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Out-Progressiving Raimondo’s Progressives

The Providence Journal has an op-ed from me today, about progressive Democrat state Senator Samuel Bell’s freedom to use irresponsible rhetoric as leverage against the progressives in the administration of progressive Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo:

At the end of the day, Bell is just objecting to Raimondo’s efforts to buy off companies so that they’ll tolerate our horrible business climate, which he is free to do because his economic ideas are fantasy.

Gina Raimondo, Stefan Pryor and Bruce Katz are progressives who are responsible for implementing the central planning policies that progressives demand. Samuel Bell is a progressive with no real responsibility who is therefore free to be more irresponsible in his demands.

If it weren’t so harmful to our state, this would all be a laugh riot.

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

Expanding Big-Government Programs Increases Taxes

Well, this news isn’t exactly surprising:

On New Year’s Day, the state Temporary Disability Insurance tax rate will rise from 1.1% to 1.3% of pay, according to the state Department of Labor and Training. That means someone making $50,000 per year should expect to pay $650 in TDI tax next year compared with $550 this year.

The biggest reason is that Rhode Islanders are beginning to take advantage of a 2013 change in the law that allows them to use the disability program to take time off in order to take care of other people who are injured or sick, or to “bond with a new child.” The sponsor of that legislation insists it’s a small price to pay, and she works diligently every year to make it a little less small:

Sen. Gayle Goldin, sponsor of the 2013 bill that created caregiver insurance, said Tuesday that more people taking advantage of the program is a sign that it’s working and that taxpayers are getting good value.

“It’s a very small [tax] increase to pay for a benefit that helps people when they need it the most,” said Goldin, a Providence Democrat.

Going from 1.1% of pay to 1.3% is actually an 18% increase.  What should families forgo in order to cover a benefit that people in 46 other states somehow manage to live without?

Naturally, the state’s army of spokespeople spins it as a positive:

“It is not surprising that improved income conditions would increase claims; more employed workers result in more individuals eligible, therefore, more potential users,” Angelika Pellegrino, spokeswoman for the Department of Labor and Training, wrote in an email.

That comment has two layers of deceit.  First, the program is funded by a percentage of total payroll.  More people working means more people paying into the system, which shouldn’t have to be adjusted if it’s designed well.  Of course, if Rhode Island is only creating low-paying jobs, then new tax contributions would be less likely to cover the cost of coverage.

Second, the increase in employed Rhode Islanders cannot possibly account for an 18% increase in the rate.  The number of people employed has barely budged year over year, and the number of jobs based in the state is up only 1.5%.

We should also remember that these policies pile up, including, for example, more-recently-mandated paid leave for employees.  That policy arguably froze and reverse employment increases in the state.

This 18% increase in the TDI tax is a visible warning sign for what we can’t see.  We can’t know all the jobs that would have been created or the raises that would have been given in the absence of these progressive policies. And we can’t forget that employers (and potential employers) can’t only adjust for the policies that have been passed; they have to plan for all of the new burdens their betters in the General Assembly are likely to impose every year.

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The Way to Address Workplace Injustice

Here’s a great story out of Rhode Island, oddly first spotted, at least that I’ve seen, by a news station in Minnesota:

A new business in North Smithfield, Rhode Island is spreading awareness of hiring people with disabilities.

Michael Coyne opened his coffee shop, Red, White & Brew, after struggling to find a job, which he believed was due to his disability.

He has autism, and when he couldn’t find anyone who would hire him, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

When a business underpays its staff or discriminates, that is an opportunity for others to compete and take advantage of those destructive decisions.  Yet, every time the state of Rhode Island imposes new taxes, licenses, and regulations, it makes it more difficult for people like Mr. Coyne to rise up and do so.

We shouldn’t have the attitude that there are workers and there are owners, or that businesses have a paternalistic duty to take care of their employees.  Instead, we should understand that we’re all human beings, equal in the eyes of God, who make agreements to work together.  When individuals are taken advantage of, we ought to help them, but not with blanket pronouncements that assume everybody in one class (the evil business owners) is always trying to take advantage of everybody else (the vulnerable employees).

If the proponents of “diversity” and “inclusion” really believed that they helped businesses, they wouldn’t try to regulate them as mandates, because they would expect the marketplace to reward businesses who followed those principles.  Instead, they try to be exclusive of people who hold different views, not only within a single business but across the entire economy.

Congratulations to Mr. Coyne for living an important principle that too many of his fellow Rhode Islanders seem unwilling to learn.

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What Organized Labor Thinks of Workers

To understand Rhode Island politics, one must understand the activities of organized labor (that is, unions), and to understand their activities, one must understand their attitude.  (By the way, one should also know that reporters for the state’s major daily newspaper, the Providence Journal, are unionized under the AFL-CIO.)

This is from a Providence Journal article by Katherine Gregg about a press conference promoting legislation from Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo that would impose a new tax on large companies whose employees are on Medicaid:

“There is a loophole in the Rhode Island health-care system allowing certain large corporations to avoid their responsibility to provide adequate coverage to their workers. Instead they shift employee health-care costs to the state budget from their own balance sheet,” said George Nee, president of the RI AFL-CIO.

Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Hold on there, a second.  When did it become my employer’s responsibility to take care of my health?  Put from a perspective that sees workers as adults capable of making their own decisions, when did it become the case that when we choose for whom we want to work, we’re picking the people who will take care of us?

We’re not wards of our employers.  They aren’t our parents; they aren’t our masters.  That’s a huge stolen base in our rights and our autonomy.

Why would labor organizations — who claim to be all about the rights and humanity of workers — see us as something like children who need to be cared for?  Because they have a worldview that breaks us all into classes of people, in this case workers and management, and they want workers to feel like they are something more like servants under the protective thumb of a master so that they, the unions, can edge into the relationship promising that only they have the strength to go up against the master.

Once they do that, it ceases to be your job, for which your employer pays you an agreed upon rate, with agreed upon benefits.  It becomes the union’s job, which you get to fill for the moment, as a nameless servant of the boss and a client of the union.  One uses you for labor, and the other uses you for leverage.

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Diagnosing the Education System’s Health

While disaster in Providence schools receives a deserved proportion of Rhode Islanders’ attention, Tim Benson of the Heartland Institute suggests that we shouldn’t lose sight of problems across the whole state:

Results from the latest version of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test—also known as the Nation’s Report Card—have been released, and Rhode Island’s scores are not good.

Only 35 percent of fourth graders tested “proficient” in reading, while just 40 percent tested proficient in mathematics in 2019. These math scores were a decline from 2017. For eighth graders, just 35 percent were proficient in reading, and only 29 percent were proficient in math. Both of these results were also a decline from 2017, with reading scores being significantly down. When accounting for demographic differences across students throughout the state and control for race, ethnicity, special education status, income level, etc., Rhode Island’s scores are even worse.

Benson offers this as an introduction to his proposed solution, which is to expand the state’s tax credit scholarship program, whereby businesses receive tax credits for donating to scholarships for disadvantaged students.  Lifting the cap on that program, opening it up to non-corporate donors, and adding provisions to provide certainty to scholarship recipients would all be great changes, but of itself, that solution is wholly inadequate to Rhode Island’s problem.

One local man here in Tiverton has been on a Facebook mission to find out what went wrong with Rhode Island public schools.  There isn’t a single reason things got to their current state, and there won’t be a single fix.  The challenges are cultural, they’re institutional, and they’re deep.  Asking what went wrong is like looking at a lonely, obese, alcoholic smoker in late middle age whose house looks like it ought to be condemned for all the hazards and asking why his health is poor.

We need broad public policy reforms that open up doors for a wide variety of individualized education plans for students as part of a cultural shift in our understanding of ourselves and of government.

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The Perfect RI Government Agency

If you were to envision the perfect government agency, what would it look like?  Rhode Island has come up with one that few would find perfect in an objective sense, but it is perfectly emblematic: the Central Collections Unit.

As Patrick Anderson explains in the Providence Journal, this unit was put into place with the promise that just a little bit of effort from the state government could increase its collection of money owed to the state by millions of collars, well beyond the cost of the program.  The reality hasn’t, let’s say, matched expectations:

The Central Collections Unit, created last year to capture some of the millions of dollars owed to state agencies, had collected $196,000 through the end of October, a fraction of what was expected, according to the Department of Revenue.

The Projo editorial board contrasts that revenue with the cost of the unit:

What are the taxpayers spending for that $196,000? According to Department of Revenue spokesman Paul Grimaldi, the annual budget for the unit is $899,649.

What is a bureaucracy to do?  Redefine the goals (emphasis added):

“We’re building something new with the Central Collections Unit, trying an innovative way to improving the state’s financial operations. It’s too early to rate the ultimate effectiveness of the effort this unit is making to hold people accountable,” Department of Revenue spokesman Paul Grimaldi said in an email. “The figures submitted to the Revenue Estimating Conference cannot tell the complete story. Some of the money we’ve collected goes directly to workers who were shortchanged by their bosses. Other people who owed the largest amounts to the state have been drawn into monthly payment plans by the CCU.”

Ah.  So now the Collections Unit is not a profit center, but an expense to assist employees in collecting their own back pay.  No articles have yet flushed out a number for how much those workers received, but it would be reasonable to wager that taxpayers would have saved money by simply giving them the cash.

These sorts of debacles-in-the-making can leave Rhode Islanders feeling as if there’s something missing in the story.  Who proposed this unit?  Who advocated for it?  Does it amount to more union membership, or were its employees earmarked before it was even created?

We’ll never know, because nobody has the incentive to dig into it (at the expense of other priorities), which ensures that there will be more plaque-like units building up in the arteries of state government on into the future, with the more-visible officials professing that they can’t get by without growing budgets year after year.

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The Political Fashionableness of Latin

By way of some morning levity, I thought I’d pass along this headline from the Fall River Herald that caught my eye: “For classicists, ‘quid pro quo’ is music to the ears,” for a story from the Washington Post news wire.

They could have chosen “this for that.” Or possibly even “tit for tat.” But instead, Democrats and Republicans alike decided to go with “quid pro quo” as the defining term for the central accusation of the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

They disagree, of course, on whether an illegal quid pro quo occurred, but have embraced the alliterative Latin phrase as the lingua franca for the debate. Now all that remains is the ultimate political thumbs up or thumbs down decision.

For people thoroughly convinced that the mainstream news media is — to varying degrees depending on region — an active wing of the Democrat Party machine, articles like this appear to be a sly effort to push impeachment.  The presentation is of a light article about linguistic fashion, but what it accomplishes, politically, is to give readers the sense that the impeachment effort is about something real (the Democrat position) and to explain a key phrase for people who aren’t familiar with it.

My awareness of this phrase goes back at least 25 years, for a reason that affects my impression of the news media’s efforts.  During the presidency of George H.W. Bush, news stories were repeatedly framed so as to make him seem out of touch.  One example was a news cycle about how he’d been like a stranger in a strange land at a grocery store, when really he’d been expressing due admiration for some new checkout technology that was cutting edge at the time.

I remember distinctly the coloring of the press when President Bush stated, in response to some faux scandal, “There was no quid pro quo.”  The implied commentary of the news media was so strong as to carry across decades of memory:  “What is this strange phrase, and who even talks like that?”

Vulpes pilum mutat, non mores.

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The Outside Cash the Governor Needs to Govern

Sometimes a politician answers a question in such a way as to put her political activities (and those of other politicians) in a different light.  Such was the case when reporter Tim White asked Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo on WPRI’s Newsmakers program about her continued fundraising, despite being term limited as governor:

I’ll have a legislative agenda that I’d like to get passed.  All the legislators are on the ballot next year, and I may decide to support or oppose legislators that I think are doing the right thing or holding Rhode Island back.  So, you know, there are plenty of reasons to need a campaign account just to govern.

According to WPRI’s Ted Nesi, Raimondo raised $66,000 in the third quarter of the year, giving her $726,000 to expend as she “governs.”

Put this way, doesn’t something seem… well… off about this arrangement?  The governor of the state is collecting money from private interests in order to bully other elected officials into doing what she wants, as if the governor is also the director of an insider PAC.  A few thousand dollars is a pretty substantial campaign in local legislative races, so a governor with three quarters of a million dollars in the bank and nothing else to spend it on could be a worrying wildcard.

To be sure, we should be skeptical of efforts to restrict political activity through regulation.  The powerful will always find ways around the regulations, at least to a greater extent than the powerless can.

That said, it’s worth being aware that this is going on and maintaining a general sense of aversion to it.  What the governor of the state is saying is that she’s going to use money given to her by special interests across the country to reach into your local legislative races to influence who represents you in the General Assembly.

Something doesn’t seem right about that.

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Geologists as the Orwellian Vanguard

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, the unironic slogans of the totalitarian government are: “war is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” and “ignorance is strength.”  The modern totalitarians of the progressive American Left who have ramped up their efforts in the past decade have added “discrimination is tolerance.”

Witness this statement from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) explaining why the organization, along with the Geological Society of America (GSA), banned Brigham Young University (BYU) from advertising jobs for which their members might be qualified:

“AGU has always encouraged and fostered a diverse geoscience community throughout its history because we believe—and repeatedly see—that diversity and inclusion are essential to advancing science,” Billy Williams, the union’s vice president of ethics, diversity, and inclusion, wrote in a statement. “Since the job posting from BYU referenced its Honor Code as a requirement of employment, which conflicts with our policy, we removed the job posting from our website.”

This isn’t just a faint echo of Orwell’s constructs; it’s the actual thing.  To restate, the VP of “ethics, diversity, and inclusion” is saying that his organization must shun a well-regarded university because “diversity and inclusion are essential to advancing science.”  That is, they must discriminate against adherents of a religion because the Honor Code that it inspires conflicts with the progressive fundamentalism of the geological organizations.

Science, according to this way of thinking, is advanced by restricting participation based on ideological rules that have nothing to do with the narrow field of study or practice of investigation.  In the view of these organizations, no geologist who belongs to either the union or the society and who has beliefs that would fit with those of BYU should be permitted to find a work environment in which they’d be comfortable.  Indeed, the message is clearly sent that they should keep their beliefs to themselves if they know what is good for them.

That a statement like the one quoted above could be passed off with a straight face and without bringing upon its author a wave of ridicule is terrifying.

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After Risk Turns to Tragedy in Worcester

As he so often does, Michael Morse brings out the human detail in the heart of a terrible incident.  In this case, the incident is the death of Worcester fire lieutenant Jason Menard in the early hours of Wednesday.  Writes Michael:

I’m certain that until the very last seconds he thought he would pull it off and be on his way to Disney when the shift was over. …

I hope Lieutenant Menard’s family understands this, and that he had every intention of coming home.

But he couldn’t. He just couldn’t.

The reference is to the Menard family’s planned vacation, which was to start at the end of his shift just a few hours later, and it speaks to the looming uncertainty that surrounds the lives of those who undertake dangerous jobs.

The heart-wrenching, humanizing details abound.  A cafe at which Menard and his wife would eat breakfast together once they’d gotten their three children to school put out a memorial mimosa, accompanied by his picture and the Fireman’s Prayer.

The words of that poem are especially poignant in this case, given that they appear to have been written after a fire during which rescuers were not able to save some children.  Menard’s crew reportedly went out on its own dangerous limb in response to information that two people, including a baby, were trapped there.

As Michael writes, Menard died in the line of duty “simply doing what his training allowed him to do.”  That includes making split-second decisions about the amount of risk justified in unpredictable circumstances.  A professional calculates risks based not on the moment alone, but on the likelihood that the same decision made over and over again by different people will turn out well.  But sometimes risk turns into tragedy and, as the prayer’s author wrote of his own uncertainties, “according to Your Will I have to lose my life.”

When that happens, with or without the details so richly available around Jason Menard, the rest of us should pause and reflect for a moment in gratitude, because the fallen partake in the unknowable rescues whose incalculable number we cannot know.

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A Need for Space and Friction in Social Media Gravity

What if, all of a sudden, the force of gravity doubled throughout the universe?  This, according to social scientist Jonathan Haidt, is analogous to what society has experienced with the rapid effect of social media on human nature.

The implications for political science are particularly immediate:

… in “Federalist No. 10,” James Madison wrote about his fear of the power of “faction,” by which he meant strong partisanship or group interest that “inflamed [men] with mutual animosity” and made them forget about the common good. He thought that the vastness of the United States might offer some protection from the ravages of factionalism, because it would be hard for anyone to spread outrage over such a large distance. Madison presumed that factious or divisive leaders “may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.” The Constitution included mechanisms to slow things down, let passions cool, and encourage reflection and deliberation.

The palliative effect of time and distance apply on a smaller scale, too.  Even in a relatively small community, when people were having their feuds either face-to-face or in the necessarily well-paced medium of letters to the editor, they could not spread as broadly or as powerfully.  Now the group think and the side-picking spreads at the speed of the Internet, and as I’ve recently written, there is no escaping it.

While he captures something in social media and offers some suggestions for adding a little distance and friction to its processes, Haidt doesn’t go far enough in assigning responsibility to changes in society with which social media interacts.  A need for space and friction is also why our system limits the activities that we pursue through government, with its powers to tax, regulate, and police.

As government becomes an increasingly efficient way to impose our wills on each other, not only does it become easier to accomplish that goal, but the stakes go up for winning the fight.  The attractiveness of leveraging the tools of social warfare goes up even as the opportunity to defend against them goes down.

This is much like campaign finance reform.  We can make changes around the edges, but the only way to really “get the money out of politics” is to reduce the value of winning.  The same is true of social media.   The nasties have escaped the bag, so the better approach would be to become the type of society in which their bad effects will do less harm.

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Not Quite as Unequal as Advertised

TaxProf Blog’s Paul Caron highlights an important point from a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Phil Gramm and John Early:

The published census data for 2017 portray the top quintile of households as having almost 17 times as much income as the bottom quintile. But this picture is false. The measure fails to account for the one-third of all household income paid in federal, state and local taxes. Since households in the top income quintile pay almost two-thirds of all taxes, ignoring the earned income lost to taxes substantially overstates inequality.

The Census Bureau also fails to count $1.9 trillion in annual public transfer payments to American households. The bureau ignores transfer payments from some 95 federal programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps, which make up more than 40% of federal spending, along with dozens of state and local programs. Government transfers provide 89% of all resources available to the bottom income quintile of households and more than half of the total resources available to the second quintile.

Teasing the direct wealth redistribution our government imposes on the economy out of the equation changes the picture dramatically.  Click over and look at the included chart.  Adding wealth transfers to those in the lowest quintile moves their average income from nearly zero to over $50,000, while removing taxation from the top quintile drops their average income from nearly $300,000 per year to less than $200,000.

This is a nifty trick from progressives that might just slip past folks’ notice or might be deliberately obscured.  Government takes action to correct a presumed problem but then doesn’t account for the correction in future years, so it looks as if the problem never changes.

In fact, it might appear to get worse!  In this case, for example, it wouldn’t be surprising to find that progressive taxation actually leads to a bigger difference between earned income (not including transfers).  After all, the higher taxes are, the more companies have to pay at the high end in order to produce the same take-home-pay, and the more progressive the tax structure is, the less incentive workers have to take higher paying jobs that carry more responsibility or require more investment in credentials and such, so the more pressure there will be to maintain or increase take-home pay.

If reducing the gap in earned income is really the goal (which I think it should be), then a redistributive tax structure is exactly the wrong way to go about it.

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Generations of Sam Bells

Based on the commentary of progressive Democrat state Senator Samuel Bell (Providence) at a local economic development event featuring central planning guru Bruce Katz, you really have to wonder how little he thinks of the intelligence of his supporters:

“The reason I wanted to go back to that slide [showing RI’s unemployment rate from 2010 to 2018] is you can see the results,” said Bell. “Because before we implemented these corporate policies our unemployment rate was plummeting, relative to the national average. And once we implemented these policies, once they start to bite – implemented largely at the beginning of 2015, we see it stall. And that means people in my district suffering because of the economic damage.”

Here’s the slide he’s talking about, as reproduced on Uprise RI:

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Now, I think the unemployment rate in Rhode Island is pretty much a bogus statistic that misrepresents the state’s economy, but still: Bell must be relying on slavish agreement from his listeners, because nobody should be surprised that a bad statistic would slow down its improvement as it reached the national average.

Indeed, digging into how the rate is calculated, one could even make the opposite argument to Bells. One important reason the rate of improvement of RI unemployment slowed down in 2015 was that people stopped quitting the labor force, and that number, which is the denominator for the unemployment rate, actually started going up during the period in question:

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In other words, if Rhode Islanders were more optimistic about their prospect of finding jobs, they would keep looking, which would slow the reduction of the unemployment rate. This could be said to prove that Bell has things backwards.

The irony, here, is that I actually agree with Bell’s observation. Rhode Island’s employment scene has indeed been doing worse under Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo than it had been doing. However, the reason is that her policies are too progressive — too centrally planned — which points to a problem with progressives’ assumption that government can run the economy.

To implement centrally planned policies, the decision makers rely on the continued buy-in of their fellow progressives. Yet, there will always be some truer believer who benefits by being more extreme and more pure. There will always be a Sam Bell with incentive to use misleading statistics and hints of corruption among his predecessors to advance his own career.

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Simply Service

History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empireby Edward Gibbon, presents an alternating image of the Roman military.  At times, it’s the savior of the empire; at times, it’s the cause of its downfall.  At times, it’s the only institution carrying forward the essence of the people; at times, it aligns with foreign forces.  At times, one gets the impression that the Roman soldiers were driven centrally by a sense of honor; at times, the impression is more of a collection of mercenaries.

As is the way with history, these changes were both causes and effects — amplifying the direction that the circumstances, the enemies, or the emperor dictated while also changing the course of history.  How differently the people must have looked at soldiers in each of those epochs.

Over the course of my life, the United States has treated its military personnel with a complicated, often contradictory, presentation.  In the times of the old movies, the nation was all but uniformly convinced of the honor of such service.  After the ’60s, and with Vietnam, we experienced a flip.  Rather, we experienced a division, with one part of the culture flipping to present military service as inherently suspect and the military condemnable as an institution.

At the same time, both sides of that division focused more on personalities and archetypes, or at least that is how it has seemed.  If the portrayal is one of villainy, the characters are villains; if it is one of honor, such is invested in the personage of demigods, often performing superhuman feats.

What we need in our time is a sense of the honorable hero defined simply by service, holding the lines and traditions in a way somewhat better than we arguably deserve.  What we need even more is for those heroes to be honored by more than a day — but rather by a history-changing imitation.

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The Short Leap from Progressive Energy Plans to Dictatorship

Pause a moment and imagine what the plan for net-zero emissions proposed by the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America actually means:

The plan for Cranston is to power the city with a combination of sources. Thirty percent of homes would be fitted with rooftop solar arrays while commercial, industrial and town-owned sites would have ground-mounted, rooftop or canopy systems. Vertical wind turbines — smaller and narrower than the conventional three-bladed ones — would also go up in parts of the city.

Batteries would store energy for when it’s needed and the power would be distributed on a modernized grid. Finally, aggressive energy-efficiency programs would accelerate upgrades in lighting and heating and cooling as well as insulation improvements in homes and buildings. The plan would avoid developing green space.

Around one out of every three houses in the city would have to have rooftop solar, in addition to businesses and government buildings.  These wind turbine things would be all over the place.  Somewhere, somehow, the city would house and maintain giant batteries.  Oh, and the government would embark on an “aggressive” campaign to force property owners to upgrade their electrical systems, their heating and cooling systems, and their insulation.  (One suspects that’s not the extent of the new impositions.)

All of this in a state where even managing to “modernize” our energy grid would be a miracle of public policy, given political and economic realities.

In short, this is not a serious proposal. It’s somewhere between an ideological fantasy promoted to push people away from their sense of liberty and a green-energy-industry sales pitch to an overly credulous population.

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The Example the Teachers Set

“Imagine that! Teachers sending out postcards with a picture of violence to silence others in town.”  Tiverton Town Council member Donna Cook makes that statement in a new letter to the editor informing people about some facts from the recent recall election in town (which knocked me out of office).

She’s referring to one of the five mailings that the recall advocates sent to homes in Tiverton.  The return address claims that it comes from “Progress RI,” which although not registered appears to be a “doing business as” name of the state’s teachers unions.  The return address is that of a middle school teacher in town. And this is the front of the card, which Cook describes as “a violent picture similar to a kidnapping, hijacking, robbery, or a hostage situation.”

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Note that the claim at the top of the card is demonstrably false; it’s a lie.

While recording an episode of a soon-to-be-released local podcast, Cook contrasted this card with all of the talk we hear from those in the education system about bullying.  That’s an important contrast that isn’t made often enough in our world of hostile politics and toxic social media.

Imagine a high school student sending out something similar on social media about other students.  Nobody would have any trouble seeing that as inappropriate bullying, and the student would face consequences, probably including suspension.

Of course, we rightly balance freedom of speech versus the giving of offense differently for children and adults.  Grown-ups should be able to handle more, and society has less right to impose restrictions on them, at least in an official way.  Still, this card was sent out by teachers in our public schools, behind a thin veil of anonymity and the thin excuse that it actually came from their labor union.

Is that the sort of standard we want for our nation, state, and community?

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NYC Exports the Problems of Progressivism

What is a progressive mayor to do when his city’s policies produce the inevitable problems, including homelessness?  Well, in an area of the country where the average temperature ranges from 60 to 80 degrees, the government can let tent cities emerge for a while.  In a place like Bill de Blasio’s New York City, where January’s average is 40 degrees (which any winter visitor knows can feel like it’s in Kelvin, not Fahrenheit, when the wind cascades between the buildings), that isn’t an option.

So, the city has come up with a novel solution:

From the tropical shores of Honolulu and Puerto Rico, to the badlands of Utah and backwaters of Louisiana, the Big Apple has sent local homeless families to 373 cities across the country with a full year of rent in their pockets as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Special One-Time Assistance Program.” Usually, the receiving city knows nothing about it.

City taxpayers have spent $89 million on rent alone since the program’s August 2017 inception to export 5,074 homeless families — 12,482 individuals — to places as close as Newark and as far as the South Pacific, according to Department of Homeless Services data obtained by The Post. Families who once lived in city shelters decamped to 32 states and Puerto Rico.

As Shaun Towne reports, using the interactive map provided in Sara Dorn New York Post article on the program, a handful of beneficiary families found their way to Rhode Island — one each in North Kingstown, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket and three in Providence.  The mayors of the northern three of those communities are reportedly not happy about the situation:

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien and Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt released a joint statement Thursday calling the program “an outrageous example of bad public policy.” They said it’s “irresponsible” for New York to spring needy families on other communities without warning, especially those already “working with limited resources to improve [their] residents’ quality of life.”

A cynic might quip that these mayors are only upset that they were not notified so as to ensure that their new constituents are registered to vote.  This thought leads to a more intellectually interesting problem.  The Big Apple’s program suggests a system that creates pressure for the exportation of bad ideas, including both the policies that created the unpleasant situation and the paternalism of using taxpayer dollars to compensate their victims.

Would it be possible to design a system that sends people from localities where good ideas dominate to such benighted states as New York and Rhode Island?

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A Sign of Raimondo’s National Focus

I’m contributing to a new blog on the Gaspee Project, Sabin Tavern.  The name and purpose are explained in the blog’s first post, but basically, Sabin Tavern leans into politics, whereas the Ocean State Current leans into policy.

A post from last night is about a political circumstance that certainly has relevance for policy — namely, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s obvious focus on her national future rather than her present obligations:

If Rhode Island’s governor weren’t more interested in her DGA role than in running her state, she might not be so “ecstatic” [about her party’s apparent victory in the Kentucky governor’s race]. After all, Matt Bevin is one of two governors keeping her from being the least-approved-of governor in the country. (She’s already the most disapproved.)

As the post also points out, Rhode Islanders might rightfully wonder whether our governor is setting policy in her own state so as to advance the interests of her party in other states.

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Make French Fries Great Again

Here’s an appropriate lunchtime story, by Sharon Begley in Scientific American:

[Christopher] Ramsden, of the National Institutes of Health, unearthed raw data from a 40-year-old study, which challenges the dogma that eating vegetable fats instead of animal fats is good for the heart. The study, the largest gold-standard experiment testing that idea, found the opposite, Ramsden and his colleagues reported on Tuesday in BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal).

Although the study is more than just another entry in the long-running nutrition wars—it is more rigorous than the vast majority of research on the topic—Ramsden makes no claims that it settles the question. Instead, he said, his discovery and analysis of long-lost data underline how the failure to publish the results of clinical trials can undermine truth.

If anything, the findings of this study are the opposite of the common assumption.  Changing the fats that people eat does lower cholesterol…

But that lowered cholesterol did not help people live longer. Instead, the lower cholesterol fell, the higher the risk of dying: 22 percent higher for every 30-point fall. Nor did the corn-oil group have less atherosclerosis or fewer heart attacks.

Asked why the study was never published, the original researcher’s son seems to suggest his father wanted to find a link between fats and heart disease, and so might have assumed his study just wasn’t sufficient.

A properly skeptical diet continues to seem most appropriate:  Eat a variety of foods, including those that you enjoy, but don’t overdo anything.  Ever notice, by the way, that the same ideological movement that elevates evolution to a religion also insists that everything evolution has led us to want to eat must be bad for us?

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Where the Utility Money Comes From

The double-take-inspiring headline in the Providence Journal is, “Regulators: Utilities, not customers, should pay for gas outage on Aquidneck Island.”

While perfectly willing to believe there was some form of negligence on the part of the utilities when the natural gas stopped flowing in January, we might also be tempted to ask:  Where do the regulators think the utilities’ money comes from?  Sure, $25 million can come from reductions imposed on those who invest their time or money in the organization or from planned operational expenses or some other nook or cranny of the business, but all money that goes out ultimately has to come in, and that means customers.

No doubt, there’s waste to be found in the entire system (utilities are, after all, quasi-governmental in their nature), but taking money from different areas will have consequences.  If the organization becomes less profitable, or the possibility of profit becomes riskier, then fewer will be willing to make a career or a company out of it.

Now turn and look at the issue in the other direction.  If we want 100% uptime in our utilities under all circumstances, we’re going to have to build in waste and redundancy.  There would have to be people (unionized people) watching things that don’t actually have to be watched 99% of the time, like the faulty valve in this case.  There would have to be multiple pipes carrying multiple streams of fuel along multiple paths so losing one wouldn’t shut anything down.

In Rhode Island’s current situation, extra personnel is made impossible by regulations that keep prices down through political force while keeping costs high.  The extra infrastructure is made impossibly by the NIMBYism and environmental extremism of the region and the regulations that follow on those things.

So, whether the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers was correct in its judgment in this case is not the most important question for Rhode Islanders to ponder.  What sort of energy reality do we want in the Ocean State, and what are we willing and able to do to bring it about?  Unfortunately, our civic system has developed such that nobody benefits sufficiently in the moment from finding a solution for the long term in order to promote one, and too many people benefit from keeping a pleasant, superficial fantasy alive.

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Twin River and Raimondo, an Unhealthy Relationship, to Say the Least

What is going on in the governor’s office that Gina Raimondo is picking petulant political fights with the state’s casino contractor?

The appropriate statement through all of this should have been easy.  Something like this:  “I am not aware of any threats’ being made, but of course that would be completely inappropriate.  So, I’ll be speaking with my staff and reaching out to our friends in Twin River to make sure nothing like that was done and to resolve any misunderstandings there may have been.”

Instead, she makes a blanket denial and casts shade on the company, answering a question from Steve Klamkin of WPRO as to who made the threat:

“Absolutely no one,″ Raimondo said. “That’s clearly baseless and untrue. We have been nothing but professional with Twin River at every step.”

“I am so disappointed in Twin River. In addition to the way they are behaving through this process, you know what they did in breaching the regulatory agreement with the state is very serious and I am concerned,″ she said of the debt limit dispute, which arose from Twin River’s out- of-state expansion moves, which Crisafulli contends it kept the state apprised at every step.

“I am concerned,″ Raimondo said. “Their revenues are down. They are doing layoffs. they are breaking the regulatory agreement and it is our job to protect taxpayers and to hold Twin River accountable. And that’s what we are going to do.

“So we sat down with them. We are trying to help them. We were collaborative. We came up with a settlement They are going to make millions of dollars of investments into Twin River, thankfully. It’s about time. Anyone who has been to Twin River knows it could use a bit of a facelift.”

So, what comes of this?  Twin River President Marc Crisafulli decides to stop playing coy and comes right out and names Raimondo Chief of Staff Brett Smiley, which politics watchers will likely find credible.  Not only that, but Crisafulli gives additional details, such as that Smiley called his cell phone three times one afternoon after Twin River decided to vocally oppose the IGT deal.  The contrast makes Raimondo’s denial look like a knowing lie.

If nothing else, this is an indication that Raimondo is not a very good executive.  But Rhode Islanders already knew that.  This episode adds a little more evidence that she’s actually not a very good politician, either.

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Doubts About Election Integrity

WNRI radio talk host John DePetro posted a bombshell on his Web site Sunday:

[An anonymous Board of Elections officer] described the ballot situation during the 2018 election as “completely void of integrity.” According to O1, there are “no checks and balances” for who is being registered to vote and who is casting the vote.

“It is extremely upsetting, frustrating and frankly I feel terrible about the current conditions, but we simply don’t know what to do. I do my job the best I can and we have very dedicated professionals working to improve the system but it is basically out of our hands. The amount of ballot harvesting has gone to a higher level and we simply are not equipped to handle it or process it to ensure all votes are legitimate. Campaign workers are finding people, registering them to vote, presenting a mail ballot and then delivering the ballot to the BOE. The opportunity for manipulation of the vote is egregious. During the 2018 election season there were thousands of mail ballots being cast, and I mean thousands, that we knew were wrong but there is simply no mechanism in place to take proper corrective measures to stop it. On one street in the city (Providence) there were over 600 mail ballots and I honestly don’t believe one of those votes should have been counted.”

The officer estimates the number at 20,000, which could easily affect the outcome of an election, especially in local or General Assembly races.  The question is:  What should be done?

First of all, enough people should express their concern that happy talk from a Board of Elections member is not enough.  Second, the Board of Elections and maybe the state police should begin an investigation of the mail ballots.  Much of this process is new, and it would be reasonable for government officials to allocate some resources to make sure it’s working as intended.

We hear again and again that there is no evidence of voter fraud, but evidence can never be found if officials never look for it.  The idea simply is not credible that elections are pristine in a state in which the House speaker’s campaign contractor is currently under indictment for money laundering to affect the outcome of a political race.

We need a transparent investigation, now, so that Rhode Islanders’ trust in their elections doesn’t erode any farther.

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The Limits of Lawlessness in Service of the Progressive Cause


A brief summary of the essential elements leading to no indictments related to the August 14th incident where a Wyatt Detention Center guard drove his truck into immigration-enforcement protesters blocking the entrance to the facility parking lot is as follows…

Protesters at Wyatt wanted some lawlessness, when it gave them an advantage in imposing their will on others.

At the point where the lawless enviornment no longer provided the protestors with the advantage they sought, they wanted the state to step in and take their side.

The system seems to have reached the conclusion that the protestors’ ask was unfair, and has rejected it.

 

The continuation of events following the decision not to indict is also worth noting…

As recorded in the Woonsocket Call, on the day it was announced, the grand jury decision not to indict was protested at the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office in downtown Providence.

However, despite the parking lot for the Attorney General’s office being nearby, the protestors chose not to block traffic or attempt to deny anyone access to a public space during the Providence protest.

 

Worth discussing, especially with people with divergent views on how the police, prosecutors and the court system are dealing with these types of events; is why the protesters chose blocking access to a public space as their tactic in one place but not the other. There are variety of possibilities and working through them may be revealing.

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A Question of Public Safety

Let’s begin with the necessary caveat that advocates and government agencies have incentive to make problems seem critical and to make increased funding seem to be the solution.  That said, Alex Kuffner’s reporting for the Providence Journal does raise a red flag worth noticing:

Environmental organization Save The Bay blames the disrepair of the state’s dams on inadequate staffing in the dam safety program, a problem that plagues the DEM as a whole, resulting, the Providence-based advocacy group argues, in a diminishment of the agency’s enforcement capabilities and an increased threat to public safety.

“We are literally one storm away from loss of life,” said Kendra Beaver, staff attorney with Save The Bay and a former chief legal counsel at the DEM.

So, here’s the next question we must ask:  Where is all the money going?  The state has a $10 billion budget.  Rhode Island must be doing something wrong if the condition of dams has reached the point of near certain catastrophe.

To be fair, Kuffner’s very long article does moderate Beaver’s assertion, but in doing so, it only amplifies the relevant question:  What’s the point, if it isn’t the need for more resources?  And that brings us back to: Where is all the money going?

Read mainstream news stories for long, and you’ll become very familiar with the “here’s a problem in need of more taxpayer dollars” genre.  Maybe what we need is more skepticism about what the priorities of government should be.

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The Importance of Opposition

The indictment of Mattiello campaign contractor Jeff Britt raises an important theme that all Rhode Islanders should think about:  the importance of political opposition:

The investigation dates back three years, to the fall of 2016, when Mattiello was in the political fight of his life against Republican Steven Frias. Mattiello defeated Frias by just 85 votes after his campaign coordinated a supportive mailer from Frias’s one-time Republican rival Shawna Lawton, who had lost to him in that year’s GOP primary.

But for the political pressure from Frias, Mattiello’s campaign would have felt no need to be so brazen.  But for the RIGOP’s pursuit of the matter, the unusual campaign activity never would have become an issue:

As Lawton had only $43.34 in her campaign account at the time, state GOP Chairman Brandon Bell filed a complaint with the Board of Elections questioning how she could have paid for the $2,150 mailer. That led to a two-year, stop-and-start investigation by the elections board, the initiation of contempt proceedings, and now, to the doorstep of the state’s attorney general — and a second look on the now-closed case against Mattiello.

One could go even farther and suggest that Attorney General Peter Neronha has political competition as a reinforcing incentive to pursue these matters.  In this episode, we’re getting faint glimpses of the sort of corrections that would be natural and unexceptional in a healthier polity.

This principle extends across government in Rhode Island.  Political competition keeps politicians honest and ensures that there is always somebody who benefits by looking for better ways to serve the community and respond to constituents.  When everything is locked up in a one-party system with an insider mentality, those in power are freer to serve each other.

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The Dirt Diggers Maximize Twitter

Maybe it’s not specific to anything Rhode Island, but Remy’s latest video for Reason captures part of our modern moment well and will might start your day off with a chuckle:

Progressive Summer Reading List contains a book detailing pedophiliac relationship

Suicide and the Modern World

A brief WBUR segment includes a critically important insight about increases in youth suicide.  Speaking about factors contributing to the problem:

[Emory University psychologist Nadine] KASLOW: When there’s abuse in the home, that can be a factor that really impacts children.

[Interviewer Rhitu] CHATTERJEE: As is substance abuse, she says, and the fact that most kids nowadays are growing up in communities that are not tightknit. Strong community ties provide a source of social support, a key protective factor against suicide.

KASLOW: Even if you feel down or badly about yourself or hopeless and helpless, that you feel loved and cared for and protected.

Note that this isn’t just love and care from a family, but from a community.  This is where social media may plug in.  Any meanness in the community is always there.  Every time the phone pings or shows that some app or other has unread messages, it could be another sneer, and anxiety goes up.  Kids can’t get away from it because they bring it with them all the time, on the phone.  At the same time, not having a phone is a path to exclusion, while knowing that the aggression is still out there, unseen.

The inability to escape manifests in another way, too.  Even a relatively small community will have sub-communities into which one can escape.  Once upon a time, the kids in math class might not have known what the bullies on the sports team were saying, and neighborhood kids who went to different schools would have no connection to any of it.  The families at the church gathering would have been another group, and coworkers at the part-time job came from yet another alcove.

Now social media finds those connections, and it isn’t implausible that everybody in a kid’s life has heard some whisper of a rumor.

A couple of weeks ago, I was helping out at a bingo event in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and somebody mentioned having seen me in the newspaper in connection with the recall in Tiverton.  By the time an adult gets to the point of being read about across the region in newspapers, he or she should (one hopes) have a pretty thick skin and a support system.

But just as blogging and social media have flattened and spread out access to audiences, they have also flattened and spread out the reach of whispers, and that’s a lot for kids to handle.

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