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Consumers Can’t Handle Options They Don’t Have

Not to build a day of blog posts drawn from a source, the Wall Street Journal, to which not everybody has full access, but an essay by Amanda Frost, taking up the “no” side of the debate question, “Can consumers be smart health-care shoppers?,” gives an opening for a point that ought to be made more frequently:

When it comes to making decisions about our health care, being a “smart shopper” takes more effort than most of us are willing to put in.

Advocates for price transparency would have us believe that we, as “consumers,” should consider our health care a product to be shopped for, like a pair of shoes. But mainly we are “patients,” with varied, often time-sensitive health-care needs. There is an important distinction between presenting the information—and choices—to patients and asking consumers to make complicated decisions about their health care based on that information. …

Available evidence is not cause for optimism about how much money can be saved with more choices and publicly available prices. While large health-care payers may save some money from consumer shopping, the average person will likely see little, if any, savings.

Frost’s argument appears to be that consumers in a market with artificially constrained options — that is, in which choices are limited, obscure, and difficult to understand — don’t seem to want to clear that high hurdle, so lowering the bar is a bad idea.

Look, if shopping for health care “takes more effort than most of us are willing to put in,” then people will pay extra for options that free them from the burden.  Frost is essentially saying that those who are willing to put the effort in should not be allowed.

But I don’t believe she’s correct.  Once people get used to the idea that they aren’t under the watchful eye (or the thumb) of their insurance companies and the government, they’ll begin figuring out pricing and talking among themselves.  The possibility of choices will make new products and more competition possible, lowering prices and improving quality.


Talking Yourself into Too Much Debt for Baseball

Obviously, there are some differences between a city-funded facility for a double-A minor league baseball team and a state-funded stadium for a triple-A team, but Joseph De Avila’s Wall Street Journal article on the Hartford Yard Goats caught my attention yesterday because it illustrates some of the perils:

Hartford, a city of about 124,000 residents that is facing a fiscal crisis and a high poverty rate, is on the hook for $68.6 million in bonds issued to cover most of the construction of Dunkin’ Donuts Park.

Mayor Luke Bronin, a Democrat who opposed the stadium but is now reluctantly dealing with it, said the ballpark alone will never generate enough money to pay back the debt. The original idea was that surrounding development will generate funds to pay off the loans and bring in additional tax revenue for the city.

Given the incentives and structure of government, advocates for some big expenditure have a narrow objective to get a project approved.  They just need some authority — whether an elected official or an electorate passing a ballot initiative — to give the go ahead.  Then, decision-making enters a weird realm beyond the reach of the people actually paying the bill, but with a those in charge obligated to continue on the public behalf.

So, we start out with promises and grand visions and wind up scrambling just to make something work without loosing too much money.

Mr. Bronin plans to borrow $20 million in bonds in the coming weeks to cover a shortfall in the city’s budget, and next year the city is already projecting a $65 million deficit.

Despite the challenges, Mr. Bronin said: “There is no question it’s better for the city to have a baseball park than a vacant parking lot.”

Why is there “no question”?  Hartford is now borrowing money for operating expenses.  That’s insane.  Unfortunately, many people have a vision of government in which it is a means of doing things that really make no sense at all.


Is Providence College a Place Where Catholic Views Are Welcome?

I can’t find the quotation on that horrible online monstrosity called “Facebook” that people like to use, for some reason, so the caveat “if true” applies here, but John Leo reports some disturbing news regarding Providence College and one of its professors, Anthony Esolen:

Support for Esolen by the college president, Father Brian Shanley, has been tepid, of the sort sometimes issued by Catholic administrators embarrassed to be interrupted while converting a Catholic college into a formerly Catholic one. Over the weekend, in a Facebook post, Esolen said of his scheduled speech, “Christ and the Meaning of Cultural Diversity,” that if he tried to give it, he had been told that activist students would shut it down. He said on Facebook: “It is no longer clear to me that Providence College would qualify as ‘worth attending’.”

Colleges must make it clear that students who are incapable of considering ideas to which they object or (worse) unwilling to allow others to do so are not fit for the campus.  Students who disrupt speeches should be expelled, and non-students who do the same should be arrested for trespassing.  Any ostensible institution of higher education that does not take such steps to ensure the free and vigorous exchange of ideas certainly does not qualify as “worth attending.”


Evidence and Argument Versus Rumor

Political debate can be frustrating.

People are free to disagree with me, of course, and I’m well aware that I rub nerves raw unnecessarily sometimes.  (That’s something I’m working on, but self improvement is a lifelong endeavor.)  Be that as it may, it ought to be clear that I’m trying to construct arguments based on evidence so people who come to differing conclusions can offer contrary evidence or explain where mine is incorrect.  That’s how public debate is supposed to proceed.

The frustrating thing is how infrequently advocates for higher taxes even bother.  If I’m “cherry picking” numbers or making demonstrably false statements, it ought to be relatively easy to prove it.  Simply telling people to dismiss my arguments because the numbers are misleading is essentially admitting that you can’t be bothered to explain why.  In short: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

This week, both the Newport Daily News and Sakonnet Times ran a letter by Tiverton resident Barbara Martin making a variety of unsubstantiated assertions about my motivations and intentions:

Make no mistake, Mr. Katz’s agenda for Tiverton is the agenda of the Koch brothers: Get rid of public education, destroy unions, eliminate any safety nets for the most vulnerable in our community, and reduce public safety funding.

Tiverton deserves better than to be the unwitting participants in an ideological experiment funded by the Koch brothers and carried out by Mr. Katz.

“Make no mistake,” indeed.  Ms. Martin won’t tell anybody what evidence she has, but details and data are not needed when one has vague rumors.  The old truism holds: When you can’t argue facts, attack the person.

One can only hope people are starting to see through the threats and rumors to the basic, straightforward goal of such people: They want to take more of their neighbors’ money to pay for their own priorities.  With the exception of destroying public-sector unions, not a single thing she says I want to do is accurate.

The biggest fact that Martin leaves out, though, is that I’ve done nothing more than give people an option to vote contrary to her preferences.  One suspects that’s really the unforgivable sin.


Academic Central Planners Drift from Reality

Noting that the Federal Reserve Bank is increasingly guided by academic economists, rather than businesspeople and bankers with practical experience, TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts worries about the consequences in the Wall Street Journal:

Central banking, in other words, is now dominated by academics. And while I don’t blame them for it, academics by their nature come to decision-making with a distinctly—you guessed it—academic perspective. The shift described by Mr. Grant has had consequences. For one thing, simplicity based on age-old practice has been replaced by complexity based on econometric theory. Big Data has played an increasingly prominent role in how the Fed operates, even as the Fed’s role in the economy has deepened and widened.

Rather than enlisting business leaders and bankers to fulfill the Fed’s increasingly complex mission, the nation’s political and monetary authorities turned primarily to the world’s most brilliant economists, who can be thought of more and more as monetary scientists. “Central bankers have invited politicians to abdicate leadership authority to an inbred society of PhD academics who are infected to their core with groupthink, or as I prefer to think of it: ‘groupstink,’ ” argues former Dallas Fed analyst Danielle DiMartino Booth in a new book.

Two of the important things that practical experience will tend to teach people are to be humble about one’s ability to plan in a complicated world and to be aware of the real, human consequences of decisions.  In contrast, the intellectual challenge of an academic and modeling approach is to push beyond the boundaries of practical experience.  There’s certainly a place for that — an important one — but it’s in the private sector, where people invest their own money.  A “central” anything ought to be overly staid and cautious.


Leader Patricia Morgan Files Bill to Repeal (Clearly Unnecessary) Tolls

On behalf of all Rhode Islanders, thanks to Minority Leader Patricia Morgan for filing a bill to repeal RhodeWorks’ truck (wink) tolls. (See her statement after the jump.)

Governor Gina Raimondo asserted the need for tolls as a financial necessity to repair state bridges which were/are some of the worst in the country but, by golly, we just don’t have the will to find the money in the state budget (even though it’s a MAJOR public safety issue, danger, danger, Will Robinson).

However, the governor has decisively rebutted her own assertions about the fiscal necessity of tolls, as (disclosure: I act as their spokesperson) pointed out in a letter to the Providence Journal on Sunday, by proposing a brand new, $30M/year spending program.

“Free” college tuition is at best nice to have (and it certainly would not solve the state’s employee skills gap, as the governor claims). If there is money in the budget for an expensive nice-to-have item, then it is clear that there is money for a less expensive vital service such as bridge repairs.

Legislators can now vote to repeal tolls, secure in the knowledge that public safety did not necessitate the passage of this highly destructive new revenue stream and confident that the money can be found in the budget to repair the state’s unsafe bridges. The governor has helpfully done this hard work for them.

Statement issued by Leader Patricia Morgan (R-Coventry, Warwick and West Warwick) today announcing the imminent filing of a bill to repeal tolls.

House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan to Submit Legislation to Repeal Truck Tolls in Rhode Island

STATE HOUSE — On Tuesday, April 11, 2017, House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan (R-District 26 Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) will submit legislation to repeal the Rhode Works toll law.

Rep. Morgan’s bill would repeal the provisions of the general laws which created the “Rhode Island Bridge Replacement, Reconstruction, and Maintenance Fund Act of 2016”, also known as “Rhode Works”, which will impose tolls on large commercial trucks.

“The Rhode Works bill is irresponsible and should never have passed last year. It is a $45 million albatross around the necks of Rhode Island consumers. It will add to our already high cost of living, making it more difficult for average Rhode Islanders to keep their head above water. It will undoubtedly hurt our small businesses who are struggling to remain competitive with rivals in other states not burdened with the extra shipping costs. In other words it will had more weight to an economy that is already dead last.”

“In addition, truck tolls are most likely unconstitutional. The American Truckers Association and its lawyers have conducted extensive research and are prepared to submit compelling arguments in court that tolling one class of vehicle is discriminatory and, therefore, unconstitutional. Despite our many requests, Governor Raimondo has failed to produce any legal justification to the contrary. This leads us to the uncomfortable conclusion that her rationale is poorly supported.” Rep. Morgan said.

“Representative Quattrocchi submitted legislation (H-5334) that would require the Governor to install only one tolling gantry to trigger the litigation. It would prevent the state from spending unnecessary millions on gantries until all legal questions are resolved. Despite the protective reasoning behind this common sense measure, she has ignored the suggestion and is proceeding full steam ahead.”

“That aggressive approach may force Rhode Islanders into a deep and expensive hole. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation bragged at the recent one year anniversary of the Rhode Works law that it has already signed contracts to spend $174 million, with an additional $200 million by July 2017. Another $400 million for the 6/10 highway is being finalized plus spending for a train station, gantries and transit centers. By the end of the year over $1 billion in signed contracts is anticipated. All of this spending is happening before we collect one dime from tolls. Is the plan to dig such a deep budget chasm that the Administration can use it to justify tolling all vehicles to pay off the debt?” Morgan questioned.

“I also have serious concerns about how the money is being spent. The Governor forced through tolls on the premise that our bridges are the worst in the country and they are dangerous. And yet, from some projects we observe, bridge repair is not the priority.”

“I have mentioned the Slatersville Bridge repeatedly. This is a tiny bridge, just 107 feet long. The original repair was listed as $9.1 million. Over the past 2 months that amount has risen nearly 50% and is now $13.5 million. Worse the spending includes a park and garden and scenic amenities. Please don’t tell me that we passed the law that will harm consumers, businesses, job seekers and the trucking industry so the Town of Slatersville could have a nice place to grow flowers. Either the claims of imminent bridge collapse were false or the Governor and her team are spending tolls wastefully. Both scenarios are wrong and we should call a halt until we get truthful answers.”

“I also have concerns that the cost of construction is being inflated to make the ‘little blue campaign’ signs always indicate on time and on schedule. We need answers and without a halt I fear we will not get them until it is too late.”

“Last year the Governor said Rhode Island was too broke to come up with the $45 million to avoid tolls. Yet this year she has proposed eliminating car taxes, starting a new entitlement program to pay college tuition, and now buy a stadium. Clearly, she was not being forthright with us. There never was a need to toll our highways.”

“It’s not too late. We can still pay for bridge repair from our current budget. But we must stop this detrimental law now before the debt it creates gets unmanageable.”


When Walking in Others’ Shoes, Must We Make the Same Decisions?

Rhode Island Catholic recently ran an essay by syndicated columnist Tony Magliano in which he describes a recent trip he made for a “migrant immersion experience,” by which he means a planned excursion that covers some of the same ground as those who enter the United States illegally from the south.  From the first paragraph, though, nagging unasked questions dog his heels:

Recently I was given a unique opportunity to taste some of the bitter hardships endured by fellow human beings fleeing drug gang violence, oppressive poverty and economic injustice south of the U.S. border.

Let’s state with moral certitude that we have a responsibility to help people who are suffering in the world as much as we’re able.  What always bothers me about arguments like that which Magliano implicitly makes is that the recipients of our sympathy turn into objects for the exercise of our charitable feelings.

If their motivation for flight is violence, poverty, and economic injustice, don’t these migrants have a moral obligation to remain and save those who can’t or won’t leave?  Yes, I realize that’s a very easy question for me to ask, standing at my computer in Rhode Island, but I’m not even saying it ought to be the full focus of advocates like Magliano.  One never even sees it mentioned.

Moreover, why does it seem our focus is never on attacking those factors that create the environment that the migrants are seeking to escape?  One can only do so much to alleviate the tragedy of children crossing the desert by focusing on their destination (and even then, to the extent we make it possible and attractive, we encourage the dangerous adventure).  The real solution would be to end that which sets them in motion in the first place.

And again, isn’t it the moral obligation of their parents and other local adults to work toward that end?


How “Fair Shot” Becomes “No Shot”

RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse has been playing off Rhode Island progressives’ slogan about a “fair shot” agenda, which consists mainly of policies that reduce economic freedom so progressives can buy support by forcing other people to hand over money.  Stenhouse’s riposte is that it’s a “no shot agenda for businesses.”  I’d suggest that he should drop the second part.  Progressive policies are harmful for everybody, business owners, employees, and people who aren’t working.   Stephen Moore makes the case succinctly in The American Spectator, listing a number of specific policies and concluding:

These examples merely scratch the surface of scores of governmental polices that are regressive. Could it be that the gridlock and polarization in Washington would be ended by a bipartisan reform movement to scout out and remove laws and rules that hurt those at the bottom of the income scale the most? One universal goal that we should all agree on and aspire to is equality of opportunity — which these laws squelch.

Where are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi and the class warfare warriors on reversing government policies that are stealing money and opportunities for low income and minority families? Do they care about protecting the poor? Or do they care more about protecting big government? It’s time to really find out.

No need for investigation.  As proven in Rhode Island, progressives want to help the poor and disadvantaged only inasmuch as that translates into more wealth and power for them, through government.  Progressives to whom that doesn’t apply aren’t progressives; they’re conservatives.


​A Shameless Plug

This is a shameless plug. Two, actually. But it’s for two terrific organizations: the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity and the Gaspee Business Network.

So to start, check out the Center’s fun new audio ad here.

The ad references:

These are all proposed bills that have been introduced just this session at the General Assembly. With zero regard to their affordability to businesses in a state comprised of 80%-90% small businesses, most of which struggle to operate. In a state whose business climate is at all times either dead last or fiercely fighting for the position. In a state with a tax burden that just last week was ranked (RECOUNT! it can’t be this good) eighth worst in the country. Introduced by highly misguided legislators, few if any of whom have ever sweated making payroll every week.

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity is (unfortunately, yet thankfully) the last broad spectrum good government warrior still standing in the state. And the Gaspee Business Network is an upstart pro-business organization fighting anti-business legislation and mixing it in good at election time.

This is to suggest that you consider supporting one or both (yes, being pushy here!) organizations. If the awesome research (so many to choose from but one of my personal favorites is the report on the exorbitant cost and futility of the state’s pursuit of green energy) and educational work of the Center, not to mention the reasoned and unflinching voices of CEO Mike Stenhouse and Research Director Justin Katz, appeal to you, please go here to make a tax-deductable, one time or recurring donation.

If you’re more of an in-the-trenches person, please go here to join the Gaspee Business Network to participate in the fight where it is most important: at the Rhode Island General Assembly.

You need not fear retribution for doing so. Donations to both organizations are anonymous. (Political speech sometimes has to be anonymous, a tradition that reaches back to the founding of the United States and one that both organizations are proud to respect.)

Thank you for considering!


“Save RI”: The Antidote To The Progressive Agenda

Rhode Island families understand that our quality of life can only be improved if more and better businesses create more and better jobs! Yet, the progressive-left has a very different vision. They are openly promoting job-killing, anti-business, and anti-family policies. Their so-called “fair shot agenda” would transform our Ocean State into a liberal utopia … where businesses face even higher legal and financial risks, and where worker safety, absenteeism, and workplace productivity are compromised.

The Ocean State faces a stark choice. Do you want a Rhode Island where there are increased hiring costs by significantly raising the state’s minimum wage? Or, mandated “paid leave” that every RI employer must comply with or else? Do you think there should be free-college tuition that you and I have to pay for by keeping our taxes high? How can legalization of recreational use of marijuana help any Rhode Island family?

We’ve created a new audio clip to show what their job killing agenda would look like. Click here now to listen to it. With your support, our Center can save Rhode Island from progressive ANTI-JOBS agenda! Can you help us meet our goal of raising $5,000 so we can run radio and social media ads?

Click To Listen On

We have the answer! A 3.0% sales tax is the antidote to the progressive agenda in the Ocean State. Only free market solutions can help Rhode Island families to achieve their hopes and dreams. If only lawmakers were to realize that there are answers, we could restore prosperity to the Ocean State. I encourage you to speak out against the insiders who want to further their own agenda, while your family is kept out of the process. Rhode Islanders want a state government that works for everyone not just the chosen few. You have the power to change the status quo.


State House Report with John DePetro, No. 4: Flanders in the Outside Lane, Ruggerio on the Inside

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, the topics were Robert Flanders’s play for the U.S. Senate, Raimondo’s tuition talking point, and Dominick Ruggerio’s insider senate presidency.

I’ll be on again Tuesday, April 11, at 2:00 p.m.


Colorado Confirms: Pot is Not a Revenue Panacea

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary will be hearing bill 5555, which would legalize, regulate and, of course, tax marijuana.

There are solid reasons why we as a state should go real slow here. Just last week, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity identified only the latest, albeit a very unwelcome one in view of Rhode Island’s already hideous business climate: legalized pot would present serious burdens and legal jeopardy to businesses in Rhode Island.

Nevertheless, state leaders and legislators who are otherwise ambivalent or even opposed to the legalization of marijuana, might be considering the dubious path of legalization because it would offer a new revenue stream to fix the state budget’s chronic deficits.

Take that off the table. From the Denver Post three weeks ago.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper estimates the revenue projections fall $700 million short of the amount needed to meet the priorities in his $28.5 billion budget proposal for next year, an increase from the $500 million gap he anticipated in November.

Michael Cerullo, Psychotherapist and substance abuse Adjunct Scholar with the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, pointed out this critical item yesterday during the debate between himself and Jared Moffat, hosted by “PO Taxpayer” Pat Ford on WPRO. (Listen to the entire debate at the website of The Coalition.)

Colorado’s law legalizing pot went into effect in January, 2014. Many states, including Rhode Island, are watching the effects on Colorado, positive and negative, as a guide, at least in part, as they consider whether to emulate Colorado in this matter.

One of the biggest factors in this decision is the potential revenue that could flow into state coffers if cannabis is legalized and taxed. With Colorado’s revenue projections shrinking and its budget deficit widening, it is clear that the revenue that would come from marijuana is not the cure-all for state budget woes that has been touted. Rhode Island legislators and leaders need to take this important new and disturbing information carefully into account as they consider, during either this legislative session or a future one, whether to follow Colorado down this path.


“Free Tuition” Makes Suckers of Us All

I’ve got the “con” side of a Providence Journal commentary-page presentation of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s college tuition proposal, today:

The typical transition of students to adulthood goes something like this: Children begin attending public school in kindergarten (or earlier) and graduate with diplomas at the end of the 12th grade. Depending on their interests, aptitude and resources, they will either begin working, pursue vocational training or enter college. These decisions are all highly personal and represent only the beginning of a long life in the productive labor force.

In general, where is Rhode Island going wrong for its young folks in this story?

Hint: It isn’t the lack of opportunities for insiders to buy votes or take more money from taxpayers.

On the “pro” side is Deval Patrick who (as one might expect of a politician) tries to take credit for his state’s long slog toward health, proclaiming that “in many ways, from the perspective of a shifting economy, Rhode Island today looks like Massachusetts did 10 years ago.”  Umm.  Massachusetts’s Prop 2 1/2 tax reform went into effect in the early ’80s.  The Bay State’s education reforms were implemented in the early ’90s.  On that count, as I’ve written before, Patrick’s capitulation to the teachers’ unions placed a political ceiling on Massachusetts’s progress, and its standardized scores haven’t improved.

Raimondo’s got the front-page plastered with her face under the headline, “The Raimondo Brand: Nation’s top Democrats tout R.I. governor as icon of party’s ideals.”  If that’s true, the national party is gambling a great deal on the governor’s phony self promotion.  I end my op-ed quoting from Crimetown and suggesting that “free tuition” both compromises its beneficiaries morally and makes us all suckers.  One suspects a national audience won’t be as inclined to ignore the utter failures of Rhode Island government, nor be impressed with the numbers games of its “reforms,” nor desire to emulate the policies of a governor under whom employment growth has almost entirely stopped.


Mike Stenhouse on with DePetro on Marijuana’s Effects on Business

Related to a brief that the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity released this week concerning the complications that legalizing marijuana would create for Rhode Island businesses, RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse appeared on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM radio show. Also: a new baseball stadium and sales tax.


The Cultural Key to Success

Having managed to catch up on my newspaper reading, I recommend Tunku Varadarajan’s recent Wall Street Journal interview with Thomas Sowell, if you’re able to get past the firewall.  This part particularly caught my attention, talking about how America has changed since Sowell was young:

An idea has taken root “that you’re entitled to certain things, that you don’t necessarily have to earn them,” he says. “There’s a belief that something’s wrong if you don’t have what other people have—that it’s because you’re ‘disadvantaged.’ A teenage dropout mother is told she has a disadvantage. But if you’re going to call the negative consequences of chosen behavior ‘disadvantage,’ the word is corrupt beyond repair and useful only for propaganda purposes.”

Has there been any change for the better? “Oh, yes, yes, yes,” he says. “In fact, for blacks who have education and who have not succumbed to a new lifestyle—the grievances, and the coarseness represented by rap music—it’s gotten tremendously better. What’s disheartening, though, is that when you study ethnic groups around the world, the ones that are lagging behind are those where their leaders always tell the same story: that it’s other people holding you back, and that therefore you need to stand against those other people and resist their culture. But that culture may be the key to success.”

This is the same vein of thinking as I raised during my podcast about the success of Utah.  We have to teach people to emulate success.  That doesn’t mean we have to give ourselves wholly over to every particular belief and behavior of a successful person, but that we have to give serious thought to the question of what it is that makes them successful.  Having done so, we can of course decide that we define success differently — to say that we want to be as successful as possible while remaining true to moral values.

Whatever our decisions, though, it is a disabling distraction in modern America to see other people’s success as implicitly at our expense.


RIGOP Blessing and Curse: Straight Line from Nowhere to the Top

The first thing one sees upon picking up the Newport Daily News today is a stock photo of me next to the quotation:

You can go straight from doing nothing to running for U.S. Senate on the Republican side because there are so few people involved.

I was one of a half-dozen Republicans and conservatives whom Derek Gomes interviewed for an article about Republicans in the state, to complement a recent one about Democrats.  (Unfortunately, the article isn’t online for non-subscribers.)

One part of my extended statement to Gomes that I wish had made the cut was a benefit to being out of power:  The RIGOP has no influence to sell, so people tend to be involved for the right reasons, and the odds of corruption are lower.

I also wish the article had gone into some of the other topics Gomes asked me about.  He quotes Young Republican Barbara Ann Fenton as saying that Rhode Island Republicans are socially liberal, compared to the party nationally.  I’d suggested in my interview that that might be part of the problem.  The unanimous support for same-sex marriage, for example, is why I am (as Gomes notes) “a conservative but not a registered Republican.”

As a worldview, socially liberal and fiscally conservative is untenable, at least inasmuch as we acknowledge a responsibility to help the less fortunate.  Part of our solution for those folks must be to help build a healthier society overall.  If (for example) the “fiscally conservative” solution is simply to rely on private charity, it’s difficult to make the case that we shouldn’t just make our charity compulsory through taxation.


When a College Degree Does You No Good

Bloomberg article by Steve Matthews, printed in the Providence Journal, is worth a close read.  It’s about the plight of young college graduates who wind up with jobs that didn’t actually require a degree:

About 44 percent of recent college grads were employed in jobs not requiring degrees in the final quarter of 2016, not far from the 2013 peak of 46 percent, and the share of that group in low-wage positions has held steady, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showed Wednesday.

That’s a sign that the nation’s labor market isn’t at full health, despite an unemployment rate forecast to remain at 4.7 percent in March, close to the lowest in almost a decade. In fact, the elevated level of college grads in non-college jobs could mean there’s still slack and that the Fed can go slow in raising interest rates, betting that more high-wage jobs will materialize. It could also mark a more permanent shift in employment that the Fed can’t fix and be a tough challenge for President Donald Trump and Congress.

As the formula goes with such articles, Matthews opens with an anecdote to humanize the story: a hotel desk worker with a degree in something related to forest resources.  Perhaps, one might suspect, not all degrees are created equal when it comes to their job-finding capacity.

Even if we put aside entirely useless, luxury majors, our approach of broadly encouraging college degrees, period, could be predicted first to max out occupations with limited openings.  Forestry may be a highly valuable, highly technical degree (I don’t know), but the relevant jobs may be limited.

Another point worth drawing from Matthews’s article is that degrees shouldn’t come first, as an economic development plan, but last.  Filling an economy that has insufficient job opportunities with new graduates will not create new jobs.  It will just mean that somebody, somewhere is paying for an underutilized education and that the young adult has wasted time only to be sent back to the entry level of the career ladder.


When Mixing People, What We Value Matters

I talked about this in my Last Impressions podcast last week, but Megan McArdle’s article about Utah’s success with income equality and other social markers deserves additional attention.  One thesis is Utah succeeds by mixing people of different socio-economic backgrounds:

Sims has looked at what happens to kids from schools in pairs of counties located along state borders, which provides something close to a natural experiment. Adjacent counties can be assumed to have broad overlap in the kind of people and businesses that locate there but will, because of their different state governments, have different levels of school funding and institutional practices. Sims found this made “almost no difference.”

So he asked, in his words, “What are schools doing?” Answer: exposing students to social networks that aren’t like theirs.

I’d suggest that McArdle pulls up short on this count, especially with regard to comparing Utah to other parts of the country.  She segues into a discussion of racial homogeneity and the state’s racial past, but a different focus might be more relevant.

The prominent Mormonism in Utah introduces a strong influence to celebrate middle-class values.  When schools and the broader society mix children of diverse backgrounds and encourage the disadvantaged ones to emulate those with stronger family backgrounds, that’s helpful.  In more-socially-liberal areas, the mixing can go the other way if adversity or victimhood status bring the social value.


Last Impressions Podcast Episode 10: Evil to Be Good

The role of government in: charity, innovation, waitressing, and grabbing parents off the street and locking them up.

Right-click title on track list to download.



Government as Weapon

I’m jumping around a bit, today, from hyper-local this morning, to national politics.  Be that as it may, what caught my attention during my lunchtime reading was Lee Smith’s Tablet article revising his previous assessment that the Obama administration had only pretended to be spying on American lawmakers during the campaign for the Iran deal:

“At some point, the administration weaponized the NSA’s legitimate monitoring of communications of foreign officials to stay one step ahead of domestic political opponents,” says a pro-Israel political operative who was deeply involved in the day-to-day fight over the Iran Deal. “The NSA’s collections of foreigners became a means of gathering real-time intelligence on Americans engaged in perfectly legitimate political activism—activism, due to the nature of the issue, that naturally involved conversations with foreigners. We began to notice the White House was responding immediately, sometimes within 24 hours, to specific conversations we were having. At first, we thought it was a coincidence being amplified by our own paranoia. After a while, it simply became our working assumption that we were being spied on.”

This is what systematic abuse of foreign-intelligence collection for domestic political purposes looks like: Intelligence collected on Americans, lawmakers, and figures in the pro-Israel community was fed back to the Obama White House as part of its political operations. The administration got the drop on its opponents by using classified information, which it then used to draw up its own game plan to block and freeze those on the other side. And—with the help of certain journalists whose stories (and thus careers) depend on high-level access—terrorize them.

Once you understand how this may have worked, it becomes easier to comprehend why and how we keep being fed daily treats of Trump’s nefarious Russia ties. The issue this time isn’t Israel, but Russia, yet the basic contours may very well be the same.

Ladies and gentlemen, the “scandal free” Obama administration.  It’s actually been a little surprising to see the lack of concern about this on the Left and in the mainstream media, and one can sense the availability of a seamless pivot from “this allegation is so huge it can’t possibly be true” to “this is no big deal at all.”

The Obama administration weaponized government against its political opponents.  Here in Rhode Island, we’re mostly seeing our progressive Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo use government inappropriately for self-promotional purposes, but it’s a mild step from positive to negative abuse.


Building in a Structural Surplus

Over in Tiverton, the school department is considering campaigning for an alternate budget that would add to its structural surplus.  I look at the history over on Tiverton Fact Check:

The prospect of that campaign reminds me of spring 2015.  That year, a budget petition that I put forward reduced the school’s increase by about $126,000.  (The school budget still went up more than that, but not with local taxes.)  The school committee voted to cancel plans for all-day kindergarten.

Ultimately, they reversed that decision after weeks of advocacy on my part and that of affected parents.  How much would you guess their budget came up short at the end of the year?  It didn’t.  In fact, the school department had $1,130,867 left over, a surplus, bringing its reserves to $3,454,163.  If my budget petition had lost (or if all-day kindergarten had actually been cancelled), the surplus would have been around $1,257,208 for a total of about $3,580,504.

The most important phrase in Rhode Island public school budgeting is “maintenance of effort.”

Continue reading on Tiverton Fact Check.


Pot Luck Employment

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity posted a brief, today, pointing out some of the risks to Rhode Island employers in an environment of legalized recreational marijuana:

One South County firm has already been sued for denying employment to a legal medical marijuana user in compliance with the company’s drug-free policies. Similarly, firms in Massachusetts, California, Montana, and Washington — among others — have been burdened with similar lawsuits.

If recreational use of the drug is legalized, the constitutional crisis created by pitting employer rights against employee rights could explode, crippling companies that would have to pay exorbitant legal fees to defend their rights in court, as well as any damages they might incur from adverse rulings. Similarly, a conflict may also exist if landlords seek to ban marijuana use on their private property by their tenants.

Proponents of legalization present it as an easy matter of rights, and if it were that, the Center would probably agree with their objective.  The problem is that, when once the government has interjected itself into a matter of social concern, the landscape changes.

In this particular case, we have not only the complications of having state law conflict with federal law, but also a skewed balance between employees and employers.  If it were understood that employers could conduct their business and their employee relations as they saw fit, then the legalization of marijuana wouldn’t be as relevant to them.  If an employee behaves in any way that the employer finds objectionable, the relationship terminates.  Ditto if the employer dictates terms that the employee doesn’t like.

But that is manifestly not understood, and our state government is constantly looking for new ways to dictate employment policies to every business in the state.  In that case, businesses have an interest in constraining the activities of everybody who could potentially come within range of their liability, which is everybody.


Innovation Chief Takes Innovative Step of a Private-Sector Job

After a year or so of lucrative somehow-related-to-government work in Rhode Island, the state’s “chief innovation officer” Richard Culatta is venturing out into the (probably even more lucrative) Washington, D.C., non-profit sector:

Richard Culatta, Rhode Island’s chief innovation officer announced to NBC 10 Tuesday night that he is leaving for a new job at an educational non-profit in Washington DC.

Despite telling NBC 10’s Bill Rappleye that the move was “in the works for weeks,” Culatta gave no indication that he would be moving on during an appearance under a week ago with WPRO’s Tara Granahan.

The CEO for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity (a not-nearly-as-lucrative Rhode Island non-profit), Mike Stenhouse, is cited in the article for his doubts about the funding structure of the innovation office.  Readers may recall that The Current led the way last January in pointing out how Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo had a tendency of placing key people a few steps removed from accountability, in this case through a Constitutional loophole.


Rhode Island Does (or Did) Something Right

In its design (as opposed to its objective) Stephen Moore doesn’t much like Medicaid:

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more poorly designed program in the federal budget than Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income Americans. The costs are shared between the states and the feds, which means that the more money a state wastes under Medicaid, the bigger the check Washington writes to the state. No wonder the program costs keep spiraling out of control.

Obamacare added nearly 20 million people to the Medicaid rolls, and the left considers that a policy victory. Federal and state budgets are swelling.

Oh, to return to the days when taking people off of welfare — not putting them on the dole — was the goal.

In an unusual experience, for a conservative, Moore cites Rhode Island as an example of a different way, referring back to a block-grant program implemented in the waning days of the President Bush and Governor Carcieri days.  Gary Alexander, who ran Health and Human Services in RI back then comments in Moore’s essay:

Alexander has become the Pied Piper for Medicaid waivers. “This is such a terrific solution because in Rhode Island we reduced costs and provided better care. When the state had an incentive to save money rather than spend it, this changed everything.” He added, “State waivers are the way out of the Medicaid crisis.”

Of course, elected officials in Rhode Island moved quickly to give away the budget slack in the Medicaid expansion and other constituent buy-offs, so clearly we have to work on step 2 of the “saving money” process (i.e., not immediately spending it on something else).  But it’d be nice to be recognized more often for innovative, smart policies.


Lining Up to Be the Future of Vulnerability

Yes, the idea of receiving scannable implants in the body for the collection and transmission of information is terrifying of itself, but it’s the peer-pressuring described in this James Brooks AP article that’s truly unsettling:

The [Swedish startup company, Epicenter,] offers to implant its workers and startup members with microchips the size of grains of rice that function as swipe cards: to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand.

The injections have become so popular that workers at Epicenter hold parties for those willing to get implanted. …

The implants have become so popular that Epicenter workers stage monthly events where attendees have the option of being “chipped” for free.

Encouragement parties.  Coworkers prying into your business — almost literally under your skin — to ask “Are you chipped?”

Go ahead.  Everybody else is doing it.  Don’t worry that it can be read some distance from your body and that you’d need to cut open your skin to take it out and perhaps face the inverse peer pressure for being a troglodyte and apostate who has become “unchipped.”  You can trust that the company won’t collect any creepy information, or anything.

What else does “the future” that these chipped folks talk about hold in store?


PawSox and the Way Rhode Island Doesn’t Work

Reading up on the matter of the Pawtucket Red Sox and their search for a better stadium, as well as on the new Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D, North Providence), something jumped out at me.  Here’s Ethan Shorey reporting on Ruggerio’s elevation to president in The Valley Breeze:

Given the fact that Providence and North Providence have two of the highest car tax rates in the state, Ruggerio said one of his top priorities is reducing or eliminating the state’s car tax.

As we all know, the person who made elimination of the car tax a major issue this year was Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston), who — it needn’t be said — has a lot of influence over whether Ruggerio is able to move his own priorities.

Now here’s Patrick Anderson reporting in the Providence Journal on Ruggerio’s support for public funding of some sort of major project benefiting the PawSox:

Ruggerio said [Pawtucket Red Sox Chairman Larry] Lucchino did not present him with a specific request for state funds or identify a stadium site. He said those specifics are being negotiated with representatives of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration.

Doesn’t it seem like these multi-million-dollar matters are ultimately decided by a handful of politicians, each of whom has a self-interested agenda….

  • Mattiello to make his House seat more secure
  • Raimondo to pave the way for reelection and moving up in national politics
  • Ruggerio for some other reason, perhaps benefiting the labor union for which he works

… and basically negotiating for those reasons how they should distribute other people’s money?


Creeping Sharia and Freedom of Speech

Mark Steyn describes how (and how quickly) the West is caving to the censorious demands of hard-line Muslims:

I have had the privilege of sharing stages with Ayaan Hirsi Ali at various places around the world from London to California. It wasn’t that long ago, but it feels already like the past – a previous era, just the day before yesterday but already the rules have changed. In 2015, I spoke in Copenhagen at an event to mark the tenth anniversary of the famous “Mohammed cartoons”. As on the fifth anniversary, it required the protection of PET, the Danish security police. But this time, as an additional precaution, it had to be moved inside the fortress-thick walls of the Danish Parliament in order to lessen further the likelihood of fellows who regard debate as a waste of time (and, indeed,an affront) busting in and shooting us all. Nevertheless, notwithstanding all the security, both the US State Department and the British Foreign Office issued formal warnings advising their nationals to steer clear of the Parliament building that day.

The group presenting at the event had scheduled a dinner afterwards, but when security went to do an initial review of the place, the restaurant owners panicked and canceled the event, according to Steyn.  So, the story is two-parts radical Islam, but one-part Western timidity.  Flip those fractions, if you like; the screaming snowflakes who can’t stand contrary opinions on “their” campuses are merely the enforcers of the rule that Western Civilization must stand down.

As Steyn writes, “they’re all in the shut-up business.”


Who Ordered the Code Red, Smoking Gun

This Eli Lake article from Bloomberg seems like kind of a big deal.  I wonder how much we’ll actually hear about it from the news media:

White House lawyers last month learned that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Rice, you may recall, was the primary face of the Obama Administration’s like about the background of the Benghazi attack.  Things get stranger, too:

The National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, was conducting the review, according to two U.S. officials who spoke with Bloomberg View on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly. In February Cohen-Watnick discovered Rice’s multiple requests to unmask U.S. persons in intelligence reports that related to Trump transition activities. He brought this to the attention of the White House General Counsel’s office, who reviewed more of Rice’s requests and instructed him to end his own research into the unmasking policy.

Why would the White House General Counsel order this research stopped?  Were Obama holdovers still calling the shots, or was there some other reason?


How Busy Families Are Led Toward Counterproductive Activism

Let me offer a local example to illustrate a problem that is relevant in every city and town in Rhode Island and probably across most of the country.

Tiverton’s budget committee (of which I’m a member) has no final authority over anything.  Zero.  The committee’s sole power is to define “the town’s” budget at our annual financial town referendum.  The town council can put in a different budget.  The school committee can put in a different budget.  And any registered voter in town can put in a different budget (with 50 signatures).  I’ve submitted the budgets that voters have chosen in all of the past three years.

The school committee, by contrast, has final authority over around 60% of the town’s $50 million budget.  It is responsible for the education of most of the town’s children, it negotiates the town’s biggest labor union contract, and it generally has control of the larger part of the town’s real estate holdings.

How are they doing?  Here’s a headline and opening paragraph from the March 15 Newport Daily News (not online):

School faces possible graduation crisis

Nearly a third of the Tiverton High School senior class is at risk of not graduating in June because of failing grades and low attendance.  There’s also an uptick in emotional issues, according to administrators and staff.

Naturally, school officials attempt to blame budget constraints and families, but it’s clear that a core issue is that the school department changed its curriculum:

The high school eliminated Level 3 classes at the beginning of the school year.  “The rollout was not nearly as smooth” as everyone had anticipated, Rearick said.  Level 3 students are now in more difficult and faster-paced Level 2 classes.”

In any event, the school department has had an average surplus of almost a million dollars per year for the last five and, as of last June, was sitting on a $3.5 million reserve fund.  From personal experience, I can testify that taxing for that money puts strain on local families, which can contribute to financial difficulty and familial stress.

My core point with this post, though, is the public response to government.  The local newspapers have been awash with letters to the editor recently (most from members of a particular elementary school’s PTO), and what do you suppose their focus has been?  Not a single one has been about the performance of our school district.  Rather, their focus is entirely the budget committee, mostly concerning whether or not its meetings start with three-minute free-for-all public commentary and attacking members for being insufficiently deferential to department heads.

Who is leading these parents to target a mostly inconsequential committee and to what extent is that a deliberate effort by paid insiders to distract from their own failures?  Obviously, it’s much easier to demand more of other people’s money than to force accountability from the teachers, administrators, and elected officials who have the town’s children under their thumbs.

How many other examples are there throughout Rhode Island?