Longer Twitter RSS feed for this section
justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Spinning Evidence of Climate Change Alarmism

A curious thing happens by the end of Harry Cockburn’s Independent article about scientists’ admission that they overshot the mark with their warnings of global warming a decade ago.  We start with this acknowledgment that those of us who were sneered at as “deniers” were actually right to be skeptical:

The study, published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, does not play down the threat which climate change has to the environment, and maintains that major reductions in emissions must be attained.

But the findings indicate the danger may not be as acute as was previously thought.

But we end with the new spin, from University College London Professor Michael Grubb, who suggests that keeping the global increase in temperature to 1.5° Celsius “is simply incompatible with democracy.”

New calculations suggest that humanity can emit more than three times the amount of carbon than scientists had previously prescribed (as a pretense for imposing economy-changing regulations on the planet), which is great news, according to Grubb, because:

“That’s about 20 years of emissions before temperatures are likely to cross 1.5C,” Professor Allen said.

“It’s the difference between being not doable and being just doable.”

Catch the trick?  Under the previous assessments, it would already be too late to do anything about catastrophic climate change, so we might as well keep our democracy (and prosperity, I might add) through to the bitter end.  If we acknowledge that the models have been alarmist, on the other hand, there’s a chance that we just might be able to save the world.  So, there’s still a reason to hand over our freedoms to an international bureaucracy of elites.

Whether the models might still be too alarmist, we cannot yet tell, but why risk it for the petty sake of our inalienable rights as individual human beings?

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Truckers Provide a Good Illustration of Regulatory Complexity

Via Stephen Green comes Matthew Garnett’s explanation of the four clocks that regulations impose on truckers.  The complexity provides a direct and straightforward illustration of the hoops through which all businesses have to jump, whether they’re this noticeable or more subtle:

The biggest principle to keep in mind is that when any one of the “clocks” runs out, you can no longer drive legally. Once you start the clock by going on-duty, you have eight hours before you must stop driving and take a 30-minute break.

Also, once you start your clock, you have now started a nonstop 14-hour window in which you must get all the driving done you need to for that day. If you get stuck at a shipper for three hours, you now have only 10 hours to drive. Which brings us to your “11”: In any given 14-hour on-duty period, you are only allowed to drive legally for 11 hours within that 14-hour period. In addition, in any eight-day period, you are only allowed to be on-duty (not driving and driving) for a total of 70 hours. Hence, your “70.” (This week, I made it back home with only one hour on my 70… I was cutting it close.)

The freedom to be a truck driver can basically be rephrased as a complex contracting deal for the government.  If you can make money under the government’s restraints, then you’re permitted to do so.  Otherwise, you just can’t do it.

Put that way, it’s actually a bit like one of those marketing-and-pyramid-scheme arrangements.  With some combination of getting people to shop through “your” Web page, selling the core products of the organization, and dragging other people into the scheme, you can make some money.  If you can’t make money, well, it must not be for you, because it’s all supposed to be easy.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Limits on Your Health, Not on Government

With Rhode Island’s own Democrat congressional delegation, particularly Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, signing on for Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders’s single-payer, Medicare-for-all health care plan, Betsy McCaughey’s recent New York Post article is worth a read for its turning of the tables.

Details on how Sanders’s plan would actually work, notably with regard to paying for it, are sparse, but McCaughey teases out some implications of concern.  For one thing, according to McCaughey, private health care would be made illegal.  Everything would have to go through the government system.  Consideration of UHIP and DCYF in Rhode Island and the Veterans Health Administration nationally (to pick just three examples) make that prospect terrifying.

Perhaps even more significant, though, is this:

BernieCare guarantees you hospital care, doctors’ visits, dental and vision care, mental health and even long-term care, all courtesy of Uncle Sam. Amazing, right? But read the fine print. You’ll get care only if it’s “medically necessary” and “appropriate.” Government bureaucrats will decide, and they’ll be under pressure to cut spending.

That’s because Sanders’ bill imposes an annual hard-and-fast dollar limit on how much health care the country can consume. He makes it sound simple — Uncle Sam will negotiate lower prices with drug companies. Voilà. But driving a hard bargain with drug makers won’t make a dent in costs. Prescription drugs comprise only 10 percent of the nation’s health expenditures.

Consider this “hard-and-fast dollar limit” in the context of another national controversy over the debt ceiling and debate of the Senate GOP’s latest health care proposal, which would limit the expansion of government spending on health care, a prospect that Democrats and the media elite (not just news, by the way) are endeavoring to tar as inhumane.  How can it be cruel to limit government spending on health care, but just dandy to ration health care generally?

The quick (if specious) answer may be that government spending accrues to the vulnerable and disadvantaged, but that argument dissipates if the wealthy are barred from supplementing their own care.  Single-payer simply becomes the government providing care for services that and to people whom it considers worthy.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Evergreen Contracts One Positive of Special Session

As Ted Nesi reminds us in his weekend roundup, the legislation making municipal labor contracts, including those for teachers, essentially permanent until renegotiated did not overcome Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s veto at this week’s special session of the General Assembly:

The issue has become a game of chicken between the two chambers, with the Senate saying the House needs to vote first because Raimondo vetoed a House bill, but the House saying the Senate first needs to pass its own version and get that vetoed, too. …  a Senate spokesman reiterated that there will be no override unless the House votes. A House spokesman declined to comment, but there’s little indication Speaker Mattiello is inclined to call a vote.

That’s pretty obviously a pair of thin excuses to do the right thing in the face of labor union pressure, but hey, we’ll take it.  The lingering question — as with so much legislation that works its way into law — is why our representatives and senators would pass such horrible legislation to begin with.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

RhodeWorks Signs Bring More Censure from Feds

Rhode Islanders who follow the news can’t help but begin wondering how many times the federal government will have to send letters of complaint against our corrupt and inept state government.  The Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) is obviously the giant archetype of the problem, but even those blue RhodeWorks signs promoting Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo are an illustration.  Here’s Patrick Anderson in the Providence Journal:

The Federal Highway Administration has found the hundreds of signs scattered over roads and bridges are “not in compliance” with federal traffic regulations, Carlos Machado, Federal Highway’s administrator for Rhode Island, said Wednesday. …

Nancy Singer, a Federal Highway spokeswoman, provided The Journal with the federal regulation at issue in Rhode Island, which does not allow “promotional or other informational signs regarding such matters as identification of public officials, contractors, organizational affiliations, and related logos and symbols.”

Also of interest is that the signs cost an extra $100 each to make and install, bringing the total to $52,000, because the original estimate didn’t include labor costs.  Unionized state employees are both making and installing the signs.

Recall, in this context, that Raimondo’s Director of the Department of Transportation, Peter Alviti, was previously an employee of the Laborers’ International Union (LiUNA).  Shortly after his hiring, Alviti scuttled a hiring plan that called for the state to bring in more design and development employees, as recommended by an expensive outside analysis, and instead hired more laborers.  One effect of the change was that the new hires shifted from a different union to LiUNA.

Recall, also, that Alviti brought some tasks in-house, like road striping, claiming that having more union members on the payroll year round would be less expensive than hiring outside vendors for the part-year work.

Now we are reminded that the DOT has been finding work for its employees making overly political signs for the governor.  At what point does the federal government stop the cease and desist letters and send in the investigators?

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Stating the Obvious on Economic Incentives

In keeping with frustration that the General Assembly can inspire whenever it meets for the purpose of actually passing legislation, here’s an op-ed titled, “Finding America’s Lost 3% Growth,” which Phil Gramm and Michael Solon recently wrote for the Wall Street Journal:

A tidal wave of new rules and regulations across health care, financial services, energy and manufacturing forced companies to spend billions on new capital and labor that served government and not consumers. Banks hired compliance officers rather than loan officers. Energy companies spent billions on environmental compliance costs, and none of it produced energy more cheaply or abundantly. Health-insurance premiums skyrocketed but with no additional benefit to the vast majority of covered workers.

In a world of higher costs, productivity plummeted. Productivity measures the production of things the market values that flow from the employment of labor and capital.

At the same time the government has made every job in the economy more costly, the authors note, increasing incentives not to work by, for example, “waiving work requirements for welfare,” reduced the incentive of workers to actually work.  This dynamic not only harms us all by reducing opportunity and constraining wealth and social advancement, but it also undermines the availability for many Americans of the dignity of work.

Rhode Island should stop being a case study in this progressive, big-government mentality.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

How RI Government Strangles Opportunity

A Wall Street Journal article in which Jennifer Levitz highlights an interesting corporate trend could almost give hope to Rhode Islanders:

Americans have traditionally moved to find jobs. But with a growing reluctance by workers to relocate, some companies have decided to move closer to potential hires. Firms are expanding to cities with a bounty of underemployed, retrieving men and women from freelance gigs, manual labor and part-time jobs with duties that, one worker said, required only a heartbeat to perform.

With the national jobless rate near a 16-year low, these pockets of underemployment are a wellspring for companies that recognize most new hires already have jobs but can be poached with better pay and room for advancement. That’s preferable to competing for higher-priced workers at home.

These sorts of natural incentives are how the market heals economic wounds and maximizes progress. Unfortunately, if you’re an un-or-under-employed Rhode Islander, your hopes for this sort of rescue are regularly shattered by a General Assembly that year after year after year makes it more difficult and more expensive to do business in your state.  Yesterday brought a doozie, with the passage of the ill-advised and expensive progressive wish fulfillment of a mandatory paid time off benefit for all employees in companies with 18 or more employees.

As I explored in last week’s Last Impressions podcast, transportation and communication technology should be making it easier to relocate businesses and families.  Rhode Island’s natural beauty and location should be a huge advantage in that regard, but our government is determined to eliminate all incentive for businesses to be the ones to do the moving (unless they want to be government-dependents right off the bat with a payoff), so it’ll have to be the workers who move elsewhere, which is exactly what we’ve seen over the last couple of decades.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Governor’s Inappropriate Blurring of Roles with DACA Initiative

A larger percentage than I’d like of recent posts, in this space, have to do with the actions of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, but the hits just keep on coming, as they say.

We can offer wry quips, as John Loughlin deftly did, about Raimondo’s initiative to pay the $495 filing fees of applicants for federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.  Loughlin imagines the governor paying off the minimum corporate tax for small businesses in the state as an alternative.  Put aside, though, the specific policy (and questions about why the governor wants to create more incentives for illegal immigrants to locate in Rhode Island) and look at the process.

Data point 1: As Kim Kalunian reports on WPRI, the governor announced this program with at least the trappings of her official office, holding a PR event in the State Room of the State House, at a government podium.  Additionally, in a fundraising appeal (see below), Raimondo blends this initiative with various official programs of the State of Rhode Island as if they’re of the same nature.

Data point 2: The governor’s statement notes that “the Rhode Island Foundation is coordinating contributions and making grants to community agencies that have stepped up to do this work.”

Data point 3: A fundraising appeal for the initiative that the Providence Journal’s Kathy Gregg tweeted out was sent courtesy of the PAC, Friends of Gina Raimondo.

This blurring of public and private sector is absolutely inappropriate, but it’s a regular practice of Raimondo’s.  Recall, for example, the overlapping interests of Wexford Science and Technology (of I-195 Redevelopment fame), Raimondo, the RI Foundation, and the Brookings Institute.  Or consider her “hiring” of a chief innovation officer for her cabinet one step removed from government by being housed in the RI College Foundation.

It would be one thing if the governor were merely expressing support for some private-sector initiative, but instead, she’s acting through a shadow government serving unknowable interests and a far too obvious ideology.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Promotion of a Governor, Q.E.D.

How out of control is Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s use of government for self promotion?  So out of control that somebody appears to have leaked an internal email to the Providence Journal that puts the cherry on top of my observation, yesterday, that the whole state government has turned toward narrative-building and the promotion of the governor:

Raimondo’s communications director, Mike Raia, spelled out the plan to all of the public-relations folk in the executive branch in an email earlier this month, which has since been obtained by The Journal, with the subject line: “October 2: #1000DaysOfProgress — Comms Planning.”

Reading like a campaign flier for Democrat Raimondo, who is expected to seek reelection next year, Raia’s email read, in part: “October 2, 2017 marks Governor Raimondo’s 1,000th day in office. In those 1,000 days, Rhode Island has built some incredible momentum and our state has made a lot of progress….”

But wait, there’s more!

“In addition to the Governor’s events, we are asking every Cabinet member to plan at least one event highlighting a specific and tangible accomplishment from these 1,000 days. Please copy and complete the form below with two suggestions, including locations, for your agency and send it … no later than 4 p.m. on Friday, September 8. Our office will provide final guidance on events by Friday, September 15 to ensure that we have adequate coverage across the entire state.”

Apparently, it’s not enough simply to do the people’s business, in Rhode Island.  UHIP is still a disaster; the DCYF is still in disarray; the budgeting and revenue offices have to figure out how to address a massive deficit upcoming; and on and on.  One might wonder whether a state government that surprises people when it does something right has the spare capacity to be choreographing PR blitzes, but all those PR folks have to do something.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

We Must Require a Definition of “Accountability”

Earlier today, I mentioned Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner’s recent appearance on WPRI’s Newsmakers program and his heavy reliance on buzz phrases and jargon.  One such term — which needn’t be jargon, but can be used that way — was “accountability.”

Wagner’s use of the word came to mind when I read an excerpt on National Review Online of a book by Eva Moskowitz, a former New York City Councilwoman and charter school founder:

While I was already convinced that the district schools weren’t in good shape, preparing for the contract hearings was nonetheless an eye-opener for me. Interviewing principals, superintendents, and teachers helped me understand just how impossible it was for them to succeed given the labor contracts, and how job protections created a vicious cycle. Teachers felt they’ve been dealt an impossible hand: their principal was incompetent or their students were already woefully behind or their textbooks hadn’t arrived or all of the above. They didn’t feel they should be held accountable for failing to do the impossible so they understandably wanted job protections. However, since these job protections made success even harder for principals who were already struggling with other aspects of the system’s dysfunctionality to achieve, they too wanted job protections. Nobody wanted to be held accountable in a dysfunctional system, but the system couldn’t be cured of its dysfunction until everyone was held accountable.

In that context, the question is unavoidable:  What does “accountability” mean?  It must have clear and predictable consequences, or it’s worthless.  As Wagner used the term, “accountability,” one couldn’t be sure what it entailed, suspecting that the idea might rely on the assumption that teachers and administrators would feel guilty about bad results and consider themselves as having been held accountable.  Or maybe the consequence would be a written-more-in-sadness-than-anger letter of disappointment from Department of Education.

Accountability should mean that people lose their jobs or that entire schools are threatened with going out of business because students are going elsewhere.  Unfortunately, that necessity goes against the sine qua non of government employment, which is job security.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

When Government Becomes a PR Machine

Gary Sasse asks an interesting question on Twitter regarding Kathy Gregg’s Providence Journal article about the expanding PR corps in state government:

Does the proliferation of PR folks reflect a lack of trust that civil servants can be trusted to deliver the Governor’s spin?

Although Sasse is on to something, his question is targeted a little below the critical development.  The entire nature of government information distribution has changed under Governor Gina Raimondo.  We can see this in minor controversies, like her use of unknown numbers of blue Rhode Works signs to promote her name… and efforts to hide the costs of doing so.  And as Gregg notes, we can see it in the fact that the state employees who are actually doing stuff, and are therefore better positioned to explain that stuff, are harder to reach, more often redirecting questions through the spin apparatus.

Maybe most notably, we can see the change in the behavior of department heads.  Stefan Pryor has turned the Commerce Corp. into an elaborate Raimondo promotion vehicle, and watching him talk in hearings or in interviews proves him indistinguishable from a PR flack.

Education Commissioner Ken Wagner wasn’t quite that bad on a recent Newsmakers but was notably more reliant on catch phrases and talking points, whereas his predecessors engaged much more in genuine-seeming conversation during such appearances.  Deborah Gist, for example, always gave the impression of “I know what you’re asking, and I’m going to answer your question to the best of my ability.”  Wagner’s impression is more like “I know what you’re asking, but I’m going to pretend that I don’t, or that these fancy phrases actually answer your question.”  (I’ll probably have more to say on this for my Last Impressions podcast, Friday.)

Basically, it used to be that the PR folks were the professionals tasked with conveying the thoughts and intentions of elected and appointed officials and doing a little bit to promote government initiatives, while the other professionals were there to do and explain their work.  The big change under Raimondo is that she’s attempting to steer the whole ship of state toward the task of marketing.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Rhode Island Government’s Reverse Robin Hood for General Dynamics

An interesting she-said-she-said slips by in Alex Nunes’s Providence Journal article on the Rhode Island government’s incentive give-aways to Electric Boat (a subsidiary of General Dynamics):

“[Electric Boat President Jeffrey Geiger] was essentially saying to me, ‘Look, we have these new contracts. We need to hire … thousands of people. We want to hire Rhode Islanders, but you need to do your part,’” [Democrat Governor Gina] Raimondo recalled in a recent interview in her office. …

“Nobody’s asking the local, state government, or the federal government to do this [employee training] work for us,” [Electric Boat Human Resources Vice President Maura] Dunn said in an interview at the company’s Groton offices.

That said, Dunn does call the training a “community project,” which implies other people doing at least some of the work.

The debate throws off a lot of numbers, as well as undefined phrases like “doing their part,” but here’s one set of numbers I found interesting:

According to General Dynamics’ annual report, 2016 was a record fiscal year for the company, with $31.4 billion in overall sales and revenues of $8.2 billion in the Marine Systems group, which includes submarine-building.

The company’s market capitalization, a measure of the value of a publicly traded business, also reached $52.6 billion by year’s end on a nearly 26-percent increase in its stock price.

According to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), Rhode Island’s GDP for 2016 was $57.4 billion.  In other words, the total market capitalization of General Dynamics is nearly as big as Rhode Island’s economy for all industries.  Does the company really need Rhode Island to take millions of dollars from other industries and individuals and focus it on one business’s narrow needs, profiting its investors at record-setting rates?

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

“Negotiations” Over Other People’s Money… Without Mentioning the Cost

I continue to be amazed at the use of the word, “negotiations,” in contexts like Patrick Anderson’s Providence Journal article:

Negotiations between the House and Senate, and labor and business groups, produced a new version of the sick leave bill, which emerged late Friday evening in the House Labor Committee and passed unanimously.

A priority for the General Assembly’s progressive caucus, the bill would guarantee Rhode Island workers up to three paid sick days in 2018, four sick days in 2019 and five days off per year from 2020 onward.

Who’s negotiating with whom over what?  People most of us didn’t elect are “negotiating” with people most of us don’t acknowledge as representing our “community” over costs that will be borne by everybody who operates a business in the state or has any dealings with anybody who operates a business in the state.

The unbelievable mindset — strike that: the all-too-believable mindset — that this is a “negotiation” is put over the top by the fact that nobody involved in the “negotiation” or in reporting on it is putting a cost on the result.  Anderson isn’t alone in this; Steph Machado does the same on WPRI.

If anybody wants a starting point, I looked into the matter (along with other pieces of legislation) last month for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity and concluded that the cost of this program will be about $49 million per year.  Others are free to debate that number, but for the sake of our state, shouldn’t we take it as a warning sign that nobody is doing so?

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

PawSox Eminent Domain Language Reminds Us What’s Going On

Some welcome focus on the eminent domain aspect of the proposed PawSox stadium deal should awaken Rhode Islanders to what is really happening, here.   The Associated Press reports:

One of the two bills being considered as part of the legislative package would remove the phrase “blighted and substandard” from the definition of a redevelopment agency. It also changes the wording of state law so that, rather than preventing redevelopment agencies from constructing buildings for residential, commercial, or industrial use, it authorizes them to do so.

To be sure “blighted and substandard” is a subjective guide.  One expects that if the government wants a piece of property, it will find a way to call it “substandard” regardless.  Changing the language, however, is a reminder of the expansion of this mechanism for seizing land or, in this case, giving the government the upper hand in negotiations with a property owner that a private organization wouldn’t have.

Most folks who spend time considering public policy can justify the use of eminent domain to advance public infrastructure.  If some road, track, canal, or whatever would be a huge boon to the area, a single property owner could hold his or her entire region hostage over a property value that would not exist if it were not for the public project.

That rationale begins to wear thin when the government is building something isolated, like a school building or public safety complex.  Still, even some strong conservatives can see their way to accepting that sort of use.  (My view is that it cedes too much to the notion that the government is the real owner of all property, and individuals can only own, at best, inheritable development rights.)

At the other end of the question, a great many people object to the notion that government can take property from one private entity and give it to another simply because it proclaims that the receiver has a better use for it.  This PawSox deal is just like that, only with a patina of justification by keeping ownership in government hands, leasing to a single-use tenant.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

“Pay for Itself”? UHIP Is Designed to Increase Costs.

Ted Nesi and Susan Campbell report on the costly future of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP):

Two years after insisting Rhode Island’s new $445-million benefits system would pay for itself by next June, state officials now admit they have no idea if the problem-plagued computer system will ever save enough to cover its cost.

Folks still aren’t getting the bigger picture when it comes to costs.  UHIP is designed to maximize the use of government services.  Not only will it never cover its “costs,” but it will continue to increase public expenditures.

At some point in the future, some gubernatorial administration may announce that the system has stopped enough proverbial “waste, fraud, and abuse” to cover the expense of implementing the program, but we can be sure such a calculation will brush aside actual increases in spending on the programs.

Rather than simply update our operating systems for welfare programs, Rhode Island government officials chose to make the state an experiment in interweaving all programs for “one stop shopping.”  We’re already paying the price, and it’s a bill that will continue to grow.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

School Repairs and Where the Money Goes

So Democrat Governor of Rhode Island Gina Raimondo wants Rhode Islanders to make a “once-in-a-generation investment” to fix our substandard school buildings, and I can’t help but wonder:  Where is all the money we’re already spending going?

Rhode Island’s public schools need $627.5 million worth of major repairs to simply put students out of harm’s way, according to a major independent study commissioned by state officials.

But it would cost $2.2 billion to bring schools to an ideal condition — buildings that are energy-efficient, offer the right mix of technology and provide plenty of sunlight and fresh air.

The first thing to note is that $2.2 billion isn’t all that much higher (relatively) than the $1.8 billion that the state proclaimed a few years ago.  Suffice to say that it’s a lot of money and that this isn’t a surprise.

But again:  Where is all the money going that we’re already spending?  This whole thing has the feel of a government scam.  The first marker is that, by just about any measure, Rhode Islanders pay a great deal in taxes.  How can that not be enough to cover basic maintenance and improvement of something that’s long been considered a central function.

The second marker that raises questions about this new ask for huge taxpayer expenditures and debt is how we’re coming up with these numbers.  Tiverton, for example, is listed as having $46 million in “deficiency costs,” but the town is already paying off $54 million in debt for construction and repairs.  How did we reach the point of requiring $100 million in school repairs for a district serving about 1,800 students?

Something isn’t right with this whole pitch across the state, and Rhode Islanders should insist that elected officials figure it out before agreeing to put themselves into even more debt.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Red Sox Bleacher Banner Was Anti-American

Sometimes it’s important to be accurate, and Ken Powtak’s failure to be so for an article from the AP is important to note:

A few fans seated above the Green Monster dropped down a sign denouncing racism during the fourth inning of Boston’s game against Oakland at Fenway Park on Wednesday night.

The sign — draped over the top middle of the 37-foot Monster — had a black background with white letters that read: “Racism is as American as Baseball.”

Sure, that message clearly carries the assumption that racism is bad, but what it does most of all is to denounce America as a racist country.  We shouldn’t let activists (in and out of the news media) muddy the waters.  One can be anti-racist and pro-America, but this sign doesn’t carry it off and shouldn’t be celebrated.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Manufacturing Consent to Spend Our Money

The lede of an article by Kathy Gregg, to which the Providence Journal gave the headline, “Emails show rising public support for PawSox stadium subsidies,” ought to discourage all Rhode Islanders who aren’t making a living off of the government:

Roughly two-thirds of the 138 emails sent so far to the Rhode Island Senate expressed support for the proposed $38 million in city and state subsidies to build a new ballpark for the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Is this where we are, now?  Eighty-six emails expressing “at least generally supportive” opinions (some from people who would directly benefit) shows “rising support” and gives a green light to making a million people liable for tens of millions of dollars in debt?  I don’t know that one could find a better illustration of the way political gamesmanship and the news media’s inevitably spotlighted focus generate narratives that lead to substantial public policy decisions at odds with the public interest.

For additional detail on how this process actually works, consider this Facebook post, which Lisa D’Agostino mentions in the Projo’s comment section:

News Update: PawSox Rally at the State House,Thursday September 14th from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. All Thursday night apprentices classes are to report at 5:00 p.m. and sign in with respected instructors. Local 51 T-shirts will be handed out to each member. Also, we our encouraging all journeyman and retirees to please attend the rally in support. Let’s work together.

Apprenticeships, incidentally, are required for people who wish to become plumbers, pipefitters, and HVAC technicians, which the UA Local 51 covers.  I haven’t seen a requirement in the law that apprentices be trained in pressuring government to commit taxpayers to debt, but it wouldn’t surprise me to come across one.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Details and Consequences in Cranston Fire Department

Don’t let the case of Paul Valletta, one of the most prominent faces of Rhode Island’s firefighter unions slip by without reading some of the details.  Here are some that WJAR’s Parker Gavigan has reported:

[Lt. Scott] Bergantino told police that while other firefighters were participating in the “Fill the Boot” campaign raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, he and [Deputy Chief] Valletta got into a heated argument about overtime.

Valletta is also the Cranston fire union president and a state lobbyist for the Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters. Their argument turned physical, said Bergantino, who told detectives Valletta pushed him up against a chalkboard, punched him in the head two times and then threw him over a recliner and onto the floor.

Sleep well, Cranstonites, knowing that this is who responds to your emergencies, and sleep well, Rhode Islanders, knowing these are the state’s insiders, for whose benefit much of our public policy is designed.  Note that the fight started on the subject of overtime, one key ingredient (other than pensions) making firefighting such a lucrative career in Rhode Island.  A quick review of Cranston budgets suggests that the department regularly overspends its overtime budget by around $1.2 million (about 34%).

According to Gavigan, it appears that police have some sort of recording of the incident, and Valletta is currently suspended with pay.  Anybody want to bet against my expectation that Valletta will find himself in a graceful retirement and Bergantino will get a nice bit of time off?

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Madness That Lies Ahead with the Erasure of Gender

Don’t blink as you react to news that British identity politics has advanced to such a state that a convicted multiple rapist has been moved to a female-only prison upon declaring that he identifies as a woman.  We can be sure that if you do blink, the progressive narrative will have advanced to the point that you’ll only be allowed to have one opinion.  Whatever we’re permitted to say, we should take Brendan O’Neill’s warning, written for Spiked, to heart:

This strange urge of trans activists and commentators to accord more sympathy to Ponting than to women prisoners — to argue the corner of a rapist rather than women — speaks volumes about how unhinged the trans ideology has become. Or rather how abjectly unwilling society is to withstand this ideology and to tell its believers that they are wrong. In the treatment of Ponting’s belief that he is a woman as more important than the concerns of hundreds of actual women, we see in extreme form the extent to which society is now expected to bow before the narcissistic individual and his or her demands for recognition; to validate every identity, even where that identity is self-evidently irrational.

And where this expectation of validation is annoying and sometimes illiberal in everyday life — such as when student officials pressure people to use pronouns like ‘ze’ or when feminists are harassed online for saying men cannot become women — in the case of prisons it becomes positively dangerous. A society that cannot say even to a man convicted of rape, ‘You are not a woman’, is a society that has truly lost the moral plot. It is a society that has left the realm of reason and objectivity for the unbalanced, unpredictable and plain dangerous terrain of post-modernism, in which what an individual feels counts for more than what others know to be true.

Progressives with no sense of boundaries or rational understanding that they are, indeed, seeking radical ends are at least doing us the service of rushing right to their ludicrous conclusions before society has been drawn along the “that will never happen” path.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Gorbea’s Inappropriate Press Release

Politics in America have taken on a strange tone in recent years, amped up by the election of Donald Trump as president.  This is particularly notable in discussions of election integrity, both in the notion that Russians interfered in our national election and in different views on the significance of voter fraud.

Today, Rhode Islander Ken Block presented findings of his voter roll review to the president’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.*  Among other things, in that presentation, Block highlights that “30.7% of 2016 votes in Rhode Island were cast by voters with no identifying information in voter registration database.”  He doesn’t allege that those voters are doing anything wrong, but does insist, “It is vitally important to know how many voters in each state cannot be identified by their data.”

In a press release that is clearly more of a political document than an informative one, Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea mischaracterizes this presentation in a strange way:

Today the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity met in New Hampshire. Part of their presentation included the erroneous claim that 30 percent of Rhode Island voters in 2016 are somehow illegitimate or not verified. …

In short, these voters are your friends, your family, and your neighbors. If you registered to vote in Rhode Island before 2002, these voters likely include you. Allowing unsubstantiated claims to influence our public policy can lead to real consequences and the exclusion of legitimate voters.

Gorbea is speaking out about claims that nobody is making and, in doing so, sidesteps the important question of whether Block’s findings are correct and a legitimate cause of concern.  Note, for illustration, that apart from mischaracterizing his claims, she unprofessionally declines to name Ken Block, attributing his statements to the commission, and attempts to make voters take this as an attack on them.

Obviously, folks are behaving with political motivation on both sides of these matters, but more and more, I find myself wishing that everybody involved, especially officials elected to do a job representing all of us, would let some opportunities for political jabs pass by in order to provide the public with a fair and reasonable understanding of what is actually going on.

* Memo to the editors of the Providence Journal: That is actually the proper name of the commission, as formed by the President of the United States.  Putting quotation marks around the whole title or (especially) just the “election integrity” part is unnecessary grammatically and inappropriate as journalistic practice, illustrating yet again your newspaper’s bias.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Alexion Closure… Centralized Economic Development Not Cutting It

Back in 2012, just as the Town of Portsmouth was beginning to crow about the profitability of its taxpayer-subsidized wind turbine, government officials had to eat that crow when the unit failed, with a fix priced at more than the supposed profit.  That anecdote came to mind when I read of Alexion Pharmaceuticals’ plan to close up its Rhode Island shop.  According to WPRI’s Nancy Krause:

Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. announced Tuesday morning it is closing its plant in Smithfield and moving manufacturing operations to other sites in the United States and Ireland.

A spokeswoman told Eyewitness News Alexion has 250 employees at the location, which the company said has been a key manufacturing site for Soliris – a high-priced treatment for two rare genetic disorders – over the past 10 years.

Add that 250 to the 715 Benny’s employees now set to lose their jobs, and it begins to appear that the economic winds might blow away every single job increase that Governor Gina Raimondo’s Commerce Corp. has bribed, or will bribe, companies to create in the state.

Of course, we can’t know whether anything that the State of Rhode Island could have done would have saved the nearly 1,000 jobs that are now going to be erased from our local ledger from just these two companies, but if the economy is shedding jobs while only creating them when heavily subsidized, that’s a very strong signal that we should try another approach.  Simply change the state’s focus to making it easier for residents to live and do business, and companies will have more incentive to stay and innovate here.

All those bribes would have gone a long way toward making such refocusing possible.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

A Special Tier of Law for Insiders

Katherine Gregg has devoted another Providence Journal Political Scene to the worthy topic of the political connections of Rhode Island magistrates and judges.  Long before knowing the score, on this count, anybody who takes an interest in Rhode Island governance learns that justice is best sought in federal courts, because Rhode Island’s system is (let’s say) not to be trusted.

With this anecdote, Gregg gives a sense of why:

A former public defender, [now Superior Court Judge Patrick] Burke had been at the center of a controversial court case that evolved from his arrest by the Warwick police in 1993 after they observed his car weaving on Route 2 around 2:30 a.m. The police charged him with refusing to submit to a portion of the breath test. The traffic court suspended his license and scheduled a hearing. Burke’s lawyer — then Speaker Harwood — filed for dismissal in 1996, saying the multiple delays in scheduling the hearing deprived Burke of his right to a speedy trial. A judge dismissed the charge.

This anecdote was 20 years ago, and we certainly have no reason to believe that things have improved.  How can Rhode Islanders have confidence in a judiciary that operates like this?

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

So Much for That “No Evidence of Vote Fraud” Thing

Well, this sure is interesting:

Over 6,000 voters in New Hampshire had used same-day voter registration procedures to register and vote simultaneously for president. The current New Hampshire speaker of the House, Shawn Jasper, sought and obtained data about what happened to these 6,000 “new” New Hampshire voters who showed up on Election Day. It seems the overwhelming majority of them can no longer be found in New Hampshire.

That was enough to give Hillary Clinton the state.  She didn’t win, obviously, but the margin could have given the Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate the victory, as Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach points out. (Imagine, too, if a similar report were to come out showing that fraud could have given President Trump Wisconsin.)

If you’ve been paying attention, J. Christian Adams’s PJ Media article quoted above fits perfectly with the early-2016 sting by video journalist James O’Keefe.  Note, in particular Chuck Ross’s description of O’Keefe’s video for the Daily Caller:

“Like, I think in many ways New Hampshire is incredibly proud of their first in the nation primary, and for that reason they make all of these really lax laws, surrounding voting, so people can, like, take advantage of it,” Waterman tells a PVA journalist.

“Why doesn’t just every volunteer, like, ever in the office, just…,” the journalist begins to ask.

“I think they all have honestly,” says Waterman. “And like, all of our paid canvassers have done it. It’s very, very easy.”

“It almost seems like…it’s better to have people from out of state. Because they can do that and it’s like more votes,” the journalist says.

The poll workers whom O’Keefe filmed talk about using other people’s addresses, even the office building in which they were talking.  That starts to sound like the alarm that Ken Block has been sounding in recent months, here in Rhode Island.

It’s scandalous that Rhode Island politicians, including the Secretary of State, get away with brushing these concerns aside.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Rhode Islanders’ Nostalgia

In the context of a general melancholy feeling among some about the closing of Benny’s, Ted Nesi expressed an interesting thought on Twitter:

It is amazing that the PawSox have had so little ability to capitalize on sentiment in a state as nostalgic as RI

That does seem curious, but on the other hand, people’s nostalgia for Benny’s didn’t lead them to forgo the conveniences and prices of Amazon or even other local retailers and shop there more often.

The reality is probably something more like this:  Only a segment of Rhode Islanders are actually all that nostalgic, or rather, all that nostalgic about a particular institution, and one would expect the sorts of people who participate in public life and news media (as producers or consumers) to be especially interested in local details.

That’s true everywhere, of course.  Perhaps what makes it seem more prominent in Rhode Island — apart from the state’s size and general quirkiness — is a social comfort with letting relatively small segments use government to impose their interests.  That is, whereas most people in Rhode Island (or anywhere else) will observe a departing institution and give it little more than the thought, “Huh; the world changes,” Rhode Island has a high proportion of people who feel like somebody ought to do something to make the world exactly as they want it (probably at public expense).

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

“Raimondo” Certainly Not Synonymous with “Transparency”

Thanks to the indefatigable John Vitkevich, of Portsmouth, for pursuing information about Governor Gina Raimondo’s blue campaign signs, posted at taxpayer expense under the pretense of providing transparency as to the progress of RhodeWorks progress.  As Kathy Gregg reports in the Providence Journal, it has taken action by the attorney general’s office to make the governor be transparent about the signs:*

Of DOT’s unwillingness to identify the state account that paid for the signs, Special Assistant Attorney General Sean Lyness wrote: “We confess some unease. The DOT has consistently indicated that it maintains no documents responsive to this request… Nonetheless, there is some cost to the State of Rhode Island for these signs and it is axiomatic that this cost – assuming it is paid with State funds – must come from some budget line item(s).”

After finding DOT, in fact, had “an Excel spreadsheet of the costs″ for the signs, Lyness wrote: “Under the DOT’s interpretation, this running tally of signage costs could be withheld as a ‘draft’ indefinitely. This interpretation contravenes the definition of the term ‘draft,’ which contemplates an eventual completed document.”

The Raimondo administration’s arguments are audacious and insulting, with the insinuation that the state government could develop an entire program and pay for it without ever producing a document that the public has a right to see.  The hope, one presumes, is to make “citizen-critics” like Vitkevich just go away.  We need more people who just won’t.

 

*  Obviously, this assumes that the Raimondo administration doesn’t attempt to defy the AG’s ruling.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

URI Honors Colloquium’s Narrow Explication of Everything

The graphic accompanying the Web page for this year’s honors colloquium at the University of Rhode Island appears to be ironic.  It’s a sketch of a star with a face faded into it, all superimposed on a field of stars.  Given that the title of the colloquium is “Origins: Life, the Universe and Everything,” one might assume the speeches would include some discussion of philosophy or even theology, but the list of presentations would seem to suggest otherwise.  (An email to one of the coordinators for confirmation of this observation went without response.)

Basically, all 10 speakers are concerned with science of one form or another, which is fine as far as it goes, but it raises the question of what the underlying philosophy of the colloquium is.  The fact that there must be such a philosophy implied can be seen in the advertisement that the speakers will help “to shed light on our current best understanding of humanity’s place in the cosmos.”  Whatever useful information scientists might provide, that one is well outside of their purview.

Indeed, the insinuation that science can answer such questions seems like an attempt to smuggle in the academic elite’s popular variation of nihilistically tinged materialism.  The extent to which scientists can tell us our “place in the cosmos” is precisely the extent to which they can do the same concerning rocks or elements.  That is, they must first reduce us to mere things.

Worse, an institution that presumes to take up a topic such as the origins of everything without providing students some philosophical discourse as to (arguably) the most important question in their lives — not what or how, but why — does them a tremendous disservice.  Even those who won’t attend such colloquiums will pick up the institutional message that this critical question for self-exploration and human development is unimportant.

That gets to a core reason I send my children to Catholic schools, and in keeping with my theme of today, it represents a disappointing missed opportunity.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Benny’s Is Another Warning Sign for Rhode Island

Like other Rhode Islanders, I’ve got my stories of finding just the right thing at a Benny’s.  As Ted Nesi reports in his weekend column, this is probably a point of commonality across the state:

“Like so many Rhode Islanders, I am heartbroken,” Governor Raimondo said after the announcement Friday – a somewhat remarkable statement about what is, after all, a store; there will still be places to buy Christmas lights or snow shovels after December. But of course it’s not about that. It’s about community, about the institutions and traditions that bind us together, especially at a time when it’s easy to feel closer to people across the country than across the street.

That is why our sense of pre-nostalgia melancholy at the closing of the entire chain should be secondary to a higher degree of concern, even urgency, at the direction in which we’re heading.  This isn’t just a matter of watching institutions crumble under the weight of an evolving future.  The profound lesson has to do with our passivity in the face of change.

A few years back, when the RI Foundation hosted its Make Rhode Island Great Again summit (or whatever it was called), Mike Stenhouse and I happened to sit at a lunch table with one of the higher ups from Benny’s.  Given that it was an area of central focus for us at the time, Stenhouse raised the topic of eliminating the sales tax, and the Benny’s executive offered a somewhat muttered reply and soon thereafter excused himself from the table.

Now, I’ll never gainsay the possibility that Stenhouse and I are simply frightening to behold, and perhaps the businessman wasn’t in the mood to be pitched for a donation.  My impression, however, drawn mostly from the substance of his muttering, was that he wouldn’t support something so disruptive of the status quo.  Indeed, that was the view expressed in no uncertain terms by the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce’s representative on the legislative commission to study  sales tax elimination.

Of course, one can’t say with certainty that the boom of an eliminated sales tax would have saved Benny’s from the Amazon tidal wave, but my wager would be that it would have.  More importantly, such a reform would have opened up new possibilities for the company.  Being the kind of state that isn’t afraid actively to get out of the way of its residents’ needs could make all the difference.

And it’s a difference we need to start making, otherwise the only Rhode Island institutions that will remain will be government and the outsized benefits of its employees.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

With SPLC, “Hate” Should Have a Trademark Sign

The group of conservative organizations signing on to an open letter addressed, so to speak, to the news media are absolutely correct:

We are writing to you as individuals or as representatives of organizations who are deeply troubled by several recent examples of the media’s use of data from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The SPLC is a discredited, left-wing, political activist organization that seeks to silence its political opponents with a “hate group” label of its own invention and application that is not only false and defamatory, but that also endangers the lives of those targeted with it.

At this point, citing the SPLC as some sort of arbiter of “hate” is either lazy or malicious.  The group has inspired a good deal of hate, itself, including a 2012 attack on the Family Resource Council that left a security guard injured.  And now its list of political enemies may be insinuating itself as a guide for corporations to blacklist organizations, as with the Ruth Institute’s loss of online payment processing.

As Tyler O’Neil notes, the same net that puts the Ruth Institute on the SPLC’s list ought to ensnare the Catholic Church, as well, except that inclusion of the church would expose the SPLC’s list for what it really is.  It’s a ploy to label as bigots those who wish to promote a culturally conservative worldview through persuasion and good works and thereby prevent them from participating in American society.

Journalists should have no part on advancing that ploy… unless, of course, they’re just left-wing activists, themselves.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Against Becoming “Rhode Island and the Amazon Plantations”

The buzz is all around:  Corporate giant Amazon is in the market for a second headquarters — HQ2 — and the governments of cities and states across America are widely expected to make a competitive play for the honor of housing it, even if those same governments have only proven capable of keeping their current populations under H2O.

Americans should find this whole development disturbing.  Consider the implications of this paragraph from Ted Nesi’s WPRI reporting:

Bids for the new headquarters are due Oct. 19 to Amazon’s Office of Economic Development in Seattle. The company will announce its choice next year.

Regional governments are bidding to the economic development office of a private company for the privilege of serving its headquarters.  What does it mean for elected officials to be chasing the Amazon cornucopia in that fashion?

For one thing, the process sounds a bit like state governments’ applying to the federal government for competitive grants, and that exercised has proven to be one of the key ways in which the federal government has nudged states to adopt policies that they wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

Moreover, allowing our government to take the position of contractor to the company would make us all vulnerable to losing our state.  Even if Amazon only puts Rhode Island in the running, none of our petty concerns about our own lives will even rate.  Our entire system will be transformed to serve Amazon, and our government will become little more than a middleman between us and the company.  No, thank you.

Instead, we should be trying to make Rhode Island the sort of state that a company like Amazon would approach independently.  That would put the leverage in the right direction.  And even better:  Such a state would attract companies of all sizes and create the environment for the creation of the next Amazon.

Quantcast