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Moderation of the General Assembly’s Wrecking Ball

Trends in the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Legislative Freedom Index show the unhealthy attitude of the state’s legislators.

Rhode Island’s Ghoulish Government

An article by Lynn Arditi in today’s Providence Journal, Report: Too many teens in state care,” looks likely to be one of those dry, bureaucratic-process-related matters that many readers probably skip over.  That would be a mistake:

In her testimony, Field described a system where overloaded caseworkers who don’t have the time or resources to help families are increasingly removing teenagers from their homes and sending them to live in group homes. And group homes are paid only by the numbers of beds filled, so “you’ve got incentives for providers to keep kids to keep those beds filled,” [Tracey Field, director of the child welfare strategy group at the Casey Foundation’s Center for Systems Innovation in Baltimore] said.

To summarize in one sentence what appears to be going on:  The state government of Rhode Island is taking children away from their parents in order to maintain a government program, in part because its priorities have led the state government not to adequately fund a responsibility that it arrogated to itself.

That’s a long sentence, and the second half of it goes into the process stuff on which politicians like to focus because they can muddy the water.  It’s the first part of the sentence, though, that’s important: “The state government of Rhode Island is taking children away from their parents in order to maintain a government program.”

You don’t get much more ghoulish than that, and you don’t get a much better representation of the progressive style of governance.

Beware the Simple Controversy

Folks who pay a whole lot of attention to politics and policy (myself included) can be astonished at things that don’t take off as controversies.  Manipulated studies about casino gambling.  Pension reforms that give the legislature’s authority away to a union-heavy board.  Development of plans that seek to undermine property rights and individual liberty (while using supposed outreach meetings to find local activists).  An unnecessary government start-up healthcare broker intended as a gateway to increasing the people addicted to government programs.

None of that registers, mostly because it’s complex, and there’s too much space between the walls for politicians and insiders to fill with smoke.

Tom Ward highlights the dynamic on a smaller scale, in Woonsocket, with a view from the perspective of a controversy that actually did catch on — Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt’s political jobs program:

Why was this clumsy move such a bombshell? Because it’s so easy to understand, that’s why. While it may be difficult to decipher funding kindergarten and water treatment plants, everyone understands that their own kids got the short end of the stick. In fact, there are unemployed adults who would have been grateful for the work! They know where they stand with her now, and it’s on the outside, looking in.

What is even more striking is the mayor’s ethical blind spot and lack of any contrition.

Too often, we wait until hubris brings on the obvious corruption.  One can’t help but wonder what it looks like from the politicians’ perspective.  Hey, they got away with all of these huge power grabs and political maneuvers.  A few thousand bucks of straight-up corruption shouldn’t matter if all that didn’t.

Why Rhode Islanders Have No Hope, Judicial Branch

I frequently state my opinion that there’s basically no rule of law in Rhode Island.  An article in today’s Providence Journal about a lawsuit concerning an “affordable housing” development illustrates why.

The basic point is that citizen groups almost never win.  Either the government agency appeals to the department under which it works, and that department rules in its favor (as with a school committee appealing to the Dept. of Education) or some quasi-judicial agency, like the Ethics Commission, waves the language of the law away, or the courts carry the water.  The foreclosure of that route to reform and civic engagement leads people who might otherwise become more politically active, perhaps even running for office, to give up totally, sometimes directing their efforts to an exit strategy from the state.

I didn’t realize (but probably could have guessed) that Maya Angelou, the poet, has precedential weight in Rhode Island courts:

In his written decision, filed Wednesday, Procaccini opened with a quote from the late Maya Angelou: “ ‘The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.’ As this Court considers the case before it, it keeps Maya Angelou’s wise words in mind.”

Whatever the law says, the ruling class of Rhode Island will find it to say whatever they feel is right.  There’s no way citizens can work to craft language that will actually do what they want it to.

That’s not the rule of law.  It’s an aristocracy.

People Go Where the Future Is

A New Englander’s first reaction to news like this is to sound the alarm:

The Northeast, once the nation’s political engine that produced presidents, House speakers and Senate giants including the late Edward M. Kennedy, is losing clout in Washington as citizens flee the high-tax region, according to experts worried about the trend. …

Deep in a recent report, for example, the American Legislative Exchange Council tabulated how the drop in population relative to the rest of the nation cut the region’s power in Washington. While the states from Pennsylvania to Maine had 141 House members in 1950, they are down to 85 today, a drop of some 40 percent.

Upon reflection, what we see here is the American system of government working.  New England policies aren’t policies for families and growth.  They’re policies for a ruling elite and an underclass to serve it.  In the long-term, they’re policies for stagnation and decline.

I’ve said before that I think the illness that infects the Northeast has spread to the national body, and it may be incurable.  But maybe, just maybe, the shift in population and representation will slow the contagion long enough for a cure to be found.

Four Thoughts on the Anti-ConCon Commercial

The union-driven group that’s spending a bunch of money to oppose the mere possibility of a constitutional convention in Rhode Island is out with this slick commercial:

Four thoughts come to mind:

  1. The possibility that Rhode Islanders will insist on a route to changing the status quo that goes around the General Assembly must really, really scare our state’s special interests.
  2. What, them fearmonger?
  3. Rhode Islanders shouldn’t miss the fact that the first people out with a slick commercial concerning the constitutional convention are the special interests warning that other special interests will spend money to influence their votes.
  4. If you think about it, the messaging is really bizarre.  They want voters to reject the possibility of a constitutional convention, but they ignore that voters will ultimately have to approve any changes to the state constitution.  Do they worry that people gullible enough to believe their anti-concon commercials will be gullible enough to vote against their own beliefs in the future based on other commercials?

Invested in Inequality

Writing in the Providence Journal, John Kostrzewa notes that Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen has an expanded view of her organization’s concerns:

…Yellen has another, perhaps more immediate concern that is holding back growth: economic inequality.

In a recent speech to the Corporation for Enterprise Development, she said: “We have come far from the worst moments of the crisis, and the economy continues to improve. But the effects of the recession are still being felt by many families, particularly those that had very little in savings and other assets beforehand .”

That declaration seems… well… convenient, considering that the current economic “recovery” engineered by the policies of Yellen’s organization and the current administration of the federal government has benefited exclusively the top 10% of income earners (roughly above $120,136 per year) and mostly the top 1% (starting just shy of $400,000).

Indeed, the whole dance takes on a bit of a sinister tone when you consider a recent story that’s gotten a shockingly small amount of play:

It’s an extraordinary document. There is not space here to do it justice, but the gist is this: The Fed failed to regulate the banks because it did not encourage its employees to ask questions, to speak their minds or to point out problems.

Just the opposite: The Fed encourages its employees to keep their heads down, to obey their managers and to appease the banks. That is, bank regulators failed to do their jobs properly not because they lacked the tools but because they were discouraged from using them.

I’d propose that it isn’t coincidental that the growth of big, nanny-state, central-planning government has coincided with a phasing out of average Americans’ benefit from economic expansion.  Most of that expansion, after all, has been fueled by government debt, increasingly relying on investment schemes to translate into the economy.  With the Obama Era, we saw the final switch flipped in ensuring that the losses of those schemes would be totally socialized, so that the investment class never lose in the deal.

The loop has closed, in other words, between the non-producing rich and the smooth-talking progressive politicians.  The next step (perhaps that to which Yellen is alluding) is for the money handlers to increase the use of government to spread more of that unused wealth directly to constituencies so that they’ll be less tempted to overthrow the whole regime.

“I Am the Conservative; I Speak for the People”

The cartoon version of The Lorax takes Seussian propaganda to the next level, most objectionably by vilifying poor and working class people who become upwardly mobile through enterprise.

A Recurring Theme: Uniting People Through Division

Providence Mayoral candidate Jorge Elorza’s “One Providence” rhetoric strikes a disturbing note against his anti-Cianci rhetoric.

About that “Outside Special Interest” Thing

I’ve got a new post on Tiverton Fact Check that looks at the first offering of the FakeCheck site that the local political opposition has created to spread fog in the public debate in Tiverton.  Most of the post is a lesson in how to judge the credibility that a Web site deserves, but this point may be of broader political interest:

The idea that distant political forces are funding a targeted campaign in Tiverton through me is pure paranoid delusion. (Although the Tiverton 1st crowd may be thinking of the way that national labor unions and progressive groups leverage their members in our town and its government to manipulate the political system. In that case, they may just assume that those of us on the other side would naturally do the same thing.)

Representative Democracy, Left and Right

A view of “representative democracy” that casts representation as a mild form of dictatorship will destroy a society, whether we’re talking about Obama or an environmental protest in Somerset.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 43 (Third Parties and Runoffs)

Justin and Bob Plain discuss third parties and runoffs. (And Justin adds a bit of text in “what-if” elaboration.)

Healey’s Oh-So-Knowing Campaign Material

MoMo gubernatorial candidate Robert Healey’s campaign-as-performance-art casts a knowing tone. The problem is, he’s wrong, and to the benefit of the wrong people.

Progressives Coming Around to the Obvious

Thanks to Providence Journal political columnist Edward Fitzpatrick for noticing that (some) progressives are stealing my Gina Raimondo tune:

Mark Gray, president of the Young Democrats of Rhode Island, and Justin Katz, managing editor of the conservative blog Anchor Rising & The Ocean State Current, don’t agree on much. But they do agree that General Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo, the Democratic nominee for governor, is a progressive. …

In an interview, Katz said, “I find it frightening because it shows a misplaced conclusion that you ought to have faith in government.” While giving her credit for acknowledging when government isn’t working, he said “technocrats” such as Raimondo believe government can work, if redesigned by smart-enough people.

The Unintended Consequence of the Scottish Independence Vote


If the world is prepared to respect a Scottish vote for independence this Thursday, then reason that Iraqi Kurdistan must forever remain a part of a single “Iraq”, at all costs, is that…???

Final Word (Maybe) on the Bob Healey Thing

Wrapping up some threads from my Matt Allen appearance concerning Bob Healey’s surprise run for governor.

What Came First, the Apathy or the Corruption?

Which is the dominant characteristic of the Rhode Island electorate: apathy or corruption?

As I’ve pondered Urbanophile Aaron Renn’s suggestion that the Ocean State’s problem is that its people are corrupted, this shade of a difference has calcified as my main agreement.  Writes Renn:

The fact that Cianci is considered a viable candidate for mayor despite being notoriously corrupt shows something that tends to happen in communities where corruption is the norm. Namely that the people themselves become corrupted in the process.

I’d argue the specific point.  It hasn’t seemed to me that Rhode Islanders are eager to support somebody who’s “notoriously corrupt,” but rather that we’re so discouraged by the available alternatives that corruption is reduced to just one variable to consider, not a disqualifier.  What’s worse: corruption, complete managerial inexperience, or ideological naiveté?  When one ideal goes up against another, the balance ceases to be a matter of principle, but a practical question.

Buddy Cianci has proven content with personal excesses; is that really worse than a leader who’ll leave the city in ruins and/or one who’ll seek to transform our representative democracy into a socialistic patronage scheme?  (N.B. — The three categories/possibilities aren’t intended to align with particular candidates in this race, but to be general characterizations of the Rhode Island political scene.)

Of course, we can’t argue that some of the electorate is corrupted in Rhode Island, but is it so many as to characterize the whole?  Or is it more the case that a characteristic apathy allows the corrupt to define Rhode Island politics and governance?  On first expression, it might not seem to make all that much of a difference.

But it makes a world of difference for the solution and the ability to hope.

If Rhode Islanders are corrupted, then the only chance for the state is if it exports the corrupt and imports people who’ll go about insisting on clean, straightforward government.  The people who hold the levers of power in the state aren’t about to let that happen.  In fact, stopping such trends may be the reason (or a reason) that we hear so much talk about the importance of jobs and investment in our state, but so little willingness to take anything but fully controlled half steps.

On the other hand, if the apathetic and ignorant are still the majority, then they can be awoken and educated.  It’s still a long shot, but it’s possible.

Want Success? Get Government Out of It

Yeah, I know, file this under confirming your bias if you want.  I’d present it as affirming my conclusions:

The above chart shows how respondents categorized various elements of the American business environment and how they have shifted since the original 2011 survey. Among those elements described as a “strength and improving”: capital markets, corporate management, universities, property rights, supply chains, and entrepreneurship. Among those elements described as a “weakness and deteriorating” are the K-12 education system, the tax code, regulation, and the efficiency of the legal system. …

… In a 2011 McKinsey report on the US economy, the consultancy highlighted the low-productivity public sector as a key drag on growth. Public and regulated sectors such as health care and education represent more than 20% of the US economy. Cutting in half the estimated efficiency gap with similar private sector organizational functions would generate annual savings of $100 billion to $300 billion.

I don’t know how any sane person who isn’t a political operative could look at the way we elect the people who run our government and think that government should do more than the bare minimum for a healthy, advancing society.

Of course, one frequently gets the impression that those who support larger government would prefer to change the way we elect our leaders so that it relies more on their judgment.  History suggests that doesn’t work out too well, either.

Sen. Conley’s Work for State Government in Ethical Gray Area

An advisory opinion from the state Ethics Commission leaves Senator Conley’s contract work for the state in an ethical gray area that ought to be resolved.

Why Politics Matter (Mostly from the Left)

It’s fascinating to observe why people on the Left think “politics matter,” because it illustrates how their rhetoric is completely opposite of their end results.