Cultural disagreements on National Review Online elevate the Duck Dynasty affair to a political battle between creative free expression and totalitarian evolution.
My favorite “pop” Christmas song of all time may be Bobby Darin’s Christmas Auld Lang Syne.
It starts off with the schmaltzy* imagery of “mistletoe and tinsel glow” — but just as such symbolism can and should, uses it to move to something more meaningful…
…first to how the surface stuff reminds us that it’s the time of year to return to family and friends, “back home I go to those I know”…
…and then even further, to what’s at the heart of the celebration, in the season of singing “in sweet accord to thank the Lord”.
Trust me, the actual music is better than my description of it. And as Mr. Darin himself says, Merry Christmas, everybody!
*Ian Donnis‘ word of the week.
Rhode Island’s unemployment rate may have dropped, but it’s now tied for worst in the country, and the percentage of people who are working for somebody else (rather than themselves) continues to climb.
Glenn Reynolds puts today’s national culture-war controversy (revelations that the Duck Dynasty cast is… wait for it… Christian) in the context of a much greater scandal that isn’t being treated as such, quoting a commenter who wrote:
I suspect this is an attempt to get Obamacare off the front pages and I suspect that we are all falling for it.
Here in Rhode Island, we’ve been seeing our share of the phenomenon.
The two examples that come immediately to mind are the Union-Left attack on radio talker John DePetro and the liberal-Catholic petition for an apology from Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin, who didn’t wait as long as the mainstream hagiographers would have liked before pointing out that Nelson Mandela could use a bit of prayer for forgiveness for his support of killing unborn children.
It’s possible that it’s all a coordinated, top-down effort to create a distracting narrative. Progressives, after all, are the real practitioners of “astroturf.” It’s also possible that the reality-lite community is in a state of heightened stress owing to across-the-board failure of its preferred policies (see: Rhode Island) and is lashing around for targets, spreading distractions that make its members feel as if they’re ideologically safe, not unlike a squid squirting ink.
Either way, we’re being presented with a fantastic lesson in Progressives’ use of social issues. They aren’t really a “wedge” for the right, in the sense that substantial numbers of conservatives disagree about the fundamentals and will throw away all common ground because of them. Rather, they are uncomfortable issues, and mixed up with people’s (often inadequately reconciled) senses of morality, on the one hand, and liberty, on the other.
The goal is, therefore, not to highlight an area of disagreement, but to make people who want to avoid aggression step back a bit from those who aren’t so timid.
Put Steve Frias’s Providence Journal op-ed in the “must read” category. Reviewing a couple hundred years of economic history sheds some surprisingly relevant light on the assumptions under which our state operates.
One such assumption is that our woes are a consequence of the decline of manufacturing here and in general. On the general side, it’s not true that U.S. manufacturing has declined, and a declining global market share needn’t affect a state as small as Rhode Island, if we were at the leading edge. Frias offers a clue as to why we’re not:
In the 19th century, because of the Industrial Revolution, Rhode Island’s economy grew at a rapid rate. The state’s economy was characterized by one historian as “a kind of manufacturer’s dreamland” where taxes were low, regulations were few, and labor was inexpensive.
Rhode Island’s manufacturing problem, then, has a lot to do with deliberate changes that made the state less attractive for it. The same problems — the difficulty of initiating and doing business here — also prevent Rhode Islanders from redefining the state along other industries. Consider:
In April 1946, RIPEC [reported] that Rhode Island had lost its tax advantage over other industrialized states such as Massachusetts. [Previously,] “a generally conservative attitude toward public expenditures, plus a relatively simple state government, produced a moderate state tax cost” … giving it a “rather substantial tax advantage” over most other industrialized states.
It’s possible to pump a lot of fog into economic debates, but Rhode Island does not have to lag the country in recovery. Our size does not dictate high costs for government. We’re not bound by an unhealthy tradition, inflicting hardship on our families, and we shouldn’t be cowed by assertions of “what Rhode Islanders believe” when we, as individuals, don’t actually believe it.
We are allowed to change this.
Conservatives’ long record of advocating the same economic problems is not an indication that they don’t know what to do about recessions, but of the underlying problem that they believe must be solved.
Combining two serious matters playing out in Rhode Island at the present time…
…does anyone seriously believe that Rhode Island would be better off right now, if Cranston Mayor Allan Fung was refusing to discuss his city’s highly questionable parking ticket surge with Dan Yorke or Buddy Cianci on live radio, because of things John DePetro said?
Nobody in Kate Nagle’s GoLocalProv article about the First Amendment makes the most important point. Like Ethics Commission rulings the First Amendment sets the limits beyond which government officials simply cannot go. It does not mean that everything they can think to do up to that point is appropriate or should be tolerated by the electorate.
That means there’s no counterbalance to this, the most interesting statement in the article:
“As a first amendment scholar, I certainly would protect anyone’s right to free speech. Our right to speak freely its what buttresses our democracy,” said Dr. Paola Prado, Assistant Professor of Communication at Roger Williams University. “On another level, the world has changed. This kind of misogyny has no place in a progressive society, and an economy where women are an integral part of making our country move forward for our joint prosperity.”
The first thing that jumps out is the word “progressive.” What’s that doing in there? Even in deep-blue Rhode Island, the progressives are a distinct bloc in the legislature, and they aren’t yet controlling. To call our entire society “progressive” is to reveal one’s self to be more of an activist and ideologue than a “scholar.” Similarly, her nuanced view of freedom of speech is not matched by a rational view of what constitutes “misogyny.”
She’s also got things backwards. I’d argue that women have always been “an integral part of making our country move forward,” but as the limits on their opportunities expand, it becomes less critical to beat down male chauvinism, not more. It becomes less about relative power and more about imprudent statements between equals.
Of course, that’s Progressivism: All things immoral by their lights should be made illegal, and conversely, anything legal must be moral. Moreover, equality is achieved by empowering favored groups at the expense of disfavored ones.
I just spent nine hours in an emergency room for an ice-related injury (not me) and returned to find the themes of wussification and the problems of modern society for young men permeating my email and daily reading. Some additional percentage of the content was filled with statements related to a local controversy about respect for women.
For some reason, it brought my mind back to a month-and-a-half period (though it felt much longer) in my early 30s. For 40 hours a week, I was one of two or three men smashing inch-thick plaster off of heavy-gauge steel mesh, which we then tore off of the century-old wood framing.
When the floor was a blizzard-dropping of dust, we would cart it all up a flight of stairs to dumpsters. The first , we filled above the halfway mark, and it literally lifted the truck off the ground when the waste-management guy came to retrieve it. (As I recall, we hung off the front of the truck to tip the balance.)
It sucked. It felt like penance for all of the ills that I’d ever done or wished on anyone. Some among my coworkers swore and quit the job. I stayed on because it was the only way I could find, at the time, to support my wife and two daughters.
We’ve entered into a frightening era, it seems to me, during which “respect for women” means transforming them into risk-free targets for promiscuous men and we’ve created a boy problem by wringing our hands when they don’t respond to stimuli like little girls.
Those for whom improvement means tearing down may succeed in destroying our civilization, but I’ll count it a small victory when I spit bloody lung on the white coat of a government-paid doctor as I tell him I’m going to go die in the home that I built, thank you very much.
Looking at the data in the article from the Cranston Patch, is there any other explanation? The number of parking tickets issued per day jumped from 1.2 per day for the first 14 days of November to 68.5 per day for November 15th and 16th. Additionally, the jump only occurred in the home districts of [...]
Look, I get the public debate and enjoy it. So, while I’m inclined to chortle that the RI Humanists put up a banner presenting a guy who named his colony in homage to God as if he’s the symbol of a secular state, their sign struck a fair balance between making a statement and respecting neighbors.
That fits in reasonably well with a policy that allows groups with differing religious views each to put up some sort of display illustrating what they, in particular, celebrate during this time of year. It also can be seen as serving, rather than detracting from, the message that we are alike in our dignity and good fortune for our position in the universe — whether by the graces of God or the good sense of our forebears.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), by contrast, has placed this message in the Rhode Island State House:
At this Season of the Winter Solstice,
Let Reason Prevail
There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no
heaven or hell. There is only our natural world.
Religion is but a myth & superstition that
hardens hearts & enslaves minds.
That message is different in kind, not just content. It’s an overt (indeed, hard-hearted) attack on what others believe and a short-circuit of a sense of community and spirit of public discourse.* It does, in fact, what atheists wrongly insist religious displays do, by inference. It belongs in the category of the Westboro Baptist Church.
In the spirit of the season, though, we should pray for such folks. How horrible it must be to construct one’s worldview so thoroughly in terms of negation as to form an organization that travels to other people’s communities for the purpose of insulting them.
* Note that venue is important; seasonal decorations merit a different standard than policy debates.
Tiverton has single-payer curbside garbage collection. Some of my tax-hawk friends like it because it’s a service they actually use, and (they argue) they couldn’t get as good a price as the town is able to negotiate. Me, I hate it and would gladly make other arrangements.
The smaller part of my reason is that the town has for decades failed to prepare for the filling of its dump, so it’s instituted a “pay as you throw” program that charges us $1 or $2 per garbage bag that’s collected… in addition to the taxes that were previously considered to be the whole cost of trash pickup. (That represents at least a doubling of the price, to my household.) There’s no escaping the per-bag fee, because we have to use the same bags if we bring the trash to the dump ourselves, and there’s no escaping the tax, which we would pay even if we found some way to live without generating any trash at all.
But my bigger objection is that we’ve got next to no recourse if we’re unhappy with the service. Since I’ve lived in town, I’ve had two garbage barrels destroyed, and the current one limps along with a monthly repair. Today, a barrel that I bought for our recycling is gone, and it appears very likely that it was thrown in the truck, rather than emptied into it.
What’s the recourse? Call the town? Call the contractor? Why should any of them care? The fact that people in town are effectively required to hire this particular garbage company means that the protests of a single resident amount to very little. Even if many were dissatisfied, we’d have to be so upset as to deliberately organize in order to force a change of town policy.
Can’t wait for single-payer government healthcare!
UPDATE 12/17/13 12:54 p.m.
By way of a follow-up: The head of the town department of public works responded to an email that I’d sent him last night, and he offered to replace the missing one, although the rubbish contractor said no barrels were taken. Immediately after reading his email, I was on my way to run an errand and spotted the recycle barrel a good distance down the street. How it got there I don’t know.
That reduces the immediate reason for my post, but my frustrations have been long building, and I’d still prefer not to have curbside pickup through the town.
Rep. Mike Chippendale (R, Coventry, Foster, Glocester) writes to request that I note his position on the total boycott of WPRO as identical to Allan Fung’s — namely, that he’s not going to appear on John DePetro’s morning show, but is not going to shun the other hosts. According to Chippendale, his name was on the list of politicians who’ve signed on to the whole-station boycott, but it appears to have been removed, at least on the For Our Daughters site.
Simply because of the proximity of this morning’s reading, as I skimmed the list, the names of Rep. John Edwards (D, Portsmouth, Tiverton) and Sen. Louis DiPalma (D, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton) stand out. Earlier, I noted their confidence that they can sway the legislature to eliminate the tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge, and the two issues seem to sit together uncomfortably.
Do Edwards and DiPalma mean to say that if the push to eliminate the tolls comes to a head — hits one of those points in politics at which every Rhode Islander who can be reached with a message could be critical — they’ll refuse to reach out to the audiences of Gene Valecenti, Dan Yorke, Buddy Cianci, Matt Allen, Tara Granahan, Steve Klamkin, John Loughlin, the station’s news reporters, and even Rep. Deborah Ruggerio (D, Jamestown, Middletown), who has a Sunday show called “Amazing Women”?
That says a great deal not only about the general civic blindness of Rhode Island’s governing class, but also the specific priorities of the people on that list.
Senators David Bates (R, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) and Edward O’Neill (I, Lincoln, North Providence, North Smithfield) illustrate exactly what I was talking about, the other day:
[General Assembly spokespeople] also said that Bates and Sen. Edward O’Neill, an independent from Lincoln, contacted the state Ethics Commission prior to the event and, based on what they learned, believed they had a green light.
As I suggested, the Ethics Commission is supposed to set a line beyond which unethical behavior will not be tolerated. Instead, it’s become a referee giving a “green light” to all unethical behavior up to that line. Consider that there are no gradations; the Commission has no mechanism to label things “unethical, but not illegal,” for example. (Although, it mightn’t be a good idea to consider it qualified to do so.)
We’re to the point, I’d say, that voters should not only set their own — much higher — standards for what’s ethical for an elected official, but give additional marks against a politician who cites the Ethics Commission as justification for violating them.
A Fall River Herald article gives the impression that East Bay legislators foresee the disappearance of the tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge.
- Rep. John Edwards (D, Portsmouth, Tiverton): “If we are successful in the Legislature, which I think we will be, the tolls will go away.”
- Sen. Louis DiPalma (D, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton): “We are going to win this with a phased approach. I am cautiously optimistic.”
Rep. Raymond Gallison (D, Bristol, Portsmouth) and Sen. Christopher Ottiano (R, Bristol, Portsmouth, Tiverton) were at the progress-proclaiming meeting but were not quoted.
I’m still skeptical, and here’s why:
Increased fees on gas, driver’s licenses, car insurance and car inspections are all on the table, Edwards said. Estimates are as high as $300 million a year for the next decade to completely repair all the state’s roads and bridges.
“We have to come up with an alternative funding source,” Edwards said. “I believe what we need to do is dedicate the money we raise every year on our inspection fees, our license fees and our speeding fees.”
There’s a reason the legislature hasn’t already done the obvious and prioritized infrastructure: The tax base is maxed out and too much money goes to things it shouldn’t, but about which somebody powerful cares enough to defend it. A few hearings from a special legislative commission don’t change that or make it likely that legislators across the state want to announce a major tax/fee increase during an election year at the same time they’re tearing down an expensive tolling system on the SRB.
The most likely explanation is that this remains about political cover for local politicians. If an increased toll is coming, appearing to have been out-manned or even duped helps East Bay reps and senators stay on the us side of us versus them.
In the last hour, the Providence Journal put on line a letter from David Quiroa, the president of the Alliance for Guatemala. What did he “get”? Not that John DePetro voices the thoughts of “the right”; sometimes he does, sometimes not. Nor is it true, as Quiroa implies, that the thoughts of conservatives are dominated [...]
Let’s have all relevant data points on the table as the negotiation of a new contract with Rhode Island’s state workers proceeds.
Thanks to Kathy Gregg for illustrating the point I was trying to make yesterday on Twitter about how the local media is covering the unions’ push to get John DePetro off the WPRO airwaves.
In her Providence Journal article, today, she reports on the politicians who have pledged to boycott all WPRO shows until DePetro is fired, but the one she singles out for additional questioning is Cranston Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung… who was the only one (to his credit) to limit his boycott to just the host whom he finds objectionable.
That is the position that the local media finds to be in need of additional defense.
Based on commentary and private emails, yesterday, it’s clear to me that members of Rhode Island’s governing class do not understand the gravity of their positions. Their personal dislike of DePetro overwhelms their sense of responsibility to the people of Rhode Island — for many of whom WPRO is an important medium to learn the news, gain insight into government, and interact with politicians. Avoiding a single host is a comment on him and his show; boycotting an entire media outlet is a guilt-by-association effort to limit the ability of an organization to perform its function in our community, holding it hostage to political demands.
The local media should be outraged by that, and the lack of outrage raises questions about how well they fill their own roles. It shows an accedence to the principle that the news media must stay within government’s good graces.
Incidentally, Gregg notes the prominence of the AFL-CIO labor union behind the group that’s stoking this controversy, but without disclosing that she and her fellow Providence Journal reporters are members of the Providence Newspaper Guild, which falls under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO.
Federal grants have already paid large subsidies for applicants using HealthSource RI, but only for a small number of them is that the full taxpayer burden.