September 29, 2011

Chris Christie: Will He or Won't He?

Patrick Laverty

Ahh, the neverending presidential race. Here we are, a mere 14 months from election day and we're being told that it's too late for certain candidates to get in the race. Some have already come and gone. One elephant in the room (no pun intended) is Sarah Palin. Will she or won't she get in the race. She is clearly someone that doesn't need a lot of time to garner name recognition or get her views out there. She never really left the limelight from the last election, so there's no major rush for her to get in.

However, there is one new name to the discussion, as if the Republican debate dais wasn't big enough already. Much is being speculated about whether New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will jump into the fray. He has twice denied it himself. He has given no direct indication that he will run. In my opinion, he will. Why else would the Governor of New Jersey go to California to give a speech? In that speech, he talked up his own virtues while attacking not only President Obama's policies, but also not exactly complimenting the current Republican front-runners. It was clearly a "testing the waters" kind of outing and by most accounts, came across positive.

Now Christie is not new to negative press or controversy. First and most superficially, may have put a question mark at the end of their headline, but they may as well have put an exclamation point. "Chris Christie: Is New Jersey Governor Too Overweight to Become President?" C'mon ABC, at least be honest with your journalism here and try to not simply put it all on David Letterman. You are actually trying to tell people that you think Christie is too fat to be president. For whatever that means.

Christie also had a dustup where he used the state helicopter to go see a few innings of his son's high school baseball game and didn't reimburse the state. That's one that I can't really say I agree with. However, on the other hand, he did put a complaining teacher in her place when she told him

she has a master’s degree and that her current salary isn’t compensating her for the value of her higher education as well as her experience.
His response? Pure Christie gold.
“Well, you know then that you don’t have to do it.”
This is the same man who heard reports of people on New Jersey's beaches during Tropical Storm Irene and told them to
Get the hell off the beach!
That sure seemed like good advice to me.

But for all the pop quotes that he's able to offer up, he also seems able to get down to the hard work as well and make hard choices. New Jersey is facing huge budget deficits like many other states except New Jersey has one distinction that not even Rhode Islanders can claim. They are the most taxed state in the country. He called for massive cuts in services and aid and is even able to get support across the aisle in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

[NJ Senate President Stephen] Sweeney said Democrats would work with Christie on a proposed constitutional amendment to cap annual property tax increases at 2.5 percent and a series of "tools" for local governments to cut costs, mainly by reining in employee salaries, pensions and benefits.

Additionally, he can take stances that will get the conservatives in the room to stand up and nod in appreciation. At his State of the State Address, he called for the end of teacher tenure.

“Teaching can no longer be the only profession where you have no rewards for excellence and no consequences for failure to perform…The time to eliminate teacher tenure is now.”

If the country needs anything right now, it seems it needs someone who can talk tough, back up their talk but also be able to work with people on both sides of the political spectrum. Based on his tenure in New Jersey, Christie might be the guy.

We don't know yet if he will certainly run for the Republican nomination, but based on his resume and his recent overtures, I will not be surprised to see his name on a primary ballot next spring.

Lawsuit Against 2012 Casino Referendum: Do the Narragansett Have a Point?

Monique Chartier

The ProJo's Kathy Gregg reports. (All emphasis added.)

In a lawsuit filed in Superior Court on Wednesday, the tribe contends the law calling for the referendum is both “unconstitutional and vague.”


The tribe hung its legal argument on the same requirement in the state Constitution that tripped up its first two efforts to get a Harrah’s-backed casino proposal for West Warwick on the state ballot. It says: “All lotteries shall be prohibited in the State except lotteries operated by the State,” which has been broadly interpreted to include most traditional games of chance at a casino.

The 2012 referendum for a casino, which passed the General Assembly last session as Article 25 of the budget bill (starting at Page 306) does, indeed, specify that the casino shall be at "Twin Rivers" in Lincoln.

Isn't Twin Rivers a privately owned facility on privately owned land? So how did the General Assembly address the requirement that (paraphrasing the Constitution) all lotteries shall be operated by the State?

The excerpts below from Article 25 starts on Page 307. Please note in particular the section in bold.

42-61.2-2.1. State authorized to operate casino gaming. -- (a) State -operated casino gaming shall be authorized at the facility of the licensed video lottery terminal retailer known as "Twin River" located in the town of Lincoln; provided, that the requirements of Article VI, Section 22 of the Rhode Island Constitution are met with respect to said facility at the general election next held after enactment of this section. ...

(2) Pursuant to Article VI, Section 15 of the Rhode Island Constitution and the specific powers, authorities and safeguards set forth in subsection (c) herein in connection with the operation of casino gaming, the state shall have full operational control over the specified location at which casino gaming shall be conducted

The lawsuit by the Narragansett points out that

The voters of the State of Rhode Island are being asked to vote on … the expansion of gaming without any definition of what state operation of this expansion will consist of, what specific table games are going to be operated and what entity or personnel are going to operate them.

The statute is unconstitutional because the State must have the power to make decisions about all aspects of the functioning of any state casino, and this statute either provides no standard at all or allows a private entity unconstitutional control over certain aspects of the operation of the casino.

Permit me to note here that, on a personal level, I oppose casinos, lotteries and all gambling, whoever runs them. I'll once again be voting "No" to a casino at the ballot box next year. You can close everything up and let the state suck wind for that revenue, for all I care.

However, there appears to be a major question of consistency here. How would a "state operated" casino in a privately/Narragansett owned facility on privately owned land in Charlestown or - that paragon of good and responsible government - West Warwick have differed from a "state operated" casino in a privately owned facility on privately owned land in Lincoln? Couldn't the State have just as easily had (quoting the law for the Lincoln location)

full operational control over the specified location

for a facility owned by the Narragansett tribe?

Calculating the "Cost" of a College Student

Justin Katz

In discussion of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, commenter Russ illustrates why public debate so often gets stuck in conflicting assertions and animus:

...dividing the total operating costs of the University of Rhode Island by the number of full-time equivalent students suggests that the university has to make $20,615 per student.

Wrong, but hey let's pretend the university has no other sources of income and that tuition covers housing, dining services, and any number of other items not relevant to this discussion.

Wonder why that is that you folks (repeatedly) feel the need to misrepresent this?

The cost of educating a college student (which is different than the cost to the student of receiving an education) is a debatable question. Advocates for granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants assert that the amount that students pay should be considered the cost of their attendance, but this ignores the fact that state aid, other activities, and the inflated costs to out-of-state subsidize those students. By contrast, some advocates on the other side treat the out-of-state tuition as the cost, but this errs in the opposite direction. Other people might wish to look at budgetary line items and tease out those directly associated with the day-to-day experience of students, but the institution's activities are all so integrated that there isn't a clear line to draw.

Note that, in the text of mine that Russ quotes, I didn't say that tuition has to be $20,615, but that the University of Rhode Island "has to make" that amount per student. My premise is that the primary mission of a college or university is education, and most of its non-educational activities serve that mission. Some of those activities — such as funding professors' research — represent an overall cost, but are worth the expense because they enrich the knowledge of the professors, expand the opportunities for students, and bring recognition to the departments. Some of the activities — such as collegiate sports — may represent an area of profit, thereby helping to lower tuition rates from where they otherwise would be.

We could argue the point to death about whether (for example) the sports subsidize the research and therefore have no effect on tuition rates. But with education being the core mission and tuition being the main source of revenue, it seems most reasonable to use a per student measurement for questions of finance.

Thus, we can total the expenditures of the University of Rhode Island at $400,430,444 and average the number of credits purchased in the spring and fall semesters of that year to determine that, for 2010, the university had the equivalent of 19,424 full-time students.and say that, overall, the university must make $20,615 per student — regardless of the source of that revenue — to meet its expenses. Again, some of its other activities increase that cost and others decrease it, but if that's the theoretical per-student number, a student paying in-state tuition and fees of $11,366 per year is not carrying his or her own weight.

We can go a step farther and adjust the ratios of students to take into account the amounts that different categories pay (in-state, out-of-state, and regional). Doing that suggests that the University of Rhode Island's actual per-student income is somewhere around $16,862. I should emphasize that these are rough calculations. I lack the time and resources to divide up the student body by, for example, those who live on campus versus those who don't or to separate graduate students from undergraduate students and so forth. In this context, though, it's interesting to observe that the regional tuition rate (not including fees and housing) is currently $17,192, so it may be that the university sees that as "cost" in the sense that, on a small scale, it doesn't affect the per-student rate.

Be that as it may, these numbers are why we periodically hear university officials talking about the need to attract more out-of-state students. As the ratio shifts toward them, the number that the institution actually makes per student moves toward the number that it has to make per student.

According to advocates for the illegal-immigrant giveaway, 74 illegal immigrants currently attend URI, RIC, and CCRI, and they calculate that the reduced price will attract another 24. We're not talking huge numbers, here, by any means, but I don't see how it's plausible to argue that cutting the revenue from 74 students by 60% and adding another 24 at rate that must be subsidized will do anything but increase costs. (Note that, due to time constraints, I'm putting aside the possibility that the percentages differ from one institution to the next.)

A rational debate could proceed in a number of interesting and fruitful directions, from here, but it's more difficult to accuse people of being heartless when one acknowledges that the question is whether a cost is justified, not whether there is a cost.

September 28, 2011

The General Assembly Line for Pensions

Justin Katz

Have you spotted the line of argument that members of the General Assembly have devised for explaining why legislators who benefit from public-sector pensions are free to vote to changes to the system? Here's retired NEA member and recently elected representative from East Providence (whose pension comes in at $54,512, annually):

Echoed Duffy Messier: "Everyone I talk to understands that something's got to be done and ... if the COLA is reduced or frozen for a while, if that's the worst, then they are fine with it."

Duffy Messier said she would have qualms voting if it "was going to affect me positively," but that is not what she anticipates.

And here it's put a little differently:

Dawson Hodgson, R-North Kingstown, acknowledged that "nothing compels" a legislator to do [recuse], and that several legislators have publicly indicated their intention "to do the right thing and ... vote against their self-interest," which was how he described a vote to suspend or reduce, at least temporarily, the annual cost-of-living increases of up to 3 percent the state currently provides its retirees.

The problem is that a suspension or reduction in cost of living adjustments (COLAs) is nowhere near adequate, so self-interested legislators would, in effect, be voting in a way that affects them positively by voting for a measure that isn't as dramatic as it really has to be. The question isn't giving pensioners more versus giving them less; it's the amount of negative change.

Sadly, even Hodgson appears to be indicating that my predictions for the General Assembly's "reform" might be more accurate than I'd like:

... reamortization with some sort of tax increase (perhaps pushed through local governments and property taxes) and a mild reduction in benefit levels for future retirees — such as an additional year or two before they can retire or a couple more years of salary folded into the calculation for benefit amount.

I should have added some adjustment to COLAs, but doing so doesn't change the overall... bleak... picture.

September 27, 2011

And Now: Drivers Licenses

Monique Chartier

Incrementalism is a beautiful thing.

E-verify rescinded earlier this year.

In-state tuition passed yesterday.

Now the latest: drivers licenses.

Governor Chafee said Tuesday that he is looking into the possibility that the state might issue driver's licenses or driving permits to illegal immigrants.

Responding to questions about a vote by the Board of Governors for Higher Education to approve in-state rates for undocumented students, Chafee said being able to drive would help people who need transportation to go to school or work or to look for work.

He said has spoken with officials in Utah, which he said is the only state that has established a special class of driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

"I'm working on it," he said.

Question. Why would this particular group of people need a vehicle to look for or report to a job when THEY ARE NOT ELIGIBLE TO WORK HERE?

How Much Time Will There Be To Read the Pension Bill, Before Voting on the Pension Bill?

Carroll Andrew Morse

At the John Loughlin fundraiser held in East Providence on Sunday evening, I was able to ask several of the sitting legislators in attendance about the highly anticipated special legislative session on pension reform. In particular, I asked House Minority Leader Brian Newberry and Senators Frank Maher and Nick Kettle about how much time they expected to have between being presented with a complete pension reform plan and being asked to vote on it.

Each of the legislators that I talked to had detailed and pointed thoughts on this issue...

Representative Brian Newberry: What I've been hearing is that's there are some tensions between the leadership on perhaps both the House and Senate sides and the Treasurer's office as to what's going to happen. As I understand it, the Democratic leadership wants the Treasurer to propose a solution that is actuarially sound, in a complete package. My understanding is the Treasurer's office -- and this goes back many months -- had wanted really to come forth with a slew of potential options and allow the legislature to choose from them. You can see the political advantages to both sides for that.
Audio: 1m 9 sec
To get something passed realistically, one of the things that will happen, no matter what gets proposed, is that there will be a series of floor amendments. There always is, on something of this magnitude. And if I were the Democratic leadership, I'd want something where I could come forward and say 'listen, this is the solution'. 'If you change it, and you don't have actuarial support for your changes, that's going to completely alter the equation and mess up the entire solution'. I suspect what we're going to ultimately see --and I don't have any knowledge if it's going to happen one way or the other -- but I think we're going to see the Treasurer's office put forward a solution, and whether it's a real solution or not we'll have to analyze, but they're going to put forward a package and ask the legislature to pass the package intact. I suspect that's what's going to happen.
Senator Frank Maher: That's a good question. That was one of the very concerns I had had a couple of weeks ago, when the House and the Senate got together for a pension briefing that was put on by leadership. I proposed the question of how exactly was this pension reform going to be given to us, and we were told it was going to be given to us in a legislative bill per se. When I asked who was going to be the sponsor of that bill, the reply that I received was "we don't know". And I said is it going to originate in the House or the Senate? And they said "we don't know". And I said, the Senate being the upper chamber, are we going to have the final say, depending on where the bill originates, of what the final proposal will be, taking into consideration the ideas that are given to us by the General Treasurer and the actuaries that are working with her? Once again, the response was "I don't know".
Audio: 2m 14 sec
So at this point, I am very concerned about not only how the pension reform is going to be put together in a legislative package and given to us, but I'm also very concerned, especially being part of the minority party, that we may not know until literally the last minute, and be told to vote on a bill that could literally be hundreds of pages long. And the example I give to reference that is not so much the budget but going back to when we had the Deepwater issue. That bill was a very, very extensive, complicated piece of legislation, and it came down to the last day of the vote. We were literally voting on floor amendments with no PA system working in the chamber, and being told we had to make a decision right then and there as to whether we were going to support it or not support it.
So I think that everybody agrees at this point that we have to have pension reform. I've been told that the Senate leadership is on board with pension reform one-hundred percent. But I hope that the political will is there to 1) do it comprehensively and 2) make sure that we're given enough time to digest and realize exactly what the ramifications are going to be once they decide the form that the legislation is going to take and how it's going to be passed.
Senator Nick Kettle: Echoing the same concerns as Senator Maher, I believe that we are not going to be given a proper amount of time to review the bill as it will be very extensive, and we won't know the full ramifications and implications for all the state workers and the taxpayers. And it's the taxpayers who we need to know how this is going to impact them. Unfortunately, the unions and the state workers are going to have to start paying their fair share. I don't know if the political will is in either chamber to actually do comprehensive pension reform, and I'm afraid that within two or three years, we're going to be back doing the same thing again. So I want to see pension reform happen this once, as Gina Raimondo has promised, and that's it, never come back to this issue again. It needs to be comprehensive, but unfortunately I don't see the will right now to do it. Audio: 49 sec

Rep. Brian Newberry Lobs a Bomb at Doherty Camp

Patrick Laverty

Andrew mentioned this in his post yesterday about a Facebook "Reflection" from House Minority Leader Brian Newberry. Newberry is calling for Doherty to either drop out of the Congressional District 1 race completely, or change direction and run in Congressional District 2 against James Langevin.

I will admit that when I first heard the news of Doherty running in CD1, I was a bit confused. Why? Is Loughlin not running again? Will he push Loughlin out of the race? We've seen in recent weeks that yes, Loughlin is definitely running again and no, Doherty will not be able to push Loughlin out of the race. So what sense does this make? The Republicans don't always have candidates with the most money or the best name recognition, but now they have two and they're running for the same seat! To me, that makes very little sense in the grand scheme of things. Yes, each person has every right to run for any seat that he or she is eligible, but spreading the wealth would have seemed to make more sense, at least to me.

So what about eligibility and that second part of Newberry's statement. Newberry suggested that Cumberland and Congressional District 1 resident Brendan Doherty should run against James Langevin in the 2nd District. We had a similar situation last year when Democrat Betsy Dennigan changed her official residence to her summer home in Narragansett so she could be a resident of CD2 and run against Langevin. However, Constitutional law says that her change wasn't required. In fact, all the US Constitution says about residency requirements for Congress is

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.
Note that it does address citizenship. It requires that the person be a US citizen for at least seven years. What it doesn't say is that the person needs to be a citizen or even a "resident" of the state they are elected from, at least not until election day.

Previously, California passed a law about residency requirements for their Congressional and Senate seats, only to have it overturned by the 9th Circuit Court in 2000. We have numerous other examples of where a candidate was eligible to run for a federal seat not only when he didn't live in the district he was to represent, but sometimes not even a resident of the state he was to represent!

WIth that information, it is completely legal for Col. Doherty to run for Congress in the CD2. As Newberry mentioned on WPRO yesterday, CD2 runs slightly more conservative than CD1. It will be a shame to have two great candidates, and their campaigns, bashing each other every step of the way to the primary. It will be a shame for both of these men to spend campaign money on showing why he is a better candidate for that Congressional seat than not just David Cicilline but also his Republican opponent. It would make far more sense to have just one Republican in the race focused on Cicilline for the next fourteen months, instead of being distracted by a primary. Maybe these two can keep the focus positive and if they do both insist on staying in the same race all the way to primary day, I hope they can combine their focus on Cicilline and make the double spotlight burn even hotter than just one would. The main goal here for both men should be to get a better representative for Rhode Island in Washington than what we currently have.

In-State Tuition for Illegals, Whether You Want to Pay for It or Not

Justin Katz

Last night, with the approval of RI's chief executive, Lincoln Chafee, the Board of Governors of Higher Education decided to act in lieu of the General Assembly and implement a policy of offering illegal immigrants in-state tuition rates for the state's public universities. That makes Rhode Island just the fourteenth state to be so generous, and the first to make the decision without involving the people's elected legislators.

The big lie of issue, which Ted Nesi describes here is that there is no cost to this decision — perhaps even an increase in revenue. I spent some time looking at the numbers, last night, and although I don't have time, this morning, to make my findings presentable for this post, I just don't see how that could possibly be so.

I'll show my work (as the math teachers say) in a future post, but in a nutshell, dividing the total operating costs of the University of Rhode Island by the number of full-time equivalent students suggests that the university has to make $20,615 per student. Clearly, total tuition and fees of $11,366 for in-state matriculating undergrads won't cut it. If, as advocates claim, in-state tuition were sufficient to educate a student, then the University ought to be investigated for price-gouging out-of state students, who pay $27,454.

September 26, 2011

Some Sounds from the John Loughlin Fundraiser -- And One Very Direct Follow Up

Carroll Andrew Morse

If there was one message directed to the general public coming out of the John Loughlin fundraiser held in East Providence last evening, it was that, despite any rumors that might be heard to the contrary, former State Representative Loughlin will definitely be running for Rhode Island's First District Congressional seat upon his return from his tour of duty with the Army in Iraq. Here is Loughlin campaign spokesman Michael Napolitano's answer to the question of how certain a Loughlin-for-Congress campaign is...

I want to make this perfectly clear. He is running. There is no doubt.
I also asked Mr. Napolitano to sketch out the basic rules that Loughlin must follow regarding political activity while on active duty. The basic rule is pretty straighforward -- he cannot be directly involved with his own political campaign, in any way, until his tour of duty has ended...
...he can run for office, but he cannot be involved with the campaign...
About 100 people attended the fundraiser over the course of the evening, where several Republican legislators made official public endorsements of candidate Loughlin...
Representative Brian Newberry: "...John has proven his integrity. He's proven his honor. I served with him in the Rhode Island legislature and watched how he worked. I watched how he kept his word and, this is important by the way, I watched how he worked with our friends across the aisle..."
Audio: 1m 46 sec
Representative Doreen Costa: "...Can we afford the tax and spend mentality of David Cicilline? Absolutely not. John is the only man in Washington who can lead the way in my opinion..."
Audio: 1m 0 sec
Senator Frank Maher: "...At the end of the day -- I don't care who the other candidate is who's running for the First Congressional District to Represent Rhode Island -- every other candidate is indecision with a lack of vision. But with John, you are going to get what you asked for, and you are going to a your next Congressman who delivers on what he says".
Audio: 42 sec
Senator Christopher Ottiano: "...First of all, he stood up and he ran for political office in this state as a Republican and stood for his values..."Audio: 1m 58 sec
Several of the evening's speakers made references, with varying degrees of directness, to their support of Loughlin over another likely entrant into the First District Republican race, Colonel Brendan Doherty. Rep. Newberry took this one step further in a statement on his Facebook page today, calling for Col. Doherty to step out of the First District primary (h/t Ted Nesi).

RI Needs a Strong Economy to Keep Bank of America

Justin Katz

In his Sunday Providence Journal column (not online), John Kostrzewa worries that Rhode Island officials aren't doing enough to ensure that looming cuts in Bank of America's workforce don't come out of our local economy. He suggests that they're waiting for a more opportune time and insists that they can't afford to do so.

But the persuasion that he suggests is built upon a big threat:

... the state kept an average bank balance of more than $35 million at Bank of America during the fiscal year that ended June 30. Some federal receipts flow into a general fund account at the bank. And Bank of America is a senior bond underwriter for the state and assists in the marketing and sale of state bonds.

All of that work doesn't have to go to Bank of America. It could go to other institutions that make commitments to add jobs.

Rhode Island may or may not have the financial leverage to bully the bank. Considering that BoA is looking to save $5 billion per year in personnel costs, the numbers in play may be out of Little Rhody's league, even with the combined threat of lost business and promise of the state's famous big-shot handouts.

Just under two years ago, the Bank of America branch on Main Rd. in Tiverton closed down. A manager, there, told me that the branch was profitable, but that the lack of small-business prospects in the town erased the justification for maintaining a presence here. Although the scale is much smaller, Tiverton's experience suggests a better way forward for Rhode Island.

My mind turns to a CNBC analysis from June of this year, in which Rhode Island managed to be dead last on a list of Top States for Business. In three of the ten subrankings — workforce, technology & innovation, and access to capital — the state stood right on that middle line of mediocrity. It did a little bit better in education and a little bit worse in quality of life. That's half of the rating's factors. With the other half, we're bottom ten material: cost of doing business, infrastructure & transportation, economy, business friendliness, and cost of living.

If Rhode Island wants to halt its slide into backwater and change its status as the Northeast's Mississippi, the government is going to have to focus on making the state a more attractive place to do business. Rather than one-time giveaways, the state has to lighten up on its taxes and regulations and improve its infrastructure — while decreasing the cost of living and doing business.

Evidence that Rhode Island is serious about turning itself around — and fast — would do more to persuade BoA CEO Brian Moynihan that it's worth staying here than would threatening letters from every single elected and appointed official from local water authority up to Speaker of the House. Unfortunately, our current governor and General Assembly, Providence's current mayor, and (all evidence indicates) the state's electorate, itself, lack the will to do what's necessary.

September 25, 2011

The Newest Cost of Global Warming Madness: Killing & Evictions To Preserve a Carbon Credit Forest

Monique Chartier

Apologies for bringing this up on a Sunday. Then again, perhaps it is appropriate to do so as global warming is now treated by some not so much as a scientific theory which demands (so boring) consistency in data and observations and models but more as a sort of warped religion where questions and empirical challenges are eschewed.

Anthony Watts at Watts Up With That reports on the eviction aspect, though it sounds more like ethnic cleansing than an eviction. (The New York Times story that he quotes is behind a subscription wall.)

“They said if we hesitated they would shoot us,” said William Bakeshisha, adding that he hid in his coffee plantation, watching his house burn down. “Smoke and fire.”

But in this case, the government and the company said the settlers were illegal and evicted for a good cause: to protect the environment and help fight global warming.

The case twists around an emerging multibillion-dollar market trading carbon-credits under the Kyoto Protocol, which contains mechanisms for outsourcing environmental protection to developing nations.

The company involved, New Forests Company, grows forests in African countries with the purpose of selling credits from the carbon-dioxide its trees soak up to polluters abroad. Its investors include the World Bank, through its private investment arm, and the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, HSBC.

In 2005, the Ugandan government granted New Forests a 50-year license to grow pine and eucalyptus forests in three districts, and the company has applied to the United Nations to trade under the mechanism. The company expects that it could earn up to $1.8 million a year.

But there was just one problem: people were living on the land where the company wanted to plant trees. Indeed, they had been there a while.

“He was a policeman for King George,” Mr. Bakeshisha said of his father, who served with British forces during World War II in Egypt.

Let's repeat that, shall we?

But in this case, the government and the company said the settlers were illegal and evicted for a good cause: to protect the environment and help fight global warming.

Yes. The environment must come ahead of human life. As Anthony W. points out, the global warming conceit has achieved the "truly bizarre parallel" of the demented logic of the Vietnam War.

It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.

Prison Planet highlightts the killing aspect of this raid to "protect the environment".

Armed troops acting on behalf of a British carbon trading company backed by the World Bank burned houses to the ground and killed children to evict Ugandans from their homes in the name of seizing land to protect against “global warming,” a shocking illustration of how the climate change con is a barbarian form of neo-colonialism. ...

The company claims residents of Kicucula left in a “peaceful” and “voluntary” manner, and yet the people tell a story of terror and bloodshed.

Villagers told of how armed “security forces” stormed their village and torched houses, burning an eight-year-child to death as they threatened to murder anyone who resisted while beating others.

Neo-colonialism and Vietnam War logic. It's a good guess that most of the people who believe in anthropogenic global warming oppose colonialism and opposed (or would have opposed) the Vietnam War. But this is the level to which their theory has sunk.

Man generates only 6% of greenhouse gases on the planet, with Mother Earth supplying the other 94%. Marc Comtois observed out a while ago that, even if man's tiny percentage is the tipping point (and this has not been proven) that has triggered global warming, the price is simply too high to reverse the phenomenon.

Recent developments now confirm his assertion.

The spectacular implosion of Solyndra, along with half a billion of our hard earned tax dollars, made it crystal clear (if Spain's failed experiment with green energy had not done so already) that, even with ample government mandates and very generous government subsidies (i.e., an open check drawn on the taxpayers' checking account), green energy is not a viable alternative. In fact, we will very quickly go broke pursuing it.

The revelation yesterday of these human rights violations carried out in Uganda exposes an entirely different and much higher cost.

Truly, the price is too high to stop global warming.

September 24, 2011

Yoo Hoo! PolitiFact! How 'Bout Rating Assertions by the Board of Governors On In-State Tuition For Illegal Aliens?

Monique Chartier

It has come to my attention that the ProJo's infamous PolitiFact is currently investigating one of RIILE's several objections to in-state tuition for illegal alien students.

So how about some sauce for the gander? In fact, a strong case could be made that all politi-fact checking on this matter should be directed to the RI Board of Governors for Higher Education as it is the governing authority proposing to implement this policy.

With regard to the cost of such an expansion, the RIBGHE has made two assertions:

1.) It would be break-even: it will cost no one anything.

2.) Okay, yes, there will be a cost but it will be entirely covered by out-of-state tuition receipts.

[Hint: both of these statements are erroneous.]

And please don't do to either RIILE or the RIBOGHI what you did to John Loughlin on global warming: change the statement to be evaluated and then demand that the subject furnish proof of something he did not say.

"I'm saying really the earth is warming, but it's not conclusively caused by man. It's not conclusive. I mean 94 percent of the carbon emissions which you so want to get rid of are caused by nature." ...

Ultimately, the Loughlin campaign did not provide any evidence that nature is responsible for the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere

thereby positioning the Truth-O-Meter (... did somebody snicker?) to give a preferred rating.

In-State Tuition for Illegal Aliens: The Misinformation and Non-Responsive Justifications Persist

Monique Chartier

On Thursday morning, a member of the Board of Governors for Higher Education, Attorney Eva Mancuso, appeared on WPRO's John Depetro Show to explain why the BOG was considering extending in-state college tuition to illegal alien students.

Unfortunately, her answers fell short in a couple of key areas.

Asked by her host why the BOG would even consider such a policy, Attorney Mancuso referenced that infinitely elastic yet highly selective quality of fairness. "Infinitely elastic" because there are no end of government policies that could be implemented and tax dollars that could be spent in its pursuit. "Strangely narrow" in this case because fairness is sought only for one group of college-aged students. How is it fair to require out-of-state students to pay a much higher tuition than in-state ones? How is it remotely fair to give such preferential treatment to illegal aliens but not to legal immigrants? Wherever they reside (in state or not), the latter group immigrated here the right way, in conformance with our laws. If it's "fair" to reward illegal aliens with in-state tuition (and it is a reward, however else advocates wish to portray it), on that basis, how much more do we owe legal immigrants?

Asked by yours truly about the substantial tuition shortfall that would be generated by each additional student to receive this benefit, Attorney Mancuso stated that out-of-state tuition would pick up this shortfall.

This is false.

Before describing why it is false, we should pause to note here that, with this statement, it appears that the Board of Governors has changed their position as to the cost of this initiative and is now acknowledging that there would, indeed, be a cost attendant to it.

Now the question becomes, who would pick up this cost?

Returning to Attorney Mancuso's statement, undoubtely, out-of-state tuition picks up a percentage of the current shortfall of in-state tuition. However, state taxpayers also pick up a substantial portion of that shortfall, demonstrating that current receipts from out-of-state tution does not remotely cover the current shortfall.

Does the BOG intends to expand one for one the number of out-of-state students who attend state colleges so as to partially defray each of the new in-state tution paying illegal alien students admitted? Presumably not.

It is safe to conclude, then, that Rhode Island taxpayers would have to pick up 100% of the cost of expanding the number of students receiving in-state tution.

It appears that, in considering and discussing this proposed new policy, for whatever reason, the Board of Governors had failed to sufficiently inform themselves as to its cost and the source of its requisite funding. Now that some of these facts have become clearer, they would be wise to reconsider implementing the policy.

No Record May Be Better than the Record We've Seen

Justin Katz

I've been formulating some thoughts about a question that's been lingering around the aggregate Dan Gordon controversy: How could this happen?

I still intend to put an answer down in writing — although my focus has understandably been on answering the same question with respect to paying my bills. In the meantime, Monique has offered an excellent summary in the comments to Anchor Rising's latest post on the matter (emphasis in original):

... shall we review what seventy years of Democrat rule in this state have given us? Fifth highest state and local tax burden. Academic achievement in the bottom 20%. Roads and bridges near the bottom of the list. THE worst business climate in the country, naturally leading to a lousy economy and high unemployment.

Given all that - all of which was known before the election, unlike Rep Gordon's checkered past - why would Tiverton have voted for a Dem for District 71?

More importantly, why would they vote for one next year? See, that's the problem for you and the Democrat who will run for this seat next year. All the Republicans in the world with the worst pasts you can imagine don't change the damage and havoc that Democrat legislators, even with choir boy pasts, have inflicted on this state.

September 23, 2011

...and Water is Wet!

Patrick Laverty

Newsflash, Lincoln Chafee is not liked by Rhode Islanders! Ok, maybe that's not too surprising, but in a recent poll, Lincoln Chafee has an unfavorable rating of 47%. Well, he could like at the bright side in that he only received votes from 36.1% of the voters and now 45% give him a "favorable" rating.

I never think it's really that fair when people point out that 63.9% of the voters didn't want Chafee to be the Governor, because if you look at it that way, you can make an argument that it was worse for each of the other candidates. Plus, Chafee didn't make the election rules, he simply played by them.

However, even though we've had a Republican governor for the prior 16 years, Rhode Island is typically one of the bluest of the blue states when it comes to voting record. Chafee, bluer than Papa Smurf, should be well-liked with his history of independence, family name and attraction to progressive causes. Instead, he just can't get over the threshold with Rhode Islanders. He comes across as a poor decision-maker. When even the General Assembly thinks you're trying to tax people too much, chances are you've gone way off the deep end. He had a chief of staff that stiffed the taxpayers for $250,000, losing track of his primary residence, and most recently, using a board appointed by him, trying to use back-door tactics to allow non-US citizens to receive in-state tuition to Rhode Island state colleges.

So maybe the really surprising part of the poll isn't that Chafee's unfavorable rating is so high, maybe the surprising part is that it's that low.

And Now About the Military Record...

Justin Katz

It looks like the next domino is falling for Rep. Dan Gordon (R, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton):

Military service records for a Rhode Island lawmaker who has said he sustained combat injuries in the 1991 Gulf War do not list a Purple Heart award or any Middle East deployments.

State Rep. Daniel Gordon's Marine Corps records, obtained by The Associated Press, list him as an aircraft technician who served from 1987 to 1991 in the U.S. and Japan. Gordon has said his leg was injured by shrapnel outside Baghdad.

This could be a paperwork mix-up, I suppose, but if so, the representative has really spectacularly bad luck.

Rhode Islandism on Rhode Islandism

Justin Katz

Mangeek's comment to my post about the very Rhode Island background of the prospective head of hte 195 commission is just too appropriate not to reproduce for additional commentary:

"when Kane's father was a principal of a Providence elementary school"

I had the pleasure of attending that school during Principal Kane's tenure. He was an amazing man who singlehandedly kept order over the students and faculty. If Colin has just 10% of what his father did, then I actually feel better about this commission.

When I was in fourth grade, a bully had pushed me to my breaking point. I chased him through the halls, finally catching up with him at a stairwell. I tossed him down a flight of stairs before teachers arrived and restrained me. Apparently I was so hungry for justice on the little jerk that I sprained the teacher's arm trying to finish what I started.

I was naturally sent to Mr. Kane's office, where he closed the door and told me that what I did was wrong, but he wished he could throw that little bugger over a stairwell himself. He'd take care of the issue with the teacher's arm if I wrote an apology to her.

I think that if the same thing happened under anyone else, there'd be EMTs, police, and union reps involved. I give credit to the guy for caring enough to see what happened for what it was and give me a chance to make things right without resorting to 'the system'.

So, Mangeek's response to a government entity that he might otherwise consider an embodiment of overreach is mitigated because the father of the group's prospective leader once did him a favor. He might protest that this anecdote was merely one of many, but it is the one he mentions, and moreover, transferring respect from father to son isn't inherently justified, and it doesn't come close to legitimizing a specific government action.

Let me say, though, that I agree with Principal Kane's approach to dealing with problems in his school. He assessed the situation with more intimate knowledge than is available in blanket policies; he chose a course of action that wouldn't encourage passivity in the face of bullying; and he prevented a young Boygeek from entering into a web of consequences that can overwhelm healthy development. Most of all, he would ultimately have had to take personal responsibility if Boygeek had taken his spiel as encouragement and stalked the bully home for a final beating with an iron pipe.

That sort of problem solving isn't available in government policy. The consequences for bad public policy take too long to manifest, and they aren't as clear as a boy responding to a bully with a little more violence than is tolerable. Within that lack of clarity is too much room to disperse blame across elected and appointed officials and for elected representatives to stitch together support through completely unrelated actions. In other words, the chain of accountability for land development can disappear in a gauze of personal favors and approval related to social issues, among others.

Yet, individual judgment remains no less important on a big scale than on the individual one in which Principal Kane acted, which is a very good reason to limit the activities of government in the first place.

September 22, 2011

"Exchange" as in Bait and Switch

Justin Katz

When I initially heard of the concept of state-government healthcare exchanges, my first thought was that only three insurers are willing to do business in Rhode Island — how extensive could such an exchange be? The hook by which Governor Chafee is presuming to step in and legislate via executive order to create Rhode Island's exchange raises more questions about what, exactly, they're planning to develop:

The state faces a Sept. 30 deadline to apply for tens of millions in federal money to develop the exchange, but needed to first establish the authority to create, govern and finance the exchange.

The model cited for the exchange is Travelocity and other comparison-shopping sites, but with three insurers to review, how could it possibly take "tens of millions" in (borrowed) federal dollars to put such a thing together? The state ought to be able to get somebody to pull together the necessary documents and deploy a slightly tweaked out-of-the-box search engine for under $100,000.

Apart from finding ways to spend taxpayer money that the state and federal governments do not have, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts gives some indication of what the expanded scope of the exchange might be:

... Roberts said the exchange will provide more active assistance to people choosing health insurance. It may also set standards for the types of health insurance products offered.

Indeed, the executive order also explicitly calls for "payment reforms and innovative benefit designs" that promote quality and efficiency.

"One of the goals of this executive order is to create the infrastructure with some early goals," Roberts said. "A lot of those bigger issues are very appropriately going to be discussed by the board going forward."

As I've speculated before, the "exchange" is more of a bait-and-switch. As Roberts describes it, the site will either be a welfare-style means of drawing people toward taxpayer-subsidized programs, or it will grant a small range of technocrats the ability to shape everybody's healthcare programs in very detailed ways, or both. And a look at the board already in place to guide the thing is not encouraging:

In addition to [former U.S. Attorney Margaret] Curran, the chairwoman, the board's public members will include Vice Chairman Donald Nokes, president and co-founder of the small business NetCenergy; Michael C. Gerhardt, a former health insurance executive; James Grace, president and CEO,; Linda Katz, policy director and co-founder, The Poverty Institute; Peter Lee, president and CEO, John Hope Settlement House; Dr. Pamela McKnight (not currently practicing); Tim Melia, UFCW New England Council; and Minerva Quiroz, case manager, AIDS Project RI.

The government members are: Steven M. Costantino, secretary of Health and Human services; Christopher F. Koller, health insurance commissioner; Richard A Licht, director of administration; and Dr. Michael D. Fine, director of health.

In addition to the government bureaucrats, we've got a former lawyer, a former health insurance executive, a former doctor, two executives from businesses that offer related technology services, three paid activists, and the obligatory union representative. Not present is a single person who looks apt to approach this sly government power-grab from the perspective of Rhode Islanders' civil rights (in the government-limiting sense) or of protecting the free market or taxpayers' wallets. There isn't even anybody whose background suggests an especial concern with the ethical questions that inevitably arise in matters of medicine.

A further frightening thing is that the only organized voice that the reporter finds in opposition is Barth Bracy, of the Rhode Island Right to Life Committee. About the only other opposition that I've seen has come from Mike Stenhouse, CEO of the newly formed Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, in an op-ed arguing that the state should be wary of jumping into ObamaCare because many questions remain — not the least being whether the law will even remain in effect. For the most part, that's a statement of process, not of principle, although he does step beyond the practical argument a bit:

Government does poorly vs. the free market. The very idea of a government-controlled exchange is antithetical to our nation's historical free-market principles, which is the only proven way to consistently deliver a good service at the lowest possible rate. A true free-market is an exchange in itself!

Unfortunately, politicians (especially in Rhode Island) have long thought the handling of healthcare to be too important to leave to people who actually know what they're doing. Their exchanges will not be tools to guide consumers to the products that most closely align with their needs and resources, but to tell taxpayers how much they have to spend on healthcare, for what, and for whom.

September 21, 2011

Closing the Achievment Gap the Wrong Way

Marc Comtois

Frederick Hess:

Today, the notion of "closing achievement gaps" has become synonymous with education reform. The Education Trust, perhaps the nation's most influential K-12 advocacy group, explains: "Our goal is to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement."...Such sentiments are admirable, and helping the lowest-achieving students do better is of course a worthy and important aim. But the effort to close gaps has hardly been an unmitigated blessing. In their glib self-confidence, the champions of that effort have refused to confront its costs and unintended consequences, and have been far too quick to silence skeptics by branding them blind defenders of the status quo (if not calling them outright racists).

The truth is that achievement-gap mania has led to education policy that has shortchanged many children. It has narrowed the scope of schooling. It has hollowed out public support for school reform. It has stifled educational innovation. It has distorted the way we approach educational choice, accountability, and reform.

For example:
Of particular concern is the way "achievement-gap mania" has forced educators to quietly but systematically shortchange some students in the rush to serve others. Pollsters Farkas and Duffett, for instance, have reported that struggling students possess an unrivaled claim on teachers' attention. In 2008, the team found that 60% of teachers surveyed said that struggling students were a "top priority" at their schools while just 23% said the same of "academically advanced" students — even on a question to which teachers could provide multiple answers. When asked which students were most likely to get one-on-one attention from teachers, 80% of the survey participants said academically struggling students, while just 5% said academically advanced students.
The results have been troubling:
And children who are ready for new intellectual challenges pay a price when they sit in classrooms focused on their less proficient peers. In 2008, Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless reported that, while the nation's lowest-achieving students made significant gains in fourth-grade reading and math scores from 2000 to 2007, top students made anemic gains. Loveless found that students who comprised the bottom 10% of achievers saw visible progress in fourth-grade reading and math and eighth-grade math after 2000, but that the performance of students in the top decile barely moved. He concluded, "It would be a mistake to allow the narrowing of test score gaps, although an important accomplishment, to overshadow the languid performance trends of high-achieving students . . . .Gaps are narrowing because the gains of low-achieving students are outstripping those of high achievers by a factor of two or three to one."
Defining success downward isn't the way to close the achievement gap. It has also resulted in an loss of "buy-in" from parents.
Gap-closing strategies can be downright unhelpful or counterproductive when it comes to serving most students and families, and so can turn them off to education reform altogether. Longer school years and longer school days can be terrific for disadvantaged students or low achievers, but may be a recipe for backlash if imposed on families who already offer their kids many summer opportunities and extracurricular activities. Policies that seek to shift the "best" teachers to schools and classrooms serving low-achieving children represent a frontal assault on middle-class and affluent families. And responding to such concerns by belittling them is a sure-fire strategy for ensuring that school reform never amounts to more than a self-righteous crusade at odds with the interests of most middle-class families.
So they take their kids and put them in another, alternative system. Like private/parochial schools. In short, a laser-like focus on closing the achievement gap in math and reading has left much by the wayside.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Patrick Laverty

The North Providence school system is getting national notice for letting cameras into their schools to help film the documentary "Bullying: Words Can Kill". This is a problem that is finally getting some notice around the country, as it has gone on for decades.

We have seen multiple examples of suicide among school children (like this, this and this) because of bullying and the newer version, cyberbullying. The previous kind of bullying is what probably all of us saw growing up on the playgrounds. The biggest and seemingly toughest kid in school would get what he wanted by either verbally or physically intimidating other students. Now, the cyberbullying has extended itself to the internet where rumors and stories can reach dozens or hundreds of classmates in seconds through email, texting, Facebook or Twitter.

It's great for the kids themselves to learn what are the results of this bullying, and what it does to others. Take the example of one eighth grader

“I never hurt anyone,” Berdecia says. “I called them names, spread rumors and said stuff.”
This student was invited to join the school's anti-bullying campaign and he eventually came to see the light.
"I thought, ‘No one should be treated like that."

So why is it that an eighth grader can figure out that "no one should be treated like that" but adults still haven't? Even professional, educated adults working in professional fields? Or worse, why is it that others in the field of education work so hard to eliminate this behavior among the students of their schools, yet implicitly condone this behavior among adults and peers?

This week, the Deputy Executive Director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island was convicted of cyber-stalking. The NEARI is one of the two organizations in RI that represent school teachers. Another NEARI officer, Secretary Louis Rainone has been involved in a number of altercations as well, including comments to the East Greenwich School Committee "All of you who voted for this will burn in hell." Then at a State House demonstration where someone was videotaping the proceedings and after Rainone attempted to prevent the filming and was informed of the cameraman's First Amendment rights to film, he replied "My First Amendment is that I’m gonna take you outside and stick this [camera] up your ass." Most recently WPRO's Bob Plain recorded an encounter with State Rep. Jon Brien when Rainone offered to step inside the elevator and "show you how charming I can be".

Is this all behavior that the teachers condone? Implicitly, they do. They pay these people to represent them. While North Providence is represented by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) not NEARI, other schools in the state have their own anti-bullying efforts. Some of those schools are represented by NEARI and are represented by Leidecker and Rainone. Here is a list of cities and schools who are represented by NEARI*:

  • Barrington
  • Bristol/Warren
  • Burrillville
  • Chariho
  • Cumberland
  • Davies
  • East Greenwich
  • East Providence
  • Exeter/West Greenwich
  • Foster
  • Glocester
  • Jamestown
  • Little Compton
  • Middletown
  • Narragansett
  • Newport
  • New Shoreham
  • North Kingstown
  • North Smithfield
  • Ponaganset
  • Portsmouth
  • RI School for the Deaf
  • Scituate
  • Smithfield
  • South Kingstown
  • Tiverton
  • Westerly

Until the teachers at those schools step up and tell their NEA that this behavior is intolerable both in the schools, around town and on the internet,
they are implicitly condoning this behavior and are involved in hypocrisy between their leadership and the lessons they're teaching at school.

* - information gathered from

Netflix Shows Flaws in Marginal Pricing

Marc Comtois

Megan McCardle looked at Netflix/Qwikster and explains how the problem is a business model over reliant on marginal cost pricing. It's an object lesson that can be extended to, for example, health care costs.

[P]eople were confusing the marginal cost with the average cost. Content providers were willing to license their movies and television shows cheaply to Netflix as long as Netflix had a small customer base: it was extra revenue for the companies, and it was probably mostly substituting for DVD rentals, which they didn't make money off of anyway, so it was essentially free money.

You can get a sweet deal if you are the customer who gets marginal cost pricing. Medicare does this--reimburses hospitals at above their marginal cost, but below their average cost, so that private insurers have to pick up most of the hospital overhead. European countries do this with prescription drugs: reimburse above the marginal cost of producing the pills, but below the total cost of developing the pills, so that the US has to pick up most of the tab for drug development.

The problem is that as voters and as customers, we often get the notion that this can be extrapolated to everyone. So liberal policy wonks want to save money by putting everyone on Medicare, or some equivalent program that uses the government's monopsony pricing power to get lower prices for everyone; thrifty customers think that everyone should drop cable and just pay $14.95 for streaming plus DVDs.

But everyone cannot be the marginal cost consumer. Someone has to cover things like development costs.

That's the point that gets missed. Sure, living off marginal costs may work for a while, but eventually that R & D and infrastructure wears out and has to be replaced or replenished. We can only live off the work of previous generations for so long. No free lunch and all that. Eventually you have to pay to keep the same level of service.

September 20, 2011

Should Rep. Dan Gordon Be Forced Out?

Patrick Laverty

Dan Gordon is the embattled RI State Representative from District 71, representing Portsmouth, Tiverton and Little Compton now facing calls for his resignation. According to the Providence Journal, he will "absolutely not" step down.

That would seem there are only a couple other options to forcibly remove him from office. There was previously some mention of a 2/3 vote (of whom?) that could remove him. I cannot find any mention of this in the RIGL or the RI House Rules that would allow the General Assembly or just the House to take a vote and remove Gordon from office. I do see that the Ethics Commission may remove someone by way of a 2/3 vote of the Commission. However, former Senator William Irons' court case basically gutted the Commission of its power and in response, the Commission hasn't been taking on big issues since. Plus, the Ethics Commission's focus has been on when politicians financially benefit from their position in power. That does not appear to be the case here.
The other option would be for the voters of his district to request a recall election. The rules for such are spelled out in the RI Constitution in Article IV, Section 1. One of the stated requirements for a recall is

Recall is authorized in the case of a general officer who has been indicted or informed against for a felony, convicted of a misdemeanor, or against whom a finding of probable cause of violation of the code of ethics has been made by the ethics commission.
Also, the time frame for recalling a State Rep is extremely small.
Recall shall not, however be instituted at any time during the first six (6) months or the last year of an individual's term of office.
So based on that timeframe, recall is out of the question from January to June of this year and from January to December of 2012. That leaves a timeframe of July 1 to December 31 of this year.

I am not advocating for the recall of Gordon, but I think if he is no longer in office, it should only be by one of two ways, voluntary resignation or the voters of his district make the choice.

It seems that the situation happening is conflating multiple charges. The most serious charges against him were lodged and some later dropped, and his time in prison was all before he was elected. Did the voters of District 71 know about that when they chose him? I can't answer for each one, but this is yet another example of misinformed voters and apathetic voters. It's a shame when voters go to the polls and vote with very little information, often not much more than looking at the party designation. If voters aren't going to do their homework on their candidates, that's on them.

Lastly, what are the charges that are causing such a stir now? What has risen to the point where both Gordon Fox and Brian Newberry have called for Dan Gordon's ouster? According to the Providence Journal

eluding the police and three other motor vehicle violations.
So let's be serious here. These are two separate issues. The voters elected him with the serious charges and jail time, in his past. The current charges are motor vehicle violations, and still, he hasn't even been convicted. That is what we want to remove an elected representative over?

Should Gordon be forced out of office? That's not for me to decide. That's for the people he represents, the people of RI House District 71.

Updated: Andrew and commenter John Marion informed me that the House can in fact remove a member by a 2/3 vote according to Article VI, Section 7

Rules of houses -- Contempt. -- Each house may determine its rules of proceeding, punish contempts, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member; but not a second time for the same cause.
However, my point stands, based on the current charges, I believe the only ones to remove Gordon from office should be either Gordon himself or the people who elected him.

195 Commission Head So Rhode Island

Justin Katz

It's difficult to read the Providence Journal's profile of Colin Kane — whom Governor Chafee has appointed to head the powerful commission addressing the land freed up by the I-Way project — without feeling that strong sense that there are two Rhode Islands: His family's relationship with the Chafees goes back to 1976, when Kane's father was a principal of a Providence elementary school and his mother was PTA President at the Chafee's neighborhood public school. Senatorial candidate John Chafee encouraged Mrs. Kane to run for state representative, and she did, and she won.

Colin went into construction — on the development end — and was an early mover on a policy that essentially pushed some zoning decisions into the state's purview:

The partners jumped into the affordable-housing market before a slew of private developers flooded communities with similar proposals. The change in the law had suddenly made private developers eligible to bypass local zoning regulations –– as long as at least 20 percent of their proposals were affordable-housing units.

He's become known around the State House for advocating for causes that help developers, and his mother wants him to be governor. All of this is fine, as far as it goes, and reading between the lines of the article, I suspect Kane and Anchor Rising readers would agree on a number of issues. This land development panel, however, stinks of the state's usual habits. Consider:

Chafee said 70 people jockeyed for the unpaid spots on the Route 195 commission.

It would be naive in the extreme to think that public spiritedness provided more than a gloss of motivation. This is how Rhode Island sluices around power and influence. It's how the insider club rewards itself, sets its members apart, and constructs public policy to reward them.

September 19, 2011

In-State Tuition For Illegal Aliens: When Did the Board of Regents Acquire the Constitutional Ability To Appropriate?

Monique Chartier

Patrick highlights the recommendation by a Board of Regents panel that the state offer to illegal aliens the ability to attend state colleges at the much lower tuition rate paid by in-state residents. The ProJo 7 to 7 News Blog reports that the Board of Regents Board of Governors for Higher Education is expected to adopt the recommendation at its September 26 meeting.

That's interesting because, as I understand, the Rhode Island Constitution confers the power of taxing and spending solely on the legislature.

But in order for in-state tuition to be broadened (to any additional group), the state would have to pick up the shortfall between in-state tution and the actual cost to educate the student. For the University of Rhode Island, that shortfall is $12,500+ per student.

Accordingly, I will be calling the offices of Speaker Fox and Governor Chafee tomorrow to ask each of them the following:

1.) How do they feel about the Board of Regents' Board of Governors for Higher Education's apparent intention to add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the state's budget shortfall and

2.) More importantly, how do they feel about the Board of Regents Board of Governors for Higher Education doing so by usurping the power of the legislative branch.

In State Tuition for Non-Citizens Again

Patrick Laverty

A panel of the Governor's Board of Higher Education has recommended that Rhode Island offer in-state tuition to non-residents of Rhode Island. If you're not a US resident or citizen, is it possible to be a Rhode Island resident, by the legal definition? I guess according to the Board of Governors, you can.

Even more interesting, the fact sheet from the Board of Governors says that there will be no extra cost to the taxpayers, but will actually lead to additional revenues. I honestly don't see how this can be a true statement. Looking at the costs of one semester's tuition at URI, I see:


When I see that difference (per semester), I ask why? Why is there that difference? Is it because $25,912 is the true cost of educating a student at URI? If it is, where does the remaining $16,000 come from? Don't the taxpayers make up that difference through the support the school gets in the state budget? So if you add more in-state students, you increase the cost to the taxpayers. The fact sheet also claimed this change would add approximately 31 extra students to the state college system. If all 31 of them attended URI (a very unlikely scenario), that is an extra half million dollars that needs to be paid. Not only that, the fact sheet claims there were currently 74 undocumented immigrants attending Rhode Island's state colleges and paying out of state tuition. If we give them in-state tuition and also figure they all attend URI, that is an extra $1.2M. So this change could, in a worst-case scenario, cost the state an extra $1.7M for one semester or $3.4M for the academic year.

Going back to the table and seeing that $16,088 difference between in-state and out of state tuition, if that $25k number isn't the true cost of educating a student at URI, then is the $9,824 the true cost? If it is, then why do we charge out of state students an extra $16,000? That would results in millions of dollars of profits for URI for all those out of state students.

I don't know of any other possibility. One of those numbers is the true cost of educating a student for a semester at URI. I believe the first scenario is far more likely to be true, which makes me extremely skeptical of statements that there is no extra cost to the taxpayers.

September 18, 2011

Teachers Bucking Their Union

Patrick Laverty

Out in Chicago, Democrat Mayor and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel campaigned on a promise of longer school days. Now that he's actually following through with this, the teacher's union is balking. But the part of this that is most surprising is the teachers are knowingly and voluntarily contradicting their own union.

Last month, the union rejected the district’s offer to give elementary school teachers a 2 percent raise in exchange for adding 90-minutes to the school day.
Maybe not so surprisingly, the union is accusing the school district of bribery and coercion to get the extra school time in place. I think the part I don't understand is why is it now bribery to pay teachers more money for extra work, but when the union wants to discuss that kind of setup, it's called "compensation". If the union's not involved or opposed, it's "bribery". Just making sure I have all the facts straight. And as to that whole coercion part
STEM principal Maria McManus said her staff had been discussing a longer day since August 1, when staff received their schedules. “The teachers asked for it,” she said.

So then we can wonder how the union is taking this with regard to its members. I'm sure the union understands that it actually works for the teachers and not the other way around right? Because if the teachers want to do something in the name of improving education, who is the union to stand in their way?

A STEM staff member who participated in Friday’s meeting said a CTU representative came to the school to speak to the staff about the waiver vote. The staff member said the representative seemed to be using “scare tactics”, at one point telling teachers he would put on his “mean hat.”

“He made it seem like it was more about the rights and compensation and less about the importance of the extra time,” she said. “He didn’t really hear our voice.”

So I guess the teachers being educated professionals in the field know less about what would be good for the students than the unions?

So how much extra time are we talking about here? In RI, the minimum requirement is 5.5 hours of instruction time and 180 days. That math says we must have 59,400 minutes or 990 hours in a school year. In Chicago, the current requirement is 52,360 minutes a year or 873 hours. That works out to about 4.85 hours of instruction a day in Chicago. They're looking to add an extra 1.5 hours a day. That is quite the investment for teachers and what they're being offered in return is a 2% raise.

So let this serve as a blog post where teachers are congratulated for doing what is right, doing what is best for education and the students they serve, even if they are directly contradicting the wishes of their own union.

David and PolitiFact on the Same Wavelength

Justin Katz

It's funny what different people find to be of interest in political documents. When I read the letter that David Cicilline sent to Monique regarding his vote against an amendment to Congressional legislation intended to ease rules of engagement restrictions for U.S. troops, what struck me were the careful words related to the right to bear arms (emphasis added):

I joined 141 other Democrats and 18 Republicans in voting against this amendment because it does nothing to change existing rules of engagement for American service members. Our men and women in uniform already possess the right to bear arms whenever they are in harm's way. Furthermore, when they are instructed on the rules of engagement, our troops are explicitly told that nothing prevents them from using deadly force to defend themselves. That's why a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which oversees all American military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, told the Wall Street Journal that H.AMDT. 318 "would likely not change a thing" about existing policy for the Armed Forces.

When are America's military personnel considered to be "in harm's way"? The amendment, itself, seems a little more broad:

The Secretary of Defense shall ensure that the rules of engagement applicable to members of the Armed Forces assigned to duty in any hostile fire area designated for purposes of section 310 or 351 (a) (1) of title 37, Unites States Code -- (1) fully protect the members’ right to bear arms; and (2) authorize the members to fully defend themselves from hostile actions.

That seems to me to ensure a right to bear arms for troops "assigned to duty" in a particular region, whether or not they happen to be within the "hostile fire area." In other words, a soldier with a little free time in Kabul would take the Second Amendment with him, even though he's not on the battlefield.

For its part, PolitiFact was more interested in the question of whether the amendment would actually change rules of engagement policy. So, the reporters turned to three military experts, at least one of whom appeared to be sufficiently ignorant of the subject as to address language that doesn't even appear in the amendment:

Victor Hansen, a professor at New England Law in Boston, described the language in Mica’s amendment -- "to proactively defend" -- as "loaded" and so broad that it was impossible to define for a practical purpose.

In the amendment that PolitiFact cites in the article, I see the language "fully defend." Happily, the Congressional record agrees with my eyes and not the experts.

Reading a little farther down, where PolitiFact paraphrases the question that it posed to U.S. Major Jason Waggoner, one gets the impression that "proactive" is actually the journalist's word. And, indeed, it appears ultimately to come from the title that Monique gave to her post, "Proactively Defending Himself: The Congressman from the First District Responds."

For the record, I doubt anybody disputes the rights of elected officials to "proactively defend" themselves against criticism. Furthermore, as wise as she is, I'm sure very few Americans would empower Monique to legislate via subject line.

What seems legitimately disputable is whether the amendment that Rep. John Mica (R, FL) proposed, and the U.S. House passed, is actually as ineffectual as Cicilline and PolitiFact claim. After all, PolitiFact's experts characterize the language as "vague" and allude to "years of 'arguments among lawyers' aver what [the amendment] means." In other words, it is defensible to argue that the amendment will have no effect, but it isn't exactly a statement of fact. Otherwise, there would be no possibility of legal disagreement.

To be sure, checking the C-SPAN video and transcript, one can see that the two Democrats who spoke in opposition to the amendment did not do so because it would do nothing, but because it would do something. As Rep. Robert Andrews (D., NJ) explained:

I frankly agree that there are very, very few circumstances I could imagine where we would not want our troops in the field to be fully armed to their complete comfort and satisfaction level. And so it's hard for me to imagine a circumstance where that's not the case.

But it's easy for me to understand a circumstance where the person in the field who is charged with the responsibility of achieving the mission and achieving maximum protection of his or her troops should have the authority to make that decision.

It's a simple matter to produce examples of rules of engagement articles that refer to the inviolable right to self defense, as the Wall Street Journal does, in the piece that Cicilline cites, but it remains true that they can vary in some particulars from commander to commander and zone to zone. Where are troops considered to be within a hostile area? What steps must they apply to determine their own safety and the threat posed by a possible attacker? The 1999 Marine Corps Combat Manual, for example, requires "defensive tactics to neutralize the threat" if an attacker is unarmed. It seems to me highly probable that Mica's language will have some effect on the balance of judgment of Marines who find lethal force necessary when no weapon is visible.

I'm not arguing the case for or against the amendment, here, but Cicilline's statement that this amendment would do nothing is incomplete. The more significant question in need of research and discussion is why he voted against it. Like his Democrat colleagues, he may not have wanted to dictate minute military policy from Washington. Like PolitiFact's experts, he may not have liked the prospect of years of litigation. But the representative makes neither point, so why was "no" his default position?

That question would be difficult for PolitiFact, with its mainstream-media resources (or even me, with a search engine and a couple of hours to squeeze in for posting on a Sunday), to answer. However, if there are so few questionable facts being flung around in political debate on welfare, employment, pensions, healthcare, and so on that PolitiFact has the space to side with Cicilline on this minor matter, then the reporters could have looked more deeply (and without leading their experts to embarrass themselves by commenting on inaccurate language).

My gut tells me that Cicilline was more concerned about how an affirmative vote on a bill using the phrase "right to bear arms" might look on some progressive tally sheet during election season than with passing superfluous legislation. I grade his letter as "half true" and PolitiFact's judgment as "false."

September 17, 2011

Well, When You Put It That Way

Justin Katz

Mark Steyn may be the perfect columnist for his times, because one really needs a flair for humor of the absurd to comment appropriately on the absurdity of modern Western governance:

The estimated cost of the non-bill is just shy of half a trillion dollars. Gosh, it seems like only yesterday that Washington was in the grip of a white-knuckle, clenched-teeth showdown over whether a debt ceiling deal could be reached before the allegedly looming deadline. When the deal was triumphantly unveiled at the eleventh hour, it was revealed that our sober, prudent, fiscally responsible masters had gotten control of the runaway spending and had carved (according to the most optimistic analysis) a whole $7 billion of savings out of the 2012 budget. The president then airily breezes into Congress and in 20 minutes adds another $447 billion to the tab. That’s what meaningful course correction in Washington boils down to: seven billion steps forward, 447 billion steps back.

This $447 billion does not exist, and even foreigners don't want to lend it to us. A majority of it will be "electronically created" by the Federal Reserve buying U.S. Treasury debt. Don't worry, it's not like "printing money": we leave that to primitive basket-cases like Zimbabwe. This is more like one of those Nigerian email schemes, in which a prominent public official promises you a large sum of money in return for your bank account details. In the case of Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner, one prominent public official is promising to wire a large sum of money into the account of another prominent public official, which is a wrinkle even the Nigerians might have difficulty selling.

As Steyn points out, there is no bill to pass, yet, still:

... back on the campaign trail the chanting goes on, last week's election results in Nevada and New York notwithstanding. America has the lowest employment since the early Eighties, the lowest property ownership since the mid-Sixties, the highest deficit-to-GDP ratio since the Second World War, the worst long-term unemployment since the Great Depression, the highest government dependency rate of all time, and the biggest debt mountain in the history of the planet.

It's time we start learning, lest we prove ourselves crazy through repetition.

September 15, 2011

Oh Froma

Patrick Laverty

I never really paid much attention previously to people's opinions of Froma Harrop and her columns. That is in part because I've seen her criticized from both sides of the political spectrum, so how bad can she really be? Well, her column on Wednesday in the Providence Journal sure seemed to make her biases evident.

Let's start with the opening sentence:

"If the 2012 election were held today, Republicans could very well have their heads handed to them."

I don't quite understand this one. I looked up the Generic Congressional Vote polling on and I see a dead heat. The polls just generically ask people, who would you vote for, the Democrat or the Republican. The answer comes out a perfect split tie at 41.3% each. I'm not sure how that is getting your "head handed to you".

Next, if we need any other election results to be an indication, then look no further than New York's Ninth Congressional district where Rep-elect Bob Turner is the first Republican to win that seat since 1920. During that campaign, even the popular Democrat and former NYC mayor Ed Koch came out in support of the Republican to specifically "send a message" to President Obama that his policies are unacceptable. Even the president's own popularity polls are often an indication of which party will be victorious in the upcoming election. Obama's disapproval rating currently leads his approval rating by 7 points. I'm not sure where Harrop gets this "head handed to them" idea.

Then, one of her very next sentences:

"Their debt-ceiling hijinks were no doubt immensely amusing to the Tea Party fringe"

Debt-ceiling hijinks? Maybe she's unaware that the country is having some financial issues right now and there wasn't that much attention being paid to fixing the issue. Just keep borrowing and borrowing without fixing the structural problem? No, something needed to be done and rather than making a five minute speech that only the Speaker and any homebound CSPAN viewer at 2 in the afternoon would see, they decided to stand up and do what they could to fix the problem. And look what's happening now, there is some focus on fixing the deficits and runaway spending. That doesn't sound like hijinks, that sounds like being responsible and doing the job you were elected to do.

"We’ve reached the part of the Western where the townsfolk, long intimidated by a gang of bullies, suddenly find their courage and fight back. A snowballing of suppressed rage bodes ill for the Grand Old Party."

I agree with the first part. I am tired of the same old Washington, the same old lies, the same old business as usual. However, I think her second sentence has the wrong target. I think the suppressed rage may bode ill for many incumbents.

However, with her belief that the bully is the GOP and the Tea Party, who is this "we" that she speaks of? Clearly she's speaking from a Democrat's point of view and trying to project her single opinion on others. I don't see that happening. This is like a conservative columnist claiming in early 2007 that the Democrats were being too whiny and would end up the big losers in the mid-term elections. We know how that turned out.

"[The Tea Party's] circus act helped push a U.S. debt downgrade"

But what effectively originally it? Obama and the Congress' mismanagement of the financial situations, bailouts and stimulus borrowing. The ratings agency even admitted that part of the reason for the downgrade was that the spending cuts did not go far enough. How far would the downgrade have gone if there were no cuts?

And there's also Harrop with her revisionist history:

"It was against that sour public mood that Bob Dole, the Kansas Republican, ran against Bill Clinton in 1996. He lost."

Yes, Dole lost in 1996 as did Walter Mondale in 1984. Both candidates were running against extremely popular presidents in a time when America was very prosperous and going well. When America is chugging along well, why would you want to change the president? Conversely, when America is moving like we are now, is exactly the time to change both the President and Congress.

Watch "Attack Waaaatch" Commercial

Monique Chartier


As the 2012 presidential campaign heats up, President Obama’s campaign team has set up a new Web site,, to challenge negative statements about the president made by Republican presidential candidates and conservatives.

Obama for America national field director Jeremy Bird told ABC News that the site’s goal is to offer “resources to fight back” against attacks. Mostly, that means fact checking statements from the likes of GOP presidential contenders Mitt Romney and Rick Perry and conservative commentator Glenn Beck and offering evidence to the contrary. The site is designed in bold red and black colors, and uses statements like “support the truth” and “fight the smears.”

The response to the site has been less than stellar. ...

“There's a new Twitter account making President Obama look like a creepy, authoritarian nutjob,” an Arizonan tweeted. “In less than 24 hours, Attack Watch has become the biggest campaign joke in modern history,” a contributor to conservative blog The Right Sphere wrote. The contributor linked to the following parody commercial for Attack Watch:

(... wait, am I going to get reported to the real "Attack Watch" website for highlighting this video???)

A Focus on Spreading Largess

Justin Katz

Meanwhile, in education, Commissioner Deborah Gist is trying to change the way in which Rhode Island schools handle's a teacher's career trajectory so that performance coincides with raises and advancement. (Readers from the private sector may recognize this strange concept as "the way things work.") One of the means by which the commissioner would achieve this shift is through the certification process:

For the first time, certification would be tied to a teacher's effectiveness in the classroom, based on the new evaluation system rolling out this fall.

Also, certification would be tiered, with new teachers receiving a three-year "initial" certificate, and advancing to a five-year "professional certificate" if their evaluations are satisfactory. To distinguish the top level, teachers who are "highly effective" would be eligible for a seven-year "advanced" certificate.

Moreover, teachers wouldn't necessarily reap rewards for putting in their time in a college classroom, gaining credits. Instead, working with their principals — and with reference to their evaluations — they would pursue continuing education that applies to their own skill sets and situations. That could still mean college courses, but it could also mean workshops or other less formal (potentially less costly) activities.

Not surprisingly, some members of the Rhode Island Certification Policy Advisory Board, "which includes teachers union officials, the heads of schools of education at the state colleges, and representatives of teachers, principals and superintendents," aren't fond of the idea. Rhode Island College Dean of the School of Education Alexander Sidorkin, for example, thinks it's important for teachers to continue purchasing his organization's offered courses. To reach the "advanced certificate," he'd like to require teachers to have purchased their full Master's worth of 30 credits.

Any teacher who goes through RIC would thereby ensure that Sidorkin's department would bring in something north of $11,400 per teacher. It doesn't take but a bit of back-of-the-envelope calculation to observe that the market in question amounts to tens of millions of dollars.

Nonetheless, a professional analyst of such things, Arthur McKee, doesn't think this money transfer (ultimately from the taxpayer to institutions of higher education) is necessarily worth the investment:

"By and large, getting a master's degree in education does not increase effectiveness in the classroom, whatsoever," he said.

But it does increase the revenue of organizations with representatives in notable positions in state government.

September 14, 2011

Two Republican Victories in Congress

Patrick Laverty

The Republicans won two US House seats by special election yesterday, in Nevada and New York. In Nevada, Republican Mark Amodel won the seat replacing Dean Heller who was appointed to replace John Ensign. The Nevada win wasn't unexpected as that district has never elected a Democrat in its history, but a 22-point victory was bigger than expected.

The more surprising result was Republican Bob Turner winning in New York's 9th district, a seat previously held by Mark Weiner, of Twitter fame. Turner's 8-point win doesn't sound like much until you learn the demographics of the district.

the district is registered three to one in favor of Democrats and the Queens party machine is strong, they had over 1,000 volunteers in the district in a get out the vote effort knocking on doors over the weekend and the past two days. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent more than $500,000 in television ads in the district.

Outside groups also poured money in the race and Sheinkopf estimates that the Democrats could have outspent Republicans “six or eight to one” in the race.

So if this is a heavily Democratic district with a great volunteer effort and a huge war chest and still loses, that can't be a good sign for Democrats and President Obama heading into the 2012 election season.

Turner ran a campaign that could and probably should be replicated here in Rhode Island. The focus of his campaign was to run against Congress and President Obama rather than his opponents. This makes great sense as Congress always has horrible popularity polls. Currently, has a job approval rating of just 13%. President Obama has an approval rating of 44% and disapproval of 51%. Turner came pretty close to blatantly admitting his focus was on the President and not his Democratic opponent. One of the campaign issues was the President's stance on borders in Israel, and Turner admitted:

“It’s not about my position or his [Weprin] which are pretty identical, it’s the president’s position and if you are with the party or against it, simple as that and will this district, which is surprisingly overwhelmingly Democratic, will they go along with the president and be able to be taken for granted as it were or will they send this message of protest and dissatisfaction,” Turner told ABC News.

Maybe a similar strategy could be adopted by candidates in RI running against David Cicilline, Jim Langevin and Sheldon Whitehouse. Run against the body instead of the individual and put a focus on the job approval ratings. Individual polling numbers are often quite higher than those for Congress as a whole. However, in spite of his 17% approval rating in March, I'd be willing to guess that Cicilline might be pleased to get up to a 13% job approval rating pretty soon.

Only fourteen months to find out whether this was a sign of things to come.

HIV Being Used to Cure Cancer

Patrick Laverty

I first heard of this through the comic strip XKCD and thought that it was the author exaggerating a research trial a little. Turns out, he was spot on.

The New York Times wrote about a recent study where doctors are able to used an attenuated HIV-1 to infiltrate and destroy cancer cells. The nutshell version of what HIV does is it attacks the body's immune system, particularly the T-cells, and leaves the body unable to defend itself. HIV doesn't directly kill people, but it does leave a body in such a weakened state so that any little cold or infection is then life-threatening.

In their normal state, T-cells are unable to fight off cancer cells and tumors. However, scientists have figured out a way to reprogram the genes of HIV in a way that helps T-cells destroy cancerous cells. The HIV-infected T-cells are then re-introduced to the patient and the battle is on.

The first trial only included three leukemia patients, all of which had reached the limits of chemotherapy. Today, two of the three are currently in complete remission, the other is in partial remission. Doctors are not completely certain of the reason for the partial, as many variables come into play.

So is there a tradeoff between having terminal cancer and instead choosing to infect oneself with HIV that later becomes AIDS? Researchers say no, because

"the virus used by his team was 'gutted' and was no longer harmful."
There is one minor drawback to the treatment, the T-cells do completely destroy all of the body's B-cells, another major component of the immune system, but a periodic infusion of other infection fighting substances can help that.

This seems like a major breakthrough in the field of cancer research. I'm guessing just about everyone has been either directly or indirectly touched by the effects of cancer, or they know they are genetically predisposed to the disease.

This research is still in its early stages, but hopefully within a few years, the trials can be successfully repeated and this will become another tool in the fight against cancer.

September 13, 2011

It's a Ponzi Scheme

Carroll Andrew Morse

Ramesh Ponnuru is wrong in the New York Times discussion where he claims that one reason that Social Security shouldn't be considered a full-blown Ponzi scheme is because it is involuntary.

Think of it this way: Suppose Bernie Madoff requested that he be allowed to do community service as part of his prison sentence, in the form of administering the Social Securty program.

In the Madoff-run Social Securtiy program, planning for the future would be based on 10% annual returns on money "invested" in the "trust fund" that he would promise to deliver. And since the "trust fund" would be doing so well, there'd be no need for any Social Security reform. In fact, the aniticpated surplus promised by Madoff would be so large, the government would be able to resume its practice of a few years prior and began immediately to spend social security payroll taxes on other Federal programs, in anticipation of the new investment revenues, while all current retirees continued to receive their checks. Madoff would also need some money for operating expenses, like a fleet of private jets to take him between the 7 or 8 beachfront mansions he would need to be able to monitor the program from various locations in the United States.

But suppose that in reality -- shocking as this may sound -- Madoff applied the same financial practices that made him infamous to the new funds he had access to, i.e. instead of investing the money, he simply used the money coming in from newer program participants (current workers mandated by law to send him their money) to pay off longer-term participants (current retirees) and took some for himself.

Voluntary versus involuntary has no bearing on the issue. Madoff would still be running the same kind of Ponzi scheme he was running before. He just would have found a new way to "convince" people to give him a part of their incomes.

Victory for the Unions?

Patrick Laverty

This morning, Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter ruled against a summary judgement for the state and said there is an implied contract between the state and the unions with regard to their pensions. It seems the state was seeking to get a Council 94 lawsuit thrown out, via summary judgement, saying that because the pensions are not collectively bargained, there is no contract and as such, the state can do what it chooses with regard to the pension program. Not so fast says the judge:

Defendants envision an ERSRI [the Employees Retirement System of Rhode Island] under which the State may, with or without justification, significantly alter or completely terminate a public employee’s pension benefits at any time – even just one day – before retirement. In light of the major purposes underlying public pensions, as recognized by our own Supreme Court, such a construction of the ERSRI is untenable. …

The case law does not preclude but rather supports this Court’s holding that Plaintiffs, as ten-year veterans of the State, possess a contractual relationship with the State pertaining to retirement allowances and COLA benefits which are not subject to collective bargaining.

The full 39 page ruling is available thanks to Ted Nesi on his blog. As this ruling just came out in the last hour or so and I haven't read it yet, I'm not going to pretend to know much more about it yet. But this sure sounds like there's another huge hurdle for Gina Raimondo and the General Assembly to clear before they can make any huge changes.
I'm sure more details and discussion will be forthcoming.

Earned Benefits, Core Benefits, and COLAs

Carroll Andrew Morse

Ian Donnis of WRNI radio's (1290AM) On Politics Blog reports on a potentially interesting quote from Rhode Island General Treasurer Gina Raimondo regarding the broad parameters of a pension reform proposal...

State Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s pension briefing to the state Senate was nearing its conclusion this afternoon when she dropped a mini-bombshell in response to a lawmaker’s question: she hopes to fix the state’s pension crisis without cutting the earned benefits of public employees.
The exact meaning of the above hinges on the meaning of "earned benefits", which is a term that I do not believe has a precise legal or actuarial definition. However, in response to a question asked by a retired teacher at last week's Scituate Democratic Town Committee pension forum, Treasurer Raimondo referred to not cutting "core benefits" of retirees at the same time she was saying that cost-of-living increases might be trimmed (Audio here)...
If something happens to the COLA, and I don't know if it will, as you know the core benefit won't go down, it might just be an adjustment to how much it goes up.
...i.e. the COLA was not being considered part of the "core benefits". If "earned benefits" as the same thing as or closely related to "core benefits", it is possible that the reference to "earned benefits" does not remove from the proverbial table 1) changes to COLAs for everyone, or 2) changes to not-yet retired employees, who haven't yet put it in all of the time necessary to "earn" their benefits.

It seems to be an unavoidable consequence of the politics of the pension debate that money will be divided up in less-than-obvious ways for the purposes of public discussion.

A Rumored Battle

Justin Katz

After revisiting some of the coverage from 9/11/01, on Sunday,I have to say that the controversy over state Representative Dan Gordon's ouster from the state Republican caucus seems like a minor affair, indeed. Before he declined to run last time around, another Republican representative from Tiverton, Joe Amaral, also didn't caucus with the party, and nobody seemed to think it made much difference.

But there's controversy involved with Gordon's break, and personal disputes, so local Democrats want to spread the tar to as many of their targets as possible, and that appears to include me.

There's no denying that Dan Gordon has raised some red flags. The largest of them came with his reaction to news about formation of a gay-straight alliance at Tiverton High School. His statements were foolish, both politically and in their content, and he stood entirely alone, but he'd given his opponents a trumpet, and they played it far and wide. Still, one can hope that he learned the full array of lessons from the incident.

With regard to the Republican Caucus, after spending some hours, this weekend, trying to understand what happened, I'm still not willing to pass decisive judgment; it involves two distinct narratives in a far-reaching he said/she said of an intensely personal nature. The practical summary is that several Republicans weren't comfortable around Gordon and questioned his behavior, most especially when it came to commenting on Facebook, and there was a long buildup of tension. (Anybody who's spent any time at all reading online comment sections — with participants across the political spectrum — can imagine how such a buildup proceeds.)

Finally, with the next legislative session approaching, House Minority Leader Brian Newberry (R, North Smithfield, Burrillville) sent Gordon a letter as part of a continuing effort to address the personal differences, insisting on a change of behavior. Gordon posted the letter online in an antagonistic way, and that was the final straw. It's not as dramatic as some decisive act of violence or public tirade might have been, but that appears to have been the ultimate catalyst for the vote of expulsion.

A key reason that I'm not ready to take all of the accusations against Gordon at face value is the willingness of his detractors (especially local Democrats, but Republicans, as well) to spread their insinuations so darkly that it seems as if they're really describing the plot of a made-for-TV movie. Some of these insinuations are, again, personal, but a major one involves the nature of Gordon's business, and his profession before registering it.

In the '90s, Gordon was discharged from the Marines because of problems, he tells me, with his leg. He spent some years, thereafter, working in various roles as a carpenter, and in 2006, registered his company, Alliance Building Contractors. Anonymous online commenters have thought it peculiar that local contractors don't know Gordon's company, but the nature of its projects provides adequate explanation, mostly because he hasn't worked around here.

Basically, as indicated here and here, Gordon's is listed as a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business, which makes him eligible to claim the 3% of projects set aside for such companies. As with government set-asides for minority-owned businesses, this creates the opportunity for a person in the preferred category to get into the business mainly as a facilitator, subcontracting the work out to other companies that otherwise wouldn't be eligible for that 3% of the pie. The work that the contractor/manager/facilitator actually does will vary from project to project, but it really needn't be but very involved or intensive.

Personally, I'm not a fan of such programs, but it's difficult to fault people for taking advantage of them, if they're available. More importantly, for my purposes with this post, it explains why the online presence of Alliance Building wouldn't match that of a middling-sized local contracting company.

On the broader matter of Gordon's status as a state representative, I haven't heard complaints from Republicans and conservatives about his legislative record, and that's the critical factor in judging his activities as a legislator. That said, unless he exhibits an ability to contain the problems that have repeatedly made him a figure of controversy in his short career in the RI House, he'll have proven himself too risky of an ally to support for reelection.

You know, folks across the political spectrum decry the results of government consisting entirely of polished politicians. I'm an advocate of having political careers begin at the local level so that the unpolished can have some experience as public figures on a scale that's small enough to allow mistakes and so that they'll have some sort of public record as they move up to larger constituencies.

Still, we construct our government of those who step forward, and that's what Dan Gordon did. Frankly, from observation at public meetings, I'm not persuaded that his opposition, in the last election, would have been much less erratic, and I'm confident that he would have been less likely to push Rhode Island toward the deep changes that the state's very survival requires.

September 12, 2011

From the End of the Pension Study Commission, On To???

Carroll Andrew Morse

Ted Nesi of WPRI-TV (CBS 12) has a review of today's final meeting of "the Chafee-Raimondo pension advisory group", which doubles as a preview for the General Assembly's upcoming session that is supposed to meaningfully tackle the states' pension issue. One theme that seems to be emerging is that reamortization is being considered, in conjunction with some other reforms...

  • One of Newton’s slides offered a menu of six options for dealing with the pension funding issue, with varying mixes of reamortizations, COLA freezes, state taxpayer contributions, and transitions to partial 401k-style plans. They’d get the state to 80% funding between 2024 and 2029 at a total cost to state taxpayers of $3.94 billion to $4.99 billion depending on which options are chosen.
  • Even the cheapest options laid out by actuary Newton aren’t cheap. One alternative he set up gets to 80% funding by 2024 at a 25-year cost to taxpayers of $3.94 billion; another gets there by 2029 at a 25-year cost of $4.99 billion. Reamortization hawks pointed to that as evidence for why further delay in shoring up the fund is so costly, but supporters said the annual contribution has to be affordable to taxpayers.

September 11, 2011

Emotional Ground Zero

Justin Katz

Like Andrew, I remember all the particulars of that day. I was editing part time from home, and the Providence school system hadn't called in my wife, five months pregnant with our first child, as a substitute teacher, so we were both home. I had just begun my morning workout on the machine in my office when she called from the living room that the World Trade Center was on fire.

"That can't be an accident," I told her when I glimpsed the plane's outline through the smoke. I grew up almost literally in the shadow of the Twin Towers — they were visible from the New Jersey apartment in which I grew up — so I knew they'd be impossible not to see, especially with the hit center mass, like a bullet hole in a shooting victim's heart. But there was no real news, yet, so I returned to the office, just for a few minutes... when the voice of shock came through the doorway.

"Another plane just hit."


"A plane hit the other tower."

You saw it? Yes. What kind? An airliner. Just flew right into it? Yes.

And that's when the word crystallized in my mind: "terrorists." I started calling and emailing family and friends. For twenty-two minutes after the Pentagon strike, it was still possible to imagine a return to normal. Then the South Tower fell, and for twenty-nine more minutes it was possible to imagine how odd the North Tower would look, standing alone until its reflection had been rebuilt. Then a massive pillar of smoke drifted down the height of the tower and blew away, and there was nothing there. An unhealable hole.

For me, the Pentagon increased the scope of the attack, but it didn't really change anything. It was hard to imagine being hit any closer to home than the Trade Center, and unless the attacks made the transition to WMD, the war had already moved on, hitting my countrymen closer to their homes.

As the most visible spires of New York City, the Twin Towers had been a constant reminder, during my childhood, of just how close The Economy and The World were. I could see them from my porch. 9/11 made that symbol manifest.

My brother-in-law, Mark, captains a tug boat, and being on assignment in the area, helped in the effort to ferry evacuees across the Hudson River to New Jersey. Among those crowds were Chris and Doug, two of my closest friends, who worked not far from the WTC. Doug had been an usher at my wedding, and when I talked to him after the attack, he told me about the officials calling out to those whom the boats dropped off, trying to gather information from anybody who'd been within a certain radius of the attack. The word "quarantine" had been in the air.

Childhood friend Brian had certainly been within that radius. He had run from collapsing debris and relived the moment in nightmares for years thereafter.

If two other graduates from my high school, Todd Ouida and Scott Rohner, saw the South Tower fall, they were never fortunate enough to have nightmares about it. Both worked two floors above the hole that Flight 11 had made in the North. One of Scott's older brothers had been in my graduating class, and Todd and I shared a birthday, although he was a year younger.

At the very moment that alumni of my high school ran or watched a familiar symbol of advanced civilization return to dust, an alumnus of my childhood judo dojo, Jeremy Glick, was fighting for his own life and hundreds of others' as one of the heroes of Flight 93.

The World and world events are never far.

Frankly, the extensive coverage of 9/11's ten-year anniversary in which just about every media organization has engaged for a week or more has had an aftertaste of the gratuitous. Does the United States still feel the presence of that unhealable hole? Does "where were you" remain any more than a parlor game? Did the quick growing up of multiple generations of Americans take hold as a permanent maturation?

For many of us, the answer is undeniable, "yes." Whether we are enough for the purposes of history, only time will tell.


Carroll Andrew Morse

At work, a co-worker had bought a television and set it up in the break room, so that everyone could follow the news of the attacks. All of the networks were into continuous coverage by now. I remember stopping by the break room at one point and watching a crawl go across the bottom of the television screen carrying an unconfirmed report of a plane crash in rural Pennsylvania. In the fog of war, sometimes big news will initially be reported in a small way.

Let history remember that the terrorists who seized Flight 93, despite their excess of brutality and fanaticism, failed to complete their mission. Let history remember that their failure was the direct result of a counterattack launched by the passengers and crew of Flight 93. And let history remember that the first victory in the war against the terrorists, though at a terrible cost, was at the battle of Flight 93.

May we show the courage of the passengers and crew of Flight 93, and of those at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon who fought insurmountable odds to protect innocent life as others sought to destroy it, every day into our future.

Remember -- What Wasn't Seen...

Carroll Andrew Morse

...ten years ago, to the minute, when Islamist terrorists lost the initiative in the war they started.

From 9:57, the cockpit recorder picks up the sounds of fighting in an aircraft losing control at 30,000 feet - the crash of trolleys, dishes being hurled and smashed. The terrorists scream at each other to hold the door against what is obviously a siege from the cabin. A passenger cries: 'Let's get them!' and there is more screaming, then an apparent breach. 'Give it to me!' shouts a passenger, apparently about to seize the controls.


Carroll Andrew Morse

As someone who was not touched directly by the killing on September 11, it was American Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon that led, on a personal level, to my most fearful moments of the day. On the radio, John Dennis relayed an unconfirmed report that smoke was rising from the Pentagon. If the report was true and the Pentagon was burning (as turned out to be the case), there could be no doubt that there was coordinated attack against the whole United States. Now I worried about how many places in the country were about to come under attack, and where the closest attack to me might come from, and what did I need to do to prevent being killed before I knew what hit me.

Fortunately, outside of my mind, and as the people at the Pentagon and at the World Trade Center were dealing with the killing and attempted killing around them, a real counter-attack was about to get underway...


Carroll Andrew Morse


For most of the world including myself, it was United Flight 175 hitting the South Tower that made it clear that what was happening was not a "mere" accident. Two planes hitting the World Trade Center could not be a coincidence. From the hour that followed the second crash, I will always remember Gerry Callahan reporting, in a clear and restrained voice, that the South Tower had completely collapsed. If any doubts had lingered in the immediate aftermath of the second crash, there were now none that something irreversible was happening.

The first people to be irreversibly impacted, of course, had been the passengers and crew on American Flight 11 and the people immediately killed in the North Tower, then those forced to jump to their deaths by the resulting fire. With the second crash and the eventual collapse of both towers, the killing would expand to the passengers and crew of United Flight 175 and the immediate and near-immediate South Tower victims, then to the people trapped in both towers, most of them above the crash-sites unable to get down before the collapses, and to the police and fire personnel from New York City who went into the towers to rescue anyone who was in there. I think I remember some very early reports that gave estimates of as many as 20,000 potential deaths in New York City alone.

Miraculously, the numbers did not reach that high. 2,753 people were killed in the attack on New York, 184 were killed in the attack on the Pentagon, and 40 people were killed on United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.


Carroll Andrew Morse

In 2001, I was working at a company that had a very liberal flex-time policy, so by the time I woke up on September 11, John Dennis and Gerry Callahan of WEEI radio were already reporting on a plane that had crashed into the upper floors of the World Trade Center. For a few more minutes, for me at least, the world remained the same, as the news being reported focused on filling in the details of what was probably an accident.

The people killed on American Flight 11 and in the North Tower would never have any idea about why they were killed. Neither would the people involved in the South Tower and the Pentagon attacks that would occur a few minutes later. And even the passengers and crew on United Flight 175 and American Flight 77, who knew at this point they were personally under siege, didn't know they had been drawn into a multi-pronged attack on the United States.

Hey Iraq, Be Careful of What You Wish For

Patrick Laverty

Let's try to hold off the trolling comments from the start. I believe in hindsight, the US never should have gone into Iraq the second time, we went there with faulty information. Now, to the point of the post.
According to the NY Times, many Iraqis are a bit nervous about the recent information that the American drawdown will only leave about 3,000 troops in Iraq next year from the current 48,000 on the ground now. They loved to bluster and scream about the Americans being occupiers and they need to leave now. The US military was very much open to a request from Iraq's government to have the troops stay. After multiple iterations of "are you sure?" went unanswered, the US is going to pull out. But now, there are feelings of their own country's inadequacy:

  • “They bring a balance to Iraqi society,” [a Shiite tribe leader] said.

  • “Iraq is just not ready, and it’s necessary for the Americans to stay to prevent Iran from overrunning the country and helping to prevent violence. But we know 3,000 troops will not be enough.” said the Governor of the Anbar province

  • “If the Americans withdraw, there will be problems because there will be no great power in the country that everyone respects,” said Mateen Abdullah Karkukli

  • “The leading parties now in the government tend to act like dictators,” said Mr. Maamouri, the tribal leader. “I am afraid if the Americans withdraw from Iraq, these parties will act even more like dictators.

  • “After the Iraqi government was formed, I began to discover that the Americans were far better than the current officials,” said Raad Hamada, 51, an oil engineer from Basra. “I wish that the United States would stay longer because we need their culture, their assistance and their development. The American security forces keep the evil and militias away.”
Oh and there's also this gem of "you broke it, you fix it", even though they say they want our military out immediately:
But they created all of these problems, so they should stay and fix them.”
It'll be a great day when those 45,000 troops get to come home. Hopefully they will all get to come back home and not be sent somewhere else.

September 10, 2011

NYC Responders Not Invited

Patrick Laverty

Ten years ago, hundreds of first responders, firefighters, police officers, and port authority officials weren't invited to the World Trade Center towers. They weren't invited to run up dozens of flights of stairs with their gear, with firefighting equipment. They weren't invited to give up their lives on that day. But they went anyway. They all responded with one goal in mind, to save lives. So how does the city remember those people in a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks? By not inviting them again. According to

The first responders are not invited to this year's September 11 memorial ceremony at ground zero, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office confirmed Monday.
Well, Bloomberg must have a really good reason for keeping these people out, right?
"given the space constraints, we're working to find ways to recognize and honor first responders, and other groups, at different places and times," [Bloomberg spokesman Andrew] Brent said.
No space, huh? I'm sure those staircases they died in were plenty roomy too. I'm sure there was plenty of space under all that rubble they were trapped under and died in.
So we'll just honor them at a different place and time. Hey guys, how's the Tuesday before Halloween in Bryant Park work for you? The mayor might have a few minutes to spend and say thank you.
Everyone involved in this should be embarrassed. Shame on you.

(Non)Funding of the American Jobs Act: "Paid For" Doesn't Mean Someone Else Will Find the Cuts!

Monique Chartier

Usually, when Democrats on the national level propose something that is misguided, irresponsible, stupid or - worst of all - presuming of stupidity on the listener's part, it goes in one ear and out the other. As this item from the President's speech Thursday night is all of the above in truckloads, however, there simply isn't room to let it pass.

And here's the other thing I want the American people to know: the American Jobs Act will not add to the deficit. It will be paid for. And here's how:

The agreement we passed in July will cut government spending by about a trillion dollars over the next ten years. It also charges this Congress to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings by Christmas. Tonight, I'm asking you to increase that amount so that it covers the full cost of the American Jobs Act.

So it's funded not because the President found a new "revenue" source or because he himself made room for it in the budget by identifying cuts. It's funded because he assigned someone else - i.e., Congress - the task of making the requisite budget cuts???

He goes on to say,

And a week from Monday, I'll be releasing a more ambitious deficit plan -– a plan that will not only cover the cost of this jobs bill, but stabilize our debt in the long run.

Again, absolutely no specifics at this point. But you go ahead, Congress, and identify half a trillion in budget cuts for my initiative. That way, you can get the political blame for those cuts and I'll get the praise when the initiative is implemented.

This is not the proposing of responsible policy or the sharing of a vision. It's the exposition of a fantasy, pure and simple. No amount of Presidential spam

After the president’s jobs speech before Congress Thursday night, his staff sent out 39 e-mails to reporters, each declaring that yet another Obama ally “backs the American Jobs Act,” as the subject lines boasted.

The e-mails came within a 1-hour, 5-minute period between 8:32 p.m. and 9:37 p.m. That’s an average of one every minute and 40 seconds.

can make it otherwise.

The Tolls Will Rise

Justin Katz

One thing that the great majority of voters can agree to be a legitimate government function is public infrastructure. If all residents can move about with equivalent ease, then they can compete economically and they can resist de facto segregation. Tolls and other usage fees actually serve to diminish this justification; as prices go up, the advantage of those with money increases, as well. Upkeep on such infrastructure should therefore be among the very first expenditures taken from general revenue.

From the perspective of government bureaucrats, the plain necessity of mobility makes tolls that much more attractive. If they spend all of their general revenue on things that voters wouldn't support if asked, they can turn around and plea poverty in order to charge for necessities like infrastructure maintenance.

And as I've said, before, the tax-and-spenders have reason to love EasyPass, because it will make future increases almost invisible. At this point, though, they're trying to clear a much more difficult hurdle: that of instituting a new toll:

The state Turnpike and Bridge Authority needs more revenue to maintain its bridges and will consider a toll increase, Chairman David A. Darlington said Friday.

But he also said that if the authority were to reinstitute tolls on the Mount Hope Bridge, it might be able to avoid a toll hike affecting Pell Bridge users.

As things stand now, to the annoyance of some Pell Bridge users, their tolls also pay for the maintenance of the Mount Hope Bridge, while Mount Hope Bridge users pay nothing.

See, it's just a matter of fairness, the thinking goes. People who enter the southern (urban and more touristy) end of the Aquidneck Island pay a toll, and those who enter the northern (suburban) end of don't pay anything (except taxes). So the new toll would just place the burden of a supposedly necessary increase on a group of heretofore freeloaders. With the wonders of technology, the new toll would hardly even be an inconvenience:

Darlington also said that a recent development in technology would make it easier to collect tolls on the Mount Hope Bridge. Called “open road tolling,” it refers to the collection of tolls without toll booths. Instead, an overhead “arbor” replaces the toll booths, and electronic devices scan transponders mounted on vehicles passing underneath. The owners are charged automatically.

And with two bridges onto the island generating revenue for the state, it would hardly be fair to allow users of the third bridge, which practically leads right into the pockets of non-residents to the north and east, to continue shirking their share of the responsibility for keeping up the infrastructure that serves the island.

Once three bridges are in the "open road tolling" loop, drivers will hardly notice when the price has to go up every year or so. Little by little, the bleeding can continue... without requiring government officials to address the real profligacy that is strangling the state.

September 9, 2011

The Employee's Leverage

Justin Katz

Statements such as the following are so foreign to my way of seeing things that there must be some fundamental question at the bottom of the difference:

To understand how we got here, first consider the Ben Franklin-Horatio Alger-Henry Ford ur-myth: To balk at working hard -- really, really hard -- brands you as profoundly un-American. All well and good. But today, the driver is no longer American industriousness. It's something more predatory. As Rutgers political scientist Carl Van Horn told the Associated Press recently: "The employee has no leverage. If your boss says, 'I want you to come in the next two Saturdays,' what are you going to say -- no?"

Employees should have plenty of leverage. The company has already invested in their training. They've got institutional knowledge and contacts that take time to develop and that could help competitors even more than just as a matter of training, not the least because employees could take clients and other valuable employees with them. Smart employers also need to protect organizational moral and sense of community purpose.

Never mind that bosses are actually human beings with emotions and moral senses, too.

Leverage comes in making one's self of value. This applies in greatest to degree to star employees, but even those who are merely competent are more valuable than they probably realize — the workforce is full of laziness, dishonesty, cantankerousness, and other qualities that could harm a business's operations. If people want jobs that allow them never to have the courage to stand up to managers on an individual basis, then that comfort is going to come at a price.

Admittedly, multiple factors have made such courage more difficult. For one, prices have adjusted to the assumption of two-income households. For another, we've waded into a swamp of new necessities — from cell phones to expensive higher education — without which we think our lives would be incomplete. (It's one thing to see such things as tools to increase personal value; it's another to think them necessities for which funding must be found.) For a third, government regulations have decreased the ability of employees to take their institutional and occupational knowledge and start off on their own to compete.

That's where this difference in perspective becomes so critical: In the solutions that we believe will alleviate the situation. If employees are helpless cogs, then one will call for more government regulation of employers, more forceful confiscation, and more empowerment of third-party labor organizations. If employees are the company's and the nation's most valuable asset — merely boxed in by cultural and regulatory factors — then one will call for changes in those areas.

The authors of the above-linked essay, Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery don't dive into the former pool, but the only solution that they describe (actually, the beginning of a solution) is to complain to friends and coworkers. Such communication could be a first step in either direction, but it too often precedes the next step of voting for officials who promise to tilt the playing field rather than the next step of standing up too the boss.

September 8, 2011

The Scituate Pension Forum

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Scituate Democratic Town Committee held a forum on Wednesday evening, where Rhode Island General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, current Pension Commission member (and Scituate Resident) Ernest Almonte and State Representative Michael Marcello answered questions about pension reform. They didn't discuss specific proposals that might go before the legislature next month, but Treasurer Raimondo did say at one point during the event that she anticipates litigation to result, suggesting that she expects the eventual implementation of something more than a minimal plan for reamortization and new rules for new hires.

Of course, the recommendations of the State Treasurer as well as the output of the pension commission are strictly advisory; the final decision about what type or pension reform occurs (or not) rests with the legislature and the Governor. For his part, Rep. Marcello said he would like to see a real solution that doesn’t require continuing adjustment to be achieved this fall.

You can hear for yourself excerpts of what the panel members said, by clicking the audio links below.

Setting up the problem in big-picture terms...

Ernest Almonte: "In a business, if you have a pension fund that's less than 80% funded, there are additional requirements that are put in place. You can't give additional benefits to the employees or the retirees...let's look at our town [Scituate]; it's about 24% funded..."
Audio 49 sec
"The Federal Government has severe financial problems. They are going to have to fix their problems, which means there's going to be less money for states and cities and towns to solve their problems, and they're not in the mood to solve state problems...We're going to have to solve the problem ourselves..."Audio 1m 6 sec

Response to a question about whether the current crisis is the result of the state not making it's legally required contributions...

Gina Raimondo, "The state has made it's annual contribution every year, [with the exception of] a couple of years in the early 90s during the DEPCO crisis...that is less than 1% of the problem..." Audio 33 sec

The next several items are responses to different versions of the question asked by several audience members of why teachers and state workers should have to experience any significant changes in their pensions, when they contributed according to the schedules they were given and made long-term plans based on payouts they were promised...

Gina Raimondo: "We can't keep pretending we don't have a problem, or keep pretending that the math is better than it is. This state started this system in the 1930s. It did not do an actuarial study until the late 80s..."
Audio 2m 4 sec
"Average wage in Rhode Island is $41,000. Unemployment is still extremely high. Taxes, in my view, are about as high as they can go....Comprehensive pension reform is in everyone's interest. If you are a taxpayer, you need to get behind this. If you are a teacher who is working hard every day to educate our children and serving our community, you need to get behind this. Because it is in no one's best interest to have a plan that runs out of money or to have more bankruptcies in this state..."
Audio 1m 40 sec
"...10 cents of every tax dollar goes into the pension. That is double what it was in 2003. It's going to double again in the next six years if we don't fix it and continue to go up from there. So the taxpayer is sharing in this burden, and will continue to share, as they should..."
Audio 3m 19 sec
Ernest Almonte: "One thing I want to add to the teachers...You taught us all so well, we figured out that the numbers don't work...and you also taught us that we should look out into the future and not just solve things for today..."
Audio 1m 48 sec
Michael Marcello: "I know there are state workers who are hard workers and who do a good job. Unfortunately, the benefits you were promised were not funded they way they should have been...this is not the fault of state workers. They did everything they were asked to do, but the contributions that you are putting in are flat...and we are literally out of money, and I fear if we do not correct it within a year or two years, the problem will only get bigger..." Audio 1m 34 sec

Response to a question about pension-related lawsuits...

Gina Raimondo, "There is pending litigation...I expect that with almost any reform we enact, there will be some form of litigation. It's not a reason not to go for this...It is the state's position that there is no contract and therefore, legislation can be enacted..." Audio 1m 34 sec

Response to a question about state pensioners taking other government jobs...

Michael Marcello, "My personal preference is that if you have a state pension and you go to work for a municipality, you should be put into a different type of system..." Audio 1m 28 sec

Teaching September 11th

Patrick Laverty

In the Valley Breeze today, I was happy to read that the Lincoln Middle and High Schools will be teaching the events of September 11, 2001 to the students. The part that disappointed me a bit was that they will be talking about it with the students, for the first time.

"[LHS Principal Kevin] McNamara said that LHS has not done anything like this in the past, but he decided to for this milestone year. "With the 10-year anniversary, it has refocused everyone on the importance of memorializing the event," McNamara said."

I remember after it happening, wondering how schools were going to teach this. When I was in school, we learned about D-Day, we learned about Pearl Harbor, we also talked about the Vietnam conflict. So how would schools teach about what happened on that perfectly clear Tuesday morning ten years ago now. Apparently, the answer is they don't. They don't want to talk about the gruesomeness of it, they don't want to talk about the fear of flying a commercial airplane or being in a tall building and wondering if anything will happen to it. They don't want to scare the children.

I did some more searching on how the subject is taught in schools and why it isn't taught in many places and found this one explanation:

"With no standard curriculum in place, teachers across the country have been forced to develop their own methods to talk about the traumatic events of the past decade in the classroom. Many have turned to privately created lesson plans"

"forced to develop their own methods"? Isn't that what they do? Teachers are professionals and in their training, they learn how to develop a lesson plan in their subject area. I'm not sure why teachers can develop a plan for how to teach this part of history in the same ways that they develop lessons to teach algebra, diagramming sentences or the FDR presidency. When these things aren't taught, a very important part of our history is lost on the students, even to the point where people from their mid-twenties on up might want to bang their head in frustration.
Back in May, the Yahoo search blog wrote:

However, it seems teens ages 13-17 were seeking more information as they made up 66% of searches for “who is osama bin laden?”

That just shouldn't even be possible. Our schools should be spending more than a day or two on the subject. This is a topic that could go for an entire semester or even an entire year, so to talk about it in the schools for just a day or two around the anniversary of the attacks doesn't do the history justice. The Middle East and the US' involvement is something that will probably be a topic of discussion for the entire lives of today's students. To not even talk about it in schools is irresponsible.

The Projo's Preferred Narrative

Justin Katz

I notice that the wire story that the Providence Journal chose for its coverage of President Obama's Labor Day speech didn't make mention of the call to arms of Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. The omission would be one thing if the article were narrowly focused on President Obama's words (that is, if they took the spin that only what the president said is newsworthy), but even that isn't applicable:

Before Obama's speech U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis picked up the UAW's frequently used "fired up, ready to go," slogan today as she urged union members to provide vocal support to U.S. President Barack Obama, who soon will unveil a new jobs plan.

"It won't be an easy thing to do," Solis said. "We know some will fight us and...some will say we can't afford to invest in our workforce."

Solis also criticized those who are trying to reduce the salaries, benefits and collective bargaining rights of union members.

I suppose a major figure in labor warming up Obama's audience with declarations that unions should target the opposition in such a way as to "take the son-of-bitches out" doesn't quite fit the narrative of Tea Party as terrorists versus the well-meaning president (who can only be faulted for giving in to the extreme Republicans in his urge to hear all sides).

A Statement and Prediction

Justin Katz

Rhode Island lawmakers heard the following when they gathered for a preliminary shindig related to pensions:

On Tuesday, [pension activist Diane Oakley, executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security,] gave the lawmakers more reasons to think twice about defined-contribution plans: "If investment losses cannot be recouped by retirement age, they may delay plans or retire with much less income."

To which the only rational response is: So? As presented, the statement makes no mention of the health or occupation of the potential retiree, and therefore exposes the vacuity of moral statements made about public-sector pensions in broad strokes. If a perfectly healthy 48-year-old first grade teacher has to put off retirement, well, dems da breaks.

That's the situation the rest of us face, and to treat it as some sort of unlivable state beyond the boundaries of ethics to impose is to reveal what many of us suspect about those inside of government: They truly believe — whether it's something they'll allow in their consciousness or not — that they are a chosen people set apart. To the extent that they can leverage political donations and activism to force policies to remain in their favor, they can claim insulation from the realities of our shared economy.

Reading the rest of the article, and having experience with Rhode Island's governance methodology, one can set the baseline expectation for the coming "reform" as reamortization with some sort of tax increase (perhaps pushed through local governments and property taxes) and a mild reduction in benefit levels for future retirees — such as an additional year or two before they can retire or a couple more years of salary folded into the calculation for benefit amount.

I'd like to be wrong, but I'm just not hearing contrary noises.

September 7, 2011

Who Pays for Past Mistakes

Marc Comtois

Generational warfare: It's bound to happen here in Rhode Island with the pension crisis. It's also happening nationally on the budget deficit debate with the new Super Congressional panel set to convene. Education Policy wonk Rick Hess offers his perspective:

You're either with the kids or with those rushing to the ramparts to defend retiree entitlements. So, which is it?

Consider the President's vague calls last week to spend billions more on school construction and preserving school staffing levels (which would've been more compelling if he had offered any inkling as to how we might pay for it). Obama finds himself unable to do more than offer marginal, dead-on-arrival programs because the feds have spent more than half the budget just mailing checks to retirees, covering health care bills, and paying interest on the accumulated debt. Everything else—schools, financial aid, the FBI, defense, transportation, the environment, NASA, foreign aid, you name it—has to make do with what's left.

As Julia Isaacs at the Brookings Institution has pointed out, the federal government now spends about $7 on seniors for every $1 it spends on children....Do we really think it's a good idea to spend half of all non-interest spending on making retirement ever more comfy?

Past or future? Which will it be? He provides an important breakdown of we pay for current Medicare spending:
[T]oday's retirees have contributed taxes that amount to less than half their Medicare outlays. Today's Medicare payroll tax doesn't fund Medicare--it funds only Part A (hospital expenses). Premiums cover just 25 percent of Part B (doctor treatments and visits). And premiums for Bush's Medicare drug program (Part D) cover just 10 percent of the cost. The rest of the hundreds of billions in outlays for these programs is vacuumed out of general revenue. (See here for a good breakdown on Medicare funding.)
And Social Security:
Social Security has the government reflexively spending hundreds of billions to mail out monthly checks to the wealthiest segment of the population, without an ounce of thought as to whether that's the best use of borrowed funds (the famed Social Security "trust fund" being, you know, nonexistent). The Social Security Administration reports that more than 20 percent of those 65+ have incomes over $65,000 a year. In a nation where median household income is in the $40,000s, is it really radical to rethink how much we mail to these households every month?
As for taxes:
Toss in all of the tax deductions that President Obama called for eliminating this summer, including the corporate jet deal, and you address another $400 billion over 10 years, or less than 2 percent of the shortfall. So, just keeping the deficit from exploding will involve all those taxes and trillions more in cuts. Those demanding substantial new spending then need to raise hundreds of billions beyond that, through additional cuts or tax increases....Even with hefty tax increases, protecting existing entitlements ensures that we won't have much available for schools, colleges, or anything else.
He urges education advocates to step up to the plate and take on the AARP and similar groups so that more money can go towards kids and education.
In short, it's possible to get our house in order, free up dollars for schooling, and shift dollars towards youth. But doing so requires facing down the massive, intimidating seniors' lobby.

Shared sacrifice involves asking Baby Boomers and retirees to step up and, you know, sacrifice. It doesn't mean holding harmless the generations who voted themselves free stuff through the good times and doesn't rely almost entirely on raising taxes and curtailing benefits for the under-40 set.

Hess' bailiwick is education and his goal is to increase funding for it. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Hess' priorities, his argument helps to lay out the choice that needs to be made: should the people who benefited or made the mistakes in the past be held most accountable for those mistakes? Or should their kids and grandkids?

Toning Down the Rhetoric?

Patrick Laverty

On Monday, Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa, Jr, urged labor to "win the war" on the Tea Party, told the President "we are your army" and "let's take these son of a ****** out" amid cheers from the crowd.

Just your usual Teamster rally? Not exactly, not when the President then follows those words with a speech on the same stage. No condemnation for the words, nothing asking Mr. Hoffa for civility in public discourse, as he did back in January

"...only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.”

Waging war on the Tea Party? We are your army, ready to march? Take them out? This is what the President considers to be civility in public discourse?

The President has been asked to condemn the words of Mr. Hoffa and all we have so far is White House Press Spokesman Jay Carney stating,

"These weren't comments by the President," he said.

"The President wasn't there -- I mean, he wasn't on stage. He didn't speak for another 20 minutes. He didn't hear it. I really don't have any comment beyond that."

And later

"Mr. Hoffa speaks for himself and the labor movement, and the President speaks for himself."

It's now been a few days and Mr. Hoffa has had time to think about his comments. Asked what he thinks in hindsight,

"I would [say it again] because I believe it," he said. "They've declared war on us. We didn't declare war on them, they declared war on us. We're fighting back. The question is, who started the war?"

Carrying this to a ludicrous extreme, if a racist gets up on stage and goes off on a ridiculous anti-Obama diatribe and then Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann or Mitt Romney follow that speaker on the stage, will Obama and the Democrats be fine with an explanation of "Hey, those were the comments of that guy, not ours!" Of course not. That would be just as unacceptable as the President's current stance on Hoffa's rhetoric.

Healthcare Exchange More than Commonly Thought

Justin Katz

As I explained in a video blog a couple of years ago, Tiverton resident, one-payer healthcare advocate, and just-about-overt socialist Nick Tsiongas is an instructive figure to watch in Rhode Island politics, and the op-ed that ran in yesterday's Providence Journal is a fine example.

I'm thinking that many of us have underestimated the intended reach of the state-level healthcare exchanges that will be implemented as part of ObamaCare:

Any reform with a chance of success would require that we move as much of the money as possible into one place and coordinate its use with a state health plan. The power of the plan and the purse would let us use carrots and effective sticks to change this crazy system.

Such an opportunity exists: It’s the exchange, a marketplace set up by the state under the Affordable Care Act where people and businesses could buy health insurance. We have the chance to build an exchange where all Rhode Islanders can buy public or private insurance.

If your view of the healthcare exchange has been as a sort of benign, non-binding Web site on which to compare possible plans in a straightforward manner, you (like me) forgot that everything that government does is not about serving the public, but about government power. In Tsiongas's telling, the exchange is an opportunity to filter all of our healthcare dollars through a single point, at which the government can impose requirements that force users of health services to conform with best practices as defined by Nick Tsiongas and friends.

By opening the exchange to all our residents and linking it to an explicit state health plan, we can finally empower ourselves to get off the cost treadmill, maintain quality and start treating this ailing system.

He doesn't go into how, exactly, the exchange will be "linked" to "an explicit state health plan." On one end (no doubt his ideal), all companies allowed to sell healthcare plans would have to do so through the exchange, and the exchange would require them all to conform with government-defined benefits, creating a de facto single plan over which bureaucrats, ideologues, and special interests have government access.

On the mild end, a state plan would compete with other plans which may or may not have to be on the exchange or meet additional requirements than they currently face. If that's the case, then it's hard to see how a state plan could be so attractive as to draw people away from other options unless it exacerbates cost problems by subsidizing member benefits through additional revenue confiscated from taxpayers.

Either way, the exchanges cannot be written off as a mild distraction for unnecessary government functionaries if the likes of Tsiongas have such strong intentions for them.

AARP as Full Subsidiary of Democrat-Union-Progressive Alliance

Justin Katz

Given the popular impression of the AARP, I'd wager that this activity would strike most people as a bit like AAA advocating against a fuel allowance for state workers:

The hand-wringing over Rhode Island's pension crisis has the state chapter of the AARP so worried it has taken out a half-page newspaper ad and booked a radio spot to warn past and present government employees of what is at stake for them in the discussions about to get under way at the State House.

The ads have been timed to run on the Tuesday that state lawmakers are headed back to Smith Hill for the first time since June for a briefing on the $9.4-billion pension-funding gap that threatens to bring the state — and many of its cities and towns — to the breaking point.

Framed as an open letter from the AARP's state director, Kathleen Connell, to Governor Chafee, the newspaper ad draws attention to the "looming threat" that some of the options discussed in recent months by a pension-advisory group pose to "retirees' economic security."

Given the strong union involvement in the pension discussion, perhaps the AARP wishes to lay the groundwork to address surprise developments. Any result that harms taxpayers will be just dandy; any result that changes the terms of public-sector retirements will be the result of shady, non-transparent manipulation.

It's interesting to note that — although the letter/ad tries to raise public-sector pensions to the status of a symbol and beacon for all retirees — AARP Rhode Island expresses no concern whatsoever about the well-being of retirees and future retirees who must pay for those pensions, even as fixed incomes give way to increases in taxes across the board.

One can imagine a strategy meeting of the Rhode Island Left-union alliance at which the AARP was advised to focus on "transparency" and other neutral good-government aspects of the pension-reform process so as not to seem too partisan. Ms. Connel didn't pull it off.

Apparently, it would be a travesty to require Bob the public worker to put in a few more years of work and to have to budget based on a dollar amount that doesn't automatically climb beyond inflation every year. Yet, if Beth the widow from the private sector, has to add a decade of work to her plans or, if she's already retired on a fixed income, to sell her house because the taxes and cost of living leave inadequate resources to eat, she doesn't make the cut for the AARP Rhode Island's vision of "retirement security."

September 6, 2011

Walter Russell Mead on the Collapse of Rhode Island

Carroll Andrew Morse

Walter Russell Mead of The American Interest offers an outsider's no-holds-barred view of Rhode Island's current fiscal condition. A few of the more evocative passages are excerpted below...

[T]he state could never afford the beautiful utopia it was crafting, and so politicians and union leaders chose the path of systemic deceit. Taxpayers weren’t told what the bill for the system would be; public service workers weren’t told that the pension guarantees they’d been sold were worthless because taxpayers would not and could not foot the bill.

An economic crisis is nature’s revenge on those who make and those who accept false promises; it is a holocaust of lies when the dross is burned away and only what is real and true remains. Think of cotton candy melting and charring in the flame of a blowtorch; that is what is happening to the secure retirements that “caring” blue politicians and “committed” blue union leaders promised gullible state workers...

As far as I can tell the union leaders and politicians who concocted this disaster between them have no plans to suffer any cuts in their own pay or pension plans — and intend to go on “serving the public” without any accountability at all.

...and Professor Mead offers an implicit question at the end of this next section that Rhode Islanders may have a thought or two on...
Nationally, state and local government face something like $3 trillion in accumulated lies and deceit; tiny Rhode Island has the highest per capita amount of systemic dishonesty on its books — I don’t know if the Ocean State is unusually rich in both knaves and fools or if some other factor is at work.
For readers interested in what Prof. Mead means by references to “'caring' blue politicians", "'committed' blue union leaders", and a "blue paradise built on lies", his concept of the blue social model is explained here.

Whitehouse/Langevin Profiting From Wall Street Banks

Patrick Laverty

If you read things from the progressive caucus and others who follow it closely, big business, big banks and Wall Street firms are the devil. You can also read about some of their darlings like Sheldon Whitehouse and the now-near-untouchable Jim Langevin. However today, has a front page article on the worth of Rhode Island's Washington delegation. I congratulate each of these people on their wealth and money management that they've achieved, but in the article, one part really jumped out at me:

Whitehouse also reports collecting between $15,001-$50,000 in interest each with dozens of publicly traded assets including Goldman Sachs, ... Bank of America, Bear Stearns


Langevin also owns stock in General Electric and Goldman Sachs (between $6,002-$17,500)

It would seem to me that these guys are trying to have it both ways. They get their base all stirred up about these big bad Wall Street banks and how they need to be investigated, but at the same time, they're financially involved in them. It sure isn't in the best interest of Whitehouse or Langevin to open any great investigations, as that could cause the stock values to plummet if there was a real negative finding. If you're making upwards of $50,000 just on *interest* in a company like Goldman-Sachs, you sure don't want to see that value drop.

Mainstream Finally Catching Up with the Terrorists

Justin Katz

There's something peculiar about this new focus on lone wolf terrorists:

After 9/11, it was the men who went to radicalized mosques or terror boot camps who were seen as the biggest terror threat. Today, that picture's changed: Authorities are increasingly focusing on the lone wolf living next door, radicalized on the Internet - and plotting strikes in a vacuum. ...

And President Barack Obama said in a CNN interview on Aug. 16 that a "lone wolf" terror attack in the U.S. is more likely than a major coordinated effort like the Sept. 11 attacks.

Anybody remember John Allen Muhammed and John Lee Malvo, the Beltway snipers, back in 2002? Or how about the El Al Airlines shooter, also that year?

As I recall, it was a subject of some debate whether such acts ought to be counted on the tally of radical Islamic terrorists. The tendency was to resist the conclusion that the real root cause of terrorism was the ideology that drove its adherents to kill, even when their own deaths were necessarily part of the method.

On a tangential note: reading the article, one can't help but worry that the reality of these lone wolves is going to be used as justification for the intimate, deep monitoring that might actually catch terrorists by the content of the video clips that they watch online. Of course, historical practice suggests that the government won't find itself able to limit its intrusions on those who fit a very narrow profile, but will insist on monitoring everybody, everywhere (you know, so as not to show prejudice).

If that's the direction that we're headed, the American people ought to choose endurance of small-scale terrorist attacks, rather than of Big Brother.

September 5, 2011

Flipping Rhode Island Red...Or At Least a Shade of Purple

Patrick Laverty

I have a friend who is a Pittsburg Pirates fan and I'm constantly shaking my head at the lack of effort that franchise makes to become a championship contender. The reason for this is the Pirates play in the National League Central division, which with its six teams is actually one of the weakest in baseball and often sends its champion to the postseason with the fewest wins of all playoff teams. In 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals went to the post-season and won the World Series after only winning 83 regular season games. That's only two wins better than having equal wins and losses. Pretty mediocre.
So what's my point here? As easy as it is for a team to get to baseball's post season from the National League Central, I think it could be just as easy for the Republicans to make major gains in Rhode Island for relatively short money. Rhode Island has just as many Senate seats as any other state and currently, the House is very close on its makeup and we have a sitting Congressman who has to be more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a rocking chair factory.
I say short money because Rhode Island only has one media market and one statewide newspaper where the Republican National Committee could spend on advertising and touting the benefits of the fiscally conservative candidates. Start advertising with the three television media outlets (channels 12 and 64 seem to function as one) especially during the all important national news and Wheel of Fortune hour. Start dispelling rumors and misstatements by certain elected officials and start getting out a positive message.
I have walked door to door with multiple candidates over the last eight years and one thing I find when we talk to people is while Rhode Island is viewed as one of the bluest states in the country, many people do actually have fairly conservative opinions, especially on the fiscal side. People try to tell me that Rhode Island is a Democratic state, but actually, it's not. It is an "Unaffiliated" state. The greatest percentage of voters are listed as Unaffiliated. They don't align themselves with either party and many of them will tell you that they often have a split ballot and will vote for who they think is the best candidate.
If the RNC were to come in and focus on the fiscal conservatism of its candidates and sway these on-the-fence-unaffiliateds, great inroads could be made toward moving Rhode Island's seats in Washington to the other side of the aisle and at least turn our deep blue to some shade of purple.

September 4, 2011

Proactively Defending Himself: The Congressman from the First District Responds

Monique Chartier

Further to Patrick's post and in response to my question,

You voted "No" on the following amendment.
An amendment numbered 38 printed in House Report 112-88 to require that the rules of engagement allow any military service personnel assigned to duty in a designated hostile fire area to have rules of engagement that fully protects their right to proactively defend themselves from hostile actions.

Please explain, without platitudes and with specificity, why you did so.

Congressman David Cicilline has sent the e-mail below, offered without editorial comment (in this post).

Dear Monique,

Thank you for your recent inquiry regarding H.AMDT. 318 to H.R. 1540.

As you know, in May 2011, the House of Representatives debated the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, H.R. 1540. During this time, Representative John L. Mica (R-FL) offered H.AMDT. 318, an amendment that added language requiring the Secretary of Defense to ensure that the rules of engagement for members of the Armed Forces would "fully protect the members' right to bear arms; and authorize the members to fully defend themselves from hostile actions." This amendment passed the House by a vote of 260-160, and was included as part of the final bill that the House passed by a vote of 322-96. This bill now awaits further legislative action in the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

I joined 141 other Democrats and 18 Republicans in voting against this amendment because it does nothing to change existing rules of engagement for American service members. Our men and women in uniform already possess the right to bear arms whenever they are in harm's way. Furthermore, when they are instructed on the rules of engagement, our troops are explicitly told that nothing prevents them from using deadly force to defend themselves. That's why a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which oversees all American military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, told the Wall Street Journal that H.AMDT. 318 "would likely not change a thing" about existing policy for the Armed Forces.

Americans are fortunate to live in a free and safe society because of the valiant efforts, brave actions, and immense sacrifices of the individuals who have served in our armed forces. We owe our troops, veterans, and their families our utmost gratitude and respect, in addition to exceptional care and benefits, which they earned defending our great nation and our way of life.

I strongly share your concern for the well-being of our troops and veterans, and I will fight in Congress to ensure our government fulfills its promises to all who serve. Our nation owes so much to the members of our military for their selfless sacrifices, and it is our responsibility to honor their generous acts of patriotism.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding H.AMDT. 318 to H.R. 1540. Your thoughts and opinions on this issue are of great value. Please feel free to use my office as a resource at any time, and visit for up-to-date information on a wide range of issues before Congress.

I look forward to further correspondence with you on this and any other matter of concern you may have in the future.

Et Tu, MoDo?

Monique Chartier

That's what the Obama campaign must be quietly saying after reading the column of the not-exactly-right-leaning Maureen Dowd in the not-exactly-Republican-sympathizing New York Times.

("Languid"? "Flailing"? Yikes!)

... If the languid Obama had not done his usual irritating fourth-quarter play, if he had presented a jobs plan a year ago and fought for it, he wouldn’t have needed to elevate the setting. How will he up the ante next time? A speech from the space station?

Republicans who are worried about being political props have a point. The president is using the power of the incumbency and a sacred occasion for a political speech.

Obama is still suffering from the Speech Illusion, the idea that he can come down from the mountain, read from a Teleprompter, cast a magic spell with his words and climb back up the mountain, while we scurry around and do what he proclaimed.

The Deleterious Distinctions of a Disability Pension (And Their Dubious Designers)

Monique Chartier

Under Patrick's post, Max Diesel asks

Does anyone know how much this clown's pension was bumped with and without the disability after coming back as chief?

The answer is that, in Rhode Island, a regular pension is taxable. A disability pension is not taxable.

And this continues for the life of the retiree. But why should it? Once the employee hits retirement age, the regular pension should kick in. That provision alone would go a ways to reducing the percentage of public employees who go out on disability pensions, as Tim White illustrates in his excellent 2008 expose of Rhode Island's disability pension problems.

The lowest overall disability rate goes to the city of Pawtucket. The rules there say police and firefighters who get hurt on-the-job collect a disability pension until their 20th year, when they would normally retire.

It then gets converted down to a less-lucrative service pension. As a result, you will find only 6 Pawtucket firefighters collecting a disability pension. No other town we examined has this provision.

Once again, as in so many other matters of fiscal policy, this is a very reasonable adjustment that elected officials on the state and local levels have inexplicably eschewed.

By the way, the Dissembler from the First District gets mentioned in White's report, once again exaggerating an aspect of Providence's fiscal situation.

Providence Mayor David Cicilline says, "It used to be the case that once you received a disability pension that you essentially received it forever."

Mayor Cicilline says an ordinance passed this year [2008] aims to change that.

"We now have a revision that requires an annual certification of your disability," says Cicilline.

So rather than addressing the problem directly by changing the policy (disability pension to be converted to regular pensions at age 65), then-Mayor Cicilline backed a half-hearted step that has done bupkis to cut back on the number of disability pensions issued. It sounded good at the time, though, didn't it?

As for the term that Max uses to refer to Mr. Farrell, I understand that Max is very frustrated - as we all are - at this manifestation of an irresponsible and indefensible policy. It should be noted, however, that the real "clowns" here are the decades of elected officials who took a raft of fiscally criminal measures and turned them into law. Had they not done so, the door would not have been flung wide open, in this and so many other areas, for the Rhode Island taxpayer to be mugged on a remarkable scale.

A Bad Economy Is in the Democrats' Favor Structurally

Justin Katz

William Jacobson makes an interesting point regarding the intersection of the economy and electoral politics:

Workers giving up hope, thereby keeping the unemployment rate artificially low, is keeping Obama's reelection hopes alive. If the headlines screamed that unemployment was 11.4%, even I might begin to believe [that the U.S.A. would not give Obama a second term].

We've already begun to see commentary and political cartoons attempting to smear Republicans on the grounds that it's in their electoral interests for the economy to stay sour until the next election. There is some truth to that, but inasmuch as it's a bipartisan reality with every election, it's hardly a strong moral condemnation.

Rephrased, a bit, what Jacobson is saying is that it would help the Republicans if the statistics better reflected, to voters, how bad the condition of the economy really is. But there's a deeper way in which this particular data point helps the Democrats: Workers who give up move toward dependency on the government, and the Democrats are the party of dependency. If you're struggling to find work in the private sector, you're more apt to want the market to be free to thrive, to want employers to be given more space to invest and hire. Those who throw up their hands are thereafter more likely to put out their hands to collect whatever money the government directs toward them.

September 2, 2011

An Accidental Disability Pension for Leukemia?

Patrick Laverty

I appreciate firefighters for the job they do. I have friends who are firefighters on various departments around the state and I try to ask them lots of questions to better understand their job. I can also appreciate the fact that it is a job that can lead to permanent disability through injuries sustained on the job. I could even buy that the job can lead to certain types of cancer, lung cancer not the least of which. However, I do wonder about leukemia as a result of being on the job. Former Providence Fire Chief George Farrell was awarded a full tax-free disability pension by the Providence Pension Board as a result of his leukemia.
The vote to award the tax-free pension was 5-4, as the board debated their own rules.

The city Law Department opined that in order for Farrell to receive an accidental-disability pension, three physicians must agree that the leukemia, which at last word was in remission, renders him totally and permanently disabled from doing the job of fire chief. One of the three physicians who examined Farrell said he could return to work on medication.

I don't understand what's not clear about "three physicians must agree". One disagreed, so isn't that enough to disqualify the claim? The article doesn't explicitly state it, but based on a comment from one pension board member, it would appear that the board's lawyer also believes the doctors must be unanimous.

"We totally disregarded our attorney," Hull complained.

The other part that is curious to me is just in the title of this pension, it is an "accidental disability pension". That says to me that the claim must be based on some accidental event. I don't know that leukemia is caused by such a thing. This type of pension should be awarded when the injury is a direct result of being on the job.

As a side note, the chief was already receiving a standard pension and filed a claim for the accidental disability pension, possibly in part because it comes with a better health care plan. That is an understandable desire for someone with cancer, and I do hope Mr. Farrell makes a full recovery from the disease.

Green Fave of Obama's Goes Under, Taxpayers Foot the Bill

Marc Comtois

Solyndra is a manufacturer of solar panels--a green technology!--and was given half a billion dollars in loan guarantees by the Federal Government. Oh, and a major Obama donor, George Kaiser, was also a financial backer of the the company. Now it looks like they're going under:

A company that served as a showcase for the Obama administration’s effort to create jobs in clean technology shut down Wednesday, leaving 1,100 people out of work and taxpayers obligated for $535 million in federal loans.

Solyndra, a California solar panel maker, had long been an administration favorite. Over the past two years, President Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu each had made congratulatory visits to the company’s Silicon Valley industry analyst Peter Lynch said that Solyndra struggled from the beginning with an imbalanced financial model.

“You make something in a factory and it costs $6, you sell it for $3, but you really, really need to sell it for $1.50 to be competitive,” Lynch said of Solyndra. “It was an insane business model. The numbers just don’t work, and they never did.”

That's why you get a little help, right? Guess it wasn't enough. Now the taxpayers get to foot the bill and people are wondering if there is a cover-up. There goes a quarter of that debt ceiling "savings"!

Redistricting from a Narrow Range

Justin Katz

Even putting aside the inevitable corruption and fingers on the scale with the latest redistricting commission — which will help in determining which constituencies are grouped together for the purpose of electing government officials — the membership strikes me as having a conspicuous narrowness of geographic coverage:

  • Rep. Stephen Ucci, Johnston
  • Rep. Grace Diaz, Providence
  • Rep Donald Lally, Narragansett
  • Rep. William San Bento, Pawtucket
  • Ray Rickman, Providence
  • Delia Rodriguez-Masjoan, Providence
  • Felix Appolonia, West Warwick
  • Sen. Michael McCaffrey, Warwick
  • Mary Ellen Goodwin, Providence
  • Beatrice Lanzi, Cranston
  • Juan Pichardo, Providence
  • Francis Flanagan, Middletown
  • Matthew Gunnip, Pawtucket
  • Arthur Strother, Providence
  • Rep. Joseph Trillo, Warwick
  • Rep. Daniel Reilly, Portsmouth
  • Sen. David Bates, Barrington
  • Sen. Francis Maher, Exeter

Granted, our state isn't all that big and the population centers around Providence, but one third of the appointees are from Providence. John Marion of Common Cause appears encouraged "that the commission represents a degree of 'racial and ethnic diversity,'" as reporter Randal Edgar paraphrased, but I wonder whether that's the diversity that ought to be considered of greatest importance.

From my perch in Tiverton, I've found the breakdown of districts peculiar. My state senator's district spans all the way to Warren — two bridges and an inconvenient drive away. My town's other senator draws some of his voting base from Newport, yet neither of them touches down in Portsmouth, the town next door.

I suspect much could be understood of the list above (and the results that those on it will provide as they begin their work) by breaking out recent votes by precinct. It seems to me, though, that for real representation diversity ought to be considered as a matter of where people live and the cultures of each community. For that to be possible, the redistricting commission would have to be such that the geography covered couldn't fit under a "Vote Democrat" coffee cup placed on a standard glove-compartment map.

September 1, 2011

A "Proactive" Question for Congressman Cicilline

Monique Chartier

Congressman Cicilline:

I turn to this forum to communicate with you because your Congressional website bars you from receiving e-mail from anyone outside of your district.

You voted "No" on the following amendment.

An amendment numbered 38 printed in House Report 112-88 to require that the rules of engagement allow any military service personnel assigned to duty in a designated hostile fire area to have rules of engagement that fully protects their right to proactively defend themselves from hostile actions.

Please explain, without platitudes and with specificity, why you did so. Only two reasons come to mind - either you don't wish our men and women to be able to defend themselves or you don't trust them to do so. But perhaps there is a third reason not readily apparent. If so, please advise it.

Your response can be directed to my e-mail address off on the left or, if you prefer, feel free to e-mail any of the other contributors.

Cicilline Votes To Not Allow Soldiers to Defend Themselves

Patrick Laverty

We're going to send you to war in hostile territory. We're going to put you in the line of fire with your life on the line. Will we let you defend yourself when the enemy is shooting at you? No. Or at least so says Congressman David Cicilline. (h/t Helen Glover)

An amendment numbered 38 printed in House Report 112-88 to require that the rules of engagement allow any military service personnel assigned to duty in a designated hostile fire area to have rules of engagement that fully protects their right to proactively defend themselves from hostile actions.

What's the problem there? Just the language "proactively defend themselves"? Isn't that what a war is? You go find the people you're fighting against and you kill or capture them. We hear reports of the US military seeing the enemy planting roadside bombs or entering schools and mosques, but according to some rules of engagement, they are not allowed to engage and "proactively defend themselves".

Fortunately, this amendment passed, but 142 Democrats (Cicilline, Barney Frank and Jim McGovern to name a few) and 18 Republicans voted against it.

To his credit, Congressman Jim Langevin voted in favor of the bill to let our military fight.

Not Getting to Keep the Coverage That You Like

Justin Katz

It's too bad nobody was able to see this as a probably consequence of ObamaCare:

Nearly one of every 10 midsized or big employers expects to stop offering health coverage to workers after insurance exchanges begin operating in 2014 as part of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, according to a survey by a major benefits consultant.

Towers Watson also found in its July survey that another one in five companies are unsure about what they will do after 2014. Another big benefits consultant, Mercer, found in a June survey of large and smaller employers that 8 percent are either "likely" or "very likely" to end health benefits after the exchanges start.

If this outcome weren't so unexpected, one might be tempted to wonder whether President Obama's assurances that anybody who likes his or her health coverage could keep it was deliberately deceptive.

Seems to me that I haven't been hearing near enough from elected officials about repealing the healthcare legislation, lately.

NP School Committee Doesn't Understand the Pension Mess?

Patrick Laverty

While this doesn't rise to the level of corruption recently seen in North Providence, one has to be left wondering if the North Providence School Committee "gets it". Time and time again, we see where local school committees and town councils will negotiate contracts that are just unsustainable and unaffordable in the future. In North Providence, they might have done it again.
The assistant superintendent left to assume the top role in Woonsocket leaving the city without an assistant. So Superintendent Donna Ottaviano stepped up and offered to do the job, along with her own duties:

(Committee member Gina) Picard said that Ottaviano at first suggested that she be paid $50,000 for the work, but was met by opposition mainly from Picard.

Eventually, the two sides agreed that the compensation should be an additional $35,000 on top of her current $123,000 salary. On the face of it, it sounds like a great idea. Pay $35,000 for someone to do a job that previously cost $98,000 a year. Except there's this issue of a pension system that we're all dealing with and this one deal would make things worse.

a move that potentially boosted her pension by more than $18,600 a year, or nearly $500,000 over the next 20 years with cost-of-living adjustments.

Mayor Lombardi and the rest of the School Committee heard so many complaints from the town's taxpayers, that the committee reconvened Tuesday night and backed off the deal, deciding instead to hire an assistant superintendent, part-time.

What happened to due diligence? Don't most towns have a Finance Director who knows with some research what the financial impact is of every move, every contract signing? If so, was this done? If so, did the committee not care?
The latter is possible:

[Chairman Anthony Marciano] discounted the $487,000 pension boost that the pay hike would give Ottaviano. "I don't think you can really say that because the pensions are very precarious right now. I don't think you can say that, because the General Assembly is working on coming up with something different," said Marciano, a former state senator.

So just sign the contracts and hope that the General Assembly fixes it later. That's leadership?

Yes, North Providence, this is who you elected.

Using the Legislature to Increase Union Leverage

Justin Katz

Senator Frank Ciccone, who was a leading voice for legislation to generate some monopoly business for a particular media purchase agent and who makes $161,168 working for the Laborers' State Council, wants to provide micromanagement-level oversight of quasi-public entities:

In a letter that went out to the top administrators of these agencies on Aug. 25, Ciccone posed a series of questions, such as this: Does the agency give bonuses to any of its employees? Does it pay overtime?

Does it provide any form of compensation to its board members, including "travel, lodging, meals, training and, or education and if so, please provide a list of all compensation and/or reimbursement that board members received in FY 2011?"

Does the agency make "charitable and non-charitable contributions" and, if so, did its "employees or board members receive any benefits from [these] contributions, such as tickets, meals or golfing?"

Each letter also asks the administrator of each agency to "please list all gifts, benefits or other compensation that vendors or consultants gave to employees or board members in FY 2011."

That looks to me like an information-gathering effort for his union employer and its other allies in labor. Just another indication of why it doesn't have to be illegal to be corruption in Rhode Island.

It occurs to me, incidentally, that public-sector unions are essentially quasi-public entities, inasmuch as they collect their revenue directly from government revenue and conduct their activities with in and for the purpose of government operations. Surely, they should be receiving bullying letters and demands from legislative boards, especially considering the recent antics of executives in the National Education Association Rhode Island.