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By capitulating to progressive-union pressure, and despite disingenuous claims that no broad-based taxes were imposed, Ocean Staters will once again bear increased burdens to pay for new taxes and regulations, more spending, and more union giveaways. Lawmakers chose to appease, rather than resist, the progressives’ job-killing, big-spending agenda.

A Rationale for Expanding Janus

In the continuing pursuit of worker freedom, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation has filed a lawsuit to clarify (or, I guess, expand) the recent Janus v. AFSCME ruling to railway and airline employees.

Janus found that government employees could not be required to pay for union representation if they were not members of the unions that bargained for their workplaces.  The specific legal question in the new case is whether the Railway Labor Act extends those rights.

I haven’t reviewed the legal reasoning to be able to explain why the Railway Labor Act makes the difference.  The point in Janus, as I understand it, was that unions negotiating with government are inherently producing political speech, even when they simply negotiate contracts.

But one of the plaintiffs in the case, Lin Rizzo-Rupon seems to make the case that the right not to join unions should be universal:

“It’s my money. I don’t feel that I should be required to pay someone to protect my job,” said Rizzo-Rupon. “We now have laws to take care of our health and safety in the workplace. I don’t think I should be paying taxes to the government that’s protecting me and then also be paying these mandatory fees to a union for those same protections.”

If the point is that the Railway Labor Act affords protections to the worker, then all workplace or labor standards would apply.

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A Long Time for a Decision on a Rhode Island Labor Question

A Rhode Island–initiated labor union case that the National Right to Work Foundation is asking a U.S. Court of Appeals to force the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is a helpful reminder of the abuses of the Obama administration.  The underlying case, brought by Jeanette Geary, is nine years old and has been sitting without resolution for the last five:

Geary, then a nurse at Kent Hospital in Warwick, Rhode Island, filed an unfair labor practice charge in 2009 with free legal aid from Foundation staff attorneys. Her charge stated that United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP) union officials unlawfully spent her forced union fees and failed to meet financial disclosure requirements as to the amount of the compulsory fees required as a condition of employment.

One might conclude from the summary that the union was simply asserting that dues-driven funds were spent appropriately without providing any evidence.

In 2012, President Obama’s illegally-appointed NLRB rejected Supreme Court precedent and granted union bosses power to charge nonmember workers for union political lobbying, including lobbying in other states. However, that decision was invalidated by the Court’s holding in NLRB v. Noel Canning that the Board lacked a valid quorum because of three unconstitutional “recess appointments” President Obama made.

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The Center’s Statement on Governor Raimondo’s State of the State

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has this to say about Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s State of the State address and budget priorities:

Governor’s Policy Ideas Will Make Matters Worse

More of the same progressive-left policies that are hampering our state today

Providence, RI — With the Ocean State doomed to lose a US Congressional seat because of its hostile tax, educational, and business environment, which chases away wealth, families and potential investors, the policies presented in the Governor’s 2019 State of the State address would only make matters worse, according to the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity.

“The Governor offered nothing but more of the same, failed progressive-left policies,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Instead of seeking to make our state a more free and welcoming place to live and work by easing governmental intrusion in our lives, the Governor is proposing even further attacks on our individual and economic rights. This misguided vision should be alarming to all Rhode Islanders.”

As prior Governors and General Assembly leaders have erred in the recent past, many items from the Governor’s speech would again make Rhode Island an even worse place to raise a family or build a career:

  • With no coherent plan to address our long-time K-12 public-schools problem other than throwing more money at it; and instead of lessening government and union influence over our recently exposed dismal student test scores, the Governor is proposing even more government control over students via her “universal pre-K” and expanded “free college tuition” programs.
  • Instead of easing regulatory burdens on employers in a state with one of the worst business climates in the country, the Governor proposed placing job-producers in further economic peril via more onerous wage mandates.
  • Instead of combating the deadly use of opioids, the Governor’s unspoken tonight push for legalization of marijuana will only create a stepping stone for further drug abuse and will lead to a further fraying of our state’s societal fabric.
  • Instead of protecting and preserving our individual freedoms, the Governor is expanding the attacks and infringements on the rights of the unborn and those seeking to exercise their constitutional right to defend themselves.
  • Instead of seeking to provide more affordable and higher-quality health insurance for state residents, the Governor continues to push for sub-standard and unaffordable government-mandated insurance.
  • With corporation after corporation pulling out of RI and reneging on their corporate welfare deals, the Governor continues to promote more special-interest incentives that end up producing little more than empty headlines … all paid for by the hard-working taxpayers of our state.

For these reasons and more, Rhode Island suffers from an epidemic of people fleeing our state. “Maybe it’s time to build our own wall to keep people in,” quipped Stenhouse.

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Charity and the Guilt of a Race

Rod Dreher has an interesting post on the balkanizing dangers of progressive anti-white rhetoric, and readers with an interest in the subject should read it.  What most caught my eye, however, was a tangential sentiment in a quotation Dreher includes from an NBC News commentary by Noah Berlatsky:

Even community service can reproduce racist ideas. It’s hard to see people as equals when you always have power over them, or when your primary experience with them involves giving them charity.

The spectacle of well-intentioned people working, half unconsciously, to solidify and perpetuate their own power is not an encouraging one. “I feel like my findings are pretty dismal,” Hagerman admits. “When you have people who have a lot of wealth alongside this racial privilege, they’re ultimately making decision that benefit their own kids, and I don’t know how you really interrupt that.”

However he arrives at it, Berlatsky’s ideology clearly gets charity wrong.

Maybe that’s a progressive versus traditionalist difference.  To a traditionalist — specifically a Christian traditionalist — we’re called to charity because we’re all equal in the eyes of God, and we’re to see God most especially in those who are suffering.  The last will be first.  If we are comfortable, we should be concerned that we have already received our reward, but when we humble ourselves, we will be elevated in Heaven.

There’s plenty of room for hypocrisy and imperfection in the actual application of this principle, but that’s the underlying view.  You owe it to the disadvantaged to help them because, ultimately, they are your equals, and what you have is an indication either that your priorities are wrong or that God has given to you so that you may help others.

The penance of progressives’ materialism is much more stern.  The obligation of the privileged is complete negation.  You don’t give to others because you are equal; you deprive yourself because you are inferior (and give to progressives, so they can profit from the redistribution of your wealth).

Actually, as Dreher explains, it would be more true to say that the altruistic progressive appears obligated mostly to express guilt and continue on with his or her privilege.  Culturally, it’s a ritual sacrifice of the less privileged of their own race for the expiation of guilt.

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Roland Benjamin: Look to Mass for Both Educational Outcomes and Budgeting Approach

Last week I wrote about the constraints that Massachusetts placed on its school districts nearly 40 years ago. Under the same constraints, South Kingstown spending (since the year 2000) would have trended very differently. Each year, SKSD is spending $10mm to $12mm more than if normal inflation been applied over the last 20 years. For now, ignore the additional factor that enrollment literally dropped by a third over the same time period.

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Pot in Pottersville for the Profit of Political Insiders

On a Facebook page that he controls, WPRI reporter Dan McGowan has generated a good amount of discussion about Ted Nesi’s article concerning Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s plan to put the legalization of marijuana in the state budget.

We should pause a moment on the propriety of making major social changes as part of the budget process, which inevitably covers a wide range of contentious issues.  This sort of history-changing decision should be considered in its own right, not in a giant omnibus bill that buys votes from legislators for this or that other provision.

Much of the conversation on McGowan’s page, however, has had to do with concern about the use of drug legalization explicitly to raise money for government in a failing state.  That suggestion brings to mind the rationale that the General Assembly put into law for creating the state sales tax in the middle of the last century:

The recognition of the state of its obligation to grant pay increases for teachers in the manner provided in chapter 7 of title 16, to assure the maintenance of proper educational standards in the public schools, coupled with the compelling necessity for additional state aid to the several cities and towns now confronted with financial crisis, have created an increased burden on the finances of the state. To the end that adequate funds are available to the state government to enable it to meet these newly adopted obligations, without impairing the ability of the state to fulfill its existing obligations, a revision of the tax structure is unavoidable.

The money is always desperately needed, and there’s always an emotional hook, but government insiders never pay for the supposed priorities. Next will be prostitution or harder drugs, even as nanny state progressives create black markets for cigarettes, soft drinks, and firearms.

Clearly we’re in the world in which George Bailey was never born.  Let’s just change the name of the state to Rhode Island and the Pottersville Strip.

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A Modest Rules Change and the Legislative Firewall

Busy with other things, I was excited to look into details about the new rules that appear likely to apply to the House this legislative session.  And this is definitely a good thing:

The rule changes, endorsed 14-3, would require House leaders to post new legislative language — with some exceptions — for public consumption at least 24 hours before it is voted on by lawmakers.

The exceptions: The annual House budget bill customarily printed and immediately approved by the House Finance Committee late at night will not be subject to the 24-hour posting rule.

And neither will bills the chairman of a committee deems “either technical, grammatical, or not substantive or substantial in nature” need a day’s exposure to public scrutiny.

But I can’t help but wonder… is that it?  I thought we were going to shift power away from the speaker and toward our elected representatives.  More time to review legislative language will help, but not much, and only if legislators are sincerely reviewing it.  If (as one needn’t be too cynical to suspect) their votes depend more on politics than policy, more time won’t matter a bit.

I’ll also acknowledge mixed feelings about this reaction from the speaker:

Speaker Mattiello has pooh-poohed the debate over the House rules as being of little interest to voters. “I might have gotten no more than two emails on it,” Mattiello told Dan Yorke on Thursday. “Nobody is asking me about it. Nobody cares about it.” Referring to the Reform Caucus of dissident Democrats, the speaker added, “This is an internal game with this ‘high-tax caucus’ wanting to gain ground so they can pass their bad bills.”

He’s undoubtedly right.  Progressive activists may have impressed the local media by getting a few people to testify, but anybody on the inside knows what that amounts to.  These are folks who’ll turn out anyway and won’t be persuaded to vote for people who don’t align with them.  (Raising my hand with some Tea Party been-there-done-that experience.)

Moreover, Mattiello goes right to the key point.  At this time, the rules (which remain terrible, from a perspective of political theory) are what will enable him to be a firewall against a destructive ideology that would actually be worse than the insider system under which we’ve been suffering.  That he is maintaining his promise of being a firewall is at least a bit of a silver lining.

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“Choice” is Clear in Upcoming Furious Healthcare Debate

A federal judge recently ruled that Obamacare is unconstitutional because the individual mandate, repealed in the 2017 federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, is no longer in force. Even though existing federal health-care laws will remain in effect during the appeals process, states should not panic and codify Obamacare into state law, as it is not certain how long federal subsidies will remain intact.

While the courts hear the appeals, and with Democrats winning back control of the U.S. House of Representatives largely on the health-care issue, another furious debate is about to unfold.

Democrats will probably introduce some kind of government-centric plan, while Republicans are poised to introduce their own free-enterprise solution. What we all want are simply more choices at lower net costs.

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“We’re Still Here” After the End of Net Neutrality

Remember that scene in the movie War Games when the military’s top brass (along with our teenage protagonists) are watching monitors that ostensibly show Russian nuclear missiles exploding in major cities across the United States and then some military personnel from around the country check in, proving that the monitors are wrong?  “We’re still here!”

Well, that’s what comes to mind when Glenn Reynolds reminds us that “net neutrality” ended a year ago.  “It’s as if all the Left’s existential crises are just made-up shams,” he writes, quoting Investor’s Business Daily as follows:

So-called experts predicted that removing this cumbersome Obama-era regulatory scheme — which granted the FCC virtually unchecked power over internet providers — would lead to the demise of the internet.

Repealing “net neutrality” regulations “would be the final pillow in (the internet’s) face,” said The New York Times. The ACLU said it “risks erosion of the biggest free-speech platform the world has ever known.” CNET declared that “net neutrality repeal means your internet may never be the same.” CNN labeled repeal the “end of the internet as we know it.” …

A year later, none of the horror stories came true. In fact, average internet speeds climbed by roughly a third last year. The number of homes with access to fiber internet jumped 23% last year, according to the Fiber Broadband Association.

Keeping some perspective as these panics and maniacs work their way through our communities — whether at the national, state, or local levels — is a good practice.

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CORRECTED: Question of Progressive Legislation

CORRECTION (1:10 p.m., 1/12/19): Contrary to my original reading of this legislation, it does contain language making some provision for the transport of rifles and shotguns.  A paragraph running longer than a page exempts various people (mostly law enforcement and military personnel) from its provisions.  About three-quarters of the way through this paragraph, it exempts the “regular and/or ordinary transportation” of the weapons “as merchandise.  The exemption also allows transportation of the weapons unloaded and either in a trunk or a locked container.

This language does make the following post overly aggressive.  However, the bill is still deeply problematic.  Not only does it further infringe on the rights of gun owners, but its exceptions have giant gaps.  The allowable transport of firearms are very specific:  from the place of purchase to home, back and forth to their place of business, or to sell it or have it repaired.

Notably, the exemption still doesn’t include transportation to any sort of shooting range, let alone simply carrying the weapon for the purpose of having it available.  In short, the legislation would completely undermine a key purpose for enforcing the Second Amendment.  It would limit the use of rifles and shotguns to sport (presumably) and protection of the home or place of business.  Any use for the protection of one’s self or others in any other location would essentially be banned.

ORIGINAL POST (6:31 p.m. 1/8/19):

I see only three possibilities when it comes to legislation like H5022, which Democrat Representative Grace Diaz has already submitted for consideration. Either I’m missing something, the radicals are trying to sneak truly outrageous civil rights violations into law, or they just don’t read or think through the legislation they submit.

Here’s the new language the sponsors wish to insert into Rhode Island law:

No person shall carry a rifle or shotgun in any vehicle or conveyance or on or about the person whether visible or concealed, except in the persons dwelling house or place of business or on land possessed by the person. Every person violating the provisions of this subsection shall, upon conviction, be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten (10) years, or by a fine up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or both, except on a first conviction under this section, the person shall not be eligible for a suspended or deferred sentence or probation. This subsection shall not apply to those persons engaged in lawful hunting activity as provided in chapter 13 of title 20, lawful target shooting within this state or otherwise exempt …

So here’s a question: How is a person who has purchased a rifle or shotgun supposed to get it on to his or her own land?  There are no exceptions for transporting these firearms.

Again, either I’m missing something, some of our legislators are unable to foresee even the most obvious side effects of their proposals, or they aren’t side effects at all, and the legislators are hoping to slip unconstitutional language into law thanks to other people’s failure to pay attention or their belief that the sponsors couldn’t possibly mean what they’re saying.

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Keeping the Progressive Elite Employed

Sometimes the exercise of stating things as they appear, removing the names of the people involved helps to clarify what’s being done.  So:

  • The mayor has created an $80,000-per-year government job for somebody to advocate for government-funded pre-kindergarten and housing that is either subsidized or based on restrictions on new developments.  To fill that job, he has hired a twenty-something politician whose work experience includes activism in college, four years as a part-time representative in the state legislature, and a losing campaign for lieutenant governor, who will probably switch to part time when he goes back to school in the fall.

Or:

  • To advance their causes (supposedly helping the disadvantaged), progressive office holders create jobs with unbelievably high salaries to keep their privileged political friends from having to find jobs outside of government and activism.

That, anyway, is how I read Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s hiring of Aaron Regunberg.

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Another Union Case in the Supreme Court Pipeline

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has signaled its support for the plaintiff in another union-related case, Kathleen Uradnik, a university professor in Minnesota:

This Uradnik case challenges state laws that appoint a union to represent and speak for all workers, even those who disagree with it – an arrangement known as “exclusive representation.”

Uradnik, who has had major disputes with her faculty’s labor union, which has discriminated against her, is nonetheless required by state law to associate with it and to allow it to speak for her. Rhode Island has similar laws imposing exclusive representation upon public employees, limiting their freedoms and opportunities for advancement.

Owing to the Janus v. AFSCME case, which the U.S. Supreme Court decided last year, government employees can no longer be forced to pay union dues.  Uradnik would free them of association with unions, allowing them to represent, and negotiate for, themselves, or to hire some other party to do so.

Right now, unions have a government-enforced monopoly over each workplace, usually voted into existence by employees years, even decades, ago.  That isn’t right, and it distorts the labor markets, the operation of our government, and (as Rhode Islanders know all too well) the balance of our politics.

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Choosing Good Means Considering the Consequences

Some leading conservative commentators have been debating what it means to say that President Donald Trump does or does not have good character.  This point, from Roger Kimball, seems much more broadly applicable:

I think it is also worth pondering the work that Jonah [Goldberg] wants the adverb “wholly” to do in the deflationary phrase “wholly instrumental.” Any meaningful definition of good character has to involve an instrumental element. Otherwise the character in question would be impotent. This is part of what Aristotle meant, I think, when he observed that “it is our choice of good or evil that determines our character, not our opinion about good or evil.” In dismissing the connection between character and potency as “wholly instrumental” Jonah flirts with an idea of character that is unanchored to the realities of life.

The idea of character with which Goldberg flirts, according to Kimball, is a particularly progressive one.  So many policy debates, these days, wind up with those on the left wanting the government to do something as a statement of morals and those on the right pointing out that the thing that they are proposing government should do will not solve the problem and, usually, will have harmful effects, particularly on our civil rights.

I’ve actually been surprised, in the past, when intelligent, well-meaning people have responded to my observations about a foreseeable side effect of some policy by saying, “That’s not the intention at all.”  Well, I know it’s not the intention, but it is almost certainly a consequence.  If your policy will not resolve the problem it targets, and if it will have harmful side effects, and if this is reasonably foreseeable, advocates are choosing evil, in Aristotle’s construct, even though their opinions might be good.

In this light, modern liberalism is a game of hedging bets.  If you can pretend that the actual consequences of a policy are not obvious, then you can get credit for good intentions whatever may happen.  To the contrary, we have the concept of “gross negligence” in the law for a reason.  Deliberately failing to consider the consequences of your actions is not an alibi.  “How was I supposed to know” is only a defense if one really could not have known.

Character is good when a person fully considers an act and makes a choice that is good (not evil) with as much information as is available.  Whether that type of character is resident in the White House, I am not confident.  After all, choosing good because it is expedient is not necessarily an indication of good character.  However, an electorate that chooses somebody who will do good because he is forced to do good is still the more moral choice for us than a candidate who will do evil while claiming to believe that it is good.

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When Public Policy Squeezes Out Providers

The aptly named Stanley Bleecker foresees a problem for Rhode Islanders needing health care in the future:

Can you imagine a time when sick people will not have access to a doctor when they are in need of treatment and medical advice? I can. Recently, because of my primary doctor’s retirement, I had to find an internist and also a specialist. It was not easy. After some effort, I did secure an appointment for an annual physical with a new internist, but the earliest appointment I could get was scheduled for 12 months down the road. Subsequently, I learned my new doctor (whom I still have not yet met) has closed his practice to new patients.

The shortage is a result of many Rhode Island doctors taking early retirement or leaving to practice in other states where insurance payments are higher. Practicing doctors tell me that young doctors are not interested in practicing in Rhode Island because of low insurance payments.

Mr. Bleecker might be somewhat encouraged to learn that Rhode Island has legalized the provision of telemedicine, whereby patients don’t have to be physically present in the office to receive care.  Of course, this being Rhode Island, there’s a catch:

Rhode Island providers, however, may not use telemedicine to deliver health care services across state borders. This limitation is subject to change if Rhode Island lawmakers choose to enter the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact (“IMLC”).

In some respects, Rhode Island is moving in the wrong direction:

Similarly, Rhode Island nurses may not deliver health care services via telemedicine to patients across state borders. This was not always the case. For nearly a decade, Rhode Island was a member of the Nurse Licensure Compact (“NLC”), which permitted Rhode Island registered nurses and licensed/practical vocational nurses to use telemedicine to provide health care in 24 other states across the country.

Attentive readers might recall that Donna Cook pointed this out back in September, as a problem for professional nurses.

This shouldn’t be such a hard lesson.  When government makes it more difficult to pursue a profession or creates artificial markets with near monopolies for insurers, people will stop finding it worthwhile to go into that line of work, here.  Too often, those who craft our laws imagine that the targets of their impositions will not react.

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A Political Theory of Blogs and Social Media

I’m not sure I agree with Cal Newport’s description of the difference between blogs and social media (emphasis in original):

Blogs implement a capitalist attention market. If you want attention for your blog you have to earn it through a combination of quality, in the sense that you’re producing something valuable for your readers, and trust, in the sense that you’ve produced enough good stuff over time to establish a good reputation with the fellow bloggers whose links will help grow your audience. …

Social media, by contrast, implements a collectivist attention market, where the benefits of receiving attention are redistributed more uniformly to all users.

Not knowing Newport’s politics, I can’t say for sure, but I’d wager he’s pretty libertarian.  I say that because it would explain why he doesn’t see (in my opinion) that social media isn’t collectivist (in terms of distributing the currency of attention); it’s hyper-capitalist.  The owners have found a way to break down barriers so that more people can participate in the market, but one of those barriers, as Newport notes, is the requirement for quality.  A collectivist attention market would give the social media platforms’ managers the ability to distribute likes, follows, and replies as they thought justified, according to their own criteria.

This analogy actually raises important questions that conservatives strive to answer in contrast to more-thoroughgoing libertarians.  The higher quality and other benefits of blogs over social media represent a cultural good that was possible partly because they had barriers (to entry, to production, to audience building) that social media swept away.  The conservative question is: By what mechanisms we can balance those cultural goods against the also-good principle that everybody ought to have opportunities?

The (admittedly not very satisfying) answer seems to be the same for online content as for the economy and other broader social goods.  Basically, we have to remind each other of the value derived from an older way of doing things and make a deliberate effort to put aside seeming conveniences.  We should also develop tools that bridge some of the gap, like using RSS feeds for information rather than social media streams.  And of course, we have to make what we offer off the beaten path even more attractive.

Mostly, though, we just have to pray, and hope that less-healthy developments are fads that our society will self-correct.

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Just Shy of Illegal Voting

Monica Showalter describes some of the activities in California on the cutting edge of vote harvesting:

The [Los Angeles] Times describes how California’s famed ballot-harvesters, who flipped places such as Orange County blue by “helping” fill out, turn in, and continue to turn in ballots from otherwise uncommitted voters until they got the result they wanted, aren’t actually U.S. citizens. Here are the DREAMers in action, “helping” the voters to vote the way they wanted. …

The story doesn’t say what the DREAMer/ballot-harvester would do if the voter decided to vote some other way from the way she wanted him to fill his ballot out. The incurious reporter omitted the obvious question from that heart-tugging scene: Did this foreigner tell the indifferent man how to fill out his ballot? Let’s just say the reporter showed a strong interest, based on the rest of her reportage, in protecting the foreigner from any accusation of illegal voting.

This raises interesting questions about illegal immigrants’ involvement in our electoral system.  To be sure, some on the Left want these folks to able to vote, but even many who don’t go that far would surely not want to block them from civic engagement.

Showalter gives some sense of the risk by changing the immigration context:

… if DREAMers can do that to promote their own political agenda, what’s to stop other foreigners, with far more malign agendas, from doing it? Shall a team of Russian or Chinese agents, Arab terrorists, or Mexican cartels, be next to help harvest the ballots? (You know the Chinese are thinking about it.) They’re as foreign as DREAMers, and it would be perfectly legal under current California law. Ballot-harvesting, which is illegal in most states, makes this all possible. What’s to stop the Chinese from running an agent (as recent CIA busts show, it doesn’t need to be a Chinese-American) and then sending their goons and agents to the houses of Chinese-American voters in Chinese-American neighborhoods, to insist that they vote for Beijing’s candidate? They’d have the additional pull of being able to warn those voters about repercussions against family back home and don’t think they wouldn’t dream of using it.

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Roland Benjamin: Why Are We Spending So Much More on Education than Massachusetts?

In 1980, the State of Massachusetts recognized the limitations and threats of relying too heavily on expanding property taxes to fund our public education systems. Proposition 2 ½ was passed to limit the increases a town could levy through its property taxes each year. Named for the enacted cap of 2.5%, any town that needed to increase its levy beyond it could do so, but only through a town wide referendum. For the last 35 years or so, Massachusetts has tamed its property taxes and runaway school spending.

Rhode Island enacted our own, lighter version, of a tax cap. Unfortunately we chose 4% as our limit and waited almost 30 years to implement it. During the lead up to the cap, can you imagine what districts did? In South Kingstown, we ramped our baseline spending up between 6% to 12% each year despite losing about 100 kids per year from our enrollment.

The chart here shows how this played out over the last 2 decades.

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An Overstated Achievement with Understated Warnings

Articles with titles like, “Brains of 3 People Have Been Successfully Connected, Enabling Them to Share Thoughts,” always seem to overstate what has been accomplished:

Neuroscientists have successfully hooked up a three-way brain connection to allow three people to share their thoughts – and in this case, play a Tetris-style game.

The team thinks this wild experiment could be scaled up to connect whole networks of people, and yes, it’s as weird as it sounds.

It works through a combination of electroencephalograms (EEGs), for recording the electrical impulses that indicate brain activity, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), where neurons are stimulated using magnetic fields.

The researchers behind the system have dubbed it BrainNet, and say it could eventually be used to connect many different minds together, even across the web.

The details of the experiment suggest that researchers haven’t cracked the key questions that would be involved in actual mind-to-mind connections.  Basically, the experiment involved two people communicating to a third person whether to rotate a Tetris block.  In a completely ordinary world the two might shout across the room to the person with the controls.  All the experiment did was to change that method of communication, such that the senders looked at one of two lights which would trigger a change in an EEG readout.  On the recipient’s end, the readout triggered a visual flash in his or her brain, which the participant had been told how to interpret.

So, yes, there’s a neat quality to this, but it’s hardly telepathy, much less direct communication.  Someday, maybe we’ll wake up to news that such things had been accomplished, but it still seems to be a good way off.

That said, the can is getting close enough that our society should begin contemplating the should.  Do we want to become like the mind-merged creatures in Robert Heinlein’s Methuselah’s Children?  In more practical terms, how do we enforce the boundaries that this technology will sweep away?  People need to be able to enforce a firewall so that others can’t simply enter their brains, especially if it gets to the point of communicating thoughts more directly than flashes of phantom lights.

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The Best of Times for RI Insiders

There’s an “it was the best of times; it was the worst of times” feel to the picture of a long tent leading up to the State House for the momentary comfort of elite party goers.  The event was an inaugural ball to celebrate the victory of Gina Raimondo in ensuring that nothing much will change in Rhode Island for the next four years, at least not if it will reduce the status of inside players.

Katherine Gregg lists some of the gratuitous donations:

The largest contribution, $20,000, came from the Laborers International Union of North America.

International Game Technology (IGT) and the corporate owners of the Twin River casinos each gave $15,000 for Saturday’s inaugural events, including the invite-only gala at the Rhode Island State House and a “pre-gala reception” for all the inaugural sponsors and their guests at at Café Nuovo.

The $10,000 donors included Amica, Bank of America, Citizens, CVS, Deepwater Wind, General Dynamics, Electric Boat and Pfizer, according to the governor’s office.

Others giving up to $5,000 each included AAA Northeast, Amgen, AT&T, Centene Corp., Dimeo Construction Co., FedEx, First Bristol Corp., JPMorgan Chase, Locke Lord, Microsoft and Washington Trust.

Gee, what would give corporations and other organizations incentive to give this much money to a politician for a party?

True to the formula for these stories, Gregg interviews John Marion of Common Cause RI, who suggests that the government should impose even more (arguably unconstitutional) restrictions on political donations.  But the inaugural donations only illustrate that money will find a way into politics like a rising tide into a structure that’s below sea level.  Even public financing won’t stop it.

The only way to end this flow of money is to reduce what’s available to buy.

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Weird Shutdown Politics

As a local barber cut my hair, this afternoon, one of the customers awaiting his turn mentioned that he is in the Coast Guard and hasn’t been receiving his pay.  They’ll typically get their back pay, but anybody living paycheck to paycheck is going to have a challenging time.  With 12 years of experience, he’s gone through this before, but he said this time is different and might last longer.

He sure is right that this time is different.  The typical analysis of shutdown politics has been that the side that looks like it is the one holding up agreement is the loser.  Of course, that common wisdom is tainted by the fact that the news media always presents the Republicans as the holder-uppers, whether the GOP is trying to get something new or to maintain the status quo on the controversial policy question at the heart of the dispute.

That makes this bit of news, pointed out by Alexandra DeSanctis, a little bit of a head scratcher:

Despite the fact that the funding process has already been held up over political disagreements, in part having to do with contention over building and reinforcing a wall at the southern border, the Democratic representatives now controlling the House added further controversy to the process by slipping a pro-abortion provision into their draft spending bill.

This might make sense as a negotiation tactic (“You remove your controversial proposal, and I’ll review mine.”), but it gives both sides blame as things drag on.  It could be that the farther-left Congressional Democrats are more convinced than even conservative commentators have thought that there is secret national popularity for radical progressive policies.  It could also be that they know their media allies, amped up on Trump hatred, will apply their good-guy/bad-guy brush even more liberally.

In crass political terms, they may be assessing that President Trump isn’t going to back down on the wall and the Democrats aren’t going to back down on not funding it, so they might as well gain some points with their abortion-supporting core.  But again, conceding that they’re not going to back down, to the extent that they’re moving in the opposite direction of compromise, makes it difficult to maintain the narrative that they’re the ones truly concerned with keeping the government operating at full expense.

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