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A Different Way to Get Electricity from Solar Panels

Here’s a potential downside to solar panels that I haven’t seen anybody mention before:

A lighting strike likely caused a fire that broke out in a home on Winnisimet Drive Monday night, according to a fire official. …

“It struck the outside of the building,” said [Fire Chief Joseph] Mollo. “The home had a solar system and it looked like that may have somehow drawn the lighting.”

If this is more than a fluke, perhaps lightning rods of some kind should be standard accessories.  The next step would be to tie them into the system, somehow, to capture the energy.

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The Teacher Union’s Power and Barriers to Entry

Erika Sanzi asks some key questions of the Providence Teachers Union, but the last one cuts right to the heart of unionization, at least in the public sector:

Will the union stand in the way of eliminating the arbitrary barriers to entry into the teaching profession so that we can begin to build a long overdue talent pipeline to include people who come to teaching via an alternative pathway?

The application of some simple logic finds the reason the union will likely answer “yes” to this question — meaning “yes, we will stand in the way” — until absolutely forced to moderate.  The union’s primary value proposition to its members is that it will gain them privileges and security.  The teachers to whom this protection is most valuable are those with the least capacity to fend for themselves and gather their own leverage.

The more talented a teacher is, and the more experience he or she has in other environments than government schools, the less he or she needs the union as leverage against management and the more independent he or she will be as a union member (or bargaining unit member if he or she does not join the union).

Imagine a flood of conspicuously competent people — driven by the mission of turning Providence around and enabled by the extremely desirable compensation packages that government unions have secured — entering the system as full participants.  Not only would those new teachers refuse to stand for the union’s obstruction of the mission’s success, but they would present a stark contrast to the most dedicated union members, who should predictably be the ones with the most need for union protection.

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A Need for Courage on the Right

Princeton Professor Robert George offered important advice at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver:  We need to display conspicuous courage. This explanation is important to keep in mind:

George acknowledged it is not easy to suffer such “abuse” and “defamation,” noting it places jobs, relationships, businesses and much more in jeopardy. But the more people stay silent, the bigger a problem it becomes, he said.

“If we want our children, if we want our young men and women, to be able to stand up on a college campus and not be bowled and not be intimidated, and to speak the truth and to speak their minds — we had better set an example in our own adult lives,” George said, prompting applause.

“Anyone who succumbs to the intimidation and bullying, anyone who acquiesces or goes silent out of fear, not only harms his or her own character … he or she also makes things harder for others,” George said. “We owe it not only to ourselves to be courageous … we owe it to God.”

In cultural matters — as well as spiritual — we’re all part of a chain.  Each person who steps back from the challenge makes it that much more difficult for the next person in line.  The ideal state of a movement is for its members to be so uniformly sturdy that is difficult for the weakest to break ranks.  On the other end of deterioration, even the strongest find it difficult to be sturdy.

One can observe this in play as an ideological strategy when even the most reasonable progressives refuse to acknowledge that a conservative is making a reasonable point.  In such cases, reasonableness is a sign of weakness (in actuality betraying the weakness of the position that the progressives are defending).

That is not a model that conservatives should emulate, because it is morally wrong and intellectually vapid, but it merits remembering:  Whenever you feel yourself wavering in the face of hostility, bring to mind those next in line who will find it more difficult to uphold your shared principles because you backed down.

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A Political Explanation for a Local Contract

Michael Graham offers a national political perspective as an explanation for the strange long-term, no-bid contract that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has proposed for IGT’s video slot machines:

To outsiders, the story sounds like an episode of the TV show “Scandal:” A governor with close ties to a lottery company secretly negotiates a no-bid, twenty-year, $1 billion contract, while the company’s former chairman works as her top fundraiser.

But in Rhode Island, the home of legendary political operator Buddy Cianci, some consider it business as usual.

The governor is Gina Raimondo (D-R.I.), the new head of the Democratic Governor’s Association. The corporate exec is Donald Sweitzer, who until recently was chairman of IGT Global Solutions Corporation, the company that currently has Rhode Island’s lottery and electronic gaming contract.

Beyond the shady politics, Graham emphasizes the length of the deal.  In an evolving gambling market on a rapidly changing technological landscape, can a 20-year contract even conceivably be worthwhile for taxpayers?

Andrew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center, a free-market think tank, adds that a 20-year contract, regardless of transparency, also raises questions about whether taxpayers are the priority in this deal.

“Setting aside the question of who the vendors are and what the contract says, the idea of any 20-year contract with the government is a problem, particularly for taxpayers,” Cline said. “It takes the pressure off the vendor to compete and improve. Give them a five-year contract and they know that they’re going to have to find ways to lower costs and improve quality if they’re going to compete.”

What are we getting in exchange for all that fiscal certainty for the company?

Naturally, in Graham’s view, it all comes down to the political ambitions of the governor, with which a guy like Sweitzer could be extremely helpful.  Given new poll results showing Raimondo to be (just barely) the second least popular governor in the country, Raimondo will need all the help she can get.

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Assessing the Problems and the Solutions of the Town

The particulars will vary from town to town — depending on the makeup of the population, the availability of non-tax revenue, the personalities involved in local politics, and so on — but key principles are essential for government to operate.  In a representative democracy with frequent turnover of elected officials, the rules have to be clear and consistent (and the power limited), such that the electorate is voting on broad questions of direction, not to address immediate crises or controversies.

As vice president of the Tiverton Town Council, I’ve been giving these matters a great deal of thought, and it has ultimately come down to this assessment of problems and solutions:

  1. Tiverton has no long-term financial plan.  Beginning at the council level and with input and cooperation across town government — municipal and schools — we must put every known challenge on the table and piece them all together so we can make rational decisions going forward.  Everything is a trade-off with something else, and without a real and concrete understanding of what needs to be done by when, town government cannot make informed decisions.
  2. The roles of town officials are not clearly defined (at least in how they are executed).  Much of our difficulty maintaining employees in critical positions as well as our political acrimony comes from the same source.  Whether we’re talking micromanagement from the Town Council, decisions by employees that follow improper channels, or boards that claim power for themselves (or neglect it), lacking a clear picture of who is responsible for what can result in conflicts and wasted effort.
  3. Basic and consistent rules of operation haven’t been followed.  A clear message from local businesses when Town Council members, town officials, and various volunteers toured their facilities a couple months ago was that the rules they have to follow change depending whom they ask or who holds a particular office at the time.  Meanwhile, every time employees have done something so egregious as to deserve to lose their jobs, lawyers advising the town have pointed out that no prior violations were ever actually put in their files. At the same time, the Board of Canvassers has picked and chosen what it would put on ballots.  These examples all illustrate the importance of consistency.

Some of these challenges will sound familiar across Rhode Island, but talking to people involved in politics in some other towns, I’ve been struck by just how out-of-whack Tiverton is on some of them.  That is particularly true when it comes to the lack of a financial plan.

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A Comfy Softness for Radicalism

Not to go back to the well of content that is Naomi Chomsky, but this passage from an interview appearing on Liberation (“Newspaper of the Party for Socialism and Liberation”) is of note far beyond the topic of drag queen story hours:

What about media coverage of the events?

It’s been quite positive. I’ve done a lot of back and forth with the Massachusetts Family Institute. They made comments comparing drag to blackface, and called it misogynistic. But they’re fighting to restrict women’s bodies. They also are proponents of conversion therapy. I said this to everybody, and mentioned how these groups are attacking abortion rights— but none of the media printed that. They sort of softened my message a little bit, as they do.

Softened the message as they do for whom?  I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a conservative, for example, complain that the media is softening his or her message — quite the opposite.

If you don’t read very broadly, across alternative media from all ideological angles, your understanding of controversies of the day is going to be very limited.  And it’ll be limited in the particular way of softening the edges for the progressive pill that the mainstream news media wants our society to swallow.

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The Mystery of Deteriorating Roads

As is true around the state, the condition of the roads are a constant (and justified) complaint in Tiverton, with a particular focus on those that the state owns and, therefore, is responsible to fix.  Oh, they’re on the 10-year plan for repair, but that means at least five more years — five more winters and five more thaws — until the worst of them are addressed.

A local landscaper asks a question that occurs to many Rhode Islanders, in one form or another:

Louis Dupont, said the state “better do something.”

“The state gets all this money from the lottery. Where does it go?” Dupont asked. “That baffles me. All that money. Where does it go?”

Asked his opinion of the eastern stretch of East Road, Dupont says: “The tractor almost jumps off the trailer.”

The state now has a $10 billion budget, and the municipalities collect another $2.5 billion in taxes on top of that.  Where does all the money go?

Well, this is the Know a Guy State, and budgets fund special favors, handouts, pet projects, and a substantial pay premium for government employees.  Once a chunk of cash is claimed for anything or anyone, it becomes an entitlement that is extremely difficult to take away.  When money does go toward infrastructure, cost-growing mandates from the state, such as prevailing wage, drive up the expense to ridiculous heights so taxpayer dollars can’t go as far as they otherwise would.

Big-government politicians everywhere understand that they’re better off siphoning money to things that shouldn’t be priorities so that the public will consent to higher taxes and more fees in order to fund the things that they really care about, and Rhode Island has made that principle a way of life.  Until we stop shaking our heads and writing it off simply as the way things are around here, the practice will continue.

But imagine if we insisted on change and our roads were rapidly repaired, perhaps even while we experienced a reduction in taxation.  Decline has been a choice, and it is within our power to reverse it and rocket up the national rankings that give Ocean State residents a near-monthly slap.

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RI Seeks a Workaround to Janus

Ballotpedia highlights a new union-helping law in Rhode Island:

On July 8, Governor Gina Raimondo (D) signed H5259 and S0712 into law. These companion bills authorize public-sector unions to impose fees on non-members who request union representation in grievance and/or arbitration proceedings. It requires public-sector employers to notify unions within five days of hiring new employees. It also requires employees to file written notice with the state controller in order to discontinue payroll deductions for union dues.

Some labor attorneys with whom I’ve spoken have suggested that this is patently unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s Janus decision.  They say that if union members do not have to pay extra for a service — that is, if the service of grievance representation is included in dues — then non-members cannot be charged for it.

At the very least, one can say that it is a legally gray area.  Consider this from Janus, wherein the court is arguing that the idea that employees are “free riders” if they can’t be forced to pay agency fees is not a very strong point (citations removed):

What about the representation of nonmembers in grievance proceedings? Unions do not undertake this activity solely for the benefit of nonmembers—which is why Illinois law gives a public-sector union the right to send a representative to such proceedings even if the employee declines union representation. Representation of nonmembers furthers the union’s interest in keeping control of the administration of the collective-bargaining agreement, since the resolution of one employee’s grievance can affect others.  And when a union controls the grievance process, it may, as a practical matter, effectively subordinate “the interests of [an] individual employee . . . to the collective interests of all employees in the bargaining unit.” Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co.

The next paragraph suggests less-invasive means than agency fees, such as charging for the service.  However, the text and a related footnote imply that the ability to charge is dependent on the employee’s request for union representation, which seems to suggest that non-members in a collective bargaining unit can choose other representation.

If non-members must be covered by a contract and cannot negotiate their own, separate grievance procedures, they should be afforded the option of hiring some other representative for that narrow purpose than the union.  Naturally, this being Rhode Island, we should expect all legislation to be geared toward helping the labor unions rather than balancing the legitimate interests of everybody involved.

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Bruce and the Incentives of the Central Planner

Here’s a telling note from Ted Nesi’s Nesi’s Notes on WPRI.com:

The CNBC list drew a lot of attention on social media, including from economic-development expert Bruce Katz, who tweeted: “I find this ranking difficult to understand given large drop in RI unemployment, investments in infrastructure, off-shore wind, innovation vouchers + innovation campuses, attraction of Infosys and other significant companies and many other smart moves.” Turns out Katz had good reason to have Rhode Island on the mind: on Wednesday night I ran into him in Providence, and discovered he was in town to interview with Commerce RI about writing its new economic development study. Katz, of course, helped put together the 2015 Brookings Institution report that provided the blueprint for the Raimondo administration on economic development. Katz has since left Brookings, and now runs a consultancy called New Localism Advisers. The other three contenders are Camoin Associates, TIP Strategies, and The Research Associates. Commerce spokesperson Matt Sheaff says there’s no timeline yet for making a pick.

How perfect is this.  A guy who was at the center of RI’s failed economic development strategy is publicly praising the state’s economy four or five years later while also secretly in the running for a big contract from the state government.

The archetypal central planner would no doubt disagree with this assessment, but a skeptical observer might see in the above blockquote a reason to doubt central planning.  Even by their own philosophies central planners aren’t demigods who should be expected to get every decision right from the start, which means they have to be able and willing to review their results with a cold, clinical eye.  The political incentives and human nature, however, make that practice virtually impossible.

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How You Can Help Break the Union Grip that Contributed Mightily to Providence Education “Horror Show”

By now, you must have heard about the scathing Wall Street Journal editorial on the Providence school system. They didn’t hold back, and it is right in line with what our Center has been saying for years. It is a total embarrassment for teachers who truly care about educating kids.

The WSJ put blame on the powerful teachers unions as a key reason why students are not receiving the education they deserve.

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MA and Fall River Should Help with Their Drug Dealers’ Disruptions

The only recreation marijuana store in Fall River is experiencing booming business, and it’s disrupting the neighborhood, not to mention one of the major traffic areas into Tiverton:

“We totally understand their frustration as far as last week because it was mayhem,” said Kyle Bishop, the dispensary’s chief operating officer. “The Fourth of July was insane.”

Bishop estimated that business at the dispensary was up 30% over the holiday weekend and that as many as 1,800 customer transactions were taking place daily.

To help remedy the problem, Northeast Alternatives is considering making some changes. Bishop said the business will request an increased police presence to help direct traffic at the intersection of William S. Canning Boulevard and Commonwealth Avenue, to which the dispensary’s parking lot is connected. Police will also create a new traffic lane at the intersection using traffic cones on weekends, Bishop said.

The dispensary will also post signs discouraging customers from parking on the nearby residential streets of Commonwealth Avenue and Heritage Court and have private security patrols of the neighborhood.

That’s all well and good, but a piece of the puzzle is missing.  The Commonwealth of Massachusetts collects a 10.75% excise tax on top of the 6.25% sales tax on marijuana, and the city is allowed to pile on another 3%, for a total of 20% of every sale.  If there’s any legitimate use of all that extra money, it’s dealing with the challenges that the state’s entry into recreational drugs might create.

In short, modifying that stretch of road to accommodate the cash cow should be a top priority.

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CNBC Sends RI to the Back of the Business Class… Again

Unless you’ve been getting your news mainly from the governor’s official press release feed, you may have heard that Rhode Island has dropped back down to last place on CNBC’s top states for business:

In the previous 10 years, Rhode Island has been ranked 50th four times, 49th twice and 48th twice. For each of the last two years, the state was ranked 45th.

“Having our rating drop even lower is disappointing but not surprising,” House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “In recent months, I have repeatedly called attention to the fact that our economy is losing ground compared to other states, despite years of major investment to reverse that. Government needs to do a better job of letting new and established companies conduct their business here in a timely manner.” …

Mattiello said Rhode Island needs “fundamental changes in the way state departments and agencies interact with businesses.” He cited the Department of Labor and Training and the Department of Environmental Management and said businesses need “real regulatory relief … not more fines and bigger hassles.”

The most disappointing aspect is that Mattiello’s talk doesn’t match his actions.  You just finished a legislative session.  That was your opportunity to have an effect.

The subindexes of CNBC’s ranking give some indication of the state government’s flawed approach to economic development, comparing 2019 to 2018.  In particular, if you’re trying to kick-start the economy in a top-down way, one of the levers you can control is access to capital, and indeed, Rhode Island improved for this iteration of the ranking, from 43rd to 39th.  Nonetheless, the Ocean sank from 28th to 48th when it comes to the economy.

At the end of the article, one of the governor’s many PR flacks (Matt Sheaff, who works for the Commerce secretary) offers a list of carefully chosen economic statistics to suggest the opposite — delusional and sunny — conclusion.  Sheaff’s list is suspiciously similar to one that Bryant University Economics Professor Edinaldo Tebaldi offered in a recent essay for GoLocalProv.  I’ve got a response forthcoming on that site, so I won’t go into detail, here, but suffice it to say that every point is either fleeting, misleading, or not as significant as it seems.

Our state is languishing and, over the long term, losing ground within the United States, and that needs to change.  The sad thing is that Rhode Island really does have so much potential, if it would just throw off the excess baggage that our elected officials continually layer on us.

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Larry Fitzmorris: All Down Side, No Benefit to Portsmouth Unifying High School with Newport

In a stunning decision, the Portsmouth Town Council voted 7-0 on June 24 to enter into discussions with Newport for joining the two high schools into a unified system. The proposal by Newport School Superintendent Colleen Burns Jermain had been rejected by the Middletown Council.

We have been down this road before. This decision reverses a May 2011 unanimous vote by the Portsmouth School Committee to end discussions on regionalizing all three of the Island’s districts and reject any regional approach.

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A Better Way to Cover Americans

With the State of Rhode Island writing ObamaCare into state law with this year’s budget, it’s worth noting a proposal floating around in conservative circles and the Trump Administration, as Avik Roy articulates here:

Last week, the White House finalized a new rule that allows employers to fund health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) that can be used by workers to buy their own coverage on the individual market. This subtle, technical tweak has the potential to revolutionize the private health insurance market. …

The administration estimates that as many as 800,000 employers — mostly smaller businesses — will choose this option, expanding health care choices for 11 million workers in the next decade. These employers will benefit from having fiscal certainty over their health expenditures. And workers will benefit from being able to choose their coverage and take it from job to job.

This is the health-care-market fix for which I’ve been advocating for years.  Everybody would get accounts, and employers could put money into them for their employees.  So could the government, as welfare benefits, and so could charities.  So could parents or even concerned members of a community after some surprise accident or illness for a neighbor.

At the same time, eliminate most mandatory coverages for health insurance so people for whom it makes sense can buy catastrophic coverage inexpensively.  That way everybody is covered for emergencies and nobody ever has a preexisting condition, because everybody has always had some sort of coverage.  At the same time, Americans would be better able to make health care decisions because they’d more often be paying directly for the services they receive and doing the cost-benefit analyses that people several steps removed from their situations can’t possibly do.

Of course, under such a system politicians attempting to buy votes would have to be more direct about it.  They’d be limited to transparently depositing taxpayer money into accounts instead of implicitly driving up costs in our opaque system by requiring insurers to cover certain benefits.  But in a fair analysis, a better, more-sustainable health care system that doesn’t distort the employment market is probably a little bit preferable to enabling corruption in politics.

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The Poster Boy for Progressive Privilege

Providence Journal headline: “Providence Mayor Elorza stands by staffer Regunberg after protest arrest.”  Of course he does:

Among the 18 people arrested for civil disobedience Tuesday night during a protest at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls over the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown was Aaron Regunberg, a policy advisor to Mayor Jorge Elorza.

Regunberg, a former state representative and candidate for lieutenant governor, and the others were taking part in a demonstration organized by the national Jewish youth protest movement Never Again. They were arrested for blocking vehicle access to the facility.

As far as anybody can tell, being a left-wing activist is Regunberg’s job.

By way of a review, Regunberg graduated from Brown University, an Ivy League school.  So far in his adult life, he’s been an activist, a state legislator, and a candidate for lieutenant governor (a six-figure, no-responsibility job).  During his hiatus between the campaign and attendance at Harvard Law School (more Ivy), the taxpayers of Providence and, implicitly, Rhode Island are paying the twentysomething Regunberg at a rate of $80,000 per year to be a policy advisor.

He is the poster boy for progressive privilege in Rhode Island.

That privilege includes not only the guarantee of a high salary no matter what he does, but also immunity from a semblance of representation.  The brazenness proves that Mayor Jorge Elorza has no concern about compromise or maintaining government that plausibly represents people of different views, otherwise it would matter that this employee was arrested for an ideological purpose.

If governing were the top priority, the mayor might also be concerned that one of his employees is attempting to terrify residents with the false specter of an American holocaust.

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A Strange Disagreement Over No-Bid Slot Deal

It’s strange to see the company with which the State of Rhode Island contracts to operate its state-run casinos objecting via a public-opinion campaign to the proposed contract for its electronic gambling machines:

If passed by lawmakers as proposed by Raimondo, the Lottery would be required to get 85 percent of its 5,000-plus electronic gambling machines from IGT, even though state law currently caps the number at 50 percent. The company would potentially get a bigger slice of the revenue pie.

And, as Twin River sees it, Rhode Island would lose the opportunity that other states — including Massachusetts — had to extract better deals from IGT by putting their contracts out to bid.

“We think R.I. taxpayers should be terrified by this deal,” Marc Crisafulli, the executive vice president of Twin River Worldwide Holdings — and president of the company’s Rhode Island casino operations — told The Journal on Friday as the opposition campaign was about to launch.

His argument: There’s a potential $10 billion in state gambling revenue riding “on the belief that the governor’s office did this 20-year secret deal entirely correctly. That’s a pretty big leap of faith when you consider the lack of process, the absence of any competition, the rushed nature of the deal … and the fact that the deal doesn’t seem to make any business sense. There’s no reason to do it now. The terms are very bad. … It undermines competition.”

A key point explained later in the article is that IGT’s machines are apparently the worst performers in terms of which games actually attract customers.   IGT machines average $258 per day, while machines by Everi average $303 and those by Scientific Games average $401.

I expect that there are considerations that don’t come across in the article, but from a distance, this looks like a classic example of RI’s way of doing business.  Why not seek maximum flexibility?  Why not give the people actually operating the casino more of a say in what it provides to customers?

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Rhode Island’s Politicians Are Failing

For too long, the political class has failed the people of our state. At $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s one million residents, a family of four is paying over $3,500 annually for excessive compensation deals for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.

With almost two-thirds of these excessive costs being heaped upon municipal taxpayers, our recent Public Union Excesses report further estimates that property taxes could be reduced by 25% if more reasonable, market-based collective bargaining agreements were negotiated.

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The Obviousness of Brazen Subversion

Whenever the subject comes up, conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg jokes that he feels a bit like he’s picking up opposition communications when he listens to NPR.  Every now and then on his podcast, Bill Bartholomew gives me the same feeling.

Most of the time, the difference of Bartholomewtown resides in the sorts of guests who appear on the show or the general thrust of the questions.  Sometimes, however, the conversation takes place so many ideological assumptions deep that a conservative can only listen as if to a surrealist novel or coded dispatches from foreign spies.

Not surprisingly, one such episode was the one featuring drag queen activist Naomi Chomsky.  From the beginning, Bartholomew and his guest proceed on the assumption that drag queen story hour is wholesome.  What’s surreal and disconcerting is that the two of them seem unable to comprehend why others might disagree.  It’s simply posed, “What could be more wholesome than that?”  (I think that’s a direct quote, but I haven’t gone back and checked.)

Frankly, one gets the impression that such principles must be asserted as if they are obvious because they aren’t obvious at all, but pretty clearly a subversive opposite.  I’m reminded of Andrew Sullivan’s insistence in the early days of the same-sex marriage debate that we all had to get past the “circular fiat” of a definition.  Brushing aside the fact that activists were seeking to change a definition was intrinsic to the argument that there was no reason not to change it.  When asked directly, mainstream journalists would acknowledge that one could oppose same-sex marriage for reasons other than bigotry, but they never presented the issue as if that were true.

A particularly educational aspect of the Chomsky Bartholomewtown episode is how much is smuggled in with the initial assumption.  Even if one were to accept for argument’s sake the proposition that drag queen story hour could be wholesome, this particular drag queen chose a stage name to be explicitly ideological.

Over the course of the interview, Chomsky celebrates the Russian Revolution and looks forward to something similar in the United States, talks about hanging Confederates, and calls minority and homosexual police officers “traitors to their communities.”  And somehow a wig, a dress, and a bunch of makeup makes it obviously wholesome for this radical to read to children.  Contrast that with the experience of Karen Siegemund, who lost her job teaching math in California explicitly because she’d said something positive about Western Civilization in a speech outside of the school.

One needn’t agree with me that the subversiveness of drag is entirely reinforcing of the subversiveness of Chomsky’s entire ideological program to acknowledge a crucial point:  All of the important arguments are simply brushed aside because — consciously or not — the people having the conversation refuse to entertain them.  Pair that with activists’ having created an environment in which other people don’t want to raise the obvious objections and you can see what dangerous times we’re living in.

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What If Nobody Noticed the Governor’s Absence?

John DePetro points something out that one would think would be more widely mentioned:

Governor Raimondo made a loud statement by becoming the first Rhode Island Governor to blow off the Bristol July 4, Parade. Sources say the state congressional delegation were shocked Raimondo chose to skip the country’s longest running parade …

Parade organizers usually have to police the number of politicians that want to be part of the parade, and were upset Raimondo skipped it. Raimondo marched last year along with her son while gearing up for her November reelection. One parade source mentioned that even Gov. Linc Chafee always marched in Bristol despite his low poll numbers.

I’m not sure how John verified that no governor has ever missed the parade, but nonetheless, it seems notable that this one did.  It also seems notable how little remarked the absence was.  Even the state’s leading weekend political wrap-ups don’t take note.

Ordinarily, Ted Nesi’s “Nesi’s Notes” and Ian Donnis’s “TGIF” columns pick up small details of political relevance that might not have fit or been justified for full columns, and neither mentions this.  I’ve searched the local sites and, while I may have missed something, I don’t see the missing governor story anywhere.  Perhaps the Providence Journal’s “Political Scene” will cover it on Monday.

During the election, last year, the governor released a slick campaign video promoting her presence.

It’s fascinating what gets covered and what doesn’t.  While I wouldn’t go so far as to assert bias — Who knows what goes into any particular writer’s coverage decisions on a holiday weekend? — the topic is a good reminder of the leverage of the news media to shape people’s understanding of what’s going on and what’s important.

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Discussing the State’s Effect on Municipalities on State of the State

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s new board member, Judge Robert Flanders, recently accompanies me for an appearance on the State of the State show to discuss the effect that state-level rulings and legislation can have on cities’ and towns’ ability to manage themselves and their budgets.

6-10-19 Impact of Legislation/Court Decisions on Municipal Management and Cost from John Carlevale on Vimeo.

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Rhode Island: An OK Place to Live

Obviously, the more subjective the thing an index attempts to measure, the more subject it will be to interpretation, and WalletHub has made a cottage industry of cranking out subjective rankings.  That said, the Web site’s “Best States to Live in” ranking from June has some interesting considerations for the Ocean State.

Notably, the Ocean State is supposedly the 29th best state in which to live… which seems OK, considering Rhode Islanders’ expectation to come in at the very bottom of all rankings.  OK begins to look not so good, though, when one zooms out on the map.  WalletHub claims Massachusetts is #1 and New Hampshire #3.  Vermont and Maine are both in the teens, and Connecticut comes in at #20.

Looking at the subcategories, RI’s worst result was in “affordability,” which shouldn’t surprise anybody.  The Ocean State was the fourth least affordable state, after New York, California, and New Jersey.  But here’s the thing:  No New England states are very affordable.  Massachusetts, for example, is 43rd and New Hampshire is 42nd.

So what makes the difference?  Massachusetts is in the top 5 for everything else:  economy, education & health, quality of life, and safety.  New Hampshire only misses the top 5 in quality of life.  Meanwhile, Rhode Island only breaks the top 20 on the safety subcategory (at #5).  The conclusion is that Rhode Island might not be able to avoid being expensive, but that only means it can’t afford to be unattractive by other measures.

Here’s where the subjectivity of the index becomes important.  Quality of life includes things that Rhode Island can’t help, like the weather, and things that depend on one’s values and interests.  The importance of “miles of trails for bicycling and walking” will vary from person to person.

But quality of life also includes things like the quality of the roads, which is pretty universally valued.  Meanwhile, multiple criteria that the index uses center around leisure activities that cost money, which means disposable income is a factor, as is the ease with which businesses can pop up to answer the demand.

MIT’s Living Wage Calculator states that a single Rhode Islander needs to make $12.35 per hour over a 2,080-hour workyear.  However, $1.86 of that goes to taxes.  For comparison, in New Hampshire, only $1.50 per hour goes to taxes.

This all suggests an unsurprising solution for improving Rhode Island’s standing:  lower taxes, use the money that is collected for things that are of more universal value, and decrease regulations.  We’d all have more money to spend, we’d feel better about our day-to-day life, and we’d be better able to answer each other’s needs.

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The State’s Casino Monopoly and a Wall Street Gamble

For practical purposes, the Twin River casinos are government run, with the state contracting its monopoly of the gambling market to the private company.  However, it’s worth remember from time to time that isn’t how the market sees the business:

In just over three months as a public company, the owner of the Tiverton Casino Hotel in Rhode Island has rapidly gained a following in the hedge fund community. Currently, 10 hedge funds own shares of Twin River, a massive amount for a $1.22 billion company that does not have two full quarters of trading under its belt. …

Twin River owns the only two casinos in the Ocean State, giving it a competitive advantage there. While a new regional threat is emerging in the form of Wynn’s recently opened Encore Boston Harbor, TRWH has some avenues for stemming the rivalry, including a different target demographic and legalized sports betting.

The entire arrangement has long cried for a thorough public discussion of this unique business model, so as to understand Rhode Islanders’ perspective on having a government that has essentially displaced the mob.  The interface with the investment markets adds another dimension.  Because, as the linked article highlights, the monopoly standing of Twin River is a marketable financial asset, should state and local taxpayers continue to benefit only by our percentage of the gambling profits?

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