October 31, 2010

They See Not the Impact of the Laws that They Wrought

Monique Chartier

In his post about

America's conception of liberty and the civic structure that supports it to broad issues of the day

Justin points to

State legislators who apparently have no concept of the effects of the legislation that they pass at the behest of self-interested and ideological constituencies

Indeed, they do not. Perhaps the biggest cause of this blindness is misplaced compassion and a misdirected desire to do good. Some legislators honestly believe that, by imposing tax and regulatory burdens, they are "balancing the scales of societal injustice".

They don't see the connection between their legislative "achievements" and the current high unemployment engendered to a great extent by the bad business climate of the state or the connection between a bad business climate and tax revenue that's not where it might be. When someone - for example, Jack Welch - points this out, it registers in their ears as a rich person complaining, not as simple statement of fact and a major red flag about the economic conditions that they have created.

In a remark yesterday, Governor Patrick makes it clear that shares this well-intentioned but dangerous blindness.

Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick says he will continue to worry about people i[f] he wins on Election Day while Republican rival Charles Baker will only be concerned about "abstract policies" if he prevails.

Doesn't that make the Governor sound nice and compassionate? The problem is that the policies he references are not that abstract but, in fact, would have a very real impact on people's lives. Not to mention that the governor has policies, too,

Governor Deval Patrick said ... that he will sign more than $1 billion in tax increases, ending a months-long standoff with the Legislature ...

but somehow, they don't impact any people (???).

There's no reasoning with such hopelessly befuddled and disconnected logic, whether next door or on Smith Hill. The only course is to simply vote it out of office.

No National Democratic GOTV Money for RI

Carroll Andrew Morse

The principle of triage suggests that this Scott MacKay report from the WRNI (1290 AM) On Politics blog means that the Democrat powers-that-be think that their candidates in Rhode Island are either sure things or lost-causes...

The Democratic National Committee has dropped some end-of-campaign money into 11 states for Get-Out-The-Vote efforts heading into Tuesday’s elections, but Rhode Island is not one of them...

This `ground game’ money is for eleventh-hour GOTV expenses to try to hold the U.S. House and Senate for Democrats and win governorships.

Those involved at the nuts-and-bolts level of politics should plan their activities for the next two days accordingly.

Another Potential State Rep, on the Chafee Promise that the General Assembly Will Pass His Sales Tax Increase

Carroll Andrew Morse

House District 43 candidate Karin Gorman (Johnston), in addition to going on the record against independent Gubernatorial candidate Lincoln Chafee's proposal to expand the Rhode Island sales tax to goods currently not taxed...

I vote no for Chafee's taxes...
...also reminds us that another mechanism is available, to prevent the tax increase from happening...
...and no for Chafee.

More Assembly Candidates on the Chafee Promise that the Legislature Will Approve His Sales Tax

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here are three more responses to independent candidate Lincoln Chafee's public assurance that the state legislature will go along with his proposal to extend the Rhode Island sales tax to items currently not taxed, made during Friday's night WJAR-TV (NBC 10) Gubernatorial debate...

If the governor is leading the way on a tax increase...the General Assembly is going to go along. That's the governor's leadership. That's his plan and they can go along with it. That's going to happen.
Damien Baldino, candidate for State Representative in District 13 (Johnston/Providence), says that...
Lincoln Chafee shouldn't rely on my support. If I'm elected on Tuesday, I will definitely vote against his plan to increase taxes.
...Phil Duquette, candidate for State Representative in District 33 (Narragansett/North Kingstown/South Kingstown), says that...
I will definitely vote against his plan to increase taxes.
...and Dan Gordon, candidate for State Representative in District 71 (Little Compton/Portsmouth/Tiverton, the district that John Loughlin is vacating, by the way) says that...
If elected, I will not only oppose Chafee’s tax increases if he is elected, but will also oppose ANY tax increase!

A Chill, If Not a Scream

Justin Katz

A year or two ago — Who can tell in the blur of time? — my usual blog skimming brought me across a recording of modern conservative forefather and writer of "ghostly stories" Russell Kirk reading his chilling "There's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding." I listened to the linked audio file while folding the laundry after circumambulating the neighborhood with the kids, trick or treating. Images from the story have invaded my thoughts from time to time, during the intervening months.

Another Potential State Representative, on the Chafee Promise on Behalf of the General Assembly that They Will Pass His Sales Tax Increase

Carroll Andrew Morse

In response to the public assurance that was put forth by independent candidate Lincoln Chafee during Friday night's WJAR-TV (NBC 10) Gubernatorial debate, that the state legislature will go along with his proposal to extend the Rhode Island sales tax to items currently not taxed...

If the governor is leading the way on a tax increase...the General Assembly is going to go along. That's the governor's leadership. That's his plan and they can go along with it. That's going to happen.
...District 31 candidate for State Representative Doreen Costa (North Kingstown/Exeter) offers this reply...
This is crazy! What is he thinking? I would never support this in a million years. The hardworking people of this state need a break not a tax hike.

How would Mr. Chafee know the General Assembly would be going along with this? It's easy. He doesn't.

A Potential State Representative, on the Chafee Promise on Behalf of the General Assembly that They Will Pass His Sales Tax Increase

Carroll Andrew Morse

Responding via the comments section to the public assurance that was put forth by independent candidate Lincoln Chafee during Friday night's WJAR-TV (NBC 10) Gubernatioral debate, that the state legislature will go along with his proposal to extend the Rhode Island sales tax to items currently not taxed...

If the governor is leading the way on a tax increase...the General Assembly is going to go along. That's the governor's leadership. That's his plan and they can go along with it. That's going to happen.
...District 15 candidate for State Representative Jim Quinlan (Cranston) offers this statement...
Mr. Chafee has another thing coming to him if he believes that we, the reformers of RI, would ever support his tax increase on exempt items. When elected to the House I will fight this with my entire being.

What Mr. Chafee is counting on is that passive RIers rule the polls on Tuesday and fail to make the changes that we need in the GA. Let's not let that happen.

An Incumbent State Senator, on the Chafee Promise that the General Assembly Will Pass His Tax Increase

Carroll Andrew Morse

Responding via the comments section to the public assurance put forth by independent candidate Lincoln Chafee during Friday night's WJAR-TV (NBC 10) gubernatioral debate, that the state legislature will go along with his proposal to extend the Rhode Island sales tax to items currently not taxed...

If the governor is leading the way on a tax increase...the General Assembly is going to go along. That's the governor's leadership. That's his plan and they can go along with it. That's going to happen.
...District 32 State Senator David Bates (Barrington/Bristol), who is running for reelection, offers the following response...
There is no way in hell that I would support Chafee's tax increase.

An Incumbent State Representative, on the Chafee Promise that the General Assembly Will Pass His Tax Increase

Carroll Andrew Morse

In response to the public assurance that was put forth by independent candidate Lincoln Chafee during Friday night's WJAR-TV (NBC 10) Gubernatorial debate, that the state legislature will go along with his proposal to extend the Rhode Island sales tax to items currently not taxed...

If the governor is leading the way on a tax increase...the General Assembly is going to go along. That's the governor's leadership. That's his plan and they can go along with it. That's going to happen.
...District 48 State Representative Brian Newberry (Burillville/North Smithfield), who is running for reelection on Tuesday, offers that...
I will not be supporting any sales tax increase.

An Unopposed and Therefore Re-Elected State Representative, on the Chafee Promise that the General Assembly Will Pass His Tax Increase

Carroll Andrew Morse

Despite independent Gubernatorial candidate Lincoln Chafee's assurance, made during the WJAR-TV (NBC 10) Friday night debate, that the state legislature will go along with his proposal to expand the Rhode Island sales tax to items that are presently not taxed...

If the governor is leading the way on a tax increase...the General Assembly is going to go along. That's the governor's leadership. That's his plan and they can go along with it. That's going to happen.
...Representative Karen MacBeth of Cumberland (District 52), because she is running unopposed in the Tuesday's election, can already be counted as one sitting legislator who will not go along with the expansion...
I made a promise to my community that I would not vote for any tax increases and I will keep that promise. It appears from the quotes that Chafee's idea of the governor's leadership includes our current ineffective house leadership. Voters of RI take notice! If we want to see positive change then change the leadership in the house. We don't need a go along to get along general assembly that will cost all of us more money and hurt our economy and state even more.

On Second Thought - Backing Away from the "Shove" Five Days Later

Monique Chartier

We all remember what gov candidate Frank Caprio said to John Depetro Monday morning on WPRO.

Tuesday, he defiantly told Meredith Vieira and a national television audience watching the Today Show

I stand by my comment.

Now, however, NECN is reporting that the Dem candidate issued the following statement yesterday.

I have had a lot of time to reflect on my words and I understand the criticisms. I respect President Obama's decision not to get involved in the governor's race. The way the White House announced that there would be no endorsement caught me by surprise. I wish I had chosen different language, but now the focus has to be on what is important to Rhode Islanders.

It's difficult not to fast forward a year, two or even five years and project this determinism-turned-rethink onto other decisions taken by "Governor Caprio".

I wish I had chosen a different judicial nominee.

I wish I had worked harder to lift costly city and town mandates.

I wish I had signed that pension reform bill.

I wish I had not signed that bill raising the corporate income tax. But now the focus needs to be on bringing businesses and jobs to Rhode Island.

Minimally, "what is important to Rhode Islanders" is a governor who will do his reflecting before taking action, even if ... no, especially if that action is a calculated, manipulative stunt.

October 30, 2010

Lincoln Chafee Promises that the General Assembly Will Pass His Tax Increase. Another Candidate for State Rep Dissents.

Carroll Andrew Morse

Responding via the comments to independent candidate Lincoln Chafee's statement, made during Friday's night's Gubernatorial debate on WJAR-TV (NBC 10), that it can be assumed that the General Assembly will "go along" with his proposal to expand the Rhode Island sales tax to items currently untaxed...

If the governor is leading the way on a tax increase...the General Assembly is going to go along. That's the governor's leadership. That's his plan and they can go along with it. That's going to happen.
...District 44 State Representative candidate Jennifer Hirons (Johnston/Lincoln/Smithfield) says that...
I would not support this increase.

Lincoln Chafee Promises that the General Assembly Will Pass His Tax Increase. Another Dissent from a State Senate Candidate.

Carroll Andrew Morse

Senate District 19 candidate Beth Moura (Cumberland), who is running for the open seat being vacated by outgoing Senate Majority leader "the rules say we can't count the votes" Dan Connors, has this to say about independent Gubernatorial candidate Lincoln Chafee's proposal to expand the Rhode Island sales tax to goods currently not taxed...

We've been raising taxes for decades. If raising taxes is the answer, HOW is it possible that our state is in the fiscal position it is? The reason for the outrageous taxes must be addressed, and that is simply not being done by our Democratic-controlled general assembly.

Lincoln Chafee Promises that the General Assembly Will Pass His Tax Increase. An Incumbent State Representative Objects.

Carroll Andrew Morse

In response to independent Gubernatorial candidate Lincoln Chafee's statement that, if elected governor, he would be able to get a sales tax expansion through the legislature because...

If the governor is leading the way on a tax increase...the General Assembly is going to go along. That's the governor's leadership. That's his plan and they can go along with it. That's going to happen.
...incumbent Democratic State Representative Jon Brien, who is running for reelection in District 50 (Woonsocket), has offered this response...
There is simply no way I would support the sales tax expansion and would fight tooth and nail against it.

Lincoln Chafee Promises that the General Assembly Will Pass His Tax Increase. Another Potential State Representative Disagrees.

Carroll Andrew Morse

Responding via the comments section of Anchor Rising, Don Botts, candidate for the Rhode Island House of Representatives in District 16 (Cranston) responds to independent Gubernatorial candidate Lincoln Chafee's plan to expand the RI sales tax, and Mr. Chafee's belief that the General Assembly will "go along" with that expansion, by saying...

If I am elected on Tuesday, I would not support Lincoln Chafee's plan to raise taxes.

Lincoln Chafee Promises that the General Assembly Will Pass His Tax Increase. Another Potential State Senator Disagrees.

Carroll Andrew Morse

During Friday's night's Rhode Island Gubernatorial debate broadcast on WJAR-TV (NBC 10), independent candidate Lincoln Chafee rather blithely asserted that the General Assembly would go along with his plan to extend a 1% sales tax to items currently not taxed in Rhode Island...

If the governor is leading the way on a tax increase...the General Assembly is going to go along. That's the governor's leadership. That's his plan and they can go along with it. That's going to happen.
As State Senator Frank Maher pointed out in the previous post, Mr. Chafee's is making a promise and/or prediction about a body that has yet to be elected and whose composition is therefore unknown.

If Sean Gately is elected as a State Senator -- he's the Republican candidate from District 26 (Cranston) -- he will be one Senator not supporting the expansion of the sales tax, offering this position on the issue...

I oppose it.
I presume that answer applies, whoever it is that proposes a sales tax expansion, Governor included.

Lincoln Chafee Promises that the General Assembly Will Pass His Tax Increase. But Do Current General Assembly Members Agree That He Can Speak on Their Behalf?

Carroll Andrew Morse

I also had the opportunity to ask a sitting General Assembly member running for re-election, State Senator Frank Maher (R-Charlestown/Exeter/Hopkinton/Richmond/West Greenwich), what he thought of independent gubernatorial candidate Lincoln Chafee speaking for the General Assembly by saying...

"If the governor is leading the way on the tax increase, the General Assembly is going to go along," Chafee said. "That's the governor's leadership. They're going to go along."
...with regards to a proposed expansion of the sales tax.

Senator Maher responded that...

I find it interesting that Senator Chafee feels confident enough to speak so positively about the General Assembly supporting his proposed tax increase when he has no idea what the outcome of the elections are going to be.

Hopefully I will have the opportunity and the pleasure to be re-elected on Tuesday. Should I have the pleasure of returning to the State House, I can think of no reason why I would support any tax increase of any kind to resolve our current fiscal difficulties.

Thank you for the opportunity to answer this question. I wonder if my union financed and endorsed opponent would answer the same way.

Lincoln Chafee Promises that the General Assembly Will Pass His Tax Increase. But Do General Assembly Candidates Agree That He Can Speak on Their Behalf?

Carroll Andrew Morse

One of the distressing observations that can be made about Rhode Island's established political class is that they don't really seem to understand how democracy is supposed to work. For example, during last night's Gubernatorial debate, independent candidate Lincoln Chafee took the extraordinary step of asserting that the legislature will pass his proposed expansion of the sales tax because it will be coming from the Governor. Eric Tucker of the Associated Press has the exact quote from Mr. Chafee...

"If the governor is leading the way on the tax increase, the General Assembly is going to go along," Chafee said. "That's the governor's leadership. They're going to go along."
But the whole point of having a Governor and a legislature who are elected independently of one another is that neither exercises absolute control over the other. Governor's can't promise that legislatures will do anything, and individual legislators are not doing the jobs they are elected to do, if they simply go along with what the Governor says -- and most legislators are aware of that*.

Beyond the generally bad form of a Gubernatorial candidate promising that a co-equal branch of government will automatically pass legislation that he introduces, I suspect there are a significant number of RI General Assembly candidates who think a sales tax increase is bad policy on its merits. I know of one for sure -- not because I am assuming anything about his position, but because I had the opportunity to ask him about it, after Mr. Chafee made his statement.

Jim Haldeman, candidate for State Representative in District 35 (South Kingstown) had this to say, about how he would vote on a sales tax increase proposed by the new governor, if he is elected to the Rhode Island House...

I will not vote to approve an increase in the sales tax rate. As taxpayers, we are certainly smarter and more efficient with our money than the government is with our money. An increase in any tax rate will be the catalyst to increased unemployment, the destruction of our already fragile business climate, and in the end, its final act will be a continued loss of tax revenue.
If you think that Lincoln Chafee -- who is the current frontrunner in the latest polls -- has a shot at winning the Governor's seat on Tuesday, and you don't like the idea of his sales tax increase being passed into law, you need to be especially sure to vote for Assembly candidates who take a position as clear as Mr. Haldeman's in opposing a sales tax expansion.

*That is, at least with respect to their relationship to the Executive Branch. Whether all Rhode Island Senators realize they don't have to go along with whatever the House does is an issue that's a little more unclear.

Some Truths Well Put

Justin Katz

I'll be relieved when today has passed, for community engagement reasons, and I'll be relieved when Tuesday has passed, for political involvement reasons, and I'll be relaxed when November has passed, for professional reasons. Which all serves obliquely to explain why I'm just now, of a Saturday morning, catching up on Mark Steyn's week of insightful daily posts. Read them all, by all means, but as usual with Steyn, a few paragraphs stand out from each. On Tuesday:

An America comprised of therapeutic statists, regulatory enforcers, multigenerational dependents, identity-group rent-seekers, undocumented laborers, stimulus grantwriting liaison coordinators, six-figure community organizers, millionaire diversity-outreach consultants, billionaire carbon-offset traders, a diversionary-leisure "knowledge sector", John Edwards' anti-poverty consultancy, John Kerry's vintner, and Al Gore's holistic masseuse will still offer many opportunities, but not for that outmoded American archetype, the self-reliant citizen seeking to nourish his family through the fruits of his labor. And nor for millions of others just struggling to stay afloat. A statist America won't be a large Sweden — unimportant but prosperous — but something closer to the Third World, corrupt and chaotic, broke and brutish — for all but a privileged few.

The new class war in the western world is between "public servants" and the rest of us. In Washington, the marching bureaucrats are telling us government doesn't suck. But in Greece, the bloated public service has sucked so much out of the economy there's nothing left.

On Wednesday:

Got that? If you own a deli, you better have, because New York is so broke they need their nine cents per sliced bagel and their bagel inspectors are cracking down.

In such a world, there is no "law" — in the sense of (a) you the citizen being found by (b) a jury of your peers to be in breach of (c) a statute passed by (d) your elected representatives. Instead, unknown, unnamed, unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats determine transgressions, prosecute infractions and levy fines for behavioral rules they themselves craft and which, thanks to the ever more tangled spaghetti of preferences, subsidies, entitlements and incentives, apply to different citizens unequally. You may be lucky: You may not catch their eye — for a while. But perhaps your neighbor does, or the guy down the street. No trial, no jury, just a dogsbody in some cubicle who pronounces that you’re guilty of an offense a colleague of his invented. ...

This is the reality of small business in America today. You don't make the rules, you don't vote for people who make the rules. But you have to work harder, pay more taxes, buy more permits, fill in more paperwork, contribute to the growth of an ever less favorable business environment and prostrate yourself before the Commissar of Community Services — all for the privilege of taking home less and less money.

On Thursday:

In the 20th century the intermediary institutions were belatedly hacked away—not just self-government at town, county, and state level, but other independent pillars: church, civic associations, and not least (as the demographic profile of Dillon indicates) the basic building block of functioning society, the family. After the diminution of every intervening institution, very little stands between the central authority and the individual, which is why the former now assumes the right to insert himself into every aspect of daily life and why schoolgirls in Dillon, South Carolina think it entirely normal to beseech the Sovereign in Barackingham Palace to do something about classroom maintenance. ...

The object is to reduce and eventually eliminate alternatives — to subsume everything within the Big Government monopoly. Statists prefer national one-size-fits all — and ultimately planet-wide one-size-fits-all. Borders create the nearest thing to a free market in government — as the elite well understand when they seek to avoid the burdens they impose on you. John Kerry, a Big Tax senator from a Big Tax state, preferred to register his yacht in Rhode Island to avoid half-a-million bucks in cockamamie Massachusetts "boat sales and use" tax. Howard Metzenbaum, the pro-Death Tax senator from Ohio, adjusted his legal residency just before he died from Ohio to Florida, because the former had an estate tax and the latter didn't. This is federalism at work: States compete, and, when they get as rapacious as Massachusetts, even their own pro-tax princelings start looking for the workarounds.

Bazillionaire senators will always have workarounds — for their land, for their yachts, for their health care. You won't.

And today:

In California, the people can pass a ballot proposition, but a single activist judge overrules them. In Arizona, the people's representatives vote to uphold the people's laws, but a pliant judge strikes them down at Washington's behest. It is surely only a matter of time before some federal judge finds the constitution unconstitutional. It is never a good idea to send the message, as the political class now does consistently, that there are no democratic means by which the people can restrain their rulers. As Pat Cadell points out, the logic of that is "pre-revolutionary".

What Judge Bolton in Arizona and Judge Walker in California have in common and share with Mayor Bloomberg's observations on opposition to the Ground Zero mosque is a contempt for the people. The rationale for reversing the popular will in all three cases is that the sovereign people are bigots. In Arizona, they're xenophobic. In California, they're homophobic. In New York, they're Islamophobic. Popular sovereignty may be fine in theory but not when the people are so obviously in need of "re-education" by their betters. Over in London, the transportation department has a bureaucrat whose very title sums up our rulers' general disposition toward us: "Head of Behavior Change."

What Steyn excels at laying out is the application of a basic understanding of America's conception of liberty and the civic structure that supports it to broad issues of the day. We can see those applications in every layer of government. Town-level school committees that bend to the will of state-and-nation-level labor unions that have had decades and publicly funded full-time jobs to restructure the public debate in such a way as to hinder necessary change. State legislators who apparently have no concept of the effects of the legislation that they pass at the behest of self-interested and ideological constituencies, and a gubernatorial front-runner whose "vision for Rhode Island's recovery" is 100% driven by the decisions and top-down crafting of government policies — picking industries and individual winners and, of course, spending more money on government activities. A federal government that is nakedly hostile to citizens who wish to govern themselves by different standards than the ruling class prefers.

Pared down, there are two paths to take this coming Tuesday — chosen at every level of the ballot. One begins to turn the nation back toward a liberty and self-autonomous spirit that can restore the United States to its city-on-a-hill status and, indeed, ensure that the nation continues to exist as such. The other allows the noose to continue tightening.

October 29, 2010

Something Fun for Kids, Tomorrow

Justin Katz

All Saints Academy on West Main Rd. in Middletown (behind St. Lucy's) will tomorrow (Saturday) be hosting its first annual Spooktacular event, from 1pm to 4pm, featuring pumpkin picking and painting, a maze, and trunk-or-treating (with candy handed out from decorated car trunks). There will also be various games and treats and music.

If you've got children of grammar-school age, consider stopping by. The blisters on the hands of the fella who built the maze still haven't healed, and the laughter and fun of many children is sure to be the best balm. Costumes are not required, but are encouraged, especially for the kids.

Some Final Gubernatorial Campaign Wonkery

Carroll Andrew Morse

In recent debates, Republican Gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille has drawn criticism from other gubernatorial candidates for his answer on how he would decide where to cut the state budget, i.e. by asking for 5%, 10% and 15% reduction options from each department. But what Robitaille is describing is a straightforward and reasonable method for dealing with the unglamorous side of executive governance.

If you go to this page describing the staffing of the State of Rhode Island's Budget Office, you will see a bunch of positions described in this form...

Roger Williams (401-222-xxxx)
Budget Analyst I
Department Of Attorney General
Department Of Environmental Management
Department Of Public Safety
Department Of Children, Youth, And Families
Rhode Island Council On The Arts
Each budget analyst is responsible for working directly with the relevant state department heads to develop a budget recommendation for the list of departments under his or her name.

What Robitaille is saying he will do is instruct the analysts (via the State's Budget Director, who reports directly to the Governor) to develop a set of options involving 5%, 10%, and 15% cuts, for the departments they are responsible for. Then, after options for each department have been created, the Governor, the Budget Director and the analysts will sit down to choose from and adjust the options, to develop the total budget for the state.

Independent Gubernatorial candidate Lincoln Chafee, for one, does not regard the 5/10/15 plan as a substantive one, I suspect, because he is likely to utilize a different budgeting process -- just give the unions and his other political allies whatever they want.

Dirtiest Campaign Ever? Thus has it always been claimed....

Marc Comtois

Thanks to the folks at Reason.com for reminding people that political campaigns have been dirty for quite some time (say, a couple hundred years, at least).

RI Reformers Split on Governor

Marc Comtois

RISC is buying what Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio is selling and have endorsed him for Governor over Republican John Robitaille. Their reasoning:

RISC wants to acknowledge that Republican John Robitaille, who is a friend and member of RISC has run a very competent and credible campaign- -and yes, as of this writing- -is running very strong in the polls. It is very difficult for this organization to have to side with one candidate more than another when several viewpoints that reflect the RISC position are embraced by both. In the final analysis however, Caprio brings two crucial distinctions that we believe give him the ultimate advantage. He has already performed well in office, recognized for innovations and smart management skills as Treasurer which bode well for how he would function as Governor. Finally, RISC recognizes the reality of governing in this state may dictate that a centrist Democrat with fiscal conservative credentials may have the best chance of enacting the very difficult reforms needed which will only be achieved by a Governor who can build consensus.

Bringing the state back to a thriving, growing, forward-looking position we all want, will take a bold, very ambitious, and yes, imperfect leader who we believe not only has the right plan for the taxpayer- -but can actually turn it into reality. We believe that leader is Democrat Frank Caprio.

The Rhode Island Tea Party is not buying what Caprio is selling and are supporting Robitaille. And they think RISC is playing "insider politics."
The RI Tea Party believes that RISC has betrayed its own message to RI. Their endorsement smacks of the same old compromised insider politics.

"I am stunned by RISC's lack of conviction", states Colleen Conley, President of the RI Tea Party. "Frank Caprio has voted to raise taxes as a state legislator numerous times. He boasts a plethora of Union endorsements. That just strengthens the unions ability to write their own rules of the game, to hire their own bosses. Caprio's voting record clearly shows he has supported several tax increases and even supported efforts to organize day care workers in our state. Just more burden on the taxpayers."

Reform groups in RI are sticking together in support of John Robitaille - the only candidate who has the conviction and understanding to represent all of the hard-working taxpayers in RI. He understands that government does not create jobs. He understands that taxing our way out of debt is a failed policy. He understands that without a financially healthy private-sector there will be no revenue to pay for public-sector services.

Until now, to my knowledge, the growing rift between RISC and the RITP (and other groups) was an outgrowth of organizational and personal disputes at the top of each organization. I suppose it was only a matter of time before these disagreements were manifested in the public policy arena. The fact is, both groups agree on most policy positions and have mostly endorsed the same candidates. Yet, I suspect this single, high-profile disagreement will serve to define the relationships on the right-side of RI's reform community for years to come. Personally, I think the RISC leadership has made a big mistake: they put themselves on an island amongst the other reform groups and may have stranded themselves for good.

Shoving Back

Justin Katz

Even on the construction site, I've heard criticism of gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio for his "shove it" comment, related to a general sense that one should have respect for the office of the president. Firstly, one must wonder why President Bush did not receive similar defense against his hostile critics. Secondly, President Obama's hardline partisanism and eagerness never to leave the campaign trail surely affects the respect that he's due generally.

Two letters in yesterday's Providence Journal create an interesting context for Caprio's complaint about Obama's treatment of Rhode Island. From Tom Letourneau in Cumberland:

Consider the people who coughed up the paltry sum of $7,500 for the privilege of having dinner with the president. (I would not have called it anything close to a privilege to be anywhere near a man who will go down in history as the worst president since Jimmy Carter.) But then they were told where his (Obama's) priorities really lie. When Mr. Obama concluded his remarks, at about 7:30, he informed all of those present, and his gracious hosts, he couldn't stay for dinner, stating: "I've got to go home to tuck in the girls and walk the dog and scoop the poop!"

I can't imagine paying that much money for dinner with anybody, but I can imagine the care and excitement that must go into planning and preparing an event to be experienced by somebody whom the participants believe to be important. What a disappointment that the preparations yielded only a passing stump speech. Recall the extensive coverage of local veggies on which the President would be dining. Perhaps he took a doggy bag.

But Rhode Islanders were not entirely deprived of the experience of a presidential visit. From Richard Jackson of East Greenwich:

I fear for this country when those who are running it are not even smart enough to schedule the travel itinerary for President Obama's visit around Rhode Island's rush hour.

He left Woonsocket at about 5:15 p.m. on Monday to travel south on Route 146 to Route 95 south — closing the highway in advance of his arrival.

That 20-minute drop-by in Providence appears to have netted the president more than a third of a million dollars in campaign dough, and in modern America, that is apparently a higher priority than the daily lives of thousands of Rhode Islanders.

Daniel: Freitas: Who Is the "Denier"?

Engaged Citizen

In a recent Congressional district 1 debate, David Cicilline asked John Loughlin what his evidence was that pollution is not causing global warming. If he asked this so that he could truly examine the evidence for himself, that would be a noble thing. But Cicilline appears uninterested in the evidence. It seems he would rather score political points by trying to label Loughlin as a global warming "denier." Apparently David Cicilline has already arrived at a verdict and is promising to act on it if elected to Congress.

Yet, despite Al Gore's pronouncement that "the debate is over," anyone who has ever inquired about this subject knows that there is wide ranging disagreement over the data. Mayor Cicilline might be interested to learn that many notable scientists have serious doubts that the earth is warming due to anthropogenic causes. One such scientist is Dr. Willie Wei-Hock Soon, an astrophysicist at the Solar and Stellar Physics Division of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and chief science adviser to the Science and Public Policy Institute. In one of Dr. Soon's papers, published in the peer reviewed Geophysical Research Letters, which ranks in the top ten of the most highly cited research publications on climate change over the past decade, Dr. Soon presents compelling evidence that natural causes, specifically changes in solar radiation, are responsible for temperature fluctuations from 1880 to 2000. The data presented by Dr. Soon also shows that during a period when carbon dioxide was essentially constant, temperatures were rising dramatically and when carbon dioxide was rising dramatically, temperatures were falling.

Unfortunately, it is too often the case, that when data is presented which challenges individual beliefs, the argument quickly descends into ad hominem attacks. Take, for example, a recent post on the blog, skepticalscience.com, where one contributor writes, "Don't get hoodwinked by scientists-for-hire like Willie Soon." Or Mayor Cicilline's ad where he calls Loughlin "an extremist" on global warming. These emotional responses only serve to stifle critical thinking.

The debate over Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is legitimate, and the debate is not over. When people ignore or demean the work of scientists to promote what they "believe," they hurt science. When politicians make policy decisions that limit industrial capacity based on their "beliefs," they hurt us all. Mayor Cicilline should not only tolerate opposing views on AGW, he should actively seek them out. Cicilline's "case closed" mentality on AGW exposes a closed mindedness that our state and our nation can ill afford.

Search Engine Friends in High Places

Justin Katz

This is interesting. You may have heard about Google's spy cars:

Eustace said the company was "mortified" by the discovery that sensitive information was collected when the Street View cars drove through neighborhoods around the world and said Google was making major changes internally to deal with user privacy, security and compliance.

They'll deal with the stolen emails and passwords, and never, ever do it again. They promise. Trust them. Trust, also, that the Federal Trade Commission has dropped its investigation for purely wholesome reasons — not because Google bigwig Marisa Mayer just hosted a $30,000-a-head, $1.8 million fundraiser for President Obama.

Remember, only Republicans are susceptible to the influence of Big Business.

October 28, 2010

Welfare queens and their pimps: Why the November 2 election matters

Donald B. Hawthorne

They come in all shapes and sizes.

Don't like any of them. Yes, indeed, not then and not now (and now).

The labels or times may change but not the fundamental issue that any government big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away. More on bizarre incentives created by campaign finance reform, where the focus is on the symptoms but not the root cause, and crony capitalism, where the big and powerful feed at the enlarged government trough at the expense of those who lack comparable resources to buy favors.

If we truly treasure liberty in America, then next Tuesday's vote is the first major step toward reclaiming it. Our freedom is never safe, especially when there is a bloated government filled with politicians and bureaucrats who don't recognize and honor the core principles of our Constitution.


How about some "old-time" reflections that are actually substantive and suggest a different view of America and public policies?

A Call to Action: Responding to Government Being Neither Well-Meaning Nor Focused on the Public Interest; be sure to follow the links

American Exceptionalism

"Who You Gonna Call?" The Little Platoons

Lawrence Reed on Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy

Challenging the increasing momentum toward a nanny state

Summing it up -

Roger Pilon from a 2002 Cato Institute publication, as quoted in the American Exceptionalism link:

We are all created equal, as defined by our natural rights; thus, no one has rights superior to those of anyone else. Moreover, we are born with those rights, we do not get them from government - indeed, whatever rights or powers government has come from us, from "the Consent of the Governed." And our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness imply the right to live our lives as we wish...to pursue happiness as we think best, by our own lights...provided only that we respect the equal rights of others to do the same. Drawing by implication upon the common law tradition of liberty, property, and contract...its principles rooted in "right reason"...the Founders thus outlined the moral foundations of a free society…

In the end, however, no constitution can be self-enforcing. Government officials must respect their oaths to uphold the Constitution; and we the people must be vigilant in seeing that they do. The Founders drafted an extraordinarily thoughtful plan of government, but it is up to us, to each generation, to preserve and protect it for ourselves and for future generations. For the Constitution will live only if it is alive in the hearts and minds of the American people. That, perhaps, is the most enduring lesson of our experiment in ordered liberty.

Marco Rubio.


The bottom line from 2006:

I hope the Republicans lose control of the House of Representatives in tomorrow's election.

...My disgust with the Republican Congress is intense...

...it is a time to focus on the big picture:

The current Republican party needs some time in the wilderness in order to rediscover its currently lost connections to beliefs in limited government, to the defense of freedom and ordered liberty. Hopefully, they can find some new leaders with principles in time for the crucial 2008 elections.

And what could be better for the American people than to see the House be led for two years by a bunch of left-wing lunatics, to experience a sampling for 2 years before 2008 of what little the Democrats can offer during a time when our country is engaged in a world war with Islamic fascists dedicated to destroying America.

The overriding problem here is we have two political parties who stand for nothing but either the retention or gaining of political power for the sake of power itself...

Well, the Democrats under Obama have indeed stood for something, an overbearing statism largely disconnected from principles of liberty and the rule of law. So we have belatedly tried the left-wing lunatic model for the last 2 years. Let's now send those statists packing on November 2 and hope the Republicans learned something during their time in the wilderness.

The bottom line in 2010 is that until enough people get serious about dismantling much of the engorged government and returning rights to the people, none of this will amount to more than rearranging chairs on the USS Titanic.

But that doesn't have to be our future, if we have the will and courage as a nation to chart a new course.


Scott Rasmussen:

...This isn't a wave, it's a tidal shift—and we've seen it coming for a long time. Remarkably, there have been plenty of warning signs over the past two years, but Democratic leaders ignored them. At least the captain of the Titanic tried to miss the iceberg. Congressional Democrats aimed right for it...

But none of this means that Republicans are winning. The reality is that voters in 2010 are doing the same thing they did in 2006 and 2008: They are voting against the party in power.

This is the continuation of a trend that began nearly 20 years ago. In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected president and his party had control of Congress. Before he left office, his party lost control. Then, in 2000, George W. Bush came to power, and his party controlled Congress. But like Mr. Clinton before him, Mr. Bush saw his party lose control.

That's never happened before in back-to-back administrations. The Obama administration appears poised to make it three in a row. This reflects a fundamental rejection of both political parties.

More precisely, it is a rejection of a bipartisan political elite that's lost touch with the people they are supposed to serve. Based on our polling, 51% now see Democrats as the party of big government and nearly as many see Republicans as the party of big business. That leaves no party left to represent the American people.

Voters today want hope and change every bit as much as in 2008. But most have come to recognize that if we have to rely on politicians for the change, there is no hope. At the same time, Americans instinctively understand that if we can unleash the collective wisdom and entrepreneurial spirit of the American people, there are no limits to what we can accomplish...

Elected politicians also should leave their ideological baggage behind because voters don't want to be governed from the left, the right, or even the center. They want someone in Washington who understands that the American people want to govern themselves.

Angelo Codevilla on America's ruling class - and the perils of revolution.

From two liberal Democrats comes these critical words about Obama:

... In a Univision interview on Monday, the president, who campaigned in 2008 by referring not to a "Red America" or a "Blue America" but a United States of America, urged Hispanic listeners to vote in this spirit: "We're gonna punish our enemies and we're gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us."

Recently, Obama suggested that if Republicans gain control of the House and/or Senate as forecast, he expects not reconciliation and unity but "hand-to-hand combat" on Capitol Hill.

What a change two years can bring.

We can think of only one other recent president who would display such indifference to the majesty of his office: Richard Nixon.

We write in sadness as traditional liberal Democrats who believe in inclusion...

Indeed, Obama is conducting himself in a way alarmingly reminiscent of Nixon's role in the disastrous 1970 midterm campaign. No president has been so persistently personal in his attacks as Obama throughout the fall. He has regularly attacked his predecessor, the House minority leader and - directly from the stump - candidates running for offices below his own. He has criticized the American people suggesting that they are "reacting just to fear" and faulted his own base for "sitting on their hands complaining."...

We are also disturbed that the office of the president is mounting attacks on private individuals, such as the founders of the group Americans for Prosperity. Having been forged politically during Watergate - one of us was the youngest member of Nixon's enemies list - we are chilled by the prospect of any U.S. president willing to marshal the power of his office against a private citizen.

The president is the leader of our society. That office is supposed to be a unifying force. When a president opts for polarization, it is not only bad politics, but it also diminishes the prestige of his office and damages our social consensus...

Or, as Charles Krauthammer wrote:

...In a radio interview that aired Monday on Univision, President Obama chided Latinos who "sit out the election instead of saying, 'We're gonna punish our enemies and we're gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.' " Quite a uniter, urging Hispanics to go to the polls to exact political revenge on their enemies - presumably, for example, the near-60 percent of Americans who support the new Arizona immigration law.

This from a president who won't even use "enemies" to describe an Iranian regime that is helping kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. This from a man who rose to prominence thunderously declaring that we were not blue states or red states, not black America or white America or Latino America - but the United States of America.

This is how the great post-partisan, post-racial, New Politics presidency ends - not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a desperate election-eve plea for ethnic retribution...

David Harsanyi points out how Obama has a lack of faith to trust the American people and is implementing processes that only magnify the power of the nanny state.

Arthur Brooks and Paul Ryan offer an alternative view:

As we move into this election season, Americans are being asked to choose between candidates and political parties. But the true decision we will be making—now and in the years to come—is this: Do we still want our traditional American free enterprise system, or do we prefer a European-style social democracy? This is a choice between free markets and managed capitalism; between limited government and an ever-expanding state; between rewarding entrepreneurs and equalizing economic rewards.

We must decide. Or must we?

In response to what each of us has written in the preceding months, we have heard again and again that the choice we pose is too stark. New York Times columnist David Brooks (no relation) finds our approach too Manichaean, and the Schumpeter columnist in The Economist objected that, "You can have a big state with a well-functioning free market."

Data support the proposition that Americans like generous government programs and don't want to lose them. So while 70% of Americans told pollsters at the Pew Research Center in 2009 they agreed that "people are better off in a free market economy, even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time," large majorities favor keeping our social insurance programs intact. This leads conventional thinkers to claim that a welfare state is what we truly want, regardless of whether or not we mouth platitudes about "freedom" and "entrepreneurship."

But these claims miss the point. What we must choose is our aspiration, not whether we want to zero out the state. Nobody wants to privatize the Army or take away Grandma's Social Security check. Even Friedrich Hayek in his famous book, "The Road to Serfdom," reminded us that the state has legitimate—and critical—functions, from rectifying market failures to securing some minimum standard of living.

However, finding the right level of government for Americans is simply impossible unless we decide which ideal we prefer: a free enterprise society with a solid but limited safety net, or a cradle-to-grave, redistributive welfare state...

More and more Americans are catching on to the scam. Every day, more see that the road to serfdom in America does not involve a knock in the night or a jack-booted thug. It starts with smooth-talking politicians offering seemingly innocuous compromises, and an opportunistic leadership that chooses not to stand up for America's enduring principles of freedom and entrepreneurship.

As this reality dawns, and the implications become clear to millions of Americans, we believe we can see the brightest future in decades. But we must choose it.

Just say no to Barney

Donald B. Hawthorne

One of the unanticipated benefits of leaving Rhode Island is that I moved into Barney Frank's congressional district.

Which means I get to vote for his opponent, Sean Bielat.

Just in case you needed some reminders about Mr. Frank's legacies:

Jeff Jacoby
Russ Roberts
Thomas Sowell
Thomas Sowell
Larry Kudlow
Larry Kudlow
Washington Times
Sheldon Richman
Duncan Currie
Wall Street Journal
National Review
Stephen Spruiell
Russ Roberts
Russ Roberts

More by Russ Roberts on the financial crisis.

We can only hope.


Wow, indeed. And check out the RGA video.


Go to the videos here and here.

The Current Administration and the Mayoral Candidates on Which City of Providence Accounts are the Reserve Accounts

Carroll Andrew Morse

I contacted Karen Watts, the communications director for the City of Providence, to ask which city accounts should be counted as the reserve funds that the Cicilline administration claims contain $30 million, given that the City Auditor claims there are only $4.6 million in the reserves and provided specific account numbers and balances in support of that claim. Ms. Watts responded that...

The total of the City's reserves as of June 30, 2010 is a little over $30 million. The Council's Internal Auditor's statement regarding the City's reserves is incorrect.
I also contacted the campaign of Providence Democratic Mayoral candidate Angel Tavares, to ask what his understanding is of which accounts constitute the city's reserve funds, and whether Mr. Tavares had any general comment on the balance levels reported by the auditor. A spokesperson for Mr. Tavares' campaign responded that their current focus is on the November 2 election and suggested that I contact City Hall for the information (not realizing that I had contacted City Hall and both Providence Mayoral campaigns in my initial round of inquiries).

Independent Providence Mayoral candidate Jon Scott responded to the questions on the auditor's report and which city accounts constitute the reserves with the statement that...

I am not certain that the two accounts in question - the reserve contingency and capital asset accounts- are the sole accounts that comprise the city's reserve funding. I am certain that both the internal auditor. Mr Lombardi and the external, Braver Assoc, have been stonewalled by the current Mayor as they sought answers to their questions which were along the same lines.

If the accusation of political hijinks that the Mayor alleges is possible then it is also possible that the Mayor has been trying to hold off on the reports of those numbers until after the election.

My opponent had an op ed in Sunday's ProJo saying that he would continue to build on the city's economic strength and credits Mr Cicilline with that strength. I would hardly call the depletion of on account by 80 percent and the negative numbers in an account that recently held 14.4m "economic strength".

It is understandable that the Council members are asking questions themselves and that they are making conflicting statements. We, as politicians are not experts at everything. RFPs go out for services and some become slaves to the cheapest. We must bring in good people who understand these processes.

That's why I pledge that we will bring in the best municipal turnaround experts available - and make no mistake we have them locally. Braver knows what they are doing but the cannot get it right if they don't have an administration that is in full cooperation and the Council will be in the dark if Braver is. So, along those lines, not only will I hire the best, both internally and externally, I will ensure that they have the information to do their job and I will ensure that the public has an online and transparent view of every city contract and every check that is written over 100 dollars.

The verge of bankruptcy is unacceptable in a city as great as Providence but it is business as usual and business as usual is bad business for Providence.

Rift in the Democratic Party

Marc Comtois

This post--"An Open Letter to Rush Limbaugh"--from "Hillbuzz", a pro-Hillary Clinton blog, is starting to get some play. The writer, Kevin DuJan, explains that, while a lot of Hillary Clinton supporters hold a grudge over the 2008 Democratic Party nomination process, that isn't the only reason that they are intent on getting back at Obama and his version of the Democratic Party.

When Obama and the DNC attacked Hillary and her supporters, they permanently alienated tens of millions of us from the party. I know for a fact I am not the only guy...who is working every day to bring down the Obama White House and Democrat Party. Not for Hillary, though I love the woman, but for America...because I love this country even more.
He provides some details of the nasty tactics he witnessed--including voter fraud and intimidation tactics--and asks other Democrats to take a breath and re-think some things:
[E]ven if you called yourself a Democrat for 32 years, the way I did, because everyone you grew up with and everyone in your family was a Democrat, that in 2010 it’s time to ask yourselves what that really means.

Do you want to be in a party that calls people racists for stepping out of line and voicing opposition to the socialist lurch of the current administration?

Do you condone voter fraud and the shameless, undemocratic tactics employed by Democrats?

Do you wish to associate with the likes of ACORN, the SEIU, the Black Panthers, and all the other thugs, goons, and degenerates the Obama campaign and White House employ as the DNC’s muscle on the ground?

It is crystal clear that being a patriotic American who loves this country is intellectually incompatible with being a Democrat. If you love America and want it to prosper, the Democrat Party is at absolute odds with everything we need for a thriving, successful economy.

I wonder how many Rhode Island Democrats feel the same way.

ProJo PolitiFlacks for Cicilline

Marc Comtois

Oh, it sounds so good, doesn't it? PolitiFact will fact check politicians to see what is true and not. But, as we've been pointing out here and there, PolitiFact can be used as another vehicle to slant political news coverage, albeit under the guise of "fair and balanced" fact checking. Justin has already explained how context can skew the "meter reading", but selection bias is also a major factor in the sort of "news shaping" for which the ProJo is obviously using PolitiFactFlack when it comes to the Laughlin/Cicilline Congressional race.

The ProJo has already endorsed Cicilline, but it's also interesting that the last three "fact checks" done by their inferentially unbiased PolitFact feature have all had to do with the 1st Congressional District race and all have come out favorably for Cicilline. They include a "Mostly True" in favor of a Cicilline claim against Loughlin, a "Barely True" regarding an independent ad attacking Cicilline and a "False" about a Loughlin claim regarding global warming (which doesn't seem particularly germane to the overall race). Overall, since the beginning of the race, the 'Flacks have given Loughlin 1 "Barely True", 2 "False" and 1 "Pants on Fire." Meanwhile, Cicilline has earned 1 "True", 1 "Mostly True", 1 "Half True" and 1 "False" (Cicilline's exaggerated claim that he brought $3 billion in economic development).

It's understandable that a Congressional race would garner significant attention from the 'Flacks. But the breakdown of their "results" and their late concentration on this race to the exclusion of others is revealing. Could it be that the CD-1 race is a little too close for comfort for the Fountain street gentry?

Further Tying Credibility to Cicilline Campaign

Justin Katz

I wonder if anybody at the Providence Journal — particularly on the PolitiFact crew — is concerned that, every few days, Cynthia Needham whacks a big chunk of their organization's credibility off the table in the service of David Cicilline's Congressional campaign. Last week, she gave David Cicilline a "mostly true" rating for his claim that John Loughlin "voted to let people accused of domestic violence keep their guns":

Nowhere does the 2005 bill suggest one must be accused of a crime to have the statute apply.

Cicilline overstates the scope of the bill that Loughlin voted against. But he is correct to suggest that if Loughlin's side had prevailed, those subject to domestic violence restraining orders would be allowed to keep their guns.

This week, she's declaring an ad by Americans for Common Sense Solutions to be "barely true" even though it's nearly identical in character to Cicilline's claim:

In 1996, Rhode Island lawmakers took the existing sex offender registration law, which required convicted offenders to register with local police departments, and added language requiring police to notify the community. That vote took place while Cicilline, now the mayor of Providence, was still a state representative.

So how did he vote? The short answer is, he was one of three representatives who voted against it.

Probably realizing that she's pushing the envelope on applying her political preferences as the deciding criterion in an ostensibly objective measure, Needham resorts to the PolitiFact rulebook:

PolitiFact's definition of a Barely True statement says it "contains some element of truth, but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."

What a complete joke. The Providence Journal should consider whether there's any relationship between this sort of thing and their sliding circulation.

Caprio Drops to Third in Latest Poll

Carroll Andrew Morse

This is the latest poll result in the Governor's race, according to WJAR-TV's (NBC 10) latest poll released last night...

The poll put independent Lincoln Chafee in the lead with 35 percent of the vote, followed by Republican John Robitaille with 28 percent and Caprio with 25 percent. The margin of error leaves Robitaille and Caprio in a statistical tie. Moderate Party candidate Ken Block had 2 percent. Ten percent said they were undecided.

Charlie Hall on the "Shove Heard 'Round the World" *

Monique Chartier


Courtesy Oceanstate Follies

* Masterfully coined by NBC10's Bill Rappleye; all rights reserved.

France Has Nothing on the RI Public Sector

Justin Katz

Folks are rioting in France because they feel retirement at 60 to be a birthright. In Rhode Island, public-sector unions promote the birthright of retiring much earlier, collecting pensions, and starting second careers. That's what was on Mark Patinkin's mind yesterday:

Sarkozy is worried that 60 is a ruinously young age for pensions in France, and yet we have 43-year-olds collecting on the back of taxpayers. The question isn't whether firefighters deserve it, it's whether taxpayers can afford it. We can't. The result, said Van Noppen, is that cash-poor city governments have been forced to reduce the count of employees who do work in order to pay the pensions of 43-year-olds who don't. At least they don't work for the taxpayers; they've gone on to second jobs even as they collect pensions. It's an irony: The point of pensions was not to feather the nests of productive workers, but to support those too old to work, or who earned a cushion for their legitimate golden years. I've never seen 43 — or 54 — described as the start of the golden years.

This system has to change dramatically. Now.

October 27, 2010

Another Problem With Entitlements Is That People Feel Entitled to Raises, Too

Justin Katz

I've been meaning to comment on this casting of the non-increasing Social Security payments for a couple of weeks:

As if voters don't have enough to be angry about this election year, the government is expected to announce this week that more than 58 million Social Security recipients will go through another year without an increase in their monthly benefits.

It would mark only the second year without an increase since automatic adjustments for inflation were adopted in 1975. The first year was this year.

Look, there's a method by which the Social Security Administration calculates whether and by how much it is more expensive for recipients to live and adjust their payouts accordingly. Two years ago, that method yielded a higher-than-justified increase. Now, with a stagnant experienced economy no increase is justified.

The solution is to eliminate policies that increase costs (such as taxes) that don't factor into the equation and that hamper the healthy growth of our economy. Demanding more money as a handout just because a raise is expected and might be wrestled out of the political system will prove counterproductive.

Bob Goes to the Statehouse

Justin Katz

I'm thinking that Bob Venturini might be my choice for lieutenant governor. After all, this is precisely my argument against Robert Healey's "abolish the office" platform:

Venturini said he would turn the office into "the ultimate watchdog and policy center," and use it as a "bully pulpit" against "waste, abuse and corruption." He added, "I'd cause enough noise and embarrassment that people would have to pay attention."

He wants to restructure the office to provide "much more manpower and performance for the same price." That includes cutting the lieutenant governor's salary by half, dividing the chief of staff's job duties among several people and establishing policy task forces and a whistleblower program. He would also push for better access to public records "to keep our government in check."

A million dollars in the hands of somebody who isn't habituated to the insiders' rules for government spending could hire a significant group of people to investigate and analyze the functioning of state government. Pick a good-government group in Rhode Island and imagine it with the sudden windfall of a million dollars in funding. That's the potential of the office.

Unfortunately, many of the folks who populate and support the good-government groups are charmed by Healey and the appeal of his small-government thumb in the establishment's eye. At best, if victorious, he'll save the state a minuscule portion of its deficit until another Democrat comes up with a strategy for returning the office to its current state. At worst, he hands it back to Elizabeth Roberts to keep her political machine idling while she strives to advance progressive causes.

Somebody who'd actually made a case for a positive use of the office all along would have had a real shot. Perhaps a respectable showing for Venturini will convey that message.

"...it appears the city of Providence is bankrupt or close to it and that you are deliberately hiding this fact..."

Monique Chartier

The following letter, dated yesterday, was in my in-box this morning.

I have some questions.

The City Auditor had to file a Freedom of Information request with Mayor Cicilline in order to obtain basic information about the city's finances?? Why wouldn't the mayor just give it to the auditor, seeing that he's ... well, the auditor?

Didn't Mayor Cicilline specifically state during one of the WPRO debates, and possibly elsewhere, that the pensions are funded?

Also, how is it possible to have a reserve fund with a negative balance?

Dear Mayor Cicilline:

I am writing to you today because it appears the city of Providence is bankrupt or close to it and that you are deliberately hiding this fact from the people of Rhode Island. I am concerned that for political reasons your campaign for Congress is causing you to act in such a way as to conceal the budget problems facing the city of Providence, making them worse in the process.

According to City Auditor James Lombardi, you have refused his requests for financial information for the past six months. As a result, he has had to resort to filing requests under the State Access to Public Records Act (APRA). This is an extraordinary set of circumstances because as you know the good functioning of government depends on transparency and accountability. By not making information available when requested, you are acting in a manner that is antithetical to good government.

What little information the Auditor has obtained causes him grave concern. Specifically, he said that $18 million of the regularly scheduled pension payment of $38 million for the last fiscal year was never paid. He also said the city’s reserve contingency funds account – the so-called “rainy day fund” – went from having a balance of $14.4 million on July 1, 2009 (the start of the last fiscal year) to NEGATIVE $187,736 on June 30, 2010 (the end of the last fiscal year).

Based on this alarming information, I am concerned that the city cannot make its way through the current fiscal year without a tax increase, severe budget cuts, or both. I am calling on you to immediately disclose to the taxpayers of Providence and the people of Rhode Island the full extent of the city’s current financial situation by releasing to the Auditor’s Office and the public at large a balance sheet and a cash flow analysis showing the current state of the city’s finances.

It is time for you to set aside concerns about how the city’s deteriorating fiscal condition will affect your campaign for Congress. You need to set aside concerns about your political career and level with the people of Rhode Island.


John Loughlin

State Representative John J. Loughlin II
RI House Minority Whip
Candidate for US Congress, RI -01
PO Box 244
Adamsville, RI 02801

There's the "M" Word Again

Justin Katz

Jennifer Marshall approaches a point frequently made on Anchor Rising from another direction:

Waiting until marriage to have children is the second of three "golden rules" for avoiding poverty that researchers identified over the years: (1) graduate from high school; (2) marry before having children; and (3) get a job.

Actually, being married is even more significant than graduating from high school for avoiding poverty. Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, shows this in a new paper, "Marriage: America's No. 1 Weapon Against Child Poverty." By contrast, typical responses to poverty call for more spending on government programs. Far from helping poor Americans escape dependency, however, massive increases in welfare spending over the past four decades have entrenched poverty across generations.

Marriage and childbirth must be inextricably linked, conceptually, to foster a society in which (1) having to get married feels like a real potential consequence of the behavior that leads to childbirth and (2) children are born into households in which their parents have formed a partnership for their emotional and economic well-being. For the subsequent generation, having close familial relationships with both male and female parents — creating direct lines of lineage along a family tree — will decrease the behavior that leads branches into dire circumstances.

October 26, 2010

Liveblogging the Governor's Debate

Carroll Andrew Morse

[7:52] I'm skipping closing statements, because the candidates are talking faster than I can type.

[7:51] Chafee: We had a surplus when I entered the Senate and I voted against the Iraq war. Stimulus increased deficit too much.

[7:50] Caprio: Stimulus was not successful.

[7:50] Block: RI didn't use money to do things that would really help new businesses.

[7:49] White: Was the stimulus a success? Robitaille: Too many strings, especially maintenance of effort provisions. More should have gone to small business.

[7:48] Fitz to Robitaille: Haven't named any specific mistakes by Don Carcieri: Robitaille: Carcieri erred in endorsing Linc Chafee over Steve Laffey.

[7:47] Block: Sales tax impacts necessities.

[7:46] Fitz to Chafee: Isn't the sales tax regressive? Chafee: You have control over how much you spend, therefore how much sales tax you pay, unlike property tax.

[7:45] Fitzpatick to Caprio: Did Caprio talk to anyone about running as a Republican. Caprio: I just had lunch with Ken McKay.

[7:44] Block: D, but will stay after school to help them out. Passing massive amounts of legislation is bad practice.

[7:43] Robitaille: F, grown government, raised taxes, failed to fund pensions, driven business out of the state.

[7:43] Chafee: No preconceived notions on past performance. Achorn pushes. Chafee refuses to answer, because he has to work with them.

[7:42] Caprio: C, pension reform and held the line on taxes. Could do better.

[7:41] Achorn: Grade the General Aseembly

[7:40] Caprio: We need to listen to rank-and-file membership, instead of leadership that has its own agenda.

[7:39] Block: We need smart union policy, treat them as a partner and not an adversary.

[7:38] Chafee: My record in Warwick proves I wan't too close to the unions.

[7:37] Question to Chafee: Projo editorial suggests you are too close to the state's unions.

[7:36] Robitaille: Would cut social service programs first.

[7:34] Chafee: Cutting aid to cities and towns forces property tax to increase. Says he would raise sales tax. He would manage the state better.

[7:34] Caprio: Will straighten out the state operations budget.

[7:33] Block: Cost savings in social service spending. Waste and fraud may be enough to close the budget gap.

[7:32] Fitzpatick: Would major state budget area would you cut first?

[7:31] Caprio: 1) Implement small business fund 2) fix the DMV.

[7:31] Block: Give the state's IT dept. 30 days to get dead people off welfare rolls. (I missed the 2nd one).

[7:30] Robitialle: First one is cut spending. Second one is cut spending. Require state dept. heads to submit 3 plans, a 15% cut, a 10% cut, and a 5% cut.

[7:29] Chafee: 1) Repeal E-verify 2) Tackle the budget

[7:29] Achorn: What are first 2 things you would do as governor?

[7:28] Robitaille: Behavior of other candidates will scare other businesses from coming to RI.

[7:28] Caprio: If the deal is not closed soon after he is elected, he will have it reviewed.

[7:26] Block: Outrageous to sue a volunteer board.

[7:25] Chafee: Yes, he will fight to get the $75 million back.

[7:24] Tim White to Chafee: Do you continue to support suing the EDC over the 38 studios deal?

[7:23] Caprio back to Block: I have plans to help businesses of different sizes, that have been praised by many respectable sources.

[7:22] Block: Describes the experience of the risk starting a small business. Tells Chafee it can't be done passively. Tells Caprio his plan is flawed beacuse of some its business-size requirements.

[7:21] Robitaille: Government doesn't creat job, the private sector does. We need to create a business friendly environment in RI, and we're not. Streamline permitting and regulations.

[7:20] Caprio: Get access to capital out there for small businesses.

[7:19] Chafee: Invest in infrastructure and education.

[7:19] Good question from Edward Fitzpatrick to the candidates: How do you actually create a job? From the dawn of time

[7:18] Caprio: The pension mess is a 60-year legacy. Goes into detail about his fiscal management.

[7:17] Robitaille: Caprio voted for multiple tax increases, failed to adequately manage the pension fund for state employees.

[7:16] Chafee doesn't answer question "specifically", says he has more experience than the other 3.

[7:16] Chafee rebuts: The people of Warwick showed their approval by reelecting me.

[7:15] Caprio criticizes Chafee's property tax increases and school spending levels in Warwick

[7:14] Caprio makes a point of saying he likes Block, and is not

[7:14] Block cricizes Caprio's record as Treasurer.

[7:14] Ed Achorn asks a goofy question about is there any specific thing about one of your opponents that troubles you.

[7:13] Block: "Absolute knucklehead". This is a distraction from really fixing our problems.

[7:12] Caprio: I'll behave like I want to behave.

[7:11] Robitaille: "Shove it" was inappropriate, shows Caprio lacks the appropriate temperament.

[7:10] Chafee empahasizes "there's been no endorsement" in response to a question about the President's popularity.

[7:09] Chafee: Caprio had seemed excited about the endorsement, before the non-endorsement occurred.

[7:09] White asks Chafee for a reaction.

[7:09] Caprio: I reacted in a human way, after learning about the non-endoresment through the news.

[7:08] White: Was it calculated?

[7:08] Caprio: It was a political answer to a political situation.

[7:07] Tim White asks Caprio if "shove it" was appropriate...

[7:03] Interesting contrast. Robitaille and Caprio do biographical intros. Chafee goes right to discussing infrastructure spending that has recenly occurred. Block goes right after the other candidates.

[7:00] Yes, it is on Channel 12. Mike Montecalvo is doing the intro.

[6:59] Of course, I haven't actually checked tonight's TV listings, so I'm really hoping the debate comes up next on Channel 12, after having typed that first line.

[6:57] If there's an RI Gubernatorial debate that's worth liveblogging in this election cycle, this will be the one...

King on Pensions

Justin Katz

Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that there's a huge conceptual flaw in general treasurer candidate Kerry King's pension solution:

"We have a crazy system of 150 pension plans, which makes no sense at all," he said. "We need to bring all these plans together."

That would put all government employees into the same plan, doing away with extra perks that some municipalities may have included in their employee contracts.

"The Cadillacs are gone. We're all driving Hondas or Chevys," said King. "We can't afford Cadillacs in this state. We never could."

King said that, as treasurer, he would advocate for legislation that would require all municipalities to join a single statewide plan.

Consolidating all pensions at the state level also consolidates all of the incentive for municipal unions to install and manipulate legislators to keep the Cadillacs rolling. It will also require reform groups to work at the state level, rather than with the possibility of local neighborhood-by-neighborhood organization and advocacy. The general treasurer could certainly advocate for more intelligent control of the system, but it's still in the hands of the corrupt General Assembly.

An Open Door for Evil

Justin Katz

Even the most plain, factual description of Andrew Conley's murder of his kid brother is chillingly disturbing:

The teenager told police he choked his brother while they were wrestling until the boy passed out. He said he then dragged his brother into the kitchen, put on gloves and continued strangling him for at least 20 minutes.

He then put wrapped the boy’s head in two plastic bags. A coroner testified that Conner may have still been alive for minutes or hours after that point, Humphrey noted, but the bags helped suffocate him, and Conley repeatedly banged the boy’s head on the ground before loading him in the trunk of his car to make sure he was dead.

He then went along with his day, compounding the horror with his casual behavior.

As a parent, especially, the violation of warm images of home and basic trust in familial bonds leaves only one word capable of describing the act: Evil. Questions of insanity and premeditation are tangled, because the monster had previously expressed admiration for a fictional television serial killer but found the experience surreal and felt outside himself and unable to stop. In that regard, the case puts the lie to insanity as an excuse for the inexcusable; the perpetrator must be considered insane by definition, and to consider that as mitigation is to negate our ability to deal appropriately with... again... evil.

Clearly, the killer was not well. Surely, the images and plots that gave form to his illness help to spread the blame to the parents who allowed them to infect their home, to the people and industry that produces them, and to the broad society that creates a market for destructive filth. If that society is to be substantively free, the slow, dispersed culmination of evil must be tolerated until it sharpens in the hands of a depraved person and a criminal act. But is that clinical assessment sufficient?

Columnist Ron Rosenbaum recently touched on similar thoughts for First Things. Writing about the West Cumbria killer dubbed "Psycho-Cabbie":

... one could see Derrick "simmering with rage and paranoia" and perhaps even the dread low self-esteem, too. But we are all simmering to some extent. And yet: Murdering his twin in cold blood and then driving over to his solicitor's house and shotgunning him in bed, too? Are these bad choices psychogenically determined, organically inevitable? Crimes just waiting to happen if we’d had a proper brain scan to warn us? Or are they evil? Can we utterly eliminate the fact that he had a choice, that he made a choice, and that it was an evil choice? Or do we just look at his brain scan posthumously for the real trigger? And what do we make of the nine further killings that morning, and of the dozen or so attempts that left several critically wounded? ...

... [After his initial, pre-motivated murders] virtually every time he saw anyone—a person with whom he did not have any kind of psychogenic, emotional, legal relationship—he chose evil, more and further evil, until he totaled a dozen dead victims and then shot himself. He was in a world of utter freedom offered by the fact that he could not become any more morally or legally culpable than he already was. He was free to be as evil as he wanted to be. He could have shot himself after the first three, but he chose to blast open the faces of a dozen or so more, nine of them fatally.

The problem that Rosenbaum doesn't entirely resolve is that externalizing evil — whether as a series of biological or psychological triggers or as a demonic force — tends to complicate our sense of how to handle those who become its instruments. "If we are not free to choose evil," he concludes, "we are not free to refuse it," and the court psychologist might argue that, as a matter of law, society cannot fully punish those who were not free to resist the impulse toward their crimes.

At least with the notion of evil as a spiritual force, we can blame the perpetrator for "leaving the door open." With modern concepts of agency, even that degree of culpability is not as available. Who opened the door by which evil approached Indiana's fratricidal teen? And to the degree that evil takes the form of illness (psychological, biological, or both), blame seems less a matter of the active opening of a door than of the passive failure to close it.

Which is to say that all of the tools that have accrued to the modern intellect remain unable to address, and may in fact exacerbate our comprehension of, the evil to which our species has proven prone. Leave it thus: He who submits to evil must be punished for his acts in the body, even while redemption remains possible, spiritually. Those who cleared the path for evil should contemplate long and seriously their culpability. And the rest of us should make it our life's work to counter evil with good.

October 25, 2010

Playing the "Shove It" Card

Justin Katz

Reporting on Democrat gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio's multiple statements that President Obama can "take his endorsement and shove it," WPRI blogger Ted Nesi has broken new RI blogger ground by receiving a Drudge link. Personally, I find the whole thing predictable and too well staged.

Anybody who's been reading Anchor Rising — and who understands that Caprio isn't one for intemperate spontaneity — should see this as a calculated move to shore up the right-of-center voters whom Caprio courted thoroughly and effectively right up to the Democrat primary. If he can "shove" Obama into the Linc Chafee camp, moderates and Republicans who like the Chafee name but don't realize what his positions entail will reconsider. That could break the odd coalition of far-left progressives and old-guard Republicans, with Caprio positioned to reap the rewards, rather than Republican John Robitaille.

He just has to hope that he can persuade his moderate and establishment Democrat voters that he's not signaling a rejection of partisan ideals, and the recent Bill Clinton visit surely provided plenty of cover in that regard.

That's why the politics of this election are dull even where they attract national attention: The candidates are playing checkers, not chess.

Does it Make Sense for Anyone Under Age 35 43 55 to Vote for David Cicilline, Part 3

Carroll Andrew Morse

There are multiple proposals for preventing the sudden Social Security benefit cut that is projected to be necessary around the time that people now in the mid 30s to early 40s are ready to retire, under the program’s current structure. This past July, the Congressional Budget Office issued a report where several of the options were analyzed.

One option the CBO analyzed was reducing initial benefits by 15% starting in 2017 (impacting individuals who are 55-63 now), preventing the next sudden change from being required until the 2070s. However, if a decision to cut benefits is not made by 2017, then the first cut will have to be larger in order to prevent second big cut from being required sooner...

If policymakers wanted to implement a benefit reduction in 2027 and still achieve the same improvement in the 75-year actuarial balance as a 15 percent reduction in 2017, the benefit cut in 2027 would need to be one-third larger: 20 percent, rather than 15 percent.
A similar cost-of-delay occurs in the payroll tax-increase scenarios analyzed by the CBO. The CBO looked at gradually increasing the payroll tax by 2 percentage points over 20 years beginning in 2012, ending at about 16% higher than it currently is, and preventing the next major benefit cut or tax increase from being needed until the 2080s. If the start of that same tax-increase schedule is delayed for 10 years, however, then the CBO estimates that the tax increase has to be 20%, instead of 16%, to put off the second tax increase or benefit cut for equally as long from now.

Whether the plan to "protect social security" is to raise taxes or cut benefits, the longer a decision is put off, the larger the tax-increases or benefit-cuts need to be. So all you need to believe that David Cicilline is the right choice for preventing large sudden changes to Social Security taxes and/or benefits is to believe that, once elected to Congress, he will act as quickly as possible to implement a long-range fiscal plan, and not wait until the program is on the verge of running out of money before acting (or moving on to another job).

As a final note, the CBO ran one scenario designed to make the Social Security program permanently solvent, indexing benefits to prices rather than earnings. The effect would be a 40%-45% lifetime benefit cut compared to the current baseline for individuals born around 2000 (i.e. those just starting to work), a 27%-33% lifetime benefit cut for those born around 1980, and a 12%-18% lifetime benefit cut for those born around 1960 -- but it will "protect social security", if all you mean by protecting social security is no structural changes to the program, not now, not ever.

Negative, Not Affirmative, Action

Justin Katz

Let's be honest: We've all realized that so-called "affirmative action" was never meant to be an objectively applied tool ensuring proportional representation; it's always been a weapon for use against white men. But it's still going to be interesting to watch the intellectual contortions as elite society's war on masculinity tips scales in the other direction. In an article about the increasing over-representation of females on college campuses:

Alerted by media reports that some admissions officers may be accepting less-qualified male students over female applicants, the Civil Rights Commission is investigating whether women are being discriminated against in college admissions.

"Everybody should feel very uncomfortable by the notion that it is more difficult for a woman to get into a college than a man," Heriot said in an interview.

Heretofore, it has never been an accepted argument against affirmative action that the dominating demographic on campus (or wherever) just happened to be more likely to be included. Rather, it was always taken to be evidence of a vague "institutional" ism in their favor. Now that there is institutional feminism in our system of education — not just adapting schools' methods to serve both male and female communities, but changing their structure to coincide more significantly with girls' learning styles than boys' — it's becoming victimization to adjust for discrepancies.

Context Makes Opinions of Facts

Justin Katz

Perhaps the most helpful aspect of the Providence Journal's PolitiFact feature is the significant degree to which it illustrates how even basic discussions of facts become deeply muddled in subjective context. As I've previously pointed out, when Democrat David Cicilline makes a statement about Republican John Loughlin's position on Social Security that is substantively a misrepresentation, context gets him a rating of "half true," while a substantively true statement on Loughlin's part — that Social Security is structured like a Ponzi scheme — becomes snagged in "false" because such schemes are scams, while Social Security is operated by our benevolent government.

Now, reporter Cynthia Needham is back to leveraging the PolitiFact brand to assist Cicilline's campaign for Congress. Under scrutiny is his statement that "John Loughlin voted to let people accused of domestic violence keep their guns." Needham explains why she went with only a "mostly true" rating, as follows:

The problem with the Cicilline advertisement's claim is that it incorrectly says the bill applies to those "accused of domestic violence." A restraining order is actually a civil document that can be obtained without accusing the subject of a specific crime. ...

Nowhere does the 2005 bill suggest one must be accused of a crime to have the statute apply.

That's not just the minor adjustment that Needham's rating suggests. That's hugely significant in the context of Cicilline's claim that Loughlin is "extreme." In the Democrat's spin, Loughlin specifically voted to allow people accused of a particular violent crime keep guns. One must note, of course, that accusation isn't supposed to be guilt, in our system of justice, but that discussion isn't necessary, because Cicilline's claim is simply not true. Loughlin voted against a broad confiscatory law because it was broad and confiscatory.

It's not a crime, to be sure, but Needham's habitual judgment of facts could be called context abuse. Wouldn't it be interesting if some of PolitiFact's other contributors were to test their Truth-O-Meter on her?

Which City of Providence Accounts are the Reserve Accounts?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Philip Marcelo's story on Providence City Auditor James Lombardi's memo expressing "grave concern regarding the financial stability" of Providence is running in today's Projo. The memo addresses several issues, one of which concerns the reserve fund that the City is supposed to maintain. According to the memo, the balance in the “reserve contingency funds cash account” has gone from $14.4 million to minus-$187 thousand, and the balance in the “capital assets account” has gone from $22.2 million to a $4.6 million. The implication of Mr. Lombardi's memo is that these two accounts make up reserves which have gone from $36.6 million dollars at the end of fiscal 2009 to “approximately $4.6 million” at present, because the city has used them to pay operating expenses.

According to both Philip Marcelo's story, as well as Stephen Beale's story on the same subject in GoLocalProvidence, the Cicilline administration denies that the reserve fund is below the level it is supposed to be at. Here is the Projo version...

The city is also required to maintain a reserve equal to about 5 percent of the city budget, or about $30 million, he said. (Karen Watts, the mayor’s spokeswoman, said the city’s reserves are currently at about $30 million.)
Auditor Lombardi has provided detailed information in his memo, in the form of a set of general ledger reports, supporting his statements that the reserves are nearly tapped out. One report shows an end-balance of negative $187,736 in account, on October 6 of this year, in account 10101-0000 from accounting unit 657-900 (the “reserve contingency funds cash account”). The other report shows an end-balance of $4,661,904.14, on October 14 of this year, in account 10101-0000 from accounting unit 856-900 (the “capital assets account”).

If the Cicilline administration disputes that the sum of these two figures fully accounts for the city's required reserves, they should be able to make a straightforward refutation, by providing either 1) the account numbers and balances of other accounts that should be counted as part of the "reserves" and/or 2) details of other transactions (including source and amounts) that have replenished the balances in these two accounts since the reports were generated.

Being Balanced Means Being Relevant

Justin Katz

The central topic of Ed Fitzpatrick's Sunday column is the perceived potential snub of Democrat gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio by President Obama. As I said on WRNI's Political Roundtable, to the extent that Obama is seen as favoring Lincoln Chafee, he may help Republican John Robitaille by highlighting Linc's liberalism, and if Obama endorses Caprio, he may help Robitaille by repelling some of those right-of-center Rhode Islanders who still see Caprio as a Republican in Democrat clothing.

But there's a more fundamental point about Rhode Island politics to be made based on Fitzpatrick's essay:

On Monday, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele will be in Rhode Island in the morning.

U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., will be here at lunchtime.

And President Obama will arrive in the afternoon.

"That's the trifecta," said former Brown University political science Prof. Darrell M. West, who now works at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. "The only person missing is Sarah Palin." ...

West said he can't recall the last time so many national political figures were in Rhode Island on a single day. "It's hard to attract national leaders to Rhode Island," he said. "To get three major people in one day is extraordinary." ...

In any case, one thing is for certain: Rhode Island is about to become the focus of national political attention. "This is a once-in-a-decade happening," West said. "This is prime time in Rhode Island."

The only reason Rhode Island is typically treated as politically irrelevant is that our votes are so predictable. If our public offices were more broadly contested, then the political machine would turn the spotlight on us more often. More importantly, though, office holders would govern better were they under constant threat of being replaced — as politicians are supposed to be, under our system.

The same goes for identity groups and other reliable constituencies. Inner city blacks, for instance, would benefit more from their votes were they not so reliably for Democrats, across the country. Policy-based voting blocs — such as pro-lifers — should also be included, although they've arguably got the advantage that theirs is a specific issue and ideology that can be measured against voting records.

October 24, 2010

Open Thread: Ballot Question 4

Carroll Andrew Morse

The floor (aka the comments section) is open, for people who’d like to discuss why they will or will not be voting for or against the fourth question that will appear on the Nov. 2 Rhode Island ballot...


Approval of this question will authorize the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed ten million dollars ($10,000,000) for the purpose of acquiring title to all or a portion of land in and around the former Rocky Point Park for the purpose of establishing the same as a public park, and three million two hundred thousand dollars ($3,200,000) for the purpose of transferring title to 25 India Street, Providence, Rhode Island 02903 from the department of transportation to the department of environmental management, with the funds to be used to reimburse the US federal highway administration for the market value of the property preserving the same as open space and for recreation, and to further issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed one million five hundred thousand dollars ($1,500,000) for the purpose of improvements and renovations to Fort Adams State Park in the city of Newport dedicated to the preservation and public accessibility of the Fort.

Voting yes authorizes the state government to borrow the money for the projects described above. Without voter approval, the borrowing cannot occur.

Open Thread: Ballot Question 3

Carroll Andrew Morse

The floor (aka the comments section) is open, for people who’d like to discuss why they will or will not be voting for or against the third question that will appear on the Nov. 2 Rhode Island ballot...


Approval of this question will authorize the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed eighty million dollars ($80,000,000) to match federal funds and provide direct funding for improvements to the state's highways, roads and bridges and four million seven hundred thousand dollars ($4,700,000) to purchase and/or rehabilitate buses for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority's bus fleet.

Voting yes authorizes the state government to borrow the money for the projects described above. Without voter approval, the borrowing cannot occur.

Open Thread: Ballot Question 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

The floor (aka the comments section) is open, for people who’d like to discuss why they will or will not be voting for or against the second question that will appear on the Nov. 2 Rhode Island ballot...


Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed sixty-one million dollars ($61,000,000) for the construction of a new chemistry building at the University of Rhode Island, and seventeen million dollars ($17,000,000) for the renovation and construction of an addition to the Art Center at Rhode Island College.

Voting yes authorizes the state government to borrow the money for the projects described above. Without voter approval, the borrowing cannot occur.

Open Thread: Ballot Question 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

The floor (aka the comments section) is open, for people who’d like to discuss why they will or will not be voting for or against the first question that will appear on the Nov. 2 Rhode Island ballot...


Approval of the amendment to the Title, Preamble and Section 3 of Article III of the Rhode Island Constitution set forth below will have the effect of changing the official name of the State from "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" to "State of Rhode Island"

Voting yes will change the name of the state. Voting no will keep it as is.

The Universal Nothing That Is Something

Justin Katz

So, you might have come across the minor splash that physicist Stephen Hawking recently made by publishing a book that declares the concept of God unnecessary. Physicist Mike Flynn notes some need for specificity of terms, in such conversations:

... to say that a space-time manifold came from "nothing" is a stretch. The "no-universe state" is not nothing. It is a particular quantum state in "an intricate rule-governed system" and has "specific properties and potentialities defined by a system of mathematical laws." IOW, there is a whole pre-existing system of quantum physics from which it comes. And this is why Hawking can talk about physical laws before there is anything physical to obey them. See item 2, above. IOW, he has not conceived of Nothing. There is always Something pre-existing.

Barr draws an analogy to the banking system budding off savings accounts. There is a difference between an account with no balance and no account at all. And even when there is no account, there is an "intricate rule-governed system" of banking laws that allows an account to come into existence. That isn't nothing.

Applying this clarification to the argument on the table, Flynn finds Hawking to be rephrasing the explanation for the origins of the universe offered at the beginning of the Gospel according to St. John. It's a very interesting dynamic of atheistic science that the farther it advances in search of non-religious causes, the closer it brings our understanding to God — if one just steps back from the equation and incorporates the fact of being.

October 23, 2010

Google on Taxes: Do as I Contribute, Not as I Do

Monique Chartier

[O/T preamble: though I made a petty point of changing my computer's home page to Bing following upon Google's dalliance with the Chinese government - no evil there - I have to admit that, maddeningly, Google still has the best search engine.]

A July analysis in US News and World Report indicates that, of all computer and internet companies, Google funneled the highest percent (75%) of its 2010 campaign contributions to democrat candidates.

Yet Bloomberg this week reported that at 2.4%, Google has achieved the lowest overseas tax rate in the tech sector. This is especially eye-opening juxtaposed with the US corporate income tax rate of 35%.

The problem is not that $3.1 billion over the last three years was "diverted" to private investors (i.e., retained by Google) from the US and other governments due to Google's savvy application of tax codes. On the contrary; I'll be the last to argue that the unhealthy revenue addiction of any government should be treated with ever more taxes. It's that Google is so obviously two-faced: on the one hand, energetically maneuvering to reduce its own tax bill while, on the other, deploying resources so as to inflict tax-happy elected officials on everyone else.

Pick a corporate philosophy on taxes and stick to it: either (shudder) pay a 35% corporate income tax and contribute to dems or exploit tax loopholes and find something else to do with those contributions. The mix-n-match, hooray-for-me-too-bad-for-you approach isn't cutting it.

Numbers on District 1 from the NRCC

Carroll Andrew Morse

Former Projo reporter, now Congressional Quarterly reporter Steve Peoples has the numbers from the National Republican Congressional Committee internal poll showing the First District race tightening...

Many believed that Cicilline would have a relatively easy victory in the heavily Democratic Ocean State. But the Public Opinion Strategies poll found that the mayor has high negatives and earns just 41 percent support among 300 likely voters surveyed Oct. 20-21. Loughlin also earned 41 percent in the poll that had a 5.6-point margin of error.

Among those most likely to vote, Loughlin was ahead 45 percent to 41 percent, according to pollster Gene Ulm, who said the margin of error for this groups exceeds 6 points.

UPDATED: A Multipurpose Attorney General

Justin Katz

I must need a civics refresher, because I've always thought that the attorney general was the top law-enforcement officer in the state — a job which sounds like it ought to keep a fella (or gal) plenty busy. But according to the Moderate Party candidate for the office, Christopher Little, the AG is another executive-branch officer tasked with solving all of Rhode Island's problems:

Take health insurance, for example. Its cost is out of reach already for many of our citizens and businesses, and increases continue unchecked. Yet our physicians and community health-care systems are under siege because of lack of money.

The attorney general should be the advocate for cutting costs in the system, which, in the short term are obvious — e.g., excess administrative costs — but the long-term cost control requires that we have talented physicians and healthy hospitals.

As for public utilities, why can't we strengthen our advocacy, as Massachusetts has, and insist that utilities be as frugal with their costs as Rhode Islanders must be in their homes and businesses? And, with respect to renewable energy, the attorney general should be at the forefront of assessing appropriate cost structures, so that we do not have a repeat of the Deepwater Wind process.

So we've got Democrat Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts blowing wads of cash on advertising to express incredulity that Cool Moose candidate for her office Robert Healey has no jobs program — even though the LG has no power to change anything, and we've got an AG candidate promising to help restructure the healthcare industry. I guess once a society crosses the line to accepting government's role in every aspect of life, the struggle moves within government, to various office holders all vying for more authority.

And then, of course, they'll all claim credit for any positive results, and voters will never have a clear picture of whom to hold accountable when "solutions" go bad.


In the comments, brassband notes the following:

Not to defend Little, but the AG has statutory duty to participate in PUC matters R.I. Gen. L. sec. 39-1-19, and is also required by law to house the office of Health Care Advocate.

Anyone running for that office needs to be prepared to handle a very broad range of matters, well beyond criminal prosecutions.

Let me acknowledge, first of all, that I apparently did need a minor civics refresher, although I'm not sure whether the General Assembly is or I am the one straying from political first principles, given this astonishingly broad mandate for the AG's health care advocate:

To take all necessary and appropriate action, including but not limited to public education, legislative advocacy, and where authorized by law to institute formal legal action, to secure and insure compliance with the provisions of titles 23 and 27 and to advocate for any changes necessary to support the goal of quality and affordable health care for all citizens of Rhode Island.

Little wonder Rhode Island has such a limited number of healthcare providers, with legislators fond of requiring things to be funded and executive officers explicitly tasked with beating down costs.

But returning to my specific targeting of candidate Little, I'd note my emphasis, in this post, on systemic political structure. I'd also point to brassband's careful phrasing that the AG is "required by law to house the office" described by the statute. He is not required to make micromanagement of finances his focus.

October 22, 2010

Today's WRNI

Justin Katz

Here's the audio from this morning's WRNI Political Roundtable. I have to say that I do regret one phrasing. In stating that conservative reformers should take advantage of the lieutenant governor's office to undertake some of the lacking tasks that we working people have difficulty funding (cataloging harmful regulations and mandates, for example), I called the office "free government money." Of course, there's no such thing, and I wish I'd stated the thought otherwise.

Robitaille Rising?

Marc Comtois

Scott McKay's was the first report I saw about the Republican Governor's pumping a few hundred thousand dollars into the RI Governor's race on behalf of John Robitaille.

Washington political sources who are in the advertising buying side of political consulting say the RGA is preparing a major last-minute push on behalf of Robitaille. Which must mean they are seeing internal poll numbers that show their candidate with a fighting chance to pull off an upset over independent Lincoln Chafee and Democrat Frank Caprio, the two candidates who have been leading in the public opinion surveys that have been reported in Rhode Island’s media.

In the multi-candidate scrum that is the 2010 RI gubernatorial campaign, a candidate with as little as 35 percent could end up the victor.

McKay's instincts seem right as I heard Dan Yorke read some sort of press release citing a just-completed RGA National Republican Congressional Committee poll (which I can't find anywhere online--but the ProJo refers to it) showing Robitaille tied with Caprio at 28% and Chafee at 27%. Then there is the news that now Caprio is releasing ads attacking Robitaille and it makes one wonder if there is an increasing wind behind Robitaille's sails.

No Country for Candid Commentators

Justin Katz

It was yesterday's big news online, so it'll surely be in the paper today: Long-time NPR political analyst Juan Williams has been fired for comments that he made while a guest on Bill O'Reilly's show:

The move came after Mr. Williams, who is also a Fox News political analyst, appeared on the "The O'Reilly Factor" on Monday. On the show, the host, Bill O'Reilly, asked him to respond to the notion that the United States was facing a "Muslim dilemma." Mr. O'Reilly said, "The cold truth is that in the world today jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet."

Mr. Williams said he concurred with Mr. O'Reilly.

He continued: "I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

I guess we can't have political analysts expressing candidly their feelings — then we might actually know what they think beyond the politically correct. Sarcasm aside, Williams went on to suggest that the United States needs leaders who'll take the spotlight, as President Bush did, and direct Americans' attentions to the Muslim radicals, not to Islam in general. His point, in other words, was that these impulses are natural and should be addressed so that people don't act on the emotions inspired by such facts as the Times Square dud bomber's declaration that "America's war is just beginning, first drop of blood" (in Williams's words).

At any rate, given other instances in which NPR employees have made offensive comments — about groups and people other than Muslims, of course — and gone without repercussions, the organization should be made to answer for its heavy hand and double standard.


Speaking of NPR, by the way, I'm on WRNI's Political Roundtable, this morning, which airs on 102.7 FM at around 6:45 a.m. and 7:45 a.m.

October 21, 2010

Global X-Ray Vision... Without a Warrant

Justin Katz

Have you caught wind of this story?

Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old computer salesman and community college student, took his car in for an oil change earlier this month and his mechanic spotted an odd wire hanging from the undercarriage.

The wire was attached to a strange magnetic device that puzzled Afifi and the mechanic. They freed it from the car and posted images of it online, asking for help in identifying it.

Two days later, FBI agents arrived at Afifi's Santa Clara apartment and demanded the return of their property — a global positioning system tracking device now at the center of a raging legal debate over privacy rights.

Even staunch libertarians on the reasonable side of the line to anarchy would probably agree that police agencies ought to have recourse to such technology, given justification. However, at least in some states, equation of GPS trackers with police stakeouts makes warrants unnecessary, and that's a clear violation of privacy rights.

When police tail suspects, there are natural property limits to what they can do. A GPS tracker goes wherever the car goes. That the officer observing the signal may be on public or government property does not mean that he or she should have unchecked access to a sort of global x-ray vision.

Does it Make Sense for Anyone Under Age 35 43 to Vote for David Cicilline, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

As currently structured, Social Security benefits are projected to be cut by 25% in the year when people currently aged 35 will first become eligible to retire (age 62). And those who are 43-and-under right now and who don't retire until age 70 will find themselves in the same position -- every check received under the current program structure will be subject to the 25% cut, relative to benefit levels promised by the present benefits formula. Those figures come straight from the Social Security Trustees...

After 2014 deficits are expected to grow rapidly as the baby boom generation’s retirement causes the number of beneficiaries to grow substantially more rapidly than the number of covered workers. The annual deficits will be made up by redeeming trust fund assets* in amounts less than interest earnings through 2024, and then by redeeming trust fund assets until reserves are exhausted in 2037, at which point tax income would be sufficient to pay about 75 percent of scheduled benefits through 2084.
This means that, despite having dutifully paid for benefits of older retirees for 30-40-maybe 45 years, those who are young now will receive substantially less than the preceding generations, in return for their payments into the program.

This kind of imbalance is what progressives like to refer to as fair and equitable. Which is one reason that many have come to the conclusion that progressives are fiscally insane.

However, it is entirely fair to point out that the benefit cuts discussed above may impact all retirees collecting Social Security, in the year where current 35 year-olds can first begin to collect, ergo I still haven't really told you why it's a particularly bad idea for those 35 and under, and maybe those 43 and under, to vote to send a fiscally insane liberal like David Cicilline to Congress...

*Note: "Redeeming trust fund assets" is a euphemism for raising taxes, cutting programs or borrowing money to pay off government IOUs to itself.

Happiness by the Numbers

Justin Katz

It is most definitely consistent with a religious conservative's worldview to argue that experience of happiness is a cocktail of biological, financial, cultural, social, and psychological factors, but I question whether the sort of scientific differentiation that University of Mary Washington Psychology Professor Holly Schiffrin attempts in a recent syndicated column is really all that useful, or even plausible:

So, if about 50 percent of happiness is explained by our genes and 10 percent by our life circumstances, what accounts for the rest? The activities that promote happiness are those we have resorted to during the recession because we haven't had as much disposable income as usual, such as staying at home for game or movie nights with family and friends.

The No. 1 predictor of happiness across cultures is good relationships.

Schiffrin goes on to mention the possibility of using the little boosts of an expenditure high (in the life circumstances category) in such a way as to assist relationships. In that little concession, though, she pokes a hole in the veneer of categories. Circumstances can make quality time more difficult; moreover, I, for one, certainly have ample experience with the ability of economic hardship to prevent engagement in fulfilling activities, thereby increasing frustration and decreasing happiness. If life circumstances negate good relationships, which category is to blame?

We can go a step farther, though, and question whether even genes can be considered a one-way contributor. My general reading leads me to believe that genetic makeup can change, based not only on environmental and other experiences, but also on the attitudes and beliefs that we internalize. To the extent that that's the case, genetic factors are more like biological indicators of where we are as organisms, and that is inextricable from where we are as spiritual beings.

Portsmouth Institute's 2011 Conference: The Catholic Shakespeare?

Community Crier

Portsmouth Abbey School, America's premier Catholic boarding school, has announced its third annual Portsmouth Institute, a conference program focused on issues pertaining to Catholic life in the 21st century.

The 2011 Portsmouth Institute conference will be held June 10-12, on The Catholic Shakespeare?

"In the last twenty years," commented Institute director James MacGuire, "There has been an explosion of scholarship on Shakespeare's religion, especially in England, and we thought it timely to bring together leading scholars from our own country and the UK to discuss and illuminate this rich and fascinating subject."

So far the Institute roster includes a number of distinguished speakers, including the Right Reverend Dom Aidan Bellenger, OSB, Abbot of Downside, Dr. Gerard Kilroy, Head of English at King Edward's School, Bath, Clare Viscountess Asquith, Reverend Peter Milward, S.J. of Sophia University in Tokyo, distinguished archivist The Honorable Georgina Stonor, Reverend David Beauregard OMV, dean of studies at Our Lady of Grace seminary, Dr. John Cox of Hope College, Mr. Joseph Pearce of Ave Maria University, and Dr. Glen Arbery of Assumption College. The list of speakers is still in formation, and updates will be provided on a regular basis.

In addition to scholarly presentations, the Institute will feature dramatic productions based on Shakespeare's plays by Kevin O'Brien's, Theatre of the Word, and other companies. One of these productions will be performed in the newly restored Newport Casino Theatre on Bellevue Avenue, originally designed by Stanford White in 1888, which will afford attendees the opportunity to tour some of the treasures of that historic city. There will also be concerts featuring music associated with Shakespeare and his time, including William Byrd's Mass for Five Voices.

The Portsmouth Institute will feature leadership and participation by Portsmouth Abbey's resident Benedictine monks and faculty of the Portsmouth Abbey School, including retired English Department Chairman, Dom Damian Kearney O.S.B., current English Department Chairman, Dr. Michael Bonin, and Portsmouth Institute Music Director, Troy Quinn. Institute programs are designed to offer attendees frequent opportunities for informal discussion as well as access to recreational opportunities on the School's campus and at Carnegie Abbey. In keeping with its mission, the Institute's yearly sessions will also provide opportunities for attendance at Mass, the Divine Office, and "mini-Retreat" sessions centered around the Abbey's landmark Church of St. Gregory the Great.

The Portsmouth Institute is a conference, study, recreation and retreat center for all those interested in Catholic life, leadership, and service in the 21st Century. "As with last year's conference on Newman and the Intellectual Tradition," MacGuire commented, "in addition to the formal sessions, there will be ample time for prayer, sport, music, humor, and friendship. We welcome any and all who might be interested in this year's Newman conference to join us on our wonderful campus and promise that you will leave Portsmouth Abbey refreshed, stimulated, and inspired."

"We look forward to welcoming old and new friends alike to Portsmouth Abbey and School," said Dr. James DeVecchi, headmaster, "So that they can be better acquainted with the academic and spiritual excellence that has been nurtured here for the past eighty years on the beautiful shores of Narragansett Bay."

About Portsmouth Abbey School:

Portsmouth Abbey School is a coeducational boarding and day school for students in grades 9-12. Founded in 1926 by a community of English Benedictine monks, the school is located on a 500-acre campus along the picturesque shores of Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay.

The Portsmouth Abbey education is grounded in the Western intellectual tradition, from ancient Greece and Rome and continuing into this century. This classical curriculum is balanced by a focus on spirituality, science, athletics, the arts and fun.

The School's mission encompasses the importance of reverence for God and the human person, respect for learning and order, and responsibility for the shared experience of community life.

For More Information:

The complete conference program as well as registration information for The Catholic Shakespeare? are available at www.portsmouthinstitute.org, by calling Cindy Waterman at (401) 643-1244, emailing her at cwaterman@portsmouthabbey.org, or writing her at Portsmouth Abbey School, 285 Cory's Lane, Portsmouth RI 02871.

Additional queries may be addressed to James MacGuire at jmacguire@portsmouthabbey.org.

Misperception of Need or That Old Budget Game?

Justin Katz

So Education Commissioner Deborah Gist is placing the protection of the funding formula above all else in education, and I can't help but wonder why she believes it to be so critical. I suppose it's a compounding component of the state's budget for education, and allowing it to come up shy at the beginning bodes ill for its chances of persisting to fruition. Still, there's either a complete lack of insight to what works or hackneyed budget bullying techniques on display in this:

Other savings would be achieved through shifting some department positions to federal funds, eliminating non-public school textbook aid by $240,000, and $250,000 from the Physics First Program and $98,000 for science kits.

Eliminating textbook aid to private schools would be little more than an additional tax on parents, many of whom are struggling to pay a tuition on top of that which they already pay through property and other taxes because they are not satisfied with the school system under Gist's charge. Potential also exists for such a move to backfire, to the extent that increases in private school tuition could drive up the number of students in public school, straining budgets.

The subsequent part of the above block quote is the more astonishing. Physics First has been credited with bringing the Portsmouth school district to the top of the list when it comes to science proficiency on the state NECAP tests. (Albeit with the barely tolerable proficiency rate of 52%.) Would the education commissioner really be looking at scaling back a rare program that appears actually to be working in order to maintain the purity of an unproven method of shuffling money around?

I suspect this is just more of the typical government routine of threatening absurd cuts in order to preserve funding for programs that voters might not support financially in isolation. Politics as usual with our children, once again.

October 20, 2010

Not Quite Liveblogging the Congressional District 1 Debate

Justin Katz

While doing some mindless paper-cutting tasks, I'm watching WPRI's online video of last night's Congressional district 1 debate between Republican John Loughlin and Democrat David Cicilline, and the first thing to catch my ear came right at the beginning, during discussion of Social Security.

Cicilline ran through his accusation that Loughlin wants to privatize the system and thinks it's a Ponzi scheme (no doubt, mentally thanking Providence Journal reporter Cynthia Needham for her free rhetorical research). Then, while explaining why allowing younger workers to invest a portion of their payroll taxes in private retirement funds, he said:

We rely on current workers to pay into the system to pay people collecting Social Security.

Sounds like a Ponzi scheme to me.


Talking about the Bush tax cuts, blaming Republicans for not allowing Democrats to put forward a proposal to keep the tax cuts for the middle class, Cicilline repeated again and again that it's "not the time to give another tax break to the millionaires and billionaires." Two things:

  • The solution that he suggests — expanding the group that would maintain the tax cuts so as to exclude only "millionaires and billionaires" — has never been on Congress's table. Heck, I don't think any proposal was ever risked on the floor.
  • It's flatly dishonest to call an extension "another tax break" —albeit entirely in keeping with the Democrats' mindset. Directly put, what Cicilline believes is that it represents an additional tax break not to increase taxes.

An Emblem of Bad Government: Vacation Dave, the Contract Isn't a Defense, It's the Problem

Monique Chartier

The mayor of Providence has once again been busted for a quizzical expenditure of scarce city tax dollars. This time, it has emerged (kudos to GoLocalProv) that he has handed out an extra half million dollars in bonus vacations.

As recently as this morning's debate on WPRO, the mayor of Providence attempted to deflect criticism by saying that he did nothing that wasn't called for in a contract.

The contract defense. Where else have we heard that? Oh, yes. It's the maddening explanation offered by school committees, reluctant to muck around with the compensation of a special interest lest they damage their own political careers, as they slash all sports and extra curricular activities. "We've cut everything. All that's left is the contracts and, of course, those can't be touched."

Along with the profligate mayor of Providence, misguided school committees cite The Contract as though the terms negotiated were eminently reasonable and the contract itself is completely immutable.

Of course, the contract is not immutable if both sides wish to renegotiate. (Many RI public employee unions are to be saluted for doing exactly that over the last two years.) As for reasonable, unfortunately, the level of our property taxes and overall state/local tax burden are stark testimony that too many of the contracts negotiated by our elected officials have not been at all reasonable.

The Contract, in short, has gotten this state into some serious fiscal hot water. City-funded driver and car; his brother's bounced check; excess vacation time for certain favorites in his administration: the mayor of Providence is now in fiscal hot water of a different nature. Far from mitigating this situation, the mayor's citation of The Contract only aggravates it as it is the traditional refuge in this state of an elected official caught in the act of placing personal ahead of public interest.

Warwick School Committee Chair Calls for End of School Committee

Marc Comtois

Testifying before the Warwick Charter Review Commission, current Warwick School Committee Chairman Christopher Friel has come to the conclusion that the Warwick School Committee has outlived its usefulness and should be integrated into city government.

Traditionally, school committees were responsible for establishing curriculum and adopting educational standards and policies within their respective communities. The school committee’s traditional roles have all but been eviscerated by both the federal and state government who have, through federal legislation such as No Child Left Behind and through the implementation of various state mandates, assumed the responsibilities once under the control of local education bodies. The local school committees have largely been relinquished to handling fiscal as well as personnel matters....

Having served upon the Warwick School Committee for the past six years, I do possess a unique insight into the operations of local government, and more particularly, those of the school department. While I respect the roles that school committees have played in this country for over 200 years, the continuing centralization of education at the state level has, to a large degree, rendered them irrelevant, and has simply resulted in duplication of functions at the local level. Therefore, if the Charter Review Commission for Schools is to make a recommendation to the City Council to change the role and authority of the Warwick School Committee, I would respectfully suggest that anything short of this proposal would simply be shifting, not solving, any problems.

Friel believes that integrating the management of the schools under the Mayor and moving its budget under the direct oversight of the City Council would streamline operations and remove a lot of the bickering and finger pointing that goes on between the Committee, Council and Mayor.

Retiring School Committee member Lucille Mota-Costa disagrees with the idea and believes the current bad economic times could be clouding long-term judgment:

I believe our school age children and their families need direct representation to keep the issues clear for them (good or bad) as well as all taxpayers of Warwick.

The present system affords them that distinction. The students in our city number 10,505 [and] their direct voice is limited to 5 publicly elected officials (nine would make more sense). These officials are also directly responsible to the parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles and general supporters of education which total number could easily represent 40,000 of the 52,000 (Beacon 2006) active registered voters/taxpayers in the city of Warwick, an obvious majority. And also given that the school department expenses represent 58 percent of our total municipal budget, the present system makes good sense to me.

Mota-Costa further would accept the idea of the School Committee sending residents a separate school tax bill, but a major change in the Warwick charter would have to be made:
Warwick and North Providence are the only two remaining districts with legislative charters in the state of Rhode Island. All the rest have home rule, which affords the local resident the opportunity to approve or disapprove annual municipal budgets. Therefore I have deep concerns about a charter commission that wants a school committee to respond to gaining taxing authority that neglects to discuss the primary issue first, which is home rule and greater voter representation during the budget process.
Personally, I can't imagine not having a School Committee and think its very important that voters elect people who will be advocates for the education of city's children--even expanding the committee as Mota-Costa suggests. But I'm also intrigued by the idea of consolidating collective bargaining and budgeting under one entity, if for nothing else than that it helps to clarify which entity would be responsible for property tax increases!

Does it Make Sense for Anyone Under Age 35 to Vote for David Cicilline, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

As the Social Security program is currently constructed, a permanent 25% cut in benefits paid is projected to occur in 2037. Those figures are projected by the Social Security Trustees themselves.

I know people of my generation tend to view a date of 2037 as the far-future, when we will all be flying our jet-packs to work, but it is no longer that far away. One way to think of 2037 is as the year that citizens currently 35 years old become eligible to start collecting Social Security (at age 62). If no changes to the Social Security program are made, then before they ever receive their first check, the government will likely be announcing that benefits are permanently (as in not for just one year) being scaled back by 25% of the baseline paid out in previous years.

Those who may be prone to the Rhode Island mentality of "I got mine, and I'm vestaaaaahd, so all the problems are yours" should know that they are not immune to the impact of this cut. There is no such thing as "vested" in Social Security. All SS beneficiaries will be eligible to be impacted by the 25% reduction in outlays, whether they are in their first year of retirement, or they've been collecting benefits for 20 years prior.

But if everyone collecting Social Security may be impacted by a 25% benefit cut in 2037, then, you may ask, why should people aged 35 and under be singled out in the title...

Still Making Stuff

Justin Katz

Kevin Williamson thinks that President Obama's proposed infrastructure bank is essentially the White House's play to get in on the corrupt Congressional practice of earmarking (subscription required). The article's worth a read, but this tangential paragraph is what caught my eye:

Even though the extraordinarily productive service sectors of the U.S. economy create a lot of output that can be delivered by e-mail rather than by truck or train, manufacturing remains the second-largest single sector, trailing only wholesale trade. In fact, the idea that the United States has entered a "post-industrial" phase is largely a myth. Measured by output, the U.S. economy is much more industrial-looking than Washington's scary bedtime stories about McJobs and outsourcing would suggest: After wholesaling and manufacturing, the biggest sectors are indeed those service-oriented industries — retailing, finance, and health care — but these are followed by a massive construction industry that is nearly as large as the health-care sector. In terms of economic output, the warehousing and transportation of goods bigger than the software industry or the accommodations and food-services industry — to take the two poles of the services economy — and several times the size of the education sector. U.S. factories, as Cato Institute scholar Daniel Ikenson has reported, produce 21.4 percent of the world's manufacturing value added, 60 percent more than China's (without a billion semi-indentured workers earning Third World wages or a for-profit police state — take that, Tom Friedman!). We're making a lot of stuff and moving it around.

Take that as a reminder that the United States still has a foundation on which to build... and much still to lose.

A Swiss Cheese of Ethics

Justin Katz

Frankly, it's more than a little convenient that so much attention has recently fallen on various eyebrow-raising actions of Judge Frank Caprio, Sr., in his capacity as chairman of the Board of Governors for Higher Education just as his namesake son is running for the office of governor. Still, this is pretty egregious:

Last week, the [ethics] commission's former executive director, Sara M. Quinn, had filed a complaint with the board, asserting that in his role as chairman of the Board of Governors for Higher Education, the municipal court judge helped to arrange a $41,000 job for Donna Mesolella, wife of former Rep. Vincent Mesolella, just a month before the couple held a fundraiser at their Lincoln home. The event raised $30,000 for the campaign of his son, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Frank T. Caprio.

Caprio handed the former rep's wife's resume to an employee who answers to the commission for his job. Yet, the Ethics Commission's current executive director, Kent Willever, notes that Caprio Sr. did not stand to gain, financially, and was not related to the Moselellas, so no violation occurred.

In Rhode Island, we turn a blind eye to legislators who explicitly sell their votes and, now, to a corrupt system of insiders who cycle the state's offices and resources around to each other — as long as they're all one step removed from handing each other taxpayer cash.

October 19, 2010

Cause and What-Can-Effect

Justin Katz

This unsigned editorial in the Providence Journal makes a reasonable case:

Much of the debate about unemployment assiduously avoids the basic causes of long-term joblessness and falling wages.

One is globalization. Large U.S. companies, aided by modern telecommunications and fast transportation, find it increasingly easy to move jobs abroad, where the wages tend to be much lower than they are (or were!) in the U.S. This produces a race to the bottom that drags down U.S. wages and employment.

The writer goes on to note some of the contributing factors, as well as a couple positives to the trend: higher investment yields and improved living conditions for the benefiting countries. But what he or she fails to address is the differing degrees to which government can affect the issues that come into play.

People in poorer countries will work for less. That's a fact. Technology has lowered barriers to overseas production. Another fact. China is playing protectionist games. All of these can be addressed in different ways, but all methods are likely to be slow and risky.

What our domestic government can do is to ease the burdens that it places upon our own economy. That's politically difficult, of course, not only because it requires government to give up some of its reach and authority, but also because it will force powerful constituencies — on both sides of every issue — to make adjustments to evolving reality. But there is no other option that doesn't turn our "race to the bottom" into a race to authoritarianism.

Erik Wallin, on Thursday's District Court Ruling that the Federal Healthcare Mandate on Individuals is Without Precedent

Carroll Andrew Morse

The question below was asked to the campaign of Republican Party Attorney General candidate Erik Wallin, following Thursday's District Court ruling allowing the challenge to the Federal healthcare law challenge filed by a group of state Attorney Generals to go forward...

In responses to questions from Edward Fitzpatrick of the Projo in April and from Anchor Rising in August, Mr. Wallin has been a consistent supporter of a legal challenge to the new Federal healthcare law on Constitutional grounds. This past Thursday, Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District Court of Florida ruled that "at this stage in the litigation, this is not even a close call...The power that the individual mandate seeks to harness is simply without prior precedent" in his decision allowing a challenge to the law by 20 state Attorney Generals to proceed. Does Mr. Wallin have a reaction to this most recent ruling and how it may impact the actions he would consider taking on behalf of the citizens of Rhode Island, with respect to the new Federal healthcare law, if elected as their Attorney General?
Erik Wallin responded by saying...
The recent decision by Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District Court of Florida to allow the challenge against the Federal Health Care Law to go forward is good news to those, like me, who believe that “Congress has no constitutional authority to force the individual mandate and its penalty on Americans who cannot afford or do not wish to have health insurance.” I have chosen to challenge the Obama Health Care Law for two reasons. First it is unconstitutional. Second, like everything else the Federal Government does, I firmly believe Rhode Island, as a state, and our small business and individual citizens will be left covering the massive costs of what will likely become another federal unfunded mandate.

Mr. Wallin was also the only candidate who specifically addressed a second question that was asked of all the candidates...
In general, could Mr. Wallin elaborate on what he believes the RI Attorney General's role to be, with respect to protecting the citizens of Rhode Island from having their rights infringed upon by the Federal Government?
Erik Wallin's response to this question was...
I believe it is paramount for the Rhode Island Attorney General to protect the rights of our state and our citizens from overreaching by the Federal Government. Further, when the Federal Government fails to carry out its responsibilities, for example its failure to protect our borders from illegal immigration, then we as a state must be allowed to protect our own citizens. That is exactly what I will do, protect our individual rights and freedoms and those of our State, period.

Robert Rainville, on Thursday's District Court Ruling that the Federal Healthcare Mandate on Individuals is Without Precedent

Carroll Andrew Morse

The question below was asked to the campaign of Independent Attorney General candidate Robert Rainville, following Thursday's District Court ruling allowing the challenge to the Federal healthcare law challenge filed by a group of state Attorney Generals to go forward...

In April, Mr. Rainville responded to an inquiry from Providence Journal columnist Edward Fitzpatrick regarding the new Federal healthcare law by saying "there are possible constitutional challenges. You can make arguments on both sides, so it’s premature to say". In August, Mr. Rainville responded to a follow-up inquiry from Anchor Rising by saying "I believe there is momentum and the legal basis for success in the legal challenges to this Federal Health Care legislation." This past Thursday, Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District Court of Florida ruled in a suit involving the new law by ruling that "at this stage in the litigation, this is not even a close call...The power that the individual mandate seeks to harness is simply without prior precedent" in regard to allowing a challenge to the law by 20 state Attorney Generals to proceed. Does this most recent ruling impact Mr. Rainville's position on the actions he might consider taking on behalf of the citizens of Rhode Island, with respect to the new Federal healthcare law, if elected as their Attorney General?
Robert Rainville responded by providing two (on-point) documents, a letter to current Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch, dated the day after the ruling...
Dear Mr. Lynch,

I am writing to formally ask your serious consideration of joining 20 other state Attorneys General in their case to declare the Federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to be un-Constitutional.

I have reviewed this legislation, as I am sure you have as well, and I hope we agree the new taxes it imposes and requirements that mandate citizens to obtain healthcare coverage violates provisions of the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution and is unprecedented.

I am sure we can also agree this legislation imposes additional financial burdens on the State of Rhode Island, our small businesses and private citizens which they can ill afford at this time.

Today’s news accounts that the Florida District Court is allowing certain provisions of this legislation to go to trial is good news for all of us who are concerned about these new over-reaching efforts of the federal government that place mandates on individual rights and liberties. Unfortunately, those news accounts revealed that Rhode Island was not among those states participating in the litigation.

While we can all agree we need some level of health care reform in the United States, this Federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is seriously flawed and is NOT the answer.

Again, I implore your serious consideration to join with other like-minded state Attorneys General in the litigation being heard in the Florida District Court.

...and a campaign press release dated October 3...
“I am specifically bothered that the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’) could be unconstitutional. Nowhere does the Constitution grant the power to force individuals to buy a product,” says Independent Attorney General candidate, Robert Rainville.

“We were told the cost of our health insurance was going to go down, not up,” Rainville noted in a prepared statement. Rainville said he recognizes the costs for health care and health care insurance is rising but said, “The most immediate impact of this new mandate is already resulting in higher insurance premiums for businesses and private individuals.”

“As I have reviewed the primary elements of this legislation, I’m outraged the federal government is mandating its citizens to purchase something they may or may not want. This completely violates our sense of freedom in this country,” Rainville stated.

“As Attorney General representing the citizens and taxpayers of Rhode Island, my first obligation and responsibility is to protect them from burdensome and unrealistic rules, regulations and mandates even from the Federal government,” he noted.

“Our goal needs to provide for practical affordable health care insurance solutions to those who want it. I am not convinced the so called ‘Obama Health Care’ mandates are a prudent and practical way to achieve that goal”, he added.

In September, a Florida District Court began hearing oral arguments from 20 state attorneys general and the National Federation of Independent Business challenging the constitutionality of the health care law. The challenge is based on the Commerce Clause in the Constitution, which allows the federal government "to regulate commerce ... among the several States."

“With the implementation of the new law, I am of the opinion the Federal government is overstepping its bounds,” Rainville said. “Regulating health care of residents has always been the role of state, not federal government, and the notion that medical care would be considered interstate commerce, no matter how well intentioned, infringes on our personal freedoms and states’ rights,” he added.

Rainville says he continues to review and follow the Florida case and noted, “As Attorney General, I would seriously consider joining in this lawsuit on behalf of Rhode Island residents. Anything that costs our consumers more money and infringes on their personal freedoms is cause for my concern, both as a citizen and as Attorney General.”

Sharing the feeling of most Rhode Islanders, Rainville stated, “Bigger government programs are seldom an effective answer, particularly when it steps all over our personal freedoms and the rights of individual states to govern. As Attorney General, my job is to look after the Rhode Islanders and to fight for health insurances rates that are practical and affordable,” Rainville stated.

Peter Kilmartin, on Thursday's District Court Ruling that the Federal Healthcare Mandate on Individuals is Without Precedent

Carroll Andrew Morse

The question below was asked to the campaign of Democratic Party Attorney General candidate Peter Kilmartin, following Thursday's District Court ruling allowing the challenge to the Federal healthcare law challenge filed by a group of state Attorney Generals to go forward...

In August, a spokesman for Mr. Kilmartin's campaign stated, in response to a question from Anchor Rising regarding the new Federal healthcare law, that Mr. Kilmartin was "confident that the Health Care Reform Law is constitutional". This past Thursday, Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District Court of Florida disagreed, stating that "at this stage in the litigation, this is not even a close call...The power that the individual mandate seeks to harness is simply without prior precedent" in regard to allowing a challenge to the law by 20 state Attorney Generals to proceed. Does this court ruling impact Mr. Kilmartin's position on the actions he might consider taking on behalf of the citizens of Rhode Island, with respect to the new Federal healthcare law, if elected as their Attorney General?
A spokesman for Peter Kilmartin responded by saying...
Mr. Kilmartin remains staunchly opposed to joining this lawsuit. Much like there was political, and subsequently legal action against Social Security after it was signed into law, the new health care law is facing opposition. With that said, Mr. Kilmartin stands by his initial in-depth legal analysis of the bill -- it is constitutional. Additionally, he would not waste taxpayer dollars on a suit aimed at attacking the new health care law, which keeps insurance companies from taking away health care from kids when they are sick.

Chris Little, on Thursday's District Court Ruling that the Federal Healthcare Mandate on Individuals is Without Precedent

Carroll Andrew Morse

The question below was asked to the campaign of Moderate Party Attorney General candidate Chris Little, following Thursday's District Court ruling allowing the challenge to the Federal healthcare law challenge filed by a group of state Attorney Generals to go forward...

In April, Mr. Little responded to an inquiry from Providence Journal columnist Edward Fitzpatrick regarding the new Federal healthcare law by saying "it seems, in terms of how the Supreme Court has ruled on the exercise of the Commerce Clause, that whether we like it or not, Congress has the power to pass this bill". This past Thursday, Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District Court of Florida disagreed, stating that "at this stage in the litigation, this is not even a close call...The power that the individual mandate seeks to harness is simply without prior precedent" in regard to allowing a challenge to the law made by 20 state Attorney Generals to proceed. Does this court ruling impact Mr. Little's position on the actions he might consider taking on behalf of the citizens of Rhode Island, with respect to the new Federal healthcare law, if elected as their Attorney General?
Chris Little responded by saying:
The only court to rule on the merits of the challenge to the mandate contained in the Act has been the federal court in Detroit, which ruled that Congress has the authority under the Commerce Clause to mandate the purchase of health insurance or assess a penalty. In Florida, Judge Vinson carefully noted:
In this order, I have not attempted to determine whether the line between Constitutional and extraconstitutional government has been crossed. That will be decided on the basis of the parties' expected motions for summary judgment, when I will have the benefit of the additional argument and all evidence in the record that may bear on the outstanding issues.
Similarly, the court in Virginia stated that its decision was narrow and merely held that Virginia could bring its case and, like the situation in Florida, that the case should proceed for consideration in light of a more complete record.

Judge Vinson reaffirms what we all know. The mandate in controversy does not take effect until 2014.

There are many immediate and unmet duties of the Rhode Island Attorney General, including those affecting health insurance and Medicaid that should command our first attention, particularly in light of the fact that we have another 4 years truly to assess the impact of this law on Rhode Island.

In short, the opinion of the federal court in Florida does not change my position.

Intro: Federal Judge Rules that the Attorney Generals' Suit Against the Federal Healthcare Law can Continue. What Do the Candidates for RI AG Think About This?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Last Thursday, Judge Roger Vinson of the Federal District Court of Northern Florida ruled that the lawsuit challenging the new Federal healthcare law filed by 20 state Attorney Generals should be allowed to continue. His reasoning is very straightforward. The Federal Government’s power to act is limited by the Constitution...

My review of the statute is not to question or second guess the wisdom, motives, or methods of Congress. I am only charged with deciding if the Act is Constitutional. If it is, the legislation must be upheld --- even if it is a bad law...Conversely, if it is unconstitutional, the legislation must be struck down --- even if it is a good law.
...and since a Federal imposition of a purchase mandate on individuals is an unprecedented extension of Federal power, the question of whether that extension is Constitutional merits consideration...
At this stage in the litigation, this is not even a close call...The power that the individual mandate seeks to harness is simply without prior precedent.
Prior to Judge Vinson’s ruling, all of the candidates for Rhode Island Attorney General had previously taken positions on whether a challenge to the healthcare law had any legal merit. I asked each candidate what impact a Federal Judge's decision that “it’s not even close” had on their positions. Responses received so far will be posted on the upcoming half-hours...

A Governor for Dictatorial Times

Justin Katz

Lincoln Chafee's time as Warwick mayor ended before I'd taken much of an interest in Rhode Island politics, so I'd never had occasion to learn about his much touted resolution of a teacher dispute and strike in the city. The details in a recent PolitiFact article suggest that he might be more than comfortable with a role of governor in a time of state centralization of power:

In spring 1994, after talks broke down and the state mediator resigned in frustration, Chafee stepped in and cut a deal with the teachers, essentially bypassing the School Committee.

Under the agreement, backed by eight of the nine members of the Democrat-controlled City Council, base pay for a top-step teacher went from $39,762 during the 1990-1991 school year to $49,371 for 1996-'97, the final year of the pact. That's a 24.2-percent hike. The deal also included an extra 2.5 percent that teachers who were working during the 1992-'93 school year are entitled to receive when they retire or resign, a bonus that continues to be paid as teachers leave.

The question that the article addresses — leading to a "half true" rating for Chafee's Democrat opponent for governor, Frank Caprio — is whether Chafee can really be faulted for giving the teachers such a huge raise. The context that writer Eugene Emery finds compelling in Chafee's favor is that the total amount can be seen as spreading out over the course of the six years that the dispute continued.

Only in public sector labor disputes is it considered natural for wage increases to be counted over years of negotiation. Most workers who receive raises after long stretches of stasis don't see them as distributed across the years from one increase to another. Indeed, that mentality — the inevitability of retroactive pay — surely underlies the union's willingness to drag the process out for so long... until it could find some official party to acquiesce and make its members whole.

In this case, it appears that the voters of Warwick were not interested in replacing their school committee with representatives who would acquiesce to the union, and they had no reason to suspect that their votes for mayor would achieve the same result.

Towns Serving at the State's Pleasure

Justin Katz

Ted Nesi reports that Superior Court Justice Michael Silverstein has found the Central Falls receivership to be constitutional:

As I mentioned back in July, the big constitutional question here was whether or not putting a city or town into receivership represented a permanent change in a municipality's form of government. Administration lawyers and Pfeiffer argued it does not, and therefore the new law would withstand judicial review under a 1994 R.I. Supreme Court precedent. Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau and four out of five City Council members argued the opposite, and lost.

Permanence, by Silverstein's lights, appears to mean that municipal voters will be able to return to a representative form of government... someday. Moreover, the justification for the law remains broad:

The judge also noted that cities and towns' right to self-government "is not unfettered," because matters of statewide concern remain in the General Assembly's hands even if they affect municipalities. With that in mind, he agreed with the administration that an individual community's financial collapse would be a matter of statewide concern because of the cascade effect it would have on other places' finances.

In a state the size of Rhode Island, there's very little that a city or town can do that doesn't affect the others. Consider even the union strategy of leapfrogging benefits from town to town — with each district's local pointing to increases elsewhere in the state as a reason for increases. Or, to pick a topic of current interest, consider whether a wind farm controlled by a handful of municipalities that dumps energy into the grid will long be free of the state's groping fingers.

Basically, municipalities are subdivisions of the state, permitted autonomy and democracy only insofar as it's convenient to the powers in the statehouse. Of course, local leaders have been at the head of the herd in promoting that notion — especially around budget time — so it's hardly a one-way affront.

October 18, 2010

Not Moderate; Far Left

Justin Katz

Long-time readers will know that I'm a skeptic of "moderates," although I've actually been surprised at just how liberal Moderate Party founder and gubernatorial candidate Ken Block actually is. Here's the latest indication:

[Republican John] Robitaille said that, if elected, he would seek to have the attorney general challenge the legality of the federal law, calling it unconstitutional because of its requirement that citizens purchase coverage.

"I'm very much against that," responded Kenneth J. Block, Moderate Party candidate for governor. "We want everyone in this state to have health insurance." He said Robitaille's stance is "one of ideology, and has nothing to do with the provision of health care."

At least as of April, a majority of Rhode Islanders actually supported repealing Obamacare. How is it "moderate" to be "very much against" a majority? More important, though, is Block's elision of wanting everyone to have health insurance and believing that strong government control is the answer.

Block is smarter and more independent than the typical left-wing Democrat, but his worldviews are entirely those of the ruling class, and his governing philosophy appears to be technocratic. In other words, it is built on the principle that he and his fellow go-getters know better how our society should be ordered, and our lives lived, than the rest of us.

More Investment Out of Your Pocket

Justin Katz

Speaking of public sector investments on your dime, Rhode Island's Board of Governors for Higher Education is looking for a 22% increase in the public funds that they receive. Of course, part of the plan might be to hit lawmakers with a large requested increase — requested as if absolutely essential, naturally — so as to make even small increases, let alone decreases, seem like an attack on their institutions. Not being uniquely hostile to public higher education, I don't begrudge the board recourse to common gimmicks of budget negotiation, but this cliché merits comment:

Michael Ryan, chairman of the board's finance committee, said, "Public education is the engine that drives economic development."

Public education is manifestly not the engine that drives economic development. Individual motivation and the well-being of families is. At best, colleges and universities provide the readily accessible expertise necessary to put entrepreneurial impulses to good use and supply an educated (if inexperienced) workforce to move businesses along.

The point of emphasis is critical: If there are no businesses to supply jobs and if public policy derails inventiveness and creates disincentive for economic risk, then the best public colleges in the world will do nothing to move the state's economy out of the mud. Indeed, I'd go so far as to suggest that they could exacerbate recovery, inasmuch as pouring highly educated young adults, with concomitantly high expectations, into a flooded economic engine will only make matters worse.

Red Flags in the Wind

Justin Katz

On first hearing that Tiverton might be the site of a new on-land wind farm, I was more or less ambivalent, but with the feeling that the project would provide more benefit than detriment. But details on the structure of the initiative raise concerns more fundamental than Rhode Island's habitual not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) attitude:

Nine communities in the region have banded together to form the East Bay Energy Consortium, a group that proposes building a land-based wind farm that would provide enough clean, renewable power for as many as 7,500 homes.

What's notably different about this new form of economic development is that the towns are the entities receiving the grants and hiring consultants. In other words, this isn't a matter of a private developer working with municipalities to smooth the path toward construction and industry. It's the small-time elected officials of towns and cities deciding to go into the wind business, with a start-up cost "between $50 million and $63 million."

The insidious aspect arises with the intended handling of the money. Although the collaborative idea began as a way to "save taxpayer money," the wind farm isn't being envisioned as a sort of utility that would lower taxpayers' energy bills. Rather:

The group would sell power at market rates, and the member communities would then share revenues to help cover their municipal budgets. Initial estimates for total benefits to the consortium over 20 years range from $23 million to $39 million.

These nine communities might as well be opening up a video game development company. Their notion is to start a profitable business, claiming that the profits will enable them to lighten up on tax collections. If you believe that means tax cuts, well, then you haven't lived in Rhode Island for very long. More likely, the powers who be have observed that even the confused and apathetic electorates in their towns are chafing at tax levies that double every decade. Municipal leaders are therefore looking for a way to continue spending and to avoid reforms in their inefficient operational practices.

The generally positive view of green energy — which ranges out to cultish adoration on its fringes — provides them cover to dive into a speculative investment, with our tax dollars, probably through bonds, as their initial cash infusion.

October 17, 2010

Clarifying My Perspective

Justin Katz

Reader mangeek left this curious comment last week:

A lot of my progressive friends are pretty easy to find during the days and nights: Coffee shops and bars, respectively. I still haven't figured out how to live without an income, so I schlep it to work fifty hours a week.

I'll bet Justin has a lot to say about a generation of twenty-somethings who seem to be more interested in having fun than generating and accumulating wealth and stability, but that's a conversation for another day.

Let me state bluntly that I'm a big proponent of fun, and look for it in every task that I undertake. It's probable that some scorn would rise up unbidden at the particular activities that many modern twenty-somethings consider to be appropriate fun for their age, but that's an individual judgment, rather than a collective one. I'm also not inclined to see the accumulation of wealth to be more than an incidental factor in a well-lived life, and as for stability, well, my religious faith leads me to regard that in spiritual, rather than material, terms.

The aspect that irks me about the generational distinction, if it is real, is the overlap of a free-living, fun-having extended adolescence with the ideological belief that others should believe it to be their duty to support the drag on our society. Exhaust your young life at the local coffee shop, if that's your choice, but don't then expect everybody else's healthcare premiums to go up so that you can remain on your parents' insurance until it suits you to find a real job. Don't advocate government giveaways and subsidized pastimes as a means of giving your life meaning and extending your capacity for idleness.

President Killjoy: Obama Signals Against a Jump to Hillary for 2012

Monique Chartier

Of course, the entertainment value of the semi-controlled motor mouth of the current VP [top ten Biden gaffes available here] is not to be underestimated. This is undoubtedly why, on more than one occasion during the last couple of years, either voluntarily or at someone's quiet request, he appears to have gone missing.

But to speak frankly from the perspective of the opposition, it would have been preferable to have had the soap opera that is Hillary Clinton, with all of her machinations and baggage, standing next to President Obama in the upcoming presidential campaign spotlight.

Unfortunately, the odds of that development dropped considerably last week.

"The single best decision that I have made was selecting Joe Biden as my running mate," Obama said. "The single best decision I have made. I mean that. It's true."

Obama was in Delaware with Biden campaigning for Democratic Senate nominee Chris Coons, but in his speech seemed to address the rumors that circulated after Bob Woodward said making Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Obama's vice president in 2012 was "on the table."

October 16, 2010

A "Rescuing" Milestone

Monique Chartier

If you visit Rescuing Providence even on a semi-regular basis, you witness, through Michael's eyes, more than

what happens inside an advanced life support vehicle in Providence, RI

including, though not limited to, a great many examples of what happens when you cross human nature with a public service that is "free".

To Michael Morse (and his hippopotami), congratulations.

I started Rescuing Providence, the blog about four years ago. It’s a great place for me to leave it all on the table, so to speak. Little did I know that by leaving it all on the table, a lot of people would find it, and see it for more than just a bunch of crumbs left by a burned out medic.

This place has taken a few different turns, different looks and different perspectives over the years. I am graced with people from all over the country, and world who visit and leave a comment now and then. The comments give me the energy to keep writing, sometimes they are the only thing that keeps me going.

I’ve been keeping count. 500,000 hits sometime this morning.

Thank you.

Union Versus Husband

Justin Katz

The proper scope of union activities has been a topic of conversation, around here, lately, and I've been drawing my line mainly where the union become a broader advocate for its members in the public, specifically political, sphere. Here's a particularly curious instance:

I'm Jade Thompson and my husband, Andy Thompson, is running for the Ohio House of Representatives. I am a teacher at Marietta High School. Imagine my chagrin when my friends and colleagues began showing me the awful attack ads against my husband which they had received in the mail. Now imagine my dismay when I saw that those defamatory mailers were paid for by the Ohio Education Association — my teachers' union. In effect, they are using my union dues to attack my husband! This is a new low, even for the OEA.

The worst part is that Mrs. Thompson cannot withdraw her support for the union without leaving her job — indeed, without pretty much abandoning her career.

Family and Race

Justin Katz

It's hardly a new conclusion, but this, from a book review by Roger Clegg (subscription required), of Acting White by Stuart Buck, bears repeating:

Suppose your twelve-year-old son came home and announced that it would compromise his racial authenticity were he to study hard and get good grades, and that he will therefore concentrate on misbehaving in class. Or, more realistically, suppose you simply saw that he was balking at homework and getting poor grades, with or without an excuse. What would your reaction be? More to the point, what would the reaction of Dr. Cliff Huxtable be?

Dr. Huxtable would explain, with as much patience as he could muster, that not studying is unacceptable and that the "acting white" justification for not studying is idiotic nonsense: Even if your teacher is a white racist, son, you should not — will not — slack off. Such instinctive rebellion, even if understandable, is obviously irrational.

The problem is that Dr. Huxtable is nowhere to be found in most black households. The fact that, as Buck points out, the acting-white malady apparently affects boys more than girls further suggests that the absence of strong fathers is a big part of the problem.

Clegg concludes that "illegitimacy must bear much of the blame" for a variety of chronic problems that the black community faces. He's correct to fault political correctness and the welfare state, but the dissolution of marriage, more generally, is a factor, as well. That is one aspect of what advocates of same-sex marriage fail to acknowledge when they make their assertions that changing the definition of marriage will harm no one.

October 15, 2010

Quick Takes on RI Reps: Where in Rhode Island is Robert Flaherty?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rep. Robert Flaherty of Warwick achieved his rating of zero in the Anchor Rising legislative ratings via a different route than most of the other zeroes on the list, by missing a large number of significant votes. He was present for the vote on the Teachers’ Health Insurance Board (where he voted in favor of the override and against the principle of separation of powers).

However, Rep. Flaherty had no recorded votes in the four remaining areas that were considered. Rep. Flaherty missed both votes on watering down Mayoral academies in 2008 as well as the vote for their start-up funding in 2009. In this budget session, he missed both votes on unfunded mandate relief, he missed the votes on the car-tax Article and its different components, and he missed the votes on pension reform.

Quick Takes on RI Reps: How Conservative was David Caprio?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rep. David Caprio of Narragansett and South Kingstown is frequently labeled a DINO -- a Democrat in Name Only -- by Rhode Island’s progressives. However, his score of 2 according to the Anchor Rising legislative ratings places him on the end of scale inhabited by many progressives. The only vote he received positive credit for was his vote for pension reform, a measure that won support from several legislators not generally considered be DINOs, like Michael Rice from South Kingstown (0), Edith Ajello of Providence and Edwin Pacheco from Burrillville/Glocester (both 1s).

Beyond the pension reform vote, Rep. Caprio voted against start-up funding for Mayoral academies, against both unfunded mandate relief amendments offered as part of this year’s budget, in favor of the budget article to implement this year’s car-tax changes, and in favor of the Teachers’ Health Insurance Board. Apparently, it doesn’t take much to get labeled as an irredeemable conservative against the background of RI politics.

Quick Takes on RI's Reps: Peter Palumbo, Beyond Immigration

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rep. Peter Palumbo of Cranston has been in the news most recently for supporting better enforcement of immigration laws, but his score related to taxes, cost-of-government and cost-of-mandates according to the Anchor Rising legislative rankings is 0 (out of 10), earned from his votes against pension reform, against all forms of unfunded mandate relief for cities and towns, in favor of creating a state board for teachers health insurance where unions directly appoint members, and in favor of increasing local car-taxing authority while lowering the state reimbursement to cities and towns. Could a Representative who is sensible on taxes, sensible on spending, and sensible on immigration issues perhaps be found by the people of District 16?

In Favor of a Split Government

Justin Katz

Portsmouth historian Mary Beth Klee is right that Rhode Island can't afford to put the state government entirely in the hands of the Democrat Party, whether that means a Governor Caprio or a Governor Chafee, who is ideologically sympathetic to the worst, most ill-suited-to-lead segments of the Democrat Party. In making her case, she does remind readers that, for all of his inexplicable actions over the past year, Governor Carcieri has done some good for the state:

Rhode Island's tax burden has dropped from fourth heaviest in the nation to tenth. (Still a far cry from nearby New Hampshire's 50th in the nation or Massachusetts, at 24th.) The governor has worked to streamline state government and pass balanced budgets without increasing citizen tax burdens.

My personal favorite: His administration made it possible to renew a driver's license or vehicle registration quickly at the AAA instead of waiting endless hours at the hopelessly inefficient Division of Motor Vehicles. The governor also called for Rhode Island's state and municipal workers to sacrifice with the rest of us, and take salary cuts, as most employees in the private sector have these past two years. (They did not.)

The question that arises for Republicans and conservatives who would vote for Frank Caprio as a means of blocking Lincoln Chafee is whether they believe that, once in office, Caprio would pull his entire party toward him — including the politically dominant General Assembly — or his party would pull him toward it. Those of us who would find him preferable to both of those options should realize that Republican John Robitaille is not out of this race.

Somehow It's Worse When It's Past, I Guess

Justin Katz

Here's an interesting incident from an article about expanding restrictions on counter-Islamic blasphemy in and out of the Muslim world:

In Kabul in 2008, Ghaus Zalmai and Mushtaq Ahmad were each sentenced to 20 years in prison for publishing a Dari translation of the Koran (the translator was U.S. resident Qudratullah Bakhtiarinejad). The minister for the hajj and religious affairs pronounced the work "a conspiracy by international Zionism," and Sher Ali Zarifi, chair of an investigating commission on the translation, maintained that "the contents of this book show that its writers and editors are members of a religious pluralism movement in the West."

You know, I'm stilled called upon to answer for Catholic restrictions on translating the Bible centuries ago (which I understand to be much exaggerated, anyway). Somehow, I doubt that the same people who demand my statement of fealty to evolved religious norms similarly accost Muslims regarding the much more recent activities of their coreligionists.

Mark Zaccaria: An Extra Engine for the Joint Strike Fighter?

Engaged Citizen

With U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the federal budget deficit estimated at from $1.3 to $1.5 trillion and the economy in a deep downturn, the nation needs to get real value for every dollar that we spend on national defense.

Unfortunately, many members of the House and Senate, including Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), are pushing for continued funding for a program that the military says it doesn’t need, doesn’t want, and can’t afford: a multibillion dollar “alternate engine” that GE and Rolls Royce are building for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Supporters of the extra engine claim it would promote competition. But that’s like saying that Major League Baseball should keep replaying the 2004 World Series until the Red Sox lose. Nine years ago, during a competitive process, the Department of Defense selected the F135 engine, built by Pratt & Whitney, for the Joint Strike Fighter over the F136 engine, built by GE and Rolls Royce.

Competition concluded. Game over -- except in Washington, D.C., where Congress has spent $3 billion for GE and Rolls Royce to keep working on their alternate F136 engine. The program’s price-tag will be $450 million for Fiscal 2011 and a total of $2.9 billion to complete the engine within the next five years.

That’s a lot of money to spend on standby equipment. Not surprisingly, the extra engine’s opponents include the last two presidential administrations, taxpayer watchdogs, and, most tellingly of all, the military itself. They agree that there’s no need for two engines, two production lines, two supply chains, two management teams, and two teams of maintenance personnel.

President Obama and President Bush before him have both tried to kill the extra engine, as have the last two Defense Secretaries, Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates. In a recent report the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) declared that the alternative engine program is “no longer needed as a hedge against the failure of the main Joint Strike Fighter engine program” and eliminating it “will result in estimated near-term savings of over half a billion dollars.” Using blunter language, Citizens Against Government Waste gave the project its 2010 “Oinker Award,” calling it “the little engine that couldn’t.”

Meanwhile, leaders of the U.S. military agree that the money spent on the extra engine could be better used on programs that really do support the troops and defend the nation. Marine Corps Brigadier General David Heinz has said that the alternate engine costs as much as 50 to 80 aircraft. Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead warns that “its additional costs threaten our ability to fund currently planned aircraft procurement quantities, which would exacerbate our anticipated decrease in strike fighter capacity.”

These issues hit home with me. I earned my wings at the U.S. Air Force Flight School in Laredo, Texas, and served as an instructor pilot in the undergraduate pilot training program. My daughter is a fulltime member of the Rhode Island Army Guard and, in 2004, interrupted her studies at Roger Williams School of Law to be deployed to Iraq.

I know that our war-fighters don’t need unused engines gathering dust. Among other much more sensible investments, our servicemen and women do need more jet fighters, more and better armored vehicles, pay raises for themselves and their families, and better benefits for returning veterans. If the nation spends $2.9 billion more on engines that we don’t need, we won’t be able to afford the programs that our troops and our returning veterans really do need.

Defense programs should promote our national security, not local economies. But some supporters of the extra engine have claimed it will generate jobs. In fact, many of those jobs will go to Great Britain since Rolls Royce is manufacturing 40 percent of the engine. As it happens, Pratt & Whitney is a major presence in Southern New England, with its headquarters in East Hartford, Connecticut, and a plant in Middletown. Laser Fare Inc., in Smithfield, Rhode Island, which specializes in laser machining and research and development, is a supplier for Pratt & Whitney.

As a program that has long outlived its purported purposes, the extra engine has been called the earmark that wouldn’t die. It’s time to put the extra engine to rest, once and for all.

Mark Zaccaria is a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Rhode Island’s Second District. A former instructor pilot in the U.S. Air Force, he now operates a consulting practice in business to business marketing, based in North Kingstown.

Welcome to Rhode Island, Now What Are You Doing Here?

Justin Katz

Anywhere but Rhode Island, this would be unbelievable. Rhode Island taxpayers who filed for the six month extension to pay their taxes may have to pay up to 25% of their owed amount in additional fees plus 18% interest on the overdue amount (in comparison to the 5% interest that the federal government charges):

The error stems from the original extension granted because of the severe spring flooding. Rhode Island taxpayers were permitted to pay their taxes and file their returns on May 11 instead of April 15. Those who sought a six-month extension were inadvertently given six months from May 11 instead of April 15.

[URI economist] Lardaro says it's another case of the state not being business friendly. "It not only is an indication of that but also sends a signal that 'We're not business friendly and proud of it,'" Lardaro said.

This response is just too typical of the Rhode Island mindset:

But Ed Mazze, a professor of business administration at the University of Rhode Island, disagreed, saying the state should not be blamed for the situation. He says accountants and their clients should have known better. “If they’re not smart enough to call the state and ask if there is an extension, then shame on them,” Mazze told GoLocalProv.

Hey, maybe you're not smart enough to live in our state. Why on Earth would you think that a six month extension would add six months to the date on which you actually were supposed to pay your taxes?

Of course, I'll grant that we've allowed our government to operate as it does raises the question of whether we deserve what we get. But still: we've got people on the public payroll whose job it is to find recipients of public assistance funds. Welfare programs have been known to advertise. Would it have been too difficult, given the unique circumstances of a catastrophic flood during tax season, to send out a notice ensuring that those who filed for extensions understood the dates involved?

October 14, 2010

The Classless President

Justin Katz

A few lines from this blog post by Victor Davis Hanson brought back a relevant memory:

The final irony? The more Obama goes out on the campaign trail, slurs the Chamber or the new enemy of the week, and blatantly appeals to bloc voting from particular minority groups, the more unsympathetic to voters he becomes. (I don't recall George W. Bush going after Keith Olbermann, Bob Shrum, MoveOn.org, or the AFL-CIO).

President Bush played the game to an extent, but the big difference is that Obama is classless. The contrary image that comes to mind is when President Bush walked to his helicopter with a copy of Bernie Goldberg's book about media bias under his arm. Subtle, almost a good-humored jab.

Nowadays, we get personal attacks from the president against particular people, from Nancy Reagan to Cambridge police officers, and a villain of the week declarations.

The Shadow on the Ballot

Justin Katz

Two curious items stand out in Ed Achorn's column from last week, about the legislators "primaried" by the unions in their campaigns for general assembly seats. Here's the first:

State Rep. Douglas Gablinske (D.-Bristol) was among the stunned fallen. He lost by 111 votes of 1,781 cast to a little-known challenger, Richard Morrison, who did not debate, has no known record of public service, and had far fewer campaign signs. His whole idea seemed to be to avoid engaging the general electorate. (Nor did he return my call for this column.)

An unknown candidate for public office who didn't jump at the chance to create his own voice in an essay by a well known local columnist? Very curious. It's as if his strategy is to avoid giving the voters whom the unions will deliver to him any excuse to question their instructions.

In retrospect, Mr. Gablinske said, it was a strategic mistake to have such a dominant edge in signs. Supporters concluded that there was no real contest, and did not take time to vote.

What do you think: Is this really a factor? Are a candidate's supporters typically so blasé that they'll stay home based on the chance that a dominance in yard signs means their votes are not needed? Even more: Is this such a huge factor that it outnumbers the number of actual voters who'll be won over by name recognition?

The Problem Is the Entrenchment

Justin Katz

NYU history and education professor Jonathan Zimmerman strives mightily to square the liberal circle with the rigid hierarchical structure of higher education:

Some of these people are great teachers, and others aren't. But all of them are getting ripped off, driving from campus to campus and waiting — always waiting — for the full-time job that never comes.

And that's because the full-time faculty — especially the ones with tenure — have consumed most of the university's resources themselves. At the University of Pennsylvania, 76 percent of the faculty have permanent appointments; at the University of California at Berkeley, long a hotbed of left-wing activism, 77 percent do. So there's little money left over for the untenured faculty or — most of all — for the contingent ones. Power to the people? I think not.

For a culprit, Zimmerman looks not to the system of tenure that makes a university community an insular order of inducted aristocrats — and ties them to their particular institution — but to the ability of big-name and otherwise professionally attractive professors to negotiate higher salaries, especially when jumping ship to other institutions. By Zimmerman's own argument, however, the great majority of faculty members are, indeed, full time.

The problem, I'd suggest, is the tenure system itself. If there weren't a distinct threshold to cross for inclusion in the benefits of the professorial profession, then talented young teachers could negotiate higher salaries, and older teachers would have to carry their weight or acknowledge that they're consuming too much of the university's resources.

From Allah's Lips to the King's Ear

Justin Katz

Here's a fascinating dynamic, not only for the Muslim state, but the perspective that factions of the West might bring of it:

Now King Abdullah is moving to regain control over this abundance of fatwas. Under a royal decree issued in mid-August, only the official panel may issue the fatwas that answer every question of how pious Saudis should live their lives.

The result: In recent weeks, websites and a satellite station where clerics answered questions have been shut down or have voluntarily stopped issuing fatwas. One preacher was publicly reprimanded for urging a boycott of a supermarket chain for employing female cashiers.

One wonders by what religious claims the king grants himself authority to restrict those to whom the domestic society has imparted the role of interpreting and explaining religion. As the West can testify, this is the road along which religion crumbles, when worldly habits and political constructs begin to be overtly superimposed on claims that are supposed to be supernatural.

Some observers see such an outcome as in line with the natural (even supernatural) order of things:

The question on the minds of some Saudis is whether any of this points the way to a more liberal code. Saad Sowayan, a Saudi historian and columnist, thinks it does. "The state wants to take the lead in shaping public opinion and this serves the issue of secularism and modernity," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

That path, as the article goes on to explain, requires the king to stack the official religious council with increasingly tolerant clerics. But that would only undermine its claims to religious authority in favor of royal authority. In other words, the liberalization is entirely in the statist mode, rather than the classically liberal mode of freedom and balance between social institutions.

Of course, liberalizing Islam hasn't been the inclination of the ruling class of Saudi Arabia, and the official fatwas are among the most hard line.

The Book and the Campaigns

Justin Katz

On last night's Matt Allen Show, Matt and I talked about Proud to Be Right and the campaign-season mood of Rhode Island. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

October 13, 2010

Lardaro on the Downswing

Justin Katz

University of Rhode Island Economist Len Lardaro has to be the most mixed-message-sending economist in the state. He regularly appears in the local media declaring that his economic index shows Rhode Island in recovery (and has been doing so for months of the recession), yet here he comes with a doomsday warning for the next election:

On the labor-supply side, much of the current unemployment is long-term in nature, the result of jobless persons failing to possess the skills demanded by the employers who are attempting to increase employment. Economists refer to this as "structural unemployment." The result is skill shortages, even with so high a jobless rate.

On the demand side, employers have continued to find ways of meeting current product demand with fewer hours worked by their labor force than they thought possible in the past. ...

The upcoming election is more important than is generally assumed for Rhode Island, because federal bailout money will no longer be available by this time next year. Fiscally, this will force us to go "cold turkey." The resulting jolt to a fragile upturn may well force our state into a double-dip recession. The citizens of this state need to be proactive, even though our elected officials seldom are.

Don't get me wrong: I agree with Lardaro's assessment and his hinted solutions, but he would help to prime the public for this sort of revelation if he regularly accompanied his index-related press releases with a big "but."

Breaking: President Obama Medicare Official Concedes that Health Care Reform Will Cost Seniors. The Mayor of Providence is a Fan of ObamaCare. So Who is the Real Threat to Senior Benefits?

Monique Chartier

Presumably operating on the belief that he cannot get a political promotion without resorting to slander, the mayor of Providence has stood in front of numerous senior gatherings in the last month and solemnly stated that if his opponent, John Loughlin, is elected, he would privatize (read: take away) social security for current recipients. This, of course, is completely false.

Conversely, the mayor is open about his support of health care reform ObamaCare despite the fact that, though it was ineffectively camoflaged by double counting, it was known from its inception that ObamaCare would gut $500 billion from Medicare. We may have all been hoping, however, that this would not hit for a decade, during which time it could be fixed. New developments have vanquished that hope.

A couple of weeks ago, citing concerns about the long term viability of such supplemental programs, Harvard Pilgrim dropped 22,000 seniors in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine from its Medicare Advantage coverage. [Emphasis added.]

The decision by Wellesley-based Harvard Pilgrim, the state’s second-largest health insurer, was prompted by a freeze in federal reimbursements and a new requirement that insurers offering the kind of product sold by Harvard Pilgrim — a Medicare Advantage private fee for service plan — form a contracted network of doctors who agree to participate for a negotiated amount of money. Under current rules, patients can seek care from any doctor.

Now, POLITICO is reporting that

The Obama administration A Medicare official concedes that some seniors will have to dig deeper into their wallets next year thanks to the health care law.

A new analysis obtained by POLITICO finds the health care overhaul will result in increased out-of-pocket costs for seniors on Medicare Advantage plans.

[The original POLITICO post had attributed this announcement to President Obama.]

To review, John Loughlin, candidate for the First Congressional District, is no threat to the social security checks of current recipients. By contrast, his Democrat opponent supports health care reform, which is already impacting the wallets of some seniors and which the White House has admitted will adversely affect all seniors on Medicare.

So. In light of this new information, shall we revisit which of these candidates would do a better job for seniors in Congress?

The Premature Death of Incandescence

Justin Katz

The latest National Review offers a brief reminder to stock up on incandescent light bulbs:

... the nation's last major incandescent-light-bulb factory, in Winchester, Va., has shut down, a victim of the enforced switch to more efficient twisted fluorescent bulbs. It's bad enough that Congress is telling Americans what to light their houses with, but compounding the indignity it is also sending jobs overseas: Manufacture of the new bulbs cannot be automated as easily as that of the old kind, so production has moved to China, where hand labor is cheap.

Would it be to much to hope that repealing that ridiculous bit of government presumption can be repealed, too? In the meantime, I'm thinking of switching to candles...

Regulating for Their Own Benefit

Justin Katz

Not surprisingly, politicians are strongly bipartisan in protecting their own unique ability to engage in insider trading:

A few lawmakers proposed a bill that would prevent members and employees of Congress from trading securities based on nonpublic information they obtain. The legislation has languished since 2006.

"Congressional staff are often privy to inside information, and an unscrupulous person could profit off that knowledge," says Vincent Morris, a spokesman for Rep. Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.), a leading backer of the "Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act," or STOCK Act. "The public should be outraged there is no law specifically banning this."

When the bill was introduced nearly five years ago, just 14 other lawmakers endorsed it. The current version of the bill has fared worse: Only nine lawmakers support it. There is no companion legislation in the Senate.

Veronique de Rugy points out that the very same activity would be illegal outside the halls of government. You won't be surprised that I think a critical component of the appropriate solution would be smaller, less micromanaging, government. That's after, of course, elected officials and their staffs are held to the same standards as everybody else.

When Advocates Evaluate Evaluation

Justin Katz

News that Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist is working alongside the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers (aptly, RIFT) sets off my scam alarm, and it's not just the fact that the smarmy Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D, Ocean Drive) is at the front of the line heralding a "firm belief" in "true reform." Mostly, I'm suspicious that massive federal and foundation grants are going to the union to develop and evaluate the system:

Buoying the effort, the RIFT has received multiple grants — including a $5-million federal innovation grant shared with the New York State teachers union — to help create the evaluation system, money that will be used to hire testing experts and consultants who have created high-quality evaluations in other states.

About $700,000 will go to the American Institutes of Research, which will conduct a four-year study of the evaluation system, determining whether it improves teacher effectiveness and student achievement, said Colleen Callahan, director of professional issues for RIFT. ...

... the Rhode Island Foundation announced it, too, would give a $200,000 grant, the only time in the last 20 years the foundation has given to a teachers union.

Initially, the system will become operational in seven districts, and it sounds as if its backers are planning a four-year evaluation. Moreover, the use of standardized test scores is still a matter of contention. There's plenty of time and wiggle room, in short, to make sure that the system isn't so rigorous that it raises the ire of union members. There's also money to "train" everybody on the system, and no doubt compliance will turn out to require more state and municipal money once federal dollars dry up.

October 12, 2010

A Bit of the Book

Justin Katz

My peculiar visage is currently at the top of Ted Nesi's WPRI.com blog, mentioning my essay in Proud to Be Right:

His contribution is a seven-page essay titled "A Nonconforming Reconstruction" that recounts his experience as a Gen X conservative and his belief that "the peculiarity of our time is that one must ... be conservative to be contrarian." It's not a particularly political piece, though, at least in a narrowly partisan sense; it's more philosophical.

Partly because my essay's focus isn't on college, which is a particular area of concern for people who are particularly concerned with "young" anythings, the more encompassing reviews that I've read haven't gone much beyond allusions to my contribution. See here, here, here, and especially here, where one will find the following:

The reader jumps from social conservatives to libertarians, from the home-schooled to hipsters, from proud contrarians to devout traditionalists, and a few unclassifiable whats-its, such as a self-proclaimed leptogonian.

The point of my essay, as I hope you'll all take the time to find out, is that traditionalists are contrarian, in our era, and real freedom can only come from self-mastery and a willingness to learn and draw from the past.

Quick Takes on RI's Reps: Flip-Floppin' in Smithfield, Featuring Thomas Winfield and Peter Petrarca

Carroll Andrew Morse

And speaking of Peter Petrarca (overall score 2), the House delegation from Smithfield seems to have cornered the market on flip-flopping. As noted in the item on relief from unfunded mandates, Rep. Petrarca is the legislator who sponsored a bill to repeal municipal-side unfunded mandates in February -- and then voted against nearly identical language as a budget amendment in June.

Rep. Thomas Winfield (overall score 1) did one better, managing two flip-flops, by not supporting educational unfunded mandate relief this year after having voted for it last year, and by voting in favor of the amendment lowering the car-tax exemption from $3,000 to $500 but then voting against the final bill. Unless Rep Winfield believed that the car-tax exemption should have been lowered beyond even $500, it is difficult to find a rationale for this combination of votes.

Quick Takes on RI's Reps: People of Johnston, Are You Aware of How Your Reps are Voting?

Carroll Andrew Morse

And speaking of Johnston, the contrast in the Anchor Rising legislative rankings between Johnston and its legislative neighbors is striking. Stephen Ucci and Deborah Fellela both received scores of -1, as did John Carnevale who's district includes both Providence and Johnson. The highest-rated legislator from Johnston was Peter Petrarca (who also represents Smithfield and Lincoln) who received a whopping score of 2 out of 10.

Travelling clockwise around Rhode Island's urban ring from Johnston brings you to North the Providence districts represented by Reps. Gregory Schadone (6) and Peter Wasylyk (2, but who by-the-way lost his primary). Travelling the other direction around the urban ring brings you to Cranston, where districts adjacent to Johnston are represented by Reps. Charlene Lima (5) and Michael Marcello (5, though his district also includes Scituate), and Nicholas Mattiello (3, the rating in a Cranston district bordering Johnston who is nearest the Johnston average, but still better than Petrarca's 2).

Are Johnstoners really that different from other Rhode Islanders? Or are they not aware of how the Democrats they are sending to the legislature are voting?

Quick Takes on RI's Reps: Stephen Ucci's Forfeit to Donna Walsh

Carroll Andrew Morse

Representative Donna Walsh (D - Charlestown/New Shoreham/South Kingstown/Westerly) was the sole RI Rep receiving the low score in Anchor Rising legislative rankings (-2). However, it should also be noted that Representative Stephen Ucci (D - Cranston/Johnston) missed the vote on Rep. Karen MacBeth's amendment to make the car tax reimbursement rate uniform across cities and towns. Had Rep. Ucci voted with the majority of the Democratic party on that amendment, he also would have achieved a score of -2.

A Foreign Reason to Get Our Own House in Order

Justin Katz

How about a frightening assessment of our relationship with China:

Why would China so brazenly challenge the world's economic powers like this? Because the country's leaders know what our leaders are only beginning to understand — that China would probably win a global trade war.

It's certainly worth reading Eric Weiner's entire essay for the details of his argument, but the point that I draw from his conclusion is that America's indebtedness and creeping cultural dependency have left us with no good governmental cards to play. Extrapolating a way forward, I'd suggest that Americans need to increase their efforts encouraging the Chinese people to push back against the abridgment of their rights and, perhaps more importantly, to begin restructuring our society so that we're less dependent on foreign loans and more apt to produce and to do business with our own countrymen and women.

Which strongly relates, it seems to me, to Peggy Noonan's latest insight into the national mood:

For those who wonder why so many people have come to hate, or let me change it to profoundly dislike, "the elites," especially the political elite, here is one reason: It is because they have armies of accountants to do this work for them. Those in power institute the regulations and rules and then hire people to protect them from the burdens and demands of their legislation. There is no congressman passing tax law who doesn't have staffers in his office taking care of his own financial life and who will not, when he moves down the street into the lobbying firm, have an army of accountants to protect him there.

Washington is now to some degree the focus of the same sort of profound resentment that Hollywood liberals inspired when they really mattered, or seemed really powerful. For decades they made films that were not helpful to our culture or society, that were full of violence and sick imagery. But they often brought their own children up more or less protected from the effects of the culture they created. Private schools, nannies, therapists, tutors. They bought their way out of the cultural mayhem to which they'd contributed. Their children were fine. Yours were on their own.

It all comes down to a desperate need to return the focus of our nation to individual autonomy, which requires, most of all, that more of the necessary restraints on others' behavior be accomplished through cultural means, rather than governmental. Central management and individual liberty are mutually exclusive, in the long run, and since we can't manage our way to a stronger global economic footing, we have to achieve it through our heritage of freedom and personal volition.

The College Money Game

Justin Katz

Look, higher education is important to the state of Rhode Island, and it would be even more so if the state were institutionally capable of creating an environment that created jobs that would attract our highly educated temporary visitors to stay in the state. But colleges and universities should start considering how their mixed message comes across to the folks struggling to make ends meet. Consider:

There are 2,400 Rhode Islanders who planned on attending the Community College of Rhode Island this fall but never enrolled because they couldn’t come up with the tuition.

The University of Rhode Island may also be in danger of becoming too expensive for out-of-state students when they compare its cost with similar institutions elsewhere, according to Ray M. DiPasquale, the state commissioner of higher education.

And more:

For the cost of two or three visits a year to Dunkin’ Donuts, about $9 for every Rhode Island taxpayer, the University of Rhode Island could build a critically needed chemistry building, President David M. Dooley said Monday.

And for another $2.52 a year, Rhode Island College could have a new arts facility to replace a 52-year-old building that has outlived its usefulness and has several fire code violations.

The leaders of post-secondary education in the state want our money-strapped government to up its contribution to their cause and are asking taxpayers to take out loans on their behalf on top of it. Yet, there's apparently money to add and accelerate new staffing positions for the cause of diversity.

This is the same game that governments play when they ensure that slush funds and wasteful programs persist while roads crumble. Expecting those expenditures that are clearly worthwhile investments to stand on their own, the people controlling the check book spend the funds already invested in them on items for which few taxpayers would agree to pay were they given the option. (To that, we could add the deal that university and college faculty and staff get.)

Sorry, but Rhode Island needs to allocate every penny possible to reducing taxes, eliminating mandates, and slashing regulations. If the spokespeople for the college crowd want a greater portion of the pie — and state-to-state comparisons suggest that they have a strong case — then they should add their voices to those calling for reform of our corrupt and wasteful system.

October 11, 2010

Healthcare "Huh" for Today

Justin Katz

The article's a couple of weeks old, but it's still worth noting a bit of writing that I don't think Projo journalist Felice Freyer or her editors would have allowed into print if they weren't fundamentally in favor of government healthcare:

The increases will pay for the coverage of dependents through age 26 and preventive services that now must be provided without any cost to the consumer.

Yup. The extra money you'll be paying for insurance is intended to make sure that you don't have to pay for certain services. Makes sense...

Of course, there may be a correlation-is-not-causation effect, here. Perhaps an habitual tendency to believe that something is free as long as its cost is filtered through a few steps of disguise results in a preference for government solutions.

The Give Me Mine Vote

Justin Katz

It's pretty clear, from a recent Brown University poll that about one-fifth of the electorate in Rhode Island are in the die-hard public sector camp:

On the other hand, a large percentage — 73.3 percent — opposed raising the state sales tax, while 18.9 percent supported the idea. And 74.7 percent opposed raising the state income tax, while 19.3 percent supported the idea.

When asked about measures that would affect state employees, 46.6 percent supported unpaid furlough days, while 38.4 percent opposed the idea, and 57.9 percent supported a defined-contribution pension plan for new state employees, while 21.1 percent opposed the idea.

Basically, 20% of survey respondents want higher taxes to support the deals currently offered to public-sector employees. I can't say, of course, how much overlap there is between wanting to increase the sales tax and wanting to increase the income tax, but I'd wager that it's significant — constituting, overall, a statement of "whatever it takes." That's a significant portion — especially given its greater likelihood actually to vote and to become active before election day — but it's not overwhelming.

The route to countering that bloc will be to isolate their issues in the face of a single candidate — who, incidentally, has made it abundantly clear that he's their guy:

... during and after the Marriott Hotel lunch, [Lincoln] Chafee insisted that [Frank] Caprio’s $100 million in promised [pension] savings are illusory, because his plan "won't standup to legal scrutiny."

"It's hard to believe that a court would agree that somebody that has been paying into a certain pension fund for 30 years, all of a sudden has a new pension plan. It's hard to believe a court, beyond the fairness issue, would say that is legal," Chafee said.

Determining, beforehand, that the union's ever-present threat of expensive litigation will prove indomitable is a classic ploy of union-bought candidates for office. It simply is not difficult to believe that an objective judge would allow the state to change the terms of an insupportable pension system, at least for investments not yet made. In other words, the fact that employees have been paying into a system does not mean that they have a legal right to see that system perpetuated. Some aren't yet vested, which means that they don't even have a claim to the fruits of their investments thus far, and others can be told that different rules will apply to payments made from this moment forward.

The more extreme measure — which may yet prove necessary — would be to transfer the vested payments into a defined-contribution plan that is financially comparable, but with better terms for the state. But I don't think any candidates have gone that far.

Incentive Not to Work

Justin Katz

In contrast to the PolitiFact about which I complained, yesterday, this one by Eugene Emery was actually informative. The statement under scrutiny was from Republican candidate for governor John Robitaille, that "Rhode Island has a very generous unemployment compensation rate compared to most other states":

By the latest measurement, during the first quarter of 2010 Rhode Island ranked second in the nation. The state paid the typical recipient 47.8 percent of the average weekly wage of $816.71. (Hawaii topped the list, at 54.8 percent. Massachusetts, by that measure, was at 37.3 percent, ranking it 29th.)

Put another way, the average hourly wage in Rhode Island during the first quarter of 2010 was $20.42. The average person receiving unemployment insurance got the equivalent of $9.76 per hour. The benefit could be as much as $13.76 an hour for an individual or $17.20 per hour for someone with five or more dependents.

Robitaille's contention is that unemployment benefits so high discourage people from going back to work once unemployed. I've actually run into that dynamic, with a new carpenter who spent most of the single day that he worked with my company telling another new guy how nice it was to be able to go fishing and such while receiving a government subsidy.

It's important to note that unemployment needn't exceed the pay rate that a potential worker could expect. It just needs to be more than he or she requires to live an acceptable lifestyle.

Teacher Salaries Around the Country

Justin Katz

I recently found a Web site of teacher salaries by state, alongside other statistics. The Web site provides charts comparing teacher salaries to such things as median house price, median household income, and cents of benefit per dollar of salary, but expanding the data set a bit to include a representative standardized test result led to the following intriguing result:

The figure is sorted by math results, from lowest to highest, and the dotted red lines are trendlines for the respective measures. Notice that there appears to be a negative correlation between teachers' total compensation (as a percentage of median household income) and math scores.

All sorts of considerations arise. There is a positive correlation between a state's median household income and its students success on the math tests, and a (less significant) correlation between results and per-pupil spending. The obvious rebuttal to my chart, therefore, would be that as household income goes up (along with test scores), teachers earn less as a percentage thereof, thus creating that negative correlation. However, further examination shows that teacher compensation and NAEP math scores both go up with median household income, while the teacher compensation in absolute terms has almost no effect on test scores.

Put differently, wealthier populations see better results on the tests and pay their teachers better, but paying teachers more does not remedy demographic disadvantages. Not surprisingly, given all of this, Rhode Island is tenth highest in total teacher compensation and ninth highest in per-pupil spending, but thirty-sixth in NAEP math scores.

For your reference, each state's data is available via these links: teacher salaries Alabama | teacher salaries Alaska | teacher salaries Arizona | teacher salaries Arkansas | teacher salaries California | teacher salaries Colorado | teacher salaries Connecticut | teacher salaries Delaware | teacher salaries District of Columbia | teacher salaries Florida | teacher salaries Georgia | teacher salaries Hawaii | teacher salaries Idaho | teacher salaries Illinois | teacher salaries Indiana | teacher salaries Iowa | teacher salaries Kansas | teacher salaries Kentucky | teacher salaries Louisiana | teacher salaries Maine | teacher salaries Maryland | teacher salaries Massachusetts | teacher salaries Michigan | teacher salaries Minnesota | teacher salaries Mississippi | teacher salaries Missouri | teacher salaries Montana | teacher salaries Nebraska | teacher salaries Nevada | teacher salaries New Hampshire | teacher salaries New Jersey | teacher salaries New Mexico | teacher salaries New York | teacher salaries North Carolina | teacher salaries North Dakota | teacher salaries Ohio | teacher salaries Oklahoma | teacher salaries Oregon | teacher salaries Pennsylvania | teacher salaries Rhode Island | teacher salaries South Carolina | teacher salaries South Dakota | teacher salaries Tennessee | teacher salaries Texas | teacher salaries Utah | teacher salaries Vermont | teacher salaries Virginia | teacher salaries Washington | teacher salaries West Virginia | teacher salaries Wisconsin | teacher salaries Wyoming

October 10, 2010

The Race to Preserve Racism

Justin Katz

At least — many of us hoped — the United States could finally move past the racial divide. Yes, we expected opposition to President Obama to be quickly equated with racism, but it seemed the broader declarations of the United States as a racist country would be ridiculous on their face. It appears, though, that racial harmony will continue to be a long, slow development:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 36% of voters now say relations between blacks and whites are getting better. That's down from 62% in July of last year at the height of the controversy involving a black Harvard professor and a white policeman. That number had fallen only slightly to 55% in April of this year.

Twenty-seven percent (27%) now say black-white relations are getting worse, up 10 points from July 2009, while 33% think they're staying about the same.

African-Americans are much more pessimistic than whites. Thirty-nine percent (39%) of whites think black-white race relations are getting better, but just 13% of blacks agree.

It's impossible to know, now, but I'd speculate that, had President Obama been a more conventional president — more modest in his ambitions and moderate in his ideology — the trends of opinion on race would be heading in the other direction. Of course, it's not but so partisan to wonder whether the Democrats actually see that as a desirable opportunity lost.

Cynthia Needfacts and the Politiham Feature

Justin Katz

Frankly, if the folks behind the Providence Journal's PolitiFact feature wish not to lose entirely the salable premise thereof — its neutrality — mere months from its introduction, they should ban Cynthia Needham from touching the Truth-O-Meter. Monique made mention of Needham's take-down of Republican Congressional candidate John Loughlin, last week, but the matter deserves a little closer look, beginning with Needham's prior finding that Democrat David Cicilline was being "half true" when he said that "the Republican candidate has talked about privatizing Social Security... so we know where he stands on the issue."

Taking it point by point, Cicilline is correct when he says Loughlin has talked about privatization. It's important to note however that words matter. Had Cicilline made a more stringent accusation, we might have judged it differently.

It's important to note, too, that it would be entirely accurate, by this measure, to state that David Cicilline has "talked about privatization." It's a dumb measure that one would only apply if the objective was to assist the Cicilline spin. Note, especially, that the folks at Politifact chose the phrasing that they investigated. Alternately, they might have looked to a September 29 article in the Pawtucket Times, helpfully provided on Cicilline's campaign Web site:

Privatization, which Cicilline contends his Republican opponent, John Loughlin, has said might be appropriate for younger workers, would "eliminate Social Security the way we know it and make seniors take their savings, go into the stock market, and gamble your future."

Everything about this statement is false. Loughlin has suggested that partial privatization would be appropriate for younger workers, leaving Social Security "the way we know it" intact; the money being invested, rather than stored away in phony federal IOUs, would come from those young workers, not "seniors"; and the money would not come out of savings, but out of contributions already slated for Social Security taxation. Personally, I think Loughlin's view isn't nearly strong enough, but I'm not the one trying to claim an elective office. The point is that PolitiFact is supposed to investigate actual statements and facts, and in this case, Cynthia Needham chose a particular quotation from a field of lies that she found to be easier to spin in a positive way for the candidate whom she presumably prefers. She goes on:

He's also right that Loughlin voted against the resolution urging Washington to oppose it.

Again, Needham's parsing of language is entirely one-sided. The accusation in question is that Loughlin wishes to privatize Social Security. There's plenty of room between that position and thinking that a state legislature shouldn't pass a symbolic resolution in favor of not doing so.

On the third point, however, Cicilline misses the mark. He does not appear to know where his opponent stands on the issue. Loughlin himself says Cicilline is flat out misinterpreting his position. Yet that hasn't stopped Cicilline from criss-crossing the state using the accusation to scare elderly voters and win votes.

So, here at the end of an article that provides the quick-check device of a Truth-O-Meter to allow skimming readers to get the sense of the article, Needham acknowledges that the core substance of Cicilline's comment constituted a misrepresentation. She proceeds to give that an equal rating to an irrelevancy ("has talked about") and an insignificant vote made half a decade ago.

Now turn to Needham's subsequent attack on John Loughlin's veracity on the same issue, which is utterly absurd. The statement under investigation is that "Social Security is a Ponzi scheme" (click here for video of that answer). To which Needham finds:

There are similarities. As PolitiFact Wisconsin notes, Social Security uses taxes on current wage earners to finance the retirement checks of millions of Americans.

So, structurally, Needham acknowledges that Social Security operates in a way at least similar to Ponzi schemes. How does she weave a Truth-O-Meter "False" from a statement that is substantively accurate?

... there is a second, critical component that defines a Ponzi scheme: fraud. To reach the level of this kind of scam, an investment setup must intentionally con investors, while making efforts to convince them that the finances are legitimate.

At best, this is a statement of opinion. As an investor in Social Security, I absolutely distrust the promises being made about the returns that I can expect on my investment. More importantly, whatever honesty the government is able to muster for its own scheme (whether Ponzi or some other variety) derives from the fact that the "investors" have no choice. Would Needham pick the "fraud" nit if an entity other than the federal government were offering the same investment opportunity and threatening to confiscate property and even imprison people who chose not to participate? To ask is to answer.

The article then moves from opinion to advocacy with this:

A Ponzi scheme is guaranteed to run aground when the pool of investors is tapped out, whereas the Social Security administration's troubles could be remedied by raising taxes or other restructuring, should the federal government choose to do so, [URI Economics Professor Rick McIntyre] said.

In other words, Social Security differs from a Ponzi scheme because the latter will inevitably fail, while the government can simply transform its own variation of the scam into a straight-up redistribution of wealth. When the "investors" in Social Security can no longer keep up with the recipients, the government has the power to unilaterally change the payouts and/or draw on resources (taxation) external to the program. Any Ponzi scheme could be resolved with that sort of power.

And for closing, Needham simply can't maintain the mask of objectivity:

But there's one more thing. Loughlin doesn't just compare Social Security to the Ponzi scheme concept, he takes it a step further and draws a parallel with the specific case of Madoff, who is believed to have run the largest fraud of this kind in history.

Publicly measuring a 75-year-old U.S. government program against such a massive crime is not only overstating the issue, it's bordering on irresponsible.

Deploying poor logic and a tautology, Needham illustrates her personal investment in the issue of which she's presenting herself (falsely) as a neutral arbiter. That the perpetrator of the scheme is the U.S. government does not make it less of a scam. That the program has lasted 75 years is merely a consequence of the fact that each wave of investors is a full generation or more removed from the beneficiaries, meaning that the demographic collapse is certain to be slow. And raising ire on the basis of comparing a federal program to a crime merely begs the question.

Re: A Billion-Dollar Cold Turkey Dinner for Rhode Island?

Carroll Andrew Morse

In response to my post from yesterday on the potential crunch coming to the Rhode Island budget based on the loss of Federal dollars, spurrued by Professor Leonard Lardaro's Staurday Projo op-ed, commenter Bill replies...

Most respectfully and to the contrary, there will always be "bailout" or other "funny" money from Washington for RI. Obama knows that those who become dependent on welfare, bailouts, and other such federal handouts will vote democrat. The "bailout" will likely be called something else, but I have no doubt it will arrive just in time to obviate the need for RI's public unions and the state legislature (of course, largely one and the same) to begin thinking seriously about reforming anything.
That certainly has been an accurate description of things have worked in Rhode Island so far, with one-time fixes like "stimulus" and tobacco money used to plug budget holes. The problem is that the trend of constant growth in cost-of-government (after the adjustment for inflation) that we have been experiencing in Rhode Island...


...cannot continue forever, under the current conditions, unless there is a never-ending supply of one-time fix money to draw on (or taxes are increased to annually cover the cost of the one-time fixes).

The flawed assumption in the we-can-always-find-another-one-time-fix strategy is that while the supply of one-time sources of revenue may be large, it is not infinite. And just like with the gambler who walks into a casino with $10,000, mistakenly believing that as long as he makes small bets, he will always have enough money available to stay in the game, it's in the nature of these matters that when the source of money used to cover a series of bad outcomes runs out, the magnitude of the damage is related not only to the last of the bad outcomes, but to the entire series of outcomes that led to the final crash.

What the President Thinks Is Inexcusable

Justin Katz

A couple of weeks ago, I highlighted President Obama's supposed jab at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "Inexcusable," Mr. Obama said of the proclamation of "the U.S. did it" 9/11 conspiracy theorizing right in the city that saw the greatest death toll on that day. Well, not long thereafter, our Barack used the word again:

"It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines," the president declared in a Rolling Stone magazine interview. He said that supposed supporters who are "sitting on their hands complaining" are irresponsible because Republican congressional victories could dash Democratic plans.

As I said in the post linked first, above, "inexcusable" has become a nearly meaningless word. But it is interesting to ponder whether, from his perspective, President Obama's use of it in these two instances is hyperbole when speaking about Democrats and progressives or dilution when speaking about Ahmadinejad.

October 9, 2010

How Is Debt Going Away... Revisited

Justin Katz

Since I took the time to argue, last month, that the slow pace of paying down debt, as compared with giving banks no choice but to write it off, means that a whole lot of debt has to be paid down to balance out each default. Michelle Singletary would say that I'm being too charitable:

CardHub's analysis found that credit card debt for the second quarter of this year decreased by about $12 billion compared with the previous quarter. But banks charged off $21.8 billion during the same period. Given that the drop in outstanding debt is smaller than the dollar amount that was charged off, the difference of $9.8 billion is the amount of debt consumers accumulated, Papadimitriou said.

His findings give a more realistic view of how seriously the recession has crippled consumers. The charge-offs also indicate that many banks are continuing to experience deep losses, and this is one of the reasons why credit is still tight. It's why many lenders have been cutting people's credit limits, he said.

The Wall Street Journal analysis that I cited in the first link, above, found that some debt was indeed being paid down. The difference between that and CardHub's numbers appears to be that the former is all debt, while the latter is credit card debt. That could mean, in other words, that folks are paying off longer-term debt while still living off of their credit cards.

Whatever the case, Americans still have much work to do breaking their addiction to swiping plastic.

Re: Another Indication of Rhode Island's Rut

Carroll Andrew Morse

Justin's question of...

Who's Winfield?
...referring to Representative Thomas Winfield (D - Glocester/Smithfield) and his rumored run for Speaker of the House against Gordon Fox, provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the Anchor Rising legislative scorecard in action.

Begin with this simple observation: Rep. Winfield scored a 1 out of 10, while current speaker of the House Gordon Fox scored a 3 out of 10. But as I said in the original post and on the Matt Allen Show, sticking a number next to a legislator's name is not the ultimate goal of this system; the goal is to provide a guide that can help voters learn about the major decisions their incumbent Representatives have made regarding taxes, cost-of-government and cost-of-mandates. And for a potential (or at least a self-declared) leadership candidate like Rep. Winfield, a closely related question is what did he do to earn a score 2 points worse than Speaker Fox.

Rep. Winfield did worse than Speaker Fox for two reasons...

  1. He voted for the the amendments attempting to weaken the new Mayoral academies in 2008 (but then voted for their start-up funding in 2009, along with Fox), and
  2. He changed his position on relieving cities and towns from educational unfunded mandates, voting for relief in 2009 but against in 2010, incurring a penalty for going wobbly.
The sources of Rep. Winfield's differential with Speaker Fox (coming late to structural ed. reform, changing his mind on unfunded mandates to not support lifting them when it could have helped municipalities adjust to changes in state aid), along with the reasons for his generally low score to begin with (including his being one of the reps who voted in favor of the amendment lowering the car-tax exemption from $3,000 to $500 but who then voted against the final bill) do not suggest someone who is poised to become an effective leader of a steady movement to restore Rhode Island to a semblance of governmental sanity.

A Billion-Dollar Cold Turkey Dinner for Rhode Island?

Carroll Andrew Morse

In an op-ed in today's Projo, University of Rhode Island Economics Professor Leonard Lardaro connected the macroeconomic to the macropolitical...

The upcoming election is more important than is generally assumed for Rhode Island, because federal bailout money will no longer be available by this time next year. Fiscally, this will force us to go “cold turkey.” The resulting jolt to a fragile upturn may well force our state into a double-dip recession. The citizens of this state need to be proactive, even though our elected officials seldom are.
The impact of Federal money and of its loss is evident from a series of budget graphs presented here at Anchor Rising at the end of August.

State government expenditures in Rhode Island have been growing steadily for the past decade, and are about 50% more than they were a decade ago (adjusted for inflation) (and begging the question, do you feel you are getting 50% better service from the state compared to a decade ago?)...


Maintaing that growth trend over the past two years has required as massive infustion of Federal funds into Rhode Island's government, which have grown by 40%-50% since just 2008...


If Federal money drops back to the vicinity of 2008 levels in the next couple of years, it will represent a cut of about a billion dollars from current annual budget levels. The question is, will the legislature elected this November continue to be committed to the steady growth in RI government that has characterized the past decade (at least), and plan to continue that growth by taking a billion dollars per year in new taxes from Rhode Island residents, or will the new legislature seated in November begin to make up for the loss by reducing the spending done by the state?

Where Freedom Must Be Won

Justin Katz

I came across this quotation in a brief obituary that National Review printed memorializing Guatemalan freedom and business advocate, and university founder, Manuel Ayau:

I learned that freedom must triumph in people’s minds and hearts before it can make any headway in politics.

Here's an expanded version, from an expanded biography:

Even when we won a battle now and then, we continued to lose the war against statism. I realized that we would make no real progress unless we changed the underlying ideas of the people. We had to take a long-run perspective. I learned that freedom must triumph in people’s minds and hearts before it can make any headway in politics.

Truly, the people of the United States, and Rhode Island especially, would do well to heed these words. One begins to feel, sometimes, as if people do not really believe in freedom — do not trust it, for themselves and even more for others.

We often get heat from the right and left, alike, on Anchor Rising, because we're not so much partisan as ideological. It's always been our objective to change underlying ideas, whatever the more immediate political calculations might appear to require.

Green and Blue v. Red

Justin Katz

An op-ed in the New York Post, by Sen. James Inhofe (R, OK) points to a couple of topics worth discussion:

One insidious force keeping unemployment high is regulatory uncertainty: Companies that could hire (or re-hire), don't — because they're worried about what new restrictions will be coming down from Washington.

Congress bears much of the blame — especially for the new "financial reform" law, which leaves so many details to be filled in later. But a major contributor to businesses' worries is the Obama Environmental Protection Agency, which is issuing a daily barrage of rules and regulations threatening jobs in American industry.

So concludes "EPA's Anti-Industrial Policy: Threatening Jobs and America's Manufacturing Base" — a new report from the minority staff of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (on which I serve as ranking member).

Inhofe goes on to describe three of the four "most egregiously anti-business proposals" of the EPA, on which the report focuses:

  • New rules for industrial boilers
  • Unnaturally lowered ozone levels
  • The claim that the agency has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide

The fourth proposal addressed in the full report (PDF) has to do with regulation of Portland Cement plants. Notably, all of the proposals have had the effect of putting Republicans and private-sector unions on the same side of advocacy — because both sides have reason to fear policies that could cost the economy almost a million jobs, many of them industrial.

But the Republicans don't have entirely clean hands on a broader view. Return your thoughts to Inhofe's lament over regulatory uncertainty. Such uncertainty is surely an inevitable consequence of our deeply divided political sphere. Indeed, the only thing that has been certain, over the past two decades, has been that government authority would grow and expand, but with a modicum of respect for free market principles that has driven the economy of the United States. Republicans of the current generations have failed to pull government in the other direction — with many, including President Bush, apparently quite comfortable with its expansion. That consistent trend enabled companies (particularly large companies) to adjust and plan for their own benefit, and smaller businesses and individuals could predict what rules would persist and which were prone to adjustment.

What President Obama and the Congressional Democrats have illustrated is that the balance cannot hold. Eventually, government's size and power becomes such that expansion requires it to rewrite rules by which other social powerhouses thrive. That's the line being crossed. Businesses operate by the larger principle (crass as it is) of profit, which makes it unlikely that a new corporate executive regime will change policies based on whim. When they do, the fact that companies are replaceable means that the gap they leave will be filled; another company will spot the poorly managed competitor's dash to the cliff and maneuver to fill its abandoned space. There is no secondary government.

Government, by its nature, is subject to the whims of those who hold its reins. Especially when public offices become the domain of independently wealthy politicians, they become prone to ideological excess, and ideology defines its own larger principles, making their decisions much less predictable. The nation's deep political divide matters most of all because the size of government grants unwieldy power to the side that happens to be winning for the moment.

October 8, 2010

Even the Comedians Can't Ignore the President's Foibles

Justin Katz

If you haven't yet watched the clip from Jon Stewart's Daily Show being touted as "the night Jon Stewart Turned on President Obama," do so. The best line, paraphrasing Obama's message to Democrats:

You know the most disappointing thing about you? Your disappointment in me.

Of course, this doesn't represent a sharp turn, but a further development of comedians' inability to ignore President Obama's eminently mockable characteristics.

Not an Optimistic View

Justin Katz

John Mauldin's report from an economic conference in Texas doesn't leave much room for optimism, with its first point being as follows:

John Hofmeister is the former president of Shell Oil and now CEO of the public-policy group Citizens for Affordable Energy. He paints a very stark (even bleak, as he gets further into the speech) picture of the future of energy production in the US unless we change our current policies. First, because of the aftereffects of the moratorium. It is his belief that the drilling moratorium will effectively still be in place until at least the middle of 2012. There won't even be new rules until the end of 2011, and then the lawsuits start.

Gulf oil production will be down by up to 1 million barrels a day. Imported oil is now 67% of oil usage but will go to 75% by 2012. He thinks crude oil will be up to $125 and gasoline between $4-$5 at the pump. And it will only get worse.

Granted, Hofmeister is an insider, but the central difficulty he describes is a critical one. America's political polarization has made it difficult for the energy industry to advance, amidst regulations that shift regularly, depending who's in power. Moreover, the relentless growth of government has led to 13 energy regulation agencies and 22 congressional committees with a hand in oversight.

Mauldin goes on to review dark prognostications in employment and housing, but an interesting question of political philosophy emerges when the conference turns to questions of China:

Among the societies we describe as democratic capitalist there are vast differences in the bargains and hence in the nature of economic activity. America tolerates levels of instability, crime, inequality and pernicious religious zealotry that Europeans and Japanese consider absurd, but it gets in return a much more dynamic entrepreneurial system of wealth creation. Japanese willingly accept levels of social conformity that Westerners consider bizarre, but achieves a high level of social stability and tremendous success in economic areas (such as high precision manufacturing), where self-disciplined social cohesion is a plus.

China, like all societies, is working out its bargain. It is still very much a work in progress but the process is dynamic, not static.

Mauldin's description of the return for America's bargain is far too limited. Dynamic entrepreneurialism is, after all, a subset of broad freedom and has its variations in other social realms than business — religion, science, art, and on and on. Unfortunately, for some of the same reasons that energy is set to become much more expensive, we're drifting away from our heritage, in that respect.

I'll Do As I Say, Not as I Did: The Gap Between Frank Caprio's Campaign Words and His Official Actions

Monique Chartier

With apologies for merely transferring something whole cloth (especially in sight of Andrew's extensive work), an interesting press release yesterday from the RIGOP highlights the contrast between Frank Caprio on the campaign trail and Frank Caprio in action at the General Assembly.

During last night’s televised gubernatorial debate, Democrat Frank Caprio struggled while trying to reconcile his campaign rhetoric with his 17-year record in the State’s General Assembly. Making sweeping statements and promises that were wholly inconsistent with his past actions, Caprio faced criticism from his rival candidates and had difficulty answering basic questions from WPRI reporter Tim White.

FRANK CAPRIO: “You don’t need to raise taxes. People are hurting today. People don’t have the extra money to buy their milk, their groceries, their prescription drugs and their clothing.” (WPRI debate, 10/6/10, www.wpri.com)

FACT: Caprio voted to increase income taxes, corporate taxes, sales taxes, utility taxes, gasoline taxes, and cigarette taxes. He even sponsored legislation to create a commuter tax and a tax on water. (House Journal 2/14/91, Projo 2/15/91, 6/16/91) (House Journal 2/14/91, Projo 2/15/91, 6/16/91) (House Journal 2/14/91, Projo 2/15/91, 6/16/91) (House Journal 91-7151) (98-s2608)

FRANK CAPRIO: “We need a plan that works for Rhode Island, eliminating those taxes that will keep people who create jobs and create wealth here in Rhode Island...Small businesses are being strangled by the taxation that’s hitting them.” (WPRI debate, 10/6/10, www.wpri.com)

FACT: Caprio voted for a 20% increase to the state income tax, and an 11% increase to corporate taxes. (House Journal 2/14/91, ProJo 2/15/91, 6/16/91, House Journal 2/14/91, ProJo 2/15/91, 6/16/91)

FRANK CAPRIO: “We have to put taxes in line with what’s going on around us, and have a plan to continue to reduce those taxes.” (WPRI debate, 10/6/10, www.wpri.com)

FACT: Caprio voted to keep the 7 percent sales tax rate, which was supposed to be temporary. (House Journal 2/14/91, ProJo 2/15/91, 6/16/91)

FRANK CAPRIO: “If you want to hold the line on spending and get this economy moving, vote for Frank Caprio.” (WPRI debate, 10/6/10, www.wpri.com)

FACT: Caprio has been a Rhode Island career politician for almost two decades and consistently voted to increase state spending from $1.5 billion in 1991 to almost $6.6 billion in 2006 - a 340% increase.

The Goal Is to Silence, Not to Oppose

Justin Katz

The opposition went to the immigration law enforcement rally, last Friday, dressed humorously to distract from their underlying intent, which is to prevent the public from hearing or understanding an argument with which they disagree:

Suddenly, demonstrators in polyester clown suits filed through security and entered the State House rotunda, carrying signs that said, "Clown Power," and "Clowntocracy."

At that point, the "Clowns for Immigration Law Enforcement" outnumbered Palumbo-bill supporters, whose critical mass never exceeded 50.

The clowns mocked the speakers with whoops and applause: "Peter Palumbo! Clown in Chief!" "Peter Palumbo! Clown in Chief!" "When I say 'Clown!' You say 'Power!'"

It's not surprising that, in the middle of a work day, it's easier to raise a crowd opposed to enforcing immigration law than supportive of it. More to the point, the intention here — as with protestors at the recent rally hosted by the National Organization for Marriage, in Providence — is to make it more difficult for a public conversation to be had.

Take away the "clown," and all they're shouting is "power."

October 7, 2010

Anchor Rising's Rhode Island House of Representatives Ratings for 2010

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here are Anchor Rising's legislative rankings of the members of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, based on the five sets of legislative votes that have been analyzed over the past two weeks. The idea is to try to capture each legislator's propensities towards taxes, cost-of-government and cost-of-mandates, attitudes that are to difficult assess based on a single vote. The scoring system is explained here, including links to the posts containing details on the bills that were considered and the vote tallies. Higher scores signal consistent votes against raising taxes, for lowering cost of government and more sensible regulation of municipal affairs.

As I said to Matt Allen last night I don't expect a ranking number placed next to a legislator's name to be the end of the discussion, but rather a starting point for people looking for more information about the positions and policies their legislator supports. Or maybe someone could convince me that the legislators who scored near zero (or below) are really the ones who are making the best decisions for Rhode Island (but I doubt it).

I will be happy to post responses from any legislator who'd like to comment on their ranking, explain why they voted for or against a certain bill, what else should be considered, why they think the system is flawed or why it's brilliant, etc. I will also post responses from any challengers who'd like to discuss why they believe they will do a better job representing their districts than the legislator listed here on the issues that were considered in assembling the ranking and on any issue a challenger thinks is important.

And now, to the numbers...

Score NameDist.Communities Represented
10 Rep. Brian Newberry 48 Burillville, North Smithfield
10 Rep. Jon Brien 50 Woonsocket
10 Rep. John Loughlin 71 Little Compton, Portsmouth, Tiverton
9 Rep. Joseph Trillo 24 Warwick
9 Rep. Robert Watson 30 East Greenwich, West Greenwich
9 Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt 49 Woonsocket
8 Rep. Arthur Corvese 55 North Providence
7 Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt 32 North Kingstown
7 Rep. Rod Driver 39 Charlestown, Exeter, Richmond
6 Rep. Gregory Schadone 54 North Providence
6 Rep. Joy Hearn 66 Barrington, East Providence
5 Rep. Charlene Lima 14 Cranston
5 Rep. Robert Jacquard 17 Cranston
5 Rep. Al Gemma 20 Warwick
5 Rep. Patricia Serpa 27 Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick
5 Rep. Michael Marcello 41 Cranston, Scituate
5 Rep. Jan Malik 67 Barrington, Warren
5 Rep. Douglas Gablinske 68 Bristol, Warren
5 Rep. J. Russell Jackson 73 Middletown, Newport
5 Rep. Deborah Ruggiero 74 Jamestown, Middletown
4 Rep. Scott Pollard 40 Coventry, Foster, Glocester
4 Rep. Rene Menard 45 Cumberland, Lincoln
4 Rep. Karen MacBeth 52 Cumberland
4 Rep. John Edwards 70 Portsmouth, Tiverton
3 Rep. John McCauley 1 Providence
3 Rep. Gordon Fox 4 Providence
3 Rep. Steven Costantino 8 Providence
3 Rep. Joseph Almeida 12 Providence
3 Rep. Nicholas Mattiello 15 Cranston, Scituate
3 Rep. Tim Williamson 25 Coventry, West Warwick
3 Rep. William Murphy 26 Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick
3 Rep. Samuel Azzinaro 37 Westerly
3 Rep. Mary Ann Shallcross-Smith 46 Lincoln, Pawtucket
3 Rep. Christopher Fierro 51 Woonsocket
3 Rep. Agostinho Silva 56 Central Falls
3 Rep. Kenneth Vaudreuil 57 Central Falls/Cumberland
3 Rep. Elaine Coderre 60 Pawtucket
3 Rep. Helio Melo 64 East Providence
3 Rep. Raymond Gallison 69 Bristol, Portsmouth
3 Rep. Peter Martin 75 Newport
2 Rep. Peter Wasylyk 6 North Providence, Providence
2 Rep. Joanne Giannini 7 Providence
2 Rep. Anastasia Williams 9 Providence
2 Rep. Scott Slater 10 Providence
2 Rep. Joseph McNamara 19 Cranston, Warwick
2 Rep. Scott Guthrie 28 Coventry
2 Rep. Kenneth Carter 31 Exeter, North Kingstown
2 Rep. David Caprio 34 Narragansett, South Kingstown
2 Rep. Peter Petrarca 44 Johnston, Lincoln, Smithfield
2 Rep. Patrick O'Neill 59 Pawtucket
1 Rep. Edith Ajello 3 Providence
1 Rep. Eileen Naughton 21 Warwick
1 Rep. Frank Ferri 22 Warwick
1 Rep. Donald Lally 33 Narragansett, North Kingstown, South Kingstown
1 Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy 38 Hopkinton, Westerly
1 Rep. Edwin Pacheco 47 Burrillville, Glocester
1 Rep. Thomas Winfield 53 Glocester, Smithfield
1 Rep. Peter Kilmartin 61 Pawtucket
1 Rep. Roberto DaSilva 63 East Providence, Pawtucket
1 Rep. John Savage 65 East Providence
1 Rep. Amy Rice 72 Middletown, Newport, Portsmouth
0 Rep. Grace Diaz 11 Providence
0 Rep. Peter Palumbo 16 Cranston
0 Rep. Robert Flaherty 23 Warwick
0 Rep. Michael Rice 35 South Kingstown
0 Rep. Mary Duffy Messier 62 East Providence/Pawtucket
-1 Rep. David Segal 2 East Providence/Providence
-1 Rep. John DeSimone 5 Providence
-1 Rep. John Carnevale 13 Johnston/Providence
-1 Rep. Arthur Handy 18 Cranston
-1 Rep. Raymond Sullivan 29 Coventry, West Greenwich
-1 Rep. Stephen Ucci 42 Cranston, Johnston
-1 Rep. Deborah Fellela 43 Johnston
-1 Rep. William San Bento 58 North Providence, Pawtucket
-2 Rep. Donna Walsh 36 Charlestown, South Kingstown, Westerly, New Shoreham

The RI House Scoring System

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here’s the scoring system for Anchor Rising's legislative rankings that will appear in the following post. The heading-links will take you to the posts that explain the legislation involved and the complete vote tallies in detail.

Pension Reform:

  • +2 for voting for the pension reform article or for the amendment affecting new hires.

Reducing State Car-Tax Reimbursement and
Increasing Local Car Tax Authority

  • +2 for voting against the amendment reducing the exemption from $3,000 (in the original bill) to $500 and voting against the final article.
  • +1 for voting against the amendment reducing the exemption but voting for the final article.
  • Zip for voting for the amendment reducing the exemption, even combined with a vote against the final article.
  • -1 for voting against the amendment establishing a uniform reimbursement rate throughout the state.

Relief from Unfunded Mandates:

  • +2 for voting for amendments relieving both municipal-side and educational-side unfunded mandates.
  • +1 for voting for one amendment but not the other.
  • -1 for voting for educational unfunded mandate relief in 2009 but not 2010 (when the legislature was increasing local taxing authority via the car tax).

Education Reform:

  • (For legislators in office prior to 2009) +2 for voting against the amendments to water down Mayoral academies in 2008, and for mayoral academy and charter school start-up funding in 2009.
  • (For legislators in office prior to 2009) +1 for voting for the start-up funding in 2009, after a vote to water-down mayoral academies in 2008.
  • (For legislators in office prior to 2009) Zip for going wobbly and voting against start-up funding in 2009, regardless of 2008 votes.
  • (For legislators who took office for the first time in 2009) +2 for voting for start-up funding in 2009.
  • (For all legislators) -1 for voting against expanding the charter cap in 2010.

Teacher’s Health Insurance Board:

  • +2 for voting against the override that implemented the board.

Handling Matters Outside of the Legal System

Justin Katz

Jonah Goldberg posted a letter in the Corner that's worth reading in its entirety, but here's the crux:

To be blunt, in the days of my grandfather, a good sized group of men would have peeled off from the funeral, and informed Rev. Phelps he was not welcome within eyesight of the funeral, and that it was time for him to leave. Like, right now. If he didn’t, then he would have been bodily removed, likely with a variety of lumps and bruises, from the scene and warned that if he returned, he would get a serious beating.

And nobody would have batted an eye. Any cops that were called would have exercised discretion, looked over the situation, and told Phelps “You had it coming, bub, beat it”. Any judge that Phelps petitioned would have looked at the case, told Phelps he was a horses hind end, and tossed it out of court with prejudice.

The writer goes on to suggest that the difference was a uniform culture, at least with regard to standards of behavior. In essence, everybody in the entire chain of events would have understood that the judgment from the jurist's bench would have found any assault charges mitigated by Phelps's offensive action. Now things aren't so clear.

One needn't believe that judges ought to apply their own cultural bias to every situation to come their way to think that some reasonable degree of self policing ought to be understood as undeserving of courts' time and attention. The letter writer above blames the left's post '50s "smashing [of] cultural norms, [which] moved simple disputes such as this from the cultural, low-level form of conflict resolution into the legal system." Somebody more sympathetic to '60s radicalism might adjust that statement to note that the disruptive decade allowed actually existing subcultures to make their presence known, thereby necessitating recourse to the ostensibly neutral intermediary of the law.

Both of these factors surely play a role, but I'd suggest that the larger problem is the division of the culture between elite and masses, high and low, ruling and ruled. The richest man in town once sat among the pews with the common folk, presumably admitting the authority of a shared church. Less mobility meant that powerful people were often in closer proximity to the hoi polloi, making them more accessible. The absence of all sorts of technologies — from instant communication, to rapid transportation, to forensics and other investigative techniques — meant that leaders who presumed too much in the face of popular will were vulnerable to street justice, themselves.

That isn't to say that street justice is desirable, but all of these factors together once fostered a cultural sympathy and a sense of extra-legal accountability, creating incentive for everybody to remain within a tolerable variation from cultural expectations. And as the Phelpses' offensive roadshow illustrates, our society failed to maintain important cultural controls as it made desirable adjustments to allow greater individual freedom and a stronger voice for those outside of the mainstream.

That, in my view, speaks to the real damage done by the radicals of recent decades and progressives of the past two centuries: They've pushed for rapid change, typically leveraging emotion and legal imposition to simply make a new social structures fact without regard to the pillars that might fall as a consequence.

The Best and the Worst of the Legislature

Justin Katz

Last night, Andrew was in studio for the Matt Allen Show, talking about his review of General Assembly votes on several important bills. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

October 6, 2010

Another Indication of Rhode Island's Rut

Justin Katz

The story of Rhode Island's election season — so far and overall — has been the story of an utter lack of enthusiasm. Perhaps inadvertently, Ian Donnis gives some illustration why by drumming up news about potential challenges to RI House Speaker Gordon Fox (D, Providence) for the speakership:

Schadone says he will make a decision on whether to challenge Fox within the next few weeks. The North Providence Democrat says Winfield will lead the challenge only with his support.

Winfield confirmed he's considering a leadership challenge. "We need numbers," says the Smithfield Democrat, part of an opposition bloc dating to Murphy's speakership. "I don't know if we'll have the numbers. I'd like to think we can change the leadership."

Who's Winfield? And what has Schadone been doing since he lost his first challenge to Fox? Dunno, and that's the problem. Rhode Island's political insiders simply have no clue about, or at least interest in, activities that don't involve political-insiderism.

So here's a tip for folks — politicians and otherwise — who wish to actually change the state in the 2012 election cycle: start doing things. Make some noise. Challenge some powerful bozos. Get some press. Rhode Island is stirring its political stew, but all of the meat has either been consumed already or fled the state of its own volition.

If I Were a Betting Man, I'd Bet On Judge Michael Silverstein Throwing Out the New Receivership Law...

Carroll Andrew Morse

...or at least significant chunks of it. I opine this after reading John Hill's report in today's Projo which highlighted a particular line of questioning asked during yesterday's oral arguments on the constitutionality of the municipal receivership law, to the lawyer for Central Falls receiver Mark Pfeiffer...

[Judge Silverstein] pressed [lawyer Theodore Orson] on the lack of a specific term for the receiver several times. Orson said the receiver’s tenure was not indefinite because the law allowed him to be removed once the conditions that led to his appointment were resolved.
This questioning by Judge Silverstein is very likely related to a precedent established in Marran v. Baird, the 1994 West Warwick case where the RI Supreme Court ruled that the state was not prohibited by the home-rule provision of the state constitution from creating of a "budget commision" to oversee an individual municipality's financial decision-making, as long as it was for the limted duration that was specified in the law at that time...
The plaintiffs also maintain that by enabling the commission to impose a budget upon the town of West Warwick, 45-9-3 bypasses West Warwick's financial town meeting and, thus, impermissibly alters the town's form of government. We disagree.

45-9-3 does not expressly alter the structure or form of West Warwick's municipal government. Indeed, any effect it may have on a local government is contained, delineated, and temporary, lasting no longer than the end of the fiscal year...

Obviously, the appointment of a commission that adopts and maintains a balanced budget for West Warwick has a temporary impact on West Warwick's budgetary process. The commission's role, however, lasts no longer than "the end of the fiscal year." Accordingly, 45-9-3's effect on the structure of West Warwick's government is at most incidental and temporary. The provision does not, therefore, affect the form of government of any city or town and consequently does not violate article 13.

Personally, I don't find the logic of it's only a temporary change in form government, so it doesn't count as a change in the form of government to make much sense. But from a legal perspective, what is most important to the present case is that the new receivership law, because of its open-endedness, may be found to violate the Constitutional provisions prohibiting state-imposed changes to municipal forms-of-government under the loose standards already established by the Rhode Island Supreme Court and without contradicting any existing precedents.

Caprio is Both For and Against Binding Arbitration (Depending Upon the Audience)

Monique Chartier

Randal Edgar reports in yesterday's Providence Journal. Kudos to Ken Block for picking up on this.

In an interview last month with the head of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, gubernatorial candidate Frank T. Caprio responded with a quick “no, I do not” when asked if he favors binding arbitration to resolve teacher contract disputes.

Yet, when asked recently by the largest state employees union if he favors the practice for municipal and state employees, the Democratic candidate said yes.

Why did he answer differently to different audiences?

I've read it three times and I still don't get the explanation:

The difference, said Caprio spokesman Nick Hemond, comes down to who is doing the negotiating. In the case of municipal contracts, the people negotiating on behalf of taxpayers would be the mayor or manager and the city or town council, who have ultimate responsibility for the entire municipal budget and the local tax rate. In the case of teacher contracts, the people negotiating on behalf of taxpayers — school superintendent and the school committee — do not have that control.

“It’s the mayor and the council who are going to have to deal with the results,” Hemond said. “If they can’t come to an agreement, they’re the party that can’t come to an agreement.”

An unsuccessful struggle to pierce such opaqueness inexorably drives one back to a more obvious though less flattering explanation:

I'm running for office and trying to secure as many votes as possible by telling constituencies what they want to hear. So I told cities and towns that I'm against binding arbitration because they oppose it and I told a public labor union that I'm for binding arbitration because public labor unions support it.

Rhode Island Still Knee Caps Its Students

Justin Katz

So, test scores for the science NECAPs are out, and the main topics of conversation have been:

  • That Portsmouth leads the pack, with 51.7% proficiency in grade 11, after having rearranged its science curriculum dramatically.
  • That demographic gaps in scores have increased.
  • That scores overall have nudged up.

Of course, by nudging, I mean about 4%. And if we look specifically at the critical test — that of 11th grade children approaching graduation — the increase is all of 1.1%. It's interesting to note something for which I've got no explanation: Reviewing the charts that compare the three states that issue the NECAPs (Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont), it seems that up and down trends repeat across state borders. That fact raises questions about whether increased resources for public education will repair the underlying problem. I certainly don't think funding is the issue in Rhode Island, and we trail the pack, of course.

Of particular interest to me, naturally, is the fact that Tiverton's 11th graders have lost ground by 4.4%. That's after a drop of 4.7% from 2008 to 2009. In the first year of science NECAPs, Tiverton students were 30.5% proficient; now, they're 21.4% proficient. These results obtained despite the fact that the number of students taking the test in Tiverton, a stand-in for enrollment, decreased by nearly one-fifth. One would think that a significantly smaller class would receive more individual attention and therefore achieve higher scores. Given the fact that, from 2008 to 2009, the number of students actually increased by one, yet the scores dropped by about the same amount, the proper conclusion appears to be that the Tiverton school district is just incapable of teaching science to the students that it is tasked to educate.

Oddly, this isn't a topic of conversation around town, that I've heard. It certainly wasn't audible beneath the din of the school committee and administration threatening to close elementary schools at the FTM in May.

Nancy Driggs Sums Up a Campaign's Rationale

Justin Katz

On Saturday, Tiverton Citizens for Change hosted a fundraiser for local candidates, featuring speeches from several. Nancy Driggs, Republican for RI House District 70 (Portsmouth, Tiverton), gave us something a bit more comprehensive than a review of local issues. Here is what she said.

My name is Nancy Driggs, and I am the non-incumbent candidate for RI State Representative, District 70. I was graduated from the Univ. of Pennsylvania undergraduate, and from the U.C.L.A. School of Law. I am licensed to practice law in California, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. My major areas of practice have been in the corporate/securities area, both at the SEC and a major Boston law firm, and then for almost 20 years, in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as a litigator in child custody cases of child abuse and neglect, and ultimately termination of parental rights to free the child for adoption.

I have been married to John Perkins, a partner in the RI small business of Wellington Yacht Partners, for 34 years. We have three children, a daughter who is a pediatrician/neonatologist at Women's and Infants, a son who is a financial analyst in Maryland, and another son who is a lawyer in Boston. We have two and three-quarters grandchildren.

In order to discuss what I consider the most compelling issues in our state, I have to discuss underlying principles, which guide me, and which inform these other issues.

The well-being of children, the most vulnerable amongst us, has been, always, a top priority for me. I believe, however, that we, as a society, and within our state, are destroying many young lives.

In my years of legal work in this arena I have seen the devastation wrought on families by our current "entitlement" and "benefit" culture. We have created, and continue to create, generations of government dependents. We have ruined families. A father's role to support offspring is ignored — the state (substitute taxpayer), instead, becoming the provider. We have neutered and made irrelevant, any sense of personal accountability and responsibility for actions — substituting, again, the taxpayer to provide for their children.

I remember being in Family Court in Providence for a hearing. I represented, at that time, the one year old child of an 18 year old mother. The child was in foster care because of mother's domestic violence issues with the child's father. It became clear that day that mother was again pregnant, and I asked her how she expected to take care of that child. Her answer? I get aid from the state. There was no sense that aid actually came from taxpayer's pockets. There was no shame that she would be taking it. There was no personal accountability.

I think, however, that this new vocabulary of "entitlements" and "benefits" that I witnessed in my work in the child custody arena, is symptomatic of society at large. And it needs to be changed. It has replaced the vocabulary of "fiscal accountability" and "personal accountability" that I grew up with. We are living in a surreal and dangerous world right now in Rhode Island where the government is demanding more and more money from the taxpayers to fund its ever-growing self and its many programs, and the taxpayers are finally saying, "enough, I'm out of here."

And when the taxpayer goes, whether an individual, or a corporation, so go jobs, and so go their revenues from the state's coffer.

It is as simple as that. We need to bring fiscal reality back into focus. We use the words "balance sheet" and "balanced budget," but we ignore the definition. A financial statement and a budget are balanced when liabilities equal assets. We don't run our household budget by expenditures that are based on a hoped-for gift from Uncle Sam, who, by the way, we know is also bankrupt and hugely in debt. We shouldn't run our state this way, yet that is exactly the FY 2011 budget our State Representatives passed last year.

We know that when our household incomes are down, the first things we give up are the "extras" — eating out, movies, trips. We don't first turn off our electricity, or the heat. Yet, we are told by our current representatives that if we cut back state spending the first thing to go will be police, firemen, ambulance, schools. That is nonsense, and it is time to call it that.

We don't have a revenue problem in Rhode Island. We have a spending problem, exacerbated and heightened by this mentality of "entitlements" and "benefits." My passion is to return "fiscal accountability" and "personal responsibility" to their proper and necessary function in society.

The America of our history, and our glory, always has been a "can do" country. We are the land of the free and the home of the brave, but we are at the brink of destroying the very values that still make us the country to which everyone wants to immigrate. Americans traditionally have been a hard-working people, intent on making a better life for those that follow. And until recently, that dream could be a reality. No more. If we don't stop this reckless, unaccountable, unprincipled spending — at every level of government — for the first time in the history of this country our children will NOT be able to have the opportunity for a life better than ours.

Big government is a malignancy. Its many impersonal tentacles are wrapping themselves around more and more of our liberties and freedoms, most often in the guise of compassion. Big government needs to be excised from our lives.

This is probably the most important election in the history of our country. This election is about the soul of our country, and us. This election is about private property rights, about who is more entitled to the fruits of your labor, your wallet, and to make decisions of where your money should be spent — government or you. This election is about the proper role of government and the individual in society.

I believe in free enterprise. I believe the individual should be free to keep as much of his/her money as possible, and to determine where that money should be spent. I believe in the Constitution, and the limited role of government it envisions.

I believe if we return to my passion, replacing the current culture of "entitlements" and "benefits" with the principles of "fiscal accountability" and "personal responsibility," if we allow these principles to inform our tax policy, our regulatory policy, our education standards, our healthcare debate, we will have gone a huge distance in bringing our cities, states and nation back from the brink of bankruptcy — moral and fiscal — upon which they all teeter.

This is why I am running.

October 5, 2010

How Your Representative Voted on Violating Multiple Principles of Democratic Governance All at Once

Carroll Andrew Morse

The final vote taken by the RI House of Representatives considered in this series is the January vote to override the Governor’s veto of a bill which created a new state board to design health plan options for Rhode Island teachers (see pg. 396). The law which resulted from this bill is a simultaneous affront to principles of local control, separation-of-powers, and general democratic governance, granting labor unions and certain other private organizations the power to directly appoint members of a government panel with the power to impose binding constraints on elected local governments. Further detail about what is wrong with the law is available here, here, here, and here.

Positions on this bill are captured by a single vote, with no combinations of amendments that need to be worried about. 47 Reps voted in favor of overriding the Governor’s veto and to restrict the fiscal options of local government, to trample separation of powers, and to bypass democracy...

The Honorable Speaker Murphy, Ajello, Almeida, Azzinaro, Caprio, Carnevale, Coderre, Costantino, DaSilva, DeSimone, Diaz, Fellela, Ferri, Flaherty, Fox, Gallison, Giannini, Guthrie, Handy, Kilmartin, Lally, Lima, MacBeth, Martin, Mattiello, McNamara, Menard, Messier, Naughton, O'Neill, Pacheco, Palumbo, Rice M., San Bento, Savage, Schadone, Segal, Shallcross-Smith, Silva, Slater, Sullivan, Ucci, Vaudreuil, Walsh, Wasylyk, Williams, Winfield.
...while 22 reps voted against...
Baldelli-Hunt, Brien, Corvese, Driver, Edwards, Ehrhardt, Fierro, Gablinske, Gemma, Hearn, Jackson, Loughlin, Malik, Marcello, Melo, Newberry, Pollard, Rice A., Ruggiero, Serpa, Trillo, Watson.
It wouldn’t be outrageous to suggest that this bill is a bellwether for positions on binding arbitration.


  • Moderate Party Gubernatorial candidate Ken Block’s thoughts on the Teachers’ Health Insurance Board are available here.
  • Republican Party Gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille’s thoughts on the Teachers’ Health Insurance Board are available here.

Merit Has to Be Intrinsic

Justin Katz

One begins to feel that those testing merit pay for teachers are deliberately missing the point — at least by the time their findings filter down through the mainstream media. Here's the latest:

Offering big bonuses to teachers failed to raise students' test scores in a three-year study released Sept. 21 that calls into question the Obama administration's push for merit pay to improve education.

The study, conducted in the metropolitan Nashville school system by Vanderbilt University's National Center on Performance Incentives, was described by the researchers as the nation’s first scientifically rigorous look at the effects of merit pay for teachers.

It found that students whose teachers were offered bonuses of up to $15,000 a year for improved test scores registered the same gains on standardized exams as those whose teachers were given no such incentives.

In absorbing the implications of these results, we must first absorb the relevance of this factor, offered at the end of the article (and not printed at all in the Providence Journal reprint, by the way):

Only about half of the 300 teachers originally in the Nashville study were left at the end of the three years because some retired, moved to other schools, or stopped teaching math. About 40 teachers got bonuses each year. Overall, the researchers said, test scores rose modestly for both groups of students during the three-year study, suggesting that the financial incentives made no difference.

Now, let's ignore the possibility that the results of a study that loses half of its participants is of questionable validity. And let's put aside practical questions that arise from that datum, such as:

  • Did teachers from both groups exit the study at equal rate?
  • If not, could the possibility of receiving a bonus have helped to retain teachers, or the probability of not earning a bonus have inspired exit?

Let's also take off the table the possibility that teachers in the control group, in keeping with their unions' strong and frequently stated distrust of merit-pay systems, tried especially hard so as to disprove the thesis that they'd try harder if it meant a bonus (thereby effectively confirming the thesis in an unmeasurable way).

At least some of us who support them see merit pay as the palpable incentive at the end of an entire reworking of the system to increase accountability up the education and administration chain and as a long-term process of changing the way in which teachers think about their jobs.

New New Media Opportunities to Clarify the Ideas Beneath the Headlines

Carroll Andrew Morse

OK, let's see if I can get with this whole socialist media thing...what's that...oh, you say it's social media. I feel more comfortable with it already.

On Saturday, First District Democratic Congressional Candidate David Cicilline tweeted this headline...

Loughlin Calls Social Security a 'Ponzi Scheme'
A minature link in the tweet takes you to a Facebook page which reprints a Golocal Providence article where a spokesman for the Cicilline campaign said they didn't like the comparison of Social Security to a Ponzi scheme, but didn't really say why.

To clarify the substance the comparison, and clarifying substance is always our primary objective here at Anchor Rising, {I made the following series of tweets? I offered the following series of tweets? I tweeted-back the following series of messages? Somebody help me out here}...

@davidcicilline Re: Ponzi; Could you explain your understanding of how revenue from this year's SS tax is being spent by the Federal Gov?

@davidcicilline Also, could you explain your understanding of where money used to pay this year's SS beneficiaries comes from?

@davidcicilline If you need more than 140 chars to respond, please e-mail camorse@anchorrising.com. Thanx.

Balancing a Budget; Balance Lucky Parent Syndrome?

Monique Chartier

Yesterday's RISC-Y Business NewsLetter contained a Woonsocket Call article (not available on line) describing the onerous cuts to the school budget identified by the school committee.

Mayor Leo T. Fontaine has sued the school department on a bid to balance its budget and on Monday school officials may meet his challenge with a stunning round of cuts not seen since the city budget battles of the early 1990s.

Villa Novan sports at all levels will be up for elimination School Committee Chairman Marc A. Dubois said Friday, and also all regular student transportation services.

A committee attempt to erase the remaining $2.8 million in red ink in the 2010-2011budget could also include the elimination of all teacher assistants at the elementary level and a cut of approximately $500,000 in capital expenditures on which the city is entitled to receive 80 percent reimbursement from the state.

I e-mailed an observer of Woonsocket politics yesterday to express exasperation that cuts had been identified only at the point of a lawsuit and to inquire whether he was aware of potential cuts that didn't make the list. The gentleman, not a bleeding heart on any front, replied below with little sympathy for my premise.

Let's establish the facts on the ground before taking up his questions.

- Woonsocket has an inadequate tax base. Not "inadequate" like Providence, which has a tax base but is legally barred from levying 45% of it. In Woonsocket, it simply doesn't exist in a sufficient mass, no matter how many tax laws are changed.

- Teacher pay in Woonsocket is in the bottom quarter statewide and they pay a 20% health co-share.

- We don't (myself included) all have $100,000+/year jobs. So there are "poorer" households and poorer communities.

Now to his questions.

Before I begin this debate, I need to know if you believe that suburban students are entitled by their good fortune (lucky parent syndrome) to have more opportunities offered to them? If so, why? If not, then how should the obvious socio-economic differences among the various cities and towns be balanced to assure equal opportunities?

Does the rest of the state not have an obligation to balance, if not equalize, opportunity, defined here as a good education, for children in less affluent communities?

Can We Trust David Cicilline's Style of Budgeting To Work For Social Security?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Social Security is a pay-as-you go program disguised by conceptual accounting gimmicks. Reporter Mary Williams Walsh of the New York Times described the primary gimmick this past March...

Although Social Security is often said to have a “trust fund,” the term really serves as an accounting device, to track the pay-as-you-go program’s revenue and outlays over time. Its so-called balance is, in fact, a history of its vast cash flows: the sum of all of its revenue in the past, minus all of its outlays.
Given this structure, when a political candidate like Democratic First District Congressional candidate David Cicilline promises to "protect social security", if by that he means that he will oppose any change in the basic structure of the program, questions of both short and long term fiscal responsibility are raised.

The short term issue relates to the Congressional Budget Office's March projection that about 60 billion dollars more will be needed to pay benefits than will be collected from Social Security taxes over the next 5-6 years. Since there is no "trust fund", the 60 billion dollars will have to be raised through taxes, debt or Federal program cuts. Does Mayor Cicilline believe that making up this 60 billion dollars is a concern, or perhaps a warning signaling that some kind of future changes will be necessary, or does he think that this is simply a problem for someone in the future to worry about?

And speaking of the future, on the longer term issues, the liberal wing of the within-government Democratic party seems to be coalescing around a position that also opposes just about any change to Social Security. Here is CBS news' report on the Dem position...

A group of Democrats today pressed President Obama's bipartisan fiscal commission, which is will be putting fourth recommendations on December 1st to reduce the deficit, not to include any cuts to Social Security when they do.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform "should keep their paws off" Social Security, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said on a phone call with reporters, calling for "no benefit cuts, no raising the retirement age, no privatization."

The general long-term question is identical to the short-term question: with the options listed above off of the table, what methods do Mayor Cicilline (and other Dems) propose for paying for Social Security's future shortfalls?

Finally, beyond the long-term outlook of Social Security alone and relevant to the issue of retirement security in the US in general is Mayor Cicilline's statement reported by Randal Edgar of the Projo that one source of his opposition to Social Security reform is that income taken from younger workers is needed to keep the current system "stable"...

Cicilline, the acknowledged front-runner in the race, also said allowing younger workers to put some of their contributions into private accounts would “destabilize the system” because some of that money is needed to pay current benefits.
Actually, with Social Security currently running a deficit and no "trust fund" in existence, all of that money collected annually is needed to pay current benefits; nothing is saved for the future. More to the point, two years ago the US House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor held hearings on retirement security that included discussion of a proposal to replace the tax-breaks allowing 401(k)s with mandatory government accounts instead...
Going forward, I propose Congress establish universal Guaranteed Retirement Accounts and the federal government deposit $600 (inflation indexed) in those Guaranteed Retirement Accounts every year for every worker.

Every worker (not in an equivalent defined benefit plan) would save 5% of their pay into their Guaranteed Retirement Account to which the government pays a 3% inflation-indexed guaranteed return. Workers would earn pension credits based on these accumulations...

[W]orkers’ contributions would be mitigated by a $600 a year contribution from the federal government indexed for inflation which will be paid for by scaling back substantially the tax breaks for 401(k) type accounts.

The question is, when the next set of Congressional hearings on retirement security are being held, and decisions on whether to scale back or even end private retirement savings incentives are being made, do you want a Congressman who believes 1) that no change to Social Security is possible and 2) that income from younger workers is needed to "stabilize" the system to be the Congressman representing you?

Whom the Candidates Represent

Justin Katz

An article about the RI gubernatorial candidates' appearance before the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns crystallizes — for those people who still, astonishingly, do not see — that Lincoln Chafee is little more than the candidate of the public-sector unions. On whether he'd pledge not to reduce state aid to municipalities:

Independent Lincoln D. Chafee went at the issue a different way, citing his plan to raise additional money through the sales tax

Regarding whether municipal leaders ought to have more authority over school finances:

... Chafee said school committees are already accountable to the people who elect them. Instead, he said he would work with other governors to secure more federal funding to help cover special-education costs.

On whether teachers' unions should have recourse to binding arbitration, Chafee's answer was, "yes." For Chafee, governing Rhode Island would be all about more money for union-funding activities and union-supporting policies.

The article also makes clear that those pragmatists who claim that Democrat Frank Caprio would be preferable by far to Chafee clearly make a valid point. I fear, however, that Caprio's governance would be all too familiar. Note, for example, his willingness to pledge to make no cuts to municipalities. That's a standard political promise to the people who happen to be in the room, and when push comes to shove, it will have either to be broken or to be allowed to supersede other impressions that he's worked to foster among the electorate, like a preference for not raising state taxes.

The only candidate who didn't make that pledge, by the way, was Republican John Robitaille, who cited his inability to see into the future.

When Government Is All, Political Connections Are Decisive.

Justin Katz

Stephen Spruiell describes the "atypical" way in which the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has handled ShoreBank, a Chicago-founded bank with a leftist lending bent. Apparently, "the FDIC relieved ShoreBank of its most toxic assets but left largely intact its management team — a highly unusual move" — and is not requiring an adjustment of its business model. The suspect treatment began in earnest after the Treasury Department said that the bank would have to raise $125 million in private investment to qualify for a TARP bailout:

That was a staggering sum for a bank that, at its zenith, had dared to dream about raising $100 million in a stock offering but was now losing that much money at an annual rate. Not to be underestimated, ShoreBank's network of political patrons, from Illinois Democrats such as Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Jan Schakowsky to friends of Bill [Clinton] and buddies of Barack, started suggesting to the biggest players on Wall Street — names like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and GE Capital — that they really ought to consider helping ShoreBank. And what do you know? Last May, this who's who of bailout recipients and regulatory targets announced that they couldn't think of a worthier cause. ShoreBank ended up raising nearly $150 million. The banks ponied up most of the money (the Ford and MacArthur Foundations kicked in their share) and placed it in an escrow account, to be invested in ShoreBank upon its receipt of TARP money.

But by then it was too late. The Federal Reserve took another look at ShoreBank's rapidly deteriorating assets and determined that any taxpayer investment in the bank would quickly disappear, never to be paid back. The administration couldn't afford to let the bailout be that explicit, because House Financial Services Committee ranking member Spencer Bachus (R., Ala.) had already fired off a letter demanding to know whether any administration official had played a role in the bank's private-capital raising. That removed TARP from the administration's tool kit, but, having coaxed nearly $150 million out of the private sector, the bank's friends in government found another, less obvious way to save ShoreBank.

The investors created a bank with the different name of Urban Partnership Bank; the FDIC seized ShoreBank and sold it to Urban Partnership at a $368 million loss of its public fund. Moreover, contrary to its rules, the FDIC allowed the cast of characters from the failed bank to take their places in the new bank.

No doubt, many folks believe that ShoreBank's stated mission of giving people on the same degree of concern as profits is a wonderful goal, and worth preserving. But when the model isn't working, red flags should suggest that more people might be harmed than helped. Those flags should all but cover the field when big-government corruption becomes the savior.

October 4, 2010

The Rhode Island House of Representatives on Education Reform

Carroll Andrew Morse

There have been a series of related educational reform developments in Rhode Island over the past several years, including the Race to the Top application, the events in Central Falls, the passage of the "funding formula", the expansion of charter schools and the creation of a new public governance structure for public education, the mayoral academies spearheaded by Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee. Charter school and mayoral academy advocates have been successful in advancing their program via the RI legislature, this year convincing them to raise statutory cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Rhode Island from 20 to 35, with the House voting in favor by a vote of 69 - 3 (see pg. 5). However, support for structural education reform in the legislature hasn’t always been so lopsided, as the vote tallies below will show.

Initial legislation authorizing Mayoral academies was passed in 2008. During the floor debate, two amendments intended to water down the new structure were proposed on the House floor; one sponsored by Rep. Amy Rice which would have required Mayoral Academies to comply with many district and/or state level personnel policies, e.g. prevailing wages, tenure, etc. (see pg. 175), and one sponsored by Rep. Jack Savage which would have denied public funding to Mayoral academies (see pg. 176). Both amendments failed.

In 2009, a vote was taken on using 1.5 million dollars in state education funds to get the first year of the Mayoral Academy in Cumberland (and another charter school in Central Falls) underway (see pg. 33). Had this appropriation not been passed, Rhode Island's eligibility for certain Federal education aid would have been seriously damaged. This amendment passed.

This first set of tallies on these votes refers to legislators present for the 2008, 2009 and 2010 sessions:

14 current legislators voted against structural education reform in all three instances, i.e. they voted to restrict Mayoral academy autonomy, to deny them public funding in general and to deny them the specific appropriation needed to get them started...

Ajello, DeSimone, Fellela, Ferri, Handy, Lima, Menard, Pacheco, Rice A, Savage, Segal, Ucci, Walsh, Wasylyk.
Another 4 reps voted with the reformers in 2008, but didn't follow-through to vote for the last 1.5 million dollars to get the program up and running in 2009...
Caprio, Jacquard, Melo, Naughton.
5 other reps changed their positions in the other direction, voting in favor of the failed attempts to water down Mayoral academies in 2008, but then voting for the 1.5 million to set them up in 2009...
Diaz, Palumbo, Sullivan, Williams, Winfield.
Finally, 28 reps voted for all three pro-reform measures associated with the Mayoral academies...
The Honorable Speaker Murphy, Almeida, Baldelli-Hunt, Brien, Carter, Coderre, Corvese, Costantino, Ehrhardt, Fox, Gablinske, Gallison, Gemma, Jackson, Kilmartin, Loughlin, Malik, Mattiello, McCauley, McNamara, O'Neill, Petrarca, Serpa, Silva, Trillo, Vaudreuil, Williamson.
There were a few other odds-and-ends positions taken. Robert Watson voted in favor of allowing Mayoral academies autonomy, but also in favor of denying them public funds, but also in favor of the 1.5 million dollars in 2009. Donald Lally voted to restrict their autonomy, but in favor of their receiving public funds in general, but against the 1.5 million in 2009. Joanne Giannini and William San Bento voted against autonomy, against the 1.5 million, and did not vote on the public funding question. Brian Kennedy voted against autonomy, and did note vote on the other matters.

In the case of representatives who took office for the first time in 2009 (and Rod Driver), we have only the vote on the 1.5 million dollar appropriation to look at; of this group, 11 voted in favor of the final money needed to implement the first Mayoral Academy (and the Central Falls charter school)...

Driver, Edwards, Fierro, Hearn, Marcello, Martin, Newberry, Pollard, Ruggiero, Shallcross-Smith, Slater.
...and six voted against...
Azzinaro, Carnavale, DaSilva, Guthrie, MacBeth, Rice M.
Also, Rep. Gregory Schadone did not vote on the 2008 amendments and voted for the 1.5 million in 2009.

9 members of the strongly pro-education reform group have already lost their legislative seats, either through retirement, or through the loss of a primary (and Elizabeth Dennigan, who voted with the reform side in all three votes, has been replaced by anti-reform dead-ender Mary Duffy Messier, one of the 3 in the 69-3 vote mentioned in the first paragraph). This means that the reforms that have been achieved so far -- depending heavily on the composition of the new legislature elected in November -- are vulnerable to the damage that an inattentive or unimaginative legislature could do, especially when the current chairman of the state's Democratic Party, Ed Pacheco, cast his votes with the strongly anti-reform group.

We Don't Need Intellectual Chaperones

Justin Katz

Although I'm sympathetic to dislike of the e-reader technology that is displacing print media, it is most definitely not for the reason that Dan Bloom enunciates:

Well, be careful what you wish for. Frankenpapers might turn out to be another turn in the screw that seals the decline of the republic. Think about it. With no agreed-upon national consensus, on political, economic, cultural and religious issues, delivered in the past by a team of unaffiliated and diverse print newspapers and magazines, America might become a deeply divided republic of 500-plus news channels and screens.

Where once it was possible to have a national discussion delivered carefully and judiciously by the plodding print media, the future might turn out to be a national shouting match, a digital free-for-all. Some pundits say we are already there.

Dictatorships typically have limited "news channels and screens" for a reason, and the slow death of the mainstream filters that Bloom laments has less to do with the emergence of new technologies, in my opinion, than in readers distrust that they're getting the objective product for which they thought they were paying and advertisers' distrust that their reach is as substantial as asserted. With a great variety of news sources, readers should find it relatively easy to find, and judge, opposing views.

Whether readers will seek that balance or compare their sources adequately is another matter, having more to do with education and cultural priorities. On developments in those areas, I'm more concerned.

The Humor of Ideological Murder

Justin Katz

Watching this high-profile short put out by the 10:10 initiative, which is seeking to inspire people to lower their carbon emissions by 10%, it's very difficult to believe that it's not a deliberate mockery of the very movement it supports:

I get that humor has its twists from culture to culture, but really: What kind of culture finds humor in seeing school children covered in the blood of classmates whom their teacher has slaughtered because they're ambivalent about environmental activism — after having been deceitfully comforted that there was "no pressure" to conform?

Yes, it's just a silly little movie, and it would be excessive to make a profound deal of it. Still, the impression one gets while watching it is that the skit would be a clever and applicable take-down of most leftist movements. Asserted tolerance for different views, with the mandate presented in fun, smiling, community-minded terms, followed by vicious and cold-blooded destruction of those who remain unmoved.

October 3, 2010

Only One Side Counts

Justin Katz

I've been meaning to note Bob Kerr's continued function as the elder statesman who says what the younger folks must strive to keep to themselves at the Providence Journal. Here's the crux of his Wednesday column:

You might remember protest. It's an honored American tradition. It's how this whole thing got started. People speak out and other people are moved to think about things they hadn't thought about before. ...

This is not the golden age of protest. Despite the brutal cost of two misguided wars and an economy knocked cruelly out of balance, it is difficult to move people to take their feelings out in public.

It might be fear, it might be indifference, it might be the desire to stay comfy and cozy at any cost.

His purpose, the reader quickly finds, is less to make grand statements about protest culture than to promote a particular protest with which he's sympathetic. But in his entire column, he offers not one sentence, one phrase, one carefully sharpened jab about the Tea Party movement that has been redefining politics in the United States. In the left's strained and rigid lexicon, shining ideals like Protest can never be applied to people with whom they disagree.

When the Kerrs of the old guard raise "question authority" to the highest of principles, they conveniently neglect to consider that, as they slipped into their social positions and reached middle age, they themselves became authorities who must be questioned. And so, not only are many deliberate in their refusal to answer, but some try with all their might not to hear the inquiry.

The Allocation of "Hate Crimes" Dismisses Empathy

Justin Katz

This photograph brings home the reason that I'm fundamentally opposed to the notion of "hate crimes" and, indeed, identity groups overall:

The young man in the foreground is Tyler Clementi, who recently plunged to his death from the George Washington Bridge (which spans from New Jersey to New York City), apparently as an emotional response to his college roommate's violating his privacy to an extent so egregious as to be evil. The building in the background is Ridgewood High School, from which Tyler graduated.

If memory serves, the spot on which he is standing is within yards of the placement of the school's polevaulting mats during track and field season, which was the vantage point from which I most frequently observed the scene. The building's main entrance presents a beautiful, classic high school facade and, at least for a writer-type like me, readily suggests the stories for which it would stand as an apt setting. Stories of adolescent turmoil, fortitude, and growth.

My own experience of adolescence was heavily inclined toward the turmoil — largely attributable, if I'm being honest, to my unhealthy attraction to the dramatic — with fortitude manifesting only in the small degree required to lift my head sufficiently to breathe when at last I felt the ripples of drama lapping into my nostrils. As for growth, well, I was a long, long way from high school before I could claim any of that.

There's nothing unique in this experience — as testified by the ease with which we can all raise images from literature and cinema to fill out the details. More of us than would like to make the admission can put ourselves in Tyler's shoes as he stepped onto the bridge, and it has very little to do with the particular events and catalysts that brought him there.

By categorizing the qualities that made Tyler Clementi different, in the sense that his tragic end fits neatly in the ongoing narrative of a particular identity group, by giving that group alone a stake in his experience, such that criminal charges brought against his tormentor may be elevated on its behalf under the rationale of "hate crimes," we cannot do otherwise than deepen our sense of social division. And that's just the crack running along the emotional face of the matter.

The same poorly conceived understanding of self and society arises intellectually, as when we conflate the question of whether the action of Dharun Ravi (the roommate) was horribly, horribly wrong with the question of whether hate crime prosecutions and identity group legislation can maintain legal neutrality or even resolve the underlying problem. Or when the argument for same-sex marriage rests on the conclusion that homosexuals have feelings. Or when advocates for amnesty of illegal immigrants claim it as the only possible policy following the belief that immigrants are human beings with natural rights. Or when politicians from any particular group behave as if they inherently speak for all members of their demographic category.

It is an astonishing fact that so many well-meaning people assent to this strategy of forcing us to give over what truly makes us individuals. We ought rather to find it overt and offensive when public lines are drawn along differences as superficial as skin color or as private as affections. For our society to unify, and for our democracy to function in any degree, we'll have to begin rejecting the facile — canned and processed — story lines that disclaim the possibility of deep empathy on the grounds of superficial or circumstantial differences.

Rating of John Loughlin on Social Security: PolitiFact's Truth-O-Meter Earns Itself a "Pants on Fire"

Monique Chartier

The "Truth"-O-Meter in today's Providence Journal rates Congressional candidate John Loughlin's comparison of social security to a Ponzi scheme as "False".

Let's take a look, shall we?

Here's the definition of a Ponzi scheme.

A Ponzi scheme is an investment fraud that involves the payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors.

Here's how social security works.

The Social Security system is funded primarily by federal taxation of payrolls.

Okay, so the social security system funds the benefits (purported returns) paid to retirees (existing investors) out of the pockets of current employees (new investors).

Social security's revenue situation is even worse than that, however. As of this year, seven years ahead of projections, spending on benefits exceeds revenue, meaning that all of the social security taxes paid by employees and employers IS NOT ENOUGH TO COVER benefits currently being paid out.

So is it fair to say that social security is beginning to lose a "consistent flow of money"? Returning to the definition of a Ponzi scheme,

With little or no legitimate earnings, the schemes require a consistent flow of money from new investors to continue. Ponzi schemes tend to collapse when it becomes difficult to recruit new investors or when a large number of investors ask to cash out.

In sum, it pays "returns" to investors from revenue it collects from new investors. It's not pleasant to say, much less address. And there is no imminent threat to the checks of those currently collecting. But social security appears to be a textbook Ponzi scheme. Why are PolitiFact and the Providence Journal attempting to deflect this rather obvious characterization?

October 2, 2010

The Standard Weighting in RI

Justin Katz

I'm not sure if surprise is justified, but I have to say that I would have thought that Congressman Jim Langevin would have been doing better as compared with Candidate David Cicilline in their respective Congressional races:

The survey of 250 likely voters in Rhode Island's 1st Congressional District finds 48 percent supporting Democrat Cicilline, giving him a 19-point lead over Republican Loughlin, who is backed by 29 percent of the electorate. ...

In Rhode Island's 2nd Congressional District, our poll shows more than half of voters (54 percent) back incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. James Langevin over his Republican challenger, Mark Zaccaria, who's at 24 percent.

Of course, the encouraging news is that 22% of voters in both districts are undecided, and Republican John Loughlin is faring better than Langevin's opponent, Mark Zaccaria among undecideds.

Man Bites Dog: Mayor Fountaine Files an Olourac Action Against the School Department

Monique Chartier

Uncharted territory necessitates the invention of terms: what to call a reverse Caruolo Action?

The Woonsocket Call reports; h/t today's RISC-Y Business Newsletter.

Mayor Leo T. Fontaine fired a shot across the bow of the School Department on Thursday while opening a Superior Court bid to win an immediate reduction in school spending.

The city legal challenge was filed with Superior Court Judge Bennett R. Gallo and seeks an immediate correction of the School Department’s projected $2.8 million deficit in the current fiscal year.

Fontaine’s administration wants a court order instructing the School Department to reduce its budget to the $62.9 million spending plan approved under the city’s overall $116 million budget.

For decades, school committees around the state have been overspending budgets lawfully set by the city/town council (often, it has appeared to the undoubtedly unsophisticated eyes of some observers, to the benefit of certain school committee members or their spouses who are themselves teachers, as "parity" ensured that the higher compensation achieved in one municipality during contract negotiations rippled across the state). If the school committee doesn't or decides it "can't" reduce its budget sufficiently, Rhode Island law provides the school committee the option of litigation against the city/town to compel it to cough up more dough for the school budget. (Again, to some unsophisticated observers, this would appear to severely conflict with the other state law which puts the city/town council, which solely possesses the ability to tax, in charge of setting municipal and school budget amounts.)

Conversely, however, as the Call correctly notes,

State law does not allow a school department to operate with a projected deficit and blocks a city finance director such as himself from approving any purchase requisitions or financial commitments when a potential deficit has been identified, [City Finance Director Thomas] Bruce said.

More specifically, in Woonsocket,

Since the fiscal year began, the School Department has made a significant effort to reduce an original forecast of almost $6 million in red ink but the remaining shortfall must also be corrected before school purchases and requisitions can be approved, Bruce said.

“The law says that if a deficit is projected, financial commitments can’t be made,” Bruce said.

The Woonsocket School Committee has made noises in the past year about filing another Caruolo lawsuit. Good for Mayor Fountaine for taking action ("Olourac" or other) and not waiting passively for such a litigation axe to fall as the bills pile up. Meanwhile, this unsophisticated observer would like to know when the General Assembly is going to address the substantial conflict in Rhode Island law by removing Caruolo from the books so as to fully return budget control where it belongs: to city/town councils.

Amy Rice, on the Attack

Justin Katz

State District 72 representative Amy Rice (D, Portsmouth, Middletown, Newport), with nothing apparently newsworthy to say on issues relevant to Rhode Island, has really been on the attack against her opponent, Republican Dan Reilly. First, on GoLocalProv:

Reilly's Democratic opponent, incumbent Amy Rice, accuses him of violating the law. "By filing his papers and having his job he was having his cake and eating it too," Rice told GoLocalProv. Rice is the co-vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee and is also the Deputy Majority Leader.

The executive director of the state Democratic Party also took Reilly to task. "After an initial glance at RI General Law § 36-4-51, it would appear that Mr. Reilly needs to conduct some due diligence before moving forward with his campaign, if, in fact, his position with the DEM is classified as defined by state law," said Stephanie DeSilva.

Reilly is a low-level seasonal park ranger for the Department of Environmental Management, and has now returned to school, as I understand. One must have an extremely broad interpretation of the intent of this law to think that its intent was to prevent political corruption by seasonal college-age employees. Of course, this being Rhode Island, the list of exemptions to this law suggests that corruption may not be its target. Notably, the list allows "members of the state board of elections" and "election officials and employees" to be candidates, as well.

Another Rice attack has to do with that favorite of corrupt insiders: errors in campaign finance filings:

In letters last week to Richard E. Thornton, state director of campaign finance, the Portsmouth Democrat wrote that Republican opponent Daniel P. Reilly rented a billboard, and mailed out two campaign flyers for which no accounting appears on his campaign expense statements.

In a second [letter], she said she also recalled that he ran a television ad that year and there is no accounting for that either. ...

Mr. Reilly said that he did not list the expenditures because they were paid with money that "I lent to my campaign from my personal finances." He added that he has not yet repaid himself those loans except for a minor amount.

In general, campaign finance laws are a great example of the error behind expecting government to pass laws policing entry into government. The targets of such technicality attacks are typically outsiders who err in filing paperwork, while incumbents flout the law. As Reilly says, "Rice’s record shows she consistently violates state law by failing to file finance reports by the required date." The regulations become little more than barriers to entry, making it more difficult to challenge entrenched politicians.

Re: Learning Well the Ways of the World at URI

Justin Katz

By way of following up my post about the gay-rights sit-in at the University of Rhode Island, I note that the Providence Journal has reported the actions of the student arrested related to anti-gay slurs:

An anti-gay threat written on a dry-erase board on the door of a University of Rhode Island dorm room has resulted in the arrest of a freshman from Massachusetts, URI officials said Thursday. ...

One student reported feeling threatened, [University spokesman Dave] Lavallee said.

The message, Lavallee said, was accompanied by a drawing of a male anatomical part and said: "You are gay, get out of Barlow before you regret it."

This student should certainly face some sort of censure for a dumb action intended to offend, but the Projo placed its report under the header, "Hate Crime." Is this really the level of drama that we want to apply to adolescent indiscretion?

October 1, 2010

RE: The Unthrilling Election

Marc Comtois

On Matt Allen's show earlier this week, Justin did a good job of explaining why there doesn't seem to be any excitement surrounding this year's RI Governor race. Basically, Democrats are getting hammered across the rest of the nation and the energy is on the side of the Tea Party/GOPers, which leaves our oh-so-Democratic state out of the national conversation and our heavily Democratic electorate feeling justifiably uninispired.

In a state where "I know a guy" is viewed as a legitimate career path, charges of cronyism from one political scion--liberal independent Linc Chafee--against another--Democrat Frank Caprio--may seem downright befuddling. And bringing the family into the mix? "Don't dese guys know dat everyone wants a good state job and dat youse should leave da family outta it?" Sheesh. Neither of these guys get it! It's enough to make you wanna stay home on election day.

Missed Economic Cues in Teaching

Justin Katz

Two articles in last Sunday's Providence Journalhere and here — describe circumstances with which my family is very familiar. With the exception of math and science, teaching jobs are difficult to come by in Rhode Island, yet institutions of higher education continue to churn out graduates.

The initial problem, in my estimation, is that an artificially inflated standard of compensation makes teaching an extremely attractive option even for those without a particular vocation. Jointly with that, tight union control of the system prevents the job market from adjusting appropriately to market realities. That inflated pay remains no matter the number of candidates and no matter the success of the workforce. Consider how painfully slow is movement toward education reforms despite the fact that employers in education really ought to have massive leverage in an environment that finds credentialed teachers working as substitutes sometimes for a decade, and that without promise of a full-time job. Current teachers ought to feel under tremendous pressure to perform and to put in extra effort to prove that they're better than job seekers who'd jump through hoops to finally land a stable, full-time position doing what they initially set out to do.

Compounding the issue is that the high cost of each teacher — uniform regardless of the position held — translates directly into fewer jobs:

This has been a particularly bleak year for teacher hiring. Across the state, districts are cutting back — eliminating foreign language instruction, music and gifted programs while increasing class size.

So, not only does the employment dynamic create a glut of candidate, but it restricts the number of slots that they can fill. Under such circumstances, it is inevitable that teacher jobs become prone to patronage (as people looking for positions for years on end can testify), and those already ensconced who might otherwise be unable to compete have even greater incentive to push for increased strength of the unions that protect their mediocrity.

We end up, therefore, with an expensive, failing education system that leaves many teachers not even teaching, but bartending and working menial jobs while on the imbalanced roller coaster of multiple towns' sub lists, even as they strive to build lives and to pay off college debt.

Floating Anarchy

Justin Katz

Elsewhere in the world, conditions akin to slavery:

Forced labour and human rights abuses involving African crews have been uncovered on trawlers fishing illegally for the European market by investigators for an environmental campaign group.

The Environmental Justice Foundation found conditions on board including incarceration, violence, withholding of pay, confiscation of documents, confinement on board for months or even years, and lack of clean water.

The video included in the story tells of abandoned ships on which the companies, for some reason, keep lone crewmen. On active ships the condition is one of servitude, with all of those old manipulations, such as deliberate debt traps and physical abuse.

What's striking, from the standpoint of political thought, is the way in which the story points to the narrow path along which societies must tread. On the one hand, governments are necessary that can enforce basic rules concerning freedom and treatment of fellow human beings (and, yes, resource management). On the other hand, poverty and a lack of opportunity are the conditions that drag people into this modern slavery, and one needn't trace personal stories far, I'd wager, in order to see an abuse or poorly conceived intervention by government agencies.