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The Most Critical Consideration for an Inspector General

This came up in my discussion last week with John DePetro (for which I have no audio), but the point is significant enough to merit a quick post.  As most people who follow Rhode Island politics, Republican candidate for governor, Patricia Morgan, earned some attention for making the notion of an inspector general part of the campaign and naming her first choice:

At her Warwick campaign headquarters, Morgan, the House minority leader, announced that if elected governor, she would create an office of the inspector general, and she named Arlene Violet, a former state attorney general, as her first choice to run that office.

An inspector general would root out waste, fraud and corruption and make the government more accountable to the taxpayers of Rhode Island — goals that reflect Morgan’s vision of government.

Having helped to craft legislation to create an inspector general a few years ago, I find this approach worrying.  State government already has multiple offices for people auditing and reviewing government’s activities.  The whole reason to create a new office of the inspector general is his or her independence.  The most important components of any plan for such an office, therefore, are the way in which he or she acquires the position, who can take that position away, and how it is funded.

One could reasonably argue that such a job ought to be defined in the state’s constitution, but at least creating the job through the General Laws would impose political pressures on the legislature and the executive not to be seen meddling too much.  The notion that a governor could come in, create the office, and then appoint a person of his or her choosing is contrary to the fundamental spirit of the policy.

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Raimondo Effort to Buy Votes Could Hurt Children

Imagine a journalistic universe in which the Providence Journal, rather than simply passing along Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s day-before-the-primary pledge to hand out more free pre-K, had done a little bit of research into the subject matter:

Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Monday that if reelected she will guarantee that every 4-year-old in the state has a spot in a pre-kindergarten classroom.

“I don’t think that you should have to be wealthy in order to have a chance to have a good, high-quality pre-K,” Raimondo said, sitting in front of a classroom of preschoolers at the Heritage Park YMCA.

As regularly followed in this space, the value of universal pre-K is, at best, questionable.  The policy may even be a net harm to children and (although not yet researched) to their families.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the people who report on the government’s activities stopped doing so from the premise that more government involvement in our lives is most likely to be a good thing?

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Yorke, Stenhouse, Walsh, and One-Way Fairness

In all the heat and contention, an important point slipped through on the episode of Dan Yorke State of Mind on which RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse debated National Education Association of Rhode Island Executive Director Robert Walsh:

Stenhouse was arguing, correctly, that teachers have a legal right to representation outside of their labor union.  Walsh was arguing, correctly, that the labor union has an increased interest in conflicts that arise within the “four walls of the contract” — that is, grievances arising from matters that fall under its unique scope.  And Yorke was stating, reasonably, that it isn’t really fair to force unions to spend money representing people who don’t pay into it.

On that last point, Stenhouse noted that the Supreme Court itself balanced this “free rider” issue against the decades of money that unions have collected from non-members against their will.  I’d go a bit farther, though.  Supporters of labor unions find it fair to force employees in a workplace to belong to unions and adhere to union contracts even if they’d prefer to make their own arrangements because that is for the good of the whole.  Just so, having a unified system for representing people in a bargaining unit could be said to be in everybody’s interests, even if those people don’t pay into it.  More directly, offering “free” services to non-members can still be in the financial interest of the union because accepting that burden gives them access to the larger, unionized workforce.

Fairness has to go both ways.

Now to the legal point:  Walsh is correct to cite the four walls of the contract.  In each district, that contract binds the school department, the union’s members, the non-union teachers, and the union.  As I’ve already explained, at least in the case of Bristol-Warren, the existing contract does not allow an additional fee.  However, it does place the burden of representing all teachers in grievances on the union.

If the union thinks this is unfair, then it must renegotiate the contract to include a fee, a concession for which a responsible school committee would extract something.  The union can’t simply create new terms in its favor just because one of its provisions turned out to violate the rights of non-members. In asserting this future possibility as a present fact, the union is deceiving teachers.

Again: Fairness has to go both ways.

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Gaspee on 10 and Robber Barons in the Government

If you haven’t caught Gaspee Project Clay Johnson’s conversation with Bill Rappleye on 10 News Conference, be sure to check it out (in three parts).

Rappleye seemed baffled by some of Clay’s views, but he articulated them very well — better than is often the case.

One interesting point that I would have taken in a somewhat different direction than Clay was Rappleye’s characterization of “unfettered capitalism” as the playground of robber barons.  Clay’s answer was that a “free market” isn’t only free from excessive government interference, but also from other institutions or forces that seek to restrain competitive activity.  That includes monopolies or cartels that effectively control markets based on their own power, without reference to the tax-and-police powers of the state.

A classic example of this was Cornelius Vanderbilt’s ownership of the Albany Bridge, the only way to get trains from west of the Hudson River to New York City in the mid-1800s, and his closure of that bridge to manipulate the markets and buy off his competitors.  This example is also helpful in that it illustrates why one might reasonably propose that government get involved to regulate use of a private bridge, if not take it over completely, or to create public bridges to compete.

Such questions can become tricky quickly, but the key point in 2018 is that those conditions exist in a much more limited way.  Technology has empowered so much innovation that the problem has flipped.  Metaphorically, thousands of entrepreneurs around the country are deciding that relying on the Albany Bridge makes them vulnerable or is simply irrelevant, and so they’re building new bridges or figuring out how to avoid the use of bridges altogether.  And here comes Mr. Vanderbilt, looking for government to stop that innovation so this antiquated structure remains viable.

As I mentioned back in 2016, the robber barons created a market for progressive politics to use government against the powerful industrialists.  Now we have an even more-powerful monopoly — government — that has much more total authority over us than mere economics, and it has been working to bring other powerful forces, like industrialists, to heel.

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Betting the Farm on a Free-Market Solution

Courtesy of EcoRI, here’s an interesting take on a Tiverton farm that is apparently soon to become a solar power plant:

The 72-acre farm is filled with history and habitat. Thousands of trees, a pond alive with frogs, an 18th-century farmhouse, and the grave of an American Revolutionary War soldier are among the property’s many treasures, buried or otherwise.

Julie Munafo’s family has owned Wingover Farm since 1970s, but a pending sale could lead to the destruction of more Rhode Island open space — another act in a growing pattern that sacrifices natural resources for energy production.

The state — thanks to generous economic incentives that are energizing shortsighted development — is paying for the rampant expansion of its renewable-energy portfolio, mostly ground-mounted solar panels, with forests and farmland.

The interesting part is that an environmentalist publication is using a notably contra-government tone in favor of preserving the open space.  The only semblance of an answer mentioned in Frank Carini’s article is for people to attend meetings to help figure out better rules for placing solar farms, but that is insufficient on its face.  The problem will remain that (at the behest of environmentalists) the government has created financial incentive for solar farms.  Making it more difficult to site them will only raise the cost, which is just another way to lower the subsidy.

Eliminating the subsidies altogether would be a better option.  The progressive complaint against free-market solutions is that they give people or groups with money an advantage, but progressive solutions that leverage government give people or groups with power an advantage (and, of course, money is one source of power).  At least in the free market, people with money are competing with other people with money.

Happily, those with more-material intentions will be the most keen to make sure their investments are well placed and efficient, while those with more-altruistic intentions will have an edge in projects that have a moral or aesthetic angle.  A nostalgic family looking to offload a farm, for instance, might sell it for less to developer who plans to sacrifice profit for preservation.

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Another Politically Convenient “Finding” That Might Not Be True

File this under “things you won’t hear proclaimed loudly in Rhode Island.”  It appears that the United States is not the world leader in mass shootings:

[Criminologist Adam] Lankford’s study reported that over the 47 years there were 90 public mass shooters in the United States and 202 in the rest of world. Lankford hasn’t released his list of shootings or even the number of cases by country or year. We and others, both in academia and the media, have asked Lankford for his list, only to be declined. He has also declined to provide lists of the news sources and languages he used to compile his list of cases.

These omissions are important because Lankford’s entire conclusion would fall apart if he undercounted foreign cases due to lack of news coverage and language barriers.

When a researcher won’t provide the underlying data for his or her conclusions, that should be a major red flag.  The new Crime Prevention Research Center report puts the U.S. as having the 61st most mass shootings, not the first, behind (among others, obviously) Norway, Finland, Switzerland, and Russia.

But don’t expect reasonable doubts about Lankford’s assertions to gain much play.  His “findings” support a certain ideological position too cleanly.

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Whom the Wavemakers Wash Out with the Tide

How typical of the Rhode Island Way is Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s Wavemaker program?

A total of 240 college graduates working in science, technology, engineering, math and design occupations have been awarded Wavemaker Fellowships to help pay their student loans, the R.I. Commerce Corporation announced Thursday.

The average award in this, the third year of the program, is about $3,600. The tax credits are intended to keep recent college graduates working in Rhode Island, rather than become part of a “brain drain” to other states.

Put aside chuckles at the notion that keeping 240 Rhode Islanders each year does much to help the brain drain problem and the question of whether that $3,600 is actually persuading most of them to stay here despite options elsewhere.  Who pays for this program?

The answer is that we all do.  The money is skimmed from all of the various taxes and fees that we all pay, and as small as the $864,000 price tag may be, it ultimately becomes concentrated on the most active participants in the state’s economy, who must find ways to pass the burden on.  One can’t trace such things, dollar for dollar, but it’s a relatively safe bet that the burden ultimately comes to rest on those with the least economic leverage.

Of course, we know it’s not only $864,000 per year.  For the Wavemaker program to seem so ordinary, there must be many other programs that follow a similar philosophy.  For such a seemingly inconsequential program to be proposed, enacted, and implemented, it must accord with Rhode Island’s political and economic strategy, which we can summarize as getting somebody else to pay for politically convenient favors… preferably somebody whose face we will never have to see.

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The Inherent Politicization of Government Unions

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s new chairman, Stephen Skoly makes an important point in a recent op-ed (emphasis added):

At the root of the Janus case is the inherently political nature of government unions, which negotiate for taxpayer funded benefits. Prior to Janus, these activities were subsidized with dollars forcibly taken in dues or fees from public employee paychecks. Now that workers have been restored their rights to choose whether or not to pay, unions must become more transparent and diverse in their election and legislative advocacy, if they are to keep their members. Employees should know how their dues money is spent; this, too, will be part of our campaign.

For a sense of how true this inherent politicization is, look no farther than Dan Yorke’s interview with the director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island, Bob Walsh.  Walsh makes light of the political allegation by breaking down the unions’ individual activities into their component parts, but that’s a distraction.  Instead, look toward the end of the interview, when Yorke turns the conversation to politics.

Note, in particular, that Walsh is explicitly speaking in his role as a union leader and that his points are inextricable from the union’s activities.  Explaining the two sides of the scale when it comes to his union’s decision not to endorse a gubernatorial candidate for the upcoming primary, Walsh says that Governor Gina Raimondo was “helpful in replacing Commissioner Gist.”

This is a reference to former Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, who tried to bring some measure of reform to Rhode Island’s system, in which it is badly needed.  The union did not like her efforts to make its members accountable, so it helped to bring somebody into office who would appoint a commissioner more to its liking.  One can see the same thing in unions’ efforts to determine with whom they’ll be negotiating in local school committee races.

Thus, government unions are on every side of every negotiating table, leveraging taxpayer funds that until Janus employees had no choice but to give them to affect who will be elected.  That would be inherently political even if the unions weren’t leading advocates for a far-left ideology on issues having nothing to do with representing employees.

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A Familiar Name on the Twin River Picket Line

Scarcely had the new Twin River Casino opened in Tiverton than a labor union was out on the street reminding people that this is still Rhode Island:

The union representing security guards at the Twin River’s Tiverton Casino Hotel said it will hold an informational picket at Saturday’s grand opening of the casino following the firing of five security guards, including union president Charles Mulcahy and union secretary Timothy Panell.

“We just want people to be aware that they’re opening a brand new beautiful casino and we want to be a part of the casino,” said Ralph Ezovski, a spokesman for the Casino Security Officers Association of Rhode Island. “But we feel we’re being treated unfairly.”

Introduction of the concept of fairness at the end of the second paragraph might bring the eyes of Tiverton residents back to the name at the end of the first paragraph.  Unless it is an incredible coincidence of names, Timothy Panell is the police lieutenant who lost his job in Tiverton under accusations that he put in for hours that he did not work (including overtime) and led his entire shift in a habitual early morning nap time.  The Town Council allowed him to retire with a big check for all of his “unused” time off and health care coverage to the age of 65.

A man’s got to go on with his life, even after losing a job in disgrace, but as I keep saying, a little humility would be nice.

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Does Regunberg Want Rhode Island to Confiscate the PawSox?

If anybody should not be skipping debates, it’s Democrat Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee.  Apart from his status as incumbent, he’s an experienced manager running against a far-left young guy who has just about no real-world experience.  He ought to seek out opportunities to illustrate the contrast.

The example that brought this advice to mind was the RIPR interview/debate that I mentioned the other day.  At one point, Regunberg responds to a question about the emigration of the PawSox to Worcester with this:

First of all, I just want to say that this is a really sad moment for our state.  It’s a sad moment for Pawtucket.  It’s a sad moment for families across Rhode Island to lose this icon from our state.  I think there’s blame to go around at the state level.  As you know, I supported the Senate proposal, which I think would have had a shot of keeping the team here, and the speaker did not.  What I get the most frustrated with, however, is this idea of a small group of millionaires and billionaires who are making that choice to take this treasure out of our state for their own profit maximization.  I don’t think that’s right.

Interviewers Ian Donnis and Scott MacKay didn’t follow up on this stunning statement, but McKee should have been there to do so.  Sure, progressives can declare that the decisions of people who act in their own interests with their own property are “not right,” but when those progressives are trying to win government offices, the matter cannot stop there.

What exactly would Regunberg propose to do about?  Effectively socialize the baseball team, with government taking it over?  Increase the corporate welfare that the state might have offered the team to stay… helping those “millionaires and billionaires” even more?

I contacted the candidate for a response to these questions, but he has not replied.  It’d be nice if journalists would pose such questions directly to young progressives while the microphone is already on, but in the absence of that, the duty falls to the opposing candidate.

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The Millennial Wave That Might Not Be

For years, we’ve heard how much attention must be paid to the Millennial generation, because its members would soon change the face of society and politics.  They may very well do that, as a large generation, but a tidbit from Ian Donnis’s latest Friday column reminds us that Millennials are human, too:

Which generation has the greatest increase in voter registration in Rhode Island from 2014 to 2018? Would you believe the Silent Generation (people born between 1928-45), which had a 39 percent bump, from 996 to 1,381 over the last four years, according to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s office. Boomer (born 1945-64) registrations jumped 30 percent, from 4,163 to 5,423, while Xers (1965-1980) climbed 20 percent, from 5,055 to 6,060. Generation Z (1997-) is up 9 percent, 3,290 to 3,574, while Millennial (1981-1996) registrations dropped 11 percent, from 12,275 to 10,892.

So why would the number of voter registrations among Millennials drop as we head toward elections that the mainstream media has been hyping as their chance to save humanity?  An answer would take more digging than I’ve time for at the moment, but I think we can return to my old thesis about the “productive class.”

Over the last four years, the youngest Millennials have moved on from college, or whatever they were doing as they transitioned into their 20s, and the oldest Millennials moved into their late 30s and (gasp!) middle age.  As I’ve been saying since even the oldest Millennials were still in their 20s, the people who tend to leave Rhode Island are those in the “meaty, motivated segment on the cusp of the middle class” — people who want to cash in their talents and labor to build their lives.  That transaction remains much more difficult in Rhode Island than elsewhere.

The harder question may be who remains behind.  Some Millennials in their still-idealistic (read: naive) youth, probably.  However, the non-Millennial cohort could surprise us.  Will they be defined by newly wizened GenXers who have too much experience to fall for socialist promises or seniors too far removed from their careers and too reliant on other people to resist the lure of big government?

We’ll see.  In the meantime, perhaps we should take the lesson that demographics are not destiny and at least some people can change their minds… or move.

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Kilmartin Wants the Cogs to Stay on the Political Gear

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has already responded to a strange press release from Attorney General Peter Kilmartin in which the AG does little but attempt to sow doubt about information helping government employees decide whether they want to remain in their unions.  The most important observation one can make about the press release is that Kilmartin never provides an example of the supposed “misinformation,” or even names the supposed interloper; he’s simply casting shade.

However, the most eye-catching part is probably this:

“If you are contacted about disaffiliating from your public-sector union in the wake of the Janus decision, it is critical that you seek advice either from your union, or from some other reliable source. No worker should rely solely upon any outside group seeking to have the worker waive such a critical right.”

So, this public official’s advice to any employees who have doubts about their unions is to get information from… the unions.  One suspects that information would have a decidedly pro-union tilt, which is clearly what Kilmartin wants.  Take special note of his formulation about “outside groups.”  Implicitly, he’s saying that the unions are “inside groups.” Inside of what?  Well, government.  In his view, they are not essentially the privately run organizations that they actually are; they are part of a team with elected and appointed officials, helping to run government.

This is how progressives like to structure things.  Every group is represented by some hierarchy, and the leaders communicate and then issue edicts to their constituencies.  The “business community” works through whatever chamber or group government officials wish to select as their voice.  Employees are addressed not as individuals, but as members of their unions.  Even local communities aren’t so much electing representatives to go to Providence and advocate on our behalf as we are electing the people who will represent state government to us.

In this approach, employees aren’t valued individually for their work.  They’re cogs in the unionized machine that does work for government (and cycles taxpayer dollars back into political campaigns).  Those who fancy themselves not to be cogs in a machine should take a look at MyPayMySayRI.com.

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Giving a Little Balanced Economic Thinking to Climate Change and the Poor

One needn’t agree with everything a climate change skeptic says to observe something conspicuous from the alarmist side.  They rarely treat the question of climate change as an issue with unfortunate trade-offs, as Byorn Lomborg does in an essay for the New York Post:

Activist organizations like Worldwatch argue that higher temperatures will make more people hungry, so drastic carbon cuts are needed. But a comprehensive new study published in Nature Climate Change led by researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis has found that strong global climate action would cause far more hunger and food insecurity than climate change itself.

The scientists used eight global-agricultural models to analyze various scenarios between now and 2050. These models suggest, on average, that climate change could put an extra 24 million people at risk of hunger. But a global carbon tax would increase food prices and push 78 million more people into risk of hunger. The areas expected to be most vulnerable are sub-Saharan Africa and India.

Indeed, the attitude of alarmists is pretty good evidence that their solutions come before their reason for them, because the depth of analysis is lacking.  A promotional interview of progressive candidate for lieutenant governor Aaron Regunberg that Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR) misleadingly presents as a “debate” contains a good example.

Regunberg pitches the move to reduce the flow of traditional energy into the state as a good economic trade-off.  Imported fuel sends our energy dollars out of state, he says, while home-grown green energy production keeps energy dollars here.  Even without going into the ways in which modern companies are constructed (with supply lines crossing many borders), we can observe Regunberg’s lack of economic depth.

If imported traditional energy is (let’s just say) half the cost of local green energy, it is a cold comfort to local residents that they’re spending twice as much on energy, but with the extra going people who happen to share their state.  On the commercial side, local businesses could reinvest that money in themselves.  In both cases, all of the extra money going into the local green machine is coming out of the local economy anyway.

As with Regunberg’s claims about single-payer health care, progressives insist that their policies are 100% upside and the only reason to disagree is some sort of hatred or greed. On its face, that’s foolish.

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The Red Threat Funding the Left

It’s a cliché (and no less likely to be true for being such) to say that progressives will always tell you what they are doing by accusing the other side of it.  Thus, we get coordinated accusations about “Koch brothers funding” in the most local of races all the way up to the most nationally concerned disputes while George Soros funds the broad and hostile Left and Tom Steyer undemocratically changes energy policies in states in which he does not live.

Thus, we get unsubstantiated assertions of Russian investment in the American Right even as this is going on:

China’s Communist Party is intensifying covert influence operations in the United States that include funding Washington think tanks and coercing Chinese Americans, according to a congressional commission report. …

In addition to Johns Hopkins, other think tanks linked to China and influential in American policy circles include the Brookings Institution, Atlantic Council, Center for American Progress, EastWest Institute, Carter Center, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

So, at best, we’ve got a complex world in which both sides do similar things, each with a mix of motivations and effects.  My experience, though, is that progressives’ activities carry what most people would perceive to be a suspicious tinge.  That makes sense objectively:  The Left, after all, is defined by its comfort with centralized authority and positions itself in opposition to established norms.

However much these Left-Right scales may balance, though, we shouldn’t allow the assumption that anything done for progressive causes is excusable.

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Providence School Unions Send Parents a Message

… and that message ought to be: These unions have too much power over your lives.

First up is the threat of a strike by the Teamsters who represent the bus drivers:

The union representing 200 bus drivers for Providence schools is threatening to strike.

A strike authorization was approved by the membership of Teamsters Local 251, secretary-treasurer Matthew Taibi said Wednesday.

Astonishingly, what they want is for the bus company for which they work, First Student, to switch out their 401ks for a pension.  A pension!  Everybody in the world is learning that defined-benefit pensions just don’t work.  Reasonable contributions and a realistic rate of investment returns just can’t produce enough money to keep people living as well as they want for as long as they live.  Wanting in to this system would be insane, except that the unions are banking on their ability to make governments (and government contractors) increase the cost of services to taxpayers.

Yet, precisely this sort of shenanigan is what should make taxpayers less sympathetic to their plight.  The next time we have to choose between huge tax increases to “honor our promises” to employees and reducing the benefits that employees receive, remember that the unions are key players in forcing those promises to be made despite the risks.

Next up is the threat of work-to-rule from the teachers union:

The Providence Teachers Union has voted overwhelmingly to authorize work-to-rule in the event that tomorrow’s negotiations with the city do not show progress, according to PTU President Maribeth Calabro.

She said 1,940 members voted Monday to move to work-to-rule after two years without a new teachers’ contract. Work-to-rule means that teachers only do what’s is laid out in their contract.

Ah, life in a workers’ paradise, where bus drivers striking in order to enter a broken pension system could force families struggling to make ends meet to find some other way to get their children to schools in which well-paid teachers who work a significantly shortened work year refuse to do anything beyond the minimum in order to protect and expand their employment deal.

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The Unspoken Solution for 195 Bridge Traffic

This thread jumped out at me from a Providence Journal editorial about the disaster-level traffic resulting from ordinary, planned bridge construction on Route 195 West:

Fortunately, Mr. Alviti, though not answerable to the voters, quickly caught wind of the uproar. He announced last week that he, his planners and traffic engineers will go “back to the drawing board” to see if anything can be done. They were working over the weekend on a new plan, looking at opening an additional lane and otherwise increasing capacity for vehicles. …

In the real world, there is no easy way out, of course. As one of the 235 deficient bridges in the state, Washington Bridge does need to be repaired. In the 20 years since its northern span was reconstructed, it has been rotting away, with rusty reinforcement rods sticking out of the concrete on its underside. …

To speed things up, the RIDOT already plans to work around the clock, toiling through the night, which adds to a project’s cost but makes the work go faster.

For some reason, the most important point for us to discuss as a community in response to these government failings never seems to come up.  If we were to lighten up on the ridiculous labor rules that make the cost of roadwork so high, project managers would gain all kinds of flexibility.  That’s a side effect whenever the price of something goes down.

Drop the cost of construction 25–40% (or more), and the state and municipalities will find it easier to keep roads and bridges well kept so they don’t get to the point of needing major repairs as quickly.  Working around the clock or only when traffic is light would more-often be an option.  If the cost were lower, we might have the slack in maintenance budgets to (in some instances) build entire alternate routes while the main route is entirely shut down.

When insider deals and corruption eat up budgets to the maximum that people will tolerate for the minimum tolerable output, there is no room for spending on strategies that make Rhode Islanders’ lives better in the midst of construction.

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Matt Brown Gets the Problems Right but the Solutions Dead Wrong

See, here’s the thing.  I don’t think anybody outside of Matt Brown’s progressive base believes that his socialist policy suggestions will fix the problems he describes:

“How did we end up in the situation where the roads are broken, the hospitals are closing, the schools aren’t providing a good education for our kids, we’re 50th out of the 50 states for education of Latino children, the school buildings are falling down,” he said. “That’s a pretty extreme situation to be in. And that’s going to take some bold ideas and some real changes.”

How did we end up in this situation?  Because big-government progressivism has redirected the money that we were taxed and feed from infrastructure maintenance to insider deals, interest-group buy-offs, and bureaucratic proliferation.  Because the progressive urge to take control of everything has squeezed opportunity out of our state, leading to the exit of productive Rhode Islanders and a lack of paying demand for services such as hospitals (while lowering the availability and quality of those services and driving up the costs).  And because co-opting public schools as a means of indoctrination and a funding mechanism for left-wing teachers unions has undermined the incentives for a healthy system.

If you agree with Matt Brown about the problems, you have to disagree with him about the solutions.

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The Truth on the Center’s Funding

Will this statement about the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s funding put a rest to attacks about our funding?

The vast majority of the Center’s funding is derived from almost 500 in-state private donors, who support our mission to see Rhode Islanders live and work in a freer society. The occasional grants the Center may be awarded from national foundations are earned via a competitive grant application process in support of policy initiatives conceived by the Center.

There is no regular source of funding to our Center from any out of state group that seeks to influence our operations.

It is curious why our critics fail to understand that there are many, many concerned citizens in our state who share the Center’s free-enterprise vision. Such donors voluntarily choose to financially support our mission to put forth policy ideas to realize our vision to achieve increased freedom and prosperity, They, like us, believe that all citizens should be able to freely engage in a robust and honest public debate about such ideas.

The Center’s staff and Board of Directors make 100% of the decisions about which policy angles to pursue. We do not do the bidding of any outside group, however the interests of our Center and certain state and national foundations may occasionally overlap.

The answer to my question, above, is: of course not.  Dark allegations about our funding are not sincere.  They’re opportunistic slanders meant to belittle our work.  There will never be a satisfactory level of transparency, because progressives will insinuate we’re hiding something (while attacking our supporters to chase them away).

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Young Democratic Socialists Are a Little Late in the Game

The pamphlet described in an article by Zachary Petrizzo on Campus Reform reads like a smoking gun memo from a strategy that was implemented decades ago:

The Young Democratic Socialists of America organization is urging socialists to “take jobs as teachers” in order to exploit the “political, economic, and social potential the industry holds.”

“Why Socialists Should Become Teachers,” an 11-page pamphlet crafted jointly by YDSA and the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission, contends that education is “a strategic industry to organize,” and offers prospective socialist educators “a basic roadmap for how to get a job in education.”

Socialists enter education in government schools.  They get a high-paying job that is stable to the point of being just about permanent.  And they gain access to impressionable children whom they can indoctrinate.  As a bonus, part of their pay goes to labor unions, which cycle the taxpayer money back into activism and political donations.

The synergies here are so obvious that the plan is already in effect and undermining our society.  But kids always have to feel like they’re coming up with radical ideas.

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Avoiding the Social Media Soma

If you follow or read conservatives online, you’ve probably heard, over the past week, of strange goings on with Facebook.  Apparently, my friend and former Anchor Rising co-contributor Don Hawthorne was caught up in it:

Yesterday morning, Facebook took down all five of my posts, declaring each time that “We removed this post because it looks like spam and doesn’t follow our Community Standards.” …

Many Facebook friends have had the same experience yesterday, with no explanations.

Each time I got the message, I clicked on the “This Isn’t Spam” response option. Facebook replied, saying they needed to review the article to confirm it met Facebook Community Standards. They then came back and, each time, said it did meet standards and would be reposted.

After which, Facebook deleted several of my newly-reposted articles.

Don puts this in the context of the increasingly apparent online censorship of conservatives across platforms, noting:

There are escalating information asymmetries, enabled by technology companies.

Indeed, we have justification for worrying that the “personal social score” that China has begun applying to its people is something of a model.  However, while I agree with Don that “our  culture war is now fully out in the open,” crossing “the line from a voluntary civil society to a coercive political society,” I’m not so sure about this part:

The Left’s outsourcing of censorship to Silicon Valley technology companies leaves only one imperfect, time-sensitive solution—government-enforced deregulation—until there are more responsible leaders.

That “de” is probably not justifiably inserted in front of “regulation,” because regulation is what Don is after.  He’s not alone in thinking maybe the tech giants should face something resembling the breakup of a cartel, but I’m skeptical.  Ultimately, the solution is to get off of these platforms.  Put your genuine content somewhere else — on some conservative site or on your own site — and use social media only to draw people away from social media.

The tech giants are selling us an addiction to little fixes of attention and affirmation.  If we lower our doses just a little and use technology to build stronger, less manipulated relationships that require minimally more engagement with the actual world, we’ll find ourselves healthier for it, and freer.

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Hints of Mail Ballots as the Gateway to Buying Elections

In our weekly segments on his WNRI show, John DePetro and I have long been talking about indications that the new method of winning elections among Rhode Island’s dominant politicians appears to involve direct harvesting of votes through mail ballots.

The first red flag was Democrat House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s victory-by-mail-ballot in Cranston.  The next was Democrat Dawn Euer’s win of Rhode Island Senate District 13, with the help of a paid campaigner who became a notary public in order to generate mail-ballot votes.  With no big special elections since then, the indications have been limited to things like Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s attempt at funneling campaign money into Providence and legislation related to notary publics.  And, of course, there has been the governor’s furious campaign to raise more money than many people could think to spend on an election in Rhode Island.

Now add this to the list, from WPRI’s Dan McGowan:

More than 2,000 Providence voters turned in mail ballot applications ahead of the Sept. 12 primary, a steep increase from the number of mail ballots requested four years ago.

Kathy Placencia, the administrator for the Providence Board of Canvassers, confirmed Friday there were 2,183 requests for mail ballots in Providence by the Aug. 22 deadline, a 50% increase from the 2014 primary that featured competitive races for governor and mayor.

That’s a citywide increase of 50%, but at the ward level, the increases are up to four times the prior number of mail ballots.

Certainly, it could be that widening availability and awareness of mail ballots are leading people to change their habits.  People are increasingly shopping online, after all, including for groceries, and there’s no reason to think waiting in line to vote is an activity that would remain near and dear to Rhode Islanders’ hears if they had a choice.

Still, as we enter election season, this is going to be one of the key areas to watch, particularly as the votes are counted.

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The Balance of Freedoms in Rhode Island

A thousand discussions could be sparked by the Cato Institute’s Freedom in the 50 States ranking and Rhode’s Island’s 42nd place ranking.

The datapoints that go into the index cover a wide range of issues and are subjective.  For example, Rhode Island is number 1 in “marriage freedom,” largely on the strength of its same-sex partnership laws, but some might suggest that the use of government to redefine a cultural institution is hardly a marker of freedom.  Some might also note that same-sex marriage accounts for 2% of a state’s overall score while religious freedom accounts for only 0.01%.

On the other end of the spectrum, the only area in which Rhode Island is dead last is asset forfeiture. However, another low rank for the state could arguably be considered its defining problem: labor market freedom.  Here, our 49th place ranking results from laws on:

  • General right-to-work law
  • Short-term disability insurance
  • Noncompete agreements permitted
  • Minimum wage
  • Workers’ compensation funding regulations
  • Workers’ compensation coverage regulations
  • Employer verification of legal status
  • Employee anti-discrimination law
  • Paid family leave

The total effect of these policies has been that Rhode Island hasn’t budged from 49th since the first year measured: 2000.

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Rhode Island has a great deal going for it, but if people can’t find work here, they won’t live here.  The Ocean State is roughly in the middle fifth for fiscal and personal freedom — although dropping from 18th to 27th in fiscal freedom from 2000 to 2016 and from 12th to 31st in personal freedom.  If we take Cato’s weightings as our guide, that decline has been making life less free.  But those changes pale in comparison to our languishing at the edge of the bottom fifth in regulatory freedom throughout, and that’s an area in which we need great resolve and quick action to improve.

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Michael Riley: Rhode Island May Have Dodged a Bullet, No Thanks to Our Treasurer

In assessing the effort to keep the PawSox in Rhode Island, it is important to review the role of General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. The state treasurer was asked to analyze the costs and opine on affordability, as would be expected with a large borrowing like this. Mr. Magaziner opined in October 2017 and in June 2018 as numbers changed along with the terms of the deal and then opined again recently, finally giving a nod to the deal.

But what everyone needs to know is that $350 million dollars in debt for Pawtucket’s other post-employment benefits (OPEB) for former employees was not used in his analysis. This is more than twice the city’s pension debt! In fact, it was purposely left out by Magaziner. Including OPEB debt would obviously have made the City of Pawtucket’s borrowing look dangerous and ill-conceived. Ignoring OPEB allowed for an outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars by the treasurer.

Think about it.  Seth Magaziner violated his own risk recommendations by hiding a liability in his analysis; this is the type of stuff they did with 38 Studios. Mr. Magaziner owes it to taxpayers to lay all the cards on the table and not to fall in line with political winds. Had he actually laid the cards on the table, looked at all the debt, and been transparent and honest, the PawSox deal would appropriately have never seen the light of day.

As can be seen in the comprehensive Debt Affordability Study, Pawtucket already exceeds Magaziner’s limits for debt, along with Woonsocket and Providence, before even considering borrowing for the new stadium or the $350 million in OPEB liability, which the board is to reconsider as a component next year. This $350 million is so significant and overwhelming, it would be irresponsible for any treasurer to think Pawtucket absorbing new debt was a good idea.

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Questioning a “Safe Space” for Men

The College Fix reports on what appears to be an implicitly self contradictory (which is to say, dishonest) attack on masculinity at Brown University:

A program at the Ivy League institution provides “safe spaces for men to unpack all of the things they have learned about masculinity and what it means to be a man,” according to its website.

“Rigid definitions of masculinity are toxic to men’s health,” campus officials state online under the heading: “Unlearning Toxic Masculinity.”

“Men will often resort to violence to resolve conflict because anger is the only emotion that they have been socialized to express,” the website states. “Unfortunately, the way that young men are conditioned to view sex and their need to be dominant and have power over others also contribute to instances of sexual assault and other forms of interpersonal violence on college campuses.”

It’s been a while since I was part of a campus community, so maybe I’m missing the nuances of “safe spaces,” but I’m not sure how the term could cover a space in which one is explicitly identified as “toxic.”  Are the safe spaces provided to other identity groups similarly characterized by the safety to talk about what’s wrong with members of the group?  That seems more like a “hostile space.”

Indeed, spend some time clicking through the texts and videos associated with this program, and you’ll be hard pressed to find anybody who exhibits a sense of safety in acknowledging something like, “I’m strong and competitive, and all of these other guys talking about how masculinity means being cold, calculating, and distant just aren’t describing a reality that matches the society that I’ve experienced.”  Even a video of a young woman (who appears to present as a young man) tells the story of her toxic masculinity when she hit her brother for telling her she looked pretty.

In other words, it’s all play acting and virtue signaling, and there’s nothing really new, here.  The lesson that is pushed ad nauseam is basically:  People shouldn’t be jerks, and “jerk” and “masculine man” are basically synonyms.

By that definition, the most masculine people in the world would have to be the authorities pushing this nonsense on young impressionable men and women, and that clearly isn’t correct.

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Raimondo’s Debt and the Strong Economy

In early July, we reported that the first RhodeWorks tolls were performing as projected, which the state Department of Transportation (RIDOT) promoted as a positive sign.  However, this may be another area in which Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo is indebted to Republican President Donald Trump:

The transportation sector is a reflection of the goods-based economy in the US. Demand has been blistering across all modes of transportation. Freight shipment volume (not pricing… we’ll get to pricing in a moment) by truck, rail, air, and barge, according to the Cass Freight Index jumped 10.6% in July compared to a year earlier. This pushed the index, which is not seasonally adjusted, to its highest level for July since 2007.

The dynamics in the transportation sector are “clearly signaling that the US economy, at least for now, is ignoring all of the angst coming out of Washington D.C. about the trade wars,” the report by Cass said.

Things are just easier when the economy is strong… even bad government.

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Information About the Rights of Government Employees

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has launched a statewide effort to inform government employees of their newly recognized rights under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME ruling:

A consistent champion of constitutional rights for all citizens, the Center believes public employees deserve to know that they now have full freedom when it comes to deciding whether or not it is in their best interest to pay union dues; and that they cannot be recriminated against if they choose to leave. Prior to the Janus ruling, all state and municipal employees in Rhode Island were forceed to pay their government-designated unions as a condition of employment.

However, the Supreme Court has decided that because it is their pay, union membership – or not – is rightfully the say of every public worker; especially when workers may disagree with their union’s political advocacy, which is paid for with their dues money.

Case in point is Michelle, a municipal employee in the Ocean State, who opted-out right after the Janus ruling and who said: “I don’t understand why some of my friends continue to pay their dues despite their political views being completely opposite of what the union supports.”

A related Web site, MyPayMySayRI.com, provides access to information for public-sector employees, as well as assistance for asserting their rights.

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Another Angle (or Silver Lining) in the Loss of the PawSox

There’s another aspect of the Worcester’s PawSox gain that Rhode Islanders haven’t spent much time discussing, and it is visible in the reporting of Ethan Epstein in The Weekly Standard (emphasis added):

But the PawSox owners announced that the next two years they play at McCoy will be their last. Roughly three years ago, they announced their plans to vacate McCoy. Pawtucket, Providence, and Worcester jockeyed for position. The owners played the competitors against each other masterfully, and in the end, Worcester evidently made the team an offer it couldn’t refuse: It will build a new $90 million stadium and apartment complex. The state of Massachusetts is fronting $35 million; and “the city of Worcester is expected to borrow $100 million, some of which would be repaid by the team,” the Providence CBS affiliate reported. The deal required no input from the state legislature, and was put together in secret. The only apparent cost to the PawSox is that they will now known by the unfortunate moniker “WooSox.”

Somehow, the City of Worcester was able to pledge $100 million with no public awareness whatsoever.  John DePetro and I disagreed, on WNRI earlier today, about the significance of this angle, but I don’t think it should be dismissed.  I certainly want a governing system that allowed municipal leaders to do such a thing.

Yes, Massachusetts has been doing much better than Rhode Island in recent decades, with some solid reforms, and has therefore built up more trust equity with the voting public.  By contrast, Rhode Island is still suffering a loss of confidence from 38 Studios which (importantly) has been further strained by Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s preferred economic development method of making special deals with powerful insiders and wealthy out-of-state interests.

That doesn’t mean Massachusetts’s luck will continue, or that Rhode Island won’t reevaluate its government.  On the first count, I’ve long been noting that Massachusetts’s lead in education has been flagging ever since concessions to the labor unions under Deval Patrick, and we’ll have to wait a while to see whether the WooSox gamble pays off.  On the second count, we can only hope that the nationally visible face plant with the erstwhile PawSox will cause insiders and the voting public alike to conclude that we just can’t continue on in the way that we’ve been governing ourselves.

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Article on Teacher Shortage Misses the Obvious: Economics

This Linda Borg article in the Providence Journal covers familiar ground:

The demand for high school math and science teachers, especially in chemistry and physics, is so intense that districts often resort to “poaching” from one another, superintendents say. But the biggest competition comes from private industry, which offers higher pay and a better career trajectory.

In contrast, however:

In North Smithfield, Supt. Michael St. Jean said he had 260 applications for four elementary education openings last year.

Oddly, over the course of around 40 paragraphs, nobody expresses the obvious observation from economics.  We should change the way we structure employment in public schools so the system could rise to market price of the technical professionals who are in demand while reducing the pay offered to teachers in areas that have such a surplus.

That’s how the market would function in the private sector.  If one job seems impossible to fill while another generates sixty-five times more applicants than there are positions, employers will try to get a qualified person to fill the second job at lower pay so that he or she can increase the offer for the first job.  This will go on across the industry until the pay being offered for the second job can’t attract any qualified applicants.

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The Great News About Lost Welfare Benefits

Tom Mooney presents this with negative language, but it takes a bit of squinting to see the down side:

The state’s improving employment picture may cost more than 1,000 people their food assistance benefits later this year, says the state Department of Human Services.

Since 1996, federal rules have limited “able-bodied adults without dependents” to three months of food assistance within a three-year period. But those rules also exempted people living in communities whose unemployment rates were higher than the average national unemployment rate. …

Able-bodied adults without dependents who are working or enrolled in a work-training program may continue receiving benefits beyond three months, Pina said.

Let’s restate the facts.  “Able-bodied adults” — people who should be able to work — who do not have children and who do not have a job and refuse to enter work-training programs now can only receive food welfare for three months because the economy is doing well enough that jobs should be available.  Perhaps Mr. Mooney should explain to readers why such people should have an entitlement to unlimited benefits.

Of course, this is par for the course of all reporting on welfare.  The unstated presumption is that there is never any reason not to give people anything… presumably until they enter the upper middle class.

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Is This Representative of RI Teachers?

TEACHER ALERT: 100% of the Nat’l Educ Assoc of RI (NEARI) endorsements are for Democrats, including EVERY far-left PROGRESSIVE incumbent. If you pay union dues and this political extremism is not shared by you, the US Supreme Court ruled in June that you no longer have to give part of your paycheck to the union – and you cannot lose your job, status, or benefits.

What would it take for you to consider leaving your union saving about $7,000 over ten years for your family?

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