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A Reminder for Faith in Our Times

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

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

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

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

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

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Enter the Era of Vampires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Responding to Matthew Arnold, Tide Still Going Out

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

 

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

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

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

Young sir, my elder!

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

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The Other Side in Battling Climates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Government That Primarily Seeks To Grow Itself

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

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A Market Rhode Island Government Has Left as a Last Resort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mediating Communions and Institutions Must Correct Our Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Budget: The Progressive Approach

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

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Who Do We Think We Are?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Allowing the Jihadist Cloud Darken the Age

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

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

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

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

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

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Avoiding Unions for Innovation and Prudent Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathryn Jean Lopez - Love and Faith in the Time of Trump

Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review To Speak In RI on “Love and Faith in the Time of Trump”

Sweet William F. Buckley Jr.’s ghost! Kathryn Jean Lopez, senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review, will be speaking this week in the Ocean State. She will deliver her lecture, “Love and Faith in the Time of Trump” to  St. Pius V Young Adults and members of the general public. This lecture will address the complicated political, cultural, and social environment resulting from the election of President Donald J. Trump.

Despite the common perceptions of millennials in Rhode Island, St. Pius V Young Adults is a thriving community of young adults who, by their very existence, stand in opposition to the goals of the dominant progressive-secular culture. Their weekly, Thursday night meetings, often attract upwards of fifty Catholic millennials who are working to live their faith. They take on the deep theological and ethical questions that relate to the lives of young people through guest speakers, followed by lively discussion during fellowship sessions.

St. Pius V Young Adults is a Catholic community open to millennials in their twenties and thirties. According to their mission, they are dedicated to the sanctification of the young adult community in the parish and Diocese of Providence. They seek to achieve this goal through fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church, prayer, Sacramental life, community, personal faith formation, charity, and apostolic initiative.

Kathryn Jean Lopez - Love and Faith in the Time of Trump

Image Credit: Katie Scheu

Lopez is a stalwart defender of marriage and family issues from the Catholic perspective. She writes about a broad array of topics including bioethics, religion, feminism, pro-life issues, education, and politics.

With Rhode Island ranking 45th in 2017 on the Family Prosperity Index (FPI), it is critical for new counter-status quo voices to be heard. The FPI created by the American Conservative Union, gives lawmakers, civic leaders, and citizens a more holistic and accurate image of the economy than other measures by considering how social factors play a role in impacting the economic vitality of communities.

From the Facebook invitation:

During this Easter season, we must remember that we are not the ones we have been waiting for. The Gospel tells us that it’s the life of virtue that makes for greatness, not political and worldly power. This event is hosted by St. Pius V Young Adults, and is open to the entire St. Pius parish community.

This event will be held this Thursday, May 18, 2017 from 8:00pm to 9:00pm. It will be hosted at St. Pius V at 55 Elmhurst Ave., Providence, Rhode Island, 02909 in the church hall. This event is open to the public of all ages, and attendance is encouraged by the parish community.

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The Corporate Welfare Strategy Has Failed

The massive budget shortfall is proof that the state government’s corporate welfare strategy has failed. Rhode Island’s current corporate tax-credit economic development strategy is highly inefficient as it creates relatively few jobs at an extremely high cost per job to taxpayers. This targeted ‘advanced industry’ approach does little if anything to improve the overall business climate, which is necessary if organic entrepreneurial growth is to occur on its own. A 3.0% sales tax would disproportionately help low-income families.

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