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Rhode Islanders Killed Serving in Afghanistan and Iraq

Sgt. Gregory A. Belanger
Sgt. Charles T. Caldwell
Staff Sgt. Joseph Camara
Spc. Michael Andrade
CW5 Sharon T. Swartworth
Capt. Matthew J. August
Sgt. 1st Class Curtis Mancini
Master Sgt. Richard L. Ferguson
Lance Cpl. Matthew K. Serio
Lance Cpl. John J. Van Gyzen IV
Sgt. Christopher S. Potts
Lance Cpl. Holly A. Charette
2nd Lt. Matthew S. Coutu
Sgt. Dennis J. Flanagan
Cpl. Brian R. St. Germain
Staff Sgt. Dale J. Kelly
Sgt. Moises Jazmin
Lance Cpl. Eric P. Valdepenas
Sgt. Michael R. Weidemann
Spc. Agent Nathan J. Schuldheiss
Sgt. Kyle J. Harrington
Lt. j.g. Francis L. Toner IV
Pfc. Kyle J. Coutu
Staff Sgt. Thomas H. Oakley
Sgt. Michael F. Paranzino
Spc. Dennis C. Poulin
Spc. Dennis P. Weichel Jr.
Lance Cpl. Abraham Tarwoe
Staff Sgt. Timothy R. McGill
Master Sgt. David L. Poirier
1st Sgt. Peter Andrew McKenna Jr.

AFF-RI: Progressivism is not cool.

Announcing AFF-RI: Progressivism is not cool.

Progressivism is not cool. Let me repeat that, because it is worth repeating: Progressivism is not cool; it is the opposite of cool. They want to control how you think, what you can say, what you can and cannot do. Progressivism is about dogma, it is not a political movement. It is a cult.

The cult of Progressivism is running rampant in Rhode Island. Unchecked or aided by the powers that be, the Progressives are gaining strength.

In Rhode Island, they have marched on the home of a defenseless Barrington resident and his partner, and brigaded a local town councillor … all for the grave crimes of daring to tell off-color jokes. Those are just two of the countless Progressive sins. SAD.

They have tried to silence peaceful rallies. They control the universities, even the Catholic ones, and they control the entertainment industry. But, most importantly here in Rhode Island, they are trying to trick you into believing they can control everything.

AFF Rhode Island

Progressives hate human life. Liberty is about human life. Liberty-minded millennials, like me, believe in human activity. We believe that individuals are capable of accomplishing great things, if only they were allowed to have a chance. We believe in big ideas, ideas like sales tax reform and school choice, that will unleash the power of human potential. These smart ideas will allow Rhode Island families to achieve their dreams. The progressive agenda is a sterile lifeless world of grey — a nightmare.

But, we are not without hope. Time and time again, I have seen the real people of our home state stand up and tell the progressives enough is enough. The regular people of our state have carried the torch of freedom, when our so-called political leaders have sat back and watched.

Now, it is time for a new generation to carry the torch of freedom. It is time for Rhode Island millennials to ditch the safe-spaces and coloring books, because there is a better way.

The America’s Future Foundation (AFF) is for conservative and libertarian young professionals who believe that they know how to better run their own lives than some bureaucrat.

We will be launching the Rhode Island chapter on June 2, 2017, at the Jake Speakeasy Lounge in Providence. (133 Douglas Avenue #1 Providence, RI 02908) Be there from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. for our huge launch party. This event will be free to attend, we will have a free appetizers, and there is ample free parking.

Our featured guest speaker is Rep. Blake Filippi, Rhode Island’s first millennial House Minority Whip.

The stakes could not be higher. While progressivism is spreading like a disease across our country, here in Rhode Island, we are their petri dish. We aren’t the front line, we are deep within enemy territory. Unless they are stopped, they will continue to experiment on the normal people of our state with their radical social engineering schemes to try-and-fail at their “utopian” delusions.

AFF-RI will work to advance individual liberty, personal responsibility, free-markets, and clean government. In short, the opposite to the progressive agenda that is poisoning the Ocean State.

We are the counter-culture. We are the resistance. Join the brand-new AFF Rhode Island chapter for our huge launch party on Friday, June 2, 2017. Kickoff at 6:30pm at the Jake in Providence! I want you there.

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The Budget: The Progressive Approach

Despite the false hopes expressed by lawmakers based solely on a reduced unemployment rate, Rhode Island families are hurting. The Ocean State suffers under the worst business climate, and 48th rank on our Center’s Job’s & Opportunity Index. Furthermore, Rhode Island was the only state in New England to see its labor force decline in size in recent years, as hundreds of thousands of people have chosen to leave our state since 2004. This is not a recovery.

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Who Do We Think We Are?

In a CNA article by Elise Harris, Associate Professor of Ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross Father Robert Gahl gets at a key distinction that brings the transgender issue right to the heart of our cultural and even existential differences (emphasis added):

Instead, he voiced his belief that most of the pushing is being done by people with “a good intention” who are truly convinced it is for the betterment of humanity. “I see it as being rooted in a view of the human being …  that comes out of post-modern philosophy,” he said.

This notion, the priest said, is what Benedict XVI described as “a nihilistic understanding of freedom, such that we are each our own creator.” In this view, God is replaced and we can each create ourselves in the image of whatever we would like to be, rather than receiving our nature from another as a given.

What’s really horrible about this is it means we have no intrinsic dignity. No one has intrinsic dignity, no one should be respected for who they are, but they should be respected for who they think they are,” Fr. Gahl said.

That’s a key distinction.  Of course, there are surgeries and other things people can do, but reality is reality.  You are who you are, and the world will interact with you accordingly.  Not only will people naturally respond to others based on their intrinsic qualities, but the physical world is what it is.  You can believe you’re tall, but if you’re short, there are things you just won’t be able to reach that a tall person could.

Attempting to force the world to accept a reality that isn’t real, but rather is asserted, quickly becomes the opposite of tolerance.  We can mandate that everything that a tall person can reach must be accessible by a short person, but not only will tall people find the world more difficult (and dangerous), but we’ll all be poorer for not taking advantage of some of our members’ height.

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General Assembly Must Step In – Tolls Have Taken A Dangerous Turn

Below is a statement that StopTollsRI.com (for which I am spokesperson) placed on its Facebook page last night. The R.I. Trucking Association and the American Trucking Association have announced that they would wait until all 30+ toll gantries were installed before they would challenge the legality of truck tolls in court. This alarming development first came to light Thursday night in testimony before House Finance. See Mike Collins’ testimony starting at approximately minute 1:52:40.

Tolls have taken a dangerous turn for Rhode Island residents and taxpayers. It is now imperative that state legislators and General Assembly leadership step in for the good of the state and end the truck toll program.

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Hyperventilation Over Any Limits on Government Growth

This isn’t just an anti-Trump thing, but a chronic pro-big-government tic of most mainstream journalism.  To be sure, this isn’t the flashiest, most-eyeball-catching-est detail, but Dan Mitchell highlights the bottom line of President Trump’s proposed budget:

First, the budget isn’t being cut. Indeed, Trump is proposing that federal spending increase from $4.06 trillion this year to $5.71 trillion in 2027.

That’s a 3.5% increase every year, when inflation is projected to be about two-thirds of that (a little over 2%).  What would it take for the news media to begin reacting skeptically to those proclaiming the end of the world because federal spending is only growing consistently at 75% of inflation?

Much of the response to the budget proposal seems to me to have been defining a growth-and-employment approach to helping the poor as “cruelty.”  Non-cruelty, apparently, is giving more of some people’s money to other people, as opposed to creating the conditions in which they can earn their own money.  Compassion, in short, is measured by the amount that government gives things away.

That’s not a healthy view.

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Know Their Love for Innovation by Their Actions

Rhode Island politicians like to give lip service to making the state a hub for technology companies, but they seem to think that means encouraging interactions between groups that can only survive with government subsidies, mainly because of (and by means of) government’s imposition of high barriers to entry and costs of doing business.  The secret to generating new industries in Rhode Island is to lower costs so all variety of businesses can afford experiment (without government approval, as expressed through the subsidies) and reduce restrictions on what they’re permitted to do.

RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse and Taxpayer Protection Alliance Senior Scholar Drew Johnson highlight a great example in today’s Providence Journal:

Fortunately, the free market recently developed a way to bypass the optometrists’ office. New technology — known as “ocular telemedicine” — allows consumers to accurately measure their prescription strength on a smartphone or computer screen from the comfort of their own homes. A board-certified ophthalmologist then emails a vision prescription based on the results.

Patients can then use that e-prescription to purchase lenses or glasses wherever they choose, typically at much lower prices. With this technology, healthy adults only need to visit a brick-and-mortar eye doctor once every two years for a full eye health exam (as recommended by the American Optometric Association) instead of every time a lens refill is needed.

Naturally, entrenched interests have pushed for legislation to halt (or at least slow down) such innovations, and of course, some Rhode Island legislators are answering the call… no doubt with entirely selfless reasons.  It’s funny how protecting people from themselves so often seems to profit somebody else, at least when it comes to regulations.

Can we stop that sort of behavior, please?  Why not just let people figure out how to provide other people what they want?

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Why Did RIDOT Replace the Bridge? Because It’s There.

So, we had no choice but to implement a new series of tolls on trucks under Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks program because the state doesn’t have any spare money and we don’t have time to spare before roads and bridges crumble dangerously.  Right?

If that’s the story, this is difficult to understand:

Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell is calling for the immediate formation of an independent oversight committee to review bridge inspection information related to project selection under the RhodeWorks truck-only tolling plan.  …

The bridge is located on Interstate 95 in the area of the Thurbers Avenue curve. It is a 50-foot overpass that will undergo superstructure replacement at a cost of $5.7 million dollars.

“The Oxford Street Bridge has a 72% sufficiency rating which means it’s in very good shape. We have very serious concerns as to why RIDOT selected this location to spend our industry’s toll money and our taxpayer’s limited funds to essentially replace a structure that is in good condition while other bridges in our state are crumbling,” said Maxwell.

Like Tara Granahan, I’m not sure I understand why the state would have to replace the bridge in order to put toll gantries on it, which is the scheme that Maxwell alleges.  Still, if there isn’t some ulterior motive, it ought to be a relatively simple matter for the Dept. of Transportation to clarify its reasoning, no?

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Allowing the Jihadist Cloud Darken the Age

Writing on the terrorist attack in Manchester, Mark Steyn reflects on a suggested course of action that we’ve been hearing in this country since 9/11:

“Carrying on exactly as before”, as The Independent advises, will not be possible. A few months ago, I was in Toulouse, where Jewish life has vanished from public visibility and is conducted only behind the prison-like walls of a fortress schoolhouse and a centralized synagogue that requires 24/7 protection by French soldiers; I went to Amsterdam, which is markedly less gay than it used to be; I walked through Molenbeek after dark, where unaccompanied women dare not go. You can carry on, you can stagger on, but life is not exactly as it was before. Inch by inch, it’s smaller and more constrained.

To put the best spin possible on the West’s reaction to Islamism’s attacks, we’ve been trying to find the balance between security and respect for others’ rights.  That would be a more successful strategy if it weren’t for the stultifying political correctness with which we’re currently infected.  Questioning the actual wisdom of “coexist” stickers even just a little would mean we get to maintain more liberties and need less-strenuous security.

I share Steyn’s pessimism about the future.  Little by little, as people change their decisions in response to perceived risks, our society will change — not because our children have been persuaded that teenage diva-pop really isn’t worth their time, but because parents aren’t willing to sacrifice them for enjoyment of such fluff.

The politically correct fantasy is fluff, too, and we shouldn’t be willing to sacrifice our society for its enjoyment.  We’ll only get to carry on as before if we shed those indulgences of self-loathing that we’ve permitted to fester.  Not only our children, but our society is worth defending, and we should start acting like it.

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Payroll Counts and Totals Under Governor Raimondo

A couple of days ago, Rhode Island House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan (R, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) was complaining to Tara Granahan on 630AM/99.7FM that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s administration was dragging its heels on providing Morgan with information about new hires since the start of her administration.

As Tara and Patricia were saying on air, that should be an easy request for the administration to fulfill.  Filter all employees to the appropriate hire dates, and there you go.

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to that tool, but for some overall sense of what the response will look like when it comes, I visited the state’s transparency site and downloaded the payroll for the relevant years.  Note that this data is by fiscal year, and the fiscal year 2017 dollar totals are projected “annual” pay and may vary in actuality, what with overtime and that sort of thing.  Also note that this is the entire state government, so it captures everything from courts to colleges.

My method was to search for full names (including middle initial) that did or didn’t appear in each subsequent year of payroll, which isn’t perfect.  If the state for some reason had a typo on a name (skipping a middle initial) or if somebody got married, or something, these numbers will be a little off, but it does give a rough picture.

Treating fiscal year 2016 as Raimondo’s first (that’d be July 2015 through June 2016), the state government has added 458 more employees than it lost during the two years of budgets that were implemented under this governor.  Those new employees account for an additional $30,639,475 in annual pay.

new-payroll-hires-2015-2017

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Eminent Domain as a Stadium Negotiating Tactic

Ethan Shorey presents, in a Valley Breeze article, another wrinkle in the PawSox stadium issue that gives the whole thing a “not at this point, thanks” kind of feel:

There is now increasing likelihood that the city would need to pursue buying the property through the eminent domain process, where officials would have to make a convincing argument that the property is needed for the public’s good. …

Officials are seeking to “reach a fair, negotiated purchase with the owner of the Apex property without the necessity of a taking through eminent domain, but all options will remain on the table in order to ensure that the people of Rhode Island are not denied this important public venue,” said Grebien.

So, the property owner has offered a price that represents the value of the sale to him, and the city government is using its power to simply seize property as a negotiating tactic.  The mayor’s amplifying the idea that placing a stadium on this specific property is an “important public” good should make warning flags go up.

People who own any property that might conceivably be attractive to politicians for their investment ventures are on notice that the government ultimately believes the property to be its own.  Recall that the RhodeMap RI plan included maps that made no distinction between public and private property — simply putting down the planners’ vision with the assumption that the government would end up owning anything they chose.

One misconception that the government is conveniently promoting is that the value of the property is its assessment… by the government.  The value of a property is the point at which the seller’s desire to give up the property meets the buyer’s desire to own it.  If a particular piece of land is critical to a government project, the fact that the owner is negotiating with “the people” does not change this dynamic.

To the extent that eminent domain is sparingly reasonable, it’s to prevent abuse around real necessities.  A person who owns the last acre of land to complete an important roadway, for example, would have unreasonable leverage.  A baseball stadium simply doesn’t reach that level.

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Seems the Fascists Are Pro-Net-Neutrality

Here’s an interesting — if no longer surprising — detail from Tunku Varadarajan’s interview with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pal, in the Wall Street Journal:

Protesters from the far-left group Popular Resistance have swarmed the Arlington, Va., street where Ajit Pai lives, placing pamphlets with his face on his neighbors’ front doors. “Have you seen this man?” the flyers ask, stating that Mr. Pai—“Age 44 / Height 6’1″ / Weight 200”—is “trying to destroy net neutrality.” Mr. Pai is chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and the activists, not without perverse humor, describe their picketing of his home as “Ajit-ation.”

“They were there yesterday,” Mr. Pai tells me Monday in his office at the FCC, in uncool Southwest Washington. “I understand they’ll be there today. They’ll be there tomorrow and the day after. It’s a hassle, especially for my wife and my two young children.” The activists, he adds, “come up to our front windows and take photographs of the inside of the house. My kids are 5 and 3. It’s not pleasant.”

The Left excuses itself for this sort of behavior because, like every self-righteous group of totalitarians, they believe they are on the side of ideals that are higher than the rights of those whom they see as a danger.

Ultimately, though, this isn’t a grassroots uprising against an official in an overbearing government, but rather, the protesters are the shock troops of a deliberate movement to grow overbearing government.  When their politicians are in power, they force rules through.  When people vote for a change of course, out come the shock troops, and up goes the mainstream media propaganda, to make sure the ratchet only moves toward more centralized power.

You’d think their unhinged response to President Trump’s election would have taught these people that consolidating power doesn’t come with a guarantee that they’ll always like what’s done with it.  Of course, one can’t expect people who put a family’s house under siege over Internet rules to think things through rationally like that.  They’re either crazy or paid to act like it.

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Little Compton Shows Education Evolution is Inevitable

Folks elsewhere in the state may not know that Little Compton sends its high school students all the way through Tiverton to Portsmouth High School.  Why?  Because it’s generally understood to outperform the high school that they bus right past.  Some Tiverton private school families move to Portsmouth when their children hit high school or pay the tuition.

Now, according to the Providence Journal’s Linda Borg, Little Compton is looking to market its K-8 school to area families as a school choice option in its own right:

… By pricing tuition at $6,000 — less than the typical parochial school — the district hopes to attract students from neighboring Portsmouth, Tiverton, Middletown and Westport, Mass. …

“If I’m sitting in Portsmouth or Tiverton, I’m going to say, ’I can get my kid into a class where the student-teacher ratio is 14 to 1, where the school has music, choir, band, athletics, where we go on field trips to New York and Washington, D.C.,” said Supt. Robert B. Powers.

With Rhode Island families generally on a decline, we may see more and more public school districts looking for similar opportunities.  As that happens, Little Compton’s approach may raise questions at the Dept. of Education.  Can the state allow particular schools the flexibility to price their tuition under the assumptions that it will have a cutoff before they have to start thinking about hiring new teachers and “have a conversation” if any higher-cost special needs students apply?

These questions will start becoming thorny pretty quickly.  What happens to Tiverton, for example, if Little Compton starts filling out its excess capacity with low-cost Tiverton students for K-8 and Portsmouth tries the same for high school?  For that matter, what happens to private schools as the government’s subsidized competition expands beyond just charter schools to include all public schools, too?

Little Compton’s proposal may be an early indication that change is coming to education whether established players like it or not.  Given the degree to which government already distorts the education market, edging into it on a case-by-case basis will prove extremely disruptive.  Better to implement a well-considered, all-encompassing school choice program.

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Taxes and the Gig Economy

Laura Saunders’s “Tax Report” column from this weekend tangentially raises an important question — rather, an important lesson:

While some gig workers mean to cheat Uncle Sam, experts say others are bewildered by tax requirements that can be almost as complex for the owner of a microbusiness as for a much larger firm. Many know nothing about Schedule C (for a small business), payroll taxes and quarterly estimated payments. Often they’re unaware of valuable write-offs as well.

“The government isn’t getting the money it’s owed, and workers aren’t taking the deductions and offsets they’re allowed,” says Caroline Bruckner, managing director of the Kogod Tax Center at American University, who studies microbusiness issues. In a survey she conducted of self-employed business owners working in the gig economy, 69% reported receiving no tax information from the platform they used.

Bottom line: the tax system is too complex.  That alone hurts our economy and innovation.  Sure, maybe the IRS and state and local governments could come up with ways to make taxes easier to pay, but nothing would beat a simple flat rate based on income.  Simply take your income and multiply it by the universal rate, and there’s your tax.

That also has the benefit of reducing incentive to use government to take other people’s money for yourself.  Take away withholding, too, and people will have every reason to assess the value of the services for which they’re being taxed.

Of course, complexity is exactly what the government wants, creating plenty of opportunity to take too much, plenty of reason to hire more tax collectors, and a weapon to use against the public when wanted, not only with the punishment of an audit, but with the reality that most people will have at some point done something that they shouldn’t have, inadvertently or otherwise.

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Avoiding Unions for Innovation and Prudent Decisions

Wall Street Journal editorialist Allysia Finley conveys the perspective of Braidy Industries CEO Craig Bouchard, who is opening an aluminum mill in right-to-work Kentucky.  Regarding an earlier company, experience with which soured Bouchard on organized labor:

They sold it for $1.2 billion to the Russian steelmaker Severstal in 2008, shortly before the stock market and steel industry crashed. Thousands of workers subsequently lost their jobs. Mr. Bouchard blames the United Steelworkers. He had first tried to sell a partnership stake in Esmark to the Indian company Essar Steel. But the United Steelworkers sought to force a sale to Severstal, which the union perceived as more labor-friendly. Had the Essar deal been consummated, Mr. Bouchard says, “every one of those people would have their jobs today” because all of the company’s debt would have been paid off.

Obviously, this is one side of that story, but the moral from the CEO’s point of view is that business decisions should be left to business owners.  That includes other pitfalls of unionization, like work rules that constrain activities beyond what the employer and employee would accept if left to their own and other costs, like pensions.

The key part of the op-ed, though, may be the bigger picture.  Bouchard’s new company is built on innovation in the metallurgical sciences.  Our broader tax and regulatory regime slows down that sort of innovation.  Another culprit is an unhealthy aversion (across the ideological spectrum) to allowing “creative destruction” to usher out old technologies and ways of doing things and ushering in the new.

A society should provide leverage for workers as the capitalism charges forward, but labor unions, protectionism, and regulation don’t appear to be sufficiently effective.  What we need is something broader, more cultural — dare I say, more spiritual — that allows us to make individual decisions and negotiations within a framework of mutual respect and support.

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The Budget: RI Government Seeks To Grow Itself, Not the Economy

Should the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of Rhode Island families be limited by an arbitrary, politically-driven budget number at the bottom of a spreadsheet? Unfortunately, our state is now suffering the consequences of such an approach, fueled by the progressive-left’s big-spending agenda.

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