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Hairbraider Freedom

Hair Braider Freedom Passes GA: An Important Shrinking of Government

VICTORY! For years, our Center has worked, both publicly and behind the scenes, to secure an important and symbolic freedom for Rhode Island families. During the last moments of the 2019 General Assembly session, lawmakers voted to exempt natural hair braiders from the occupational licensing requirement for hairdressers and cosmeticians within the state.
This licensing burden is especially harmful to many people who would prefer to start new careers and earn paychecks instead of receiving welfare checks.
Oppressive Regulations Harm Low Income Families. Hair braiding is a generational and practical African-style art-form for Rhode Islanders like Jocelyn DoCouto and her family, which hail from Senegal and Cape Verde.
Yet, unable to afford the burdensome levels of fees and training required to receive permission from the government to legally work in a field that presents no safety risks, Jocelyn, as well as other would-be entrepreneurs, were not able to operate a business that would provide them hope to achieve financial independence.
Now, as a result of the work of our Center and many others, families can like Jocelyn’s can dream of building a better life with one less government burden in their way.   

Smugglers of Meaning and Time

Back in April, I made some notes related to a post on Uprise RI, but my time being scarce, the weeks have slipped by.  Here’s the section I highlighted in my notes:

“To live a free life, it is not enough that we have the right to freedom,” writes [Yale professor] Martin Hägglund. “We must have access to the material resources as well as the forms of education that allow us to pursue our freedom and to “own” the question of what to do with our time. What belongs to each of us – what is irreducibly our own – is not property or goods but the time of our lives.”

We are not infinite beings. We are finite, and that finitude makes our brief time the most precious thing we have. It is the essence of our freedom.

“An emancipated life is not a life that is free from work, but a life in which we pursue work on the basis of our own commitments,” writes Hägglund. “Even our socially necessary labor can be an expression of our freedom if it is shared for the sake of the common good.”

Uprise RI editor Steve Ahlquist characterizes Hägglund’s work as an exploration of “secular faith,” which he characterizes by finding value in things that are finite, rather than eternal. “Even though it is painful and difficult to be finite, that is also the condition for anything mattering, anything to be at stake, anything being valuable and worth caring about,” he said at the Harvard Book Store event that Ahlquist was covering.

But Hägglund is plainly wrong to insist that brevity is the source of meaning and, therefore, that time is the most precious thing we have.  Time is like a zinc coin.  It’s utterly useless and valueless if it cannot be used for something.  A limited amount of time, like a limited amount of currency, makes it more important to spend it on things that provide meaning, but it is not the meaning itself.  People who share the economic worldview of Ahlquist and (I infer) Hägglund can see this very easily when it comes to money.  The miser who collects money simply to have it is a justifiably maligned caricature, as would be a miser who collects time — a person who refuses to do things for others for no better reason than that he wants full ownership of his time.

Hägglund illustrates this very principle when he makes the paradoxical statement that “socially necessary labor” (read, “slavery”) is “an expression of freedom” when it’s done for “the common good.”  In his own terms, he’s saying the common good is what gives meaning.  Its slaves are just trading in their time tickets (so to speak) to produce that valuable thing.  Whoever defines the “common good,” therefore, gets to tell everybody what they must find meaning in, and they are supposed to feel good about spending time on it because… well, I guess that’s where the faith part comes in.

We would be remiss if we didn’t pause to appreciate a related consequence of Hägglund’s argument: that we must have a right to things that other people produce.  The “common good,” in this view, is the production of sufficient resources to allow everybody to “‘own’ the question of what to do with our time.”

In other words, we have a right to material goods produced by others in order to procure the freedom to pursue our own interests, but they — those other people — can feel good about their labor because they’re doing it for the “common good,” which is to say, for our good.

One wonders, with such thinkers, if they’ve ever had jobs that hurt the body and take effort to see as meaningful, beyond the paycheck.  They appear to be privileged people doing a privileged kind of work that many others would be hard-pressed to acknowledge as “labor.”  A question that must quickly be answered, therefore, is whether their writing is the labor that they do for the “common good” or the thing that they’re doing beyond their “socially necessary labor.”  In their ideal world, would the Hägglunds and Ahlquists spend eight hours digging ditches and then go to their writing as their fellow ditch-diggers choose to watch television or drink the night away?

One needn’t be presumptuous to predict that the trick of the game is that, at bottom, this new social order would prove to be mere substitution.  The socialist suggests that the privileged people in our current, capitalist system waste time on superficial pleasures or false ideas of religious meaning, but they, the good socialists, will use that time better if they are the privileged ones, because everything they want to do is for the “common good.”

Forgive me if I seem to be circling as I attempt to articulate how this game appears to me, but it is (after all) circular thinking.  Our current system is built upon the principle of individual rights and an economic mandate to find ways to provide things for others that they consider to be valuable.  Those who are not able or willing to produce sufficient value (which doesn’t turn out to be many, unless they are refusing to work or are permitted not to by the government) suffer by their inability to finance their interests.  Meanwhile, even those who succeed by providing what others consider to be valuable aren’t doing it for the “common good,” but in pursuit of their own sources of meaning, their own selfish interests, if you like.

The Hägglunds are saying that society should give you enough money to do whatever superficial thing you want to do with your time (like a temporal consumerism), but the cost is that you must consent to the “common good” as your source of meaning, which they define and which benefits their own talents.  Even if a laborer saw no measurable improvement in his status or quality of life in the switch from capitalism to socialism, still his lot would improve (the story goes) because the fruits of his labor contribute to the “common good” rather than somebody else’s selfish interests.

It is assumed that the decision makers are trying to do what is best for us rather than for them and becomes a matter of utmost importance, therefore, whether those whose “socially necessary labor” is less arduous would be willing to trade if it turned out that some laborer is actually better at it.  How would the laborer even prove that to be the case?  Would a panel of people who are peers of the person to be demoted sit in judgment of the work product?

One suspects that it wouldn’t take long for this experiment to produce a familiar conclusion:  Humanity finds meaning in competition and personal improvement, and the most just system is the one in which individuals looking to purchase something of value get to choose the seller whom they deem to be best.  Moreover, in such a system (which is tautologically in keeping with human nature), redistributing material resources begins to look entirely unjust if it takes from people who’ve worked and gives to other people who think their time is best spent wasted.


Hair Braider Freedom and Keeping the Rules Small Positives in a Dark Session

Let’s take a moment to celebrate something positive out of the General Assembly: the passage of legislation that would free natural hair braiders of the need to become licensed as full beauticians:

“For centuries, natural hair braiding has been a common practice for African and African American women and men. Hair braiding skills and techniques are passed down from generation to generation and do not require formal training. Forcing natural hair braiders to meet the same licensing requirements as cosmetologists is a clear injustice. This bill rights a wrong and allows entrepreneurs — including a lot of women from low-income neighborhoods — to make a living,” said Representative Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence). “Natural hair braiding is an art form, limited only by the braider’s creativity. The state does not require licenses to produce art, yet, that is in effect what is occurring now with natural hair braiders. Finally lifting this senseless requirement is a triumph for our community, not only freeing braiders from onerous regulations but also bringing about a bit of sorely needed cultural sensitivity.”

The bill (2019-H 5677A, 2019-S 0260A) defines natural hair braiding as “a service of twisting, wrapping, weaving, extending, locking, or braiding hair by hand or with mechanical devices.” The bill allows braiders to use natural or synthetic hair extensions, decorative beads and other hair accessories; to perform minor trimming of natural hair or hair extensions incidental to twisting, wrapping, weaving, extending, locking or braiding hair; and to use topical agents such as conditioners, gels, moisturizers, oils, pomades, and shampoos in conjunction with hair braiding as well as clips, combs, crochet hooks, curlers, curling irons, hairpins, rollers, scissors, blunt-tipped needles, thread, and hair binders. They may also make wigs from natural hair, natural fibers, synthetic fibers and hair extensions.

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has been pushing for this legislation for years, now, so it’s good to see those efforts bear some fruit.  That said, it’s difficult not to see a dark lining to this silver cloud:  all that effort for this minor concession to freedom.  Observers must also wonder what the sponsors of this legislation had to vote for as the trade-off.

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Similarly, it’s a positive development that House Minority Leader Blake Filippi (R, Block Island, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown) forced the legislature to finish up without suspending its rules, but as we move on from the 2019 session, we should ponder whether “not as bad as it could have been” is good enough.


May 2019 Employment: All Downhill (In the Wrong Way)

May employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) brought more bad news for Rhode Island.  Yes, the unemployment rate edged down in the Ocean State, but once again, it was only because more people left the labor force than lost their jobs.

As the following chart illustrates, the number of employed Rhode Islanders fell by 377, while the number of Rhode Islanders either working or looking for work dropped by 740.  These losses extend out over the year, with employment down 963 from May 2018 and labor force down 3,343.



The divergence of the actual employment picture and the often-reported improvement in the unemployment rate is illustrated in the following chart.  The blue line shows the official unemployment rate, which looks like good news, but the red line shows what the rate would be doing if people weren’t leaving the labor force.  Instead of going down, the rate would have gone up to 7.4% in May in the latter case.



Month by month the following chart varies as to whether Rhode Island has company in its decline or does not.  This is one of the months when all of Southern New England saw a softening in employment, although Massachusetts’s labor force numbers edged up.



Because the Ocean State continues to lose employment, it continues to get farther and farther away from the milestone of recovering all employment the state had at the start of the Great Recession 12 years ago.  That missing recovery is true of fewer and fewer states every month.

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Another chart on which Rhode Island’s employment picture can be mixed in any given month is the difference between Rhode Islanders who are employed (dark area) and the number of jobs there are in Rhode Island (light area).  For May, both were down.



When it comes to the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), May brought an improvement in the Ocean State’s national rank, but only because other states’ numbers in April and May reflected the shifting of SNAP (foodstamp) benefits owing to the government shutdown earlier this year.  This didn’t affect Rhode Island statistically because the state has been unable to report its SNAP enrollment to the federal government thanks to problems with the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP).



Plugging a Hole with Opposition

A hole in the bottom of my water heater has meant that I’ve spent more time than I can spare encountering an old complaint of mine.

Back in 2005, while considering what trade to enter, I noted that Rhode Island’s licensing regulations lead the state to produce half the number of master plumbers in 12 years that Massachusetts would.  In other words, the market can’t adjust to demand as quickly, which pushes up the price that plumbers can charge and affects anybody who needs a plumber in a negative way, in terms of both expense and convenience.

My conclusion has been borne out as my experience of Rhode Island politics has increased:  “the willingness — the drive — to change must be so thorough as to encompass areas that most people not vested in the status quo don’t give any thought.”  In other words, anybody who wants to reform the state will be going up against groups that have a strong interest in keeping things as they are, and the reformer must pull together people who have a more general interest in good government.

One problem that I hadn’t fully appreciated until this year was how difficult it is even to get people to correctly identify reformers.  This challenge has been especially striking this week.  A local man who is spearheading an effort to recall me and another town council member in Tiverton has been telling people that we’ve violated the state Code of Ethics but got away with it because we have “friends” on the Ethics Commission.  Beyond simply being wrong, this is arguably the opposite of the truth.  We weren’t found in violation of the Code of Ethics despite an institutional bias against reformers because we didn’t violate the code.

Another example:  On Monday, the Town Council continued the interim appointment of the town solicitor into a longer-term engagement.  The council members remaining from the prior council wanted to have the discussion at the end of the meeting in a closed executive session… literally in the back room.  We four new council members wanted to have the discussion out in the open.  That’s what we did, but we adjusted our agenda on the fly in order to take care of a couple house-keeping items that would allow staff members to go home before a potentially long debate.

The same local man mentioned above shouted out that we were moving the solicitor discussion back because we were hoping people would leave and fewer voters would see what we were doing.  (All meetings are filmed for YouTube and streamed live on Facebook, by the way.)  Again, the accusation was the opposite of the reality:  The elected officials seeking to give the maximum amount of transparency were accused of trying to hide things.

Among the relatively small group of people who pay close attention to local politics, the rule of thumb is clear to see and probably pretty common:  Everything the reformers do is wrong and everything we want is evil, while everything the old guard does is right and everything they want is good.  What’s new and unsettling to me is how easily that message is pushed out into the public, making me wonder how many political decisions are made in Rhode Island based on impressions that are simply wrong.

The insiders who want to protect their power are quick to go out and spread false, often malicious, ideas about anybody who wants to give power back to the people.  Once they’ve done that, it’s very hard to change minds toward the truth, because there’s always some deeper falsehood to explain the truth away — like the suggestions that the Ethics Commission corrupted itself on our behalf and that moving an agenda item by 10 minutes was somehow more nontransparent than having it in a backroom.  The less tricky we appear, the more tricky we must be being!

The first step upon discovering water in my basement was to find the source, which wasn’t hard given that a stream of warm water was flowing out of the heater where there shouldn’t have been a hole.  The next steps were to find something to plug the hole, to run a hose from the actual drain spout out into the yard, and to spread towels around to soak up the water.  As I ran around the house gathering supplies, my dog started barking about the unusual activity.

The problems facing Rhode Island are pretty obvious, but there are many people with an interest in keeping the status quo.  Imagine somebody who had some reason to want my water heater to keep leaking.  He might tell anybody passing by that I was lying about wanting to fix the problem and was, instead, making it worse.  After all, I obviously didn’t have the professional tools of an established repairman, and it might not even look like it was my house — why would my own dog be barking at me?

Sure, over time, I should be able to prove the truth of the matter, but by that point, the heater would be empty and the basement ruined.


Cashless Businesses and a Boundaryless Legislature

As the budget rolls its way through the General Assembly, it’s useful to look for reminders about the political philosophy of our legislators.  In that vein, consider the legislation to ban cashless retail:

The General Assembly today passed legislation introduced by Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) and Sen. William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) that would protect the rights of customers to pay for things in cash.

“More and more retailers are shifting to cashless transactions in other parts of the country for various reasons,” said Representative Ackerman. “From a consumer perspective, this could have a negative impact on working class customers, senior citizens and college students who don’t have credit cards.”

The legislation (2019-H 5116A, 2019-S 0889) would make it unlawful for any retail establishment offering goods or services for sale to discriminate against a prospective customer by requiring the use of credit for purchase of goods or services.

Once again, we see legislators — led, in this case, by a real estate title examiner and a lawyer — who presume to set minute policy for every business in Rhode Island.  Even if one buys their argument that, all things being equal, it would be more just for businesses to accept cash, imposing that view as a blanket matter across the state makes it that much harder for people to find innovative ways to offer goods and services to each other.

Suppose, for example, there is a particular area prone to robbery.  Being able to advertise that there is never any cash on the premises might make the difference between whether a particular business finds it worthwhile to set up shop at all.  This problem is easier to understand if you think of a store that sells more-expensive products.

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Or think of online sales, which the legislation exempts from the rule.  In essence, this bill would make it more difficult for somebody to compete with an online business by providing some person-to-person interaction.  That innovator couldn’t set up shop unless he or she is willing to go so far as to create processes for accepting and handling cash, which also includes having change to return to the customer.

One could say not only that this legislation is dumb, but also that it is dangerous and economically destructive to have a legislature that believes it’s even within the appropriate scope of its authority.


Important One Year Milestone: Union Membership is Now Your Choice

The end of the 2019 school year coincides with an important milestone: June 27th will be the one year marker since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which determined that forcibly collecting union dues and fees from public workers, including teachers, is unconstitutional.

This summer is the perfect time to ask yourself the question: What is my union doing for me? Is it representing my values and does it have my best interests in mind? 

Many public employees will decide to remain in their union. Many others have already opted-out of their membership – including 6% of state workers – but not all for the same reason. Some don’t like the extreme political positions of their union, while others feel their union has misplaced priorities: too little focus on local issues that affect them personally.

Still others are turned off by corruption scandals by union leaders, while some simply don’t think they’re getting enough bang for their buck.

While unions have a long history representing public workers, recent trends have raised concerns. Unions are clearly worried about the Janus decision. With the support of sympathetic lawmakers, many states, at the urging of unions, are making it difficult for workers to freely exercise their new choices under Janus.

The Janus decision has served as a wake-up call for many public sector unions. But instead of re-evaluating how they can better represent public workers, many have resorted to pressuring employees and putting up roadblocks for those looking to act freely.

Hardworking teachers and all public employees deserve a fully-informed and completely free choice. 

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Something Curious in Insurers’ Rate Increase Requests

Maybe it’s too cynical to suggest that they’re doing their part to promote the state’s budget, but health insurers operating in Rhode Island certainly aren’t hurting that cause when they say that they’ll accept smaller increases if it passes:

Health insurers have requested rate increases for next year with Rhode Island’s Health Insurance Commissioner that show significantly lower premiums if lawmakers approve an individual health insurance mandate included in the proposed state budget.

In the individual market, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island requested an average 6.9% rate increase, which would fall to a 0.1% rate cut if “market stability” policies including the mandate are signed into law.

The reference is to the House budget’s Article 11, which makes several changes to the laws around the state’s health benefits exchange.  This issue is difficult for the public to follow, because there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of jargon gets mixed around, so it’s easy for those who have a vested interest in an outcome to muddy the public debate. Researching the relevant issues, it isn’t frankly clear that even experts know which policies are in effect federally and locally and which aren’t.

In the quote above, Providence Journal reporter Patrick Anderson attributes the difference in rates to the individual mandate, but I’m not so sure.  Technically, the federal mandate is still in effect, although insurers may have been making their requests based on the expectation that it would not be next year.

Still, my eye goes to Section 2 of Article 11, which adds to state law an “assessment” to fund the health benefits exchange.  This tax will be 3.5% of all monthly premiums charged by insurers for “each policy under the plan where enrollment is through the exchange.”  The difference from the current law is that the exchange currently charges an assessment within the limits of what the federal government charges for its exchange.

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Under federal law, insurers are required to spread the 3.5% assessment across all customers with the same plans.  So, right now, HealthSource sends invoices to insurance carriers for 3.5% of the premiums on plans sold through the exchange, and the carriers are required to divide that total cost — $5,284,818 in 2018 according to exchange’s revenue report — among all members who have the same plans whether they bought them on the exchange or not.  Given Rhode Island’s restrictive health insurance regulations, however, that probably doesn’t spread the cost out very much

One interesting consequence of taking out the reference to federal law and making the assessment an explicit charge in state law is that it might allow the insurers to spread out the cost more broadly across all customers. It’s simply an invoice to the company.  Notice that the insurers only say they’ll change their rates for their individual plans if Article 11 passes.  The individual mandate may play a role, but part of the difference may also be that insurers are able to spread out this $5 million tax more broadly, across all of their customers.

This will be an area to watch going forward, both in terms of the regulations that the exchange implements and any future changes to the statute from the General Assembly.  On the first count, the exchange will have to implement regulations that are more specific than the statute.  On the second count, if the insurance companies can spread out the cost of funding the exchange to all customers, then legislators might think they can increase the rate without voters’ noticing.

Indeed, if my suspicions about Anderson’s article are correct, the government may be able to spin increases in taxes for most residents as decreases.


PUC Decides RI Needs High Energy Prices

The proposed power plant in Burrillville isn’t an issue on which I’ve done enough investigation to form a full opinion, although we should generally be aware of the potential of environmental extremism and NIMBYism to combine in unhelpful ways.

Even putting all that aside, however, the rationale of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for rejecting the proposal, as Alex Kuffner reports it in the Providence Journal, should be cause for pause:

The board members cited declining wholesale energy prices that, experts say, show that the region is not experiencing a shortage of supply. Moreover, they pointed to evidence that other energy sources, including offshore wind, will help to satisfy New England’s future power needs. In short, Invenergy failed to demonstrate that the 1,000-megawatt Clear River Energy Center is necessary.

Need was one of three criteria that under state law Invenergy had to prove to the board. The other two were: that its cost would be justified, and that it would not cause unacceptable harm to the environment and would enhance the socio-economic fabric of the state.

How does one determine the need for something like this?  The board, following opponents of the project, found that increasing energy efficiency plus increases in solar and wind power were enough to compensate for regional production decreases, such as came with closure of the Brayton Point coal plant.

But the only mention of the cost of energy in the region is that wholesale energy prices are going down.  Downward trends are nice, but they aren’t the whole story.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Rhode Island has the 5th highest average retail price of energy in the country.  First and second are Alaska and Hawaii which have unique challenges.  Third and fourth are Connecticut and Massachusetts, which means that Southern New England has the highest electricity prices in the contiguous United States.

The difference isn’t minimal.  Electricity in Rhode Island was 16.42 cents per kilowatt hour, while the U.S. average was 10.48.  That means Rhode Islanders are paying almost 60% more for electricity than the national average.

Moreover, the following chart makes it clear that the Northeast has a problem.  Take out the top 11 states — that is, the Northeast, California, and the non-contiguous states — and the range of prices is only about four cents.

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The Burrillville plant may or may not have been a worthwhile project, but if the high energy prices in our state and region don’t illustrate a need for more energy, I don’t know what would.  Imagine how much more vibrant our economy would be if energy were 36% lower, at the national average.  A more vibrant economy would mean less pressure on government budgets, more wealth for working Rhode Islanders, and more opportunity for young adults and families.

According to Kuffner, the PUC “scheduled three days of deliberations starting Thursday morning, but it needed less than one.”  State regulators shouldn’t brush aside these trade offs as inconsequential, and the fact that they did should disturb us all because it means they’re making tremendous gambles with our future.


Pragmatic Surrender Must No Longer Be “Impressive”

How many Rhode Islanders rolled their eyes or uttered phrases like, “Give me a break,” upon seeing the editorial headline in the Providence Journal, “Pragmatism at the State House,” with reference to the Rhode Island House’s budget proposal?

The budget that passed the House Finance Committee Friday, and soon will be before the full House, appears to reflect a necessary pragmatism. While it represents a $393-million increase over the current budget, it spurns new taxes proposed by Gov. Gina Raimondo that could have badly damaged taxpaying businesses, and applies the brakes to expensive new programs, given that Rhode Island faces massive projected deficits in the years ahead.

Yes, a budget could always be worse, but asking for much too much as a first bid is a the standard negotiating tactic.  As a state, Rhode Island falls for that trick over and over again.

Imagine how different reactions across the state would be, though, with even a relatively modest nod toward the tax burden.  I’m thinking in particular of the provision in the budget that repeals the state government’s promise to drop the sales tax rate to 6.5% if online purchases were ever taxed.  The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity highlights the negatives of this move:

The original rationale for the law was to relieve Rhode Islanders of the added burden of a sales tax imposed on a broader range of “internet” purchased goods, by easing the overall tax rate. The Center, in its 6.5% Sales Tax policy brief argued that the legal threshold had effectively been met by the continued expansion of the sales tax on internet purchases by remote sellers.

“If the political class breaks this sales tax promise, how can Rhode Islanders ever trust the promise made about not imposing tolls on our cars,” asked [CEO Mike] Stenhouse. “This loss of hope for our state’s political system is one reason why so many of our family and friends are fleeing our state.”

What if, instead, the budget lowered the tax to its promised level?  Even using a static calculation (that is, without considering the dynamic increase in taxes that would come from increased sales), the cost of upholding this promise would be just under $85 million.  That’s less than 1% of the total budget or about one-fifth shaved off the budget increase from the enacted budget for this year.

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Such a move would send a signal to all Rhode Islanders that they can hope for more than just a slower march to collapse.  Every purchase would come with a reminder that maybe things can improve.

How many Rhode Islanders snorted sardonically when they read the line in the Providence Journal editorial, “Unfortunately, the state’s economy is not yet booming”?  There’s an understatement!  The economy will not boom until pragmatic surrender is no longer good enough, let alone “impressive,” as the paper insists that it is.


Straight Up Taxpayer Dollars for Promise of a New Treatment

After Steve Ahlquist firstbrought attention to the million dollar handout that the Rhode Island House wishes to give to Dr. Victor Pedro for his Cortical Integrative Therapy (CIT), a WPRI report covered the history of Pedro’s taxpayer funding.  One can’t help but feel that there must be more to the story:

  • Legislative leaders have long gone to bat for the doctor.
  • The executive branch has apparently made extra efforts to secure Medicaid funding for his treatments.
  • And even mild-mannered Lieutenant Governor Daniel McGee has spoken well of Pedro, including his activities in Cumberland schools back when McKee was mainly known as a mayor for that town.

Amazingly, though, nobody has yet mentioned the connection of pop star Paula Abdul, which takes an only-in-Rhode-Island turn.  Says Abdul:

I wish I’d had Cortical Integrative Therapy when I first discovered I had RSD, and I wish Dr. Pedro had been a part of my support system then like he is now.  The treatment replaces the old tapes in your head that have held onto the tapes of pain.  It helps your brain to allow for new experiences and new memories that don’t involve pain.  Think of it in terms of a computer — you’re deleting old files so you can free up more space.  I didn’t find out about Cortical Integrative Therapy until recently, and it has proved to be a life-changing treatment for my RSD.

The strange Rhode Island turn is that Abdul has another connection to Rhode Island as the long-time girlfriend of John Caprio, son of Caught in Providence star judge Frank Caprio and brother of the former treasurer and gubernatorial candidate of the same name as well as former representative David Caprio.  Various online sources also seem to indicate that Abdul has set up various businesses at 2220 Plainfield Pike in Cranston in the past.

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This topic could certainly take a serious turn into political theory as an example of why government shouldn’t be in the investment and research business, why Rhode Island should end legislative grants, and why the governor should have the line-item veto.  If Pedro is an innovative practitioner of alternative medicine for the stars, he shouldn’t need government subsidies.

For this post, though, let’s just close with a sincere hope that Rhode Island’s press is sufficiently interested to unravel this entire peculiar tale.


History and Third Rails in Warwick Schools

The School Committee cut sports. And a lot of other stuff. As Patrick Maloney Jr. has pointed out, this is all a step on the way to filing a Caruolo act lawsuit against the City. Tonight was the culmination of a decade plus of too many people not paying attention to what has been happening to school funding in Warwick. Or, if they did, they were distracted by the political shell game played by the former and current Mayors, City Council and even some members of the current school Committee as they constantly beat up each School Administration (at least 3 Superintendents and staff) over the last 10 years. Because that is what this is really a result of: politics being played at the expense of educating our kids.

I’m tired of it. I’ve been observing and trying to help for over a decade. I was a member and past Chair of the Parent Communications Advisory Committee set up by the Warwick School Department after the first round of school consolidation last decade. My wife was a member of VOWS and the Hoxsie, Aldrich and Pilgrim PTO’s for many years. She spent more time in the schools helping than she spent at home. She was a VOWS Volunteer of the year (those of you who know her know she won’t be happy about me talking about her!). We both volunteered for the Pilgrim APE for a few years.

My time on the PCAC taught me a lot about Warwick schools and all of the “players”. I saw the acrimony and distrust. When my kids graduated from Pilgrim, I stepped down from the PCAC and we eased out of the schools. It was time for others to take over. Because that is really what makes successful schools: parental interest and time. Parents need to care. Don’t leave it up to the educators and administrators and politicians. It’s on us. We are the ones who can’t fail the kids. My kids did well in school and are doing great in college. They had good teachers. But they had better parents. We never worked-to-rule.

For those of you new to the game, some history. No punches pulled.

The School Committees and Administrations have not been perfect. Not at all. But they have cut staff, closed buildings (which the city owns and can sell), been level funded and attempted to meet shifting national and state mandates. All while being harangued for closing schools (how else to reduce expenditures as student population dwindles?), enduring level funding, getting accused of hiding money or spending it on exorbitant new offices in Gorton (I’ve seen them, they’re not), not caring about children or worse. To be sure, the schools have given themselves a few black eyes and earned criticism (fire alarms, teacher misconduct), but not all of it was fair and much of it was generated by the aforementioned politicians playing the blame game to distract the taxpayers.

I’ve watched this over and over for the last 20 years. Those of us who have followed these things have lost count of how many times a Council member intentionally – often ineptly – focused on a single, mundane small dollar line item in the school budget for the purpose of getting in a “gotcha” moment (Donna Travis and Camille Vella-Wilkinson are two that come to my mind). They would use these examples to justify level funding the schools then turn around and raise the municipal side of the budget over which they had total control.

Unfortunately, it has also been a regular occurrence for the teachers union and, prior to the last election, three current members of the school committee (Bachus, Cobden and Cornell) to join the City Council in persistently attacking the “Administration” (comprised of many former Warwick teachers, incidentally) because it was politically advantageous in the short term. With the help of Ed Ladouceur, those three set up their own shadow School (sub) committee of the City Council to question the School Administration and School Committee. Remember: Karen Bachus was on the School Committee herself at the time. Talk about a conflict of interest! But I guess it worked: they got elected, didn’t they? And Bachus is now the School Committee Chair.

And now these same people are reaping the reward of the distrust they helped to sow. Warwick taxpayers have been conditioned to blame the administration and school committee for all of the problems with the schools. A decade or more of hearing and believing this is a hard habit to break! But the new school committee Chair and the new members sure hope people re-calibrate the focus of their anger over “Cutting Sports” from them to the Mayor and City Council. We’ll see if it works. I feel bad for the kids and parents who are getting (understandably) upset about this, but it’s all part of a process. Just ugly.

Meanwhile, as Robert Cushman has repeatedly shown, the city side of the ledger has gone up and up while very few cared or noticed (remember, the school administration is the problem, even the teachers union & current School Committee themselves said so, right?) The city side of things was running great! Well, it looks like people are finally noticing that there may be a problem. FBI investigations will do that. Better late than never. But is it too late?

The problem is that more and more tax dollars are going to pay the benefits for people that used to work for the city. So which promise is kept? Education for the future or debts of the past for retiree pension and benefits? The tough answer is there aren’t many places left to cut. But there is one big one, the third rail of city politics: cut pay (raises) and benefits for current employees. It’s the elephant in the room that no one really wants to talk about.

Like it or not, employee compensation is the largest portion of the budget and, it stands to reason, the one area where the largest cut can be made. Shave a little bit off of the largest item – give everyone a haircut, so to speak. For example, given the current circumstances can Warwick afford to give out contracted raises? If my employer has a bad year, I’m not going to see a raise. But I’m not in a union. To take back city employee raises requires opening up contracts. I’m not sure there is a political will to do that. Or that city or school employees are willing to make the sacrifice.

So we’ll just muddle along and maybe avert the crisis this year with a band-aid or two. But the larger problem is not going away. We’re past the band aid stage; its time for surgery. Whether we want it or not.


Woke Higher Ed Will Wake Up and Find Its Mystique Gone

Here’s a lesson I don’t think enough people keep in mind while assessing the future of the economy or the ecology:  Nature, human beings, and job markets all adjust.  The current state of affairs is not eternal.  This applies to higher education and to the wokeness of institutions of higher education.

This bit of unexpected optimism follows a reading of Erika Sanzi’s thoughts on Harvard’s defenestration of Parkland survivor Kyle Kashuv after he was found to have joked around with the n-word in private communications with friends when he was 16:

None of us can know Kyle’s heart. While some say he has only apologized because he got caught, others believe his contrition to be sincere. But none of that is the point. The larger question is whether or not we as a society are ready for the standard that Harvard has set with this decision when it applies to someone other than Kyle Kashuv. Where will we land when the offensive writings do not contain the ‘n-word’ or any racism at all but are still indefensible and out of step with what the university requires in terms of “maturity” and “moral character”? Are we comfortable with people sending all of our private communications from the past to colleges, universities, potential employers or current employers? If every person reflects on all of the things they have typed in anger, jest, the heat of competition, and frustration from their youth until today, it is hard to imagine that the answer for anyone is a resounding yes.

Actually that isn’t all that hard to imagine.  Many people don’t understand that the specifics of what is verboten can change and shift on short notice, and many more expect always to be on the side of those doing the judging and therefore to be forgiven.  This is the strategic advantage of wokeness and outrage mobs:  They provide incentive for everybody to stay on the right side of the issues, as dictated by the people who direct them, even if only for protection against punishment for past transgressions that may not have been transgressions when they were done.

Even beyond the lunacy of taking the wager of that whipsawing tightrope, though, institutions that play this game, whether universities or businesses that take sides in the culture war, don’t seem to appreciate something: Every incident depreciates their standing in the eyes of the country.  Progressives won’t like them any more than they already do, because they consider this to be baseline behavior for acceptance, and everybody else will downgrade their reverence for the institutions to some degree.  For colleges and universities especially, once mythical status is lost, it will never be regained.

For example, with a child nearing the age of college applications, I’ve actually been surprised at how little I think of Yale after the debacle faced by the Christakises.

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As a general principle, one can divide colleges into three tiers:

  1. Fewer than 20 universities will produce a “wow, good school” reaction across a broad segment of our population.
  2. Another couple hundred will reliably be recognized and add to the value of degrees with their names on them, particularly in areas of specialty.
  3. For most colleges and universities, the names don’t add anything to the value of a degree and graduates will be judged on their own, unassisted merits.

As a rational matter of investment, I know that Yale is in the first group no matter how I might feel about it.  After all, my father is an alumnus, and he is a man of impressive intellect whose degree has always prompted the predictable response when people found out about it.  But surveying my feelings now, I find I’d put it in the third group.  I wouldn’t want to pay for any of my children to attend, and anybody under 30 who presents that credential to me will gain no advantage.  In fact, recent Yale alumni might have a little deficit in expectations to overcome, if I’m being honest, as will graduates of Oberlin, now.

To be sure, no academic institution should be but so concerned about the opinion of one Rhode Island father, but I don’t think I’m alone in this.  Once the mystique of the name has faded, the damage is done, and attempts to recreate it may only accelerate its demise.

The respect that these institutions command has mainly to do with the sense that they prepare students to deal with the world, to lead it reasonably and fairly.  In his must-read 1948 classic, Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver suggests that we consider education to be crucial to democracy because “only education can be depended on to bring men to see the hierarchy of values.”  Even back then, Weaver questioned whether the trend of education toward the teaching of specialties undermined its exalted place in society, but now we’re seeing almost an inversion.  We send our children to college hoping they’ll gather up some useful knowledge and collect degrees that will open doors while praying the institution doesn’t do too much intellectual and emotional damage to them.

That seems like a safer bet the more we and our children see a particular college or university simply as a sort of high-end trade-school rather than a quasi-mystical place in which to be formed and defined as an adult for the rest of their lives.  The very thing that made elite universities worthwhile could spin on its axis to become a liability.  Whereas once young scholars looked forward to lifelong status as Harvard or Yale graduates, their progeny must increasingly wonder whether they will be stained throughout their lives with a suspicion of immaturity, prejudice, and an inability to cope with others who are not precisely like them where it counts, between the ears.


Discrimination at the University of Rhode Island

Mark Perry, of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), notes that the University of Rhode Island has made the list of American institutions of higher education under investigation by the federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for possible violations of Title IX:

The University just accepted $1 million from Karen L. Adams for single-sex, female-only scholarships that will discriminate based on sex (no male students are allowed to apply and that scholarship funding openly excludes male students from participation based on sex, and that scholarship funding openly denies male students from the benefits of that funding in violation of Title IX.

This isn’t the only discriminatory program at URI.  In 2017, I became aware of a chemistry camp at the university available for free to Rhode Island middle school students, as long as they are female.  The 2019 camp was in April.  In fact, the week-long camp is so popular that it’s full, and participation is limited to those who have not gone in the past:

A weeklong chemistry camp for Rhode Island girls in grades 6-8. Girls will come to URI every day (transportation not included) from 9 am to 4 pm April 15-19, and take part in a full day of interactive science education. Each day has a THEME, will include lunch and snack, and will allow girls to participate in hands-on science experiments. No experience is necessary, just an interest in science and a sense of fun! We will talk with female scientists in interesting professions, travel to Mystic Aquarium, and visit the Narragansett Bay Commission. THE CAMP IS FREE; students are expected to figure out their own transportation to and from URI daily.

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When I first noticed the program, I contacted the professor who runs it, Mindy Levine.  She acknowledged that “research that [she had] read on boys’ education indicates clearly that current educational models are designed for girls and the way girls learn, and that all children (but especially boys) would benefit from more extensive hands-on, experiential learning.”  Professor Levine said she would be willing to work with somebody on a program for boys, but I’m not able to find any that have been developed.

This is the seventh year of the girls program, funded by Pfizer, and it accommodates 40 girls (or boys who identify as girls).


Motif, McVinney, and the Challenge of a Reasonable Faith

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence has decided to disallow Motif magazine from using McVinney Auditorium for an awards show after the magazine endorsed a very hostile and personal attack on Bishop Thomas Tobin in reaction to his tweet suggesting that Catholics should not participate in gay pride events.  The controversy raises much more complex questions for Christians than the news media will help people understand.  To them it is at best, as with the Boston Globe’s Edward Fitzpatrick, something like a clash of organizational personalities.  At worst, as with the Providence Journal’s Patrick Anderson, it is an opportunity for continued cultural activism.

In being respectful and pluralistic, how much can we tolerate those who are not?  In this case, it’s important to read the letter that produced the diocese’s reaction; its tone is sneering throughout.  In it, Kevin Broccoli calls Bishop Tobin “a virus” and implicitly addresses all Catholics and others who aren’t entirely on board with the radical individualism that privileges sexual identity:

You are a relic amongst relics that will one day be forgotten.

You are a statue amongst statues that will one day be torn down.

You are an institution at a time when institutions are being challenged, changed or chucked completely.

Weighing on the other side of the question is that the anti-Catholic attacks from the stage will likely be more extreme, now, which won’t be helpful for the souls in attendance.  But again, these are difficult questions.  Which is better for those souls: contempt for the Church that simmers just below the surface of everything they see, or open contempt proclaimed from their secular pulpits?

Sharp clarity can be uncomfortable, but sometimes discomfort is necessary.  Take note of the Christians whom Broccoli presumes to lift up as a model for the bishop in his letter.  He explains that he is a former Catholic and an atheist and that “part of that journey included some of the most wonderful religious people anyone could hope to meet.”

Well, they couldn’t have been so wonderful if they believe religious faith to be crucial to a person’s eternal soul and still affirmed Mr. Broccoli on his path to disbelief.  He applauds them for “choosing to care rather than criticize” and “celebrate rather than shame,” but celebrating spiritual error is akin to a doctor’s complimenting the impressive development of an illness.  True, with spiritual healing we must do what we can to prevent the person from running away from us, but at the same time, we have to be clear about error so as to convey what he or she should not be drifting toward.

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Broccoli and his ideological fellow travelers understand this, as can be seen in their hostile reaction to Bishop Tobin.  They don’t choose care over criticism or celebration over shame. What lessons did Broccoli learn from the Christians of his past if he now viciously attacks others as relics to be forgotten, statues to be torn down, and institutions that should be “chucked completely.”  It looks like they taught him that Christianity is meekness without confidence and affirmed his ability to reach the Truth of reality without guidance.  He has taken their affirmation as evidence that they their beliefs really weren’t all that important, certainly not important enough to justify tension in their relationships and certainly not as urgently true as his own radical ideology.

Either the radicals are dogmatic in thinking their beliefs are simply true or they want to remain as children, whom adults are perforce required to celebrate and affirm no matter what they do.  At some point, adults who really care about children convey to them that their behavior is unhealthy and not acceptable.  Good parents know that figuring out the right timing and approach is difficult work, but it has to be done.  Bishop Tobin is such a target in our society because he realizes that he has to try, and thank God that he does.


Center Hosts Fourth Annual Shotguns & Cigars Fundraiser At Addieville

On Friday, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity hosted one of our signature events— our fourth annual Shotguns & Cigars fundraiser was a huge success. The day features outdoor fun, camaraderie, cigars, bourbon and wine, and a juicy steak all at Addieville East Farm. Teams of four enjoyed practicing our shotgun skills with sporting clays. We, once again, proved that our Second Amendment rights can be used responsibly.

Here are some images from this incredible day. Please e-mail to inquire about joining us next year.

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Like Plaque, Education Bureaucracies Are Cumulative

It was to be expected that even inadequate, sounds-good education reforms from Rhode Island’s General Assembly would come at a cost, as reported by the Providence Journal’s Linda Borg:

The Senate Finance Committee last month asked Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green what she would need to take on the new responsibilities included in this package of legislation, which, among other things, calls for instituting high-quality civics instruction, expanding world languages statewide, improving instruction for students with dyslexia and giving principals more authority.

“To fully support the requirements of these legislative priorities and to transform the department to focus more on supporting educators, students, and the community, RIDE needs additional expertise and capacity across a wide range of areas, such as implementing high-quality curriculum and supporting school leaders,” said Rhode Island Department of Education spokesman Pete Janhunen. “The request contains a list of proposed positions that align with the priorities of both the commissioner and the General Assembly.”

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The ask is for $1.9 million, mostly to hire new personnel.  One question remains unasked, however.  If this is a “shift” in the nature of the department, are there no roles that no longer need to be filled?

This is another $1.9 million for the state’s education bureaucracy, so it can edge in on the territory of local decision makers.  Actually, it’s fig-leaf spending and reorganizing in order to avoid addressing the actual problem:  Our public schools have insufficient accountability and are structured for the benefit of the adults who work in them, rather than the children who attend them.

Until Rhode Islanders have had enough and are willing to force elected officials to address that problem, every proposed solution will amount to merely more or less wasted money and time.


Travis Rowley: Pride Goeth Before the Summer

“Pride is spiritual cancer:  It eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.” — C.S. Lewis

What You’ll See at Gay Pride Events

Warning: Vulgar and Graphic Sexual Content

You should be prepared to see spontaneous simulations of anal and oral sex. The participants will portray it as exciting and fun. And the crowd will deem it hilarious. Parents of the progressive order will be there with their 12-year-old sons and their 9-year-old daughters.

Fools. All of them.

Attend any number of publicly held Pride events across the country and you’re likely to witness these lewd celebrations of homosexuality spawn frenzied pockets of sexual radicalism. No casual onlookers are immune.

Performances of exotic dance are part of the program. There will be “twerking” and the “grinding” of genitals. You’ll see the nearly-nude in suggestive duds, flaunting every sexual variety imaginable. Men will be grasping whips as they adorn leather outfits stitched for acts of sadomasochism. You’ll see some of the most deranged people you’ll ever encounter. You’ll likely see several individuals mocking traditional Catholic garb and culture. You’ll see people expressing their support for abortion and a host of other left-wing causes. Topless women usually make an appearance. Men with a severe lack of fashion sense will be everywhere — the drag queens. And it’s common to find some people sporting strap-on dildos, or costumes that resemble vaginas, penises, and condoms.

Democratic politicians will be present, solidifying their status as “allies.”

I’ve collected some photographs from Rhode Island and across the country at this link, because seeing is believing.

The Political Left

None of these public displays disturb progressive Democrats. Instead, they reserve their horror for those moments when predictable figures dare to object.

Last week, leftists everywhere convulsed the moment Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin reminded Catholics via Twitter to “not support or attend LGBTQ ‘Pride Month’ events” because “they promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals” and “are especially harmful for children.”

While normal people shrugged and scrolled to the next tweet, online progressives began to lash out with vicious charges of “hate” and “bigotry” — perhaps the majority of which employed the cheap and nonsensical footnote of the Church’s own child sex scandal, effectively arguing that Catholics may no longer speak out when harm could possibly befall children.

Yes, that is the progressive plan to better safeguard children as we move forward — to severely limit the amount of people who may address the homosexual culture that was so heavily intertwined with the Church scandal to begin with.

Hypocrites. All of them.

This especially includes President of RI Pride Joe Lazzerini, who shamelessly distorted the Bishop’s sentiments across several media platforms last week, informing thousands of Rhode Islanders that the Bishop had “called on Catholics to abandon … the LGBTQIA+ community” and that “he directly called LGBTQIA+ people harmful to children.”

Lazzerini organized a protest outside the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, calling for Tobin’s resignation. “We are taking Pride directly to them,” Lazzerini gloated.  In addition to a chorus of drag queens, he was joined by Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza (who brought his young child along) and Democratic State Representatives Moira Walsh, Chris Millea, and Marcia Ranglin-Vassell.

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The Affirmation of You

The hypersexual character of Pride events is not only undeniable, it’s their entire point and purpose. There’s no shortage of gay rights activists who openly stress the need to shatter society’s “heteronormativity” through various methods of “diversity training.”

We need only listen to Josh Kilby, the drag queen known as “Naomi Chomsky” who recently read books that are “affirming to the LGBT community” to dozens of children at “Drag Queen Storytime” at the Fall River Library. Commenting on Drag Queen Storytime, Kilby explained, “[This is] all about celebrating inclusivity and diversity.”

Kilby is an avowed communist who openly posts on social media about the online strangers he “just want[s] to f**k” and how he “love[s] eating ass.” He was the runner-up for the “Ms. Gay Rhode Island 2019” competition, remarking that “15 years of activism has prepared me for” the position.

And Democrats everywhere echo Kilby’s sentiments. When it was confirmed that Bristol’s Rogers Free Library would be hosting “Draq Queen Story Hour” this month, the Bristol Democratic Town Committee applauded the decision, noting that their town “is ready to celebrate diversity.”

It is crucial to understand that this is how leftists plan to remedy the widespread social ills discovered within homosexual corridors – particularly “the suicide rates in the LGBTQIA community,” as both Kilby (and Lazzerini) clarified several days ago on WPRO. That is, by affirming every sexual inclination. “Just knowing that it’s okay will save lives,” Kilby believes.

In regard to sexually expressing himself before a crowd of children, Kilby rationalized, “I have nothing to be ashamed of. I know who I am, it’s 2019. It’s time.” Addressing conservatives who cringe at the thought of introducing kids to the entire sexual landscape, Kilby believes they “aren’t giving children credit for being able to handle complex social issues.”

Progressives think they are helping kids. So the rest of us will just have to navigate our families through this new sexual jungle for years to come.

As gay-atheist Kevin Broccoli of Motif Magazine threatens, the Church’s “only hope of survival is to evolve with the times.”

Priests & Radicals

All of the shock value at Pride events is, in fact, the “diversity” that justifies the madness. To create a better world, you need to see it.

And to ultimately alter Church teachings, your children need to see it.

Progressives believe thousands of years of careful philosophy and religious instruction are primed for ridicule and renunciation. Enough of us just have to understand that drag queens and homosexuals are people, too. As if Catholics and conservatives don’t understand that already. As if this is about anything other than a rejection of traditional sexual ethics — a dispute between priests and radicals.

But that’s not a debate progressives will allow anyone to engage in. Their activist impulse is to simply convince as many people as possible that you are an “antiquated” and “hateful bigot,” mocking Christianity while lifting portions of Christ’s message for themselves.

“The Bible says love thy neighbor,” Lazzerini explains. “We are trying to teach love and acceptance,” Kirby claims. “I’d suggest you read the parts of the Bible that promote acceptance and compassion,” Broccoli advises the Bishop.

These are their responses to plain outcries over public indecency.

We are way past privacy. This is “Pride” — the boast that man has nothing to apologize for, and that has often been regarded as the first and worst of all sins.

No matter how “unfortunate” Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo considers Tobin’s tweet to have been, the Bishop was correct to lead his flock to higher ground.


Travis Rowley is a former Tea Party / Republican activist.

Featured image: A cropped segment of a photo posted on Rhode Island Pride’s Facebook page.


Relentless Perpetuation of the “Equal Pay” Myth via Legislation

Helpful headlines notwithstanding, the Rhode Island Senate once again passed legislation to address the mythical “wage gap”:

A plan to close the gender wage gap in Rhode Island by adding new, sharper teeth to the state’s fair pay law and banning employers from asking job candidates their salary history sailed through the state Senate again Thursday.

“Rhode Island first passed an equal pay law in the 1950s, and I am sure it was revolutionary at the time, but we have not gone back and updated it unlike many other states,” said Sen. Gayle Goldin, lead sponsor of the pay equity legislation. “Passing this bill is not going to resolve the wage gap on its own, rather, this bill in combination with so many things we have worked on… is the way we will address the gender wage gap.”

And so it goes.  As long as progressives want to foster division and grievance, this legislation will keep appearing.  Maybe some year the gears of political necessity will get it over the finish line.  As that process plays on from year to year, opponents will tire of saying the same thing over and over again.  That’s the advantage of the left-wing approach to public “debate”:  When you refuse to acknowledge the other side’s arguments and just keep repeating the talking points, the other side moves to other topics, and the public just becomes used to the deception.

By way of a preventative measure, here’s my op-ed on the topic, from the Providence Journal last year around this time, which I published in more casual, expansive form in this space the month before:

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

Think about how much of an encroachment on private activity and interactions that is, as well as the presumption that government is some sort of neutral judge that can accurately assess every business decision.

If this legislation ever passes, I expect it will have some degree of the same effect as the ill-advised paid leave legislation which progressives did manage to pass last yearl.


How the Issues Blend in the General Assembly

Maybe I’m being a little too cynical, but a serendipitous press release from the Rhode Island Senate at least provides an opportunity to contemplate how things operate at the State House.

As readers probably have heard by now, the Democrat leadership of the Senate engaged in an unprecedented last minute political stunt by pulling an abortion bill that decriminalizes fetal homicide from the Judiciary Committee and sends it to the Health and Human Services Committee, which everybody expects to pass it.  The reason for this unusual move was that Senate Republicans looked like they were going to leverage their rights as a minority under the chamber’s rules to add two votes to the “nay” side and stop the radical, unnecessary, and deceptive legislation.

The odd thing about it is that Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D, Warwick) and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D, Providence, North Providence) could have done the same thing.  Instead, the Senate president managed to ensure that the bill passes committee without admitting that he voted for it.

Now the press release posted on the Web the same day as the committee maneuver:

The Senate today passed legislation (2019-S-803Aaa) sponsored by President of the Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) that takes a new approach to economic development on large tracts of state land. Spurred by delays and impediments imposed upon the Hope Point Tower proposal for the I-195 Redevelopment District, the bill intends to create a more streamlined process for approvals on these state-owned parcels moving forward.

“We have a rare opportunity for development at the former I-195 land and some other areas across the state,” said Senator Ruggerio. “In the I-195 District, a developer is hoping to invest more than a quarter of a billion dollars to create an iconic structure that redefines the skyline. We should have welcomed this investment with open arms. Instead, we did everything we could to chase the developer away. Thankfully, he’s still here. This process has sent a terrible message to anyone looking to invest in Rhode Island.”

This is a big-money deal of particular interest to labor unions, for which Ruggerio worked until he retired after becoming Senate president.  The only reason I hesitate to link this with the abortion bill is that the vote wasn’t really that close: 28 to 8.  On the other hand, eight “nay” votes is pretty substantial in our one-sided legislature.  Had 10 votes flipped, the bill would have failed.  When the bill was in Senate Judiciary, four flipped votes would have stopped it.

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So, the lesson:  When considering the up-and-down votes on any particular bill, you can’t assume legislators are judging the merits alone.  The lives of unborn children, in this case, can perhaps be sacrificed for the sake of a crony development deal.  Or perhaps some other backroom deal has been struck so that the House will stop the legislation in exchange for a return favor from the Senate.

One aspect of the abortion debate with which one really must contend is the deception of those who advocate for abortion as a right, starting with the idea that legislation to preserve women's ability to kill their unborn children in the womb is about "reproductive health care."  Reproductive of what?

Archambault’s Flip-Flop on Fetal Homicide

It seems that Senator Steven Archambault, who had been the swing vote on the RI Senate Judiciary committee on the abortion bill, agreed to support decriminalization of fetal homicide in return for nothing of substance.

The revised abortion bill that was introduced yesterday removes the killing of a preborn child during an attack on the mother from the definition of manslaughter, while explicitly adding “the termination of a pregnancy” to the definition of a serious bodily injury under Rhode Island’s felony assault law. But if you listen to Dan Yorke’s interview with RI Attorney General Peter Neronha from earlier this year, starting at about 6:50, you will hear AG Neronha say that harm to a preborn child that occurs during an assault on the mother already meets the definition of serious bodily injury, under the legal theory — acceptable to abortion supporters — that a child is an organ or member of his or her mother. (“Organ or member” is Attorney General Neronha’s description, not mine).

Based on his statements from the Dan Yorke interview and the language in the current abortion bill, the Attorney General should be asked if he believes the new section defining serious bodily injury changes anything about its definition, because it certainly seems that the amended bill makes no meaningful change to the law except for making a point of stripping preborn children of their right to life. With the transfer last night of the abortion bill from the Senate’s Judiciary Committee to the Health and Human Services committee, there are two additional days to seek this expert opinion.

As for Senator Archambault: it looks like he’s the kind of “moderate” Democrat who becomes a progressive, whenever it counts.


Analogizing Over Constitutional Rights

Elsewhere in the Boston Globe, Ed Fitzpatrick takes up the topic of requiring a license to purchase ammunition.  This part is especially telling about the gun-control lobby’s point of view:

The study noted a gun without ammunition is no more dangerous than any other blunt object. But “unlike the public health view on drug policy, which recognizes the importance of limiting access to both the agent of harm (the narcotic) and the instrument of delivery (for example, syringe), gun policy has focused primarily on limiting access to the instrument of delivery, firearms,” it noted.

The study said guns and ammunition are more likely to be used in violent crimes when they’re in the hands of felons (such as Charlie Vick) and others prohibited from owning weapons

Frankly, I take this to be evidence of an intention to infringe, when it comes to gun regulation.  Drugs are not explicitly protected on the Constitution, guns are.  To equate the two plows right through the Bill of Rights and steals the base of asserting that both drugs and weapons are inherently harmful.

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As for the likelihood of crimes, that’s pretty much a tautology.  It would be a pretty useless regulation that didn’t forbid ownership of an item to people who were more likely to abuse that right.  Even so, the fact that people who tend toward crime will be more likely to use an item for illicit purposes doesn’t justify making it a crime for other people to buy it without a license.


The Many Ways to Shuffle Around Money and Influence

Dan McGowan’s recent Boston Globe article about Democrat Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s curious fundraising relationship with a local nonprofit, the Providence Tourism Fund, is a excellent representation of the way things increasingly work in politics:

Because there is no state law prohibiting politicians from raising money for nonprofits, the operation appears to be legal. But it has created a “back door way” for companies to “ingratiate themselves with public officials,” said John Marion, the executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, a good-government advocacy group. …

Elorza, who was first elected in 2014 and won another four-year term last year, has raised more than $500,000 for the tourism fund, using a portion of the money to travel to places including China and New Orleans.

That’s not all.  In keeping with the practices of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, the nonprofit is also part of a larger job network for Elorza’s political allies.  When he makes calls to solicit money for the nonprofit, Elorza goes to Campaign Finance Officers, “the consulting firm that has overseen his political fund-raising operation for five years.”  Those dots connect much more closely:

When Elorza took office, he installed three of his supporters as the sole members of the fund’s board of directors.

One of those three is Meg Clurman, who is a partner at the aforementioned Campaign Finance Officers.  One of the organization’s employees is Andrew Moore, who is also Elorza’s campaign finance director and has been paid by the Providence Tourism Fund in the past.

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An important lesson from this revelation is that the very idea of campaign finance reform is wrongheaded.  Once a politician hits a certain level of money and power, the opportunities to find workarounds are too extensive.  Giving him travel money, helping to keep his allies employed, and even providing him money to spend on feel-good things through a nonprofit are all tangible benefits that donors are providing to the mayor.

Thus, laws that target more straightforward transactions disproportionately trip up only those who are trying to build momentum in order to make provide accountability through competition at the ballot box, which is where corruption ultimately has to be called to account.

One aspect of the abortion debate with which one really must contend is the deception of those who advocate for abortion as a right, starting with the idea that legislation to preserve women's ability to kill their unborn children in the womb is about "reproductive health care."  Reproductive of what?

Abortion “Compromise” Arguably Dehumanizes Unborn Children More

As word comes, via Ian Donnis on The Public’s Radio, that the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee may have found legislation that gives Sen. Stephen Archambault (D, Smithfield) the room he needs to disappoint pro-lifers, a recent post by Rod Dreher comes to mind.

He starts with a left-wing intellectual who is advocating that feminists should stop pretending that abortion isn’t the taking of a human life, but acknowledge that “it is a form of killing that we need to be able to defend,” as a right to “stop doing gestational work.”  This is part of Sophie Lewis’s broader program of abolishing the family and furthering “cyborg ecology and queer communism.”  Writes Dreher:

Do I think that most people on the American Left are prepared to embrace “gestational communism” (Lewis’s word), and abortion as killing that can be defended? No. But what I do believe is that the vanguard of the Left — that is, the elites who populate newsrooms, publishing houses, university faculties, law schools, and ultimately, the Democratic Party — favor a vision of sex, family, and human dignity that cannot and will not defend the family from the Sophie Lewises of the world. If a right-wing publisher brought forth a book by a smart far-right philosopher arguing in a contemporary key for reviving German eugenics ideas and policies, it would (rightly!) face universal condemnation, and there’s no way conservative opinion magazines would review the thing, much less give it a respectful review.

I don’t mean that in a whatabout way. I mean that for now, we have the capacity in this culture to recognize radical evil when it arises from the right, and resist it. But if eugenicists can find a way to state their argument in left-wing terms, and have approved left-wing pedigrees (Lewis studied at Oxford, the New School, etc.), they would find it much easier to advance the idea that there is some life unworthy of life, and that defending the common good requires exterminating it.

Note, for example, that one of the “compromise” measures in the new RI Senate bill would be to require doctors to “record the basis for why it was necessary for the life or health of the woman” to kill an unborn child who would have been viable outside of the womb.  What is that but a killing that the doctor can defend?

To the extent that the new language in the Sub B of H-5125 really does simply “codify” Roe v. Wade as promised, one must wonder what the point is.  After all, the legislature will surely have another session before the U.S. Supreme Court could manage to reverse its earlier decision in that case, and even then, the way in which the court reverses the decision would likely make any laws codifying Roe unconstitutional.  (If, for example, the court finds that a viable child’s right to life is greater than the mother’s “right to privacy,” a state law could not contradict that principle.)

In other words, this push by progressives is a means of advancing their worldview.  The trickiness of some of the provisions in the supposed “compromise” illustrates the point.  In order to take the life of a viable fetus, for example, the doctor would have to note the reason it was necessary, but that reason goes in the medical records of the mother, which are private.  There is no additional acknowledgment that the child’s life had value or means of tracking doctors’ standards for justifying the killing.

That’s not the worst trick, though.  Right now, Rhode Island law recognizes the humanity of a “quick child” (i.e., a viable fetus) if he or she dies in an attack on the mother.  Not only would the SubB continue the earlier version’s repeal of this law, but the actual “compromise” makes things worse:  All it does is define the death of the fetus as proof of “serious bodily injury” to the woman.

This dehumanization is the goal of the entire legislative push, and one could argue that it actually makes Rhode Island legislators who support it worse than a radical intellectual who wants to acknowledge the killing and then justify it.


John Cefali: H5395 A Well-Earned Retiree Exemption

I have noticed that House Finance Representatives Azzinaro, Kennedy, Vella-Wilkinson, Tobon, and McLaughlin proposed H-5395 in February 2019, which , if passed and approved without conditions, would exempt from taxation the first $25,000 of military retired pay of veterans such as myself who are over 60 years of age.  I applaud their proposal and thoughtfulness of veterans.

The first effort I am aware of whereby a proposed House Bill was introduced to exempt military retiree pay from RI state taxes was in 2006 by Senator Walter S. Felag Jr., whom I also applaud.  Others in the RI legislature have submitted variations of this proposal over several years, and I also applaud them.  On each occasion every proposed bill regarding exempting military retiree pay from RI state taxes has been recommended by the committee “for further study,” thereby entering and continuing to languish in “study” purgatory.  A proposal that benefits veterans with compensation we earned and is well-deserved that must be “studied” for more than a decade is frustrating.

There are only eight (8) states that tax military retirement pension without any form of special considerations, and Rhode Island is one.  Thirteen (13) states provide special provisions or other considerations; twenty (20) states do not tax military retirement income (including Massachusetts); and nine (9) do not tax military retirement income as those states have no income tax requirement.  With many agencies devoted to monitoring and ranking states on an annual basis in a multitude of categories, I have researched at least a dozen of them and have found the following few of particular interest with respect to Rhode Island for military retirees…for 2019:

  • ranks RI 34th best (or the 17th worst) out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for military retirees.
  • ranks RI 51st best (or the #1 worst state) out 50 states and the District of Columbia for military retirees.
  • ranks RI 43rd best (or 8th worst) out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for military retirees.
  • GI Jobs ranks RI 44th best (or 7th worst) out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for military retirees.

As I researched the best and worst states to retire in, in general, Rhode Island rankings are even more grim.  As I approach the age of 65 later this year, on the threshold of ultimate retirement, I would be extremely disappointed if this proposed bill, as with other similar proposals in past years, continues to languish in a status of “further study” for another year as it has for over a decade.

The best gift of gratitude RI can give its veterans is to let us “keep” what we earned and deserve as Massachusetts and a multitude of other states provide — over the age of 60 and to all veterans in general regardless of age.  The kind consideration of the House passing this Bill effective on 1 January 2020 would be a good start and would be appreciated by those of us who deserve such consideration.


John Cefali is a retired master sergeant with the United States Air Force.


Upcoming Budget: More Privileges for Insiders or Real Help for RI Families?

With the General Assembly session nearing the end, we fully expect the new state budget to contain no meaningful remedies to the many problems that plague our state, such as high taxes across the board, high energy and healthcare costs, and onerous regulatory burdens on job-producers. In our Public Union Excesses report, we identified that there are $888 million per year in excessive collectively-bargained costs, responsible for driving up local property taxes by up to 25%. When will our public officials learn that Rhode Island doesn’t have a revenue problem? Our state has a spending problem!

Time is running out for Rhode Island to change direction. We all know that by heaping more privileges upon those who helped to get them elected, politicians continue to lose the trust of the people. After ten years of perhaps the slowest economic recovery among all states, Rhode Island’s political leaders are not fulfilling their promise to help the average family. We need bold solutions to pull ahead, treading water by keeping taxes where they are is not good enough.
Only through the efforts of the people of Rhode Island can things change for the better, things do not have to be this way. It is up to each of us to speak out.

In Some Ways, Our Cup Overruns in Rhode Island

It’s a small thing, but when I was the descendant who wound up emptying out a storage unit full of the stuff that my grandparents had accumulated over their lives, one of my favorite rewards was an intricate coffee cup.

For most of our adult lives, my wife and I have had to stick with the sort of tableware that comes from bulk stores — maybe not “disposable,” but not so expensive that you feel bad when you have to throw it out.  I drink a lot of coffee, though, and it’s nice to have a special cup.

Of course, in a household of six people, a father often finds himself with no choice but to use what’s in the cabinet instead of in the sink, in the dishwasher, or forgotten somewhere it shouldn’t be in somebody’s room.  With that in mind, as I decided what items were worthy of my handful of raffle tickets at a recent event, I put one in the bag next to a handmade cup from Lindsey Epstein Pottery in Tiverton.

I won, and now I’ve got a vessel for my coffee that is unmistakably one-of-a-kind — from the hand-drawn illustration of a ship wheel to the colored glazing with streaks that give the impression of depth and motion.  Best of all, nobody else in the house is quite daring enough to take it out of the cabinet… yet.

Something feels very Rhode Island about the cup, like it’s a souvenir bought during a subtle vacation.  A discerning tourist might bring such a thing home instead of a mass-produced “I (heart) Newport” cup from a visitor’s center on the island in order to tell friends, “I bought that from the sculptor herself during an open-studio event.”  But those of us who live here know that the studio is just a few turns away.  Everything is just a few turns away in Rhode Island.

Maybe there were similar artisans where I grew up northern New Jersey, but if there were, they were overshadowed amid the malls, outlets, and chain stores.  In aesthetics, the closest I remember were import shops, where a boy could try to convince his parents to buy him a walking stick that hid a sword, shipped over from the orient.  The bragging rights in that overpopulated region came from the ability to get crafts from far away.

Now the Internet has brought that thrill to every town in the country and anybody with a credit card can (theoretically) order a cane sword from Japan or a Tiverton-made cup that’s not-quite-like mine.  But only us locals get to say that we filled our cars at the next pump or cast our votes at the next booth over from the artist.


The Aesthetics of Benefits with Government Unions

In a recent conversation about the condition of Rhode Island’s state and local pensions, I stated that the system is “doomed,” and one of the other participants responded with a perspective that tends to get lost in the public-policy context.  “Gee,” he said, “don’t tell that to people you’re trying to recruit for government jobs.”

My immediate response was to suggest that they shouldn’t worry, because the way things go in our state, it’ll probably be taxpayers who bear the brunt of the consequences.  If anything, therefore, the advice should be, “Don’t tell that to people you’re hoping will move here.”  I might also have added that government employment in Rhode Island provides such a large premium (as the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has recently described) that even a greatly reduced retirement benefit would not take the shine off the job.

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But I did have to wonder why I hadn’t thought of the question in quite that way before.  Critics will say that I simply hate government employees, which isn’t true, although I’d have no trouble picking a side in the us-versus-them on government unions.

Perhaps Rhode Island’s pension woes are less academic to me these days, now that I’ve got responsibility for town employees’ workplace.  A town has jobs that must be filled, and just as with any private-sector employer, we should want employees to be satisfied in their work.  Indeed, a significant part of my dislike for unionization is that it interferes in this relationship, binding everybody with rules and deliberate opposition between “management” and “labor.”

The fact of the matter is that contract provisions are not in any immediate sense part of a package of benefits that managers have designed in order to attract and retain employees.  The basics of most of the benefits were negotiated years ago with past employees, all under the heavy hand of the state government and with the color of officials’ own political interests.  Case in point:  For most state and local government employees in Rhode Island, their pension benefit is a creation of state law, as designed by legislators and statewide elected officers who rely on union donations and support for their reelection.

The whole tone of negotiations is labor saying it wants more and management saying it can’t afford to give that much more.  The unions’ public presentation tends to be an assertion of rights and an accusation of disrespect when management tries to do something different.  In that atmosphere, benefits look much more like something that the unions have wrested from management than like an expression of management’s appreciation for its employees.  That doesn’t seem like the healthiest way to run an organization.