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Lucky Independence from the General Assembly

Even if I didn’t work there, I’d endorse the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s call for the General Assembly to stay out of the State House:

As America prepares to celebrate its independence, and in order to preserve the rights, freedoms, and incomes of Ocean State families and businesses, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity recommends Rhode Island remain independent from further legislative tyranny. The Center today urges the state’s ruling class to officially close the General Assembly’s 2017 legislative session, keeping Representatives and Senators away from the State House so that they cannot inflict more damage this year.

Recent history clearly shows that the people of RI lose when the General Assembly is in session. Once again this year, the preliminary General Assembly Freedom Index shows that the vast majority of bills rated by the Center serve to decrease freedoms and limit the opportunity for prosperity for the majority, non-special-interest faction, of our state’s population.

I think the General Assembly should take a whole year off so legislators can work out their differences without having to worry about any actual legislation.

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Naturally, the Politicians Use “Good Government” to Lock In Their Own Positions

This legislative session in Rhode Island is turning into a real assault on Rhode Islanders.  Here comes legislation making it more difficult to challenge political incumbents… now amended to avoid any further difficulty for those incumbents:

In the version of the bill passed out of committee, the [ballot] block on candidates with overdue fines remains, but random campaign account audits were replaced by audits on candidates who have failed to file at least two finance reports with the Board of Elections, or those who owe more than $1,000 in fines.

So, they’re still going after the grassroots little guy or gal who gets tripped up in the election regulations, but they’re letting themselves off the hook completely.  They have no right.  As has become increasingly clear, Rhode Island isn’t really a representative democracy.  It’s a kleptocracy.

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“Collusion” Among Newspapers, Researchers, and “the Resistance”

This is perhaps a minor thing, and it’s certainly a little outside of my usual scope, here, but being a language guy, I found it to encapsulate the bias that many of us see in the news media.  This is from text by the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker that appears as a brief sidebar in today’s Providence Journal.  The Projo gave it the online headline, “White House blames Obama for failing to stop Russia collusion“:

The White House blamed the Obama administration Sunday for failing to tackle possible Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election, sticking with a new strategy to fault President Donald Trump’s predecessor for an issue currently facing the president himself as part of a widening FBI probe.

Either Parker and the Projo’s online headline writer are attempting to deceive readers or they don’t know what “collusion” means.  They use the word to mean, broadly, Russian interference or meddling in the election, but it actually requires some sort of agreement, in this case between somebody in the Trump campaign and the Russian government.  Even with all of the illegal leaks newspapers have published in the last however-many months, we’ve seen no evidence of collusion, and yet journalists are using that mere allegation as the characterization of the whole “widening FBI probe.”

This sort of peep-hole into the thinking and decisions of people who claim to be objective investigators gives an example of why so many of us are suspicious of all such claims.  Consider the legislation that looks likely to become law this year to shield researchers in state institutions of higher education from public records requests.

Maybe there’s an argument to be made for the transparency exception on more procedural grounds — if serious scientists are avoiding employment in state institutions because having to divulge “preliminary drafts, notes and working papers” hobbles them in professional competition with other researchers, but that’s not how it’s being presented.  It’s being presented as a mechanism for hiding the work on the hotly contested issue of climate change on behalf of a governing elite that has given the people no justification for trust.

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Not Just Spending, but That Upon Which It Is Spent

Reading about Illinois’s budget problems a little earlier today, an association nagged at the corner of my mind, and I remembered something from Table 5 of the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) report comparing the states.  Specifically, in fiscal year 2015, Illinois was near the top of the list when it came to the percentage of its budget spent on “other” expenditures — that is, things other than elementary & secondary education, higher education, public assistance, Medicaid, corrections, and transportation.

The states higher than Illinois seem generally to have unique circumstances (Wyoming, Oregon, Alaska, and Hawaii), and with 43.7% of the budget going to “other” expenditures, Illinois is way up there.  What’s apt to catch a Rhode Islander’s attention is that our state is only two ranks behind Illinois (after Nevada), with 42.1%.

That, if you’re wondering, is the highest in New England.  The percentages across New England are interesting, particularly in the degree to which they scuttle some clichés.

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Two conspicuous myth busters are Massachusetts’s relatively low spending on education and Rhode Island’s relatively high spending on higher education.  Also conspicuous is Rhode Island’s low spending on transportation.

Overall, though, notice that, with the exception of higher education, Rhode Island is typically in the bottom tier for all categories, to the benefit of “other.”

What is this “other”?  And why do we need so much of it?

Of course, we need to keep in mind that these percentages might be a little misleading, inasmuch as the amount of total spending will make a big difference.  Nonetheless, the results are interesting.

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Lord Stephen Archambault Threatens Peasant Terry Gorman

Earlier today, Tara Granahan tweeted criticism of behavior by Democrat Senator Stephen Archambault (Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston) during the June 15 hearing of the Senate Committee on Judiciary concerning drivers licenses for illegal immigrants.  Here’s the moment in question:

Out-of-state guests with whom the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has interacted when they’ve come to our state to testify on legislation have commented about the terrible behavior of legislators, with very similar circumstances to those to which Gorman objected.  The legislators — clearly treating hearings as a way to go through the motions and let people believe we still have a representative democracy — lapse into joking around with each other.  Even if they aren’t laughing at the people offering testimony, the signal of disrespect is huge.

The shocking part of this video, though, is Archambault’s chastising Gorman as if the senator is some sort of feudal lord putting a peasant in his place.  Archambault insists that “whatever I’m saying back here is my business.”  Well, no, Lord Steve.  You’re “back there” as a representative of Rhode Islanders in your district.  Gorman isn’t coming into your space under your good-hearted sufferance.  You’re privileged to be there on behalf of others.

But Senator Archambault pushes folly to offense when he repeatedly insists, “Don’t ever do that again.  Ever.”  Or what?

If we didn’t live in such a corrupt, one-party state, the committee chairwoman, Democrat Erin Lynch Prata (Warwick, Cranston) would have insisted that Archambault stand down and apologized to Mr. Gorman.  But we do live in such a state, which means we must constantly be reminded that they don’t work for us; we work for them.  We don’t bestow privileges upon them; they bestow them upon us.

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The Electoral Incentives of Big Government in District 13

Newport Daily News article about the race to replace Senate President Theresa Paiva Weed in Rhode Island’s District 13 gives a snapshot for the “how did we get here” file.  Here are the seven candidates, with reporter Sean Flynn’s short description of each:

  • Green candidate Gregory Larson, “a retired history and economics teacher from Classical High School in Providence”
  • Independent (Libertarian) candidate Kimberly Ripoli, “a retired Navy officer and former associate director of state Veterans Affairs”
  • Republican candidate Michael Smith, “owner of Industry Electric Inc.”
  • Democrat candidate David Allard, “a state Department of Education employee and former outreach manager for Gov. Gina Raimondo”
  • Democrat candidate Dawn Euer, an attorney and “a social activist who is co-project director of the Newport Open Space Partnership”
  • Democrat candidate John Florez, a city councilman and “owner of the firm Drupal Connect”
  • Democrat candidate David Hanos, school committee chairman and “a captain on the Newport Fire Department and owner of DC Hanos Contracting LLC”

Out of seven candidates, four are either active or retired government employees (even the libertarian!), and one is a big government, central-planning activist.  The odds would seem to be against any candidate who correctly identifies that an over-sized government, including an over-sized government workforce with over-sized compensation packages, is Rhode Island’s central problem.

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Why Maybe We Needed a Somewhat Crazy President

I’ve been meaning to note a Kimberley Strassel column from two weeks ago because I think it illustrates well why America may have been fortuitous in electing a president whom many think to be unfit for reasons of (not to put too fine a point on it) a sort of insanity:

Meet the deep state. That’s what conservatives call it now, though it goes by other names. The administrative state. The entrenched governing elite. Lois Lerner. The federal bureaucracy. Whatever the description, what’s pertinent to today’s Washington is that this cadre of federal employees, accountable to no one, is actively working from within to thwart Donald Trump’s agenda.

There are few better examples than the EPA post of Scientific Integrity Official. (Yes, that is an actual job title.) The position is a legacy of Barack Obama, who at his 2009 inaugural promised to “restore science to its rightful place”—his way of warning Republicans that there’d be no more debate on climate change or other liberal environmental priorities.

The federal government has become the embodiment of a sort of surreality that could best captured by a writer of the 1800s born east of Germany.  What sort of standard, sane president would have offered the necessary corrective?

Sometimes you have to fight a cancer with radiation.  Sometimes dynamite is the appropriate tool in construction.  And sometimes you have to vote Trump for president, maybe even twice.

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We Won’t Always Have Paris, Thank Goodness

In light of Dan Yorke’s surprising incredulity that Mike Stenhouse would be satisfied with President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, I was happy to come across Roger Kimball’s shared glee over the withdrawal and the ensuing lunacy from the Left:

Hysteria on the Left was universal. But as many cooler-headed commentators observed, one of the really amusing things is that the Paris Accord means exactly nothing. Since it requires nothing of its signatories, it will yield nothing from them. As an editorial in The Wall Street Journal pointed out, “amid the outrage, the aggrieved still haven’t gotten around to resolving the central Paris contradiction, which is that it promises to be Earth-saving but fails on its own terms. It is a pledge of phony progress.”

Kimball offers two things that Paris does do, though.  First is offering people an opportunity for cheap-to-them virtue signaling.

The second reason for the hysteria follows from the one serious effect of the climate accord. It has nothing to do with saving the environment. Every candid observer understands that the real end of the accord is not helping “the environment” but handicapping the developed countries. At its core, the accord is intended as a mechanism to redistribute wealth by hampering countries like the United States from exploiting its energy resources and growing its economy. Hamstring the United States, but let countries like China and India—industrial strength polluters, both—do whatever they want.

Like many international agreements, the unspoken subtext of the Paris Climate Accord is “hamper America. Grab as much of its wealth as you can. Say it’s in the name of ‘fairness.’”

The irony is that the Left is throwing around terms like “traitorous” and “betrayal,” which makes me think of Indiana Jones.  Kimball quotes left-wing billionaire political activist Tom Steyer on the first term; I’ve noted our own Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s using the second, conspicuously just a few days after the mega-donor’s statement.  And yet, they’re using those words to describe an action that, from the perspective of many conservatives, puts working Americans’ interests first.

That’s a strange sort of betrayal, if your loyalty is to Americans.

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One Hundred New State Jobs Would Only Perpetuate Failures & Failed Approach

Both the proven failure of a budget-centric approach and Governor Raimondo’s dismal public policy track record should give the General Assembly real pause when considering her reported request for one hundred new state hires – and other initiatives, past and prospective.

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The Network of Left-Wing Activists That Targets Legislators’ Homes

In late March, I highlighted a post on RI Future celebrating a march on the Pawtucket home of Democrat state representative David Coughlin, who sponsored legislation to require more cooperation between Rhode Island law enforcement and federal immigration officials.  At the time, I made a note to look into the group behind the march, and it proved to be just another one of the many, many groups that pop up in Rhode Island, funded largely through the same stream.

According to Steve Ahlquist’s report, the key organizer appears to have been Fuerza Laboral, whose executive director, Heiny Maldonado is, I believe, the one pictured holding the sign reading, “Your constituents put you there. Your constituents can take you ‘OUT’,” as well as a sign reading, ironically, “Stop fascism now.”

As one typically finds, the group’s list of “institutional partners and funders” leans heavily toward organized labor union groups.  Also on the list are a variety of foundations, from the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation (Vermont) to the more-overt Left Tilt Fund (California), which gave the group $10,000 per year for a few years.  In 2015, the Fuerza Laboral collected just under $210,000 and spent about 54% on employees.

Investigating the Left’s activities, one discovers a lot of these groups, even in a small state like Rhode Island, covering just about every political issue out there, all of them well funded and with staffs of paid activists.  Measure them against the handful of conservative groups that progressives love to present as some sort of hidden force affecting the state for the benefit of outside donors, and it isn’t even close.

This is the context in which Rhode Islanders should consider supposed “good government” reforms that seek to trip up grassroots candidates and small groups with campaign finance regulations that expose their donors.  The progressives’ funders have a well-established channel (much of it going right from taxpayers, through labor unions as dues, and back into politics and activism).

Exposing every small local donor of non-Leftist groups and politicians just gives the progressive network more homes on which to march and properties to photograph for intimidation purposes.

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Micromanaging Ourselves to Death (Indictment Edition)

Can we please stop trying to use the law to ensure that every situation has the outcome that we want on the time frame that we’d prefer?  Some processes are best left out of the direct, immediate dictation of legislators trying to correct something that happened in the past.

This problem is all over the place, all the time, but it comes to mind today with this news out of Providence, reported by WPRI’s Dan McGowan:

If this policy were already in place, former Providence City Council President Luis Aponte would have been forced to resign his leadership position immediately following his May 10 indictment.

That’s the pitch from Councilman Sam Zurier, who’s put forward a proposal to amend the city’s code of ethics to require any councilor indicated on a felony “directly related to his or her employment’ to step down from leadership positions and subcommittees. It will get a public hearing Tuesday evening at 5:30 in City Hall.

Zurier’s motivation is that it took political pressure for Aponte to resign his presidency, and it wasn’t a sure thing that he would do so.  That should be how we want such issues to be resolved.

If the removal from leadership becomes an instant consequence of indictment, prosecutors would have huge power to bring about political outcomes.  Perhaps we trust the people who have such power right now, but the same could be said of city council leaders as a general proposition.

The system worked in this case.  People made a case (and a scene) for Aponte’s resignation, and he wasn’t able to mount an adequate defense of himself.  If the indictment were corrupt or superfluous, he would have been able to push back against it and hold on to his role.

There are reasons we consider folks innocent until proven guilty, and one of them is that we don’t want to empower those who can bring charges to produce binding consequences without due process of the law.  We forget that at our own peril.

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The Administration that Spied on Its People

Recent reports that the Obama administration used data-collection to spy on political opposition seems like it ought to be treated as a much bigger deal than it’s been:

According to top-secret documents made public by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – often referred to as the FISA court – the government admitted that, just days before the 2016 election, NSA analysts were violating surveillance rules on a regular basis. This pattern of overreach, coupled with the timing of the government’s disclosure, resulted in an unusually harsh rebuke of the administration’s practices and principles. …

“Sources of mine have indicated that political players have increasingly devised premises to gather intel on political targets by wrapping them up in ‘incidental’ collection of foreigners, as if by accident,” Sharyl Attkisson, who is pursuing a federal lawsuit the Department of Justice has tried to dismiss, told the Fox News Investigative Unit.

The numbers are staggering:

More than 5 percent, or one out of every 20 searches seeking upstream Internet data on Americans inside the NSA’s so-called Section 702 database violated the safeguards Obama and his intelligence chiefs vowed to follow in 2011, according to one classified internal report reviewed by Circa.

The NSA has said it has stopped the program, which is as it should be, but isn’t it convenient that it has done so only now that the Deep State’s preferred political party is out of the White House?

Yet, the mainstream media has refused to cover the story.  That seems kind of convenient, too.

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General Assembly Must Step In – Tolls Have Taken A Dangerous Turn

Below is a statement that StopTollsRI.com (for which I am spokesperson) placed on its Facebook page last night. The R.I. Trucking Association and the American Trucking Association have announced that they would wait until all 30+ toll gantries were installed before they would challenge the legality of truck tolls in court. This alarming development first came to light Thursday night in testimony before House Finance. See Mike Collins’ testimony starting at approximately minute 1:52:40.

Tolls have taken a dangerous turn for Rhode Island residents and taxpayers. It is now imperative that state legislators and General Assembly leadership step in for the good of the state and end the truck toll program.

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Seems the Fascists Are Pro-Net-Neutrality

Here’s an interesting — if no longer surprising — detail from Tunku Varadarajan’s interview with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pal, in the Wall Street Journal:

Protesters from the far-left group Popular Resistance have swarmed the Arlington, Va., street where Ajit Pai lives, placing pamphlets with his face on his neighbors’ front doors. “Have you seen this man?” the flyers ask, stating that Mr. Pai—“Age 44 / Height 6’1″ / Weight 200”—is “trying to destroy net neutrality.” Mr. Pai is chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and the activists, not without perverse humor, describe their picketing of his home as “Ajit-ation.”

“They were there yesterday,” Mr. Pai tells me Monday in his office at the FCC, in uncool Southwest Washington. “I understand they’ll be there today. They’ll be there tomorrow and the day after. It’s a hassle, especially for my wife and my two young children.” The activists, he adds, “come up to our front windows and take photographs of the inside of the house. My kids are 5 and 3. It’s not pleasant.”

The Left excuses itself for this sort of behavior because, like every self-righteous group of totalitarians, they believe they are on the side of ideals that are higher than the rights of those whom they see as a danger.

Ultimately, though, this isn’t a grassroots uprising against an official in an overbearing government, but rather, the protesters are the shock troops of a deliberate movement to grow overbearing government.  When their politicians are in power, they force rules through.  When people vote for a change of course, out come the shock troops, and up goes the mainstream media propaganda, to make sure the ratchet only moves toward more centralized power.

You’d think their unhinged response to President Trump’s election would have taught these people that consolidating power doesn’t come with a guarantee that they’ll always like what’s done with it.  Of course, one can’t expect people who put a family’s house under siege over Internet rules to think things through rationally like that.  They’re either crazy or paid to act like it.

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