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The Budget: The Progressive Approach

Despite the false hopes expressed by lawmakers based solely on a reduced unemployment rate, Rhode Island families are hurting. The Ocean State suffers under the worst business climate, and 48th rank on our Center’s Job’s & Opportunity Index. Furthermore, Rhode Island was the only state in New England to see its labor force decline in size in recent years, as hundreds of thousands of people have chosen to leave our state since 2004. This is not a recovery.
We know that that the high levels of taxation and over-regulation imposed for the sake of the state budget are the primary culprit in causing this stagnant performance. Put another way, overspending by a government that primarily seeks to perpetuate and grow itself, actually works against the best-interests of the very people it is supposed to be serving. Instead of seeking to grow prosperity, government seeks to grow itself.
The progressive approach has failed. Yet, for decades, politicians have practiced allegiance to the budget, as opposed to the allegiance they are sworn to uphold to the people of Rhode Island. It should now be clear that this progressive-left, big-spending agenda has failed those same Rhode Islanders. Indeed, the state budget itself, could be considered the enemy of the people! It is a battle of visions.
What is really in the best interests of Rhode Island families? Is dependence on an unreliable and inefficient government what people hope and strive for? Or, should it be the American dream; where promised freedoms and opportunities abound so that we can increase our own personal wealth and quality of life? The state budget should be constructed to reflect the opportunities we want for our people; it should not be the tool to restrict those opportunities. May you have a happy Memorial day, and thank you to all who have served.
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Who Do We Think We Are?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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State House Report with John DePetro, No. 11: Giving Back Donor Money & a Mayoral Feud

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, this week, the topics were Governor Raimondo’s campaign donations from PawSox interests and the mayoral feud along the Providence-Cranston line.

I’ll be on again Tuesday, May 30, at 2:00 p.m.

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General Assembly Must Step In – Tolls Have Taken A Dangerous Turn

Below is a statement that StopTollsRI.com (for which I am spokesperson) placed on its Facebook page last night. The R.I. Trucking Association and the American Trucking Association have announced that they would wait until all 30+ toll gantries were installed before they would challenge the legality of truck tolls in court. This alarming development first came to light Thursday night in testimony before House Finance. See Mike Collins’ testimony starting at approximately minute 1:52:40.

Tolls have taken a dangerous turn for Rhode Island residents and taxpayers. It is now imperative that state legislators and General Assembly leadership step in for the good of the state and end the truck toll program.

The truckers announced today that they will not file their lawsuit challenging the legality of Rhode Island’s truck-only toll law until after all gantries have been built. When (not if) the courts rule in favor of the truckers that truck only tolls are illegal, all Rhode Islanders will be on the hook, minimally, for the cost ($40M?) of gantries. This has placed the state in an obviously precarious and untenable position. It’s time for legislators and leadership to step in (there is still time), steer the state safely off the reckless path that we have started down and repeal truck tolls.

Toll money would be slated to go to RIDOT. Legislators should feel secure that repealing tolls will not leave RIDOT without funds; just the opposite. RIDOT has a very generous annual budget (excluding tolls) that exceeds $550M/year. All Rhode Islanders and many state departments have had to tighten their belt. It’s time for RIDOT to do the same and start living within their quite generous budget in the absence of an uncontrollable, dangerous and destructive new revenue stream – tolls.

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Hyperventilation Over Any Limits on Government Growth

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

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

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

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

That’s not a healthy view.

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Know Their Love for Innovation by Their Actions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Allowing the Jihadist Cloud Darken the Age

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

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

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

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

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

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Last Impressions Podcast Episode 17: Bird-Dogging the Nation

Depression; beating up journalists; and bird-dogging on a national scale.

Right-click title on track list to download.

Links

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Payroll Counts and Totals Under Governor Raimondo

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

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

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

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

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

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The Ripples of Better Policy Will Wash Away the Budget Problems

Mike Stenhouse tells Tara Granahan on 630AM/99.7FM that legislators shouldn’t hold Rhode Islanders prisoner to a budget number at the bottom of a spreadsheet.

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Eminent Domain as a Stadium Negotiating Tactic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April 2017 Employment: Pretty Much the Status Quo

Rhode Island’s official unemployment rate held at 4.3%, which government officials tout as evidence of economic health.  With a long-term perspective, though, the data for April is really just a reiteration of the typical trend of most of the past decade.  Employment and labor force data (from surveys asking people if they’re working) are showing a big jump that the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will likely revise down and smooth out next January.  Meanwhile, jobs based in Rhode Island (counted using more-direct tax methods) continue to go up and down, with a slow (and slowing-down) growth trend over time.

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Because the labor force is included in the annual pre-revision bump of the survey statistics, the gap between the official unemployment rate and what it would have been but for the massive loss of people wanting work since January 2007 has fallen significantly in recent months (for the time being).

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Lest one think Rhode Island is benefiting from some employment boom unique to the Ocean State, the next chart shows that Massachusetts and Connecticut are booming in employment and labor force statistics, as well, and more pronouncedly than Rhode Island.

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One slight consolation comes from the national picture.  Looking at all states’ employment relevant to their pre-economic-crisis level, Rhode Island remains in the bottom 4 (bottom 3, by a little), but at least it nearly has the company of its New England sister, Vermont.  This chart shows, too, how the trends are largely national.  Barring some unique circumstance or the arrival of an overdue recession, the race is on to see which state will be the very last to manage to regain all of the employment lost since the middle of the last decade.

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The following chart illustrates the point stated above: that the statistical employment boom has accompanied another up-and-down, slow, and decelerating growth trend in jobs based in Rhode Island (the lighter area of the chart).

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For an expanded analysis, see the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s monthly Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) report.  In keeping with the employment and labor force data, more-detailed results from the same survey show Rhode Island making gains by a broader definition of underemployment, but not enough pull the Ocean State out of the 48th place ranking that has become its long-term home.

Additionally, the state has been shedding SNAP enrollees (which is a positive for the index).  However, the reason may be well-publicized problems that the state government has had enrolling people in the program through the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP; aka RI Bridges).  Whatever the case, the total number of welfare-program enrollees tracked for the index actually went up, due to another massive increase in Medicaid recipients.

Be that as it may, no hope is on the horizon for Rhode Island to get out of last place in New England.

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State House Report with John DePetro, No. 10: Campaigns and Campaign Finances

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, last week (May 16), the topics were the campaign finance controversies of the Providence City Council and Robert Nardolillo’s U.S. Senate campaign announcement.

Audio for this week’s appearance will be up in a few days, and I’ll be on again Tuesday, May 30, at 2:00 p.m.

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When the Venture Fails, Can RI Give It Away for Free?

Yesterday, with reference to the PawSox, I suggested that Rhode Islanders have just seen too many promises go sour, experienced too many times that their acceptance of financial risk has proven why organizations like to “share” risk with taxpayers in the first place.  This isn’t just timidity in response to 38 Studios; the burn marks are all over taxpayers’ skin.  For example, Tim White reports on WPRI:

The latest ridership numbers [from the Wickford Junction rail station] show the average weekday ridership out of the station – which opened in April 2012 – was just 292 commuters during the three months ended March 31.

That number is dramatically lower than the projection in a 2005 South County Commuter Rail Service operations plan, which estimated Wickford Junction would have 3,386 daily weekday riders by 2020. The operations plan was used to win support for the $44.7 million train station.

So what’s an agency to do when the rationale for a project proves to be abysmally wrong, but it can’t fail because it’s the government and can simply confiscate resources to keep going?

RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said all fares between Wickford and Providence, in either direction, will be free for six months starting July 3. If a rider wants to take the train from Wickford to Boston, for example, the cost of the trip will be reduced to what the fare would be from Providence to Boston.

A sort of pilot program for the free tickets came with free rides to the National Guard air show, which RIDOT says cost taxpayers $65,000.  But importantly, this isn’t just a cost to taxpayers; it’s a government agency undercutting, one way or another, people’s other options.  Auto dealers, taxi services, Uber drivers, limo services, gas stations, convenience stores along people’s commuting paths, and so on, will see marginal drops.

This sort of infrastructure has a role, but it arises when current options are causing a clear and direct harm.  When thousands of people are losing hours of every day to unnecessary commutes, easing the flow can bring gains in productivity and quality of life to counterbalance negative effects in the economy — as proven by the fact that the riders are willing to pay something for the fare.  But build-it-and-they’ll-ride should no longer be an option.

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Seems the Fascists Are Pro-Net-Neutrality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Little Compton Shows Education Evolution is Inevitable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Taxes and the Gig Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Avoiding Unions for Innovation and Prudent Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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The Budget: RI Government Seeks To Grow Itself, Not the Economy

Should the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of Rhode Island families be limited by an arbitrary, politically-driven budget number at the bottom of a spreadsheet? Unfortunately, our state is now suffering the consequences of such an approach, fueled by the progressive-left’s big-spending agenda.
The progressive approach has failed. Yet, for decades, politicians have practiced allegiance to the budget, as opposed to the allegiance they are sworn to uphold to the people of Rhode Island. It should now be clear that this progressive-left, big-spending agenda has failed those same Rhode Islanders. Indeed, the state budget itself, could be considered the enemy of the people!
Despite the false hope of an improving unemployment rate, in 2016 the Ocean State suffered the worst business climate, and in 2017 the 45th rank in family prosperity in the nation. Further, Rhode Island was the only state in New England to see its labor force decline in size in recent years, as hundreds of thousands of people have chosen to leave our state since 2004. This is not a recovery. The Center maintains that it is high levels of taxation and over-regulation imposed by the state budget that is the primary culprit in causing this unacceptable performance.
Put another way, overspending by a government that primarily seeks to perpetuate and grow itself, actually works against the best-interests of the very people it is supposed to be serving. Instead of seeking to grow prosperity, government seeks to grow itself.
It is a battle of visions. The progressive-left vision measures compassion and progress by how many people are enrolled in – and become dependent on – public assistance programs. Conversely, the Center believes that Rhode Island families can improve their quality of life and increase their level self-sufficiency only if more and better businesses are free to create more and better jobs! To realize this latter vision, spending must be cut so that taxes can be reduced.
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The Message of Fearless Girl May Not Be as Intended

It’s a shame Jay Nordlinger’s article in the May 1 National Review is only online with a digital subscription (partly because I have a print subscription and will have to type any quotes I use below).  He raises, it seems to me, exactly the sort of discussion that art ought to raise.

You’ve heard, no doubt, of Fearless Girl, the bronze statue placed in front of Wall Street’s iconic bronze Charging Bull. Nordlinger acknowledges that, on a visit to the site, he happened upon a “beautify, happy scene” of a family visiting the statues, having fun, and he imagines that happens very often.  Still…

Hang on a minute: You see, of course, how Fearless Girl has changed the meaning of Charging Bull.  Completely.  Before, he was something positive (to those of us who appreciate American capitalism).  Now he is something menacing, to be faced down and stood up to…

Game it out with me.  Charging Bull can exist without Fearless Girl — as it did from 1989 to 2017.  But Fearless Girl can’t exist without Charging Bull, or something like it.  Well, it can — but the girl is better off with something to stand up to, or be fearless about.  If the city does not take the girl away, I would take the bull away, if I were Arturo Di Modica [the sculptor of the bull].  He owns his sculpture, as I understand it.

Given my political and cultural sensibilities, I tend to agree with Nordlinger.  On the other hand, art that is fun and that makes us think and discourse is kinda fulfilling the purpose of art, and what I like about the current layout is how readily it reflects the times and exposes its pretensions.

On the reflecting-the-times part, I think of Kyle Smith’s description of the difference between ’70s movies and today’s hero movies.  In the ’70s, movies presented life as a continual struggle, often to be lost, but within which one could shape an identity and find a sort of gritty heroism.

Movies today, though, are calibrated to reach an audience raised with the certain knowledge that self-esteem is the most important trait, that young people will lead the way, and that you can have anything you can imagine, as soon as you can imagine it. Kids identify with childish superheroes who rule their environments. Deadpool, Iron Man, and Harley Quinn kick butt and crack jokes. Harry Potter can come up with a spell for any occasion. Katniss Everdeen is fierce and unbeatable.

Even when today’s movie heroes are in extreme danger, such as Matt Damon’s stranded-on-Mars Mark Watney in The Martian, they’re so cool and confident that quips never stop flowing out of their mouths.

Fearless Girl is fortunate to exist in a condition of a frozen moment.  If we were to set the story in motion, it would be immediately apparent that she isn’t “fearless” so much as insanely naive and in a great deal of danger.  The statue, that is, perfectly captures the reckless fantasy on which progressivism is built.

Nordlinger provides the context to interpret even more into the statues.  The work of art that is Charging Bull was in some regards an expression of its artist’s own act of creation.  Di Modica (an immigrant) created the bull quietly, on his own, and in an act of daring expression in response to a market crash placed it in front of the New York Stock Exchange in the middle of the night as an encouragement to the country.  When the exchange had it taken away, people rallied and the bull found a permanent home.

Fearless Girl, by contrast, was commissioned by an investment firm (you know, those bad-guy profiteers), leveraging one of those government-promoted self-esteem holidays, International Women’s Day, for self promotion.  Like a new tax or a “temporary” welfare program, the statue was placed following the appropriate rules and granted a temporary run, but it immediately became apparent that it would be impossible to remove.  One suspects that the public outcry to keep the statue in place was typical of such hashtag-driven “movements” these days, meaning that it hasn’t been grassroots so much as encouraged by insiders and activists with a political ax to grind.

So, what to do?  My first thought is to do what adults do when children co-opt some attractive space that they’ve created and what frontier folk do when established elites lock them out of their native economies: Go on to create a new space somewhere else that will express their beliefs and hard work for a time.

My second thought is to keep this artistic conversation going.  Somebody should stealthily create and place, off to the side, a bronze statue of an ordinary middle aged man running toward the scene to save the little girl from her imminent peril.  I’d love to see how that one goes over in the 2010s.

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Considering the Positioning of the Pieces on Trump’s Chess Board

In her weekly Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan may have written one of the more important paragraphs of the past couple of weeks:

[President Trump] was duly and legally elected by tens of millions of Americans who had legitimate reasons to support him, who knew they were throwing the long ball, and who, polls suggest, continue to support him. They believe the press is trying to kill him. “He’s new, not a politician, give him a chance.” What would it do to them, what would it say to them, to have him brusquely removed by his enemies after so little time? Would it tell them democracy is a con, the swamp always wins, you nobodies can make your little choices but we’re in control? What will that do to their faith in our institutions, in democracy itself?

Not only Trump’s hardcore supporters, but also many who’ve watched his advance with more than a little trepidation (including yours truly) see a concerted effort — an establishment coup, not unlike the classic military coup, in its way — at play and will not respond to his ouster with a collective “oh, well,” but with something more like, “oh, hell.”  As in: “This is going to require more violence than we thought.”

As politicians leap or ease into normalizing rapid-fire impeachment proceedings and as journalists allow their liberal leanings to carry them into treating the coup as a reasonable political activity, they ought to consider whether this, rather than the temporary reality of the person occupying the White House, might, just maybe, be the most important consequence of their actions.

Of course, Noonan is an insider, and so she’s not willing to dismiss the insiders’ gathering wisdom that knocking The Donald out of office might still be worth doing.  I’m not one of those who believes that Donald Trump is playing multi-dimensional chess, but Noonan & Co. should consider the strategic lay of the land.  Consider:

A mystery: Why is the president never careful? He doesn’t act as if he’s picking his way through a minefield every day, which he is. He acts like he’s gamboling through safe terrain. Thus he indulges himself with strange claims, statements, tweets. He comports himself as if he has a buffer of deep support. He doesn’t. Nationally his approval numbers are in the mid to high 30s.

It was central to his appeal — and, I’d say, one of the truths upon which he’s stumbled — that this minefield isn’t actually real.  That it’s a political illusion.  He can’t capitulate on that point, or he’ll usher in the next escalation from his base, rather than remain protected by it.

Noonan imagines the GOP establishment marching in to the Oval Office and demanding that Trump get real (in a political sense).  If he does that, his game is over.  And the important point is that his game isn’t a game to people (like yours truly) who aren’t going to stand by and be ruled.

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Tracing the Mayor’s Money

Readers of this site are likely aware that Democrat Mayor of Providence Jorge Elorza has been vocal in wanting to strip Democrat City Council President Luis Aponte of all “authority or power” in response to the latter’s recent indictment.  Readers of this site also know that I’m encouraging caution as these indictments of politicians move from using campaign finance reports to find bribes and influence peddling to pursing charges based 100% on campaign finance violations.  One wouldn’t know it to read the Aponte-related news and commentary around the state, but that is a significant step.

Today, Johanna Harris published the first in a series of posts using campaign finance data to profile some of Elorza’s biggest donors.  Here’s the first profile, as a sample:

According to its website, Rosciti Construction Company has offices in Johnston RI, New York City, Hasbrouck Heights NJ, and Miami. Among its notable clients are Sprint, Amtrak, National Electric Grid, and AT&T. During the Elorza administration, Rosciti Construction has submitted bids to perform snow and ice removal services for the 2015–16 and 2016–17 winter seasons. According to Board of Elections records, on May 16, 2016, three Rhode Island-based employees of Rosciti Construction — Anthony Rosciti Sr. of Johnston, Anthony Rosciti Jr. of Johnston, and Henry Rosciti of North Scituate — each contributed $1,000 to Mayor Elorza’s campaign. On December 19, 2016, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island reported that senior officers of Rosciti and its subcontractor Wallace Construction Corp. would together pay $1 million to settle civil allegations that they “improperly sought reimbursement of funding reserved for minority-owned and women-owned businesses.” Elorza did not respond to an inquiry by GoLocalProv on December 21 as to whether he would return campaign contributions from the three Rhode Island-based Rosciti employees. In the most recent calendar quarter, on February 28, 2017, Rosciti Director of Operations Judy Mueller of Hasbrouck Heights NJ donated another $1,000 to Elorza’s campaign. I can find no evidence that the campaign has returned any of these contributions.

The Aponte case has collected large numbers of statewide headlines without any stories (that I’ve seen) alleging anything other than using campaign funds in aggregate for his own personal purposes.  That is, there’s been no allegation of bribery or anything like that.  (Incidentally, of all the people listed in the above quotation, only Anthony Rosciti Jr. shows any donations to Aponte, totaling $200 in 2006.)

If only our local news media had the interest (and resources) to do, on a more in-depth scale, what Ms. Harris is doing of her own volition on Providence Rules.  That would at least present campaign finance laws with their core purpose, as opposed to legal gotchas against people who’ve been in office too long and had insufficient reason to spend their campaign money campaigning.

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About the Other Stadium…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Last Impressions Podcast Episode 16: The Light of the World

Awards, earned and maybe not yet earned; Fight Club; Twin River; and it’s my birthday.

Right-click title on track list to download.

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Vistaprint Deal a Great Example of Government Economic Meddling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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