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An Escalation of Violence

Many of us on the right have had the general sense that progressives have turned the violence meter up a bit in the past year or two, but the list of incidents that Dave Brooks and Benjamin Decatur compiled for the Daily Caller is still disconcerting — not the least because it is clearly an incomplete first pass:

In creating the list, TheDCNF reviewed numerous articles detailing attacks and violent threats against conservatives and Trump supporters. While there are examples of anonymous threats, TheDCNF chose to include only those that resulted in the cancelling of events and two to members of Congress deemed credible. Some instances of violence between rival protestors were not included as it was difficult to ascertain who initiated the event.

I’d be willing to entertain the notion that there is a comparable list for the other side, consisting of stories that haven’t been as well covered within my ordinary media diet, but just as my sense is that this one seems incomplete, I’d expect a comparable mirror-image list to be shorter and to smuggle in items of arguable relevance.

Whatever the case, let’s hope recent events lead those shocked by President Trump’s election to engage in some lasting self-reflection, rather than a brief pause in the overheated rhetoric.  Inasmuch as the Left’s rage at seeing its political power slip will continue, I expect we’ll see only a limited calming for a few news cycles.

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Charity, Corruption, and Government

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking, recently, about the moral calculations around government’s involvement in charity, whether through welfare programs or grants to private charitable organizations.

My view is that charity isn’t government’s business.  When a person gives of his or her own wealth for charitable reasons, he or she has made a moral decision, and the recipient has some degree of accountability to the giver and an imperative to try to become a giver rather than a recipient.  When government agents give, it is of other people’s wealth, meaning that it is a confiscation, which creates moral complications for those directing the funds, and it creates a sense of entitlement and dependency in the recipient.

That said, I think other arguments can be made for some government expenditures other than the charitable, and moreover, I wouldn’t find it specious for somebody to make an argument for a “good society’s” use of government for charity.  I don’t think I’d find such an argument persuasive, but it can be made sincerely.

In response, I might offer something like Pope Francis’s thoughts on corruption:

Corruption, Francis wrote, in its Italian etymological root, means “a tear, break, decomposition, and disintegration.”

The life of a human being can be understood in the context of his many relationships: with God, with his neighbor, with creation, the Pope said.

“This threefold relationship – in which man’s self-reflection also falls – gives context and sense to his actions and, in general, to his life,” but these are destroyed by corruption.

Nobody can doubt that empowering people to take money from one group to give it to another creates the potential for corruption, not the least in that it interferes with appropriate relationships to each other and God.  In this context, when the pope writes that “we must all work together, Christians, non-Christians, people of all faiths and non-believers, to combat this form of blasphemy, this cancer that weighs our lives,” one could see it in part as an exhortation toward personal charity.  The more need we can relieve through voluntary action, the less pressure there will be for the corruption of charity through government.

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The Transformation of Vermont

Take it as a warning or as an illustration of opportunity, but Rick Holmes’s history, in the Fall River Herald, of Vermont’s political transformation is a worthwhile read.

Basically, the interstate highway system brought “flatlanders” to the state for foliage viewing, skiing, and indulgence in a hippy aesthetic.  By the time the indigenous conservatives tried to push back, it was too late:

“The hippies won,” says John Gregg, a Vermont journalist whose office is a short walk from the Connecticut River. In a small enough place, the influx of new citizens, even in modest numbers, can change a state’s political trajectory.

Rhode Island is different, of course.  Our population is a bit bigger, and the particular flavor of progressivism isn’t hippy socialism as much as insider socialism.  An historically different flavor of immigration brought with it a little more cultural conservatism and a little bit less libertarianism.  Moreover, the “influx of new citizens” affecting Rhode Island isn’t the migration of relatively privileged progressives, but rather the deliberately lured clients for the company state/government plantation.

These differences bring with them unique challenges, but in both places it’s too late for an ordinary political campaign to change things.  Instead, we have to change the local culture, which is no easy task when the people who see the right way forward tend just to leave.

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What the Culture Cares About

Here’s an interesting cultural snapshot, with Dan McGowan reporting for WPRI on an arrest in Providence.

According to the article, a middle-aged man was driving alongside two boys on bikes and disturbed them enough that they reported him to the police.  After a search, the cops found a couple of street-fighting weapons.

What makes the story interesting is that the headline mentions only that the guy “yelled [a] racial slur at [a] Providence cop.”  Why is that the news?

I’m not saying it shouldn’t be, but it raises questions about the purpose of journalism.  Objectively, one would think that the core benefit of reporting this incident would be to alert residents to potential threats in their neighborhoods — including, broadly, a general sense of how safe they are, particularly for children.

What’s the news value of a guy under the duress of being arrested lashing out at a cop with a racial slur?  Is it to give people the sense that racism still pervades our society?  If that were true, though, it seems to me that a single example wouldn’t be a story, because racial slurs would be so common.  (One wonders, by the by, how often white cops are called names by those whom they’ve arrested.)

Or maybe the news value is just that our society (or at least a certain segment thereof) is obsessed with seeking out signs of racism for promotion with the paradoxical stated goal of erasing it entirely.

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In Large Part, the Deep State Self Dug

Glenn Reynolds’s weekly USA Today column for this week is worth some consideration:

[Columbia Law Professor Philip] Hamburger explains that the prerogative powers once exercised by English kings, until they were circumscribed after a resulting civil war, have now been reinvented and lodged in administrative agencies, even though the United States Constitution was drafted specifically to prevent just such abuses. But today, the laws that actually affect people and businesses are seldom written by Congress; instead they are created by administrative agencies through a process of “informal rulemaking,” a process whose chief virtue is that it’s easy for the rulers to engage in, and hard for the ruled to observe or influence. Non-judicial administrative courts decide cases, and impose penalties, without a jury or an actual judge. And the protections in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (like the requirement for a judge-issued search warrant before a search) are often inapplicable.

At some point, “consent of the governed” becomes more like a veneer that gives the governing class license to do whatever they want. L’état c’est nous.

Combine this Deep State with the budding feudalism in California, as described by Joel Kotkin:

Unlike its failed predecessor, this new, greener socialism seeks not to weaken, but rather to preserve, the emerging class structure. Brown and his acolytes have slowed upward mobility by environment restrictions that have cramped home production of all kinds, particularly the building of moderate-cost single-family homes on the periphery. All of this, at a time when millennials nationwide, contrary to the assertion of Brown’s “smart growth” allies, are beginning to buy cars, homes and move to the suburbs.

People whose policy preferences conveniently protect their own wealth seek to use government set basic policy preferences that are conveniently in line with bureaucrats who seek to protect their power.  One way or another, this alliance will be broken; the question is whether it happens through reform or revolution.

Think carefully, progressives — and even more-reasonable liberals.  As much as you hate him (perhaps because of how much you hate him), President Trump may be your last chance to allow the reform path.

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Rhode Islanders Are Voting With Their Feet

Perhaps nothing is more telling about whether Americans see a state as providing sufficient opportunities for prosperity and a better quality of life than whether or not they are flocking to or fleeing from its borders. No other measure paints a more realistic picture of whether or not a particular state is an ideal place to raise a family or build a career than how people “vote with their feet.”

At the Center, we know that that the high levels of taxation and over-regulation imposed in the ever-growing state budget is the main culprit in causing Rhode Island’s stagnant performance.

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A Reminder for Faith in Our Times

Baylor University history professor Thomas Kidd recently offered a useful reminder of the perspective of Benjamin Franklin, which would be timely for us to consider these days, as a society.  Writing about Franklin’s respect for, but personal ambivalence toward, religion, Kidd goes on:

Then came the Revolutionary War. Its weight, along with the shock of victory and independence, made Franklin think that God, in some mysterious way, must be moving in American history. “The longer I live,” he told the delegates in Philadelphia, “the more convincing Proofs I see of this Truth, That God governs in the affairs of men.”

He repeatedly cited verses from the Bible to make his case, quoting Psalm 127: “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” Without God’s aid, Franklin contended, the Founding Fathers would “succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel.” At the Revolutionary War’s outset, as he reminded delegates, they had prayed daily, often in that same Philadelphia hall, for divine protection. “And have we now forgotten that powerful friend?”

My own understanding of how this all works is, in essence, that “God governs in the affairs of men” through our decision to follow Him.  He wouldn’t look upon the Constitutional Convention and say, “Well, fine. If you’re not going to pray, I’ll turn my back on you.”  Rather, the decision to pray or not affected whether the delegates were of unified mind in the direction of goodness, which is God’s hallmark.

The United States has done a great deal of good in the world, albeit with a great deal of darkness mixed in, too.  How things might have gone differently for our country and the world had the Constitutional Convention prayed, we cannot know, but we should take as a warning Franklin’s handwritten astonishment that his fellow delegates “thought Prayers unnecessary!”

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Enter the Era of Vampires

You could interpret my lethargy, this afternoon, in one of two ways.  I’ve had a busy and productive week, so perhaps it’s the waning stamina of an older man that keeps me from wanting to write much of anything.  Or maybe it’s that I’m still young enough not to have lost that student’s sense that a June Friday ought to draw your eyes out the window in a search for summer.

Whatever the case, I’ve been holding on to this link, looking for an opening:

It might sound like science fiction, or a recent episode of “Silicon Valley,” but a start-up called Ambrosia is charging $8,000 for blood transfusions from young people.

About 100 people have signed up to receive an infusion, founder Dr. Jesse Karmazin said Wednesday at the Code Conference.

And here we go.  On the one hand, my libertarian leanings lead me to ask, “So what?”  The kids have blood, and people are willing to pay for it.  On the other hand… well… this is wealthy people buying the blood of less-wealthy people for speculative rejuvenating purposes.  You don’t have to be a novelist to see how this could go wrong.

On first consideration, too, there’s no good way to go about this.  The nightmare scenario involves rich people creating a market for the blood of the poor, which creates either opportunity for blood theft or a likelihood of exploitation.  As it is at the moment, the donors don’t know their blood is being used for this purpose, which means they may be undervaluing it on the false expectation that they’re helping people in emergency situations.

Oh, yeah, and what about all those people who need blood for immediate reasons?  Market forces will devalue their use, or drive their price up.

By its extremity, this matter brings us back to first principles.  I’d be disinclined to interfere with the market and people’s liberty, in general, but that would require a stronger culture — one capable of shaming those who might exploit this particular freedom like vampires.

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Responding to Matthew Arnold, Tide Still Going Out

[As mentioned (and read) in my latest Last Impressions podcast, Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” had such an effect on my that I couldn’t stop myself from writing the following response.]

 

What if the tide is going out? So what?
It ebbs and flows and comes and goes and shows
then only girdle, but soon only gut.

And that soft skin the tide of cloth exposed,
should I see it as vulgar truth displayed
or as my loved one bare, from nose to toes?

Matthew, a younger man than I, though staid,
when he wrote of Dover’s retiring din,
mistook mere hours’ light for life useless — grayed.

Young sir, my elder!

There’s beauty going out as coming in.
The tide’s a tiff, each sally to rebut.
The end o’erwhelmes where you or I begin.

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The Other Side in Battling Climates

RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse appeared on Dan Yorke State of Mind this week to talk about the Center’s Family Prosperity Index (FPI) release, but inasmuch as he followed a segment criticizing President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change accords, he tied the two together thus:

The one thing that’s missing from all [your previous guests’] discussions you heard was how this impacts real people and real families.  There’s this mythical — I don’t think the professor can prove that there’s “catastrophic” climate change coming — there’s this mythical problem we’ve created of this catastrophe.  Maybe the temperatures are rising, but is it a catastrophe?

What we do know is that it drives all these crazy energy policies, like the carbon tax, like energy mandates, that are driving up energy rates on families and businesses, that are driving people out of this state.  Do you know that in those 12-year periods, we’ve lost the equivalent of 11 cities and towns worth of people to net migration loss.

The costs of energy and other taxes and regulations are so high on businesses and families that they’re fleeing our state.  Eighty thousand people.  That’s 11 of our smaller cities and towns gone.

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Maybe We Should Worry More About the Effects of Family-Climate Change

The other day, I posted a chart showing how net domestic migration loss — that is, the number of people leaving Rhode Island for other states beyond those who moved the other way — equated with a loss of the full populations of 11 towns.  RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse wanted another way to visualize the loss, and we came up with this:

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We hear all sorts of fears about how climate change will affect the lives of Rhode Islanders at some unspecified point in the future.  Yet, clearly, the change in the state’s climate for business and for families is already having a detrimental effect.  Why do our elected leaders seem more concerned about speculative harm in the future than the observable change in our social landscape occurring right now?

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Government That Primarily Seeks To Grow Itself

We know that that the high levels of taxation and over-regulation imposed for the sake of the state budget are the primary culprit in causing the Ocean State’s stagnant performance. Put another way, overspending by a government that primarily seeks to perpetuate and grow itself, actually works against the best-interests of the very people it is supposed to be serving. Instead of seeking to grow prosperity, government seeks to grow itself.

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A Market Rhode Island Government Has Left as a Last Resort

I’ve tried to get some follow-up information from Felicia Delgado, of the Parent Support Network of Rhode Island, regarding her testimony before the Rhode Island House Oversight Committee about the harm that a non-functional Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP), otherwise known as RI Bridges, has done to Rhode Islanders’ lives:

Others have lost their jobs because of these lost benefits and UHIP-delayed payments from the state to long-term health-care facilities.

At least 20 people — she emphasized they didn’t prostitute previously and don’t have substance-abuse problems — have turned to prostitution to pay for rent, childcare and food and fend off homelessness. Delgado declined to identify the people.

Mostly, I’m interested to know if she’s seen any progress, but I also wanted to ask if she had information about how this happens as a functional matter.  Did the people just know what street corners to hang out on?  Did they use Craig’s List?  Did they slip into an existing network, involving pimps?  Or do they start with people whom they already know?

What’s striking is that prostitution would be a fall-back occupation for people who hadn’t done it before.  Granted, it probably pays better than most other transactions for which people will pay unskilled entrants, but it comes with a high degree of risk and an appropriate social squeamishness.

UHIP is a problem and a blight all on its own, but a thriving economy without such a pervasive regime of regulations and licensing requirements would not only keep people from needing the services in the first place, but also give them other options when government messes up.  Instead, Rhode Islanders suffer through this process of government micromanagement of our economy’s creating a lack of opportunity, which government attempts to fix with welfare programs.  And when that doesn’t work… prostitution.

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Mediating Communions and Institutions Must Correct Our Course

In an excellent weekend interview by Sohrab Ahmari, Pierre Manent hones in on the problem of un-assimilationist Islam in the West, but this part is obviously more broadly applicable:

… the liberal West has grown tired of the older forms of “communion” that used to define it. Liberals in Europe, and to a lesser extent the U.S., wish to dispense with both the modern nation-state, the political communion that once gave concrete shape to the open society, and Judeo-Christianity, the sacred communion that used to provide the moral and spiritual frame.

For the West’s professional classes, Mr. Manent contends, the only acceptable sources of political communion are the autonomous individual, on the one hand, and humanity as a whole, on the other. He understands the jet-setters’ impulse: “We can go anywhere on the planet, work anywhere on the planet—these new liberties are inebriating.” Better, then, “to be a citizen of the world.”

But Mr. Manent, a Catholic and classical liberal in the tradition of Alexis de Tocqueville, thinks this attitude breeds resentments and anxieties that are only beginning to surface across the developed world.

One can see how this globalized view, bolstered by technology and wealth, removes incentive for those at the top of the socio-economic scale to concern themselves with those around them.  They don’t have to interact with their mid-distance neighbors, and they’re largely insulated from problems that arise through the economic and legal regimes that they favor (and that protect them, specifically).

Whereas once they would necessarily have come into contact with those of lower classes at church, the market, and other local establishments, they can now set themselves apart geographically, ideologically, and with respect to their activities.  This is not only culturally divisive, but also disruptive of social mobility.

At the same time, the overall wealth of the West has kept the real dissatisfaction and economic consequences from bubbling up in a revolutionary way.  That may be changing, and the change will certainly accelerate if the global elite makes it clear that it will not allow mediating institutions (like nations and churches) to correct course.

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The Budget: The Progressive Approach

Despite the false hopes expressed by lawmakers based solely on a reduced unemployment rate, Rhode Island families are hurting. The Ocean State suffers under the worst business climate, and 48th rank on our Center’s Job’s & Opportunity Index. Furthermore, Rhode Island was the only state in New England to see its labor force decline in size in recent years, as hundreds of thousands of people have chosen to leave our state since 2004. This is not a recovery.

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Who Do We Think We Are?

In a CNA article by Elise Harris, Associate Professor of Ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross Father Robert Gahl gets at a key distinction that brings the transgender issue right to the heart of our cultural and even existential differences (emphasis added):

Instead, he voiced his belief that most of the pushing is being done by people with “a good intention” who are truly convinced it is for the betterment of humanity. “I see it as being rooted in a view of the human being …  that comes out of post-modern philosophy,” he said.

This notion, the priest said, is what Benedict XVI described as “a nihilistic understanding of freedom, such that we are each our own creator.” In this view, God is replaced and we can each create ourselves in the image of whatever we would like to be, rather than receiving our nature from another as a given.

What’s really horrible about this is it means we have no intrinsic dignity. No one has intrinsic dignity, no one should be respected for who they are, but they should be respected for who they think they are,” Fr. Gahl said.

That’s a key distinction.  Of course, there are surgeries and other things people can do, but reality is reality.  You are who you are, and the world will interact with you accordingly.  Not only will people naturally respond to others based on their intrinsic qualities, but the physical world is what it is.  You can believe you’re tall, but if you’re short, there are things you just won’t be able to reach that a tall person could.

Attempting to force the world to accept a reality that isn’t real, but rather is asserted, quickly becomes the opposite of tolerance.  We can mandate that everything that a tall person can reach must be accessible by a short person, but not only will tall people find the world more difficult (and dangerous), but we’ll all be poorer for not taking advantage of some of our members’ height.

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Allowing the Jihadist Cloud Darken the Age

Writing on the terrorist attack in Manchester, Mark Steyn reflects on a suggested course of action that we’ve been hearing in this country since 9/11:

“Carrying on exactly as before”, as The Independent advises, will not be possible. A few months ago, I was in Toulouse, where Jewish life has vanished from public visibility and is conducted only behind the prison-like walls of a fortress schoolhouse and a centralized synagogue that requires 24/7 protection by French soldiers; I went to Amsterdam, which is markedly less gay than it used to be; I walked through Molenbeek after dark, where unaccompanied women dare not go. You can carry on, you can stagger on, but life is not exactly as it was before. Inch by inch, it’s smaller and more constrained.

To put the best spin possible on the West’s reaction to Islamism’s attacks, we’ve been trying to find the balance between security and respect for others’ rights.  That would be a more successful strategy if it weren’t for the stultifying political correctness with which we’re currently infected.  Questioning the actual wisdom of “coexist” stickers even just a little would mean we get to maintain more liberties and need less-strenuous security.

I share Steyn’s pessimism about the future.  Little by little, as people change their decisions in response to perceived risks, our society will change — not because our children have been persuaded that teenage diva-pop really isn’t worth their time, but because parents aren’t willing to sacrifice them for enjoyment of such fluff.

The politically correct fantasy is fluff, too, and we shouldn’t be willing to sacrifice our society for its enjoyment.  We’ll only get to carry on as before if we shed those indulgences of self-loathing that we’ve permitted to fester.  Not only our children, but our society is worth defending, and we should start acting like it.

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Avoiding Unions for Innovation and Prudent Decisions

Wall Street Journal editorialist Allysia Finley conveys the perspective of Braidy Industries CEO Craig Bouchard, who is opening an aluminum mill in right-to-work Kentucky.  Regarding an earlier company, experience with which soured Bouchard on organized labor:

They sold it for $1.2 billion to the Russian steelmaker Severstal in 2008, shortly before the stock market and steel industry crashed. Thousands of workers subsequently lost their jobs. Mr. Bouchard blames the United Steelworkers. He had first tried to sell a partnership stake in Esmark to the Indian company Essar Steel. But the United Steelworkers sought to force a sale to Severstal, which the union perceived as more labor-friendly. Had the Essar deal been consummated, Mr. Bouchard says, “every one of those people would have their jobs today” because all of the company’s debt would have been paid off.

Obviously, this is one side of that story, but the moral from the CEO’s point of view is that business decisions should be left to business owners.  That includes other pitfalls of unionization, like work rules that constrain activities beyond what the employer and employee would accept if left to their own and other costs, like pensions.

The key part of the op-ed, though, may be the bigger picture.  Bouchard’s new company is built on innovation in the metallurgical sciences.  Our broader tax and regulatory regime slows down that sort of innovation.  Another culprit is an unhealthy aversion (across the ideological spectrum) to allowing “creative destruction” to usher out old technologies and ways of doing things and ushering in the new.

A society should provide leverage for workers as the capitalism charges forward, but labor unions, protectionism, and regulation don’t appear to be sufficiently effective.  What we need is something broader, more cultural — dare I say, more spiritual — that allows us to make individual decisions and negotiations within a framework of mutual respect and support.

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The Budget: RI Government Seeks To Grow Itself, Not the Economy

Should the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of Rhode Island families be limited by an arbitrary, politically-driven budget number at the bottom of a spreadsheet? Unfortunately, our state is now suffering the consequences of such an approach, fueled by the progressive-left’s big-spending agenda.

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