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Two Paths When Things Go Bad

As the scarcity of posts in this space illustrates, I’ve been extremely busy, this week.  Things have slowed, but I’m still getting back on track.

One thing I’ve been doing has been to sift through the data available from the Family Prosperity Initiative (FPI).  In summary, the conclusion seems to be inevitable that Rhode Islanders are good people who are just relatively unhappy, with something having happened around 2012 to reinforce that feeling, as suggested by adverse changes in things like new business establishments after that year.  Notably, that was the year that Rhode Island first sank to 48th in the country by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), where it has remained since.

But the broad data from the FPI has some interesting contrast.  Rhode Island does poorly on almost all markers, whether economic or having to do with healthy behavior, with an up-tick around that year in, for example, obesity.  Yet other positive markers also jumped that year, or soon thereafter, including an increase in marriages, a decrease in divorces, an increase in weekly church attendance, and an increase in the percentage of children living in married households.

I wonder if some of these results are an indicator of two distinct paths’ that Rhode Islanders follow.  I’ve long been saying that Rhode Island has been driving out its “productive class“; that is, people at a point in life during which they want to make progress and be productive tend to account for a disproportionate share of the Rhode Islanders parting for elsewhere.  I’ve also been describing the “company state” mentality, whereby the state government pursues policies that increase the number of clients who give it justification for taking money from other people (the producers), in the state and elsewhere.

Maybe what the data shows is that, when a community gets in a funk, some people turn toward things that have traditionally led to stability, meaning, and success (religiosity and family), and other people turn to unhealthy behaviors, like drug use.  This is speculation, at this point, but I’d wager that there’s a strong correlation between these two paths and the other options of leaving the state, on the one hand, or falling into government dependence, on the other.

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The Rhode Island ACLU Works Against Civil Liberties

My thought on allowing women to be full members of yacht clubs:  of course.  The reasonable reaction upon hearing that some private yacht club somewhere else does not do so:  that doesn’t make sense; I wonder what mix of personalities and traditions keeps that going.  The Rhode Island ACLU’s reaction: let’s use our access to activists’ donations and free lawyers (and the lack of consequences for legal bullying) to force the private club to conform to our worldview.

The organization’s reasoning makes it even worse:

In his statement, [RI ACLU lead bully Steven] Brown said, “The ACLU fully appreciates that private clubs have a general First Amendment right to associate without government interference – a right that we support. However, that right is not absolute. In this case, it is our understanding that the Club opens some of its facilities to non-members, serves as an important networking opportunity for business people in the community, and has benefited from state and federal funds over the years.

“It also seems clear that the ban on women members is not because the Club seeks to express some sort of political view about the role of women, but is instead simply an archaic vestige from another era when women were treated as second-class citizens in a wide variety of settings…”

To progressives, Americans lose their rights the moment they leave carefully protected enclaves.  That’s why they can pretend to support rights that they really only support for people who agree with them.  Ever let anybody who’s not in your club use its facilities?  You lose your right “to associate without government interference.”  Derive some social benefit from your club?  You lose your rights.  Ever received any public funds for anything, even if those funds went to other groups that might have practices with which not every American agrees?  You got it: rights are gone.

And then as the perfect cherry on this ideological cow pie, the ACLU insinuates that it would be fine if the policy were an overt expression of an objectionable political view.  If it’s limited to being a less-objectionable expression of deference to tradition, to be changed gradually over time at a pace suiting its members and befitting a social club?  Ain’t got no rights.

By all means, speak against the policy, if you’re so inclined, but the ACLU repeatedly crosses the line into seeking to disenfranchise Americans and undermine our ability to accommodate each other as much as possible.  In other words, the organization proves time and again that its claim to support civil liberties is cover for imposing a narrow view on the country through lawfare.

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When the People Aren’t Represented

This Peter Hitchens essay about the reordering of politics visible in the Brexit vote is worth reading for a variety of reasons.  The crux is that Great Britain’s politics (like those of the United States) have developed such that the elites of the two major parties have more in common with each other than with sizable portions of their bases, which therefore have more in common with each other than with their own elites.  One particularly notable part comes toward the end:

Thursday’s vote shows that the House of Commons is hopelessly unrepresentative. The concerns and hopes of those who voted to leave the EU – 51.9 per cent of the highest poll since 1992 – are reliably supported by fewer than a quarter of MPs, if that. Ludicrously, neither of the big parties agrees with a proven majority of the electorate – and neither shows any sign of changing its policies as a result.

Hitchens rightly calls this a scandal.  How can a majority not be represented?  I can’t find it just now, but not long ago, I noted the strong traditionalist sentiment in a foreign country (Great Britain again, I think) when it came to marriage.  It wasn’t quite a majority, but it struck me that some sizable percentage of the electorate (around one-third or more, as I recall) was entirely without representation in the government.  That can’t go on long, particularly in societies that still have some vestige of their independent past.

It’s very easy to see how the transgender-bathroom issue is a pre-planned next step in the Left’s attack on our culture, now that the Supreme Court has amended the U.S. Constitution to impose same-sex marriage on the country, but Brexit is probably a related phenomenon, as well.  Whatever the issue, what’s stunning is that Western elites are simply refusing to adjust, as if they’re sick of having to bide their time, as if their attitude is, “We run the country, damn it, not you backwards morons.”

The American Interest makes much the same point, as quoted on Instapundit:

Failure to control immigration? Amnesty? Social benefits for non-citizens when citizens are suffering? Nation-building wars abroad instead of nation-building at home? Massive debt? Failures to confront terrorism effectively? Businesses moving jobs overseas? Recession in the countryside while the capital prospers? Rapid changes in gender politics? Bizarre contortions of politically correct speech, which shout down what many see as common sense? It has left many in the electorate angry and disenfranchised. And when those in the public who feel this way have objected or resisted, elites have doubled-down, rather than listen and adjust.

As Glenn Reynolds appends, “They see us as, at best, livestock to be managed,” which gets right back to my observation, locally, that people in government and the media seem to believe it’s their job to force us to give government more money than we want to give (see here and here for elaboration).  Brexit was a signal that the battle isn’t over.

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Curious How “Revitalization” Requires “Longevity” for Officials

One thing conspicuously missing from Kate Bramson’s article today, titled, “GrowSmartRI summit: Speakers share revitalization success stories,” is any statistical evidence that the stories are, indeed, about successes.  Oh, sure, when government agents and activists push hard enough, they manage to fund projects and (eventually) bring them to completion, but when most people hear the phrase “revitalization success stories,” they are likely to expect that the areas were revitalized.  The fact that three “relatively new” restaurants open their doors each night in Attleboro doesn’t tell us much.

This lack of substantial evidence relates to another giant omission in the article — namely, further explanation of this disturbing opening:

Patterns emerged Tuesday as government leaders from three smaller, northeastern cities shared success stories about their revitalization efforts.

Longevity — of elected leaders and employees working for them — was one of several themes that arose before an audience of about 200 business and civic leaders at a summit hosted by the nonprofit GrowSmartRI.

So, “revitalization” requires that voters elect the same officials repeatedly and that the bureaucrats keep their jobs, too?  Well, how convenient.

It’s also obvious.  The entire motivating philosophy of GrowSmartRI, the Brookings Institution, the RI Foundation, the Raimondo administration, and the broader society of progressive elites is that one of government’s central functions (probably the central function) is to plan out the future and enforce that plan so the grimy masses aren’t really free to shape their communities.

When your organizational motivation is to tell other people what to do and how to live, you can’t really abide such disruptive things as individual freedom or the inevitable change inherent in representative democracy.  The goal is to take the permanence that we used to apply very narrowly in a Constitution and Bill of Rights and apply it expansively to minute details of how all we should live.

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Something UHIP This Way Comes

Rhode Island won’t forever be able to avoid the arrival of the state’s Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) monster, although the latest from Lynn Arditi is that it won’t darken our state until the leaves begin to shade and the season of evil approaches in the fall (appropriate to an election season, this time around, too).  It’s a sinister beast, too, this dependency portal, which weaves itself in sly language.  Witness (emphasis added):

The new system will allow the state to verify eligibility for programs such as Medicaid, the insurance program for low-income residents, and integrate them with other state assistance programs, officials said, to improve service and weed out fraud. …

“Rhode Island has been running the same enrollment and eligibility software since the Reagan Administration,” Roberts said. “This new system is a smart investment that will result in better customer service and significant savings for state taxpayers. As we move toward the September launch, we will continue to incorporate best practices and lessons learned from other states. We are confident that setting a launch date in September will allow the state ample time to anticipate and prepare for any issues that may develop during a transition from an aging software system to a modern, digital portal that meets our 21st century needs.”

In our traditional understanding of such concepts, one does not “verify eligibility” to receive “customer service,” and the wise reader should expect that “significant savings” will be measured against what the costs would have been to expand benefits by some less-efficient route.  That’s what UHIP is going to do.  As with the expansion of Medicaid and its implementation through the ObamaCare health benefits exchange (which was the first key piece of the portal), “verifying eligibility” will not prove to mean stopping people who apply from receiving benefits inappropriately, but rather, verifying that people who didn’t know they were eligible and who were not really seeking benefits are indeed eligible and should indeed receive taxpayer dollars.

Like some magical being, efficiency of this sort can be a positive when it is pursued in the proper spirit.  When the spirit is corrupted, though, efficiency merely accelerates the spreading of its dark shadow, particularly when the bureaucratic cult that summoned the beast has so mastered the technique of shaving its two pounds of flesh.

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Matthew Henry Young: Don’t Wait for Economic Stability to Marry!

Rhode Islanders are marrying with less frequency, and waiting longer to get married. According to data compiled in the 2014 American Community Survey, Rhode Island has the 3rd highest median age of first marriage for women (29.4 years old) and the 6th highest median age for men (30.5). Why do Rhode Islanders marry so late? It may have something to do with their financial status: “Nearly three-fourths of younger survey participants said that financial security should preface marriage” writes Gillian B. White in The Atlantic.

I share the concerns of many of my millennial peers. The idea of marriage — and taking responsibility for a spouse and potentially a mortgage and children — sounds terrifying. A struggling economy and weak job market only exacerbate that hesitance. Like most of my peers, I’d like to enjoy financial security prior to marriage. However, these concerns were not as serious obstacles to previous generations. In the same Atlantic article, White observes that “only 55 percent of older Americans felt similarly.”

Perhaps surprisingly, marriage could be a precursor to our financial security, instead of the other way around. Plentiful research seems to show that where stable marriages prevail, poverty rates fall. The addition of children to the mix only accentuates the effect: In Rhode Island, single-parent households with children are four times as likely to fall below the poverty line as married-couple households.

There are many explanations for the phenomenon: Marriage can provide emotional support for both partners, a possible second income, and more-diverse job opportunities. Further, marriage provides many real world savings opportunities such as tax reductions, as well as reduced costs of rent and household items, thanks to cohabitation.

Stable family life and culture is directly tied to economic prosperity — the driving conclusion of the Family Prosperity Index, a research project of husband-and-wife team Wandy Warcholik, Ph.D., and Scott Moody, M.A. The connection between marriage and poverty, as well as many other social and economic indicators, is shown clearly in their research. Rhode Island rates poorly on both social and economic measures, while states like Utah enjoy both financial prosperity and a strong family culture.

This popular myth is busted: You don’t have to wait until you’re financially stable to get married! In fact, marriage may provide the support and security that could boost you — and your spouse — to financial stability. Plus, you get to be with the one you love. Why wait?

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14 Paragraphs to ISIS

Really, what can one say about politicians who rush out of the gate to use a terrorist atrocity to advance their partisan political agenda?  Democrat Congressman David Cicilline and Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo do just that in an article by Ian Donnis, which gets around to mentioning the ISIS connection in the 14th paragraph.

Folks, it’s becoming an existential necessity for us to identify real enemies and real reasons for these events.  Anybody who doubts that should consider this statement from Raimondo:

The governor said she always attends the gay Pride parade and considers it more important to take part this week to let the LGBT community know “we’re with them, to let them know we’re not going to tolerate this. We’re going to stand together. We’re going to fight for their freedom and security.”

Oh?  And what does it mean not “to tolerate this”?  What exactly is the governor proposing to do to “fight for their freedom and security”?  Take guns away from the potential victims and from those among their countrymen and -women who literally would fight for their freedom?

Maybe “fighting” is more like a term of art for remembrance ribbons and rainbow flags at half mast.  More likely, judging by Donnis’s article and Raimondo’s statement on the flag lowering, the actual “fight” is against those among these politicians’ fellow Rhode Islanders and fellow Americans whom they declare to be “intolerant.”  It’s not exactly news that the Islamists who consider themselves at war with our nation hate homosexuals, and yet Cicilline doesn’t skip a beat in insisting that the attack is evidence that homosexuals do not have “full equality in this country.”

In the congressman’s view, is it ISIS that’s withholding that equality in the United States?  No.  It’s people with whom he disagrees on politics and culture.  We’re the target of his fight.

Let’s put our differences aside for one moment.  This was a terrorist attack on Americans.  In its circumstances, it arguably most resembles the recent attack on a rock concert in Paris (France being a nation with about one-third the number of guns per person as the United States).  As we take stock and decide how we should move forward, let’s also consider how we should respond to politicians who are so obviously angling to use this attack as a means of dividing us.

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Terrorism and Confidence

Over the weekend, I attended a conference at the Portsmouth Institute themed “Christian Courage in a Secular Age.”  For the second session on Saturday afternoon, Knights of Columbus executive Andrew Walther talked about genocide of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.  He noted, in particular, the challenge of getting Westerners to acknowledge that it’s possible for Christians to be a minority.  After all, the narrative of the Western Left is that Christians are the oppressive majority.

After his talk, an audience member identifying himself (if I recall correctly) as a civil rights attorney made an accusation, masquerading as a question, that one might charitably characterize as tangential:  Does the Knights of Columbus intend to pressure the United States to pressure Israel to cave to the Palestinians and thereby resolve the problems of the Middle East?

In stark contrast, my co-contributor Andrew Morse followed this question, asking whether the United States should look to the cultural confidence it exhibited in bringing down the communism of the Soviet Union as a model for handling the Middle East.  In subsequent conversation, I suggested that something more would be needed, because Russia’s cultural experience had more shared assumptions with Western Europe and the United States than the predominantly Islamic Middle East has with any of us.

With the Soviet Union, we could largely rely on the confidence to compete.  With the Middle East, there really isn’t a competition, at least inasmuch as there is no agreement about the direction of the race, so to speak.

Waking up Sunday to the horrible news of an apparent terrorist attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, it came home to me how tangled and tripping our politics have become.  Much of the initial reaction I saw online associated the attack with internal Western culture wars rather than the accelerating series of terrorist attacks.  If you want an archetype, look to the disgusting cover of the New York Daily News.

In some respects, cultural confidence grows out of a sense of our own strength, as a people and as individuals.  The Left wants to weaken a core aspect of our culture that gave a set of principles about which to be confident — a constitutional republic founded on the assumed assent to the basic Judeo-Christian moral framework — not the least because it made us successful and strong.  The Left also wants to to weaken us as individuals, not the least when it comes to security, making us dependent on government under the Left’s control for our safety and self defense.

Maybe those who sympathize with the Left should start asking what it was about the United States that made us a country in which religious traditionalists could share the land with sexual radicals — that leaves many of us seeing this attack as a reason for unity of purpose and renewal of our shared heritage in opposition to its enemy.  Charging forward with the fundamental transformation of our nation is sure to be fatal.

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RI Dept of Education Transgender Guidelines Continue Disturbing Trend of Government by Political Correctness

[The RI Department of Education has announced “comprehensive guidelines” with regard to transgender students, though the ProJo reports that it is not a mandate. The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity this morning issued the following statement.]

While professing to protect students from bullying and to respect all students, the RI Department of Education (RIDE), via its June 2016 Guidance Document on Transgender Students, itself appears to have been bullied by the federal government; seeks to bully local school districts into conformity; and openly flaunts its disrespect of of other students.

In perpetuating a disturbing trend of ‘government by political correctness’, RIDE has succumbed to federal pressure and has adopted a one-size-fits-all position that may not be compatible with the morals held by many public school families. There may never be a more obvious reason to empower parents with additional choices to escape an increasingly politicized government school system that does not respect their personal values.

The repeated emphasis in the document on laws dealing with “discrimination” can only be seen as a heavy-handed threat to local school districts, who may choose not to conform, by elitist bureaucrats who believe they know what’s in our family’s best interests.

The open and blatant disrespect (page-9, paragraph-2) for the comfort level of the majority of students, in favor of the comfort of a tiny minority of students, along with the disdain for the rights of parents and the sanctity of the family (page-7, paragraph-2), is particularly alarming.

The Center maintains that no single statewide or federal dictate can possibly satisfy the varying sentiments among Rhode Island’s diverse array of local communities.

Related: Video commentary by CEO Mike Stenhouse on The Ocean State Current following release of federal “guidance” document in May of 2016.

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Good Advice: Don’t Follow Your Passion…

… bring it with you.  On a busy day, my lunchtime blogging slot is amply filled with a short video by Mike Rowe (via Instapundit):

Of course, one can always hedge, as I did.  Keep whatever long-shot activity about which you’re passionate firmly understood as a hobby and keep eyes open for an opportunity to turn it into a career.  The key is not to let that hedge dominate your decision making.

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Designing Welfare Policy as If We’re Designing the World

In Plato’s Republic, the philosopher goes through the exercise of designing a society from the ground up.  Nowadays, that very theme defines a genre of videogame, in which the gamer must make decisions about investments, exploration, and undertakings to help a society, business, or theme park grow.  Of course, such games are subject to the same boundary as real life (although much restrained, naturally): the limits imposed by the imagination of the designer.

In the world of public policy, writers sometimes fall into a strange trap, designing policies that accord with the artificial rules of their theoretical worlds, but that do not accord with the real world.  That is, they sound plausible within careful boundaries, but they fall apart once the various “if” clauses come into contact with the outside universe.

Charles Murray provides a good example, writing in support of a universal basic income (UBI) in the Wall Street Journal:

First, my big caveat: A UBI will do the good things I claim only if it replaces all other transfer payments and the bureaucracies that oversee them. If the guaranteed income is an add-on to the existing system, it will be as destructive as its critics fear.

Well, there you go.  Upon reading that paragraph, we can put aside the discussion.  We can barely… sometimes… maybe get government bureaucracies to slow down the rate at which they increase the harm they do to our lives.  Any public policy that requires the elimination of bureaucracy for the good of the people is simply not going to happen.

Of course, UBI continues to strike me as having additional layers of unreality.  Because it would be a policy set by government, it would be subject to the incentives for politicians.  If the policy is small relative to the economy, then the incentive will be for politicians to continue growing it as a campaign pledge; by the time it gets big enough to build up constituencies for restraining it, the program would ipso facto already be having an effect on the economy.  A hidden cost, then, is that a UBI requires a centralized power sufficient to squash political incentives.

What our civilization really needs is an economy that creates a natural UBI based simply on the fact that the basics are sufficiently inexpensive to produce at prices that almost anybody can be sufficiently employed to afford, or that others will supply simply by the greater weight of their sense of moral obligation.  This economy doesn’t require big government programs.  It requires advancing technology, a baseline education (not saturated with fluff and false ideology), the proliferation of prosperity, and broad freedom to determine our own sets of values and experiment.

Any other approach is, ultimately, just a way to work around the artificial rule that we can’t expect to be able to trust in people’s goodness and good sense.

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When True Fascists Show Their Faces, Media Doesn’t Care

First the fun political-media gotcha point:  Can you imagine if even a single video anywhere close to these from anti-Trump “protests” in San Jose had been captured at a Tea Party rally a few years ago?  The news media would have assumed that every conservative and Republican was fully implicated in the “atmosphere of violence” even as they were paraded before the cameras to denounce the entire movement.  When it turns out that the fascist thugs are on the political Left, we get vague descriptions of them as “protesters,” and mealy mouthed attempts to blame the victim:

Another video captured a female Trump supporter taunting protesters before being surrounded and struck in the face with an egg and water balloons.

I haven’t seen any video of the woman “taunting protesters.”  That might just be the journalist’s interpretation from the fact that she kept up a brave front while a mob — almost all young men — surrounded her with Mexican flags, swearing at her and then throwing eggs and other things at her.  It’s disgusting, not a mere altercation.  (One might infer, naturally, that left-wing journalists believe that overt support for Trump is tantamount to a taunt.)

And don’t think for a moment there aren’t organizations behind these “protests.”  Watch the video of the woman being mobbed, and you’ll see an SEIU sign start to make an appearance before quickly disappearing, perhaps because the labor activist holding it (one assumes) spotted the camera scanning the crowd and thought better of being visible at that moment.

In some respects, this isn’t exactly a new development.  After all, powerful people in government, academia, and the media have been excusing violent “idealists” on the Left for decades.  But even if left-wing violence is getting no worse, the possibility becomes greater that it will destroy us as the progressives succeed in wearing away the foundations of our society, especially if we don’t name its practitioners for what they are.

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Our Basic Choice: Slavery or Freedom

For a bit of Friday morning political philosophy, here’s Richard Fernandez, saying, “Greetings, Slaves“:

The issue which dogs Hillary and which no cosmetic distancing from Sanders will solve is that the middle class is losing faith in the platform. The political turmoil threatening to break apart the EU and the American Blue Model is rooted in the fact that both are broke and have no prospect of meeting obligations as manifested in the stagnation of wages in the West and also in the collapse of the “security” safety nets for which the present-day slaves have traded away their freedom. The progressive campaign is essentially predicated on the assumption that a sufficiently resolute government can defy the laws of financial gravity. There is now some doubt on that point.

Basically, the thesis is that our current political moment brings evidence that there is no tweaking of corporatism that will work.  In attempting to strike a deal between the central planners and the corporate types who seek profit and love a monopoly, the self-interest is too strong and reality too uncompromising.  In no time at all, people realize that they’re slaves, and they either revolt or lose their motivation to work.

Reality refuses to be what the planners need it to be for political reasons.  People will trade their freedom for some price, but it’s always a higher price than central planning can ensure, mostly because freedom and human nature — both antithetical to the planned state — are necessary for both human fulfillment and economic progress.  As the Judeo-Christian scripture and history prove, we were designed to seek God, not pitiful material substitutes, whether they be graven images, filthy lucre, or a secular state bent on conformity.

As Fernandez wraps up: “We’ve tried being slaves. Let’s try being free.”

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The Left Doesn’t Believe in Agreeing to Disagree

It seems that no school is too small to draw the attention of the conformity police in the new American progressive totalitarianism, as Holly Scheer highlights on The Federalist:

… The Obama administration is investigating a school in Wisconsin for sending home letters telling parents and students that they expect students to live within Christian values while at school. This is a private Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod school that serves a tiny group of students—from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade they have 147 students and 10 teachers.

In February the school instituted some new policies that sparked a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. These policies include having parents provide a birth certificate (with the child’s sex on it) and signing a handbook that gives the school the right to discipline students for exhibiting sinful behavior.

Christians thought they could carve out enclaves for their beliefs if they gave up the tax dollars that they’ve already paid for public school and paid again for private school.  Now, progressives claim Christians can avoid persecution if they just give up their right to equal access to government funds for educational services.

We know that to be a temporary position, though, allowing the Left to keep its mask on for just a while longer, because we’ve already seen Christian bakers persecuted for declining to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies.  The clear reality is that if you go out in public — if you do anything that can have any effect on other people in any way (see Senator Whitehouse’s desired climate change inquisition) — progressives believe government should force you to conform to their worldview.

Whatever these people believe in, it isn’t freedom.  They are the heirs to the ideological oppressors against whom our history lessons were supposed to inoculate us.  They’ve just created a new church for themselves, and it will be all the more difficult to correct for the fact that it’s Godless.

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Budgets, Hometowns, and Community

Another budget vote at Tiverton’s financial town referendum (FTR) has come and gone, and another elector petition with a tax increase with a zero in front of the decimal point has won.  Counting the second, lower-tax elector petition on the ballot, this year, the split is more or less the same as in prior years, indicating that, at the current level of taxation, not more than 40% of voters are willing to go up much more.

But election analysis, like holding people accountable for their behavior during the campaign, can wait for a bit.  This morning, my mind’s lingering on a higher-level, more-philosophical point.

Just before the vote, a friend commented on the melancholy sense that driving into town after work gave him.  Looking at the beautiful place in which we get to live, he thought about how pleasant it would be not constantly to be watching out for the intrusions of a manipulated government into our lives — that is, if government undertook limited activities, the effort to patrol its actions were widely dispersed, and people with authority generally agreed on their boundaries.  I hear similar statements, but reversed, from friends who move to more-conservative states about how nice it is to live under a government that is properly ordered.

I’ve long intended to write an essay using two one-town islands as an analogy.  New Shoreham is a municipal entity in Rhode Island, but most people are more familiar with the land that it governs: Block Island.  Another large island in the state is Conanicut Island, but people are generally more familiar with its own municipal entity, Jamestown.

How people refer colloquially to geographic areas is typically a matter of historical accident, but the contrast in this case has always struck me.  What my friend was saying, basically, is that he would prefer if we thought of ourselves as living in Sakonnet, an area in which some basic services are partially handled by the municipal entity of Tiverton.

The people who oppose my friends’ activities in town no doubt have a similar feeling that the lack of harmony diminishes their sense of the town, and ultimately, a town of 15,000-16,000 people can accommodate divergent worldviews… except for one complication.  The irreconcilable problem is that one faction in town sees no meaningful distinction between the town government and their concept of “the community.”

Going through the budget, I see expenditures for things to which I would gladly donate more money, if asked, than whatever portion of my taxes goes to them, but some people in town think the community’s responsibility isn’t just to find a way to support such charities, but to force everybody to pay for them.  It isn’t a community activity, in this view, unless everybody is made to participate in some way, usually by funding it.

Such a view can’t help but transform our beautiful space on the bay into either a perpetual battleground or a fiefdom in which only a few are satisfied.

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What’s Really In Your Best Interests? Overreach in Obama’s Transgender Bathroom Directive

On this episode of, “What’s Really In Your Best Interests?” I discuss President Obama’s recent transgender bathroom directive. The administration’s directive regarding transgender access to bathrooms in public schools can only be viewed as a blatant threat and yet another assault against the cherished American cornerstones of federalism, local governance, individual rights, and transparent government. Rhode Islanders should speak out against this growing federal intrusion.

Regardless of how you feel about transgender access to facilities, the process by which this executive action will be implemented is nothing short of pure corruption.

If ever there was a time for school choice, to empower parents with the choice to escape schools that do not respect their personal values, that time is now. This increasing trend of arbitrary and unconstitutional government by activist and elitist executives, often a direct affront to the values of the very people they claim to represent – is dangerous to the cornerstones of our great American democracy.

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Marijuana Legalization Referendum Not Looking Good This Session – And That’s Good

The Providence Journal is reporting this morning, as did WPRI, that

Chances are dwindling that a referendum on legalizing marijuana will appear on the November ballot in Rhode Island.

“A referendum on this year’s ballot is unlikely,” House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello told The Providence Journal in an email Monday.

This is a good thing, with apologies to my friend Pat Ford and others who support the legalization of cannibis. One of the pro-legalization arguments is that use of the substance is the same as legal liquor. I might, might, might entertain that argument if it meant that the total number of people who use mood-altering substances did not change. But all indications are that this is not what happens.

Further, legalization hasn’t gone wonderfully in Colorado – far from it. When this discussion comes up at the General Assembly next year, these statistics need to heavily weigh on the ledger against the increased tax revenue often cited by cannibis advocates. Colorado’s experience strikes me as too high a price for Rhode Islanders to pay to legalize marijuana.

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Lack of Higher Ed Diversity an Existential Threat

Multiple folks around the Internet have highlighted a remarkable column from progressive writer Nicholas Kristof.  After observing on Facebook a conspicuous difficulty for would-be academics who are conservative, and being surprised by the viciousness of his “friends,” Kristof writes:

To me, the conversation illuminated primarily liberal arrogance — the implication that conservatives don’t have anything significant to add to the discussion.  My Facebook followers have incredible compassion for war victims in South Sudan, for kids who have been trafficked, even for abused chickens, but no obvious empathy for conservative scholars facing discrimination.

The stakes involve not just fairness to conservatives or evangelical Christians, not just whether progressives will be true to their own values, not just the benefits that come from diversity (and diversity of thought is arguably among the most important kinds), but also the quality of education itself.  When perspectives are unrepresented in discussions, when some kinds of thinkers aren’t at the table, classrooms become echo chambers rather than sounding boards — and we all lose.

Well, yes.  Anybody who was a vocal conservative in a college classroom any time within at least the last quarter century knows what that echo chamber sounds like.  Anecdotally, though, it seems as if things have gotten far worse; at least when I was a college upstart, the professors seemed to appreciate having a foil, and although some would notch down grades or demure from the writing of grad school recommendations, they at least gave the impression of mutual respect.

Those unwritten recommendations appear to have worked their magic, though, and all but emptied campuses of conservative professors precisely in areas in which having a diversity of worldviews is most important.

Kristof cites a study that seems to suggest that conservatives/Republicans engage in similarly biased behavior when it’s available, but such a finding should raise questions.  After all, it’s entirely possible that liberals exclude conservatives in academic settings for malicious reasons while conservatives would (at least in an experimental setting) exclude liberals because they know their fellow conservatives need all the help they can get.

Until evidence suggests otherwise, I’m inclined to return, for an explanation, to the ideological insecurity I mentioned earlier today and add in the deliberate (if often subconscious) “march through the institutions.”  This is how the Left has undermined a strong, culturally confident civilization: by infecting and overwhelming the institutions that allowed it to transmit its confidence and to build upon the virtues that gave it something to be confident about.

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Malevolence in Manipulation of the Insecure

Reflecting on the recurring question of whether Barrack Obama is “incompetent or malevolent,” in reaction to national security advisor Ben Rhodes’s admission that his administration worked to scam America into the Iran deal (among other things), Richard Fernandez suggests that incompetence may be the more dangerous possibility:

For all his persuasiveness, incompetence is Satan’s principle problem. The devil always sets out to construct heaven and winds up with hell because he uses the wrong principles.  Castro, Kim, Stalin, Chavez, Mao — who all would have ruled the universe if they could have, yet finished up ruling trash heaps — probably were surprised at the turn of events. Yet why should it be surprising? Mordor in The Lord of the Rings was the shabbiest place on Middle Earth just as Pandemonium, Milton’s capital of hell in Paradise Lost, is the most frightful place in the universe because these turkeys were going about it the wrong way and were too proud to admit error.

Of course, a blend is generally at work, inasmuch as Satan is malevolent but sells the wrong principles to his followers, the failure of which then reinforces their grievance against the world.  In that line, Fernandez suggests that “society is stupid” and inclined toward being groupies for the “madman on stage.”

Perhaps “unthinking” would be a better term for the masses, but it’s difficult not to see malevolence in the manipulation of them.  And malevolence finds a convenient tool in human beings’ insecurity.  In particular, look to the federal Dept. of Justice’s insistence that it has the authority to interpret federal law newly to invalidate North Carolina’s recently passed law on bathroom assignments.  To progressives in the federal government, this is a transparent power play, but the tyrants’ power lust dovetails with more submissive emotions among their supporters.

For progressives, it isn’t tolerable for people to behave according to disagreement on anything that matters.  To the extent that it is not merely an admission of one’s powerlessness (accepting difference because one has no choice), allowing alternative views is either an indication of ideological confidence (that one will be proven correct) or an admission that one’s own views might be incorrect.  Being neither confident in their own understanding of the world nor willing to admit that their leading lights might have something wrong, they support the destruction of our entire system of government in order to impose their views on the country by whatever undemocratic means are available.

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How a Free People Comes to Want a Strongman

David French’s kick-off point has to do with a clear-cut case of the federal administration’s creating new law in an unconstitutional way — even skirting the rules for implementing regulations — by simply interpreting statutes to mean whatever it wants via memo.  Specifically, he mentions the finding that somehow existing law forbids school districts from separating boys and girls in the bathroom.

However, his conclusion applies much more expansively:

This is how you start to lose a democracy. When an unprincipled elite exploits public ignorance to trample the rights of those out of power, it builds resentment. But unless the resentful are informed and aware, they’re vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation by their side’s own “elites” and its demagogues. Thus, here we are, facing the most miserable presidential choice in generations, with two major-party candidates competing for the right to desecrate the Constitution to their own ends.

So don’t roll your eyes at the “bathroom wars” or any of the other countless brush fires stirred up by post-constitutional, lawless leaders left and right. We can’t always choose our battles or our issues, but we must choose whether to resist.

We have the civic structures that we do precisely so that we can disagree in substantial, fundamental ways and still work together as much as possible.  I’ve written before that this boils down to a requirement for three basic freedoms:  the right to speak your mind, the right to work to change the government, and the right to leave.

The problem is that for a variety of reasons — notably a fundamentalist conviction that they are correct, a lust for power, and a political strategy of buying off constituencies — the modern Left will not allow disagreement.  Within our country, they want homogeny.  They want to be able to go anywhere within the nation’s borders and know that their worldview is enforced as law.  And they believe that no rules should hamper their ability to implement Objective Moral Truth.

Obviously, a society cannot long remain free when that view gains ascendancy; slightly less obviously, it cannot remain peaceful.  At some point they tyrants either have to crack down with violence or they are resisted with violence, and the walls that they’ve knocked down in order to get to everybody else can no longer protect against even more-objectionable intrusion.

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UPDATED: A School Musical and Pushing the Envelope with Your Children

The focal story in this week’s Sakonnet Times begins by noting that Tiverton High School’s now-running student musical marks the first time any high school in the entire state has performed Hair in the half century since it was released.  There’s a reason for that, and it’s the same reason the school felt the need to put a disclaimer on its fliers, warning in bolded all caps: “FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.”

Younger brothers and sisters of the performers… sorry, you’re out of luck.  The public high school is apparently no place for children in Tiverton.

Drama director Gloria Crist notes that she modified the nudity scene, replacing the potential child pornography with something involving glow sticks.  She also notes that there won’t be any depictions of drug use actually on the stage.  As for the script’s profanity, Crist says she took some out, but “kept the rest in, with taste of course.”

Those familiar with the musical — and I had the soundtrack memorized at one point — might question the judgment of taste by somebody who would choose this play for a school production involving children as young as 14 or 15.  I’ve requested from the district a song list and the libretto but have not yet received any reply.

According to Crist, Tams-Witmark Music Library, which owns the rights to Hair, refused to let the school cut the nudity scene, but allowed the glow-stick creativity.  One wonders whether the school was permitted to cut some of the songs, like “Sodomy” (“Masturbation can be fun/Join the holy orgy Kama Sutra everyone”); “Initials,” in which LBJ takes the IRT and sees “the youth of America on LSD,” or “The Bed.”  If individual parents want to validate this sort of content for their own children, that’s one thing, but for a public high school to be giving it a seal of approval is wholly inappropriate.

No doubt much of the most objectionable content has been removed or softened, but even so, “clever work-arounds,” as the article puts it, for content that goes too far even for radicals have a tendency to invite curiosity, especially among children with access to the Internet wherever they go, carrying the implied approval of the public school system.

Even edited, there’s simply no way to tease out the glorification of sex and drug culture in Hair.  Rhode Island is the sixth-highest state in the nation for drug overdose deaths, according to the CDC.  Addressing the counterculture of the ’60s in an academic setting is appropriate, to be sure, but Hair revels in it, promotes it.  Indeed, Crist seems to intend the explicit propagandizing of the town’s children: “It has been so powerful to watch them get it. But they do. They understand what freedom of choice is, social justice…”

This sort of decision by the school department certainly affirms the decisions of many parents who choose private schools for their children, but parents who lack the resources are stuck.  Frankly, if public school is now about pushing the envelope in this way, the case is even stronger for allowing parents to use the funds set aside for their children to make better decisions.

UPDATE (5/19/16; 8:11 a.m.)

Given a resurgence of attention to this post, I should note that the school administration did send me a song list, and I have watched the performance (although the video on YouTube has since been switched to private).  Busy days and other priorities combined with indecision about whether it would be appropriate to publicize an unofficial video of the performance led to the delay of this update.

The songs “Sodomy” and “The Bed,” described above, were removed from the script, but “Initials” was kept, as were other inappropriate songs, like “Hashish,” which lists drugs and ends with “s-e-x, y-o-u” and a euphoric “wow.”  Much of the sexual content of the musical remained, the anti-Catholic parts were actually more aggressive than I would have expected.

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Gender Gap as Excuse to Take Over Private Companies

Another example of legislation that proves legislators’ abhorrent understanding of government’s role in our lives is the deceptively named “Fair Pay Act.”  In the Senate, it’s S2635, and in the House, it’s H7694, which is (it’s depressing to note) cosponsored by Republican Doreen Costa (Exeter, North Kingstown).

Not satisfied with the law already on the books to forbid discrimination in employees’ pay based on sex, the legislation attempts to make the factors by which an employer can explain differences between individuals’ pay more rigid when appearing before government officials concerning a complaint.  In essence, every business in the state would practically be forced to have a detailed catalog of adjustments for employees’ pay.

So, whereas before an employer could argue that a particular man had an edge in “seniority, experience, training, skill, or ability” over a female colleague, the law would require the company to have “a seniority system.”  Other systems that employers would have to have in place are “a merit system,” “a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production,” and some way to demonstrate that some other “bona fide factor” exists.

Somehow, employers would have to be able to define every difference in the qualities that their employees have according to some sort of “system.”  That things just seem to go better when John (or Jane, for that matter) is doing them would be insufficient.

The “bona fide factor” exemption is where things become truly objectionable, with this:

This defense shall not apply if the employee demonstrates that an alternative business practice exists that would serve the same business purpose without producing the wage differential.

Think about what this means.  Based on the nature of the business, the company’s business model, and just the way that the people who own, work for, and patronize the company operate, the organization does something in a particular way.  If this particular way of doing business happens to favor the unique qualities of a man in the organization over a particular woman, the woman can go to a faux judge in the Department of Labor and Training and get him or her to force the company to change the way it does business.

Companies could no longer just experiment and find ways to do things that seem to work in the most efficient way possible for that company.  Rather, at the urging of a disgruntled employee, a bureaucrat in a state agency could insist that the business must try some other possible approach.  The only burden to prove that it might work is the subjective judgment of the bureaucrat, and the process to undo the change would, it appears, be for the employer to do a careful study to prove that the second option is not working as well and to return to the bureaucracy to make that case.

Who really owns the business? This is completely out of keeping with the principles of our country.  Indeed, it’s the sort of thinking that drains economies and pushes civilizations to collapse.

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The End Is Not the End

Sometimes, comfort has to come in strange ways, and today, it comes from this paragraph in Glenn Reynolds’s most recent USA Today essay:

Of course, collapse isn’t, as Tainter notes, always so bad. When the Western Roman Empire collapsed, ordinary people were often better off because they were freed from the empire’s oppressive taxes and regulations (like the rules that sons of soldiers, civil servants and workers in government factories, among others, must enter the trades of their fathers). Many people in the provinces welcomed the barbarians. The new governments were actually better at what governments are for, as Tainter writes: “The smaller Germanic kingdoms that succeeded Roman rule in the West were more successful at resisting foreign incursions (e.g., Huns and Arabs). … The economic prosperity of North Africa actually rose under the Vandals, but declined again under Justinian’s reconquest when Imperial taxes were reimposed.” Likewise, Venezuelans will probably be better off when they eventually get a new government. They could hardly be worse.

I will say that I think we’re vulnerable on this count, in the United States.  Nations founded on a particular heritage or ethnic makeup don’t lose their identity during regime change, but we’re founded on a governing idea.  When that idea goes away (or when it went away) the identity, and the nation it defined, is (or was) gone, too.

But life goes on.  Some of the choices change, of course.  Those who grew up expecting to make decisions about vacations and what kind of cars to buy must instead make decisions about how much to stand up for their rights and freedom.  When a nation is, at its core, an idea, anybody can keep that idea alive — even as a memorial candle kept burning in some dim basement — until the world is ready for it again.  That too is a decision.

The long threads of human society, leading through our ancestors and us, then into the murky future, continue.  We just refine our understanding of our priorities and adjust our plans.  Our current circumstances are really nothing new in our society’s experience; we’re just living through a period of madness and decline.

As the song goes, “When the cities are on fire with the burning flesh of men, just remember that death is not the end.”