“Requirement” Reconsidered in Relation to Labor Unions

The Providence Journal so liked its PolitiFact about John DePetro’s being wrong on a union requirement for the 195 land that Mark Reynolds went back for another bite via the news department yesterday:

Concerns about the misrepresentation of an economic development opportunity for Rhode Island have prompted the chairman of the 195 Redevelopment Commission to issue a public statement to emphasize that developers who pursue projects on the former Route 195 land are under no obligation to hire union laborers. 

“The 195 Redevelopment Commission does not have and has never had a requirement for developers to hire union approved contractors,” said the commission’s chairman, Joseph Azrack.

Having not done a thorough review of all of the relevant policy and law, I can’t say whether there’s some sly, maybe indirect, way in which DePetro is correct in substance, if not in immediate fact.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find such a catch, but then again, I wouldn’t be surprised not to find it.  The hoops that Rhode Island sets up for businesses and developers are so ridiculous that the addition of required unionization isn’t really necessary, even as it seems obvious that the state might do such a thing.

But then, turn back the newspaper a few pages, and read this article by Linda Borg:

A private emergency medical service claims that its employers, some of them Coventry firefighters, were threatened if the company provided coverage to the Coventry Fire District on an emergency basis.

In a letter by Carol Mansfield, CEO of Coastline Emergency Medical Services, Mansfield wrote, “as a result of deciding to help the residents of Coventry, we have gotten threats of harm to our personnel and equipment by the Union and its members …. The Union is forcing those firefighters [who work for Coastline] in MA and R.I. to resign. As an employer of over 20 employees, I cannot let my firefighter employees to lose their jobs with us…”

A fire district hires firefighters.  Largely because of labor’s big investments in state politicians, the union comes to see those as their jobs, and the organization’s reason for being is to protect those jobs and make them pay as well as possible.  If the people of the district can’t see their value and attempt to rein in the cost, then it would seem that the union wants to make their choice between the high costs and a dangerous lack of services.

My construction career never overlapped with any union workers, but some of my coworkers had had experience with cut power cords and pneumatic tubes and other damaged or missing equipment.  The goal of those incidents, obviously, was to drive up the cost of being a non-union carpenter on a site that the union wanted to claim as its property.

Does the 195 Commission require developers to use union labor (or to increase their costs to match, if not)?  The chairman says not.  But does DePetro’s misstatement (if it was that) really rate on the list of things about which Rhode Islanders must be informed?


Government Built on the Principal-Agency Problem

Writing on the quagmire of President Obama’s foreign policy, Richard Fernandez introduces a term that describes very well the challenge I observed on Friday, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and in Rhode Island:

To understand how defeat can be winning  recall the old principal-agent problem. “The dilemma exists because sometimes the agent is motivated to act in his own best interests rather than those of the principal.” Even though the people might gain more by “winning” if the political class can do better by “losing” then they lose.

The Wikipedia entry to which Fernandez links for a quick explanation places at the core of the dilemma the fact that the agent (say, a corporate board) has an advantage in information over the principal (e.g., shareholders).  The board can better see the conditions of the investment and may find itself in a position in which recommending one path would pay off for the shareholders, but cost the board.

In the case of government, the asymmetry of information certainly exists, but the greater problem is the asymmetry of power.  In theory, of course, government agents must convince voters that public actions are in their best interest, which is an information issue, but the government has the advantage that direct consent is not immediately necessary, so its persuasion can be done post facto.  ObamaCare would never have won a national referendum, but imposing it and then manipulating asymmetrical information has kept it lumbering along.

The Greenhouse Compact failed in Rhode Island because it came to a vote of the people, while RhodeMap RI insinuated its way into law and now can continue based on the false information that it’s simply sitting on a shelf, or the even more obvious stratagem of changing its name.  Remember that Governor Raimondo used a refinancing gimmick to produce the $80 million needed for part of her plan without the requirement of public consent, and some of her wealthy backers are helping to fund some of the planning stage, perhaps with reinforcement from the Boston Fed.

Decisions are being made that will affect every part of your life in Rhode Island.  You still have time (theoretically) to change the people making the decisions or to take their authority away for specific actions.  Many have already concluded that the only way to escape their authority is to leave, although the disinclination to stand up against them does not bode well for the hope that their approach won’t spread around the country and the world.


When the Government Finds a Better Tenant

Yesterday, I mentioned, by the by, that folks who support a broad scope for government tend to assume that the things that they like and that they receive will always be included within that scope.  Well, turn your eyes to Europe:

A woman in Germany is being evicted from her home of 23 years to make way for asylum-seekers, in the second such case to emerge.

Gabrielle Keller has been given until the end of the year to leave her flat in the small southern town of Eschbach, near the border with France.

The flat belongs to the local municipality, which says it is needed to house refugees.

As I’ve also suggested recently, a government built on a central-planning philosophy will also tend to resemble private organizations for which we assume action in self interest.  When the government finds a better use for its apartment buildings, well, it will give the current tenants notice.

The crucial question, in this instance, is why the government believes housing for refugees trumps housing for citizens and how much this example is symbolic more broadly in the West, as Sarah Hoyt implies.


Russia and the World in Which We’re Now Living (Thanks, Obama Voters!)

So, Russia appears to have targeted some U.S. allies in Syria…

Human rights groups say Russian airstrikes in Syria targeted US-backed rebels on Thursday, as a new report claims hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived for an upcoming ground offensive. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims the targets of Russian airstrikes included US-backed group Tajamu Alezzah.

… after giving the U.S. one-hour notice (at our Iraq embassy) to get out of the way:

On Wednesday, US diplomats in Baghdad were reduced to the role of meekly receiving a message. Russian air strikes on targets across Syriawould commence in one hour, their visitor told them. For the safety of all concerned, it would be better if the US Air Force stayed out of the way and suspended its own bombing campaign in Syria.

Russia denied the targeting…

‘The rumours that the target of these air strikes was not IS positions are unfounded,’ Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists in New York on Thursday after meeting his US counterpart, John Kerry.

… but then again, Russia denied it was moving in on Ukraine.

Hey, remember when President Obama and the New York Times mocked Mitt Romney for calling Russia a “geopolitical foe”?  Be sure to pay attention to the consequences of believing that partisan spin and reelecting Obama.


A Quick Thought on Controlling Healthcare Costs

Rhode Island Hospital is apparently “eliminating nearly 200 positions and shutting down an early intervention program for developmentally disabled children” due to budget constraints.  My first hypothesis would be to blame this on ObamaCare and Rhode Island’s embrace of both the health benefits exchange and the Medicaid expansion, but I don’t have the time to become as intimately familiar with the specifics of this decision to prove it.

However, I would suggest that anybody who thinks the loss of these jobs and services is a terrible development should remember that Governor Raimondo’s strategy for bringing down costs is to impose a cap on healthcare spending within the whole state.

People who prefer top-down planning by the government tend to believe that the plans will always include the things they treasure or prioritize, and of course the central planners are happy to let people believe that… until it stops being true.


Young Men Might Want to Have Their College Experience Somewhere Else

When the press release about Mia Ackerman’s legislative commission “to study the issue of sexual assault on college campuses” arrived in my inbox, I put it aside with a mental note to keep an eye on whether the committee spent any time at all actually challenging the assumption that there’s some sort of sexual assault crisis on U.S. campuses.  My expectation is that the question won’t be asked, and that this is an issue only because the preacher-dad from Footloose has re-imagined himself as a progressive and because divisive identity politics will help Democrats during the upcoming election year.

But the last paragraph of a quick Providence Journal write-up of the commission’s first meeting by Lynn Arditi truly merits some consideration:

Ackerman introduced legislation to form the study commission after victims advocates opposed a bill she introduced last January to require colleges report sexual assault to law enforcement. Day One, a nonprofit that advocates for victims of sexual violence, opposed the mandatory reporting bill saying it could discourage victims from coming forward. Ackerman withdrew the mandatory reporting bill.

The advocacy group doesn’t want colleges and universities to report allegations of crimes, because the victims might not make the allegations if they expect that to happen.  Here’s the question: What are the colleges and universities supposed to do differently than the legal system that alleged victims will find less threatening?  Worry more about their feelings than the facts?  Remove the alleged perpetrator without due process?  National news on the issue suggests that’s exactly the intention.

The whole discussion has something of a surreal quality.  One would think, for instance, that people obsessed with equity and identity groups would notice how much female undergrads already outnumber male undergrads.  If Collegedata.com is accurate, URI has a male:female ratio of 46:54.  At RIC, it’s 33:67.  The private institutions vary as well, although Brown is pretty close to even and Bryant has more men.

This commission’s report is do by May, and there might be some legislation to come out of it.  Then the advocacy may continue.  All of this goes to suggest that if you’re in the process of helping your son figure out a path to college, just now, you might want to leave open some options that are outside of the reach of Rhode Island’s legislature — somewhere that left-wing activists and special interests don’t have elected officials on quite so short of a leash.


So Much Study of a Top-Down Economic Program Already Under Way

There sure are a lot of folks who want to offer Rhode Islanders helpful advice on how they should give government, non-profit, and business leaders expanded resources and authority to make decisions for all of us.  First came a group of wealthy Gina Raimondo backers and their hired think-tankers at Brookings, and now, according to Kate Bramson in the Providence Journal, the Fed wants to get in on the action:

The Boston Fed’s team will collaborate with an unspecified number of Rhode Island cities and towns to use national research it conducted to help struggling communities recover economically, said Tamar Kotelchuck, director of the Boston Fed’s Working Cities Initiatives.  The program in Massachusetts has tackled workforce development, community development and education initiatives in six cities, but it’s too soon to say exactly what the focus might be in Rhode Island. Kotelchuck said it’s likely that workforce development will be one area of focus here, but others may emerge after more study.

Funny how everybody’s got the same basic blueprint:

Working Cities research has shown several factors help cities maintain or recover their economic stability — including collaborative leadership, the role of anchor institutions, investment in infrastructure and the extension of benefits to the entire community. But “collaborative leadership” — the ability to work together across sectors over a sustained period of time with a comprehensive vision — was found to be most crucial.

That passive voice — “was found to be” — is instructive.  “Found to be” by whom?  A quick look through some of the materials on the Boston Fed’s Web site for this initiative reveals that “collaborative leadership” is actually one of the goals of the project.  It isn’t surprising, therefore, that the organization would find it to be crucial.  This report, in particular, brings around some familiar verbiage:

Most importantly, [in the comparatively few places that have succeeded in making the transition from distressed to revitalized,] public officials, private sector employers, and nonprofit institutions need to coalesce around a long-term vision and collaborate for a sustained period of time in implementing broad-based revitalization strategies.

Translation: Insiders agree on a vision for the whole community and use the levers of government, non-profits, and business to make sure the people don’t disrupt the plan.  This is precisely the vision that Brookings has articulated, and the mechanisms that the Fed suggests read like the menu of the programs that Governor Raimondo and the General Assembly have empowered the state’s new Commerce Secretary to implement, using $80 million of our money claimed through a fancy refinancing deal.

In addition to the similarity of all of these plans note something else:  Raimondo began implementing it before the all this high-profile studying had begun.  Anybody who thinks this initiative begins with the actual people of Rhode Island, our needs, and our hopes and dreams is being profoundly misled.



Oh, You Thought the Mayor Was Supposed to Be Able to Run the City?

Let’s be fair, here:  Providence City Councilman Sam Zurier was a vocal supporter of unsuccessful candidate for mayor of Providence Michael Solomon, and his recent constituent letter (via Dan McGowan) criticizing that race’s victor, Jorge Elorza, is ultimately a political document.  But still:

… these actions raise serious questions about the current year’s budget.  Instead of reducing the accumulated deficit by $3.2 million, the administration increased it by $5 million to a new level of $13.7 million.  It is far from clear that the administration will meet this year’s deficit reduction requirement of $4.3 million, given that the current year began $1.5 million in the red and given the failures we learned about last week in the areas of understanding and managing the budget.

Anybody who pays attention in their own city or town should know that the overlapping area of local politics and budgets can be very complicated, and outside commentary ought to come behind a shield of caveats and disclaimers.  Be that as it may, it’s fair to wonder what in Elorza’s background ever gave anybody a belief that he had the experience to run a good-sized city.  One can be impressed by the career turnaround of a 39-year-old who admits that he barely graduated from high school and still question whether he should be the chief executive of an organization with a three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar budget.

We seem to have forgotten, in this country, that we elect people to office in order to do a job, not because they fit the profile that we want on the “about us” page of the government’s Web site.  Life experience and an interest in policy might make for a good legislator, and experience with the law might be sufficient for a judge, but running an organization requires a different skill set.

Now, one could say, as Patrick Laverty did, that an election comes down to a choice between actual people on the ballot, but that’s only an indication that our entire political system is not working.  Multiple factors contribute to our broken system, but I’d argue that the biggest one is simply the size and scope of our government and its activities.  There’s too much incentive for people to get into government for all the wrong reasons (and to make politics painful for people who get into it for the right reasons), and too many of society’s issues are resolved through government for voters to make informed decisions based primarily on such basics as being able to develop and manage to a budget.


Steven Costantino Doesn’t Understand What “Representative” Means

RIPR’s Ian Donnis just tweeted out a link to a Vermont news story on former RI House Finance Committee Chairman Steven Costantino’s role in the 38 Studios debacle (Costantino now being commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access).  Quite apart from the specifics of Costantino’s involvement in the venture capital scam, this statement succinctly articulates one of Rhode Island’s central problems (emphasis added):

Costantino, in a written statement Monday afternoon, told Seven Days: “My only involvement in the matter in RI was because of my former position in the RI legislature. I did not play any role in bringing the company to RI as did others in government. I was tasked with handling the legislation affecting the company by my superiors. After legislative activity, I had nothing to do with approving the loan to the company and have had nothing to do with the company ever since.”

The people of Providence elected Costantino to represent them!  He wasn’t a hired employee working at the pleasure of “his superiors.”  His “superiors” were the voters of district 8; the other politicians in the State House were just people with whom he had to work while serving the people’s interests.  At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Sad to say, but Costantino’s understanding of a legislator’s role is probably held by a majority of his former peers, and it’s certainly paid off for him.  After leaving the General Assembly, he went on to a $140,000 job running Rhode Island’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and although I couldn’t easily find his salary in Vermont (and his predecessor, there, appears to have made a good bit less), he’s surely still in the six figures.

I wonder if the then Speaker of the House in Rhode Island recommended Costantino for “whatever role he would fulfill” in the executive branch, as current Speaker Nicholas Mattiello did for Donald Lally.


Money for Water… or Posh Digs for Bureaucrats?

The thrust of this Amy Anthony article in the Associated Press seems to be that Rhode Islanders should be concerned that our state government isn’t spending federal money quickly enough on waterworks, but I’m more disconcerted by the intended use:

Rhode Island is the farthest off track of all the states from meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s goal of spending the money in a key drinking water program by next year’s deadline, according to federal data reviewed by The Associated Press.

The state has more than $16 million sitting unspent from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund — 9.4 percent of what it has been allocated — putting Rhode Island above the national average of 6.2 percent. …

But state officials insist they’ll have the backlog used up by September 2016, largely because of a $26.6-million loan for a new building for Providence Water.

The building in question won’t really be part of the state’s water infrastructure.  It won’t be used to process water in any way, but to house government: “A spokeswoman for Providence Water has said the water supplier wants a new operations facility to consolidate its operations and be located more centrally in the capital city.”

In July, Dan McGowan reported on WPRI that Providence Water was actually looking into a $39 million bond in order to buy and renovate the desired building, so from a strictly fiscal perspective, it would seem to be better to have federal taxpayers pay the $26.6 million outright without tacking on another $12 million or so in financing fees and giving local ratepayers the bill.  That said, are administrative buildings really what people are thinking about when taxpayers approve federal programs to improve drinking water?

(I know, I know.  It’s laughable to think that our behemoth of a federal government actually operates with taxpayer approval, at this level, but it’s fun to pretend from time to time.)


Patrick Jones: Gas May Drop 10% in Rhode Island This Winter

The surplus of oil continues around the world, giving businesses and private entities that use natural gas more bang for their buck. Surplus means lower gas prices for National Grid natural gas customers, and analysts predict that the declining prices will continue into winter.

The Rhode Island-based firm said that Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission may approve a proposed cut of 9.6% starting November 1st this year. Apart from the global surplus of oil, there are two reasons for lower gas prices in the region: Firstly, a foreseeable drop in the cost of natural gas in the near future and secondly, a decrease in the surcharge used to offset the cost of gas National Grid purchased in the previous year to what the customers were billed this year.

“We know the winter season can pose an extra challenge when it comes to energy costs, so we’re very happy to be able to pass on the savings created with the availability of lower cost natural gas,” said Timothy F. Horan, the president of National Grid in Rhode Island. “Domestic natural gas is essential to providing the mix of energy sources that is essential to our region’s future growth and prosperity.”

The anticipated drop of prices this year, however, doesn’t mean that supply constrains are over for the energy giant. The fact remains that the Northeastern region is served by only one pipeline that is nearly always running close to capacity. In times of extreme cold seasons, supplies for natural gas can skyrocket mainly because Rhode Island’s power plants are all powered by natural gas.

In order to counter the possibility of an oil shortage in the future, some engineering companies are now creating pumps for renewable power generation. Some, on the other hand, are mixing green energy with crude oil to lessen their dependability on traditional power sources. According to Sulzer, a long-time associate of IBBC-member Unaoil, countries around the world have committed to significantly increase their share of electricity that can be generated via green sources by 2020.

As for the National Grid, the company is eyeing an expansion of the current pipeline capacity, support more renewable energy sources, and increase energy efficiency among its customers.

Patrick Jones is a budding writer, fitness enthusiast and stock investor. His interest in the financial market led him to invest 70% of his 10-year savings in the stock market. He regularly checks and writes about the latest business and finance news.


Letting Them Take Away Our Government and Our Civil Rights

Via Instapundit comes an excellent illustration of the degree to which we’re simply allowing our right to self governance evaporate away in favor of the radical ideology of an elite administrative class:

Even [Deputy Education Assistant Secretary Amy McIntosh], despite her dodging and weaving, concedes that Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and head of the DoE Office of Civil Rights has gone off the reservation.  She has no lawful authority to mandate colleges and universities adhere to her political whims, as reflected in her “guidance,” upon pain of losing federal funds.*

When asked (see 1:37 in the video) who gave Lhamon the authority to impose her personal will upon the nation’s colleges and universities, she responded, “with gratitude, you did when I was confirmed.”

The United States of America did not confer upon a person named Lhamon the authority to recreate Title IX in her image, to impose threat of the loss of public monies upon failure to adhere to her vision, to force a fundamental and systemic change that created a wholly new authority to rid the nation’s higher educational system of anything that might adversely affect the feelings of “marginalized” students, ascertain and punish students who are alleged to have engaged in conduct that caused such unpleasantness.

Our government is no longer following the rules that ensure that ours is a representative democracy, and the tendency simply to implement the preferred policy of whichever party can claim the White House will only expand, and rapidly.  We desperately need to begin populating elective offices with people who will insist on the rules of government… and then we need to cycle in new officials on a regular basis.

This ratcheting constraint on our civil rights has been happening for a long time, but the Obama presidency has left the rule of law a wasteland.  If we don’t change things now — right down to convincing the news and entertainment media to take the side of the people over government interests (or to drive them out of business) — it’s going to come to oppression and violence sooner than later.


Today’s Bias Technique by the Tommy FlanAAAgan of Journalism, PolitiFactRI: Choose Carefully the Statement to be Rated

PolitiFactRI is so obviously biased and has made so many blatantly wrong ratings that flew in the face of plain truth that, for me, it has achieved the status of a pathological liar. So I wonder sometimes whether it is even worth calling them out. You don’t bother to call out a pathological liar, you simply ignore everything he says because he has no credibility.

But then I remember that they have as a platform the state’s largest newspaper, the Providence Journal, which inexplicably continues to damage its own reputation for accuracy, perpetuate serious misinformation, promote bad government policies and squander valuable journalistic resources by hosting a mini-Pravda.

With that reminder, then, let’s take a look at today’s rating and the bias therein.


Crime in Tiverton

This week’s gem from the Sakonnet Times “Police Report” section:

At 8:11 a.m., a Grinnell Avenue caller reported that a neighbor, with whom he had been having a dispute, had been leaving notes and Bible verses for him.

No word on whether either neighbor turned the other cheek.


A Familiar Strategy for Manipulating the Public

This sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

This massive effort is laid out in a new report — “Private Interests and Public Office” — by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute. For the past year, E&E Legal used state and federal public-records requests to uncover whom the White House worked with to promote its environmental agenda, especially its newly unveiled “Clean Power Plan.”…

This sort of political advocacy requires money, so the governors’ offices reached out to Michael Bloomberg, the Rockefeller family and other wealthy liberal benefactors. They especially focused on Steyer, who was preparing to spend $100 million promoting environmental issues in the 2014 election.

I’m thinking, specifically, of the Raimondo backers who are funding the forthcoming Brookings Institution study.  When they say they’re trying to get everybody “on the same page,” what they mean is that they’re using their resources and access co-opt the missions of the public and private sectors to further their ideological (and/or self-interested) agenda.  By definition, it’s a conspiracy.

Yet, if anybody attempts to organize an opposition, they are put forward as the greedy schemers, through the news and entertainment media that are cooperating with the government-driven ideologues.  As they say, control the language and the narrative, and you win the social war, even if most of what you say is false and utter intellectual nonsense.

P.S. — If you’re wondering, yes, the EELI report does mention Rhode Island, albeit only once.  Of course, it would probably go without saying that Rhode Island’s two most recent governors would be on board with a scheme to boost green-energy special interests and give government greater control over society.


Rare Fall Legislative Session Unlikely in Rhode Island… Now That It Might Do Some Good

Any Rhode Islander who spent the summer worrying about looming mischief during the rare fall legislative session proposed for the General Assembly back in June can probably breathe more easily now that the season has arrived.  On the first day of autumn, the Speaker of the House, Democrat Nicholas Mattiello, told the Providence Journal that his chamber’s reconvening before the start of the 2016 session is “becoming less and less likely because we don’t have the information ready to move on it at this point in time.”

Of the many bills left on the table from the regular session, the most controversial ones custom-made to serve the local construction industry–particularly construction labor unions, whose members would be flush with government-funded work—failed to regain momentum.

Continue reading on Watchdog.org.


Calling All Late-Night-Show Hosts Interested in Lincoln Chafee: Governor Battles Administration “Pocket Calls”

For my money, two-time candidate for governor (once as a Moderate and once as a Republican) Ken Block has spotted the best tidbit in the dump of documents related to the case of Curt Schilling’s failed 38 Studios video game company and its $75 million worth of support from Rhode Island taxpayers.  On Twitter, Block highlighted an anecdote in the deposition of former director of the state’s Economic Development Corporation Keith Stokes.

In the midst of all the 38 Studios stuff, Stokes mentions another “crisis” that gripped the administration of then-Governor Lincoln Chafee, who’s now the rear-runner of the Democrat race for president.  The crisis?  A senior staff member of the Chafee administration was having drinks with then-Treasurer-now-Governor Gina Raimondo and accidentally “pocket called” the governor just as she and Raimondo were badmouthing him.

The punchline:  He listened for twenty minutes, and the matter “occupied” Director Stokes and his agency’s lawyer for “three or four days,” somehow having to do with a “confidentiality agreement.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Rhode Island in an anecdote.


A Mood Lacking Good Will and Debate

Federalist essay by David Harsanyi titled “Liberals Are Done Debating” hit a familiar chord for me, today:

… I don’t mind the insults (perversely, in fact, I sort of enjoy them), but I do mind that the debate is over.

Conservatives might be ethically compromised, uninformed, or—if liberals are in a generous mood—mentally unstable, but they can’t be for real. At least, that’s the sense I increasingly get from the Left these days. Blame it on social media.

When a group confuses its politics with moral doctrine, it may have trouble comprehending how a decent human could disagree with its positions. This is probably why people confuse lecturing with debating and why so many liberals can bore into the deepest nooks of my soul to ferret out all those motivations but can’t waste any time arguing about the issue itself.

It needs to be said that this isn’t just a phenomenon of the Left, mind you, although the insinuations might be a bit different.  There’s more of a moral fanaticism on among progressives.  A progressive may see conservatives as having sold their souls, but as if it was an inevitable transaction:  We wanted to turn to evil, or otherwise, the good that we are trampling is so obvious that no well-meaning person could possibly make the deal.

From the Right, the attacks seem to have some vestige of empathy: The seller of his own soul was tricked or just caught at a moment of weakness.  There’s still an opportunity for salvation.

The impetus for and substantiation of the attacks are different, too.  Progressives attack on emotional grounds.  Disagreement with them is an affront against humanity, even where stated objectives are the same, but only the proposed methods different.  On the Right, the basis for attacks is usually some special information that links the perpetrator to some far-reaching conspiracy to take over the world.

I find that particularly odd, frankly, given that so much of my own conservatism springs from the belief that even projects to accomplish good things are doomed to fail when attempted through central planning fiat.  Life is messy.  Interests conflict, and both allies and enemies behave unpredictably.  And God still rules over the Earth.  There’s a subset of the Right that seems to believe that the only time central planning can possibly work is when the planners are in league with the Devil.

On the positive side, though, I’m not sure this is anything new.  Information technology and, especially, social media are just opening up the opportunity for discussion across really substantive boundaries — all the way from the far left to the far right and all the way from the irrationally heated to the coldly logical.  It may not amount to “debate,” but it’s discussion, or at least interaction.  At the end of the day, that’s an opportunity, isn’t it?


Gina’s Gleichschaltung

Ed Driscoll recalls a Jonah Goldberg column from 2010, and it makes me think of Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and the Brookings Institution:

Now, contemporary liberalism is not an evil ideology. Its intentions aren’t evil or even fruitfully comparable to Hitlerism. But there is a liberal Gleichschaltung all the same. Every institution must be on the same page. Every agency must advance the liberal agenda.

And this is where the Catch-22 catches. The dream of a nimble, focused, problem-solving government is undone by the reality of hyper-mission creep. When every institution is yoked to an overarching philosophy or mission, its actual purpose can become an afterthought.

Here’s Bruce Katz, of Brookings, talking about the study on which his institution is currently working for the benefit of the Raimondo Administration:

“I think in most parts of the U.S. it’s still, the government does this, the corporations do that, the universities are somewhere else,” [Bruce Katz, the nationally-known head of the Metropolitan Policy Program] said. “In the successful places around the world there’s a seamless interaction between all these different sectors, and if they’re all on the same page – then that’s when you get the bigger returns. So it’s not just the policy … it’s this foundation of collaboration.”

Unfortunately for the central planners, this is a pipe dream.  Just look at Stephen Beale’s article on GoLocalProv, today:

The Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families is riddled with severe financial problems and shoddy record keeping, leading to running deficits, a potential misuse of funds, and violation of state purchasing regulations, according to a state audit.

The problem isn’t only that a government in which unity of purpose is paramount hinders each organization or agency from fulfilling its own unique purpose, but also that the purpose of the whole collective stops being to solve problems and starts being to support the collective.  As I suggest in Beale’s article, the people who do the stuff of government know that the folks at the top, including those who are elected, are on their side and reluctant to raise questions about the whole big-government enterprise; they also know that like-minded people have a lock on those offices.

Under such circumstances, belief in the principle of central planning becomes the first requirement for employees, and the first objective of any process to catch and stop bad management becomes not catching and stopping bad management, but preventing incidents from making people think society might have other ways to solve its problems.


The Threat of the Federal Government

Under President Obama, the belief that the government poses “an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens” is held by nearly half of all Americans, according to Gallup.


In terms of presidential politics, the fact that the biggest leap came between 2003 and 2006 is interesting.  To be sure, after 9/11 and the passage of the Patriot Act, civil libertarians were right to express concern about the new powers being claimed by the government.  But the Patriot Act passed in October 2001.  What characterized the later six years of President Bush’s time in office was a concerted and constant press by the news and entertainment media to make the Republican administration appear as a threat.

Another chart farther down at the above link bolsters this point, showing that, after a dip in the threat assessment by supporters of both major political parties from 2004 to 2005, Democrats increased in their sense of a federal threat from 45% to 59%, while Republicans only increased from 23% to 24% by late 2006.

By the next time the party question was asked, in late 2010, the parties had essentially switched, with Republicans worrying about the threat at 63% and Democrats at 26%.  The fevered pitch of distrust that the media stoked remained, it just took hold among a different group.  Interestingly, since that time, despite the concerted and constant effort of the news and entertainment media to support President Obama and downplay his scandals, the sense of a threat among Democrats has grown from 26% to 32%, while only 63% to 65% among Republicans.

This is purely my interpretation, of course, but I would argue that some concern was justified after the passage of the Patriot Act, but that the Democrats’ allies in the media worked overtime to convince Americans that President Bush wasn’t just a less desirable choice than other options, but a threat to the country, blending seamlessly with the delirious hysteria surrounding Obama’s election.  Since then, however, it’s become increasingly clear that the government under Obama has actually become a threat.

[Note: This post was initially misclassified as a Liveblog. See here for the original post and comments.]

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