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Talking 38 Studios Scorecard on TV and Radio

Since the release of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s scorecard showing how legislators have voted when the 38 Studios scandal has been within their scope of office (as opposed to calling on the attorney general to release information), I’ve had a few media appearances.  The most extensive, also touching on the legal settlement just announced related to the bankruptcy, was on Dan Yorke’s State of Mind on WPRI’s digital station:


I also had my first appearance on Frank Coletta’s Business Lunch on WJAR, Channel 10:


And on the audio-only front, I spoke with John Loughlin on WPRO, in part 2 of the August 20th show.


Katz’s Kitchen Sink: But Bountiful Parody Song

As the fiscal year comes to a close for the State of Rhode Island and most municipalities in June, it’s ever more clear that civic life in Rhode Island revolves around government budgets.  For insiders, town, city, and state budgets represent their hopes and dreams — often their livelihoods.  For everybody else, though, they can be a time of dread, as the impossibility of real change is affirmed, cherished programs are threatened (if you’re on that side of the ledger), or more money is confiscated from your bank account (if you’re on the other side of the ledger).

Herewith, a parody song to the tune of “But Beautiful,” inaugurating a somewhat regular new video series, “Katz’s Kitchen Sink,” which will feature whatever sort of content I think might be useful to throw at the problems of the Ocean State — songs, short skits, commentary, or whatever.

Download an mp3 file of this song.

But Bountiful

A budget’s taxes, or it’s pay
Handouts are credits or giveaways
We’re investing, or we save
But bountiful

Bountiful, our industry’s bureaucracies we run
It’s a budget you have no choice but to fund

A budget appropriates, or it steals
Votes are traded in backroom deals
Nobody’s sure just what’s real
But bountiful

And I’m thinking if I had chips, I’d cash them in for gold
And take them to a more bountiful abode


Friday Fun: “RI’s Economic Development Shuffle”

So, it’s the beginning of another budget season, and with a new governor to boot — Gina Raimondo, of pension reform fame.  That must mean that it’s political season to make positive noises about economic development.

Of course, when it comes to Gina (or “gina,” as her campaign signage put it), we’re looking at an additional dimension of credulity.  Some among “the business community” assume she’s not just the typical tax-and-spend (on-somebody-other-than-the-business-community) progressive Democrat.  We’ll see.

But the flurry of media hits about whether the new governor can come up with a scheme to outshine all the schemes before suggests another offering from Justin Katz and His Out-of-Tune Piano.

RI’s Economic Development Shuffle

Well, Gina, she called me, just the other day
She’s our new Wall Street gov’nor, so I heard what she had to say
She said, “I need you to set Rhode Island right.”
So we made a few plans,
And shook a whole bunch of hands,
And the hors d’oevres were dynomite.

We’re good, y’see,
My friends and me,
We’ll develop the economy.

We all know Rhode Island should grow at a faster pace,
But we paid our dues, man, and we don’t want to have to race.
The good news is, there’s a central planning bus.
So we’ll call all our old schemes new,
And tilt the board more for just us few,
And pray the state will outlive us.

Don’t need everybody.
My friends and me,
We’ll develop the economy.

Each gear has to fit:
Government, business, welfare advocate.
It’s a fine machine; don’t mess with it.

Not just talking pride.
We’re all safe inside.
If we go opening doors, where will we hide?

They say that a mind’s a terrible thing to waste
I’m not one to argue, long as they’re molded to my taste.
My business model, see, it’s got specific needs.
Don’t care if they’re white or brown,
Long as they keep my expenses down,
And the K-12 grows them up like weeds.

When wages freeze,
My friends and me,
We’ll develop the economy.

We’re the leaders who lead,
My friends and me,
We’re developing the economy.


Friday Fun: “PolitiFact Can”

I was named in Sunday’s Providence Journal, in a PolitiFact article finding a tweet from my organization, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, “Mostly False.”  PolitiFact turned to the research director of the left-wing Economic Progress Institute (formerly the Poverty Institute) for help proving the Tweet something other than “True,” and I’m included by name because I pointed out that the EPI research director’s statement was simply false.  (Yes, the only plainly false statement in the whole thing was from the reporter’s go-to source for contrary evidence.)

How can one respond to such absurdity except with a parody song?  Herewith, Justin Katz and His Out-of-Tune Piano with “PolitiFact Can” (to the tune of “The Candy Man,” by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley,” from the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory).

PolitiFact Can

Who could take a true thing
Sprinkle it with spin
Cover it with context ’till the truth is wearing thin?

PolitiFact.  PolitiFact can.
PolitiFact can because they write it like it’s news
And make the bias sound good.

Who can take a fact check
Put it to a vote
Help out politicians who are rowing the same boat?

PolitiFact.  PolitiFact can.
PolitiFact can because they write it like it’s news
And make the bias sound good.

Those reporters pick ev’ry little trick
From pedantry to omission
You could say it’s just their mission
We all know they’re really always out there fishin’

Who can troll on Twitter
For Sunday’s front-page spread,
Make you think their beat is building talking points instead?

PolitiFact.  PolitiFact can.
PolitiFact can because they write it like it’s news
And make the bias sound good,
And the bias sounds good because the media thinks it should.


“Rhode Island Investigative Report”

Somehow the combination of Tim White’s latest investigative report and commentator Mark Steyn’s rendition of Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever” drove me to my (out of tune) piano for a little fun.  I give you my new song, “Rhode Island Investigative Report.”  If you’d prefer to spare yourself the recording, lyrics are below.

Rhode Island Investigative Report

They’re at the door, camera on the stairs
Seen this before, I hope that no one cares
They got me, they got me
I guess I gotta take the stand
They got me, they got me
At least I won’t be doing time…
… ’cause it’s Rhode Island

Ain’t really wrong, whatever I have done
I get along, and I’m not the only one
They got me, they got me
Good thing the rules never apply
They got me, they got me
But this ain’t technically a crime…
… and I know a guy

They got this thing about the chumps who pay the bills
I’d say what they really want are scandals for cheap thrills
So let’s get on with this “investigative report”
Put down your iPad, kid, allow me to retort

It’s Warhol’s line, this nightly news routine
I hope that mine’s the best one that you’ve seen
They got me, they got me
Now I’m disabled from tension
They got me, they got me
At least they won’t get my pension…
… ’cause it’s Rhode Island 


Many Ways to Change the Politics of the State

During my appearance, in the last hour, on the Dan Yorke Show (podcast here), the conversation kept coming back to the organizations that hover in the orbit of government, like RI Hospitality Association, with its peculiar position opposing a tax cut that would directly benefit all of its members.  When the show ended, it occurred to me that this is a point that probably can’t be emphasized enough:  Our political system is broken, in Rhode Island, and there are more ways to repair it than just through elections.

A society doesn’t get to Rhode Island’s level of hopeless rigidity (where Hope is just a village in Scituate) without all of the mechanisms to which people would turn for a repair being broken, as well.

Before I was on, Dan was talking about the Gallup poll finding that 42% of Rhode Islanders would leave the state if they could.  Gallup published related polls finding that 70% of Rhode Islanders are negative about the state’s tax system (5th worst in the nation), and only 40% have at least a fair amount of trust in state government (2nd worst in the nation).

People don’t just live like that.  They join organizations to change things; they become, in effect, special interests at the table.  Like RI Hospitality.

The problem that is increasingly clear to me is that those organizations get to the point that they rely more directly on the status quo in government than on actually improving things for their members.  The association, chamber, or whatever simply becomes the government’s liaison to a particular “community,” and away to neutralize any unrest that arises.

I’d argue that’s why people are leaving.  Nothing seems to work.

But the problem is also an opportunity.  Long before new candidates could be groomed and put into office, the heads of these organizations could be made to go to lunch with their inside-government pals and give them the bad news that: “I’m not going to be able to play the game anymore, unless…”  And that “unless” could be as dramatic as the membership’s dissatisfaction.


Williams Doesn’t Want Minimum Wage Facts in “Her” Committee

I’ve mentioned before that national experts who’ve testified before Rhode Island legislative committees have been astonished at the lack of decorum. Attend committee hearings on a regular basis, track legislation for a couple of sessions, and it’s difficult not to conclude that the entire process is designed mainly to make people feel as if there is a process — as if public input really could affect the laws under which we live.

But if nothing ever comes of the testimony, then the task of legislators is mainly to look attentive while lobbyists go through the motions and Rhode Islanders offer sincere, nervous, and useless testimony about things that matter to them. Sometimes the lack of weight shows through.

On Tuesday, having waited an hour and a half to give the House Committee on Labor the perspective of some research from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, which he runs and for which I work, Mike Stenhouse was offering a quick summary of his written testimony. (Listening to the March 11 audio available here, it’s clear the committee didn’t have much patience for him to put his full testimony on the recording.)

The image of the typical minimum wage worker as a struggling single parent is false, he explained. Most are “young kids” looking for supplemental income, living with their parents in households that have family incomes over $61,000.

This was too much for chairwoman Anastasia Williams (D, Providence), who interrupted: “Are you joking? Are you standing in front of my committee joking me, right?”

Stenhouse was courteous enough not to point out that it’s not “her” committee, but the people’s. Instead he informed her that the Providence Journal’s PolitiFact team had recently investigated his statement and found it True.

When Stenhouse finished, Williams proceeded to mock his organization and then appeared to have forgotten what legislation they were discussing:

Well, first and foremost, seeing that you are here representing this Freedom and whomever these folks are… Freedom and Prosperity for a certain class of people, my question to you would be, what does a retiree now… would have if unilaterally… umm… the… the… the… I’m trying to cool down here, this is like… pass.

You’ll know the state is ready to pull itself out of the gutter when voters start demanding that their “leaders” are at least better at pretending that they really do represent all of us.