October 22, 2014
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Let’s not use semantics to protect Woonsocket WWI monument
Lonnie Barham

WAR MEMORIAL BILL: A bill has been introduced that would designate the controversial Woonsocket war memorial as "secular." First, the resolution lies not with legislative action but, instead, with the judiciary. If the Freedom From Religion group inadvisably continues to pursue the action, it will appropriately be a judge who rules on the constitutionality of the memorial. Jim Crow laws that designated blacks as something they were not – less than human – could not stand eventual judicial review. Surely a state law designating something to be non-religious that clearly is religious will face a similar fate. More important, this legislation is reminiscent of Governor Chafee calling the Christmas tree a holiday tree. Simply saying something is secular doesn't make it secular. As a society, we should stop twisting the English language to attain social or religious goals. No matter what we call them, a Christmas tree is representative of Christmas, a cross is a religious symbol, and prayer is a religious practice. Surely, those long-dead Woonsocket soldiers would not want the Christian symbol on their monument to suddenly be designated as non-religious. Instead of using semantics to protect the monument, let's stand behind the proposition that some religious symbols on public properties are appropriate and do not violate First Amendment separation of church and state principles.

A RATIONAL UNION LEADER: Public service union leader Donald Iannazzi has shown that sometimes a union leader can drop the blinders and see what is best for both union members and the taxpayers. Iannazzi defended Providence pension reform when he told members of Local 1033, "Failure to act would have caused the system to fail and the city to collapse in the near future … This tough medicine is necessary..." Kudos to Mr. Iannazzi for recognizing the situation for what it is – an emergency, and for having the courage to buck union tradition by supporting management actions that, while painful, will ultimately save union jobs and the pension system.

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES' FLIP-FLOPS: President Obama's re-election campaign has substantially weakened its argument that Republican candidate Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on important issues. Polls show most Americans think he has finally taken the morally correct position, but Mr. Obama's announcement that he now supports gay marriage when his past positions have been either anti-gay marriage or ambivalent, shows that Mr. Romney is not the only flip-flopper in this year's presidential race.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement opposes a bill that would allow Rhode Island high school graduates who are illegal immigrants to attend state colleges at in-state tuition rates. Such students, by federal law, cannot get a job upon graduation. Thus, we would be subsidizing education without a valid goal. This points to the larger immigration problem facing our country. Yes, we should strengthen our efforts to deport illegal aliens – to increase employment opportunities for U.S. citizens and reduce incentives for future illegal border crossings. However, we must also use common sense regarding children who were brought into our country illegally by their parents. For those brought here before reaching the age of 16 and who have graduated from our high schools, a path toward citizenship should be provided. Rejecting a child whose only offense was obedience to a parent who hustled her across the border is tantamount to rejecting a child of rape simply because he was conceived illegally. Furthermore, our society cannot afford to push these youngsters into gang membership and street crime simply because we refuse to let them enter our society through the legitimate workforce. Let's increase immigration enforcement but let's stop penalizing innocence!

PENSION PLANS AS WELFARE: Municipal pension shortfalls highlight the problem with defined benefits pension plans – plans that guarantee specific retirement payments mostly financed by taxpayers. Most private employers have switched to defined contribution pension plans that function like 401k savings plans that require far larger investment by employees. Perhaps it's time we consider the old, defined benefits plans as, essentially, a form of welfare – retirements paid for through the redistribution of wealth from taxpayers to retirees. If we expect welfare recipients to someday return to the workforce to help finance their livelihoods, let’s ask public employees to do more to finance their own retirements. After all, what's good for the goose (private employees) should be good for the gander (public service employees).

VOLUNTARY "TAXES": A young, soon-to-be Rhodes Scholar from Brown University has started a company that will profit through providing incentives for the oil industry to use production techniques that lessen damage to the environment. This kind of social/environmental initiative, which is, in essence, a "voluntary tax" that adds cost to the products we buy, is exactly the kind of taxing our society needs. These “taxes” are voluntary since we don't have to buy the more costly, environmentally friendly products; they produce salutary benefits to society without heavy-handed government intrusion (such as mandated carbon taxes); and support jobs-producing industries. This concept has proven effective in the coffee industry with companies seeking fair trade certificates and in egg production with the public's willingness to pay more for cage-free eggs. Such win-win initiatives, especially in essential energy industries, point the way to a cleaner and more socially acceptable future.

JP MORGAN'S $2B LOSS: Politicians and some regulators are castigating JP Morgan's CEO, Jamie Dimon, for the company's recent $2 billion loss in derivatives trades. Some say Wall Street needs even more oppressive federal regulations. Bull! Stockholders expect risks. Such successful trades increase stock values rapidly – what stockholders want and what our economy needs to grow industries and create jobs. Yes, there will be occasional losses. But a $2 billion loss for a company that is worth almost $200 billion represents a loss of only about 1 percent – an acceptable loss for potentially lucrative profits. And remember, the lost money was all stockholders' money, not taxpayers'. Let's not force even more regulations on businesses already backing off on job creation because of onerous government restrictions.


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