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Recovering a Lost Heritage (The Right Lost Heritage)

Rod Dreher’s musings on the atrocity in New Zealand are worth a read:

And so, Tarrant’s line — radicalization is the rational response to degeneration — played out in a different way in Mark Bollobas’s life. He moved to his ancestral homeland, where he would be poorer in material ways, but richer in many other ways. In my case, I propose the Benedict Option, and live in consciously countercultural ways, trying to be more and more like this in the face of this increasingly repulsive culture. For his part, Brenton Tarrant became a fanatical racist, fascist, mass murderer. Radicalism takes many forms. We have to resist the berserker form, but resisting it cannot mean pretending that the society and culture we are creating is good and healthy and worth defending. It’s not. I mean, for God’s sake, just look. I see Tarrant as a manifestation of the same diabolism.

It’s more radical to work to build the kind of culture that is life-giving, and to create new forms within which it can be lived out, than to give your life over to murdering innocent men, women, and children. This is true whether you are an ISIS terrorist, or a white nationalist terrorist. Those devils bring nothing but pain and death. They are no solution.

Toward the end of the essay, Dreher embeds the video from a 2004 song by the French Canadian band, Mes Aieux, called “Degeneration,” that better captures the sense of Dreher’s point than these tagged-in videos usually do:

Basically, the theme is that we’ve sold out our heritage, culturally, in a way that leaves us spiritually poorer and with less connection to each other and the world around us.  Personally, I find that narrative difficult to dispute as truth, but concepts like “heritage” are fraught with danger, these days.  Everything has been tainted by identity politics and race huckstering.

The lost heritage bemoaned in the song is the ability to work hard and improve the lives of one’s family over generations.  That had been sold out in a generation, leaving the young with only a culture of dependency.

This is an eminently fixable problem, without bigotry and certainly without violence.  That references to recovering our heritage have been tainted with such things is an indication of our social sickness.

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Tilted Labor Relations All Around the State

The Providence Journal editorial board points to one of those deep details of state government that does more damage than the average voter probably realizes.  The subject is the State Labor Relations Board (SLRB):

It is supposed to include three members representing labor, three representing management, and one representing the “public.” What could be fairer?

Except the politicians’ appointments heavily tilt the board toward labor.

Board Chairman Walter Lanni, appointed by Gov. Lincoln Almond in 2000, is supposedly in the management camp. But he served for more than two decades on the executive board of the Cranston firefighters union, securing extraordinarily generous contracts for union members.

Another “management” appointee is lawyer Alberto Aponte Cardona, who has represented public employees and is the brother of Democratic Providence City Council member Luis Aponte.

However experienced and dedicated to public service they might be, these hardly seem like rock-ribbed defenders of the interests of management and business. There are plenty of other business people, surely, available to serve.

To my experience, among those who negotiate contracts in Rhode Island, it’s well understood that the SLRB is a dead end for managers seeking protection of their rights — basically an added step (and expense) before getting into an actual court.  (And the courts are only fair in comparison.)

Of course, the SLRB is only one gear in the machine tilting things toward organized labor.  Last week, Democrat state Representative John “Jay” Edwards told the Tiverton Town Council that the way to get legislation passed is to ask the local unions to put in bills.  (I’ll have a post on that in the near future.)

All of this raises a concern that it’s impossible to have truly good faith negotiations in the Ocean State.  When legislators use bills to put a thumb on the scale for labor unions during specific negotiations and the SLRB can’t be trusted to keep labor relations fair, there can be no doubt who holds sway.
A related problem is that simply grousing about the inequity in local publications is going to have absolutely no effect. We need a concerted effort to disrupt the political fortunes of those who resist change toward a more fair arrangement, and few are willing to make themselves that clear of a target.

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Standing Up to the Forces of Modern Mania

Western civilization is in the throes of a mania, and the circumstance is precisely one in which religious people should prove the fortitude that they derive from their faith.  So, no, Catholic health plans should not cover transgender surgeries.  Agree or disagree with the policy, but there can be no argument that bodily mutilation — particularly of minors who have self-diagnosed their psychiatric needs — conflicts with Catholic teaching.

Unfortunately, powerful organizations are intent on disallowing Catholicism — or any traditional religion — from being anybody’s guide to how we organize our lives:

The ACLU cited standards of care from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, saying these standards are recognized as authoritative by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. …

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a senior attorney with the LGBT legal group Lambda Legal, said that employer plans appear to be changing to include transgender services, many individual hospitals and doctors, especially Catholic ones, decline such services on the grounds of religious exemptions.

“It is a growing problem that we are seeing nationally because of the consolidation of hospitals,” he told Crosscut, noting that most hospitals in Washington state are Catholic-affiliated.

It doesn’t take much for a mania to grip a society (with the persuasive influence, religious folks might suggest, of malevolent whispers). Changing the impulses of certain slice of a professional class and a handful of influential organizations suffices to turn social institutions like our judicial system into weapons.

The issue is not a conditional one of determining what approach to a challenging problem will have the best overall effect.  When that is the case, a religiously founded organization can legitimately conclude that some accommodation to the outside world is allowable in order to continue its unrelated good works.

At issue, here, is whether the Church believes what it has preached and, more importantly, whether its faith in God is sufficient to stand against activists intent on perpetuating evil.  That pervasive fortitude is critical to both to the Church’s religious mission and to the continued advancement of Western civilization.

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A National Tide of Small Business Job Creation and RI’s Low Entrepreneurship

Well, this looks like good news:

Job creation among small businesses broke the 45-year record in February with a net addition of 0.52 workers per firm, according to NFIB’s monthly jobs report, released today. The previous record was in May 1998 at 0.51 workers per firm. The percent of owners citing labor costs as their most important problem also hit an all-time high, with 10 percent of owners reporting labor costs as their biggest problem. …

“With the government shutdown behind us, the labor markets will get back to normal,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “However, it appears that the shortage of workers will continue to restrain Main Street growth. If businesses were fully staffed, more could be produced and sold. Owners are reporting increasing employment at their firms at the highest rates in survey history, now they just need workers to fill them.”

Unfortunately, the NFIB’s data doesn’t expand into state-level detail, but one suspects Rhode Island isn’t doing quite so well.  This suspicion isn’t only because Rhode Island is doing so poorly in the employment and jobs market generally.

Available information has long laid bare Rhode Island’s difficulty with small businesses.  One indicator is that the Ocean State tends to have much lower rates of entrepreneurial activity than one would expect in an economy that is worse off than the average.  Similarly, evidence suggests that Rhode Islanders who start new establishments have difficulty keeping them going.

Newer data from the Kauffman Foundation reinforce my speculation in those other links.  Overall, Rhode Island has the worst entrepreneurial activity in the country — and it isn’t even close.  Notably, given my earlier theorizing, the Ocean State is also worst in the nation when it comes to entrepreneurs who start businesses because they have to do so in order to work, versus those who do so because they see opportunity.

Our bad economy forces Rhode Islanders to make their own work.  Then, when self-starters begin having to really follow the government’s rules because they’re expanding and hiring, the state causes them to flounder.  We can reasonably speculate, therefore, that the tides of record small-business job creation are thinner in the Ocean State.

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Paths of Injustice

This week, my ongoing efforts to be better cultured landed Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 film Paths of Glory on my television.

The generals in the French army order a regiment to take a German fortification during the First World War.  It’s an impossible command, and the attack fails, with large segments of the force pinned down such that to charge is to die instantly.  The general in immediate command demands a show trial and execution of three randomly chosen soldiers as an example to the others, and their colonel asks to represent them as their defense.

The officers conducting the court martial hearing give Colonel Dax no chance.  They treat one soldier’s medals and proven bravery as no defense against the charge of cowardice in this case.  Another soldier’s testimony that he didn’t charge because he had been knocked unconscious by, and pinned under, a falling dead body is insufficient to overcome rank speculation that he could be lying and could have inflicted a serious head injury on himself after the fact.

Kubrick subtly interweaves the very human tendency of the generals to rationalize their acceptance of injustice because they had conflated their own interests with the good of the  military and the country.  In his closing argument, Colonel Dax expresses shame at being a member of the human race:  “The case made against these men is a mockery of all human justice.”

Watching that scene, I wondered how it is that we have not all been acculturated against such behavior.  (Unfairness in state and local politics were in my thoughts.)  But then my mind separated the themes of the movie and its imagery.  The court martial consisted of a group of white men in military costumes before a national flag in a large room at Schleissheim Palace.  One can’t deny that our society has been well trained to see injustice in such settings and with such characters as that.

We too easily lose sight of the reality that the particular cause in whose name human beings treat each other unjustly is not ideological or demographic.  Not only traditional authority types are wicked or prone to rationalizing harm to others.  Any one of us can fall into the same role.

Insisting in the name of identity politics or intersectionality that only certain types of people can be inhumane is a dangerous mistake that our civilization seems at risk of making.

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A Simple Way to Keep a Sales Tax Promise

On Monday, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity suggested that the State of Rhode Island should keep its promise to reduce the sales tax rate to 6.5% whenever it began to collect taxes on Internet sales.  Now, Republican Representative George Nardone, of Coventry, has put in legislation intended to do just that:

State Representative George Nardone District 28 Coventry is introducing legislation to lower the sales tax from 7% to 6.5% based on a 2014 R.I. law that was universally supported by the House, Senate, and Governors office.

“It’s time for state lawmakers to keep the promises we made”

The bill, H5854, is very simple.  State law already states that Rhode Island will collect Internet sales taxes and drop the rate to 6.5% “upon passage of any federal law that authorizes states to require remote sellers to collect and remit sales and use taxes,” and reduce the rate.  Nardone’s legislation simply adds the words “or court decision” after “federal law.”

This would be a no-brainer for elected officials if their brains were able process the notion of not always increasing revenue.

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Generational Apologies All Around

Steven Papamarcos offers, in the New York Daily News,  the apology that GenXers like me have been wanting to hear ever since we came of age and came to understand the world into which we’d grown:

The previous generation, the Greatest Generation, saved the world by sending Orwell’s rough men into the crucible of war in the interest of peace. My generation, the Baby Boomers, was to live the life purchased for us by the boys of Normandy, the Ardennes, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and other killing fields. White marble crosses and Stars of David in these places testify to the enormous price of that purchase. And live we did. What a party we threw ourselves. So, as I reflect on the goodness of the job my generation has done, I apologize. I apologize for it all.

On his list of the Boomers’ good works:

  • Bankrupting the United States
  • A political system in which neither party will “staunch the fiscal bleeding”
  • Raising the current generations of civically ignorant nationalists and socialists around the world who are renewing “the tired, hateful rhetoric of the past”
  • Turning higher education into a politically correct land of ego stroking
  • Undermining American education, generally
  • The prolongation of racial division by trying to compensate for racism of the past, rather than simply moving past it

It’s nice to hear an apology, for all the good it does, but a nagging sense of pre-guilt keeps me from gloating.  I have a feeling some GenXer will pen a responsive apology some day, as the younger Boomers shuffle off to the grave, for what reality led us to do to them once we’d overcome their programming of the Millennials and managed to explain it all.

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Finland’s Health Care and a Culture That Can’t Balance

Maybe progressives are right.  Americans should look to Finland for lessons in government-driven universal health care:

The government of Finland collapsed Friday due to the rising cost of universal health care and the prime minister’s failure to enact reforms to the system.

Prime Minister Juha Sipila and the rest of the cabinet resigned after the governing coalition failed to pass reforms in parliament to the country’s regional government and health services, the Wall Street Journal reports. Finland faces an aging population, with around 26 percent of its citizens expected to be over 65 by the year 2030, an increase of 5 percent from today. …

Sipila said “there’s no other way for Finland to succeed” besides these reforms, which could have led to $3.4 billion in savings for the government.

In political philosophy, there is always a challenging balance to be struck when finding the boundaries for government action and defining what some citizens can demand from others using government force.  At the end of the day, most of the work ensuring that the balance doesn’t tip must be done in the culture, with our un-legislated sense of what is right and what is unjust.

We’re reaching the point in the United States that the balance is no more subtle than the political ability to force a change through.  (Witness ObamaCare.)  It is our deteriorating culture more than anything that ensures that any benefit, once granted, can never be taken away, even in the face of calamitous unintended consequences.

(Hat tip: Legal Insurrection)

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Quotation Marks Tell a Tale of Bias

Although it’s from Monday’s “Political Scene” in the Providence Journal the following paragraph is worth memorializing because it truly captures — media watchers will agree — a dominant perspective in the mainstream news media:

Last Thursday night at the Rhode Island State House, deeply-held religious beliefs collided with the anger and fervor of women’s rights activists in the Trump era; the dominant church in Rhode Island waged — and lost — a holy war against “the sin″ of abortion; and a House Speaker who promised to be “the firewall” against “ultra-left wing groups” felt compelled to let colleagues vote, for the first time in a quarter-century, on an abortion-rights bill.

Specifically, note that the reporters and/or editors put quotation marks around “the sin,” but not around “holy war.”  In that small detail of copy editing, one sees precisely the angle from which the newspaper is reporting.  Killing children in the womb up to the point of birth is only a sin in some people’s eyes, thus requiring quotation marks to prove that the journalists don’t necessarily subscribe to that view, but opposing the legality of such an act is literally a holy war.

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When Will State Government Stop Hoping?

A letter to the editor from Rhode Islander Kris Gregory appearing this week in the Wall Street Journal is another item of which state officials should take note, but probably won’t (emphasis added):

Bad legislation, as much as stealth taxes, also contributes to the state’s deteriorating business climate. Seven of 10 members of my small-business study group are moving their businesses to Massachusetts as a result of a seriously flawed paid-leave bill the governor signed last year over the opposition of the business community. Even former Rhode Island governor and 2016 presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee appears to be relocating to tax-friendly Wyoming. With the coming 2020 census, Rhode Island cannot afford the departures. The state is perilously close to losing the second of its two congressional seats, and with its relative population decline, getting less federal funding which supports more than a third of the state’s nearly $10 billion budget.

Rhode Island keeps squeezing its productive citizens because they are less concentrated than special interests.  But the thing about a group that tends to make decisions as individuals is that a critical mass will have decided to take an action that could be catastrophic before politicians are slapped with the reality.

In a sane state, the most recent jobs and employment report would be just such a slap.  Unfortunately, this is Rhode Island, where government officials seem to interpret the state’s motto, “Hope,” as a strategy.

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A Top-Down Minimum Wage Is Reducing Hours at Whole Foods

It looks like employees of Whole Foods are learning a straightforward lesson:

In response to public pressure and increasing scrutiny over the pay of its warehouse workers, Amazon enacted a $15 minimum wage for all its employees on 1 November, including workers at grocery chain Whole Foods, which it purchased in 2017.

All Whole Foods employees paid less than $15 an hour saw their wages increase to at least that, while all other team members received a $1 an hour wage increase and team leaders received a $2 an hour increase.

But since the wage increase, Whole Food employees have told the Guardian that they have experienced widespread cuts that have reduced schedule shifts across many stores, often negating wage gains for employees.

The lesson is this:  Money has to come from somewhere, and to believe it will inevitably come from the most powerful is delusional.  Wages and business models are settled within a marketplace, and forcing one part of that marketplace to be more costly doesn’t increase its value to the company.

A more social-justicy way to approach the same principle is to note that the problems that create inequity are structural.  You can’t just dictate a change in the symptom to cure the disease.  Progressives prefer a treatment involving consolidation of power in government, which can then be used to “level the playing field,” but this is subject to the same problem:  The powerful begin with an edge.

The only structural change that will achieve fairness and more-equitable outcomes is to expand our freedom so nobody is free of competitive pressures.

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Honoring the Good-Policy Promise of Lowering the Sales Tax

Today, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity released a policy brief arguing that, with the 2020 budget, the state will have effectively reached the point of online sales tax collection that was supposed to trigger a reduction in the tax rate from 7% to 6.5%:

While the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision is not literally the same thing as “passage of any federal law,” it can be argued that the State of Rhode Island has effectively triggered this threshold of collecting sales taxes from remote sellers, including Internet vendors. It can further be argued that our state has actually exceeded this legal threshold.

Yet, politically, not one lawmaker has made any noise about how Rhode Islanders may legally be getting ripped off by a broadened sales tax that doesn’t fulfill the legally required lowered rate that was promised.

The Center suggests that the General Assembly should honor its commitment to the people of Rhode Island, should abide by legislation that the legislature itself passed, and should complying with state law. The House of Representatives should include in its FY20 budget statutory language that would officially reduce the state sales tax to its statutorily required 6.5% rate.

The included chart pretty well tells the story of the state’s expansion of the sales tax — at more than twice the rate of inflation, with nearly a 40% increase since fiscal year 2012:

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Time for Some Thought About Our Public Higher Education

Downward trends in enrollment in Rhode Island’s public institutions of higher education could be an inevitability, given demographic trends and younger generations’ (wisely) reevaluating the value of a purposeless slog through college:

Rhode Island College has seen a 4.9-percent drop in the last year, one of the greatest declines of any college in the region.

The University of Rhode Island has experienced a decline of 1.7 percent, and CCRI has dropped by 1.6 percent.

The numbers seem to fly in the face of CCRI’s success with Rhode Island Promise students, recent high school graduates who receive two years of free tuition as long as they maintain a C-plus average and enroll full-time. The college said its enrollment of Promise students has doubled since the program began in summer 2017.

One could speculate that RIC’s disproportionate drop has to do with the ability of its students to take a couple of years for free at CCRI, but the decline generally bears its own explanation.  Beyond the hypothetical inevitabilities mentioned above, an improving economy could be leading some sorts of students to make the leap to private colleges.

My eldest child is entering the time of college tours and made the long trip across the state to URI with my wife, whom I met when we both attended.  The prospective student remarked how dirty the campus looked.  The alumna indicated that the campus has packed a number of new buildings on its acres, crowding out the ruralish (or at least suburgbanish) feel it had when we were there.

Granted that this is a tough time of year by which to judge a campus, but a subsequent trip to Quinnipiac brought no such criticism.

A URI official quoted in the above-linked article notes that the drop is only down from the university’s highest enrollment ever, last year.  Still, we would be wise to come to a collective decision about what we want higher education to be, in Rhode Island.  Attempting to push people into college isn’t advisable, even if it is ostensibly free to them, while losing the character of a campus can change its makeup, sending some students elsewhere.

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McDonald’s PR Decisions on the Gender Front

For some reason, a government relations officer from McDonald’s restaurants thought it worthwhile to send me a modified version of this press release in my capacity as the vice president of the Tiverton Town Council.  (Tiverton has no McDonald’s.)  The email subject line was “Introducing McDonald’s Gender Balance and Diversity Strategy,” and the body includes the following information:

Together with our franchisees, McDonald’s provides jobs for almost 2 million people across the world and is one of the largest employers of women. In fact, in the U.S., 61% of McDonald’s employees are women, 60% of our restaurant managers are women and over 3,800 restaurants are women owned and operated. Of our signature education and tuition assistance program, Archways to Opportunity, 62% of the participants are women. That is why we are committed to creating a workplace where everyone, from crew to c-suite, is equally supported and empowered to realize their full potential. …

We recognize that this initiative requires ongoing effort, and we are committed to engaging with stakeholders to understand their perspectives and how to evolve our actions. We appreciate the continuous feedback and guidance from you and other experts and hope our combined efforts will continue to make a difference.

I replied, seeking to resolve my confusion.  From the provided information, it appears that women are significantly over-represented in employment, restaurant management, and benefit from the company’s scholarship program, at least in the United States.  Shouldn’t efforts at equity in our country therefore focus on men?

I received no reply, but I subsequently noticed that the online version emphasizes that, “30% of McDonald’s Officer positions and 41% of staff positions at Director level and above are held by women globally,” which seems like an indicator of the oddity of our time.  I don’t know whether the online release was changed in response to feedback like mine, but the possibility seems plausible.  It isn’t difficult to believe that a company, these days, would rather provide critics with evidence that it is currently an unequal workplace committed to change than to take credit for perhaps overdoing it in its zeal to comply with a fashionable ideology.

One consequence of our culture’s adherence to this strange ideology is that a global company has incentive to introduce discrimination where there may be none to make up for opposite discrimination elsewhere.  The way we’re training ourselves to understand these issues thus leads us to combat injustice with injustice.

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RI Can Check Out Any Time, with Point Judith Fund, but Can It Leave?

Edward Siedle is wondering, in Forbes, whether the State of Rhode Island will ever be able to stop investing in Point Judith Capital, which our Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo founded, even as it loses money:

The pension was scheduled to exit Raimondo’s fund in 2016 but the firm, supposedly exercising its discretion under a secret agreement the state supposedly signed, unilaterally extended the life of the investment in 2017 and again in 2018.

In late 2018, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner surprised pension stakeholders by announcing a new reason for delaying termination of the investment yet another year. Magaziner disclosed, for the first time, the 2006 secret agreement the pension signed with Point Judith allowed Raimondo’s fund to hold onto state money another year if 80 percent of investors agree.

The very fact that an investment, shrouded in secrecy and foisted on the state pension by the now-Governor, has continued to lose money for the pension and pay money to Raimondo for the past thirteen years—with no end in sight—should demand enhanced disclosure and public scrutiny, in my opinion.

Of course, the line from the Eagles’ “Hotel California” echoed in this post’s title comes to mind.  But the situation seems more broadly representative of the crony, insider system that Raimondo has brought to full flower during her time in government.  A relative handful of people reap rewards while the public loses, and only the people benefiting are able to exit the relationship.

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Another Day, Another New Fee in the Budget

Here’s an-easy-to-have-missed tidbit on the Raimondo nickel-and-diming front:

To help buy and maintain new DMV technology, Gov. Gina Raimondo’s budget plan for next year proposes hiking the $1.50 “technology surcharge” on DMV transactions to $2.50 and making it permanent. (The fee was slated to sunset in 2022.)

What the budget doesn’t mention, but Raimondo administration officials acknowledged this week, is that in addition to increasing the size of the fee, the DMV hopes to start charging it to vehicle owners when they have to take their cars in for mandatory safety and emissions inspections every two years.

These fees may seem small, but when you’re hit with them every time you take a breath, they add up. And when new fees are constantly added to cover that which was supposed to be covered under other fees or taxes, we should ask where all the money is going.

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Being Socialist Just Like Sweden

As another generation is misled into believing that socialism would be worth a try in the United States, one often hears how well the economic system works in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries.  But as John Stossel notes Sweden is not socialist.

With a prioritization of free markets, school choice, a less-progressive tax system, and privatized social safety nets, it’s arguably less socialist than the United States.  In fact, when the country tried something closer to actual socialism a few decades ago, it was disastrous.  Unfortunately, like the many examples of socialism’s failure, the memory of true believers tends to fixate on the dream of what they hoped would be, rather than the reality.

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A School Choice Nose in the National Tent

Presumably, this proposal would greatly enhance Rhode Island’s tax credit scholarship program:

While most of the K–12 educational-funding and -policy decisions are appropriately housed in the states, an innovative new policy idea would allow the federal government to play a constructive role in expanding educational opportunity in America. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has unveiled a proposal for Education Freedom Scholarships, with corresponding legislation introduced by Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Bradley Byrne. The plan would invest $5 billion annually in America’s students by allowing individuals and businesses to make contributions to in-state, non-profit Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs) that provide scholarships to students. Contributors would receive a non‐refundable, dollar‐for‐dollar federal tax credit in return for their donations. No contributor would be allowed a total tax benefit greater than the amount of their contribution, and not a single dollar would be taken away from public schools and the students who attend them.

The program would actually be administered through the state, which puts Rhode Island at an advantage because we’ve already got such a program going.  Of course, it would be even better if Rhode Island expanded its own program in the ways suggested, here, notably by allowing individuals, and not just corporations, to contribute.

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Not Seeing the Argument for Public School Protectionism

Readers of political and policy news should make it a practice to try to understand an issue from the other side.  If the other side’s advocates are making a complaint, try to understand their legitimate grievances.

I have to admit, however, that I’m having a difficult time seeing the grievances expressed by opponents of Rhode Island’s school “pathways” program as legitimate:

Warwick Supt. Philip Thornton said pathways schools such as Ponaganset are draining students away from his schools, to the tune of $1.4 million a year in lost tuition.

Tuition dollars follow the student when he or she moves from one district to another. Thornton said Warwick has “lost” 86 students to Ponaganset and North Kingstown. In a district facing significant financial challenges, that’s a lot of money.

Shanley, a Warwick Democrat, said the bill would require students to stay in their own school district if the home district has a similar program. …

Parents, he said, see this as a way to get their children into higher-performing school districts.

How can one respond to this except to suggest that Warwick schools should get their act together and make their programs good enough that families don’t pull their children, and maybe even so good that families from other districts move their children into Warwick schools?  And how can one possibly read Representative Evan Shanley’s bill as anything other than protectionism for school districts at the expense of students?

Yes, parents will look for ways to provide a better education for their children.  We should be looking for those ways, too — that is, if our goal really is to provide opportunities and ensure an educated population.

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Siccing the Tax Man on the People

In early December, I pointed to a story about the state taxing authority going after funeral homes to tax urns and prayer cards.  The State of Rhode Island was hitting these small businesses with bills for back taxes on products that had always been handled as tax exempt.

As I looked through the tax changes in Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s budgets for the past few years over the weekend, a connection became clear, with an important lesson:

  • In fiscal year 2017, the governor called for two new revenue agents for field audits and three new revenue officers for collections, with an estimated increase in revenue of $1,793,806.  The General Assembly accepted this proposal, but assumed a net budget impact of $3 million, meaning that the actual revenue collected would be higher in order to pay the five new employees, so actual revenue would be around $3.5 million.
  • In fiscal year 2018, the governor called for two more revenue agents and two new data analysts who were supposed to generate another $750,000. The General Assembly accepted this proposal but assumed a $2 million increase in revenue.
  • In her current budget, the governor wants to add a lawyer and case management system to the collections unit, to generate another $750,000.

Going after small businesses for back taxes nobody ever told them to collect is what this effort looks like.  After the changes in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the state had nine new employees with an implied mandate to find $5.5 million in new tax revenue.

To the extent anybody even notices these new hires, the impression is that they’ll be going after scofflaws for money they are somehow hiding from the state.  There may be some of that, but what the funeral homes are experiencing is the effect of the state hiring people with a monetary target and siccing them on the people of Rhode Island.

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Taking Account of the Ideological Tide

Among the more straightforward dynamics in modern politics is that the population generally is relatively conservative while it feels as if the far left is surging.  As the polling firm Gallup finds, and Paul Bedard reports for the Washington Examiner, only six states have more people identifying as liberal than conservative.  That said:

Before conservatives start to cheer, Gallup said the gap (between states with more conservatives and states with more liberals) used to be 21 points and a handful of the state numbers fall in the margin of error.

But the survey still shows a large swath of red and pink states bookended by the whole West Coast, New England, and the mid-Atlantic, including the Washington, D.C. area.

It isn’t difficult to see what’s happening.  Coastal elites are pushing progressivism relentlessly, and they’re making a difference.  That’s especially true now that whole generations are entering the adult world having been broadly indoctrinated to take liberal ideas as a default and without a foundational knowledge of and appreciation for our shared heritage as Americans.

Conservatives need a two pronged approach.  The first is a long-term intention to win back cultural institutions so we can conserve our American principles.  The second is a short term catalyst or magic pill that changes young people’s minds.

Progressivism is built on faulty and superficial ideas, while conservatism has the weight of reason and true compassion.  There must be some way to make people realize that short of seeing their civilization destroyed.

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Nepotism and Letting Representative Democracy Do It’s Work

Nepotism is not good for ethical reasons and for practical ones, because if a decision maker is hiring based on family relationships, he or she is not hiring based on merit.  Setting hard rules from a distance and on a blanket basis in every situation is also not good, because it presumes much more sagacity than human beings can reasonably claim.

That’s basically the perspective with which I approach Walt Buteau’s reporting on what seems to me to be a non-story:

One recent example — Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon’s appointment of second cousin Tarah Provencal to the city’s three-member Board of Public Safety does not violate the [state Code of Ethics].

Common Cause Rhode Island Executive Director John Marion said while the nepotism line had to be drawn somewhere, appointing a second cousin would seem to violate the spirit of the law.

“You should not be given a position of public trust because a member of your family gave you that. It isn’t theirs to give away,” [John Marion of Common Cause Rhode Island] said. “It’s the public’s to give away.”

At some point, this becomes silly.  Yes, public appointments are the public’s to give away, but the public elected the mayor to make such decisions.  I’d agree that a person should not be given a position of influence just because his or her parent’s cousin is the mayor, but should it really be the case that a person cannot be given a position of influence for the same reason?

We have to let our political system do its work, and a representative democracy is one in which elected officials figure out what they were elected to do and why, and it is for voters to figure out whether to reelect them.  The more we take away those two instances of authority, the less we have a representative democracy, but rather an aristocracy that decides for us what decisions we can make and what we’re supposed to care about.

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Everything We Thought About 2018 Employment Was Wrong

Every year, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revises its numbers for states’ employment statistics.  Those results will be released tomorrow, but Rhode Island’s Department of Labor and Training (DLT) typically releases a limited press release the day before.  As of this writing, the DLT’s Web site does not include the press release that went out to journalists and other interested subscribers.

In a word, the results are not good.  The BLS revised data back to 2014, and the DLT only released round numbers back to December 2017, but in the name of informing people at Internet speed, here’s a preliminary chart comparing the revision to the originally reported numbers.

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Some things to note:

  • 5,300 employed Rhode Islanders disappeared.
  • The workforce dropped by 4,800.
  • That notched unemployment to 4%.
  • The better part of all the gains we’d thought we’d made during 2018 evaporated.

For political context, I’ve marked the month that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s first budget went into effect.  Throughout most of 2018, the reported numbers were sufficiently good to open up the possibility that the governor’s policies simply had a lag in their effectiveness.  Now, that seems to be less plausible.

From the time she took office, employment in the state has grown at a slower pace than it had been previously — by half.  From December 2014 through December 2018, Rhode Island employment increased 0.77% per year.  From the time the state hit bottom, around December 2011, through December 2014, the growth rate was 1.42% per year.

Perhaps relying on incorrect numbers, Rhode Islanders didn’t change direction with the last election.  One test for the governor — and a sign of her intentions — will be whether she makes some adjustments or doubles down on her top-down, progressive, crony-capitalist approach.

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An Unexpected Suggestion to Fix Providence’s Pension Woes

To fix Providence’s pension fund, Mike Riley proposes a solution that might surprise some folks:

People dont Realize that Providence debt burden is the 3rd worst in the country. Raimondo and Elorza plan to pass this to State taxpayers. I say NO WAY !!@!!

This is Providence mess to clean up. They should impose a wealth tax to cut this number in half. Don’t tax us. Tax your own wealthy citizens who have elected Elorza and let him kick the can. Those wealthy people are dying soon so I would start imposing the wealth tax ASAP.

In addition the City should impose a real Estate Transfer tax of 50% on any Property over $3 million dollars that changes hands in the next 3 years or until the Pension Shortfall is < $500 million. These taxes , both the Wealth tax and the transfer tax, would be deposited directly into Providence Police and Fire pension plans.

One suspects the “tax the rich” approach is offered, here, mainly for educational purposes.  Riley’s drastic proposal is made in response to an F for Providence’s finances from Truth in Accounting.  Those who’ve watched Rhode Island finances will find a catch in that linked document:  namely, that just about every Rhode Island municipality faces similarly dire straits.

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Upcoming Pro-Life Day of Action at R.I. State House

Citizens for Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Happiness, a new pro-life group, will be holding a rally on Tuesday, February 26th at the Rhode Island State House from 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM. The rally will feature pro-life speakers in opposition to the legislation removing restrictions on abortion in the Ocean State. Members of the public are encouraged to attend.

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The First Amendment and Criminalized Speech on Campus

Something just isn’t adding up with reports about a “racial incident” at Bryant University:

On Super Bowl Sunday, Quinton Law walked past a party in a townhouse on the Bryant University campus, and a young woman screamed at him:

She said five words: “I f—ing hate these n—–s.”

He answered: “That’s racist as hell.”

Her response: “I don’t care if I sound racist.” At least, that’s what he posted the next day on Facebook. When he quoted her over the phone last week, the sentence was more like she didn’t give a (vulgarity) if she sounded racist.

Since then, the reports appear to be that people living in the townhouse have received threats and the university asked Law to take the post down.  On one hand, the university found that “a bias incident” had occurred, but on the other hand, somebody apparently advised Law to find a lawyer in case the woman’s housemates sue him.

Given the contrast with how one would expect this story to go, there’s clearly not enough information available to the public in order to make any judgment about the substance.  One thing remains interesting, though, in a particular statement from Law:

“This is past racism,” he said. It is a First Amendment violation of free speech, he said.

And yet, here’s the characterization of how the “bias incident” was handled, per a statement from Bryant:

The University has an established process for responding to bias incidents and this process was followed. The University immediately opened a thorough investigation of the alleged bias incident which included interviews with multiple students and a review of security camera footage. The Bryant University Bias Incident Committee reviewed the results of the investigation and concluded that a bias incident had occurred.

This official and comprehensive investigation was conducted over something that a student said.  The “incident” was that “a Bryant student stated a racial epithet in a public setting.”

Quinton Law isn’t to blame for the state of affairs on American campuses, and again, something seems odd about how this story has played out.  Still, one can’t help but wonder whether it is the initial attempt to criminalize speech as “bias incidents” that creates this strange environment.

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Parks and Beaches: Another Investment We’re Already Making

Along with her budget’s request to increase fees for beaches and Rhode Island parks, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo is rolling out the usual message about “investing” in our state:

“Our beaches and parks are such a special part of who we are as Rhode Islanders, and we need to preserve them for future generations,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “The study DEM commissioned recently makes clear that we’re not doing enough now. It’s critical that we commit to long-term investments in our parks and beaches. Let’s make sure our kids have the same opportunities that we did.”

The study noted that Rhode Island exhibits high park use and low investment compared with the rest of the nation – ranking 1st in visits per park acre but 47th in state spending per visit. The study calls on the State to make a strategic, sustained, long-term investment to increase the self-sufficiency and economic potential of the park system, protect infrastructure, enhance programs, and bolster operations and staffing.

The missing statistic in that summary is anything gauging Rhode Island’s tax burden.  Especially in the messaging of our current governor, everything is an “investment.”  The problem is that we’re already making those investments.  We’re just not getting much for them, whether in terms of infrastructure, economic development, or education.

Another budgetary favorite of Raimondo’s emphasizes the point:  budget scoops.  When the governor’s office makes a regular practice of “scooping up” money from restricted funds, which are often driven by fees of one sort of another, it sends the message that it’s all really about finding new sources of revenue.

In other words, she’s actually looking for investments in more of the same old insider deals that have drained money away from things Rhode Islanders actually value.

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Partisan Quip a Ding to Reed’s Image

Somehow, I’m always surprised when Rhode Island’s U.S. Senator Jack Reed isn’t better than this:

“President Trump’s myopic fixation on a border wall has resulted in the neglect of our nation’s highways, bridges, airports, public housing, and other key infrastructure investments. But today, Congress is committing long overdue funding to invest in public infrastructure and move America forward,” said Reed, the ranking Democrat on a key transportation and housing appropriations committee.

Oh, come on.  Our infrastructure has been languishing for decades.  Yes, probably just the contrast with the rest of the Ocean State’s federal delegation, but Reed’s brand of honesty takes a little ding every time he makes a silly partisan statement like this.

These days, any area of political activity that ought to have the capacity to bring us together is simply seen as an opportunity to drive a different wedge.

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The Governor’s Progressive Priorities

A recent Providence Journal editorial highlights yet another indication that the administration of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo isn’t exactly exhibiting a casual competence when it comes to the basic operations of state government. This time, the problem is the company with which the state has contracted to ensure that people in need are able to make it to their medical appointments, and the House Oversight Committee, led by Representative Patricia Serpa (D, West Warwick), is looking into it:

It has not escaped Ms. Serpa’s attention that there is a pattern of problems in state contracting. For many years, the executive branch has had trouble drafting strong contracts (without requiring an abundance of costly change orders), making sure services are properly implemented, and providing sufficient oversight once services have commenced. At the same time, the Raimondo administration has dramatically increased the number of public-relations people on its payroll.

Public-relations people on the payroll is just the start. Apparently, the governor also has plenty of time for things like this:

Gov. Gina Raimondo is all-in on a statewide bag ban and past opponents of the concept aren’t objecting.

Raimondo gave her support Feb. 14 at the final meeting of the Task Force to Tackle Plastics, an advisory board she created last July with the mission of cutting plastic pollution in the state.

That’s progressives (like socialists) for you: trying to save the world while letting those who rely on their competence for day-to-day operations suffer. The problem, at its bottom, is that people are willing to pay for certain services from government (for themselves and on behalf of others), but not so much for insider excesses and progressive schemes. So, to make way for the excesses and schemes, government has to scrimp on the things for which people are willing to pay so there’s money left over for the things for which they probably wouldn’t.

And at the end of the day, ensuring that the medical transportation vehicles run on time isn’t all that exciting.

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Early Indications of Legalized Prostitution?

Although I’m pretty sure state Democrat Representative Anastasia Williams, of Providence, has introduced this legislation in the past, with the possible legalization of marijuana this year, it’s worth mentioning.  As Ian Donnis reports for the Public’s Radio:

A Rhode Island lawmaker believes the state’s laws governing sex work are too punitive and she wants to create a 12-member commission to review possible changes. …

According to a bill introduced by Williams, H5354, “Criminalization of prostitution disproportionately impacts women, transgender individuals and people of color.” Her legislation points to findings showing that decriminalizing prostitution can improve public safety and public health.

If Williams’ envisioned legislative commission moves ahead, it would face a February 2020 deadline for reporting its findings.

As I’ve noted repeatedly, there’s a reason Pottersville — the alternate reality in It’s a Wonderful Life in which the movie’s hero had never been born — combines drugs, gambling, and prostitution.  As I’ve also suggested before, it would be one thing to arrive at this state of affairs because our culture and our respect for liberty had become stronger, because then it would have implicit safeguards for individuals and the community as a whole.

As it is, we’re seeing the government move into areas that used to be the province of organized crime, largely for the same reasons: money and power.

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