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Turning Government Schools into Left-Wing Advocacy Shops

Some years ago, I happened to be watching a New England town’s school committee meeting while a high-school student sought permission for her senior project, which involved setting up a culturally radical and mature-subject-matter club at the middle school.  When one school committee member very gently expressed reservations about going down that road at a public school with children as young as 10, the student at the podium began to sob.  The project was approved.

That incident came to mind upon reading Stanley Kurtz’s warning on National Review about Congressional Democrats’ push for new legislation on “civics education”:

House Democrats are offering a bill ludicrously titled the “Civics Learning Act of 2021” to fund the likewise misnamed enterprise of “action civics.” The price tag is $30 million a year. Whether it’s called “action civics,” “civic engagement,” or “project-based civics,” the real goal of the new “civics” is to get students protesting and lobbying for leftist political goals on school time, and now on the federal dime.

What is meant by “action civics,” “civic engagement,” and “project-based civics”?  Helpfully, Rhode Island legislators have provided a description in their own state-level legislation (H5028 and S0354), which would mandate the practice in our public schools.  The bills would require the state department of education (which apparently has plenty of time on its hands, given the stellar performance of Rhode Island schools) to “adopt and promulgate rules and regulations” to:

Create a project-based civics learning assessment for district adoption, requiring students to conduct analytical research on a local community issue of his or her choice, engage an institution of government to influence the issue, and fulfill a summative assessment to demonstrate the process and outcomes.

The state government, in other words, would be siccing high school students on their local school committees and town councils to change the laws under which their communities live, creating a special-interest advocacy force within generally a left-wing system.  Students will have a grade incentive to demonstrate “outcomes,” and they’ll have peer incentive not to advocate against each others’ policies, even if they disagree with them.  Meanwhile, a disorganized public of residents who mostly just want to go about their lives won’t know what hit them.

To make matters worse, the state Senate has already passed legislation that would allow this sort of “civics education” to displace requirements to actually learn some history.

If you’re able to step back a bit, these trends are fascinating to watch, because it appears that progressives have truly found the formula to incrementally push radical change that nobody will have the ability or will to stop — all but automating the turns of the ratchet.  The only hope, as far as I can see, is for ordinary citizens to not step back a bit and to stop just going about their lives and organize and create their own institutions to advance and support adults who’ll be willing to stand up to the tears of their neighbors’ children striving to fulfill a graduation requirement.

Put that way, the legislators pushing these bills are guaranteeing one of three outcomes:

  • The effective loss of their constituents’ ability actually to be represented by their government
  • Persecution of citizens with minority viewpoints
  • Civic strife that sets neighbor against neighbor as every political issue becomes a personal feud

The shame of the effort in Rhode Island is that it’s bipartisan, with the House and Senate bills submitted by Republican Representative Brian Newberry and Senator Jessica de la Cruz (both of Burrillville).  The good news there, however, is that, being members of the minority party, they may be persuadable by residents who seek to explain consequences that the legislators may not foresee, and they can simply withdraw the bills.


Why Is RI Failing? Don’t Ask the Media; Blame Them.

Maybe the headline of this post is a little aggressive, but we’re in frustrating times, and insiders need to start feeling some heat.

Our local media is content to publish articles with headlines like “Report: Rhode Island ranks 34th best state in the US,” which is a drop of eight places from last year on the U.S. News and World Report ranking, but they don’t seem interested in doing their own reporting to find out why this might be the case.  Just look at the extent of the reporting in the WPRI article by Melanie DaSilva:

The decision has a lot to do with the state’s rough roads and high housing costs, according to an analysis on the rankings by R.I. House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi.

“All kinds of opportunity for us to look at how we can improve our infrastructure. The cost of living in Rhode Island, specifically, housing is very high,” he said. “For many Rhode Islanders, affordable housing is way out of reach for them, too much so.”

So, according to the only “expert” the article cites, the solution is to pass his signature package of affordable housing bills!

Rhode Island has ranked poorly on a broad range of indexes for years and years.  Why aren’t our journalists really digging in to find out the reason and to hold people accountable?  Well, for one thing, they rely on those very people, like House Speaker Shekarchi, to give them access so they can write stories more easily.  For another thing, they tend to agree with the policies and attitudes that produce the poor results.

Look, one shouldn’t just pick an index and treat it as capital-T Truth, but if we’re going to talk about them, we have to present an accurate picture.  The fact is that infrastructure, on which U.S. News ranks RI 49th, is not the reason for the state’s drop, because we were 49th on the last iteration, in 2019, too.  (By the way, what happened to that RhodeWorks thing?)

The Ocean State dropped in most of the other seven categories.  Here are all eight:

  1. Healthcare: from 5th to 9th.
  2. Education: from 41st to 39th.
  3. Economy: from 20th to 28th.
  4. Infrastructure: from 49th to 49th.
  5. Opportunity: from 31st to to 32nd.
  6. Fiscal stability: from 31st to 44th.
  7. Crime and corrections: from 13th to 7th.
  8. Natural environment: from 1st to 7th.

Two quick notes before I continue my rant: First, the education score has a large component that is arguably about money spent, not results, and Rhode Island is mostly hurt by higher education (49th) rather than K-12 (25th).  One could argue that we’re spending a lot of money to make K-12 look middle-of-the-pack, but our results are actually seen in the poor college performance, for which Rhode Island students are not adequately prepared.  Second, affordable housing is part of the “opportunity” category.

But the most important point, here, is that Rhode Island’s government is failing on every level.  You’d think a news media that’s serving the public would be behaving as if that were the case.  Instead, it’s a lickspittle press that largely processes the press releases of well-paid government PR people and blacklists alternative voices.


A Name for the Approach: Weaponized Government Failure

I recently stumbled upon a term that feels like it captures a common quirk of Rhode Island in an article by The American Spectator’s Scott McKay (emphasis added):

If Cuomo didn’t offer a future presidential prospect, he would surely be someone to throw under the bus. He’s a gubernatorial Biden — a shameless clown devoid of credibility or competence who represents everything regular Americans despise about the political class. Cuomo is the very picture of our coastal elites: his success owes almost completely to the name he inherited from his father Vito, er, Mario Cuomo and his membership in the ruling-class club. Cuomo spouts all of the pieties of the managerial elite, and he’s mastered the art of faking sincerity when he does so. His abject corruption and incompetence in office is easy to paper over — the Cuomos have run so much of New York’s middle class out of the state there are no longer enough of them to ever vote a Democrat out of office, and therefore their party has perfected at the state level the Weaponized Governmental Failure that’s usually reserved for Democrat machines in the cities.

The basic principle is that what is good for the community might not be good for the people who wish to govern that community.  Think of your workplace and imagine some super-talented coworker who’s difficult to get along with.  He or she is the type who drives the company forward toward productivity, innovation, and profit — so much so that the executives might even see the role of middle management as being to harness that force while mitigating the disruption.  But that’s a pain in the neck for the manager.

If the manager isn’t especially competent and prefers security and comfort to high achievement, he or she doesn’t much care if some points are shaved from the company’s value in order to make the workplace easier through the exclusion of the difficult-but-talented person.  So, the manager implements rules that stifle the go-getter, who always has career alternatives, until he or she goes elsewhere.  McKay points to an elaboration of the point on The Hayride:

 … It’s a choice to do a poor job with the more mundane tasks of running a city; if you do those what you will get is middle class voters moving in. Middle class voters tend to choose to live in places where they can expect to get actual value out of their tax dollars – good roads, safe streets, functional drainage, decent schools, a friendly business climate and a growing economy, among other things – and those things are hard to produce when you govern the way the Left does.

Put a different way, middle class voters are a pain in the rear. They want lots of things which make for grunt work out of a mayor, and a Democrat mayor like a Mitch Landrieu would rather spend his time on vacuous crap like “social change” and other cultural aggressions, and offering wealth redistribution and excuses for the bad personal habits which cause so many people to be poor. Accordingly, it is no great loss if those middle class voters decamp to the suburbs. Their exodus simply makes for an electorate which is a lot less demanding and easier to control.

Rich voters don’t really need anything, because they can generally pay for whatever they need out of pocket (for example, their kids go to private schools and they’ve got private security in their neighborhoods). All they require is the politicians give them access and the occasional favor, and they’ll not only vote for them but write campaign checks. Poor voters are generally unsophisticated and susceptible to government dependency, and thus manipulating them is no great task.

This can be put more concisely and with emphasis on how constituencies for this approach turn into troops for political combat:

What he’s interested in, and he has made this clear, is doling out as much free stuff to as many people as possible in an effort to hook a large number of Democrat voters up to the gravy train. For that mentality, which is perhaps best described as weaponized governmental failure, bad economic news isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. The more private-sector jobs he can chase out of the state the better – those people vote Republican, after all. And if their jobs go, he’s got food stamps and Medicaid and welfare checks at the ready, so in a few years when they’re government-dependent he can mobilize them practically to riot over the mere mention that their free stuff might get cut.

Of course, once politicians have established troops who are motivated by the danger of losing benefits or handouts, they’ll look for ways to create the impression of that danger:

[The politician] will do everything he can to “make it hurt” by deliberately weakening the quality of service state government delivers to the people of Louisiana and then attempt to foist the blame for that decline on state legislators who voted against tax increases.

We’ve seen this dynamic with no ambiguity over here in Tiverton.  School employees, for example, openly discuss ways to scare parents into voting for bigger budgets and the school committee puts the blame on budgets from a few years back when voters held tax increases down around inflation, saying those years created a deficit.  They count on the parents (many of them new to town or at least to town politics) not knowing that in the years of those limited budget increases, the school department had an annual surplus of about $1 million, so any larger increase would have simply added to the surplus.  (Hey, how’d those surpluses turn into deficits, anyway?)

The key point, though, is the incentive structure.  If your approach to advancing your organization is to prove your value to clients so there will be more of them and they’ll be willing to pay more for your services, you’ve got to stay on your game.  If, on the other hand, your approach is to make your clients feel as if you can’t possibly do what they need you to do without more money, failure is built into your business proposition, and you can take it easy.

In a free market, where customers have choices, they’ll eventually tire of guilt trips, and other organizations have incentive to perform better and attract their business.  In a government setting, which takes money from some people to provide services to other people, not only is leaving less of an option for the subsidized clients, but the blame for failure can easily be shifted onto a political party… or a taxpayer group.


Politics This Week with John DePetro: Turning the McKee

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for March 8, included talk about:

  • McKee’s start
  • Conspicuous inaugural absences
  • The next lieutenant governor
  • ATVs between Providence and Cranston
  • The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity calls for no new TCI gas tax

I’ll be on again Monday, March 15, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.


Center Calls on McKee to Withdraw R.I. from Raimondo’s TCI Gas Tax Scheme

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity calls on the newly sworn-in Governor of Rhode Island, Daniel McKee, to officially withdraw the Ocean State from the regional gasoline cap-and-trade scheme, known as the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI).

“For years as Lieutenant Governor, Dan McKee expressed verbal support for the small business community. Now is the time for the Governor to take action and to separate himself from his predecessor’s anti-business policies. The Governor should immediately put to rest any notion that his administration will impose a job-killing, budget-destroying gasoline tax on businesses and families who are struggling to recover from the pandemic,” commented Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “Today, our Center calls on the Governor to take executive action to formally withdraw Rhode Island from the TCI compact.”

In December, former Governor Gina Raimondo signed-on Rhode Island, just one of three states to do so, to the TCI Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU). Implementation of TCI would lead to a significant increase in automobile and diesel gasoline prices, while also systematically limiting regional supplies of vehicle fuel.

In calling on Governor McKee to eschew the costly TCI gas tax, the Center points to research and polling that shows why TCI is poor public policy:

  • Rhode Islanders are not “bad guys” that should be punished for driving their vehicles, as one gov’t official in Mass. expressed
  • The regressive TCI gas tax would disproportionately harm low-income families
  • The high economic costs and job losses would further hamper our state’s faltering economy, with virtually no environmental benefit in return
  • An overwhelming majority of polled Ocean Staters do not support TCI, once they understand the high costs
  • A TCI gas tax would make our state even less competitive, by weakening our already worst-in-the-nation business climate

Later this week, the Center will announce a public campaign to petition the Governor and state legislative leaders to reject the TCI compact.

More information about the proposed TCI gas tax can be found on the Center’s TCI webpage: The Center is one of over two-dozen organizations in the northeast working cooperatively to defeat TCI in their respective states.

[This is a public statement released by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity today.]


The Left’s True Seed of Collapse

The social-media-era pace of our news cycle means that a story that sits around for a couple weeks feels as if it is emerging from a history book by the time a busy, reflective writer gets around to considering it, but Ivan Pentchoukov’s article, “Trump Impeachment Attorney Canceled by Law School, Civil Rights Law Group,” in The Epoch Times still merits remembrance:

An attorney who represented President Donald Trump during the recent impeachment trial says a law school canceled a civil rights law course he was going to teach and he was suspended from a civil rights lawyer email discussion list.

“I was hoping to teach a civil rights course at a law school in the fall. We’ve been in talks about it, kind of planning it out. I wrote to them and I said, ‘I want you to know, I’m gonna be representing Donald Trump in the impeachment case. I don’t know if that impacts on your decision at all,’” David Schoen, one of the three attorneys who argued before the Senate, told The Epoch Times.

“And they said, you know, they appreciated my writing and, frankly, it would make some students and faculty uncomfortable, so I couldn’t do it.”

Think about how bizarre a world it must be for a law school not to want somebody involved in a history-book-level case as a professor, even for a single course.  Long after the political wave moves on and few remember what all the hoopla was about, this school would be recognized as the sort of place that can attract that level of professor — people in the thick of the most contentious legal battles of the day.  That is objectively impressive.  It is the sort of evidence that somebody who wants to be assured of the best value for their higher-education dollar should want that they’re connecting to the very heart of their intended industry.

These folks are out of their minds!  And it reveals one of the key reasons progressive/socialist societies are doomed to fail everybody who relies on them:  Success is not their objective.  Debate, advancement, and the correct answer by objective measurement is not their objective.

Asserting and cementing power over others is their monomaniacal goal, and all crumbles before it, including their own institutions and welfare.

The first duty of the sane among us is to do what we can to stop the destruction that these lunatics will bring to our civilization.  Our second duty is to get ourselves, our families, and as many people as we can bring along beyond the reach of the vortex when the ship of madness sinks.


The Republicans’ Sexist Progressive: Fenton-Fung

Republicans in Rhode Island are a contentious bunch and certainly would do well to figure out how to work together, which would mean tolerating differences in the policies they support.  That said, an identity-politics bill submitted by newly elected Republican state Representative Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung of Cranston is so shockingly in-your-face in its progressivism that it’s difficult to see how conservatives could possibly consider supporting her if it isn’t a mistake or an aberration.

The bill is H5905, and in short, it would force every publicly traded corporation with its primary headquarters in Rhode Island to meet quotas for women on their corporate boards.  By January of 2023:

(1) If its number of directors is six (6) or more, the corporation shall have a minimum of 12 three (3) female directors.

(2) If its number of directors is five (5), the corporation shall have a minimum of two (2) female directors.

(3) If its number of directors is four (4) or fewer, the corporation shall have a minimum of one female director.

In case you’re wondering — thinking this might be a bit of that ol’ Republican sense of fairness — Fenton-Fung apparently would be just fine with all-female boards.  This isn’t a requirement for diversity or balance; it’s just a special advantage that government would give to people who share Fenton-Fung’s sex.

Naturally, there are fines.  Miss the deadline to file a new form with the Secretary of State?  $100,000.  Fail to find enough female board members?  $100,000 for the first offense and $300,000 for subsequent offenses.  Each “director seat required… to be held by a female” counts as a separate violation, so a six-member board with no females after a year would incur a fine of $700,000.

Put aside the identity-politics ideology behind the bill.  What sort of Republican believes government should have a right to dictate people’s affairs to this degree?

But it gets worse.  To make sure the bill isn’t only an insult to those who take individual rights and limited government principles seriously, Fenton-Fung goes so far as to redefine “woman” in the law, jumping in bed with the most radical culture-warriors on the political battlefield:

“Female” means an individual who self-identifies her gender as a woman, without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.

To be fair, this is only one bill, but if it proves representative of Fenton-Fung’s approach to policy, Cranston voters will have to wonder whether her beliefs are a fit for the party she claims or the constituency she serves.


When Once Credibility Has Been Squandered

This may, in fact, be the reality with the COVID-19 vaccines, as Zachary Stieber reports in the Epoch Times:

Investigations so far have shown no link between COVID-19 vaccines and deaths that occurred among people after getting vaccinated, health officials say.

A passive reporting system run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received 1,170 reports of death among people following a COVID-19 vaccination, as of the latest CDC report on the data, released on Feb. 7.

“CDC and FDA physicians review each case report of death as soon as notified and CDC requests medical records to further assess reports. A review of available clinical information including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records findings revealed no link with vaccination,” the CDC said in a recent update to its webpage concerning post-vaccination adverse events.

Still, after a year of hearing that any death of somebody who tested positive for COVID counted as a COVID-related death, some Americans may be reluctant to credit a detailed review of deaths that seeks to relieve the vaccines of responsibility.  In such an environment, one must nearly toss a coin to decide whether headlines like “Miscarriage reports are not proof of Covid-19 vaccine danger to pregnancy” should be taken as a credible insistence on perspective or deliberate disinformation.

(Here are more details on the miscarriages.)


Featured image: Steven Cornfield, “Patient receives Covid-19 vaccine shot.”


When the Government Doesn’t Care

A theme has become clearer and clearer as 2021 has inched along.  We’ve definitely seen it in Little Rhody, especially with the legislature’s attacks on charter schools, but here’s a good example at the national level, from Jonathan Garber of FoxBusiness:

President Biden shutting down the Dakota Access pipeline would result in Americans paying higher prices at the supermarket, according to experts.

The Biden administration will decide the fate of the Dakota Access pipeline, which was approved by former President Donald Trump in 2017 after being denied by former President Barack Obama, following a court-ordered environmental review.

We can debate oil pipelines, specifically, or the balance of the economy versus the environment, generally, but circumstances should matter.  Like it or not, this pipeline is up and running, moving 570,000 barrels of economy-lubricating oil every day.  Perhaps a time when the economy is on the ropes and the government is printing money faster than the pipeline moves oil is not the time to be rewarding Biden voters.

But in the mindset of the people who are pulling the Biden-puppet’s strings, it’s more important to rush forward with fundamental change than to ensure that Americans can eat.  Most of the string pullers probably aren’t capable of imagining a future in which these decisions could affect them enough to hurt.  Even more:  somewhere in the dark recesses of their minds, they may even realize that their plenty will be all the more delicious in contrast with some starving Others.

And of course, they can always soothe their consciences by printing more money and throwing more scraps to the American public.  The masses aren’t really needed, right?  Give them some cash to play videogames or go to rodeos or whatever those people do, and all will be well.


Featured image: Quinten de Graaf, Edersee, Germany.


Rhody Reporter: Len Lardaro Advises

URI Professor Len Lardaro lectures on about how to improve Rhode Island’s Economy. But is anyone listening? Your Rhody Reporter says NO! and explains why the administration and the legislature ignore the professor’s good advise. Here’s a hint: because it isn’t their job to do so. Sound crazy? Welcome to the Ocean State. Check out this segment of the Rhody Reporter and all will become clear in three minutes.


Two Non-Tax Reasons to Vote Against the Bonds on March 2

Yes, yes, we should probably expect that all of the bonds on the ballot for Tuesday, March 2, in Rhode Island will pass.  The deck is just too thoroughly stacked in their favor.  The special interests who benefit by these hundreds of millions in borrowed dollars have incentive to pay for get-out-the-vote campaigns, while the rest of us have only a relatively small hit to the pocket-book down the road.

Of course, that’s not how it happens.  Rather, as debt service takes up an increasing portion of our budget, government moderates the tax increase by reducing the reliability of other services.  Meanwhile, all the other pressures on the budget (regular inflation, labor union premiums, waste, fraud, and abuse) make the whole thing one glob of expensive government of which bonds are only one cause.

But if you’re looking for some reason to motivate yourself to go out and vote against the bonds only because it’s the right thing to do, here are two.

They aren’t even all capital expenses.

A case can (maybe, kinda, sorta) be made that debt is appropriate when government spends on something that people in the future will enjoy.  If you build a bridge or something, people will be driving on it decades from now, so it almost becomes a usage tax to spread out the payment for that bridge over decades.

However, not all of these bonds are broad-based capital.

For instance, the $65,000,000 in “affordable housing” will certainly benefit the companies that build the houses and the people who are able to live there, but by definition, they aren’t paying the full costs.  You are.  Depending on your politics, maybe you’re fine with that, but the justification for spacing out the payments with debt goes away.  The same is true of the early childhood, arts, and cultural facilities.  These are all simply handouts.

They are just wasteful.

The state is estimating 5% interest on these bonds.  The first thing to note is how outlandish that is if you understand how investment works.  These bonds — backed by the full faith and credit of every taxpayer in Rhode Island now and until the end of the state — are about as sure an investment as can be.  The investors, therefore, aren’t really taking a risk.  They’re just letting us use their money for a while.  The high interest rate therefore looks a bit like a giveaway to another special interest: the investment firms that dabble in these things.

That being the case, it really doesn’t make sense to pay $241,940,697 to borrow $400,000,000.  That’s 60%!

Think about this.  If the state just found the $15,000,000 for the early childhood expense in its budget, it would save all of the money for the arts and preservation grants and then some.  Pay for the higher education facilities out of the budget, and you don’t have to borrow for the affordable housing project.  And so on.

This is the sort of thing that government officials do when the people paying the bills are last in the line of their concerns.


RI Education Insiders Lack Incentive to Succeed

Whether one is discussing the inexplicable wars initiated throughout human history or (conversely) the genius of the American Constitution or the policy declarations of modern constituencies, the concept of incentives should be front and center.  Apply that principle to this “ad hoc roundtable”:

The members of the group – convened by the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership – includes the Rhode Island School Superintendents’ Association, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, the National Education Association Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Foundation – believe the highest priority must be given to a multifaceted program to curb the loss and accelerate student learning.

“We convened virtually toward the end of 2020 aware that preparations must be initiated as soon as possible in order to create space to address disrupted learning opportunities for Rhode Island’s students,” said Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership Founding Director Gary S. Sasse. “The importance of this moment for Rhode Island requires all hands on deck, from all sectors, to engage in building a comprehensive summer-and-beyond program that will focus on learning loss – primarily on the critical concepts of literacy, mathematics, and social-emotional learning in elementary and transition grades.”

I bolded two key lines in that summary from GoLocalProv because they highlight an important contrast:  The call is for “all hands on deck,” meaning (from most) little more than the contribution of additional money to education, yet the participants in the group are all conspicuously self-interested parties in the asserted solution.

They admit their program will come at a cost, yet no mention is made of a willingness to forgo any of the profit they’ve made from services that they were unable (or unwilling) to provide, which amplified the problem they hope to solve.  Their demand for additional programs somehow doesn’t extend to creating new opportunities through school choice, whether education savings accounts (ESAs) to help families choose private schools or expansion of charter school options.

To offer translucent window dressing to their cynical efforts, these “groups” have teamed with the supposedly disinterested (but increasingly political) non-profit Rhode Island Foundation and the singularly misnamed Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership.  The first brings the illusion of good motives, and the second the impression of objective expertise.

Thus, we see clearly that having Rhode Island so thoroughly under their command, insider special interests have little incentive to perform.  No matter how central their role in some failure, they can be assured that they will gain by the supposed solution.


No on All Bond Questions But Especially on the Black Hole, #4

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity has released a video by the production company of Center Chairman, Dr. Stephen Skoly, making the succinct, by-the-numbers case against all of the bond referenda.

Start with the total of these bonds to repay: $642,000,000 including interest, not just the already eye-popping $400,000,000 face value. Add, as the Center notes, that at the third highest per capita bonded debt of $10,215, Rhode Islanders are already on the hook for a very heavy burden.  And voters need to remember that a Bond Question is not simply an opinion survey about the recipient project but a loan that taxpayers must repay.  So the Center is spot on to highlight that bonding is a delayed tax.  The state’s economy, tax base and corresponding ability to repay borrowing were already in bad shape before the lockdown.  They have only worsened with the inexplicable prolonging of a destructive, completely ineffective lockdown.

Focusing now on Bond Question #4, “Transportation Infrastructure State Match”.  It’s just a match, see.  Federal dollars will fund 80% of the infrastructure project.  What a bargain!

Except it’s not a bargain.  State taxpayers would be repaying a cool $115,067,870 including interest.

Worse, Rhode Island’s infrastructure costs have been the opposite of a bargain.  Even before toll revenue – remember truck only (wink) tolls? – started coming in, Rhode Island had the 6th highest per mile “Total Disbursements per State-Controlled Lane-Mile” at $194,769/mile.  This is more per lane-mile than the first eight states on the list with the lowest per mile disbursements COMBINED.  In fact, Rhode Island, along with New Jersey and Hawaii, has the worst performing, least cost-efficient state highway system in the country.

Sixth highest spending per mile, before tolls.  Yet the state has some of the worst roads and bridges in the country. Something is very wrong with this picture.  Infrastructure spending in Rhode Island has turned into a black hole.  Hard earned dollars spiral out of taxpayers’ wallets but good infrastructure never comes out.

No for sure on #4.  Time to stop dumping money into the black hole.


Rhody Reporter: Charter Schools Bill 2

Down with charter schools! Is the Rhode Island state legislature waging war on the growing number of charter schools here in the Ocean State? If it is, could the reason be to aid their friends in the state teachers’ unions, even if at the expense of the constituents who elected all its members? You be the judge. Mark Zaccaria lays out the case and makes a summation.


The Cost of Pandemic Field Hospitals

WPRI’s Melanie DaSilva and Shiina LoSciuto report that COVID-19 field hospitals in Cranston and at the Convention center are being taken offline due to the waning pandemic:

The last day of patient care at the Rhode Island Convention Center will be Friday, Feb. 26, according to the Health Department, while the Cranston site is expected to shut down within the next two to three weeks. …

Health officials say since the field hospitals opened, they’ve treated a total of 516 patients.

That officials feel able to close these two hospitals is certainly good news, but WPRI leaves unreported the context of their cost.  For that, we have to turn to Brian Crandall of WJAR:

The state is paying nearly $1 million per month in leases for the two facilities.

Plus, the state paid nearly $22 million to build the field hospitals, including one in Quonset that was never used. …

The Rhode Island Department of Administration figures monthly operating costs of the field hospitals at $3.6 million a month with patients and $1.25 million if they were ready but not seeing patients.

That figure does not include health care costs.

So let’s do the math.  The hospitals opened at the end of November, so they’ve been open for three months with patients.  That’s $3 million in lease payments plus $10.8 million in operating costs plus $22 million to build them.  That totals $35.8 million, which equates to $69,380 per patient.

Granted, according to Crandall, federal stimulus money covered those expenses through 2020.  Moreover, government officials should not become reluctant to prepare based on undue political risks should things turn out better than feared and the preparations look wasteful in retrospect.

That said, in an environment where fear has arguably been promoted beyond what the pandemic justified, the costs of preparation for the worst have to be added to the tally.


Featured image by Tonic.


Putting a Smiley Face on Desperation

The tone of a recent Public’s Radiiiiio article by Joe Tasca is strange.  The headline is “2020 was a record year for new businesses in Rhode Island,” with a lede of: “Rhode Island saw an unprecedented number of business closures in 2020, but it was also a record year for new business filings in the state.”  A reader might wonder: so what’s the point?

Put aside the questionable pretense that Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea has anything in her background that would justify turning to her for business advice.  Read carefully the voice of wisdom in URI business Professor Edward Mazze, and you’ll pick up the thread that should be most relevant to Rhode Islanders:

New business owners like Brinton are doing their best to adapt to a changing business climate, but URI professor Ed Mazze says most of the businesses established in 2020 won’t survive long-term.

“Easily 50% of them will probably fail because of one of three reasons: there’s no market for what they’re doing, or they lack capital, or that they go back to a job that they may have been working at before the pandemic began.”

The reality is that people are starting businesses because the path of least resistance (working for somebody else), which has long been difficult owing to Rhode Island’s terrible business climate, has closed due to the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  People are desperate, so they’re doing whatever they can think of to make money.  (True, those with resources may see it as an opportunity, but that’s arguably a privileged version of the same dynamic.)

This is nothing new in Rhode Island.  I looked at the question at some length in 2015, and my conclusion was that people were starting businesses in Rhode Island to make money, but as soon as they began to reach the point that they had to begin making things official — dealing with regulations, labor laws, and so on — Rhode Island simply makes it too difficult.

If the Public’s Radiiiiio wants to serve the public, its reporters can begin by digging into that story, although it’s one where the Secretary of State and the rest of Rhode Island’s political establishment will have to be challenged rather than simply cited as if they’re experts by virtue of their political success.


Featured image by Tim Mossholder.


Politics This Week with John DePetro: No Face on Vaccine, Blackface on Block Island

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for February 22, included talk about:

  • Gina/McKee tension
  • Health director in the wind
  • The call for a clear governor from mayors
  • Partyless blackface story from Block Island
  • Picking a lieutenant governor

I’ll be on again Monday, March 1, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.


Redhanded: Radical Environmentalists Want to “Break Your Will” To Pass TCI

The shocking words they admit they can’t say publicly… were just made public. They say, if YOU heat your homes or drive passenger cars, YOU are the “bad guys.”

Whether it is “you,” “the person up the street,” or “the senior on fixed income”… the radical environmentalists who support TCI say it is you who they want to “turn the screws on” and “point the finger at,” so they can “break your will” to force you to “stop emitting.”

See the alarming video of the MA Undersecretary for Climate Change talking about the abusive TCI scheme:

Learn more by clicking here now to read about how the TCI Gas Tax is bad for Rhode Island families.


Can the COVID Education Wasteland Change the Political Dynamic?

A friend of Instapundit Glenn Reynolds is probably indicative of a growing feeling out there in the population:

A friend writes: “Speaking as a parent who had to drastically reduce his own work hours (and earnings) to substitute-teach for free all year while the school system sat largely unused and teachers and administrators still drew a salary funded by the reduced earnings of families statewide; i’m sure I speak for many parents when I say: they can shove this summer school idea up their nonessential asses.”

Some number of those who feel that way will recognize the money-grab component.  The initial demand is borrowed federal money to pay states and municipalities to pay public school teachers to spend a portion of their paid summer vacations providing services they weren’t able (or willing) to provide during their working months.  In the private sector, it wouldn’t be unheard of for a business to offer that supplemental product free of charge, especially for reliable customers with whom they’re likely to have very profitable relationships for more than a decade.

Maybe the number of voters who are sufficiently aware to spot this will grow through our pandemic experience.

But let’s turn to Reynolds’s great advice at the end of his post:

Public schools have gone a long way to convince parents that they’re (1) nonessential, and (2) composed of and run by people who have contempt for parents and taxpayers. This is a huge opportunity for Republicans. If they’re smart, that is.

Unfortunately, to my experience, Republicans have trouble with that sweet-spot of thinking of voters as constituencies to be courted, especially when their activist ranks have been beaten down by years or decades of hopelessness (like Rhode Island).  Depending what faction they’re from, Republicans and conservatives tend to concentrate on one of the following:

  1. Getting along with Democrats
  2. Proving that they’re different from other Republicans
  3. Or indulging in belligerence against Democrats and those other Republicans who want to be differentiated from them

In fairness to those who want to add a fourth category to the above list, school choice can be a heavy lift.  Basically, you have to get parents to see that they’ve been poorly serving their children by putting them under the thumb of political forces (mainly teachers unions).  That raises very strong emotions, and some of us active on the local front can attest that the politicos who control government and are friendly with the news media can turn those emotions against the people who are pointing out the problem.

You can convince parents that they’re being poorly served, and they’ll get angry, but then they’ll be offered a narrative that they’ll find much more comfortable:  They don’t have to do anything crazy like reorder their budgets to afford private schools or become rebel activists looking for school choice or a stronger voice against the teachers unions.  The blame, they’re told, actually belongs on those greedy neighbors of theirs who want to take money away from schools to save a few bucks on their taxes or on their own kids’ elite private schools.  If they’d just pony up for summer courses, all can be well, and without much friction or guilt.

Will this narrative vulnerability still hold in the face of the COVID response’s educational wasteland?  It would be nice if somebody would take some sort of action to help us find out.


Green on the Grid:  Texas is a Huge Red Flag

Count me among those somewhat surprised to learn that the electric grid of the State of Texas, perhaps best known for oil production (and proud of it), incorporates wind turbines in its electric grid.  In fact,

… wind generation ranks as the second-largest source of energy in Texas, accounting for 23% of state power supplies last year

But as you have probably seen, this “green energy” source has turned into a big Achilles heel for Texas’ electric grid in the cold front that has descended on that state and much of the country. As of yesterday,

Frozen wind turbines have caused almost half of Texas’s wind generation capacity to go offline in the midst of an “unprecedented storm”.

The Lone Star state is under a state of emergency after freezing conditions swept the region, causing dangerously icy roads and leaving nearly 3 million people without power.

In the latest, frozen wind turbines led to a drop in Texas’ wind power from thirty one gigawatts to six and there are currently 3.4 million power outages. [Update: Texas’ power woes are now attributed to a freezing of both frozen natural gas wells and frozen wind turbines.] The situation is getting worse, not better.

Texas, and other states, has resorted to rolling blackouts.  In below-freezing temperatures, this is literally a life-threatening situation for states like Texas which rely on electricity for heat (and lots of other critical activities).

A small but vocal group of advocates, promoted by many gauzy-eyed members of the mainstream media, have for years been pushing to transition to green energy away from fossil fuel.  In Rhode Island,they have had some limited success.  Bills proposing to tax fossil fuels, purportedly to curb their use, have been filed again this session at the Rhode Island General Assembly.  A couple of weeks ago, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse renewed his call for a tax … oh, excuse me, “carbon pricing”, at the federal level on fossil fuels.

One of Governor Gina Raimondo’s last official acts a couple of months ago, as she herself waltzes out of the state and away from the consequences of her own orders, was to commit Rhode Island to TCI (Transportation Climate Initiative), a proposed regional gas tax on Rhode Islanders designed to make transportation more “green” and move cars and trucks away from fossil fuel and towards green energy.

“Green” energy sounds good and conjures up images of green grass and flowers and butterflies flitting.  The problem is that, whether for the grid or transportation, green energy is not remotely realistic.

It is exorbitantly expensive.  Its production has a very large and intrusive footprint.  Perhaps most alarmingly, as Texas is experiencing, it is unreliable and intermittent and, accordingly, should absolutely not be incorporated into a grid’s baseload power capacity. Texas is not the only state to have made this mistake. In fact, California has led the way. And last summer, grid operators had to institute rolling blackouts due to the issue with “net demand peak”; when the sun went down, so did the power generation – but not the demand for power in the sweltering evening.

Coincidentally, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity just released the results of a poll it recently commissioned to gauge support for the financial cost of TCI in Rhode Island.  It found

… almost 20% more Rhode Islanders oppose than support the plan for a new TCI gas tax as a solution to reduce carbon emissions, after learning of its potential negative economic impacts on lower-income families and on their own financial security.

Smart people.  Funny, by the way, how those who push for and mandate green energy never, ever talk about its impact on everyone’s electric bill, HVAC costs or their cost of transportation.

In addition to committing the state to the pointlessly higher gasoline and diesel taxes of TCI (if it even happens; some states have wisely opted out or are re-considering participation), Governor Raimondo had, a year ago, signed a flat out delusional Executive Order that the entire state shall be able to only purchase “100% renewable electricity”.  Noticeably missing from the order is any guidance as to how to possibly carry this out, much less how residents and businesses would be able to afford the astronomical spike in their electric bill if this impossibility were accomplished.

The Center’s poll focused on the high financial cost of green energy.  As we are seeing in Texas, the cost goes way beyond financial.

We are all watching with dismay the suffering, serious damage and deaths that a grid comprised of “only” 23% green energy generates. [Update: Texas’ power woes are now attributed to a freezing of both frozen natural gas wells and frozen wind turbines.] Governor Raimondo has commanded that Rhode Island’s grid realize the vision of extremist green advocates: 100% green energy.  100% green would mean 100% unreliability.  100% rolling blackouts.  Freezing in the winter, sweating in the summer and 100% dark everywhere when the sun goes down.

While a comparatively small portion of Texas and California’s grids derive power from green energy, their winter and summer ordeals have been huge red flags about the obvious weaknesses and fatal flaws of renewable energy.  We have now seen enough to reject the green vision that highly misguided, extremist advocates and political-resume building politicians are trying to inflict on us at huge costs on every level.


Politics This Week with John DePetro: Politics In Between

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for February 15, included talk about:

  • Gina’s selective parking lot presser
  • Mayors’ call for the governor to end RI’s limbo
  • Last for vaccine rollout
  • Smileying out the door
  • Conservatives with guns
  • “Republicans” off the Lincoln hook

I’ll be on again Monday, February 22, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.


The Lopsided Value of Voter Data

Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea is touting her office’s new tool for tracking early and mail-in votes down to the precinct level.

The data visualization allows users to easily track how many votes have been cast in every Rhode Island community, down to the precinct level. Users can also explore how many votes have been cast by mail ballot or early in-person in each community or precinct. This information will be updated each evening after early in-person voting locations close for the day.

This is certainly neat, and it will provide those of us who pay more attention to elections than is probably healthy to keep an eye on things and spot potential stories to write about.  We should be clear about one thing, though:  This data tool does nothing to prove “that Rhode Island’s elections are an open process that voters can absolutely trust.”  It merely tells us how many have voted, not whether the votes were legitimate.  Data on how each vote was verified would begin to do that — percentage rejected, type of ID used, an accuracy score for the signature match, and so on.

As it is, this tool is mainly a dream for people who are extremely organized.  Theoretically, groups will be able to figure out who has voted on a day to day basis.  Take Central Falls:  Each precinct has fewer than 100 mail ballots expected.  Upon a direct inquiry to the state, a well-organized (and probably well-funded) group could get the names of all of them, track them down, assess their views, help supporters, suppress opponents, and track the results as they roll in.

Naturally, one could say that this is a tool that cuts both ways, but who does it advantage?  In a lopsided state like Rhode Island, it mainly helps powerful insiders and special interests with the most to gain or lose and with the ability to do more to pressure voters than simply making an argument about what the right policy is.

One hesitates to suggest that less information should be available, but as citizens call for increased transparency from government, we have to be vigilant about what is transparent and what is not.


Rhody Reporter: Seth Running

Diana Lozowski offers the opinion that RI General Treasurer Seth Magaziner is already running his 2022 campaign. Her only question is, “Running for What?”


Smiley Out the Ethical Door

In fairness, it’s entirely possible this is just an elegant way for Brett Smiley to exit the executive branch of state government in the knowledge that he and incoming Governor Daniel McKee wouldn’t be a good fit (particularly if Smiley were to become a candidate for the boss’s job, or at least be in a competing arena).  Still, with the ethical cloud under which it is happening, something seems off about his announced departure from his job as the director of the state Department of Administration:

R.I. Department of Administration director Brett Smiley is resigning ahead of an expected run for Providence mayor, as his campaign has come under fire in recent weeks over controversial donations.

The Providence Democrat sent out a letter Wednesday announcing his resignation and expressing gratitude to the state, his employees and Gov. Gina Raimondo, who appointed him roughly a year ago to serve as director of administration.

One way to interpret the various facts is that Smiley intends to do things as part of his campaign that would violate the Code of Ethics if he were in office.  That possibility exposes one of the central conceits of ethics laws:  that favors can’t be bought and sold on an accounts payable basis.  If it is not ethical for somebody to take money from an interested party while he is a director, how is it ethical for him to take it when he may soon be a mayor or even a governor (depending how the political winds go)?

To state this conundrum is not to imply that a solution is obvious.  In general, however, we can file it with the evidence that our sense of ethics needs an update.  While it is worthwhile to know what lines are absolutely too far to cross, we too often treat those lines as the boundaries within which all play is fair play.  Add in an appointed and politically minded Ethics Commission granted the authority to declare officials ethical or unethical, and all you’ve done is create another power base by which to game the rules.


The Fraud Begins Where the Fraud Ends

Quite reasonably, Jonathan Tobin attempts to chart a middle course between declaring the 2020 election fraudulent and denying that nothing was amiss, in an essay for the New York Post titled, “No, the 2020 election wasn’t stolen — but yes, it was underhandedly tilted“:

If you read the headline of a blockbuster, 6,000-word-plus story in Time magazine, you might think former President Donald Trump wasn’t so wrong about the election, after all. …

As the magazine reports, a secret alliance of left-wing activists, union leaders and corporate CEOs worked together to help craft unprecedented changes in the rules governing the way America votes. They did their best to encourage and facilitate mail-in voting on an unprecedented scale. …

That means the challenge facing the country is not what to do about Trump’s sore-loser tantrum, which resulted in a disgraceful riot (swollen into an “insurrection” by Democrats and media keen to discredit all Republicans). The real problem is whether Americans are prepared to let the same forces that tilted the 2020 election in Biden’s favor get away with it again.

Tobin’s analysis may be correct, but in striving not to throw in with conspiracy theorists, he avoids a relevant question:  If a national (nay, international) cabal went to these lengths, which are fraudulent at least in the sense of social expectations, why should we trust that they would draw the line at outright election fraud, if it was necessary to bring to fruition the arguably much more profound deceits that preceded it?

Of course, we shouldn’t.  Of course, they would have massive incentive to cheat so as not to be out on that limb of blatant disregard for fair play and still lose.  This is why it’s been impossible to find anybody on the anti-Trump side who will say that they actually care whether there was electoral fraud.  They’re happy to insist that there was not, but if there was, oh, well; all’s well that ends well.

This is also why — of course — they’ll do it again, even doubling down if they have to.  Cheating is an addiction; there is always some reason why it must be done, once it is accepted.  Even now, the cheaters are laying groundwork, banning and maligning people who question the election results, so that when they cheat again, they’ll be able to bully people who’ve gone this far with them lest they draw any lines against their brazenness.


Politics This Week with John DePetro: Outgoing and Incoming

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for February 8, included talk about:

  • The Center’s poll on TCI
  • The outgoing governor’s farewell (but I won’t get out) address
  • The progressive legislator’s privilege
  • The incoming governor’s well-meaning bungles

I’ll be on again Monday, February 15, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.


Rhody Reporter: March Referenda

What’s so special about March 2nd? That’s the date of a Special Election in Rhode Island. Its only questions – seven of them – are for the approval of a wide spectrum of bond authority so more than six hundred million dollars worth of deficit spending can be undertaken. Mark Zaccaria says NO! You should, too.

No TCI Tax Pumping Gas

POLL: Rhode Islanders Say “No” to High Costs of TCI Gas Tax

Rhode Islanders clearly feel, after all we’ve been through, that now is not the time to punish people for driving their vehicles!

This week, the Center released a new poll that shows the initial conceptual support for the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) Gas Tax drops significantly when voters learn the policy will result in gas tax hikes, a significant projected loss of jobs, and a major reduction in the average family’s disposable income.

On the flip side, by not adopting this TCI scheme and keeping gas taxes where they are, our Ocean State would gain a competitive advantage over our Massachusetts and Connecticut neighbors.

Rhode Islanders oppose TCI when they learn about its high costs – including a $0.23 increase in the gas tax, an estimated 2,000 jobs lost, and a $1,200 reduction in disposable income for the average Rhode Island family.

Another false “feel good” narrative (from far-left Never Never Land) is not worth the loss of disposable income and jobs costs for virtually zero environmental impact. Learn more now by clicking here to see the full poll results!