HEADLINES

Fact-Checking Sheehan’s Anti-Gist Attack

Sen. James Sheehan uses official State House channels to issue an attack on Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and winds up illustrating the mentality that teachers unions foster.

Progressive Policies Hurt Working People

Kevin Williamson is on a roll, lately:

Progressives argue that we need deeper government involvement in the economy in order to assuage the ill effects of economic inequality. But, as Joel Kotkin points out, inequality is the most pronounced in places where progressives dominate: New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago. The more egalitarian cities are embedded in considerably more conservative metropolitan areas in conservative states. “Part of the difference,” Mr. Kotkin writes, “is the strong growth of higher-paid, blue-collar jobs in places like Houston, Oklahoma City, Salt Lake, and Dallas compared to rapidly de-industrializing locales such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Even Richard Florida, the guru of the ‘creative class,’ has admitted that the strongest growth in mid-income jobs has been concentrated in red-state metros such as Salt Lake City, Houston, Dallas, Austin, and Nashville. Some of this reflects a history of later industrialization but other policies — often mandated by the state — encourage mid-income growth, for example, by not imposing high energy prices with subsidies for renewables, or restricting housing growth in the periphery. Cities like Houston may seem blue in many ways but follow local policies largely indistinguishable from mainstream Republicans elsewhere.” In Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia, African Americans earn barely half of what whites earn —  and in San Francisco, African Americans earn less than half of what whites earn. Hispanics in Boston earn 50 percent of what whites make; but it is 84 percent in Riverside County, Calif., a traditional Republican stronghold (it holds the distinction of being one of only two West Coast counties to have gone for Hoover over FDR and is Duncan Hunter’s turf), and the figures are comparable in places such as Phoenix and Miami.

As in many other recent political arguments, Rhode Island offers an excellent test case.  As I’ve long been pointing out, the group that is struggling and leaving Rhode Island is the “productive class,” those people who are striving to transform their labor into money and comfort.  The rich are insulated and the disadvantaged are well served, relative to other places.  Meanwhile, the insider culture (which includes government unions) creates a path to the middle and upper-middle classes for people willing to play along, but at the expense of the working and lower-middle classes.

Many Threads Together in D.C. Schools

It’s not often that so many threads of topics about which one has been writing come together in a single story as in James Richardson’s USA Today essay about government schools in Washington, D.C., trying to salvage their client base:

Here, where traditional public school enrollment has dipped by 30,000 students in just the last 18 years, administrators believe the key to stemming the exodus of public school refugees lies in diverting precious resources from improving instruction to marketing.

To augment the hard sell being made door-to-door by principals, the school system even retained the pricey data miners who twice won the White House for President Barack Obama.

As noted in this space, recently, Rhode Island schools are starting to worry about competing with alternatives like charters and private schools, and our local and state governments are taking steps to change the competitive environment.  The experience of St. Jude Home Care at least hints at the risk of government’s abusing its hydra heads to give itself an advantage.  Meanwhile, D.C.’s use of Obama’s team for manipulating the public with intricate data and big money raises the same questions about whether it’s appropriate for government to be operating this way.

In plain terms, the government is taking money from taxpayers to pay for expensive tools for manipulating the public in order to make up for the competitive disadvantage that comes with prioritizing labor unions (whose mission is ultimately progressive activism).

When Government Is the Biggest Client, the Biggest Competitor, and the Regulator

I don’t have any additional information about what’s going on with this story, but it’s one worth watching:

The doors were locked on Monday at St. Jude Home Care as the provider of home health-care services reeled from having its privilege to bill Medicare and Medicaid terminated as a result of federal and state investigations.

But owner Priscilla Pascale invited a reporter inside to say why she believes the government actions are unjustified and nothing more than “trumped-up charges” that are the result of a “vendetta.”

Pascale doesn’t say whom it is that has a vendetta against her, but she does claim that surveillance tapes make it obvious that the inspectors came in with the goal of finding something they could use to “take us out.”

St. Jude Home Care is “one of the largest providers of home health-care in the state,” which makes it one of the largest competitors to the state’s Dept. of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.  That means it’s one of the largest competitors to the government labor union whose members dominate lists of the most lucrative state jobs, making many times their official salaries.

Supporters of the Rhode Island status quo or big government generally are sure to claim I’m peddling a conspiracy story, because it’s critical to their ideologies that government agencies can be trusted to be intimately involved with our businesses and our lives.  (Hello, IRS.)  Still, when government becomes a provider of services for which it is also a dominant payer in industries that it also regulates, it’s far from unreasonable to think agencies might act in their own self interest in ways that would be obviously wrong to those who aren’t part of the cult of government.

United Nations Calls for Total School Choice

Commenting on my “education is a right” post, SGH points to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 26:

  1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

While it may be the case that the typical “education is a right” activist would point to this Declaration as the authority for his or her claims, it seems to me they’d be incorrect to do so.  If parents’ right to choose the manner of their children’s education comes before any implied requirement for government to provide for education, and yet elementary and (maybe) secondary education must be cost-free to the family, the only option is total, voucher-driven school choice.  

Progressives and other statists like statement number 1, which justifies their confiscation of money in order to pay for the education that they’d like to provide. They’re also apt to like statement number 2, which gives them license to indoctrinate children into their own moral and ideological framework, on the grounds that their worldview objectively benefits students’ “full development” and respect for rights.

Perhaps the progressives’ copy of the UN’s declaration has a typographical error that leaves out statement number 3.  More likely, though, they gloss over it by stuffing “parents” into a collectivist box and claiming that they collectively choose their government and therefore the type of education that the government wishes to impose on them.

The Resonance of Rape and Prostitution Findings

A story on an academic study finding a decrease in rape corresponding with a period of decriminalized prostitution in Rhode Island received a news report on the second page of the Providence Journal on July 15.  Folks who comb the Internet for news on a daily basis have seen the study mentioned with some frequency in the weeks since.

A critical response suggesting that the study misused data pretty dramatically has thus far been relegated to the opinion pages.

First, their claim that the sex industry didn’t start expanding until 2003 is incorrect. …

Second, Cunningham and Shah claim that the rate of reported rapes in Rhode Island decreased from 2003 until 2009. Yet statistics from the FBI Uniform Crime Report show there had already been a general decline in the rate of rape at the national level since the early 1990s, with continuing declines until 2012, the last year for which data is available.

Rhode Island’s decrease in the rate of reported rape is similar to that seen at the national level. …

Also, for an unknown reason, Rhode Island had an exceptionally high rate of reported rape for 2003 (46.9 rapes per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 36.9 in 2002 and 29.6 in 2004).

In brief, the national-news-headlining finding may have been based entirely on an arbitrarily chosen comparison year that happened to make the trend look substantial.

Unfortunately, it’s in the nature of news and cultural commentary that the response won’t get nearly the splash that the initial story received.  Consequently, thousands of people will simply file away the truism that legalized prostitution reduces rape.

Whether any of them will even try to reconcile that belief with the long-trumpeted alternate truism that rape is not about sex, but about control and violence, is impossible to know.

Rule of Law as Guarantor of Freedom

The other day, I noted Dinesh D’Souza’s suggestion that freedom is a mechanism to guarantee justice.  Admittedly, the text of the post drifted a bit from the intention for which I crafted the title.  The bottom-line point that might have gotten lost was that a free nation, in which the government’s role is constrained, limits the opportunity of the government to manipulate the public.  (It also limits the incentive, since gaining control of government doesn’t gain one as much.)  It’s furthermore incompatible with a free nation for the government to be spying on its people or for the chief executive’s campaign to be setting up secretive organizations to manipulate the electorate.

Kevin Williamson brings in a consideration that is interwoven with the topic.  Writing about the Supreme Court’s Halbig decision, “that the law says what the law says” when it comes to ObamaCare subsidies, Williamson goes on:

The Hammurabic Code, along with its presumptive predecessors, represented something radical and new in human history. With the law written down — with the law fixed — a man who had committed no transgression no longer had reason to tremble before princes and potentates. If the driver of oxen had been paid his statutory wage, if a man’s contractual obligations had been satisfied, and if his life was unsullied by violations of the law, handily carved upon slabs of igneous rock for all to see and ingest, then that man was, within the limits of his law, free. …

… We write laws down in order that citizens may know what is permissible under the generally promulgated rules of the polity. The writing down of laws was the first step on the road from subject to citizen, and to reverse that is to do violence to more than grammatical propriety …

As I noted imperfectly the other day, freedom from tyranny is a guarantor of justice, and we cannot have freedom if the tyrant is able to change the rules and laws on a whim.  If the ground might dissolve beneath you once you’ve stepped off the tyrant’s path, you aren’t actually free to step from the path.  In other words, the rule of law is a guarantor of freedom and a prerequisite if freedom is to guarantee justice.

That’s why Americans must insist on the rules, and that the language of the law means what it says.  Rhode Island is an excellent example of the insider-dominated wasteland to which a failure to do so inevitably leads, and even we in the Ocean State have much farther to fall.

What They Should Mean by “Education Is a Right”

This photograph, which appeared in the Providence Journal in the July 20th Sunday edition has been bugging me.  In case you don’t feel like clicking the link, it’s of a group of college-age-looking folks marching down the street.  Four of them are holding a sign that reads:

education is a right!

USSA 

It was apparently taken from a documentary movie called Ivory Tower, about the state of higher education.  Without looking into the movie (or the insinuation behind the letters “USSA”), the meaning of the assertion necessitates the question, What do they mean?  If I assent to the proposition that “education is a right,” what, exactly am I agreeing to?

In terms of the founding documents of the United States, a right is something that cannot be taken away.  It isn’t something that others must provide to an individual.  A right to life doesn’t mean that every American must have free access to the most innovative technology that can preserve even a moment of life.  A right to speech doesn’t mean that every American is entitled to a national podium for anything they might want to say.  Rather, these are things that the government cannot actively prevent citizens from acquiring.  If you’re alive or if you have a national podium, the government cannot act to take it away from you.

So what does it mean for education to be a right?  Progressive activists mean that government schools have a right to confiscate money away in order to provide whatever educational opportunities they declare necessary.

Some activists seem to believe students have a right to absorb a certain amount of baseline information.  This view is typically targeted at the institution of public schools, to force them to prove that they’re providing a baseline education and to invalidate practices (like teacher tenure) that prioritize something else at the expense of students.  But a right to be imbued with knowledge would also imply a right to be forced to become educated, which doesn’t sound like what most people think of as “rights.”

It makes more sense — and will produce a better result, I’d argue — to understand education in the same way as life, speech, and the pursuit of happiness.  We have a right not to have the government thwart us in our pursuit of education.

As a society, we also have a strong incentive to ensure individuals achieve their potential, so we should allocate public resources to the cause.  However, the way we’ve been doing it, by setting up government school systems that have proven to be ineffective and unresponsive, can stand as a barrier to actual education, which is against students’ rights.

Gender Distractions in Leadership

Per Jessica Sparks, in the Wall Street Journal, reporting on Gallup poll results, Americans believe the country would be better governed with more women in office.  The first thing to note is the distance between the poll question and the headline.  Here’s the question:

Do you think this country would be governed better or governed worse if more [women] were in political office?

And here’s the headline (with ellipses excluding other categories of answers):

Americans Think Women… Govern Better

That’s not an accurate summary of the results.  One could believe that having more women in government office at this point in history (when they are underrepresented) would take advantage of the sexes’ complementary qualities and bring broader perspective to government. If the dominance simply flipped from men to women, then that would decrease the advantage of diversity.

I do think, however, that a question asked the way the headline implies would still find a large number of people saying “better,” rather than “worse.”

Before the summer began, and I was doubling as daytime caretaker of our newest child, I’d sometimes watch the Fox News show Outnumbered while feeding her.  (Put it in the category of simply not having interest in seeking out some other source of background noise.)

On one episode, the four women and one man (Geraldo, I think, that day) discussed exactly this question, with unanimous belief that, yes, women would govern better if they dominated our politics.  I thought then, as I think now, that such a belief is mainly a testament to the success of cultural propaganda.  From every commercial and sitcom in which the woman is a calm, collected mastermind while the man is a bumbling doofus (especially if he’s a husband) to the monomaniacal focus of variations-of-Marx college curricula, tarring “the patriarchy” with every problem in human history (and sometimes in quantum physics, too), it’d be surprising if the poll results were any different.

The increasing tilt of the propagandists helps to explain this curve, from the Gallup poll:

The size of the gaps is telling, with dramatic drops in the “govern better” category as one’s education and cultural formation was during periods of lighter progressive hegemony.  It’s also interesting that the “govern worse” percentage doesn’t go up in kind.  The real growth is in “no difference” and/or “no opinion,” which were the other two options.  This isn’t a fading patriarchy; it’s a fading of true tolerance and rationality.

Freedom as Guarantor of Justice

The story of the Obama administration, and its path toward tyranny, becomes clearer with each scandal (whether or not the media reports it objectively).

The Left’s Machine

When you see something captured this concisely, it’s worth passing along.  From a John Hinderaker post on PowerLine, about progressives’ selective desire for donor transparency:

Why are the Democrats carrying on this selective war against “dark money,” which is itself, ironically, funded almost entirely with dark money? Democrats want to be able to identify conservative donors so that the Obama administration can use federal agencies to take revenge on them; so they can try to get them fired (like Brendan Eich); and so union goons can lead busloads of demonstrators onto their lawns. When liberal ideas have to compete with conservative ideas, they consistently lose. So the Democrats want to intimidate conservative donors in order to have the political field to themselves. There is nothing noble about their selective enmity toward “dark money.”

Bingo.  There’s something of a consistent theme from progressives’ approach to constructing their beliefs to their method of constructing a movement.  They believe, for instance, that their views are simply, objectively correct.  To disagree is ideological; to agree is to acknowledge reality.  To rewrite a culture and legal system according to their progressive delusions is merely to bring out the inner truth of reality; to defend yourself, your organizations, or your society from their onslaught is to “impose” your beliefs on everybody else.

Just so, it’s just plain justice, to progressives, to have labor unions collect money from taxpayers and shuffle it to political allies.  It’s just plain advancement of society for the Obama administration to filter billions of dollars to progressive organizations as “contractors” at every level of government — federal, state, and local.  If the entire federal bureaucracy is little more than a Democrat support organization, with every indication that it has been breaking laws and destroying evidence in order to attack political opponents, then it’s just government protecting the people.  It’s simply charity when law firms donate millions in in-kind contributions to defend left-wing clients.

And it’s just natural that progressives can use control of the media and of education in political battles, while upstart conservatives are somehow cheating when they mount counter-initiatives.

I’m not suggesting that progressives should be forbidden from doing any of these things (except its laundering of government resources), but it is telling that they want to foreclose avenues to public debate that they do not dominate.

RI Education: High Cost, Low Results

The left-wing Center for American Progress is out with a report lamenting the low pay of America’s public school teachers.  (Imagine what they must think of private school teachers’ even lower pay!)  In some states, teachers in government schools are eligible for up to seven social service programs if they are the “head of household” sources of income for families of four.

Given the source, I’m sure plenty of arguments against the report are possible, but being from Rhode Island, my interests go in another direction — namely, the appendix table on page 6 that shows the “average teacher base salary (bachelor’s degree and 10 years of teaching experience)” for all of the states.  Wouldn’t you know it, Rhode Island leads the nation, at $67,700.

That’s 15% more than second place Massachusetts, which comes in at $58,800.  It’s 51% higher than the national average of $44,900.

When it comes to the “highest possible step on the salary schedule,” Rhode Island’s $78,200 comes in fifth, after New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland.  By that measure, Rhode Island is 20% higher than the national average.

Yet, as the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Competitiveness Report Card shows, the Ocean State’s median household income is fifteenth in the nation.  Our unemployment rate is worst.

Despite all this spending (which Rhode Islanders can’t afford), our students’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests are generally below average for the nation and, under the current governor and Board of Education, reversing some progress from the last decade.

At the very least, paying teachers beyond taxpayers’ means is not proving to be a benefit to our students, and one could plausibly argue that such the pay scale is actively harming the quality of education in Rhode Island.

The Mission of Government Labor Unions

When Rhode Island’s government-sector labor unions — organizations that engage in politics to elect people who will negotiate employees’ contracts with kid gloves so that more taxpayer dollars can be funneled to the unions and then back into politics — came out against a constitutional convention in Rhode Island, many observers thought it might be out of concern that a surprise wave of good-government interest in the Ocean State would usher in policies that make it harder for their racket to continue.  Now, an activist group has emerged, funded almost exclusively with government-sector labor money (which is to say, with taxpayer money), and its emphasis does not fit those observers’ assumption at all:

The group has warned that such a gathering will open the door to actions that could impede women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights and rights for minorities and immigrants.

In brief: social issues, not labor issues.  The organization’s Web site lists more labor unions and also a broader array of groups, but they have a particular bent, such as the Economic Progress Institute (aka the Poverty Institute), Humanists of RI, Jobs with Justice, RI NOW, RI Pride, RI Progressive Democrats, and the Secular Coalition for Rhode Island.

It’s possible that the unions are carrying the financial weight of this organization because they don’t want a convention based on their own self interest and just feel that trumpeting the social-issues angle will stoke the public’s fears more effectively.  If that’s the case, then Rhode Islanders should question whether it’s appropriate for the labor organizations representing taxpayers’ employees to be using their money to carry far-left free riders.  Even the most strident believer in the right of workers to organize can admit that the process shouldn’t distort our system of government on so many issues that have nothing to do with contracts and working conditions.

After years of observation, however, I’d suggest that the real lesson is that labor services are just the way in which the unions raise money for themselves.  Their real mission is far-left progressive politics.  If that’s the case, union members should ask themselves whether they really to gain such tremendous benefits that it’s worth so much destruction of our rights and our society.

Profit as Theft from the Collective

Disdain for “for profit” companies is an indication that progressives believe all property actually belongs to the government, and taking extra is a type of theft.

The Education Legacy of the Chafee Era

NAEP scores and comparisons of trends across the country suggest that the stall of education reform during the Chafee era has not been good for Rhode Island’s children.

Steve Ahlquist, the Oppressors’ Heir

In attacking Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, Steve Ahlquist gives reason to believe he’d have been a different kind of oppressor in a different time.

When Immigration Truth Is the Friday News Dump

Friday afternoon is the day that governments across America release information that they’d like to see downplayed.  During the weekend (especially in the summer), Americans are distracted, and journalists aren’t able really to dig into a late-Friday release until Monday, at which point the news cycle has moved on.

In the collection of Friday news dumps, this is a strange one:

The data, which was dumped by the U.S. border patrol late Friday afternoon, shows that inflow of youths and children traveling without parents has doubled since 2013, to 57,525 in the nine months up to July 2014.

But the number of migrants who cross the border in so-called “family units” has spiked five-fold to 55,420, according to the border patrol’s data, which came out amid a storm of news about the shoot-down of a Malaysian aircraft in Ukraine, delays in failed U.S. nuke talks with Iran, and on Hamas’ continued war against Israel.

So why should a simple demographic fact be treated like a political liability?  It changes the image of what’s happening on the border, doesn’t it?  Firstly, it changes the image of the invasion — from a wave of lonely children traversing Mexico alone to whole communities’ taking a journey.  It could be that many of the “unaccompanied” minors were actually very much accompanied, right up to the border.

Secondly, it changes the talking point that the wave is a result of the “Buse era” Wilberforce Trafficking law that required enhanced due process for unaccompanied children from nations other than Canada and Mexico.  That talking point is disingenuous because (1) the migration of children en masse does not relate to the intent of the law, (2) the law provides plenty of room for discretion in extreme and unanticipated circumstances, and (3) the Obama Administration is hardly a stickler for the letter of the law.  But still, it’s a talking point by which Democrats and progressive activists can muddy the water and prevent honest debate.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 37 (WJAR Gubernatorial Debates & Immigration)

Justin and Bob Plain discuss the first Republican and Democrat gubernatorial debates on Channel 10, WJAR, with some emphasis on the illegal immigration crisis.

June 2014 Employment: And the Happy Face Keeps Smiling

Based on the numbers, Rhode Island’s employment woes appear to be coming to an end. The numbers feel wrong, though, and some experts’ explanation doesn’t seem to fit.

During Hard Times, Crack Down on Workers?

Here’s a pretty good example of how Rhode Island politicians and the special interests who govern them look at their neighbors’ plight.  The legislation is Senate bill 2410, sponsored by Hanna Gallo (D, Cranston, West Warwick), Erin Lynch (D, Cranston, Warwick), and Dominick Ruggerio (D, North Providence, Providence), and House bill 7391, sponsored by John Edwards (D, Portsmouth, Tiverton), Donald Lally (D, Narragansett, South Kingstown), Christopher Blazejewski (D, Providence), and Katherine Kazarian (D, East Providence).

Basically, the legislation — which Governor Chafee signed into law (naturally) — triples the fine for a first offense violating the chapter of Rhode Island law dealing with the licensing of plumbers, from a painful $500 to a potentially devastating $1,500.  Second and subsequent offenses more than doubled, from $950 to $2,000.  There may be a variety of violations that could spark the fines, but mainly, they have to do with performing unlicensed plumbing or disregarding plumbing regulations.

That’s right: After years of Rhode Island’s being thousands shy of its peak employment, after months of its having the worst unemployment rate in the country, during an era of low or non-existent economic growth and taxpayer flight, the Rhode Island General Assembly finds it important to tighten the screws on one of the better-paying blue-collar occupations.

In the upcoming election, voters should consider that the only legislators who don’t think a time of economic agony is ripe for cracking down on people trying to make ends meet were Rep. Michael Chippendale (R, Coventry, Foster, Glocester), Rep. Doreen Costa (R, Exeter, North Kingstown), Rep. Karen MacBeth (D, Cumberland), Rep. Michael Marcello (D, Cranston, Scituate), Rep. Patricia Morgan (R, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick), and Joseph Trill (R, Warwick).  Not a single senator voted against the bill.

Here are the “yea” votes in the Senate:

YEAS- 33: The Honorable President Paiva Weed and Senators Algiere, Archambault, Bates, Conley, Cool Rumsey, Cote, Crowley, Doyle, Felag, Gallo, Goldin, Goodwin, Hodgson, Jabour, Kettle, Lombardi, Lynch, McCaffrey, Metts, Miller, Nesselbush, O’Neill, Ottiano, Pearson, Picard, Pichardo, Raptakis, Ruggerio, Satchell, Sheehan, Sosnowski, Walaska.

And in the House:

YEAS – 66: The Honorable Speaker Mattiello and Representatives Abney, Ackerman, Ajello, Almeida, Amore, Azzinaro, Bennett, Blazejewski, Canario, Carnevale, Casey, Cimini, Coderre, Corvese, Costantino, Craven, DeSimone, Diaz, Dickinson, Edwards, Fellela, Ferri, Finn, Gallison, Giarrusso, Guthrie, Handy, Hearn, Hull, Johnston, Kazarian, Keable, Kennedy, Lally, Lima, Lombardi, Malik, Marshall, Martin, McLaughlin, McNamara, Melo, Messier, Morin, Newberry, Nunes, O’Brien, O’Grady, O’Neill, Palangio, Palumbo, Phillips, Ruggiero, San Bento, Serpa, Shekarchi, Silva, Slater, Tanzi, Tomasso, Ucci, Valencia, Walsh, Williams, Winfield.