December 22, 2014
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My take on the news
We can't afford to delay teacher evaluations
Lonnie Barham

WILL THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY TURN CHICKEN? It's an election year and the chickens may come home to roost. Where is home? In the arms of the public service unions, of course. With elections more than a year away, the legislators apparently hoped unions would lose their anger when most legislators developed enough guts to pass the state pension plan last session that effectively put the plan on its path to solvency. The million dollar question: How many legislators will retain enough guts to stick it out and tell the unions, and their sycophant legislators who have introduced bills that will substantially weaken the new plan, that we must give the plan time to work? Otherwise, union members, retirees and taxpayers will suffer in the long run.

TEACHER PERFORMANCE APPRAISALS: Teachers throughout Rhode Island are clamoring for R.I. Education Commissioner Gist to delay implementation of the new teacher performance appraisal system for another year, claiming it is too complex and still needs tweaking. Warwick teachers are the most vocal since they partnered with Jamestown teachers to pilot the program this year, though Jamestown teachers and administrators seem to have learned to use the system. Rhode Islanders, for the most part, agree that the majority of our teachers are very good teachers who are totally dedicated to their students' progress. However, we also know there are a number of teachers, perhaps as many as 20 percent, who should never have been put into a classroom – yet they have remained for years or decades. We can't wait any longer to use the new evaluation tool to determine which teachers are so ineffective they should be removed, while simultaneously rewarding outstanding teachers. It's like trying to cure a terrible disease. Just because the cure is complex and not yet perfect, we don't put off trying the cure for another year while patients die. Our students deserve a cure now.

RHODE ISLAND PRIMARY: Of the roughly 8,000 unaffiliated voters who participated in Rhode Island's presidential primary election, over 95 percent voted Republican to less than 5 percent who voted Democratic. Since the Democratic candidate, President Obama, was running unopposed, it is understandable that his party would attract fewer unaffiliated voters. But such a lopsided turnout by unaffiliated voters seems to portend trouble for Democrats in November – not necessarily in the all-blue state of Rhode Island, but perhaps elsewhere in swing states. When Republicans in such a small and heavily Democratic state as Rhode Island draw to the polls almost as many unaffiliated voters as registered Republican voters, while Democrats draw fewer than five unaffiliated for every 100 registered Democrat voters, there may be trouble brewing nationally for Democrats among unaffiliated voters.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY INTERFERENCE WITH FREE MARKETS: When will Rhode Islanders finally become fed up with our General Assembly kowtowing to special interest groups that call themselves "non-profit" or "not-for-profit" organizations? First it was lobbyists for non-profit, public universities that convinced the General Assembly to reject the application of a very good for-profit university, Neumont University, to operate in Rhode Island – even though major Rhode Island companies begged for its approval since the school would help alleviate the shortage of information technology graduates. Now, our so-called non-profit hospitals corporation, Lifespan, is lobbying the General Assembly to keep its anti-free market rules in place that may keep Steward Health Care System from purchasing the bankrupt Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket. If our General Assembly continues trying to placate special interest groups that are inherently opposed to free market ideas, our state will never regain financial stability.

ROMNEY'S INFLATED PROMISES: While it is good for the Republican Party that it seems to have selected a candidate, the almost-anointed candidate, Mitt Romney, has already started making promises that experts believe will be impossible to deliver upon. Romney says he will slash domestic spending, reduce tax loopholes, cut the federal workforce by 10 percent, increase the defense budget to 4 percent of GDP, eliminate many programs, etc. Even the highly respected and conservative Cato Institute says it is highly unlikely Romney will be able to fulfill his promises. Americans have become too politically astute to fall for empty or super-inflated promises. With much of the Republican base still unsure of Romney's bonafides, he should be careful about promising the moon without a lot more specifics than he has outlined thus far.

OBAMA USING OSAMA: With shameless pandering for political purposes, President Obama is now trying to make the American people believe that had Mitt Romney been president when U.S. intelligence agents located Osama bin Ladin's hideout, he might not have had the guts to order the operation that killed the terrorist leader. It is bad enough that Obama is using this issue to play politics with our national security, what is worse is that he is trying to take most of the credit for an operation that was successful almost entirely because of the training, skills and bravery of the U.S. military. Yes, presidents have to make some tough decisions, including whether or not to risk our national reputation on uncertain missions. However, President Obama's narcissism is showing through clearly when he portrays the decision of an armchair warrior as the primary factor in bin Ladin's death.

IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT: As the U.S. Supreme Court ponders whether or not to allow state immigration enforcement laws to become effective, pundits throughout the nation have weighed in. Locally, the Providence Journal's nationally-syndicated columnist, Froma Harrop, argued in Sunday's column that the recent decline in illegal immigration from Mexico has little to do with states passing tough laws requiring enforcement of immigration laws, instead attributing the decline to the U.S. unemployment rate, Mexican male demographics, and increased federal attention to employers who hire illegal workers. Harrop stated, "It is much preferable that Americans trust the federal government to enforce the immigration laws. That's their job, after all." Well, Ms. Harrop, tell the citizens of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona that they should leave immigration enforcement to the feds. They will tell you that it just hasn't worked. Until border states are able to protect their citizens with appropriate illegal immigration enforcement tools, this temporary decline in illegal border crossings will be just that – temporary.


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