Thankful for Our Irascible Ancestors

If you’re looking for some midday Thanksgiving reading, Kevin Williamson offers some words on Americans’ heritage of independence as it relates to innovation and prosperity:

The division of labor is the essence of civilization, the underlying source of practically every good thing about the material conditions of the modern world. It is why civilized countries do not have famine any more, why we are surrounded by technological wonders, why things like air travel and mobile phones go from being restricted to millionaires to being ho-hum over a short course of years. Most of the technological ingredients for the Industrial Revolution had been in place not only in Britain but in Spain, France, Italy, etc., for years. But British subjects and American colonists had the opportunity and the inclination to begin a finer and more robust division of labor than did their European counterparts. They were just a little bit more free — and a little bit more determined to be free — and that little bit made an incalculable difference, not only to them, but to the world.

Setting up government as the thing to which we should be thankful means gratitude of diminishing returns — thanks for not letting things get any worse than they would have under some imaginary always-worse scenario.  We need to be not just “a little bit more free,” but a lot more free, and we should begin seeing Thanksgiving as this time of year’s variation on Independence Day.

What’s Next for the Social Equity Advisory Committee?

The future of the state Division of Planning’s RhodeMap RI scheme is suddenly in question.  The state Planning Council may not meet on December 11 to review the plan.  If it does, it may not approve the plan.  And legislators may step in before or after that event to pull the statutory legs out from under it.

If RhodeMap does become an official plan of the State of Rhode Island, nobody is really sure how it will operate, or even what mechanisms the state will put in place to continue advancing it.  One subsidiary question is what the state Division of Planning will do with the Social Equity Advisory Council (SEAC), which was tasked with defining and pushing the “diversity” piece of the plan.

According to the state’s three-year planning plan (yes, these weeds are very deep), the SEAC is generally intended to continue on in one form or another.  The descriptive part of section V.B. of the three-year plan ends as follows:

The intent of this process is not only to guarantee that the RPSD [Regional Plan for Sustainable Development] accurately reflects the vision and needs of the state’s underserved and underrepresented populations, but also to produce relationships that will become the building blocks necessary for completing and implementing the RPSD. At the conclusion of the grant period, the SEAC will propose next steps for continuing their work, as it is imperative that these community leaders are committed not only to the completion of the RPSD but also to the successful implementation of the identified strategies.

A bullet point under “Products/Outcomes” calls for:

A guidance document for the State Planning Council on improving procedural and distributional equity in planning activities, including potential future engagement of SEAC.

Translated, this means that State Planning should soon have a document explaining how the SEAC can continue helping the council find ways to redistribute wealth in Rhode Island.

Trying to Conduct Civic Debates in Town Politics

On one hand, people engaged in political and policy arguments at higher levels of government seem likely to have more experience engaging with people who disagree with them.  On the other hand, one would think folks would be more hesitant to play political cards like black-and-white “my opponent is just evil” games when they’re dealing with neighbors they see around town on a regular basis.

So much for expectations about how people would act.

Earlier this week, I published a commentary that went through the history of Tiverton Budget Committee elections and argued that, if the new Town Council does not appoint the next-highest vote getter from the Budget Committee election to fill a vacancy, it would be a divisive, precedent-setting move.

Until 2002, Budget Committees were elected biannually at the financial town meeting, and any vacancies were automatically filled in order of their totals from the previous  votes.  Since then, it has only happened once before that a Budget Committee member won an election to Town Council and had to be replaced immediately after the election.  In that case, the Council unanimously appointed the next-highest vote getter, even though she was from another faction in town than arguably a majority of the Council.

I acknowledged that the same Town Council had not appointed the next next-highest vote getter to fill vacancies the following year.  However, time had passed, and she doesn’t appear to have expressed interest in the job.

In the current situation, if the next-highest vote getter (from the slate of candidates whom I supported) is passed over for somebody more in step with the Town Council majority (from the slate of candidates whom I opposed), it would be a sign that endorsees from Tiverton 1st and the Tiverton Democratic Town Committee don’t really believe that stuff they say about “uniting the town” and “working together.”

The chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, Michael Burk, responded to my argument in the local Sakonnet Times.  Actually, he didn’t really respond.  It’s more like he took the opportunity to attack me as a villain.  It’s Saul Alinsky for locals.

I responded on the merits, here, but didn’t really convey how disappointing Burk’s response is.  It’s clear that there will be no arguing in good faith.  Whoever started town politics on this nasty path (I’d say it’s obviously them; they’d say the opposite), there’s no hope for bringing down the temperature when one side makes an argument supported by facts and the other side replies as Burk did.

Site Performance and Comment Notes

We’ve had increasing downtime that is probably due to the commenting system that we were using. I’m in the process of switching over to Disqus and should be able to import all comments to this date.

The Internet hordes must know what I’m up to, because the site has been touchy as I’ve worked on it, but everything should be fully operational soon.

Please note that if you’ve made a comment within the past hour or so, it may not have made the transition.

Keep the Education Scandal on Your Radar

As we pay justified attention to attempts to infringe on our property rights and to take our money to pay for a government healthcare system, let’s not lose track of the travesty that is our education system.

Specifically, I have in mind Linda Borg’s recent Providence Journal article:

About 98 percent of Rhode Island’s teachers in their latest evaluation were rated as effective or highly effective by their principals, a number at odds with student performance in a number of districts. …

“If everyone here was at 98 percent, Rhode Island would be leading the nation” in student achievement, “not Massachusetts,” said Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees.

Let’s put it plainly: The evaluations are a fraud designed to ensure that government schools and their employees have no real accountability. A few data points in the article reinforce this aggressive conclusion:

“Central Falls and West Warwick have high percentages of teacher effectiveness but student performances that lag behind state averages.”
“The Blackstone Valley Prep charter schools in northern Rhode Island report less than a third of their teachers are highly effective yet they show the most growth in student achievement.”
In last year’s edition of the review, a survey reported the embarrassing findings that fewer than half of teachers thought the evaluations were measuring anything, and two-thirds of principals admitted rating teachers too high.
So according to the evaluations, schools that are performing poorly (or even more poorly than the rest of Rhode Island’s government schools) ought to be doing well, and schools that are performing relatively well ought to be doing poorly. And if evidence emerges that the evaluation system is being gamed, well, they just stop asking the questions that had the embarrassing results.

The conclusion, here, is that government cannot evaluate itself, mostly because it doesn’t have any make-or-break incentive to improve. In education, it’s a veritable monopoly that has a huge amount of emotional leverage and political power to continue taking more and more resources on the premise of solving problems that are never fundamentally addressed.

Dangerous Complacency at Rhode Island League of Cities & Towns Towards RhodeMap RI?

A friend forwarded me an interesting and alarming e-mail thread with regard to RhodeMap RI. Below is the text of two of the e-mails, which went out this afternoon, followed by the author and his title. On Thursday morning, the State Planning Council will vote on a proposed Economic Development Plan which largely incorporates the […]

RhodeMap RI: Bipartisan Group of Legislators Calls for Delay; Cite Its “near-total lack of an economic development focus”

The following statement was received via e-mail this afternoon. Attached was a letter addressed to Kevin Flynn, Associate Director of the R.I. Division of Planning.

State Planning Division Faulted For Pursuing “Predetermined Result” With Little Economic Development Focus

Senators, Representatives To File Legislation To Correct Imbalance

State House, Nov 18 – A group of five Republican, Democrat and Independent legislators today called for a delay in approval of the hotly-criticized RhodeMap RI.

The legislators want to correct an imbalance that seems to exclude meaningful action to improve Rhode Island’s poor economic performance, something the State Planning Division has continually tried to characterize as the goal of the effort.

Dawson Doesn’t Get the Annex of Conservatism and Minorities

While preparing to disengage from the Internet Friday evening, I came across a statement from soon-to-be-former State Senator and unsuccessful Republican candidate for attorney general Dawson Hodgson that merits response.  From Ian Donnis’s weekly must-read TGIF post for the week:

Hodgson and fellow Republican Catherine Taylor got swamped in Rhode Island’s cities. So it’s not surprising to hear Hodgson call for the RI GOP to do a better job in courting Latino and black voters, particularly in Providence. “That’s the future of this [Republican] Party if we want to be competitive in the urban landscape,” Hodgson said on this week’s RIPR Bonus Q+A. “I think there are a lot of principles that cross over and that are very generationally appealing: freedom, the ability to control your own destiny and make your way in life and be given a fair shot by your government. That’s what being a Republican means to me. I think that’s a winning message in Providence if you can get people to listen to it.”

This makes me wonder if Hodgson has actually spent much time interacting with urban members of minority communities that already do or might nearly align with Republicans.  As I’ve pointed out before (on this site and on TV), while he and his fellow white, male, suburban Republican state senators were taking a bow for being the only full Republican caucus in the country to back same-sex marriage, black urban Senator Harold Metts (D, Providence) was standing against the wave as the voice of traditional values and a choir of presumably urban Latinos were singing for the traditionalist cause outside the Senate chambers.

The implications of this fact are larger than could be explained as a few old-school folks among the urban minorities who just haven’t gotten the “right side of history” message, yet.

Disadvantaged communities can see the brand of freedom espoused by relatively wealthy whites who profess to be “fiscally conservative, but socially liberal,” as a license to take away all supports from those who need them most.  Paring back government funding and programs that offer direct support for urban communities, while at the same time taking a sledgehammer to the social supports that help communities and families survive and thrive without government assistance, can sound like a promise of having freedom to drown.

Liberal Republicans shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that the things they like about liberal Democrats are the same things that urban minorities like about liberal Democrats.  The bottom line is that — because of their values or because of the crass requirements of their bases — Republicans will never be able to outbid Democrats for the affections of disadvantaged groups; they have to offer an alternative.  Fortunately, the alternative available to them is both more moral and more powerful and sustainable.

A Tiverton Campaign Finance Answer

Frankly, I’m not a fan of campaign finance regulations, especially at the local level.  If the information’s out there, grassroots groups should use it, but that’s a separate question of whether the government should be able to impose these sorts of rules on the population.

Whom does it serve when people who are politically savvy and well organized (often within the political establishment) can comb through the donations and expenditures records of newcomers who want to serve their communities in public office?  And then there are the fines.

I go into more detail on this topic in a new post on Tiverton Fact Check, in which I answer a resident’s question about why the current Town Council vice president, Denise deMedeiros, has an inactive account on the state’s campaign finance site.  (Basic answer: because the Board of Elections spelled her name differently when she reactivated her account to run for Town Council a few years ago.)