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The Big Apple’s Progressive Lesson

Let’s be honest, New York City has not been a bastion of conservative policies, at least in my lifetime, and its previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg, was progressive even as a Republican.  News of the Big Apple’s rapid deterioration under overtly progressive mayor Bill de Blasio, however, has been coming in from all directions.

The latest is from Myron Magnet, in City Journal, which ends with the following advice that Rhode Islanders should take to heart for their own government:

Listen, Mayor: the first job of government is to keep the people safe in their homes and in the streets. If you can’t do that as a municipal chief executive, you are a flop. Equality is not the job of government, unless you are a Communist, in which case equality usually comes at the barrel of a gun or the end of a noose. And voters of New York, please learn this lesson too, despite your attachment to FDR and the New Deal or your seductive professor of race-class-and-gender studies at Brown or Wesleyan. New York needs a realistic mayor. We don’t have one.

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What the Radical Party Thinks of Its Country

You may have heard that Connecticut Democrats have disowned Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.  Here’s Dennis Prager, writing on National Review Online:

Every year for the past 67 years, the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner has been the major fundraising event for the Connecticut State Democratic party. Not anymore. The party unanimously voted to drop the two Democratic presidents’ names because they were slaveholders.

That is the way the Left sees American history.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, the document that articulated the principle of human rights endowed by the Creator (thereby ultimately ensuring the end of slavery) and led to the establishment of the country that has served as the beacon of hope for people of every race and ethnicity. More black Africans have voluntarily emigrated to the United States to seek liberty and opportunity than came to America as slaves.

But that is not how the Left views Jefferson or America.

As the Far Left has completed its takeover of the Democrat Party, this sort of thing has become inevitable.  Prager goes on to describe why it wouldn’t be too much to suggest that the party has become the home for Americans who hate the United States, in the absence of radical transformation into something else.  Think of Michelle Obama’s admission that she had never, as an adult, been proud of her country until it put her husband in a position to undermine it.

To be sure, Republicans do a lot of dumb things, and I switched my voter registration to unaffiliated some years ago, but, wow, a party that has ample room for an organization that harvests the body parts of aborted babies can’t stand to be associated with Thomas Jefferson?

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The Decoding Key for Progressive Policies

Glenn Reynolds built Instapundit.com on two things: his relentless ability to supply a constant stream of links to interesting things on the Internet, and his talent for encapsulating concepts in brief phrases.  One of his best, on the latter count, is to say that this or that common sense policy is undesirable to the elite because it presents “insufficient opportunities for graft.”

This week, he’s elaborated on the point for his USA Today column:

… why are so many politicians coming out against innovative new services such as Uber or Airbnb?  The answer, I think, is simple: Those new services offer insufficient opportunities for graft.  The old services they compete with — hotels or taxi companies — offer politicians a better deal, even if the deal they offer for consumers often isn’t as good.  And politicians back the companies because — and be clear about this — politicians don’t care about you, they care about using their positions to accumulate money, power and prestige.

… politicians don’t care, except to the extent that we make them care.  Whatever they say when they’re running for office, their top priority once elected is to build a coalition that will keep them in power, and accumulating money and influence, regardless of whether the interests of that coalition coincide with the public’s.

There’s a lot of explanatory power in Reynolds’s short phrase, and readers can surely think of examples at all levels of government to prove its truth.  At the state or local levels, there is certainly a closer link between politicians and their constituents, so the urge toward graft will be balanced in some degree by a closer interest in the community.  But self-interest still exists, and a certain amount of back scratching is the price of gaining and keeping office.

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A Cost to the Pope’s Polls

At this year’s Portsmouth Institute conference, with the topic of Pope Francis, both Ross Douthat and John Carr mentioned the very strong, across-the-board favorability of Pope Francis in the United States.  As a central premise, of course, the leader of an organization driven by revelation and founded in the Word of God shouldn’t pay much attention to favorability polls, which are more appropriate to politics.  Still, with an eye toward being effective, no leader of any sort should dismiss the information if it’s available; the question is one of the weight it’s given on the decision-making scale.

In Douthat’s case, the New York Times columnist raised polling mainly by way of minimizing the significance of three groups of Catholics who were “unsettled” by the pope: Catholic traditionalists, politically and economically conservative Catholics, and socially conservative Catholics.  Carr raised the pope’s poll numbers to emphasize the huge potential for good could accompany Francis’s visit to the United States this autumn.  With such vast support, the pope would be better able to get across his message, and Catholics across the spectrum would presumably promote, reinforce, or at least not distract from it.

So what might it mean that Pope Francis’s approval ratings have taken a major hit in the past month?  According to Gallup, he’s still very popular in the United States, although his favorability among people who identify as conservatives has dropped from 72% last year to 45% now, and the drop was almost as substantial among Catholics as among non-Catholic Christians.

That said, in my running series of essays about the Portsmouth Institute presentations, I’m tracing what appears to be a subconscious concern that the pope might not be accurately assessing our point in history or his role in it.  Two problems that stand out, if such concerns are justified, are that the pope might play a role in hastening, rather than forestalling, a global crisis and that his intended message will be lost.

To oversimplify the first count, if the West is holding the world together by some remaining threads of actual economic and civic freedom, then attacking crony capitalism might advance the cause of corrupting socialism.  Thus a message that would be appropriate after a socialism-driven crash and shuffling of resources to a government-and-crony elite might push the world over the edge if what’s really happening is that the elite is using the pretense of solidarity in order to undermine its more-libertarian opposition.

On the second count, the more divided people are about the pope and his intentions, the less likely they will be to harken to his message of solidarity.

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The Never-Learn-from-Your-Mistakes State?

Is it a central theme of Rhode Island’s civic culture that the state does not learn from its mistakes?  That’s a question of perspective.  Perhaps what most perceive as mistakes are not mistakes, but rather the entire corrupt purpose of state government.

Two articles might give some clues as to which perspective is more accurate.  The first is another historically driven column in the Providence Journal by Steven Frias:

In 1974, Rhode Island’s first moral obligation bond to promote economic development was issued by the Rhode Island Port Authority. This bond helped provide financing to Fairmount Foundry to purchase and keep open the ITT Grinnell Foundry in Cranston. In 1976, the foundry went bankrupt.

… after the General Assembly paid off the moral obligation bond, at a cost of approximately $4 million, Speaker Edward Manning created a new committee, the House Committee on Government Operations, chaired by Rep. Raymond Gallogly, to investigate the Fairmount Foundry fiasco. …

After the hearings concluded, Gordon Bryd, the acting director of the Port Authority, stated: “I don’t think there will ever be another moral obligation bond issued by the Port Authority.” For about 15 years, Mr. Bryd was correct, because Rhode Island wisely avoided issuing another moral obligation bond for an economic development project.

Director Bryd seemed accurately to have predicted a lesson learned, but I wonder.  Maybe 15 years was just the interval for those who don’t think spending money by any means is a mistake to work the politics back toward allowing this particular mechanism again.  Here’s Brian Bishop, on GoLocalProv, taking up a different topic:

It is a perennial saw that Rhode Island’s bridges are bad and getting worse. But the stimulus friendly DOT under our new governor has caused the present consternation by proposing not to buckle down and prioritize its spending to climb out of this hole. Rather DOT wants to borrow $700 million just as the state’s road debt is finally improving. For a decade RIDOT has been struggling to adopt a pay-as-you-go approach to road work, thus putting the moneys previously consigned to interest and bonding expenses to work on the roads.

Whether this is paid for by tolls on trucks is a side show compared to the lunacy of undertaking such an effort without contemplating how it is that Rhode Island is in the top five states for spending per mile on its roads but has the highest percent of deficient bridges in the country?! Giving $700 million dollars to the combine of bureaucrats, contractors and labor that have produced that record is indefensible.

There are two lessons not being learned, there.  First, that we shouldn’t borrow our way to better infrastructure, and second, that giving the state’s bureaucracy more money is foolish.

Come to think of it, both perspectives come back to the same thing. After all, Rhode Islanders keep sending the same people back into public office, so even if they are repeating “mistakes” on purpose, the rest of us never seem to learn.

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Lobbying Laws Keep Politics an Inside Game

Lobbying laws should be found unconstitutional and abhorrent to a free people.  Consider these letters Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea sent out to parties on both sides of the Pawtucket Red Sox stadium issue, in GoLocalProv:

A letter sent to Pawtucket Red Sox Chief Executive Officer Michael Tamburro, outlining the state’s lobbying statute, began with, “Congratulations on the exciting new developments at the Pawtucket Red Sox, a venerable Rhode Island Institution.”

In contrast, a Pawtucket citizen’s letter started with, “It has come to my attention through media reports and the Organizing Pawtucket website that you are the head of Organizing for Pawtucket, and that you may be engaging in conversation with Rhode Island state government officials on behalf of that entity.”

Does anybody really believe that a government so steeped in inside dealing as Rhode Island’s pursues lobbying and campaign finance laws as a matter of transparency?  That’s the spin, of course, but the end effect is to ensure that politics remains an insider game.  Special interests are drawn into the official network, sort of like outside vendors, and grassroots activists are intimidated.

It’s impossible to know how many people on the periphery of politics never take the next step to involvement because they have a sense that there’s some complex network of laws that they lack the bandwidth to investigate, but I’d wager it’s not a negligible number.  The professionalization and regulation of politics creates incentive for reluctance across the spectrum of involvement, except for those who are actively seeking to buy advantage through government.

Look at the example being made of Dinesh D’Souza.  Run afoul of the government’s regulations for trying to change the government, and you put your life under the thumb of people like U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, who dismissed the assessments of two licensed psychiatric professionals in order to issue this judgment, which would be right at home in a Soviet dissident novel:

“I only insisted on psychological counseling as part of Mr. D’Souza’s sentence because I wanted to be helpful,” the judge explained. “I am requiring Mr. D’Souza to see a new psychological counselor and to continue the weekly psychological consultation not as part of his punishment or to be retributive….

WND reported that at the Sept. 23, 2014, sentencing hearing, Berman said he could not understand how someone of D’Souza’s intelligence, with credentials that include college president, could do something so stupid as to violate federal campaign contribution laws. D’Souza was at the pinnacle of his career, writing bestselling non-fiction books and producing popular feature films….

“You have to understand, I have a background in social work with a psychology major,” Berman explained. “I’m sensitive to mental health issues in the criminal cases I hear, and I do not want to end psychological counseling at this time in Mr. D’Souza’s case.

For those who do not want to make politics and government a central part of their lives, the message is clear: Life is much safer if you just keep your head down and don’t get involved.

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Money Management Requires Acknowledgement of Reality

Many of us free-market types have watched Greece with a sort of morbid fascination.  What can one say of a country whose people apparently believes that they can vote to suspend reality?

One thing you could say is that such people aren’t only in Greece.  Inasmuch as progressives have an ideology built on denial of human nature and reality, wherever they dominate, one is likely to see, first, inadvisable fiscal risks followed by, second, a refusal to accept reality when things come to a head.  There’s a lot that an increasingly controlling government can do to fudge numbers and put off the day of reckoning — including moving power up to higher levels of government that can redistribute from other areas that have been better managed — but with each postponement it gets worse, and the people become more incredulous that reality could actually exist.  (Not for no reason have conservative gadflies called progressivism/liberalism a “mental disorder.”)

I’m thinking, at the moment, of the Mercatus Center’s new ranking of states by their fiscal condition, on which I’ll have an article on WatchDog.org sometime this week and about which Investor’s Business Daily observes:

There’s only one factor these fiscal winners and losers share in common. And that’s their political leanings. Of the top 10 states in the Mercatus ranking, just two — Florida and Ohio — voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in the past four elections, and just one — Montana — has a Democratic governor. Even if you look at the 25 best-performing states, only three could be considered reliably liberal.

At the other end of the list, just two of the 10 lowest-ranked states — Kentucky and West Virginia — have voted for the Republican in the past four presidential elections. And while four of them have Republican governors, they all are in solid blue states and all were elected to clean up messes left by their Democratic predecessors.

The editorial ends by crediting conservative policies, like low taxes and limited government, but I’d submit that there is a more basic distinction.  Conservatives tend to look at the way in which people actually behave, balance their observations with the wisdom of the ages (call it “tradition”), and strive to give individuals maximum autonomy to move things forward while attempting to educate them about said wisdom through the culture.  Progressives, in contrast, start from ideological and emotional premises, determine from them how the world must be, and then strive to use power in order to force people to fit the mold.  (I’m being charitable; many would say that the lust for power comes first.)

Unfortunately for those who find themselves under progressive control, reality isn’t as malleable as it would need to be for the progressive remaking to work.

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Student Loans Largely Increase College Costs. Duh.

This particular consequence is so obvious that it almost didn’t need to be studied, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York:

We find that institutions [of higher learning] more exposed to changes in the subsidized federal loan program increased their tuition disproportionately around these policy changes, with a sizable pass-through effect on tuition of about 65 percent. We also find that Pell Grant aid and the unsubsidized federal loan program have pass-through effects on tuition, although these are economically and statistically not as strong.

As the Week elaborates:

The resultant tuition hikes can be substantial: The researchers found that each additional dollar of Pell Grant or subsidized student loan money translates to a tuition jump of 55 or 65 cents, respectively. Of course, the higher tuition also applies to students who don’t receive federal aid, making college less affordable across the board.

From the progressive government perspective, this strategy is win-win.  The government turns a generation into debt slaves, and collegiate indoctrination mills — leading the way, among other things, in dismantling religious belief as a competitor to statism, vilifying the foundations of Western freedom, and keeping racial strife as a living, breathing issue in a country in which it could long ago have become purely a matter of history — get an infusion of money to hire more bureaucrats.

The only people who suffer are those who must attempt to make enough money with their increasingly useless degrees to cover their increasingly breathtaking debt and those who would prefer to maintain the United States as a land of freedom, intellectual diversity, and productivity.

(Via Instapundit.)

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UPDATED: Correction (Sort of) on Ed Fitzpatrick’s Column

Soon after I put up my post, this morning, on Ed Fitzpatrick’s Providence Journal column, the man himself responded to my Twitter link that he’d criticized Sen. Whitehouse for commentary on the floor of the Senate in which he raised the specters of the French Revolution, the Nazis, and Southern lynchings in a column back in 2009.

That column didn’t appear in my search of the Providence Journal’s archives because they don’t go back that far, but Fitzpatrick was good enough to send me the text.  Rereading the 2009 column, while I would have definitely included it in my earlier post, I’m not sure it changes my criticism at all.

For instance, I suggested that Fitzpatrick should have tried to understand why Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would have such strong sentiments toward his court, and if we look back to the 2009 column, it’s practically slathered with sympathy for Whitehouse’s heat.  Fitzpatrick presents it as a response to Republican ire, emphasizes that Whitehouse “gave voice to the Democratic anger and frustration” (with examples), and gives the senator space to contextualize his comments.

If I may paraphrase the impression the column gives, it’s that:  Whitehouse was only responding to the bad Republicans; he has a lot of company in how he feels; and after all, he’s got underlying reasoning, which Fitzpatrick validates with a “good point.”  None of these qualities are present in the Scalia column.  Indeed, here’s the point of actual criticism of Whitehouse:

Perhaps it’s good for Rhode Island to have a fiery, outspoken senator to go with the understated Sen. Jack Reed. Perhaps there is some political utility to such speeches. If Palin is going to be using her Twitter account to perpetuate the “death panel” idea (PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year”), maybe Democrats need to do more to fire back.

But I don’t see why Whitehouse had to go all Judgment Day on the GOP when he knew they’d lose the vote. Why not just watch them wail and fail?

Scalia didn’t even go as far as “all Judgment Day,” and he was, in fact, issuing a warning about the actions of the victorious majority.  In Scalia’s case, though, Fitzpatrick is on the side of those who want to insist that there’s nothing wrong, or even questionable, about the outcome or process by which they redefined marriage and likened traditional values to pure bigotry.

As the progressives march across the country trying to put pizza parlors out of business, prevent businesses that receive this treatment from using online tools to collect donations, and grab tax exemption away from churches and charities, one can only hope that liberal columnists prove to object to government oppression, not just reference to oppression from the past.

UPDATE (7/2/15 2:35 p.m.)

In response to the suggestion that I didn’t do an adequate job presenting Fitzpatrick’s objection to Whitehouse above, here’s another statement from the 2009 column, which was what Fitzpatrick put forward as the summary of his criticism in his tweet:

But in the end, Whitehouse only added to that toxicity. He accused the Republicans of going too far and, in the next breath, he went too far himself. Quoting Lord Acton and using vivid literary allusions didn’t save him from venturing down the well-worn path that ends with someone accusing an adversary of being like the Nazis.

I didn’t exclude this paragraph to downplay Fitzpatrick’s criticism of the senator; I just didn’t see that it added anything not covered in my descriptions or quotations.  The context also brushes away much of the criticism.  The paragraph before quotes somebody who liked Whitehouse’s outburst (as pushback against Republican “toxicity,” and the paragraph after notes references inappropriate Nazi references by Lyndon LaRouce (not labeled as a Democrat, though) and Rush Limbaugh.

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Edward Fitzpatrick’s Conditional Opposition to Vitriol

In his Providence Journal column, today, Edward Fitzpatrick takes on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia because, as the headline says, “Scalia’s vitriol undercuts his influence.”

It’s not enough for Fitzpatrick to highlight Scalia’s colorful language; he’s got to find an objective reason why the justice should tone it down.  I’d say Fitzpatrick is playing the quietly liberal journalist’s role in changing America.  Objectively speaking, public debate would be healthier if people in that role were more self-aware when it comes to their arguments.

The first step is trying to see things from the other person’s perspective.  If you’re Justice Scalia, you believe that the court on which you serve has become a mechanism for rewriting the Constitution on the fly, in a way that has no real basis in law and therefore cannot be consistently applied.  This lawlessness, from his point of view, invites (perhaps requires) the people of the United States and their elected representatives to begin ignoring the court.  As he put it in his Obergefell v. Hodges dissent:

Hubris is sometimes defined as o’erweening pride; and pride, we know, goeth before a fall. The Judiciary is the “least dangerous” of the federal branches because it has “neither Force nor Will, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm” and the States, “even for the efficacy of its judgments.” With each decision of ours that takes from the People a question properly left to them—with each decision that is unabashedly based not on law, but on the “reasoned judgment” of a bare majority of this Court—we move one step closer to being reminded of our impotence.

Fitzpatrick can disagree with that, of course, but if he shared Scalia’s view about the huge importance of this matter, would he still be fretting about whether Scalia’s strong language costs him influence?  I tend to doubt it.  A search of the Providence Journal archives, for example, produces no instance of Fitzpatrick’s worrying about the effects of Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s vitriolic attacks on his fellow Americans, notably his commentary asserting extremism and insinuating racism when it comes to people who were wise enough to oppose ObamaCare.  Fitzpatrick also does not appear to have commented on the senator’s zeal for investigating American organizations with which he disagrees because there might be something for which they could be attacked.

Instead, I found a Fitzpatrick column in which the writer trumpets Whitehouse’s role pushing the minority Democrat line on climate change, which ends with Whitehouse’s not-at-all vitriolic quip that “the best news about a Republican Majority in the Senate is that the Republican minority is now gone. They were just a God-awful minority.”

Again, it’s all well and good for Fitzpatrick to do his part to advance progressive causes, but this pose that he’s simply offering his opposition friendly strategic advice gives the game away.

UPDATE (7/2/15 12:55 p.m.):

See here for a partial correction of and some context for the above.

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Has Left-Wing Activism Been “Stimulated”?

Russ Moore’s article highlighting how little stimulus money seems to have been spent on infrastructure comes at a good time:

Yet that fact has led many talking heads and casual political observers alike wondering why, after the enactment of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, otherwise known as “the Obama stimulus package” that saw almost $787 billion spent on a national level with just under $1.1 billion sent to Rhode Island, the state still has roads and bridges that can only be described as woeful.

The answer is probably as frustrating as it is simple: it’s because a relatively small amount of money was actually allocated to roads and bridges. According to a GoLocalProv review of federal data on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus spending, just under 9 percent ($95,493,854) of the $1.096 billion that Rhode Island received was given to the Rhode Department of Transportation and used to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.

As I state in the article, it’s pretty clear that Obama’s stimulus wasn’t meant to actually get anything done for the people of America. It was intended to insulate government at every level from the effects of the recession, to help reinflate the stock market bubble, and to direct taxpayer dollars (rather, taxpayer debt) to the activists with whom Obama is aligned.

For an example on that last point, I’ve noted before that the PolicyLink group that provided the equity piece of the RhodeMap RI puzzle is largely funded through the Dept. of Housing and Urban development, as well as the government entities that receive grants from HUD.  Stimulus didn’t fix our roads, but it did build infrastructure for Obama’s “fundamental transformation” of our country.

It would require more investigative reporting than I have the time to pursue, but one has to wonder how much of the stunning activism we’ve seen in the past few years — to radically change our society and promote a far-left worldview out of keeping with the principles of our constitutional republic — was directly bankrolled by us.

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An Electorate That Will Not Learn?

Thomas Sowell’s musings about the implications of electoral support for Hillary Clinton has Rhode Island application:

The fact that many people are still prepared to vote for Hillary Clinton to be President of the United States, in times made incredibly dangerous by the foreign policy disasters on her watch as Secretary of State, raises painful questions about this country.

A President of the United States — any president — has the lives of more than 300 million Americans in his or her hands, and the future of Western civilization. If the debacles and disasters of the Obama administration have still not demonstrated the irresponsibility of choosing a president on the basis of demographic characteristics, it is hard to imagine what could.

With our enemies around the world arming while we are disarming, such self-indulgent choices for president can leave our children and grandchildren a future that will be grim, if not catastrophic.

Electoral decisions are being made for all sorts of reasons that have little or nothing to do with running a government.  The biggest factor, I’d say, is simply the self-satisfaction that comes with voting according to a false narrative.  This weekend, I heard from yet another person whom I’d just met that the Democrats are, or used to be, the “party of the little guy.”  Even if that was true by some measure in some place at some point in history, voting for that reason is a bit like saying you vote for the party that Superman would have voted for.  It’s a narrative created as part of the entertainment media.

Other reasons are in play, of course, like the expectation that a particular party will directly transfer taxpayer dollars to one’s business or family.  But I suspect the makeup of our government at the state and federal levels would be very different if people voted according to results rather than rhetoric (and not necessarily in a purely partisan way).

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Another Objective Journalist Signs on as Staffer for Democrat Politician

It’s a small thing, perhaps, but since I’ve taken to noting when this happens, it’s worth adding this to the series:

State Treasurer Seth Magaziner has hired Tatiana Pina, a much respected former Providence Journal reporter, to work in his communications office. 

Pina started work on June 8 as a $62,918 “assistant communications director for the retirement system,’’ according to the lead spokeswoman for the treasurer’s office, Shana Autiello.

It’s funny.  When I finally managed the leap from carpenter to full-time policy and politics writer, I met with a bunch of folks in the local field, and journalists would scrupulously decline my offer to pick up the tab for a $6 sandwich, or whatever.  The concern, I guess, is that it might look like an attempt to sway their reportage, or something.

It is now regular practice for Rhode Island journalists to step up to jobs in the offices of local officials, who are almost always Democrats, around here.  How could it not affect the reportage of journalists to know that they may want to leave open the option to work for the people on whom they’ve been reporting?  If you’re reporting on — say — the statewide Tea Party or — for example — the activities of a small GOP caucus, the odds of ever getting a job with either group are very small, but the odds of getting a job with the people whom they’re criticizing are pretty big.

One could argue that communications jobs aren’t explicitly political, but they are geared toward making the office holder and his or her policies and actions look good.  There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but readers should approach the news with full awareness of the incentives for the people producing it.

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Indications of Government Homogeny

The two stories at the top of today’s Providence Journal give a sense of the problems when government is characterized by a homogeneity of party and governing philosophy.  For example, the House plans to waive rules that put the governor’s raises for upper staff squarely in the middle of the budget process:

Current law gives the governor a small window of time, in March of each year, to propose and then justify at a public hearing any proposed raises for cabinet members.  

The Department of Administration then has until the last day in April to refer the proposed new salaries to the General Assembly. The raises go into effect 30 days later unless rejected by the House and Senate.  

Raimondo asked lawmakers to do away with that provision in the budget that she proposed to lawmakers in March. The General Assembly’s Democratic leaders didn’t go that far.

Instead, the budget will give leadership a deadline of late August to drag everybody back to the State House to undo the raises.  We can gather that the governor would have to be pretty unreasonable to spark that level of reaction.

The second story has to do with the House Republicans’ alternative approach to funding roads and bridges.  Obviously, the GOP’s proposed amendment to the budget is political theater, but that’s indicative of the problem.  Both the governor and the Speaker of the House can be utterly dismissive of the plan because there is no chance of its happening.

Rhode Island’s governing system leaves little opportunity for surprises (other than revelations of corruption, naturally), so the participants can come to consensus in back rooms among partisan friends without any real need to negotiate a minimization of risk.  If there’s a chance, even a small one, that the minority party can orchestrate a surprise, it isn’t as obviously political theater, which would be a healthier state of affairs for both sides, not to mention the people of Rhode Island.

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How to Stop Criminal Politicians

Edward Fitzpatrick wondered, in his Sunday Providence Journal column, how to put an end to the constant corruption in Rhode Island government:

I posed the question to Fox himself: What would this corrupt politician suggest they do at the State House to keep this kind of corruption from happening again?

“Maybe get rid of the connection to electronic banking,” he said, suggesting he might not have looted his campaign account if he had to walk into a bank and face a teller. “It became very easy to push a button and transfer from one to the other.”

Well, I suppose eliminating modern banking is one idea. But how about restoring full Ethics Commission jurisdiction over state legislators to patrol for conflicts of interest? “I passed a bill in the House to give Ethics Commission jurisdiction on the legislature years ago,” Fox replied, “and it’s something that I believe should be looked at again.”

Sure, we could spend another 5-20 years trying to inch the General Assembly toward returning the Ethics Commission’s authority to investigate legislators, but that’s an awful lot of time and energy just to get back to a situation in which corruption was hardly rare, in Rhode Island’s past.

Unfortunately, the two actual solutions to the problem are anathema to liberal journalists:  reduce the scope of government’s power, and build up competing parties.  As long as government’s authority over our lives is constantly growing, and as long as a single party runs the state without challenge, no fixes will work.  All those that are proposed will be perverted into traps for upstart outsiders, whom the media will predictably treat as suspect.

The elites in Rhode Island don’t believe that regular folks can be trusted to run their own lives, and they all still believe the three-generations of pop-culture nonsense that insists that Democrats are always the good guys who are “for the people.”

If Fitzpatrick wants to help turn things around, in Rhode Island’s government, he should start writing profiles of people who aren’t part of the local governing establishment.  If reporters want to challenge the way things are done, in RI, they should start by challenging their own understanding of who the good guys are.

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Whitehouse’s Turn to Fascism

I’m with Kevin Williamson on this stunning Washington Post op-ed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.  It’s dispiriting to read the very wealthy senator from Rhode Island crossing well into the range of McCarthyism, if not fascism.  I mean, look at this:

To be clear: I don’t know whether the fossil fuel industry and its allies engaged in the same kind of racketeering activity as the tobacco industry. We don’t have enough information to make that conclusion. Perhaps it’s all smoke and no fire. But there’s an awful lot of smoke.

The suggestion is clear.  Laying the background for the tobacco industry part of the comparison, Whitehouse writes, “Thankfully, the government had a playbook, too.”  And “finally, through the discovery process, government lawyers were able to peel back the layers of deceit and denial and see what the tobacco companies really knew all along about cigarettes.”  That’s what the senator wants to attempt to do to organizations that express skepticism about climate change alarmism.

To what couldn’t this principle apply?  Maybe same-sex marriage advocates have studies showing that children do just as well without their own moms and dads.  Start a Congressional investigation!  Or maybe the gun industry is conspiring to hide evidence that eliminating the Second Amendment would make Americans safer.  Or maybe Grover Norquist has buried a report proving that high taxes are good for the economy and freedom.  Or (and here’s the goldmine) internal memos among Republican groups might prove a big-dollar conspiracy to fool the American people into believing that the Democrats have become a party of ultra-wealthy radicals who have no interest in helping average Americans prosper and who lack the competence to achieve that goal, even if they believed in it.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.  We’ll never know if we don’t start investigating every conservative organization.

This is not a difficult one.  Even people (including journalists) who agree with all of the senator’s political positions should be able to see that.  Whitehouse is way off the deep end, here, and he ought to be called on it.  (But he won’t be.)

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A Cold Day in House Finance

It’s almost touching when representatives of that amorphous group known as “ordinary people” overcome the obstacles in order to testify before a legislative committee at the Rhode Island State House.  They’ve got their notes and their passion.  Sometimes they’re shaking slightly with nerves.

Or maybe that’s the fault of the air conditioning.

In some rooms, the heat runs strong well beyond its need; in other rooms, sitting in the audience is an endurance test for cold.  In the hearing room of the House Finance Committee (arguably the single most important hearing room in the building), the air conditioning has regular folks wishing they’d thought to bring the gear they use for late-season football games.

Hot or cold, though, room temperature is just one way the General Assembly attempts to persuade the public that it isn’t worth their time to tell legislators what they think, intentional or not.  Chilling testimony is an apparent goal written into the entire process.

Continue reading on Watchdog.org.

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Press Conference & Request By Concerned Citizen, Bill Murphy, to Testify about Unfairness of Pension Settlement

[The following was received via e-mail this afternoon.]

Concerned Citizen Seeks to Testify about Unfairness of Pension Settlement to Taxpayers at Court Hearing Tuesday, Schedules Press Conference to Explain Request to the Public

Concerned citizen Dr. William J. Murphy will hold a press conference in front of the Frank Licht Judicial Complex at 250 Benefit Street in Providence at 4:30 PM on Tuesday, May 26, 2015 to explain to the public the reasons for his request to testify about the unfairness of the pension settlement to taxpayers at the ongoing fairness hearings in Superior Court. Dr. Murphy will deliver a statement emphasizing that the terms of the settlement itself as well as the impropriety of the court-supervised secret negotiation process that produced it have significantly harmed the financial welfare of taxpayers, violated the political rights of citizens, and severely damaged the public interest.

(EAST PROVIDENCE, RI – May 25, 2015) – Dr. William J. Murphy, a concerned resident of East Providence, has petitioned the Rhode Island Superior Court to testify at the ongoing pension settlement fairness hearing Tuesday. He held a press conference at Superior Court in Providence on Tuesday to issue a statement explaining the reasons for his request.

Dr. Murphy opened his remarks by saying that, “The pension settlement is grossly unfair to good citizens of Rhode Island because it adds over $290 million to the unfunded pension debt that the state’s already overburdened taxpayers cannot afford. Even more troubling, the terms of the settlement itself as well as everything about the nature of the process itself fail to demonstrate appropriate sensitivity to the economic hardships this increased tax burden would impose on elderly citizens living on fixed incomes as well as low-income younger taxpayers and their families who remain deprived of adequate economic opportunities in part because of the unaffordable state pension system, the high rates of taxation imposed to feed it, and the resulting negative consequences for the Ocean State’s economic competitiveness.

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The GM Bailout and the Pawsox

The other day, somebody speaking favorably of moving the PawSox to Providence with a taxpayer “investment” cited the bailout of GM as an example of how taxpayers can actually get their money back from such activities.  As it happens, I was just clearing out some old bookmarks and came across this, from Conn Carroll on Townhall:

In his 2014 end of the year press conference, President Obama claimed that, “effectively today, our rescue of the auto industry is officially over. We’ve now repaid taxpayers every dime and more of what my administration committed.” (emphasis added)

And it is true: if you look at only the new money the Obama administration spent bailing out General Motors, Chrysler, and Ally Financial, taxpayers did get back “every dime” of that cash.

But that completely ignores the $17.4 billion President Bush promised General Motors and Chrysler in December 2008.

If you take the entire Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout into account, taxpayers spent a total of $79.7 billion on the auto bailout, received only $63.1 billion back, for a total loss of $16.6 billion.

It’d be nice if we all could start learning our lessons on this stuff.

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Credit for Healthcare Initiatives

When you read the following, from today’s Providence Journal, who do you think ought to get credit for the innovation?

So with Governor Raimondo pushing her cost-cutting Reinventing Medicaid initiative, Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island is eagerly touting what it says is the early success of a program begun just five months ago to address Medicaid subscribers with frequent and hefty medical bills.

Astute readers might pick up on the fact that the program began five months ago, which would mean the governor would have been implausibly dynamic to get it rolling, if it was possible at all.  Still, you should be forgiven if you finished the paragraph with the impression that Reinventing Medicaid is to credit.  How about this one?

Most states have not [advanced data and analytics to target high-cost insurance members], because of the intense partisanship over “Obamacare” and in some cases because of technical problems.

Instead, they rely on the federal HealthCare.gov website. Rhode Island, however, has its own health-care exchange, HealthSource RI.

So, maybe it’s HealthSource to credit, then.  But wait a moment:

The program has been in development for two years and is similar to other projects under way in the state, Trilla said. Given Reinventing Medicaid’s goals of targeting so-called “high utilizers,” he said that Health@Home has “ended up dovetailing nicely” with the governor’s efforts.

Two years ago would be May 2013, at which point HealthSource was still in development (based on wildly inflated projections).  That suggests this innovation was not driven by Governor Raimondo, and it was not driven by ObamaCare or HealthSource RI.  Rather, one can infer that it was driven by a private organization’s assessment of how it might better use its resources.

Maybe we can find our way to giving government some credit if Neighborhood’s innovation was inspired by the much-maligned Global Waiver program (to which Raimondo’s Reinventing Medicaid initiative bears some striking resemblance), but then the credit would have to go to Republican President Bush and Republican Governor Carcieri.  ObamaCare and Democrats actually hindered savings from that effort.

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Political Outrage Rather than Community Interaction

Long-time readers may recall the time a local political activist managed to stoke up a phony scandal over some tweets of mine, when I was running for school committee in Tiverton.  Well, the same group has struck again.

A supporter of my petitioner’s budget, who is also a town council member, set up a display outside the town’s polls at the high school, Saturday morning, consisting of a replica military motorcycle with various accessories.  Leaning against it was a drill-dummy rifle with a helmet over its pretend muzzle.  Most people passing paid no attention to the display, and those who did were admiring.

Late in the day, somebody called the police, and at their request, the owner put the fake gun away.  Now the same group of political activists who went after me have cranked up the outrage machine with the help of the local news media.

I go into detail on Tiverton Fact Check, noting that similar outrage could be ginned up about the town council president smoking while campaigning for the other side.  Neither is an outrage, and neither should be leveraged to create scandal that does nothing to resolve the town’s challenges, but does much to make people feel that civic participation is not part of full involvement in the community, but rather that it’s a risky and dangerous (yet dull) duty best left to others.