August 31, 2011

Welcoming Patrick Laverty to the Contributors List

Justin Katz

With all of Anchor Rising's contributors' finding it difficult to maintain a schedule of frequent posts, and with a critical election season coming our way, we're thrilled to expand our roster by one.

Patrick Laverty has long been a regular participant in our comment sections and has been blogging at Another RI Blogger. Other than that, I'll let him discover himself to you, so to speak.

Per past practice, Patrick will have to blog from behind the mask of our Roger Williams graphic. In due time, we'll get him his very own Anchor Rising avatar.

Powerless and It's OK

Marc Comtois

We lost power. We still don't have power. It's ok. We didn't have flooding. We have gas/hot water and septic (good thing we're holding off on hooking up to city sewer--no grinder pump problems for us). No tree damage, no house damage. I was lucky enough to obtain a power inverter prior to the storm, so we've been able to run the fridge and keep things cool and power and charge the all important media devices that tween girls need to survive. We've played board games, laughed and spent time with each other. It's been a net positive. Things could be much, much worse.

I don't envy National Grid. They're in a tough spot. But I think their P.R. has been inadequate. Telling the state that Newport/Aquidneck Island was a serious problem then it's fixed in no time. Paranoid RIers aren't too keen to hear that those rich folks got power while those in the hinterland are still without. It's not just city vs. town. It's also neighborhood rivalry. People wonder: why is so much work being done in the Governor Francis neighborhood while I haven't seen a National Grid truck in my neighborhood in 3 days? Perception--real or imagined--reinforced by immediate circumstances.

Now, after some hue and cry, Nat'l Grid has updated their power outage map with expected dates of service resumption. The vast majority of which indicated that power will be back...this weekend. Just like they've been saying all along. Perhaps it will ease the minds of some who like to see a date (like September 4th at midnight), but the actual fact hasn't changed: They've been saying the weekend all along, they just added in the dates.

When power first went out, I never thought it would take 7 days to get it back in my neighborhood here in the populous exurb of Warwick. But that's what the map says. We'll manage. At least it wasn't water this time.


As I've been tweeting, I suspect the weekend estimates were put out to quiet the "no schedule" criticism. The fact is, by saying we'd have it by the weekend, getting power before that will seem like a lucky break or the like. Not that I blame National Grid. Lowering expectations is one way to manage them, after all. Regardless, thanks to the linemen for their continuing efforts.

Speaking of Corruption and Inefficiency in Public Schools

Justin Katz

Ed Achorn's latest column, in support of mayoral academies, gives a bit of the flavor of the sorts of people whom Governor Chafee has granted authority to judge and shape Rhode Island's education system:

Soon after taking office, Mr. Chafee purged the Regents of reform advocates, and installed people who seem much more inclined to defend the status quo, including Chairman George Caruolo, a casino lobbyist and former state representative. Some believe that the governor made the appointments specifically to kill off mayoral academies, for the very reason that they are so promising, and might prod traditional public schools to change in ways that would shift the focus from rewarding special interests to serving students.

Another Chafee appointment was Carolina Bernal, of the union-backed Rhode Island Institute for Labor Studies. Ms. Bernal’s boss, Executive Director Robert Delaney, is married to Colleen Callahan, the "director of professional issues" for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals. She is herself a member of the Board of Regents.

Governor Bought-and-Paid-For has only made explicit that which has been dragging Rhode Island and its education system down for a long, long time. Too many people are empowered to feather the beds of interests that have absolutely nothing to do with how well educated our children become.

Dawn of the Dead? Susan Menard Pulls Papers

Monique Chartier

On the last day to do so, Former Mayor Susan Menard has filed declaration papers for the office of mayor. (Woonsocket has off year elections.)

It should be noted that pulling papers is only a first step to running for office. The Valley Breeze correctly points out that

Critics of Menard may wonder, however, if 2011 will be a repeat of the last election cycle in Woonsocket when, despite filing declaration papers in August, she failed to turn in a nomination petition.

Critics of Ms. Menard wonder about lots of other things, too. Let the questions for the candidate fly.

If elected mayor, will Ms. Menard

- Continue her practice of handing out no-bid city contracts to friends and family (copiers, for example, not to mention motorcycles)?

- Continue her practice of handing out generous but illegal benefit packages to favored staffers without obtaining authorization from the City Council?

- Revive her policy of promoting rather than firing racists?

- Reinstall secret recording equipment in the mayor's office? If yes, and the City Council moves to investigate, will she once again attempt to impede their lawful investigation into such potentially unlawful action?

- Once again cop a plea in the event that the Ethics Commission once again tags her with questionable (to say the least) conduct?

- Sign an Executive Order that, thenceforth, city employees are forbidden to run personal errands for the mayor? If not, why not?

Vouchers for Private School Are Only Fair (and a Smart Way to Save Money)

Justin Katz

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this:

Weeks after Indiana began the nation's broadest school voucher program, thousands of students have transferred from public to private schools, causing a spike in enrollment at some Catholic institutions that were only recently on the brink of closing for lack of pupils.

It's a scenario public school advocates have long feared: Students fleeing local districts in large numbers, taking with them vital tax dollars that often end up at parochial schools. Opponents say the practice violates the separation of church and state.

As a society we've determined that public money should be set aside to ensure a minimally educated population. In a voucher system, the parents receive some of that money and determine where to direct it. "Separation of church and state" should apply such that schools that are accredited for that objective should not be penalized just because they also provide religious instruction.

In a recent conversation with a woman who's renting a property on which I've been working, she mentioned that she'd transferred her children from a Catholic school to the public schools in her town for various reasons. We're not talking one of the elite private schools, by any means, but still, her son's commentary on fourth grade in the public school was that it was like going back to kindergarten. I've had similar experiences with my own children and have heard other parents express agreement.

Yet, the teachers at this particular school make less than half of what public school teachers make — with the comparison becoming even more imbalanced if we factor in benefits. That fact should shame public school teachers and spark a revolution at the voting booth.

Even if parents could receive back the portion of their own taxes that goes to educating their children, the education system couldn't help but become more efficient and achieve better results as a whole.

August 30, 2011

Woonsocket School Dept's Balanced Budget: Savoring the Good Times - However Fleeting in the Absence of Pension Reform

Monique Chartier

[Note: In the article excerpted below, the Woonsocket Call, bless them, is using the term "pension reform" erroneously. What they are referencing is the "proposed increase of employer pension contribution".]

[Note II: In the note above, the word "employer" is used as it has widely has in the indicated phrase. While technically correct, it is, in this context, a euphemism. A more accurate term would be "state and city" or, to be completely precise, "taxpayer". Thus: "proposed increase of pension contribution from the taxpayer". Thank you. There will be no further Notes before the start of this post.]

As a semi-regular critic of Woonsocket's (and other cities') seeming refusal to bring their budgets, school and municipal, into line with their revenue, I'd like to be one of the first to applaud Woonsocket's recent achievement.

The School Department finished its 2010-2011 budget with a $157,000 surplus

A surplus! Very nice. So that means that we're getting FYN (Fiscal Year Next) off to a good start, right? Right???

... but doesn’t appear to be on track for a similar outcome next year thanks to state plans for pension reform, according to school officials.

School Department Business Manager Stacey Busby was worried enough about the proposed pension changes, in fact, to give the School Committee the bad news along with her favorable report on the close out of the 2010-11 budget Wednesday night.

Ah. We would be off to a good start except for the higher pension contributions necessitated by the recent adjustment downward of the rate of return on pension fund investments.

While the rate of return had to be adjusted, it's dismaying that the Woonsocket School Committee finally gets their budet in line after considerable effort only to have the chair kicked out from under them next year. Woonsocket taxpayers are looking at a 10% increase in their tax levy just to cover this increase in pension contribution.

And of course, Woonsocket is far from the only municipality facing this situation.

At some point, it becomes difficult, to say the least, to responsibly budget for the astronomical promises carelessly made by someone else.

Missing Something with the Guilt Pieces

Justin Katz

News organizations love to "put a human face" on policy changes that restrain public spending, rather than raise taxes, and I frequently feel as if something must be missing from the stories. Based on the specifics, budget cuts just don't appear as evil as the tone of the reportage seems to imply. The profile of the Goes family, of Warwick, a few weeks ago, is an excellent example.

The family has two developmentally disabled adult children, and their mother, Pam is worried that the General Assembly's budget is going to affect their quality of life:

She says the cuts, effective with the start of the new budget year on July 1, may mean less state aid for her 23-year old son, Paul, who lives in her Warwick home and needs hired help to complete the most basic tasks, such as bathing, dressing and eating.

It also may mean less state aid to help her younger son, Joshua, 21, who lives on his own but still needs someone to manage his doctors visits, his prescription-drug regimen, his bills, and more, according to Goes.

"We're holding our breath," she says. "I don't know if I will have to maybe not work as many hours so that I can be home with [Paul]. I don’t know if it means I will have to cut his staff hours or cut their pay."

With her husband unemployed and her working part-time, the cuts could put a greater financial strain on the family. It is a "very real impact" that Goes believes lawmakers failed to take into account.

None of the tasks described is such that specialists are necessary. While unemployed, the father could surely perform them. The mother, employed part time, could surely help with the time management tasks. And apart from the parents, I have to believe that — if we didn't expect government to have the hold world in its hands — other family members, neighbors, community groups, or other charitable organizations could easily fill this void.

It's natural to react to others' unfortunate life circumstances with a just-fix-it prescription of government money, but the inefficiency and far reach of government is the central reason that Rhode Island's (and the U.S.'s) economy is in such bad shape. Let's not forget that, from an expenditure standpoint, these "cuts" are usually reductions of the amount of increase Unless we rein the beast in, people like Mr. Goes will remain unemployed, even as less money is available to fund human services expenditures.

August 29, 2011

Car Tax Shame All Around

Justin Katz

It's always appropriate to call for a greater sense of shame among Rhode Island's politicians, but Ed Achorn was a little too specific in his column, last week:

The politicians of Rhode Island would be ashamed of themselves, had they not lost the capacity for feeling shame long ago. Their determination to balance their enormous budgets, larded with stunning benefits for special interests, on the breaking backs of struggling working people is outrageous.

I write of the General Assembly's action in permitting cities and towns to hike property taxes on the most shabby motor vehicles. Now, some municipalities are hammering people who own anything valued at $500 or more (according to the municipalities' highly skewed definition).

The reality must be acknowledged that municipal governments didn't have to increase their revenue from the car tax. Other means exist for them to absorb losses in money that the state, in its mismanagement, is unable to provide. For one, lost revenue is among the exemptions that allow them to raise property taxes beyond the cap; going that route would have given residents a stronger sense and say in whether their hometowns raised taxes at all. More wisely, local governments could simply have cut back spending, even though it might mean reducing the scope of their activities. We can't forget that the General Assembly also gave cities and towns permission to reduce school budgets for a couple of years, temporarily disengaging the statutory ratchet that requires school spending to go in no direction but up.

Yes, state legislators ought to feel shame that the tools that they leave to municipalities to balance budgets are so limited. Taxing clunkers was the easiest and most visible means of compensating for losses in state aid, and the General Assembly should have taken the opportunity of hardship to tone down the demands that it makes on local governments, from minimum manning to basic education plan (BEP) requirements to the way in which labor contracts must be negotiated.

The real shame, however, belongs with the people of Rhode Island, who continue to accept government as it is. Apathetic or on the take, too many voters implicitly agree that this is the way things ought to be.

August 28, 2011

Oh, The Horror - Iowahawk "Reports" That Gibson Guitars Have Landed In the Hands of Mexican Drug Lords

Monique Chartier

As you may have heard, US Fish and Wildlife have been cracking down on those fiends at Gibson Guitar. (H/T Glenn Beck.)

Federal Agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raided factories and offices of Gibson Guitar in Memphis and Nashville on Wednesday, seizing wood pallets, electronic files and guitars.

Federal authorities are apparently investigating Gibson for the alleged importation and use of illegal wood. ...

The real issue here seems to be the bureaucratic minutia of federal environmental regulations that increasingly pervade all aspects of American life. Environmental regulations cover your home, your business, and now even your guitar.

Blah blah blah. Who cares about an ever encroaching government (which simultaneously refuses to carry out one of its most vital functions) when, as Iowahawk has "uncovered", such horrible items are not staying within the borders of the US???

Today's uncovering of secret multi-agency program for shipping illegal Gibson guitars to Mexican drug cartels left red-faced officials of the U.S. Department of Justice scrambling for an explanation amid angry calls for a Congressional investigation.

Fortunately, as Iowahawk points out, US DoJ has promised the same level of cooperation that they offered to the investigation of Operation Fast and Furious.

"I have ordered all agency personnel to fully cooperate in any Congressional inquiries, including all reasonable document request, as soon as we can redact them with Sharpie pens and lighter fluid," said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Iowahawk goes on to "report" some of the disturbing details about the devastation unleashed south of the border by these outlawed guitars; sensitive people are advised to read no further. All I can say is, thank heavens US Fish and Wildlife are aggressively attempting to stem the manufacture of these awful devices.

The secret program came to light early this morning in the border town of Nogales, Arizona, after what was described as a wild battle of the bands between members of the Sinaloa cartel and Los Zetas, two of Mexico's most notorious violent drug gangs.

"Usually these guys are armed with Mexican Strats and Squires, Epiphones, small caliber stuff like that," said Pedro Ochoa, 36, an eye witness to the sonic melee. "This time they were packing the heavy firepower."

The steady barrage of power chords and piercing solo attacks attracted the attention of nearby U.S. Border Patrol agents, who arrived at the scene just as Los Zetas broke into Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song.' By the time the dust had cleared, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Oscar Jimenez was found in a catatonic state of headbanging. He was later flown to University of Arizona Hospitals, where his condition is listed as seriously rawked.

And Here's the Storm

Justin Katz

So here we are, still hours away from the brunt of the storm, and we've already lost power. National Grid's line is busy. Good thing I have a print subscription to the Proto... and a fully charged smart phone to keep me connected.

If only I had a smart, chargeable fridge.

August 27, 2011

Snow Drifting Across the True Meaning of the Wall

Justin Katz

A central reason that I don't often write about pop literature and such — apart from the fact that, as fun as doing so can be, my time is better spent elsewise — is that the online practice of warning about spoilers seems to me to indicate a potential threat to the sanctity of those moments when good books (or movies) can surprise and offer unrepeatable moments of revelation. But I've stumbled on a cross-blog conversation about George R.R. Martin's recently released A Dance with Dragons among some progressives, and their points seem to me to indicate a profound difference in the way people of differing politics view the world.

However, offering my take would be impossible without casual declaration of the single biggest spoiler of the plot, so be warned, ye who've yet to read all of the books of the Song of Ice and Fire series so far.

As I recall, Martin was a fundraising fan of Barack Obama during the last election season, so I've no illusion that he's setting out to write books with a conservative moral. That said, authors who accurately capture something in human nature inevitably support a conservative reading of society, because (as I've assessed) such a reading more accurately captures reality. Thus, it might be true that Martin would develop to substantial degree an underlying theme without intending or liking the real-life sociopolitical conclusions that naturally extend from it.

For those who haven't been following the series, the story is centered on the island/continent nation of Westeros, which more or less mirrors North America in climate, if not shape. The South is hot and somewhat exotic in a Central American way; the North is always cold. The seasons, while proceeding in the order of our own, don't follow a set calendar.

The society resembles a Medieval kingdom in which magic exists around the fringes, although it was stronger in living memory and appears to be resurgent. Events in the first book, A Game of Thrones, set into motion political turmoil just as dragons are heralding the return of magic on another continent to the distant east and dark, cold forces are rumbling in the far north. Those forces manifest in a race of Others, who may be generically described as ice demons with the power to raise up the dead as zombies.

The character with whom we're most concerned, here, is Jon Snow. "Snow" is the surname that the people of the North give to illegitimate children who cannot be fully integrated into their families (and lines of heredity), and Jon's father was the premiere lord of the region, the Warden of the North, Eddard Stark. (It's been clear since the first book, at least to me, that Jon is actually the son of Eddard's sister and a prince from a line of dragon-riding royalty, both dead, but that's not important, just now.)

Locked out of his family's development among the various nobles who'd begun jockeying for position, Jon went farther north to serve in the Night's Watch — a brotherhood charged with defending the northern border of the kingdom. Truth be told, the northern border pretty well defends itself, inasmuch as an ancient Wall of ice seven hundred feet high spans the entire continent from east to west. Moreover, with the fading of magic in the world, the dark creatures of the deep northern forest have sunk to the status of old wives tales, and the Wall is mainly seen as protecting the kingdom from the occasional raids of Wildlings — tribes of people who live in a more primitive manner but consider themselves more free.

The Night's Watch has therefore mainly become a maintenance crew that the kingdom uses in large degree as a service option for criminals who would otherwise be killed or left to rot in prison, led by more respectable characters who have for one reason or another found cause to step outside of the kingdom's society. Various circumstances (primarily the mass death of many of the brotherhood's most competent figures) conspire to place the teenage Jon Snow in the position of Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, and Dances, the fifth book of a projected seven, spends much time describing his effort to prepare for the gathering supernatural storm beyond the Wall.

The core component of his strategy is to bring the Wildlings across the border to civilization — both to help man the Watch's score of crumbling fortresses and to prevent the tribes' becoming an army of zombies when the Others make their move. In Jon's approach, Alyssa Rosenberg, of ThinkProgress, sees a progressive restructuring of society, and the fissure that becomes a gulf between Left and Right emerges in a single adjective:

... Jon responds by becoming a nation-builder, redefining "the realms of men" to include the Wildlings, integrating them into Westeros's society with intermarriages, land, rebuilt castles, and alliances. In that decision, Jon does more to reconceptualize what Westeros should be than any of the five kings he’s stayed neutral from.

It's an astonishing act of political and moral vision. And his brothers murder him for it. Even more so than [Eddard's] execution, Jon's death feels to me like the most fully-realized tragedy in the novel. Where his father was a decent man of limited vision who was killed by an insane person, Jon learned Ned's lessons, but he also showed a moral and political flexibility his father lacked, and was murdered by a shattered institution he was trying to force into a future where it would be able to survive.

I'll put aside the fact that many readers would dispute the insinuation that stodgy ol' Eddard wouldn't have acted just as young, daring Jon does and get right to the word that marks deep ideological differences between conservatives and Rosenberg: "shattered," as in the "shattered institution" of the Night's Watch. A better adjective would be atrophied — atrophied as a result of the apathy of a society that no longer trusts its own traditions sufficiently to exert even minimally adequate effort in the preservation of an ancient institution.

The mission of the Night's Watch, far from being heroic, is no longer considered to be serious, for most of the kingdom. Collectively, Westeros feels as if the Watch ought to continue to exist — almost as a park ranger service — but it is a subject of mockery to suggest that the rangers face anything more terrifying than unwashed savages and a lifetime of winter weather.

So, to some degree, I side with Spencer Ackerman in his argument against Rosenberg, but he errs (or accedes to error) in a way that a conservative worldview would help avoid. Ackerman suggests that Jon's decisions are guided by a pragmatic intention of increasing the manpower of the Night's Watch, not a unitary vision of humanity:

Nor does Jon display any interest in building a nation. The Wildlings don't get integrated into the North. They get a ghetto in the Gift [a largely uninhabited region south of the Wall], in which they're dependent on the Night's Watch. Jon strolls his Brothers into the Gift to hand out what provisions he can spare -- and while he does so, he makes a pitch for the Wildlings to join their old enemies in the Watch. ...

Others might call Jon a usurper. He's not a king. He's a controversial, compromise choice for Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. The Night's Watch is a brotherhood of guardsmen. Its job, as understood by anyone south of the Wall, is to keep the Wildlings out of Westeros. And what did Jon just do?

Inasmuch as Ackerman is describing a matter of perspective and the attitudes of the characters in the books, the error is not clearly his, but it is an error to see the Watch's mission as he describes it. Seeing it otherwise makes of the Wall a fabulous metaphor on which to drape social and political commentary.

Plainly put, the Wall is a defensible line across the narrowest region of the continent that incorporates all of the most desirable geography for habitation and trade. It defends civilization from an ancient darkness that would destroy it. With that darkness long receded, some people choose to exist beyond the Wall, where they can claim greater individual liberty (albeit with the more superficial freedom that comes with rejection of civilized norms). But with the tide of evil again rising, that choice is no longer tolerable to the larger society of mankind, and Jon is in the most likely position in the realm to spot that reality. The Wildlings have to be brought within the defensible border and encouraged to bolster the Night's Watch, the traditional institution that has heretofore symbolized for them the militant arm of a society that would force them to be "kneelers."

Thus, while Ackerman's main point in his post — that "if you wish to change the realm, you have to engage in the painful, arduous task of building legitimacy through... recognized institutions" — is insightful and in accord with conservative principles, it skips the larger, more important point. Just as Jon Snow wasn't interested in nation building, he wasn't interested in changing the realm. He spends almost zero time lamenting that Wildlings and Westerosi can't just get along.

He does, however, frequently make note of the practices and assumptions that prevent the two sides from communicating and interacting effectively. Animosity between them is a practical hurdle to acknowledge and overcome, but it isn't a moral imperative that must be assuaged. The mating and marriage practices of Wildlings aren't to be respected in the sense of multicultural appreciation, but in the sense that they must be tolerated to the extent that one wishes to work alongside those who hold different views. Some of the ways in which Wildlings differ from Westerosi might be admirable in a certain context, and (more often) they might be inconsequential to Jon's proximate mission, but some of their differences, particularly their lack of discipline, must be changed.

Moreover, Jon's egalitarianism exists entirely within his sense of honor and duty, as components of a traditional moral code, as well as his respect for the rules by which men and women agree to live. While the Wildlings are inside the Wall, they must respect the laws of the kingdom, just as while he's a sworn brother of the Night's Watch, he must resist the call of family and political intrigue.

That's why, contrary to yet another progressive commenting on the book, I'm concerned that Jon's apparent killing at the end of the book is not a shining literary moment, but possibly a failure of the author to develop a principal character in a consistent, believable way. But commentary on that will have to await another post.

When the Municipal Dictator Has a Political Boss

Justin Katz

Apparently, when a municipal dictator (i.e., a "receiver") deals with those who previously held power locally, it's one thing when that power derived from the voting public, but it's another when it derives from an organization that's politically connected at the state level:

Frank Flynn, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, which represents Central Falls, said he had appealed to Governor Chafee.

"We haven't met with the receiver, but we have spoken to the staff of the governor and we told them it was our intention to go to court and get a temporary restraining order," Flynn said. "The governor's office, through the receiver, asserted his authority to intervene."

And since the teachers' unions have such sway in the state:

Receiver Robert G. Flanders Jr., who is overseeing the bankruptcy filing of the state's smallest and poorest city, notified Gallo Friday afternoon that her authority to negotiate with the union was being revoked. He also revoked her plan to unilaterally impose new terms on the school district's 330 teachers on Sept. 1.

The district's negotiation team, which included Central Falls Board of Trustees Chairwoman Anna Cano-Morales and two parents, is also no longer included in the negotiating process.

Instead, Flanders or his designee and Deputy Education Commissioner David V. Abbott will participate in the talks. ...

"I asked him if the teachers' union negotiating team was also being replaced and he said no, they would remain," Gallo said.

Unless Flanders moves to impose new contract terms that are more harsh than Gallo's, the entire process will have further proven the bone-deep corruption of Rhode Island's political system. Voters across the state ought to be concerned at the ease with which democratic processes are being swept aside for the benefit of particular parties. And public-safety retirees from Central Falls ought to be livid.

August 26, 2011

Changes of Season

Justin Katz

For the record, I didn't intend to scale back quite so drastically or quite so quickly, but in a variety of respects (mostly having to do with various responsibilities), summer ended early. It didn't help that it took me until last night to get through the long-awaited novel A Dance with Dragons, by George R.R. Martin.

But hey, if Drudge can run a hurricane path graphic and the accompanying headline for days on end, surely we can get away with light posting. According to the Weather Channel's interactive map, we're right at the border of the point at which hurricane Irene fades from a major threat to a dramatic storm.

Just to be safe, though, be sure to get out to the store and buy some milk. Nothing wards off extreme weather quite so effectively as a large distribution of dairy in refrigerators across the state.

August 25, 2011

Fairness Doctrine Signs Off. But Does the Senior Senator from Massachusetts Approve?

Monique Chartier

The Fairness Doctrine has been deep sixed by President Obama's FCC. Bravo.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that the decision to eliminate the Fairness Doctrine was part of a larger mandate proposed by the Obama administration to ease regulatory burdens by getting rid of duplicative or outdated measures.

Ever since reading about this rare bit of good news out of Washington, I've been trying to match it to the fatuous comments made a couple of weeks ago by Senator John Kerry (D-Sailing).

The media has got to begin to not give equal time or equal balance to an absolutely absurd notion just because somebody asserts it or simply because somebody says something which everybody knows is not factual.

It doesn't deserve the same credit as a legitimate idea about what you do.

... Okay, so if "the media has got to begin to not give equal time or equal balance", he must oppose the Fairness Doctrine, as he himself would define it. Except he's on record as supporting the Fairness Doctrine. But he wants the views of certain political groups not to get equal time from the media. So he opposes the Fairness Doct ...

Forget it. My fault for attempting to pierce the thought process of a man who once said,

I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.

I'm going back to vacuuming my car and other hurricane preparations.

August 24, 2011

A "Meddling" Government Directed by "A Few Players"

Marc Comtois

Justin's post brought the word "meddling" to mind. And that made me remember this from Tocqueville:

The nature of despotic power in democratic ages is not to be fierce or cruel, but minute and meddling. Despotism of this kind though it does not trample on humanity, is directly opposed to the genius of commerce and the pursuits of industry.
Reading from that same chapter, further down, Tocqueville wrote this:
When the bulk of the community are engrossed by private concerns, the smallest parties need not despair of getting the upper hand in public affairs. At such times it is not rare to see on the great stage of the world, as we see in our theaters, a multitude represented by a few players, who alone speak in the name of an absent or inattentive crowd: they alone are in action, while all others are stationary; they regulate everything by their own caprice; they change the laws and tyrannize at will over the manners of the country, and then men wonder to see into how small a number of weak and worthless hands a great people may fall.
Of course, back then, he also observed, "Hitherto the Americans have fortunately escaped all the perils that I have just pointed out..."

How a State Buries Itself with Wind and Overreaching Government

Justin Katz

Rhode Island had to have a speculative wind project. The General Assembly and former Governor
Don Carcieri effectively castrated the regulatory body that oversees energy policy and forced through the Deepwater Wind agreement that will raise energy costs for all Rhode Islanders in order to guarantee the company profits. Of course, those who use more energy, such as substantial manufacturers (and employers) like Toray Plastics are affected more.

Not to worry, though. Taxpayers can be tapped, yet again, to subsidize green energy:

The Economic Development Corporation board on Monday unanimously approved giving Toray Plastics (America) Inc. $1 million in energy-assistance grants that will pay about half of the company's costs to install 1,650 solar panels at its Quonset Point facility.

The investment of state and federal money is not expected to bring any additional jobs to Rhode Island, company President and CEO Richard R. Schloesser said before the meeting, adding that the solar project is "strictly for the environment — renewable energy."

That won't be all, though. You'll recall that, in its zeal to leap into the wind energy business, the government of Rhode Island explicitly called for energy distributor National Grid to ensure a profit for itself and for green-energy suppliers like Deepwater Wind by charging a premium "to all distribution customers through a uniform fully reconciling annual factor in distribution rates."

With Toray implementing a government-subsidized system to supply some of its own energy, it will be paying a smaller share of that "uniform fully reconciling annual factor," which means that everybody else will be paying more.

This is how a government can bury itself and the people it represents while attempting to react to the negative consequences of poorly considered policies, and Rhode Island's manner of governance is practically defined by this short-sighted dictate-and-dig methodology.

August 23, 2011

Cicilline on the Hunt Trail: A Photo Caption Contest

Monique Chartier

Is it possible that pro-Democrat bias is creeping back into the ProJo's coverage of the race for the First Congressional District?

Photographs of the three declared candidates for RI-1 adorned the front page of today's Providence Journal. In one of them, the candidate is frowning into the sun as he speaks. In the second, the candidate is power-steepling with a skeptical, uninviting expression on his face. In the third (front and center, actually), the candidate is holding a plate of food as he gazes earnestly at a constituent.

Now guess the party affiliation of each candidate?

You are correct! And the unspoken message is, vote for the Democrat. Because the Republicans are gruff and tough. But the Democrat is sweet and nice.

... sweet and nice if you had zero knowledge of the particular Democrat's record and his aversion to honesty. Not the case here.

So. Caption contest of the Cicilline photo.

Here's mine - in part, cribbed from WHJJ's Helen Glover. It's impossible to exclude the Catbert-esque feel of the tableau.

(thought balloon over DC's head) "Purrrr. Listen to my lies. Purrrr. The Republicans will snatch the check from your hand. Purrrr. And the very bread from your mouth. Purrrr ..."

Compressing the Same Workforce

Justin Katz

What am I missing in this story?

Providence teachers on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to approve a three-year contract that guarantees that every fired teacher will be returned to the district in exchange for substantial concessions.


The unprecedented decision to fire every teacher and close five schools left teachers and parents angry and demoralized. Although the mayor later recalled three-fourths of the faculty, the remaining teachers had to apply for openings via a job fair this spring that some felt was unfair.

So the city closed five schools but is still going to employ the same number of teachers? The article mentions fewer sick days, longer school days, an end to seniority, and the union's dropping a lawsuit that had sought to prevent the end of seniority-based hiring. No doubt there are significant savings in the deal, and ending seniority is a structural change worth some negotiation. The end of seniority was coming, though, and it's probable that the long-term expenses of a too-large workforce will soon swamp the savings of a dropped lawsuit.

At the least, this is a good example of the inefficiencies of government and the lethargy with which it changes.

August 22, 2011

Cicilline Event This Evening in North Prov

Monique Chartier

(With apologies to Marc for breaking in with this time-sensitive announcement.)

I've noticed that in the last couple of years, when members of our Congressional delegation hold a public event, little effort is made by their office to publicize in advance such availability.

Accordingly, in a small effort to pick up the slack, below is information about such an event for the benefit of the constituents of the First Congressional District.

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (sihs-ihl-EE'-nee) is hosting a neighborhood supper in North Providence.

The event will take place on Monday from 5 to 7 p.m. at North Providence High School.

Cicilline says he plans to discuss a jobs and manufacturing plan for Rhode Island and protecting benefits for seniors, Medicare and Medicaid.

He will also discuss the nation's debt crisis.

Cicilline says the supper will also give residents a chance to learn about the services offered at his Pawtucket office. He says his staff can assist residents seeking Social Security, Medicare and veterans' benefits.

One Sector of the Economy Booms: Government Regulation

Marc Comtois

First, a chart and explanation from Investors Business Daily (h/t):

Under President Obama, while the economy is struggling to grow and create jobs, the federal regulatory business is booming.

Regulatory agencies have seen their combined budgets grow a healthy 16% since 2008, topping $54 billion, according to the annual "Regulator's Budget," compiled by George Washington University and Washington University in St. Louis.

That's at a time when the overall economy grew a paltry 5%.

Meanwhile, employment at these agencies has climbed 13% since Obama took office to more than 281,000, while private-sector jobs shrank by 5.6%.

More than just the size and scope is changing, too. So is the attitude.

It has long been the case that regulatory agencies could utilize discretion in policing their realms. For instance, OSHA could reduce fines and work with companies to come into compliance by following a process that had the company accept or admit the violations and have fines reduced by 2/3 while also putting a payment plan in place. (This last is especially important to small companies who can't afford to pay the fine all at once, up front). No more. Apparently the Obama administration has directed OSHA to scrap that approach to "generate" as much "revenue" as possible.

The EPA will also become even more hardline and that will effect businesses and local governments (and your taxes). They've ordered the City of Newport to pay a $170,000 fine and spend $25M to fix a problem with their Waste Water treatment plant, after the city had already spent $32M to fix it (whether we can blame the EPA, City of Newport for incompetence--or both--is probably an open question). In addition, the EPA has now tightened their already tough regulations even more. Going from concentrating on so-called “point sources” (smokestacks, fan exhaust outlets, etc.) that emitted certain threshold levels of chemicals they have identified as hazardous wastes to regulating (and fining) any exposed amount of any of these chemicals found in a facility. The apparent theory being that opening a door allows pollution of the atmosphere.

Regulations impact jobs, especially on the small business level. Obviously, we need safe, clean work environments. But working with small companies, as has been done in the past, seems to have been, well, working. This new change in philosophy is both antagonistic and ill-timed, given the current state of our economy.

Damn, I Always Did Like That Jim Baron

Monique Chartier

Many thanks to the Pawtucket Time's Jim Baron for his kind words and solicitation on behalf of Anchor Rising yesterday in the second part of his "Politics as Usual" column, selfishly pasted below in its entirety. It means a lot not just considering the source (from the mind and pen of one of the state's region's outstanding reporters) but because, as a regular reader of his opinion column, I know that he disagrees with the positions put forth in about 80% of A.R.'s posts!

Scaled-back blogs

Information is a precious commodity and it is always a shame to see a quality provider of reliable information and commentary goes away. We’ve all seen daily newspapers disappear across the country and even the world.

Websites and blogs started springing up to fill the void, many of them excellent, many not so much.

Rhode Island has been fortunate to have several excellent blogs and bloggers but recently one of them gave us bad news.

The folks at Anchor, a conservatively-oriented political site, announced this week that they are being forced to scale back their efforts so that the main contributors can concentrate on earning a living at their day jobs. They had been hoping to raise enough money to sustain a full-time staffer on a payroll, but as Justin Katz and Marc Comtois (who, along with Monique Chartier do the lion’s share of the posting) explained in separate posts, that didn’t happen.

That is truly a shame.

In navy-blue Rhode Island, it is important, if not imperative, to have a conservative voice speaking out, even if the message often falls on deaf ears.

As blogs go, Anchor Rising is an excellent one. The postings are consistently of a high intellectual level, well argued and supported with facts. You don’t have to agree with them, but you have to respect them as well-reasoned opinions. There is almost none of the name-calling, flaming and other vitriol that too often mar many sites, particularly political discussions) on the Internet. Some of the reply comments can get a bit rambunctious, but that is always going to happen when you deal with the public.

Anchor Rising goes on, but its posts will be fewer and further between, and that is unfortunate.

If you have an interest in keeping many sides of the political dialogue ongoing and vibrant (and you do, whether you recognize it or not) you might want to visit Anchor Rising on the web and check it out. There is a link there you can click on to donate money (nothing good comes free). If you are one of those rich conservatives people read about (sometimes on this page), you might want to consider underwriting a valuable voice in the political debate.

The Mainstream Advocate

Justin Katz

Even the presidential primaries are too far away for me to be invested in any particular candidate, yet, but perusing my Sunday Providence Journal, I found it a little disconcerting to see that every section of the paper that appropriately touches on politics had a piece attacking Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Ed Fitzpatrick threw a jab on the presidential candidate and climate change. Letter writer John Bush Jones likened Perry to a clown based on his comments about the Federal Reserve and (again) climate change (letter not online).

Most striking, though, was a McClatchy piece by Dave Montgomery that the Projo carried in the Nation section, questioning Perry's role in Texas's booming economy:

No issue is closer to the heart of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's presidential campaign than his claim to be responsible for the state's impressive record of creating jobs. Is he? The answer is less black and white than a shade of gray. ...

"The jockey in the horserace is very important, but which horse he gets on also matters," said economist Terry Clower, director of the Center for Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas.

To be sure, outside a totalitarian dictatorship, the chief government official will never be the sole party to praise or blame for economic activity. My view is that, as a rule of thumb, the government does best when it tries to do little, so it would be particularly difficult to claim that the top official has ownership of success. At the very least, one can say that the governor knows what a thriving economy looks like from the top political office.

Whatever the case, it's too bad the mainstream media didn't spend this much time questioning the effect that a short-term Senator (much spent campaigning) had had on, well, just about anything, before the American people elected him to the Presidency in a fit of romantic irresponsibility.

August 21, 2011

We Still Have a Home on the Internet

Justin Katz

Readers who've been around that long may recall a little bit of a panic 'round here two years ago that we wouldn't be able to cover our Web hosting costs around this time of year. Well, this year, thanks to your monthly and one-time donations, I was able to renew for another year with no trouble at all.

That doesn't mean that we'll individually have any more time in the day to generate content, but it does keep us going in some capacity — and with our options open should circumstances change.

Thanks for the help.

August 20, 2011

Prez to Illegals: You Can Stay - Just Don't Murder Anyone

Monique Chartier

This is unacceptable.

The Obama administration's plan to review the cases of 300,000 illegal immigrants currently in deportation proceedings to identify "low-priority" offenders has sparked a debate in Washington and beyond.

Officials said that by launching the case-by-case review, they are refocusing deportation efforts on convicted felons and other "public safety threats." Those who have not committed crimes could be allowed to remain in the U.S.

How long before word gets around the world - literally - that if you can just make it over the United States' border, however you have to do it, you're golden? Too late; it already happened.

With this action, President Obama is spitting simultaneously on legal immigrants and on the sovereignty of the United States. Will Congress stand next to him and do likewise by refusing to intercede on behalf of the people who came here lawfully (and at considerable cost), on behalf of US sovereignty and on behalf of ITS OWN CONSTITUTIONAL ROLE AND POWERS?

On the issue of deportation, the executive branch has the privilege of determining how to implement the law, but it does not have the power to manipulate the way a law is carried out to the extent that it changes the meaning of the law. ...

The President’s newest round of executive branch legislating, though, through the Department of Homeland Security, is particularly abhorrent. It represents the first major time that President Obama has successfully used the executive branch not only to bypass the legislature, but to act directly contrary to it. In the face of a hostile House of Representatives, it is likely that these ‘screw you’ moments will become increasingly frequent.

August 19, 2011

The Thought of Too Few

Justin Katz

In a letter to the Providence Journal that doesn't appear to be online, Karin Gorman expresses a feeling that many of us share:

Things became heated [at a recent Operation Clean Government event] when state Rep. Larry Valencia, former president of [the organization], suggested that everyone needs to come to the table to solve the pension problem and increase taxes.

This was a room full of people who actually pay attention. We are tired of hearing that. That statement upset just about everyone in the room. There's been enough talking. Now is the time for action

And that action is not raising taxes, fees, and fines on an over-taxed-feed-and-fined population. Unfortunately, it's difficult to escape the conclusion that not enough of us feel this way to overcome the apathy and vested interests of everybody else.

Sharing the Pain Means You Hurt and They Have to Reduce Their Massages

Justin Katz

Somehow, I think we all expect Rhode Island to pursue the sort of inadequate solution to the pension crisis that consultant Joseph Newton described to the union-heavy pension advisory panel. Consider:

Cost-of-living adjustments, instead of being based on a commonly used measure of inflation, would be based on how well the pension fund's investments perform. As an example, if the fund met its target of a 7.5-percent return, retirees would get a 2-percent adjustment. If the fund didn't meet the 7.5 percent, the adjustment would be lower, Newton said. On the other side, if the fund did better than 7.5 percent, retirees would get an adjustment higher than 2 percent. This would align how much the government pays with how much it has in the pension fund.

It's like Bugs Bunny counting out "one for you, one for me; two for you, one, two for more." The pension system outperforms the necessary returns one year, beneficiaries get more money; it underperforms, beneficiaries get more money. But this is the best part of Newton's suggestion:

... it might take 15 years to reach a point where the contribution levels he outlined could be implemented. As an example, the taxpayers might have to kick in 23 percent of an employee's salary during that time to help pay off the unfunded liability. And retirees might be asked to do without cost-of-living adjustments for the same amount of time.

For fifteen years, we'd collectively be paying $16,100 toward the pension of a $70,000 per year teacher. That's a quarter of a million dollars per teacher, and teachers aren't the only pension recipients. On the other side, the "shared pain" is no automatic annual increase.

And when it turns out, in fifteen years, that investments didn't do as well as necessary, or some other mismanagement by the government affected the amount of money on hand? There'll only be more pain to share.

The Tone Deaf Ruling Class

Justin Katz

This is precisely the thinking that has to end:

The two-phase plan will require Obama to argue for spending more money in the short term while reducing the federal deficit over a longer period. Many economists support that combination, saying that cuts in spending should wait until the economy is stronger. But political strategists say it has been difficult to communicate that idea to voters.

Obama pushed the idea Wednesday during a stop in Alpha, Ill. "Yes, some of these things cost money," he said. "The way we pay for it is by doing more on deficit reduction."

Enough already! Stop with the stimulus spending. Stop with the gimmicks. Stop with the attempts to use anxiety about the economy to expand the government's size and scope.

It doesn't "pay for" increased spending to spend a little bit less money you don't have in other areas. That is, reducing the deficit doesn't mean that you can spend the reduction, unless you've crossed the zero mark and are no longer spending more than you take in.

August 18, 2011

Charting a New Course

Marc Comtois

So we tried to see if we could make a fiscal go of it, as Justin has explained, but now we’re scaling back a bit at Anchor Rising. (Some of us--me--got an early start with a particularly busy summah). Over the last few months, we’ve all have found it harder to do our duty and put up regular posts, as we’ve felt obligated to do since we started taking sponsors (as Justin touched upon with Matt Allen last night), while also waiting for some group or individual to step forward and help us fund a full-time position. We thought it was worth a shot.

Obviously, we share the same ideological touchstone as many conservatives, libertarians and even some of those “traditional” Rhode Island Democrats and Independents. But that doesn’t, or hasn’t, translated into funding to help us take Anchor Rising to another level. It appears, to me at least, that an established “brand” like Anchor Rising isn’t attractive for funding because our voice isn’t likely to be shaped or altered depending on who is supplying the coin. Let’s face it, ideology or philosophy aside, we think what we think and we post it. There are little battles amongst the ranks of political movements and we tend not to take sides in those. But we’ll sure as hell tell you if we think you’re wrong, even if we agree with you on most other things. A lot of people—groups or investors—can’t handle that, especially if they’re giving you money. And I can’t say that I really fault anyone for that attitude. It’s their money.

After Justin’s post on Monday, long-time new media “friend of the blog” Ian Donnis noted it and highlighted a statement I made about blogging in an interview that Justin, Andrew and I had with Ian (while he was at the Phoenix) in 2008:

“You have to do it because you love doing it for its own sake. Lots of blogs flame out. People get bored or realize how hard it is. But I think that so long as you are passionate about something — whether politics, music, food or whatever — you will be able to keep it going. Just don’t ever look at it as a way to make money or gain power.”

I guess I was right, but it was worth a try. While it is a "scaling back", I prefer to think of it as charting a new course. Still on the journey, just going a different way (in a smaller boat!).

All that aside, I like to think we’ve helped inform and coalesce Rhode Islanders over the last few years; that we’ve helped them realize that things don’t have to be as they are just because “this is Rhode Island.” For the nearly 7 years we’ve been going at it, we’ve seen other conservative groups—some of them sponsors--come and go. We were here before OSPRI and their Transparency Train. We were here before RISC changed their “S” from “Shoreline” to “Statewide”. We were here before the Tea Partiers and we started before Matt Allen got his own show. Some have exited from the scene or become less or more influential. Some have changed direction and some continue on. We’ll continue on, too (if not as prolifically!).

After all this time, we and our commenters and our readers have become a sort of big family: full of conservative and liberal brothers and sisters (and a few libertarian middle children) and more than our fair share of spaced out cousins and just plain crazy old uncles (you know who you are). We’ll still be here to offer a conservative perspective and our comments section will remain as our own "lively experiment" by providing you with a forum to agree or argue (and yes, to flame or troll--again, you know who you are!).

But enough of that. Let's continue sailing on.

Scaling Back

Justin Katz

We began talking with Matt Allen on WPRO every Wednesday just before 7 p.m. back in early 2008, and last night I took our final call. We just don't feel right about having him tout our activities on such a regular basis when we're not sure how active we'll actually be. That doesn't mean we won't be listening to his show or even that we won't be calling in from time to time, but when we do, we'll be regular callers.

Stream by clicking here, or download it.

August 17, 2011

That's Why We Call the Tax "Progressive"

Justin Katz

Steven Colucci, a public school psychologist (I'm pretty sure), had a letter in the August 12 Providence Journal raising a point that comes up from time to time:

[In a previously published letter, Keith Garrison] notes that the top 1 percent pay 37 percent of the total income taxes. Mr. Garrison makes a couple of egregious errors. In order to compare apples with apples, I would prefer to know what proportion of the income of this top 1 percent goes to taxes, compared with the rest of us ...

Secondly, he wrongly suggests that small businesses would be hurt by a tax increase and that jobs would be lost. He curiously leaves out that the tax increase is on personal income and is not a business tax.

I understand that using the word "egregious" can spark a little burst of pleasure, but one should be extremely careful with logic and assertions of fact when deploying it. For one thing, that Mr. Colucci "would prefer to know" one thing doesn't mean that citation of the other thing is an error. Moreover, surely somebody with the time to write and send a letter to the Projo also has the time to do some quick research.

If Colucci had done so, he might have paused long enough to remember that people talk about the progressiveness of various taxes, and that income tax is heavily weighted against the rich. That is, they naturally pay more of their income in income taxes. At least in 2007, taxpayers earning over $200,000 per year made 24% of Rhode Island's income but paid 40% of its total income taxes.

Perhaps he'd argue that other taxes ought to be considered as well, which is ground that I covered in 2008. There, he'd find that it's true that families with higher income pay a smaller percentage of their income in total state and local taxes, but that's because things like property and sales taxes aren't calculated on income, but on the value of the item purchased, and such taxes will take up a larger proportion of a smaller income.

The most regressive tax, in this regard, is the excise tax category (such as on cigarettes, gas, and alcohol). According to the table at the above link, the lowest income quintile payed 4.9% of its income in excise taxes, but the portion for the top 1% of earners was 0.3% of income. Put that in dollar figures, though, and you're comparing $411.60 for the lower category and $2,361 for the higher (and remember that we're comparing 20% of people with 1% of people). For sales taxes, the number is $268,80 versus $3,148.

One suspects that, for Colucci, nothing will be fair until people who've worked hard to have comfortable incomes are taxed such that nobody, regardless of merit, has any less disposable income.

As to the second paragraph that I quoted above, I'd suggest that Mr. Colucci ought to familiarize himself a little bit more with the methods of income taxes. For multiple categories of businesses (sole proprietor, S-Corp, and so on), business income appears as personal income. Unarmed with that knowledge leads Colucci to make his own egregious error.

August 16, 2011

Life Expectancy Follow Up

Justin Katz

You'll recall, from a couple of weeks ago, the commentary of Robert Barber, a retired Cranston police captain eight years into a retirement that he began at 50. Well, PolitiFact has looked into his very specific claim that "law-enforcement officers die 10 years earlier than the general population" and found it wanting:

Whether a person was age 50, 55, 60 or 65, the life expectancies of the police officers were slightly higher than for other workers. For example, men age 60 who had taken regular retirement were projected to live to age 82.7, versus age 81.9 for workers who were not in the public safety field. (Firefighter rates were close to those for police officers.)

Even when CalPERS added in all the men who had retired as a result of work-related injuries, the life expectancies of the police officers were essentially identical to other public employees. The life expectancy for someone age 60, regardless of why they stopped working, was 81.8 years, just a tenth of a year lower than for regular workers.

According to other research cited, public safety officers appear only to have shorter life expectancies than other public-sector employees. (Apparently, nobody lives longer than female public-school teachers.)

Why Barber's statement is only "false," not "pants on fire," I'm not sure.

August 15, 2011

Facing Reality

Justin Katz

We're coming up on seven years since Anchor Rising launched. In the peculiar sensation of time, the days have felt as if they've sped, but it seems as if the site has been around forever.

When we started out, we had the attitude of hobbyists — we would battle the problems of Rhode Island and the nation as we had time. But as we moved forward, not only did we pick up a healthy growth curve of readers, but we slid into habits of research and content creation somewhat beyond a hobbyist's scope. We've done some real, substantive research; we've gathered audio and video of events as if it were our occupation.

And we've done a fair bit of good.

Last winter, I was hopeful that enough people had seen the value in what we do that we could find funding for a single full-time job. We pretty quickly found enough pledges to form a healthy baseline, but nowhere near enough to make the transition without a large investment from a single person or group. Twice the possibility of the dream come true was tantalizingly close, but, well, people have their own ideas and priorities.

I continue to believe that a year of full-speed Anchor Rising would make its own case (and allow enough freedom of time and movement) for us to find consistent revenue to continue growing beyond the range of a hobby. Unfortunately, we lack the resources to fund that year; I (for one) don't even have the remaining capacity for debt to take out a business loan for that purpose.

Yet, life has its demands. I'm going to do my best to continue with the regular content for the rest of August, but come September, I have to reorder my priorities. We'll still be here, making our opinions known, but I'll be putting aside the sense of obligation to have a steady stream of new posts. Spring 2011 was just too arduous, and I've got to find some other direction.

In terms of the free market, Rhode Island and its center-right contingent have expressed a lack of interest in a media organization such as Anchor Rising is and could be. It's unfortunate that we're about to slide into the most critical election season in recent memory — both for Rhode Island and for the United States. We had hoped to provide a counter to the stream of skewed PolitiFacts and politically tilted journalism and to challenge the flawed ideas that dominate Rhode Islanders' sense of how things should function.

The state, in particular, really, truly needs a voice that will make the long-term case that conservative ideas aren't strange notions at which to scoff in the thick of debates and campaigning, but are at the very least arguable and are very likely correct. Anchor Rising's readership has been small, relative to the major media organizations in Rhode Island, but our reach has been broad, attracting the attention of the people who set the storyline for the state.

I can't think of a better political or ideological investment than making good ideas and common sense seem less foreign year 'round. That's the groundwork that must be in place for real reform to occur. Activist groups can alert the public to the greatest excesses, and charismatic politicians might individually slip into office with just the right blend of name recognition and negative ads. But their victories will be fleeting unless we change the way that people understand their society.

For that, what's necessary is continual conversation... reasoned explanations of a method of thought, with research and examples from current events as evidence. Anchor Rising is well positioned to offer such a service, but the effort can't continue to require so much sacrifice of our personal lives and ambitions.

August 14, 2011

The War Will Find the Shire

Justin Katz

As always, Mark Steyn does an excellent job articulating the conservative perspective, this time on the British riots:

While the British Treasury is busy writing checks to Amsterdam prostitutes, one-fifth of children are raised in homes in which no adult works — in which the weekday ritual of rising, dressing and leaving for gainful employment is entirely unknown. One-tenth of the adult population has done not a day's work since Tony Blair took office on May 1, 1997.

If you were born into such a household, you've been comprehensively "stimulated" into the dead-eyed zombies staggering about the streets this past week: pathetic inarticulate subhumans unable even to grunt the minimal monosyllables to BBC interviewers desperate to appease their pathologies. C'mon, we're not asking much: just a word or two about how it's all the fault of government "cuts" like the leftie columnists argue. And yet even that is beyond these baying beasts. The great-grandparents of these brutes stood alone against a Fascist Europe in that dark year after the fall of France in 1940. Their grandparents were raised in one of the most peaceful and crime-free nations on the planet. Were those Englishmen of the mid-20th century to be magically transplanted to London today, they'd assume they were in some fantastical remote galaxy. If Charlton Heston was horrified to discover the Planet of the Apes was his own, Britons are beginning to realize that the remote desert island of "Lord Of The Flies" is, in fact, located just off the coast of Europe in the northeast Atlantic. Within two generations of the Blitz and the Battle of Britain, a significant proportion of the once-free British people entrusted themselves to social rewiring by liberal compassionate Big Government and thereby rendered themselves paralytic and unemployable save for nonspeaking parts in "Rise of The Planet Of The Apes." And even that would likely be too much like hard work.

Today, he moves from explicit references to science-fiction dystopias to an implied, perhaps unconscious, reference to Lord of the Rings. Responding to the suggestion of Peter Hitchens that rich liberals "will find ways to save themselves" as "the filthy thing they have created" roars around them, Steyn writes:

I think they will have difficulty "saving themselves". I have many in-laws and friends in delightful corners of village England, where as the sun rises on ancient hedgerows and thatched cottages it is easy to believe the paralytic chavs and incendiary imams and all the rest are somewhere far away and always will be. As leftie columnists in their Hampstead redoubts began (privately) to calculate as the rioters moved in from the less fashionable arrondissements, on a small island the mob doesn't stay beyond the horizon for long.

You'll recall, from J.R.R. Tolkien's novel, that the four Hobbits of the Fellowship of the Ring left the Shire almost with no sense of urgency. Moreover, the dangers of Middle Earth came to their village by Bilbo's unknowingly bringing the One Ring back from his far-off adventures. In other words, when they began their adventure, it seemed that the shire would never be affected by the distant evil but for the intrusion of that one magical item, and could be saved mainly by its expulsion. When the Hobbits return, however, it is clear that the larger war had reached the Shire, anyway, and an anticlimactic section of the book is required to clear its last remnants.

I've been working, for the better part of the past half-year on a waterfront property in Tiverton overlooking the northern tip of Aquidneck Island. As the headlines have continued to turn darker and darker, it's been odd to look out across the water and think that the society that we've built could actually fall. Washington, D.C., (let alone London) seems a long, long way away. Abstractions about debt ceilings seem many steps removed from an individual family's ability to put food on the table.

Consequently, many people remain models in apathy.

In intellectual and civic terms, it is high time that people set out from their comfort zones. It is too late to keep the Shire untouched, but unless the battle is engaged, our lives are sure to be unrecognizable in no time at all.

August 13, 2011

Brien Hasn't Decided Whether To Press Charges; Rainone's FB Status; And More From the Breeze

Monique Chartier

Following upon The Incident, Rep Jon Brien declined various invitations to appear on talk radio.

Since then, however, he spoke to the Valley Breeze - exclusively, it appears.

In the aftermath of an altercation between the secretary of the National Education Association of Rhode Island and Democratic state Rep. Jon Brien on Wednesday, the Woonsocket representative told The Breeze he has not decided whether or not he will press charges.

The Breeze also got from Brien a description of what was going through his head during The Incident.

According to the Plain’s account, NEARI secretary Louis Rainone stepped forward and offered to show Brien “how charming I am.”

Brien told The Breeze that it was at that point where he invited Rainone, who was slamming his fist into his hand, to come into the elevator with him. The state representative said his intention was not to escalate the fight, but the opposite. He said he remained poised to press the button to take them to the first floor where the Capitol Police would be if Rainone decided to punch him.

“But in no way shape or form was I about to get into an altercation in the very building where I practice law,” he said. “I would have rather been punched and handed him over to the Capitol Police than get into a physical altercation. Would never do it. I respect that building way too much.”

By contrast, the Secretary of NEA-RI declined to make any comment to the Breeze, preferring, apparently, to save it for his Facebook page.

[Louis] Rainone did not return The Breeze’s attempts to contact him on Friday, but on Thursday at around 4 p.m., he posted a status update on his Facebook: “I’m so misunderstood ! I think I need help !!!!!!!!!!!!!” In response to friends who commented on the post, he then wrote on Friday: “just kidding about needing help- didn’t like a state rep getting preferential treatment in the court house so i expressed my discust of him loudly- that’s all then of course the media blew it right up.”

August 12, 2011

Splintering the Splintered

Marc Comtois

The RI GOP has been criticized for years (including by me) for not getting its act together and for in-fighting that has undermined its already small base in this blue, blue state. Yes, there are legitimate ideological and political differences amongst the ranks and leadership of any political party. Chafee v. Laffey is perhaps the most prominent, and the Doherty v. Loughlin race in CD-1 appears to be a case of "state level" (whatever that means) old guard RI GOP (Doherty) against more active, local conservatives (Loughlin). These are natural tensions. What is unfortunate is when there are power struggles inside the party that only serve to diminish its overall political effectiveness. The repercussions of the Chafee/Laffey race come to mind.

Ground-up political groups can also suffer from internal disputes. And by suffer, I mean break-up. It happened recently at the Ocean State Policy Institute and now it appears to have happened at the Rhode Island Tea Party.

Such breakups and reconstitutions aren't unique to Rhode Island conservatives, to be sure, but the conservative movement in Rhode Island seems too small to have so many different groups--and leaders--running around. (That being said, for the most part, the various conservative groups do seem to cooperate fairly well. It's just when we get to the "who gets credit" portion of our program....). Perhaps worse, there is only so much money out there that will support conservative causes. I'm not sure that adding yet another group to the mix--and dividing already sparse resources--is a good idea.

For its part, the Tea Party originated as a grass-roots, decentralized organization and was instrumental in helping to stop the binding arbitration legislation (among many other things) in the recent legislative session. However, no matter how decentralized an organization tries to be, someone has to speak for the group and guide its direction. It sounds like there was a disagreement on both fronts within the RI Tea Party. So, in the wake of a little success, I suppose it's only natural that as the stakes get bigger, so do the egos. Everyone who has a stake in something believes they know what is the correct path to follow, after all. Human nature.

I have no inside info on any of this, but in both the RI Tea Party and OSPRI cases, the stated reason for the changes have to do with philosophical differences or the like. That may be true, but I suspect that's another way of saying that egos got in the way and people wanted to do things their way instead of hashing it out and working together. Hey, it happens. But it doesn't have to (just look at us at Anchor Rising!).

Saving Everybody from Themselves

Justin Katz

On July 14, Andrew put up an excellent post responding to a comment from Michael Morse and explaining what we mean when we talk about the inherent corruption of the public sector, particularly with respect to unionization:

When someone regularly deals on a firsthand basis with people in need of real help -- and in the case of public safety workers, people who are in real danger -- it is natural to prioritize the needs of those making or answering calls for help ahead of the monitions raised by people not immediate in distress, who are asking for relief from the strains they feel are being created by publicly-imposed obligations. But just like self-interest is not inherently bad, but leads to problems when pressed too far, so too can the impulse to help those whom we have most direct contacts with create problems and confusion, when effects of our actions on people outside of our personal interactions are too severely discounted. No human being is immune to this, which means no human system is immune to this.

The next day, Michael made a relevant appearance in a Bob Kerr column titled, "It keeps happening because no one tries to stop it":

... among the shooting victims and stabbing victims, those injured in traffic accidents and those hurt in fires, are the drunks. There will always be the drunks because, says Morse, they are a problem that is tolerated rather than dealt with. There have been a few initiatives, some trying to shift the focus from the physical to the psychological. But they haven't gotten anywhere. The drunks keep falling and the city has to keep picking them up.

"They're survivors," says Morse. "I don't get angry. They're using the tools at their disposal. They get to eat and get cleaned up at the hospital. If they're a little too ripe, they get new clothes."

There will always be drunks, but I'm not sure one can blame society for not "dealing with" their problems. Indeed, it's not unlikely that public efforts to assist alcoholics reinforce the thinking and bad impulses that draws them to the bottle in the first place. (Rephrasing it from language of personal decisions and responsibility to language of psychological disease doesn't gain us any ground, here.)

Being familiar with Bob Kerr, I'm comfortable inferring that his means of dealing with alcoholics problems would take some form of government action to alleviate "root causes." If they've got some diagnosable medical issue (such as depression), he'd have the government provide them with treatment and medicine. If they're lacking for material comforts, he'd have the government supply them. If they're chronically unemployed, he'd have the government employ them, train them, and give them subsidies while waiting for them to conclude that working a whole lot harder for a little bit of income beyond the subsidies makes sense.

In other words, he'd respond using methods that have seemed to me only to prolong adolescence and cultivate dependence when applied to teenagers.

Kerr begins and ends the column lauding a woman who took time out of her life to stop and call 911 to help a particular drunk passed out on the street. Even in a libertarian construct, there is an extent to which we are obligated to deal with drunks, even if only to keep them from disrupting the lives of everybody else. If the expense isn't too great relative to the society's wealth, picking them and helping them home is preferable to turning them into criminals.

But the error to which we incline when we take that woman's compassion as a model for public policy is one of hindering long-term objectives in the service of the short-term gratification that comes with feeling compassionate. We will never eliminate the problems of human society and remain human. To alleviate those problems, though, and to improve the lot of our fellows as individuals, we ought to focus less on assuring them that we will do everything we can for them and more on creating a society in which the rewards of better decisions can overcome the lure of self destruction.

That means making it less difficult for people to find ways of supporting themselves. It means getting government out of the way of both productive activities and destructive stumbles. And it means returning to a confidence in higher purpose and more profound truths than a Marxist can admit.

August 11, 2011

"Cognitive Capacity" in a Court Elevator

Monique Chartier

Kudos to Bob Plain, WPRO's Digital Reporter. He was quick on his feet and got the near dust-up yesterday between Rep Jon Brien and Louis Rainone, Secretary of the NEA-RI, on tape ... er, digital media, as both were exiting the John Leidecker trial proceedings.

What amused me (perhaps unduly so) about the incident was Brien's response to Rainone's insults.

Brien: Just that? I'm an [expletive]?

Rainone: Yeah.

Brien: Oh, okay.

Rainone: Oh, you know what? You're a big [expletive].

Brien: Oooh! That's very... that's very enlightened of you - very enlightened of you. Shows that your cognitive capacity is superior to most.

Property Tax Rates Don't Matter

Justin Katz

Reading this article, I thought it worth reminding everybody once again that, given the way local budgeting is done, property tax rates don't really matter:

After voting to take court action against Mayor Charles A. Lombardi's vetoes, the Town Council changed its tune Wednesday night and voted unanimously to set the tax rate for residential property at $24.15 per $1,000 of assessed value.

This was the same rate proposed by Lombardi. For his part, he rescinded his previous veto of the $23.35 tax rate voted by the Town Council, showing a measure of deference to the council’s authority as the town’s tax-setting authority.

The tax rates might matter if cities and towns assessed the value of the property in their towns, applied the tax rate to it, and then figured out how much money they have to run local government. That's not how it works. In practice, the government calculates how much it needs, typically based on projected increases from the previous year, divides that number by the total value of property in the town, and figures out what the rate turns out to be per $1,000 of value.

Assuming that everybody's property increases or decreases at roughly the same rate, the actual dollar amount that every household pays in taxes will increase by the same percentage that the town's budget increases. In other words, it's more of an ownership fee based on the portion of the town's value that the family owns.

One consequence of this method is that you can't really compare property taxes from town to town, because a town with lower property values will have higher tax rates. Another, more central, consequence is that the town has no real incentive to attract additional property owners or try to get homeowners to invest in their own homes.

The Protest Against the Debt Ceiling Deal

Carroll Andrew Morse

Yesterday, and several like-minded local groups held a protest at the statehouse. According to Philip Marcelo of the Projo, the theme was opposition to the debt-ceiling deal signed into law last week.

Immediately following the Tax Day Tea Party rally this past April, commentary was offered, in this and other forums, that not enough people had attended for the event or its message to be considered significant. (The commentary was usually offered from people who wouldn't agree with the Tea Party's message no matter how many people attended, but I digress.)

For purposes of comparison, I stopped by yesterday's protest, to compare crowd sizes. Here's the debt ceiling protest...

The photograph above was taken at roughly the same angle as this photo from this year's April 15 rally...

But back to yesterday (both literally as well as metaphorically, in terms of policies being advocated). Let's move in a little closer...

...and a little closer still... get a more detailed picture of the "crowd".

So what do the people who have confidently claimed that the Tea Party rally was too small to be considered as a reflection of a movement of mainstream importance have to say about the debt-ceiling protest?

One other note: At the time I arrived, one of the protesters was reading a message from First District Congressman David Cicilline, written specifically for this event. As the 2012 campaign progresses, it will be interesting to see if comparable (or larger) size events receive similar personal attention from Congressman Cicilline, or if organizations arguing against major Federal spending reforms hold a special place in the Congressman's heart.

The Verizon Strike - Reality Calling

Monique Chartier

Disclaimer preamble: The matter of labor unions does not move me either to cheers or to condemnation: neither the philosophy itself of workers banding together - now that we are many decades past sweat shops - nor as the cause of the state's current fiscal travails. (The overwhelming responsibility for the latter accrues to our elected officials - but more on that some other time.)

45,000 Verizon workers went on strike Sunday.

I sincerely hope that they arrive at a new contract soon. It's no more fun for employees to walk the picket line than it is for managers, et al, to work double shifts trying to service customers.

I just have one question (and a follow up).

These employees have been paying zero towards their health insurance?

Verizon wants unionized workers, who currently pay no monthly premiums for health care, to begin contributing at least $100 a month, or $1,200 a year.

And they propose to continue doing so?

Scoring with Low Taxes

Justin Katz

Kevin Hassett pointed out an interesting finding (not online) in the June 20 National Review:

At issue is the "Beckham law" that was enacted on June 10, 2005. Spain, in an effort to lure high-priced athletes, artists, and executives, passed a law that allowed these individuals to reside in Spain and pay a low flat tax of just 24 percent. Soccer star David Beckham was one of the first to take advantage of the law, hence its name. ...

A new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that the link between taxes and soccer performance is more than just a coincidence. Economists Henrik Kleven, Camille Landais, and Emmanuel Saez gathered data on club performance in the top leagues of 14 European countries going back to 1980, and explored the extent top which changes in tax rates explain player mobility, and the extent to which player mobility explained performance.

They found that countries that allow professional soccer players to keep more of their pay do better. More local stars stay, and more foreign stars immigrate.

As any sports fan might observe, the effect is diluted when the field is narrower — say with World Cup teams or American professional clubs. Part of the reason for the correlation of low taxes and good soccer players is that teams in higher-tax areas have to pay more in salary to be competitive as employers, which leaves less money to pay players farther down the lists.

August 10, 2011

... You're Reading His Resume Two Years After You Voted For Him???

Monique Chartier

The Telegraph's Alex Spillius (H/T Drudge) reports that some Democrats are quietly regretting their support for Barack Obama as President.

In that vein, well into an OpEd in Saturday's New York Times that vilifies all of the usual suspects (Bush, Republicans, Wall Street), Professor Drew Westen admits

Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted "present" (instead of "yea" or "nay") 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.

Part of me is gratified that one of President Obama's supporters has finally recognized the weakness of Barack Obama's c.v., not to mention of his (non)voting record. And another part of me wants to yell in exasperation,

You're just figuring this out now, friend??? Next time, couldja maybe read the label before walking into the voting booth?

Rising College Costs due to Administrative Bloat

Marc Comtois

From Investors Business Daily:

An IBD analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that from 1989-2009 the number of administrative personnel at four- and two-year institutions grew 84%, from about 543,000 to over 1 million.

By contrast, the number of faculty increased 75%, from 824,000 to 1.4 million, while student enrollment grew 51%, from 13.5 million to 20.4 million.

The disparity was worse at public universities and colleges, where personnel in administration rose 71%, faculty 58% and student enrollment 40%. Private schools also saw administration and faculty growing faster than student enrollment, although faculties slightly outpaced administration increases.

Nifty graph here! More:
Administrative personnel are employees who are not engaged in instruction and research. The jobs range from university president and provost to accountants, social workers, computer analysts and music directors.

One reason administration at public institutions has grown faster may be that bureaucracies tend to expand their staff and programs over time, regardless of need.

"The increase has a lot to do with all the money these institutions pull in from third parties, like state funds and student financial aid," said Daniel Bennett, a research fellow at the conservative Center for College Affordability & Productivity. "They're using it to grow their staff rather than on students."

The Cranky Professor adds his first-hand two cents:
What's gone up is staff....And by "staff" I don't mean "departmental secretaries."...What we mean are student services. And the people who defend this growth, almost all of whom are self-interested members of the student services staff, explain that we HAVE to grow here because students now expect these services.

I suppose they're right. Advertise a full service nanny-system and you will get parents and students interested in a 4 to 6 year extension of the nursery.

Perhaps it is the only way to run a college nowadays. I am skeptical. I'm not skeptical about the quality of our support staff - I'm sure they're as excellent and hard-working as the faculty and secretarial staff. But the trend lines are undeniable -- that's where the growth in full-time, benefit eligible appointments is. Faculty have grown too, but as we know from all too many articles, that growth is not in the tenurable category.

Who Owns "Olympics"?

Marc Comtois

I was 10 minutes away from the Redneck Olympics over the weekend (couldn't make it, though). Sounds like about what you'd expect:

In the Tire Beer Trot, contestants ran through two rows of tires with a cup of beer in each hand. Some tripped over the tires. Some made it to the end, where a judge made sure they didn't spill much, which was a disqualification.

If they didn't spill it, they drank one whole cup and ran through the tires again. The first to finish their second beer afterward was the winner. Only 16 were chosen by lottery to play. As they played, Billy Currington's “I'm Pretty Good at Drinking Beer” and George Thorogood's “One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer” roared over the loudspeakers.

Near the end, Jeff St. Amand of L-A Music Factory, master of ceremonies for the event, announced that they had a problem. They were out of Budweiser cans for contestants to drink down. Luckily, someone happened by with a few extra cans.

Sounds fun. Rednecks know how to party and laugh at themselves, after all. But the humorless U.S. Olympic Committee isn't laughing.
The Redneck Olympics are facing a legal challenge from the United States Olympic Committee, according to organizer Harold Brooks.

Brooks said he received a phone call Monday from a legal office of the USOC, telling him he needs to change the name of his event in the future or face a lawsuit.

He was told the word “Olympics” is the property of the Olympic Committee. Brooks said it's a case of large group bullying a small businessman.

“I said, 'I'm not basing it on your Olympics, I'm basing it on the Olympics in Greece"...The Olympics has been around for thousands of years.'

It wouldn't be the first time the USOC has threatened to sue someone for using the word “Olympics” in a name. Under the U.S. Amateur Sports Act of 1978, the committee has exclusive rights to the name in the U.S.

A Minnesota band called “The Olympic Hopefuls” was forced to change its name to “The Hopefuls” in 2009. In 1982, an athletic event called the “Gay Olympics” changed its name to the “Gay Games” when the committee threatened a lawsuit.

According to the Special Olympics website, the USOC gave special permission for the Special Olympics to use the word in 1971.

The thing is, there may be no more stubborn entity than a Maine Yankee.
Brooks said he has no plan to change the name. “People told me this is the only Olympics they'll ever go to,” he said. Most of his guests couldn't afford to fly to the real Olympics, he said, and he said no one would ever confuse the two events.

“I'm going to refuse to not use that word,” he said.

Majority of Americans Understand What Government "Cuts" Really Mean

Marc Comtois

I've complained about the "cuts" game played by the government. I'm happy to learn that most people get it:

Congress and presidents have been playing the “spending cuts” game for years, but most voters know what they’re really talking about.

Sixty-two percent (62%) of Likely U.S. Voters understand that when Congress mentions future spending cuts, they’re really saying the growth in government spending will be less than planned. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 19% think it means spending next year will be lower than this year’s. Twenty percent (20%) aren’t sure which is right....

Interestingly, those who are pushing hardest for government spending cuts are the ones who are most aware of what those cuts really mean. Two-out-of-three Republicans and voters not affiliated with either party – 67% - recognize that congressional promises of spending cuts mean the growth of spending will be less than planned, but just 51% of Democrats share that awareness.

Why does the government call these reductions cuts? (Hey, I know you know, but I never tire of this explanation!)
The federal government has been using a process known as Current Services Budgeting since the 1970s to report spending changes. That means the “baseline” for spending is assumed to include all the spending growth that is already built into the federal budget. Much of that growth comes from what the Congressional offices call “uncontrollable spending,” which includes entitlement programs and accounts for the vast majority of all federal spending.

To see the impact of Current Services Budgeting, assume that government is projected to grow by 10% from one-year to the next. If that spending grows by just 5%, Congressional scorekeeping would consider that to be a 5% cut. However, in the real world, an increase in spending by 5% is an increase in spending no matter how you spin it. To be precise, the official numbers would consider that to be a reduction in “current services” but politicians have long since lost that distinction.

Yup, to them and the mainstream media it's a cut.

Anti-War Movement Hypocrites

Marc Comtois

As the loss of a helicopter full of special forces operatives reminds us, war means casualties. Unfortunately, they can't be eliminated and, as a nation, we need to be able to weather them and continue to support our troops in the war on terror. Our warriors deal with it every day while on the front lines. We can at least do the same from our couch and not let our soldiers, sailors and marines think that they are at war while "America is at the mall" as the saying goes.

But not everyone thinks--or thought--that way (especially during the Bush years). The anti-war left certainly made their presence known during Bush's two terms and used every casualty as another talking point against the war. These efforts played a large part in undermining the general public's approval of President Bush and helped get Barack Obama elected (along with his own anti-war rhetoric). Since then, President Obama hasn't been as anti-war as advertised and the anti-war left has certainly grumbled. But quietly. Did you know our war casualty rate is greater under President Obama than President Bush? (h/t)

Already, hundreds more American troops have been killed in Afghanistan during the less than three years of the Obama administration than during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration. According to the Web site, whose count more or less tracks that of other sites devoted to these statistics, 630 American soldiers died in the Afghanistan operation in the years 2001 through 2008, when Mr. Bush was president, while 1097 American soldiers have died in the years 2009, 2010, and 2011. Even if you allocate the 30 or so American soldiers killed in January 2009 entirely to Mr. Bush, who was president until the January 20 inauguration, it is quite a record.

Include Iraq, and the comparison tells a similar story: about 1,300 Americans killed in operations related to Iraq and Afghanistan combined during the first two and a half or so years we’ve had of the Obama administration, versus less than 600 American casualties in the first full three years of the George W. Bush administration.

It all raises at least two related questions. First, where are the antiwar protests? And second, where is the press?

Oh, the anti-war left is still out there, but the heat has certainly been turned down to simmer instead of boiling ever since President Obama took office--even as he's basically continued the same policies (Iraq drawdown, Guantanamo, Afghanistan build-up) they opposed so vociferously when President Bush was in office. They've given Obama a pass for purely partisan, political reasons. And they admit it:
In a phone interview, the national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, which organized some of the largest antiwar protests during the Bush administration, Michael McPhearson, said part of the explanation is political partisanship. A lot of the antiwar protesters, he said, were Democrats. “Once Obama got into office, they kind of demobilized themselves,” he said.

“Because he’s a Democrat, they don’t want to oppose him in the same way as they opposed Bush,” said Mr. McPhearson, who is also a former executive director of Veterans for Peace, and who said he voted for President Obama in 2008. “The politics of it allows him more breathing room when it comes to the wars.”....He said his group’s strategy now is to emphasize the cost of the wars and the Pentagon amid Washington’s focus on trimming the deficit.

Convenient time to shift focus, isn't it? In the end, the proof is in the pudding: during the Bush years, the anti-war left's primary goal was to use anti-war rhetoric to undermine the Bush Presidency for partisan, political reasons, most of which had little to do with the war. If they were sincere in their opposition to the war, they would still be out there protesting President Obama's war policies at the same level they did President Bush's. Doesn't moral consistency require you to muster the same level of opposition against the same policies, regardless of who is conducting them? Of course, that assumes you are, or were, sincere in your stated beliefs and not just looking to use the casualties of war to score cheap political points.

Wherefor the Flow of Immigrants

Justin Katz

You may have heard that illegal immigrants are returning to Mexico because they can't find work in the United States. Mark Krikorian notes that, while that is surely a factor, other shifts (less conducive to the liberal storyline) are in play, as well:

Buried in the story, and not highlighted in the headline or the lede, is this comment from someone a whole lot more likely to know what ordinary illegal aliens are actually thinking:
... "They're going back home because they can't get medical help or government assistance anymore," Frausto said, "And when it's getting so difficult for them to find a job without proper documentation, it's pushing them away."


Marc Comtois

In case you missed it in Wisconsin

After tens of millions of dollars spent by outside interest groups, dozens of attack ads and exhaustive get-out-the-vote efforts, Democrats on Tuesday fell short of their goal of taking control of the state Senate and stopping the agenda of Gov. Scott Walker.

Republicans won four of six recall races, meaning the party still holds a narrow 17-16 majority in the Senate — at least until next week, when Sens. Robert Wirch, D-Pleasant Prairie, and Jim Holperin, D-Conover face their own recall elections....Going into Tuesday, Republicans controlled the body 19-14, so Democrats needed to win at least three seats and hold onto two more next week to take over.

"The revolution has not occurred," said UW-Milwaukee political science professor Mordecai Lee, a former Democratic lawmaker. "The proletariat did not take over the streets."

Yeesh. No wonder they didn't "take over the streets"...who the hell wants to be considered (or considers themselves) part of the "proletariat" these days?

Moving the Goal Posts on Healthcare

Justin Katz

See, I don't recall this being the sales point with which President Obama and his allies pushed ObamaCare:

New projections show that health care spending will grow faster than the nation's GDP over the next decade. But the increase will be only slightly more than would be the case without the new national health law.

At least that's what the White House and other health law supporters drew from a new analysis of actuarial data released by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The analysis, published in Health Affairs last week, reported that health spending through 2020 would rise only one-tenth of one percent more under the health law than it would have otherwise — despite some 30 million more people getting health coverage.

Sure, a bunch of young, healthy people will now have insurance that they wouldn't otherwise have purchased without incurring Earth-shaking costs, but ObamaCare wasn't sold on the great deal that it would provide in covering additional recipients. It was going to slow the inflation of health care costs. Indeed, it was going to be a sort of deficit reduction program for the government. That's clearly not expected, now, and wasn't expected by many of us who opposed the legislation in the first place:

Over the next 10 years, federal actuaries expect the pace to pick up. By 2020, the national bill will be $4.6 trillion — one in every five dollars spent in the U.S. economy. The government's share also will rise. Washington will pay 30 percent of the tab, and state and local governments will pay almost 20 percent. Average annual spending growth over the decade will be 5.8 percent, according to the analysis.

Our broke and flailing government is currently covering about 27% of $2.7 trillion in healthcare spending, or $729 billion. In 2020, that federal expenditure will be $1.38 trillion, with state and local governments paying another $92 billion. (The article doesn't say what the lower-tier governments currently pay.)

Repeal this monstrosity.

August 9, 2011

The Whole Government Edifice Preparing to Come Down

Justin Katz

This AP article, from the pre-budget-ceiling-deal days, does nothing so well as emphasize the instability on which big-government advocates would have our entire society rest. Its main point is that the states are not well prepared to absorb cuts in the aid that the federal government sends them each year.

"We have the potential for disaster should there be a major realignment in federal funding that results in a cost shift to states," said Nevada state Sen. Sheila Leslie, a Democrat from Reno who recently discussed the issue with Obama administration officials in Washington. "In short, we are teetering on the edge right now, and a cost shift could send us over the cliff."

Now that Congress and the President have reached a deal to skirt the federal government's spending problem for a while longer, do you think that states will take the reprieve as an opportunity to trim and reform their own behavior so as to be better situated as the probability of cuts in federal funding continues to increase?

I wouldn't bet on it — not the least because the better prepared the states are, the less pressure there will be on the feds to keep the payments rolling in. Brinkmanship isn't just a periodic political strategy between the parties; it's a strategy for operating municipalities, states, and the federal government in a system built on confiscating the wealth of people who actually generate it.

Here's the only voice of sanity in the entire article:

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said he believes substantial funding cuts would have less of an impact on his state than allowing the federal government to stay on its current course of mounting debt.

America Learns that Rhetoric Isn't Leadership

Marc Comtois

Andrew Malcolm:

Barack Obama's weakness is thinking he can talk his way in or out of virtually any opportunity or difficulty.

Being a Real Good Talker helped him get the job heading the law review. And entering politics. And succeeding early there, albeit within Chicago's rigged system. And being an RGT thrust him onto the national stage at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 when delegates had the foolish notion that John Kerry and John Edwards could win.

Obama is very proud of his talking....Trouble is, real leadership is more than talking and calling for things. It takes a while, but over time listeners begin to notice rote rhetoric, predictable patterns, empty words.

Dana Milbank
The economy crawls, the credit rating falls, the markets plunge, and a helicopter packed with U.S. special forces goes down in Afghanistan. Two thirds of Americans say the country is on the wrong track (and that was before the market swooned), Obama’s approval rating is 43 percent, and activists on his own side are calling him weak.

Yet Obama plods along, raising gobs of cash for his reelection bid — he was scheduled to speak at two DNC fundraisers Monday night — and varying little the words he reads from the teleprompter.

To the above, Glenn Reynolds adds:
It’s as if, in some sort of national spasm of carelessness and self-deceit, we elected a guy entirely unqualified by experience or personal characteristics to the single most important office in the land, to serve during a period of unusual troubles that he was not equipped to address.
Tough way to learn a lesson, America.

A PolitiFact Social Security Stretch

Justin Katz

One can only wonder whether the Providence Journal's PolitiFact team reads their own newspaper. The other day, they did what they love most to do (whacking Republican candidates) and graded Senatorial candidate Barry Hinckley "false" for saying that "there's no money in Social Security." Theirs is not a new argument — it's one that partisan Democrats have been making for years:

Those who say the fund has no money, or that it has nothing more than a bunch of IOUs from the federal government, are referring to the fact that Social Security doesn't have $2.5 trillion in cash sitting in a vault somewhere. The federal government has loaned the money to itself, using the cash to pay for other expenses.

But these aren't IOUs, which generate no interest. The loan is in the form of special-issue Treasury bonds that earned $117.5 billion in interest in 2010, according to the latest trust fund report.

The reader suspects from PolitiFact's stretched analogy that the Hinckley's point is being deliberately missed:

So maybe a better analogy would be: Saying that Social Security has no money is akin to saying that you're broke if you have 20 cents in your pocket but $20 million in the stock of a heavily leveraged company.

Only if you are the sole proprietor of that company and the company itself is broke. I could draw up papers from Anchor Rising promising me a million dollar bonus, but that doesn't make me a millionaire. Even more: Currently, the government can only pay itself the Social Security IOUs because it borrows almost half of every dollar it spends, making the system not unlike a Ponzi scheme.

Indeed, the folks at PolitiFact should have read this Q&A-style article, which the Providence Journal ran on the first page of its Nation section on July 29:

Q: What about the Social Security Trust Fund? Can't that be used to pay Social Security benefits?

A: No. The government will continue to collect Social Security taxes, but the taxes flow in across the month, while the checks go out at the beginning of the month. Normally, the Treasury advances money to Social Security at the start of each month to pay that month's checks, then gets repaid as the tax money comes in. But the Treasury can't make that advance if it doesn't have cash. And while the Social Security Trust Fund has more than $2.5 trillion in assets, that money is invested in U.S. government securities. Usually, that's a good thing because U.S. government securities are considered the world's safest investment. In this case, it's a problem because if the government doesn't have money, it can't cash in the securities.

It's too bad Hinckley didn't think to cite that article as a source. It would have been amusing to see PolitiFact take it on.

August 8, 2011

S&P's Lesser Noticed Statement "Starring" a Certain Rhode Island Town

Monique Chartier

In the perfectly justified consternation and alarm Friday following upon Standard and Poor's downgrading of the United States' credit rating, let's not miss the other statement issued on the same day by S&P which hits a little closer to home. [Although the ramification of the first statement may not be remote at all.] From Reuters.

Even an anti-default state law might not prevent Central Falls, the tiny Rhode Island city forced into bankruptcy by ballooning pension costs, from defaulting on some debt, credit agency Standard & Poor's warned Friday.

Quoting S&P directly:

Given the Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing, the prospect of full and timely payments on the General Obligation debt is uncertain, notwithstanding that, pursuant to the recently amended Rhode Island General Laws in Chapter 45-12-1, a first lien on ad valorem taxes and general fund revenues secures the bonds.

What Goes Up... Taxes

Justin Katz

The other day, I made reference to the possibility that having an economy calibrated to two-income households, rather than the one-income households that were once the norm, is a hindrance on entrepreneurial ventures. Yes, if one spouse's attempt to create a business fails, the other spouse's income remains, but in the current marketplace, both incomes are necessary.

Since the effective doubling of the workforce, the market has adjusted household expenses, especially big-ticket expenses like housing, to the new normal income level. In an interesting spin-off discussion, Todd Zywicki ntoes that leading the big-ticket inflation is taxation:

Here's the key problem in Caldwell's argument: note his list of increased expenses for household "big necessities: mortgages (up 76 percent), cars (up 52 percent), taxes (up 25 percent), and health insurance (up 74 percent)." The problem is that while it is an accurate representation for mortgages, cars, and health insurance, that the expenses increase by that percentage, it is not for taxes. For the other expenses it is the percentage increase in dollars spent on those expenses. For taxes, however, the 25% increase is actually the percentage increase in the percentage of income spent on taxes. So the 25% is not how many more dollars go to paying taxes, it represents the household’s change from paying 24% of its income in taxes to 33% of its income in taxes–a change of 25% in the percentage of income dedicated to taxes, not a change of 25% in spending on taxes. I swear I am not making this up: I have attached to the bottom of this post the full excerpt from this book where this is done. And, again, I have laid this out in considerable detail previously here.

What this means is that once taxes are converted to an apples-to-apples comparison–percentage change in dollars instead of percentage change in percentage–household spending on taxes actually increased 140%, not 25%. The entire two-income trap, therefore, is actually a two-income tax trap, as I noted in my Wall Street Journal commentary on this awhile back.

Zywicki overstates when he declares that taxes constitute the "entire two-income trap." Even if taxes were the only expense to increase at all as a percentage of income, that wouldn't change the fact that it now takes two incomes to cover expenses that used to take one. That said, conservatives certainly aren't averse to arguing that we need to shrink government in both its activities and its expense.

He'll Come When the Little People Deserve Him

Justin Katz

Sometimes, when assessing the political field based on available information, a commentator rightly worries that he presumes too much. And sometimes the politicians are quick to add evidence that he does not. For example, in the midst of early bantering in the RIGOP primary for the first-district Congressional race, over early support for John Loughlin among local Republican groups, we get this from Brendan Doherty spokesman Dante Bellini:

Bellini said he saw no value in getting into "attack mode" this early. Bottom line, he said: "The colonel wants an opportunity to personally engage with these people and make a formal presentation to them, not a chitchat about coming to a fundraiser or a quick hello at a sparsely attended Republican get-together."

One gets the impression that Mr. Doherty isn't but so concerned with winning support among actual Republicans — at least those who might be said to be active. Even "sparsely attended" events present a good opportunity to persuade your ostensible base that you're sincere, and not just looking for an easy route to a prominent job. Those few attendees tend to be the most active members of their parties (often elected officials) and proceed to spread out across the state and do such things as write letters and talk to the media.

August 7, 2011

The Governor's Funders

Justin Katz

No doubt, all but the most underdog victors of high-profile political campaigns will have similar lists of interested campaign donors (and whether they are evil sneaks or righteous activists is mainly a matter of perspective), but it's always good to know whose calls Governor Chafee is likely to take:

They included: Democratic Sen. Frank Ciccone ($250), a top official in the Rhode Island Laborers District Council; former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino ($500); one-time Senate Majority Leader John Revens ($250); long-time Democratic political consultant William Fischer ($750) , whose firm did work on his fundraising invitation; former state GOP chairman John Holmes ($250); former West Warwick mayor and casino promoter J. Michael Levesque, now working for O. Ahlborg and Sons ($1,000), and former Harrah's casino lobbyist Terence Fracassa ($750) who, more recently, has been involved in efforts to open Rhode Island's first medical-marijuana dispensary.

The list also included a number of past and present applicants for judgeships, state contractors and lobbyists.

Almost one out of every $5 he raised came from the political-action committees. The majority have union ties, including: the Central Falls Teachers Union ($250), IBEW Local 99 PAC ($250), the International Union of Painters ($500), Iron Workers Local 37 ($250), IUOE Local 57 ($500), the Lincoln Teachers Association ($250), Local 2881 PAC ($500), the Rhode Island AFL CIO PAC ($500), the Brotherhood of Correctional Officers ($1,000), the RI Federation of Teachers COPE ($500), RI Public Employees Education ($250), the RI Troopers Association ($1,000), the RI chapter of the United Auto Workers ($1,000), and United Nurses and Allied Professionals ( $500).

... By the Way, Why Is VP Joe Biden Charging Us Rent to Protect Him?

Monique Chartier

$2,200/month, to be more specific.

As Jon Stewart asks ,

How do you collect rent from the guy you depend on to save your life?

"Hey guys, it's August 1. Where's the rent??"

"Oh, oh, I'm sorry. I must have left my checkbook in my other bullet-proof vest."

What Hath RI Democrats Wrought

Monique Chartier

Hal Meyer, Citizen Critic and former Rhode Island resident, has compiled an excellent website, RI Democrats, outlining the all of the damage that seventy years of a Democrat super-majority has inflicted on the state. Below is a selection of the evidence that he presents.

My view is that, from now on, every voter should be required to carefully review this website before stepping into the voting booth and then quizzed as to motive if they still plan to vote (D) on the state or local level. If they respond, "Because George Bush said there were weapons of mass destruction" or "Because Dick Cheney got Halliburton a no-bid contract to drill for oil in Iraq" or any similar, fatuous, completely non-Rhode-Island-related answer, their ballot would be gently but firmly confiscated.

Additional screening for such answers as, "Because my cousin has a state job", "Because it's the party of the working man" (see Matt Allen for the proper intonation of this phrase) or "Yeah, most of them are bums but my guy is okay" would be phased in during the following election year.

Rhode Island second-worst state in the U.S. for business and careers - October 14, 2010. From PBN.

There Really Is Something Rotten in the Justice Department - September 7, 2010. From The National Review. "Many counties in states such as Alabama and Rhode Island also show a similar miracle — no voters were removed from their voter rolls for having died."

R.I.’s foreclosure rate is #1 in New England - August 31, 2010. From The Providence Journal.

One in 7 now gets food stamps in RI - August 30, 2010. From WPRI TV.

R.I. among the most financially distressed states in the nation - August 27, 2010. From Providence Business Journal.

August 6, 2011

A Father Is a Father

Justin Katz

At its core, the key argument against same-sex marriage is that it prevents our society from creating any distinction between relationships that are plainly different in significant ways. Men and women are different, and when they pair up, their intimate relationship has consequences that no other form of relationship has. Moreover, an ideal doesn't have to apply absolutely in every case for it to remain valuable for society to be able to describe and uphold it.

Such were the thoughts to come to mind when reading that fathers make a difference in their children's lives, and that fatherhood is in decline:

While it is well known how important a father's involvement is to healthy child development, a very interesting and lesser known finding comes from a 26-year longitudinal study which says that the strongest factor indicating whether children practiced high levels of empathic concern for others in their adult years was whether they had an involved father in their life. In fact, father care was a stronger indicator here than the three strongest maternal factors combined! The study explained, "These results appear to fit with previous findings indicating that pro-social behaviors such as altruism and generosity in children were related to active involvement in child care by fathers."

This does not in the least gainsay the important of mothers. It does, however, suggest that we oughtn't dramatically modify the cultural institution — marriage — that marks as uniquely desirable the family units that bring mothers and fathers together.

What Was Standard and Poor's Expecting to Happen?

Carroll Andrew Morse

This is from Page 3 of the official statement from Standard and Poor's on their downgrade of the US credit rating...

Despite this year's wide-ranging debate, in our view, the differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently.
I suppose you could say that the Republicans had the Ryan plan and the Democrats had the "Cicilline plan" (borrow today and let somebody else worry about it tomorrow), but the Ryan plan never got close to passing in its original form and the "Cicilline plan" is hardly comprehensive. Ultimately, any change away from business as usual brought about by the debt-ceiling and budget deal will be a result of, not in spite of, the Tea Party standing their ground during the sometimes contentious legislative process.

Over the past several years, I've heard the opinion offered in multiple discussions that we will know that the government has become serious about fiscal reform when it creates the kind of commission used to decide on military base closings to develop a plan. The distinctive feature of the base-closing process is that the work of the commission must be approved or rejected in its entirety; this week's budget-deal was a full step in that direction, with its creation of the "super-committee" to create an unamendable deficit reduction program (along with an enforcement mechanism of automatic budget cuts in many Federal departments if the committee fails to act, or if a balanced budget is not passed by both Houses of Congress).

Obviously, the base-commission structure wasn't any factor in the Standard and Poor's analysis. So what exactly is in the "comprehensive fiscal consolidation program" that the S&P analysts thought Congress fell short of?

Hypocritical Harrop

Marc Comtois

I alluded to it and Justin dealt more directly with Froma Harrop calling tea partiers "terrorists." Others in the "national" blogosphere have called attention to the hypocrisy of Harrop's comments given she is the chair of the National Conference of Editorial Writers, which runs the Civility Project, whose goal is to help all of us blogging rubes get more manners or something. When called to the carpet for her tea party terrorists hyperbole, Harrop defended herself on her personal blog (didn't know she had one...). Ed Morrissey covers it all. Harrop justified herself because, you know, she was just sooooo mad! Harrop:

Yes, I was angry, but I’m engaging in the defense of my country. I know the tea partiers say the same, but their behavior is that of a national wrecking crew. Most may be nice people who don’t know what they’re doing, but many a country has foundered on the passions of nice people.

As far as the facts are concerned, I stand my ground. Terrorism is not confined to physical attacks.

She then tries to support herself with a Wall Street Journal report on cyber-terrorism:
The Pentagon has concluded that computer sabotage coming from another country can constitute an act of war, a finding that for the first time opens the door for the U.S. to respond using traditional military force. …

“If you shut down our power grid, maybe well put a missile down one of your smokestacks,” said a military official.

Harrop then adds:
Blowing up the U.S. economy to make a point would be an even more serious attack, in my book. And that’s what the tea party saboteurs were threatening. They are what they are.
Morrissey rebuts her poor logic:
Does Harrop miss the point that the military was talking about actual sabotage, not policy changes and negotiation? The Pentagon sent a warning to other nations that an attack on our virtual infrastructure would be an act of war — explicitly and literally. The point wasn’t that rhetorical arguments are the equivalent of terrorism. For all of her syndicated reach, Harrop seems to have trouble reading for comprehension.
Earlier, in her defense, Harrop had written:
I see incivility as not letting other people speak their piece. It’s not about offering strong opinions. If someone’s opinion is fact-based, then it is permissible in civil discourse. Of course, there are matters of delicacy, and I dispensed with all sweet talk in this particular column. And I did stoop to some ad hominem remarks, I’ll admit.
So, basically, civil discourse is whatever Harrop says it is, especially if she agrees with you. Many commenters took Harrop to task for her skewed logic and hypocrisy. They were even civil in their discourse. But Harrop closed comments to the post.

Too bad for her, Morrissey preserved the comments for posterity's sake. Just another terrorist act, I suppose.

Another Global Warming Problem

Justin Katz

I didn't want to let this one slip away without mention:

NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the Earth's atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing. The study indicates far less future global warming will occur than United Nations computer models have predicted, and supports prior studies indicating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide trap far less heat than alarmists have claimed.

Study co-author Dr. Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer flying on NASA's Aqua satellite, reports that real-world data from NASA's Terra satellite contradict multiple assumptions fed into alarmist computer models.

Good thing nobody would dare consider further hobbling our economy on the basis of erroneous climate models!

August 5, 2011

And Down We Go

Justin Katz

Well, someday has come:

Standard & Poor's announced Friday night that it has downgraded the United States credit rating for the first time, dealing a huge symbolic blow to the world's economic superpower in what was a sharply worded critique of the American political system.

Lowering the nation's rating one-notch below AAA, the credit rating company said "political brinkmanship" in the debate over the debt the debate over the debt had made the U.S. government's ability to manage its finances "less stable, less effective and less predictable." It said the bi-partisan agreement reached this week to find $2.1 trillion in budget savings "fell short" of what was necessary to tame the nation’s debt over time and predicted that leaders would have no luck achieving more savings later on.

A Treasury spokesperson took the tack of belittling S&P, which is fine, as far as it goes, but won't do much to correct the nation's course.

Come to Rhode Island... Just Not for Long

Justin Katz

I hate to be so negative... I really do... but isn't it just too perfectly Rhode Island that the geniuses guiding the state would come up with this as an advertising slogan:

The judges like Team 5's idea about unpacking Rhode Island. But they choose another slogan and marketing plan for the winner: "Rhode Island: It's so small you can do it all."

"Every school kid knows one thing about Rhode Island — it's small. So we asked, what's good about being small?" said winning team member Alec Beckett, a creative partner with NAIL Communications.

So small I can do it all? You mean, like in a long weekend? How much can there be to do in the state if I can do it all in a single vacation?

Maybe "Rhode Island: It's all within reach," or something. That way ads can refer to proximity without implying limits on activities. They can also play on the words to imply cost savings over trips to locations farther away.

Charting Political Blame for Deficit & Debt

Marc Comtois

Byron York has a piece about how Obama supporters, Democrats, etc. take it as an article of faith that all of our economic woes are due to "the past 8 years" (ie; under President Bush). He provides some numbers from the OMB to refute that charge. In an attempt to provide a picture of what he's talking about, I also went to the OMB for data and came up with the following:


York's analysis (bulleted by me):

* Revenues fell in Bush's first two years because of a combination of the tech bust and the start of the tax cuts. But then things took off...[for]...a 44 percent increase from 2003 to 2007. (Revenues slid downward a bit in 2008, and a lot in 2009, when the financial crisis sent the economy into a tailspin.)

* [T]he Bush administration ran up deficits of $158 billion in 2002; $378 billion in 2003; and $413 billion in 2004. Then, with revenues pouring in, the deficits began to fall...[to] $161 billion in 2007...[which], with the tax cuts in effect, was one-tenth of today's $1.6 trillion deficit....Deficits went up in 2008 with the beginning of the economic downturn -- and, not coincidentally, with the first full year of a Democratic House and Senate.

* When Bush took office in January 2001, the debt was about $5.7 trillion, according to Treasury Department figures....When Bush left office in January 2009, the debt was $10.6 trillion. He had increased the national debt almost....$5 trillion over both terms (...$2 trillion came under a Democratic Congress)....The debt stood at $10.6 trillion when Barack Obama took office in January 2009. Now, it's about $14.4 trillion. The president has increased the national debt nearly $4 trillion in his first two and a half years in office.

As York continues, obviously, Bush did not have a stellar spending record (No Child Left Behind, Prescription Drugs, TSA, etc.). But it's clear that, while both parties had their hands in the cookie jar, when Democrats gained control of everything they basically just turned the cookie jar over.

The Assumptions Underlying Harrop's Insanity

Justin Katz

One would think that members of an editorial staff would offer each other the service of gently warning their coworkers when they near the deep end. Or perhaps Froma Harrop is firmly convinced of the approaching death of newspapers and is effectively auditioning for a part in the far-left blind heat machine.

Granted, her tirade against the Tea Party movement, Republicans, and even President Obama has the incongruent quality of being both inane to the point of offense and unoriginal. It's one thing for a writer with a well-paying publicly visible job to rant like an overly righteous undergrad; it's quite another if she does so with an undergrad's lack of originality, and a column that Jeff Jacoby published in the Boston Globe the same day that Harrop's diatribe ran illustrates that we'd already heard it all. Here's Harrop's version:

Make no mistake: The Tea Party Republicans have engaged in economic terrorism against the U.S. — threatening to blow up the economy if they don't get what they want. And like the al-Qaida bombers, what they want is delusional: the dream of restoring some fantasy caliphate in which no one pays taxes, while the country is magically protected from foreign attack and the elderly get government-paid hip replacements.

Americans are not supposed to negotiate with terrorists, but that's what Obama has been doing. Obama should have grabbed the bully pulpit early on, bellowing that everything can be discussed but not America's honor, which requires making good on its debt obligations. Lines about "we're all at fault" and "Republicans should compromise" are beyond pathetic on a subject that should be beyond discussion.

Oh, please, Mr. Obama, follow Harrop's advice! Better yet, Democrats, please do not hesitate to find a candidate who promises her a taste of the red meat that she knows to be just beyond the rabid foam that coats her lips.

For the sake of finding some way of salvaging intellectual discussion from Harrop's ravings, though, pause for a moment to consider what she must believe to be true in order to come to her conclusions:

In the last half century, Congress has raised the debt ceiling 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democrats. The votes were cast without drama because the idea of this country defaulting on its debts was unthinkable. This last-minute deal notwithstanding, the dangerous precedent whereby America's promise to pay what it owes can be brought into political play has been set. ...

Republicans are ultimately going to take the rap over this debt-ceiling outrage. The full faith and credit of the United States is not a matter over which reasonable people may disagree, and the larger public knows that in its heart.

Two assumptions must be met for this to be logically consistent, and I don't think the "larger public" shares those assumptions. They're certainly arguable enough that a rational person would restrain her rhetoric when standing upon them to speak (or snarl, as the case is).

First, she assumes that the debt ceiling ought to be little more than a mile marker on the highway — passed with scarcely a notice and signifying nothing of substantial concern. To the contrary, I suspect the average attention-paying American would think it reasonable for the debt ceiling to be, at the very least, a mechanism for generating real political heat whenever elected representatives pass it. This is a "real success" of the Republicans' debt-ceiling maneuvers (albeit inadequate to current challenges), as Charles Krauthammer states:

... because of the Boehner rule — which he invented on his own out of whole cloth in that speech he gave at the New York Economic Club a few months ago in which he said a dollar of debt ceiling increase has to be matched by a dollar of spending cuts (which, Jay Carney is right, there's no logical connection, but now there is a political indelible connection) — every time the debt ceiling will come up, there's going to be a debate in the country. This is a real success.

Second, Harrop assumes that every expenditure of government is akin to an immutable debt resting on the "full faith and credit of the United States." Real cuts to government spending may be difficult, but they can be accomplished without a financial default. One wonders whether the reason that the Fromarian ilk has rattled off its hinges is that they fear a society inclined to reconsider — and force their elected representatives to reconsider — whether government can in fact do everything.

Put differently, they fear a civic process in which it is no longer adequate to force a policy into law — by legislation, by executive order, by bureaucratic regulation, or by judicial decree — but rather, in which paying for that policy and its enforcement must be justified every year.

Point of Order, Mr. Chairman - Did the Committee Actually Vote on This Caruolo Action Litigation?

Monique Chartier

So last week, the Warwick School Committee became a James McLaughlin Award recipient by filing suit against the city to obtain $6.2 million in additional revenue for the school department. (We should take note of a matter that is undoubtedly completely unrelated: the Warwick teachers contract expires at the end of this month.)

A potential problem with the action, however, crops up in this Warwick Beacon article. (Kudos to John Howell for asking the right question.)

Asked whether the committee voted, committee member Teri Medeiros said, “The school committee discussed it and that decision was made.” She did not recall a vote.

Committee member Christopher Friel said a suit was discussed in executive session and a consensus was reached. Committee Chair Bethany Furtado said a discussion had taken place in executive session, but was unable to answer if there had been a vote.

She referred additional questions to school attorney and human resources director Rosemary Healey.

Wouldn't something as momentous as a lawsuit against the municipality require a formal vote, up or down, by the school committee? And if yes, isn't the validity of the lawsuit impacted by the apparent lack of a vote?


Marc points out that this is not a Caruolo lawsuit and also provides the basis for the lawsuit.

My understanding is that this is not strictly a Caruolo action, per se. The Warwick School department is essentially looking for clarification on: 1) Is this considered an education matter or a fiscal matter? 2) If an education matter, then Warwick schools believe the education commish has the authority to interpret the law. Does she? If so, then they argue that they should get the "old" number, etc.

Downness and the Debt Ceiling

Justin Katz

Yesterday, I gave some thought to shifts in government policy and in American culture that may ultimately be behind our economy's failure to recover satisfactorily. Much like the productive people who have been leaving Rhode Island because they've assessed that the opposition to needed reforms is simply too powerful, many Americans know what must be done but expect it to be near impossible to make it so. In that respect, the debt ceiling was like a small-scale prod at enemy lines to test the strength of its forces.

The standard line among Democrats, and even many Republicans, is that cutting government spending would just be too hard. All of the government's "promises" are sacrosanct — from Medicare to welfare programs to public school funding — and there simply isn't enough waste and fraud to be squeezed out of the system to cover the deficits (even if officials and bureaucrats were inclined to do the squeezing).

To be fair, they've got a point. A look at Kevin Williamson's prescription for government spending cuts shows just how many powerful groups would have to be bucked. That's certain to be a problem with democracy once elected officials realize that they can stitch together bought constituencies. Everybody's going to want their own ox to be the last one gored.

But cutting has to be done. Our government has been operating with a policy-first approach — assuming that the resources will be found to do whatever politicians and their backers think is right. Rhode Island is dying proof of the silent sunset clause in such an approach. If the federal government couldn't even be forced to abide by its already-astronomical borrowing limits — if it couldn't be forced to make honest-to-goodness, non-fudged and actual cuts to projected spending — then what hope is there?

Very little. If we collectively find it to be impossible to cut spending and begin mitigating our reliance on Big Government, it might be beyond impossible to change the cultural problems that underlie our approach to civics. Another bubble may come along and allow us another decade of ignoring the disease, as the Internet and housing bubbles did, but we'd only be worse off for it, in the long run.

As it happens, Mr. Williamson commented, yesterday, to one of my recent posts, saying that he's "given up writing about the deterioration of our culture," because there's "not much left to say." In a final analysis, the deterioration of our culture is the only thing to say. Repeating the common sense analysis of our errors is the only way to make people (gradually, culturally, almost subconsciously) shift their behavior and civic practices. Even if the necessary changes are beyond our society's abilities, right now, ensuring suffering on a massive scale and initiating the risk that our weakness might inspire global-scene-changing actions on the part of other peoples, the right path will be easier to find when we've come back around to it if it is well described.

August 4, 2011

Charlie Hall's Portraits of Perspicacity

Monique Chartier


Courtesy Ocean State Follies

And the Winner of this Week’s James McLaughlin Award Is…

Carroll Andrew Morse

…United States Senator Jack Reed, for his comments to John E. Mulligan of the Projo on the subject of the “Amazon Tax”…

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed has signed on in support of legislation to require online retailers to collect state sales taxes on their merchandise…

Reed said the Amazon bill could get caught up in the next round of Capitol Hill’s deficit-reduction debate. Reed said he hears that the new tax-collection mechanism could incorrectly be interpreted as a new form of taxation by Republicans who oppose raising taxes.

(The meaning of the award name has its roots at this link. And I don’t think this will become a true weekly feature, but given the strange logic regularly used by contemporary Democrats on all matters fiscal, you can’t rule the possibility out…)

Continuing Downness on the Economy

Justin Katz

Thinking further about an aspect the topic that I raised this morning — namely, things that prevent Americans from forging their own way in this economy — many additional factors came to mind. A huge one is debt.

On my short lunch break, I don't have time to go in search of the link, but I read recently that personal debt in the United States greatly exceeds government debt, which is a compounded problem beyond forcing future generations broadly to finance today's public spending. Even within a couple of generations, the typical family would have needed much less money just to survive because it would have lived within its means on an annual basis.

My in-laws bought their modest cape in Portsmouth for $15,000. For the sake of ease, assume the interest payments amount to a doubling of the ultimate cost of the house; that means they would havce wound up paying roughly $1,000 per year over the life of a thirty-year mortgage. A similar house now would cost somewhere around three-quarters-of-a-million dollars, with the same interest assumption, or $25,000 per year. Somebody who decided to go out on his or her own to start a business could live on just about that amount of money while ramping up, and somebody with a mortgage of that size will surely be significantly more reluctant to take on greater debt in order to invest in a business venture.

I'm simplifying, of course. Wages have inflated, as well, and the price of real estate has something to do with demand, and so on. But part of the reason that the market has borne a 2,000% increase in the price of a house is that our toleration for debt has grown immensely. It's not just mortgages, either. Consider college debt (which has arguably only inflated the amount of education that one needs for the same exact sort of work). Cars. Equity loans. Credit cards.

Speaking from personal experience, that all means that I would be insane to commit to business loans for, say, Anchor Rising. Given all of my existing debt, I need to make so much money just to pay each month's bills that I'd quickly eat up my investment in personal salary. And if the full-time writing activity didn't result in an adequate revenue stream, I'd wind up needing to earn even more money per month to pay off the loan.

Of course, Americans used to have more room in their personal finances for a host of other reasons. When the marketplace was calibrated to the idea of one-income households, a spouse was spare capacity. Whether the working man's wife found part-time work outside the home, helped her husband with business paperwork, or worked as a partner in a storefront, that was all extra income tacked onto basic priorities.

As with regulations, both the tolerance of debt and shifts in the culture have had justifications, but it may be that they've finally all added up to a society that so differs from its prime that decline is inevitable.

Ratings and Receivers

Justin Katz

Andrew and Matt discussed ratings agencies and municipal receivers on last night's Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Why We're Down on the Economy

Justin Katz

Derek Thompson touts these as "the 4 scariest economic graphs I've seen this year." Basically, they chart every recession of the last fifty years in terms of a percentage of the previous peak.

As a rule of thumb, I'm always skeptical about metrics that are multiple steps away from raw numbers, in this way. A peak is a single data point and can therefore skew a decade's worth of numbers because it was unnaturally high or low. If, for example, a housing boom predicated on loans from the the future causes a particularly large spike, then the following trough — when people realize the delusion under which they've been operating — will be particularly low.

That said, the first and last charts seem to me to suggest that eyes have been opened to more than just the insecurity of mortgage-backed securities. The first shows "Real Gross Domestic Product: Percent of Previous Peak," and after a five percent dip, by mid-2009, we're currently back to 99.5% of the prior high point. The last shows "Employment: Percent of Previous Peak," which bottomed out with a 6.5% drop by 2010 and has only recovered about 1.5% of its comparative strength.

It looks like investors and producers have discovered that they can turn a profit without employing Americans. And they won't fill their payrolls again unless some change in the market gives them reason to do so.

Alternately, competitors could duplicate the jobs available in a particular industry in order to build their own organizations, but that brings us to another thing that I think people are realizing: The United States is no longer as good a place to be an upstart company looking to squeeze out efficiencies in existing industries or fill niches that the big companies haven't noticed.

I'm not, here, talking about the lottery-ticket possibilities exemplified by Google and Facebook. Neither do I mean the investment-driven bids to attract large buyouts from behemoths wishing to pad portfolios of potential next-big-things. If existing companies are finding that they can maintain their bottom lines without the large expense of labor costs, then smaller companies ought to be able to leverage that capability to compete, therefore making it crucial that incumbents put their profits and reserves to the most efficient use possible, whether that means opening new branches or lowering prices.

If, for example, the large contractor across town finds that relatively inexpensive equipment and tools allow him to cut his crews in half and take the savings for himself, there's no reason his employees can't break off and use the same techniques to compete. They'll edge out the contractor's excess profits, but they'll be doing better, themselves.

Of course, my use of the phrase "no reason" is rhetorical, not accurate. Public policy creates all sorts of reasons that carpenters might not want to try their hand at contracting. There are layers of insurance that a business requires. Regulations that they must follow. Minute codes with which they must be familiar. Fees that they have to pay to gain this license or that registration. In Rhode Island, they have a $500 minimum tax if they organize as anything other than a sole proprietorship. If they hire other people, there are piles of paperwork to manage.

I'm using the construction industry emblematically, here, but Iain Murray notes that "the costs of regulation today amount to $10,000 per employee per year for small businesses in the U.S."

That's why the advert where a little girl borrows her father's phone to help run her lemonade stand and ends up running a multinational just can't happen. The bureaucrats just wouldn't let her do it without jumping through the costly bureaucratic hoops first.

He even links to a map set up to track towns that shut down kids' lemonade stands.

Sure, there are arguments to be made for each and every regulation on the books, but in favoring the impulses to regulate and tax and to protect consumers from their own unfortunate decisions, we've set up a system that protects organizations once they reach a certain level of establishment. This applies to the downtown barber who has the means to secure a license, pay minimum taxes, and make his shop fully compliant with regulations and building codes, and it applies to the bailouts of banks and automobile manufacturers that have established themselves as "too big to fail."

Charles Krauthammer is right, as a lot of us have said all along, that President Obama (and President Bush, before him) "did a huge Keynesian gamble, and it failed." That's because borrowing money from the future to inject into the current economy can only jump-start real growth if the specific economic downturn of the time results from a lack of funds and if those funds can flow to the segments of the market best situated to transform raw materials and human productivity into new dollars.

If the downtown barber and corner lemonade stand are all set to go but just need the union masons working on government road projects to stop in on their way home from work, then Keynesian stimulus might help. But if the barber and lemonade kid are prevented from doing what they do, the government money will just flow to SuperCuts and CVS, which will use the extra revenue to overpower competition and pad reserves.

In government, we face a spending problem, not a revenue problem, and in the economy overall, our shackles derive from regulation, not funds.

August 3, 2011

Some Possible Balanced Budget Amendments

Carroll Andrew Morse

In the Federal debt-ceiling deal passed yesterday, as an alternative in phase II to a specific program cuts projected to cut spending by 1.2 trillion dollars, the debt-ceiling can be raised by 1.5 trillion dollars if Congress sends a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution to the states for ratification. This raises the question of what a reasonable balanced budget might look like.

Here is a version of a balanced budget amendment that was reported out of a House Committee earlier this year…

Section 1. Total outlays for any fiscal year shall not exceed total receipts for that fiscal year, unless three-fifths of the whole number of each House of Congress shall by law for a specific excess of outlays over receipts by a rollcall vote.

Section 2. Total outlays for any fiscal year shall not exceed 18 percent of economic output of the United States, unless two-thirds of each House of Congress shall provide for a specific increase of outlays above this amount.

Section 3. The limit on the debt of the United States held by the public shall not be increased unless three-fifths of the whole number of each House shall provide by law for such an increase by a rollcall vote.

Section 4. Prior to each fiscal year, the President shall transmit to the Congress a proposed budget for the United States Government for that fiscal year in which total outlays do not exceed total receipts.

Section 5. A bill to increase revenue shall not become law unless two-thirds of the whole number of each House shall provide by law for such an increase by a rollcall vote.

Section 6. The Congress may waive the provisions of this article for any fiscal year in which a declaration of war is in effect. The provisions of this article may be waived for any fiscal year in which the United States is engaged in military conflict which causes an imminent and serious military threat to national security and is so declared by a joint resolution, adopted by a majority of the whole number of each House, which becomes law.

Section 7. The Congress shall enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation, which may rely on estimates of outlays and receipts.

Section 8. Total receipts shall include all receipts of the United States Government except those derived from borrowing. Total outlays shall include all outlays of the United States Government except for those for repayment of debt principal.

Section 9. This article shall take effect beginning with the later of the second fiscal year beginning after its ratification or the first fiscal year beginning after December 31, 2016.

Balanced budget amdenments have been introduced to Congress, on a regular basis, for the past 30 years. This is the text of balanced budget amendment passed by the US Senate in 1982...
Section 1. Prior to each fiscal year, the Congress shall adopt a statement of receipts and outlays for that year in which total outlays are no greater than total receipts. The Congress may amend such statement provided revised outlays are no greater than revised receipts. Whenever three-fifths of the whole number of both Houses shall deem it necessary, Congress in such statement may provide for a specific excess of outlays over receipts by a vote directed solely to that subject. The Congress and the President shall, pursuant to legislation or through exercise of their powers under the first and second articles, ensure that actual outlays do not exceed the outlays set forth in such statement.

Section 2. Total receipts for any fiscal year set forth in the statement adopted pursuant to this article shall not increase by a rate greater than the rate of increase in national income in the year or years ending not less than six months nor more than twelve months before such fiscal year, unless a majority of the whole number of both Houses of Congress shall have passed a bill directed solely to approving specific additional receipts and such bill has become law.

Section 3. The Congress may waive the provisions of this article for any fiscal year in which a declaration of war is in effect.

Section 4. Total receipts shall include all receipts of the United States except those derived from borrowing and total outlays shall include all outlays of the United States except those for repayment of debt principal.

Section 5. The Congress shall enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 6. On and after the date this article takes effect, the amount of Federal public debt limit as of such date shall become permanent and there shall be no increase in such amount unless three-fifths of the whole number of both Houses of Congress shall have passed a bill approving such increase and such bill has become law.

Section 7. This article shall take effect for the second fiscal year beginning after its ratification.

And although it’s never been formally introduced in Congress as far as I know, Georgetown University Law Professor Randy Barnett has proposed a Constitutional amendment that takes an intriguing approach to the balanced budget problem…
Section 1. The budget of the United States shall be deemed unbalanced whenever the total amount of the public debt of the United States at the close of any fiscal year is greater than the total amount of such debt at the close of the preceding fiscal year.

Section 2. Whenever the budget of the United States is unbalanced, the President may, during the next annual session of Congress, separately approve, reduce or disapprove any monetary amounts in any legislation that appropriates or authorizes the appropriation of any money drawn from the Treasury, other than money for the operation of the Congress and judiciary of the United States.

Section 3. Any legislation that the President approves with changes pursuant to the second section of this Article shall become law as modified. The President shall return with objections those portions of the legislation containing reduced or disapproved monetary amounts to the House where such legislation originated, which may then, in the manner prescribed in the seventh section of the first Article of this Constitution, separately reconsider each reduced or disapproved monetary amount.

Section 4. The Congress shall have power to implement this Article by appropriate legislation; and this Article shall take effect on the first day of the next annual session of Congress following its ratification.

More to come from Anchor Rising and, rest assured, elsewhere.

How Surprising is it that the Dow Dropped After the Debt Ceiling Deal?

Carroll Andrew Morse

I saw a headline from a CNN newscast from last evening that read "Dow Drops Despite Debt Deal". With the disclaimer that you don't want to attribute too much significance to a single day's movement in the stock market, I don’t see the drop as paradoxical or even random.

The first chapter of any book on technical finance will tell you that stocks and bonds move in opposite directions. When "the market" feels investment opportunities in businesses are likely to pay off, money moves towards stocks and away from the assumed safety of bonds; when "the market" feels there are fewer good business investment opportunities, money moves towards bonds.

The down-to-the-wire debt ceiling negotiations jumbled the traditional logic and created a perception that bonds weren't as safe as usual. The eventual deal mitigated the worries.

So, if I may borrow Justin's juxtaposition from a previous post, it would not be surprising if a restoration of confidence in the ability of the Federal government to make its debt payments on time led “the markets” to wager that investing in the government's ability to tax is once again a better bet than actual investment in productive enterprise.

Who says that markets are rational all of the time!

Beating the "Budget Cuts" Horse Unicorn

Marc Comtois

I know I've beaten and flayed this particular horse unicorn (a unicorn is a mythical creature, just like actual government "cuts"), but I continue to stress that there are no "cuts" in the recent deficit deal because it undermines the hyperbolic sturm und drang being propagated by liberals like Froma Harrop who are calling Tea Partiers "terrorists" for supposedly "holding America hostage" while demanding "cuts": Again, and slowly, there are no "cuts" to the budget in the deficit ceiling deal.

There is something you should know about the deal to cut federal spending that President Obama signed into law on Tuesday: It does not actually reduce federal spending.

Indeed, both the government and its debts will continue to grow faster than the American economy, primarily because the new law does not address federal spending on health care.

That is the reason that the ratings agency Standard & Poor’s and its rivals still are threatening to remove the United States from their lists of risk-free borrowers, although the other agencies, Moody’s and Fitch, both said Tuesday that they would watch and wait for now.

That from the NY Times. Reason's Jacob Sullum gives a bit more detail:
The debt deal, which authorizes the federal government to borrow another $2.1 trillion on top of the $14.3 trillion it already owes, supposedly includes "$2.5 trillion in cuts." But as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) emphasizes, those are cuts from a projected baseline in which the national debt grows by $10 trillion during the next decade, which means "the BEST case scenario is still $7 trillion more in debt over the next 10 years."

Paul also notes that the vast majority of the "cuts" are not scheduled to take effect for years, raising serious doubts about whether they will happen at all. "Why do we believe that the goal of $2.5 trillion over 10 years…will EVER be met," he asks, "if the first two years' cuts are $20 billion and $50 billion?"

Well, you might say, the debt deal is only the first step. But even at their boldest, House Republicans do not envision a federal government any smaller than it is now. Under the supposedly radical budget plan approved by the House in April, Cato Institute budget analyst Chris Edwards calculates, federal spending would rise by 34 percent during the next decade, compared to the 55 percent preferred by Obama. The budget would not be balanced until 2030, while the role of the federal government would be essentially unchanged.

Imagine the rhetoric if Tea Partiers were able to enact real cuts? Maybe we'll find out after 2012.

The Government's Monopoly on Garbage

Justin Katz

This fiscal year, residents of Tiverton are paying $580,000 through their tax bills for trash collection. The town dump is approaching capacity, however, and due to decades of poor fiscal management, the local government lacks the funds to pay for its closure and for the initiation of an alternative method of disposal. So, the powers who be have imposed a "pay as you throw" program that adds $2 per thirty-gallon bag in the hopes of, first, encouraging recycling and thereby extending the life of the dump and, second, of collecting the money to pay for capping the landfill.

I've been arguing that taxpayers already pay roughly the equivalent of one bag per household for trash pickup, and that if each were given that bag, recycling rates would skyrocket such that the town would gain plenty of time for better fiscal management. Indeed, when I first realized that the pay as you throw program was probably inevitable, I managed to cut our weekly curbside trash to thirty gallons, mainly through recycling. Alternately, the town could allow residents to opt out of curbside pickup and receive a refund for the portion of their taxes that pay for it.

Unfortunately, the Town Council thought it better to impose this usage tax on its own authority, and I couldn't get the votes at the financial town meeting to grant each household the single weekly trash bag for which we already pay. As reported in the May 26 Sakonnet Times, summarizing events at the prior Town Council meeting:

Heard from Town Administrator James Goncalo that Patriot Disposal Company has reported it's picking up half the trash it had been and needs to add another recycling truck to deal with the increased recycling that residents are engaging in.

Well, there you go. But the best part is the letter that the company sent out to residents:


As you are aware, the Town has implemented a "Pay As You Throw Bag" Program. We would like to offer curbside pickups to residents at a very affordable price with the convenience of not having to purchase bags for all of your waste needs. We will provide trash removal and recycling services on a weekly basis for one low monthly fee. We offer 96-Gallon toters that are easy to wheel to the curbside. Also, unlike bags that rip easily, rodents and animals are not able to access the toters.

A friend who has looked into it found that the service would still come at a little bit of a premium: Using the toters would cost $30 per month, or $6.92 per week, so in the absence of a credit for garbage-related taxes, putting out three 30-gallon bags would be about a dollar less expensive per week — although factoring in the inconvenience of picking up the bags and individually loading them could make a big difference for folks with that much garbage.

Some people in town government apparently fumed when they heard of Patriot's presumption, but I think it's a wonderful lesson that municipal leaders ought to encounter from time to time. In seeking to profit from one of the services that it provides (so as to compensate for past mismanagement), the town has opened itself to market competition and risks breaking the spell that leaves residents feeling as if rubbish removal is something that simply must be a public service.

Were it not for regulations, I'd wager that an few unemployed Tivertonians could make some money competing at an even better rate, driving down prices for everybody.

August 2, 2011

Rhode Island Doesn't Need More Bureaucratic Garbage

Justin Katz

I'm happy to see that this legislation (H5888)didn't make it to the governor's desk:

As part of a broader plan to shift some of the burden of waste disposal onto private companies and away from state and local government, Governor Chafee's administration has introduced legislation that would require national and local manufacturers to pay for the collection and disposal of mattresses, paints and medical needles and syringes.

Even if such legislation wouldn't make Rhode Island (already among the most business-unfriendly states) only the second in the nation to adopt such legislation, even if it wouldn't give retailers at across our border yet another price advantage, this insidious provision would still be cause for concern:

[Dept. of Environmental Management staffer Elizabeth] Stone said the proposal builds on existing state laws regulating the disposal of automobile mercury switches, mercury thermostats, and electronics such as computers and televisions. A 2010 law, for example, requires that manufacturers of mercury-added thermostats submit plans to the state for collecting old thermostats containing mercury and requires that the devices to be recycled at the expense of the manufacturers.

"The thought was, instead of going back to General Assembly each year on a new product, let's pass one particular law that gives the Department of Environmental Management the authority, by regulation, to put product stewardship programs in place," she said. "In essence, it removes the product-by-product dialogue that the General Assembly has been wading through every year and gives us regulatory authority to move on certain products."

"Certain products"? Anyone who reads far enough into the legislation will discover that DEM would have the authority to add products to its list without returning to a single elected official for final approval. Add this power grab to the list of legislative items that is sure to rise again like an undead bureaucrat.

As we enter election season, residents should seek candidates who will pull the state in the opposite direction with respect to regulating business and handing the legislative function over to unelected members of the ruling class.

While I was away

Marc Comtois

I was gone for a couple weeks and nothing unexpected really happened. A debt deal was made, whereby we are told we're going to "cut" the Federal budget by spending, say, 6% more over the next decade than the previously assumed 7% or 8%. Well, at least there were no tax increases (for now).

Central Falls finally went under--gee, who saw that coming--after unions and pensioners refused to accept the fiscally-sane plan laid before them by the receiver. Now they're getting the plan anyway...and it's actually a bit worse than what they turned down. Good foresight.

On the sports front, the Sox are still in first place (for now) and the Pats are back in camp (with a few interesting new faces). And August is the time when kids across RI start thinking about Fall sports. Coaches too.

All in all, I spent 10 days out of state (and most of that out of the country) and a few days digging myself out from under a pile of accumulated work. I basically checked out of politics and the news cycle and was much the happier for it. Ignorance is indeed bliss. But, as Justin pointed out, the road to apathy is an easy one to take around here. It's all downhill, after all.

Oh well. Back up hill I go.

The Birthplace of Dumb Apathy

Justin Katz

With the pension crisis on hold until a special legislative session, apart from a typical Rhode Island study group (or special interest group, as the case more accurately is), with Central Falls entering bankruptcy, and with the fully-mobile-yet-somehow-disabled John Sauro emerging once again as a symbol (this time of the lack of consequences for a particular class of people in the state), this Jim Bush cartoon from March continues to be accurate:

While searching for that strip, I was thrilled to spot something that didn't used to be the case, I don't believe: Jim has a large number of his editorial cartoons up on his personal Web page.

Clueless: Warwick School Committee Files a Caruolo

Monique Chartier

The Providence Journal reported this development on the very day (i.e., yesterday) that a Rhode Island municipality was thrown into bankruptcy.

With no clear answer from the state on whether communities that cut funding to their school districts last year have to restore some of that money, the Warwick School Committee is suing the city for about $6.2 million in additional funding for schools.

In a lawsuit filed last week in District Court, school officials contend that the district is owed the money because the law that allowed the city to cut school funding last year was a one-time option and the city, this year, is required to restore its support of local schools to at least what it was in 2009.

Last year, cities and towns had the option of dropping the amount they gave their local school districts to 95 percent of what it was in 2009. The Legislature offered communities that option as a way of dealing with the loss of state aid to municipalities.

I hadn't heard that Warwick has an annual operating surplus of $6.2 million lying around for just such a contingency. Or possibly members of the Warwick School Committee share the larger fiscal philosophy of Rep. James McLaughlin (D-Central Falls) that, to quote Andrew,

just because we have no money doesn't mean we're bankrupt

The Overriding Point on Pensions

Justin Katz

Retired Cranston police captain Robert Barber feels very strongly that his pension should not be modified one bit:

The mayors are asking the people who sacrificed their bodies, families and health for the service of the community to sacrifice more. Statistically, law-enforcement officers die 10 years earlier than the general population. The mayors are asking me to sacrifice my source of income. I will not collect Social Security because I did not pay into it. In a few short years I will be forced to enroll in Medicare. For 27 years, I was called away from family functions, vacations and holidays, 24/7 to fulfill my contract. I did so proudly and gladly. When the economy was booming, I went without a raise for four years and worked without a contract. At my age, how will I make up the difference the mayors want me to give up?

Counterpoints could be made, line by line. I suspect, for example, that the mortality statistics for law-enforcement officers who reach retirement are not so dramatically different from the average. It is a dangerous job, and every officer who dies young for job-specific reasons skews the numbers. As for being on call, a great many careers, particularly those of business owners, require adjustment to personal activities.

The major hang-up, once again, enters with the question with which Barber ends the paragraph: at his age. According to the bio line at the end of his essay, Mr. Barber is 58 and has been retired for eight years already. In other words, he still has four years to go until he reaches the general population's average retirement age, at which point he'll have been retired for 12 years.

It's important to note that Barber highlights a number of other areas of public expense that also should be trimmed in order to advance our state's economic health:

The article also lists 37 names [of legislative employees], and the lowest raise was 10 percent. Aren't the legislators also getting a raise? In the June 26 "PolitFact" acticle, Gary Sasse says Rhode Island spends 52 percent more per capita on human-service programs than the U.S. average. Rhode Island is spending this much more than the rest of the nation on entitlements, mostly for people who don't work, while taking money away from public servants who served honorably for decades.

Be that as it may, Mr. Barber may have to file his threatened lawsuit, because public sympathy is clearly waning for young retirees from the public sector, and perspectives are not what they once were. Nowhere is this more sharply drawn than his closing words. He writes that he's "being vilified because [he] worked hard and planned well." To my knowledge, there's no reason to question his hard work, but choosing a public-sector job under the protection of the union structure that dominates the state does not amount to a feat of financial planning justifying a near-midlife retirement.

August 1, 2011

Debt Ceiling Deal Passes House

Carroll Andrew Morse

The debt ceiling and budget deal has passed the House, with Congressmen James Langevin and David Cicilline both voting in favor.

Keith Hennessy has a good summary of what's contaned in the deal, available here (h/t Instapundit).

Municipal Bankruptcy is a Tenth Amendment Issue

Carroll Andrew Morse

The initial Projo report on today's announcement that the receiver for Central Falls will file for bankruptcy highlights one of the many high-level policy, political and legal issues that municipal bankruptcy is going to involve…

In a commercial bankruptcy, the judge has the authority to order the sale of assets, even the closing of the business, to pay the creditors. But a government can't be sold off.

A Chapter 9 judge can approve or reject a receiver's settlement proposal, but he or she can't order the sale of assets because of the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that any powers not specifically given to the federal government by the Constitution belong to the states, meaning a federal bankruptcy court can't tell the city how to run its affairs, like selling assets.

Re: Disabled (Ha!)

Justin Katz

Monique's already expressed a justified skepticism about this:

Former firefighter John Sauro remains permanently and totally disabled from doing his job in the Fire Department, an orthopedic surgeon has concluded after a special examination.

But the surgeon recommended additional tests to confirm his finding.

The report by Dr. Anthony DeLuise Jr. was submitted Wednesday to the city Retirement Board, which voted to have the additional tests done.

Sauro, you'll recall, retired in his late thirties with his tax-free disability pension of $45,600 and fully paid health benefits and at age 48 spends a great deal of time bodybuilding. As Monique highlights, Dr. DeLuise's conclusion was based on a physical exam, viewing of WPRI's sting video of Sauro's workout, and the decade-old medical records that won Sauro his boon in the first place.

This initial finding is just part of the process, of course — which process appears designed to delay and give politicians and bureaucrats plenty of opportunity to grant Sauro and his union a soft exit from the public spotlight. Meanwhile, in the wave of controversy and careful phrases, like "permanently and totally disabled from doing his job," the larger question is lost:

  • Even if Sauro has difficulty with a very limited range of motion
  • and even if the risk of further injury makes it inadvisable for him to perform active firefighter duties
  • should a public-safety-job-related injury mean that the employee never has to work another day in his life even though his impairment is so minimal as to be unobservable?

Rhode Island Republican Assembly "PORK-U-LUS" Pig Roast

Community Crier

The Rhode Island Republican Assembly PAC

cordially invites you to attend the annual

"PORK-U-LUS" Pig Roast Fundraiser

to support conservative Rhode Island Republican candidates

at the home of

State Representative Doreen & James Costa
39 Dyer Avenue
North Kingstown, RI 02874


Saturday, August 6th, 2011
2:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M.

featuring catered

Roast Barbecued Pig Served Pulled Pork Style
Accompanied by Baked Beans, Corn, Corn Bread, Cole Slaw, & Desserts
Hamburgers & Hot Dogs available. Soft Drinks provided. "B.Y.O.B."

BBQ Tickets: $35.00 ~ Children 12 & Under: $15.00

Space is limited to 125 guests. Please reserve your tickets today!
Payment by Personal Check or Credit Card is gladly accepted.

To reserve tickets, please mail your request and personal check to:
RIRA-PAC, 19 Bakers Creek Road, Warwick, RI 02886
Credit card payments can be accepted online at
PayPal payments can be sent directly to

Retirement Security for Them, Not You

Justin Katz

In a nutshell, my take on General Treasurer Gina Raimondo is that she's free to take the politically risky steps of pushing pension reform because she ultimately lacks the power to implement it; that will fall to the General Assembly and the governor. The far left in the state was tickled by her election and is surely looking forward to her ascension to higher office, where she'll have more influence on everything from abortion to welfare to public-sector labor policy.

But first she's got to thread this pension needle — forcing some hard decisions, to win the general-public tag of "courageous," while giving the left-Democrat-labor set no reason to write her out of its book of allies. That's what came to mind when PolitiFact took a look at her aversion to 401(k)s:

During an appearance on the July 10 edition of 10 News Conference, when reporter Jim Taricani asked her about the sustainability of the current system, she pointed out that without a pension program, most people are ill-equipped to deal with the financial challenge of retirement.

The state's pension program, she said, "is clearly crushing the state with a debt we can't afford and that's why we have to fix it. It really is a crisis. Having said that, the average 401(k) in America of a person who's 60 years old is under $100,000, so that isn't retirement security either. I think we can maintain an element of defined benefit, an old-fashioned pension plan, but design it in a way that is sustainable and affordable."

Frankly, I'd have preferred if PolitiFact had utilized the time of its paid journalists to research evidence of whether it's possible to design an affordable system, mainly by investigating the existence and financial health of defined-pension plans outside of the government sphere. Instead, they researched the 401(k) citation and found Raimondo to be, if anything, optimistic.

I'm not persuaded that 401(k) balances are an accurate summation of non-defined-benefit retirements. Of the retirees whose finances I know well enough to comment, none rely on such accounts, or even on IRAs. Rather, they've got regular savings, other sorts of investments, profits from home sales, and such sources of income as life-insurance payouts. None of that is captured in Raimondo's point that there is no secure retirement outside of defined benefits.

Moreover, the average or median 401(k) balance tells us nothing about the average that the an employee would have on a new government defined-contribution program. I'm skeptical that it's possible to design a self-sustainable retirement system that makes promises about the dollar amount that a retiree will receive when both the investment returns and the longevity of the employee are unknowns. On the other hand, it would certainly be possible to design a defined contribution program that generates the coveted security — with the main difference being that it's the responsibility of the retiree to see that the money lasts his or her entire life, not of the taxpayer.

That gets to the broader question: Let's say that Treasurer Raimondo is entirely correct in her insinuation that the average person is ill prepared to retire:

Her spokeswoman, Joy Fox, argued that because the savings rate is under $100,000, Raimondo’s statement would be True, even if the actual number was tens of thousands lower.

Fox also said Raimondo's larger point is that "given how little the average 401(k) was worth, the defined contribution system did not provide retirement security" for state workers who, in the treasurer's words, "at the end of a hardworking career . . . ought to have security in retirement."

Why ought it be a first principle that a population that is ill prepared for its own retirements must guarantee those of government employees? By all means, within the bounds of available resources, include retirement contributions in public-sector benefit packages, but don't demand that they be almost unique in the world of American employment in offering come-Hell-or-high-water security.