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Rage Against the Keeping of the Tax

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has published a brief of mine noting ways in which the state’s sales tax is unfair — and increasingly so:

In summary, Rhode Island’s sales tax — the highest in New England and 30th out of 50 in the country — was first implemented to solve a problem that it did not solve, has been increased with the promise of reductions that never happened, and is leading to a stealth double tax.

Some of the points are cute, like noting complaints about municipal budget problems to create the sales tax in the middle of the last century. Some of them are well known, like the “temporary” increase that never went away after the banking crisis.

But the point that would outrage a community that wasn’t either bought off or beat down is that the state government is slipping into online sales taxes without lowering the rate as promised or even eliminating the minimum “use tax,” which is premised in part on capturing online sales that weren’t taxed.  If you buy anything on Amazon this year and don’t itemize the “use tax” section when you fill out your income tax forms next year, you’ll essentially be paying taxes twice on your online purchases.

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Breaking – Former RI Supreme Court Justice Flanders Exploring Run for US Senate

Well, things just heated up in Rhode Island’s 2018 race for US Senate. Kathy Gregg has the scoop in the Providence Journal.

Robert G. Flanders, a former Rhode Island Supreme Court justice, respected Providence trial lawyer and onetime Brown University football star, has taken the first step toward a potential GOP run for the U.S. Senate against two-term Democratic incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse.

This is somewhat out of the blue: rumors where that Justice Flanders was considering, at the urging of RIGOP Chair Brandon Bell, a run for Governor. Justice Flanders isn’t technically announcing his candidacy, as Gregg notes, but rather, he

plans to create an “exploratory committee” to determine whether he will be able to muster the money and support he would need for a potential GOP primary fight and, ultimately, a 2018 run against Whitehouse.

He is certainly clear as to why he sees the need to run, however, as he indicates to Gregg in a statement that includes a nice little zing at the incumbent.

“With the unease and hyper-partisan political environment in Washington,” Flanders said, Rhode Island needs a U.S. senator who “will work across the aisle to unlock innovation and job growth, provide a system of high quality and affordable health care, reform unfair and anti-competitive tax policies, lift regulatory burdens off the backs of small business, promote better education and enhance our security by restoring global confidence in America.”

“In short, we need a climate change in Washington,” he said in a play-on-words on Whitehouse’s signature issue.

If his candidacy is a go, he will first face off in a primary against State Representative Robert A. Nardolillo III (R-Coventry).

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Did Russia Learn from the Pros?

This Wall Street Journal article by Joe Parkinson and Georgi Kantchev shows more than the willingness of Russia to meddle in foreign elections:

In the run-up to presidential elections in Bulgaria last year, the country’s opposition Socialist Party received a secret strategy document proposing a road map to victory at the ballot box, according to five current or former Bulgarian officials.

Among its recommendations: plant fake news and promote exaggerated polling data.

The source of the roughly 30-page dossier, intercepted by Bulgaria’s security service, was a think tank connected to the Kremlin, according to the officials. It was delivered by a former Russian spy on a U.S. sanctions list, three of them said.

Investigators should peruse the internal documents of the national Democrat Party and correspondence of mainstream media’s JournoList.  They might find that the Russians are also guilty of plagiarism, because the tactics described above look awfully familiar.

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For the Benefit of Art, Get Government Out of It

In a pair of dueling essays in the current Motif magazine, I take up the side of those arguing for the cessation of government funding for the arts:

When government creates funding streams that must go to art, the skills that procure money for an artist move away from the communication of love and toward the soulless description of benefits to bureaucrats and politicians. The people skilled at jumping through the hoops of the grant process and willing to produce the material that the government has defined as “art” — with a message that accords with the interests of government agencies and of politicians — will be the ones who have the opportunity to produce something that they’re able to package as “art.”

Continue reading in Motif.

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Reversing a Deadly Cultural Cliché

Betsy McKay raises a central puzzle for America in a Wall Street Journal article about death rates among white adults:

The increase in mortality rate for working-class whites can’t be explained by declining income prospects alone. Blacks and Hispanics face many of the same income struggles but have experienced declines in mortality over the same period, the two economists argued, though their findings reveal more recent troubles for blacks, with gains stagnating the past couple of years amid an increase in drug overdoses and stalling progress against heart disease.

“This doesn’t seem to be about current income,” Ms. Case said in a call with reporters. “It seems to be about accumulating despair.”

It’s about demoralization.  This trend results from the combination of economic hardship, the elites’ undermining of traditional family structures, and, as a final assault, the handling in the popular culture of white men as always the ultimate source of evil.  Dysfunctional families are easier to survive when there’s money in the equation, and cultural opprobrium is easier to laugh off when you’re advantaged.

To some extent, the problem is the inertia of cultural clichés.  It takes a while for the message that circumstances have changed to filter throughout those who make decisions throughout our institutions, arts, and media (often requiring the change of entire generations at the helm).  And the Left pushed this particular cliché unreasonably hard, because they liked the pose and the political upside.

In the meantime, our society will continue to fail in its role of uplifting its disadvantaged members.

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How Might Education Be Doing If Government Hadn’t Made It So Backwards and Bureaucratic

Well, this is a curious finding, articulated by Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds on Instapundit:

The takeaway here is that people who didn’t go to school at all did as well as or better than people who did. Considering the huge amounts of money, and other social resources, that we invest in K-12 education, that’s kind of a big deal. Of course, you’d want to do a bigger study before taking this too seriously on a policy level, but it ought to spark at least a bit of rethinking.

Of course, an important caveat is that “unschoolers,” as they’re called, are bound to be a self-selecting group, the last paragraph of Reynolds’s source article puts well:

In sum: “The findings of our survey suggest that unschooling can work beautifully if the whole family, including the children, buy into it, if the parents are psychologically healthy and happy, and if the parents are socially connected to the broader world and facilitate their children’s involvement with that world. It can even work well when some of these criteria are not fully met.”

Education is so dependent on individual circumstances that a changing world will inevitably require freedom to adapt.  Unfortunately, we’ve built a massive, self-interested education establishment that may be among the most resistant-to-change institutions in our society.

One wonders how we’d be doing, right now, if the progressive sentiments of the last century didn’t put education into such a backwards, bureaucratic model.  Parents would have sought the best opportunities for their children — because, if you haven’t noticed, parents tend to love their children and want what’s best for them more reliably than anybody else in the world — and communities would have figured out ways to guide families along, helping where needed — because that’s what communities tend to do.

Sadly, there are always those who think they know better and care more (conspicuously benefiting themselves through the process of dictating to others).

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Correlation of Business Friendliness and Voting Habits

Readers may already have come across Fayetteville State University Accounting Professor Robert McGee’s new ranking of states for business friendliness:

This study is the first annual McGee Report on the best and worst states for business. The fifty states are ranked based on the extent to which they facilitate business creation and expansion. This study incorporated the data collected from five other studies, which included the examination of hundreds of variables. Utah was found to be the most business friendly state; California was least business friendly. States that voted Republican in the 2016 presidential election tended to be more business friendly than states that voted Democratic.

Rhode Island, if you couldn’t guess, is in the bottom five — 46th, to be specific.

Pepperdine University School of Law Tax Professor Paul Caron emphasizes just how much voting habits tend to correlate with business friendliness:

The Best And Worst States For Business: 90% Of The Top 10 Voted For Trump; 80% Of The Bottom 10 Voted For Clinton

Of course, how one looks at these results will depend a great deal on how one looks at the world.  Some would (correctly) note that business friendliness is not the only important measure of a region and point out the advantages of California and the Northeast, where most of the bottom states are located.  Others would (even more correctly) argue that the biggest advantages of those regions have nothing to do with their style of governance and that business unfriendliness correlates with general suppression of people and, especially, their ability to improve their plight.

The epithet I used to hear a lot about Rhode Island was that it’s a playground for the rich.  Business unfriendliness tends to indicate that that’s still the case.

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Freedom Through the Acknowledgment of Being Created

As a follow-up to my post this morning about the effect of secularism on the Right and the Left, John Waters’s review of Peter Seewald’s book of interviews with Pope Benedict XVI:

There is, [Benedict] said in that dazzling “bunker” speech to the Bundestag in September 2011, an “ecology of man.” Man “is not merely self-­creating freedom”; he is intellect and will, but also nature, “and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.”

That speech amounted to a summary of his lifetime’s public project: to warn of the eclipsing of mystery in modern culture, of the decline into an absolutist relativism and the positivist codes and delusions which lock us into a bunker of error—and then the antidote: throwing open the windows so that God might be recognized anew by his people. “The windows must be flung open again, we must see the wide world, the sky and the earth once more.”

Real freedom comes when we acknowledge reality and accept our role in it, whatever our material condition.

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Actual Issues Cross the Politico-Racial Divide

recent article in the The Providence American, a publication serving the black community in Providence, shows how conservative policies can find resonance among people who have been told to see Republicans and conservatives as the opposition:

Anti Free-Market, Protectionist Policies? It is a common scheme for advocates of certain industries to lobby government to impose strict licensing requirements in order to create barriers to competition. According to a 2012 report by the [RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity], many such occupational licensing mandates have a disproportionate and negative impact on low-income workers, who often can’t afford the time or money to meet the sometimes onerous and unnecessary requirements. …

Now is the time to push for a critical reform that can transform the lives of low-income families in Rhode Island. Our state should encourage work; NOT make it harder to earn money! Legislation has been submitted, and time is running out to advance this important reform.

The Right is for the American Dream, and the American Dream is good.  That’s a point that ought to be made again and again.

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MAGA Hats and Selective Respect for Speech and Appearance

Dean Balsamini writes in the New York Post of his experiences walking around the Big Apple in a red “Make America Great Again” hat:

In the left-leaning Big Apple, it’s a fashion faux pas more fatal than walking around in sandals with socks, or strapping a fanny pack around your waist: wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat.To see for myself, I sported the fire-engine-red baseball cap worn by Donald Trump on the campaign trail in liberal gin joints and shops across Manhattan and Brooklyn.

I may as well have been wearing a Red Sox hat at Yankee Stadium.

We had a related incident at a Tiverton Budget Committee meeting a few weeks ago.  (Before the camera was on, unfortunately.)  Member Jeff Caron wears a red baseball cap from his friend’s business that reads “Make Skiing Great Again,” and one of the more vituperative members of the high-tax crowd accosted him as he took his seat and placed his hat next to him.  She insisted that it was a political statement and was therefore banned from Town Hall.  Or something.

Meanwhile, one of her allies was sitting in the audience proudly wearing her pink, knitted, pointy-horn hat.  (Yes, yes, I know.)

The irony is that this same crew is vehement that the Budget Committee is effectively silencing the public by not continuing to add time to its weekly three-plus-hour meetings to provide yet another forum for public statements.  In stark contrast, they’ll rush to suppress any statement with which they disagree, whether Caron’s hat, legitimate motions by Budget Committee members, or a fake rifle as part of a pro-veteran display on school grounds.

One suspects that the New Yorkers who reacted to Balsamini with scorn would excoriate anybody who treated in a similar fashion people in Muslim garb or with multiple piercings and purple hair.  You can believe whatever you want or dress however you want, in other words, provided you challenge their worldview and political power, the latter being the more important.

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Raimondo Seeks to Tighten Screws on Grassroots Opposition

So, while progressive activists make sure anybody who might disagree with them has incentive not to run for public office, progressive Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo attempts to create more dissincentive through the law:

Raimondo’s proposal would bar any candidate with an overdue campaign-finance fine of any amount from running for election. The rule would apply only to new fines; any fines under appeal or on a Board of Elections-approved payment plan would not prevent a candidate from running.

The proposal would also increase the fine for late campaign-finance reports from $25 to $100 while raising the maximum Board of Election violation from $100 to $500.

Rhode Island already as a palpable lack of people running for public office to challenge incumbents.  The governor’s proposals — by design, one imagines — would make matters worse, entrenching a powerful elite even more and further reducing the democratic functioning of our state.

We’re reaching the point of crisis on this stuff, and even “good government” people who ought to know better are asking government to take our rights away.

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Progressives Move Closer to Fascism in March on Coughlin’s Home

Obviously, they’ve still got a long way to go, but a mob of protesters’ showing up at a state representative’s home with a police escort and leaving a mess of signs is a step on the path to fascism:

Pawtucket City Councillors Sandra Cano and Meghan Kallman helped to lead the march, along with Fuerza Laboral’s executive director Heiny Maldonado and organizer Raul Figueroa. The group, escorted by the Pawtucket Police Department for the safety of the marchers, arrived at [Pawtucket Democrat David] Coughlin’s residence shortly before 9am and tried to get him to come out and address the crowd. Coughlin did not come to the door or answer his phone. A car with Coughlin’s House license plate 60, wrapped in a “Choose Life” frame, was parked in the driveway.

The crowd stood outside Coughlin’s residence for about ten minutes. Heiny Maldonado rang his doorbell and knocked, but did not get an answer. As the crowd departed, they left a small pile of messages, in the form of protest signs, on the front steps of Coughlin’s house. This is believed to be the first protest of a state legislator’s home in at least three years, and the success of the action points the way towards more such protests in the future.

Call it a trial balloon for fascism: target homes, intimidate, show up with a mob and the police, leave messages for the target to clean up (quotes: “Your Constituents Put You There. Your Constituents Can Take You ‘Out’,” “Resist,” “You do not represent our district,” and “Dream killer”), and publish photographs of his home from multiple angles having nothing to do with the “protest.”

Apart from the danger of fire, depositing these signs is not far off from a flaming cross, and the published photographs send the message “we know where you live” as clearly as a brick through the window.

Not only will the Coughlins of the state get the message, but anybody who might consider running for office while disagreeing with the brownshirts will have another reason to think twice.  That’s what they want, and that is fascism.

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The Dead End of Rhode Island’s Government Plantation Model

The entitlement mentality in this state will be palpable as the federal government rolls back the Obama Administration’s give-aways. Lynn Arditi writes about the potential cost to Rhode Island if it refuses to change its Medicaid program to reflect federal spending under the Republican health care plan:

Predicting how much it might cost the state to cover the roughly 70,000 adults in the Medicaid expansion population under the Republican plan is especially difficult, health experts say, because people move on and off the rolls. If, for example, the job market weakened and people who had left the Medicaid rolls return, the lower federal cost-sharing rate means they’d be much more expensive to re-enroll.

“While certainly we’d support the state continuing to fund the Medicaid expansion population,” [Linda] Katz [of the Economic Progress Institute (no relation)] said, “the reality is … it would be very difficult to replace with state dollars the federal dollars and keep people insured.”

Rhode Island never should have signed on to the Medicaid expansion if this was possible, and the likes of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity were ignored when we warned that it was most definitely possible.  What everybody can see clearly now is that insiders and bureaucrats padded their budgets at great cost and risk to others.

And it’s not just Medicaid.  Dan McGowan reports from Providence for WPRI:

President Donald Trump’s proposal to eliminate the $3-billion Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program would be a “devastating” blow to Rhode Island’s capital city, Mayor Jorge Elorza said Friday.

Trump’s proposed budget would do away with the 42-year-old CDBG program, which provides local governments across the country with funding for community centers, housing programs and neighborhood improvements.

None of these programs should ever be built into state government budgets or the local economy.  They should be treated as gravy on a healthy, independent economy.  Instead, we’ve allowed our elected officials to suffocate real industry and substitute a government plantation model premised on being able to bill the federal government and local taxpayers for government services for others.

Eventually, when you turn toward an obvious dead end, you reach it.

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Human Advancement Is the Greatest Material Benefit for Mankind and the Planet

Ronald Bailey notes in Reason that human ingenuity, more than draconian restrictions on our freedom, is advancing U.S. environmental health:

The International Energy Agency is reporting data showing that economic growth is being increasingly decoupled from carbon dioxide emissions. Basically, human beings are using less carbon dioxide intensive fuels to produce more goods and services. The IEA attributes the relatively steep drop in U.S. emissions largely to the ongoing switch by electric generating companies from coal to cheap natural gas produced using fracking from shale deposits. Renewals also contributed a bit to the decline.

Yes, you could argue that the pressure from environmentalists and regulators pushed the energy industry to make the investment in alternatives, although I’d be skeptical and also argue that radical environmentalism has been a net negative even then.  Even without that argument, though, we must acknowledge that, if safeguarding the planet really is our goal, allowing humanity to advance is a critical part of the strategy. And it keeps our lives improving, too. Win-win.

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Don’t Let Them Treat Pensions Like a Force of Nature

Ted Nesi captured a broader point with this item from his weekend Nesi’s Notes column:

[Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien] pushed back at House GOP Leader Patricia Morgan’s argument that cities and towns should have to find savings to cover part of the $220 million tab to eliminate the tax. “That’s old-school thinking, that we haven’t done a lot of those things,” Grebien argued. His office points out that 94% of the growth in Pawtucket’s city-side budget over the last decade, about $12.4 million total, has gone to cover retiree benefits – leaving just $825,000 more to spend on everything else.

One must chuckle at a politician trying to act as if the state and municipalities have done all of the possible belt tightening and looking for more is “old-school thinking.”  Anybody who falls for that line deserves to continue to have his or her bank account raided by the looters.

But the bigger notion worth highlighting is that retiree benefits are some sort of natural occurrence that ought to be excluded from our conversations about budgets.  Robert Walsh, of the National Education Association of Rhode Island, attempted something similar during his appearance on Rhode Island Public Radio’s Political Roundtable Q&A when he tried to make it seem as if Rhode Island spends a great deal less on education than Massachusetts because of the different ways pensions are funded in the two states.

This is an old non-truth that I exposed in 2015, but my point here isn’t that Walsh’s statement was wrong (and he probably knows it).  Rather the point is that pensions are a part of our government spending — demanded by unions and supplied by politicians.

Of course, insiders want to act like all of their spending habits are off the table, but we should rebuff them when they try.  If you want more spending change your pension benefits.  The way actuaries figure out what governments owe means that lowering the promises being made now affect the funding required now.  We still won’t be able to afford it in the long term, but at least other priorities would have some space for now.

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CBO Points to the ObamaCare Abusive Spouse

This Wall Street Journal editorial offers some worthwhile perspective on the meaning of the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) estimates around Republicans’ initial ObamaCare repeal bill:

The CBO attributes “most” of this initial coverage plunge to “repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate.” If people aren’t subject to government coercion to buy insurance or else pay a fine, some “would choose not to have insurance because they chose to be covered by insurance under current law only to avoid paying the penalties, and some people would forgo insurance in response to higher premiums.”

What this finding says about the value Americans attach to ObamaCare-compliant health insurance is damning. If CBO is right, some 14 million people would rather spend their money on something else, despite the subsidies.

In keeping with the general worldview of central planners, if you cease to get something through them, you’ve “lost” it.  This attitude permeates government, from charitable grants that local governments give to their preferred charities up to massive federal entitlements.  In this case, the government isn’t even just taking credit for something it’s using other people’s money to provide, but behaving as if forcing people to do something gives them that something.

As perverse as that is, it may be the perfect representation of progressive government.  It’s like an abusive spouse who rationalizes his or her pathology into the belief that commanding and berating his or her significant other is for the other person’s good.

As for the CBO, the Journal also reminds us that it’s a policy group working off a model, not a mystic order of prophets telling the future.

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Paying for the Entitlement That Never Should Have Been Extended

This is a great idea that Rhode Island should pursue, as reported by Michelle Hackman in the Wall Street Journal:

Ms. Verma, a health policy consultant, made a name for herself as the architect of Indiana’s Medicaid expansion program under then-Gov. Mike Pence, which that state administered through a federal waiver. Ms. Verma struck a deal with  the Obama administration allowing Indiana to charge enrollees under the expansion monthly premiums.

There is no reason childless, able-bodied adults relying on a government welfare-insurance program can’t pay something to give them a stake in their coverage.  From the beginning, we’ve seen examples of people who were willing to pay for private insurance, but who discovered their eligibility for a free plan through Medicaid.

Moreover, the state of Rhode Island never should have leaped into the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion with so little thought. Some of us warned at the time that the state shouldn’t count on the federal government holding the share it would pay at 90%, particularly as part of an unpopular and entirely partisan bill.  Since the state government conducted absolutely zero public debate over whether to accept the expansion, we can only surmise that elected officials and bureaucrats in Rhode Island either didn’t care to look that far ahead or counted on their ability to do what they’re trying to do now: get political mileage out of the federal government’s predictable move and attempt to transfer the burden to state-level taxpayers.

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Making an Honest Broker Out of Public Radio

Its being Monday morning, I couldn’t quite manage the double entendre with the title to this post, but Ian Donnis’s weekly TGIF column for Rhode Island Public Radio had another point worth highlighting:

Rhode Island Public Radio gets 93 percent of its funding from people and organizations in Rhode Island. So you don’t need to worry about us going anywhere if President Trump is successful in eliminating funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Here’s part of a comment on the subject by our esteemed general manager, Torey Malatia: “Were it to suddenly disappear, the $200,000 CPB grant to RIPR would need to be replaced.  We would do this by encouraging our community to help support us. We would hope that more listeners would become donors and sustainers, or would increase their gifts. We have a broad base of community support, and if every listener helped a little more, we could offset the grant. It will be work, but it can be done. In our view, though, the loss of CPB funding hurts our culture overall. Many local radio stations in very small markets rely of the annual CPB grant heavily, representing in some cases 25%-35% of their annual budgets. Losing this funding may severely damage these smaller stations. And since local public television stations receive three-quarters of the targeted congressional funds, small public television stations may become insolvent.”

So, to emphasize, RIPR doesn’t need the government money, and Rhode Island can afford to let the left-wing radio audience pay for left-wing radio.  There’s no reason whatsoever that all Rhode Islanders should be forced to contribute, and certainly no reason a more-conservative-than-Rhode-Island country ought to pay for it.

That reasoning applies, as well, to the smaller stations that Malatia cites as justification for keeping the grant alive.*  If there’s no market for left-wing radio in a particular area, the federal government shouldn’t be the mechanism for ensuring that it gets its space on the dial nonetheless, anymore than the federal government should ensure that there’s a right-wing station in markets where there’s no audience for conservatives.

* The initial version of this post erroneously attributed the citation to Donnis rather than Malatia.

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Putting the “Failed” in “Liberal Coup”

Being suspicious that others are ever using rhetoric to manipulate, my warning lights go off when I see talk of coups and the like.  After all, if the battle is that stark, then your allies have some claim to have you compromise your principles.

It’s difficult to disagree with John Hinderaker, however, when he writes:

What we are seeing here is a coup: a coup by the New Class; by the Democratic Party; by far leftists embedded in the bureaucracy and the federal judiciary. Our duly elected president has issued an order that is plainly within his constitutional powers, and leftists have conspired to abuse legal processes to block it. They are doing so in order to serve the interests of the Democratic Party and the far-left movement. This is the most fundamental challenge to democracy in our lifetimes.

For the moment, I still conclude that our goal, on the right, should be to ensure that the rule of law is followed to the greatest degree possible, by which I mean that we follow it, rather than escalating the lawlessness of the Left.  That conclusion derives from my sense that the American people know what’s going on and a large majority don’t like it.  The progressives are over-playing their hand, in other words, and the only way they win is if conservatives don’t convey a palpable difference.

In short, I’d edit Hinderaker’s headline that “A Liberal Coup Is in Progress” to make it “A Failed Liberal Coup Is in Progress.”  The requirement, however, is that we stand up — stand up against the coup and for our principles.

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The “Real” News About Healthcare Reform

The Providence Journal and Rhode Island progressives are doing a disservice to the people of our state by advancing a biased and non-realistic perspective on the federal healthcare reform debate.

There are few issues that are more personal or important than planning for the care that can preserve the health of ourselves and our families. But what governmental approach best helps us accomplish this?

Currently, our state is following the federal Obamacare approach of seeking to insure more people with government-run Medicaid or with a one-size-fits-all government-mandated private insurance plan. This approach is in a death-spiral.

Continue reading at Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

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Venezuela Continues Down the Predictable Path of Socialism

In June, I noted how familiar and predictable Venezuela’s deterioration has been, citing Manzoni’s classic novel The Betrothed.  Seventeenth Century government meddling in the Italian economy created starvation-level problems, and naturally, the government looked for scapegoats.

Venezuela has continued along this predictable path.  As Jim Wyss reports in the Miami Herald:

Facing a bread shortage that is spawning massive lines and souring the national mood, the Venezuelan government is responding this week by detaining bakers and seizing establishments.

In a press release, the National Superintendent for the Defense of Socioeconomic Rights said it had charged four people and temporarily seized two bakeries as the socialist administration accused bakers of being part of a broad “economic war” aimed at destabilizing the country.

Yeah… detain bakers and seize their establishments.  That’ll fix the bread shortage!

Watch this short Ami Horowitz report from Venezuela for more Manzoni parallel’s, particularly the part about how the powerful insiders continue to do just fine.  Please, please, folks, could we start learning from history and ignoring those whose main purpose is to deceive us into giving them more money?

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Walking the Narrow Path of Faith

Beginning with mugshot photographs of Russian Christians about to be murdered by the Soviets, John Burgess ponders what freedom means for Christians. He includes some good perspective for believers (Christian and otherwise) who fear the direction our society is headed:

The blessings of relative peace, prosperity, and humane governance in the modern West may further encourage us to think of freedom as the ability or right to fulfill our physical and emotional desires. Yet these desires, in fact, mostly control us. While we may believe that we have freely chosen to pursue what we imagine to be personal well-being and happiness, we are, in fact, driven by pride and sloth. …

Strengthened by spiritual practices and transformed by divine worship, the pure in heart attain spiritual freedom: the freedom to resist powers of evil and to live for God by worshipping him alone.

Indeed, with that as our goal, living in times of comfort can be more challenging:

Over the centuries, Christians have often recognized that they are more apt to discover spiritual freedom under conditions of persecution than when they are afforded toleration. When the Church is socially acceptable and when religious affiliation is more a matter of custom than faith, those who call themselves Christians are easily tempted to sell their inheritance of spiritual freedom for the pottage of social privilege and material wealth. This temptation is, perhaps, also ours in America today. A legally guaranteed right to religious freedom may too easily be mistaken for true Christian freedom.

And the key point:

Recognizing that human faith is feeble, Christians over the centuries have generally concluded that they should not seek persecution, even though we should be prepared to accept it.

Persecution, that is, is something neither seek nor avoid. In other words, neither persecution nor comfort should be the basic foundation of our decisions.  We are charged to move toward God, being neither distracted by the attractions of comfort nor intimidated by the promise of pain and difficulty.

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The Union’s Shocking Admission… Which Nobody Will Notice

Confessions of my naive idealism are becoming a theme for me, perhaps, but I still find casual admissions such as the following, from Ian Donnis’s weekly TGIF column on RIPR, partly shocking and partly comforting:

The National Education Association Rhode Island, a influential force in state politics, is likely to support Governor Raimondo for re-election next year. NEARI Executive Director Robert A. Walsh Jr. acknowledges that retired teachers are among those still fuming about the pension overhaul spearheaded by then-Treasurer Raimondo in 2011. Yet Walsh, speaking on RI Public Radio’s Bonus Q&A this week, offered this explanation for why the incumbent Democrat is likely to get NEARI’s support in 2018: “I think that the election of Donald Trump significantly changed the game in this state. It is imperative that the Democrats retain control of the governorship …. My approach to this is a very pragmatic one. You’ve heard me advertise for alternative candidates to the lieutenant governor — ‘come on down, we’ll help you run against Dan McKee [see #4].’ I am not advertising for alternative candidates to Gina Raimondo. We must retain the governorship and we must retain our Democrats elected in the Senate and in the United States Congress. And the Republicans are going to drop money in this state and go after us as a package, so it’s imperative that the team stays in place.”

Here’s one of your state’s two teachers unions: part of the Democrat “team.”  There is no line between the party and the labor union that takes taxpayer dollars and shuffles them back into political activism.

In a healthier society with a greater appreciation for the founding principles of the United States, this would be a scandal — the sort of thing that would be uncovered through an undercover investigative report.  Instead, it’s proclaimed proudly on a publicly subsidized radio station, and nobody in the state but an outré blogger will bat an eye.

I’ve said it before, but it merits repeating: Rhode Island isn’t fully a representative democracy anymore.

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Approval of the Cognoscente Versus Approval of the People

It seems to me that politicians (particularly those on the right) should take data points like this, from Austin Yack on NRO, as justification for further experimentation going against the common wisdom of their Washington–New York social set:

The Republican-majority Congress also polled well. Americans trust Republicans to legislate on issues pertaining to the economy, jobs, immigration, energy, and health care — and, astonishingly, these responses were recorded during the days in which the Congressional Budget Office found that 24 million people will be uninsured by 2026 under the Republican-majority Congress’s health-care plan. Forty-six percent of registered voters approved of the health-care plan; 35 percent disapproved, and 19 percent had no opinion.

Perhaps people are learning that the news media hypes stories from a point of view benefiting a particular political party, not the country, and perhaps people understand that when a country (like a person) has let itself go, getting back on track involves some discomfort.

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The Economics of Giving Stuff Away

As is typical, Kevin Williamson is worth reading on the practical economics of government policy:

We are a very, very rich country. We can afford all sorts of things: food for the hungry, health care for the indigent, education for children, and hearing aids for families that for whatever reason cannot manage to scrape together $1,000 a year to invest in the well-being of their own children. (Those $5,000 hearing aids last for about five years, meaning that their real cost over time is less than the $1,200 a year typical American family spends on cable television.) I myself am all for doing many of those things, though I do not think that government very often is the best instrument for getting them done. But if we are going to use government, then, by all means, let’s use government in the most honest, transparent, and straightforward way we can. Forget the insurance mandate and just write the check.

In that regard, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s free tuition would be preferable to some other policy that tried to force somebody else to pay for it — homeowners insurance or something like that.  Of course, other basic economic lessons come into play, which struck me when WPRI’s Dan McGowan tweeted:

DanMcGowan-031517-freetuition

“Affordability” is a measure of price against value.  Following Williamson’s price estimate for hearing aids, in-state tuition at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) is less than the average family cable bill.  Rhode Island College (RIC) and the University of Rhode Island (URI) are substantially more, but both saving and borrowing spread out the payments.

Considering that the average monthly student loan payment for all years of all colleges is somewhere around $280, two years of in-state tuition in Rhode Island would be much less.  That means young adults are valuing a large number of other things — cable, cell phones, video games, weekly dinners out, and so on — more than they’re valuing education.

Pushing the price down for them doesn’t make them value the education any more.  What it will do, though, drive up tuition and hurt taxpayers.

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Under Raimondo, Promoting Dear Leader Is the Government’s Job

Silly Republicans, there is no higher good than promoting Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo:

The Republican Governors Association slammed Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo on Thursday for using taxpayer money on a Facebook ad to promote a New York Times story about her.

The sponsored ad, purchased by the quasi-public Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, was first noticed by an Eyewitness News reporter on Wednesday

This has been an issue for Raimondo’s entire term; in August 2015, I called CommerceRI a Raimondo PAC.  From where I sit, there are only two ways to look at this, both of them bad:  Either it’s corruption, and the governor is using public resources — not just $50 for a Facebook ad, but the multi-million-dollar apparatus of the Commerce Corp. — for personal political advantage, or her administration truly believes that the government’s chief executive should be considered the embodiment of the government and the state, which is an extremely dangerous totalitarian attitude.

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Dismissing Factual Claims About the Atmosphere Isn’t Science

Jeff Jacoby has a great column in the Boston Globe about the reasonableness of doubt about extreme climate change claims:

Yet for all the hyperventilating, Pruitt’s answer to the question he was asked — whether carbon dioxide is the climate’s “primary control knob” — was entirely sound. “We don’t know that yet,” he said. We don’t. CO2 is certainly a heat-trapping greenhouse gas, but hardly the primary one: Water vapor accounts for about 95 percent of greenhouse gases. By contrast, carbon dioxide is only a trace component in the atmosphere: about 400 ppm (parts per million), or 0.04 percent. Moreover, its warming impact decreases sharply after the first 20 or 30 ppm. Adding more CO2 molecules to the atmosphere is like painting over a red wall with white paint — the first coat does most of the work of concealing the red. A second coat of paint has much less of an effect, while adding a third or fourth coat has almost no impact at all.

This paragraph reminds me of the time I spent my half hour lunch break from construction sitting in my van on a snowy day arguing back and forth with a PolitiFact journalist about his bogus rating for Republican Congressional Candidate John Loughlin related to global warming.  I forget the specifics, but key was the notion that 94% of greenhouse gases are natural, most of it water vapor.  It’s a notion I first encountered in this 2007 Anchor Rising post by Monique (which she raised as a reminder for years afterwards, as you can see by searching “6%” here).

The reporter took much the same rhetorical approach as those who’ve attacked Pruitt and (I’m sure) Jacoby: dismissal, mockery, and scorn.  As fun as DMS may be, it isn’t science, and it shouldn’t be a basis for public policy that affects people across the globe.

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Local Taxes Set Us Back to the Future

I heard somebody say, recently that Tiverton is trying to run its town on a 1988 budget, so naturally I figured I’d take a look at the numbers:

It would be more true to say that in 2016 we paid 2044 taxes, because that’s when the average inflation rate of the last three decades would have brought the 1990 levy up to $37.8 million.  If remembering 1988 makes you feel old, how young does imagining 2044 make you feel? …

One detail makes the chart much more shocking: We’re being asked to pay our 2044-level taxes with 1990 income, or pretty close.  From 1990 to 2015, median household income in Tiverton increased about 2.8% per year, versus about 2.4% annual inflation, even factoring in population growth.  If Tiverton households’ income had grown as much as their town taxes, the median would have gone from $36,170 in 1990 to $124,295 in 2015.  The actual number was $71,901.

My general sense, statewide, is that Tiverton’s taxes are on the extreme end, but that most cities and towns have had a similar story, with taxes increasing well beyond inflation while income just barely kept pace with the cost of living.

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Subsidized Wind Fights for No Taxes

Although it is unfortunately not online, a March 8 Newport Daily News story by Marcia Pobzeznik raises an interesting controversy involving a wind turbine in Tiverton.  Like all green energy installations, the turbine is heavily subsidized, and it is arguably more so, in this case, because it is part of the affordable housing development at Sandywoods Farm.  That hasn’t made the owners shy about wanting to skirt their tax bill.

According to Tiverton’s tax assessor, David Robert, the turbine is worth $395,000 and is taxed accordingly at $7,560 annually.  Church Community Housing Corp., the owner of the development, is arguing that the turbine should be exempt from taxation because the energy is sold at retail.  There, if I’m understanding the article correctly, is the rub:

The electricity generated by the turbine is sold to National Grid per an agreement signed on May 9, 2011. The 275-kilowatt turbine’s output would “offset some, but less than all of the projected on-site usage” of the housing development, according to the agreement that Sandywoods shared with the Tax Assessment Board of Review.

Because of the way the transaction is structured — with the turbine owner receiving a check from National Grid and being charged separately for its own energy — the lawyer for the development argues that it is, indeed, selling the energy.

One suspects that, even to the extent the general public pays attention to public policy, most people wouldn’t think it matters whether a turbine owner gets a reduction on his or her bill or just a check that offsets energy usage.  With green energy, affordable housing, and any government-subsidized activity, though, one must always assume there to be a scheme.

Just another reason to stop all subsidies.

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