Monthly Archives: March, 2009

Stop Googling and Start Goodsearching

Are you a mad Googler? Every time a question pops into your head, do you run over to the computer and start Googling about it? Then you’re just like me, and you could be putting all this cyber-energy toward a good cause by going to the homepage of Goodsearch rather than to Google. I know, Google is still an excellent search engine and sometimes after I’ve Goodsearched something, I go over to Google and search again, just to make sure I haven’t missed anything, or if I’m in a curious mood to see how the information is sorted and indexed differently. But Google doesn’t do anything for the causes I care about every time I do a search; Goodsearch does.

At Goodsearch, you can choose which charity you want your penny-per-search to go to. Right now I am alternating between the Rhode Island Center for Law and Public Policy (of which I am a board member) and my older daughter’s elementary school. I’ve also encouraged the priest of my church to become a Goodsearch charity, so then I guess I’ll have to do a three-way split between my Goodsearching.

Goodsearch has a neat feature where you can look and see how much your charity has earned in searches. So if you’re a compulsive stats checker as well as a compulsive searcher, you’ll get double treats here.

Along with Goodsearch, there is also Goodshop which gives a percentage of your purchase price to your designated charity. This is a great way to give a dollar here and a dollar there to a good cause, or if you’re doing some big purchases, to really provide some decent financial support to your chosen organization.

So, follow my lead! Stop Googling and start Goodsearching. The world will be a better place for it.

Showering Favor on All: the Meaning of Equality in America

Geoff Schoos provides some reflections on what it means to adhere to the core value of equal protection and equal access to opportunity in America:    

Recently, I came across the following passage that I’d like to share:

“It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages, artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society – the farmers, mechanics, and laborers – who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing.”

The above statement was not made by some disengaged philosopher with his head in the clouds. Nor, was it made by some statesman long lost to antiquity.

Rather, this statement of democratic ideals was written by our seventh President, Andrew Jackson and quoted in American Lion, Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham.

The language quoted above was contained in Jackson’s message that accompanied his veto of legislation that would have renewed the charter of the national bank. He saw the bank as a vehicle through which public money was loaned out to the wealthy and powerful to the detriment of the average man.

The parallels from that time to this, especially here in Rhode Island, are striking. With each passing year, too many in the executive branch aided by a significant number of legislators have placed state government on the side of the “rich and powerful”.

Recently, in my column for the Cranston Herald, I wrote about the power of ideas and their affect on policy outcomes. The role of government in a democratic society is a big idea with outcome implications. The budget submitted by the Governor clearly places the state government on the side of the few against the many. As Jackson might say, this budget is the embodiment of an evil.

The notion that government, “shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor” transcends mere partisanship. Rather, it is the core value of our society. It is what separates us from most of the rest of the world and for so long made us that “shining city on a hill” for the rest of the world. When we permit the perversion of that core value, we lose the essence of who we are and what we strive to be.

Equinox

We made the Temple of Music rock with drums and bells to welcome the first full day of Spring. In Rhode Island Spring is an act of faith, because you can’t put away your ice scraper before Memorial Day, but the sun is pretty, the sky is blue and a robin hopped around in the grass watching us.

Let’s Beat up the Nerds

Pat was a shy, chubby girl. She wore thick glasses with frames that would come back into fashion years after she had stopped caring about whether people liked her. But now she cared very much.

She tried to be normal, she never bragged about her grades, but people knew. Her classmates, who were being tracked into jobs at Hel-Mart or Manifest Coal, were jealous. They were watching Pat. They knew she had a secret.

And indeed she did. She pinned all her hopes on the science fair. For over a year she had been teasing out a protein from the jelly around tadpole eggs. Using all her allowance to buy the pipettes and chemicals she needed, keeping meticulous notebooks. Her ambition was huge–to create a desalinizing membrane.

She only needed one thing from her science teacher–

“Mr. Ludd, can I use the precision scale? I need to measure something for my science fair project.”

“Still playing with those tadpoles?” Mr. Ludd asked condescendingly. The other kids caught his tone and giggled.

And from then on, Pat was known as Tadpole Girl. Her classmates, who had lived with an unfocused sense that they were being disrespected, as indeed they were, now had a target. By the time Pat was out of middle school, she’d learned her lesson. You can see her today behind the cash register at Hel-Mart. She’s good at math, but cashiers don’t need that skill now.

Okay– following the example of Felicia Ackerman, who has more degrees than I can shake a stick at, I made all that up.

But if you want to beat up on something, it’s really easy to diss the biological sciences. They are the funny-sounding, nerdy stepchildren. No Lost Arks or rockets to Mars. That’s probably why Senator McCain, in his hunt for earmarks in the stimulus plan, pulled out a number of expenditures to make fun of, and per columnist Maureen Dowd, they are heavy on the biological sciences.

McCain might have reconsidered after Bobby Jindal decided to make an example of ‘volcano monitoring’ just before Mt. Redoubt started to rumble. It’s spitting distance from Fairbanks, Alaska, where the real Americans all live. And it’s odd that Jindal would be laughing off natural disasters. Would he have vetoed ‘levy improvement’ if he’d been Governor in 2004?

Anyway, here’s from Dowd’s column in the NYT…

Before the Senate resoundingly defeated a McCain amendment on Tuesday that would have shorn 9,000 earmarks worth $7.7 billion from the $410 billion spending bill, the Arizona senator twittered lists of offensive bipartisan pork, including:

• $2.1 million for the Center for Grape Genetics in New York. “quick peel me a grape,” McCain twittered.

• $1.7 million for a honey bee factory in Weslaco, Tex.

• $1.7 million for pig odor research in Iowa.

• $1 million for Mormon cricket control in Utah. “Is that the species of cricket or a game played by the brits?” McCain tweeted.

• $819,000 for catfish genetics research in Alabama.

• $650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi.

• $951,500 for Sustainable Las Vegas. (McCain, a devotee of Vegas and gambling, must really be against earmarks if he doesn’t want to “sustain” Vegas.)

• $2 million “for the promotion of astronomy” in Hawaii, as McCain twittered, “because nothing says new jobs for average Americans like investing in astronomy.”

• $167,000 for the Autry National Center for the American West in Los Angeles. “Hopefully for a Back in the Saddle Again exhibit,” McCain tweeted sarcastically.

• $238,000 for the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii. “During these tough economic times with Americans out of work,” McCain twittered.

• $200,000 for a tattoo removal violence outreach program to help gang members or others shed visible signs of their past. “REALLY?” McCain twittered.

• $209,000 to improve blueberry production and efficiency in Georgia.

“When do we turn off the spigots?” Senator McCain said in his cri de coeur on the Senate floor. “Haven’t we learned anything? Bills like this jeopardize our future.”

I don’t know whether these are worthy projects or pork, but I do notice that most of them are biological science grants and were chosen because they sound funny. I feel kind of disrespected here. Reform and transparency are needed and Senator McCain is on solid ground in his work for that. But don’t try to get me outraged because a grant (rather small) is going to Sustainable Las Vegas. Vegas is going to be a monumental ruin if they don’t figure out their water problem. And astronomy, if Sen. McCain recalls that Apollo Moon Landing thing, just might pay off. Beating up on the nerds instead of supporting the sciences will win him friends in the anti-evolution base, but it won’t help our country build a 21st century economy.

Calling All Curmudgeons

Can’t remember where I saw this, but someone had a real burnt-out take on that list–’one hundred things to do before you die’.

She made a list of things that she didn’t give a darn whether she ever did them.

Any ideas? My list of things I can die happily without ever experiencing–

Disneyland
Bikini wax
joining the ‘Hummer Helps’ ladies auxiliary
having a set of dishes that match
eating the deadly fugu fish (tastes just like chicken)

what’s on your list?

Welcome Spring

Today marks the vernal equinox, the first day of spring. Blue sky, a sharp North wind, and a few crocuses (crocii?). A bunch of folks are getting together at 10:00 at the Temple of Music in Roger Williams park tomorrow to mark the occasion. We’ll still be wearing gloves, but the long, cold, winter is past for another year.

How the Governor’s Budget Sticks it to the Poor and Middle Class

Geoff Schoos has an excellent column this week about Governor Carcieri’s budget and the many ways he is throwing middle class and needy people under the bus. From the Cranston Herald:

“This is like déjà vu all over again.”
-Yogi Berra, New York Yankees great

As anyone who knows me will attest, quoting anything uttered by a current or former Yankees player pains me greatly. However, I like Yogi and thus will give him a pass. Besides, his quote is apropos to the fiscal year 2010 state budget introduced by the governor.

Let’s start with the filing fiasco. It seems that the governor couldn’t find anyone in the General Assembly who would properly file the budget bill on his behalf. According to House Minority Leader Watson, all the Republican representatives were opposed to the budget “on principle.” The Republican legislators were outraged that the governor’s proposed budget contained tax increases. More about those tax increases later.

Thus, the governor was left to his own devices as to the submission of his budget. Someone from his office hand-carried a copy of the budget bill to House Speaker Murphy’s office, where it apparently rested untouched. Thereafter, the question arose as to whether the bill had been properly submitted to the General Assembly. The consensus was that the governor’s delivery was, in fact, improper.

Finally, after standing tall on principle for about 24 hours, the entire House Republican caucus sponsored/co-sponsored the governor’s budget bill. Does that mean that they were against it before they were for it?

You just have to love Rhode Island political theater. It combines the best elements of comedy and tragedy, often at the same time. To continue with the comedic part of this theater, two days after the budget was filed, the governor retracted the revocation of a tax credit for businesses that provided dollars to private and parochial schools. As a result of pressure from the Catholic Diocese as well as communications organized by the Rhode Island Scholarship Alliance, enough pressure was placed on the governor to reconsider his position on this matter. Apparently, he was in favor of the tax credit before he revoked it and then changed his mind and reinstated the credit.

So far, this puts me in mind of another Yogi-ism: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

As comedic as the back-story of the budget is, there’s nothing funny about its contents. Indeed, this is pure tragedy. In the interests of full disclosure, I haven’t read everything, but I’ve read enough to form some opinions.

Every budget rests on a set of assumptions. Without going into detail about all the assumptions contained in the 198-page executive summary that accompanied the governor’s 224-page budget, one assumption leapt out at me. On page 21 of the summary, based on calculations by the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference, which in turn relies on forecasts from Moody’s economy.com and Global Insight, the unemployment rate for fiscal year 2009 is predicted to be 8.8 percent and rise to 9.3 percent in fiscal year 2010.

What? I understand that these forecasts and estimates were formulated last November, but doesn’t anyone read a newspaper or read the monthly reports from the Department of Labor and Training? As it stands now, in fiscal year 2009, the unemployment rate is 1.5 percent greater than the estimated rate.

Indeed, the unemployment rate is higher than the increased unemployment rate projected for fiscal year 2010!

I think this is important. It’s not that the REC got the estimate wrong. That’s to be expected, given the speed with which the economy tanked. Rather, it’s that nobody ever returned to these assumptions to make the necessary corrections.

Clearly, an economic model was in place. All anyone had to do is input the new, real numbers and press the calculate button. That would have spit out a more accurate, but no doubt less desirable result.

Why is this assumption critical? Because so much of the budget hinges on the assumption of how many employed and unemployed Rhode Islanders we have. For example, in trying to estimate state revenues derived from individuals, which constitutes about 32 percent of all state revenues, there has to be an estimated level of personal income growth. If those estimates of income growth are based on unrealistic numbers of unemployed workers, then those estimates – critical to calculating the projected state revenues from individual taxpayers – are bogus. And if those estimates are bogus, then a significant portion of the budget is wrong.

In addition to sloppy calculations, once again the governor has proposed a budget that disproportionately weighs more heavily on the poor, the elderly and the middle-class. Thirty-eight thousand low-income Rhode Islanders are going to lose dental care under this budget. The governor asserts that this is an optional benefit under the state Medicaid plan, thus the state can eliminate it.

No matter that proper dental hygiene is critical to overall health maintenance.

Add to that the 25,000 elderly Rhode Islanders who will be adversely affected by the elimination of the Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Elderly Program. It’s a fair assumption that these medications are vital to their health and well-being.

Finally, approximately 110,000 Rhode Islanders will pay an estimated $1,200 more in income taxes next year than they did this year. The vast majority of these selected taxpayers are individuals and families that earned less than $75,000 annually. This is in addition to the higher tax on cigarettes and significantly increased fees that fall more heavily on those with lower incomes.

Compare their plight with those who earn $175,000 or more. Their income tax rate will drop from a flat rate of approximately 7 percent this year to 5.5 percent next year. This decrease will continue until it bottoms out at 3.5 percent in a couple of years. Additionally, the corporate tax will be phased out completely by 2014, thus leaving an $82 million hole in the budget.

Here’s a non-Yogi-ism – the rich get richer, the poor get screwed and the middle-class gets the bill. Apart from faulty assumptions and fuzzy math, how did the governor’s magicians balance this budget scheme? Simple – the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009. On Feb. 26, the governor certified to President Obama that Rhode Island would use these funds to create jobs and promote economic recovery.

Yet two weeks later, the governor submitted a budget that promotes significant tax cuts and pays for them with “stimulus” money. Instead of reinstating the pharmaceutical program for seniors, as Florida did its Medicaid Aged and Disabled program for 13,000 seniors, the governor kept the cuts and passed the savings on to high-income taxpayers and corporations. His argument is that lower taxes will promote long-term economic growth.

This “build it and they will come” economic theory is based on a movie, not reality. And it violates the intent, if not the letter of the stimulus law.

Stimulus money is to be put in the pockets of people through short-term, shovel-ready projects; longer-term infrastructure projects (like broadband, etc.) that will promote continued economic growth, along with investments in health and public education.

Instead, we have reductions in health programs, status quo financing (if that) of public schools and, in spite of the purpose of the stimulus money, an increased tax burden on the middle class. All while high-income taxpayers skate home scot-free.

It is déjà vu all over again.

Does this upset you? If so, I would strongly recommend you contact our Cranston Representative Bob Jacquard, who sits on the General Assembly finance committee, and talk to him about why we are subsidizing high income earners while old men and women are going to suffer with broken and infected teeth or else pay out of pocket with their grocery money to get their teeth fixed.  Rep. Jacquard’s email address is:  rep-jacquard@rilin.state.ri.us.

Only in Rhode Island…

As a native Rhode Islander, I’ve often heard the phrase “Only in Rhode Island…” and that can run the gamut from 3 Degrees of Separation for all RI residents to yet another political scandal.  I was having lunch with some friends at the Nordstrom Café (3rd floor of Nordstrom’s at the Providence Place Mall) earlier this week and the views there are some of the best in Providence.  We sat at a table that had a view of the State House and I started thinking of some things that could only happen in or are unique to RI.

1.     How many RI’ers have actually been inside of the State House? (They do have tours.)

2.     What percentage of RI’ers have never been to Block Island? (I’m sure there are some of you out there on Kmareka.)

3.     How many children in Providence, Woonsocket, Central Falls or other urban communities in RI have never been to the beach or swimming in the Atlantic Ocean?

4.     Cabinets: This one has always baffled me since people always refer to “cabinets” as a RI drink.  I’ve been here for almost 30 years and have never even seen one advertised, let alone had one.  Do they really exist and if so, where?

5.     We have 3 state colleges and a good number of RI’ers have attended at least 1 of them (attended all, degrees from 2 for me).   Why are people not more concerned about the drastic cuts facing higher education that will affect the entire state’s future??

Just some thoughts from me to get the new Kmareka site up and running, feel free to share some of your own “Only in Rhode Island” thoughts or experiences too.

Kmareka’s New Home

Welcome, friends and family, contributors and readers,  to our new home!  It’s still a bit untidy due to the move — in some of our 1800 posts, the apostrophe and quotation characters were morphed into strange strings of Trademark symbols and other wingdings.  This will take some manual scrubbing, unfortunately.   Sounds like a good pay-per-post database debugging job for my older daughter.

So welcome!  I’m excited to be moving onto a free server.  Hopefully being on the wordpress server will also make it easier for writers and readers to use the blog, and have the most up-to-date tools and tricks at their disposal. 

Please have a look around.  And fellow bloggers, please begin posting here rather than on the original site.

What Would Jesus Shake?

Lately Jews have been infiltrating our recipes, in a Christian nation, yet. In fact, I checked out my box of Morton’s Kosher Salt, and there it was a star of David. Just like in the flag of Israel. Luckily one man is not afraid to make a big deal of this, and hopefully, a few bucks…

Retired barber Joe Godlewski says he was inspired by television chefs who repeatedly recommended kosher salt in recipes.
“I said, ‘What the heck’s the matter with Christian salt?’”

I had been unaware that some foods were attacking my religion. There I was eating those bagels and lox and reading the New York Times. You see how it influences you.

If the salt takes off, Godlewski plans an entire line of Christian-branded foods, including rye bread, bagels and pickles.

Food industry consultant Richard Hohman, of Tampa, Fla., said Christian branding is a clever idea that could do well in the Bible Belt.

Well, in the Bible Belt they eat processed cheese food and drink bottled beer in a can. They make instant tea (just add water). I think they even have frozen toast. So heck, why not have food that is almost like what you can get in a deli, but not exactly? If this catches on, I have a great concept. Christian wine. It looks and tastes like bottled water, but you’ve got to have faith. We can sell it to the people who buy Christian salt.

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