Politics RSS feed for this section
justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The 38 Studios Misfire

Putting together the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s 38 Studios scorecard, the peculiarity of the whole matter reared its head.  Most folks who’ve watched the controversy closely know that the Economic Development Corp.’s (EDC) loan guarantee program first arose in a supplemental budget, but the details aren’t widely understood.  Here are some findings that don’t entirely jibe with the common recollection:

  • The increase of the $50 million program to $125 million — to surreptitiously cover the 38 Studios bonds — was not slipped in as a floor amendment during the infamous floor session at which Republican Representative Robert Watson of East Greenwich stood as the lone “nay” vote when the bill came back around a second time.  It was part of article 7 in the SubA bill (2010 7105) that the House Finance Committee sent to the floor with the supplemental budget.
  • More representatives voted against the program in the supplemental on April 13, 2010, than as a separate bill, although all but one apparently changed their views when the bill came up again:
    • Rod Driver
    • Larry Ehrhardt
    • Robert Jacquard
    • Charlene Lima
    • Brian Newberry
    • Robert Watson
  • Cranston Democrat Lima even put in an amendment that would have required disclosure of any elected officials who contacted the EDC on behalf of any company seeking to participate in the program, and 25 representatives voted for it (which is a relatively large vote for an insurgent amendment).
  • The Senate actually did pass the supplemental budget, on April 14, but oddly didn’t transmit it to the governor.

The immediate question that the Center had to consider for its scorecard was whether to count these votes.  Ultimately, we decided not to do so because, in the weird circumstances, it never became law.  Even if, for example, Lima’s floor amendment had passed, it wouldn’t have been part of the law because she didn’t resubmit it to the version of the statute that made it into law.

Had we counted the supplemental, some legislators would have edged a grade up or down, but no incumbents.  Moreover, in the discussion over the years, the public has generally considered the 38 Studios controversy as having begun with the freestanding bill that actually made it to the governor’s desk.

Reviewing the history, though, does make one wonder who knew what, back then, and why an issue that did spark some push-back in April seemed to zip right through when it came around again in May.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Going After Free Speech Against Incumbents in Connecticut

For the Campaign Regulation Is Unconstitutional file, Joe Markley relates his experience in Connecticut:

Along with my friend and colleague, Connecticut state representative Rob Sampson, I’ve been charged with a violation of campaign-spending statutes by our state elections-enforcement authority. My misdeed was a single mention of Governor Dannel Malloy in each of two mailings we sent during the last state election. …

The fact is, we didn’t bring the governor up to hurt his campaign, but to make our own position clear to voters: Dan Malloy is Connecticut’s single biggest problem. His enormous tax hikes (the two largest in state history, one each passed immediately after his election and reelection), his reckless borrowing, and his refusal to reduce the size and scope of state government have brought our state to the precipice. Prohibiting us from sharing with voters our opinion of the governor would deprive them of the most important piece of political information we can offer.

And that’s the point.  All that stuff about getting money out of politics is dressing.  Some activists sincerely believe it, of course, but whether the political corruption was behind the cause at its inception or the corrupt subsequently identified the opportunity it presents, campaign finance and related regulations are now meant to protect the powerful.  There is simply no legitimate interpretation of the Constitution that allows the government to forbid people from criticizing the king or a duke or an earl when it matters or seek to restrict their funding or force them to list their co-conspirators.

engaged-citizen-avatar

Ray Mathieu: Not Too Late to Default on 38 Studios and Force Investigations

Taxpayers are and should be outraged not only at the final “findings”, or rather lack of findings, resulting from the conclusion of the multi-year investigation of the 38 Studios fiasco, but also at the lack of transparency surrounding the investigation. Based upon what professional bond investment managers have told me, I have stated repeatedly since long before the first bond payment was ever made that the only way to have a thoroughly independent, full-blown professional investigation would be to default on the bond payments, thereby forcing the bond insurance companies, who would wind up paying these bonds, to perform their own deep investigation.

Of course, The Powers That Be did not want that, for fear of the real truth coming out, so they used the fear mongering excuse that the state’s bond rating would be adversely affected if we defaulted on the bonds. While, as I’ve been advised, it may be true that the rating of moral obligation bonds like the 38 Studios bonds, which are not backed by the full faith and credit of the State and, therefore, do not carry a low tax-exempt interest rate but rather a much higher and fully taxable interest rate, may be adversely affected, we should not be issuing anymore of these moral obligation bonds anyway. Such bonds are approved by the legislature so the debt can be issued without requiring voter approval. Needless to say, after the result of the 38 Studio investment, the practice of issuing bonds without voter approval should be curtailed permanently.

As I have been also advised, the ratings of the state’s general obligation bonds may also be affected by a default on the 38 Studios moral obligation bonds, even though general obligations require voter approval and are backed by the full faith and credit of the state. Even so, the possible potential increase in the amount of interest the state may have to pay on potential future bonds not even yet issued would be far less than the $90 million we are currently paying on the 38 Studios bonds, and the state would have avoided what now appears to be a cover up.

If the governor and state treasurer had stepped up and done the smart thing by defaulting on the bond payments initially, the taxpayers could have saved tens of millions of dollars and would have had the results of a professional insurance investigation made public years ago.

It is still not too late to default on the remaining 38 Studios bond payments and, thereby, force the bond insurers to give us the full investigation the taxpayers deserve and reduce the cost of this fiasco to the taxpayers.

 

Ray Matheiu is an independent candidate for RI state representative in district 1.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

In the Darkness Beyond the Footlights

This Richard Fernandez essay would be worth a read if only for the historical analogy:

… Florence Foster Jenkins was a Pennsylvania socialite who aspired to be a diva. The trouble was she couldn’t sing a note. “From her recordings it is apparent that Jenkins had little sense of pitch or rhythm, and was barely capable of sustaining a note. Her accompanist, Cosmé McMoon, can be heard making adjustments to compensate for her tempo variations and rhythmic mistakes. Unfortunately, there was nothing McMoon could do to help conceal the glaring inaccuracy of Jenkins’ intonation: the notes she sang were consistently flat and their pitch deviated from the sheet music by as much as a semitone. Her dubious diction, especially in foreign languages, is also noteworthy. Additionally, the technically challenging songs she performed, requiring levels of musical skill far beyond her ability and vocal range, served only to emphasize these deficiencies.”

The key part is that Jenkins’s friends covered for her, forbidding objective critics from entering her shows and deploying such Obama-esque spin phrases as lauding her “intentionally ambiguous” technique.  Fernandez even supplies an audio clip to capture what sound the phrase was intended to describe.

Readers won’t be surprised that I agree with Fernandez’s application of this analogy to President Obama and the mess that he has made of the world.  To the extent that the question remains whether Obama is incompetent or bumbling for some ulterior purpose, the best spin available might be that his performance is “intentionally inadequate.”

Still, the most intriguing part of the comparison with Jenkins is Fernandez’s suggestion that our elites in government and the media “can’t see the audience in the darkness beyond the footlights heading for the exits.”  That captures the feedback problem we have when the elites who want to spin reality have thorough control over so much of the country’s education and information systems.  Those of us wincing at the sound from the stage have no way of knowing, really, whether the audience is going along with the con or is preparing to throw rotten vegetables at the stage.

The unexpectedly successful candidacy of Donald Trump gives some indication, but without making clear whether people are accurately associating their headaches with the noise from the stage or are merely lashing out, knowing not at what.

mike-stenhouse-avatar

A Culture Of Silence In The Ocean State

In America, we must all remain free to voice our opinions without fear of state-sponsored persecution. It is reprehensible for any political elitists to collude to prosecute those who disagree with them on policy. For this reason, the Center is assisting a national nonprofit organization in a lawsuit demanding that the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General release documents they have refused to make public. We believe that General Kilmartin, and his fellow enemies of debate, are seeking to maintain a cloak of invisibility over the national AG group’s attempt to crush dissent by those who disagree with their radical climate change agenda.

In June, the Center published an energy report that demonstrated how oppressive state renewable energy mandates, as part of the national climate change agenda, will cost taxpayers and ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars. These mandates will cause job losses in the thousands, and artificially raise local electricity rates. It is research and advocacy such as this that Kilmartin and his AG group are seeking to muzzle and potentially prosecute as criminal. No matter where you stand in the climate change debate, citizens must have the right to speak freely.

This culture of silence in the Ocean State is chilling. Why do so many elected officials and prominent people want you to be quiet? The rigged system protects the corrupt insiders. As we saw in the recent 38 Studios political whitewash, the machine will do what it takes to keep you from knowing the truth. Rhode Islanders want a government that works for everyone not just the chosen few. Things do not have to be this way in our state. We can have an open state government that serves the real needs of our families, and protects our freedom to achieve our dreams.

Elected officials saying things are getting better in Rhode Island is not enough, they must take action. We need action. Unless the Ocean State adopts the proven free market reforms that can transform our state, we will continue to see the negative trends continue. You can change the status quo. You must not allow anyone to silence you. By speaking out on the issues that affect your family, you can make a powerful statement to the insiders that you have had enough. Now is the time to be bold, and have our public policy culture make a complete turnaround.

[Mike Stenhouse is the CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity.]

monique-chartier-avatar

Bike Paths, Lights, Sustainability – RhodeWorks Tolls Turn into Huge Bait-And-Switch

Am I going crazy? (Don’t answer that!) Didn’t Governor Gina Raimondo sell us on her unnecessary and highly destructive RhodeWorks toll plan by saying that the money would go to repair our very unsafe (oh so unsafe; most unsafe in this quadrant of the galaxy) bridges? But look at this RhodeWorks Quarterly Report!

Bike paths, lights, guardrails, road re-paving, something called “I-95 Sustainability” – RhodeWorks is being spent on all kinds of projects, not just bridge repair. Remarkably, there is even a RIDOT sign that CONFIRMS money from the RhodeWorks/Toll Project is being spent on a bike path!

What the heck??? Tolls were supposed to go to our unsafe bridges! Where did all of these other projects come from?

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Funding the Fundamental Transformation of America

Periodically, I’ve noted ways in which the seemingly out-of-nowhere madness sweeping our nation has actually been funded from the top-down, largely with our own money.  My favorite example — because it was my own discovery, my first hint of the mechanism, and so clear a one — is PolicyLink, an activist organization largely funded through the federal government, sometimes indirectly (as when the state of Rhode Island was forced to hire the group as part of federally funded RhodeMap RI activities), that has used its resources in the past to fund research into transforming U.S. capitalism into far-left socialism.

Yes, there are billionaires funding the Left’s astroturf, such as Tom Steyer on environmentalism and the infamous George Soros, but a whole lot of the money comes from us, largely through debt that we’ll have to pay.  No billionaire can beat the U.S. government for spending.

I mention this today, because I’m going through bookmarks of links on which I never managed to post and came across this, from the Sean Higgins in the Washington Examiner:

Bank of America has been able to reduce a multi-billion dollar mortgage fraud penalty imposed by the Justice Department by giving millions of dollars to liberal groups approved by the Obama administration.

The bank has wiped about $194 million off its record $16.6 billion 2014 mortgage settlement by donating to nonprofits and legal groups. Thanks to little-known provisions in the settlement, the bank only had to make $84 million in donations to do that. …

Among the groups receiving the money were Hispanic civil rights group the National Council of La Raza ($1.5 million), the National Urban League ($1.1 million) and the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America ($750,000).

Our government does not represent us.  It is abusing us, and there’s no end in sight.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Climate Change as an Excuse to Turn Government Against the People

Kevin Mooney has picked up, for The Daily Signal, the story about an open-records-related lawsuit against Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.  In brief, Kilmartin’s office has signed an agreement to work with other attorneys general and environmental activists to target companies and organizations on the other side of public debate about climate change and related public policy, with a further agreement to keep the larger agreement and correspondence secret.  One problem with that:

If Kilmartin and the other attorneys general prevail in the deal to keep select details secret, the ordinary citizen will be the loser, Chris Horner, a leading critic of climate change orthodoxy, said.

“It will mean that they can create privilege for what are otherwise public records, even when shared with ideological activists and donors, so long as everyone who wants to keep their scheming secret agrees in advance,” Horner told The Daily Signal.

That’s not the only way for government officials to keep things secret.  I’ve been writing about the efforts of the Employee Retirement System of Rhode Island (ERSRI) and General Treasurer Seth Magaziner to withhold from me the total amount of pension promises to which the state is committed, efforts in which the attorney general’s office is now involved.  In that case, the state government is making the ludicrous claim that, because a private actuary has the data, might have to perform a simple calculation, and might charge some price to produce the results, getting it would implicitly be an “undue burden,” thus creating an exemption from the law.  That is, even if the costs would be small and the people requesting the information were willing to pay the fees, public agencies do not have to release public information as long as they use an outside company to process it.

With that massive loophole in mind, turn to an essay from May by Hans Von Spakovsky and Tiger Joyce.  As part of this very same effort of state attorneys general to go after political opponents in the name of climate change alarmism:

Some state attorneys general are hiring profit-seeking, private-sector personal-injury lawyers to do their legal dirty work. Moreover, any contingency fees collected by these lawyers through settlements arising from these cases could be used, in part, to fund the campaigns of allied politicians who embrace the “one, true belief” of man-made global warming.

Unfortunately, the Department of Attorney General does not appear to be included in Rhode Island’s transparency portal, so there’s no immediate way to dig into Kilmartin’s expenditures with private firms, but even if the state has not yet reached the point of paying hired bounty hunters to track down those lawless climate change deniers, we can certainly include this whole corrupt effort on the list of ways in which government at the state and national levels has left the road along which the people can safely feel as if they are legitimately governed.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Providence Journal Gives Up on Objectivity

I’ve long harbored the hope that journalists with integrity at the Providence Journal were quietly embarrassed by their paper’s dabbling in PolitiFact.  In the past, I charted PolitiFact’s bias, and I even wrote a parody song about it.  In PolitiFact, the mainstream media has the perfect representation of the pretense of objectivity being used as a partisan political weapon.

With its coverage of this year’s partisan conventions, the Projo appeared to have committed the entire paper to the PolitiFact aesthetic.  With today’s front page, it appears to have taken up its method, too:

projo-trumptruth-081116

The “news” of this story is that Donald Trump, (sadly) the Republican nominee for president, is habitually dishonest.  Disliking Trump, myself, I’m not inclined to object to such investigation, but I still find it shocking to see it as such a prominent report in the Providence Journal, partly because it is inconceivable that the paper would give similar treatment to the similarly dishonest Hillary Clinton.

In fact, take the analysis a bit farther and open the paper to its “Campaign 2016″ coverage.  The headlines are:

Pay special attention to the bullet in the middle, because it may indicate why the editors felt it necessary to land so hard on Trump’s honesty today.  The “lack of filter” story is used as an envelope around an inset about the latest Clinton-related revelations, which I mentioned this morning, and that story is couched in terms of “Trump pounces.”

A search of the last fifteen days of the Providence Journal turns up no other news reports including the words “Clinton Foundation email.”  In other words, for the paper’s only reporting of emails that raise ethical questions about the Democrat nominee for president, it minimized the find (excluding, notably, the Obama Justice Department’s killing of FBI requests to investigate the foundation further), presented it in terms of Trump’s response, surrounded by a story about Trump’s wild speaking habits, next to a story about a U.S. senator calling him a kook, within an issue fronted with bold declarations of Trump’s habitual lies.

This is a newspaper attempting to affect the outcome of an election along predictable party lines, pure and simple.  Few remain so naive as to believe in mainstream objectivity in the post-Bush era, and I personally think we need less regulation of speech, not more.  Nonetheless, while this may do little more than show my age, I’m still shocked by the tabloid-esque brazenness.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Clinton and the Rule of Law

It sure does seem that Hillary Clinton has been almost daring the federal bureaucracy to uphold the rule of law, and the Obama Administration has casually refused to take the bait.  From CNN:

Early this year as the investigation into Clinton’s private email server was in full swing, several FBI field offices approached the Justice Department asking to open a case regarding the relationship between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation, according to a law enforcement official. At the time, DOJ declined because it had looked into allegations surrounding the Clinton Foundation around a year earlier and found there wasn’t sufficient evidence to open a case.

This sure looks like a cover-up.  Wouldn’t it behoove the federal government to be absolutely thorough and transparent in putting to rest any suspicions — particularly considering that the suspicions originated through “several FBI field offices,” not the vast right-wing conspiracy that Clinton has long offered her supporters as an excuse to ignore reality?  After all, this is a person likely to be the President of the United States, and it can’t be good for the country to have open questions about uninvestigated suspicions.

We can only fear what sort of damage a Clinton presidency would do to the rule of law should she win the office, just as we can only fear what sort of damage an unpredictable and apparently ignorant Donald Trump would do in the same position.  The more important conclusion, though, is that the federal government is already illegitimately exercising power because it is acting outside the bounds of the rule of law, which the citizenry should consider to be a violation of the contract that binds us to following the law ourselves.

As I’ve written before, our country has reached the point that we should follow the law to avoid prison or other consequences — and insofar as the law happens to correspond with moral principles — but should feel no moral responsibility to obey an illegitimate government.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Inequality Narrative

Not to pick on Ted Nesi, because he’s only trying to promote his work using a click-bait political narrative, but I had to ask him what the insinuation was when he tweeted that “just 5 of RI’s 27 best-funded politicians are women.”  Do people who attempt to buy Rhode Island politicians put sexism before corruption?  Or do fewer women run for office?  Or are the specific women who are currently politicians in Rhode Island not as effective at or interested in fundraising?

Nevermind.  Let’s all just assume sexism.

The problem is that such statements are part of what turns straight reporting of the news into another brick in the wall of a political narrative serving one side — in this case, the glass-ceiling-breaking Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (who will enter office with a large percentage of the population thinking she’s the archetype of corruption and thinking more of the cliché to “break glass in case of emergency”).  The entire inequality narrative, as Thomas Sowell argues, ought to be retired before it does anymore divisive harm:

People like Hillary Clinton can simply grab a statistic about male–female income differences and run with it, since her purpose is not truth but votes. The real question, however, is whether, or to what extent, those income differences are due to employers paying women and men different wages for doing the very same jobs, for the very same amount of time.

We do not need to guess about such things. Many studies have been done over many years — and they repeatedly show that women and men who work the very same hours in the very same jobs at the very same levels of skill and experience do not have the pay gaps that people like Hillary Clinton loudly denounce.

As far back as 1971, single women in their thirties who had worked continuously since high school earned slightly more than men of the same description. As far back as 1969, academic women who had never married earned more than academic men who had never married.

For the foreseeable future, I’m afraid, “equality” for women will continue to mean that women must have all the same positive outcomes as men, no matter what decisions they make.  If that doesn’t sound like “equality” to you, clearly you need to be reeducated.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Clinton Pay-to-Play and RI’s Mandatory Vaccine

Sarah Westwood sketches in some of the details of what many see as the pay-to-play scheme involving the overlapping activities of the Clinton Foundation and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (via Stephen Green):

The confusing structure can make tracing the precise destination of donations to the foundation a difficult task. However, donor records show major pharmaceutical firms — including Pfizer, Merck & Co., and Sanofi — have written generous checks to the Clinton Foundation. …

During Clinton’s first year at the agency, Merck lobbied the State Department to ease regulations restricting the distribution of its drugs “in certain Latin American markets,” according to lobbying disclosure forms from 2009. That placed the drug company’s international interests squarely on Clinton’s desk. …

As a senator, Clinton had reportedly written a letter urging the Department of Health and Human Services to approve Merck’s human papillomavirus vaccine in 2005.

By 2011, under her purview at the State Department, the U.S. government had teamed up with Merck to provide that same HPV vaccine to women in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. The initiative was set to cost $75 million.

Merck, of course, is the company that produces Gardasil, the vaccine for HPV (which cannot be transmitted in any ordinary school activity) that the state of Rhode Island has mandated for all girls and boys entering seventh grade in a public or private school and for which the state’s Dept. of Health is actively advertising with mailers and robocalls.

Like Hillary Clinton’s misdeeds, however, these connections and the strange enthusiasm of government officials for specific drugs that push the boundaries of their purview are not high on the list of mainstream journalists.  We all might chuckle that the federal government has apparently been pushing dental floss for over 30 years without any scientific basis (but much corporate enthusiasm, no doubt), but it isn’t enough simply to shrug and assume that this is how things work.  It shouldn’t be.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

No Libertarian Protest?

Writing, “So, basically, we have three Democratic tickets running for President,” Glenn Reynolds points to an essay by Ilya Shapiro (no social conservative stalwart):

[Libertarian VP candidate Bill] Weld, who seems like a nice man and was apparently a decent governor, is the living expositor of the difference between a libertarian and someone who’s “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.” …

… [Libertarian presidential candidate Gary] Johnson doesn’t just come off as anti-religion, but completely misses the distinction between public (meaning government) and private action that is at the heart of (classical) liberal or libertarian legal theory. That’s a shame: it makes him no different than progressives in that regard – or social conservatives, who miss the distinction in the other direction, restricting individual rights in addition to government powers.

Then there are things like this:

… Asked to offer their opinions about President Barack Obama, Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, said he was a “good guy.” Weld called him a “statesman.” Both had equally kind words for Hillary Clinton—especially Weld, who first met her while working on the House impeachment committee in 1974 where they were young staffers. The Clintons and Welds have been friends ever since. Weld resigned his governorship in 1997 to become President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Mexico, although his bid never made it out of committee because Senator Jesse Helms blocked it.

So it looks like the protest vote is not to vote at all.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Stop Expecting Corrupt Government to Prosecute Corruption

Not to be contrarian or anything, but really, what more of relevance did we expect to learn about the 38 Studios debacle?  The whole thing is outrageous from ignominius start to Friday news dump end, but State Police Colonel Steven O’Donnell has a point when he says, “A bad deal does not always equate to an indictment.”  Neither does corrupt government.

Look, 38 Studios is the brand of Rhode Island’s deepest corruption for a reason.  The General Assembly and the governor slipped through a big-money program with the promise of creating jobs, and a quasi-public agency put taxpayers on the line for a private company’s failure.  Partly because the politicians and bureaucrats involved have our electoral system locked up with a mix of handouts, demagoguery, insider advantages, and (some of us suspect) not a little outright cheating, there were no real consequences.  Moreover, the very same system that created the opportunity for corruption and failure in the first place is now the central economic development plan of our state.

It’s no good sitting around hoping that the corrupt will slip up and break the law so that the legal system can do what voters refuse to do.  We’ve seen all the way up to the White House that America’s legal system doesn’t do that anymore.  (A tweet that flitted across my screen this morning suggested that “the law is no longer working to protect us from the corrupt, but to protect the corrupt from us.)

More importantly, though, much of what we consider to be corruption is legal in Rhode Island, and that’s not necessarily wrong.  Expand the scope of activities that are illegal — to include bad decisions or working with people you know, for example — and you’ll find it becoming a weapon used by the corrupt against those who are not corrupt.  Look to Sheldon Whitehouse and various attorneys general for evidence or consider that, while the 38 Studios process may have been entirely legal, it is now illegal for people to spend almost any money advocating on local ballot questions without registering with the government.

The obvious solution is this:  Get off the sidelines.  Maybe run for office.  If that’s more effort than you can reasonably muster, then resolve to support those who will shake up the system, both in office and in organizations that strive to keep the pressure on politicians and government.  Perhaps reevaluate how much weight to give to different political issues (corruption and good government should maybe outweigh social issues in your decision-making for a decade or so).

That’s where change has to occur.  Otherwise, each investigation, indictment, and prosecution is just a bucket of water as we attempt to bail out a submarine a mile below the surface. The fact that these suggestions are nothing new doesn’t make them less true.

weknowbetterri-stopwhining-featured

Katz’s Kitchen Sink: #WeKnowBetterRI

As part of its 100-year anniversary self-promotion, the Rhode Island Foundation has been spreading around a video by Nail Communications that is slap-in-the-face offensive.  It begins by putting swear words in the mouths of children reading statements from (quote) actual Rhode Islanders; it tells Rhode Islanders to (quote) stop complaining and if they don’t have anything nice to say, well, be quiet.

Let’s be blunt, here.  Given Rhode Island’s parade of corrupt officials and its stagnant economy, we would be shirking our responsibility as citizens if we didn’t complain.  Now, if Nail Communications were to make another video about the view of Rhode Island’s insiders, it might go something like this.

[Advisory: In keeping with the original Nail Communications/RI Foundation video, the following contains bleeped swears.]

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Projo Plays It (Relatively) Straight for Day 4

Following up yesterday’s post about the Providence Journal’s (ahem) different approaches to constructing its front-page coverage of the two presidential conventions, I have to say that I’m pleasantly surprised to see the paper offer comparable presentations of the final days.

projo-2016conventioncoverage-day4

Sure, “HILLARY” is a little higher on the page than “TRUMP:” (with the lack of a colon arguably making the insinuation of the subheads less indicative of “she said this.”  Yes, Clinton gets another subhead promoting the fact that she’s a woman woman (as opposed those types of women for whom gender is entirely a social construct), and she also gets a boost from another negative-for-Trump story connecting him to Putin.  Meanwhile, the pro-Trump talking point for his coverage came not in a sub-head but in a picture from a goofy-looking supporter, and a secondary story is another negative-for-Trump story about Republican division.

And, of course, one could do a closer analysis of the three main sub-heads at the top of the page.  Still, the candidates do set their own tones, and one could argue whether each of the three Trump and three Clinton talking points favor them or not, depending on one’s perspective.

I’m sure these comparable covers were largely the plan all along for the final day of convention coverage, but I find it amusing to imagine that there is, somewhere, a design for a celebratory day-four front page of Clinton now defunct in a folder on a computer on Fountain Street.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

For Electoral Trust, Keep the Paper

I’ll admit that in darker moments I wonder whether the General Assembly agreed to get rid of the Master Lever (which allows a voter to pick everybody in a party with one mark the ballot) — delaying implementation for one election — because leadership knew that digital electoral equipment would be coming online with its own advantages for insiders.

To be sure, the changes actually planned for the election in November aren’t as bad as they might be.  We’ll still be voting on paper, but the machine will transmit the data wirelessly rather than through dial-up.  (Dial what?)  On the other hand, people will now be able to register to vote online, and the state will be testing out an “e-poll book” system that will handle check-in through tablets and (presumably) the Internet, rather than using an actual book that voters have to sign.

The process is important here.  A cynic might wonder whether somebody in state government will be able to keep an eye on votes in real time (with the new ballot scanners) and also watch the list of who has voted across the state, enabling them to drop hints to political friends who needs to be prodded to the polls where.

In the long run, though, I’m still with Glenn Reynolds on the value of paper:

Voting systems rely on trust. Voters have to trust that their own vote is recorded and counted accurately; they also have to trust that the overall count is accurate, and that only eligible voters are allowed to vote. …

The problem is that electronic systems — much less the Internet-based systems that some people are talking about moving to — can’t possibly provide that degree of reliability. They’re too easy to hack, and alterations are too easy to conceal. If the powers-that-be can’t protect confidential emails, or government employees’ security information, then they can’t guarantee the sanctity of voting systems.

Yeah, folks in the news media and those really invested in the out come of elections (like me) are addicted to watching results in as near-real-time as possible, but we shouldn’t be the top priority on election day.  If it takes a whole day, week, or more to produce an election outcome around which everybody is absolutely confident that the process of voting (at least) was fair, accurate, and traceable, then we’ve got the time.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

When Government Secretly Coordinate, That’s a Conspiracy

There’s a certain irony, here.  Rhode Island’s far-left Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is leading the charge to criminalize research and expression of views that don’t fit his extreme ideological and political view and a gang of thuggish attorney generals have been coordinating legal attacks on fossil-fuel companies and conservative think tanks on the claim that they’re engaged in an anti-environmentalist conspiracy, and yet the attorneys general are hiding their coordination from the public.

A press release from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity (for which I work) notes its participation in an effort to ensure a little bit of transparency into this actual conspiracy:

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity (Center) announced that it assisted a national nonprofit organization in a lawsuit, filed today, demanding that the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General (OAG) release documents they have refused to make public. The legal complaint calls for the release of documents related to AG’s United for Clean Power, a group comprised of politically-motivated AGs from about a dozen states, including Rhode Island, who have secretly teamed up with anti-fossil fuel activists to investigate dozens of organizations that have exercised their free speech by challenging the global warming policy agenda. …

In a series of April emails obtained by E & E Legal, the RI OAG consented to sign-on to an “agreement” among the larger AG cabal that is colluding to investigate if RICO statutes may have been violated. However, the Rhode Island AG now refuses to make public the group’s ‘Secrecy Pact’ documents related to that taxpayer funded activity.

That is, the attorney general will not release the terms of his office’s agreement or even the text of the documents pledging to keep that agreement hidden.

monique-chartier-avatar

​How Does the Governor Reconcile Her Support for Lower Electric Costs with Her Push for Renewable Energy?

All eyes on Philadelpha and the Democrat convention, of course. Thanks to Wikileaks, by the way, for furnishing an interesting Rhode Island connection for us all to speculate on.

Meanwhile, it’s important not to totally lose sight of stuff going on back in Rhode Island. The debate about a natural-gas powered electric plant proposed for Burrillville, for example, moved into the arena of the PUC this week.

The hearings are set to run Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and will differ markedly from the public hearings that have been held so far on the application, which gave Burrillville residents and others the opportunity to air their opinions and concerns about the power plant but didn’t allow for any back and forth.

On Thursday, Governor Raimondo called into the WHJJ Morning News with Ron St. Pierre to defend her support of the plant. (Podcast.) In doing so, she said

Well, I support natural gas because I support lower energy costs and lower electricity costs for Rhode Island.

That’s a pretty categorical statement. Yet only seven months ago, the Governor signed an Executive Order

… committing state agencies to get 100 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025

Further, in February,

A bipartisan group of 17 governors, including Governor Raimondo, have signed a pact agreeing to work together to build modern, sophisticated transmission grids and to advance clean energy and transportation technologies. Called the Governors Accord for New Energy, the agreement includes commitments to diversify energy generation and expand clean energy sources

All of these actions by Governor Raimondo are a big problem for everyone’s electric bill and a huge conflict with what she said on WHJJ. Because the dirty little not-so-secret about renewable energy is that it is far more expensive than conventional energy. Further and worse, as an important new report by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity demonstrates, the state’s continued pursuit of renewable energy would come at a high cost to ratepayers and taxpayers while providing an extremely poor return on greenhouse gases abated BY THE EPA’S OWN STANDARDS. In fact, the cost of renewable energy to Rhode Islanders could be as much as five times higher than the EPA recommends.

The Governor seems to want to manage her stance on energy in silos. “I’ll support the gas powered energy plant and say that I support lower electric rates and that will cover me with a lot of Rhode Islanders. Meanwhile, I’ll aggressively push renewable energy mandates onto ratepayers and taxpayers and that will satisfy the environmentalists.”

But it does not work that way, on any level. Firstly, the walls of the silos are not opaque. So everyone, whether inside a silo or outside of it, can see what she is doing in all of them. Far more importantly, the effect of her actions in one silo do not remain contained therein: what she does in one – the renewable energy silo, in this case – will most definitely have the effect – higher electric rates – that she claims to deplore as she’s standing in another.

Her words, to phrase it more plainly, do not match her actions. And that’s a real problem for the ratepayers (let’s remember, this category includes businesses) of a state that has some of the highest electric rates in the country. They very much need her actions – a wholesale repeal, not an expansion, of very expensive renewable energy mandates – to match her words when they open their electric bills every month.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Party of Trump, Which I Cannot Support

Maggie Gallagher succinctly describes the Trump policy platform, inasmuch as it is possible to discern and predict:

Here is the new Party of Trump that we saw in this convention: liberal in expanding entitlements, pro-business in terms of tax and regulations, non-interventionist in foreign policy, socially center-left (with the possible, but only possible, exception of abortion).

Americans who pay attention to politics and policy tend to err, I think, in allowing themselves to be drawn toward the exchange of discrete, independent policies as a form of compromise.  I give you this social policy; you give me that regulatory reform.  That’s how we end up with a worst-of-all-possibilities mix of policies that, for example, encourages dependency while socializing the losses of major corporations, all to the benefit of the inside players who are well positioned to manipulate the system to serve their interests.

Broadly speaking, policies are components of a machine that have to work together, with a basic operating principle.  As the most-charitable interpretation, the machine that Gallagher describes is designed to drive corporations forward in order to generate enough wealth for government to redistribute as a means of providing comfort and accommodating the consequences of an anything-goes society, with the world blocked out at the borders and not engaged in socio-political terms so as to avoid bleeding of the wealth.  (The only difference between that vision and a fully progressive one is that progressives don’t want the machine to be independent, but to be plugged in as a component of a bigger, international machine.)

Put that way (again, most charitably), Trumpian nationalism doesn’t sound too bad.  Unfortunately, the lesson of the past few decades (at least) is that the machine doesn’t work.  The corporations recalculate to the reality that the politicians’ plan makes them (not the people) the engine of the whole machine, while the value of promising entitlements leads politicians to over-promise and the people to over-demand, particularly in response to the consequences of loose culture, while the world outside the borders erodes the supports of our society and allows implacable enemies to rally.

Now add in the stated intention of Donald Trump to actively agitate against members of his own political party because they show insufficient fealty, and the policy mix points toward disaster.  The aphorism that “success is the best revenge” is apparently not good enough for Trump.  More than that, though, from his late-night tweets about the pope to this planned attack on Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and some unnamed foe, Trump shows no realization that these leaders have supporters.  Trump is free not to respect Pope Francis, but his behavior shows that he has little concern for the vast world of Roman Catholics.  His own supporters Trump loves, and he’s happy to condescend to them; those who aren’t his supporters are either enemies or inconsequential.

Nobody should have any trust that they’ll continue to have Trump’s support starting the moment their interests conflict with his, and that has implications for the instructions he’ll attempt to give the machine.

Yes, one of the very few arguments in favor of a Trump presidency is that he may remind certain sectors of American civic society about the importance of the checks and balances designed into our system.  However, Trump’s behavior has also proven that we should not assume he’ll moderate or react well to the reinstated rules of the game.

This isn’t to say that our electoral alternative is any better.  As I’ve written before, more than any I’ve ever seen, this election hinges on the timing of oscillating disgust with the two major candidates.  The wise move may very well be not to invest much wealth, energy, or emotion in the outcome, devoting personal resources instead to battening down the hatches.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

When the High-Tax Advocates Feel Free to Speak Their Minds

If the Town Council follows through with the Budget Committee’s threat to end trash pickup in Tiverton (or charge extra for it), it will be because elected officials and their supporters want to teach taxpayers not to attempt to control their taxes.  But the real lesson will be that we must be more careful about whom we elect to office.

At the May 21 financial town referendum (FTR), 1,224 voters out of 2,210 approved Budget #2, for a 0.9% tax increase, resulting in zero increase in the property tax rate.  That made supporters of a much-bigger tax increase angry; here are some examples of things that they wrote on the Facebook page of the local activist group Tiverton 1st:

  • May 21. Budget Committee member Deborah Scanlon Janick: “Make sure you all personally thank Justin Katz when you lose the services you are used to.” (Somebody even printed up business cards at this time, telling people to call my cell phone and complain.)
  • May 22. Former Town Council Vice President Joanne Arruda: “First thing… snow plowing… I know this is awful, but those people who put in this budget out there and had their minions vote for it will have to be affected.”
  • May 22. Tiverton 1st organizer Mike Silvia: “… in this town, the uninformed and greedy followers who outnumber the community-minded aren’t smart enough to know they’re being played.”
  • May 26: Tiverton 1st activist, school department employee, and school committee candidate Linda Larsen: “Unfortunately, [voters] won’t care until they feel pain. … It won’t make a difference unless it becomes personal.”
  • May 26: Tiverton 1st organizer Kelly Anne Levesque: “I would like to see trash pickup removed which will require you to schlep your maroon bags to the dump or hire a private company.”
  • June 7: Deborah Scanlon Janick: “The residents of Tiverton will pay the price for voting for Budget 2 or for not voting at all.”

Continue reading on Tiverton Fact Check.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Cruz Shows the Contrast, in More Ways Than One

You’ve heard the hype.  Now, if you haven’t already done so, take 25 minutes and watch Ted Cruz’s Republican convention speech.

Actually watching the video, I’d say by far the most disturbing aspect is the booing — the inability of the assembled Republicans to muster some grace.  The new GOP apparently cannot accept somebody who articulates a beautiful vision of the party’s perhaps-erstwhile values if he doesn’t at the same time utter a magic phrase of endorsement.  In that regard, it truly is now Trump’s GOP.  Me, I agree with Jonah Goldberg:

This is part of the corruption of Trump. He called Ted Cruz a liar every day and in every way for months (it used to be considered a breach in decorum to straight up call an opponent a liar, never mind use it as a nickname). The insults against his wife, the cavalier birtherism, the disgusting JFK assassination theories about his Dad: These things are known. And yet the big conversation of the day is Ted Cruz’s un-sportsmanlike behavior? For real? But forget Cruz for a moment. For over a year, Trump has degraded politics in some of the most vile ways. His respect for the Republican Party as the home of conservatism is on par with Napoleon’s respect for churches when he converted them into stables.

Read the whole thing.  Goldberg, like Cruz, is intent on exiting the Trump era (whenever that may be) with his courage, integrity, and well-formed political philosophy intact.  People who claim to share at least some significant share of that philosophy and yet who can boo its articulation if it does not mix in Trump’s cult of personality bring home just how much this election may hinge on a seesaw of alternating disgust.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Rhode Island… Not the Place to Be for Economics or a Zombie Apocalypse

I’ve long found the notion of a zombie apocalypse to be a useful metaphor when discussing the condition of Rhode Island. In 2013, for example, I suggested the following:

The American economy is not being kept alive by unnatural forces (stimulus and quantitative easing); that’s the talking-point dogma of Obama zealots in whose view the president can never fail because it will always be possible to close their eyes and believe that things would have been worse without him.

Rather, it is being held back by those unnatural forces and others (most notably over regulation). Look to Rhode Island for the test case — with a General Assembly that has now concluded its session proud to have made it more difficult to live and do business in their state. In light of Woodhill’s analogy, I’m inclined to see the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ map showing New England unemployment as a sort of infection map for the zombie apocalypse.

So, of course I clicked on the link when RIPR’s Ian Donnis tweeted out that Rhode Island has been judged the 49th best (i.e., 2nd worst) state in which to live in order to survive a zombie pandemic.  As usual with such rankings, it takes bad performance by most measures to land at the end of the list.

Rhode Islanders are about average when it comes to being physically active, so we’ve got an OK chance of running away from individual zombies when necessary, and we’re out of the bottom quarter when it comes to leaving our dead uncremated, reducing the ranks of the monsters from among the already dead.  But our state is the second most densely populated by the living and has the fourth lowest gun ownership.  We’re also in the bottom 10 when it comes to the preparation of watching zombie movies.

Perhaps the worst news for Rhode Island, though, isn’t captured by this list.  Judging by our apathetic response to the destruction of our state and the impositions on our lives perpetrated regularly by politicians and bureaucrats, one might reasonably expect Rhode Islanders to be slower to react to the obvious signs of a civilization-ending catastrophe.

On the other hand, the number of former Rhode Islanders proves the willingness and ability of our population to flee to healthier environs.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Testing and Accountability in Public School

Linda Borg’s article in today’s Providence Journal gives a small taste of an argument that would be much more prominent if Rhode Islanders really cared about education as much as we say that we do.  At issue is Education Commissioner Ken Wagner’s decision to end standardized testing at the high-school level.  Tim Duffy, of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, gets it right:

“If you aspire to be Massachusetts, then high school graduation requirements are going to have to have some consequences,” he said. “If there are no consequences for students, teachers or the system, we end up with improved graduation rates but we haven’t measured whether they are living up to the standards.”

One superintendent adds to that:

Chariho School Supt. Barry Ricci applauds any reduction in testing, but he doesn’t want the state to abandon tying a standardized test to graduation. Without that incentive, he said, high school students will not have any reason to take the test seriously. “I don’t want to give kids the message that we’re lowering the bar,” Ricci said.

In a word, what Wagner has diluted is accountability.  There has to be some way to hold not just students, but teachers and our entire public education system accountable.  What has happened (as I keep repeating) is that Rhode Island’s “fix the system” approach to education reform hit a political ceiling.  The adult special interests that infect our education system feared the prospect of having their failures laid bare in undeniable fashion, so they used our political system as a defensive weapon.  The repercussions of that explosion are reflected in standardized scores, with disadvantaged students (predictably) suffering the most harm.

I happen to agree with those who express concerns about high-stakes testing, but the public needs some means of measuring performance and imposing accountability.  Our children would be much better off, though, and our education system tremendously improved, if accountability derived from market mechanisms.  Let Rhode Islanders determine their own priorities for themselves and their own children and send students to the schools — public, charter, private, home — that best reflect those priorities.  Schools that cannot maintain viable student populations will have to improve or go out of business.

That scares our state’s politicians and insiders because no political ceiling would be possible once Rhode Island families got a taste of real reform.