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A Journalism Panel at RIC Goes from Left to Lefter

A small note on a brief Providence Journal article about a panel discussion on journalism in the Trump Era, hosted by Rhode Island College.  Reporter Mark Reynolds conveys some of the comments from the panelists, but the key detail, for my money, is the list of panelists:

Jill Agostino is Deputy Editor, Special Sections of the New York Times.

Jennifer Bendery is a Senior Politics Reporter for HuffPost.

Josh Israel has been the Senior Investigative Reporter for ThinkProgress since 2012.

Ron Nixon is The New York Times’s Homeland Security Correspondent.

Ashley Parker is a White House reporter for the Washington Post and winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for her coverage of Russian Interference.

Paul Singer became Investigations Editor at WGBH in Boston and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting in March 2018.

In other words, the panel ran the gamut from… err… Left to Far Left.  Shouldn’t a college — especially a publicly funded college — make some effort to appear balanced?  I mean, apart from wanting to offer students a thorough education and a lesson in weighing different perspectives, that is.  A conservative journalist would have brought something completely different to the gathering, perhaps something surprising.

Some local color might have been helpful, too.  Local reporters across the spectrum might have had something to say about the increased difficulty of getting information from government agencies during the Raimondo Era.  When she came into office, the door closed quite a bit on our ability to get information directly from government employees without going through one of the many public relations specialists.

By capitulating to progressive-union pressure, and despite disingenuous claims that no broad-based taxes were imposed, Ocean Staters will once again bear increased burdens to pay for new taxes and regulations, more spending, and more union giveaways. Lawmakers chose to appease, rather than resist, the progressives’ job-killing, big-spending agenda.

Lessons and Perspective on Economic Growth

I’ll provide more depth with my usual employment post and Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) write-up after all the data becomes available tomorrow, but at first glance, it looks like the national recovery might be stalling out in Rhode Island:

The number of employed RI residents was 539,800, an increase of 200 from the August figure of 539,600. …

The RI labor force totaled 561,900 in September 2018, down 300 from August 2018 but up 6,000 from September 2017 (555,900).

… In September, the number of Rhode Island-based jobs was unchanged from the August revised employment level of 502,100. Overall, Rhode Island’s job count is up 7,000 from September 2017.

Keep in mind that these numbers are all seasonally adjusted, so one can’t cite the end of our summer season as the reason that RI-based jobs have stagnated, employment growth has slowed, and the trend of fewer people looking for work has resumed.  If this is a slowdown, then maybe Rhode Island is a leading indicator for the rest of the country, or maybe our approach to policy has become so different from that of the federal government and other states that the Ocean State is now unable to capitalize on economic growth, period.

Tangential to this topic, I’ve seen murmurs here and there blaming the Republican tax cuts for current deficit problems at the national level.  Yeah, well, I kind of wonder about that:

The Treasury Department reported this week that individual income tax collections for FY 2018 totaled $1.7 trillion. That’s up $14 billion from fiscal 2017, and an all-time high. And that’s despite the fact that individual income tax rates got a significant cut this year as part of President Donald Trump’s tax reform plan. …

Other major sources of revenue climbed as well, as the overall economy revived. FICA tax collections rose by more than 3%. Excise taxes jumped 13%.

The only category that was down? Corporate income taxes, which dropped by 31%.

Overall, federal revenues came in slightly higher in FY 2018 — up 0.5%.

Spending, on the other hand, was $127 billion higher in fiscal 2018. As a result, deficits for 2018 climbed $113 billion.

See also:

The U.S. economy sits atop of the World Economic Forum’s annual global competitiveness survey for the first time since the 2007-2009 financial crisis, benefiting from a new ranking methodology this year, the Swiss body said on Tuesday.

We are the economy — you and me.  Our activity is the economy.  The progressive approach to economic development that Rhode Island pursues is to control what we do in a way that powerful people believe is best, which includes taxing us so the government can redistribute the wealth.  Stop doing that, and our economy will soar; government revenue should be secondary.

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Schools Rewrite Humanity Quietly and Children Face the Consequences

Have you seen this story, out of Georgia (via Rod Dreher)?

City Schools of Decatur parent Pascha Thomas claims her daughter, known by the initials N.T. in public documents, was sexually assaulted last year by a male classmate in an Oakhurst Elementary School girls’ restroom. Thomas said her 5-year-old daughter complained of vaginal pain the evening of Nov. 16, 2017. When Thomas asked more, the girl said she was leaving a restroom stall when a little boy in her class came in, pinned her against the stall, and groped her genitals with his hands. She said she tried to get away and called for help, but no one came.

When Thomas reported the assault to school officials the next morning, they responded with “deliberate indifference” toward the assault and the victim, according to the complaint. Despite Thomas’ efforts to ensure justice for her daughter over the following weeks, she said, the school failed to conduct a meaningful investigation, discipline the alleged assailant, remove the child from N.T.’s class or ensure he would not use the girl’s restroom again, or offer any assurance of protection or psychological counseling for N.T.

At a meeting in December, the school informed Thomas the boy identified as “gender fluid” and was allowed to use the girls’ restroom per a districtwide policy opening restrooms and locker rooms to students based on their gender identity.

As the corresponding video notes, Thomas says the school district didn’t stop at “deliberate indifference,” but actually called the state agency charged with investigating child abuse.  That agency paid the family a visit as and investigated the Thomas, herself.

Another point of emphasis is how little involvement parents had it the development and implementation of this policy.  How many Rhode Island parents, do you think, know that our state’s approach to the transgender issue is to assume that government employees are on (at least) an equal footing with parents when raising children and, by the high school level, should be tasked with identifying transgender feelings and helping students hide them from their parents?

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When Science Comes with an Underlying Hope

An essay on NRO by Oren Cass is worth a read for the broad-ranging illustration it provides of the state of politicized science these days.  His opening vignette is perfect:

The president of the United States had just cited his work with approval during a Rose Garden speech announcing a major change in American policy, and MIT economist John Reilly was speaking with National Public Radio. “I’m so sorry,” said host Barbara Howard. “Yeah,” Reilly replied.

This was not a triumph but a tragedy, because the president in question was Donald Trump. And the action taken was withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement.

Trump had cited Reilly’s work correctly, saying: “Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full” using Reilly’s economic projections, “. . . it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree . . . Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100.” But as Reilly explained on NPR, “All of us here believe the Paris agreement was an important step forward, so, to have our work used as an excuse to withdraw it is exactly the reverse of what we imagined hoping it would do.”

In other words, this isn’t about science, but about belief, and in this view, science is supposed to find evidence confirming progressive assumptions.  That’s what it means to “believe in science.”

As Cass elaborates, this is especially a problem for people who profess to believe in data-driven public policy.  If their data starts to raise doubts about their policies, and rather than adjust the policies, they look for new data, the whole thing begins to seem a bit like a scam.  More from Cass:

Some check is needed on the impulse to slice and dice whatever results the research might yield into whatever conclusion the research community “imagined hoping” it would reach. In theory, peer review should do just that. But in this respect, the leftward lean of the ivory tower is as problematic for its distortion of the knowledge that feeds public-policy debates as it is for its suffocating effect on students and the broader culture. Peer review changes from feature to bug when the peers form an echo chamber of like-minded individuals pursuing the same ends. Academic journals become talking-points memos when they time the publication of unreviewed commentaries for maximum im­pact on political debates.

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The View the Left Has of “Conservative” Judges

One really must wonder where folks like Art Corey get their ideas:

Congratulations to Republicans on their big Supreme Court win. Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation could ensure GOP control over the court for a generation. Who could have imagined that obstructing Merrick Garland would result in not one but two hard-right conservatives joining the court?

“Hard-right conservatives”?  What?  Kavanaugh was the more-moderate pick, and the whole thing about “conservative” jurists is that they rule according to the law, not ideology or a party’s contemporaneous requirements.  The GOP won’t “control” the court; the court will ensure that legislative changes to the law happen in the legislature, whichever party happens to control it.  That’s why this is so wrong:

But the Republicans’ lust for power has blinded them to the truth that the court derives its legitimacy from the belief that it is above politics.

If the court is above politics, it has to be because it rules according to the written law, whether or not a particular ruling is politically popular or corresponds to the temper of the time.  The entire “living Constitution” idea pushed by the Democrats and the Left more broadly is what makes the court inevitably political.  That is why the progressive wing of the court has ruled much more in lock step than the conservative wing and why this seems either disingenuous or naive:

So now any liberal group with business before the court could rightly question the legitimacy and impartiality of its decisions.

Corey would do well to recall that progressive Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg regrets making injudicious statements about Donald Trump not because she allowed herself to have political thoughts, but because it was “incautious.”  In other words, she should have kept her bias well hidden.

But nobody is fooled any longer, which is why conservatives seek originalist judges who will rule impartially and restore legitimacy to the court.  Every judge has bias; what’s needed is a legal philosophy that really does leave that aside.  Conservatives’ hope is that the experience of his confirmation will provide Justice Kavanaugh with some inoculation against the social pressures that sometimes push judges toward the elite (which is to say, progressive) understanding of the law.

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National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation Calls Out Kilmartin, NEARI

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation today called out Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) and its Bristol-Warren local for attempting to mislead government employees in the Ocean State:

The notice comes after Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin – who signed onto an anti-Janus brief at the Supreme Court and received major support from union officials in his runs for public office – made the false claim that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling “only affects non-union members” and does not apply to union members.

The Attorney General is wrong. Under Janus all government employees have the right to resign their union membership and immediately stop any financial payments to union officials. Because the Supreme Court decision made it clear that public workers must opt-in to any union payments and explicitly waive their constitutional rights, union members cannot be restricted if they seek to resign from the union and stop the payment of any union dues or fees.

The Bristol-Warren Education Association (BWEA) and the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) also issued a letter blatantly misleading teachers about their Janus rights. The letter claims that union nonmembers must pay a NEARI attorney to file a grievance against the union. However, as the Foundation’s notice states, unions are legally obligated to provide grievance service to both members and nonmembers as part of its exclusive monopoly bargaining status.

The BWEA and NEARI union officials’ letter also incorrectly claims that nonmembers are unable to request days from the Sick Leave Bank, even though the BWEA’s monopoly bargaining agreement establishes the Sick Leave Bank for all teachers, including nonmembers, covered by the agreement.

National Right to Work’s statement is in line with the analysis offered in this space in August.

Government employees in Rhode Island who want more information about their rights can visit MyPayMySayRI.com or National Right to Work’s MyJanusRights.org, where employees can also request free legal assistance.

It shouldn’t be too much to ask that the state’s lead law enforcement agent would offer accurate legal opinions to the public and that labor unions would be more truthful with their own employees.

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The Century’s Story of Partisan Hatred

Jonathan Haidt points to the following chart as a partial explanation of why our democracy “seems to have decayed so quickly,” with groups’ believing “that the ends justify the means.” The source is a book titled, Prius or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America’s Great Divide, by Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler:

partisanhate-1980-2016

Of course, progressives will fit the inflection points of 2000 and 2008 into their narrative about Republicans and racism, but my experience of the first sixteen years of the century leads to an explanation more like this: With the return of the presidency to a Republican after just one Democrat, especially with such a close, contentious election, the Left and the mainstream media began ramping up hatred against the Republican president and Congress as a political strategy.  (Note, surprisingly, that the entire episode of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment didn’t move the needle, leaving that out as a first-order cause.)

Seeing the lengths of the animosity by 2004, Republicans began to respond in kind, but it wasn’t until after the election of President Obama that their other-party hatred began to catch up to the Democrats’.  Obama definitely contributed to this in both the way he conducted his office and his rhetoric, and conservatives began feeling that they were being shut out and that the Democrat Party was changing the very rules of our government.

These trends brought us from an even contest of seeming moderates in 2000 to a contest of hatred by 2016.  Since then, I suspect we’ve hit a plateau.  After all, in a fifty-fifty country, it’s difficult to have more than 50% of people hating one or the other of the parties (unless we shift into a new dynamic of voting for the parties that we hate less).  On the other hand, I think it is indisputable that the intensity of hatred on the left side of aisle has ramped up by multiples.

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The Practice of Commuting Children Around Providence Every Day

Dave Talan has an interesting (by which I mean “ought to be obvious”) take on Providence’s school busing woes:

The Providence school bus drivers strike, the extreme hardships it is causing for families, and the city’s total inability to react to it, raises this question: Why on earth are 9,000 students riding the bus when every one of them lives within walking distance to a neighborhood elementary or middle school?

We need a policy to allow most students to go to the closest school, one that is within walking distance from their home. The parents of most of these 9,000 students would choose this option if it were available to them.

I’m all for a school choice policy that allows families to choose other schools, but that presupposes a default option.  If the assumption is that children go to the school that’s within walking distance, with extra capacity available to students elsewhere, the families that choose different schools can be expected to account for the distance.

Sending students around the city as a general practice seems like it unnecessarily uproots them from their neighborhoods, while (naturally) adding expense for union jobs.

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The Too-Obvious Plot of RI’s Made-for-TV Politics

What can one say about the revelation — the minuscule import of which is mirrored in the mammoth coverage it has received — that a 30-something Joe Trillo once faced charges for whacking a young-teen Nicholas Mattiello?

As Trillo tells it, he was outside working on his house when he heard a young girl’s screams coming from a nearby home. He saw a group of young boys pounding on the front door of the home, where the girl – who by Trillo’s recollection was was around 12 or 13 – had been left alone.

“I immediately dropped everything I was doing and ran over to the house, and started waving my arms around furiously to disband the group of boys doing everything they could to get in that house,” Trillo said in a statement issued Wednesday morning. “That’s when one of my arms unintentionally struck young Nicholas Mattiello, who was approximately 14 years old.”

According to reports from WPRO radio, Mattiello’s family pressed charges, Trillo pleaded no contest, and, eventually, the assault charge was expunged from the gubernatorial candidate’s record.

WPRI has since found that Trillo was actually found not guilty, and Nicholas Mattiello clearly bears him no ill will, but the most telling detail of the anecdote, for my money, is that the Mattiellos insisted on pressing charges against their neighbor for accidental contact with their son in defense of a young girl.  But going down that line of inquiry would require one to believe that an incident from the year of my birth might contribute more to voters’ understanding of the candidate than the behavior that has been on display for the public in more-recent decades.

The larger concern for Rhode Islanders should be the degree to which the whole thing just feels so Rhode Island.  People talk about how everybody knows everybody in our state, but that isn’t true.  It would absolutely be possible to fill the State House with elected officials who were not each other’s neighbors at any point in the past half century.

The problem is that our government is set up to elevate colorful characters and people of a certain sort and disposition.  That’s what needs to change, and its causes ought to be the subject of our public discourse.

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Tempering the Terror of a Climate Doom Report

WPRI reporter Tim White tweeted that this New York Times article about the United Nations’ accelerated doom-saying about climate change is “truly terrifying.”  My response was to ask if this section (emphasis added) doesn’t set off his alarm bells:

Avoiding the most serious damage requires transforming the world economy within just a few years, said the authors, who estimate that the damage would come at a cost of $54 trillion. But while they conclude that it is technically possible to achieve the rapid changes required to avoid 2.7 degrees of warming, they concede that it may be politically unlikely.

Look, one needn’t be a climate change skeptic to acknowledge the layers of assumptions that go into these scary warnings.  First, one must ignore the lack of warming over the last two decades and assume that the models will be more accurate going forward.  Then, one must assume that the change really does derive from human activity and that it’s possible to avert the worst.  Then, another wave assumptions comes with predictions about the effect on weather, creating soaking rains where that will be harmful and droughts where that would be harmful, all coming together in a way that doesn’t equalize the effects (by, for example, simply moving where farming must be done).  Add in the effect of technology and changes in energy production that have made the United States a leader in CO2 reduction.  And don’t forget that one must balance the estimated $54 trillion in costs from warming against whatever the cost would be to rework our economy — including an assessment of the people who bear those costs.

Put that all on a scale that pivots on the promise that giving more power to the people who brought the warning, and a tempered reaction to the terror is justified.

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Who Profits from Deepwater Cronyism

Is a Danish company’s purchase of Rhode Island–based Deepwater Wind relevant to a discussion about corporate cronyism in our government?

Providence-based Deepwater Wind announced Monday that Orsted has entered into an agreement to buy it. Orsted says it’s paying $510 million. …

Deepwater Wind says it’ll expand in the coming years, making Providence and Boston the two major hubs of the company’s U.S. offshore wind activities.

The time line goes like this:  To his shame, Republican Governor Donald Carcieri guaranteed long-term profits for a green energy company run by his former chief of staff.  Earlier this year, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo surprised Rhode Island by announcing a secret deal to guarantee the company more profits (and then immediately began fundraising off it).

Now the company’s owners have sold it off to ∅rsted, no doubt at tremendous personal profit.  There’s a reason CEO Jeffrey Grybowski hands out about $4,000 per year to key decision-makers in government, with Gina Raimondo taking the lead since 2010, at $6,300 total.  So far this year, Grybowski has given the max to Raimondo, Democrat Aaron Regunberg, Republican Allan Fung, and Republican Patricia Morgan — hedging his bets, it would seem.

Rhode Islanders should push back against these gambles.  If companies from anywhere in the world can make make a profit in Rhode Island while offering its people something for which they are willing to pay, then we should welcome them for that mutually beneficial exchange.  But when our political overlords force us to guarantee profits, the benefits are always imbalanced toward connected insiders.

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Funny How Rhode Island Works

Readers know that I’m not a fan of our campaign finance regime.  It imposes a complicated, intimidating set of laws for grassroots candidates and groups that creates opportunity not only for prosecution of them, but also political attacks on their donors.

I have a hard time, therefore, getting worked up about the apparent probability that the campaign of Democrat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello funded a mailer allowing Republican Shawna Lawton to endorse him in a high-profile way against his Republican challenger, Steven Frias.  To the extent the activity is illegal, it is because of this complex, unconstitutional labyrinth we’ve built, with incentive to find workarounds.

That said, the investigation is unearthing an education in the way Rhode Island politics work, and the stunning thing is that the most objectionable things are treated as incidental… and they’re all completely legal.  I’ve already highlighted one connection:

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has put Edward Cotugno, the mail-ballot guru who helped him eke out an 85-vote victory in 2016, back on his campaign team and given his son a $70,000 a year State House job.

Mattiello, D-Cranston, hired Michael Cotugno as the legislature’s new associate director of House constituent-services.

Here’s another:

Included in the evidence packet that the board provided to The Journal on Friday, in response to a records request, was an Aug. 14, 2016, text from “Teresa” to [political consultant] “Jeff” [Britt] and his partner, Daniel Calhoun, who is still listed as a $60,891-a-year legislative employee on the state’s transparency portal.

Think of this.  Under Mattiello, the legislature has given well-paying legislative jobs (of unknown difficulty) to the son of his “mail-ballot guru” and the man who shares a nice Warwick house with one of his campaign operatives, and the thing we’re supposed to be upset about is a relatively small contribution toward political free speech!

But arguing that the campaign finance investigation is the only reason we know about the rest doesn’t justify burdensome campaign finance laws.  When people act in suspicious ways (like endorsing people of other parties or independent spoiler candidates), we should… well… suspect them of having some ulterior motive, unless they can express a persuasive rationale for the odd decision.  And if somebody who benefits from that persuasion wants to fund it, their money doesn’t change the validity of the argument.

Ultimately, the answer is just to reduce the size of government and the value of controlling it.

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An Uncomfortable Truth Buried in the Narragansett Teacher Contract

Those who keep an eye on unionized public education often observe the peculiarity that their contracts apply the same pay rates to every teacher at every level, no matter what they teach or the ages of the children.  This makes it difficult to pay teachers with more-rare skills dealing with more-difficult children what would be required to attract enough candidates while sending signals to the market that draw too many candidates into easier roles.

Recently, I came across language in the Narragansett teacher contract that implicitly recognizes this difference:

There are occasions when registrations exceed the above recommended limits [for number of students per class] and adding a classroom is not reasonable. The Committee will compensate teachers for each student over the above listed maximums. At the elementary level this compensation will be at $3 per student, per class, per day; at the middle school level the compensation will be $8 per student, per class, per day; and at the high school level the compensation will be at $13 per student, per class, per day.

If each student at the high school level adds more than four times the work or challenge that each student at the elementary level adds, how do districts justify paying teachers across the board the same base rate? Of course, there is a level of preparation and plain work that is the same across the board (getting up every day, meetings, preparing the classroom, etc.), so it would go too far to say that elementary school teachers should be paid one-fourth the amount that high school teachers are paid.

Still, failing to allow the market to differentiate between teachers, who even the union recognizes have very different jobs, serves nobody except those who manage to secure jobs that pay much better than they otherwise would — not the teachers who implicitly must accept less pay for this reason, not the taxpayers who have to make up some of the difference, and certainly not the students whose schools can’t apply their budgets according to fairness and need.

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The Second Punch of Amazon’s Minimum Wage Boost

The response from various conservatives that I’ve seen to this news from Amazon is the correct first reaction:

Amazon is boosting its minimum wage for all U.S. workers to $15 per hour starting next month.

The company said Tuesday that the wage hike will benefit more than 350,000 workers, which includes full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal positions. It includes Whole Foods employees. Amazon’s hourly operations and customer service employees, some who already make $15 per hour, will also see a wage increase, the Seattle-based company said.

To this, many conservatives might say, sarcastically:  Wait… what?  Doesn’t this sort of thing require politicians to go out and fight the greedy corporations, forcing them to dig up the money they’ve buried in the corporate courtyard?  No, of course not.  This is how it ought to happen, with companies competing for employees and making such decisions in light of their own, very specific, circumstances.

The second response, though, should be to question whether this is part of a bare-knuckle attempt to knock out competition.  Step 1 is to raise the company’s pay beyond what competitors can afford.  Step 2:

Amazon said its public policy team will start pushing for an increase in the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Amazon isn’t just saying that it is willing to do this for employees, but that everybody should have to.  The company may not be content to compete for workers, because after all, there are plenty of people out there willing to work for less if a job otherwise fits their skill sets and particular needs and interests.  Rather, this may be an attempt to put competitors out of business altogether, or at least hinder their ability to sneak up on the retail giant.

While Amazon puts on a pro-worker face, it is working to ensure that workers have fewer employment options.

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Fire the Providence School Bus Drivers

Sometimes officials and business owners have to respond based not only on a specific event, but also on the long-term precedents and incentives that the event creates.  That is why First Student should fire its bus drivers or Providence should cancel the company’s contract.  This is not tolerable:

Union school bus drivers in Providence are expected to continue their strike Monday, the third school day of a labor dispute that has caused an upheaval for thousands of city students, according to school officials. …

School attendance on Thursday was 84 percent, the district said. On Friday, it was 79 percent. School officials said Friday that there were “minimal problems” with arrivals that day.

If you won’t do your job — and especially if you do lasting harm to children by not doing your job — you ought to lose it.  This isn’t complicated.

The excuse for the strike only makes matters worse:

Teamsters Local 251, which represents the bus drivers, threatened to strike if First Student doesn’t allow the drivers to begin earning a pension rather than a 401(k). The union overwhelmingly voted down an offer from the company last week before approving a separate contract of their own.

First Student says it has offered pay raises and increases to its 401(k) contributions, but the company is unwilling to begin making payments the Teamsters’ existing regional pension system.

Defined benefit pension plans don’t work.  They exist mainly in government, at this point, because only government can hide the costs and kick the can continually down the road to make it somebody else’s snowballing problem.

First Student offers a 401(k).  Many private-sector workers don’t even get that.  If that isn’t good enough for some employees, they should work somewhere else.  And if the company can’t offer benefits that will attract competent employees, then it shouldn’t be given the contract for a service on which a city’s families rely.

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Some Quick Thoughts on the Kavanaugh Flake Delay

Yes, if you’re a conservative or Republican, the delay in Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court is frustrating.  Whether it’s the case or not, the Left’s strategy of trapping a Senator in the elevator and yelling at him seems to have bought more time, following more time bought with unproven accusations and political theater.  That this new low for our politics has been rewarded is a problem.  If it succeeds in keeping this U.S. Senate from appointing a Supreme Court justice, the reward — and the incentive to repeat the behavior — will be hugely amplified.

Just last night, after the Democrats’ behavior, the Republican base seemed to be awakening, and anecdotal evidence suggested moderates were beginning to pay attention, too.  If Senator Flake’s delay this stops the Kavanaugh appointment, I agree with those who predict that the Republicans’ base will take it out on them, not the culprit Democrats.

That said, the Republicans presumably have pulled Kavanaugh aside and asked, “Just so we know, there are absolutely no surprises to be found, right?”  That would mean that anything that does come up will be either a complete surprise or an unbelievable fabrication.  The first of these is unlikely but would reshuffle the political deck too dramatically to predict, and the second probably won’t change the dynamic much.  Who knows but that Republicans have reason to believe that exculpatory evidence exists, perhaps with one of the men who’ve already come forward to suggest that he was the teenage culprit, not Kavanaugh, and the consequence of the Flake delay will fall on that guy.

If the most likely version of the above turns out to be the case, what we’re about to see is another week of the Democrats and the Left behaving like scary, irrational nuts, followed with an FBI report that makes the whole thing seem like the overkill that it appears to be, followed by continued Democrat intransigence, followed by even more public dissatisfaction with the Democrats as we inch closer and closer to the election.

On the other hand, the FBI can no longer be trusted to be impartial… or competent.  So, the agency may produce an outcome that only throws more grease on the national dumpster fire and leaves us with another week of nail biting political twists concerning a high school incident that nobody would have treated with this much gravity a short while ago, even if it had been recent.

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An Improved Divorce Rate with a Smaller Denominator

On the surface, this looks like a great thing:

New data show younger couples are approaching relationships very differently from baby boomers, who married young, divorced, remarried and so on. Generation X and especially millennials are being pickier about who they marry, tying the knot at older ages when education, careers and finances are on track. The result is a U.S. divorce rate that dropped 18 percent from 2008 to 2016, according to an analysis by University of Maryland sociology professor Philip Cohen.

The problem is that the improving divorce rate results from a shrinking denominator:

Many poorer and less educated Americans are opting not to marry at all. They’re living together, and often raising kids together, without tying the knot. And studies have shown these cohabiting relationships are less stable than they used to be.

The article leaves no way to know the ultimate result, but it could be that more couples in a marriage-like situation, including with children, are separating.  They just aren’t filling out all the paperwork their elders did, and children are the ones who’ll suffer.

As I’ve been arguing for years, marriage was an institution in which responsible couples invested their expectations for the benefit of less-responsible couples.  Our society brushed that responsibility aside, and we’re seeing the results all around us (public turmoil, suicides, opioid overdoses, inequality, and so on).  What the lower divorce rate indicates, therefore, may be that those “poorer and less educated Americans” have learned an unfortunate lesson from those who have more resources.

Unfortunately, having fewer resources makes it more difficult to deal with the consequences.

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Not Choosing Life in Fall River

Think about this controversy out of Fall River:

A banner recently erected on Plymouth Avenue containing a possible pro-life connotation caught the attention of some residents and was taken down shortly after the company in charge of the program and the administration began receiving protests.

The banners which started popping up around the city a few weeks ago are part of the city’s new initiative to promote the logo “Make It Here,” its designation as an All American City and local businesses.

Then one appeared on the light pole near the Flat Iron Building with the dark, bold lettering “Choose Life” under the “Make It Here” logo and “Welcome to Fall River.”

A list of the 118 organizations that have signed up for banners shows no other slogans, so this one appears to have been an exception to the general rule.  Still, the idea that this slogan does create controversy indicates something unhealthy in our society.  Yes, yes, “choose life” can be taken as a slogan supporting one side, politically, which government rightly strives to avoid for unifying projects like these banners, but that only amplifies questions about whether this matter should actually have sides.  Are we to “choose death,” or be ambivalent about the choice between life and death?  Would a “Be Happy” or “Help Others” banner have been removed because of controversy?

Some might rebut that “choose life” can be painful to women who feel that keeping a child alive really wasn’t a choice for them, but that applies to other hypothetical slogans, as well.  People are out there right now feeling guilty that they weren’t able to help somebody else in some circumstance.  And we know the admonition to “be happy” can grind salt in the wounds of somebody who just is not able to comply.

If our society is too on edge to accept a banner promoting life, we’re clearly overdue for an examination of our collective conscience.

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Overtime Rules and Progressives’ Vision of a Fallow Field of Money

Here’s a reminder, from the site Uprise RI, that progressives really do think this way.  The topic is the federal rule that allows companies not to pay overtime rates to managers who make over a certain limit.  The Obama Administration wanted to increase the limit from $23,660 to $47,476 annually, but the courts put a hold on the move, so the Department of Labor is spending some time doing research and listening to advocates.  This is from Steve Ahlquist’s coverage of the Rhode Island leg of the tour:

Each month, since the abandonment of the Obama-era threshold, Rhode Islanders have lost about $400,000 in wages, estimated the Center for American Progress and the Economic Policy Institute.

“This is money that could be helping those families,” said [Economic Progress Institute economic and fiscal policy director Douglas] Hall. “They would spend that money locally in our economy, helping the Rhode Island economy to thrive and helping global businesses to prosper.”

Progressives really do imagine that businesses have some field of uncultivated money laying fallow in the economy from which they can pluck more pay.  To the contrary, if this threshold is increased, businesses will have to reduce either productivity or investment.  Fewer new hires will happen and the demands on workers will increase, losing them benefits and flexibility.

Just let the market be.  The government shouldn’t be an uber labor union imposing blanket rules on our economy.  Money always has to come from somewhere, and as a general proposition, the burden will fall most firmly on those who have the least leverage.

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Whom Elected Officials Really Represent

Snippets from the AFL-CIO’s endorsement meeting leave no doubt that Rhode Islanders generally have scant representation when our supposed representatives negotiate with labor unions:

Seeking the blessing of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education Convention this past Wednesday, elected officials came bearing their own visions of a better world for workers.

If reelected, Gov. Gina Raimondo promised to raise the minimum wage “again and again and again.”

General Treasurer Seth Magaziner said he’d help combat the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Janus” decision by working on legislation to keep government-employee information out of the hands of union-disaffiliation campaigners.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, a high-placed Laborers’ International Union official until last year, vowed to work on bills that would allow public-sector unions to stop representing non-members. (State lawmakers this year passed a bill letting police and fire unions do this, but legislation allowing it across government stalled.)

As Providence Journal reporters Patrick Anderson and Katherine Gregg put it, to the labor unions, “all of Rhode Island is a future job site.”  Implied is that this perspective leaves government as the mechanism that is able to take money and land and hand it over.  Raimondo would burden our economy.  Magaziner — inexplicably, if one believes his role is to steward taxpayer funds — wants to throw obstacles in the path of those who would help employees to be more independent.  And Ruggerio is intent on lightening unions’ burden while maintaining their near monopoly on employment with government.

By comparison, Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung’s only promise appears to be that he is no longer in favor of right to work laws.  That’s bad enough, but it’s a far cry from a pledge to shape the laws of our land in the unions’ favor even more than they already are.  Interestingly, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) is not mentioned in the article.

Two questions arising from the article:

  • Why did “just the phrase ‘right to work'” trigger “tense words between firefighters and building trades workers”?
  • Why didn’t the Providence Journal reporters note that they are members of the AFL-CIO, and did they vote on the endorsements?
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Madness in a California Dress Code

Want some more evidence that our society has gone mad?

The relaxed new dress code at public schools in the small city of Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco, is intentionally specific: Midriff-baring shirts are acceptable attire, so are tank tops with spaghetti straps and other once-banned items like micro-mini skirts and short shorts. …

The new policy amounts to a sweeping reversal of the modern school dress code and makes Alameda the latest school district in the country to adopt a more permissive policy it says is less sexist.

Students who initiated the change say many of the old rules that barred too much skin disproportionately targeted girls, while language calling such attire “distracting” sent the wrong message.

Got that?  A policy that limits the degree to which schoolboys think “sex” when they look at their female classmates is supposedly sexist.  Not allowing girls to dress in a way that draws attention to their bodies (as opposed to their minds or personalities) is somehow demeaning of them.  This is crazy.

The strongest response to my assertion would be that we should teach boys not to look at girls any differently no matter what they wear to school rather than limit what they can wear, but that’s simple fantasy.  Young men are hardwired with a sex drive that is natural and part of their healthy development.  We can and should guide them toward better control of those feelings and help them channel their drives in a healthy direction, but one of the ways we accomplish that goal is through gradually changing standards for the environments in which we place them.

Note this paragraph, later in the article:

Students in Alameda, Portland and Evanston have freedom to wear mostly anything as long as it includes a bottom, top, shoes, covers private parts and does not contain violent images, hate speech, profanity or pornography.

Objectively, how can one claim that it is sexist to place limits on girls’ clothing in order to avoid discomfort among boys and also ban various images and words that others might find discomfiting?  Why can’t we all abide by limits for the good of other people, especially if we’re going to expect young men to be exquisitely sensitive about the way young women might interpret their looks and remarks?

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Questioning What Pew’s Sexual Harassment Survey Is Measuring

The Pew Research Center has published survey results relevant to the #MeToo moment, and this part is telling about the project’s biases:

The survey also finds that 59% of women and 27% of men say they have personally received unwanted sexual advances or verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature, whether in or outside of a work context. Among women who say they have been sexually harassed, more than half (55%) say it has happened both in and outside of work settings.

Note what happens within that paragraph.  Pew mentions three distinct things at the beginning:

  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Verbal harassment of a sexual nature
  • Physical harassment of a sexual nature

In the next sentence, they are all lumped together as “sexually harassed.”  A review of what’s available of the survey instrument shows no evidence that “unwanted sexual advances” is ever defined.  That means it could be anything from “you look nice today” to “would you like to catch a movie Friday” to something that would be a clearly inappropriate sexual comment.  If the researchers were interested to know what sort of behavior is going on, wouldn’t it be important to differentiate between these things?

Arguably, what the survey is actually finding is the propensity of women to claim that they’ve been harassed.  Along that line, consider the difference that education level makes for women stating that they have been harassed (including unwanted advances).  Women with college degrees answer “yes” 70% of the time, but women with no more than a high school diploma answer “yes” only 46% of the time.  Does this mean women who’ve gone through college entered a more-boorish world than those with less education?  Or does it mean that they’ve learned to interpret things as “unwanted sexual advances” and harassment that they wouldn’t have called such if they hadn’t been taught to do so?

The fact that white women, who can, on average, be presumed to be wealthier, say “yes” at a rate of 63%, while only 50% of black and Hispanic women say “yes” raises similar questions.  Are white women really more likely to be victimized, or again, are they just more likely to interpret men’s behavior in this way?

If #MeToo is going to define our era, with career-ending consequences for those who run afoul of the shifting rules, shouldn’t we be clear about definitions, boundaries, and the interpretation of behavior?

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A Wheelchair-Bound Cop Out There Being Human

With the United States continuing to accelerate into insanity, take a moment for some unifying relief by reading Mark Patinkin’s latest article:

[Providence Police Officer Mike Matracia] first noticed something was wrong while playing basketball in 1994. A few times, he fell while running down the court. But he dismissed it — he was 30ish and in great shape.

He kept brushing off the falls. But then came other signs, like being off balance. …

Seven years later, he began using the chair. That’s when a higher-up told him he should come to work in street clothes instead of his uniform.

It devastated him.

“Obviously policemen can’t chase down bad guys in a wheelchair,” he says. But he was still a cop putting in a productive day on the job.

So, Matracia strove for permission to wear his uniform to work, and he’s stayed on the job rather than finding some disability-funded way out.

Now, it’s entirely possible Matracia might credit a labor union for his continued employment and oppose everything the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity stands for when it comes to public-sector labor, or maybe he’d be interested in MyPayMySay.  It’s also possible that at some point in his past as far back as high school he treated a girl or woman in a way that would bring him condemnation and rejection if he ever tried for some prominent position in the public eye.  Maybe he thinks North Smithfield was right to boycott Nike for its elevation of Colin Kaepernick, wearer of pig-cop socks.  Or maybe he’s sympathetic to the self-proclaimed anti-fascist progressives who see it as their duty to intimidate and silence people with whom they disagree.

I don’t know whether any of these apply.  I list them only because they’ve all been in today’s tide of headlines, posts, and emails.

I do know that Matracia is a human being out there busily being human in a way we can all admire, and that’s one aspect of news stories that we seem to be losing sight of, recently.

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The Cost of Barber Licensing

Apparently, Brown University has at least one student, Austin Rose, who is skeptical of occupational licensing:

As dubious as the costs of freedom are, the costs of licensing are pretty staggering. Licensing of barbers reduces the probability of a black individual working as a barber by 17.3 percent, according to a study published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Every 100 hours of training required adds $2.15 to the price of beauty salon visits. Licensing, by making it more difficult for job-seekers to enter new lines of business and employment, harms social mobility. And, as an Obama White House report notes, low-income entrepreneurship activity takes a hit as well.

Of course, our institutions of higher education layer on much more economic miseducation than one op-ed can correct.

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Having a Standard Policy on Government’s Consumer Leverage

The Town of North Smithfield has entered into a “boycott” of Nike over the company’s elevation of the controversial football player Colin Kaepernick as its poster boy.  As a general rule, I’m not a fan of the government’s use of its economic power to push political positions — not so much because politics is inappropriate to government, but because of the government’s responsibility to be a good steward of public dollars.

Of all the reasons a town government might select a shoe, a ball, or a shirt for purchase, politics ought to be vanishingly minor.  Buy the product that best suits the town’s needs.  That said, if the people of North Smithfield have a different political philosophy, the importance of my opinion, standing at my desk over here in Tiverton, is also vanishingly minor.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island isn’t quite as circumspect:

“The Town Council’s passage of this inflammatory resolution over the objections of the many residents who came out to oppose it is shameful,” the ACLU said in a statement. “By punishing the right to peacefully protest and refusing to recognize the racial injustice prompting that protest, the resolution shows a disdain for both freedom and equality. Rhode Island is better than this.”

Lamentably, neither the ACLU nor journalist Linda Borg mentions that Kaepernick was more specifically insulting at the beginning of the whole controversy, notably with socks depicting police officers as pigs.  Be that as it may, I don’t happen to recall the ACLU’s shaming of either of our last two state treasurers for the long list of corporate decisions for which they wish to use our public investments as leverage.  Raimondo’s preferred activism was to hurt gun companies, while Magaziner has preferred environmentalism and identity politics.

In these instances, again, I’d suggest that government officials should just buy the products and make the investments that best serve within the narrow range of what the products and investments are for.  If a Nike product suits a town’s needs, go ahead and buy it.  If the best candidate to run a company in which the state has invested happens to be a white man, don’t stand in the way of the company’s hiring him.

Making decisions on some other basis comes with a cost, and as a general matter, that cost will be larger than the benefit of an activist’s statement.

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The Missing Point of Teacher Complaints

Former Republican state representative Bobby Nardolillo promoted on Facebook a hand-made poster that reads as follows:

OK, Fine. You don’t want to pay teachers like a college educated professional? Then give them the glorified babysitter rate.

$10/kid x 8hrs./day = $80

$80 x 25 kids/class = $2k

$2k x 180 school days =

$360,000

Let’s put aside the haggling over the math (actual hours per day, value of benefits, days off, and so on).  What’s striking is the economic illiteracy of this poster, undermines the premises of the people promoting it.  You pay a babysitter a premium because you are seeking a limited, unpredictable engagement during non-business hours watching just a few children (with no economies of scale).  Make the babysitter a full-time nanny or a day-care center, and the price goes down.

Also remarkable is the lack of gratitude.  With reference to the likelihood of our moving into another house, one of my children and I got into a discussion about retirement age.  I said that it’s generally thought to be about 65, although that should probably adjust up as we live longer, and that I don’t expect ever to retire, really, for both economic reasons and my hope to be doing work I don’t feel the need to stop at that point.  I did not mention that it is not uncommon for public-school teachers to retire in their 50s.

Yet, I don’t think I’ve ever picked up a whiff of gratitude to the public for this remarkable career path.  Instead, we hear about how it ought to be even better, how expressing reservations about the cost and the quality of the resulting services is disrespectful.

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No Clear Vision with Government Regulations

Linda Langlois expresses a relatively minor and easily overcome problem that she’s experiencing courtesy of the state’s regulatory regime:

Every few years, I go online to Readers.com to order my reading glasses. For several years now, I have needed the 4.00 strength and have received my eyeglasses within a few days. So imagine my shock when my online order this week elicited this pop-up: We’re sorry, but Rhode Island restricts the sale of the following: Reading glasses with powers over +3.25.I have emailed the governor’s office but have had no reply. I searched online for Rhode Island restrictions, statutes, laws, etc., to find

Wondering what changed, I contacted Reading.com, and the company’s spokesperson directed me to the relevant statute, which forbids the sale of corrective eyeglasses or lenses “unless a licensed optometrist, physician, or optician under the laws of this state is in charge and in personal attendance at the booth, counter, or place where those articles are sold.”  The exception is for “simple reading magnifying glasses,” defined as those with “over plus 3.25 diopters or equivalent magnification.”  However, this statute is not new, so nothing should have changed for Ms. Langlois’s recent order.

I asked Reading.com for further explanation but have received no response.  Perhaps the company only recently discovered the statute.  One might reasonably wonder whether the new requirement to collect sales taxes from Rhode Island residents made the risk of unlawful sales greater than the cost of adding protections against them.

Whatever the case, this is another of the countless ways Rhode Island’s government makes life more difficult and more expensive for residents and those who want to do business with us — reducing the ability for our own businesses to innovate.  It is also a fine example of the frustration that people feel.  Think of the process by which this law might be changed.  Consumers or out-of-state retailers would have to lobby the General Assembly and overcome the entrenched interest of licensed optometrists, physicians, and opticians.  If it became a fight, politicians would have to run on campaigns to change this tiny law and then expend political capital to make it happen.

After a few experiences like this, residents can conclude that the only solution is to leave.  We would all benefit, however, from the election of politicians who operate under the general principle that government oughtn’t meddle so much.

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We Must Stand Up to the Ideological Gestalt Targeting Children

Wesley Smith catches more evidence of our society’s descent into madness:

When I read Jane Robbins’ piece in The Federalist reporting that doctors were actually performing mastectomies on girls as young as 13 who identify as boys, I couldn’t believe my eyes. But sure enough. Not only is it happening, but a medical study published in JAMA Pediatrics recommends that children not be precluded from such radical body-altering surgery based simply on their youth …

A doctor need not be a religionist or disagree with the concept of gender dysphoria generally to be morally opposed to cutting off the healthy breasts of adolescents (or inhibiting the onset of a child’s normal puberty) as a form of “doing harm” in violation of Hippocratic ideals. But if Emanuel and his ilk have their way, in the not too distant future, a surgeon approached to perform a mastectomy on a girl who identifies as a boy could be forced into a terrible conundrum: either remove the child’s healthy body parts–or risk being charged with transphobic discrimination, investigated by medical authorities, and possibly forced out of the profession.

Now factor in the fact that “guidance” in public education generally takes the tone that teachers and school administrators should help students move in this direction — even to the point of conspiring to deceive their parents if they might have a different view.  What’s coming into shape is a culture that encourages children to experiment with their sense of identity, which experimentation is then hustled along from youthful exploration to physical expression through the school system and then solidified into irreversible medical steps through drugs or surgery.

Smith makes an important point when he brings into the discussion the silencing of Brown University researcher Lisa Littman, who found evidence that transgenderism spreads faddishly among peer groups.  Based on public outcry, the university disappeared the study and apologized for it.  As Smith suggests, this episode illustrates that the medical consensus on which we’re being told to base radical child-abusing policies cannot be taken as trustworthy on its face, but is very probably contaminated with ideology.

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The Audience for Raimondo’s Errors

Readers of this site have probably heard that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has begun the general election campaign with a trademark Raimondo move: an unnecessary error.  Her first attack ad against Republican Allan Fung shows a neighborhood in Providence while claiming that he’s done a poor job as the mayor of Cranston:

Faulty video footage in a commercial is once again causing headaches for Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Fresh off her primary victory last night, Raimondo’s campaign began airing an attack ad Thursday morning that criticizes Republican nominee Allan Fung for his record as mayor of Cranston, showing pictures of rundown buildings in a hard-knock neighborhood.

There’s just one problem: those streets are in the Silver Lake section of Providence, not Cranston – as the Fung campaign was quick to point out, and follow-up visits by reporters confirmed.

The only way to characterize this mistake is as an embarrassment.  She’s the governor of the state.  She’s a Providence resident.  Yet, her campaign can’t identify the border of her home city from the one next door.

That said, commentators are missing an important consideration:  It probably doesn’t matter to Raimondo’s target audiences that the video got it wrong.  They’ll assume Raimondo’s broader claim is true and that a camera crew could have found a run-down neighborhood in Cranston (as it could find one in any city).

For Raimondo, an ad attacking Fung’s management record is targeted a Rhode Islanders (and non–Rhode Islanders) who don’t know, themselves, where Providence ends and Cranston begins.  They’re people who get their news more from national sources, which still tout Raimondo as some sort of reform moderate, than from local TV.

Simply the fact that Raimondo would OK an ad casting aspersions at an urban community within the state that she governs gives a sense of her audience.  She’s assuming that potential voters who might take offense are already locked in by social policies or government give-aways, like universal pre-K.  This ad is for people who want some reason to believe that they can discount her opponent’s management experience.

Whether they’ll take the ad’s sloppiness as (further) evidence of Raimondo’s poor management skills, perhaps we’ll learn in November.

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Bending the Arc Away from Google

My default is always to assume against direct conspiracies; individual incentives and human nature are usually enough to explain seemingly coordinated action without presuming some conscious cabal.  But, I mean, come on:

A video recorded by Google shortly after the 2016 presidential election reveals an atmosphere of panic and dismay amongst the tech giant’s leadership, coupled with a determination to thwart both the Trump agenda and the broader populist movement emerging around the globe.

I haven’t watched the whole hour-long discussion, but even on a skim of the content one can see that some of the executives made no effort to distinguish “we” from the Clinton campaign, and it isn’t at all clear that the repeated pledge to use the company’s vast resources to advance “our values” isn’t a promise of political activism.  More disturbing, though, is the insistence that advancing those values is part of “bending the arc of history.”  In other words, this isn’t a statement that Google’s products improve people’s independent thought and that Google’s values will ultimately prevail for that reason.  Rather, it’s a statement that Google will work to nudge people’s thinking in a particular direction.

Along those lines, the concession that I would have liked to hear somewhere in my scanning of the discussion, but did not, is a reminder that people who disagree with the beliefs of Google’s apparent monoculture are still the company’s customers, with their own rights and independence and deserving of the company’s honest and enthusiastic service.

In short, people who don’t agree with Google’s social and political views should take the hint.  Reduce your dependence on the company’s products, and look for alternatives more generally.

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