe that unlike its fellow Missouri educational establishment in St. Louis, the grade school in St. Petersburg had no "director of counseling," because, if it had, she would have diagnosed Tom with ADHD and pumped him full of Ritalin, and the story would have been over before he'd been told to whitewash the fence. The suppression of boyhood would have been thought absurd half a century back. Yet the "educators" pulled it off, effortlessly. Why not try something even more ambitious? ...

Give me a boy till seventh grade, say today's educators, and we can eliminate the man problem entirely.

By "the man problem," Steyn means the intractability of fully formed and independent adults; any Tea Party mom will will tell you that fully expressed womanhood is on the engineers' suspect list, as well. Nonetheless, the males of our species are under particular scrutiny.

Which brings us to Mark Patinkin:

It was Atlantic Monthly. It had a cover story that did not bode well for my gender. It was titled, "The End of Men." The thesis is that we are becoming secondary in society. Our record of running things for the last millennium or so is coming to a clear end.

I at first thought it would be a feminist screed. Perhaps it was. Unfortunately, it was also convincing.

Here are two facts that say it all. (1) As of this year, women make up most of the U.S. workforce. (2) Three of five college graduates are women.

Patinkin and his source note the transformation of our economy from industrial to service, but "services" are of such a variety that, in general, the industry needn't be gender specific. One would expect more parity than sublimation were that the key factor. The next possibility that he mentions is that young men are to blame, citing an anecdote from the Atlantic piece:

Here's one from Ashley Burress, student-body president of the University of Missouri at Kansas City, who's getting a Ph.D. in pharmacy. The article sums up her view of the genders on campus this way: "Guys high-five each other when they get a C, while girls beat themselves up over a B-minus. Guys play video games in each other's rooms, while girls crowd the study hall."

Anybody who's either applauded, lamented, mocked, or passively noted male competitiveness should see immediately that the motivation to excel is not a gendered phenomenon. It's a cultural phenomenon, and on first blush, it looks as if we're turning the world into every boy's dream: Women, on top of being more man-like in their sexual adventurousness, are chasing career paths. The young men can hook up at parties, play games all day, and as the cultural pressure eases on them (1) to get married, and (2) to be the breadwinner, they may begin to expect their wives to take care of them when their parents no longer will. There's a Tom Sawyer cleverness to playing while others work.

But it can't last. The more men feel at ease as leeches, relying on their significant others to supply whatever adult variation of Ritalin they prefer, the less use they'll be. The less attractive they'll be. When professional women fulfill that natural urge to give birth (assuming they maintain that urge), it will make more sense for them to pair up with other professional women for the purpose of parenting. As it happens, our society is charging toward equation of such relationships with traditional marriage.

The Tax Burden Shell Game

Marc Comtois

The New York Times is the latest to bring attention to the "maverick" independent campaign for governor being run by Lincoln Chafee, specifically highlighting his call for an increase--and broadening--of the state sales tax.

[Chafee] would seek to eliminate a series of exemptions to the state’s sales tax, effectively raising the cost of food, clothing and other items by 1 percent — a proposal he says would raise $100 million more.

This would not seem like an especially radical idea, since it follows years of income and corporate tax reductions that would remain in place, and it means that $200 in school clothes would cost an extra two bucks....Whether or not more sales taxes make sense for Rhode Island (it would, after all, close only a quarter of the projected budget gap while adding to the burden of low-income families), the rarity of Mr. Chafee’s argument — and the fact that is comes from an independent — tells us something about the boxes in which both parties find themselves at the moment.

In short, according to the Times, Democrats are boxed in because they don't want to risk their political lives on playing to "tax hike" type while Republicans have built an ideology (and many careers) on a hard-line stance against any tax increases.

With that in mind, and with the news that RI taxpayers will be asked to foot even more of the state pension bill, we have the seemingly positive recent data published by RIPEC that explains that, over a 3 year period, Rhode Island has gone from 10th to 15th to 17th in the nation as far as overall tax-burden.

That reduction is thanks to income tax reform that has been implemented over the last few years--particularly the now defunct flat-tax option--such that Rhode Islanders now pay about the national average. Additionally, according to RIPEC, we also pay a lower than average percentage sales tax (79% per capita), which is presumably why it caught the eye of Sen. Chafee. The idea of broadening the sales tax to generate "more revenue" may seem like a small sacrifice--even a measly 1% as the Times suggests--and, as a consumption tax, it is arguably more fair. Further, it may even seem reasonable to take steps to bring the state sales tax in line with the national average.

Unfortunately, that's not the whole Rhode Island tax picture. RIPEC also reports that Rhode Islanders pay approximately 144% (per capita) the national average in property tax and 123% the national average in "intergovernmental revenues" (federal taxes that come back to the state). These last two explain the reason that conservatives take such a hard line on tax increases. Rare is the politician who will ask for a tax increase in one area while asking for a tax reduction in another. Sen. Chafee is no different. While he says property taxes are bad, he doesn't offer a plan for reducing them concomitant to his sales tax increase plan, other than the catch-all "economic development." (Well, no kidding--and how do high taxes help with that?).

Unlike Chafee, some of the gubernatorial candidates--Caprio, Robitaille, Moffit--are proposing cuts to the state budget. Of course the problem is, no matter who is the Governor, the real budgetary power at the state level lay in the hands of the General Assembly. The same General Assembly that has done barely enough to get by and are responsible for passing along some of the excess property tax burden onto the municipalities in the first place.

Further, unfunded state mandates aside, the municipalities are the ultimate arbiters of the property tax burden. Across the state, they've made cuts in fits and starts--nibbling at the edges with small, short-term concessions made in a few renegotiated contracts--while also relying on car tax revenue to fill gaps.

None of these entities have yet to truly address the structural economic problems we face, all of which are centered around the fact that we spend too much money on government at all levels. Remunerations--for government employees and government dependents--need to be reduced; expectations regarding the level of government services have to be lowered (and fewer required!); consolidation at the top. Don't fall for this bizarre shell game that shifts our tax burden from one category to another. Unless real reduction and reform is implemented--not the aforementioned nibbling or the one-time fixes so beloved by the General Assembly--we'll continue to bear the too-heavy tax burden we do, no matter what shell it's under.

Obama in Two Acts... or Not

Justin Katz

Anchor Rising readers who share my reading habits have surely come across Charles Krauthammer's warning to opponents of President Obama not to underestimate him:

The net effect of 18 months of Obamaism will be to undo much of Reaganism. Both presidencies were highly ideological, grandly ambitious, and often underappreciated by their own side. In his early years as president, Reagan was bitterly attacked from his right. (Typical Washington Post headline: "For Reagan and the New Right, the Honeymoon Is Over" — and that was six months into his presidency!) Obama is attacked from his left for insufficient zeal on gay rights, immigration reform, closing Guantanamo — the list is long. The critics don't understand the big picture. Obama's transformational agenda is a play in two acts. ...

The next burst of ideological energy — massive regulation of the energy economy, federalizing higher education, and "comprehensive" immigration reform (i.e., amnesty) — will require a second mandate, meaning reelection in 2012.

Readers may also have encountered Jonah Goldberg's simultaneous exposition of a seemingly contrary view:

In 2008, American liberalism seemed poised for its comeback. The pendulum of Arthur Schlesinger's "cycle of history" was swinging back toward a new progressive era. Obama would be the liberal Reagan.

Now that all looks preposterous. Of course, considerable blame can be laid at a White House that seems confused about how to relate to the American people when the American people don't share the White House's ideological agenda. Indeed, the White House seems particularly gifted at generating issues that put it crosswise with the majority of voters — from the Arizona immigration lawsuit to the cotton-mouthed explanations about whether or not it considers NASA's primary mission to be boosting the self-esteem of Muslim youth.

Goldberg's central objective, with that piece, is to convey his vague sense that something in the rules has changed. Difficult economic times are not making Big Government more popular, but less; an environmental tragedy has not caused the American people to throw caution to the wind in a burst of zeal for alternative energy.

The cultural dimension will be important to explore, but on the political point, Goldberg subsequently took up the juxtaposition of his piece with Krauthammer's:

Obama's ambition creates opportunities that wouldn't have existed if he opted for a more cautious approach. The risk reward is high for him — and for the opposition. In football, war, or poker, or plenty of other imperfectly analogous situations, when one side goes for broke it creates vulnerabilities the other side can exploit. If Obama had stuck with short passes and a running game, he might not have run up the score so high but he would be in better shape politically.

Goldberg is not convinced that there's a grand political plan — or at least one that Barack Obama is competent to execute. Even during his campaign, he was too apt to slip into rhetoric about rubes with their religion and guns and about economic redistribution, forcing him to rely even more heavily on his showmanship. On the other hand, he proved a master showman.

I'd suggest that, while underestimating the man is inadvisable, focusing on him is even more so. Obama was elected, ultimately, as a centrist healer, and he managed his "historic" achievements only because he had the bare majority of both houses of Congress, with compliantly leftist co-partisans, to ram them through. And the president owes those majorities to the concerted and cynical trashing of his predecessor by the Democrats and by the forces of media, both news and entertainment.

What all of those forces — the president and his allies — have accomplished in the past two years is to remind the American people that they have no good options in the voting booth. The principle of the lesser of two evils has returned with a vengeance, and it may just be that the partisans have revved up public emotions to the degree that a majority of voters will not accept mere incremental loss of their autonomy from government as the "lesser" evil.

So the question isn't whether the president will attempt to rework his presentation in response to a new political reality, after November. He'll surely try, although a period of lame-duck gift-giving by exiting Congressional Democrats will make his efforts more difficult, even if he plays off them as a moderate only reluctantly complicit in the scheme. The question is whether he can play the Republicans and the American people so well that they return to him his one-party government.

But even that goes too far in crediting Obama as the sole actor on the stage. The one question is actually two:

  1. Can Republicans control themselves sufficiently to move with the mandate of popular disaffection, rather than attempt to swim against it for immediate political and personal gain?
  2. Will the American people be fooled again by The One?

On neither count am I confident in the preferable outcome, but while we oughtn't underestimate Obama, neither should we forget that history doesn't really divide into a series of strong personalities. The story isn't the main characters, but the tides that they ride.

The Ground on Which We Stand

Justin Katz

Built on the belly of an exit ramp, as West Main Rd. transitions into Rt. 24, in Portsmouth, its parking area looking like a racetrack pit stop for daily commuters, Patriots Park is likely most often treated with a high speed curiosity about its import and forgotten. Only those headed toward Bristol will find curiosity convenient to answer; those heading toward locations north must take the exit and then weave through the northwestern side of town to reclaim their path. Arguably, that's a worthwhile coda to the visit.

The monument describes the Battle of Rhode Island, August 29, 1778, and the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, consisting mainly of blacks and American Indians, some literally fighting for their freedom. The front side of the wall, facing the road, addresses the collective identity of the Americans; the opposing side provides the historical lesson, and on a summer's afternoon the sun beating on one's back seems deliberately to recall the heat of battle.

Upon speeding back into the race of modern life, it's natural to consider those who once trod the ground beneath the suburban homes along the way and to share the experience of looking across the bay as the soldiers must have done as they marched.

I've lamented, in the past, that Rt. 24 thrusts into view the coal plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, placing the factory and stacks into a vista in which one would prefer some ancient castle, as might be encountered in Europe. Such is modern life, though, that blend of contemporary functionality and history. In Rhode Island, at least, we've much of that history to encounter as we go about our days, if we care to look.

July 19, 2010

Should We Even Try to Take Politicians Seriously?

Justin Katz

Tim White's been doing a great job moderating debates for the various political races of the season, and the Congressional District 1 debate was no different. I'll confess, though, that I find it difficult to take answers seriously or to expect that debates will provide a reliable impression of who candidates are. In that respect, this answer from Bill Lynch is a classic of the genre:

White asked Lynch why voters should trust him to "get anything done" in Congress, given his "hyper-partisan" role as state Democratic Party chairman for more than a decade.

"That was my job, and I was proud of the job I did," Lynch responded. "I was never afraid to stand up and speak my mind. And frankly, I think that that's something that the people of Rhode Island want and need ... now in Washington."

"That was my job" implies that people shouldn't hold him but so accountable, as if he really is "hyper-partisan," which is a spin he's tried previously on WPRO. But that he would characterize his performance at that job as "speak[ing] my mind" suggests that he was a natural fit for the role.

The answer, in other words, is clearly that voters cannot trust him to be anything other than hyper-partisan, but he wants to claim to be some sort of an independent outsider while assuring his fellow Democrats that he'll always and ever be their boy.

Tale of 2 Editorial Boards on Climategate

Marc Comtois

The green smoke is emanating from Fountain Street where the ProJo editors celebrate the recent finding that Climategate really was much ado about nothing.

Britain’s Royal Society and a panel at Pennsylvania State University said that while a couple of researchers wrote nasty and inappropriate e-mails about climate-change skeptics and didn’t want to share certain data, their research itself was sound and there was no plot to squash other views.
Huh. Well, the Wall Street Journal editors lay out a case for why that is not exactly true:
Leading climate scientists were caught advising each other to delete potentially compromising emails, stonewall freedom of information requests and game the peer review process to exclude contributions from skeptical colleagues.

The Climategate emails also revealed a habit among climate scientists of trimming their scientific sails to the political winds, sometimes by emphasizing temperature and environmental trends at the alarmist end of the spectrum.

"I tried hard to balance the needs of the science with the IPCC, which were not always the same," wrote East Anglia climatologist Keith Briffa to Penn State's Michael Mann in April 2007.

In addition, contra the ProJo editors beatitudes about "settled science", claims that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, the Amazon rainforest would decline by 40% and the infamous "hockey stick" graph were all debunked thanks to the greater scrutiny generated by the Climategate fiasco. But the cheerleaders keep cheering.

The WSJ continues:

[L]ast week's "Independent Climate Change Email Review," commissioned and funded by the University of East Anglia and chaired by Muir Russell, the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, amounts to a 160-page evasion of the real issues.

One such evasion concerns the science of climate change itself. The review insists that it found nothing "that might undermine the conclusions" of the 2007 IPCC report, to which the CRU was a significant contributor. But that's only because it explicitly refused to look. The review says its "concern is not with science, whether data has been validated or whether the hypotheses have survived testing," but rather with "the honesty, rigor and openness with which the CRU scientists have acted."

In other words, the review assumes the validity of the global warming "consensus" while purporting to reaffirm that consensus. Since a statement cannot prove itself, the review merely demonstrates a weakness for circular logic.

And downplaying the lack of credibility of some of the researchers:

Then there is the evasion—or maybe absolution is the better word—as it concerns the professional standards of the CRU scientists. The review does acknowledge that it found "evidence that emails might have been deleted in order to make them unavailable." And it faults the CRU staff for "[failing] to recognize . . . the significance of statutory requirements" concerning freedom of information requests. The review puts this down to a kind of naivete by the CRU scientists.

Yet it's hard to understand how researchers who were nothing if not meticulous in avoiding the FOI requests could have been unaware of their importance. In one now famous 2008 email, Mr. Jones wrote Penn State's Michael Mann as follows: "Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith [Briffa] re AR4 [the 2007 IPCC report]? Keith will do likewise." Good thing for these gentlemen that they didn't work for, say, Enron.

Further, as the WSJ points out, the review panel was hardly above reproach:
Perhaps the most significant evasion is the report's claim to be genuinely independent. Of its four panelists, one of them, Geoffrey Boulton, was a member of the University of East Anglia's faculty of environmental studies for 18 years and signed a petition last December insisting that climate researchers "adhere to the highest levels of professional integrity." Given that one of the problems exposed by the emails was a tendency for self-dealing, it's hard to see how this review will put suspicions to rest.
As seems to be the case with most of the AGW true believers, the ProJo editors continue to mistake skepticism of some of the science (especially of the hyperbolic claims mentioned above) for ignorance or self-interest or any number of poor character traits. So they ask:
So why do people keep denying the science? Mostly because to act in serious response to it will be very inconvenient and costly, though, of course, not nearly as costly (a few years out) as doing nothing. We’d have to cut back on some of our lifestyles, switch to tricky new energy technologies, watch while profits of some companies plunge, and force politicians into the painful role of demanding sacrifice from voters and so on. Quite unpleasant!

The short-term self-interest of just about anyone in power militates for arguing that we needn’t do anything serious about climate change now. The oil and coal industries especially are pumping vast quantities of cash into politics and PR to try to ensure that they and some other industries don’t have to grapple with climate change, at least within the tenure of current CEOs and politicians.

To which the WSJ editors offer this response (so to speak):
We realize that, for climate change true believers, last week's report will be waved about as proof that the science of climate change is as "settled" as the case for action. It's never hard to convince yourself of what you're already disposed to believe. But if their goal is to persuade an increasingly skeptical public about the science of global warming, and the need to restructure the world economy to ameliorate it, they need to start taking the politics out of the science.

Smaller as Well as Divided

Justin Katz

It's fortuitous that I'm a bit behind my blogging schedule today, because Marc's closing point happens to relate to my thoughts upon reading Red Jahncke's criticism of the Dodd-Frank Act regulating the finance industry. Jahncke gives a little history:

Under Glass-Steagall, banks were local and regional champions. In New England, for example, Connecticut had Connecticut National Bank and Rhode Island had Fleet Bank. Then, as the states formed regional banking "compacts," New England had Bank of New England and a much-larger Fleet. No matter how well or poorly managed (many failed), these institutions cared. Local and regional bankers knew local and regional businessmen.

Then, in 1994 Congress scrapped state control of interstate banking under Glass-Steagall and allowed nationwide branching. Banks became behemoths with no loyalties and no person-to-person knowledge or understanding of borrowers.

In 1999, Congress repealed the rest of Glass-Steagall, i.e. its separation of commercial and investment banking. And that unleashed huge, highly complex, diversified financial conglomerates -- a very new phenomenon. The short experience with these giants has not been good.

As Anchor Rising readers will surely be able to recite, this is far from the whole story, inasmuch as it was a particular type of asset underlying complex derivatives and forms of investment insurance that catalyzed the collapse. In other words, the bigness and complexity of the banks may have caused problems on their own, but without implicit government backing of — and government incentives for — risky mortgages, investors would not have been as willing to ignore the stability of the table on which the house of cards was being built.

Those tasked with investigating investments — and regulating them, as Jahncke points out — didn't fear the financial structure when they perhaps should have, but they also didn't fear the instability of loans going to people for amounts that they could not afford. Referring back to Marc's post: divided government can, in some instances, get us the least-bad of both sides, but it can also result in a toxic combination, as powerful players find that sweet spot for manipulation in the crack that runs between laissez faire and subsidization.

As for Jahncke's concerns, I'll agree that the Dodd-Frankenstein monster has gone in entirely the wrong direction, essentially writing the problems into the law, and that a different reform could be helpful toward stabilizing the market. But no reform could match a cultural decision that we're all better off knowing our bankers and sticking with those dedicated to our own local markets.

The Case for Gridlock, Kinda

Marc Comtois

In response to recent GOP leadership pronouncements, Kevin Williamson asks why anyone would trust the GOP any more than the Democrats in making budget cuts.

Now, the 2009 balloon isn't shown in this chart (and it may go off the chart if it was), but this shows that no matter who is in control, spending just continues to go up, up, up. I'd say go with the lesser of two evils, but it's darn hard to figure out which is which. Maybe the best we can do is divided government so that no one Party can get all the things done they would like. Gridlock is probably our best chance at slowing down the seemingly inevitable growth.

The Nation's Boom Town

Marc Comtois

In his post earlier today, Justin wondered if there was a link between the Washington, D.C. suburbs' educational success and talk of a ruling class that I brought up yesterday. Heh, well...

America is struggling with a sputtering economy and high unemployment — but times are booming for Washington’s governing class.

The massive expansion of government under President Barack Obama has basically guaranteed a robust job market for policy professionals, regulators and contractors for years to come. The housing market, boosted by the large number of high-income earners in the area, many working in politics and government, is easily outpacing the markets in most of the country. And there are few signs of economic distress in hotels, restaurants or stores in the D.C. metro area.

As a result, there is a yawning gap between the American people and D.C.’s powerful when it comes to their economic reality — and their economic perceptions.

This disconnect has been going on for quite some time, but it looks even worse now. You can be sure that politicians and bureaucrats manage to find a way to get money into their own communities--including the public schools where their kids attend.
Uncle Sam employs about 10 percent of the area’s 3 million-person work force — or by federal procurement dollars, more than $20 billion of which landed in nearby Fairfax County, Va., alone last year.

“This is our auto industry, or financial services, or entertainment,” said Stephen Fuller, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, alluding, respectively, to the economic foundations of the Detroit, New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas. “The federal government is our business. And on top of that, we have an administration that’s clearly expanding the role of the federal government in the context of the national economy — as a manager and as a provider of funds. That hasn’t been the case in the past, except in the case of wars.”

Then again, according to the Obama Administration, we're in a war against pretty much everything, which requires government mobilization!
And more money is on the way, in the form of well-paid agency jobs associated with reforms of the nation’s health insurance sector and financial markets: Both bills call for substantial new federal oversight by agencies such as the Health and Human Services Department and the Internal Revenue Service. And the professionals who take those jobs will need homes, buy furniture and pay taxes, said David Robertson, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, “and that’s going to have a multiplier effect in our region.”

The Center for Regional Analysis projects the federal government will add 6,500 new jobs in the area each year through 2012.

It's a boom town, for sure.

"Contract From America"

Monique Chartier

Browsing around on a google search to see whether an l.t.e. by S.K. Town Council candidate Andrew McNulty got printed (apparently I'm too proud to just ask), I stumbled on this.

With heavy emphasis on scaling back the size and spending (there isn't a non-cliche adjective that properly describes how out of hand both have gotten) of the federal government, not to mention a greater legislative adherence to the Constitution, the "Contract from America" is an excellent set of formalized goals developed by the Tea Party and 912 movements. My only mild complaint is that, while it talks about a cap on annual spending increases plus a review and possible wholesale elimination of federal agencies and programs, no mention is made of rolling back the staggering spending that took place over the last two years. But possibly that would be intrinsic to the elimination of programs and agencies. Or maybe the horse is out of the barn with regard to past spending?

"Contract from America", by the way, as opposed to "Contract with America" because

The Contract from America is a grassroots-generated, crowd-sourced, bottom-up call for real economic conservative and good governance reform in Congress.

"In Congress". H'mm. I wonder if the members of Rhode Island's congressional delegation have signed it ...?

Some States Help Residents to Achieve Potential; Some Do Not

Justin Katz

Each year, Newsweek publishes a list of "America's Best High Schools." Their criterion is rather limited, having to do with the number of students at public schools who take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or Cambridge (AICE) tests, but it is a reasonable snapshot of the emphasis that a school places on excelling. The baseline for making the list at all was one test (taken by a junior or senior) per graduate, which includes about 6% of high schools.

I probably shouldn't have been surprised, but was, that Rhode Island can't boast a single school on the list of 1,735 across the United States. In that dubious distinction, we're joined only by Hawaii, North Dakota, and Wyoming. The success of each state (plus the District of Columbia) is represented in the following graph; the greener the state, the more "Best High Schools" a state has per 1,000 of school-age population, the redder, the fewer. (Bright green signifies 0.1 schools per 1,000 students, and bright red signifies 0.)

The top ten states by this measure were:

  1. District of Columbia, 0.105
  2. Maryland, 0.101
  3. Virginia, 0.076
  4. New York, 0.054
  5. Florida, 0.049
  6. Delaware, 0.048
  7. California, 0.045
  8. New Jersey, 0.044
  9. Colorado, 0.039
  10. North Carolina, 0.038

The top ten states by actual number of high schools were:

  1. California, 302
  2. New York, 172
  3. Florida, 139
  4. Texas, 136
  5. Virginia, 99
  6. Maryland, 98
  7. New Jersey, 66
  8. North Carolina, 61
  9. Georgia, 61
  10. Illinois, 55

The top ten states by the number of schools in the top quartile of list — the best of the best — per 1,000 of the school-age population were:

  1. District of Columbia, 0.053
  2. Virginia, 0.028
  3. Maryland, 0.023
  4. Florida, 0.022
  5. New York, 0.019
  6. North Carolina, 0.014
  7. Colorado, 0.013
  8. Texas, 0.009
  9. California, 0.009
  10. Georgia, 0.009

One can infer that states that make this final list, but not the first, have pockets of excellence. One can also infer — and Rhode Islanders can testify — that states that don't make the full list at all are not oriented toward helping people, especially students, to achieve their potential.

It digs a little more deeply than I'm inclined, just now, to tie the bright greenness of the Washington, D.C., area to recent talk about a "ruling class."


On the "ruling class" question, Anchor Rising contributor Marc Comtois followed up with a post noting that the D.C. area is a "boom town" in the midst of recession.

July 18, 2010

You Influence Me; I'll Influence You

Justin Katz

Yeah, yeah, it's certainly probable that anybody tagged to participate in a state Judicial Nominating Commission is likely to be well connected, politically, but there's just something about a professional lobbyist's making the cut that doesn't seem quite right:

State House lobbyist Richard M. McAuliffe Jr. is the newest member of the commission that helps appoint the state's judges. ...

Head of the Mayforth Group lobbying firm of Providence, McAuliffe is considered skilled at helping clients win money from the federal government. His clients include Johnson & Wales University, the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, Wachovia Global Securities Lending plus Smart Staffing, the employment firm at the center of a high-profile inquiry into state hiring practices.

Did somebody say something about a "ruling class"?

UPDATED: Charity and Accosting the Public

Justin Katz

I've been meaning to bring up a letter critical of Alan Shawn Feinstein that Tim Castelli submitted to the Providence Journal not as an exercise in piling on, but because it does raise some interesting questions about charity and the drive to be a public figure:

... "You're from Rhode Island and you don't know who I am?" the stranger pressed.

The little annoying voice did start to sound familiar to my wife, but she replied she was sorry she didn't recognize him. "Well, I am Alan Shawn Feinstein," the stranger replied.

After asking my children where they attended school, he went into his "good deeds" speech and told my children that "they should help people and do good things." He should really listen to his own advice.

My 10-year-old daughter answered his questions and was very respectful, as she always is. My 8-year-old son said "hi," and then wanted nothing more than to continue observing the animals. After Mr. Feinstein's self-indulging speech, he gave my daughter his "Feinstein Junior Scholar" card and told her it was because she was a "good listener and answered all my questions. But your brother, he's not listening or paying attention, so he's not going to get a card."

I'm sure I'm not alone in having thought the ubiquity of Mr. Feinstein's face in local schools and those periodic three-generations-of-Feinsteins commercials to be a little... oddly self promotional. But the reality is that, in our current culture, people who are hugely generous will also tend to be a bit eccentric, and while some ethical systems (notably, Christianity) emphasize humble giving, it can't be denied that public recognition is powerful motivation for charity.

So, yeah, perhaps Mr. Feinstein should be a bit less forward when approaching families enjoying the day together in public, and it might have made a nice cap to his message if he'd — I don't know — given a card to the boy's mother with the instructions to get him to do a good deed, something small, to earn it. But as Feinstein told reporter Jennifer Levitz in a 2004 profile (that certainly illustrates his eccentricity): "You can be the nicest guy in the world and there will still be a certain percentage of people who won't like it for one reason or another."


Feinstein has a letter in the paper today, in which he raises some good explanations for visible giving:

Over 2 million people every year donate to anti-hunger agencies in response to the Feinstein challenge. I couldn't have achieved that anonymously. Nor could I anonymously fund the many local charities that depend on me every year for regular monthly grants.

Besides, anonymous giving is not always as good as it sounds. Unfortunately, it is used by some people of means as a way to give less money to charity than expected of them. Ask any fund raiser. Moreover, anonymous giving is not much of a motivator to others. If your friends don't know the good you do, it can't motivate them to follow suit.

Rhode Islanders might suggest that these points don't quite cover the extent of Feinstein's visibility, but as I said, one should expect philanthropists to be eccentric and to appear to have underlying motives.

One other point, from the letter, that I'd guessed from Mr. Castelli's (in which he noted that the zoo had told him that they'd ended their official relationship with Feinstein):

As for our association with the Roger Williams Park Zoo, so many free admissions were coming into the zoo when it was on our Jr. Scholar card that the zoo asked to be released from its contract with me.

Little wonder that's the case, when youngsters can acquire the cards simply by paying attention to a strange rich guy for a few minutes. Perhaps the threshold for a "good deed" — which the cards are meant to reward — should be a bit higher.

Taking on the Ruling Class

Marc Comtois

Glenn Reynolds and his readers are commenting on Angelo Codevilla's piece about the "Ruling Class". Who are they?

Today's ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters -- speaking the "in" language -- serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America's ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.
They are the leaders of both parties and government--especially the federal--bureaucracy; and though it's not a "party thing", the ruling class finds a more comfortable home amongst Democrats with a few wannabe Republicans tagging along. That's been particularly the case in Rhode Island. Their motive is power. They seek to wield power for its own sake, or because--following the Progressive tenets that supported the emergence of this new ruling class--they know better than the average person how to run things and what is best. They play rhetorical games to get this power and make deals--with unions, big business--to keep it. Yet, they are still the minority. Indeed, as Codevilla states, there are more people in America not in the "ruling class" who he calls the "country class"--those not oriented towards government for a solution to all problems (there are even some within government in this "class").
In general, the country class includes all those in stations high and low who are aghast at how relatively little honest work yields, by comparison with what just a little connection with the right bureaucracy can get you.
How old-fashioned: believing that it is what you know (and do) over who you know. Codevilla continues:
It includes those who take the side of outsiders against insiders, of small institutions against large ones, of local government against the state or federal. The country class is convinced that big business, big government, and big finance are linked as never before and that ordinary people are more unequal than ever.
That is why ordinary folks are organizing on the local level to try to take back some power. But it will be tough slogging: this new generation of reformers will be faced with a more legalistic and bureaucratized government than previous generations.

For instance, schools:

The grandparents of today's Americans (132 million in 1940) had opportunities to serve on 117,000 school boards. To exercise responsibilities comparable to their grandparents', today's 310 million Americans would have radically to decentralize the mere 15,000 districts into which public school children are now concentrated. They would have to take responsibility for curriculum and administration away from credentialed experts, and they would have to explain why they know better. This would involve a level of political articulation of the body politic far beyond voting in elections every two years...to subject the modern administrative state's agencies to electoral control would require ordinary citizens to take an interest in any number of technical matters. Law can require environmental regulators or insurance commissioners, or judges or auditors to be elected. But only citizens' discernment and vigilance could make these officials good.
For his part, Reynolds offers a few tactics to take against the ruling class:
First: Mockery. They are very mockable, and they are very thin-skinned. That leads them to erupt in embarrassing ways. Use their sense of entitlement against them.

Second (and related): Transparency. One-party government makes you stupid, and although composed of both Democrats and Republicans the political class is basically its own party, and these people are pretty stupid. Point it out, repeatedly. Use FOIA, ubiquitous videocameras, and other tools to make the stupidity show.

Third: Money. Codevilla writes: “Our ruling class’s agenda is power for itself. While it stakes its claim through intellectual-moral pretense, it holds power by one of the oldest and most prosaic of means: patronage and promises thereof.” The coming budget crisis — already here, really, but still largely denied by the rulers — is an opportunity to defund a lot of this patronage stuff. They’ll try, of course, to cut the muscle and preserve the fat, but that won’t work very well if they’re closely watched (see above). Cut them off in other ways, too. Don’t support the media, nonprofits, and politicians who support them with your money.

Also, make sure that money flows TO things you like: Businesses, alt-media, politicians who aren’t part of the problem, etc. Build up countervailing institutions that don’t depend on the government to survive.

Fourth: Organize and infiltrate. Take over party apparats from the ground up. Create your own organizations that can focus sustained attention — the “ruling class” relies on others having short attention spans while it stays focused on amassing and protecting power.

Finally: Don’t act like a subject. Rulers like subjects. Don’t be one. As a famous man once said: Get in their face. Punch back twice as hard. Words for the coming decade?

Winning the Sales-Tax-Cutting Race

Justin Katz

We keep hearing about the horrible prospect that Massachusetts is going to steal Rhode Island's gambling revenue if we don't win the race to build our own full-scale casinos, but what do you suppose would be the consequence, for RI, were the voters of MA to implement this?

The initiative would reduce the sales tax rate from 6.25 to 3 percent, a move that would cost the state up to $2.4 billion in annual revenue beginning Jan. 1.

Economy-wise, I'd wager that this is a far greater threat to Rhode Island than the casino competition. Of course, proponents of gambling and opponents of tax cuts are less concerned about the health of the economy than the health of state government. Indeed, the debate over the Massachusetts cut runs right along contemporary debates about just that division:

Millions of dollars were spent during the 2008 campaign by public employee unions and other opponent groups to defeat the initiative. ...

Opponents of rolling back the state's sales tax to 3 percent argue that such a large cut would put tremendous pressure on state lawmakers to reduce spending leading to widespread layoffs and cutbacks in services on which millions of people depend.

Note well that last word, "depend." The objective of big government is to make as many residents dependent as possible so that we'll all be afraid that our own dependency will hit the chopping block when the ruling class doesn't get its way.

"It will have a drastic impact on a whole range of services that the public expects from state and local government in Massachusetts -- local schools, public safety, human services, health care," said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. "The problem is this will take full effect in fiscal 2010 on top of a structural deficit in fiscal 2012 that could already be more than $2 billion. You're talking about a $5 billion hole in the 2012 budget."

For fiscal year 2009, Massachusetts's budget was $28 billion. Even if we assume that the tax decrease would lead to zero increase in transactions (thus mitigating the loss to state government), that number represents about 8.5% of the budget. There is surely that much fluff. And it's absurd to think that the actual decrease in revenue would not be much less.

Carla Howell, who is leading the charge is absolutely correct that "the only way to force lawmakers on Beacon Hill to eliminate wasteful spending is to take away their revenue streams." The problem is that the waste is more important to them than the services by which they hook residents, so they'll line up residents' dependencies — addictions — for cuts first. One can see this dramatically during local budget battles, and the principle holds at the state and federal levels, as well.

July 17, 2010

It Appears that Paris Hilton is a Pothead. Now Will You Think Better of Her??

Monique Chartier

For the second time in a month, suspicion of cannibis possession has caused Miss Hilton to be detained abroad. Unlike last month in South Africa (ahem, unless the substance and the attendant culpability were quickly and conveniently shifted away from the dilettante ... er, debutante as the South African gendarmerie approached), however, this incident turned up the real thing.

Paris Hilton was briefly detained in Corsica after sniffer dogs detected a "quite small" quantity of marijuana in her bag, a French newspaper reported Saturday.

Corse Matin newspaper said officers at the airport in Figari found about one gram's worth of marijuana. Hilton, who was transiting the French Mediterranean island in a private jet on Friday, was hauled in for questioning and released about 30 minutes later, the report said.

Setting aside the admittedly prejudicial revelation in the AP article that Miss Hilton posts on a website called "TwitLonger", doesn't knowledge of the young lady's relaxed, non-haute couture (alleged) hobby humanize her?

Unemployment the Same; "Unemployment" Down

Justin Katz

Here's an interesting observation. The Providence Journal's story about Rhode Island's decreasing unemployment rate may have been headlined "State's jobless rate declines to 12 percent," but the lead reads, "The figure is counteracted, however, by decline in size of labor force," and Andy Smith sets the tone of the article at the very beginning:

On the surface, there is good news in the state unemployment numbers released Friday. The Rhode Island jobless rate dropped to 12 percent in June, a decline from 12.3 percent in May, and the number of people classified as unemployed decreased by 1,900, falling to 69,300.

By contrast, the cycling news on WPRO — to which I'm able to listen at work, now that Buddy's show has moved to drive time — clearly presented the numbers as positive.

The upshot is that 800 government jobs (mostly for the Census) went away; 800 private sector jobs appeared (presumably with a significant percentage of temporary seasonal jobs); and 2,800 Rhode Islanders gave up their job searches and exited the calculation. Anybody who is tracking unemployment as a measure of actual economic health and resident well-being, in other words, should not be encouraged.

I will say this, though: It looks like my prediction of 15% unemployment was off the mark, but mostly because I didn't include the possibility of workers exiting the market.

Silence About the All-Important Felon Vote

Justin Katz

If you get your news from a mainstream media source, you might not have heard — as Dan Gifford notes — about the apparent likelihood that Senator Al Franken (D., MN) was elected based on the illegal votes of felons:

  • A conservative watchdog group Minnesota Majority has gone through voting records reportedly finding that at least 341 convicted felons voted illegally in just two of Minnesota's 87 counties during the 2008 general election. Undoubtedly other felons voted illegally in other counties.
  • After culling through 500 initial allegations of felons illegally voting, the Ramsey County Attorney's Office told The Minneapolis Star Tribune Monday that they are seriously investigating about 180 cases. Another 28 felons have already been charged. Hennepin county, which includes Minneapolis, winnowed 451 initial cases down to 216 that they are still looking at. Some other felons have already been charged. Both the Ramsey and Hennepin county attorneys are Democrats.

Franken won by 312 votes. Liberals will note that the news above comes via Fox News, which in their minds instantly invalidates it; that which is not reported by an alphabet channel does not actually happen. Of course, that's why non-liberals correctly understand Fox News to be the most balanced of the television news options.

Gifford suggests that even liberal Democrats like most journalists ought to find interest in the Franken voter fraud case, inasmuch as Franken cannot be ousted from office, at this point, and they could cast the story toward advocacy of allowing felons to vote legally. Unfortunately, shedding light on the matter might make voters elsewhere suspicious, conservative watchdog groups across the country might begin researching the results in their own states, and bloggers and alternative information sources might rack up more scoops.

Rationing Life

Justin Katz

I'd forgotten it during the national debate about universal healthcare, but in processing old columns for my personal site, I came across this, from May 2005:

Intrinsic human worth may not dominate the scales during other lifecycle stages for long, either. One indication of the slide is the British judiciary's hearing arguments concerning a problem that arises from government-funded healthcare: deciding whether the patient or the doctor/public has the final say on when to cease care.

As the lawyer representing the General Medical Council stated, "a doctor should never be required to provide a particular form of treatment to a patient which he does not consider clinically appropriate." Instead, in a "joint decision-making" process, the doctor should provide a menu of "appropriate" courses of action from which the patient may choose. The lawyer for the National Health Service noted that the doctor should compile the list of options "having regard to the efficient allocation of resources." It may not be appropriate, in other words, for treatment to include a hospital bed and the expensive attention and technology associated with it.

When the government encourages expectations of "cradle to grave" care, the focus of major decisions shifts from humans' dealing with the contingencies of life to society's managing human beings. An ailing patient can weigh every consideration related to his or her own life and choose, or not, self-sacrifice for things that he or she values — whether personal dignity or the preservation of savings for a family's well-being. When the authority ultimately rests with the public, however, this opportunity translates into a judgment of comparative value between citizens. There is a bottom line to balance, and it helps to exclude patients who cannot move sustenance to their digestive systems, for example.

We're now on the path.

July 16, 2010

A Juxtaposition of Eras

Justin Katz

You probably won't get through a bag of popcorn during this Friday night film — indeed, you could almost watch the whole thing while your popcorn pops — but Andrew Klavan's humorous and cutting comparison of the dark days of the Bush Era with Obama's Recovery Summer is worth a watch:

UPDATE: A Short-Lived Order Protecting Short-Lived Human Beings

Justin Katz

Remember that executive order that supposedly gave pro-life Democrats cover to vote for Obamacare? Oh well:

[House Republican Leader John] Boehner [of Ohio] and other Republicans point to reports that the Health and Human Services Department is giving Pennsylvania $160 million to set up a new high-risk insurance pool that will cover any abortion that is legal in the state.

According to Boehner, the response of the Obama administration to inquiries has been not to respond. People may pretend otherwise, but I don't think anybody actually doubted this outcome. Hopefully, the current election cycle will prove that burying the truth in subtext will not avert consequences. Also hopefully, as I suggested this morning, a shift of power won't merely change the direction of the corruption.

On the matter of funding abortion, though, I remain concerned that recent jurisprudence out of Massachusetts, concerning same-sex marriages, there, may lead federal courts to invalidate the federal government's ability to place such strings and restrictions on the use of our money.


After this matter began to draw attention, the Department of Health and Human Services released the following statement:

As is the case with FEHB plans currently, and with the Affordable Care Act and the President's related Executive Order more generally, in Pennsylvania and in all other states abortions will not be covered in the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) except in the cases of rape or incest, or where the life of the woman would be endangered.

Our policy is the same for both state and federally-run PCIP programs. We will reiterate this policy in guidance to those running the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan at both the state and federal levels. The contracts to operate the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan include a requirement to follow all federal laws and guidance.

Note, however, that this post had to do with a high risk insurance pool, not a PCIP. Perhaps it's an unnecessary distinction, but I'll believe it when I see the subsequent release. Note, also, that pro-abortion groups appear to believe that this statement changes things.

Bomb Scares in Suburbia

Justin Katz

I've no doubt that there were policies and protocols in play, but I'd really like to know whether, in the near-decade since 9/11, there have been any instances in which this sort of heavy response has actually prevented anything:

At 9:03 Thursday morning the call came in to 911 from a Pocasset Cemetery worker. He had spotted a suspicious red duffel-sized gym bag near some bushes about 10 yards north of the road through the cemetery. ...

At one point, two engine trucks, two command vehicles, and a rescue truck were all parked curbside on Main Road, lights flashing. About a dozen fire fighters, two fire chiefs (Chief Lloyd and his counterpart from Portsmouth, Jeffrey Lynch), and a single police officer had all gathered behind a wall on the Main Road sidewalk, a respectful distance (about 100 yards) from the barely visible red bag up in the cemetery.

Authorities closed the nearby post office briefly and blocked the drive-through windows to a Bank Newport branch. After (as the Newport Daily News reports) deployment of a bomb squad robot and use of a mineral-water bomb to explode the bag, its contents turned out to be about what one would expect: clothes and a DVD.

I haven't yet heard it said, but the slogan of our times may be becoming "common sense kills." It wouldn't apply, of course, to the residents of the threatened cemetery.

The Question Is Whether It's Curable

Justin Katz

You may have come across the commentary that the co-chairmen of a debt and deficit commission initiated by the president offered to the National Governor's Association:

The commission leaders said that, at present, federal revenue is fully consumed by three programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. "The rest of the federal government, including fighting two wars, homeland security, education, art, culture, you name it, veterans -- the whole rest of the discretionary budget is being financed by China and other countries," [Republican Senator from Wyoming Alan] Simpson said.

"We can't grow our way out of this," [former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine] Bowles said. "We could have decades of double-digit growth and not grow our way out of this enormous debt problem. We can't tax our way out. . . . The reality is we've got to do exactly what you all do every day as governors. We've got to cut spending or increase revenues or do some combination of that."

Bowles called the national debt "a cancer." Glenn Reynolds thinks "the whole point of the commission is to give political cover to tax increases," which may be the case. The question that follows immediately, however, is: Cover from whom? Cornell Law Professor and Barrington resident William Jacobson might suggest that the people of the United States have already tired of the game:

Barack Obama was not elected because of a progressive political shift in the nation. The nation remains a country which believes, according to polling by James Carville and Stan Greenberg, that:
"The best way to improve our economy and create jobs is to cut government spending and cut taxes so businesses can prosper and the private sector can start creating jobs."

Yet everything the Democrats do goes in the opposite direction. ...

Democrats took advantage of a crisis, and then doubled-down by massively increasing our national debt to advantage preferred political constituencies.

The elections will tell, ultimately, but my expectation is that the American electorate won't look at the bill of particulars and see taxation as the reasonable response. Of course, the two questions that follow that assessment are:

  • Have the national Democrats managed to lock themselves in, as their state members have in Rhode Island?
  • Have the Republicans learned their lesson sufficiently to avoid returning to the disappointing practices of their dominant years during the Bush administration?

If the answers are "yes" and "no," respectively, then our nation is in for grave times, indeed. On the second question, though, there's hope (I hope) that an infusion of tea-party Republicans will be enough to inoculate a Republican Congress against recidivism.

July 15, 2010

Time Traveling in Their Minds

Justin Katz

Scientist priest Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk explains that a recent scientific achievement in the news was not so much the creation of life as a rebuilding of a fundamental component, citing a Princeton microbiologist:

"Every cell is a microcosm of life, and neither the Venter team nor anybody else has come close to recreating the cell from scratch. If anything, the new report underscores how dependent biologists remain on its encapsulated power. Bonnie L. Bassler, a microbiologist at Princeton, said, "They started with a known genome, a set of genes that nature had given us, and they had to put their genome into a live cell with all the complex goo and ingredients to make the thing go."

What's interesting about some responses, though, is the authors' eagerness to dispel that which one can assume they've already managed to disprove to their own satisfaction:

Nevertheless, a number of commentators have managed to miss the point. Bioethicist Art Caplan, writing on the Scientific American website, suggests that Venter's "synthetic cell" dispels the notion that life "is sacred, special, ineffable and beyond human understanding."

Faye Flam muses in a similar vein in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "What's shocking about the new organism isn't that it breaches a boundary between inanimate matter and life, but that it shows that no such boundary exists. Life is chemistry." Her article gets even more outlandish when she suggests that chemicals "have the power to assemble themselves into organisms -- even complicated ones that can contemplate their own place in the universe..."

You know, I don't know that I've ever heard anybody claim that scientists could not possible learn to build cells from scratch. There are plenty of reasons to worry about the quest to do so — philosophically and practically — but the probability that it could be done is not seriously in dispute. No doubt, the likes of Caplan and Flam have long expected that day to come and have already drawn their conclusions about material and spiritual life.

It's an odd thing, that in acknowledging miracles and mysteries, religious people tend not to be concerned about mankind's peeks into the machine, while those who seek to make a religion of disbelief often seem desperate to declare the matter proven, even as they clearly believe that it already has been.

Overt Newspaper Advocacy for Taxpayer Spending

Justin Katz

Nobody wants to argue against assisting people who are striving to improve their lives during hard times, but when journalists leverage the public trust for naked advocacy, they do readers a grave disservice. Providence Journal reporter Steve Peoples did just that in a front page story on expiring social services programs, last Saturday, and the angles that he left entirely unexplored illustrate the bias. For example:

The 22-year-old Pawtucket native studies bookkeeping at Rhode Island College for six hours every Monday, Tuesday and Friday. She spends Wednesdays and Thursdays at an internship in the business office of Monster Mini Golf.

As Peoples notes, we're in the midst of "Rhode Island's worst economic downturn in decades." Doesn't it stand out, then, that a solvent company like Monster Mini Golf is filling a two-day-a-week job with an intern? The program arguably offers businesses valuable assistance, in that way, but one wonders why the reporter didn't ask the company what it would do were it not able to fill a slot with a free employee. And, for that matter, why does it take a government program to join companies looking for unpaid work and people willing to work without pay?

Then there's Peoples's choice of a very sympathetic protagonist. She's a 22-year-old single mother with a high school diploma. All we learn about the father of her child is that "it became clear that [he] could not contribute financially." Why not? What's he up to while taxpayers fill in the gaps that his actions have helped create? And didn't the young adults receive "comprehensive sex education," with lessons on (and probably access to) birth control? It goes a bit afield of Peoples's article, but it's also worthwhile to wonder whether, during an era in which how long and how extensively the government can and should prop up struggling citizens, we should also be devoting some attention to the deterioration of institutions — specifically, marriage — that shift some of the work over to the culture.

But the most egregious indication of the article's advocacy is the fact that it was published at all. Note the information that Peoples saves to the end, having only mentioned the possibility of a three-month extension in passing previously:

[The woman's] bookkeeping course ends in less than a month. There are no more training programs in sight. And her temporary welfare extension expires at the end of September.

State officials encourage her and anyone else hitting the new time limit to apply for another three-month hardship extension if necessary.

"Those 850 clients of ours that are closing are clearly entitled to a hardship. And the lack of finding work is something that fits our criteria," says Buffi, of the Department of Human Services.

In other words, after two years of giving them welfare payments, the state doesn't automatically cut people off. It just requires that the case be reviewed in quarterly increments. Whether there's a limit to those, Peoples doesn't say, but it seems to me that his article would have been more appropriate had he profiled somebody who isn't getting an extension. Of course, such a character wouldn't have made as effective a protagonist for the message that readers are meant to receive.

July Appeal

Community Crier

As we head toward the heart of summer, minds will surely tend to drift to other matters than the political, but Anchor Rising remains focused on keeping readers well informed and well stocked with ideas to distract the mind from the heat and the rolling summer clouds. Please take a moment to consider the value of our work and to start a voluntary subscription or to donate a one-time shot of monetary encouragement.

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Patrick Lynch Dropping Out

Monique Chartier

WPRO's Steve Klamkin report during the 6:30 am news that the AG will be withdrawing from the governor's race sent me to projo.com which had a confirming article by Katherine Gregg and Tracy Breton on the front page.

On Wednesday, a source close to Lynch said, the two-term attorney general was telling people close to him that he intends to announce at midday Thursday that he is withdrawing.

At this point, “it is when, not if,” the source said.

The AG's chronic, garrulous inability to give a straight answer (Buddy Cianci once noted that if you asked Lynch the time, he'd tell you how to make a swiss watch) has stayed in high gear right to the end.

When asked directly on Tuesday night, as he was leaving a Rhode Island Young Democrats’ event, if he intended to drop out of the race this week, Lynch said: “That’s back again? Listen, you asked me on the way in and the way out. What job am I getting now with the Obama administration? I always thought ambassador to Ireland would be a good one.” But he did not deny it.

Had Lynch become the Dem candidate for gov, I was looking forward to compiling the long list of his politically motivated failures and malfeasances as the people's attorney. (Bad as they were, none came close to his deliberate mishandling of the Station Night Club fire, during which he did not just refuse to prosecute West Warwick Fire Inspector Dennis LaRocque, the man most responsible for the fire, but actively shielded him from the Grand Jury and from being held accountable for all of those deaths and injuries.)

As Klamkin's report was followed by a discussion between John Depetro and Professor Victor Profughi about the feasibility of Lynch returning to politics in due course (presumably after memories have had time to fade somewhat), I won't clear out my Lynch files just yet. For now, it's just nice to know that the actions of Rhode Island's worst Attorney General will not be rewarded in 2011 with the state's highest office.

UDATED: Government Supplanteth

Justin Katz

UPDATE: The audio links weren't working this morning; they are now fixed.

Just before I called in to the Matt Allen Show, last night, guest host Tony Cornetta had been discussing whether bringing home federal dollars was an accomplishment of Congressman Patrick Kennedy's of which we all should be proud. I brought up for consideration that study, recently discussed hereabouts, that federal dollars actually supplant activity in the private economy. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

July 14, 2010

A Faulty Concept of Government

Justin Katz

It feels a bit like giving in to provocation to respond to a July 6 column by the Newport Daily News's Joe Baker, but the piece seems so indicative of a certain error in political philosophy that I've talked myself into thinking a response worthwhile. (A link, however, is not worthwhile, because the paper offers no means of directing readers anywhere near the actual piece in question.)

Even sympathetic readers should be able to spot the instances in which Mr. Baker's approach shows signs of fundamental error by leading to conflicting conclusions separated by mere sentences. Note, for example, Baker's description of the idyllic, simple times during which our government was formed. The government could be limited, he appears to be arguing, because a simple society doesn't need a Big Brother. For one thing:

The population was smaller and organized into a series of communities in which it was hard for a criminal to hide...

But things went wrong when:

... shysters soon realized that this lack of government oversight allowed them to play hard and fast with the rules so they could make money.

But shouldn't the "community" that once guarded against criminals have been able to spot the shysters? And in times of less mobility, wasn't it easier for criminals to skip town and strike again? Of course, by "shysters," one gets the impression that Baker's not thinking crook, so much as businessman, which leads us to the other glaring incoherency in his piece:

Big corporations like a weak national government because it bolsters their hand when they want to puff up that bottom line. That's why huge international companies try to restrict the input of local governments, which have much more to lose from whatever these companies want to do.

But if the objective of evil corporations is to thwart local governments, what better mechanism could there be than a strong national government? After all, corporations with interests in multiple states, are likely to have more incentive to sway the federal government in creative ways than local governments have understanding and influence with their national representatives.

The problem comes down to Baker's basic understanding of government and its purpose:

Government keeps a system in place that provides order for the greater good of the nation as a whole and not for any one particular interest group.

As a practical matter, big government actually creates a focal point for the attention of the loathed "interest groups," and the notion that it can be trusted to be a neutral arbiter is one that Baker would surely dispute in other contexts. As a philosophical matter, what those who share Baker's politics tend to forget is that the community — and the nation — is something bigger than government. We government-haters think that societies are sufficiently complex to have undirected systems that serve the greater good more effectively and efficiently than central planners ever could.

Government is the entity, within the larger community, that we entrust with such tasks as require force, especially policing and war, but also some degree of check against the tyranny of the powerful, which is where public infrastructure comes in. There's a balance to be struck, but in Joe's world, we should begin by placing overriding trust in the entity who doesn't have to ask for money, but can tax, and that doesn't have to persuade against proscribed activities, but can arrest, jail, and even kill.

Do I really have to explain why that's not a great idea?

The Seamless Burka of Sharia

Justin Katz

In the context of addressing the prior activities and positions of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Andrew McCarthy takes up the distinction between radical Islam and moderate Islam:

To hear progressives tell it, we can do nice, clean, friendly sharia, just like we do nice, clean, friendly Islam. "Lapidations," [or stonings,] they will tell you, are no different from jihadist suicide bombings: outmoded vestiges of a long-forgotten time. Except they're not. They are undeniably rooted in Islamic scripture, and they are happening today, with frequency, wherever sharia reigns. That is because the "moderate Islam" progressives like to banter about is a mirage in search of a cogent set of principles. There is no moderate Islam that can compete with the mainstream, sharia Islam. Thus the crimes and punishments, in all their ghoulishness, endure. ...

Stonings are common in Saudi Arabia, where, as in Iran, sharia is the only law of the land. Beheadings are common, too. A vice patrol, the mutaween, monitors the population, especially the women, to ensure compliance with sharia standards of dress, prayer observance, and segregation of the sexes. Sanctions are draconian, as a 19-year-old woman learned in 2007, when she was sentenced to 200 lashes with a rattan cane after being gang-raped. Saudi Arabia's crown jewels, Mecca and Medina, are closed to non-Muslims; forget about building a church or synagogue in those cities — non-Muslims are deemed unfit to set foot on the ground. The slave trade was still officially carried on in the kingdom until 1961 and has been indulged unofficially ever since. Slavery, after all, is expressly endorsed by the Koran (see, e.g., Sura 47:4, 23:5-6, and 4:24) and was practiced by Mohammed himself. The Koran and the prophet’s legends are the prime sources of sharia.

It would go too far to say that moderate Islam does not exist. Inasmuch as there are moderate people who adjust the religion to their underlying beliefs, it must. But moderate Islam will have difficulty winning the day for much the same reason that churches that adhere to Christianity Lite are fading: Over the centuries, religions come up with extensive answers to people's common doubts and questions (a spiritual FAQ, if you will). But if those answers drift too far from scriptures and traditions, the religion loses its claim of authority. In countries that incorporate sharia into their laws (let alone outright theocracies), it isn't a real option to simply stop believing (at least to the degree of letting disbelief change behavior).

McCarthy goes on to describe the creeping sharia of sharia-compliant finance (SCF). The likes of Kagan (for whom SCF was an issue during her time at Harvard) choose to disassociate this sort of sharia from the beheading-and-stoning-women-for-the-crime-of-being-raped sort But the link cannot be severed, because not only are the guiding principles of one the same as of the other, but Islamic clerics are necessarily intimately involved. And while they, individually, may be moderate, there is no mechanism for keeping out those who are not.

Signature Coverage of Jon Scott, Independent Candidate for Mayor of Providence

Carroll Andrew Morse

Jon Scott is running for Mayor of Providence, an office that is open in this election cycle due to current Mayor David Cicilline's decision to run for Congress...

Anchor Rising: You can make the case that the job of city mayor involves a more intense combination of the administrative aspect of governance and the pulling-people together aspect of governance than does any other political office. How would you say the current occupant of the Providence Mayor's Office has done in these areas?

Providence Mayoral Candidate Jon Scott: "City politics, it's very much in tune with the people. It's very much in touch with the people. The people understand that, if the stoplight at the end of their street doesn't work, they call the Mayor's office and the Mayor makes the stoplight work..." (Audio: 0 min 40 sec)

"But this really, all of the sudden, has become a 30,000-foot job. It has become about 50 million dollars in budget deficit next year, and 100 million in the next year [after]. It's become about 556 million dollars in bond liability. It's become about 108 million dollars in unfunded pension liability. We are talking about a city that's in debt, almost a billion dollars..." (Audio: 1 min 15 sec)

"...the operational part [done by the current Mayor] has been poor, but the big part for him is the 30,000 foot-level that has been poor. Everything he does, he does in the background..." (Audio: 0 min 52 sec)

AR: Speaking of everyone have input into making decisions, on your website is a proposal for changing Providence to having an elected school committee. Would you like to talk about that a bit?

JS: "Having a school committee that's appointed by the Mayor does a couple things very well. It allows the administration to move very quickly. That's a good thing if in fact we are doing that. But we've had status quo, for so long, that we're just kind of floundering out there...we have schools where rain is dropping through the roof onto classrooms. I don't care how good teachers are or how bad teachers are, let's not even get into that, a kid can't learn if rain is dropping on his head..." (Audio: 1 min 1 sec)

"Now an elected school committee, on the other hand, answers to the people, it doesn't answer to the Mayor. And that, in this city, is a big bonus. School committees, ultimately, should answer to the constituency, the parents. We wonder why parents aren't involved. Well, parents aren't involved because it's so far removed from them, the process is so far removed from them, that they feel like they have no say..." (Audio: 1 min 17 sec)

Getting Past the Circular Fiat

Justin Katz

Accusations of bigotry notwithstanding, I've long maintained that what drew me into the same-sex marriage debate about a decade ago was the intriguing and telling argument driving the innovation. The point is perhaps best summed in a passage from Andrew Sullivan's Virtually Normal, which I quoted in a post some years ago:

Some might argue that marriage is by definition between a man and a woman; and it is difficult to argue with a definition. But if marriage is articulated beyond this circular fiat, then the argument for its exclusivity to one man and one woman disappears.

My proximate concern was that this reasoning justifies any change to marriage, and its method any change to anything. If we put aside, for example, that marriage is by definition a relationship between two people, well, the argument for polygamy is perfectly coherent and logical. Obviously, if we define marriage beyond its definition, then its definition is something else. That there are reasons for the mere definition is a fact that we neatly put aside.

That dynamic has occurred to me as we've had internal debate about the Tenth Amendment reasoning in District Court Judge Joseph Tauro's rulings on the topic of same-sex marriage (here, here, here, and here). From my perspective, Tauro's reasoning proceeds as if from the "what if" of whether the federal government has a right to tie strings to its spending. The argument may be perfectly coherent and logical from that point on, but I haven't yet heard a satisfactory argument about why that's an appropriate starting point.

It's certainly an attractive way to begin an argument for some fundamental change in previously held beliefs — putting, as it does, defenders in the position of decoding all of the internal justifications that cultural evolution has built into the definition and belief. But it's surely inadequate. Back when I was arguing against Sullivan and his allies, in the earlier days of the public debate, nobody considered this route to finding the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. The two paths to that result were thought to be the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution or the Equal Protection provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment.

One can argue that Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley divined an argument that we all had overlooked, but it seems to me at least probable that the reason we overlooked it was that it conflicted with our beliefs about the government's right to set policy around its own programs. Perhaps we were wrong, but a bit more explanation related to that error should be required.

Be that as it may, we're well into the realm of folks who prioritize cranial activity, and that's simply not how most people come to their conclusions. For most, the answer to the question of "what if there's no difference between opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples" is something like: "Then I can stop being called a bigot by emotional people and feel as if I'm on the 'right side of history.'" Well, as understandable as that response may be, it's not a formula for the preservation of principles that have worked for our society or for progress as we seek to move forward.

The same is true of Tauro's rulings, which add a legal, wonkish layer of recircled fiat on top of the cultural one that men and women are interchangeable within sexual relationships.

July 13, 2010

Responding to Our Signals

Justin Katz

In response to folks who insist on seeing Iran's leadership as rational actors, Mark Steyn makes the somewhat obvious point that even a rational response to the pressures — the "stimulus," if you will — that the United States is bringing to bear for Iran leads to a very dangerous place:

But let's flip Dr Brzezinski's point around: An American might conclude that Iran isn't suicidal. But can the Iranians make the same confident claim about America? After all, we've just let them go nuclear — not under cover of darkness, as Pakistan did, but in slow motion and in open contempt of the US and its European negotiators. Why would you do that? Iran doesn't observe even the minimal courtesies of mutually hostile states: It seizes foreign embassies at home, and blows them up on the other side of the world; it kidnaps the sailors of permanent members of the UN Security Council in international waters; it seeds terrorist proxies in Gaza and Lebanon, and backs terrorist attacks all over the world. And it pays no price for any of this. If you can't rouse yourself to prevent a rogue state with a thirty-year consistent pattern of behavior getting nukes, what else won't you rouse yourself for?

Donations for the Powerful

Justin Katz

As a third party locked out of tax-form-based public campaign donations, the Moderate Party is striving to prevent the unfair system from continuing through this election season without repairs for fairness:

The party, which sued last month in federal court, argued in a request for an injunction that the formula used to divide the money up among parties is inherently unfair and set up to benefit Republicans and Democrats while putting third parties at a disadvantage.

The party is asking U.S. District Judge William Smith to block the distribution of any public funding, which it says could be distributed at any time between now and Sept. 1.

A subsequent article in the Providence Journal about the mechanics of the program raises some real questions about its purpose:

Every Rhode Island taxpayer has the option of earmarking $5 of what they owe the state — or $10, if filing a joint return — by checking the box at the top of their RI-1040 tax return marked: "electoral contribution."

If they also check a second box, to the right of the first one, they can direct the first $2 of that contribution (or $4, if filing jointly) to a political party.

If they do not name their party of choice, [donors'] dollars go into a "nonpartisan" account split among the established parties in proportion to the number of votes their candidate for governor garnered in the last election, and the number of top offices their party holds.

But if the taxpayer does not check this second box directing a portion of their contribution to one of the political parties, it all goes into the General Fund.

So, there are multiple paths that this money takes, but ultimately about 55% goes into the General Fund, and the state must budget for the likely requests that candidates might make — a formula that the article doesn't describe. However, the results of the program in 2006 bring the entire pretense under a shadow:

In 2006, the state provided $981,000 to then-Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty for his failed bid to unseat Republican Governor Carcieri; $245,000 each to Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, in her first campaign for the job, and her GOP opponent, Reginald Centracchio; $168,041 to Caprio in his first run for treasurer, and $6,820 to his Republican opponent, Andrew Lyon III; $245,000 to Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis and $74,310 to his Republican opponent, Sue Stenhouse.

It seems to me that, in cases in which both candidates have requested assistance, the fund has mainly exacerbated differences that already existed. Sure, sometimes one candidate will raise (or have) so much money that he or she will decline to request any from the state, but in other cases, it's difficult to understand how the supposedly dirty influence of money will be ameliorated by giving one competitor so much more of it than the other (making the safe assumption that Republicans Andrew Lyon and Sue Stenhouse didn't out-fundraise their Democrat competition by the amount of difference in public funding).

Signature Coverage of Beth Moura, Senate Candidate in Rhode Island District 19

Carroll Andrew Morse

Beth Moura is running for the Rhode Island Senate seat in District 19 (Cumberland, Lincoln), currently held by Senate Majority Leader Daniel Connors, who is not seeking re-election...

Anchor Rising: You've picked a time to run for office in state government, when there a lot of problems that need to be solved, and it won't necessarily be easy to do what needs to be done. What's motivating you to run now?

Senate District 19 Candidate Beth Moura: "Problems in our state government, I don't think it's a new thing. That's been going on for a very long time. Basically, it has had to get this bad for people to realize where the problems lie...I know that I have the courage and the integrity to do what needs to be done when I get there and also to address the tough issues that a lot of our legislators -- most, I should say -- don't want to address. They don't want to address the failures in the social programs, they don't want to address the failures in the pension system, they don't want to address failures in immigration law enforcement..." (Audio: 1 min 1 sec)

AR: You are running for a Senate seat. For a long time, the impression the people have had is that Senate goes along with what the House does in a lot of fiscal and public policy areas. How do you see the role of a Senator?

BM: "...if [a bill] passes the House it is kind of like code to pass the Senate. If you notice the Senate, they're in and they're out of there very quickly when they're in session...depending on how many people get elected, it's going to change business as usual between the House and the Senate, because you are going to have people that aren't going to play along anymore, and they are going to actually represent their districts. What a concept." (Audio: 1 min 11 sec)

AR: And what would your top priorities be, if you were to be elected?

BM: "My top priorities are going to be addressing some of the difficult fiscal issues that, like I said, a lot of them don't have the courage to address, one being the welfare system, our social programs..." (Audio: 1 min 27 sec)

So the New-and-Now-Defunct Non-Space Goals for NASA Were Just a Trial Balloon?

Monique Chartier

Well, at least that would be sort of related to space, unlike the goals themselves, which have apparently been ... withdrawn.

[NASA Administrator Charles] Bolden caused a global stir last week when he said President Obama had asked him to reach out to Muslim leaders on science issues. He made the comments during an interview with Al Jazeera while visiting Egypt.

But White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday, "That was not his task, and that's not the task of NASA."

Gibbs said White House officials have spoken to Bolden and NASA about the comments.

At first, I thought perhaps KLo at the Corner had exaggerated when she described this as the White House throwing Bolden under the bus. Just last week, however, the White House had reaffirmed the goals, though embellished with a nice little I-meant-we-would-all-do-this-together, internationalism florish, nor had they corrected Bolden when he first outlined the goals publicly in February. Possibly it wasn't Bolden that White House officials needed to speak about this matter but his boss who, almost two years after winning a presidential election, is obviously still in community-organizing mode, albeit on a much larger scale.

That Old Time Political Bullying

Justin Katz

Government reform is, ought to be, and may have to be a coherent movement from the municipality to the federal government. Here in Rhode Island, it's easy to see how a broad set of principles and tactics applied across government tiers have corrupted (and expanded) government and hobbled our society, and mutual support and encouragement across town and state borders will be critical to building a lasting reform movement.

It's wonderful that national tea party activities have been putting pressure on elected officials at the federal level. It's also important that, in Rhode Island, the Ocean State Policy Research Institute has formed as a think tank following issues of statewide concern, that the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition is taking an increasingly active role in highlighting bad legislation and reviewing candidates for office, and that the Rhode Island Tea Party has directed its activities toward statewide issues as well as national. I've maintained, however, that individual activism should begin at the city and town level, where government office is most accessible and where basic political principles have an immediate and local effect on voters' lives.

We're certainly finding, in my hometown of Tiverton, RI, that members of the political establishment who operate locally are willing to act as the vanguard in intimidating active residents (of the undesirable sort) to get out of politics.

The same week* Tiverton Citizens for Change President David Nelson officially put his name down as a potential candidate for Town Council, two current members of that body, Louise Durfee and Joanne Arruda, filed a defamation lawsuit against him (and an unnamed group of John and Jane Does that may turn out to include me). Their lawyer, Jeffrey Schreck, sent the initial threat of litigation to Mr. Nelson shortly before this year's contentious financial town meeting, and I'll have more to say about the suspicious timing of these events, as well as the lack of merits to their claim, in the future, but on first review, I have to express my disappointment at the level of thinking that the resources of our public judiciary must be expended to address.

The substance of the complaint made by Arruda and Durfee — the latter a former director of the state Department of Environmental Management and one-time candidate for governor — hardly has grammatical grounds, let alone legal ones — from a PDF of the summons:

6. The Letter accuses plaintiffs and their allies of submitting false documentation to the State of Rhode Island to support a tax increase. The Letter further states that this accusation of official misconduct by plaintiffs is "not an idle charge" and is "well-documented." The Letter accuses plaintiffs and others who constitute a majority of the members of the Town Council of making "a practice of sending secret, falsified documents to the state government."

7. Mr. Nelson's statements in the Letter accuse plaintiffs of wrongful, criminal conduct, and assert that TCC has written evidence to support his charges.

Here's the relevant section of the offending letter from Mr. Nelson:

Still worse are the efforts of Ms Durfee, Joanne Arruda and their allies, in deliberate cooperation with the Town Administrator to avoid a Town Council vote exceeding the State Tax cap. They have submitted false documentation to the State to facilitate a tax increase of at least 9%. This is not an idle charge, and it is well documented. Town Administrator Goncalo has stressed that the documents are secret except for him, the Town Treasurer, Budget Committee, and the State. In fact, he promised “to find out who put that form on the Internet”, as if posting public documents is now a matter for witch hunts and suppression of transparency. We have this on tape.

It is astounding that a town official would make a practice of sending secret, falsified documents to the state government based on information that distorts the current status of the town’s budget process. More astonishing is that a majority of the Town Council supports it.

Either Durfee and Arruda have skin so thin that it pains them even to be in proximity of accusations, or they're twisting the facts in order to present themselves as victims. Their names appear in the letter specifically with reference to efforts to "avoid a Town Council vote exceeding the State Tax cap," which is irrefutably accurate, given the months of public debate in which they took precisely that position. The "they" who submitted false documents to the state is the whole group of "allies," including Mr. Goncalo, and it is simply a fact that he did so. Whether Durfee and Arruda's cooperation with the larger effort extended to direct prior knowledge of Goncalo's act is immaterial, although it's reasonable to have suspicions.

Furthermore, as evident in video of the Town Council meeting at which TCC brought this matter to a public head, the town administrator clearly did stress that his act was meant to be secret. And Nelson's letter explicitly faults "a town official" — that is, Town Administrator James Goncalo — for this particular action within the larger campaign to avoid the letter of the tax cap law.

Lastly, as is also evident in the video, the lack of outrage from the majority of the Town Council implicitly lends their support. If, as their lawsuit implies, Durfee and Arruda believe that Mr. Goncalo's actions were "criminal conduct" — an accusation that Nelson's letter does not make — then they are guilty of shirking their responsibility by not censuring their employee when the matter came to their attention.

That local elected officials — who deserve partial blame for the town's thinning tax base and demand for massive tax increases in the midst of an historic recession — would twist language for political purposes is to be expected. That they would seek to leverage the overburdened court system in an effort to cost a candidate for local office time and money during campaign season is one more example of the methodology by which political insiders have fostered public disengagement from the political process.

* This post initially and incorrectly stated that the suit had been filed the day after Nelson submitted his intention to run for office. The actual filing appears to have occurred the day before his official submission, although he had inquired at the town hall about the process and requirements previously.

July 12, 2010

Me, Online

Justin Katz

After a mild complaint from another Justin Katz, with whom I've been communicating since I discovered his band online in 1999, that I was only using justinkatz.com as a forwarding site to Dust in the Light, which at this point is essentially a manual summary feed of what I write here and elsewhere, I felt I should put something more useful at the coveted URL. (To be fair, Justin's complaint followed my mild jibe about his sparse use of his Twitter account in our name.) I've also been concerned that job and other prospects who found their way to any one of my sites would be led primarily to my controversial-in-this-region political opinions.

So, I came up with a concept and have been putting the new site together as I've been able. So far, I've gotten up a bunch of carpentry pictures, op-ed-style commentary that I'd written up to the middle of 2005, and PDFs of my books. I'm trying to make sure that I flesh out one "exhibit" per day. (The ones that I've done will shade in blue when you mouse over them on the timeline.)

Even though it's a work in progress, I welcome any feedback that might occur to anybody to offer.

Cost of Illegal Immigration to Rhode Islanders

Monique Chartier

My main focus with regard to illegal immigration has been its implications to US sovereignty and, with the recent rise in kidnappings and violence along the border, the personal safety of those who reside there.

It is not unreasonable, however, to also examine the more pragmatic impact that it has on Rhode Island wallets and public budgets. John Loughlin will be appearing on WPRO a little after 3 pm to discuss this with Buddy Cianci, along with Loughlin's recent visit to Arizona and other matters pertaining to Rhode Island and District One.

[Terry Gorman of RIILE kindly provided these figures from the indicated sources.]

Education -- As of 2004, the US Census Bureau estimates there were 8,740 students in RI schools who were illegal aliens or the US born children of illegal aliens. Multiply this by RIDE's figure of $23,000 annually to educate ELL's ( English Language Learners) and get $201,020,000. Now we need to add in the cost to educate the Special Needs students. If we include the additional cost of Special Needs students in this category - using the same percentage as the total student population - 20.1% of 8,740 = 1,756 X $22,000 = $38,600,000.

Total, Education $239,600,000
Incarceration -- As of 2008, there were over 200 inmates at the A.C.I. who were illegal aliens at a cost of $43,000 each annually. (Source: the Director of the A.C.I.) That's at least $8,600,000. Now subtract reimbursement from the federal government of $1,200,000.
Net total, Incarceration: $7,400,000

Medical Services -- In 2005, the Providence Journal estimated that 35% 0f Rite Care recipients were illegal aliens.

Fast forward to 2009 when the Rite Care budget for medical services was $357 million. (This represented an increase of only $1,000,000 over 2005 due to screening changes implemented by the Governor and D.H.S.) Take the ProJo's 35% and multiply it times $357,000,000.

Total, Medical Services: $124,950,000

Uncompensated care (compensation supplied by RI taxpayers) -- In 2008, the state paid a total of $138,000,000 (source: the state's budget) to RI hospitals for uncompensated care. Attempts to quantify how much of this was paid on behalf of illegal aliens (for purportedly emergency services only) is made difficult because, as Terry Gorman observes

RIILE is stymied in this area also by the refusal of the hospitals to divulge the number of U S Citizens and Legal Immigrants receiving this uncompensated care. This would reveal the actual number of Illegal Aliens for whom they are providing services.

So let's use what would seem to be a conservative percentage of one half. (Correction cheerfully made if and when hospitals are willing to release actual numbers.)

Total, Uncompensated CAre: $69,000,000

Jobs Taken -- Apply the estimate by the US Census Bureau and D.H.S. that 59% of illegal aliens in the United States are employed to a more conservative figure of 30,000 illegal aliens residing in Rhode Island.

Total, Jobs Taken: 17,700

Grand total: $440,950,000 annually plus 17,700 jobs

The Price of Insurance

Justin Katz

Iain Murray offers a summary of the government's entry into the insurance business (subscription required), which practice has appropriately spread like an uncontrolled fire:

[Private fire insurer Nicholas] Barbon did more than promise to defray costs in the event of disaster. He formed a private fire brigade, staffed, as one observer put it, with "watermen and other lusty persons," to help put out fires. The Fire Office also instituted "fire marks," identifying insured buildings so that assistance could reach them more quickly in the event of a fire. Interestingly, the British government entered the market shortly afterwards but was unable to compete with Barbon, who persuaded potential customers that the government could not devote the attention necessary to the task.

The impetus for this move, although surely not entirely unrelated to community-mindedness, was financial. It was cheaper to pay firefighters than to pay out claims, and the more fires the company could prevent, the lower the premiums had to be, the more clients could therefore be found, and the better the company could compete. Although some anachronism is required, the notion of private firefighters deployed by an insurance company provides a good example to follow on this explanation, from Murray:

While private insurers estimate the risk of various activities, price it accordingly, and thereby encourage insured parties to carefully consider whether undertaking the activity is worth the cost, government insurance does the opposite: It minimizes losses from engaging in risky activities by taxing less risky ones, encouraging hazardous practices.

Before contracting with a client, a private fire insurer could look at such things as whether the client smokes, what sort of heating system the house uses, and the safety of cooking appliances. A premium adjusted accordingly would signal to the individual and to society at large that there is a cost to actions that can burn down the house — the city. With no direct personal cost associated with public fire protection, and with no fear that coverage could be lost, individuals have no reason to adjust their behavior rather than drive up the widely distributed expense.

We're about to experience that (even more painfully) with health insurance.

Patinkin Should Put a Face on the Cliché

Justin Katz

It's difficult to imagine what Mark Patinkin was thinking as he conceived, wrote, and submitted his recent column mocking Republicans — or rather, why he didn't think first. Like any group, there's surely plenty to mock about the GOP and its members, but the sheer absence of cleverness and accuracy, in this piece, suggests that Patinkin lacked even the interest to discern enough truth to make mockery fun. In fact, his rattling off of clichés is so out of date that he actually included this:

Suddenly, I felt guilt over having owned a German car in the past and having a Toyota in the family today. My next car will be Detroit iron.

Is Patinkin so out of touch with his subjects that he hasn't heard conservatives calling GM "Government Motors" and promising to buy other makes? By the above quotation, he shows not only that he isn't familiar with the ideology that he's presuming to summarize, but he doesn't understand the people. For the most part, he equates "Republicans" with "blueblood elites" — although even brief consideration of our Congressional delegation ought to lead the writer to suspect that he's dabbling too superficially in more complicated waters.

So I hereby challenge Mr. Patinkin (pass the word along, if you happen to speak with him) to attend some gatherings of actual Republicans. Something hosted by the Rhode Island Republican Assembly (RIRA) would be a good start.

No doubt, many of Patinkin's expectations about ideology and partisanship will be confirmed, but on a personal level, he might be surprised that some of his friends in the media and the Democrat Party much more closely resemble the picture that he draws.

Signature Coverage of John Loughlin

Carroll Andrew Morse

I caught up with First District Congressional Candidate John Loughlin at a signature party last evening in Lincoln. After complaining to the candidate about his habit of not using a microphone wherever he can avoid it, sometimes leading to poor-quality audio in large-group settings, I asked Mr. Loughlin a few questions about his campaign...

Anchor Rising: If you were to be elected Congressmen from the First District of Rhode Island, how would the relationship between the Federal Government and the people of the First District of Rhode Island change?

First District Congressional Candidate John Loughlin: "It enhances it significantly. One of the things that we saw recently is that it's a significant disadvantage to having one party control the entire Congressional delegation. We had this horrific flooding, it was actually in the Second Congressional District. Our delegation went out there. The President of the United States came and flew over the top of Rhode Island, went to a fundraiser in Boston, and got back into his plane and flew back over the top of Rhode Island and went back to Washington, largely because he knows he's got four safe votes, two safe votes in the Senate, two safe votes in the House, why pay any attention to Rhode Island..." (Audio: 0 min 37 sec)

AR: Do you think that the Congress that we have right now should try to do anything big between now and November, or should they wait until the people speak...

JL: "I would prefer that they try not to do anything big, period. I think that cap-and-trade which passed the House and healthcare which passed the House and the Senate and was signed by the President are two examples of big things that should not have been done..." (Audio: 0 min 30 sec)

Anchor Rising: And if you were elected, after November, what would be your top agenda items as a Freshman Congressman?

JL: "Controlling spending, getting Rhode Island and America back to work." (Audio: 0 min 8 sec)

Tom Ward Gets to the Core of the Question of Government's Philosophy

Monique Chartier

... in his Vally Breeze column a couple of weeks ago for the Fourth of July.

Do we want to be left alone for "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," as Thomas Jefferson wrote in our Declaration of Independence, or do we prefer the soft tyranny that comes with the security of a welfare state that minimizes the rewards of honest labor in order to eliminate the risks that come from a life badly led?

Small Reasons to Stay and Fight

Justin Katz

I know of several people who've taken Tiverton's recent financial town meeting as evidence that it's time to pull up stakes and leave or, if they'd already intended to flee, to redouble their efforts. Much was made of claims that the presentation of the school department's budget left the town liable for funding amounting to a maximum of a 22% tax increase, but really, a seven percent increase in the current economy is affront enough.

The town's tax levy has doubled in the past decade. The Town Council was satisfied with "zero impact" contracts with its employees, without pursuing actual savings. The teachers' union clearly is not intending concessions, and the School Committee is unable to extract them. (Truth be told, none but one on the School Committee have any real desire to achieve concessions.) Moreover, the combined forces of public officials, the unions, a compliant local media, and a largely apathetic public that is therefore susceptible to well-rehearsed maneuvers from the other groups leave substantive change unlikely.

So, once again, I find my town to be a microcosm of the state. Schools and infrastructure will continue to underperform and deteriorate, while expense goes up, and the people who must be rallied to stop the process decrease in number year after year. Rhode Island has been at the national forefront in population loss for years, and those who are leaving are those who would back necessary reforms were they adequately presented and initiated.

This is to suggest that those of us who've been pointing to the problems that must be resolved have been remiss in neglecting to incorporate into our polemics reasons that people should stay and fight. It would be unreasonable to expect positive messaging from the RIGOP or any of the good government groups — much less, from Anchor Rising — to counterbalance a family's calculation that the opportunity cost of hanging in there (in here) overwhelms the benefits of Rhode Island life. But those benefits do exist, and it affects the fundamental message of reformers if they do not often mention them.

Why do you want reform? Out of principle, or because there's something worth saving? If wholly the former, then people on the fence might fear that principle will trample quality of life — as guardians of the status quo have been anxious to claim that any change of operations will do.

Such have been my thoughts as I've taken alternate routes home from work, recently. The contrast is stark between the suburban stop-and-go of West Main Rd. in Middletown and the largely empty back roads that flow past beaches and high-end waterfront manses and farms — at the cost, ultimately, of mere minutes of travel time. It would be a travesty to mar such views as this:

If there's a threat to these constituent parts of Rhode Island's character — in this case, "hanging rock" in the Norman Bird Sanctuary across the street from the Middletown beaches — it lies along the path of inadequate reform. The choice is not between total change and minimal change; it is between incompatible qualities of the state as it exists. Preservation requires a healthy economy and residents with the resources of time and money to take care of and enjoy all that the state has to offer.

July 11, 2010

Really? State Officials Are Not Permitted to Enforce Federal Laws?

Monique Chartier

Presumably inspired by the Obama administration's lawsuit against the State of Arizona, commenter and Engaged Citizen David Potts, via e-mail, presents an interesting scenario.

Suppose a RI trooper is patrolling I-95 and he stops a motorist for speeding. As he approaches the offender's vehicle he sees a set of engraving plates for U.S. $100 bills sitting on the passenger seat. Does our hero a) detain the motorist and notify the Secret Service or b) consult his copy of the constitution and, realizing that punishing counterfeiting is a federal responsibility, issue a speeding ticket and send the motorist on his way?

In that vein, Adam J. White at the Weekly Standard hones in on the precedent that may prove to be a stumbling block for the plaintiff in the matter of The United States of America vs The State of Arizona.

The administration's primary obstacle is De Canas v. Bica (1976), in which the Supreme Court emphatically declared that federal immigration laws did not prohibit the states from enforcing the policies embodied by those federal immigration laws. (In that case, the state law was a California prohibition against the employment of illegal aliens.) The Court reviewed the text and history of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act, and found no indication that "Congress intended to preclude even harmonious state regulation touching on aliens in general, or the employment of illegal aliens in particular." According to the Court, states may enforce laws consistent with federal immigration laws, so long as the state does not "impose additional burdens not contemplated by Congress."

Ways to Reduce Unemployment

Justin Katz

Arthur Laffer think's its prima facie absurd to think that extending unemployment benefits could reduce unemployment:

No one opposes unemployment benefits as a transition aid for people to get back on their feet and find a new job. Unemployment benefits are a safeguard for individuals down on their luck. But to argue that unemployment benefits actually reduce unemployment is disingenuous at best, and could induce our government to enact policies that have the effect of destroying our nation's production base from whence all benefits ultimately flow.

Although some partisans may overextend their spin in the heat of political battle, I think for the most part the arguments for improving the economy and extending unemployment benefits lie along different tracks of reasoning. Most people see payments to the unemployed as a compassionate expense to be balanced against efforts to revive the economy.

I will say, though, that I like Mr. Laffer's suggestion for an alternative stimulus:

Since late 2007 the federal government has spent somewhere around $3.6 trillion to stimulate the economy. That is a lot of money.

My suggestion would have been to take all $3.6 trillion and declare a federal tax holiday for 18 months. No income tax, no corporate profits tax, no capital gains tax, no estate tax, no payroll tax (FICA) either employee or employer, no Medicare or Medicaid taxes, no federal excise taxes, no tariffs, no federal taxes at all, which would have reduced federal revenues by $2.4 trillion annually. Can you imagine where employment would be today? How does a 2.5% unemployment rate sound?

Unfortunately, where government spending is concerned, neither political party emphasizes the greatest economic efficiency. The temptation is too great to convert the money into political currency.

July 10, 2010

Congress Lacks a Constitutionally Granted Power to Define Marriage, † Œ Ø ¿

Justin Katz

Andrew's #5 makes me wonder whether he isn't too enamored of the opportunity to oppose lefitsts in the course of supporting a liberal judicial ruling. I'll admit that I, too, find it very interesting that my reasons for disagreeing with Judge Tauro's rulings (as I understand them) ought to ally me with a variety of left-wingers. They dislike federalism that subverts their statist aims; I dislike federalism that collects taxes that will transfer to states with no federal definition of terms required.

I'd note, for one obvious instance, that it is accepted practice that it is left to sovereign states to regulate abortion, as long as women have the right thereto (per Roe v. Wade et al.) according to some basic requirements. How would Tauro's reasoning not invalidate such legislation as the Hyde Amendment, preventing federal funding of abortions? If a state determines that abortion should be among the procedures covered by public healthcare programs,then it would seem that Tauro has left the federal government no recourse but to supply money to the state without defining the limits of acceptable procedures.

More to the point, though, I'm not persuaded that Andrew's #2 actually answers my objection (and Brassband's). Note, especially, the first sentence:

Attorney General Coakley's argument, which Judge Tauro agreed with, is that when the Federal government creates its own definition of marriage, it requires states to keep track of different types of marriages, even if the states don't recognize the Federal distinctions in their own laws.

In the case (essentially) of contractual requirements for the issuance of federal dollars, "marriage" is a definable term, not unlike "eligible participant" or "owner" or "the company" or "applicable service." Given the complexities of our layers of government and their many overlapping programs, the fact that "marriage" means something different for the purpose of federal contracts than for state contracts hardly creates an undue burden.

Under such an approach, it would be impossible for the federal government to do anything without exceeding its powers, in some way. Recall that the Constitution leaves authority not just to the states, but also to the people. According to the reasoning that Andrew describes, he could just as well say that the federal government, in creating any job or office, should not be able to set requirements because "it is not enough to say the [applicant] can opt-out of this requirement by not participating."

I write all this, of course, from within the belief that the federal government should not be as big and all-spending as it is. Wishing for a less powerful national government, however, should not lead us to accept a government that's small in control of taxpayer dollars but just as big in handing them out.

Planning Their Moves for After the People Speak

Justin Katz

Don't miss John Fund's widely cited premonition that President Obama and the Congressional Democrats are planning implementation of a last-minute wish list after the election:

It's been almost 30 years since anything remotely contentious was handled in a lame-duck session, but that doesn't faze Democrats who have jammed through ObamaCare and are determined to bring the financial system under greater federal control. ...

Many Democrats insist there will be no dramatic lame-duck agenda. But a few months ago they also insisted the extraordinary maneuvers used to pass health care wouldn't be used. Desperate times may be seen as calling for desperate measures, and this November the election results may well make Democrats desperate.

The message to bring to this summer's "meet your representatives" events will be that consequences can follow a politician and a party even when out of office and out of power... after, of course, all of the horrible legislation is reversed and then some. As disheartening as it may be to acknowledge that ideals of representative government are waning (and may always have been naive), that's the world in which we live. It's unlikely to affect the likes of Sheldon Whitehouse to have constituents call and express their hopes that he won't participate in efforts to explicitly subvert the will of American voters. Perhaps it will have a marginally greater effect if he worries that his actions in the fall will define public perception of his character for the rest of his life.

Congress Lacks a Constitutionally Granted Power to Define Marriage III

Carroll Andrew Morse

What started out as a comment in response to Justin's post here has expanded to size of a full-blown post of its own...

  1. I'm actually not a big fan of the "Bongiorno" test, which seems to me to be yet another example of the basis of the Federal government being shifted away from the idea of enumerated powers and towards the idea that the Federal government has the power to do anything it wants, save for what is expressly forbidden to it by the Constitution and -- even worse -- forbidden to it by limits placed by Federal judges who will, of course, be the ones to decide what areas of state sovereignty are inviolate. There is no basis for the idea that the Tenth Amendment involves two separate classes of powers not delegated to the Federal Government, those that are fundamental to the state, and those that are not. If a power in some area is not delegated to the Federal Government, then the Federal Government doesn't have the power to act in that area, no other test necessary.

  2. Attorney General Coakley's argument, which Judge Tauro agreed with, is that when the Federal government creates its own definition of marriage, it requires states to keep track of different types of marriages, even if the states don't recognize the Federal distinctions in their own laws. In a true Federal system, where the states are sovereign, it is not enough to say the states can opt-out of this requirement by not participating in particular Federal programs; an enumerated power has to exist, if the the Federal government is going to require a state to act in a certain manner, even as part of a Federal program.

  3. However, Judge Tauro obfuscated the above issue by tap-dancing around the basic question of whether Congress does or does not have an enumerated power allowing it to regulate marriage. He never seriously answered that question, but instead decided that since the Fifth Amendment prohibits the Federal government from not allowing same-sex marriage on equal protection grounds (by his own reasoning in Gill V. OPM), Section 3 of DOMA could not be consistent with the powers delegated to a Congress that is required to act Constitutionally when exercising its enumerated powers, unless there exists a specific, constitutional-level exception, which there obviously isn't in this case. Ultimately left unanswered was whether the "Spending Clause" of the Constitution would be enough to give Congress the power to create its own definition of marriage, if that definition was consistent with the rules he created in Gill.

  4. I'll differ with the first sentence of Justin's concluding paragraph...
    The most immediate reason conservatives should be wary is that it means that Americans no longer possess a substantive say in the application of their taxdollars, when those dollars are given to the states. The secondary reason, which will perhaps prove more insidious, is that it opens up a new area in which the federal judiciary has authority to determine when taxpayers retain that right and when they don't.
    ...by noting that Federal action is limited only in areas where there is no enumerated power of the Federal government. And with regards to the second sentence, I'll note that the ruling in Gill may give the judiciary an expansive authority to limit public say in the spending of public dollars, regardless of the enumerated powers and Tenth Amendment issues raised in Mass. v. HHS.

  5. Finally, from the department of you-shall-know-them-by-their-enemies, I'll make note of liberal law professor Jack Balkin's reaction to the Massachusetts v. HHS decision, quoted in the New York Times...
    Professor Balkin, who supports the right to same-sex marriage, said the opinions ignored the federal government’s longstanding involvement in marriage issues in areas like welfare, tax policy, health care, Social Security and more.

    The arguments concerning the 10th Amendment and the spending clause, if upheld, would “take down a wide swath of programs -- you can’t even list the number of programs that would be affected,” he said.

The Question of Cape Wind Profits and Marsha Marsha Marsha!

Monique Chartier

Mass AG Marsha Martha Coakley is an ick. The fact that she facilitated the election of Scott Brown by running a lousy senate campaign does not ameliorate her sins, which extend, most recently, to an excuse for illegal immigration

Technically, it's not illegal to be illegal in Massachusetts

which rivals "I didn't inhale" for hair-splitting lameness.

Having said that, I concede that she is not wrong to demand the disclosure of the profits anticipated from the Mass Cape Wind project.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is demanding that Cape Wind’s developers disclose cost and profit estimates for the energy project and is questioning whether power from the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm would be a good deal for consumers.

Is this an anti-capitalist, anti-free market, anti-privacy stance on the part of someone (me) who is pro-capitalism and prefers that Big Brother butt out of everyone's business? Certainly, that last describes Cape Wind's reaction to the AG's request.

Cape Wind’s developers are fighting Coakley’s demand, saying they believe their cost estimates are proprietary and should be kept confidential.

Unfortunately, they have no basis upon which to make this assertion. The Nantucket wind farm is not a capitalist or free market project, nor are any of Cape Wind's projects in the area. They have secured a government mandate that compels everyone to pay a lot more for the electricity generated by these turbines. This makes them government projects; therefore, privacy is not a factor.

We can take this a little further. One of the reasons that profits are paid is because the investor takes a risk with his capital. He's gambling that the project will be a success and that he will secure the return of his investment and then some. Profits are in part the reward for that gamble. But if he calculates wrong, he loses his money.

Yet, theoretically, there is no risk with the Cape Wind project. The return has been guaranteed by an overly intrusive government (mistakenly attempting to alleviate a phenomenon that has been linked weakly, if at all, to the generation of electricity through fossil fuels ... but that's a secondary matter here).

So, disclosure of profits. Yes, minimally. A larger question arises, however. In light of the absence of risk attached to this project, plus the government mandates which make it, effectively, a government operation, why should Cape Wind make any profits at all?

A spokeman for the company points out that the AG's demand

could have a chilling effect on companies investing in clean energy projects in Massachusetts going forward.

Respectfully, sir, those of us who face the prospect of paying three or four times market rate for electricity while watching ever more businesses flee the area to escape pointless expenses such as this sure hope it does.

Complication Underlies the Conservative Critique

Justin Katz

Jeffrey Friedman's analysis of the origins of our current economic crisis and assessments thereof is worth reading, but he wraps it in the pose that everybody else is wrong:

To their credit, liberal analysts realized from the start that the cause of the recession was a banking crisis, not a housing crisis. In explaining the banking crisis, however, liberals used a theory drawn straight from the rotten core of contemporary social science: the theory of "moral hazard." It suddenly became conventional wisdom that the crisis had been caused by banks that rewarded successful employees with big bonuses but failed to penalize losses. This was said to have encouraged recklessness. Later, conservatives came up with their own variant of moral hazard, according to which bankers took too many risks because they knew that their banks, being "too big to fail," would be bailed out if their bets turned sour; so why not make the riskiest, most lucrative bets?

Most reasonable spectators would, I think, disagree with Friedman in that they'd acknowledge the role of each of these factors — and others, as well. Friedman would respond that the evidence is against them:

The intellectual bankruptcy of these theories lies in their assumption that the bankers knew they were making "reckless" bets. This assumption is demonstrably false: Ninety-three percent of the mortgage-backed bonds acquired by commercial banks either were rated AAA — the safest possible rating — or were issued by Fannie and Freddie, giving them an implicit government guarantee. Because of their perceived lack of risk, these bonds generated less revenue than did bonds with lower ratings. Revenue-hungry bankers who were oblivious to risk never would have bought Fannie, Freddie, or triple-A bonds; more lucrative double-A, single-A, and lower-rated mortgage-backed bonds were always available. Both the liberal and the conservative moral-hazard theories are therefore wrong. For the most part, the bankers didn’t deliberately take big risks, or they would have taken big risks that paid a higher yield.

Friedman ought to have paused before submitting his essay to National Review and considered whether it's plausible to assert that anybody — anybody with a coherent understanding of events — had really made it integral to their scenarios that entities looking for safe, long-term bets (such as pension funds) had been lured into overt risks. For most people and groups with money in the game, the risk was actual, not intentional, although those advising them might have had some inkling of the instability of the underlying assets.

What appears to have happened, in a nutshell, is that the marketplace — consisting of players with various degrees of savvy and awareness — decreased the degree to which it assessed risk in terms of the thing being traded and increased the degree to which it assessed risk in terms of the entities involved. Investors weren't betting on the likelihood that the sun wouldn't come up the next day; they were betting somebody else's assurances that it would not. Because of implicit government backing, traders and ratings agencies gave mortgage-backed securities ratings on par with those given to the government, and because of their size and the safety of being at the top of the ladder, large firms and their agents behaved as if they expected their losses to be mitigated, should things go awry, and because the above put smiley-face stickers on the trades, everybody else bought in.

For none of those involved is an acknowledgment of risk necessary.

Friedman pivots, on this obvious fact, in order to reach the point that truly interests him: That we have to acknowledge the complexity of life and the possibility of error. What's interesting about this, to me, is that Friedman thinks he's introducing something new. Such statements as the following read as if drawn from foundational documents of modern conservative political theory:

The experts, the regulators, and the bankers were ignorant of a risk caused by a complication that hadn’t occurred to them. The experts, regulators, and bankers were wrong; but they were not evil. They were simply outwitted by a complex world. ...

A more sophisticated approach would attend to the fallible ideas not just of voters but of bureaucrats, legislators, and judges — and to the roots of these ideas, both mass and elite, in cultural sources of (mis)information and ideology, such as the mass media and formal education.

All Friedman is doing, here, is describing the basic reasons for the conservative worldview — from libertarian principles of limited government to the Christian belief that evil is an illness and delusion, not an individual personal quality.

Re: Congress Lacks a Constitutionally Granted Power to Define Marriage

Justin Katz

As Andrew's post on Judge Tauro's ruling concerning the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) proves, conservatives will find a great deal of intellectual meat in the development — setting principles of federalism against a traditional understanding of marriage. I'll have more to say on the issue in days to come, but for the moment, discussion in the comment section is definitely worth a look. Commenter Brassband offers an objection:

I haven't had a chance to go through these opinions with any care, but based on what I've seen I don't get the 10th amendment argument.

There's nothing that compels a state to participate in Medicaid -- or in a range of other federal programs.

For a state that is offended by DOMA's application to Medicaid recipients within its borders, the solution is to reject Medicaid and provide all of the funding for that type of program from State funds, and give the benefits to whomever the State likes.

Doesn't seem like a very well reasoned 10th amendment decision, from everything I've seen.

To which Andrew responds:

On the technical side, Judge Tauro's Tenth Amendment ruling is based on a First-Circuit precedent...
In United States v. Bongiorno, the First Circuit held that "a Tenth Amendment attack on a federal statute cannot succeed without three ingredients: (1) the statute must regulate the States as States, (2) it must concern attributes of state sovereignty, and (3) it must be of such a nature that compliance with it would impair a state’s ability to structure integral operations in areas of traditional governmental functions."

More broadly, the ruling basically says that if the states have never given away their authority in an area of governance (and, according to Bongiorno, the area is integral to the state), then the 10th Amendment makes clear that the states remain sovereign, and the Federal government cannot make its own set of rules in that area. I know that's not usually how the 10th Amendment has been interpreted (on the few occasions that it has been), but it seems to be closer to its original meaning than is the idea that the Federal government has a broad authority to do anything it decides for itself promotes the "general welfare", with states being allowed to opt-out of programs that are not based on more specifically enumerated powers.

It seems to me that Andrew's explanation (and, I take it, Tauro's) doesn't address Brassband's objection. The key is number 3 in the internal blockquote, which requires that a challenge on Tenth Amendment grounds involve a regulation:

... of such a nature that compliance with it would impair a state’s ability to structure integral operations in areas of traditional governmental functions.

DOMA doesn't regulate a state's activities as a sovereign entity. It regulates them as a dependent entity. That is, the state need only comply with the regulation to the extent that it (for example) chooses to rely on federal funds for Medicaid.

I've written before that I think that the spending mechanism for federal imposition of policy is corrupting of states' sovereignty, but circumstances are much worse if the federal government is seen as merely a source of nationwide taxpayer dollars for individual states. Where conservatives typically decry the strings that come with federal dollars, it's directly related to the regulation. This occurs, for example, when the feds offer aid for education and then dictate how individual school districts must construct their programs (or their faculties or student bodies).

In this case, even that isn't happening. The government isn't saying that states can only receive Medicaid funds if they define marriage along federal guidelines; it's saying that the funds can only be distributed in ways that accord with the federal government's understanding of marriage. Applying this to the Bongiorno rules for a Tenth Amendment challenge, one would have to argue that (again, for example) refusing Medicaid "would impair a state’s ability to structure integral operations in areas of traditional governmental functions." That's undoubtedly true, in a practical sense, but codifying it into law isn't a turn of events that ought to encourage conservatives (and libertarians, much less).

The most immediate reason conservatives should be wary is that it means that Americans no longer possess a substantive say in the application of their taxdollars, when those dollars are given to the states. The secondary reason, which will perhaps prove more insidious, is that it opens up a new area in which the federal judiciary has authority to determine when taxpayers retain that right and when they don't.

July 9, 2010

Hucksters Not Wasting the Crisis

Justin Katz

Funny, I hadn't heard insufficient involvement of "disadvantaged groups" included among the contributing factors to our the economic crisis that supposedly necessitates a stronger government hand in the finance industry. And yet:

Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, and Barack Obama insist that the new financial regulation bill pending a vote in the Senate is a necessity to restore stability to troubled markets. Instead, it looks as though Democrats have been more concerned about quota systems than economic growth. Buried deep within the bill is a requirement for all regulatory agencies with jurisdiction in economic arenas to start beancounting based on ethnicity and gender.

It's almost as if regulation is not a means to correct problems, but an end in itself, expanding government authority to dictate the terms of our social existence.

The Slow Theocratic Revolution

Justin Katz

Andrew McCarthy takes the radicalization of Turkey as an opportunity to trace Islamists' strategy for cultural hegemony (subscription required). That Turkey has been a partner to the West, he notes, was a result of efforts by Mustafa Kemal Pasha (Ataturk) to keep Islam out of government, an intention that appears now to have been circumvented. In opposition to Ataturk, McCarthy places Hassan al-Banna, the Egyptian founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 1928:

Banna was neither a dreamer nor an ivory-tower scholar. He was a thoughtful, patient, practical man of affairs. He meticulously schemed his revolution as a ground-up, self-consciously civilizational mass movement. It started with the Muslim individual and built outward to the family, the community, the town, the city, and finally the Muslim state. In each phase, the aim was to instill, install, and spread sharia. This is the divine mandate known as jihad.

Given the building blocks — individual, family, community, and so on — the strategy sounds like a dark inverse of the United States' increasingly abandoned method of instilling its citizens with individual initiative and a thirst for freedom. Of course, freedom can be a messy thing, not easily handled from the top down. People are not perfect, so any governing system that places people's rights at its center will sometimes face long, arduous corrections of course. Consequently, the West has become insecure about its imperfections while at the same time accepting other cultures' flaws, assuming the same intention to correct them and ignoring that other guiding lights, notably sharia, not individualism, are at their center.

McCarthy goes on to argue that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has leveraged this Western quality to install a gradually more radical government in his country:

It has worked like a charm. Echoing European sentiment, successive American administrations, seduced by the mirage of an evolving Islam with a Westernized Turkey at the fore, crowned Erdogan a leading "moderate." They even seemed unembarrassed when the prime minister ridiculed the very suggestion that there is such a thing as "moderate Islam": Such a term, he admonishes, is "very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that's it." With the West’s imprimatur and no emergent secular opposition, the AKP increased its electoral share to nearly 50 percent in 2007. ...

In a 1991 memorandum, the Muslim Brotherhood's American leadership described the movement's work as "a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within" by "sabotage." Islam's Western apologists — many of the same people who hailed Erdogan as a moderate — dismiss such assertions as farfetched chest-beating. Look at it, though, from the Islamist perspective. The Soviet Union, humiliated by the Afghan mujahideen, is no more. The Twin Towers, iconic symbols of Western economic might, have been reduced to a haunting crater. At the U.N., an organization easily bullied by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, an American administration joins in a resolution condemning Israel for defending itself against jihadists pledged to its annihilation. And now, after an 80-year struggle, Turkey — whose defection spawned the modern Islamist movement — is back in the umma and helping lead the civilizational jihad.

The current question of history is whether the great experiments of the Enlightenment and the United States, which in their essence, strive to force all social structures — from government to religion — to work through the individual human being, can stand against ideologies that self-consciously operate in an organized way to achieve regional and global domination.

Spending Priorities Are a Consequence of Policy Priorities

Justin Katz

Complaints that the State of Rhode Island has allocated more money for the Department of Corrections than for higher education miss the point. Put aside the fact that the comparison is arbitrary; the real concern should be the underlying policies that wind up making imprisoning people such a large expense.

That would be a pretty intensive examination, and I'm not really in a position to embark on it. Answers could range from needless or excessive imprisonments (of drug users, for example) to economic and welfare policies that attract people with a higher tendency to run into trouble with the law. Once again, folks are focusing on the symptoms and not the causes of Rhode Island's predicament.

The comparison of the two expenditures does raise an interesting possibility, though:

In the new fiscal year beginning Thursday, the state will contribute just 15.5 percent of the money higher education needs to operate, with the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island, raising the rest, largely through tuition and other fees.

URI President David M. Dooley told the board that URI attracted a record $86 million in outside research in fiscal 2009. The previous year, the latest for which economic impact figures are available, URI’s research arm generated 1,400 jobs and $21.5 million in federal and state tax revenue, Dooley said. ...

Overall, enrollment increased 10.4 percent between 2004 and 2009 — higher than the national average — while the state appropriation for public institutions of higher education plunged 29.1 percent during the same period — the steepest decline in the nation.

Why not begin charging inmates "tuition"? If they lack the resources to help pay for their incarceration, we could give them loans that they can pay back over the next few decades of their lives, as we do for college degrees. Perhaps the services available to them in prison should also be fee-based, with some cost for using the gym or renting movies. If Rhode Island is noteworthy for the arduousness and expense of doing time, here, those who see prison as a possibility in their future might avoid the state or improve their behavior while here.

On the other side of the comparison, I do have to note that I'm not but so sympathetic to the plight of colleges and universities:

"This model is not sustainable," [URI Provost Don DeHayes] said.

"It really means we have to find some other way to support Rhode Island students," he said.

Given the earlier comments of URI President Dooley, I can't help but wonder what sort of economic model suffers from success. How is it that an institution with an above-average increase in paying customers (students) and additional revenue from its research arm can require more subsidization? If the answer is that the cost of educating students exceeds the amount that they pay, then expenses — including remuneration of faculty and staff — enter the conversation.

Sailing in the Ocean State

Marc Comtois

Yes, we lost the bid to host the America's Cup, but there is still opportunity to grow our economy by focusing on sailing related business.

Warned ahead of time, the state administration immediately took a positive perspective, saying that Rhode Island is likely to host preliminary races that could become as big a benefit as the actual Cup defense....Keith Stokes, head of the state Economic Development Corporation and the leading state official on the issue, said the trials to select the Cup defender could involve several yachting syndicates.

Stokes said in an interview that the preliminary races in some ways offer a better opportunity than the final Cup challenge. Given the potential for multi-year events, “that provides a longer-term and stable economic opportunity.”

It would give Rhode Island time to re-build the sailing infrastructure required to host such events and, perhaps eventually have those facilities in place to make a strong bid to host a future America's Cup race. One thing we do have is a natural bay that is well-suited to sailing.
Long-time yachting expert Halsey Herreshoff, president of the America’s Cup Hall of Fame, said he sees another, long-term bright side to the situation: Newport is an excellent place to sail. Once current America’s Cup sailors find that out through sailing preliminary races here, he reasons, they’ll want to come back for future Cup competitions.
Bidding for the next America's Cup race was a long-shot and, though certainly worth a try, was akin to the sort of one-time fixes we're apt to try for here in Rhode Island. Hopefully this will indeed be a blessing in disguise and we'll seize on the heightened awareness that the sailing industry could be a bigger boon to the Ocean State. Whoda thunk?

Massachusetts District Court Says that Congress Lacks a Constitutionally Granted Power to Define Marriage

Carroll Andrew Morse

In a decision issued yesterday, the Federal District Court for Massachusetts overturned a portion of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) for reasons including the violation of the Tenth Amendment and Congress lacking an enumerated basis for defining marriage, in the case of Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services.

Section 3 of DOMA prohibited any definition of marriage other than that of a union of one man and one woman from being used by the Federal government, including eligibility rules for Federal benefits. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley challenged the law last year arguing, amongst other points, that...

Congress lacks the authority under Article I of the United States Constitution to regulate the field of domestic relations, including marriage [and that] Section 3 of DOMA violates the Tenth Amendment, exceeds Congress’s Article I powers, and runs afoul of the Constitution’s principles of federalism by creating an extensive federal regulatory scheme that interferes with and undermines the Commonwealth’s sovereign authority to define marriage and to regulate the marital status of its citizens.
In other words, Congress lacked the power to define marriage, even for Federal law, because a power to involve itself in regulating domestic relations had never been delegated to Congress. And in deciding the case, District Court Judge Joseph Tauro agreed that Federalist arguments have to be taken seriously in this and in any other area...
It is a fundamental principle underlying our federalist system of government that "[e]very law enacted by Congress must be based on one or more of its powers enumerated in the Constitution." And, correspondingly, the Tenth Amendment provides that "[t]he powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." The division between state and federal powers delineated by the Constitution is not merely “formalistic." Rather, the Tenth Amendment “leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty." This reflects a founding principle of governance in this country, that "[s]tates are not mere political subdivision of the United States," but rather sovereigns unto themselves.
In its defense, the Federal Government argued that an enumerated power allowing Congress to define marriage can be found in the "Spending Clause" of the US Constitution (Article I section 8)...
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States
...which has been interpreted to allow Congress to set conditions on how Federal monies are spent, in pursuit of the promotion of the general welfare. But Judge Tauro rejected this justification as a basis for DOMA, on the grounds that...
  1. The courts have previously held that the broad grant of power in Spending Clause cannot be used to justify Congressional actions that violate more sharply defined section of the Constitution, and
  2. Section 3 of DOMA "violated the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution" (decided in Gill vs. Office of Personnel Management, the companion case to Massachusetts v. HHS, and decided by Judge Tauro on the same day).
Judge Tauro's ruling also made note that the scope of Section 3 of DOMA extended beyond just "spending"...
It is...worth noting that DOMA’s reach is not limited to provisions relating to federal spending. The broad sweep of DOMA, potentially affecting the application of 1,138 federal statutory provisions in the United States Code in which marital status is a factor, impacts, among other things, copyright protections, provisions relating to leave to care for a spouse under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and testimonial privileges.
...suggesting that the Spending Clause might not have been an adequate justification for Section 3 of DOMA, even if it had been decided that there was no conflict with the rest of the Constitution. Given that the opinion makes no further mention of whether the impacts of DOMA outside of spending or monetary benefits can be justified by the Spending Clause, I believe the implication is that there is no way that DOMA could have met Constitutional requirements in any non-spending area of the law, if it was unable to meet Constitutional requirements directly related to spending.

The rationale offered by Judge Tauro with regard to the Tenth Amendment was more direct. He found that Section 3 of DOMA violated it, without dependence on any other Constitutional provisions...

That DOMA plainly intrudes on a core area of state sovereignty -- the ability to define the marital status of its citizens -- also convinces this court that the statute violates the Tenth Amendment...

This court has determined that it is clearly within the authority of the Commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents, and to afford those individuals in same-sex marriages any benefits, rights, and privileges to which they are entitled by virtue of their marital status. The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state, and, in doing so, offends the Tenth Amendment. For that reason, the statute is invalid.

However, while this part of the opinion directly invokes the Tenth Amendment, it does so in a manner more limited than the plain wording of the Amendment would suggest. Judge Tauro's opinion, drawing from established circuit-level precedent, stresses that the Tenth Amendment applies to areas which, in addition to not being delegated to the Federal Government, must also be areas which clearly belong to the state governments. This adds an extra condition on Tenth Amendment protections, not found in the Amendment's text, which makes no reference to a subset of non-delegated state powers being the special ones that are protected.

So while I can applaud Judge Tauro's general principle of taking the idea of enumerated powers and Tenth Amendment seriously, the specifics of his ruling highlight a substantial gap that currently exists in our nation's Federalism-related jurisprudence. While the Federal government cannot intrude into an area that is fundamental to the sovereignty of a state, and cannot use the "Spending Clause" to justify actions that conflict with other parts of the Constitution, there is still a large range of possible Federal actions whose Constitutionality is not clearly defined by the courts, i.e. actions that courts do not declare to be essential to state sovereignty, and that are not in conflict with the Constitution but that are not expressly delegated to the Federal Government.

Deeper Water and Hot Wind

Justin Katz

The insult of this Deepwater Wind deal for offshore wind turbines just grows and grows. To review, the state government rigged the game for a single company and constructed the law to guarantee profits for National Grid as it passed increased cost on to energy consumers. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) thwarted the process based on the high cost of the energy (somewhere between double and triple the current rate). The governor and General Assembly went back into the law and re-rigged it to decrease the PUC's opportunity for and breadth of input. And now:

The first was rejected in March, because the starting price — also 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour, but without the possibility of a decrease — was deemed not "commercially reasonable" by the three-member commission.

The new contract uses that price in the first year, but as an upper limit. Under what's known as an "open-book" proposal, Deepwater's accounts would be audited by a third party selected by the state and the price would be set according to the actual construction costs of the eight-turbine project, estimated at $205 million, and a predetermined return on investment for the company of between 10.5 and 12 percent. The amended price would then increase 3.5 percent annually over the 20-year contract. ...

Potential savings on capital costs envisioned by Deepwater could bring the price down to 22 cents per kilowatthour or thereabouts, said Deepwater chief development officer Paul Rich. ...

The new agreement provides for an additional source of savings for Rhode Island ratepayers. If the wind farm performs better than the 40-percent capacity projected in the contract, then the price would also go down.

Considering how complicit the state has been in this travesty, its role in selecting an auditor is hardly a comfort. In any case, the guaranteed profits are baked into the deal, so the audit is a formality.

Far worse, though, is the superficial nature of this change. If, by some unexpected turn of events, construction goes more smoothly than estimated and system performance outperforms expectations, savings might go to consumers. This is a reversal of the way things should work. The price mechanism should allow consumers to determine what increase would be worth the investment in this new industry and force the companies involved to shave their profits if they can't meet it. As it is, expenses and productivity are external considerations that nobody involved has much incentive to squeeze for efficiency.

July 8, 2010

A Reminder of Our Status

Justin Katz

Here's a reminder of why things have to change dramatically in Rhode Island:

Among the states, Rhode Island's [unemployment] rate of 12.3 percent was the highest in the region and the fourth highest in the U.S. Since May 2009, Rhode Island's rate was up 2.1 percentage points and was among 12 states nationally that recorded increases in their jobless rates during the last 12 months.

The rates in the other New England states were: Massachusetts (9.1 percent), Connecticut (8.3 percent), Maine (7.1 percent), New Hampsire (6.4 percent) and Vermont (6.2 percent).

Remember when Rhode Island hit 10% unemployment, and we all began (finally) to worry? Well, no other state in New England has even hit that point, and we may not see it again ever, unless we change our way of doing business.

One of 12 out of 50 states that saw increasing unemployment over the past year. We need to sweep out the State House and rehire the entire state bureaucracy.

Chafee and His Supporters Get National Play

Marc Comtois

The national press loves the independent candidate and USA Today (h/t Ian Donnis) is the latest to report about them in this year of the disgruntled voter. RI's own Lincoln Chafee plays prominently in the story and all of the classic Chafee themes are there. First, there's the typical RI attitude towards "name candidates" like Chafee:

As Chafee carries bags of the eatery's signature doughboys — a cardiologist's nightmare of deep fat-fried dough and crab — Antonio Ferreira, 67, comes over to get his photo snapped and a trio at the next table give him a friendly wave.

"I remember when he went to Cedar Hill Elementary School," says Hilda Poppe, 83, a retired librarian from Warwick whose younger daughter was in Chafee's class. She and her husband, Norman, 84, are having lunch on the outdoor deck with their older daughter, Nonnie O'Brien, 59.

"I always vote Democratic except for him," O'Brien says.

"He has a Republican name but he's always been independent," her father says approvingly.

What about his idea of raising the sales tax?

Norman Poppe hadn't heard about the proposal. "I don't like that," he says, frowning.

"But if it pays the debt," his wife chimes in. With the state's finances in trouble — there's a projected budget shortfall for next year of $405 million — she says any remedy will be painful.

"The others are saying they won't do it," her husband concedes, "but they might when they get in anyway."

Can talk ourselves into and out of anything, can't we? Then there was the Chafee-as-victim of ungrateful Republicans theme:
Chafee, 57, is a happier, more confident candidate than he was during his last race four years ago.

Then, he was challenged from the right in the Republican primary by Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey. He lost in November to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse.

Chafee felt rejected by the GOP, which no longer seemed willing to include moderate Republicans like himself.

Lest we all forget, Chafee won the GOP primary, largely thanks to the support of national Republicans, who campaigned for him & gave him money all while Chafee actively ran as and independent-minded Republican who proudly stood against a President of his own party. As to the Moderate part? Well...that leads to the final theme: an example of the Chafee disconnect:
After losing the race, he taught at Brown, his alma mater, and wrote a book titled Against the Tide. In 2008, Chafee voted for Barack Obama, his first vote for a Democrat. He weighed joining the Green or Libertarian parties but found neither a good fit. Chafee considered Rhode Island's fledging Moderate Party but thought the name sounded "wishy-washy."
In other words, "I'm a moderate but I didn't run as a Moderate Party candidate because that name, 'moderate', sounds so wishy-washy." So now he's a liberal Independent instead of a "big M" moderate (there is a difference, right?) because I guess that doesn't sound as wishy-washy. Okey doke.

A Candidate and a Blog

Justin Katz

Matt and I discussed his interview with Victor Moffitt and matters related to Anchor Rising on last night's Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

20% Health Care Share in Warwick

Marc Comtois

It took them a year and a half, but it looks like the City Council has realized that municipal employees are going to have to pay 20% of their health care (and not a flat dollar amount) every pay period (via Warwick Beacon).

The city, which is self-insured, meaning it pays its own health insurance claims on an ongoing basis, would save roughly $3.7 million in costs if employees paid 20 percent of the premiums.

Currently, Warwick City employees pay $14 per week for an individual plan and $28 per week for a family plan. Last year, that made up for roughly 10 percent of the cost. With the double-digit rates of medical industry inflation, that means employees will be paying at least double that amount under a 20 percent co-share premium payment.

Warwick teachers are paying $11 a week for health care.

In addressing how schools could cope with a projected $9 million budget shortfall, Superintendent Peter Horoschak suggested a 20 percent health insurance co-payment for all school workers that is estimated to save $3.7 million.

Mayor Scott Avedisian said yesterday in an e-mail that he would speak with his advisors before taking a position on the proposal.

As I mentioned back in March of 2009, "Mayor Avedesian explained that his Administration's analysis indicated that--because Warwick is self-insured and that co-share payments are largely affected by the management costs--the city will actually do better" than previous years by going with the increased flat fee. I'm not sure if the numbers show that, but one thing for sure is that a percentage would have been a much wiser move over an increased flat rate. Further, as some may remember, there was also some naive hope that the General Assembly would pass a statewide, mandated 25% health care co-share. Right.

The bottom line is that this was all predicted a while ago and it finally took the worst economic crisis in most of our lifetimes for local politicians to wise up. Even a blind squirrel, or a pack of 'em, finds a nut every once in a while.

Charity and Government

Justin Katz

It is fundamental to the view of big-government advocates and outright statists that the role of government is to run the society. Not just those aspects (like policing) that require legitimate use of force or (like foreign affairs) that require a unified social face to present to outside entities or (like roads and infrastructure) that empower citizens to compete with each other to the economic benefit of all, but everything. The notion is that a centralized bureaucratic brain can discern the problems of the nation and resolve them.

Of course, conservatives see that premise as insidious and sinister and don't see the creeping, relentless means by which government expands as indicative of a reasoned effort to implement intelligible plans so much as a sly strategy for aggregating power for its own sake. John Miller offered an example in a recent essay about governments' overtures to regulating (and taxing) private charity:

The fight is finished in Florida, at least for now. But the war over government control of philanthropies is set to break out in other state capitals as well as in Washington, D.C. As politicians seek to close budget gaps, many are turning their gaze to high-income givers and foundation endowments — and wondering how they can plunder the wealth that allows Americans to give more than $300 billion annually to support everything from churches to cancer research. President Obama has proposed slashing the charitable deduction for the richest Americans. So far, Congress has resisted. Yet some of its members would like to go even further than the White House. California Democrat Xavier Becerra, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, has referred to the tax-favored treatment of charitable donations as a "$32 billion earmark" because that’s the amount of revenue Washington supposedly forgoes each year. Becerra wants Congress to play a stronger role in overseeing philanthropy: "I have an obligation to make sure that those $32 billion that would have gone to the federal government are used for a . . . public good."

The "public good" is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Last year, Becerra embraced a rather specific vision of it when he spoke at an event sponsored by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. He praised the release of an NCRP report called "Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best." The document called on foundations to spend at least half of their grant dollars on "lower-income communities, communities of color, and other marginalized groups." It also said grantors should spend at least a quarter of their donations on "advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement to promote equity, opportunity, and justice in our society."

It's a four-step trick of which Americans should beware: As illustrated in the first paragraph of the quotation, step one entails government officials asserting authority based on any thread they can find, in this case, the supposedly foregone tax revenue, as if allowing charitable organizations to keep money that others have freely given is no different than cutting a public check for the same amount. (Becerra ignores, of course, that taxing donations would translate into fewer of them.) Step two, noted in the second paragraph, sees the government implementing regulations that appeal to particular notions of charity, equality, and redistribution.

And step three leaves all pretense discarded, as at least one state government has already revealed:

Earlier this year, Arizona's legislature snatched a $250,000 bequest from the coffers of the Arizona State Parks Board. The politicians decided that the gift of Asta Forrest, a Danish immigrant who had wanted to support a park system that she had grown to love, instead would help close a budget gap. "She never would have given the money if she had known that the state was going to take it away from the parks board," a friend told the Arizona Republic.

And then, when the government has killed private charity by (1) taxing it and (2) scuttling donors' confidence that their money will actually support the cause that interests them, the argument will become — you guessed it — that the government must pick up the slack through more taxation and government "oversight."

Expiring Tax Cuts=Tax Increases

Marc Comtois

Unless Congress and President Obama take action, the so-called Bush tax cuts will expire at the end of the year. Despite the rhetoric, it ain't just "the rich" who will be affected, folks. Here are a couple of the expiring cuts that will affect us "working class" people.

1) The tax brackets will go up from 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33% and 35%, respectively, to 15%, 28%, 31%, 36% and 39.6%. Even if the bracket definitions are changed, that's still an increase for most of the workin' people.

2) People in the lowest two brackets (10% and 15%) pay 0% tax on investment profits. That will go up to 10% on long-term gains and 15% and 28% on dividends.

3) Married couples get twice the deduction of singles. Next year, this will fall to 167%. The marriage penalty is back.

Working with the Problem

Justin Katz

Appearing on the Matt Allen Show, gubernatorial candidate Victor Moffitt sings a lot of music to the ears of right-leaning reformers in Rhode Island. Starting each year's budget process from zero and implementing five percent across-the-board reductions each year for eight years are great ideas from which to begin a turnaround of state government. I'm not convinced, though, that Moffitt truly acknowledges the underlying problem.

He does start out very close, though:

Basically, who runs the state is the speaker of the house. He's the captain of the ship; he's the king of Rhode Island. The speaker of the Senate, you might as well say is the queen, right now. They rule the state. The governor has pretty much a figure head position. He does have the bully pulpit. He can look at some policy decisions and try to put together a decent budget.

Moffitt arguably understates the authority that naturally comes with the act of running the state as its chief executive, although, were the governor to refuse to implement legislated policies, the courts would likely step in. But on the matter of those policy — which must be the focus at this time — the only question for a governor is how he can move an unwilling legislature toward the changes that Rhode Island needs, and here, Moffitt flies right off the tracks:

I just think that the governor could work a lot closer with the General Assembly, and in the past that's not been a working relationship. That's something that I would bring as a governor — to work a lot more closely with the General Assembly to get legislation passed.

If the premise is — as it must be — that the king and queen of Rhode Island (and their compliant legislative entourage) are harming the state out of a lack of political will and a surplus of self interest, then what use is a figure head governor who stresses working closely with them? Matt Allen brought forward the question of whether Moffitt would use the bully pulpit (that he, himself, acknowledges as the only tool of the RI governor) to highlight things that the General Assembly is doing wrong, and the candidate responded by lamenting Don Carcieri's "CEO mentality" — giving orders and not compromising.

Letting slide the debatable characterization of CEOs, one must wonder what leverage Moffitt believes that he would have if he shies away from making his case to the public, and thereby disrupting his "close working relationship" with the people who actually have authority to give him orders.

I come small business, with a humble financial background — no big name family with a lot of money. So I look at fixing things from a different perspective: working with the adversaries. In other words, bringing some of the leadership people — the Finance Committee people — in right from the beginning, when I'm crafting the budget to put it together, so when it's presented to the General Assembly, and to the Finance Committee, I already know that this budget is going to go through.

Matt went on to note that governor gets all of the blame for the consequences of the legislature's wrong-headed acts, and Moffitt didn't seem to see the point. Bringing the General Assembly into the governor's part of the budget process — even assuming that legislators who dawdled for months on a desperately needed supplemental budget and who typically wait until the very last moment to thrust their final budgets into law, each year, would cooperate — only makes easier the political maneuver of blaming the governor.

Moffitt responded that he can work with the General Assembly — Gordon Fox, specifically — and doesn't care if the Democrats take credit for all of his good ideas. That's quite a different matter, though, than the challenge that Matt accurately described: The legislators' practice is to give the governor credit for all of their bad ideas.

Overall, Victor Moffitt's statement translates as follows: "The General Assembly is the problem. Having been a member of the problem, I can and will work closely with it." Now, maybe he's got some grand plan for action that he'll unveil when, soon into his first term, he encounters the choice of using his one weapon — the bully pulpit — or appearing to work with the General Assembly, but that's what voters need to know about up front. And maybe he's hoping things will operate differently with a more politically balanced legislature that gives teeth to his veto power, but then that's an outcome toward which he must be working even as he runs his own race, and I didn't hear him stress its importance.

July 7, 2010

Permissible Discrimination

Justin Katz

Following up on a story that I mentioned a month ago:

An ideologically split Supreme Court ruled Monday that a law school can legally deny recognition to a Christian student group that won't let gays join, with one justice saying that the First Amendment does not require a public university to validate or support the group's "discriminatory practices."

The court turned away an appeal from the Christian Legal Society, which sued to get funding and recognition from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. The CLS requires that voting members sign a statement of faith and regards "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle" as being inconsistent with that faith.

As with tax exemptions and the like, my preference is for religious and other groups to remain free of the government's (or university's) financial thumb. Still, one suspects that this policy will not be (is probably not being) universally applied in an objective way — along the reasoning that it's not discrimination to discriminate against those who discriminate in ways that the dominant culture doesn't like. One also suspects, however, that few Christians and other cultural conservatives will be inclined to test the ruling's application by striving to infiltrate and undermine the principles of liberally minded student groups, as appears to have been an issue in the other direction in the case at hand.

That might make for an interesting project, though, for politically conservative students: Join a radical environmental group in large numbers, claim its offices, and reverse its statements of finding and principle. Such dishonest subversion isn't something that I'd encourage, but it sure would be entertaining to watch as a spectator.

Can Schools Replace Teenagers' Jobs?

Justin Katz

Her column is cast in terms of preventing summer "learning loss" among students, but Julia Steiny's subject is really the degree to which schools have conflated "schooling" and "learning" — making children with an aversion to the former avoid activities that are explicitly the latter, whether during the summer or school-year off hours.

... institutions have an evil tendency to become more important than their missions and their clients. Health-care systems can compromise health. Schools can become antithetical to learning.

[Ivan] Illich says, "The pupil is 'schooled' to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence. ..." This is sad, but too often true. He further notes that schools "discourage both the motivation and the financing for large-scale planning for nonschooled learning."

It's peculiar, therefore, that she would head in this direction:

Why don't schools teach kids about themselves and their immediate environments? What could be more interesting? Harness kids' narcissism by helping them figure out where and who they are, investigate what their community wants, audit the school's energy use, promote recycling, learn to do minor repairs. These skills need academic support, and kids could use them tomorrow at home. Treat the immediate world as a learning lab, so kids get a big hit of the pleasure of mastery.

At the very least, leveraging schools as the hub connecting children to the world around them risks tainting an even broader swath of activities with the "schooling" feel of imposed work. Indeed, we're back to Robert Whitcomb's suggestion, which I mentioned the other day, that imposed community service in high school might sour students on voluntary service once they claim the freedom of college.

In general, I agree with Steiny that schools could do much to make learning more fun, but part of the reason that young adults are disengaging from civic activity is that, as a society, we allow school to be their one responsibility. "Investigating what their community wants" and pursuing practical skills sounds an awful lot like the role of a summer job. To increase that activity, we'll have to focus on factors that sap the marketplace of such gigs (a slow, business-unfriendly economy) and that direct them away from young adults when available (labor laws and illegal immigration).

Hiding in the Treasure Room

Justin Katz

Predictive economic news has been dire, lately. If the dark notes weren't so broadly being sounded, one might suspect a Republican conspiracy to keep a nascent recovery from helping the Democrats. The alternative explanation is that conservatives have been correct in their concerns about the Democrats' method of "stimulating" the economy and that the consequences have begun to appear a few months earlier than government incumbents would prefer.

Of course, such reliable left-wing Democrat voices as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman are doing their best to run that hypothetical conspiracy in reverse, as Stephen Spruiell points out in a recent National Review (subscription required). But the left-right battle is secondary to Spruiell's main topic. Krugman points to the stability of government security interest rates as evidence that people aren't really all that worried about federal debt, to which Spruiell replies:

In some ways, gold is a better indicator of investor concern about the government's finances than are interest rates on government bonds, because at least two forces are keeping those rates irrationally low. First, since the crisis began, the Federal Reserve has injected over $1 trillion of new money into the economy, mostly in the form of loans to the nation's commercial banks at 0 percent interest. Over that same period, these banks have increased their purchases of U.S. government bonds by $500 billion.

David Smick, a financial consultant and author of The World Is Curved, explained the phenomenon in an article for Commentary earlier this year: "The perception now is that Washington has entered a new era of 'political banking.' . . . [Banks] can borrow from the central bank for next to nothing [and] use that borrowed money to buy guaranteed government debt, taking the difference in yields as riskless profit." This is not a bug in the government's strategy for dealing with weakness in the banking system; it is the strategy's central feature. The banking sector's demand for low-risk securities, and the Fed's willingness to finance that demand at 0 percent, have helped banks repair their damaged balance sheets while so far keeping the government's interest rates manageable. With virtually no perceived risk and a Fed eager to finance the purchases, banks don't mind a low return on their investment.

That sounds more than a little like GM's proclamation that it would be paying of government loans ahead of schedule... using other money procured from the federal government. It doesn't take much deep economic thinking to see that one cannot borrow to pay of debts for an extended period of time.

As I've said before, such a strategy only makes sense if the person or entity engaged in the financial activity has reason to expect an increase in income or, in the case of the government, in economic activity. Otherwise, the interest will eat an increasing amount of funds that were already too limited and, in the case of the government, the distortion of market forces will dissuade the sorts of behavior that can create or discover unforeseen economic expansion.

The Inconvenient Seat of Power

Justin Katz

As one learns the "how it works" of Rhode Island, becomes increasingly convinced that it doesn't work, and considers taking steps to change things, one striking lesson is the rigged nature of the General Assembly. In aggregate, legislators are the core of power, in the state, yet individually, the rewards are so minimal and the schedule so inconvenient that mostly people with careers conspicuously conducive to special interests find it manageable. (In "special interests," we should include legislators, especially lawyers, who constitute a special interest of one.) It's entirely understandable that people who've had enough might wish to run for offices that offer full-time jobs.

Therefore, it's quite a thing to see so many people throwing their names into the hat for General Assembly seats, and last Friday's Providence Journal reported on two right next to each other. First:

Republican mayoral candidate Daniel S. Harrop withdrew from the race to succeed Mayor David N. Cicilline on Thursday and will instead challenge state Rep. Edith Ajello after being appointed to fill a vacant ballot slot by state Republican Chairman Giovanni Cicione. ...

"We have been talking about this for a while now. I am happy with the wide range of candidates that have entered the race, giving the people of Providence a clear choice in November," Harrop said of the mayor's race. "This allows me to help the GOP by challenging a long time incumbent in the State House who needs to answer to the voters for the financial damage that she and her colleagues have done to our state."

One could quip that Harrop didn't have a chance in the mayoral race, so he's switched to an office that he might be able to win, but that calculation arguably doesn't apply. Mayor is a career change; state representative career hindrance.


Jim Quinlan resigned Wednesday from his role as Republican City Committee chairman — a day after declaring his intention to run against Nicholas A. Mattiello, the majority leader for the Rhode Island House of Representatives, in District 15.

Quinlan, a retail consultant for True Value Co., had taken over the chairmanship in January 2009. ...

"It's going to be a heck of a race," Quinlan said. "I want to make sure that I can focus on that and not have [the race] affect the" work of the city committee.

In this case, the candidate is clearly increasing his investment in civic activity. Political committees, groups, and (yes) blogs are manageable in spare hours of the workday. The General Assembly's schedule appears designed to overlap with hours that are not typically spare.

July 6, 2010

An Absence of Space Goals But Not of Conflict of Interest: What in the World is Going on at NASA?

Monique Chartier

Okay, maybe we should consider privatizing our space program, as President Obama has proposed. There's something a bit disconcerting about the idea but we certainly can talk about it. Does that mean that the entire concept of space has to be removed from the top three goals, as set by President Obama, for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration? From NASA Watch. (Thanks, Michael Graham.)

When I became the NASA Administrator — before I became the NASA Administrator — [Obama] charged me with three things: One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.

Can the US Department of State file a grievance because another department is markedly infringing on their duties?

Speaking of duties, the aptly named (... well, aptly for the time, up until about a year ago, when NASA was charged with doing bold things) NASA administrator Charles Bolden, seems oblivious to the fact that his duties do not include using his office to jack up the value of stock in his personal portfolio.

As the Orlando Sentinel reported Sunday, Bolden weighed in against NASA's participation with the U.S. Navy in a project to develop ocean-based biofuels. He wrote in a series of e-mails that he did not think NASA should be the lead federal agency looking at alternative fuels.

On its face, this is a defensible position. NASA is under tremendous budget pressure, and its leader is right to be wary of taking on commitments when the agency doesn't have enough money to adequately fund its core, space-related activities. NASA shouldn't spread itself too thin - especially now.

But Bolden registered his opinion after running the biofuels project past Marathon Oil Corp., a Houston-based company that has invested in a different biofuels venture. Marathon advised against it.

An oil company recommending that NASA not get behind a competing project: Who saw that coming?

It gets worse. Bolden sat on Marathon's board until Obama named him NASA administrator last year. While he was on the board, the company invested $10 million in the other biofuel project.

And he still owns as much as $1 million worth of stock in the company.

Yikes! As the June 24 editorial in the Orlando Sentinel goes on to observe

It is dumbfounding that Bolden would not only seek the view of an oil company about a competing project, but go to the one on whose board he served, in which he still owns a significant stake. Yet he not only saw nothing amiss in his actions, he even called attention to them. "I continue to have doubts about the viability of this project, especially after discussions with representatives of the Marathon Oil Corporation," he wrote to other NASA leaders on May 2.

NASA's Inspector General is investigating this conflict of interest.

It's not clear who can look into President Obama removing the "S" from NASA ...

Not Imposing a Preference Against Killing

Justin Katz

I've liked a good deal of what I've read and heard from Republican Congressional Candidate William Clegg, so it's regrettable to find him taking the same horrible position as his primary competition (and Republican nominee) Mark Zaccaria. Here's Clegg:

While my own beliefs are pro-life, I do not believe that the government should be intervening in what should be a choice between a woman, her doctor, and God. I do not seek to impose my views on another in such a private area. I believe that we can best reduce the prevalence of abortion through awareness and appeals to conscience and that religion can take a prominent role in this effort. In line with my belief in the limits of government, I do not believe that federal funds should be used for abortions. I am also a proponent of parental consent where appropriate, as well as waiting periods. Last, I do not subscribe to the view that there is a Constitutional right to an abortion as originally set out by the plurality in Roe v. Wade, and continued in the decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

The name for this political position used to be "pro-choice," in direct opposition to "pro-life." I've contacted Clegg and his campaign for clarification, but having not heard back in a substantive way, I can only pose my questions here:

  • In what sense can one have "pro-life beliefs" and still believe that killing an unborn child is a legitimate "choice"? The determining belief of the pro-life side is that a human being at the earliest stages of development is indeed a human being, with a right to life.
  • What significance could there be to disagreeing with Roe v. Wade, et al., if one sees government proscriptions against abortion as an inappropriate imposition of a pro-life view? From that stance, does Congressman Clegg side with those who would undo Roe v. Wade or oppose them? The latter sounds more likely.

As with Zaccaria, one gets the distinct impression that, having determined to take an untenable position, Clegg attempts to season his pro-choice mush with a few kernels of conservative principles. The attempted message is that such candidates will be better than their pro-abortion opposition, but pro-lifers shouldn't expect any support from them.

For me, the politics are a secondary consideration. It's a tricky business predicting what candidates will do when they actually face the pressures and compromises of national policy battles. We therefore should weigh heavily their intellectual and philosophical coherency and look for indications of their approach to constructing their positions. As I've said before, the attempt to acknowledge reality and credit the unborn with being distinct human beings while still characterizing their killing as the choice of the mother is monstrous.

Even for all that, though, voters must choose candidates from among those available, making decisions within the context of an array of issues. The politics may be secondary, but sometimes they're all that's left.

July 5th Observances From Bristol

Marc Comtois

The family and I braved the crowds and the heat and took in the Bristol 4th (sic 5th) of July Parade. We arrived early (7:30-ish), staked our claim near the beginning of the route and hung out. Some observations:

1) As far as politicians, the earliest bird was AG candidate Joe Fernandez (D). General Treasurer candidate Gina Raimondo (D) really hit our portion of the parade route hard and somewhat overshadowed AG Candidate Christopher Little (M) who was also walking around at the same time. There were a few campaigners for Loughlin (R), Cicilline (D) and Bill Lynch (D) (all running for RI Congressional D-1), but none of the candidates personally glad-handed my section of the crowd. Bob Healey (Cool Moose) did come through later on during the parade though. (And incidentally, despite the Johnny-come-lately GOPers, Healey still has my vote with his end-the LtGov plan). It seemed like Caprio (D) had the most signage and workers.

2) Some time during the 3rd Division of the parade, things slowed down drastically. With the heat and the crowds, many people gave up and started walking the parade route in reverse to get out of dodge. It made for some annoyances as bands had to squeeze thru a constricted route. Not sure what the hold-up was for (though I suspect it was over-long reviewing stand performances). It also shows that our no-attention span culture can't handle much stoppage without moving on. Kinda sad.

3) The bands were all pretty good, but I really liked the Baltimore Marching Revels for their style and the joi-de-vivre they displayed. I also noticed that several bands were from Minnesota. Was there a special hookup with the Land of 10,000 Lakes this year?

4) I took note of the reaction to the separate Tea Party float and RIILE/other groups float. Both floats were sailing ship replicas (for obvious reasons) and more than one member of the crowd cheered the latter while exclaiming "Go Tea Party" or the like. In general, the reception to both was boisterously positive. However, I've gotta say that having people on a float screaming about "taking back our state" and "throw them all out" during a family-type parade (yes, even if it is one celebrating our Independence) seemed a little too intense and out of place. I'm not sure if any converts were won over by the antagonistic (no matter how justified) approach.

5) There was applause for all of the military personnel, past and present (and a few future). Wasn't as robust as I'd expected though. And it seems like time is finally catching up to the Greatest Generation--not a lot of them left. As I've noticed in recent years, the Vietnam Vets continue to get the biggest response.

6) As a history guy, I like the re-enactor groups. From the muskets to the fife-and-drums and all that. But at the risk of ticking off the wrong people....I don't get the pirate thing.

Kansas Tries Grouping Kids by Ability, not Age

Marc Comtois

Seems like an idea worth trying:

Instead of simply moving kids from one grade to the next as they get older, schools are grouping students by ability. Once they master a subject, they move up a level. This practice has been around for decades, but was generally used on a smaller scale, in individual grades, subjects or schools.

Now, in the latest effort to transform the bedraggled Kansas City, Mo. schools, the district is about to become what reform experts say is the largest one to try the approach. Starting this fall officials will begin switching 17,000 students to the new system to turnaround trailing schools and increase abysmal tests scores.

"The current system of public education in this country is not working" said Superintendent John Covington. "It's an outdated, industrial, agrarian kind of model that lends itself to still allowing students to progress through school based on the amount of time they sit in a chair rather than whether or not they have truly mastered the competencies and skills."

Here's how the reform works:

Students — often of varying ages — work at their own pace, meeting with teachers to decide what part of the curriculum to tackle. Teachers still instruct students as a group if it's needed, but often students are working individually or in small groups on projects that are tailored to their skill level.

For instance, in a classroom learning about currency, one group could draw pictures of pennies and nickels. A student who has mastered that skill might use pretend money to practice making change.

Students who progress quickly can finish high school material early and move forward with college coursework. Alternatively, in some districts, high-schoolers who need extra time can stick around for another year.

Advocates say the approach cuts down on discipline problems because advanced students aren't bored and struggling students aren't frustrated.

But backers acknowledge implementation is tricky, and the change is so drastic it can take time to explain to parents, teachers and students.

I don't think it will take time to explain...more like time to accept ("we fear change"--especially in our education system). But this method seems to work:
Education officials in Kansas City, Maine and elsewhere said part of the allure is the success other districts have after making the switch.

Marzano Research Laboratory, an educational research and professional development firm, evaluated 2009 state test data for over 3,500 students from 15 school districts in Alaska, Colorado, and Florida. Researchers found that students who learned through the different approach were 2.5 times more likely to score at a level that shows they have a good grasp of the material on exams for reading, writing, and mathematics.

Greg Johnson, director of curriculum and instruction for the Bering Strait School District in Alaska, recalled that before the switch there were students who had been on honor roll throughout high school then failed a test the state requires for graduation.

Now, he said if students are on pace to pass a class like Algebra I, the likelihood of them passing the state exam covering that material is more than 90 percent. He's proud of that accomplishment and said teachers love it.

"The most die-hard advocates for our system are our teachers because, especially the ones who were back with us before the change, they saw where things were then," he said. "They see where things are now and they don't want to go back."

Like I said, seems like it's worth a shot.

The Odd Twists of Guilt

Justin Katz

Mark Steyn proposes an interesting turnabout:

... As paradoxical as it sounds, Muslims have been far greater beneficiaries of Holocaust guilt than the Jews. In a nutshell, the Holocaust enabled the Islamization of Europe. Without post-war guilt, and the revulsion against nationalism, and the embrace of multiculturalism and mass immigration, the Continent would never have entertained for a moment the construction of mosques from Dublin to Dusseldorf and the accommodation of Muslim sensitivities on everything from British nursing uniforms to Brussels police doughnut consumption during Ramadan. Holocaust guilt is a cornerstone of the Muslim Europe arising before our eyes. The only minority that can't leverage the Shoah these days is the actual target. It is disheartening to see Elie Wiesel, in Toronto the other day, calling for Holocaust denial to be made a crime throughout the world (as it already is in many European countries). He so doesn't get it. The greater risk to Jews is not that the world will "forget" the murder of 6 million people but that it has appropriated the crime for its own purposes. In Europe, the ever more extravagant Holocaust Memorial Day observances have taken on the character of America's gay-pride parades with their endlessly proliferating subcategories of celebrants. As Anthony Lipmann, the son of an Auschwitz survivor, wrote in The Spectator five years ago: "When on 27 January I take my mother's arm — tattoo number A-25466 — I will think not just of the crematoria and the cattle trucks but of Darfur, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Jenin, Fallujah."

One could note that the Holocaust wasn't the only moral crime contributing to social guilt and the multiculturalist mindset, which Islamofascists — while feeling no guilt about their treatment of Jews, women, homosexuals, Christians, and any other subjugable groups — leverage to self-present as an oppressed minority. In the United States, slavery and segregation are the hinge pin.

In a sense, Western Civilization has been in a sort of cultural Purgatory. Having awoken to some of the evils in which we've participated — although they are by no means unique to us — we are shocked into a crisis of confidence. Not surprisingly, our own demons and those from outside see an opportunity to seize while we're locked in an unhealthy vanity of repentance. The challenge is to learn from the past rather than wallowing right back into it.

Healthcare's Unchanged Incentives

Justin Katz

Offering some representative anecdotes from her experience as a doctor, Alieta Eck explains the problem with the Obamacare approach to healthcare reform:

Are these patients or their physicians committing fraud? No. They are simply acting legally to enhance their own well-being, following the incentives set up by the unwieldy system. People with "coverage" do not care what costs they incur, and those who provide services benefit by providing more. As with the oil rig in the Gulf, there is a lot of pressure behind the leak. Adding more pressure — as with the Democrats' idea of saving money by covering everybody — is not the answer. It can only make things worse.

Everybody assumes that bringing healthy people into the insurance fold will help to balance increased usage among the sick, but the incentive, for them, will be the same as for everybody: Use whatever services are conceivably needed. Even if "broadening the pool" does delay the inevitable, Eck sees this as our future...

Once the nation is bankrupt, hospitals have closed, and physicians have found alternate ways to earn a living, real medical needs will not be met. The best medical care in the world will simply cease to exist. Then all Americans, young and old, will feel the pain.

... and offers an alternative approach with which Anchor Rising readers will be readily familiar:

There is a better answer, pointed out by Rep. Ron Paul, M.D. (R-TX):

"We need a system in America where patients pay cash for basic services, and carry insurance only for serious illnesses and accidents. 'Health maintenance' is the responsibility of each of us individually. We cannot continue to collectivize the costs of healthcare and expect things to get better."

Insurance needs to be insurance, and consumers must be required to incorporate cost into their healthcare decisions.

The "Stimulus" in Miniature... or Hatchback

Justin Katz

It appears that many residents' car tax bills will offer an early illustration of the consequence of the big-spending stimulus pursued by Congress and the White House:

A number of cars, which normally lose value each passing year, have increased in value this year as a result of several economic forces hitting the used car market. ...

"There are less used vehicles out there for people to buy," said [state Vehicle Value Commission Chairwoman Linda] Cwiek, who also is the tax assessor in North Kingstown. She placed blame for the short supply of used cars on the federal "Cash-for-Clunkers" program.

To stimulate a sagging automotive economy and to aid the environment, the federal program offered financial incentives to turn in older vehicles in favor of buying more fuel-efficient models. In all, the program removed 677,842 vehicles from the road and sent them to the shredder. That prevented them from entering the used-car market.

Not only does the government have to take money out of the economy to put money into it (even if it takes from the future), but distortions of the marketplace will ripple. In this case, the effect was exacerbated by the environmentalist lunacy of destroying the cars. Many of us observed at the time that the government was essentially paying out money to ensure that used cars would be more expensive.

On a broader scale, big government-initiated spending only works as a stimulus if the economy is already headed for a breakthrough. Softening the interim with public debt is a gamble that's best hedged, and Obama and the Democrats went all in, mostly in order to prevent government entities from having to contract.


By the way, it looks as if I wasn't so unreasonable to question the General Assembly's change of law allowing vehicle assessments to go up for the purposes of taxation.

July 5, 2010

A Comfort of Consistency

Justin Katz

Do you need an example of the reason that it's inadvisable for the ostensibly objective entity that regulates the marketplace to participate in its activities? Here's a small one:

Limits on the fees banks charge merchants who accept debit cards would not apply to government-issued cards, under a tentative House-Senate deal aimed at easing worries raised by state treasurers.

The agreement announced Monday softens a Senate provision in a broad financial regulation bill that requires the Federal Reserve to limit the amount banks collect from merchants for every debit card transaction.

We err in seeing the playing field as business versus government. Government is just another entity and it will naturally seek to draw power and authority toward itself. Here, it's giving itself advantages in the promulgation of a particular technology and service. Government cards may never expand, but as cards issued by private banks become more expensive for consumers, those issued by states and the feds will become more attractive candidates for future applications. In other words, if we see debit cards as a marketplace, government is moving to corner it.

Also evident in the above is that it will privilege those among the interests affected by its policies (i.e., state treasurers) who are most closely aligned and most easily controlled by its bureaucracy.

Earning Happiness

Justin Katz

The behavior of both sides of the liberal-guilt–welfare axis might find some explanation in this line, drawn from a review of Arthur Brooks's The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future by Matthew Continetti (subscription required):

It is not inequality, Brooks writes, that makes people unhappy. It is a lack of self-worth. It is the feeling that success is unearned.

On the welfare-recipient side, Continetti notes:

In 2001, the University of Michigan's Panel Study of Income Dynamics noticed a correlation between welfare dependency and sadness. The panel found that going on the dole increased the chances of feeling "inconsolably sad" by 16 percent. "Welfare recipients," Brooks writes, "are far unhappier than equally poor people who do not get welfare checks." And while Brooks is quick to point out that correlation is not causation, the data certainly suggest that welfare doesn't make you any happier.

On the guilty liberal side, one thinks of the simplified explanation that Rush Limbaugh (gasp!) frequently offers: they know that they're wealthy beyond their merits, so they assume the system that so blessed them must be unjust. Rather than returning their "unearned" rewards, though, they seek to take a smaller amount from everybody — regardless of desert — in order to give to those who have "unearned" and not received.

Move beyond — if you can — the previous paragraph's poke at our pals on the left and focus on Brooks's point, which he states thus, in a 2007 City Journal article:

What I found was that economic inequality doesn't frustrate Americans at all. It is, rather, the perceived lack of economic opportunity that makes us unhappy. To focus our policies on inequality, instead of opportunity, is to make a grave error—one that will worsen the very problem we seek to solve and make us generally unhappier to boot.

Pointing out that income inequality in the United States has been expanding because "the rich are getting richer faster than the poor are getting richer," Brooks highlights the astonishing fact that, for some who rail against inequality, discouraging work among the successful is actually a feature, not a bug, of income redistribution:

According to British economist Richard Layard, "If we make taxes commensurate to the damage that an individual does to others when he earns more"—the damage to others' happiness, that is—"then he will only work harder if there is a true net benefit to society as a whole. It is efficient to discourage work effort that makes society worse off." Work, according to this postmodern argument—contrary to millennia of moral teaching—is no different from a destructive vice like tobacco, which governments sometimes tax in order to discourage people from smoking.

We who are productive, but not yet successful, might wish to interject that making gobs of money typically involves enabling other people to make or save money, too. As we've discussed on Anchor Rising before, replacing the rich folks who run WalMart with an army of mom 'n' pops would eliminate the employment of the large company's relatively well-compensated employees and disallow people of the same economic class from economizing in the way that WalMart's retail model allows.

Unsurprisingly, the difference in perspective ultimately seems to come down to whether one views society as a collection of castes or of individuals. The left sees those who work for WalMart as People Who Work for Walmart and, implicitly, always will. The right sees them as people who currently see WalMart as offering the greatest opportunity given their current circumstances. The poster representative for the former view is the single mother grasping about for any means of supporting her family; the poster representative for the latter view is the young adult making some side cash while learning the benefits of a strong work ethic and developing workplace interpersonal skills.

By way of a disclaimer: these distinctions are false. The single mother is just as apt to see "check out clerk" as a stepping stone, and the young adult may just as likely max out his potential stocking shelves. The point is that one side of the political divide presents current occupation as demonstrated maximum potential without public assistance, while the other side leaves potential up to the individual to demonstrate. (Shades of this difference can also be seen in union lamentations that teachers don't make as much money as others with the same amount of education. The problem is that individuals who go on to higher-paying gigs — say, quarter-million-dollar education commissioner — no longer appear in the "teacher" category.)

As Brooks and Continetti also explain, the effect of attempts to eliminate income inequality don't increase happiness. Because perceived opportunity is the greater contributor to that emotion, their policies actually have the opposite effect. We can take this assessment a step forward if we look to an underlying consequence of the mindset, whether it's conscious or not: The left's policies make government the provider of opportunity. To the extent that the right believes opportunity is provided (rather than seized from amidst the flow of uncontrollable natural and social forces), its policies put the responsibility in the hands of individuals.

Costa Encounters the Pitiful Enemy

Justin Katz

It appears that vocal Tea Party figure and District 31 candidate for the General Assembly's House Doreen Costa has attracted the attention of some mentally deficient (probably unstable) supporter of the status quo:

According to a police report, the car also contained "expensive electronics such as a navigation system, CD player, and IPod which was never touched or tampered with." "They just destroyed all my political stuff," Costa told Political Scene, adding that the following week someone smashed eggs on her car. "The trooper said it was someone making a statement because nothing was stolen."

Pictures on Doreen's Facebook page reveal the attack to be minimally disruptive, consisting mainly of spilled campaign materials:

It's always a little unsettling to encounter such evidence that one can't know what's going on in the minds of others. Of course, being a Jersey boy, I lock my van obsessively, much to the annoyance of coworkers who wish to borrow my tools during the course of the workday.

Cutting the Cultural Meat Out of American Education

Justin Katz

I wonder how Providence Journal columnist Julia Steiny would feel about the observation that she's moving ever closer to an Anchor Rising point of view. In her column, last week, she drew from her summer reading list to suggest that political correctness is gutting the aspects of American education that made for good, devoted citizens:

[E.D. Hirsch Jr.] observes that in the 1980s, people began to draw away from our commonality and into constituencies — gender, race, religious and national origins. While culturally important, Hirsch calls the era of ROOTS the "neo-tribalism," that eventually grew into the shrill partisanship now dominating modern public discourse. Cynicism grew like mold around the pie-in-the-sky ideal of the common good. ...

By scrubbing the curriculum of anything that does not meet political correctness, we fail to teach our children about the democratic faith. And by doing so, we invite them to take our freedom and heritage for granted. American children need to understand that cultivating the common good allows each of us to thrive as a unique, even eccentric individual.

Using Thanksgiving lessons as an example, Steiny describes how it ceased to be acceptable to certain factions for schools to teach a sunny version of the story of the pilgrims and native Americans to young children and add in the darker side later. Meanwhile, parents didn't want their holidays ruined by "an Indian-oppression story." Given the insinuation of this dynamic across the curriculum, public schools have just become employment-training facilities.

Perhaps after another year of columns, Steiny will move toward agreement with many of us on the right that she's currently providing the sunny version of the politicization of our schools. It's not that political ideals have been scrubbed from public education, but that the ones being taught are often antithetical to the founding principles and culture of the United States.

July 4, 2010

Poetry of Life's Underlying Politics

Justin Katz

I really do like that some political and religious periodicals publish poetry, but I have to admit that I'm seldom impressed. Skeptic of modernity that I am, the profundity passes me by. Something about rhyme and meter in poetry... well... it works.

I think (often) of Robert Frost's "Provide, Provide." Those who worry that fealty to structure tends toward the trite might have a point, in that poem, midway through the rhyming triplets, yet it's reasonable to credit that very structure — the necessity of certain words in a certain order in a certain rhythm — with the blend of humor, profundity, and especially memorize-ability of the final lines:

No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard,
Or keeps the end from being hard.

Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side
Than none at all. Provide, provide!

I offer this commentary, though, in the course of noting an exception. Daniel Mark Epstein's "Grandfather's Spectacles" in a recent National Review (subscription required) struck me strongly, with this as its beginning:

He was not a brawler, or vain,
But came up in a time and class
Where a youth of exceptional beauty
Had to prove himself — man to man — Time and again. ...

The subject turns out to require glasses and, after a day spent marveling at the world when seen clearly, must prove himself, man to man, against the sneer of "frog-eyes." He who must prove toughness because handsome must thereafter defend the distortion of his looks. The victim of the world's incoherent violence, of course, is "the miraculous invention of wire and glass," and fortitude in the face of brute human nature comes at "the cost of clear vision."

There's no shortage of factors to blame for the evaporating weight of poetry, which music composer Robert Schumann once declared to be the highest art. But I'm inclined to place at the forefront of culpability the loosening of the rules. As Mr. Frost once said, "poetry without rhyme is like tennis without a net."

Blue Cross Advertisement from the Former Governor

Justin Katz

A Sunday that happens also to be a holiday seems well suited to this minor observation concerning a man who left the public sphere before my time, as it were. From a recent op-ed by former Governor Lincoln Almond:

Every insurer in this state is seeking rate increases, some higher than Blue Cross, some modestly lower. But only one insurer is based here. Only one employs over 1,000 Rhode Islanders. Only one has invested in our capital city. Only one stands as the insurer of last resort, a company you can turn to no matter what your prior conditions have been. Only one stands out as an exemplary example of corporate commitment to the community. That company is Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island.

Of course, anybody should feel free to express their opinions in public fora, but there's something, well, inappropriate-feeling about such an overt advertisement by a former governor. I confess that I suspect that the biography line at the end of the essay is missing a line — a contextual disclaimer, if you will.

I Can't Take It Anymore! Just One Small Post About Al Gore

Monique Chartier

I've been trying to be good, really, I have, and leave commentary about this matter to others; mainly, various of my favorite disrespectful radio personalities.

But while catching up on Andrew Bolt's blog this afternoon (which I visit, let the record show, because it is informative, insightful and 99.9% POLITICAL) in the Herald Sun, naturally, as the former vice president is a political figure, I had to click on Bolt's post Friday about "taking it for the team" and the Portland police re-re-opening the investigation into the masseuse's allegations. And naturally, not wishing to be rude, I perused the comments. They included the following exchange.

Anthony of Ryde requests:

Can I suggest the Al Gore sex allegations stop been covered in this blog. They are unsubstianted allegations made by one person, which after been investigated by police were not pursued further. They are only be reopened because of media coverage. If it turns out there is truth to the allegations, this can be reported but until then they should be taken with a grain of salt.

To which ML replies:

Can I suggest the Al Gore sex global warming allegations stop been covered in this blog. They are unsubstianted allegations made by one person, which after been investigated by police professional, credible, honest scientists were not pursued further proven.

There. Fixed it for you.

Civic Engagement Should Be Part of Life

Justin Katz

It may seem an odd adjective to use in describing a person in such an establishment role as the Providence Journal's Commentary page editor, but in writing and conversation Robert Whitcomb is an iconoclastic figure. His take on the reason for dissipating civic engagement among the young, in the United States, highlights the characteristic.

Whitcomb's essay is brief, and he points his fingers in a variety of directions, so one-paragraph quotation would capture its sense, so read the whole thing. Having done so, perhaps you'll agree that the tilt of his proposed solutions misses something that his complaints stroll right around. For example:

Colleges and universities can encourage more civic engagement by offering more political-science and other social-science courses that explain how students can use their citizenship to more effect. Student internships and academic leaves at public-policy think tanks and media outlets should be encouraged. Political-science departments and journalism schools can help facilitate these arrangements.

Such an approach — while I certainly wouldn't advise against it — will tend to play into the specialization of interests that contributes to the problem in the first place. That is to say that it makes civic participation akin to a career option, when what a democracy needs is for it to be a constituent activity of life itself. Earlier, Whitcomb suggests that high schools' imposition of community service might cast it as a requirement from which college sets them free; why, then, would colleges want to present political science in a similar light?

To broaden that notion: What's needed, I'd suggest, is a return to general learning and cultivation of intellectual interest, which is much more difficult than siphoning some segment of student and young adult populations into an area of study and activity. Societywide, we have to begin rewarding action and discouraging passivity — encouraging exploration of problems and development of solutions on an individual basis and trusting that public action will prove sufficiently interesting to draw attention.

Unfortunately — and most definitely not surprisingly — those who currently inhabit the realms of politics and culture-making have reason to prefer begin left to their topical fiefdoms. Much better for the masses to become lost in the passivity of television, narcissism of social media online, and canned causes to assuage guilt than for everybody to have an opinion formed from personal conviction and tied to a learned habit of putting thought into action.

Let's Be Clear: If You Oppose the Recent Changes to the Arizona Immigration Law, You Oppose United States Immigration Law

Monique Chartier

Because, see, the substance of the revisions to the Arizona law make it almost a carbon copy of the federal law. "Almost"; the Arizona law is actually less harsh than the federal law because, unlike with federal law, Arizona officials cannot simply walk up and ask someone for their papers.

And, did you know that the Arizona law includes the following provisions? [Emphasis and editorial comment added.]

Page 2:


Page 6:

The attorney general or county attorney shall not investigate complaints that are based solely on race, color or national origin.

Page 16:

The terms of this act regarding immigration shall be construed to have the meanings given to them under federal immigration law. [Again, emphasizing that this law is based upon federal law.]

C. This act shall be implemented in a manner consistent with federal laws regulating immigration, protecting the civil rights of all persons and respecting the privileges and immunities of United States citizens.

I point this out both because there has been widespread confusion about the Arizona law, reaching as high as the White House, and for the edification of two Rhode Island candidates in particular: Anthony Gemma, candidate for the first Congressional district and Ken Block, candidate for governor. A transcript of the portion of Mr. Gemma's recent appearance on the WPRO Buddy Cianci Show dealing with the Arizonal law is posted after the jump.

Mr. Gemma is a nice man. But the transcript reveals that he is clearly in way over his head on the matter of illegal immigration: he is unaware that the United States already has in place a path to citizenship (and has had for decades) and he doesn't even understand the concept of birthright citizenship. Yet lacking a full understanding of the issue, he inexplicably proceeds to voice an opinion on it.

And, while Ken Block appears to warily support Governor Carcieri's Executive Order on e-verify, he describes the Arizona law (thank you, Andrew, for attending, recording and transcribing) as "assinine" and "xenophobic".

Shall we take two? Do both of these gentlemen - and everyone who opposes the Arizona law - stand by their reservations now that they are aware that the law is simply a less rigorous version of federal immigration law?

Anthony Gemma, June 21, on the WPRO Buddy Cianci Show.

BC: How do you feel about the bill that was passed in Arizona, that will take effect in July, July 29th, being able to ask an immigrant for their papers once a police feels there’s something suspicious about them, you know, behavior?

AG: Umm

BC: … an immigrant, its not only , any person is asked who’s acting suspiciously, might even be in the process of committing a crime, now, that the law in Arizona says that the cop can ask him for his papers to see if he’s legal or illegal, what do you think?

AG: Well, I think what most people forget, especially around here… I’m, I’m, my grandparents were immigrants, so, I have to say that….

BC: Were they illegal immigrants?

AG: No, they were not, but I have to say that I’m not in favor of, I think the Arizona law goes too far and I think we have to create a rigorous path to citizenship, then secure the borders, and work with Mexico and Canada to make things right.

BC: What do we do with the ones who are already here that are illegal?

AG: I think that we should work to getting them into a path to citizenship so that…

BC: What would that require and how’s, what’s the path?

AG: Ummm

BC: … and I don’t know what it is, do you know what it is?

AG: Well, actually, we’re trying, we’re working it out right now but I would say that checking everyone, ah, umm, out, making sure that getting criminal background checks, and then getting them onto a place where they can work here and pay taxes here, which would be significant for us and for them.

Anchor babies?

BC: How do you feel about the anchor baby legislation, in Arizona that’s being proposed?

AG: Umm, I’m not familiar …

BC: Ok, let me, I didn’t mean to catch you off guard.

AG: No, its quite all right.

BC: But no, the anchor baby, we talked about the other day, I didn’t know about it either, but there’s a law that’s being proposed, saying that if you, if you’re an illegal immigrant, have your kid here, then, you know, the kid is, everyone assumes that its naturalized, that person, that baby is a US citizen. They wanna pass a law in Arizona that says, that isn’t true, uhhh what do you think, is that law ‘Ok?’ I mean it anchors the family here, that’s the problem, that’s what they say the problem is, what do you think?

AG: Well, umm again, I think taking everyone onto a path to citizenship and that, that includes the whole family – ummm whole family unit, so I believe Arizona goes a little too far and it kind of forgets our heritage, forgets what America is built on, we’re a melting pot and we need to remember where we come from and just embrace that. And getting everyone back involved in their government and that includes undocumented residents as well.

ID Cards for Illegal Immigrants?

BC: So, undocumented residents are ‘ok’ you think we should give them an ID card say, go about your business, just stay out of trouble and we’re going to think about having a path to citizenship?

AG: I think that we should do it sooner than later, I think its appropriate and I think most undocumented residents want that,

BC: I’m sure they want it!

July 3, 2010

Somebody Has to Make Hard Choices

Justin Katz

Reading about the petering out of unemployment benefits, I have to admit some cynicism. The hand-scribed note in the border of my newspaper notes that people want jobs, but the federal government is giving them expensive and counterproductive healthcare "reform," but it's clear that a great number of our fellow citizens expect it all. But the article doesn't provide much meat for that discussion, so I'll settle for a tangential juxtaposition. First:

[Unemployed warehouse worker Edward Gullage, of Pawtucket] is looking into state-sponsored training courses in plumbing, carpentry and landscaping, while searching for work. He lives with his wife, who has a job, but once his benefits expire, the couple will have to make hard choices about their spending, he said.


Opponents [of renewal of federal benefit programs], including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, do not want to renew the programs if it means higher taxes (which they said will kill jobs) or increased borrowing (which they said will boost the national debt, burdening future generations).

Somebody has to make hard choices. Actually, I'd argue emphatically that the government's options for decreasing spending are quite the opposite of difficult, and it would be nice to believe that the Gullages in our current economy understand as much. My cynicism derives from my suspicion that they do not and would prefer, with the Democrats, to push the hard choices on to others. Unfortunately, those others represent the segment of American society on whom we must rely for an economic recovery.

The End of the Governor's Effective Term

Justin Katz

This statement will surely draw heat, but it seems to me that an objective view of perceptions among Republicans and, especially, conservatives in Rhode Island is that Governor Carcieri chose to end his term as a leader early (in contrast to his term as an administrator), for the reason that Larry Ehrhardt expressed succinctly in a recent Political Scene:

"The governor wanted that Deep Water bill so bad that he was willing to trade just about anything for it. The speaker of the House needed that budget not to be vetoed because it barely passed in the House, and if the governor had vetoed it, the speaker might not have been able to override the veto because of tremendous dissension within the House. So the speaker definitely needed that budget not to be vetoed, and that was the midnight bargain that was made: Deep Water versus the lousy budget."

A bad deal for Rhode Island energy consumers in exchange for a bad budget balanced only in an imaginary sense. Republican candidates for governor should take this up as a point of differentiation.

Exceptionalism as Limit to Options

Justin Katz

On the question of American exceptionalism (subscription required), James Bennett puts aside conservatives' emphasis on abstractions like "freedom, prosperity, and innovativeness" as well as liberals' emphasis on "America's unique evil or guilt." Rather, he looks to culture and history to explain how the United States differs from other countries in a substantive way.

His analysis comes down, essentially, to three factors: family structure, geography, and narrative. On the first, America follows other English-speaking nations in its traditional liberty of family structure. Adults in the Anglosphere have long chosen their own spouses, sent their children out into the world to do the same, and minimized expected structures of inheritance such as primogeniture, the result being as follows:

... The individual in the English-speaking world has always been psychologically more independent and less willing to place himself under the control of others. He expects to be on his own, with a spouse of his own choosing, to make his own way in the world, and if possible to live in a home of his own.

America is then uniquely defined by the effects of the American continent on the variations of English-speaking peoples who arrived on its shores during and after the Age of Exploration:

America's uniqueness can be explained in two main ways. First is the "frontier thesis" of the historian Frederick Jackson Turner. In the 1890s Turner wrote that early settlers in America underwent a psychological transformation because of the constant lure of open land to the west, which turned deferential, class-conscious Englishmen into egalitarian, assertive, republican Americans. The other view, most recently stated by David Hackett Fischer, is that, in essence, all the ingredients that made Americans what they are today were present when the first colonists left the British Isles. According to Fischer, what the Americans brought to the wilderness was at least as important as what they found there.

Subsequently, the circumstances and methods of our national founding institutionalized these attributes in the legal language of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and subsidiary documents. All three factors — culture/family structure, geography, and institutional narrative — have carried the uniquely American character into the present time. One significant consequence is the inadvisability of emulation of picked and chosen attributes of other countries:

The Anglosphere in general is poorly adapted to large-scale, planned, centrally directed state enterprises or invasive measures to promote equality of outcome. Governmental mechanisms have been and will continue to be used on a pragmatic basis, but they are not immune to public-choice problems, as can be seen in the regulatory capture of the home-mortgage industry, or the taxpayer bailout of the auto industry. Our history is filled with short-term successes of government action that eventually succumbed to these public-choice problems and required reform or abolition. The government financing of railroad construction after the Civil War was a scandal-ridden disgrace, for example. When we try to be like the French, Germans, or Japanese, we are particularly liable to poor implementation, because our cultural structures are dissimilar to theirs. Government-run enterprises in those countries are likely to work better than they would here. Even if it were desirable to imitate them, we would not be able to do as good a job.

To put it in analogy, one cannot drive a bulldozer like a motorcycle. Bennett points out, as a contrary example, that the French are more comfortable with meritocracy in government, so the state bureaucracy has developed a practice of identifying talented students and channeling them to itself. One can see an attempt at emulation in President Obama's plan to forgive the (government-owned) debt of college graduates if they go into "public service." America's discomfort with the government's picking winners, though, requires us to use generic acquisition of a college degree as the evenly applied criterion, while at the same time making college degrees universally accessible. The attempt at institutionalized meritocracy therefore will fail.

Broadly stated, the factors that have fostered the United States' dynamism do not fit well into a statist public structure. That helps to explain why civic statists are so frequently simultaneously social liberals. It's possible (if functionally deluded) to be an economic conservative and social liberal; by contrast, socio-cultural conservatism generates habits of mind at odds with economic liberalism. A person acculturated to strive for the good of his own family will resent the attachments of economic dependents to his or her estate without his consent. That same person placed within a bureaucratic milieu will not be an effective socialist because, in effect, his capitalistic individualism will color his judgment.


I'd further suggest — if I had the time to go that far beyond Bennett's argument, just now — that the American system more closely comports with human nature. That is to say that cultures that are better suited to socialism are merely papering over individualism. Personal interests will ultimately corrupt such systems, leading to economic malaise and civic turmoil.

July 2, 2010

The Anti-Democratic, Pro-Illegal Immigration Senate Leadership Team Will Not Simply Waltz into Office this November

Monique Chartier

... because the senate president picked up an opponent Wednesday and her smirky lieutenant has decided not to seek re-election.

I learned this double scoop of delightful news Wednesday night at the RIGOP Convention (with apologies to Andrew for whooping in his ear when the second item was announced from the podium).

Beth Moura is running for Connor's former Senate seat and Geoff Cook will be running against Senate President Paiva-Weed.

We all vividly remember the parliamentary maneuver by which the senate president and her then Majority Leader, aided by the senate president's highly selective hearing, whisked e-verify off the Senate floor this session and safely away from the will of the full Senate. (By the way, in yesterday's Valley Breeze, under the prescient headline "Sen. Connors is not working for us", Patrick Laverty lists several of Mr. Connor's ... er, charming qualities as a legislator and why he really will not be missed by those in the state who value good government.)

Moura and Cook have pledged that they will refrain from sending or helping to send any bill which makes it to the Senate floor back to the Committee to die. If this strikes you as a somewhat low standard by which to judge a candidate, you're absolutely correct. But this is the standard that has been set by the special interest party which has controlled - and badly damaged - the state for the last seventy years.

In fact, the candidacies of Moura and Cook are of considerably higher caliber than all that. Check them out for yourself. Beth Moura's website is here. Geoff Cook's can be found on Facebook at "GeoffCook3" and his Engaged Citizen post about becoming an American is here. (How fitting that the senate president, who is an advocate of illegal immigration, should be opposed by someone who immigrated legally to the United States.)

A Measure of Sustained Suckitude

Justin Katz

We bat around the Lardaro Current Conditions Index from time to time, typically determining that it's not very useful, but it really does demand some .statement of context:

Rhode Island's recession is not over, but the end may be very close, according to the Current Conditions Index released Monday by University of Rhode Island Prof. Leonard Lardaro.

The index reported a value of 50 in April, down from 58 in March.

As I understand it, Lardaro's index measures current results against the same month one year prior, with a score of 50 indicating no decline or improvement. In other words, even if the recession technically ends in that the economy isn't shrinking, that doesn't mean that times are improving.

I say that not to issue in dark clouds, but because I think the general public thinks, when they hear that "the recession has ended," that the economy is back to normal, and if 2009 is Rhode Island's new normal, we're in a great deal of trouble. People in power keep pushing for economy-boosting reforms until the Current Conditions Index starts hitting 100, to compensate for the months on end that Rhode Island spent scraping zero.

Steele's Afghanistan Hackery

Marc Comtois

Look, I know that for the first time in eons, a GOP chair visited the state and threw the RI GOP some red meat and there was much rejoicing. But it looks like he's engaging in some purely disingenuous political hackery here:

Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama's choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in...if he is such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that's the one thing you don't do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan?
Apparently he forgot the part that it was President Bush--with the broad support of the American people--who correctly got us into Afghanistan because the government in power--the Taliban--aided and comforted a terrorist organization that killed 3,000 Americans. In what has become a regular routine since Steele took over, some are calling for his resignation. We'll see, but one thing is for sure: this sort of hackery is what turns people off to politics (and specifically the GOP). Unbelievable.

The Power of Buried Treasure

Justin Katz

By now perhaps you've heard this intriguing news:

Geologists have known for decades that Afghanistan has vast mineral wealth, but a U.S. Department of Defense briefing this week put a startling price tag on the country's reserves of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and other prized minerals: at least $908 billion.

If impoverished Afghanistan is seen as having a bright economic future, that could help foreign governments persuade their war-fatigued publics that securing the country is worth the fight and loss of troops. It also could give Afghans hope, U.S. officials say.

Generally speaking, such a possibility could yield two results: residents of the country could see it as a golden ring for which to reach through an end to in-fighting and cooperation with foreign nations and companies capable of teaching Afghanistan to capitalize on its resources, or influential native forces could decide that they'll increase their take if they pursue the sort of tribal dominance that has characterized the region's society.

Which result obtains will probably have more to do with the people of that country than those leading our own, but it seems to me that this sort of approach will squander whatever influence we have:

The Obama administration reaffirmed Sunday that it will begin pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan next summer, despite reservations among top generals that absolute deadlines are a mistake.

President Barack Obama's chief of staff said an announced plan to begin bringing forces home in July 2011 still holds.

If the message from our government is that we will stay in Afghanistan until the society is secure and leaders are working comfortably with the West &151; even (maybe especially) if the perception is that we're after the buried treasure — then terrorists and warlords perpetuating disruption will have reason to calculate a benefit to themselves if they cooperate, rather than face extinction at our hands. If the message from our government is that we really don't want to be there and will jump at politically sufficient excuses to flee, then the disruptive forces in Afghanistan will be more likely to look for strategies (and foreign allies) who will help them take control and then exploit the resources for themselves.

Cures as the Positive Hook for Healthcare Policy

Justin Katz

James Pinkerton offers a strategic angle for Republicans on healthcare:

Health-care spending is a problem, but it is important to remember that spending is a secondary issue. The primary issue is health itself — how to achieve it, how to maintain it, and how to regain it in the case of sickness or injury. Health-care finance is hotly contested political ground, yet Washington has had precious little to say on the subject of health in recent years.

That is perplexing — and a huge missed opportunity. After all, people don't go to the doctor because they have insurance plans or health-savings accounts. They go to the doctor to get well and to stay well. Americans' eyes may glaze over at the wonky debates that are catnip to Washingtonians, but, beyond the Beltway, they can't seem to get enough information about their bones, bladders, and blood pressure. ...

Those on the right who have been fighting Obamacare have been loud and articulate in their criticism of its bureaucratic aspects, but they have had precious little to say about curing and preventing diseases. The opportunity now exists for Republicans to reassociate themselves with the creation of health. Let the Democrats own the redistribution of health-care dollars and the management of scarcity; Republicans have a chance to own the much more powerful issue of solving health problems.

Extrapolating a little bit to derive policy from Pinkerton's suggestion, free-market based reforms — real choice when it comes to the context in which health insurance is purchased, a functional system that pushes high-deductible plans back toward being actual insurance rather than an unnecessary layer for routine care, and tort reform — would jump start the healthcare industry and probably free up money for public investment in research.

It's an approach worth candidates' consideration — not to be forgotten, of course, once they claim offices.

John Robitaille at the State Republican Convention

Carroll Andrew Morse

John Robitaille won the State Republican Party endorsement as their candidate for Governor on Wednesday night. In his speech prior to the endorsement vote, he described the readiness and the relevance of his candidacy...

"...Over the past five months, I have built a campaign organization, and we are poised to execute a very targeted and strategic campaign plan to win in November. In the coming weeks, I will be rolling out my specific plans to address the issues most important to the voters: jobs, the economy, taxes and spending. It will be an austerity plan with specific goals and objectives. It will include tax-relief for veterans, for seniors, and for small-businesses." (Audio: 1 min 22 sec)

"There has never been a better opportunity for the Republican Party. Our message is so strong, so timely, so meaningful, that the Democrats are shamelessly trying to hijack it..." (Audio: 1 min 20 sec)

After winning the nomination, according to Ian Donnis of WRNI radio's (1290 AM) On Politics Blog, Mr. Robitaille used his acceptance speech to immediately begin differentiating himself from several of the other candidates in the gubernatorial field...
"We have political opponents who are well-organized, well-funded, and deeply entrenched....They have killed the economy, and now they want to come to our rescue...."

"Democrat Frank Caprio is trying with all his might to sound like a conservative...."

"Mr. Chafee, Rhode Island doesn’t need more taxes, and we certainly don’t need a legacy politician who has abandoned our nation’s founding principles. Linc has moved so far to the left he now appeals to the progressives who’ve been abandoned by Caprio and [Patrick] Lynch...."

Real Estate on Anchor Rising

Community Crier

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Portsmouth Institute 2010 Table of Contents

Justin Katz

With summer now fully underway, we return to ordinary life. Yet, moments and ideas drawn from the Portsmouth Institute's conference on "Newman and the Intellectual Tradition" linger, and one needn't but scoop away life's loose gravel to find the undercurrents that run through thought and living both. Something in the structure of Catholicism and in the emphases of its theology keeps intellectualism from drifting too far from experience. There is always that Man on the cross reminding us that belief must be lived and metaphysics must be applied.

Thanks once again to Jamie MacGuire both for organizing the event and for inviting Anchor Rising to participate and gather the speeches into online video so that the experience may be relived.

Friday, June 11:

My opening reflections

Rev. George Rutler, "The Anglican Newman & Recent Developments"

Professor Paul Griffiths, "The Grammar of Assent"

Dr. Peter Kreeft, "The Dream of Gerontius"

Edward Elgar evening concert

Fr. Richard Duffield, "The Newman Cause"

Saturday, June 11:

Edward Short, "Newman and the Americans"

Patrick Reilly, "Newman and the Renewal of Catholic Identity in Higher Education"

Rev. Ian Ker, "Newman's (and Pope Benedict XVI's) Hermeneutic of Continuity"

July 1, 2010

Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State Candidates at the RI Republican State Convention

Carroll Andrew Morse

Several Republican candidates for statewide office made something close to their 2010 election-cycle debuts at Wednesday night's RI State Republican convention.

Catherine Taylor spoke about her candidacy for Secretary of State, presenting some very specific policy proposals regarding small business, open government, and master lever voting; and winning the uncontested endorsement...

"...Over the last three-and-a-half years, I've grown more and more outraged as the current Secretary of State missed opportunity after opportunity to help small businesses...cut the red tape that interferes with our ability to create jobs, as he missed opportunity after opportunity to open government to the clear light of day, as he missed opportunity after opportunity to ensure that voting is fair and the all candidates are given a fair shake..." (Audio: 1 min 44 sec)

"As Secretary of State and a forceful advocate for business, I will work to streamline fragmented bureaucracy that keeps us from getting down to business. For example, I will propose that responsibility for the Small Business Advocacy Council be moved from the Lieutenant Governor to the Secretary of State..." (Audio: 1 min 1 sec)

"...It is up to the Secretary of State, as monitor of open government, to take action when the Assembly refuses to. The Secretary of State issues an annual report on the General Assembly's voluntary compliance with the open meetings law. Last year, Secretary of State Mollis gave the General Assembly mostly A's and B's for overall performance -- when all violations occurred during the final days of the session, when the Assembly conducted the bulk of its work..." (Audio: 2 min 26 sec)

"Finally, we must abolish the master lever..." (Audio: 1 min 40 sec)

Heidi Rogers sought the party's endorsement for Lieutenant Governor...
"Good evening. I am running for the position of Lieutenant Governor so that our next Republican chief executive can have some back-up from a Lieutenant Governor of his own party. But I am running for a lot more than that. Over time, virtually all of the Constitutional responsibilities of this office have been stripped away..." (Audio: 0 min 44 sec)

"If elected, I pledge I will not fill any of the authorized staff positions in the office of Lieutenant Governor, saving millions from day one..." (Audio: 1 min 9 sec)

...beating out Bob Tingle, who also spoke before the assembled delegates...
"...I am honored to stand before this esteemed body, as a Republican candidate for the office of Lieutenant Governor. I am proud to be a Rhode Islander. I am proud to belong to the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and my hero, role model and inspiration, Ronald Wilson Reagan..." (Audio: 1 min 54 sec)

"Over the course of the past month or so, there has been some widely reported discussion amongst high-ranking GOP officials about whether the RI GOP should field a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, or whether the RI GOP should support Independent candidate Bob Healey, or more recently, a Republican stand-in for Mr. Healey. To those who support this idea, I must respectfully disagree..." (Audio: 1 min 45 sec)

RISC Marching Forward, Too

Justin Katz

The Rhode Island Statewide Coalition (RISC) recently announced that it has "reached a threshold of $100,000 in a combination of pledges, direct contributions and seed money which will be used to help pro-business candidates from any political party this election season." Now it's enlisted the world-famous-in-Rhode-Island Arlene Violet to steer the truck:

The RISC Business Network, launched last January by the multi-partisan taxpayer advocacy group, RISC (RI Statewide Coalition) is announcing that former Rhode Island Attorney General, teacher, talk show host and columnist Arlene Violet has been named to head up the campaign effort of the RISC Business Network.

"I am excited to head up the RISC Business Network and I am rearing to go to help get new people- - and new policies- - into the General Assembly because the status quo up there have profoundly failed the people of this state," says Violet. "It's true they cut the top income tax rate but they failed to address the kind of pension reform the state really needs."

It's easy to get discouraged, because Rhode Island cities and towns, the state, and the nation require much more rapid reform than looks likely to happen, but we should also consider that those reforms must be much more comprehensive than can happen quickly — at least than can happen well and quickly. And the steady (if too slow) growth of local activist groups suggests that they'll be around for a while, so even the cynic can take some comfort in knowing that they'll be here to help rebuild after the state collapses.

Of course, with sufficient resident involvement, total collapse could still be avoided...

A Change of Race

Justin Katz

For some reason a statement released by the Moderate Party's candidate for lieutenant governor, Jean Ann Guliano, capped for me a little wave of inexplicable optimism, yesterday:

Many have pointed out that my running for state office is admirable, but what we really need are committed people in the General Assembly, people who are going to advocate for taxpayers, our students and small businesses. We need a strong coalition of General Assembly members who will pledge to focus all efforts on 1) growing our economy and 2) promoting a successful educational system for our children. Those are the two most important priorities for the state, and are my priorities, as well. So, after much consideration, I have decided to run for the State Senate in District 35 (East Greenwich, North Kingstown, Warwick, Potowomut).

As the Providence Journal reports, the General Assembly races have attracted a lot of interest:

How many Rhode Island lawmakers will return to the State House next year without a fight?

The answer: very few, after tea party activists, Republicans, Moderate Party candidates, independents and a slew of Democratic primary challengers raced to meet Wednesday's deadline for officially declaring their candidacies for the General Assembly.

By 4 p.m. on Wednesday, at least 307 candidates had entered the running for the 113 seats in the House and Senate. ...

... from the information available so far, it appears that only six incumbents in the House and six in the Senate are running without opposition.

We're talking Rhode Island, though, and the fact that somebody is not an incumbent does not mean that they'll pull the government in the right direct. Indeed, it would be foolish of special interests not to run candidates to capitalize on anti-incumbent sentiment, even if they're generally satisfied with what they've already got, and folks who merely thirst after power will surely see this season as an opportunity. Nothing beats paying attention to the races on which you'll vote, but as a general rule, vote Republican, Moderate, and Independent, first, going with the Democrat only if you're very familiar with him or her. Even breaking the party's hold a bit would send a valuable message.

Still — and whatever the dynamics of district 35 — Moderate Guliano's move might suggest a general shift in focus toward the actual center of power. It's indicative of the sorry state of circumstances, 'round here, but even just a handful of fresh faces with a healthier political philosophy could make it more difficult for the establishment to play such games as I mentioned yesterday. It will be much more difficult for Democrat leaders to shift blame for their own predictably bad outcomes to reform policies that were never actually implemented if legislators are making noise about the scam all along.

Of course, while we should plan for small steps in turning the state around, many Rhode Islanders who are struggling to get by would welcome an electoral revolution (even if some of us don't realize it, yet).

Warwick Teachers Union Balks at Talks

Marc Comtois

The Warwick Teachers Union (WTU) leadership continues to look for and (surprise) find reasons to not meet with the Warwick School Committee to help resolve the district's $8.9 million budget deficit. As reported by Russel Moore in the Warwick Beacon, the School Administration had proposed to consolidate and eliminate some department head positions in the City's schools (estimated savings of $300,000), which "infuriated union members." Enter WTU President James Ginolfi:

"We were more than willing to sit down and talk until they took that unilateral action. It's like they want to talk right after they violate our contract," said Ginolfi....[U]nion members...wanted to address the budget deficit through negotiations. Ginolfi said it would be illegal to eliminate the department heads without the union's consent because the positions are contractually protected. The union has since filed a grievance....Meanwhile, the school committee had scheduled a meeting with the union's executive board last Tuesday. The purpose of the meeting was quite open-ended, Ginolfi said.

"[School Committee Chairman Christopher Friel] said that we were going to talk about everything. What does that mean? I wanted to set some parameters before we met," said Ginolfi.

Ginolfi then notified the school committee that unless they rescinded their plans to eliminate department heads — there would be no meeting, at least so far as the union was concerned. No progress was made and neither side would budge. The school department wouldn't rescind the notices and the union didn't show up. Tuesday came and went without a meeting.

Apparently, the WTU leadership isn't able to multi-task. Ahh, that's not really true. It's all about perception and rights and contracts, you see. Gotta save face, show power, get your agida up over being "insulted" or slighted. Ginolfi was also upset that the Administration had publicly stated that all school employees should have a 20% health care co-pay before coming to the WTU. It's not exactly a newsflash that co-pays are on the horizon, whether you've been officially informed or not. Grow up and get in the room and talk. Sheesh.

Meanwhile, there still doesn't seem to be any negotiation movement between the School Deparment and the Warwick Independent School Employees Union (WISE), whose members have been working under the old contract for 4 years, which means no raises but also no health care co-payments. Makes me wonder if the East Greenwich model is being looked at for implementation in Warwick.

Government and Related Matters

Justin Katz

On last night's Matt Allen Show, Monique talked government spending and legislative grants with Matt. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Michael Steele at the Rhode Island Republican State Convention

Carroll Andrew Morse

Remarks from Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, speaking at Wednesday Night's Rhode Island Republican Party state convention...

"...You cannot lose sight of the fact that where we are now is not where we started, '06, '08, elections where we got our clocks cleaned, where the people turned their backs on us, because we turned our backs on them, by walking away from the Contract With America, by walking away from those principles that we believed in..." (Audio: 2 min 34 sec)

"We love our country. We are, as citizens, fearful for its future. We are concerned about the Obama experimentations on healthcare, and the economy, the poor ability to handle relations in the Middle East or Eastern Europe..." (Audio: 2 min 22 sec)

"This is the one place where promise meets potential, and it creates this thing called the American Dream. That's something special. Why is that. Is it because our soil grows great corn? Is it because we've got something in the water that makes it different from others? Is it because as individuals we are so unique and so special? No, I don't think its that. I think it's freedom..." (Audio: 1 min 15 sec)

"Opportunity is an enemy of government control. Freedom is an enemy to government control..." (Audio: 2 min 6 sec)

"At a time when Americans are losing their jobs, with no end in sight, when great American companies are under siege, our leaders in Washington should be focused on how they can help create a better pathway to opportunity, not how they can close off that opportunity with more taxes, more regulation, more constriction on capital and credit and opportunity..." (Audio: 2 min 33 sec)

"You and I figured out some time ago that talking smack to corporations doesn't solve problems. Pointing fingers at the last administration doesn't solve problems. Inviting rock stars to the White House, playing seven rounds of golf, and taking two vacations in the middle of an environmental disaster doesn't solve problems..." (Audio: 1 min 48 sec)

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a community organizer in the White House who ain't much at organizing anything..." (Audio: 3 min 0 sec)

[Addressing Teen-age Republicans, College Republicans and Young Republicans] "As the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, I hereby give you permission to no longer have to ask for permission to be involved in your party..." (2 min 36 sec)

"...this is not the future. This is the here and the right-now...You can't afford for these young men and women to become 40 and 50 years old before we consider involving them in what we do..." (Audio: 1 min 58 sec)

"If you look closely through the dim light of the dawn, you can see what's going on in America, you can see what's going on across this country, at Tea Parties and in the polls...God bless the Tea Parties. What you see is our flag, what you see is the symbol of who we are and what we espouse as Americans..." (Audio: 2 min 53 sec)

"So let's make a pact together...that tonight is just the beginning of our fight, that we are going to stick together and fix our sights on the Democrats who are ruining our economy, weakening our national defense, and robbing the future from our kids..." (Audio: 1 min 12 sec)

"Ronald Reagan had a famous saying, when he was asked about his strategy for the Cold War. He said simply, we win, they lose..." (Audio: 2 min 22 sec)

UPDATED: The Bill Will Come Due

Justin Katz

Kevin Williamson has totaled America's public debt, and his essay makes for scary reading:

So that's $14 trillion in federal debt and $2.5 trillion in state-and-local debt: $16.5 trillion. But I've got some bad news for you, Sunshine: We haven't even hit all the big-ticket items. ...

... "Half the states' pension funds could run out of money by 2025," [Northwester University Prof. Joshua Rauh] says, "and that's assuming decent investment returns. The federal government should be worried about its exposure. Are these states too big to fail? If something isn't done, we're facing another trillion-dollar bailout." ...

So how much would the states have to book to fully fund those liabilities? Drop in another $3 trillion. Properly accounting for these obligations, that takes us up to a total of $19.5 trillion in governmental liabilities. ...

The debt numbers start to get really hairy when you add in liabilities under Social Security and Medicare — in other words, when you account for the present value of those future payments in the same way that businesses have to account for the obligations they incur. Start with the entitlements and those numbers get run-for-the-hills ugly in a hurry: a combined $106 trillion in liabilities for Social Security and Medicare, or more than five times the total federal, state, and local debt we've totaled up so far. In real terms, what that means is that we’d need $106 trillion in real, investable capital, earning 6 percent a year, on hand, today, to meet the obligations we have under those entitlement programs. For perspective, that's about twice the total private net worth of the United States. (A little more, in fact.)

Little wonder the Democrats in power think nothing of layering on the billions: Billions hardly register in the face of that mountain of debt. The cover of the penultimate National Review, in which Williamson's piece appears, shows a distressed boy looking at a chalkboard that reads "130 Trillion: What We Owe." The image got me pondering how one could illustrate the size of a trillion dollars, and I'm still pondering. One idea is to start in the upper left corner of the chalk board with a single dot, labeled "trillion." The next row would be labeled "billions" and would require 1,000 small dots. The next row, "millions," would easily exceed the capacity of the average classroom chalkboard.

My personal circumstances are such that the lessons of debt are hourly on my mind. To oversimplify, a slightly less luxurious lifestyle a decade ago (with dinners out and the like) would have meant that I wouldn't be quitting coffee because a large $8 can of grinds every two weeks or so is something I can live without.

It brings the mind back to that episode of Seinfeld that made famous the phrase, "serenity now." More fitting would be the modification,"austerity now."


Kevin Williamson checked in to send along a graphic illustration of $1 trillion. The upshot:

In case you can't see it, that's a standard-sized man in the bottom left-hand corner. (Check the link for an explanation.)