Culture & Family RSS feed for this section
mike-stenhouse-avatar

You Can Save Rhode Island From Progressive ANTI-JOBS Agenda!

As taxpayers continue to be asked to fund generous corporate subsidy programs, lawmakers are now dueling over two new spending ideas, reimbursing localities to phase-out the car tax and public funding for free college tuition, each of which would likely further raise taxes and fees on Rhode Islanders. But would these programs make Rhode Island a better state? Not only does cutting the sales tax to 3.0% make sense for improving our state’s troubled economy, it is also the cure to the dangerous progressive agenda.

The four major PROGRESSIVE legislative initiatives that Rhode Island families and business owners should be worried about are:

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Lumen Gentium Award and Banquet

Among the most significant surprises that this year has brought me was the news that I’ll be receiving a Lumen Gentium award from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.  As the Rhode Island Catholic newspaper reports:

The 10 categories of service in which the awards are presented include Parish Service, Community Service and Charitable Outreach, Catholic Education, Evangelization, Communications, Administration and Stewardship, Respect Life, Public Service, Distinguished Catholic Youth and Friend of the Diocese.

The Lumen Gentium awards are presented to honor those “who toil in the vineyard of the Lord,” across the diocese.

Proceeds from this year’s Lumen Gentium Awards banquet, which will be held May 17 at Twin River Event Center in Lincoln, will benefit senior priests who have served the Diocese of Providence.

The category that applies to me is “communications” — basically, defense of the faith in communications media.  Honestly, I’m so much more impressed with those who defend the faith through the example of their deeds that I feel the award to be a future-focused call for me to better deserve the honor.

As it is each year, the banquet on May 17 is a fundraising event, this year to support the growing ranks of retired priests, so if you’re able and interested, I’d love to see you there.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Dealing with Disruptive (aka Opportunity-Creating) Technology

This passage from Matthew Rees’s Wall Street Journal review of Move Fast and Break Things by Jonathan Taplin is worth highlighting:

It may be hard to get stirred up about the interests of celebrity millionaires like Ms. Swift and Sir Paul, but the broader concern is legitimate: how to reward those who create content—music, film, even mere words—in an era when technology can distribute it at virtually no cost. In “Move Fast and Break Things,” Jonathan Taplin argues that today’s technology behemoths are decimating content industries and eroding the broader culture. …

[Taplin] devotes more space to a more mundane concern: money. Consider music revenues. Last year, in the U.S., they were $7.7 billion, down from $19.8 billion in 2000. In 2015, music creators earned more from the sale of vinyl records than they did from music streams on YouTube and other platforms. “How can it be,” Mr. Taplin asks, “that the arrival of digital networks composed of billions of music fans has not been a boon to musicians?”

In essence, this is the complaint of gatekeepers.  Note the assumptions embedded in the phrasing of the question: “how to reward those who create content?”  Are they rewarded, or do they earn their money?  And either way, who gets to decide what is worth rewarding?  Taplin complains that “the economics of ‘more’ [may be] drowning us in a sea of mediocrity.”  Well, it’s up to the non-mediocre to prove it, and it’s also up to those who want to support their preferred content to find ways to do so.

This is all on the content creators and those who make a career of helping them to find an angle, as well as their fans.  They have to prove that they’re worth the consolidation of society’s entertainment resources.

One can see in Taplin’s perspective the same mentality that leads to high taxes and big government: this insinuation that particular interests should find ways to use government to spread the costs of doing things they want done, but for which they don’t want the responsibility of paying.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Peter Pan Generation in Rhode Island and Nationally

The U.S. Census has put out a report contrasting the living conditions of young adults (18-34) over time.  Some of the long-term data is stunning, such as the collapse of young adults who are married.  Nationwide, in 1976, around 93% of women in their late 20s and 57% of women in their early 20s had been married; for men, the percentages were 75% and 38%.  By 2014, these percentages had fallen to 46% and 17% for women and 32% and 10% for men.

One suspects a great deal of social and psychological pain can be explained by the fact that women with children have not decreased by as much.  Whereas in 1976 the percentage of women who were married was substantially higher than the percentage who had children, those with children now outnumber those who are married.

It’s related data, available at the state level, that initially caught my eye, with reference to Millennials.  From 2005 to 2015, the percentage of young adults living with their parents jumped up from 26.0%, nationwide, to 34.1%.  Rhode Island had a bigger jump than the national average: from 28.6% to 37.1%.  Rhode Island’s jump was the 15th biggest in the country (3rd biggest in New England).

RIUS-18-34yrold-livewparents-2005-2015

 

As Aleister suggests at Legal Insurrection, perhaps young adults should stop pursuing useless degrees and start seeking rewarding careers in the trades.  Along the way, they should also stop voting for politicians who promise them handouts but undermine the economy.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Risk of Premature Marijuana Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Crime and the Rhode Island Puzzle

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

safavian-incarcerationrates

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

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

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

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Marijuana and the Inevitable Pin-Hole Burns

The headline for this post derives from the Pink Floyd song, “Nobody Home,” from the concept album turned movie, The Wall.  As our rock star protagonist slips into loneliness and insanity, he’s looking around his hotel room and at himself, and he sees “the inevitable pinhole burns all down the front of my favorite satin shirt.”  The holes are from the embers of his cigarettes, which presumably he’s chain smoking.

Of course, neither smoking nor the indolent burning of holes in your shirt are inevitable.

Anyway, the lyric came to mind when I read the reaction of RI’s leading lobbyist for the legalization of marijuana upon hearing that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo backs a study commission for the related bill, not the actual policy:

… legalization advocates say the commission would only delay the inevitable.

“The public is behind it. Massachusetts is moving forward. We don’t think a study commission is necessary because we already have the data,” Jared Moffat, of Regulate RI, said. …

Massachusetts retail shops will begin selling marijuana in July 2018. Moffat said delaying legalization in the Ocean State will result in sending jobs and revenue to the Bay State.

So speaks the pusher:  “Hey kid, your friends are all doing it.  You’re going to buy some eventually.  You might as well buy it from me, now.  Why be the last?”

Pink Floyd rhymes “inevitable pin-hole burns” with “the obligatory Hendrix perm.”  Hendrix’s death from a drug overdose wasn’t inevitable.  As a carpenter, I worked on a few projects with a painter who railed against anti-drug laws on the grounds that Hendrix died because his girlfriend was afraid to call for help out of fear of being busted for possession.  The first day I worked with that painter, by the way, he mentioned that he wasn’t quite himself because his friend had just died.  Another overdose.

Legalization is not inevitable.  If states that have made the leap find, for example, an explosion of hard-drug use (which is still in the cards), opinions will change quickly.  Haste is the imperative of those who fear a gamble will go sour.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Work Requirements for Medicaid in Maine

The Wall Street Journal’s Jennifer Levitz reports that the GOP-governed state of Maine is looking to add work requirements to the Medicaid program for those enrollees who are able-bodied adults.  When the state did the same with the food stamp (SNAP) program, enrollees dropped 90% and analysis suggested that the group of people who had been on food stamps actually saw an increase in wages.

The argument against such reforms shows the completely different starting point of each side:

But Maine’s approach is drawing criticism from advocates for the poor, who say jobs, volunteer positions and transportation to either of them can be hard to come by in rural pockets​with persistent unemployment. They say those losing the assistance turn to charities instead, increasing demand at food banks.

To which I would ask:  So?  Whether society provides food for the poor through a government program or private charity, we’re still supporting our neighbors.

The implied difference is that private charity has the feel of relying on the goodness of others while government programs have the feel of society’s handing over what it owes — an entitlement, in other words.  That difference is critical, and right in line with the work requirement.

What we owe each other is the chance of personal development and fulfillment, which comes from working, including being part of a self-supporting family team, even if not everybody within it works.  For those who really can’t work and who aren’t part of family that can address the greater challenges it faces, we should offer help in a way that shows genuine concern and community, not forced entitlement.

The attitudes and mechanics of welfare affect each other.  There’s a difference between the obligation to care for other people and a right to be cared for.  When a third party — government — asserts the authority to impose the obligation and bestow the right, it harms those who face adversity and deprives those who contribute of the benefits of being charitable.

mike-stenhouse-avatar

Save RI: The Progressive “Fair Shot” Agenda Is Really A “No Shot” Agenda

Happy Easter! As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the creator of the American social safety net state said in 1935, “Continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.” Rhode Island Lawmakers need to realize that our policy culture of considering only the material needs of individuals has, all along, been harmful to the family unit.

Yet, the progressive left is openly promoting job-killing, anti-business, and anti-family policies.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Ease on Easter

Easter vigil and eggs hidden for four children kept me up later than I’m accustomed, and (I suspect) a little too much sampling of the candy made me restless in the night.  I suppose it’s theologically appropriate to have this mixture of exhaustion and excitement on Easter Day.

Also appropriate, perhaps, is the reminder that one must relax from time to time.  I’ve found I can no longer do it.  Movie watching I do while folding laundry or some other stationary task.  Exercise comes also with reading (on the exercise bike) or podcast listening (on the machine).  Some tasks can only be done on their own, such as book reading and piano playing, but these I’ve put on the itinerary as productive tasks.

It occurred to me, while pouring my first post-Lent beer before undertaking the late-night tasks, that I once could sit and listen to night sounds for unplanned spells.  Or maybe I’d contribute to the suite with a guitar in hand, but idly, not as practice or on a schedule, simply strumming for as long as I felt like it.  Once, at my parents’ apartment, a raccoon poked his head up on the deck to see what I was playing.

It’s a short life, perhaps, but a long wait for the Savior’s return, and relearning how to be at ease can only be healthy.  Seems to me there’s a Commandment involved in it, too.  Perhaps I’ll make it a resolution for the Easter season and beyond.

Simply sitting and being is difficult, though.  Thoughts intrude… challenges to resolve at work, a family to order and raise well, a house to maintain, a community to guide toward a more harmonious and fairer future, and a parade of the “least of these” through whom to serve the Lord.  All these demands must be ordered and prioritized and scheduled and planned.  How can one simply sit?

I’ll give it a try, today.  I see I’ve got an opening from 4:00 to 4:25.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

What Freedom Means When Government Takes Over for Organized Crime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

A State Without Children

Way down in his weekly roundup column, Ted Nesi highlights another point from the recent RI Kids Count report:

One statistic that stood out: Rhode Island now has the fifth-lowest birth rate in the country, following a 15% slide in the number of babies born here over the last decade. What does that mean for the state’s future? It’s already having an effect on the economy, with Care New England saying the decline in births is hurting revenue at Women & Infants.

That’s an understated example of the effect of this dynamic.  Indeed, it would be difficult to overstate the effects of an increasingly sterile population.

To touch on one narrow political matter: As I’ve pointed out in Tiverton and for the state as a whole, our public schools have generally lost about two full grade-levels worth of students in the last decade.  Picture no fourth and no fifth grade students in the entire state; that’s how much enrollment has decreased.  This leaves a bureaucratic, unionized, and expensive education establishment demanding increased budgets to educate fewer children, which its partisans do against a taxpaying public that has less and less actual use of the schools.  That battle alone will be huge in Rhode Island.

But even an issue of that magnitude is as nothing to the reorientation of a society with fewer children.  The way people think and interact with the world will change on that basis.  Indeed, not having children (or not having multiple children) takes pressure off of people to become full adults, making them more susceptible to the pitch of the “government plantation” advocates to look to central planners as parents to us all.  It also makes us vulnerable to people from other cultures in which Peter Pan has been held at bay.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Partnership Model of Oligarchy

One wonders: If it weren’t for the heavy government-centric packaging and cover of the left-wing Brookings Institution, wouldn’t so-called progressives be highly skeptical of efforts like the Partnership for Rhode Island?

This is about CEOs addressing large societal issues and figuring out how money and expertise might advance certain efforts, said [Neil] Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest and largest community foundations.

For a refresher, refer back to my piece on the “Wexford-Brookings Franchise.”  This is about business magnates working with government insiders and non-profit profiteers to shape our society more to their liking.  (We can trust that they like being wealthy and elite, by the way.)

We’re watching every socio-political lesson from history and fiction take shape before our eyes, and so many people are caught up in low-level political squalls and identity politics that we’re strolling right along with it.

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has been placing more emphasis on the need for “civic society” institutions — that is, moving authority and decision making away from government and toward other institutions by which we interact, like business, churches, non-profits, and so on — but we mean something substantially different.  In our vision, people work together to solve their problems, forming organizations as necessary.

In the Wexford-Brookings-RI Foundation model, the people who already hold all the cards in our society essentially interweave government throughout our institutions to use them as leverage in their centralized goals.  That’s not freedom; it’s subjugation, however friendly a face they manage to put on it at first.

mike-stenhouse-avatar

“Save RI”: The Antidote To The Progressive Agenda

Rhode Island families understand that our quality of life can only be improved if more and better businesses create more and better jobs! Yet, the progressive-left has a very different vision. They are openly promoting job-killing, anti-business, and anti-family policies. Their so-called “fair shot agenda” would transform our Ocean State into a liberal utopia … where businesses face even higher legal and financial risks, and where worker safety, absenteeism, and workplace productivity are compromised.

The Ocean State faces a stark choice.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

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

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

Click full post for audio.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Cultural Key to Success

Having managed to catch up on my newspaper reading, I recommend Tunku Varadarajan’s recent Wall Street Journal interview with Thomas Sowell, if you’re able to get past the firewall.  This part particularly caught my attention, talking about how America has changed since Sowell was young:

An idea has taken root “that you’re entitled to certain things, that you don’t necessarily have to earn them,” he says. “There’s a belief that something’s wrong if you don’t have what other people have—that it’s because you’re ‘disadvantaged.’ A teenage dropout mother is told she has a disadvantage. But if you’re going to call the negative consequences of chosen behavior ‘disadvantage,’ the word is corrupt beyond repair and useful only for propaganda purposes.”

Has there been any change for the better? “Oh, yes, yes, yes,” he says. “In fact, for blacks who have education and who have not succumbed to a new lifestyle—the grievances, and the coarseness represented by rap music—it’s gotten tremendously better. What’s disheartening, though, is that when you study ethnic groups around the world, the ones that are lagging behind are those where their leaders always tell the same story: that it’s other people holding you back, and that therefore you need to stand against those other people and resist their culture. But that culture may be the key to success.”

This is the same vein of thinking as I raised during my podcast about the success of Utah.  We have to teach people to emulate success.  That doesn’t mean we have to give ourselves wholly over to every particular belief and behavior of a successful person, but that we have to give serious thought to the question of what it is that makes them successful.  Having done so, we can of course decide that we define success differently — to say that we want to be as successful as possible while remaining true to moral values.

Whatever our decisions, though, it is a disabling distraction in modern America to see other people’s success as implicitly at our expense.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

When Mixing People, What We Value Matters

I talked about this in my Last Impressions podcast last week, but Megan McArdle’s article about Utah’s success with income equality and other social markers deserves additional attention.  One thesis is Utah succeeds by mixing people of different socio-economic backgrounds:

Sims has looked at what happens to kids from schools in pairs of counties located along state borders, which provides something close to a natural experiment. Adjacent counties can be assumed to have broad overlap in the kind of people and businesses that locate there but will, because of their different state governments, have different levels of school funding and institutional practices. Sims found this made “almost no difference.”

So he asked, in his words, “What are schools doing?” Answer: exposing students to social networks that aren’t like theirs.

I’d suggest that McArdle pulls up short on this count, especially with regard to comparing Utah to other parts of the country.  She segues into a discussion of racial homogeneity and the state’s racial past, but a different focus might be more relevant.

The prominent Mormonism in Utah introduces a strong influence to celebrate middle-class values.  When schools and the broader society mix children of diverse backgrounds and encourage the disadvantaged ones to emulate those with stronger family backgrounds, that’s helpful.  In more-socially-liberal areas, the mixing can go the other way if adversity or victimhood status bring the social value.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Pot Luck Employment

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

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

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

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

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

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

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Lining Up to Be the Future of Vulnerability

Yes, the idea of receiving scannable implants in the body for the collection and transmission of information is terrifying of itself, but it’s the peer-pressuring described in this James Brooks AP article that’s truly unsettling:

The [Swedish startup company, Epicenter,] offers to implant its workers and startup members with microchips the size of grains of rice that function as swipe cards: to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand.

The injections have become so popular that workers at Epicenter hold parties for those willing to get implanted. …

The implants have become so popular that Epicenter workers stage monthly events where attendees have the option of being “chipped” for free.

Encouragement parties.  Coworkers prying into your business — almost literally under your skin — to ask “Are you chipped?”

Go ahead.  Everybody else is doing it.  Don’t worry that it can be read some distance from your body and that you’d need to cut open your skin to take it out and perhaps face the inverse peer pressure for being a troglodyte and apostate who has become “unchipped.”  You can trust that the company won’t collect any creepy information, or anything.

What else does “the future” that these chipped folks talk about hold in store?

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Creeping Sharia and Freedom of Speech

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

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

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

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

Quantcast