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Dr. Stephen Skoly: Opioid Tax Bill Would Harm Families and Businesses and Do Nothing to Address the Problem

The opioid epidemic is a widespread, complicated problem, and only a collective effort will begin to solve it. The healthcare community and lawmakers need to work in tandem to find policies that effectively lessen opioid abuse while still keeping our state’s economic health as well the health and safety of the patient in mind. It’s unfortunate, however, that Senate Bill S0798, the Opioid Stewardship Act, fails on both accounts.

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Help Spread the Word About the Cost of Government Unions

Wow, has our report shaken up the status quo! We have done the research, and we have connected the dots. The number one driver of the Ocean State’s declining population and jobs numbers – the high property taxes we all pay – can now be directly connected to the excessive costs of government, as mandated by government union collective bargaining agreements.

Now, we are asking your support to help us spread the word.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Labor and Abortion in Rhode Island

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about the likely future of legislation supporting organized labor and promoting abortion, as well as the governor’s chances of spinning her performance for state and national consumption.

Open post for full audio.

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Rhode Island’s Political Leaders Are Failing on Their Promise to Help Average Families

At $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s 1 million residents, a family of four is paying over $3,500 annually for excessive compensation deals for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.

With almost two-thirds of these excessive costs being heaped upon municipal taxpayers, the report further estimates that property taxes could be reduced by 25% if more reasonable, market-based collective bargaining agreements were negotiated.

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A World With More than One Captain America

SPOILERS about Avengers: Endgame ahead.

I agree with Jonah Goldberg more than I disagree with him, but sometimes a guy has to stand firm in what he believes.  Of all the complaints one can make about the last of the Avengers movies (at least in this cycle), inconsistency about its treatment of time travel is not one of them.

I should note that I think the movies’ conception of how time works is pure fantasy not applicable to reality, but if one accepts their physics framework, the story is just fine.

Seemingly in order to make a fun reference to the Back to the Future movies, the smarter characters explain that it isn’t possible to go back in the past in order to change the present.  The heroes live in a world where the bad guy, Thanos, has used the Infinity Stones to wipe out half of all life in the universe.  The problem is that the people whom they left behind when they went into the past would still be in a future in which Thanos had already accomplished his goal.  It would be along a different time stream that Thanos had failed.  Undoing what has already been done is a logical impossibility if we accept a tangible universe.

Jonah’s complaint is about the end of the movie.  Once the world is saved, Captain America travels into the past to return the stones to their proper times, and he doesn’t return.  It turns out he’d decided to stay in the past and live out a lifelong retirement with his one-time love.  But then… there he is, as an old man sitting nearby a few seconds after the younger him had gone into the past.  Weren’t we already told that changing things in the past put you on a different time stream?

Yes, but we’ve also seen evidence that two copies of the same person could exist alongside each other.  Indeed, Captain America had to fight with himself!  Jonah’s complaint is that Captain America’s staying in the past would have changed reality in all sorts of unpredictable ways, but as long as he stayed quiet and lived as a regular Joe far away from the action of the Avengers, he would have done nothing logically incompatible with the world of the story that we’ve been following over the past eleven years.  For all we know, he was out there all along.

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Imbalanced Equity in Fortnite

Sometimes the practical wisdom of children — who can see past the hangups of adults, if only because they lack the experience that makes those hangups justifiable, even wise — brings a unique perspective.

By coincidence, on the same day that Rhode Island’s Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo swore in the fifth adolescent winner of her sexist girls-only “Governor for a Day” contest, I asked an early-teen boy of my acquaintance a question about his choice of characters in the video game Fortnite.  If you’re somehow not familiar with it, the game places characters on an island for a “Battle Royale” in which only one player can survive.  It’s a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, meaning that all of the other characters are people playing on their own devices somewhere in the world.

Earlier on in the game’s life cycle, players were cast randomly as female or male and had no choice.  Recently (it appears), the designers have made it possible to choose the sex of one’s character.

“Why have you been using that girl character?,” I asked.

He replied, “Because the girls are smaller, so they don’t stick out when you hide in bushes.”

Ah.  See, the male characters are all large, muscular types, which is a liability if you’re crouching in a bush or behind a rock.  Yet, they gain no advantage from their size.  They can’t carry any additional weapons or materials.  They can’t run any faster.  They have no advantage when it comes down to a pickax fight.  They can’t jump any higher or withstand more of a beating.

By social necessity, the game is a level playing field between the sexes, except in the one way that would be visually unrealistic, and that one way is an advantage to females.  Yet, it is a competitive environment in which players will make rational decisions.  Where the qualities of men provide no advantage, even as the attributes that would more-realistically produce those qualities create a liability, competitive boys will co-opt the advantages of women.

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How Much Union Members Are Paid, And How Much Taxpayers Can Afford

With the third highest property taxes in the country, a major encumbrance within an overall anti-taxpayer and anti-business climate that has dropped Rhode Island into bottom-10 rankings in a number of critical national indexes, the excessive costs of collectively bargained government services can be directly linked to this statewide problem.

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Assumptions of Perfection in Prostitution

For a recent episode of his Uncut podcast, Matt Allen had an interesting conversation with Bella Robinson, who is (I think it is accurate to say) a prostitute based in Rhode Island.  Matt remarked several times that Ms. Robinson seemed to paint those who do charitable work as well as government agencies tasked with human services as unfailingly bad or misguided, while also seeming to prefer big-government policies.

The flip side of this tendency toward blanket condemnations of adverse institutions is blanket praise for one’s own.  Listening to Robinson, one would think that prostitution is preferable to, and even safer than, just about any other occupation, and certainly to dating and marriage.

Along those lines, Matt confronted her with the broadly understood reality that a traditional, responsible lifestyle will bring 90% of people out of poverty.  Actually, the progressive Brookings Institute finds that 98% of poor people who finish high school, get full-time jobs, and wait until 21 and married to have children will escape poverty, with 75% making it to the middle class.

Bella Robinson’s response, in essence, was that she tried that strategy, and it didn’t work for her.  Well, yeah, any system that is 98% effective will not work for 2% of people.  That doesn’t mean that we should reorder society in a way that might work for that 2% but fails some much larger percentage.  (One thinks of radical feminism, which tears down standards for relationships that work for large numbers of women and replaces it with one that might not work for anybody except the feminists themselves.)

During the entire podcast, listeners get the impression that Robinson doesn’t believe anything works except the subject of her advocacy: sex work.  Religion, government, relationships, marriage, social work… all of them are entirely flawed because they’re not 100% perfect.  But tossing our “old tired ethics,” which our civilization has honed (yes, with missteps) over thousands of years, that apparently will cure everything.

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Rhode Island Is Losing The Competition Between States – Look for Major Report by Center

Although the state’s rank stayed the same, this month was not a good month for the state on the Center’s Jobs & Opportunity Index. Rhode Island remains last in New England at 47th place in the country. Employment was down another 521 people from the first-reported number for February, and the labor force dropped 1,234.

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Toward a Consensus on Free Speech

The defenestration of British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton based on a deceptively presented interview may be of limited relevance to Rhode Island politics.  The lesson, however, is worth presenting in every venue of our modern age:

But while certain Conservative politicians seem set on appeasing what they take to be the spirit of the age, they might have misjudged the turn. … Those who were most angry were young people, who have grown to loathe this social media hate-mongering.

Their instincts are right. Our world is replete with complex matters that need discussing. We need philosophers, thinkers and even politicians of courage to help us find our way through this. We live in the age of character assassination. What we now desperately need is a counter-revolution based on the importance of individuals over mobs, the primacy of truth over offence, and the necessity of free-thought over this bland, dumb and ill-conceived uniformity.

People across the political spectrum must rebuild the consensus that everybody has a right to express their views, that we should give each other wide latitude to err (whether in fleeting words misspoken in an instant or more-fundamental flaws in a way of thinking), and that punishing people for the ideas that they express, to the extent that it should be an option at all, should be done only with full awareness of the context and intent of their speech.  Knowing what they actually said is only the first step of that process.

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From GOT to the Meaning of Life with Matt Allen

Honestly, I was a little bit more apprehensive than usual going on Episode 27 of Matt Allen’s Uncut podcast.  I’ve gotten used to talking about topics, and this was just… a conversation.  It ranged from casual life talk to deep political philosophy.  Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Listen to “Episode 27: Justin Katz” on Spreaker.

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The Employment Situation In Rhode Island Is Getting Worse – Bucking National Trend

Happy Easter from everyone at the Center to you and your family! We hope you had a great holiday weekend.

We wish we had better news to deliver. Unfortunately, the employment situation in Rhode Island is getting worse, bucking the national trend. While state politicians crow each year about not implementing broad new taxes, the unfortunate truth is that by nickle-and-diming residents and by not implementing aggressive reforms Rhode Island will continue to lose ground, nationally.

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The Undeserved Confidence of the New Upper Class

One common suggestion for those who wish to be aware of current events and engage in civil dialogue is that they should seek out alternate opinions and actually listen to the other side.  This practice does create a deeper understanding, but deeper understanding doesn’t necessarily bring a softening of reactions.  That was my thought while listening to former long-time PR guy for Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, Michael Raia, on the Bartholomewtown Podcast.

Listening to Raia talk about opportunities for our state and region, I couldn’t help but feel my impressions of the Raimondo administration affirmed and my concern about its type of thinking amplified.  The listener can hear how confident Raia is that he’s got the region all figured out, as if a society is just a puzzle for which placement of the correct pieces provides the solution.

Whether it’s the operation of businesses and the economy, the development and modification of the infrastructure, the operations of the healthcare system, or the quality of life of particular demographic groups, like senior citizens, one gets the impression that Raia has a firm belief that he and other go-getter experts can think it all through, plan it all out, wind it all up, and set the great society in motion.  Unfortunately, the human community doesn’t work like that.

Intelligent as they may be, the Raias and Raimondos aren’t smart enough to plan a society even if everybody wanted to live in neighborhoods like the ones they prefer and spend their senior years playing pickleball. Such an accomplishment would require infinite expertise and a God-like perspective.

The fact of the matter, though, is that most other people do not share the tastes of what Charles Murray called “the new upper class” in his book Coming Apart, and those people have a right not to have their societal preferences bulldozed aside by a powerful government.  Moreover, as Murray explains, the ethos of that new upper class is destructive of society in the long run.

Even in the immediate, direct trends of the economy, we can observe the economic sluggishness since Governor Raimondo took office, which suggests that her approach does not work.  In February, Rhode Island was the only state in the country that had fewer jobs than it did a year before.  Yet, one hears no trace of doubt in Raia’s voice that maybe (just maybe) crafting a society isn’t so easy.

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Who Is Working For You? New Major Report Coming Soon From The Center

Who does the Rhode Island General Assembly really work for? Too often, the people of our state are left voiceless as special interest dominate the conversation. Recently, the Ocean State Current broke a major story that ignited media coverage across the state. In H5662 and Whom Rhode Island Representatives Represent, Research Director Justin Katz, uncovers a key admission from the political class.

During the March 11th Tiverton Town Council meeting, a member of the General Assembly admitted that he put forward the bill at the request of Speaker of the House, without regard to the cost to the town he represents for the state firefighters union.

Don’t wait, you can catch the video on the Current by clicking the link here. You can also find the followup here.

In the coming weeks, the Center will be releasing a major report on the cost of collective bargaining in the Ocean State. This will be the longest and most in-depth research project the Center has ever undertaken on any topic. We invite you to be on the lookout for this critical report.

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Admissions Scandal Is So Very Rhode Island

I’ve got an op-ed in today’s Washington Times, about Rhode Island’s own connection with the college-entrance bribery scandal:

When Rhode Islanders heard that the women’s tennis coach of the state’s public university had been arrested in connection with the national bribery for admission scandal, many must have said, “Wait, what?” Students can get an excellent education at the University of Rhode Island, and it’s certainly an affordable option, but it isn’t exactly an institution for which the nation’s rich and famous would have to pay the sort of premium that might attract the FBI’s attention.

When they learned the details, locals’ reaction was probably something more like, “How very Rhode Island.”

This paragraph is probably the key takeaway for Rhode Islanders:

Rhode Island’s leaders are like the parents who’ve bribed their children’s way into institutions of higher education that were well beyond their merit. Both cases exhibit an implicit insecurity and a desire for people under their care or authority to be something they’re not. In contrast, the initial questions that political leaders and parents ask should be: Who are you really, and how can you achieve your full potential, being who you are? With that more-human perspective as the starting point, parents might not set their children up for embarrassing failure (or criminal prosecution).

Read the whole thing, as they say.

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Rhode Island Legislators Should Support The 6.5% Sales Tax Promise

The state of the State of Rhode Island is not competitive. Even as the rising national economic tide has lifted ships in all states, when compared with the rest of the nation, our Ocean State is severely lagging, and is in danger of sinking further behind if progressive policies continue to be implemented.

However, things do not have to be this way.

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Why We Should Be Afraid of Subjective Moral Reasoning

Believers and secularists can go around in circles when it comes to moral debates.  Mark Tapscott highlights the response of Christian speaker Ravi Zacharias when an audience member asks him why Christians are “so afraid of subjective moral reasoning,” and Zacharias’s response is excellent but, I think, vulnerable to the ideological roundabout.

He points to the genocides of the U.S.S.R. and China, but his questioner had already asserted that there were Christian Nazis and atheist Nazis.  Put aside the legitimacy of that assertion and simply note that he believes it and would likely move farther down that path had the argument continued.

The key point for advancing this debate is, in my view, that comments like “why are you so afraid” ignore that we live within a cultural framework.  Even now, we’re living within the moral momentum of Christianity.  Until very recently, children were still raised, in significant degree, to think that those things that were traditionally immoral are… immoral.  Telling a person when he or she becomes a teen that there is no ontological foundation for his or traditions doesn’t make them suddenly feel incorrect.  The transition takes time and an opposing catalyst.

In other words, something has to happen to change the feeling of right and wrong, and that something can be manipulation by an ideological movement, like the Nazis or the Chinese Communists or even the lower-scale bigotry that gives some superficially plausible reason why it’s OK to hurt a particular type of person (like a teenage supporter of the president).

Honestly evaluated life experience will suggest that the urge to break free of traditional moral restrictions is always lingering just below the surface, at least for a sufficiently large portion of the population to be dangerous.  It really doesn’t take much at all to break it free.

The Old Man in the Mountain looked out over New Hampshire for centuries, watching as horses lost ground to cars below and planes began flying overhead.  But time did him in.  Drops of water, freezing and thawing, worked their way through the crevices, and gutters and chains could ultimately not keep him attached to his foundation.  After that, there was no putting him back.

Culturally, we can resist the gravity of our nature for long eras, but a culture needs tradition to carry it forward.  Otherwise we’re pebbles on the edge of a cliff waiting while an evil ideology works its way into the fissures below.

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The Violence Inherent in the Mainstream Narrative

Here’s a little story, from Brian Amaral in the Providence Journal, that oughtn’t be lost in the shuffle of day-to-day news:

A group of juveniles [apparently 15 years old and younger] holding “Trump flags” outside the Brown University bookstore on Thayer Street Friday told police a man accosted them and choked two of them.

According to a police report provided by Commander Thomas Verdi, the five juveniles flagged down police at about 8 p.m. to report the incident in front of the bookstore at 244 Thayer St. They told police they were holding the two flags when they were approached by the man, believed to be in his 20s. The man began to stare at them, then asked what they were doing, they told police.

This is a consequence of the prevalent attitude in much of the mainstream of the political and media classes that Americans with certain points of view are evil and therefore have no rights.  When the narrative flows from “punch a Nazi” to “Trump is a Nazi,” a dangerous atmosphere develops.  In this narrative, somebody “Trump flags” (whatever those might be) is trying to usher in a new fascism.

Sure, the 20-something guy walking down the street who decides to take it upon himself to do something violent about this incipient fascism probably has something wrong with him, but this isn’t an isolated incident.  Let’s not forget the mass hysteria over the viral video of the Covington Catholic students in Washington, D.C., after the latest March for Life.

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Social Isolation for Elders and the Cause of Freedom

It’s been out for a few months, so readers who frequent this sort of Web site may have already come across WalletHub’s ranking of the “Best States to Retire,” which places Rhode Island 49th, better only than Kentucky.  What does the Ocean State in is the combination of low affordability and low quality of life for seniors.

That latter point is what caught my eye this week in Adriana Belmonte’s summary of the ranking for Yahoo Finance:

Colorado and New Hampshire’s spots jumped out to [WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez], as well. New Hampshire has the lowest property crime rate, and is the fourth-best state overall.

“While they aren’t exactly the most affordable, these states ranked among the best to retire to,” Gonzalez said, noting both states’ high-quality health care and physicians per capita. “This is because they both have a low risk of social isolation, as well as a low share of the population aged 65+ in poverty.”

New Hampshire is 3rd for “quality of life,” which includes a variety of entertainment and leisure items (like “scenic byways” and “museums per capita”), as well as crime rates.  The subcategory also includes “risk of social isolation,” measured as follows:

This metric considers the following six risk factors of social isolation in population aged 65 years and older: a) Divorced, separated or widowed; b) Never married; c) Poverty; d) Disability; e) Independent Living Difficulty and f) Living alone.

That’s a cultural thing, and it points to a traditional view of life.  If you divorce or never get married, you have a higher risk of being alone.  Likewise (although it doesn’t appear that WalletHub measured this) if you never had children or if your children had to move somewhere else in order to find work, your risk of isolation goes up.

We most certainly shouldn’t compound the tragic events in people’s lives with unnecessary ridicule and stigma, but we’ve tended to forget an important point:  Traditional values are traditional for a reason.  They were learned over the course of centuries, not (as the ideological scions of Marx would have it) because they served some patriarchy or ruling elite, but because they made people’s lives better.  They also provided the foundation for freedom and for social advancement, which means losing our traditional values will actually bring us back toward rule by others.

In that regard, it is a telling coincidence that New Hampshire’s motto is “Live Free or Die.”

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Governor Seeks to Punish Employers Via Proposed Medicaid Tax

Businesses should be applauded for hiring those most in need of work…not punished with more taxes, and certainly not made out to be the bad guy. It is misguided to think that if employees are not covered by their employer’s insurance plan, full or part time, and instead are enrolled in Medicaid, then the business should be punished.

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Recovering a Lost Heritage (The Right Lost Heritage)

Rod Dreher’s musings on the atrocity in New Zealand are worth a read:

And so, Tarrant’s line — radicalization is the rational response to degeneration — played out in a different way in Mark Bollobas’s life. He moved to his ancestral homeland, where he would be poorer in material ways, but richer in many other ways. In my case, I propose the Benedict Option, and live in consciously countercultural ways, trying to be more and more like this in the face of this increasingly repulsive culture. For his part, Brenton Tarrant became a fanatical racist, fascist, mass murderer. Radicalism takes many forms. We have to resist the berserker form, but resisting it cannot mean pretending that the society and culture we are creating is good and healthy and worth defending. It’s not. I mean, for God’s sake, just look. I see Tarrant as a manifestation of the same diabolism.

It’s more radical to work to build the kind of culture that is life-giving, and to create new forms within which it can be lived out, than to give your life over to murdering innocent men, women, and children. This is true whether you are an ISIS terrorist, or a white nationalist terrorist. Those devils bring nothing but pain and death. They are no solution.

Toward the end of the essay, Dreher embeds the video from a 2004 song by the French Canadian band, Mes Aieux, called “Degeneration,” that better captures the sense of Dreher’s point than these tagged-in videos usually do:

Basically, the theme is that we’ve sold out our heritage, culturally, in a way that leaves us spiritually poorer and with less connection to each other and the world around us.  Personally, I find that narrative difficult to dispute as truth, but concepts like “heritage” are fraught with danger, these days.  Everything has been tainted by identity politics and race huckstering.

The lost heritage bemoaned in the song is the ability to work hard and improve the lives of one’s family over generations.  That had been sold out in a generation, leaving the young with only a culture of dependency.

This is an eminently fixable problem, without bigotry and certainly without violence.  That references to recovering our heritage have been tainted with such things is an indication of our social sickness.

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Standing Up to the Forces of Modern Mania

Western civilization is in the throes of a mania, and the circumstance is precisely one in which religious people should prove the fortitude that they derive from their faith.  So, no, Catholic health plans should not cover transgender surgeries.  Agree or disagree with the policy, but there can be no argument that bodily mutilation — particularly of minors who have self-diagnosed their psychiatric needs — conflicts with Catholic teaching.

Unfortunately, powerful organizations are intent on disallowing Catholicism — or any traditional religion — from being anybody’s guide to how we organize our lives:

The ACLU cited standards of care from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, saying these standards are recognized as authoritative by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. …

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a senior attorney with the LGBT legal group Lambda Legal, said that employer plans appear to be changing to include transgender services, many individual hospitals and doctors, especially Catholic ones, decline such services on the grounds of religious exemptions.

“It is a growing problem that we are seeing nationally because of the consolidation of hospitals,” he told Crosscut, noting that most hospitals in Washington state are Catholic-affiliated.

It doesn’t take much for a mania to grip a society (with the persuasive influence, religious folks might suggest, of malevolent whispers). Changing the impulses of certain slice of a professional class and a handful of influential organizations suffices to turn social institutions like our judicial system into weapons.

The issue is not a conditional one of determining what approach to a challenging problem will have the best overall effect.  When that is the case, a religiously founded organization can legitimately conclude that some accommodation to the outside world is allowable in order to continue its unrelated good works.

At issue, here, is whether the Church believes what it has preached and, more importantly, whether its faith in God is sufficient to stand against activists intent on perpetuating evil.  That pervasive fortitude is critical to both to the Church’s religious mission and to the continued advancement of Western civilization.

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The 6.5% Sales Tax Promise: Money In Your Pocket

Existing state law (General Law 44-18-18) specifies a “trigger” for a sales tax rate reduction to 6.5% (from its current level of 7.0%!) if certain internet sales tax collection criteria are met. The rationale for this law was to relieve Rhode Islanders of the additional burden of imposing a sales tax on a broader range of purchased goods, by easing the tax.

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