Friday, December 16, 2011

A New Political Tactic?

The current rhetoric in the debates and in Congress sounds more and more like:
"Support whatever Obama opposes 
and oppose whatever Obama supports".

Now listen to Mao Tsetung: "Interview with Three Correspondents from the Central News Agency, 
the Sao Tang Pao and the Hsin Min Pao" (September 16, 1939), Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 272.
"We should support whatever the enemy opposes 
and oppose whatever the enemy supports."

Is this really the best we can do? 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Rethinking the Property Tax

It used to be a great idea; fund local government by taxing property. Before the industrial revolution the only significant source of income was land.  The owners of land, essentially royalty or the church, received income from lands in the form of rent or directly from the production of that land whose value was considered to be 20 years of derived income.

Thus it was sensible and fair to tax the value of that land as a source of local revenue. During that period, land values were quite stable.  If one's land were worth twice another's land it remained twice the value year after year and he paid twice the tax.

The result was a system of property taxes that was transparent, related fairly to one's ability to pay and was easy to assess.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Here's an Idea

We in North Kingstown have recently had some modest public works projects completed or nearly completed.  The parking area in front of the Town Hall was changed, traffic pattern was changed etc.  Also the town beach area was modified including construction of a new bandstand.
As I view these projects I find that I have some questions and comments about their design.  While I am not an expert and would not want such projects to require voter approval, I do believe that the public would benefit greatly if the projects were posted for voter review and comments before they are begun. Certain issues might have been overlooked and citizen comments prior to construction might make a significant contribution to the final results. The town would be under no obligation to accept or even consider the suggestions but they would have to be posted along with the images, schedules etc.
Perhaps someone might introduce legislation requiring (non binding) posting such municipal projects (and possibly state projects) with visuals of intended outcomes so the public might have input beforehand and avoid some of the complaints after the fact.
Using the internet the costs would be minimal but the benefits could be very great.
But Maybe It's Just Me

Friday, December 2, 2011

Should we bail out underwater mortgages?

It's somewhat difficult to understand the efforts to address the plight of homeowners who are declared "underwater", that is who owe more than their homes are worth. Neither walking away from one's mortgage obligation nor foreclosing on a property is the best answer.

The value of one's home has nothing to do with one's ability to make mortgage payments. A mortgage is a loan, an obligation that must be paid back. Whether the value of the mortgaged property tumbles or rises has nothing to do with one's ability or obligation to repay the borrowed money.

No one would tolerate a bank, or any lender writing the following note:   
Dear Mr. Homeowner, 
We notice that the value of your asset (house) has increased in the past two years and the Federal Government has given us permission to increase your monthly payments. 
We will let you know the new terms of the loan and your new payments soon. 
Your Friendly Bank.
A homeowner can have trouble making mortgage payments due to illness, job loss or some other legitimate reason and compassion dictates that banks and borrowers try to work out terms to their mutual satisfaction. If the original sale or mortgage were based on deception and/or misrepresentation then that too would be a proper basis for voiding or at least re-negotiating a contract. 

But it's wrong to force wholesale rewriting of contracts because of falling market prices. Otherwise we could require the corporate issuers of stocks and bonds to buy them back at their original value when the market goes down and our retirement plans drop in value as a result. 

Those who hate government regulation of financial institutions and other business would be more correct to blame their successful deregulation efforts, (repeal of Glass - Steagall), for the disaster that engulfs Americans today.

We need more regulations but they must be more intelligently crafted and properly enforced if our goal is to prevent another disaster driven by corporate greed. And people need to understand that if they consider their homes solely as investments, well, investments aren't guaranteed. That's just the way it is.

Maybe It's Just Me     


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An Easy Question

With all the tax talk, arguments, posturing, I'm loath to pose this question; Would you be satisfied if your town were able to avoid any property tax increases for the foreseeable future? Dare I say that most of us would be ecstatic. Legislators, town councils, mayors, school committees, union leaders, would pat themselves on their backs and bask in the glory of a "job well done" especially at Thanksgiving season.

Now that everyone is smiling and content, another question. What would be your reaction when your town is revalued and from one half to three quarters of you receive rather impressive tax increases? If your town receives no more revenue, where do those increases go? The answer is that other property owners will pay lower taxes. Such is the reality of even a 'perfect' revaluation. Properties change in value differently and since we tax those values, some people will pay more, some people will pay less, regardless of what happens to local spending, municipal union contracts, towns' expenses, towns' outside incomes.

With each revaluation, millions of dollars change hands, money flowing from one group of owners to another group of owners, completely unrelated to incomes, ability to pay, or any rational measure. And that's with normal revaluations. What happens with irrational ones? Anyone remember the recent financial meltdown?

The system must be changed to realize the true goal of any municipal tax; that everyone pay their fair share in direct relation to a community's needs. You can learn more at

Saturday, October 29, 2011

It's not a game.

Pension reform can create serious hardships for the thousands of public employees who worked hard and played by the rules. Union employees believe they are entitled to their negotiated pensions as promised.

There is some real merit to that position, as stated by union leaders and public employees who resent trying to fix the budget crisis "on the backs of hard working union workers".

There are even more taxpayers, retired and not retired, both unemployed and employed, struggling to make ends meet, who also resent having to pay those benefits to union employees; taxpayers who also play by the rules (has anyone seen the rules?) and who also resent those very generous benefit payouts levied on their hard working backs.

So what we have here is a contest, like a baseball game, where there can be only a winner and a loser.  In fact a recent quote by a union leader, when asked about his strategy in dealing with the upcoming pension solution to be laid out by Treasury Secretary Raimondo, responded that he wouldn't reveal his strategy just as any team manager wouldn't reveal strategy before a game.

A game. It's what our public policy battles have been reduce to - a game, a battle between powers where, if there's a winner there must be a loser.  Is this really what produces the best result for our citizens?

Truth is that most legislators act like they're playing only for their "team", Republicans v Democrats,  liberals v conservatives,  Progressives v Tea Party when instead they should be "playing" for the fans, all of them.

Sure there are greedy, dishonest, obscenely wealthy business men and women, but there are also wealthy people who are incredibly generous with their wealth, who support charitable organizations, who have helped grow and guide huge companies that provide employment and security for millions.

In the same vein there are dishonest police and lazy teachers who care nothing for their students, and welfare recipients who would simply refuse an honest job if it were offered. But there are also police who would give their lives to protect you, teachers who pay for student supplies themselves, and people truly deserving of unemployment benefits who would do anything to have a job to support their family.

Our politicians, and we too, are squandering the wonders of this great nation.

Maybe it's just me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Create Jobs? Really?

In reading a Providence Journal Commentary, "Could Occupiers become next generation of entrepreneurs?", by John Robitaille, Friday, Oct. 21, Mr. Robitaille suggests that government should 'stop treating business owners as "revenue generators" and begin treating them as job creators'. Well, firstly, no companies, large or small, create jobs.  Jobs follow an increased need or want of either a company's products or services.  Jobs aren't widgets to be created.  

Before we can see real change, businesses must stop thinking of themselves as "revenue generators" and start thinking of themselves, first and foremost, as providers of services or products that are of value to the public or other businesses.  I'm afraid some businesses act as if the public exists for their benefit, to provide them with revenue.

As I occasionally had to remind myself and my staff, we must never forget that our patients do us a favor by seeking our help, not the other way around; we exist for their benefit, not they for ours.

Maybe it's just me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Written in 2007. I still believe it.

Government is supposed to provide the services we can't provide for ourselves, like defending the country, maintaining roads, public education, public health etc.

How's it working?

We know for instance, that health care costs are skyrocketing. We in the U.S. spend more per capita than any other country in the world.

Unfortunately we also have millions of people with inadequate or no health coverage at all.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


To read the newspapers one would think that everyone in the county is hard working, honest and ambitious. The "Wikipedia" entry for hard working is revealing, very informative and worth reading.

Hardly a day goes by that doesn't contain a newspaper article lamenting the plight of the "hard working" people who can no longer afford to pay for entitlement programs.  One is left with the impression that all welfare recipients are leeches, living off the taxes of others, all of whom are hard working.

Truth be told, there are people who receive government assistance who are less than deserving; people who spend their benefits on alcohol and cigarettes, on candy and lottery tickets and whose children suffer as a result.

By the same token, there are tax payers who don't work all that hard.  Drive by a work site and it's soon clear that not everyone is working very hard, if at all. The policeman sitting in his cruiser, lights flashing, receiving regular pay, maybe even overtime pay. When was the last time an officer was actually needed to enforce some traffic violation? He could be replaced by civilian volunteer and a blinking lantern - maybe even just the lantern. But a union has made sure that won't happen regardless of the actual need for public safety.

It's no surprise then that a vocal backlash has emerged, powerful enough to have a significant impact on the direction of our government.  Sadly such polarization can have a terrible impact on what America is becoming.

We are thus faced with a choice.  Given that our laws are often poorly written and inadequately enforced, often to protect one group at the expense of the whole, we have to choose between paying for things we really don't need and can't afford on the one hand or hurting people who truly need and deserve government assistance on the other.

Lawmakers must help all the people instead of special interests. A few areas that need some help:

  • If a less costly means (e.g. of traffic control) can do the same job, use it. Too often the job is just "make work" and not essential. That goes for administrative duties as well.
  • If people on assistance are able to work, make work a requirement to receive benefits. They might even monitor a work site.  
  • Provide free or low cost child care for such parents receiving assistance so they can work.
  • Regularly review laws to determine their effectiveness and costs. Sometimes lawmakers can make a mistake. 
  • If a person receives disability benefits make sure they are disabled. Why do I even have to write this?
  • Decide if there's a difference between taking an illegal drug and killing someone. Killers have been sentenced to long sentences with less time to serve because jails are filled with petty drug convictions. Recent story in the Providence Journal where the sentence for murder was 15 years and the murderer was released after 6 1/2.
Surely there is much room for improvement in our government. Or have we become too incompetent or too stupid to govern ourselves?

Maybe it's just me.

Monday, July 25, 2011

"Time for a New Caucus?"

After reading the profiles of the newest members of the General Assembly it occurred to me that the most important characteristic they shared was their youth.  One might hope that a caucus based on a fresh perspective, enthusiasm, optimism and cooperation might be far more productive than one based on traditional views, entrenched positions and predictable philosophy.

I hope that they might work together in a New Caucus, free from the tyranny of authority, before they simply fade into the traditional behavior that has resulted in the stagnation we see all around us.

But maybe it's just me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Unintended Consequences"

In Tuesday's Providence Journal, ("Soda tax is good for us", June 27, Pg B7), Dr. David Maude says the soda tax "generates needed revenue for a bankrupt state, at the same time discouraging the intake of empty calories".

This presents a paradox.  If in fact, the tax does what is hoped, discourages the consumption of a product of little value and does harm, then it will fail in its other goal, to raise revenue. These two goals are in direct opposition to one another and mutually exclusive. I'm in favor of the tax but let's be honest about it, we'll either reduce consumption or raise revenue, not both.

As happens all too often in politics and life we don't think things through and we miss some of the consequences of our actions. Why didn't our leaders, in government and unions, anticipate the terrible problems created by their actions in past contract negotiations? Surely they didn't intend to destroy our cities, did they?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Risk? What Risk?"

The news has been replete with examples of requests for protections against risk.

Insurers, especially health insurers for example, want to minimize exposure and look for ways to reduce risk by being selective in those they insure. It's natural and understandable if they want to maximize income. The costs of such 'guarantees' are borne by their customers of course. People at greater risk pay higher premiums or maybe can't even get insurance.

Mammoth corporations whose demise could devastate the economy claim that they are too big to fail and maybe they are right. They too have requested and received guarantees in the form of  emergency TARP funds while smaller companies receive state, federal and local tax breaks to entice them into an area.

Oil companies justify their huge tax breaks by pointing out that they take enormous risks and deserve to be compensated for those risks. Meanwhile they have announced the highest profits in history.

The Providence Journal recently mentioned legislation to protect municipal bond holders in the event of bankruptcies (Friday May 27, Page A7 "Senate approves bill on municipal bankruptcy"). Reducing the risk of buying bonds would help access to credit markets, it is believed.

What do all these have in common?  Risk. They are all efforts to reduce the inherent risk involved in what is, in many ways, gambling.

However, when the risk takers can reduce risk through various tax incentive programs, the people who provide those incentives with their tax money have a right to share in those huge profits that result. Those people however are struggling today, while the profits of the largest corporations and their executives' compensation packages have never been greater. There is something wrong with this picture.

The far right in this country howls that free enterprise is at stake, our very capitalist system is in danger if people, through their government, claim some of those profits. They characterize such efforts as harmful and suggest that companies will stop creating jobs, that rich people will move to places that don't require them to share those unheard of profits.

Sorry folks.  If corporate America accepts the people's money to help them reap historically high profits, then those corporations and their stockholders owe part of those profits back to the people who made it possible.

To be completely realistic one must acknowledge that special interest influence is not limited to corporate interests. Big labor has become what they were founded to counteract, just another group interested in only their own welfare.

Maybe it's just me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"Tax Exempt Property"

From the RIGHTTAX website

There are many worthy organizations and businesses that do good works; churches, hospitals, universities and colleges and charitable organizations, all provide humane and important services and are rewarded with tax exempt status.

In such cases the property owned by these organizations and used in the performance of their routine functions is not taxed. Most agree that it is only right to provide support for these worthy organizations and the other businesses and residents, through their property taxes, pay the share of the tax exempts which also receive those benefits of road maintenance, fire and police protection, maintenance of public spaces etc.

Communities obviously vary in population, infrastructure, size, and industrial density. Because of this, some communities are more attractive to tax exempt organizations. On July 21, 2008, Providence City Council President Peter Mancini, in a special section to the Providence Business News said "We’re almost at 50 percent tax-exempt real estate". This means that just 50% of the property owners are paying 100% of the tax levy - their portion plus the portion of the tax exempts.

This is clearly unfair to the property owners of Providence and other towns with the larger percentages of tax exempt property.

One approach would be to charge fees to various organizations but it produces ill will and resistance and some groups will always feel they have been unfairly and unreasonably taxed. There is a lot of push back to efforts to authorize new local taxes on private colleges, universities and hospitals.

And if the extra revenue is used to fill holes in the budget instead of being used to bring relief to beleaguered tax payers, they too will feel betrayed. This piecemeal approach fails to deal with the underlying problem of unfair distribution of tax burdens.

It is for this reason that the following plan is offered for consideration:

  •     The General Assembly shall require municipalities to determine the percentage of the total assessed value represented by tax exempt property hereafter referred to as 'favored' property.
  •     Favored properties shall pay a percentage of the standard property tax equal to the percentage determined as above.
  •     For example, if the total value of favored property is 14% of the value of all property then the tax on 'favored' properties shall be 14% of the normal tax. 

Wouldn't it be better to have a known and transparent system rather than what we have now, individual mayors and town councils working out a variety of different arrangements of PILOTS (payments in lieu of taxes) that vary from town to town, inconsistent and unpredictable?

Taxes would be levied in a manner that is sensitive to the value tax exempt organizations bring to a community while not unfairly burdening others whose property is not tax exempt.

The actual numbers used shall be determined by careful analysis so as not to be unreasonable to any of the involved parties while standardizing the process for all. The General Assembly can also provide for different rates depending on the nature of the organizations. Some could even remain tax free.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I've been thinking about this for a while...

Do the most successful entrepreneurs become wealthy and create those jobs we all hear about, because of tax incentives or because they are who they are, their values?

If they were taxed more and earned just half their billions, would they have been less successful?

Would Bill Gates have created fewer jobs if he had paid higher taxes? If his taxes were doubled he'd be worth only $28B now, so did he do it for the money?

My question is, Are we too focused on the impact of taxes and not focused enough on the impact (or lack thereof) of role models and values?

I heard Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, interviewed a couple of days ago and he spoke passionately and enthusiastically about the 'race to the top', the Bush tax cuts, the unions, taxes, but not once did he mention parents, discipline, cultural values, arguably the most important factors in whether or not we can educate our children.

That is not to say that taxes play no role in our success, of course they do.  But the future of this country will be determined less by money than the breakdown of values like integrity, honesty, honor, education etc.  All the boring stuff.

That Snooky, Snoop Dog, Rap, Crap, Lohan, Lady GaGa, Charlie Sheen and Donald Trump get so much public attention is far more indicative of our real troubles.

Maybe it's just me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Is it a duck?

There's an old expression that says, "If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck"

This is a story about Google and me.  I don't know if it's discrimination, a violation of fair trade practice or simply an error but I'll tell you what happened and let you decide.

I invented a marine product some years back and for the past 18 years have sold it exclusively on the internet. Being retired I was very wary of investing our retirement money in this venture so I have been trying to minimize expenses as much as possible and I run the business on a shoestring.  I'll never get rich from it but I enjoy doing it because my buyers really like the product.

About a year ago I tried a marketing strategy called Google AdWords.  For a fee, Google will display a website link when people enter relevant search words; the more you pay, the closer to the top your ad appears.

It didn't seem to make much of a difference so I closed the campaign, paid what I owed and that was the end of the story.

Recently I thought I'd try the campaign again so I re-activated my account. The campaign appeared for a day and then I got a notice that it was being suspended because of a violation to their policy.

I tried to find out just what that violation might be but couldn't.  I restarted the campaign and it was suspended again after a few hours, again with no explanation.

This happened three times, once even after I received a voucher inviting me to sign up for AdWords!

The person who answered the help line could not understand what was happening either and did some 'research' with me on the line.  He came back and said he had no further information and could not give me any more than I already knew.

Then, believe it or not, I got an email asking if I would fill out a satisfaction survey. I did.

Perhaps my name is linked to some terrorist group, maybe they don't like retired dentists, maybe they don't like boaters, maybe they think I'm really Rep. Henry Waxman (my name is Harvey Waxman). Who knows? They probably legally can refuse to accept a customer for any reason but aren't people entitled to at least know the reason?

In any case I smell something fishy and I can't get to the source of the smell. It seems only right that a company as huge as Google, which essentially is a monopoly on search engine technology and usage, should provide at least the courtesy of an explanation to the people whom they refuse to serve, even though they function nearly as a 'public utility' in their business practices. If they were the phone company I suppose I'd be using smoke signals.

In any case I wanted to share this with everyone about Google.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Is Deceit Legal in the General Assembly?

We all have heard about bills that are "held for further study". Is there any record of or minutes of committee hearings that can reveal just when that study took place, who participated in the meeting, results of any actions, votes, etc?

If, as I suspect, these bills are never discussed again does this mean that the committee essentially deceived, lied to the public as well as the bill's sponsor?

Is it a violation of any state statute to deliberately misrepresent the future actions of a committee by such committee simply not doing what it had publicly stated it would do?

I'm just asking.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Adoptee Compromise

I agree with the Providence Journal's editorial position, that adoptees have a legitimate interest in knowing their past health history, "Adoptees deserve to know", Aug 3, 2011.  I also believe that biological parents have a right to their privacy.

Why not modify the proposed bills (S0361 & H5453) to allow adoptees access to pertinent and important medical information only? Upon the request from a registered health professional, the biological parents would be requested to provide only the medical information relevant to and necessary for the welfare of the adoptee. They would be assured that their identity would be protected but also would have the right to refuse. This would preserve the anonymity of biological parents while providing important information to adoptees.

But maybe it's just me.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

All Men Are Not Created Equal

With all due respect to Thomas Jefferson, all men are not created equal.

There are people who will become great athletes, artists, musicians, singers, poets, writers and mothers, teachers, plumbers, builders, etc. Others may never achieve more than the more menial jobs in our society.

Our task as a democratic nation, which prides itself on fairness and opportunity and often brags about its exceptionalism, is to be certain that everyone has an equal opportunity to reach his or her goals.

In fact, what makes this country great among nations, is that we believe, or at least are supposed to believe, that all, even the "less equal" among us, shall be treated with respect and dignity. 

I fear we are in danger of falling from that honorable position. When I hear folks holler  "We want our country back", I wonder from whom they want it back?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Those Pesky Averages"

One and one are two.  Always have been, always will be.  We trust numbers and we make decisions, make choices, and cast votes based on them because numbers don’t lie.  We hear numbers from those trying to make points, to promote ideas and policies and to convince us.  But do we really understand them? 

While numbers don’t lie, they can be misunderstood, misinterpreted and even misused.  Arguably the most abused function is the "average".  While very useful to show overall trends, averages can be very misleading when it comes to the actual pieces that make up the data.

For example, let’s say that you're giving a talk at the local high school on, "Starting A Small Business".  Attendees were asked to give their ages on the signup sheet and when you learn that their average age is 46 you're very optimistic. 

At the lectern you look into the audience and see only very elderly people and lots of young children. Where is that 46 year old audience?  Well, half the audience are 85 year old men and each brought his seven year old grandchild with him.  The average age is indeed 46 but not the audience you had in mind.

An example closer to home is Rhode Island Law S-3050, property tax legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2006, which places a 4% limit on the annual increase in the property tax levy by 2013.

Like our speaker expecting lots of 46 year olds, we reasonably expect that our property tax bills will soon be limited to a 4% annual increase.  But like our speaker, we'd be dead wrong.

The reason is that we revalue property every three years. After any revaluation, while the average increase for all property owners will indeed be limited to 4%, individual property tax bill increases actually have NO limits. The 4% limit has effectively no meaning to individual property owners in a revaluation year.  Like our 46 year old audience, a 4% limit is not exactly what it seems. 

We believe that all property owners' tax bills should enjoy the same limits as the tax levies they pay for.

We can't help our speaker, but we can fix our property tax bills. Visit to see how. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Danger to Democracy?

The Providence Journal online posted a poll question about how we feel about Gov. Walker's effort to strip unions of collective bargaining rights.  I found myself conflicted. There is no doubt in my mind that negotiations with unions have resulted in unaffordable pension benefits which threaten communities all over the country. But is the solution to strip bargaining rights from unions?

The way I see it negotiations are similar to elections. Candidates argue for their side and we voters make our decisions in an election.  If the results turn out to be disappointing we have the opportunity to do better at the next election.

If Governor Walker were in charge, his answer would simply be to do away with elections. Bad results from union negotiations are the result of bad decisions by those whom we have elected to do the best for us all.  It is these people who must challenged and brought to task for their decisions, not negotiation itself.

Instead, I recommend that public union negotiations be made public - recorded and streamed for all to see. Governor Walker's solution is a threat to the democratic process.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A community or an investment club?

A good local tax system has two requirements -(1) to raise funds to be used for the common good and (2) tax in a manner that distributes the burden fairly.

The first goal is met better by the property tax than any other tax. Calculations based on property values always produce the needed tax revenue. Whether values rise or fall, the tax rate adjusts to meet the need.

The fair distribution of the burden however falls miserably short.

I asked an economist once if he thought it was fair to use property value to determine one’s fair share of the tax burden. He answered, ‘maybe not but it is easy’. The truth is that our present method is more like an investment club where those whose “investments” don’t do well one year are compensated for their “loss” by the ones whose investments did better. 

In a non-revaluation year property owners are taxed in direct proportion the the needs of their community - as levies rise, tax rates rise to provide the needed funds, and everyone is taxed proportionately. While it may be more than we'd like, it’s rational and it's fair.

But as values rise, new buyers were taxed on old, often lower assessments, and this is clearly unfair. 

The solution we use is a triennial revaluation.  New buyers will now pay a tax based on the market value of their property, which is fair, at least every third year. The effect of reassessments on the rest of the population however, is troubling. 

Rational increases that reflect tax levies are not possible with a revaluation. Instead, there are swings in tax increases and decreases that boggle the mind with some owners getting 50-100% increases!

One result of such onerous increases is a breakdown in morale and community spirit and people react in the only way available to them. They blame excess spending and they question the accuracy of their assessments, when in fact, the ancient method of reassessing everyone is much more to blame. 

We use a system of taxes that effectively takes money from some tax payers (the ones with increases greater than the levy) and transfers it to others whose values didn't rise as much. This transfer is of no benefit to the community, costs a lot to calculate, (revaluations are expensive), and most often, the transfer has been from the owners of lower valued property to those with higher valued property - not exactly fair or rational.

Let’s make up our minds - shall we tax using a system that treats our homes and properties as merely part of an investment club, or shall we all share the tax burden in a manner that’s good for the community fairly and reasonably?

It's about time Rhode Island adopts a Property Tax system to be proud of.  

To see how, please visit

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"An excuse to do nothing."

I received this letter from a Rhode Island Representative whom I contacted about an issue:

"I understand how hard you have worked on these ideas over the years. I really wish I could offer you some encouragement but the Assembly just isn't ready for it. Sorry to disappoint,"

This was my answer: 

For me the "Assembly" is people, individuals. Unless individuals are ready, of course the "Assembly" won't be ready. I'll keep trying, one at a time.

One of my least favorite phrases is "We as a society", as in "When we as a society demand action on.....something.....then something will get done". 

It's a cop out. Society is people. When people want to do something about litter for example, they'll pick up litter, individually, when they see it. Waiting for "society" means I don't have to do anything until everyone does it. And the results are everywhere around us. Just an excuse to do nothing.

So far I have had no response.

Maybe it's just me.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Better, better, better, better"

In a recent front page article "Taking aim at state spending", the Providence Journal quoted a tea party member who said "My thing is cut, cut, cut, cut". I'd like to suggest a new slogan: "Better, better, better, better".  

As we know, Rhode Island has among the highest property taxes in the nation, about fifth highest. However, if our student performance were best in the nation, if we had among the best roads, bridges and infrastructure in the country, those fifth highest property taxes would be a bargain.

Cut, cut cut, cut is a mindless, thoughtless reaction to a complex problem. Both the left and the right are guilty of a tunnel vision solution to every problem we face and we must share in the blame for letting legislators, both local and national, get away with it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Off to see the wizard

The front page article in the Journal, January 6, 2011, "Graduation rules face initial test" was breathtaking. The percentage of students in the lowest achievement categories was beyond discouraging. Anyone unconcerned is a character from Oz, either the "Scarecrow" or "Tin Woodsman" - no brains or no heart.

As I think about graduation criteria raised in the article it makes me also question merit pay as a litmus test for teachers.

I see a dedicated, talented, hard working teacher in one of the worst performing schools, not earning as much as a teacher working half as hard in one of the most affluent towns.

On the other hand there are teachers who show up every day, uninterested, bored but due to seniority, have little fear of losing their jobs. They need to be dismissed.  

We humans prefer simplicity, sharply defined edges, black vs white choices. I remember how much more I preferred multiple choice exams to essay questions. So much easier.

Well that's too bad because life just isn't that easy and pretending it is produces what's all around us; people behaving as simpletons, demonizing anyone, any group, different from them. It's as true in Washington as it is locally, maybe more so.

Perhaps when we understand ourselves better we might make better decisions and better choices and better laws and find the yellow brick road. I sure hope so.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Making it Easier to Hate

There is a line in one of my favorite Broadway Musicals, South Pacific, that says, "You've got to be taught to hate and fear...,".  Indeed, that's how we make it easier for our soldiers to kill. Part of the technique is to remove ambiguity. By creating a one dimensional image of the enemy it is much easier to encourage the desired behavior toward them. "Japs", "gooks", "chinks", "krauts", all words designed to dehumanize, to remove individualism, to make it easier to hate.

In a recent Commentary in the Providence Journal on January 2, 2011, the author makes the case that "some interpretations of Islam" are responsible for 9/11.  While this might be strictly true, the implication, the unsaid words, coupled with our need for unambiguous direction, clearly point an accusing finger at the 'enemy' - Muslims and Islam.

"Conservative wing-nuts", "Pinko liberals", "Commie progressives", "Tea-bagger Nazis". Makes it so much easier doesn't it?

This apparent need to make one's point by painting with too broad a brush, by demonizing the "other", by trying to reduce the complexity of issues to the fewest elements, by trying to eliminate or at least reduce ambiguity, is evident everywhere, from local politics all the way to Washington and the results are painfully obvious.

Worried about huge deficits and spending? You're anti-worker, anti-union.
Want to assure fair wages for workers? You must be a Socialist or a Communist.

Wake up before we do something really stupid.  Nuclear war anyone?