HEADLINES

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UPDATED: Correction (Sort of) on Ed Fitzpatrick’s Column

Soon after I put up my post, this morning, on Ed Fitzpatrick’s Providence Journal column, the man himself responded to my Twitter link that he’d criticized Sen. Whitehouse for commentary on the floor of the Senate in which he raised the specters of the French Revolution, the Nazis, and Southern lynchings in a column back in 2009.

That column didn’t appear in my search of the Providence Journal’s archives because they don’t go back that far, but Fitzpatrick was good enough to send me the text.  Rereading the 2009 column, while I would have definitely included it in my earlier post, I’m not sure it changes my criticism at all.

For instance, I suggested that Fitzpatrick should have tried to understand why Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would have such strong sentiments toward his court, and if we look back to the 2009 column, it’s practically slathered with sympathy for Whitehouse’s heat.  Fitzpatrick presents it as a response to Republican ire, emphasizes that Whitehouse “gave voice to the Democratic anger and frustration” (with examples), and gives the senator space to contextualize his comments.

If I may paraphrase the impression the column gives, it’s that:  Whitehouse was only responding to the bad Republicans; he has a lot of company in how he feels; and after all, he’s got underlying reasoning, which Fitzpatrick validates with a “good point.”  None of these qualities are present in the Scalia column.  Indeed, here’s the point of actual criticism of Whitehouse:

Perhaps it’s good for Rhode Island to have a fiery, outspoken senator to go with the understated Sen. Jack Reed. Perhaps there is some political utility to such speeches. If Palin is going to be using her Twitter account to perpetuate the “death panel” idea (PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year”), maybe Democrats need to do more to fire back.

But I don’t see why Whitehouse had to go all Judgment Day on the GOP when he knew they’d lose the vote. Why not just watch them wail and fail?

Scalia didn’t even go as far as “all Judgment Day,” and he was, in fact, issuing a warning about the actions of the victorious majority.  In Scalia’s case, though, Fitzpatrick is on the side of those who want to insist that there’s nothing wrong, or even questionable, about the outcome or process by which they redefined marriage and likened traditional values to pure bigotry.

As the progressives march across the country trying to put pizza parlors out of business, prevent businesses that receive this treatment from using online tools to collect donations, and grab tax exemption away from churches and charities, one can only hope that liberal columnists prove to object to government oppression, not just reference to oppression from the past.

UPDATE (7/2/15 2:35 p.m.)

In response to the suggestion that I didn’t do an adequate job presenting Fitzpatrick’s objection to Whitehouse above, here’s another statement from the 2009 column, which was what Fitzpatrick put forward as the summary of his criticism in his tweet:

But in the end, Whitehouse only added to that toxicity. He accused the Republicans of going too far and, in the next breath, he went too far himself. Quoting Lord Acton and using vivid literary allusions didn’t save him from venturing down the well-worn path that ends with someone accusing an adversary of being like the Nazis.

I didn’t exclude this paragraph to downplay Fitzpatrick’s criticism of the senator; I just didn’t see that it added anything not covered in my descriptions or quotations.  The context also brushes away much of the criticism.  The paragraph before quotes somebody who liked Whitehouse’s outburst (as pushback against Republican “toxicity,” and the paragraph after notes references inappropriate Nazi references by Lyndon LaRouce (not labeled as a Democrat, though) and Rush Limbaugh.

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Edward Fitzpatrick’s Conditional Opposition to Vitriol

In his Providence Journal column, today, Edward Fitzpatrick takes on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia because, as the headline says, “Scalia’s vitriol undercuts his influence.”

It’s not enough for Fitzpatrick to highlight Scalia’s colorful language; he’s got to find an objective reason why the justice should tone it down.  I’d say Fitzpatrick is playing the quietly liberal journalist’s role in changing America.  Objectively speaking, public debate would be healthier if people in that role were more self-aware when it comes to their arguments.

The first step is trying to see things from the other person’s perspective.  If you’re Justice Scalia, you believe that the court on which you serve has become a mechanism for rewriting the Constitution on the fly, in a way that has no real basis in law and therefore cannot be consistently applied.  This lawlessness, from his point of view, invites (perhaps requires) the people of the United States and their elected representatives to begin ignoring the court.  As he put it in his Obergefell v. Hodges dissent:

Hubris is sometimes defined as o’erweening pride; and pride, we know, goeth before a fall. The Judiciary is the “least dangerous” of the federal branches because it has “neither Force nor Will, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm” and the States, “even for the efficacy of its judgments.” With each decision of ours that takes from the People a question properly left to them—with each decision that is unabashedly based not on law, but on the “reasoned judgment” of a bare majority of this Court—we move one step closer to being reminded of our impotence.

Fitzpatrick can disagree with that, of course, but if he shared Scalia’s view about the huge importance of this matter, would he still be fretting about whether Scalia’s strong language costs him influence?  I tend to doubt it.  A search of the Providence Journal archives, for example, produces no instance of Fitzpatrick’s worrying about the effects of Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s vitriolic attacks on his fellow Americans, notably his commentary asserting extremism and insinuating racism when it comes to people who were wise enough to oppose ObamaCare.  Fitzpatrick also does not appear to have commented on the senator’s zeal for investigating American organizations with which he disagrees because there might be something for which they could be attacked.

Instead, I found a Fitzpatrick column in which the writer trumpets Whitehouse’s role pushing the minority Democrat line on climate change, which ends with Whitehouse’s not-at-all vitriolic quip that “the best news about a Republican Majority in the Senate is that the Republican minority is now gone. They were just a God-awful minority.”

Again, it’s all well and good for Fitzpatrick to do his part to advance progressive causes, but this pose that he’s simply offering his opposition friendly strategic advice gives the game away.

UPDATE (7/2/15 12:55 p.m.):

See here for a partial correction of and some context for the above.

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One Piece of the Health Care Solution Puzzle

From time to time people who are inclined to support heavy government involvement in healthcare will ask me what the alternative is.  My answer has been a system that disengages health insurance from employment, drives down the cost of insurance, and creates incentive for people to make prudent decisions and spend wisely.

Basically, the law would end existing incentives to route health insurance through places of employment and ease mandates to make high-deductible plans that really are insurance, rather than health management programs, more feasible.  With that done, opening up the insurance market across state lines would be no problem.  To compete and to manage their own costs, insurers might throw in things like a free check-up every year, but the idea would be that the purpose of their service is to manage risk, like car insurance, not to negotiate every detail of a person’s medical consumption.

To fill in the gap, everybody would get health savings accounts into which anybody concerned could put money — the people themselves, their employers, the government (for low-income people), and charities.  It would be tax free and would be an asset that could (maybe) be spent in retirement or at least passed down.

I bring this up because a bill for Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts passed both chambers of the Rhode Island General Assembly, this session.  Basically, it would create accounts for blind and disabled Rhode Islanders that the state would manage and into which any supporters could put money.  As designed, the system probably has more government involvement than needed, but the concept seemed familiar.

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Legislation in the “Know Not What They Do” Category

Sometimes I think I ought to be entitled to some sort of hazard pay for my work reading the legislation that passes through Rhode Island’s General Assembly.  (Naturally, it would be a matter for me to negotiate with my employer, not to try to put into another awful piece of legislation.)

Take S0134, which Governor Raimondo signed into law last Friday.  On first read, it looks like an attempt to require government agencies that handle people’s private information to have security programs in place and processes to notify people in the case of a breach, and that’s a good intention.  The problem is that, in the operative section, the law refers to “a municipal agency, state agency or person.”

“A person,” in the legislation, includes “any individual, sole proprietorship, partnership, association, corporation, or joint venture, business or legal entity, trust, estate, cooperative or other commercial entity.”  And “personal information” includes social security number, driver’s license (or other RI ID card) number, account numbers with their PINs or passwords, medical or health insurance information, or even email addresses with passwords “that would permit access to an individual’s personal, medical, insurance or financial account.”

It’s easy to see the reasonable intention, here, but the language is frighteningly broad.  Suppose I… I don’t know… start a small Web site and give contributors email addresses with the URL.  Since it’s just a small, cooperative project, I don’t have any written policies or anything like that — we’re just a few folks trying to make a difference in our community.

It’s conceivable that one of the contributors might use the email to set up some sort of financial account, whether intended to be related to the site or not.  It’s also conceivable that a hacker might someday crawl some file, somewhere, and get the person’s email info and use it to gain access to the financial account.

Do I need to figure out what “a risk-based information security program” is and implement it?  Or maybe it’s worse than that, and the law ultimately will require every Rhode Islander to buy such software for computers with family information.

I could be taking the law too literally.  It would probably be necessary for the scenarios that I’ve described to actually occur for some unlucky people, and however the legalities played out for them, the law would very possibly be changed to be more specific.

Be that as it may, as the government grants itself more and more authority to regulate every personal interaction in our society, one can see how it becomes more and more difficult to do anything without a team of lawyers.  The impulse to make the world a safely padded playroom may be admirable, but it simultaneously turns us all into children who can’t be expected to address the concept of “risk” by ourselves and makes it impossible for us to innovate and thrive in a way that moves society forward and reduces income disparities.

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Has Left-Wing Activism Been “Stimulated”?

Russ Moore’s article highlighting how little stimulus money seems to have been spent on infrastructure comes at a good time:

Yet that fact has led many talking heads and casual political observers alike wondering why, after the enactment of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, otherwise known as “the Obama stimulus package” that saw almost $787 billion spent on a national level with just under $1.1 billion sent to Rhode Island, the state still has roads and bridges that can only be described as woeful.

The answer is probably as frustrating as it is simple: it’s because a relatively small amount of money was actually allocated to roads and bridges. According to a GoLocalProv review of federal data on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus spending, just under 9 percent ($95,493,854) of the $1.096 billion that Rhode Island received was given to the Rhode Department of Transportation and used to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.

As I state in the article, it’s pretty clear that Obama’s stimulus wasn’t meant to actually get anything done for the people of America. It was intended to insulate government at every level from the effects of the recession, to help reinflate the stock market bubble, and to direct taxpayer dollars (rather, taxpayer debt) to the activists with whom Obama is aligned.

For an example on that last point, I’ve noted before that the PolicyLink group that provided the equity piece of the RhodeMap RI puzzle is largely funded through the Dept. of Housing and Urban development, as well as the government entities that receive grants from HUD.  Stimulus didn’t fix our roads, but it did build infrastructure for Obama’s “fundamental transformation” of our country.

It would require more investigative reporting than I have the time to pursue, but one has to wonder how much of the stunning activism we’ve seen in the past few years — to radically change our society and promote a far-left worldview out of keeping with the principles of our constitutional republic — was directly bankrolled by us.

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Sides in the New Health Care World

This one article is too little evidence for sweeping statements, but there’s a telling thread throughout it.  The basic news is that health insurance companies in Rhode Island are looking for a big increase in premiums, even though the plans on offer are requiring more and more out-of-pocket spending.

What’s interesting, though, is the attitude of Health Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Hittner:

… Hittner’s staff is still reviewing the proposals, and the commissioner was reluctant to characterize how this year’s requests stack up to previous years.

“It’s difficult to say,” said Hittner, explaining that because of the many changes brought about in recent years by the Affordable Care Act, “it’s like comparing apples to oranges.”

“What our job is now,” she said, “is to look at these rates and make sure we have received all of the assumptions made by the carriers and make sure these rates are reasonable.” …

“People like to point at the insurance companies, but it’s not all about the insurance companies,” Hittner said. “It’s all of the other things that go on with what we want in health care and the way it’s delivered.”

Notice how…

  1. We can’t compare these prices to those pre-ACA, because that would be “apples to oranges,” even thought the ACA was sold on the grounds that it would lower prices.
  2. It’s all about “what we want” in the way health care is “delivered.”

The government and the insurance companies are now completely on the same side.  The insurance companies want money, and the government wants to keep and expand its new health care powers.

This is exactly the dynamic that citizens should want to avoid, because it will result in higher prices, inferior results, fewer options, and less freedom.

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Huge Employment Growth in a Slowing Economy?

It’s no secret that I’m extremely skeptical about the government’s employment for Rhode Island, and I do periodically hope to be proven wrong.  But I just don’t see how one can reconcile the state’s employment surge in the past six months with this, in the Providence Business News:

Rhode Island’s economic growth failed to meet expectations in the first quarter, posting a gain of 1.5 percent, according to the Rhode Island Current Economic Indicator briefing released Monday by the Center for Global and Regional Economic Studies and the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council.

While the briefing said the economy experienced growth, it is showing continued signs of weakness, as its rate of growth slowed from the fourth quarter, when it grew 1.7 percent.

It also failed to meet previous projections of 2 percent growth for the first quarter.

It’s possible Rhode Islanders are finding jobs in neighboring states, but when I investigated that possibility last year to dig into another inexplicably good first-half for Rhode Island, the evidence didn’t seem there.

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U.S.A. Now the U.S.S.A.

The United States of America is no more.  Our experiment with representative democracy in a constitutional and federalist republic is finished, and it failed.  We are now the United States of Social Acceptance.

You are not free.  Everything you do must be explicitly or implicitly be approved by the government.  We’ve gone from the idea that the laws of the land draw narrow boundaries for government to the reality that laws and regulations draw the increasingly restrictive boundaries of what you are permitted to do.

The examples are everywhere proving that those who dominate our government see themselves as an authority over every personal interaction in the country.  One I spotted over the weekend while reading legislation from the General Assembly’s last week, and that was featured in the Providence Journal on Sunday, gives the government authority to judge whether employers are making reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees (and those who recently gave birth).  In the Senate, the bill is S0276 from Hannah Gallo (D, Cranston); in the House, it’s H5674 from Shelby Maldonado (D, Central Falls).

As it happens, I agree — as I’m sure most of us do — that an employer should make accommodations for such employees unless doing so causes “undue hardship.”  In such decisions, I agree that some of the relevant factors are “the nature and cost of the accommodation,” “the overall financial resources of the employer,” “the overall size of the business,” and “the effect on expenses and resources or the impact otherwise of such accommodation upon the operation of the employer.”

But in most cases, both the employee and the employer are adults.  It shouldn’t be up to me to decide whether the inconveniences to the employee outweigh the business needs of the employer, and it shouldn’t be up to the government, whether legislators, judges, or bureaucrats.

In the progressive mindset that dominates in Rhode Island and, increasingly, at the federal level, we are not adults.  We’re children who need some superauthority over our lives to whom we can run when we’re not happy with each other.  Whining ten-year-olds run to their parents when they think their peers have done something that isn’t “fair.”  Adults shouldn’t require the same condescension.

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An Electorate That Will Not Learn?

Thomas Sowell’s musings about the implications of electoral support for Hillary Clinton has Rhode Island application:

The fact that many people are still prepared to vote for Hillary Clinton to be President of the United States, in times made incredibly dangerous by the foreign policy disasters on her watch as Secretary of State, raises painful questions about this country.

A President of the United States — any president — has the lives of more than 300 million Americans in his or her hands, and the future of Western civilization. If the debacles and disasters of the Obama administration have still not demonstrated the irresponsibility of choosing a president on the basis of demographic characteristics, it is hard to imagine what could.

With our enemies around the world arming while we are disarming, such self-indulgent choices for president can leave our children and grandchildren a future that will be grim, if not catastrophic.

Electoral decisions are being made for all sorts of reasons that have little or nothing to do with running a government.  The biggest factor, I’d say, is simply the self-satisfaction that comes with voting according to a false narrative.  This weekend, I heard from yet another person whom I’d just met that the Democrats are, or used to be, the “party of the little guy.”  Even if that was true by some measure in some place at some point in history, voting for that reason is a bit like saying you vote for the party that Superman would have voted for.  It’s a narrative created as part of the entertainment media.

Other reasons are in play, of course, like the expectation that a particular party will directly transfer taxpayer dollars to one’s business or family.  But I suspect the makeup of our government at the state and federal levels would be very different if people voted according to results rather than rhetoric (and not necessarily in a purely partisan way).

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Google as Big Brother or KGB

This is a bit out of our usual subject matter, around here, but it’s nearly a civic duty to pass the word around:

Yesterday, news broke that Google has been stealth downloading audio listeners onto every computer that runs Chrome, and transmits audio data back to Google. Effectively, this means that Google had taken itself the right to listen to every conversation in every room that runs Chrome somewhere, without any kind of consent from the people eavesdropped on. In official statements, Google shrugged off the practice with what amounts to “we can do that”. …

Early last decade, privacy activists practically yelled and screamed that the NSA’s taps of various points of the Internet and telecom networks had the technical potential for enormous abuse against privacy. Everybody else dismissed those points as basically tinfoilhattery – until the Snowden files came out, and it was revealed that precisely everybody involved had abused their technical capability for invasion of privacy as far as was possible.

Perhaps it would be wise to not repeat that exact mistake. Nobody, and I really mean nobody, is to be trusted with a technical capability to listen to every room in the world, with listening profiles customizable at the identified-individual level, on the mere basis of “trust us”.

I keep a piece of paper over the camera on my laptop, but sound waves are a bit more cumbersome to block than light waves.  All computers, cell phones, tablets, and other such devices should have a mechanical switch that breaks the electrical connection allowing the collection of video and audio.  Short of that, we’re essentially ensuring that we will soon live in a world that’s totally bugged, if we don’t already.

Despite his imaginative powers, George Orwell didn’t come up with this turn of events, and the U.S.S.R. didn’t have the technology.

(Via Instapundit.)

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Another Objective Journalist Signs on as Staffer for Democrat Politician

It’s a small thing, perhaps, but since I’ve taken to noting when this happens, it’s worth adding this to the series:

State Treasurer Seth Magaziner has hired Tatiana Pina, a much respected former Providence Journal reporter, to work in his communications office. 

Pina started work on June 8 as a $62,918 “assistant communications director for the retirement system,’’ according to the lead spokeswoman for the treasurer’s office, Shana Autiello.

It’s funny.  When I finally managed the leap from carpenter to full-time policy and politics writer, I met with a bunch of folks in the local field, and journalists would scrupulously decline my offer to pick up the tab for a $6 sandwich, or whatever.  The concern, I guess, is that it might look like an attempt to sway their reportage, or something.

It is now regular practice for Rhode Island journalists to step up to jobs in the offices of local officials, who are almost always Democrats, around here.  How could it not affect the reportage of journalists to know that they may want to leave open the option to work for the people on whom they’ve been reporting?  If you’re reporting on — say — the statewide Tea Party or — for example — the activities of a small GOP caucus, the odds of ever getting a job with either group are very small, but the odds of getting a job with the people whom they’re criticizing are pretty big.

One could argue that communications jobs aren’t explicitly political, but they are geared toward making the office holder and his or her policies and actions look good.  There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but readers should approach the news with full awareness of the incentives for the people producing it.

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The New Toll Plan Will Still Be Challenged in Federal Court


If getting bond investors their interest payments construction underway as quickly as possible is of the utmost importance, Rhode Island’s political leaders will need to consider how much of a risk of a lawsuit they are willing to take in order to get the local carve-out; a case like this would take years to work it’s way through the Federal courts and the whole tolling-plan might possibly be enjoined during the litigation process. Of course, an injunction against the toll-plan would mean no money for bond payments road-repairs right away.

On this issue, Rhode Island’s legislators would be wise to keep in mind the lesson of Gordon Fox: Because Rhode Island’s Democratic leadership can play fast-and-loose with interpretations of rules and laws while inside the statehouse (e.g. nullification, revolving door judgeships) does not mean they can extend that power very far outside and forgetting about this can lead to unfortunate consequences.

The legal analysis that leads to this conclusion is in the main post.

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Charters in Public-Private Limbo

I’m in the minority among my ideological peers, on this, but my thinking on charter schools has changed quite a bit in recent years.

Many conservatives, I believe, see them as a sly way to insert wedges into public education’s cracks in order to bring about wider-scale reform of the system.  If we create this alternate system of schools, literally entered with the luck of the draw, that is free of the restrictions that (for some reason) we continue to tolerate in district schools, then parents will demand that district schools be made free of the restrictions, too.

To advance this stratagem, we’ve been willing to overlook basic descriptive facts about charters that would normally concern us a great deal.  In order to work around the damage that the democratic nature of our government has wrought in education (thanks, largely, to the self-interested activism of teacher unions), we’re creating institutions over which the public has less control.  On the one hand, charter advocates insist that they are “public schools of choice,” so they should fall within the range of inside-government benefits, but on the other hand, they are demanding that the people paying the bills should not have immediate, democratic control over them.

In any other context, conservatives would recoil against that just as surely as they ought to recoil against crony capitalist deals giving connected insiders taxpayer cash for their private business dealings.  Principle should not be something to be weighed against practicality.  Rather, we should hold to our principles because they produce the outcome that we desire; it is in determining our goals that we should weigh morality and practicality.

My concern, in treading off our principled path, is that we’re more likely to get lost than to return to our firm ground.  Instead of breaking the rigid grip of special interests on public schools, charters will kill off private schools — at least all of them that are accessible to anybody who’s less than rich.  Then special interests will successfully tighten the vice, making government education a true monopoly rather than the near-monopoly that it currently is.

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More on Reporting Providence Pension Fund Shuffling

Dan McGowan, of WPRI, emailed to point out that he wrote about the subject of my earlier post back in May.  The article does prove that at least one mainstream journalist has brought the topic up, but the content illustrates much of my point.  Consider this from McGowan’s article:

[Kathleen Riley, a senior vice president and actuary for Segal Consulting,] told the committee the change in calculation “in many ways is not too meaningful,” but explained that is why the city’s unfunded pension liability grew from $831.5 million at the end of the 2013 fiscal year to $894.3 million in 2014.

“Historically very little attention was paid to funded ratio so it didn’t really matter how you reflected that contribution receivable,” Riley said. “But we think this is a cleaner approach to presenting your numbers, [and] a more accurate reflection of your assets in your fund and your funded ratio on the valuation date.”

What is this but a rolling scandal for which no politicians are ever held accountable?  Nobody used to care whether the pensions were funded, so the accounting didn’t really matter?  That’s scandalous.  Then, when people started to pay attention, it benefited the city to lag its contribution to the pension fund (which looks like about 25% of its declared assets) by a full calendar quarter.

If somebody were really relying on that money (rather than just expecting taxpayers to come up with any shortfalls when bill comes due), that would make a difference.  Somebody looking at an audit at the end of June would expect that $63 million to be in the account gathering investment returns for three months.  Using the city’s (absurdly high) projected return on investments of 8.25%, that’s around $1.3 million lost to the pension fund for the year.

If the city does this every year, by the end of a decade, it would be short around $20 million.  At the 30-year horizon often used for pension calculations, it would be out over $150 million.  (This all ignores the possibility that doing this accounting helps the city avoid thresholds like a designation of “critical.”)

But it’s complicated, and it’s all just numbers on a page until the city has to take more money away from some resident in order to give it to some retiree.

I should note, by the way, that this is more an attack on our general assumptions about government than on journalists.  If you look at the note at the end of this April 2012 post of mine, you’ll see that WPRI’s Ted Nesi and I were discussing Providence’s delayed payments back then.  Those of us who write about these things can’t be expected to trace every curious detail, or to know off the tops of our heads what normal practice is.  Back then, I was concentrating on explaining how the entirety of pension accounting is a scam.

Today, I’m mostly pointing out how pension accounting illustrates the flaws in our civic system, which I’d suggest should advise us to severely limit the activities of government.

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Making Pension Controversy a Surreal Non-Issue

Reading Michael Riley’s latest article on the financial condition of pension funds at the state level and in Providence, one gets the sense of two realities.  Riley’s an investment professional and knows this game, so when he writes things like this, people should listen:

Unless the Providence pension Plan receives $62 million in cash or investments from the City by June 30, 2015 the city will once again default on a current liability loan. …

The countdown for Providence Bankruptcy and default is on and its 14 days. Raimondo and Magaziner have also been oblivious to the struggles of cities and towns, preferring instead to campaign for green spaces and a green infrastructure bank etc.  Meanwhile, the state’s pension performance for fiscal year 2015 is horrible and will certainly push Rhode Island and its funding ratio farther down into critical Status. …

I estimate that with just 2 weeks left in Fiscal Year 2015 the State Pension Fund has earned just over 3% compared to their own projection of 7.5%. That is a shortfall of approximately $360 million dollars.

One would think this sort of assessment from a credible expert would be slipped into the news cycle somewhere, but it’s not.  Why is that?

Part of the problem, I think, is that changing models for the news business have broadened the responsibilities of journalists.  This is complicated subject matter, and the same reporters who would take it on are also covering a wide variety of complicated subjects.  Obviously, there’s a massive state budget in the works, and then there are flashier, edgier topics that the state’s politicians keep tossing into the mix, like truck tolls, for example.

Another part of the problem is that there’s so much fluff and flop in government budgets that it’s relatively easy for officials to cover things up.  With a magician spell over the complexity, money can just appear, and policies can just change with some ostensibly disconnected rationale.  Lo’ the state slips $62 million somewhere into its aid to Providence, and the same amount materializes in the pension fund, or the projected discount rate or some other assumption changes that makes the problem vanish.

That’s if anybody acknowledges that there’s a problem.  There’s no rule of law anymore, it seems, and government is not a very good watchdog over itself.  According to Riley, Providence has gotten away with this for years; if those who must enforce the rules do not do so, then no rules appear to have been broken, and when the repercussions play out over years, politicians needn’t be caught.

So why should journalists spend all the time to dig into these topics, only to be given the runaround by government sources (whose good will they need for other stories) and made to look like alarmists when the consequences outlast the public’s attention span?

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