Things We Read Today This Weekend, 6

Labor Inefficiency… but It’s for the Kids?

During the sessions in which I participated at the RI Foundation’s Make It Happen RI event, it was clear that we’re still in the phase of considering Providence Mayor Angel Taveras to be the cream of the leadership crop because he didn’t throw his hands up and faint in the street upon discovering the city’s financial predicament.  Still, somebody’s going to have to explain to me how it’s possible to claim that the state has any real leaders as long as we’re condemning students to a school system that ends up in the situation that Linda Borg described yesterday in Providence:

The department budgeted $1.8 million this spring to cover an estimated 25 teachers that it anticipated would be without classroom assignments. This appropriation was included at a time when the district was facing a $6.2-million budget shortfall.

The teachers’ union contract — approved last summer by Mayor Angel Taveras and the Providence Teachers Union — guaranteed that no teachers would be laid off during the three-year life of the agreement. This stipulation came in the wake of the mayor’s initial decision to terminate every one of the district’s 1,900 teachers.

$1.8 million would buy a lot of classroom technology and other supplies; it would also allow individual salaries to be increased in order to attract teachers for hard-to-fill, but critical, positions, particularly in math and science.  Of course, that sort of innovative pay scale isn’t allowed either, in the public schools.

And yes, $1.8 million could also take pressure off of taxes… although having undeniable evidence that the school department is doing everything possible to improve education in the city, with the results to prove it, would take pressure off taxes too, but in an entirely different (much healthier) way.

Every Disappointment Whittles Away at Self Esteem

Several people have asked me what I thought of the Make It Happen RI event, overall.  First, I should confess that a newly arduous progeny athletic schedule and exhaustion-caused wooziness kept me from the Saturday morning session.

But today’s coverage suggests that my impression wouldn’t have changed.  This paragraph from G. Wayne Miller’s Providence Journal story is pivotal:

But Rhode Island suffers from a chronic and counterproductive negative self-image, in which the state’s many positive assets are depressingly overshadowed by its economic problems, significant though they be, many participants agreed. The state needs therapy.

I beg to differ… unless we’re extending “economic problems” out for several decades and incorporating all of those things that keep the state down.  The genesis of the state’s self-esteem problem is the degree to which no power seems capable of toppling its non-responsive and corrupt government.  That’s not to say that there aren’t people who, gathering together, couldn’t change things, but that they have for several reasons proven unwilling and incapable of doing so.

Frankly, I didn’t see anything Friday or read anything today that indicates a shift on that front.  Indeed, the cloth for erasing the Make It hope RI has already been saturated and wrung.  Consider this paragraph a little farther down in the same story:

As did many others, [RIPEC’s John] Simmons spoke of the permitting process and how it needs to be fixed so it’s easier for businesses. But he also noted that an EDC initiative to analyze the state’s regulations is already working to fix that –– and the effort has been moved out of the EDC and into the newly created Office of Management and Budget.

See?  Not to worry, kids, the establishment is already on it.

If mine is a fair observation, then the most likely outcome is that any real, credible solutions coming out of the event will fail to inspire sufficient buy-in, because nobody is going to take up the cause of doing even more in order to take the pressure off the pillagers and roadblocks.  And the cycle of feeding the pessimism and the resulting apathy will only be fed.

Speaking of Recycling

It’s a small thing, perhaps, but I wasn’t able to find a single report about the $1.9 million in “recycling profits” that Rhode Island Resource Recovery distributed to the cities and towns that actually described where those profits come from.  An investigation is a bit beyond the bandwidth of the Current, but wouldn’t readers be curious about that sort of thing, or is the public really only interested to know how much money their municipalities were able to get their hands on?

And Speaking of Non-Responsive and Corrupt Government

I differ from Rep. Spencer Dickinson (D, South Kingstown) on a number of key issues pretty much the whole policy array, but watching him in committee and on the floor of the House, last session, I found it clear that his comportment is much more in keeping with my preferences for state legislators.

Now, over on Anchor Rising, Monique Chartier has posted a letter from Dickinson to at least some of his constituents that I am not at all inclined to see as sour grapes.  Indeed, he gives concrete shape to an understanding that most of us government-watchers have felt to be true.  Part 1 sets the stage:

Shortly after I was elected, I was put under intense pressure to support Gordon Fox for re-election as speaker of the house. I had expected some solicitation, but I was surprised by the desperate intensity I was hearing. Having served with four speakers in an earlier career, I thought I knew how the speaker’s office worked. I was surprised to learn that some things are very different now. …

In my previous time in the legislature, there was never any suggestion that an elected representative would take orders from or negotiate politically with a paid staff member. l was surprised when the chief of staff told me, with [South Kingstown Party Chair] Brendan [Fogarty] listening, that there was no need for me to talk to Brendan, because Brendan took his orders from him. I was honestly a little embarrassed for Brendan when I heard this. l had thought the question of the district committee could be resolved between the two of us.

Part 2 touches on redistricting:

As the redistricting issue began to be considered in the fall of 2011, it appeared to me that it would have little impact. My district, District 35, had an excess of about 600 residents. The neighboring district, District 34, was lacking about the same number. Federal law required moving the line to balance the population. Since there were no special problems in neighboring districts, the answer was simple. The first map prepared by the consultant reflected that. It moved the line to shift 600 people. I saw Map A, was not surprised, and took on a false sense of security. …

So when a skilled hand was needed to redesign District 35 to assure Mike Rice’s victory in a primary, Brendan was more than available. He did the job, carving out 3,000 people who populated the area where Mike had not done well.

And Part 3 succinctly explains the functioning of the legislature:

Committee rooms have become studios and there are TV cameras all over the building. The one place where there is no camera is the speaker’s office when he is talking to a lobbyist. That’s where a camera is needed because that’s where the deliberation takes place and that’s where the decisions are made. Weeks or months after a hearing, bills come back to a Committee for a vote. While the hearings may take hours, the meetings where we vote typically take only a couple of minutes. Once there is a quorum, the votes are called in quick succession, usually with no discussion. None needed. The speaker has made his decision. The members are more than happy to go along.

Honestly, there’s nothing surprising, here, but the fact that Dickinson goes on to link these problems with Rhode Island’s failing economy gives me more hope that change may someday come than the results of Make It Happen. Mind you, I’m far from hopeful, but the willingness of cantankerous souls to stand up and take a beating can be as sparks on the desiccated fabric of Rhode Island civic society.

The Bigger, National Problem

While we’re on the theme of hope and hopelessness, I’ll close by casting your eyes national, to this week’s column by Mark Steyn:

For me, the likely scenario isn’t that the Republicans will be terrorizing rape victims or that the Democrats will finally pass the necessary legislation to make contraception available for the contraceptively starved millions crying out for it, but that America will be sliding off the cliff — literally, as Joe Biden would literally say. And when America slides off the cliff it lands with a much bigger thud than Greece or Iceland. I’m not certain that the Republicans will be able to prevent that happening. But I know that the Democrats can’t. America owes more money than anybody has ever owed anyone in the history of the planet. But millions of Americans don’t see it, and millions of those who do see it don’t see it as a problem.

Sandra Fluke is one of them. She completed her education a few weeks ago — at the age of 31, or Grade 25. Before going to Georgetown, she warmed up with a little light B.S. in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Cornell. She then studied law at one of the most prestigious institutions in the nation, where tuition costs 50 grand a year. The average starting salary for a Georgetown Law graduate is $160,000 per annum — first job, first paycheck.

… She says the choice facing America is whether to be “a country where we mean it when we talk about personal freedom, or one where that freedom doesn’t apply to our bodies and our voices” — and, even as the words fall leaden from her lips, she doesn’t seem to comprehend that Catholic institutions think their “voices” ought to have freedom, too, or that Obamacare seizes jurisdiction over “our bodies” and has 16,000 new IRS agents ready to fine us for not making arrangements for “our” pancreases and “our” bladders that meet the approval of the commissars. Sexual liberty, even as every other liberty withers, is all that matters: A middle-school girl is free to get an abortion without parental consent, but if she puts a lemonade stand on her lawn she’ll be fined. What a bleak and reductive concept of “personal freedom.”

Serious, intelligent people agree with this diagnosis and see it as a problem. Those who aren’t sure should at least be suspicious of others who insist that we’re just a bunch of cranky ne’er-do-wells with suspicious motives.

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