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Who Do We Think We Are?

In a CNA article by Elise Harris, Associate Professor of Ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross Father Robert Gahl gets at a key distinction that brings the transgender issue right to the heart of our cultural and even existential differences (emphasis added):

Instead, he voiced his belief that most of the pushing is being done by people with “a good intention” who are truly convinced it is for the betterment of humanity. “I see it as being rooted in a view of the human being …  that comes out of post-modern philosophy,” he said.

This notion, the priest said, is what Benedict XVI described as “a nihilistic understanding of freedom, such that we are each our own creator.” In this view, God is replaced and we can each create ourselves in the image of whatever we would like to be, rather than receiving our nature from another as a given.

What’s really horrible about this is it means we have no intrinsic dignity. No one has intrinsic dignity, no one should be respected for who they are, but they should be respected for who they think they are,” Fr. Gahl said.

That’s a key distinction.  Of course, there are surgeries and other things people can do, but reality is reality.  You are who you are, and the world will interact with you accordingly.  Not only will people naturally respond to others based on their intrinsic qualities, but the physical world is what it is.  You can believe you’re tall, but if you’re short, there are things you just won’t be able to reach that a tall person could.

Attempting to force the world to accept a reality that isn’t real, but rather is asserted, quickly becomes the opposite of tolerance.  We can mandate that everything that a tall person can reach must be accessible by a short person, but not only will tall people find the world more difficult (and dangerous), but we’ll all be poorer for not taking advantage of some of our members’ height.

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Hyperventilation Over Any Limits on Government Growth

This isn’t just an anti-Trump thing, but a chronic pro-big-government tic of most mainstream journalism.  To be sure, this isn’t the flashiest, most-eyeball-catching-est detail, but Dan Mitchell highlights the bottom line of President Trump’s proposed budget:

First, the budget isn’t being cut. Indeed, Trump is proposing that federal spending increase from $4.06 trillion this year to $5.71 trillion in 2027.

That’s a 3.5% increase every year, when inflation is projected to be about two-thirds of that (a little over 2%).  What would it take for the news media to begin reacting skeptically to those proclaiming the end of the world because federal spending is only growing consistently at 75% of inflation?

Much of the response to the budget proposal seems to me to have been defining a growth-and-employment approach to helping the poor as “cruelty.”  Non-cruelty, apparently, is giving more of some people’s money to other people, as opposed to creating the conditions in which they can earn their own money.  Compassion, in short, is measured by the amount that government gives things away.

That’s not a healthy view.

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Know Their Love for Innovation by Their Actions

Rhode Island politicians like to give lip service to making the state a hub for technology companies, but they seem to think that means encouraging interactions between groups that can only survive with government subsidies, mainly because of (and by means of) government’s imposition of high barriers to entry and costs of doing business.  The secret to generating new industries in Rhode Island is to lower costs so all variety of businesses can afford experiment (without government approval, as expressed through the subsidies) and reduce restrictions on what they’re permitted to do.

RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse and Taxpayer Protection Alliance Senior Scholar Drew Johnson highlight a great example in today’s Providence Journal:

Fortunately, the free market recently developed a way to bypass the optometrists’ office. New technology — known as “ocular telemedicine” — allows consumers to accurately measure their prescription strength on a smartphone or computer screen from the comfort of their own homes. A board-certified ophthalmologist then emails a vision prescription based on the results.

Patients can then use that e-prescription to purchase lenses or glasses wherever they choose, typically at much lower prices. With this technology, healthy adults only need to visit a brick-and-mortar eye doctor once every two years for a full eye health exam (as recommended by the American Optometric Association) instead of every time a lens refill is needed.

Naturally, entrenched interests have pushed for legislation to halt (or at least slow down) such innovations, and of course, some Rhode Island legislators are answering the call… no doubt with entirely selfless reasons.  It’s funny how protecting people from themselves so often seems to profit somebody else, at least when it comes to regulations.

Can we stop that sort of behavior, please?  Why not just let people figure out how to provide other people what they want?

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Why Did RIDOT Replace the Bridge? Because It’s There.

So, we had no choice but to implement a new series of tolls on trucks under Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks program because the state doesn’t have any spare money and we don’t have time to spare before roads and bridges crumble dangerously.  Right?

If that’s the story, this is difficult to understand:

Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell is calling for the immediate formation of an independent oversight committee to review bridge inspection information related to project selection under the RhodeWorks truck-only tolling plan.  …

The bridge is located on Interstate 95 in the area of the Thurbers Avenue curve. It is a 50-foot overpass that will undergo superstructure replacement at a cost of $5.7 million dollars.

“The Oxford Street Bridge has a 72% sufficiency rating which means it’s in very good shape. We have very serious concerns as to why RIDOT selected this location to spend our industry’s toll money and our taxpayer’s limited funds to essentially replace a structure that is in good condition while other bridges in our state are crumbling,” said Maxwell.

Like Tara Granahan, I’m not sure I understand why the state would have to replace the bridge in order to put toll gantries on it, which is the scheme that Maxwell alleges.  Still, if there isn’t some ulterior motive, it ought to be a relatively simple matter for the Dept. of Transportation to clarify its reasoning, no?

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Allowing the Jihadist Cloud Darken the Age

Writing on the terrorist attack in Manchester, Mark Steyn reflects on a suggested course of action that we’ve been hearing in this country since 9/11:

“Carrying on exactly as before”, as The Independent advises, will not be possible. A few months ago, I was in Toulouse, where Jewish life has vanished from public visibility and is conducted only behind the prison-like walls of a fortress schoolhouse and a centralized synagogue that requires 24/7 protection by French soldiers; I went to Amsterdam, which is markedly less gay than it used to be; I walked through Molenbeek after dark, where unaccompanied women dare not go. You can carry on, you can stagger on, but life is not exactly as it was before. Inch by inch, it’s smaller and more constrained.

To put the best spin possible on the West’s reaction to Islamism’s attacks, we’ve been trying to find the balance between security and respect for others’ rights.  That would be a more successful strategy if it weren’t for the stultifying political correctness with which we’re currently infected.  Questioning the actual wisdom of “coexist” stickers even just a little would mean we get to maintain more liberties and need less-strenuous security.

I share Steyn’s pessimism about the future.  Little by little, as people change their decisions in response to perceived risks, our society will change — not because our children have been persuaded that teenage diva-pop really isn’t worth their time, but because parents aren’t willing to sacrifice them for enjoyment of such fluff.

The politically correct fantasy is fluff, too, and we shouldn’t be willing to sacrifice our society for its enjoyment.  We’ll only get to carry on as before if we shed those indulgences of self-loathing that we’ve permitted to fester.  Not only our children, but our society is worth defending, and we should start acting like it.

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Payroll Counts and Totals Under Governor Raimondo

A couple of days ago, Rhode Island House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan (R, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) was complaining to Tara Granahan on 630AM/99.7FM that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s administration was dragging its heels on providing Morgan with information about new hires since the start of her administration.

As Tara and Patricia were saying on air, that should be an easy request for the administration to fulfill.  Filter all employees to the appropriate hire dates, and there you go.

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to that tool, but for some overall sense of what the response will look like when it comes, I visited the state’s transparency site and downloaded the payroll for the relevant years.  Note that this data is by fiscal year, and the fiscal year 2017 dollar totals are projected “annual” pay and may vary in actuality, what with overtime and that sort of thing.  Also note that this is the entire state government, so it captures everything from courts to colleges.

My method was to search for full names (including middle initial) that did or didn’t appear in each subsequent year of payroll, which isn’t perfect.  If the state for some reason had a typo on a name (skipping a middle initial) or if somebody got married, or something, these numbers will be a little off, but it does give a rough picture.

Treating fiscal year 2016 as Raimondo’s first (that’d be July 2015 through June 2016), the state government has added 458 more employees than it lost during the two years of budgets that were implemented under this governor.  Those new employees account for an additional $30,639,475 in annual pay.

new-payroll-hires-2015-2017

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Eminent Domain as a Stadium Negotiating Tactic

Ethan Shorey presents, in a Valley Breeze article, another wrinkle in the PawSox stadium issue that gives the whole thing a “not at this point, thanks” kind of feel:

There is now increasing likelihood that the city would need to pursue buying the property through the eminent domain process, where officials would have to make a convincing argument that the property is needed for the public’s good. …

Officials are seeking to “reach a fair, negotiated purchase with the owner of the Apex property without the necessity of a taking through eminent domain, but all options will remain on the table in order to ensure that the people of Rhode Island are not denied this important public venue,” said Grebien.

So, the property owner has offered a price that represents the value of the sale to him, and the city government is using its power to simply seize property as a negotiating tactic.  The mayor’s amplifying the idea that placing a stadium on this specific property is an “important public” good should make warning flags go up.

People who own any property that might conceivably be attractive to politicians for their investment ventures are on notice that the government ultimately believes the property to be its own.  Recall that the RhodeMap RI plan included maps that made no distinction between public and private property — simply putting down the planners’ vision with the assumption that the government would end up owning anything they chose.

One misconception that the government is conveniently promoting is that the value of the property is its assessment… by the government.  The value of a property is the point at which the seller’s desire to give up the property meets the buyer’s desire to own it.  If a particular piece of land is critical to a government project, the fact that the owner is negotiating with “the people” does not change this dynamic.

To the extent that eminent domain is sparingly reasonable, it’s to prevent abuse around real necessities.  A person who owns the last acre of land to complete an important roadway, for example, would have unreasonable leverage.  A baseball stadium simply doesn’t reach that level.

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Seems the Fascists Are Pro-Net-Neutrality

Here’s an interesting — if no longer surprising — detail from Tunku Varadarajan’s interview with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pal, in the Wall Street Journal:

Protesters from the far-left group Popular Resistance have swarmed the Arlington, Va., street where Ajit Pai lives, placing pamphlets with his face on his neighbors’ front doors. “Have you seen this man?” the flyers ask, stating that Mr. Pai—“Age 44 / Height 6’1″ / Weight 200”—is “trying to destroy net neutrality.” Mr. Pai is chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and the activists, not without perverse humor, describe their picketing of his home as “Ajit-ation.”

“They were there yesterday,” Mr. Pai tells me Monday in his office at the FCC, in uncool Southwest Washington. “I understand they’ll be there today. They’ll be there tomorrow and the day after. It’s a hassle, especially for my wife and my two young children.” The activists, he adds, “come up to our front windows and take photographs of the inside of the house. My kids are 5 and 3. It’s not pleasant.”

The Left excuses itself for this sort of behavior because, like every self-righteous group of totalitarians, they believe they are on the side of ideals that are higher than the rights of those whom they see as a danger.

Ultimately, though, this isn’t a grassroots uprising against an official in an overbearing government, but rather, the protesters are the shock troops of a deliberate movement to grow overbearing government.  When their politicians are in power, they force rules through.  When people vote for a change of course, out come the shock troops, and up goes the mainstream media propaganda, to make sure the ratchet only moves toward more centralized power.

You’d think their unhinged response to President Trump’s election would have taught these people that consolidating power doesn’t come with a guarantee that they’ll always like what’s done with it.  Of course, one can’t expect people who put a family’s house under siege over Internet rules to think things through rationally like that.  They’re either crazy or paid to act like it.

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Little Compton Shows Education Evolution is Inevitable

Folks elsewhere in the state may not know that Little Compton sends its high school students all the way through Tiverton to Portsmouth High School.  Why?  Because it’s generally understood to outperform the high school that they bus right past.  Some Tiverton private school families move to Portsmouth when their children hit high school or pay the tuition.

Now, according to the Providence Journal’s Linda Borg, Little Compton is looking to market its K-8 school to area families as a school choice option in its own right:

… By pricing tuition at $6,000 — less than the typical parochial school — the district hopes to attract students from neighboring Portsmouth, Tiverton, Middletown and Westport, Mass. …

“If I’m sitting in Portsmouth or Tiverton, I’m going to say, ’I can get my kid into a class where the student-teacher ratio is 14 to 1, where the school has music, choir, band, athletics, where we go on field trips to New York and Washington, D.C.,” said Supt. Robert B. Powers.

With Rhode Island families generally on a decline, we may see more and more public school districts looking for similar opportunities.  As that happens, Little Compton’s approach may raise questions at the Dept. of Education.  Can the state allow particular schools the flexibility to price their tuition under the assumptions that it will have a cutoff before they have to start thinking about hiring new teachers and “have a conversation” if any higher-cost special needs students apply?

These questions will start becoming thorny pretty quickly.  What happens to Tiverton, for example, if Little Compton starts filling out its excess capacity with low-cost Tiverton students for K-8 and Portsmouth tries the same for high school?  For that matter, what happens to private schools as the government’s subsidized competition expands beyond just charter schools to include all public schools, too?

Little Compton’s proposal may be an early indication that change is coming to education whether established players like it or not.  Given the degree to which government already distorts the education market, edging into it on a case-by-case basis will prove extremely disruptive.  Better to implement a well-considered, all-encompassing school choice program.

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Taxes and the Gig Economy

Laura Saunders’s “Tax Report” column from this weekend tangentially raises an important question — rather, an important lesson:

While some gig workers mean to cheat Uncle Sam, experts say others are bewildered by tax requirements that can be almost as complex for the owner of a microbusiness as for a much larger firm. Many know nothing about Schedule C (for a small business), payroll taxes and quarterly estimated payments. Often they’re unaware of valuable write-offs as well.

“The government isn’t getting the money it’s owed, and workers aren’t taking the deductions and offsets they’re allowed,” says Caroline Bruckner, managing director of the Kogod Tax Center at American University, who studies microbusiness issues. In a survey she conducted of self-employed business owners working in the gig economy, 69% reported receiving no tax information from the platform they used.

Bottom line: the tax system is too complex.  That alone hurts our economy and innovation.  Sure, maybe the IRS and state and local governments could come up with ways to make taxes easier to pay, but nothing would beat a simple flat rate based on income.  Simply take your income and multiply it by the universal rate, and there’s your tax.

That also has the benefit of reducing incentive to use government to take other people’s money for yourself.  Take away withholding, too, and people will have every reason to assess the value of the services for which they’re being taxed.

Of course, complexity is exactly what the government wants, creating plenty of opportunity to take too much, plenty of reason to hire more tax collectors, and a weapon to use against the public when wanted, not only with the punishment of an audit, but with the reality that most people will have at some point done something that they shouldn’t have, inadvertently or otherwise.

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Avoiding Unions for Innovation and Prudent Decisions

Wall Street Journal editorialist Allysia Finley conveys the perspective of Braidy Industries CEO Craig Bouchard, who is opening an aluminum mill in right-to-work Kentucky.  Regarding an earlier company, experience with which soured Bouchard on organized labor:

They sold it for $1.2 billion to the Russian steelmaker Severstal in 2008, shortly before the stock market and steel industry crashed. Thousands of workers subsequently lost their jobs. Mr. Bouchard blames the United Steelworkers. He had first tried to sell a partnership stake in Esmark to the Indian company Essar Steel. But the United Steelworkers sought to force a sale to Severstal, which the union perceived as more labor-friendly. Had the Essar deal been consummated, Mr. Bouchard says, “every one of those people would have their jobs today” because all of the company’s debt would have been paid off.

Obviously, this is one side of that story, but the moral from the CEO’s point of view is that business decisions should be left to business owners.  That includes other pitfalls of unionization, like work rules that constrain activities beyond what the employer and employee would accept if left to their own and other costs, like pensions.

The key part of the op-ed, though, may be the bigger picture.  Bouchard’s new company is built on innovation in the metallurgical sciences.  Our broader tax and regulatory regime slows down that sort of innovation.  Another culprit is an unhealthy aversion (across the ideological spectrum) to allowing “creative destruction” to usher out old technologies and ways of doing things and ushering in the new.

A society should provide leverage for workers as the capitalism charges forward, but labor unions, protectionism, and regulation don’t appear to be sufficiently effective.  What we need is something broader, more cultural — dare I say, more spiritual — that allows us to make individual decisions and negotiations within a framework of mutual respect and support.

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About the Other Stadium…

Tim White raises an important point that seems to have been avoiding discussion related to the PawSox deal:

If approved, there will be another cost associated with building a new stadium in downtown Pawtucket to host the PawSox: tearing down McCoy Stadium.

The city of Pawtucket owns the land that 75-year-old McCoy is on, and officials have indicated there are no plans to keep the ballpark if the PawSox leave, whether by moving across town to the proposed Apex site or out of state.

The options on table range from likely to certain to require more government money and debt.  Rebuilding the high school on the spot will mean a big bond and a state taxpayer fund match and still leave the city with a plot of land to repurpose or dispose of.  A private buyer would probably negotiate and receive subsidies for some part of the property redevelopment.  Or just leaving it alone will mean a tax-free chunk of land in the city.

Whatever the final ask for the new stadium is, don’t forget that the project isn’t done with taxpayers, yet.

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What Works for the Dead Won’t Work for the Living

A short Wall Street Journal article about a forthcoming Grateful Dead documentary contains the following interesting insight:

The biggest obstacle [to making the documentary], Mr. Bar-Lev says, was the Dead’s communal philosophy, which extended to business decisions. That approach persisted after 1995, when the group ceased to exist following the death of Jerry Garcia, its best-known member. The Grateful Dead organization “moves in an extremely egalitarian, consensus-oriented way, which means that nothing ever happens,” Mr. Bar-Lev says. In addition, the band is “mistrustful of anything that would nail them down to one meaning, so a documentary film had strikes against it right there.” Persistence, a shake-up at a record company and a nod from Martin Scorsese finally cleared the path.

For a labor of love, “an extremely egalitarian, consensus-oriented” methodology is fine, but as an economic plan, not so much.  The whole world can’t depend on being the Grateful Dead; indeed, one could argue that the fact of being unique was key to the Dead’s success.

A “communal philosophy” requires at least one of two preexisting conditions:  either a preexisting conformity of belief that the method of decision making must supersede the community’s ability to accomplish goals (meaning a willingness to suffer for the belief) or sufficient economic potential that much of it can be squandered.

Artists of a certain type will often be willing to suffer for their beliefs, and the Grateful Dead obviously had huge economic potential.  However, just as we shouldn’t go so far as to proclaim that the go-getters have a right to impose their beliefs on the communal types, we can’t insist that everybody conform to the latter’s beliefs.

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Vistaprint Deal a Great Example of Government Economic Meddling

The GoLocalProv Business Team has a great catch related to the deal that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s Commerce Corp. just made to bribe online printing company Vistaprint to open facilities in the state:

The Raimondo Administration on Wednesday announced that Vistaprint and the potential of 125 new jobs are coming to Rhode Island over the next three years. But, RI Commerce admitted in a phone interview that they were unaware that one of Vistaprint’s competitor Moo.com is already located in Lincoln, Rhode Island. Moo.com is a design driven competitor who has been building its business in RI since 2009.

This discovery gets to the heart of the problem when government decides to be a player in the business world.  An investor picks a company and has no ethical quandary with his or her preferring that company over others.  A representative government respectful of individual rights and the free market isn’t supposed to do that.

State Commerce Secretary Stefan Prior tells GoLocal that Moo.com is free to apply for incentives, too, but what if there’s another Rhode Island company competing in this space?  Or, to take the next, easy step, what about other companies that aren’t in that particular type of business?  Ultimately, they’re all competing for the same dollars, employees, and so on, and taxpayers can’t subsidize every business.

This entire approach to economic development is presumptuous and a shortsighted reach for the headlines.  In the GoLocal article, Raimondo points directly to the problem when she says:

Governor Gina Raimondo said about the announcement of Vistaprint “The economy is growing, and today’s announcement means more good-paying jobs for Rhode Islanders. I’m thrilled that Vistaprint Corporate has chosen Rhode Island for its national sales office. Rhode Island provides exactly what Vistaprint Corporate was looking for-access to talent, a high quality of life, fiscally responsible incentives to make our state competitive during its search and long-term potential for growth.” (Emphasis added.)

That can’t be true.  If it were, the state wouldn’t have to bribe the company.  A better economic development plan would be to make it true by lowering taxes and regulations.

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Crony Legislation to Cost Parents Time and Aggravation

When I first read the proposed legislation (H5457) to require all parents of young adults seeking their drivers’ licenses to take a course, I wondered why Rhode Island’s politicians presume the authority to behave like parents to every adult in the state.  One could imagine House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (D, Warwick) overhearing some parent giving a child bad driving advice and determining to solve that perceived problem by implementing a blanket mandate for all parents.

This detail in a related AP story, though, makes me wonder if the motivation might be a bit more politically crass than that:

AAA Northeast is backing the bill, which was introduced by Democratic House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi. The legislation describes the organization as a possible course provider.

The legislation requires the course to be free to participants — treating their stolen time as without value — and doesn’t explicitly call for the state to pay providers.  Indeed, it says that if nobody wants to provide the program, it will cease to be required.  So, maybe there’s some payment from the state, or maybe AAA will only provide it to members (effectively forcing people to join), or maybe it’s a little more innocent and just an opportunity for AAA to give a sales pitch to a constant flow of captive audiences.

It’s the fact that AAA is “backing the bill” that raises my eyebrow.  Is this something for which the organization has actively lobbied?  Is it some sort of payback for, say, supporting RhodeWorks?

As I mentioned last year, I was a AAA member from the time I started driving (25 years ago, tomorrow).  The organization’s active support for RhodeWorks led me to quit, and finding it in bed with Rhode Island insiders who take their power over us as a marketable good to trade for cash and favors affirms my decision.

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Imagine Every Rep Surveying Constituents

One of the topics on my weekly call-in to the John DePetro Show, today, was the idea of Democrat House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s surveying his constituents regarding their views on various issues as the House moves into its annual race to do everything that’s important within a couple of months.  No doubt, he’s got some sense of the responses he’ll get and (inasmuch as he’s keeping the results secret) will only release those data points that serve his political interests.

But still, let’s not let cynicism brush off what I would argue is an excellent development.  I’ve confirmed with the speaker’s office that he used campaign funds for the survey.  Imagine if every representative and senator used his or her campaign funds to survey constituents annually (at least) specifically on current issues of political debate.  Then imagine if they made a practice of releasing the results and then working to justify, to their own constituents, any areas in which they voted inconsistently with their preferences.

Why, that might be something like representative democracy!

Of course, in this case and in Rhode Island, one can’t step away from the cynicism of noting that this survey of the speaker’s specific 10,000ish voter span in Cranston could be setting the policy terms for a state of around one million people.  But even then, if an open process of surveying constituents were part of the culture of the State House, it would be immediately clear who was voting with their constituents and who was finding excuses to vote with legislative leadership.

As a bonus, this practice would give incumbents something to spend their campaign money on, maybe avoiding the trap of letting it build up into the tempting pots that have been tripping up Providence City Council members.

 

If I were of a progressive bent, I’d suggest passing a law to require legislators to use campaign funds in this way.  Being reasonable (which is to say, being a conservative), I’d just suggest that it’s a good reason for all politicians to face political opposition every election, as Mattiello did last year.

And as a hint to potential candidates, it wouldn’t be a bad campaign pledge to make.

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Maybe They Really Just Don’t Get It in the Public Sector

On Channel 10, we learn of the dozens of state employees, some with six-figure salaries, put on paid administrative leave for months on end, even more than a year.  Perhaps among thousands of employees, an organization will sometimes find it to be the most efficient thing to do to pay employees not to work while some issue is resolved, and in the case of government, the glacial pace of action is its own, distinct story.  Even so, when the number of such employees gets to be over fifty at a given time, doesn’t it begin to reveal an employment attitude in government that money is never really an issue and that the system is set up mainly for the benefit of employees?

Channel 12 has another example.  This time, in the evergreen field of government employees’ doing things that shock, it’s a Department of Transportation employee who (allegedly) regularly sleeps in his vehicle during working hours.  Department Director Peter Alviti (formerly a director for the Laborers’ union) displays that attitude again:

Alviti told us the engineering technician’s job was to inspect concrete at a Rhode Island plant, to make sure the mix had the required ratio of water and dry material. Alviti also said this case prompted him to personally address about 90 RIDOT employees who have similar access to state vehicles.

“The public sector is not an easy place to be, I reminded them,” said Alviti. “But it’s the place we chose to be employed. All of us. And with that comes some additional responsibilities, particularly when it comes to public perception.”

Yes, you read that right:  An employee is (allegedly) caught sleeping on the job, and the director’s response is that public sector employees are like martyrs of accountability.  A job that allows for regular midday naps is “not an easy place to be”?

Never mind “public perception.”  I think we ought to be more interested to learn about and understand the perception of those who work in government.

Kathryn Jean Lopez - Love and Faith in the Time of Trump

Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review To Speak In RI on “Love and Faith in the Time of Trump”

Sweet William F. Buckley Jr.’s ghost! Kathryn Jean Lopez, senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review, will be speaking this week in the Ocean State. She will deliver her lecture, “Love and Faith in the Time of Trump” to  St. Pius V Young Adults and members of the general public. This lecture will address the complicated political, cultural, and social environment resulting from the election of President Donald J. Trump.

Despite the common perceptions of millennials in Rhode Island, St. Pius V Young Adults is a thriving community of young adults who, by their very existence, stand in opposition to the goals of the dominant progressive-secular culture. Their weekly, Thursday night meetings, often attract upwards of fifty Catholic millennials who are working to live their faith. They take on the deep theological and ethical questions that relate to the lives of young people through guest speakers, followed by lively discussion during fellowship sessions.

St. Pius V Young Adults is a Catholic community open to millennials in their twenties and thirties. According to their mission, they are dedicated to the sanctification of the young adult community in the parish and Diocese of Providence. They seek to achieve this goal through fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church, prayer, Sacramental life, community, personal faith formation, charity, and apostolic initiative.

Kathryn Jean Lopez - Love and Faith in the Time of Trump

Image Credit: Katie Scheu

Lopez is a stalwart defender of marriage and family issues from the Catholic perspective. She writes about a broad array of topics including bioethics, religion, feminism, pro-life issues, education, and politics.

With Rhode Island ranking 45th in 2017 on the Family Prosperity Index (FPI), it is critical for new counter-status quo voices to be heard. The FPI created by the American Conservative Union, gives lawmakers, civic leaders, and citizens a more holistic and accurate image of the economy than other measures by considering how social factors play a role in impacting the economic vitality of communities.

From the Facebook invitation:

During this Easter season, we must remember that we are not the ones we have been waiting for. The Gospel tells us that it’s the life of virtue that makes for greatness, not political and worldly power. This event is hosted by St. Pius V Young Adults, and is open to the entire St. Pius parish community.

This event will be held this Thursday, May 18, 2017 from 8:00pm to 9:00pm. It will be hosted at St. Pius V at 55 Elmhurst Ave., Providence, Rhode Island, 02909 in the church hall. This event is open to the public of all ages, and attendance is encouraged by the parish community.

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Is Party or Country First for Whitehouse?

One of Rhode Island’s U.S. Senators, Sheldon Whitehouse, recently illustrated the outrageous level of partisanship that he exemplifies.  Asked at a South Providence event “how long we have to wait” for the impeachment of President Trump, Whitehouse provided the following response (captured by RI Future’s Steve Ahlquist).

Sure, the blame could go around on who has contributed to the current atmosphere in the United States, and the argument would become yet another political rabbit hole.  Not surprisingly, I’d fault the national Democrats and news media for stoking anti-Bush lunacy, an attitude that Barack Obama perpetuated as a theme of his presidency.  But putting blame aside, what struck me is that Senator Whitehouse didn’t even give lip service to responsible rhetoric or patriotic sentiment.

  • He didn’t caution his audience that investigations might produce nothing, or stop well short of the president.
  • He didn’t express even superficial hope that the country could avoid something that would be so disruptive and damaging to our unity.
  • He didn’t express a preference for a president who would grow in office, even if he’d find that miraculous, at this point.
  • Instead, he furthered the speculation and presented impeachment as something for which we can and should hope.

That is a shocking degree of callousness.  Until November 2016, we could have expected elected officials to muster at least the sense of responsibility for the health of the republic to express hope that even a horrible president wasn’t proven to have behaved in an impeachable manner and would correct himself in office, rather than drive the country to the point at which kicking him out would be the best option.

But not in 2017, apparently, and not Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

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Talk Property Taxes in Real Terms

Here’s a worthwhile exercise.  Pick a house value — the median for your town, perhaps — and search your town’s tax rolls for every house of about that value.  Then go back a few years, find the same houses, and see how things have changed.

For Tiverton, I used $260,000, which is around the median for the town, with this result:

In 2009, which is the first year for which the town has tax rolls that are easy to search on the computer, those same households paid $4,231, and the average value of their homes was $294,843. In other words, each family is now paying $744 more in taxes, even though each house is worth about $35,000 less.

Of course, that doesn’t tell the whole story because for the past three years, voters have used the [financial town referendum] to keep their taxes from increasing more than 0.9%. From 2009 to 2013, before the first zero-point-something FTR, those 37 taxpayers lost 14% of the value of their homes, but their actual tax payments went up 16%. Does that seem fair? Would Mr. Edwards tell his neighbors, “Hey, don’t worry! We ‘only’ added $166 to your tax bill every single year, and you ‘only’ lost $11,563 of your house’s value each year”?

Those who run government, and those who profit from it, are focused on their expenditures and finding ways to get taxpayers to keep handing over more and more money for their use and personal gain.  Hey, $166 added per year is only $3 per week.  If everybody in town would just skip a couple of coffees every week, they can collectively hand over millions more of their dollars to the town government.

Of course, after a few years of that, the entire town has had to give up the pleasure of coffee altogether, but it’s for the greater good, right? And we can feel comfortable letting the people who benefit from the money decide what the greater good is, can’t we?

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The Paper of the RI Resistance Does Its Best

Notice that today’s half-page (with pictures) Providence Journal article about a Woman Project “rally” to support the right of women to kill their children doesn’t mention how many people actually attended.  Sure, Patrick Anderson lets us know that prior rallies of the Rhode Island left wing were sizable, but from the text and the pictures, one gets the impression that a dozen or two people (including the performers and professional activists) showed up.

That fact doesn’t prevent the Projo from considering the event newsworthy, which contributes to the impression that it’s really just fulfilling its role in “the Resistance” by making sure that readers of its biggest weekly edition know that the anti-Trumpers are still out there.

State Rep. J. Aaron Regunberg, D-Providence, [who doesn’t appear to have been at the rally,] has been a lead organizer of the Rhode Island anti-Trump movement and has watched it evolve from, as he described it, “an inferno to a slow, steady burn.”

He noted that in addition to all the weekend events, there were several State House rallies each week on different left-leaning bills.

“One important thing the movement is doing is moving from resistance to policy,” Regunberg said, “making the transition from outrage to something concrete.”

I couldn’t help think of the movement’s transition to “a slow, steady burn” while reading Cheryl Chumley’s Washington Times article about escalating left-wing violence against conservatives and Republicans.  Add to Chumley’s list a message sent to Republican Congressman from Virginia Tom Garrett: “This is how we’re going to kill your wife.”

At this point, it probably won’t take much effort, but for a moment’s imaginative exercise, consider how the Providence Journal would have reported on a small conservative rally at the State House in the context of national increase of violence and intimidation perpetrated by right-wingers.  “Slow, steady burn” might have been used to insinuate something sinister.

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Not Stating the Obvious on RI Economic News

I noted a couple of days ago URI economic professor Len Lardaro’s witticism at Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s suggestion that the state government’s revenue shortfall is a consequence of the Donald Trump presidency.  Lardaro also appears as a stronger-than-others voice of sanity in Patrick Anderson’s Providence Journal article on the same subject:

Leonard Lardaro, economics professor at the University of Rhode Island, said overall revenues falling short by 1.6 percent is “not a crisis,” but may be a sign that the recovery, tepid as it was, may be giving way to a stall in growth.

“The second half of last year was not a terribly favorable one for Rhode Island,” Lardaro said. “The biggest problem is our labor force has been declining since the last recession peak. Rhode Island for a decade should be in crisis mode.”

If anything, Lardaro understates things.  As I’ve written before, employment (Rhode Islanders working) has essentially flatlined since the start of Governor Raimondo’s first full fiscal year in office, and job growth (jobs in the state) has slowed down.  New York Times proclamations notwithstanding, there is no “momentum” in the Rhode Island economy.  And there’s no surprise that revenue growth isn’t materializing.

Why is everybody so hesitant about stating the obvious:  that Governor Raimondo is just making things up?  Is it partly because of glowing political profiles across the nation are a signal to local journalists and commentators about how they should be presenting our governor?  I rather think that pressure should go in the other direction, with the national press looking locally to make sure that they’re not falling for some spin about one of our own politicians.

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Mild Nod to Pension Reality Shows the Scam

You have to laugh (lest you cry) at the gimmicks of state government financing.  Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner is preparing to lead the state Retirement Board in reducing the pension fund’s discount rate (that is, the assumed investment return) from 7.5% to 7.0%.  For the record:

The pension’s investments lost 0.27 percent in fiscal 2015-2016 and have gained 5.75 percent over the prior five fiscal years and 4.8 percent over 10 years.

Our investment assumption should be no more than 4.5%, because this assumption is supposed to be what we can reasonably guarantee the investments will yield.  Unfortunately, the pension fund’s assumptions aren’t really meant to help the state plan accurately; they’re meant to hide the real cost of benefits that politicians have promised to unionized employees.  As I’ve gotten Tiverton’s investment advisors to admit, the high investment assumption actually has built into it the willingness of elected officials to increase taxes down the road to cover shortfalls.

Notice, for example, that the treasurer’s plan delays increased payments for a year.  That’s a political concession, not a financial one.  Again, making the pension system work in the way that has been sold to taxpayers and employees is not the primary goal.  Helping politicians get away with bad management and crony deals is.

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What Are City Governments’ Real Priorities?

Ted Nesi reports (if I may paraphrase) that Rhode Island cities have been crawling over each other to slurp from the sluice some money from the Boston Federal Reserve:

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President and CEO Eric Rosengren visited Rhode Island on Thursday to award $400,000 grants to three local cities through the bank’s Working Cities Challenge.

The program aims to promote collaboration between local leaders to address socioeconomic challenges. The three Rhode Island winners are Providence, Cranston and Newport. Eight other cities submitted applications but did not win grants, which are funded by public and private contributions, not the Fed. …

Appearing on this week’s Executive Suite, Rosengren said the four-year-old program grew out of research conducted by the Boston Fed that showed efforts to tackle cities’ challenges worked best when leaders from different groups worked together toward a common goal.

Readers may recall that the Boston Fed’s involvement with Lawrence, Massachusetts, under a project in the same program is what kicked off my thinking about the “company state” or “government plantation” model, whereby government services become an area’s core industry, with the revenue coming from other taxpayers or higher levels of government (such as state or federal taxpayers).

With these new grants, we should also put the matter in the context of political structures and incentives.  Here we have cities competing to charm “public and private” outside interests with their proposals.  That is, they’re competing to match the values of the Boston Fed and the people or groups funding the project.  Sure, these “community” projects have local advocates (most often ideological activists, special interests, and other insiders), but ultimately, these projects are things being done to local constituents, not for them.

It’s time we stop seeing money that our governments manage to collect from other sources as money that we’ve somehow received.  It isn’t.  That’s especially true when it’s used for projects that the government wouldn’t otherwise have bothered to do.  It’s money that goes to the sorts of people who know how to get government money and spent in order to shape our society in ways that other people want, not us.

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Who Is That Guy?

Rick Snizek, executive editor of the Rhode Island Catholic, has posted a profile of me related to my being awarded a Lumen Gentium award for communication of the Catholic faith:

Katz says that being honored with the award makes him feel as if he has to redouble his efforts to deserve it.

“While I have written quite a bit that has been explicitly Catholic, I’ve tended to see my vocation as a more subtle evangelism,” he says. “In our place and time, many people are entirely unmoored from our Christian roots, and the secular culture has taught them to be suspicious of the religious presentation. Articulating the beautiful logic and practical wisdom of a worldview rooted in Catholic belief and tradition can be the force of revelation in such an environment.”

The dinner and award ceremony — also highlighting the activities of others, whom I’d concede are much more deserving than I am — is next week and, apparently, sold out.

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The Mysterious Missing Government Revenue

I’ve got to give it to University of Rhode Island economics professor Len Lardaro.  He issued a good line upon hearing Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo blame the Trump administration for Rhode Island’s just-announced revenue gap:

Revenues are falling because we are looking to Washington? What a joke. Growth is slowing. Does she think it is sunspots, perhaps?

Ted Nesi highlights a big shortfall in the expected corporate income tax revenue, which jibes with my running hypothesis.  Within the last decade, Rhode Island government has made a number of tax changes to make it seem as if politicians were doing something to address our sluggish economy, including to the corporate income tax.  These changes have all been gimmicks, though — lowering rates by shuffling around how taxes are calculated.

My theory is that these reforms weren’t revenue neutral at all, but were instead effectively tax increases.  This made revenue come in higher than expected for a few years, because taxes had been increased, but it actually put more drag on the economy.  Under that scenario, what we’re seeing in Rhode Island is the end of that effect, as projections based on the illusion of growth out-pace the economy.

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Demagoguing Pre-Existing Conditions

Rich Lowry gives an explanation, in the New York Post, of why the fear mongering about the American Health Care Act (AHCA)’s effects on those with pre-existing conditions is yet another manufactured outrage:

The perversity of it all is that the legislation is properly understood as doing more to preserve the ObamaCare regulation on pre-existing conditions than to undermine it. The legislation maintains a federal baseline of protection in such cases, and says only that states can apply for a waiver from it, provided that they abide by certain conditions meant to ensure that no one is left out in the cold.

Since these provisions only involve the individual insurance market, a small slice of the overall insurance picture (about 18 million are on the individual market), and merely make possible state waivers, they are inherently limited.

You’re not affected if you get insurance through your employer (155 million people), or through Medicaid or Medicare. You’re not affected if you live in a state that doesn’t request the waiver, a category that will certainly include every blue state and most red states, too. Even if you buy insurance on the individual market and live in a state that gets a waiver, you’re not affected if you’ve maintained insurance coverage continuously and not had a gap in coverage longer than 63 days.

By this point, we’re talking about a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the population. If you do have a pre-existing condition in a waiver state and haven’t had continuous coverage, you can be charged more by your insurer only the first year. The state will have access to $8 billion in federal funds explicitly to ease the cost of your insurance, and the state must further have a high-risk pool or similar program to mitigate insurance costs for the sick.

People who oppose these sorts of measures — especially with as much heat and smoke as we’ve been seeing related to the AHCA — give the appearance of elevating their own access to power above any real policy consideration.

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