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Want Cancer Progress, Keep Progressive Government Out of It

Allysia Finley recently wrote a fascinating interview article for the Wall Street Journal with cancer researcher Carl June about a new strategy for curing cancer.  The conversation delves into the power of market forces and the undue burdens of regulation.

He’s also confident that economic competition will spur innovation. The University of Pennsylvania has licensed its CAR T-cell treatment to Novartis, and other pharmaceutical and biotech companies are racing for their own cures. “There are at least 40 companies right now making CAR T-cells . . . and they are incentivized to make it more cheaply,” he says. “The rate of innovation is so fast, patent life is going to be irrelevant for T-cells because it will be like your phone. Every two or three years, you buy a new phone because it’s better even though the patent hasn’t gone out.”

Regulators can’t possibly keep up with the rate of technological change and, beyond the likelihood that incumbent players will capture them in order to hinder competition, that gives them incentive to hold innovation back to a rate that they can tolerate.  As June makes clear, the innovation and competition are more effective at regulation of products and prices than a handful of bureaucrats with their own incentive structures could be.

That was one of my central concerns when ObamaCare came online — that the anti-corporate, anti-profit Left, if allowed to dominate health care, would freeze our advances.  In short, if you really want progress in some area of society, your best bet is to keep the progressives out of it.

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AG Suggests the Use of Government Staff Has No Cost

This snippet from yesterday’s Providence Journal Political Scene caught my eye.  Concerning Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s running his office as “part of the Trump resistance movement”:

The cost?

“Although the office has spent significant time reviewing the various legal actions brought by attorneys general, this work continues to be handled by staff, without the need for outside resources,″ Kempe said.

Are we to understand that the AG’s staff is entirely volunteer, or that they would have been sitting around doing nothing if not for this activity?  Those are the only two ways an initiative to thwart the activities of the President of the United States wouldn’t have a monetary cost.

Otherwise, we ought to amend the Access to Public Records Act to take away government agencies’ ability to charge the person requesting information for the time of staff members in producing it, because as the AG’s office now suggests that using staff imposes no cost.

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When Government Pays Us to Be Parents

Zach Maher, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, explains how the government-paid-parental-leave-in-Sweden-is-great scales fell from his eyes:

When the girl’s parents refused to subject her to this unnecessary procedure, the hidden machinery of the Swedish welfare state sprang into motion. My brother-in-law and his wife were required to attend multiple interviews with social workers and to submit friends and neighbors in their small town for questioning. Social workers even inspected their home. Suddenly, decisions as benign as what milk to buy seemed potential evidence of parental deficiency. My in-laws feared their two children might be taken from them.

In Sweden, the state reserves for itself ultimate responsibility for children’s well-being. As a parent my job is to give my kids the trygghet necessary to become productive, tax-paying members of Swedish society. This is why I receive financial support and medical benefits. The state is paying me to be a parent. I am, in effect, an employee—and if I do a poor job, my responsibility as a parent might be taken away from me.

 

When we give government responsibility for things — even good things, like the well-being of children — we also give it authority over those who provide those things, like parents.  Suddenly, government isn’t just filling in gaps, but seeking out gaps by putting parents under the microscope.

The United States is not immune to such thinking, obviously.  Some 20 years ago, on Matt Allen’s Mental Floss radio show with the more-liberal Jennifer Brien, the latter argued that schools have to teach sex education (liberally tinted, naturally) because parents simply aren’t doing the job adequately.  I called in to ask what gives her or the government the right to make that determination, but she wouldn’t be shaken from the assertion of need.  (And then I was cut off.)

Suggesting that he and his wife “insist… on having their own ideas about raising children,” Maher asks, “Does this mean we can’t accept parental support from the state?”  My guess is that he doesn’t really have a choice — that the government doesn’t actually see it as an exchange or contract.

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Two Thoughts on the Group Home Incidents

We can all agree that the sorts of things that Tom Mooney and Jennifer Bogdan report in the Providence Journal shouldn’t be happening:

At least four times in the last five months, workers at state-regulated group homes took actions that left young people in their care hospitalized, endangered or exploited, a Providence Journal investigation has found.

In two cases, group-home employees attempted to cover up slack supervision and management with forged log books or falsified statements, investigators reported.

In one Pawtucket home, an employee used the agency van to help run a teenage sex-trafficking operation, prosecutors allege.

The report raises two thoughts, which are in some respects conflicting.  The first is that our reactions should be appropriately tempered by the scope of the apparent problems:

Across the state, 194 children of all ages and up to 21, currently reside in 41 state-regulated group homes. Many have complex behavioral and mental-health challenges. Many are traumatized.

In my view, this paragraph should have come much earlier than 19th in the story because it conveys the information that the reported incidents involve fewer than 10% of group homes and an even smaller percentage of the children in the system, as well as the sorts of children with which the homes are dealing.  That doesn’t excuse the adults who are supposed to be in charge, but it does give some perspective.  One suspects such perspective is why the online headline changed almost immediately from “Chaos in R.I. group homes” to “Danger in R.I. group homes.”

Being lackadaisical about such matters is not an option, but overreacting can do more harm than good.

My second thought is that we risk focusing too much on symptoms in our outrage at these stories.  Clearly processes in the Dept. of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) require immediate review and reform.  With a longer-term view, we should be asking what we need to do as a community to reduce the number of children whom the state sees the need to remove from their homes.

That’s a tough topic, to be sure, but it draws us back to the top priority of helping families and reducing the need for government intervention.

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The Government Caregiver Cometh

Editor of a Web site for seniors Carol Marak says she “made a very conscious decision” to remain single and childless.  One might question how conscious that decision could have been if this is accurate:

But today, Marak and her single, childless contemporaries are facing a repercussion of their decision that never crossed their minds as 30-somethings: “How in the world will we take care of ourselves?” she asks.

Having a spouse and children to take care of you is an obvious consideration and ought to be top-of-mind when making these sorts of major life decisions.  If that isn’t the case, our culture must be doing something to suppress this thought and make it seem less consequential.

In that context, it’s astonishing that Anna Medaris Miller’s article never raises one very probable response to Marak’s question:  Aging Baby Boomers will vote themselves massive amounts of government assistance, to be financed by subsequent generations without the help of the children those Boomers never had.

Apart from the direct costs of using government to replace families, if we’re not careful we’ll edge toward a generation that is dependent upon government for its senior-years support and vulnerable to a growing push to give government control of health care and to allow assisted suicide.  (On the bright side, doctors won’t have to rely on family members to hold down people they’re killing if the victims patients don’t have families.)

Miller’s article certainly points to a problem that we need to address, as a society, but we should do so culturally, not through government.

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Incumbents Comply with Incumbent-Protection Regulation

Is anybody really surprised that only 7% of Rhode Island politicians (neutrally meant) with open campaign finance accounts failed to comply with a new law requiring them to submit their bank accounts to the state, as Political Scene reports?

The law, which went into effect in 2016, requires all candidates and officeholders to submit bank statements to the Board of Elections following fourth-quarter campaign finance reports. This year marked the first time the statements had to be filed. While copies of the bank statements are not public documents under the law, the Board of Elections provided Political Scene with the names of those who have not yet complied.

As of this week, 49 of 668 individuals with active campaign-finance accounts had failed to file their bank statements. Another 24 of 199 political action committees also failed to file the statements in the required time frame.

The most significant effect of such legislation is to dissuade people from running for public office.  So I have to file a campaign finance report regularly with the state?  OK, I guess I can do that.  And an Ethics Commission report, too?  Well, that’s a lot of forms.  What’s that?  Open a new, separate bank account and give copies of statements to the state government?  Gee, this local volunteer office is looking like more trouble than it’s worth.

Here’s a noteworthy indication of how carefully legislators review the laws that they pass:

Reached last week, [Democrat Representative from Cranston Arthur] Handy said… he initially misunderstood the new law and thought he was exempt because he didn’t meet a spending threshold. (Another campaign-finance bill passed in 2015 requires that candidates who raise or spend $10,000 or more in a year retain a treasurer or deputy treasurer other than themselves.)

From my conversations with the folks at the Board of Elections, all candidates are supposed to have separate bank accounts for campaign purposes, even if they raise no money, but realizing how ridiculous that is, the board isn’t enforcing it against those who don’t have to file campaign reports.  Of course, the way to avoid it all is to not volunteer in the first place.

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Who Can Solve the Mysterious Energy Cost Increases?

Ian Opaluch, of WPRI, provides the latest forum for local politicians to go after National Grid for seeking a 53% increase in its energy rates.  Says Democrat Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee: “National Grid’s proposed 53-percent standard offer rate increase is unacceptable. Another rate hike is a step in the wrong direction when it comes to making Rhode Island a better place to live, work and own a business.”  Republican Senator Elaine Morgan calls the request “unconscionable.”  

But there’s a mystery:

… Laws in Rhode Island prohibit National Grid from making a profit on the energy supply itself, and the company said the price hike is necessary to deal with rising energy costs.

In addition, the price increase would not affect delivery fees, so the average bill would go up by about 19% if the rate hike is approved, according to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

In short, National Grid won’t profit from this increase, but rather is just passing increased costs along.  What could be driving the request, then?

Rhode Islanders should wonder how any reporters could cover this issue without noting the culpability of state governments.  Even with fracking holding down the price of energy worldwide, New England politicians are happy to cave to activists on actions like shutting down the Brayton Point energy plant, delaying and maybe stopping a new energy facility in Burrillville, forcing us all pay for expensive renewable energy mandates, imposing additional taxes on fossil fuels, and on and on.

Morgan is right; it is unconscionable for Rhode Islanders to be saddled with skyrocketing energy costs when our country is becoming a world leader in energy production.  But the people taking the unconscionable actions are those who work in the same building as Morgan and McKee.  Every year, they take many steps in the wrong direction, across a variety of issues.

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A Flat Budget? The Horror, the Horror.

In an op-ed today, Gio Cicione observes that carrying over last year’s state budget — and nothing more — wouldn’t exactly be the end of the world:

Elsewhere in our great nation, state legislatures only meet every other year, and some go home after a couple months each year with no ill effect. Is it really so bad if ours goes home after six months of flailing? If anything, Rhode Island has suffered for most of its recent history from an over-abundance of well-intentioned but amazingly harmful legislative activity. (Remember 38 Studios? Of course you do.)

For context, we must keep in mind that carrying forward the old budget still sticks us with almost $9 billion of state spending. Without an increase, we still spend more per person than virtually every other state government in the country. (According to data from the National Association of State Budget Officers, no New England state spends more per capita and eight states nationally spent less than half of the $9,146 per person that Rhode Island spent in 2016.) We would still be giving $3.3 billion to fund education, $2.7 billion for health and social services, and yes, even that all-important $1.35 million to maintain our own Atomic Energy Commission.

But urgency is how news media sells stories and politicians sell “solutions.”  Moreover, government and its satellites don’t create wealth, so they have to make sure that their take keeps growing, and in a state with a long-stagnant economy, like Rhode Island, they can’t just rely on regular ol’ tolerance for inflation.

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Regulatory Reform Requires Different Elected Officials

Don’t get me wrong.  I like the regulatory suggestion put forward by Republican U.S. Senator Mike Lee of Utah, as Eric Boehm describes on Reason thus:

The Supreme Court in 2014 overturned a North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners ban on non-dentists offering teeth whitening services. The ruling opened the door to lawsuits against state-level licensing boards that behave like private-sector monopolies by enforcing anti-competitive rules against their very own potential competitors. …

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on Thursday will introduce a bill that would give states two paths to immunity. The first by bringing state licensing boards under direct supervision by the legislative and executive branches. The second by requiring states to show why a certain licensing requirement is necessary to protect public health and safety.

Lee’s “Restoring Board Immunity Act” creates a limited, conditional exemption shielding licensing boards from federal antitrust lawsuits, but only for states that change how their licensing boards operate and how courts handle disputes between those boards and individuals subjected to their rules.

The problem, in Rhode Island, is that I think the new rules would apply only to licensing bureaucrats, not legislators, and that’s where the problem lies.  For a forthcoming brief from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, I’ve been reviewing the (let’s pretend) deliberative process behind some legislation introduced into the state’s General Assembly with an eye toward pricing some of the proposals, and I found the experience depressing.

Consider the paid-time-off legislation that is on the cusp of passing into law.  From what I can tell, nobody in our government made any effort to estimate how much this mandate would our neighbors’ businesses.  (It’s a lot.)  To them, the cost is beside the point.

As for the supposedly limited authority of government, our elected officials simply don’t believe in the concept.  Any freedoms that you continue to enjoy in Rhode Island, you enjoy entirely by their sufferance.  Your money is theirs to collect.  Your psychiatry is theirs to control.  Your actions are theirs to regulate.

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Single-Payer Healthcare is an Assault on Families’ Rights to Make Personal Medical Decisions

Recently on the world stage, we’ve witnessed the unthinkable results of a government-controlled health care system in Great Britain. The tragic story of Charlie Gard’s death and his parents battle against a socialist health care system has broken the hearts of you, me, and people around the world.

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A Progressive with Reason to Smiley

Progressives want big government that’s involved in our every transaction and life decision because they want to help, right?  Sure, maybe they’re woefully misdirected, but that’s their objective, isn’t it?

Yeah, about that… GoLocalProv has been tracking the financial dealings of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s Chief of Staff Brett Smiley, who ran as a progressive for mayor of Providence last time around:

Brett Smiley, the failed 2014 candidate for Mayor of Providence, is today Governor Gina Raimondo’s Chief of Staff. He also owns a political consulting business that represents clients including Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, and he has hired his consulting firm’s former staffers to work in the Governor’s office. Smiley earns more than $170,000 per year in his role for Raimondo.

This month, Providence City records show that he and his husband Jim DeRentis sold their house to Brown University for $1.1 million — 30% more than the assessed value of the house at $843,600.

The story has multiple angles.  According to GoLocal, Smiley was a high-up officer with the City of Providence when it assessed his house 6% below what he’d paid for it two years earlier, during which time houses in his area had gone up 20% in value.  That implies a 21% discount in the assessment of his house, implying something like a $4,400 discount on his property taxes each year.

Now he’s collecting money from the mayor of Providence through his consultancy at the same time that he’s a higher-up with the governor of the state, who implicitly negotiates deals with the mayor.  At the same time, he’s sold his house to a university that is also involved with deal making with the governor.  (Even if Brown is paying Smiley what his house is worth, it simply proves the point of the too-low assessment.)

Big, intrusive government, in short, creates a giant funnel, at the point of which already-wealthy progressives can position themselves for enrichment.  This is the inevitable chemical reaction when one mixes human nature with a lack of freedom, whether it comes in the form of dictatorship, communism, socialism, or progressivism.

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State Police and Other Mechanisms for Responsive Government

During my weekly call today to the John DePetro Show on 1540 AM WADK, John and I disagreed, a little, on the news that, at Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s request, the State Police are investigating the process by which Frank Montanaro, Jr., got around $50,000 in free public-higher-education tuition as a benefit for a job that he no longer held with Rhode Island College.

The disagreement, minor as it was, involved John’s expectation that there’s legal fire behind the smoke of this issue and my skepticism that the State Police will find and pursue anything that’s actually a legal problem for Montanaro.  John mentioned other legislators who’ve been nailed on legal challenges, but with some of the more-notable cases (Fox & Gallison), federal officials were involved, not just the state.

I guess I’ve just reduced my expectations for the State Police in recent years, based on various seemingly political decisions they’ve made.  Maybe that’s fair, or maybe it’s not, but it’s my feeling.

A key point that I didn’t manage to make adequately on the radio is that Rhode Island has a dire need to start enforcing rules that aren’t quite laws.  The moment Montanaro was found to have filed false reports in pursuit of his benefit, he ought to have been gone, whether or not it proved to be illegal.  And to ensure that reform, we need something other than the State Police.

If the State Police come out and say that they found no evidence of criminal activity — however bad the whole thing might stink — that counts as absolution for crooked behavior.  What we need is some other authority, like an inspector general or something, who can bridge that gap, both recommending legal prosecution and providing credible analysis that a particular deal did not seem to jibe with the spirit of a personnel policy.

A lot of corruption can go on between completely legit government activities and clearly illegal behavior.  Our government officials have proven unwilling to enforce that gray area on the side of justice, so we need something more.

In the meantime, I’ll remain skeptical.

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Penn Station and the CCRI Observatory: Where the Money Goes

Boy, taxes and the cost of government must have really fallen for this to be the case:

Penn Station is just one symptom of a larger illness. With an aging subway system subject to a recent state-of-emergency order by Cuomo, and a 67-year-old bus terminal called “appalling” and “functionally obsolete” by officials of the agency that runs it, the New York area’s transportation systems embody America’s inability, or unwillingness, to address its aging infrastructure.

Of course, far from shrinking, the cost of government has exploded over the lives of Penn Station and the bus station, so where is the money going?  In brief, our tax dollars are being redirected to pet projects, progressive redistribution, and (I would say) special deals that amount to outright theft.  A core tenet of blue-state spending is that the people will always accept more debt and higher costs if the last things they get to pay for are the things they find most critical.

We don’t have to go to the Big Apple or major infrastructure for the lesson.  Take a look at this somewhat-cryptic Providence Journal article by Alex Kuffner:

The Community College of Rhode Island organized an open house on Saturday at its Margaret M. Jacoby Observatory to celebrate the completion of a $45,000 renovation that included a new control desk, new seating and repairs to the roof-opening mechanism. …

But the event was clouded by a demonstration outside the observatory’s doors by faculty members and students who protested what they allege is mistreatment of the astronomy professor who has overseen operation of the observatory for the past decade. …

Britton was hired in 2007 to teach astronomy to students and to operate the observatory for his classes and on nights when it’s open to the public. Last month, when the administration changed the way he would be compensated for the public nights, resulting in less pay, he balked.

Kuffner never details the change, but the context suggests that the college may now be paying only a non-faculty rate for the public night.  That is, a special deal has gone away.

One needn’t look far at all to find other examples.

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Hey, Who Needs a Legislature?

As far as I can tell, the one interesting thing that Rhode Island’s Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo said of interest at her press conference yesterday was that she intends to find the money to fund her “free tuition” policy at CCRI:

Raimondo told a press conference she is not exactly sure where she will find the $2.75 million-plus needed, at minimum, to launch the free-tuition pilot program, but she voiced confidence that she would be able to do so within the $8.9-billion year-old budget cap in which the state is currently operating.

One hopes some lawyer or other on the governor’s staff is aware that money is only part of the question.   Our state’s constitution still vests the General Assembly with the authority to make law, not her, and if nothing else, her campaigning has made clear that this is a new policy.

Governors are not without authority, of course; readers may recall that Lincoln Chafee signed us on to ObamaCare and health benefits exchanges via executive order.  So, Raimondo may be able to get away with this, if only because the politics of actively stopping her would be much stickier than the politics of not creating a new program in the first place.

That said, the rule of law is already a problem in Rhode Island, so causing further damage to it should do the governor political harm, if she goes in that direction.

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Budgeting Woes in the Northeast

A State House News Service story by Katie Lannan appearing in The Herald News of Fall River answers a question that I’d been wondering:

After Maine and New Jersey reached deals to end their government shutdowns, just six states remain in budgetary limbo: Massachusetts, Oregon, Wisconsin, Illinois, Rhode Island and Connecticut, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Interesting, isn’t it, that half of the states are from New England — specifically Southern New England.  Five of the laggard eight are Northeastern states.

Looking at the list, one’s tempted to muse about general similarities of the policies that these states have pursued over the past half-century.  Maybe the can has met the end of the road.

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Redefining Humanity with No Allowance for Dissent

On National Review Online, Wesley Smith writes about a push in the United Kingdom to publicly fund womb transplants for men who want to become women:

This would be wrong on so many levels, ranging from safety concerns for both patient and potential future baby, the prospect of doctors and hospitals being forced to participate even if it violates their religious or moral beliefs–already beginning to happen–to the question of whether going to such extremes to satisfy individual yearnings constitutes wise and public policy.

But make no mistake: Powerful political and cultural forces will be–are–pushing us hard in this direction.

An advocate for the policy quoted in the Daily Mail “predicts” that this technology will eventually be in demand among not only homosexual men, but also heterosexual men who want to experience childbirth.

Smith focuses on the way in which this episode illustrates the impossibility of ever controlling health care costs, when the incentive for providers and government is constantly to broaden the services for which other people must pay.  I’m not sure, though, that Smith isn’t writing with his tongue in his cheek, because health care costs and the concerns he articulates in the above quotation are among the least of the concerns in the envisioned brave new world.

Go right to the profound:  If this sort of technology advances to perfection, people could install and remove organs as they desire them, which would make us more like organic machines than human beings.

We’re coming to a decision point at which individuals and society will have to decide in a very fundamental way what it means to be human, or even to exist.  It greatly aggravates the dangers of that decision point if we accept a pervasive attitude that everything’s a civil right at public expense and those who disagree must be forced to accept and financially participate radical changes almost from the beginning of their possibility.

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