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RI Down in Jobs and Innovation, Up in Lack of Hope

In terms of politics, it seems to me that the trend is the key question with news like this:

According to Bloomberg’s U.S. State Innovation Index, California and Massachusetts are ranked first and second respectively, but Rhode Island was in steep decline over the past three years.

Rhode Island is ranked 23rd in the 2019 ranking — far behind Connecticut which is ranked fourth. Most concerning is that Rhode Island fell seven positions in the ranking from the 2016 Index — the last time Bloomberg released the Index for innovation.

Now, Rhode Island is the second lowest ranked in New England — only Maine is ranked lower at #41.

This is the opposite of what ought to be happening if we have a governor who prioritizes and understands innovation.  We’ve long been able to observe as job and employment growth has slowed under Governor Gina Raimondo, and it’s turned into job and employment loss.  Now, even contrived ratings for innovation are showing a decrease in strength in a metric that the governor ought to be able to present as contrary evidence to the broader employment data if her method of economic development worked.

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Read further down the GoLocalProv article linked above, and you’ll see the usual talk from government insiders presenting all the wrong metrics.  It’s always about how much money the government is managing to spend.

Raimondo somehow managed to get herself reelected, so Rhode Islanders shouldn’t expect much change in execution over the next four years.  The General Assembly, for its part, has been mainly intent on showing its fealty to organized labor.

Looking out over the landscape, the most depressing deficit is the lack of somebody to be a leading light of opposition.  In a system doing this poorly, people ought to be emerging in unexpected places to provide the right answers to a growing population of malcontents.  Where are they?

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The Employment Situation In Rhode Island Is Getting Worse – Bucking National Trend

Happy Easter from everyone at the Center to you and your family! We hope you had a great holiday weekend.
We wish we had better news to deliver. Unfortunately, the employment situation in Rhode Island is getting worse, bucking the national trend. While state politicians crow each year about not implementing broad new taxes, the unfortunate truth is that by nickle-and-diming residents and by not implementing aggressive reforms Rhode Island will continue to lose ground, nationally.

We now have two months of decreases in key indicators:
    • 1,300 fewer Rhode Islanders were working or looking for work in March compared with February.
    • 600 fewer were actually working.
    • Employers based in Rhode Island had 300 fewer jobs available to be filled.
As other states have moved to increase economic freedom for families and business, Rhode Island is losing ground by standing still… to reverse course, the state must work quickly to reduce its onerous tax and regulatory burdens.
However, there is no indication that any political leader in Rhode Island has the courage to steer the state’s ship in the right direction. Encumbered by blind-dedication to a bloated budget, which itself is the state’s primary problem (with all of its taxes, fees, and mandates), lawmakers have put forth no vision and are stuck in the rut of continuing the policies of stagnation.
Why is this the case? In the coming weeks, the Center will be releasing a major report on the cost of collective bargaining in the Ocean State. This will be the longest and most in-depth research project the Center has ever undertaken on any topic. We invite you to be on the lookout for this critical report.
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Fish on Fridays

Nothing symbolizes the supposed arbitrariness of religion to those predisposed towards skepticism towards religious belief more than does the Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays during the season of Lent. I’ll admit to having asked myself, especially on Good Friday, what connection is there really, between not eating meat and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. And then there is the philosophical paradox. If my soul is lost after I’ve eaten meat on a Lenten Friday, does that mean I’m free to commit worse sins without making my situation worse? But if the rule doesn’t really matter, then why follow it? And on and on and on and on…

Here’s what I do know. With the wide variety of fish and other meatless options available to a 21st century American, abstaining from meat on Fridays is about as small a “sacrifice” in a material sense as can be asked for. But honoring the rule does require me to make some conscious choices that run contrary to what the surrounding culture tells me are cool and sensible. And if I am unable to make this small sacrifice, because I find it too inconvenient, or because I’m afraid to explain myself to others who don’t share my belief or who might think that I’m being just plain silly, then on what basis can I believe myself to be capable of taking a stand in more serious situations, when the choices might be a little harder and the stakes a bit higher?

Slightly edited re-post of an April 6, 2007 original.

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The Undeserved Confidence of the New Upper Class

One common suggestion for those who wish to be aware of current events and engage in civil dialogue is that they should seek out alternate opinions and actually listen to the other side.  This practice does create a deeper understanding, but deeper understanding doesn’t necessarily bring a softening of reactions.  That was my thought while listening to former long-time PR guy for Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, Michael Raia, on the Bartholomewtown Podcast.

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Listening to Raia talk about opportunities for our state and region, I couldn’t help but feel my impressions of the Raimondo administration affirmed and my concern about its type of thinking amplified.  The listener can hear how confident Raia is that he’s got the region all figured out, as if a society is just a puzzle for which placement of the correct pieces provides the solution.

Whether it’s the operation of businesses and the economy, the development and modification of the infrastructure, the operations of the healthcare system, or the quality of life of particular demographic groups, like senior citizens, one gets the impression that Raia has a firm belief that he and other go-getter experts can think it all through, plan it all out, wind it all up, and set the great society in motion.  Unfortunately, the human community doesn’t work like that.

Intelligent as they may be, the Raias and Raimondos aren’t smart enough to plan a society even if everybody wanted to live in neighborhoods like the ones they prefer and spend their senior years playing pickleball. Such an accomplishment would require infinite expertise and a God-like perspective.

The fact of the matter, though, is that most other people do not share the tastes of what Charles Murray called “the new upper class” in his book Coming Apart, and those people have a right not to have their societal preferences bulldozed aside by a powerful government.  Moreover, as Murray explains, the ethos of that new upper class is destructive of society in the long run.

Even in the immediate, direct trends of the economy, we can observe the economic sluggishness since Governor Raimondo took office, which suggests that her approach does not work.  In February, Rhode Island was the only state in the country that had fewer jobs than it did a year before.  Yet, one hears no trace of doubt in Raia’s voice that maybe (just maybe) crafting a society isn’t so easy.

 

Featured image from The Road to Serfdom in cartoons.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Looking for Reasons… Perks and Incompetence

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about unprosecuted cases under Kilmartin, the Globe moving in, the politics of abortion in the RI Senate, the value of trips to China, and the First Gentleman’s interest in free breakfast.

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I’ll be on again Monday, April 22, at 1:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.

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The Choice Between a Free and Natural Society and Institutionalization

Washington Post article by Peter Jamison offers a fascinating look at a progressive housing program in Washington, D.C., that had a predictable result.

The city “dramatically increased the value of rental subsidies,” so recipients of housing aid could get out of “impoverished, high-crime areas” and have “a shot at living in more desirable neighborhoods.”  For some reason, in the case of an upscale apartment building called Sedgwick Gardens, “many of the new tenants are previously homeless men and women who came directly from shelters or the streets, some still struggling with severe behavioral problems.”

Life in the building has changed, as indicated by the quadrupling of police calls to the premises.  Some pre-existing tenants have “fled,” and the city is now paying for social workers to staff the building (apparently around the clock).  The fascinating question arises in this passage:

Even some Sedgwick Gardens residents who receive public assistance say the complex was colonized by the city’s housing programs too rapidly and without sufficient oversight.

“It’s not about the voucher program. It’s not about racism. It’s about people’s conduct and behavior,” said Lorraine Starkes, 61, a formerly homeless woman who moved into Sedgwick Gardens using a voucher about two years ago.

Starkes, who is black, said some of her fellow tenants with vouchers were not properly screened by city officials before moving in.  Now, she said, those residents have overwhelmed her new home and “are trying to turn it into a ghetto.”

The article then dives into a disagreement about whether the issue is that people with social and mental problems were deinstitutionalized too quickly, but I don’t think that quite gets to the basic decision that created the problem.  Once you dispense with the idea that people are where they are in life and have to take ultimate responsibility for themselves, somebody has to begin deciding where people should be.  In a time of political correctness, such decisions can’t even be answered honestly, let alone objectively.

Ms. Starkes’s suggestion about screening gets to the heart of the matter.  If you screen people out of the really nice building, you’re implicitly saying that they are fit to live with a different sort of people.  Imagine a system that requires voucher recipients to prove certain behaviors that increase the amount of their vouchers until they’ve earned the right to live in a high-end place; by implementing such a system, you’d be saying that families in the lower-end places deserve to live with these folks.

One or the other has to be true:  either there must be some differentiation between neighborhoods for which a person with social problems is fit (put bluntly, a qualitative difference between the ghetto and the upscale apartment), or people must be institutionalized until they are ready for even the most refined environment.  Having decided that no differentiation is acceptable, the District of Columbia has begun bringing the institute to a high-end apartment complex, as the introduction of around-the-clock social workers shows.

If the United States follows this decision, there soon will be nowhere left to go where you aren’t institutionalized.

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Harvesting Free Breakfast on the Government Plantation

A recent op-ed by Rhode Island First Gentleman Andy Moffit seems like a more or less rote bit of policy promotion, but it brings with it a deeper topic that’s worthy of a lingering thought:

The data is clear: student hunger results in poor health and poor test scores.

That’s why I support No Student Hungry, an initiative by my wife, Gov. Gina Raimondo, to ensure that no student from pre-K to college goes hungry at school. Right now, thousands of Rhode Island kids are missing out on free meals they are eligible to receive under federal law at no additional cost to the state. Only half of all students eligible for the federal free breakfast program receive a breakfast at school every day, and only about a quarter of schools eligible to serve universal free meals are doing so.

That’s where No Student Hungry comes in. The proposal will increase student meals participation by requiring eligible schools to serve universal breakfast and lunch — and serve breakfast after the school bell rings. While just over half of eligible students typically receive breakfast, schools that offer universal free breakfast and breakfast after the bell see participation rates of 70 percent. And we’ll support districts with implementation to make the transition as easy as possible.

A constant problem with discussion of public policy on welfare or education is the metrics at which we look.  At the end of the day, the measure of a “successful”  program is how much taxpayer money it spends.  Moffit’s evidence isn’t of actual hunger, but of children who aren’t receiving taxpayer-funded free meals.

Of course, the meals aren’t really “free” even to the children receiving them.  One reason that universal pre-K has been showing net-negative results is that it removes children from environments that are healthier for them, albeit less convenient.  Taking a child who currently has breakfast time with his or her parents before school and changing the routine to a meal at school after the has rung could do the same.

In this case, another question arises as to why districts or others might not be providing the service.  If they’ve determined that they don’t need to do it or that it isn’t worth their while or good for their population, why should the state mandate it?

The focus on the service of providing food and then sending U.S. taxpayers a bill from both state and local governments also points to the dynamic of the government plantation.  Boiled down to its core message, Moffit isn’t talking about eliminating child hunger.  He’s talking about the government bureaucracy’s harvesting clients to justify taking money from other people.  At the end of that transaction, perhaps we can be sure that somebody gets fed.  The question is: whom?

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Knowing How Your Opposition Is Messaging

Whatever else may come of it, being in the heat of local politics in Tiverton sure does bring a great deal of life experience and awareness.  People across the state have reached out to say that what is happening here looks just like what happens every time a conservative — or even just a reformer — manages to get over an electoral threshold and gain public office in Rhode Island.

As somebody who believes in the organic development of human action based on incentives and free will, I’m not ready to agree that there’s some coordinated plan that springs into action in such cases.  Rather, the resistance to political change seems more like antibodies acting against a new cell in the body, and in this case, the body is business as usual in Rhode Island.

One interesting illustration arose when one of the people who’s been most actively opposed to my friends and I in town posted a link on Facebook to what he implies to be a guide to our information strategy, titled “Five Current Mass Media Thought-Control Strategies.”  The strange part is that we’re not doing what the list implies.  In fact, it seems to me to be a pretty accurate guide to what he and his friends are doing:

  1. Fake News in the Post-Fact Era: Lie and Fabricate to Suit Your Purposes
  2. Denounce Alternative Views as Conspiracy Theories
  3. Blame the Russians (or any of the other invented Establishment bogeymen)
  4. The Hegelian Dialectic and the False Dichotomy: For the mass media’s purposes, you’re either “pro” or “anti,” “left” or “right,” “liberal” or “conservative,” and there are no other options.
  5. Tell People Exactly What to Think Instead of Presenting the Facts

The interesting question is whether my interlocutor knows that he’s doing the above things or genuinely believes that I’m doing them.  A follow-on question is this:  If we both believe that the other person is doing these things, how can we figure out which is which from within the system?

Note, first of all, that 1 and 2 can act like mirrors.  A person who believes a proposition to be true will construct an explanation for it.  Somebody from another town who finds Tiverton politics to be familiar might conclude that there’s some broader organization going on statewide, and that’s definitely plausible.

Beginning with that belief, he or she will cite similar activities (like disrupting meetings) and similar players (like unions or progressive activists) and make the connections.  When the other side asserts that we in Tiverton are working with conservatives across the state for the benefit of the Koch Brothers, we see that as a crazy conspiracy theory to muddy the waters.  Of course, they might see our similar activities across town lines as evidence of our cooperation and fill in those Koch Brothers as the uniting motivation.

Both sides can believe that they are providing information and explanations, and both sides can believe that their opponents are spreading fake-news lies and spinning conspiracy theories.

Obviously, #3 (blaming some unseen force) goes with this.  If there’s a conspiracy, there has to be a conspirator, whether it’s Russia, the Koch Brothers, or George Soros.

Number 4 is similar.  If you’re trying to explain something, you’ll work your way to the underlying issue and conclude that, when it’s all boiled down, there’s a pro side and an anti side.  (Whether it’s the preference for lower taxes or for more school funding.)

Maybe you’ll freely admit that you’re just simplifying in order to make the underlying issue clearer.  But if the other side is spinning conspiracy theories in which you’re the villain, they’re obviously ignoring the most important parts of your argument in order to pretend you’re saying something you’re not.

So, since we’re all inevitably locked within the box of our perspective, how do we tell who’s on the side of good or the side of evil in the Hegelian Dialectic?  The answer comes with #5.

Who is citing facts, and who is telling people how they should feel about whatever’s said?  When facts are cited, are they applicable to the subject or irrelevant?  And maybe most important, does either side give the sense that they believe their facts are actually disprovable?

If I cite specific numbers as part of a budget debate and the other person says nobody should believe me because all I do is lie because I want to destroy the town in order to increase the profits of Colorado businessmen, then readers or listeners have a pretty good sense of who is deploying “thought-control strategies.”  If I point out the lack of supporting facts for that theory and the other side notes that I signed on to a taxpayer lawsuit against the town a decade ago, the sense increases, because that fact isn’t relevant to the budget we’re discussing.  And if the person follows that up with something actually relevant to the budget and I go and double-check my original numbers, readers or listeners will know not only that the other side is spinning, but that I’m willing to treat my facts as data, not as gospel.

Of course, these tests all apply when judging different sources of news and media rather than the sides in a local political spat.  The more difficult question, I’m finding with lament, is how many people actually care who is right and who is wrong.

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Power, Human Nature, and a Claim to the Throne

I can’t resist a little commentary on the first episode of the final season of Game of Thrones.  Be aware that there are spoilers in what follows.

For background on my perspective, I was a fan of the books before HBO took the story over, and I was bitter that George R.R. Martin let the TV series get ahead of the book series when it came to the plot.  About a year and a half ago, I overheard some fellow soccer parents discussing a plot twist just beyond the reach of the books, and I realized that (even assuming Martin ever finished them) I would never get to read the books without knowing significant details, and I decided to catch up with the show.

Now that I’m all caught up, I expect that the books will never be finished, because now Martin will not only have to pull all of his complicated narrative threads together, but he’ll have to grapple with the fact that the TV producers changed some consequential details.  That means he’ll have to figure out how the story he originally intended to write can and should differ from the story with which everybody will already be familiar.

Anyway… the TV show does continue to incorporate to some extent the depth of questions that make the books so compelling.  In 2011, I argued that — intentionally or not — the books were turning into a socially conservative parable:

Plainly put, the Wall is a defensible line across the narrowest region of the continent that incorporates all of the most desirable geography for habitation and trade. It defends civilization from an ancient darkness that would destroy it. With that darkness long receded, some people choose to exist beyond the Wall, where they can claim greater individual liberty (albeit with the more superficial freedom that comes with rejection of civilized norms). But with the tide of evil again rising, that choice is no longer tolerable to the larger society of mankind, and Jon is in the most likely position in the realm to spot that reality. The Wildlings have to be brought within the defensible border and encouraged to bolster the Night’s Watch, the traditional institution that has heretofore symbolized for them the militant arm of a society that would force them to be “kneelers.”

Naturally, the Hollywooders didn’t develop that theme as thoroughly as Martin did, either out of greater bias than the author or because TV shows can incorporate so much less content than books.  Still, I think David French’s review of last night’s episode counts as evidence that it isn’t entirely gone.

He reprises how Daenerys Targaryen executed the father and brother of one of our heroes, Samwell Tarly, primarily for being overly principled and noble on the wrong side.  French suggests that she appears now to have to deal with the consequences of that sin, as he calls it:

… thus we saw the questions in Jon’s heart. He is the show’s honorable man — honorable sometimes to the point of foolishness. Daenerys is the show’s conflicted hero, torn between her quest for vengeance and her desire for justice. It was a masterful moment, and it illustrated that one moment in time — Daenerys’s impulsive decision to burn her honorable opponents rather than imprison them — could have consequences that turn the course of history. She did a terrible thing, and she can’t control what happens next.

Adding some other plot history and a cultural dimension improves the point.  Earlier in the story, Daenerys went about conquering the slave-holding cities in the story’s version of the Near-to-Middle East.  Toward the completion of that quest, her adviser, Tyrion, was humbled as a strategist when he sought to play the political game by the rules of Westerosi nobles and saw is plan fall apart.  The Tarly execution scene suggests that Daenerys took the experience as more of a lesson than Tyrion did.  The problem is that, in Westeros, Tyrion’s rules actually apply, and the execution scene itself carries the warning.  Tyrion hands Daenerys every option to respect the nobility of her opposition, but she takes a hard line.

One could see this, like David French, as evidence of the war between her forgiving nature and her cold sense of justice, but that cold sense of justice wasn’t innate.  It was forged through her experiences in distant nations.  Lord Tarly amplifies this distinction by saying that, ultimately, he won’t kneel to her because she is not from there, which was a point raised repeatedly last night.

Of course, the sins of humanity are not cultural, betrayal of norms among them.  Look to the infamous Red Wedding or Cersei’s newly hatched plot to have both of her brothers assassinated by somebody they trust.

So, perhaps the television folks have removed much of the socially conservative content from the theme, but it remains in a more-political sense of tradition.  The Eastern nations had resolved humanity’s puzzles by dividing into various city states — some with untrammeled liberty to lubricate commerce and some with a balance of slavery and the released tensions of gladiator games — with varying superstitions and mysticism.

Westeros went with a united continent under a strict hierarchy of familial lines demarcated under their own banners, with hereditary pledges of allegiance and a social code relying more on religion than mysticism.  Although the nobles live well, it doesn’t appear that they inevitably rule with iron hands and, at the end of the day, everybody up the hierarchy is aware of their fundamental reliance on the continued support of those lower down.

As the global kingdom of the living faces down the dark, magical forces of the dead, the importance of these rules of behavior and respect makes its appearance.  In Jon Snow, we see the archetype of the honorable man who is now known to be the rightful king, according to the seemingly arbitrary rules of heredity.  He is exactly what the civic system of Westeros is intended to produce in the ideal.

For her part, Cersei is a representation of the exertion of power.  She has manipulated the rules of Westeros in order to become a queen, and there are no bonds that she will not sever in order to hand power to her child.  One intriguing parallel to modern American politics can be found in the fact that she does not seem to appreciate the degree to which others must continue to adhere to the rules she is breaking if her bloodline is to maintain its place.  She wants her assertion of raw, unsubstantiated power to put her family at the top of the hierarchy, where she expects it to remain simply because of the rules of lineage.

One central question of the final episodes, therefore, is whether Daenerys will prove to be like Cersei, relying on her raw power and a false hereditary claim, or will come to understand the underpinnings of Westerosi society and thereby prove to be from there.

 

Featured image: Still shot from the season 8 trailer and episode 1 on HBO.

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Heavy Petting in the Teacher-Student Relationship

In her continuing review of the topic of inappropriate relationships between teachers and their students, Erika Sanzi has come across another quirk in Rhode Island law:

In doing further research this week, I stumbled upon the very troubling fact that sex acts with 14 year olds by adults, including those in positions of authority, is perfectly legal under current law in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I called the the Rhode Island’s Attorney General’s office to confirm and, the next day, I received a call from them confirming what I had found. I asked them directly, over the phone, “so you are saying that it is perfectly legal for a teacher or school bus driver to sexually touch 14 year olds, with their consent, as long as there is no penetration?” Their response was a simple, “yes”.

Sanzi suggests that Rhode Island’s permissive laws are why we rarely have entries in the series of news stories having to do with teachers “arrested for sexual misconduct with students.”  The states that generate those stories tend to “have laws on the books that make it a crime.”

Without contemplating the boundaries of the acts themselves, we could characterize the above blockquote as an illustration that Rhode Island permits grooming of young children to be prepared to go much farther once they hit the age of consent at 16.

A question of consistency arises.  Rhode Island law forbids second degree sexual assault, defined as any “sexual contact with another person” if the other person is “mentally incapacitated, mentally disabled, or physically helpless” or the accused “uses force, element of surprise, or coercion,” whatever these things might entail.  The law even takes care to include “medical treatment or examination” as a potential means of assault.

Yet, the rationale for statutory rape (that is, sex with minors) is that children are not sufficiently mature to consent.  If that’s the case, then it isn’t clear why third degree sexual assault, which is Rhode Island’s designation for statutory rape, would be limited to “sexual penetration.”  Why would inappropriately touching an adult who has the mental capacities of a child be violative, but inappropriately touching a child would not?

Of course, one can understand why the law pulls back from drawing very hard lines around such relationships.  Should we find it hard to believe that a 17 year old might fall in love with somebody who is just shy of 15, with the consequence that there would be a period during which the one is over 18 and the other is under 16?  After all, the law defines “sexual contact” broadly enough to include (as the old song goes) heavy petting.

Even this allowance to human freedom, however, reinforces Sanzi’s complaint that teachers aren’t in a special category for these relationships.  As easy as it may be to imagine students or coworkers or neighbors who have relationships that we’d hesitate to criminalize, those sympathetic situations shouldn’t apply to teachers and their students.

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Who Is Working For You? New Major Report Coming Soon From The Center

Who does the Rhode Island General Assembly really work for? Too often, the people of our state are left voiceless as special interest dominate the conversation. Recently, the Ocean State Current broke a major story that ignited media coverage across the state. In H5662 and Whom Rhode Island Representatives Represent, Research Director Justin Katz, uncovers a key admission from the political class.
During the March 11th Tiverton Town Council meeting, a member of the General Assembly admitted that he put forward the bill at the request of Speaker of the House, without regard to the cost to the town he represents for the state firefighters union.

Don’t wait, you can catch the video on the Current by clicking the link here. You can also find the followup here.

In the coming weeks, the Center will be releasing a major report on the cost of collective bargaining in the Ocean State. This will be the longest and most in-depth research project the Center has ever undertaken on any topic. We invite you to be on the lookout for this critical report.

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The Strange Message of Striking Against Your Own Employer

Sometimes I can’t help but wonder how unique I am in finding these sorts of strikes to be odd:

As a strike involving Stop & Shop employees entered its second day, the stakes and scale were huge — thousands of workers over hundreds of stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island in a dispute about pay, benefits and economic security.

But the battle Friday morning was being fought customer by customer: On West River Street, like at other Stop & Shop locations throughout the region, striking United Food and Commercial Workers members gathered to rally support for their efforts and to get them to take their grocery dollars elsewhere. …

“Turn around!” one striking worker yelled as some customers pulled in. Some of the cars would turn around, prompting cheers from the two dozen workers on the sidewalk; others drove in anyway, to little other reaction besides disappointment.

I’ve never quite gotten the messaging intention of this behavior or, frankly, how it fits with healthy relationships.  Employees of a store are going outside that store and telling people not to shop there so they can come to an agreement with the managers and go back to work.  It’s just… strange.

In what other area of life would we consider it healthy for one party to a relationship to seek to embarrass and harm the other for leverage within that relationship?  Would you walk away from your daily obligations to your husband or wife in order to go march around your neighborhood with a sign blaming him or her for not doing enough housework in the hopes that he or she will increase the help so that you can return to a happy state of affairs?

That would seem to be a bullying, even abusive, thing to do, and to the extent that your complaints are justified, many of your neighbors would either suggest that you get out of the relationship or find a more-cooperative way to get your feelings across.

The bullying aspect — that is, the show of power — is amplified by the number of elected officials and politicians weighing in on the strikers’ behalf.  Some might also suggest that the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) is joining in with the strike:

https://www.ripta.com/due-to-the-stop-shop-supermarket-strike-ripta-will-detour-seventeen-routes-until-further-notice

If striking Stop & Shop employees are causing so much disruption and possible danger to Rhode Islanders who have nothing to do with their dispute, shouldn’t that deserve the attention of law enforcement?  I asked RIPTA what, specifically, the authority is being cautious about, and spokeswoman Barbara Polichetti responded that “there is likely to be a lot of pedestrian activity at these locations due to the work action.”

Somehow refusing to drop riders off or pick them up outside of Stop & Shop stores gives the impression of joining the cars that are turning around to the cheers of the strikers.

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Special Rules for Relationships in School

Observers of the intersection between education and politics in Rhode Island might be interested in the national attention our local teachers unions have been getting for their opposition to a bill that would make it illegal for teachers to have physically intimate relationships with students under 18 years of age.  Here’s William Donohue in what appears to be a syndicated (or at least broadly published) op-ed:

On April 1, Pat Crowley of the state chapter of the National Education Association (NEA) noted his opposition to the bill at a hearing, though he did not elaborate. On April 8, Robert Walsh, the executive director of the NEA Rhode Island defended the organization’s opposition while saying, “It is patently ridiculous for anyone to imply that our organization, or any individual teacher, would condone any inappropriate relationship between a teacher and his or her students.”

What is patently ridiculous is to claim how horrible it is for a student between the ages of 14 and 18 to be a victim of sexual assault by a public school employee while also objecting to legislation that would punish such conduct. The power disparity between an agent of the state and a teenager should be obvious, even to lobbyists.

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) in Rhode Island was represented by James Parisi. On April 8 he made the same argument he made a week earlier, noting the discriminatory nature of the legislation.

“You should include all the adults who have employment or other types of authority over 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds,” Parisi said.

The argument of unfair application sounds very much like a distraction.  Given that state government has direct authority over public schools and assumes special authority over education, generally, there’s nothing wrong with legislators’ setting special rules of conduct for educators.  Note, for example, a statute written in 1896 and last modified in 1956 that requires that “every teacher shall aim to implant and cultivate in the minds of all children committed to his or her care the principles of morality and virtue.”  (One suspects if that were more commonly enforced, special rules about sexual relationships wouldn’t be needed.)

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Donohue notes one other consideration that is particularly relevant to him as the long-time head of the Catholic League:

What makes this argument so stunning is that the public schools have been protected in every state in the nation from the same legislation on this issue that applies to the Catholic Church. Whenever there is a bill that allows for the prosecution of old cases of abuse—extending back to World War II—the public schools are typically given an exemption.

In the little bit of time I had available, today, I wasn’t able to confirm the 90-day window that Donohue claims, but I did come across RIGL 9-1-25, which makes the statute of limitations just three years to initiate “actions or claims in tort against the state or any political subdivision thereof.”  The statute of limitations for “actions based on sexual abuse or exploitation of a child” does not contain the magic phrase “notwithstanding any other law,” so it isn’t clear whether it supersedes the special rules for government entities.

One datapoint suggesting that the sexual abuse statute does not supersede the special treatment of government entities is legislation from Senator Donna Nesselbush (D, Providence).  She included a change to 9-1-25 in this year’s version of her bill, which would extend the statute of limitations for the sexual abuse of children.  The similar legislation she submitted last year did not do so.  This change suggests that the new language is needed, and without it, public schools and other government agencies have a blanket statute of limitations of three years.

Be that as it may, the unionists have the legal principle exactly backwards.  On the occasions when we restrict liberty in the name of moral opprobrium, we should do so as narrowly as possible.  People should be able to construct the norms of their homes and places of work freely.  When it comes to public workplaces, it falls to the public to set the norms.

That does not mean, however, that due process in and out of government employment should differ — certainly not in a way that loosens standards for the public sector.

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Abraham Glazer: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, Thoughts on Pesach 5779

You and I are neighbors.  Between our properties is a fence.  There is an invisible surveyed boundary between our properties, but that is not why we have a fence.  There are nearby neighbors who do not have fences.  Neither of us has cattle or sheep but we choose to mark our properties with a fence.  It may be a sturdy 6-foot cedar fence or a decorative split rail fence.  However strong, it will never prevent a child’s ball from sailing over it, never prevent a dog from digging under it or muffle a loud party.  So what is the purpose of the fence?  I suggest that our fence and many others are symbols of liberty that rests on our mutual acknowledgments of our individual rights.

This does not apply to fences and walls intended to protect or prevent escape.  Erecting a high fence around a prison protects the lives of people living near a prison and keeps the prisoners confined. Nor does it apply to walls and fences intended to keep a people enslaved, as in North Korea.  I am talking about fences and walls that we erect around property.  It might be one we build together as neighbors or a 12-foot-high concrete wall around a celebrity’s estate.  The 12′ wall is imposing, but it can never ensure privacy or security.  Given sufficient malicious intent, the wall is a minor obstacle.

Walls and fences are symbols that mark what is mine, which requires me to acknowledge what is yours.  I strengthen and protect my ownership by that acknowledgment.  All this takes place in history before the law of trespass was invented.  You as my neighbor recognize my property and I recognize yours simultaneously.  We do not do this because there is a law of trespass. We do it primarily because it is the virtuous thing to do.  My liberty requires that I honor yours.

This is not to say that we will never violate the sanctity of our neighbor’s property.  As a group, we acquiesce to taxes with an element of choice and the sanctioning of force.  What I suggest here is that law is not the significant mover of ethical behavior.  Law is the statues created by federal, state and local governments and the legal system (police, prosecutors, judges, and juries) that enforce the law.  They are our agents.  Laws exist because enough people agree that specific behaviors are anathema to the public interest.  The laws are enacted to provide disincentives to that behavior with punishment.  It is safe to say that while many of us have said “I’ll kill you” when angry, most of us will never commit murder.  Why?  Because killing another person is wrong. The wrongness exists before the law.

We are becoming unmoored from historical transformations that elevated the individual from generations where a man’s life was no different than his grandfather’s.  It is almost absolute throughout history that the nodding of a king’s head determined whether a man died or became wealthy.  The last century saw millions of people killed by communists, Nazis, and authoritarian regimes in pursuit of a better world.  Their rationale and their vehicle was the same as the Egyptian Pharaoh with the Jews. Laws will never prevent the killing of an individual nor the killing of millions.  Negating the sacredness of the individual permits death camps and drive-by shootings.

About 3,000 years ago, Jewish men, women, and children stepped from slavery into a personal relationship with G-d.  The individual was sanctified and had the choice to live by transcendental rules.  In America, we are heirs to that legacy.  So I enjoy the appeal of the fence that is the symbol the liberty each of us has by the grace of virtue we choose to exhibit and the grace of G-d.

 

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Admissions Scandal Is So Very Rhode Island

I’ve got an op-ed in today’s Washington Times, about Rhode Island’s own connection with the college-entrance bribery scandal:

When Rhode Islanders heard that the women’s tennis coach of the state’s public university had been arrested in connection with the national bribery for admission scandal, many must have said, “Wait, what?” Students can get an excellent education at the University of Rhode Island, and it’s certainly an affordable option, but it isn’t exactly an institution for which the nation’s rich and famous would have to pay the sort of premium that might attract the FBI’s attention.

When they learned the details, locals’ reaction was probably something more like, “How very Rhode Island.”

This paragraph is probably the key takeaway for Rhode Islanders:

Rhode Island’s leaders are like the parents who’ve bribed their children’s way into institutions of higher education that were well beyond their merit. Both cases exhibit an implicit insecurity and a desire for people under their care or authority to be something they’re not. In contrast, the initial questions that political leaders and parents ask should be: Who are you really, and how can you achieve your full potential, being who you are? With that more-human perspective as the starting point, parents might not set their children up for embarrassing failure (or criminal prosecution).

Read the whole thing, as they say.

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The Self-Fulfilling Injustice of SJWs in Education

The part of Matt Allen’s Uncut podcast with Good School Hunting’s Erica Sanzi dealing with “social justice” (about 46 minutes into the recording) has been rolling around in the part of my head that polishes rough ideas to the point that they’re recognizably something.

My first, intuitive reaction was that Sanzi’s idea of social justice is actually the sort of injustice that it ostensibly seeks to resolve.  That’s not quite accurate, but I’m not sure my more-refined conclusion puts the concept of “social justice” in any better light.

Explaining what she means by social justice “in the education space,” Sanzi talks about the “belief gap,” defined basically as teachers’ failure to press students to achieve because of an implicit belief that they can’t rise to the challenge.  The example she gives is of the mother of Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s child.  Apparently, somebody once told her not to use one of her application-fee vouchers to apply to Boston College, saying she’d never get in.  She did, and she graduated.

Now, how does an analyst using the social justice lens interpret this?  He or she suggests that the reason students don’t achieve when they otherwise would is that external forces will not help them or will actively hold them down.  Offering practical advice, a person with this view of the world might suggest that a student not apply to a particular college because institutional racism and sexism will prevent her getting in.

In other words, the implicit belief remains that she will face challenges in our society, but the cause and the blame shift outside of the student.  The obstacle isn’t internal to her, but the whole, unjust world.  That doesn’t change the immediate effect assumed (not getting into the college); it just creates an opponent and stokes bitterness.

To be sure, if somebody is talking in terms of “social justice,” that person is at least on the track of helping students to overcome challenges.  Sanzi, one can tell, sees the object of social justice not to be dwelling on the injustice, but rather to be working with students to help them achieve despite doubts about their abilities.  Nonetheless, if the belief gap implies an attitude of “I don’t think you’re smart enough to do this,” the social-justice gap implies, “I don’t think you’re strong enough to overcome the bias.”

The reason Matt Allen intuitively pushes back on injecting the idea of “social justice” into the conversation is (I think) that it leads to a different way of looking at things and a different way of behaving toward others. So much of life and success in a human society is learning to accommodate other people.  One does not accommodate injustice.  One fights injustice.  Rather than focusing on commonalities, one focuses on differences so as to crush the injustice within them.

This distinction has real implications for how we interact and, especially, in how we teach, as listeners can observe at around the 1 hour, 19 minute mark of the podcast.  During that portion of the conversation, Sanzi and Allen debate the importance of placing teachers who “look like” the students in their classes.  Sanzi’s view is that black kids can’t “see themselves” in their white teachers.  Allen explains that, for him, such reflections have much more to do with common beliefs and experiences.

The SJW attitude has two consequences, here.  First, in keeping with the above, is the suggestion that we can’t expect students to feel connected with people who don’t look like them.  Second is the insinuation that society is failing the students if it does not provide a “diverse” faculty.

But again, the keys to success are to make the most of whatever circumstances one faces and to focus on commonalities.  If, following another of Sanzi’s examples, a student has doubts about his ability to become a school principal because he’s never seen one who has the same skin pigmentation, the solution isn’t to affirm the doubts, but to correct them.

“Do you like helping people and trying to get people to work together to make things happen?”

“Yes.”

“Do you like learning enough to go to college and then work in a school your whole life?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then, you can do this job.  We all face different challenges, but you have all the qualities that enabled me to have this career.”

An attitude that insists that this sample dialogue is naive is precisely the problem.  Layering in more complications brings all sorts of social garbage into a pure person-to-person connection.  Moreover, the SJW attitude just creates another “belief gap.”  The difference is that the gap is in the degree of empathy or imagination, rather than intelligence or studiousness.

 

Featured image: The protest that inspired “Shout Down the Hate.”

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The Pressure the General Assembly Is Trying to Control

The Providence Journal today has published an op-ed in which I address the admission of Representative John “Jay” Edwards (D, Portsmouth, Tiverton) that he put in legislation for the state firefighters union, by way of Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, without much consideration of its effect on the people he’s supposed to represent:

Watch Rhode Island politics for even a short time, and you’ll catch on to certain truths. Everybody seems to know them, and sometimes an op-ed or talk radio show will blurt them out. By now, in 2019, these truths have been sufficiently longstanding and have produced so many of their inevitable consequences that Rhode Islanders feel them in their bones. They are why few run for office and why many leave the state, year after year.

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Still, a person who’s watched Rhode Island politics can’t help but be surprised when an insider, who ought to have the good taste to pretend these truths aren’t true, admits one of them. I had this experience at the March 11 meeting of the Tiverton Town Council, of which I am the vice president. We were engaged in a ritual conversation with our town’s representatives and senators, and I asked state Rep. John “Jay” Edwards about one of his bills.

One important lesson shouldn’t be lost as this matter predictably falls along lines of unions versus taxpayers.  With legislation like the bills Mattiello asked Edwards to submit, legislators aren’t only elevating the interests of the unions over those of the broader public.  They’re also advancing the statewide unions’ interests over those of the union locals and their workers.

That’s ultimately the upshot of having the General Assembly put limits on what the sides can negotiate in any particular city or town.  Inherently, both sides of the negotiating table are restricted in what they’re able to negotiate.

The pressure on budgets doesn’t go away.  Elected officials and municipal employees simply have to find other ways to release it.  Perhaps Mattiello and Edwards expect or hope that the “release” will come in the form of big tax increases in an already over-taxed state.  More likely, the result will be exacerbated under-funding of pensions, infrastructure, and other areas of the budget that aren’t as straightforward.

If the budget pressure can’t be released in those ways, the bubble will only grow, to the point that we’re talking about privatization and regionalization.  Maybe those are good ideas and maybe they’re not, but the only way to truly know is to let the people closest to negotiations talk about and try everything.

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Rhode Island Legislators Should Support The 6.5% Sales Tax Promise

The state of the State of Rhode Island is not competitive. Even as the rising national economic tide has lifted ships in all states, when compared with the rest of the nation, our Ocean State is severely lagging, and is in danger of sinking further behind if progressive policies continue to be implemented.
However, things do not have to be this way. Existing state law (General Law 44-18-18) specifies a “trigger” for a sales tax rate reduction to 6.5% if certain internet sales tax collection criteria are met. The rationale for this law was to relieve Rhode Islanders of the additional burden of imposing a sales tax on a broader range of purchased goods. Unfortunately, it seems like state government is slow to take action when they can actually help the people of our state.  So, the Center asks you to click here now to contact your legislators to tell them to support a 6.5% sales tax.
For all intents and purposes, this trigger threshold has been met in Rhode Island. Major retailers are suffering across our state. Rhode Island is trapped at 47th place on the Jobs & Opportunity Index. It’s time for state government to fulfill its half-percent promise. They can deliver some much needed relief to the hard-working taxpayers, and businesses in our state.
An internet sales tax law, signed by the Governor, takes money out of the pockets of Ocean State families. What are you getting in return? In multiple ways, the citizens of Rhode Island have suffered a wide broadening of the sales tax, but they have not yet benefitted from the promised lowered rate… as was the clear intention of the state’s law.
The General Assembly should stand by their word to the people of the Ocean State. They should abide by legislation that they, the legislature themselves passed. They should comply with state law. Rhode Islanders want state and local government that works for everyone, not just the insiders, the elites, and the special interests.
 Don’t wait, your voice can make the difference. Click on the link here to send a pre-written email to your lawmakers telling them to support a 6.5% sales tax.
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Talking Open Public Forums on Matt Allen

The latest activist-generated controversy in Tiverton caught Matt Allen’s attention, and he asked me to join him on his show earlier this week to talk about it.

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Dave Talan and William Ricci: In Providence, Keep the Water System, Fix the Pensions

The Providence Republican Party has come out against Mayor Jorge Elorza’s proposal to monetize the Providence water system.

The Mayor’s plan is designed to protect the city’s pension and health plan for retirees, which is an estimated $2,000,000,000 in debt (or $12,000 for every man, woman, and child in the city).  The Mayor’s plan is also designed to delay the city of Providence going into bankruptcy, at least until a new Mayor is in office.

We have 3 reasons for opposing the Mayor’s plan.

First, water bills would double for everybody in order to get back the $300,000,000 that the mayor hopes to get by monetizing the system.  We recall that city residents’ sewer bills doubled some years ago when the city sold the sewer system to the Narragansett Bay Commission.

Our water might become polluted.  We worry that a private entity might try to sell some of the watershed property around the Scituate Reservoir, to private developers to build houses.  The watershed land is what filters out pollutants, before they can reach our drinking water supply.  Remember the disaster in Flint Michigan, when a new water supply owner tried to save some money, and ended up poisoning the water supply.

The mayor’s plan does nothing to resolve the overall financial problem with the pensions and prevent the problem from reoccurring in the future.

We do agree with Mayor Elorza on one thing.  If we do nothing about the unfunded pension and retiree health plans, the city will definitely go bankrupt in the near future, and this would be a very bad thing for Providence residents.  The mayor has demanded that opponents of his plan should offer an alternative.  So, we offer the following ideas to cut costs, instead of raising taxes and fees.

Some retirees are making so much money that they would have to take a pay cut if they came out of retirement to go back to their old jobs. One retiree is actually collecting a quarter of a million dollars each and every year.  This is due to excessive cost-of-living adjustments (greater than the rate of inflation) given to employees during the Cianci administration. No retiree should collect more money than current workers doing their old job, and their pensions should be reduced accordingly.

No retiree should be able to collect a pension before the age of 60.  Now, some employees retire in their 40s, collect a pension immediately, and go to work in another job.  When Governor Raimondo reformed the state employees retirement system, she raised the minimum retirement age for all current and future employees. Providence needs to do the same.

The city should get out of the pension business entirely.  New employees should receive Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), which they own themselves.  The City of Cranston did something similar a few years ago.  Under Mayor Allan Fung, 401(k) retirement plans began in 2010 for the Teamsters Union, and in 2015 for the Laborers Union.  We should follow Cranston’s example.

The mayor of Providence has previously rejected these suggestions. He has said any changes to the union contracts are off the table due to a consent decree signed by his predecessor. And he has said that if the city goes bankrupt, an overseer might sell the water system anyway.

We have consulted with the top Rhode Island expert on municipal bankruptcies, Judge Robert Flanders, who managed the bankruptcy in Central Falls and advised other towns on restructuring to avoid a bankruptcy. We learned the following:  If the city were to go bankrupt, the absolute last thing that an overseer would do is to sell the city’s assets.  The first thing he would do is to force the unions to renegotiate contracts.

The threat of losing everything would be enough to force them to negotiate seriously. When Central Falls went bankrupt, retirees lost up to 60% of their pensions.  If Providence were to go bankrupt, retirees would probably lose everything.  (Changes in law since the Central Falls bankruptcy give first preference to bond holders, and retirees can only get what is left, if anything.)  This serious threat would be enough to bring them to the table.

We call on Mayor Elorza to abandon his quest to monetize our water system, and to consider instead our serious suggestions on how to reduce the size of our pension debt.

David Talan and William Ricci are the Co-Chairs of the Providence Republican City Committee.  They can be reached at DaveTalan@aol.com or ProvidenceRepublicans@gmail.com

 

Featured image: The Providence reservoir by air.

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Negotiating with the Speaker in the Room

Thanks to the reporting of Providence Journal reporter Katherine Gregg we have some explanation of the motivation behind Democrat state Representative John “Jay” Edwards legislation to change overtime rules in favor of fire fighters.  Unfortunately, the explanation comes not from the Tiverton/Portsmouth representative who put the bill in, but the Speaker of the House who told him to do it:

During an interview with The Journal on Tuesday, Democrat Mattiello, of Cranston, acknowledged he is an enthusiastic supporter of the legislation that Cranston Deputy Fire Chief Paul Valletta has been pushing at the State House in his role as the $3,035.58-a-month lobbyist for the Rhode Island State Association of Fire Fighters. …

“We had the opportunity to pass this bill several years ago. We elected not to at that point and I remember knocking on one of my constituent’s doors. He was a Providence firefighter and he was a little frustrated and he said, ‘I am still going to vote for you speaker but I’m angry with you. … I have not seen my wife and my 8-year-old daughter in a year.’ That is inappropriate,″ Mattiello said. “The schedules that three platoons create are horrific on families … and if communities are going to do that, they should at least be required to pay the overtime.”

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Mattiello acknowledges that he did no research concerning this issue or how other states have addressed it.  Despite the distance from Cranston to the East Bay, he might at least have made some inquiries about things in Tiverton.  We’ve worked hard on a solution — through a contract negotiated in good faith that is on track to be signed within mere weeks — precisely because employees were unhappy with the arrangement and it has affected morale, retention, and hiring.  In fact, his interference at the state level has complicated the situation locally.

Readers of this site know that I’m (let’s just say) skeptical of unionization, especially of government employees, but even by labor’s own standards the whole idea is that two sides come to the table and work out an agreement.  If the Speaker of the House is in the room, too, then the arrangement deserves much more than skepticism.

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Why We Should Be Afraid of Subjective Moral Reasoning

Believers and secularists can go around in circles when it comes to moral debates.  Mark Tapscott highlights the response of Christian speaker Ravi Zacharias when an audience member asks him why Christians are “so afraid of subjective moral reasoning,” and Zacharias’s response is excellent but, I think, vulnerable to the ideological roundabout.

He points to the genocides of the U.S.S.R. and China, but his questioner had already asserted that there were Christian Nazis and atheist Nazis.  Put aside the legitimacy of that assertion and simply note that he believes it and would likely move farther down that path had the argument continued.

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The key point for advancing this debate is, in my view, that comments like “why are you so afraid” ignore that we live within a cultural framework.  Even now, we’re living within the moral momentum of Christianity.  Until very recently, children were still raised, in significant degree, to think that those things that were traditionally immoral are… immoral.  Telling a person when he or she becomes a teen that there is no ontological foundation for his or traditions doesn’t make them suddenly feel incorrect.  The transition takes time and an opposing catalyst.

In other words, something has to happen to change the feeling of right and wrong, and that something can be manipulation by an ideological movement, like the Nazis or the Chinese Communists or even the lower-scale bigotry that gives some superficially plausible reason why it’s OK to hurt a particular type of person (like a teenage supporter of the president).

Honestly evaluated life experience will suggest that the urge to break free of traditional moral restrictions is always lingering just below the surface, at least for a sufficiently large portion of the population to be dangerous.  It really doesn’t take much at all to break it free.

The Old Man in the Mountain looked out over New Hampshire for centuries, watching as horses lost ground to cars below and planes began flying overhead.  But time did him in.  Drops of water, freezing and thawing, worked their way through the crevices, and gutters and chains could ultimately not keep him attached to his foundation.  After that, there was no putting him back.

Culturally, we can resist the gravity of our nature for long eras, but a culture needs tradition to carry it forward.  Otherwise we’re pebbles on the edge of a cliff waiting while an evil ideology works its way into the fissures below.

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The Premium to Live in Rhode Island

Jeff Rose has an interesting article on Forbes.com calculating the take-home value of a $200,000 income in all 50 states.  Such a review requires assumptions and broad strokes, but the attempt is interesting.

Naturally, Rhode Island is in the bottom 8, with the theoretical person taking home $140,500 after taxes, or a 30% effective tax rate.  That ties the Ocean State with New Jersey and is worse only than Connecticut, Minnesota, Maine, Vermont, Hawaii, and (at the bottom of the list) New York.  At the other end of the ranking is Delaware, with $149,500, or an effective 25% rate.

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Therein lies the key point.  Sure, folks will have a hard time feeling bad for those with such high incomes, but when they can give themselves up to a 6% raise simply by relocating, we should expect that many of them will try to do so.

That likelihood raises a related topic.  These rankings are purely tax burdens.  Different states have different costs of living, too.  If you’re living in Providence, your cost of living is 22% higher than the national average, according to Payscale.com.  Dover, Delaware, by contrast, is 3% lower than the national average.  That’s a 25% swing.

Readers can play around with the tools to look at the states that Rhode Islanders often mention when they daydream about leaving.  Raleigh, North Carolina, is 6% below the national average for cost of living.  Nashville, Tennessee, is 4% below.  Here’s the table that Payscale.com generates for comparisons:

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Rhode Island doesn’t need new gimmicks or more corporate cronyism to turn itself around.  We need to recognize and respond to this core problem of making it too expensive to live here, with too little opportunity to show for it.  More and more, it seems that we pay a tax premium merely to enable government employees and other insiders to make up for our high cost of living.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: The Politicians’ Special Interests

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about friction in the RIGOP, no friction for union-driven legislation, and fingers in the air over Biden’s body language.

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I’ll be on again Monday, April 8, at 1:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.

 

Featured image reference here.

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The Violence Inherent in the Mainstream Narrative

Here’s a little story, from Brian Amaral in the Providence Journal, that oughtn’t be lost in the shuffle of day-to-day news:

A group of juveniles [apparently 15 years old and younger] holding “Trump flags” outside the Brown University bookstore on Thayer Street Friday told police a man accosted them and choked two of them.

According to a police report provided by Commander Thomas Verdi, the five juveniles flagged down police at about 8 p.m. to report the incident in front of the bookstore at 244 Thayer St. They told police they were holding the two flags when they were approached by the man, believed to be in his 20s. The man began to stare at them, then asked what they were doing, they told police.

This is a consequence of the prevalent attitude in much of the mainstream of the political and media classes that Americans with certain points of view are evil and therefore have no rights.  When the narrative flows from “punch a Nazi” to “Trump is a Nazi,” a dangerous atmosphere develops.  In this narrative, somebody “Trump flags” (whatever those might be) is trying to usher in a new fascism.

Sure, the 20-something guy walking down the street who decides to take it upon himself to do something violent about this incipient fascism probably has something wrong with him, but this isn’t an isolated incident.  Let’s not forget the mass hysteria over the viral video of the Covington Catholic students in Washington, D.C., after the latest March for Life.

 

Featured image: A screenshot from the viral Covington Catholic video.

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H5662 and Whom Rhode Island Representatives Represent

The March 11 meeting of the Tiverton Town Council had one of those moments when the truth of how things work in Rhode Island was actually stated plainly, clearly, and unambiguously.  House bill 5662 (which is up for consideration by the House Labor Committee today) would lower the number of average hours fire fighters can work per week without receiving overtime pay from the federally set 53 hours to 42.  Asked about his legislation, Democrat Representative John “Jay” Edwards acknowledged:

  • That he put the bill in at the request of Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, without regard to the cost to the town he represents.
  • That this sort of legislation is designed to interfere with negotiations and push them “the proper way.”
  • And if the town and union negotiate a system that everybody likes, but with which this legislation interferes, the way to change the law would be to have the local union contact the state fire fighters union, and “they’ll put in” legislation to change it.

Edwards certainly clarified the Rhode Island Way for the council, and if this legislation passes into law, we’ll also have clarify on whom elected officials actually represent in the Ocean State.

[Video clip made from the official recording on Tiverton Videos; transcript below.]

Transcript

Town Council Vice President Justin Katz: I had one question for Representative Edwards.  You have a bill, 5662, which mandates overtime wages for fire fighters who work over 42 hours.

Representative John “Jay” Edwards: That’s correct.

Katz: Did you happen to estimate how much that would cost the town.

Edwards: I believe the town is currently in negotiations, and it might not affect the town at all until your next contract.

Katz: Well, I’m on the negotiating subcommittee, and I happen to have become familiar with their scheduling, and this particular legislation would be just under $200,000 for a cost to the town.

Edwards: Unless you went to three platoons.

Katz: We’re having very productive negotiations, and even then, there’s going to be a substantial cost to this legislation, and it’s actually potentially going to get in the way of our resolving our negotiations.

Edwards: Well, council, there are only three towns in the state that actually have the 48 hours: Tiverton, one of the fire districts in Coventry, and North Kingstown, so…

Katz: You happen to represent one of those.

Edwards: This is also an issue for the firemen, and safety for the firemen.

Katz: We’re in productive negotiations, and it’d be helpful…

Edwards: Your administrator called me on this.

Katz: Well, I have the opportunity of you here, and I’d like to express as a Town Council…

Edwards: If you notice, I’m the only one on the bill.  It’s a leadership bill.  It’s coming down from the speaker.  So, I’m the one who put it in because I happen to have one of the towns, but this bill was from the leadership.

Katz: But we didn’t vote for speaker…

Edwards: I know you didn’t.

Town Council Member Denise DeMedeiros: So it affects three towns?

Edwards: Three towns.

Katz: And he put it in on behalf of the speaker, he’s saying.

DeMedeiros: I get it.

Town Administrator Jan Reitsma: Just a quick follow up.  I think this stems from the difference between the traditional 42-hour cycle and some communities’ going to a 56 hour cycle, which a lot of the fire fighters don’t like.  But the question is if a town and the union manage to have negotiations that might end up in the middle, with a compromise, but that compromise is still over the 42-hour limit that’s in this legislation, it basically interferes with the ability to come to that compromise.  That’s our concern, and even though it may not affect the contract that we manage to finalize this time, it would affect us for the next contract, and if between the fire fighters and the municipality, we think there may be a reasonable — and we’re not done yet, and I need to be careful with what I say — but if there is a reasonable possibility of striking this compromise and it works for both sides, it would be good that we could get that done.

Edwards: A lot of water has to cross under the bridge before this bill becomes law.  I put one in previously at the behest of the Providence fire fighters when they were negotiating, and the mere presence of the bill pushed the negotiations the proper way.  I mean, a lot of times the presence of legislation will push both parties into real negotiation.

DeMedeiros: That could be looked at differently, though, because it would push the town more than the fire fighters, right?

Edwards: It all depends how fast you negotiate.  I mean, this bill has only been heard once.  It has to be heard again.  It has to come off through committee.  It has to go to the House floor.  Then it would have to cross over to the Senate and have to be heard in their committee, have to go back to the floor, and have to go to the governor.  Something like that, you wouldn’t see it until probably June.

Katz: I don’t see any allowance in this legislation to grandfather in previously negotiated contracts.

Edwards: It’s in there.

DeMedeiros: It is in there at the end.

Council Member Donna Cook: I guess I’m a little confused as to why anyone would interfere in that way with the town being able to negotiate with a union, where a representative and laws are being put into place to stymie the town from being able to financially stay afloat by these laws being in place.  It takes away from being able to negotiate freely.  I don’t agree with it at all.

Edwards: That’s your prerogative, councilor.  We believe that the safety of the firemen and women are paramount, and putting people in 48-hour straight shifts is not good for them.

Cook:  You also have to be cognizant of how much it costs and what the towns can afford, so I think that you really shouldn’t be involved in that at all.

Reitsma: I don’t want to prolong this, but I do think it’s important to keep in mind that the proposal for the 48 hours came from the fire fighters, not from the town.

Edwards: And that legislation was in working with the state fire departments.

Council President Robert Coulter:  Just for clarity, when you say, “we believe,” that’s the position of all four of you [Tiverton representatives and senators], or do you mean you and your cosponsors.

Edwards: I’m the only one on the bill.

Senator Walter Felag: I haven’t even heard of the bill.  Like I said there’s 2,400 bills, and I’m not going to be an expert on every bill.  It’s not gonna happen.  That’s why it’s imperative that you let us know your position.

Katz: So the way I read this, then, were we to negotiate terms that conflicted with this now, those terms would no longer be available next time we negotiated a contract.

Edwards: That’s correct.

Katz: So even if in our very positive negotiations with our fire fighters we find a system that works for everybody involved.  It’s working great.  Three years from now, the contract’s up, the state says, “sorry.”

Edwards: If it’s working great, councilor, what you do is have your union contact the state fire departments, and they’ll put in… we’ll put in legislation on their behalf.

Katz: State fire departments?

Edwards: The state fire association.

Katz: The union, you mean?

Edwards: Yes.

Katz:  Oh, OK.  So, that’s who we would go to to change the legislation?

Edwards: No, you’d go through your local union.

Katz: But we would go through the union to get legislation, you’re saying?

Edwards: You could go through the union to get legislation changed if your union agreed. Or if, as everyone thinks, this 48 hours is going to be detrimental to the lives of your firemen, you’ll come up with something else.

Katz: So, we don’t go to our representatives, we go to the unions instead.

Edwards: You can go to us.

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The Effects of the Minimum Wage

Written testimony from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse, opposing an increase in the minimum wage emphasizes that such legislation kills jobs:

After Seattle passed a rapid minimum wage hike, a study by the Univ. of WA found the cost to low-wage workers outweighed the benefits by a 3-1 ratio, and found that on average overall, low-wage workers, lost $125 per month – because of lost work hours, lost employment, or lost job opportunities because of the hike.

In Boston, high minimum wages have been publicly cited as a primary reason for many restaurant closings.

Writing on PJ Media, Stephen Green notes that the contagion has hit New York City:

Which brings us back to the NY Post, where an industry group was quoted saying that “full-service restaurants recorded a 1.6 percent job loss [in 2018], which is the first recorded annual loss in two decades.” The new minimum wage hadn’t kicked in yet, but fast-food and fast-casual restaurants were already rushing to automate in anticipation, and this year looks to be even worse

Green also shares this helpfully explanatory cartoon:

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Numbers, Facts, and Another Budget Battle

Over in Tiverton, we’re engaged in our annual budget debate, during which I have the new-to-me experience of being on the Town Council, this year.  This budget year is also unique because the full $3 million in minimum revenue from the new Twin River casino is in the budget for the first time.

Given these realities, I’ve been pushing for a compromise that would allow the town to reset local politics and spend the next year developing a long-term plan that allows us all to get our expectations on the table.  Maybe, just maybe, we could move forward from that exercise working together like a community rather than lurching from election to budget to election in a whipsaw of factions.

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Unfortunately, given the recent history of the town, trust is an issue, and (from my perspective) it seems as if the old familiar strategies are difficult to move beyond:

During his initial pitch to the Budget Committee, Tiverton’s new superintendent, Peter Sanchioni, suggested that people had to trust him to set our school system aright.  He is correct that trust is critical, and distrust is the major hurdle facing anybody who wishes to bring Tiverton back to a place of compromise and cooperation.  That is why the superintendent’s final presentation to the Budget Committee before it voted on a budget for his department was so disappointing.

At the highest level, the School Committee never really compromised.  They asked the town for the highest budget they could possibly request by law.  (Actually their request exceeded the maximum by $3,624.)  On top of that, they appear to have overestimated state aid by $92,004 (which local taxpayers would have to make up for) and added $311,000 in “critical” capital expenses that they’d planned to fund out of their own reserves but now want the town to cover.

Two more-specific parts of the presentation, however, are where trust really takes a hit.

The closing sentiment of the post is key for Rhode Island as well as for Tiverton:  numbers have to be seen as an area of common ground rather than as an opportunity to mislead.  If I present numbers that lead me to a particular conclusion, somebody who opposes my position should explain which statements are incorrect or why they should lead to some other conclusion.  We at least have to share the the goal of agreeing on what the facts are, even if nobody changes his or her views because of them.

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Social Isolation for Elders and the Cause of Freedom

It’s been out for a few months, so readers who frequent this sort of Web site may have already come across WalletHub’s ranking of the “Best States to Retire,” which places Rhode Island 49th, better only than Kentucky.  What does the Ocean State in is the combination of low affordability and low quality of life for seniors.

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That latter point is what caught my eye this week in Adriana Belmonte’s summary of the ranking for Yahoo Finance:

Colorado and New Hampshire’s spots jumped out to [WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez], as well. New Hampshire has the lowest property crime rate, and is the fourth-best state overall.

“While they aren’t exactly the most affordable, these states ranked among the best to retire to,” Gonzalez said, noting both states’ high-quality health care and physicians per capita. “This is because they both have a low risk of social isolation, as well as a low share of the population aged 65+ in poverty.”

New Hampshire is 3rd for “quality of life,” which includes a variety of entertainment and leisure items (like “scenic byways” and “museums per capita”), as well as crime rates.  The subcategory also includes “risk of social isolation,” measured as follows:

This metric considers the following six risk factors of social isolation in population aged 65 years and older: a) Divorced, separated or widowed; b) Never married; c) Poverty; d) Disability; e) Independent Living Difficulty and f) Living alone.

That’s a cultural thing, and it points to a traditional view of life.  If you divorce or never get married, you have a higher risk of being alone.  Likewise (although it doesn’t appear that WalletHub measured this) if you never had children or if your children had to move somewhere else in order to find work, your risk of isolation goes up.

We most certainly shouldn’t compound the tragic events in people’s lives with unnecessary ridicule and stigma, but we’ve tended to forget an important point:  Traditional values are traditional for a reason.  They were learned over the course of centuries, not (as the ideological scions of Marx would have it) because they served some patriarchy or ruling elite, but because they made people’s lives better.  They also provided the foundation for freedom and for social advancement, which means losing our traditional values will actually bring us back toward rule by others.

In that regard, it is a telling coincidence that New Hampshire’s motto is “Live Free or Die.”

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Truck Tolls: Plaintiffs Appeal Ruling to Dismiss; Do Not Accede to Moving the Fight to State Court

On March 19, the federal district court in Providence dismissed the American Trucking Associations’ lawsuit against Rhode Island’s truck-only tolls, heeding the State of Rhode Island’s legal argument that their truck-only tolls are not a federal but a state matter and within the state’s purview to assess because they are actually taxes. (Wait, what?? Since when? From the beginning and all through the toll battle, Governor Gina Raimondo and state leaders repeatedly told us that tolls are a “fee”, a “user fee“, an apple – anything but a tax.)

At that point, the ATA had two choices: file the suit in state court or move to keep the suit at the federal level by appealing the decision. They just issued a statement indicating that they have chosen the latter course, stating, in part

Yesterday, the American Trucking Associations, along with three motor carriers representing the industry, appealed last week’s decision by the federal district court in Rhode Island to dismiss their challenge to Rhode Island’s RhodeWorks truck-only toll scheme, on procedural grounds.

In its challenge, ATA contends that Rhode Island’s truck-only toll scheme is unconstitutional because it discriminates against interstate trucking companies and impedes the flow of interstate commerce. In its March 19, 2019 decision dismissing the case, the district court did not address the merits of that constitutional claim. Instead, it held only that ATA’s challenge could not proceed in federal court.

ATA President and CEO Chris Spear went on to underscore, “…we look forward to establishing the unconstitutionality of Rhode Island’s discriminatory tolls on the merits.”

[Monique has been a contributor to the Ocean State Current and Anchor Rising for over ten years, was volunteer spokesperson for the citizens advocacy anti-toll group StopTollsRI.com for three+ years and began working for the Rhode Island Trucking Association as a staff member in September of 2017.]

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