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Aging Population No Excuse for RI

Some folks are deeply invested in the idea that Rhode Island is not an economic basket case, and it’s educational to argue with them, if only as an example of how such arguments go.

For years, we’ve published information about Rhode Island’s economy over time and compared with other states.  We’ve looked at employment, labor force, population, income, taxes, and more.  Obviously, we all live here for a reason, so there are positives to find — regionally, historically, culturally, and all that elusive “quality of life” stuff.  There’s a reason we put up with the garbage from government around here.  But if we’re talking economics, Rhode Island’s story is simply not good.

So, what the apologists for the status quo do is to pick through the many datapoints and tease out any for which they think they can make excuses.  Are productive people leaving the state?  They’ll obscure the issue by saying, “It’s not true that the rich aren’t leaving.”  OK, but that’s not the claim.  Next they’ll say, “There are all sorts of reasons people leave an area.” OK, but if they’re leaving here more than other places, and more than they used to, then it’s worth figuring out the reason.

Similarly, a commenter on this site likes to sneer at one of the six charts on our regular employment posts, which compares the unemployment rate with what it would be if Rhode Island hadn’t lost so much of its labor force since the Great Recession.

While this chart was more specifically useful when the recession was still recent, it remains instructive.  If fewer people in our state are employed or looking for work (which together make up the labor force), it’s a sign that the economy isn’t generating jobs and the state isn’t attracting (or keeping) the sorts of residents who want to work.  We can have a variety of interesting discussions over what might make that trend more or less worrisome or even desirable, but in the context of multiple trends, it’s worth considering.

Most recently, this commenter made the claim that we shouldn’t be concerned about a shrinking labor force because it only indicates that the percentage of the population that is retired has gone up, implying that it’s gone up more in Rhode Island than elsewhere.  Whether that is or is not a reason for concern is worth debating, but the first question is:  Is it true?

Only partly.  According to data from the U.S. Census, the percentage of Rhode Island’s population over the age of 65 did indeed go up 22% from 2010 to 2019.  However, the same percentage for the whole country was 26%.  In other words, if we’re comparing Rhode Island to the rest of the country, the “aging population” thing should have helped us.  That is, our labor force should have shrunk less than the country as a whole.

So what actually happened?  Look for yourself, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


The blue and red columns show the percentage of the population over 65 in the United States and Rhode Island, respectively.  The blue and red lines show the percentage change in the labor force checked in December for each.  Although the percentage of the population above typical working years increased in both cases and Rhode Island’s labor force decreased, the U.S. labor force actually increased.

We should expect the argument to pivot from here.  Maybe: “Oh, but that’s because the population of the United States grew, and nobody wants more traffic here in Rhode Island.”  Or whatever.  Again, I say, fine:  If our state’s plan is to keep the economy tepid so as to avoid overcrowding, let’s have that conversation.

But let’s admit reality as we do so.


Politics This Week with John DePetro: The Way the Guardians Face

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for September 28, included talk about:

  • Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung debates Mattiello
  • Noticing which way the police were facing at the Trump rally
  • The direction of RI pols on the Supreme Court
  • Journalists discover the aggression of the “protesters”
Please consider a voluntary, tax-deductible subscription to keep the Current growing and free.

I’ll be on again Monday, October 5, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.


Journalistic Neutrality in Rhode Island

When a Black Lives Matter protester kicked the camera of the ABC6 news team in Providence, Shannon Hegy of WPRI (channel 12) tweeted:

Our job is to not be on anyone’s side.

Our job is to be neutral.

Our job is to give coverage to BOTH sides.

I’m so disgusted and disheartened by this.

The responses came in two waves.  The first was to downplay the protester’s action and to insist that the news media shouldn’t be neutral or, more Orwellian, that neutrality means being on the radicals’ side.  The second wave noted that the news media hasn’t been neutral, as evidenced (as I pointed out) by their silence about protesters’ much-more-intimidating behavior toward local talk radio host John DePetro, including an effort to blind him.

Hegy’s tweet brings to mind a recent Twitter proclamation from another Rhode Island television journalist, Lindsay Iadeluca:

Social justice isn’t a personal view. It’s human decency.

Iadeluca’s statement is in line with those who responded to Hegy by suggesting “neutrality” actually required agreement with their ideological side.  To them, this isn’t a question of competing beliefs about what human decency requires.  In their view, their side is decent, and the other side doesn’t count.  It’s not “a personal view.”  It’s just reality.

An immediate consequence of this view of the world can be found up-thread from Iadeluca’s tweet, where her NBC10 colleague, Connor Cyrus, shared a meme providing “examples of racial gaslighting” — i.e., statements meant to disguise racism and make those who oppose it feel like they’re going crazy:

  • “Why does everything always have to be about race with you?”
  • “What I said/did wasn’t racist.”
  • “Racism doesn’t exist anymore.”
  • “It was just a joke, calm down.”
  • “Just to play devil’s advocate here…”
  • “If you protested/said it peacefully, maybe people would listen.”
  • “Are you sure that’s what happened?”
  • “In my opinion, it wasn’t racist because…”

In short, simply defending yourself as not racist is racist.  Explaining why something wasn’t racist… is racist.  And yes, seriously, on a television journalist’s list of gaslighting phrases is, “Are you sure that’s what happened?”

Once upon a time, that question was known as journalism.  Now, a journalist says it is racist to ask it, and another insists his view is simple, objective “human decency.”

Whatever it may be, viewers should adjust their expectations for these stations’ ability to convey reality.


Last Impressions #51: Rebels Needed

Governor Raimondo and her merry band of magic Appointees focus on the true danger in Rhode Island — not roudy rioters carrying signs that threaten to burn down the country, but college kids who aren’t voluntarily living as if in an open-air prison.
• Webcam:
• Tiverton PTO tents
• Marchers in Providence after Breonna Taylor news
• Raimondo scolding
• Legislator letter to Providence College
• John DePetro blocked
• Mikes on Mics, 9/24/20:
• Sabin Tavern
• Raimondo prayer


Mikes on Mics: 9/24/20

-Presidential Politics – SCOTUS & Hunter Biden scandal
-Social Media Morons
-More RI Absentee Ballot Madness
-Ray Rickman on Breonna Taylor controversy


More than Just a Tax Increase from Raimondo

With unemployment in Rhode Island heading in the opposite direction of the country as a whole, you might think Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo would avoid new taxes specifically targeted at businesses.  If so, you would be wrong:

Raimondo wants to restore a limit on the amount of business losses that can be deducted from state income taxes, after the federal CARES Act coronavirus relief bill eliminated it for the last three years. The increase in deductions allowed by the CARES Act is estimated to cost the state $29 million over two years.

In this case, the tax itself isn’t even the worst part.  This particular method for raising taxes could send business owners back to their accountants to revise tax forms already submitted, some of them for a second time.

Generally, economists argue that taxes should be designed to affect the economy as little as possible.  Moves like Raimondo’s ignore this principle… and then amp it up to a higher level.  This sort of policy not only takes money out of the productive economy, but it also sends a signal of vulnerability and unpredictability to all businesses.  As an initial pass, they have to figure a higher tax burden into their plans.  They then must put an asterisk on their planning because they can never know if the tax they’re paying this year is actually the tax they’ll be forced to pay, even when they thought they’d closed the books on the year.

Raimondo’s record on employment in Rhode Island has been characterized by top-down control and an ongoing PR effort to spin which numbers are promoted.  Our state’s record following the COVID-19 recession shows her approach simply doesn’t work.  And now she wants to make things worse?


Randomness and Fairness in Electoral Process

During this election cycle, the public has become more attuned to process than we usually are.  With massive numbers of votes expected to be cast by mail, many Americans are concerned about the opportunity that creates for cheating.

Central to the debate is the gap between fraud that can be proven to have happened and the possibility of fraud created by the process.  The latter is important because, for our system to work, it must seem fair.  The whole point of representative democracy is to get people who might otherwise devolve into warring tribes to come to the table and agree to settle disagreements through a rational approach to choosing leadership and direction.

This breaks down when the amount of power at stake becomes so overwhelming that (as we’ve seen in Venezuela and other socialist dictatorships) winning once means victory is permanent, but that is a subject for another essay.  For now, the key point is that things not only have to be fair, they have to seem fair.

In a small, probably inconsequential, way the order of candidates on Tiverton’s ballot for Town Council provides a test case to consider.  As I wrote on Tiverton Fact Check:

You might notice something peculiar about this list: Most of the TTA candidates are at the bottom.  With seven candidates to be elected, only one of the seven bolded names is in the top 7 on the ballot.

If a quick refresher of secondary-school math was sufficient for this calculation, there is only a 0.7% chance that just one out of seven TTA candidates would make the top seven on a list of 16 people and be the last of that top group. In 2018, three of our seven endorsed candidates were in the top seven, and all of them were pretty evenly spread across the 18 candidates.

In Tiverton, the Board of Canvassers has proven itself to be unworthy of trust, and the process for selecting candidates (fully visible on the recorded Zoom meeting) leaves a lot to be desired.  Town Clerk Nancy Mello placed flat, unfolded cards in a box in some indiscernible order, gave it a few mild shakes, and then another clerk pulled out names.

Not surprisingly, the names that went into the box toward the end were more likely to be pulled out toward the beginning of the draw.

This outcome is hardly decisive for the election and may, in the end, be completely a matter of chance.  Still, the insiders of Tiverton politics, including the Board of Canvassers, have proven themselves perfectly willing to put their thumbs on the scale, and decades of experience with that reality are taking their toll.


A Pattern of Avoiding Profound Possibilities

What would it mean if religious people were found to be better at spotting patterns?  Not more likely to want to see patterns.  Not more likely to invest patterns with meaning when they find them.  But actually to spot them?  I suggest, in my latest Dust in the Light essay, that it could suggest that they are more adept at spotting God’s hand in the universe.

Be that as it may, people who amplify science tend to go too far in the opposite direction.  They tend to construct conclusions with the first principle that God cannot exist:

If the study had found that people good at implicit pattern learning were disproportionately successful stock traders, our first hypothesis wouldn’t be that they “ascribe” patterns to the market’s animal spirits. It would be that they’re good at seeing patterns, which gives them an all-important edge in picking and choosing investments at split-second speeds.

Indeed, in that case, investment firms might start hiring Green to test their job applicants!

Nobody needs to be told that we’re in divisive times, right now, but we hear way too little about the most sure solution.  Namely, that we should make a deliberate return to our sense that our civilization has equipped us with complementary institutions, and when we fall into hostilities, it’s very often because they aren’t staying within their boundaries.

If secularists refuse to allow science to acknowledge the possibility of God, they’re not doing science or observing reality.  They’re leveraging a stronghold institution to mount what is fundamentally a religious attack on those who believe differently.

Conversely, if we put emphasis on the complementarity of science and faith, reason and revelation, and so on, we could start to find common ground.


Government Tracking Your Health Through the Sewer

If nothing else, our COVID-19 ordeal is bringing out government actions that we really should consider at a basic philosophical level relative to our rights and philosophy.  (Of course, the question of whether many people will do so appears to have a negative answer.)

Just so, we get WJAR’s Katie Davis casually reporting that large parts of Connecticut are testing sewage as an early screen for a coronavirus outbreak:

Keeping kids safe as they head back to school during the pandemic means keeping a close eye on COVID-19 numbers in local communities. Some communities are using an early warning sign that might surprise you: sewage testing.

“It’s both fascinating and disgusting at the same time. We reveal a lot about ourselves in sewage,” said professor Jordan Peccia, who heads a team at Yale University that’s analyzing wastewater from Connecticut sewer systems.

Peccia’s team is now able to test sewage from about 1 million people across Connecticut, including large cities like Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven. He said cost to test a community of 400,000 people via wastewater samples is less than the cost to test just eight people using individual nasal swabs, making it extremely cost effective.

Testing your waste is usually something we leave to our doctors, as private medical information.  Shouldn’t we pause for a moment and ask whether it’s an activity government ought to be involved in?

Sure, testing a pool of a million people at some centralized hub isn’t much of a threat, but if there is no push-back on that, then we’ll surely find the tests moving upstream.  What happens when the government finds a positive test at some branch serving a small neighborhood?  On the strength of that information, does a governor get to lock that neighborhood down using the police?  Or maybe mandatory tests for everybody who lives there?

Why stop with sewage?  If the government collects your garbage, its agents could sift through it or use technology to test for various substances.  And why stop with COVID-19?  It would certainly help the War on Drugs to focus if neighborhood sewage were tested for traces of narcotics.

Yes, some of these possibilities seem far off, but the thing with encroachments on our liberty is that they always seem far off… until they’re at your door.


In the Dugout: RI Fascists

On this episode of #InTheDugout, CEO Mike Stenhouse BLASTs RI’s fascist Governor and cowardly General Assembly by reviewing a long list of ‘Declaration of Independence’ type grievances of totalitarian and pusillanimous rule.


Is This the “Recovery” You Want?

Although a month old, an essay by Michael Walsh about the meeting of the global elite in Davos is still relevant and important to consider (note that the brackets and bold text are in the original):

Which brings us back to Davos and to the World Economic Forum and its plans for the peons of the world, whom they very much don’t want to unite [Marxist language in bold]:

The Covid-19 crisis, and the political, economic and social disruptions it has caused, is fundamentally changing the traditional context for decision-making. The inconsistencies, inadequacies and contradictions of multiple systems –from health and financial to energy and education – are more exposed than ever amidst a global context of concern for lives, livelihoods and the planet. Leaders find themselves at a historic crossroads, managing short-term pressures against medium- and long-term uncertainties.

As we enter a unique window of opportunity to shape the recovery, this initiative will offer insights to help inform all those determining the future state of global relations, the direction of national economies, the priorities of societies, the nature of business models and the management of a global commons. Drawing from the vision and vast expertise of the leaders engaged across the Forum’s communities, the Great Reset initiative has a set of dimensions to build a new social contract that honours the dignity of every human being.

Is this what you want? Is this what you voted for? Is this the life you desire? To be an admiring plaything of the Davos elite, caught like poor Hans Castorp in zugzwang at the Berghof clinic? We’ve been having this same discussion for more than a century, and it always ends up in the same place. A velvet prison with plays, music, even opera. Where absolutely everyone is well treated. And where all the best people go.

The question of Walsh’s closing paragraph is crucial: Is this what you want?  Honestly want — not just “I can’t think of another solution” kind of want.

My family is unique, these days, in the sense that within our household are perspectives spanning three-quarters of a century of generations and individual circumstances, so let me offer an observation:  The way we’re being forced to deal with COVID-19 is deadly and soul-destroying.

The very people who are imposing that response will soon be moving forward with a suggested solution for the consequences, and we shouldn’t accept it.


The Same Old “Shut It Down” Tune on SCOTUS Confirmation

One worthwhile exercise if you have the time (or the professional incentive) when reading articles about left-wing protests is a quick Internet search of the names of people quoted.  Sometimes it’s clear that they are actually organizers whom the journalists have not identified as such.  Sometimes it becomes clear that they’ve got some sort of financial interest in the subject about which they’re protesting.  And sometimes, the search just brings up interesting context.

Covering the protest in Providence asking Rhode Island Democrat Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse to prevent the U.S. Senate from confirming any Supreme Court justices following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, ABC6 News’s Jordan Mazza spoke with this woman:

“How dare they, first of all ignore their own rule, and second of all, we’re in process in an election,” said Deborah Lennon of Newport. “We won’t have it. This is the last straw.” …

“They need to fight really, really hard on this,” Lennon said. “It’s not about maintaining the decorum of the senate. This is really time to pull out all the stops. We need to turn this around. I don’t want to live in a dictatorship.”

The interesting context comes from a Providence Journal article that Kate Bramson wrote in early February 2017, about two weeks after the inauguration of Republican President Donald Trump:

 As Deborah Lennon, of Newport, told the delegation not to let Trump’s nominee be considered for the “stolen Supreme Court seat,” the crowd jumped to its feet and chanted, “Filibuster.” …

Lennon said 73.5 million Americans voted against Trump, the Senate lost two Republican seats and the House lost five.

“We did not expect to forfeit all checks and balances in this election, and we need you to fight for us,” she stressed. “They do not have a mandate. You do.”

The rhetoric quoted in that article from the beginning of Trump’s first term could practically be mixed and matched with the rhetoric we’re hearing now.  Paul Rocha of Warren, for example, told the senators to “roll up your sleeves and get dirty,” elaborating to Bramson that they should “use any means necessary, short of violence.”

When an activist starts out a presidential term insisting that the elected President, Senate, and Congress have no mandate, she doesn’t have a whole lot of room to be speaking against dictatorship four years later.  When the sentiment just after an electoral loss is that “the resistance” has to “get dirty” and “use any means necessary, short of violence”?  Where do they go from there?


Featured image: Protesters’ giant-gavel prop from John DePetro’s coverage of the event.

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

Wrong Direction Rhode Island: Employment

We’ll have a more in-depth look at this situation in the near future, but the shock of the news justifies a quick post all on its own: According to the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT), the unemployment rate actually went up in August.  While the country as a whole improved from 10.2% to 8.4%, Rhode Island slipped from 11.3% to 12.8%.

That’s despite the fact that the labor force went down.  When the labor force decreases, the unemployment rate can often go down because people who aren’t looking for work at all simply aren’t counted.  But in August, 15,700 Rhode Islanders stopped looking for work.

Consequently, the increase in the unemployment rate came from the 22,100 new people who weren’t employed.  This is after the state started opening up from Governor Raimondo’s COVID-19 lockdown and as the federal subsidy for staying unemployed went down  some.

This is a terrible, terrible sign of the direction of the state, post-COVID.  I wrote, yesterday, about the opportunity to leverage a crisis in order to change for the better.  One wonders how many Rhode Islanders are deciding that means they should move their talents and labor somewhere else.


A Problem with Mail Ballot Mania

The political debate over proliferating mail ballots is a pretty straightforward illustration of how debates go between the Left and the Right.

Conservatives instinctively feel that departing from the traditional way of elections invites problems (and we suspect progressives know this and expect to benefit from it).  Progressives insist that there “is no evidence” that problems will arise, which isn’t actually true, but even if it were, that wouldn’t be surprising, because they are insisting on conducting the experiment in real time on a large scale.

An elderly man of my acquaintance, having received an application for a mail ballot yesterday, asked me whether he should send it in.  In the course of the conversation, he offered the reasonable opinion that it couldn’t hurt to order the ballot, because he could always go and vote in person if he wanted.  This reminded me of an anecdote that Michael Napolitano told about his own experience with mail ballots for the Presidential primary:

… my wife and I each received TWO BALLOTS for the Presidential Primary. WE DID NOT MAIL THEM IN. I went to the polls to vote in person on Presidential Primary Day and was told that a mail-on ballot was sent to me and I could cast a provisional ballot. I would then have to turn the mail-in ballot to the Lincoln Town Hall to have my provisional ballot counted. I went home to retrieve my mail-on ballot only to discover that I had two and so did my wife. I decided to keep my mail-in ballots sealed in the envelopes and alert the media. The story is below.

The system is a mess! Later the state would claim they sent out 2 ballots to make sure it was received. But here is the kicker, THEY SENT THEM TO TWO DIFFERENT ADDRESSES! However, they both came to me.

The argument for mail ballots and, similarly, against voter ID is that making it too difficult to vote is a form of voter suppression.  Yet, here we have a system in which voters are receiving multiple ballots by mail and then have to drive around town voting and returning mail ballots if they decide to vote in person.  They then have to trust that the same government that sent them two mail ballots will correctly notice that they returned them (or at least one of them) and count the associated provisional ballot.

This seems a whole lot more complex than remembering an ID or finding a way to get to the polls on election day.

The difference is that it is complex in a way that rewards fraud.  If workaday voters get tripped up because “the system is a mess,” as Napolitano says, it only increases the advantage of those gaming the system.


Income Distribution “What Ifs”

A tweet from New York magazine writer Eric Levitz provides an opportunity for a quick point on how we ought to think about economics:

If income had been distributed as evenly over the past five decades as it was in 1970, the median full-time worker in the U.S. would now take home $92,000 a year (instead of $50,000), according to a new RAND study.

That is, if every income group had gone up proportionally, the median would be much higher.  That’s another way of saying that the people at the top have seen greater increases than those below them.

However, these sorts of “proofs” of systemic inequality skip over important points.  For one thing, the individuals in each group are not the same people.  This is true for families; we aren’t simply seeing the lift-off of a preexisting aristocracy.  It is also true of individuals; many of the people who were at the lower end of the distribution in 1970 are now at the higher end.

Inasmuch as the Baby Boomers would have been just getting out of college at the beginning of this curve, one must question the entire calculation.  A uniquely large cohort of Americans were poor back then and are now rich (or at least richer) simply as a function of their ordinary life cycles.

Two other important points get to the more-interesting mental experiments of “what if” counterfactuals.

First, if our society had changed things to ensure that income gains would be distributed evenly, would we have had as much absolute growth? Would the people who took productive actions and risks to get the most money have still done it if their reward were less and the baseline for doing nothing were higher?  If they had not, it would have reduced the growth for everybody.

Separately, what would an even, general increase in income do to the value of money?  If income growth falls on the population like morning dew, everybody has more money for the things that everybody wants, and it is reasonable to predict that the cost of all goods would rise to capture some of that additional wealth.

Competition between individuals and between goods and services pushes down prices where they can go down and drives up innovation, as new people strive to claim whatever excess wealth there is in the system.  Comparative inequality is therefore inevitable in a healthy system.  The only question is whether the benefits to everybody are greater than what they otherwise would have seen.

Even accepting a utilitarian, progressive view of economics, if exponential growth at the top produces a doubling of wealth in the middle, that is preferable to an alternative in which the middle saw half the growth.  Beyond just money, if this competitive system makes necessities cheaper while introducing new innovations that make our lives better, that is just more justification for the unequal distribution.


An Educational Opportunity Ripe for the Taking

In the latest episode of his podcast, The Art of Happiness, Harvard professor (and former American Enterprise Institute CEO) Arthur Brooks talks about the importance of taking times of crisis and transition as an opportunity to grow, to find meaning, and to create a more secure foundation for your life going forward.  The key to the process is pausing to evaluate who you truly are and what you’re trying to accomplish with your actions.

COVID-19 is providing this opportunity for us as individuals and as a society.  Take particular note of two statements from a recent WPRI article in which Courtney Carter describes the recent enrollment experience of one local private school. First:

Diane Rich, head of the Rocky Hill Country Day School in East Greenwich, tells 12 News they prepped for months prior to their first day to move all of their classrooms outside.


“This year, because of the pandemic, as soon as the public schools announced their plans, we saw an extra wave of interested families who wanted their children at school all day,” said Jan Cooney, the school’s director of admissions and financial aid. “So we saw a lot, disproportionate in a positive way, number of students coming from public school this year.”

A college friend of mine who lives in Massachusetts recently complained that the children of his friends in Florida have been back in school for weeks, while New England continues to withhold services to one degree or another.  The increase in demand for private schools in our area shows that plenty of people share his complaint, and as I’ve written before, people with the resources can supplement services when government falls short.

But that shouldn’t be how this works.  If we, as a community, agree that we’re collectively going to pay for top-notch education, then we ought to get it.  Objectively, however, what we’ve actually agreed to pay for is this:

Rhode Island is the best state for public school teachers. While the NCTQ graded the state well overall for teacher quality. People in the teaching profession are paid well in the state, with an average annual salary of $74,414, the seventh highest in the country and the highest after adjusting to the cost of living.

Rhode Island public school teachers also benefit from one of the nation’s more coherent and generous retirement systems. About 59.0% of new teachers in Rhode Island will likely remain in the profession long enough to qualify for a pension benefit, the seventh highest share of all states.

None of the five criteria that Hristina Byrnes and Thomas Frohlich used to create their 24/7 Wall St. is a measure of educational success, but they do rank graduation rates.  That is Rhode Island’s lowest rank, at 19th worst in the country.

Note that this ranking entirely (or at least mostly) applies to unionized public-school teachers.  Private schools are able to offer nowhere near the level of compensation that the government does, and yet as the first quotation above shows, private institutions put in extra work to make themselves viable and attractive.

Our state and its education system were far from stable when the pandemic hit, and we can create something good from our current predicament if make this a period of transition, rather than of making due until we can get back to the same old, dysfunctional thing.


Politicizing the Princess Bride?

Not long before social media (and the election of Donald Trump) made it impossible for people of strongly differing views and diametrically opposed political causes to remain on good speaking terms, National Education Association of Rhode Island Executive Director Bob Walsh and I had a see-we’re-both-human conversation about the classic movie and book, The Princess Bride.

That moment bubbled up in my memory as I absorbed the cultural significance of this news:

For those who find it “inconceivable” for President Donald Trump to serve a second term, Wisconsin Democrats offered a star-packed live-streamed script reading of “The Princess Bride” to help Joe Biden’s campaign in the key battleground state.

The original cast of the beloved 1987 film reunited Sunday, along with guest stars including Whoopi Goldberg, Eric Idle of Monty Python and Josh Gad, and all the money raised benefited Wisconsin Democrats. After the reading, comedian Patton Oswalt moderated a Q&A with cast members.

It’s something like a cultural crime to politicize that uniting movie for rank partisan purposes.  It’s one thing for artists to show their colors and use their fame for political purposes, but on a much longer-standing and profound level than the election of the day, a society needs common ground and shared memories.

Sports are moving rapidly off the list.  Apolitical movies should not be.  To put money in the hands of politicians, the Hollywoodites are driving us toward complete disunion.


Politics This Week with John DePetro: Coming at Insiders from Two Sides

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for September 14, included talk about:

  • Progressive wins (and a loss) in Democrat primaries
  • Bristol-Warren and Providence teacher unions stoke unease
  • The AWOL GA
  • The Secretary of State mails it in on ballots
Please consider a voluntary, tax-deductible subscription to keep the Current growing and free.

I’ll be on again Monday, September 21, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.


A One-Sided Concern About Procedures

A trio of left-wing “good government” groups is entirely correct to be concerned about Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s extension of regulatory freewheeling indefinitely:

The state’s Administrative Procedures Act (APA) allows executive agencies to adopt emergency regulations for up to 120 days, with the ability to extend them for an additional 60 days.

But Raimondo’s executive order last week suspends that limitation and allows for emergency rules “indefinitely,” the groups say, as long as those rules are related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Writing to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, the groups said, “By suspending the APA provision that already sets out the circumstances under which ‘emergency’ rules can be adopted, Governor Raimondo has essentially used a legislative grant of emergency power to seize even more executive emergency power. Doing so offends separation of powers principles and sidesteps the transparency that was deliberately built into the Administrative Procedures Act. ”

This is yet another bit of evidence that the enhanced emergency powers permitted within state law were not intended to cover a rolling “crisis,” like a pandemic, rather than acute, immediate emergency.  A pandemic may start out as an “emergency,” when it is new and unknown, but at some point, even if things don’t get significantly better (as they demonstrably have with COVID-19), the emergency is over and we’re just managing a challenging time.

Unfortunately, it’s an election year, so legislators have been content to allow our term-limited governor to bear the risk and reward of governing during a time of social fear.  Also because it’s an election year, the statewide news media has been content to give our local Democrats the benefit of the doubt so as to create contrast with the maligned Republican President, Donald Trump.

Particularly curious in the case of the Administrative Procedures Act complaint, however, is that this same trio of activist groups took to the courts as a backdoor way to change election law without following the appropriate procedure.  The process they followed is most commonly seen with environmental policy and works as follows:

  1. An activist group, unable to move policy through legislative or regulatory means, sues a sympathetic government agency to stop the law from being enforced or to require something that is not the law must be enforced.
  2. The activist group and the agency come to a settlement agreement to not enforce the law, or to enforce something that is not the law.
  3. A court signs off on the agreement.
  4. Presto chango… the law changes without following the legislative or regulatory process.

Such was the case with the consent agreement whereby the Board of Elections and Secretary of State agreed not to enforce the law, even though the state General Assembly had explicitly chosen not to change the law just weeks earlier.  Intrinsic to their argument was that COVID-19 was creating an emergency that permitted the court to ignore ordinary procedures.

The advocacy groups involved might reasonably argue that they are being consistent in always advocating to expand access and citizen input, but that argument contains an internal contradiction.  For the public to have a real claim to a representative government, the rules have to be followed.  In the balance of ballot access versus ballot security, our representatives settled on specific requirements.

Using extra-legislative means in order to push the views of those who favor ease of voting over security invalidates the citizen input of those with the opposing view.  That makes the RI ACLU, Common Cause RI, and the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island no better than the governor in their use of a non-emergency to push their agendas.


Can’t Life Just Be Life Again?

In something of a 9/11 ritual for me, I spent some time this morning searching the Internet for two moments I remember vividly from that day in 2011.  Both are from the 15 to 30 minutes or so that have been truncated in every video I’ve found, as people trapped in the buildings jumped or fell to their deaths.  Even if the footage is out there, somewhere, there’s only so much one can watch at a time.

The first moment involves an impression I’ve wanted to check since the moment after it moved off my television screen.  (In those days, you couldn’t rewind live TV or go online to watch everything again on-demand.)  It looked to me like one of the people jumping out of the Twin Towers attempted to hold a shirt or something above his head as if it would function as a parachute.

It was such a human moment.  How many children have imagined doing something like that?  How horrible is the contrast between testing the physics off your back porch and having nothing to lose by trying it from the top of a skyscraper?  The second after the attempt had failed and the screen had moved on to something else, I wondered if I’d really seen it.

The other moment for which I’ve been searching was intrinsically human, too, although in a more-hopeful way.  A black woman staring up in horror sobbed, “They’s jumping.”  In that moment, the idea of any racial distance between the woman and those she was watching seemed ludicrous.

This year, 9/11 feels different, somehow.  The echo of that morning’s feelings is still there, but the world has gone off the rails.  It’s 2020.

We’ve watched months of riots after years of racialist rhetoric insisting that everything is about race and everybody should be required to behave accordingly.  When a University of Rhode Island history professor openly states that killing political opponents is morally justified, it isn’t difficult to imagine what such people would say watching their countrymen plunge to their deaths from the tip-top of a capitalist icon.

The notion rightly makes one angry.  I’m 45 now, and anger is tiring.  The child whom my wife and I were awaiting in Autumn 2001 is now off to college.  Can’t life just be life again?

One of the more-famous characterizations of the movement that carried Donald Trump into the presidency was that it was a “Flight 93 election.”  Just as passengers on that flight chose to fight back against the terrorists who hijacked it because they were headed toward an attack, rather than a hostage situation, the electorate had to storm the cockpit of our government and try to change its trajectory.

Nobody charged the cabin on Flight 11, which was the first to crash that morning, because hijackings were usually exercises in hostage-taking, and the odds of survival of such ordeals were high, at least compared with attempting to fight.  Lately, it seems as if the answer to the question — “Can’t life just be life again?” — seems to be, “As soon as you meet our demands.”

In a way much more direct than a few years ago, we seem to actually face that decision.  Yes, we can choose to give in and hope things go back to something like normal, at least for a while.  Unlike a hostage-taking, however, even the promise of meeting the demands isn’t there.  Our family or company or nation can’t hand over some money and get us back to our homes.  The demand itself is fundamental change to how we live.

More and more, therefore, “never forget” must be paired with “never surrender.”  There is no way back to normal life until that is thoroughly understood.


A Dark Cloud Loomis Over URI

Need we even ask the standard “what if” question about how this sort of thing would be received were the ideologies reversed?

“Michael Reinoehl is the guy who killed the fascist in Portland last week. He admitted it and said he was scared the cops would kill him. Well, now the cops have killed him,” [University of Rhode Island history professor Erik] Loomis wrote in the September 4 blog post. …

In the comment section of the blog post, one reader challenged Loomis by writing, “Erik, he shot and killed a guy,” referring to Reinoehl.

Loomis responded by saying, “He killed a fascist. I see nothing wrong with it, at least from a moral perspective.” He further added that “tactically, that’s a different story. But you could say the same thing about John Brown.”

Even with the armor of tenure, a conservative version of Erik Loomis would have trouble keeping his job after such a comment, yet as it is, the matter has yet even to be taken up by the local mainstream news media.

Of course, Loomis’s support for the murder of political opponents isn’t going entirely unnoticed in Rhode Island.  Republican state Representative Brian Newberry asked on Twitter, “why are our (thinly stretched) tax dollars paying for this man to teach (or do anything else) at URI? Would the President or Board care to comment?”

Most people who object will simply shake their heads and reduce their likelihood of supporting the university or considering it for themselves or their children.  When budget season comes around, many might not even remember why pleas for more taxpayer money seem less appealing to them this time around.

Between this incident and the other gone-national progressive story at URI, about removal of a 70-year-old mural because it is too faithful a reflection of an earlier era,  I can’t say I’m very interested in updating my contact information as the university keeps asking me to do.  I’m also all the more confident that my eldest child made the right decision and went somewhere else for college.


Featured image: Erik Loomis’s official photo and a video still taken moments before the shooting of Aaron Danielson.  (The victim and a friend are walking down the street to the left while the shooter prepares to emerge from an alcove to the right.)


Bias in the Exploration of Loopholes

As with any regulation, campaign finance “reform” creates an imbalance that favors moneyed interests and insiders.  The moneyed interests can afford the expense to overcome the regulations and to find loopholes, while the insiders know how to game the system (having helped create it) and can expect leniency when caught pushing the envelope.

Meanwhile, outsiders must take care to dot every “i,” because they have reason to fear the law will come down on them if they miss any.

As somebody skeptical about the constitutionality of the entire project, when first beginning to feel my way around campaign finance law, I was disconcerted to conclude that a pair of neighbors throwing together a little bit of money for signage to support a candidate for some minor local office would technically have to file reports as a PAC.  Of course, it only becomes an issue if somebody else knows the rules well enough to complain and the insiders on up the chain decide it is an issue.

So, when I see a news story about a local labor union that set up two PACs so as to give more money to a local Democrat, I wonder where the judicial precedent is and why nobody (such as the “good government” group, Common Cause RI) seems interested in asking the Board of Elections and courts to opine.  Adam and Kate down the street would arguably have to abide by donation limits even if they formed no organization, because their activities in support of a candidate constitute a de facto PAC.  Yet, the labor union (with all its connections and legal backing) has no limits other than the number of PACs it is willing to set up, changing a word in the name of each.

Similarly, when somebody spots a paid advertisement from the Johnston School Committee, endorsing incumbent state Representative Deborah Fellelah, the average Rhode Islander is apt to ask, “Are they allowed to do that?”



According to a Rhode Island campaign finance official:

There is nothing in campaign finance law that would prohibit an entity, in this case a School Committee, from making an independent expenditure. However, there may be a prohibition on the use of the committee’s funds in its by-laws or charter.

As a question of rights and political philosophy, the official’s answer is straightforward enough.  If the people of Johnston don’t want their elected officials spending tax dollars for electioneering, then they can pass local rules forbidding such a thing or just vote out anybody who does it.

Still, it feels like the sort of thing that people would understand you just don’t do… until some insider decides to go ahead and do it.  Here the committee is thanking a state-level politician for helping it get more money by spending some of that money to support her politically; perhaps they even asked the district’s own attorney to research whether it would be legal.  Surely that’s simply wrong, but the question of insiders everywhere wafts in: “Waddaya gonna do about it?”  (Fellela, by the way, is a principal’s secretary in the Providence school district, so every time she votes for more education funding, generally, she’s helping her own employer.)

Frankly, this web of political interests and mutual support is evidence that our entire system is corrupt.  But for this post, the central point is the growing sense that the benefit of the legal doubt will always be applied unequally as insiders continue to find “loopholes” in the rules that they have helped to create.


Antifa, QAnon, and News from Another Perspective

Reading that he is a professor of journalism at the University of Memphis made me instantly skeptical of an essay by Joseph Hayden appearing in today’s Newport Daily News.  Just a few days ago, I observed on Twitter that the people most vehemently demanding that we believe anonymous sources about something that President Trump said two years ago were journalists, former journalists, and journalism professors.

But Hayden’s essay denying that a group called “Antifa”actually exists is worth a read, nonetheless, because anybody who can muster even a semblance of objectivity is bound to notice more evidence of our mirror-image reality:

Antifa, as a code word used to rile up fear and paranoia, has been lobbed especially at Black Lives Matter activists. Trump and Attorney General William Barr have repeatedly said that demonstrators leading the protests for racial justice are antifa, even though independent analyses of federal arrests of protesters by National Public Radio and The New York Times don’t actually show anyone with these connections. …

Indeed, Fox News might as well change its name to the Antifa Network, because over the past few years, according to a Lexis-Nexis search conducted in early August, it’s broadcast the word 520 times, versus just 24 for CBS, 37 for ABC and 66 for MSNBC. In one July 2019 episode of Laura Ingraham’s program alone, she or her guests said the word 59 times.

At least in broadcast, CBS and ABC produce shows, but aren’t 24-hour news networks, so one would have to break the numbers down by, say, number of Antifa mentions per hour on air.  The importance of such adjustments is made obvious by the fact that it took just one on-air Fox personality to have a show about Antifa to rack up 59 mentions.  As for MSNBC, that’s a far-left network, so the disparity with Fox could be more an observation about bias than evidence that the topic isn’t worth discussing.

But it’s Hayden’s suggestion that Antifa is a bogeyman “used to rile up fear and paranoia” that caught my attention, because that’s exactly the impression I’ve been getting about QAnon.  As I pointed out a couple weeks ago, the Providence Journal went out of its way to shoehorn QAnon into an article about the Trump boat parade in Rhode Island.

New York Times explainer by Kevin Roose pretty much creates a conspiracy about the existence of a conspiracy group:

QAnon was once a fringe phenomenon — the kind most people could safely ignore. But in recent months, it’s gone mainstream. Twitter, Facebook and other social networks have been flooded with QAnon-related false information about Covid-19, the Black Lives Matter protests and the 2020 election. QAnon supporters have also been trying to attach themselves to other activist causes, such as the anti-vaccine and anti-child-trafficking movements, in an effort to expand their ranks.

We’ve seen this play out before, with suggestions about the “Alt-Right.”  As the new term spread, people understood it to mean different things — some of them us taking it to be “non-Stockholm-syndrome conservative” — until the mainstream media happened upon it as a way to connect mild-mannered conservative pundits with the worst racists they could find, using the fear-riling “code word” to connect them.

Just so, Roose defines “QAnon” as “the umbrella term for a sprawling set of internet conspiracy theories,” which is exactly how the Providence Journal’s Laura Damon manages to bring them up in her article, saying that a couple of somewhat ambiguous statements she heard during the RI Trump event “are tied to QAnon.”

That’s a very convenient tool for creating accusations and tarring disfavored people with them.

Personally, even as somebody who pays more attention than the average, particularly to conservative media, I had to research what QAnon is supposed to be after hearing about it from mainstream journalists.  As far as I can tell, to the extent it’s actually anything other than progressive wish fulfillment or a few independent online writers, it could be a spontaneous meme-and-Internet joke that most people are in on, with some taking it too seriously as truth and some taking it too seriously as a threat.

Observing the partisan parallels between Antifa and QAnon, however, isn’t the end of the inquiry.  Even if they are precisely mirror images in their public handling on each side of the aisle, we have to ask what the reality is.  If QAnon is an MSM myth, that doesn’t automatically mean Antifa is a Trumpkin myth, or vice versa.  One of them could even been a construct deliberately designed to throw the public off the scent of the other.

How can we possibly figure this stuff out in a polarized environment with no recognized objective authorities?  It’s nearly an epistemological paradox.  Of course, one could always review the work of conservative journalists like James O’Keefe, but that brings us back to distrust of disagreeing sources.  Or one could observe that there are social media accounts under the Antifa brand explicitly soliciting action even here in Rhode Island.

One place to start is with Joseph Hayden’s insinuation that Antifa could actually be a “false flag operation” by “white nationalists.”  Imagine the world as Hayden presents it:  Organized racist groups are orchestrating a secret campaign to make it appear as if left-wing riots are actually being conducted by their non-existent radical counterparts.  Even if you believe that to be plausible in the abstract, can we believe that such a broad network would exist without generating overt and open support from some prominent politicians?

Meanwhile, Portland rioters (among whom was the guy who murdered a Trump supporter and asserted that he is “100% Antifa”) write phone numbers of sources of bail money on their arms, and celebrities proudly donate money toward the cause of protester bail nationwide.  That isn’t to say that the celebrities are knowingly part of an Antifa organization, but it does illustrate a level of tolerance and general support of activities overlapping with Antifa that simply doesn’t exist for “white nationalists.”

That an organization like Antifa could exist to take advantage of that tolerance and general support makes sense.  Meanwhile, to imagine a broad conspiracy of actual white supremacists requires one also to imagine secret support among a broad swath of the public.

Of course, many academics, activists, and journalists do believe that this global cult of whiteness exists, and those true-believing leftists make good livings coming up with ways to explain to the world why their faith should spread.  But that is why more and more of us are skeptical of their op-eds when they self-identify.


Last Impressions #49: Crowd Out the Rats!

Justin starts with a roundup of conservative news in Rhode Island and discusses the problem when legislators and other elected officials make room for rats in the State House and BLM and Antifa riots in the streets.



The Guidelines for Thee

Notice anything about the WPRI article headlined, “Officials remind Rhode Islanders of guidelines to follow during Labor Day Weekend“?  Even though it has a large emphasis on Block Island, and even though it quotes Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo several times preaching instruction for Rhode Islanders, the story makes no mention of the recent scandal of this very same governor at that very same vacation spot failing to follow her very own rules.

Keep in mind that Governor Raimondo is maintaining an online list to shame businesses into following her diktats around COVID-19, along with a good-doggy list for businesses that received an inspector’s pat on the head in the past week.  Observe that the shame list is more prominent, that it is HTML, not a PDF, and is therefore more likely to be captured in online searches and Internet archives, and that there does not appear to be any method for or intent toward removing businesses from the shame list even after they’ve been beaten into submission and complied.

Rhode Islanders should read through some of the “compliance orders.”  The tone of the high school hall monitor is strong in them, with complaints about a failure to display the governor’s compliance poster and other detailed new rules that Raimondo has unilaterally imposed.

Some of the language is coldly chilling.  The inspectors’ observations are framed as “allegations,” and it is up to the business owner, who is undoubtedly struggling during this pandemic, to “rebut the allegations.”  Here’s another chilling phrase of bureaucratic totalitarianism that appears repeatedly in various forms: “The inspector also noted in her report that it did not appear that the Respondent had any intention of achieving compliance with applicable Executive Orders and the Safe Regulations.”

Such people are marked and sent up the chain of command for chastisement.  We’ll have no “live free or die,” here.  Do not challenge their authority to micromanage your business during this so-called emergency.  (One also can’t help but wonder about the cost of this inspection regime versus other uses toward which scarce government resources could be directed.)

Notably, the Blvck Market boutique, where the governor took off her mask and stood shoulder to shoulder with the owner’s wife — “a big fan” of the governor’s — is not on the no-compliance list.  And there, the governor didn’t even “take it outside,” as her new quasi-regulatory marketing campaign suggests others do.


Pandemic on the Road to Tolls

The State of Rhode Island’s efforts to wriggle out of the discriminatory way in which it designed the RhodeWorks tolling scheme continue, as Tyson Fisher reports for the trucking publication, Land Line.  One aspect of the legal argument is worth teasing out separately:

The state again brought up the COVID-19 pandemic when justifying government privilege. Specifically, Rhode Island argued that complying with the subpoena would hinder the officials’ ability to address the pandemic.

“At bottom, plaintiffs have come forth with nothing to support their extraordinary request that this court invade the legislative and deliberative process privileges and require the (government officials) to search for documents that plaintiffs hope will suggest that some participant at some stage in the deliberative and legislative processes had some improper or discriminatory purpose in mind,” Rhode Island stated. “Such discovery would serve no purpose other than to invite speculation about the actual intentions of the General Assembly as a whole in enacting RhodeWorks. Nor have plaintiffs come forth with anything to support their request to depose the governor, the Speaker and Rep. Ucci in the middle of a global pandemic that requires their utmost attention to the public’s health, safety and welfare.”

In how many ways is the state government advantaged by the continuing claim that we’re in the middle of a crisis?  The mention of Democrat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (Cranston) and his ally, Democrat Representative Stephen Ucci (Cranston, Johnston), reminds us that the General Assembly has been largely absent throughout the whole ordeal.  It is much safer to let the term-limited governor (who is plainly seeking some way to move her political career out of Rhode Island, to the federal level) than to make decisions and lead the state.

This obvious conclusion relates back to the toll lawsuit.  Legislation is always sold on its intentions; that’s what gets legislators reelected, and it’s pretty much the definition of being a “representative.”  They are supposed to enact the will of the people, and that only works if the people understand what they think they are doing.

Yet, when convenient, the state government produces a nearly epistemological argument that one can never know what our elected officials’ intent really is.  So what if key players in the executive and legislative branches plainly stated that RhodeWorks was designed to discriminate?  You can’t possibly know that a majority of legislators agreed with that intent.

So, we see our supposedly representative state government hiding behind two noxious clouds:  legal arguments designed to obscure reality and a COVID-19 shutdown that increasingly feels as if its intent is to limit our freedom along with government’s accountability.  Of course, since we can never know the latter to a court’s satisfaction, we have to judge for ourselves and vote accordingly.