July 31, 2012

The Facts Don’t Lie on Taxpayer Migration

Justin Katz

What makes politics and policy fun is that people of good will and honest intentions can disagree and strive to change each other’s mind. Starting from one’s essential worldview, myriad stages of decisions must be made without the possibility of complete information — that is, subjectively — so persuading and being persuaded are distinct possibilities.

We can agree, for example, that we have a moral duty to help those who suffer and struggle among us. Whether government power is the appropriate tool to answer that moral call is a matter on which good people can differ (let alone the wisdom of specific programs).

What makes politics and policy frustrating is that, whether from selfish interests or personal investment in flawed ideas, participants often try to distort data points as if they are another layer of subjectivity. If public discourse and representative democracy are to function, there must at some point be a backstop of shared acceptance of facts.

A fact that I raised in a paper written with J. Scott Moody for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is that federal income-tax payers have been leaving Rhode Island consistently for a decade, taking with them the accumulated equivalent of more than $1 billion in annual resident income.

Continue reading on GoLocalProv...

July 30, 2012

What Is Math For? Well, What Is Public Education For?

Justin Katz

For a quick diversion from the immediately relevant tasks of quantifying legislator votes and charting the ebbs and flows of Rhode Island civilization, I can't resist commenting on Andrew Hacker's New York Times question, "Is Algebra Necessary?":

My question extends beyond algebra and applies more broadly to the usual mathematics sequence, from geometry through calculus. State regents and legislators — and much of the public — take it as self-evident that every young person should be made to master polynomial functions and parametric equations.

There are many defenses of algebra and the virtue of learning it. Most of them sound reasonable on first hearing; many of them I once accepted. But the more I examine them, the clearer it seems that they are largely or wholly wrong — unsupported by research or evidence, or based on wishful logic. (I’m not talking about quantitative skills, critical for informed citizenship and personal finance, but a very different ballgame.)

My experience was somewhat like that of Glenn Reynolds: I was good at math but didn't become a fan until I began putting it into practice. That practice rolled out in many different phases: Music, for one, is built on mathematical concepts; analyzing public policy as a hobby in my mid-20s lent a new relevance to calculations and proofs; but the visceral love of math only came when all of my preferred career paths came to a dead end of unemployment.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

This Is How It's Done In The RI Senate

Patrick Laverty

We hear people talking about "throw 'em all out" and actually, I'm ok with throwing out the good with the bad, because we have so many more of the bad. But it's interesting when you can actually see first-hand just how bad it can be and the odds that are stacked against those that are trying to do some good up on Smith Hill.

I saw this video link come across my Twitter feed this morning and thought it'd be interesting to check out. It's from the second to last day of the 2011 RI Senate session when the issue of binding arbitration for teachers popped up on the floor for a vote around 10:30 pm. It went into committee, got amended, got out of committee, got amended some more and was ready to be voted on by the full body of the Senate. This is where Senator Beth Moura (R-Cumberland/Lincoln) steps up and simply asks to give this bill 24 hours so local mayors and town councils (not to even mention taxpayers) could see it and offer their thoughts back to their Senators, as that's who would have to live by it.

Immediately, Senator Maryellen Goodwin (D-Providence), the Majority Whip gets into the fray to defend the bill. Her defense is that the Senate is already aware that the mayors and town councils don't want this bill to pass, so it's pointless to wait 24 hours.

Really? That seems logical? You know you're doing something that your constituents don't want, so it makes sense to go forward and vote on it anyway? Plus, it's always interesting to hear the whining and complaining about needing to move legislation simply because it's late at night. I have an idea for you people, adjourn and come back tomorrow if you don't want to be there late into the night!

And what is with the comment, "I know you're a freshman..."? It's as if Goodwin is talking down to Moura. It seems like she's saying, "Aren't you so cute trying to do this, but we don't let things like that happen. Thanks for trying to play with the adults, now go back to the childrens' table."

One last point here. How do the citizens of Rhode Island deal with this behavior and react to the efforts of both of these senators? Goodwin is running unopposed for her seat while Moura has three others seeking hers. Gotta love Rhode Island politics.

July 28, 2012

Against Borrowing in Providence or Anywhere

Justin Katz

In his Saturday column, Ted Nesi makes a point that I'd been thinking about as the week came to a close, related to a proposed $40 million infrastructure bond in Providence:

Governments should borrow to fund long-term infrastructure projects that have a higher rate of return than the interest on the bonds, but [in Providence's past] bond money was used to pay a principal’s salary and develop a restaurant. Buddy Cianci, apparently confusing borrowed money with free money, told Stycos: “This way, we can make the improvements and the tax rate doesn’t go up.” Cianci left off the crucial word “now” — because the tax rate certainly will go up eventually if the projects aren’t ones that will boost the city economy and help offset the interest costs. Taveras would do well to burnish his reformer credentials further by finding a new, transparent way to allocate bond money if voters approve the proposal in November.

In theory, Ted's argument definitely applies. One clarification I would make, first, is that one can't forget the actual cost of the work. The "higher rate of return," as Ted puts it, can offset the interest, but one suspects that new streets and sidewalks will require replacement well before their incremental benefit has compensated for the whole $40 million plus interest.

That said, suppose an accurate projection finds that improved pavement would increase city revenue — through increased commerce, property values, and so on — by three percent. In such a case, even if the interest paid on the bonds were exactly the same, the city might as well borrow the money rather than save it up over the same period of time and then do the work. Residents and visitors would gain the benefit of tomorrow's new sidewalks, today.

There are good reasons to resist that argument, both in practical and in theoretical terms.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

(Note: edited at 7:48 a.m., 7/30/2012, to clarify that the bond is for roads and sidewalks.)

July 27, 2012

The Context of the President's Context

Justin Katz

It's intriguing to observe the telescoping nature of the "context" to which folks are referring when discussing President Obama's infamous Friday the 13th Roanoake speech. The damning two sentences continue to be:

If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

The inferred meaning is that somebody else should get credit for the business that you built. The president's defenders introduce the entire paragraph and the next, arguing that the context shows Obama's statement to have been that business owners didn't build the infrastructure on which their businesses rely:
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

The critics expand the text in the opposite direction, to the paragraph before, arguing that the context is, if anything, worse than the gaffe, mainly because of the preachy, scornful tone:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

At this point, as I've argued (and continue to believe), the president's defenders are probably correct on the grammatical point of the key sentence, but his detractors have the better case on the context. In response, a liberal commenter on Anchor Rising criticized me for not including the whole speech. And happy, as ever, to comply, I took a closer look and did indeed come to a striking conclusion: Obama's context is even worse than I'd thought.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

July 26, 2012

Talking Teen Unemployment and the Minimum Wage on the Dan Yorke Show

Justin Katz

630AM/99.7FM WPRO has posted my appearance on the Dan Yorke show, Tuesday, in two segments. The first is the initial half hour introducing the research from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity and touching on some conclusions. For the second hour, Economic Development Corp. board member and VIBCO President Karl Wadensten joined us in the studio for a broader discussion.

Can You Oppose Something Without Opposing It?

Patrick Laverty
“David (Cicilline) strongly opposes the Citizens United decision and has cosponsored the House version of the DISCLOSE Act,”
But yet when the Doherty camp calls on him to return all PAC money, after Cicilline chided Doherty for taking PAC money, Cicilline refuses.

Ted Nesi wrote the article yesterday about the latest skirmish in the First Congressional District race. Cicilline was upset with Doherty for accepting a $10,000 PAC donation but when Doherty offered to return it, in exchange for Cicilline returning all his PAC money, Cicilline refused.

How can you be opposed to the Citizens' United decision but still be willing to accept the money that the it allowed? Or more specifically, how can you attack your opponent for accepting the exact same kinds of campaign donations that you yourself are accepting? This sure reeks of hypocrisy and a double-standard and sounds like yet another example of Cicilline telling us one thing and doing another.

In the Nesi article, Cicilline spokeswoman Nicole Kayner offered:

“Brendan Doherty is benefiting from Citizens United"
Ok, but if Cicilline is going to accept and keep PAC money, isn't he benefiting as well? Maybe she has a point if Doherty is accepting so much more PAC money that Cicilline just can't keep up. That'd clearly be an advantage for Doherty, right?
Federal Election Commission records show Cicilline has collected $388,256 from PACs and other non-party groups, four times more than Doherty, who has gotten $92,000.
Hmm, so that's not it either. Cicilline comes out ahead there too.

So what's the issue then? Trying to grab the slightest sound bite in the media and get something to stick. Trying to fool voters with something equivalent to, "Doherty takes shady PAC money! Hey, look over here, a bright shiny object!" Really? How about instead, the campaigns focus on the issues. Let's instead hear what Anthony Gemma plans to do to create those 10,000 jobs for Rhode Islanders. Let's hear how Doherty will work with others in Washington, as a part of the House majority to best serve Rhode Islanders. And while we're at it, let's hear from Congressman Cicilline about all the great things he's done for Rhode Islanders over the last two years. Maybe things like "co-sponsorship of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin Act."

Thanks Congressman!

July 25, 2012

Temporary Means Temporary

Patrick Laverty

While watching the 11 pm news tonight on Channel 10, I saw a story about the 67 former employees of the Department of Labor and Training (DLT) protesting their layoff.

I get it, layoffs are bad, I wish everyone who wants a job could be employed. I also get what they're saying about the irony of them being laid off because they were the ones who helped the unemployed receive benefits and search for a new job. Rhode Island has such a high unemployment rate that this probably isn't the department that we should be cutting. So why aren't we keeping these people on staff?

Department spokeswoman Laura Hart said most of the positions were always expected to be temporary because they were funded by now-exhausted federal stimulus dollars.
Isn't this exactly what some were asking when the federal stimulus money became available? What happens when that money dries up? No one ever gave a straight answer there. Well now we all know what some suspected. When the money is gone, the jobs are gone. Why is this hard to understand? Also, when you take a job on a temporary basis, you go into it knowing there's a likelihood that you will be laid off at the end of that temporary period. I see jobs listed all the time for a "10 month contract" or something similar. When that ten months is up, there's a good chance that you're going to be unemployed again.

It might be interesting to see what has happened to every position in the state that was hired with temporary stimulus money. Are they still employed? Is the federal government still picking up the tab or did it switch over to being state-funded?

Along the same lines, this was a tough call for some governors. A few, including Bobby Jindal in Louisiana refused the stimulus money for unemployment benefits because he also saw this sort of situation coming and knew it would simply add to his state's burden.

“The federal money in this bill will run out in less than three years for this benefit and our businesses would then be stuck paying the bill,” Jindal said. “We must be careful and thoughtful as we examine all the strings attached to the funding in this package. We cannot grow government in an unsustainable way.”
And some in Rhode Island wonder why we're ranked last in so many economic rankings? If an organization decides to rank states based on unsustainability, I'd expect Rhode Island to finally show up right near the top.

Duct Tape Time: Woonsocket School Committee Dumps Chair For "dwelling on financial matters"

Monique Chartier

When he was about to share a particularly outrageous or egregious item, Glenn Beck used to admonish his listeners to wrap their heads in duct tape so that clean up would be easier when their heads exploded upon hearing the item. The Valley Breeze's Sandy Phaneuf should have provided a similar preface to her just breaking story.

They had to change their bylaws to do it, but in a 3 to 2 vote Wednesday night, the Woonsocket School Committee ousted Chair Anita McGuire-Forcier and elected former Vice Chair Vimala Phongsavanh to the position. ...

Although there was little discussion on Wednesday as plan received second passage, Donlon, who sponsored both resolutions, has said he felt McGuire-Forcier was "dwelling on financial matters rather than working on items pertaining to education."

We'll limit our review of the Woonsocket School Committee's financial "history" to two items, one macro and one instructive as to mentality.

Macro. This is the School Committee which claimed to be shocked and clueless when their education budget went from a small surplus to a $10 million deficit for two years almost overnight, taking down the city's bond rating and quite possibly the entire city in the process. Are we seriously supposed to believe that too much "dwelling on financial matters" precipitated this budgetary catastrophe?

Instructive. As recently as two months ago, a majority - the same members who just voted to replace the chair because she was "dwelling on financial matters" - of this School Committee refused to even discuss the option of asking retirees to accept the same health care coverage as current employees. Now, due in part to the shirking and incompetence of the School Committee, retirees (and employees) are facing the unilateral imposition of "significant cuts to healthcare and benefits" that might well have retirees longing for the healthcare option that the School Committee refused to consider. Again, this would constitute avoiding rather than "dwelling on" financial matters.

Quite simply, if financial matters are not tended, there is no education system to work on. Far from dwelling excessively on financial matters, the Woonsocket School Committee has a solid track record, in recent years, of FAILING to dwell on financial matters with the corresponding, recurring detrimental results. Tonight's vote is a continuation of this irresponsible and destructive head-in-the-sand approach.

If the state continues to decline to take over Woonsocket's school system, it should take the minimal step of replacing the current School Committee members with cardboard cut-outs. Such a composition would achieve the same results as the current school committee (majority) membership while relieving the good people of Woonsocket of any pretence that something is being accomplished at School Committee meetings.

Scott Brown Says It Best

Patrick Laverty

Yes, this is a US Senator from Massachusetts, but I don't think anyone could explain it better. In case you haven't seen this statement from Scott Brown yet, it's moving.

Mancession Recovery... Sexist!

Justin Katz

In a strong indication that, among journalistic practitioners, the biased media narrative is more a matter of intellectual laziness than cultural duplicity, the latest canned story, by Los Angeles Times reporter Don Lee, is that workplace discrimination is landing men the great majority of "newly created" jobs:

Since the recession ended in June 2009, men have landed 80% of the 2.6 million net jobs created, including 61% in the last year. ...

The gender gap has raised concerns about possible discrimination in hiring. If the trend persists, it could set back gains made by women in the workplace, experts said.

"It's hard to know [whether] some employers place a priority on men going back to work," said Joan Entmacher, vice president for Family Economic Security at the National Women's Law Center. Of particular concern, she said: Opportunities for women in higher-paying fields such as manufacturing are shrinking.

But back in February 2009, even the New York Times had to acknowledge the reality of the male-dominated recession, or "mancession":
The proportion of women who are working has changed very little since the recession started. But a full 82 percent of the job losses have befallen men, who are heavily represented in distressed industries like manufacturing and construction. Women tend to be employed in areas like education and health care, which are less sensitive to economic ups and downs, and in jobs that allow more time for child care and other domestic work.

Of course, Times reporter Catherine Rampell saw the silver lining as women's approaching men's percentage of the workforce. A conservative can't help but think of Margaret Thatcher's criticism of socialists, that they'd be happier to have everybody equally poor than wealthy over wide spectrum.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

July 24, 2012

Chronology of a Chastened Politician

Justin Katz

Here's President Obama, speaking in Roanoke, Virginia, on Friday, July 13:

I'm always struck by people who think, "Well, it must be because I was just so smart." There are a lot of smart people out there! "It must be because I worked harder than everybody else." Let me tell you something: There are a whole bunch of hard workin' people out there!

And here's President Obama, speaking in California, on Monday, July 23:
I believe with all my heart that it is the drive and the ingenuity of Americans who start businesses that lead to their success. I always have and I always will. The ability for somebody who’s willing to work hard, put in their sweat and their sacrifice to turn their idea into a profitable business, that’s the nature of America.

Trying to combine the two statements into a coherent perspective leaves me tempted to suggest that the missing part of the first speech was that the whole bunch of smart, hard-working people who whom the president at first referred must have lacked drive and ingenuity.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

106 Plays Right Into Their Hands

Patrick Laverty

When you're budgeting for a school department, there are a lot of moving pieces. Of course you wish you had money to fund everything really well, but that's not the case. Choices need to be made and sometimes cuts are necessary. But where those cuts should come from is often the topic for debate. We've seen multiple times recently when school departments are using the Washington Monument Syndrome:

The most visible and most appreciated service that is provided by that entity is the first to be put on the chopping block.
In our local examples, the school department cuts school sports. We saw that a few months back when West Warwick cut high school sports which led to hundreds of people showing up to a Town Council meeting and some even getting so agitated, they had to be removed by the police. Of course after all the gnashing of teeth, the money was found and sports were replaced.

Now there's a group in East Providence calling themselves Project 106 that seeks to fund middle school sports in the town. First of all, I've lived in a handful of states and I've never heard of middle school sports before. Usually kids participate in CYO basketball, Little League or Pop Warner Football and the like. Rhode Island seems to have this big devotion to middle school sports. Additionally, quite often these groups won't be so quick to offer up that they're looking to save middle school sports, instead leaving it up to the listener to sometimes assume it's high school sports that are under attack.

Nevertheless, it must be pretty nice to get the heat taken off you as a school board member. You can negotiate these escalating contracts and pay more to areas that don't directly affect the students and cut things that do, like sports. No big deal because some nice group, like Project 106 will step right in and raise money for the sports. The same sports that were already being paid for through taxes!

It's great that these parents want to find a way to fund after-school sports, but why are they letting the administrators off the hook so easily? Why was the money available last year but not this year? Keep their feet to the fire, let them know that you're watching and paying attention. It'd be nice if parents were as keenly aware of all school budget decisions and expenditures, but we'll start here. Once the administrators see that they can cut sports and parents will replenish those funds, what's next? Books? Busing? Supplies? Electricity? Heat? Why not? After all, isn't heating the school even more important than sports? If parents will pay a little more for sports, won't they do the same to keep the lights on?

How Whitehouse Serves Rhode Islanders

Marc Comtois

WPRI uncovered a 2009 speech made by Republican Senate Candidate Barry Hinckley in which he told the audience that running for political office will also garner "tons of free PR" for your business. In reaction, Tony Simon, the campaign manager for Hinckley's opponent, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse sought to make a distinction between his boss and Hinckley, telling WPRI, "Sheldon has always seen public office as a way to serve Rhode Islanders...That's the only motivation he's ever needed."

Indeed. Remember that news from last fall about Senator Whitehouse and his incredibly fortuitous trading record? It was explained in Throw Them All Out by Peter Schweizer.

In May 2007, a government agency called the Federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services was looking at two drugs that were used to treat anemia in cancer patients. The agency had to decide: Did Johnson & Johnson’s Procrit and Amgen’s Aranesp warrant reimbursement under Medicare? Johnson & Johnson was a large, diversified company with lots of products, so rejection of its drug would not be critical. But for Amgen, losing Medicare reimbursement would be a disaster. The drug was commonly given to elderly cancer patients, many of whom could afford it only under Medicare.

Indeed, when the word went out that the government might end the reimbursements, Amgen shares plunged.... But at least one investor avoided those losses with two nearly perfectly timed trades. On May 4, the [Senator John Kerry & his wife] sold between $250,000 and $500,000 in Amgen stock. Three days later, they sold the balance of their stock in the company, another $250,000 to $500,000, when it closed at $63.76 per share. If they had waited two weeks, these sales would have been worth between $50,000 and $100,000 less, because on May 15 it was publicly announced that Medicare would sharply limit reimbursements for treatment with Aranesp. The price dropped to $54.01, or down 15%.

Joining Senator Kerry in dumping Amgen shares just in time were two senators who sat on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which did not have direct oversight of Medicare but was involved in health and pharmaceutical policies in general. Senators Johnny Isakson and Sheldon Whitehouse both sold between $15,000 and $50,000 worth of Amgen stock on the same day, May 9, also avoiding large losses. Did Senator Kerry know the news was coming? Did Senators Isakson and Whitehouse know anything? We cannot be sure. If they had worked in the private sector, their access and timing would almost certainly have demanded an SEC investigation. Short of sworn testimony, we cannot rule out that they simply guessed right, or were lucky. Even in the private sector, they might not be proven guilty. But the timing seems far too good to be true. {p.13,15 Throw Them All Out }

Amgen has a considerable presence in Rhode Island and employs many Rhode Islanders. One wonders if, given any information he may or may not have had concerning the pending FDA ruling, how strenuously Senator Whitehouse championed approval for Amgen's drug, since so many Rhode Islanders would have been better served if it was approved. Well, at least he was lucky enough to divest himself of the sinking shares of a Rhode Island business (and--presumably--turn a profit, too).

He was also pretty lucky in 2008. You remember that time, when the financial services market died?

On Tuesday, September 16, 2008, when Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke held another of their terrifying closed-door meetings with congressional leaders…the stock market had dipped only a few percentage points, and most people assumed that the financial crisis was a disruption that would have just a limited effect on the broader economy. But what Paulson and Bernanke told lawmakers on September 16 made it clear that the public’s perception was wrong. Paulson, in his memoir, explains that during the meeting he outlined that the federal government was going to bail out the insurance giant AIG and that the markets were in deep trouble. “There was an almost surreal quality to the meeting,” he recounts. “The stunned lawmakers looked at us as if not quite believing what they were hearing.”

The next day, Congressman Jim Moran, Democrat of Virginina, a member of the Appropriations Committee, dumped his shares in ninety different companies….Moran was just one of many. At least ten U.S. senators, including John Kerry, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Dick Durbin, traded stock or mutual funds related to the financial industry the following day. {p.32-33, Throw Them All Out }

As the Providence Journal reported:
Over nine days in September 2008, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse reported stock sales totaling as much as $1.15 million in an apparent effort to shield his investments from what soon proved a historic decline in the financial markets....Whitehouse says he does not remember the transactions because "I virtually never have a conversation" with the financial adviser who made trades on his behalf. In an interview with The Providence Journal's John E. Mulligan, he called Schweizer's premise "completely bogus," adding: "I did not trade on any insider information."
See, he was just lucky. Twice (at least). Nonetheless, he's technically correct. As a Rhode Islander, Senator Whitehouse has surely served himself well.

July 23, 2012

Generations Adrift Without the Habits of Working

Justin Katz

One hears anecdotes, from time to time, about young adults who simply do not understand the habits associated with holding a job. Punctuality, an understanding that sometimes tedious or undesirable activities are necessary, and an appreciation of the relationship between consumer and vendor are all examples. Giving young adults the opportunity to learn such principles first-hand is almost as critical as giving them experience with the occupational value of money.

A new paper that I've penned for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity takes a look at teenage unemployment, with a particular eye on the minimum wage. The upshot is a collapse of employment among the young, especially in locations, like Rhode Island, that can least afford to lose the enterprising inclination in a generation of its residents.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Thirty-One Legislators' Pay Does Not a Turnaround Beget

Justin Katz

The latest political news meme in Rhode Island has been the public declaration of 31 General Assembly legislators that they intend to forgo their scheduled salary increases:

Starting this month, the annual salary for most members of the part-time state legislature rises from $14,185.96 to $14,639.90. The salaries for House Speaker Gordon D. Fox and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, who make twice as much as other lawmakers, went from $28,371.92 to $29,279.80.

Neither Fox nor Paiva Weed is on the "no raise" list, meaning that the election-year move will save the state all of $14,072 on its $8,099,856,384 (that is, 0.000174%).

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

July 22, 2012

One Legislator's Pay Raise = A Mini Legislative Grant Program?

Monique Chartier

For those possibly unfamiliar with it, the Legislative Grant program is a tax dollar slush fund controlled by General Assembly leadership from which tax dollars are distributed solely by and at the discretion of leadership to benefit those legislators who have been, in the eyes of leadership, good legislative Do-Bees.

We need to clarify that being a "good Do-Bee" in this case does not mean voting in the best interest of the legislator's district and the state overall. It means voting as leadership wishes. Those who wonder how much the two overlap only have to look at the current condition of the state to realize that, for decades, the best interest of the state has not had too much to do with the best interest of the G.A. leadership.

The beneficiary legislator invariably requests that said grant be distributed to an organization or charity in his or her district. The legislator often personally and publicly delivers the check - to reiterate, drawn on the taxpayers' checkbook - to the recipient organization. This, of course, makes that legislator look good and helps him/her at re-election time. (Click here for a good article by GoLocalProv about Legislative Grants and who gets them.)

So what does this have to do with legislators' recent 3.2% [corrected] pay raise? As you probably heard, many legislators are declining the raise, correctly perceiving that, though it is a comparatively small amount in the state budget, the concept itself is quite inappropriate for a number of reasons, most of them relating to the condition of the state's economy.

Some legislators, however, are not actually declining the raise but are accepting it and "disposing" of it on their own initiative. And this is where we start to creep into questionable territory.

Of these legislators, some are donating their raise to charity. This is probably fine if the legislator does not realize that s/he can simply decline the raise. However, the cynical among us would ask, will the legislator then take a tax write-off? If so, doesn't that ultimately accomplish the same thing as a raise - and still at taxpayer expense?

Then we come to what Rep Lisa Baldelli-Hunt intends to do with her raise. And that's when we cross from questionable to promotional.

From her press release of July 13 :

Rep. Lisa Baldelli Hunt plans to donate the 3.2-percent raise she will get as a legislator this year to local organizations and charities, she has announced. ...

That increase this year was 3.2 percent, which amounts to $453.95 that the representative will be divvying up among worthy organizations in her district.

She hasn’t yet decided exactly where she will donate the money, but said she will choose groups based on where she thinks the need is greatest and where the money will do the most good.

“We’re getting this raise because the cost of living has gone up, and that’s causing a lot of hardship in my community, where costs are rising but income isn’t for most people. I think the best thing to do with this money is to pass it on to organizations that help the people in my district and city,” said Representative Baldelli Hunt (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket)."

So now we return to the title of this post: other than cutting out leadership, how exactly does this differ from a Legislative Grant disbursement?

Let's be clear. Legislators are perfectly within their right to accept or decline or dispose of their raise as they see fit. At the same time, a legislator in that third category does not deserve the applause that we give to legislators who decline the raise outright if his or her chosen method of "disposal" bears a striking resemblance to an existing sleazy practice on Smith Hill.

July 21, 2012

Iowahawk: "DNC Scientists Disprove Existence of Roberts' Taxon"

Monique Chartier

Abject apologies for utilizing whole cloth Iowahawk's own title for the title of this post. But it perfectly conveys the substance of his brilliant ... er, "announcement" of a couple of weeks ago. ("Brilliant" in part because, like the mechanics of the recent discovery of the Higgs Boson, I don't fully understand it.)

WASHINGTON DC - Jubilant scientists at the DNC's High Speed Word Collider (HSWC) announced today they have conclusively disproven the existence of Roberts' Taxon, the theoretical radioactive Facton particle that some had worried would lead to the implosion of the entire Universal Health Care System.

"I think it's time to pop the champagne corks," said HSWC Director David Plouffe. "Then blaze some choom."

The landmark experiment in Quantum Rhetoric began early this week after legal particle cosmologist John Roberts published a paper in the Quarterly Journal of Tortured Logic that solved the long-debated Pelosi's Paradox in Universal Health Care Theory.

"Pelosi's Paradox states that in order to find out what is in a health care bill, it would have to be passed," explained physicist Steven Hawking. "But in order to be a law it would have to be constitutional, which means someone would have to know what was in it, which would mean it couldn't have been a bill in the first place. Think of Schroedinger's Cat, except with a lobotomy."

To solve the paradox, Roberts proposed the existence of the Taxon - an ephemeral, mysterious facton particle that in theory would allow the Universal Health System to be constitutional, without directly observing what was in it. DNC scientists at first cheered Roberts' findings, but it soon came apparent that it opened an even deadlier dilemma. ...


H/T American Thinker's Thomas Lifson, who terms it

another breathtaking double bank shot, finding what might be humor's god particle in the Chief Justice's ObamaCare decision.

July 20, 2012

Unemployment Down... and That's Not Good

Justin Katz

From a Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training press release titled, "Unemployment Rate Drops to 10.9 Percent":

The RI Department of Labor and Training announced today that the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for June 2012 dropped to 10.9 percent, down one-tenth of a percentage point from the May 2012 rate. This represents the second consecutive monthly decrease in the unemployment rate and is the lowest RI rate since January 2012 (10.9%).

Things must be turning around, then... right? Not at all. A closer look at the month-to-month results, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows 430 fewer Rhode Islanders were working in June. The only reason the unemployment rate fell was that 1,589 fewer Rhode Islanders are even bothering to look for work. (Technically, 1,159 people fewer people were "unemployed," but the 430 who lost their jobs either went straight to "not looking" or were matched one-for-one with previously unemployed who gave up.)

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Mass Residents Now Visit and Spend More at RI Slot Parlors Than Rhode Islanders

Monique Chartier

From GoLocalWorcester.

Mass. residents spent close to $1 billion last year at New England casinos, continuing in a trend of increased spending over the past several years that beat out every other state in the area.

This year was the first time that the Bay State outspent its neighbors, totaling a cool $909 million on gaming and non-gaming amenities at Connecticut's destination resort casinos and at the slot parlors in Rhode Island and Maine.

Massachusetts residents also, for the first time, out-visited and out-spent Rhode Islanders at Rhode Island's two slot parlors --- Twin River and Newport Grand --- by making 2 million visits to those facilities, and spending an estimated $284 million, which is a 7% increase over 2010 spending levels. Mass. generated more than $157.6 million in tax revenues for the Rhode Island state government.

Some immediate reactions:

> As reflected in disposable income, is this yet another indication of the inadequacy of the Rhode Island economy; in this case - a fair comparison - as measured against a neighbor's economy? A related question: is this yet another indication that Massachusetts is pulling out of the recession faster than Rhode Island?

> What are the implications to Rhode Island's slot parlor revenue stream when the Mass casinos come on line? Perhaps a more accurate question would be: how much further will that revenue stream be stunted now that Mass residents outnumber Rhode Islanders at our slot parlors?

July 19, 2012

Rhode Island To Offer Tax Amnesty

Monique Chartier

Governor Chafee's spokeswoman, Christine Hunsinger, confirmed this morning that one of the items in the FY2013 budget was a tax amnesty program. It will run from September 2 to November 15, 2012 and will apply to state taxes including income, sales, use, and unemployment insurance. Note that while monetary penalties and prosecution will be waived (for qualified applicants), interest would still be owed, albeit at a reduced rate.

More details from the CCH division of Wolters Kluwer Law & Business.

The program provides amnesty from penalties and from civil or criminal prosecution for any tax imposed under Rhode Island law and collected by the tax administrator for any taxable period ending on or before Dec. 31, 2011.

Amnesty will be granted only to those taxpayers who apply on or before Nov. 15, who have paid the tax and interest due or who have entered into an installment payment agreement as a result of financial hardship.

Amnesty will not be granted to taxpayers who are under any criminal investigation or are a party to any civil or criminal proceeding pending in federal or Rhode Island court for fraud in relation to any state tax imposed.

As for how to apply, there appears to be nothing yet on the RI Division of Taxation's website; it is early. I left a message with an official at the Division of Taxation asking him how interested taxpayers would get started. When he calls back, I will post an update.


The Division of Taxation has advised that, as the start date of the program approaches, information will be made available on the Division's website for interested applicants.

Like it or Not, Red Team/Blue Team is the American Way

Marc Comtois
I’m tired of playing the same old Democrat versus Republican game. It’s like watching professional sports, only it will seriously impact your life. Our modern political culture has been shaped in such a way that we debate our politics like we root for our favorite football team. Doesn’t matter that the candidate may not share our ideology, it just matters that they’re wearing the right colors. ~ Matt Allen
Let that party [the Jeffersonian Republicans] set up a broomstick, and call it a true son of Liberty, a Democrat, or give it any other epithet that will suit their purpose, and it will command their votes in toto! ~ George Washington

You see, contrary to what Matt Allen wrote, it's not just our "modern political culture", it's simply a basic characteristic of our political culture to have two dominant parties and it's been that way since 1800. What is true is that it's very hard for another "team" to arise under our system. Occasionally a third party has arisen to try to harness the frustration of voters with looser ties to--usually--one of the parties. Such movements were successful early on. After the Federalists were essentially wiped out by the Democrat-Republicans (the Jeffersonian Republicans that Washington refers too who would eventually become the Democratic Party) in 1800, the Whigs eventually arose to contend against the Democrats, though not very successfully. Before the Civil War, a new coalition of Whigs, Abolitionists and Northern Democrats was formed into the Republican party. This new party nominated Abraham Lincoln and the rest, as they say, is history.

There hasn't truly been a successful third party since then.

Teddy Roosevelt formed the Bull Moose party when he knew he wasn't going to be nominated by the Republicans. His party, comprised of progressive Republicans, succeeded in siphoning off enough votes to see Democrat Woodrow Wilson elected President. Ross Perot's movement of independent-fiscal/small-government (mostly) conservatives siphoned off enough votes from George H.W. Bush to see Bill Clinton win the presidency with around 44% of the vote. Ralph Nader's Green Party in 2000 is commonly accused of skimming from Al Gore's vote total. You can see what all of them have in common: each of these third-parties undermined the party from which they sprang and succeeded in getting the party they most disagreed with elected. Most recently, Americans Elect tried and failed to find a third way. Meanwhile, the Libertarians still hold out hope.

Yet, Allen isn't necessarily talking about a third party so much as another option. He recently wondered if the high number of independent candidates contesting elections here in Rhode Island was indicative of people tired of the same old parties and way of doing business.

I do think he's onto something. The level of frustration is palpable and I have little doubt that many of these independent candidates are fed up with business as usual in the Ocean State. And who has been running business as usual in Rhode Island? The Democratic party. Since most incumbents are Democrats, I think the number of independents running this time around is less a statement of frustration against both parties--as Allen seems to believe--than it is about candidates taking on incumbent Democrats and strategically deciding to avoid appending the poison "R" to their name on the ballot. (I won't get into the number of conservative Democrats we have in this state). In short, if this were any other state, I have little doubt that most of these independents would have picked the Republican team.

Allen has been expressing his frustration with the Blue Team/Red Team more and more recently.

Political types like me should tune into debates and stump speeches and hear the lines being drawn between those who want more dependency versus more self-reliance. We should be looking at supporting a candidate that will draw a stark line between what has become the most egregious big government era in American history and one where people have to earn what they get. We don’t have that candidate....I’m tired of voting for one man because he’s not as bad as the other guy. “Well you can’t let Obama back in.” That’s what I hear from people. I agree. However shouldn’t we at least try to put up some kind of candidate that can actually have a philosophy that we can all draw a line through? A point of view that we can all somewhat support and believe in so that when we do support “our guy” we don’t have to hold back our dry heaves?
While his exasperation is understandable, his idealism--and that of many of his regular callers--is, unfortunately, unrealistic in the real-world of politics, particularly with a looming election. Parties exist as a way to organize voters who hold similar views. The goal isn't to have 100% agreement within a national party (though those accused of being DINO's or RINO's probably don't think that), but to recognize differences--often geographical--and allow variety amongst those within the party, which is why both try/claim to be "big tent".

As a result, the internal gravity of a party often results in positions or votes being cast by elected officials that are most amenable to the majority within a party (ie; those that will help them get re-elected). That also means many party voters are left less than pleased and get the impression that they aren't being listened to by their party. (The corollary is that they often believe their own Congressman or Senator is listening to them on any particular vote, hence the high incumbent reelection rate. See, it works). The truth is, it's not always the same "disgruntled" party members reacting to this or that vote. It's the same phenomena we see in Rhode Island. We all hate what the General Assembly does, but our guy is pretty good.

However, if the party base is ticked off enough, it will turn over it's own party. Witness the conservative, small-government, low-tax Tea Party movement, which chose to work within the Republican party (for the most part) and oust so-called big government conservatives. They successfully elected their candidates to several Congressional seats in 2010. Thus far, it seems those elected under that banner have acted as their constituents expected, even as they are often demonized by those within and outside their party for being "roadblocks to compromise" by not voting for compromise legislation that, say, "cuts" expected government growth from 7% to 3%. Those Tea Party Republicans who strayed may feel the pain in 2012. We'll have to wait and see.

In the end, most conservatives--Tea Party, Libertarian or otherwise--are Republicans and most liberals or progressives are Democrats. Allen may not think that team denotes ideology, but it usually does.

So, it's hard enough to find a local politician that we agree with. That is magnified 1,000 times on a national scale. There is no ideal candidate that will broadly appeal to the American electorate, particularly people with strong ideological beliefs. It's almost impossible in our fractured culture. A case in point would be the libertarian Republican Ron Paul (big tent, right?). He has a passionate following, but he simply hasn't got the broad appeal that his followers think he deserves. His mix of small-government conservatism with individual moral freedom doesn't appeal to a broad enough base (yet..., right Paulites?). Why this is so--stupid people, MSM conspiracy--doesn't matter, it's simply the truth. Instead, political parties have a process--the primaries--where they try to find the candidate that the most party members agree with the most. The party can only pick from those who run. This all translates to the broader American electorate, too. It's not exactly inspirational, but reality.

I think that it is often the case that the minority of us who are politically minded tend to over-emphasis the differences amongst those who generally agree on 80-90% of the same thing (especially in the primary season). Much of Allen's reticence about Romney is related to RomneyCare=Obamacare. That's understandable, but I'd bet that he agrees with Romney on much more than he disagrees. And the opposite is clearly true with Obama.

We also can put too much meaning into short-term topics that flare up in the political silly season. Allen is disappointed in the way Romney has responded to the Obama camp's Bain attacks. He's not alone. But then we see that the polls haven't moved (and Romney may have even re-taken a slight lead) while these attacks were all over the place. It would seem the American polity doesn't really care about Bain.

We politically-minded get wrapped up in differences that take up an out-sized place in our thinking. Unfortunately, sometimes this gets translated into a sort of "pox on all their houses" attitude, which may translate into staying at home--and encouraging others to do the same--on election day because "all politicians are the same and they don't care about the average American". It's an emotionally gratifying way to deal with our disappointment. It's also naive and doesn't take into consideration the very real differences that exist between the parties and those within them.

Look, I know the choice we have to make relies less on inspiration and more upon whether or not we think we need to go into damage control. Yes, it stinks. It might get better in the future, especially if, post-election, the idealists like Allen (and myself, incidentally) continue to point out the flaws in our system and--more importantly--if new, better leaders emerge. (Let's not forget the role of contingency here. It's a more important force in history than we often realize.)

But it's nut-cuttin' time right now and you have to pick a side. It's a dead horse, but I'll beat it again: don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good (or passable, in this case). Sitting it out may be emotionally satisfying, but, as history has shown, it will only serve to present you with your own worst-case scenario. Will you be better off with four more years of Obama because you don't "buy into the system"? I don't think so.

Credit for Building, Blame for Dividing

Justin Katz

President Obama's teleprompter style has been the subject of substantial (often mocking) critical commentary, and with some justification, as this nearly parodic 2010 video from a Virginia classroom proves:

Given recent political events, one can sympathize with the desire of public officials to avoid extemporaneous speech. In a world in which one's every public utterance can be recorded, scrutinized, and exploited, one can't rely on an audience's capacity to get your drift and give you the benefit of the doubt. And it's all to easy to blurt out a sentence such as the now infamous, "If you've got a business, you didn't build that."

Predictably, in the realm of commentary, the debate has moved to the meta matter of whether commentators are deliberately misconstruing the President's meaning. On Slate, Dave Weigel charitably infers "a missing sentence or clause" that Obama neglected to utter because he was "rambling." On Reason, Tim Cavanaugh rejoins that "at some point it helps to look at that thing above the subtext, which is generally known as 'the text.'"

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

July 18, 2012

Nationwide Unfunded Pension Liability Now up to $4.6 Trillion

Justin Katz

About a month ago, I presented a comparison of estimates for the nation's public-sector pension problem. While none of the results were encouraging, there was huge variation in the degree of frightfulness — the difference mainly being in the way in which they calculate liabilities.

One of the economists, Andrew Biggs, of the American Enterprise Institute, has updated his findings for State Budget Solutions, bringing the highest unfunded liability estimate currently on the table to $4.6 trillion.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Bain, Cicilline, Reed and Whitehouse

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island First District Congressman David Cicilline was quoted yesterday in a WPRO (630AM) blog item yesterday on the subject of Bain Capital's relevance to the 2012 Presidential campaign...

“I think it is pretty clear that Governor Romney was at Bain Capital and that was a key part of their strategy to be outsourcing American jobs. I think it is a fair question to be asked during this campaign,” said Congressman David Cicilline.
But if Congressman Cicilline has determined that the Bain business model is fundamentally wrong, does he intend to return the sizeable campaign contribution he accepted from a Bain Managing Partner and Chief Investment Officer...
Jonathan Lavine, Bain Capital: Cicilline Committee contribution, $2,500, 6/27/2011.
...or are there times when Congressman Cicilline doesn't find anything wrong with Bain's business practices -- like when he's cashing a check from one of the firm's senior managers?

The same question can be asked of Rhode Island Senior Senator Jack Reed. He is both a Bain critic in the WPRO post, and has been a recipient of multiple contributions from Bain managers over the years...

Jonathan S. Lavine, Bain Capital: The Reed Committee contribution, $2,300, 6/26/2007.
Jonathan S. Lavine, Bain Capital: The Reed Committee contribution, $200, 6/26/2007.
Mark Nunnelly, Bain Capital: The Reed Committee contribution, $2,300, 12/26/2007.
This, of course, is the Rhode Island way. Attitudes of the political class towards a particular business have less to do with the substance of the actual business, and more to do with whether personalities connected to a particular venture are political allies or not.

For the record, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has also been the recent beneficiary of some of Bain management's Rhode Island largess...

Mark E. Nunnelly, Bain Capital: Whitehouse for Senate contribution: $2,400, 6/22/2010.
Joshua Bekenstein, Bain Capital: Whitehouse for Senate contribution: $2,200, 12/31/2010.
Joshua Bekenstein, Bain Capital: Whitehouse for Senate contribution: $2,400, 12/31/2010.

The Book on Brendan

Patrick Laverty

When I first heard of the 66-page research book being released by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), my first thought was "uh oh, what do they have on him?" But then I read it.

The first thing to keep in mind that if you're going to be in the public eye for many years, and you're going to run for public office, someone is going to dig up that one time that you crossed the street before getting the walk signal. All of that stuff will be included. But apparently so will other things that don't relate to you. As I was reading it, I learned a lot about Brendan Doherty and there were things in there that made me think that Doherty himself should release this book as it actually includes a lot of good things about him too.

Here are just a few from the section titled "Top Hits."

In December 2009, the FBI launched an independent investigation into allegations of police brutality. An officer was filmed beating a handcuffed suspect while several other officers looked on.
Unless there was another incident, that's likely referring to the Lincoln police officer who kicked a woman in the head at Twin River. Brendan Doherty was the Colonel of the State Police, not Lincoln. Do the Democrats support the State Police having jurisdiction and control over the local police departments? If not, then what's this got to do with Brendan Doherty?
In July 2008, The Providence Journal reported that gun violence was increasing in Providence. In 2006, there were 49 shootings and 59 in 2007. As of July 2008, there had been 32 shootings compared with 17 shootings from January to July 2007.
Wait, in where? What city? Providence? Again, Brendan Doherty isn't in charge of Providence, the Providence police are in charge of Providence. If the Democrats want to make an issue of an increase in gun violence in Providence, they should look at who was in charge of the Providence police. The mayor of Providence is in charge of the Providence police and who was the mayor of Providence in 2008? Say it with me. David Cicilline.
The chief of police blamed the increase in violence on a smaller police presence on the streets and a tough economy causing joblessness and foreclosures.
Chief Dean Esserman blamed the violence on smaller police presence, which was overseen by again, David Cicilline, not the Colonel of the State Police.
Crime in Providence rose 12 percent in 2008, ending a 5 year downward trend. There were 10,442 crimes compared to 9,314 in 2007. Violent crime went up 19 percent. There were 14 murders in 2007 and only 13 in 2008, however there were 1,201 violent crimes in 2008 compared with 1,007 the year before.
The police blamed the spike in crime on cell-phone robberies and gang-related incidences as well as the economy.
Wow, this is getting repetitive. This is starting to sound like the Democrats really believe that Providence had a crime problem during the Cicilline administration.
In March 2010, three Providence police officers, including a narcotics detective and a school resource officer, were arrested on charges that they were involved with a cocaine-dealing operation. They were suspended without pay.
Once again, the Democrats are trying to pin Providence crime issues on the head of the State Police?

According to this report, the Providence police had a problem with increased violence and drug dealing within their own ranks. And who was their leader at the time? Yes, David Cicilline.

That's all just in the first eight pages.

Add on to that the part that Marc wrote about yesterday, where they try to put Doherty in with the Beacon Mutual scandal, yet the reason he was put on the board was to clean it up. That's like saying "Oh wow, Brendan Doherty was at the scene of that murder last night!" And then explaining, "because he was investigating it."

Maybe in the coming weeks, we can dig deeper into this or offer the further context for others. An example is Doherty is often cited by the Democrats as being in favor of simply letting the Bush tax cuts expire. First, isn't this what Cicilline supports too? I don't remember hearing David Cicilline claim he supports and agrees with the Bush tax cuts. But regardless, the Democrats make that claim but they leave out the next few sentences that Doherty offered. Of course this isn't in the report, but I heard them first-hand. He supports letting the tax cuts expire but then overhauling the tax laws and putting new laws in place that do make sense for everyone and not simply raising taxes on the middle class, as Cicilline is trying to make us believe.

If this is the group that is helping the David Cicilline campaign, I'm certainly feeling even better about November's prospects. The one thing I will certainly give them credit for is they put this out there to the public so we can all blatantly and openly see just how dirty the politics is here.

Addendum: A reader wrote in to say that the 2009 incident mentioned could also have been referring to Providence police officer Robert DeCarlo's video recorded beating of Luis Mendonca. The DCCC document gives no indication which incident it is referring to.

July 17, 2012

Haldeman for House 35: "allow me to represent the entire spectrum of our citizenry"

Monique Chartier

Below are the first three paragraphs of the column by Jim Haldeman, candidate for RI House District 35, that I tried to poach for Anchor Rising. Haldeman, being a man of honor, tactfully declined my request because he had already committed to another outlet. So you'll just have to finish reading it on GoLocalProv. (In all seriousness, thanks to GoLocal for running it.)

It's a simple question that requires a simple answer...because I have to. I was asked 'why' when I came out of military retirement, left my family and my job, and elected to deploy to Fallujah, Iraq. Quite simply, because I had to. It was my moral obligation to serve my Country. I’m now running for State Representative for the same reason...because I must. It's a difficult endeavor to run and to be elected for public office. I know....this is my 4th attempt. If nothing else, this proves my perseverance and dedication towards succeeding in such an endeavor.

My leadership background attests to the fact that I am well suited for public office. I presently work in a public service industry and engage hundreds of people daily. I have worked under harsh and unthinkable living conditions to promote jobs into a helpless city, worked with Ambassadors under the Secretary of State, worked within multi-million dollar budgets, and negotiated contracts...even for human life itself. I helped inspire and restore the lives of the citizens of Fallujah and redirected their path to bring prosperity, economic recovery and hope toward a brighter future.

And now it is my time to focus my abilities and talents directly to my home here in Rhode Island. The financial path which Rhode Island has taken is unsustainable. Communities within our state are bankrupt. Businesses are closed or have moved to our neighboring states. Our one party controlled state government has failed to provide the very essence of our individual identity and that is in the name of business and jobs.

Continue reading on GoLocalProv ...

RIGOP About To Disburse $30,000-ish to Republican State Candidates

Monique Chartier

Mark Zaccaria, Chair of the RIGOP, was kind enough to spend some time on the phone with me explaining how extensively (not his phrasing) GoLocalProv erred in their story as to the purportedly penurious state of the RIGOP. Hint for GoLocal: you only looked at one account; the party has four.

Out of that conversation came the news that the party is about to disburse in the region of $30,000 in varying increments to as many as sixty vetted Republican candidates running for the General Assembly. Zaccaria said that he would have preferred that the party have a larger amount to distribute but called it a step in the right direction.

We await GoLocalProv's explanation as to how the party is able to make this disbursement (to recap: of approx $30,000) if, as GoLocal alleges, the party only has $535 on hand.


Patrick Laverty e-mailed me to point out that the GoLocal article was talking about the RIGOP's federal account. This is, indeed, true. No reference is made in the article to the RIGOP's other three accounts, however, and the reader is left with the distinct impression (to phrase it no stronger) that the RIGOP has only $535 on hand. Mark Smiley makes this clarifying comment under the GoLocal article.

... if Warren Buffet had 4 accounts and you looked at the one that only had $500 in it, would you have written an article saying he was broke? No, you'd assume he had billions in some other account. RI GOP doesn't have billions, but this is bias reporting at best.

A Decade of Moving Next Door

Justin Katz

I've been following taxpayer migration data for years, but in a haphazard way. A new study that I've coauthored for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity finally gave me the opportunity to review all fifteen years of available data from the IRS.

The picture — from the 2003 beginning of what can only be described as an exodus — is frightening. After accounting for the tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders who moved to other states and other taxpayers who moved in the opposite direction, Rhode Island lost 24,455 households, with $1.2 billion of annual income (not inflation adjusted). More conspicuously, a net 3,406 taxpayers moved right across the border, to abutting counties in Massachusetts and Connecticut, taking with them $254.5 million in annual adjusted gross income (AGI).

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

DCCC Lies About Doherty & Beacon Mutual Role

Marc Comtois

As reported by GoLocalProv's Dan McGowan, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has a dossier on CD-1 Republican candidate Brendan Doherty that it compiled as opposition research. Creating such a report isn't surprising, nor does it contain anything new, but it does try to re-frame items to put Doherty in the most negative light.

As such, it isn't surprising when those opposed to Doherty start to take items from the report to try to undercut his candidacy. Case in point is RI Future's Bob Plain, who acts more like a parrot then a reporter in recounting some of the talking points from the DCCC report. One in particular caught my eye. According to Plain:

Did you know he was on the board of directors for Beacon Mutual when the insurance company was mired in a scandal for giving price breaks to choice companies?
This was plainly wrong. The DCCC report elides the timeline of Doherty's appointment and the exposure of the scandal (pages 45/46 of the report) with when the problems actually occurred. Doherty was put on the Board of Directors of Beacon by Governor Carcieri precisely because of the scandal. Doherty wasn't "mired" in it, he was brought in to clean it up in February of 2006. In August 2007, the findings of an investigation into Beacon were made public and Governor Carcieri said at the time:
“Last year, I quickly moved to overhaul Beacon Mutual’s leadership by appointing Brendan Doherty, now Superintendent of the State Police, and Sister M. Therese Antone to replace two board members who resigned in the wake of the scandal,” Carcieri said. “I also attempted to remove two other board members who had helped preside for years over Beacon’s mismanagement....I’m satisfied with my original decision to publicly reveal the scandalous behavior of Beacon Mutual executives,” Governor Carcieri said. “I am equally happy that I successfully opposed those same executives’ plans to change state law in an effort to reduce public oversight and to shield their misdeeds from public scrutiny.”

“With this report in hand, it is now up to the Attorney General and the United States Attorney to determine what, if any, crimes were committed and what prosecution might be, or might not be, appropriate,” Carcieri said. “The Department of Business Regulation is providing both those law enforcement officials with copies of all the background material that was compiled during the course of their investigation.”

And who were those board members that resigned? Well, to back up a bit, in June of 2007, Governor Carcieri attempted to sit Adelita Orefice (then the director of the Department of Labor & Training) on the board of Beacon, but he got word that she wouldn't be confirmed by the Senate for political reasons, so he pulled the nomination. Why the opposition? Because it was she who blew the whistle on the Beacon corruption and those she exposed had friends in the RI Senate.
Carcieri accused the Senate of planning to reject Orefice’s nomination in retaliation for her decision in 2006 to disclose the result of a damning internal audit at Beacon Mutual Insurance Co. That revelation led to a number of investigations and the expulsion of several union leaders, including George Nee, from the insurer’s board of directors. Beacon Board members, including Nee, were paid $20,000 per year.

The state labor chief has a seat on the Beacon Mutual board.

The governor vowed that he would not allow union leaders and their Senate allies to exact “political retaliation” against Orefice as payback for blowing the whistle on the illegal activities at Beacon Mutual.

“It is clear that the Senate planned to reject Director Orefice’s nomination as political retaliation for standing up to organized labor and defending Rhode Island taxpayers....This is just another indication that the union leadership is actually in charge of the Rhode Island State House...Unfortunately, the people responsible for the corruption at Beacon Mutual are using this confirmation vote to exact revenge,” Carcieri said. “In the last few days, we understand that George Nee — who lost his seat on the Beacon board in the wake of the scandal — has been actively lobbying against Adelita’s re-confirmation. He has even gone so far as to personally warn people not to testify on her behalf.”

“Elected representatives should not be taking orders from labor bosses. Senators should not be attacking a good public servant in order to pay off their union allies,” he said.

It was labor ally George Nee who was "mired in a scandal for giving price breaks to choice companies" not Brendan Doherty.

MORE INFO: "Beacon Mutual CEO, Underwriting VP Suspended Following Audit", Insurance Journal, April 16, 2006.

"R.I.’s Beacon Mutual Vows Cooperation With Subpoena, State Auditors", Insurance Journal, April 26, 2006.

July 16, 2012

Obama: Businesses Are Lucky & Should Thank the Government

Marc Comtois

President Obama:

[L]ook, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
The President goes on to qualify (sorta) the above by explaining that businesses wouldn't be successful without all the "good stuff" the government provided via our tax dollars magic(?).
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses responds:
What a disappointment to hear President Obama’s revealing comments challenging the significance of America’s entrepreneurs.

His unfortunate remarks over the weekend show an utter lack of understanding and appreciation for the people who take a huge personal risk and work endless hours to start a business and create jobs.

I'm sure every small-business owner who took a second mortgage on their home, maxed out their credit cards or borrowed money from their own retirement savings to start their business disagrees strongly with President Obama's claim. They know that hard work does matter.

Every small business is not indebted to the government or some other benefactor. If anything, small businesses are historically an economic and job-creating powerhouse in spite of the government.
There is just enough truth in President Obama's statement to seem sorta plausible. But it is true only from a stratospheric view in that our country, often through the government, did make these improvements or create programs that do help business at the macro-level. But individuals who create businesses--and who have also paid and continue to pay taxes that fund the government programs cited by the President--don't gain any particular advantage over anyone else thanks to this stuff. Yes, they are also often supported by friends, family and community, but in the end they're the ones putting their own asses on the line.

ADDENDUM: Jim Pethokoukis adds his thoughts:

The less damning interpretation is that Obama is merely parroting Elizabeth Warren’s blindingly obvious statement that private enterprise benefits from certain public goods that government provides, such as education and infrastructure, and thus investors and entrepreneurs and other wealthy Americans shouldn’t mind paying taxes for them.

But that’s a strawman argument — and a divisive one at that. Demonization through distortion. Few opponents of higher taxes are arguing that the most successful Americans should pay no taxes — only that with the top 1% making 20% of the income and paying 40% of the taxes, that the system is already progressive enough.....The more worrisome interpretation is that Obama is adding his own philosophical addendum to the Warren Doctrine: that there is no such thing as individual achievement or merit. All success is directly due to society’s collective effort as manifested by government. It takes a village — or at least its bureaucrats — to accomplish anything. There are no heroes, no great Americans other than The People who express the National Will through Government. As if the nation’s entrepreneurs all stand on the shoulders of the giants at the Commerce Department and the Small Business Administration and the Energy Department. If entrepreneurs really add no value to the efforts of government, why not not tax them at 90%? That way, more money for government — the “somebody else” in the Obama statement — to create more middle-class prosperity.

UPDATE: Perhaps this explanation by Charles Krauthammer will help people better understand the "strawman argument" being put forth by President Obama as well as the nuances that are being missed by some:

Wind Turbine Profits Blown Away in Portsmouth

Justin Katz

First, let's be clear about the economics of publicly backed wind turbines: The appearance of profit is only possible because the start-up costs are heavily subsidized and the expensive nature of the energy production is hidden by being spread out to all consumers, typically via mandated rates.

So, the $400,000 that the town of Portsmouth supposedly made on its giant fan was not a profit gained by offering a more efficient or desirable product, but by forcing other people to pay more. (Sounds like a tax, doesn't it?) The town government profited, but it would be wrong to extrapolate that benefit to the broader public... that is, the "we" that people seem to confuse with government bodies.

Now it appears that even that appearance of profit was illusory.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

July 15, 2012

Deepwater Wind: Federal Hearing Monday Night

Monique Chartier

Tomorrow (July 16) at 7:00 pm on the URI Bay Campus in Narragansett (215 South Ferry Road; Coastal Institute Building, Hazard's Room), the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will be holding a "public information session". Below is a description of the scope of the hearing.

BOEM leadership is hosting the following public information sessions to provide an overview of the EA and next steps in the leasing process. In addition to accepting comments on the EA, BOEM will address questions on the environmental and leasing processes as time permits.

This is a good time to remember who is responsible for foisting the Deepwater Wind project upon Rhode Island and why the project is a very bad idea. It was not BOEM or any other federal agency who decided to implement Governor Carcieri's suggestion for an offshore wind farm. It was the Rhode Island General Assembly.

Numerous factors make this a deeply misguided decision and project.

> It will compel all Rhode Island residents and businesses to needlessly overpay (by up to 250% or more of current rates) for the electricity generated by this project.

> Proponents say that it will bring an industry to the state. But this prospect has been getting ever more remote. Firstly, Rhode Island would be competing with neighbor Massachusetts for this manufacturing. However, as of two days ago, the prospect of either state getting the industry dimmed considerably. From the Patriot Ledger.

When Cape Wind Associates signed a letter of intent to buy the foundations for its offshore turbines from a Middleboro company, it offered hope that the controversial wind farm would generate good-paying local manufacturing jobs.

But now it’s possible that those monopoles – the hollow steel foundations for the turbine towers that would be driven into the seabed – might not be made here after all.

> Further on the theory that an industry would be brought to the state, in actuality, the General Assembly can only mandate that the equipment for this specific project be made in state. Even in a best case scenario of the in-state manufacturing of both the turbines and the foundations for Deepwater Wind, these are project-specific and, therefore, temporary jobs, not an industry. Worse, they are based upon the manufacture (generation) of an end product with a grossly inflated price point. How financially sustainable or desirable would it even be to bring such an "industry" or manufacturer to the state?

> On the gritty front of operating maintenance and repair, who picks up the bill when, as Portsmouth just found out, one of the windmills requires a half million (or more) dollar repair ? How much more expensive will this or any repair be if it has to be carried out miles offshore in the ... well, "deep water"?

> Perhaps most confounding of all, no one has explained how this does not further denigrate the business climate in the state by ballooning already high electric costs, especially for manufacturers. Sincere-sounding statements are frequently made by both politicians and commentators as to the need for more manufacturing to take place in the state. In the case of the approval of Deepwater Wind, it is difficult to close the gap between word and deed.

Larger picture, Rhode Island's terrible business climate was not achieved overnight, it was built up incrementally on many fronts, spurred by well-intentioned but very impractical ideas like the Deepwater Wind project. The reality is that if the full Deepwater Wind project gets built and our electric rates go up, businesses and manufacturers are not going to dismiss those artificially high rates with the thought, "Oh, but it's to save the planet and bring an industry to Rhode Island". On the contrary, even higher electric rates get added to the hopper already loaded with Rhode Island's other business ... charms.

A Full-Time General Assembly

Patrick Laverty


In this week's Valley Breeze, frequent columnist Arlene Violet wrote that she is now a convert and a support of a full-time General Assembly in Rhode Island.

This sorry state of affairs has led me to reverse my long-term opposition to a full-time legislature. Now I think that we need to make that change so we can have a citizen body. Here's the why and the how.

The present General Assembly is loaded with union folks who do their master's bidding. Actual union leaders, along with teachers, firefighters, and policemen, pack the assembly halls. Taxpayers shell out money for their substitutes on days they report to work on Smith Hill at times that are inconsistent with their full-time jobs. This is pretty ridiculous. It allows a situation where they can have their cake and eat it, an option no other working stiff has. (Municipalities should cease including such a provision in collective bargaining agreements).

Similarly, the part-time nature of the legislative jobs allows attorneys to pack the place as well. Insurance guys generally also have a contingent at the Statehouse. Legislation that pads their daytime pockets is no accident.

I agree with her reasoning but disagree with her solution. I think what she suggests could force the Assembly to go in the other direction and cause people to be more corruptible and be more-self-serving. Her employment terms would include:
The legislative members should serve full-time with the month of July off as a vacation. Pay them $35,000-$40,000 a year to work 9 a.m.-5 p.m. from Tuesday through Saturday (so average people can approach their legislators on a day they aren't at work). Health care benefits should be offered. A 401K program should be in place. And here's an important feature: Anyone already receiving a public pension from the state or municipality either must not collect it or be ineligible to serve.
Let me ask you this, do you want someone who is willing to do a full time job for $40,000 making the laws in this state and making decisions for you? Who would give up their job as a teacher making upwards of $70,000 a year and a few months a year off for $40,000 and one month off? Or a lawyer possibly making a six-figure salary? Would these people switch jobs? Of course not, and I get it, that's her point. But who would run for office under this scenario? Probably not the "best and brightest", which is not a situation that we really need.

If the answer is that it shouldn't be about the money anyway and it should be about the desire to serve, then I agree totally, and let's go in that direction. If we are going to make a major reform to the structure of the General Assembly, let's go in the opposite direction from what Arlene suggests. Here's what I would like to see happen.

First, zero compensation. If it really is about the "service", then let's truly make these people be public servants. Also, notice I wrote "compensation" and not just "pay." There will be zero salary but there will also be zero health insurance and no retirement money, not that there is any pension for legislators now. New Hampshire gets away with paying their legislators $100 a year. So apparently that works.

Ok, so with no compensation, how will people be able to be there and serve either full-time or even with keeping it at its current schedule, the 4 pm bell time? Let's change that too. If you've ever experienced some days at the General Assembly, you've seen that they'll open at 4 pm and sometimes close as early as 4:30 pm, and then either head off to some committee hearings or head home. I'd push that back to a 6 pm start time. Now virtually anyone with a first-shift job can finish their normal work day and head to Providence for the Assembly sessions.

One other change that I'd like to see that actually works in another state, Texas, is to only have the Assembly meet every other year. It seems that in election years, they're very concerned with getting their work done, getting out and back on the campaign trail. Ok, I'm willing to help them with that. The change I'd make here is they are elected in November, start the Assembly session the following January, go as long as they need to, even if that means going into, *gasp*, July, and then when they're done, that's it. They sit out the following year as they get the whole year unimpeded to run for re-election.

In a state the size of RI, why do we need the Assembly to meet every year and put in all kinds of crazy bills and create new crazy laws, when a state the size of Texas doesn't need an annual legislature? It seems to work fine there, I'll take it here.

That's about it for now, but if any more evidence is needed of how a full-time Assembly does nothing to cut down on corruption, look no further than our neighbor to the north. Citing from the great internet source known as Wikipedia, here are their recent political convicts:
-Massachusetts Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi (D) was found guilty of using his position to secure multimillion-dollar state contracts for a software company in exchange for kickbacks.(2011)
-Massachusetts, Boston Councillor Chuck Turner (D) was expelled from the Boston City Council on December 1, 2010 following his conviction on federal bribery charges
-Massachusetts Speaker of the House Thomas Finneran (D) pled guilty to one count of obstruction of justice and received 18 months probation.(2004)
-Massachusetts State Senator Dianne Wilkerson (D-MA) was video taped by the FBI stuffing bribe money into her bra. Charged with tax evasion (1997), ethics violations (2001) and perjury (2005)
-Massachusetts Speaker of the House Charles Flaherty (D-MA) pled guilty to felony tax evasion for submitting false receipts regarding his business expenses and to violations of the state conflict of interests law.(1996)
-Massachusetts state representative Nicholas Mavroules (D-MA) pleaded guilty to bribery charges. Mavroules was a US Representative, not a MA state rep. h/t Bill Rappleye

To me, that says that if anything, more power can lead to more corruption. I searched the same Wikipedia list for corrupt NH legislators and found none. One arrested for DUI, but certainly not the rogue's gallery we see up in Mass.

That's my opinion. If we're going to make a radical change to the Assembly, let's go unpaid, every other year and have them start later in the day. Sounds like a better combination to me.

July 14, 2012

Obama Administration Weakens Welfare Reform

Monique Chartier

From the Daily Caller; thanks to commenter ANTHONY for the link.

The Department and Health and Human Services announced the agency will issue waivers for the federal work requirement of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program — considered a central facet of welfare reform in 1996 — Thursday. ...

“Thus, HHS has authority to waive compliance with this 402 requirement and authorize a state to test approaches and methods other than those set forth in section 407, including definitions of work activities and engagement, specified limitations, verification procedures, and the calculation of participation rates.”

Redefining qualified "work activities and engagement". Gosh, that doesn't sound ripe for abuse, does it???

More government money (and dependency) handed out during a presidential election year - how can this be anything other than politically motivated?

It's hard to argue, on another front, with Chairman Jordan's point that this is yet another refusal by the Executive Branch to ... well, execute.

According to Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, the memorandum is proof of the Obama administration’s continued disrespect for the rule of law.

“President Obama just tore up a basic foundation of the welfare contract,” Jordan said in a statement. “In exchange for taxpayer-funded TANF payments, the law calls on able-bodied adults to work, look for work, take classes, or undergo drug and alcohol counseling. It’s the tough love that gives people motivation to help themselves…Today’s action is also a blatant violation of the law. After immigration, education, marriage, and religious conscience protections, we can now add welfare reform to the list of laws President Obama refuses to follow.”

We also have to ask how this is justifiable on the fiscal front: macro and priority-wise. The country is currently $15 trillion debt; these "waivers" can only add to it. As for priorities, how would the Obama administration explain this expansion of welfare to state and local public employees around the country facing cuts to their pensions, promised and vested? More importantly, how does he explain it to all of us in view of the decidedly mixed record that the V.A. has in taking care of our returning soldiers, a dubious record undoubtedly caused in part by underfunding?

July 13, 2012

The Death Penalty for Penn State Football

Patrick Laverty

It's embarrassing to tag this with a "Sports" category as this really isn't a sports issue. It's a human decency issue. When you turn a blind eye to child rape in order to protect a football program and its coach, that's just disgusting.

Yesterday, a report commissioned by Penn State University and completed by former FBI director Louis Freeh, was released and it implicated officials at all levels of the university as being complicit. From the University president to the athletic director even down to head coach Joe Paterno. They were all aware of former coach Jerry Sandusky's child molestation actions. And they did nothing about it. Even worse, they acknowledged in writing, via email that they were putting the university at risk by not reporting the allegations. So they knowingly violated the law and even worse, violated the children a second time who had been raped by not reporting this. By not reporting the allegations to the authorities, it led to additional children being raped by Sandusky. These were acts that definitely could have been prevented if he had already been put in a cell to rot for decades.

In my opinion, the NCAA should institute its Death Penalty on Penn State football. Basically what this means is the school eliminates the sport for a period determined by the NCAA. Once the time is up, they can start over.

The NCAA has various levels of penalties they can apply to the program, from the loss of scholarships and fines, putting the program on probation, or all the way to the total elimination of the sport. The death penalty is reserved for instances where there is a total "lack of institutional control." Sometimes you get a rogue coach that gets out of control. They have lesser penalties for that sort of thing, especially when the athletic department themselves step in and institute a punishment. Sometimes it is the whole athletic department that is out of control. That's where the university can step in and clean it up, along with the NCAA. Then you have the level where the entire institution has lost their way, from top to bottom. That is the case here with Penn State. This is the situation that the death penalty was created for.

If the NCAA applies the death penalty to Penn State football, one of the crown jewels in college sports, it will send a message to every college president that no one is sacred, no one will be spared if your athletics program is out of control. It's a huge understatement to say that allegations like child molestation are serious and are far more important than any game or program. The entire Penn State University administration failed to realize this and now they need to pay the price. I hope the NCAA does the right thing.

Addendum: For those wondering why there's no mention of criminal charges in this post, it is because I took that as a given. Jerry Sandusky was convicted of charges. Joe Paterno is dead, and I'm not aware of any other PSU officials facing charges. But of course anyone involved who broke a law should be charged.

Also, visitors from Instapundit, please feel free to poke around the rest of this web site (Anchor Rising) join in the discussion and come back again.

The Board of Elections and Confidential Information

Patrick Laverty

On Tuesday, Andrew wrote about the "imminent peril" that the Board of Elections (BoE) felt that voters' information was in.

Then Justin live-blogged the actual BoE meeting where they voted to put off the issue of making this data confidential.

What they are concerned about is some radical NH citizen posted the RI voter information to a web site and made it easy to search for people by various criteria.

So what's the real issue here? Well, the first issue that rankled so many people was the way the BoE went about this, calling an "emergency meeting", with the minimum 48 hours notice (actually closer to 50 hours) and no public vetting or opinion.

But what the BoE wanted to do was to make confidential was the voters' voluntarily-supplied email address and telephone number. Not the name, not the address, not the party designation, not the date of birth. None of those are optional information and none of those were going to be protected. Should that information get out to the public? Well for one, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has already decided that all voter registration information, with the exception of social security number, must be made and kept public. (h/t Ken Block)

Why do they ask for email and phone number? I don't know. What do they do with it? I don't know. One thing that is known is even though the voter registration card says that the phone and email are optional, they don't say what they'll do with the info or who it will be given to. I think at the very least, that should be fixed. Somehow explain to people that all of their information will be given out to campaigns and candidates and anyone else who asks for it. At least let them know.

But for now, they do have the data. So what should the BoE do? Nothing and let people continue to have public access to it and let people put it up on a searchable web site? Well, that's one option, seeing as how all the information is usually findable on the internet anyway.

As an example, I did a quick search for BoE Executive Director Robert Kando. Using no subscription services or anything underhanded, in just a few seconds, I was able to find his home address, home phone number, his age, and people who also live in his home. I'm suspecting if I cared enough and did a little more digging, an email address could also be located. It's all information that is already public. Some have mentioned how it's creepy to see their name and address posted so publicly. My thought on that is "how quickly we forget." Your name and address and phone number has been publicly posted for decades. We depended on that for a long time. It was called a "phone book." The information was available to everyone and once a year the phone company dropped off a free copy at your house. Now that information pops up on a web site and people get freaked out? If you're really worried about your privacy, stop using "password" as your password to services and stop posting on Facebook that you're "on vacation in Florida!" Those would seem to both be bigger privacy and security concerns than someone being able to find your address.

The BoE will convene again to specifically discuss whether to make the phone number and email address confidential (remember, according to the 4th Circuit Court, they can't). My suggestion is that if they don't want the public to have that information, then delete it from their databases, stop entering it in for new registrations and remove those lines from the voter registration cards. Problem solved. You can't give out what you don't have.

Unintended Consequences: ACA's Negative Impact on Workers

Marc Comtois

Deroyal Industries is a manufacturer of a wide variety of medical devices. They have over 2000 employees in 26 states and 5 countries. According to their President/COO, both the company and its employees will be negatively impacted by the ACA's new tax on medical devices (h/t).

July 12, 2012

The medical device tax constitutes the largest cost increase DeRoyal has experienced in its 40-year history. We are working to mitigate this impact in a number of ways from both a revenue and cost perspective. Even in the face of this challenge we are doing everything within our power to preserve US jobs in this incredibly difficult economic environment.

Bill Pittman, President & COO

July 12, 2012

RI's Paradox of Being Great, but Still Failing

Justin Katz

Remember when the local PolitiFact took the Ocean State Policy Research Institute (OSPRI) to task for claiming that the estate tax was driving Rhode Islanders out, especially down to America's retirement peninsula? One statement from that article has stuck with me, over the year and a half since:

One expert was Kail Padquitt, staff economist for The Tax Foundation, a think tank that studies federal and state tax policies, who said he hasn’t seen any proof that the prospect of paying estate taxes drives people to move.

"You can see people are leaving a state, but (determining) why they are leaving is hard," Padquitt said. "Florida has sunshine, low taxes and warmth. Why wouldn’t people move there?"

That rhetorical question has come to mind recently for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I've been working on a related bit of research for OSPRI's successor organization, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, to be released next week.

Today, though, the quotation came to me in relation to another, separate but related, context. As most folks who follow RI closely have already heard by now, CNBC placed the state dead last (again) on its business friendliness ranking, and very poorly in other areas. Marc Comtois's Anchor Rising post on the subject includes a reaction to RI Future's Bob Plain.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse: "I don’t know a single small business in Rhode Island that is going to be made or broken by tax rates"

Monique Chartier

How'd I miss this gem? Spoken by the junior senator from Rhode Island during a panel of Van Jones' "2012 Take Back the American Dream" conference last month. Reported by The Blaze.

Democratic Senator Whitehouse from Rhode Island chimed in, adding that he did not know a “single small business” that would be effected by tax rates:
“What works well for me at home, I don’t have this, you know, poll-tested…I say, look I don’t know a single small business in Rhode Island that is going to be made or broken by tax rates. What’s going to make or break small business is whether people are actually coming through the door to spend money, whether they have customers.”

Thanks to the Barry Hinckley campaign for the heads-up.

Undoubtedly small businesses around Rhode Island will be relieved to hear this news, especially in light of the latest - but very far from unprecedented - ranking of the state for business.

CNBC Rankings Shouldn't be Ignored

Marc Comtois

In light of the recent CNBC report that ranks Rhode Island last, #50, in the U.S. for being "business friendly", Bob Plain wrote this morning--under the heading of "Making Sense of the CNBC Report"--that we should "get ready for the conservative barrage that because Rhode Island ranked as the least business-friendly state we should adjust policy to appease the good editors at CNBC." Well, since I don't want Bob to be wrong (any more than usual ;), I'll confirm his prediction--and I'll start with something Bob wrote.

He continued his foray into "making sense of the CNBC report" by comparing CNBC's top two business friendly states (Texas and Utah) to the bottom two (Rhode Island and Hawaii) and asking, "Where would you rather move your business to?" And that was it. As if it is obvious that the bottom two are better places to live than the former. Well, that is pretty much a matter of taste, isn't it? But it's also beside the point.

The real question that should be posed isn't where Bob or I or just anyone would rather move to, it's where they or we would rather move a business to. Clearly, as the CNBC data shows--and they aren't exactly some little-known outlier here--Texas and Utah are two of the states whose economies and population have continued to grow throughout the decade, recession or not. Clearly, many people would rather move themselves and their businesses to these places instead of Hawaii (which is kind of a special case, isn't it?) or Rhode Island. To put it another way, people in every other state in the country can take solace in the fact that, "Hey, at least we're not Rhode Island."

Take a look at the main page of the story on CNBC's website where it lists the Top 5 and Bottom 5 plain as day. And we're sitting at the bottom for the second year in a row. Like it or not, these reports make national news and affect the perception of our state. Especially when it's a well-respected outlet like CNBC, which business leaders and decision-makers across the country rely upon for financial news and the like and whose findings will be propagated across the country (particularly in the business community and their local and national publications).

Maybe "denial" is a river in Rhode Island. We Rhode Islanders don't do ourselves any favors by continually sticking our collective heads in the sands of our beautiful beaches and believing that everyone else has it wrong when the evidence continually shows that Rhode Island is the one with a problem.

Any Rhode Islander who pooh-pooh's the CNBC story is displaying an all-too typical sort of myopic insularity endemic to the state. Newsflash, folks: Rhode Island doesn't have it all figured out while the rest of the country is crazy. But believing it, or at least telling ourselves we believe it, does serve to mitigate the need for the hard work it would take to actually change things. Including the perceptions of others.

Regardless, for those of us who really do want to change the national perception and, more importantly, the actual economic climate in the Ocean State, things like the CNBC rankings need to be taken seriously. So let's take a closer look at them:

50th in Infrastructure and Transportation - CNBC "measured the vitality of each state’s transportation system by the value of goods shipped by air, land and water. We looked at the availability of air travel in each state, and the quality of the roads." It would seem road quality killed us here.

49th in Business Friendliness - "Regulation and litigation are the bane of business. Sure, some of each is inevitable. But we graded the states on the perceived 'friendliness' of their legal and regulatory frameworks to business." No surprise.

49th in Economy - "We looked at basic indicators of economic health and growth." This is a case where our own personal, anecdotal experiences can confirm a study's findings. Right?

46th in Workforce - "We rated states based on the education level of their workforce, as well as the numbers of available workers. We also considered union membership. While organized labor contends that a union workforce is a quality workforce, that argument, more often than not, doesn’t resonate with business. We also looked at the relative success of each state’s worker training programs in placing their participants in jobs."

45th in Cost of Doing Business - "We looked at the tax burden, including individual income and property taxes, as well as business taxes, particularly as they apply to new investments. Utility costs can add up to a huge expense for business, and they vary widely by state. We also looked at the cost of wages, as well as rental costs for office and industrial space..."

44th in Cost of Living - "From housing to food and energy, wages go further when the cost of living is low."

37th in Technology and Innovation - "We evaluated the states on their support for innovation, the number of patents issued to their residents, and the deployment of broadband services. We also considered federal health and science research grants to the states."

23rd in Education - "Not only do companies want to draw from an educated pool of workers, they want to offer their employees a great place to raise a family. Higher education institutions offer companies a source to recruit new talent, as well as a partner in research and development. We looked at traditional measures of K-12 education including test scores, class size and spending. We also considered the number of higher education institutions in each state." Now we're getting to places where Rhode Island has some possible strengths to build on. My guess is that Rhode Island was boosted by high education spending per pupil and relatively lower student/teacher ratios. Another guess: they must have indexed number of higher ed institutions to population, giving RI a good mark. Test scores were most likely a drag.

23rd in Quality of Life - "The best places to do business are also the best places to live. We scored the states on several factors, including local attractions, the crime rate, health care, as well as air and water quality." A la Dan Yorke: Water. Here's where Bob Plain is shown to be partially correct. But whereas Bob seems to base the entirety of his analysis on quality of life (and living in East Greenwich cove certainly adds to one's good vibes!), CNBC only considers this as 1/10th of the overall picture.

10th - Access to Capital - "Companies go where the money is, and venture capital flows to some states more than others." While it's nice to be in the Top 10 for something, methinks that in the wake of 38 Studios we will see a lower number next year.

Instead of dealing with issues that would directly address some of the above concerns, we had a General Assembly that spent time maintaining the status quo, at best. Right now, the status quo is being the worst in the nation. Is that really where we want to be? Unfortunately, I think too many Rhode Islanders would respond, "Whatever."

Well, at least we've got the beaches and Downcity and Waterfire and Newport....

July 11, 2012

07/11/12 - Board of Elections

Justin Katz

3:27 p.m.
After a quick zip across from the WPRO studios in East Providence, I'm in the Board of Elections hearing room awaiting the board's vote on withholding phone and email information from voter registrations on an emergency basis. See Andrew Morse's background report for details.

I'd wager that the attendance is not usually so robust for these events. The chairmen of all three parties are here. Multiple RI Tea Party folks. Ocean State Tea Party in Action folks. Rhode Island Republican Assembly. Other familiar faces. Phil Marcelo from the Providence Journal; Jim Baron.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Of Receivers and Kings

Carroll Andrew Morse

Thanks to WPRI-TV's Ted Nesi, for inviting me to contribute a guest post to Nesi's Notes this summer.

The essay begins with the big picture...

If you are interested in understanding the eternal wisdom of the conservative viewpoint towards government, here are two questions to ask yourself: Do we really think that people are smarter now than they were in medieval times? Are we really sure we know more about governing ourselves than did our ancestors?
...and ends up in Rhode Island (Woonsocket, to be specific).

Costantino, Ferguson, and Roberts Describe "Unified Infrastructure"

Justin Katz

A brief that I wrote for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity describing the reasons that Rhode Island should opt out of the Medicaid expansion and health benefit exchanges of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) refers to "dependency portals." That is, the exchanges will be used to draw new enrollees into other welfare programs, like food stamps and cash payments.

Here is the audio (presented as a captioned YouTube video) in which RI Health & Human Services Secretary Steven Costantino, Health Benefits Exchange Director Christine Ferguson, and Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts describe their first-in-the-nation intention.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Gay Man Makes the Underlying Argument for Traditional Marriage

Justin Katz

To kick off an article with an adults-only title on Slate, Jesse Bering inadvertently establishes the core of the case for marriage's remaining an opposite-sex institution (via Instapundit):

One of the best things about being a gay man is that one doesn’t have to worry about accidentally impregnating his partner, or, for that matter, getting knocked up.

To be sure, as a father I'm inclined to see Bering's perceived blessing as a severe downside of homosexuality, but that's a matter of perspective. In objective terms, though, we can all agree that the possibility of creating new human life is pretty much a definitive characteristic of relationships.

And it's a definitive characteristic that same-sex marriage advocates hope to forbid our society to acknowledge in public policy — or, more precisely, hope to forbid our society from continuing to acknowledge after an unbroken history going back as far as it's reasonable to conceive of there being any such thing as "public policy" in Western civilization.

Those of us on the other side would further argue that this one policy is central to the family structures that have enabled our society to advance as far as it has. Even if we presume ourselves to have evolved beyond the need of such traditions (which would be presumptuous, indeed), we cannot deny that children are necessary if our civilization and its unique virtues are to continue to exist.

I may disagree with Bering about fertility's being a detriment, but it can hardly be argued that the power it imparts requires a high degree of responsibility... and that society has an interest in encouraging understanding of that fact... and that maximal liberty necessitates that understanding be fostered more by culture and by statute... and that culture operates such that the simple core idea that an intimate relationship between a man and a woman is unique cannot be contradicted in our shared law if it is to be effective.

Somehow, progressives see in this logical series of thoughts not just error, but bigotry. Be that as it may, Bering's playful opening illustrates that the alternative is willful delusion. Clearly, he has no need to order his life as if he might impregnate his partner. And clearly, his society has no need to fear the consequences of his failing to make that sort of preparation.

That is not to say that there aren't parallel interests that should suggest a preference for all intimate relationships to be stable and monogamous, but those who would rewrite our culture find it unacceptably insensitive to acknowledge that intimacy can differ in very profound ways.

Federalism and the ACA: How States Can Control Health Care Destiny

Marc Comtois

David Harsanyi explains just how expensive the "Affordable Care Act" will be:

And even after all the taxes and mandates, the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] estimates that by 2021, around 26 million Americans still won’t have health insurance. What will it cost to provide universal coverage using the Obamacare model be? We don’t know. But a person should be highly skeptical about the numbers we’re hearing.

In a study released a few months ago, Chuck Blahous, a Medicare Board of Trustee member named by President Obama, reported that price tag for Obamacare was around $1.15 trillion. It doesn’t lower the deficit as promised but increases it by nearly $530 billion by 2021.

A few years ago, the Senate Joint Economic Committee released a study that looked at initial estimates of programs and their costs in dollars at that time. In 1967, the House Ways and Means Committee predicted that the new Medicare program would cost $12 billion in 1990. It was $110 billion. In 1987, Congress estimated that Medicaid’s hospital subsidies were estimated to cost less than $1 billion in 1992. It was $17 billion.

That’s just two of countless examples.

So even if Obamacare’s coercive individual mandate weren’t technically a tax, it is effectively one of the largest taxes we’ve seen in a long time. And, all signs say, it’s going to get a lot bigger. In the end, someone’s got to pay.

There is a way around this for states, as Jeffrey Singer of the CATO Institute explains. According to Singer, states refusing to expand their Medicaid programs will "place a huge obstacle in the path of implementing" the ACA. This is because this will shift coverage for those individuals into the Health Care exchanges that are mandated by the ACA but states aren't obligated to create on their own. And they shouldn't.
The state reaps no advantage from creating an exchange. This is because the state must carry out all federal directives in operating and implementing the exchange, and has no autonomy in the matter. In effect, all it does is make the state act as the proxy — the executive secretary, if you will — for the federal government in operating its exchange.
Therefore, states that opt-out of Medicaid expansion should also elect to not create their own Health Care Exchange, thereby shifting the burden of Exchange creation back onto the federal government.
According to the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will set up a health insurance exchange in any state that chooses not to create its own exchange. It is through these exchanges that people will obtain their government-approved health insurance....according to explicit wording in the Affordable Care Act, if the states let the federal government create the exchanges, then residents of those states will not be able to receive federal subsidies to help them purchase the super-expensive, government-designed, government-mandated health insurance. Without those subsidies, few people would want to purchase these expensive policies.
[If the] federal government creates the exchanges, small businesses are exempt from the onerous employer mandates. This rescues small businesses from the huge financial burden Obamacare places upon them. It will enable them to expand and add jobs without fear of financial insolvency from health insurance mandates.

In short, if the states don’t create their own exchanges, Obamacare won’t work.

So the cloud of the Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision indeed comes with a silver lining. It leaves the states holding all the cards. The future of Obamacare is in their hands.

Justin has also explained how the Affordable Care Act will lead to less affordable health care for Rhode Islanders and has expanded on it with a policy brief (PDF) published by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, which also recommends that Rhode Island should pass a Health Care Freedom Act:

1) Repeal the governor’s executive order creating PPACA Health Insurance Exchanges.
2) Apply for a State Innovation Waiver to free RI from certain provisions of PPACA, including exchanges.
3) Enact a Health Care Freedom Act that would:
a) Open up competition by allowing interstate sales to permit Rhode Islanders
to purchase health insurance plans from approved providers in other states.
b) Allow an “opt out” provision from the state’s currently burdensome level of
health insurance mandates and require insurers to openly display the original
mandates not included.
4) Pass an amendment to the state constitution to prohibit the federal government from ever requiring Rhode Island residents to buy health insurance.
5) Pass a resolution calling for amendment of the federal Constitution to invalidate PPACA.
Similar actions are being taken in other states. Unfortunately, given our current governor and the political makeup of our state, there is is a snowball's chance in July of Rhode Island opting out. In fact, we're rushing to be the first in.

Portsmouth Institute, Day 3: Rev. Nicanor Austriaco, "What Can Genomic Science Tell Us About Adam & Eve?"

Justin Katz

The Portsmouth Institute conference on "Modern Science, Ancient Faith" closed in spectacular fashion with Rev. Nicanor Austriaco, who teaches both biology and theology at Providence College. With the ease and humor of somebody used to speaking before college students, Austriaco explained what genomic science tells us about our ancestors and speculated about the timing and historical environment of the common ancestors whom the Bible calls Adam and Eve.

In brief, Austriaco said that, mathematically, one would have to have had between 1,000 and 2,000 mating pairs 50,000 to 70,000 years ago in order for everybody alive today to have common ancestors and yet to be as diverse as we are. That is, Adam and Eve were not the only human beings (or matable humanoids) alive at the time, but they did something to displease God (I would say something having to do with the choice of self-awareness and related knowledge) that made them distinct, and their ancestral lines blended with others as time went on.

(That would certainly ease quite a bit of the discomfort with which the modern is likely to read the first few generations described in the Bible.)

He elaborated that anatomically modern human beings date back about 100,000-150,000 years, but behaviorally modern humans go back only 50,000.

During the question and answer portion (which ran beyond what the schedule had initially allowed), Austriaco spoke about original sin and its application to all of nature, not just the children of Adam and Eve. He referred back to Aquinas, suggesting that before the Fall, "eagles were eagles and lions were lions," but they killed in a somehow "ordered way," meaning with the proper alignment of things... material to spirit, man to God.

It doesn't take much effort to connect this thread with the idea articulated by William Dembski about two forms of information: one internal to nature and one entailing some form of creativity and intentionality. The information inside an acorn that leads it to "build" a tree can be seen as ordered; access to the disordered information that a material creature such as a human being applies to the creation of which he's a part fits very well with the Old Testament's description of events.

From there, one can see the accomplishment of Christ as being the reintroduction of the proper perspective for use of human beings' capacity for knowledge, with the emphasis on that which is outside of nature, in the same way that God is outside of His creation. The cross is the symbol of this proper alignment of material life and spiritual existence.

But as the various speakers at the conference illustrated by their own talks, one needn't go quite this far in order to see that science and religion can coexist, even as they press against each other along the uneven border between regions of human thought.

July 10, 2012

Rhode Island Faces Imminent Peril, Says the State Board of Elections

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to the State Board of Elections, Rhode Island is facing "an imminent peril" to its "public health, safety, or welfare". The imminent peril has forced the Board to call an emergency meeting to "[make] confidential the optional information on voter registrations of voters email addresses, telephone numbers and if interested as working as poll workers, since that information is not required under state law and is meant for the use by the local boards of canvassers".

Without having declared imminent peril to Rhode Island, the Board would have to "provide 30 days notice of its intended action", "afford all interested persons reasonable opportunity to submit data, views, or arguments", and demonstrate need, before adopting the new administrative rule.

However, by declaring an "an imminent peril to the public health, safety, or welfare" of Rhode Islanders, the Board of Elections will try to immediately put into place its new rule that would make confidential the optional information on voter registrations, "for a period of not longer than one hundred twenty (120) days".

By the way, the next general election in the state of Rhode Island is one hundred eighteen (118) days away from the date of tomorrow's meeting.

Apparently, in the minds of the Rhode Island Board of Elections, the prospect of challengers to incumbent office holders making use of public information resources that have been regularly available in prior election cycles (the incumbents will still have their info from the last time around) has suddenly come to constitute "an imminent peril" in this year.

Exchanges and Medicaid Expansion Move Health Care in the Wrong Direction

Justin Katz

The Supreme Court's recent ruling that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is constitutional resolved one narrow area of uncertainty surrounding the law. The upcoming U.S. election season as well as the various reactions of the states to implementation of new federal policy leave the future of health care at the national level unstable.

It would be prudent for Rhode Island to consider its options as a sovereign state, rather than merely charging forward with reforms as concocted in Washington, D.C. A policy brief that I've written for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity finds there to be seven critical flaws — risks to Rhode Islanders — that justify reconsidering the planned implementation of the new Medicaid expansion and state health benefits exchange.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Small Business Getting the Screws

Marc Comtois

While President Obama attempts to frame the lapse of the "Bush tax cuts" in 2013 as a supposed return to the norm--with plenty of help from the media, who have accepted the premise that the extension of current tax rates are actually revenue "losses" should they be "extended"--he also recognizes that it would be political suicide to let that happen in toto. So he has come up with a plan to "extend" the "Bush tax cuts" another year for individuals making less than $200,000 and businesses making less than $250,000. According to the President, anyone making more will be taxed at the rate "we were paying under Bill Clinton." Not quite according to the Wall Street Journal:

[President Obama] ignores his ObamaCare tax increase of 0.9% on top of the current 2.9% Medicare tax, plus a new 2.9% surcharge on investment income, including interest income.

That's an additional 3.8% surcharge on investment income, and added to the Bush expirations would take the capital gains rate to 23.8% from 15% today, and the dividend tax rate to about 45% from 15%. In Mr. Obama's economic world, tax cuts for middle-class "consumption" are good, but low rates to spur saving and investment are bad. This makes no sense because consumption is ultimately the product of saving and investment.

How does this affect small business?
The President dismissed all of this as merely affecting 3% of small business owners. But that includes tens of thousands of the most productive, fastest-growing small businesses—those most likely to hire workers amid a national jobless rate of 8.2%.

Congress's Joint Tax Committee—not a conservative outfit—estimates that in 2013 about 940,000 taxpayers will have enough business income to meet Mr. Obama's tax increase threshold. And of the roughly $1.3 trillion in net business income, about 53% will get hit with the higher tax rates.

This is because millions of businesses report their income as sole proprietors and subchapter S corporations that file under the individual tax code. So Mr. Obama wants these businesses to pay higher tax rates than the giant likes of General Electric or J.P. Morgan. Does that qualify as "tax fairness"?

No, but the President--and the Federal Government--aren't as friendly to small business as they'd all like us to believe and it's nothing new, as the U.S. Small Business Administration reports:
The federal government last year fell short of its “small business” contracting goals for the eleventh straight year, a streak that stretches back to the first year of the George W. Bush administration. Federal agencies awarded contracts worth $91.5 billion to small companies in fiscal year 2011, equal to 21.7% of all prime government contract dollars awarded. Despite ongoing efforts to boost small business contracting, 2011 saw a drop of 6.5% from the 2010 total of $97.9 billion, which represented 22.7% of prime contract dollars. With a goal of 23%, however, the government came up short in both years, according to data released by the Small Business Administration (SBA).

The government also failed to hit its contracting goals for businesses owned by women or service-disabled veterans, as well as for those located in traditionally underserved and underemployed regions of the country.
Couple the above with the way regulations are stacked against small-businesses, as Jay Carney explains in his analysis of a new policy paper arguing against corporatism (and for truly free markets) by Matt Mitchell, senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center:
Politically favored businesses of course benefit from direct subsidies (think agribusiness) and government loan guarantees (think Solyndra and Boeing), but Mitchell makes the important point that regulation itself creates a privileged class.

Regulation often acts directly or indirectly as a barrier to entry. The conservative and libertarian media have documented this anecdotally -- Philip Morris supported and is benefiting from Obama's tobacco regulation, for instance, because the rules allow it to lock in its dominant market share.

This is not an idea held by just free-market think tanks, either. Carney continues:
For instance, liberal activists Ralph Nader and Mark Green wrote in the Yale Law Journal that the "regulatory system undermines competition and entrenches monopoly at the public's expense." Mitchell in this section also cites Alan Krueger, who now heads Obama's Council of Economic Advisers.

In the Obama era, as Democrats and the media try to paint deregulation as some sort of dangerous sop to big business, Mitchell's notion of "regulatory privilege" is a crucial tool for dismantling the old narrative that regulation protects the public. Mitchell uses a colorful image to make his case: Bruce Yandle's "bootleggers and Baptists."

Illegal booze smugglers, Yandle wrote, "support Sunday closing laws that shut down all the local bars and liquor stores. Baptists support the same laws and lobby vigorously for them. Both parties gain. ..."

Between regulation and higher taxes, it's no wonder that small-business owners feel like the screws are being put to them.

Rhode Island Is Not Delaware - Why Not?

Patrick Laverty

I've been sitting on this article for a few days because I couldn't think of the best way to write about it. I guess in many ways, it's just so obvious that there isn't a whole lot to say. I'll just throw it out there.

On June 30, the NY Times published the article: How Delaware Thrives as a Corporate Tax Haven. The focus of the article seems to be the tax dodging and the criminal aspects of it. Some states, like Pennsylvania, get angry about Delaware's business-friendly tax laws and claim that Delaware robs them of their tax revenues.

State lawmakers in Pennsylvania are now trying to close the loophole, arguing that their state is being robbed of its tax dollars. Of particular concern is that many companies involved in drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania are, in fact, incorporating in Delaware instead.

“Delaware is an outlier in the way it does business,” said David E. Brunori, a professor at George Washington Law School and an expert on taxation. “What it offers is an opportunity to game the system and do it legally.”

Exactly, they do it legally. At least one state has set up an environment that is business-friendly to the point that many US corporations will actually seek it out to put an office there and pay tax dollars there. Even international entities will set up shop in Delaware due to their tax laws.

“Companies choose our state and we are proud of it,” said Richard J. Geisenberger, Delaware’s chief deputy secretary of state and its leading ambassador to business. “We spend a lot of time in the United States and traveling internationally to let people know that Delaware is a great place to do business.”

I'm sure some will turn up their nose at being "business friendly." It must come at the expense of everyone else, right? If you're going to be friendly to businesses, someone has to pick up the tax bill and the only alternative there is the lowly taxpayer. So let's take a look at Delaware's tax rates, especially in comparison to Rhode Island, using the Tax Foundation's numbers: DE RI

State Indiv. Income Tax Top Rate Corporate Income Tax Flat Rate Sales Tax Property Tax Per Capita Taxes Paid to State Per Capita Unemployment rate
Delaware 6.75% 8.7% 0% $712 $2,432* 6.8%
Rhode Island 5.99% 9% 7% $2,019 $3,290* 11%

*Total paid to the state is for 2009

According to those numbers, the residents of Delaware pay less in taxes and have an unemployment rate that's just a little bit more than half of Rhode Island's. Even better, they don't have a sales tax, so that will also attract residents of neighboring states into Delaware for puchases. Like I said earlier, this sort of thing is just so obvious, what else is there to say?

Portsmouth Institute, Day 2, Session 4: Dr. Michael Ruse, "Making Room for Faith in an Age of Science"

Justin Katz

With a joke about philosophers and theologians (he being the former), Michael Ruse used the dinner speech of day two of the Portsmouth Institute conference on "Modern Science, Ancient Faith" to take up the ostensibly neutral (mutually skeptical) approach to arbitrating between religion and science.

He referred to both approaches to knowledge as "symbolic" — presenting metaphors to explain reality. For its part, science long ago became wedded to the metaphor of the universe as a machine. The human brain, for instance, is "a computer made out of meat." (That made me wonder whether they could be seen as accessing a spiritual Internet.)

Ultimately, he suggested, if your area of interest is investigating the clockworks of the world, then you're "just not talking about" things like ultimate causes, morality, and the point of it all. Of course (I'd interject), a great many people who see science and religion as opposed and incompatible insist that it can and should dabble in such philosophy.

Because they see science as potentially providing "ultimate causes," and they "worship chance" as Kevin O'Brien put it, in the character of Dom. Stanley Jaki, they do claim access to moral discernment. That, for instance, has been the core cause of push-back against evolution in the classroom. As misplaced as they may be, those religious believers aren't imagining that evolution as presented has given the faith of materialism a way around the otherwise iron-fisted separation of church and state.

July 9, 2012

Portsmouth Institute, Day 2 Concert

Justin Katz

Among the many great pleasures of the Portsmouth Institute conferences is the musical performances, thus far conducted by former Portsmouth Abbey music director Troy Quinn. This year's performance was no exception.

The aesthetic bonus of a windy thunderstorm rolling by outside doesn't quite convey in the video, but in any event, if one is in need of evidence of reality outside the material world, such concerts provide just that.

Aaron Copland, "Appalachian Spring Suite"

Jean Sibelius, "Andante Festivo"

Arthur Honegger, "Pastorale d'été"

Samuel Barber, "Adagio for Strings"

No Primary for Doherty in CD1

Patrick Laverty

Michael Donahue, an announced candidate for RI Congressional District 1 as a Republican, is no longer going to pursue the seat. Donahue appeared on the Helen Glover Show this morning with Michael Napolitano guest hosting and made the announcement.

Donahue will instead pursue the RI House District 68 seat as a Republican and will face the Democratic winner from a four-way primary.

This leaves Brendan Doherty alone on the Republican side to face the winner of a three-way primary between David Cicilline, Anthony Gemma and Christopher Young, as well as two Independent candidates and one Unaffiliated.

Addendum: Brendan Doherty campaign manager Ian Prior issued a release: "We are pleased to learn that there will be nothing to distract the campaign from its focus on defeating Congressman Cicilline this November 6. By all appearances, Mr Donahue wants nothing more than to serve the public and we wish him well in his endeavors."

Portsmouth Institute, Day 2, Session 3: Kevin O'Brien as Dom Stanley Jaki

Justin Katz

At each of the Portsmouth Institute's conferences (except the first, as I recall), Kevin O'Brien of Theater of the Word has had some sort of performance. Last year, being on Catholicism and Shakespeare, his troupe performed scenes from Shakespeare with accompanying commentary.

O'Brien's other two performances, however, were self-composed biographical lectures given in the character of some notable religious figure. This year, it was Dom. Stanley Jaki, a priest who wrote voluminously on science.

As a performance art collection of various writings by Dom. Jaki, the talk stood as a collection of insights toward the broad statement of a particular case. Two related quotations illustrate well: "Science is the quantitative study of things in motion," which can lead to the fallacy that "what cannot be measured exactly cannot be exactly."

July 8, 2012

RE: Happiness - Part 2 - Who is Happier, Libs or Cons?

Marc Comtois

Continuing along the happiness trail, if it isn't exactly money, then what is it? According to Arthur Brooks, it may just be your political ideology. So, who is happier? Liberals or Conservatives?

Scholars on both the left and right have studied this question extensively, and have reached a consensus that it is conservatives who possess the happiness edge. Many data sets show this. For example, the Pew Research Center in 2006 reported that conservative Republicans were 68 percent more likely than liberal Democrats to say they were “very happy” about their lives. This pattern has persisted for decades.
Of course, the question is "why"? Many conservatives would chalk it up to family and faith and, as reported in the article, "Fifty-two percent of married, religious, politically conservative people (with kids) are very happy — versus only 14 percent of single, secular, liberal people without kids. " There's another way to look at it:
An explanation for the happiness gap more congenial to liberals is that conservatives are simply inattentive to the misery of others. If they recognized the injustice in the world, they wouldn’t be so cheerful. In the words of Jaime Napier and John Jost, New York University psychologists, in the journal Psychological Science, “Liberals may be less happy than conservatives because they are less ideologically prepared to rationalize (or explain away) the degree of inequality in society.” The academic parlance for this is “system justification.”

The data show that conservatives do indeed see the free enterprise system in a sunnier light than liberals do, believing in each American’s ability to get ahead on the basis of achievement. Liberals are more likely to see people as victims of circumstance and oppression, and doubt whether individuals can climb without governmental help.

Then again:
[Other] scholars note that liberals define fairness and an improved society in terms of greater economic equality. Liberals then condemn the happiness of conservatives, because conservatives are relatively untroubled by a problem that, it turns out, their political counterparts defined.

Imagine the opposite. Say liberals were the happy ones. Conservatives might charge that it is only because liberals are unperturbed by the social welfare state’s monstrous threat to economic liberty. Liberals would justifiably dismiss this argument as solipsistic and silly.

But my favorite, by far, is what all of this says about Moderates:
People at the extremes are happier than political moderates. Correcting for income, education, age, race, family situation and religion, the happiest Americans are those who say they are either “extremely conservative” (48 percent very happy) or “extremely liberal” (35 percent). Everyone else is less happy, with the nadir at dead-center “moderate” (26 percent).

What explains this odd pattern? One possibility is that extremists have the whole world figured out, and sorted into good guys and bad guys. They have the security of knowing what’s wrong, and whom to fight. They are the happy warriors.

Yes, I'm sure many of you will point out that "ignorance is bliss" and all that. But even if it is, well, you're still happy, right?

Only So Much Money Can Buy You Happiness

Marc Comtois

Bob Plain tweeted a link to a story on a study showing that the "comfortable standard" of income for being happy is, generally, around $75,000 in the United States. But whereas Bob indicated "$75k is the income Mendoza Line for affording happiness", that's a mischaracterization of what the research shows (granted, it was a character-limited tweet, so I don't want to take Bob too much to task here. In reality, I'm glad he pointed to the story). In short, $75K is the point at which making more money doesn't necessarily buy you more happiness. Happiness only grows incrementally with jumps in income and you can still be plenty happy with less than $75K .

Using Gallup data collected from almost half a million Americans, researchers at Princeton found that higher household incomes were associated with better moods on a daily basis — but the beneficial effects of money tapered off entirely after the $75,000 mark.

Why, then, do so many of us bother to work so hard long after we have reached an income level sufficient to make most of us happy? One reason is that our ideas about the relationship between money and happiness are misguided. In research we conducted with a national sample of Americans, people thought that their life satisfaction would double if they made $55,000 instead of $25,000: more than twice as much money, twice as much happiness. But our data showed that people who earned $55,000 were just 9 percent more satisfied than those making $25,000. Nine percent beats zero percent, but it’s still kind of a letdown when you were expecting a 100 percent return.

Interestingly, and usefully, it turns out that what we do with our money plays a far more important role than how much money we make.

The rest of the story gives examples that are kinda of the "no s**t" variety (eating chocolate all the time isn't as joyful as only every once in a while; giving to others generates more happiness than buying stuff for ourselves) and it seems to attempt (tenuously) to link so-called "underindulgence" as beneficial when enforced by government (citing New York's large-size soda ban). But it's a nice re-affirmation of something that seems sorta common sense to most of us: good thing science and the New York Times verified it!

July 7, 2012

At What Point Can We Start Reading Into the Unemployment Numbers?

Monique Chartier

As Marc notes, the Obama administration's reaction to an unemployment number that remained unchanged at 8.2% is that it is "a step in the right direction", as opposed to a Bush era unemployment rate of 5.6% which, according to candidate Barack Obama, was "too early to celebrate".

Further to this month's unemployment figure, the Obama administration issued a statement several paragraphs long which included the following admonition.

[I]t is important not to read too much into any one monthly report and it is informative to consider each report in the context of other data that are becoming available

Well, that's probably a fair statement. Except that, as someone over at the Romney campaign alertly noticed, this is the thirty first month in a row that the Obama administration has issued this disclaimer.

Over at The Blaze, Becket Adams summarizes

The White House has been telling people that they shouldn’t “read too much into” unemployment figures since November 2009! In fact, the White House has said those exact same words 30 times over the last three years.

A commenter on The Blaze postulates that TOTUS is stuck. Whatever the cause, the result is that the statement has lost some of its effectiveness and ability to reassure.

Remember when 310,000 new jobs & 5.6% unemployment just wasn't enough? Barack Obama does....

Marc Comtois

Yesterday we learned that the economy created 80,000 jobs and was at 8.2%, which President Obama called "a step in the right direction". Back in 2004, coming out of a recession, the economy created 310,000 new jobs and unemployment was at 5.6%. But that wasn't good enough--wasn't the real story--for a little-known state legislator running for the U.S. Senate. Instead, then-State Senator Barack Obama criticized then-President George W. Bush and his administration for travelling around celebrating the economic progress indicated by the 310,000 new jobs and 5.6% unemployment rate (h/t).

So remember:

310,000 new jobs and 5.6% unemployment = "too early to celebrate"
80,000 new jobs and 8.2% unemployment = "step in the right direction"

Portsmouth Institute, Day 2, Session 2: Dr. William Dembski, "An Informative-Theoretic Proof of God's Existence"

Justin Katz

From an entertainment standpoint, the most interesting aspect of Bill Dembski's talk at the Portsmouth Institute conference on "Modern Science, Ancient Faith" was the continuation of what is apparently a long-standing head-to-head with the previous speaker, Ken Miller. Dembski is a notable personage on the intelligent design side of the public debate, and at one point issued a throw-down for a sort of public trial pitting Miller's crew against his own.

Most interesting from an intellectual standpoint, though, was Dembski's step away from the heat of a politically charged issue to his substantive argument with respect to evolution. In an echo of Miller's suggestion that organisms collect information from their environment, Dembski pointed out that "natural selection is a non-random search." How, then, did nature find that process?

Think of a time when you've done some tedious project. Eventually you may have come up with a process, or series of steps, that was more efficient than that with which you began. That took observation and analysis.

Dembski divided processes into two types of information. There is the information inside an acorn that tells it how to make a tree, and there is the information that a shipwright brings to bear when following a blueprint. Both forms of information exist, but only one is interior to nature and available for natural processes.

He told the story of an artist hired to make a bust of Beethoven. The client was none too impressed when the artist arrived with a large, untouched stone and explained that every particle of the Beethoven bust was inside the stone. Therefore, he had delivered exactly what he had promised.

I'd go a step farther with the analogy. What's critical about the fable is not that the artist didn't have a point; modern art is full of such gimmicks. The point is that the particular client did not like the statement made and, indeed, considered it to be a lazy scam. It's not just the material information contained in the particles of a statue, and it's not just the intellectual information contained in an artist's sketch (or even his too clever argument about the bust).

Rather, what we seek in art is that which speaks on another plane of existence: communication. The client did not like the message that he felt the artist had communicated.

This clearly, is the reemergence of the running, unspoken theme of the conference. That which makes suffering out of mere pain and beauty out of mere material coincidence is communication and the conscious sense thereof. Slippery and prone to misinterpretation as it may be, it is as real as the subatomic particles in our atoms and indicates an abstract space outside of the material universe.

July 5, 2012

The Conundrum of Consumer Bags

Justin Katz

So, the town of Barrington is well on its way to banning the use of plastic shopping bags among the commercial establishments within its borders:

... the town conservation commission has already voted to ban the use of plastic grocery bags at retail stores. The proposal now goes before the Town Council for review.

If it passes, Barrington would become the second town in New England to impose such a law, increas ingly popular along the trendy West Coast. San Francisco banned plastic bags in large grocery stores and pharmacies in 2007, followed by Oakland and Los Angeles.

The move is triply surreal. For one thing, as American Progressive Bag Alliance spokeswoman argues, "Paper bags are worse for the earth." That is, the ban would be a government restraint on human activity that is at best debatable.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Portsmouth Institute, Day 2, Session 1: Dr. Kenneth Miller, "To Find God in All Things"

Justin Katz

Brown University biology professor Ken Miller opened the second day of conferences at this year's Portsmouth Institute conference, "Modern Science, Ancient Faith." Readers may find his name familiar, inasmuch as he was a central figure when the teaching of evolution was big news a few years back. He also stood out, among the academics for evolution in that he remains a practicing Catholic and does not present evolution as counter-evidential to God.

As a professor and one who has spoken on the topic many times, Miller's presentation was very enjoyable, and he handily won over the audience. Of course, it was clear from the beginning of the conference, that the audience was far from creationist in its general viewpoint. It is descriptive, rather than derogatory, to say that one would expect such a view from educated Catholics.

That said, Miller still had the pique of the heated public debate days, as evident in his insistence that the decisions of a school district in Pennsylvania was nearly an existential battle over "the place of scientific inquiry itself." That may be true, if one believes that scientific inquiry ought to be the pole star of all society, without variation across the vast landscape of the United States, but conservatives (at least) ought to worry about the implications of dictating even that.

Surely, in the mix of considerations that society must integrate for the health and happiness of its members, other principles can be higher than scientific inquiry. That, one can't help but feel, explains some of the uneasiness even among evolutionist believers with the terms of the evolution versus intelligent design debate (and has a familiar feel, the day after Independence Day). Perhaps there are higher ideals that supersede the narrow debate about evolution, just as God supersedes the observable natural process itself.

Most significant, though, was Miller's tacit continuation of the theme that underlay the entire conference, manifesting in two points that he made. Describing the relatively rapid evolution of bacteria in the lab to be able to break down a pesticide, he explained that "living organisms harvest information from the environment." One could pivot on the point (and the experiment) to note that shaping the environment is precisely a tool for designing life, but it's the idea of information that leads toward new discussion, as opposed to returning to the battles of the past.

The second appearance of the theme arose when Miller highlighted fire rainbows as so beautiful as to constitute a religious experience, yet entirely explicable through the material processes. As with John Haught's reference to suffering, though there appear to be two types of information in play: one involving the instructions within nature about how material things must respond to their environment, and one involving a higher perspective of conscious subjectivity.

The former explains ice crystals' treatment of light and a living organisms reaction to painful sensations. The latter is what elevates pain to suffering and refraction to beauty.

July 4, 2012

Oopsie! The Position Was Filled Before the Opening Was Posted

Monique Chartier

Now how is the Chafee administration supposed to fake conduct the nationwide search when this happens??? (Great job exposing this, Kathy Gregg.)

A belated job posting drew 115 applicants for the $88,177-a-year Chafee-administration post held by former Miss Rhode Island Allison Rogers.

Rogers, whose credentials include graduate and under-graduate degrees from Harvard University, was hired May 6 and put to work almost immediately as an executive assistant to Chafee's director of administration, Richard Licht.

Sometime later, the posting went up for an $83,476-to-$96,927-a-year "executive assistant" to the director in the Department of Administration. The application period: June 18-27.

It is the same job. ...

Two Twitter Tidbits

Monique Chartier

Firstly, a Manhatten judge has ruled that Twitter must release three months of tweets of a man charged with disorderly conduct. The D.A. had supboenaed the tweets to establish that the defendant knew that he was breaking the law when he marched on the Brooklyn Bridge

during a mass demonstration related to the Occupy Wall Street protests.

The reasoning of Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. strikes me as interesting and sound.

Twitter had moved to quash the request from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, arguing that like email, Twitter users have a reasonable expectation of privacy under the fourth amendment. The judge disagreed, saying “if you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.”

And, paging Woonsocket's John Ward, City Council president and member of the Budget Commission. Can we please get some background/explanation of this enigmatic tweet from a couple of days ago?

John Ward ‏@jfward55

How many mole hills does it take to make a mountain? One, I think, in the right forum.

Portsmouth Institute, Day 1, Session 3: Dr. John Haught, "Evolution and Faith: What Is the Problem?"

Justin Katz

Georgetown University theology professor John Haught firmly established the theme of the Portsmouth Institute conference on "Modern Science, Ancient Faith" with his talk on the reconciliation of religion and science — even if he arguably did so without explicitly stating it.

Dr. Haught did so by taking up several of the philosophical objections to Christian theology, where it touches on the observable world. How, one question asks, could a good God have created a world with so much suffering?

Haught's entire presentation was in some ways an answer, but one of the key concepts that he offered was that life has a "narrative character"; it's a story, which is after all the "medium of meaning." He asked, rhetorically, "Would you try to make the world nice and safe?" Beginning a world with that requirement would sure produce a different outcome, but by many human measures (and probably most divine measures) it would be inferior.

Another rhetorical question that Haught poses inspired his most memorable image: If the point of the universe was intelligent life, why did it take so long? To illustrate argument, he showed a picture of 30 books of 450 pages each. Human life would appear on the very last page of the very last volume.

His answer was that the universe is in the process of becoming "something other than God in creation." We're experiencing that process..

One might also inquire of the rhetorical asker (somewhat whimsically) how long he could play in the sandbox of the universe, with full view of the tiniest particle and the largest galaxy, before interest demanded a new features, like life. But the idea at the next intellectual step after Haught's argument is much more satisfactory: As a Being in some sense beyond creation, God may be considered outside of time, as well as material. That being the case, creation was instantaneous from His perspective; we're just within it as it unfolds.

The idea of God — of spirit — beyond the material universe also provides answer to the argument about suffering, as would come into focus as the conference proceeded the next day.


This paragraph, from a New York Times article about the official "discovery" of the Higgs boson, seems supremely relevant to the above:

Confirmation of the Higgs boson or something very like it would constitute a rendezvous with destiny for a generation of physicists who have believed in the boson for half a century without ever seeing it. And it reaffirms a grand view of a universe ruled by simple and elegant and symmetrical laws, but in which everything interesting in it, such as ourselves, is due to flaws or breaks in that symmetry.

Happy Independence Day?

Justin Katz

The Ocean State Current encourages readers to spend some time today reading the Declaration of Independence and considering its continuing significance in our times.

Some of the particulars resonate as if addressing present issues:

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. ...

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance. ...

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation ...

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent ...

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers ...

But more profound, naturally, is the spirit of the document, and the pondering of it may lead one to question whether it does continue to have significance for many Americans — for enough Americans.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

July 3, 2012

Woonsocket Call Reverts Almost Entirely to Paper Paper

Monique Chartier

You used to be able to read the Woonsocket Call on-line. Sometime in the last ten days, however, that changed. Now, when you click on an article, you get only the first paragraph or two followed by a non-clickable directive. Example below from today's (I think) paper.

WOONSOCKET — After receiving a quarter of its state aid nine months earlier than it normally would have, the Woonsocket Education Department will pay off more than $11 million in overdue vendor bills by the end of the week. The state-appointed Budget Commission approved the first payout of $2.5 million to Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Rhode Island last week, and on Monday authorized another payment of more than $2.3 million to 11 more vendors. The recipients got first dibs on the cash because they were owed at least $100,000 longer than 90 days, said Schools Supt. Giovanna Donoyan.

Read more in our print edition.

Reporters, editors and photographers are entitled to make a living. More importantly, anything resembling good government requires a robust and inquisitive press . The Call's "new" approach of directing the reader to "older" technology would seem like a step backwards. At the same time, haven't newspapers which have switched to an electronic format and a paywall done so with mixed results? I wish the Call all the best with this endeavor. We need them and all newspapers to find their footing in electronic territory ... even if it's firmly among the (dead) trees.

Doing More With Less

Patrick Laverty

I would expect that constituents on both sides of the aisle to be asking members of the General Assembly if they will be taking the same cuts* as eight of them have been reported to be doing. Today's Providence Journal reports that eight members of the General Assembly, six in the Senate and two in the House will decline their state constitution-mandated raises.

As of Monday afternoon, six senators — all of them Republicans — and two House members had notified the Joint Committee on Legislative Services, a panel of House and Senate leaders that oversees General Assembly business matters, that they do not want the additional pay. The list includes Senators Dennis L. Algiere, R-Westerly; Dawson T. Hodgson, R-North Kingstown; Nicholas D. Kettle, R-Coventry; Francis T. Ma-her, R-Exeter; Christopher Ottiano, R-Portsmouth; and Glenford J. Shibley, R-Coventry; and Representatives Doreen M. Costa, R-North Kingstown, and James N. McLaughlin, D-Cumberland, said House spokesman Larry Berman.
Granted, the amount is relatively small (increasing from $14,185.96 to $14,639.90) so the move is partly symbolic, but I think that when members of the Assembly do something positive, we should write about that as well, and not just let the "blogosphere" (gotta love made up words) be negative all the time.

So at this time when our politicians are ok with nickel and diming us all over the state every year, here's one time when we can post something good about nickel and diming in the other direction.

But you didn't think I could end this with all kittens and roses right? Keep in mind that this is 8 out of 113. We still have 105 who will either accept the raise or simply haven't decided yet.

*The use of "cuts" is tongue in cheek as a cut is usually indicative of spending less. Here is the usage where we call it a cut only because we're spending less than was budgeted for in the future, but there's still not any real savings. Many times when our local politicians tell us about "cuts" and "savings", this is the usage they really mean. Marc has posted about this a number of times.

Portsmouth Institute, Day 1, Session 2: Abbott James Wiseman, "A New Heaven and a New Earth"

Justin Katz

Among the truly fascinating aspects of the entire 2012 Portsmouth Institute conference, "Modern Science, Ancient Faith," was the pervasive appearance of an underlying theme. That, in itself, is not surprising; the fact that nobody took its appearance as opportunity actually to state it is.

In retrospect, in the second lecture of the series, Brother Wiseman was most explicit on the point. His talk had much to do with the proper relationship of science and religion and the translation of revelation into terms consistent with the material world. Revelation, as he said, does not give exact knowledge of the world, present or future, but rather a sense of how things are and ought to be.

Of particular interest was the time that Wiseman spent on eschatology, or the religious expectation of the end of this world. In this regard, he spoke of past theologians who held that we could not separate the material and the spirit in our hope for "a state beyond decay and suffering." Indeed, and here's the hint of that which grew to be fascinating later, he spoke of the end days as a "conversion of energy into pure information."

It appears that the theologians were conspicuously reluctant to translate that vision into concrete predictions, but when combined with the notion — expressed by Wiseman and repeated throughout the weekend — that one must look beyond science for a full explanation of reality, it begins to transform into a workable model for ultimate questions.

July 2, 2012

No Word on What Kind of Tax ObamaCare Is, but a Deduction?

Justin Katz

Last week, I gave some thought to exactly what sort of new tax Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts had created by reading the health insurance mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) as a tax. My conclusion was that the only logical reading that satisfies the constitutional restraints is that it's a capitation tax (assessed per person) for which purchasers of health insurance and those with inadequate income receive a credit on their income tax returns.

Obviously, any attempt to categorize the tax are necessarily read into the law, because there are no provisions for taxation. Indeed, the Obama administration continues to refuse to call the mandate a tax (although not simultaneously acknowledging that it must therefore be unconstitutional).

That said, presumably the country will have to move forward with this new meaning of tax, so it behooves us to determine what exactly it is. In doing so, the old rule of thumb for science fiction stories comes to mind: The author can ask readers to suspend disbelief on a few major points (e.g., the reality of magic), but the imagined universe otherwise has to operate by pretty the same rules of physics as our real one and to be logically coherent.

National Review Senior Editor Ramesh Ponnuru's solution, offered on Bloomberg View, is a bit simpler than mine: He characterizes the mandate as a tax deduction. Although he stresses that the Justice Roberts's argument is not persuasive, whatever the case, Ponnuru's deduction example isn't really applicable for a few reasons.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Changing Utilization of Local School Districts in RI Cities and Towns

Justin Katz

In 18 of 32 combined Rhode Island school districts, enrollment has been falling as a percentage of the population under eighteen. That means families are choosing non-district charter schools, private schools, or home schooling.

As the following chart shows, Cranston and Woonsocket are the only urban districts not losing community buy-in. Among the schools in the urban circle of Providence, a substantial portion of the decrease may have to do with the proliferation of charter schools and other non-district public schools in the area over the last decade. For the 2010-2011 school year, such schools claimed 4,636 students.

The percentages derive from enrollment figures available through the RI Dept. of Education and 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census data for population under 18. The possibility therefore exists that some of the difference may also be explained by an increase of children under 5 (kindergarten) or 18 and above, but still in high school. (Consistent data at the city/town level does not allow for more targeted analysis.)

The effects of these methodological shortcomings, however, are tempered by trends within the state. The population under 5 years old fell in Rhode Island, from 63,896 (6.1% of total population) in 2000 to approximately 56,856 (5.4% of total population). At the state level, therefore, the percentage of children under 18 who are also under 5 notched down from 25.8% to 25.4%.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Portsmouth Institute, Day 1, Session 1: Dom Paschal Scotti, "Galileo Revisited"

Justin Katz

It was fitting that the the 2012 Portsmouth Institute conference, "Modern Science, Ancient Faith," held at the Portsmouth Abbey school, opened on the topic of Galileo.

Brother Scotti addressed the ways in which other factors brought about the Catholic Church's blunder with respect to Galileo. There were internal politics. Factional rifts between the Jesuits, who were more friendly to Galileo, and the Dominicans. Personality conflicts and ego-driven attacks, including on the part of the "academic superstar" scientist himself.

The bottom line, however, as Scotti told an audience member after the speech, is that the Church has actually done very well with respect to integrating science into its worldview and presentation. But when it got things wrong, with Galileo, it got them spectacularly wrong.

One particularly interesting point arose when an audience member asked whether our intelligence has arguably returned mankind to status as the center of the universe. Scotti replied that, in the old Ptolemaic view, Earth wasn't the pinnacle of the universe, but "the lowest place, the worst place," the place to which frailty sank.