The trend of increasing attempts to delegitimize the activities of our political opposition cannot move our communities or our country in a positive direction.
The Providence Journal wants legislators to hurry up and pass legislation that constituents would not support so as to cut short debate and move on to other things.
Even if I could somehow adjust for the fact that I agree with his views on abortion and human life, I think I would still struggle to understand how a story like that of Argentinian doctor Leandro Rodriguez Lastra could fail to spark cognitive dissonance among supporters of abortion:
Rodríguez is the head of the department of gynecology at the Pedro Moguillansky Hospital in Cipoletti. In May 2017, he treated a 19-year-old woman who was suffering severe pain due to ingesting misoprostol, the first of a two-part abortion pill regimen, which had been administered by an abortion group.
The doctor confirmed that the woman was almost 23 weeks pregnant and the baby weighed more than 1 lb. 2 oz., so in conjunction with the medical team and the hospital board, he decided not to terminate the pregnancy.
Rodríguez stabilized the patient and when the baby reached 35 weeks gestation, labor was induced. Days later, the baby was adopted and will soon be two years old.
This is in the news, right now, because Rodriguez faces two years in prison for the act of saving two lives. One of the two wanted him to finish the job of killing the other, which she had started.
How — How? — could anybody think of that now-two-year-old child and think to him or her self, “This doctor must be punished because that child is alive”? Is the child Damian, the Antichrist?
Of course it’s not this specific child. Rather the motivation is to make of Dr. Rodriguez an example, so that doctors’ desire to save lives cannot disrupt the principle of infanticide — or, one step closer to the higher principle, complete sexual liberty.
Whether the focus is the child or the doctor, however, a society that sees either as a danger requiring punishment could not have a clearer need for self reflection.
Protecting the Second Amendment on a macro scale can start in a small New England town hall.
As a general proposition, I find debate about the conditions of different generations — Millennials, GenX, Boomers, etc. — to be not much more than merely amusing. However, a point that David Harsanyi makes in The Federalist touches more broadly on the way a certain sort of coastal elite looks at people’s conditions and rights.
Broadly, Harsanyi acknowledges that Millennials do show slower growth in wealth and delayed achievement of life milestones, but he argues that this is a function of their choices. Indeed, delaying milestones like marriage and home ownership are likely the causes of slower growth in wealth, rather than the effects of it.
However, the interesting point about perspective comes with this:
… millennials aren’t compelled to rent apartments in the middle of the most expensive cities in America. Yet, many are happier living in urban areas than previous generations were. Pew Research found in 2018 that 88 percent of millennials now reside in metropolitan areas. That’s also a choice.
And the urban areas that millennials choose are more expensive partly because they are far better iterations of cities than previous generations encountered. In the past 30 years, these places have undergone waves of gentrification and revival, in part to cater to the tastes of younger Americans. Most are cleaner, safer, and more livable in numerous ways—and thus, more pricey. Yes, Brooklyn was a lot cheaper in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. It was also more dangerous, dirtier, and less enticing for families and businesses.
True, Harsanyi grants, half-million-dollar “veritable castles” in high-demand suburbs are out of reach for young adults, but starter homes in more reasonable zip codes are not. That’s why we call them “starter homes.”
Of course, this point gets tangled up in the self-contradictory beliefs of modern progressives — for instance, that nobody needs a large house with all the fixin’s, but that anybody who cannot have such a house is unjustly deprived. Just so, the insinuation on behalf of Millennials is that they have a right to live the lifestyle that coastal elites consider to be de rigeur and are deprived if they cannot. The hardship of the generation, in other words, is that they cannot afford the things that a traditional lifestyle lived over a at least a decade helps a family to achieve.
The opioid epidemic is a widespread, complicated problem, and only a collective effort will begin to solve it. The healthcare community and lawmakers need to work in tandem to find policies that effectively lessen opioid abuse while still keeping our state’s economic health as well the health and safety of the patient in mind. It’s unfortunate, however, that Senate Bill S0798, the Opioid Stewardship Act, fails on both accounts.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about the governor’s decisions about labor legislation, abortion, and the new education commissioner.
Although the number of jobs based in Rhode Island is up and the official unemployment rate is down, trends in employment and in the Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) bring warnings rather than hopefulness.
Wow, has our report shaken up the status quo! We have done the research, and we have connected the dots. The number one driver of the Ocean State’s declining population and jobs numbers – the high property taxes we all pay – can now be directly connected to the excessive costs of government, as mandated by government union collective bargaining agreements.
Now, we are asking your support to help us spread the word.
Better defining “missionary work” may offer some perspective on how to draw Rhode Island out of its current state of being.
The evergreen-contracts-for-teachers bill seems to have been the last stone of realization for Erika Sanzi, raising the question about which of the three possible decisions she’ll make.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about the likely future of legislation supporting organized labor and promoting abortion, as well as the governor’s chances of spinning her performance for state and national consumption.
Yes, à la carte, non-standard banking services like check cashing and payday loans can seem predatory, but we have to acknowledge the place they fill if we want to understand why people use them and answer the question of whether they should.
At $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s 1 million residents, a family of four is paying over $3,500 annually for excessive compensation deals for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.
With almost two-thirds of these excessive costs being heaped upon municipal taxpayers, the report further estimates that property taxes could be reduced by 25% if more reasonable, market-based collective bargaining agreements were negotiated.
The hearing on two extremist abortion bills is suddenly posted in Senate Judiciary just days after a new, scientific poll shows that 77% of Rhode Island voters oppose them.
SPOILERS about Avengers: Endgame ahead.
I agree with Jonah Goldberg more than I disagree with him, but sometimes a guy has to stand firm in what he believes. Of all the complaints one can make about the last of the Avengers movies (at least in this cycle), inconsistency about its treatment of time travel is not one of them.
I should note that I think the movies’ conception of how time works is pure fantasy not applicable to reality, but if one accepts their physics framework, the story is just fine.
Seemingly in order to make a fun reference to the Back to the Future movies, the smarter characters explain that it isn’t possible to go back in the past in order to change the present. The heroes live in a world where the bad guy, Thanos, has used the Infinity Stones to wipe out half of all life in the universe. The problem is that the people whom they left behind when they went into the past would still be in a future in which Thanos had already accomplished his goal. It would be along a different time stream that Thanos had failed. Undoing what has already been done is a logical impossibility if we accept a tangible universe.
Jonah’s complaint is about the end of the movie. Once the world is saved, Captain America travels into the past to return the stones to their proper times, and he doesn’t return. It turns out he’d decided to stay in the past and live out a lifelong retirement with his one-time love. But then… there he is, as an old man sitting nearby a few seconds after the younger him had gone into the past. Weren’t we already told that changing things in the past put you on a different time stream?
Yes, but we’ve also seen evidence that two copies of the same person could exist alongside each other. Indeed, Captain America had to fight with himself! Jonah’s complaint is that Captain America’s staying in the past would have changed reality in all sorts of unpredictable ways, but as long as he stayed quiet and lived as a regular Joe far away from the action of the Avengers, he would have done nothing logically incompatible with the world of the story that we’ve been following over the past eleven years. For all we know, he was out there all along.
It appears that another embarrassing Rhode Island story has captured the imagination of the nation: Lunch shaming, or giving students a minimal meal when their parents have built up a tab for school lunches. Locally, the topic has been around for quite a while; it was a topic in one of my podcasts from April 2017.
In a nutshell, my take was to suggest that we’ve lost our way if we’re having public policy debates about how school districts should deal with parents who are deadbeats when it comes to lunch money. I mean, can you imagine a private school shaming their customers’ children over a $5 lunch tab? The whole attitude is different, even to the point of seeing students and their families as customers rather than something more like wards or even burdens.
The expansion of that attitude rears its head in a policy proposal that is making its way through Rhode Island’s brain trust:
[Elizabeth Burke Bryant of RI Kids Count] is advocating for the approval of a community eligibility provision which would provide free and reduced lunches to all students and avoid singling out children based on their family’s finances.
The community eligibility provision, which is part of Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget, would provide free meals for all students within districts that have a large percentage of low-income families.
The unhealthy perspective engendered by big government has had the unhappy consequence of shaming children. The solution, we’re told, is to expand government further into the role of parents, thus expanding the reach of the big-government attitude. This will have consequences for Rhode Island families that can be as disastrous, in aggregate, as they are unmeasurable.
Providing for your children is part of what makes parenthood worthwhile. Packing a lunch with love is one of the most straightforward and basic expressions of that responsibility.
Go away, big government. Let us be families.
The dynamic is reminiscent of the argument that government schools have to instruct all children according to the state’s beliefs about sex because some minority of parents will do a poor job educating their own children. In the case of school lunches, statists don’t want to single out children who need help funding lunch, so they’re going to edge in on the relationship of most parents and their children.
A simple debate about numbers that ought to be easily resolved points to a key strategy of special interests to maintain their unfair status quo.
Sometimes the practical wisdom of children — who can see past the hangups of adults, if only because they lack the experience that makes those hangups justifiable, even wise — brings a unique perspective.
By coincidence, on the same day that Rhode Island’s Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo swore in the fifth adolescent winner of her sexist girls-only “Governor for a Day” contest, I asked an early-teen boy of my acquaintance a question about his choice of characters in the video game Fortnite. If you’re somehow not familiar with it, the game places characters on an island for a “Battle Royale” in which only one player can survive. It’s a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, meaning that all of the other characters are people playing on their own devices somewhere in the world.
Earlier on in the game’s life cycle, players were cast randomly as female or male and had no choice. Recently (it appears), the designers have made it possible to choose the sex of one’s character.
“Why have you been using that girl character?,” I asked.
He replied, “Because the girls are smaller, so they don’t stick out when you hide in bushes.”
Ah. See, the male characters are all large, muscular types, which is a liability if you’re crouching in a bush or behind a rock. Yet, they gain no advantage from their size. They can’t carry any additional weapons or materials. They can’t run any faster. They have no advantage when it comes down to a pickax fight. They can’t jump any higher or withstand more of a beating.
By social necessity, the game is a level playing field between the sexes, except in the one way that would be visually unrealistic, and that one way is an advantage to females. Yet, it is a competitive environment in which players will make rational decisions. Where the qualities of men provide no advantage, even as the attributes that would more-realistically produce those qualities create a liability, competitive boys will co-opt the advantages of women.
Beyond these extreme financial costs, an even more corrosive impact from this political cronyism is at play. People have lost trust in their government and are fed up with betrayals from lawmakers who have forgotten them, who cater only to special-interest concerns. Lawmakers make it ever-harder for people to take care of their families and reside in Rhode Island.
For these reasons, Rhode Island is not keeping pace with the rest of the nation when it comes to jobs and population growth. After 10 years of perhaps the slowest economic recovery among all states, Rhode Island’s political leaders are failing on their promises to help the average family.
Instead, by heaping more privileges upon those who help get them elected, politicians continue to lose the trust of the people, who are also losing hope for their state. These tragic circumstances have conspired to make it a virtual certainty that the Ocean State will lose a prized U.S. congressional seat after the 2020 national census because of its stagnant population growth.
Rhode Island strangles its families and businesses with taxes and regulations, but often, the sheer unfairness of the system can be the real poison. As a member of the Tiverton Town Council, yesterday I participated in a “business walk” hosted by the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, which involved stopping in to talk with some business owners around town.
Of course, we heard about the problem of taxes, but the subjects that really animated business owners would better be classified as injustice. The cost of government labor was seen not only as a cause of high taxes, but also as a budget imbalance preventing infrastructure improvement. Similarly, the capriciousness of enforcement, with the rules not seeming to apply fairly to every business and changing depending on which government inspector paid a visit, is irksome beyond the cost.
Even after figuring out how to overcome all the regulatory obstacles that the state throws in their way and even after building high taxes, regulation-driven energy costs, and government bungled healthcare expenses into their business models, they still never know when an inspector will find some new rule to enforce or the legislature will come up with some new fee or obstacle to impose.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about the Wall Street Journal turning on Gina and the cost of unions and the legislation they inspire.
Time will tell whether I’m wrong, but I’m not sure the warning in Patrick Anderson’s Providence Journal article about RI employment last week was sufficiently vehement:
A sudden plunge in the number of Rhode Island-based jobs over the winter has caused fiscal analysts to darken their outlook for the state’s economy in the coming year, but they are not expecting a major downturn.
In March, state and federal officials decided they had overcounted the number of jobs in the state at the end of last year by 7,300 positions. Then, in the first three months of this year, Rhode Island shed another 2,800 jobs, putting it 10,100 jobs shy of the record employment high water mark celebrated last December.
Economists and state labor officials are a little puzzled by the job losses.
Regarding the drop in the first quarter, one quoted economist, Michael Lynch, notes that the sector leading the losses was “administrative support/waste management services,” which includes “office administration, hiring and placing of personnel, document preparation and similar clerical services, solicitation, collection, security and surveillance services, cleaning, and waste disposal services.” Inasmuch as the losses come in a single sector and there have been no massive layoffs to explain the drop, Lynch ascribes the trend to “noise in the data.”
We’ll see. Another possibility is that, despite the national growth, Rhode Island’s economy isn’t supporting a particular sector, for some reason. In this case, that sector is the one that operates offices and helps companies grow. If it is unique in having lost jobs, it may be that Rhode Island is uniquely a bad location from which to operate a business and capitalize on broad growth.
Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s dismissive response that “those adjustments are pretty typical of what happens at the end of every year” is alarming in its own right. The revisions to employment data each year reflect the fact that the state’s economy is doing something that economists didn’t expect. If the economy had truly been as strong as Raimondo claimed while campaigning for reelection, the revision would have been up. Instead, economists are surprised and mystified by how poorly our state is doing under her leadership.
They shouldn’t be.
Dr. Dennis Sheehan and I had the pleasure of appearing in-studio with Mike Collins and Chris Maxwell this past Saturday for their WPRO show, Changing Gears, to talk about the report that we co-authored for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity about the excess costs of state and local government attributable to collective bargaining with labor unions.
With the third highest property taxes in the country, a major encumbrance within an overall anti-taxpayer and anti-business climate that has dropped Rhode Island into bottom-10 rankings in a number of critical national indexes, the excessive costs of collectively bargained government services can be directly linked to this statewide problem.
This news isn’t sufficiently filled out, yet, to offer a firm reaction:
The University of Rhode Island’s Providence campus would move out of the historic Shepard Building to an unknown location under state plans to sell government real estate released on Friday evening.
The state Board of Elections would be moved out of its current Providence headquarters on Branch Avenue, and the state Medical Examiner’s Office would move from its laboratory on Orms Street in the next two years, according to the proposals from an ad hoc committee charged with finding state savings. The recommendations do not say where either of those agencies would go.
The real estate sales are part of a wider effort by a group of state officials and groups with business before the state, known as the Efficiency Commission, to come up with at least $10 million in money-saving ideas for the budget year that starts July 1.
Efficiency is a good thing, and if it doesn’t make sense for government to continue owning particular properties, then it shouldn’t, but if the efficiencies and the sale of assets result from the government’s inability to continue paying its bills, that’s a whole nother thing. Once the state government collects the estimated $16–25 million in sales revenue, the assets are gone, but the spending is still there.
The article states that moving out of the buildings will save $2.5 million per year in “operating costs,” but note, in particular, that “those figures do not include the cost of finding new homes for the current occupants.” If rent and other costs to house these government agencies elsewhere are roughly a wash, then we’re back to selling assets for its own sake. And that can be an ominous sign if the government isn’t giving a clearer rationale for why it would do so other than “efficiency.”
One can’t help but wonder, too, what sort of tax increase the City of Providence will see if the state government hands off property to a private owner.
For a recent episode of his Uncut podcast, Matt Allen had an interesting conversation with Bella Robinson, who is (I think it is accurate to say) a prostitute based in Rhode Island. Matt remarked several times that Ms. Robinson seemed to paint those who do charitable work as well as government agencies tasked with human services as unfailingly bad or misguided, while also seeming to prefer big-government policies.
The flip side of this tendency toward blanket condemnations of adverse institutions is blanket praise for one’s own. Listening to Robinson, one would think that prostitution is preferable to, and even safer than, just about any other occupation, and certainly to dating and marriage.
Along those lines, Matt confronted her with the broadly understood reality that a traditional, responsible lifestyle will bring 90% of people out of poverty. Actually, the progressive Brookings Institute finds that 98% of poor people who finish high school, get full-time jobs, and wait until 21 and married to have children will escape poverty, with 75% making it to the middle class.
Bella Robinson’s response, in essence, was that she tried that strategy, and it didn’t work for her. Well, yeah, any system that is 98% effective will not work for 2% of people. That doesn’t mean that we should reorder society in a way that might work for that 2% but fails some much larger percentage. (One thinks of radical feminism, which tears down standards for relationships that work for large numbers of women and replaces it with one that might not work for anybody except the feminists themselves.)
During the entire podcast, listeners get the impression that Robinson doesn’t believe anything works except the subject of her advocacy: sex work. Religion, government, relationships, marriage, social work… all of them are entirely flawed because they’re not 100% perfect. But tossing our “old tired ethics,” which our civilization has honed (yes, with missteps) over thousands of years, that apparently will cure everything.
A summary for Pensions & Investments of Rhode Island’s latest report concerning local pension plans passes a spotlight quickly past the ways in which government agencies, aided and abetted by labor unions, obscure the costs of benefits:
For the underfunded plans, assumptions about investment returns and payroll growth “may not be realistic,” said the report, which cited Providence’s 8% return assumption as the highest in the state.
“In more than a few cases … local pension liabilities are, or have the potential for, crowding out other important budget priorities.”
Take a look at the scorecard for Providence on page 22 of the report. The plan is 26.3% funded, which means it would have to have about three times more money in the fund collecting investment returns right now in order to be solvent. The city assumes that its payroll will only grow 3.5% per year, which must account for both raises and new hires. It also assumes an unrealistic 8% return on its investments every single year, which means it can put less actual money into the plan each year, because it assumes more will come from investments than is likely.
To top it all off, Providence has more former employees collecting pensions than it has employees paying into the system. Consequently, it pays out more every year than it adds to the fund, by about 4%.
Think about that. The city’s pension fund is actually shrinking, not growing.
In order to buy labor peace, Rhode Island governments have made huge retirement promises. So they don’t break the bank, they’ve then disguised the true cost with unrealistic assumptions.
That sword cuts both ways, though. Because the pressure that the pensions should be applying to budgets is drastically understated, labor unions are able to push for bigger raises and benefits for active employees, which has crowded out the money for appropriate pension funding. Now that accounting standards are making pension funding more visible and even mandatory, it has joined with other labor costs in squeezing the budgets for other expenses — even as prevailing wage and other union rules have ensured that the money for those other expenses cannot go as far as it should.
As the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s new report on excessive labor costs shows, these and other problems are creating a huge additional burden on our state, which is already struggling to meet budgets while allowing its economy to grow.
During a Twitter debate online concerning campaign finance and anonymous donations to think tanks and the like, Public’s Radio reporter Ian Donnis summarized his perspective thus:
Entities with millions to drown out their opponent is ‘part of an open & free democracy’? OK then!
That’s what the best interpretation of the pro-donor-disclosure point of view comes down to. As Mike Stenhouse noted in the thread, the other side of the coin is that the people who donate those “millions” to such organizations aren’t only, or even mainly, the powerful rich, and disclosing donors is a way to allow targeted political campaigns against them.
The fact is that people whose views are not in line with the progressive mainstream narrative do have an entirely reasonable and well-substantiated fear that their political donations will make them targets for activists. This possibility — and the countless iterations that occur on lower levels — strikes at the heart of our democracy.
Carry the logic out a bit: Why not identify every person’s ballot and make it public, in the name of transparency?
We manage peace in a diverse and free society because we separate out politics from other areas of life. If donating to a particular candidate or cause puts my family or business under threat, then our society is no longer answering political questions through a discrete set of rules. We can no longer have our political contests and then return to other interactions with maximum cooperation.
But isn’t using wealth to political advantage a violation of the principle that politics should be a separate matter? Perhaps in a manner of speaking, but there are all sorts of ways to have disproportionate influence in politics based on other areas of our lives — whether because of a job in media, family connections, affiliation with a government labor union, or whatever — and we can’t root all of them out of politics. Moreover, our personal interests obviously influence the public policy that we prefer, and it would be plainly tyrannical to prevent people from voting according to their interests, from wherever they derive.
So, we should be hesitant to limit different types of influence, so as to maintain balance, while striving to keep those sources of power from being used by citizens against each other outside the intermediary of politics.
Today, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity released a major study that I coauthored with Penn State business professor Dennis Sheehan about the effects of collective bargaining in the public sector on the cost of government. Using both statistical estimates and reviews of specific contract provisions and budgets, we found that the state government’s cost of labor is $96–299 million too high, with an additional total for all municipalities, school districts, and fire districts coming in at $228–825 million.
Our “best estimate” for the combined total excess for the whole state is $888 million, or 21%. This is money that state and local governments should be able to use for other purposes, including tax relief. In this sum, we see the primary reason that state and local governments never seem to have enough money to accomplish basic objectives like maintaining buildings, roads, and bridges and why our taxes are still among the highest in the country.
There is a lot to the report, and we’ll be laying it out in detail and building on it over time. The ultimate conclusion, however, can be seen in the following chart. We chose Portsmouth for our most-detailed analysis because it is the median town for taxes and population and also makes a good amount of the required information publicly available.
One way to understand this chart is to take the two largest segments as the baseline budget that the town must have to do everything it currently does, with market-rate employee compensation in green and the budget for everything else in dark blue. Right now, every wedge on the chart in between those two goes toward employee pay and benefits.
If the report’s “low-end estimate” of excess compensation is correct — that is, if we use our most conservative methodology — the second-darkest blue wedge could shift from employee compensation in order to pay for other expenses or to provide tax relief. At the other end, if even our “high-end estimate” of excess is accurate, nearly one-quarter of the town’s entire budget could be shifted away from paying employees.
This idea of giving government retirees a stipend in years that they don’t receive cost of living adjustments (COLAs) to their pensions seems to me a much more dangerous one than it might appear on the surface:
In legislation debated in a House Finance Committee hearing Tuesday night, Reps. Robert Craven, Michael Morin (a retired firefighter), Carol McEntee and Justine Caldwell propose that “an increasing stipend″ be paid retired state employees, municipal employees and teachers or their beneficiaries in years when there is no scheduled cost-of-living adjustment. …
Starting in the year that begins Jan. 1, 2020, the legislation would have the state pay a 3% “stipend″ on the first $15,000 in pension benefits, a boost of up to $450 initially, in each year in which there is no scheduled COLA payment.
In 2022, the stipend would increase to 3% of the first $20,000 in pension benefits, up to a maximum of $600 a year, and in 2026 it would increase again to 3% of the first $25,000 in benefits, up to a maximum of $750 per year.
Starting in 2030, the proposed increases would be tied to an annual index.
The pension system is a fund into which the employee and the employer pay throughout his or her career. The supposition is that those contributions will be enough by the time the person retires to cover his or her retirement with no further additions. If the system is not working, adjustments should be made within the system or funding increased to the system to shore it up.
To take the approach of adding some additional direct payment to the pension plan’s members is, in principle, no different than having the state pick any group of people and start giving it money. As a practical reality, that happens all the time — far too much — but this legislation would cross another line and destroy the principle that government shouldn’t do such things. A lingering sense of propriety may be all that’s holding our government together at the moment, and it’s a thread that shouldn’t be cut.