January 31, 2012

Barry Hinkley's Intriguing New Campaign Manager Executive Director

Monique Chartier

Smart move, Barry. (What IS the difference between the "Executive Director" of a campaign and a "Campaign Manager"???)

The Barry Hinckley for Senate campaign has announced that John Loughlin, former Republican candidate for U.S. Representative in 2010 against David Cicilline will assume the position of executive director.

“I think Barry is the guy who is going to create jobs and frankly Rhode Island is dying right now, and we need a senator who will lead our congressional delegation with real business experience,” said Loughlin. Loughlin said Hinckley, a Republican, has the resume necessary to help turn the economy around.

"I am very excited that John will be joining our team to defeat Sheldon Whitehouse," said Hinckley. "John shares my values of private sector job growth and a government that doesn't continue to spend our children's future."

Check out Hinckley's website here.

False Denials of Comparison Between Roads and Families

Justin Katz

In further proof of his lax moral standards,* it took Mangeek too long to read my post responding to one of his recent comments for his own response to attract much attention, so I'll reprint it here:

... what I'm trying to say, Justin, is that I think conservatives (for the most part) are finding all the wrong explanations for why things are the way they are...

I can put a dollar-value on the per-pound impact of the weight of a car on roads. It's a direct cause-and-effect relationship that allows large vehicle drivers to externalize part of the societal costs they are responsible for onto those of us who live more modest lifestyles.

Meanwhile, while you can draw correlations between marital status and costs on society, I'm not sure they're cause-and-effect. In any case, we already 'reward and punish things we like/dislike' via different tax rates on married people, homeowners, business owners, and trust-fund kids.

Maybe society would be better-served overall if families were encouraged to (for example) drive safer, more efficient, and less costly vehicles (or buy smaller homes, or not take out $BIG student loans, etc.) than if we mandated which gender and legal configurations they were allowed to be. Just Sayin'.

It's important to note that my post was in reaction to his questioning the necessity of moral judgment in society. In the above, he does little more than agree that he's got no problem with the practice in concept, just on the particulars.

But on those particulars, his argument is clearly flawed. As a point of fact, he cannot "put a dollar-value on the per-pound impact of the weight of a car on roads." He could, perhaps, put such a value on the effects of a specific car under very narrow circumstances, but it could hardly accurately describe the different usages of the actual people he'd like to tax.

Let's say Joe drives a vehicle with a heavy curb weight — some kind of SUV — but he hardly ever puts additional weight inside it (after all, he's only 120 lbs), and he only drives it a quarter mile each morning and afternoon before he is across his city's border and therefore off the roads for which he's ostensibly being taxed. Meanwhile, 400 lb Bob has a much lighter curb-weight car, but he typically drives it filled to brimming with books and other heavy objects; moreover, his routine calls for him to drive it 10 miles each way across the town in which he lives.

And that's before we get into their driving styles. Joe takes it easy, while driving, and tries to slow down for intersections over greater distances. Bob is heavy on the gas pedal and the brakes, very often peeling out when starting and skidding when stopping.

In short, Mangeek cannot present his moral preference as a clear transfer of cost in a cause-effect relationship. Indeed, work in all of the relevant variables and defining the cost of cars by their weight isn't much different than attributing costs to divorce and out-of-wedlock births. All else being equal, I've no doubt that heavier vehicles exact more of a toll on the roads, but the same can be said of broken families.

Nowhere is Mangeek's skewed comparison more clear than in his closing. We aren't comparing a soft "encouragement" of vehicle types to a stiff penalty against particular relationships. Quite the opposite is true: He wants to exact a penalizing tax against owners of larger vehicles, while he objects to mere recognition of a family type that still ought to be considered to be ideal.

* Note: This opening phrase is tongue in cheek.

Superior Court Ruling On Perpetual Blue Cross: Without It, Retirees Could Be Forced "to choose between other necessities and forgoing medical treatment"

Monique Chartier

So yesterday, Judge Sarah Taft-Carter issued a temporary injunction against the City of Providence rolling public retirees into Medicare once they hit 65. The trial to determine whether the injunction should be made permanent starts in May.

The city had to demonstrate a compelling public "emergency" in order to do so; the retirees had to show "irreparable harm" if it happened. The judged found the latter to be the case, saying

“The transition to Medicare is more than an entity change,” the judge wrote. “It is a unilateral alteration of a vested benefit…. Absent an injunction, the police and fire retirees stand to incur potentially thousands of dollars in new health-care costs to retain insurance — expenses that could force them to choose between other necessities and forgoing medical treatment.”

Really? Huh. In that case, I can't help but wonder about the plight of the balance of that demographic - the great unwashed private sector out there (count me, in due course, definitively in their ranks) at retirement age if not actually retired. Not only are we expected to incur the very same thousands of dollars in health-care costs to retain our own insurance, not only are we are expected to do so often without a generous pension, public or otherwise, from which to pay those costs, but on top of that, we are also expected to pick up the cost of someone else's Blue Cross premiums (not to mention pensions).

That decades of indifferent, duplicitous politicians reaffirmed those benefits, as the judge pointed out sans my derogatory, accurate adjectives

... Providence has been providing these costly health benefits for years, she said –– even as former state Auditor General Ernest Al-monte warned repeatedly against it.

“Despite this, the city continually entered into CBAs [collective bargaining agreements] wherein it expressly promised the retirees that it would provide them with health insurance from Blue Cross. The city, therefore, cannot claim to be taken by surprise at the present state in which it finds itself,” the judge said.

might confirm their legality but does not change the fiscal reality that they represent: whether pensions or Blue Cross, there is simply not enough money to pay these retirement benefits.

Accordingly, perhaps the most alarming aspect of this and prior court rulings is where they are driving municipalities and their retirees. By failing to recognize the very real prospect of bankruptcy as a compelling public “emergency", the only alternative will be to turn the prospect into a reality, with the corresponding decimation of both retirement benefits and property values. At that point, of course, the situation will be utterly beyond the retrieval of all the court orders in the world, however legally sound and well-intentioned.

Senate Education Committee First to Fully Comply with Rules On Publication of Committee Votes

Carroll Andrew Morse

Let's give immediate credit to the Rhode Island Senate Education Committee, led by Chairwoman Hanna Gallo (D-Cranston), for being the first RI General Assembly Committee, definitely in this session and maybe ever, to post its votes to hold bills for further study to the "Committee Votes" section of the General Assembly website, providing the public with a more complete record of what occurs during committee sessions than previously has been done.

In the other chamber, although 16 bills have already been "held for further study" by House committees as of the end of last week, no record of those votes appears on the General Assembly's website at the present time.

Is Providence Cooking the Books Now?

Patrick Laverty

Back in October, Rhode Island's pension system also got national notice due to a union official, Paul Valletta accusing General Treasurer Raimondo of manufacturing a crisis:

Paul Valletta of the State Association of Firefighters said 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.

"She created this problem and now she's riding in on a white horse," Valletta said.

He accused her of creating this problem when she went to the State Retirement Board and successfully got the board to lower the expected rate of return on the pension system from 8.25% to 7.5%. When the rate goes down, the amount of anticipated "free money" from the stock market also goes down, which needs to be replaced by the taxpayers and other cuts.

We know how the state pension discussion ended up, so let's jump over to Providence. Just one week ago, Providence officials were saying:

The city has defended that 8.5% target, saying it will be able to earn more than the state.
In spite of that defense, Mayor Taveras has been looking at lowering the rate as far back as last summer, and he finally pulled the trigger yesterday, lowering the expected return to 8.25%. This action of course, increased the city's unfunded liability.

It is interesting to see how Providence expects to outgain the state. From Nesi's Notes:

Providence invests its pension fund assets more aggressively than the state, according to data provided by Buck. As of Nov. 1, 85% of the city’s pension fund was invested in equities, compared with 64% of the state-run pension fund for municipalities. That exposes the city to more risk but also could win it greater returns.
The city's fortunes will more rise or fall with the stock market, as it seems the state is in more stable investments like bonds and real estate. As for an explanation on why the city can be more agressive? Maybe the city is younger than the state and has more time until retirement? But seriously, as one who also dabbles in the stock market, I hope the city is right on their bet.

But back to the original point, how long should it take now? 3...2...1...cue Mr. Valletta (or Providence Firefighter Union President Paul Doughty), is Providence now cooking their books too?

January 30, 2012

Tom Sgouros Spins for Cicilline

Patrick Laverty

In today's GoLocalProv, columnist and former consultant to David Cicilline, tries to re-paint Cicilline's time as Providence mayor as a positive for the city.

He goes over a few "Yeah, but he..." examples, like:

Why was there $22 million in the rainy day fund in 2008? Here's a hint: It wasn't because Buddy Cianci had left it there. It was because Cicilline's financial management of the city involved putting money aside for a rainy day.

And one of my old favorites, "blame Carcieri", in spite of the fact that in RI the Governor may as well submit a Hallmark birthday card as his budget for all the power he has to get it enacted:

the Council hired Gary Sasse, former Governor Carcieri's Director of Administration, for his sage fiscal advice. Sasse, of course, was part of the state administration that pulled the rug out from under Providence's finances in 2010

However, Sgouros very quickly glances over what is my biggest problem with Cicilline tenure as mayor. To me, it's trust.

I've also reviewed the controversy about whether the city had spent down its "reserves" by October 2010, when the Mayor said there was $30 million in reserve and the City Council was saying the real number was $4.6 million and the city was about to run out of cash. Lots of the stories that talk about Cicilline lying about the budget stem from this episode.

I'm not going to weigh in on this because when I read the stories I think the two sides were talking about different things. So I'll leave it alone, and only observe that "reserves" is not a synonym for "rainy day fund" and whether a city is about to suffer a cash flow crisis likely has nothing at all to do with the rainy day fund, which is a budget reserve, not a cash reserve.

Of course you're not going to weigh in on it Tom, that is the essential issue. Was Cicilline honest with people when he was asked about the fiscal health of the city?

I don't care if you're inept in managing the city. People can do things to fix that, even if it means getting you out of office. I can handle it if you've made mistakes, many can be fixed. The real problem comes up when an elected representative lies through his teeth and bends over backwards to cover it up. Cicilline repeatedly told the people of Rhode Island that Providence was in excellent fiscal health. Was that true? No.

Also remember that when Internal Auditor James Lombardi tried to get access to the records he needed, he was blocked. Lombardi's claims were just waved off as an election year hatchet job.

Sgouros goes on to say that Cicilline couldn't criticize the Speaker, because what good would that do to start a war with the man who controls the city's state funding? Ok, I'll concede that point. However, I'm no politician and never been one but the General Assembly's largest delegation is from Providence. Even the Speaker himself is FROM PROVIDENCE. So if you can't work with the Assembly to get what you need when the deck is stacked in your favor, and instead you tell people things that aren't true, then you're just not that good of a mayor and certainly do not deserve a promotion.

The current District 1 Congressman seems to fall into a pattern of struggling with the truth. During the last election, he got his wrist slapped for using the Brown University insignia on a campaign donation letter. Cicilline is a lawyer, he knows what the law is on using a copy mark like that.

Another article in GoLocalProv also describes two other incidents with the Mayor, one where he used city resources to attend a Congressional campaign function outside of Providence and,

"Cicilline received a pay raise—in violation of city ordinance—and then, “when confronted, stated he was not aware he received a raise.”
He got a raise in his pay, but didn't know it? Really?

We've been over the struggles that Congressman Cicilline has had with the truth before, and someone has even set up a whole web site to illustrate this.

I'm not sure why Tom Sgouros would feel the need to try to spin this in a positive direction for Cicilline, but if you need any more help in trying to figure out how much spin that Sgouros tries to put on people he favors, how about this line from the article as well.

All that said, David Cicilline has been more unfairly tarred than virtually any other politician I can think of, with the possible exception of Al Gore (who never said he discovered Love Canal or invented the Internet or any of the other groaners attributed to him
Really? A groaner? Not true? I guess we'll just have to ask Mr. Gore himself: (Jump to about 48 seconds for the good part)

Thanks for the reminder on that one, Tom. We won't let a silly little video of Gore saying it himself get in the way of a great spin.

Make you wonder how much else that Sgouros says is true?

The Most Disingenuous Argument Against Mayoral Academies

Carroll Andrew Morse

Suppose you have two schools. Both are funded with public money. Each is run by a principal, with both principals reporting to a superintendent, who reports to a school committee. (This is a small-scale model of what opponents of structural education reform, in Rhode Island and elsewhere, believe is the primary way -- if not the only way -- that public education should be delivered).

Now consider a different system. There are still two schools, again both funded with public money. In this system, one school is run by principal who reports to a superintendent, while the other is run by principal who reports to a Board of Directors headed by a Mayor.

In both systems, the same amount of money is spent per-pupil in each school.

Opponents of structural education reform will argue that the second school in the second system has taken money away the first school, even when the same amount of public money is spent in both systems to educate the same number of students. It makes no sense, unless complaints of charter schools and mayoral academies taking money away are understood to mean that money is being taken away from the control of a school committee, which has nothing to do with either the educational function or the public status of the schools being considered.

Scale the numbers of schools, students, and personnel to a more realistic level, and the argument is equally as nonsensical. Suppose there are 20 schools in a system. Each school has a principal, who reports to a superintendent, who reports to a school committee. Next postulate a system with 18 schools, each with a principal, who reports to the superintendent, who reports to a school committee -- plus 2 more schools, each with a principal, who reports to a Board of Directors headed by the Mayor. Again, opponents of structural education reform will (seriously) argue that, in the second case, the 2-school subsystem has taken money away from the other 18 schools, even 1) if the total amount spent across the 20 schools in both systems is the same and 2) the same amount per-student is spent in each of the district schools in both systems.

Those advancing a rationale that money that is part of a system that they don’t control automatically must be money that has been taken away from them cannot be counted on to get anything correct about the rational management of public finance, or of public education.

Coming up in Committee: Seven Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, January 31 - February 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

7. The House Corporations Committee will be considering a typically eclectic set of regulatory bills on Wed, Feb 1, on subjects such as allowing "hospitals and treatment centers located in Providence to calibrate scales within their facilities" (H7231) and requiring flashing lights on snow-removal equipment, in addition to snow plows (H7230). It's always both fun and informative to look in on the agenda of this committee, to get a sense of the things that RI government likes to regulate. However, I do wonder what problems are anticipated by H7229, which states that in civil lawsuits against the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, "any damages recovered therein shall not exceed the sum of one hundred thousand dollars".

6. S2052: A statutory "bill of rights" for homeless individuals, including "the right to fair, decent and affordable housing in the community of his or her choosing, and access to safe and proximate shelter until such housing can be attained". (S Housing and Municipal Gov; Tue, Jan 31) (Question: Could an unlimited number of people use this section of the proposed law to sue for their right to housing in New Shoreham?)

5. H7055: Changes election rules from requiring that "substantially not more than nineteen hundred voters shall be served by the same polling place", to requiring that "voting districts" shall be limited to 4,000 voters (in the absence of special approvals). (H Finance; Tue, Jan 31)

4. H7186/S2121: "With respect to police officers employed by the town of Johnston, only those police officers hired on or after July 1,2011 shall be eligible to be members of the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System of the state of Rhode Island". (H Municipal Gov; Tue, Jan 31 & S Finance; Thu, Feb 2) (Question: Isn't the MERS system the pension system in Rhode Island that's considered to be in the best shape?)

3. H7225 provides for stays of foreclosure for active duty or deployed armed service members. H7274 creates a specific process for resolving child custody and visitation matters "when a parent receives temporary duty, deployment, or mobilization orders from the military". (H Veterans' Affairs; Thu, Feb 2)

2. H7272: Changes date of layoff notices for public school teachers from March 1 to June 1 (H Labor; Wed, Feb 1) (Editorial note: The date change is literally the only change in the law made by this bill).

1. H7250: Terms of teacher contracts would remain in force after they have expired, if no new contract has been ratified. (H Labor; Wed, Feb 1)

East Anglia CRU: Global Warming Ended Fifteen Years Ago

Monique Chartier

Uh oh.

The supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming is facing an inconvenient challenge after the release of new temperature data showing the planet has not warmed for the past 15 years.

The figures suggest that we could even be heading for a mini ice age to rival the 70-year temperature drop that saw frost fairs held on the Thames in the 17th Century.

Based on readings from more than 30,000 measuring stations, the data was issued last week without fanfare by the Met Office and the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit. It confirms that the rising trend in world temperatures ended in 1997.

Thanks to former Rhode Island resident Tom Wigand for the heads-up.

Note that the source of this data, far from being an eeeeeeevil oil company, is the British university which was the site of the global warming scandal, ClimateGate - in other words, one of the institutions which has for years now been promoting the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

The Mail (UK) notes that the CRU released this data, interestingly, "without fanfare". If the temperature trend had been up rather than down, would they have released this report in such a low-key fashion?

Municipal Pensions as Covenant

Justin Katz

The principles underlying debate about Providence's ability to suspend the cost of living adjustments (COLAs) of its public-sector retirees are fascinating. On one hand, we're told that they're contractual, unlike the state-level pensions, which are legislated:

Unlike state-level public employee pension benefits, which are set by state law, municipal retirement benefits are incorporated in collective-bargaining agreements. Courts in Rhode Island and across the country have ruled that contractual benefits are harder to cut.

On the other hand, Providence is facing legal difficulties because its COLAs are included in an ordinance, at least for most retirees:

In that long-running case, which the Rhode Island Supreme Court decision likened to the Dickens novel "Bleak House," the court ruled that the city could not cut COLAs granted in the early 1990s. Because a 1991 city ordinance had awarded the 5-and 6-percent compounded COLAs, the court said, they were a vested contractual right and not a “gratuity” subject to change.

Now add in the fact that the contracts were negotiated with labor unions that no longer represent retirees, and which cannot negotiate on their behalf, leaving cities and towns to negotiate with retirees one-by-one. (But let's conveniently put aside the fact that municipal contracts aren't permitted to extend beyond three years, in Rhode Island.) One begins to get the sense that COLAs are a bit to RI law what light is to physics. When declaring them inviolable requires them to be particles (ordinances), then that's what they are; when their inviolability requires them to be waves (contract rights), then they're that, as well.

In short, the retirement benefits represent contracts that never expire and that no collective interest has the authority to renegotiate. No wonder "all but 300 to 400 of Providence’s current 2,900 pensioners retired prior to" a 1995 ordinance reining in COLAs. In doing so, they boarded an ark in which the covenant of their corrupt deals could not be touched.

January 29, 2012

By Acclamation, Howie Carr's Compilation of How America Has "Changed" Since January 20, 2009

Monique Chartier

Under my post and to cheers from MSteven and Joe Bernstein, Warrington Faust points to Howie Carr's column in Friday's Boston Herald.

I was pondering this the other night during the State of the Union address. Did you know that our elite military units like the Navy SEALs are now examples of America at its absolute finest? Why, wasn’t it just a few years ago that Sen. Dick Durbin was comparing these very same troops to the Khmer Rouge and Joe Stalin’s Red Army?

What used to be Dick Cheney’s hit squad is now a beacon of freedom.

But now of course the president is a Democrat. When Durbin spoke a Republican resided in the White House.


On Jan. 20, 2009, all the homeless people went home. Inflation ended that same day. No longer do dying Americans have to travel to Canada to buy affordable prescription drugs.

The Tea Party — violent rhetoric. Occupy Wall Street and the publicly defecating hippies — in the finest tradition of our Founding Fathers.

Bush mispronounces nuclear — idiot. Obama butchers corpsman — misspoke.

Raising the debt ceiling under Bush — the worst kind of fiscal irresponsibility. Raising the debt ceiling under Obama — a valiant effort by our young president to save the world economy. ...

It's all about consistency ... or the lack thereof. On January 20, 2009, the rose colored glasses were popped in front of many pairs of eyes including, problematically, some in the Fourth Estate.

Warren Buffett On Taxation: Listen To My Advice, Not My Accountant's

Monique Chartier

On Friday, I learned of this

Mr. Buffett has also already sheltered the bulk of his fortune from federal taxes by putting them into a foundation that will give the money away.

which was definitely puzzling in light of this.

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I [Warren Buffett] would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

On the one hand, Mr. Warren Buffett advocates for tax hikes on the rich. On the other, he has arranged to deprive the federal government of a huge chunk of taxes - namely, the taxes on his own estate.

After struggling, ultimately without success, to reconcile the words with the actions, it became impossible to argue with this.

It seems to me that Buffett’s actions imply a clear distrust of governmental taxing and spending programs and their ability to improve society in an efficient manner.

Indeed, Saul Elnadav. And casts his calls for tax increases in a less than credible light.

Mitt Nails Illegal Immigration: "Our problem is not 11 million grandmothers" (And Other Gems)

Monique Chartier

From the Republican debate Thursday night. Mitt Romney speaking. [Thanks to Roy Beck at NumbersUSA for the transcription.]

I think I described following the law as it exists in this country, which is to say, I'm not going around and rounding people up and deporting them.

What I said was, people who come here legally get a work permit. People who do not come here legally do not get a work permit. Those who don't get work will tend, over time, to self-deport.

I'm not going to go find grandmothers and take them out of their homes and deport them. Those are your words, not my words. And to use that rhetoric suggests to people that somehow, if you're not willing to keep people here who violated the law, that you're anti- immigrant. Nothing could be further from the truth.


You know, our problem is not 11 million grandmothers. Our problem is -- all right. (applause) Our problem is 11 million people getting jobs that many Americans, legal immigrants, would like to have. It's school kids in schools that districts are having a hard time paying for. It's people getting free health care because we are required under the law to provide that health care.

And the real concern is the people who want to come here legally. Let's let legal immigrants come here. Let's stop illegal immigration.

Yes yes yes to all of that! The question of illegal immigration is about respecting legal immigrants. It's about requiring (silly concept, I'm sure) that employers hire only legal immigrants or citizens. It's about the impact on state and local budgets.

How gratifying also that Romney targets and blows up the Big Lie of illegal immigration advocates.

... somehow, if you're not willing to keep people here who violated the law, that you're anti- immigrant. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Great point! (Why didn't I think of that???)

Stripped of lies, there is nothing left of the argument in favor of illegal immigration. Accordingly, let's ask the correct question of the pertinent party, our elected officials: why are you encouraging illegal immigration and discouraging legal immigration? Because that is what you accomplish by refusing to enact e-verify, failing to properly qualify applicants for public programs and willfully ignoring the very reasonable laws on our books.

And to our elected officials on the state level, there's no point in bleating that immigration is a federal matter. YOU HAVE MADE IT A STATE MATTER, with all of the substantive implications to state and local budgets and our unemployment rate, BY DELIBERATELY CREATING A MAGNET FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION.

So. President Obama. Senate President Paiva-Weed. Governor Chafee. Why do you support illegal immigration and oppose legal immigration?

January 28, 2012

A Week of Thoughts

Patrick Laverty

Oh, what to lead off with?

This week, Bishop Tobin agreed to open a daytime homeless shelter in South Providence, as a condition of the Providence Occupiers leaving Burnside Park. So how do they thank the clergy? A day later, they crash a Right to Life rally at the State House and shout down a Catholic priest from making a final prayer blessing. I'm not sure if that's the Occupiers' way of saying "thank you" or another phrase that ends with "you".

I wasn't living in Rhode Island during his tenure, but Governor Garrahy sounds like he was a good guy. God bless.

The A&E TV network wants to pay the city of Providence to film its Parking Wars TV show in the capital city. How does the City Council react to the idea of free money? The show “makes the city look stupid,” Well, to quote a former local football coach, "You are what you are."

Even if I never agree with a single thing he says, I will admit that State Rep. Scott Guthrie has an outstanding moustache.

State Rep Charlene Lima wants to overturn the state voter ID law, just a year after it was passed, calling it "Jim Crow." When are we going to get beyond such racism? When can we get past the silly rhetoric? It would seem the point she's trying to make is one of economics, not skin color. So why is she bringing skin color into it? Are all Rhode Island African-Americans poor? Are there no poor Caucasian or Latinos or Asian-Americans in Rhode Island? Let's move away from the race issues and simply talk about what we mean. It really cheapens the discussion.

According to WPRI.com, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras said the city is supposed to have an actuarial study done on its pension system every five years. The last one was due in 2009. None has been done since then. He's doing one now. First, let's look at the silliness in today's market of doing one every five years. A lot changes in that amount of time. Second, can I just ask who was the mayor of Providence in 2009? Oh that's right. The man who left the city in a strong economic condition, David Cicilline.

With all the flap this week about Mitt Romney's effective tax rate in the 14 percent range, it's funny that no one really took notice of it a few years ago when John Kerry's effective tax rate was 13 percent. The same year that George Bush paid 28 percent and Dick Cheney paid 20 percent. It's great to see that this argument works for the Democrats when the numbers are in their favor.

I was happy to read today that Dwarf Tossing may become legal again in Florida. Who knew that the little people getting thrown could make six-figure salaries?

President Obama said that he might restrict federal funds from colleges and universities that don't stop increasing their tuition every year. Hmm. I got a deal for you Mr. President. I'm going to restrict my tax dollars to you if you don't stop increasing the size of the federal government every year. Deal?

Speaking of budgeting and taxes, there's a bill at the State House again this year by Rep. Daniel Reilly that would require zero-based budgeting for the state. He would phase it in over five years, starting with the smaller departments. Doesn't that seem to make sense? Rather than assuming everything you paid for last year is necessary next year, you have to actually justify the tax dollars you're spending. If they're necessary, it should be easy, right? Unfortunately, I think it got "held for further study" even before he submitted it.

Surprisingly, Speaker Fox offered a flat "No." when asked on Newsmakers last week about taxing high income earners in the state. How's that sitting with his progressive supporters?

Ding, dong, SOPA's dead...but so is Megaupload. So what's the point of SOPA again?

I find it interesting that Buddy Cianci is the one who gave Providence retirees their 6% COLAs, yet he uses his soap box to rail against the damage Cicilline did to the city. Why does it seem that Buddy gets a pass on the Providence mess?

On Friday, Justin was questioning whether the state's pension system is capable of reaching its expected 7.5% return rate. Providence claims it can do even better. It was the only municipality to not send a representative to a conference on local pension systems this week and Ted Nesi reported: "The city has defended that 8.5% target, saying it will be able to earn more than the state." Anyone want to take bets on that happening?

Scott McKay announced this week that on Feb. 23, Vice President Joe Biden will come to Rhode Island for a Sheldon Whitehouse fundraiser. I wonder if Biden will announce to the audience that the Yankees will win the World Series.

Nesi had an interview with State Treasurer Gina Raimondo about whether she'll run for a higher office in two years. It's good to see that she's trying to get back to her stated Democratic roots by blaming Republicans for being anti-government. She already alienated the left, so why not go for the right, too?

Latest Tax Rankings: Why The Nuclear Tax Hike Option Should Be Completely Off The Table, Not Simply At The Bottom of The List

Monique Chartier

While Majority Leader Mattiello's expressed intent is appreciated,

"The last thing you want to do is raise taxes," House Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello said at a Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the R.I. Convention Center. "We have not gone there in the past and we hope this year we will not go there. I am confident we will not."

to be respectfully blunt, it doesn't go far enough. Accordingly, as we await Governor Chafee's proposed budget, a review, courtesy the invaluable Tax Foundation, of Rhode Island's current tax rankings is in order.

State and local tax burden: 5th Highest

Corporate income tax: 5th Highest.

Combined state/local property taxes: 7th Highest

And inching up one step (yippee?) this year, our business tax climate: 46th worst

Note: The first Tax Foundation link to their Rhode Island page lists our top income tax rate as 9.9%. I believe that particular data point is outdated.

January 27, 2012

Redistricting Battles and No Transparency

Patrick Laverty

I've asked before, why does the state's redistricting process need to be done this way? The state hires an outside consultant who takes some of the data, draws a map, shows it to some people, gets feedback, draws another map and the process continues until finally a few of them agree that they've created a fair map. Then they present it to the others who it affects. And then the whole mess starts.

In recent editions of the Providence Journal (again, a source I'd love to link to, but they don't make it possible, so umm, if you want to check some of the statements I use, head to your local library and ask for back issues), some of the lawmakers at the State House have not been very happy about the process.

[Rep. Larry] Ehrhardt, not satisfied, asked Brace whether he had taken the pockets into consideration in December when he proposed the House districts in the bill, to which Brace said no. Ehrhardt also asked Brace “who were you trying to please or satisfy” by making the change, but committee Chairwoman Edith H. Ajello interrupted.

The Assembly has budgeted more than $800,000 for lawsuits from the process. A sum that Ehrhardt might force the state to use:

“This is a high school dance that’s about to break out into a fistfight,” he said. He declined to say afterward whether he might file a lawsuit.

House Minority Leader Brian Newberry asked what factors went into creating certain parts of his district, and the response wasn't well received.

Brace said that “there were a lot of different factors,” but he did not offer specifics.
Newberry said the answer “reflects very poorly” on the redistricting process.

Earlier in the process, State Rep. Joe Trillo asked questions about the process and what was behind it:

Brace said he was doing his best at following orders—making sure politics played a role in the process of redistricting

It would seem that complaints are only coming from the Republicans, but there are Democrats who had their own objections as well.

Charlene Lima said the state redistricting commission's "road show" of meetings across the state was nothing but a "fraud show."
And another Democrat:
Rep. Rene R. Menard, a Lincoln Democrat whose territory includes both districts, says the motivation for the change is purely political.
“People who weren’t in the good graces with leadership got punished,” the veteran lawmaker said.
And another:
The House map drew criticism from Rep Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, D-Woonsocket, and Burrillville Republican Donald R. Fox, who said the changes proposed in their respective districts appeared to have been politically motivated.

Sour grapes or "where there's smoke, there's fire"? When you have multiple people, on both sides of the aisle, all saying the same thing, it sure leaves a sour taste toward your government.

Also according to the Journal: "Rhode Island is paying a consultant $692,420 and has budgeted another $807,580 for legal fees". Doesn't this $1.5 million seem outlandish? I know others have mentioned that the federal government offers a free option, and our Assembly made us the only state in the country that chose to not use it. They claimed that it's not exactly "free" that there are other costs in using it.

But as I've suggested before, there's an easier and cheaper way. Ever seen a post-election ballot re-count? It's wide open to the public and extremely transparent. So why isn't the redistricting process? Who would think it to be a good idea to do an election recount at the State House in the closed-door offices of the Speaker or Senate President and then they just tell us how it turned out? That's what this redistricting process is like. So instead, I have a better way.

First, actually put all the data together, unlike this time when we have maps being created and being discussed and possibly even voted on before all the data is even submitted (what's the point?). Create a committee consisting of all parties and independents, put them in a big room with the Capitol TV or Cox Public Access cameras on. No work can be done unless the cameras are on, and then as long as it takes, that committee draws the maps, based on the publicly-available data.

Yes, we'll still have some sour grapes coming out of the committee, but at least it will be fair and likely less politically driven. No more considerations will be given to pitting incumbents against each other, no more special favors. Make it about Rhode Island and what is best for the state and its voters. After all, isn't that really what government is supposed to be about?

The Market Undoes Pension Reform

Justin Katz

Remember the hoopla when General Treasurer and the state Retirement Board lowered the expected rate of investment return from 8.25% to 7.5%, thus throwing the system into underfunded panic? (Of course, the system should have already been in underfunded panic, but we needn't rehash all that, just now.)

Well, according to Ted Nesi, the return for 2011 was 1.4%:

Rhode Island's state pension fund earned a paltry 1.4% return on its investment portfolio last year, far below its target of a 7.5% annual return, WPRI.com has confirmed.

Treasurer Gina Raimondo's office disclosed the figure for 2011, which is after expenses, in response to an inquiry on Thursday. The pension fund earned 12.5% in 2010, according to the House Fiscal Office.

Raimondo told Nesi that "it's really hard to manage money right now," and the current expected rate of return "is a tall order." Unfortunately, Nesi's number is for calendar 2011 (January through December), while all the pension fund projections align with fiscal years (ending in June). That brings the frightening observation that the return for FY11 was 20%, so either the latter half of calendar 2010 was really amazing, or the latter half of calendar 2011 was even more pitiful than the 1.4% suggests.

Either way, assuming 7.5% from here on out, if the 1.4% carries for the whole of FY12, it will leave the pension system $2.4 billion short by 2035, the year it's supposed to be fully funded, under the pension reform. It's difficult to calculate the effects of such changes on the actuaries' numbers, which are layered with assumptions, but if my analysis is correct, this one bad year means that the annual rate of return will have to be 8.0% to make up the difference.

We could be seeing the Retirement Board exercising its new dictatorial powers sooner than expected.

January 26, 2012

Where's My Debrox? He Couldn't Have Said That Everyone Needs to Play By the Same Set of Rules

Monique Chartier

From the President's State of the Union address:

or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.

Seriously??? The person who has issued over 1,200 waivers to his own, signature healthcare law is talking about everyone playing by the same set of rules? The person who issued the vast majority of those waivers to his friends in organized labor while simultaneously telling everyone else that they must comply with the law - his law! - is exhorting us to play by the same set of rules?

How did he refrain from laughing out loud when he got to that part of the speech?

Play by the same set of rules? Lead the way, Mr. President.

Meanwhile, please pass the duct tape.

Liveblogging-Livetweeting the CNN Presidential Debate (But Really Testing out the Twitter Interface)

Carroll Andrew Morse

(Twitterscript from last night's CNN Florida Presidential debate).

18 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
If we put a base on the moon, won't the nuclear waste dumps explode and send it hurtling out of orbit?

18 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
But no one asked the really big question...

18 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
And we're done.

19 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Santorum set-piece -- Says he's different from the other candidates, then criticizes Obama's SOTU.

19 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Wolf upset that people aren't directly answering his marginally silly Q.

20 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Although I have to say that Newt delivers a set-piece as well as anyone can.

20 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Gingrich: I've paricipated in the two largest Republican sweeps in modern time. Set-piece on freedom versus dependence.

21 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Romney then goes into a closing set-piece.

22 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Romney: This will be a critical time. Will we become a social welfare state? We need dramatic and fundamental change...

23 minutes ago » Patrick Laverty
In RI people say "signs don't vote". Hey Ron Paul, polls don't vote either.

23 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Paul: My freedom message appeals to a lot of people. Mentions "tolerance". My foreign policy will be better than Obama's

24 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Last Q: Why are you the 1 person likely to beat Obama?

24 minutes ago » Patrick Laverty
Overall, Santorum seems most comfortable. Every answer sounds like sermonizing.

28 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Santorum also references God-given rights, similar reasoning as Romney but in better detail.

29 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Gingrich: A Prez faces big enough decisions that justify seeking a higher power.

30 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Paul: It wouldn't, only my oath office would. Romney references the basic ideas of the founders.

32 minutes ago » Patrick Laverty
Romney would seek the guidance of Providence?

32 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Q about how your religious beliefs would impact your job as Prez.

32 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Even Wolf thought the Puerto Rico Q was a bad one. He has Santorum answer, and then moves on.

33 minutes ago » Patrick Laverty
No truth to the rumor that if Puerto Rico is added as a state, Rhode Island gets kicked out.

34 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
And also about Puerto Rican statehood.

35 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Q from audience: Why aren't you considering the governor of Puerto Rico as a VP candidate.

36 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Gingrich would move U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

37 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Wolf brings up Gingrich "invented people" comment. Gingrich stands behind it.

37 minutes ago » Patrick Laverty
Romney gives maybe the least sympathetic statement to an audience question.

37 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Romney: Obama threw Isreal under the bus, by talking about '67 borders.

38 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Romney: While Palestine is led by people who want to eliminate Israel, American should be 100% committed to its ally Isreal.

39 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Q about Palestine and Israel.

40 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Gingrich: If Pres Obama can support an Arab spring, why can't he support a Cuban spring?

40 minutes ago » Patrick Laverty
Wolf to Romney "What about Ron Paul's policy?" Romney "I'm talking about Obama right now". Swats away like a fly.

41 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Romney expands the Q worldwide, and says he won't show the weakness to authoritarian govts that Obama has shown.

41 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Romney: Latin America has been ignored by Obama. We need more economic agreements...

42 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Paul, more seriously, I'd ask him what we could do to improve relations. Sanctions hurt the people and strengthen governments.

43 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Over to Paul, what would you say to Raoul Castro? Paul: I'd ask him what he called about.

44 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Santorum says we shouldn't reward the center of the cancer.

45 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Santorum opposes liberalizing relations. Points out spread of authoritarian-left govts in Latin America...

45 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Q on Cuba policy.

46 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
And Romney says he's always voted for an R, whenever there's an R on the ballot.

46 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Romney apparently once said "I don't want to go back to the Reagan-Bush era". He says he's become more conservative since then.

47 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Gingrich blames the "Romney attack machine" for hilighting some of his tensions with Reagan.

47 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Romney reviews his resume, including the Olympics (I think the tie-in is about him not being politically active in the Reagan years).

48 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Q to Romney about who is the heir to the Reagan tradition.

49 minutes ago » Patrick Laverty
Amazing that Newt doesn't answer, "Anyone would be better than Michelle Obama." I thought he was going there.

52 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Er, that's the question that is stupid, not the potential first-ladies.

54 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
I am boycotting any livetweeting of the stupid first-lady question.

54 minutes ago » Patrick Laverty
Would President Gingrich's wife be referred to as the Third Lady?

58 minutes ago » Patrick Laverty
Clearly, someone is thinking of Rubio as a VP possibility.

59 minutes ago » Andrew Morse
Newt says he has a bigger role for Rubio than the cabinet in mind.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Santorum is asked first, so he gets to say Marco Rubio.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Q about which Hispanic Americans would you have join your adiminstration

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Which in Paul's case amounts to saying I'll cut everything else to pay for huge Social Security and Medicare entitlements.

1 hour ago » Patrick Laverty
Did Newt just endorse Ron Paul?

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Paul rambles through an answer, and winds up with I'll cut 1 trillion dollars.
1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Romney: I will point out what Obama did is wrong. Santorum: Your mandate is no different from Pres. Obama's mandate.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
And Santorum is right to point it out.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Romney is falling into his "with good managment, you can make socialism work" mode.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Romney defends mandate, as a way to share costs. This is not going to play well with the base.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Santorum attacks Romney, for supporting a state purchase mandate, but opposing a Federal mandate.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Good exchange on healthcare is occurring right now. I will try to backfill in the next day or two.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
@plaverty24 Your tweets should be going straight to @AnchorRising now.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Romney: Newt is pandering state-by-state, based on industries located there (space industry in Fla).

1 hour ago » Patrick Laverty
I've heard of politicians promising you the moon, but this is ridiculous.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Romney: In my business, I'd fire someone who proposed spending billions of dollars to go to the moon.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Newt: We don't want to be nation that got to the moon first, then fell behind forever after that.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Newt: Invokes Kennedy/man on the moon inspiration example. Effort should be about 90% private...

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Wolf asks about Newt's proposal for granting the moon statehood, if I understood the Q right.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Paul: Doesn't like government-private partnerships for space exploration. And healthcare is more important than going to the moon.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Paul: Only legitimate govt involvment in space is for defense.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Santorum: We need more people involved, but with the current budget woes, the government options are limited.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Santorum: America is a frontier nation. We need to inspire. Space defense must be considered.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Gingrich: Change incentives, to accelerate the development of space.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Newt: Is NASA in it's current form the best vechicle for space exploration? They don't even have an operational launch vehicle right now.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Romney: Moonbase is really expensive, and I'll bring in really smart people to work on space policy.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Question about spaceflight policy. Wolf adds Gingrich's moonbase plan.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Wolf asks if all of the candidates will release their medical records. The question is a total waste of debate time.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Paul makes light of the question in various ways

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Wolf asks Paul about his age and health.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Paul on taxes: Wants to repeal 16th amendment, wants fewer taxes than in the Reagan years, no welfare or warfare

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Santorum explains his position on a capital gains tax.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Wolf to Santorum: Polls say people want to raise taxes to pay off debt. What's wrong with that.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Blitzer decrees a truce on the tax-return issues, then asks a question about Romney's taxes under Gingrich plans.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Romney: And my taxes plus charitable contributions were about 40%.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Gingrich: Explain your Swiss bank accounts. Romney: It's invested for me in a blind trust and capialism is good.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Romney: Wouldn't it be nice if people [Gingrich] wouldn't make accusations that they're not willing to defend here.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Gingrich: "I'm with him [Romney]. This is a nonsense question". Blitzer: You made this an issue with your statements.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Oh, no. Next question is tax returns.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Santorum says Gingrich and Romney should stop with the petty stuff. They both made money legitimately using their skills and experience

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Blitzer asks Ron Paul if Romney and Gingrich should sell the investments in housing. Paul says he's not interested in the question (cheers)

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Gingrich goes substantive, finally: He'd break up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into smaller units.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Newt says comparing my investments to his is like comparing a tiny mouse to a giant elephant.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Romney: ...and you have similar invetments too [Newt]. Crowd cheers...

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Romney: My investments are in a blind-trust, and in mutual funds and other such instruments...

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Gingrich accuses Romney of having investments in companies carrying out foreclosures.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Romney takes a dig at GIngrich, then moves to a more substantive answer.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Question about housing, from Wolf Blitzer.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Santorum brings up Honduras, accuses Obama admin of siding with leftists against the people of Hounduras, and elsewhere in Latin America.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Paul: And we should have "friendship" and trade with Cuba.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Ron Paul: I would encourage free trade, but we don't have an obligation to dictate forms of government to the rest of the world.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
Q from the audience: How would engage with Latin America, to promote democracy and markets.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
The bad news is that I wasn't able to capture the Romney/Gingrich exchange on immigration, as I got it set up.

1 hour ago » Andrew Morse
The good news is that I have the Twitter-@AnchorRising liveblog interface marginally working...

GOP Primary Ballot Update

Carroll Andrew Morse

Courtesy of Dave Talan and the R.I. Republicans, here is an update sent out yesterday on the effort to get all of the Republican Presidential candidates on to the April 24 primary ballot...

As of this afternoon, 16 of the 32 Signature Parties have taken place, and we have gathered at least 480 signatures for each of the 5 Presidential candidates. The snowstorm on Saturday probably cost us about 200 from the events that day. (The total # of signatures does not include any obtained by the 45 volunteers who are getting them in their community, independent of the signature parties.). So we need to keep pushing to get all our GOP candidates on the Primary ballot...

We have just 2 weeks to get 1,000 valid signatures for these candidates, from January 19 to February 2. (This is down from the 5 weeks we had previously, in warmer weather). Also, in normal states, signatures are turned in to one central location. In R.I., signatures must be turned in to the City or Town Hall where the signer resides. (So, for instance, if you are a Providence voter, and sign a paper that is turned in to Pawtucket, your signature would be disqualified.). This makes it impractical to gather signatures at shopping centers or at athletic events, where people come from numerous different communities.

And remember: although 1,000 signatures is the official number, each candidate wants to be well over that total, in case a significant percentage are challenged, illegible, etc.

Below the fold is the list of remaining signature parties.

Thursday January 26 - NEWPORT - 3:00 to 6:00 P.M.
inside the Stop & Shop, 250 Bellevue Ave. (was postponed, due to snow, last Saturday)

Thursday January 26 - PORTSMOUTH - 6:30 P.M.
at the Valley Inn, 2221 West Main Rd.

Thursday January 26 - WESTERLY - 7:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M.
at Dylan's Restaurant, 2 Canal St.

Friday January 27 - WEST WARWICK and COVENTRY - 7:00 to 9:00 P.M.
at Picard's Ice Cream & Coffee, 10 Brookside Ave. (corner Washington St.) in West Warwick

Friday January 27 - MIDDLETOWN - 4:00 to 7:00 P.M.
at Courtyard By Marriott, 9 Commerce Drive (off Rt. 114 - West Main Rd.).
PORTSMOUTH and NEWPORT voters also invited, if they are unable to go to their own Town's event the day before.

Saturday January 28 - NORTH PROVIDENCE breakfast - 8:00 to 11:00 A.M.
at Lymansville Memorial VFW Post 10011, 354 Fruit Hill Ave.
North Providence will also take signatures at their monthly meeting on Tuesday January 31,
at 7:00 P.M. at the Union Free Library, 1810 Mineral Spring Ave.

Saturday January 28 - JAMESTOWN - 9:00 A.M. until at least noon
at 2 locations: Conanicut Marine's retail store, 20 Narragansett Ave.; and McQuade's Market, 6 Clarke St.

Saturday January 28 - CRANSTON - 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.
at the home of Chuck Nevola, 45 Shirley Blvd.
(located off Pontiac Ave., a few blocks south of Park Ave.)

Saturday January 28 - BRISTOL - 9:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M.
at Rogers Free Library, 525 Hope St.

Saturday January 28 - WOONSOCKET - 9:00 to 11:00 A.M.
at Harris Library, 303 Clinton St.

Saturday January 28 - BURRILLVILLE - 10:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M.
at Natural Resource Services (office of Scott Rabideau) in Harrisville, adjacent to the Jesse Smith Library at 180 Tinkham Lane

Monday January 30 - CRANSTON - 6:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M.
at Oaklawn Grange, 42 Wheelock Ave.
(located off Wilbur Ave., near Oaklawn Ave.)

Tuesday January 31 - JOHNSTON - 6:30 P.M. to until the crowd dies down
at the home of George & Kathy Resnick, 10 Paradise Lane

Tuesday January 31 - EAST PROVIDENCE Florida Primary straw poll - 7:00 to 10:00 P.M.
at Santa Maria Cultural Center, 846 Broadway.
Neighboring communities also invited (Pawtucket, Providence, Barrington).

Wednesday February 1 - TIVERTON - 4:00 to 7:00 P.M.
at the clubhouse of Villages on Mount Hope Bay, 120 Schooner Drive

January 25, 2012

Oh Darn - Guess We Have To Lower the Federal Tax Rate

Monique Chartier

... even federal employees are apparently finding it difficult to stay current.

About 98,000 federal, postal and congressional employees owed $1.03 billion in unpaid taxes at the end of fiscal 2010, according to records provided by the Internal Revenue Service.

No word on whether they also canvassed President Obama's cabinet for tax compliance.

The Cranston West Banner and State Inhibition of Religion

Carroll Andrew Morse

Folks who invoke ideas like the “the enduring legacy of Roger Williams” as a means for deciding contemporary policy issues such as Steve Ahlquist of the Humanists of Rhode Island, continue to be confused about what that legacy actually entails. A Saturday Projo op-ed by Mr. Ahlquist from which the above quoted phrase was taken, claims that…

…Williams worked to establish a government in Rhode Island that guaranteed [freedom of conscience and freedom of religion] by helping to draft a charter for the colony that was unique in the world because it contained no mention of God.
This is not true, as Marc pointed out earlier this year. Rhode Island’s colonial charter, famous for its guarantee of freedom of conscience “in matters of religious concernments”, mentions God and the Gospels, in more than just a milquetoast fashion…
[T]hat true piety rightly grounded upon gospel principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignty…

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

Surprisingly (to some) religious freedom and God can actually complement one another.

Roger Williams directly expressed his own thoughts on the duties "public magistrates" had with respect to a religion that they “believeth to be true” in “The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution” published in 1644. One such duty towards religion was…

Approbation and countenance, a reverent esteem and honorable testimony, according to Isa. 49, and Revel. 21, with a tender respect of truth, and the professors of it.
The Bloudy Tenent also lists five “proper means” of civil government, the second of the five being…
The making, publishing, and establishing of wholesome civil laws, not only such as concern civil justice, but also the free passage of true religion; for outward civil peace ariseth and is maintained from them both.
A blanket ban on mention of God in government-controlled spaces does not automatically align with “the free passage of true religion” that Williams thought was a legitimate concern of civil government, nor allow opportunities for the “reverent esteem and honorable testimony” for religion that he favored.

Now, despite ample room in Roger Williams' vision of church-state relations for hoisting a banner addressing Our Heavenly Father, Williams' views are not and should not be the only factor that decides the resolution of the issue today. However, Williams' belief that the civil government had a role in “the free passage of true religion” has propagated forward, formally at least, to become part of the test that the Supreme Court has created for determining the acceptability of religious displays on public property (the "Lemon test", named for the case of Lemon v. Kurtzman). The relevant prong is the second one …

First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster "an excessive government entanglement with religion."
Tests for government not advancing religion have been enforced through the court’s construction of a “reasonable observer” who possesses rabbit ears where mention of God or religion is involved. Concern for the no-inhibiting prong of the test has been considerably less vigilant.

* * *

Suppose that the Cranston West Banner was addressed to someone other than a Heavenly Father. Here’s one possibility…
Mother Gaia,
Grant us each day the desire to do our best...
This might not pass the Lemon test – an anthropomorphic Mother Gaia might offend the courts’ tastes. On the other hand, the basic concept could probably be made acceptable by turning Mother Gaia into something a little more concrete...
All-encompassing ecosystem of the earth,
Grant us each day the desire to do our best...
You also could come up with a version that skips the druidic sentiment and emphasizes collective humanity instead, something like Jean-Jacques Rousseau might write...
Indestructible and infallible General Will of the community,
Grant us each day the desire to do our best...
…or that a Marxist might write…
True consciousness of the proletariat,
Grant us each day the desire to do our best...
…and by pressing the Marxist envelope a little further, you could even get rid of people entirely, and ask for help only from the inanimate…
Dialectic, impersonal and material forces of production,
Grant us each day the desire to do our best...
There’s certainly nothing spiritual in that last one that would trigger a Lemon Alert.

But this list of what is versus what isn’t acceptable under the Lemon Test presents a problem. A wide definition of what “advances” religion per one part of the Lemon test has led to almost total neglect of the prohibition against "inhibiting" religion in another. A message displayed in a publicly-managed space asking for help from God in leading a better life is deemed unacceptable, while the same request in the same place made to the highest power that exists in the minds of Marxists, Romantics, naturalists, humanists, or shut-up-and-obey-the-statists would probably be OK. Religion has been inhibited by official state sanction -- officially deemed by the state to be somehow less worthy of free expression than other belief systems -- in a way that the Lemon test supposedly prevents.

Working from the state of the law and of society now, wherever the state bans the mention of God as an acceptable answer to the big questions, the state must also allow opportunities make clear that it is not allowed to take the position that God is less of an answer than other answers that are possible. This can be done at the present moment in the City of Cranston with a modification to the banner that respects the local history of the issue and the larger religious and philosophical questions involved, and that is consistent with the Lemon test and with the tradition of Roger Williams…

In 1963, David Bradley and the Cranston West community chose the imperative mood, to express a message they believed would help the members of the community live and grow together.

In 2012, Judge Ronald Lagueux ruled that the state forbids mentioning to whom or to what the requests are addressed.

Judge Lagueux's ruling should not prevent anyone's lifelong consideration of all of the reasons why we aspire to be better on our next day than on our last,

nor imply that the state can decide the answer to this question for us.

*** ******** *******
Grant us each day the desire to do our best,
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically,
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers,
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others,
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win,
Teach us the value of true friendship,
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston
High School West.

(Re)State of the Union

Marc Comtois

I mean, really....it doesn't even seem like he's trying anymore.

Rehashing the same tired lines, delivered at an 8th grade reading level. It just reinforces the perception that President Obama likes the idea of being President much more than actually doing the job. Good thing the GOP has such a strong field of candidates....

Joseph Garrahy, 1930-2012

Carroll Andrew Morse

Multiple media sources have reported that former Rhode Island Governor Joseph Garrahy passed away earlier this morning.

Dismissing the Fundamental Political Question

Justin Katz

Marc's post, yesterday, about the correspondence of a growing gap in wealth and a growing gap in once-expected behaviors between economic classes has led down some interesting roads and, I think, exposed some problematic thinking. One comment worth its own consideration comes from Mangeek:

"...shouldn't hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms"

Why is this necessary? Let people live the way they want. Maybe traditional institutions and 1950s ideas about what a family is aren't what's best in a stagnating, globalizing economy.

America is clearly not going to be the dominant world economy in twenty years. We shouldn't stuff our heads in the sand and pretend that if everyone got married and stopped looking at porn, we'd get back on top. We need to break out of traditions and try some New Stuff (or some Old Stuff, depending on how you look at it).

Taking the second paragraph first, it's anachronistic to align economic malaise with a vision of our society as calcifying in dogmatic adherence to traditional norms. New Stuff won't inherently be beneficial within a context of changing circumstances just because its new. Indeed, a key benefit of the social standards that evolved up until around the middle of the last century was that they provided stability allowing society to adapt and address the circumstances of a changing world.

The circumstance that progressive economic and social policies require precisely flips the equation: They take economic growth as the given foundation on which to build a system of radical social change. That won't work. Children dealing with the fallout of their parents' divorce or growing up with the instability of an unmarried household won't be as well positioned to identify and address the changing world. Young men indulging their every sexual whim in a protracted adolescence will behave as their self-absorbed lifestyles suggest in other contexts, as well.

That doesn't mean that we must revert entirely to an increasingly abandoned social model, or that we shouldn't strive to maintain some real advances (the status of women high among them). It is folly, though, to take economic decline as an excuse to do whatever we want to do.

But then, Mangeek has proven in other conversations that he isn't actually interested in complete freedom of behavior. His willingness to use government coercion to get people to abandon large vehicles implicitly points to the problem with the first paragraph quoted above. Basically, what people want to do and what the community requires them to do for its broader health aren't in such accord that we can open the gates to unfettered individualism.

Generally speaking, there are two approaches to dealing with the social need to control and direct behavior. One is to create social institutions to which people hew voluntarily, but that impose expectations. Marriage is an excellent example: The institution has a variety of benefits, chief among them being social approval and support of the core household relationship, but it imposes responsibilities of fidelity and devotion. Its demands also extend to those doing the sorts of things that best happen within marriage, such as having children. The broad consensus about the importance of the institution creates pressure while leaving individuals free to engage in behavior that deviates from the norm.

The other approach to imposing necessary controls is to directly enforce them through government, whether by financial penalties, criminal prosecution, or the darker insinuations of a police state. In this case, a relatively small group defines behavior for everybody, and those definitions (we can expect) will tend to resemble their own limited preferences and to profit their social groups.

"Let people live the way they want" sounds like a liberating plea, but it stops where joint action begins. Those who want to live within a society that acknowledges across its institutions the unique nature of intimate male-female relationships (namely, that they tend to generate children) are out of luck. The residents of Cranston cannot even decorate their shared public school with a benign old prayer banner. In short, "let people live the way they want" is at odds with the first, more free, means of directing society described above.

Consequently, the slogan will lead toward the second, more authoritarian, means. As social problems emerge, the limited group with power will either dictate a growing regiment of behavior or prevent others from developing solutions to solve them.

January 24, 2012

"Not Widespread" - Minimizing the Need for Voter I.D. By Cranking Up The Voter Fraud Threshold

Monique Chartier

Rep Charlene Lima (D-Cranston) has put in a bill to repeal Rhode Island's new voter id law.

What's interesting is that, in her arguments, Rep Lima is attempting to shift the metric by which the need for voter i.d. is measured.

Until now, opponents of voter i.d. have argued against its implementation by attempting to diminish the problem of voter fraud to the point of non-existence. It really wasn't a problem. There had been no prosecutions. Voter i.d. had been "a solution in search of a problem".

Now, however, as she has made the media rounds to discuss her bill, the rep from Lima ... er, Rep Lima has moved the goalpost. Now we don't need voter i.d. because voter fraud is "not widespread".

Presumably, this pronouncement is intended to be reassuring. Upon reflection, however, it is difficult to find solace in it.

Firstly, its credibility. As WPRO's John Depetro, among others, correctly pointed out, whether non-existent or widespread, it is not possible to quantify the extent of voter fraud in the absence of a voter i.d. requirement.

Secondly, the margin which it represents. Think about how many elections have ended in a vote count that was "not widespread". You don't have to ponder too long - Governor Chafee won by less than three percentage points.

Sorry, "not widespread" is not an acceptable level of voter fraud. Opponents of voter i.d. speak of protecting an individual's right to vote. Indeed, it should be - the right of all legitimate voters for their votes not to be diluted or negated by fraudulent vote casting.

The Cultural Divide Explains the Economic One

Marc Comtois

Saturday's Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece about "The New American Divide":

People are starting to notice the great divide. The tea party sees the aloofness in a political elite that thinks it knows best and orders the rest of America to fall in line. The Occupy movement sees it in an economic elite that lives in mansions and flies on private jets. Each is right about an aspect of the problem, but that problem is more pervasive than either political or economic inequality. What we now face is a problem of cultural inequality.

When Americans used to brag about "the American way of life"—a phrase still in common use in 1960—they were talking about a civic culture that swept an extremely large proportion of Americans of all classes into its embrace. It was a culture encompassing shared experiences of daily life and shared assumptions about central American values involving marriage, honesty, hard work and religiosity.

Over the past 50 years, that common civic culture has unraveled. We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America's core cultural institutions.

A companion piece illustrates this divide with a number of charts.
The piece goes into great detail about how we got here, but sets that aside as so much water under the bridge now. Instead, the focus is on a prescription for shrinking the gap. It's not a massive, structured plan. Instead, it centers on changing attitudes.
There remains a core of civic virtue and involvement in working-class America that could make headway against its problems if the people who are trying to do the right things get the reinforcement they need—not in the form of government assistance, but in validation of the values and standards they continue to uphold. The best thing that the new upper class can do to provide that reinforcement is to drop its condescending "nonjudgmentalism." Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn't hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices....America outside the enclaves of the new upper class is still a wonderful place, filled with smart, interesting, entertaining people. If you're not part of that America, you've stripped yourself of much of what makes being American special.

Such priorities can be expressed in any number of familiar decisions: the neighborhood where you buy your next home, the next school that you choose for your children, what you tell them about the value and virtues of physical labor and military service, whether you become an active member of a religious congregation (and what kind you choose) and whether you become involved in the life of your community at a more meaningful level than charity events.

Everyone in the new upper class has the monetary resources to make a wide variety of decisions that determine whether they engage themselves and their children in the rest of America or whether they isolate themselves from it. The only question is which they prefer to do.

I wonder if it's too late.

ADDENDUM: I had this piece by Michael Gerson filed in my "to do bin". It's related:

Conservatives naturally focus on equal opportunity rather than on equal outcomes. But equality of opportunity is a more radical concept than we generally concede. It is not a natural state; it is a social and political achievement. It depends on healthy families and cohesive communities. But opportunity also depends on effective government — on public safety, public education and public health. Governmental overreach can undermine other important social institutions. Yet the retreat of government does not automatically restore them to health.

Liberals often fail to recognize that income redistribution, while preventing penury, is not identical to social equality. The main challenge of poverty is not a lack of consumption but a lack of social capital — measured in skills and values — and of opportunity. Addressing these problems is more complex than increasing marginal tax rates, particularly when revenue is used to cover the increasing costs of non-means-tested entitlement programs. The structure of the modern welfare state is not focused on empowering the poor. Instead, it has increased the percentage of government transfer payments that go to middle- and upper-income seniors.

On all sides, the poverty debate can be paralyzed by an obsession with fundamental causes. A failing community is a puzzle box of interconnected failures. Globalization and technology put downward pressure on wages and lead to stagnant labor markets. Permissive cultural norms encourage family breakdown and self-destructive behavior. Complaining about the rise of China or the decline of morality can be satisfying. But cosmic explanations can be obstacles to action.

Read all of it. For a more local view (both in problems and potential ideas, read this post (and the discussion) by "Frymaster" over at the resuscitated RI Future.

A Gift That Turns into an Expense

Justin Katz

Ted Nesi notes that Rhode Island has moved up a couple of notches on a nationwide scale when it comes to funding higher education in the state budget. The reason, however, is that our officials are better at dancing to the federal tune:

However, Rhode Island was one of only five states that has federal stimulus money for higher education in its current budget, and the whopping $30.2 million in stabilization funds Rhode Island received was twice as much as second-place New York's $14.4 million and 190 times as much as West Virginia's $158,781.

When federal money is excluded, Rhode Island's spending on higher education rose by a more modest $6.1 million, or just under 4%, to $163.5 million. That's down 17% from the $196.4 million in state money Rhode Island spent on URI, RIC and CCRI as the recession began in 2006-07.

So, the federal government is propping up Rhode Island's higher ed. expenditure with money that it doesn't have, and you can bet we'll hear calls about the moral necessity of replacing them with state funds when they go away. This as the walls of the higher education bubble attenuate to the point of bursting.

Subsidies for public universities and colleges are another illustration of the backwards thinking that government's taxation and bonding powers have enabled. We're like a car buyer who begins with a list of features without regard to the ability to afford them. If higher education merits a larger public investment, then let's figure out what other government expenditures are of less value and reduce them.

Frankly, I think dollars spent is the wrong way to judge a public system's success. With a different standard for judgment, we might focus more on how we achieve more for the dollars we spend than how we can manipulate the government financial system to grab more money.

January 23, 2012

Mostly in order to avoid any "figure's AR wouldn't mention Watson's latest arrest" comments

Justin Katz

Honestly, I don't know what people are thinking. As you might have guessed from the title of this post, that link will lead to coverage of East Greenwich Republican Rep. Bob Watson's latest arrest.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I've tripped over more than my share of red flags for self-destructive behavior, but it doesn't take much learning to discover the most important thing about red flags: that they be heeded, prompting a change of behavior. Granted, they tend to escalate, with the early ones being sufficiently small to allow for self-denial, but Watson is getting to the point that the next sized flag will be somebody's serious injury or death.

The people of his district will decide what Watson's appropriate next political step will be, but it's just about a plain statement of fact that he hasn't been showing very good judgment, of late.

January 22, 2012

Car Tax Reform

Patrick Laverty

Warwick's Rob Cote has been leading the charge for a car tax revolt in the state. He has brought up the inequities in the law with things like being taxed at the full clean value of a car, in spite of its mileage and condition. If you have a 2005 Honda Accord, you will be assessed the same value if that car is Grandma's Sunday church car with 15,000 miles on it or if it's been in a couple accidents with 150,000 miles on it. Plus Cote has said that when you purchase a new car, the cities are using the brand new value of a car for the first five years. Everyone knows that even a brand new car loses value the minute it is driven off the lot, but yet you pay the full value.

Add on top of this, every town has their own tax rates for cars. That same Honda Accord is taxed at $76.68 if its owner lives in Providence and it is taxed at $9.75 if its owner lives on Block Island. Same exact car, vastly different taxes paid.

Add on top of that, in 1998, the General Assembly forced all towns to freeze their tax rate on cars. They cannot change. The towns who saw this freeze coming simply raised their rates at that time. Still today, no town can change its auto tax rate.

Now, based on Cote's initiative, State Representative Joseph McNamara is sponsoring legislation to make the car tax more fair. The bill will change the system so we pay a rate that more closely matches the value of the car, which in almost every case will be less than it is today.

So what will this mean? Higher property taxes is what it will mean. Originally, one of the purposes of the car tax was to lessen the burden on property owners, but now this change could increase that tax.

Let's walk through it this way. When you look at either the auto tax or the property tax, neither the rate nor the assessment matter by themselves. What matters is when the two of them are brought together. Basically what towns do is figure this out in reverse. They first figure out how much money they need, then they already have a decent idea of what their aggregate assessed value is and then use that to set the rate. But remember, in the case of the auto tax, the tax rate is frozen. Towns cannot change it. So what this change to the law could do is largely lower the aggregated assessed value, and without a rate change, the town will lose a lot of revenue.

Most mayors are not going to simply say "Oh well, we have less money, we'll just spend less." No, they will need to replace that money from somewhere. Unless the General Assembly is going to reimburse the revenue loss from the auto tax, then the mayors have to find that money themselves. Towns really only have one major source of revenue after the auto tax, and that is property tax. How much could be lost?

three quarters to a million dollars," said North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi, "That revenue has to come from somewhere."
That kind of cut will not happen in town budgets, so the difference will be recouped in property taxes. Unless the state adds another way to make that up, this could result in another example of the Assembly raising our taxes yet being able to claim that they didn't.

What might be the simplest solution? Unfreeze the rates. Let the towns set whatever rate they want. Then they can assess the autos at the correct amount and set the tax rate accordingly. Taxes paid won't go down at all, but you'll feel a whole better about your car being assessed appropriately.

What's the Point of SOPA?

Patrick Laverty

It seems the recent blackout of many popular web sites caused some SOPA/PIPA supporters to change their tune. We even had Senator Reed and Congressman Cicilline come out against the bills, after they'd previously been non-committal. Senator Whitehouse still supports the bill that he is sponsoring, but says he is willing to make changes.

I find it interesting that Senator Whitehouse submitted a bill that he now says he's willing to make changes to. Why now? Is he sponsoring a bill that was hastily written and poorly thought out? It seems that he's now admitting that. If Senator Whitehouse's strong suit is in the area of law enforcement and this bill deals with enforcing the law, and he didn't get this one right, then what exactly can we count on him to get right in Washington?

However, with that aside, is there even any need for SOPA/PIPA at all? The aim of those bills is to protect intellectual property from internet pirates by shutting down access to web sites that violate US copyright law. These bills have not passed yet, but the United States was involved with the shutdown of alleged copyright violator Megaupload.com on Thursday. The owner and at least some employees of the site were arrested in various locations around the world and many of their servers were shut down and millions of dollars confiscated.

It would almost seems as though someone saw the bills going down in flames and decided to show the bills' opponents that the US can do just about any time it wants. If the US can already do this sort of thing without SOPA and PIPA having passed, what will they be able to do WITH those bills being law, or if it's nothing additional, then what's the point?

January 21, 2012

Gingrich to Win South Carolina

Carroll Andrew Morse

It looks like Newt Gingrich will win the South Carolina Republican primary with about 40% of the vote. Mitt Romney will finish second around 27%, and Rick Santorum and Ron Paul will be 3rd and 4th, with 17% and 13% respectively. (Link to results from CBS News).

Last cycle, I thought that one of the late-starting, non-conventional candidacies (Giuliani, Thompson) was going to have a big impact on the race, but that turned out not to be the case. The Republicans nominated their traditional "next guy in line" who ran an uber-traditional campaign. I learned my lesson and decided that this time around, I would not get pulled into spending any time analyzing scenarios in which the next-guy-in-line frontrunner might lose the nomination to someone else.

The lesson, for me personally, is that I'm so bad at predicting the outcome of the Presidential nomination process, even when I don't make any predictions, I'm still wrong.

Assembly Can't Have It Both Ways

Patrick Laverty

Monique's post today about her attempt to get in touch with State Rep Charlene Lima via email made me think that it's pretty interesting that Reps and Senators don't want to be bothered by non-constituents. Last June, Jim Hummel came to the same conclusion, with Rep. Lima again the poster child for this type of (lack of) response.

They'll claim to be too busy, too overwhelmed with email to have time to read it all from everyone. They get email from non-constituents from other districts in Rhode Island and they also claim they get email from people from out of state. They really only have time to respond to and interact with their own constituents. After all, that's who they're representing, right? Those are the people that the Assembly member spends their time up on Smith Hill to represent.

I have to say "hang on a moment" here. That's not exactly true. If you have a severe case of insomnia some time, or you're just a big time nerd like me, try randomly reading through State House bills. Pay special attention to those that affect either one town, a couple of towns or even just specific institutions. Shouldn't the Assembly member who is representing those issues be the one who submits bill for those specific areas?

Want an example? Remember back in 2008 when the Assembly passed a law allowing both Twin River and Newport Grand to stay open 24 hours a day? Who sponsored that bill in the Senate? Was it a Senator from Lincoln or Newport? No. It was Paul Moura, then a Senator for East Providence. East Providence?!? What does he have to do with Twin River or Newport Grand?

This isn't the only time this has happened. If you read through the bills, you'll see it happens quite frequently, actually. I have no definite reason as to why.

The Assembly members want to submit legislation that affects people in a certain part of the state that they don't represent, however based on Jim Hummel and Monique's experiences, these Assembly members don't want to respond or even read email from people that their legislation affects. It would seem to me that if you're going to submit a bill that affects certain people in this state, you should at least be willing to accept contact from them. It's just good government. Which is yet again, something Rhode Island needs a lot more of.

There's the "Business Community" and There's the Business Community

Justin Katz

In Rhode Island, class differentiation has a high degree of overlap with insiderdom — perhaps because people who aren't insiders don't see as much value in remaining, so they've filtered out. In that context, comments from one representative of the "business community," offered in an article about Governor Chafee's promise of "painful cuts" — are disconcerting:

"I think all of us in the business community expect some level of pain," said Colin Kane, a developer who is a principal of Peregrine Group LLC in East Providence. "I'm not going to call it pain. I'm going to call it commitment — and sacrifice — toward making the state fiscally responsible and functional."

Reporter Tom Mooney doesn't bother to point it out, but Kane is also Chafee's appointee to head up the commission overseeing the conversion of the land formerly covered by route 195 in Providence, so he's clearly in the upper tier of insiders. He goes on to say:

And, he said, "I do believe that the public is prepared and willing to make a reasonable sacrifice if indeed they do see a future of getting us below [an unemployment rate of] 10.8 percent."

"I pay a lot now. I suspect I will pay a lot later," said Kane. "Let's face it. Last year in Providence our property taxes on commercial [property] went up 25 percent. So we’ve made the sacrifice... Does it cripple? Yes. But we're still alive."

Business survival may be adequate for people who are already financially set, who already have the added perks, locally, of power and influence. But maintaining the status quo is not going to turn things around. As another article on yesterday's front page points out, Rhode Island has continued to bleed jobs. The most optimistic thing that can be said is that job creation was just barely positive for 2011, after losses for almost the entire second half of the year.

It isn't enough for Rhode Island to temper its tax increases to keep people like Kane afloat. Any increases at all, at this point, will kill start ups and continue to discourage new businesses from migrating here, while persuading others to continue leaving. Every penny of Rhode Island's pain has to come through reductions in government spending, taxation, regulations, and mandates, because what's needed isn't a painful solution, but a liberating one — one in which the economy grows rapidly enough to overcome the truly horrid decisions of insiders past.

Non-Functioning AND AutoReply E-Mail - Are You Sure You Want to Hear From People, Representative?

Monique Chartier

Terry Gorman of RIILE shared the following contradictory reply which he received from Rep Charlene Lima's e-mail.

From: Rep. Lima, Charlene To: riile2 Sent: Friday, January 20, 2012 16:53 Subject: Out of Office AutoReply: Weekly Update: New Poll and Stealing Democracy


Thank you for contacting my office via email. As a state representative, I believe it is very important to hear from concerned citizens about the issues that are facing the State of Rhode Island.

During the legislative session, I receive a tremendous volume of email each day. While that quantity does not lessen the quality of your concerns, I try to respond to constituents concerns first. All responses require an address of the U.S. Postal Service. If you did not include your full name and a postal address with your original message and wish to receive a response, please resend your message with a name and postal address.

Thank you for your patience and please do not hesitate to contact me at any time with your questions or concerns.

Representative Charlene Lima
District 14 Cranston

Contradictory because it simultaneously indicates that it is an "Out of Office AutoReply" yet flags that there is a "Techinical Difficulty" with the e-mail address. If the e-mail has a "Techinical Difficulty", how could it have delivered the "Out of Office AutoReply" (which also incorporates an explicit brush-off to all non-constituents)?

Contradictory also because an e-mail which is either non-functional or an auto reply (so by definition will not be seen by a human being) encourages the correspondent to contact the rep "at any time with your questions or concerns".

One is left, all around, with the impression that the representative's statement

please do not hesitate to contact me at any time with your questions or concerns.

might be more of a non-functioning platitude than a sincere reaching out.

January 20, 2012

Biden Gaffes Again

Patrick Laverty

This should be an interesting weekend in football as we're down to the final four teams trying to become NFL champions. The Patriots will play the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Giants will take on the San Francisco 49ers.

However, yesterday at a campaign fundraiser in San Francisco, Vice President Joe Biden didn't make the local sports fan attendees too happy. After paying who knows how many thousands of dollars for their chicken cordon bleu and to listen to the VP's speech, the donors got to hear Biden announce

The Giants are going to the Super Bowl!
Ok, that's great, but Joe, you're in San Francisco and the Giants are playing against the San Francisco team, so that's probably not too wise a call.

Oh, he later claimed he simply got the teams mixed up and he was thinking of the San Francisco Giants. The team that plays baseball. Ok, so that makes it all better that the baseball team is going to the Super Bowl. Gotcha.

And by the way Joe, you're from Delaware, right? I wonder what all of your constituents think of your support for a team other than the Baltimore Ravens. That can't be sitting too well with the locals back home.

January 19, 2012

Welcome to the 2012 Edition of the Journal of Held For Further Study

Carroll Andrew Morse

I attended last night's hearing of the Rhode Island House of Representatives Municipal Government Committee on House Bill H7098, which would change the way that vehicles are valued for purposes of assessing the state’s car tax.

Municipal Government Committee Chairman Jon Brien (D-Woonsocket) gaveled the meeting to order, took the roll, and asked Rep. Joseph McNamara (D-Warwick), the primary sponsor of H7098, to begin the discussion of the bill, which was the only item on last night's committee agenda. Less than a minute into Rep. McNamara's testimony, Chairman Brien politely interrupted Rep. McNamara, to ask for a vote to hold the bill for further study. The committee voted to do so and the meeting went on.

Now, I am not suggesting that yesterday’s immediate vote to hold for "further study" means that something untoward is occurring with the car-tax bill. The earliness in the legislative session(especially by Rhode Island standards) with which Chairman Brien, the bill’s sponsors, and the Municipal Government Committee have taken up this matter, as well as the wide range of people who participated in the hearing, makes plain that the House is giving serious consideration to this bill, and the practice of automatically holding bills for "further study" is not a central roadblock to passing meaningful reforms on an issue like the car-tax, where there is a reasonably broad consensus about changes that need to be made.

However, politics and policy making will inevitably involve issues where consensus is harder to achieve. In such cases, respecting the principle that legislatures by their nature must be governed by majority rule, not by any one individual, is of the utmost importance to the functioning of representative democracy. Unfortunately, the Rhode Island practice of holding bills for “further study” concentrates legislative power in the hands of a few members, whether or not they represent the majority view of the legislature as a whole.

* * *

1. By voting to hold a bill for further study as its first order of business, members of a committee immediately surrender to leadership their right to determine if a bill will ever get a floor vote. The relevant rule in the House of Representatives is rule 12(f)...

Committee Chairs shall bring reports of committee actions to the floor no later than two (2) weeks following the committee votes thereon, provided that this shall not apply to the Committee on Finance, nor shall it apply to bills being held for further study under subdivision (e)(v).
A vote to hold a bill for further study counts as the one vote to which every bill is entitled, but also means that a bill does not have to be seen or heard from ever again. Before the decision to hold for further study, a committee has the discretion to send a bill to the full house for consideration, regardless of how the Speaker or a committee chair would like to see it disposed of. After the decision is made to hold for further study, a committee’s ability to send a bill to the floor depends on first getting the Speaker's and the committee chair's permission to put it back on the agenda for another vote.

2. At the risk of sounding redundant, holding a bill for further study requires a vote to be taken. However, if you look at the General Assembly website, you will see that no vote was reported from the House Municipal Government committee from yesterday. The House is in violation of its own rules here, specifically rule 13(c)...

The Speaker shall formulate a plan for the publication of committee votes and work to implement the plan so committee votes appear online in a prominent and conspicuous location on the General Assembly website prior to the floor votes of the bill occurring: Online committee votes shall be available publicly no later than May 1, 2011.
Votes in committee to hold for further study are committee votes. This means, according to the rules, they should be published on the GA website in a timely fashion. They should be published so that the citizens of Rhode Island can know which representatives reflexively surrender their right to decide the fate of bills in committee in every case, and which do not.

3. Opposing the current practice of automatically holding bills for further study as the first order of committee business does not imply that a final decision has to be made on a bill in the first committee session where it is heard. For a concrete example of this, we can turn to the Rhode Island Senate. When a bill is held for further study by a House or Senate committee, a specific note of that fact is made on the "Bill Status" section of the General Assembly website. Here's an example from last year's session...

Senate Bill No. 314 SUB A
Chapter 326
BY McCaffrey, Lynch
ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT -- RHODE ISLAND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION (would require all board members of the Rhode Island airport corporation to be appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the senate)
02/16/2011 Introduced, referred to Senate Judiciary
03/03/2011 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
03/03/2011 Committee recommended measure be held for further study
04/26/2011 Scheduled for consideration
04/26/2011 Committee recommends passage of Sub A
However, examining the travail of some of the other legislation considered by the RI Senate last session shows that legislative committees already use options other than holding for further study to continue business from one meeting to the next. Here's how the I-195 redevelopment bill worked its way through the Senate Housing and Municipal Government Committee...
Senate Bill No. 114 SUB B as amended
Chapter 267
BY Ruggerio, Goodwin, Jabour, Perry, Ciccone
01/27/2011 Introduced, referred to Senate Housing and Municipal Government
04/14/2011 Scheduled for hearing
04/14/2011 Committee continued
05/26/2011 Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration
05/26/2011 Committee continued
05/31/2011 Scheduled for consideration
05/31/2011 Committee continued
06/02/2011 Scheduled for consideration
06/02/2011 Committee recommends passage of Sub A as amended...
At three separate meetings, the committee postponed making a final decision on the I-195 bill, without formally holding it for further study. This meant that the committee was able, by a majority decision, to resume consideration of the bill without having to get permission from the Senate President or the committee chair. For whatever reason, the committee members decided that they didn't want to go through a process of sending the I-195 bill to the Senate leadership and waiting for them to send it back, in order to be able to consider the bill at a future meeting.

No slight is intended to Speaker of the House Gordon Fox by pointing out the problems with the Rhode Island legislature's further study system, but the simple fact of the matter is that any legislative body is going to have to deal with issues where the majority wants to move in a different direction from the leadership. We recently saw an example of this, also from the Rhode Island Senate, where the Senate leadership used parliamentary trickery to deny a roll call floor vote on an E-Verify bill that was supported by a large number of Senators and that might have passed (we don’t know for sure, because the Senate President didn’t take a roll call vote).

Under the rules of the Rhode Island legislature that are already in place, Senators or Representatives are not constrained to follow only the agenda that leadership sets for them. They already have the formal authority they need to bring votes to the floor, with or without leadership sanction. All they need is a willingness to use the authority that the people have entrusted to them.

Sympathy for Zimbabwe

Justin Katz

Tyler Dorden's point, with his post about trying to send money to his friend (actually named Time) in Zimbabwe is that the United States strangles business with meddling. In this case, he suggests, it does so by requiring Western Union to layer on burdensome precautions before allowing people to transfer money there.

I don't know the background of the policy well enough to say whether the imposition is worthwhile. Judging from the questions that Dorden reports Western Union having asked, it appears to be both an attempt to stifle Internet scams and a form of mini sanction against the nation's ruler, Robert Mugabe.

More compelling than that argument, though, is the description of Time's background. The proportion may be very imbalanced, but I couldn't help but think of Rhode Island when I read the following:

By the time he was 15-years old, Time could see the writing on the wall. Mugabe had all but destroyed the market and private property rights, and Time knew there would be absolutely no prospects for him in Zimbabwe.

How many people, especially young Rhode Islanders embarking on the working phase of their lives, have made the same decision about this state? I know I've heard the advice suggested frequently, in multiple contexts and with an air of plain common knowledge.

January 18, 2012

"It's Legal" Doesn't Make It Right

Patrick Laverty

Two stories in the Providence Journal lately have me lamenting more of the same in Rhode Island. More of lack of strong leadership and more disregard for the people and the spirit of law.

Last Thursday, they reported that Senators Paiva-Weed, Ruggerio and Goodwin were invited to the Senate Presidents Forum in Key West. The RI Senate President was invited in order to speak about the RI pension reform bill that recently passed. Additionally, the conference paid for a portion of the costs. The other portion, thankfully, was not paid by taxpayers but instead by the campaign account of Senator Paiva-Weed.

Apparently, this is legal:

(b)(4) Travel expenses for an officeholder, provided that the travel is undertaken as an ordinary and necessary expense of seeking, holding, or maintaining public office, or seeking, holding, or maintaining a position within the legislature or other publicly elected body. If a candidate or officeholder uses campaign funds to pay expenses associated with travel that involves both personal activities and campaign or officeholder activities, the incremental expenses that result from the personal activities are personal use, unless the person(s) benefiting from this use reimburse(s) the campaign account within thirty (30) days for the amount of the incremental expenses;
Was this trip a part of their holding the office? Yes. However, I do wonder if the senators would have no problem with looking a donor in the eye and explaining to them that their $20 donation could go toward the Senator's trip to Key West. How many donors think of it that way? I'm guessing they more think their money is going toward yard signs or newspaper advertising or any of the other various expenses that come up in the course of a campaign. I doubt many think "Sure, I'll give this senator my money so they can go on a trip to Key West, Florida."

Also in the Journal was an article about various lobbyists who purchased advertising space in newspapers owned by State Senator John Tassoni. Apparently, most of the lobbyists who made this purchase did not report this expenditure by the required deadline. When Sen. Tassoni was asked about this, he said

“It’s not my responsibility. It’s the responsibility of the people that buy the ads to fill out the proper documents.”
Which is true, it's not his responsibility to fill out forms for the state or disclose that information, it's the lobbyists' job. However, a state senator should be interested in good government and transparent government. If something isn't right that is related to a business that he owns, he should be ready to step up and take a stronger stand against the lobbyists that aren't adhering to the state's expenditure laws, and not simply wave his hands and claim "Not my fault."

In both of these cases, while no senator has done anything illegal, they just don't really pass the smell test. Neither one really feels right, neither one feels like the senators are showing leadership and promoting good government and representation in Rhode Island. That is something that the state still needs a lot more of.

RE: Life Before Entitlement - Historical Perspective

Marc Comtois

The article to which Justin referred discusses the mutual aid societies that cropped up during the late 19th and early 20th century to deal with poverty and other social issues. Historian Walter Trattner, author of From Poor Law to Welfare State, was quoted in the article:

Those in need. . . looked first to family, kin, and neighbors for aid, including the landlord, who sometimes deferred the rent; the local butcher or grocer, who frequently carried them for a while by allowing bills to go unpaid; and the local saloonkeeper, who often came to their aid by providing loans and outright gifts, including free meals and, on occasion, temporary jobs. Next, the needy sought assistance from various agencies in the community–those of their own devising, such as churches or religious groups, social and fraternal associations, mutual aid societies, local ethnic groups, and trade unions.
Anecdotally, I know this to be true in my own family. My grandparents owned a small general store in northern Vermont and many was the time when they carried people going through a rough spot. (After he died, my grandfather's papers included more than a few uncollected IOUs, including property or farm deeds). The sense of community was very real and aid societies were comprised of such like-minded individuals who bonded together to help their neighbors and those in need.

A good paper on the topic was written by Dave Beito.

Mutual aid was one of the cornerstones of social welfare in the United States until the early 20th century. The fraternal society was a leading example. The statistical record of fraternalism was impressive. A conservative estimate is that one-third of adult American males belonged to lodges in 1910. A fraternal analogue existed for virtually every major service of the modern welfare state including orphanages, hospitals, job exchanges, homes for the elderly, and scholarship programs.

But societies also gave benefits that were much less quantifiable. By joining a lodge, an initiate adopted, at least implicitly, a set of survival values.

Societies dedicated themselves to the advancement of mutualism, self-reliance, business training, thrift, leadership skills, self-government, self-control, and good moral character. These values, which can fit under the rubric of social capital, reflected a kind of fraternal consensus that cut across such seemingly intractable divisions as race, sex, and income.

Men (or, more exactly, white men) were not the only to participate in such community support. The membership and goals were varied.
The record of five societies that thrived at or near the turn of the century illustrates the many variants of this system. Each had a distinct membership base. Two of the societies, the Independent Order of Saint Luke and the United Order of True Reformers, were all-black. Both had been founded by ex-slaves after the Civil War and specialized initially in sickness and burial insurance. The other societies had entirely white memberships. The Loyal Order of Moose was an exclusively male society that emphasized sickness and burial benefits. It became best known during the 20th century for its orphanage, Mooseheart, near Aurora, Illinois. The Security Benefit Association (originally the Knights and Ladies of Security) followed in a similar tradition but broke from the mainstream by allowing men and women to join on equal terms. During the 1910s and the 1920s, the Knights and Ladies of Security established a hospital, a home for the elderly, and an orphanage all in a single location near Topeka. The Ladies of the Maccabees was an all-white, all-female society. It provided such health benefits as surgical care. It is worth noting that the women who belonged to these societies, regarded themselves as members of fraternal rather than sororal societies. For them, fraternity, much like liberty and equality, was the common heritage of both men and women. To this end, an official of the Ladies of the Maccabees asserted that "Fraternity in these modern days has been wrested from its original significance and has come to mean a sisterhood, as well as a brotherhood, in the human family."
These societies were successful in their mission, but they eventually declined. Beito gives a few reasons for why, "including increased competition from commercial insurance and the lure of competing forms of entertainment, such as radio and movies, it was fundamentally due to a transformation in the nature of fraternalism. By the 1940s, conviviality and life insurance, instead of mutual aid, became the order of the day." Additionally, there was pressure from medical professions:
As early as the 1910s, the profession, increasingly fortified by tighter certification requirements which reduced the supply of doctors, had launched an all-out war against fraternal medical services by imposing manifold sanctions, including denial of licenses against doctors who accepted these contracts. One highly effective method of enforcement was to pressure hospitals to close their doors to fraternal members who used "lodge doctors."
As Justin alludes, the rise of the welfare state played a role. Yet, according to Beito, it is hard to quantify.
The first three decades of the 20th century brought a rapid and unprecedented expansion in the government's social welfare role. The two leading sources of growth were mothers' pensions and workers' compensation. In 1910, no state had either program; by 1931, both were nearly universal. During the 1920s, the number of individuals on the mothers' pension rolls almost doubled.

Certainly, there were more than a few leaders of fraternal societies who predicted that this rising welfare state would eventually undermine mutual aid. As the magazine of the Fraternal Order of Eagles put in 1915, "the State is doing or planning to do for the wage-earner what our Order was a pioneer in doing eighteen years ago. All this is lessening the popular appeal of our beneficial features. With that appeal weakened or gone, we shall have lost a strong argument for joining the Order; for no fraternity can depend entirely on its recreational features to attract members."

During the 1930s, officials of the homes for the elderly and orphans of the SBA cited Social Security and other welfare programs as justification not only for rejecting applicants but for closing down entirely. The Security Benefit Association, for instance, closed its orphanage because of "a lack of demand or need for that form of benevolence attributable to public funds now available for the support of dependent children." It used the same justification to discontinue its home for the elderly several years later. While Mooseheart remained open and even increased capacity, applications fell off rapidly in the decades after the Depression because of a rise in social-welfare alternatives such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

Mutual aid was a creature of necessity. Once this necessity ended, so too did the primary reason for the existence of fraternalism. Without a return to this necessity any revival of mutual aid will remain limited. Moreover, fraternal membership, although still heavily working class, no longer includes the very poor who most need social welfare services.

Life Before Entitlement

Justin Katz

My knowledge of social history is not sufficiently detailed to take this without some suspicion (although those on the other end of the political spectrum will no doubt dismiss it without consideration). There may certainly be a significant "yes, but" required in the assessment of the period in question, but this strikes me as something that ought to be remembered:

In the 19th century, even though capitalism had only existed for a short time, and had just started putting a dent in pre-capitalism's legacy of poverty, the vast, vast majority of Americans were already able to support their own lives through their own productive work. Only a tiny fraction of a sliver of a minority depended on assistance and aid–and there was no shortage of aid available to help that minority.

But in a culture that revered individual responsibility and regarded being "on the dole" as shameful, formal charity was almost always a last resort. Typically people who hit tough times would first dip into their savings. They might take out loans and get their hands on whatever commercial credit was available. If that wasn't enough, they might insist that other family members enter the workforce. And that was just the start.

Although it may have amplified important principles that already existed in the culture, a reasonable historical analysis could find that progressive governance merely happened to coincide with the prosperity of 20th century America. Indeed, certain of its initiatives have arguably hindered economic and social advancement, but because of the way they overlap in history, we've come to feel that big, minutely involved governance has a causative relationship with that which was good in the past dozen decades.

Of course, even if there were some truth to that feeling, the next questions are whether such government will inevitably lead to circumstances such as we currently face and whether our circumstances truly do herald the collapse of our society. If both are the case, then a good half-century is hardly worth the cost.

January 17, 2012

Coming up in Committee: One Bill Scheduled to Be Heard Tomorrow (Relating to Car Tax Valuations)

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Rhode Island House of Representatives Municipal Government Committee is scheduled to hear a bill tomorrow that would, according to the official description, change the car-tax valuation "so that the assessment of used motor vehicles would be based on the average trade-in price, rather than retail price" (H7098).

All five of the bill's sponsors (Joseph McNamara, Robert Flaherty, Eileen Naughton, David Bennett, and Frank Ferri) represent the City of Warwick where -- probably not coincidentally -- community members have been very active in seeking to have the valuation rules changed.

Folks who have been active on this issue are invited to comment on whether this bill makes the change to car tax valuation rules that they have been seeking.

The Cranston West Banner Can't be Required to Just Disappear

Carroll Andrew Morse

If the Cranston West banner has to be destroyed or removed, or if certain words have to be redacted from it, to comply with Judge Ronald Lagueux's Federal Court decision, there is no reason why a Soviet-style disappearance from history without explanation must occur, or that the public should not be informed that they are looking at a version 2 of the banner or at the space where the banner used to be.

If the minimum-modification option is pursued, various utilizations of the space on top or to the side of the banner are possible for displaying an explanation that would respect the history and original message of the banner, without violating any Supreme Court "endorsement of religion" tests.

Here's one proposal...

In 1963, David Bradley and the Cranston West community chose the imperative mood, to express a message they believed would help people live and grow together.

In 2012, Judge Ronald Lagueux ruled that the state forbids mentioning to whom or to what the requests are addressed.

Judge Lagueux's ruling should not prevent anyone's lifelong consideration of all of the reasons why we aspire to be better on our next day than on our last,

nor imply that the state can decide the answer to this question for us.

*** ******** *******
Grant us each day the desire to do our best,
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically,
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers,
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others,
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win,
Teach us the value of true friendship,
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston
High School West.

In the meantime, a note should be added to the tarp covering the present banner saying "The Federal Government forbids you from seeing what is behind this covering".

Trapping the Motivated in Failing Schools

Justin Katz

This thinking, expressed by "Cranston parent," "graduate of the Pawtucket public schools," and "professor of law at New England Law - Boston" Monica Teixeira de Sousa in an op-ed, yesterday, is telling of a certain mentality:

We know that parental involvement in a child's education is one of the most powerful predictors of educational success. It is clear that a lottery system admissions process results in enrolling those students who have parents or guardians who are willing and able to take the affirmative step of placing their child's name on the list.

This seemingly small act is no small feat for many families who may be experiencing crippling problems such as illness, domestic violence, poverty and homelessness, among others. The children being raised in such circumstances and whose parents for whatever reason may not enter them into the lottery are denied any educational choice.

Underlying this sentiment is a broadly held and deeply flawed worldview that our circumstances can make us something less than human. Illness, violence, poverty, and homelessness can so rob us of our individual agency that we lack the capacity to choose even to try to overcome by the minor act of placing a name on a list. And that, naturally, is why we need leftists and education bureaucrats to tell parents where they must send their children to school and what models to use for the design of their services.

More acutely disturbing is the insistence that parents who are truly motivated to find opportunities for their children should be denied those opportunities because other parents may not seek them. It reminds me of the video making the rounds of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher explaining that progressives would rather that the poor live in worse conditions so long as the wealthy lived in worse conditions, as well. I wonder whether Teixeira de Sousa has considered that the presence of a choice might inspire some parents to realize that they should be involved and considering their options.

Be that as it may, I'm inclined to take her argument and run with it. Fine, let's amplify educational choices by developing a voucher system allowing parents to send their children wherever they like.

Reform Is Good for Education

Justin Katz

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity has just released a study showing that education reforms involving "accountability, transparency, and parental choice" can catch minority and disadvantaged groups up to the average, while increasing the average overall. Most striking, in my view, is the comparison between a state that really wants to reform and one that wants to make make it look like it's reforming:

Florida grades all district and charter schools based on overall academic performance and student learning gains. Schools earn letter grades of A, B, C, D, or F, which parents can easily interpret.

The full study (PDF) provides more detail:

Florida determines schools' grades in equal measure between overall scores [on a standardized test] and gains over time. In addition, the state divides the “gain” portion of the formula equally between the gains for all students and the gains for the 25 percent of students with the lowest overall scores. Figure 14 below illustrates how the state determines these grades (50 percent on overall scores, 25 percent based on the gains of all students, and 25 percent based upon the gains of the lowest performing students).

In Rhode Island, as I've pointed out before, the performance of our schools is, first, masked by significant changes in testing mid-decade that boosted the impression of progress and, second, inflated by the fact that schools with too few children in a particular category automatically get credit for adequate progress in that category. Andrew put it well a few years ago, when he said that "the final classifications have more to do with some obscure bureaucratic criteria than with how well students are learning."

Much of the Center's study, which was initially developed by Bill Felkner for the Ocean State Policy Research Institute, compiles charts to illustrate that, yes indeed, Florida's students have advanced considerably, to the point of surpassing Rhode Island. The key takeaway, though, ought to be the description of the state's reforms:

• Public-school choice. Students in low-performing public schools may transfer to a higher-performing public school of their parents’ choice.
• Private-school choice. Families with special-needs children have access to the McKay Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers to attend a private school of choice. Corporations in Florida can also receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for contributions to organizations that fund private scholarships for low-income students.
• Charter schools. Charter schools offer families another choice. During the 2008/2009 school year, more than 100,000 Florida students attended charter schools and more than 50 new charter schools began operation.
• Virtual education. Florida is a leader in online learning. More than 80,000 students in the state take courses online.
• Performance pay. Florida’s performance pay system rewards teachers who achieve student gains, not necessarily those who have the longest tenure. It also provides bonuses for teachers who increase the number of students who pass Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Since beginning performance rewards for AP completion, Florida has considerably increased the number of all students who take and pass AP exams.
• Alternative teacher certification. Non-traditional routes to teacher certification, such as permitting school districts to offer teacher certification programs, reciprocity with other state teaching certificates, and honoring certification offered through alternative teacher certification programs such as the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (“ABCTE”), play an important role in bringing qualified teachers into the classroom.
• A+ Accountability Plan. In 1999, Florida required that students be tested annually. While Florida has graded the performance of its public schools since 1995, the Sunshine State moved to a more straightforward grading system in 1999.7 The new grading system, coupled with the introduction of the annual Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), means that students and schools are held accountable for academic outcomes.
• Social Promotion Ban. Florida has also curtailed the “social promotion” of students. This reform plan requires students to pass the third-grade reading (Florida Common Assessment Test) FCAT before progressing to fourth grade

Once such reforms are implemented (and I don't encourage any breath holding on that count, in Rhode Island), the next step would be to expand them such that they apply not only to minorities and the disadvantaged. There's plenty of room for average and above average students to be assisted to real, world-class excellence.

January 16, 2012

More Deception on In-State Tuition for Illegals

Justin Katz

Back in October, I pointed out that the academic study on the effects of a policy of offering in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants cited in the media and by the Board of Governors for Higher Education was so erroneous as to be fraudulent. Now, a comment on Newsmakers from the board's chairman, Lorne Adrain, has brought another bit of... let's say... creative interpretation to data on the matter. I've cued up the video to the relevant moment:

The interviewers chuckle and greet with incredulity Adrain's assertion that the people of Rhode Island had shown that they "embrace" the notion of in-state tuition for illegals, leading Adrain to draw a distinction between the "loud" people who show up for hearings and residents more generally. As evidence of the latter's views, he refers back to a Brown University poll showing that "the vast majority of Rhode Islanders felt that this was a good thing."

Astute viewers will note that Adrain begins by explaining the necessity of having "sufficient conversation about the question to get a sense of how the people of Rhode Island feel about it" and ends by dismissing a broad portion of the feedback that his board received. His conclusion, apparently, is that the people who take the time to opine in public forums and attend hearings don't count as much as the 508 folks who happened to pick up the phone when Brown randomly called their phone numbers, because he mentions no other source of information about "how the people of Rhode Island feel."

In order to do a PolitFact-style check on Adrain's assertion of a "vast majority," I found the poll release itself, and indeed, it reports that:

Rhode Islanders show strong consensus on issues of immigrant education: 83 percent support programs for teaching immigrant children English, and 68 percent support extending in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrant children who graduate from Rhode Island high schools.

In modern usage, a 68% majority is close enough to "vast" to count. But the poll also found that 54% of respondents support a law requiring "local police" to "arrest anyone who is present in the country without proper documentation." How do these two findings coincide? Well, the actual question asked on in-state tuition gives a clue:

Illegal immigrant children attending college in our state should be charged a higher tuition rate at state colleges and universities: a) strongly agree/agree, 23%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 9%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 68%

It is definitely possible that some of the people who answered "disagree/strongly disagree" might have done so because they think that illegal immigrants should not be attending state colleges and universities at all — they should be deported. As a matter of the question's construction, though, we also have to note that it does not specify "higher tuition" than what. It sounds more like such students would be charged an "illegal immigrant" penalty, which gives the sense of taking advantage of a captive class. Had respondents been asked whether illegal immigrants' tuition should be equal to out-of-state tuition, the answer might have been different.

What's particularly disturbing about this journey of the data from a poorly posed question to a factor in a public official's policy decision is the place in which most of the shift was made: by the poll takers themselves. It's not as if Adrain, recalling a survey from last spring, misremembered the specific import of the question. Rather, the Brown University Taubman Center, itself, took a pretty open question and layered in the relevant specifics after the fact. The question says nothing about "in-state" tuition or "children who graduate from Rhode Island high schools." Those are elements that the surveyors thought it important to insinuate into the news coverage of their results.

And yet, it is on the basis of this sort of information that those who lead our state and our nation choose a way forward — or, more accurately, that they attempt to justify their own preferences to a nation with whom they share an increasingly narrow set of values.

January 14, 2012

A Week of Thoughts

Patrick Laverty

Sometimes during the week, I see or read various things that I think about posting, but I can't imagine more than a sentence or two about it, so I drop it. Finally I figured, why not save them up and put them all together once a week. I think Marc did this a few weeks ago too.

East Providence is getting an advance on their allowance by receiving their April school funding money now. If that money normally lasts from April until the June tax receipts start coming in, then what happens in about three months when this money runs out? I asked that to the twitterverse and Ian Donnis responded that the EP budget commission hopes to have it all sorted out by then. I guess "hope" is the state motto.

Anyone else on board with a prediction that there's no way any vote on municipal pension reform happens until after the November election, at the earliest? Why piss off the unions twice before an election? Try the Chafee strategy, tell them one thing and do another.

Warwick's Mayor Scott Avedisian wants to check in with Gov. Chafee before deciding whether to run for Lieutenant Governor? Really? I can understand wanting to first see if it'd be another Carcieri-Roberts situation, but it's not like he needs to work his way up the ladder. He already has the name recognition for the "next" office. Plus, isn't LG a step down in terms of responsibility for the mayor of the city's second biggest city?

Why do people say things like "controlling your destiny"? Check the definition of destiny. There's nothing anyone can do to change it or affect it.

Great job by the students in Cranston to turn Jessica Ahlquist into the sympathetic figure. Threats of violence should never be the response here. I do wonder that if hanging a prayer banner in a public school is unconstitutional then has the precedent been set for a Supreme Court fight to remove "In God We Trust" from our money? Or maybe the precedent has already been set for a successful appeal by Cranston?

My daughter's latest interest is American Girl. Isn't it ironic that all American Girl products are made in China?

Senator Beth Moura will be on the Dan Yorke Show, Monday at 1 to discuss her allegations against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

I saw yesterday that Governor Chafee made his appointments to the municipal pension board: the president of the local firefighters union, the vice president of Council 94 and a police officer. Three union members. However, Chafee simply appointed exactly as he was required to by last year's pension reform law that required he appoint representatives of fire, police and public employees. Interesting though that it was written into the law that way. "Don't forget about us!"

Brown University offers its employees a defined contribution plan. The city of Providence offers its employees a very generous pension plan. The pension plan is a mess, so what does Providence do? Go after Brown for more money. It reminds be a bit about the Ant and the Grasshopper.

Go Patriots.

The Court Rules Against Pawtucket and Another Bale of Straw Is Thrown Onto Everyone's Back

Monique Chartier

Thanks to WPRI's indefatiguable Ted Nesi for the heads-up.

Rhode Island’s largest public-sector union declared victory Friday in a lawsuit against Pawtucket, just hours before the mayor revealed the city is running an unexpected $2.3 million deficit.

Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter ruled Jan. 5 that Pawtucket cannot force retired teachers to start sharing the cost of their health insurance premiums because they are entitled to the benefits stipulated in the contract that was in effect when they retired, according to Council 94.

The contract guaranteed all retired teachers age 58 or older family health insurance coverage from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island until they became eligible for Medicare at age 65.

This, of course, sets the precedent (if it is not appealed) for similarly situated municipalities around the state.

It's clear from an e-mail exchange that I had with a kindly attorney regarding another recent court ruling that I am not capable of judging the legal merits of such cases. The judge might well have reached the technically correct conclusion here.

What I do know is that this is another item on the long list of unaffordable goodies which duplicitous politicians have for decades been promising to public employees, politicians who happily took campaign contributions from these employees and their union PACs while doing absolutely nothing to ensure that their promises could be kept.

Last week, the Pawtucket Times' Jim Baron joined the chorus of those of us expressing concern for the threat to democratic processes posed by Rhode Island's newly minted municipal receivership law.

The thing that flabbergasts me is that so many people seem to think that having communities be ruled by an unelected receiver is a good idea and want more of it. John DePetro on his WPRO radio show has talked several times about the idea of having someone step in to fiscally troubled communities and taking control to straighten out their finances. ...

Last week at Governor Chafee’s news conference after he convened with municipal executives, a fellow member of the press corps rhapsodized about how Central Falls is “a perfect example of where somebody comes in with a sharp knife and decimates the way things used to run, and now all of a sudden they don’t have as much of a financial problem as they used to have.” ...

Yes, democracy can be messy, and inefficient, and things will not always go the way you want them. But if they don’t, you have the opportunity at the next election to change the people who are calling the shots.

Wielding a sharp knife and decimating the way things used to run may seem like a good idea, but what happens once the guy with the knife starts doing things you don’t like? By then it is usually too late. Rulers who wield sharp knives usually have a few extras to take care of people who start to make trouble.

Not wrong. At the same time, Rhode Island voters have steadfastly declined (in sufficient numbers) to take advantage of

the opportunity ... to change the people who are calling the shots

for a variety ("Bush lied, people died"; "My parents always voted democrat"; "Republicans are only for the rich"; "We have to preserve a woman's right to choose") of stupid or wildly unrelated reasons.

The results of the electorate's refusal to "change the people who are calling the shots" has been disastrous to local and state budgets. Us camels have begun to stagger under the weight of the goodies that decades of brain-dead and unscrupulous elected officials so glibly promised or reaffirmed. It is understandable, then, that the guy with the knife hacking away at our burden looks real good to us - all the more so when a court chimes in to confirm that part of the very heavy burden must remain upon our backs.

The Appropriate Response to Totalitarians

Justin Katz

The aggressive and heated response to Jessica Ahlquist, upon her success in leveraging the power of the federal government to impose her religious preferences on her community's public high school, is ignorant, unproductive, and completely at odds with the message of the prayer banner that the federal judge ordered removed and the broader faith espoused by those who wish it to remain. For all that, the impulse behind the excessive behavior is not a defense of religion, but of liberty.

Unfortunately, Ms. Ahlquist has made herself — with the assistance of her father and the Rhode Island ACLU — the focal point for her community's reaction to the ongoing project of eliminating Americans' right to self governance. It's easy to ascribe the objectionable statements and actions of students and adults, alike, to intolerance, but it's also simplistic. The depth and breadth of the emotions being expressed would be more productively attributed to the federal government's imposition of a small minority's worldview on every public entity in the nation, no matter how local and no matter how benign the transgression.

The appropriate response, therefore, is not personal, against the student, but political, against the structure and philosophy that has given special interests the power to govern above the heads of the governed by way of a small number of unelected judges. If Ahliquist v. the City of Cranston has pushed the secularist envelope, as many of us believe it has, then push it back the other way.

Reproduce the banner on t-shirts and posters. Wear the former to school and public meetings. Display the latter on any bulletin board open to the public or any area designated for students' self expression (lockers and such). Those who are so inclined could make a point of reciting the prayer before or during events and assemblies (taking care to be minimally disruptive, of course).

Our system of government is designed (or at least it used to be designed) to direct deep differences of opinion toward such activities on the local scale, rather than toward sectarian violence. The way to fight back against those who are not content with the slow process of changing minds is not to revert to barbarism, but to faithfully and doggedly model the power of civility in the public square.

Rick "Mr. Consistent" Perry On Venture Capital Funding of Political Campaigns

Monique Chartier

This gem from the Laura Ingraham Show; transcript via Real Clear Politics. (Good interviewing, Laura.)

Ingraham: You know I am going to raise the issue of Texans for Public Justice, their analysis of your campaign contributions since 2000 you have received more than $7 million from private equity firms and private investment firms. Are any of those "vulture" firms?

Perry: Listen, I didn’t paint with a broad brush and say that every private equity firm out there is…

Ingraham: Only Romney’s are vultures? None of your guys, only Romney’s?

Perry: Look, Romney is running for president.

Ingraham: Yeah, you are running for president too and you have benefitted from these firms.

Perry: Correct, and I don’t have a problem with that.

Okay then! Venture capital proceeds for me, not for thee.

Even funnier worse than his quite flexible views about who can and cannot receive campaign contributions from venture capital proceeds, Governor Perry seems to have entirely forgotten what office he is running for. If he ultimately wins the office, will he, round about June, 2013, forget that he's actually ... you know, holding that office???

January 13, 2012

East Coast Law Enforcement

Justin Katz

Two items have found their way to my long list of stories on which to post, and it occurs to me that they're sufficiently related to be presented together. And fortunately, they are so stark that additional commentary is scarcely necessary.


McKay is the young father who, seeing a local druggie breaking into his truck and stealing the tools he uses to pay the bills, confronted him, subdued him and held him for the police. When the police arrived, they found the bad guy had a knife, a billy club and — thanks to the unarmed McKay — a broken jaw.

Instead of thanking McKay for helping get an armed criminal off the streets, Swampscott officials charged him with a felony.

Anthony McKay lucked out and attracted the attention of the public, and the pressure led the DA's office to put the case in its "don't have time to prosecute" file — while leaving open the possibility that anybody who thinks to undertake some similar initiative to protect himself, his family, and his belongings mightn't be so lucky.


On his radio show this week, Derb discusses the case of Meredith Graves, the Tennessee nurse who, upon visiting the 9/11 memorial in New York and seeing the signs forbidding firearms, asked the staff if she could check her pistol (lawful and licensed in her home state). She was handcuffed, arrested, and now faces three and a half years in jail for firearms possession — for the crime of being unaware that the Second Amendment does not apply in New York City.

Mark Steyn, the author of that paragraph, goes on to relate how the Mayor Michael Bloomberg slandered Ms. Graves as a cocaine user, based on evidence that turned out to be aspirin powder.

Nothing is more threatening to the ruling class than the willingness of people to defend themselves.

Daily Show on Harrop's Hypocrisy

Marc Comtois

Last August I took ProJo columnist Froma Harrop to task for being hypocritical because she called Tea Partiers "terrorists" while at the same time being the Chair of the National Conference of Editorial Writers that oversees the Civility Project. Now, as Ted Nesi posts, the Daily Show tries to square the circle with comedic results.

If nothing else, Harrop shows she's a good sport. (UPDATE: But others think she just didn't get that she was being lampooned).

CBS News: "Department of Energy Loses Billions of Taxpayer Dollars in Bad Loans to Green Energy Companies"

Marc Comtois

From CBS News:

CBS News counted 12 clean energy companies that are having trouble after collectively being approved for more than $6.5 billion in federal assistance. Five have filed for bankruptcy: The junk bond-rated Beacon, Evergreen Solar, SpectraWatt, AES' subsidiary Eastern Energy and Solyndra.

Government doesn't do a good job of picking winners. Even if--or especially if--they are in sexy industries like green energy.

Last November at a hearing on Solyndra, Energy Secretary Steven Chu strongly defended the government's attempts to bolster America's clean energy prospects. "In the coming decades, the clean energy sector is expected to grow by hundreds of billions of dollars," Chu said. "We are in a fierce global race to capture this market."

Economist [Peter] Morici says even somebody as smart as Secretary Chu -- an award-winning scientist -- shouldn't be playing "venture capitalist" with tax dollars. "Tasking a Nobel Prize mathematician to make investments for the U.S. government is like asking the manager of the New York Yankees to be general in charge of America's troops in Afghanistan," Morici said. "It's that absurd."

Unconstitutional Judiciary Orders Destruction of Prayer

Justin Katz

So U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux has decreed (PDF) that the 46-year-old, mildly Christian prayer banner at Cranston High School West be removed. Judging from his description of its installation, as an old paper banner practically painted into the wall, the ruling appears tantamount to a decree that the prayer be destroyed.

One could raise a parade of issues with Lagueux's legal argument. For example, among the cases in precedence that he cites as especially relevant is one in which the Supreme Court stated that a newly minted ordinance to place the Ten Commandments in every classroom of a district couldn't stand. The case in Cranston must, at the very least, be closer to the line; I'd argue that it pushes the line a bit in atheists' favor.

Another example arises in Legueux's explanation of why the student has standing to sue for the removal of the mural:

The plaintiff must have suffered 1) an injury in fact; 2) which is caused by the offending conduct; and 3) which is capable of being redressed by a favorable court decision.

It is obvious to suggest that, because all of the adverse reaction resulted not from the banner itself but from the effort to extinguish it, removing the banner will not eliminate the conduct, but arguably exacerbate it. Admittedly, Legueux doesn't rely on that portion of the three-part test, but rather, he simply assumes that standing exists. The cases that he cites in this portion of the ruling have mostly to do with the recitation of prayer. The most important question before him — whether an historically relevant display across which a student's eye may come from time to time causes the same effect and requires the same remedy as more direct and forceful impositions of religion addressed in the past — he simply skips over. Legueux fills in this blank with his heavy reliance on public reaction to the student's lawsuit but only thereby illustrates that it was not the presence of the banner that stands as the "offending conduct" creating "an injury in fact."

More important than the legal details, though, is that the ruling starkly raises a few key points in the ongoing debate. First, it makes clear how, as with other manifestations of leftist activism, treatment of atheism has a built in thumb on the scale.

On one hand, atheism is treated as if it were a religious belief in its own right so as to gain standing; the plaintiff, in this case, is "an avowed atheist." It undoubtedly is such, but the mindset with which the First Amendment is treated in the courts transforms atheism into the default religion of the state by affirming its central principle of negation. A Muslim might understandably "experience feelings of exclusion and ostracism," as Lagueux says of the young atheist's response to the prayer, by his school's endorsement of Christian concepts of God, but an atheist might respond thus to a school's broad suggestion that a deity exists and may be worth petitioning.

Just so, the Muslim might be made to feel included were his own vision of God included in school invocations, but only an atheist has beliefs that require that no others be invoked. One can observe this reality in municipalities that have striven for diversity in religious displays during the holiday season only to open the door to attacks on religion from atheist groups. Religious groups counterpoise each other by stating their own uplifting messages. God loves us thus. Life has meaning because.

"Freedom from religion" types don't put up posters extolling the virtues of humanity or honoring a life affirming statement from some key figure in the history of human reason, but rather by issuing arrogant declarations that they can spot the myths that less enlightened people believe to be true. Applied to the prayer banner in Cranston, this expression of the atheistic faith becomes the de facto message of the government. Lagueux admits that the values that the banner espouses are "commendable," but that "the reliance on God's intervention as the way to achieve those goals is not consistent with a secular purpose." That is only true if one begins with a framework for secularism that peremptorily excludes God and denies His ability to affect "worldly, as opposed to sacred" things, to take some language from the dictionary.

The "goal" of the prayer is to achieve such secular values as honesty, friendship, and a positive attitude. The view of secularism inserted into the law by judges like Lagueux is one in which the only means of achieving those ends that are acceptable in a public school are those adhering to the atheistic view that God's assistance is not necessary. Imagine some extreme circumstance that threatens the lives of everybody in the school building. By the judiciary's reasoning, the principal would be barred from leading the students in even the most ecumenical prayer, because it has transformed "separation" into a requirement that government entities cannot behave as if God exists or can have an effect in worldly matters.

If instilling kindness and helpfulness to students is a valid goal for a public institution, then it must be inconsistent with separation of church and state for the federal government to tell a local community that it cannot behave as if prayer is the only way — or even one of multiple ways — that students can acquire such traits.

Indeed, reading the ruling, one may wonder whether the judge's action, itself, can pass the Lemon test that Marc quoted yesterday:

According to the Lemon v. Kurtzman analysis, a governmental practice, or legislative act, must satisfy three tests in order to survive an Establishment Clause challenge. It must: "(1) reflect a clearly secular purpose; (2) have a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion; and (3) it must avoid excessive government entanglement with religion."

The judge's purpose may be the secular maintenance of the Establishment Clause, but his decree clearly inhibits a community from even a mild remembrance of its religious past while advancing the cause of atheism. Moreover, he and judges before him have indisputably mired the federal government in religious entanglement, not the least by insisting that no public entity, no matter how far removed from Congress, no matter how uniform the opinion of the local population actually served, can pretend that God exists.

As a matter of law, we have a Constitutional amendment in the Bill of Rights saying that "Congress [i.e., the federal government] shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Entirely through the plying of the judicial arts, this simple restriction has led to a federal judge telling a small community organization that it must remove, and thus destroy, an expression of mildly Christian religion that has hung inconspicuously for half a century. If that is not entanglement, I don't know what would be.

The plaintiff suffered no harm from the presence of the banner (even Legueux called the "coercion" imposed by it "subtle indeed"), but from her own initiative not to build support, locally, to remove it, but to have the federal government step in and assert her religious beliefs as the default in the secular realm, even to the extent of excluding historically relevant artifacts within the school. It is not too great an extrapolation to see in this case the underlying reason for our national politics' divisiveness. Local, democratic action is no longer the most effective means of addressing difference of opinion; influence over the federal government and especially the selection of judges is.

And judges are content — even to the point of celebrating the act's courageousness — to place the government in stark opposition to the people of, by, and for whom it ostensibly exists.

January 12, 2012

Why Did Hillary Deny Our Involvement In the Latest Nuke Scientist Assassination?

Monique Chartier

Yesterday, the fifth Iranian nuclear scientist in two years was assassinated.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wasted no time hustling to a microphone.

“I want to categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran,” Clinton said at a Wednesday news conference.

Former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton was on Fox radio's John Gibson Show in the 1:00 hour this afternoon. I'm not a big fan of Bolton but he raised a good point: what is the effect of the Sec of State's categorical denial? It points the finger of blame definitively elsewhere (like to one of our allies). It also makes us look afraid. Bolton's remarks to the Washington Post:

“Hillary [Clinton] said we had nothing to do with it whatsoever. Traditionally, we say, ‘We don’t comment on alleged intelligence activities.’ Why go out of your way to say ‘Not us’? It’s because they are afraid of retaliation. But when she goes out of her way [to deny U.S. involvement], it reflects fear.”

With the Secretary of State's emphatic statement, we narrow the list of potential perpetrators and make ourselves look weak. Wouldn't it have been far smarter for the Obama administration to have simply been silent on the point?

Warwick Government Makes Itself Jump Through Hoops, Taxpayers Pay

Marc Comtois

It's true: the City of Warwick charges the School Department to get multiple building permits for work being done in school buildings that the City itself owns. From today's Warwick Beacon:

School Committee Chair Beth Furtado said, for example, if there were six projects being conducted on one building, instead of getting one permit for the work on the building, six permits would be required, each with a fee.

After learning how the building permit and fee process worked, School Committee Vice Chair Patrick Maloney requested a resolution be drafted requesting the city to reduce the permit fees it charges the school department for construction work and building upgrades on buildings the city owns in the first place.

“We’re being charged $17,000 in permit fees on buildings the city owns and the school department incurs that cost,” he said at the December meeting....Following the December meeting, a resolution was drafted, and approved Tuesday, requesting the city waive any fees and associated costs in regards to building permits for school-related construction projects....“It’s not right to be charged the fees that we are being charged,” Maloney said at Tuesday’s meeting prior to the vote. “The Pilgrim roof permit was $18,000. That’s $18,000 that did not go directly into our students and programs. There are a lot of things we could be doing with that money.”

Who's Running Central Falls?

Carroll Andrew Morse

I ask, because it's really hard to tell from the way the issue of the overnight parking ban played out.

In December, Central Falls Receiver Robert Flanders "approved" an ordinance imposing a fine for overnight parking in Central Falls scheduled to take effect this month (though Senator Agostinho Silva's press releases on the matter have continually referred to the receiver having "endorsed" the ordinance).

After a lively public comment session on Monday with the receiver's chief-of-staff in attendance (AP reporter Erika Niedowski's report via WJAR-TV available here), the receiver announced the next day that the ordinance was being "suspended" (WJAR-TV's report available here)...

"I'm going to suspend the enforcement of the ordinance until we can get more information about what alternatives might be possible," he said
Whatever you think of parking policy, it's not a great day for the rule of law when the one man who is empowered to both make and enforce the laws for a community decides not to enforce the laws he has made.

Or maybe Receiver Flanders didn't reach his decision on his own.

On Wednesday, Senator Silva put out a a press release thanking Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee for "his decision to rescind the controversial on-street parking ban", with several General Assembly members praising the Governor for his "swift intervention".

Were the "rescinding" and the "suspension" the same act? And were General Assembly members Agostinho Silva, James McLaughlin, and Elizabeth Crowley thanking Governor Chafee for directly rescinding the ordinance, for ordering receiver Robert Flanders to rescind the ordinance, or just for having the foresight to appoint a receiver willing to not enforce his own ordinances?

Connections: Cranston Prayer Banner->Teacher Pay->Failing Catholic Schools

Marc Comtois

Back when TLC actually put on programs that reflected their actual name (The Learning Channel) instead of just reality crap, there once was a show called Connections, hosted by a balding English dude with glasses named James Burke. I loved that show. In it, Burke would link seemingly unrelated items through history. (Like getting from sugar to atomic weapons). This morning, I felt like I went down a similar path as the Cranston school prayer banner led me to Rhode Island's attempts to equalize teacher pay in the late 1960's and how that ultimate failure played a part in the decline of Catholic schools in the state. Interested? Read on.

It started when I read the judge's decision on the Cranston school prayer banner. In it, he bases much of his reasoning for removing the banner on the Supreme Court's ruling in Lemon vs. Kurtzman, which established a three part test for determining the establishment of religion. From Judge Lageux's finding (p.28):

According to the Lemon v. Kurtzman analysis, a governmental practice, or legislative act, must satisfy three tests in order to survive an Establishment Clause challenge. It must: “(1) reflect a clearly secular purpose; (2) have a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion; and (3) it must avoid excessive government entanglement with religion.”
While Judge Legeux provides other "tests", he relies greatly on Lemon (and, interestingly, puts great weight on the Cranston public's reaction--from fellow students, to School Committee Members, to Mayor Fung--to Ahlquist's request to remove the banner. In essence, her instigation resulted in a reaction that, according to the judge, confirmed her fears. But I digress).

What I then discovered is that Lemon actually dealt with a Rhode Island statute--originally challenged under DiCenso vs. Robinson--as well as the Pennsylvania Lemon vs. Kurtzman. Both had to do with sending public funds to private schools. In the case of Rhode Island (from the Supreme Court ruling, emphasis mine):

The Rhode Island Salary Supplement Act was enacted in 1969. It rests on the legislative finding that the quality of education available in nonpublic elementary schools has been jeopardized by the rapidly rising salaries needed to attract competent and dedicated teachers. The Act authorizes state officials to supplement the salaries of teachers of secular subjects in nonpublic elementary schools by paying directly to a teacher an amount not in excess of 15% of his current annual salary. As supplemented, however, a nonpublic school teacher's salary cannot exceed the maximum paid to teachers in the State's public schools, and the recipient must be certified by the state board of education in substantially the same manner as public school teachers.

In order to be eligible for the Rhode Island salary supplement, the recipient must teach in a nonpublic school at which the average per-pupil expenditure on secular education is less than the average in the State's public schools during a specified period....The Act also requires that teachers eligible for salary supplements must teach only those subjects that are offered in the State's public schools. They must use "only teaching materials which are used in the public schools." Finally, any teacher applying for a salary supplement must first agree in writing "not to teach a course in religion for so long as or during such time as he or she receives any salary supplements" under the Act.

The "appellees" (ie; plaintiffs) were Rhode Island taxpayers who "brought this suit to have the Rhode Island Salary Supplement Act declared unconstitutional and its operation enjoined on the ground that it violates the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment." In this case, the Rhode Island taxpayers won as the court ruled that such public/religions "entanglements" were unconstitutional. (The court also didn't like the idea that the necessary government auditing required in the statute relied upon the State examining the books of many a private, parochial school or church).

So what have we got? In the late '60s, public school teachers were having success in collectively bargaining higher salaries and private (ie; Catholic) schools in Rhode Island were experiencing a lay teacher shortage. As summarized by the appellate court that dealt with the DiCenso case:

The Salary Supplement Act [includes] specific legislative findings: that non-public elementary schools enroll 45,000 students, or 25 per cent of Rhode Island's elementary school children; that because of the numbers enrolled, these schools are vital to Rhode Island's educational effort; and that the rising cost of teachers' salaries makes it increasingly difficult for these schools to maintain their traditional quality....The financial crisis in these schools stems from the rapidly changing composition of their faculties. As recently as ten years ago, the Archdiocese of Providence relied almost exclusively on nuns to staff its school system. Lay teachers filled only 4 or 5 per cent of the system's 1200 teaching positions. By 1969, lay teachers constituted one third of the teaching force....Each shift from a teaching sister to a lay teacher represents a threefold increase in salary expense (i. e., a shift from approximately $1800 to $5500 at present levels). Moreover, the increasing salary levels in public schools make the task of recruiting lay teachers annually more expensive.

...A comparison of past and predicted salary levels [shows]...[i]n 1968-1969, a starting lay salary in the parochial schools was $5000 a year. In 1969-1970 the diocesan school system offered $6000, hoping that 15 per cent of this amount, or $900, would be paid by the state under the Supplement Act. In the meantime, however, the standard beginning salary for public elementary school teachers in Providence and elsewhere has increased from $6000 to $7000.

Ultimately, because of its unconstitutionality, this attempted remedy failed and many Catholic schools--School Choice 1.0, if you will--were impacted and, ultimately, closed.

ADDENDUM: There is a case study written by Patrick Conley and Fernando Cunha that is out there, but I couldn't get my hands on it (for free--I'm not payin' for it!).

* NOTE: To be sure, there still remain parochial schools in Rhode Island, but they no longer educate the 25% of Rhode Island students they once did. Affordability isn't the only reason for the decline in number; the fading importance of religion in our culture is also a factor. Incidentally, my kids go to public schools.

January 11, 2012

Sen. Moura Calls For Fannie/Freddie Forum

Patrick Laverty

State Senator Beth Moura (R - Cumberland/Lincoln) put out a press release calling for a forum with top executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federal governmentally backed financial entities that securitize mortgages for the servicing banks.

Moura's allegation is that Fannie and Freddie aren't working with many distressed Rhode Island homeowners to refinance a mortgage and instead prefer to send the property to foreclosure, add more red ink to their books and then go to the federal government for bailout money.

Moura says, “I believe they are intentionally creating these huge losses in mortgage defaults so they can justify on paper their requests for hundreds of billions in taxpayer money. The longerthey take to review modification applications, the further behind the homeowners end up, the higher the arrearage gets, the larger the investor loss appears, therefore making a modification that much harder to qualify for. The perfect storm has been created.”
Moura wants the top executives of these firms to come to Rhode Island and disprove her allegations and evidence. She claims to have "notes, files and homeowners from Westerly to Woonsocket" ready to testify.

We'll wait to see if she is able to get a response from either of the finance giants.

Loughlin Not Running

Justin Katz

John Loughlin's campaign just released this statement:

Two years ago, when I ran for Congress, I said: "The City of Providence is bankrupt and that you (David Cicilline) are deliberately hiding this fact from the people of Rhode Island. I am concerned that for political reasons your campaign for Congress is causing you to act in such a way as to conceal the budget problems facing the city of Providence, making them worse in the process."

I believe its time to hold David Cicciline accountable not just for the mess he left in Providence, but for the more than $300,000 dollars in taxpayer money we paid him to sit in Washington to deliver nothing but more partisan rhetoric, gridlock and empty campaign promises. In fact, I believe that the number one task facing Rhode Islanders voters in the coming election year is to hold all our politicians accountable.

While I had intended to begin my campaign for Congress upon my return from Iraq, it has become abundantly clear to me that the best way for the Rhode Island Republicans to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory is to conduct a long and divisive primary election in RI-01. I will, therefore, not seek the nomination of my party for Congress. I will have no part in any activity that would enable David Cicciline to remain my Congressman.

My bid for Congress was motivated by a desire for service, not the desire for a new title. I have a long history of service both politically and in the military — in short, I wasn't running to "be” a Congressman, I was running to fix our state and strengthen our Nation.

I want to publicly thank Mike Napolitano, Eileen Grossman and Scott Morrison for keeping the political flame burning while I was serving in Iraq.

I also want to thank the many prominent Republicans who endorsed my campaign, especially Leader Newberry and his colleagues in the Rhode Island House and Senate. In addition, I want to thank those prominent Republicans who withheld any endorsement until I returned from Iraq and could at least respond, most notably Administrator Almond, Mayor Fontaine, Mayor Fung, Mayor Avedisian, and National Committeeman Joseph Trillo. Their loyalty means a great deal to me and meant a great deal to my family while I was deployed.

Thank you also to the many supporters who have also stayed loyal to me as well. In particular the many Town Republican Chairmen and women who recognize that the way to build a party is to reward hard work and stand with those who have worked shoulder to shoulder with them to save our state. Too often Republicans as a party, trivialize loyalty, dedication to service, and party building.

I want to thank my family who dealt with running the household while I was running for office and later while deployed to Iraq. They supported me, literally, in war and peace.

Most importantly, I want to thank the people of Rhode Island for their support and their belief that we must return accountable government to our state. While I don't know what the future will hold, I know that together we can turn our state around and create the kind of Rhode Island for our children that will make them proud of our service together.

The Market Can Only Do What It Can Do, and We Can't Know What Nature Will Do

Justin Katz

Fred Schwartz highlights two stories related to Environment Protection Agency (EPA) dictats. First, it turns out that Americans are still disinclined to spend money on electric and hybrid vehicles. Second, the EPA has now put companies in the position of being fined for not including an additive that they simply can't get.

Both articles reflect the EPA’s "make it so" mindset, in which the agency enacts rules in the belief that the mere act of doing so will make the necessary technology become available.

Schwartz notes that the EPA lucked out, with such a declaration, when the catalytic converter appeared in the '70s and was actually able to meet fuel economy standards at a reasonable cost. The problem is that bureaucrats are not particularly well suited to determine what technologies are similarly just around the corner awaiting a little push. Of course, they no doubt think themselves luckier still when they're able to collect money from businesses for not doing what cannot be done.

In other environmental news, the phenomenon of global warming may have the effect of holding off another ice age:

"(Analysis) suggests that the end of the current interglacial (period) would occur within the next 1,500 years, if atmospheric CO2 concentrations do not exceed (around) 240 parts per million by volume (ppmv)," the study said.

However, the current carbon dioxide concentration is of 390 ppmv, and at that level an increase in the volume of ice sheets would not be possible, it added.

Personally, having been scheduled to work outside pretty much all of this winter, I'm inclined to choose the latter between freeze and fry.

January 10, 2012

Open Thread: Talking Out the Increasingly Probable Romney Nomination

Carroll Andrew Morse

If Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee for President of the United States, it means...

Romney to Win New Hampshire; No Consensus not-Romney Emerges

Carroll Andrew Morse

If the New Hampshire primary numbers via CNN as of 9:30, with about half the vote in and all counties at least partially reporting, stay reasonably stable...

  • Mitt Romney will finish first, with somewhere between 35% and 40% of the vote,
  • Ron Paul will finish 2nd somewhere in the 25% range,
  • Jon Huntsman will finish 3rd, with somwhere between 15% and 20% of the vote,
  • Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will be in a near tie for 4th and 5th place, in the 10% range, and
  • Rick Perry will finish 6th, struggling to gain a single digit percentage of the vote.
So with none of the candidates who's strategy is based on a conscious appeal to conservatives able to crack the top 3, does Mitt Romney now have the Republican nomination for President locked up, or might a single consensus challenger still appear by the time of or during the South Carolina primary?

Redistricting - Charlie Hall Pinpoints Who Benefits From

Monique Chartier

... and who is disadvantaged by the 68,000 voters to be gratuitously moved from RI-2 to RI-1. (It's a "compromise", dontcha know.)


Trillo's Flawed Government Theory

Justin Katz

I don't relish the observation, but it seems to me that Rep. Joe Trillo (R, Warwick) is displaying an unhealthy political philosophy in his quest for a Quonset casino:

"It would have to be bigger than Foxwoods, bigger than Mohegan Sun, otherwise it's not going to work," he said. "To just go with a regional casino, it won't be able to compete."

Trillo also envisioned a scenario in which a single operator would buy and run the privately-owned Twin River and Newport Grand, and the new Quonset Point casino. Asked if he had been approached by anyone interested in making such a major investment while the Mohegan Sun struggles financially, Trillo said an emphatic no: "I have purposely stayed away from any casino operators."

It's well and good, if true, that Trillo is avoiding the corrupting influence of those whose money would be necessary to make his vision a reality, but of itself, a vision of such scope and specificity is not an appropriate basis for government action. It isn't the job of elected officials to decide what sort of business on what sort of scale for what sort of market their area ought to have and then go about developing it.

Government should stick to ensuring that the marketplace remains competitive, broadly, and that its policies are not hindering the people from pursuing activities that, within limited boundaries of order and cultural integrity, they believe will be profitable and beneficial.

Sen. Whitehouse Supports Ill-Conceived SOPA/PIPA

Patrick Laverty

Sometimes, it isn't too bad being a nerd or a geek. Or as I guess as some geeks refer to themselves, a g33k. It's nice because when the news picks up a story that includes the discussion of DNS servers and IP addresses, I can more easily pick up on what they're trying to say and what the intent of the story is. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Congress. Unfortunately, this is worse than

We have to pass this bill so you can find out what is in it.
I'm referring to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill number HR3261, in the House and its related Senate Bill, Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

In a perfect world, the intent of these bills makes some sense. The goal is to protect intellectual property.

Someone who is savvy enough can today find all kinds of copyrighted material on the internet for free. From first-run movies to copies of music or even popular video games that can usually cost upwards of $50 a copy, all can be had for free. Assuming you're willing to do a little searching and willing to risk the side-effects of accidentally visiting a site ready to infect your computer with viruses and spyware.

Whether you agree with current US intellectual property law (author's lifetime plus 70 years) is a separate question. The question is how far should the government be allowed to go in order to enforce that law in foreign countries. Because that is the real issue here, that in general, the web sites serving up this property, are hosted in non-US countries, and out of the jurisdiction of US law. This leaves the hands tied of law-enforcement and leaves the people who make money off this software (i.e. Hollywood studios) frustrated.

Rather than remaining frustrated, many Hollywood studios have put together a law that would attempt to block these rogue web sites from continuing to serve their content in the United States. Look at it as a giant web firewall around the United States. The result would be for these web sites to effectively disappear from the internet.

The way that this would be achieved is by breaking DNS. DNS is the domain name system, comparable to a phone book for web sites. We have DNS because people are better at remembering names, like anchorrising.com, which is a domain name for a web site (incidentally the number one political blog in Rhode Island). Computers are better at using numbers, like, which is an example of an IP address for a web site. When a person types a domain name into a browser, the name goes to DNS and looks up the physical address of the site, also known as the IP address.

If these bills are passed, when someone lodges a complaint against one of these sites and attains a court order, the site owner will have five days to muster an effective appeal, or the domain name will be removed or redirected from the DNS. Additionally, the scope of the bill, the part that defines who can complain about a copyright infringement and what the infringement needs to be, is pretty broad and vague.

Maybe you don't violate copyright laws, you don't post videos or games or songs online, so you have nothing to worry about right? Maybe not. It depends on what the owner of the copyright would like do with that. Maybe you have a family web site and post a picture of a family picnic where someone is holding a can of Coca Cola. Did you get approval from Coke's lawyers to use their logo in your photo before you posted it on your web site?

Maybe that's extreme and it'll never happen, but it could.

That is the real problem with this bill, is its vagueness. Some have said that this is like using a chainsaw when a scalpel is all that's necessary. One of the major problems here is the lack of Congressional understanding of how the internet works, but yet they are waving off the experts telling them how the bill is flawed. During the debate, the bill's co-sponsor Mel Watts of NC even bragged about how he's "not a nerd" with regard to his understanding of the technical specifics, yet then continued to talk about why this bill, as it is written, is necessary.

Congress is scheduled to vote on these bills January 24.

Yesterday, Congressman Jim Langevin came out against SOPA/PIPA, for the exact reasons that I have outlined. Neither Cicilline nor Reed have issued an opinion yet.

In Senator Whitehouse, we have a different situation. He clearly supports it as he is a co-sponsor of PIPA (follow the money), the Senate's version of the SOPA bill. Conveniently, Senator Whitehouse is sponsoring a community dinner at Barrington High School this coming Thursday night from 6-8 pm. The dinner is first come, first served. This might be an great opportunity for people to go see Senator Whitehouse and let him know what you think about his support of this bill.

Lastly, I made no mention of anyone's political affiliations in this bill because for once, they're irrelevant. This might be the most bi-partisan/non-partisan yet contentious bill I've ever seen in Washington. We have Democrats and Republicans coming down on both sides of this issue. Even a couple weeks ago, local progressive David Segal also came out against these bills. And it's not just those who create the intellectual property who are in support of this bill, local game developers 38Studios is also opposed to the specifics of the bill.

This is an issue where the uninformed is trying to make a highly technical decision, and they're not listening to the technical people. This is a bill that could end up having chilling effects on how we use the internet every day.

The Mood on the Right

Justin Katz

Roger Kimball expresses a pessimism with which I confess more than a little sympathy:

Tootling around Washington, I was struck by — well, not by its prosperity, exactly, but by what is clearly a lavish outlay of funds — your funds, in fact. Everywhere I turned there were huge building cranes. In one spot, I counted seven over the space of a few blocks. It looked a little like a third world country suddenly flush from newly discovered mineral reserves of some sort. Which I suppose describes the situation in Washington accurately enough, except that for "mineral reserves" you need to substitute "deficit spending." I remember meeting my friend Edward Shils several years ago in Washington: "My, they live well on our money," he said. What would he say today, I wonder, when Washington has come more and more to resemble Versailles circa 1780.

The cranes are markers of a "permanent political class," Kimball goes on to say, living well off of government largess and the investments on inside information and special-interest gifts that flow their way. And what's true for money is true for power — power over the smallest details of our lives.

Something’s happening — maybe it already has happened — to the republic conceived in liberty. The Tea Party sounded the alarm in 2010 and there was a rustle-bustle of acknowledgment. Their voices seem oddly, ominously silent now.

Part of that sense, I'm persuaded, comes from the (quite deliberate) allocation of newspaper column inches that might have gone to Tea Party–type stories that have instead been devoted to the antics of the Occupy movement. More broadly, and more hopefully, I think the Tea Party has gone from a movement to an organization, or rather organizations peppered throughout the civic sphere.

As an outside, grassroots movement, the Tea Party managed to sway some elections. Still, 2011 and its debt-ceiling debacle proved that the movement hadn't broken the threshold beyond which the political class hesitates to govern by illusion. And so, we all await the next election, puzzling out how to get a real reaction from government.

Conservatives' pessimism, then, may be the disquiet accompanying the sense that a lack of noise means a lack of action and momentum. We'll see whether that's the case. In the meantime, it's worthwhile to continue pointing to the path that it would be disastrous to take.

January 9, 2012

Gridlock Isn't Bad When It's Wanted

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal editors did their best, Sunday, to blame Republicans and otherwise minimize the culpability of President Obama for his questionable recess appointments during the dubious recess that legislators don't believe they had. It's curious to note that no mention is made of the fact that two of the four nominees were put forward just two days before the Senate's scheduled adjournment, not leaving time for even basic background checks. Hardly gridlock.

But what's interesting is the notion that the American people care about this sort of battle:

On purely political grounds, the president would seem to be in a strong position. Many Americans can readily sympathize with his frustration since the 2010 elections saddled him with stronger opposition and a Republican-led House.

Who, exactly, do the editors believe did the saddling? (Or is "many" a term indicating "people with whom we associate"?) By the election results alone, we can see that many Americans thought it important to stop, or at least slow, President Obama's rampage through the national laws. Many of those who care about bureaucratic appointments, at least to the point of being aware that they exist, may very well want gridlock.

And even those who do not might pause to consider — as the editors do not — whether the president bears some responsibility for nominating candidates whom his duly elected opposition will find uncontroversial enough to expedite their confirmation.

January 7, 2012

Public Pension Escrow Accounts?

Monique Chartier

Liz Boardman and Iain Wilson have an excellent article in Thursday's South County Independent previewing the new General Assembly session from the perspective of some area legislators. In it, Rep Spencer Dickinson (D-South Kingstown) stated that

He plans to call for the creation of state and municipal escrow accounts, so the money is there if the courts overturn the new pension law.

“Passing something you think will be reversed in the courts is taking money now and kicking the can down the road,” Dickinson said. “We should be thinking about that on the state and town level. It’s not found money.”

I asked Rep Dickinson via e-mail where he thought the money would come from to fund city and town escrow accounts in view of the fact that all municipalities were either at break even or in the red. We spoke today by telephone; below is his response.

The possibility that the state will lose [the lawsuit anticipated to arise from pension reform] in court has to be taken seriously. It would be irresponsible not to.

Budgeting of different towns is the responsibility of the councils and the mayors. Where would the money come from [for pension escrow accounts]? that is the responsibility of the town council or mayor.

In any town in Rhode Island, I believe that you could find several business owners who would say that they could look at the town budget and find money. It's the responsibility of elected officials and the mayor but there are people in the community who believe that they could contribute to the process.

Effective Use of Experienced Teachers' Time

Patrick Laverty

Today's Providence Journal had an interesting story about Lillian Turnipseed, a Providence teacher coach. She is a teacher with 38 years of classroom experience, so it would be natural to believe that she would be a great candidate to tutor new teachers.

She is one of Rhode Island’s 17 “induction coaches” responsible for helping the state’s 270 new teachers improve during their critical first year.
I've had discussions with others who believe that this is a very good an efficient use of older and experienced staff. I agree that it seems to be a smart use of these valuable employees. Rather than having a teacher burned out after 35 years in a classroom or a 50 year old fireman carrying people out of buildings or a 55 year old police officer chasing down criminals on foot, use their wealth of knowledge to the benefit of the group.

With a teacher, my thought is you will have one of three situations. Either the teacher will be like Mrs. Turnipseed and be a great fit for tutoring the new and upcoming teachers or still be willing to be in the classroom and be effectively teaching into their 60s or they'll be a burned out and ineffective teacher who should be allowed to leave or retire when they want. However, I don't see it as a valid excuse to start collecting a pension after 20 or 25 years in the classroom because we simply have "burned out teachers." Change it up and find new and exciting challenges for them. If they don't want to do either one, that's ok, no one is going to force them to stay, but that's no reason to start the pension payments either.

With police and fire, a similar experience could be had. I agree with those who ask if I want a 50 year old firefighter trying to carry me out of a burning building and down a ladder after the job had taken its toll on their body for 25 or more years. No, I don't want that. But at the same time, I see no reason for that firefighter to retire yet. Why can't that person do a part of the job that doesn't require carrying one out of burning buildings, like conducting fire alarm inspections? Traveling to schools and offering fire safety tips to children? Training the younger firefighters entering the job. Even cleaning and maintaining the equipment. Again, no one is going to force these people to stay on the job, but if they do want to keep collecting a paycheck, find tasks they are capable of doing that help efficiency and can properly use their years of expertise and knowledge.

Mrs. Turnipseed is an excellent example for all, as she could have retired many years ago, but still wants to help others and has found a way to use her strengths and experience to benefit Providence.

January 6, 2012

The Pension Questions Still Not Asked

Justin Katz

So, I'm watching General Treasurer Raimondo's speech upon accepting the Manhattan Institute's Urban Innovator Award (via Ted Nesi). She keeps talking about "solving the problem" and "fixing the pension," and some of the inevitable questions had to do with "what's next" — the assumption being that the state pension problem is fixed.

Still, I don't hear anybody asking two very important questions:

  1. You mentioned that you began with a $7 to 9 billion unfunded liability and that your reform saved taxpayers about $4 billion. Where is the other $3 to 5 billion going to come from?
  2. The gentleman who introduced you noted that the state had been assuming a rate of return (discount rate) of about 8% while achieving 2%. You said you've adjusted the assumption to 7.5%, yet you answered a previous question by admitting that neither the 10 year nor the 20 year returns hit that number. What happens when the number has to be adjusted down again, thus multiplying the annual payment required?

Cicilline Gifted Another Mostly True From Politifact -- Seriously?

Patrick Laverty

Oh my goodness. That was my reaction to this finding. Really?

I can really handle word-jockeying and picking apart statements word by word. I can handle claiming that "words have meaning" when coming up with the justification for the ruling, but at least be consistent about it!

My question is that if I say I do something 75% of the time and I actually do it 25% of the time, does that deserve a "mostly true" ruling?

Politfact is investigating Cicilline's statement on a recent WPRI Newsmakers about proper pension funding in Providence:

"with the exception of the last year or maybe the last two years, we were at 100 percent"
Like any good investigator should do, Politifact looked into it and here's what they found for the eight years that Cicilline was mayor of Providence:

2003 Cianci, John Lombardi, David Cicilline $42,008,000 80.25%
2004 Cicilline $46,321,000 85.99%
2005 Cicilline $49,329,000 92.15%
2006 Cicilline $51,454,000 96.22%
2007 Cicilline $50,584,000 100.20%
2008 Cicilline $54,200,000 100.00%
2009 Cicilline $48,509,000 99.80%
2010 Cicilline $50,299,000 97.66%
*Data taken from Politifact article

Ok sure, the funding level was "close". It was in the 90s and it was more than the previous administration. However, as Politifact themselves often say, that isn't what Cicilline said. He said it was at 100% all but two years. It was there for all but six years. That's a big difference.

So the issue really speaks to Politifact's credibility, if they have much left. They are, at best, inconsistent with their rulings especially when it comes to Congressman Cicilline. This is the same newspaper that int 2010 endorsed Cicilline for Congress, in part due to his fiscal management of Providence.


I have no idea why the Journal decides to compound their mistake by trying to make his fiscal management look better than it was. I would have thought that after being burned once by Cicilline on the endorsement that the editors would protect themselves a little better when it comes to its handling of his fiscal matters and call out his statements for what they are.

If this were anyone else who said they did something 6 out of 8 times and actually did it 2 out of 8 times, there's no question Politifact rules that as "False", as this one should have been.

January 5, 2012

"Medicinal Marijuana" Is Already Legal (In Pill Form) - Why Are We Trying to Re-Legalize It?

Monique Chartier

Last month, Governor Chafee

petitioned the federal government on Wednesday to reclassify marijuana as a drug with accepted medical uses ...

Last week, Speaker Fox added his voice to the effort by appeaing to the law enforcement side.

House Speaker Gordon D. Fox says he’ll personally petition the U.S. Department of Justice to seek a way for Rhode Island to open the medical marijuana dispensaries that advocates have long sought.

"I plan on going to the federal government to ask them: what do you need it to look like?” the Providence Democrat said Tuesday.

What has bothered me all along about the medical marijuana discussion is the question of whether cannibis is already available as a legal drug. I asked this of Sean O'Donnell, who has a Doctor of Pharmacy degree (and is a registered Republican). This is his response.

I think the greater debate about legalizing marijuana is legitimate. A few years ago, National Review covered both sides of the argument in consecutive issues. I can respect each argument and probably favor not legalizing it. I guess my Conservative side slightly wins out on this one with due respect to the Libertarian case.

I think the case being made for "Medical Marijuana" is much, much weaker than the honest argument to legalize marijuana across the board.

I do believe that smoking marijuana can give some measure of pain relief, does work to some degree to suppress nausea and stimulate appetite. All of these qualities can be clinically beneficial. However, I believe the oral form (dronabinol capsules) of marijuana is just as effective as smoking the leaves. I also strongly believe there are a wide, wide array of other prescription medications available that work as good (and in many cases much, much better) for pain, nausea and weight gain (sometimes needed for chemo patients and other weight wasting ailments).

In short, I think the clinical case for "Medical Marijuana" is a ruse.

Sean also provided some informational links about Dronabinol - available after the jump.

Dronabinol is used to treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy in people who have already taken other medications to treat this type of nausea and vomiting without good results. Dronabinol is also used to treat loss of appetite and weight loss in people who have acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Dronabinol is in a class of medications called cannabinoids. It works by affecting the area of the brain that controls nausea, vomiting, and appetite.

Does the cannabinoid dronabinol reduce central pain in multiple sclerosis? Randomised double blind placebo controlled crossover trial.

Listing by cancer.org of anti-nausea/vomiting medicines including Dronabinol.

"So When Did You Stop Beating Your Wife?"

Patrick Laverty

It's an age-old journalists' "gotcha" question. The mere asking of it assumes that the responder has at one time beat his wife. It's also a tactic that we see being used today in a press release by the RI Democratic party and its chairman, Ed Pacheco.

In the release, Pacheco seems to be grasping at straws in a few different areas, such as claiming Mitt Romney had a poor performance in Iowa in spite of winning the caucus and gaining about the percentage that all polls said he would.

Then Pacheco goes on to ask questions about Congressional candidate Brendan Doherty, and build on those questions as if the previous question was true.

“Is this what we can expect from Doherty as he tries to win a Congressional seat? Does he support Romney’s position on repealing the DREAM Act and denying young immigrants, who are here through no fault of their own and want to serve America, a chance at citizenship? Does he think the middle class should bear the brunt of the economic burden in our country? Should we go back to the days of letting Wall Street write its own rules? Does Doherty believe corporations are people too?” added Pacheco.
Chairman Pacheco seems to want to use this as a pulpit for the DREAM Act. Then he just starts riffing on all these different topics, as if he's reading down a list of stances where Doherty and Pacheco disagree.

Can I try this too? Chairman Pacheco, do you support the answers given by Congressman David Cicilline when he was asked about Providence's finances and when he told us the funds were healthy? Do you think the people of Providence should be forced to bear the brunt of Cicilline's mismanagement of the city's finances? Do you think Cicilline has been a good and effective Congressman in Washington when he has gotten very little self-sponsored legislation passed? Is that a good thing to have such an ineffective Congressman in Washington? Do you agree with Congressman Cicilline's claims that he is going to protect Social Security for seniors when Congress has not even had a single bill put forth that would take away Social Security for seniors, so there was nothing for him to "protect" against?

Thank you for helping this exercise, Chairman Pacheco.

Unpaid Campaign Fines

Patrick Laverty

A new report on the unpaid fines from the RI Board of Elections (BOE) is out (h/t Dan McGowan) and it is five pages of names and the amount they owe. Some of it is a who's who of Rhode Island politics.

So first, how does someone get fined by the BOE? Once a person, committee or PAC has registered with the BOE, they are responsible for filing campaign finance reports according to the BOE's published schedule. From personal experience, I can say that these deadlines are not hard to find. They are posted on the board's web site and they mail the schedule to the head of the campaign and the listed campaign treasurer. Back when many of these fines were incurred, someone had to get paper over to the BOE by the deadline. Today, they have dramatically improved things with their ERTS system of online reporting. So missing deadlines today should be much harder to do when filing a report can be done from a computer.

When someone misses a deadline, what is the fine structure? From the BOE's Summary flyer:

$25 Fine for Late Filing
A filer who fails to file a required report by the report due date shall be fined $25.

Daily Fine of $2 for Failure to Respond to “Notice of Non-Compliance”
A filer who fails to file a report and remit payment for a fine assessed within 7 days of receipt of a “Notice of Non-Compliance” shall be fined $2 per day from the date of receipt of said notice until the date the report and remittance have been received at the Boardof Elections.

Ignore your fines for years and the total will add up.

Am I going to call out individuals listed on the report? Absolutely. But first a disclosure. I have had to pay this fine once before. I served as the treasurer for a town committee and missed a deadline by one day. I submitted the report the next day and paid the fine.

There is no way of knowing exactly who the people are in the report, it isn't crosslisted with the seat they ran for. Plus, in RI, we have many people with the same name, so I'm not going to definitively say who the person is, in case I were to mix them up with a relative or someone else by the same name. Unless there's no question as to who they are.

Some of the bigger fines on the list include, Patrick McDonald, a State Senator from 1996 to 2002 owes $114,618. Others who share the same name as someone who ran for the General Assembly were Michael Rollins, $77,226, Kevin Johnson, $76,573 and Daniel Grzych for $53,909. That list can goes on with many others who owe five-figure fines.

It isn't just office-holders and candidates who owe, it's also local committees. The Foster Democratic Committee owes $4, 283, North Kingstown Democratic Committee owes $290 and the Central Falls Democratic Committee owes $754. However, they may be simply following their leader, as someone with the same name as the state's Democratic Party Chairman, Edwin Pacheco, is on the list of fines as well.

To be fair, Republican committees made the list as well with the East Greenwich Republican Committee owning the biggest fine at $1,661 and the House Republican caucus owes $318.

However, the big star of the list, the one that seems to stick out most glaringly is someone who shares the name with our Congressman from the second district, James Langevin owes $31,750.

With some of these fines going back as far as 2004, it really makes me wonder what's the point? Why bother assessing the fines if you have no means of enforcing them? Some of the people on the list are still in office but many of them were people who ran for a seat, lost and then abandoned all their responsibility to the system. Maybe they were initially unaware of the full process, but that is a responsibility of a candidate to know the process, to cross ts and dot is. Plus, they were informed of their fine and had seven days to clear the issue up, and chose not to.

These fines shouldn't be held in any different regard than any others in our society as the sources of campaign funding needs to be a transparent process. The Assembly has no problem instituting new fines/fees/taxes or increases to make a couple bucks here or there. Putting some real teeth into the campaign finance reporting laws so the state can collect what it is owed would tap into yet another revenue stream for the state.

ADDENDUM: In the comments section, House Minority Leader Brian Newberry adds that the House Republican Caucus mentioned on the list and in this article is actually now officially listed as "inactive" with the BOE and is unrelated to the current committee that he oversees.

The GOP Three

Marc Comtois

Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum. In some order, they are the three front-runners for the GOP presidential nomination (it looks to me like Perry, Gingrich & Huntsman are just playing out the string or playing spoiler at this point). Here are a few "mixed bag" snippets about each as we set the stage for New Hampshire. Jim Pehokoukis on Romney's tax plan:

the Romney tax plan would a) make permanent the Bush tax cuts; b) cut the top corporate tax to 25 percent from 35 percent and shift to a territorial system; c) end the estate tax; and d) eliminate capital gains and dividend taxes for those earning less than $200,000 a year. Meh. No 9-9-9, no 15 percent or 20 percent flat tax....Yet Romney has given strong hints that he favors comprehensive reform like that devised by the Bowles-Simpson commission: lowering marginal income tax rates and paying for it by eliminating tax breaks. Of course, many of those tax breaks, such as the mortgage interest deduction and child tax credit, have strong constituencies — that’s why they are in the tax code — and calling for their end is politically risky. So Romney’s tax stance is hardly a profile in courage. At least for right now.
Reason's Brian Doherty on the enthusiasm for Ron Paul:
Everyone I talked to was impressed with what the Paul machine achieved in Iowa, working hard for what they got with likely over a million in ads over the campaign, dozens of paid staffers, many hundreds of out of state youthful troops working brutal 10 hour or more shifts everyday and stored away at a YMCA camp, doing advance work for Paul's many appearances, working the phones...doing some door-to-door stuff...

And never forget that no matter how good a job the campaign did at message-spreading and getting out their base, Paul has a problem with lots of voters (one I find Paul mavens surprisingly unwilling to admit): they just don't actually agree with most or all of his beliefs. In that regard, given that Paul's most vivid and forceful departure from conservative and Republican orthodoxy is in foreign policy, the noises round the globe hyping up possible war with Iran probably worked against Paul's interests here in Iowa. Ominous splashes from the Straits of Hormuz may have poured cold water on Paul's chances...

George Will on the "suddenly...fun" candidate Rick Santorum:
Iowa Republicans ignored an axiom that is as familiar as it is false: Democrats fall in love, and Republicans fall in line. Republicans, supposedly hierarchical, actually are — let us say the worst — human. They crave fun. Supporting Mitt Romney still seems to many like a duty, the responsible thing to do. Suddenly, supporting Santorum seems like a lark, partly because a week or so ago he could quit complaining about media neglect and start having fun, which is infectious....Santorum exemplifies a conservative aspiration born about the time he was born in 1958. Frank Meyer, a founding editor of William F. Buckley’s National Review in 1955, postulated the possibility, and necessity, of “fusionism,” a union of social conservatives and those of a more libertarian, free-market bent.
Finally, Ramesh Ponnuru explains that there really isn't a whole lot separating any of the Republican hopefuls:
Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney have the same positions on most of the issues. Where Ron Paul disagrees with those positions, he represents a minority of the Republican Party. The truth is that on public-policy issues, the Republican Party is more unified than it has been in years, even though the demands of primary competition work to obscure that fact.

Both Santorum and Romney, for example, want to cut the corporate tax rate. Both believe that Medicare spending should be restrained and beneficiaries allowed to choose among competing plans. Both favor legal protections for fetuses. There was no consensus in the G.O.P. field on these issues just four years ago....Many social conservatives prefer Santorum over Romney because the former’s record on these issues has been more consistent, he emphasizes them more, and he takes more conservative positions — albeit only on issues that have no practical relevance to the presidency, since neither contraception nor abortion in the cases of rape or incest is going to be made illegal anywhere in this country. These differences are not enough to split a party.

In Paul’s case, some of the issues are large enough — but the movement isn’t. There are plenty of Republicans who want a less interventionist foreign policy than Romney or Santorum favors, but there are very few who want Paul’s doctrinaire anti-interventionism....A lot of Republicans who are voting for Paul are doubtless doing so because they want drastically lower levels of federal spending and regulation and a more tightly constrained Federal Reserve. Those too are issues where Republicans have a consensus; other candidates can appeal to part of Paul’s following on them.Partisans for each candidate, caught up in the daily battles, often have a hard time taking a step back and realizing that the proximate rivals to "their guy" aren't the real opposition. Keep your eye on the ball, folks.

Krugman: Don't Worry About Debt; It's Like a Ponzi Scheme

Justin Katz

In a column titled "Nobody Understands Debt," Paul Krugman gives two reasons for Americans not to worry about President Obama and the rest of the federal government running up bewildering amounts of debt.

First, families have to pay back their debt. Governments don’t — all they need to do is ensure that debt grows more slowly than their tax base. The debt from World War II was never repaid; it just became increasingly irrelevant as the U.S. economy grew, and with it the income subject to taxation.

Is it me, or does that sound like another Social Securityesque Ponzi scheme? Like Social Security, it's subject to the same assumption that the society will continue to expand both economically and with respect to population, which are arguably very closely related. The peculiar liberal death wish comes into play because liberal policy preferences, many of the very policies that have required so much government spending, contribute to stagnation in population growth. At some point, the equation doesn't add up.

Which leads to Krugman's second point:

Second — and this is the point almost nobody seems to get — an over-borrowed family owes money to someone else; U.S. debt is, to a large extent, money we owe to ourselves.

This is true, he argues, even when we don't owe the money to ourselves, but to somebody else:

It's true that foreigners now hold large claims on the United States, including a fair amount of government debt. But every dollar’s worth of foreign claims on America is matched by 89 cents' worth of U.S. claims on foreigners. And because foreigners tend to put their U.S. investments into safe, low-yield assets, America actually earns more from its assets abroad than it pays to foreign investors. If your image is of a nation that’s already deep in hock to the Chinese, you’ve been misinformed. Nor are we heading rapidly in that direction.

Unfortunately, he's not very clear about whom he's defining as "America." Following the links that Krugman provides to other things he's written, one comes across a chart showing the nation's foreign liabilities as 160% of GDP, versus assets of 140%. But even the "deficit-worriers," as Krugman calls them, put the total debt, to foreign and domestic lenders, at $15.2 trillion, versus GDP of $14.5 trillion. That's a ratio of about 105%. Yet, the U.S. Debt Clock gives $56.4 trillion, or 389% of GDP, as the debt of every person and entity in the United States.

So, what Krugman means, therefore, by America's debt, I'm not sure, although it looks likely that he's stating that the $56.4 trillion grand total includes $23.2 trillion in foreign debt and $33.2 trillion in domestic debt. Whatever the case, I'd wager that whomever Krugman shuffles into the deck for the additional amount of foreign debt shown in his chart has very high foreign investments.

The worry on the table, though, is the federal government's debt, and if the economy and population continue to remain so low, it's not going to fade into a field of rapid growth, but is going to become a problem that even Krugman-like apologists cannot deny. After all, the government's income is only the fraction of GDP that it takes in through taxes and fees. If one is going to compare the total debt of the people of the United States to GDP for the purposes of balancing it against foreign assets, it would be more reasonable to compare the government's debt to the $2.3 trillion it brings in through taxes. That's a ratio of 661%.

January 4, 2012

The Dogs That Didn't Bite in Pension Reform

Justin Katz

Two aspects of this Monday editorial in the Providence Journal, lauding Central Falls Superintendent Fran Gallo for progress in her school district are interesting.

For one, multiple Projo columnists have compared Democrat General Treasurer Gina Raimondo favorable with Republican reformers in other states, like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasick, on the grounds that union intransigence illustrates that the Republicans' method of reform wasn't sufficiently collaborative. Yet, here we have Gallo receiving the full union-thug treatment (short of physical violence, which even the thugs must have seen to be a losing proposition against a diminutive older woman), and the editors hailing the "cooperative efforts."

More pointedly, the editors detail some union-friendly legislators' efforts to bully Gallo in order "to disrupt public-spirited efforts to improve Central Falls High School." The essay also mention's last year's conspicuously high absenteeism among teachers. It ought also to have mentioned the aggressive campaign of threatening nastiness that Gallo experienced when things were at their roughest.

What's interesting about that is how it compares with the relatively light touch of the unions and their members during the supposedly radical pension reform. Sure, they held a fun evening rally one warm evening. Sure, some paid union leaders made some silly statements and issued threats of electoral defeat. But where was the real heat?

Reform was necessary for both Central Falls schools and for the state pension system. In both cases that was and is impossible to deny. In both cases, union deals had to be pushed back. Yet, there's a marked difference in the tone of the response, with the smaller of the two skirmishes sparking a higher degree of venom. What could account for that?

What's Old Is New Again

Patrick Laverty

Just when I started to think that maybe Speaker Gordon Fox gets it. Maybe he is going to lead in the right direction. Some recent examples included his decision to put bills to a House floor vote when they're ready, not at the last minute. Or his decision to contact the US Justice Department and find out what steps the state needs to take to open legal medical marijuana dispensaries, even though Governor Chafee ran scared from the issue.

But then, Speaker Fox shows that he still doesn't get it. On the very first night of session, he described his legislative priorities to Ian Donnis over at the Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR) On Politics blog.

Fox told me these are his top three goals for the session:
The first thing we have to do is get redistricting done. I think the next thing we have to do is deal with the municipal situation – figure out what’s going on with that – and I think we really have to put the foundation in with the casino vote that’s coming up in November.
Wait, what? Did I miss something? Did I miss where Rhode Island's unemployment rate was magically fixed? Did I misunderstand one of those goals to really mean "to help get Rhode Islanders back to work and create a better business atmosphere for every citizen of the state?"

Speaker Fox, where is the desire to fix this major problem? This is worse than the state pension situation was. You fix this unemployment and bad business climate then everything else falls into place.

Additionally, Donnis mentions:

It’s an election year, of course, in which some observers think the legislature will avoid controversy, steer clear of upsetting public safety unions, and make a relatively fast exit.
Very nice. No controversy, don't upset any unions and get out fast so they can go bang on doors and serve spaghetti in the late summer and early fall.

Speaker Fox, please add this as your fourth important issue for this session. Don't be afraid to make the hard decisions, regardless of who gets angry, because the people who will be happy are those who are still sitting home, out of a job. And I guess if you don't do anything about the unemployment rate, more people will be home to greet the door to door campaigning.

January 3, 2012

Watching the Iowa Caucus Results Come In

Carroll Andrew Morse

I wasn't going to do this, but I couldn't help myself...

[9:02] With 8% of precints reporting, according to the AP vote total (reported via ABC News) it's a dead three-way tie Paul 24% Santorum 23% Romney 23%.

[9:05] Up to 10% reporting: Paul 24% Romney 24% Santorum 23%. Perry (5th place) single digits at 9%. I know it's just one state yadda yadda yadda but does Perry seriously go on after this?

[9:07] CNN's front-page graphic is seriously screwed up. Even though its Paul 24% Romney 23% Santorum 23% Gingrich 13% Perry 10%, all of their graphs are of the same height. (12% reporting)

[9:12] I've been looking for the old Bloom County strip, where Binkley comes up with a scenario where a divided vote gives Mick Jagger the GOP nomination, but it's apparently not online anywhere.

[9:19] Via the ABC News liveblog, Jeff Greenfield makes the crusty old political reporter's point: "So 500 or so votes may separate 1st and 3rd? And we think it's significant, this order of finish?"

[9:23] 15% reporting. Paul 24% Santorum 23% Romney 23%. Perry back into double digits at 10%. Huntsman into triple digits (in total number of votes, 126 to leader Paul's 4,440).

[9:26] With 18% in, CNN figures out that their graphic is broken, and "fixes" the problem by dropping 4th place and below off of their front page graphic. Paul 24% Santorum 24% Romney 22%. Paul has 65 more votes than Santorum.

[9:31] Ye gods. With 22% of precincts in, Romney 23% Santorum 23% Paul 23%. Maybe I should start reporting vote totals. (Romney has 57 more votes than Paul).

[9:40] 27% of precincts reporting. Romney 7,844; Santorum 7,726; Paul 7,655. Gingrich 4th with 4,440 votes.

[9:58] Correction: That's 31% of precincts reporting, representing 27% of the expected vote. Results have been stuck at the same place for about 20 minutes or so.

[10:05] Pure speculation on my part, but I'm guessing we'll be seeing Santorum at a more central podium during the next debate.

[10:10] 48% of precincts in: Santorum 13,339 24%; Romney 13,011 24%; Paul 11,972 22%.

[10:14] Something else to ponder before the next debate: CW is that Huntsman needs to knock out one of the three Iowa leaders, to make a respectable showing (and keep his chances alive for a future run). So who does Huntsman go after? Paul, with the message of "I'm the non-crazy guy that wants to bring the troops home", or Santorum with a message of "Just kidding, I was a conservative all along, and I look more Presidential than Santorum".

[10:17] Chuck Todd of NBC News concedes: They're not going to try and call the race until all the votes are counted.

[10:34] I would like to go on record as saying that doing anything serious on the Tuesday following a New Year's Day long weekend is a bad idea. We do need to think about a way to reform the primary-process, so states stop trying to leapfrog one another to be able to vote ridiculously early.

[10:45] 60% of precincts in, Santorum opening a little lead? Santorum 16,916 25%; Romney 15,688 23%; Paul 14,459 21%.

[10:52] 88% of precincts in. Looks like Paul will be 3rd, Romney and Santorum fighting it out for 1 and 2. Santorum 26,443 25%; Romney 26,398 25%; Paul 22,728 21%.

[11:00] Just another New Year's Eve, just another Auld Lang Syne...

[11:06] Romney edges ahead 27,101 25%; Santorum 26,976 25%. However, unless there's a huge swing in the last 11% of the voting, the result is going to be Santorum and Romney tied for 1st, Ron Paul a close 3rd. Other totals (from the AP via ABC news) are Gingrich 14,576 13%; Perry 11,279 10%; Bachmann 5,576 5%; Huntsman 645 1%.

[11:12] Also for the record, CNN.com got their front-page graphic issue fixed. You can see the difference between Ron Paul's bar, and the two leaders' bars.

[11:20] According to the AP via ABC News, just 13 votes separate Romney and Santorum with 92% of precincts in.

[11:45] 96% of the vote in, no significant change Santorum 28,958 25%; Romney 28,879 25%; Paul 25,044 21%. That's the main result from Iowa.

[Wed. morning] Final results, from CBS News...

Mitt Romney: 30,015 (25%);
Rick Santorum: 30,007 (25%);
Ron Paul: 26,219 (21%);
Newt Gingrich: 16,251 (13%);
Rick Perry: 12,604 (10%);
Michele Bachmann: 6,073 (5%);
Jon Huntsman: 745 (1%).

Welcome Back General Assembly

Patrick Laverty

Today is the first Tuesday in January, which means by the state's constitution, the General Assembly is back in session. While I'm not sure why they need to meet every year in a state the size of Rhode Island (in Texas they meet every odd numbered year) it sure helps bloggers to come up with more material while they're in session.

A couple sources today talked about some of the things we can expect to see addressed in the next six months or so. First and foremost, we'll hear about municipal pension reform. The Assembly just finished up one round of pension reform on the state level, but this time, they'll be discussing how to help all the cities and towns of RI fix their problems. Some, like General Treasurer Gina Raimondo felt there were too many different plans and issues for the state bill to handle the plans held by all 39 municipalities. They all have their own challenges. One of the biggest issues we'll hear discussed with the local pension reform will be for the city of Cranston. Last year, I spoke with Mayor Fung about his unique situation.

Then, when reading the various articles talking about what the Assembly will be tackling, I get a bit disappointed, put it mildly. Dan McGowan puts numbers next to each of the issues that he brings out. I'm not sure if this was intended as having any meaning, but I see "Job Creation" with a number 9 next to it. In an AP story found in the Boston Globe (h/t Ted Nesi) (wouldn't that be great if we didn't have to find Providence news in the Boston Globe?), "Economy" is mentioned after "Budget Deficit", "Taxes", "Municipal Pensions", and ahead of "Education", "Nursing School" and "Civil Unions."

To me, this is proof that people just don't get it. Look at all of those things except for civil unions. Every single one of those is budgetary and financial. They all have to do with money in one direction or the other. The number one, biggest, most important thing this General Assembly can do for the next six months is to focus on one thing. Build an environment in Rhode Island that promotes job creation. All of those other issues mentioned get easier when you have people working and paying their income taxes.

The Assembly needs to create an environment that continues to build on the national buzz that Rhode Island is getting. Some can debate whether it is deserved, but Rhode Island is getting a lot of national attention from the media for the pension reform that just passed. What happens then is business owners will look at that and start to put a bug in their head about whether Rhode Island will be a good move for them. So they'll investigate further. What's the business climate like?

If this General Assembly can build on the buzz by creating more national attention through creating a better atmosphere for business, it will only accelerate the state's recovery. And this is a problem that the General Assembly can fix, if they choose to. How else can anyone explain why all of RI's neighboring states have a much lower unemployment rate? Look at this graph.

The Assembly members all have their own pet projects they want to work on and we do have some big issues that need to be addressed. However, if this downward spiral of people leaving and jobs leaving the state is not reversed and reversed now, then changes need to be made in leadership. When Assembly candidates come knocking on our doors in the fall, we should be asking them one question only, "What did you do to create an environment for jobs for Rhode Island?"

I'd ask them all today, on their first day back to work. What are you going to do, today, to create a climate for job growth in Rhode Island? I'm listening.

Big Finance Likes Totalitarianism, but Democracy Requires Hard Lessons

Justin Katz

I'll admit that I don't have much new to say about the continuing activities of the state-appointed budget commission now ruling East Providence:

The state-appointed budget commission overseeing the city's finances convened for the first time Wednesday, chose Michael O'Keefe, a former state budget director, as its president, and established its first priority: improving the city’s cash flow.

Essentially, that means debt; the city needs $10 million in tax anticipation notes, and the lowering of its rating to "junk" will make that "more difficult and expensive," as O'Keefe puts it. It all comes back to government debt and charming investors. We've discussed previously that the municipal takeovers are meant as "a statement to Wall Street," and the point merits continued emphasis. What Wall Street likes about state-imposed budget commissions is that they open the door to options that might benefit civic units as economic entities, but not necessarily as self-determinant civil societies. The state can take money from other parts of the state to hand to struggling cities and towns; it can impose taxes on local residents without fearing democratic reaction; it can change policies and, ultimately, contracts to address shortfalls.

At bottom, the problem is that the way in which the state determines a preferred mix of these solutions will depend on the influences on it. That means not only special interests, like organized labor, but also the general priorities of the class of people who occupy the state's bureaucracy and elected positions. The people who actually live in a city or town are not likely to rate very highly, and voters in other cities and towns are not likely to pay all that much attention.

I'd suggest that a healthier solution — in the long term, and with an eye toward effective democracy — would be to let a city or town run out of money. Let it reach the point at which it cannot provide services or pay employees. Or, alternately, that it must raise taxes and impose fees almost immediately. If we're to be a self-governing people, we have to experience, together, the consequences of incompetent leaders and bad decisions.

Of course, if people start learning such lessons on the small, local scale, they might begin applying them at the state and national levels. And we couldn't have that, now could we?

January 2, 2012

Bending the Truth in Cicilline's Favor

Justin Katz

In an illustration of how its methods can serve the politicians that the editors like — covering their fundamental dishonesty with a focus on minutia — PolitiFact Rhode Island has given David Cicilline a "half true" for this:

"Earlier this week, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives -- with the enthusiastic support of Sarah Palin, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and the Tea Partiers -- once again turned their backs on the 14 million unemployed Americans in our country," the letter says, "and instead chose to focus their efforts on expanding the rights of sex offenders, terrorists, child predators, and abusers to carry concealed weapons across state lines."

Reporter Lynn Arditi admits that the part about "choosing to focus their efforts" on these outcomes is completely false. That means that the specifics — on whether the bill would incidentally expand the rights of suspect citizens — must be graded on a curve to split truth down the middle, because she finds that only in some of those cases is there any evidence that Cicilline might have a point.

But the whole exercise of searching for examples of people to whom Cicilline's labels might apply is ridiculous. Under "domestic abusers," for example, Arditi finds a Pennsylvania case in which a killer had a legal handgun after a restraining order had previously been imposed and then withdrawn. It may seem like splitting hairs, but inasmuch as that is precisely what Cicilline's evidence does, one has to ask: Is it appropriate to say that the man was, in a legal sense, an "abuser" before he was a murderer? Ought every man against whom a woman requests and then withdraws a restraining order be considered a perpetrator of domestic abuse? (It's funny, by the way, how liberals' perspective would change were it a question of allowing voting rights.)

And so it goes. When it comes to abusers, predators, and sex offenders, Cicilline points out states with laws that don't count a particular conviction as sufficiently criminal to deny a concealed carry permit. In New Hampshire, for example, "an adult who lures a child into engaging in sex for pornography" is charged with a misdemeanor, which doesn't affect his or her gun rights. (That's Arditi's paraphrase of the law. I'm not sure what "luring" the child technically entails, although it's sure to be despicable, whatever its limits.) For the purposes of the PolitiFact analysis, in other words, the person would be a child predator by Rhode Island standards, New Hampshire would still grant a concealed carry permit, so a federal law allowing such permits to apply across state lines would expand the rights of a child predator.

But when it comes to the "terrorist" label, Cicilline points to Kentucky, which brands a misdemeanor charge of "terroristic threatening" on somebody who (in Arditi's words) "threaten[s] to seriously injure someone or to cause substantial property damage." Cicilline's logic, in this case, is that Kentucky might arguably call somebody a terrorist, whether or not the same definition would apply in Rhode Island, and still grant him or her a concealed carry permit. In other words, he's tilted his logical table always to roll a point in his favor.

Whatever one thinks of the issue (or politician) in question, this "half true" shows precisely why the entire PolitiFact project ought to be dismissed and abandoned. By presenting heated political rhetoric as subject to methodical analysis, the writers gloss over the very thing that makes it insidious. Most unfair accusations have some kernels of truth underlying them; that's what makes them harmful. It's the dishonesty layered on top that causes the problems and deserves the moral objection, and in PolitiFact's analysis that is a secondary consideration... at least when the editors want it to be.

History Bits

Marc Comtois

Here are a few historical items I've come across that piqued my interest (but not enough to devote a whole post).

In the wake of "tree gate" and all the Roger Williams talk, wouldn't you know a new book is out about him? Read an excerpt, an interview with the author and a review.

This piece from 2010 by Scott McKay on "Fighting" Bob Quinn is worth reading for those who'd like more insight into Rhode Island political history and (the legacy we still live with!).

On a lighter note: If, like me, a lot of your early reading was done via the pages of comic books, you may recall Classics Illustrated. Now they're online. If you like Fighting Bob Quinn, you'll love Fightin' Abe Lincoln!

More seriously, "Why Irish soldiers who fought Hitler hide their medals" was one of those items that had me shaking my head. In the wake of gaining their independence, I understood how the Irish continued to loathe Great Britain and that this led to Ireland being neutral during WWII. I didn't know they treated the returning war veterans (albeit technically they were "deserters") like pariahs.

Finally, I recently re-read Bernard Bailyn's To Begin the World Anew, a book of essays (it's short) concerning the American founding. I highly recommend--a good library pick. Here's the introductory essay (in a slightly different form than that found in the book).

In the most general sense, what stimulated the Founders' imagination and hence their capacity to begin the world anew was the fact that they came from outside the metropolitan establishment, with all its age-old, deeply buried, arcane entanglements and commitments. From their distant vantage point they viewed what they could see of the dominant order with a cool, critical, challenging eye, and what they saw was something atrophied, weighted down by its own complacent, self-indulgent elaboration, and vulnerable to the force of fresh energies and imaginative designs. Refusing to be intimidated by the received traditions and confident of their own integrity and creative capacities, they demanded to know why things must be the way they are; and they had the imagination, energy, and moral stature to conceive of something closer to the grain of everyday reality, and more likely to lead to human happiness.

Providence's First Babies

Justin Katz

Yes, Providence Mayor Angel Tavarares is, by all evidence, a straighter shooter than his predecessors, and he's more willing than Rhode Island's political average to make difficult decisions. Still, he shouldn't get a pass for this:

Congratulations to Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and his partner, Farah Escamilla. Their new baby girl arrived early this morning, just a few hours after her due date. ...

Taveras has steadily dodged reporters' questions about whether he plans to marry girlfriend Escamilla, a legal assistant in Providence.

Certainly, the mayor has the means and the background to mitigate the detriment to his child of being born and raise out of wedlock, but that is not true for many of his constituents, particularly those whom his liberal politics are ostensibly intended to assist. The good example of notable people — role models — could be worth untold sums in public safety net payments.

I note, for example, in what is beginning to feel like the norm, the first baby born in Rhode Island this year appears also to have been born out of wedlock:

Ezekiel may be Dassiel Ferrera's second child, but he's Rhode Island's first for 2012. ...

"I'm excited," said the 25-year-old woman. "I thought he was going to be earlier."

No mention is made of any fathers, husbands, or men at all. I know liberals and libertarians like to believe that the progress of Western Civilization has been built on economic dynamism and evolving enlightenment, but that's simply not the case. As Mark Steyn puts it, "in the end culture trumps economics." The intricate machines of modern government and industry cannot be operated on a floor eaten through with cultural rot.

January 1, 2012

Passing Bills On Their Own Merit?

Patrick Laverty

In Sunday's Nesi's Notes, Ted has a story about Speaker of the House, Gordon Fox trying to make what would actually be a major change in how the House operates. Fox is looking to change an old practice of holding the vast majority of the bills for a floor vote until the final days of the legislative session.

“I strongly believe that if bills, particularly non-budgetary items, are introduced earlier in the session it helps the House of Representatives to vet and consider the information in an orderly manner,” Fox wrote in a Dec. 1 letter to Governor Chafee obtained by WPRI.com. “It also prevents or lessens the chances of bills not being given the due consideration that they deserve before the General Assembly session ends.”
It often seemed in the past that all bills were being held for reasons of political power. Horse trading. When it comes down to some of the bigger bills that need to pass at the end of a session, such as the budget, a Speaker could hold other bills over legislators' heads. It's a way of keeping others in line.

Amazingly, it's looking like Fox is willing to hand over some of this power. What he's risking is letting some legislator's bill come up for a floor vote when it's ready, whether that's in February or May, and not having that carrot to dangle later when the Speaker needs help in getting a bill passed. I believe this is an example of better government that Fox should be given credit for.

Those of us who have watched some of those contentious final nights of the legislative session have seen tempers grow hotter than the inside of the building in late June. We hear calls for debate to be cut off because of things like having been at the State House for ten or more hours that day or it's 2 am and time to go home and everyone's tired. I never seem to have much sympathy for them, they create that problem by holding all the bills to the end. This move by the Speaker seems as though it will lessen that burden and let the legislators have the appropriate amount of time to review the proposals in front of them.

The article has one other point of interest to me that I've had a hard time understanding.

The General Assembly frequently suspended its own rules and violated the state’s open meetings law during the last two weeks of its half-year sessions over the past decade, according to a Common Cause Rhode Island study
I think logically, one could say that they really have no rules if they can simply vote to suspend the rules. That just seems wrong. If you're going to have a rule, keep it in effect at all times. The same with the open meetings rules and with the amount of time that a bill must be posted before it can be voted on.

These actions just seem to lead to mistakes and bad government. One thing they can do to make their rules "real" would be to pass a new law that says the only way to change the rules after they are approved for the current session is by a vote of the electorate. That sets things in stone. Then again, the Assembly could pass a new law that invalidates that one. When you make the rules, technically it's impossible to run afoul of them.

'Gansett as the Sun Rises on Adulthood and Sets on Rhode Island

Justin Katz

A little while back, an editor of a new online magazine, 7STOPS, sent me a link to an essay therein by Adrian Shirk, Providence-resident writer. The piece interweaves the history of Narragansett beer with the sense of rootlessness accompanying college graduation, these days, and the stasis of the state.

While looking for an apartment, I met a landlord who owned half the real estate around Holden Street in Smith Hill. In 1980 he'd moved into the second floor of an old carriage house while studying architecture at RISD and several years later bought the building. "I thought, just give me ten years, and this neighborhood will be booming." So he went forth, purchasing and renovating many of the beautiful, fin-de-siecle governor's homes that took up most of this bucolic road bordering the interstate. Come the early-90s, there still wasn't much interest. "Give me another ten years, I thought." But the early 00s came and went, and here he is today, with a slew of pristine properties, reliable tenants, but none of the enormous shifts he'd watched happen in Boston, New York, and even Baltimore took place. He's beginning to imagine it might always be this way.

That pretty well captures the allure of Rhode Island — that intangible promise that everybody refers to as "quality of life," even as they battle just to make ends meet. Any year, any decade, the world will see what the entranced resident sees and the state will blossom. Eventually, we conclude, as Shirk's landlord does, that the world does see it; most people just calculate their interests before arrival and note that the visibles aren't worth the costs in opportunity and freedom. Nothing will change until that does.

Perhaps that sentiment explains why I'm so intrigued by a word choice, upon Shirk's arrival in the city, that strikes me as most likely a misfire of the thesaurus:

There were no street signs, grids, and almost no passers-by to ask directions, leaving me hot and agitated and wondering how such an apocryphal city could have been so poorly planned.

There is no reason that something apocryphal ought to be conspicuously well planned; indeed, one would expect apocrypha to tend toward the other direction. But it's apt, nonetheless. Providence is a city, and Rhode Island a state, that doesn't have the import that it appears to have. None can deny that they're of significant historical origin, as can also be said of non-canonical biblical texts, but whether the're infused with the spirit of life progressing toward a better future — guided along by the unseen hand of Deeper Meaning — is a matter of perennial doubt.

Jim "Color Me Unimpressed" Baron On The Iowa Caucuses

Monique Chartier

The views expressed by Mr. James Baron in tomorrow's Pawtucket Times - about both caucuses and pig farmers - are not necessarily shared by yours truly.

• Finally, the Iowa caucuses are tomorrow. How did it come to be that a bunch of pig farmers who apparently spend every fourth year sitting around in coffee shops with their hats and coats on waiting for longshot presidential candidates to shake their hands get to cull the field for the leader of the free world?

Happy New Year!

Marc Comtois

Feel free to post your 2012 wishes, resolutions, hopes, dreams, lottery numbers and general thoughts in the comments. Here's hoping 2012 is a good one!