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Saving a Child Who Swears at Mom Over Fortnite

Apparently, the video game Fortnite has become even more of a phenomenon than I was aware as the parent of a boy in exactly the target demographic.  It’s reached the point of alerting parents to the psychological tools that game designers (like advertisers and political advocates) deploy to nudge people toward certain types of this behavior.  In the case of Fortnite, it’s more an effort to cause addiction than action.

On his blog, Rod Dreher posts and responds to the better part of a Wall Street Journal article that bears the title “How Fortnite Triggered an Unwinnable War Between Parents and Their Boys.”  Dreher sums up his underlying reaction thus:

Here’s what I genuinely do not understand: why so many parents are afraid to be parents. Why did those people have to go to a public meeting to find out what to do about Fortnite addiction in their boys? Pull the plug on it, and don’t look back! Is it really that hard to know the answer? The moms and dads in this story despise the effects this game has on their boys. Toby, for example, is a sweet kid normally, but when he’s on Fortnite, it’s like the game possesses him. But his mom would “rather not fight about it,” so he gets his way.

Dreher may be asking his question one step beyond where it actually applies.  Maybe these kids escalate hostilities with their parents on behalf of the video game because they know the adults won’t pull the plug.  By the time your child is swearing at you, he already senses that he’s won.  Sons who know the danger of upping the ante don’t do it.

The genuine problem that these parents face is that they are encountering not a problem with a particular video game, but evidence that they have to rewind much of what they’ve been doing.  In most cases, the solution probably means a significant lifestyle change for the whole family.

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Along similar lines, I wonder how much of this modern problem is a function of having so few children in each family and in each neighborhood.  The Wall Street Journal article relates the story of parents who finally unplugged the game and sent their son outside only to watch him ride his scooter up and down the lonely block looking for someone to play with.  Whatever children might have lived in the neighborhood might have been inside on their own game sets.

By contrast, my own kids can always play with each other; that’s what they are doing as I type.  As an only child, I can attest that when you have only one, he or she is much more dependent on other families and the habits and rules of their families.

Culturally, we’re in a tough spot… balancing amazing technology that opens up worlds of possibilities with our basic human needs and natures.  Probably the biggest principle that we must assert is that standards for children should be different from those for adults, and our society should reinforce that principle rather than constantly attack it.

When Fortnite was still new, I found myself being drawn into it along with my son and had much the same reaction that I had to World of Warcraft some years before.  As an adult with broad interests and substantial responsibilities, I can sense the effort required to learn the skills necessary to win these games.  I therefore make the rational decision that I’m not going to invest the time to practice building fake things or shooting imaginary guns rather than doing real things that will improve my life tangibly.  And if one isn’t willing to put in that effort, dabbling isn’t all that fun.

With this experience, an adult must wonder:  What about kids who haven’t learned to have that level of self control?

This leads to a deeper question about how one learns self control.  Answers might vary from person to person, but for me, it all comes down to having a larger meaning and purpose.

Oddly, given the Christian focus of his writing, Dreher leaves this question entirely out of his post.  He almost tacitly concedes that the purpose of childhood is simply to fill time one way or another while absorbing the world.

What we need — perhaps as part of the lifestyle change mentioned above — is to supply for our children that thing that they’d rather do and show them through our own behavior why they should want to do it.

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Suspension and School Success

Here’s a quick question arising from Linda Borg’s Providence Journal article, “Student suspensions cloud charter’s success.”  What if this:

As a district, the Achievement First charters, a middle school and two elementary schools, were the highest-performing schools on the new standardized tests, the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System. Rhode Island public school students are tested in grades 3 through 8 using the highly regarded Massachusetts tests.

 

Is not contrasted with, but rather is connected with, this:

A charter elementary school run by Achievement First had among the highest out-of-school suspension rates in the state during the last school year, according to data recently released by the Rhode Island Department of Education.

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Maybe suspending misbehaving students helps the school to achieve so highly, and maybe it doesn’t, but it’s simply weird that the article never addresses the possibility, either to propose it as a unique challenge or to explain why it isn’t the case.  The peculiarity is only enhanced when the article ends with a note that some charter schools in Connecticut have the same vexing combination of suspensions and results.

Does it really not occur to the writer and the people whom she quotes, or are they hoping that it doesn’t occur to the reader.

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Crawling to Potter

The stretch from Christmas through New Year’s Day is a whirlwind of perspective, giving us opportunities not only to evaluate our own perspective, but also to compare ours with others’.  Contrast the sheer joy and excitement of children with the frazzled exhaustion of their parents.  Or more, contrast those children — and their confidence and comfort that the world is filled with security, love, and hope — with lonely adults who feel their isolation even more acutely.

This post won’t go quite that deep, though, dwelling instead on a more narrow contrast in perspective that struck me while watching It’s a Wonderful Life.  If I’m not mistaken, three times in that Christmas classic the script puts something close to the phrase “crawling to Potter” in different characters’ mouths.  Mr. Potter, most Americans will know, is the greedy banker who spends his life taking advantage of the people of Bedford Falls for his own enrichment.

The most expansive meaning that our hero, George Bailey, finds in his life is acting as a check on Potter’s schemes.  When George is still a young man with jet-setting dreams, his father defines their family business, a main-street building and loan operation, as a way for folks in their community to take ownership of their lives without having to “crawl to Potter.”  Later in the film, George restates this purpose, and in the moment of his desperation, Potter himself calls George “a miserable little cur, crawling in here on your hands and knees begging for help.”

I’ve seen this movie (in bits and pieces, anyway) dozens of times, but this year, when George’s father invoked the image of crawling to Potter what came to mind was government regulation.  If anything, the complaint against private lenders, these days, is that people don’t have to crawl to them for help.  Debt is everywhere.  Where we have to crawl — to build our homes, to engage in our occupations, to organize our lives — is government.

Curiously, government is almost entirely absent from It’s a Wonderful Life.  Apart from references to the conduct of World War II, its only appearance comes in the person of the district attorney who will hold George accountable for money missing from his accounts.

Curiously, too, the movie never contemplates either the possibility that the government might work with George to resolve an honest loss of money or the possibility that he could bribe somebody in government to help him out.  The movie’s government just wants the business’s books to balance, and it doesn’t appear to matter why they don’t or how they ultimately do.  At the end of the movie, what saves George is the independent action of people in his community, filling the financial gap, which wouldn’t have been a solution if the government were really enforcing laws against theft and fraud, rather than acting as a sort of accounting service.  Donated revenue does not undo the theft of assets.

Accepting this inaccurate vision of government for the sake of analysis, though, the absence of government in the story raises the importance of perspective.  Those who look to government for solutions will see an opportunity for a check on the greedy Potter that doesn’t rely on a single George Bailey to sacrifice his dreams for principle.  Those of us who take a different view will point to George Bailey, and the community’s rescue of him, as evidence that a government solution was not needed — indeed, that government intervention would have deprived George of his meaning and the community of its own opportunity to come together independently.

Even more, experience suggests that, when government steps in to do more than set a neutral playing field for private action, as it takes more and more responsibility onto itself, it does not replace George Bailey, but Mr. Potter.  It takes the power of decisions out of individual hands; it then attracts people who seek that power into government office (or conspiracy with it); and it then uses government’s enhanced power to negate even the possibility of a Bailey building and loan.

Another striking omission from It’s a Wonderful Life is that Potter never uses his wealth to squeeze his sole competitor out of the market.  He negotiates with a corporate board.  He steals the funds that create George’s problem.  But he doesn’t try to join his power with that of some local or state agency.  That part of the story arguably requires more imagination to accept than the notion that a guardian angel named Clarence was able to bring George into a reality in which he’d never been born.

We can take as an observable reality that power is what forces people to crawl and that consolidating power will drive us all to our hands and knees eventually.  In the face of that truth, a perspective that sees government as our best course of action to ensure a free and meaningful existence must disappear like children’s energy when the excitement that brought them through a sleepless night finally runs its course.

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Merry Christmas From The Center!

Merry Christmas! Imagine Rhode Island as a more attractive home and destination of choice for families. We could be a state that offers financial security now and opportunity for prosperity in the future. We could have a policy culture where individuals and business are successful in increasing the overall wealth of our state’s economy, and enhancing the quality of life for every Rhode Islander. While progressives value government-centric, taxpayer-funded dependency… our Center believes in the value of hard work, American values, and the free-enterprise system.
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Are loved family and friends no longer sitting at your holiday dinner table because they have left Rhode Island for greener pastures? What if we were to realize that the status quo public policy approach, as well-intended as it may be, in reality, has had the unintended consequence of reducing the overall prosperity of our Rhode Island families? A new public policy approach is required to change the Ocean State in 2019. Rhode Island needs an approach that considers the whole person, not just their material needs. Together, we can make Rhode Island a better place to call home – to raise a family and to build a career.
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Balance of Toll Gantries Going Up at Top Speed; Serious Implications of Raimondo Breaking Her Word

As we jump into the latest unsavory development in the state’s shady, deliberately ignorant roll-out of truck tolls, this preamble is the most important take-away: tolls on any vehicles in Rhode Island are completely unnecessary. The spending to repair Rhode Island’s bridges can be found within the annual budget – and without throwing 30% of the revenue away on gantry construction and toll fees.

RIDOT has announced today that they received federal approval for the balance of the gantries and that the contractor has been issued notice to proceed with construction, with the first new gantry expected to go live in May of 2019.

This flies in the face of Governor Gina Raimondo’s repeated statements that any more gantries would wait until the lawsuit and the legality of truck-only tolls is decided. Just one instance was on Dan Yorke State of Mind earlier this year (starting at Minute 06:00):

Yorke: You said, “If we lose the litigation, we don’t put the tolls up”.

Governor: “Correct”.

Governor: “We’re going to start with one in February. We assume there will be litigation which we will then have to defend and then we’ll see.”

Governor: “We gotta do one, we gotta see how it goes and then we’ll move to the next one.”

To not proceed with the construction of the balance of the gantries until their legality had been threshed out was a significant undertaking and also the prudent course on behalf of taxpayers and residents.

The implications for Rhode Island residents of her breaking her word and doing a highly irresponsible one eighty are significant. We have received repeated assurances that these gantries will be used only to toll trucks. But what happens if the court rules truck-only tolls illegal? The most innocuous – and actually not that innocuous – implication of her action in erecting gantries for a use that may be legally vacated is that she has very irresponsibly opened state taxpayers to a significant, unnecessary expense; i.e., putting us all on the hook for the cost of these gantries.

A far more ominous implication is that, by proceeding with the construction of all gantries before a court ruling, she is actively positioning the state for all-vehicle tolling. In a recent interview with WTNH, Governor Ned Lamont said that Governor Raimondo told him she is “highly confident” that the lawsuit will be found in the state’s favor – and “later this spring”, no less. (This attitude strikes me not only as baseless, extreme legal optimism but also quite disrespectful of the judge presiding over the case.).

The governor’s highly quizzical legal prognosticating to one side, it is impossible to predict the lawsuit’s outcome. A ruling against truck-only tolling doesn’t mean that tolls themselves have to go away, only their discriminatory assessment. By going back on her word on gantry construction, Governor Raimondo may be telescoping the time it takes to spread the – remember, completely unnecessary – toll cancer to all vehicles.

[Monique has been a contributor to the Ocean State Current for over ten years, has been a volunteer for StopTollsRI.com, a grassroots citizens group opposed to all tolls, for four years, and began working for the Rhode Island Trucking Association as a staff member in September of last year.]

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New School Evaluation System = Another Delay of Needed Change

After Rhode Island’s discouraging results on the latest standardized test, this news isn’t exactly primed to inspire confidence, but rather looks like an attempt to find a rosier light for the state’s public education results:

Rhode Island has introduced a new evaluation system for schools that moves its focus away from standardized testing.

The Rhode Island Department of Education debuted its online school rating system Wednesday. Schools are rated on a scale from one to five stars. The new rating system takes into account academic growth, graduation rates, absenteeism and other factors.

On WPRI, Dan McGowan goes into much greater detail, but most of those details reveal the new program to be largely a repackaging of the status quo.  Going forward, for example, the state will use a star rating system (one to five stars) rather than named categories like “commended” and “warning.”

McGowan’s objective summary should also raise concerns among anybody who believes we owe it to Rhode Island students to fix the problems for them, now.  Under the encouraging header, “the CSI schools must improve or changes will occur,” McGowan provides this less-encouraging information:

Under the new system, schools that were previously rated as priority schools and now are CSI schools will have two years to make improvements or they will be required to undergo a significant intervention. (If this is the first time a school is in the bottom 5%, they have four years to make improvements.)

So, they have to make some changes in line with a menu of pre-existing strategies which (a skeptic might observe) allow a good deal of delay and gaming of the system.  So, if your child is entering a failing high school, he or she will possibly be graduating before the district forces any kind of change, and the changes it tries force could be largely ineffectual for years after that.

Worse, because this rule is relative and applies only to the bottom 5% of schools, they can avoid change simply by switching places every couple of years, which the system helps them to do.  Here’s McGowan:

One of the most surprising things about the list of the lowest-performing schools is that none of them are in Central Falls, which posted district-wide proficiency rates of just 10% for English language arts and 7% in math on the RICAS exam. So how did that happen? Because students showed decent growth rates in testing, particularly on the ELA side. Education Commissioner Ken Wagner said this proves that schools can quickly move out of the bottom 5% – both the middle and high schools in Central Falls were previously listed as priority schools – but he cautioned that they can move back into the CSI cohort just as easily if they don’t continue to show growth.

The formula for scoring “growth” is very complicated, but it is once again relative to other students in RI’s troubled education system.  It appears that Central Falls students’ “decent growth rates” mean that, on average, they improved about as much as other Rhode Island students who scored as poorly.  That’s not an indicator of success; it’s an indicator of keeping up with failure.

The reality of Rhode Island politics and governance is that most people won’t even be aware of this updating of the education system’s approach to accountability.  Those who are, though, should react with dissatisfaction.  We’re being sold another delay that holds off real accountability until some time in the future when people have really had enough.

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Waning Success, Waning Congressional Influence

Well, the good news, with Rhode Island’s looming loss of a Congressional seat, is that we can’t go any lower than the minimum:

Rhode Island last had a single seat in the House in the original Congress in 1789, when the number of seats was set directly by the U.S. Constitution. Since then, under a mandate in the Constitution, the number of House seats has been determined under a complex formula approved by Congress and based on state populations. Since the 1790 census, Rhode Island has always had two seats in the House, except for two decades in the early 20th century, when a booming immigrant population earned the state three seats.

The complex formula ranks potential House seats for each state. The top 385 are awarded seats in the House. That’s in addition to the minimum of one seat that every state is guaranteed by the Constitution.

I’ll admit that my thinking has changed a little on this over the years, at least to the extent of acknowledging some complications.  Yes, Rhode Island is set to lose a Congressional seat after the next census because our local society doesn’t offer the opportunity that it should for families to grow.

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Our failures have mainly been an accelerant, however.  In the long run, we simply don’t have the space to keep up with other states’ expanding populations.  My changing perspective is the understanding that it isn’t irrational for Rhode Islanders to resist a NYC-tri-state-area level of population density.

Still, losing a Congressional seat because your successful state doesn’t have room to fit more people looks very different than our current case of losing it because the state isn’t successful.  We’d all be much wealthier in the former case and have disproportionate national influence for that reason.

Featured image: U.S. Census map of population change in 2018.

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Amid the Madness, Clarity on Journalism and Government

Some mornings in our modern media age spread a kind of disagreeable smorgasbord of items across my awareness that bring to mind an exhausted, frustrated look my grandfather used to sometimes get when we discussed the world as it had become.  The look said, “For all of the improvements in the world over my lifetime, why are we still here on this particular issue.”

Of course, the different life experiences of generations can draw this reaction from different directions, and I find myself mirroring his expression in a way that says, instead, “For all of our insights, why are we going there on this particular issue.”

To some extent, the foregoing is a tease, because I need to process this morning’s reading some more before offering thoughts.  What saved me from that rut, though, was an item that brought to mind the famous line from Return of the Jedi when the evil Emperor stands, preparing to kill our hero, and says, “Only now at the end do you understand.”

Providence Journal reporter Katherine Gregg has been on a bit of a tear today on Twitter.  It started with her discovery of a job posting for a Department of Administration Director of Public Affairs making up to $110,000 per year:

What’s this all about? Until @GovRaimondo’s reelection campaign, Department of Administration HAD an $84,523.92 a year PR person. Is this a Second person, or a move to give the returning Brenna McCabe a new title with a big raise?

She subsequently noted that the job is posted the week before Christmas, referenced the state’s budget deficit, and got a bit deeper, in a philosophical sense:

Broader question: at what point are there ramifications for the operation of a free press when 1. the media is outnumbered by the # of govt-paid PR people 2. The govt “spin doctors” & “handlers” are paid $30k-$50k-$70k more than the most in press corps (except TV personalities)?

She then asked if we’ve reached “a tipping point,” threw open the floor with a question about whether “any member of the Rhode Island press corps – TV, radio or print – [is] making $110k or more,” and put her discovery in context of her fellow journalists who have been seeing government PR work as the next step along their career paths:

When government has – and uses – taxpayer $$$ to lure bright, young media professionals away with much bigger paychecks to do PR/keep reporters at bay/nod appreciatively, doesn’t that contribute to the growing imbalance between those seeking facts/truth &those paid to “manage”it?

This is a topic on which I’ve commented regularly for a long time.  We now have a revolving door system in which, even if journalists aren’t thinking about going into government, they have to understand that it is part of their potential career path.  Moreover, as Gregg highlights, it’s among the more lucrative routes they can take.

That’s where the Emperor’s famous line comes in.  I’ve returned to this developing career path so often mainly because I thought it might have some explanatory power for why journalists seem, on the one hand, suspicious of groups like the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity that want to shrink government; Gregg once blocked me on Twitter, for example.  “On the other hand,” journalists seem willing to accept the premises of big-government advocates.

The thing is, government isn’t intrinsically progressive so much as it’s intrinsically monopolistic.  As, more and more, we empower government to set the course for our society, officials will, more and more, think it a basic function of government to shape public opinion in the right ways.  That will mean promoting nigh-upon-religious values, but more than anything, it will mean promoting the interests of the people in government.  Governor Raimondo has been a master of this.

The question, then, is what journalists are going to do about it.  Will they be more skeptical about big government as a solution to the world’s problems?  Will they counterbalance the government spin by raising the profile of people and organizations who are trying to offer a counter-force — even when we do so from the political right?

In Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker is only saved from the Emperor’s cold wrath when he manages to draw out his father’s buried paternal instincts.  Unfortunately, the stage of modern politics does not seem to include a Darth Vader character willing to sacrifice himself for the good of journalism.

Sixteen or seventeen years ago, my grandfather and I had a meaningful moment that dissipated his look of exhausted frustration for a time.  We both saw, at that moment, how we were approaching a question with the same values, but with different awareness of how things had been and how they had changed.  Maybe something like that is possible for journalism, too.

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When Rhode Island Tax Hell Freezes Over

Gary Sasse is, without a doubt, one of the foremost authorities on the tax situation in Rhode Island.  Still, one can’t help but feel that his essay on GoLocalProv started with the conclusion and tried to fill in the text from there, without quite completing the circle:

In his 2009 State of the State Address Governor Donald Carcieri told the General Assembly, “I am tired of people writing stories that Rhode Island is tax hell.” Perceptions linger, but today it is inaccurate to characterize the Ocean State as a non-competitive tax outlier, much less tax hell.

The real tell that something is off comes with his assurance that the Providence region’s ranking on tax burden by one measure “was as close to the middle as the bottom.”  You know another way of saying that?  Around the bottom quarter.

The following chart just takes the ranks that Sasse cited, so it misses a lot of important caveats.  Still, proclaiming the end of a “tax hell” seems premature, to say the least.

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Consider where the Ocean State does best.  If our sales tax is low per capita, it could that Rhode Islanders and non-Rhode Islanders go elsewhere for their shopping.  (These numbers probably don’t include the new taxes on Internet purchases.)  If our income tax is middle of the pack, it could have something to do with the fact that our median income is about 20% lower than our neighboring states.  Those two factors could combine to produce our best ranking, sales tax per income.

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The fact remains that we’re in the worst quarter of states for total taxes, whether per capita or as a ratio with income.  As Sasse notes, our property tax is high per capita, but that’s something one can only escape by leaving the state.

The bottom line is that taxes are still too high in Rhode Island.  The next essay that Sasse writes should explain why he thinks it’s important to cast a rosier light on them.

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RI Senate and RIDE Leave Little Room for Hope on Education

What’s the basic summary — from the public’s point of view — of Senate President Dominick Ruggerio’s complaint about the Rhode Island Department of Education’s response to a Senate request?

“It was the sloppiest report I have ever seen in my whole life,″ said Ruggerio as he made public a letter he sent Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner earlier in the day to express his “deep disappointment.”

The letter focused on a Senate resolution, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Pearson of Cumberland, “respectfully requesting the R.I. Department of Education to conduct a comprehensive review of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 and provide recommendations to improve Rhode Island’s overall education standards and governance.” The Senate requested a response by December 1, 2018.

Of the response the department known as RIDE provided, Ruggerio asked Wagner, in his letter: “How could the department possibly issue a report [in response] to our resolution without even one mention of Massachusetts? Furthermore, the report is dated June 2017 — a full year before the Senate passed its resolution.”

In short, senators passed an inconsequential and wholly inadequate resolution buying time with a request for more information in lieu of taking real action, and RIDE couldn’t even be bothered to play along that much.

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The interesting question is this:  Is RIDE just this monumentally incompetent, or did the department err mainly in thinking it could respond to the request in the manner that it probably deserved?

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Happy Holidays From Freedom & Prosperity!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year, and whatever other politically incorrect well-wishes we can offer you this holiday season! This year, at the Center, we are grateful for our American values, and our ability to exercise them in liberty. Know that in 2019, we will continue to fight for a freer and more prosperous Ocean State.

As we look back on 2018, we are struck by the threat to religious liberty coming from the progressive-left.

There were two major examples that jumped to mind right here in Rhode Island. The first was a bill that was direct affront to social conservatives and outraged the RI’s religious community. The bill would have forced a politically-correct view of morality on the state’s entire school system. The second was Micheal Smalanskas at Providence College.  Mike was threatened for daring to speak his religious beliefs.

Through the work of our Center, we were able to expose the these and push back against them! 

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Hasbro and the Definition of Cronyism

Following Rhode Island’s mainstream news media gives one the impression that everybody’s falling all over each other to express concern about the possibility that toy company Hasbro might move its headquarters out of the state.  The three most-powerful politicians in the state pledge to work toward a solution.  The mayors of Pawtucket and Central Falls are on the case.  The Providence Journal editorial page is stressing the importance of retention.

I say we’re looking at this all the wrong way.

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If Hasbro’s changing business model just doesn’t work in Rhode Island, then the company should move.  To avoid that outcome, the state should eliminate the insider system of its governance and ease the burden of regulations and taxes so that the company’s business model works here — not because state leaders are cutting special deals to help one company overcome the burden, but because the state is more friendly to all economic activity.

Instead, Hasbro may actually affirm the state’s unhealthy political system if it stays.  A quick look at Rhode Island’s campaign finance database shows that Hasbro’s CEO, Brian Goldner and (presumably) his wife have each given Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo the maximum contribution of $1,000 every year since she took office.  This year, another Goldner at the same address threw in an additional thousand, and Brian added $11,000 in donations to the Democratic State Committee.  Additionally, 18 Hasbro employees contributed the maximum to Raimondo over the past year.

This unusual wave of money clouds the direction of the influence, but it is suggestive of the insider nature of the transaction.  Hasbro employees are especially supportive of a particular politician, and that politician is going to strive to keep their company in the state.  At the end of the day, it isn’t clear whether anybody with power has an interest in improving the state if it means reducing the power of a mutually supportive elite.

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The Key to Success in Rhode Island Education: A Low Bar

I guess one can’t fault the administration of Cumberland schools for casting a positive light on their standardized test scores, but a sort of tone-deafness comes through in Linda Borg’s Providence Journal article:

With all of the hand-wringing over Rhode Island’s dismal performance on the latest standardized tests, it is easy to overlook islands of success.

Cumberland is one of them.

The district, which spends less on education per pupil than any other district in the state except Woonsocket, outperformed all of its Rhode Island neighbors on the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System.

“Success.”  Nowhere does the article provide the school district’s actual scores.

Overall, only 56% of Cumberland students meet or exceed expectations in English, falling just below 50% for math.  By 8th grade, those numbers shrink to 53% and 45%.

In other words, the key to Cumberland’s success is the low bar of being in Rhode Island.  Of course, it’s better to be at the front of a class than at the back, but scores like that ought to inspire a prudent avoidance of triumphal talk, and Rhode Islanders shouldn’t fall for it.

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A Conversation We Have to Be Allowed to Have About Identity Politics and Media

This is going to be a difficult post.  It deals with a volatile issue on which many people don’t feel comfortable (or safe) commenting publicly, and it is about people’s personal lives.  Unfortunately, one of those people has forced the situation into the public eye, deliberately (I’d say) because it is so intimidating to disagree publicly.  If nobody can “judge,” the personal story can advance an ideology without allowing dissent.

That person is the former Donald Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, who now goes by the name, Donnie, having decided to live as a woman.  Anderson is in the news because Karen Lee Ziner of the Providence Journal has published a follow-up story about the effect of the transition on Anderson’s 23-year marriage.

To get right to the point, the story is exploitative of Anderson’s wife, who has legally changed her name back to what it was prior to the marriage and considers her relationship to ended as if in divorce, although it appears to continue as a sort of legal fiction, perhaps to maintain retirement and other benefits.  Her continuing grief over this sudden change in her life comes through very clearly, although she also clearly understands what it is she’s supposed to say.

That the Providence Journal would publish this story seems ideologically salacious.  That Anderson would put her through it, on the other hand, seems only too in keeping with the whole transition.  The decision to become a woman wasn’t something he’d worked through with his wife as the determination came to seem inevitable.  Rather, he ordered a bunch of woman’s clothes and sprung it all on her during the delivery window.

Then the packages of clothes started arriving one after another, salting the wound, as Anderson’s wife put it.  The interview with Ziner — unbelievably conducted in public at Sin bakery in Providence — was not with the wounded woman, alone, but with Anderson hovering, offering “reassurance” when, every now and then, her “eyes mist[ed] over and her warm, open expression [grew] wistful.”

One gets the impression that this isn’t an uncommon story.  Anderson’s (former?) wife tells of attending a conference in Massachusetts and a closed session for the “SO’s” (that is, “significant others”) of transgender people:  “All of them were women.”

The article doesn’t speculate as to the reason for this gender imbalance.  Perhaps married men are more likely than married women to declare their transgenderism, while married women are more likely than married men to try to find some way to keep the relationship going after such a declaration.

That’s a question the people promoting this radical social change should address.  They should also address the propriety of holding affected family members out for public scrutiny, especially when they’re so obviously hesitant.

But in the end, this story isn’t about affected loved ones.  It’s about The Cause.  It’s about Anderson.  What else it might be about, we’ll learn soon enough.  One of Anderson’s daughters tells Ziner she had thought her father had asked to meet with her not to make a transgender revelation, but because he’d been talking about running for public office and had decided to do so.

If a campaign is on the horizon, we can be sure that what we in the voting public are and aren’t permitted to say about the candidate will play a major role.

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The Evolution of a Strip

For readers elsewhere in Rhode Island, WPRI’s brief report about a Fall River store now approved for retail sale of recreational marijuana may not provide a sufficient picture:

The Cannabis Control Commission approved the final retail license for Northeast Alternatives on Thursday during a meeting in Boston.

Northeast Alternatives currently sells medical cannabis at its location on William S. Canning Blvd., a short distance from the border with Tiverton, Rhode Island.

To be more specific, this pot shop is a short distance from the new casino in Tiverton.  The image that begins to come to mind is that of Pottersville in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Also in the news, lately, has been the arrest of some Foxy Lady employees for prostitution.  With state governments’ pursuing the strategy of making vices legal in order to profit from them, one can’t help but wonder on which side of the border the brothel will go when state coffers continue to run low.

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To be clear, this wonderment should not be taken as a comment on the loosening of any of these laws in particular.  We should, however, question this new way of looking at government’s relationship to our liberties and address these changes with open eyes.

The flip side of not believing that government should make everything bad illegal is realizing that not everything legal is desirable.  Our social and political processes can figure out where those lines are for any given topic or any particular location, but our decisions will be distorted if we legalize vices for the reason that government can profit from them.

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Harvesting Votes to Collect Power

In Rhode Island we’ve been watching a relentless push for early voting, emergency mail ballots, and so on — anything to increase the count of people voting.  One might wonder (although nobody asks) who really benefits when we all but force people to vote when they aren’t motivated or especially well informed, but there we are.

A question that is popping up around the country, however, is how much fraud we’re inviting into the system.  Eric Eggers gives the question a look for RealClear Investigations:

America’s electoral obsession isn’t Russian meddling anymore. It’s ballot-harvesting, a long-disputed practice implicated in fraud that’s come to the fore with the nationwide embrace of absentee voting in recent years — and especially in last month’s midterms.

With ballot-harvesting, paper votes are collected by intermediaries who deliver them to polling officials, presumably increasing voter turnout but also creating opportunities for mischief.

For a visual, watch a short video out of California in which a doorbell camera catches a woman saying that she’s there to pick up a ballot, a service (she says) only available to people who support the Democrat candidates.  Rhode Island campaigns have been sending out notary publics to help voters finalize their ballots and then bring them in.  One suspects they know whom they are targeting for this special treatment.

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One needn’t be a cynic to see this development as an opportunity for cheating, or at least a massive advantage to the candidates with the most money, whether they collected that money through partisan leverage, wealthy donors, or special interests.

Featured image: A woman comes to harvest a ballot in Santa Clarita, via RedState.

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More to a Bridge than a Stage

The hopes of theater director Oskar Eustis that his art form can unite the country are certainly laudable:

Eustis said he eventually came to recognize a serious problem as hundreds of thousands of people from across the country boycotted “Hamilton” over the incident involving Pence.

The boycotters weren’t people who were going to see “Hamilton,” a musical about the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, anywhere close to where they lived, he said.

“They weren’t boycotting us,” Eustis said. “We had already boycotted them.”

Eustis looked at the country’s blue and red political map.

“Wherever there’s blue,” he said, “there’s a nonprofit theater, and everywhere there’s red, there isn’t.”

Theater in the United States, a major source of culture, has already shown its ability to take “marginalized groups” and place them center stage in a way that validates and empowers people by letting them see themselves on stage,” said Eustis.

There is something more magical, more personal, about stage productions than other forms of entertainment.  Seeing a show seems like a special occasion, and the desire for that sort of interaction and experience is universal.

The key will be whether folks like Eustis are able to see how contextually dependent their buzzwords like “marginalized groups” are.  Who marginalized by whom?

People don’t want to see themselves on stage.  They want to empathize with the characters they see.  They don’t want a mirror.  They want to see themselves in somebody who is not them.  We don’t crave our reflections; we crave connections.

I’d propose that a big reason for Eustis’s finding about missing nonprofit theaters is that the theater world does not produce the sort of content that would appeal to people in some areas.  If there are things they want to see, theaters will pop up to supply that content.

Bridging that gap is going to require much more than one-off efforts to promote theater in under-served markets.  It’s going to require more, as well, than a handful of plays with content that progressives are comfortable presenting to non-progressives.

It’s going to require more opportunity for people who don’t share the theater’s seemingly monolithic ideology to use its methods to convey their own messages — their own selves.

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Making Actual Progress on the Environment

Statements of intention are important, of course, preliminary to action, but once some time has elapsed, what people do is much more important.  Writing in USA Today, Jon Gabriel argues that, by that principle, the United States cares much more about the environment than other members of the “international community”:

China was praised for signing on to the Paris Climate Agreement and in Argentina reaffirmed its commitment to controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, however, China increased those emissions by 1.7 percent.

India, the fourth largest source for CO2, saw their emissions grow by 4.6 percent in 2017. Luckily for them, they too were praised for signing that “nonbinding communiqué.”

Overall, the European Union raised their CO2 output by 1.5 percent.

France, home of the Paris Agreement, is leading the diplomatic effort to save the planet. They increased their greenhouse gas emissions by 3.6 percent. …

From 2016 to 2017, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 2.7 percent. Emissions from large power plants declined 4.5 percent since 2016, and nearly 20 percent since 2011. All without signing a piece of paper in Paris or Buenos Aires.

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As Glenn Reynolds adds, “it’s almost as if” the environmentalists (who opposed fracking, a leading contributor to U.S. improvements) are “more interested in submission to a transnational bureaucracy than in results.”  Americans should choose to continue with freedom, reason, and actual progress instead.

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Owning a Government Shutdown to Own the Libs

For my once-in-a-while dabble in national politics, I’d like to offer a point related to a Los Angeles Times column that appeared in the Fall River Herald:

When Washington braces for a potential government shutdown, the usual ritual is that Republicans and Democrats will posture over who will get blamed.

President Donald Trump, however, made it clear Tuesday morning that he will be the one shutting down the government if Congress doesn’t provide money for the bigger, more expansive wall he has promised to build along the southern U.S. border.

Of course, we have to acknowledge that Donald Trump appears to make this sort of decision off the cuff, and it isn’t (let’s just say) at all clear that it’s part of some master strategy.  But, you know, these moves — when he blows up the etiquette  of Washington — sometimes work, and not only his base, but also many conservatives outside his base, like that he’s dispensing with the illusions.

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The news media would have made sure that President Trump owned a shutdown anyway.  In the column quoted above, Jon Healey insists that previous shutdowns had to do with “big, important issues,” like the Dreamers and Obamacare.  One can dispute that Dreamers (certainly) were any more objectively important than a wall, but their issue was certainly more important to the mainstream media, which worked diligently to blame the shutdown on Congressional Republicans, rather than President Obama.

In short, the side that opposes the Democrats always “owns the shutdown.”  Whether Republicans are blocking new initiatives or pushing them, the reportage is unified in decrying their intransigence, while the Democrats merely want to keep the government working.

Having dispensed with the kabuki, Trump can attack the issues head on without getting caught up in the weaselly business of trying to avoid responsibility.  We’ll see if those of us who’ve urged that sort of attitude in the past were correct, but the willingness of a politician to dispense with the games is refreshing.

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Turning the Corner on Sexism in STEM

You know those table-top games for which you tilt a board in order to get a ball to roll through a maze or obstacle course of some kind?  They’re an excellent metaphor for the problem with using government to tilt society to achieve socially engineered outcomes.  The ball rolls, picking up momentum, and the means of controlling the board can be awkward.

To improve upon the metaphor imagine that the obstacles sometimes move around in unpredictable ways… and you’re trying to turn the knobs while wearing slippery mittens.

A century and more ago, maybe it was possible to believe in the totalitarian, yet beneficent, governance by experts, but in the intervening years, the experts should have concluded that it can’t be done.  The solution is to use cultural means to change things in the culture and structure the laws to provide a neutral playing field.

Instead, progressives have turned both knobs, as if they can get the ball to hop over all the walls.  So, we get a social standard that promotes girls and women while demeaning boys and men and a legal regime in which it is permissible to discriminate only against the latter.  The obvious question that some of us were asking decades ago was:  Even if we grant that male chauvinism is too powerful of a force, how will we know when to stop correcting for it?

That is arguably the implied question of Toni Airaksinen’s PJMedia article on some new research from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI):

Mark Perry, a University of Michigan-Flint professor, appears to be the first to discover that the “STEM gender gap” doesn’t exactly exist after all. According to his recent AEI report, women now earn 50.6 percent of all STEM bachelor’s degrees, and are also overrepresented in graduate school.

While 50.6 percent is only a slight majority, this translates into 8,500 more female STEM graduates per year and about 33,000 more women in STEM grad school. And because college is now a woman’s domain, it’s likely these small disparities will expand over time. …

“The 60/40 gender disparity in college degrees favoring women that the Department of Education forecasts within the next decade should be of much greater concern to society than failing to achieve 50/50 gender parity in a few STEM fields, in terms of the future implications for the labor market, for family formation and other concerns.”

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Returning to the metaphor above, anybody who has played those games knows that the trick is to start changing the tilt of the board before the ball has reached a turn.  Otherwise, momentum will carry it along in a direction you don’t want to go.  Well, we’ve arguably just missed the turn, and with no signs that adjustments are coming.

Instead, we can expect activists to highlight such findings as the fact that, with more choices available to women, fewer of them have gone into computer science.  This evidence of people acting according to their interests will no doubt inspire our cultural engineers to keep on pushing, even as imbalances and injustices open up and cause untold damage to our society.

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Past the Break in Rhode Island

A foreboding thought came to me after my weekly conversation with John DePetro, this week.

The topics that we covered had a recurring theme of elected officials who seem not to care how their actions appear — from Gorbea’s obvious breach of transparency, to Kilmartin’s eight years of running interference for insiders, to Raimondo’s failure to hold anybody accountable for unacceptably low test scores in public schools.

Meanwhile, the same Providence Journal that is criticizing these officials in the strongest terms endorsed the full set of them.  I’ve wondered if different members of the editorial board assert more authority when it comes to endorsements during elections than they exercise when it comes to expressing policy views throughout the year.

Some people say that, even when there are other candidates in the races, there really is no viable choice.  I don’t agree with that; after all, gambling on somebody who has to learn on the job has the benefit of sending a signal to all elected officials that they have to care how their actions appear because voters will replace them, with unknowns if necessary.

Whatever the case, one can’t deny that most statewide races are simply locked up by the nominated Democrat, who can only be threatened in a primary (whether by union stand-ins or more-radical progressives).  The sobering thought one has is that Raimondo’s stronger-than-expected victory may be a signal that this hegemony has now captured the governor’s office.

If the governor’s office is no longer threatened by a competitive political race, we’re done.  The lunatics run the asylum.  Competition is the most effective and incorruptible way to restrain elected officials, and if they don’t face that restraint, they really don’t have to care what we all think.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Insiders on the March

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about Kilmartin’s tenure, Providence’s in-Fane-ity, the NEA v. Stenhouse, a former progressive representative-elect, the secretary’s strategy, and education.

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I’ll be on again Monday, December 17, at 1:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.

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Old-Time Racism in Judicial Selection

Congratulations to those nominated for judgeships in Rhode Island.  It’s unfortunate that they have to be endorsed in such a reductive way

Emphasizing the importance of having judges who look like the people who appear before them, Gov. Gina Raimondo on Monday announced nominations to six judgeships across the state judiciary in what is likely the most diverse pool of nominees ever in Rhode Island.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but it feels kind of like our culture spent centuries moving away from the superficial ideas that we should judge people by how they look and that looking alike has some sort of legal relevance, yet here we are.

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President Donald Trump rightfully came under fire when he stated that a judge with Mexican heritage would be biased against him while hearing a case, with Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan saying, “Claiming a person can’t do the job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.”

This is exactly what Raimondo is doing, with her rhetoric about these prospective judges.

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Changing Gears on Education

Saturday, I had a great on-air conversation with Mike Collins and Chris Maxwell on Changing Gearson WPRO, discussing Rhode Island’s horrible test scores and what we can do about them.

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Featured image: A woman pounds on the door of the Supreme Court after Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed. Rhode Island’s poor test scores have provoked no similar scene from parents.

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Our State Needs Leaders Who Articulate Conservative Principles

For any organization to be successful, it needs leadership. The job of that leadership is to put forward a vision and a message that inspires people to come to that point of view. On a recent appearance I made on State of the State, I was asked about the state of the Rhode Island Republican Party.

Watch the one minute video by clicking below or here now to see my answer.

The Ocean State is rudderless. This state is in dire need of leaders that will stand up to the Progressive agenda. Rhode Island can only prosper under true American values, free market reforms work!

The RIGOP needs leaders that will articulate the conservative principles, that you and I believe in, to recruit voters and candidates. Until that leadership emerges, it will be difficult for the Rhode Island Republican Party to climb out of the hole it finds itself in.

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Another Route to Side Deals in Warwick

The latest extra-contractual agreement for Warwick firefighters, as reported by Mark Reynolds in the Providence Journal, is the sort of thing we should watch for across the state:

An unauthorized practice has overpaid retiring city firefighters for accumulations of vacation time since 2015, a Providence Journal investigation shows.

Asked about documents and information developed by The Journal, Mayor Joseph J. Solomon said Friday he was ordering a halt to the practice. …

“I know the contract that Scott Avedisian signed was not the contract that was voted by the City Council,” he said.

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That last detail makes this deal substantively different from the other side deal, unearthed in October, because Avedisian denied even knowing about that one.

These side deals — and the next level, at which employees take resources and time without even the cover of somebody’s approval — show the sense of entitlement and impunity. Government employees in Rhode Island already get employment agreements well beyond what the market would set, but that isn’t enough.  It’s never enough.

One wonders if the motivation isn’t greed so much as seeing how much they can get away with.  And why not?  When there are never any consequences, grabbing more and more becomes a game.

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The Racist, Destructive Insinuations of Banning Impressionism

This sort of thing makes me embarrassed for the era in which we’re living:

The Gamm Theatre has canceled a Monday performance by the Edwards Twins, apparently over concerns that the Las Vegas-based impersonation act uses white performers to portray black celebrities.

Anthony Edwards, who with brother Eddie makes up the act, said that, while they have impersonated Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder in the past, their Christmas show this year does not include any black celebrities. Edwards said he even went so far as to sign a contract with The Gamm stipulating that the duo would not use any skin-darkening makeup.

Are we all children?  These are impersonators. They perform as a broad array of stars, and for each one, they try to look as much like the performer as possible, whether it’s Cher or Elton John or Lionel Richie.  Cher has longer hair and breasts.  Elton John dresses flamboyantly.  Lionel Richie has darker skin.

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The claimed matter of concern is the history of black face, but as one of the performers explains, this is not that.  Black face was not simply imitation, but a specific, demeaning style of performance.  To equate impressionism with that is not only historically ignorant but also implicitly racist because it requires that any imitation of a black person must be mockery, as if there is no positive reason to take on the persona of a black person.

Making matters worse, agreeing to remove these supposedly offensive vignettes from their act for this performance — ironically, creating a segregated performance, as if no black singers are worthy of inclusion — was apparently not enough.  The fact that they have performed them in the past taints all of their shows.

James Vincent of the Providence NAACP and The Gamm theater should be ashamed.  They are contributing to the deterioration of our society and the destruction of our ability to see ourselves as one people.

Featured image from an Edwards Twins promotional video.

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Examples from ICE’s Arrest List

None of the examples from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of recent illegal immigrant arrests in New England are from Rhode Island:

•In Lynn, Massachusetts, a 67 year-old national of Brazil who is wanted in Brazil for aggravated murder was arrested.
•In Putnam, Connecticut, a 59-year old national of Brazil who is wanted for murder in Brazil, a crime alleged to have been committed by casting a net over the victim and stabbing the victim 20 times, was arrested.
•In Methuen, Massachusetts, a 23- year old national of the Dominican Republic who had assumed the identity of a U.S. citizen with prior convictions for drug trafficking, identity theft, and resisting arrest, who is facing current pending drug trafficking charges.
•In Brockton, Massachusetts, a 41-year old national of France with previous convictions for cocaine possession and multiple instances of assault and battery whose history also includes 30 adult arrangements with arrestsfor kidnapping, assault and battery with a deadly weapon, domestic violence and other felony charges.
•In Windham, New Hampshire, a 44 year old national of Brazil wanted in Brazil for smuggling/embezzlement of firearms who had assumed the identity of a U.S. citizen, was arrested.
•In Hyannis, Massachusetts, a 41-year old Jamaican national convicted of possession of 28-100 grams of cocaine was arrested.
•In Dorchester, Massachusetts, a 40 year old national of the Dominican Republic with convictions for cocaine trafficking and money laundering was arrested.

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The press release notes that 15 of the 58 individuals “were previously released from local law enforcement custody, correctional facilities and/or court custody with an active detainer.”  That was the case with the Rhode Island example from a similar press release in September:

On Sept. 20, ICE arrested a 27-year old illegally-present citizen of Guatemala in Cranston, Rhode Island, who had recently been convicted of aggravated domestic assault, who was the subject of a previous detainer request from ICE that had not been honored by local authorities. He will remain in ICE custody pending removal proceedings.

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The Power Center of Intersectionality

A recent Ordered Liberty podcast took up the topic of intersectionality in away that made it especially clear.  According to the discussion, the ideology gives the person with the most direct claim to victimization the lead authority to decry any given target, and then it is the duty of the “allies” to back her or him up.  Thus, in the case of shutting down speech, the people doing the dirty work aren’t necessarily even offended themselves, but see themselves as defending others who hypothetically are or might be.

On the podcast, David French and Alexandra DeSanctis emphasize the greater power this system gives to the most supposedly victimized person in the group, but I think it’s much more insidious than that.  After all, if that were the case, you could reason with the person flagging the offense, bring in somebody of the same category to dispute it, or persuade the mob that the person leading the charge isn’t reliable.

More likely, the power actually goes to whoever it is who defines what is offensive, which is probably a smaller, more elite group.  After all, we regularly see people from minority groups who decline to take offense dismissed as inauthentic.  Somewhere, somebody is declaring what interest groups are included in the network and what they should find offensive.

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When these declarations are distributed, people within an interest group will either respond with the required offense or, for the most part, simply step back and be quiet out of fear that they’re just different (in a way that makes them the worst thing: privileged).  Those who don’t want to go along or step back are brushed out of the picture.  With this nucleus of offense, “allies,” who may fear they have no right to voice their contrary opinions, act on behalf of people who might not ultimately be offended themselves.

So, the question is:  Where are the orders coming from?  For the most part, it seems that people “just know” what the dictates are.  It could be that somebody proposes an idea or responds with offense and the proposal either catches on or it doesn’t, suggesting that the power of intersectionality is held by those with the most credibility on the Left in general — professors, activists, famous people, union organizers, billionaire donors, and so on.

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