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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.

Interview with Steve Frias, on the Work of the Constitutional Convention Preparatory Commission

The excerpt I would pick to introduce my interview with Steve Frias, about the work the preparatory commission for a constitutional convention has done, would be this one

Steve Frias: There will be an argument that there are reforms that people want in this state that are not happening, because the General Assembly refuses to give them serious consideration, for instance, the line-item veto. Rhode Island is one of the few states not to have it. On Ethics Commission jurisdiction, the Supreme Court made their decision in 2009, I believe, and five years later, while there have been votes on it in one chamber or another, it hasn’t been adopted yet….

This is a way for the people to amend the Constitution, and get things into it, that the General Assembly has shown by its behavior in recent years that it is just not willing to do.
However, when I asked Commissioner Frias directly what the most important thing he thought people could get out of the commission’s report was, his answer was
SF: That the 1973 Convention was really cheap.
(In 1973, the convention cost about $20K, to be exact)

The entire interview, including a view on what a complete cost-benefit analysis of a constitutional convention should involve, is available below the fold.

Elorza: Your Rights End at My Understanding of Reality

Mayoral Candidate and former Rhode Island judge Jorge Elorza illustrates the progressive faith (and its weakness) in his argument that public schools can and should teach the non-existence of God.

Legislator Contracts and Contractors for Ethics Commission Purposes

Whether it violates the Code of Ethics for legislators or their employers to take money from state agencies depends on the specifics of the case and requires clarification from the state Ethics Commission.

Wrong Term for the Welfare State

It’s a small thing, perhaps, but indicative of the wrong attitude held by supporters of big, nanny government, that Alisha Pina, of the Providence Journal, used the word that I’ve italicized in the following quotation in her article today, about a conference at which Rhode Island’s Department of Human Services touted its efforts to make it easier to hand out taxpayer money:

The department plans to roll out the changes in its five other offices over the next few months.

A new customer-focused system, says Powell, will also debut in September. Applicants will then have a unique PIN and password with which to look at their benefits information and change phone numbers or addresses without having to contact a caseworker.

There are 176,146 individuals getting SNAP assistance and 13,586 residents getting cash assistance — previously referred to as welfare — from the state as of July, said Michael Jolin, Department of Human Services spokesman.

A quick check of Merriam-Webster confirms that the word, “customer,” means “one that purchases a commodity or service.”  Beneficiaries of government hand-outs are not purchasing anything in that transaction.  If anybody is a “customer” of this system, it’s the taxpayer who buys his or her way out of personal responsibility for helping people in the community who are facing tough times.

There’s no shame in using what means are available to support one’s family (if that’s the intention), and it’s understandable, at least, that activists in this day and age would find it appropriate to confiscate money from other people (whose problems they can’t see) in order to give it to people in need (whose problems they can see).  Be empathy what it may, however, we shouldn’t lose the distinction between purchasing and collecting.

Unless, that is, the bureaucrats and journalists intend to suggest that the beneficiaries have purchased the hand-outs with their votes.

When the Future Can Pay for Your Business Model

The federal government’s deus ex machina act with HealthSource RI is as good an example as any of how government shouldn’t (but inevitably will) behave.  There was a little bit less than the preferred 100% certainty that the state would allocate money for its experiment in health broker entreneurialism during the last session of the state General Assembly, and the administration of big brother Obama swooped in with the cash to keep the Web site going for another year.

It wasn’t supposed to do so, under the written word of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), and the state wasn’t supposed to accept it, under the written word of Governor Lincoln Chafee’s executive order creating the health benefits exchange.  But what’s the rule of law and twenty-something million dollars compared with giving government agents the opportunity to experiment with a new business model?

If the U.S. Congress and the governor have to say one thing in order to get their big-government policies implemented and then ignore the specifics when they become inconvenient, and if more imaginary money has to be pushed to the resulting agencies, that’s just the price of trying to solve all of our problems via the political system.

The combined activities of Americas local, state, and federal governments now cost more per American household than the median American household brings home in income.  The federal debt is now higher than the national GDP.  In Rhode Island, the state government is suffering the consequences of its need to fill budget gap with one-time fixes and a ratcheting squeeze on residents, who are choosing to leave.

Last week, I checked in with HealthSource RI.  After the open enrollment period ended in March, the agency had 27,961 enrolled individuals, with 21,097 having paid.  By the end of April, 25,767 had paid.  As of August 2, HealthSource counted 26,686 enrollees and 25,892 people paid up.

The federal government, in other words, gave nearly $1,000 per enrollee just for the exchange’s operating costs.  That doesn’t include the subsidies that 85-90% of the enrollees are receiving.

It takes a little bit of education and imagination to see the consequences of this behavior.  All that money comes from somewhere, and by the looks of the recent trends, it isn’t the much-vilified One Percent.  Not being able to trust that the deal that politicians make actually means what they say it means when they first say it has consequences, too.

It may be the perfect crime, though.  As the machine works its destruction, those whom it kills and those from whom it steals can’t easily see who’s to blame.

Judicial Objectivity When Politics Is a Job

Honestly, I’m torn about this one, although it brings me back around to the same place as much political news:

A federal magistrate judge has granted the city’s bid to delay Providence Mayor Angel Taveras’ questioning under oath in a lawsuit involving changes to the retirement system until after the upcoming primary election for candidates for governor.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Lincoln D. Almond late Tuesday granted the city’s emergency motion for a protective order to postpone Taveras’ deposition in the city’s lawsuit against its former actuarial firm, Buck Consultants LLC, until after the Sept. 9 primary. Almond found, without further explanation, that the city had shown good cause to delay Taveras’ questioning and to limit it to three hours.

On its surface, this looks like further evidence supporting the common wisdom that, if you’ve got a lawsuit involving political insiders in Rhode Island, you’re best off getting  it in a federal court.  On the other hand, if the mayor weren’t the mayor, but something else, and was requesting a brief delay of judicial proceedings to the other side of a major work project on which his career hinged, that would seem reasonable in a case with no major urgency.

Of course, the mayor is the mayor, and it’s difficult not to conclude that he’s worried about the ways in which his testimony (and the opposition lawyers’ spin of it, amplified by other candidates for the office he’s seeking).  In that regard, it’s a question of transparency.  After all, his administration brought the lawsuit.

And if it’s a matter of the time preparation for the deposition will require, we shouldn’t accept the notion that government must stop operating because people in office are bucking for a promotion.

At the end of the analysis, put this one on the stack of arguments against fostering a government environment in which politics is a career.  If public office were in fact — as politicians like to claim — a question of service, then the argument for delaying the deposition pretty much evaporates.

Reevaluating the Wisdom of a Constitutional Convention

I don’t know if I’ve written about it anywhere, but privately, I’ve expressed wariness of a constitutional convention.  It has seemed to me that opening up the constitution at a time when the power of opposition voices has managed to fade beyond what seemed an impossible whisper is to risk a final roll.  Partly by virtue of working on the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s initial analysis of the convention, and partly owing to the growing vehemence with which people are advising each other to leave the state, I’m starting to reevaluate.

As the conclusion of the Center’s analysis says:

Although it often depends whether or not they have the advantage in a given circumstance, activists on both the left and the right see the risk of direct democracy as a general principle on which to base government.  However, for some issues, and at some points in history, letting the people make final decisions is appropriate, the best available option, or even absolutely necessary.

The Ocean State is at such a point in history, with many Rhode Islanders feeling that the solutions are as obvious as the problems are intractable.  A constitutional convention would present an opportunity to settle some of the relevant questions.

Maybe a constitutional convention could motivate the people who understand the direction in which the state needs to head before there are just too few of us left in the state to make a difference.  Maybe working around the normal, corrupted, rigged electoral system will prove that there are more of us than insiders in government and the media would have us believe.

And maybe if all of that is so much misplaced optimism, it’d be better to let the inevitable happen sooner than later.  It would be clarifying, anyway, for Rhode Islanders currently agonizing over decisions about what to do with their lives and where to live.

Making a Stand Far from the Cliff

Why stand our ground in Rhode Island? Because somewhere in the world, the easier decision is to throw your children to their merciful death.

Feeling the Tightening of the Special Interest Manacles

Providence Firefighter Tom Kenney may hold the key to the antidote to save Rhode Island and the United States.

The World the West is Creating with Vladimir Putin

Is there a better way than political authoritarianism and stunted economic growth that Vladimir Putin’s subjects (including high-ranking oligarchs) might want to consider? Western elites might not like to admit this, but ratcheting up an “uncivilized” tribal strategy may be an effective way for Putin and current Russian leadership to answer this question in the negative, by boosting the morale (at least in the short term) of his Russian followers, and by frightening an “internationalist” coalition away from being willing to take the steps necessary to slow his expansion.

The ultimate effectiveness of this strategy depends on the strength and the nature of the coherence of the adversary that Russia faces.