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On Businesses’ Tilting Leftward

Aaron Clarey suggests brainwashed GenXers and their lack of new ideas are to blame for the seemingly inexplicable imbibing of leftism among a new generation of corporate leaders:

… the strategy here is something very simple and one politicians have been using for years – divide and conquer. Of course corporations and their newest generation of “leaders” don’t really want to “conquer” anything. They just want to sell their wares. But reliably and predictably, despite all claiming to be “independent minded,” the brainwashing in school and college worked. Today’s business leaders really do think taking political positions on race, sex, privilege, the environment, etc., is a genuine and effective business strategy. They think bragging about how they hire “minorities” but not “the best” is a long term managerial strategy. They think donating 5% of their pre-tax profit (because a corporate tax rate of 40% just wasn’t enough) will win people over.

Alas, this is the newest generation of business leaders. People who use “fads,” “political correctness” and “leftism” to sell their products. And if you thought the Baby Boomers were bad business managers, just wait for these over-educated, political-correct-crusaderist Gen X’ers to fully be at the helm.

Ed Driscoll broadens that view (without the generational dynamic) suggesting something more like a cultural feedback loop. I’d argue it’s more an all-of-the-above phenomenon. Corporate executives and boards who take truly inexplicable left-wing stands are like weaker predators imitating their alphas without knowing why.

The actual strategy behind it all derives from the reality that it’s a better bet to be on the side of an elite that’s inexorably building an anti-democratic machine with the purpose of bringing all of society under government and limiting the ability to change government itself than on the side of a disorganized population that’s too distracted and apathetic to put an end to the usurpation. The progressive movement filters this central objective through the various lenses of “green” fads, identity politics, and anti-traditionalism to distract, divide, and disrupt the public, and naturally corporate types aren’t immune.

The less-savvy among them pick up the virtue signaling (that is, the practice of taking supposedly virtuous stands in order to be seen taking them) without understanding the underlying motivation. They sense that leftism is to their benefit, but they haven’t quite figured out why, in the crass terms of cronyism.

Those who move on to bigger and better things in the corporate world will figure it out soon enough, though. And those who don’t, or who resist it on principle, will be held back by their wasteful progressivism and unable to compete.

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Experts Who Miss the Obvious

A Sunday Providence Journal article by Kate Bramson is worth a quick look by way of raising the question of why experts seem to miss the obvious. A few quick hits, starting with this, from “labor economist” Paul Harrington:

“Older workers are going to retire at some point or other, and it’s going to be followed by a generation with less labor-force participation and less work experience” than earlier generations had, Harrington said. “To me, figuring out, ‘How do I get work experience for young people in urban areas?’ — that would be a top priority.”

This isn’t a difficult problem. Eliminate the minimum wage, lighten up mandatory benefits for employees (including both those imposed as regulations and those imposed as entitlement taxes), and end policies that attract low-skilled workers from other countries. Rather than non-living-wages for legal and illegal immigrants, you’d have additional spending money for lower-income households and young adults with work experience.

Then there’s this, from University of Rhode Island Economics Professor Leonard Lardaro:

“We’re much more about the here and now, and we never allocate enough resources for investment,” Lardaro said. “The result? Our physical infrastructure — roads and bridges — are among the worst in the country. The skills of our labor force are nowhere near what we need…. We have to be much more of a society that allocates toward investment, and we’re avoiding it.”

Various data points make this hypothesis suspect. We already spend a great deal on education, for example, which is ostensibly done as an investment. Meanwhile, younger “productive class” Rhode Islanders are leaving the state, which indicates a willingness to risk a little short-term discomfort for a long-term improvement. Even if we look at insiders, we see long-term thinking: The labor unions fight for things like longevity, and pensions are a central focus of their activism, while insiders put in some years of long hours and relatively low (or even no) pay on various boards and councils or in the legislature, with the expectation that they’ll be able to cash out with a cushy patronage job or benefit in some other way.

The people who set Rhode Island policy do plenty of long-term thinking. The problem is that we allow them to use government to serve their own interests. Fix the general mindset that such systemic corruption is acceptable, and the state’s seemingly intractable problems will begin to clear up. Unfortunately, the Raimondo-Mattiello Era is proving to represent a mad dash in the opposite direction, leaving us only the hope that the dash indicates a sense that we’re almost to the point of collapse.

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Minimum Wage and the New Progressives

My first thought upon reading in today’s Providence Journal of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s intention to continue Rhode Island government’s relentless push to redistribute money and make business more difficult by increasing the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit was that she has decisively proven that one can know how to make money appear from thin air and still not understand business or the economy. But then I followed a link in Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “newsletter” to a book review by Malcom Harris in the progressive New Republic. The book Harris reviews is by Princeton historian Thomas Leonard, mainly concerning the explicit racism and belief in eugenics of progressives a century ago.

Note these lines from Harris, with the interior quote from Leonard’s book (emphases in original):

Among his revelations: The minimum wage was created to destroy jobs; progressives (including the founders of this magazine) really did hate small businesses and they were all way too enthusiastic about Germany’s social structure. …

The minimum wage, in addition to providing some workers with a better standard of living, would guard white men from competition. Leonard is worth reading at length:

A legal minimum wage, applied to immigrants and those already working in America, ensured that only the productive workers were employed. The economically unproductive, those whose labor was worth less than the legal minimum, would be denied entry, or, if already employed, would be idled. For economic reformers who regarded inferior workers as a threat, the minimum wage provided an invaluable service. It identified inferior workers by idling them. So identified, they could be dealt with. The unemployable would be removed to institutions, or to celibate labor colonies. The inferior immigrant would be removed back to the old country or to retirement. The woman would be removed to the home, where she could meet her obligations to family and race.

As Goldberg points out, one could take modern progressives at their word that an impenetrable wall now exists between them and their ideological forebears when it comes to the racist motivation and still wonder whether they should consider that their erstwhile heroes might have been correct about the effects of a minimum wage.

I’d argue that the answer, as regular readers will no doubt recognize, is that progressives have not changed as much as they, themselves, would like to think. They still believe that, as Harris puts it, they are the ones who should lead all of society. They still want to identify and sort people into that inferior class. But they’ve realized that they can make use of the underclass as a weapon against the more-traditionalist, -motivated, and -individualistic middle, which is ultimately the threat against their elitist designs.

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Public Schools and Concern for the Future

Over in Detroit, unionized public school teachers have shut down schools attended by 46,000 students, of whom, Lindsey Burke points out, large percentages can’t achieve proficiency on key academic subjects.  That’s just what labor unions do:  rig things in members’ favor, limit options for fixing problems, and then shut the system down when even friendly Democrat administrations can’t keep up with the demands.

Meanwhile, in Providence, some students are demanding that standard topics of history — key to the rationale of publicly funding education in order to maintain the nation’s sense of itself as a nation — be displaced in favor of telling them more about themselves and their ancestral backgrounds:

“We should be learning about more of the world than the United States,” said Diane Gonzalez from Central High School. “I’m Guatemalan and I have no idea about my history. They make it seem like our countries are meaningless…”

Licelot Caraballo, from E-Cubed Academy in Providence, said he wants students to “feel connected to their history, not to lose it because they can’t access it. Our history matters. We can make history in Providence, our history in Providence.”

According to the 2015 PARCC results, only 7.4% of Central High students are performing up to expectations in language arts, with E-Cubed doing a little better, at 14.8%.  In math, the schools do much worse, with 2.7% and 1.9%, respectively.  The proposal to dilute the school day with more history from other countries should be viewed with great skepticism, notwithstanding an academic study finding grade improvement with ethnic studies in California.  Even if we assume the results of that study are not biased or simply resulting from a flawed methodology, what they might mainly illustrate is that progressive obsession with race and ethnicity is a much more palpable detriment to students than most people would guess.  (That is, these students are so hindered by the racial-grievance mindset that even mild alleviation brings improvements.)

What’s most stunning about the Providence students’ statements, though, is the sheer passivity.  Nothing is stopping students from learning about the countries of their ancestors.  Moreover, the fact that the government doesn’t hand something to somebody doesn’t mean that he or she has no access to it.  (There’s a lesson that begs for expanded application.)

Both teachers in Detroit and students in Providence appear to have the attitude that activism is the only initiative that one need take.  Going out to achieve things on your own is out; demanding that other people give you things is in.  Look no farther for evidence that we need more American history, not less.

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Surviving the Flood, Mudslide, and Stampede

Richard Fernandez takes kind of a dark view of the near future with this analogy:

What “too late” means was driven home years ago when one of the volunteer members of the Philippine Airlines cadaver recovery team described an accident which took the lives of 5 members of a university mountaineering club.  The party was trekking along a dry riverbed on the lower slope of an 8,000 foot volcano in Mindoro.  The weather was fine and the mountaineers were doomed.  Unknown to them a squall had dumped a slug of rain on the peak high above them.  The first warning they had of oncoming tons of water was a rumbling sound round the corner of the gorge.  Then the flood came and only those fast enough to clamber up the riverbanks survived.

The issue to which he’s referring, specifically, is the wave of invading migrants in Europe, but there are any number of issues that would qualify, as well, from the economy to superviruses.  In a worst case scenario, the “slug of rain” will open up a number dams along its way, trigger a mudslide, and scare all of the man-eating critters from the mountain down on us all.  Fernandez’s conclusion applies pretty much across the board:

The fact is, for West to survive, it must become something other than what our PC leaders have tried to make it.  For it is written that “the stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.”  It’s poetic justice to be sure but we have to accept the justice if we are to save what’s left of the poetry.

Fortunately, the advice applies on an individual level.  Return to the basics and your own foundations.  That’s what will remain when all else is washed away, and it better be enough.

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Headlines and a Society’s Racial Lunacy

No matter how many I come across, headlines like this in today’s Providence Journal astonish me: “5 white men chosen as police finalists.”  What is the insinuation?  And given the insinuation, what is the point?

In paragraph 14 of 18, we learn:

There was diversity in the beginning crop of candidates, who took the preliminary agility test. The chief and Mayor Allan W. Fung saw to it that a special outreach was made to minorities, including joint appearances on Spanish-language radio shows and on the public-access TV show hosted by Vincent.

And yet the result was five white guys.  How demeaning of their accomplishment.  How reductive of humanity .

Look, if reporter Gregory Smith has some hunch that a diverse pool being winnowed down to those five men indicates some sort of bias, he should look for leads and do the investigation.  Simply splashing the end result into the newspaper as if there’s self-evidently something suspicious about the result is divisive and wrong.

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Short Sighted and Letting the Rules Slip

Drawing on his military experience in Kosovo, Kurt Schlichter draws a stark lesson for the progressives currently running America’s cultural institutions and the White House:

Today in America, a despised minority that is really no minority is the target of an establishment that considers this minority unworthy of respect, unworthy of rights, and unworthy of having a say in the direction of this country. It’s an establishment that has one law for itself, and another for its enemies. It’s an establishment that inflicts an ever-increasing series of petty humiliations on its opponents and considers this all hilarious.

That’s a recipe for disaster. You cannot expect to change the status quo for yourself and then expect those you victimize not to play by the new rules you have created. You cannot expect to be able to discard the rule of law in favor of the rule of force and have those you target not respond in kind.

Like Schlichter, I find myself wondering, “What is the end game, liberals?”  And (I suspect) like Schlichter, I can only conclude that there’s a great deal that the Left has left unconsidered.  One sees this in their technocratic schemes and in the reams of bad legislation that I’m already (ugh) in the middle of reading, right now.  Progressives seem to have a pervasive character trait that makes them believe they can design perfect systems, or at least self-correcting ones.  Indeed, the realization that this is a grievous conceptual error could be part of a definition of non-progressives.

They think they’ve got the minority groups on chains of identity politics and government benefits.  They think they’ve got the investment class and business moguls caught up in the promise of special access to great mountains of money and protectionist regulations.  They think they’ve got young adults swept up in emotion on purely social incentives.  They think they’ve got those with minority worldviews and behavioral inclinations paralyzed with fear that any other leadership would make them fugitives.  They think they’ve got their (relatively conservative) blue collar workers and emergency personnel on labor-union leashes.  From there, the rest of the process is just continuing to crank the Alinsky lever to reduce the space permitted to those who aren’t locked in.

One of two broad outcomes is possible.  The above construct turns into a doomsday machine and modern technology finally allows those inevitably inclined toward totalitarianism to make resistance impossible, and our planet becomes a moral wasteland beyond the imagination of any dystopian writer.  Or the breaking point is reached, whether with a final “enough” from the targets of the machine (as Schlichter foresees) or with the awakening of key cogs in the machine to the fact that they’d be better off with freedom than in lockstep.

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Monday Morning Economic Thought

When it comes to political debates, the economic points can sometimes make one wonder, “We’re really arguing about this?”  Kevin Williamson has a knack for plucking those points out, as in last week’s essay about “Chinese volatility and American hubris”:

Volatility is not caused by the absence of artificial anti-volatility measures.

That’s something that is almost always overlooked in politics: X is not usually caused by the absence of measures against X. For instance, the United States doesn’t have high levels of violent crime because of an absence of laws against guns, but because we are a violent and unruly society. (If you think our rate of shootings is elevated, compare our rate of death by bludgeoning, or our rate of accidental vehicular deaths, to the rates in Switzerland or Singapore.) And it isn’t a lack of appropriate regulation that causes some business executives to make dumb decisions or to take on excessively risky investments, any more than car wrecks are caused by the absence of guard rails, or obesity by Happy Meals.

Human society cannot be guided by the nose, at least not for long.  Attempting to put a lid on some behavior — whether unhealthy eating or stock sell-offs — will often lead to the cask’s springing unpredictable leaks or just exploding.

This is why all but some irreducible rules ought to be resolved at the most-local level possible, and through the least intrusive social institution possible.  Locally is the only level at which people have a shot at figuring out what’s going on, and it’s where they should have a right to decide whether they want to fix it.  A local lid might leak the people causing the discord if they can go elsewhere to find what they want.  Moreover, at the local level, government isn’t the only means of affecting behavior, because cultural community activity has a greater influence.

Back to Williamson:

But every expensively miseducated jackass who thinks he should be president of these United States has an opinion about what a bottle of grape soda ought to cost in Des Moines or Dixville Notch. The assumptions in Washington are the same as those in Beijing: that everything is subject to political power, that it all comes down to having the right sort of enlightened rulers with the right sort of enlightened ideas, that everything else — the real world — is detail. But human beings, and their relationships, are not electrical circuits. They are not governed by circuit breakers. Not in reality.

It very well may be the single most discouraging thing about political and policy debate that so few people understand this or have such a need to believe otherwise that they, well, try to put a lid on it.

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The University as Conquered by the Left

In keeping with several recent posts, The American Interest posts a stunning graph showing the leftward lurch of American Universities since the mid-90s.  According to the chart, as recently as when I first attended college, academics were evenly split (around 40% each) between liberals/progressives and moderates, with conservatives making up the difference (at 20%).  Now, the far left accounts for about 60% of academics, with moderates being a 30% minority and conservatives down to around 10%.

The post raises the “canon wars” in the humanities as part of the reason for this shift, suggesting:

Whether or not you approve of these developments, it’s easy to see how they could have made scholarly minded students with traditionalist leanings less inclined to get a PhD and enter an academic humanities or social science department (the Heterodox Academy posts notes that most of the conservatives in the chart come from STEM departments and professional schools).

Progressives sometimes argue that the dearth of conservatives in academia can mostly be explained by self-selection, rather than discrimination, and is therefore not a cause for concern. But this argument fails to take into account the way that changes in academic culture affect self-selection.

This gives too much ground.  Relishing the role of contrarian, I’d likely be a traditionalist humanities academic, right now, if I hadn’t been blocked from graduate school in 1999.  Megan McArdle cites a passage of the book, Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity, and Faculty Gatekeeping, that illustrates how this blacklisting happens.

As McArdle notes, the problems of this approach go well beyond simple fairness and concerns about a “Dream Deferred.”  First, areas of intellectual inquiry can go far, far off the rails if those who would pull in one direction are deliberately excluded from the debate.  This is especially a problem in the humanities, which don’t have mathematically provable equations or experiments that can be performed in a laboratory.  Rather, the experiments of the humanities and social sciences can only truly be performed on large segments of society, where they can do substantial harm if the underlying theory is not sound.

Second, as the university races farther and farther from the public on matters of basic belief, it not only risks public support for its mission, but becomes increasingly focused on imposing its belief system as opposed to offering practical services to their students.

(Both links via Instapundit.)

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A Back Door for Religion in Schools

Reading Carol Bragg’s Providence Journal op-ed titled “Nonviolence transforms R.I. school” might make one wonder how its topic could be considered anything other than an establishment of religion in a public school:

Broad Rock Middle School in South Kingstown has embarked on an ambitious mission to become a model school based on Martin Luther King’s philosophy of nonviolence. The inspiration came from Robin Wildman, a fifth grade teacher at the school who has taught about nonviolence for 15 years. Observers have remarked that they can feel in her classroom the respect, compassion and community she has built with her students.

Wildman accomplishes this by spending the first three weeks of the school year teaching nonviolence lessons, to establish the framework for how the class will operate for the remainder of the year. She says it is time well spent. The outcome is more time spent on teaching, and less on discipline.

Really, substitute a single name and it’s crystal clear that we’re talking a religion, here:

Education in Jesus’ method of nonviolence does this and more. It teaches respect. Encompassing the teachings of Jesus, it promotes love over hate; justice, forgiveness and reconciliation over revenge; respectful dialogue over rancorous debate; and positive, peaceful action over inaction or violence. The Broad Rock initiative has the potential to give young people skills they need for happy, healthy relationships throughout their lives. In addition, it will empower them to play an active, productive role in their communities, state and nation.

The article’s mention of non-profit organizations that are now being brought in proves that this isn’t just one teacher’s technique, but an organized cultural movement beyond the school’s walls.  The only conceivable difference between the cult of “nonviolence” and a religion is that the cult doesn’t go so far as to claim any real existential foundation for preferring its teachings over any other.  But teachers are still telling children what they should believe about the world, how they should interact other people, and what they should value.

Only a society enveloped in a fog of dim confusion could fail to be outraged at the notion that a secular humanist appropriation of Christianity is perfectly fine in a public school, while schools must be forbidden across the country from allowing any expression of genuine Christianity.  This is another example of the ways in which progressivism constrains allowable actions in a way that gives it an advantage as a proselytizing faith.

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Nanny State Edges Toward Your Children

Way out yonder in Utah, Connor Boyack notices that federal bureaucrats are beginning to articulate a principle that the public should be able to sense in just about everything the federal government does: They aren’t clear on the threshold at which their responsibility to protect children crosses into our right to raise our own.

The entire purpose of the 18-page statement is to explain, promote and bureaucratically implement what the departments call “family engagement.” This term sounds like something every good parent would inherently want, but here’s how the government defines it: “the systematic inclusion of families as partners in children’s development, learning and wellness.”

Actually, Boyack could have selected worse phrases from the document in question, like this one:

It is the position of the Departments that all early childhood programs and schools recognize families as equal partners in improving children’s development, learning and wellness across all settings, and over the course of their children’s developmental and educational experiences.

The local school department and the state and federal government are not an “equal partner” with parents in raising our children.  At best, the government is a provider that we engage for certain services (and some of us do our best not to allow it to be even that).  The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education may presume to “recognize” parents as the equal of government, but what they’re really doing is asserting not only their equality with the parents, but also the authority to determine whether that equality exists.

And don’t think the federal government is alone on this.  Last month, I highlighted a similar philosophical impression coming from Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s Children’s Cabinet:

According to the governor, the government is going to link together all of its agencies, along with federal funds, private non-profits, and private companies to take it upon themselves to stop children from “feeling sad.”  This is the stuff of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World.  We used to chuckle about these make-work political initiatives because we knew we were protected by the limited powers of government, but we can’t chuckle anymore because it’s undeniable that people in and around government really mean it.

The Children’s Cabinet buzzwords haven’t yet crossed the threshold into subordinating parents, but it’s difficult to decide whether it’s a good sign or a bad one that its strategic plan only mentions parents three times, and only as the income-earners and housing-providers of their families.  The lack of mention could be taken as an acknowledgement that the government isn’t on the same plane as parents, when it comes to their children, or an insinuation that parents’ rights are largely an irrelevant political problem to be addressed down the road, when strings come with the oft-mentioned federal grants.

As bureaucrats ease into language that better reflects their political philosophy and state agencies define their role as totalitarians, the public should be sure to keep one thing very clear: They are subordinate to us, not the other way around.

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The Odd Language of Progressive Activism

A line in Kathy Gregg’s Providence Journal article about protests at the State House today — one against the truck toll proposal and one in favor of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants — seemed to stumble on language in a telling way:

“No more second class status. All Rhode Islanders should come in from the shadows. It is time for all of RI’s workers to have equal access to our roads,” said Mike Araujo, executive director of the coalition known as “RI Jobs With Justice,” in a media advisory for this 3-to-4:30 p.m. march and rally.

“Second class” is an adjective, and “status” isn’t a very descriptive word.  Second-class what?  Most commonly, in American politics, one would expect the noun to be “citizens,” but that’s clearly not the case, here.  Second-class residents?  That still seems odd.

The phrase “second class status” deliberately attempts to skirt this question in a way that insinuates rights without thought, skipping a legitimate question:  Are there rights and privileges that somebody who came to this country and this state illegally should be denied?  Clearly, the answer is “yes,” unless one intends to claim that anybody who manages to cross a border should be entitled to vote and hold public office.

Such rhetoric, frankly, reveals the lie behind claims like Raimondo’s assurances that granting licenses to illegal immigrants is simply a safety issue.  It’s all about safety in much the same way that same-sex marriage was all about allowing gay partners to visit each other in the hospital… until to turned out to be about forcing Christian bakers to help celebrate same-sex marriages or Catholic adoption agencies to place children in same-sex households.

Americans should stop falling for the bait and switch.  If advocates and progressive Democrat politicians want to push our society in a particular direction, they should make the case.  They shouldn’t try to sneak it in as simply a practical tweak.  Supply the noun.  Giving illegal immigrants licenses would make them “full” whats?

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Figuring Out the Political Magician’s Trick

Going through links that I’d put aside pointing to content on which I never got around to commenting, I came across an October essay by Thomas Sowell that fits nicely with my first post of the year, this morning.  For the new year, I hope we can begin to change the balance of responsibility to persuade, such that the politicians and activists who’ve done so much damage to our state, country, and world will be required to justify themselves, rather than forcing us to prove to them we’ve been hurt — a fool’s task, inasmuch as progressives interact with others in demonstrably bad faith.

Sowell’s essay provides a framework — an analogy — whereby to accomplish our turning of the tide:

One of the secrets of successful magicians on stage is directing the audience’s attention to something that is attractive or distracting, but irrelevant to what is actually being done. That is also the secret of successful political charlatans.

Consider the message directed at business owners by Senator Elizabeth Warren and President Barack Obama — “You didn’t build that!” …

The conclusion is insinuated, rather than spelled out, so it is less likely to be scrutinized. Moreover, attention is directed toward the undeserved good fortune of the heir, and away from the crucial question as to whether society will in fact be better off if politicians take over more of either the management or the earnings of the business.

The question of politicians’ track record in managing economic activities vanishes into thin air, just as other things vanish into thin air by a magician’s sleight of hand on stage.

He goes on to apply this reasoning to his central topic — namely, the same trick used to distract us from the fact that progressive policies have harmed black Americans for the better part of a century — and it applies in a great many ways.  As active citizens, we need to get better at spotting such tricks, exposing them, and (most importantly) bringing the public eye back to what’s important: the theft of our resources and destruction of our freedom.

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Good Riddance to 2015 (With Trepidation)

For (probably) my last post of the year, I’ll direct your attention to two articles on NRO.  George Will grabs a long list of lowlights from 2015:

We learned that a dismal threshold has been passed. The value of property that police departments seized through civil-asset forfeiture — usually without accusing, let alone convicting, the property owners of a crime — exceeded the value of property stolen by nongovernment burglars. The attorney general of New York, which reaps billions from gambling — casinos, off-track betting, the state lottery — moved to extinguish (competition from) fantasy football because it is gambling. Florida police raided a mahjong game played by four women aged between 87 and 95 because their game’s stakes allegedly exceeded the $10 limit set by state law. A Michigan woman was fingerprinted, had her mug shot taken, and was jailed until released on bond because she was late in renewing the $10 license for her dog. New Jersey police arrested a 72-year-old retired teacher, chained his hands and feet to a bench, and charged him with illegally carrying a firearm — a 300-year-old flintlock pistol (with no powder, flint, or ball) he purchased from an antique dealer.

And on it goes.  Then there’s Stephen Miller’s humorous recollections and foreshadowing for President Barack Obama’s final year in office, written as if it’s a TV show titled SOTU:

The television show SOTU premiered a teaser promo on Twitter Tuesday night, hoping to get viewers who have fallen off over the course of recent seasons excited for the long-overdue final season’s premiere on January 12. The season will conclude with a series finale in January 2017.

Not much is revealed about the plot of the upcoming season, but the promo does feature the smirking president (played by Barack Obama) adjusting his white-tie tuxedo, an upbeat image in stark contrast to how last season ended: the country he presides over suffering another devastating terror attack in California, as well as one in Paris, with our hero rushing away to Hawaii.

In the (deliberately) labored preface of my novel, A Whispering Through the Branches, I questioned the significance of a clock turning the gears from one year to another, even when it turns the number for a millennium.  This year, I suspect we’ll simply graduate from the foolishness of 2015 to a 2016 that will either be so ridiculous it’s painful or so painful it’s ridiculous.

For the country, 2016’s saving grace may be that the major consequences of the Obama presidency won’t be experienced so soon, just as the major consequences of the Clinton presidency weren’t felt until September 2001 and the recession of the late ’00s.  Maybe in our stumbling or our wisdom we’ll choose well in the election, although the odds seem to be against us.

When it comes to Rhode Island, well, not much can be expected.  Our governor still has some momentum for her experiment in choosing the wrong direction, but maybe it will be the year the people and the news media start to catch on.

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Moving Rhode Island Toward Independence

With RI Taxpayers’ Larry Girouard wondering “what’s working?” in Rhode Island, I can’t help but turn my eyes toward Maine.  Via the RI Taxpayers’ daily email:

In the fall of 2014, conservative Maine Gov. Paul LePage – who has run on a promise of welfare reform – started new work rules for food-stamp recipients that mandated any adult without children and who’s able to work must do so at least part time, participate in job-training programs or volunteer to receive food stamp benefits.

“We have to make sure that our focus is on food stamps and other welfare programs being a last resort, not a way of life, and that we’re promoting employment,” Mary Mayhew, the commissioner of Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services, tells the Examiner.

Politicians in RI like to make a big deal about the unemployment rate (because it’s so flawed it actually makes it look like Rhode Island has been recovering), but how significant can that statistic be when the number of people on food stamps (or SNAP) remains 100,000 greater than at the start of the recession?  In order for Rhode Island to really find something that works, it’s going to have to resist the urge to become a company state and stop creating barriers to people’s self improvement and fulfillment.

Top down plans to bring in more elites to tell us how to live isn’t going to do it.

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Christmas as a Prelude to Triumph

The mysteries contemplated for the Rosary on Fridays are the Sorrowful ones, covering Jesus’ Passion and death, which seemed mismatched to the day, today.  As I looked through the links I’ve put aside for writing, a non-spoiler essay reflecting on the Star Wars movie by Andrew Klavan pointed me toward a resolution of the clash:

… In fantasy films, the fighter pilot whoops and cheers when he blasts the alien craft to smithereens — and so do we. The watching crowd celebrates when the super-villain is finally defeated by the super hero — and so do we. The hero is honored and elevated and lifted up as an example. The fight is seen as an unfortunate and dangerous necessity, but the fight having come, it’s engaged in without moral dithering and backward glances. Victory is recognized as an absolute good.

In fantasy films like Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Captain America and so on, evil is acknowledged as real and physical heroism is recognized as the virtue without which no other virtue is possible.

Why then, in real life, are we weighed down with wartime leaders who seem to dither and hesitate in a pale moral melancholy, completely lacking the warrior ethos?

Exiting churchinto spring-like weather this morning reminded me that, ultimately, Christianity is more about Easter than Christmas.  The latter is more of a prelude to the former.  Christmas does, however, make for simpler theology for children, which may explain its ascendancy even in a secularized culture.

On its own, Christmas is triumph without the effort, without the suffering.  If Christmas is the salvation, Christ didn’t really have to do anything but be born, and our salvation is a straightforward gift, such as children plucked from beneath their families’ Christmas trees, this morning.

If that’s our vision of salvation, it makes sense that we’d have more of a Christmas culture than an Easter one, and it makes sense that we’d approach battle in “a pale moral melancholy.”  If the birth of our Savior is our salvation, then struggle is tragic and ought to be unnecessary.  There’s no real joy in the victory, because the fight shouldn’t have happened.  The popularity of the movies that Klavan mentions, as well as modern ailments of anxiety, stress, and depression, suggests that this view of life doesn’t match well with our nature.

The joy of Christmas, then, should be that there is a Light in the darkness, a Hope in the adversity — not that the war against evil is over, but that we can win it and that we have the opportunity of fighting it.

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Resuscitating Christmas

As we move into the pre-Christmas Eve atmosphere, which (per tradition) finds my children moping around the house, not knowing what to do with themselves in the few hours before it would be reasonable to tingle with anticipation, perhaps a dip into sad news from Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal can inspire us to approach the evening and Big Day with new spirit:

For many, December required a pilgrimage to Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Bergdorf Goodman. No matter the weather, people walked the mile from 38th Street to 59th Street and jammed sidewalks to see these stores’ joyful Christmas windows.

Stay home. This year Fifth Avenue in December is about . . . pretty much nothing, or worse.

To be sure, the magnificent Rockefeller Center Christmas tree still stands, and directly across on Fifth Avenue is St. Patrick’s Cathedral, its facade washed and hung with a big green wreath. But walk up or down the famous avenue this week and what you and your children will see is not merely Christmas scrubbed, but what one can only describe as the anti-Christmas.

Growing up in New Jersey, right outside of New York City, those storefronts were a Christmas tradition for my non-religious family.  It was a free street-museum collection of displays sumptuously recalling scenes that children might imagine with their toys, often with animated characters, in an era when computers did not yet allow us to make anything and everything come to life.  If Henninger’s description is accurate, and I’ve no reason to doubt it, destroying this tradition for families that continue to hold it is tantamount to a violation of the public trust.

That said, social traditions change, and they can’t always change in ways we prefer.  The Christmases of my childhood were cultural accumulations of years of evolving practices.  That they became concrete in my childhood to define the holiday in a certain way does not make them eternal.  (I sense a parody titled “Ozychristmias” in there, somewhere.)

Perhaps the best we can do is take the lesson:  Don’t let high-end store-owners and government officials define your traditions.  Set them in the surer, if more fluid, forms of family and faith.

And to the extent that you can’t patronize local family-owned operations, shop online so you’ll have more time for things that matter.

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The Troglodyte Progressives

Noting that, for all the challenges of modern life, humanity is better off right now than it has ever been, Glenn Reynolds suggests that some of our more-persistent hangups might derive from long years of slow evolution:

Our brains are still wired, in large part, for caveman times: A time when the stock of wealth was largely fixed (hunter-gatherers couldn’t create more antelopes, or more berries), so that if one person had more, that inevitably meant that another had less, and when strangers — meaning, basically, the people over the next hill — had every reason to try to take it away from you. These two caveman attitudes produce the zeal for redistribution that is now marketed as socialism and the tribalism that is still a major part of politics.

We don’t live in the caveman era now. Wealth isn’t fixed, but the product of human ingenuity — cavemen couldn’t make more antelopes, but we can invent gadgets and services that never existed before. And in free markets, we entrust our lives to strangers not of our tribe every time we fly in an airplane, drive on the highway or check in to a hotel.

From this point of view, insisting on dividing people into tribes so that the finite yield of the hunt can be distributed is the thinking of troglodytes.  Sounds about right.

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Prosecuting Government

My first thought, reading Andrew McCarthy’s review of Dinesh D’Souza’s latest book, Stealing America, was to wonder whether Providence Journal Edward Fitzpatrick knows anything about D’Souza’s travails:

It is no coincidence, D’Souza convincingly argues, that the Obama Justice Department scorched the earth to convict and attempt to imprison him. The brazenness of its aggression took the breath away from such hardened criminal-defense attorneys as Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz, an Obama supporter who found the vindictiveness of D’Souza’s prosecution shameful, and Benjamin Brafman, the legendary New York City defense lawyer who represented D’Souza.

As D’Souza and McCarthy both acknolwedge, D’Souza plainly broke the law, yet a modern device of tyranny is to make everything illegal and then give clemency to friends (or simply ignore their transgressions).  In this, one could wonder whether politicians are simply following the practice of the news media.

The more-interesting point, however, comes with these paragraphs:

The principal evolution in the author’s thinking involves seeing his political adversaries as, yes, enemies. And as criminals. As a conservative intellectual, D’Souza had assessed progressives as true believers in an utterly flawed ideology. He was a forceful advocate of the conservative counter-case: liberty, limited government, human fallibility, the wisdom undergirding our traditions. Yet implicit in his arguments was the sense of engagement in a real battle of ideas against a bona fide political opponent.

After his harrowing adventure — first, in the crosshairs of a corrupt executive branch that knows that the administration of governmental processes can ruin even the most innocent of men, never mind one who has actually committed an infraction; then, in the company of lifetime criminals whose lives are mainly about taking what is not rightfully theirs — D’Souza has changed. Progressives, he now perceives, are engaged in a massive scheme to “steal America,” meaning all of its wealth and traditions. Their ideas and the foibles of their interest-group politics are often incoherent because they are not actually meant to cohere. They are, instead, a Machiavellian ploy, a pretense to morality (because the public expects it) that camouflages the remorseless acquisition of power needed to rob the public blind.

The unfortunate problem is that there are no police or legitimate authorities to whom to turn for protection and appeal against corrupt progressives when they’ve twisted the language so as to make it unusable for resolution of real differences of opinions and when they so obviously see the only rule being “we must win.”

That’s a hard lesson people getting involved in politics have to learn. You can’t “win the argument” because the debate has no referee. This leaves only development of an opposing gang, which many on the right find appealing. That strategy, however, is vulnerable to the fact that destroying everything serves the progressives. Conservatives should want our system to work as advertised.

The good news is the ultimate judge on high who gives us the space to push back but to trust in reward and final peace whether or not we win on Earth.