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pottersville-featured

The Evolution of a Strip

For readers elsewhere in Rhode Island, WPRI’s brief report about a Fall River store now approved for retail sale of recreational marijuana may not provide a sufficient picture:

The Cannabis Control Commission approved the final retail license for Northeast Alternatives on Thursday during a meeting in Boston.

Northeast Alternatives currently sells medical cannabis at its location on William S. Canning Blvd., a short distance from the border with Tiverton, Rhode Island.

To be more specific, this pot shop is a short distance from the new casino in Tiverton.  The image that begins to come to mind is that of Pottersville in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Also in the news, lately, has been the arrest of some Foxy Lady employees for prostitution.  With state governments’ pursuing the strategy of making vices legal in order to profit from them, one can’t help but wonder on which side of the border the brothel will go when state coffers continue to run low.

To be clear, this wonderment should not be taken as a comment on the loosening of any of these laws in particular.  We should, however, question this new way of looking at government’s relationship to our liberties and address these changes with open eyes.

The flip side of not believing that government should make everything bad illegal is realizing that not everything legal is desirable.  Our social and political processes can figure out where those lines are for any given topic or any particular location, but our decisions will be distorted if we legalize vices for the reason that government can profit from them.

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Harvesting Votes to Collect Power

In Rhode Island we’ve been watching a relentless push for early voting, emergency mail ballots, and so on — anything to increase the count of people voting.  One might wonder (although nobody asks) who really benefits when we all but force people to vote when they aren’t motivated or especially well informed, but there we are.

A question that is popping up around the country, however, is how much fraud we’re inviting into the system.  Eric Eggers gives the question a look for RealClear Investigations:

America’s electoral obsession isn’t Russian meddling anymore. It’s ballot-harvesting, a long-disputed practice implicated in fraud that’s come to the fore with the nationwide embrace of absentee voting in recent years — and especially in last month’s midterms.

With ballot-harvesting, paper votes are collected by intermediaries who deliver them to polling officials, presumably increasing voter turnout but also creating opportunities for mischief.

Particularly telling is a video out of California in which a doorbell camera catches a woman saying that she’s there to pick up a ballot, a service (she says) only available to people who support the Democrat candidates.  Rhode Island campaigns have been sending out notary publics to help voters finalize their ballots and then bring them in.  One suspects they know whom they are targeting for this special treatment.

One needn’t be a cynic to see this development as an opportunity for cheating, or at least a massive advantage to the candidates with the most money, whether they collected that money through partisan leverage, wealthy donors, or special interests.

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More to a Bridge than a Stage

The hopes of theater director Oskar Eustis that his art form can unite the country are certainly laudable:

Eustis said he eventually came to recognize a serious problem as hundreds of thousands of people from across the country boycotted “Hamilton” over the incident involving Pence.

The boycotters weren’t people who were going to see “Hamilton,” a musical about the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, anywhere close to where they lived, he said.

“They weren’t boycotting us,” Eustis said. “We had already boycotted them.”

Eustis looked at the country’s blue and red political map.

“Wherever there’s blue,” he said, “there’s a nonprofit theater, and everywhere there’s red, there isn’t.”

Theater in the United States, a major source of culture, has already shown its ability to take “marginalized groups” and place them center stage in a way that validates and empowers people by letting them see themselves on stage,” said Eustis.

There is something more magical, more personal, about stage productions than other forms of entertainment.  Seeing a show seems like a special occasion, and the desire for that sort of interaction and experience is universal.

The key will be whether folks like Eustis are able to see how contextually dependent their buzzwords like “marginalized groups” are.  Who marginalized by whom?

People don’t want to see themselves on stage.  They want to empathize with the characters they see.  They don’t want a mirror.  They want to see themselves in somebody who is not them.  We don’t crave our reflections; we crave connections.

I’d propose that a big reason for Eustis’s finding about missing nonprofit theaters is that the theater world does not produce the sort of content that would appeal to people in some areas.  If there are things they want to see, theaters will pop up to supply that content.

Bridging that gap is going to require much more than one-off efforts to promote theater in under-served markets.  It’s going to require more, as well, than a handful of plays with content that progressives are comfortable presenting to non-progressives.

It’s going to require more opportunity for people who don’t share the theater’s seemingly monolithic ideology to use its methods to convey their own messages — their own selves.

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Making Actual Progress on the Environment

Statements of intention are important, of course, preliminary to action, but once some time has elapsed, what people do is much more important.  Writing in USA Today, Jon Gabriel argues that, by that principle, the United States cares much more about the environment than other members of the “international community”:

China was praised for signing on to the Paris Climate Agreement and in Argentina reaffirmed its commitment to controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, however, China increased those emissions by 1.7 percent.

India, the fourth largest source for CO2, saw their emissions grow by 4.6 percent in 2017. Luckily for them, they too were praised for signing that “nonbinding communiqué.”

Overall, the European Union raised their CO2 output by 1.5 percent.

France, home of the Paris Agreement, is leading the diplomatic effort to save the planet. They increased their greenhouse gas emissions by 3.6 percent. …

From 2016 to 2017, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 2.7 percent. Emissions from large power plants declined 4.5 percent since 2016, and nearly 20 percent since 2011. All without signing a piece of paper in Paris or Buenos Aires.

As Glenn Reynolds adds, “it’s almost as if” the environmentalists (who opposed fracking, a leading contributor to U.S. improvements) are “more interested in submission to a transnational bureaucracy than in results.”  Americans should choose to continue with freedom, reason, and actual progress instead.

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Owning a Government Shutdown to Own the Libs

For my once-in-a-while dabble in national politics, I’d like to offer a point related to a Los Angeles Times column that appeared in the Fall River Herald:

When Washington braces for a potential government shutdown, the usual ritual is that Republicans and Democrats will posture over who will get blamed.

President Donald Trump, however, made it clear Tuesday morning that he will be the one shutting down the government if Congress doesn’t provide money for the bigger, more expansive wall he has promised to build along the southern U.S. border.

Of course, we have to acknowledge that Donald Trump appears to make this sort of decision off the cuff, and it isn’t (let’s just say) at all clear that it’s part of some master strategy.  But, you know, these moves — when he blows up the etiquette  of Washington — sometimes work, and not only his base, but also many conservatives outside his base, like that he’s dispensing with the illusions.

The news media would have made sure that President Trump owned a shutdown anyway.  In the column quoted above, Jon Healey insists that previous shutdowns had to do with “big, important issues,” like the Dreamers and Obamacare.  One can dispute that Dreamers (certainly) were any more objectively important than a wall, but their issue was certainly more important to the mainstream media, which worked diligently to blame the shutdown on Congressional Republicans, rather than President Obama.

In short, the side that opposes the Democrats always “owns the shutdown.”  Whether Republicans are blocking new initiatives or pushing them, the reportage is unified in decrying their intransigence, while the Democrats merely want to keep the government working.

Having dispensed with the kabuki, Trump can attack the issues head on without getting caught up in the weaselly business of trying to avoid responsibility.  We’ll see if those of us who’ve urged that sort of attitude in the past were correct, but the willingness of a politician to dispense with the games is refreshing.

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Turning the Corner on Sexism in STEM

You know those table-top games for which you tilt a board in order to get a ball to roll through a maze or obstacle course of some kind?  They’re an excellent metaphor for the problem with using government to tilt society to achieve socially engineered outcomes.  The ball rolls, picking up momentum, and the means of controlling the board can be awkward.

To improve upon the metaphor imagine that the obstacles sometimes move around in unpredictable ways… and you’re trying to turn the knobs while wearing slippery mittens.

A century and more ago, maybe it was possible to believe in the totalitarian, yet beneficent, governance by experts, but in the intervening years, the experts should have concluded that it can’t be done.  The solution is to use cultural means to change things in the culture and structure the laws to provide a neutral playing field.

Instead, progressives have turned both knobs, as if they can get the ball to hop over all the walls.  So, we get a social standard that promotes girls and women while demeaning boys and men and a legal regime in which it is permissible to discriminate only against the latter.  The obvious question that some of us were asking decades ago was:  Even if we grant that male chauvinism is too powerful of a force, how will we know when to stop correcting for it?

That is arguably the implied question of Toni Airaksinen’s PJMedia article on some new research from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI):

Mark Perry, a University of Michigan-Flint professor, appears to be the first to discover that the “STEM gender gap” doesn’t exactly exist after all. According to his recent AEI report, women now earn 50.6 percent of all STEM bachelor’s degrees, and are also overrepresented in graduate school.

While 50.6 percent is only a slight majority, this translates into 8,500 more female STEM graduates per year and about 33,000 more women in STEM grad school. And because college is now a woman’s domain, it’s likely these small disparities will expand over time. …

“The 60/40 gender disparity in college degrees favoring women that the Department of Education forecasts within the next decade should be of much greater concern to society than failing to achieve 50/50 gender parity in a few STEM fields, in terms of the future implications for the labor market, for family formation and other concerns.”

Returning to the metaphor above, anybody who has played those games knows that the trick is to start changing the tilt of the board before the ball has reached a turn.  Otherwise, momentum will carry it along in a direction you don’t want to go.  Well, we’ve arguably just missed the turn, and with no signs that adjustments are coming.

Instead, we can expect activists to highlight such findings as the fact that, with more choices available to women, fewer of them have gone into computer science.  This evidence of people acting according to their interests will no doubt inspire our cultural engineers to keep on pushing, even as imbalances and injustices open up and cause untold damage to our society.

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Past the Break in Rhode Island

A foreboding thought came to me after my weekly conversation with John DePetro, this week.

The topics that we covered had a recurring theme of elected officials who seem not to care how their actions appear — from Gorbea’s obvious breach of transparency, to Kilmartin’s eight years of running interference for insiders, to Raimondo’s failure to hold anybody accountable for unacceptably low test scores in public schools.

Meanwhile, the same Providence Journal that is criticizing these officials in the strongest terms endorsed the full set of them.  I’ve wondered if different members of the editorial board assert more authority when it comes to endorsements during elections than they exercise when it comes to expressing policy views throughout the year.

Some people say that, even when there are other candidates in the races, there really is no viable choice.  I don’t agree with that; after all, gambling on somebody who has to learn on the job has the benefit of sending a signal to all elected officials that they have to care how their actions appear because voters will replace them, with unknowns if necessary.

Whatever the case, one can’t deny that most statewide races are simply locked up by the nominated Democrat, who can only be threatened in a primary (whether by union stand-ins or more-radical progressives).  The sobering thought one has is that Raimondo’s stronger-than-expected victory may be a signal that this hegemony has now captured the governor’s office.

If the governor’s office is no longer threatened by a competitive political race, we’re done.  The lunatics run the asylum.  Competition is the most effective and incorruptible way to restrain elected officials, and if they don’t face that restraint, they really don’t have to care what we all think.

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Old-Time Racism in Judicial Selection

Congratulations to those nominated for judgeships in Rhode Island.  It’s unfortunate that they have to be endorsed in such a reductive way

Emphasizing the importance of having judges who look like the people who appear before them, Gov. Gina Raimondo on Monday announced nominations to six judgeships across the state judiciary in what is likely the most diverse pool of nominees ever in Rhode Island.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but it feels kind of like our culture spent centuries moving away from the superficial ideas that we should judge people by how they look and that looking alike has some sort of legal relevance, yet here we are.

President Donald Trump rightfully came under fire when he stated that a judge with Mexican heritage would be biased against him while hearing a case, with Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan saying, “Claiming a person can’t do the job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.”

This is exactly what Raimondo is doing, with her rhetoric about these prospective judges.

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Where Would Excess Health Insurance CEO Pay Go

So, socialist Senator Bernie Sanders is on Twitter highlighting the pay of health insurance CEOs:

What insurance company CEOs made in 2017:
-Leonard Schleifer (Regeneron): $95.3 million
-Dave Wichmann (UnitedHealth): $83.2 million
-Mark Bertolini (Aetna): $58.7 million

We need a system that provides health care for all, not massive compensation for a few CEOs.

Putting aside Regeneron, which is not an insurance company and is therefore a different conversation, I agree with Sanders that these pay amounts are excessive, but the senator skates by an important point:  The reason insurance companies can do this sort of thing is that government insulates them from competition.  It also forces market-distorting policies on them, like requiring less-costly insurance customers to pay more to reduce the gap in prices.

For context, the pay for Wichmann that Sanders cites equates to around $2.25 from each of the company’s members, so as an isolated expense, it doesn’t mean much by way of price competition.  Still $83 million is a lot of money that could be put toward some other benefit or organizational improvement that would be salable.  Government has shaped the market landscape that allows that money to pool in executive compensation.  Naturally, the socialist’s solution to this problem is… more government!

Let’s imagine, then, what would happen to this money if the government even more-fully ran our health insurance industry.  With no competition, the government would have little incentive to ensure that the CEO’s wages were redistributed in the way that would attract more customers.  Would it reduce prices by $2.25 for everybody?  That seems useless.  If you say it would hire more doctors, do the math, and you’ll find that the United CEO’s pay would maybe allow for another 400-500 for a nation of well over 300 million people.

Two areas in which some significant portion of the money would surely go are predictable based on other government activities:  More administrators and bureaucrats would be hired, and targeted special interest groups would receive enhanced benefits or cost savings, to be distributed based on the political value of their support.

This likelihood should lead anybody who thinks the CEOs make too much money and that it ought to fund, instead, an improved healthcare system to the conclusion that we need more market force in health care rather than less.  That would squeeze the pay of the top employees and distribute it where the market finds the most value.

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Another Route to Side Deals in Warwick

The latest extra-contractual agreement for Warwick firefighters, as reported by Mark Reynolds in the Providence Journal, is the sort of thing we should watch for across the state:

An unauthorized practice has overpaid retiring city firefighters for accumulations of vacation time since 2015, a Providence Journal investigation shows.

Asked about documents and information developed by The Journal, Mayor Joseph J. Solomon said Friday he was ordering a halt to the practice. …

“I know the contract that Scott Avedisian signed was not the contract that was voted by the City Council,” he said.

That last detail makes this deal substantively different from the other side deal, unearthed in October, because Avedisian denied even knowing about that one.

These side deals — and the next level, at which employees take resources and time without even the cover of somebody’s approval — show the sense of entitlement and impunity. Government employees in Rhode Island already get employment agreements well beyond what the market would set, but that isn’t enough.  It’s never enough.

One wonders if the motivation isn’t greed so much as seeing how much they can get away with.  And why not?  When there are never any consequences, grabbing more and more becomes a game.

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The Racist, Destructive Insinuations of Banning Impressionism

This sort of thing makes me embarrassed for the era in which we’re living:

The Gamm Theatre has canceled a Monday performance by the Edwards Twins, apparently over concerns that the Las Vegas-based impersonation act uses white performers to portray black celebrities.

Anthony Edwards, who with brother Eddie makes up the act, said that, while they have impersonated Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder in the past, their Christmas show this year does not include any black celebrities. Edwards said he even went so far as to sign a contract with The Gamm stipulating that the duo would not use any skin-darkening makeup.

Are we all children?  These are impersonators. They perform as a broad array of stars, and for each one, they try to look as much like the performer as possible, whether it’s Cher or Elton John or Lionel Richie.  Cher has longer hair and breasts.  Elton John dresses flamboyantly.  Lionel Richie has darker skin.

The claimed matter of concern is the history of black face, but as one of the performers explains, this is not that.  Black face was not simply imitation, but a specific, demeaning style of performance.  To equate impressionism with that is not only historically ignorant but also implicitly racist because it requires that any imitation of a black person must be mockery, as if there is no positive reason to take on the persona of a black person..

Making matters worse, agreeing to remove these supposedly offensive vignettes from their act for this performance — ironically, creating a segregated performance, as if no black singers are worthy of inclusion — was apparently not enough.  The fact that they have performed them in the past taints all of their shows.

James Vincent of the Providence NAACP and The Gamm theater should be ashamed.  They are contributing to the deterioration of our society and the destruction of our ability to see ourselves as one people.

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Examples from ICE’s Arrest List

None of the examples from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of recent illegal immigrant arrests in New England are from Rhode Island:

•In Lynn, Massachusetts, a 67 year-old national of Brazil who is wanted in Brazil for aggravated murder was arrested.
•In Putnam, Connecticut, a 59-year old national of Brazil who is wanted for murder in Brazil, a crime alleged to have been committed by casting a net over the victim and stabbing the victim 20 times, was arrested.
•In Methuen, Massachusetts, a 23- year old national of the Dominican Republic who had assumed the identity of a U.S. citizen with prior convictions for drug trafficking, identity theft, and resisting arrest, who is facing current pending drug trafficking charges.
•In Brockton, Massachusetts, a 41-year old national of France with previous convictions for cocaine possession and multiple instances of assault and battery whose history also includes 30 adult arrangements with arrestsfor kidnapping, assault and battery with a deadly weapon, domestic violence and other felony charges.
•In Windham, New Hampshire, a 44 year old national of Brazil wanted in Brazil for smuggling/embezzlement of firearms who had assumed the identity of a U.S. citizen, was arrested.
•In Hyannis, Massachusetts, a 41-year old Jamaican national convicted of possession of 28-100 grams of cocaine was arrested.
•In Dorchester, Massachusetts, a 40 year old national of the Dominican Republic with convictions for cocaine trafficking and money laundering was arrested.

The press release notes that 15 of the 58 individuals “were previously released from local law enforcement custody, correctional facilities and/or court custody with an active detainer.”  That was the case with the Rhode Island example from a similar press release in September:

On Sept. 20, ICE arrested a 27-year old illegally-present citizen of Guatemala in Cranston, Rhode Island, who had recently been convicted of aggravated domestic assault, who was the subject of a previous detainer request from ICE that had not been honored by local authorities. He will remain in ICE custody pending removal proceedings.

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The Power Center of Intersectionality

A recent Ordered Liberty podcast took up the topic of intersectionality in away that made it especially clear.  According to the discussion, the ideology gives the person with the most direct claim to victimization the lead authority to decry any given target, and then it is the duty of the “allies” to back her or him up.  Thus, in the case of shutting down speech, the people doing the dirty work aren’t necessarily even offended themselves, but see themselves as defending others who hypothetically are or might be.

On the podcast, David French and Alexandra DeSanctis emphasize the greater power this system gives to the most supposedly victimized person in the group, but I think it’s much more insidious than that.  After all, if that were the case, you could reason with the person flagging the offense, bring in somebody of the same category to dispute it, or persuade the mob that the person leading the charge isn’t reliable.

More likely, the power actually goes to whoever it is who defines what is offensive, which is probably a smaller, more elite group.  After all, we regularly see people from minority groups who decline to take offense dismissed as inauthentic.  Somewhere, somebody is declaring what interest groups are included in the network and what they should find offensive.

When these declarations are distributed, people within an interest group will either respond with the required offense or, for the most part, simply step back and be quiet out of fear that they’re just different (in a way that makes them the worst thing: privileged).  Those who don’t want to go along or step back are brushed out of the picture.  With this nucleus of offense, “allies,” who may fear they have no right to voice their contrary opinions, act on behalf of people who might not ultimately be offended themselves.

So, the question is:  Where are the orders coming from?  For the most part, it seems that people “just know” what the dictates are.  It could be that somebody proposes an idea or responds with offense and the proposal either catches on or it doesn’t, suggesting that the power of intersectionality is held by those with the most credibility on the Left in general — professors, activists, famous people, union organizers, billionaire donors, and so on.

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A New Jersey Lesson in Minor League Baseball

Time will tell, but Rhode Islanders should keep a healthy eye, over the next couple of decades, on whether we dodged a bullet when we declined to bear financial risk for the construction of a new minor league baseball stadium.  Eric Boehm’s report from New Jersey gives reason to expect that it will prove to be so:

Taxpayers spent more than $18 million to build the stadium that would eventually be named Campbell’s Field, as part of a minor league ballpark-building frenzy across New Jersey that saw similar stadiums erected in Newark, Atlantic City, and Somerset—all part of redevelopment schemes that attracted independent minor league teams (that is, minor league teams not affiliated with the Major League Baseball farm system).

Less than two decades later, taxpayers in New Jersey will pay another $1 million to tear down Campbell’s Field. …

Camden’s not the only city to dump a ton of money into a minor (or major) league ballpark under the guise of economic development, only to see the project become a fiscal black hole. The minor league teams that moved into Newark and Atlantic City around the same time as the Riversharks started playing in Camden have met similar fates. The Atlantic City Surf survived for 11 years before going bankrupt and the Newark Bears folded in 2014. Their riverfront stadium in downtown Newark is also set to be demolished less than 20 years after it was built.

Yes, maybe it looks bad that Rhode Island is losing its icons and blocking new development, but that negative appearance doesn’t justify making risky deals.

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Death and Taxes in Rhode Island

According to a Katie Davis story on channel 10, the State of Rhode Island has decided that prayer cards and cremation urns are taxable and are hitting funeral homes up for huge retroactive bills:

… State law exempts caskets and burial garments from sales tax. Urns aren’t specifically listed in the law, but funeral directors say for decades, they never collected sales tax on them.

“Since the 50s, none of us had,” Ted said. “The State of Rhode Island, when we were audited, never asked or required or looked for any information pertaining to any of that.”

But now, state tax officials are taking a second look at the law and adding up what’s owed.

Manning-Heffern is one of at least six Rhode Island funeral homes hit with a bill for back taxes.

Well, that’s one way to find a windfall for a government that is overspending its budget.  One can’t help but think that it’s a harmful approach in the long run, though.  What other salable items and, similarly, regulations might exist that a go-getting taxman might find and target?

People go for decades with the understanding that the container for a deceased person’s ashes falls under the same tax definition as a container for an uncremated body, and rather than put in legislation clarifying for future purposes, the government sends an eye-popping bill.  I guess the state had to make up for the even-more-eye-popping bill a state college has to pay for an administrator’s vacation Internet bill.

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Confirming a Conservative Response to Poverty

Writing about public policy day in and day out, one can forget that not everybody follows every argument with close attention.  Broad philosophical points of view and underlying intentions can therefore be lost.

Just so, I almost didn’t bother reading a brief essay in which Michael Tanner promotes and summarizes his forthcoming book offering a broad explanation of a conservative policy response to poverty.  It’s worth reading, though, because he summarizes some conservative policies specifically in terms of their human objectives:

  • Keeping people out of jail can promote work and stable families.
  • Breaking up “the government education monopoly and limit[ing] the power of teachers’ unions” is rightly seen as an “anti-poverty program.”
  • Preventing government from driving up the cost of living, especially housing, will give poorer families a chance to get their feet on the ground.
  • Policies that discourage savings also discourage healthy financial habits.
  • A heavy hand in regulating the economy tends to target economic growth toward the rich and powerful.

As he concludes:

An anti-poverty agenda built on empowering poor people and allowing them to take greater control of their own lives offers the chance for a new bipartisan consensus that rejects the current paternalism of both Left and Right. More important, it is an agenda that will do far more than our current failed welfare state to actually lift millions of Americans out of poverty.

My only objection is that I’m not sure that the “paternalism of the Right” is a view that conservatives actually hold rather than a caricature that the Left spreads about us.  Of course, the fault is arguably ours, if we don’t often enough express our real intentions.

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A Hidden Subsidy in Solar

The problem of recycling solar energy panels has been in the news lately:

“The biggest issue is the misconception the recoverable materials are worth a lot,” [solar recycler Sam] Vanderhoof says. “We can pull out about 94 percent of the materials — but the market rate is $3.50 [per panel].” Most of that value is in silver. Vanderhoof thinks recycling costs could come down with scale, but the difficulty, he says, is “jump-starting the process.” Europe’s experience with mandating recycling with dedicated funding could be a guide.

A 2012 update to European Union electronics rules included specific regulations for solar panel recycling. As a result, EU countries have a more robust recycling program. This year, France opened what’s believed to be the first plant dedicated solely to recycling solar panels.

Vanderhoof would like to see a similar system set up in the U.S. “Like recycling here for cans and bottles,” he says. “Or if you go buy a new TV [in California], you pay upfront for the recycling.”

According to this expert working in the field, people should be paying into a recycling fund when they buy their panels.  Right now, that isn’t happening, and panels are coming online in a large wave.  That means somebody is going to have to cover that cost when it becomes a crisis — either the people who own the panels or everybody else.  (Have you noticed how some of the rooftop solar companies say you get to keep the panels after 20 years?)

Which of those will be the case depends on whether solar energy companies can remain a fashionable and powerful political lobby.  At the moment, we should just note how much of the cost of solar is not included in the price when people decide to deploy them.

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In Whose Interest Is No Confidence at CCRI?

The professors’ union at CCRI has voted “no confidence” in the school’s leadership.  Here’s the claim:

The motion said that Hughes, the vice president of academic affairs, Rosemary Costigan, and Dean Thomas Sabbagh have each “repeatedly failed in their leadership roles at the College to the detriment of our students.”

So what’s the underlying problem?

At issue is a plan for a three-week winter term that would start in January. In November, the chairs of the business, social studies, math and English departments said their faculty would not participate in the winter session without including the courses in the collective-bargaining agreement.

Ah… so the “detriment of our students” thing makes a leap from the professors’ interests to the students’.  That link is debatable, but it shouldn’t be assumed.

The statement asserts that the administration is “putting our accreditation and academic reputation at great risk,” which would certainly be a concern to all of Rhode Island.  Were this more of a looming possibility than some speculative rhetoric, though, one would think there would be more evidence.  For now, this seems to be the same old story in Rhode Island — all about labor.

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Government’s Autonomous Vehicles: The Driver Just Doesn’t Drive

Yeah, this program kind of misses the point of autonomous vehicles:

The [May Mobility] shuttles will run between downtown Providence and Olneyville via the Woonasquatucket (woo-NAH’-squaw-tuck-ett) River corridor. There’s currently no public transit along the full route. …

Each vehicle holds six people, including an attendant who’ll have the ability to fully control the shuttle at any time to ensure safety.

The state’s news release provides more information, although not much more detail. Oddly, that includes the expression of concerns from the bus drivers’ union, which isn’t the sort of content one generally gets from a promotional government statement.

Each of these shuttles will be too small even to carry two three-person families, because one-sixth of its capacity will be taken up (essentially) by a driver who isn’t driving. This might be why we don’t tend to allot our cutting-edge work to government.

Wasn’t there anything else on which the state could spend half a million dollars it shook down from Volkswagen?

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The Ambiguous Middle in the General Assembly

I’m not sure if the Providence Journal’s Political Scene crew is right to summarize the General Assembly’s left-right divide based solely on abortion and gun rights, but the reported numbers do raise an interesting question: Are the relatively conservative legislative leaders on the edge of a progressive precipice, or are the legislators whose views aren’t explicitly known more conservative than they want to show in floor votes, thereby exposing themselves to progressive attack?

Cranston Republican Steven Frias seems to think the former:

Frias said his own analysis of the ratings suggests that “Mattiello is in the minority among House Democrats on abortion and guns, which helps explain why [he] has dropped the ‘firewall’ rhetoric.”

“Mattiello’s dilemma is whether to allow a floor vote where representatives will be allowed to vote their conscience on legislation related to abortion and guns. Regardless of what he decides, someone will feel duped,″ either the “House liberals … [or] the cultural conservatives who backed [him] for reelection thinking he would be the ‘firewall’ on abortion and guns.”

Frias’ argument: “If Mattiello betrays his culturally conservative constituents it would be a signal to cultural conservatives that they cannot rely on the Democratic House leadership and they should vote Republican in General Assembly races.”

A corresponding dilemma faces quiet conservatives. As long as legislators are allowed to remain fuzzy on these issues, relatively conservative constituents will continue to rely on the good graces of “firewalls” like Mattiello. An unambiguous understanding of the danger would be clarifying as people make their decisions as voters, volunteers, and donors.

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Meeting the Challenge of Education Reform

The Providence Journal editorial board is (let’s just say) very forceful on the subject of Rhode Island students’ test results:

The weak and timid reforms he and Gov. Gina Raimondo have advanced, while soothing to special interests, have been plainly insufficient. It is time for a shakeup at the Rhode Island Department of Education and the state Board of Education. Will anyone have the decency to resign for having failed our young people?

Robert Walsh of the National Education Association and Francis Flynn of the American Federation of Teachers have, similarly, served Rhode Island students abysmally. Union leaders in civic-minded Massachusetts understand that an education system is about more than providing salaries and benefits for adults. We know there are many teachers who yearn for a sound, long-term plan to improve standards.

It is a shame Rhode Island cannot simply shutter its Department of Education and hire Massachusetts to run the Ocean State’s public schools as a subset of its own. It at least knows how to do the job.

I saw editorial page editor Ed Achorn pushing back on Facebook against those who respond to these sentiments by pointing out that the Providence Journal endorsed Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo. Part of the editor’s response was that the paper has also implored her to improve her record on education, which I’m not sure quite meets the challenge.

Some of the entities that should be a check on government, like the state’s major newspaper, have this problem: They formulate their solutions as if we had a properly functioning state. Under such circumstances, a governor who had received the endorsement might change out of concern that she would lose it. In Rhode Island, she knows that she has nothing to fear.

Nobody who has secured a role of significance wants to throw down a gauntlet to make any bold changes to the way decisions are made in the state.

It isn’t sufficient to suggest, in passing, that somebody should resign over abysmal test scores. That outcome has to be important enough that advocates will ensure that insiders cannot achieve their other goals unless they address education.

That, incidentally, is win-win, because the insiders’ other goals are, on the whole, corrupt and oughtn’t be achieved, anyway. They need to be made to understand, however, that their only hope of keeping any of their ill-gotten gains is by making improvements in this area.

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The Noises of an Expected Problem

This sure looks like an action done with the awareness of Rhode Island’s chief executive, with full knowledge that overspending was part of a long-term budget-management scheme:

House Finance Committee Chairman Marvin Abney publicly vented his “disappointment″ that the directors of Rhode Island’s overspending state agencies did not come to the hearing to answer lawmakers’ questions.

The House’s chief fiscal adviser, Sharon Reynolds Ferland, shared her own frustration at what she described as the lax response of state agencies to direct instructions from the state budget office to lay out specific options for averting a potential $47.2-million deficit this year, and scaling back their budget requests for next year.

She attributed the potential current year deficit “primarily … [to] unmet expenditure savings and unbudgeted policy choices.”

They don’t have plans because they don’t feel like they need them. Everybody in state government is on basically the same page about the primacy of government spending. This will continue until (1) politicians start paying a price for going along with it or (2) bankruptcy.

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A Post-Racial Society Would Be More Conservative

So here’s something for a bit of Friday fun:

A new study suggests that the words you use may depend on whether the club secretary’s name is Emily (“a stereotypically White name,” as the study says) or Lakisha (“a stereotypically Black name”). If you’re a white liberal writing to Emily, you might use words like “melancholy” or “euphoric” to describe the mood of the book, whereas you might trade these terms out for the simpler “sad” or “happy” if you’re corresponding with Lakisha.

But if you’re a white conservative, your diction won’t depend on the presumed race of your interlocutor.

Interestingly, the article appears to suggest that the conservative approach is ultimately what minorities want: “research shows that racial minorities are more concerned about being respected than about being liked.” One might speculate that, if minorities believe conservatives don’t respect them, it’s not because of the way in which conservatives behave, but because the liberals who control most of our news and information media expend so much energy painting conservatives as racists.

The article and the study on which it’s based provide a small example of how that works:

What she found, by performing online text analysis of 74 campaign speeches over the last 25 years, was that white candidates who were Democrats used significantly fewer words about “agency or power,” and more about “affiliation and communality” when addressing minority voters. There was no significant difference exhibited by Republican candidates.

The irony, as the paper notes, is that “Whites who may be more affiliative toward Blacks alter their verbal responses toward them in a way that matches negative stereotypes. Despite the patronizing behavior that they enact, these liberal candidates may hold more goodwill toward minorities.”

The bias comes with the imperative that liberals must be right and must be the good guys. Looked at objectively, no irony need be involved. Conservatives are less condescending in their language, and they are less interested in addressing minority groups as minority groups. The latter doesn’t explain the former so much as they are the same thing.

We conservatives take people as they come and present ourselves as we are — as individuals, not as identity groups. We don’t hold less “goodwill toward minorities” as people, but we don’t put much stock in treating them as a group of minorities, as opposed to treating them as a group of our fellow human beings.

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Where Can Non-Union South Kingstown Teachers and Students Turn?

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity makes an interesting point in a statement about the controversial election of teacher union representative Sarah Markey to the South Kingstown school committee:

As the United States Supreme Court opined in its historic Janus decision last summer, virtually every action that a government employee union conducts is inherently political, as it necessarily involves public policy or public money. On a local school committee that deals 100% on issues involving public education, and its funding by taxpayers, Ms. Markey faces a hopeless conflict of interest.

As an intellectual exercise to better understand the complications involved, here, consider this: Where can a non-union teacher in South Kingstown turn? Since Janus, government labor unions have been sending out threatening notices about the support they lose if they leave their unions, and now South Kingstown’s board of directors appears to be in the hands of the unions, as well.

More significant, however, is the question of where the students can turn when their interests are contrary to those of the union.

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What Is Going on in Tiverton?

Well, there’s this:

Robert Coulter is the new president and Justin Katz is vice president of the Tiverton Town Council, which met for the first time Monday night and will convene again Thursday night at 7 at Town Hall to finish what was a hefty first meeting agenda.

Coulter and Katz were voted into their leadership positions Monday on votes of 4-0, with three abstentions. Coulter, along with Denise deMedeiros and Patricia Hilton, abstained from the vote to appoint him president, and Katz, along with deMedeiros and Hilton, abstained from the vote to appoint him vice president. Voting in favor of Coulter were Donna Cook, Nancy Driggs, Katz and Joseph Perry. Voting in favor of Katz were Coulter, Cook, Driggs and Perry.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to bring a new perspective to the governance of the town. If the philosophical ideas of the new majority are correct (which they are!), the town will be headed in an exciting direction, even as we strive to bring people together and conduct civil, professional meetings.

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The Constitutional Importance of Our Legislators’ Authority

Rhode Island has had lengthy debates about who, outside of the legislature, should have authority to judge what our state representatives and senators do in their official capacity, and few questioned whether that sort of protection belonged in the state constitution. Yet, nobody has yet suggested that legislators deserve the same level of protection from the abuses of other legislators, specifically when it comes to the House and Senate rules.

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is signing on to calls for rules that reduce the power of legislative leaders and give it back to legislators, but with the caveat that it ought to happen where new factions can’t change the rules back if they take control:

In calling for a dual-legislative track, the Center’s primary objective is to ensure that elected Senators and Representatives will have greater capacity and freedom to represent their individual districts, rather than being compelled to back the personal agendas of Senate and House leadership.

The first piece of legislation would immediately implement certain reforms for the 2019 General Assembly session, while the second piece would call for a ballot-referendum in 2020, whereby voters could approve codification of those reforms into the Rhode Island constitution.

The political Left, in particular, has exhibited a tendency to back individual rights until such time as Leftists are able to impose their preferred regime, at which point individual dissent suddenly becomes illegitimate. With legislative rules, as with our rights, we should move them as far out of reach as possible while we still have some semblance of representative democracy.

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Looking for Common Ground in Booker’s New Handout Plan

Of course, the idea of making the federal government something like everybody’s rich uncle, endowing every baby with a $1,000 savings account with annual deposits at taxpayer expense, strikes all the wrong chords for a conservative like me.  The details of legislation that U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D, New Jersey) has submitted don’t really help:

The accounts would be federally insured, and the funds could only be used for homeownership and “human and financial capital investments that [change] life trajectories,” according to the summary. …

The program would cost roughly $60 billion if implemented in 2019, a Booker aide told The Hill, and would be funded by increasing the capital gains tax rate by 4.2 points, increasing the estate tax to its 2009 level and raising taxes on multimillion-dollar inheritances.

So, the federal government would create and help fund individual investment accounts and then pay for it by increasing the cost of investing as well as taxing those who are able to change their “life trajectories” enough to ensure that their own children don’t need rich Uncle Sam.  That doesn’t sound like the most efficient policy design.

All of that said, Booker’s concept does have some similar features to my long-standing proposal for health care:  Set everybody up with a health savings account, which government could use as its Medicaid/Medicare mechanism, which employers could use to provide their health care benefits, which charities could use to offer assistance to the poor, and which would bring market mechanisms into health care.

That would be a better use of money than buying houses.  Moreover, some significant part of the funding could be found in government health care savings (as all of the funding for any new program should be found in the existing budget).

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School Choice: An Opportunity for Minorities, Republicans, and Conservatives

Some folks questioned whether minority school choice families put Republican Ron DeSantis over the top in the race for Florida governor.  Here’s the numerical evidence:

Of the roughly 650,000 black women who voted in Florida, 18% chose Mr. DeSantis, according to CNN’s exit poll of 3,108 voters. This exceeded their support for GOP U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott (9%), Mr. DeSantis’s performance among black men (8%) and the GOP’s national average among black women (7%). …

What explains Mr. DeSantis’ surprising support from African-American women? Two words: school choice.

More than 100,000 low-income students in Florida participate in the Step Up For Students program, which grants tax-credit funded scholarships to attend private schools. Even more students are currently enrolled in the state’s 650 charter schools.

Most Step Up students are minorities whose mothers are registered Democrats. Yet many of these “school-choice moms” vote for gubernatorial candidates committed to protecting their ability to choose where their child goes to school.

The school choice wave more than a decade ago created a challenge for Democrats, who are dependent upon support from government labor unions, specifically teacher unions.  It’s an area in which free-market reforms actually create something like a government benefit through the loosening of government funds already (for the most part) being spent.  This opens a window of opportunity.

This creates an opportunity for Republicans to open up new cuts of the electorate and, if they play their cards right, to teach some lessons about their policy principles.

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Food Stamp Arrests Before the Holidays

Somehow the weekend of Thanksgiving and Black Friday seems an appropriate time to turn our attention to Jessica Botelho’s Turn to 10 report on arrests for food-stamp fraud:

Twenty-four people have been accused of fraudulently obtaining a combined total of nearly $50,000 in public assistance and food stamps, Rhode Island State Police announced Tuesday.

… anyone convicted of fraudulently obtaining public assistance may be sentenced to up to five years behind bars and/or fined $1,000 if the value of public assistance was more than $500.

Anyone convicted of fraudulent use of food stamps, will be ineligible to participate in the food stamp program for no less than six months and no more than 24 months.

In the scheme of things, this is pretty small-scale stuff, with an average theft of $2,040, and looking at the mug shots doesn’t give the impression of a well-off crime ring.  Probably, these folks saw an opportunity for some extra money and acted on the not-uncommon principle that a little bit of “I got mine” wouldn’t actually harm anybody.

This holiday weekend, we express our gratitude for the good things in our lives and (some of us) take part in ritualistic exercises in excess, whether at the Thanksgiving Day table or in an effort to give our children (or ourselves) a materially exciting Christmas at a discounted price.  These holidays are supposed to direct our attention to those whom we love and those whom we should help, but they often highlight our weaknesses and tendency to measure well-being by things.

These contrasting aspects of the holidays apply to those of us who need help, too.  There is no shame in doing what one can to help one’s family, and food stamp fraud might be easily forgiven for that purpose, but is that really what’s going on?  Stealing in order to fund some habit, like smoking, or to keep up on the season’s materialism carries a bit more culpability, and a drive toward taking control of one’s financial well-being should always be central.

We do our disadvantaged neighbors no favors by instilling an opportunity for fraud or temptation toward dependence, so our welfare programs should be modest and well controlled.  At the same time, we lose perspective if we blow their infractions out of proportion.

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