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An Unconstitutional Palm Slap

Of all the deprivations that Rhode Islanders generally and Catholic Rhode Islanders specifically have had to endure during the past month or so, the inability to collect palms on Palm Sunday is not the biggest.  That said, it is critically important to note that it was patently unconstitutional for Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo to direct that they not be provided:

Cranston Police Chief Michael Winquist confirmed Sunday that officers responded to St. Patrick’s Church after someone called to report palms were being given out.

“It turned out that the doors to the church were left open with a basket of palms left in the vestibule for parishioners to take one,” Winquist said in an email. “No clergy were present.”

He said police did not take any action, as Gov. Gina Raimondo’s directive not to hand out palms did not come with an official executive order.

Raimondo announced Friday there would be no distribution of palms for the holiday, which marks the start of Holy Week for Christians.

St. Patrick’s is not part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, so the suggestion of Bishop Thomas Tobin that parishes should comply with the “directive” did not apply.  Within his scope, however, it would have been preferable for Bishop Tobin to assert that the ban on palms was his decision, not the governor’s, rather than just cede his authority to her.

If the First Amendment means anything when it comes to religion, it means that the governor cannot decide what religious implements are “essential.”  Fundamentally, that is the government’s chief executive implementing her own religious worldview as the law (and her support for abortion proves that her worldview is not Catholic).  Flowers from the grocer are permitted.  Beer is permitted.  Delivery of newspapers is permitted.  Pickup of sporting goods, office supplies, and more is permitted.

In other words, Governor Raimondo isn’t only saying that palm branches distributed through churches are not “essential,” but that they are uniquely dangerous.  Satan, no doubt, agrees.

This is a travesty against our Constitutional rights. The governor could ask religious leaders and individuals to (please) consider whether a particular implement or ritual is “essential,” but she cannot direct that it is or isn’t.  If religious Rhode Islanders don’t protect this liberty during our slow-rolling crisis, we may never recover it.

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COVID-19: A Plan To Restore Financial Security to RI

In these trying times, with well over fifty thousand Rhode Islanders recently laid-off, common-sense public state-based policy can help mitigate the destructive economic impact of the Rhode Island COVID-19 crisis … and can help restore a sense of normalcy and financial security.

We need your help to tell lawmakers you want them to take action.

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A Glimpse of the Media Narrative’s Assumptions

This short March 14 ABC6 story by Nick Pappadia didn’t have much of a shelf life,  but it’s worth noting because it is a good study of underlying assumptions underlying and the way in which a sense of what must be believed spreads:

Despite Governor Gina Raimondo’s advice, urging all Rhode Islanders to stay indoors as much as possible and to avoid crowds, Bishop Tobin has not officially cancelled Mass services for Catholic’s in Rhode Island.

On Saturday morning, Bishop Tobin released a statement requesting Catholics over the age of 60 not to attend Mass, and to refrain from receiving Holy Communion. There was no mention of him cancelling mass for all Catholic parishioners.

Governor Raimondo said, “I’d like to thank Bishop Tobin for his cooperation, and that it is within local pastor’s discretion to cancel masses on their own.”

Since then, we have learned that many local priests have taken matters in to their own hands and have cancelled Mass services at their individual parishes.

Bishop Tobin did not impose a restriction from the top down, and pastors who cancelled services were “taking matters into their own hands.”  No, they were choosing one of the options open to them.  The assumption appears to be that things are and should be typically dictated from the top down.

More deeply than that, notice the hierarchy in Pappadia’s construct:  The governor to the bishop to the parishes.  Fundamentally, this means there is no real separation of church and state, because the bishop is in some sense obligated to follow the governor’s “advice.”  When he doesn’t do so, he is implicitly hinting that he prefers the opposite outcome, so when priests follow the governor’s advice rather than this supposed hint, they are actually rebelling… even though they’re acting within the bishop’s range of instructions.

Many fascinating perspectives are being revealed during these times.

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Public Policy Solutions To Restore Rhode Island’s Financial Security in COVID-19 Crisis

If we rely on American innovation in the private sector, our state can weather this horrible COVID-19 crisis! Our Center has ten proactive policy ideas that can help Ocean State businesses and families survive the crisis, while also paving the way to recovery. And, we need your help to tell lawmakers you want them to take action.

State lawmakers must find a way to get back in the saddle, demonstrate calm and deliberate leadership, and consider emergency legislation to help our citizens and businesses lead the way back. We’re recommending:

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A Way to Deal with the New Normal

Over on the blog of Rhode Island Women for Freedom & Prosperity, Judith Bowman describes her sense of the new normal, concluding thus:

Although we cannot change others, each of us has the ability to change ourselves. We have a responsibility to model appropriate language and behavior and lead by example. Americans have historically answered every call to action when the country’s well-being has been at stake. As we are diverted from our normal routines we must surely put partisan politics aside and continue to come together. As we practice and calibrate new communication approaches perhaps we could consider choosing more measured words to help restore emotional health and well-being, civility, respect and unity to our country.

We gratefully acknowledge the swift and decisive actions by our government leaders, physicians and health professionals, companies and corporations, friends, neighbors and perfect strangers and thank them for their prompt and tireless efforts, updates and generous spirit. They say, ‘out of every tragedy comes new strength.’ During this very challenging era in American history, we have a chance to not only heal the wounded and win the viral war but reinforce American exceptionalism merely by choosing more measured words and matching those words with actions.

This attitude is sorely needed.  To be honest, it’s rattling to read some of the hostility, sometimes approaching glee, out there, particularly among progressives.  A former legislator who has been filling his time accosting me on Twitter talks down any news that might potentially give people some hope that there’s light at the end of this tunnel.  It is apparently catching on in certain circles to call COVID-19 “the Trump Virus.”  Yesterday, Rhode Island Public Radio columnist Scott MacKay retweeted left-wing activist Barbara Malmet declaring the inevitable recession to be “Trump’s Great Depression.”

Who wishes such things on their country?  Is there any concern or hope among such people around ever reconciling with their fellow Americans again?

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Out from Behind the Mask

It seems like a strange thing to remember more than thirty years on.  I was probably eleven or twelve, walking through New York City with my parents.  As usual, my mother was up ahead, driven to get wherever we were going, while my father meandered behind, absorbing the day.

I made eye contact with a girl about my age walking in the opposite direction, and she smiled.  That’s the memory.  A passing moment.  A fleeting, ephemeral relationship.

As the movement swells on social media to make the constant wearing of masks part of our culture, even when this current madness has passed, I think of that momentary connection.  We’re so isolated already.  I was an only child, and there are more of those now, too.

I’m just not sure hiding our faces is something we should want to adopt as an expectation.  If times require it, sure.  If we had East Asia’s pollution problems, maybe.  But the United States responded to the pollution problem by seeking to reduce pollution while keeping our faces exposed.

At the very least, let’s acknowledge the trade-off.  If we could quantify a random smile in the isolating mass of a New York City street, what would it be worth?  If I were in my eighties and facing the fear of viruses, would I trade a lifetime of such smiles and memories for a little bit less risk?  And if I would, is that the attitude our culture should encourage?

To be sure, living otherwise entails risk.  Yes, trying to fix the world’s illnesses so as to live free is more challenging.

A short online discussion I had along these lines centered around different notions of maturity.  Is it more mature to be willing to give up a little bit of our freedom in order to provide ourselves and others a little more security, or to take responsibility for our own security so that others may live more freely?

The right answer is some balance between the two, of course, but this universal-mask idea seems also brings along a sort of deprivation.  Hiding our faces doesn’t just impose a restriction on us; it also deprives others of the ability to see us, to see our smiles.

This view may be destined for decreasing tolerance as our expanding longevity increases our terror of risk, but my vote is for a humanity that strives to be closer rather than more isolated and accepts that not everything is possible to control.

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Government-Distancing Can Help Keep Rhode Islanders Safe And At Work

We see the federal government considering bold ways to keep businesses running and money in people’s pockets. Here in Rhode Island, we’re calling on lawmakers to provide online sales tax relief to residents concerned about their physical and financial health.

Our state must do its part… The government-distancing we are recommending can help people remain at home and practice healthy social-distancing. Every sales tax dollar saved might be vitally important to families who are suffering a loss of income during these trying times.

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The Immediate Consequences of Rolling Panics

Today, the governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, began soliciting contributions of ordinary medical supplies (like masks) for healthcare workers.  That certainly sounds like a crisis sort of request, but with only 54 cases of Coronavirus in Rhode Island total (the great majority simply working through the illness at home), what caused it?  Well as early as January, Rhode Islanders were panic-buying such supplies.

That occurred to me for other reasons tonight.

While picking up some take-out dinner, I saw another customer showing around some sort of official-looking letter, and unless I misheard, somebody said, “Sounds like they’re expecting a lockdown.”  Perhaps you saw the news today that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker had to assert that he doesn’t, at this moment, have plans to order “a statewide lockdown” as New York and California have done.

Those assurances might not be as powerful as the fact that they had to be made.  In a way, we’re all like stock traders looking for hints about the intentions of the Federal Reserve Bank.  Sure, Baker said he doesn’t intend a lockdown today, but if that changes tomorrow, we’ll want to have been ahead of the curve.

And so, when my wife went to a Massachusetts supermarket tonight thinking Friday night preferable to Saturday morning for the regular grocery run, she found the store shockingly busy and surprisingly empty of supplies.  Whereas so far the panic buying had concentrated on toilet paper and other paper goods, now the shelves are being cleared of everything.

The empty shelves aren’t the most relevant consequence, though.  Right now, government officials have placed their bets on getting people to keep their distance so the virus doesn’t spread as quickly.  Yet, when people get the feeling that restrictions are about to be ramped up, their natural urge is to rush out and gather what they think they’ll need.  This brings crowds to a grocery store relatively late on a Friday night.

How many days of “social distancing” was undone in one evening of lock-down-suspicion panic shopping, we may never know (assuming that’s what was going on).  But maybe we can remind ourselves that our actions should be governed by reason, even if it serves personal and political interests to play on emotions.

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Civility in the time of COVID-19 (And After)

Maybe it’s just me, but it’s beginning to seem like The Virus is actually beginning to reach into the world of Twitter, and with a positive effect.   The invective meter seems to have dipped, if only a little.

One suspects that the reprieve is only temporary, however.  Depending how the infection trends go, more and more Americans are likely to push back on an enforced cessation to economic activity.  People need to work; they need to earn money.  Even debt-funded handouts from the federal government can’t stop that need, especially if the initial hysteria begins to pass without having proven justified.  As that begins, people fired up for normalcy will clash with those still smoldering with concern about COVID-19.

This ebb and flow brings to mind Judith Bowman’s “Call for Civility” on the blog of the newly formed Rhode Island Women for Freedom & Prosperity:

Amidst our nasty divisive political climate, record immigration influx, an unprecedented global economy and dazzling high-tech toys designed to connect us, we have never been more divided, disorderly, disrespectful or disconnected.

Reality check. It’s time: to acknowledge what is happening to us as a country and as individuals, in our own families and at our dinner tables, in our workplaces and neighborhoods, sports arenas and playgrounds and know that we need to make conscious adjustments in attitude, conduct and behavior.   The way we treat and respond to each other needs to be brought back to the conversation. …

Thoughtfulness is contagious, always appreciated and does come back to you. Being thoughtful and actionable is a necessity today. We have a responsibility to step up, be a ‘warrior’ to help restore and re-engage the rules of social conduct by extending purposeful acts of kindness. Try it and watch the results in terms of quality work performance, team camaraderie and personal connections. Extend yourself in selfless ways and bask in the positive, contagious results.

Imagine if we all step out from under the shadow of the contagious illness now permeating the world — whether that takes weeks or months — intent on spreading a contagious thoughtfulness.  Not everybody will manage it; too many are invested in division and want the influence that they expect it to bring to them.  Too many profit from envy, wallow in pride, and fester with wrath.

But what if some large majority of us strive to take this global pause as an opportunity to adjust our attitudes?  If we do that, maybe we can move forward understanding that the hostility is a contagion, too, and calls for us to maintain some social distancing from it.

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My Message of Hope During This Coronavirus Crisis

During these times that “try men’s and women’s souls” and that are causing such upheaval in our lives, we are all left to wonder how we will cope. I pray for your health and for the safety of everyone in your family.

May I also offer why I am personally hopeful and confident that America and Rhode Island will weather the Coronavirus crisis. In our hearts and minds, we must hold true to the core American values that were the basis for the founding of our nation and for its unprecedented prosperity… our true north.

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The Importance of Sacrifice and Recognizing Differences

This bit of a letter from a young doctor puts a spotlight on one of the weaknesses of our modern culture.  Noting that healthcare workers are still going to be needed no matter what happens with this virus, he asks:

How can we be proactive about protecting our healthcare workers? To start, we need to consider protecting our older colleagues and those with certain preexisting medical conditions. We may even need to decide that only young and healthy doctors and nurses should be triaging and caring for these patients. I’m in. But is this discriminatory or putting too much risk on the young? I’m not sure.

Step out of our times for a moment, and this is an astonishing thing to read.  Not that long ago, it used to be expected that people would sacrifice for others.  Young people, in particular young men, would take risks for the whole community where strength and resilience were needed.  Heretical as it may be to acknowledge, this is so true that we seem to have evolved around the principle.

Yes, maybe that increased risk came with the compensation of some privileges and cultural encouragement, but trying to distribute such things without the prejudices of the past doesn’t have to mean discarding the ability to differentiate.

A society that doesn’t inspire its people to sacrifice will not last, and a grievance culture characterized by identity politics will not inspire anybody.

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Reduce Roadblocks Prohibiting Meaningful Work

In 2018, our Center published one of our most comprehensive policy briefs, The Right To Earn, which highlighted Rhode Island’s bottom-10 standing when it comes to over-regulation and the need for across the board occupational licensing reform. The Ocean State has also recently been ranked as having the worst state business climate in all of America.

Since then, we have been encouraged that reforms continue to move forward based on our report on the heavy burdens of “occupation licensing” laws in the state.

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The 2020 Rhode Island General Assembly Bill Tracker – A Handy Way to Track the G.A.

Are state lawmakers helping to make Rhode Island a better or worse place to raise a family and build a career?

With Rhode Island already ranking a dismal 47th on the Jobs & Opportunity Index and with the worst business climate in America, the Center tracks critical pieces for legislation making their way through the Rhode Island General Assembly and what they will do to your freedom.

We evaluate bills in terms of their likely effect on the free market, the size and scope of government, the balance of residents’ interests against those of public employees and beneficiaries, and the constitutional structure of a divided government with limited power over the people whom it represents.

It is the core tenet of the Center that with greater freedom comes greater prosperity, or conversely, as is the case in the Ocean State, that a continued loss of freedom leads to the type of economic stagnation that Rhode Islanders have suffered from over the past decade.

We encourage you to follow along with us as we track the 2020 General Assembly session. Click on the link here to see our 2020 Bill Tracker.

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An Election About Suppressed Dislike

With Bernie Sanders’s front-runner status in the Democrat primary for president, political analysts are starting to contemplate the consequence on that race and on down-ticket races.  Many of us can’t help but see the parallel to Republicans’ predicament in 2016, when they were forced to grapple with their own discomfort with candidate Donald Trump.

This topic came up at the tail end of Republican Representative Michael Chippendale’s appearance on the Matt Allen Uncut podcast.  Chippendale’s position is that he’s uncomfortable with Trump, the man, but his policies have been positive.  That phrasing makes me think of Game of Thrones.

As a fan of the books years before the show was even a rumor, I was captivated by J.R.R. Martin’s character development and underlying themes.  Those aspects are what made the HBO series such an epic mega-hit, but its being HBO, they were delivered with a lot of gratuitous moral assaults, particularly with sex scenes in the earlier seasons.

Those of us who could have done without the moral challenges could still appreciate the writing, the story-telling, the themes, and the show-craft, but the question arises: At what point does the bad outweigh the good?  That’s an individual judgment concerning not only what we allow into our own brains, but also what we promote and normalize for others.  A Christian who emphasizes personal purity could still plausibly claim that the sex scenes do not rouse lust in his heart and that the combination of compelling art and cultural awareness make the risk worthwhile, but only for mature audiences.  As the famous question goes, who am I to judge whether what that person says about his feelings is true?

Just so with President Trump.  A good, moral conservative needn’t elevate Twitter etiquette and a history of boorish behavior into a litmus test that disqualifies the president from support no matter what he accomplishes.  The challenge is to make ourselves, and our society, better and more mature so as not to be affected by the negative.

Therein lies the distinction between President Trump and Bernie Sanders.  The objection to Trump is behavioral and related to insinuations about his motives, whereas the objection to Sanders is his history of anti-Americanism and dangerous policies.  That’s a problem of substance rather than style.  At best, that’s Game of Thrones without the gratuitous sex, but with an evil, dangerous theme.

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Center’s School Choice Message Sprouts Roots

Recently, two prominent Rhode Island politicians have publicly supported our Center’s long-time policy idea – even echoing our own language – to advance educational freedom for Providence families and all parents across our state.

For years, behind the scenes, I have been advising politicians and candidates – Democrats, Republicans, and independents – on the benefits of educational scholarship accounts (ESAs).

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The Independent Man Needs YOU: Consider This Call To Civic Action

Is it time for you to get involved… to save our state? If we are ever going to change the policies that are driving away families and crippling businesses, the sad truth, my friend, is that we are going to have to change the players.

Rhode Island’s political class is so beholden to so many special interest groups and agendas, that they are paralyzed when it comes to considering common-sense, pro-growth policy reforms.

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Q & A On TCI, The Transportation & Climate Initiative

Q. What is TCI?

The Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) is a multi-state regional agreement designed to drive up the price of motor fuel (gasoline and on-road diesel). As a regressive tax, the TCI Gas Tax will disproportionately harm low-income families, especially those who live some distance from commercial centers or their workplace.

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We’re Backing The TCI Gas Tax Proponents Into a Corner

It is not by accident that the proposed Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) is losing support among many of the states it has targeted… to the point where some proponents are considering a Plan-B.

Last week, I traveled to Boston to meet with other organizations from east coast states who oppose TCI, a regional compact targeting 12 states and Washington DC that seeks to impose a 5 to 17 cent per gallon tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, with the intent of forcing Rhode Island to drive less often and into more costly and less convenient electric vehicles and public transportation options.

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Trying to Keep Perspective on Local Politics

In President Trump’s economic speech in Davos, he attributes the recent economic strength of the United States to policies that put “the American worker” at their center.  Agree or disagree with the president (from any of the angles at which it would be possible to do so), he raises an important point.  We tend to get caught up in our preferred solutions or our own interests, to the detriment of our causes and our communities.

Listening to episode 10 of the Tiverton on Track podcast from the Tiverton Taxpayers Association, titled “Living in (And Budgeting for) a Community,” one hears that theme sneak in repeatedly.