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The Risk of Premature Marijuana Policy

Mary Rezac, of the Catholic News Agency, reports on a study out of Colorado from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Trafficking Area, which is a government agency tasked with tracking the illegal drug industry in the Rocky Mountain Area.  Here’s a taste, but there’s much more:

Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by 62 percent in 2013, the first year of legalization of recreational marijuana. About one in five more youth are now reporting having used marijuana in the past month since its legalization. Marijuana-related hospitalizations in the state nearly doubled from 6,305 in 2011 to 11,439 in 2014.

This statement, from Dr. E. Christian Brugger, a moral theology professor at a Colorado seminary, should resonate strongly in Rhode Island, as we debate taking the step of legalizing marijuana:

“If there had been any sincere effort on the part of Colorado citizens and legislators to gauge in advance the harms that would arise from legalization, they would have foreseen precisely (these results),” he told CNA in e-mail comments.

Rezac goes on to report that “adolescent exposure to marijuana can lead to an 8-point drop in IQ, on par with the drop seen in children exposed to lead.”  Lead, as we know, is treated as a public health crisis for children in the Northeast, and if I’m remembering my construction history correctly, the government once actually mandated that lead be put into paint.

Advocates on the other side of the issue do what one would expect and argue against the data and the incentives of the source.  Here, for example, is a Forbes article addressing the prior-year report from RMHITA.  At the link, Jacob Sullum makes some compelling points, but he also argues some of the statistics in ways that are, themselves, arguable.

These backs and forths would characterize any healthy debate about public policy, and we shouldn’t fall into the trap of picking our favorite side and believing its data with undue credulity.  The problem is we’re looking at just a couple years of data from a single state, so it’s all difficult to sort through.  All that’s needed is time and dialogue.  There’s no hurry.

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Crime and the Rhode Island Puzzle

Poking around the Family Prosperity Initiative data tool, I was struck again by how well Rhode Island does when it comes to violent crime.  According to the last-published Rhode Island report, Rhode Island is fifth-best in the country by this measure.  One could consider it to be counterintuitive or obviously correlative, but Rhode Island also has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the United States, as depicted in this slide from a presentation by David Safavian, an expert with the American Conservative Union Foundation, when he spoke at Bryant University at a Family Prosperity event:

safavian-incarcerationrates

While reviewing this information, I happened to be distracted by an “Economics 101” video by the Center for Freedom and Prosperity (not the RI organization of a similar name) emphasizing the combination of stability and freedom that characterizes prosperous countries.  The video is mainly concerned with financial stability, but overall stability is critical, too.

A safe state that doesn’t lock up large numbers of its residents should have an advantage economically.  Indeed, add that advantage to all the rest — location, history, etcetera, etcetera — that ought to make Rhode Island the jewel of New England, rather than the armpit.

Unfortunately, we get other things terribly wrong, so our advantages go to waste, largely in the service of our insider system of centralized micromanagement and profiteering.

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What Freedom Means When Government Takes Over for Organized Crime

The strongest argument for legalizing marijuana is based on freedom, particularly among the libertarians with whom I’m generally sympathetic.  Reading this article by Jennifer Bogdan and Tom Mooney in the Providence Journal, though, I’m surprised by ways in which this might not be so true:

Birenbaum touted the state’s camera surveillance system, which keeps electric eyes on all the grows, and various other tracking and security measures.

While the attorney general may have legitimate concerns about future recreational use, Birenbaum says, “we want cities and towns to see there’s a difference” with a well-regulated medical marijuana program.

Weeks after the tour, Pawtucket gave local approval for three medical cultivation applicants, noting how impressed they were with the state’s ability to track grows and the pot they produced.

Statewide surveillance of an industry and close government tracking aren’t generally the hallmarks of freedom.

That’s why my view is one of freedom gained through strengthening society.  If in general we’re operating under the civic premise that government has to take care of us all and take invasive measure to do so, then expanding the options for incapacitating ourselves and inviting government intervention aren’t likely to increase our total amount of freedom.

On the other hand, in a society in which individuals have strong character and families and communities are geared toward helping each other without the force of the law, our liberties can expand without infringing on our freedom.

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Mike Stenhouse on with DePetro on Marijuana’s Effects on Business

Related to a brief that the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity released this week concerning the complications that legalizing marijuana would create for Rhode Island businesses, RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse appeared on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM radio show. Also: a new baseball stadium and sales tax.

Click full post for audio.

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Pot Luck Employment

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity posted a brief, today, pointing out some of the risks to Rhode Island employers in an environment of legalized recreational marijuana:

One South County firm has already been sued for denying employment to a legal medical marijuana user in compliance with the company’s drug-free policies. Similarly, firms in Massachusetts, California, Montana, and Washington — among others — have been burdened with similar lawsuits.

If recreational use of the drug is legalized, the constitutional crisis created by pitting employer rights against employee rights could explode, crippling companies that would have to pay exorbitant legal fees to defend their rights in court, as well as any damages they might incur from adverse rulings. Similarly, a conflict may also exist if landlords seek to ban marijuana use on their private property by their tenants.

Proponents of legalization present it as an easy matter of rights, and if it were that, the Center would probably agree with their objective.  The problem is that, when once the government has interjected itself into a matter of social concern, the landscape changes.

In this particular case, we have not only the complications of having state law conflict with federal law, but also a skewed balance between employees and employers.  If it were understood that employers could conduct their business and their employee relations as they saw fit, then the legalization of marijuana wouldn’t be as relevant to them.  If an employee behaves in any way that the employer finds objectionable, the relationship terminates.  Ditto if the employer dictates terms that the employee doesn’t like.

But that is manifestly not understood, and our state government is constantly looking for new ways to dictate employment policies to every business in the state.  In that case, businesses have an interest in constraining the activities of everybody who could potentially come within range of their liability, which is everybody.

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Creeping Sharia and Freedom of Speech

Mark Steyn describes how (and how quickly) the West is caving to the censorious demands of hard-line Muslims:

I have had the privilege of sharing stages with Ayaan Hirsi Ali at various places around the world from London to California. It wasn’t that long ago, but it feels already like the past – a previous era, just the day before yesterday but already the rules have changed. In 2015, I spoke in Copenhagen at an event to mark the tenth anniversary of the famous “Mohammed cartoons”. As on the fifth anniversary, it required the protection of PET, the Danish security police. But this time, as an additional precaution, it had to be moved inside the fortress-thick walls of the Danish Parliament in order to lessen further the likelihood of fellows who regard debate as a waste of time (and, indeed,an affront) busting in and shooting us all. Nevertheless, notwithstanding all the security, both the US State Department and the British Foreign Office issued formal warnings advising their nationals to steer clear of the Parliament building that day.

The group presenting at the event had scheduled a dinner afterwards, but when security went to do an initial review of the place, the restaurant owners panicked and canceled the event, according to Steyn.  So, the story is two-parts radical Islam, but one-part Western timidity.  Flip those fractions, if you like; the screaming snowflakes who can’t stand contrary opinions on “their” campuses are merely the enforcers of the rule that Western Civilization must stand down.

As Steyn writes, “they’re all in the shut-up business.”

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Who Ordered the Code Red, Smoking Gun

This Eli Lake article from Bloomberg seems like kind of a big deal.  I wonder how much we’ll actually hear about it from the news media:

White House lawyers last month learned that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Rice, you may recall, was the primary face of the Obama Administration’s like about the background of the Benghazi attack.  Things get stranger, too:

The National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, was conducting the review, according to two U.S. officials who spoke with Bloomberg View on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly. In February Cohen-Watnick discovered Rice’s multiple requests to unmask U.S. persons in intelligence reports that related to Trump transition activities. He brought this to the attention of the White House General Counsel’s office, who reviewed more of Rice’s requests and instructed him to end his own research into the unmasking policy.

Why would the White House General Counsel order this research stopped?  Were Obama holdovers still calling the shots, or was there some other reason?

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A One-Two-Three for Fundamental Corruption of the Rule of Law

One problem with President Donald Trump is that he’s like a flashy object in a pile of stuff.  Other things may be more significant, but he draws attention. On PowerLine, John Hinderaker connects some dots for one of those things:

So it appears that what happened here is that Democratic Party activists in the Department of Homeland Security either created a bogus document or dug up a poorly-researched draft document that had never been issued, and fed it to Democratic Party activists at the Associated Press. The Democratic Party activists at the AP published a story based on the anonymous document, which two Democratic Party activists on the [judiciary] bench used as a pretext for orders enjoining the president’s travel order.

This is how an ideological and partisan group constructs narratives, with a one-two-three from insider bureaucrats to judges who overstep their offices to undermine the elected president.  This stuff is inimical to a free society and the rule of law no matter which political side does it.

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Actual Issues Cross the Politico-Racial Divide

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

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

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

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

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MAGA Hats and Selective Respect for Speech and Appearance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Raimondo Seeks to Tighten Screws on Grassroots Opposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Union’s Shocking Admission… Which Nobody Will Notice

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

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

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

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

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

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Making Difficult Personal Interactions a National Decision

Perhaps you’ve come across the story of the transgender wrestler who won the Texas title for girls’ wrestling.  If you haven’t, the opening summary of Dan Frosch’s Wall Street Journal article may need some clarification:

Mack Beggs, a star wrestler at Trinity High School near Fort Worth, has a new victory under his belt. On Saturday, he became the first transgender boy to win the girls state title in Texas.

Turning to biology for clarity makes things simpler:  Mack is a girl taking hormones (at the pre-majority age of 17) to become more like a boy.  Previous articles I’ve read were honest enough to note that boy-making hormones are essentially performance-enhancing drugs for a female wrestler.  Hence, the dilemma.

Many folks in the Northeast like to mock Southerners, assuming they’re as closed-minded about their views as New England progressives are about their own, but one must sympathize with the league:

“It is not a clean, easy thing to deal with by any means,” said Cody Moree, a superintendent in Apple Springs Independent School District in East Texas. Mr. Moree voted for the rule but said he understood both sides of the issue.

“I would understand if this student was wrestling in the boys division and there were objections there as well,” he said.

Putting the dilemma that way — and it is a dilemma — gets at a consideration that people around here tend to simply dismiss:  Other children have feelings, too, and they have a right not to have the weight of government come down on them to “correct” their wrongthink.

Even in the boys’ league, Mack would be taking performance-enhancing drugs, potentially wrestling against biological boys who are (for hormonal or other reasons) not as strong. As much as self-righteous, right-thinking people might be prepared to condemn those boys for their insecurities and bigotry, losses to a biological girl could be hurtful.  (They’d probably be at the lower weight classes, after all.)  Why should their feelings be dismissed?

Maybe we need to reconsider setting children on the path to biological transformation so early.

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In the Dystopia, Turn to the Other Listener

For your Saturday-afternoon unsettling reading, turn to the thoughts of Instapundit reader, security expert Eric Cowperthwaite, regarding the WikiLeaks release of CIA files:

The CIA has built a capability to hack pretty much anything, anywhere. It turns out that they, potentially, have more ability to intrude into servers, computers, smartphones and electronic communications than even the NSA. This capability is now in the hands of people other than the CIA. All the things you’ve read, that seem like science fiction movie plots, are really true. Other people can listen to you via your smart TV, can read your email, turn on the webcam on your laptop, without you ever knowing.

On the same topic, Roger Simon of PJMedia takes up some of the media and political ramifications.  This paragraph in particularly caught my eye:

Whatever the case, we all have to do some serious thinking — way beyond the general superficiality and contrived drama of congressional hearings or indeed the quick in-and-out of an op-ed.  What is being revealed here is a sea change in the human condition that is almost evolutionary in its implications. What are our lives like without the presumption of privacy?  What kind of creatures will we become in this brave new world that appears already to have arrived?   It’s not fun to contemplate. Even the medieval peasantry had moments of escape from their feudal lords.

Rather than “evolutionary,” I think I’d go straight to “existential.”  As a Christian, the notion of never being entirely alone is not exactly a new one (and not inherently a frightening one).  The key question becomes who is listening and why.

There is nothing an omnipotent God needs to sneak from us and no worldly advantage for Him to gain by knowing our secrets.  Whatever you’ve thought or done, worse has been thought and done by millions of others.  That is not true when the listeners are other people, with their own schemes and selfish interests.

Whatever new technological twists we put on the old plot, the central struggle remains the same for the individual: It’s them versus Him.

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Gaming the Intersection Blockage

Do you have the same thought I had when you read this?

Later this year, if you find yourself stuck in the middle of certain traffic-clogged city intersections blocking cross traffic when the light turns red, you may be facing more than the disapproval of your fellow travelers. You could be looking at a fine of $100 or more.

Providence is poised to be the first municipality to take advantage of a new state law dubbed “Don’t block the box.” It allows the city to designate intersections for special enforcement of rules against blocking traffic.

I may put signs in my car windows with left-wing slogans like #BlackLivesMatters and “resistance” messages.  Then, if I get caught in an intersection, I’ll tell the police officer that I’m just using my right to block traffic in protest against fascism… or something.

Of course, if legislation absolving drivers of liability for accidentally hitting protesters who block the street were to pass, things could get really interesting.

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Different Understandings of Civic Education

State Representative Brian Newberry (R, North Smithfield, Burrillville) has submitted legislation to require Rhode Island schools to teach students about the founding documents of the United States, and I’m not sure Providence Journal reporter Linda Borg quite understands the difference between that proposal and this:

Generation Citizen goes into the classroom and provides students with a hands-on civics project. Last semester, a group of Providence students studied community-police relations and lobbied for the community safety act, meeting with the City Council and others.

“Our young people don’t see politics and government as a path to real change,” [Generation Citizen Providence lead Tom] Kerr-Vanderslice said. “If we provide local, project-based civics education, they start to see politics as a pathway to making an impact.”

Newberry’s objective (I infer) is to educate students on the structure and boundaries of government.  Understanding our founding documents is understanding the agreement we have made with each other about what we can and can’t use the force of government to do.  Generation Citizen is teaching students how to be activists (generally left-wing activists, by the looks of it).

Those are very different lessons — in some ways opposing and in some ways complementary.  Borg’s article, however, tells the reader almost nothing about Newberry’s perspective with his legislation.  Rather, his bill is mainly a framework in which to present Kerr-Vanderslice’s perspective.

In that regard, the article presents an excellent illustration of the dangers of the progressive mentality.  What is important, under its sway, is for people to learn how to leverage government (implicitly serving the interests of people who deify it), not for them to understand people’s right to live independently from government.  The message being taught is: If you want something, go get government to force people to give it to you at the point of a gun.

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First, They Give You Money; Then, They Take Your Freedom

Buried in legislation that would begin treating “sugary drinks” in Rhode Island as something akin to cigarettes or alcoholic beverages is one of the best arguments for turning down the government when it wants to give us things.  H5787 and S0452 — led by Central Falls Democrat Representative Shelby Maldonado and Pawtucket/North Providence Democrat Senator Donna Nesselbush — would create new, burdensome licensing requirements for businesses seeking to sell the evil elixirs and impose an inflation-adjusted tax on them, enforcing the law not just with fines and licensing consequences, but with a criminal charge.

Central to the rationale for the law is this language:

Medicare and Medicaid spending would be eight and one-half percent (8.5%) and eleven and eight tenths percent (11.8%) lower, respectively, in the absence of obesity-related spending.

There you go: The price of letting government pay for things, like health care, is that government then gets to tell you how to live.  This will get worse if we don’t make such politicians pay a political price of their own.

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Superficial Judgement Tends to Go with Intolerance

“Silicon Valley liberal” Sam Altman took the time to talk to those strange creatures called “Trump supporters” and wrote up his findings for Business Insider.  These two quotations particularly resonated with me:

“I’m so tired of hearing about white privilege. I’m white but way less privileged than a black person from your world. I have no hope my life will ever get any better.” …

“The amount of violent attacks and economic attacks perpetrated by the left are troublesome. My wife and I recently moved to the Bay Area. I was expecting a place which was a welcoming meritocracy of ideas. Instead, I found a place where everyone constantly watches everyone else for any thoughtcrime.”

The first quotation is a long-standing complaint I’ve made to liberals.  For all of the profundity they’re keen to attribute to the line, “What happens to a dream deferred?,” they’re willing to defer a whole lot of them if the dreamers don’t fit one of the profiles about which they feel guilty.

The second quotation may not point to a new phenomenon, but it’s increasingly relevant.  Watching progressives be active, whether locally or at the national level, their self-righteousness and willingness to excuse bad behavior are a lesson in how such things as the Salem witch trials happen.

The combination of the two quotes, though, is hardly surprising.  History has shown that the sorts of people who’ll judge others based on superficial qualities like skin color will also tend to be intolerant, sometimes to the point of violence.

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