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Fish on Fridays


Nothing symbolizes the supposed arbitrariness of religion to those predisposed towards skepticism towards religious belief more than does the Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays during the season of Lent. I’ll admit to having asked myself, especially on Good Friday, what connection is there really, between not eating meat and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. And then there is the philosophical paradox. If my soul is lost after I’ve eaten meat on a Lenten Friday, does that mean I’m free to commit worse sins without making my situation worse? But if the rule doesn’t really matter, then why follow it? And on and on and on and on…

Here’s what I do know. With the wide variety of fish and other meatless options available to a 21st century American, abstaining from meat on Fridays is about as small a “sacrifice” in a material sense as can be asked for. But honoring the rule does require me to make some conscious choices that run contrary to what the surrounding culture tells me are cool and sensible. And if I am unable to make this small sacrifice, because I find it too inconvenient, or because I’m afraid to explain myself to others who don’t share my belief or who might think that I’m being just plain silly, then on what basis can I believe myself to be capable of taking a stand in more serious situations, when the choices might be a little harder and the stakes a bit higher?

Slightly edited re-post of an April 6, 2007 original.

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The Undeserved Confidence of the New Upper Class

One common suggestion for those who wish to be aware of current events and engage in civil dialogue is that they should seek out alternate opinions and actually listen to the other side.  This practice does create a deeper understanding, but deeper understanding doesn’t necessarily bring a softening of reactions.  That was my thought while listening to former long-time PR guy for Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, Michael Raia, on the Bartholomewtown Podcast.

Listening to Raia talk about opportunities for our state and region, I couldn’t help but feel my impressions of the Raimondo administration affirmed and my concern about its type of thinking amplified.  The listener can hear how confident Raia is that he’s got the region all figured out, as if a society is just a puzzle for which placement of the correct pieces provides the solution.

Whether it’s the operation of businesses and the economy, the development and modification of the infrastructure, the operations of the healthcare system, or the quality of life of particular demographic groups, like senior citizens, one gets the impression that Raia has a firm belief that he and other go-getter experts can think it all through, plan it all out, wind it all up, and set the great society in motion.  Unfortunately, the human community doesn’t work like that.

Intelligent as they may be, the Raias and Raimondos aren’t smart enough to plan a society even if everybody wanted to live in neighborhoods like the ones they prefer and spend their senior years playing pickleball. Such an accomplishment would require infinite expertise and a God-like perspective.

The fact of the matter, though, is that most other people do not share the tastes of what Charles Murray called “the new upper class” in his book Coming Apart, and those people have a right not to have their societal preferences bulldozed aside by a powerful government.  Moreover, as Murray explains, the ethos of that new upper class is destructive of society in the long run.

Even in the immediate, direct trends of the economy, we can observe the economic sluggishness since Governor Raimondo took office, which suggests that her approach does not work.  In February, Rhode Island was the only state in the country that had fewer jobs than it did a year before.  Yet, one hears no trace of doubt in Raia’s voice that maybe (just maybe) crafting a society isn’t so easy.

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Who Is Working For You? New Major Report Coming Soon From The Center

Who does the Rhode Island General Assembly really work for? Too often, the people of our state are left voiceless as special interest dominate the conversation. Recently, the Ocean State Current broke a major story that ignited media coverage across the state. In H5662 and Whom Rhode Island Representatives Represent, Research Director Justin Katz, uncovers a key admission from the political class.

During the March 11th Tiverton Town Council meeting, a member of the General Assembly admitted that he put forward the bill at the request of Speaker of the House, without regard to the cost to the town he represents for the state firefighters union.

Don’t wait, you can catch the video on the Current by clicking the link here. You can also find the followup here.

In the coming weeks, the Center will be releasing a major report on the cost of collective bargaining in the Ocean State. This will be the longest and most in-depth research project the Center has ever undertaken on any topic. We invite you to be on the lookout for this critical report.

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Admissions Scandal Is So Very Rhode Island

I’ve got an op-ed in today’s Washington Times, about Rhode Island’s own connection with the college-entrance bribery scandal:

When Rhode Islanders heard that the women’s tennis coach of the state’s public university had been arrested in connection with the national bribery for admission scandal, many must have said, “Wait, what?” Students can get an excellent education at the University of Rhode Island, and it’s certainly an affordable option, but it isn’t exactly an institution for which the nation’s rich and famous would have to pay the sort of premium that might attract the FBI’s attention.

When they learned the details, locals’ reaction was probably something more like, “How very Rhode Island.”

This paragraph is probably the key takeaway for Rhode Islanders:

Rhode Island’s leaders are like the parents who’ve bribed their children’s way into institutions of higher education that were well beyond their merit. Both cases exhibit an implicit insecurity and a desire for people under their care or authority to be something they’re not. In contrast, the initial questions that political leaders and parents ask should be: Who are you really, and how can you achieve your full potential, being who you are? With that more-human perspective as the starting point, parents might not set their children up for embarrassing failure (or criminal prosecution).

Read the whole thing, as they say.

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The Pressure the General Assembly Is Trying to Control

The Providence Journal today has published an op-ed in which I address the admission of Representative John “Jay” Edwards (D, Portsmouth, Tiverton) that he put in legislation for the state firefighters union, by way of Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, without much consideration of its effect on the people he’s supposed to represent:

Watch Rhode Island politics for even a short time, and you’ll catch on to certain truths. Everybody seems to know them, and sometimes an op-ed or talk radio show will blurt them out. By now, in 2019, these truths have been sufficiently longstanding and have produced so many of their inevitable consequences that Rhode Islanders feel them in their bones. They are why few run for office and why many leave the state, year after year.

Still, a person who’s watched Rhode Island politics can’t help but be surprised when an insider, who ought to have the good taste to pretend these truths aren’t true, admits one of them. I had this experience at the March 11 meeting of the Tiverton Town Council, of which I am the vice president. We were engaged in a ritual conversation with our town’s representatives and senators, and I asked state Rep. John “Jay” Edwards about one of his bills.

One important lesson shouldn’t be lost as this matter predictably falls along lines of unions versus taxpayers.  With legislation like the bills Mattiello asked Edwards to submit, legislators aren’t only elevating the interests of the unions over those of the broader public.  They’re also advancing the statewide unions’ interests over those of the union locals and their workers.

That’s ultimately the upshot of having the General Assembly put limits on what the sides can negotiate in any particular city or town.  Inherently, both sides of the negotiating table are restricted in what they’re able to negotiate.

The pressure on budgets doesn’t go away.  Elected officials and municipal employees simply have to find other ways to release it.  Perhaps Mattiello and Edwards expect or hope that the “release” will come in the form of big tax increases in an already over-taxed state.  More likely, the result will be exacerbated under-funding of pensions, infrastructure, and other areas of the budget that aren’t as straightforward.

If the budget pressure can’t be released in those ways, the bubble will only grow, to the point that we’re talking about privatization and regionalization.  Maybe those are good ideas and maybe they’re not, but the only way to truly know is to let the people closest to negotiations talk about and try everything.

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Rhode Island Legislators Should Support The 6.5% Sales Tax Promise

The state of the State of Rhode Island is not competitive. Even as the rising national economic tide has lifted ships in all states, when compared with the rest of the nation, our Ocean State is severely lagging, and is in danger of sinking further behind if progressive policies continue to be implemented.

However, things do not have to be this way.

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Negotiating with the Speaker in the Room

Thanks to the reporting of Providence Journal reporter Katherine Gregg we have some explanation of the motivation behind Democrat state Representative John “Jay” Edwards legislation to change overtime rules in favor of fire fighters.  Unfortunately, the explanation comes not from the Tiverton/Portsmouth representative who put the bill in, but the Speaker of the House who told him to do it:

During an interview with The Journal on Tuesday, Democrat Mattiello, of Cranston, acknowledged he is an enthusiastic supporter of the legislation that Cranston Deputy Fire Chief Paul Valletta has been pushing at the State House in his role as the $3,035.58-a-month lobbyist for the Rhode Island State Association of Fire Fighters. …

“We had the opportunity to pass this bill several years ago. We elected not to at that point and I remember knocking on one of my constituent’s doors. He was a Providence firefighter and he was a little frustrated and he said, ‘I am still going to vote for you speaker but I’m angry with you. … I have not seen my wife and my 8-year-old daughter in a year.’ That is inappropriate,″ Mattiello said. “The schedules that three platoons create are horrific on families … and if communities are going to do that, they should at least be required to pay the overtime.”

Mattiello acknowledges that he did no research concerning this issue or how other states have addressed it.  Despite the distance from Cranston to the East Bay, he might at least have made some inquiries about things in Tiverton.  We’ve worked hard on a solution — through a contract negotiated in good faith that is on track to be signed within mere weeks — precisely because employees were unhappy with the arrangement and it has affected morale, retention, and hiring.  In fact, his interference at the state level has complicated the situation locally.

Readers of this site know that I’m (let’s just say) skeptical of unionization, especially of government employees, but even by labor’s own standards the whole idea is that two sides come to the table and work out an agreement.  If the Speaker of the House is in the room, too, then the arrangement deserves much more than skepticism.

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Why We Should Be Afraid of Subjective Moral Reasoning

Believers and secularists can go around in circles when it comes to moral debates.  Mark Tapscott highlights the response of Christian speaker Ravi Zacharias when an audience member asks him why Christians are “so afraid of subjective moral reasoning,” and Zacharias’s response is excellent but, I think, vulnerable to the ideological roundabout.

He points to the genocides of the U.S.S.R. and China, but his questioner had already asserted that there were Christian Nazis and atheist Nazis.  Put aside the legitimacy of that assertion and simply note that he believes it and would likely move farther down that path had the argument continued.

The key point for advancing this debate is, in my view, that comments like “why are you so afraid” ignore that we live within a cultural framework.  Even now, we’re living within the moral momentum of Christianity.  Until very recently, children were still raised, in significant degree, to think that those things that were traditionally immoral are… immoral.  Telling a person when he or she becomes a teen that there is no ontological foundation for his or traditions doesn’t make them suddenly feel incorrect.  The transition takes time and an opposing catalyst.

In other words, something has to happen to change the feeling of right and wrong, and that something can be manipulation by an ideological movement, like the Nazis or the Chinese Communists or even the lower-scale bigotry that gives some superficially plausible reason why it’s OK to hurt a particular type of person (like a teenage supporter of the president).

Honestly evaluated life experience will suggest that the urge to break free of traditional moral restrictions is always lingering just below the surface, at least for a sufficiently large portion of the population to be dangerous.  It really doesn’t take much at all to break it free.

The Old Man in the Mountain looked out over New Hampshire for centuries, watching as horses lost ground to cars below and planes began flying overhead.  But time did him in.  Drops of water, freezing and thawing, worked their way through the crevices, and gutters and chains could ultimately not keep him attached to his foundation.  After that, there was no putting him back.

Culturally, we can resist the gravity of our nature for long eras, but a culture needs tradition to carry it forward.  Otherwise we’re pebbles on the edge of a cliff waiting while an evil ideology works its way into the fissures below.

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The Premium to Live in Rhode Island

Jeff Rose has an interesting article on Forbes.com calculating the take-home value of a $200,000 income in all 50 states.  Such a review requires assumptions and broad strokes, but the attempt is interesting.

Naturally, Rhode Island is in the bottom 8, with the theoretical person taking home $140,500 after taxes, or a 30% effective tax rate.  That ties the Ocean State with New Jersey and is worse only than Connecticut, Minnesota, Maine, Vermont, Hawaii, and (at the bottom of the list) New York.  At the other end of the ranking is Delaware, with $149,500, or an effective 25% rate.

Therein lies the key point.  Sure, folks will have a hard time feeling bad for those with such high incomes, but when they can give themselves up to a 6% raise simply by relocating, we should expect that many of them will try to do so.

That likelihood raises a related topic.  These rankings are purely tax burdens.  Different states have different costs of living, too.  If you’re living in Providence, your cost of living is 22% higher than the national average, according to Payscale.com.  Dover, Delaware, by contrast, is 3% lower than the national average.  That’s a 25% swing.

Readers can play around with the tools to look at the states that Rhode Islanders often mention when they daydream about leaving.  Raleigh, North Carolina, is 6% below the national average for cost of living.  Nashville, Tennessee, is 4% below.  Here’s the table that Payscale.com generates for comparisons:

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Rhode Island doesn’t need new gimmicks or more corporate cronyism to turn itself around.  We need to recognize and respond to this core problem of making it too expensive to live here, with too little opportunity to show for it.  More and more, it seems that we pay a tax premium merely to enable government employees and other insiders to make up for our high cost of living.

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The Violence Inherent in the Mainstream Narrative

Here’s a little story, from Brian Amaral in the Providence Journal, that oughtn’t be lost in the shuffle of day-to-day news:

A group of juveniles [apparently 15 years old and younger] holding “Trump flags” outside the Brown University bookstore on Thayer Street Friday told police a man accosted them and choked two of them.

According to a police report provided by Commander Thomas Verdi, the five juveniles flagged down police at about 8 p.m. to report the incident in front of the bookstore at 244 Thayer St. They told police they were holding the two flags when they were approached by the man, believed to be in his 20s. The man began to stare at them, then asked what they were doing, they told police.

This is a consequence of the prevalent attitude in much of the mainstream of the political and media classes that Americans with certain points of view are evil and therefore have no rights.  When the narrative flows from “punch a Nazi” to “Trump is a Nazi,” a dangerous atmosphere develops.  In this narrative, somebody “Trump flags” (whatever those might be) is trying to usher in a new fascism.

Sure, the 20-something guy walking down the street who decides to take it upon himself to do something violent about this incipient fascism probably has something wrong with him, but this isn’t an isolated incident.  Let’s not forget the mass hysteria over the viral video of the Covington Catholic students in Washington, D.C., after the latest March for Life.

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The Effects of the Minimum Wage

Written testimony from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse, opposing an increase in the minimum wage emphasizes that such legislation kills jobs:

After Seattle passed a rapid minimum wage hike, a study by the Univ. of WA found the cost to low-wage workers outweighed the benefits by a 3-1 ratio, and found that on average overall, low-wage workers, lost $125 per month – because of lost work hours, lost employment, or lost job opportunities because of the hike.

In Boston, high minimum wages have been publicly cited as a primary reason for many restaurant closings.

Writing on PJ Media, Stephen Green notes that the contagion has hit New York City:

Which brings us back to the NY Post, where an industry group was quoted saying that “full-service restaurants recorded a 1.6 percent job loss [in 2018], which is the first recorded annual loss in two decades.” The new minimum wage hadn’t kicked in yet, but fast-food and fast-casual restaurants were already rushing to automate in anticipation, and this year looks to be even worse

Green also shares this helpfully explanatory cartoon:

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Numbers, Facts, and Another Budget Battle

Over in Tiverton, we’re engaged in our annual budget debate, during which I have the new-to-me experience of being on the Town Council, this year.  This budget year is also unique because the full $3 million in minimum revenue from the new Twin River casino is in the budget for the first time.

Given these realities, I’ve been pushing for a compromise that would allow the town to reset local politics and spend the next year developing a long-term plan that allows us all to get our expectations on the table.  Maybe, just maybe, we could move forward from that exercise working together like a community rather than lurching from election to budget to election in a whipsaw of factions.

Unfortunately, given the recent history of the town, trust is an issue, and (from my perspective) it seems as if the old familiar strategies are difficult to move beyond:

During his initial pitch to the Budget Committee, Tiverton’s new superintendent, Peter Sanchioni, suggested that people had to trust him to set our school system aright.  He is correct that trust is critical, and distrust is the major hurdle facing anybody who wishes to bring Tiverton back to a place of compromise and cooperation.  That is why the superintendent’s final presentation to the Budget Committee before it voted on a budget for his department was so disappointing.

At the highest level, the School Committee never really compromised.  They asked the town for the highest budget they could possibly request by law.  (Actually their request exceeded the maximum by $3,624.)  On top of that, they appear to have overestimated state aid by $92,004 (which local taxpayers would have to make up for) and added $311,000 in “critical” capital expenses that they’d planned to fund out of their own reserves but now want the town to cover.

Two more-specific parts of the presentation, however, are where trust really takes a hit.

The closing sentiment of the post is key for Rhode Island as well as for Tiverton:  numbers have to be seen as an area of common ground rather than as an opportunity to mislead.  If I present numbers that lead me to a particular conclusion, somebody who opposes my position should explain which statements are incorrect or why they should lead to some other conclusion.  We at least have to share the the goal of agreeing on what the facts are, even if nobody changes his or her views because of them.

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Social Isolation for Elders and the Cause of Freedom

It’s been out for a few months, so readers who frequent this sort of Web site may have already come across WalletHub’s ranking of the “Best States to Retire,” which places Rhode Island 49th, better only than Kentucky.  What does the Ocean State in is the combination of low affordability and low quality of life for seniors.

That latter point is what caught my eye this week in Adriana Belmonte’s summary of the ranking for Yahoo Finance:

Colorado and New Hampshire’s spots jumped out to [WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez], as well. New Hampshire has the lowest property crime rate, and is the fourth-best state overall.

“While they aren’t exactly the most affordable, these states ranked among the best to retire to,” Gonzalez said, noting both states’ high-quality health care and physicians per capita. “This is because they both have a low risk of social isolation, as well as a low share of the population aged 65+ in poverty.”

New Hampshire is 3rd for “quality of life,” which includes a variety of entertainment and leisure items (like “scenic byways” and “museums per capita”), as well as crime rates.  The subcategory also includes “risk of social isolation,” measured as follows:

This metric considers the following six risk factors of social isolation in population aged 65 years and older: a) Divorced, separated or widowed; b) Never married; c) Poverty; d) Disability; e) Independent Living Difficulty and f) Living alone.

That’s a cultural thing, and it points to a traditional view of life.  If you divorce or never get married, you have a higher risk of being alone.  Likewise (although it doesn’t appear that WalletHub measured this) if you never had children or if your children had to move somewhere else in order to find work, your risk of isolation goes up.

We most certainly shouldn’t compound the tragic events in people’s lives with unnecessary ridicule and stigma, but we’ve tended to forget an important point:  Traditional values are traditional for a reason.  They were learned over the course of centuries, not (as the ideological scions of Marx would have it) because they served some patriarchy or ruling elite, but because they made people’s lives better.  They also provided the foundation for freedom and for social advancement, which means losing our traditional values will actually bring us back toward rule by others.

In that regard, it is a telling coincidence that New Hampshire’s motto is “Live Free or Die.”

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Truck Tolls: Plaintiffs Appeal Ruling to Dismiss; Do Not Accede to Moving the Fight to State Court

On March 19, the federal district court in Providence dismissed the American Trucking Associations’ lawsuit against Rhode Island’s truck-only tolls, heeding the State of Rhode Island’s legal argument that their truck-only tolls are not a federal but a state matter and within the state’s purview to assess because they are actually taxes. (Wait, what?? Since when? From the beginning and all through the toll battle, Governor Gina Raimondo and state leaders repeatedly told us that tolls are a “fee”, a “user fee“, an apple – anything but a tax.)

At that point, the ATA had two choices: file the suit in state court or move to keep the suit at the federal level by appealing the decision. They just issued a statement indicating that they have chosen the latter course, stating, in part

Yesterday, the American Trucking Associations, along with three motor carriers representing the industry, appealed last week’s decision by the federal district court in Rhode Island to dismiss their challenge to Rhode Island’s RhodeWorks truck-only toll scheme, on procedural grounds.

In its challenge, ATA contends that Rhode Island’s truck-only toll scheme is unconstitutional because it discriminates against interstate trucking companies and impedes the flow of interstate commerce. In its March 19, 2019 decision dismissing the case, the district court did not address the merits of that constitutional claim. Instead, it held only that ATA’s challenge could not proceed in federal court.

ATA President and CEO Chris Spear went on to underscore, “…we look forward to establishing the unconstitutionality of Rhode Island’s discriminatory tolls on the merits.”

[Monique has been a contributor to the Ocean State Current and Anchor Rising for over ten years, was volunteer spokesperson for the citizens advocacy anti-toll group StopTollsRI.com for three+ years and began working for the Rhode Island Trucking Association as a staff member in September of 2017.]

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