HEADLINES

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Governor Takes Class Time from School with 10% Proficiency in Math to Pitch Free College

Not to belabor Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s free-tuition vote-buying scheme, but doesn’t this seem presumptuous and out of line:

Gov. Gina Raimondo brought her proposal to provide free tuition to students attending Rhode Island’s public colleges to a cheering crowd of juniors, seniors and faculty at Cranston High School East on Wednesday morning.

In keeping with every other news report I’ve seen, Providence Journal reporter G. Wayne Miller doesn’t say whether the governor made her remarks while appearing at the school for some other reason, and she shared the stage with a bunch of like-minded politicians, so it seems as if class time was simply being used for a political event and photo op.  Republican Mayor Allan Fung — a past and possibly future contender for governor — had to offer his views via press release.

One could see allowing the governor to explain her proposal in the context of a debate in front of the students, but something so even-handed and educational is apparently beyond the ken of Rhode Island public schools.  Instead, Rhode Islanders receive the spectacle of their governor sounding like a candidate for class president, promising that all grades will be on a curve and the cafeteria will bring back decent food.

In case you’re wondering, only 30% of Cranston East students are proficient in reading and 10% in math, which makes the event just about a perfect representation of the governor’s political strategy.  Her policies are geared toward and presented to people who stand to benefit directly, who lack the context or experience to understand the likely consequences, and many of whom can’t legally vote.

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Rhode Island’s Parable of the Snake and Parasite

For the Family Prosperity Index (FPI) forum on Tuesday, Mike Stenhouse developed an interesting slide showing how the balance in our society (amplified in Rhode Island) is being thrown off as the government encroaches on the institutions of civic society — churches, private businesses, and other private organizations — even as it fosters and encourages a radical individualism that leads people to disengage from those intermediary community groups and connect directly with government for all of their needs.

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I made an attempt to get Stenhouse to amplify this point with imagery, essentially a start to an unwritten parable.  In his chart, the government is like a constrictor snake squeezing the life out of society from the outside, and as individuals stop turning to their communities as their first social contact and, instead, look to government to take resources away from their neighbors to pay for their benefits and services, they become more like parasites.  So, basically, this:

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Central planning and government action dehumanize us.  We stop being self-directed individuals in relationships and transform into variables in an equation to be manipulated so that we fit the space the government has shaped for us.  Through it all, our attitude toward others and sense of our own character dissipate.

Then, at some point, when there’s nothing left but the government and the individual, the snake will keep squeezing until it has claimed every drop of human blood.

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An Administration That Looks Better After the Election

The ordinary course of events is for politicians and their campaign staffs to be all things to all people before the election and then, after they’ve won, to start disappointing people, typically those who most wanted them to do what they promised to do.  The Trump administration, in contrast, has been comforting those who worried that all pretense of policies to the right of political center were just for show.  William McGurn recently took the Wall Street Journal to point out more encouraging news from the Trump camp:

Kellyanne Conway has just upended another Washington convention. She did so when she agreed to speak at the annual March for Life, one week after Donald Trump is sworn in as president.

With this one gesture, Mrs. Conway steals some thunder from the celebrity-heavy Women’s March on Washington, scheduled for the day after Mr. Trump’s inauguration. She focuses attention on big changes ahead for abortion policy. She challenges the feminist trope that to be a woman is to be pro-choice.

Above all, she guarantees coverage of a march the press would prefer to ignore, and gets the New York Times to report that, having “made history” as “the first woman to manage a successful presidential campaign,” Mrs. Conway will now make history again as “the first sitting White House official to address the annual march in person.”

I’ve seen multiple articles, from the Newport Daily News, the Providence Journal, and so on, about a handful of women from Rhode Island marching against Trump.  The presentation has been such that one would think they were traveling by the thousand to the Middle East to protest how women are treated there, rather than taking a brief trip south for a predictably fashionable cause.

It’d be nice if somebody at the state level would bring Conway-like attention to the pro-life march.  If only Rhode Island’s first female governor were Catholic or something.

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Money-Grubbing Company’s CEO Praises Politician Who Paid Him

It’s tempting to wonder whether Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo made a governor-praising op-ed by CEO Bob Baird a condition of the state government’s tax-dollar handout to pen-company A.T. Cross:

Enter Gov. Gina Raimondo. In 2014, soon after she was elected, Governor Raimondo called to tell us she loved our history in Rhode Island and looked forward to using a Cross pen to put her signature on official documents. Later, when the governor and her team learned we were talking to other states about pulling up our roots and beginning anew somewhere else, they made it clear they value Rhode Island companies that have been here all along. The governor, Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor and their team made a compelling case that our business is best served by staying in Rhode Island and that our employees will find everything they are looking for here at home.

Most likely, though, the CEO’s public promotion of the governor was more of a wink and nod affair than a contractual stipulation, or maybe it’s simple etiquette in the you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours crowd.

I will say that I’ll never deliberately buy an A.T. Cross pen, now, although if the company decides to send a thank you gift to every Rhode Islander for our involuntary contribution to the company’s bottom line, I’ll take one.

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Catching Up to My Traffic Observations, Government Still Shouldn’t Take Action

Back in 2013, I expressed frustration with Rhode Islanders’ willingness to merge early before a lane reduction and let “scum” take advantage of them by driving up the open lane to the very end and described the results when I decide to be a traffic vigilante:

I’ve tended to take that on as a cause of one.  Wherever my place should be, that’s where I stay, but in my own lane, with the length of empty road before me.  Without fail, as soon as the remaining scum in front of my blockade have been absorbed, the line, which had previously been at a standstill, begins to move smoothly.

But as proven by their waving arms and the number of times that I’ve had to sneak on to side roads to avoid road rage once the obstacle had been passed, the scum apparently feel that the moral advantage has been passed to them.  I am at fault, in their eyes, for preventing them from taking advantage of everybody else.

Well, whaddaya know:

There’s a growing consensus among many state transportation officials that when a lane closure is looming, getting drivers to use all available lanes until the point where cars need to merge can keep traffic moving more efficiently and safely, and even cut down on road rage.

The article is too delicate to explain the mechanism that makes it less efficient and safe when drivers get over too soon, but it’s clear nonetheless.  But come on, folks, we shouldn’t need government to cajole us into orderly cooperation.  If one individual out of every 50 or so drivers is willing to stand up to the scum, we’ll solve the problem entirely through private action and civil society.

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Another Government-Wall-Street Scheme; Of Course, RI Is In

The Wall Street Journal’s Kirsten Grind raises a red flag over another mortgage-related investment scheme:

About $3.4 billion has been lent so far for residential projects, and industry executives predict the total will double within the next year. That would likely rank PACE loans as the fastest-growing type of financing in the U.S.

As the loans spread, so do problems that echo the subprime mortgage crisis. Plumbers and repairmen essentially function as loan brokers but have scant training and oversight. They often pitch PACE loans to help land contracting jobs and earn referral fees from lenders, according to loan documents and more than two dozen borrowers, industry executives and employees.

The referring contractor gets a cut.  The municipality gets a cut.  And taxpayers will wind up on the hook if things go wrong.

In case you’re wondering, yes, Rhode Island has this.  Democrat Governor Lincoln Chafee signed the legislation into law in 2013, after Democrat Art Handy (Cranston) passed H6019 and a gang of Democrat state senators led by William Conley (East Providence, Pawtucket) passed S0900.  The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity did include this legislation in the 2013 iteration of the Freedom Index.

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Obama’s Crocodile Tears for American Institutions

Kevin Williamson is must reading on Obama’s crocodile tears for American institutions:

If President Obama does not understand why our institutions and the common ground they once represented are in a shambles, he need not look very far for an explanation: He is a man of the Left, and the Left corrupts every institution it touches: the news media, the educational and academic institutions, the cultural institutions, professional organizations, government bureaucracies, everything from National Geographic to the English department at the University of Texas. This is not a case of “both sides do it” or an instance of a conservative polemicist simply fitting his political opponents for black hats. If you want to understand why Americans have so little faith in institutions that were once granite pillars of respectability, you must understand the Left’s coopting of them.

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How a Pension Discount Rate Deceives the Public

Over on Tiverton Fact Check, I’ve used Tiverton’s police pension as an example to show how the high assumptions for investment returns work to give taxpayers a false sense of security:

The problem is that 7.5% is a very high return to hit every year.  According to the latest actuarial report, Tiverton’s pension fund lost$332,601 last year, which is about -3.4%.  In other words, because we needed a 7.5% increase, we were 10.9% short.  Tiverton should havestarted this year with another $1,065,971 or so in the bank.

Investment professionals will tell you not to panic, because we have to expect the market to go up and down, and what’s important is the average over years and decades.  One bad year is not the end of the world, and during the three years prior to this loss, Tiverton beat its 7.5% every year.

Two things make this picture too bright.  The first is that 0% isn’t the break-even number in this calculation — 7.5% is — which means every loss is huge and every gain is smaller than it seems. The second is that coming up short one year means there’s less in the bank to invest the next year, so the gain the next year has to be even bigger.

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Raimondo Insults Your Intelligence with College Plan

This morning, I noted that legislators are the only people in Rhode Island who can promise workers a 10% increase in pay without worrying about where the money will come from.  It just magically appears in their imaginations.  At noon, I suggested that Rhode Islanders should be embarrassed that their state is so dependent on federal government welfare.

The state government’s latest revenue and caseload conference estimated that the government’s revenue will fall $52 million from fiscal 2016 to fiscal 2018.  And during the budget process, last year, the state expected that deficits would climb $40-60 million per year, hitting $333 million by 2021.

So how in the world does Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo state the following — and get away with it in G. Wayne Miller’s Providence Journal article — while promising the new $30 million expense of giving all Rhode Islanders two free years of college at a state institution?

We have the money. This is affordable. It’s a smart solution.

It’s a vote-buying giveaway pure and simple that counts on Rhode Islanders’ not noticing that they’re paying the bill.  It’s an insult to our intelligence.

Moreover, we should expect that the estimated cost is laughably low.  Given free tuition, more families will use the colleges and university, and the institutions will surely increase their tuition rates once the cost to the decision makers (students and their families) is zilch (or half-price, for four-year degrees).  And this doesn’t even get into the governor’s assumptions that people who have no financial skin in the game for their degrees will actually take their studies seriously and apply themselves and that those who do will stay in the state rather than taking their subsidized degrees to states that actually have healthy economies.

One can only hope that Rhode Islanders aren’t so far gone, at this point, that they fall for the governor’s snake oil sale.

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The Conversation Starts Tuesday: Opportunity To Become Self-Sufficient

Everyone concerned about the well-being of our state’s families should be alarmed by our unacceptable 48th-place ranking. It is time to challenge the status quo insider mindset and to search for a more holistic path to help real Rhode Islanders improve their quality of life. This week, the Center will co-host a forum at Bryant University, that will provide an ideal opportunity for community, religious, and political leaders to convene and begin the process.

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RI Should Be Embarrassed of Federal Dependency

Morgan Scarboro of the Tax Foundation has taken a look at the states’ reliance on the federal government when it comes to taking money from other Americans and padding their own budgets:

In fiscal year 2014, over 60 percent of federal spending in the states went to benefits payments to individuals, including Social Security and Medicare. Aid is also given to states for education, transportation, housing, agriculture and more. Medicare is the largest grant program and continues to grow. Federal aid to states as a whole also grew 25 percent (adjusted for inflation) from 2005 to 2014.

Rhode Island is in the top group of states, with 34.7% of our state revenue transfered to us from the federal budget, more than any state this side of West Virginia other than Maine, which is poorer. This is the government plantation, and it ought to be an embarrassment to Rhode Islanders.

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Again: Minimum Wage Increases Are Political Thievery

When I read the Providence Journal headline, “Rhode Island lawmakers propose $10.50 minimum wage,” I can’t help but wonder: Propose to whom?

A group of Rhode Island state lawmakers has proposed raising the state’s hourly minimum wage by 90 cents this summer.

The bill introduced Wednesday proposes increasing the minimum wage to $10.50 on July 1. The current $9.60 minimum took effect a year ago.

The answer, obviously, is that some legislators are proposing it to other legislators, who are no more the business owners who will be forced to foot the bill than are those doing the proposing.  This is an insular, disconnected group debating whether to claim a political reward for spending somebody else’s money.

Rhode Island legislators are the only group in the state empowered to promise people a nearly 10% increase in pay without having to come up with the money, or even to worry whether people lose their jobs over it.  They’re thieves, plain and simple.

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Watch for the “Universal Pre-K” Money Grab

This New York Post editorial caught my eye (emphasis added):

As Carl Campanile reported in Monday’s Post, the city teachers union is spending more furiously than a drunken sailor: In the year ending last June 30, the UFT upped outlays by $13 million over the year before, to $182.1 million. That equals the entire budget for the city of Albany.

It helped that the union collected an extra $7 million in dues (to $151 million total), thanks to 7,000 new teachers hired under Mayor de Blasio’s Universal Pre-K program.

UFT boss Michael Mulgrew’s smug justification for it all? “Defending public education is increasingly expensive.”

As the push from the governor and the General Assembly for more unionized “universal pre-K” offerings from Rhode Island’s bank-breaking government schools continues, with talk of how it increases equity and all that, remember this central motivation.  Some of those union outlays go politicians, after all.  It certainly isn’t clear that such programs actually benefit children.

Of course, in Rhode Island, we’re a long, long way from putting our children before powerful special interests.

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Left and Right Need to Acknowledge Decisions Based on Policy

Hugh Hewitt makes a great point that conservatives like me sometimes need to hear:

It would be fair to announce the end of the mortgage-interest deduction in 30 years. It would be fair to phrase out the deductibility of state taxes by, say, 2050. But not overnight. Not unless you want to give the gavel back to Nancy Pelosi.

Purists have great arguments against “market distortions” in the tax code—in theory. But Americans don’t live in theory. They live in homes they bought at a value based on the existing deduction, in states whose taxes were partly offset through the federal code. Change those rules and what’s left of the GOP in high-tax states will be gone.

While those on the Left would like to treat this sort of consideration as justification for keeping government programs going forever, those on the Right do have to acknowledge that people make decisions based on bad government policy, and it can be overly harsh to the point of injustice to drop onto their heads the roofs that they’ve built over the policy framework.

Unfortunately, as with everything else, we can expect that reasonable concessions from conservatives will not be reciprocated.  For example, with the beginning of this century, special interests pushing bonds and Tiverton’s Town Council doubled the tax levy in Tiverton in less than a decade, to the point that house buyers who shop based on the monthly payment on a 30-year mortgage payment would have to pay around 15% less for a house in Tiverton than in Westport, Massachusetts, next door.

Those who bought in Tiverton before this punishment was dished out have been unfairly penalized, and many have been responding by cutting their losses and leaving town, not just because of the cost, but also because of the injustice.

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China’s One-Child Policy and Rhode Island Job Initiatives

Something occurred to me when I came across Glenn Reynolds’s link to a New York Times article about China’s change of government heart regarding its one-child policy.  After having forced women to have IUDs implanted, with resulting health problems, the government has decided it needs more people and is now moving to have the IUDs removed.  Says documentary filmmaker Ai Xiaoming:

In the eyes of the government, women are labor units. When the country needs you to give birth, you have to do so. And when they don’t need you to give birth, you don’t.

That’s exactly right.  Humanist-driven progressivism sees people as units to be managed.  I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a pro-choice woman some years back.  She was adamant that her view was all about the freedom of women, so I asked about China’s one-child policy.  Her response: “Well, what do you expect them to do?”… meaning, to address their overpopulation problem.

To make you happier, government has to make you less human.  It’s in the same line as government confiscating resources and distorting the market to retrain workers to fill the jobs that politicians declare necessary for their own political benefit.  They know what’s best for us, and to implement that wisdom, we’re just cookie-cut shapes on a board.

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Saying “No” and then Changing the Times

Mark Glennon’s thoughts on how the state of Illinois will fall apart — is falling apart — in a long, gradual process will resonate with Rhode Islanders capable of seeing what’s going on.  In this paragraph, Glennon raises an historical cliché that I’ll likely start quoting every time somebody expresses bewilderment at Rhode Islanders’ political behavior:

The Illinois General Assembly majority, the Chicago City Council and Mayor Emanuel are the obvious villains, but as for the ultimate culprits — voters who elect them — consider what Alexander the Great supposedly said about why Asians in his day were easily made slaves: “Because they never learned to say ‘no.’” Just saying ‘no’ to the incompetence, graft, lies and rank stupidity of their own government would end it all. But Illinoisans, especially Chicagoans, won’t say it, content to march blithely into indentured servitude.

Perhaps the core feature of the system that our forefathers gave us is that we really can avoid servitude by saying “no.”  We are allowed to change things.  We are allowed to insist that all of the reasons insiders tell us we can only say “yes” are false and that believing as we do does not make us bad people.  Saying “no” is only the first step, of course, but we are permitted to change things, and even change them back to something that we’ve lost, like true representative democracy and the rule of law.  The past is fertile ground from which to draw seeds for the future, not a wasteland of toxic superstition.

As for the “how,” I’m more and more convinced that hoping for some catalyst or hero is folly.  Rather, I believe Saint Augustine had it right in his Sermon 311:

You say, the times are troublesome, the times are burdensome, the times are miserable.  Live rightly and you will change the times.

The times have never hurt anyone.  Those who are hurt are human beings; those by whom they are hurt are also human beings.  So, change human beings and the times will be changed.

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Transfer to Medicaid “Main Driver” of HealthSource Decline

Rhode Island’s Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”) health benefits exchange lost 5,027 members (18.6%) as of the December 31 deadline for open enrollment.  Officials largely blame the withdrawal of UnitedHealthcare’s plans:

HealthSource RI said in a statement that the “main driver” of the enrollment decline was the departure from the market of UnitedHealthcare, which HealthSource RI estimated insured roughly 1,400 exchange customers in 2016.

One source of lost customers was more significant, however: Medicaid.  A HealthSource spokesperson tells the Current that “about 1500 individuals who had [qualified health plan] coverage at the start of Open Enrollment have since been determined eligible and enrolled in Medicaid.”  A request for the number of Medicaid recipients who went the other way — losing the taxpayer-funded welfare benefit and signing up for a paid (if taxpayer subsidized) plan — had received no reply as of this writing.

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Since the beginning of HealthSource RI and the related Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP), the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has warned that the system was designed to draw Rhode Islanders toward welfare benefits and dependence on government.  From the beginning, new Medicaid enrollment has far exceeded the numbers of Rhode Islanders who have used the exchange to purchase insurance.

These decisions and results have been a significant part of Rhode Island’s drop to 48th in the country on the Center’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) and to 39th on the index’s Freedom Factor, which is the ratio of jobs and employment to reliance on welfare programs.

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In a Bad Place with the Impolite Trump

Let’s be very, very clear:  As superficially satisfying as many of us on the right may find it, President-elect Trump’s treatment of the CNN reporter at his press conference today wasn’t appropriate.  CNN didn’t exactly sneak into the press conference, and many Americans still use it as a source for information.  Trump’s style may differ, but there are ways for a president to express disapproval without excluding journalists and, in turn, their audiences.

That said, Trump is less likely to receive push-back from his political allies than he should be for two reasons.  First, the double standard of the mainstream media leaves its practitioners deserving of ire.  Here’s a fresh example:  After weeks of hearing how unconscionable it was of Russia to use hacking and other methods to manipulate the American public, Politico reports:

Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office. They also disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter, only to back away after the election. And they helped Clinton’s allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers, a Politico investigation found.

A Ukrainian-American operative who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee met with top officials in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington in an effort to expose ties between Trump, top campaign aide Paul Manafort and Russia, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.

If these efforts had worked out and Clinton had been elected, would she be the subject of as much aspersion as Trump has been with respect to Russia?  Not a chance.  That fact leaves conservatives who aren’t comfortable with Trump’s style, views, or policies less likely to echo a media that we find so incredibly un-credible.

But that’s only the first-level problem.  The deeper hindrance is that the mainstream media aided, rather than checked, President Obama when his administration suppressed the Tea Party.  Consequently, we’ve less leverage on our side.  As Glenn Reynolds often writes, the government and media crushed the polite Tea Party; welcome to the impolite consequence.

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An Example of Anti-Community Labor Union Influence

Chicago lawyer Michael Hendershot takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to relate an anecdote from his daughter’s public elementary school:

Due to a combination of budget cuts and enrollment numbers that were lower than expected, Pritzker’s librarian was laid off shortly after this school year began. Without a librarian, Pritzker students aren’t allowed to use the library. Dozens of parents have offered to volunteer in the library to keep it open. There was so much interest that the parent-teacher organization created a rotating schedule of regular volunteers to help out.

But before parents could begin volunteering, a teachers union member filed a formal complaint with the school system, objecting to the parents’ plan. Several weeks later, a union representative appeared at a local school council meeting and informed parents that the union would not stand for parental volunteers in the library. Although the parents intended to do nothing more than help students check books in and out, the union claimed that the parents would be impermissibly filling a role reserved for teachers. The volunteer project was shut down following the meeting and the library is currently being used for dance classes.

Yes, as common a practice as it is in the mainstream media, it’s often unfair to pluck such local stories from around the country and hold them up as examples, but one could easily see this coming up in Rhode Island and easily imagine local unionists arguing for the lockout.  As former President of the RI Federation of Teachers Marcia Reback once put it, when the interests of the students and the teachers are different, “I represent the teachers.”

The problem is that this is the intrinsic incentive structure created by unionization.  It might (might) be appropriate within a private company constrained by market forces and without the muddying influence of union members’ being able to elect the management with whom they’ll be negotiating (like fellow union members from neighboring towns), and it might work for jobs that really are easily enumerated and packaged, but this mentality doesn’t belong anywhere near the education of children.

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Senator Reed Gets to the Heart of the Russian Hacking Story

A remark by Democrat Senator Reed in a recent Providence Journal article by Donita Naylor deserves notice and comment:

Three of Rhode Island’s four congressmen have called for a congressional investigation into Russia’s interference with the U.S. election of 2016.

“Our elections should be decided by American citizens, not foreign hackers, heads of state, or their propagandists,” U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said Friday in reaction to a U.S. intelligence report saying Russia had “actively manipulated” the election.

Reed helpfully gets to the heart of the matter:  Nobody at all is alleging that the election was not decided by American citizens.  At worst, we chose to give credence to information — some false, like “fake news,” but some apparently true, like the Democrat email releases — regardless of the source.

That isn’t a minor distinction, and it’s difficult not to see Reed’s complaint as essentially that elections should be decided by the elites who presume to tell Americans what to believe.

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