Content Types


Toward More-Rational Thinking About Marriage and Government

Commentary from some Republicans and conservatives/libertarians suggests that deeper consideration of the implications of the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage is necessary.

The New Toll Plan Will Still Be Challenged in Federal Court

If getting bond investors their interest payments construction underway as quickly as possible is of the utmost importance, Rhode Island’s political leaders will need to consider how much of a risk of a lawsuit they are willing to take in order to get the local carve-out; a case like this would take years to work it’s way through the Federal courts and the whole tolling-plan might possibly be enjoined during the litigation process. Of course, an injunction against the toll-plan would mean no money for bond payments road-repairs right away.

On this issue, Rhode Island’s legislators would be wise to keep in mind the lesson of Gordon Fox: Because Rhode Island’s Democratic leadership can play fast-and-loose with interpretations of rules and laws while inside the statehouse (e.g. nullification, revolving door judgeships) does not mean they can extend that power very far outside and forgetting about this can lead to unfortunate consequences.

The legal analysis that leads to this conclusion is in the main post.

The 2016 Budget for Rhode Island in Historical Perspective

Spending from All Sources, Current Dollars
Spending from All Sources, Inflation Adjusted
Spending from General Revenues, Inflation Adjusted
Spending from Federal Funds, Inflation Adjusted

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May 2015 Employment: Milestones and Missing Workers

Employment and labor force numbers for Rhode Island are still booming, but it remains difficult to believe they won’t be revised significantly, meaning that celebration of a low unemployment rate would be premature.

April 2015 Employment: A Few More Months of Fantasy

Growth in employment numbers has taken off, in Rhode Island, but history and data on RI-based jobs suggests that the numbers have broken free of reality’s gravity.

Toll Discounts for RI Companies Would Almost Certainly Be Rejected by the Courts

In 2009, US District Court Judge William E. Smith decided a lawsuit (Cohen v. Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority) about whether non-Rhode Island residents could be charged a substantially larger toll ($4.00) for using the Newport Bridge than residents were charged ($0.83).

Judge Smith centered the substance of his ruling on a three-part test from a 1994 Supreme Court case, Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. County of Kent, Mich

“A levy is reasonable under [Evansville-Vanderburgh Airport Auth. Dist. v. Delta Airlines, Inc.] if it (1) is based on some fair approximation of use of the facilities, (2) is not excessive in relation to the benefits conferred, and (3) does not discriminate against interstate commerce.”

In arguing that the Newport toll structure violated the third part of the test, the plaintiff cited Oregon Waste Systems v. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, where the Supreme Court in 1993 had ruled…

“We have held that the first step in analyzing any law subject to judicial scrutiny under the negative Commerce Clause is to determine whether it “regulates evenhandedly with only ‘incidental’ effects on interstate commerce, or discriminates against interstate commerce”….As we use the term here, “discrimination” simply means differential treatment of in-state and out-of-state economic interests that benefits the former and burdens the latter. If a restriction on commerce is discriminatory, it is virtually per se invalid.”

However, Judge Smith upheld the Newport toll structure, in part, because he found that the plaintiff had assumed a connection between a residency requirement and interstate commerce which was left unproven…

In this case Plaintiff has failed to identify a specific in-state commercial interest that is favored by the Newport Bridge toll discount at the expense of particular out-of-state competitors, so it cannot demonstrate that the discount discriminates against interstate commerce.

Suffice it to say that in the case of a substantial in-state versus out-of-state toll differential on commercial vehicles, in-state commercial interests favored at the expense of particular out-of-state competitors will be readily identifiable, and the test cited in Oregon Waste Systems that looks unfavorably on differential treatment will be applied.

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Thoughts on Ross Douthat’s Portsmouth Institute Speech and Pope Francis’s Role in a Divided Church (With Video)

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat expects divisions within the Roman Catholic Church to avoid coming to a head for many decades, but it will depend on Pope Francis’s understanding of his own role in the world and on whether Catholic progressives follow the path of American progressives in pushing fundamental transformation.

Hikaru Sulu Renames Kunta Kinte

The great disagreement of our times is whether rights and dignity are innate, affirmed by a higher power, or are conceived by the individual and made real by the affirmation of the government.

The Box They’re Putting Christians In

David Brooks encourages traditionalists to focus on the mission of helping society but overlooks the probability that the Left will not let that happen.

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Investigative Report

Home-Alone Minor Films House Judiciary Chairman Forcibly Opening Apartment Entry Door

Representative Cale Keable, a landlord with properties in Mapleville, is seen in an online video forcibly opening an entry door, despite the request of the tenant’s minor son for him to return when his mother is home.

UPDATED: Gruber’s Brief Dealings with HealthSource RI

A contract and correspondence with MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber show that HealthSource RI cut his project short and used earlier estimates that he had called “rough.”

Tori Richards: Is Orwell’s 1984 Coming to Rhode Island?

RhodeMap RI puts the Ocean State on a path to lost control and lost freedoms, but some legislators are moving to stop it.

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Longer Twitter

UPDATED: Correction (Sort of) on Ed Fitzpatrick’s Column

Soon after I put up my post, this morning, on Ed Fitzpatrick’s Providence Journal column, the man himself responded to my Twitter link that he’d criticized Sen. Whitehouse for commentary on the floor of the Senate in which he raised the specters of the French Revolution, the Nazis, and Southern lynchings in a column back in 2009.

That column didn’t appear in my search of the Providence Journal’s archives because they don’t go back that far, but Fitzpatrick was good enough to send me the text.  Rereading the 2009 column, while I would have definitely included it in my earlier post, I’m not sure it changes my criticism at all.

For instance, I suggested that Fitzpatrick should have tried to understand why Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would have such strong sentiments toward his court, and if we look back to the 2009 column, it’s practically slathered with sympathy for Whitehouse’s heat.  Fitzpatrick presents it as a response to Republican ire, emphasizes that Whitehouse “gave voice to the Democratic anger and frustration” (with examples), and gives the senator space to contextualize his comments.

If I may paraphrase the impression the column gives, it’s that:  Whitehouse was only responding to the bad Republicans; he has a lot of company in how he feels; and after all, he’s got underlying reasoning, which Fitzpatrick validates with a “good point.”  None of these qualities are present in the Scalia column.  Indeed, here’s the point of actual criticism of Whitehouse:

Perhaps it’s good for Rhode Island to have a fiery, outspoken senator to go with the understated Sen. Jack Reed. Perhaps there is some political utility to such speeches. If Palin is going to be using her Twitter account to perpetuate the “death panel” idea (PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year”), maybe Democrats need to do more to fire back.

But I don’t see why Whitehouse had to go all Judgment Day on the GOP when he knew they’d lose the vote. Why not just watch them wail and fail?

Scalia didn’t even go as far as “all Judgment Day,” and he was, in fact, issuing a warning about the actions of the victorious majority.  In Scalia’s case, though, Fitzpatrick is on the side of those who want to insist that there’s nothing wrong, or even questionable, about the outcome or process by which they redefined marriage and likened traditional values to pure bigotry.

As the progressives march across the country trying to put pizza parlors out of business, prevent businesses that receive this treatment from using online tools to collect donations, and grab tax exemption away from churches and charities, one can only hope that liberal columnists prove to object to government oppression, not just reference to oppression from the past.

UPDATE (7/2/15 2:35 p.m.)

In response to the suggestion that I didn’t do an adequate job presenting Fitzpatrick’s objection to Whitehouse above, here’s another statement from the 2009 column, which was what Fitzpatrick put forward as the summary of his criticism in his tweet:

But in the end, Whitehouse only added to that toxicity. He accused the Republicans of going too far and, in the next breath, he went too far himself. Quoting Lord Acton and using vivid literary allusions didn’t save him from venturing down the well-worn path that ends with someone accusing an adversary of being like the Nazis.

I didn’t exclude this paragraph to downplay Fitzpatrick’s criticism of the senator; I just didn’t see that it added anything not covered in my descriptions or quotations.  The context also brushes away much of the criticism.  The paragraph before quotes somebody who liked Whitehouse’s outburst (as pushback against Republican “toxicity,” and the paragraph after notes references inappropriate Nazi references by Lyndon LaRouce (not labeled as a Democrat, though) and Rush Limbaugh.

Edward Fitzpatrick’s Conditional Opposition to Vitriol

In his Providence Journal column, today, Edward Fitzpatrick takes on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia because, as the headline says, “Scalia’s vitriol undercuts his influence.”

It’s not enough for Fitzpatrick to highlight Scalia’s colorful language; he’s got to find an objective reason why the justice should tone it down.  I’d say Fitzpatrick is playing the quietly liberal journalist’s role in changing America.  Objectively speaking, public debate would be healthier if people in that role were more self-aware when it comes to their arguments.

The first step is trying to see things from the other person’s perspective.  If you’re Justice Scalia, you believe that the court on which you serve has become a mechanism for rewriting the Constitution on the fly, in a way that has no real basis in law and therefore cannot be consistently applied.  This lawlessness, from his point of view, invites (perhaps requires) the people of the United States and their elected representatives to begin ignoring the court.  As he put it in his Obergefell v. Hodges dissent:

Hubris is sometimes defined as o’erweening pride; and pride, we know, goeth before a fall. The Judiciary is the “least dangerous” of the federal branches because it has “neither Force nor Will, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm” and the States, “even for the efficacy of its judgments.” With each decision of ours that takes from the People a question properly left to them—with each decision that is unabashedly based not on law, but on the “reasoned judgment” of a bare majority of this Court—we move one step closer to being reminded of our impotence.

Fitzpatrick can disagree with that, of course, but if he shared Scalia’s view about the huge importance of this matter, would he still be fretting about whether Scalia’s strong language costs him influence?  I tend to doubt it.  A search of the Providence Journal archives, for example, produces no instance of Fitzpatrick’s worrying about the effects of Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s vitriolic attacks on his fellow Americans, notably his commentary asserting extremism and insinuating racism when it comes to people who were wise enough to oppose ObamaCare.  Fitzpatrick also does not appear to have commented on the senator’s zeal for investigating American organizations with which he disagrees because there might be something for which they could be attacked.

Instead, I found a Fitzpatrick column in which the writer trumpets Whitehouse’s role pushing the minority Democrat line on climate change, which ends with Whitehouse’s not-at-all vitriolic quip that “the best news about a Republican Majority in the Senate is that the Republican minority is now gone. They were just a God-awful minority.”

Again, it’s all well and good for Fitzpatrick to do his part to advance progressive causes, but this pose that he’s simply offering his opposition friendly strategic advice gives the game away.

UPDATE (7/2/15 12:55 p.m.):

See here for a partial correction of and some context for the above.

One Piece of the Health Care Solution Puzzle

From time to time people who are inclined to support heavy government involvement in healthcare will ask me what the alternative is.  My answer has been a system that disengages health insurance from employment, drives down the cost of insurance, and creates incentive for people to make prudent decisions and spend wisely.

Basically, the law would end existing incentives to route health insurance through places of employment and ease mandates to make high-deductible plans that really are insurance, rather than health management programs, more feasible.  With that done, opening up the insurance market across state lines would be no problem.  To compete and to manage their own costs, insurers might throw in things like a free check-up every year, but the idea would be that the purpose of their service is to manage risk, like car insurance, not to negotiate every detail of a person’s medical consumption.

To fill in the gap, everybody would get health savings accounts into which anybody concerned could put money — the people themselves, their employers, the government (for low-income people), and charities.  It would be tax free and would be an asset that could (maybe) be spent in retirement or at least passed down.

I bring this up because a bill for Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts passed both chambers of the Rhode Island General Assembly, this session.  Basically, it would create accounts for blind and disabled Rhode Islanders that the state would manage and into which any supporters could put money.  As designed, the system probably has more government involvement than needed, but the concept seemed familiar.

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Interviews & Profiles

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 46 (Congressional Debates)

Rob Paquin and Bob Plain discuss the candidates for U.S. Congress from Rhode Island (mostly by way of the issues).

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 45 (Secretary of State Debate)

Rob Paquin and Bob Plain discuss a debate between candidates for RI Secretary of State and related topics.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 44 (Lieutenant Governor Race & Constitutional Convention)

Justin and Bob Plain discuss the campaign for lieutenant governor and the possibility of a constitutional convention, and (in text) Justin corrects an assertion of Bob’s.

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