February 28, 2011

Carruolo: Hey, Why Hurry Reform?

Marc Comtois

Bah. Who needs a sense of urgency:

George Caruolo, the savvy former politician Governor Chafee has appointed to lead the state's top education board, says Rhode Island's $2-billion-a-year public school system is not that bad.

What is needed to improve the state's 300-odd public schools, he says, may not be an ambitious agenda of change but a dose of old-fashioned pragmatism -- or, as he puts it, "a realistic assessment of what's necessary to elevate results."

"It's not as important to get all of this work done in the next 15 minutes," Caruolo said in an interview last week, "as it is to get it done correctly."

Yeah. That sounds good in a platitudinous sorta way, except recent progress has been made due to a sense of urgency. Pragmatism--in our classrooms, in our administration buildings, at bargaining table--is what got RI at this point to begin with. So, yeah, I feel a sense of urgency. And so do the thousands of RI parents with kids in our public school system.

The Hot Issue of Taxation

Justin Katz

Tonight's Tiverton Town Council agenda includes a public hearing on a proposed tax cap process for the town. The Town Hall is about 20% over capacity (meaning 120 people with a capacity of 100). The fire chief notified the council that, if some people don't clear out, he'll have to call the meeting off.

Only a few people were willing to leave, and taking faces that I recognize as a representative sample, the bulk of the audience was only too happy to see anything that might limit tax increases tabled and held off for a number of weeks. A number of teachers, for example.

Mayor Taveras on the Notices of Potential Dismissal

Monique Chartier

Providence's Mayor Angel Taveras "blasted" the following last night to his e-list. [Note to NBC Nightly News correspondent Kevin Tibbles: painful as it may be to admit, Mayor Taveras is a (D), not an (R).]

Mayor Taveras' affirmation of a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers as well as his reminder of our collective "moral responsibility" to our children are refreshing and remarkable, especially in light of the notable silence of his predecessor on both of those subjects.

Dear Friends,

We made a difficult decision this past week to issue notices of dismissal to all of the City’s teachers, effective at the end of the 2010-11 school year. I want to share with you my thoughts on the issue, the process, and where we go from here.

The financial crisis facing the people of Providence is staggering. For too long, politicians have avoided making the tough decisions. When I took the oath of office on January 3, I made a commitment to be honest with you about the problems we face. I also promised that I would not shy away from making tough decisions to put our City back on firm financial footing. Our actions this week reflect this commitment.

Issuing notices of dismissals to all teachers was a decision of last resort. My administration has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of Providence to address the fiscal crisis we face AND a moral responsibility to our children to make sure we manage cuts to school funding in a way that best serves our students and the community.

State law requires that teachers must be notified by March 1 about any potential changes to their status. Given the March 1 notice requirement mandated by law and where we are in the budgeting process, issuing dismissal notices to all teachers was the most prudent and fiscally responsible decision. Here’s why: We needed to retain the maximum flexibility we could to manage significant cuts to the school budget. We simply cannot have a situation next year where we have more teachers on the payroll than we can afford to pay or have expenses that exceed our resources.

This is also why we issued dismissal notices instead of layoff notices. As has been the case in the past, layoffs often come with many provisions, legally and procedurally, that could impact our ability to control costs to the degree we need to. A dismissal is different in that it enables the district to end its financial obligation to an individual completely.

These may seem like harsh words, but the March 1 deadline forces us to make binding decisions about next year before we know the full extent of the budget cuts we are being forced to make and the exact actions we’ll need to take to address this unprecedented fiscal crisis. We also have a moral responsibility to guarantee that every student has access to the best educational experience, even in the face of unprecedented budget cuts. Decisions like these cannot be made based on an arbitrary legislative deadline.

Let me be clear on one important point: a majority of Providence teachers will have their dismissal letters rescinded in the coming weeks. If not for the March 1 deadline, no teacher would have received dismissal notices last week. If the March 1 deadline were eliminated, we would have had sufficient time to know the full extent of the City budget crisis, the effect this will have on school funding, and what this means in terms of school closures and teacher dismissals. Although the end result would still be fewer school and fewer teachers next year, the process would have been far less disruptive and painful.

It has always been, and remains my intent, to work together with our teachers and our communities. You may have read comments from union leaders comparing me to the Governor of Wisconsin. This comparison is wrong and misleading. Unlike the Governor of Wisconsin, I support the democratic right to organize and have been participating regularly in meetings with our City unions to strengthen our partnerships and find common ground in solving our financial problems. Just a few weeks ago I celebrated the settlement between union workers and management to end a labor boycott of the Westin Hotel. I was proud to support the hotel workers and support collective bargaining.

Collaboration is not over. It cannot be over. We have never faced a fiscal challenge like this before. I hope that our teachers and their union will be willing to work with us as the process moves forward. This weekend, I spoke to the union at length and I am confident that we can work together to meet these challenges. I particularly hope that we can make 2011 the year we successfully lobby the General Assembly to change the March 1 deadline so that no community in Rhode Island will face this terrible situation ever again.

Time is critical. I do not wish to prolong this period of worry and uncertainty for any citizen or teacher. I will work with the teachers, Superintendent, City Council, community and RI Department of Education as quickly as possible to reach clear and effective decisions about how best to implement cuts to our school department budget. I pledge to keep you informed with honest and accurate information. I also call upon our community, labor, business and neighborhood leaders to actively engage in the decision-making process and to offer their suggestions on how to best move Providence forward.

I understand that these are tough times. Yet, I remain confident that through collaboration and shared sacrifice, Providence will emerge a stronger city.

Angel Taveras

The Sources of Public Unrest with Public Unions

Carroll Andrew Morse

The recent events in Wisconsin and Indiana, where elected legislators fled from their states to avoid voting on issues where they and their public-sector union patrons would lose, followed by union protests and counter-protests, are part of a recurring dynamic of history where a group that has grown accustomed to the benefits of a set of governing prerogatives is having its prerogatives challenged -- and fighting not to have to give them up. I know that members of public employee unions bristle sincerely at being told they are "privileged", so let me be specific about what I mean: public sector unions have been granted a set of governing privileges within the institutional framework of American democracy -- privileges that conflict with the ideals that the system is based upon.

The ideals themselves are not the source of contention; most Americans today, union and non-union alike, agree on a basic set of ideals that governments should respect; that all men are created equal and possess certain inalienable rights sums them up pretty well. But the genius of modern democratic government is supposed to be that it depends not solely only on ideals, but also on a set of institutional arrangements that can protect those ideals from imperfect humans who will not always live up to them. The institutions relevant to what is happening now date back at least to seventeenth-century England, where specific steps were taken to guarantee that kings and nobles who still held real power (including James II, who was floating the idea of returning to an absolute monarchy around that time) could not undermine or reverse the notions of equality and rights that were gaining serious traction. Government had to find a way to allocate a portion of the people's resources to a central authority so that it could carry out its functions while still defending the idea that no one -- not even the king himself -- had a right to make a claim on the life and livelihood of another indefinitely into the future.

Balance was achieved by requiring the executive branch of government (the king in the English Bill of Rights, later the President in the American Constitution) to continually return to the people to secure financing. Two requirements were most prominent 1) the property of the citizens -- which included their future income -- could only be appropriated with the approval of a body of the elected representatives of the people, and 2) appropriations could only be authorized for a limited time. These are probably not what you think of as the most exciting features of democratic machinery, but they were important checks on the power of the king and his lords and continue to be important checks on the power of democratic governments today. Not only did these rules prevent a king from taking resources to fund a royal court in perpetuity, but they prevented any organ of government, including the legislature, from authorizing permanent funding for anyone. Whatever tasks that government undertook, the executive would have to come back each year for the necessary appropriations and each year the representatives of the people would have to renew their decision to provide resources to the government.

These principles, that only the representatives of the people acting in concert could legitimately appropriate the property of the people, and that not even the legitimate authority could lay claims on the property of the people indefinitely into the future, have lived on in Western democratic governance largely unchanged. Of course, here in the United States, the creation of royal courts was never at issue, but ultimately more important than denying a formal place in government to people with hereditary titles or silly hats was the durability of the principle that there was no authority higher than the legislature elected by the people that could compel taxes to be raised or programs or personnel to be funded -- including decisions made by previous legislatures. The final word on what is to be funded during a legislative session was the legislature itself (with a few exceptions related to the principle of separation of powers, e.g. the legislature cannot zero-out the salaries of certain parts of the other branches of government).

Except that, over the past half-century, a major exception was allowed to creep into the system. One class of organization, the public-sector union (with the support of some politicians), began to assert rights to make long-term claims on the property of the citizenry. A view grew uncritically within the governing and political classes that agreements made through exclusive "collective bargaining" processes -- processes oftentimes closed or secret -- and codified into a contractual form can bind the body of elected representatives of the people into making certain appropriations. Public sector unions insist that, in order to pay for their pension and health care arrangements, they are to receive hundreds of millions of dollars straight off of the top of the tax levy collected from the citizens each year, perhaps for decades into the future, and that legislatures should not (and maybe cannot) exercise independent judgment regarding this piece of the annual appropriation, unless they first secure union blessing. And as the flight from Wisconsin has demonstrated, unions and their allies in the Democratic party now go as far as to support the idea that if a legislature intends to act in way that unions do not accede to, then the legislative process must be halted.

In other words, public-sector unions have been allowed, and want to continue, appropriations prerogatives that would be prohibited to kings.

Yes, it would be hyperbolic to say current practices define a full-blown return to aristocracy, but if you believe that human nature remains the same across time, that we 21th Century Americans are not intrinsically different from the 18th Century Americans who wrote the appropriations limitations into the US Constitution, or the 17th Century Englishmen who wrote similar provisions into the English Bill of Rights, then giving a certain class of people -- be they royalty, corporate bosses, or union members -- an exclusive process that does not involve the consent of everyone involved for appropriating what they want from the public, then the result to be expected is the privileged class taking more and more, ultimately at the expense of the greater good, until people outside of the class granted the special prerogatives begin to push back.

This is not a dig at unions, this is a dig at human nature. The goal of Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin is not to punish public-sector unions, but to end their privileges to make long-term claims on taxpayers, allowed to no other group in society, that have thrown the political system into imbalance. It is perfectly reasonable, for example, for Governor Walker to propose replacing a system where unions decide what their raises should be in an extralegislative process and then require the legislature to fit that expense into the budget with a system that instead requires raises to be approved by the legislature on equal footing along with the rest of the items in the budget. For as long as one group is given a special process for taking appropriations that takes precedence over the independent judgment of an assembly of the representatives of the people, the contentiousness we are experiencing today will persist, as people not granted special prerogatives wonder why one group gets to go to the head of the line in the appropriations process, while the group that enjoys its advantages continues to use them to press for further ones.

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In case you missed it...

Marc Comtois

There were all sorts of developments over the weekend. Apparently someone named Charlie Sheen is now some sort of ambassador or FCC chair or something. He's been in the news a lot lately.

Also, there's been a lot of talk about some speech given by the king this morning.

We have a king?

I guess the speech was in Hollywood, which somewhere along the way became the new capital of the country (as least as far as I can tell by the news coverage). Apparently there is some new legislative body that gathers every now and then, pats itself on the back and hands out a variety of awards. Sounds like pork to me.

Anyway, happy Monday and I hope you're all caught up on the important news, now.

Observed from Within the Complications

Justin Katz

The complaints against high-deductible health insurance coupled with health savings accounts presented in Richard Salit's article, yesterday, seem more like groans against change than anything:

... some health experts say that you can't expect people who are ill to be cost-conscious consumers — even healthy people have difficulty price-shopping for medical services. That's why Christopher Koller, the state's health insurance commissioner, says the plans are no "silver bullet" for curbing the nation's health-care costs. ...

Higher-deductible plans can be challenging to understand. They include a new vocabulary of terms and quite a few acronyms to decipher. They also require people to get involved in managing their health-care expenses in a way they never have before.

The Coastal Medical group has witnessed first-hand how some patients get confused by the plans.

Sure, high-deductible plans are more confusing than top-of-the-line offerings that allow consumers to go anywhere at any time, but those are increasingly rare. In general, health insurance has hardly been a simple matter. Referrals, primary care, copays, coshares... most people, I'd hazard to suggest, already tend to go where they're advised to go and pay whatever bill is sent their way once the insurer has trimmed it down.

The only added complication, with high-deductible plans, is that the bills don't get trimmed until the plan member has paid a certain amount. When coupled with health savings accounts, that money just comes from them, first. Frankly, the notion that people are too ignorant to comprehend this added step is suspiciously patrician.

Koller does raise the reasonable concern that bills that patients find unpayable end up stuck on hospitals' and doctors' books. Similarly, employer Donald Nokes, who recently switched his company to a higher-deductible plan, observes that employees who had health issues during the year weren't as happy with the change as those who did not. Of course, they're likely happier than they would have been if the company had not been able to afford any benefit at all.

What unites Koller's and Nokes's points is that they are indications that the price-conscious reform of high-deductible plans and health savings accounts is still beginning. As such an approach becomes more common, more people will have years of healthy buildup in their savings accounts to absorb the pain of tougher years. When that's the case, fewer health care providers will find their invoices unpaid.

Above everything, though, what gets lost in the article is the comparison of doing nothing. Moreover, any reform that attempts to avoid the necessity of patients' involvement in their own care will fail to control costs, unless it puts decisions in the hands of supposed experts with the power to deny care.

We have no choice, that is, but to choose the path of education and individual investment.

February 27, 2011

RISC Meeting Spawns a question: What's the Real State of RI Fisheries?

Marc Comtois

The Rhode Island Statewide Coalition held its annual meeting yesterday. As the ProJo reports, the focus was on the economy and included guest speakers Leonard Lardaro (URI Economics professor) and a former New Zealand parliament member Maurice McTigue.

McTigue...gave examples of how his country made major internal changes to turn the tide on years of debt....[He]...told the audience that one of the ways his country got out of debt was by using its natural resources. He said New Zealand used long-term contracts to get commercial enterprises such as lumber companies — whether locally or from abroad — to become invested in the country’s economy.

He also described how it tossed out old bureaucracy and completely overhauled its education system by having individual schools governed by boards of trustees consisting of people elected only by the parents of children who attend the schools.

The arrangement led to accountability and better education, he said.

McTigue said that after making difficult changes, his country went from decades of not having balanced budgets to years of posting surpluses.

“Most of us here have had to live with the exact same income we got four years ago,” he said. “If we can do it, why can’t the government?”

Using natural resources and reforming education: sounds good to me. I write enough about education, though, and want to focus on the idea of using our natural resources.

It should be obvious what the Ocean State's greatest natural resource is, right? The Bay. Water (or "Waaatterrrr" a la Patrick Kennedy). The shipping/port issue debate comes to mind immediately, but I want to go beneath those waves and focus on our fisheries. Basically, maximizing our fishing industry responsibly is something that needs to be studied. But I'm no expert at all and confess to being naive as far as the state of the fisheries.

In 2008, shore fisherman started expressing their worry that our striped bass population was in decline. Some thought this was the "canary in the coal mine", but the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission maintained that all was well with stripers. Fishermen didn't agree with each other, either (though I'm pretty sure that's not surprising!). Shore fisherman continue to believe that stocks are declining, citing a scarcity of "schoolies". However, apparently teen stripers and some of the big boys are still plentiful. There are also concerns that commercial fishermen down the coast (Maryland, for example) are wreaking havoc on our stocks.

Now there are also concerns about the Southern New England lobster industry and plans are in the works to reduce the allowable catch by between 50-75%. That would be a death blow to many, many lobstermen, who point out that they are older and basically the fleet is going to "age out" eventually anyway, so drastic cuts aren't needed.. Apparently the drop in catchable lobsters is attributed to "warming water temperatures, shell disease and an increase in predators such as striped bass and dogfish." An increase in striped bass. See my confusion? One fishery is shrinking because of an increase in the population of another species that is also shrinking. Or is it?!

By the way, I never knew that squid fishing was the most valuable fishery around here. Calamari anyone?

February 26, 2011

The Unvarnished History of Rhode Island's Short-funded Public Pensions, by John

Monique Chartier

Copied below is an excellent analysis compiled by John (under this post). To it, I would append one item - an additional culpable party: decades of elected officials who possessed the power to implement realistic benefits for tens of thousands of public employees and chose, instead, to further their own selfish political ends by making empty, grandiose promises.

Dear teachers and other public sector union members:

Too many of you are undoubtedly looking at each other over drinks these days, and trying to make sense of what our Democratic General Treasurer is saying.

Let me help you out.

1. Your union leadership has, over the years, negotiated some of the nation's best pension and post retirement health care benefits for you.

2. Your union leadership has, over the years, agreed to have you contribute some of the nation's highest percentages of your pay (relative to public sector employees in other states) for these benefits. Given the relative generosity of these benefits, that makes sense. So far, so good.

3. At the same time, your union leadership has, over the years, progressively reduced the power of management in the organizations where you work. This has led to such well known phenomena as parental frustration when their child's good teacher is bumped out by a weaker teacher with more seniority, and the world class service that every Rhode Islander has come to expect at the Registry.

4. This has led to a growing perception over the years on the part of private sector voters and taxpayers (and not a few of your fellow union members) that they are not getting value for money in exchange for the high taxes they pay in RI.

5. These high taxes, as well as our relatively weak schools and anti-business regulatory and political climate have driven businesses from RI. In turn, this process has drastically reduced the number of private sector union employees in RI.

6. In the face of declining union numbers, for the past 20 years or so organized labor in RI has been in a pact with the devil, so to speak -- they have been forced to ally with the progressive wing of the local Democratic Party to retain their hold on the General Assembly.

7. And here is where we get to the crux of the problem. Had your union leadership been looking out for your best interests, they would have insisted that, in the years pension and post-retirement health care benefits were earned by you and accrued as liabilities, they should have been fully funded, not just through your high contributions, but through the State making adequate contributions to pension funds and funds that were not established to provide assets to offset the growing post-retirement health care liability.

8. And what prevented your union leadership from forcing the General Assembly to make these contributions? Their progressive allies had an ever expanding agenda to fund, whether that was RITE Care, expanded programs for immigrants, more special education mandates, or what have you.

9. Up to a point, their failure to look out for the rank and file's interest could be hidden through such devices as unrealistically high assumptions about future investment returns, retirement dates, mortality, and health care cost inflation. However, we have now passed that point, and everyone can now see the Emperor (your future benefits) has no clothes.

10. While we can all hope that the SEC investigation of possibly fraudulent disclosures made in conjunction with the issuance of RI public sector bonds will produce some indictments, I'm not holding my breath. So that leaves a pretty clear choice about what you can do to preserve your future pension benefits: (a) dramatically reduce spending on the progressive agenda, and spit the benefit between reduced taxes and increased pension contributions; (b) dramatically increase taxes, and hope that people don't move away resulting in less not more revenue being collected (but keep in mind there's no guarantee that the progressive agenda won't eat up most of the new tax revenue that comes in); (c) default on the state's bonds, and divert the principal and interest payments into the pension fund. That's it. Those are your choices. The Feds aren't going to bail out RI (or any other state), and there aren't enough state assets to sell to close the underfunding gap. That's why Gina is talking publicly about up to 50% hits for some of your benefits.

Oh, and one last thought: You might want to consider voting out of office the union leaders (and well paid union staffers) who got you into this mess.

Education Roundup

Marc Comtois

A bevy of education-related stories today. The repercussions following the Providence teacher "firings" continue, with Mayor Tavares getting attention from the New York Times. The ProJo reported that teachers fear it's the end for seniority-based retention, which is kind of a strange way to put it because, as the story also explains, that end was already foreshadowed by Education Commissioner Deborah Gist last year.

In Warwick, a review panel has recommended more transparency on the part of the School Administration, citing communication breakdowns between the City-side and School-side. According to one commission member, there was also "an air of mystery around school finances" that needed to be made more understandable. They also various scenarios for reconfiguring the make-up of the school committee. The report should be available at warwick.org some time soon. Meanwhile, the Warwick School Department unveiled an new electronic records program that will make student data available to all "stakeholders" (including parents!). Warwick also issued the contract-maximum 40 teacher layoff notices (but can only actually fire 20).

In Cranston, the School Committee is asking for $3.5 million in concessions from school unions and asked the City for more money. However, Mayor Alan Fung has already indicated he plans on level-funding the schools this year.

February 25, 2011

Providence Teacher Layoffs: The Era of Cutting Begins?

Marc Comtois

It's been explained again and again that the pink slips are a technical response to fiscal realities. Nonetheless, that hasn't stopped the hyperbolic rhetoric from continuing to flow from Providence teacher union leadership once the pink slips were issued. (I guess once we heard the Pearl Harbor reference, we shouldn't have been surprised). To act like this technical maneuver is an actual firing of 1,900 teachers is completely disingenuous, never mind saying its union busting. Both the mayor and superintendent have stated most teachers will be hired back. This is nothing more than crying wolf and amping up the rhetoric to a fever pitch. All for what? Power? I don't know.

Look, it's just a bad situation that has been allowed to get worse and worse due to myopic kicking-the-can-down-the-road on the part of union leadership and Democratic politicians in Providence for decades. Now the chickens are roosting and contemporary teachers are paying for the sins of the past. I can understand the frustration and the fear and paranoia, but private sector workers deal with those worries regularly and still manage to function as professionals.

For instance, I've heard complaints that the administration is going to cherry-pick the senior teachers--regardless of performance--to save more money. Guess what? It routinely happens in the private sector, particularly amongst the same professional class that teachers are part of. Middle-management? They are ripe for salary pruning all the time.

My point isn't that misery loves company, it's that this is the new reality. Much like the 1990's were a "vacation from history" (a la Fukuyama), unionized public employee unions have had a vacation from "economics" for a few decades. The private sector and general public paid for that vacation and have told elected officials we can't pay anymore. So, the cutting has begun.

Cheap Shots All Around

Justin Katz

Given the video that Marc posted yesterday, showing a pro-union demonstrator issuing what might be termed homophobic threats, I can't help but wonder whether this story is evidence of additional union rallies on the University of Rhode Island campus:

Angered by a succession of incidents involving hateful epithets and vandalism, University of Rhode Island President David M. Dooley issued a campus-wide memo Wednesday, saying that such acts will not be tolerated.

In recent weeks, he said, offenders "have shouted homophobic taunts from cars to individuals on sidewalks and written hateful words on white boards; drawn a swastika on the forehead of a poster of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; vandalized a mezuzah which contains a scroll of Hebrew scripture, and written in permanent marker hateful statements targeted toward URI community members of Latin descent."

According to another report, a spectator at a URI basketball game in the Ryan Center shouted a word offensive to homosexuals at the opposing team.

What actually appears to be happening is that the university, which has recently been lamenting cuts in its revenue from the state budget, has been soliciting reports of incidents through its new Chief Diversity Officer, Kathryn Friedman, and a Bias Response Team Web site. The article isn't clear, but it appears that President Dooley has been culling the reports and will post a list for the purpose of appropriate self-flagellation (or -aggrandizement, as the case may be) on campus.

Personally, I don't get the urge to shout epithets of any kind, and particularly those that mix with identity politics. Still, it doesn't strike me as entirely healthy that a generation of URI students is being trained to respond by rushing back to the dorm and making anonymous reports that cumulatively create the impression that the state's largest public institution of higher education is a hostile environment.

February 24, 2011

General Treasurer Raimondo: Some Public Retirees Are Looking at a Pension Haircut of 20%-30%

Monique Chartier

Normally, it would have been big enough news that the magnitude of Rhode Island's unfunded pension liability is such that it made PBS's NewsHour (tonight, best I can tell).

This has been completely dwarfed, however, by some remarkable statements made during the program by Rhode Island's General Treasurer.

[NewsHour Economics Correspondent] PAUL SOLMAN: So, what's the hit that the average pensioner of Rhode Island is going to take? What's the haircut, as it's called?

GINA RAIMONDO: I think it could be a significant hit.

PAUL SOLMAN: Twenty percent, 30 percent hit, it could be?

GINA RAIMONDO: It could be. It could be.

You know, in Rhode Island, we have 105 pension systems. So, for certain sections, the haircut will be significant, you know, 30, 40-plus percent. For other, you know, systems, it will be less.

Human Nature and Unions

Justin Katz

That was the topic Andrew introduced when he called in to the Matt Allen Show, last night. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

More Union Differences

Monique Chartier

Further to Marc's post, David Brooks outlined additional differences between public and private labor unions in a piece Tuesday about the Wisconsin situation.

Private sector unions push against the interests of shareholders and management; public sector unions push against the interests of taxpayers. Private sector union members know that their employers could go out of business, so they have an incentive to mitigate their demands; public sector union members work for state monopolies and have no such interest.

Private sector unions confront managers who have an incentive to push back against their demands. Public sector unions face managers who have an incentive to give into them for the sake of their own survival. Most important, public sector unions help choose those they negotiate with. Through gigantic campaign contributions and overall clout, they have enormous influence over who gets elected to bargain with them, especially in state and local races.

As to that penultimate sentence, with school committees around the state littered with teachers, union members and/or their spouses as well as prominent paid union staffers sitting in the General Assembly, Rhode Island is Exhibit A of public sector unions "helping choose those they negotiate with". The result of that "help" has been decades of short-sighted elected officials who have irresponsibly bestowed upon the state expensive government, chronically unbalanced budgets, high taxes and even higher unfunded post employment liabilities.

Returning to the difference between solidarity public and solidarity private, I would add just one more item to all of the excellent points raised by Brooks, Goldberg and Comtois: along with us non-unionized folk, private unions are on the issuing rather than the receiving end of the disbursements that fund public compensation and benefits.

Rhode Island Union Rally Gets National Notoriety

Marc Comtois

As first reported on the Matt Allen Show, Adam Cole was in a confrontation with a union brother at the recent union solidarity rally held at the State House. National blogs are picking up the story, particularly the quote from a union brother, "“I’ll f**k you in the ass, you faggot!” Nice. Here's the video (confrontation starts around the 7 1/2 minute mark).

Another, longer video shows similar attitudes though, to be fair, it also shows that Cole and his fellow camera-wielders were somewhat confrontational during the pre-rally--asking about the Tea Party (and at least one mentioning that President Obama isn't a U.S. citizen and some One World Order stuff....Oy). That being said, it doesn't excuse a union brother threatening to "take them outside and stick it [the camera] up your a**" (about 7 minutes into the aforementioned longer video).

Providence Pink Slips II

Marc Comtois

The ProJo has more on the Providence School district sending pink slips to all teachers. Basically, it was Mayor Angel Taveras' call based on economic reality and trying to have as much flexibility as possible.

The mayor said the unprecedented move was necessary because of the depth of the financial crisis facing the city and the schools....[Providence School Superintendent Tom Brady] said the mayor alerted him about the impending crisis about two weeks ago. As Taveras became more alarmed, he asked Brady to come up with a solution that would give the city and the district “maximum flexibility” to respond to the city’s financial deficit, expected to top $57 million.
I also forgot that Providence Schools currently don't follow the traditional seniority hiring practices.
The district now fills openings based on an interview process that requires teachers to submit a model lesson and a writing sample.

It remains unclear how seniority will be used when teachers are rehired under the dismissal system, however....Supt. Tom Brady said it was too soon to say whether seniority would be eliminated in its entirety. The district is still embroiled in a lawsuit filed by the Providence Teachers Union that seeks to restore seniority, although both sides are reportedly close to an agreement.

Part of what spurred this is a loss of $14 million in stimulus money, which was used primarily to pay teachers. Additionally, the ProJo reports that an additional $11.5 million is needed to cover increases in health insurance and other benefits. It is also pointed out that Providence teachers pay 15% of their health insurance and will receive no pay raise this year. Unfortunately, they're learning what the private sector has already learned: making sacrifices for one year doesn't make you immune from making more sacrifices in subsequent years. I wish it were not true, but it's reality.

February 23, 2011

An Intro to the Sources of Public Unrest with Public Unions

Carroll Andrew Morse

Let me try and find a basic principle of conservative philosophy that I believe that many public union members will agree with, that human nature is fixed, that the fundamental nature of 21st Century Americans is not intrinsically different from the people of centuries past. If we today do have it better than the previous generations, it is because our predecessors developed for us through hard experience some decent ideals to live by (after living through other ones that didn't work so well), and bequeathed to us a set of institutions capable of nurturing and growing those ideals.

But if human nature remains the same, then we know that in any era -- present era included -- that when you tell a certain class of people, be they royalty, guild members, corporate leaders or union members, that they have a privileged position in the governing process -- and especially in appropriating resources from the general citizenry -- they will tend to take more and more, until the general citizenry starts to push back. Public employee unions are no more immune to this dynamic than are any other form of human organization. And, over the past 50 years, public employee unions in the United States have been given, or perhaps taken, a privileged position in the process of dmeocratic governance.

This, more than the immediate set of fiscal particulars, is what is driving the conflict that has exploded in Wisconsin and Indiana, and is what needs to be rebalanced, in order to resolve the situation.

Now, I know that public employee union members authentically bristle at being called a "privileged class", so I will lay out exactly what kinds of governing privilege I refer to, and especially how those privileges conflict with the foundational ideas and processes that make a democratic system work…

The Union Difference

Marc Comtois

Once again--because public employee union leaders are doing their best to conflate the two--let's re-emphasize that there's a difference between private sector and public employee unions. Further, as Dan Yorke brought up this morning, despite proclamations made at rallies, most of the middle-class isn't unionized (nor intends to be). Starting with the latter, while it's true that public employee union members are in the middle-class (some are even in the upper middle class), that's different than implying that most of the middle class are union members. They're not

In 2010, the union membership rate--the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union--was 11.9 percent, down from 12.3 percent a year earlier, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today....In 2010, 7.6 million public sector employees belonged to a union, compared with 7.1 million union workers in the private sector. The union membership rate for public sector workers (36.2 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private sector workers (6.9 percent). Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 42.3 percent. This group includes workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and fire fighters. Private sector industries with high unionization rates included transportation and utilities (21.8 percent), telecommunications (15.8 percent), and construction (13.1 percent).
Second, Jonah Goldberg summarizes the difference between public and private unions:
Traditional, private-sector unions were born out of an often-bloody adversarial relationship between labor and management. It's been said that during World War I, U.S. soldiers had better odds of surviving on the front lines than miners did in West Virginia coal mines. Mine disasters were frequent; hazardous conditions were the norm. In 1907, the Monongah mine explosion claimed the lives of 362 West Virginia miners. Day-to-day life often resembled serfdom, with management controlling vast swaths of the miners' lives. Before unionization and many New Deal-era reforms, Washington had little power to reform conditions by legislation.

Government unions have no such narrative on their side. Do you recall the Great DMV cave-in of 1959? How about the travails of second-grade teachers recounted in Upton Sinclair's famous schoolhouse sequel to "The Jungle"? No? Don't feel bad, because no such horror stories exist.

As Goldberg explains, President Kennedy saw political opportunity in allowing government workers to unionize so he proclaimed that they could via Executive Order. We know that even Franklin Roosevelt didn't think public employee unionization was a good idea. Neither, as Goldberg writes, did George Meany (the first AFL-CIO leader), who said that it is "impossible to bargain collectively with the government." Because there is a huge difference in what goes on at the bargaining table between a private union/employer and a public union/government bureaucrat. Goldberg again:
Private-sector unions fight with management over an equitable distribution of profits. Government unions negotiate with friendly politicians over taxpayer money, putting the public interest at odds with union interests, and, as we've seen in states such as California and Wisconsin, exploding the cost of government.
That's the fundamental difference and that's why--despite my personal experience--I do support private unions, but not public.

ADDENDUM: Yorke makes the cogent point that RI union members are actually doing themeselves a disservice by calling for solidarity with their Wisconsin "brothers and sisters." For while the Wisconsin members have been dodging realistic contracts for some time now, RI unions have "come to the table" and made concessions and currently contribute to their own benefits at a level just now being approached by the Wisconsin members.

On the Way to Extraordinary

Justin Katz

A recent review, by Charlotte Allen, of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's memoir of her family, Extraordinary, Ordinary People, is unfortunately not online except by subscription. (It appeared in the February 7 National Review.) It does give some of the feel for the path to success of a black woman who grew up during times of racial turmoil:

Like other blacks in Birmingham scraping together respectable lifestyles on meager salaries during the 1950s, the Rices were determined to do two things: ignore the indignities of segregation, and refuse to have anything to do with what today would be called "ghetto culture," the undisciplined speech, mannerisms, and mores of poorly educated lower-class blacks. When young Condoleezza, an only child, watched Amos 'n' Andy on television with her parents, they "went out of their way to point out and correct" the "butchered English" of the show's black characters, she writes. ...

Rice writes that "because Birmingham was so segregated, black parents were able, in large part, to control the environment in which they raised their children. They rigorously regulated the messages that we received and shielded us by imposing high expectations and a determined insistence on excellence." There were few single mothers, and therefore plenty of men around to enforce rules. The black schools in Birmingham were poorly funded, but boasted dedicated teachers like Angelena Rice, who tolerated no excuses for low performers. "'To succeed,' they routinely reminded us, 'you will have to be twice as good,'" her daughter writes. Middle-class blacks tended to avoid public places where they might be exposed to such indignities as "colored" restrooms. With equal fastidiousness they avoided many of the places where blacks could legally go: dives in rough neighborhoods characterized by drinking, knife fights, and the "loose women" that no respectable black females wanted to be. Middle-class social life took place exclusively within a dense network of churches, clubs, fraternities, and the homes of friends.

Even on the losing end of America's racial atrocities, faith, family, and dedication were able to provide hope. Disagreement about the best ways in which to end discrimination and recompense the damage of the past is sincere, but a better formula would have placed more emphasis on individual initiative in those three areas.

Pink Slips in Providence

Marc Comtois

Julia Steiny reminded us that it was the time of year when pink slips would rain down. Boy, did they ever in Providence where every teacher is slated to be "laid off". Well, not really--not all of the teachers will be fired. It's just a way for the Providence school district to enable the greatest amount of flexibility when it comes to budget time, as Providence School Superintendent Tom Brady explained:

We are forced to take this precautionary action by the March 1 deadline given the dire budget outline for the 2011-2012 school year in which we are projecting a near $40 million deficit for the district....Since the full extent of the potential cuts to the school budget have yet to be determined, issuing a dismissal letter to all teachers was necessary to give the mayor, the School Board and the district maximum flexibility to consider every cost savings option, including reductions in staff....To be clear about what this means...this action gives the School Board the right to dismiss teachers as necessary, but not all teachers will actually be dismissed at the end of the school year.
Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith doesn't like it:
This is beyond insane....Let’s create the most chaos and the highest level of anxiety in a district where teachers are already under unbelievable stress. Now I know how the United States State Department felt on Dec. 7 , 1941.
Nice hyperbolic analogy, there. Further, if we're to grant you that line of thinking, it would be more correct to say it's as if the "State Department" (the Providence Teachers Union) called the "air strike" (pink slips) down on themselves. After all, the union collectively bargained the March 1 deadline because it benefited them and it's a bit disingenuous to cry foul when the option is exercised. My guess is that if there were more management rights (ie; hiring/firing flexibility) within the contract, this could have been avoided.

Talking Blogging

Justin Katz

I'll be sharing my experience as a blue-state blogger with the Providence College Republicans tonight at 7:30 p.m., in room 112 of the Providence College Slavin Center. Admission is free and open to the public if you're inclined to swing by.

What Hope for Education?

Justin Katz

My Patch column, this week, questions whether there's much room for optimism about educational success in Rhode Island public schools over the next couple of years:

... the 2010 [NECAP] test was to be the first on which graduation actually would depend. It was do or die for students to achieve at least "partially proficient," and 38% did not. All stops should have been pulled; the urgency among educators should have been near frantic...an extra-effort, contracts-out-the-window kind of frantic. Yet, I can't think of a single concerted example of such dedication amidst the past few years of budget battles, contract negotiations, and work-to-rule actions.

And the result? A mere six percent proficiency gain. It's as if the education establishment knew that the requirements would never hold. ...

When the tests actually count again, the state will have been guided for two years by a union-friendly governor and his hand-picked education bureaucracy. More importantly, educators have now tested the resolve of the state to allow real consequences for systematic failure, and the state proved there to be none. Gist blinked, and at this time, reforms appear to have lost political teeth, rather than gaining them.

February 22, 2011

Froma Harrop Says Don't Believe that Spending More on Social Security Than it Takes In Drives Up Deficits. And Then it Gets Worse.

Carroll Andrew Morse

Undeterred by fiscal or economic realities, Projo op-ed columnist Froma Harrop continues to argue that there is an actual "trust fund" backing the Social Security system. Here is the analogy made in her Sunday column, where she criticizes Ohio Congressman Rob Portman for expressing concern that Social Security now pays out more money than it takes in...

Portman’s assertions are like parents saying that when they tap their college savings account to pay tuition that they couldn’t afford with that year’s earnings, they are spending money they don’t have.
What this rationale fails to acknowledge is that, in the case of social security, long before it comes time to pay out the benefits that the program was created to pay, the trust fund has already been spent and therefore cannot be spent again.

The reality is painfully obvious if you walk the college-fund analogy all the way through. Begin with a set of parents who decide that 15% of every paycheck should be dedicated to the college fund -- but who don't act that way. As each paycheck arrives, the parents spend everything that comes in on non-college related expenses while placing an IOU in a secure location to remind themselves to pay back the 15%. Maybe the immediate spending is necessary, maybe the spending is frivolous, it doesn't matter from a fiscal perspective. The point is that the money is spent.

Now, years after the parents began writing themselves IOUs, the time comes to start making payments to a college. The parents look over the history of their pay stubs and their IOUs and say "the records in the trust fund say we have 15% of our lifetime income to spend on college". But can they hand the box of IOUs they wrote to themselves to a college bursar? No, they have to go get real money from someplace to pay back the IOUs they wrote themselves. And if they hadn't written themselves the IOUs, or created their mythical "trust fund", there would be no difference. IOUs written to yourself don't mean anything, whether you are an individual or a government or anything in between.

When the government has to go to get money to pay benefits that it has not saved real assets for, there are only a few choices; they have to raise taxes, cut programs, or borrow the money. The exact same actions would have to be taken in the absence of the "trust fund" accounting gimmick.

Harrop goes on to punctuate her flawed description of social security with a whole new level of fiscal insanity, arguing that Rep. Portman's making accurate statements about the nature of the mythical "trust fund" equates to a desire to "stiff" (Harrop's term) the taxpayers. Apparently, in the worldview of Froma Harrop, politicians who inform the public how the finances of Social Security actually work should be looked at with suspicion, while politicians who promise benefits without concern about whether the government has the resources to pay them are the ones to be trusted.

If nothing else, understanding this thought-process does provide some insight into the Projo editorial board's decision to support a candidate like David Cicilline for Congress, despite the fact that during his tenure of Mayor of Providence, he was famously untroubled by such concerns as government spending more than it was taking in, or whether government accounts actually contained the money that they were supposed to. If Sunday's column is any guide, these were amongst his positive quantities in the eyes of some! (Of course, the real lesson to take from all of this, as always, is that progressives and public finance don't mix).

Finally, the analogy between a college fund and social security raises an ethical question: Is it honest for parents who are not saving real money into a college fund, to tell their children that they are, while the real plan to pay for college depends on getting money from some source in the future? I wonder, is there a specific name for this kind of scheme?

Expanding the Sales Tax: Possibilities

Marc Comtois

Neil Downing reports that Governor Chafee's proposed new 1% tax on various items would violate a multi-state agreement and could result in the loss of $1.8 million in revenue. However, since the new tax would generate $89 million (or $121 million, depends on who you ask), it's no surprise that the Governor is still going full speed ahead with the idea. Right now, according to this Taxadmin.org (PDF), Illinois is the only state with such a sales tax structure (Illinois has a sales tax of 6.25% and taxes food, prescription and non-prescription drugs at 1%).

Listening to WHJJ's Helen Glover this morning, I heard her speculate that perhaps this would open the door for the "flatten and expand" idea as a compromise (ie; drop the sales tax to 5% and apply it to everything). So, is Rhode Island going to follow the "Illinois model" (which Governor Chafee's plan seems most like)? Or will we end up with the flatten and expand approach> What do other states do ?

Well, we know there's no chance that Rhode Island will join the 5 States (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon) that have NO state sales tax. Right now Rhode Island is one of ten states and Washington, D.C. that have a sales tax that excludes food and both prescription and non-prescription drugs. Setting the amount of the rate aside, this is actually a positive.

Sales Tax
Minnesota 6.875
New Jersey 7
New York4
Rhode Island7
Wash. D.C.6

*No state income tax

It's worth noting that, even though Rhode Island is currently amongst a "good" group, its higher rate as compared to the rates of all other states is what gives RI such bad publicity when it comes to snapshot analysis that doesn't focus on exemptions, just the overall "big" number.

To continue, several states don't tax food but tax non-prescription drugs at the regular sales tax rate:

Sales tax
New Mexico5
North Dakota5
South Carolina6

*Tax can be adjusted annually depending on various budgetary calculations.
**No state income tax

The following states tax non-prescription drugs at the regular rate and tax food, though at a different rate:

Sales taxFood tax
West Va.63

*local taxes on food
~includes statewide 1% local tax
**No state income tax

Finally, the following states tax everything (except prescription drugs) at the same rate. These might be the models for a potential flatten and expand by Rhode Island:

Sales Tax
*~South Dakota4

*State has rebates or tax credits to compensate poor households.
~No state income tax

As was noted, Illinois is the only state that taxes prescription drugs at 1% along with food and non-prescription drugs. This is the model that Governor Chafee's proposal most seems to mimic. However, my guess is that the states in the last table offer a model that would be very attractive to many in the General Assembly and to the various advocates who walk the halls.

Free Care and Process

Justin Katz

Although his bill has entered the limbo of "held for further study," state Representative Brian Newberry (R, North Smithfield) deserves recognition for submitting it. An article about the bill's hearing raises two points that merit comment:

The committee ultimately held the bill for further study, a move that Committee Chairman Helio Melo said will allow members to do their homework and hear testimony on similar bills before making a decision.

That sounds reasonable enough, but one has to wonder: Shouldn't committee members, in general, do their homework before the public hearing? Presumably interested stakeholders and informed members of the public will appear before committees for hearings; how are legislators going to ask them intelligent, productive questions if they do not address their ignorance beforehand? And, more to the specific point, what homework could there possibly remain to be done on such a simple — and long-mentioned — change of policy?

The second point addresses the other side:

The other speaker, Deloris Issler, representing the Cranston Tea Party, said her local group opposes the bill, not because a 20-percent co-share "would be bad, but it stops way short of what it needs to do" at a time when many small-business owners can't afford health insurance, yet are expected to subsidize plans for part-time lawmakers.

"We would call on all of you to end the benefits," she said.

I've said it before: Representatives and Senators put in a fair bit of time, over the course of the year, much of it at inconvenient hours, and it's reasonable to compensate them. My fellow Tea Party types rightly make much of the fact that, for example, the unions were able to rally during the workday in Wisconsin, while the taxpayer groups had to wait until the weekend because they had to work. The same applies to government office.

If we rely purely on civic responsibility to draw citizens to public office, we'll wind up with leaders who have some method of profiting from their offices in some indirect way. That tends to be an insidious species of corruption.

Domesticity Will Always Look Domestic

Justin Katz

An interesting article in Sunday's Providence Journal paints delays in marriage and increases in cohabitation among young adults in an almost Rockwellian light:

For starters, young adults today aren't just delaying marriage, but other milestones as well, Settersten says. Many of us are leaving our childhood bedrooms later, taking time to see the world, pursue advanced degrees and foster early careers before thinking about marriage or kids. ...

It's also not uncommon for unmarried couples to purchase homes together.

Falling real estate prices, the first-time homebuyer tax credit and a cramped apartment prompted Jessica Willis, 27, and Joshua Hatch, 32, to buy a fixer-upper in Tiverton last April.

The couple, who have been in a relationship for three-and-a-half years, say they plan to get married at some point, but feel no rush.

I've no doubt that Willis, Hatch, and the other examples cited in the article, are responsible adults with a real commitment to each other, but the article thereby glosses over one glaring fact: it describes the lifestyles of responsible, relatively secure adults. As I've argued many times in the context of the same-sex marriage debate, the institution functions by building cultural expectations for people in certain living situations.

The responsible people label their relationships as marriage so that society has a model toward which it can nudge those who require one. Adults having sex, having children, buying homes, and so on should do so on a foundation of long commitment, and that commitment is known as marriage.

The fact that those who are truly committed and responsible will eventually get marriage doesn't answer the problem of example, because it merely strengthens the principle of "when we're ready," which the less committed and responsible will never be. It also pushes back the milestone at which marriage is considered a necessity.

This point arose back in the early-to-mid '00s, mainly when commentator Stanley Kurtz studied family trends in Scandinavia. Some of the relevant articles are no longer online, but here's a post that I entered into the debate. What was clear, for that region, was that couples were beginning to have their first children out of wedlock and that instances of the same behavior among couples with more children was increasing, with most rapid increase among single-parent households.

Sure, it makes for an interesting lifestyle piece to examine the decisions of individual people, but it misses the broader trend. Moreover, while it would be obnoxious to attack those people for decisions that they make given their own perspectives and circumstances, we also should not brush the trends that they represent aside.

February 21, 2011

General Assembly Mostly Has Open Meetings....Except for the Really Important Ones

Marc Comtois

Yay, according to Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, the Generally Assembly abided by the open meetings law--which they don't think applies to them--abut 90% of the time. Political cover: check. Of course, as the ProJo reports and RI Common Cause's John Marion emphasizes, that's like saying you spent more days in first place even if you ended up losing the division and not making the playoffs.

[T]he report follows a formula established over a decade ago that weighs violations equally, no matter when during the legislative session they occur....Common Cause believes that it is time to create an additional measure, and include it in the report, that takes into account when the violations occur. The bulk of the important votes in committee and on the floor occur in the final days of the session and the public expects the same level of openness on the part of their elected leaders in June as they do in January.

Where's the Socialism?

Justin Katz

It always seems a bit silly, to me, to fight over words. Use of the word "socialism," for example, tends to be descriptive among conservatives. That is, we use it because we're trying to describe a system or institution that we're addressing, not because it polls badly and we want to throw tar on an otherwise unobjectionable thing. The reaction from the left, though, is often to insist that the term does not wholly apply, rather than to take up the real topic — which is that the aspects that the thing shares with an abstract whole socialism are objectionable in their own rights.

Kevin Williamson takes up that thread:

A more complete definition of socialism incorporates two criteria: The first is that socialism entails the public provision of non-public goods. The second is the use of central planning to implement that policy.

What is a public good? Economists distinguish between public and non-public goods on two grounds, features known as rivalry and excludability. Public goods, under the economic definition, are goods which are non-rivalrous in their consumption and non-excludable in their distribution. A couple of examples will make these distinctions clear. A rivalrous good is one for which my consumption of one unit of the good leaves one unit less for your consumption. A mango is rivalrous in consumption: Every mango I eat is a mango you cannot eat. But some goods are non-rivalrous: a highway, for instance. If I drive down a mile of highway, that does not leave one less mile for you to drive down.

Of course, with the disputes in which socialism arises, the boundaries of the economic term expands, such that some disputants behave as if all goods are ultimately public, and individual consumption is a presumption to be regulated by the state, which Williamson brings up subsequently:

The modern experience suggests that the economist Ludwig von Mises was only partly correct when he wrote, "The socialistic State owns all material factors of production and thus directs it." That was true for the authoritarian, single-party powers of his day. In our own time, the converse is a more accurate description of the real economic arrangement: Under socialism, the state directs the material factors of production as if it owned them. The state does not have to actually own factories, mines, or data centers if it has the power to dictate, in minute detail, how business is conducted within them. Regulation acts as a proxy for direct state ownership of the means of production.

The key example — not only in structure, but in evidence of socialism's inevitable failure — is public education as currently constituted, which despite the popularity of arguments about "socialism" is not often enough raised.

In E.P., New "Bosses" Start Cuttin'

Marc Comtois

East Providence, you were warned. Kinda. Faced with a $6.1 million school budget deficit, the new, labor-supported East Providence school committee took action by axing School Department Chief Operating Officer Lonnie Barham and his $109,000 salary. So, they're down to $6 million! According to the new School Committee Chair Charles Tsonos:

We have more school administrators than the City of Cranston and yet we have half the students...Our point is that we need to do everything we can to watch our costs and still provide the best education possible and allocate our resources to the classroom.
But they can't just focusing on cutting the administrative costs, which comprise 2% of the $75 million school budget (according to former SC Chair Anthony Carcieri). So, at some point, other personnel are going to have to take a hit. On another front, despite the aforementioned warnings by former EP Mayor Joseph Larisa, current Superintendant Mario Cirillo has gotten the (dreaded?) "vote of confidence."

Getting to Graduation

Justin Katz

In addition to everything else on the educational plate, Rhode Island needs to increase its graduation rate, even as it requires a diploma actually to mean something:

Statewide, 76 percent of the Class of 2010 graduated within four years, up a percentage point from the previous year.

More than 2,900 of their classmates didn't receive a diploma last year, although a small number of these students stayed for a fifth year in hopes of graduating.

If these fifth-year students graduate in June, they will be counted in the state's five-year graduation rate next year.

The 2010 five-year graduation rate, which uses a formula to include both the Class of 2010 and students from the Class of 2009 who needed an extra year to graduate, was 79 percent.

The article notes some helpful activities at Davies Career and Technical High School in Lincoln, but it comes back to the same ol' problem:

The program added 90-minutes to the school day and cost about $90,000 extra for teaching and transportation. But, the director said, the investment paid off.

Everything costs extra money, and it's money that administrators and school committees have already spent on lucrative contract deals. Rhode Island has to change its paradigm to an assertion that school employees are paid to accomplish an objective, and they'd better do so within the resources already allocated.

February 20, 2011

Whitehouse & Reed High Speeding Higher Taxes to Rhode Island: Florida Doesn't Want the Long Term Bills But We'll Take 'Em!

Monique Chartier

From the AP via Turn to Ten.

Rhode Island's U.S. senators are asking that part of the $2.5 billion in funding for Florida's high-speed rail projects be redirected to their state after Florida's governor turned down the money earlier this week.

See, there was a reason Florida turned down that money, a reason that the AP, interestingly, left out of their article.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott canceled plans for a high-speed train line between Orlando and Tampa promoted by President Barack Obama, saying Wednesday it would cost the state too much even with $2.4 billion in federal help.

Cost overruns could put Florida on the hook for another $3 billion and once completed, there's a good chance ridership won't pay for the operating cost, meaning the state would have to pump more money into the line each year, Scott said.

Now, Rhode Island's shortfall would probably not reach $3 billion because a Rhode Island rail project would be smaller. But do we have even one dollar in the state budget to spare? It's hard also not to reflect on the point made by a commenter in the Turn to Ten link:

High speed rail through a state which takes 30 minutes to drive through is even more worthless than would it from Tampa to Orlando.

Pork is bad enough. Pork that turns into an unfunded mandate (i.e., higher taxes) down the road is not just bad, it's shortsighted and very misguided. Presumably, the good senators are hoping that, when the bill comes due down the road, voters will have forgotten who was in the picture tendering the oversized, federal check - the check that contained in the fine print a recurring ... "present" for Rhode Island taxpayers.

Wisconsin Doctors' Notes; Wisconsin Protests: It's for the Chi-hhhilll-dren

Monique Chartier

The protests at Wisconsin's capitol have been carried out for the children. Truly! Just ask the Reverend Jackson and the protesters.

Speaking to a near-capacity crowd from the second level of the Capitol rotunda, the civil rights activist [Jesse Jackson] led protesters in chants of "Save the teachers. Save the children." Protesters swayed as Jackson led them in a rendition of the song, "We Shall Overcome."

Isn't it beautiful?! All of this agitation has nothing to do with the preservation of advantageous compensation terms or the bargaining structure that ensures its perpetuation. It's all about "saving the children".

Oh, and you know about those "sick" teachers who bunked work to attend the protests, forcing the cancellation of classes at several Wisconsin schools? They don't need to worry about the repercussions of an unjustified absence from work because

doctors from various hospitals set up a station near the Capitol to provide notes covering public employees' absences from work.

The bill would strip public unions of most of their collective bargaining rights.

For most of the past week, thousands of union members and their supporters have protested Walker's measure at the Capitol. Some have called in sick so they could demonstrate here.

On Saturday, family physician Lou Sanner, 59, of Madison, said he had given out hundreds of notes. Many of the people he spoke with seemed to be suffering from stress, he said.

The issuance of bogus sick notes to excuse the classroom absences of hundreds of unprofessionals resulting in the hampering of the education of thousands of students: prima facie, it's for the children! Right, doctor?

Video Addendum - Snap diagnosis of Walker Pneumonia

Columbia University Students Boo Wounded Iraq Veteran

Marc Comtois

It was just so convenient, wasn't it? Remember how we were told that ROTC didn't belong on college campuses--those havens of "free speech" and "tolerance"--because the military policy "don't ask, don't tell" was anathema to the aforementioned lofty tenets? Well, at Columbia University, they're showing what a convenient load of crap that all was. (h/t Glenn Reynolds)

Columbia University students heckled a war hero during a town-hall meeting on whether ROTC should be allowed back on campus.

"Racist!" some students yelled at Anthony Maschek, a Columbia freshman and former Army staff sergeant awarded the Purple Heart after being shot 11 times in a firefight in northern Iraq in February 2008. Others hissed and booed the veteran.

Maschek, 28, had bravely stepped up to the mike Tuesday at the meeting to issue an impassioned challenge to fellow students on their perceptions of the military.

"It doesn't matter how you feel about the war. It doesn't matter how you feel about fighting," said Maschek. "There are bad men out there plotting to kill you."

Several students laughed and jeered the Idaho native, a 10th Mountain Division infantryman who spent two years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington recovering from grievous wounds.

Yup, there's that tolerance.
More than half of the students who spoke at the meeting -- the second of three hearings on the subject -- expressed opposition to ROTC's return. Many of the 200 students in the audience held anti-military placards with slogans such as, "1 in 3 female soldiers experiences sexual assault in the military."

In 2005, when the university last voted to reject ROTC's return, it cited the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

That policy was overturned in December, but resistance remains.

"Transpeople are part of the Columbia community," said senior Sean Udell at the meeting, referring to the military's current ban on transgender soldiers.

That's called "moving the goalposts", which I'm surprised they know about at Columbia, the perennial Ivy League Football bottom feeder. Glenn Reynolds warns that the sanctimonious brats better be careful, though:
[I]n these days of constrained budgets and an angry, aware electorate, heavily subsidized sectors like higher education — and Columbia, despite its private nature, is itself heavily dependent on government subsidies — should think twice about appearing anti-American. It’s not the 1960s anymore.
Far from it--though I know we've still got a few "dreamers" around here.

Latest Developments in Wisconsin: Early Reports of Unquantified Concessions; Pre-Mature Floor Votes

Monique Chartier

It is now being reported that, in exchange for leaving inviolate collective bargaining rights, Wisconsin's public labor unions are purportedly ready to discuss monetary concessions. Some newspapers have reported this development as full capituation by the unions on all matters of monetary compensation in the bill. (Let's keep in mind that this would still place their compensation above that experienced by the private sector). That these newspapers may have been overly optimistic, however, becomes clear upon an examination of the actual words uttered.

The Milwakee Journal Sentinel, for example, reports that

[state Senator Jon] Erpenbach said the offer was "a legitimate and serious offer on the table from local, state and school public employees that balances Gov. Walker's budget."

Not, "the unions have agreed to Governor Walkers term's if he will abandon his proposed changes to collective bargaining". No, the union has made an offer that balances the governor's budget. Okay. On what basis does it balance the budget? How much of the offer involves the union's compensation and how much pertains to budget cuts unrelated to the union's contract?

And this, from the Wisconsin State Journal.

Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, and Marty Beil, executive director of AFSCME Council 24, said in a conference call with reporters that workers will do their fair share to narrow Wisconsin's budget gap.

Again, not agreeing to Gov Walker's terms; agreeing to take on their "fair share" of the budget gap. What does their vision of "fair share" look like?

Whatever the monetary concession involved, by the way, Governor Walker has declined to omit the language from his bill which would partially restore management rights. Or, to phrase it in public union-speak, the governor refuses to back away from his wholesale attack on collective bargaining and on unions and workers around the world.

An editorial in yesterday's Milkawkee Journal Sentinel correctly draws our attention back to the parties responsible for Wisconsin's budget mess - its prior elected officials.

Walker's predecessors are the real problem here. At least Walker is being honest about the gravity of the problem. Gov. Scott McCallum collateralized a humongous settlement with tobacco companies to plug a big budget hole. Gov. Jim Doyle raided the state transportation fund and the Wisconsin Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund (which now, under court order, must be repaid). These one-time gimmicks allowed them to ignore the real problem and claim political success. All the while, the cost of Wisconsin's current services exceeded the revenue that was coming in.

I would only add, don't leave out prior Assemblies, who possessed the ultimate power to nix all of these bad budgets and, instead, chose to codify them.

Meanwhile, in the current Assembly, the government geek part of me was fascinated, not to say considerably amused, by an attempt of the House to bring Gov Walker's bill (yes, that bill; the subject of all of this uproar) up for a vote.

In the Wisconsin Assembly on Friday, Republican leaders had called lawmakers to the floor at 5 p.m. to take up Walker's bill to fix a budget shortfall by cutting public worker benefits and bargaining rights. But they began business just before that hour, when Democrats were not yet on the floor.

Democrats charged into the chamber and shouted to stop the action as Republican staff urged their leaders to "keep going, keep going." Republicans took the voice vote, putting the bill in a stage that prevented it from being amended in that house. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, a Democrat, called the move an "illegal vote" and demanded that Republicans rescind it.

"Unbelievable!" Barca screamed. "Unprecedented! Un-American! Not in keeping with the values of the state! You should be ashamed of yourselves."

Minutes later, Republicans agreed to effectively cancel the vote by allowing the bill to return to a stage in which Democrats can offer amendments.

Fabulous! The drama resumes Tuesday when the Assembly reconvenes, presumably once again sans AWOL dem senators.

Rhode Island NECAP Trends

Marc Comtois

Previously, I focused on tracking the NECAP results of one cohort of kids as the moved through the Warwick School system (to 11th grade). What I found was that reading and writing continued to improve, while math went in the opposite direction. I took this--cautiously--as good news as does Julia Steiny, with the usual caveats:

C’mon, it’s a big deal that Rhode Island’s high-schoolers pulled ahead of our two sister states in the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP). In reading, R.I. juniors kicked butt, scoring 76 percent proficient, besting Vermont’s 72 and New Hampshire’s 74 percent. In writing, our teens were 51 percent proficient, edging out Vermont’s 50 and New Hampshire’s 45....please, I know tests are not the be-all, end-all. But doing well is promising. I think of watching test scores as comparable to watching one’s weight. The number says nothing about the quality of life, talent, or character, but it’s a major indicator of overall health.

So for example, the last reports by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that all three of the NECAP states’ fourth and eighth graders made significant progress. Only one other state and Washington, D.C., also did so. So working toward success on the NECAPs helps kids learn and perform no matter what the test. That’s huge.

Steiny also mentioned the charts that show cohort trends for all Rhode Island students that the ProJo printed in concert with Jennifer Jordan's February 10 story on the NECAP results. These charts weren't in the online edition--at least not that I could find--but (again, as Steiny points out) they are available at the RI Dept of Ed. website in it's Fall 2010 NECAP Report (PDF). It's worth taking a look at them given my belief that there is just as much--if not more--value in tracking cohorts as there is in comparing them year-to-year.



There were no writing results because it's a newer test, but comparing the previous data from Warwick to statewide cohort tracking reveals (unsurprisingly) the same sort of trend. Basically, each cohort is improving in Reading from year-to-year and getting worse in math (remember--this is according to the NECAP test standards for each grade level). It also looks like the test scores for each grade--as one cohort replaces another at a particular grade level--have continually improved. Though it does look like Math scores seem to have plateaued, particularly at the younger levels. This comparison could be more indicative of pedagogy and show that schools may need to freshen up their approach to math so they can get over the hump.

Deepwater Wind: That Whirring Sound is Dollars Flying out of Our Wallets

Monique Chartier

Kudos to WPRI's Tim White and Ted Nesi for obtaining and releasing (against the will of National Grid) the cost to Rhode Island state and local government of the artificially jacked electric rates necessitated by the first phase (the experimental stage) of the Deepwater wind farm.

Keep in mind that this is the ADDITIONAL cost ONLY for state and local governments. It does NOT include the increases that will show up in the bills of individual rate payers - hundreds of thousands of residential households - or businesses. The latter will certainly not - this is laughably unlikely so why even bring it up? - simply pass that increase on to their customers, will they ...?

Deepwater Wind's initial project will raise state and local governments' electric bills by a combined $1.5 million in its first year, according to documents reviewed by the Target 12 Investigators.

Municipal electric bills will increase by a total of $1 million while state government's bill will rise by $476,630, according to an estimate commissioned by National Grid from Energy Security Analysis Inc. The cost would rise by 3.5 percent every year for the next two decades.

February 19, 2011

More a Never-Ending Winter than Groundhog Day

Justin Katz

For the most part, I agree with Ed Achorn's sentiment about Rhode Island:

It's not too late. Rhode Island can defuse the pension time bomb, perhaps the way businesses have had to, even though few workers were happy about it — by moving public employees into 401(k)-style plans. The state can move toward competitive taxes and regulations that would give businesses a good reason to start up and stay here. Leaders can show the courage to stand up to special interests on behalf of better schools, instead of handing over to them the keys to public education.

We can do these things, but the politicians must first hear that voters actually care.

Until that happens, it seems, it will be Groundhog Day every day in Rhode Island.

The reference, of course, is to the Bill Murray movie in which he's a TV weatherman trapped in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on the aforementioned holiday... over and over with no change except in his own actions. The typical summary of the plot contains some variation of the idea that Murray's character must "get it right," but that's a bit ambiguous. I've preferred to see it as a requirement that he become the type of person whom his love interest in the film could love.

Be shades of interpretation as they may, I'm not so sure it's the apropos analogy for Rhode Island's circumstances. After all, Murray's character didn't know what he had to do to escape his purgatory; there was no remedy toward which he could work, so it was merely a matter of occupying himself each day until he happened to gravitate toward a less selfish preoccupation, as it were.

The more appropriate reference would be, I'd say, to the Narnia of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where it was always winter, but never Christmas. In that case, the unhappy state of the land was imposed by the White Witch, and it could only be remedied by breaking her power. Granted, within the world of the book, such a thing was only possible with the assistance of the messianic lion, Aslan. In the real-life circumstance of Rhode Island, what's needed is broad attention interested residents and a revivication of civic action.

Rahe: "How to think about the Tea Party"

Marc Comtois

Historian Paul Rahe offers his perspective on the Tea Party. An extended excerpt:

Over almost a century, under the influence of the Progressives and their heirs—the proponents of the New Deal, the Great Society, and Barack Obama’s New Foundation we have experienced a gradual consolidation of power in the federal government. Legislative responsibilities have been transferred to administrative agencies lodged within the executive—such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and the vast array of bodies established under the recent health-care reform—and these have been delegated in an ever increasing number of spheres the authority to issue rules and regulations that have the force of law.

In the process, the state and local governments have become dependent on federal largesse, which always comes with strings attached in the form of funded or unfunded “mandates” designed to make these governments fall in line with federal policy. Civic agency, rooted as it normally is in locality, has withered as the localities have lost their leverage. The civic associations so admired by Alexis de Tocqueville have for the most part become lobbying operations with offices in Washington focused on influencing federal policy, and many of them have also become recipients of government grants and reliable instruments for the implementation of federal policy.

The Tea Party movement is, however, testimony to the fact that all is not lost. When confronted in a brazen fashion with the tyrannical impulse underpinning the administrative state, ordinary Americans from all walks of life are still capable of fighting back. It is easy enough to mock. Like all spontaneous popular movements, the Tea Party has attracted its fair share of cranks: it would have been a miracle if it had not attracted those who are obsessed with the question of Barack Obama’s birth certificate or the heavy-handed and ineffective procedures adopted by the Transportation Security Agency.


But it should be reassuring rather than frightening to the American elite that at the dawn of the third millennium, Americans know to become nervous and watchful when a presidential candidate who has presented himself to the public as a moderate devotee of bipartisanship intent on eliminating waste in federal programs suddenly endorses “spreading the wealth around” and on the eve of his election speaks of “fundamentally transforming America.” It should be of comfort to them that a small-business owner in Nebraska believes he has reason to express public qualms when a prospective White House chief of staff, in the midst of an economic downturn, announces that the new administration is not about to “let a serious crisis go to waste” and that it intends to exploit that crisis as “an opportunity to do things you couldn’t do before.” And it should be a source of pride to elites that the philosophical superstructure of the United States demonstrated extraordinary durability when a significant number of their fellow citizens refused to sit silent after an administration implied the inadequacy of the founding by promoting itself as the New Foundation, and after the head of government specifically questioned the special place of the United States in the world by denying “American exceptionalism.”

Most important, it should be humbling to those elites that ordinary American citizens choose spontaneously to enter the political arena in droves, concert opposition, speak up in a forthright manner, and oust a host of entrenched office holders when they learn that a system of punitive taxation is in the offing, when they are repeatedly told what they know to be false—that, under the new health-care system that the administration is intent on establishing, benefits will be extended and costs reduced and no one will lose the coverage he already has—and when they discover that Medicare is to be gutted, that medical care is to be rationed, and that citizens who have no desire to purchase health insurance are going to be forced to do so.

Fund: Why Wisconsin?

Marc Comtois

John Fund explains why Wisconsin is such a big deal to liberal/Democrat/unionists. First, though, he summarizes what got their panties in a bunch:

Mr. Walker's proposals are hardly revolutionary. Facing a $137 million budget deficit, he has decided to try to avoid laying off 5,500 state workers by proposing that they contribute 5.8% of their income towards their pensions and 12.6% towards health insurance. That's roughly the national average for public pension payments, and it is less than half the national average of what government workers contribute to health care. Mr. Walker also wants to limit the power of public-employee unions to negotiate contracts and work rules—something that 24 states already limit or ban.

The governor's move is in reaction to a 2009 law implemented by the then-Democratic legislature that expanded public unions' collective-bargaining rights and lifted existing limits on teacher raises....The labor laws that Wisconsin unions are so bitterly defending were popular during an era of industrialization and centralization. But the labor organizations they protect have become much less popular, as the declining membership of many private-sector unions attests. Moreover, it's become abundantly clear that too many government workers enjoy wages, benefits and pensions that are out of line with the rest of the economy.

The symbolism and history of Wisconsin as being in the vanguard of Progressivism is playing a key role:
The Badger State became the first to pass a worker-compensation program in 1911, as well as the first to create unemployment compensation in 1932. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—the chief national union representing non-federal public employees—was founded in Madison in 1936. And in 1959, Wisconsin became the first state to grant public employees collective-bargaining rights, which influenced President John F. Kennedy's decision to grant federal employees the right to join unions three years later.
Further, Governor Walker's reforms will undercut some of the, um, "advantages" union organizers have enjoyed:
Walker would require that public-employee unions be recertified annually by a majority vote of all their members, not merely by a majority of those that choose to cast ballots. In addition, he would end the government's practice of automatically deducting union dues from employee paychecks. For Wisconsin teachers, union dues total between $700 and $1,000 a year.

"Ending dues deductions breaks the political cycle in which government collects dues, gives them to the unions, who then use the dues to back their favorite candidates and also lobby for bigger government and more pay and benefits," [Labor historian Fred] Siegel told me. After New York City's Transport Workers Union lost the right to automatic dues collection in 2007 following an illegal strike, its income fell by more than 35% as many members stopped ponying up. New York City ended the dues collection ban after 18 months.

Myron Lieberman, a former Minnesota public school teacher who became a contract negotiator for the American Federation of Teachers, says that since the 1960s collective bargaining has so "greatly increased the political influence of unions" that they block the sorts of necessary change that other elements of society have had to accept.

Walker hopes to change that.

When the Numbers No Longer Add Up

Justin Katz

The timing of Wisconsin's contribution to the era of global protest coincides profoundly with a new report on pensions from the Rhode Island Senate:

The new report also factors in the cost of other post-employment benefits, which cities and towns, as well as the state, have only recently begun to show on their accounting statements. With those costs added to the pension costs, whether state-managed or locally managed, the annual payments needed to keep pace with current and future retirement benefits begins to eat up a significant portion of some local tax levies.

What sorts of numbers are we talking about?

While the unfunded liability for locally managed pension plans totals about $2 billion, the unfunded liability for other post-employment benefits totals another $2.4 billion, according to the report. This does not include the millions of dollars in retirement obligations that cities and towns share with the state for teacher pensions.

From the sampling of numbers reported in the Providence Journal, there appears to be significant variation from municipality to municipality, but the average city or town would have to devote about one-quarter of its annual budget to support employees who are no longer working. Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Johnston would need 59%, 57%, and 47%, respectively. And, again, that's excluding payments that the state subsidizes.

Keep in mind, too, that government continues to operate and to grow. This is an after-the-fact payment to those who've already retired.

The Wrong Starting Point for Economic Development

Justin Katz

The advice is wise, I'd say, for states to focus on economic development activities that benefit a broad range of businesses, rather than one or two big catches, but the experts in the field begin from the wrong perspective:

Creating sustainable new jobs is complicated, and states will need help from the federal government, says Robert D. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Washington, D.C., who in 1996 was the first head of what was then the Rhode Island Economic Policy Council.

"First, the idea that states can fight and win the competitiveness battle on their own is simply wrong," Atkinson says. "Unless Washington gets in the game, it will be very hard for states to grow their economies."

Indeed, the economy is so complicated that it is folly to place its operation in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. The more responsibility and risk can be distributed to individuals whose livelihoods depend on their being able to work and expand, the better.

The false starting point is the notion that government operatives "create sustainable new jobs" at all. At best, they help or hinder private citizens in their efforts, and by meddling they are more likely to hinder them. The article centers around a solar panel plant that recently left Massachusetts for China, thus illustrating the point: extra incentives and breaks offered to Evergreen Solar had to be forcefully withdrawn from the economy, somewhere, and now, in effect, they're going to China. Moreover, the hip ambiance that's been painted on green technology surely jaded Massachusetts officials' judgment, with the end result that opportunities, considered as broadly as possible, were constrained.

In other words, the policies that drained money and effort for the benefit of a company playing in an industry that every state and nation is eying as the wave of the future should have been refocused to lighten the burdens of taxes, regulations, and mandates.

The closing moral of the linked article is that public negotiators should "write a good clawback," so that they can force companies to repay taxpayer contributions, should they depart, but that misses the larger lesson — namely, that policymakers should stop pretending to be economic masterminds.

February 18, 2011

NECAP: Following a Cohort

Marc Comtois

Most of the analysis of NECAP scores seems to focus on the year to year improvement of results at a given grade level. For instance, we'll read something like "the percentage of students at School X who are proficient and above in Math is 55% this year, which is 5 points higher than last year." Well, that's comparing two different groups of kids. What if we look at the same cohort through the years, instead?

For the first time, this last round of NECAP scores allows us to look at results for one particular cohort--the 11th graders--from the time they were first tested in 6th grade (in the Fall of 2005) until this past fall. Obviously, you can't control for the changing makeup of the cohort as kids come and go, but these changes get smoothed out over time (with the possible exception of the private school flight that occurs between Jr. High and High school).

I took a look at my hometown, Warwick, and came up with the below. I used overall numbers because, while analysis could be broken down by student race, family income, etc., I wanted to focus on the "big picture." Numbers are percent of students proficient and above for the given subject.

First, here are the overall numbers for Warwick as a whole:

Warwick Schools - 2010 Gr.11 Cohort % Proficient & Above

2005 Gr.62006 Gr.72007 Gr.82010 Gr.11
I then broke it down by the three sub-districts (ie; High Schools and their feeder schools). I compiled the raw numbers for the feeder elementary schools (including those closed since 2006).
Aldrich Jr. High/Pilgrim High

2005 Gr.62006 Gr.72007 Gr.82010 Gr.11
Write  30%53%

Gorton Jr. High/Warwick Vets High

2005 Gr.62006 Gr.72007 Gr.82010 Gr.11
Write  33%39%

Winman Jr. High/Toll Gate High

2005 Gr.62006 Gr.72007 Gr.82010 Gr.11
Write  50%68%

Analysis: Writing proficiency certainly increased from 8th grade to 11th. Without exception, reading scores for this cohort were better in 11th grade than they were in 6th, though there were some ups and downs along the way. That's the positive. The negative are the math scores, which consistently trended down. Difficulty of the subject is one reason--math just gets harder as you progress.

Overall, it's a mixed bag. Warwick has a handle on reading and it looks like writing is coming along--more kids are getting better at both as they progress through Warwick schools. But math is a big problem as kids are getting less proficient as the difficulty increases. While that may seem to make intuitive sense, it's not a good result. We need to prepare our kids to compete in the global marketplace against kids who don't have such mathematical shortcomings. I know that Warwick recognizes the problem and is trying to take steps to address it. Only time will tell.

Source: NECAP Reporting

Avedisian's Pension Plan and Continuing Problems

Marc Comtois

I noted that Warwick Mayor Avedisian was offering up a pragmatic, if typical, pension reform plan in that it dealt with reforms for future pensions. Avedisian took to the pages of the Providence Journal to explain his plan, but, as Ted Nesi notes, Avedisian tries to get away with shoving the past pension problems aside.

In the 1950s, 1960s, and for most of the 1970s, the City of Warwick did not properly fund its pension plans and make the necessary annual contributions needed to keep them solvent. Some years the city would make proper contributions and in others there would be no contribution beyond the actual benefits paid out. To be exact, if pension payments totaled $500,000, the city leaders funded that amount to pay pensions....in Warwick, the biggest unresolved issue are the[se] original police and fire pension plans. Today, they are funded at only 27 percent of what is needed. So, while people can suggest that the city has failed to do what is right, they instead should be asking the original creators of the pension systems why there was no leadership when the plans were created. Had even a small amount been contributed annually in those years, the unfunded liability today would be very small.
Not so fast, says Nesi (check out his chart for reference):
The question, then, is what Warwick is going to do about the $200 million gap between its pre-1971 plan’s assets and liabilities. It’s plans like those which the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns’ Dan Beardsley suggested to me the other day could be the source of litigation as cities unable to fund them move to take away benefits promised in the past....I suppose we could call up Raymond Stone or Horace Hobbs to ask why they failed to make pension contributions in the ’50s and ’60s. (Actually, we can’t; Hobbs died in 1999, Stone in 2004.) But that’s not going to yield a solution to Warwick’s $200 million pension gap.

Avedisian and his fellow mayors may have inherited this problem – but it’s still theirs now.

As I previously suggested, I don't expect cities to go to court over this, but maybe I'm wrong. One thing that will help is for the public to support pension reform by showing up to city and town council meetings when those items are on the table.

“As much as we went up, we'll go down”

Marc Comtois

Justin believes that Education Commissioner Gist's decision to delay implementation of tougher graduation requirements until 2014 is the day the reform died. I may not be quite as pessimistic, but I can understand his reasoning. One thing for sure is that, as reported in the Warwick Beacon, Warwick High School principals expect the improvements they saw this year go down next year. Toll Gate High's Principal Stephen Chrabaszcz:

As much as we went up, we'll go down...Please stop thinking that young people don’t know what’s going on....If we have a dramatic fall [in scores] next year I don’t want people to say, ‘What happened?’
Pilgrim High School Principal Dennis Mullen:
Students did take it seriously this year because it was tied to graduation....Scores [of the current sophomore class] could tank.
Gotta have a hammer.

Pension Reform in Johnston

Marc Comtois

Out of necessity (ya think?) they're reforming pensions in Johnston. Stephen Beale reports on why:

One of the biggest problems is with disability pensions. Out of 71 retired firefighters, 34 of them are on a disability pension, earning two thirds of their salary tax free. During the tenure of former Fire Chief Victor Cipriano, 15 firefighters retired—and all 15 went out on disability pensions. Even Cipriano himself went out on a disability pension, earning more in retirement last year than he did while working.

To put the numbers in perspective, just 8 percent of the firefighter pensions in New York City are disabilities. In Johnston, the disability rate is above 40 percent. “Those are unusual numbers,” Rodio said.

Rodio has estimated that 25 firefighter disability pensions are in violation of not one, but two state laws—one that says a retiree cannot earn more than he did while employed by a city or town and another that says those tax-free disability pensions needed to be approved by the state retirement board.

The fix:
A police officer or firefighter who retires on a disability but gets another job will be considered partially disabled and can receive only half of their salary, rather than two thirds.

The ordinance also goes out of its way to define salary as base pay—excluding overtime pay, holiday pay, and other benefits from being used to calculate a disability pension.

In the future, a police officer or firefighter applies for a disability will have their case reviewed by three doctors—two of whom must confirm that the person is actually disabled. Once the disability pension is approved, a retiree has to undergo an annual physical and submit a sworn statement documenting how much they have earned for the year.

The three doctor review panel has been mentioned around here before and basing pension on base salary seems like a common sense thing. As does recalculating disability pension if the pensioner gets another job. However, as usual, this is all "going forward." It's not really clear if existing pensions will be reviewed and modified. Finally, its worth noting that, according to Beale's story, the public came out to lend their support to the proposal while police and fire were silent.

Big Government or Small, the Culture Must Be Healthy

Justin Katz

It's unfortunate that Rich Lowry's article in the January 24 National Review, "What the Whigs Knew," is inaccessible except to subscribers, but two portions are worth typing out:

[Eva] Moskowitz combines a fiery faith in the ability of all children to learn with a traditional — nay, downright retrograde — means of molding them into successful students. The New York Times describes the educational philosophy of her Harlem Success Academy as "a mix of the liberal Bank Street College of Education approach and the traditional Catholic school model.

"Parents must sign the network's 'contract,' a promise to get children to class on time and in blue-and-orange uniform and guarantee homework, and attend all family events," New York magazine explains. Children who defy the school's strict rules must show up for "Saturday Academy" together with their parents. New students get instruction on how to walk appropriately in the school's "zero noise" hallways and how to engage in active listening — "legs crossed, hands folded, eyes tracking the speaker."

Of course, such an approach won't work for all students, and some parents won't care enough about their children to keep the rules, themselves, but there's something intuitive about the approach and something undeniable about the importance of the objectives that Moskowitz's policies seek to achieve, mainly parental involvement and a respect for structure.

The second portion:

America has become a less mobile society because so many people have lost touch with the Whiggish virtues, and even more basic ones. Society's most important cvharacter-forming and -reinforcing institution, marriage, is in retreat among everyone outside college graduates. This retreat is why we have a semi-permanent underclass, and it contributes to the struggles of the working class. The dependence on government of able-bodied adults is almost entirely a cultural phenomenon; the economic stagnation of the working class is partly one.

The Left has no interest in hearing this. It champions what can be thought of as a libertine statism — an expansive government that is neutral or hostile toward traditional values. It offers dependence on the state to those whose disorderly lives run counter to these virtues and makes it difficult to succeed in a capitalist society. It tends to create a society whose dysfunction is a constant call on government.

That pretty well sums up the conservative view of statism: The freedom offered is the freedom to be sufficiently self-destructive to have to rely on the government. Traditional values — that is, Western, particularly American traditional values — served mainly to strengthen the individual and the family. There's very little room for social engineering and bureaucracy in such small, localized groups.

The Day the Reform Ended

Justin Katz

February third might be considered the day education reform ceased in Rhode Island:

Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist wants to push back the deadline for more rigorous high school graduation requirements, and is backing off her proposal that Rhode Island establish a three-tier diploma system.

Gist now says the date on the requirements to get a high school diploma should be pushed back two years, to 2014, to give schools and students more time to prepare. The tougher standards require students to be at least "partially proficient" on state math and English tests or retake the tests and show improvement, among other requirements.

A headline the day after the above suggested continued tough talk, with "Gist says R.I. schools can't postpone improvements," but with the current governor, Board of Regents, and General Assembly, Commissioner Gist is likely to lose teeth, not gain them. The fact is that statewide math scores have only gone up 6% in the past two years, to 28% even "partially proficient," and science scores nudged 3%, to 20%. If improvement continues at that rate, 2014 will still see large numbers of students unable to graduate.

RI Association of School Committees Executive Director Tim Duffy's commentary in the article found at the second link inadvertently illustrates the point:

"We need to put districts on notice that this is the last time the can gets kicked down the road," Duffy said, "because we can't afford to do that to our public school students."

Yeah, right. From participation in local governance and reading of events across the state, I can't say I've observed anything that might be considered a sense of urgency about students "unable to perform simple math problems that most people can figure out in their heads," as the article paraphrases Gist. Why would taking the pressure off them for another two years (with the union's governor in office) change that attitude?

But because so many districts have been lagging in making these changes, it is only fair to give everyone more time to adjust, Duffy said.

Fair to whom? Certainly not to children who are being given diplomas without learning critical material, and certainly not to other students whose diplomas are devalued by broad knowledge that public education in Rhode Island is "lagging."

All that's happened is that complacent administrators, unions, and school committees have bought, with their votes and political contributions, another two years to wait for a miracle change quite apart from anything they're actually doing — much in keeping with the state's budgeting strategy.

February 17, 2011

Making Sure the Minimum Business Tax Change You Want is the One You Get

Carroll Andrew Morse

Legislators and concerned citizens, be aware: taxophilic previous generations of Rhode Island lawmakers have written the minimum tax imposed on businesses into two separate places in the law. State law contains separate provisions for a "franchise tax" and a "minimum corporate income tax" and for many if not most Rhode Island corporations, both sections would need be modified in order for them to see a change in their minimum tax liability.

Section 44-11-2(e) of RI law specifies the minimum corporate income tax...

The tax imposed upon any corporation under this section shall not be less than five hundred dollars ($500).
However, most of section 44-11 does not apply to certain corporations in Rhode Island, as spelled out in section 44-11-2(d)...
A small business corporation having an election in effect under subchapter S, 26 U.S.C. section 1361 et seq., shall not be subject to the Rhode Island income tax on corporations, except that the corporation shall be subject to the provisions of subsection (a), to the extent of the income that is subjected to federal tax under subchapter S.
Which means, I believe, that S-corporations are exempt from corporate income taxes, including the minimum, while C-corporations and limited-liability corporations (LLCs) have to pay them. (At least, that is what state tax-forms seem to indicate, where S-corps are referred to in a different section from the C-corps and the LLCs).

The franchise tax is defined in the next chapter of the law, in section 44-12-1(a), with no blanket exception for S-corps...

Every corporation, joint-stock company, or association incorporated in this state or qualified to do business in this state, whether or not doing business for profit, all referred to in this section under the term "corporation", except those enumerated in section 44-12-11, shall pay an annual franchise tax to the state upon its authorized capital stock of two dollars fifty cents ($2.50) for each ten thousand dollars ($10,000) of such stock or fractional part, or the sum of five hundred dollars ($500), whichever is greater, thereof.
Corporations however are prevented by section 44-12-1(b) from paying a double minimum tax...
In the case of corporations liable to a tax under chapter 11 of this title, only the amount by which the franchise tax exceeds the tax payable under that chapter shall be assessed.
In other words, in cases of C-corps and LLCs that have an income tax liability greater than or equal to their calculated franchise tax liability, their income tax counts as their franchise tax too.

Both sections of corporate tax law must be considered when determining how a proposed change to minimum taxes will impact liabilities, even when a proposed change is only being applied to one tax or the other. And, as currently written, several of the minimum business tax bills that have been introduced to the legislature, if adopted in isolation, appear not to change the tax liabilities of Rhode Island businesses at all.

Representatives Stephen Ucci (D-Johnston/Cranston), Peter Petrarca (D-Johnston/Lincoln/Smithfield), Joy Hearn (D-Barrington/East Providence), Robert Phillips (D-Woonsocket), and Peter Martin (D-Newport) have introduced a bill (H5153) that reduces the minimum corporate income tax specified in 44-11-2(e) to $50. If no other change to the law is made in conjunction with H5153, the tax-liability of corporations covered by the franchise tax (i.e., most RI corporations) will remain unchanged. The franchise tax will still exist, meaning that a corporation would continue to owe the same $500 under the new law that it owed under the old law, now in the form of a $50 corporate minimum income tax, plus the $450 difference between the franchise tax and the income tax. (And an S-Corp that didn't owe the income tax would still owe the $500, all as franchise tax).

Representatives Gregory Schadone (D-North Providence), Jan Malik (D-Warren/Barrington), and Arthur Corvese (D-North Providence) have introduced a bill (H5167) with an identical structure to H5153, differing only in that it changes the minimum income tax to $250. Again, this bill by itself would not reduce the tax-liabilities of corporations that owe the minimum franchise tax.

A bill (H5060) introduced by Representatives Donna Walsh (D-Charlestown/New Shoreham/South Kingstown/Westerly), Patricia Serpa (D-West Warwick/Warwick/Coventry), Frank Ferri (D-Warwick), Larry Valencia (D-Exeter/Charlestown/Richmond), and Deborah Ruggiero (D-Jamestown/Middletown) modifies the minimum corporate income tax by introducing a graduated scale. At the low end, corporations to which it applies (i.e. C-Corps and LLCs) that in a given year record less than $250,000 in gross receipts would have no income tax liability -- but again, if no additional change to the law is made, the amount of taxes owed would not change because the C-corps and the LLCs would still owe the state the difference between $500 franchise tax and the $0 corporate minimum income tax.

Representatives Doreen Costa (R-North Kingstown/Exeter), Larry Ehrhardt (R-North Kingstown), Mike Chippendale (R-Foster/Coventry/Glocester), and Dan Gordon (R-Portsmouth/Tiverton/Little Compton) have been working the problem from the other end, introducing a bill (H5100) that would repeal the franchise tax in its entirety . This is a little better than the previous measures, as the S-Corps exempted from 44-11 would no longer have to pay a minimum tax or a franchise tax. However C-corps and LLCs would still have to pay the $500 minimum income tax specified in 44-11-1 even in the absence of the franchise tax. (Also, there could also be impacts from this law as you move up the scale away from the minimum, depending on whether a particular company currently has a greater liability computed from the franchise tax or the income tax).

Finally, State Senators Nick Kettle (R-Coventry/Foster/Scituate), Christopher Ottiano (R-Bristol/Portsmouth), David Bates (R-Barrington/Bristol), Dawson Hodgson (R-East Greenwich/Warwick/North Kingstown), and Glen Shibley (R-Coventry/Warwick/West Warwick/East Greenwich) have introduced a Senate bill which repeals both the minimum franchise tax and the minimum corporate income tax (S0103). This piece of legislation, where both the franchise tax and the corporate minimum income tax are changed at the same time, is the model that should be used in order to really effect a change in the current system.

WRNI - Raimondo Says Pensions Can be Cut

Marc Comtois

WRNI's Ian Donnis reports:

State Treasurer Gina Raimondo says she doesn’t believe current pension recipients are legally shielded from possible cuts to their pensions. She outlined her view during a taping today of WRNI’s Political Roundtable, which airs tomorrow at 5:40/7:40 am. Scott MacKay asked Raimondo, as a lawyer and financial expert, whether pensioners currently receiving an annual pension of $80,000 or $90,000 have a property right to their pensions. “If push comes to shove, what happens?” MacKay continued. ”Do we go the United Airlines situation, where they take a haircut?” Here’s how Raimondo responded to the question of whether pension recipients have a property right: “I don’t believe so. That hasn’t been established in law, and I don’t believe they do.”

...Raimondo blames a piecemeal approach. “The reason we’re in this mess” she says, “is because every year we chink away at the problem — let’s tweak the COLA a little bit, let’s tweak this, let’s tweak that. We got to do the whole system. This is not about taking benefits away. This is about securing retirement security for everyone . . . . It is a fallacy to think that those benefits will be there if we don’t fix this system. And the system that we have today calls for a billion dollars to come out of the budget in about 10 years to pay these benefits. I cannot look in the eye of a state worker and promise that that will be there.”

This isn't (or shouldn't) be about "hating state workers" or whatever, it's about fiscal reality.

RIDE Infoworks Site Unveiled

Marc Comtois

The Rhode Island Department of Education's new Infoworks site has been unveiled and looks like it may be a valuable tool for wonks everywhere. Yes, there is student achievement data like NECAP and NAEP scores, but also some new info, like AP exam results. For instance, here are the Top 10 High Schools ranked by % of students who scored at College level mastery:

District School Number of Exams Taken # Scored at College-Level Mastery % Scored at College-Level Mastery
South Kingstown South Kingstown High School 83 72 87%
Barrington Barrington High School 422 363 86%
Exeter-West Greenwich Exeter-West Greenwich Regional High School 68 57 84%
Lincoln Lincoln Senior High School 229 179 78%
Cranston Cranston High School West 77 59 77%
Providence Classical High School 315 236 75%
Warwick Toll Gate High School 77 57 74%
Westerly Westerly High School 64 47 73%
Burrillville Burrillville High School 91 66 73%
North Kingstown North Kingstown Senior High School 234 169 72%
Additionally, there is also some basic teacher data that can be culled and studied. For instance, wondering which schools have 10% or more of its teachers considered NOT Highly qualified?
District School This School (2009-10)
Chariho RYSE (Clinical Day and Alternative Learning) 27%
Independent Charter School Democracy Prep Blackstone Valley Academy 25%
North Kingstown Davisville Middle School 23%
North Kingstown North Kingstown Senior High School 20%
Little Compton Wilbur & McMahon Schools 16%
Providence Nathan Bishop Middle School 15%
Central Falls Central Falls High School 15%
Westerly Bradford School 14%
Woonsocket Fifth Avenue School 13%
Independent Charter School Compass Charter School 13%
Cumberland North Cumberland Middle School 13%
Central Falls Veterans Memorial Elementary School 13%
Central Falls Capt. G. Harold Hunt School 13%
Burrillville Steere Farm Elementary School 13%
Cumberland Joseph McCourt Middle School 12%
Barrington Barrington Middle School 12%
Westerly Dunn's Corners School 11%
Independent Charter School Paul Cuffee Charter School 11%
East Providence Emma G. Whiteknact School 11%
Cumberland Garvin Memorial School 11%
Burrillville Burrillville Middle School 11%
Barrington Sowams Elementary School 10%
There is a lot more, like finding out graduation rates or the degree of stability in a school (how many transient students) or school funding information (various property tax comparisons). It looks like a helpful tool.

On Wisconsin

Marc Comtois
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Plunge right through that line!
Run the ball clear down the field,
A touchdown sure this time.
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Fight on for her fame
Fight! Fellows! - fight, fight, fight!
We'll win this game.
I mentioned Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's budget plans that include a reconfiguration of state employee union benefit packages and collective bargaining, in general. Union members aren't happy, with teachers staging sick outs and protests being held. About that. Remember how we were all told that it was a time for reasoned, responsible debate? Apparently that didn't get through to Wisconsin unionists.
Here's a summary of why they are upset:
Pension contributions: Currently, state, school district and municipal employees that are members of the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) generally pay little or nothing toward their pensions. The bill would require that employees of WRS employers, and the City and County of Milwaukee contribute 50 percent of the annual pension payment. The payment amount for WRS employees is estimated to be 5.8 percent of salary in 2011.

Health insurance contributions: Currently, state employees on average pay approximately 6 percent of annual health insurance premiums. This bill will require that state employees pay at least 12.6 percent of the average cost of annual premiums....

Collective bargaining – The bill would make various changes to limit collective bargaining for most public employees to wages. Total wage increases could not exceed a cap based on the consumer price index (CPI) unless approved by referendum. Contracts would be limited to one year and wages would be frozen until the new contract is settled. Collective bargaining units are required to take annual votes to maintain certification as a union. Employers would be prohibited from collecting union dues and members of collective bargaining units would not be required to pay dues. These changes take effect upon the expiration of existing contracts. Local law enforcement and fire employees, and state troopers and inspectors would be exempt from these changes....

Limited term employees (LTE) – The bill would prohibit LTE's from being eligible for health insurance or participation in the Wisconsin Retirement System.

State employee absences and other work actions – If the Governor has declared a state of emergency, the bill authorizes appointing authorities to terminate any employees that are absent for three days without approval of the employer or any employees that participate in an organized action to stop or slow work.

Quality Health Care Authority – The bill repeals the authority of home health care workers under the Medicaid program to collectively bargain.

Child care labor relations – The bill repeals the authority of family child care workers to collectively bargain with the State.

University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics (UWHC) Board and Authority – The bill repeals collective bargaining for UWHC employees. State positions currently employed by the UWHC Board are eliminated and the incumbents are transferred to the UWHC Authority.

University of Wisconsin faculty and academic staff - The bill repeals the authority of UW faculty and academic staff to collectively bargain.

University of Wisconsin law professor Anne Althouse has more pics and vids. This is only the beginning, too, as both Republicans and Democrats--including the Obama Administration--look to re-tool teacher compensation and work rules and implement various reforms.
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Stand up, Badgers, sing!
"Forward" is our driving spirit,
Loyal voices ring.
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Raise her glowing flame
Stand, Fellows, let us now
Salute her name!

Catching Up with Matt Allen

Justin Katz

Last week, on the Matt Allen Show, Monique discussed same-sex marriage and various other topics. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Last night, Marc took his turn, spending much of his time talking about history and social studies education. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

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 on Bob Watson's Triple "G" Non-Gaffe

Monique Chartier


Courtesy Oceanstate Follies.

Ending the Caruolo Act

Justin Katz

This being Rhode Island, one expects it to be a long shot, but it's worth noting that Patricia Morgan (R, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) has filed legislation to repeal the Caruolo Act:

The Caruolo Act allows school committees to file suit against their taxpayers when they overspend their budgets. Rep. Morgan’s legislation would eliminate this costly and lengthy method of resolving funding disputes.

"Quite simply, the Caruolo Act has been a costly and detrimental policy," said Representative Morgan. "What this law has done is increase the cities' and towns' costs of education, reduce their councils' ability to control spending, and drive up property taxes. It has done nothing to promote accountability for the efficient and effective education of our children. I believe that continuing this failed policy is foolish and the time has come to repeal it."

Her preemptive reply to those who might criticize her lack of alternative is that school committees should learn to live within their budgets. I'm not sure that goes far enough. As former Majority Leader George Caruolo has argued that the law that his displaced put judicial authority on these matters in the hands of the Department of Education, which is likely where school districts would argue it should return upon repeal of Caruolo.

The current and perennial makeup of the General Assembly (not to mention the governor) likely puts Caruolo beyond reach, but raising the subject of its repeal is a start to a start of some fiscal sanity for municipalities. Another route, or perhaps a next step, would be to put the taxing and spending authority in the same hands — whether with school committees or town councils — thus allowing more direct control by local taxpayers of school budgets.

February 16, 2011

Fordham Institute Reports on the State of U.S. History Standards (Except Rhode Island)

Marc Comtois

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has studied various State-level U.S. History Standards and come up with a report (PDF). For the most part, they didn't like what they found with a "majority of states’ standards are mediocre-to-awful." And, surprise, of all the states, Rhode Island was the only state to receive an N/A (Incomplete). Why?

As of 2010, Rhode Island has chosen not to implement statewide social studies standards....Rhode Island expressly declares its GSEs [Grade Span Expectations...for Civics & Government and Historical Perspectives/Rhode Island History] not to be general social studies or history standards, it would be inappropriate to review them as such.
Perhaps once Rhode Island implements the Common Core standard we'll have an analysis-worthy standard in place (though I think the initial emphasis is on Math and ELA). Until then, it looks like RI shares the same core problem with History standards with most of the rest of the states across the country. According to Fordham, this is the "submersion of history in the vacuous, synthetic, and anti-historical 'field' of social studies." They quote Dianne Ravitch.
What is social studies? Or, what are social studies? Is it history with attention to current events? Is it a merger of history, geography, civics, economics, sociology, and all other social sciences? … When social studies was first introduced in the early years of the 20th century, history was recognized as the central study of social studies. By the 1930s, it was considered primus inter pares, the first among equals. In the latter decades of the 20th century, many social studies professionals disparaged history with open disdain, suggesting that the study of the past was a useless exercise in obsolescence that attracted antiquarians and hopeless conservatives. (In the late 1980s, a president of the National Council for the Social Studies referred derisively to history as “pastology.”)
They also criticize "overly broad content outlines" ("isolated fragments of decontextualized history") and the practice of chopping up historical periods across grade levels, which leads to different levels of historical inquiry based on grade level. They also find that there is too much ideological pollution finding its way into History curricula.

In 2003, at the time of the last Fordham review, many state U.S. history standards were plagued by overtly left-wing political tendentiousness and ideological indoctrination. There has been some retreat from such open bias since then. Nonetheless, more recent standards provide abundant evidence that political correctness remains alive in American classrooms. Lists of specific examples are routinely little more than diversity-driven checklists of historically marginalized groups. North Dakota, in one typical case, offers this slanted, chronologically muddled, and historically nonsensical selection of famous Americans in the early grades: “George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, César Chávez, [and] Sacagawea.” Likewise, in multiple states, the World War II home front is reduced to the experiences of women, African Americans, and interned Japanese Americans — students would hardly guess that all Americans participated in and were personally affected by the war effort. Political bias is, indeed, less strident in many cases than it was in 2003. Yet bias by selective emphasis is still bias....

Also widespread in state history standards is politically correct “presentism” — encouraging students to judge the past by present-day moral and political standards, rather than to comprehend past actions, decisions, and motives in the context of their times. Several states, for example, prod students to fault the revolutionary generation for denying full equality to women and blacks — without explaining that in the context of the late eighteenth century, the idea of government based even on the votes of white, property owning males was itself radical and untested.

But it's not just the Left:
Even as the left pushes stories of American perfidy, the right counters with triumphal accounts of American
perfection. Conservative bias is as much a form of political correctness as its liberal counterpart: Both seek to use history education to promote an ideological and political agenda. Both are, at best, historically misleading and potentially damaging to our shared values as a nation. Leftist criticism of education gained strength because the old, traditional narrative was overly celebratory and exclusionist. The left went much too far in the other direction: In an effort to include those previously excluded, they all too often excluded those previously included. Yet a return to the old distortions is hardly the answer for twenty-first century America.

Most of today’s state standards either strive for political balance or tilt leftward. Yet there are occasional counter-examples:...The conservative majority on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has openly sought to use the state curriculum to promote its political priorities, molding the telling of the past to justify its current views and aims.

Further, they note that the counterpoised ideologies rely upon each other to maintain a "cycle of self-perpetuation":
The ultimate irony is that educational ideologues on both left and right feed off each other in an endless cycle of self-righteous distortion. The right believes that political correctness undermines pride in America’s
heritage; hoping to reclaim and restore the “real America,” it seeks to revive a narrow and outmoded historical perspective. The left-wing educational establishment, in turn, continues to present itself as a heroic minority, battling against the traditional “triumphalist” curriculum that they insist still dominates schools — despite the fact that its own views have long since become entrenched educational orthodoxy.

The majority of the Texas SBOE, regrettably, has not sought to redress such left-leaning distortion and ideology by promoting objectivity. They do not, in fact, inherently object to the concept of education as a tool for indoctrination. Rather, they wish to substitute the right ideology (in both senses of the word) for that of the left. Such efforts, laden with contempt for historical scholarship and analysis, are not only harmful in themselves — they play straight into the left-wing victim narrative, strengthening its grip in other states and threatening the progress that has been made in breaking its hold. A reinvigorated left will then further goad the right, leading to a vicious cycle of accusations and politics at the expense of education. The chief casualties are historical comprehension, and the good of the students themselves — which is always the case when education becomes an ideological weapon.

WPRO Shaking it Up

Marc Comtois

Our corporate overlords are shaking up their lineup. Jeff Derderian at GoLocalProv broke the news:

John DePetro who currently holds down the 6am till 10am slot is said to have a major deal in play that could include a nationally syndicated show down the line. Details of what that national show may be are not being made public yet. And because of that timing opportunity, we hear that a change in the morning show will mean that DePetro moves his show to a new time from 9am till Noon. And it doesn't just affect DePetro....The plan is also to move both Dan Yorke and Buddy Cianci. Yorke, now on the air from 10am till 2pm will be on from to noon till 3pm....then have Cianci going to 3pm to 6pm. So all three talk show hosts would be doing a 3-hour shift and the “new” morning show would be on the air from just 6am till 9am.
Ted Nesi reports that the goal is to have a more objective morning news program from 6-9 AM:
In a statement, WPRO Program Director Paul Giammarco said only that the station plans “to recast The WPRO Morning News” to provide “objective news reporting.” He also confirmed the station will be adding a fifth local host in the morning but did not say who it would be.

Multiple sources say WLNE-TV ABC 6 anchor Andrew Gobeil is in advanced talks to host a new morning rush-hour program on WPRO that will air from 6 to 9 a.m. But that deal has not been finalized.

Gobeil, who joined ABC 6 in October 2009, confirmed that he’s leaving WLNE – which is in receivership and set to be sold within weeks – but was coy when asked whether he was doing so to join WPRO.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss where I’ll be in the weeks ahead, but I am absolutely thrilled at what the future holds,” Gobeil told me.

Maybe that explains the various guest co-host spots that have been occurring on some of the WPRO shows over the last few weeks.

Health Care "Reform" = IRS Expansion

Marc Comtois

U.S. News tells us that the IRS is ramping up because of the new health care reform plan (we're all so surprised!):

The Internal Revenue Service says it will need an battalion of 1,054 new auditors and staffers and new facilities at a cost to taxpayers of more than $359 million in fiscal 2012 just to watch over the initial implementation of President Obama's healthcare reforms.
'Ware the Tanning Taxers!!!
Among the new corps will be 81 workers assigned to make sure tanning salons pay a new 10 percent excise tax. Their cost: $11.5 million....[They] will be tasked just to handle the tax reporting of 25,000 tanning salons. They face a new 10 percent excise tax on indoor tanning services. Another 76 will be assigned to make sure businesses engaged in making and import[ing] drugs pay their new fee which is expected to deliver $2.8 billion to the Treasury in 2012 and 2013. The new healthcare corps will also require new facilities and computers.
Phew, glad this is making things all so much easier. Just kidding (obviously)....But don't forget, according to the ProJo, this complication is all because of conservatives playing with the tax code.

What Our Welfare State Hath Rot Wrought

Monique Chartier

Writes Michael Morse at Rescuing Providence:

“I know-lets hook up, you get pregnant, I’ll show up when it’s convenient for me, maybe once a week, maybe twice, maybe not at all, you can be my baby momma, I’ll be the baby daddy, we’ll get RITE care for the baby, and you until the baby is eighteen, or if you have more illegitimate kids, until they are eighteen, I’ll stop by for a booty call now and then, unless I’m with my other baby mommas, but I’ll text you if that’s the case, we’ll drop the kid off at your mom’s house on the weekends and hit the club, or I’ll hang with my boys and you can hit the club and hook up, it’s okay as long as I don’t know.”

Fatherhood. It’s a piece of cake. What are all these old guys bitching about.

I wish I was making this stuff up.

Providence is full of single mothers. EMS is used to tak[ing] children from single parent homes to emergency rooms for free medical care. I have no idea what happened, but we need to turn it around before it’s too late.

Terry Gorman: The Burning Truth About the Cost of Illegal Immigration

Engaged Citizen

I feel compelled to clarify some of the misstatements made by reporter Gene Emery in a PolitiFact hit piece which gave me a rating of "Pants On Fire".

First off, when I first spoke with Mr. Emery, he stated that he became interested in the cost of illegal immigration after seeing a RIILE sign at our new Governor's inauguration that announced that illegal aliens cost RI taxpayers $400 million per year. If that were the case, then why did he begin his article with the statement that Mr. Gorman stated that fact on the Helen Glover Show of January 6, 2011? Why bring someone else into the story if the story is meant to criticize me? Is there an agenda? He then went on to state that reliable data on this subject is difficult to find. His facts seem to bear this out.

Next, he disputes 8,740 as the number of illegal alien children and the US born children of illegal aliens in RI in 2004. I provided him the source for my information to no avail. The same source estimates that number to be 10,770 in 2010. It appears that Mr. Emery conveniently uses the numbers that seem to make his assertions work. The cost estimates for education were completely misrepresented by this reporter. In our conversations and emails, I emphatically stated that I believed the costs associated with my estimates were to educate illegal alien children AND the US born children of illegal aliens - the latter number he seems to have left out. I also stated in our telephone interviews and e-mails that I applied the RIDE statistic of 20.1% of the total student population enrolled in Special Education in RI to my 8,740 estimate to arrive at my total education cost. These figures are easily accessible on the RI Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website, RIDE, under the heading In$ite. The reporter references data from the Pew Hispanic Center reports that seem to verify his numbers but he neglects to avail himself of ALL the data, some of which would substantiate my numbers. Another agenda in the making?

The RIDE study I mentioned estimates the cost to educate English Language Learners, ELL students, in Providence alone to be in excess of $25 million. Jessica Vaughn, Director of Policy Studies at the well respected, non-partisan group Center for Immigration Studies submitted a Letter to the Editor on February 7, 2011 rebutting Mr. Emery's assertions. But it was only posted on projo.com and not printed in the Providence Journal. Why? In that letter, Ms. Vaughn gave the reporter her own rating of "Pants on Fire ".

Mr. Emery also mistakenly asserts that, in my estimates, I use Medicaid figures. Medicaid was never mentioned in any of our conversations or emails. I referenced solely RIte Care figures. Although now he has informed all of us that we currently have 350 illegal alien pregnant women receiving social services in our state, he claims that cost to be only $600,000 dollars. Does it not cost on average $10,000 per delivery at hospitals in RI? He also asserts that the state of RI does not keep track of these babies once they are born. These babies are automatically US citizens by virtue of their birth on US soil. They are also entitled to welfare, food stamps, housing and medical care. Does he expect us to believe that our state does not keep track of these costs?

He also asserts that one of my sources for costs was an Interpeter at a local hospitaI. I specifically stated to him that the interpeter informed me that she was required by her hospital administration to record, on a daily basis, any services provided to patients who did not have a Social Security, Green card number, passport etc. According to Mr. Emery, hospitals in RI do not keep track of the uncompensated care costs for services rendered to illegal aliens. If that is the case, how do they justify their requests for reimbursement from the state for those costs each year?

Here is another questionable statement. A spokesman for the Hospital Association of Rhode Island claims that hospitals in RI do not require patients to provide their Social Security numbers or their Green Card number if they have them. If that is the case, how do hospitals pursue them if they default on their payments?

All in all, I find Mr. Emery's PolitiFact assertions to be classified as "Pants on Fire ". Maybe this post will force the State of Rhode Island to finally reveal the enormous cost of illegal immigration to the taxpayers. When they do, I'm sure I know whose "Pants On Fire" will be extinguished. MINE.

Terry Gorman is the Executive Director of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement.

Picking a Level of Democracy

Justin Katz

My Patch column this week laments the trick of picking a particular aspect of "the democratic process" as dominant for the sake of a particular issue:

... too often disputes about public policy hinge more on which side can use prettier words than which side better captures the will of the public, let alone adhering more closely to the truth. And in our political discourse, among the most beautiful and powerful words is "democracy."

So we read retired Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Stephen Fortunato proclaiming that a direct vote of the people on the issue of same-sex marriage "is a ploy to subvert the orderly workings of our democratic processes," which he describes as legislators' sitting as moral and intellectual judges, only subsequently held to account by voters. On a completely separate issue, we read the contrasting view of former Tiverton Town Councilor Brian Medeiros that an ordinance capping the town's budget increase at 2.5% would represent a usurpation by the Town Council of "rights reserved solely for the people of Tiverton."

The first example is merely an example, and I go on to focus on the latter. And, of course, I don't exempt myself from slipping into convenient definitions.

February 15, 2011

In-State Tuition is Not Free!

Monique Chartier

Sen. Pichardo and Rep. Diaz have proposed to extend in-state college tuition rates to illegal immigrants.

Let's be clear. Regardless of cost, offering in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens is a complete non-starter on principle. It would become yet another enticement for individuals to come here illegally - in the process, endangering themselves and breaching our sovereignty. We need to reduce, not amplify, such factors.

Hoever, it is instructive as to the legislative mindset to take a look at the more prosaic matter of cost. The in-state tuition rate does not cover the expense of that student's education at the college or university. The balance must be picked up by others - others like out-of-state students, state tax payers and/or the institution's privately funded endowment.

Unfortunately, the honorable solons who have submitted this bill seem not to be aware of this tuition differential and the considerable fiscal burden that it confers. Rep Diaz's lack of awareness on this point appears especially acute.

“All children should be included in the Race to the Top,” Diaz said. “At a time of state cuts, this bill is a boon for CCRI and our state universities.”

Actually, no. Broadening the qualification for in-state tuition is not at all like increasing the number of new customers to a commercial business. On the contrary, far from being a "boon", every additional in-state tuition payer represents an operating shortfall that the institution must attempt to cover from some other source.

Stated more bluntly, every in-state tuition rate honored is a financial drain on that institution. Naturally, the affected colleges and universities would be well within their right to look to us to pick up the losses arising from this proposed law. But the state is facing a deficit in the hundreds of millions so that doesn't seem real feasible.

Accordingly, the question that poses itself about this bill is: how? How could a legislator propose a bill without fully understanding its financial ramifications to all affected parties, including his or her own constituency?

Comparison: Firefighter Disability Pension Rates

Marc Comtois

Following up: So what are some of the firefighter disability rates across the country? Well, the Boston FD rate of 74% between 2005-07 is known around here. Similarly, New York City had a disability rate of 72% between 2004-2009 (62% rate in 2000, pre-9/11~and the NYPD was at 19%) while Chicago FD was at 25%. In San Jose, CA in 2009 it was reported that:

52 percent of former San Jose officers and 77 of firefighters were receiving disability pensions — rates that dwarfed those in nearby towns and other big California cities.
Those are the bad ones. I also found a report out of Springfield, Missouri that compared the combined Fire/Police disability rates of several communities. It's a little apples/oranges (except for Amarillo,TX), but interesting (and all I could find in limited time).

I suspect that most rates match the above list rather than the extreme examples given at the top (they were easily found because they were so high and caused a ruckus, after all). That being said, there is no doubt that injuries can build up over time and manifest later in career, thus making one eligible for disability pay (as Michael commented). As I replied to Michael, part of this is because a unionized pension system has a vehicle for disability retirement while the private sector 401K doesn't. Nonetheless, the 59% level in Providence still seems too high.

ADDENDUM: Also in the WPRI report was this:

As Tim [White] wrote back in 2008, “The stats for the Providence Fire Department are also affected by the early 1990s, when nearly eight out of 10 retiring firefighters were granted an accidental disability pension.” That was down to one in five by 2008.
In the comments, Michael supports this:
In 1991 when I started the disability pension system in my opinion was abused. 95% of firefighters retired with disabilities. Cianci was mayor, a lot of shenanigans were going on. Those people are still collecting pensions. Over the last ten or so years the system is much better, with disabilities being awarded only after three doctors that the city chooses agree that the firefighter can no longer do the job. I don't know what the percentage is, but my guess is around 15%. The 59% comes from years past. The 15% or so that get disability pensions earned them.
In addition to Michael, David S. also offers some firefighter perspective.

Polarized Politics

Justin Katz

One hears frequently about the Tea Party extremists who are binding the hands of Republican moderates (I know, I know), but a pull away from center is hardly a GOP phenomenon:

Bell's defection is one of dozens by state and local Democratic officials in the Deep South in recent months that underscore Republicans' continued consolidation of power in the region — a process that started with presidential politics but increasingly affects government down to the level of dogcatcher.

"I think the midterms showed you really can't be a conservative and be a member of the Democratic Party," Bell said.

The much-lamented polarization goes both ways, and one interpretation is that the American people are just not satisfied with the slow drift toward a bureaucratic superstate facilitated by parties of only mildly different flavor.

Another interpretation is that people are trying to pull a leftward-drifting political class back toward the center-right. Either way, the disruption of the old order is not necessarily an unhealthy development. Perhaps we'll wind up with real political competitions rather than elections that merely adjust the speed at which insiders tug the polity in their preferred direction.

Card Check Unions, and Maybe More, Come to Rhode Island

Carroll Andrew Morse

The House of Representatives Labor Committee is hearing a bill today on card-check unionization for public employees (H5134). Under the proposed law, secret ballot elections during a unionization process could be bypassed by public employees, if 70% of the members of potential bargaining unit publicly affix their signatures to “authorization cards”. No analogous card-check procedure for decertification of a public employee union is provided for in the proposed law.

If I may be informal, one question raised by the introduction of this bill is “why bother”, i.e. how much further does public employee unionization have to go in Rhode Island? When I put that question to an individual familiar with various issues of interest to Rhode Islanders, the response was to point me to a clause that would be added to the definitions section of the law…

(9) “Public Employee” includes an individual employed by the state, subdivision of the state, or quasi-public entities.
Currently, there is no explicit definition of "public employee" in the law, and given the location of this clause, this new definition would extend not only the card-check provision to employees of quasi-public entities, it would extend the entire labor relations act to the employees of quasi-public entities.

So how far, exactly, would adding quasi-public agencies expand the scope of public-employee unionization in Rhode Island?

On The Other Hand...Warwick Firefighter Cleared After Doing the Right Thing

Marc Comtois

After taking Providence firefighters to task for the remarkable number of them who seem to be retiring on disability, I'd like to turn attention to a Warwick firefighter who did good by the City of Warwick and ended up suffering for it:

Fire Lt. Henrik Dunlaevy, who in 2004 sold his software to a private firm after he had been letting the city use it for free, was the owner of the product and within his rights, states a letter from the state police financial crimes unit....In 2004, Dunlaevy sold his product to PURVIS Systems, a public safety software company based in Middletown.

The state police noted that when Dunlaevy sold the software he insisted that the buyer honor his promise to give Warwick five years of free maintenance and updates.

It was pretty obvious to all that this was exactly the thing we'd want our public employees to do:
Both Mayor Scott Avedisian and Fire Chief Kevin Sullivan said that Dunlaevy, who came to Warwick after serving as a firefighter in Barrington, had already developed the computer software that tracked fire department runs when he was hired by the city.

Sullivan said that Dunlaevy offered to let Warwick use it for free, and did not use city time to work on the product. Avedisian called the council's accusations "ridiculous" and said they would have a chilling affect on any employee who wanted to go above the call of duty by "sharing their own ingenuity with the city."

That wasn't good enough for the "gotcha" lovin' former Warwick Councilwoman Helen Taylor (and this issue stemmed from an earlier p**ing match between the City and Purvis).
At the request of former Councilwoman Helen Taylor in October, the majority of council members asked the state police to investigate the sale, saying they believed the software was enhanced by its use in Warwick and that it was the intellectual property of the city.
So, seven of the nine city councilors joined Taylor (Gallucci and Colantuono voted against) who was convinced that Dunlaevy developed the software on City time and believed that, somehow, the City should get some of the money for "enhanced...intellectual property." The State Police looked into it and cleared Dunlaevy.
"In short, the City of Warwick holds no proprietary interest in the software that Mr. Dudley, alone, developed that would allow the City to criminally complain, in any manner about Mr. Dunlaevy's use or sale of the software," Lt. John Lemont, head of the financial crimes unit, stated in a letter to the Warwick City Council...."After review, the financial crimes unit has found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and have therefore closed the investigation," concludes the letter.
So, while I complained about firefighters not stepping up and calling out their colleagues, I also can understand that bad things can happen when you do step up, especially if politicians get involved.

59% Of Providence Fire Pensions are "Disability"

Marc Comtois

WPRI reports:

Accidental disability pensions awarded to Providence firefighters will account for more than half the $29 million the department spends on pension payments this year, according to an analysis of payroll records by WPRI.com.

City records show 438 firefighters or their families got a taxpayer-funded pension payment in January, the most recent month for which figures are available, and 258 of those were classified as accidental disability pensions – which are not taxed.

That's quite a disability rate.
Disability pensions for former firefighters will cost the city $15.5 million in 2011 if all those payments continue for the rest of the year. That’s more than the total for every other category.

Regular fire pensions will cost $8.7 million, followed by pensions for accidental disability leading to death, $2.1 million; fire widows, $1.5 million; accidental death, $942,708; court-awarded payments, $229,719; and ordinary disability, $160,056.

In the police department, by contrast, accidental disability pensions will only make up $7.1 million of the $23.2 million total bill for pensions this year, or about 30%. A total of 639 police officers or their families got pension payments in January.

As WPRI's Ted Nesi reports, new Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare will be taking a look at pension costs and other areas to cut costs.

Many of us are grateful for the job our firefighters do and do not begrudge them the salary and benefits they are paid for being willing to put their life on the line. But these stories undermine the accrued goodwill. There really can be no doubt that there is fraud going on here and that wink-and-a-nod, retire-on-disability scenarios are happening. Firefighters need to realize (or more of them, anyway) that it is not OK to look the other way when somebody just happens to slip and fall on the day before his retirement. Let's hope Commissioner Pare cleans up the firehouse for the sake of the taxpayers and for the good men and women of the Providence Fire Department who play it straight.

Removing the Anxiety of School Layoffs

Justin Katz

By way of applying emphasis to Marc's post about Julia Steiny's Sunday column concerning the March 1 deadline for teacher layoffs, I'd renew a suggestion that I've made before related to this paragraph from the latter link:

But in practice, it means that school communities suffer almost four full months of stress over who does and does not have a job. They live with four months of teachers feeling unappreciated, and four months of resentment against administrators who made the layoff decisions.

School districts should just make it practice that everybody gets a layoff notice. Doing so would preserve their flexibility, and in its sheer universality, the move would lessen the degree to which teachers feel targeted. That is, it would leave only the anxiety that most people who are employees bear regarding their jobs.

While I'm revisiting the column, I'd like to highlight a paragraph that captures the Rhode Island approach to public schools very well:

... that means that the staff members are the constant, and the kids' needs must adjust to them. Job security trumps the quality of the students' education, the demands of school reform, and any brave efforts to try a new strategy.

At Least RI isn't Hawaii (well, in this instance)

Marc Comtois

What state has the most Democrat dominated legislative body? The Hawaii state senate. Byron York explains:

In Hawaii, there are 25 members of the state Senate. Twenty-four are Democrats. And then there is Sam Slom.

Slom, the lone Senate Republican in the state of President Obama's birth, has represented East Honolulu since 1996. He hasn't always been the only GOP senator; in the last session, there were two. But Republicans fared poorly at the polls in November, and Slom was left alone.

Which means that Democratic bills to increase state spending, to impose new regulations and mandates and to create new government departments are often passed on votes of 24-1. "I represent a point of view that would not be represented," the conservative Slom says, "even if it's just one voice."

There are 15 committees in the Senate. Most Democrats serve on three or four. But to make things bipartisan, Slom -- you may call him Mr. Minority Leader -- has to serve on all 15. That means he spends his days racing from one committee meeting to the next, making sure there's at least one question from a conservative point of view.

So cheer up RI Republicans, it could be worse!

Desires as Economic Development

Justin Katz

Reacting to Governor Chafee's mention of it, Ed Fitzpatrick has read Richard Florida's book proclaiming the importance of tolerance to the economy and expresses, it seems to me, an appropriate skepticism regarding causation and correlation:

"My research finds a strong correlation between, on the one hand, places open to immigrants, artists, gays, bohemians and socioeconomic and racial integration, and on the other, places that experience high-quality economic growth," Florida wrote. "Such places gain an economic advantage in both harnessing the creative capabilities of a broader range of their own people and in capturing a disproportionate share of the flow."

I believe it was Snooki who first said: Correlation is not causation. In other words, just because there is a "strong correlation" between tolerance and economic growth doesn't mean tolerance causes economic growth. Perhaps that is a point both Chafee and his critics gloss over.

As I suggested a few weeks ago, it seems to me that urban areas, especially with high concentrations of colleges, are likely to attract creative types regardless of an Nth degree of tolerance for them. Indeed, one might suppose that a region experiencing "high-quality economic growth" might generally attract people who are different from the native population.

In any event, even if "tolerance" deserves its place as one of three economic legs (talent and technology being Florida's other two), that doesn't mean that it is the one on which Rhode Island is deficient. Personally, I'd put aside the "three Ts" as an interesting post facto analysis with only indirect influence on Rhode Island's economic health and focus, instead, on the more specific metric of economic freedom as indicated by taxes, mandates, and regulations.

February 14, 2011

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island Senate (Judiciary Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0214Prohibits landlords from asking about immigration status.
S0216Allows expungement of a criminal record in 5 years instead of 10 under certain circumstances.
S0219From the official description: "This act would amend the law banning racial profiling in traffic stops by state and municipal law enforcement agencies by imposing additional requirements upon law enforcement agencies to collect data and complete regular reports of findings and statistics regarding traffic stops". Companion to H5263
S0220"An applicant for an operator's or chauffeur's license shall be required to present an identity document, a document with the applicant's signature, and two (2) documents providing proof of residency in Rhode Island".
S0222Privileges communications between public-safety personnel and their "critical incident stress management team or peer-support members". Companion to H5308.
S0224From the official description: "This act would prohibit an employer from refusing to hire a person...or for a governmental agency from denying an individual a license to work in a particular trade or business based solely on that individual having a criminal record, with certain exceptions".
S0228Changes to regulations on historical cemeteries.
S0233Changes to campaign finance law.
S0242From the official description: "This act would make unlawful the use of a non-hands-free mobile telephone while operating a motor vehicle, except for public safety personnel".
S0248Requires the Rhode Island Broadcasters association to establish a website for the publication of legal notices, and all members to announce the website at least once per day.
S0270Makes possession of less than an ounce of marijuana into a civil offense.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0210Prisoners must be paid interest on the earnings while in prison when released.
S0211A police officer in his or her jurisdiction with the intent to stop someone from a motor vehicle violation has authority to do so, if during pursuit they cross into another jurisdiction. (As the law is currently written, the officer must already have the intent to arrest the operator, in order to retain authority when crossing out of his or her municipality.
S0215Makes the entirety of employment contracts with the government part of the public record.
S0217Choking someone is a felony, even if it does not result in serious bodily injury. Companion to H5087
S0218Extends the life of a task force working on the improvement of lineup procedures in RI. Companion to H5090.
S0221An ambiguous change to election law that I can't quite decipher.
S0223Makes clear that any party to a civil action who is over 65 years age can request an acceleration of the action. Companion to H5259
S0225Prevents landlords from refusing tenants on the basis of "government assistance recipient status" (with an exception for owner occupied properties of 3 or fewer units).
S0226Increases the (approximate) maximum size of voting districts in RI from 1,900 to 3,000 voters.
S0227Exempts cemeteries from adverse possession laws.
S0229Administrators and magistrates, currently appointed by judges, would be appointed by the Governor from a list of candidates selected by a judicial nominating commission. Companion to H5091.
S0230From the official description: "This act would establish a putative father registry establishing procedures relating to paternity".
S0231Allows school committees to publish notice of their meetings electronically.
S0232Ends the master lever, version I
S0234A conservation or preservation restriction may not be terminated or amended...without the prior approval of the superior court in an action in which the attorney general has been made a party.
S0235Increases the term of imprisonment for a third violation of driving under the influence of liquor or drugs. (Also extends the window for defining a third violation from 5 to 25 years).
S0236Applicants for DCYF jobs would be required to undergo a BCI check. Companion to H5222
S0238Ends the master lever, version II
S0239The official description says: "This act would clarify that conservation easements are not terminated if a property is merged or sold at a tax sale", but rather unusually for legislative language, the actual bill adds an example to some very technical legal language. Companion to H5309
S0240Smoking is prohibited in vehicles where there is a child who is required to be in a car-seat. (But why is this going to the Judiciary committee?)
S0241Increases term of imprisonment for a second violation for "driving under the influence of liquor or drugs, resulting in serious bodily injury"
S0244Redefines "first-time offender" for purposes of expungement.
S0245From the official description: "This act would reduce the statutory interest in civil actions from twelve percent (12%) to six percent (6%)".
S0246Parents cannot legally allow their children to use or consume alcohol "in any establishment licensed to sell or serve alcoholic beverages".
S0247From the official description: "This act would limit liability of a tortfeasor to only several damages if it is found that the defendant is no more than twenty-five percent (25%) liable".
S0248Requires the Rhode Island Broadcasters association to establish a website for the publication of legal notices, and all members to announce the website at least once per day.
S0249"In computing the term of any parole, or probation under this chapter, a prisoner or parolee shall be entitled to a sentence reduction of up to fifteen (15) days for every month of parole or probation completed without incident to be determined by the parole board".
S0269Imposes fines and possible suspensions for motor vehicle accidents caused by drivers who stuff themselves into an intersection trying to beat the light (and also if they just outright ran the light).

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island Senate (Education Committee, Special Legislation Committee and Housing and Muncipal Government Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact (Education Committee)

S0181The appointment of the State Education Commissioner by the Board of regents would require Senate confirmation.
S0182School districts could count time-in-school in hours, instead of days, and thereby a longer school day to meet minimum requirements.
S0183The state will pay 100% of costs for students attending vocational schools operated by "a state municipality". Companion to H5058

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact (Special Legislation Committee)

S0254Authorizes a special Knights of Columbus Choose Life license plate.
S0255Modifies certain Alcohol Server Training requirements.
S0256Total prohibition on "alcohol energy drinks" in Rhode Island

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact (Special Legislation Committee)

S0253Reduces the registration fee for vehicles weighing between 4000 and 5000 pounds to $30 (the same as the fee for vehicles under 4000 pounds).

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact (Housing and Municipal Government Committee)

S0206From the official description: This act would authorize and direct the state building code standards committee to update the state building code so as to be consistent with the revisions to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Companion to H5284
S0207Repeals the requirement that municipalities and other state agencies report disability parking enforcement to the "the governor's commission on disabilities". Companion to H5300
S0208Extends "tolling" ("the suspension or temporary stopping of the running of the applicable permit or approval period") from 2011 to 2013. (Paging someone knowledgeable about legal terminology, to help us with "tolling".)

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island Senate (Environment & Agriculture Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0185From the official description: "This act would establish procedures and requirements for the recycling of used or waste cooking oil..." Companion to H5203
S0186Changes various exemptions to the "Hazardous Waste Cleanup" law. Companion to H5287
S0188New rules for recycling dry-cell batteries.
S0266Prohibits surgical "debarking" or silencing of dogs and cats.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0184Allows municipalities to regulate "construction and demolition debris processing facilities"
S0187Removes from the law the specific amounts that electric and gas companies are to charge their customers for "demand side management programs". Companion to H5281

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island Senate (Health and Human Services Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0204From the official description: "This act would make various changes to the medical marijuana act..."
S0268From the official description: "This act would eliminate the state coordinating committee on disability rights".

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0200Physicians are required to screen newborns for conditions including assessment for developmental risk for which there is a medical benefit to the early detection and treatment of the disorder, and an assessment for developmental risk.
S0201From the official description: "This act would prevent disclosure of a patient's health care information through ex parte contacts with a health care provider by persons other than the patient or his or her legal representative".
S0202Adds shared living programs to the list of programs covered by the "Long-Term Care Ombudsperson Act of 1995". Companion to H5278.
S0203Adds home nursing care providers, home care providers and hospice providers to the list of facilities that have to get state permission for equipment or service expansion expenditures over certain amounts (in our unbridled free-market system of medical care.)
S0267"Allegations of physical and/or sexual assault" made by nursing home patients must be reported to the authorities within 24 hours of their being made.

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island Senate (Labor Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0271From the official description: "Repeals the section of the Rhode Island General Laws relating to continuation of workers' compensation benefits for partial incapacity".
S0273Again, from the official description: "This act would change the spendable base wage calculation from seventy-five percent (75%) to eighty-five percent (85%) under the workers’ compensation law. This act would also make additional changes to the law relating to partial incapacity".

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0250Increases fines for violations of the laws involving electricians.
S0251Highway maintenance operatiors who perform "snow removal and emergency operations" can take sick leave and get overtime during the same pay period.
S0252From the official description: "This act would expand the types of buildings which would be exempt from the state mandated requirements of boiler and pressure system inspections, based on the size of the water heater".
S0272Creates a "a chief prevailing wage investigator" position within the department of labor and training. (Also known as "the George Nee Economic Development Act").
S0274Requires employers to pay for transportation to health providers treating compensible injuries.

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island Senate (Corporations Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0178"No singular entity, company or qualified business" can receive more than 5 million dollars under the Economic Development Corporation Job Creation Guaranty Program. (Would this be related to Curt Schilling deal?)

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0179Prohibits a business from asking for any part of a person's social security number as part of a transaction, unless it's a type of business specifically allowed to by law. Companion to H5202
S0180"All financial institutions and credit unions shall continuously maintain security video cameras covering all customer doors, automatic teller machines, and night deposit repositories." (Comment: Quite a windfall, for vendors in the security camera business.) Companion to H5147
S0265Public utilities commission approval is not required, if a telecommunications utility wants to offer a retail discount to business customers.

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island Senate (Finance Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

S0195Provides for biannual budgeting, two new committees in each chamber with budgetary duties, new legislative staff for reviewing the budget, and changes in the Governor's role in budgeting.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

S0189Makes an additional 2% bonus, on top of the calculated amount for regional school districts, a permanent part of the state education aid "funding formula". Companion to H5246
S0190Applies the same sales-tax exemptions to pickup trucks under 10,000 lbs that are applied to automobiles. Companion to H5250
S0191From the official description: "This act would increase the refundable state earned income credit from fifteen percent (15%) to one hundred percent (100%)".
S0192Authorizes the town of Coventry to issue bonds "to pay the uninsured portion of any [non-pension related] court judgment or settlement". Companion to H5233
S0193Business tax changes (to be discussed more, stay tuned).
S0194Would allow municipalities to tax "real and personal property" of colleges and universities within their borders.
S0196From the official description: "This act would subject the recording of attachments, executions and mechanics' liens to a $4.00 surcharge for the benefit of the Rhode Island Historical Records Trust".
S0197"Senators, representatives and general office holders shall contribute twenty percent (20%) towards the premium for health care coverage paid for by the State of Rhode Island".
S0198Adds an additional 3% income tax on income greater than $500,000.
S0199Business tax changes (to be discussed more, stay tuned).

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island House (Municipal Government Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5300Repeals the requirement that municipalities and other state agencies report disability parking enforcement to the "the governor's commission on disabilities".
H5301Municipalities and water districts can use non-licensed plumbers to replace water meters. (There is a heavy Newport presence in the sponsorship.)
H5302Changes regulations on notification of property tax rate changes.
H5313Repeals the requirement in state law that an "an update of real property" be conducted every 3 years after a revaluation, and changes the full revaluation cycle to 10 years.
H5314Repeals the requirement in state law that an "an update of real property" be conducted every 3 years after a revaluation, and changes the full revaluation cycle to 5 years.
H5315Authorizes a waste-to-energy plant in Woonsocket.

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island House (Health, Education and Welfare Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5284From the official description: This act would authorize and direct the state building code standards committee to update the state building code so as to be consistent with the revisions to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
H5285Raises the limits on how much health-care providers and hospitals can spend on equipment or expanding services without state permission (But the problems with our health-care system are because it's an example of unbridled capitalism, right!)
H5286Extends the “Joint Resolution Creating a Special Joint Commission to Study the Education of Children with Autism in the State of Rhode Island” into 2012.

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island House (Labor Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5295 From the official description: "This act would authorize the department of corrections to enter into agreements with other state and federal agencies in order to allow inmates to provide labor on conservation projects and would establish a correctional facility garden for inmates to develop gardening skills and provide fresh vegetables to inmates and state hospitals".

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5296 Adds the following to disability law: "Notwithstanding any provision of this title to the contrary, an individual working for more than one employer is eligible for benefits if disabled from one employer, provided the individual has held that employment for a period of not less than ten (10) years, even though the individual is not disabled with respect to the individual's other employment".
H5297 From the official description: "This act would extend the notification requirements regarding the dismissal, suspension or lay-off of teachers from March 1 to June 1". (And see Marc's post on Julia Steiny's article on the subject here).
H5298 Arbitrators 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. (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?). Companion to S0073.

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island House (Judiciary Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5287Changes various exemptions to the "Hazardous Waste Cleanup" law.
H5289Would require sellers of electronic equipment and/or power tools to be licensed by the Attorney General.
H5308Privileges communications between public-safety personnel and their "critical incident stress management team or peer-support members".
H5311From the official description: "This act would repeal all Class N nightclub licenses which allow persons under the age of twenty-one (21) on the premises of an establishment where alcoholic beverages are served".
H5312Requires use of e-verify for RI employers with 3 or more employees

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5288Individuals who volunteer in schools can run a preemptive police background check run on themselves.
H5290A renter who intends to grow medical marijuana on rental property must inform the landlord of that fact, and the landlord may refuse to rent to that person on this grounds, if he or she so chooses.
H5294"The various local police departments of the state may offer to perform, free of charge, a state criminal records background check for any person seeking to work with children in a civic, religious or youth organization; provided said person submits a records release authorization."
H5309The official description says: "This act would clarify that conservation easements are not terminated if a property is merged or sold at a tax sale". The bill does this by adding a "such as but not limited to" clause to some very technical legal language.
H5310Leases cannot include clauses limiting a tenant from inviting contractors onto the premises to provide repairs or services.

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island House (Corporations Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5275Requires that health insurance cover autism spectrum disorders.
H5276Charges the RI Health Commissioner with using his powers to promote "patient centered medical homes".
H5279Authorizes a corporate entity called a "low-profit limited liability company".
H5305Establishes various administrative procedures regarding health-care provider contracts and rate negotiations.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5274Aggregate rate increases by any utility over a 24-month period cannot exceed 2.5%. (California-style energy crises, here we come!)
H5278Adds shared living programs to the list of programs covered by the "Long-Term Care Ombudsperson Act of 1995".
H5304Authorizes the state insurance commissioner to act as an ombudsman for ERISA claims. (What's an ERISA claim you ask? A bit of introductory background is available, here).
H5306"Pharmacies are prohibited from charging uninsured customers of prescription drugs a price of more than twenty percent (20%) beyond the average price for that prescription drug which has been negotiated with all medical insurance companies".

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island House (Finance Committee), February 8-10

Carroll Andrew Morse

Starting with this set of posts, I will post the bills introduced to the legislature each week in separate postings, according to the initial committees that a bill gets referred to. This will help make the the posts more readable (with the exception of one committee, which I will mention in the near future...)

The "significant rewrite" versus "targeted change" distinction remains within each post, with "targeted changes" referring to cases where the intent of a bill is pretty clear, while "significant rewrites" refers to cases where the scope of the change needs to be fully understood, before a discussion can begin.

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5280Creates an annual sales-tax holiday on the 3rd Saturday in August (With lots of exemptions to the usual sales tax exemptions).
H5281Removes from the law the specific amounts that electric and gas companies are to charge their customers for "demand side management programs".

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5282Increases the estate tax exemption to $5,000,000 starting in 2011, to be increased annually according to the consumer price index.
H5283Increases the estate tax exemption to $850,000 starting in 2011, to be increased annually according to the consumer price index. (And sponsored by the same folks who sponsored the previous bill?)

Gerecht: Islamic Concept of Justice Feeds Democracy

Marc Comtois

In a New York Times piece, former CIA Middle Eastern specialist Reuel Marc Gerecht reflects on Egypt and the democracy movement in the Middle East.

A revulsion against the Iraq war and a distaste for President Bush helped to blind people to the spread of democratic sentiments in the region. It blinded them to the fact that among Middle Easterners, democracy, not dictatorship, was now seen as a better vehicle for economic growth and social justice.

Most important, Mr. Bush’s distastefulness helped to blind Westerners to the momentous marriage of Islamism and democratic ideas. Men and women of devout faith, who cherish (if not always rigorously follow) Shariah law increasingly embraced the convulsive idea that only elected political leadership was legitimate. Islam puts extraordinary emphasis upon the idea of justice — the earthbound quid pro quo that a man can expect in a righteous life.

This sense of justice, which Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani expressed so forcefully in 2004 against an American occupation fearful of letting Iraqis vote, has been irreversibly welded to the ballot box. Democracy for the faithful has become a means for society to affirm its most cherished Islamic values.

As for Egypt:
What we are likely to see in Egypt is not a repeat of Iran, where fundamentalists took undisputed power, but a repeat of Iraq, where Sunni religious parties did well initially but started to fade, divide and evolve as the powerful Sunni preference for laymen of no particular religious distinction comes to the foreground. Sunni Islam has no clerical hierarchy of the holy — it’s tailor-made for nasty arguments among men who dispute one another’s authority to know the righteous path. If the Brotherhood can be corralled by a democratic system, the global effect may not be insignificant.
Given what is going on in Iran today, Gerecht's thoughts on that country seem prescient:
One of the great under-reported stories of the end of the 20th century was the enormous penetration of the West’s better political ideas — democracy and individual liberty — into the Muslim consciousness. For those of us who speak and read Persian, the startling evolution was easier to see. Theocracy-versus-democracy has been a defining theme of the Islamic Republic of Iran since the revolution, which harnessed both Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s religious charisma and the secular intelligentsia’s democratic aspirations. Over the last three decades, clerical Iran has nurtured an intense intellectual discourse about the duties that man owes to God.

When the legitimacy of theocracy started to unravel amid the regime’s corruption and brutality in the late 1980s, democratic ideas, including powerful democratic interpretations of the Islamic faith, roared forth. The explosion on the streets after the fraudulent presidential elections of June 2009 was just the most visible eruption of the enormous democratic pressures that had built up underneath the republic’s autocracy. More regime-threatening moments are surely coming.

I've left a lot out; it's worth reading the whole thing.

The First Vote on Same-Sex Marriage Gets Airbrushed

Carroll Andrew Morse

How powerful are the Rhode Island Speaker of the House and Senate President? Not only have they convinced their respective legislative bodies that every bill must have their approval when no such requirement exists in the rules, but they can even erase from the minds of other legislators -- and of newspaper reporters -- memories of votes that have already been taken!

Here is Katherine Gregg of the Projo describing the status of one of the same-sex marriage bills (H5012) being considered in the Rhode Island House of Representatives…

After chairing an 8 1/2-hour hearing the night before on a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island, House Judiciary Chairwoman Edith Ajello was hoping on Thursday to have her committee vote on the bill next week.

“The next logical step would be a committee vote,” said Ajello on the day after the hearing that drew hundreds of people on both sides of the deep divide to the State House for a high-pitched rally and hearing. “I would hope that it would be next week,” she said.

In actuality, despite the fact that neither Rep. Ajello in her quotes or Katherine Gregg in her reporting acknowledges it, a committee vote on the bill has already been held according to the current status report available from the RI General Assembly website
House Bill No.5012
BY Handy, Fox, Ajello, Ferri, Ruggiero
(would broaden the definition of persons eligible to marry to include persons of the same gender / members of the clergy would not be required to officiate at any particular marriage)
01/11/2011 Introduced, referred to House Judiciary
02/02/2011 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
02/02/2011 Meeting postponed
02/09/2011 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
02/09/2011 Committee recommended measure be held for further study
The record shows that the Judiciary Committee did vote on the same-sex marriage bill on Thursday, choosing to “hold it for further study” (thereby giving the Speaker of the House sole discretion on whether the bill can be brought back to committee for a second consideration) and not to send it to the full house for consideration, though sending it to the full House was clearly in the committee’s power.

To be fair, there may be valid tactical reasons for same-sex marriage supporters to have delayed a vote at this time (at least, that is what Scott MacKay of WRNI’s On Politics blog is hearing) -- but that does not mean that Thursday night’s vote did not happen, or that the results of that vote should not be reported. Yet the strange idea that the leader of a legislative chamber should have absolute control over what bills are considered has such a powerful hold on the minds of Rhode Island’s political class -- statehouse reporters included, apparently – events where committee members give away their right to make decisions on bills are regularly ignored and airbrushed from public accounts of what transpires at the legislature.

It is bad enough that the elected representatives of the people regularly surrender their right to decide on which bills will be considered. It is even worse when the media quietly acquiesces to this practice.

(By the way, Karen Lee Ziner did something similar in her coverage of the illegal immigration executive order bill last week. Her report makes no mention of the fact that that the House Labor Committee voted on the bill and chose not to send it to the House floor for a full vote. That’s like writing a sports story and not including the final score).

No Revolving Door Here....technically

Marc Comtois

"Former majority leader now a lobbyist" blares the ProJo Political Scene headline. Meh says us. What else is new, right?

Little more than a month after leaving the General Assembly, former Senate Majority Leader Daniel Connors is back at the State House as a lobbyist.

Asked what he was doing as he exited the office of one of new Governor Chafee’s staffers earlier this week, lawyer Connors said: “Not lobbying.”

Nope, just getting introduced, it turns out. Not that there's anything wrong with lobbying the Governor.
The state’s “revolving door” law bars Connors from lobbying his former colleagues in the General Assembly for a year after leaving office, and the company said his employment contract prohibits him from directly or indirectly taking part in the company’s effort to lobby or engage in any business with the General Assembly on behalf of its clients during his first year of his employment.

But no law stops Connors from lobbying the new Chafee administration.

Seems like that's not quite within the "spirit" of the law, does it? But who's really surprised.

Senator Jack Reed's 2010 Earmark for RI Defense Contractor

Marc Comtois

UPDATED: WPRI's Tim White and Ted Nesi reported last week that both Senator Reed and then-Rep. Patrick Kennedy secured $27 million in earmarks for Middletown defense contractor Advanced Solutions for Tomorrow over the years. On Sunday, ProJo reporter John Mulligan looked into the Advanced Solutions for Tomorrow kickback scheme and potential political repercussions, particularly the earmarking process.

Over the years, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy have secured millions of dollars worth of federal spending “earmarks” for Advanced Solutions.

“As far as we can tell from these documents, the alleged abuse involves contracts awarded and managed by the Navy,” spokesman Chip Unruh said in a printed statement from Reed’s office. “The affidavit does not even mention the word ‘earmarks.’ ”

“The earmarking process is an easy target right now and I don’t think it’s entirely fair,” said Sean Richardson, a Washington lobbyist and onetime chief of staff to Kennedy.

Members of the Rhode Island congressional delegation and staff are careful to screen earmark requests, he said. None of them would work on an earmark “that we wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the Providence Journal,” he said. None of them had any reason to view Advanced Solutions as “anything other than a Rhode Island success story,” he said.

About 10 seconds of research at Legistorm (data from Taxpayers for Common Sense) revealed that Senator Reed submitted a $3 million earmark for ASFT in 2010, with a final approved amount of $2.4 million. That does not mean Senator Reed is or will be implicated in any of the current mess. It simply means that, while the affidavit did not mention "earmarks", it is true that Senator Reed did submit at least one for ASFT.

Hey, At Least We've Got the Fetish Fair

Marc Comtois

Even in bad economic times, conventions and the like can give the local economy a boost.

On Sunday, buyers jammed the hotel rooms-turned-storefronts on several floors. There’s even a 20-percent-off sale on whips.

But shopping isn’t the only draw. In the bondage room, attendees practice their knots and tie each other up.

“I’m being punished for talking too much,” says a petite young woman crisscrossed with ropes.

Others attend dozens of classes that reflect a taste for the exotic, including Hypnotic Belly Dancing, Belt Bondage, Discovering Your Inner Sadist and Creative Humiliation.

No word on whether any events were held at the State House.

Bob Watson's Alliterative Allegory About Potential Poor Priorities at the People's ... er, Palace

Monique Chartier

(... shoot, couldn't think of a better word for capitol starting with "P".)

George's comment yesterday under Marc's post

um, excuse me....


B R O K E !

reminds me (how could I have forgotten?!) of the remarks that Minority Leader Robert Watson (R) made last week in front of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce with regard to issue focus at the General Assembly this session. [Audio courtesy WPRO; the brouhaha broke on the Matt Allen Show.]

This year shouldn't be about immigration and I know it will be. It shouldn't be about gay marriage and I know it will be.

I suppose if you're a gay man from Guatemala who gambles and smokes pot, you probably think that we're onto some good ideas here.

Some members of the Guatemalan community have asked for an apology, saying that the remarks were offensive. President of the Immigrants in Action Committee Providence, Juan Garcia, is considering picketing Watson at his home or at the State House.

This ProJo article alludes to an upcoming news conference on the matter to be attended also by members of Guatemalan organizations from other states.

Watson has declined to apologize but did reiterate that his remarks pertained only to some of the (in his view) misguided issues that the G.A. will be taking up.

The truth of this is, we are preoccupied with a number of issues, primarily social issues, at a time when financially, we are burning to the ground.

My initial reaction was, why is Juan Garcia criticizing someone who agrees with him on illegal immigration? Garcia doesn't want it brought up by the G.A. and it appears neither does Watson! The thought that occurred to me a couple of days later is that, while I am genuinely regretful if someone's feelings are hurt, we are doing pretty darn good as a community if these mild remarks are deemed offensive. But possibly others wish to express a different reaction.

February 13, 2011

Thus Endeth Global Climate Change

Monique Chartier

... oh, not global climate change itself, just the "theory".

In the wake of increasing public doubt about the theory of AGW as data collection and analysis problems continue to mount, there has been an attempt to recast the theory as "global climate change", "global climate disruption" or "global weirding", the proposition that man's greenhouse gases ... okay, may not be causing global warming but it's sure causing extreme weather. John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, went so far as to call the term global warming "a dangerous misnomer”, a remarkably strange observation in light of the fact that so many AGW scientific endeavors have been aimed at proving both a warming trend and the dire consequences that could arise therefrom.

One hitch: there hasn't been any "extreme weather".

As it happens, the project's initial findings, published last month, show no evidence of an intensifying weather trend. "In the climate models, the extremes get more extreme as we move into a doubled CO2 world in 100 years," atmospheric scientist Gilbert Compo, one of the researchers on the project, tells me from his office at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "So we were surprised that none of the three major indices of climate variability that we used show a trend of increased circulation going back to 1871."

Make Sure One set of Rights doesn't trump Another

Marc Comtois

We hear a lot of the rights-based arguments being made in favor of same-sex marriage hereabouts, including the call to RI Founder Roger Williams and the "separation of church and state". The arguments for religious liberty have seemed muted in the coverage of the debate. In today's ProJo, Professor Robin Wilson (co-editor of the book Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts) explains how RI's proposed gay marriage laws do a bad job of ensuring religious liberty, stating, "Every other state law authorizing same-sex marriage provides more protection..." He also explains that, to his mind, religious exemptions would go a long way towards a compromise solution:

Exemptions provide a middle way, respecting both the interests of same-sex couples and religious liberty. By avoiding a winner-takes-all outcome, exemptions turn down the temperature on a contentious issue.

Exemptions also serve the interests of same-sex marriage supporters by taking a powerful argument against same-sex marriage away from opponents.

He gives examples of such exemptions contained in other same-sex marriage laws:
•  a religiously affiliated group that owns a reception hall limit its space to celebrating only traditional marriages when to do otherwise would violate their religious tenets, a basic protection provided by every same-sex marriage statute outside Rhode Island.

• a religiously affiliated adoption agency place children only with heterosexual married couples so long as they don’t receive government support, as Connecticut did.

• religiously affiliated fraternal organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, limit insurance coverage to spouses in traditional marriages, as Connecticut and Vermont allow.

•  a religiously affiliated organization extend spousal benefits only to individuals in marriages recognized by its faith, as New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Vermont have all done....

Without specific protections, religious organizations that step aside from celebrating same-sex marriages may be subject to private lawsuits under laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or marital status. And these organizations may face stiff penalties from the government.

In addition to such institutional safeguards, Wilson explains that protections for religious individuals--in the spirit of Roger Williams--should also be included:
As broad as the exemptions enacted elsewhere are, they leave out much-needed protections for individuals. Judges, justices of the peace, marriage-license clerks, and individuals in ordinary commerce — bakers, photographers, caterers — who prefer for religious reasons to step aside from same-sex marriages should be allowed to do so when no hardship will result to same-sex couples.
I don't think that sincere religious opponents to same-sex marriage will be mollified by such pragmatic compromises, however. But politicians might.

Steiny: March 1 Teacher Layoff Notices are No Help

Marc Comtois

Julia Steiny points to an annual March right--the sending out of layoff notices to teachers who might get the ax--as a flawed practice on many levels.

In theory, the law is supposed to give teachers time to look for a new job.

But in practice, it means that school communities suffer almost four full months of stress over who does and does not have a job. They live with four months of teachers feeling unappreciated, and four months of resentment against administrators who made the layoff decisions.

Anxious teachers make for unhappy school climates, which impede student learning. Obviously.

Yes, obviously. As Steiny explains, the law is "rock solid" and attempts to change the date have failed time and again even though it seems self-evident that the agida it causes isn't constructive. So why doesn't it change? Oh, it has its purposes:
But the March 1 law is also clever. Machiavellian. The misery that layoffs cause provides a powerful incentive not to freak the staff out, and to leave the status quo peacefully in place. Cowardly school committees and administrators hope to heaven that a few retirements will give them the flexibility to accommodate changes in programming or enrollment.
The March 1 date also clashes with a key time on the school planning calendar:
March is right about when schools are starting to hone their school-improvement strategies for the following year. Most schools are under tremendous pressure to improve their test scores and graduation rates. But only with personnel flexibility can they shore up their math program by hiring coaches, or give struggling readers a double period of English Language Arts. To get that flexibility for September, they must lay off all kinds of people in March to cover their bases, until administrators know exactly what teachers and skills they need.

So seas of pink slips must flow.

As Steiny suggests, let's have them flow in June instead.

Sunday Book Review: A Slave No More

Marc Comtois

A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation by David W. Blight.

A Slave No More is many books in one. The heart and soul of the work are the never-before-published emancipation narratives written by Wallace Turnage and John Washington. Blight provides historical context by matching their individual stories to the Civil War time line and compares them to other emancipation narratives. In essence, Blight provides the historical skeleton upon which the Turnage and Washington stories are overlayed.

In the first two chapters, Blight provides the historical context and his analysis of Washington and Turnage narratives, respectively. His discussion of the different nature, tone and goals of antebellum and post-bellum emancipation narratives is important.

Antebellum slave narratives tended to conform to certain structures and conventions. Given the depth of racism in the era, rooted in assumptions of black illiteracy and deviance, pre-1860 ex-slave autobiographers had to demonstrate their humanity and veracity. They had to prove their identity and their reliability as first-person witnesses among a people so often defined outside the human family of letters….Most narratives were cast as contests between good and evil, moving through countless examples of cruelty toward slaves and ending in a story of escape. Many are essentially spiritual autobiographies, journeys from sinfulness and ignorance to righteousness and knowledge. On one level, antebellum slave narratives were effective abolitionist propaganda, condemnations of slavery in story form.

Post-emancipation slave narratives, however, changed in content and form. They still tend to be spiritual autobiographies, often by former bondsmen turned clergymen, and they were written in the mode of “from slave cabin to the pulpit.” But postslavery narratives are more practical and less romantic, more about a rise to success for the individual and progress for the race as a whole….It is not so much the memory of slavery that matters in the bulk of the postwar genre, but how slavery was overcome by a narrator who competed and won his place in an ever-evolving and more hopeful present. Slavery is now a useable past in the age of Progress and Capital….Antebellum narratives are saturated with the oppressive nature of slavery and a world shadowed by the past. Postbellum narratives reflect backward only enough to cast off the past, exalt the present and forge a future.

According to Blight, the Washington and Turnage narratives are unique because they exhibit qualities of both ante- and postbellum types.

In the third chapter, Blight describes how he used various resources to rediscover Washington and Turnage’s past. It is a good object lesson to future historians as to the twists and turns—some frustrating, some unexpected--that research can take. In chapter four, Blight tackles the larger historiographical question of emancipation and whether it was bottom-up or top-down. It was both:

Emancipation in America was a revolution from the bottom up that required power and authority from the top down to give it public gravity and make it secure. Freedom, as Lincoln said, was something given and preserved, but it also, as he himself well understood had to be taken and endured. And it ultimately was fostered by war and engineered by armies.
In this chapter, he also charts the origin of the “faithful slave” myth and the important part it played in the “Lost Cause” narrative that arose in the postbellum south.

The final two chapters are the emancipation narratives themselves. Both writers apologized for their poor writing skills, yet, while they did write simply, they also wrote engaging and sometimes eloquent prose. In addition to having a talent for description, both were skilled at using humor (sometimes dry) and irony to make their point. For instance, Turnage, in explaining--upon overhearing that he was due a whipping from an overseer--decided not to wait around, so he “got over the fence to see what would be the result.” That’s one way of explaining that he ran away!

In sum, whereas Blight--as he describes--may believe that he was simply in the right place at the right time to have had these works fall into his lap, he has done a magnificent job of presenting the Turnage and Washington stories within their proper historical context. This is a valuable work of history.

A version of this review was originally posted at Spinning Clio on 1/13/2008.

February 12, 2011

Words Fail

Justin Katz

A brief and wholly inadequate explanation for my silence, this week.

Local Food: Where's the Fish?

Marc Comtois

Rhode Island's "buy local" food movement has had some success:

The resurgence of farms and farmers' markets has brought local, fresh produce to thousands more Rhode Islanders in the past few years....“The miraculous comeback of Rhode Island farming,” said Division of Agriculture Director Ken Ayars, "is due in large part to efforts like the statewide Buy Local campaign, establishment of harvest cooperatives like Rhody Fresh milk, organic and good agricultural practices certification schemes and the annual Rhode Island Agriculture Day.”
Now the Buy Local folks are eyeing Rhody seafood.
Noah Fulmer, director of Farm Fresh Rhode Island, an organization that runs eight farmers’ markets in the state, highlighted the need for more direct-marketing venues for seafood.

“What’s missing at farmers’ markets,” Fulmer said, “is seafood from the Ocean State. People are asking ‘Where’s the finfish? Where can I get fresh seafood?’ We don’t have an answer for them right now. It’s an opportunity that’s waiting to be taken.”

Currently, most of the seafood landed in Rhode Island is sold to distribution companies who ship it around the world. Department of Health regulations make it difficult — and expensive — for fishermen to sell their catch directly to the public.
It's economics:
[E]stablished seafood companies caution that local marketing of Rhode Island seafood challenges the basic laws of economics. Export Rhode Island-caught seafood, they say, is more profitable than selling it locally.

Christopher Joy of SeaFreeze, a fishing and distribution company in North Kingstown, explained, “If it’s too expensive, it’s because others are willing to pay more for it.”

Similarly, Eric Reid of Deep Sea Fish, a Narragansett-based seafood distribution company, said it is more profitable to ship Rhode-Island-caught seafood out of state while bringing in cheap fish from abroad. Rhode Island customers, he said, prefer low prices. “Simply put,” he said, “it’s a math problem.”
Hence, plenty of cheap talapia and not so much cod or haddock. Unless you want to pay for it. Nonetheless, plans are in the works.
In the coming months, fishermen and their allies may try to alter this equation by building demand for local seafood in Rhode Island. Locally landed fluke, sea bass, scup and stripers may soon be available at a farmers’ market near you.
My eyes will be peeled!

Kramer/Newman Can Scam Hits Maine

Marc Comtois

Well, sorta:

A memorable "Seinfeld" episode features Kramer and Newman taking thousands of cans and bottles to Michigan so they can get a nickel more per container than they would in New York, but beverage distributors say there's nothing funny when it happens for real.

In Maine, which has a more expansive bottle-redemption law than neighboring states, three people have been accused of illegally cashing in more than 100,000 out-of-state bottles and cans for deposits, the first time criminal charges have been filed in the state over bottle-refund fraud, a prosecutor said.

A couple that runs a Maine redemption center and a Massachusetts man were indicted this week for allegedly redeeming beverage containers in Maine that were bought in other states.

Thomas and Megan Woodard, who run Green Bee Redemption in Kittery, face the more serious charge of allegedly passing off more than 100,000 out-of-state containers - with a value of more than $10,000 - as if they had been purchased in Maine.

Apparently its a big problem and distributors lose millions every year. But this is really about life imitating "art". The Seinfeld episode:
In the 1996 "Seinfeld" episode, Kramer and Newman hatch a plan to drive a truckload of cans and bottles to Michigan, because the redemption fee there was 10 cents, double New York's nickel deposit.

Kramer laments it can't be done. "You overload your inventory and you blow your margins on gasoline," he says at one point. But Newman offers up free space in a mail truck he has to drive to Michigan before Mother's Day - "the mother of all mail days," he calls it - and the pair head off. (They end up aborting the trip while chasing down Jerry's stolen Saab.)

Incidentally, I've got family in Maine if anyone's interested and has a mail truck...

Wisconsin Governor Takes on Unions to Solve Budget

Marc Comtois

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is squarely taking on the unions to help fix his state's budget problems (h/t).

Elements of Walker's proposal include state employee wage increases limited to the rate of inflation unless approved in a voter referendum. State workers -- other than police, fire, and inspectors -- would lose many bargaining rights and could opt out of paying union dues after current contracts expire, with dues no longer collected automatically.

State workers will have to raise the amount they contribute to their pensions to 5.8 percent of salary, and double their contribution to health insurance premiums to 12.6 percent of salary. Wisconsin's unfunded pension liability is $252.6 million, according to Moody's Investors Service.

People aren't happy:
The proposal drew outrage from labor unions and Democrats in the state, which has a $137 million budget deficit in the fiscal year ending June 30 and larger deficits to come.

"If Republicans get their way, workers will no longer be able to negotiate over the hours they work, the safety conditions they labor under or the health insurance and retirement benefits they and their families depend on," Senate Democratic Leader Mark Miller said in a statement.

Republicans--who control the state legislature--anticipate a tough road but think they have no other real options.
"We are out of money and the options are few. We can either raise taxes -- which is absolutely off the table -- reduce spending or lay off workers," Jeff Fitzgerald, the Republican Speaker of the State Assembly, told local radio.

"I expect the Capitol to explode" with protests, Fitzgerald said. "It's going to be a very difficult week."

Nonetheless, it is expected that the Governor's plan will pass.

Nesi: Washington Cuts Will Squeeze Rhode Island

Marc Comtois

WRNI's Ted Nesi explains how RI has become over-reliant on the Federal Government for budget dollars:

[T]he share of Rhode Island’s state budget paid for by the federal government has jumped from 28% to 37% since the recession began; over the same period, the share paid for by state tax revenue (the ol’ General Fund) fell from 49% to 37%.

Put another way, state funds are covering $2.94 billion of Rhode Island’s budget this year while federal funds are covering $2.90 billion. In a $7.9 billion budget, that’s basically a rounding error – Rhode Island is leaning heavily on Washington to balance its books.

Follow the link to see Nesi's illustrative chart.

February 11, 2011

Not Your Father's CPAC

Marc Comtois

CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, is held every year and serves as a sort of bellwether for the conservative movement. According to Roger L. Simon, there was a different twist this year:

The party staged by Andrew Breitbart for GOProud — the gay Republican and conservative group — was as close to a game changer as things get and the most interesting event at CPAC by far, at least to this point — and that’s meant as no insult to CPAC. With sexy Sophie B. Hawkins singing to a boisterous, supportive crowd, the party almost obliterated in one night the conception that Republicans are anti-gay and gave the impression that young libertarians — and some not so young — are taking over the GOP. Pretty soon it may be cool to be a Republican and square to be a Democrat.
Simon does check himself for possibly being a bit hyperbolic, but that libertarians seem to be taking over CPAC--Ron Paul is an annual crowd-pleaser--is an interesting development. Meanwhile, more socially conservative groups opted not to attend CPAC this year.

ProJo Blames Conservatives in Congress for Complicated Taxes

Marc Comtois

The ProJo Editors came out against tax fiddling and focused on a couple areas of "trouble" related to taxation and the implementation of President Obama's health care program. They think that the 2.3% tax on medical devices is no big deal because the manufacturers of said devices make a lot of money now and will make even more thanks to the health care reforms, so they should pay more. Except, with their usual blinders, they don't account for reality: the manufacturers will probably just pass that tax increase off to consumers (or, by extension, their health insurer, which is us...so how does this work?).

They ProJo Eds are particularly troubled by the complicated tax code, in general and are in favor of making it "flatter" and simpler (here here!). And they blame...conservatives?

The biggest problem is Congress’s (and especially its “conservatives’ ”) tendency to promote such fiscal dodges as tax credits instead of transparent taxes and spending. The taxes that folks don’t pay because they get a tax credit are taxes that someone else must pay. But members of Congress like to make it all as opaque as possible.
Huh? Well, you see, from the Eds perspective, the Democrats fell down on the job because they "believed the insurance lobby was just too powerful to overcome in Washington" and the Republicans who all voted against the Obamacare plan somehow benefited from the insurance lobbyists...it's pretty confusing rhetoric, really. Never mind that they ignore the fact that nearly every reform plan that aims to make the tax system "flatter" (at least to my knowledge) has come from fiscal conservatives (from Steve Forbes, to Paul Ryan to Ron Paul, etc.). Cognitive dissonance strikes again.

Warwick NECAP Scores Up: Amazing What a Little Incentive Can Do

Marc Comtois

Warwick schools were pretty happy with the latest NECAP results, which showed improvement nearly across the board. From the Beacon

As for the improvements at the high school level where students were told for a first time that they would need to be proficient to graduate, [Warwick School Board Chair Bethany] Furtado concludes, “Students are taking it seriously. Kids need to know that that’s [school] their job. They need to do well in school.”

Principals at all three high schools agreed with Furtado, saying the fact that students took the test seriously because it counted toward their graduation eligibility was one of the major factors for improved scores.

“There was more motivation for the students to do well this time around because they understood that the scores would have an impact on graduation,” said Vets Principal Gerry Habershaw.

Habershaw said it wasn’t only the students that approached the test with a more serious attitude.

After the teachers saw what happened in Central Falls, they took the NECAP preparation more seriously,” Habershaw said. “I also rearranged the way we did advisory periods because it had become a joke. So every Thursday, during advisory, teachers would submit a NECAP practice test so the students could get used to it.”

...“I’m very, very pleased with those results,” said Pilgrim Principal Dennis Mullen. “This was the first year that students were held accountable and they knew that it really mattered, but from a school and teacher perspective, we did a great deal of professional development.” {emphasis added}

Real consequences tied to failure helped get positive results. Imagine that. They also embraced the teacher development required to get results.
Mullen said writing was emphasized throughout the curriculum at Pilgrim by having each department create writing prompts for the students to perform constructed responses, which was an area the school had fallen down on in the past. He said each department chose a different prompt, such as persuasive writing, reflective writing, or responding to information from a text, in order to ensure that students were exposed to all prompts before taking the test.

...Mullen said one of the programs to improve math scores has already been implemented in all three high schools, which allows eighth grade students who are entering ninth grade that scored below proficient in math on the NECAP test to ramp up their math skills before taking Algebra 1, which will be implemented at all levels in ninth grade.

“We’ve aligned our curriculum to state standards and our expectations remain high,” Mullen said. “I’m very pleased with where we are, but I’m never satisfied.”

Good job and good attitude. Keep it up.

"Multiculturalism has failed" in Europe

Marc Comtois

No more salad bowls?

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday declared that multiculturalism had failed, joining a growing number of world leaders or ex-leaders who have condemned it.

"We have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him," he said in a television interview in which he declared the concept a "failure."

British Prime Minister David Cameron last month pronounced his country's long-standing policy of multiculturalism a failure, calling for better integration of young Muslims to combat home-grown extremism.

I don't know if a "melting pot" approach will work in European countries, but it looks like they want to give it a try. We'll see how well they do integrating the "other" and all that.

More from Sarkoz
"If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community, and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France...The French national community cannot accept a change in its lifestyle, equality between men and women... freedom for little girls to go to school....We have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him."

Tea Party House Members Demand--and get--More Cuts

Marc Comtois

It shouldn't go unremarked upon that the Tea Party Republicans in the US House of Representatives took a stand and prevailed earlier this week.

The revolt of freshman and conservative Republicans over spending cuts for this fiscal year ended almost before it began, because it prevailed so rapidly. The rebellion started in rumblings back in the lawmakers’ districts; gathered in the defiance of Republican dissenters on the appropriations committee; and reached full force at yesterday’s conference meeting, knocking GOP leaders back on their heels and quickly convincing them to give in to the Tea Party’s demands.

“We may be freshmen, we may be rookies in this game,” says Rep. Steve Womack (R., Ark.). “But there is no question that the leadership respects our opinion.”

GOP freshmen were frustrated when, earlier this month, House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) released his proposal to cut $58 billion in non-security spending for the remainder of the fiscal year. Perhaps more than anything, they were confused. To begin with, it wasn’t exactly clear how much money they were planning to cut — in addition to Ryan’s $58 billion, the numbers $74 billion, $43 billion, and $32 billion were floating around. It seemed that few could agree, because it depended on what baseline and category of spending you were using.

Whatever the actual figure, it was short of the $100 billion Republicans had promised to cut in the “Pledge to America.”

So they blocked the measure and took on the leadership and prevailed. That's why they were sent there. Hopefully, the message has been received by the old guard. Things do indeed look to be different this time around.

February 10, 2011

AZ to Fed Gov: You Claim It As Your Purview

Monique Chartier

... so buckle down.

Arizona on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the federal government, alleging that Washington has failed to secure the state's porous border with Mexico. ...

"Because the federal government has failed to protect the citizens ... of Arizona, I am left with no other choice," Brewer told reporters at a news conference in central Phoenix, as several boisterous protesters attempted to shout her down.

"We did not want this fight. We did not start this fight. But, now that we are in it, Arizona will not rest until our border is secured and federal immigration laws are enforced," she added.

NECAP: Achievement Gaps Exist, but Middle Class RI Kids On Par or Better than ME, NH, VT Peers

Marc Comtois

Progress. That's what the latest NECAP results show, though Education Commissioner Gist still correctly points out there is work to be done, particularly in closing the "achievement gaps". What are these gaps? As 7to7 reported:

Achievement gaps among minority and low-income students and students with learning disabilities and students with limited English proficiency persist. The gaps are as large as 30 to 40 percentage points when compared to white students, students who do not receive free or reduced lunch, students who do not receive special education services and students who speak English.
Commissioner Gist:
“Today’s news is not all good,” Gist said. “In terms of statewide progress, we don’t see the gains we’d like to see …. And we are very, very concerned about achievement gaps.”

She reiterated her belief that Rhode Islanders need to ramp up their expectations for students and let go of familiar arguments about why some students don’t succeed.

“We are confident and feel very strongly that students across this state, whatever their neighborhood, whatever their school, whatever their family background, can achieve at high levels,” she said. “… At the end of the day, we will not accept excuses for our children not achieving because we know that they can. Teacher effectiveness is hugely important. If students have a highly effective teacher three years in a row, we can essentially close the achievement gap.”

That is all true and there is clearly work to be done, but we always seem to focus on the "overall" scores or the scores of disadvantaged groups. I wondered how RI students who have no "disadvantages" are performing as compared to those in other states. Looking at the various data--and there's a lot of it from 4 states--I finally resolved that using data for 5th graders (who also took the NECAP Writing test in addition to Reading and Math) would provide a good snapshot of the multi-state results.

Now, the data is inconsistent in that, unfortunately, Vermont doesn't break out their scores by grade in the aggregate data. However, I included their grades 3-8 data (hence the * in the tables below) because it's close--and I provided all of RI's data for comparision, which was 3-8 and grade 11.

First, here is the percentage of students Proficient and Above who were not considered economically disadvantaged.

Grade 5 - Not Economically Disadvantaged   

It's clear that RI 5th graders--who could be considered your average, suburban, middle-class kids--are very competitive (and better in 2 out of 3 categories; 2nd to NH in Math) with their northern New England peers. That is good news, isn't it?!

So, what about the 5th graders who are economically disadvantaged?

Grade 5 - Economically Disadvantaged   

The 20-25 point drop (the "gap") from not-economically disadvantaged and those who are defined as such is pretty consistent across the states no matter the tested subject. This difference based on economic prosperity isn't a surprise and, to my mind, when comparing the results across these 4 states, it is a more accurate comparison than using race, for instance. To begin with, there just aren't that many minorities in the northern New England states, but also, while the poor in Rhode Island are often urban minorities, that is not the case in northern New England. To show what I mean, here are the overall NECAP results for Whites (regardless of economic standing):

Grade 5 - Whites   

Rhode Island white students track pretty close to non-economically disadvantaged students. Contrast that with Maine, for instance, where there is a 17 point achievement gap between all whites and non-economically disadvantaged ones in Reading. In fact, in Reading the 62% proficient or above score for all whites is barely above the 59% for economically disadvantaged Maine students. Vermont shows similar data characteristics Maine while New Hampshire is actually much more like Rhode Island.

What does it all mean? To be sure, as Commissioner Gist stressed, there is much work to be done where achievement gaps exist and I'm not trying to shove those students to the side. But positive news is positive news, folks. So, based on this limited survey (only so much time, folks!) I don't think it's being a Pollyanna to take these results as evidence that middle-class and above Rhode Island students are competitive with--or doing better than--their northern New England neighbors. Obviously, there is room for improvement and we should and will continue to push for 90% and better proficiency and above. Right now, it looks like we're headed in the right direction. Faster, please (to coin a phrase).

Sources: Maine Grade 5 2010-11 NECAP results, State of NH NECAP Grade Comparison, NECAP Fall 2010 Vermont Results, Vermont NECAP Fall 2010 Grades 3-8 disagregated data, State of RI NECAP Reports, Rhode Island’s NECAP Math, Reading, and Writing Results for Grades 3-8 and 11.

Signs of Life in Committee: Four Reps Oppose Holding the Illegal Immigration Bill "For Further Study"

Carroll Andrew Morse

A source who was at Tuesday's night hearing of the Labor Committee of the Rhode Island House of Representatives informs me that the decision "to hold for further study" the bill that would write former Governor Donald Carcieri's illegal immigration executive order into law passed by a vote of only 8 - 4 (one committee member was absent). Representatives Deborah Fellela (D-Johnston), Brian Newberry (R-North Smithfield/Burrillville), Robert Phillips (D-Woonsocket) and Jack Savage (R-East Providence) were the votes against further study.

Let's review exactly what it was that 8 members of the Labor committee voted for, in voting for "further study": By voting "to hold for further study", the majority on the Labor Committee voted against giving the full House of Representatives a definitive opportunity to vote on the illegal immigration bill, and instead voted in favor of giving the Speaker of the House the power to decide whether this bill should receive any further attention during this legislative session.

Given the committee's disposition of the immigration bill, no one outside of the 4 Representatives who voted against "further study" can be considered amongst its supporters. Certainly some members of the House Labor Committee, such Chairwoman Anastasia Williams (D-Providence), have given unmistakable indications of opposing the bill on its merits. But it would definitely be of interest to constituents of the Labor Committee members who voted for "further study" to find out if their Rep opposed the bill because of its substance, or because they were told they were not allowed to send it to the House floor for a vote at this time, even if they did support it.

Remember, asking legislators to vote in committee for bills that they support isn't asking for an arcane parliamentary trick. It's simply asking legislators to do the job they were elected to do, and not give away their representation of their constituents to someone else.

Gay Marriage Hits the State House

Marc Comtois

By now, I think we're all familiar with the arguments. The ProJo covered the story and GoLocalProv's Stephen Beale has a piece regarding a potential compromise being floated that would have all Rhode Island marriages be called civil unions. The details:

“There seems to be an issue with a word and I want to make sure there is equality,” said state Rep. Karen MacBeth, a self-described conservative Democrat from Cumberland. “If we’re hung up on a word, let’s use a different word.”

If the current bill to legalize gay marriage successfully makes it to the House floor, MacBeth is considering offering an amendment that would substitute the phrase “civil unions” for “marriage.” As a result, the state would stop offering marriage licenses and instead offer civil unions to both straight and gay couples.

One veteran state rep whom she declined to name has told MacBeth that it would be too much of an undertaking to strip the word “marriage” from all state laws. MacBeth, however, points to the recent debate over taking out the phrase “Providence Plantations” from the state name. “If we can take a vote on changing the name of the state, we can certainly vote on changing the word ‘marriage,’” she said.

While several legislators across the political/ideological spectrum seem in favor of enacting a civil union law of some sort--or at least putting it before the Rhode Island voters--it doesn't look like the activists on either side of the issue are crazy about this "cut the baby in half" solution.

February 9, 2011

Rudderless Rhode Island: National Perception is Reality

Marc Comtois

Steve Malanga at RealClearMarkets gives us the national perspective of what's going on in Rhode Island (h/t Jim Hackett via Facebook):

Tucked in between Massachusetts and Connecticut and overshadowed in Northeastern political discussions by states like New Jersey and New York, Rhode Island is barely noticed these days.

Still, the Ocean State bears watching. Its fiscal problems are, relative to its size, among the worst in the country. And the reform agenda (if you can even call it that) of its new governor, Lincoln Chafee, elected with union support and with only a plurality of the vote, is among the tamest in the nation. In Rhode Island we may get to see how the union version of fixing a state's problems via tax increases and the barest of reforms of government spending and employee entitlements works.

Ouch. Then, the laundry list:
Though smaller than its neighbors, Rhode Island very much bears the stamp of Northeastern politics and governing. It has the third highest level of public employee unionization in the country, 64 percent, behind New York and Connecticut. Its government is among the top 10 in the nation in per capita spending and in the tax burden it imposes on residents, plus the state has one of the least attractive business environments....

Rhode Island's long-term obligations compare unfavorably with just about any other state, and that's saying a lot....

the Daily Beast recently ranked Rhode Island the state most likely to go bust...

Moody's...ranked Rhode Island among the most troubled states on a variety of metrics...

A recent audit revealed that Rhode Island's biggest city, Providence, has been spending more than it budgets throughout the recession and depleting its reserve funds in the process, to the point where the city is almost out of cash....

[A]nother city, Central Falls, is insolvent thanks to $32 million in promised post-retirement health-insurance costs for its employees plus $48 million in pension obligations that the city can't meet on its own....

The burden this spending places on the private sector is significant. Rhode Island is not a state where businesses are investing in the future. An analysis of private sector investment several years ago by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council found investment per employee was among the lowest of any state, 30 percent below the national average. And while the state ranks only 20th in average private sector wage per worker, it ranks 4th in public sector pay.

Yay, us. Malanga also details the non-solutions being offered up by our Governor (and notes that Chafee only won with 36% of the vote). Just not good.

Avedesian's Pragmatic Pension Reform

Marc Comtois

I will give credit to Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian for coming up with a plan to save $2 million in pension costs via the extension of retirement ages and reformulating pension payouts for new hires after July 2012.

Avedisian’s proposal would increase the minimum years of service needed for retirement from 20 to 25 for police and firefighters and impose a minimum retirement age of 50. Municipal employees would need 25 years of service and be at least 59 years old to qualify for a pension.

His proposal also recalibrates the formula used to calculate pensions, giving police and fire employees 2 percent of each year’s salary as opposed to 2.5 percent. Cost-of-living pension increases would not be fixed at 3 percent, but would follow a formula currently used for municipal employees that is based, in part, on the Consumer Price Index.

Following a model set by Pawtucket, Avedisian is also looking to reduce disability pensions for police and firefighters who retire due to job-related injuries and currently receive pensions that are the equivalent of about 66.6 percent of their salaries. Avedisian is proposing that those pension payments be lowered to a regular pension payment once those former employees reach normal retirement age.

There are always ways to take a tougher line by reducing the percentages and raising retirement ages even further. Or, as WHJJ's Helen Glover suggests, implementing mandatory physicals for police and fire, which would mitigate many disability claims.

Yet, again, Avedisian's proposal is for future employees and we all know the real costs and problems we're worried about are with current and past pension plans/payouts. Unfortunately, there just isn't much that can be done about those right now. However, Avedisian explains that this proposal lays the groundwork:

Avedisian said that contracts with police, fire and municipal employees expire in 2012 and he wants the ordinance in place to serve as a footing for contract talks. That is also why the changes will only affect employees hired after July 1, 2012, he said.

While many residents worried about taxes would like to see cities and towns make changes in existing pension plans, the problem can only really be addressed on a “go-forward” basis because of the binding language of contracts, according to the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns and the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council.

“You can’t just go in and break contracts,” said Daniel L. Beardsley Jr., the league’s executive director. “Then, you’ll be looking not only at legal fees, but the possibility of costly settlements.”

Look, it would be great to take a hard line, but the makeup and track record of Rhode Island courts doesn't make one optimistic. Besides, the legal fees required to carry this through the courts would most likely end up eating up any attempted savings (at least for the short term). So, until contract time, this is the sort of thing municipalities are left with. So, it sucks, I know. But as citizens, we need to be ready to buck up our elected officials when the contracts are being renegotiated. Keep your eyes on the long game--the union leaders certainly do.

What a Tangled BigBiz Tech Web We Weave

Marc Comtois

First we all disapproved of Microsoft and they went down. Now it's Google's turn....and guess who it blames?

Google is under siege in Washington like never before — and it says an “anti-Google industrial complex” is to blame.

In an interview with POLITICO, a Google spokesman argued that a cabal of antitrust lawyers, lobbyists and public relations firms is conspiring against the Internet search giant. The mastermind? Google says it’s Microsoft.

Hm. U.S. Steel or Standard Oil? Who to choose?! Oh, but there's more.
In the 1990s, Microsoft was the tech industry wunderkind that got too big for its britches — and Google CEO Eric Schmidt, then an executive at Sun Microsystems and later Novell, helped knock the software titan down a peg by providing evidence in the government’s antitrust case against it.

The constraints imposed on Microsoft in that case helped clear the way for Google’s rise to rule the Web. Now — as Google spreads its tentacles into everything from mobile phones to digital online libraries to green energy — some of Microsoft’s allies are saying it’s time for the search giant to get its comeuppance.

Ah, so competitors to Microsoft used the government to help "even the playing field" to such a degree that another company--Google--emerged and became so successful that now their competition wants to do the same thing. Not saying there aren't legit concerns, but see what happens when government gets involved? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? In more ways than one:
Google officials say they’ve learned from Microsoft’s mistakes. That was one reason the company opened an office in Washington in 2005, only a year after it went public. The company’s spending on lobbying climbed to $5.1 million last year, edging closer to Microsoft’s $7 million.

The company has hired its share of consultants, lobbyists and attorneys, too....In fact, three years ago, Google brought in some hired guns to try to persuade regulators to prevent the proposed merger between Microsoft and Yahoo — a partnership devised to counter Google’s dominance in search. Google lined its bench at the time with Jamie Gorelick, a Clinton-era deputy attorney general, and public relations firm Chlopak Leonard Schechter — in addition to the Washington veterans the company already had on retainer, such as the King & Spalding law firm and the Podesta Group.

Yahoo rejected Microsoft’s bid but settled for a search and advertising partnership last year that the DOJ approved, saying it would increase competition to Google.

The thing is, Google would have probably beat Microsoft without all of the histrionics: it really was a better search engine after all. Further, caught in an old business plan--desktops, OS's, etc.--Microsoft was blindsided on many fronts of the internet revolution, not just search engines. Then there's Apple. Wonder why no one's brought them to court yet due to there ubiquitous domination of the music download market?

ADDENDUM: Here's why we like have commenters: First "Mangeek" takes the Politico article (from which I pulled the above selections) to task.

How was Microsoft 'knocked down a peg'? They had virtually no action taken on them as a result of the antitrust case. See this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Microsoft#Settlement

Google's ascent wasn't at all related to the antitrust case. Microsoft is a technology -follower-, they didn't even have a search engine before Google.

Then "Dan" provides a little direction re: "monopolies":
There are some good EconTalk episodes on the subject of antitrust law in the US with attention paid to many past "Monopolies" that ended up vanishing off the face of the earth through simple competition without any intervention whatsoever.


To my re-reading, both have mitigated some of my nebulousness on the above. Thanks, men.

Short: 2010 NECAP Results

Marc Comtois

FYI, the 2010 NECAP Results will be up shortly. They may also show up here, but right now the 2010 results listed are from May of last year, not October.

UPDATE: Here's the overall report (PDF).

Roach: "Being Black in the 21st Century"

Marc Comtois

Former Anchor Rising contributor and GoLocalProv MINDSETTER(tm) Don Roach takes the occasion of Black History Month to speak about what it means to be black in the 21st century:

[T]he main “problem” facing black people in 2011 is a lack of identity. For centuries we were defined by others and defined ourselves by what was done to us. We were enslaved, we were treated like chattel, we had our rights stripped from us, we had few opportunities for advancement, etc.

In 2011, that’s simply no longer true. So who are we? Think about it, if your entire existence has always been defined and controlled by another group, what happens when that group no longer pulls the purse strings?

What happens when you actually win your freedom?

Maybe that’s the wrong question. Perhaps the problem is as a society we want to lump all black people together. We’re not all the same, some of us can’t dance, play basketball, and leaving her nameless some black people I know even like Country music. Perhaps a result of freedom is the loss of collective identity. Is that so bad?

No, it's not. No one is easily pigeonholed. For while, to one extent or another, we all tend to identify with one or even several groups, our individual identity goes beyond the narrow confines of the assumptions and, yes, stereotypes held by others towards those so "grouped." That goes for ethnicity, religion and even political or philosophic ideology. But it's so darned easy to make assumption, isn't it? To use the "Cliff Notes" of life and make those snap decisions about others so we don't have to engage or think quite so hard.

We're all guilty of it and, especially around here, written expression and commentary doesn't always properly convey the fullness of our character. In my experience, nothing really tops face-to-face with some food and a few beers. It humanizes us in our increasingly disconnected society. That doesn't mean we're going to go all Rodney King---I still may think you've got some f-ed up views, but at least there's a chance we'll like the same beer and think that the Sox have a chance this year (damn straight!).

Campaign Taste: Patrick Lynch Goes out in Style

Monique Chartier

Nothing will ever match the depth of Patrick Lynch's monumentally selfish and depraved disdain for justice. But he's sure giving it the ol' college try in a different realm; namely, the use, abuse and disrespect of campaign contributions during the last months of his tenure as AG.

During the final three months of 2010, former state Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch spent $58,000 of his campaign war chest, including thousands of dollars on trips to Las Vegas, Chicago, Dallas and Fort Lauderdale, as well as thousands more at high-end restaurants in the state, according to a campaign-finance report filed with the state this week. ...

Lynch’s final campaign expenses from 2010 also include tabs at some high-end restaurants in Providence: Café Noir ($407); Capriccio ($788); Providence Oyster Bar ($643); Mills Tavern ($500); and The Capital Grille ($788), as well as some chain restaurants such as Johnny Rockets ($211) and T.G.I. Friday’s in Seekonk ($451).

Other big ticket items include liquor ($5,589) ...


Campaign funds are to be expended in furtherance of a candidate's run for public office. Can Rhode Island's former chief law enforcement officer please advise what statewide office he has been running for - AND SPENDING CAMPAIGN DOLLARS ON - since last July when he bowed out of the governor's race?

We'll set aside for a moment the larger matter of whether, during these months, the AG even found time to conduct the people's business in between vacations ("It's Tuesday? Off to the airport.") and remain focused on the "campaign" expenditures. There is a palpable question that arises from all of this free-wheeling spending with no discernable legal goal: are RI campaign laws simply a flimsy cover for someone to collect a bunch of money tax free in order to live high on the hog?

February 8, 2011

How To End the Tyranny of "Held For Further Study" II

Carroll Andrew Morse

Three high-profile bills go before their Rhode Island House of Representatives committees this week, 1) the bill, referred to the Labor Committee to be heard today, that would make the provisions of former Governor Carcieri's executive order on illegal immigration into law, and 2 and 3) bills, referred to the Judiciary Committee to be heard on Wednesday, one establishing same-sex marriage at the statutory level, the other defining marriage as being between a man and a woman at the Constitutional level. (h/t Ian Donnis)

Given the recent history of legislature action in Rhode Island, the question is, once these bills go to committee, who will make the decision on whether they are eventually sent to the full House for a floor vote: the members of the committee together, or the Speaker of the House alone? Does a committee decide what happens to the bill referred to it, or does a committee immediately hand bills back to the Speaker of the House and say "you tell us what to do"?

I have no inside information on what the majority committee positions are in the case of the immigration and the same-sex marriage bills, but they are certainly not instances where straight party-line votes are expected. And if any RI Representative believes that that a majority of a committee on which they serve would decide the fate of a bill differently from what the House leadership would allow, there are the procedures she or he can follow (consistent with Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure, referenced in the House Rules) to help a bill get its rightful consideration.

  1. If the committee meeting begins, as is common practice in Rhode Island legislative committee meetings, with a motion to hold every bill on the current agenda for "further study", any representative can make a motion to "divide the question", and have the bill they are interested in (same-sex marriage, immigration, etc.) considered as a separate vote.
  2. If the legislature follows its own customs and practice, the motion to divide the question should be granted by the committee chair automatically, without a vote being needed. If you check the Journals of proceedings on the House floor, motions to divide the question are routinely granted without a vote being taken, as long as the Speaker rules that a question is divisible. There is absolutely no question that a motion to vote on multiple bills at the same time is divisible into separate votes.
  3. Then when the bill of interest comes up for its separate consideration, if a motion to "hold it for further study" is immediately made, that motion opens the question for debate (it the language of parliamentary law, any motion that would send the bill out of committee falls into the category of a "main motion" which opens general debate on the subject). Any representative who wants to speak on the substance of the question should be afforded the opportunity to do so, before any vote is taken, and the debate should follow the same rules that are followed when bills that have been blessed by the Speaker and the Committee chair are considered. However, just as importantly...
  4. Motions to either postpone definitely, or to lay the bill on the table (two separate options) are now in order. The important difference between a vote to "hold for further study" and a vote for "to postpone definitely" is that further study sends a bill back to the full House, where its fate is placed into the hands of the Speaker, while "definite postponement" keeps the bill in committee, where its fate must still be decided at a later time by a majority vote of the committee, no matter what the Speaker or the committee chairperson thinks.

    A motion for definite postponement could take the form, for example, of a motion to postpone consideration of bill until after the people who have come to testify on that day have been heard, or until the next committee meeting, or until the first committee meeting after witnesses have been heard, etc. Also, according to Mason's Manual, the motion for definite postponement is debatable to the degree that the "propriety of the postponement" is discussed, meaning that it would be perfectly in order for the Rep who made the motion (or any other Rep on the committee) to explain to the other members of the committee (and the audience for the hearing) during their speaking time how this motion keeps the fate of the bill in the hands of the committee, instead of transferring it to the Speaker. (The first time this procedure is used, this might also make for some interesting blank and confused stares on the faces of certain legislators).

  5. The motion to postpone definitely does have to be voted on -- which means the real question about invoking this process centers on whether the members of a committee charged with considering a bill believe that the Speaker of the House would make the same decision on the bill that they would. If they think the Speaker would not allow a bill to get a vote on the House floor, even though a majority of the committee would supports it, then they should follow the procedure described above.
Look, I know that the 19th century language used as the names for some of these motions can make parts of the process sound arcane, but this is not parliamentary trickery being sketched out. This is, in fact just the opposite, a review of some accepted and staid rules, adopted over the centuries of American democracy, to ensure that legislatures are run as the gatherings of equally-ranked representatives of the people that they are intended to be. In the specific context of the RI legislature, those particular principles that need protecting are...
  1. That legislatures make decisions on substantive matters by majority vote.
  2. That legislators cannot be forced to vote on substantive matters, before they have had an opportunity to deliberate them.
  3. That legislators cannot be required to consider unrelated bills at the same time.
If you think those principles are unreasonable, then the form of government you believe in is something other than democratic.

Harrop's Crocodile Tears

Marc Comtois

On Sunday, ProJo columnist Froma Harrop (I know, I know....) cried crocodile tears over the loss of the Moderate Republican.

I used to vote for select Republicans running for national office. That’s become next to impossible because Tea Party groups have pushed GOP leaders to treat any cooperation with the Democratic foe as abject surrender. You might like your Republican, but your Republican is no longer free to act his or her conscience without being called all kinds of things.
Its because of the populist Tea Partiers, you see. You just can't practice the ol' noblesse oblige like ya used to!
[B]oy, it’s painful to see grown statesmen cower at the commands of puffed-up “revolutionaries” inflicting damage on their party, never mind the country...I want a two-party system that offers acceptable choices. And I want a political leadership that can do America’s business without having to sate the populist passions of folks unacquainted with economic realities or the art of compromise.
Now, the Democrats have the right idea, right? Moderates still thrive in the Democratic Party, what with the Democratic Leadership Council...oh, wait....
The Democratic Leadership Council, the iconic centrist organization of the Clinton years, is out of money and could close its doors as soon as next week, a person familiar with the plans said Monday.

The DLC, a network of Democratic elected officials and policy intellectuals had long been fading from its mid-'90s political relevance, tarred by the left as a symbol of "triangulation" at a moment when there's little appetite for intra-party warfare on the center-right.

There are also a lot of conservative Democrats fleeing to the GOP. Of course, most of those are from the South (that's why they're called "conservative" and not "moderate", incidentally) and that just doesn't count in Harropia. (Like the moderate Democrats who may be going after the individual mandate in Obamacare). The truth is that there are ideologues on both ends of the political spectrum who have always made life difficult for the middle-of-the-roaders. Plus, Harrop's problem is related to her basic misconception of what moderate really is: the country is more conservative than not, after all, so real moderates are more conservative than she allows.

ADDENDUM: Michael Barone has more thoughts.

The Gamblin' Regent

Marc Comtois

The news is that Twin River is lobbying to be a full-fledged casino again (which really just means making the virtual table games real). But what caught my attention is who is helping to lead the charge: George Caruolo, Governor Chafee's nominee to be the Chair of the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education.

Caruolo, a one-time advisor to the Mashantucket Pequots, registered to lobby for the holding corporation that owns Twin River on Jan. 26. A week later, he surfaced as Governor Chafee’s choice to chair the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education.

After his lobbyist filing came to light on Monday, Chafee spokesman Michael Trainor said Caruolo, a former adviser to the tribe that owns Foxwoods casino in Connecticut, disclosed his relationship with the owners of the Lincoln slot parlor “when the governor first approached him” about chairing the board that sets education policy for the state.

“The governor sees no problem with George taking on lobbying assignments,” including this one, said Trainor...

Well, I see a problem. Are we so jaded, so anything-goes as long as its "legal" that we can't see the problem with the guy in charge of educating our kids also actively lobbying for a gambling operation? This is what happens when our political leaders keep going into the same shallow pool of insider "talent" whenever a leadership position comes up (see Hunsinger, Christine). Yeah, no cronyism here.

February 7, 2011

Ken McKay Announces

Monique Chartier

... his candidacy for the chairmanship of the RIGOP via this press release dispatched just after noon today.

Republicans are faced with an incredible opportunity to win elections in Rhode Island. We have great incumbents and candidates. We have incredibly hard working activists. Respectfully, I hope to earn your support and vote to become Chairman of the Rhode Island Republican Party in March. Over the last few weeks I have talked to many Rhode Island Republicans about our future. I will continue that outreach through our March meeting.

I humbly believe that if we all pull together against liberal, Democrat policies and leaders we can win elections here. In my opinion, Republican ideas represent the majority opinion in Rhode Island. Liberals and Democrats continue to take us in the wrong direction. We must organize the like-minded majority, and identify our vote, and turn them out on election day, if we do we will find ourselves in the majority and in control of our destiny.

Before serving on the Rick Scott for Governor campaign in Florida last summer and fall I had the honor to serve our party as Chief of Staff at the National Committee. When I arrived there shortly after President Obama’s inauguration Washington wrote us off. We were not expected to win. Frankly, the question was how big the Democrat majority could get? We worked in the face of skepticism but we remained excited and pulled together to beat Democrats. We helped challenge the liberal health care takeover, we helped successful Governor’s races, we raised money. We spent every day organizing. It was not easy. Doubt was in the air. We took steps though towards success and we pressed every day until we achieved victory and we can do that in Rhode Island.

A little about me:

Married for 18 years and we have three boys

My wife and I are from Rhode Island

Managed two successful campaigns for Governor Carcieri

Served as Chief of Staff to Governor Carcieri for his first term

Veteran of the United States Army Infantry

As Chief of Staff at RNC made sure RI was supported

Assisted in RIGOP fundraising

Took a leave of absence from Governor Carcieri's office to assist in 2004 legislative races

Attached is a letter that I ask you to read regarding my candidacy for Chair of our great Party, and again, I ask for your support.

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island House (Criminal and Civil Offense Focus), January 25 - February 3

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5125Defines crimes of assault, battery and manslaughter against an unborn child. (Same as H5029?)
H5129Changes registration and notification requirements for sexual offenders.
H5132From the official description: "This act would require the collection of DNA samples for any person arrested for a crime of violence [and] expand the list of crimes for which a DNA sample is required".
H5257Sets rules for using restraints on pregnant prisoners.
H5263From the official description: "This act would amend the law banning racial profiling in traffic stops by state and municipal law enforcement agencies by imposing additional requirements upon law enforcement agencies to collect data and complete regular reports of findings and statistics regarding traffic stops".

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5122Requires drivers ticketed for a third traffic violation within a 12-month period to appear in court. (Comment: I'm pretty sure this doesn't apply to parking tickets, but only to offenses where a vehicle is being operated.).
H5124Adds libraries to the list of locations that trigger double-penalties for producing or selling drugs within 300 yards of them.
H5130Police can conduct an alcohol or a drug test during a traffic-stop, but not both (right now, they are allowed to do both).
H5131Reduces from 6 to 4 the number of state district court divisions (The municipalities of Bristol County [currently the 1st division], of northern Providence County [the current 5th division] and Providence and East Providence [the current 6th division] get pulled into a single division).
H5181From the official description: "This act would permit parents of a deceased child who are divorced, separated, living apart or never married to file a motion requesting the judge to apportion fairly any amount awarded in a wrongful death action".
H5182Reduces the amount of unpaid child support classified as a felony from $10,000 to $5,000. Companion to S0023.
H5212Adds "little cigars, flavored cigars known as “blunts” unflavored “blunts”, flavored and unflavored blunt wraps, cigarette rolling papers of any size or composition, cigarillos, and tiparillos" to the list of tobacco products that cannot be purchased by individuals younger than 18 years of age.
H5213Second offense for possession of marijuana would be a misdemeanor.
H5214Specifies that penalties for violating the terms of parole or a deferred sentence cannot lead to a term of imprisonment that exceeds the original sentence.
H5216 From the official description: "This act would allow that if child support has been terminated, suspended or expired the court can re-establish child support if the child has severe mental impairment or a severe impairment if the situation fits the criteria and factors in this statute".
H5222Applicants for DCYF jobs would be required to undergo a BCI check.
H5259Makes clear that any party to a civil action who is over 65 years age can request an acceleration of the action.
H5261"Petty misdemeanors" involving domestic violence can trigger enhanced penalties. Companion to S0070
H5262Being deployed out-of-state as part of military service cannot by itself be the cause of modifying a child-custody order. Companion to S0024
H5264Adds "cyberstalking and cyberharassment" to the list of crimes that can be defined as domestic violence.

Insider Politics: A Girl's Gotta Eat!

Marc Comtois

WPRI's Ted Nesi had the first tip clued me in (WRNI's Ian Donnis had it first on his Tip Sheet~apologies Ian!) that former Moderate Gubernatorial Campaign runner Christine Hunsinger (who was a Dem before that as press secretary for Democratic Congressional hopeful Elizabeth Dennigan) will now be an independent as Governor Chafee's Legislative Director. Nesi remembered that all those months ago Hunsinger said that Chafee was "disingenuous" and "playing politics." Now I guess she wants to jump in the sandbox with him:

“I am honored that Governor Chafee has given me this tremendous opportunity to serve the people of Rhode Island,” Hunsinger said. “His commitment to turning the state’s economy around, creating and preserving jobs, and getting Rhode Island working again is clear – and I am proud to be joining his administration.”
Funny how a paycheck and lack of other opportunities can change your, er, perspective.

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island House (Taxation Focus), January 25 - February 3)

Carroll Andrew Morse

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5115I think this is the repeal of the "Amazon" tax. (Comment: Even though this bill contains a relatively small amount of verbiage, I'm putting it in the "significant rewrites" section, since it's meaning needs some decrypting)

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5114From the official description: "This act would clarify that a little cigar is not a cigarette for purposes of taxation..."
H5116Authorizes an instant lottery game called "Scratch-a-Tick" (Comment: Stay classy, Rhode Island.)
H5117Raises the estate tax threshold to $1.5 million from $850 thousand beginning in 2013, and then indexes it to inflation. Companion to S0058.
H5139Removes the ability of city and town councils to exempt or stabilize "real and tangible property taxes in enterprise zones for qualified businesses"
H5153Reduces the minimum corporate income tax from $500 to $50.
H5155Limits state spending to the increase in the Consumer Price Index or 3%, whichever is lower.
H5157Lowers the gas tax from 32 to 27 cents per gallon (Comment: And the bidding war with S0053 is on!)
H5158Reduces the cigarette tax by 5 cents per cigarette (that's 50 mills, for readers who are into arcane units of measure) which must mean there are 20 cigarettes per pack, since the official description says "this act would reduce the cigarette tax by one dollar ($1.00) per pack".
H5167Reduces the minimum corporate income tax from $500 to $250.
H5170I think this raises the marginal tax rate on incomes over $500,000 from 4.99% to 9.99%, but I'm not sure it's written-up properly in the legislation.
H5171I think this raises the marginal tax rate on incomes over $500,000 from 4.99% to 7.99%. It's written more clearly than the previous bill, but I'm not sure how the alternative minimum tax figures in.
H5185Employers with 3 or fewer employees and employees "engaged in domestic service" would be exempt from workers' compensation laws. (Comment: Who's trying to get out of paying workers comp to their nanny?).
H5207Would place an optional check-off on the Rhode Island income tax form, for donating money to the Rhode Island Agricultural Lands Preservation Commission.
H5208Creates "a state income tax credit of ten percent (10%) of the cost of installing the cistern not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000)".
H5209Would cap the assessed value of a farmland estate at $2.5 million, for purposes of the estate tax. Companion to S0097
H5210Would exempt "horses used in commercial farming operations" and "feed for animals used in commercial farming" from the state sales tax.
H5234Authorizes cities and towns to issue bonds "to pay the uninsured portion of any [non-pension related] court judgment or settlement" in an amount up to 10% of the current town budget, without voter approval (currently, the ceiling is 5%).
H5237"Real property held by small businesses, as defined by the United States Small Business Administration, at least five (5) years prior to an exchange, shall be appraised at its use value rather than its full and fair cash value".
H5249From the official description: "This act would require the state to pay interest on tax refunds not issued within sixty (60) days".
H5250Extends the sales-tax exemptions applied to automobiles to pickup trucks under 10,000 lbs.

U.S. Manufacturing Leads the World (Still)

Marc Comtois

I mentioned a few days ago that U.S. manufacturing continues on an upward trend. Jeff Jacoby makes the point that, despite what we hear and feel, U.S. manufacturing still leads the world by a wide margin:

Americans make more “stuff’’ than any other nation on earth, and by a wide margin. According to the United Nations’ comprehensive database of international economic data, America’s manufacturing output in 2009 (expressed in constant 2005 dollars) was $2.15 trillion. That surpassed China’s output of $1.48 trillion by nearly 46 percent. China’s industries may be booming, but the United States still accounted for 20 percent of the world’s manufacturing output in 2009 — only a hair below its 1990 share of 21 percent.

“The decline, demise, and death of America’s manufacturing sector has been greatly exaggerated,’’ says economist Mark Perry, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “America still makes a ton of stuff, and we make more of it now than ever before in history.’’ In fact, Americans manufactured more goods in 2009 than the Japanese, Germans, British, and Italians — combined.

American manufacturing output hits a new high almost every year. US industries are powerhouses of production: Measured in constant dollars, America’s manufacturing output today is more than double what it was in the early 1970s.

So why do so many Americans fear that the Chinese are eating our lunch?

The answer is that American workers are more productive than ever and we don't require thousands on the factory floor doing piecework to produce stuff. Jacoby:
Consequently, even as America’s manufacturing sector out-produces every other country on earth, millions of young Americans can aspire to become not factory hands or assembly workers, but doctors and lawyers, architects and engineers.

Perceptions also feed the gloom and doom. In its story on Americans’ economic anxiety, National Journal quotes a Florida teacher who says, “It seems like everything I pick up says ‘Made in China’ on it.’’ To someone shopping for toys, shoes, or sporting equipment, it often can seem that way. But that’s because Chinese factories tend to specialize in low-tech, labor-intensive goods — items that typically don’t require the more advanced and sophisticated manufacturing capabilities of modern American plants.

A vast amount of “stuff’’ is still made in the USA, albeit not the inexpensive consumer goods that fill the shelves in Target or Walgreens. American factories make fighter jets and air conditioners, automobiles and pharmaceuticals, industrial lathes and semiconductors. Not the sort of things on your weekly shopping list? Maybe not. But that doesn’t change economic reality.

Of course, to maintain our position, we need to continue educating our work force to be competitive in the future.

Attention, Drunk Drivers: The City of Providence Welcomes You

Monique Chartier

Kudos to NBC 10 for exposing this.

Rossignol said the officer at the scene told her that no one was available to give the other driver a breath test.

"I couldn't believe it. And I said, 'Well, can you get someone who is certified for a Breathalyzer?' And he said nobody is certified right now who's on duty," she said.

Exactly how many officers are not certified? NBC 10 did the leg work to compare.

NBC 10 uncovered the actual number of officers certified to run Breathalyzers in communities around the state.
Warwick -- 119 officers are certified or 73 percent of the force

Cranston -- 95 officers are certified or about 70 percent of the force

Woonsocket -- 53 officers are certified or 58 percent of the force

East Providence -- 42 officers are certified or about 50 percent of the force

Pawtucket -- 65 officers are certified or about 40 percent of its department

In the state's largest city, only 20 Providence officers are certified to run Breathalyzer machines. With about 477 officers, it's about 4 percent of the force.

Four percent. In the capital city. Charming.

It should be noted that Michael Morse over at Rescuing Providence (H/T this expose) has been squawking about this from the front line for years. Apparently, the city's approach has been: no matter how stumbling drunk someone appears at an accident scene, pack 'em into the ambulance and dust your hands.

Let's be clear that this is a failure of leadership (the mayor, the city council, the police chief), not of rank and file police officers to do their job.

Let's also be clear, on a more pragmatic level, that the solution is not more money for additional f.t.e.'s - it's getting more members of the existing force properly trained and certified.

The more I think about this, the more egregious it strikes me. Our capital city essentially has zero enforcement of d.u.i. Could this be a deliberate policy to further some terribly misguided goal, like encouraging the restaurant and night life business in the city? Nothing worse than a d.u.i. citation to dampen the enthusiasm of a potential repeat customer!

Proposed Constitutional Amendments Introduced to the RI House, January 25 - February 3

Carroll Andrew Morse

Because of the snowstorms, the Rhode Island General Assembly has only been in session for three days over the past two weeks, just one legislative week in official "calendar time", but allowing plenty of time for bills to be introduced and processed.

In addition to regular legislation, three Constitutional Amendments on high-profile topics were introduced during this period in the Rhode Island House:

Proposed Contitutional Amendments

H5156Would limit the annual increase in state spending to the increase in the Consumer Price Index or 3%, whichever is lower.
H5177Governor and Lieutenant Governor would be elected as a ticket.
H5260Would define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

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February 6, 2011

Update: Senators Reed and Whitehouse Vote Against 1099 Relief

Carroll Andrew Morse

In response to my Friday 1099 repeal post, commenter "bythebay" notes that Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse did vote for a 1099 repeal amendment that was submitted by Michigan Senator Carl Levin. The Levin Amendment would have offset anticipated revenues from the 1099 provision by eliminating certain tax-breaks for oil companies. (The amendment that did pass offsets the anticipated revenue from the 1099 provision with "with already appropriated but not-yet-spent funds", according to Adam Sorenson of Time Magazine).

The Nelson Amendment supported last year by Senators Reed and Whitehouse, i.e. 1099 relief for businesses with 25 or fewer employees, also contained the provision about repealing oil-company tax breaks, meaning that if you combine the RI Senate delegation's votes on the Nelson Amendment, the Levin Amendment, and the repeal amendment that finally passed (the Stabenow Amendment), the piece that remains constant is an idea that every business sector in America should have the 1099 requirement for purchases of more than $600 imposed on them, if oil companies get a special tax break from the Federal government.

The question that needs to be answered to resolve this non-sequitur is whether Senators Reed and Whitehouse believe the 1099 measure should ever have been passed in the first place. If the answer is no, i.e. if they believe it was mistake from the very beginning, then why are they insisting that a specific agenda item be traded, in order to fix something they would claim not to support on its own merits? Or do Rhode Island's Senators believe that the 1099 requirement is actually a good idea under certain circumstances?

Book Review: From Battlefields Rising

Marc Comtois

Note Bene: One of the ancillaries of having a history blog was receiving, from time to time, a review copy of a book from its publisher. Well, although the aformentioned blog is now dormant, I still occasionally receive books and I think offering the occasional Sunday review seems appropriate. Life is more than politics and culture wars and sometimes taking a breath and writing about something else--and throwing it up here--is worthwhile all its own. At least, I hope you all agree.

From Battlefields Rising: How The Civil War Transformed American Literature, by Randall Fuller. Oxford University Press, Inc. New York, NY, 2011.

Fuller's aim is to explore how the Civil War affected leading writers of antebellum America such as Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herman Melville. Sometimes we forget how clustered these writers were: all in the Northeast, particularly New England, and many in Concord, MA. This geographic closeness had some influence on their philosophical and political views, too.

Chiefly, most of these 'transcendentalists' (if not all) were avidly abolitionist. Most had advocated for this cause and, at the outbreak of the Civil War, were sure of both its rightness and the relative ease--so they believed--with which it would be attained. Their moral clarity would become clouded to one degree or another as the casualties mounted and the war dragged on. Fuller investigates these various crisis' of conscience and the questions that arose.

For instance, at the outbreak of the war Walt Whitman was attempting something of a literary comeback. A pair of young Boston publishers had sought him out to publish the next edition of his Leaves of Grass (something he would update throughout his life), which had opened with his poetic paradigm shifting "Song of Myself." It was from this "Song" that Whitman seemed to draw inspiration for much of his latest work--poems that ruffled Victorian-era feathers and substantiated Whitman's notoriety. Yet, his infamy was shortlived with the outbreak of war. The reading public became interested in news and writings that dealt with it and little else. Even the various writers of the time found their focus shifting and Whitman's own optimism about the war was permanently affected by the tragedy of the Battle of Bull Run, which would resurface in his writing again and again.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was also profoundly affected by the war. A writer of romances who had been abroad for many years, he returned to Concord, Massachusetts in the months preceding the war to find a changed and radicalized town. For while he certainly agreed with abolitionist goals, he didn't approve of their approval of John Brown and his actions. Unlike the rest of Concord's leading lights, Hawthorne felt, according to Fuller:

Brown's actions...begged questions of morality that were too easily obscured by the transcendentalists' lofty rhetoric. How could the man's admirable vision of slavery's wrongs ever justify his murderous actions? Didn't the deaths of soldiers, innocent bystanders, and his own men negate the righteous imperatives Brown felt he represented? And how could responsible thinkers so blithely excuse these consequences?
Hawthorne simply couldn't relate. He published an essay in the Atlantic, "Chiefly about War-Matters" that posed many of these same questions and caused a ruckus amongst his neighbors. As Fuller explains, the essay was accompanied by critical footnotes by the Editor--who was Hawthorne himself! No one was immune to Hawthorne's problematic probing. As for his career, Hawthorne had returned to Concord with hopes of completing another great novel, but he found trouble focusing because of the war and eventually gave up hope of completing it. He died shortly thereafter. As Fuller eulogizes, "For Hawthorne, the war...had doused a fervent literary imagination, ended an illustrious career."

Others were affected in varying degrees and in different ways. Emily Dickenson watched her male acquaintances and relatives march off to war and her poems came to include more references to the conflict and its results: death and maiming. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in the wake of the burning death of his wife, turned to translating Dante's Divine Comedy, which was itself written during a period of civil war in Tuscany. Herman Melville actually participated in the war, briefly (and the episode would influence his Billy Budd, a Sailor many years later), but he spent most of his time compiling his Battle Pieces, in which, according to Fuller, "[He] insisted...the war might have been avoided if both sides had been less rigid and unyielding in their convictions." The work was published a year after the war (1866) and sold less than 200 copies. As Fuller no doubt correctly surmises, "Tired of war, Americans were certainly not interested in ambiguity or self-questioning."

The literary and personal insights provided by Fuller are interesting and provocative. One can't help but trace the war-time evolution of these writers' feelings, thoughts and works and compare them to those of the contemporary media and even ourselves. There is also some solace to be gained from learning that even literary giants who supported as modernly uncontroversial a cause as the abolition of slavery would have flawed conceptions about the ease with which it could be accomplished and would come to have some reservations concerning the vehicle by which it was ultimately attained. In short, they were human, just like us.

February 5, 2011

Another Track for the Narrative

Justin Katz

Sometimes, it's difficult to feel about the personal profiles as the news-crafters clearly want you to feel:

Meyers initially welcomed his termination in October 2008 as a vacation from the daily grind of catering to tip-hungry cocktail waitresses and standing behind a crowded bar. He raided his $30,000 rainy-day fund and cut back on luxuries such as new clothes and hair cuts.

But as more people lost their jobs and the stock market teetered, Meyers became panicked. The casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, where he had worked his way up from a lowly bar-back to a comfortable $1,100 weekly wage, seemed reluctant to hire a pudgy, gray-haired bartender over the flocks of young women competing for the same jobs.

The one time he was called to an interview, his inexperience with mixing mojitos, a trendy mint-fused drink unheard of in the unassuming Vegas era that drew him to Sin City, cost him the opportunity, he said.

"Single and childless," Bud Meyers was making almost $60,000 per year and had over half-a-year's salary saved up as a cushion. He was in a perfect position to redirect his career; instead, it appears that he failed even to keep up with trends in his field. Instead of preparing for a second career or moving where he might find work, he appears to have waited for opportunity to come to him — at least as the article presents the story.

Look, we should all have a natural sympathy for people in such positions, but with productivity and employment increasingly disengaged and an economy that continues to struggle, we have to begin asking serious questions. To what extent are we obligated to allow people to hover in a publicly subsidized stasis? Shouldn't perpetual unemployment benefits be tied to increasingly demanding requirements? Perhaps the unemployed should get a few months of self-directed job searching; then they must prove that they are turning over every stone in their respective fields; then they must prove that they are taking steps to find different lines of work that align with the opportunities that actually exist in their area; then they must prove that they are broadening their searches to include the possibility of moving.

The Health of the Legislature

Justin Katz

Katherine Gregg has checked in on the latest tally of RI legislators' voluntary healthcare contributions:

More and more of the state's 113 legislators have "volunteered" over the years to pay a portion of the premiums for the health, dental and vision benefits they receive, which currently cost the state $19,004 a year for a family plan and $6,800 for individual coverage. ...

As of Wednesday of this week, only 6 of the 38 senators, and 7 of the 75 House members had advised the legislative business office that they were willing to pay a 20-percent share of the premiums for their coverage. The majority of those paying a portion pay less.

As I've noted, before, I differ from many of my fellow right-reformers in believing that it's worth considering a change to the General Assembly such that it wouldn't be prohibitive to those whose careers aren't flexible or who don't stand to profit from the disruptive part-time job by much more than their nominal salaries and benefits.

Also in the print edition of the paper (although not online, that I could quickly find) was a table of some of the top Assembly campaign spenders, topping out at $1,021,018 for Steven Constantino (who ran for Providence mayor) and $131,003 for Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, as well as a story about Patrick Lynch's campaign spending even while he wasn't campaigning for anything. It's quite a commitment to hold public office, and a sense of civic responsibility will carry potential candidates so far. Public dollars for public jobs represent a much cleaner deal than a system that relies upon the sideline of special-interest campaign donations and the extra-official perks and income that derive from political connections.

Of course, paying legislators more won't prevent their continuing to peddle their authority for corrupt benefits, but it will increase the competition for their offices.

Toward a More Optimistic Pessimism

Justin Katz

I agree with R. R. Reno's assessment, presented in his review of The Uses of Pessimism: And the Danger of False Hope, by Roger Scruton (non-subscribers can try here):

Scruton observes that "the belief that human beings can either foresee the future or control it to their own advantage ought not to have survived an attentive reading of the Iliad, still less of the Old Testament." But hope springs eternal. The successes of modern science provide one explanation, for they encourage what Scruton calls "the careless pursuit of mastery." If we can control nuclear reactions, then why not the growth of cities or the education of children or the workings of a modern economy? We program computers, so it seems natural that we should treat social mores such as traditional forms of marriage and child rearing as silicon chips we can overwrite with new codes.

I disagree, however, with the underlying reasoning that appears to leave both reviewer and reviewed to that conclusion:

Without pessimism, we tend to become what Scruton calls "unscrupulous optimists," those who "believe that the difficulties and disorders of humankind can be overcome by some large-scale adjustment." Belief turns into action, and grand plans for social change demolish and destroy inherited ways of life to build such empires of hope as urban renewal, wars on poverty, and, of course, the mother of all hopes, the classless society. Modern societies are filled with witnesses to the failures of optimism, from the empty concrete plazas conceived by urban planners to the demoralized population of the former Soviet Union.

At a more basic level, I think this has it exactly backwards. The notion that "we have to do something" is more an expression of pessimism — as in, "without us, all is lost." Yes, an unjustified optimism may come into play with the assessment of success's probability, but that's hardly the defining characteristic of meddlers. One needn't argue too long with activists for peace, poverty-prevention, environmentalism, or myriad other causes to reach the admission that even if they are doomed to failure, the campaigns must be engaged, because otherwise there is no hope.

A healthier, wiser approach, I'd say, is to shift optimism from the likelihood of one's personal success to the assumption that reality has inherent purpose and a metaphysical intention for everything to work out in the end. There's only so much that we can hope to accomplish in the limited spheres of our own personal influence — which seems to be the pessimism that Scruton advises — but the targets of our worldly activism don't constitute the apogee of profundity.

Another Winter Impelled Shortcut to Resist: Burning Briquettes Under the Engine Block

Monique Chartier

... to pre-heat the engine oil (even if it is insanely cold out).

Here's one way not to try and start your vehicle in cold weather: Don't place burning charcoal briquettes under the engine.

Workers at the Summit County Landfill found out the hard way Tuesday morning as temperatures were in the minus double digits.

The workers wanted to warm the oil pan of a semi-tractor and put a pan of burning charcoal under the truck. The plan worked too well at heating the engine and caught the truck on fire, said Lake Dillon Fire/Rescue spokesman Steve Lipsher

Firefighters extinguished the blaze, but the truck engine was heavily damaged.


February 4, 2011

Murphy & Williamson Played Hide And Seek With 2009 Pension Analysis - Disclosure Issues? What Disclosure Issues?

Monique Chartier

Could this be the kind of thing that has brought the SEC to Rhode Island? (H/T WPRO's John Depetro.)

More than two months have gone by since a pension study commission appointed by House Speaker William J. Murphy took a series of votes aimed at creating a new - and for taxpayers, significantly less expensive - retirement package for 23,700 state employees and public school teachers.

Going beyond what Governor Carcieri proposed, the panel, after a year of study, recommended: instituting a minimum retirement age of 65, limiting annual cost-of-living increases for future retirees, and basing future pensions on an employee's five-year salary average, instead of the three-year average currently used. For new employees, the proposals were more radical.

But that was March 12 [2009].

The only task that remained for the panel, after a year of hearings, was to obtain from the state's actuaries a projection of how much the state might save - and then issue a final report.

In the month since, both Murphy and the study-commission chairman Timothy Williamson, D-West Warwick, have rebuffed repeated oral and written requests for a copy of the cost-savings analysis provided to them, in the interim, by the state's pension consultants at Gabriel Roeder Smith & Co.

On Tuesday, House spokesman Larry Berman acknowledged publicly for the first time that Murphy has the actuary's report. "I know that it is in his hands,'' he said.

But when asked why he has been unwilling to make it public in response to repeated requests, Berman said: "He has the request.''

Harvard Study: 4 Year Colleges Aren't for Everyone

Marc Comtois

This really isn't a surprise, is it?

The U.S. is focusing too much attention on helping students pursue four-year college degrees, when two-year and occupational programs may better prepare them for the job market, a Harvard University report said.

The “college for all” movement has produced only incremental gains as other nations leapfrog the United States, and the country is failing to prepare millions of young people to become employable adults....Most of the 47 million jobs to be created by 2018 will require some postsecondary education, the report said. Educators should offer young people two-year degrees and apprenticeships to achieve career success, and do more to ensure that students who begin such programs complete them, said Robert Schwartz, academic dean at Harvard’s education school, who heads the Pathways project.

“For an awful lot of bored, disengaged kids who are on the fence about completing high school, they need to see a pathway that leads them to a career that is not going to require them to sit in classrooms for the next several years,” Schwartz said yesterday in a telephone interview.

This is an area of education reform that should get more attention. The report can be found HERE (PDF).

Senators Reed and Whitehouse Vote Against 1099 Relief

Carroll Andrew Morse

The United States Senate voted yesterday to repeal the section of the new Federal Healthcare Law that would have required businesses to file a separate 1099 form for every vendor from whom they purchase $600 or more in goods and/or services. (CNN has a good description of the scope of the 1099 provision, available here). The vote was lopsided, 81-17 in favor of the 1099 repeal -- with both Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse voting against repeal.

Senators Reed and Whitehouse had voted in the previous Senate session in favor of the “Nelson Amendment”, which would have exempted businesses with 25 or fewer employees from the 1099 mandate (the National Federation of Independent Business has a description of the Nelson amendment [and its reasons for opposing it], available here), but once that threshold is crossed, it seems fair based on the voting record to describe Senators Reed and Whitehouse as supporting an expansion of the Federal paperwork and compliance costs imposed on businesses.

Checking Out of the Race

Justin Katz

The Lonely Conservative (being from New York state) has posted an email from an online acquaintance that voices a sentiment with which increasing numbers of us are surely familiar:

And I watch countless news stories about people who are criminals (illegal aliens, felons) liars, cheats, or just stupid getting help with their mortgage loans because they "need it". And people getting free medical services because they "need it". And people declaring bankruptcy because it's just too hard to pay the bills, they "need to". All the while I see my government crushing people like me–expecting us to just keep doing, just keep paying, just keep being responsible in order to make up for all of those people who were not.

My mind has drifted in much the same direction as I've watched the mail, eager for all of my tax documents to come in so that I can get the refund that will make me able to stop the calls from collection agents. It would have saved us substantial money in late fees to have had that money dispersed with our regular paychecks, rather than siphoned off as a free loan for wild-spending governments.

Some substantial mistakes on my family's part have made us slaves to debt, and it is a daily temptation just to walk away. As it is, we've pared our lives down to minimal expense, and frankly, as we offload the debt, I'm planning to use that space to ease my workload rather than chase lifestyle improvements. Productivity just isn't worth it, unless it's in line with something that you're passionate about regardless of pay.

The receding economy has revealed some stones that lay just below the water, and the blogger above suggests that the sight of them is changing Americans' perception:

My friend is the "Forgotten Man" of our day. Most of us are. How far away are any of us from feeling just as she does? It's one thing to go through these challenges knowing we're all going through it. But we aren't all going through it. Because we now have four Americas:

1-The public employee union class

2-The entitled/welfare class

3-The elite ruling class

4-The rest of us who are paying dearly to support #s 1, 2 and 3

In my industry, I've watched employees eager for layoffs, who game the system to get back some of what they've invested in it. One contractor recently expressed his disapproval of that tendency, calling it immoral to leach of the system and pass the buck on to him. I was actually surprised at my own disagreement. Until very recently, I'd have nodded along; now, I have to admit sympathy for the opposing view.

It's most definitely wrong to pass the burden of one's galtishness on to those who are still striving to produce, but it's all too easy to see the target as the giant tumor of a system that lays across us all, taking the money that would allow us to repair windshields and fill oil tanks in order to finance lavish benefits and years of unemployment checks and then borrowing money from our future labor and that of our children and grandchildren in order to bolster public-sector employees through the recession and promise the time-delayed boon of pensions.

We're all limited in the length of our view, especially when it comes to social and cultural matters. We can only know so many people and have personal experience with so many walks of life. I do worry, though that something in that unique American attitude is changing, and it won't be healthy for anybody involved. It's not too late — I have faith — but much will depend on the ways in which our leaders address the various crises that we now face.

Opening the Gateway

Justin Katz

Drug legalization isn't an issue about which I'm passionate; when it comes to marijuana, I'm pretty much ambivalent. The fact that Froma Harrop supports legalization does make me wonder whether the opposite view might be wiser. In that regard, Providence College history professor Richard Grace makes some reasonable points:

One wonders whether the real goal of the editorial and the column is to overshoot the mark deliberately, so that a compromise position could be broad toleration for marijuana while heavier substances would remain illegal. Would legal toleration of marijuana improve our society?

As a "gateway drug" marijuana leads many teenagers toward cocaine. A Columbia University study found that teenagers who smoke marijuana are 85 times more likely to move on to cocaine use than their peers who do not smoke marijuana. Those who think of marijuana as relatively harmless need to consider a Dec. 17 Journal report, "Reale gets 8 years in death of Colin Foote," about a much-publicized trial involving a fatal accident. Before sentencing the driver to a prison term, Judge Edwin Gale concluded: "I find that marijuana killed Colin Foote [the victim] . . . The defendant [Laura Reale] was high on marijuana at the time of that fatal crash."

If she had been using a legally available drug, would the result have been any different? Or, would the removal of drug-interdiction programs be more likely to produce more such accidents, more such wasted lives, more such grieving families?

To be sure, drug-induced accidents already occur, and drug related crimes are already a problem. Honestly, I wouldn't hazard to guess which way the needle would move upon legalization. Judging by stories from before I was born, my own experience as a teenager, and the experiences of acquaintances I've known since, there has never been much difficulty procuring marijuana.

It seems to me, too, that drawing a bright line of legality between pot and other drugs, like cocaine, would reduce the degree to which it's a "gateway." The question is what line it leads people across. Alcohol already introduces people to the practice of introducing foreign substances into the body to alter perceptions. The main difference with grass is that it introduces them to skirting the law to do so.

February 3, 2011

The Godlessness of the Gaps

Justin Katz

Philosophy Professor John Haldane adds his own commentary to the list addressing Stephen Hawking's lately released The Grand Design. If the subject catches your interest, you should certainly read the whole essay, but one point attracted my attention in particular:

[The authors] then go on to note, however, that "it is not only the peculiar characteristics of our solar system that seem oddly conducive to the development of human life but also the characteristics of our entire Universe, and that is much more difficult to explain." The forces of nature had to allow the production of carbon and other heavy elements, and allow them to exist stably; they had to facilitate the formation of stars and galaxies but also the periodic explosion of stars to distribute the elements needed for life more widely, permitting the formation of planets suitably composed for the evolution of life; and the strengths of the forces themselves and the masses of the fundamental particles on which they operate had to be of the correct orders of magnitude, and these lie within very small ranges. ...

In short, and sparing the detail, ours is but one of an indefinite number of universes with different laws and forces, each universe being a spontaneous creation out of nothing: "Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe [that is, ours] can and will create itself from nothing."

What's striking is that the philosophy that emerges from Hawking's work is almost a precise mirror image of the accusation of last resort for secularists belittling believers. They say that we are always seeking a "God of the gaps" — a divine force that explains the shrinking list of natural phenomena that mankind has yet to decipher. While protesting that such theology is hardly the most sophisticated available for debate (let alone universal), I'll concede that some folks do take that short cut.

But even so, what Hawking produces is an assumption of ever larger schemes of chaos and chance to explain all of that which appears ordered. That, ultimately, is no less a matter of faith, and it shares with the "gaps" religiosity the attribute of wholly missing the point: That we understand the method of the artist's craft does not disprove the artist, and we shouldn't allow it to suck the wonder right out of the work.

One Man's Left-of-Center Is Another Man's Far Left

Justin Katz

Really, what could we say about RI House Speaker Gordon Fox's appointment of Rep. Edith Ajello as Chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee that would surprise anybody or that would have any effect on anybody's opinion? The state's political leadership is zagging when it needs to zig, and she's a strong indication of it.

The labels that the Projo article announcing her appointment applies to her, however, are interesting. The headline writer dubbed her "unabashadly liberal." Reporter Philip Marcelo eased up with "unabashadly left-of-center." The woman herself says, "I feel that, in some way, I'll have to step away a little from my progressive, liberal extreme left advocacy to do the job of chair properly." Perhaps Marcelo meant to emphasize the "step away," when it appears that Ajello wanted to emphasize the "in some way" and "a little."

One quote in the article, however, is a bit more than just interesting:

Observers reject the notion that Ajello's appointment heralds a political shift in the House leadership under Fox, who is beginning his first full two-year term as speaker.

[House Minority Leader Robert] Watson, the GOP leader, says the elevation of the left-leaning Ajello in concert with other more conservative-leaning lawmakers, such as Brien, points to a level of pragmatic politics. "He is being very careful and deliberative in trying to bring varying factions and groups under one umbrella," Watson said.

Why on Earth would Watson want to bolster the spin that appointing Jon Brien as chairman of Municipal Government in any way counterbalances Ajello as chairwoman of Judiciary? One might as well pretend that Watson's status as Minority Leader counterbalance's Fox's as Speaker or Nicholas Mattiello's as Majority Leader.

SEC Investigating RI

Marc Comtois

WPRI's Ted Nesi has broken the story that the SEC is looking into Rhode Island's muni bonds. Nesi has Gen. Treasurer Raimondo's statement on the matter and also points to a New York Times article on how the SEC is investigating Illinois' pension funding mechanism, which is similar to Rhode Island's. Basically, it has to do with reducing the pension liability for future workers:

Earlier this year, Illinois said it had found a way to save billions of dollars. It would slash the pensions of workers it had not yet hired. The real-world savings would not materialize for decades, of course, but thanks to an actuarial trick, the state could start counting the savings this year and use it to help balance its budget....The maneuver, and techniques that have similar effects, are already in use in Rhode Island, Texas, Ohio, Arkansas and a number of other places, allowing those states to harvest savings today by imposing cuts on workers in the future.

Texas saved millions of dollars this year after raising its retirement age for future hires and barring them from counting unused sick leave in their pensions. More savings will appear in coming years. Rhode Island also raised its retirement age for future retirees last year, after being told it could save $90 million in the first year alone.

Basically, politicians took the easy way out (surprise!):
Struggling states and cities need to save money, but they run into legal problems if they tamper with the pensions their current workers are building up year by year. So most places have opted to let current workers and retirees go unscathed. Colorado, Minnesota and South Dakota are the exceptions, dialing back cost-of-living increases for people who have already retired. All three states have reaped meaningful savings right away, and all three are being sued.

Cuts for workers not yet hired do not save much money in the present — but that’s where actuaries can work their magic. They capture the future savings for use today by assuming, in essence, that 100 percent of today’s work force is already earning tomorrow’s skimpier benefits. When used in actuarial calculations, that assumption has a powerful effect. It reduces the amount a government must put into its workers’ pension fund every year.

That saves the government money. But it undermines the pension fund, which must still pay the richer benefits of today’s retirees. And because the calculations are esoteric, it is hard for anyone except a seasoned actuary to see what is going on.


When One Group's Ascendency Must Prevent Another's

Justin Katz

It's fascinating to hear people who wish to radically alter the law and culture by any means necessary and silence their opposition attempt to explain why the other side is the home of oppression and closed mindedness. One specimen of the genre, oddly not apparently online, comes courtesy David Adams Murphy.

After introducing his subject as a response to Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin's "anti-secularist blather," in a prior op-ed about Governor Lincoln Chafee's apparent aversion to public prayer, Murphy explains the First Amendment as intended, in part, "to keep any one faith from having ascendancy over another in government." How this is to be accomplished — that is, how the worldview of a majority of Americans (whatever that might be) is to be suppressed so as to give it equal weight to the worldview of a minority — he does not detail. Instead, Murphy elides all evidence that the Founders were religious believers, some of whom stressed the importance of religion if a democratic republic could hope to survive. He then whips out the secularist's cheat-sheet list of Christians' improprieties and atrocities.

Finally, Murphy presumes to declare Tobin's true purpose:

Why does the bishop call for religious influence on government? Because he desires a power to influence he doesn't deserve, but nevertheless enjoyed over Governor Chafee's nitwit predecessor. The unelected leader of this diocese, selected by the pope (who is nothing less than a bureaucratically appointed monarch), seeks to form public policy from his pulpit, dictate laws that conform with his interpretation of scripture, and doubtless funnel public monies to his church's coffers.

Doubtless. Of course, the fact that some sort of prayer has been a tradition long preceding Governor Carcieri does not come up for consideration. It would be far too much to expect the likes of Murphy to ponder the significance of the fact that a religion's political power, such as it is, derives mostly from its ability to persuade voters that its assessment of reality is correct and applies to a particular issue in such-and-such a way.

Murphy's central concern is clearly to disallow Christians to bring their religion to the table for public debate or even, one can justifiably suppose, into the voting booth. He therefore must paint their spiritual leaders as power-hungry descendants of barbarians and dictators and stir up the specter of insidious corruption in the modern day.

If Mr. Thomas Tobin, resident of Rhode Island, were Murphy's actual target, his string of vitriol and hostility would be manifestly inappropriate. One can conclude, therefore, that it isn't the bishop himself that Murphy fears and loathes, but the electoral majority that might agree with him. David Adams Murphy's declaration of "disgust" points mainly at the rest of us, and his insinuation is that we, his fellow Rhode Islanders, are mere op-eds or homilies away from burning witches and Joan D'Arc. We must be stopped. We must be prevented from hearing the seductive lure of clerics who ask us to acknowledge that political leaders are only human beings in need of guidance and humility about the extent of their authority.

In other words, Murphy's tones are those of the totalitarian, not Tobin's.

The Obamacare Waiver List Grows

Marc Comtois

Melissa Clouthier called attention to this from Ethel Fenig at the American Thinker:

In August, 2009, as he was extolling the virtues of his proposed Obamacare, President Barack Obama (D) famously promised "If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan." And if you're a union member you certainly can; if you're not, well...

The Health and Human Services site Helping Americans Keep the Coverage They Have and Promoting Transparency (sic) conveniently lists the 773 waivers approved to date. Scroll through the list; notice that most of the waivers, more than 650 went to unions exempting well over 2 million employees.

Hey, why not? They've got good plans. John Sexton explains why they're "waivering" (ba-dump bump):
This ever-expanding list of waivers is the direct result of ObamaCare raising the annual benefit caps on certain health plans. Obviously, a plan with higher annual limits is potentially more costly than one without them. The money to cover the difference in premiums has to come from somewhere. Without the waivers, it will come from the employer who are forced by law to upgrade to the more expensive plan. In other words, the...organizations who have received waivers are not seeking refuge from an unintended consequence, but from the costs associated with one of ObamaCare’s features.
Obviously, it's not just unions that received waivers as there are many, many small businesses that have them, too. As Sexton also asks, "...what [will] these businesses...do once the waiver program comes to an end?"

How a Bill Gets a Hearing

Justin Katz

Matt gave Andrew some running room, on last night's Matt Allen Show, to explain his findings on how the General Assembly can be made to operate a bit more like a real legislature. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Imagine how much more of this sort of thing we could do if we didn't have to spend all day doing something else. 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.

February 2, 2011

Watching the Intellectual Weight

Justin Katz

Juslia Steiny deployed an interesting simile, a couple of columns ago, that serves the opposite point than that which she makes:

However, standardized-test scores in isolation, alongside no other measures, are a hurtful, immoral misuse of good information. Parents value many features of a school as much, if not more than, achievement. Along with their academic prowess, private schools always tout their strengths in building strong characters, developing citizenship or attending to the whole child. When it comes to evaluating schools, the public-education industry tends to turn a deaf ear to these values.

Our current use of tests is like judging my health by my weight, while ignoring my bone density, cholesterol and whether or not I'm depressed.

Certainly, test scores are not sufficient for total judgment, particularly when it comes to schools and programs that promise more than a baseline education. Nonetheless, following Steiny's analogy, one can see school as an intellectual health program, and standardized test scores (including NECAP minimums for graduation) are like bare minimum requirements that even overweight, depressed participants should achieve if the program is to be said to have any value.

Sure, fat camp might be fun and reward campers with many friends, but if it consistently fails to reduce children's weight by measurable amounts, then it really isn't what it bills itself to be. Parents and those who subsidize it should assess expenditures accordingly.

How To End the Tyranny of "Held For Further Study", Beginning Immediately

Carroll Andrew Morse

It is essential, not only for new but for all Rhode Island legislators, as well as for Rhode Island citizens, to understand that the ability of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Senate President to exercise near-total control over which bills receive hearings and make it to the floor is not something expressly written into the legislative rules. Any bill must be given a hearing and a vote at the request of its sponsor (provided it is filed early enough in the session), according to the rules of both the House and Senate. Here is the House version of the rule...

13 (e) Upon receipt of a written request from the principal House sponsor of a bill or resolution, a copy of which is to be given to the recording clerk, the committee shall grant to said principal House sponsor a hearing on any said bill or resolution within thirty (30) calendar days of the request, and provided further, that said committee shall grant to the principal House sponsor consideration of his or her bill or resolution prior to the deadline for committee action on such bill or resolution. The principal sponsor, with the concurrence of the Chair, may cancel a scheduled hearing with twenty-four (24) hours’ notice to the Chair, which notice shall be posted electronically. A hearing postponed twice at the sponsor’s request need not be re-scheduled. For the purpose of the rule, consideration shall mean a majority vote on one (1) of the following:
(i) a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House with a recommendation of passage; (ii) a motion to report the bill or resolution as amended, or in substitute form, to the House with a recommendation of passage; or
(iii) a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House without recommendation; or
(iv) a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House with a recommendation of no passage; or
(v) a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House with a recommendation that it be held for further study.
According to the letter of this rule and its Senate analog, neither the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, nor any committee chair can singlehandedly block a bill from being considered while remaining in compliance with the rules of their respective bodies.

For at least for the past decade or so, the leadership in the Rhode Island legislature has kept its control over what actually gets to the floor through a parliamentary trick which was described by former State Representative Rod Driver in a Warwick Beacon op-ed last year...
When a committee meets to hear testimony on bills, the first thing it does – before any bill is discussed – is vote to “hold for further study” all bills on the agenda....

After voting to “hold the bills for further study,” many committee members go home. Why waste their time listening to testimony? There may be only four or five members of a 15-member committee still present when citizens who have waited hours to testify for or against a bill finally get their chance.

Even when a vote on a bill is taken immediately and without deliberation, that vote still satisfies the requirement of giving a bill its consideration.

After a bill is held for further study, there is very little specificity in the rules about what happens next. The practice has been to leave the House Speaker or Senate President to decide if it goes back to committee for an actual hearing and informed vote, meaning that just one person in each body gets to control the entire agenda. That is not the way the legislatures are supposed to work.

Fortunately, legislators who oppose this method of disposing of the Rhode Island legislature's business do have recourse, under the standard rules of parliamentary law (The RI House references Mason's Manual of Parliamentary Procedure as its source, the RI Senate mentions Roberts' Rules of Order).

1. First off, the idea of voting on multiple bills at the same time is poor practice for any decision-making body, and is recognized as such by Mason's Manual...

Sec. 56 An important principle is that only one proposition can be considered at a time. This should appear too logical and fundamental even to require statement, but confusion frequently results from members attempting to discuss different questions at the same time.
2. If a Rhode Island Senator or Representative doesn't want to see a particular bill thrown into a collective and generic "further study" pile, she or he can make a motion to have that bill considered separately, after the motion to hold everything before the committee for further study is made. The technical term is a motion to "divide the question"...
Sec. 352 Where there is no rule giving members the right to vote separately on each proposition, a member still has the right to submit a motion to divide a question when it contains two or more distinct propositions
After the question is divided, a separate vote must be held on the bill (or the set of bills) that was divided out. (And combining 56 and 352, there is nothing preventing further division of a question that contains multiple bills). Doing this in the case of major bills would be an improvement over the current procedure, because committee members would have their votes recorded on whether they supported throwing that bill down the memory hole or not.

3. After the question has been divided, the committee then needs to consider the separate parts in some order, taking up either the single bill first and then the rest of the group, or vice-versa.

4. When the single bill comes up for consideration (or the package of other bills, for that matter), an individual committee member can then make a motion to temporarily postpone its consideration, known in the language of parliamentary law as "a motion to lay on the table"...

Sec. 332 The motion to lay on the table is in order immediately after the stating of a question and before a member entitled to prior recognition has been recognized, or at any time thereafter, while the question is still before the body...
The 1989 version of Mason's Manual suggested this language for the motion...
"I move that consideration [of H5xxx] be postponed temporarily."
It's important to note -- especially in the anti-deliberative atmosphere created in the Rhode Island Senate by current Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed -- that Mason's Manual stresses that this motion is not debatable. In a rational world, this makes some sense, presuming that discussion of a bill is going to take place proximately before a votes on the matter is taken. However, that concept is likely to confuse some of the denizens of the Bizarro World of Rhode Island politics, where voting first and deciding what to debate later is considered the natural way of doing things.

5. At this point, you may ask what is achieved if a motion to "lay a bill on the table" rather than to "hold it for further study" succeeds (besides compiling a count of who voted to make some specific bills disappear). The answer is that while the vote "to hold for further study" counts as the one vote any bill is required to get according to House rule 13, the committee vote to lay a bill on the table does not. If you read the description of what holding for further study is closely, you see that it technically sends the bill back to the House floor...

(v) a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House with a recommendation that it be held for further study.
...which is the action that puts its fate in the hands of the Speaker, as Rep. Driver mentioned. The motion to lay on the table, on the other hand, keeps the bill in committee and, as long as a bill remains in committee, it can be recalled by a majority vote of the committee, without the approval of the Speaker of the House or of a committee chair being required. And according to rule 13 in the House, at some point during the session, a bill laid on the table in committee must be recalled, so it can get its required substantive vote.

5A. In the Senate, the situation is a little more ambiguous, as the rules specify that "indefinite postponement" counts as an option for consideration. However, nothing in Senate rules contradicts the premise that "indefinite postponement" keeps a bill within the jurisdiction of a committee, meaning it should be able to be recalled at a later time for consideration by a majority vote of the committee, without permission from the Senate President or a committee chair.

Knowing that well-established and respected processes like these exist will not be enough by itself to fix the problems of the Rhode Island legislature. I expect that the first few times this procedure is tried, if it is tried, the pathway could be a bit bumpy; it might be difficult to find a majority of current members on some committees who want to make decisions for themselves, rather than having the leadership make decisions for them.

But I believe that Rhode Island has come to a point where the necessary components for restoring small-d democratic practice within the Statehouse are ready to come together, i.e. a set of legislators who want to see the Rhode Island General Assembly run less hierarchically and more like the deliberative body that it is supposed to be, a group of citizens who believe the same and who will be willing to bring public attention to the situation, if leadership outright abuses the process in order to hold on to the old ways of doing things, and at least an issue or two in the public spotlight where the position of the leadership differs from that of a majority of members of a committee, or even from the majority of an entire chamber.

Anybody want to nominate a bill that the leadership opposes, but that a majority of the relevant committee might support, to go first?

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A Controlled Use for Weapons

Justin Katz

Elbridge Colby has an interesting article in First Things (see here if you're not a subscriber) addressing the ability of nuclear weapons to fit within the just war tradition. One point worth emphasizing comes to mind upon reading his summation of the "nay" argument (with which he disagrees):

The argument proffered by the churchmen is as follows. For the use of force to be morally tolerable it must be discriminate - civilians may not be the object of direct, deliberate attack - and it must be proportionate to the evil confronted and the good achieved. In light of these premises, an empirical claim is made: that nuclear weapons, by their very nature, cannot be used in a discriminate and proportionate fashion and thus are illegitimate. As Archbishop O'Brien has argued, nuclear weapons "cannot ensure noncombatant immunity and the likely destruction and lingering radiation would violate the principle of proportionality."

This judgment is grounded in an empirical assessment that escalation is highly probable in a nuclear exchange and therefore that the demands of proportionality cannot be satisfied. As Archbishop O'Brien puts it, "Even the limited use of so-called 'mininukes' would likely lower the barrier to future uses and could lead to indiscriminate and disproportionate harm. And there is the danger of escalation to nuclear exchanges of cataclysmic proportions." Nuclear weapons, in short, cannot be used discriminately and proportionately, both because of their inherent destructiveness and because their use is so likely to incur further, catastrophic damage. Therefore, because nuclear weapons cannot be used morally in warfare, they have no justifiable use and warrant elimination.

Specifically, Colby's topic is the "sharp change" from the Cold War acceptance that nuclear weapons were an unavoidable reality to "blunt statements insisting on the imperative of near-term nuclear disarmament." In that context, the largest point that the advocates for disarmament elide is that possession is not morally equivalent to use. If the act of possession of nuclear weapons assists actual peace, then the possibility of their deployment is not a trumping argument.

As Colby points out, it isn't implausible to suggest that the existence of nuclear weapons, and the utter horror with which they tinge the concept of war, have limited large-scale traditional war. To be sure, cataclysmic weapons merit tight control and constant warnings against their use, but it isn't at all clear that eliminating them totally is desirable — certainly not unilateral elimination.

Brief Reactions to Chafee Board of Regents Nominees

Marc Comtois

I covered initial reactions to Governor Chafee's new Board of Regents appointments yesterday, so I won't repeat myself. The ProJo has more info and reaction, including the info that Central Falls School Board of Trustees Chair Anna Cano-Morales, lawyer Amy Beretta and school reform advocate Angus Davis were the Regents NOT re-appointed by Chafee. The Phoenix's David Scharfenburg has also been looking for reaction:

I've spoken with some in the education reform crowd - all strong supporters of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist - about Chafee's picks for the Board of Regents. Their official posture is wait-and-see. And there is even a glimmer of hope that Caruolo, a supporter of charter schools in the past, will give the reform push a fair shake. But the primary feeling, it seems, is one of deep concern - that Chafee is moving to check the reform movement.
Also, as if we hadn't detected the pattern already, it looks like the Governor continues to tap entrenched Rhode Island insiders when it comes to his political appointments. It's almost like he still thinks it's the 1990's.

UPDATE: Ian Donnis checked out Facebook and found Anna Cano-Morales' reaction:

Departing Regent Anna Cano Morales fumes via Facebook: “What is stunning is that I learned about [not being reappointed] by reading the paper. No call, no letter, not even a simple email. There is alot of work to do folks and because children don’t vote, don’t pay dues and don’t have access to power, I will continue to fight for THEM.”

UPDATE II: It's also important to see what these moves look like from the perspective of national education reformers, such as Tom Vander Ark (emphasis added):

Grant makers don’t like to take money back, but Rhode Island may become the first state that owes the feds a refund for [unfulfilled] Race to the Top plans.

Recently elected Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee canned state board member and reform warrior Angus Davis. Three other reform mined Regents are also leaving. Gov. Carcieri failed to make key reappointments before leaving office and, as a result, left the new governor the ability to appoint 8 new Regents (a big loose end that should have been tied up in support of RttT plans)....for kids in Rhode Island this really sucks. This is more bad news for Commissioner Gist, one of the Chiefs for Change. The new board will have a stronger labor voice, will support the governor’s ‘pause’ to reexamine charters, and could jeopardize execution of the state’s very specific RttT plans.

It’s still not clear how this will all sort out, but if they roll back the RttT plans, they should give the money back.

While I get the frustration with Governor Carcieri not filling the slots, the reality is that any of his nominees would have had to pass through the Legislature and there was no guarantee that a lame-duck Republican's nominees would have been approved by a Democrat legislature in an election year. Vander Ark thinks that the Legislature and various mayors are still on board for reform and national groups are supporting Gist.
In May, Rhode Island Mayor Academy will advance to the Regents a 5 campus proposal in partnership with Achievement First. That will be a pretty clear indication of whether the state is moving forward or rolling back reforms.

Reform groups like DFER [Democrats for Education Reform] are encouraging the governor to support one of the best chiefs in the country and a very good reform plan.

Eroding reform agendas will be a spring test for the Obama administration. We’ll see what team Duncan does when a state does not deliver (too bad they paid out all the money). As Whitney Tilson said this morning, “Here’s hoping they take a hard line!”

Seems Folks Argued This All Along...

Justin Katz

This point was made so early in debate over the federal healthcare overhaul — before the Democrats rammed it into law despite every negative signal from the American people — that it's difficult to believe that anybody still believes the opposite. Still, it's worth noting its restatement:

Two of the central promises of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law are unlikely to be fulfilled, Medicare's independent economic expert told Congress on Wednesday.

The landmark legislation probably won't hold costs down, and it won't let everybody keep their current health insurance if they like it, Chief Actuary Richard Foster told the House Budget Committee. His office is responsible for independent long-range cost estimates.

Legislators cannot simply ignore the law of supply and demand, no matter how much the resulting policies may please the special interests to which they cater or how much more invasive authority over citizens the legislation grants them.

The Scope of Religious Freedom

Justin Katz

A recent article (apparently not online) in The Rhode Island Catholic summarized same-sex marriage legislation introduced to the General Assembly as follows:

Both Chafee and House Speaker Gordon Fox support allowing same-sex couples to marry. Last Thursday, Rep. Arthur Handy and Sen. Rhoda Perry filed bills that would recognize "civil marriage" between same gender individuals, but giving religious institutions the opportunity not to participate.

Having some history following this issue, I thought to take a look at the actual language that the local diocesan newspaper treats as containing religious exemptions. Here's the text of the relevant paragraphs of H5012:

Protection of freedom of religion in marriage. – (a) Consistent with the guarantees of freedom of religion set forth by both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 3 of the Rhode Island Constitution, each religious institution has exclusive control over its own religious doctrine, policy, and teachings regarding who may marry within their faith, and on what terms. No court or other state or local governmental body, entity, agency or commission shall compel, prevent, or interfere in any way with any religious institution's decisions about marriage eligibility within that particular faith's tradition.

(b) Consistent with the guarantees of freedom of religion set forth by both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 3 of the Rhode Island Constitution, ordained clergy, ministers or elders as described and authorized in sections and 15-3-6 of the general laws to officiate at a civil marriage shall not be obligated or otherwise required by law to officiate at any particular civil marriage or religious rite of marriage.

The legislation also adds a paragraph distinguishing legally recognized marriages as civil marriages. Arguably, a hostile judge could find that language describing eligible "officials empowered to join persons in marriage" does not mean clergy have a right to perform civil marriage if they refuse to do so without regard to the gender of the spouses.

More importantly, the freedom-of-religion section of the bill is narrowly worded to protect "decisions about marriage eligibility within that particular faith's tradition." That includes the definition of marriage for activities related to the exercise of religion, but does not necessarily include the definition for activities related to employment within the religious organization or to receipt of services provided thereby. In other words, the fact that a church does not recognize same-sex marriage for the purposes of its religious rites does not mean that it will be permitted to do so when providing benefits to employees spouses or when determining what counts as marriage when distributing charitable services.

Religious faiths tend not to segment their religious activities apart from the way they live their lives in all capacities. That is, to believers charity is an expression of faith, as is one's interaction in the workplace. The government (and this particular legislation) does not share that broad view.

February 1, 2011

For Whom They Work

Justin Katz

Maybe it's a small thing, but such ideological tells as the sentence that I've emphasized in the following paragraph from an unsigned Projo editorial have been catching my attention more, lately:

It's no violation of the First Amendment for Mr. Chafee, a liberal, to do what he says he will do: Ban his people from talking in these talk-show echo chambers on state work time. (His administration made an exception for emergencies such as storms; he may find there are lots of emergencies.) After all, you don't have to work for Mr. Chafee.

Is it stating the obvious to suggest that even public officials appointed by the governor work for the people of the state? It's not a minor point, in this context: If department heads and other employees of the state's executive branch of government work for the people, rather than for the public CEO, then it's not just imprudent, but inappropriate of Governor Chafee to create barriers to their communication with their actual employers.

Inasmuch as they're not using "state work time" to promote matters completely disconnected from their public jobs, banning them from addressing tens of thousands of talk-radio listeners should be coupled with bans on addressing much smaller audiences in person or by other media. Surely the Providence Journal would object to such executive overreach.

Marriage as Healthcare Policy

Justin Katz

Pankaj Ahire, of Charlestown, uses extremely condemnatory language, laying the potential death of his same-sex partner at the foot of RI Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin:

The lack of marriage equality implies that my excellent health and dental insurance does not cover my partner. Unfortunately, my partner has had health issues, and could not go to a doctor. To see him suffer when I could have provided for him is agonizing to say the least.

But more importantly if tomorrow something happens to my partner, you can bet that I will take him straight to emergency room. Who foots the bill now? The State of Rhode Island. In this economic climate, shouldn't taxpayers try to get coverage for as many people as possible? Marriage equality is a way to do that.

Ahire provides an excellent example of the error in progressive thinking that has wrought so much damage throughout the United States and Western society at least since the mid-1800s. Radically altering cultural institutions in order to serve immediate economic and personal desires and needs — no matter how just and urgent they may be — ignores the pillars that have evolved over centuries and that such institutions developed to support.

Marriage is fundamentally about joining of the two halves of human biology, man and woman, most significantly in the bodies of the children that only a man and a woman can create. The ability to extend employment benefits to a loved one is not its key quality, neither is tax policy, neither is a government stamp of equality, and behaving as if any of these ancillary aspects should be focal points undermines an institution that is in dire need of fortification, in our time.

Mr. Ahire would be more rational to direct his ire at those who've held up healthcare reform. He'd be more intelligent to advocate for reforms that lower the cost thereof and increase freedom and choice when it comes to insurance plans and means of acquiring medical services.

Breaking: Architect of "Caruolo Act" to Chair Board of Regents

Marc Comtois

According to ProJo :

Governor Chafee has in recent days asked former House Majority Leader George Caruolo to chair the state Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education....a knowledgable source has confirmed that the governor asked Democrat Caruolo, 58, of East Providence, to come out of political retirement to chair the board, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Caruolo was the architect of the so-called "Caruolo Act," which annually gets called into play/threatened as RI School Committees struggle with their Town or City Councils over education dollars. Caruolo explained the eponymous act in 2009.
Prior to passage of the so-called Caruolo Act, all funding disputes between school committees and city and town councils went to the Rhode Island Department of Education. The process called for an appeal of the funding level to be heard by an “independent hearing officer” employed by the department. After both sides made their presentations, a finding was rendered by the officer and the final decision was made by the commissioner of education. Almost invariably, the schools received the additional funds they sought. As the late TV educator Mr. Rogers would ask, “Can you say stacked deck?”

The Caruolo law was conceived and passed to give cities and towns a fair shake when these disputes arose, while at the same time it sought to protect the legitimate educational needs of the students. These questions were referred to the court system to give an impartial hearing to serious public policy disputes....When the law passed, it was greeted with enthusiasm by local mayors and managers. That was not the case in all quarters, however. The teachers didn’t like it. The teachers unions didn’t like it and the commissioner of education really didn’t like it. A small indication of that were the efforts that went into branding the law the “Caruolo Act,” which I can assure you is quite unusual.

...I was never a favorite of the unions when I was in the State House. There were times I supported union positions and times I didn’t. They weren’t happy with me or my colleagues when we raised their pension contributions or expanded charter schools, and maybe they didn’t like it when we mandated annual publishing of school results, but we did what we did in the best interest of the people of this state whether students, teachers or retirees.

We'll see if Caruolo is willing to support reform.

UPDATE: Bill Rappleye tweets: "Gist here at Chafee's regents news conference!"
MORE RappTweets: "Chafee says will keep working with Gist." --- Now that sounds kind of obtuse. Keep working with her for how long?

UPDATE II: Your new Board of Regents (via ProJo 7to7):

Robert L. Carothers, former president of the University of Rhode Island.

Carolina B. Bernal, an East Providence parent who works at the Institute for Labor Studies and Research in Warwick.

And Mathies J. Santos, an outreach associate for Rhode Island at the Boston Veteran Affairs Research Institute.

The following members will remain on the board:

Colleen Callahan, director of professional development for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, a Regent since 2003.

Patrick Guida, a lawyer and vice-president Barrington School Committee; Regent since 2001.

Betsy Shimberg, an East Greenwich parent; term expires Jan. 31, 2012.

Karin L. Forbes, a retired math teacher who has served on the Regents since 2004.

The new chairperson of the Board of Governors for Higher Education also serves on Board of Regents. Chafee said he will appoint that board later this winter.

Carothers is a known quantity, but not sure where he stands on reform. Bernal may be a parent---and I know nothing about her--but she works for the Institute for Labor Studies and Research, which is housed in the same building as NEARI and is essentially the research arm of the labor movement. In addition to his current work, Santos was in the DiPrete administration (this was an interesting read). As for those kept on by Chafee, we have: one teacher, a teacher union director, a parent and a school board member.

What Should Be and What Will

Justin Katz

John Kostrzewa makes a number of excellent points in a recent column:

[Two economists'] forecast is important because there is an argument making the rounds in City Halls and at the State House that the recovery of the economy will eventually pull city and state finances back from the brink of disaster. The thinking is that an improving economy will bring in more tax collections to pay for the services and employee benefits that elected officials have approved over the last few decades.

It's not going to happen.

The financial hole dug by city and state leaders is so deep and the improvement in the Rhode Island economy is so shallow that the crisis can’t be solved by waiting it out.

Rhode Island's economic difficulty has been building for decades, at least. Perhaps because world events and prosperity led voters to take their eyes off the budgetary ball, or perhaps because compounding policies finally reached the cliff, over the years since the turn of the millennium, the government excess has become impossible to ignore. Indeed, Rhode Island's annual deficit problem began in the midst of the housing bubble; its taxpayer flight began earlier; and there's no reason to believe that either trend will reverse just because the rest of the American economy brings a rising tide.

The other day, Ted Nesi noted that, at its current rate of job growth, Rhode Island won't return to its employment peak until the year 2045. As I've been warning, the recovery of employment and economic opportunity elsewhere could accelerate RI's relative deterioration.

Kostrzewa does make one point, though, about which I'm skeptical:

That makes 2011 the bellwether year when public officials, pushed by taxpayers, have to prioritize which services they want to provide and how to restructure government, whether through consolidation or regionalization, to pay for them.

The note in the margin of my newspaper reads: "Wanna bet?" Kostrzewa has described what has to happen, but nobody should expect that it will. We have the wrong government policies in place (taxes, mandates, regulations). For the most part, we have the wrong people in public office (the new governor worst among them). And increasingly, we have the wrong electorate (heavily constituted of people dependent on government, in one way or another, and insulated by government policies). What we're more likely to get are policies that, like last year's tax "reform," have the sound of positive change but do not resolve structural problems and potentially make them worse.

Yes, we all have to ring this bell as frequently and loudly as possible, but we should brace ourselves for even rougher roads ahead.

Chafee Decision on Gist Coming Soon?

Marc Comtois

NBC 10's Bill Rappleye tweets:"Chafee names 5 new education regents today. Gist cancels presentation to Senate. 2+2 ?" We know that the former head of the Board of Regents, Robert Flanders, is out and moving over to the position of Central Falls receiver. Governor Chafee has 8 slots to fill and the ProJo identifies former URI President Robert Carothers and "school consultant" Andrew Moffit (husband of General Treasurer Gina Raimondo) as two candidates (Moffit was originally nominated by former Gov. Carcieri). Flanders thinks it would be a mistake to let Gist go as does ProJo education columnist Julia Steiny, who notes Gist's successes but also points to why she has ticked off the usual suspects:

Perhaps Gist’s most abrasive characteristic is that she dares to be specific. She and her team devised an enormous plan of action, with a dizzying array of detailed steps, changes, and initiatives. So everyone, including me, disagrees with the plan on one specific or other. Specifics inevitably step on someone’s toes.

We can either improve school quality or we can avoid stepping on toes, but we can’t do both. She gets work done. I like that about her. She can seem tin-eared at times, but she works hard at listening and making herself accessible. We’ve seen her change her mind and adjust her course, so she’s not ignoring the dissenting views. Most wonderfully, she’s made very clear that kids and achievement are her priorities. Adults need to come second. And after a certain amount of deliberation, hurt toes must heal on their own.

Like Steiny, there are some policy proposals I'm not crazy about and Race to the Top isn't a perfect vehicle for reform by any means. Yet, a perusal of Gist's Facebook page shows that she is willing to engage anyone--teachers, parents--in a dialogue. That openness and genuine interest is refreshing and encouraging and in direct contrast with what we've seen from Governor Chafee so far.

Like it or not, Gist has gotten the conversation moving in this state. There has been genuine debate with some long-called for reform ideas actually getting a look. It hasn't been--and won't be--perfect. But it's a heckuva lot better than where we were. Do we really want to start over, again?

ADDENDUM: In the comments, Ken Block calls attention to a petition at RI-CAN asking Governor Chafee to stay the course on the current education reform path. Here is the link.

Taking Past Excess Off the Table

Justin Katz

Some elected officials, in Tiverton, are encouraging their fellows to ignore the past while constructing the next budget. My Tiverton-Little Compton.Patch column, this week, I suggest that such an approach is, well, improper:

It certainly shouldn't be a foregone conclusion that a tax base that grew by 2% over a period of 28% inflation can afford a 78% increase in the cost of local government services. All else being equal, the community for which $17.5 million was the affordable levy in 2001-2002 should only have been asked for $22.9 million in 2009-2010 [instead of $31.1 million].

Obviously, a panoply of other considerations come into play, but it's awfully convenient of Cotta to insist that Tiverton's leaders should weigh the upcoming budget in isolation from the past. Moreover, it brings to the fore the error in government budgeting processes.