HEADLINES

An Actual Debate in Rhode Island; Two Sides and Everything

Ever go to some event in Rhode Island that was supposed to provide a balanced discussion between people of differing views?  When I have, more often than not, it has seemed that the points I would have thought were obvious failed to be articulated.  ”Balanced” tends to be a lot like the “balance” in Rhode Island’s legislature — far left to center left (maybe hard center, on a good day).

This Saturday, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity will be presenting actual balance — meaning people who actually disagree on fundamental questions — with its first UnleashRI Debate at the University of Rhode Island:

  • STEVE MOORE (Heritage Foundation, FOX News) vs. TOM SGOUROS (RI Policy Analyst)
  • RICH BENJAMIN (Demos, MSNBC) vs. DON WATKINS (Ayn Rand Institute)

You can register here.  It’d be great for this event to be a success for multiple reasons.  The largest is simply that these big questions actually do matter, and the answers cannot simply be assumed by people who happened to win office amidst an apathetic electorate.

My favorite reason to want a big turnout is that the progressives in Rhode Island to whom we initially reached out, in order to ensure that the representation of their side actually was fair and compelling, actively worked to prevent the debate from happening.  It’d be nice if the opposite of that behavior were actually rewarded in the Ocean State.

North Providence Economic Development as Another Government Boondoggle

A North Providence gym that was invited in and then shut down by local government illustrates the wisdom of avoiding economic activity where government’s role is overly strong.

Clive Bundy and a Pivot Point Between Worldviews

Much about the travails of Nevada rancher Clive Bundy, who has been facing down the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with the help of militia-type groups from across the country, offers many lessons from a conservative point of view.  David French makes a good one:

With few options left within conventional politics, rural Americans are beginning to contemplate more dramatic measures, such as the state secession movements building in Colorado, Maryland, California, and elsewhere. The more viable state secession movements aim to limit urban control by literally removing rural counties from their states and forming new states around geographic regions of common interests.

But until there’s a long-term solution, we may very well see more Bundy Ranch moments, where individual Americans (and their allies) simply refuse to consent to laws that destroy their way of life for the sake of regulations that provide no perceivable benefit to others. (I can only imagine my frustration if I had to end a more-than-century-old family lifestyle, arguably for the sake of a turtle that no one will see).

So does Peter Kirsanow:

One can acknowledge that the government has the right — in fact, the responsibility — to enforce the law, yet object that this administration habitually enforces the law in a capricious, arbitrary, and discriminatory manner. They imperiously go after a Bundy while excusing scores of miscreants whose get-out-of-jail-free card is membership in a politically-correct class. They regularly waive legal requirements out of sheer political expediency. They fail to defend duly enacted statutes with which they, the enlightened, disagree.

It can hardly be denied that President Obama and the progressive movement generally traffic in divisiveness, especially when they feel those who wind up on their side of the divide are more powerful.

The thought that keeps returning to me, however, is that the Bundy episode is a great illustration of the different perspectives of the Left and the Right.  I mean, one needn’t give total credence to speculation that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) is orchestrating the routing of the rancher as part of a Chinese solar farm deal to think the whole story sounds very familiar… even to the point being a cliché.  The main difference is that the Hollywood cliché would require the powerful force behind the strong-arm tactics to drive people off of their land to be Big Business.  Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Nowhere to Run comes quickly to mind.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that progressives, the media, the Democrats (etc.) would find a huge story worthy of deep investigation in the controversy if it were a private business doing the strong arming.  When it’s the government, though, we may get some minor concessions that the BLM is going about things the wrong way, but motives and justifications are assumed to be pure.

Some Simple Principles, From Economics to Life

Via Instapundit comes a brief must-read graduation speech from Nobel economist Thomas Sargent:

Economics is organized common sense. Here is a short list of valuable lessons that our beautiful subject teaches.

1. Many things that are desirable are not feasible.

2. Individuals and communities face trade-offs.

3. Other people have more information about their abilities, their efforts, and their preferences than you do.

There are twelve points, in total.  Would that they were imparted to more college graduates.

IRS Scandal Expands into Cross-Agency Planning to Prosecute

It’s not mentioned loudly in Rhode Island, but revelations keep on coming in the IRS targeting of conservative groups:

 … on March 27, [former IRS non-profit-division head Lois] Lerner in an email to top IRS staff wrote that “folks from the FEC world,” were pressing for “tax-fraud prosecutions” for nonprofit organizations accused of lying about not conducting political activity. “This is their latest push to shut these down,” she wrote. “One IRS prosecution would make an impact and they wouldn’t feel so comfortable doing the stuff.”

It’s especially curious that this news hasn’t been bigger in Rhode Island, because the name of our own Senator Sheldon Whitehouse appears in the controversial emails.  Apparently, the prompting of some of Whitehouse’s anti-Tea Party theatrics helped get the ball rolling for cross-agency talks about finding a group of which to make an example.

It seems to me the Left and the media are happy to let this scandal slip through various cracks.  On the one hand, we’re supposed to take the Senator’s rhetoric as simply that.  When he slanders people who disagree with him on policy, that’s just talk, not to be treated as if it’s actionable (or, for that matter, worth fact checking).  Yet, when the rhetoric turns into targeting, well, that has nothing to do with the rhetoric; it’s just the government trying to make the world safer for democracy… or at least Democrats.

Trusting Rhode Island Government with Sensitive Information

Assurances about the state government’s ability to keep sensitive information private ring hollow when an “opt out” Web site for privacy seekers returns a warning that its security certificate has been revoked.

St. Augustine, Protoblogger


From St. Augustine’s De Trinitate, written at the beginning of the 5th century, as translated by Edmund Hill…

Accordingly, dear reader, whenever you are as certain about something as I am, go forward with me; whenever you stick equally fast, stick with me; whenever you notice that you have gone wrong, come back to me; or that I have, call me back to you…

What he said.

(There are a few more passages, after the jump).

The Continuing Easter


When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large.

On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed.

He said to them, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him.

But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’”

– The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 16:5-8

 

To return to Galilee means to re-read everything on the basis of the cross and its victory. To re-read everything – Jesus’ preaching, his miracles, the new community, the excitement and the defections, even the betrayal – to re-read everything starting from the end, which is a new beginning, from this supreme act of love – Pope Francis (2014). The darkness of the previous days is driven away the moment Jesus rises from the grave and himself becomes God’s pure light. But this applies not only to him, not only to the darkness of those days. With the resurrection of Jesus, light itself is created anew. He draws all of us after him into the new light of the resurrection and he conquers all darkness. He is God’s new day, new for all of us – Pope Benedict XVI (2012). Yes, Christ is truly risen and we are witnesses of this. We proclaim this witness to the world, so that the joy which is ours will reach countless other hearts, kindling in them the light of the hope which does not disappoint – Pope John Paul II (2000).

Assumptions of Political Theory in Climate Change

Participants in the climate change debate tend to stand at opposite ends of a string of questions and push “yes” and “no” against each other along the scale. We should break the question down to the political theory underlying the tug-of-war.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 27 (Central Coventry Fire District)

On NBC 10 Wingmen, Bob Plain and I discussed the General Assembly’s entry into the Central Coventry Fire District controversy; in this post, I add some points that I should have inserted into the segment.

March 2014 Employment: Another Boom That Nobody Feels

Rhode Island (with the rest of the states) is apparently experiencing an employment boom, although the evidence is difficult to see outside of the statistics.

Fish on Fridays


Nothing symbolizes the supposed arbitrariness of religion to those predisposed towards skepticism towards religious belief more than does the Catholic practice of eating fish on Fridays during the season of Lent. I’ll admit to having asked myself, especially on Good Friday, what connection there is between fish and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. And then there is the philosophical paradox. If my soul is lost after I’ve eaten meat on a Lenten Friday, does that mean I’m free to commit worse sins without making my situation worse? But if the rule doesn’t really matter, then why follow it? And on and on and on and on…

Here’s what I do know. With the choice of fish options available to a 21st century American, eating fish on Fridays is about as small a “sacrifice” in a material sense as can be asked for. But honoring the rule does require me to make some conscious choices that run contrary to what the surrounding culture tells me are cool and sensible. And if I am unable to make this small sacrifice, because I find it too inconvenient, or because I’m afraid to explain myself to others who don’t share my belief or who might think that I’m being just plain silly, then on what basis can I believe myself to be capable of taking a stand in more serious situations, when the choices might be a little harder and the stakes a bit higher?

No Tax Increase in Tiverton, and the Mysterious Influence of Wall Street

Assertions by tax-increase advocates that Tiverton needs a large reserve fund for debt reasons don’t match the numbers for other RI cities and towns and, anyway, have priorities out of whack.

Contributions to an Ideological Common Wisdom

Over the weekend, I had a Twitter tiff with Providence Journal columnist Ed Fitzpatrick over a comment in his Sunday column, which was about the negativity between the two Republicans vying for the party’s gubernatorial nomination.  Noting that they both have liberal or Democrat backgrounds, Fitzpatrick wrote, “In Ted Cruz’s Texas, they’d give you the electric chair for less than that.”

It’s obviously a joke, but this sort of humor requires some sense of underlying truth.  To mainstream New England liberals, the two bits of common wisdom on which Fitzpatrick is playing are that conservatives brook no dissent and that we are casual about human life.

But humor doesn’t only rely on underlying truth, it also reinforces it.  If that smart and reasonable political columnist in the state’s major newspaper can casually reference conservatives’ willingness to put people to death for disagreeing with them, then (while of course everybody knows they aren’t that bad… at least not all of them) it’s smart and reasonable of others to trust in the sentiment.  This is how the Obama administration can actively abuse Americans during the government shutdown in full expectation that the news media will blame conservative Republicans (e.g., Ted Cruz).  This is how local activists (backed by the teachers’ union, naturally) can get away with declaring that their neighbors want to hurt children and destroy the community for seeking to slow the rate of growth of taxes.

It wasn’t that long ago that mainstream journalists (including Fitzpatrick, as I recall) were assuring me that they understood that it’s possible to oppose same-sex marriage without being a bigot, and now look where we are.  In part we’re here based on the casual dismissing of opponents’ views, such as performed by Fitzpatrick’s fellow Providence Journal columnist, Bob Kerr.  Many were the jokes about traditionalists’ ignorance and bigotry.

This is a lot of weight to put on a throw-away line in an ephemeral bit of political literature, to be sure.  I elaborate on the 140 characters of my tweet only because Fitzpatrick and others objected to my objection.  Comedians are comedians, and ideologues are ideologues.  Even those who agree with them can see the role they fill and take their words in that spirit.  At some level in the development of a smart and reasonable columnist, though, an awareness should develop that even jokes can have consequences.

What Rhode Islanders Need To Know About the Crisis in Central Coventry, Part 2


What is important to keep in mind here is that, unlike the mayors and city councils of cities like Central Falls and Woonsocket, fire districts do not start out from a position, under the general laws of Rhode Island, of being able to tax without direct voter approval. Fire-district levies still have to go to the voters, and it should not be assumed that empaneling a budget commission automatically negates this. A budget commission should have to submit a budget it formulates to the same voters who recently rejected the others, and re-modifying the fiscal stability act to say in effect that the union is permanent while the voters can be relegated to an advisory role (at best) is not a satisfactory solution here.

This means that the final stage built into the fiscal stability act, receivership aimed at an official bankruptcy proceeding, where everything is put on the table including the entirety of existing contracts, will be a real possibility once the state steps in. And rightly or wrongly, the realities of political pressures and “financial market forces” are that it will be much easier to send a fire district into full-blown bankruptcy than sending municipal governments has been.

The Gasping of the Golden Goose

Ted Nesi tweets that state tax revenue data for March was down 26% from the expected $52.6 million, at $39 million, which Director of the Revenue Rosemarie Booth Gallogly calls “sobering.”  That’s actually not the whole story.

The numbers Ted cites are actually just income tax.  Looking at the monthly estimate to actual report from the office of Revenue Analysis shows that the $13,556,296 shortfall in income tax is only part of the $23,761,918 shortfall in all taxes, the $25,002,703 shortfall in total taxes and departmental receipts, and the total general revenue shortfall of $27,586,944.  Almost every major tax was down, except the sales tax, by a little.

That’s more than the controversial annual cost of the HealthSource RI health benefits exchange.  It’s more than twice the controversial 38 Studios bond payments.  And it’s on top of projected deficits, expected loss of gambling revenue, and the budget-busting decision to lure more Rhode Islanders into Medicaid.

It’s important to note that the previous table, which shows year-to-date revenue isn’t quite as discouraging, yet.  Total general revenue is only down $1.877,918 (-0.1%) for the year.  Still, all of the data points accord with the shrinking workforce and an anecdotal sense that Rhode Islanders are just demoralized and giving up, as personified by a governor who seems most focused on starting his retirement speaking tour early.

I’d suggest that these holes can’t be patched, and that trying to do so will only accelerate the decline.  The state needs a radical readjustment of its priorities, emphasizing the free economic activity of its residents.  Rhode Islanders need a bold shot in the arm to give them a sense that things can turn around

More tightening of the leash and moving of the needle in the wrong direction can only hurt.

What Rhode Islanders Need To Know About the Crisis in Central Coventry, Part 1


Superior Court Judge Brian Stern’s order liquidating the Central Coventry Fire District describes the crisis the district is in very succinctly…

The yearly operating expenses of the fire district were far in excess of the amount of funds that was being generated by taxes and other fees. The board had created what can only be described as an elaborate Ponzi scheme to hide this from the taxpayers, which resulted in a multimillion dollar structural deficit. A twenty, thirty, or even a fifty percent increase in taxes would not even resolve the entire structural deficit the board had created at the time.
Full detail on how the district got into this position, is in the main post.

Coming up in Committee: Thirty Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 15 – April 17


1A. S2511: Mandates that all Rhode Islanders “obtain and maintain creditable coverage pursuant to the provisions of the Affordable Care Act enacted by the Congress of the United States”. (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Apr 15) There doesn’t appear to be an exemption for (Federal) executive-branch waivers in this bill.

1B. S2533: Creates a panel operated under the leadership of the healthcare commissioner (“referred to herein this chapter as ‘the authority’”) charged with creating a plan for making “HealthSourceRI the sole hub for securing insurance or health services coverage for all Rhode Island residents”, aggregating all medical funding for health insurance and/or health care services through HealthSourceRI, establishing “global spending targets” for the provision of healthcare, and developing a plan to pay for it all that includes a payroll tax. (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Apr 15)

2. H7285: Repeals the section of the law allowing “deferred deposit” loans, i.e. “pay-day” loans, also repealing the provisions in the law that allow check-cashing businesses to automatically operate as pay-day lenders. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 16) According to the official description, this is a complete repeal of pay-day lending.

3. H7944: Adds fire districts to the “fiscal stabilization law”, the law that allows the state to displace the elected local governments of financially distressed communities and supersede them with budget commissions and receivers. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 15) The Senate version will be heard on the floor on the same day; it looks like a budget commission, at least, for Central Coventry is coming soon.

4. H7067: Prohibits building schools anywhere in Rhode Island on the sites of former mines, but really intended to prevent construction of the new Blackstone Prep elementary school. This bill is listed under the “scheduled for consideration” portion of the agenda, which means it is very likely to be voted on, though it’s possible that an amended version will be introduced. (H Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 16)

5. On Tuesday, April 15 the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear this year’s raft of gun-control bills. Here’s a link to the entire agenda, plus there are two gun-related bills from an earlier hearing that day, S2719 and S2720. The two most important bills in this set are:

  • S2814: Reduces the right-bear arms in Rhode Island, to a government-granted privilege, by changing the “shall issue” process by which municipalities grant concealed carry firearms permits to a “may issue” criteria.
  • S2774: Provides for information related to mental-health related involuntarily commitments to be added to the National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) database used for conducting firearms purchase background checks.

Tech Collective Defends the Governor’s Workforce Board… and Most of Its Own Revenue

Another organization speaking out against the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Spotlight on Spending report appears to have a business model that charges dues for access to taxpayer-funded services.

The Book of Wisdom on the Cosmos and Maybe Even “Cosmos”


My Lenten readings this weekend took me to the Old Testament Book of Wisdom. I wasn’t looking for anything related to the philosophy of science; I was actually following some cross-references related to the mention of political authority in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, which led back to Wisdom 6.

Then, reading ahead to the 7th Chapter brought me to the following passage, beginning at verse 15…

Now God grant I speak suitably
and value these endowments at their worth

For he is the guide of Wisdom
and the director of the wise

For both we and our words are in his hand,
as well as all prudence and knowledge of crafts.

For he gave me sound knowledge of what exists,
that I might know the structure of the universe and the force of its elements,

The beginning and the end and the midpoint of times,
the changes in the sun’s course and the variations of the seasons,

Cycles of years, positions of stars,
natures of living things, tempers of beasts,

Powers of the winds and thoughts of human beings,
uses of plants and virtues of roots—

Whatever is hidden or plain I learned,
for Wisdom, the artisan of all, taught me.

Once again, despite what you may have been told, examining fundamental sources reveals that there’s no problem between science and religion — unless people want there to be one.