Blog Style RSS feed for this section

The Model Progressive

Talking with John DePetro during our weekly segment on 1540 AM, this afternoon, the name of Progressive Providence State Representative Aaron Regunberg came up.  We also briefly discussed the National Governors Association meeting coming up this week in Providence, at which Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be speaking.  The conversation brought to mind something I’ve been noticing recently.

Here’s a picture of Regunberg:

And here’s Trudeau:

Hmm. Maybe it’s just me, but they seem to share a few qualities.  But don’t stop there.  Here’s Emmanuel Macron, the French president whom many declared to be a rebuke to the trends that led to Brexit and elected Donald Trump:

I’m beginning to see a pattern, here.  Hey, what about that great Democrat hope Jon Ossoff, whom progressives wanted to elect to Congress in Georgia to send a message to the national GOP?

Weird.  Why does it seem the bright hopes of the Left keep landing on handsome young white men?  (A little research, I suspect, would allow one to add “wealthy” to the list, but I’m not 100% sure.)


Textbook Union Disruption in East Greenwich

There ought to be a “dealing with government labor unions” workshop for prospective officials who set out to pull Rhode Island back from the edge.  The scene at last night’s East Greenwich Town Council meeting is absolutely textbook, as reported by Donita Naylor in the Providence Journal.  Out-of-town union thugs?  Check.  T-shirts printed for union members?  Check.

About seven minutes after the 7 p.m. meeting began Monday, the floor was opened for public comment. Resident William Higgins was concluding his remarks when someone shouted from the hall for him to speak louder. …

As Higgins sat down, Cienki asked the council’s solicitor, David D’Agostino, to explain why Corrigan could hire and fire, but people in the hall shouted that they couldn’t hear.

Cienki asked for quiet, but people shouted for her to move the meeting so they could all see and hear. “We cannot move the meeting,” she said, and tried to explain that the meeting had been advertised as taking place at Town Hall.

Her explanation was drowned out by the chant, “Move the meeting!” As the chanting trailed off, someone called out, “Why are you so afraid of the people?” and another urged, “You have to move the meeting.”

This scene could have been any public meeting at which the unions want to intimidate elected officials and enable the narrative that left-wing activist Bob Plain pushes on RI Future, that the town “doesn’t have a functioning government right now.”  To the extent that’s true, it’s because labor unions have deployed their six-figure-salary activists to disrupt it.  Plain provides the single biggest tell-tale sign:

“You have to move the meeting,” yelled NEA organizer [and former owner/editor of RI Future] Pat Crowley, from the balcony of the Council Chambers.

As I observed years ago in East Providence (audio here), the unionists just want a bigger venue so they can create a bigger scene.  One really can’t blame East Greenwich Town Council President Suzanne Cienki for attempting to reason and then argue with the people in the audience, but doing so only makes the poor behavior look like a mutual escalation.

Elected officials attempting to bring necessary reforms should look back to former East Providence School Committee Chairman Anthony Carcieri for an example:  Just accept it all as the staged performance that it is and move forward with business.  Of course, then the unions will just get their bought-and-paid legislators to change the law in their favor, but at least the people of Rhode Island will get additional clarity.


A Fundamental Vision for Society

When it seems that members of our society are actually living in different dimensions, the world seems chaotic, but if we dig into the differences, we’ll often find them clarified.  I’ve been coming to a more-broadly-applicable point of clarity in the campaign for a charter review commission:

Here’s my “vision”: Local government’s role isn’t to plan what everybody can and must do with their property. The diversity of neighborhoods that I love in Tiverton and Rhode Island didn’t happen because people sat around on committees and decided to put this here and that there.   It happened because people made the best decisions for themselves with their own property.

Where there are stores, they grew because customers wanted what was being sold. Where there are activities, they persist because people want to do them. Of course I’d love to see more or less of certain things in town, but my preferences shouldn’t be the law.

As the “Declaration of Independence” puts it, “Governments are Instituted” to “secure” our rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Town government provides guidelines and maintains boundaries so we can work out our differences like neighbors.

Twelve candidates for the Charter Review Commission, including the nine endorsed by the TTA, share this understanding and will review the Charter accordingly.

The other 12 think the role of government is to plan our future. A handful of people on various boards and committees decide what Tiverton should look like and go about making sure that their vision is the one that wins. To them, the Charter’s primary function is to give the boards and committees power over us and to make sure that we can’t easily disrupt their plans.

Do we want a rule book that protects us individually and helps us to resolve our differences with our neighbors, or do we want a contract that locks in somebody else’s vision?  That seems to be the basic question at which political differences arrive, recently, if we strive to break them down enough.


When Teachers Choose Their Children’s Schools

Count it among the saving graces of Twitter that one periodically overhears a snippet of conversation that opens an intriguing topic.  Such was the case for me this morning when OSTPA retweeted Citizen Stewart’s assertion that public school teachers use private schools for their own children at a higher rate than the general public.  The thread provides no source for the assertion, though somebody did ask.

So is it true?  Yes, and it appears over many years and multiple sources.  The most recent to come up quickly through an online search comes from EducationNext:

School teachers are much more likely to use a private school than are other parents. No less than 20% of teachers with school age children, but only 13% of non-teachers, have sent one or more of their children to private school. Teachers are also just as likely to make use of a charter school or to homeschool their child as other parents.

A 2004 Thomas B. Fordham Institute study found almost the exact same results: 20% for public school teachers versus 13% for the general public.  Of course, public school teachers tend to be very well paid, so they’re significantly more likely to be able to afford private school.  Indeed, the Fordham study found that teachers with household income between $42,000 per year and $84,000 per year were almost exactly as likely as their economic peers to utilize private schools.

This caveat only goes so far to mitigate the lesson, though.  At the least, they’re still signaling that inside knowledge doesn’t undermine the general sense that private schools are preferable.  Moreover, teachers with household income under $42,000 are about 50% more likely than their own peers to use private schools, suggesting that they do indeed know something everybody else doesn’t.

The Fordham study also looks regionally, at 50 urban areas.  In the Providence-Fall River-Pawtucket region, 31.3% of public school teachers utilize private schools versus 16.5% of all families.  That differential is the sixth biggest that Fordham found.


State House Report with John DePetro, No. 16: A Handshake and a Bad Negotiating Position

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, last week, the topics were the the Mattiello-Ruggerio handshake, Raimondo’s bad negotiating position, and the unions’ control.

I’ll be on again on Tuesday, July 11, at 2:00 p.m.


Penn Station and the CCRI Observatory: Where the Money Goes

Boy, taxes and the cost of government must have really fallen for this to be the case:

Penn Station is just one symptom of a larger illness. With an aging subway system subject to a recent state-of-emergency order by Cuomo, and a 67-year-old bus terminal called “appalling” and “functionally obsolete” by officials of the agency that runs it, the New York area’s transportation systems embody America’s inability, or unwillingness, to address its aging infrastructure.

Of course, far from shrinking, the cost of government has exploded over the lives of Penn Station and the bus station, so where is the money going?  In brief, our tax dollars are being redirected to pet projects, progressive redistribution, and (I would say) special deals that amount to outright theft.  A core tenet of blue-state spending is that the people will always accept more debt and higher costs if the last things they get to pay for are the things they find most critical.

We don’t have to go to the Big Apple or major infrastructure for the lesson.  Take a look at this somewhat-cryptic Providence Journal article by Alex Kuffner:

The Community College of Rhode Island organized an open house on Saturday at its Margaret M. Jacoby Observatory to celebrate the completion of a $45,000 renovation that included a new control desk, new seating and repairs to the roof-opening mechanism. …

But the event was clouded by a demonstration outside the observatory’s doors by faculty members and students who protested what they allege is mistreatment of the astronomy professor who has overseen operation of the observatory for the past decade. …

Britton was hired in 2007 to teach astronomy to students and to operate the observatory for his classes and on nights when it’s open to the public. Last month, when the administration changed the way he would be compensated for the public nights, resulting in less pay, he balked.

Kuffner never details the change, but the context suggests that the college may now be paying only a non-faculty rate for the public night.  That is, a special deal has gone away.

One needn’t look far at all to find other examples.


Local Taxes, All About Perspective

On Tiverton Fact Check, I’ve taken a look at comparative taxes across the state.  Because the local Tiverton Taxpayers Association has been successfully controlling tax increases for the past four years by informing people about our regionally high tax rate, proponents of higher taxes have taken to insisting that we really don’t pay that much.  Why, our tax rate is in the middle of the Rhode Island pack, they say.

That may be true, but it has no context.  This chart shows every Rhode Island municipality’s tax levy per capita, and as you can see, Tiverton is 12th highest.


Above Tiverton, for the most part, are notably wealthy towns and those that are relatively sparse in population.  This is the chart that Tiverton should be in the middle of, and it would require a relatively low tax rate.

Even this, though, concedes too much.  The main difference in perspective is that the taxpayer group takes the point of view of the family and how much it has to pay for an asset.  Progressives and other high-tax constituencies take the approach of asking how much government can get away with taking from those families.  In that regard, all of Rhode Island is way too high.


Don’t Let the Pubescence Choose Its Name

David Gelernter made an important point — with broader application than his example — in an op-ed this week in the Wall Street Journal (bold emphasis added):

“Resistance” is unacceptable in referring to the Trump opposition because, obviously, it suggests the Resistance—against the Nazis in occupied France. Many young people are too ignorant to recognize the term, but that hardly matters. The press uses it constantly. So when a young innocent finally does encounter the genuine French Resistance, he will think, “Aha, just like the resistance to Trump!” And that’s all the left wants: a mild but continuous cultural breeze murmuring in every American ear that opposing Trump is noble and glorious. Vive la Résistance!

This has been a decades’ long practice.  Very often, in mainstream entertainment, one can guess the bad guy by the degree to which he teaches that those whom the Left dislikes should be distrusted.  In 2015, I wrote about one of the more-striking examples that I’ve come across recently, concerning the movie version of The Maze Runner.  Of the characters, the hero group is thoroughly multicultural while the foolish, cowardly group is all white and male, except for one actor whom the director had kneel out of sight in a group shot as if he’d been assigned to his group by accident.

The movie, in other words, maintains that “mild but continuous cultural breeze” that white men who emphasize rules and/or talk in religious terms are either directly the villains or at least a dangerous influence attempting to restrain advancement toward survival and purpose.

Happily, if we look, we are starting to see signs that artists’ boredom with this cliché is outweighing their ideological preference to perpetuate it.  But our civilization can’t afford to wait for that natural process of artists’ pretensions of counter-culturalism.  We have to be more active in refusing to let the Left define itself and the rest of us.

So, here’s a my offering in the case at hand:



At Least the Laborers Union Has Representation in the General Assembly

Don’t let the drama of a political fight over legislation distract you from this nugget in Kathryn Gregg’s Providence Journal article suggesting that differences over a new paid-leave mandate may have helped bring about the General Assembly’s surprise session ending:

In response to a Journal inquiry, House spokesman Larry Berman said this is what happened:

“The [paid leave] bill that was passed by the House did not include the Laborers’ because we believed they wanted to be exempt. Mike Sabitoni did not talk to the Speaker or anyone in the House until the bill was recommended for passage by the House Labor Committee on Thursday and the House was getting ready to vote on the bill.”

“When we were notified that the Laborers’ wanted to be included in the bill, the appropriate amendment was drafted on Friday morning and given to the Senate to amend the House bill.″

So, basically, the Laborers Union gets whatever it wants in the General Assembly.  They want exemption?  Why, it’s simply obvious that the legislation should be amended.  If they don’t, hey that’s no problem either.


Indirect Moral Corruption Driving Catholics Out of the North

Part of the cynical wisdom, up here in the Northeast, is that the Catholic Church has to support pro-immigration policy because it needs immigrants to keep its parishes going.  To the extent that this demographic pressure has any effect on what the Church actually does, a Catholic News Agency article about the Church’s growth in the South should suggest other policy positions that the Northern Church could promote:

The growth in part reflects the number of Catholics moving south from northern dioceses. Though this results in the closures of churches and schools in former Catholic strongholds, it is driving new expansion in the U.S. South.

I’ve half-joked that I’ve remained in Rhode Island out of missionary motivation, and only the jest part is political.  A region that is driving families apart and separating people from their homes presents real moral challenges.  In that regard, the Catholic Church — all churches — should acknowledge what the government plantation policies of Rhode Island are doing and impress upon believers their moral obligation to stay and to change things.

Working against poverty and injustice can’t be limited to standing up for those who are clearly oppressed, or else good works risk falling into vanity.  Vanishingly few people in contemporary America question the righteousness of helping those who immediately need help, but if we’re serious about helping those whom we can’t so easily see, whether because their problems are not so obvious or because their problems haven’t yet manifested, we have to take a broader view.

That means a society that draws people toward fulfilling lives of familial stability and self-motivated work.  And while the constituencies who see a Democrat vote as part of their cultural inheritance won’t like it, the policies on which we’re currently focused are clearly not serving that end.  The moral corruption of the government plantation is that ignoring the structural justice that brings stability and prosperity, but that requires a resilient and sometimes unpopular maturity, produces ample opportunities to display visible righteousness on behalf of those whom our ignorance has harmed.


Last Impressions Podcast Episode 22: Overcoming Bad Legislation and Apathy

How legislation shouldn’t happen, when the people can’t trust anybody, apathy, and high school reunions.

Right-click title on track list to download.



Hey, Who Needs a Legislature?

As far as I can tell, the one interesting thing that Rhode Island’s Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo said of interest at her press conference yesterday was that she intends to find the money to fund her “free tuition” policy at CCRI:

Raimondo told a press conference she is not exactly sure where she will find the $2.75 million-plus needed, at minimum, to launch the free-tuition pilot program, but she voiced confidence that she would be able to do so within the $8.9-billion year-old budget cap in which the state is currently operating.

One hopes some lawyer or other on the governor’s staff is aware that money is only part of the question.   Our state’s constitution still vests the General Assembly with the authority to make law, not her, and if nothing else, her campaigning has made clear that this is a new policy.

Governors are not without authority, of course; readers may recall that Lincoln Chafee signed us on to ObamaCare and health benefits exchanges via executive order.  So, Raimondo may be able to get away with this, if only because the politics of actively stopping her would be much stickier than the politics of not creating a new program in the first place.

That said, the rule of law is already a problem in Rhode Island, so causing further damage to it should do the governor political harm, if she goes in that direction.


Campaigning on Your Dime; Dud of a Press Conference

In case anybody missed it, I’d like to highlight the following item from this week’s Political Scene in the Providence Journal:

Gov. Gina Raimondo has a new $61,751 staffer: RISD grad Jon Gourlay. His newly created job title: “Creative Manager — Governor’s Communications Office.” His actual role: producing web videos for Governor Raimondo, who is expected to run for reelection next year.

To some extent, her spokesman, Mike Raia, has a point when he says, “The way people get their information has changed, and elected leaders need to generate creative content to break through on social media and other digital and curated platforms.”  The content of the videos will be the decisive tell, though.

If Rhode Islanders get short instructional videos about interacting with government or more-catchy-than-usual public service announcements, the governor’s office will have an argument.  However, if we get more self-promotional trash like this, then the “21st century constituency” stuff will have proven to be just spin.

I know which way I’d bet, especially given what appears to have been a dud of a press conference from the governor, yesterday.  Is Raimondo so thoroughly without political chips that she’s got nothing but words to salvage a budget containing her single biggest emphasis of the past year?  She just doesn’t seem to get how to govern or use leverage and communications to bring about real action, so why would her new employee’s videos be dedicated to that purpose?*

* Before she actually became governor, Raimondo’s success with pension reform would have seemed to suggest otherwise, based on the “Truth in Numbers” campaign.  As time goes on, though, that issue is looking more like a one-hit-wonder achievement, perhaps founded more on the promise that her mild reform would make the mammoth problem of pension funding go away.  The clock is ticking toward the date at which the fallacy will be proven.


Budgeting Woes in the Northeast

A State House News Service story by Katie Lannan appearing in The Herald News of Fall River answers a question that I’d been wondering:

After Maine and New Jersey reached deals to end their government shutdowns, just six states remain in budgetary limbo: Massachusetts, Oregon, Wisconsin, Illinois, Rhode Island and Connecticut, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Interesting, isn’t it, that half of the states are from New England — specifically Southern New England.  Five of the laggard eight are Northeastern states.

Looking at the list, one’s tempted to muse about general similarities of the policies that these states have pursued over the past half-century.  Maybe the can has met the end of the road.


Redefining Humanity with No Allowance for Dissent

On National Review Online, Wesley Smith writes about a push in the United Kingdom to publicly fund womb transplants for men who want to become women:

This would be wrong on so many levels, ranging from safety concerns for both patient and potential future baby, the prospect of doctors and hospitals being forced to participate even if it violates their religious or moral beliefs–already beginning to happen–to the question of whether going to such extremes to satisfy individual yearnings constitutes wise and public policy.

But make no mistake: Powerful political and cultural forces will be–are–pushing us hard in this direction.

An advocate for the policy quoted in the Daily Mail “predicts” that this technology will eventually be in demand among not only homosexual men, but also heterosexual men who want to experience childbirth.

Smith focuses on the way in which this episode illustrates the impossibility of ever controlling health care costs, when the incentive for providers and government is constantly to broaden the services for which other people must pay.  I’m not sure, though, that Smith isn’t writing with his tongue in his cheek, because health care costs and the concerns he articulates in the above quotation are among the least of the concerns in the envisioned brave new world.

Go right to the profound:  If this sort of technology advances to perfection, people could install and remove organs as they desire them, which would make us more like organic machines than human beings.

We’re coming to a decision point at which individuals and society will have to decide in a very fundamental way what it means to be human, or even to exist.  It greatly aggravates the dangers of that decision point if we accept a pervasive attitude that everything’s a civil right at public expense and those who disagree must be forced to accept and financially participate radical changes almost from the beginning of their possibility.


An Image of Rhode Island

Isn’t that just so Rhode Island… the minute you finish building something, the blue sign with political promotion appears.


I guess I have to put up with it out of gratitude that the town and state governments still allow me to build small structures on my own property.


4th of July Reading in Augustine Day by Day

When my family visited La Salette this past Christmastime, I picked up an impressively bound daily reader of St. Augustine writings, compiled by John Rotelle and published by Catholic Book Publishing Corp.  The 4th of July one is, I’d suggest, inspired for our times.  From Sermon 30:

Bad times! Troublesome times! This is what people are saying. Let our lives be good and the times will be good. For we make our own times. Such as we are, such are the times.

What can we do? Maybe we cannot convert masses of people to a good life. But let the few who do hear live well. Let the few who live well endure the many who live badly.


State House Report with John DePetro, No. 15: Playing Ball in the General Assembly

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, last week, the topics were the PawSox, Montanaro, the Budget, and “free” tuition.

Owing to the holiday, we’ve moved this week’s segment to Wednesday, July 5, at 2:00 p.m.


Lucky Independence from the General Assembly

Even if I didn’t work there, I’d endorse the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s call for the General Assembly to stay out of the State House:

As America prepares to celebrate its independence, and in order to preserve the rights, freedoms, and incomes of Ocean State families and businesses, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity recommends Rhode Island remain independent from further legislative tyranny. The Center today urges the state’s ruling class to officially close the General Assembly’s 2017 legislative session, keeping Representatives and Senators away from the State House so that they cannot inflict more damage this year.

Recent history clearly shows that the people of RI lose when the General Assembly is in session. Once again this year, the preliminary General Assembly Freedom Index shows that the vast majority of bills rated by the Center serve to decrease freedoms and limit the opportunity for prosperity for the majority, non-special-interest faction, of our state’s population.

I think the General Assembly should take a whole year off so legislators can work out their differences without having to worry about any actual legislation.


Whether Seattle or Denmark… or Rhode Island… Minimum Wage Kills Jobs

Noah DaPonte-Smith highlights another minimum wage study, this out of Europe, in Denmark:

The country ties the minimum wage to age: When individuals turn 18, their hourly wage increases by a dramatic 40 percent. Researchers can use this structure as a natural experiment, exploring how a dramatic and rapid increase in the minimum wage affects employment on both sides of the increase.

In this case, the results are predictable, at least for those approaching the issue from a conservative perspective. Employers cut jobs to save on wage payments.

By almost one-third.

Folks need to understand that employers don’t do this out of spite.  More workers means more production for them, which should mean more profit.  If the production costs too much, there’s no profit, so there’s no reason to keep operating.

Everybody in the entire employment/business chain is making decisions out of self interest (which can also include intangible considerations, like self-fulfillment).  The boss has determined that a certain income makes it worthwhile to operate a particular organization as opposed to doing something else.  Investors have determined that a particular business is worthy of their investment as opposed to some other investment (or other use of money).

Because employers want people working, if the cost of employment jumps up, other interests in the business will adjust upward as much as their willing, meaning that investors may tolerate a smaller return, owners may tolerate a smaller profit, and customers/clients may tolerate a higher price.  But viewed across an entire economy, a competitive, free market is pretty efficient at squeezing out what excesses are already there, so higher cost of production will mean somebody in the chain will move on, which could mean employees, against their will.

A key piece to this puzzle is that the employees had generally already determined that a particular job was the best use of their time, and they were willing to work for what it paid.  Pricing them out of a job may make activists feel good, and it may benefit the people who keep their jobs, but the laid-off employees obviously suffer, as do we all, from the inefficiency.


Reprieve From Regressive Progressive Vision Is Probably Only Temporary

Rhode Island is engaged in a battle of visions. The progressive vision is transforming our Ocean State – before our very eyes – into an anti-human-work hell; where businesses face onerous regulatory and financial burdens;  where worker safety, attendance, and productivity are compromised or replaced by automation; and where Rhode Island becomes a less attractive place for employers, resulting in fewer good job opportunities for families. Contrast this regressive progressive vision with a positive, merit-based, pro-business and pro-family vision of success and achievement; where more Rhode Islanders realize a better quality of life, because more and better businesses create more and better jobs so that more of our people can engage in meaningful, soul-fulfilling work.
With the breakdown of the General Assembly session during the 2018 budget battle, the people of Rhode Island are the temporary winners. Apparently, the only way to stop the union-progressive policy tide from further drowning families, businesses and taxpayers is for Washington, D.C.-style drama to take hold in our Ocean State: in-party fighting, distrust … lack of communication among the chambers, and insider leaks. This is real news … where is CNN or Fox News?
However, we expect to see the progressive vision return next session. Rhode Island is saddled with the 50th ranked business climate, 48th on the Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), and 45th on the Family Prosperity Index (FPI).  It is clear that the Ocean State needs a new direction, one that puts families first. The real people of Rhode Island have been left out of the process for too long. The progressive left was dangerously close to achieving at least three of its four job-killing “fair shot” agenda items, which would have likely made these dismal national rankings even worse.
Do most Rhode Islanders feel as good about their family’s well-being as the unemployment rate and our politicians might suggest? I don’t think so. It is time to change the status quo thinking in Rhode Island, before it is too late. While the people of Rhode Island temporarily won in the budget breakdown, the progressive agenda will return. Your voice is powerful, it is up to you to speak out and demand the family friendly public policies that will transform the Ocean State into a place where people can achieve their hopes and dreams.

Going from Crime to Illness Means Big Growth for the Government Plantation

Marc Munroe Dion picks up on what I’ve been calling “the government plantation” in his latest “Livin’ and Dion” column about the budget consequence of recasting drug use from a crime to an illness.  Noting that a person who comes across a homeless beggar could feed him or her with a $10 sandwich, but:

If you ran a non-profit agency, you’d need an outreach worker to find the homeless guy, an intake worker to make sure the homeless guy was really hungry, a case manager to find out what kind of sandwich he likes, a nutritional expert to make to make sure he got a healthy sandwich, a coordinator to introduce the outreach worker to the case manager, a facilitator to go into the store and buy the sandwich, and a five-member board of directors to approve the $10 sandwich, which would be referred to in all documents as a “nutritional expenditure for indigent substance abuse-affected client.”

At all times, the homeless guy eating the sandwich would be referred to as a “client.” Total cost of the sandwich? $65,000, not including benefits, and pensions.

Rhode Island’s state government is deliberately working to transform our economy into one built on this very model.  Declare some benefit to be a right, find a way to collect money from the rest of the economy and other states (via the federal government), and fill out a massive bureaucracy with government-satellite non-profit agencies with plenty of well-paying jobs whose holders will tend to support the system politically and to fund the necessary political action through their labor union dues.


Harry Potter and Muggle Fly-Over Country’s Conservative Stories

In a recent New York Times column, Ross Douthat offers similar “topic nobody mentions” analysis of the Harry Potter universe to those reviews pointing out that nobody ever discusses how the robots in Star Wars are basically slaves.  Starting out comparing the simplistic good versus evil vision of liberals (“tolerant progressives and wicked reactionaries”) to the central conflict of the novels, Douthat goes on:

But I’m not sure that sort of Manichaean vision is actually the most important political teaching in the Potter novels.  Because if you take the Potterverse seriously as an allegory for ours, the most noteworthy divide isn’t between the good multicultural wizards and the bad racist ones.  It’s between all the wizards, good and bad, and everybody else — the Muggles. …

… nobody actually wants to see the mass of Muggles (as opposed to their occasional wizardish offspring) integrated into the wizarding society.

Even the most radical of “progressive” wizards doesn’t advocate for opening up Hogwarts’s enrollment, just as nobody wants to make Harvard less exclusive.  Indeed, the magic community has strict rules about letting Muggles know that magic exists.  One might say it’s for their own good — because knowledge of magic would explode their understanding of reality — but could it really be that the magical know that the Muggles will investigate and organize in their own interests, and in one way or another, being magical would cease to be quite so special?

So, about the most open-minded one gets in the novels is Mr. Weasley and his fascination with the ways in which Muggles innovate in order to get around their lack of magical capabilities.  The Muggle world, then, is like a global fly-over country within which somebody produces a magic-capable child but is generally in need of the patronage of the mystical elite.

That interesting point ultimately comes back to what I believe to be the most significant political lesson of the novels — namely, that even progressive writers can’t help but write conservative stories, suggesting that progressivism cannot be fundamentally correct.  Consider that the happy ending involves the heroes all entering into traditional marriages and having children, thus performing the profound role of continuing the species and passing along the world from one generation to the next.

Consider also the implicit reality, in the novels, that a spiritual dimension exists.  And that friendship, loyalty, and hard work still matter, and that bureaucracy is stultifying and easily corrupted, and that the rules of the central planners tend to serve iniquitous interests, and moral actors must break them whenever they, individually, think it necessary.

Without these qualities, the Harry Potter novels wouldn’t have been anywhere near so successful, because they wouldn’t have rung so true.  Sadly, many people want to impose on real life a worldview that doesn’t even work in fiction.


Updated: A More-Relevant Budget Question

If you follow Rhode Island government news, you probably know that a last-minute Senate amendment to the House budget blew up the last days of the legislative session.  Everybody has quickly found out that state law continues the prior year budget to the new year if a new budget doesn’t pass.  Things will go on.

The bigger practical question is this year.  The revised 2017 budget that was part of this year’s budget that’s $265 million of spending that the state apparently has already done that is no longer authorized.  What happens now?  It seems to me that the government of Rhode Island will have deficit spent by that quarter billion dollars as of tomorrow.

Of course, we all know.  The state just ignores whatever laws or rules are necessary to keep its gravy train going, but what’s the cover story going to be?

ADDENDUM (6/30/17 10:06 p.m.):

This is weird.  A tweet from Ted Nesi says the RI Senate passed a bill giving additional money to RIPTA to keep up subsidized bus passes.  But that was in the House budget, which has not passed both chambers.

A little research shows that yesterday the House took a bill with related intent and amended it to match the language in the budget.  So, a bill that the House Finance committee had “held for further study” on May 9 suddenly reappeared in an amended form to match language that was supposedly expected to pass as part of the budget, and was rushed through the whole committee and floor-vote process the day before a surprise turn of events killing the budget.

I’m also hearing that some of the labor union gimmes that we’ve all assumed were quid pro quos to pass the speaker’s car tax phaseout managed to slip through despite the budget’s demise.  Although it is a bit more conspiracy-theoretical than I’m comfortable with, that does make me wonder how much of a surprise today’s events really were.


Sales Tax and Another Threatened Lawsuit Against Money-Grabbing Government

Is it me or are the policies the Rhode Island General Assembly is implementing sparking more lawsuits, lately, indicating a desperation to find new ways to squeeze money out of a strangling economy? Here’s the latest:

The new rules order online retailers with no physical presence in the state to collect the state’s 7-percent sales tax on purchases by Rhode Island buyers or mail those buyers a letter notifying them that they owe the equivalent use tax on the items. Buyers already owe use tax on purchases made from out-of-state sellers, including websites, but very few actually pay it at the end of the year.

NetChoice, an e-commerce trade group that’s challenged online sales tax policies in states across the country — including a current lawsuit against Massachusetts — is urging senators to reject the sales tax provisions in the Rhode Island budget, which they call “privacy invading,” costly and unfair.

“Don’t pass this law,” said Carl Szabo, senior policy counsel at Washington, D.C.-based NetChoice. “It is hard to understand what the purpose of it is except for the perception that the Internet is hurting Main Street. Now Amazon, Walmart and most of the top 20 online retailers collect and remit sales tax for Rhode Island.”

NetChoice is coming off a victory on Wednesday when Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, responding to the lawsuit, abruptly canceled plans to begin collecting sales tax on Internet purchases from out-of-state retailers.

The next question is who is going to sue over the fact that Rhode Island will effectively be double-taxing the thousands and thousands of Rhode Islanders who pay the minimum use tax on their income tax returns even though they’ve already paid sales tax on all of their online purchases?


Huge Generator: RIDOT Recommended The Engineering Firm That Missed Five Bridges

You may have seen the huge, yellow tarp-covered generator that has been parked on the side of Route 95 north just past Route 4. It’s been the cause of lots of rubber-necking. Then came the news a couple of days ago that it had been pulled over by RIDOT while traveling and ordered not to advance because it is very heavy – 560,000 pounds.

John Tassoni, speaking for the company that is moving the generator, was on the WPRO Morning News with Gene Valicenti this morning. And he shared some eye-opening information about how the generator came to be side-lined.

He started by expressing regret on behalf of Bay Crane for causing a commotion. However, he went on to explain that the engineering firm charged with mapping the route that the very heavy generator was to take from Quonset to its destination in Massachusetts gave the green light prematurely for the generator to move; i.e., before the state permits were actually in hand.

Far worse, he went on to state that the engineering firm MISSED FIVE BRIDGES (presumably overpasses, the excuse for the governor’s toll program) when they were planning the route of the generator. This is a major mistake: obviously, the route chosen for this very heavy piece of equipment has to be carefully chosen, as the Director of RIDOT, Peter Alviti, himself explained.

“While this truck with its load were traveling over, say, a structurally deficient bridge, it caused a critical failure of the bridge structure,” Alviti explained, “and it and any other motorists that were on the bridge at the same time would have suffered the consequences of that.”

And the crowning revelation in the course of this conversation on WPRO: RIDOT had recommended which engineering firm to use for the truck’s route – an firm that ended up making a very serious, potentially catastrophic, error in their route survey.

Some questions: 1.) is there an unspoken mandate when RIDOT “recommends” a firm in a situation like this? 2.) How did RIDOT end up recommending a firm that seriously botched this important routing survey? 3.) Is this an inadvertent and alarming view into RIDOT’s (in)competency in choosing vendors for state projects? 3.) Minimally in this case, doesn’t RIDOT share responsibility that the move of this generator got so badly mucked up?


Naturally, the Politicians Use “Good Government” to Lock In Their Own Positions

This legislative session in Rhode Island is turning into a real assault on Rhode Islanders.  Here comes legislation making it more difficult to challenge political incumbents… now amended to avoid any further difficulty for those incumbents:

In the version of the bill passed out of committee, the [ballot] block on candidates with overdue fines remains, but random campaign account audits were replaced by audits on candidates who have failed to file at least two finance reports with the Board of Elections, or those who owe more than $1,000 in fines.

So, they’re still going after the grassroots little guy or gal who gets tripped up in the election regulations, but they’re letting themselves off the hook completely.  They have no right.  As has become increasingly clear, Rhode Island isn’t really a representative democracy.  It’s a kleptocracy.


Minimum Wage: By the Way, Rhode Island Legislators

A study of Seattle’s adventures in minimum wage has been making the rounds in wonky circles, as summarized here, by Ben Casselman on the FiveThirtyEight Web site:

The group’s first major report, released last year, looked at the first big increase under the law, in April 2015, in which the minimum wage went from $9.47 to $11 for large employers. The report found relatively little effect, for good or ill: The policy led to some lost jobs and hours, the report concluded, but those were more or less offset by the increased income enjoyed by workers. For workers who kept their jobs, the higher wage was a clear benefit; for low-wage workers as a whole, the impact was minimal. One reason for the muted impact: In high-cost Seattle, not many workers earned less than $11 an hour even before the law took effect.

Monday’s report looks at the impact of the second wage increase under the law: the January 2016 hike to $13 an hour for large employers. This time, the findings look very different: Compared to a counterfactual in which Seattle didn’t raise its minimum wage, the number of hours worked by low-wage workers (those earning less than $19 an hour) fell by 9.4 percent over the first nine months of 2016, and the number of low-wage jobs fell by 6.8 percent. Cumulatively, those add up to the losses of 5,000 jobs and 3.5 million hours of work. The average low-wage employee, they found, saw his or her monthly paycheck shrink by $125, or 6.6 percent.

So, the first increase, which was roughly comparable (in one year) to what the state budget document now in the Rhode Island Senate would do over two, had little overall effect.  It was essentially a redistribution of wealth from people who lost their jobs to people who kept them.  Whether that’s an improvement, I guess, depends which side you sympathize with.  Personally, when it comes to actions that the government should or shouldn’t take, I’d rather see more people working, with all of the opportunities and dispersed economic activity that entails.

Note, too, that the reason the first change had little effect was that the economics of Seattle meant most businesses had to pay above the new minimum wage anyway just by virtue of the city’s economics.  Lawmakers should just leave these calculations and tweaks alone.  They’re well (well) above their competence.


Gee… Government Agencies Want to Expand Access to Government-Mandated Data?

Even good people with healthy political philosophies fall into the “we have to do something” trap.  So, when an opiate “epidemic” emerges, even people who would normally shy from creating government databases relent and allow the centralized, mandatory collection of prescription information because… “we have to do something.”

Well, this was inevitable:

The amended bill (S-656 Sub A) would remove the requirement that all law enforcement officials obtain a search warrant to access the database.The database contains information about highly addictive prescription opioids such as Vicodin and OxyContin, along with stimulants such as Adderall and sedatives, such as Xanax, and cough suppressants with codeine. The database allows health officials to track prescribing patterns as a way to identify possible over-prescribing and abuse.

The bill has passed the Senate on its way into law.  If it comes up short this year, it’ll be back next year… and the next.  Eventually, the advocates will find some story, some crime that could have been prevented if only law enforcement had been able to dip into the data without a search warrant, and that will push it over the top.  “We have to do something.”  (Or maybe the Speaker of the House will need a vote to pass something else, and that’ll be the lever.)

This pattern is becoming clear enough that there’s no excuse not to predict it.  Let’s get back to a healthy skepticism that stops government from getting on these paths in the first place.