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The Business That Pickets Clients When They Choose Competitors

A number of policy questions come into play with GoLocalProv’s coverage of a labor union’s picketing a project receiving Commerce RI tax credits.

As a result of the investigation on 4/24/18 it has been substantiated that JS Interior Construction has misclassified 27 employees as independent contractors and has failed to pay wages to the employees in violation of R.I. General Law 28-14-19. Misclassification of Employees — (a) The misclassification of a worker whether performing work as a natural person, business, corporation or entity of any kind, as an independent contractor when the worker should be considered and paid as an employee shall be considered a violation of this chapter.

If I’m interpreting the story correctly, a builder hired workers as subcontractors in order to avoid burdensome laws that prevent workers from agreeing to work for less than an arbitrary level set by government.  Labor unions push for these laws in order to make their competition less competitive, and politicians agree to these laws in order to secure financial and boots-on-the-ground support from labor unions.

The first issue is that the state government shouldn’t be subsidizing private-sector projects in the state because bureaucrats have judged them worthy.  The second issue is that the state government shouldn’t be restricting the rights of Rhode Islanders to agree to pay rates agreeable to both parties, especially as a systemic subsidy to private labor unions.

But the eye catcher of this issue is the labor union picketing a project ultimately (I’d suggest) because a non-union shop got the job.  What would you think of a company that sent its employees to picket another business that was out-competing it — or, more accurately, to picket a client because he or she chose a different contractor?

That’s obviously offensive, but labor unions fit the progressive narrative and (more importantly) the progressive money-flow scheme, so it’s not only tolerated, but lauded.

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On Immigration, May We Reason in the Face of Emotion?

Richard August recently sent a letter to the editor of the Newport Daily News expressing a view that I’m not sure is permitted in Rhode Island:

The Border Patrol separates children under four conditions:

  • There is a suspicion that the adult is not the child’s parent.
  • There are indications of child abuse.
  • The adult has a record or is wanted for a felony here or in another country.
  • The parent(s) claiming political asylum.

To most rational people this seems reasonable. To the emotional left, it is horrific that there are about 2,500 kids separated from the adult who entered this country illegally with them.

I wonder how many people could put a number of children who’ve fallen into each group.  The news coverage and the subsequent political rhetoric absolutely gives the impression that almost all are in the last, which is the one in which separation is more a side-effect than a first order policy.

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Having to Win the Culture War to Allow Pluralism

Rod Dreher posted a great comment from one of his readers that captures something important in what I would propose as the pretty typical conservative view:

In a weird way, I’m kind of angry on behalf of liberals, if that makes any sense, because it pisses me off that such fundamental questions can be decided by presidential elections or judicial nominations. Which goes back to why I’m a conservative: I don’t think many of these issues belong in the political realm in the first place, and when they do, I’d prefer they be dealt with at the lowest, most local level of government where it’s practical to do so.

In a country as large, diverse and populous as the United States, it is INSANE for one part of the country to dictate to another, vastly different part of the country how it shall conduct its affairs. I have absolutely no interest in telling people in San Francisco how to live their lives or govern themselves, but it feels like I have no choice because if I don’t, they’ll turn around and impose THEIR will on ME, and I have NO desire to live like San Franciscans. It’s crazy.

Conservatives come to these battles reluctantly, because outside some basic constitutional guarantees, we think all of the difficult questions that the country faces should be answered at the state… if not at the local or community… level.  In the past, I’ve presented the three basic freedoms that ought to be guaranteed at the federal level as the right to speak your mind, the right to work to change the government, and the right to leave.

Progressive zealots can’t abide anything like that.  Progressive non-zealots (what we used to think of as liberals) used to be able to do so, but it seems less and less feasible.  More and more, it seems, those on the Left can’t even differentiate between believing that somebody ought to have the right to do something and believing that it ought to be done.  How do we move forward as a pluralistic society if that isn’t a possibility?  Conservatives are beginning to come to the realization that we can’t.

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Culturally Appropriating the Other’s Victim Status

The other day Republican Rhode Island Senator Elaine Morgan tweeted out the following, from her political competition for District 34:

I’m white. I have privilege. But today and for the next four years, I’m Muslim. Put me on a list.

In all honestly, I’m not inclined attack somebody for a show of solidarity.  The “I’m white. I have privilege.” thing is kind of silly, but if there is genuine persecution going on, there’s nothing wrong with an “I am Spartacus” movement.

That said, I’d like to know the rules.  Wouldn’t it be cultural appropriation for a privileged white person to usurp the victim status of a minority group, particularly in a society that places such a high value on victim status?  Evidence that the appropriator, in this case, places value on victim status arises in the thread of replies to her tweet, which includes her further explanation that she’s “never been given a hand up because [she’s] a woman.”

I’d request a clear guide on all of these matters, but I suspect not having clear rules is key to their value to progressives.  A fine appreciation of the ever-changing rules illustrates a deeper conformity than simple pronouncements of agreement and solidarity.

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Whitewashing the Radicals to Make Them Representative

The headline to John Hill’s Providence Journal article alerts readers to the bias: “R.I. joins voices against separating families.”  In the view of the state’s major daily, these few hundred protesters represent the state.

With that as the underlying assumption, I suppose it isn’t surprising that Hill sanitizes the event so to make it palatable for those who aren’t as radical.  The only hint comes with this:

[Aarish Rojiani, of AMOR, the Alliance to Mobilize our Resistance,] added that it was no coincidence that the demonstration was held across the street from the ACI: Law-enforcement policies also separate families, he said.

For the real story, turn to comprehensive coverage from the progressive UpriseRI.  What Rojiani really meant when talking to the Providence Journal is that they want to end incarceration — that is, prisons.  Not only that, but these supposed representatives of Rhode Island want to get rid of borders and nations altogether.  That wasn’t just the view of fringe sign makers; a cheat sheet of chants that the organizers handed out puts “No borders, no nations! Stop attacking migration” as the very first one.  (Note that it’s not “immigration,” even though the rhythm begs for the extra syllable; they think our borders are illegitimate.)

And so it goes.  When conservatives rally, the mainstream narrative presents us as strange, extremist creatures.  When radicals rally, the mainstream narrative whitewashes their extremity to make them seem like the voice of goodness.

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Trusting Each Other to Keep the Economic Ship Right

Yesterday, the Newport Daily News ran an op-ed of mine

Lots of smart people think [about the social upheaval on the horizon when technology makes work obsolete], so I hesitate to admit that my opinion is that this really shouldn’t be such a difficult or scary topic. I’d humbly suggest that, in the excitement of prognostication, those smart people are missing a central economic principle — namely, that the free market itself is the greatest form of wealth redistribution. …

Locally, Rhode Islanders should contemplate the possibility that our location and size could make us a leading innovator in this healthy form of wealth distribution — once more a global powerhouse. All it would take is enough trust in each other to break the hold of insiders who sell the promise of economically protecting us from one another.

Always remember that it is in the interests of a lot of powerful forces to frighten us into over-correcting the ship in the direction they want us to go.

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Rules Against Bigotry Can’t Be a One-Way Door

The principle of “turnabout is fair play” applies to a story Glenn Reynolds noticed, of a University of Michigan-Flint economics professor who has asked Northeastern University, in Boston, to investigate whether one of its Women’s, Gender and Sexual Studies professors violated Title IX by publicly expressing hatred for all men:

“She has not only publically demonized and belittled all males at Northeastern University, she called out publically for the universal hatred of all men, including all men at your university,” [Mark Perry] wrote. “That makes Ms. Walters a confirmed sexist and bigot in violation of Title IX and your university’s own stated policies that prohibit such discrimination.”

Perry suggested that Northeastern should prevent [Suzanna] Walters from teaching male students, or have sway on decisions relating to male colleagues in her department, and be forced to partake in diversity training/anger management courses to address her sexism.

The humor of Professor Perry’s request (and the poignancy, even if we see no humor) resides in the fact that the door of bigotry is only supposed to swing one way.  As we see every year in Rhode Island, when Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo discriminates against school boys in her “governor for a day” contest, progressives really don’t believe that rules and mores against discrimination apply to their own beliefs.  By definition, in their minds, they are free of such taints.  To wit: “I am not a bigot.  Therefore, my beliefs cannot be bigoted.”

But the double standard cannot hold, and those of us who maintain that the entire scheme of political correctness and the punishment of speech and beliefs is wrongheaded shouldn’t be shy about challenging it in its own terms, as Perry has done.

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Assumptions in the Elimination of Parental Rights

An advocacy-as-news article from Megan Mitchell, a reporter/anchor for WLWT in Ohio, inadvertently brings into stark relief a flawed assumption and deadly blind spot in the promotion of transgenderism among children.  Teresa Schrader supports the decision of her daughter, Riggins, to present as a boy:

“I know my transition was easier because of my family and friends, but I also know that other kids like me don’t have it as easy because they don’t have the support,” said Riggins.

The new bill, proposed by Ohio Rep. Thomas Brinkman (R), from Mt. Lookout, would require school and hospital staff to inform a parent if a child indicates they aren’t sure about their gender.

Transgender advocates say the bill can create an unsafe environment for transgender children who aren’t supported by their family.

“The suicide rate for transgender kids is around 40%. So who wants their kid to possibly commit suicide because they’re not feeling comfortable with who they are or their not feeling supported?” said Schrader.

In an argument over legislation that would require teachers and therapists to inform parents of their children’s gender dysphoria, the party asking what parent wants his or her child to commit suicide should be the one insisting that parents have a right to know what’s going on with their children.  Schrader is assuming not only that satisfying the transgender impulse can be the right answer, but that it should be assumed always to be the right answer if the child with the dysphoria thinks it is, and that some parents might actually be willing to risk his or her suicide to disagree.

The more dreadful point, though, is the one less remarked upon.  The implicit argument is that schools and therapists should help to push children — children in a group that is more prone to suicide — into a situation in which they’re deceiving their parents about something supposedly central to their identities, possibly changing their own biology behind their parents’ backs.

A reasonable argument might exist that the legislation should be amended to account for those extreme and rare circumstances in which a parent can be excluded from the notice, but even getting that far is apparently beyond consideration.  Parents are villains until proven woke.

Rhode Islanders should pay attention, because policies being promulgated at the state and local levels infringe on parents’ rights in exactly the way Representative Brinkman is striving to remedy in Ohio.

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Hoping for a Janus Effect on the Cost of RI Government

Jason Richwine notes, on National Review’s Corner, that the Janus decision looks likely to help bring public-sector compensation back toward private-sector reality:

… there is indeed a correlation between compulsory union dues and public-sector compensation. Based on data from the report that Andrew and I wrote in 2014, state workers in compulsory states were paid 17.0 percent more on average than comparable private workers, while state workers in non-compulsory states were paid just 5.6 percent more.

Take a look at Rhode Island’s position on his related chart:

 

How much more economic activity would we be experiencing if it weren’t for this premium taxed out of our economy, and how much more work could we get done on government services and maintenance if it weren’t so expensive?

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In Rhode Island, Everything’s in a Name

The Rhode Island House Republicans’ Twitter account tweeted out a bit of deep insight from Mike O’Reilly of the Federal Communications Commission on C-SPAN:

“I was dealing with Rhode Island. They decided they were not going correct it, withstanding all the promises early in the year. They rename the program for the following year, thinking it’s going to fix the problem.” FCC Commissioner @mikeofcc

He’s talking about the 911 fee that the state government has come under scrutiny for misappropriating, but this is common in Rhode Island.  After 38 Studios, the General Assembly changed the name of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to the Commerce Corporation and, voila, all is right with Rhode Island policy.  In the season of education reform, Rhode Island shifted some names and org charts of state-level education boards around and all of a sudden children began a new educational voyage… I guess.

Once again the reminder:  Elected officials will keep doing this stuff until it stops working for them.

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“Real Compassion” Dispenses with Entitlement

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is right:

Carson told the story of a young woman who voiced her frustration at HUD for not finding her large family a government-subsidized apartment fast enough.

“In one group, a young lady stood up and she was very angry that it had taken the housing authority so long to find her a five-bedroom apartment because she had all these children and was even more angry because the dining room set had a scratch on the table. But as I was thinking about that, I said, this young woman probably has never known any other life. Her mother probably lived here and her grandmother probably lived here and she doesn’t even understand what is out there and what the American dream is all about,” Carson said at the recent Faith and Freedom Coalition “Road to Majority” conference.

“And that is one of the reasons that you will see from the new HUD, such an emphasis on self-sufficiency, because I think that is real compassion – getting people out of poverty and helping them to find the pathway. It is a double win because for each person you get out of that dependent situation, it is one less person you have to pay for and it’s one more taxpaying contributing member of society,” he added. “So this is the way we have to begin to think about these things.”

We’re altogether too comfortable with a sense of entitlement these days, and that’s across the board.  Yes, the woman in Carson’s anecdote was too comfortable with the notion that taxpayers should quickly supply her with whatever accommodations she might fill with children, but the social elite are too comfortable with the notion that they are entitled to whatever jobs they want and to have their worldview enacted into universal law.  Some established businesses are too comfortable with the notion that they are entitled to continue along without competition, and some entrepreneurs are too comfortable with the notion that taxpayers should help them rev up their endeavors.

Spiritually, we’re built for a world in which nothing is assured.  God told Adam that it would only be by the “sweat of your face” that he would eat,” and He told Cain that “you can be [sin’s] master,” “if you do well [and] can hold up your head.”  That gives us responsibility and possibility.

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In Search of “Agency Fee” Refunds

Here’s an interesting twist in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, yesterday:

Public-sector workers across the country are seeking to recover back wages they paid to labor organizations in the event the Supreme Court declares mandatory union fees unconstitutional.

Class action suits have been filed against eight unions in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Maryland, California, and the state of Washington, accusing individual unions of violating workers’ rights by collecting mandatory dues payments. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on a groundbreaking case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which challenges the constitutionality of forcing public-sector workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. The suits argue that any public-sector employee who participated in forced dues systems should receive financial “redress” from labor organizations.

Let’s stipulate that the number of public-sector employees in this category is probably pretty small in Rhode Island.  If not being in a union saves only a little bit of money or none at all because you have to pay an “agency fee” for the work the union does on your behalf anyway, you might as well be a member and get the full benefits, whatever they are.  One source puts the number of agency fee paying teachers under the National Education Association of Rhode Island at only 146, for instance.  I did some research on this a few years back, and although I can’t find my notes, that sounds about right.

Still, being forced to pay a private organization in order to keep your public-sector job is a sufficiently egregious violation of an employee’s rights that those in this situation should seek a return of the money that was taken away from them unconstitutionally.

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Thinking Through Trillo’s Campaign Finance Complaint

Billboards promoting Allan Fung’s candidacy may or may not violate campaign finance law, but Joe Trillo’s formal complaint about them raises questions that Rhode Islanders really should consider:

According to Trillo’s campaign, Fung is using several illuminated digital billboard signs in North Providence, which he did not report on his campaign finance reports.

“Allan Fung has been utilizing three corporate owned, illuminated digital billboard signs along major thoroughfares in North Providence, since December 3, 2017, but never officially reported paying for any such advertising on his past or present campaign finance reports. This is a violation of Rhode Island campaign finance laws, and yet another example of Allan Fung’s clear and intentional mismanagement of his campaign finances,” said Trillo.

Here is the current state of campaign finance law in the Ocean State, based on my own reading and experience dealing with the Board of Elections Campaign Finance Unit: If the candidate paid for the billboards, they would have to be listed as an expense on his reports.  If the owners of the billboards put them up without consulting with the candidate, the candidate should report them as an in-kind contribution, and the owners should possibly file reports as if they are political action committees (PACs).

That last situation is patently unconstitutional.  The state government of Rhode Island cannot regulate and limit residents’ free speech rights just because what they say supports a candidate for office.  That is true no matter the motivation or whether the person asked the candidate for input before expressing his support publicly.

This same logic transfers directly to the candidate.  If it falls under free speech rights to express support for another person, and it absolutely does, then it must fall under free speech rights to express support for one’s own candidacy.

In the abstract (although probably not under current law as adjudicated by the Supreme Court), one could possibly argue that states can regulate the money that people give to candidates and how they spend it, but restrictions on anything having to do with speech are clear infringements on our rights.

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It’s Wednesday; Do You Know Where Your Governor Is?

Rhode Islanders wondering where their governor is need only turn the news media… in California:

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo is set to hold fundraisers for her re-election campaign Wednesday in Hancock Park and Studio City.

The first fundraiser will be a noon lunch at the Hancock Park home of Cynthia Telles, the director of the Spanish Speaking Psychosocial Clinic at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is set to attend as a “special guest,” according to an invitation obtained by City News Service. …

The second fundraiser will be from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Studio City home of Elizabeth Hirsh Naftali.

Tickets for both fundraisers are $1,000, the maximum individual contribution allowed under Rhode Island law…

Telles is a big-time Democrat insider and enthusiastic board member of for- and non-profit organizations, like GM.  Naftali seems to be most notable as a fundraiser for Democrats, including, recently, Maxine Waters, who is currently under fire for encouraging mob action against Trump administration officials.

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Casino Money May Go to Pay for Town Council’s Lawsuit Gambles

So, Tiverton has this big influx of revenue coming with the Twin River casino, and it sure does appear that the Town Council could lose a lot of it in court, as residents and local businesses win lawsuits related to reckless or poorly executed enforcement actions.  Here’s one instance, from Tiverton Fact Check:

The town approved an incorrect site plan for McLaughlin’s garage, allowing him to build it too close to his property lines, and later told him to take it down.  In February 2016, the town voted to hire a demolition crew one week after a court order allowed it to do so and knocked the garage down, even though litigation was ongoing.  Rather than wait for McLaughlin to exhaust all of his court appeals, the Town Council decided it was an urgent matter to remove the garage, which was, after all, still 16 feet from one property line and 22 from another.  It had to send a message to the people of Tiverton.

The problem was that the wrong town body brought the suit, and now McLaughlin is moving forward in search of millions of dollars in damages.  One wonders how much less likely an incompetent town government would be to insist on arrogant shows of power if it wouldn’t always be able to simply pass on the cost to taxpayers.

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The Governor’s Brief Walk on the Tightrope of “Tolerance”

Perhaps it’s misplaced to take too seriously Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s statement on the Supreme Court’s ruling, today, acknowledging the authority of the President of the United States to set immigration policy within the boundaries of the Constitution and federal law.  Still, I think something telling in this paragraph is worth brief consideration:

“Rhode Island was founded on the idea that freedom of worship is an inherent human right. I’m disappointed that the Supreme Court sided in favor of President Trump’s immoral and unnecessary Muslim ban. Our state has always been strengthened by the contribution of immigrants. It’s now more important than ever that we show the world that there’s a place for everyone in Rhode Island. No matter your race, where you’re from, your immigration status or who you love-you are welcome here.”

First observe the illogic:  The statement begins by referring to “freedom of worship,” which has nothing to do with this case.  The Trump administration is not seeking immigration restrictions because the immigrants will come here to worship.  It is not seeking to screen travelers based on their religion, rather than the countries from which they’re traveling, or to prevent worship once they’re here, but rather to prevent terrorism.

Now fast-forward to the end.  Raimondo notes that “there’s a place for everyone in Rhode Island,” elaborating that the categories applying to that assertion are race, country of origin, the legality of one’s presence in the country, and sexual orientation.  Note what’s missing.

Yes, yes, I’m tempted to quip that Raimondo — who uses her government office to discriminate against school boys in an official annual contest — doesn’t mention biological sex, perhaps because men aren’t necessarily welcome.  But more to the point, see how she’s dropped that “freedom to worship” thing?

Of course, I sympathize with the challenge that she faced in writing this statement.  She could have reinforced the “freedom of worship” point by welcoming people “no matter what God or gods they follow, or if they don’t believe in God at all,” but that would have been clunky.  She could have welcomed people “no matter what you beliefs,” but what about people who believe in outrageous things like the Second Amendment and the traditional definition of marriage, let alone the humanity of children prior to birth?

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A Local Hook for Restaurateur Discrimination

As local papers often do with national stories, the Providence Journal strove to provide local color to a growing trend in the area of Washington, D.C., of driving Trump Administration figures out of restaurants:

“I know hundreds of restaurant owners in R.I., and I can’t think of one that would turn someone away,” said Bob Bacon, owner of the Gregg’s restaurant and bakery chain and a past chairman of the R.I. Hospitality Association, an industry trade group.

“We are all thrilled to death to be given your business,” he said.

Presumably, reporter Gail Ciampa isn’t aware of Revival Brewing Company’s cancellation of an America’s Future Foundation event at the last minute for political reasons earlier this year, even though I wrote about it in her paper.

It’s very easy for restaurants to proclaim that they’d never turn people away, and it’s easy to find a group of them that would be telling the truth with that proclamation, but that doesn’t capture the reality.  AFF had a similar experience with a different establishment shortly after, but I didn’t have time to write about it, and nobody else in Rhode Island media seems to care.

“It could never happen here,” the saying goes… except when it does.  Then nobody will notice so that they can continue to believe their pleasant fiction.

Not long ago, Christian writer Rod Dreher coined the Law of Merited Impossibility, which observes a common insinuation from the American Left whenever these sorts of stories emerge:  “That will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.”  This is human nature, and conservatives should be prepared for things to get worse before they get better, but it’d be nice if professionals who believe themselves to be objective were able to acknowledge it.

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The Broad Story of Pensions

As is the publication’s wont, GoLocalProv’s coverage of the Diocese of Providence’s pension problems makes a play for a sense of scandal and therefore misses a bigger story in the lesson that it teaches:

The document is dated June 19, 2018, and marked “immediate action” and it calls for drastic cuts to beneficiaries of the fund. Also, to be considered at the meeting is the October 2017 recommendation document and the plan outlined is to be considered for action this week.

Another dire statement in the report says, “Even with the revised more realistic assumptions, if we make these changes, it will still take 30-35 years to fully fund the Plan.” …

The four primary reasons for the plan’s lack of stability have been conditions for years.  Catholic schools in Rhode Island have been closing for the last three decades, the 7.5 percent annual rate of return has not been considered achievable for the better part of a decade, and the major changes in mortality rates was achieved decades ago.

Note that the state of Rhode Island uses a 7.5% estimate for an annual rate of return, as well, and employees of the state have had the same changes in mortality rates.  The only difference is that state government can always raise taxes to pay its mammoth obligations.

My understanding of the history, here, suggests that the problems for diocesan schools are wrapped up with changes in government.  (This would make for a worthwhile research project for any students in an appropriate field who have the time.)  During the same broad time period that the Church could no longer rely on religious brothers and sisters to run its classrooms, government employees unionized, and the unions began manipulating the electoral system to ensure that compensation — including pensions — would rocket beyond an amount that could conceivably be afforded without the bottomless well of taxpayer dollars. Private schools have to compete in this general job market.

Intentionally or not, public sector pensions were designed to hide the actual cost of the benefit.  The system looked affordable, and the diocese offered a variation.  Simultaneously, an explosion of regulations and mandates for schools, specifically, increased operating costs across the board.

So, yes, there’s a reckoning coming for this error, but it isn’t only for the diocese.

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Hints of Actual Progress in North Korea?

This seems like a pretty significant development, reported by Eileen Connelly in the New York Post (via Instapundit):

Murals, banners and posters displayed throughout the capital, Pyongyang, have for decades depicted the U.S. as a brutal, imperialist aggressor hell-bent on destroying the North Korean regime. South Korea and Japan were also frequently targeted as willing allies of the U.S.

But things started to take an Orwellian turn in the run-up to Kim’s June 12 summit with President Donald Trump, with the old posters vanishing since then.

“All the anti-American posters I usually see around Kim Il-sung Square and at shops, they’ve all just gone,” Rowan Beard, a tour manager at Young Pioneer Tours, told Reuters. “In five years working in North Korea, I’ve never seen them completely disappear before.”

Inheriting a repressive regime during a global revolution in communications technology put Kim Jong-un in a difficult spot.  Keeping the people who live in his country entirely isolated could only last so much longer, yet loosening controls means letting in the truth to the masses whom his family has brutally repressed for generations while creating an opportunity for some lesser dictator to execute a coup and claim credit for a minor improvement in living standards.

The combined wealth of the United States, China, and South Korea, however, could provide quite a period of rapid improvement to ease the peninsula back toward some sort of reunification, with enough of a boost maybe (maybe) to rocket people’s gratitude and relief past their resentment and enough protection to keep ambitious underlings from seeing an opportunity.  This is all speculation, of course, but it actually isn’t that hard to believe that a dictator would be willing to exchange total (but precarious) control of a hellhole for untold wealth and perhaps credit as a national savior if foreign money and cooperation can manage the flip.

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Notable Powers for Notary Publics

During our weekly on-air conversations, John DePetro and I have long pondered the increasing significance of notary publics to political campaigns. A campaign with some extra money can deploy people to go out and get votes by bringing absentee ballots to them and signing off on their signatures.

Today, John noticed a statement from Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea touting the General Assembly’s passage of legislation implementing “a model” that only 11 other states have pursued “designed to standardize notarial requirements and procedures.” I’ll freely admit that my knowledge of the subject leaves me unable to assess how different the provisions of the new law are to current practice, but whether the following provisions will be new or are already in place, they are conspicuous in light of this increase in the prominence of political notaries:

  • Another person can sign for somebody who is “physically unable to sign a record.” That inability is not defined, but it seems likely to include not only physical impairment (like broken hands), but also an inability to write for any other reason. (“Physically,” in this reading, would be meant as a distinction to prevent people from signing for somebody who can’t sign because he or she is somewhere else, for instance.)
  • Notaries in other states or even other countries would be able to verify signatures.
  • Notaries could accept “signatures” by digital technology, meaning “an electronic symbol, sound, or process.”
  • Notaries don’t need to check ID if “the individual is personally known to the notarial officer.”
  • To the extent that ID is needed, a notary can accept IDs that have expired within the prior three years.
  • “Errors” don’t carry any penalty unless they can be shown to be outright fraud.

In short, it’s very easy to see how notaries could haul in votes as if with fishing nets even without doing anything fraudulent, and be separated with several layers of ambiguity from actual fraud.

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Law Will Cure Lack of Paid Time Off by Undermining Businesses That Have Difficulty

Paul Edward Parker’s Providence Journal article profiling businesses that are and aren’t concerned or confused about Rhode Island’s recently passed law to force employers to provide paid time off for employees implies the reason the legislation was a product of hubris:

“I can’t even imagine how that would work out, being a seasonal business,” Bitto said in a telephone interview last week. At Evelyn’s, the season runs from mid-April to Oct. 1. …

With the Evelyn’s season running about 170 days, any employees who work the whole season will be able to use their accrued sick time during the last two or three weeks of their employment. …

“Honestly, I have no focus on it at all,” she said. “I’m just busy running the business, worrying about my freezer breaking down.”

Meanwhile:

Dan Dwight, president and chief executive of the Pawtucket-based Cooley Group, which makes fabric and polymer roof membranes, isn’t sweating the new law. His company, which has about 130 employees in Rhode Island, already provides paid sick days.

For the most part, employers who can offer this benefit already do, and those that don’t have a good reason and (given market pressures) have probably accounted for the omission somewhere else in their compensation packages or business practices.  That could mean higher pay, to attract employees willing to forgo paid time off, or a work environment that is attractive for some intangible reason or hiring people who might not otherwise be able to find work (like young adults looking for seasonal jobs).

Forcing this regulation on every business reduces employees’ negotiation leverage, makes it more difficult for new businesses to get going and to expand, and gives some businesses an advantage over others simply because of their size or because the nature of their work better lends itself to this particular benefit. In the long run, the result won’t be that every Rhode Island employee has paid time off so much as that those whose potential employers who can’t offer it simply won’t exist.

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The Beneficiaries of Toxic Masculinity

Incensed by the latest hogwash about “toxic masculinity,” Gail Heriot writes on Instapundit:

I looked up the death toll on the Titanic.  Sure enough, according to the figures I found, the survival rate for women was high–74%.  For men, not so much.  Only 16% survived.  And it wasn’t just a class thing.  Third-class (steerage) women were more likely to survive (49%) than first-class men (32%).  N.B.:  The reason for the difference was not that women are better than men at treading water.

Keep in mind that the steerage sections were blocked off from the other sections (where the lifeboats were), which may not have all been unlocked as the ship sank.  Interestingly, the most deadly thing to be was a man in the second-class section.  According to the data Heriot uses, only 8% of them survived.  Breaking up class by the cost of the ticket is probably not a very exact measure, but one could roughly categorize this as the middle class.

Although exact statistics would be impossible to find, we could reasonably assume that the men who died had no wage advantage over the women who survived after the tragedy, even in aggregate.  Of course, that’s an unfair quip, but blending past tragedy with modern times does make me wonder:  What would these numbers look like now?  Will modern men still give women preferential status in a life-or-death situation?

In total, 488 of 1,300 passengers survived.  Of the passengers who boarded the ship, 319 were in first class, and 272 were in second class.  If we’ve erased the impetus for half of the population to step aside to benefit the other half, according to a category that cuts across class, would the lower or even middle income people even have a chance?

If we’re inclined to answer in the negative, then a common theme of progressive social change emerges.  The greatest beneficiaries are those who are already most advantaged.  On the Titanic, wealthier men would have survived, and wealthier women would have kept their husbands.  On the campuses of elite colleges, advantaged minorities benefit while disadvantaged people lose even their limited opportunities.

Maybe discarding traditional norms wholesale isn’t such a good idea.

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Keeping Tabs on the Flynn Story

Given his connection to Rhode Island (he grew up in Middletown and went to URI), General Michael Flynn’s involvement with the Trump White House and plea bargain after special counsel Robert Mueller accused him of lying to the FBI has been a big topic for the local news media.  The Providence Journal’s G. Wayne Miller even won an award for a profile titled “Before the Fall.”

Given that this local interest seems to have petered out as the Mueller investigation has come into question, including around Flynn’s plea bargain, it’s important to note how the story is changing for this local boy who made it big.  Lawyer/blogger John Hinderaker has followed the story in detail and believed the case against Flynn was “incredibly weak,” in part because the evidence is all in summary notes made by FBI agents, rather than recorded or transcribed.  Now he highlights the following detail published in The Hill:

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) suggested Thursday in an interview wth Hill.TV’s “Rising” that evidence may have been tampered with in the case against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. …

Meadows suggested one focus is whether FBI interview reports — known as 302 reports — about Flynn were altered to improve the chances he’d be prosecuted.

We don’t know what evidence Meadows might cite, but given recent revelations about political corruption in the FBI, especially with Peter Strzok, one of the agents who interviewed Flynn, it isn’t difficult to believe that they set him up for a process charge so Mueller could squeeze him for information that might snag the President of the United States, whom they despise.

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Equal Pay Is Dead, Long Live Equal Pay

The news is everywhere in Rhode Island media that the Rhode Island Senate will not consider the House version of the “equal pay” legislation:

The day began with a pronouncement by the Senate that the “pay equity” bill — which tied the House in knots before a 64-to-9 vote of approval the previous night — was dead on arrival in the Senate, which had passed a much further-reaching bill earlier in the year.

“The Senate prioritized pay equity this session,″ said Senate spokesman Greg Pare. “On April 10, national ‘Equal Pay Day,’ the Senate passed strong legislation to address wage gaps in the workplace. The legislation the House passed last night does not reflect the Senate’s commitment to ensuring equal pay for comparable work and meaningful change for women’s economic security.

“The Senate will not be considering the House bill.”

So, even though the two versions of the bill have substantial overlap, if one chamber doesn’t pass the other chamber’s version, that’s that.  A cynic (which can, with only mild cynicism, be defined as “somebody who has observed the Rhode Island General Assembly for a while”) might wonder how choreographed this performance was.

Prioritizing the issue was an early and somewhat surprising point of emphasis for Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.  This outcome gives him progressive cover, while giving House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello pro-business creds for his first election after nearly being unseated by a conservative challenger, all in the muddy mix of a legislative process that makes it difficult to blame anybody in particular.

Rhode Islanders should welcome the results, though.  The Senate legislation was a radical nightmare that was arguably only in part about reducing a wage gap between men and women, and the notion that discrimination is creating an unfair differential in pay is a myth.  In other words, forcing its mandates on the economy would create a regulatory environment that would be unfair to businesses and to employees whose work would be devalued in order to adjust pay rates that are not based on discrimination as it is.

The inability of the General Assembly’s two chambers to come up with common legislation will now move the issue past the November election, which may very well take some of the hot air out of the narrative’s sails, one way or another.

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The Conditions Under Which Progressives Will Lease Us to Businesses

One last minute bill in the Rhode Island General Assembly, H8324, may or may not be going anywhere, but it’s worth a look as an educational exercise.

Very simply, it would require any “hosting platform” (e.g., AirBnB) that allows people to “offer any property for tourist or transient use” to be responsible for making sure that the rentals are in compliance with state and local laws and regulations.  It would also require the platform operators to take a more active role in the collection and transfer of all relevant taxes.

This little change in law, affecting a narrow portion of a single industry in the state, carries some important questions of the sort that we don’t consider thoroughly enough.  What is the nature of commerce?  Who works for whom?  Who has responsibility for whom?

From a free-market perspective that starts with the individual as the origin of all economic activity, the property owners are responsible for the product that they are offering, and the hosting platforms work for them.  Because they are the constituents of state and local government, they have a say in that government and can arguably be said to have consented to granting it some authority to regulate their activities.

The progressive perspective that has long been insinuating itself into Rhode Island government and encroaching on Rhode Islanders’ rights is very different.  That view doesn’t begin with individuals as autonomous sources of responsibility and power.  The Rhode Islanders seeking to rent their property don’t truly have ownership of themselves.  Rather state and local government has claims on their activities, and the hosting platforms own their rental businesses.  It is therefore reasonable for the government to require platforms to make sure that their workers comply with its requirements.

From a free-market perspective, a government that imposes requirements on people might create incentive for them to hire a contractor to do tasks for them — for AirBnB to provide inspections for regulatory compliance, for example, with an extra fee.  But from a progressive perspective, the government has a right to tell companies that intend to draw profits from its people what conditions they must impose, or else they cannot do business here.

In other words, progressives implicitly believe that the government is renting us out to the companies.

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Learning Lessons from Our Neighboring States

Here’s the Yankee Institute of Connecticut highlighting a Pioneer Institute study out of Massachusetts:

Pioneer Institute’s study “Back to Taxachusetts” tracks ten years of Connecticut data from 2008 to 2017 and is rife with sections entitled “Corporate exodus,” “Stagnant economy,” and “Voting with their feet,” to show Connecticut’s tax policies have left the state failing, whereas Massachusetts has become an economic powerhouse.

“Connecticut provides a real-world, sobering example of how a seemingly attractive tax-the-rich scheme can backfire badly on a state, turning rosy projections of revenue gains to real-life losses, and damaging business confidence in the process,” wrote Gregory W. Sullivan, research director for Pioneer Institute.

The study was authored in response to a “coalition of labor unions, community groups, and social advocacy organizations,” trying impose a 4 percent tax surcharge on individuals in Massachusetts earning over $1 million per year through a “Fair Share Amendment” to the state constitution. The amendment was placed on the voter ballot, but was challenged in court.

Union-aligned progressives are pushing for the same sorts of things in Rhode Island.  So far, the firewall of sanity has held in the Ocean State, but one can only hope Rhode Islanders are paying enough attention to learn the lessons when other states fall for the far-left pitch.

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We’ll Get Internet Sales Taxes; Will We Get Our Rate Reduction?

With its more-conservative members taking the lead, the Supreme Court today opened the way for states to begin imposing their sales taxes on Internet commerce, even for sellers that don’t have a presence in their states, through South Dakota v. Wayfair.  The judges’ reasoning was that previous Supreme Courts had incorrectly applied the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution on this topic.

From an originalist point of view, then, the states have always had the authority to collect sales taxes, but as various technologies have eased the ability to conduct commerce across state lines, Supreme Court decisions have incorrectly restrained that authority.  This point is especially relevant in Rhode Island, because our state law (RIGL 44-18-15.2) instructs the executive branch to begin collecting sales taxes from online retailers “upon passage of any federal law authorizing states to require remote sellers to collect and remit sales and use taxes.”

State law also (RIGL 44-18-18) requires the executive branch to lower the rate for all sales taxes from 7% to 6.5% “upon passage of any federal law that authorizes states to require remote sellers to collect and remit sales and use taxes.”  So, “on the date that the state requires remote sellers to collect and remit sale and use taxes,” every retailer in the Ocean State (and those outside of Rhode Island, like Amazon, that already collect our sales tax) should begin to collect 50-cents less for every $100 of a sale.

Here’s the possible catch:  Does a Supreme Court ruling count as “passage of any federal law”?  Rhode Islanders should watch closely for signs of the following possibilities:

  • The executive branch asserts that it is already authorized to collect the online sales tax based on 44-18-15.2, in which case taxpayers would have a very strong claim that it must also collect tax at the 6.5% rate.
  • The General Assembly rushes to change state law in a way that allows the collection of Internet sales taxes without dropping the rate.
  • The General Assembly attempts to sneak in the same result in some way, perhaps by inserting a phrase like “or upon a Supreme Court ruling to the same effect” into 44-18-15.2 but not into 44-18-18.

Frankly, it’s disappointing that no state-level politicians (particularly legislative leaders) have yet proclaimed their happiness that the state can now lower its sales tax rate.  Presumably the scheming remains offline for now.

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“Equal Pay”: From the Radical to the Uselessly Disruptive

Fortuitously, the Providence Journal ran an op-ed by me explaining how insanely radical proposed equal pay legislation actually is:

This legislation must, therefore, be about something other than simple fairness in the workplace. Sure enough, the biggest piece making this legislation so radical is its broad scope — going well beyond the battle of the sexes. Indeed, the “equal pay” umbrella extends to the categories of “race or color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, age, or country of ancestral origin,” covering all “comparable work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions.”

Plainly put, this gives the government power to investigate just about any business and dictate changes to its pay policies, because the only pay differences that wouldn’t have legal risks would be those between people of the same race, religion, sex, orientation, gender identity, disability, age, and nationality. For any two employees who aren’t more or less demographically identical, the lower-paid one could initiate a complaint with the state with the same weight as complaints that the employer withheld pay. The law explicitly puts the burden on the employer to explain it and to prove that no other business practice could erase the difference, even if it’s innocent.

Today, the Rhode Island House will consider an amended version of the bill that gives reason to think that some legislators are not quite as crazy as the original bill would require them to be.  House 7427A limits the scope of the bill to race and gender, exempts companies under 18 employees, and reduces employers’ liability in a variety of ways.

The question now is why the legislature is passing anything at all.  Existing law already covers such things, so all this bill will do is create some new regulatory burdens with unproven legal language that may have unintended consequences.

The only explanation is political: that politicians want to be able to say they did something, even if they did nothing good in practical reality.  This gives momentum to the people who are manipulating the cultural narrative while tangling up Rhode Islanders who are doing their best just to support their families and move our society forward.

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A Big Lesson from a (Relatively) Small Tax Increase

I’ve got an op-ed in the Valley Breeze today taking the opportunity of a new sales tax on software as a service products to illustrate the harmful thinking of our legislators:

In short, the state government is going to tax an innovation that empowers productive, motivated Rhode Island families who are making the most of technology that levels the economic playing field. Even if it’s “only” $4.8 million, why would the state government do that? …

So, when Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, a Democrat from Cranston, tells reporters that “to not expect (the budget) to rise every year is not realistic,” he’s really saying it is unrealistic to expect state government only to grow at the same speed or more slowly than the household budgets of Rhode Island families. If that’s the expectation, then the governor and the General Assembly must find new ways to take more money from Rhode Islanders.

After all, the politicians have to find some way to pay for election-year raises for unionized state employees. If they’re going to increase the tax credits for producers who film movies here, they’re going to have to start taxing your Netflix account. If they’re going to promise a big chunk of the state’s income, sales, and corporate taxes to the PawSox for a new stadium, they’re going to have to increase those taxes even more to break even.

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Sense of the RI Economy: Positive but Discouraging or Discouraging but Positive?

In a brief article in today’s Providence Journal, Paul Edward Parker juxtaposes the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) with URI Economics Professor Len Lardaro’s Current Conditions Index (CCI):

“Rhode Islanders should be happy to see the various measures of employment and jobs improving, and to see fewer Rhode Islanders relying on Medicaid,” said the center’s research director, Justin Katz. “Still, Rhode Island needs to move quickly if it wants to capitalize on the national economic improvement, and we’ve seen no sign that our elected officials understand the urgency or what needs to be done.”

The center found that Rhode Island continues to straggle well behind the U.S. average on its index and even farther behind the average for New England. …

Meanwhile, Lardaro reports the lowest CCI score since November 2016, but…

“While all of this appears to be rather bleak and foreboding at first glance,” he said, “I believe such a rush to judgement is not necessarily appropriate at the present time.”

He further explained that the April performance “was fairly strong as disappointments go.” He noted improvement over April 2017 in two employment numbers: the labor-force-participation rate and the employment rate.

So, which is it?  Are Rhode Island’s numbers not good enough to challenge long-term skepticism and concern, or are they not bad enough to temper general optimism?

As with all of these index debates, the answer largely depends on what indicators one traces.  I’d suggest that I was correct to warn that our upswing may be a consequence of national trends for which our state government has positioned us poorly.  Lardaro may be correct that positive momentum is moderating, but with continued opportunity for growth.

Either way, the prescription is the same:  Rhode Islanders need to stop settling for broader economic tides and free their neighbors to start rowing.

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