January 31, 2011

If We Take RTTT Funds But Don't Implement RTTT Mandates, Isn't that a Little Shady (or Worse)?

Monique Chartier

WPRO's Dan Yorke said it outright last week. An article on WPRI's website today references it a little more obliquely.

The rumor is that Governor Chafee wishes to accept Race to the Top funding for the state without implementing all of the conditions that accompany it. More specifically, it's purported that he'd like to duck out of the charter school component. (I wonder why?) The governor's averseness to charter schools became clear in the past couple of days when he invited to the state an outspoken opponent of them.

Race to the Top money is not a no-strings-attached gift. The federal government is sending us this money to accomplish certain things. Prudence dictates that we obtain answers to some rather obvious questions before going down this (rumored) road.

1.) What are the consequences of taking federal money without implementing the attendant requirements?

2.) Doesn't deliberately taking targeted funds with no intention of implementing the program border on something close to fraud?

3.) Even if such an action is not fraud, wouldn't the federal government find out and simply debit that amount from future monies headed to the state, putting us back at square one revenue-wise? Or, framing the question positively, under what scenario do we get away with doing this?

A Paradigm Without Structure

Justin Katz

Both the content and delivery of this illustrated lecture are excellent:

I share Professor Ken Robinson's skepticism about a supposed ADHD epidemic, but when he goes on to describe studies that a shift in an education paradigm should address, the academic conclusions begin to look a bit too free-wheeling. He describes a study in which children are measured by the number of uses they can think of for a particular object, say, a paperclip. 98% of kindergarten children, apparently, score at the level designated as "genius," and the percentage decreases as they progress through school. The implication, obviously, is that school suppresses the true genius that lies natively in all children.

From the lecture, though, it appears that "genius" is essentially a measure of one's ability to come up with random connections, which seems to me to miss the point of education. It brings to mind a model for artificial intelligence that attempts to simulate creativity through randomness on a computer, matching flagging matched concepts when there are a certain number of coherent connections. The other part of actual genius, though, is the ability to reconnect those random associations into something relevant... something useful... something funny.

The Einstein, in other words, isn't the kindergartener who can see beyond the paperclip in his or her hand and assign to it all kinds of other uses were it otherwise than what it is. The Einstein can recognize that it, rather than something else, would be useful for some particular purpose.

I'm responding to a very short summary, of course, but I'd think the better test would not be to hand a kid a paperclip and ask, "What could you do with this?" The better test would ask, "How could this be used for X."

One gets the sense that academic theorists have this excited feeling that they're on the brink of discovering the key to a new paradigm for education, if only they can think beyond the boundaries of an inherited pedagogy. If only they can, in a sense, teach the kids to apply their free-range creativity to solve particular problems. I suspect that won't prove possible, because in order to solve problems, one must recognize and categorize — and thereby characterize for the purpose of modification. These are restraints.

Such is the model of creative evolution. Classical music, for one, pushed boundaries, but from within. Composers discerned the theories that their predecessors had employed (sometimes unawares) and modified them, broadened them, created new challenges for themselves from within them. At some point, though, those boundaries became so abstract that they broke free from aesthetics, which is a immobile attribute of humankind compared with theory. Once that happened, the theory was into the stratosphere of incoherence.

And so to standardized testing. It should be possible for an educated society to recognize some plain basics without which all of the free association in the world will be so much gibberish. Such are the bases of standardized scores: Basic math. Basic literacy. Basic logic.

Balance Is Airing One Side

Justin Katz

Governor Lincoln Chafee may be the archetype of the presumptuous wealthy liberal. We've seen him tell representatives of his ideological opposition that he's already done all of the broad listening that he's going to do on particular issues. Now, we're seeing his method of consideration:

"He strongly believes Rhode Island needs a deep and healthy debate on the issue of charter schools because it represents to him a significant determinant in the future of our public school system," Trainor said. "To help spur that healthy debate and discussion, he is going to bring Diane Ravitch to Rhode Island between now and the beginning of spring."

Ravitch, an assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush, was once an outspoken supporter of charter schools, standardized testing and No Child Left Behind. Today, she has done a remarkable about-face, emerging as an outspoken critic of all of those things. "School reform today is like a freight train, and I'm out on the tracks saying, 'You're going the wrong way!'" she told The New York Times.

Anchor Rising readers may recall a couple of references to Ravitch last year. More relevant at this time, though, is the governor's apparent definition of "deep and healthy debate": He'll bring in a speaker with whom he agrees, thus sparking discussion among the rest of us, at which point, one suspects he'll close the door on his opposition with a shake of the head. "Sorry, we've already considered it all."

A similar window into Chafee's thought processes emerged at a recent Economic Development Corp. meeting:

Plus, he spoke of lessons learned from a book, "The Flight of the Creative Class," in which Richard Florida explains how the three Ts — technology, talent and tolerance — are what lead to economic growth.

This paragraph caught my eye because Florida's name had just been introduced to the AR comment section by the progressive Russ, who quotes from a Wikipedia article:

Florida's theory asserts that metropolitan regions with high concentrations of technology workers, artists, musicians, lesbians and gay men, and a group he describes as "high bohemians", exhibit a higher level of economic development. Florida refers to these groups collectively as the "creative class." He posits that the creative class fosters an open, dynamic, personal and professional urban environment. This environment, in turn, attracts more creative people, as well as businesses and capital. He suggests that attracting and retaining high-quality talent versus a singular focus on projects such as sports stadiums, iconic buildings, and shopping centers, would be a better primary use of a city's regeneration of resources for long-term prosperity. He has devised his own ranking systems that rate cities by a "Bohemian index," a "Gay index," a "diversity index" and similar criteria.

Whatever one's ideology, suspicion is in order when new indexes conform too closely with preconceptions. Presenting tolerance and diversity as core economic development principles, rather than social principles that might guide economic development, is a bit too convenient. I'll place Florida's writings on my list should I ever get out from under my workload, but on first blush, I'd suggest that economically vibrant locations, particularly high-population cities, tend to generate more opportunities for people who prioritize creativity. The ability to find work as a theater actor or to find galleries in which to hang one's work strikes me as more likely to attract creative types than policy on same-sex marriage and immigration.

But I'm sure the Chafee administration will encourage plenty of non-debate on the topic moving forward.

January 30, 2011

How Big is the Real Unfunded Pension Liability, Madam G.T.? We Had an Answer in October

Monique Chartier

... though even it may have been too optimistic.

In her interview yesterday with Kathy Gregg, General Treasurer Raimondo points out that the assumed rate of return on the state's pension fund is almost certainly not realistic. She goes on to ask the logical question.

Over 10 years, she said the state has averaged 4.4 percent, which is significantly less than the 8.25 percent assumed rate of return on investments the state’s pension consultants have used to determine the magnitude of the state of Rhode Island’s unfunded obligation to its retirees, “which means the unfunded liability is probably higher than what we hear about.

“That’s one of the things I am trying to figure out straight away,” she said. “How big is the liability?

And here's one answer, thanks to 1) WPRI's Ted Nesi who spotted a reference to a report commissioned by 2) former G.T. Frank Caprio and made a point of requesting and then posting it October 6.

An indication of just how much money we’d owe was buried in a June 1 memo to the treasury by Gary Bayer, an actuary at the big broker Aon, that Caprio’s office released this week. Aon was asked to estimate how much larger the unfunded liability would be if we assumed a 6% return instead of an 8.25% one, and here’s what Bayer came up with:

If liabilities were valued based on a 6% rate instead of the current 8.25% rate, we estimate that the unfunded liability would increase from $1.7 billion to $2.7 billion for the state employees and from $2.7 billion to $4.6 billion for the Teachers.

For the mathematically challenged, that’s an increase in the unfunded liability from $4.4 billion to $6.5 billion, or nearly 48%.

At a 6% return, which is still inflated over the actual rate of return for the last ten years of 4.4%, the liability grows by 48%. What does it look like at the realistic rate of 4.4%???

So bad, I, for one, don't want to see it. It's clear that even at the inflated rate of 6%, we're in enormous trouble. I'd like to suggest that we cut our "losses" here, at 6%, stop calculating and turn to fixing the problem.

Alarming Pension (Non) News from the New General Treasurer; An Alarming, Pension Related Development from Moodys

Monique Chartier

General Treasurer Gina Raimondo has been looking at the state's pension fund books.

She notes to the ProJo's Kathy Gregg one bit of good news: the return on investment of the pension fund in 2010 was 12%.

Unfortunately, that annual return rate was very much an anomaly. This is compounded, as we know, by years of underfunding of principle, not to mention the original promise of extremely generous retirement benefits. (The origin of both of these rash decisions - don't put enough into the fund; send more than necessary out of it - is the democrat controlled you-know-what.)

So, while none of this will come as a shock to even part-time observers of Rhode Island politics, the GT is correct to raise the alarm.

Looking back over the last 12 months, Raimondo said this disparity between money-in and money-out to more than 25,000 current pensioners was a projected $331 million. That drain reduced the year-over-year growth in the fund, which was valued at $6.8 billion in 2009, down to 6.6 percent, according to one of Raimondo’s top aides.

“A negative $300 million is a serious problem …. a multibillion-dollar math problem,” she said. “Every day we are in a hole.”

Meanwhile, on Thursday, we learned that

Moody’s Investors Service has begun to recalculate the states’ debt burdens in a way that includes unfunded pensions, something states and others have ardently resisted until now.

* * *

The ratings agency said that in the future, it will add states’ unfunded pension obligations together with the value of their bonds, and consider the totals when rating their credit. The new approach will be more comparable to how the agency rates corporate debt and sovereign debt. Moody’s did not indicate whether states’ credit ratings may rise or fall.

"Moody’s did not indicate whether states’ credit ratings may rise or fall." ... um, yeah. Because rating agencies constantly add factors that have zero impact on the calculation of their ratings. We'll just file that coy disclaimer in the "one step at at time; don't give them the bad news all at once" category.

A year ago, Forbes ranked Rhode Island's per capita unfunded pension liability as the worst in the country. Three years ago, the General Assembly's own pension study report (upon which the G.A., unbelievably, refused to act despite the dire evaluations therein) indicated that, per capita, Rhode Island's "pension fund debt and unfunded liability" at the time was the third worst in the country.

It appears - correct me if I'm wrong - that under Moodys revised rating system, if the state does not come to grips with its under funded, overly generous pension promises, the already onerous burden to Rhode Island taxpayers is going to get even heavier as the interest rate on the money we borrow rises. Accordingly (just so we're clear that this rating revision doesn't affect only the lowly taxpayer), the second and ultimate consequence of legislative inaction - the day when retirees' pension checks start bouncing - will be accelerated.

Two Post Facto Responses on Felner's Behalf

Justin Katz

This episode of Newsmakers makes me wish I'd been there... or had had a means of communicating suggestions to Bill Felkner of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute:

Newsmakers 1/28: Stokes, Felkner, Sgouros: wpri.com

For one thing, in attempting to present the other side, Tom Sgouros (whom Tim White bills as a "progressive economist") holds on to the precise representations of the data as if holding on to the tail of a magic newt. Unfortunately, Sgouros, himself, is not precise:

What the IRS reports is how many people moved and what they earned in the places where they lived after they've moved.

Actually, the adjusted gross income data measures that money claimed on the tax returns of people filing outside of Rhode Island who, the previous year, had filed their federal returns from within Rhode Island (or vice versa for those who moved here). In other words, pretty much by definition, some of that income was earned in Rhode Island; for taxpayers who moved after the tax year for which they're filing (between New Year's day and tax day), all of the money claimed was earned in Rhode Island, or at least while Rhode Island residents.

Alone, that doesn't answer Sgouros's objection that migrants aren't necessarily taking their jobs with them. It does, however, emphasize the lack of parity between those coming to Rhode Island and those leaving. Put directly, it shouldn't be a comfort that people who want to make more money have to leave the state, even if they leave their lower-paying jobs behind.

Another point, which panelist Arline Violet considers to be a "fatal flaw" in OSPRI's report, derives from the Poverty Institute's response to it: namely, that, whatever the relative incomes, if those leaving are replaced by people arriving, then their property taxes are covered, because somebody buys their houses. But the fact is that, on a net basis, Rhode Island isn't importing taxpayers at the same rate as it's exporting them. More importantly for this discussion, though, is that property taxes aren't the only revenue that Rhode Island governments extract from Rhode Island residents.

According to the Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council, about 22% of tax revenues to state and local governments, in Rhode Island, come from individual income taxes. Moreover, if the question is the effect of shifting demographics, Violet and the Poverty Institute's point isn't a "fatal flaw," it's irrelevant. People who make more money pay more in income taxes; that they pay the same amount in property taxes (presumably) doesn't change that fact.

Indeed, if they make more money, one can assume that they're more likely to improve upon their properties or build new houses (increasing value and therefore taxes) and to spend more in discretionary income (increasing economic activity and sales taxes).

January 29, 2011

The Message We Heard

Justin Katz

I suspect that those of you who watched the state of the union speech heard it recited similarly to this:

(via the Corner)

What Difference Does the Tool and Placement Make?

Justin Katz

Just about everybody on all sides of the abortion issue will agree that a "house of horrors" condition of a medical facility is unacceptable, but I've yet to hear articulated a rational reason that the murders with which this doctor is being charged are dramatically different from the services that all abortion doctors are paid to provide:

"[Kermit] Gosnell's approach, whenever possible, was to force full labor and delivery of premature infants on ill-informed women," the report says. "When you perform late-term 'abortions' by inducing labor, you get babies. Live, breathing, squirming babies. . . . Gosnell had a simple solution: he killed them . . . by sticking scissors into the back of the baby's neck and cutting the spinal cord."

According to the article, Gosnell performed about 1,000 abortions per year, not all by this method. Other methods, that other abortionists use, are not described — such as this one:

After sufficient dilation the surgical operation can commence. The woman is placed under general anesthesia or conscious sedation. The doctor, often guided by ultrasound, inserts grasping forceps through the woman's cervix and into the uterus to grab the fetus. The doctor grips a fetal part with the forceps and pulls it back through the cervix and vagina, continuing to pull even after meeting resistance from the cervix. The friction causes the fetus to tear apart. For example, a leg might be ripped off the fetus as it is pulled through the cervix and out of the woman. The process of evacuating the fetus piece by piece continues until it has been completely removed. A doctor may make 10 to 15 passes with the forceps to evacuate the fetus in its entirety, though sometimes removal is completed with fewer passes. Once the fetus has been evacuated, the placenta and any remaining fetal material are suctioned or scraped out of the uterus. The doctor examines the different parts to ensure the entire fetal body has been removed.

Frankly, the procedure being called "murder" sounds more humane to me. Those being torn piece by piece from the womb are, in fact, live, human, and squirming, whether or not anybody gets to look them in the eye before they die.

January 28, 2011

US Manufacturing Output is Up, But What About Jobs?

Marc Comtois

From the Mercatus Center at George Mason University:

Since 1975, manufacturing output has more than doubled, while employment in the sector has decreased by 31%. While these American job losses are indeed sobering, they are not an indication of declining U.S. competitiveness. In fact, these statistics reveal that the average American manufacturer is over three times more productive today than they were in 1975 – a sure sign of economic progress.

The true cause of dwindling American competitiveness is a tax code that puts domestic firms at a clear disadvantage – not a lack of skill or innovation on the part of the American worker. (Chart after the jump).

In a piece critical of President Obama's corporate tax policies, Veronique de Rugy explains that U.S. companies are at a disadvantage to their foreign competitors because they are taxed more--and often twice--for the same production:
The U.S. corporate tax rate is simply too high. When you add state corporate taxes to the 35 percent federal rate, you arrive at a whopping 40 percent average corporate tax burden, the second highest among the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)....Not only is the U.S. rate too high, but the U.S. government also taxes corporations on their worldwide income. That means profits made by an American-owned computer plant are subject to U.S. tax whether the plant is located in Texas or Ireland....

Imagine a French firm competing with a U.S. firm for business in Ireland. The Irish government taxes each subsidiary on its Irish income at the (low) national rate of 10 percent. Fair enough. But unlike the French competitor, the U.S. parent company must also register its Irish affiliate’s dividends back home as income, which is then taxed. If the company can meet certain requirements, it can receive a credit for taxes paid to the Irish treasury. But the firm would still have to pay American taxes at the American rate on the Irish income minus the tax credit. The result is double taxation, costly paperwork, and less competitiveness than the French.

....Because of higher tax costs, U.S.-based firms are losing foreign market share, generating lower returns for American shareholders, and hiring fewer skilled workers back home in the United States. Under these conditions, it’s no surprise that American multinational companies that want to sell their goods abroad try to keep as much cash out of the U.S. as they legally can. It’s a matter of survival.

One way companies avoid these penalties is to become foreign-owned. De Rugy:
This is called corporate inversion: A company switches to the flag of a lower-tax jurisdiction. Such transactions generally have little real effect on U.S. business operations. Firms still pay taxes on all U.S. income, but they no longer pays U.S. tax on foreign income. Companies that can’t afford the costs of inverting probably would have to reduce operations and/or fire workers.

Corporate inversions are just one of many ways in which a U.S. firm can end up being owned by a foreign parent company. A forward-looking American startup may decide to incorporate abroad to enjoy long-term tax savings. That means fewer new jobs in the United States. Foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies have soared from $91 billion in 1997 to $340 billion by 2007.

It's a global marketplace and other countries have taken steps--including massive corporate subsidization (Airbus)--to ensure they have leg up on their competition. We need to ensure that American companies can compete for their own sake and for the sake of their employees.

"Surplus" Just Means They Haven't Spent It, Yet

Justin Katz

Gary Trott tries to apply too much common sense to public-sector budgeting:

What should a Rhode Island city or town do if it suddenly finds itself with a surplus of unspent funds amounting to nearly $6 million? You'd think that it would do the responsible thing and not spend those funds in order to ease up a little bit on the taxpayer.

Well, that's not what the School Committee in Warwick did during the final days of December when it voted unanimously to take the $6 million surplus from the previous year and spend it by giving raises to teachers and also by cutting the 20 percent contribution that the teachers were to pay toward their health care benefits (ProJo 7 to 7 News Blog, Dec. 29).

The problem is that this isn't just spending for spending's sake, as Trott takes it. Rather, all of the incentives push government bodies in the direction of spending everything and, in particular, spending as much as possible on raises and benefits for employees.

Obviously, the electoral threat implicit in public-sector unionization is one incentive. So is the likelihood that unspent dollars won't just be considered a windfall to be kept, but will be targeted (rightly, in my view) both for a direct return to taxpayers and for a reduction in subsequent years' budgets. When the money isn't given freely as an economic exchange, but is taken under threat of law as taxation, the emphasis shifts from claiming as much money as a consumer can be convinced that the service is worth to providing cover for the claim that so much, and more, is needed, or even required by law. The process becomes one of budget tricks.

In Tiverton, for example, the school department claims that the town is required to make up for any difference in the amount of state aid that is estimated at the financial town meeting. (Naturally, extra aid is never reduced from the local appropriation.) So, say the local appropriation is $20 million and the FTM estimates that the schools will get $5 million in state/fed aid. If the aid comes in at $4 million, then the schools take another $1 million from the town's property tax pool.

Here's the best part: for the purposes of calculating the state-imposed cap on how much additional money it can request, the school department considers the $21 million to be part of its new baseline. It then begins the performance of declarations about what it will have to cut, close, and eliminate if the town doesn't bust the cap.

The process doesn't begin, in short, with the question of what the payer will bear, but with what the payee can take. The only way to change the incentives and the outcome would be to organize enough voters to place better candidates on the boards, councils, and committees and counterbalance the corrupt symbiosis between elected officials and labor.

There's That No-Can-Do Attitude, Again

Justin Katz

My reaction to this sort of thing can't be uncommon:

Under proposed changes to the 2008 high school regulations, high schools would be required to offer support to struggling 11th graders this spring, and possibly this summer, to help them advance in math and reading, Gist said.

However, at a public meeting last week, several high school principals said they are worried they will be unable to offer adequate assistance given the short timeline and budget constraints.

Stay late. Work more. Convince the entire faculty and staff that it's necessary to take a 1% pay cut in order to hire a specialist or two. Get results, because otherwise you could be out of a job...

... oh wait. This is the public sector we're talking about.

January 27, 2011

One Anecdote of Many

Justin Katz

Sure, we hear counter-arguments all the time, around here, but Michael Miale of Johnston offers an evidential anecdote that certainly captures the impression of many:

[After listing close friends and family,] I then refined the list further into two categories: those who have left the state within the previous 12 months, which is 8, and those who are going to leave in the next 12 months, which is 3, totaling 11 family units leaving the state. That means 52 percent of my immediate family and close friends have left or are in the process of leaving the state of Rhode Island.

Those numbers cannot be refuted by anyone. They tell me all I need to know about the state of the state of Rhode Island.

What would be fascinating, although likely impossible, would be a broad sampling of these and opposing anecdotes in order to discern characteristic commonalities and differences between the "yes-flight" and "no-flight" observations. I'm sure Anchor Rising readers have their own speculations.

Give Them Time... and Money

Justin Katz

Although writing from Michigan, Kyle Olson has it right when it comes to his perspective on education happenings in Central Falls:

Central Falls students deserve a high-quality education. But instead, families are told to be patient as administrators and the teachers union hold meetings and create 45-page reform plans. And now the federal government gives the district a big check, which simply buys the defenders of the status quo more time.

At the School Committee meeting in Tiverton, this Tuesday, the committee and administrators turned part of their budget discussion into a plea that they lack the resources for early interventions that might improve results, particularly standardized test results, for students down the line. They talked about revenue sources that Portsmouth has that Tiverton doesn't; they speculated as to why Portsmouth's per-student cost might be lower, including the possibility that the town has fewer special education students. (Some quick research that I did online while they talked showed that a good portion of the difference is specifically in instruction, meaning the cost of teachers.)

As far as I'm concerned, that's all beside the point. Each town and city has the tax base that it has and the student population that it has. The principle studiously ignored during such discussions is that organizations must be built to do the work that must be done with the resources that they actually have. If that means that a particular district must pay teachers significantly less in order to hire math coaches or whatever else might be needed, then so be it.

The approach to labor and salary that has become part of public school culture begins with the premise that teachers should make roughly the same wherever they work, and the unions manipulate politics and local budget processes in order to prevent any real systemic balance of price, resources, and value. Pouring more money — whether local, state, or federal — into the equation causes the price of educators to go up and when the flow of revenue ebbs, programs and services go on the chopping block so that salaries never have to adjust downward.

The Science of Test Scores

Justin Katz

Marc reviewed some of his findings with respect to the NAEP science scores on last night's Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Once again, I didn't go into the sales pitch, but please email or call (401-835-7156) me to pledge financial support — as subscriptions, donations, or advertising — for 2011 to help us create a full-time job within Anchor Rising.

January 26, 2011

2009 RI NAEP Science Data: Part 2 - 4th Grade Teachers

Marc Comtois

In an earlier post I looked at Rhode Island's 4th grade student demographic data for the 2009 NAEP Science assessment and how it compared to national results. Now let's take a look at how the average 4th Grade scores compare based on various teacher qualification factors.

First up are results based on whether kids are being educated by teachers who are specialists in science instruction. The results are what you'd expect--science-only teachers get better results.


What about time in service and educational degrees? Let's say this is interesting:


Apparently, in RI, you want either a young or "old veteran" teacher with a B.S. to teach science. Middle track Masters Degree holders don't seem to do as well. I wonder why that is? It certainly departs from the national trend where more experience gets better results (what you'd expect). Yet, here in RI, it's a U-shaped curve (or a "C"). It looks like young teachers have more in common with their more experienced colleagues. So what happens in the mid-career? Do these results speaks to a particular mindset or culture amongst the 5-19 years of experience teaching co-hort? Or could it be that those teachers are also most likely to be also raising families, which distracts (maternity leave and substitutes come to mind) from continuity for students?

But there are other credentials worth looking at:


Apparently, NBPTS certification doesn't really affect scores (and has a slightly negative implication at that). On the other hand teachers that are considered Leaders in Science and who are tabbed to help with AYP/School improvements have such designations for a reason: they get results.

Finally, scores seem to indicate that an effective science teacher has taken 3 or 4 regular (I'm guessing pre-career) and 4 or 5 advanced science courses (to keep them up to speed).


So, good for you if your child's science teacher is either very young or very old, is a Leader for Science and helps with the AYP for the school and continues to stay up to speed. You've got a better than average shot at getting better than average science scores.

2009 RI NAEP Science Data: Part 1 - 4th Grade Students

Marc Comtois

The ProJo reported on the results of the lates NAEP Science (for 2009) results for RI and it wasn't pretty. I went over to the NAEP website and dug deeper into the data. What follows are some of the things I found related to the 4th grade results (all I've got time for, I hope to get to the 8th grade later on). So.....CHARTS!

I used the average scores as the main data point for comparison. First, here are the overall average scores for Rhode Island (ranked 26th), the nation and includes a breakout of public/private differences. Also indicated are the national scores for Catholic schools, which, this being Rhode Island, I thought worthwhile to include (again, the average is national, not just for RI). Finally, there were 47 "units" measured, which were 46 states and Dep't of Defense schools.


Next is the racial breakdown. RI's white students ranked 28th; blacks were 26th (out of 40 units--some states didn't have enough for a sufficient sample); Hispanics were 42nd (out of 44--ahead of only AZ and CA) and Asian/Pacific kids were 27th (out of 31).


Then there are other demographic breakdowns, such as English-Language Learners (ELL) , School Lunch program participants and those at Title 1 designated schools (nearly 50% of RI schools are so designated). For ELL students, RI ranked 34th out of 38th for schools with ELLs and 27th out of 47th in schools without ELLs. RI School lunch participant scores averaged 35th out of 46 and those who didn't ranked 23rd. Those attending Title 1 schools in RI ranked 42nd out of 47.


All in all, the data contains few surprises, unfortunately. Poor, non-English speaking minorities fare the worst in RI's education system. Yet those who don't fall into such underprivileged demographics aren't, on average, faring very well either. In fact, across the board, no matter the demographic, RI students are doing no better than average as compared to national public school students of similar identification.

There is also data related to instruction time and the type of teacher giving the instruction. For instance, here are results charted against average instruction times. They seem to indicated that 3-4 hours of Science instruction per week is the sweet spot for 4th graders.


But what about scores as compared to those doing the teaching? That's up next.

Impressions on the State of the Union

Marc Comtois

So what were my impressions of President Obama's State of the Union speech? Don't have any. Didn't watch it and had a pleasant night. These things have way jumped the shark and long-ago devolved into an inside-the-beltway circle jerk dominated by the post-game spinmeisters trying to tell you what it all "really" means. It took me a few years to come around--and over the last few years I've felt it was my duty as a blogger to watch 'em--but now I've decided I've just got more interesting things to do besides wasting an hour watching the annual laundry-list read. Although, I do have one question: Sputnik?

Drunk on Taxation

Justin Katz

Speaking of statism, the Providence Journal editorial page betrayed its inclination in that direction, recently, on the topic of alcohol tax:

Congratulations. By beating each other's alcohol tax down to zero, neither New Hampshire nor Massachusetts is collecting revenues that it could.

And where does this new era of tax-free booze to the north leave Rhode Island merchants with their 7 percent liquor sales tax? In a tough competitive place. ...

This region must start thinking of itself more as a confederation and less as a collection of six feudal rivalries. The six New England states should agree to a region-wide liquor tax. They could all end up richer.

"They," obviously, means the state governments, not the people of New England, who could, by the editors' advice be more extensively taxed if they were more effectively trapped by cooperating governments. Lost in the analysis — not even mentioned — is the benefit of this interstate competition to consumers, who are not, especially with alcohol, necessarily of the leisure class.

Yes, yes, we can all agree that alcohol is, in a technical sense, unnecessary, and sometimes, it turns wicked. But one's perspective on taxation and the relationship between the state and the people is much more broadly applicable.

Watching the exchange of dollars for alcohol and lottery tickets while in line at the liquor store, one is tempted to wonder what percentage of the taxes and gambling profit the government siphons off before handing the money back in the form of inefficient services. No doubt, the editors would defend their position suggesting that sin taxes force residents to support important government activities (such as infrastructure and education) that they'd otherwise let slip, if left to their own choices. That only returns to the statist point: it comes down to one group of citizens taking from another to support their own priorities, which they assume to be more important and which, in many cases, winds up benefiting them financially.

Principles Opposed to Slavery and Statism

Justin Katz

Once again, I find I must recommend an inaccessible article in National Review, this one by Gettysburg College history professor Allen Guelzo:

The antidote to slavery, Lincoln insisted, was also economic free labor. In the 19th century, free labor was the shorthand term for a particular way of viewing capitalism: as a labor system, in which employers and employees struck bargains for production and wages without restriction and where the boundaries between these two roles were fluid enough that today's employee could, by dint of energy, talent, and foresight, become the employer of tomorrow.

Slavery was the polar opposite fo free labor. With very rare exceptions, it denied the slave any future but that of being a slave, and it replaced the open-ended arrangements of employees and employers with a rigidly dictatorial system. The harmful effects extended beyond the slaves themselves, Lincoln wrote, because in the process, all labor became stigmatized as "slave work"; the social ideal became "the gentleman of leisure who was above and scorned work," rather than "men who are industrious, and sober, and honest in the pursuit of their own interests." Men who are industrious — that, of course, described Lincoln. Slavery, then, was not merely an abstraction; it was the enemy of every ambition Lincoln had ever felt.

Especially interesting are the links that Guelzo implicitly draws between the social system built on American slavery and a social system built on statism. For one thing, both characterize a relationship of freely exchanged employment as its opposite:

Lincoln was aware that pro-slavery propagandists had begun claiming in the 1850s that laborers in northern factories were, in reality, no more free to make wage bargains than slaves on southern plantations. In fact, they claimed, "free labor" was worse off, because employers had no obligation to provide health care for mere wage-earners or to support them in childhood and old age, the way slaveowners did for their slaves.

Not for no reason, then, did the Confederate government organize itself in line with the principles of its guiding institution:

... while the Union government contracted out its wartime needs to the private sector, the Confederate government set up government-owned supply facilities...

Historian Raimondo Luraghi called it "quasi-socialist management."

Despite the links between slavery and statism, two considerations have to taken into the balance, one qualifying the case of the former, the other the case of the latter. First, the slave-based system, here, is specifically that of the mid-to-late 1800s — the last guard, as it were, striving to maintain the system. In prior eras, slavery was simply a fact of life coexisting, however discordantly, with evolving notions of liberty.

Second, statists often begin with the well-being of the lower classes primary in their minds. In that respect, their views are opposite those of slaveholders. What unites them is the notion that the great majority of human beings are better off letting experts with centralized authority govern their lives. No matter the impetus, that sounds like slavery to me, no matter how beneficent.

January 25, 2011

The State of the Rhetoric

Justin Katz

The first state of the union speech that I'm aware of having watched was one given by President Bill Clinton, and I remember being astonished at his series of promises to everybody. All hands out would be filled. Such speeches are little more than political drama, pumped by media organizations looking for some easy, pre-generated headlines.

It would be different if the speech were more of what one might expect of an annual presentation by the President before the legislature: A reckoning and one-night-only declaration of truth and principle. Instead, predictably, it's all about how everything that the President has done has been wonderful and successful... but the work's not done, so he's got to do a lot more. And so on.

Personally, I'm way too busy to sit down for that sort of civic obligation. If I'm going to devote my limited time to pure drama, I want it at least to be entertaining.

Cantor: No Bailout OR Bankruptcy for States

Monique Chartier

You've probably heard about states' - specifically not excluding Rhode Island's - cash flow problems in which unfunded pension liabilities feature prominently.

A federal bailout redux would kick the can down the road ease the problem for another year, though even the most tax-n-spend-happy state politicians have wisely been pessimistic about such a development.

You may have also heard about a far less easy approach (Andrew wonders what Gov Chafee knew about this option and when he knew it) that has just cropped up in Washington.

Policymakers are working behind the scenes to come up with a way to let states declare bankruptcy and get out from under crushing debts, including the pensions they have promised to retired public workers.

During his weekly briefing yesterday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor put the kibosh on both ideas.

Heading into Tuesday’s State of the Union address, Cantor showed no desire for increases in virtually any area of the federal government, and he doubled down on his opposition to new proposed spending on infrastructure and education, even in areas, like transportation, where he acknowledged there were deficiencies.

Cantor flatly rejected any changes in the law that would allow state governments struggling with record budget deficits brought on by the economic recession and rising pension costs to restructure debt, including allowing them to declare bankruptcy.

Why no bankruptcy?

“I don’t think that that is necessary, because state governments have at their disposal the requisite tools to address their fiscal ills,” the majority leader said, before going a step further.

“I think some ... have mentioned this Chapter 9 equivalent for states is somehow going to stave off some kind of federal bailout — we don’t need that to stave off a federal bailout. There will be no bailout of the states,” Cantor said. “States can deal with this and have the ability to do so on their own.”

"[H]ave at their disposal the requisite tools to address their fiscal ills"? You mean, we have to face up to and deal with the problems we created without outside help?? Eeep! That sounds dreadfully ... mature and responsible ...

Innovation as the Modern Differentiator

Justin Katz

In another (sadly) subscription-only National Review article, James Bennett reviews a book by Deirdre McCloskey in which innovation takes center stage in the explanation of the modern West:

Her thesis is that, in the decades prior to England's rapid takeoff into the Industrial Revolution, there was a revolution in attitudes, which she prefers to characterize as a revolution in rhetoric, using the term in its broader, classical sense: the language of discourse, and the attitudes it embodies. This change in rhetoric, she argues, shifted the prevailing culture from one of aristocratic values based on honor and status to one of bourgeois values based on thrift, prudence, trust, etc. This brought dignity to the town-dwelling merchant class and fostered innovation in business practice. In fact, she argues that the term capitalism is inappropriate to the current system, as all economic systems fundamentally are built on capital, but only the system that arose in England and spread throughout the West (and, subsequently, elsewhere) was founded on innovation. She considers calling the system innovism; recognizing, however, that such a tag is unlikely to catch on, she settles for calling it innovation.

There is much to like in this. I have long dislike Marx's coinage and the many wrong ideas that are packed into it. I have tended to use the term market economy, in preference, but as McCloskey rightly points out, market economies with many of the mechanisms we consider definitive have also been presented since ancient times. A system that expects, encourages, and takes advantage of innovation is the genuinely new thing of our times, and it may make sense to adopt that term for our system.

The notion of innovation is the core of the broad range of principles that facilitate it (secure family structures, freedom, belief in larger truths, free markets, and so on) is certainly attractive as the defining factor for modernity. It does, however, elide the question of whether the core is necessarily the cause. It would probably be most accurate to conclude that modernity developed over millennia, with mutually reinforcing causes that evolved over the generations.

The Bully and the Protector

Justin Katz

There's no question that technology creates all sorts of challenges and that cyberbullying is among them. Just think of the malice that would have been required to do something similar in the past: Nailing nasty fliers around town took a lot more effort than posting a Facebook page, indicating a greater pathology. Yet, the effect on the victim is similar.

Nonetheless, we should be wary opening the door for government too widely to address bullying, because of both what might slip through in the process and what doing so indicates about our culture:

"I don't think it's going to eliminate bullying, but it will put a big dent in it," said [Sen. John] Tassoni [D, Smithfield]. He refused to provide specifics about possible legislation.

The Rhode Island State Police, too, will again pursue a bill that would give law-enforcement officials the ability to subpoena information about Internet users without having to go through a judge, Tella said. State police will seek a measure that would require Internet services providers, such as Facebook and Google, to provide the name, address, and telephone numbers associated with an account in response to an administrative subpoena signed by a state police superintendent, or other high-ranking law-enforcement official.

Removing the judiciary from the process, shifting its authority in these matters to appointed officials in the executive, erodes protections against encroachment on citizens' liberty. Whatever the exceptions become, to the rules for subpoenas, will surely expand; cyberbullying, that is, will in short order become a very broad category of online activity.

Of course, the larger problem is that we're inviting such erosion by our very urge to involve government in the first place. It's a cycle: As we pass along the responsibilities of membership in a community to government, it becomes easier to conceive of government as the appropriate overseer, leading us to pass along more responsibilities.

Society once had stigma and cultural rules of behavior that helped enforce boundaries. With their evaporation, legal consequences are being substituted, but our system hasn't proven very effective at implementing objective, narrowly targeted laws.

To be sure, reasons beyond passivity exist for the shift. Social pressure must have had more weight when most people's lives were lived within a few miles. The black mark of a child's bad behavior could follow the parents to the workplace and social scene in more tightly woven communities. Homes are now often little more than rest stops in commuters' lives, so dirty looks at the corner convenience store are less apt to have a substantial effect.

Failure With or Without Tiers

Justin Katz

The idea of a tiered diploma system is causing much teeth-gnashing in Tiverton and elsewhere. My Patch column, this week, explains the effect of the proposal and points out that a related topic really ought to be the controversy to which every School Committee meeting is dedicated:

In light of that change, a cynic (or, the cynic would say, a clear-eyed observer of Rhode Island politics) might suggest that the "certificates" are being introduced to ensure that non-proficient students receive something for their efforts, with the new diploma tiers layered in to disguise the fact that Rhode Island's public educational system has failed to live up to its own standards. Those resisting both the tiers and the certificates are (by this interpretation) effectively playing chicken with the Board of Regents, holding them to their prior, more-dramatic regulations in order to force the Department of Education either to be lax in judging exceptions to NECAP proficiency or to postpone or scrap the current reforms altogether.

Rhode Island voters and parents should look beyond the blurry bureaucratic dances and focus on the truth behind all of the rhetorical agreements and semantic disagreements. When it comes to high scores on standardized math tests, Rhode Island trails the nation of Turkey.

January 24, 2011

Pursuing Business Friendliness

Justin Katz

The Tiverton Town Council meeting has already been running very long, and there's still a full agenda page of meaty topics. On the floor, right now, is a discussion of what the Town Council can do to make the town more "business friendly." I touched on this topic not long ago.

The first to speak, tonight, was Tax Assessor David Robert, who addressed the topic from the perspective of increasing tax revenue by bringing in businesses. Solicitor Andrew Teitz subsequently made the point that business activity doesn't necessarily indicate a "net gain," once the costs of the business to the town (fire, police, streets, etc.) are considered. I'd correct that: The "net gain" must include other advantages to the town, such as increasing opportunity for residents and their children, improving their quality of life, defining the town's character, creating employment for locals, and making it easier for locals to start businesses.

Resident Joe Souza took the microphone to speak from his experience on the Zoning Board, noting that zoning is so restrictive that businesses want to come and to begin within town. Specifically, Souza described his aunt's former business cutting hair in her basement, which allowed her to stay home and bring in some money. According to Souza, such a use of her property would no longer be allowed.

9:02 p.m.

Appropriately, the next item on the agenda is a presentation by Councilor David Nelson, proposing a cap of 2.5% on the town's tax levy. He noted the town's rapid increase in taxes and the state's poor standing economically and for business and taxpayer attraction. Councilor Cecil Leonard noted that the budget process for next year is already well underway, with work done without regard to a new tax cap. Nelson noted that there's plenty of time to accommodate changes. I'd note that, whatever the budget activity, the financial town meeting can undo all planning anyway.

9:44 p.m.

We just moved through a long presentation and discussion of a zoning/development plan being developed by Town Planner Chris Spencer for Tiverton's Four Corners Village area. From my perspective, living on the other side of town, it seems to me that the urge to tie up and continually delay development plans with objections about environment and such is indicative of the very problem that is making economic development very difficult in the modern era. Nobody wants changes in their own neighborhoods, but everybody's got a neighborhood to protect, which pushes anything potentially undesirable (typically by increasing the liberty of property owners) to the less politically active, less procedurally aware, and less financially backed neighborhoods.

Those neighborhoods simply cannot offer all of the opportunities that the town should allow or even pursue.

10:02 p.m.

Among a flurry of policy proposals, Councilor Rob Coulter suggested that the council request General Assembly legislation delaying the state mandate for a town-wide property revaluation. The tax assessor is against the move, and other council members didn't seem to have much stomach for it. I say it's worth sending every possible message to the legislature that mandates are a problem and putting the topic in the public repeatedly.

Bills Introduced in the Rhode Island Senate, January 18-20

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0045Changes to the "disclosure, transparency, and accountability" requirements for life insurance.
S0047Regulates emissions from outdoor wood-burning boilers or outdoor wood boilers (aka "outdoor wood-fired hydronic heaters").
S0050Allows insurance corporations created by town councils or school committees to manage trusts for paying for "other post-employment benefits".(Comment 1: Is there a good reason for this change (from the taxpayer perspective), or does it mainly give business to someone who couldn't otherwise take it? Comment 2: Can you spot the single word that is changed, and its effect, as a result of the modifications between lines 18 and 25 on page 2? )
S0051More changes, related to "other post-employment benefits", similar to S0050.
S0052Creates a uniform system of accounting for municipal finances and allows state aid to be withheld, if a municipality does not comply with said system.
S0061Licensing of genetic counselors

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0046Raises age of mandatory public school attendance from 16 to 18 (with provisions for students on alternative learning plans). Companion to H5061
S0048The Director of Environmental Management must inform the appropriate city or town council when an application for development impacting freshwater wetlands is made. (City or town councils already have the right to disapprove of the project).
S0056The state mandated "reference resource center" for RI's library system is no longer required to be at the Providence public library, but at a public library to be chosen on an annual basis.
S0060Charges the Department of Health with developing a women's cardiovascular disease screening pilot program in Pawtucket, Providence, Woonsocket, Newport, West Warwick and Central Falls.
S0062Prohibits medical laboratory tests not authorized by a physician. (Comment: Actually, it's a physician or "other person authorized by law to use the findings of such laboratory examination". Does this mean that the law assumes that individuals need to get legal authorization to be able to use information that is pertinent to his or her own body and physical condition?)
S0066Registrar of Deeds can set document formatting standards, subject to approval by the Secretary of State.
S0067Requires a uniformed police officer paid for by the Board of Elections to be at every polling place during a general election.
S0068School committees don't have publish a notice of their meetings in a dead-tree newspaper. (Comment: This is different from H5064, in that it does not include a mandate requiring electronic notification, in place of newspaper notification).
S0070"Petty misdemeanors" involving domestic violence can trigger enhanced penalties.
S0071Moves the date for notifying teachers of dismissal or suspension from March 1 to June 1.
S0072Shared jobs for teachers only count towards retirement service time if they involve "a school district" (Comment: Is this an attempt to make implementing charter schools more difficult?).
S0073Arbitrators in cases involving police officers and firefighters can bring a "bargaining agreement up to date, regardless of the amount of years in question", contingent on agreement by both parties. (Comment: I know this may seem like a silly question, but if the parties can agree to let an arbitrator bring the agreement up to date, how come they can't directly agree on new terms? What's the catch here?)
S0074Requires bidders on public contracts to supply a list of all subcontractors they plan to use.
S0075Places the following non-binding question on the next general election ballot: "Shall the State of Rhode Island pursue the facilitation of shared municipal services for the purposes of achieving more economic, efficient and effective management of the state's overall resources?"

Changes with Local Impact

S0049(West Kingston Fire District) Changes in the terms of bonds that have been issued.
S0063(Burrillville) Final ratification of charter amendments.

Bills Introduced in the Rhode Island Senate (Taxation Focus), January 18-20

Carroll Andrew Morse

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0053Lowers the gas tax from 32 to 28 cents per gallon.
S0054No tolls for crossing the Mt. Hope Bridge (Comment: Unless, of course, the legislature approves them in the future by repealing this change.) Companion to H5056
S0055Would impose the state's sales-tax on clothing items costing more than $500.
S0057Applies the state sales tax to "storage, use, or other consumption in this state of any new or used boat". (Comment: Has this been cleared with John Kerry?).
S0058Raises the estate tax threshold to $1.5 million from $850 thousand beginning in 2013, and then indexes it to inflation.
S0059According to the official explanation, this bill is supposed to exempt gum, candy, confectionaries and soft drinks sold through vending machines and priced less than $3 from the sales tax. However, given the way the bill is actually worded, it also removes the sales tax exemption from "prepared foods" that are currently exempt AND exempts the "prepared foods" that are currently not exempt. (Comment: Whichever young legislator made this apparent error may want to seek the advice of the Majority Leader, on avoiding such missteps in the future. Oh, wait...)

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Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island House (Criminal and Civil Offense Focus), January 18-20

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5029Defines crimes of assault, battery and manslaughter against an unborn child.
H5095Authorizes a "24/7" sobriety program as an alternative to imprisonment for drunk driving offenses.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5027Creates a civil action for forcing or coercing a woman to have an abortion without her free consent.
H5028Defines a specific crime of assault or battery on a pregnant woman resulting in miscarriage or stillbirth.
H5031Possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is a civil offense only.
H5033Adds elected officials to the list of first-degree murder victims that can trigger a sentence of life without parole.
H5034Adds elected officials to list of victims of assault and battery that can trigger increased sentences.
H5065Increase penalties for desecrating graves an other public monuments. (Also changes the word "inclosure" to "enclosure" everywhere in the affected chapters of RI law). Companion to S0033.
H5066Adds salvia divinorum, datura stramonium and synthetic cannabinoids to the list of controlled substances in RI.
H5087Choking someone is a felony, even if it does not result in serious bodily injury.
H5089Extends the definition of hate crime to cover crimes motivated by "gender identity or expression".
H5090Extends the life of a task force working on the improvement of lineup procedures in RI.
H5094Prohibits "sexting" by minors.
H5096Requires a motorist overtaking a bicyclist to leave at least three feet of clearance.
H5099From the official description: "This act would amend the larceny and unlawful conversion provisions of the general laws pertaining to when a crime is to be treated as a felony, by increasing the threshold amount from five hundred dollars ($500) to one thousand five hundred dollars ($1,500)".

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The Journal's Us and Them

Justin Katz

Did you happen to catch this front-page story in last Sunday's Providence Journal?

On Friday, three former governors and several professors of communications and political science offered varying opinions about whether Chafee had made the right decision, as well as some historical perspective on discourse — civil and otherwise — in American democracy.

Not a single quote from anybody associated with talk radio, whether as an on-air personality or executive... or even a supporter or listener to the medium. Simply by its presentation, the article makes clear that those who work in that particular medium, and perhaps their audience, aren't really part of the Rhode Island community, but an external "them" to be dissected by academics and handled by politicians.

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island House (Business Regulatory Focus), January 18-20

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5100Repeals the state's franchise tax.
H5101Sets conditions under which Bureau of Criminal Identification reports may be used in employment decisions.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5026No charging fees or asking for fingerprints, when a bank customer presents "a valid instrument" to withdraw funds.
H5032"Any landlord who rents or leases premises to a tenant who is engaged in the cultivation of medical marijuana shall be indemnified against any claims arising out of the tenant’s cultivation of medical marijuana". (Comment: I had to look up "indemnify" in an online dictionary. It means "Secure (someone) against legal responsibility for their actions.", which I think is the sense in which it is being used here.)
H5040Landlords don't have to rent to someone who wants to grow medical marijuana. Also, the landlord can ask a potential tenants in advance if they intend to grow medical marijuana.
H5060Sets a minimum corporate-tax in RI, based on percentage of gross-receipts (Comment:Anyone with experience want to tell us if this is a good deal or bad deal, for the different income brackets that are defined?)
H5062"No person or business entity who sells real property shall charge, collect, receive, or be entitled to a fee based solely on the subsequent resale or transfer of said property..." (Comment: Can someone put into real world terms what activities are being prohibited here?)
H5077Automobile insurance rates cannot take into account credit score. (Comment: Should I be listing this as a local bill, since the first three Reps listed as sponsors all represent Johnston?)
H5082Fees and fines collected from enforcement of the food establishment sanitation code are to be treated as restricted receipts, for the purpose of hiring up to 12 new food inspectors.
H5084Increases fines for violation of the food establishment sanitation code, from a maximum of $500 to a possible maximum of $5000
H5086"Food establishments which prepare potentially hazardous foods" must have a "certified food safety manager" present at all times during the preparation of foods.

Chafee and Charters: Thoughtful Pauses or Choir Preaching?

Marc Comtois

As Ed Fitzpatrick wrote about last week, Governor Chafee is taking a "thoughtful pause" on considering whether or not Rhode Island should allow more charter schools to open up. According to Chafee spokesman Mike Trainor, the Governor

...strongly believes Rhode Island needs a deep and healthy debate on the issue of charter schools because it represents to him a significant determinant in the future of our public school system....To help spur that healthy debate and discussion, he is going to bring Diane Ravitch to Rhode Island between now and the beginning of spring.
As Fitzpatrick explains--after noting the overwhelming support that teachers' unions had for the Governor--Ravitch was for charter schools before she was against them and has been vociferous in both roles. He quotes Arthur E. Levine, "former president of Teachers College (where Ravitch received her doctorate)"
She has done more than any one I can think of in America to drive home the message of accountability and charters and testing. Now for her to suddenly conclude that she’s been all wrong is extraordinary — and not very helpful.
Fitzpatrick, whose own children attend charter schools, believes:
It would be helpful if Chafee resisted the temptation to view charter schools from either of the polar-opposite perspectives that Ravitch has held in her career. Charter schools are not going to solve all that ails public education, but they’re also not an enemy that is going to ruin it.
That's not an opinion held by Ravitch 2.0. One solution to offer an opposing and articulate (and fair) counterpoint would be to invite Frederick Hess. Hess maintains a blog and, while attending an education conference in Boston, had guest bloggers fill in--and they didn't all agree with him. In other words, Hess is willing to look at the ideas of others. Here he is in his return post:
As you've doubtless noted, all three of our guest bloggers are as likely to disagree with me as to reflect my own views. I hope that didn't unduly confound anyone. For what it's worth, I care infinitely more about whether someone is thoughtful and interesting than whether they agree with me.

This is because--and I trust this has become obvious to veteran RHSU readers--I believe it's entirely possible for someone to be smart, informed, and concerned, and to still disagree with me on questions big and small. (I know such a stance can approach heresy, in education and elsewhere, nowadays, but there you go.)

From what I've read and heard of Dianne Ravitch 2.0, such willingness to engage in good faith seems to be absent.

And about that conference Hess attended....it was in Boston (TeachPlus) and Hess found some interesting (and heartening) things.

The sixty-odd teachers in attendance were bracingly open to questioning conventional verities governing teacher evaluation, job descriptions, and pay. Whereas those of us frustrated with current practice sometimes imply that most classroom teachers are set on holding fast to today's routines, that clearly wasn't the case with this crew.

Teach Plus used instant polling technology to anonymously gauge attitudes as we went along, and I found the results cheerfully suggestive that a huge swath of today's early career teachers are ready to rethink the shape of the profession. Nearly three-quarters of the attendees had taught three to ten years, and most of the rest were in their first two years. About a third, I think, were in charter schools--but a clear majority were in the Boston Public Schools.

Asked whether they'd be "willing to be held more accountable for student outcomes in exchange for access to differentiated roles and additional pay," 63% of this group said yes and just 11% said no. Asked how they'd prefer to be evaluated, to my surprise, the room as a whole preferred evaluation based on "measures of student learning growth" as opposed to measures based on peer observation or participation in school-wide improvement. Indeed, when asked how useful their most recent evaluation was in improving their teaching, there was no defensiveness and no apologies. Forty-four percent said "not at all useful" and just 18% said "very useful." Mostly, it was refreshing to see teachers comfortable sharing views that don't comply with the stereotypical expectation.

These teachers and I talked about specialization, rethinking the teaching job, getting smart about using technology, reassessing the assumption that all teachers need to be full-timers, and the rest. I don't expect anyone to just swallow my heterodox take on these questions, and these teachers sure didn't. But most seemed eager to consider alternative arrangements, think them through, and share their own spirited and savvy insights.

Governor, invite Hess.

Bills Introduced in the Rhode Island House, January 18-20

Carroll Andrew Morse

This is the first of five posts today on the bills introduced to the RI General Assembly last week. There will be two other posts on House Bills, with criminal/civil offense and business regulatory bills grouped together, and two posts on Senate Bills, one of which focuses on taxation bills. As a reminder, the difference between "significant rewrites" and "targeted changes" isn't in the impact or importance of the law, but in the sheer amount of verbiage that gets changed. In general in the case of targeted changes, the intent of a bill is pretty clear and discussion can move immediately to whether it is a good idea or not. In the case of significant rewrites, the full scope of the change should be at least double-checked and maybe fully analyzed, before the discussion can begin.

Proposed Constitutional Amendment

H5063For elections of RI General Officers and General Assembly members, a two-person runoff election is held, if no candidate gets a majority in the "first-round" of the general election. (Comment: No details about the timing of the runoff are mentioned in the amendment.)

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5041Creates a "Return to Work" program through the Dept. of Labor and Training "to provide a structured, supervised training opportunity to Rhode Island residents receiving unemployment benefits, allowing such residents to obtain job training while continuing to collect unemployment compensation".
H5043Writes the former Illegal Immigration Control Executive Order (i.e. Governor Carcieri's Illegal Immigration Executive Order) into state law.
H5055Establishes reporting requirements for recipients of historic tax credits.
H5058The state will pay 100% of costs for students attending vocational schools operated by "a state municipality". (Comment: Nobody let Donna Walsh know she is starting down the road to school choice with this bill).
H5071Authorizes the Rhode Island National Guard to create an academy "for the purpose of providing at-risk youth with a program to help them obtain a GED, and/or high school diploma, increase their employment potential, and enhance their education and life skills. Companion to S0013.
H5093From the official description: "This act would allow law enforcement and the attorney general administrative subpoena power to obtain information relative to the distribution or storage of child pornography as well as the exploitation of children or online child enticement from Internet service providers"...
H5103Sets rules for meeting and monitoring National Fire Protection Association Standards for RI fire departments.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5035Makes individual employment contracts with public bodies accessible to the public, in their entirety
H5042The awarding authority of public works contracts must make sure a provision is written into contracts awarded, specifying that the contractor will provide a monthly report on the payroll records of employees, but the awarding authority is not responsible for enforcing this provision.
H5048City and town councils can freeze the property tax rates of foreclosed properties that are rehabilitated, for up to 5 years. (OK, but how about giving regular homeowners, who haven't been foreclosed on, the same break?)
H5049The kindergarten school day must include at least 5.5 hours of instruction.
H5050The $1.9 million for the DLT unemployment call center (See Rep. Mike Chippendale's blog for an interesting analysis of the bill)
H5053Prohibits tolls from being used to pay for the maintenance/upgrade of the Sakonnet River Bridge. (Comment: In reality, this means no tolls without the approval the legislature for paying for the Sakonnet River bridge, since one of those "notwithstanding any other law" clauses could be written into a future law.) Companion to S0016.
H5054Allows any city or town to exempt disabled veterans from property taxes. Companion to S0015.
H5056No tolls for crossing the Mt. Hope Bridge (Comment: Unless, of course, the legislature approves them in the future by repealing this change.)
H5057If the state does not reimburse cities and towns for the cost of state mandates, cities and towns can choose not to implement mandates that would save up to 50% of the missing money. (This is an interesting one. If I am reading the existing law properly, the state is supposed to be tracking the cost of unfunded mandates, which the General Assembly can then choose to reimburse. This bill would create a consequence of the GA chooses not to.)
H5059Adds campus police officers (who have been appointed by the BoGfHE) to the list of officers who continue to receive full pay if injured while responding to an incident while off-duty.
H5061Raises age of mandatory public school attendance from 16 to 18 (with provisions for students on alternative learning plans).
H5064School committees no longer have to publish notice of their meetings in a dead-tree newspaper. Electronic notice on a school committee or municipal website would suffice.
H5070Allows the head of the Rhode Island National Guard to "administer monetary contributions from donors to charitable organizations for and on behalf of the Rhode Island National Guard that benefit state military programs". Companion to S0012.
H5074Changes who can be a lawyer for the Rhode Island National Guard; it's not just for RI Bar members anymore. Companion to S0032.
H5072Authorizes vanity license plates for disabled veterans
H5073Allows the Rhode Island National Guard to participate in asset forfeitures that occur as a result of enforcement of drug laws. Companion to S011.
H5079Any vessel transporting LNG through Narragansett Bay has to have a peace officer on board (private security guards don't count).
H5083State government can only purchase flags made in the USA, with made in the USA meaning that "a substantial majority of the principal components are assembled into the final product in an assembly plant in the United States."
H5085Changes the seismic monitoring rules for the use of explosives. (Comment: This has got be tied to something that recently happened or something that is planned, right? I can't believe that even the idlest of state Reps would make this one up in his or her spare time.)
H5088Changes poll closing time in RI elections from 9:00 to 8:00 (also ends Pawtucket's option to close their polls an hour early).
H5091Administrators and magistrates, currently appointed by judges, would be appointed by the Governor from a list of candidates selected by a judicial nominating commission.
H5092"The division of sheriffs within the department of administration shall verify the immigration status of each incarcerated person being presented to the court for any hearing related to a criminal matter before the court, unless otherwise ordered".
H5098Good Samaritan law regarding CPR or automated defibrillation applies even if the Good Samaritan has no formal training.
H5102Authorizes Red Sox Foundation license plates
H5104From the official description: "This act would provide a refund deduction check off box for contributions to the veterans returning from overseas account made on a state personal income tax return."
H5105Same as H5074?
H5106Same as H5070?

Changes with Local Impact

H5030(Chariho) Chariho district schools can stay open on primary election days (currently, the law says only Block Island schools can stay open) (Comment: An exception is being made for one community, why exactly?)
H5045(West Glocester Fire District) The West Glocester Fire District will have its annual meeting on the 3rd Saturday of June rather than the 1st Saturday in August. (Who, at any point in New England history, thought it was a good idea to hold an annual meeting on the 1st Saturday in August?)
H5046(Cranston/Warwick) State law would no longer require that the Pawtuxet dam be maintained. (Not to be too parochial here, but if this is a good idea, how come it's a Western Cranston Rep that's proposing it?)
H5069(East Providence) Exempts the lighthouse out in the Bay that's part of EP from property taxes
H5080(Tiverton) Some extra money for Tiverton, in the form of school housing aid. (Comment: Not strictly local impact, since the whole state would pay for it.)

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Stagnant Life for the Up-and-Comers

Justin Katz
"It is truly a Great Depression for young adults," said Andrew Sum, an economics professor and the director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. "Young adults are working at lower rates than they ever worked before since World War II. As a result, you would expect migration to fall because they have nowhere to go to."

That's the conclusion drawn from Census data suggesting that younger workers are staying put despite local unemployment, seeing no opportunity elsewhere. One wonders how this will affect the behavior of the generation of Americans who've just reached adulthood.

The lack of such opportunities as often propel new graduates toward productive lives chasing the American dream is surely a factor. But then again, the expectation of living in a childhood home (on the parents' healthcare into one's mid-twenties) seems to have increased anyway, as have the gadgets of a sedentary lifestyle.

An optimist might observe that an increase in reluctance to move will force wages up in areas in which labor's in short supply, while an decrease in the desire to work will do the same throughout the society. At some point, though, the cost has to become prohibitive, except for those who can move their operations to countries without the excess wealth to support sloth.

An adjustment of priorities could be a very healthy thing in our consumerist society, but (especially if the urge toward consumerism is not adjusted) it could also create a nation of dependents in search of support.

Advice for the Young Regulator

Justin Katz

Kevin Williamson churns out the economic heresies when he defines "social value" as "the stuff society actually values" and "profits" as "evidence of the creation of social value." Much of modern discourse is a debate over semantics, but choose the words as you wish, the underlying economic principles remain the same, and Williamson is entirely correct to explain the perversity of heavy government regulation as follows (addressed as if to the newly appointed regulator):

You can see the problem: You want to regulate because you do not trust competition among firms to serve the public interest. But regulation becomes just one more arena for . . . competition among firms. Round and round we go: Instead of competing to sell people the tastiest hamburgers at the lowest price, or competing to hire the most productive Teutonically efficient burger-slingers at the most efficient wage, companies compete in the field of regulatory-compliance efficiency, which does not shovel any greasy social value into anybody’s ravening public-interest maw at all. The weird thing is that the more you regulate, the more McDonald's will discover that its most important profit-controlling variables are only tangentially related to selling people hamburgers. The clown finds out that Jack in the Box got himself a waiver from Obamacare, and now he wants one for the Hamburglar and Grimace, and we're right back to the original competition among firms that you didn't trust in the first place, but with a perverse twist: Instead of competing to provide social value in the marketplace, firms compete to wring profit out of politics.

And that, if we extend Williamson's logic outward, introduces competition among politicians to make promises to powerful parties, so that they can define social value in such a way that the firms will support their campaigns and arrange for special deals and lucrative gigs when the political career runs its course, not only for the politicians, but also for the regulators and the people whom they hire to come up with the rules.

So, the rules pile up, creating unnecessary, unproductive jobs navigating them, drawing profits and wages away from people who create things that society actually values, rather than people whose main occupation is trying to convince others that they're acting in the interest of "social value." Moreover, the rules become a minefield limiting the ability of new firms to arise and compete with the big boys, who therefore can get away with much more of the objectionable activity (devaluing labor and the rights of the community) that much regulation is broadly meant to curb.

But here's the thing: Betamax and the Arch Deluxe and Clairol's Touch of Yogurt Shampoo (seriously, that existed) just get yanked off the shelves when hordes of people don't buy them, and the great big milling laboratory of the marketplace tells Joe Businessman, who is really a research scientist seeking social value, to shelve that particular hypothesis and maybe not expect a bonus this year. But there's no feedback mechanism like that in government, which means that when you do stupid, you do immortally stupid. You might find yourself asking why Alabama has a law against having an ice-cream cone in your back pocket at any time or chaining your alligator to a fire hydrant. (What was the precipitating episode there, Bubba?) You get Americans in the 21st century still paying the temporary emergency telephone tax to fund the Spanish–American War (1897–98). On and on it goes. Forever. Deathless stupidity tends to accrete and clog up the system, over time, and Washington is a factory whose workers produce deathless stupidity like it's their job, like they're getting paid for it. Because it is. Because they are.

January 23, 2011

Deploying Powder Against Powder?

Monique Chartier

No question, snow removal can be a pain. But tempting as it may be, Abington police ask that you resist ... shortcuts. [H/T Dave Barry's blog.]

An Abington man is being charged with creating bombs at his former address in Abington after police had been told the man was blowing up snow banks to avoid shoveling the snow.

Abington Police Chief David Majenski said Leo J. Powers, 23, with a last known address of 45 Margaret Road, Abington, is being charged with threats to commit a crime and possession of incendiary devices.

After serving Powers with an emergency restraining order at a rooming house he was staying in on Washington Street in Abington, police learned Powers had a box of ammunition and a box with “some sort of powder” in it at his former address, according to Majenski.

According to Majenski, police were told Powers had devised a way to use the materials to blow up snow banks instead of shoveling the snow and had been doing it for some time.

January 22, 2011

Remembering the Well Put Phrase

Justin Katz

It's a few weeks old, at this point, but Robert Plante's letter to the editor phrases Rhode Island's predicament too well to be allowed to fade so quickly into the online archives:

This is by any measure a tall order to say the least, but it would solve our problems going forward. We do not have the right people in office now to accomplish these goals on their own.

With enough persistent citizen pressure, maybe we can force the "wrong people" to do the "right thing." This will be a very formidable task.

Unfortunately, the "wrong people" have well established reasons to continue to see the wrong thing as the solution to the state's problems. That is, they've overwhelming motivation to delude themselves, and to see that "persistent citizen pressure" as wrong-headed, at best, and wickedly subversive, most probably.

We should strive to apply that pressure, but the ultimate solution is going to have to be longer term, beginning with a new generation of leaders beginning at painfully local levels.

The Crashing System

Justin Katz

Unfortunately, the decision at National Review to cease providing access to the online issues of the magazine to print subscribers has left me unable to copy and paste interesting passages from its pages, and inasmuch as I'm not going to pay for two subscriptions and like the portability and markability of actual paper pages, I'm not willing to switch media. But some thoughts from an essay by Anthony Daniels are worth typing. (The article's here, if you can access it.)

The angry young people [of Europe], not unnaturally, want the same privileges that their parents awarded themselves in the high-minded name of social justice, on the live-now-pay-later principle. Why should they, the younger generation, have to live harder, more arduous, less secure lives than their elders lived? If their parents enjoyed free education, secure employment with guaranteed holidays and sick pay, and early retirement with generous unfunded pensions linked to the rate of inflation — what the french call les acquis — why should not they? Is not an ever-rising standard of living, with more and more entitlements and holiday destinations within the reach of al, the fundamental law of the universe, to say nothing of the meaning of life?

There are moral and philosophical aspects of the topic, of course, but the economics are full of lessons (emphasis added):

That the scheme of the welfare state was in essence improvident if not outright criminal was known from the very first. The British Labour politician for long revered in some quarters of Britain as the founder of the National Health Service, Aneurin Bevan, famously or infamously boasted that the great thing about the National Insurance Fund (from which various benefits were to be paid the sick, the unemployed, and the retired) was that "there ain't no fund." Payments were thus to be met from current tax receipts, which, if insufficient, were to be augmented by borrowing. Bevan gloried in the improvidence because he knew that it would change once and for all the relationship between the citizen and the state, increasing enormously the power of the political class and its bureaucratic clientele. It would destroy saving for a rainy day as the personal source of security, replacing it with dependence on the government. A strong government needed a feckless population, and — certainly in the case of Britain — got it.

To some extent, this system provides an economic boost by transporting wealth from the future to the present, via borrowing. Moving more of that inclination from private debt to government debt helped to obscure the economic fact that the future might need that money.

Somebody Check the Temperature in Hades: Fox Approves of Gist

Monique Chartier

Exclusively in today's GoLocalProv:

... The future of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist remains unclear under Governor Lincoln Chafee, given their very public differences over such issues as charter schools. Fox readily admits that Gist is a controversial figure—which is just what he says Rhode Island needs.

“I think she’s tackling some sensitive issues, but I think somebody needs to address sensitive issues,” Fox said. “I respected her coming in because sometimes in a small state, especially like Rhode Island where everyone knows one another, you don’t really shake the tree. Probably you should shake the tree because we know each other so well we don’t want to make it personal. That freed her up to come in and some would say that was a bad thing but I feel it was a pretty good thing that she came in, decided we would start looking into some areas.”

He said her work as commissioner has all been done with an eye toward the best performance of students. “Ultimately shouldn’t that be what education is all about?” Fox said. “I’m a big believer that public education is a great creative opportunity for people and it’s a great equalizer and so we need it. And so for that reason, plus many more, I’m a big supporter of hers.”

An Odd Reason to Give a Diploma

Justin Katz

Marc's post about "teaching to the test" reminds me of a peculiar line of reasoning that emerged when the Board of Regents heard from Rhode Islanders regarding a proposed tiered diploma system:

Ken Fish, who worked at the state Department of Education and helped to develop the 2003 regulations, lashed out at the plan to weigh test scores more heavily.

The original vision for improving high schools rejected high-stakes testing. Instead, schools had to prove they had made a series of required changes by 2012, such as ensuring that all students has access to high-level classes and effective teachers.

But as of 2011, many school systems are lagging in making these changes. And thousands of students remain unable to reach proficiency.

"Why are we willing to hold students responsible for an education they have not received?" Fish asked the regents.

If the students haven't received the education that they should have, on what grounds do we give them diplomas? Perhaps that sounds cruel, but it's a reasonable question and should point blame where it belongs. After all, the more productive question, in my view, is why we aren't willing to hold educators and administrators responsible for failing to provide the education that Rhode Island has promised to its students.

January 21, 2011

Teaching to the Test: It just might Work

Marc Comtois

The idea of "teaching to the test" is something that is viewed undesirable by just about everyone. But a new study shows that there may be something to it.

The research, published online Thursday in the journal Science, found that students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods.

One of those methods — repeatedly studying the material — is familiar to legions of students who cram before exams. The other — having students draw detailed diagrams documenting what they are learning — is prized by many teachers because it forces students to make connections among facts.

These other methods not only are popular, the researchers reported; they also seem to give students the illusion that they know material better than they do.

In the experiments, the students were asked to predict how much they would remember a week after using one of the methods to learn the material. Those who took the test after reading the passage predicted they would remember less than the other students predicted — but the results were just the opposite.

Read the whole thing for more particulars, but the test-review-test method "beat" the official concept mapping method. They are still not sure why:
Why retrieval testing helps is still unknown. Perhaps it is because by remembering information we are organizing it and creating cues and connections that our brains later recognize.

“When you’re retrieving something out of a computer’s memory, you don’t change anything — it’s simple playback,” said Robert Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved with the study.

But “when we use our memories by retrieving things, we change our access” to that information, Dr. Bjork said. “What we recall becomes more recallable in the future. In a sense you are practicing what you are going to need to do later.”

It may also be that the struggle involved in recalling something helps reinforce it in our brains.

Maybe that is also why students who took retrieval practice tests were less confident about how they would perform a week later.

“The struggle helps you learn, but it makes you feel like you’re not learning,” said Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College. “You feel like: ‘I don’t know it that well. This is hard and I’m having trouble coming up with this information.’ ”

By contrast, he said, when rereading texts and possibly even drawing diagrams, “you say: ‘Oh, this is easier. I read this already.’ ”

Interesting stuff.

State Bankruptcy Watch

Carroll Andrew Morse

About a month-and-a-half ago, I sent the transition team of (at the time) Governor-Elect Lincoln Chafee a set of potential interview questions, including this one...

There has been speculation in national media that several states facing long-term fiscal problems -- a category that can be fairly said to include Rhode Island -- may ask for a Federal bailout, or that Federal laws will be changed to allow them to declare bankruptcy. Do you believe that either of these options are possibilities for Rhode Island in the near term?
The response from Mike Trainor, then a spokesman for the Governor-elect, now a spokesman for the Governor, was that...
We do not agree with the premise of these questions.
Today, this is the lede of a page A1 story appearing in the New York Times...
Policy makers are working behind the scenes to come up with a way to let states declare bankruptcy and get out from under crushing debts, including the pensions they have promised to retired public workers.

Unlike cities, the states are barred from seeking protection in federal bankruptcy court. Any effort to change that status would have to clear high constitutional hurdles because the states are considered sovereign.

It seems like the premise was sound. The question is now whether we should believe that the Chafee administration is not tracking developments related to state bankruptcy, or just not telling the public that they are.

Rep. Brian Newberry on the First Bill to Come to the RI House Floor

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Republicans in the Rhode Island House or Senate don't have the numbers to block anything on the floor or in committee on a straight party line vote, so when I read the Thursday Projo headline which read "R.I. House Republicans Hold Up Money for Jobless Call Center", I wasn't quite sure what it meant.

Via his Facebook page, Representative Brian Newberry (R-Burrillville/North Smithfield) has registered his objection to the headline, and explained what happened with the legislation in question...

The headline was factually inaccurate. If nothing happened, no one would lose any benefits and no one would see a jump in their waiting times. The real issue was how and when the state would pay, if it chose, to keep on extra staff at the DLT to handle unemployment claims. That's it. Fairly simple really.

The subtext, which was far more important and completely missed in the ProJo blog entry, is that the Administration - and while technically it was the new Chafee group the same kinds of thing happened under Carcieri - suddenly realized that if they didn't DO SOMETHING RIGHT NOW, the sky would fall. And thus in order to prevent the CATASTROPHE OF THE DAY, they needed the General Assembly to ACT NOW. The only problem was that they didn't quite explain why we needed to act "right now". Instead they surprised the leadership with this issue at the end of last week, which in turn required the leadership to run around like a flock of chickens with their heads cut off, which in turn forced every member of the House to vote on something few of us had the time to read and properly understand....

This is not the way to build good relations between the executive and legislative branches. And this was not a partisan Democrat/Republican issue. It was instead a struggle of power between different branches of government and a message needed to be sent. And in this instance we in the minority were in the best position to send that message by using our ability to delay proceedings by a whopping 24 hours so people had time to read the bill....

(Note: Typo fixed from an earlier version, where the 1st sentence mentioned only the Senate, where it was supposed to mention the "House or Senate").

Some Hot Air in the Green Economy

Justin Katz

Speaking of the suspicious structure of the "new economy"... the economics of wind have come under some scrutiny, lately. Specifically, the project being questioned is Portsmouth's windmill:

Because the setup was considered net metering under state law, National Grid never negotiated a power purchase agreement with Portsmouth. An agreement would have been reviewed by the PUC, which could have rejected the selling price.

Instead, state law required National Grid to buy the power at a prescribed rate that is higher than what the utility pays for power from other sources, such as natural gas-fired power plants.

Portsmouth sells its power to National Grid at the exact price the utility charges the town and other customers in the same rate class. It’s a retail rate, not a wholesale rate. The bundled price includes the actual cost of energy, along with other charges for distribution, transmission and transition. ...

That left the town a net income for the period of $257,075 — money it could use to pay its energy bills or any other line item in the municipal budget.

In other words, the state government forced the energy company to pay extra money for Portsmouth's wind energy, which it will pass on to other clients, thus shifting money from the private sector into the Portsmouth government's coffers. One suspects that much of the emphasis on "green technology" — especially that emphasis coming from the public sector — is built around similar schemes.

The Knowledge Economy Does Not Offset a Bad Economy

Justin Katz

It seems as if, whenever I cite economic trends in Rhode Island, as I've been doing all this week, commenter Russ chimes in regarding studies of the "new economy" or "knowledge economy" by the Kauffman Foundation, as he did here:

According to the 2010 Kauffman State New Economy Index Rhode Island ranked 8th nationally in the "Migration of U.S. Knowledge Workers." RI ranks well in that category year after year, despite how much some here seem to wish it were not so.

First of all, importing "knowledge workers" is hardly a trump card if the overall migration trends are still outward (which they are) and the folks leaving still have higher incomes than the folks coming (which they do). Second of all, as I've pointed out before "knowledge economy," in this context is in some regards a stand-in for "taxpayer subsidized," with revenue coming from the government and tax-exempt organizations and going to government and tax-exempt organizations.

Look to the Kauffman study that Russ mentions (PDF. Rhode Island may rank well in "migration of U.S. knowledge workers," but it's #31 in "immigration of knowledge workers." It's 47 in "manufacturing value-added," 30 in "high-wage trade services," 48 in "export focus of manufacturing and services," 48 in "fastest-growing firms." We rank 16th overall.

That "fastest-growing firms" number is important. Rhode Island ranks 33rd in "industry investment in R&D," but it ranks 5th in "non-industry investment in R&D." That is, investment in Rhode Island means "federal, state, university, and nonprofit investments in R&D." We're not, in other words, living in a hub of economic activity in the "new economy;" we're a small state with data skewed by a military base, a bunch of colleges, and a burdensome government structure. Governments must draw the revenue that they invest from somewhere else (the private economy), and they spend it less efficiently.

Looking at overall "new economy" ranks, Rhode Island's 16th place is above the midpoint, to be sure, but Massachusetts is #1 and Connecticut is #5. In other words, Rhode Island represents a relatively dark spot in a nation-leading area, and we rank as highly as we do mainly on the strength of government taxing and spending. As the report states, "non-industry investment in R&D" represents only a third of "industry investment in R&D." The better strategy, therefore, would be to shift the local emphasis from an economy that takes money from some, under threat of imprisonment, to an economy in which people exchange dollars because they see opportunity in doing so.

January 20, 2011

Who's Leaving and What the Legislators Are Doing

Justin Katz

Last night, on the Matt Allen Show, I mentioned my work on population trends and Andrew's work on legislation. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Once again, I didn't go into the sales pitch, but please email or call (401-835-7156) me to pledge financial support — as subscriptions, donations, or advertising — for 2011 to help us create a full-time job within Anchor Rising.

Charlie Hall With the Latest from the Chafee Communication Team

Monique Chartier


Courtesy Oceanstate Follies.

So What's the Answer?

Justin Katz

On Monday, I presented the growth trends among different income groups in Rhode Island. Tuesday, I dipped into the state income taxes that they've paid and the numbers of taxpayers leaving the state. And yesterday, I looked at the trends of each income group to get a sense of where the shifts are occurring.

So who is actually leaving the state?

I hastily wrapped up yesterday by noting that Census data shows there to have been an increase of 25,274 households claiming income of $100,000-$199,999. According to the IRS, 16,426 of them are directly attributable to an increase in joint tax returns. That leaves 8,848 households, which would equal 17,696, if they were all two-income households filing separately. (I'm not saying that they are, just illustrating the maximum of what I believe to be the trend.) As it happens, the increase in non-joint tax returns with $50,000-74,999 in income over the same period was 17,912; very close. It's interesting to note, as well, that the increase of joint returns among those making more than $75,000 could (as a hypothetical maximum) account for 72% of the losses in joint returns with income below that number.

The picture that begins to emerge is of older, more-established, working-to-middle-class households selling their homes at large enough profits to rocket them up the income scale for a year, with younger households — still single or still filing separate returns — partially filling the gap. Consider that the Census's American Community Survey shows 12,472 fewer Rhode Island households overall in 2008 than 2003, but the IRS shows an increase in tax returns of 12,646, with the growth entirely among categories over $75,000. Yet, IRS migration data that tracks actual taxpayers by their social security numbers shows large losses of taxable income as thousands of taxpayers move away each year, 17,221 of them from 2003 to 2008, bringing with them higher incomes, on average, than those who move in.

The increase in returns, that is, derives from people who were already here, and those leaving had greater wealth. Some of the former are likely to have been young adults graduating from high school and college, but living with their parents and (perhaps) not counting their income as part of the "household" total.

In the trend that I'm suggesting, many of those who've sold their houses have simply left rather than returning to their previous income brackets. Meanwhile, those who've arrived had to over-leverage debt to afford the houses in which they'd invested, leaving many of them underwater and foreclosing when the market took a dramatic downswing.

This narrative ties in very well with a study that the Ocean State Policy Research Institute is releasing today that looks at the data from a slightly different angle. OSPRI focused more on the policies and qualities of the states with which Rhode Island has exchanged residents. Not surprisingly, "people move to states where the weather is warmer, taxes are lower, union membership is lower, population density is lower, and the cost of housing is lower." Moreover, "the most significant driver of out-migration is the estate tax."

I've long argued that the people leaving the state are families in the beginning of their careers who need greater opportunities for advancement, families in the middles of their careers who have turned their attention to the need to advance more quickly as they head toward retirement, and retiring families who need to make their dollars go farther. Meanwhile, improvements in the tax climate for wealthier residents and those investing in the state helped Rhode Island to maintain and grow its base of wealthy individuals while making property a worthwhile investment for families able to handle some years of the opportunity cost that Rhode Island imposes on its working residents.

To some extent, the shift could be a healthy one, assuming that younger families (1) work more cheaply and (2) are willing to put more productivity into the economy in order to advance. However, Rhode Island can't continue to stifle them with mandates, regulations, and taxes, and the state government can't afford to continue losing taxable income based on migration patterns.

Unfortunately, the state has recently been moving in precisely the wrong direction, and Governor Lincoln Chafee and House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed's General Assembly promise to continue that error. Arguably, beginning to phase out the capital gains tax early in the decade greased the path for the housing bubble to be worse in Rhode Island than elsewhere by decreasing disincentive to sell and increasing incentive to buy. But the state killed that policy soon after the accelerating market began to come apart — slamming on the brakes when it really needed to ease toward a more reasonable speed. Eliminating taxes on property sales would certainly have helped in that regard.

Last year, the General Assembly killed the phasing-out high-income flat tax by effectively freezing it within a larger tax reform. Worse, by increasing the standard exemption at the expense of those who benefit from itemization (because they've bought property, had children, and invested in their careers and businesses), that tax reform shifted the burden precisely toward Rhode Islanders who are striving to build families and advance in their careers. In addition, as OSPRI's report explains, 2005 changes in federal law led Rhode Island to create an estate tax, and "only two other states have a more punitive" one.

So, older members of "the productive class," as I call upwardly mobile working and lower middle class families, may now be stuck in Rhode Island, unable to sell houses that they're counting on for nest eggs and facing a large tax penalty for selling them. However, the need to find a more hospitable environment in which to advance and retire has not changed, and they're staying put in the jobs they have, blocking the early-career advancement of younger residents. In addition, the policies by which Rhode Island stifles entrepreneurship and innovation are locking the economy in place — the mandates, regulations, and taxes, of which Governor Chafee's proposed sales tax increase (and other policies to expand its reach in one way or another) is a fine example, as is legislation to require registration and insurance among landscapers.

If my interpretation is correct, the data to be released in coming years will not be cause for optimism, to say the least.

Tomorrow, I'll address a study that some folks cite (notably Anchor Rising commenter Russ) as evidence that Rhode Island has a booming "knowledge economy" and show how, even in the positive light, it's possible to see how detrimental the state's governing mindset can be.

January 19, 2011

Bummer, Man: Building Owner Refuses to Sell to Bill Lynch and His Grass Gang

Monique Chartier

The Valley Breeze - exclusively, it appears - broke this on their website today.

PAWTUCKET – Owners of the TK Club are saying they’ve rejected a bid by a group of city politicians and businesspeople to purchase the building for a marijuana distribution center.

Instead they’ve unofficially accepted a separate bid from a buyer who plans to transform the old-time social club into office space.

The conglomeration of rebuffed buyers is among the 18 bidders who submitted applications last week to operate one of three legal medical marijuana compassion centers in the state. The group includes city businessman Louis Yip, owner of the China Inn in Pawtucket, Bill Lynch, former City Council member and former state Democratic Party chairman, George Kelly III, retired Pawtucket police chief and a 36-year veteran of the local police department, and Mary Bray, former City Council member and current member of the state Public Utilities Commission.

We Need to Prune Regulations, Not Regulate Pruning

Monique Chartier

Pulling out a bill from Andrew's latest handy-dandy list, it's not at all clear to me, setting aside crass considerations like the impact on our hedge trimming and lawn mowing bills, how this would improve our rankings of 49th worst business climate and 49th worst economy in the country.

A bill sponsored last week by Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr., D-Smithfield, would require landscapers to register with the state and it would also require them to carry “not less than” $100,000 in public liability and property damage insurance.

Bills Introduced in the Rhode Island Senate (Regulatory Emphasis), January 11-13

Carroll Andrew Morse

This is the first in what is intended to be a regular series on the legislation submitted to the Senate in the prior week. (An abbreviated introduction to the series is part of the post; the full intro is here.)

My hope is that this can become not just a one-way or even a two-way street for discussions on pending legislation, but one of those five-way Rhode Island intersections, navigable without major damage on regular basis with a little bit of practice, even when the rest of the drivers are other Rhode Islanders. Think of this as the opportunity to help crowdsource the equivalent of a staff position or two that could be an aid to your legislator (though I can't offer you a state pension for contributing to the crowdsourcing effort). Citizens can make their cases for why the rest of Rhode Island should be concerned about certain bills, either why they should not be relegated to the black hole of "being held for further study" or, alternatively, why some of the bills introduced are terrible ideas that should not passed into law.

The floor will also always be open for advocates of bills, inside and outside of the legislature, to explain the meaning and rationale of particular legislation, to explain which matters are active in the backroom legislative processes that often determine which bills actually make it to the floor and possibly to suggest when citizen voices, at legislative hearings or through other means, could have a significant impact.

This series of posts will be regularly pushed out to the Anchor Rising Facebook site, so individuals who want to comment on the legislation in a less-anonymous forum will have the opportunity to do so.

The first raft of Senate bills is immediately below...

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0021Changes long-term land use planning requirements imposed by the state.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0005Moves Capitol Television under the control of the Rhode Island Public Telecommunications Authority (more colloquially, RI PBS).
S0006Public utilities have to pay for costs incurred during "maintenance, construction or reconstruction or any municipal right-of-way" done by a "municipal corporation".
S0007Landscape gardeners have to register and be licensed and, by the way, buy insurance. (Comment: The bill mentions specifically individuals "engaged either part-time or full-time in the cutting of grass". What if want to hire the kid across the street to do my lawn? Can he do that without a license under this law?)
S0009From the official explanation: "This act would provide that public water systems would reduce radon levels in drinking water to a maximum of four thousand (4,000) pCi/L no later than January 1, 2014."
S0019Requires motorcycle parking spots at public buildings.
S0020"The state building standards committee shall be responsible for the publication of the state building code and shall post the entire state building code on the Internet making it available to the general public at no cost."
S0025Adds cemeteries to properties exempt from "adverse possession" laws (Comment: Any lawyers with knowledge of land use want to help us with the technical terms here?).
S0026a) Rent overdue by 10 days can trigger eviction proceedings (it is currently 15) b) tenants no longer responsible for costs of having their property removed during an eviction, and c) possessions of a tenant still on the premises after eviction are deemed forfeited.
S0034Hourly-wage employees don't have to be paid on a weekly basis by their employers, if the employer is " in the financial services or investment advisory", "the employer and its affiliates have more than 2,000 employees located in Rhode Island", and "the employer's average payroll exceeds 125% of the average compensation of all employees in the state". (Comment: But I'm sure this is not the result of some big company in Rhode Island lobbying for its own exemption to the rules).

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Bills Introduced in the Rhode Island Senate, January 11-13

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0008Creates an "artificial reef" program for Rhode Island.
S0013Authorizes the Rhode Island National Guard to create an academy "for the purpose of providing at-risk youth with a program to help them obtain a GED, and/or high school diploma, increase their employment potential, and enhance their education and life skills.
S0014Increases funding for the University of Rhode Island for agricultural and environmental programs.
S0028Mainly, this bill allows a refusal to take a chemical sobriety test associated with a traffic violation to be introduced in court, and specifies a separate set of penalties depending on whether an individual submitted to a test or not. (Comment: Is this all Constitutional?)
S0029Same-sex marriage (companion to H5012)

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0010Allows state police members to purchase pension credits for up to 4 years of service in the armed forces (up from a maximum of 2). (Comment: This should go through an actuarial analysis. But here's the best part: The law explicitly states that the money used to purchase the pension credits doesn't actually go to the pension fund -- it goes to the general fund!
S0011Allows the Rhode Island National Guard to participate in asset forfeitures that occur as a result of enforcement of drug laws.
S0012Allows the head of the Rhode Island National Guard to "administer monetary contributions from donors to charitable organizations for and on behalf of the Rhode Island National Guard that benefit state military programs".
S0015Allows any city or town to exempt disabled veterans from property taxes.
S0016Prohibits tolls from being used to pay for the maintenance/upgrade of the Sakonnet River Bridge. (Comment: In reality, this means no tolls without the approval the legislature for paying for the Sakonnet River bridge, since one of those "nowithstanding any other law" clauses could be written into a future law.
S0017Allows retired state nurses to earn up to $24,000 working as part-time nurses for the state (currently, the limit is $12,000).
S0018Property seized during police actions that is unclaimed after six months becomes property of the local police agency (instead of the state).
S0022You can be stopped while driving for not wearing your seatbelt as long as "constitutional standards are satisfied" (Comment: Where exactly can the legislature write laws where that assume the constitution can be ignored. Oh that's right, the Central Falls Receivership and the Teacher's Health Retirement Board.)
S0023Reduces the amount of unpaid child support classified as a felony from $10,000 to $5,000.
S0024Being deployed out-of-state as part of military service cannot by itself be the cause of modifying a child-custody order.
S0027Increases penalties for hit-and-run.
S0032Changes who can be a lawyer for the Rhode Island National Guard; it's not just for RI Bar members anymore (if the bill passes).
S0033Increase penalties for desecrating graves an other public monuments. (Also changes the word "inclosure" to "enclosure" everywhere in the affected chapters of RI law).
S0040From the official explanation: "This act would authorize the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training to use one million nine hundred thousand dollars ($1,900,000) of its Unemployment Compensation Modernization Incentive Payments received from the federal government under Public Law 111-4 for the costs associated with the administration of its Unemployment Compensation law".

Changes with Local Impact

S0031(Charlestown) Gives the Charlestown Town Council greater control over the jurisdiction of the Charlestown traffic and parking court. (Companion to H5020)

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Health Care Wrangling

Marc Comtois

The U.S. House of Representatives will most likely try to repeal the Obama Health care program this week, though that's where the effort will stop because of the political realities (Democrats control the Senate) while on another front, we are now up to 26 states that are suing the Federal Government over the imposition of the Obama program.

Advocates explained to the ProJo why repeal isn't a good idea, basing their argument on the benefits accrued by filtering your tax dollars up through the beltway bureaucracy and back down to the state level so that several programs can be implemented by local bureaucrats to help manage the plethora of benefits forthcoming from the aforementioned feds. Promise!

Meanwhile, the impact of the health care reform so far has resulted in a winnowing of "choice." Some examples, as explained by Sally Pipes: 1) the construction of at least 45 physician-owned hospitals has been halted because they didn't open in time to qualify for Medicare certification; 2) doctors are planning on dropping patient care or limiting the amount of patients they treat who are Medicare/Medicaid because they can't afford to treat them; 3) Rules requiring small plans to spend 80% of premiums on medical claims will push many out of existence (those efficiencies are tough to reach in smaller plans--economies of scale, etc.). So smaller plans that may be able to compete against the giants in certain sectors will be pushed out.

Then Pipes explains the impact of the new over-the-counter drug restrictions, which--I can tell you--has been much discussed at my workplace and home:

Other measures kicking in are petty -- but punitive. For example, people can no longer use tax-free Health Savings Accounts on basic over-the-counter drugs. Instead, they must pay for a doctor's appointment -- and then get a prescription for a pricier pharmacist-dispensed drug.

Consider the case of Claritin, an allergy medication that recently was approved for OTC use. A report from the National Center for Policy Analysis found that longtime users of the drug saw their daily costs fall 80 percent, from about $2.50 to just 50 cents. ObamaCare reverses this trend by encouraging people to opt for higher-priced prescription drugs when a cheaper OTC medication would work just as well.

Pipes exaggerates a bit--for my plan, a doctor's note explaining that an OTC drug is called for is adequate justification to be able to use an HSA to pay for it--but that still requires a doctor visit. Just more hassle, more red-tape and more bureaucracy all to make things...better?

Up and Out, or Just Out?

Justin Katz

Yesterday, I presented two facts:

  • Every year, from 2003 to 2008, thousands of people who had filed tax returns from Rhode Island filed them from somewhere else. Subtracting those who moved in the opposite direction, during that five-year span, the state lost 17,221 taxpayers.
  • Because those leaving have typically had higher average incomes, the state has lost hundreds of millions of dollars, on a net basis, in taxable incomes — $915,863,000 to be exact, from 2003 to 2008.

Nonetheless, on Monday, I showed that, for most of that time span, wealthier taxpayers increased at a healthy rate. So who is leaving the state? The following charts show trends by income bracket, using IRS and American Community Survey data.

Sticking to the years for which I have data from both sources, the number of households earning below $50,000 decreased by 38,335 from 2002 to 2008, while the number of tax returns decreased by 19,353. For the range of $50,000-74,999, the corresponding numbers were 15,740 and 6. Noting that my migration data is shy a year, with 17,221 tax returns directly attributable to out migration from 2003 to 2008, it 's tempting to suggest a direct flow of this group out of the state.

However, those losses correspond with a 44,910 increase in households earning above $75,000, accounting for all but 9,165. For tax returns, the numbers are a 31,841 increase above $75,000, for an overall increase of 12,482. Considering that those leaving the state have had a higher income than those arriving, it can't be the case that Rhode Island is importing wealthier residents.

And anybody who's been living in Rhode Island will find a dramatic shift toward wealth to be a surprise. Indeed, Phoenix Marketing data of millionaire households shows the increase in millionaires to be relatively small. My suspicion is that, given the housing boom, the shift has more to do with the sale of houses — with people in the upper-working to lower-middle class range selling their homes, often leaving thereafter. The phasing out of the capital gains tax would have created incentive both to sell (because able to keep more of the profit) and to buy (because property in Rhode Island would be taxed at a lower rate, perhaps 0%, when sold).

Call it an "up and out" trend. Each year, until the end of the decade, the number of one-year-only "rich" people amounted to more than those who returned to prior income levels or left the state.

One puzzle in the numbers arises from the difference between Census household data and IRS return data. Why did the number of households between $50,000 and $74,999 (what I'm calling "lower middle class") decrease while the number of tax returns remained pretty much the same? One possibility is that people joined their incomes for the household results but filed separate returns. A look at just joint returns suggests that as a factor:

Turning to the Census data, households earning between $100,000 and $199,999, for example, increased by 25,274 (2002-2008), with 16,426 of those directly attributable to an increase in joint returns. That leaves 8,848 households, which would account for 17,696 tax returns if they all paired up.

Unfortunately, I've run out of time, this morning, so I'll have to draw the threads together later.

(The next post in this series is here.)

January 18, 2011

Bills Introduced in the Rhode Island House, January 11-13

Carroll Andrew Morse

This is the first in what is intended to be a regular series of posts on legislation submitted to the Rhode Island House of Representatives in the prior week.

Initially, bills will be broken down into three categories...

  1. Bills that have a statewide impact that involve a significant rewriting of sections of the law ("significant" being measured in terms the volume of verbiage that's changed),
  2. Bills that have a statewide impact that involve very targeted changes to the law, and
  3. Bills that have an impact in one Rhode Island community (community including a particular school district, fire district, etc.)

As a general rule of thumb, when a bill is classified as "targeted", it should be very easy to determine what the proposed change to the law is and discussion can move immediately to the question of whether it's a good idea or not. For bills classified as "significant rewrites", multiple sections of the law are potentially being changed and the scope and meaning of the complete set of changes needs to be understood, before the discussion of whether they are a good idea or not can begin. The line between categories is fuzzy, with final placement being at the sole discretion of the author of the post. Commenters should of course feel free to point out when there may be more to a change in a "targeted" bill than there appears to be.

Several types of bills will be excluded from the lists to keep things focused on public policy changes; 1) the "solemnization of marriage" bills common in the Rhode Island legislature, 2) bills pertaining to charters of private organizations, 3) ceremonial resolutions and bills pertaining to the naming of public property.

This series will be a straight-up report of everything officially introduced in a given week, with no attempt to determine which bills are favored by leadership, which are going to get committee hearings, etc. made at this stage.

My hope is that this can become not just a one-way or even a two-way street for discussions on pending legislation, but one of those five-way Rhode Island intersections, navigable without major damage on regular basis with a little bit of practice, even when the rest of the drivers are other Rhode Islanders. Think of this as the opportunity to help crowdsource the equivalent of a staff position or two that could be an aid to your legislator (though I can't offer you a state pension for contributing to the crowdsourcing effort). Citizens can make their cases for why the rest of Rhode Island should be concerned about certain bills, either why they should not be relegated to the black hole of "being held for further study" or, alternatively, why some of the bills introduced are terrible ideas that should not passed into law.

The floor will also always be open for advocates of bills, inside and outside of the legislature, to explain the meaning and rationale of particular legislation, to explain which matters are active in the backroom legislative processes that often determine which bills actually make it to the floor and possibly to suggest when citizen voices, at legislative hearings or through other means, could have a significant impact.

This series of posts will be regularly pushed out to the Anchor Rising Facebook site, so individuals who want to comment on the legislation in a less-anonymous forum will have the opportunity to do so.

The first raft of House bills is immediately below...

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5008Changes regulations for "Burglar and Hold-up Alarm businesses".
H5012Same sex marriage bill. (Comment: The official explanation of the bill includes this sentence: "This act would also provide that members of the clergy would not be required to officiate at any particular marriage". I'm not sure how that would change current practice. )
H5017From the official explanation: This act would establish a "Blue Alert" system to assist in the apprehension of criminal suspects who are involved in the murder or serious injury of law enforcement personnel.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5010Increases fee for a weapons permit from $40 to $100.
H5011"Notwithstanding any law or regulation to the contrary, no sales or use tax shall be imposed on the excise tax paid to the cities and towns by purchasers or lessees of motor vehicles."
H5013Requires six hours of drivers' school, to get an RI drivers' license.
H50163-year imprisonment for trespassing on a utility (Comment: Wouldn't trespassing on a utility be covered by the usual trespass laws?)
H50191-year imprisonment for trespassing at a public school (Comment: Trespassing at a school isn't considered as bad as trespassing at a utility?)

Changes with Local Impact

H5020 (Charlestown) Gives the Charlestown Town Council greater control over the jurisdiction of the Charlestown traffic and parking court.
H5021 (Richmond) Allows Richmond to license door to door salesmen, with a maximum price of $500 per license. (Comment: Why is Peter Petrarca from Smithfield/Lincoln/Johnston a sponsor of a local-impact bill for Richmond?)

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Bai on the lack of shared experience

Marc Comtois

Thanks to Ian Donnis' "Tip Sheet" (a daily read for me), I read Matt Bai's latest column discussing "the fractiousness of our modern society" and how, in the wake of the Tucson shootings, it's "impossible now for any one moment to transform the national debate." This is because, according to Bai:

There is very little shared experience in the nation now; there are only competing versions of the experience, consumed in such a way as to confirm whatever preconceptions you already have, rather than to make you reflect on them.
I wholeheartedly agree, and Bai proves his point, though in a way I don't think he intended. For nearly all of Bai's examples of past "transformational moments" seem to have resulted in an outcome that can be seen as empathetic with the mores and ideology of the left side of the political spectrum (see examples in extended entry).

Bai makes the point that our fractious society has different ways of interpreting the same event. It's nothing new to say that this is largely due to our multi-track method of information consumption, whether it be news, TV shows, music, or whatever. American Culture is no longer as monolithic as it once was (though it never was as monolithic as we think)--more choices mean less cultural common ground. Perhaps sports teams are one of the few remaining cross-cultural tribe builders left, but those are only regional, not national "uniters" (with the exception of Red Sox nation, of course!). Regardless, part of Bai's agida can be chalked up to the lessening import of what we scurrilous bloggers call the MSM and its ability to define the culture as much as it once did.

Here are Bai's examples.

Example 1:

...the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building by union activists in 1910, which provoked a national debate on workers’ rights. In the aftermath, President William Howard Taft created a national commission to investigate tensions in the workplace, and many of its reforms, including the eight-hour workday, were eventually adopted.
Union terrorists (that's what it would be called today) essentially help their cause. Violence is successful...and transformative!

Example 2:

Senator Joseph McCarthy testified before a Senate subcommittee in what came to be known as the Army-McCarthy hearings.

The interrogation of McCarthy by Joseph Welch, an Army lawyer — “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” — resonated throughout a country that was just then discovering the nascent power of television. Years of ruinous disagreement over the threat of internal Communism seemed to dissipate almost overnight.

Anti-communist witch hunts end. Never mind that it turns out there were actually internal communist threats.

Example 3:

There was a brief time, after 168 people were killed in the 1995 bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, when it seemed that all the extremism on the right had been deflated. But the impact of the blast receded so quickly from memory that Michael Kazin, a Georgetown historian, says a lot of his students today had never heard of it.
Bill Clinton tried to blame Rush Limbaugh et al. The country didn't buy it (a la Tucson). Bai doesn't really specify what he would consider "extremism on the right." Is it just extremist, criminal bombers or does he follow the Clinton line from 1995?

Example 4:

The collapse of the World Trade Center towers had immediate and significant consequences for the nation’s foreign policy, but any sense of common purpose had more or less vanished by the next year’s elections, when Republicans slammed their Democratic opponents —including Max Cleland, a man who lost three of his limbs fighting in Vietnam — as insufficiently patriotic.
Now it's getting too obvious. Yes, some Republicans did go too far re:Cleland. But that surely isn't the only example. Though inexcusable, the egregious attack on Cleland was in response to his own rank partisanship over Bush's foreign policy. Bai is leaving out all of the Democrats who flip-flopped, claimed "Bush lied" and played politics when it came to the wars in the aftermath of 9/11. It wasn't a one way street.

As I said, I don't think Bai intended for the majority of his examples to skew one way. But they did and that proves his point.

Why I'm Suing the Town

Justin Katz

My Tiverton Patch column this week explains why I'm suing the Town of Tiverton:

The entire episode was further evidence that government in Tiverton, as in the rest of Rhode Island, has long been characterized by an insulated cooperation. Officials and bureaucrats willingly making things happen for each other, connecting the letters of the law in retrospect when called on their improprieties.

If the town and the state are to pull out of the spiral toward which such corruption has pushed them, residents will have to insist that the rules by which we operate must be followed, even when political insiders find them inconvenient and even when it's their judgment that taxpayers can afford the extra bill.

Giving Away the Store, or Maintaining a Base?

Justin Katz

Yesterday, I showed that the number of high-income tax returns increased every year in Rhode Island from 2002 to 2007. In fact, the rate of growth among taxpayers in every income category above $50,000 was greater in Rhode Island than in its neighboring states through 2004, when things began to change.

During the decade, Governor Carcieri and the General Assembly enacted various tax reforms, agreeing to phase out the capital gains tax in 2002 and beginning a stepped reduction of an alternative flat tax in 2006. Of course, during this same period, especially the latter part of the decade, the state government faced massive budget deficits year after year and used one budget gimmick and one-time fix after another to muddle through.

The question arises, therefore, whether the tax reforms needlessly gave away money that the state could have used (although it never came close to equaling the deficits) or the tax reforms were a positive influence despite larger problems. I'm not sure that it's possible to collect enough data to declare the question answered, but today, I'll add some charts to the mix that I believe continue to point in the direction of my thesis: that tax policy helped Rhode Island to maintain and increase its base of wealth, which could have been a spark of capital for entrepreneurs and other producers, but heavy regulations, mandates, and taxes stifled growth and motivation among "the productive class," which therefore didn't act as kindling to get Rhode Island's economic fire going.

The following charts, drawn from this data, show the amount of state income taxes claimed on IRS tax returns for those filing in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, respectively:

Once again, it appears that the dot-com bust that began the millenium did not affect Rhode Island as deeply as it did Massachusetts. From that footing, with the implementation of the capital gains tax phaseout and a reduction of the state's nation-leading top tax bracket on the horizon, Rhode Island led the three states in the rate at which it increased the revenue drawn from the upper brackets. The numbers throughout the decade are as follows:

% increase in $100,000-200,000 taxpayers 2002-2004 19.2 10.4 12.2
% increase in $200,000+ taxpayers 2002-2004 27.0 19.3 17.2
% increase in $100,000-200,000 state taxes 2002-2004 14.0 9.1 17.9
% increase in $200,000+ state taxes 2002-2004 26.0 34.5 30.9
% increase in $100,000-200,000 taxpayers 2002-2007 56.4 43.2 43.0
% increase in $200,000+ taxpayers 2002-2007 73.4 73.1 60.9
% increase in $100,000-200,000 state taxes 2002-2007 44.1 38.2 47.0
% increase in $200,000+ state taxes 2002-2007 64.2 124.4 104.0
% increase in $100,000-200,000 taxpayers 2007-2008 1.5 2.9 2.0
% increase in $200,000+ taxpayers 2007-2008 -8.6 -5.1 -4.0
% increase in $100,000-200,000 state taxes 2007-2008 5.8 8.0 8.6
% increase in $200,000+ state taxes 2007-2008 -4.0 -2.1 -2.4

During the early part of the decade, Rhode Island led in the rate of increase of wealthy taxpayers, although that healthy development for the state overall did reduce the rate of growth in revenue that the government drew from them. Tax policy, however, wasn't to blame for Rhode Island's slowed growth during the latter part of the decade. Something else was, and I'd argue that the improving attitude of the government toward taxation prevented Rhode Island from doing worse, comparatively... until that attitude started to change in a vocal way during and after the debate over the flat tax.

The IRS also provides taxpayer migration data, which compares the location from which every American files his or her return to his or her location the year before. The years shown for migration are those in which the returns were filed, which means that the taxpayer moved during or just after the tax year (which is what the years used thus far in these posts have referred to).

Not that it matters; Rhode Island's loss of taxpayers has been consistently between 2,000 and 4,500 for the entire decade:

The bars at the top of the chart show the migration of actual people, and the line at the bottom shows the net loss of taxable adjusted gross income. That is, from 2003 to 2008, after subtracting the incomes of people who came to Rhode Island, former Rhode Islanders took with them almost $1 billion in income. With the exception of the two years that the revenue loss moderated, the average adjusted gross income of those leaving was greater than those arriving:

In the past, I've looked at the data of migration to counties abutting Rhode Island on the theory that such people aren't leaving the region but, rather, wanted to stay within work-and-play reach of Rhode Island:

The image that emerges is a pull of wealth away from Rhode Island. The fact that the wealthy were increasing in number, within the state, suggests that they continued to find Rhode Island to offer a friendly environment. Some other income range must account for those thousands of lost taxpayers, and I'll take a closer look in that direction tomorrow.

(The next post in this series is here.)

January 17, 2011

An Inevitable Course, Once on It

Justin Katz

Iain Murray and Vincent Vernuccio remind us that public sector unionization is not an age-old practice:

Public-sector unionism is a relatively recent phenomenon in the United States. In 1959, Wisconsin became the first state to allow its public employees to unionize, and other states then followed suit. In 1962, Pres. John F. Kennedy issued an executive order allowing federal employees to join unions. Since then, union membership in the public sector has grown by leaps and bounds. In January of this year, for the first time, government-sector union membership was larger than union membership in the private sector. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 22.2 million government workers in the U.S. Almost 8 million of them are unionized, compared with only 7.4 million in the private sector. These unions are at the forefront of the movement for more expansive and expensive government. They use forced dues to lobby for greater pay and better benefits.

Of course, they've covered a lot of ground (and absorbed a lot of the economy) in that time. As the authors note, "government employees have, for years, cared more about their compensation than most taxpayers have." They are among the biggest wielders of political money, and they aren't likely to loosen their grip, nor politicians to force them to do so, unless an equivalent opposition arises:

... Politicians kowtow to government-employees' unions, who in turn support their election campaigns. Once those pro-union candidates are elected, they can provide more pay and benefits to the unionized government employees. The union then collects dues from its members, which enables it to give more political support to the politicians, and the cycle goes on.

Those in such unions don't like to hear it, but in the long-term, it is not proven (and reason exists to doubt) that their practices can coexist with a vibrant capitalistic and democratic society.

Palumbo's 180 is Only the Latest Ominous Development on Smith Hill Pertaining to the Discharge Petition

Monique Chartier

GoLocalProv reported on the 180; h/t Justin.

[Newly appointed Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Peter] Palumbo [D, Cranston] said he has just started poring through all the rules, but he already has some ideas about what he would like to see changed. For one, he’d like to tweak a rule that allows a state rep to yank a bill that is blocked in committee as long as he or she gets enough of their fellow reps to sign a petition. Palumbo, who at first liked the rule as a freshman lawmaker, said it is better for bills to go through the thorough vetting process of committees before making it to the House floor.

Staying for a moment on Rep Palumbo's volte face and its stated reasons:

1.) contrary to his assertion, the problem with the vast majority of bills which do not leave committee is an excess rather than a lack of vetting; having served 15+ years in the General Assembly, the good rep must surely be aware that "Held for further study" is not a means of examining a bill but of killing it;

2.) if, however, the rep truly believes that most bills stay in committee only for due research and consideration, does he also believe that e-verify and other anti illegal immigration bills - to take an issue completely at random - have stayed in Senate committees year after year because they needed additional studying?

This morning, I e-mailed former Rep John Loughlin, an invaluable resource on legislative procedure, to confirm that the term is, indeed, "discharge petition". His reply included unexpected bonus material:

Correct. In my time in the assembly they kept raising the number of signatures and even added a provision for people to remove thier signature (at the intimidation of the Speaker) so that if it ever fell below the required number the bill went immediately back to committee. Further, the actual petition was to be kept in the Speaker's office and not be available for other members to inspect - talk about a stacked deck!

So the document reflecting the will of the membership is kept under the leader's blotter as s/he repeatedly changes the rules to thwart it. How charmingly ... iron-fisted.

Speaking of the will of the membership, in testifying against separation of powers several years ago (if anyone can find his testimony on line, I would be glad to link to it), Dr. Patrick Conley said the reason that, in Rhode Island, so much power was vested in the legislature and in the leadership is because, paraphrasing: the people tell their elected representatives what they want and the representatives tell leadership, who then carries it out.

Setting aside the reality that the G.A. actually operates top down, the condition of the state alone places this theory on pretty shaky grounds. The elimination of the discharge petition, one of the last procedural tools for the membership to assert its will against an undemocratic leader, would definitively expose Dr. Conley's theory as pure fantasy.

Trends of the Decade

Justin Katz

Three critical considerations tend to get lost in debates about population and the ways in which it flows and changes over time. The first is that large trends trump. A tax break isn't going to prevent a global economic hurricane from rearing its head in one state while devastating the next one over; there will surely be differences in how the states weather the storm, but the storm will appear in statistical results for both.

The second is the complexity of the numbers. As the income brackets shift within a state, the reasons for each individual change will span so many categories of information that a thorough picture becomes impossible to paint. Marriage rates, tax policy, welfare policy, different markets, employment, and on and on will affect the results. When multiple states are on the table, the number of policies and trends is that much greater. As far as I know, nobody has undertaken a study to break regional changes down to the percentage effect of every demographic shift, and even then assumptions would have to be made which individuals move to which categories.

The third factor that tends to get lost is that the effects of public policies don't just splash into the society on the day that they are signed into law. The debate leading up to passage of a law will affect people's behavior, as will the perceived likelihood that a particular policy will survive the political winds. Taxpayers (to limit the field) will respond to changes in the law, but they'll also respond to a general sense of a state's direction. Meanwhile, laws can either betoken additional reforms in the same direction, or they can make it to the governor's desk with the impression of having barely little chance of resisting repeal or efforts to undermine them.

In any event, what those with a specific interest in the health of a particular state must do is to assess the condition of the state and determine what effect policies have had, or will have, from the baseline of what would happen in their absence. If the widget industry is in decline, tax breaks for widget manufacturers will preserve their jobs to some extent, even if they cannot prevent the trendline from drifting down.

Such are the thoughts that came to mind upon viewing the following set of charts, which will probably take me multiple days to roll out, and which update previous posts here, here, and here.

<$50,000 - $50,000-74,000 - $75,000-99,999 - $100,000-199,999 - $200,000+

(Click and hold an tax bracket to highlight its corresponding lines.)

Each data point in this chart (based on this data) represents the percentage change in the number of IRS tax returns claiming an income range from the previous year. Thus, in 2004, the number of tax returns showing $200,000 or more in adjusted gross income increased by 16.7% from 2003; from 2004 to 2005, the change was 14.6% — still a large increase, but because the rate of change slowed, the graph shifts down. The red lines show tax returns filed from Rhode Island, blue from Massachusetts, and green from Connecticut. The smaller the dash marks of a line, the lower the income bracket.

Because the highest bracket is the most controversial, because it is most affected by Rhode Island's constantly churning tax policy of the last decade, and because it results in about 40% of all income taxes to the state, the solid lines are of greatest interest. And as is clear, all three states began the decade with losses of such taxpayers (likely because of both migration away from the region and a loss of wealth associated with the dot-com bust). In 2002, the year that Rhode Island began to phase its capital gains tax toward zero percent, we were the first of the three states to show an increase in wealthy households, and we led the three states until 2005.

At that point, our state was in the midst of a series of budget-deficit years to which our elected officials responded with one one-time fix after another. The General Assembly enacted the flat tax phase-out in 2006, but whereas the capital gains change promised to make investments made in and from Rhode Island more valuable (because less taxed) over time, the flat tax phased out gradually and required calculation against the benefits of itemizing and capital gains income. In 2006, the flat tax offered an 8% rate (as opposed to the regular 9.9%) and decreased 0.5% each year.

In any event, as the final years of the decade wore on and brought economic crisis, it became increasingly clear that lawmakers would backtrack on tax reform, and by 2008 Rhode Island led the region in loss of wealthy taxpayers. The capital gains tax phaseout disappeared in 2009, and the flat-tax alternative was frozen by the larger income tax overhaul last year.

An alternative narrative would be that Rhode Island recovered more quickly from the dot-com bust at the beginning of the decade because it had benefited less from the corresponding boom. Then, with so much waterfront property, the state experienced the ups and downs of the real estate bubble more profoundly than its neighboring states.

As this post began by noting, this type of data is subject to interpretation, and given data related to taxpayer migration as well as trends indicated by tax returns and Census data, I'd argue that my long-running explanation still stands: Favorable changes in income tax policy have helped Rhode Island to maintain and grow its base of wealthy residents. Unfortunately, though, heavy regulations, mandates, and taxes overall have not allowed the economy to capitalize on that available economic spark. The "productive class" — my term for the upwardly mobile upper-working to lower-middle class range — has not effectively acted as the kindling to turn that available money into economic growth.

Thus, Rhode Island has been more vulnerable to the mobility of the wealthiest Americans and has not fostered an environment of long-term advancement for the motivated workers and entrepreneurs who will willingly add hours of labor to the economy. Inasmuch as my own quest for upward mobility has not yet borne the fruit that would allow me to continue with this topic, today, I'll have to take up the specifics of taxpayer migration data tomorrow morning.

(The next post in this series is here.)

January 16, 2011

Grappling with Truth Isn't Easy

Justin Katz

One of the more amorphous aspects of the Catholic Church that persuades me of the wisdom of its approach to conceptualizing life is that it eschews easy answers to thorny problems. (That doesn't mean, of course, that individual Catholics or even broad movements of them don't from time to time slip into human habits.) Bishop Tobin raised a case-in-point example of this quality in a September essay:

The gist of the letter [from the grandmother of a homosexual young man] is found in this paragraph: "Many men and women could not find themselves in love with a person of the same sex unless God made them that way. What is very serious is the attitude of disapproval and even violence that is often extended to gays. We are called to love everyone and not to be judgmental. When Church leaders speak out, it gives silent permission to others not to love gays."

Bishop Tobin cycles through a number of issues that create similar challenges for the reconciliation of the Church's call to love with its moral conclusions, returning to the topic at hand:

As I wrote to my correspondent, the fact that the Church has love and respect for homosexual persons does not mean that we can ignore the immorality of homosexual acts or the homosexual culture. Nor does our respect for homosexual persons mean that we should sit back silently while a highly-organized political movement seeks to hijack the institution of holy matrimony and change its definition as a union of man and woman — a definition that comes from God and has existed from the beginning of mankind.

That people with homosexual inclinations are human beings worthy of love and respect, that they experience their own intimate loves no less intensely than do heterosexuals, and even that their desires are natural do not negate the moral reasoning of the Church when it comes to their expression of their love — much less the longstanding and well developed theology that centers on the institution of marriage.

The easiest path is to grab onto any justification to allow people to do as they want to do, but what people want to do is not always (even often) the same as what they ought to do. If the "progressive" tendency is to cut loose tradition and moral gravity in order to accommodate the mores of the day, an equally facile mirror tendency is to cut loose the requirements for tolerance and compassion.

Neither approach fully accomplishes the goal toward which it is oriented. By letting love become license, the dogmatic liberal shirks the responsibility to guide and to be faithful stewards of the culture that has brought humanity so far. By letting responsibility become a yoke of rules without regard to the difficulties that they impose and rejection that they might imply, the dogmatic conservative fails to adequately apply the lessons of the culture that he strives to protect.

Rules Should Require Effort

Justin Katz

I said (somewhere) it back when Republicans were in the minority in the House, and even though the filibuster technique has been helpful to causes that I've supported in recent years, I'll say it again: this sounds reasonable to me:

... Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat ... proposes that lawmakers be on the floor debating throughout the time they are relying on filibusters to derail measures. "You shouldn't filibuster casually" by being able, as currently allowed, to invoke the tactic "and go to dinner or go on vacation," he said. ...

[Democrats] also want to abolish the system of secretive "holds" senators can use to delay presidential nominations without identifying themselves and their reasoning.

There's no reason that politicians can't organize relay speechification when the legislation justifies that degree of opposition, and there's no reason that they can't identify themselves when they want legislation held.

With the reach and authority of the federal government continually expanding, a strong case could be made that more types of legislation should require supermajority votes, but that's an argument that has to made, not assumed.

Stuck in the Comic Book

Justin Katz

If you didn't read it when it was published on the 2nd (yes, I'm still behind), take a look at Tyler Hayden's op-ed musing on getting stuck in Rhode Island:

Eight years later and I'm still here, I'm still cold and sometimes I still think I'm stuck. I keep expecting I'll get used to it, but surprisingly, my first impression still rings true. Some people simply aren't meant for certain locations. Like a fish out of water, I flip-flop around looking ridiculous and awkward. I am Kermit the Frog lost in the ghettos of Gotham. I've given up trying to "fit-in." ...

Tough guys, meatheads, whatever you want to call them. Machismo reigns supreme throughout Rhode Island. Intimidation is the weapon of choice. There are jerks everywhere but Rhode Islanders are just really good at it.

There's so much to love about Rhode Island that it's hard to resist the call to change what's not so good — with improvement requiring nothing so much as convincing Rhode Islanders to get out of their own way. As I've said before, sometimes I think the full motto of the state is: "Hope... you're going to need it."

January 15, 2011

Power to the Leadership

Justin Katz

In contrast to the promise of more open government in the Republican-controlled U.S. House that I noted earlier, this head-turner came via GoLocalProv today:

[Newly appointed Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Peter] Palumbo [D, Cranston] said he has just started poring through all the rules, but he already has some ideas about what he would like to see changed. For one, he’d like to tweak a rule that allows a state rep to yank a bill that is blocked in committee as long as he or she gets enough of their fellow reps to sign a petition. Palumbo, who at first liked the rule as a freshman lawmaker, said it is better for bills to go through the thorough vetting process of committees before making it to the House floor.

Killing legislation in committees is one of the key ways in which the political establishment keeps a firm grip on power in Rhode Island. It certainly is not a good sign that this is a rule high on Palumbo's list for this legislative session.

A Promise to Watch For

Justin Katz

Among the articles on my list to mention is this profile of House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R, CA) from the December 20 National Review. To be honest, I haven't had a chance to investigate the progress of the following promise (and it's not something that I'd expect the mainstream media to promote), but it's a worthy one, and it's worth watching:

"When I was in the minority, I saw what the majority did to destroy debate on the floor," McCarthy sighs. "Bills got written in the back of a room by a select few. In the last two years, we haven't even had an 'open rule,' which enables amendments to be offered. That model is over: My job is to ensure that good policy gets through — encouraging an honest debate, where all members, Republicans and Democrats, are equal."

McCarthy promises to immediately usher in a new operating culture on the House floor. "Any member will be able to offer an amendment on a spending bill," he says. "We will open up the floor, not only for both parties, but for the American people to get involved in the process. That'll lead to the best legislative product. From cameras in the Rules Committee to putting bills online at least 72 hours before a vote, we will enable people to know what's happening, read the bills, and understand the debate. Better ideas will emerge, and the process will keep leadership power in check. It'll be a healthy change."

McCarthy emphasizes that both Boehner and Cantor have been nothing but supportive of his sunshine-centric approach. "Looking at how many freshmen there are, and knowing so many of them, it's clear that they are the closest thing to a direct message from the American people. We get that," he says.

The Point of Separation

Justin Katz

RI Bishop Thomas Tobin asks the key question:

Nor should the so-called "separation of church and state" be used as a weapon to silence the faith community, or restrict its robust participation in the debate of important public issues. I've found that whenever I've spoken out on public issues — e.g., abortion, gay marriage or immigration — some irritated souls, arguing the "separation of church and state" will insist that I'm out of line. In fact, religious leaders have every right, indeed the duty, to speak out on public issues. If we fail to do so, we're neglecting our role as teachers, preachers and prophets. And if we don't bring the spiritual dimension, the moral dimension to the discussion of these issues, who will?

The obvious answer is that they will — those who wish to push the notion of separation. What they tend to oppose, I'd suggest, is not the insertion of extralegal principles into the law, nor subjective judgments about morality. Such things are unavoidable and, in any case, their saturation of public discourse flows more regularly from secularists; they just change the terms to "rights" and "justice" and assert their interpretation of such concepts to be mere objectivity.

The objection of secularists is to foundations for government action that derive from other institutions and sources of authority than themselves, whether that means religion or, more generally, tradition. It is illegitimate, they argue, to look to a Supreme Being for guidance or the long history of mankind's consideration of His moral demands, because they wish to provide the guidance in His place.

January 14, 2011

Some Guy Named Chafee, On the Remedy to Bad Discussion

Carroll Andrew Morse

Professor Zechariah Chafee ended Chapter 5 of Government and Mass Communications, the chapter on "Group Libel" and its possible remedies, with this passage...

When wise men refuse to mention disagreeable facts, foolish and stupid men will have their say more than ever. The responsible leaders of the press ought frankly to face the facts of group dissenions whenever a proper occasion demands. When the evil is thus frankly faced, its size will seem to be smaller than is commonly supposed, and methods for reducing it still further can then be satisfactorily explored. The remedy for bad discussion is not punishment but plenty of good discussion.
Since having a discussion, good or bad, requires multiple parties, and since not many people would be interested in a press that simply talks amongst themselves, the challenge that Professor Chafee puts to "responsible leaders of the press" applies to responsible political leaders as well.

Zechariah Chafee believed that in an open discussion, evil would lose. I don't know that Lincoln Chafee would label the adversaries he perceives he has in talk radio as "evil", but he is certainly not behaving as though he believes that he (or the members of his administration) can win in public debates with them.

The question is, does this tell us more about the ideas of Zechariah Chafee or of Lincoln Chafee?

(Fortunately, there is some evidence that the tradition represented by the older Chafee is being carried onin the form of former Republican Gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille, who advised Governor Chafee via Philip Marcelo of the Projo to directly face those with whom he disagrees...

Robitaille, whose former boss had been a regular on talk radio during his eight-year tenure, suggested that if Chafee disagrees with the positions taken on talk radio, he should face his detractors head on. “Go into the den of the lion. Conflict avoidance never settles a dispute, however, open and honest communication often does.”

Romney Flashes

Monique Chartier

RealClearPolitics reports that he has chosen a political director (what the heck is that??) and a pollster.

The Boston Globe reports that, on Tuesday, he resigned from the Board of Directors of the Marriott.

Meanwhile, as we speak, Mitt Romney is on an educational tour in the Middle East.

And a poll taken last week in New Hampshire of 1,400+ likely Republican voters gives him a substantial lead in that state's fabled (overblown?) primary.

What's Hiding Behind Chafee's Divisive Rhetoric?

Justin Katz

I'm beginning to worry about what the Chafee administration and its puppeteers might be trying to distract Rhode Islanders from with his assault on talk radio. As you've likely heard, yesterday RI Governor Lincoln Chafee called on advertisers to boycott talk radio. Apart from the petty activism indicated by his lambasting of an entire information medium (and a popular one, at that), the philosophical and direct assault on economic activity during the Great Recession and Rhode Island's continuing decline is bizarre, given the times. The more charitable explanation is that the governor has some sure-to-be-unpopular dealings going on in the background and wishes for everybody's eyes to be elsewhere.

In his partial defense (maybe), I will note that my impression from a more extended clip than Steve Klamkin provides in the above link was slightly different. It almost sounded as if, in response to some leading questions from the Pawtucket Times' Jim Baron, Chafee was bumbling his way to the point that private action should shut down divisive media, not government. Even if we make that stretch on the governor's behalf, however, his inarticulacy is reckless and damaging. As a press release from the RI Tea Party puts it:

The RI Tea Party finds the Governor's actions and words to be irresponsible and divisive. The Governor is the highest elected official in our state. By virtue of that Office, Governor Chafee carries a special responsibility to weigh the ramifications of his public messaging. He has failed to do so.

And the oddity extends beyond the governor's off-the-cuff remarks. Asked how Chafee's recent characterization of Sarah Palin as a "cocky wacko" fits into his call for tempered discourse, spokesman Michael Trainor says:

That remark was not made in a talk-radio format. We do not think it is an equivalent situationl

When Chafee's lips move, it's not what you say, but where you say it.

Less than a month into his term, the governor is way off message and is ensuring that political discord in the state will be greater during his reign than it was before... except perhaps to the extent that the public-sector unions quiet down. And that's where one suspects the origin of this initiative from the governor's office lies. No doubt, Linc is truly aghast at the tragedy in Arizona and, in his simplicity, has been led by national spinmeisters to blame talk radio and conservatives.

But then, perhaps he's also being led to weaken a medium that doesn't well serve his union backers. Talk radio has allowed reformers, notably Governor Carcieri and Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, stretches of airtime to discuss their policies at greater length than is possible in other media. The live, extended format has also not been kind to defenders of the inexcusable status quo.

January 13, 2011

Some Guy Named Chafee, on Relations Between Government and Mass Media

Carroll Andrew Morse

For further examination of Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee's decision to not allow state officials to participate in (certain aspects) of talk radio, let us turn towards a figure from another era, widely revered for his ideas on the subject of government and mass communication. The individual to whom I refer is the renowned First Amendment and free speech scholar Zechariah Chafee Jr., Professor of Law at Harvard University and primary author of a 1947 report put forward by a body known as "The Commission on Freedom of the Press" titled Government and Mass Communications. I believe he also had a nephew and a grand-nephew who went into the more practical side of politics.

Part III of Government and Mass Communications is titled "The Government as a Party to Communications". Chapter 25 within that section is titled "The Government Talks to the People". Despite the fact that the book was written before the birth of the talk radio formats which predominate the locally-produced politically and civically oriented broadcasts of today, many of Professor Chafee's ideas are relevant to Governor Chafee's decision to bar members of state government from appearing on certain local radio programs.

1. Regarding any from of communication between government and the media, Professor Chafee expressed skepticism about favoring one media organization or reporter over another...

[Press conferences] supply a much fairer method for getting governmental news and ideas into newspapers than the practice, which Theodore Roosevelt had initiated, of giving important stories to a single correspondent. "If a story is public, it should be made public,", said an experienced informant. "To release it only to a favorite correspondent is definitely a harmful practice."
It is hard to believe that Professor Chafee would have supported a blanket ban on government participation in particular media outlets, for reasons of either organizational structure (i.e the "for-profit" rationale) or conflicts between individual personalities.

2. Professor Chafee did express some specific ideas about the medium of radio...

When a President had many things to say, he was obliged to improvise a series of meetings in widely separated cities...The radio has changed all this. Unfortunately, its great merits were first appreciated by unmeritorious leaders. Still, not many years elapsed before Roosevelt and Churchill realized that a statesman at last had what he always needed -- a direct road from his mind to the minds of millions, open for use almost the moment his thoughts were matured.
The Professor probably would not have harbored the attitude, which emanates from some Rhode Island quarters, that a Governor elected by the voters should not spend much time talking via long-form radio interviews directly to the voters. Rather, Professor Chafee saw the technologies which allowed executives to communicate their thoughts directly to the people as a positive, when in the hands of a meritorious leader (I'm pretty sure by "unmeritorious" leaders, he is referring to the European Fascists and the American "Populists" of interwar and World War II eras).

3. As to the purposes for which a meritorious leader talks directly to the people, Professor Chafee offered that...

Many purposes come to mind which can be promoted through governmental information. The broadest of all, perhaps, is to provide models of discussion that win respect for "talk" as an efficient, orderly means of clarifying goals, trends and the alternatives among which a choice is to be made. Free government depends in part on maintaining confidence in "talk". Many forms of existing public discussion undermine respect for it. Often, the proceedings follow no clear line and seem to provide no more than entertainment or the chance to sound off in an undisciplined fashion.
The idea of a top priority of government being to provide examples to the public seems quaint today, embraced by neither the modern right, who see government full of strange behaviors to be avoided, nor the modern left, who see example-setting as a function secondary to the direct technocratic management of society. But the fact that the patricians of Professor Chafee's era assumed something no longer uncritically accepted, i.e. that the best exemplars of civil behavior would automatically find a place government, does not diminish the importance of recognizing that government leaders do set examples that certainly will be observed and, to some degree, that will be emulated.

Whether he intends to or not, Governor Chafee (the younger) is providing a model of a leader who is either unwilling or unable to directly express matured thoughts directly to the public and who would prefer to eschew the process of persuasion and "talk" as much as possible. To be frank, he gives every appearance of fearing that "talk" will highlight a lack of coherence between the goals that important to society and the choices that his administration will make. The damage done by this example -- if you believe the ideas that Professor Chafee sought to advance -- impacts more than just short term political fortunes or to the day-to-day operation of government; it extends to a weakening of the democratic fabric in general.

Or maybe you believe that Great Uncle Zechariah had it all wrong.

Controversy Continues in Tiverton

Justin Katz

Among the first items under discussion at the Tiverton School Committee meeting is whether the School Committee should subpoena Town Treasurer Phil DiMattia to appear before it, since he has opted not to attend their meeting at their request. Committee Member Carol Herrmann noted that it might be worth waiting to see whether the fact that he (for some undivinable reason) changed his voter registration to Middletown precludes his continuing as treasurer.

Interestingly, Committee Chairwoman Sally Black requested that this discussion be moved to the beginning of the meeting because there are Town Council members in attendance, presumably for this purpose. However, when Committee Member Danielle Coulter brought up a related letter from the Town Council President, Black stated that they'd be discussing that at the end of the meeting.

7:34 p.m.

Strange turn to the discussion. Town Council Member Dave Nelson asked whether the committee would be releasing a list of questions that was referenced earlier. Superintendent Bill Rearick got testy and said that the list was his and that he didn't bring it to a meeting that had on its agenda "FY2009/2010 Treasurer's Audit Adjustments," because the treasurer had indicated that he wasn't going to come.

There's been much debate about what questions to ask when, whether the treasurer will know what information to bring with him, and so on. What's strange is that there's simply no question about what happened. If a lowly wannabe Internet pundit like me can figure it out, then these folks ought to be able to. Why pretend that it's a mystery? Is it just a matter of getting it out of the treasurer's mouth for legal reasons.

7:43 p.m.

This is unbelievable. The next topic on the agenda is that of transporting so-called "restricted" aid to the general budget. In summary, the school department has heretofore left money from the state and federal governments that's earmarked for specific purposes completely out of their budgets, claiming the irrelevance of dedicated funds to general revenue. Now, with aid being cut and the state changing the way it handles it, well, in Supt. Rearick's words: "Previously restricted aid will have to be integrated with our regular budget."

So now, they're going to engage in a campaign to make sure that voters, prior to the financial town meeting in May, "realize that it's not part of a new funding stream." This even as they're filing litigation to keep almost $400,000 in extra local tax money that the school department spent, last year, arguing that their state aid was cut by that amount and the town has to cover it — but the increase in their "restricted" aid more was nearly double the loss in general aid.

It's worth noting that the committee managed to maintain all of its lost aid, this year, by raising local taxes (after threatening to close schools and so on).

One gets the sense that our money is their money — they just need to figure out how to take it. Somehow, the people who pay the bills seem never to get a break.

8:16 p.m.

Now on to an actual education issue: They're expressing unanimous disapproval of the Board of Regents and Education Commissioner's plan to change to a three-tier diploma system, based on standardized tests, with a fourth tier of "certificate" for students who don't make the grade for the lowest.

Everybody's speaking as if this ratchets up the stakes, but my interpretation is completely opposite. Back in August, the news was how many Rhode Island students would not be graduating at all (in 2012) under the current system. It seems to me that the introduction of a third tier was mainly to disguise the fact that the Dept. of Education is adding the certificate, so that all of the students whom Rhode Island public schools failed to educate to the current standards would get something.

It may be too cynical, but it strikes me as plausible that certain groups would like to play chicken with the state — daring the commissioner and regents to allow almost half of Rhode Island students to get nothing at all.

Arlene on the Rescinding of the E.O.: Bromides In Place of Analysis

Monique Chartier

Awesome editorial by Arlene Violet in today's Valley Breeze about Gov Chafee rescinding the Executive Order on illegal immigration.

Despite anticipatory breast-beating to the contrary by advocates of illegal immigration, Arlene points out that there was not one instance of abuse of the Order in the two years that it was in place. She also enumerates the losers of this action ("legal Hispanics and black inner-city workers" - I would only modify that slightly to "legal immigrants ..." - and, in a different way, those whose identities are stolen.)

Perhaps best of all is this:

What is most disturbing about the new governor's action is his inability to analyze all the competing arguments involving this executive order. Instead, he floats around bromides about Roger Williams and how this state founder would be proud of the diversity by his action.

Indeed, it has been altogether unclear from the beginning what exactly was understood by candidate, now Governor, Lincoln Chafee and his staff about this E.O.

The e-verify component of the E.O., for example, pertained only to hiring by state vendors. But mis-informed assertions were made by Mr. Chafee about its impact on private sector hiring.

In justifying the rescinding of the Order, Mr. Chafee protested that the E.O. wasn't working in terms of the flow of illegal immigrants to Rhode Island. Two misapprehensions stem from this statement. The first is that the E.O. was designed to substantively impact migration patterns; in fact, it was not. The second, an almost comical one, developed after the E.O. was rescinded: advocates express relief on at least two separate occasions that "now, undocumented immigrants can return to Rhode Island". H'mmm. So was the E.O. efficacious on that front or was it not???

Thirdly, does the Governor understand that, with his action, the door has now been opened for tax dollars to flow past legal immigrants and citizens into the pockets of illegal aliens and their employers (i.e., unscrupulous state vendors) seeking to profit from the exploitation of those illegal alients? That, with his action, when the police take someone into custody on another matter, they must now close their eyes to any criminal immigration warrants pending against the individual?

Indeed, as Arlene says, what is most alarming about the rescinding of the E.O. is that it appears to have been done in the absence of a firm grasp either of the basic components of the Order or of a reasonably thought-through caculation as to the consequences of the Order's rescinding. Such a poor method of formulating public policy inevitably invites questions about the motive behind that policy and whether the good of the state - in this case, on several levels - was even a consideration.

Party Games in "Non-Partisan" Tiverton

Justin Katz

Back in 2007, I argued against non-partisan elections in Tiverton. Those who disagreed took a very community-oriented view:

ARGUING AGAINST asking Tiverton voters whether they'd like to return to partisan elections after one cycle of nonpartisanism, Charter Review Commission member Frank "Richard" Joslin made two points that have the ring of Rhode Islandry: First, that residents who actually vote (or get involved) know who belongs to what party, and second, that Joslin's fellow members of the Tiverton Democratic Committee are so ideologically diverse as to make party labels of negligible value. At the previous meeting, Commissioner Frank Marshall had asserted that everybody elected to local office is there simply to work hard and do right by the town.

Thus do Rhode Islanders like to believe about themselves. Everybody who cares knows, so inside information is by definition public, and everybody votes for the person, not the party, because the individuals are so independent and well intentioned.

That's all well and good, and to large extent true. But party isn't nothing; otherwise, there would cease to be a Tiverton Democratic Committee.

I raise the debate now because it came to light in the comments of my liveblog from Monday night's Town Council meeting that the lone Republican in Tiverton's delegation to the State House, Dan Gordon, was not informed that his peers would be briefing the local governing body. In fact, the same thing happened at the last regular School Committee meeting.

There are certainly legitimate reasons that the relevant clerks for the municipal government and the school department did not contact the only non-incumbent elected representative that Tiverton has sent to the General Assembly for this session. His contact information might not have been readily at hand or accurate. And the Democrat senators and representative might have merely forgotten to mention the meetings, even after the Republican's absence at the School Committee meeting.

It is conspicuous, though, that Rep. Jay Edwards is a member of the Democrat committee... as is Town Clerk Nancy Mello... as are three of the five School Committee members... as is, I believe, the Democrat candidate whom Gordon defeated in the last election. As Joslin once said, everybody knows who belongs to what party, especially those who continue to operate as members thereof.

Primary Power to the People

Justin Katz

John Fonte's review of The New Road to Serfdom, by Daniel Hannan, focuses mainly on international policy — and avoiding Europeanization and submission to anti-democratic supranational bodies. However, given periodic discussion around here about the structure of government and of elections, this is the passage that most caught my eye:

Hannan is particularly impressed with the American system of primary elections. He points out that in Britain and Europe, candidates for parliament are chosen by the political parties. This leads to the perpetuation of a closed political class and the exclusion of issue positions favored by the public but frowned upon by elites. In the U.S., by contrast, an outsider can defeat the party leaders' choice in a primary; this fosters a more democratic process, and brings into the open issues that elites prefer not to discuss.

Some readers are impressed with European parliamentary systems that allow votes among multiple parties, which must then form coalitions for governance, but as the quotation above states, voters are reduced to electing parties, rather than people. It's not quite so simple, of course; it's in the interest of the parties to find and promote politically attractive candidates, for one thing. But as the Tea Party movement has illustrated, even in our more-individualistic system, establishment partisans will only take popular appeal so far, unless forced.

Beneath the talk of voter choices, one surmises that those who admire European governments rather like "the perpetuation of a closed political class" — mainly because they do not trust the unguided masses to elect wisely. Better, they think, to let voters choose from a slate of general principles and leave the actual exercise of power to people who know how to use it.

Obama Presidential in Tucson

Marc Comtois

President Obama's remarks at the memorial service in Tucson were exactly what was called for. His tone was spot-on and he displayed leadership by reminding us all that there isn't always a simple explanation for tragedy.

For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.

So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.

But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.

Snow Toughness

Justin Katz

Matt and I reminisced about the good old days when we were proud to be tougher than the snow on the Matt Allen Show last night. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Once again, I didn't go into the sales pitch, but please email or call (401-835-7156) me to pledge financial support — as subscriptions, donations, or advertising — for 2011 to help us create a full-time job within Anchor Rising.

January 12, 2011

Sympathy for the Dictator

Justin Katz

My, isn't that totalitarian hand attractive for reasons small and large. From Another RI Blogger:

Sheldon Whitehouse was a sponsor of S2847, Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM Act), which has been a long, long time coming. What this bill does is finally requires the television networks to make the volume of the commercial advertising to match the programming. Hallelujah. This has been high on my list of irritants for many years.

I remember being a kid and watching TV in bed in my upstairs bedroom. The latest from Happy Days or Laverne and Shirley. All would be fine until the commercials would come on at an increased volume. My father would yell from downstairs "Turn that TV down!". So I'd get up and turn the volume down. Then when the program came back on, I couldn't hear it. So I'd get up and turn it back on until the next commercial break. "I said turn that TV down!" Back and forth we’d go.

Now a father, RI Blogger has had that familiar experience of loud commercial waking a light-sleeping baby.

Look, government regulation of television volume is not likely to signal the end of the republic, but the oppression of "there ought to be a law" is a patchwork, encouraging voters to acclimate to the big government mentality and investing them in its exercise of power. In both of RI Blogger's examples, the conspicuous factor is the willingness to deal with the supposed hardship for the sake of Happy Days. If loud commercials were apt to drive viewers away from television, then those who control programming wouldn't allow them. But television is apparently now a right and a necessity, so we get the U.S. Senate wielding its power to make it a more pleasurable experience.

Rhode Island, by Example

Justin Katz

Further to my point about a new political wave starting local, the landscape of Rhode Island politics stands as a stark example and testing ground:

... while the state has been trying to work through the desperate finances of its smallest city [Central Falls], it has also been working with three other economically distressed communities — North Providence, Pawtucket and Woonsocket.

And there is growing concern that other communities, also trying to cope with cuts in state aid and rising costs for salaries, benefits and pensions, may also be on the brink of being unable to pay their bills.

The backroom operations and self-dealing maneuvers of public sector unions have created an unsustainable structure, not only in the direct taxpayer costs that they impose, but also in the degree to which they hinder the progress that Rhode Island has to make, as in our shoddy public education system. Worse, it is exceedingly unlikely that the new governor and the General Assembly are going to take the sort of actions that they would have to take to turn things around, following my mantra of mandates, regulations, and taxes. Even if a reform impulse were to strike the state's leaders, the establishment's hand is simply too strong not to turn reforms their way by legerdemain.

Policies must change at the town level, and new, less corruptible, leaders must be found and nurtured through the system.

Day Late and a Dollar Short: ProJo & Harrop Decide Now is the time to Blame Tea Party and Conservatives for Tucson

Marc Comtois

After the meme has all but been destroyed, the ProJo editors and columnist Froma Harrop (one in the same?) have thrown in their lot with the "blame the right wing/tea party for Tucson" crowd. The editors:

While there has been some menacing left-wing rhetoric (the left was particularly extreme in its attacks on George W. Bush), and there are such hyperbolic media types as Keith Olbermann, most of the rhetorical rage has come from the right.

Indeed, a turn of the radio dial shows where the majority of the highly profitable political-hate industry is based these days. And the Internet, which encourages people to spout off, often in the comfort of cowardly anonymity, has also raised the temperature. Conspiracy theories, of which, said a friend, Mr. Loughner was a devotee, thrive in such an environment. He had expressed to friends a strong if incoherent anti-government animus.

Yes, the internet and the anonymous commenters--not to be confused by anonymous journalists publishing unsigned editorials, of course. I won't parse through examples of left wing "vitriol" nor delve into the conspiracies Loughner indulged (though here is an interesting interview with a friend of Loughner's from Mother Jones). They can be found elsewhere and, frankly, Loughner's "ideas" were all over the ideological map. Yet, that doesn't trouble the ProJo Eds., who just wish, dontcha know, for the days of yesteryear and "good" conservatives:
Some of the rhetoric in the media has been sincere, some of it mercenary, and some a mix; Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and their colleagues, for their part, have found that high-on-hysteria, low-on-facts denunciations have been very lucrative show business, much more saleable than the careful analyses by such old-fashioned — and highly informed — conservatives as George Will; too boring!
Would that be the same George Will who just wrote:
It would be merciful if, when tragedies such as Tucson's occur, there were a moratorium on sociology. But respites from half-baked explanations, often serving political opportunism, are impossible because of a timeless human craving and a characteristic of many modern minds....

A characteristic of many contemporary minds is susceptibility to the superstition that all behavior can be traced to some diagnosable frame of mind that is a product of promptings from the social environment. From which flows a political doctrine: Given clever social engineering, society and people can be perfected. This supposedly is the path to progress. It actually is the crux of progressivism. And it is why there is a reflex to blame conservatives first.

An example of what Will explains lay in the way the Progressive ProJo Eds open their editorial:
The shooter in the Arizona case, Jared Lee Loughner, is mentally ill. There were signs of that before he shot and killed six people, including a federal judge, and critically injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Perhaps a better health-care system would have gotten him off the streets before he could erupt, or maybe not.

So, while they have jumped on the wheel-less bandwagon regarding the "vitriol", I suppose credit is due for twisting it to their cause celebre--health care reform--even if it is ridiculous "political opportunism."

See, I'd have less problem--though still disagree--with the ProJo if it had simply gone off on the Tea Party, Beck, Palin, conservatives, whatever (as they have in the past) if they hadn't tried to tie it all to Tucson. Instead, we have a case of RI's own old gray lady not letting a good crisis go to waste, so to speak.

Maybe John Nolte has figured out what is really going on here:

Imagine what it was like as recently as 15 years ago to enter the field of “journalism” under the promise that if you were successful you’d have unlimited and, better yet, unaccountable powers to destroy whomever you wanted and to tell whatever lies necessary to further a personal agenda. Now imagine how frustrating it must be to have that promise almost completely evaporate with the rise of Citizen Media, New Media, and Fox News.

What we witnessed these past three days wasn’t just political partisanship, what we witnessed was the horror show of entitled and angry elitists desperate for that warm, nostalgic feeling of reaffirmation that comes with a successful character assassination and a death blow to their political enemies. Yes, the media made complete fools of themselves and further damaged what was left of their reputations, but the brass ring of a momentary return to the good old days was impossible not to reach for.

Apparently, some fools come late to the party.

Tea Going Forward

Justin Katz

Noting the fates of previous grassroots movements, Patrick Ruffini suggests to Tea Partiers: "Hitch yourself to established power institutions at your own peril." That doesn't mean that they should ignore the Republican Party, refuse to participate in it, or fail to work with its established members. It does mean preserving an independent priority.

Indeed, Ruffini points in a direction that I've been advocating:

Ned Ryun, executive director of American Majority — one of the more promising new institutions that have risen up around the Tea Party movement — wants to ignore Washington and go local. "What the movement is really about, quite frankly, is the local leaders, and I've made a point with American Majority of going directly to them, and ignoring the so-called national leaders of the movement," he told me. "I think the national leaders are beside the point; if they go away, the movement still exists. If the local leaders go away, the movement dies."

Frankly, our entire civic culture has to be rebuilt, which is not a one-cycle project. Conservatives — including those who might shy from calling themselves such — shouldn't cede the national stage, of course, but their most lasting effect will arise if they can change the makeup of the political class, starting at the local level. A new type of candidate must be encouraged to get on the escalator at the bottom, carrying Tea Party principles into politics throughout the entire body national.

Power and the massive audience for national issues have a tremendous allure, but they are the corrupting influence that must be avoided.

January 11, 2011

A Governor for Bringing Everybody Together... Unless You Listen to Talk Radio

Justin Katz

There he goes again. Governor Lincoln Chafee — in the interest of bringing Rhode Islanders together and eliminating divisiveness from our political realm — has banned talk-radio appearances for himself and employees who work under him:

Chafee doesn't plan to spend his own time on talk radio, and he intends to ban state employees from spending their state work time talking on talk radio, which was Carcieri's favorite medium and an integral part of his communications operation.

Spokesman Michael Trainor said a directive will go out over the next day or so that reflects that new policy.

He said the policy emanates from a belief that talk radio is essentially "ratings-driven, for-profit programming," and "we don't think it is appropriate to use taxpayer resources" in the form of state employee work time to “support for-profit, ratings-driven programming.”

Because all of the other local media are charitable enterprises. Of course, today, Chafee was compelled to clarify that the ban does not apply to emergency situations. You see, folks who get their news primarily from talk radio need to know about emergencies. They don't need to know what their governor is up to, or what he believes.

I can't help but wonder if Chafee's handlers have just determined that he doesn't think quickly enough on his feet with a potentially unfriendly interviewer.

When Who You Are Is an Insult

Justin Katz

Speaking of propaganda, here's an interesting political whack from the gay-issues Washington Blade:

"No doubt [David Cicilline] will carry on the record of retiring Rep. Patrick Kennedy in ensuring Rhode Island's first district is represented by an effective congressman in promoting equality for all people," Cole said.

Cicilline defeated John Loughlin, a Rhode Island State Assembly member, who was accused by some of using gay-baiting tactics late in the campaign. Loughlin ran ads emphasizing that he's a husband and a father — possibly a reference to the fact that Cicilline is gay and single — and defended "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" during a debate.

Yes, you heterosexual breeders, simply by being proud of your family — by noting your adherence to the family structure on which Western Civilization advance was based — you are engaging in sly "gay-baiting tactics." What that assertion will translate into in a culture with same-sex marriage as the pervasive law of the land, one can only imagine. No doubt, traditionalists who refer to their spouses' opposite gender (by using the words "husband" and "wife") will be seen as insinuating bigotry.

Not recalling any instance of "gay baiting," or even of somebody accusing him of it, I asked Loughlin what the Blade might be referring to. All he could think of was this article in... the Washington Blade:

But in the final weeks of the campaign, Loughlin has made several statements that could be considered digs at Cicilline based on his sexual orientation.

In a "Voice of the Candidate" clip that aired on a local NBC affiliate in Rhode Island, Loughlin repeatedly mentions that he is a father and a husband — possibly a reference to the fact that Cicilline is gay and single.

"I've been married for 23 years to my wife, Susan, and we have two daughters," Loughlin says. "I know about the struggles of working families in Rhode Island because I'm part of one. I've had to worry about how to pay for dance lessons, summer camp and all the extras that come from raising children."

Sadly, the Propagandist Can't Be Ignored

Justin Katz

Look, Pat Crowley of the National Education Association Rhode Island is a paid union hack. One knows what his conclusions will be simply by looking at his job title. He allows no illusion that he will say anything other than what he thinks will benefit his employer, whether true or not. If read at all, his public writings should be studied as examples of propaganda.

Consider his latest missive, which (I suppose) the Providence Journal had no choice but to publish. Crowley attacks people whom he says are making a "Flight of the Earls" argument — that rich people are leaving Rhode Island — notably Ed Achorn and (although he can't bring himself to say so) me. The first disingenuous aspect of his argument is that the people to whom he points aren't actually saying what he suggests. Anybody who reads Anchor Rising knows that I've been referring to the "productive class" (upwardly mobile working and middle class families) as those leaving the state, and Ed Achorn has been making similar arguments, at least in the several years since I first posted my related research (see here, here, and here).

Unfortunately, respectable journalists continue to take Crowley as a serious participant in intellectual discussion, which leads them to some pretty egregious and misleading errors. WPRI blogger Ted Nesi, for example, writes in response to Crowley's op-ed:

Projo columnist Ed Achorn says wealthy Rhode Islanders are leaving the state in significant numbers because of high taxes. NEARI official and Rhode Island's Future contributor Pat Crowley says that's dead wrong.

Follow Nesi's link to what Achorn says, and one finds this:

The flight of the middle class is an ominous trend. It puts downward pressure on housing prices, eating away at a key source of most families' wealth. It drains our state of precious human capital, as educated people who could contribute greatly to charity, civic culture and the tax base head elsewhere for opportunity. It costs jobs, as businesses shut down or move.

Even in Crowley's fever swamp, the middle class isn't "the wealthy." Media professionals risk their credibility when they allow a union mouthpiece to summarize the arguments of his opposition.

But one needn't read Achorn's article to have reason to suspect that Crowley is up to tricks. For one thing, Census data showing total population at 10-year increments for the past half-century have only tangential relevance to the question of whether a particular demographic group is leaving the state. Decade-long windows also don't allow much opportunity to align trends with actual policies. Since the last time the Census came to town, for its year 2000 count, Rhode Island has enacted and done away with phase outs of capital gains taxes and an alternative flat tax. One must look at year-to-year data for such a purpose.

When Crowley does look at year-to-year data, he has no choice but to become anachronistic:

In 2005, there were 11,913 people with incomes over $200,000 a year. By 2008, the number climbed to 12,515. Taxpayers in the $100,000 to $200,000 range grew from 41,817 to 51,904 in the same period. This was the very same period of time The Journal was editorializing that these high-income taxpayers were fleeing the state, and calling for action to keep them here. Action was taken, and we are paying for it with budget deficits.

Actually, no. To the extent that people were arguing that "high-income taxpayers were fleeing the state," it was prior to these years. The capital gains tax phase out was enacted in 2002, and the alternative flat tax made it through the legislature in 2006. Rhode Island's annual budget deficits far precede "the very same period of time," and during the years 2002-2007, the amount of state income taxes that "the rich" have paid has increased in a steep upward slope.

In other words, the increase in wealthy taxpayers that Crowley cites corresponded with the very policies that were supposed to have that effect. Now, in response to the lies and political activity of Crowley's crowd, those policies have disappeared and, not-so-ironically, leftists and unionists are promoting the effects of the policies as evidence that they were not needed.

The sad thing is that Crowley's essay is clearly a political strategy. Later this week, the Ocean State Policy Research Institute will be briefing legislators on a report addressing taxpayer migration, going fully public with the report next week. In the meantime, on Monday, I'll be posting my updated research. As Nesi illustrates when he blatantly mischaracterize's Achorn's argument and places it in balanced opposition to Crowley's propaganda — as if the two sides should be considered equally credible — the tendency will be to see our statements in terms that Crowley has set.

Anybody observing with an unjaundiced eye can begin to see why Rhode Island is in its current predicament.

January 10, 2011

State Reps in Town

Justin Katz

The Democrat trio of Tiverton's state representation — Rep. Jay Edwards, Sen. Walter Felag, and Sen. Louis DiPalma — appeared before the Tiverton Town Council tonight. Here are my notes:

Edwards started out by noting his request for legislation enabling biannual licensing reviews (or longer).

Felag: The budget is the major issue, and Governor Lincoln Chafee must submit a 2012 budget by February 3, and he could also submit a supplemental 2011 budget.

Town Council President Jay Lambert: has heard that school aid may be cut.

DiPalma: State aid to schools only indirectly affects town (mainly affecting the school department). RIDE is reworking funding formula; Little Compton, for example, was going to lose money but is now gaining money [funny how nobody ever loses money, given time]

Edwards: Tiverton's projected loss is about $165,000 per year, "give or take"

Lambert: Referring to the current controversy over whether the town must indemnify the schools against losses in state aid, then cuts certainly do affect town.

Edwards: Has proposed to increase construction aid. Also noted that it would cost only $13 million per year to "hold harmless" suburban communities from changes in the funding formula, and he's put forward legislation to do so for two years.

Felag: The funding formula that passed last year doesn't go into effect until next year, and it will see multiple legislative attempts to change it before then.

Coulter: Asked about mandates from the state: how would we formally appeal them.

Felag: Until 2006, there were about 280 mandates from the state. "It's easy to say I'm going to get rid of state mandates, but there are a lot of good mandates." Solution: "submit a list that you'd like us to work on."

Edwards: "Doesn't have to be formal; you can just send us an email."

Felag: Trying to get state to have budget by beginning of June, but municipalities should think about having some 13-month budget needs.

Resident Joe Souza: The state should repeal the funding formula. The governor's legislation to eliminate mandates died in legislature, last year. Souza illustrated by requesting a show of hands that there's no support on the council for binding arbitration for teachers, and he opined that fire and police arbitration should be non-binding.

Felag: [Changing the subject.] Already have in legislation for no tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge and the Mount Hope Bridge.

7:38 p.m.

To continue the liveblog with material that's mainly of local interest: Town Solicitor Andrew Teitz has researched who has authority to act on behalf of the town administrator when he's not able to be reached (for signatures and so on) and, finding nothing satisfactory, drafted a resolution that would allow the council to appoint somebody (e.g., the town clerk).

Councilor David Nelson asked whether Mr. Teitz thinks that President Lambert acted inappropriately by signing a request to the state auditor general for an extension. Teitz said he believes so.

8:06 p.m.

Town Administrator Jim Goncalo presented his first draft of the municipal budget; some notes:

  • 2% increase in salaries for department heads.
  • No increase for any bargaining units.
  • Addition of a 1/2 clerk in treasurer's office.
  • Blue Cross/Blue Shield advised that they include a 10% general increase in costs, plus 2.5% for a "health reform" increase
  • Tax base has increased from $2,183 million to $2,191 million; motor vehicle tax from $1,192 million to $1,150 million.

Council Member Nelson: 3.8% increase in budget = $644,002

Goncalo: The application of the projected near-million-dollar surplus from FY10 would be taken up by the Budget Committee as a recommendation to the financial town meeting

Council Member Coulter: If we're increasing the budget even as we're collecting more in taxes than we need, then we can change the increases.

Council Member Ed Roderick: If we have liabilities, we may not be able to access the surplus.

Council Member Cecil Leonard: Surplus only brings town up to 3% reserve required in the charter.

Goncalo: Regarding "so called" increase [so called?]

  • $10,000 in debt service

  • $225,000 for mandates revaluation

  • 15,000 general government

  • $257,000 financial administration

    • health insurance/liability: $128,000

    • pension costs: $76,000 (50 in police)

    • unfunded liabilities: $40,000

    • half-clerk in treasurer's office: $20,000 (not including benefits)

  • $62,000 for fire and police combined increased

  • $74,0000 for DPW ($30,000 for engineering study for new license for landfill, and landfill closure engineering study)

Lambert: Budget should reflect full liability to the schools, if we're obligated to pay for state aid shortfalls

Goncalo: The best place would be as a FTM docket resolve. [an astonishing suggestion, I think, that would write that interpretation explicitly in town policy, if approved at the FTM]

Talk of folks on fixed income (meaning, typically, Social Security) is common in these discussions. I didn't get a chance, but I wanted to point out that retirement income isn't the only way to have "a fixed income." The amazing thing about public budget discussions is that increases such as labor and utilities are presented as things that must be passed on to taxpayers. I can't go to my boss with the assumption that he'll cover my increased costs of living; what's the equivalent restraint on public budget setters? (Elections, of course, but that should be a more explicit consideration.)

8:49 p.m.

Councilor Coulter proposed the following resolution:

WHEREAS: The Town Council is responsible by Charter for a long-range plan which includes the development of goals, objectives, strategies, plans, and policies in furtherance of such planning; and

WHEREAS: Rhode Island General Laws also place responsibilities upon the Town Council, among other things, to generally manage the affairs and interests of the Town and specifically partake in financial and budgetary matters concerning the Town; and

WHEREAS: Long-range planning will better assist the Town in meeting its current financial obligations and future needs and facilitiate improved financial and budgetary decision making all for the betterment of the Town’s financial stability and security;

IT THEREFORE BE RESOLVED, by the Town Council of Tiverton, Rhode Island that:

(1) That the Town Council supports and approves in concept the development of a Long-Term Financial Plan to be in the best interests of the Town;

(2) That the Town Council hereby expresses its intent to further investigate, develop, and as appropriate, implement a Long-Term Financial Plan;

(3) That such Long-Term Financial Plan will include the Capital Improvement Plan and may also include a Financial Corrective Action Plan to address the known outstanding obligations of the Town; and

(4) That all Town departments, boards, commissions, and officers shall be so notified and invited to assist in the investigation, development, and as appropriate, implementation of the above.

It passed. Coulter will start by collecting known liabilities.

9:02 p.m.

Now, they're discussing a new controversy related to school budgets.

President Lambert in previous discussion spoke about school committee's claim of indemnification against loss of aid. Now, he wants to discuss a second issue under potential litigation. School lawyer Robinson's letter to the education commissioner requesting a hearing and a ruling says that the town has "taken control" of $75,000 in tuition from Fall River students attending Tiverton schools. School Committee Chairwoman Sally Black's related letter calls the move "illegal."

Lambert summarizes the school department's argument as follows: The town must include Fall River students in its budget and then hand over Fall River tuition directly to the schools, effectively paying the schools twice for the same students. No town official was aware that there was an issue. The treasurer says they're handling the matter just as they always have (at least for 8 years). The town budgets for the students and then puts the money in the general fund. Indeed, Lambert cited a requested deposit from the schools into the town's general fund of one of last year's checks from Fall River. The school committee has never discussed the matter in an open meeting.

In Lambert's opinion, "This dispute has nothing to do with tuition for students coming from Fall River." It is no coincidence that this issue arises during discussion of Little Compton students' possibly attending Tiverton High School (paying over a million dollars per year). "This is simply an attempt to set a legal precedent that would have Tiverton taxpayers paying for Little Compton students through the school budget, while the district still receives payment from Little Compton."

Frankly, under Chairwoman Black, with the advice of Solicitor Robinson, one begins to get the feeling that the School Committee is hungry for lawsuits. Some might call it out of control.

9:46 p.m.

It's been a long meeting. One interesting note: Treasurer Phil DiMattia has submitted notice that he's "temporarily" changed his voter registration to elsewhere, although his wife maintains property in town. There was some discussion of whether he can keep his elective job; Solicitor Teitz is researching it.

What School Choice Is Already Telling Us

Justin Katz

For several generations, Little Compton, RI, has been practicing a community school choice by sending its teenagers elsewhere for high school. The obvious choice should be Tiverton, just over an indistinguishable border, but at least since the '70s, the kids of LC have been traveling to Aquidneck Island. My Patch column, this week, looks at the probable reason and suggests that the implied changes would benefit local kids, too:

In his presentation to the Little Compton School Committee, available on his district's Web page, Tiverton Superintendent William Rearick made the case that Tiverton has the excess capacity to accommodate its neighbors. He noted that the high school is in compliance with state requirements. And he pointed out that Tiverton's students outperform the state average on all four of the New England Common Assessments Program (NECAP) tests - albeit, just barely in math and science.

Tiverton's advanced placement course and SAT data, Rearick presented without comparison, leaving no context by which to understand whether the results are admirable or unimpressive. The absence of competitive spirit only highlights the presentation's avoidance of the choice that Little Compton actually faces.

Evolving the Welfare State

Justin Katz

Jim Manzi argues that, as conservatives strive to claim a decisive voice in governance, we should see the welfare state not so much as a demolition project, but as remodeling, with a different end-goal in mind:

... it would be foolhardy, from a conservative perspective, to eliminate a system so central to day-to-day life and long-term planning — and especially to do so all at once, acting on an unproved theory.

While it is always possible that some future society will find a way to cultivate widespread wealth and stability without a welfare system, or that existing welfare systems will wither away, the welfare state appears to be concomitant with the growth that capitalism creates. As far as can be determined from history, the idea of an advanced capitalist society without a welfare system is misplaced nostalgia — or more accurately, an anachronism. It is like wishing for a commercial jet aircraft without wing stabilizers. ...

... First, the primary purpose of the system should be to support capitalism, not to oppose it. Second, we should seek the system's maximum alignment with the elements of human nature that make us want it in the first place. Together, these two criteria simply mean that we should be as informed as possible about the costs and benefits created by the welfare system as we seek the greatest possible benefit for each unit of theoretically forgone growth that we invest in it. Third, we should attempt to shoot ahead of the duck by modifying the welfare system in a fashion that anticipates foreseeable changes in society and technology while leaving us maximum flexibility to respond to unforeseeable changes.

This all begins to sound like the folly of central planning — only declaring that our experts will manage the beast better than their experts. To be sure, we should not forsake those who simply fall through the inevitable economic and charitable cracks of a freely operating society, and we should not pull the rug out from under those who have taken the central planners at their word without offering a path off of it. Still, if increased individual autonomy and shrinking government are not the goals of reform, then the same incentive structures that have pulled the welfare state to its current position will remain in place.

The distinction manifests in all aspects of government operation, including in education:

... For several decades, a goal of the libertarian Right has been to voucherize social programs so that the government provides the cash but allows private firms to compete in markets to provide the services. But this is not always as practical as it sounds. ...

To return to the example of K–12 schools, the focus on true privatization has been both doctrinaire and artificial. If school choice ever grows beyond Tinkertoy demonstration projects, taxpayers will appropriately demand that a range of controls be imposed on the schools they are funding. Would we allow families to use vouchers to send children to schools that taught no reading or mathematics, but only bomb-making, or that offered lavish "support payments" to parents that were, in effect, bribes? No, we would inevitably — and justifiably — have a fairly detailed set of regulations, along with inspection, adjudication, and enforcement mechanisms. At that point, what would be the difference between such "private" schools and "public" schools that were allowed greater flexibility in hiring, curriculum, and student acceptance, and had to compete for students in order to capture funding? Little beyond the label.

Publicly funded private schools is an oxymoron, but greater flexibility to meet different needs and to improve general performance through market competition can nonetheless be found in a public-school system involving parental choice and the freedom of schools to operate outside of collective-bargaining agreements and other restrictions. The most basic institutional requirements of a market would be present: consumer choice and widely distributed buying power on the demand side, capacity and flexibility on the supply side.

Here, Manzi embarks on the same sort of argument from extremes that his entire promotion of temperance eschews. The conservative principle of trade-offs and individual assessment of costs should make it obvious that the problem that Manzi raises is a matter of the degree of vouchers. The core rationale behind including private schools in a voucher system even if, for example, they concentrate on religious education, is that the state is giving the money to the parents for the purpose of education, not "establishing" the religion that its money ultimately supports. That perspective draws obvious lines for vouchers.

The system could be one in which parents can allocate every penny earmarked for their children's education to the full-fledged public school of their choice, including charter schools that are freed from some of the chains of the broader system. But parents could also receive a portion — say, only that money which they pay into education through taxes — if they opt for private schools. In that way, the vouchers are only relieving the parents of the burden of paying for schools that their children do not use. Even by that structure, the government could reasonably have limited requirements that the schools actually teach basics like mathematics, whatever else they include in the curriculum.

The idea, again, is not to change the guiding principle of the overwhelming state machine, but to increase the autonomy and authority of individual citizens.

A Certified Experiment

Justin Katz

Responding to last-week's post about his press release critical of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist for not cracking down on the Democracy Prep charter school in Cumberland on the matter of uncertified teachers, state senator James Sheehan (D, Narragansett, North Kingstown) writes:

Please allow me to explain why certification matters. First, the notion that the problem with education/low test scores is poorly performing teachers is blatantly false. The greatest factor in a child's education is not a motivated or competent teacher (although they should be), it is motivated and involved PARENTS. This is a fact that Commissioner Gist and I disagree. Surely, folks of a politically conservative mindset should understand this point.

Democracy Prep hired uncertified teachers in violation of the law. The end does not justify the means if it requires breaking the law. Public charters may operate more freely of unions, but still must adhere to the law and regulations of the Department of Education. If there are aspiring teachers at Democracy Prep, they have to show that they meet some standards that the Department of Education (Commissioner Gist involved?) sets, not the standards that Democracy Prep imagines for itself. If these uncertified teachers are as good as they say they, surely they would have no problem acquiring certification, especially if it is as easy many say it is!

More importantly, there needs to be SOME standards. Take lawyers and doctors, they need to be Board certified. Are there some bad lawyers and docs out there, sure. Is the solution to eliminate Board certification altogether? Further, even the Commissioner agrees with me on this one as she has sought to STRENGTHEN, not eliminate, teacher certification standards.

I continue to be intrigued by teachers' protestation that they are not the "greatest factor" in education. If they truly believe that, then there should be no contest when budget battles come down to their raises versus tax increases. As income and property taxes grow, parents must either find additional income or trim their expenses, neither of which is conducive to involvement with their children's education.

Rhode Island already has a high proportion of private school students (which I learned when looking into SAT scores), and private-school teachers aren't legally required to be certified. One could argue, therefore, that involved parents are motivated to seek schools that don't necessarily boast certified teachers. Leaving them more money, after taxes, would surely do more to improve education results in Rhode Island than, say, binding arbitration for public-school teachers.

On the point about the law, well, Mr. Sheehan is a legislator, and inasmuch as Rhode Island ethical standards don't prevent him from introducing legislation that will affect him directly as a union-member and teacher, he could change the requirement for certification in charter schools. The law, in other words, is a subsequent consideration to my point, which was that charter schools are generally presented as laboratories in which to test approaches to education, and if they are able to attract students and educate them better and/or more inexpensively than public schools in general without necessarily hiring certified teachers, then that's surely an experiment worth conducting.

In the meantime, considering that teachers like Mr. Sheehan like to compare themselves with doctors and lawyers, it arguably makes sense to strengthen the requirements for them to acquire those lucrative positions in public schools. If, however, highly motivated parents would still rather place their children in the classrooms of teachers who have not run that gauntlet, then it would be clear that our assumptions must be off.


It begins to drift from the limited topic under consideration, but the notion of needing highly motivated parents has interesting repercussions for other education debates. If parental motivation is so critical, then sizable portions of public-school budgets ought to be devoted to involving them... perhaps by funding their children's sports programs and promoting such extracurricular activities as are often first on the chopping block when work-to-ruling teachers push for greater raises and preservation of unsustainable benefits.

January 8, 2011

Congresswoman's Shooting, Mass Murder is a Tragedy, Not a Partisan Opportunity

Marc Comtois

Prayers to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her family, including my fellow USMMA alumnus Mark Kelly, and to those who lost people in the horrific shooting in Arizona earlier today. Such a tragedy, especially when we may never be able to make sense of the actions of a deranged man.

But boy, don't we try--and unfortunately, not for the right reasons all the time. Among those, is RI Future's Brian Hull [UPDATE: the post has mysteriously disappeared--here's the Google cached version of the original post's heading off of RI Future and here is the version re-posted by RI Feeds--nice try, but the proper action is to apologize and retract, not to make it disappear.], who should be ashamed of himself. I'm surprised at this display of despicable partisanship by Hull and didn't think he would stoop this low. It's clear he's mindlessly parroting the DailyKos line--and a few Democratic Congressmen--who have decided that the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the related mass murder by a deranged individual is a political opportunity to be seized. Hull:

My guess is that the gunman was a right-wing Tea Party zealot who buys into the "Democrats are destroying America" messaging.

FL Rep. Alan Grayson:

I know nothing about the man who shot Gabby, and what was going through his mind when he did this. But I will tell you this -- if he shot Gabby out of hatred, then it wasn't Gabby he was shooting, but rather some cartoon version of her, drawn by her political opposition.
William Jacobson reveals some of the hypocrisy going on here. Elizabeth Scalia does, too and reminds us that it's just not the time to do this political crap. It really isn't.

The Predicament of Dementia

Justin Katz

Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk notes an unfortunate, but natural, reaction to dementia. Relating the story of a woman who could only connect with her afflicted mother by singing hymns, with the lesson being that "there's always someone in there," Pacholczyk goes on to lament our tendency to behave as if that's not the case:

Sometimes we may view the situation more from our own vantage point, rather than the patient's. In a report on care for the elderly, physicians Bernard Lo and Laurie Dornbrand put it this way: "Family members and health professionals sometimes project their own feelings onto the patient. Life situations that would be intolerable to young healthy people may be [made] acceptable to older debilitated patients."

[Steven] Sabat notes how this raises the prospect of reducing the patient to a kind of object:

The dementia sufferer is not treated as a person; that is, as one who is an autonomous center of life. Instead, he or she is treated in some respects as a lump of dead matter, to be measured, pushed around, manipulated, drained, filled, dumped, etc.

Two thoughts: First, it's possible to see a debilitating mental illness of late-life as a means of easing the process of death's separation. To the loved one, the circumstances of the patient appear intolerable — perhaps more so than death itself — but if treated properly, the sufferer may not have to see the circumstance as one of suffering. In that way, the gradual loss of a connection to reality makes the final separation bearable.

Second, the particular affliction of dementia relates intriguingly to a metaphysical interpretation that I've come to see as broadly explanatory. Basically, we are all instantiations of the idea of us in every circumstance in which it would be logical for us to appear, given the constraints of physics and history; that is, if it were logically possible for you to be a millionaire movie star at this moment in time, an instance of you exists in that very role.

Our individual awareness of continuous time (another way of saying "our souls") moves from one instance to the next with each passing moment, but according to the rules of reality. Your soul can't, in other words, instantly leap into the version of you that's a movie star, but you could take the steps — educational, social, economic — that lead you closer. This isn't just a linear progression in a unique, circumscribed reality; it's a transition of the very state of your being.

The experience of mental disorders, therefore, would be movement from one step to another with no logical coherence. To those of us living in a more ordered sequence of reality, that incoherence seems unreal.

So, it would be more correct, by this model, to say that the demented person is "over there," rather than "in there" (lateral, rather than buried) although it remains no less possible to draw them back, perhaps so strongly and sustainedly as to effect what appears to be a miracle overcoming of biological logic.

Timely Embargo Coverage of MA District Four Race by MA PBS

Monique Chartier

In July, 2009, the dining room table told three college-aged PBS interviewers that

I’m tired, and I think . . . it’d be nice to have some free time, not have to read a lot of stuff I don’t care about.

One would have thought that the easy solution was for Congressman Frank to simply not pull the nomination papers which would once again place him in a job which simultaneously bores and exhausts him.

More troubling than the unfathomable thinking process of the congressman who facilitated the housing and mortgage collapse, however, is the spectacle of a news outlet whose conduct ranges somewhere between gross negligence and the active shielding of a candidate from his own words.

The Boston Herald reports that PBS aired the WGBH “Roadtrip Nation” episode containing this very frank interview just two days ago.

Two days ago. A year and a half after it took place and, more to the point, very comfortably past the point that this information could have been of use to Mass District Four voters mulling over their options for the House of Representatives. It is difficult not to conclude that the public (what does the first letter in PBS stand for again ...?) has been poorly served by a news outlet which failed to release in a timely fashion a revealing and pertinent insight into a candidate - an incumbent candidate at that - for United States Congress.

Blaming the Right Targets

Justin Katz

Although National Review has made the onerous decision to stop providing free access to an online edition of the print magazine to subscribers who receive the print magazine, an essay in the December 20 issue by former assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security Stewart Baker expresses a perspective worth considering. Describing his experience with airport security as professional and efficient, Baker writes:

It's not that the measures are popular. Nobody likes going through the new scanners or the new pat-downs. But attacking them without offering a plausible alternative is foolish, especially after Dec. 25, 2009, when al-Qaeda nearly succeeded in bringing down a plane with an underwear bomb.

The U.S. has long had an air-security system that puts far more effort into looking for weapons than into looking for terrorists. It is also committed to giving all passengers more or less the same screening. With such a system, there's only one way to find weapons hidden in underwear, and that is to check all the passengers' underwear. The privacy campaigners tried to blame the TSA for these facts of life. The rest of us may have disliked the procedures, but instead of the TSA, we blamed, well, the terrorists.

Of course, Baker's very first suggestion for improving the system — looking for terrorists rather than weapons — shows his allocation of blame to be more rhetorical and political. Yes, as long as there are people who make airport security a necessity, the policies intended to provide that security should ultimately be blamed on them; that much goes without saying. But it isn't unreasonable to blame the people who insist on politically correct walls around the policies that we're permitted to implement.

I've written in many contexts that, were there specific, credible threats being made by a subculture of blond, blue-eyed white guys, I'd submit to the necessary screenings and blame my co-complexionists. Under such circumstances, it would be entirely appropriate for black women to blame a bureaucracy that treated them in like fashion to me.

Taking the GG Out of Literature

Justin Katz

During my time as a college English student, with professors being predictably as you can imagine they were, I was struck by how powerful a set of letters "nigger" could be — first, as a dehumanizing attack and, later, as a literary marker of the speaker's ignorance. Particularly in postbellum literature, and especially in certain fonts, that double-g looks like a dark jab scattered across the page. Whether the book that first gave me that impression was something by William Faulkner or was Huck Finn, I don't recall, but it came to mind upon reading of an edition of Mark Twain's book that replaces all instances of the word with "slave."

As Twain once said, "the difference the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter — it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

Rich Lowry has posted a letter that makes the point well. Readers of Huck Finn can't help but discern the author's criticism of those using the word, and the callousness of their attitude toward human life. There's a callousness to removing the word, as well.

My reading of the book, which I described in academic detail in the essay that kept me out of Brown University's graduate program in Literature, makes this point central to a sly, more intriguing intention that I believe to have been Twain's underlying purpose for the book. Addressing longstanding and heated disapproval of Twain's reintroduction of Tom Sawyer for the climax of the book — which has led multiple critics to declare the ending an unforgivable failure, with no less a figure than Ernest Hemingway calling it "cheating" — I proposed that Twain was putting the reader in the position of the character of whom he or she was apt to be most critical:

When it is considered that, at Huck's moral juncture, Tom comes into an adventure in progress with privileged information, a new link is seen: this time to the reader. Tom's reappearance for the Phelps section does lead to a change in the book (as is evident from the controversy over the end), but only inasmuch as we were expecting (read "hoping") for something different. A reader hoping to read a Jim-as-hero-escaping-from-slavery story would be, essentially, hoping to do (or hoping that the author does) exactly what Tom tries to do from his point of view: make the book interesting in a certain way, in part by making Jim into a specific type of hero. In the Connecticut of the 1880s, this would translate into a desire to "set [Jim] free" even though "he was already free" (Twain, 262). It is not necessarily requisite to this conclusion that the reader of this, or our, era would see Jim, specifically, as free; it is enough that the post–Civil War reader (and, more so, the modern reader) would consider freedom as some intrinsic quality of humanity in much the same way that it is possible, now, to see the Emancipation Proclamation as an overdue formality — the Civil War itself can be said to have set free people free (like a liberation of civilian hostages in a hostile country who are being held unjustly or against their rights). ...

Ultimately, a reader who is upset at the ending is put in a parallel role to Tom — wanting to set a free slave free in a manner that accords to his or her own sense of heroism (and, if you wish, morality). As stated by Fritz Oehschlaeger, "something in us longs for quite a different outcome, one that would allow Jim to retain his heroic stature and force Huck to live up to the decision that accompanies his tearing up of the letter to Miss Watson." [21] In other words, like Tom, the reader wants circumstances to allow Jim and Huck to become heroes according to the reader's definition.

It is not a testament to a fortitude of national character that a significant portion of our population would, in a sense, so dramatically merge the reader's role with that of Tom. To my reading, Twain merely implied the connection, in keeping with his dark, wry humor. Now, in seeking to sanitize the culture that enslaved Jim, making the story more to the tastes of the modern audience, the reader is doing precisely what Tom Sawyer has drawn fire for doing: selfishly making light of the black man's predicament.

January 7, 2011

Roundtable Online

Justin Katz

The audio from today's WRNI Political Roundtable is up.

Supporting the Untouchables

Justin Katz

As periodically happens, Mark Patinkin has dipped into politics to voice the thoughts of many a conservative... or many a reasonable Rhode Islander:

Just as troubling is the size of these pensions. By year 10 of retirement, off that $89,273 base salary, [Providence Deputy Assistant Fire Chief Dan] Crowley will draw a $66,796 pension now that he's remained in management. He would have drawn a fatter $79,049 had he accomplished his "demotion." But my goodness — even the "humbler" $66,796 takes your breath away. Off an $89,000 base? Aside from CEOs, show me the private sector pension that's anywhere near that rich. No wonder property taxes are unaffordable in this state. How can it feel to be struggling on $40,000 a year while having to support $70,000 pensions for retired city employees, some of whom are in their 50s and working second professions?

I can attest that it's maddening. Worse still are the accusations from those who enjoy playing with other people's money that those of us who wish to apply the brakes "hate the community." Yup, that's the game: If you can't afford the ever-escalation and recession-proof livelihoods of public sector workers, it's an affront to the notion of town spirit, as it were, even if part of the frustration is the fact that higher tax rates make it more difficult to participate in town-based activities, like youth sports.

The IRS Goes to Jail

Justin Katz

This is the agency that will be central to ensuring that healthcare is universal:

The number of prisoners who file false tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service has more than doubled in the last five years, according to a new Treasury Department report, and the amount of money the IRS has mistakenly refunded to those prisoners has nearly tripled. Meanwhile, the report, from the Department's Inspector General for Tax Administration, accuses the IRS of failing to enforce a law passed by Congress in 2008 to crack down on false returns coming from the nation's prisons.

According to the study, in 2009, prisoners filed 44,944 false tax returns, attempting to claim $295.1 million in refunds. The report says IRS officials caught the fraud in many cases and stopped $256 million of that from being refunded -- but the IRS did mistakenly pay $39.1 million in refunds to prisoners filing fraudulent returns. The report also notes that there is some evidence that fraud is even more widespread than these figures suggest.

The solution is a simpler tax code and a lighter tax burden. If the government didn't take so much money out of the economy, it would be easier to track, and if it didn't insist on withholding tax-free loans for itself from Americans' paychecks, it wouldn't be sending back so much money (without interest, naturally) at the end of the tax year.

The Common Purpose of Agreement with the Aristocrat

Justin Katz

Sitting next to Kate Coyne-McCoy, who is regional director of the pro-abortion advocacy group Emily's List, for the WRNI Political Roundtable that airs today, I saw first-hand just how thrilled the far left is with the election of Governor Lincoln Chafee. (Listen around 6:40 a.m. and 7:40 a.m. on 102.7 FM/1290 AM and online later here.) Indeed, the only thing that thrilled Coyne-McCoy more was the success of now-General Treasurer Gina Raimondo. (Think on that those of you who thought you'd give her a chance.)

The conversation began on the topic of Chafee's inaugural call for "coming together," and the quotation that the Providence Journal prints here:

Laying out his vision for the next four years, he asked "all Rhode Islanders to join me in boldly reaffirming Roger Williams' vision of a 'civil state' ... a vibrant, diverse community that is free of political, cultural and ethnic division."

I made the elementary point that politics is the art of dealing with division, so Chafee's vision is built around a non sequitur. What a "common purpose" means in that context is for the opposition just to drop those topics on which Chafee knows himself to be decisively correct, whatever large numbers of his fellow Rhode Islanders may think. Civility becomes his willingness to walk away from an argument.

Unfortunately, his past behavior proves Chafee to be a guy who sees astonished reactions among his ideological opponents as evidence of his own fortitude, and the love of his agenda among mainstream media types is so strong that he'll get away with governing from fantasy land, at least for a while. This is a guy whose economic development plan appears to be to implement same-sex marriage, open the door to illegal immigrants (and push for amnesty, nationally), impose a tax increase on currently tax-free goods and services, insult prominent entrepreneurs, and threaten economic development officials with personal liability if their investments go wrong. He proclaims openness and "coming together" while declining to meet with the local leaders of issue-by-issue opposition. And he gets away with it.

Earlier this week, Monique noted Pawtucket Times columnist Jim Baron's suggestion that Chafee should throw his arm around Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, in part to "shut up" folks (like me) who see the unions behind Chafee's door. It will be interesting to see whether and how Baron reacts when Chafee does no such thing — when he marches right along with his political assumptions, contrary evidence be damned.

Will those who tingle at the elevation of Linc Chafee adjust their views when Rhode Island further deteriorates politically and economically, or will they find somebody else to blame? (Remembering that the General Assembly already gets a pass.)

January 6, 2011

Fear of the Unknown (But Suspected)

Justin Katz

This week, reading the paper has become a discouraging exercise. We've entered a world in which social issues like same-sex marriage and a welcome sign to illegal immigrants are declared, without challenge, to be economic development issues, with tax increases as the grease for growth — in which an all-white collection of left-wingers, unionists, and political insiders is asserted to be evidence of a new era of tolerance and the elimination of ideological division.

It'd probably be reasonable to speculate that the collective urge to flee Rhode Island has never been higher.

Something that then-Governor Carcieri told Ed Fitzpatrick back in the good-old-days of 2010 keeps coming to mind as the basis for my concern:

During an exit interview last week, I was curious to see if Carcieri is expecting Chafee to unravel or reverse many of the things he has pushed for and stood for during his eight years in office.

"I don't know," Carcieri replied. "Campaign rhetoric and slogans are different than what you've got to do to run the place." So, he said, "Let's see what happens. Am I concerned? Yes. But no one person is going to determine the direction of the state over the next four years. You've got a legislature that, I think, understands the issues."

Given Lincoln Chafee's public statements and the long history that made some of us willing to vote Sheldon Whitehouse into the Senate in order to keep him out, I have no confidence that Chafee will adjust to the realities of the office, as we tacitly expect all victorious politicians to do. One should imagine that newly elected officials have at least a moment, upon sitting at their desks on day one, of panic, followed by a gradual acclimation to the realities of authority. I have difficulty imagining Chafee in that state of mind.

Affecting What We Can

Justin Katz

In a November article for National Review (yes, I'm a bit behind), Keith Hennessey offers ten methods by which elected officials can begin "moving incrementally in the right direction" when it comes to the economy. Most of the items deal with particular issues and ought to be considered, but his #2 speaks to a general approach to governance and ought to be elevated above the rest:

Two. Set the right goal: creating the conditions for growth rather than trying to create growth. Policymakers need to get the policies right and let business leaders decide how to run their firms. Corporate leaders are sitting on unprecedented piles of cash, waiting to see what Washington will foul up next. Take Washington out of their decision-making by creating a stable, predictable, low-cost business environment. They will then decide how best to hire, invest, and expand. Your job as an elected official is not to create economic growth or jobs, it is to create the conditions under which the private sector creates growth and jobs. Stick to your lane and let business leaders stick to theirs.

It is accurate as both a slight and a neutral statement of fact to say that legislators and government executives are not qualified to direct industry and the economy. Actually, nobody is, on a macro scale, but politicians are especially unqualified, and moreover, it is dangerous simultaneously to insert powers of specific economic development into the same hands that hold powers of policing and taxation.

The line between setting conditions and dictating mandates can be gray, in spots, but it's the principle that matters: Let the people investing their reputations and livelihoods on particular endeavors determine the best methods, and make it easier for them to move forward.

Science, not Sensationalism

Marc Comtois

Many have probably heard about the "Great Garbage Patch" in the Pacific Ocean, which is "roughly the size of Texas" though some have claimed it's even bigger. Well, maybe not.

Claims that the "Great Garbage Patch" between California and Japan is twice the size of Texas is "grossly exaggerated" said the research which reckons it is more like one per cent the size....Oregon State University professor of oceanography Angelicque White...said: "There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the world's oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists.

"We have data that allow us to make reasonable estimates. We don't need the hyperbole.

I think most scientists believe this. But "just the facts" don't play as well in today's media, so we get sensationalized reports on "the latest study" about something that overturns the previously over-hyped findings (think of caffeine/coffee, for instance). Or worse, we learn of fraudulent studies--the Lancet's MMR/Autism piece--that do damage to the reputation of science in general. Basically, good scientists take a less hyperbolic, one could even say an--ahem--more conservative, approach.

Happy New Year, Commissioner

Justin Katz

We may look back at the fifth day of January as the first instance of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist's changed work environment, thanks to a press release by Sen. James Sheehan (D, Narragansett, North Kingstown):

"If good teachers are the most important element to education, the Department of Education shouldn't allow uncertified individuals to teach at Democracy Prep school in Cumberland, says Sen. James C. Sheehan.

"It's a contradiction to say that qualified teachers are critical to each child's education, but then allow exceptions at one school. The students at Democracy Prep are just as deserving of certified teachers as other students around the state. To allow a group of uncertified teachers to teach at that school is to put the education of the students there at risk," said Senator Sheehan, a Democrat who represents District 36 in North Kingstown and Narragansett.

"If we truly believe qualified teachers are important, the state is putting the students at Democracy Prep at an educational disadvantage by allowing them to be taught by uncertified teachers," he said, "and the Education Commissioner's actions are a contradiction of her own terms and stated educational goals."

Anybody who wonders why an elected official from Narragansett/North Kingstown would be especially concerned about a charter school in Cumberland needs only to check the Senator's bio page, which notes his occupation as a teacher in Warwick (specifically, high school history), which makes him a dues-paying member of the Warwick Teachers Union, a Rhode Island Federation of Teachers affiliate.

As we hear so frequently, the objective of charter schools is to act as "laboratories of excellence" (or any such catch phrase), operating under loosened rules compared with the public school system generally. Of course, that notion has been under constant assault, with labor restraints still existing, most of the time, and repeated questioning of whether offering the same education at a lower cost counts as a successful experiment. It would certainly be against Sheehan's professional and, presumably, union-mindset interests for an experiment of hiring teachers without regard to official certification to succeed. Rather, for it to succeed without permitting the obfuscations that typically meet such success among private schools.

Unfortunately for Gist, it appears unlikely that she'll have the same strong backing that she enjoyed from Governor Carcieri... and just wait until Governor Chafee turns his attention to the Board of Regents.

Immigration and Buzzards

Justin Katz

Monique and Matt talked of illegal immigration policy and a meaningful juxtaposition of headlines on the Matt Allen Show last night. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

We're still not to our goal of funding a full-time job, by the way, so please email or call (401-835-7156) me to pledge financial support — as subscriptions, donations, or advertising — for 2011 to help us create a full-time job within Anchor Rising.

January 5, 2011

Don't Lament the Inevitable; Change the Thinking

Justin Katz

It's always amusing to read such things from an editorial board that has, among other things, advocated for centralization of the healthcare system:

One of its themes is how much government policy has been taken over by self-interested individuals who rotate between government and the private sector (including academic) jobs. They use government jobs as a way of ensuring even greater riches for themselves when they get out. Perhaps the most noteworthy are the "scholars" paid vast consulting and directorship sums to promote certain interests. In doing so, these academics become rich themselves.

Such "scholars" are supposed to be disinterested seekers after truth. In fact, all too many are just businesspeople in search of the fast buck, combined, of course, with the respect due to professors.

The Providence Journal can question the scholars' authenticity all it wants, but the distance between the financial-services individuals whom it attacks and those whose fortunes are based on the promotion of particular ideologies as academic research is not far. For that matter, wealth is not the only motivation for corrupted thinking on the campus.

More to the point, though, when a system relies on "experts" and "scholars" to set policies that, although ultimately filtered through a representative democracy, affect huge expanses of the economy and human life, the incentive will be inevitably strong to procure those labels and slap them on special interests. After all, who is more of an expert than the person who lives and breaths a topic?

This is a core flaw in all approaches to problem-solving via government, whether the area is finances, education, or healthcare.

Test-Driving the General Assembly's New Instant Vote-Reporting System, and Discussing the Vote for Senate President

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Rhode Island Senate's first vote of the 2011 session was to select its President. Senator Teresa Paiva-Weed of Newport/Jamestown won by a vote of 33-5. (Vote reported courtesy of the Rhode Island legislature's new instant vote-reporting system).

Senator Marc Cote of Woonsocket/North Smithfield was one of the five Seantors -- and the only Democrat -- who did not cast their votes for Sen. Paiva-Weed. Senator Cote, you may recall, was the primary Senate sponsor of the the E-verify bill in the last session; he had consulted with President Paiva-Weed and the Majority Leader about bringing the bill to the floor, only to have had them table the bill without discussion and, even more egregiously, without an accurate count of whether a majority of Senators supported the bill or not. Senator Cote deserves credit for being the lone Democrat unwilling to contribute to an illusion of collegiality in a body whose current leader has conclusively demonstrated through her actions that collegiality does not exist.

The four Republicans who did not vote for Senator Paiva-Weed were Senator Frank Maher of Charlestown/Exeter/Hopkinton/Richmond/West Greenwich, and freshmen Senators Beth Moura of Cumberland/Lincoln, Glen Shibley of Coventry/East Greenwich/Warwick/West Warwick, and Dawson Hodgson of East Greenwich/North Kingstown/Warwick, perhaps providing us with an early indication of who the stalwarts in the new Senate session will be -- though I will also make note of the fact that one Republican who voted for Senator Paiva-Weed, Senator David Bates of Barrington/Bristol, responded to a question asked during the campaign about Governor Chafee's proposed sales tax increase by saying that...

There is no way in hell that I would support Chafee's tax increase,
...which was roughly the same way that Senators Maher, Hodgson, and Moura responded, suggesting that it is premature to infer that the leadership vote will be a predictor of major policy votes.

Serendipitously Insightful Headline Juxtaposition?

Monique Chartier

On the front page of this morning's Woonsocket Call.

The first headline:

Lincoln Chafee Sworn In

The second headline:

Vultures Descend on City

The second story is about a flock of actual, avian vultures which has recently made Woonsocket home.

It was hard, though, not to link it back to the first headline and what's most likely happening at the State Capitol in the wake of the inauguration of Rhode Island's new governor.

Deflate the Bubble — There's Only One Way

Justin Katz

John Kostrzewa sees municipal deficits as "the next big bubble," specifically related to municipal bonds. If cities and towns begin to default, then investors will stop considering them so safe and, per those who support public debt, the sky would fall.

In outlining options for Central Falls, Mark Pfeiffer, the state receiver, said bankruptcy should be a last resort because a filing in federal court would ripple across the country, sending a message that Rhode Island is a risky place to do business. Investors would demand more interest on any municipal bonds sold here, or they could pull out and not buy at all.

Investors would also be spooked because the federal courts could change the terms of bond sales, leaving investors with more uncertainty and less safety about what they had purchased.

I say, "good, let it happen." It's time that financially incompetent politicians learned to stop treating debt as a revenue source. Those playing with public dollars ought to be the most financially conservative; saving up for investments and improvements, rather than passing bond issues in political blasts and obligating future taxpayers to cover the expense.

UPDATED: Profiting from Ethics, the Chafee Way!

Marc Comtois

UPDATE: According to WPRO, Governor Chafee has decided to remove the Amazon link to his book from his official RI Governor's website. Awaiting news on when the Chafee Administration initiates and internal ethics investigation.

UPDATE II: Ooooooh. Of course!!!! BLAME THE INTERN!

ORIGINAL: Hat tip to WPRO's Dan Yorke (and one of his unnamed listeners).

We've been told, ad naseum, how ethical the Chafee governorship will be. Heck, his RI Governor website has a category for ethics, all on its own. There we're told:

We have an ethical crisis in Rhode Island. Each day we hear about corruption, cronyism and pay-to-play schemes that let insiders secure state business and provide no-bid jobs to friends and family. This is wrong and must stop. There is a direct connection between Rhode Island’s unacceptable economic condition and the disappointing reality that some of our public officials betray the public trust.

As your Governor, I will demand the highest standards for ethical behavior in my administration.

I will attack the ‘soft corruption’ that, over the long term, is as corrosive as illegal conduct. I will insist that every state employee ask themselves not only if a decision is legal, but if it is ethical, as well. I will tolerate nothing but the highest standard of behavior from every state employee.

During the transition period, I required every member of my staff to sign a “Transition Code of Ethics” to ensure that the formation of the new Governor’s office was guided solely by the best interest of the public. As Governor, I will issue a strong executive order on ethics to send a clear message that on my watch corruption, cronyism, and unethical behavior will not be tolerated in state government.

Sounds good.

By the way, you can buy Governor Chafee's book Against the Tide: How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President straight from the taxpayer funded, state website! Just click on the link and head on over to Amazon and it can be yours! But wait, there's more! Go on over to Mrs. Chafee's page and you'll find another link to Amazon where you can buy the book The American Way to Change by Shirley Sagawa, which features the new First Lady as one of '25 Models of Promise'.

When Government Is Empowered to Balance Fish and Farmers

Justin Katz

The most stark example yet in the United States — thus far, still shy of mass starvation under Communist regimes — of the danger of letting the legislative brush slop regulations on too many areas of human activities has to be the destruction of California's Central Valley:

Why has California become the epicenter of unemployment? While Michigan and Florida have a mix of problems, including (in Michigan's case) a history of bad management decisions on labor contracts, California's Central Valley woes are entirely a government creation. As I wrote yesterday, the decision by a federal judge to cut off water supplies to an area that literally fed the world turned the Central Valley from an agricultural export powerhouse to a center of starvation within two years. Congress has refused to act to reverse this decision, and as a result, almost a quarter of the families in the area now need government assistance to feed themselves while living on some of the most productive land in the world.

The background is that the 1973 Endangered Species Act has worked its way to protection of the delta smelt, a species of inedible bait fish that is argued to be affected by the pumps that supply the Western portion of the valley with water, so the water has been cut off, leaving irrigation at 25% of its previous flow.

As we'll surely be hearing throughout the year, the Environmental Protection Agency is currently on course to enact similarly detrimental regulations by bureaucratic fiat, treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant covered under the Clean Air Act of 1970.

And so it begins

Marc Comtois

The Chafeedom has begun. In his inaugural address, Governor Chafee clearly sought to link his new administration to the historical tenets espoused by Rhode Island's founder, Roger Williams.

I will not rest until we reclaim the promise that lay in the heart of our founder Roger Williams some 375 years ago....Today, I ask all Rhode Islanders to join me in boldly reaffirming Roger Williams’ vision of a “civil state” … a vibrant, diverse community that is free of political, cultural and ethnic division. For if we rekindle the vision that created our heritage, there is nothing this state and her people cannot achieve.
Here and throughout the speech, the Governor utilized Roger Williams in an all-too common way: he called upon Williams' "tolerance" for use in a way that he, Governor Chafee, chose to define.
[Williams] instantly made this the most democratic place in America, simply by welcoming other dissenters, and by creating a new form of government that valued tolerance and consensus over orthodoxy and compulsion....he set a lasting precedent for mutual respect… the very foundation of any civil society.

In his words, Rhode Island was like a ship of state, with many different types of passengers, free to worship and think as they pleased, but obligated to work to defend the ship from danger, and to follow a correct course to the right destination.

Who defines "tolerance and consensus" as opposed to "orthodoxy and compulsion"? And "mutual respect"? Explain to me how that squares with Governor Chafee's non-meetings with those he opposes? Finally, we are "free" but "obligated" to "follow a correct course to the right destination." A course to where and set by whom? The answer: one set by our aristocratic new Governor and his administration. Always remember, they know what is best for us and we'd better get used to it.
Last November, we showed the nation what a civil state can mean. Angel Tavares was elected mayor of Providence. David Cicilline was elected to Congress, and Jim Langevin was re-elected. Each of these men have been bold pioneers in their own way, and are testimony to the open minds and hearts of Rhode Islanders.

Thank you for this vote of confidence; and most importantly thank you for your vote to embrace tolerance and individual freedom.

Does that last mean that those who voted against the individuals named by Governor Chafee don't embrace tolerance and individual freedom? Isn't it the height of New England WASP condescension to boil the aforementioned candidates down to the demographic group they represent as opposed to the political positions they stand for? Yet, the Governor doesn't see it that way--and those mentioned may not either. But he's reduced their political careers to tokenism.
Our present condition has not developed overnight. It has been decades in the making and it is the shared legacy of Democrats and Republicans, business and labor, liberals and conservatives. Finger pointing and blame will do nothing to alleviate our situation.

In every segment of our society, we have tolerated something that Roger Williams did not – a refusal to do the work necessary to correct our course, and an acceptance of a fractious society that emphasizes division over common purpose.

Sorry, don't mean to finger-point, but 70 years of a Democratic, union-run state sure seems to significantly shift the the weight of the blame to one particular, shall we say, coalition. Further, here's a hint, Governor Chafee: the same group has benefited massively from "a refusal to do the work necessary", "a fractious society" and "emphasiz[ing] division over common purpose." There is no common purpose but that which benefits them or their tribe.

Governor Chafee also announced that he'd rescind the E-verify executive order (though he seems to misunderstand what it really is) and will push to pass gay-marriage legislation.

Rhode Island today must be as welcoming to all as Roger Williams intended it to be. Mark my words, these two actions will do more for economic growth in our state that any economic development loan.

Because good business is about treating people right, just as good government is.

Yes, I'm sure Roger Williams would have been a strong proponent of gay marriage and opposed to e-verify. Please. This is what I mean by Chafee using Roger Williams in an all-too common, anachronistic way: these concepts wouldn't have even entered Williams' 17th century mind. Our new Governor also implies that e-verify and gay marriage will help in building the RI economy more than, say, lower taxes:
...a civil state means that responsibility flows in both directions. As citizens, Rhode Islanders deserve honest, reliable government – but as users of services taxpayers must give government the resources to do its job well.
Define "well" again? I believe most tax-paying Rhode Islanders feel as if they've given plenty of their tax dollars for a government that hasn't been run well at all. Tell you what, Governor--give us a well-run government for the taxes we're paying now and then talk to us about paying more. Remember, you've still got 65% of the electorate who didn't buy what you're selling. So while you've outlined all sorts of concepts about what a "civil" government means, how about just giving us one that spends less, wiser.

I'm not holding my breath.

Diplomats and Accountants

Justin Katz

As I write in this week's Tiverton-LittleComptonPatch column, the two aspects of a local budget controversy are diplomacy and accounting. That is, one controversy is over communication and process, and the other is over actual tax dollars and how they should be allocated:

The starkest delineation of this dynamic came during a special meeting of the Town Council, last Thursday evening. Council President Jay Lambert opened with an (overly) extensive review of the who-said-whats with regard to a joint meeting of the Town Council and School Committee, after which Councilman Dave Nelson (also president of Tiverton Citizens for Change) offered to walk the council and the audience through a presentation explaining the origin of the financial disagreement. (See clips 1 and 2 of the included video.)

Before Nelson could project the relevant spreadsheet for public viewing, Councilman Brett Pelletier interrupted to express his own intention for the meeting: "I'm trying very hard to prevent people who want to fight with each other to fight with each other, because I won't have it." In patrician fashion, Pelletier began his plea not with an olive branch of good will, but by describing Lambert's monologue as "tainted with smug, cavalier, and disingenuous terminology." (See clip 3.)

January 4, 2011

Another Way to Comment

Carroll Andrew Morse

You may have noticed over the past few months that we've occassionally been reprinting Anchor Rising posts over at the Anchor Rising Facebook page; part of the intention is to experiment with a comment-space that is a little less anonymous than the no-registration option of a standalone blog. To use the old cliche, one method of commenting is not better than the other, they're just different, and I can envision productive dynamics emerging from both forms.

I think I've got things set up so that anybody with a Facebook account can comment on the posts we send over there, and we promise not to "share" (in the Facebook sense) every post of every day, so you can "like" the Facebook page, without having to worry about your newsfeed potentially being overwhelmed by Anchor Rising entries.

For this evening, the floor is now open at Facebook, on the subject of the Cranston inaugural ceremonies and first City Council meeting.

Comment via Facebook.

Letting the Scam's Legislative Architect Run the Budget

Justin Katz

Here's a worrying tidbit about a frontrunner for the open House Finance Committee chairmanship in the General Assembly:

[Rep. Helio Melo (D, East Providence)] is the current deputy Finance Committee chairman, and House leaders signaled their confidence in him by letting him take the lead on last year's big end-of-session, income-tax overhaul.

I suppose that the experience ushering into law a reform that took Rhode Island's tax policy in the wrong direction while making it appear to do the opposite will be a valuable point of reference when making the state's budget appear to be balanced when there is no way it could be.

A Couple of Questions on the Debt Ceiling

Justin Katz

What's the point of a debt ceiling if Congress is going to spend in such a way as to make changing it obligatory? And shouldn't it require a vote to change the debt ceiling before enacting policies that will certainly exceed it?

The federal debt is limited to $14.3 trillion, but the debt now stands at nearly $13.9 trillion and is growing daily. Congress last raised the debt ceiling in February 2010 and is expected to consider raising it again as early as March. ...

Austan Goolsbee, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said that refusing to raise the debt ceiling would essentially push the country into defaulting on its financial obligations for the first time in its history.

"The impact on the economy would be catastrophic," Goolsbee told "This Week" on ABC. "That would be a worse financial economic crisis than anything we saw in 2008."

I don't believe Goolsbee's analysis; the U.S. government and the U.S. economy are not (yet) synonymous. Holding legislators and executives to a maximum budget — and the debt ceiling is a fail-safe beyond an actual in-the-black budget — will just require them to change their policies and reduce their waste. If they refuse to do these two things, then they are the ones causing the catastrophe.

Cranston's 2011 Inaugural Ceremonies (Plus Some Non-Ceremonious Stuff), Part 3

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here's the non-ceremonious part of Monday night's inaugural ceremonies in Cranston. After his official address to the public, Cranston City Council President Anthony Lupino attempted to appoint City Council Committee chairmen. Three of the Democrats appointed by President Lupino to chairmanships, but who had not voted for Councilman Lupino, objected to being appointed. Councilman Emilio Navarro went first...

We are very disappointed that you have put our names, as minority Democrats, to serve as chairmen and vice-chairmen of the committees tonight, knowing full-well that we have declined those assignments... Audio: 1m 18s

...To appoint Democrats to chairmanships would be an attempt to camouflage that this is a new Republican coalition that is in control. Appointing minority Democrats to chairs would be in name only, because the Republican coalition would represent the majority of the committees and, as such, this new majority which has elected its new leaders who have set up the committees now sets their agenda, their rules. It doesn't make any sense to have minority Democrats serve as chairs... (Note: At and the end of his remarks, Councilman Navarro received a round of applause)Audio: 2m 15s
Councilman Lupino responded...
Just to dispel a few misconceptions, Councilman Pelletier and myself were elected as Democrats and we remain Democrats...The purpose of being elected to the City Council is to serve your constituents. I spoke in my address to you about blurring the lines between the parties. We are here to represent the people. You run as a Democrat. You rule as a City Councilman. (Note: Councilman Lupino received the loudest spontaneous round applause of the evening, at the end of this clip). Audio: 1m 10s

The appointments, per the charter, will remain... Audio: 1m 27s
Democratic Councilman Steven Stycos then declined the chairmanship of the claims committee...
I think that so much of politics is built on trust, and that you as the President need to have people who you trust chairing the committees... Audio: 2m 42s
I spoke with Councilman Stycos after the meeting had adjourned, and he expanded on what I think is a reasonable point: A council President should appoint committee chairmen from his leadership supporters, so that when the occasional honest mistakes or miscommunications occur in the transfer of business back and forth from committees to the full council, worries that some kind of gamesmanship is occurring will be minimized.

Finally, Democratic Councilman Paul Archetto declined the chairmanship of the ordinance committee...

I would like to say that I will resign that position as chairman of the ordinance committee, due to the fact that I will only be a figurehead. I know in reality who will be running that committee as well as you do, Council President. I would like to say that I was not consulted in any way, shape or form... Audio: 1m 25s
And with that, we're off, for 2011 and maybe beyond...

Cranston's 2011 Inaugural Ceremonies (Plus Some Non-Ceremonious Stuff), Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

In addition to the inaugural ceremonies, last night's meeting at Cranston West was also the first official City Council meeting of the 2011-2012 session, the main order of business being the Council organizing itself. As was predicted in previous news accounts, Democratic Councilman Robert Pelletier voted along with Republicans James Donahue, Leslie Ann Luciano, and Michael Favicchio, in support of making citywide Democrat Anthony Lupino the new Council President. The other four Democrats on the Council voted for Democrat Emilio Navarro for President.

After the election, Councilman Lupino gave his first address as Council President...

...I view government as a ladder. The rails of the ladder are made up of the executive branch and the judicial branch. The rungs, we create, we are the legislative branch. Some of us are stepping on the rungs for the very first time, while other of my colleagues are climbing the ladder. Some have fallen off of the ladder a couple of times and have come back...Audio: 1m 19s

...No matter how trivial our job may seem, whether we are dealing with trash or snow removals, stop signs or potholes, or intense issues such as taxes and floods or school budgets, the goal is the same -- it is important to the citizens making the plea. They need and deserve your help. As we proceed up the ladder, the issues become more complicated, more far-reaching and many times, more personal. I have a special God-child serving in the army stationed in Kuwait. I pray for her safe-return every day. This may seem far-fetched, but I didn't perceive I sent her there, but my government did, and because I represent government, in a way, I did send her there and must take the responsibility of her safe return...Audio: 1m 19s

To be elected means you take the responsibility to serve those who elected you. I encourage all of you to do your very best and to take on all of the challenges and positions you are presented with. Whether you are elected, appointed or hired, government is serious business...Audio: 1m 4s

Cranston's 2011 Inaugural Ceremonies (Plus Some Non-Ceremonious Stuff)

Carroll Andrew Morse

Last evening, in ceremonies held at Cranston West High School, Allan Fung was inaugurated as Mayor of Cranston for his second term, members of the City Council and school committee were sworn into their offices, and the City Council held its first on-the-record political fight of the year. (We get down to business fast, or something resembling business, here in Cranston).

1. Mayor Fung offered an inaugural address with a forward-looking section focused on three issues: economic development, a Mayoral Academy, and infrastructure improvements...

We knew certainly what was coming...millions of dollars in cuts coming from the state. Throughout these very difficult years, we've risen to the occasion and absorbed those significant losses of a devastating amount of revenue to our great city. We've done it by trimming the cost of our day-to-day operations through restrictive purchasing practices and sadly, just like most of us in the private sector, [through] some serious labor work-force reductions as well. But on top of that, I was very fortunate to been able to have worked with our unions, and I thank all of them for coming to the table and bringing about real union concessions...Audio: 1m 18s

...Every day, each and every one of our employees do their best work with fewer resources...Perhaps the most notable effort on the part of all of my employees happened during the historic March floods, where we worked together...to insure there were no serious injuries or deaths...Thank you for that effort... Audio: 1m 28s

While we are still going to continue to battle many fiscal challenges, there are still some long term innovative projects that will meet the challenges for the next generation that I will continue to push, and one of those critical areas is in the area of economic development. Over the past term, the Council and I and my administration and all of the city employees have worked hard to successfully bring in over 500 new jobs to our great city...I am committed to do more, and I know that each and every one of these individuals behind me will do the same and we are going to work with the Governor and his economic development director, to make sure there is a cohesive strategy... Audio: 2m 24s

...I am really excited on working on a Mayoral Academy here in the City of Cranston... (Note: mention of the Mayoral Academy gets the 1st round of spontaneous applause during the speech)Audio: 1m 19s

And finally, our infrastructure is in sore need of repair...We are going to continue to push for our roadways and drainage systems to be upgraded... (Note: a mention that Cranston's bond rating has achieved A-status gets the 2nd round of spontaneous applause during the speech)Audio: 1m 14s

...Tonight, I also want to take a moment to wish the best of luck to the members of the incoming school committee...and to the incoming [City Council] members, tonight we really embark on a new endeavor, a new term with so much potential for success. I am confident that we can work together, and keep as our unified focus the greater good of the people of the City of Cranston...Audio: 1m 19s

How to Put Kids First

Justin Katz

I'm always happy to see commentators bring first principles to the table, because that's where deep discussion must begin, but I'm not sure the principle of "putting the kids first" (in paraphrase), as Julia Steiny advised in her Sunday column, is helpful in reformulating our approach to civic institutions.

In our current fiscal crisis, we’ve come to the point where our commitment to the institutions — think public pensions and unsustainable labor contracts — are so huge we can hardly afford to bother with the kids.

But, in fact, we could vastly improve our state, local and even federal problems by adopting a laser-like focus on the needs of our country's children. Putting their health and welfare first would, in time, virtually guarantee success in all the areas where we're currently struggling. It's about a point of view. Take the kids' perspective for a moment and see how powerful the solutions look.

Steiny roots her argument in the American prison system, which affects children both in the way the government disciplines children and in the effects of having parents locked up, but any government operation would serve as a fair example. The underlying reality is that a change in perspective to consider the support of children is cultural. Our entire problem is that we've tried to transform our conclusions into practice by creating civic institutions and charging them to put mushy priorities into concrete practice... while giving them the power of police and the power to tax. There simply is no way to prevent the focus from shifting to the institutions with such an approach.

If we really put children first, culturally, we'd need fewer laws, because society in general would be more likely to, for example, encourage stable marriages, shift in ways that would free up parental time to stay home with children (rather than providing subsidies to take care of children apart from their parents), and begin again to express disapproval at unacceptable behavior (that old judgmental stigma thing).

There's a key distinction between using the term "institution" to mean an actual organization with managers and employees and revenue bases and using it to mean a general social construct, like the "institution of marriage." In the former case, the institution is a structure to which we give instructions; in the latter case, the institution is defined by its instructions. In the former case, ensuring the survival of the institution can be entirely disconnected from its ostensible mission; in the latter case, it cannot.

Starting Up to Capture Talent Flow

Justin Katz

The fifth Dear Mr. Chafee column on Ted Nesi's blog, by technology consultant Allan Tear, sounds really good, but I don't know that it contributes all that much by way of concrete suggestions for Rhode Island's advancement:

Startups. A recent Kauffman Foundation study shows that firms less than five years old — startups — have generated nearly all of the net job growth in the U.S. over the past 25 years, while established firms averaged near-zero growth in aggregate. It matters less if the startups are what we think of as "old economy," "Main Street" or "innovation economy" businesses. What matters is that we start talking about new startups and entrepreneurship as the primary engine of job creation in Rhode Island. Remember: our economic stalwarts of today — Hasbro, APC, GTECH and FM Global — were all Rhode Island startups once.

It's long been a central plank of Anchor Rising's program for turning Rhode Island around that the state should make it easier for people to start new businesses, which means reducing taxes (especially on capital investments and income that some might consider "excess"), lightening regulations, and erasing mandates that favor established players. So, in that regard, any evidence that points in that direction is welcome. That said, there's something conspicuously semantic about the study that Tear cites:

The BDS series tracks the annual number of new businesses (startups and new locations) from 1977 to 2005, and defines startups as firms younger than one year old.

The study reveals that, both on average and for all but seven years between 1977 and 2005, existing firms are net job destroyers, losing 1 million jobs net combined per year. By contrast, in their first year, new firms add an average of 3 million jobs.

Further, the study shows, job growth patterns at both startups and existing firms are pro-cyclical, although existing firms have much more cyclical variance. Most notably, during recessionary years, job creation at startups remains stable, while net job losses at existing firms are highly sensitive to the business cycle.

Basically, when companies are brand new, they hire. Then they reach stasis, begin to fail, or continue to grow, with the net effect being stasis, depending largely on how well the economy is doing in general. It probably oversimplifies matters, but one can easily imagine that, when times are good, capital investment exists to encourage employees to break off on their own, and when times are less good, more folks are forced (or willing) to jump ship and start new companies, accepting less money, thereby keeping the number of startup jobs stable.

Whatever the case, Rhode Island should definitely revamp its policies with an eye toward the perspective of job creators. Inasmuch as new businesses turn into established businesses, though, the state clearly cannot shift in such a way as to strangle them when they pass the one-year mark (or the five-year mark). In other words, Tear's dislike of clichés notwithstanding, the state just has to improve its businesses climate.

Back to Tear:

Talent Flow. As a state that feels like we've lost much in the past few decades, we are obsessed with holding onto what's left, and that is doubly true when it comes to conversations about our college graduates leaving, or Brain Drain. But the most vibrant economic hotspots have a flow of talent coming and going; learning, studying, starting companies, creating art, doing research, treating patients — and, yes, often moving on. This flow benefits us immensely as a state, bringing new ideas and global expertise, and imparting an affection for and connection with the Ocean State. When we shift from talking about Brain Drain to Talent Flow, we can begin to engage the energetic and smart folks that already flow through our state, get the most from our time with them, leverage them as Ocean State alumni if they move, and create new reasons for them to stay. The 21st century economic challenge is not to attract companies, but to attract talent.

This is well and good, as long as there isn't a net loss of talent, which is what I understand "brain drain" to mean. It's also crucial that Rhode Island keep in place the structure to retain the "new ideas and global expertise" that flowing talent can bring. That means attracting companies and making the state an attractive place in which to start them. In practice, companies are collections of people, so the line between "talent" and "companies" isn't all that stark. The distinction is that the latter include the institutional structure that captures the aggregate expertise of employees, consultants, and customers. In other words, the businesses are the "we" that benefit from transient populations.

We can bat around the specific terminology that we use to discuss Rhode Island's economic policy, and if one set of words makes hip people feel more comfortable embracing ideas that we right-leaning reformers have been shouting from the outskirts all along, then it's to the better. The danger is that the establishment forces that continue to clasp the state's legs are adept at twisting buzzwords — which tend, by their nature, to imply more than they explicitly state, thereby leaving much to subjective interpretation — in such a way as to further entrench themselves and hinder the rest of us. Consider the comments to Tear's essay...

January 3, 2011

In the beginning was the Word

Justin Katz

Scientists are speculating that gravity is actually a force caused as part of the universe's tendency toward entropy. Furthermore, the effect may have something to do with the way in which spacetime erases information on its march in that direction. The broader relevance of information is the interesting part:

Over recent years many results in quantum mechanics have pointed to the increasingly important role that information appears to play in the Universe.

Some physicists are convinced that the properties of information do not come from the behaviour of information carriers such as photons and electrons but the other way round. They think that information itself is the ghostly bedrock on which our universe is built.

Gravity has always been a fly in this ointment. But the growing realisation that information plays a fundamental role here too, could open the way to the kind of unification between the quantum mechanics and relativity that physicists have dreamed of.

Metaphysics would seem to enter the unification, as well, leading through worldviews and religion. Think how easily the statement that "information carriers" come from information about them, rather than generating information, translates into a contradiction of the belief that human consciousness is a coincidental consequence of our biology.

Hess: An Important Voice on Education Reform

Marc Comtois

I've mentioned The American Enterprise Institute's Rick Hess before and how he has a lot of interesting and, to my mind, good things to say about education reform. In short, if you want to stay up on the current EdReform movement, Hess is a good resource. For instance, he has recently explained how school reformers have been led to "oversell ideas as miracle cures" in the face of critiques from those such as Dianne Ravitch, how "for schools, one size does not fit all" in modern (some would say post-industrial) America and how it's time to re-think teacher pay.

Regarding this last, he makes several crucial points and distinctions.

Do you think that employees who are good at their work ought to be rewarded, recognized, and have the chance to step up into new opportunities and responsibilities? I do. If you're with me on this, you embrace the principle of merit pay—whether you know it or not....First, endorsing this principle doesn't mean signing on to the raft of slack-jawed merit-pay proposals that would-be reformers have championed in recent years. Merit pay is only useful if it's done smart, which entails using it to help attract, retain, and make full use of talented educators.

Second, understand that there's no proof that rewarding talented, hardworking folks "works." You can comb through decades of economics journals and issues of the Harvard Business Review without finding any proof that paying and promoting good employees yields good results. The premise just seems like a reasonable assumption; you either buy it, or you don't.

To be sure, Hess thinks there is value in using student test scores for evaluating teachers, but it shouldn't be a component comprising over 50% of the total "score." He elaborates further:
Merit pay should reward performance, value, and productivity. We can measure these in many ways—by scarcity of individuals in the labor market, annual evaluation by peers, professional observations, supervisor judgment, and so forth. The contemporary obsession with student test scores as the only metric of interest has been an unfortunate distraction.

Student achievement must be an important factor, but we should employ it deliberately, with an eye to a teacher's actual instructional duties and responsibilities. Too often, we rely on test scores simply because we don't have anything else. That's not a problem specific to merit pay; that's our peculiar failure to import widely employed practices and tools from other professions.

Second, it's a mistake to imagine there's one universal way to design pay systems. Why debate about whether Google, the Red Cross, or Microsoft has the "right" compensation model? There are a slew of reasonable approaches, depending on organizational context and needs. Rather than searching for proven pay models, education leaders would be better off identifying the problems they're trying to address and asking how reconfiguring pay might help them solve those problems.

Third, the aim must be to craft systems that can evolve. The whole point of pay is to help attract and leverage talent. We need an approach that succeeds in tapping specialists, online instructors, part-time educators, and others who can best serve students. Rather than cement in place new merit-pay systems predicated on improving test scores for a teacher who spends 45 minutes a day for 180 days with the same 24 students, let's design systems that can reward unconventional forms of excellence.

For instance, an online tutor who lives thousands of miles away but who can help struggling students make remarkable leaps in mastery of algebra is an invaluable asset. The same is true of a retired army sergeant who may be ill-equipped to teach a middle school class but who may be able to inspire and mentor 15 middle school students or of a teacher who builds a dynamic arts or science program. Today, there is little room in teacher pay scales to recognize or reward—or, sometimes, even make possible—these kinds of contributions. The attempt to superimpose rigid hierarchies atop an otherwise unchanged profession was one of the big stumbling blocks for career ladders and merit-pay proposals in the 1980s. Let's take care not to repeat those mistakes.

Finally, today's test-based merit-pay systems have nothing to say when it comes to productivity. They funnel more dollars to teachers who yield higher test scores. The reward is a bonus for past performance; it does nothing to amplify a teacher's effect on students and schools. Well-designed merit-pay systems should reward teachers who choose to take up opportunities to do more good—such as instructing additional students, leveraging particular skills, or assisting colleagues—making their increased pay a pound-wise investment for their districts or schools.

A Mechanism for a (Slightly) Longer View

Justin Katz

The Dear Mr. Chafee letter by John Marion, of Common Cause, makes a generally applicable suggestion that might lead to food for thought:

... I would suggest that when Gov.-elect Chafee makes most of his decisions, he should use a 25-year time horizon. ...

The electoral cycle is short because we insist on accountability through the ballot box. If our leaders had generation-long terms of office we could not send them signals about whether we approve or disapprove of their actions frequently enough. But a four- (and for members of the General Assembly, two-) year electoral cycle creates an incentive for politicians to be shortsighted in their policymaking.

Arguably, the party system acts as a mechanism for extending the political horizon somewhat. If politicians are concerned about the health and growth of a political party, then they have incentive not to push policies that will whiplash.

Two "of courses" arise. First, of course, a longer view of that sort can be extremely detrimental. Think the Democrats' scheming to create an electoral base with illegal immigrants, destitute inner-city minorities, and public-sector organized labor.

Second, of course, (and relatedly) the longer views of political parties tend to favor policies that increase the influence of government. If the goal is to build constituencies, then policies that increase dependents over time will bring their own reward. The necessity of limiting government's reach is something that each generation must learn (which is difficult when pretty much the entire educational system from kindergarten through college preaches a different gospel), and it will tend to ebb and swell with the health of the economy and the periodic overreaching of the creeping socialists.

Almost Like Another Ponzi Scheme

Justin Katz

This doesn't appear to be a sustainable system:

Consider an average-wage, two-earner couple together earning $89,000 a year. Upon retiring in 2011, they would have paid $114,000 in Medicare payroll taxes during their careers.

But they can expect to receive medical services - from prescriptions to hospital care - worth $355,000, or about three times what they put in.

As each generation shrinks in size from the previous, the number of payers decreases, and as medical science and individual longevity advance, the pay outs increase. That's why folks my age don't really expect to see a penny of such "entitlements."

The New Tax Scam

Justin Katz

Yesterday, Marc highlighted the peculiarity of a tax reform that purports to lower most Rhode Islanders' taxes while increasing withholdings:

The point is to give workers "a little cushion so that when they get to the end of the year, they [won't] be in a situation where they'd owe money on their personal income tax," said state Tax Administrator David M. Sullivan.

As Marc points out, the effect of that "cushion" is to give the government a tax-free loan throughout the year courtesy Rhode Island's working population. Commenters to his post even go so far as to suggest the "cushion" might actually be to protect the state from the possibility that it won't be able to afford refunds when the tax year's over.

Such a prediction is a bit aggressive, for me, but the red flags of this scam are enough without them. For starters, consider this discordant note:

The changes make the state tax system easier to understand and calculate, said Michael F. Canole, the Rhode Island Division of Taxation's chief of examinations. "We've simplified our personal income tax," he said.

If the system is simpler, why is it necessary for the state to raise withholdings by so much? Typically, each exemption has taken $3,650 of income out of the withholding calculation; this year it will be $1,000. Seems to me that a simpler code would be easier to predict.

That leads to the obvious questions of for whom the tax code is easier and whom it will harm and help:

A report prepared by the Division of Taxation in September said that, as a result of the changes, 81 percent of Rhode Islanders "will either pay the same or less in personal income taxes going forward."

We know that the objective of the tax reform was to be "revenue neutral," meaning that it would create winners and losers. We've also read that the wealthiest will not be among the losers (although I can't find the link to that story, just now). And we know that the central change, beyond freezing the flat tax as the new highest bracket, is to eliminate itemized deductions.

So, the answer to my questions is that the loser 19% are going to be middle-income Rhode Islanders who, by their actions, have high deductions — people who've bought property with loans, who invest in businesses, and who have unreimbursed medical expenses for a few. Productive, advancing people. The sorts of people who have been leaving Rhode Island, but whom the state desperately needs if it is going to manage to pull out of its nosedive.

A look at the Dept. of Taxation's FAQ regarding the revised tax rates shows the standard deduction to which all "married filing jointly" taxpayers will be limited as $15,000. That's half of my itemizations, last year, meaning that my taxable income is going to more than double.

Frankly, although it feels odd to imagine such scheming, I can't help but wonder whether the just-in-case over-withholding — despite the simpler tax code — is actually meant to distract the losers until the tax year is over. After all, if the message is that "most Rhode Islanders" will actually pay lower taxes, but that everybody is going to have higher withholdings, then the average taxpayer won't figure out that he or she is in the negative 19 until it's too late.

(By the way, I don't have time to find the reports and dig into them, right now, but I can't help but wonder whether that 19% is measured by tax returns or actual taxpayers. If the former, then the number of losers is twice as high... and even that doesn't include their children.)

January 2, 2011

Only in RI can Taxes go down but the amount withheld go up!

Marc Comtois

Lower taxes? Sounds good:

Rhode Island begins to put in place provisions of state tax legislation that...make the state tax system easier to understand and calculate, said Michael F. Canole, the Rhode Island Division of Taxation’s chief of examinations. “We’ve simplified our personal income tax,” he said.

The changes will also ultimately reduce overall state tax liability for many taxpayers. A report prepared by the Division of Taxation in September said that, as a result of the changes, 81 percent of Rhode Islanders “will either pay the same or less in personal income taxes going forward.”

But then again...
To implement those changes, state tax officials designed the withholding system for 2011 so that, for many workers, more state tax is withheld each pay period, not less.

The point is to give workers “a little cushion so that when they get to the end of the year, they [won’t] be in a situation where they’d owe money on their personal income tax,” said state Tax Administrator David M. Sullivan.

File under "Thanks Big Bro'!" Solution: Claim more exemptions than usual (if you still can, that is) and keep your money in your pocket to begin with. Thanks but no thanks, I prefer paying at the end instead of giving the State of RI a no interest loan for the year.

So Rep Lally Favors an Increase in Health Insurance Premiums for Rhode Island?

Monique Chartier

On Thursday, the Providence Journal printed an OpEd by Dr. Joseph Cambio of Urologic Specialists of New England and RI House Deputy Majority Whip Donald J. Lally (D, Narragansett & South Kingstown). We'll stipulate for a moment the problem that they name because it sounds all too plausible.

... Rhode Island health insurers reimburse the state’s physicians at a very low rate. This is a particular problem with such medical specialties as urology. Urology is only one of many medical fields, as well as dentistry, from which we are losing our best and brightest to other states. We also have aging field of doctors. As older physicians in our state retire there are fewer and fewer newer doctors to take their place. The reason is quite simple: Why would a new physician with over $150,000.00 in debt from medical school loans set up a practice in the state if he or she could make significantly more money by going to Massachusetts, Connecticut or somewhere else?

It is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit new physicians to Rhode Island. Urologic Specialists of New England had one promising young doctor recently turn down its offer when he saw that he would make significantly more for the same practice in Massachusetts.

So let's agree, in the absence of new and contradictory information, that pay for doctors practicing in Rhode Island needs to be increased. Now the question is, where does that additional money come from? Who pays for the increase?

Apologies for answering a question with a question. But maybe I'm missing something.

Within the insurance framework, is there any source for higher compensation - i.e., an increase in spending - other than rate payers?

January 1, 2011

From Blogger to Power Broker (Of Sorts)

Justin Katz

The latest Side of the Rhode hot/not list tipped me to something that nearly slipped by me:

Well-known attorney Matthew Jerzyk will serve as Mayor-elect Angel Taveras' director of government relations and senior counsel to the mayor. ...

Jerzyk will coordinate the city's legislative agenda with the City Council, state and federal government.

He is currently in private practice at DeLuca and Weizenbaum Ltd., a civil litigation firm in Providence. Jerzyk also serves as a legislative liaison for the Rhode Island Association for Justice.

As always, I wish Matt the best, but I still can't shake the feeling that the lunatics are running the Rhode Island asylum even more than they have been.

Baron re Chafee and Gist

Monique Chartier

Yesterday, Jim Hummel, filling in for WPRO's Dan Yorke, played excerpts from his interview, to be released in Tuesday's Hummel Report, with Governor-Elect Chafee. In it, the gov-elect confirms that he remains steadfastly non-committal about the continued tenure of Ed Commissioner, Deborah Gist.

In his "Politics As Usual" column a couple of days earlier, the Pawtucket Times' Jim Baron, one of Rhode Island's gem reporters but by no means right leaning or pro management, had an interesting suggestion for the gov-elect.

Governor-elect Lincoln Chafee could kill a lot of birds with one stone if, sometime before he officially takes office, he threw his arm around Deborah Gist and said, “she’s my commissioner!”

One, he would be making a positive step toward retaining the services of someone who – by almost everybody’s reckoning – is a terrific commissioner: bright, energetic, full of ideas and absolutely unafraid to charge ahead with any plan she thinks is in the best interest of school kids.

Two, it would shut up all those people who insist that Chafee is hopelessly in the pockets of the teachers unions. O.K., it wouldn’t shut them up, nothing probably will. But it would make it harder for them to make their case to anyone except each other.

Three, once Gist and the unions get a few more confrontations under their belts, they will probably come to understand one another and be able to work with one another. I have see this in many cases of what seemed to be intractable disputes between labor and management, eventually, the two sides learn to live with each other, even if they never become bosom buddies. Gist staying doesn’t mean the unions are going to lose every battle, they will win their share, they’ll just have to fight a bit more vigorously on some.

Four, even if the unions, don’t like the move, they will have four years to get over it.

The Foundation for Everything You Know

Justin Katz

It doesn't diminish the fields of history and science to express fascination that it's entirely possible for some bones or fragments thereof to reorder the entire history of man:

A Tel Aviv University team excavating a cave in central Israel said teeth found in the cave are about 400,000 years old and resemble those of other remains of modern man, known scientifically as Homo sapiens, found in Israel. The earliest Homo sapiens remains found until now are half as old. ...

The accepted scientific theory is that Homo sapiens originated in Africa and migrated out of the continent. Gopher said if the remains are definitively linked to modern human's ancestors, it could mean that modern man in fact originated in what is now Israel.

The article goes on to note that it could still prove to be the case that the remains are of Neanderthals, not homo sapiens, but the finding still serves as a healthy reminder that relatively little of our knowledge of the past comes from rigorous documentary evidence.

We've Already Maxed Out the Beauty Quotient

Justin Katz

Just about every workday, I drive by the Black Goose Café in Tiverton and think about how much I love their pumpkin chai, but with the beverage priced at $4.50 a pop, except in the most freewheeling moods, I pass right by. Oh, I continue to have a positive opinion of the business, based on this one drink, but that opinion does them little economic good when I determine that my money would be better spent on milk, shampoo, or gasoline.

Something similar is at play in another Dear Mr. Chafee post on Ted Nesi's blog, wirtten by RI Council for the Humanities Executive Director Mary-Kim Arnold:

Surprisingly, the most important factors to most residents were not economic. From city to city, the top three factors that people identified were:
  1. the availability of social offerings — places to meet, arts and cultural opportunities and the sense that people care about each other;
  2. a sense of openness — how welcoming the community is to different types of people, including families with young children, minorities, and talented college grads; and
  3. aesthetics — the physical beauty of the community, including parks and green spaces.

The study in review notes these as qualities that increase "emotional attachment," and Arnold's point is that, as governor, Chafee should "consider factors beyond the state's rankings and beyond the immediate economic data." It's a sentiment with which it's difficult to disagree; leaders should consider a broad range of factors, but the insinuation that social offerings, openness, and aesthetics should be the leading guides is disconnected from our particular time and place. (Put aside questions about the ability and prudence of government's involvement in them all.)

The Black Goose could make its cups more appealing; it could put out a big side reading, "Conservatives Welcome!"; but that won't overcome, for folks in my situation, a price tag equivalent to a meal. Just so, Rhode Island has already squandered the advantages that its residents' substantial emotional attachment provides. The premium is already too high. The great desire that Rhode Islanders have to remain in their state is what enables governance that is corrupt and overly generous to specific special interests..

In other words, just because, all things considered, love of a place will benefit its GDP does not mean that all things needn't be considered. At a certain point — which our state is already well past — emotional attachment just isn't enough, especially when a critical goal of policy has to be the attraction of new people and businesses that don't yet know how attached they could become.