November 30, 2011

Redistricting Proposals for the State Legislature are Available

Carroll Andrew Morse

Various redistricting proposals for General Assembly seats are available for examination at the Rhode Island Resdistricting Project website. In case anyone was worried, the "oversight" where state Rep. Joseph Trillo was drawn out of his district appears to have been corrected (h/t Rhode Island Common Cause, who has been attending & tweeting all of the public meetings).

As far as the Congressional Districts are concerned, Common Cause reports...

They've only made them available in paper form so far. I'll ask when they're going online.

Another interesting tweet from Common Cause...

Another public member says Congressional plans gerrymander out two announced candidates in CD 1. Has anyone looked at that yet?

Would Roger Williams Have Called it a Holiday Tree?

Marc Comtois

First, they didn't have Christmas Trees in 1663 Rhode Island, so the answer to the post title is "No." I'm also pretty sure that, by now, as he looks down upon us, Roger Williams has gotten used to people calling upon his founding authority to help make the case against religion in the colony he founded based on religious freedom. This time, it's Governor Chafee using Williams to justify the use of the "Holiday Tree" (a practice, Nesi Notes, that has been in place for a few years now):

Recently, some controversy has arisen regarding the holiday tree in the State House Rotunda -- a tree that stands mere feet from the Royal Charter that, more than three centuries ago, granted 'a full liberty in religious concernments' and 'the free exercise and enjoyment of all their civil and religious rights' to the inhabitants of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
This continues the ironic, but expected, practice of using words meant to encourage the practice of religious freedom to justify the removal of religious meaning. That was hardly the original intent of the 1663 Charter. The Governor has gotten his history wrong as a reading of the entire Royal Charter of 1663 reveals. Let's just focus on the famous section from which these convenient quotes are pulled. (The quotes cited by the Governor are in italics; I've underlined some important contextual phrases as well):
And whereas, in their humble address, they have freely declared, that it is much on their hearts (if they may be permitted) to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained, and that among our English subjects, with a full liberty in religious concernments and that true piety rightly grounded upon gospel principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignty, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyalty.

Now, know ye, that we, being willing to encourage the hopeful undertaking of our said loyal and loving subjects, and to secure them in the free exercise and enjoyment of all their civil and religious rights, appertaining to them, as our loving subjects and to preserve unto them that liberty, in the true Christian faith and worship of God, which they have sought with so much travail, and with peaceable minds, and loyal subjection to our royal progenitors and ourselves, to enjoy; and because some of the people and inhabitants of the same colony cannot, in their private opinions, conform to the public exercise of religion, according to the liturgy, forms and ceremonies of the Church of England, or take or subscribe the oaths and articles made and established in that behalf; and for that the same, by reason of the remote distances of those places, will (as we hope) be no breach of the unity and uniformity established in this nation:

Have therefore thought fit, and do hereby publish, grant, ordain and declare, that our royal will and pleasure is, that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of land hereafter mentioned, they behaving themselves peaceably and quietly, and not using this liberty to licentiousness and profaneness, nor to the civil injury or outward disturbance of others, any law, statute, or clause therein contained, or to be contained, usage or custom of this realm, to the contrary hereof, in any wise notwithstanding. And that they may be in the better capacity to defend themselves, in their just rights and liberties, against all the enemies of the Christian faith....

The Charter also mentions proselytizing the Narragansets: "whereby our said people and inhabitants in the said Plantations, may be so religiously, peaceably and civilly governed, as that by their good life and orderly conversation, they may win and invite the native Indians of the country to the knowledge and obedience of the only true God and Saviour of mankind". Historical context is important. It is clear that the religious freedom granted was specifically the freedom to practice other forms of Christianity, particularly if not of the Church of England "brand".

Further, the granted freedoms did not mean that those exercising those rights could cause "civil injury" to others who conformed to more traditional religious mores. Over time, such religious freedoms were properly extrapolated to mean tolerance of other, non-Christian religions or for those who practice no religion at all. Unfortunately, as the Charter warned against, religious liberties have been taken and, it can be argued, "civil injury" has resulted as religion, even something as innocent as a Christmas Tree, has been taken from the public square for fear of "offending" other or non- beliefs.

Bullies, Allowed and Not Allowed

Justin Katz

It's a substantially different issue from the banalization of Christmas trees, in a number of ways, but I think there's something of the same mentality as emerged from Morgan Hill, CA, here summarized by Glenn Garvin:

... When a federal judge in San Francisco ruled earlier this month that school administrators in a California town had the right to kick out kids for wearing American flag T-shirts because they were offending Mexican-American students, the silence among First Amendment activists and the media was deafening.


At Morgan Hill's Live Oak High School, scores of the many Mexican-American students wore the red, green and white colors of the Mexican flag. But five kids came in American-flag T-shirts. As the five sat at a table outside during a morning break in classes, assistant principal Miguel Rodriguez summoned them into the school office.

The Mexican-American students were angry about the American flags, Rodriguez warned the five, and they had to either turn their T-shirts inside-out or go home for the day. "They said we were starting a fight, we were fuel to the fire," sophomore Matt Dariano told the Gilroy Dispatch.

As Garvin suggests, this turns the First Amendment on its head — applying the weight of the law to suppress the speech of the targets of threats, and taking the side of bullies who would silence others. The common thread between this mentality and that which renames Christmas trees but not menorahs is a tendency to treat groups of people as if they've got some sort of unified racial conscience.

A parent naturally places stronger restrictions on an older sibling's treatment of a younger sibling than the other way around, because the older sibling ought to know better, because he or she can do more harm, and because we want to inculcate a sense of obligation to protect those who are not as strong. One gets just such an impression from debates handling government's involvement in cultural disputes — as if to say that Christians need to be adult enough to keep their faith unstated or that white students can live without their patriotic t-shirts so as to get along with their immigrant peers.

But group dynamics aren't equivalent to the interaction of individuals in this way, and a truly representative and objective government must consider its citizens in their capacity as individuals. Of course, this is a path that diverged along political lines long ago, and so touches on a great number of hot-button issues.

November 29, 2011

Why Does ProCAP Have 58 Employees? And Why Did They Have 120 Last Year???

Monique Chartier

For this post and the prior, I've been tempted to create a new A.R. category: "Shady Quangos". It is not difficult to imagine that ProCAP is not the only government funded non-profit which spends its tax dollars in questionable ways.

Today, we add to the list of troubling practices at ProCAP.

Further to my concerns about the situation at ProCAP, I spoke this morning to ProCAP spokesman, Bill Fischer. He advised that the signatory on the organization's checkbook would be changed today. It will be interesting to see in due course what checks were cut in recent months and, especially, the last two weeks as scrutiny on the organization has ramped up sharply. (In fact, we learned today that the US Attorney began taking an active interest in the organization six months ago.)

As Mr. Fischer was far more forthcoming than other officials on this matter, I took the opportunity to ask him about the extent of the employee roster at ProCAP. He advised that ProCAP currently has fifty eight employees. Without my prompting, he volunteered that a review of employees was being undertaken.

Fifty eight employees? That seems awfully high. What do they all do? How does this payroll compare with ProCAP's gross revenue? Has the level of services provided to the community been unnecessarily suppressed in preference of excessive hiring?

Once again, we return to the matter of oversight - or the apparent lack thereof. Shouldn't our elected officials on the state and local level have been asking the above questions, and more, all along? Would the situation at ProCAP have deteriorated to this point if they had done so?


WPRI's Ted Nesi e-mailed me a link to this WPRI investigation of a couple of weeks ago. In it, Tim White and Ted had determined, amoung other things, that ProCAP had 120 employees in 2010!

Many details about ProCAP remain unclear. An up-to-date list of its employees has yet to surface. The nonprofit employed 120 workers in a 2010 filing with the IRS.

Good job, guys.

All the more do we need to ask what happened to the level of services offered to the community as those in charge ramped up the payroll. All the more do we need to know where our elected officials were as our tax dollars were being expended in this questionable manner.

It's Almost Like an Unintentional Social Theme...

Justin Katz

Instapundti Glenn Reynolds put up two posts/links this afternoon that offer an interesting juxtaposition when combined. At 5:21 p.m.:

21ST CENTURY RELATIONSHIPS: Dinner Table Talk For Lesbians & Their Possible Sperm Donors.

At 1:32 p.m.:

STUDY: Adolescent boys more prone to delinquency without a father. "The sense of security generated by the presence of a male role model in a youth's life has protective effects for a child, regardless of the degree of interaction between the child and father."

One can rephrase succinctly, by saying that lesbians need sperm donors, but children need fathers. Hey, don't worry: You can still pretend these cultural and biological facts are completely unrelated.

Whoops! Providence Budget Still Under Water

Patrick Laverty

Well, I don't like to say "I told you so" but an article in GoLocalProv yesterday about the state of Providence's budget wasn't really a surprise. According to the article, almost halfway through the current budget year, the budget still is not only not balanced, but it's about $24 million in the red.

Some of the reasons:

Savings of up to $6 million hinged on 30 officers taking advantage of an early retirement incentive. Only 16 did.
We asked about this one back in June when the agreement was made to avoid the layoffs. What if the department can't find 30 officers to retire? What then? Will there be layoffs now? Should there have been a clause in the agreement that if the 30 retirements weren't met that there'd be automatic layoffs to meet the expected numbers? Was this even considered?
Taveras hoped to save $11 million by switching retirees over to Medicare. But most of those savings got wiped out when the federal government slapped the city with an $8 million penalty
Wait, what? You figure out that you can switch your retirees over to the federal Medicare plan for the cost savings and you missed that part about the penalty? I'm sorry, but if I cost my boss $8 million, I'm not sure I'd still have a job. Plus, there's this:
Worse yet, it is not a one-time fee. Instead, the penalty will be assessed annually for the foreseeable future.
I guess the only silver lining in this is the city won't expect an $11 million savings each year, now they know to only expect a $3 million savings.

Lastly, am I the only one who remembers then-Mayor, then-Congressional candidate David Cicilline telling us that he was leaving Providence in excellent financial shape? Hmm, well there's also this:

The city ended the 2011 fiscal year in June with a higher-than-expected $4.9 million deficit, city records show—and that is not counting approximately $30 million that was borrowed to help close the gap.
$30 million to close a gap in a city that is in excellent financial shape?

I do wonder if Mayor Taveras referred to the situation he inherited as a "Category 5" hurricane, only because we don't have a Category 6.

So If the Governor Holds a Hanukkah Celebration at the State House, Will He Call it the "Candle Holiday"?

Monique Chartier

... at which he displays a candelabra rather than a menorah?

In view of his renaming of this event,

Governor Chafee is facing criticism from State Representatives for calling the annual tree lighting in the state house a "holiday" tree lighting instead of a Christmas tree lighting.

the Governor should clarify how far he believes we should go with taking the religion out of holidays. Or does it only need to happen with one religion in particular?

[WPRO's John Depetro has started a petition on his Facebook Page.]


Depetro just read a statement from the Governor pointing out that referring to this event as a "holiday tree lighting" continues past practices of prior governors. I would suggest that the Governor needs to correct this erroneous blandizing of the event and revert to its more accurate name. Certainly the Governor did not allowed precedent to stop him from taking a new direction in another matter.

"I'm not here to talk about the past"

Patrick Laverty

To steal a line from Mark McGwire, the baseball slugger who was called before Congress to talk about steroids in baseball but would only answer questions with "I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to make a positive impact".

David Cicilline is looking to take the same tack and tell people to forget about the past. It's the past, no need to revisit that, let's move forward.

Earlier in the week, John Loughlin campaign spokesman, Michael Napolitano called for a federal investigation about what happened with Providence's finances, budgeting and information during the Cicilline era as mayor.

Remember those public statements about the strong fiscal health of the city, those statements that all the reserve funds were at their required limits, those debates between the candidates when Loughlin exposed Cicilline for who he is? Remember when Cicilline blocked Providence's own auditors from seeing the necessary accounts information to do their job?

Napolitano referenced the bad check written by Cicilline’s brother, John, and the allegations of former city tax collector Robert Ceprano that Cicilline ignored the issue. He also referenced the high default rate of loans granted by the Providence Economic Development Partnership, a problem that was exposed by WPRO's Jim Hummel, and the most recent incident that has come to light with the Providence Community Action Program. (ProCAP)

So yesterday, the Cicilline camp fired back.

“The Loughlin campaign wants to rerun the last campaign but David Cicilline is now in Congress and working to create jobs and to save Medicare from efforts by some in Mr. Loughlin’s party to privatize or virtually eliminate it,” Kayner told
Wait. Back up for a second. What'd she say? David Cicilline is working to save Medicare from efforts of privatization? This is the first time I've heard this claim. I remember Cicilline's television commercials scaring the seniors that he'd protect Social Security but nothing about Medicare. Why the switch to Medicare now? Does the Cicilline campaign finally agree that no one is trying to "privatize Social Security" least of which for seniors? It seems they finally agree that he may not have been as forthcoming as he might have liked. But I guess here comes the next step, Republicans are going to kill Medicare. We're not here to talk about Social Security, that's in the past, now we need to save Medicare. Great.

We saw how well McGwire's strategy worked for him. It didn't. He was widely mocked and ridiculed. Similarly, I don't think everyone in Congressional District 1 will also be so swayed by it and many will remember not only what Cicilline did do while Mayor of Providence but also what he hasn't gotten done as our Congressman. By the way, does anyone have a Hall of Fame Coin set?

Negative Outlook, but Still Able to Confiscate

Justin Katz

Like a lot of conservatives, I'm sure, I find the prospect of our nation's credit begin downgraded, or at least given a negative outlook, as Fitch Ratings just applied to the United States, a somewhat hopeful sign that the game of government taxing, borrowing, and spending cannot go on in perpetuity. But as I watch the dance, my sense that the agencies are really grading the government's ability to confiscate resources through taxation only grows stronger.

We'd like to think that the ratings reflect how well a government is doing its job of being a government and how strong its underlying economy is, and those are surely factors. But the core criterion for grading the debt that a government sells is the likelihood that it will be able to take money from the people under its control and hand it over to its lenders. Sadly, the U.S. government sits atop a large nation of people who desire to forge a (taxable) living and who thus far have proven unable to elect a government that's willing to restrain itself.

In that context, a "negative outlook" is little more than a whisper of a hint that the government needs to change its ways. For it to bear the fruit of a lower rating, the prospects would have to be bleak for the government paying back its debt at all. The imagination reels at what a world in which that's a real possibility would look like; it's one thing for Greece to appear unable to pay its bills, but the U.S.? Yet, experience shows that reasonable adjustments will not be made when entrenched interests have so much motivation to fight against them. Only crisis will serve, and few wish to foster crisis when it remains possible to pretend there's no long-term threat.

Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that there's no up from AAA. Selling less debt would make it more likely that the government can and will pay back what it already owes, but with the might of the U.S. bureaucracy as a collection agency, such a shift would be a mere shading of likelihood.

November 28, 2011

How Easily the Hybrid Pension Reform Can Be Undone

Justin Katz

Here's a question: As Rhode Island legislators seek forgiveness for their pension reform votes, just how much will the unions have to improve their overall negotiating stance in order to completely eliminate the adverse effects of the hybrid component of that reform? The answer: Seen in terms of annual raises, a 2.5% increase — that is, a 4% average annual raise becoming a 6.5% average annual raise — will leave a 30-year employee with exactly the same pension as if the hybrid had never happened.

Of course, employees will be receiving the raises, not to mention a 1%-of-pay annual deposit into their defined-contribution accounts. The upshot is a 0.75% or so increase in pay every year above what otherwise would have been given will completely undo any savings in lifetime pay and pension that the people of Rhode Island gained by implementing a hybrid pension system.

November 27, 2011

Ken McKay: "... this is a difficult decision"

Monique Chartier

As Andrew notes, Ken McKay has resigned as Chairman of the RIGOP. Will Ricci of the Ocean State Republican advises that Ken has accepted a [*cough*paying*cough*] position in Washington, DC which, naturally, precludes his continuation as Chair. Below is the e-mail by which Ken advised the RIGOP Executive Committee of his decision. As dictated by RIGOP by-laws, Acting Chair Steve Frias projects a special election to determine Ken's successor around the third week of December.

Rhode Island Republicans, like Republicans nationwide, are upset with the way President Obama and his Democrat allies are ruining our economy. Truly, Rhode Island Republicans have a unique view on this because we live every day with the disasterous economic results from long term Democrat rule. Rhode Island is Obama's national economic model.

I do not want to leave the RIGOP as Chair. It is an honor to serve and fight with all of you, but the battle of our time is happening in Washington right now and I have to go try and be a part of that. After serious, thoughtful deliberation and discussion with my family this is a difficult decision yet one I have to make. Accordingly, I am resigning from the position of Chair of our state Party.

I am truly sorry to those who disappointing may be disappointed with me. Again, this is not something I do lightly. Nevertheless, it is something I must do. I would like to thank you for your support and patience with me. Importantly, I want to mention one person in particular, our executive Director, Pat Sweeney. Pat's dedication, energy and efforts are invaluable. His work with the Young Republicans energizes the Party and helped significantly with wins in recent special elections and fundraising. It is really upsetting to me that I may be letting him down. He believes we can make significant gains and that we are poised for growth and I agree with him. He is a true believer in our cause and I thank him personally for his support.

I’m going to do my part, do everything I can to stop and reverse the disastrous left-wing policies that the Obama Administration has imposed upon our country. Please also know that I will continue to volunteer my efforts, providing strategic and fundraising assistance to further the Republican Party here in Rhode Island. While I will no longer be your Chairman, I will continue to labor along side each of you as we do all we can to get Rhode Island in position to prosper.

Ken McKay Resigns as RI GOP Chair

Carroll Andrew Morse

Dan McGowan of GoLocalProv tweeted about an hour ago that Ken McKay has resigned as Rhode Island Republican State Chairman, to take a job as Chief-of-Staff for Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin (since updated to Senior Advisor).

Acting Chairman Steve Frias says there will be an election for a new chair during the week of December 19, and that there are no announced candidates as of yet.


Ted Nesi of WPRI (CBS 12) has more on the details of McKay's resignation.


Both McGowan and Nesi say credit for being first to make news of McKay's resignation public goes to State Rep. Dan Gordon, via his Twitter account, although we could pick-a-nit here, about whether a message via protected Twitter account counts as public. However, Twitter as a means for delivering news looks increasingly like it's here to stay.


For the record: Nothing yet from the media organization that runs pretentious radio ads saying they have to report news first, before anyone else can comment on it.

ADDENDUM IV (Monday, 11/28):

WPRO (630AM) has the story. A search of today's Projo for the word "McKay" returns 0 hits (Ken or Ray). One Projo radio ad, you may recall, says something along the lines of they have to report it, before talk radio can yell about it.

Also, Dan McGowan has updated his original reporting to say that Ken McKay will be taking a position of Senior Advisor on Senator Johnson's staff.

November 26, 2011

ProCAP and How Yours Truly Went For An Unexpected Ride on the Government's Pass-The-Buck Merry-Go-Round

Monique Chartier

Two developments yesterday at ProCAP: the Executive Director has been fired suspended, followed in short order by [edit] the firing of the organization's COO and attorney.

On Wednesday, what we knew was that ProCAP vendors were not being paid, personal loans had been made to the director and some staff members, hundreds of thousands of tax dollars were unaccounted for and that the organization's Executive Director and the COO had held a shredding party behind locked doors on Tuesday.

Alarmed in particular by that last item, which appeared to be an attempt to destroy evidence of wrong-doing, and not yet having the benefit of the highly reassuring explanation subsequently provided by ProCAP's COO - "We shred all the time" - I decided to make some calls to the people responsible for funding ProCAP with our tax dollars.

My questions were pretty straight-forward.

1.) In light of the document shredding, what had been done to secure ProCAP's computer hard drives?

2.) What was happening to ProCAP's checking account(s)? Had the signatories been changed so that the questionable expenditures could not continue?

3.) What was being done to protect taxpayer dollars in light of the revelations of questionable expenditures and unpaid vendors?

- I started at Mayor Taveras' office, leaving a message with one of his press people requesting that someone call me about the ProCAP situation. (No one had called me back as of the end of the day Wednesday.)

- Next was a call to the Governor's office, where a press person named Lindsey (sp?) didn't even let me get through all of my questions before saying that she would ask someone who was familiar with the situation to call me.

- Someone from the Governor's office called me back fairly quickly and directed me to the state's Energy Resource office - apparently, the arm of government which is responsible for actually disbursing tax dollars to ProCAP and other organizations.

- When I called the Energy Resource office, I got voice mail and left a message. In short order, a woman from that office called me back and informed me that my questions had to be directed to the Director of Administration.

- On, telephonically, to the office of the Director of Administration, where I spoke to someone named Janice. Janice directed me away from the state and to the city, advising me that I needed to speak to Michael Solomon, President of the Providence City Council and ProCAP's Chairman. (Wheee! It's a good thing this ride has straps!)

- After leaving a message, I received a call in due course from Michael Solomon's Chief of Staff, who cheerfully offered to talk to me off the record. I declined, which is where both the conversation and the ride came to an abrupt halt for now. (Regrettably, I cannot furnish the name of Mr. Solomon's Chief of Staff for this post. I asked for it but he refused to provide it after it became clear that "off the record" would not be a pre-condition to a discussion about the expenditure of tax dollars.)

Now, the answer to my first question came a day later via a Turn to Ten report

Bentley says the U.S. attorney has taken materials from ProCAP's offices, including his computer's hard drive.

... which simultaneously provided the good news that the US Attorney has now taken an interest in the situation. My second question - what's happening with the ProCAP checking accounts? - so far remains unanswered.

The larger point, however, is this. What procedures are in place to protect tax dollars when it becomes clear that financial mismanagement or worse might be occurring at an organization partially or wholly sponsored by tax payers?

Judging from this case, if there are any, they aren't terribly impressive. Rather than reacting with hands-on concern, the various government agencies which funnel tax dollars to such an organization treated the whole thing like a hot potato. So much of government spending is on autopilot. It appears that procedures need to be implemented to disengage the governor (this kind, not that one) so that the flow of tax dollars to a questionable situation can be quickly choked off.

Chafee's Role in Warwick's Pension Mess

Marc Comtois

In a GoLocalProv story that reiterates much of what I wrote about back in April, Russel J. Moore also explains the mess that Warwick's pension system is in and also traces it back to then-Mayor Lincoln Chafee:

Governor Chafee has been an outspoken advocate for municipal pension reform. But several of the issues in Warwick, can be directly traced to his administration. For instance, the Police and Fire I plan, which is dangerously underfunded and acts an as albatross to Warwick’s other pension plans is currently funded on a 40-year schedule. This was implemented in 1995—when Lincoln Chafee was Mayor of Warwick. Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) standards, which are federal guidelines that municipalities are supposed to adopt, and are solidified in state law, (General Law 45-10-15) say that a plan should not be funded over a period shorter than 30-years.
Remember, "no one is to blame" for our current pension problems? Right.

November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Marc Comtois

If not for the determination of Sarah Hale, maybe we wouldn't be stuffing ourselves, watching football and, um, actually giving thanks together, as a nation, today. It was she who wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln urging him to call for a national day of thanksgiving.

From Sarah J. Hale to Abraham Lincoln*, September 28, 1863


Philadelphia, Sept. 28th 1863.


Permit me, as Editress of the "Lady's Book", to request a few minutes of your precious time, while laying before you a subject of deep interest to myself and -- as I trust -- even to the President of our Republic, of some importance. This subject is to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.

You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.

Enclosed are three papers (being printed these are easily read) which will make the idea and its progress clear and show also the popularity of the plan.

For the last fifteen years I have set forth this idea in the "Lady's Book", and placed the papers before the Governors of all the States and Territories -- also I have sent these to our Ministers abroad, and our Missionaries to the heathen -- and commanders in the Navy. From the recipients I have received, uniformly the most kind approval. Two of these letters, one from Governor (now General) Banks and one from Governor Morgan** are enclosed; both gentlemen as you will see, have nobly aided to bring about the desired Thanksgiving Union.

But I find there are obstacles not possible to be overcome without legislative aid -- that each State should, by statute, make it obligatory on the Governor to appoint the last Thursday of November, annually, as Thanksgiving Day; -- or, as this way would require years to be realized, it has ocurred to me that a proclamation from the President of the United States would be the best, surest and most fitting method of National appointment.

I have written to my friend, Hon. Wm. H. Seward, and requested him to confer with President Lincoln on this subject As the President of the United States has the power of appointments for the District of Columbia and the Territories; also for the Army and Navy and all American citizens abroad who claim protection from the U. S. Flag -- could he not, with right as well as duty, issue his proclamation for a Day of National Thanksgiving for all the above classes of persons? And would it not be fitting and patriotic for him to appeal to the Governors of all the States, inviting and commending these to unite in issuing proclamations for the last Thursday in November as the Day of Thanksgiving for the people of each State? Thus the great Union Festival of America would be established.

Now the purpose of this letter is to entreat President Lincoln to put forth his Proclamation, appointing the last Thursday in November (which falls this year on the 26th) as the National Thanksgiving for all those classes of people who are under the National Government particularly, and commending this Union Thanksgiving to each State Executive: thus, by the noble example and action of the President of the United States, the permanency and unity of our Great American Festival of Thanksgiving would be forever secured.

An immediate proclamation would be necessary, so as to reach all the States in season for State appointments, also to anticipate the early appointments by Governors.***

Excuse the liberty I have taken

With profound respect

Yrs truly

Sarah Josepha Hale,

Editress of the "Ladys Book"

[Note * ID: Sarah J. Hale, a poet and novelist, became editor of the Ladies' Magazine in 1828. In 1837 the Ladies' Magazine was sold and became known as the Lady's Book. Hale served as editor of the Lady's Book until 1877. During her tenure as editor, Hale made the magazine the most recognized and influential periodical for women. Hale was involved in numerous philanthropic pursuits and used her position as editor to advocate the education of women.]

[Note ** Nathaniel P. Banks and Edwin D. Morgan]

[Note *** On October 3, Lincoln issued a proclamation that urged Americans to observe the last Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving. See Collected Works, VI, 496-97.]

November 23, 2011

A Limited Snapshot of Next Governor's Race

Justin Katz

Teasing an hour-long pension special, Ian Donnis breaks this interesting tidbit:

A poll of 400 likely voters, commissioned by the National Education Association Rhode Island, shows Republican John Robitaille narrowly beating Governor Lincoln Chafee and state Treasurer Gina Raimondo in a hypothetical matchup for the governor's office.

Walsh says the poll conducted by Abacus Associates of Massachusetts shows Robitaille with 30 percent of the vote, compared with 28 percent for Chafee, and 22 percent for Raimondo.

I'm not sure what this illustrates in real-world terms. It'd be interesting to know who'd win if it was either Chafee or Raimondo against Robitaille. And what might the Moderate Party do to the mix?

Of course, I suspect NEARI's intention was to show that Chafee and Raimondo have been hurt, politically, by pension reform, and it really doesn't look like this poll supports that conclusion.

November 22, 2011

The Dangers of Pension Credulity

Monique Chartier

In his post, Justin correctly points out that

First, Rhode Island's pension reform is simply not sufficient to solve the problem

Many observers have marvelled at the scope of the reforms to the state pension system that just passed. The problem, the context that they miss is that the extent of the reforms are eclipsed by the size of the problem. Rhode Island had an unfunded pension liability that was one of, if not the, worst in the country. (By the way, does anyone know where we stand in that regard as of Year One of pension reform? At 60% funded, have we even changed our ranking?)

Yet the solution falls well short of the problem, addressing as it does only 44% of the unfunded liability and taking many years to get to 80% funded (if it ever does).

Where I might differ with Justin is on the matter of premeditation.

What we've seen in Rhode Island wasn't the objective process of lawmaking as it should work; it was the variation of political theater performed when the powerful backers are ultimately getting what they want.

Was the passage of this bill pre-staged "political theater"? Or the actions of pro-labor legislators truly believing that they were doing something noble? I dunno.

Motive doesn't matter, however, to the larger, more dangerous point that he makes.

the payoff, for entrenched powers, will ultimately be greater than the surface sacrifices.

The optimist in me wants to change that to "potential payoff" so as to not assume the worst. There is no question, however, that a raft of hideous legislation could well - in fact, could more easily be passed while the trumpets, pomp and huzzahs of pension reform are still echoing loudly. Even if it is an after-thought and not pre-meditated, even if it is viewed as paying labor back for their "sacrifice", that will not change the damage that such legislation will do INCLUDING, genuine reformers should note, cancelling out what good was wrought by the pension reform bill.

To take two examples purely at random - I have to don a hazmat suit just to discuss them - if binding arbitration or non-expiring contracts are extended to teachers and other public workers, pension reform will be rendered meaningless. It is pointless to (partially) address one exhorbitant recurring expense only to sign up for an entirely new one that eats up the savings realized by the mitigation of the first.

Deval Patrick Signs Twin Rivers' Death Warrant

Patrick Laverty

Today, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill into law that will allow for up to three casinos in the Bay State. One of which that is being discussed is a full-blown destination resort casino run by an Indian tribe. The leading candidate for this casino seems to be the Wampanoags in southeastern Mass. They're looking for land in the Middleboro/Mashpee/Fall River area.

Other casinos, including one being slots-only, could go into a current horse-racing track, possibly even the Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville, not far from the Rhode Island border.

If people can just drive less than 30 minutes and get to a full-blown Vegas style casino, why wouldn't they go there, to have the full array of gaming options, including table games, instead of only having the slots available at Twin River?

So how much could be lost by Rhode Island? According to the Providence Journal's Randal Edgar, the state took in $270.4M last year. Rhode Island's annual budget is about $7 billion, approximately half of which is federally funded. So if RI revenues are about $3.5 billion, what happens when you remove about $270 million from that number?

Now, RI wants to look into allowing the slots parlors to have table games? This seems like too little, too late. Mass beat us to the punch, and that's where the money will go.

The Horse Looked Desirable; That's Why It Was Deadly

Justin Katz

In a post illustrating why he's risen so quickly to the status of "must read" and why it's so crucial to have intellectually curious people making their full-time livings investigating state-level politics and government, Ted Nesi responds to my incredulity at everybody's willingness to accept the pension reform narrative. This is the most important paragraph of Ted's post:

All of them had different opinions on the best approach to shore up a significantly underfunded pension system like Rhode Island's. But I never talked to anyone who dismissed the changes enacted here — the nation's highest public-sector retirement age; a years-long COLA freeze; a limited reamortization; a hybrid plan for most workers — as fig leaves. These are significant, consequential policy changes. And with big increases in pension contributions looming next year, is that really any surprise?

Much of the difference between Ted and me can be traversed with the reminder that I didn't use the image of fig leaves, but of a Trojan horse. A Trojan horse is dangerous, in the first instance, because on its surface it's desirable enough to lure defenders to bring it within the city walls. A hybrid plan, later retirement, COLA suspensions, changes in the formulas for calculating base pensions... these are all desirable reforms, but the "how much" and "what else" are what matters.

Even by the admission of enthusiastic supporters of the bill, the actual reforms covered less than half of the total liability problem. If one considers that reamortization cost nearly two billion dollars, it's reasonable to suggest that the amount of the problem only shrunk about a sixth or seventh. If one expects the 7.5% assumed return to prove much too optimistic, then this reform will look like a bare minimum to get by in the present.

And then comes the invading army hiding in the belly of the reforms, which Ted neglects to cite in his response: The Retirement Board (7 of 15 members labor appointed) will now dictate legislation for future changes that address the other 5/8, 6/7, 17/18, or whatever of the liability that remains to be solved.. The 5.5% privatization tax and any other post facto concessions from the legislature (such as binding arbitration) are additional legions. Meanwhile, the unions will endeavor to scale back the hit that they've taken, on one front through the courts, and on a second front by whittling in the legislature. (Take note that the NEARI president has "fix this law" first on his agenda for the next session.)

As to whether a reform more to my liking — the main criterion of which would be actually solving the problem — would have passed, I don't know. If it had not come this year, it would have come next, or the one after, and it would have been more likely to come without all of the deadly catches. As I've suggested before, a step in the right direction isn't worth taking if it leads into a fatal trap. I'm increasingly confident that this reform, beyond making the larger pension problem more difficult to solve in the future will wind up thwarting a number of other reforms having nothing to do with pensions and without which Rhode Island will continue to slide toward insolvency.

Kunis and Timberlake: Two Stars Who "Get it"

Marc Comtois

I'm hardly a regular consumer of celebrity culture, but the fact that Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis followed through with their promises to attend respective Marine Corps balls gives me hope that at least some of our contemporary Hollywood stars "get it." By all accounts, both were good dates.

Timberlake blogged about the experience and offered his thanks
To all of you that serve every day for us... Ensuring our freedom, I say: My deepest gratitude to you. I've met so many of my heroes... From Michael Jordan to Michael Jackson. And, nothing makes me feel more honor and pride than when I get to meet one of you. Last night changed my life and I will never forget it.

To people like me who get to benefit from this type of person... One with character and courage. With strength and bravery. With humility and honor... I say: Send your thanks. Do it however you can. Write a letter, type an email... Hell, buy 'em a beer next time you run into someone from our Armed Forces in a bar. When they say thank you for that drink that cost you 3 bucks, they'll mean it. They won't take it for granted and, they won't forget it.

Thank you Corporal Kelsey DeSantis. Thank you for inviting me. And, thank you for being my hero.

The Reason Behind Pension Credulity

Justin Katz

In his Sunday Providence Journal column, Ed Fitzpatrick reviews the passage of pension reform, and I have to say that he contributes to my surreal feeling of different realities based on different narratives:

Keep in mind that this isn't Texas: This happened in Rhode Island, a deep-blue state where unions are considered a legendary force at the State House

Keep in mind that this happened under Governor Chafee, the Republican-turned-independent who ran with union backing and is seen by some as being just to the left of Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who describes himself as a democratic socialist.

Keep in mind that this happened thanks to Gina M. Raimondo, a Democrat who had a top Laborers' union official on her transition team. It happened thanks to a General Assembly dominated by Democrats; thanks to Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, who became House speaker amid concerns that he'd be too liberal; and thanks to Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, who has union officials on her leadership team.

Yet, in the end, it wasn't even close.

Wouldn't it be reasonable — no, obvious, obligatory — at least to wonder out loud whether there might be something more going on here than the advertisements and political speeches proclaim? I mean, not only does Paiva Weed have union officials on her leadership team, but they voted for the bill. Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio (D, North Providence, Providence), who exchanges nepotism jobs with his fellow high-paid union leaders, voted for this pension reform bill. Why does it feel like Anchor Rising is the only outlet in Rhode Island concerned that maybe, just maybe, there are some major catches built into this reform — perhaps so dramatic that the actual "reforms" were boards on a Trojan horse?

I think Fitzpatrick gives a piece of the answer when he subsequently writes:

In short, it was not like Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker engaged in a bitter battle with public employees, [Raimondo] said.

Others in the media have talked about how reform never would have happened with a Republican executive slate. I can't help but wonder — as big government chokes on its weight and proves unable to repair itself nationwide, as the collapse of entitlement programs approaches inexorably, as treasured Democrat-left solutions to economic downturns prove ineffectual and (surprise!) prone to corruption, and as the great beacon of hope, President Obama, disappoints on a historic scale — if pension reform didn't tap a deep need to believe that sitting down and negotiating in order to reach a result that benefits everybody is actually possible, provided a few technocratic figures show the resolve and leadership of demigods.

The Wisconsin comparison is telling for two reasons: First, Rhode Island's pension reform is simply not sufficient to solve the problem, and apparently, it was soft enough to gain support even within the ranks of union leaders, leading one to believe that the payoff, for entrenched powers, will ultimately be greater than the surface sacrifices. Walker's reform efforts were much more substantial and struck much more clearly at the heart of Wisconsin's problems.

Second, a large part of Governor Walker's difficulties can be explained by the act of several Democrats in fleeing the state and short-circuiting the legislative process. I don't believe that Rhode Island Democrats are any less friendly to labor than Wisconsin Democrats, nor do I believe that they are any less capable of dramatic tactics to thwart reforms that they do not like. Rather, I'd suggest that the absence of anything but a few public performances and aggressive letters (leaked or otherwise) is evidence that the reform fell well short of where it should be.

Yes, the unions will sue, in part to prevent legislators in other states from getting the wrong idea about what happened in Rhode Island. Yes, they'll make lots of noise about voting legislators out, mostly as a negotiation tactic to push their agenda through the next session of the General Assembly. But the snarl doesn't reach their eyes. What we've seen in Rhode Island wasn't the objective process of lawmaking as it should work; it was the variation of political theater performed when the powerful backers are ultimately getting what they want. Look to Wisconsin for the variation that one can expect when they aren't.

But for the time being, it appears that the performance has been enough to reinforce belief that a blue vision for government can work. Sadly, even some who ought to know better have fallen for it, too.

What To Expect In The Upcoming General Assembly

Patrick Laverty

In today's Nesi's Notes, Ted discusses an email from NEARI President Larry Purtill that was sent to NEARI members. Mr. Purtill talks about how Governor Chafee "lied" to NEARI during the campaign last year. Similarly, in a recent GoLocalProv article, NEARI executive director Robert Walsh said "I can assure you we received promises in writing." Personally, I don't know who to believe between Mr. Walsh and Governor Chafee. If Mr. Walsh were to furnish the document where he claims to have these Chafee promises in writing, I'd certainly give him the nod.

Mr. Purtill shows more distaste and anger for the recently passed pension bill. One thing about the pension bill and especially the 5.5% tax on contractors that I'm still confused by is that the tax was put there to appease the labor side. Then some of the Reps and Senators who look kindly upon the unions, still didn't vote for the pension bill and labor leaders are still angry about it. So why put in a provision for the benefit of labor when it didn't get you anything? Usually you give something to get something. Finance chairs Melo and DaPonte gave the 5.5% tax. They didn't get votes or public support in return.

Later in Nesi's article, we also see what are NEARI's priorities for the upcoming General Assembly session.

When the General Assembly reconvenes in January, lawmakers “need to fix this law, pass binding arbitration, and defeat any and all anti-collective bargaining bills,” he said, including any proposals by Education Commissioner Deborah Gist “that impact collective bargaining.”

“And there are no trade-offs here,” Mr. Purtill added. “ALL OF THE ABOVE NEEDS TO HAPPEN!”

So that binding arbitration thing that we're constantly told by union representatives is to benefit the state and cities? Yeah, it "needs to happen." People like commenter "Dan" have already explained in depth why binding arbitration is a losing venture for the state, starting with how the arbiters are selected.

One other point that Mr. Purtill talks about is opposing any candidate who voted for this pension bill.

“Lawmakers were told by the treasurer and others that if they didn’t vote for this bill, they wouldn’t be re-elected. Our response was and is, ‘you vote FOR this you won’t be re-elected.’ ”
Though Mr. Purtill may turn out to be correct as the general public has much more voter apathy than his union membership, in this case Treasurer Raimondo was correct that the public supports the pension reform and they/we didn't want to see it go untouched. We'll see next November whose threats are more valid.

Lastly, one of Mr. Purtill's comments did give me a chuckle.

“Democrats believe we have to support them because we have no choice,” Purtill wrote. “WRONG – we do have a choice. In fact, a few more Republicans at the State House might actually force Democrats to start behaving as such.”
For one, I have a really hard time believing that NEARI would support a Republican over a Democrat. I believe that if there was a Democrat not to their liking, they'd first send their own candidate against the Democrat in a primary. If they were unsuccessful there, I find it difficult to think that they'd actually financially support and campaign for a Republican. Second, is there a Republican who would happily accept the help of NEARI? Maybe. Then again, politics does make for very strange bedfellows.

November 21, 2011

He Didn't Know It Was In The Bill!

Patrick Laverty

This is a bit of a bombshell that might get glossed over by the media. According to Ian Donnis over at WRNI, Governor Chafee didn't know that the 5.5% new tax on contractors was in the pension bill when he signed it.

Chafee was unfamiliar with the amendment imposing the 5.5 percent assessment when asked about it after signing the pension bill.
Seriously? Ok, so the bill is 114 pages long and they only gave him about 18 hours in between passage and his signing. Who can be expected to read all that?

What this really leads me to ask is where was he while the Assembly session was going on? Why wasn't he following the discussions first hand? In the State House, the floor discussion is available in many rooms, likely including in the Governor's Office. Why wasn't his staff following what was going on? No one in the Governor's Office either knew that the 5.5% tax was added to the bill or thought to tell the Governor?

Remember Chafee's campaign slogan? "Trust Chafee" But we can't even trust him to know what is in a monumental pension reform bill that he signs? Sorry, I just can't trust Chafee.

Lambert's Council Brings Disappointing Chill in Negotiation Season

Justin Katz

Meanwhile, in Tiverton, a Town Council that looked likely to stand firm in union negotiations is not performing as expected.

Pension Reform Bait-and-Switch to Block Broader Reform

Justin Katz

I've placed the 5.5% privatization tax in the context of the General Assembly's history of opposing such money-saving measures and pondered the language of the newly minted statute.

My concern, in brief, is that there really isn't anything limiting the application of the 5.5% "assessment" to state privatization. The only limit mentioned is to the displacement of employees included in General Law 36-8, which establishes the pension system. In other words, it appears to apply to any government agency that participates in state pensions, whether state, school district, or municipal. Mayoral academies, for example, can opt out of the pension system and so may be threatened with the surcharge. The limiting factor will only be how aggressive the folks who write the resulting regulations wish to be.

Even if the law does wind up limited to employees of the state, reformers should fear its effects on others of their strategies for improving government, notably consolidation. Any function moved from the municipal to the state level will now become permanently "in house."

Frankly, this sort of legerdemain is bound to happen when opposition parties jump on a fast-rolling bandwagon like pension reform.

November 20, 2011

Dual Purpose of the New 5.5% "Pension" Tax Exposed: To Discourage the Use of Non-State-Employees and To Gouge Yet Another Couple of Million from the Taxpayer

Monique Chartier

Who says? Why, the Director of the Department of Administration, Mr. Richard Licht, though he didn't actually use the words "gouge" or even "taxpayer". (Ah, the joy of euphemisms).

As Patrick noted, one of the few last minute amendments to the good-start-on-but-by-no means-comprehensive pension reform bill that survived a floor vote was a 5.5% tax on state services awarded to outside contractors - you know, the ones to which the state would not owe a pension, or vacation, or sick time, or a uniform allowance, or longevity pay, et public sector cetera. (Good job, Ian Donnis, clarifying this situation.)

[Donnis] asked Licht if the 5.5 percent assessment will curb the state’s use of outside employees. He responded:
That’s correct, and that’s actually the purpose of it. And independently of pension reform, our department is doing an analysis of contract employees, because there are instances where people working side by side — one works for an independent contractor, one works for the State of Rhode Island — yet they’re doing the same work.

(I'm shuddering as to the outcome of that analysis, by the way.)

Secondly, as to gouging. Possibly your reaction, when you heard about this new "assessment", was the same as mine: aren't the contractors just going to pass that cost back on to the state by increasing their bid by 5.5%??? In fact, that was the intent from the beginning.

Licht says the 5.5 percent assessment will be levied on the state. “The contractor doesn’t have to pay it,” he says. “It’s assessed against the state ...

Whew. The contractor doesn't have to pay it. The "state" does.

... wait a minute. The "state", in this case, means us taxpayers. It is our hard-earned money which funds the operation of state government! (Funny how Mr. Licht didn't actually phrase it that way. "The State" sounds so much more remote.)

Congratulations to the Governor for creating this win-win situation ... win-win solely for himself, that is: he looks good in the eyes of public employees by taxing non-state employee services and he looks good by funneling revenue to their pension fund from yet another tax-hole bored into our wallets.

The Understand Occupy Wall Street, All You Need To Understand is All of Political Philosophy, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Looking towards Marxism to explain Occupy Wall Street, as a number of writers have recently done, doesn't go far enough to explain the sort-of-movement's set of agenda items, or its choice of means for achieving its agenda. To fully understand the Occupy Wall Street Protests, its Providence counterpart, and how they differ from the Tea Party organizations, a wider view of political philosophy is needed -- in fact, a view of all of it. Fortunately, understanding all of political philosophy is not quite as daunting a task as it may initially sound (especially when you have bloggers to guide you).

* * *

Alfred North Whitehead once said that "the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato". If you believe Whitehead, all you need to do to understand all of philosophy, political philosophy included, is digest the entire works of Plato. Of course, Whitehead’s claim was ridiculously broad; obviously it was the combination of Plato and Aristotle who at one point or another said everything on the subject of philosophy there is to be said.

Slight hyperboles aside, it is safe to say that most if not all of the important concepts still used in philosophy today were developed by the ancient philosophers. The differences that separate modern from ancient philosophy are in the normative, i.e. in the widespread acceptance of basic set of rights possessed by everyone, commoners and aristocracy alike. In the words of 20th century philosopher Allan Bloom, rights are “new in modernity, not a part of the common sense language of politics or of classical political philosophy". In the ancient world, it was possible to think deeply and be concerned about concepts such as justice and virtue, yet still not be troubled by a practice such as slavery. This was not possible after the idea of universal equality had taken root. The political implication of this, also in Bloom's words, is that modernity is “constituted by the political regimes founded on freedom and equality, hence on the consent of the governed".

I don't believe that philosophers or historians have settled on any single explanation of how the idea of the political equality of all men (and eventually women) crept decisively into society's way of thinking over the millennia between Ancient Greece and the Enlightenment, but one theory worth pondering is that it was catalyzed by the spread of Christianity, with its core belief in all men being equal in the eyes of God. We do know that a connection between a Creator of all and equal rights for all was expressed at the beginning of the American Declaration of Independence, meaning that America’s founders either really believed in this idea, or if they didn’t, they were unable to identify a better alternative to base the existence of equal rights upon.

In tracing how ideas of liberty and equality made their way to the United States, historian Bernard Bailyn has noted they arrived in various forms: "Enlightenment abstractions", "common law precedents", "covenant theology", and "classical analogy", some more philosophical, some more practical. The Enlightenment abstractions -- the most purely philosophical part -- included the early and very successful theory of individual equality that had been posited by John Locke. Locke's idea was that all men possessed a natural freedom in a "state of nature", but that other men and unpleasant aspects of nature threatened that freedom. In response, individuals made a contract with another, agreeing to give up a small part of their natural freedom, to protect themselves from the threats that had the power to limit their freedom in a more severe way.

There were two great counterpoints to the ideas of Locke. One came from Edmund Burke. Burke rejected the idea that the goal of society was to restore man to life as it might have been in a state of nature. Burke doubted that such a state had existed in a meaningful way at any place or time. Man had always lived surrounded by other men and, in response, society had evolved habits and institutions that could protect an “ordered liberty” that would be something substantially less without them.

The other great reaction to Locke was that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Unlike Burke, Rousseau shared Locke's idea that the goal of political organization was to get man as close to an ideal state of nature has possible. However, unlike Locke, he didn't believe it would follow naturally from the pursuit of individual interests. Instead, Rousseau believed everyone had to subsume their individual wills into society's "general will" in order to experience true freedom in modern existence.

I would not go quite as far as Alfred North Whitehead did in tracing everything back to any single thinker or very small set of thinkers but, over the past 300 years, there hasn't been very much added to the combinations of underlying assumptions about the modes of political interaction explored by Locke, Burke and Rousseau. Their work has endured for centuries, because they each painted coherent pictures of how human instincts and intuitions about political interaction combine with conscious ideas of individual freedom and equality. There are some modes of human thinking that don't really change, and a good comprehensive description from seventeenth or eighteenth century still applies today -- so long as we are willing to stick with that normative idea that all men and women are created equal.

Social science taxonomists of various stripes would say that Locke, Burke and Rousseau gave expression to modes of thinking that are liberal (in the classical sense), conservative (which is a little different from "American" conservatism) and radical (which is a different thing from liberal), respectively. (But just in case, I've missed someone big, I will create an open thread immediately below this post, for anyone who wants to make a case for a fourth, orthogonal political philosopher).

What has been added to the work of the early modern political theorists is a whole lot of history, allowing for some assessment of whether the various theories are really all that logical, once the reality of human nature is added.

* * *

Looking across the breadth of political philosophy, the differences between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street become obvious. At the very fundamental level, the movements capture very different aspects of possible human reactions to political problems. The Tea Party movement, with its focus on Constitutional government, i.e. on preserving institutions and habits that have served many people very well for many years, are mounting a Burkean defense (of a day-to-day system, somewhat paradoxically, that is heavily justified in terms of the ideas of Locke.)

The Occupy Wall Streeters and Occupy Providencers, on the other hand, are tapping into the side of human nature explored by Rousseau -- the philosopher of the big three whose ideas by-far provide the worst guide for building a livable political program...

Open Thread: Is there a Big Idea in Modern Political Philsophy that's Not Somewhere in the Work of John Locke, Edmund Burke, or Jean-Jacques Rousseau?

Carroll Andrew Morse

I can't think of a body for this post that makes clearer what's in the title.

Sheldon Whitehouse, Born with a Silver Spoon Horseshoe

Marc Comtois

I mentioned reports that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse had apparently benefited from rules that make it OK for our Washington politicians to engage in what, in any other arena, would be considered insider trading. While Whitehouse continues to deny that he made the trades (instead, it was his financial adviser who did it for him), More details are coming out that reveal a remarkable sense of timing to the benefit of RI's junior senator (h/t Prof. Jacobson):

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island also made a flurry of trades in the days after the Paulson-Bernanke meeting with legislators.

At minimum, Whitehouse sold $250,000 in the stocks below between September 18-24, 2008. He may have sold as much as $600,000 in the stock below according to disclosures.

As Whitehouse's 2012 Senatorial opponent Republican Barry Hinckley told WPRO:
Look at these trades and the timing of them and the massive volume. He is trading between 5 and 20 percent of his net worth I find it implausible that much of someone’s net worth would be traded without someone’s knowledge....It appears there are two sets of rules for people like Sheldon Whitehouse, who are career politicians, who apparently are trading their own accounts when they should be working for us...whether it is exclusive health care they have for themselves or opting out of Obama care and apparently now they are allowed to inside trade which of course is illegal for the rest of Americans....Rhode Islanders are working hard just to make ends meet and it seems like no matter what they do they can’t get ahead but rich career politicians like Sheldon Whitehouse seem to be getting ahead at our cost.

November 19, 2011

Receivership for Entire Countries?

Carroll Andrew Morse

If you think that suspension of democracy justified on fiscal grounds will only be a small scale phenomenon occassionally affecting a municipality here and there, think again. From the Daily Telegraph (h/t Walter Russell Mead)...

An intrusive European body with the power to take over the economies of struggling nations should be set up to tackle the eurozone crisis, according to a leaked German government document...

The proposals urge that the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), a eurozone bailout fund that will be established by the end of next year, should be transformed into a version of the International Monetary Fund for the EU.

The European Monetary Fund (EMF) would be able to take full fiscal control of a failing country, including taking countries into receivership.

Over on our side of the pond, Rhode Island is a little bit ahead of everyone else in dealing with the mechanics of this. Are we going to be leaders in a movement to displace representative democracy with governments of the financiers and by the financiers, or are we going to be leaders in making sure that the fiscal insanity of the past half-century is addressed through structures of government of and by the people?

November 18, 2011

A Tourniquet on the Knee for a Gushing Thigh

Justin Katz

Christy comments to the post in which I express some exasperation with supporters of pension reform:

This bill is a giant step in the right direction for Rhode Island and while I appreciate some of what you have said here don't forget that the system's recipients are people and when these people die, the state's debt to them is cancelled. New employees will pay into a system that is much more closely related to a private sector 401k, and tied to the market. So yeah, it will take a while to get to 80%, but this bill doesn't pull the rug out from under current retirees (regardless of what the union bosses were saying.)

Put aside a minor adjustment for the reality of survivor benefits. My entire point, with respect to the just-passed pension reform is that the system will not make it through that long "while to get to 80%," much less 100%, without significant additional changes, and this particular reform sets up a system that ensures that those changes will not represent additional steps in the right direction.

Let's say, for the sake of illustration, that when time and economics have run their course, it turns out that Eileen Norcross was correct to put the actual present unfunded liability of the pension system at $18 billion. So far, with this round of legislation, we've addressed the problem to the extent of $3.2 billion in reforms and additionally pushed back the financial pain with re-amortization, which effectively added $1.8 billion to the amount that the state will have to pay beyond its investment returns.

So, if we look at the liability in terms of money that the state has to come up with, we're still in need of $16.6 billion dollars. What happens when that burden again reaches crisis proportions?

Well, the newly minted law puts further reforms in the hands of an unelected board of 15 people, seven of whom are directly appointed by the union organizations that have been opposing even the meager reduction of as-yet-unearned benefits for their members. Is it likely that the Retirement Board will return for further reductions in promised pension benefits to those currently reaping the rewards of the pension system or those still paying union bosses' salaries through their dues? Is it likely that the General Assembly will pass up the opportunity to declare that the Retirement Board has tied its hands?

Not really, and in the meantime, the hybrid plan will be taking 6% of payroll out of the equation both for defined-benefit investment returns and for use in further reforms. It may be that the $18 billion number is too high, but the value of the hybrid system decreases in direct proportion to the accuracy of the General Treasurer's lower number. That is, if the investment return is near the Retirement Board's predicted 7.5%, then the hybrid plan is more costly than the old plan; if the investment return is lower, the hybrid plan will offer savings (albeit only for employees who haven't even retired yet), but we'll have an eleven-figure liability on our hands for the system overall.

In other words, we're looking at massive tax increases, probably eased with a regular series of reamortizations perpetually postponing the fictional day on which the system will be self-sufficient. Of course, the way the Retirement Board power grab is structured, it'll be the better part of another decade before matters come to a head, giving everybody plenty of time to rewrite their personal history of adulation for this reform and the politicians who foisted it on us.

The comfortable narrative that everybody is telling themselves, just now, is that the very people who allowed the pension mess to reach its current point saw the light thanks to the determination of a few strong leaders... some of whom have been in office for a long, long time and all of whom are members of the union-backed Democrat machine (yes, that includes Governor Chafee). Hey, maybe that's the case. I'm just having a hard time buying it.

Even the Pension Bill Succeeds in Making RI Less Business-Friendly

Patrick Laverty

One of the very few amendments that was successful in yesterday's pension bill Assembly session was put forth by the Finance Chairmen in both the House and the Senate. Helio Melo in the House and Daniel DaPonte in the Senate. The amendment reads:

42-149-3.1. Assessment on state expenditures for non-state employee services. –
Whenever a department, commission, board, council, agency or public corporation incurs expenditures through contracts or agreements by which a nongovernmental person or entity agrees to provide services which are substantially similar to and in lieu of services hereto fore provided, in whole or in part, by regular employees of the department, commission, board, council, agency or public corporation covered by chapter 36-8, those expenditures shall be subject to an assessment equal to five and one-half percent (5.5%) of the cost of the service. That assessment shall be paid to the retirement system on a quarterly basis in accordance with subsection 36-10-2(e).
Basically any time the state needs to outsource a project, that business/contractor must pay the pension system an extra 5.5% of the contract. A new tax.

Wouldn't it seem that this provision really just made everything more expensive for the state? If I want to provide a service to the state that would normally cost $1M, well now I need to charge the state $1,055,000. It seems yet again, they think that when you tax a business, they're just going to eat that cost and not pass it along to the customer. But in this case, the state is the customer, and when the state is the customer and it is using state money to pay the contract, guess where that comes from? The taxpayers. Haven't we talked about this before?

On the Matt Allen Show today, General Treasurer Raimondo said that this 5.5% new tax had been discussed in concept but other than that, she wasn't aware that it was going to be enacted. This amendment was brought out by the Finance Committee chairs at the last minute? Why? If anyone has access to alter the bill during the hearing process, it is the chairs. Why didn't they put it in during the hearings? The impact was never studied, why was this done at the last minute?

November 17, 2011

Pension Reform Bill on its Way to Passing Passes

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to members of the RI press corps providing blow-by-blow coverage of the pension reform bill floor debates via Twitter (Ted Nesi, Ian Donnis, Bill Rappleye), save for an initial amendment backed by leadership that doesn't seem to make any major changes, debate on amendments in the RI House of Representatives has closed with no other amendments being passed, and the Senate has already passed the final bill with the same amendment that was added in the House, and no other amendments formally considered.


And just as I post the above item, Ted Nesi tweets...

Amdmt that passed from leaders includes 5.5% tax on state contractors as labor wanted. Earhardt says that will be a problem.
So I guess it's still accurate to say there were no major changes to the actual pension plan, just the addition of a new tax.


The House has passed the pension reform bill, by a vote of 57-15. The 15 Reps who voted against were...

Carnevale, DaSilva, DeSimone, Dickinson, Fellela, Guthrie, Hull, Jacquard, Johnston, Lima, Medina, Menard, Messier, Palumbo, San Bento


Rhode Island General Treasurer Gina Raimondo has made her public statement celebrating the passage of the pension reform bill...

This legislation represents the culmination of 11 months of thoughtful analysis and input from all stakeholders. It is affordable, sustainable and secure.

The legislation will:

  • Save taxpayers approximately $4 billion over the next 24 years.
  • Keep costs steady and predictable for taxpayers for decades to come, while sharing the risk fairly among all groups – state employees, teachers, municipal employees and taxpayers.
  • Provide retirement security to all of our public employees.
  • Immediately reduce the unfunded liability by about $3 billion.
  • Bring the funding status of the state-administered pension system from 48 percent funded to over 60 percent funded and put it on a healthy path.

Balanced Budget Amendment Coming up For a Vote in Congress

Carroll Andrew Morse

Part of the deal made earlier this year to increase the Federal debt-ceiling included taking votes in both the House and the Senate by December 31 on a balanced budget Constitutional amendment. The House is expected to take its vote by tomorrow. The main provisions of the the version of the amendment expected to be considered are...

  1. A requirement that the President submit an annual balanced budget to Congress.
  2. A 3/5 vote requirement, to spend more in outlays than is taken in and receipts in any given year (with borrowed money not counted as "receipts", nor repayment of debt principal counted as an outlay).
  3. A 3/5 vote requirement, to raise the debt ceiling.
  4. A requirement that any bill to raise revenue be approved by a rollcall vote.
The complete text of this year's amendment is below the fold.

Rhode Island residents may be particularly interested in the differences, which are not major, between the current proposal and the balanced budget amendment that Senator Claiborne Pell voted in favor of in 1986

  1. In the current version, votes to raise the debt ceiling or to deficit spend in a given year must be by roll-call.
  2. The exemption of borrowed money and repayment of debt principal from receipts and outlays wasn't in the 1986 version.
  3. The 1986 version expressly allowed the President to submit an alternate budget where outlays exceeded receipts, in addition the balanced budget.
  4. The 1986 version allowed balanced-budget requirements to be waived "for any fiscal year in which a declaration of war is in effect". The current version extends that to any year where the U.S. is "engaged in military conflict".
I'd prefer the narrower 1986 language limiting the waiver specifically to a declaration of war, and the alternate budget provision was a reasonable idea, but none of the changes make the current version of the bill unworkable, and its spirit remains the same: look at what it would take to balance the budget each year; do not assume borrowing to cover debts is automatic; make sure that votes on decisions to raise taxes, to borrow money, and to spend more than can be collected are recorded, so that the citizens have the information they need to hold Senators and Congressman accountable for their actions.

Despite the fact that this is a very mild version of a Constitutional-level budget balancing process, prepare to hear arguments from the fiscally-insane wing of the Democratic party that boil down to the idea that the Federal government cannot possibly function if the President uses a part of the Federal bureaucracy at his or her disposal to consider how to balance the budget, and that it's unreasonable to require a 3/5 vote of Congress when the government wants to spend more than it takes in.

Text of H.J. Res. 2, the balanced budget Constitutional amendment expected to be voted on, on or around November 18, 2011:

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

Section 2. The limit on the debt of the United States held by the public shall not be increased, unless three-fifths of the whole number of each House shall provide by law for such an increase by a rollcall vote.

Section 3. Prior to each fiscal year, the President shall transmit to the Congress a proposed budget for the United States Government for that fiscal year in which total outlays do not exceed total receipts.

Section 4. No bill to increase revenue shall become law unless approved by a majority of the whole number of each House by a rollcall vote.

Section 5. The Congress may waive the provisions of this article for any fiscal year in which a declaration of war is in effect. The provisions of this article may be waived for any fiscal year in which the United States is engaged in military conflict which causes an imminent and serious military threat to national security and is so declared by a joint resolution, adopted by a majority of the whole number of each House, which becomes law.

Section 6. The Congress shall enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation, which may rely on estimates of outlays and receipts.

Section 7. Total receipts shall include all receipts of the United States Government except those derived from borrowing. Total outlays shall include all outlays of the United States Government except for those for repayment of debt principal.

Section 8. This article shall take effect beginning with the later of the second fiscal year beginning after its ratification or the first fiscal year beginning after December 31, 2016.

The Cultural Cycle We're In

Justin Katz

Commenting on the image cut by "union protesters" (that is, protesting union members), Alice Losasso of West Warwick quotes Scottish historian Alexander Tytler as follows:

"The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to complacency; From complacency to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage."

I'd like to think that the cycle can be broken, but I'm not so sure. As Tytler indicates in the preceding paragraph, the forces pushing toward decline control the vote because they get goodies from the system. The topic brings to mind a comment that Phil left yesterday to one of my pension posts:

I think it is appropriate to try to stifle reform that targets aging retirees. Do you want your generation to be the one that breaks contracts and faith with your elders once they have stopped working?

My "elders" fashioned the yoke of government regulation and inside dealing that is strangling our economy; they set fire to the cultural pillars that must stand in order to sustain liberty and abundance over the long term; they worshiped their own untrammeled independence to such a degree that they failed to reproduce in sufficient numbers to maintain the Ponzi schemes that they developed; and they made themselves promises at the expense of those whom they deigned to beget. The generation that once declared, "don't trust anyone over 30," is now insisting, "don't discomfit anyone over 60."

For my part, I'm utterly unpersuaded that those now approaching middle age, much less those who are younger still, are therefore obligated to maintain the scheme. There is no moral obligation for a young, struggling family to ensure a cushy retirement that maintains an arbitrarily high standard of living for people who have ceased to produce. But to enforce that obligation, and others like it, my "elders" will be only too happy to place increasing power in the hands of an incompetent governing class that will persist long after the gray years of the Boomers — probably until the entire civilization collapses or a bloody revolution sets things aright. From my perspective, some rational, not-exactly-arduous reforms now would be preferable.


Russ was happy to point out in the comments that the Tytler quotation is actually a common misattribution. That's fine. Just as I wouldn't argue that a cultural observation must be true because some historian made it, I won't discount that it might be true even if he didn't say it, especially for use in a more philosophical-type blog post.


Patrick Laverty

Where does the government get its money to buy stuff? Do you know? It seems most people don't. They just seem to think it's free money or they'll get it from business or industry.

Just like this article about Obama's recent idea to help the Christmas tree industry by taxing it fifteen cents a tree to help with marketing Christmas trees.

"The administration said it was not a tax, but an industry-funded fee that the industry supported for marketing purposes."

Industry funded? What does that even mean? The Christmas tree industry is going to pay a 15 cent tax per tree which would then be returned to them by the US Government so they can engage in better marketing? Does this idea make sense to anyone? First, just keep the fifteen cents and do your own marketing. Second, "industry funded"? Who are you kidding. We know who the funding will be, the people who buy the trees. But I guess if you tell people that it's the businesses paying it, then who cares what the new tax is.

Want more examples of this? I recently saw a flyer advocating for after-school learning for children. One of the statistics cited was

"4 out of 5 parents (80%) favor using state dollars to fund afterschool and summer learning programs."
Why not ask those same parents whether they feel they should pay out of their own pockets for afterschool and summer learning programs. Because why? Because it is the same money! They pay the taxes to the state which then makes their tax money into the "state dollars". We don't currently have these programs so to pay for them, we'd need to raise taxes! People often don't realize this. It's like they think the money just magically appears. Oh don't worry, the government will pay for it! People, YOU ARE THE GOVERNMENT!

If you want even further evidence of people having no idea that this "government money" is their own, look at the biennial bond referenda. In last year's statewide election, we only had three spending questions to look at, the Higher Education Facilities Bond, Transportation Bonds and the Open Space and Recreation Bonds. They all passed. The closest vote was for the first one, and it won by 11 points. The Transportation bond won by 47 points, maybe because of the campaign that said if we vote for that bill, the federal government will match the state funds. Federal money? That's more free money! Right? Wrong. It's more taxpayer money, it's just coming from a different pocket.

Hopefully someday people will wake up and see all this government money for what it is, the taxpayers' money. Every time there is fraud and waste in the government, that is our money being stolen and wasted. This isn't free money, it's our money.

Pension Reform: It's Like Obama for Rhode Island

Justin Katz

Recall the 2008 election season — with its outrageous claims of the world healing and revival that would accompany the election of Barrack Obama to the Presidency of the United States? Some folks appear to desire the same mystique for pension reform in Rhode Island.

Among them, apparently, is Alan Hassenfeld, former head of Hasbro and current EngageRI member, who in a Projo op-ed (not online) declares:

... if Rhode Island becomes one of the first states to tackle this thorny fiscal issue with a progressive and bold reform, it will send a signal we are open for business, because the pension line in the budget will become predictable. Our lovely little state, with its rich history and winding shoreline, will be a magnet for companies looking to relocate. Our tax base will broaden, our schools will continue to improve, and we'll be able to invest in infrastructure and take care of those who can't take care of themselves. It's a future we all want and make no mistake, it is very close. We must not let this opportunity pass us by.

Baloney. In practical year-to-year budget terms, this reform merely keeps the state-level pension bite roughly the same (only a little bigger next year than this). It does so because the Retirement Board exploded next year's pension payment by adjusting the expected rate of return from an outlandish 8.25% to a mildly less outlandish 7.5%, thus increasing the amount that taxpayers must kick in. And the reform achieves its reduction in payment in large part by reamortizing the debt, thus costing an estimated $1.8 billion in lost interest over the amortization period.

The reform doesn't even touch the liability that has accrued thus far, merely reducing the rate at which it expands, and to address this untouched albatross, it all but hands legislative power to an unelected board dominated by union appointees to readjust the payment plan in the future. (My prediction: Increases in taxes and additional amortization unto infinity.)

About the most it is reasonable to say about this reform is that it points in the right direction, but any organization that zips into Rhode Island out of enthusiasm for our "strong leaders" (as the title of Hassenfeld's op-ed puts it) will quickly discover that it's the same old over-taxed, over-regulated, over-mandated playground for insiders, the collective, and the rich that it has always been.

November 16, 2011

State Republican Primary to Stay Open

Monique Chartier

Turn-out to the RIGOP meeting tonight in Cranston was, I'm pleased to report, very heavy. The list of speakers (none of whom I heard, regrettably, as I arrived just as the voting started) included former Governor Don Carcieri, who spoke in favor of keeping the primary open.

In the end, the vote tally was 108 in favor of the Resolution and 80 against it (i.e., 80 delegates voted in favor of keeping the primary "open", defined as the absence of a requirement for the voter to have been a registered Republican for a certain period of time in order to vote in the party's primary).

This was eighteen votes short of the two thirds majority needed to change the RIGOP bye-laws and close the primary. (Thanks to Dave Talan for these numbers.)

Accordingly, unaffiliated voters in Rhode Island will continue to enjoy the privilege of voting in the primary of any political party that they wish.

The Conflicts of Governance that the Pension Reform Law Could Create

Carroll Andrew Morse

Predicting that the pension reform bill will be passed by the RI legislature mostly as reported from committee, Jim Baron of the Pawtucket Times has far and away come up with the best imagery for describing how the floor debate will likely play out...

Much like the budget process, individual legislators will be welcome to submit dozens of amendments, they will be able to argue about those amendments for hours on end, then they will get to watch each amendment peter out in a little puff of smoke, fall toward the earth and disappear without a trace, like the little twinkles of light from Fourth of July fireworks.
However, if H6319A/S1111A does pass as is, and if the provisions relating to endangered pension plans ever need to be invoked, serious constitutional ambiguities in the bill could create conflict within the legislative process.

On Monday morning, I put a series of questions by email to the Governor, the General Treasurer, and the House and Senate Leadership regarding the constitutional issues, figuring that the Governor would have a definite position on the possibility that his veto power is being nullified by the legislature, that the leaders of the House and Senate (especially the Senate Leader who was described in a recent newspaper article as being “fiercely protective of the Senate”) would have definite positions on the independent judgment of the legislature they lead being subordinated to a non-legislative board, and the General Treasurer would have on-hand some reasonable estimates relating to the likelihood of the constitutional oddities in the bill being triggered.

As of the time of this posting, I haven't received any specific answers to the questions posed. I do understand, with all of the lobbying and concern that this bill has generated, two days is a short period of time to expect answers to every question that could be raised about its content. But then, I'm not the one who decided on just seven days between the unveiling of the final version of the bill and its being voted on.

For the Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island (ERS), the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island (MERS), the Rhode Island State Police Retirement Benefits Trust (SPRBT) or the Rhode Island Judicial Retirement Benefits Trust (JRBT), an "endangered status" pension plan will be defined in a new section 36-10.2 of Rhode Island law as a plan that...

(i) Has a funded percentage of fifty percent (50%) or less; and
(ii) The plan’s funded percentage has decreased for five (5) consecutive plan years.
When a pension system enters endangered status, 36-10.2 will require a process to begin where the state retirement board develops two "funding improvement strategies". One of the funding improvement strategies is called the "Default A" strategy which, according to the proposed law...
shall show increases in employer and employee contributions under the plan necessary to achieve the applicable requirements…assuming no amendments to reduce future benefit accruals under the plan.
The retirement board is also required to send the legislature a second funding improvement strategy. If the legislature doesn't approve the second strategy within a certain amount of time, the law states that Default A shall be enacted.

From a practical perspective, the first question to worry about (and that I put to the various RI government leaders involved with pension reform) is how likely is it that plans will enter endangered status, triggering the funding improvement strategy process...

1. Based on the current condition of the pension systems covered by the proposed section 36-10.2, how likely it is that the endangered status conditions will be met, i.e. over the course of the next decade, how many times should we expect the retirement board to be writing funding improvement strategies?
And if funding improvement strategies are ever to be used, the first constitutional and legal question that must be answered is...
2. Are the funding improvement strategies written by the retirement board intended to create legally binding appropriations, or recommendations only?
If the funding improvement strategies are only intended to be non-binding recommendations (and everyone involved agrees on this) then there aren't any further issues to worry about. However, if they are to become binding appropriations and carry the force of law, then the pathway of their creation and implementation raises a serious set of questions that need to be resolved before any pension plans enter endangered status:
  • Does the phrase "shall be enacted" with regards to funding improvement strategies apply to the Governor as well as the legislature...
    3. If funding improvement strategies are legally binding appropriations, are they subject to a gubernatorial veto?
  • Does the concentration of fiscal and lawmaking powers in the hands of the state retirement board create a problem (besides being flat-out unconstitutional, but since the political class in RI has a hard time understanding why this in itself is a cause for concern, I'll lay that aside for the moment)? Consider that the state retirement board controls the projected rate of return of the pension system. If that rate is reduced in the future, it would immediately increase the actuarial unfunded liability. If the actuarial unfunded liability is increased, it could immediately put several pension plans on a trajectory towards endangered status -- which means the state retirement board would have made the decision that gives itself the power to impose a "funding improvement strategy" on the legislature...
    4. If the state retirement board makes future changes to the expected pension-fund rate of return that increase the actuarial unfunded liability, then as a practical matter, unless the legislature acts immediately to raise the employer contribution to the pension system through the normal budgetary process, could the retirement board under 36-10.2 assume power superior to that of the legislature to determine how the new unfunded liability is to be addressed?
  • Should Rhode Island's earlier experience with a union-dominated retirement board being able to bypass the regular legislative process and create its own benefit plan, highlighted by Tom Mooney of the Projo a few weeks ago, raise a red flag...
    5. Is there a risk that 36-10.2 will recreate, at the state level, the situation that existed in Providence in the 1980s, where a municipal retirement board exercised direct authority to determine benefit levels, leading to a fiscal and a good-government imbalance that contributed to pension-system problems still being faced today?
Unless the conditions defining “endangered status” are so unlikely they will never be met, or “funding improvement strategies” are only non-binding recommendations, this piece of pension reform is likely to create brand new conflicts and uncertainties. Until the extra-constitutional provisions are fixed, Rhode Islanders who are concerned about real pension reform will need to extend the scope of potential government mischief they keep watch for, to make sure that the process being created to give one group in society special powers to determine its own governmental appropriations isn’t wildly abused.

November 15, 2011

Building and Talking Pensions

Justin Katz

ABC6 has posted video of the news story in which I appeared, last week, about pensioners who make more than they did as employees.

It's too bad the reporter didn't come back an hour or so later; a shot of me trying to lift the 25' wall that she filmed me framing would have been much more dramatic. (I did get the wall up, by the way, but it took a few tries to convince my muscles that it was in their interest to perform the act in one push... and then it took a few days for them to recover.)

Thanks to reporter Abbey Niezgoda for making the long trip out to Tiverton to include me in the story.

Dave Talan: Close the Primary

Engaged Citizen

[Tomorrow, the RIGOP will consider a resolution to close its primary; i.e., the requirement that a voter must have been registered as a Republican for at least ninety days in order to vote in a Republican primary in Rhode Island. This afternoon, Dave Talan sent the following e-mail with his thoughts on the subject.]

I am writing to urge you to vote in FAVOR of the resolution to allow only REPUBLICANS to vote in REPUBLICAN Primaries. This will be voted on tomorrow (Wednesday November 16) at 7:00 P.M. at the R.I. Republican Party meeting in Cranston (Broad St. & Rhodes Pl. in Pawtuxet Village).

My biggest concern is having our Party's Primaries hijacked by Democrats and people who do not wish us well, and who do not even intend to vote for the GOP candidate in the November election.

If you were at the last R.I. GOP meeting in October, you recall that I talked about people who voted in, and decided, our last hotly-contested Primary in 2006. I had sent E-Mails to about 1,000 new Republicans, who voted in that Primary, and who had filled out their E-Mail address on their voter registration card. I welcomed them to the Republican Party. The response I received was appalling.

Usually, when I send out E-Mails like this, I get replies expressing delight that the Republican Party is alive and well, and asking to hear more from the R.I. GOP. But this time, I received HUNDREDS of angry replies, from people outraged that anyone would think they were a Republican.

Like the man who said that the time between when he voted in the GOP Primary, and when he immediately filled out a disaffiliation paper, was "THE WORST 30 SECONDS OF MY LIFE".

Or the person who wrote "You are sadly mistaken. I am NOT a Republican voter. The Republican Party has abandoned America. Shame on you."

Or the man who replied, "I will vote for Democrats and support them financially. I'll vote for Sheldon Whitehouse simply because he is a Democrat."

Or the woman who said, "I am not a Republican Voter. I am outraged at this tactic of the Republican Party. Take me off your mailing list."

Or the Cranston resident who wrote, "I am a Democrat. I only voted in the last 2 Primary elections as Republican to vote against Laffey."

I certainly do not want to discourage any Republican-leaning citizen from voting in a GOP Primary, and from voting for Republicans in November. But I do not want to see our Party's candidates chosen by Democrats, who want bad things to happen to us. Based on my personal observations, I believe this is the greater danger.

And so, I urge you to vote to APPROVE the resolution at Wednesday's meeting.

Dave Talan is the Corresponding Secretary of the Rhode Island Republican Party and former Chairman of the Providence Republican Party.

Rhode Island Will Recover, After Everyone Else Does

Carroll Andrew Morse

A projection posted at the New York Times Economix blog divides the 50 states and the District of Columbia into 5 groups, based on when they are expected to be home to the same number of jobs that they were in December 2007.

The first group has already recovered. The group after that is projected to recover by 2013. The last group isn't expected to recover until "past 2017".

There are only 3 states in the last group: Nevada, Michigan, and...I'll let you guess the third.

(Also, would anyone like to interpret the significance of the fact that one of the three places that has already made its recovery is D.C.?)

Congress Pays

Marc Comtois

If you haven't already, take some time to watch the 60 Minutes piece on congressional insider trading. Taking the lead from work done by Peter Schweizer for his new book Throw Them All Out, the story delves into how so many of our elected officials manage to end up as millionaires after a few terms in Washington, D.C. Maddeningly, the practice is legal and not exclusive to members of one party. (And, according to WPRI, Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has apparently engaged in the practice, though he--according to a spokesman--"is not actively involved in the management of this investment account"). For example, to pick a couple high-profile individuals:

During the healthcare debate of 2009, members of Congress were trading health care stocks, including House Minority Leader John Boehner, who led the opposition against the so-called public option, government funded insurance that would compete with private companies. Just days before the provision was finally killed off, Boehner bought health insurance stocks, all of which went up....former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband have participated in at least eight IPOs. One of those came in 2008, from Visa, just as a troublesome piece of legislation that would have hurt credit card companies, began making its way through the House. Undisturbed by a potential conflict of interest the Pelosis purchased 5,000 shares of Visa at the initial price of $44 dollars. Two days later it was trading at $64. The credit card legislation never made it to the floor of the House.
Schweizer explains why he wrote the book:
This is not a book about corrupt political leaders. It is instead about a compromised political system. The purpose of the book is not to single out certain individual members, but to look at a broad pattern of financial transactions and expose possible insider trading and conflicts of interest. The book reveals a pattern of suspicious stock trading by members of congress from both parties based on their financial disclosure statements and legislative activities....the political leaders named here are the beneficiaries of these trades and were anyone else in America to engage in these sort of trading patterns, they would likely receive scrutiny from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Indeed, private citizens might very likely go to jail were they to do this as it relates to their own jobs.

The real scandal is that in our current system of government, these trades are perfectly legal. We wouldn’t tolerate professional athletes betting on their games. So why do we let our leaders do it on something far more important?

Small Pensions & Double (and Triple) Dipping

Justin Katz

Today, on the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity blog, I've reviewed pensioners with very low pensions as well as those who receive more than one pension from plans administered by the state.

On the latter count, many appear to involve survivor benefits bequeathed by a deceased spouse who would have received the pension upon retirement, which is a reasonable benefit to offer. But with combined survivor payments coming in at over $60,000 per year for life, it's quite a benefit. Moreover, the number of such payments going to individuals with their own public pensions, combined with the repeated last names on the total pension role, really begins to give one the sense of a class set apart from the rest.

November 14, 2011

Time for Jon Huntsman to Go Away

Carroll Andrew Morse

If anyone in the Republican Party cared about Jon Huntsman's candidacy, his would have been the biggest gaffe of the CBS/National Journal Saturday night "Commander-in-Chief" Presidential debate. Following an answer from Mitt Romney on possible World Trade Organization action against China, Huntsman said...

First of all, I don't think you can take China to the W.T.O. on currency-related issues. Second, I don't know that this country needs a trade war with China. Who does it hurt? Our small businesses in South Carolina, our exporters, our agriculture producers.

We don't need that at a time when China is about to embark on a generational position. So what should we be doing? We should be reaching out to our allies and constituencies within China. They're called the young people. They're called the internet generation. There are 500 million internet users in China, and 80 million bloggers. And they are bringing about change, the likes of which is going to take China down, while we have an opportunity to go up and win back our economic manufacturing muscles.

Got that? Huntsman thinks that China's "economic manufacturing muscles" will be degraded by its young people partaking in greater freedom of expression.

Huntsman's supporters like to explain his poor poll numbers by claiming that their candidate is too sophisticated and worldly for the Republican base: did you know he's an ex-ambassador to China and fluent in Mandarin? But no exceptional diplomatic, political or leadership skill is evidenced by a candidate who uses his time in the national spotlight to make the claim that Chinese bloggers will help take their own nation down -- a claim which bolsters the internal position of those China who believe that freedom of expression is dangerous at the expense of the young Chinese interested in its expansion.

And while Jon Huntsman's mainly ex- and non-conservative supporters may find a worldly sophistication in the kind of political candidate who cavalierly views increased freedom of expression as a limitation on economic growth, the instinct of Republican voters to disregard him was proven correct on Saturday night.

Even the $17/Week Co-Share: A Portrait of Greed

Monique Chartier

Exclusively, it appears, courtesy WPRO.

Christopher Cardarelli earned $77,000 as a firefighter last year and collected a $37,000 pension as a retired police captain but now he says he is paying too much for health benefits. ...

Cardarelli asserts that the city must reimburse him the $17 dollars a week he has been paying toward his health care because his contract says that if a retired cop is rehired then his town-financed healthcare is suspended, however, it says that the city will reimburse the retiree for any health care payments they are required to make by their new employer.

In addition to the matter of Mr. Cardarelli's unwillingness to pay a healthcare co-share that most of us can only dream about (Paul & Al made him the subject this morning of their "This Is Why You Suck" segment), this also becomes an excellent opportunity to once again highlight the extreme generosity of Rhode Island's public pension benefits: prima facie, Mr. Cardarelli is not ready to retire, nor does he need a pension to survive: he currently works a nice public sector job for North Providence.

Why, then, was he, along with thousands of other public employees, state and local, permitted to begin collecting a pension long before retirement age? And how can the bill on Smith Hill just voted out of committee honestly be framed as adequately reforming the pension system if it leave largely untouched these exceedingly generous pensions?

Retirees, the Young and the Wealthy

Justin Katz

I've taken a look at the public entities with the youngest retirees, as well as the wealthiest.

November 13, 2011

Now *THIS* is Something to Protest About

Patrick Laverty

In my wish that more people would pay attention to the "little things" that our government does, I wish they'd see things like this happening and react accordingly.

On Friday, the US House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would require all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to track all online activity for all of their customers. According to an article on, ISPs would be

required to store to include customers' names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporarily-assigned IP addresses

How do you feel about that? Why not just invite the FBI into your house to sit down with you at the computer and ask them permission to use your computer?

Why is the House doing this? The title of the bill is "PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM INTERNET PORNOGRAPHERS ACT OF 2011." Makes sense right? When trying to chase down child pornographers, authorities could then figure out where the sites are that people get this stuff, where they trade the files and then simply track the IP addresses back to the people and arrest them. I mean, who could possibly be opposed to hunting down child pornographers and pedophiles?

If only that's all it was. Some amendments were offered such as making the data only to law enforcement agencies working on a child pornography case. That was rejected. Other amendments were offered and shot down, including limiting the subpoena powers to only enforcement agencies working on a specific child pornography case. That was rejected. An amendment was offered to give additional funds to the FBI for working on child pornography cases, that too was rejected. As Rep Jon Conyers stated, this bill is "mislabeled". Rep Zoe Lofgren offered one last amendment, to change the title of this bill to the

"Keep Every American's Digital Data for Submission to the Federal Government Without a Warrant Act of 2011."
That too was rejected.

CNet added:

To make it politically difficult to oppose, proponents of the data retention requirements dubbed the bill the Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011, even though the mandatory logs would be accessible to police investigating any crime and perhaps attorneys litigating civil disputes in divorce, insurance fraud, and other cases as well.

So let's assume for one millisecond that we can trust the government, we can trust every law enforcement agency to use this data properly and that all judges will only give out orders to access the data in cases that fit the intent. (Hang on while I get up off the floor and stop laughing...) But let's use that assumption. If you have all this data stored somewhere that tells credit card information, bank account information tied to the person who owns it and their address, isn't this some pretty valuable information? Anyone heard of "Anonymous" and the other associated hacker groups? This is exactly the type of treasure trove that those people will go after. As little faith that we have that the data would only be used appropriately, I have even less faith that the data would be completely safe and protected from compromise. Heck, we can't even keep our military drones safe from software infection. If remote-controlled and armed aircraft aren't perfectly safe from hacking attack, why would trillions of lines of data in logs be safe?

Lastly, maybe one of the most disappointing parts of this is who the sponsor is. Lamar Hunt of Texas. It isn't who the person is that makes this so disappointing, the disappointment is his party, Republican. The party of smaller government and leave citizens alone and respect privacy.

Below is how the committee vote went to pass this bill out of committee, 19-10.

Smith (R) X
Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R) X
Coble (R) X
Gallegly (R) X
Goodlatte (R) X
Lungren (R) X
Chabot (R) X
Issa (R) X
Pence (R)
Forbes (R) X
King (R) X
Franks (R) X
Gohmert (R)
Jordan (R)
Poe (R)
Chaffetz (R) X
Griffin (R) X
Marino (R) X
Gowdy (R) X
Ross (R) X
Adams (R) X
Quayle (R)
Conyers, Jr. (D) X
Berman (D) X
Nadler (D) X
Scott (D) X
Watt (D) X
Lofgren (D) X
Jackson Lee (D) X
Waters (D) X
Cohen (D)
Johnson (D) X
Pierluisi (D) X
Quigley (D) X
Chu (D)
Deutch (D) X
Sanchez (D)
Wasserman Schultz (D)
Total 19 10

This is exactly the type of bill that all citizens should be worried about, with regard to government overreach, government intrusion into the privacy of every citizen, treating everyone like a criminal. I'm hoping and believe that this bill will actually go nowhere and while the initial committee vote looks a little partisan, there were votes on both sides of the bill on both sides of the aisle. I'm thinking this one will go nowhere in the Democrat-controlled Senate. But just in case, this might be a good one to "contact your Representative today" about. Say no to Big Brother, say yes to privacy.

November 12, 2011

Reason #1 That Pension Reform Should not Pass - It's More Like a 47% Rather Than A 95% Solution

Monique Chartier

On Thursday, both the House and Senate Finance Committees voted out the pension reform bill. Check out Andrew's post for an enlightening if not encouraging round-up/review.

Thursday is also Valley Breeze day. This week's edition contain a letter from Rep. Michael Chippendale and Sen. Nicholas Kettle explaining why they support the bill.

No piece of legislation is "perfect" and "perfection" is in the eye of the beholder. Do I think this bill is "perfect"? No. Do I think it will take a huge step toward solving our fiscal nightmare? Yes. ...

There are those who want this proposed legislation to be defeated because it is a 95 percent solution rather than a 100 percent solution.

I'd like to sincerely apologize for appearing to pick on these two fine legislators. They are undoubtedly only voicing the logic of many who support the bill.

Unfortunately, the math doesn't back such a conclusion. (And let's not forget that "the solution to our pension issue is rooted in math, rather than politics ".)

The unfunded pension liability of the state system alone is $7.3 billion.

The bill as originally submitted takes care of $3.4 billion, or 47%, of this shortfall. With the revisions made by the FinComms - h/t Ted Nesi for the term - that amount drops to 44%.

So this "solution" addresses less than 50% of a pension shortfall that is, if not the worst in the country, heartily competing for that dubious distinction. (Like second worst would make the problem any smaller. Sheesh. Way to trivialize a dire situation, PolitiFarce.)

The Pew Center on the States is undoubtedly correct, as far as it goes, when they observe that

The proposed plan would be unprecedented, both in terms of the employees it would affect and the scope and scale of changes to their benefits

But the size of the liability is also unprecedented, using "unprecedented" now as a euphemism for really, really bad. As we can see from the math, the magnitude of the solution matches neither the depth of the problem nor its billing as "comprehensive pension reform".

Accordingly, Justin is correct that, regrettably,

This bill will not solve the pension problem

November 11, 2011

Raimondo's Definition of Leadership

Justin Katz

Gotta love General Treasurer Gina Raimondo's definition for legislative leadership:

Follow the Senate president. Follow Speaker Fox. Be a leader.

Lead by following! That sounds very Rhode Island.

Real legislative leaders should be asking themselves why this whole process appears to be going so smoothly. Sure, the unions are putting on their show, as they could be expected to do no matter what they actually think of the legislation, but look at the lopsided votes: 10-1 in the Senate Finance Committee and 13-2 in the House Finance Committee.

A word of advice for the EngageRI types: when people you've grown to trust to be wrong and/or crooked suddenly appear to be unified in making a good decision, the decision might not be as good as it appears.

This bill will not solve the pension problem, but it will put the ultimate fix in the hands of a union-heavy Retirement Board. Sure, later retirement dates, COLAs tied to fund performance, and a hybrid plan should be part of an ultimate solution, but Raimondo's solution will not get the system to the status at which they'll serve as a resolution. It points in the right direction, but in the same sense that sending a driver into Point Judith Harbor points him in the right direction to Block Island.

Massive tax increases and/or service cuts are going to come before this thing is fully amortized (if it ever is). If the General Assembly passes this reform, all it will have done is what it always does — namely, to kick the can down the road at considerable cost.

East Providence Headed for a Fiscal Overseer?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Ted Nesi of WPRI-TV (CBS 12) is reporting that Chafee administration is close to applying the state's municipal fiscal stabilization law to the City of East Providence.

According to the WPRI report, East Providence wouldn't go immediately into receivership, as Central Falls did, but would have a fiscal overseer appointed for them by the state.

The three stages of control where the state transfers power away from a municipal government and voters are available here.

What Kind of Progress?

Justin Katz

Peter Thiel's cover story for the October 3 National Review is worth a read. Essentially, he breaks "progress" into distinct components and argues that the United States is losing steam on the most important. Part of our problem, he argues, is that we've culturally begun to behave as if every aspect of society moves forward in some sort of inexorable march:

Today's aged hippies no longer understand that there is a difference between the election of a black president and the creation of cheap solar energy; in their minds, the movement towards greater civil rights parallels general progress everywhere. Because of these ideological conflations and commitments, the 1960s Progressive Left cannot ask whether things actually might be getting worse. I wonder whether the endless fake cultural wars around identity politics are the main reason we have been able to ignore the tech slowdown for so long.

It's not only on the Left that one finds this (although it seems most pronounced, there). One often gets the impression during general political/philosophical discussions that the modern zeitgeist includes a strong faith that history and evolution inevitably move toward an Elysium of technological wonders, economic surplus, and unmitigated equality not of opportunity, but of outcome.

So, moving toward a social shift that advocates successfully paint in the colors of advancement — whether same-sex marriage, de facto amnesty for illegal immigrants, the silencing of supposedly intolerant voices, or public funding for abortion via government control of healthcare — comes to be seen as inherently compatible with innovation and liberty. That imperative holds no matter the method of achieving the shift.

November 10, 2011

Local Pension Problems - Why's That the State's Problem?

Patrick Laverty

Tonight, the pension bill was passed by the Finance Committees in both the House and Senate. In spite of some recent changes to the original bill, one thing that is not included is any help for the municipal retirement systems.

I've seen and heard of some local mayors asking the General Assembly for help with their own locally-administered pension plans. My first thought when I heard of the mayors asking for help was, "Hey, that's your problem, fix it yourself." That is true to a point, but at the same time, some of the plans may have gotten to the point of being unfixable, or if they are fixable, they'll be very expensive to the local taxpayers.

One such city in this situation is Cranston. Mayor Allan Fung was recently on WPRI's Newsmakers where he explained why cities like his are looking for the help.

Cranston transitioned their city employees over to the state plan, however everyone who was employed by the city before then, still fall under the city pension plan. That number today is 490 people, of which 55 are still working, leaving about 435 as retirees collecting their pension. With those numbers, there is no way to negotiate enough of a savings with those 55 to make the pension costs of the other 435 affordable. With that in mind, and due to the fact that retirees are not members of a union and cannot collectively bargain, Cranston took a step the City Council felt necessary. Under Mayor Steve Laffey, the Cranston City Council legislated a freeze on the retirees' cost of living adjustment (COLA).

The retirees sued in RI Superior Court and won, reinstating the COLA, which by ordinance is a compounding minimum of 3%.

So that's where mayors like Allan Fung are left today. They have an unaffordable pension plan that is non-negotiable and the laws are such that he and the Council cannot make the necessary changes to the retirees' payments. His request to the General Assembly is to pass a law that will let him suspend the COLA to retirees immediately or else he has a massive shortfall in the budget to make up.

According to Fung, if he were allowed to freeze the COLA for five years, he'd be able to save $32 million. If it was frozen for ten years, he'd save just under $50 million and if the freeze was for 15 years, he'd save $60 million.

If he's not given this kind of relief by the state, he will need to make up for an 8% gap next year either through increased taxes or service cuts. Over the next ten years, that amounts to approximately $92 million in some combination of increased taxes and service cuts.

According to, Cranston already has one of the highest tax rates in the state with a residential rate of $20.26 per $1,000 assessed with no homestead exemption. Only three other towns are higher and also do not offer the exemption, Gloucester, West Warwick and West Greenwich. Their tax rate on commercial properties is sixth highest at $30.39 per thousand and their car tax is $42.44, good for fifth highest in the state. So it wouldn't seem that Cranston has much room for raising taxes by $8-10 million a year for the next ten years.

It appears that Speaker Gordon Fox was prescient last week when he indicated that the pension fixes may be a two-step process, asthe current bill passed by the Finance Committees on both sides of the General Assembly passed the bill in front of them with no help for the locally-run plans.

WPRI's Ted Nesi tweeted yesterday

"Big win for Raimondo, Paiva Weed, Laborers union to keep non-MERS #ripench plans out of bill. Defeat for Chafee, @Angel_Taveras, Fung."
I think I'd have to disagree somewhat. If the Assembly doesn't help mayors like Allan Fung in cities like Cranston, the real defeat will be to the taxpayers that will need to pay for the mistakes of the past politicians.

Pensioners Above Pay

Justin Katz

I've added some different cuts of the data concerning RI public-sector pensioners who make more in pension than they did in pay. The most significant takeaway is that COLAs alone don't account for the phenomenon; the top 50 pensioners making more than their salaries have base pensions (not counting COLAs) that are 95% of their salaries.

It really wouldn't be unreasonable for legislators to address "earned benefits" in their reform efforts, considering the unjustifiable generosity of deals granted in the past.

Pension Coverage From Around the RI Interwebs

Carroll Andrew Morse

1. According to Ted Nesi of WPRI-TV (CBS 12), there's little change in the overall fiscal impact, between the original pension bill and the amended pension bill.

2. State Treasurer Gina Raimondo fully backs the revised bill, and is discouraging any amendments that would change around the fiscal particulars (h/t Ian Donnis)...

“In the coming days, I will continue to work with legislative leaders as they move toward final passage. Re-designing the state pension system is critical to moving toward a thriving economy. At this point, I urge caution that further amendments, which could compromise the principles of affordability, sustainability, and security must be avoided.

3. GoLocalProv has posted Governor Lincoln Chafee's statement on the amended bill, where he says that "adoption of this modified bill would be a substantial – but incomplete – step toward comprehensive pension reform", then adds...

I am deeply disappointed that the amended bill presented to the committee today fails to address the problem of our insolvent municipal pension systems. In order to correct this shortcoming, on the first day of the legislative session in January I will introduce a bill to address Rhode Island’s failing municipal pension plans.

3e (e for "editorial comment"). If the Governor submits a local pension bill in January, and the RI General Assembly follows its usual practice of doing nothing fiscally important until June, there is major potential for chaos during municipal budgeting next year. Will cities and towns have to prepare two budgets, one if local pension reform is passed, and one if it isn't?

4. Philip Marcelo of the Projo had an interesting item yesterday, noting that several of the state's labor leaders could be seen coming out of House Speaker Gordon Fox's office, at the same time that the amended bill was being finalized. The speaker's spokesman says that the labor leaders were not involved in discussions about the bill, and there's no indication of whether union leaders used their non-discussion time with state lawmakers to convey a message of "our pension was all right until they played around with numbers" of the kind that AFSCME Council 94 President Michael Downey delivers when he speaks in front of a union audience (link: Jim Baron of the Pawtucket Times), or a message of "room to talk about" assumptions about investment return and life expectancy and other pension parameters of the kind that AFSCME Council 94 President Michael Downey delivers when he speaks to a broader audience (link: RI-PBS' "A Lively Experiment").

5. The provision where the state retirement board can write legislation that "must be enacted" by the legislature is still part of the bill, and is still unconstitutional, and I find it hard to believe that the Speaker of the House and Senate President actually realize that they are giving up their authority to set the legislative agenda in certain cases to a panel of non-legislators, given that they don't even give that power to their own membership at the present time.

November 9, 2011

IRS as Police Agency

Justin Katz

I'm sure this sort of thing isn't as unusual as it feels, but there's something creepy and inappropriate about it:

Cars full of Internal Revenue Service agents descended on The Beach House Bar & Grill Friday morning but it is unclear what they were seeking.

A witness said the 9:18 a.m. arrival was dramatic, "like something out of TV or the movies, not what you expect on sleepy Park Avenue.

"Five black cars came flying up from one direction, five from the other and then like 30 officers poured out," the witness said. He said they were wearing bullet-proof vests and were armed.

Does every government agency get its own black-sunglasses brigade? It seems as if the bullet-proof vests and guns ought to be limited to policing agencies, requiring the broader bureaucracy to receive warrants and request policing assistance when the scope of their duties requires it.

November 8, 2011

Woo-hoo (with an asterisk)

Justin Katz

Matt Sanderson of the Tiverton Patch is reporting that both the library bond and the financial town referendum (FTR) questions passed. So, there's a big woo-hoo for the FTR. Of course, that's tempered by the fact that voters just agreed to borrow several million more dollars in order to build a new library — on top of the three brand new elementary schools that we've recently built.

It doesn't take but a few floating tea leaves to see that this combination will yield a crisis (even before we throw in pension problems), but at the very least, I can only be thrilled that the referendum will likely act as a counter to the absolutely massive tax increases that would be facing Tiverton in its absence.

The vote counts paint an interesting picture. According to Sanderson, the FTR won by 2,927 to 1,429 (67% to 33%), while the library slipped through with 2,351 votes against 2,009 (54% to 46%).

The difference, therefore, is around 13% of voters, which could be decisive in determining how the town deals with all of the demands being made on its finances — including what I understand to be extremely weak bargaining against the local unions on the part of the current Town Council, under the leadership of President Jay Lambert.

Me Versus the Rally

Justin Katz

I'll be on the 5:00 and 6:00 evening news broadcasts on ABC6 talking about my analysis of public pensions that are higher than the salaries from which they grew. I got the impression that I'll be presented in opposition to the pro-high-pension rally that the unions are hosting, today.

A Referendum to Thwart Dishonest Politics

Justin Katz

So, today Tiverton voters will have the opportunity finally to do away with the financial town meeting (FTM) that has allowed a relatively small group of very motivated people to double taxes in the past ten years and ensure that they would continue to climb even during the worst economy that most of us have ever experienced. Not surprisingly, the ringleaders of that relatively small group are in a panic to stop the referendum from becoming a reality, with an astonishingly dishonest last-minute surprise from Budget Committee Chairman Chris Cotta, who is a veritable picture of the Rhode Island Way.

Cotta, who is so Rhode Island that he achieved #34 on GoLocalProv's list of the state's 50 highest-paid staffers, appears to have sent a series of questions regarding the financial town referendum (FTR) to Suzanne Greschner, chief of the state Division of Municipal Finance, signed in his capacity as Budget Committee Chairman. My understanding is that he did not call a meeting of the Budget Committee for these purposes and, moreover, that he did not express his concerns to the local committee charged with creating the referendum despite being asked on multiple occasions.

I haven't been able to get a copy of Greschner's reply, but even through Cotta's spin, it appears that she essentially confirmed that the process for reviewing budgets, in particular with respect to the state property tax cap, will remain as it has been. Here's Cotta:

Of great concern was the proposed concept of permitting elector budgets on a ballot without being vetted and approved by the Office of Municipal Finance. The ballot question and related charter changes offer ballot access to electors without following the same stringent taxpayer protection reviews or notice requirements that the municipal budget must endure. It is now clear through the response that the Department of Revenue will approve only one budget and one tax levy for the town of Tiverton whether such budget exceeds the statutory tax cap or not. The Department of Revenue will not approve several budgets from the town as addressed in the charter change proposed.

What this means is that any budget supported by a tax levy that has not been preapproved, heard and advertised in accordance with state laws can and will be challenged by any aggrieved taxpayer in the town. This has far reaching consequences both legal and financial for the town.

Plainly put, this is bull. Under the FTM, the only budget and levy that receives public notice and state review is the Budget Committee's. That means that the School Committee's proposed amendment, if different, is not thus vetted, that the Town Council's proposed amendment, if different, is not thus vetted, and that the three amendments permitted out of thin air at the FTM are not thus vetted. The fact that voters will have advance notice of all such budgets prior to voting at an FTR allows for more scrutiny and transparency (not to mention dishonest spin such as Cotta and his allies are sure to offer), not less.

Compounding Christopher Cotta's deceit is the timing of the whole thing. According to Town Council President Jay Lambert, Cotta's letter, which (in his words) urged the council to "provide notice to the public that Ballot question No. 2 does not meet the legal standards required for taxpayer protections required under State Law," did not arrive in the Town Clerk's office until 11:26 a.m. Thursday morning. Conspicuously, that timing just makes the deadline for election-related letters to the editor in the Newport Daily News, which paper appears to have published a missive from Cotta complaining that "to date, the Town Council has taken no action."

Curiously, Cotta's public letter to the editor appeared on the opinion pages of the Fall River Herald's Web site at 1:56 p.m. It appears that Cotta submitted his letter to the Town Council calling for action at just about the same time that he sent his letter to local newspapers declaring that no action had been taken in response. Also curiously, the blog for the above-mentioned ringleaders posted Cotta's letter to the council at 1:40 a.m. the previous day — indicating that his intended audience was not, in fact, the elected officials. (Naturally, that blog did not also provide the substantiating letters from the state.)

Look, I realize that to most people all of these fine details seem a bit much, but such is this state's underlying problem: People with extreme self interest in the policies and financial dealings of the state and its cities and towns have constructed a web of fine details that funnels policy toward their preferred ends and taxpayer dollars to themselves and their political allies. What they cannot accomplish through policy, they accomplish through dishonest rhetoric and political tricks.

Thus, they abuse the people of Rhode Island, just as Cotta has been abusing his local elected office. The old FTM plays into this process by increasing the degree to which only those most caught up in the system will exercise their right to vote on the town's budget. The more convenient it is for everybody to vote — and the more notice everybody has with respect to the budgets on the table — the less spellbinding the Rhode Island Way will be.

Cicilline's Comeback or Journalistic Wishful Thinking?

Patrick Laverty

According to David Scharfenberg and his headline writers at the Providence Phoenix, David Cicilline is making a comeback. The same David Cicilline who had a 17% approval rating. The same David Cicilline who said he left Providence in "excellent fiscal condition". The same David Cicilline who first blocked city auditors from the books, then stated the auditors' claims of reserve fund shortfalls was merely "politics" and then later said he was simply using those reserve funds to balance the budget. The same David Cicilline who scared every senior citizen he could find along the campaign trail into believing that Republicans were going to take away their social security, yet haven't touched a thing.

In spite of Cicilline doing nothing to "protect social security" (because there was nothing to protect it against) and his biggest contribution in Congress to date has been

"co-sponsorship of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin Act"
Scharfenberg goes on to write
"But the Congressman, however weak his hand, seems in the midst of a notable — if little-noted — resurgence."

Notable by whom? House Democratic Caucus Chair Steny Hoyer? (Interviewed for the article) Sean Richardson, formerly Patrick Kennedy's Chief of Staff? (Interviewed for the article) Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro? (Interviewed for the article) You know who's not interviewed for the article? Any Republicans. So here is Scharfenberg writing, I'll put this politely, a puff piece for David Cicilline and he interviews not only Democrats, but Democrats who are friends of David Cicilline and asks them what kind of job that Cicilline's doing. Gee, I wonder what kind of response they're going to give. No questions for John Loughlin or Brendan Doherty on the job Cicilline's doing? No questions for Ken McKay? Not even any questions for 2010 primary opponents Anthony Gemma or David Segal. It wouldn't fit the narrative, it wouldn't match the headlines.

Should Cicilline be re-elected? For an opinion there, look no further than to the man who replaced him in Providence. This weekend on Newsmakers, WPRI's Ted Nesi pointed out that Taveras is the only notable local Democrat who is not listed as a host for Cicilline fundraisers in Rhode Island. Nesi asked if Taveras supports Cicilline for re-election. Taveras responded similarly to how he did back in March (thanks @IanDon), where he was very non-committal and only vowed to support "the Democratic nominee". Not exactly what you'd call a ringing endorsement, especially when with less than a year to go, no other Democrat has formally announced any intentions to run for the seat. But I guess what can you expect from Taveras when Cicilline left him a "Category 5 hurricane" mess to clean up.

As long as the Republicans control the House, Cicilline isn't going to be able to get much done for Rhode Island, his effectiveness is nil. What this should all come down to is whether David Cicilline is someone you feel you can trust. Do you feel he is telling you the truth or is he just another lying Washington politician that has led to this whole country's system falling apart?

In light of Cicilline's earlier lies about the fiscal health of Providence, many people feel he didn't deserve the promotion to Congress in the first place. Are we going to repeat that mistake, but this time make it even worse because we know a bit more about the type of person that David Cicilline is?

By rejecting Cicilline, we have a chance to tell all politicians that lying to us is not acceptable and will not be tolerated by the voters. Let's put an end to this "resurgence", this "comeback" and instead tell David Cicilline to come back to Rhode Island, but this time, permanently.

November 7, 2011

Charlie Hall Puts COLA's In Perspective

Monique Chartier


Courtesy the soon-to-be-dark (sniff) Ocean State Follies.

Political Donors as the Judges of Right and Wrong

Justin Katz

Readers of the Sunday Providence Journal will be familiar with the "In Quotes" column that typically appears on page A2; basically it's a few notable quotes from the week, usually with a picture of the speaker. This week, one in particular caught my eye, because it's from Brown professor Wendy Schiller, and I think it expresses a surprisingly simplistic thought for a political science professional.

On the huge inflow of funds to Gina Raimondo's campaign fund:

If this person who's advocating changing the pension system can attract that kind of support, it is an external signal that she's on the right track.

Actually, it's not. It's a signal that people with big money to devote to politics like something about Raimondo's prospects. No doubt, some of it has been donated in admiration for her pension efforts, but (as I've been suggesting for a while, now) some of it is surely related to her likelihood to be a progressive warrior when she translates her pension caché into a higher office.

It's a bit humorous, though, to read a Brown professor seeing big campaign money as a form of validation. I haven't followed Schiller closely enough to offer this as more than a musing, but I do wonder whether her analysis would be the same were the treasurer likely to be a far-right stalwart once she'd moved on from the pension mess and the treasurer's office.

Claiborne Pell Was a Fiscal Extremist, According to Today's Democrats -- He Supported a Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment

Carroll Andrew Morse

In September, Rhode Island State Democratic Chairman Edwin Pacheco staked his party to an aggressive stand against adding a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution, characterizing such an amendment in an official press release as "extreme economic policy". But support for Federal spending-with-no-ending has not always been the singularly dominant position amongst Rhode Island's Democratic leaders that it is today. At a previous time when the Federal budget deficit had grown to unprecedented levels, at least one prominent RI Democrat gave his unambiguous support to a balanced budget constitutional amendment, in a year when it had a realistic chance of passage. That Democratic leader was United States Senator Claiborne Pell.

In 1982, Senator Pell voted against a balanced-budget amendment that passed the Senate by a vote of 69-31. (The amendment later failed to pass in the House).

By 1986, Senator Pell had changed his position and voted in favor of sending a balanced-budget amendment to the states for ratification. The amendment lost by a single vote, 66-34 (2/3 required for passage). The amendment that Senator Pell voted for -- and that the present chairman of the RI Democratic Party would presumably find "extreme" -- read...

SECTION 1. Total outlays of the United States for any fiscal year shall not exceed total receipts to the United States for that year, unless three-fifths of the whole number of both houses of Congress shall provide for a specific excess of outlays over receipts. The public debt of the United States shall not be increased to fund any excess of outlays over receipts for any fiscal year, unless three-fifths of the whole number of both houses of Congress shall provide, by law, for such an increase.

SECTION 2. Any bill to increase revenue shall become law only if approved by a majority of the whole number of both Houses of Congress by rollcall vote.

SECTION 3. Prior to each fiscal year, the President shall transmit to the Congress a proposed budget for the United States Government for that fiscal year in which total outlays are not greater than total receipts. The President may also recommend an alternative budget in which total outlays exceed total receipts, which shall be accompanied by a detailed explanation of the need for such excess.

SECTION 4. The Congress may waive the provisions of this article for any fiscal year in which a declaration of war is in effect.

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

SECTION 6. This article shall take effect for the fiscal year 1991 or for the second fiscal year beginning after its ratification, whichever is later.

In 1992, Senator Pell reiterated his support for adding a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution, voting in favor of a non-binding sense-of-the-Senate resolution calling for its passage.

By 1994, Senator Pell had changed positions once again and voted against two separate versions of a balanced budget amendment offered that year. During the floor debate in 1994, the Senator explained how his thinking had evolved over the preceding decade. Here is an excerpt, from the C-SPAN archives...

The intensity of the debate on the balanced budget amendment--and to a degree my own reaction to it--varies in proportion to the magnitude of deficits in the Federal budget over the last 12 years...

[In 1986] we were 2 years into the second Reagan administration and deep into a period of institutional deadlock between an executive branch that would not agree to fund programs and a legislative branch that often was not disposed to cut them. The deficit that year had risen to $221 billion.

The Senate that year narrowly failed to approve a balanced budget amendment, notwithstanding the fact that many of us--myself included again--this time felt that the institutional deadlock was approaching such drastic proportions that a constitutional solution might be the only way out of our dilemma...

Then, in 1992, things began to change for the better....As a percentage of gross domestic product, the fiscal year 1995 deficit is projected at 2.5 percent, down from 3.5 percent for fiscal year 1994. And it is expected to stabilize at 2.3 percent for fiscal year 1996-99. This is a significant figure because it shows that the deficit is very small relative to overall economic activity and the economy thus has substantial capacity to absorb the effects of deficit spending, albeit at levels which for other reasons certainly must be reduced.

Today, annual deficits run-up by the Federal government are much larger than the figure of $221 billion cited by Senator Pell in his explanation of his vote in favor of the 1986 balanced budget amendment. 2011 will be the third year in a row where the Federal deficit exceeds $1 trillion dollars, with no return to 1986 levels anticipated (in inflation adjusted dollars) in the next five years projected by the Office of Management and Budget.

In 1994, Senator Pell believed that the projected lowering of annual deficits to 2.3% of GDP made a balanced budget amendment unnecessary. Today, deficits are much larger than 2.3% of GDP and are larger as a percentage of GDP than they were when Senator Pell voted to send a balanced budget amendment to the states. 1986 had been the 3rd year out of 4 that the Federal deficit exceeded 5% of GDP (and in the 4th of those years, it was 4.8%). 2012 will be the fourth consecutive year that the deficit exceeds 7% of GDP (though OMB does project that it will be down to 3.3% of GDP by 2016 -- if you believe that the economy is going to grow by 23% while the percentage of revenue collected in Federal taxes jumps from 15% to 19% between 2010 and 2016).

Senator Pell thought that "institutional deadlock" was a problem in government during part of his tenure in office. This, at least, is something in common with current Rhode Island Democrats. In August, Rhode Island First District Congressman David Cicilline sent out a fundraising letter explaining his vote to raise the Federal debt ceiling as a response to "partisan gridlock". The difference, of course, is that Senator Pell believed that institutional deadlock made it necessary to strengthen constraints on Federal spending, while Congressman Cicilline believes that partisan gridlock justifies autopilot spending increases and unrestrained Federal borrowing -- and contemporary Democratic leaders like Edwin Pacheco believe that the kind of serious consideration Claiborne Pell gave to balancing the Federal budget is "extreme".

Pensions Beyond Pay

Justin Katz

We all get that cost of living adjustments (COLAs) can carry a retiree's pension above his or her highest working salary, and it's not necessarily insidious. Somebody who lives long enough to be retired for thirty years has seen inflation erode the buying power of a dollar such that a salary from the early '80s might not cover basic expenses.

But I've taken a closer look at the phenomenon, and the reasonable scenario that I've just described doesn't appear to apply. For one thing, older retirees appear much less likely to have pensions that exceed their final salaries than retirees who've been off the job for just a few years. For another, the entity for which the retiree worked appears to make a significant difference.

November 6, 2011

If Man's Greenhouse Gases Are The Cause of Global Warming, How Could the Warming Have Started in the 1600's?

Monique Chartier

... that would be 200 years before man started cranking up a whole array of back saving, medical advancing, temperature moderating, light extending, food preserving, comfort creating evil inventions driven by an equally wicked fuel supply.

When discussing the theory of anthropogenic global warming, it's always a little dangerous to move away from the Central Data Point (man generates only 6% of greenhouse gases) and the Comtois Corollary (therefore, it is far too costly, in every sense of the word, to halt global warming, even if man's 6% is the tipping point). While my mind and heart are entirely in the sceptics' camp, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the data and proclamations of scientists on both sides of the argument, as they go back and forth with irrefutable proof refuting the latest refute in the discussion.

However, last week on Watts Up With That, guest contributor Tony Brown posted a temperature chart which revealed a familiar trend - but at an intriguing start point.

Take several even longer steps backwards, through the medium of Central England temperature (CET) the oldest and most examined instrumental data set in the world- maintained by the UK’s Met office- and this puts GISS into further historic context, in that the temperature rise extends-with numerous advances and reverses- all the way to 1659.

Don't miss the plot of CO2 emissions at the bottom of his graph - completely flat from 1659 until 1845-ish, then a real spike starting around 1946; i.e., almost 300 years after the warming trend had started.

In the back and forth between warmists and sceptics, the accusation of "data cherry picking" has been thrown around a little too often. It would be easy to make it in this instance; however, the start-year of most AGW temperature-and-greenhouse-gas charts is probably not so much a case of cherry-picking but of simply neglecting to look back far enough to see when the trend started. "Let's see, man started generating greenhouse gases in the 1850's; let's look at the temperature trend from that point." "Sure! Makes sense."

Even if not a deliberate mistake, it appears to be a mistake nevertheless. With Brown's temperature chart, AGW advocates must now answer the most fundamental question about their theory:

If the planet started on a warming trend long before man's greenhouse gases arrived on the scene, isn't it possible that the "warming" in Anthropogenic Global Warming is really not "anthropogenic" at all?

November 5, 2011

Oh, Great - Now Just SITTING is Tied to Cancer

Monique Chartier

From the Los Angeles Times.

... researchers estimated that up to 49,000 cases of breast cancer and 43,000 cases of colon cancer each year are tied to lack of physical activity.

“Sitting time is emerging as a strong candidate for being a cancer risk factor in its own right,” Neville Owen, the head of behavioral epidemiology at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Australia, said in a statement. “It seems highly likely that the longer you sit, the higher your risk. ..."

And those of us who might be feeling a little smug at this point because we work out semi-regularly can forget it because we are not exempt.

"... The phenomenon isn’t dependent on body weight or how much exercise people do.” ...

Even someone who starts her day off with a vigorous 30-minute workout still has to worry about how she spends the other 15 1/2 hours of her waking hours, said Alice Bender, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Fortunately, ameliorating this newly discovered factor is relatively easy, if not 100% conducive to business.

What can you do? Just getting up for a minute or two each hour would offer some protection, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Instead of sending an email, walk over to a colleague’s desk and chat in person, the experts suggest. Or head to the water cooler for a drink.

November 3, 2011

Judicial Watch to RIBGHE: In-State Tuition for Illegals Appears To Be "clear violation of federal law and must, therefore, be reversed"

Monique Chartier

Tuesday, the RIBGHE voted to increase tuition at the three state colleges. It is very difficult not to link this increase to their vote five weeks ago to offer in-state tuition to illegal alien students. Now, with their vote Tuesday night, when the colleges go to the General Assembly for more tax dollars to cover the shortfall of these additional "in-state students", RIBGHE can claim to have done their part on the funding front.

... except that there remains a decided question of legality about the policy, which Judicial Watch points out to the RIBGHE in a letter sent October 19.

Judicial Watch, the public interest organization that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it sent a letter on October 19, 2011, to the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education (RIBGHE), calling on the State of Rhode Island to abandon a new illegal alien tuition policy impacting Rhode Island's public institutions of higher education.

On September 26, 2011, the RIBGHE established a set of criteria by which students, including illegal aliens, would be eligible for reduced in-state tuition rates. However, as Judicial Watch notes in its letter to RIBGHE Chairman Lorne Adrain, "Under federal law, unlawfully present aliens generally are ineligible for state or local public benefits, including post-secondary education benefits such as reduced tuition, unless a state has enacted a law affirmatively providing for such eligibility."

Judicial Watch then calls on Rhode Island officials to reverse the policy:

We understand that the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education ("RIBGHE") recently approved changes to its current student residency policy that are intended to make unlawfully present aliens eligible to pay reduced, in-state tuition rates at Rhode Island's public universities, colleges, and community colleges. These changes appear to be in clear violation of federal law and must, therefore, be reversed…

…There is no way to reconcile RIBGHE's new policy with federal law. The new policy provides a public benefit to individuals who clearly are ineligible for such a benefit under section 1621(a) of title 8, and Rhode Island has not enacted a law affirmatively providing for such eligibility under section 1621(d) of title 8. In fact, we understand that the Rhode Island General Assembly rejected proposed legislation earlier this year that would have made unlawfully present aliens eligible for in-state tuition at Rhode Island's public universities, colleges, and community colleges and that it has rejected similar proposed legislation in prior years.

RIBGHE may not ignore federal laws when those laws are not consistent with its own policy preferences. We hope that RIBGHE will reverse its new student residency policy immediately in order to conform its policy to the requirements of federal law.

The RIBGHE intends for this policy change to take effect at the start of the Fall 2012 semester. This new policy will apply to all public universities, colleges and community colleges in Rhode Island.

"In-state tuition and other taxpayer-subsidized perks for illegal aliens are not only unlawful, they also make matters worse by inducing greater numbers of illegal aliens to cross the border in search of sanctuary," stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. "If the rule of law means anything, not one single taxpayer dollar should be used to pay for the higher education of illegal aliens. Quite simply, for public officials in Rhode Island (or anywhere else) to flout illegal immigration laws is a fundamental abuse of power."

Judicial Watch's letter to Rhode Island is part of a comprehensive campaign by Judicial Watch to put an end to illegal alien sanctuary policies, including in-state tuition benefits for illegal aliens. In addition to pursuing a Maryland taxpayer court challenge to such benefits, Judicial Watch represents in a lawsuit filed by illegal immigration activists that would deny Maryland voters the opportunity to vote on the Maryland Dream Act, which provides taxpayer subsidies to pay for tuition for certain illegal aliens. Previously, Judicial Watch successfully forced the County College of Morris in New Jersey to reverse its discounted tuition policy for illegal alien students. Judicial Watch also recently launched a national petition television campaign to persuade the nation's governors to obey and enforce all immigration laws.

Visit for more information

Board of Regents Approves a New Teacher Evaluation System for RI

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Associated Press is reporting that the state Board of Regents has approved a new evaluation system for RI public elementary and secondary school teachers...

Rhode Island teachers who receive poor evaluations for five consecutive years will lose their certification under new rules adopted by state education officials.

Teachers will receive 1 of 4 ratings during annual evaluations: highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective. Any teacher deemed "ineffective" for five years in a row will automatically lose their certification.

November 2, 2011

Angry at the Banks?

Patrick Laverty

Some have accused me of having an "obsession" with the Occupy protesters. Many think I have contempt for them. However, upon introspection, I don't think this is true. I think "frustration" might be a better word.

I think we can all agree that the government is broken. Much of our system is broken. I like the energy of the Occupy people and I think they have or maybe had the potential to actually enact change. However my frustration comes from where I believe they have the wrong target. They're targeting the banks. They're angry at Wall Street. They're angry at the players for playing the game. It seems the angst against those who create and enforce the rules has been minimal. Where is the anger for Washington? Why is it "Occupy Wall Street" and not "Occupy Capitol Hill"? If people are so angry at the banks for what happened, then let's look at one of the reasons that Wall Street is allowed to play by the rules they have. Let's "follow the money".

Using the data available at, I looked at all the members of the US Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee and their campaign donations for a period between 2007 and 2011. Some of these people have come and gone from office but they were members of the committee according to the Senate Banking Committee web site.

I also only looked at the top 11 sectors for the donations. Maybe not so amazingly, the frequent #1 category for the members was "Lawyers". But looking beyond that, here is the data, keeping in mind, this is the committee who sets the rules for Wall Street Banks and their investments. (Note: A zero in a column does not indicate that Senator took zero dollars from that sector, it just means the amount was not in their top 11. The "rank" is how that sector ranked for that Senator.)

SenatorSecurities & InvestmentRankCommercial BanksRankFinance/CreditRankMisc. FinanceRank
Tim Johnson, Chair$285,4022$214,90550N/A177,6007
Jack Reed$410,2002$141,52170N/A0N/A
Chuck Schumer$2,718,71410N/A0N/A$560,7007
Robert Menendez$268,70060N/A0N/A0N/A
Daniel Akaka0N/A$9,000100N/A0N/A
Jon Tester$208,1353$181,31970N/A$81,65010
Mark Warner$1,258,5422$258,350110N/A$485,4885
Jeff Merkley$342,01730N/A0N/A0N/A
Michael Bennet$1,104,02420N/A0N/A$384,6575
Kay Hagan$282,2414$141,52170N/A$177,7908
Richard Shelby - Ranking$769,0381$263,4006$291,4005$163,35010
Mike Crapo$353,81310N/A$106,556100N/A
Bob Corker$482,2671$342,25060N/A$378,8634
Jim DeMint$221,13350N/A0N/A$122,99411
David Vitter$198,740110N/A0N/A0N/A
Mike Johanns$133,4047$132,44070N/A0N/A
Pat Toomey$926,92930N/A0N/A$338,1297
Jerry Moran$133,7506$132,44070N/A0N/A
Roger Wicker$196,3919$165,899110N/A0N/A

I broke the table down to Democrats on the top half and Republicans on the bottom half. So is it just Republicans that care about Wall Street? Is it mainly the Republican party who is the "Friends of Wall Street"? Here are a couple more stats:

Democrats on this committee received $9,671,055.
Republicans on this committee received $7,452,743

The Securities & Investment ranking averaged a 3.6 for Democrats and a 4.5 for Republicans.
The Commercial Banks ranking averaged a 7.8 for Democrats and 6.1 for Republicans.

Our own Jack Reed doesn't get out of this unscathed. The Securities and Investments sector donated more than $410,000 to Reed during the last four years. His #1 was also Lawyers, at $411,000.

A total of $17,123,798 was donated by Wall Street to members of the US Senate Banking Committee. So ask yourself, when you have one group of people donating $17 million to politicians, who do you think the politicians are going to listen to? No one politician is solely to blame and this data shows that neither is one party. It's the whole system, we see over and over again, it is the fox watching the hen house.

Sheldon Whitehouse Wants to Roll Back the First Amendment

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island junior Senator Sheldon Whitehouse thinks the First Amendment of the United States Constitution goes too far. He has used his Senate seat, from the state that traces its lineage to early freedom-of-speech advocate Roger Williams, to introduce a Constitutional Amendment that would carve out a First Amendment exception allowing the government to restrict campaign expenditures by individuals. The part of the amendment that would apply to the Federal government reads...

SECTION 1. Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections, including through setting limits on --

(1) the amount of contributions to candidates for nomination for election to, or for election to, Federal office; and

(2) the amount of expenditures that may be made by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.

A nearly identical second section of the amendment to the First Amendment (to borrow a phrase oft-used during past debates over anti-flag burning amendments) would grant the same speech-limiting powers to the states. Under the Whitehouse regime, the government would be allowed to tell political candidates that they were over the limit on the number of communications they were allowed in an election cycle, i.e. that they had run too many ads, or sent out too many mailings in an attempt to communicate with voters.

According to Senator Whitehouse's website, his speech restriction amendment is a response to the US Supreme Court's "Citizens United" ruling, where the Court held that the First Amendment protected the right of corporations to buy advertising (or to produce books or movies or any other form of media) that supported or opposed the election of political candidates.

How we get from the belief that "corporations" have "too much" political speech, to giving the government sweeping new powers to restrict the peaceful political expression of individuals is far from clear -- though it is clear that Senator Whitehouse thinks that there's too much political speech out there right now, and that something needs to be done to limit it.

Questions for 21st Century Teacher Union Members and Their Leaders

Marc Comtois

Celine Coggins, founder and CEO of Teach Plus, has some questions for 21st Century teacher union leaders. Please read carefully before assuming the worst (regardless of which "side" you are on the issue).

What would it mean to put an emphasis on the New Majority? After almost a half-century of baby-boomers as the dominant demographic in the teaching force, we've reached a tipping point whereby those with fewer than ten years classroom experience are now the majority in teaching. These are the teachers who are the future of the profession. These are the teachers who will determine whether the union will remain a force. Yet, they are wildly underrepresented in holding union offices and participating in union activities. Successfully getting newer teachers involved in the union would almost certainly lead to challenging debates within union halls. Union leaders must judge for themselves whether they are up for that challenge and what the future might hold if they are not.

What would it mean to put an emphasis on high-performers? To start, this bias would lead to a serious, quantified look at the proportion of time the union as an organization spends on (A) grievances and the due process rights of those with questionable records relative to (B) cultivating leadership and growth opportunities for others in the teaching force. That would open up a conversation about whether the organization could put more time and effort into those in category B. Quite possibly, the answer would be no. There may be no room to shift focus to better address the interests of high-performers. All of the other things the union does may be too important. In that case, though, the natural next question would be: how might the union benefit from an outside partner like Teach Plus to address an unmet need among an important subset of teachers?

What would it mean to put an emphasis on solutions-oriented teachers? At Teach Plus, we often hear from young teachers that they see their union as--to borrow a phrase that doesn't fit exactly--the party of "no." They see a need for reform but don't identify their union as taking a leadership role in reform. In many cases, this reputation is undeserved. In every city where Teach Plus has had a role in helping young teachers get involved in policy decisions, it has been with the collaboration of the union. Yet, this impression is pervasive. How do we get to a place where the accomplishments of the AFT Innovation Fund and the NEA's efforts to close the achievement gap are more visible than the negative stereotype of the ever-complaining teacher down the hall who is very active in the union? I don't know; but I know Teach Plus has been able to build that type of community on a small scale.

The Power of (Urban) Myth

Marc Comtois

This is the first time I've heard this version* of a rather infamous story involving a certain current Presidential candidate:

It was the spring of 1980.

I was 13 years old, and we were about to leave Fairfax, Va., and drive to Carrollton, Ga., for the summer. My parents told my sister and me that they were getting a divorce as our family of four sat around the kitchen table of our ranch home.

Soon afterward, my mom, sister and I got into our light-blue Chevrolet Impala and drove back to Carrollton.

Later that summer, Mom went to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for surgery to remove a tumor. While she was there, Dad took my sister and me to see her.

It is this visit that has turned into the infamous hospital visit about which many untruths have been told. I won't repeat them. You can look them up online if you are interested in untruths. But here's what happened:

My mother and father were already in the process of getting a divorce, which she requested.

Dad took my sister and me to the hospital to see our mother.

She had undergone surgery the day before to remove a tumor.

The tumor was benign.

As with many divorces, it was hard and painful for all involved, but life continued.

As have many families, we have healed; we have moved on.

We are not a perfect family, but we are knit together through common bonds, commitment and love.

My mother and father are alive and well, and my sister and I are blessed to have a close relationship with them both.

The one I've heard--umpteen times--is the Newt Gingrich served his cancer-stricken wife divorce papers while she was on her deathbed. So now it turns out she's still alive. And now, as Paul Harvey once said, you know the rest of the story.

*Which, you know, just might be the definitive version given it's an eyewitness account and all. Right. I'm sure conspiracy buffs will totally take this one at face value.

To Hell With "Government Experts" 2: Keep Covering Your Ass

Marc Comtois

Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote a post titled "To Hell With 'Government Experts', Keep Feeling Your Boobies" in which I explained my disagreement--admittedly in a gut-level sense--with new guidelines pushing breast cancer screenings for women out a decade further (from 40 years old to 50). I ended by warning, "And men, don't take this sitting down. Your ass (colonoscopy guidelines) could be next."

I was right: now the same agency, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, has issued guidelines stating we may be over-doing the PSA screening test.

The truth is, after reading the reasoning behind the decision, I can see the cost/benefit analysis that has gone into the decision (here is a decent point/counterpoint on it). Basically, many of those who have screened positive are either "false" positives or their cancer was so slow growing it wouldn't be (to put it bluntly) their ultimate cause of death. So many men go through the treatment to "cure" them of something that just may not actually kill them. Similar arguments were made regarding the breast cancer screenings. Of course, this is all based on averages, not actual lives. Sucks to be an outlier!

Guidelines serve a purpose, but it still boils down to a personal decision. However, as Glenn Reynolds noted, "when [you] politicize health care, the suspicion is that all health care decisions are political." Especially when it seems decisions are being made based on a cost/benefit analysis model that defines cost in dollars, not lives.

November 1, 2011

So If The Books Are Cooked And The Return Rate Is Underestimated

Monique Chartier

... Mr. Valletta,

Paul Valletta of the State Association of Firefighters said [General Treasurer Gina] Raimondo "cooked the books" with actuarial assumptions and conservative market projections that exaggerate the pension system's problems. He accused her of supporting "draconian" changes to the retirement system to raise her political profile.

then you should have no problem immediately converting your members from a pension to a 401(k). 'Cause if the market return rate on pension/retirement funds is actually north of 7.5%, as you are asserting, obviously, the defined benefit thing is shortchanging public employees.

Right? Shall we prepare the conversion paperwork ...?

[Thanks to a Dan Yorke caller for pointing this out today.]

In-State Tuition Raises Larger Question About Social "Investment"

Justin Katz

In a Providence Journal op-ed (which now apparently inevitably means "not online"), Sandy Riojas and Daniel Harrop argue in favor of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. The first part of their argument is that President Ronald Reagan would have supported their side of the debate.

As admirable and iconic as Reagan may have been, a former president's view of a current state policy question is effectively irrelevant. And besides, it's not as if illegal immigration and in-state tuition are recent developments, so one might well reply: Forget "would have"; the applicable question is, "did he?" I've not seen the evidence.

More interesting, however, is the view of government and higher education that Riojas and Harrop promulgate:

There are Rhode Island Republicans who believe the state wastes its investment when it educates undocumented students through high school and then forces them to pay hiogher prices to attend a public college. Is high school graduation the milestone when these students are penalized for unknowingly entering the country illegally?

... [Subsidizing in-state tuition, the] state ultimately loses nothing, while gaining a greater proportion of the population that is college-educated and can participate in improving the future of Rhode Island.

Is high school really so worthless that a graduate cannot "participate in improving" the state? I'd argue that such an attitude, with the concomitant increase in the subsidization that the government provides for higher education, is what's driven the unsustainable inflation of tuition across the board. A high school diploma is, or ought to be, valuable in its own right, and any reasonable assessment of the actual skills needed in the workforce will likely conclude that it is sufficient for a great many jobs. So, yes, a high school diploma may, indeed, be the line after which the local society should consider legal residency status.

A precondition to both the development of the economy and the improvement of the state and nation as civic units is that the rules apply. Individuals and private organizations can bend them, but the state — with its ability to apply force and confiscate property — cannot. Putting aside the fact that subsidizing in-state tuition does, undeniably, cost the state something, the greater cost may lie in the lesson that doing so for illegal immigrants teaches about the validity of the rule of law.