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After All, Theme Parks Are Places to Visit, Not to Live

Something sounds familiar about this description of Rome, doesn’t it?

A survey by the European Commission two years ago placed Rome last out of 28 EU capitals in a ranking for the efficiency of city services. Despite great food, superb coffee and an enviable climate, on an index of quality of life, the capital came second to last, with Athens at the bottom. Its Renaissance churches, cobbled streets and vibrant piazzas still wow tourists from around the world, but beyond the historic centre, the city is a mess and life is a struggle for locals.

As I’ve said before about Rhode Island, if you’re having to work too hard to go to the beach, don’t have the disposable income to go out for dinner, and have to cut corners on your grocery bill, living in a place with such attractions doesn’t do you much good.  In fact, when the local establishment leverages the premium that people are willing to pay to live in such a place in order to confiscate high levels of taxes and return low levels of service, living in such a place can do you harm.


Making Millennials Hear the Confidence of Millennia

Father John Kiley’s “Quiet Corner” column in the June 25 issue of Rhode Island Catholic helped me bring together a few thoughts that have been drifting in and out of my mind lately.

As somebody who works to develop and research public policy for a living — proposals like eliminating the sales tax and implementing school choice programs that bring private school within reach for all families — I’ve found my observations of the younger generation, the “Millennials,” discouraging.

On one hand, they seem to have replaced a full sense of pluralistic freedom with intolerance for views that differ substantively with their own. They insist on redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, for example, but think that business owners who do not wish to provide services for such ceremonies should have no choice — not just in their own communities, but anywhere across the country.

On the other hand, they find justification for this dogmatism in the narrative that they are at war with powerful, oppressive forces. As Father Kiley suggests, they have been enculturated with “an anti-establishment mood.” It’s what they were taught, and it’s been reinforced in countless television shows and movies.

These two hands fold together neatly. Without a full sense of history and the value of intellectual diversity, “the oppressor” is just a character in the latest HBO series. He is defined not by his actions — by actually oppressing people — but by certain political views that he might hold.

Continue reading on the Rhode Island Catholic.


Planned Parenthood’s Annual $100k from Taxpayers of Rhode Island

With Planned Parenthood baby-organ harvesting in the news (everywhere except Rhode Island), it’s worth turning to the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s handy dandy RI Open Gov vendor payments module.  And, yes, there they are, separate annual payments to Planned Parenthood RI and Planned Parenthood of Southern New England totaling $516,755 over the past five years of available data.

Those two subgroups of the abortion giant go back and forth in the amount that they receive, but the total has typically been around $100,000, as follows:

  • 2010: $128,999
  • 2011: $87,058
  • 2012: $106,005
  • 2013: $87,356
  • 2014: $107,338

The better part of the money is given under the heading of “perinatal and early childhood.”  For those without a dictionary handy, “perinatal” means “occurring during or pertaining to the phase surrounding the time of birth, from the twentieth week of gestation to the twenty-eighth day of newborn life.”

According to the videos making the rounds (another of which I hear is expected tomorrow), the pre-birth part of that range can be a particularly valuable one for abortion providers.


Local Silence on Baby Organ Harvesting

If you don’t get your news only from local Rhode Island sources, you’ve probably heard that the Center for Medical Progress released a second undercover video showing a Planned Parenthood official negotiating prices for the sale of bodily organs from aborted babies.  This one is much more explicitly negotiating and jokes that she wants a Lamborghini.

A former Planned Parenthood clinic director (now pro-life) indicates that these aren’t just localized practices:

Abby Johnson wasn’t horrified by last week’s undercover video showing aPlanned Parenthood doctor describing over lunch and wine how to “crush” a fetus during an abortion to preserve the organs because she’s been there.

In her previous role as clinic director for a Planned Parenthood facility in East Texas, Ms. Johnson said part of her job was to sift through the aborted fetal tissue and organs, pack them in a container with dry ice, check the consent form and “ship them off.”

Johnson doesn’t believe that anything in the videos is technically illegal, given what she calls “loopholes.”  But that’s not really the point.  As Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin put it in a statement, it’s a “disgusting and depraved practice [that] should be condemned by everyone with a conscience.”  Legality does not determine morality, and Planned Parenthood’s activities are shocking.

On July 3, the Providence Journal had a front page story by Jennifer Bogdan on the politics of legislation that would have required more spacious coops for chickens.  I’m told WPRI did a TV report on the Planned Parenthood controversy, but site searches of every major news organization in Rhode Island (keyword “Planned Parenthood”) turn up no local stories.  I guess literally carving up pre-born children (some of them partially delivered using sonogram in order not to preserve the parts of them that are actually of value) doesn’t make the grade for the local media’s conscience.


A Cost to the Pope’s Polls

At this year’s Portsmouth Institute conference, with the topic of Pope Francis, both Ross Douthat and John Carr mentioned the very strong, across-the-board favorability of Pope Francis in the United States.  As a central premise, of course, the leader of an organization driven by revelation and founded in the Word of God shouldn’t pay much attention to favorability polls, which are more appropriate to politics.  Still, with an eye toward being effective, no leader of any sort should dismiss the information if it’s available; the question is one of the weight it’s given on the decision-making scale.

In Douthat’s case, the New York Times columnist raised polling mainly by way of minimizing the significance of three groups of Catholics who were “unsettled” by the pope: Catholic traditionalists, politically and economically conservative Catholics, and socially conservative Catholics.  Carr raised the pope’s poll numbers to emphasize the huge potential for good could accompany Francis’s visit to the United States this autumn.  With such vast support, the pope would be better able to get across his message, and Catholics across the spectrum would presumably promote, reinforce, or at least not distract from it.

So what might it mean that Pope Francis’s approval ratings have taken a major hit in the past month?  According to Gallup, he’s still very popular in the United States, although his favorability among people who identify as conservatives has dropped from 72% last year to 45% now, and the drop was almost as substantial among Catholics as among non-Catholic Christians.

That said, in my running series of essays about the Portsmouth Institute presentations, I’m tracing what appears to be a subconscious concern that the pope might not be accurately assessing our point in history or his role in it.  Two problems that stand out, if such concerns are justified, are that the pope might play a role in hastening, rather than forestalling, a global crisis and that his intended message will be lost.

To oversimplify the first count, if the West is holding the world together by some remaining threads of actual economic and civic freedom, then attacking crony capitalism might advance the cause of corrupting socialism.  Thus a message that would be appropriate after a socialism-driven crash and shuffling of resources to a government-and-crony elite might push the world over the edge if what’s really happening is that the elite is using the pretense of solidarity in order to undermine its more-libertarian opposition.

On the second count, the more divided people are about the pope and his intentions, the less likely they will be to harken to his message of solidarity.


Assuming a Motivation for Vandalism

Why would somebody vandalize a Catholic church?  There are any number of reasons, from the political to the highly personal.  Be that as it may, for his Providence Journal article on an incident at Our Lady of the Rosary in Providence, Richard Salit has his answer scoped out, as summed up by whoever wrote the story’s lede: “Destruction in the heavily ethnic parish comes amid recent violence at other minority churches around the country.”

By ethnic, they mean Portuguese, which somehow leads Salit to make this part of a national mainstream media narrative about — what else? — racism:

The vandalism at the heavily ethnic congregation comes amid recent violence at other minority churches around the country, including the fatal shootings at the predominantly black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and suspicious fires at other churches in the South since then.

It’s possible, of course, that some deluded racist cast his net of bigotry so wide as to catch ethnically European Catholics.  The fact that things were stolen, including a golden Rosary, also raises the possibility of an angry and desperate person just taking advantage of unlocked doors to get some cash.

Or, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s declaration that marriage must be redefined in a way conflicting with Catholic beliefs and the Providence bishop’s public stance encouraging conscientious objectors, the attack could have been part of the blossoming movement that has attempted to close down an Indiana pizza parlor for speculating about a hypothetical situation and to ruin the lives of a small bakery’s mom and pop in Oregon, among other things.

The perpetrator might have mixed all three — taking the ethnicity and the Catholicism as excuses to target the church for a theft at the core of his or her motivation.  Or perhaps there was something much more personal involved.

It will be interesting to see the path of the coverage as information comes in (if it does).  If racism was involved, we’ll be looking at another front page story, or more.  But what if the person who did this was a social justice warrior in the “civil rights struggle of our time” — namely, ensuring that nobody anywhere ever expresses doubts about the gay lifestyle?


Thoughts on Ross Douthat’s Portsmouth Institute Speech and Pope Francis’s Role in a Divided Church (With Video)

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat expects divisions within the Roman Catholic Church to avoid coming to a head for many decades, but it will depend on Pope Francis’s understanding of his own role in the world and on whether Catholic progressives follow the path of American progressives in pushing fundamental transformation.


U.S.A. Now the U.S.S.A.

The United States of America is no more.  Our experiment with representative democracy in a constitutional and federalist republic is finished, and it failed.  We are now the United States of Social Acceptance.

You are not free.  Everything you do must be explicitly or implicitly be approved by the government.  We’ve gone from the idea that the laws of the land draw narrow boundaries for government to the reality that laws and regulations draw the increasingly restrictive boundaries of what you are permitted to do.

The examples are everywhere proving that those who dominate our government see themselves as an authority over every personal interaction in the country.  One I spotted over the weekend while reading legislation from the General Assembly’s last week, and that was featured in the Providence Journal on Sunday, gives the government authority to judge whether employers are making reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees (and those who recently gave birth).  In the Senate, the bill is S0276 from Hannah Gallo (D, Cranston); in the House, it’s H5674 from Shelby Maldonado (D, Central Falls).

As it happens, I agree — as I’m sure most of us do — that an employer should make accommodations for such employees unless doing so causes “undue hardship.”  In such decisions, I agree that some of the relevant factors are “the nature and cost of the accommodation,” “the overall financial resources of the employer,” “the overall size of the business,” and “the effect on expenses and resources or the impact otherwise of such accommodation upon the operation of the employer.”

But in most cases, both the employee and the employer are adults.  It shouldn’t be up to me to decide whether the inconveniences to the employee outweigh the business needs of the employer, and it shouldn’t be up to the government, whether legislators, judges, or bureaucrats.

In the progressive mindset that dominates in Rhode Island and, increasingly, at the federal level, we are not adults.  We’re children who need some superauthority over our lives to whom we can run when we’re not happy with each other.  Whining ten-year-olds run to their parents when they think their peers have done something that isn’t “fair.”  Adults shouldn’t require the same condescension.


An Electorate That Will Not Learn?

Thomas Sowell’s musings about the implications of electoral support for Hillary Clinton has Rhode Island application:

The fact that many people are still prepared to vote for Hillary Clinton to be President of the United States, in times made incredibly dangerous by the foreign policy disasters on her watch as Secretary of State, raises painful questions about this country.

A President of the United States — any president — has the lives of more than 300 million Americans in his or her hands, and the future of Western civilization. If the debacles and disasters of the Obama administration have still not demonstrated the irresponsibility of choosing a president on the basis of demographic characteristics, it is hard to imagine what could.

With our enemies around the world arming while we are disarming, such self-indulgent choices for president can leave our children and grandchildren a future that will be grim, if not catastrophic.

Electoral decisions are being made for all sorts of reasons that have little or nothing to do with running a government.  The biggest factor, I’d say, is simply the self-satisfaction that comes with voting according to a false narrative.  This weekend, I heard from yet another person whom I’d just met that the Democrats are, or used to be, the “party of the little guy.”  Even if that was true by some measure in some place at some point in history, voting for that reason is a bit like saying you vote for the party that Superman would have voted for.  It’s a narrative created as part of the entertainment media.

Other reasons are in play, of course, like the expectation that a particular party will directly transfer taxpayer dollars to one’s business or family.  But I suspect the makeup of our government at the state and federal levels would be very different if people voted according to results rather than rhetoric (and not necessarily in a purely partisan way).