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Freedom… From the Progressive Point of View

Perhaps the most clarifying statement in Rhode Island politics, recently, came from one of the candidates now involved with Matt Brown’s Political Cooperative (which, despite the name, is not an alt-country band):

“Thought I may be the epitome of the American dream I cannot sit around and watch while many of my brothers and sisters are denied a shot at that very dream,″ said Jonathan Acosta, tracing his own story from “first generation American born to undocumented migrants from Colombia″ to the Ivy League.

“I believe that we are not free until we have dismantled structural inequality, developed sustainable clean energy, enacted a $15 minimum wage that pays equal pay for equal work, extended healthcare for all, provide[d] affordable housing, ensured quality public education starting at Pre-K, undergone campaign finance reform, criminal justice reform, and implemented sensible gun control,″ said Acosta, running for the Senate seat currently held by Elizabeth Crowley, D-Central Falls.

So, to Mr. Acosta, we’re not free until we’ve taken from some categories of people to give to others, limited people’s energy options to benefit fashionable technologies, forbidden employers and employees from setting a mutually agreeable value on work to be done, taken money from some people in order to pay for others’ health care (as defined by a vote-buying government) and/or put price controls on what providers can charge, placed restrictions on who can live where and what they can build, tightened the regulation of politics with limits on the donations and privacy of those who become politically active, and reduced the rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.

If that doesn’t match your understanding of “freedom,” you’re not alone.  Indeed, by its mission, this “cooperative” is cooperating against anybody whose understanding of freedom differs, because it cannot possibly cooperate with anybody who disagrees.  You simply can’t hold a definition of freedom that doesn’t have satisfactory outcomes for the interest groups that progressives have targeted.

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Fundamental Questions Vaped

Joanne Giannini’s essay in this space yesterday points in the direction of fundamental questions our society doesn’t seem interested in asking these days — much less answering.

A former state representative, Joanne was in office during a time when state government was cracking down on smoking.  She sees the rise of vaping as an as-bad-or-worse substitute cropping up and (one infers) probably deserving of the same response.

The first question is whether the rash of illnesses is actually an indication that vaping is truly dangerous.  Robert Verbruggen writes for NRO that reports of “the mystery vaping disease” merit investigation and concern, but indications are that they may be highlighting a tangential, not endemic, problem:

… while a lot remains to be learned about the illness, there are strong suggestions it’s caused by bad or counterfeit products, not by normal vaping. The cases cluster geographically, and in some states they have been found exclusively among those who vape cannabis products, not nicotine. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA director who launched a crackdown on vaping when studies showed teen use on the uptick, told KHN he suspects the problem is counterfeit pods, both because of the clustering and because the FDA inspects the facilities of legitimate manufacturers to ensure the products aren’t contaminated.

This, in other words, may be less like cigarettes, which cause disease by their nature, than like food poisoning.  If that’s the case, then regulation should be less about limiting access as a way of discouraging use than about helping consumers differentiate between safer and riskier products.

Either way, the question remains what our society ought to do when the short- and long-term effects of a consumable are unknown or are known to be bad.  Limiting their use by minors, who are presumed to be unprepared to make informed decisions, is an obvious possibility.  But shouldn’t adults be permitted to balance the risks and rewards of these things for themselves?

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A Disabled Society in an Abled Social Body

The headline of Ashley Taylor’s JSTOR Daily essay doesn’t so much articulate the problem as illustrate it: “The Complicated Issue of Transableism.”

In the late 1990s, the Scottish surgeon Robert Smith performed elective, above-the-knee amputations on two people. (The hospital he was affiliated with eventually compelled him to stop.) Smith’s patients are just two examples of people who have body integrity identity dysphoria, also known as being transabled: They feel they are disabled people trapped in abled bodies. Some people feel that they are meant to be amputees and will even injure themselves in order to create the desired amputation or make it medically necessary for a surgeon to perform it. Other people feel that they were meant to be blind or deaf.

A healthy society would not find “transableism” complicated at all.  It is an indication of deep mental illness, and it should be treated, not indulged.  To the extent our society cannot articulate this unambiguously, we are clearly falling into social illness.

At the very core of this question is a denial of our right as a community to hold Platonic ideals — not to mention the necessity and even inevitability of doing so.  Being able-bodied is the objective norm, the ideal.  When people are disabled, we make allowances and provisions for them in order to close the gap to that ideal.  It is therefore objectively wrong to expect society to offer those accommodations to somebody who deliberately moves away from the ideal.

Somebody of an opposing view might turn this argument around and suggest that all they’re doing is accommodating the person’s psychological distance from the ideal of feeling like an able-bodied person.  But making permanent physical changes compounds the distance rather than relieving it: the person is now disabled and still averse to being able-bodied.

The best one could say is that the person is closer to the ideal of being comfortable, but that is potentially fleeting.  After all, it is always possible to be more disabled.

Elevating the ideal of individual comfort is also destructive of the possibility of objective norms.  On the social scale, such principles have to be taken as simply true, else the utility of culture evaporates and society simply falls apart.

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Continuing Education for Professionals

Dan McGowan’s review of some claims that have recently been made about problems in the Providence school district is worth a read.  Broadly speaking, the claims about the school facilities themselves proved to have been exaggerated, while problems with management of teachers were not so much.

This item raises something that I’ve wondered about before — specifically, how much emphasis people really put on “professional development”:

Teachers get one day of professional development a year.

Grade: C

During a series of public forums following the release of the report, Infante-Green often asked attendees the same question: Would you go to a doctor who only received one day of training each year? While it is accurate that the current union contract only requires one professional development day during the school year, more nuance is required. Union president Maribeth Calabro and the Elorza administration maintain most teachers receive significantly more training each year. As an example, Calabro said at least half of her members have attended professional development sessions during their current summer vacation.

To be honest, I’d have no problem discovering that my doctor has only “one day of training each year.”  Doctors spend every day analyzing patients and determining the best treatments for their ailments.  One can expect that they are continually reviewing the latest information that might help them to do their jobs better.

The idea that they’ll simply coast along for their entire careers — doing the equivalent of handing out photocopied worksheets year after year — just seems strange.  Some will be better about this and some will be worse, but the fact that a doctor dedicated more than one day to some government-approved course of study that may or may not be relevant to my health and that may or may not have focused on some medical fad or PC indoctrination would not impress me at all.

So the question, then, is why we shouldn’t expect the same from teachers.  They have a 180-day work year.  Why should we assume that if we don’t use up some of those days for “professional development” instead of teaching, they’ll just let their skills atrophy and knowledge become antiquated?

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A Better Way to Cover Americans

With the State of Rhode Island writing ObamaCare into state law with this year’s budget, it’s worth noting a proposal floating around in conservative circles and the Trump Administration, as Avik Roy articulates here:

Last week, the White House finalized a new rule that allows employers to fund health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) that can be used by workers to buy their own coverage on the individual market. This subtle, technical tweak has the potential to revolutionize the private health insurance market. …

The administration estimates that as many as 800,000 employers — mostly smaller businesses — will choose this option, expanding health care choices for 11 million workers in the next decade. These employers will benefit from having fiscal certainty over their health expenditures. And workers will benefit from being able to choose their coverage and take it from job to job.

This is the health-care-market fix for which I’ve been advocating for years.  Everybody would get accounts, and employers could put money into them for their employees.  So could the government, as welfare benefits, and so could charities.  So could parents or even concerned members of a community after some surprise accident or illness for a neighbor.

At the same time, eliminate most mandatory coverages for health insurance so people for whom it makes sense can buy catastrophic coverage inexpensively.  That way everybody is covered for emergencies and nobody ever has a preexisting condition, because everybody has always had some sort of coverage.  At the same time, Americans would be better able to make health care decisions because they’d more often be paying directly for the services they receive and doing the cost-benefit analyses that people several steps removed from their situations can’t possibly do.

Of course, under such a system politicians attempting to buy votes would have to be more direct about it.  They’d be limited to transparently depositing taxpayer money into accounts instead of implicitly driving up costs in our opaque system by requiring insurers to cover certain benefits.  But in a fair analysis, a better, more-sustainable health care system that doesn’t distort the employment market is probably a little bit preferable to enabling corruption in politics.

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Rhode Island: An OK Place to Live

Obviously, the more subjective the thing an index attempts to measure, the more subject it will be to interpretation, and WalletHub has made a cottage industry of cranking out subjective rankings.  That said, the Web site’s “Best States to Live in” ranking from June has some interesting considerations for the Ocean State.

Notably, the Ocean State is supposedly the 29th best state in which to live… which seems OK, considering Rhode Islanders’ expectation to come in at the very bottom of all rankings.  OK begins to look not so good, though, when one zooms out on the map.  WalletHub claims Massachusetts is #1 and New Hampshire #3.  Vermont and Maine are both in the teens, and Connecticut comes in at #20.

Looking at the subcategories, RI’s worst result was in “affordability,” which shouldn’t surprise anybody.  The Ocean State was the fourth least affordable state, after New York, California, and New Jersey.  But here’s the thing:  No New England states are very affordable.  Massachusetts, for example, is 43rd and New Hampshire is 42nd.

So what makes the difference?  Massachusetts is in the top 5 for everything else:  economy, education & health, quality of life, and safety.  New Hampshire only misses the top 5 in quality of life.  Meanwhile, Rhode Island only breaks the top 20 on the safety subcategory (at #5).  The conclusion is that Rhode Island might not be able to avoid being expensive, but that only means it can’t afford to be unattractive by other measures.

Here’s where the subjectivity of the index becomes important.  Quality of life includes things that Rhode Island can’t help, like the weather, and things that depend on one’s values and interests.  The importance of “miles of trails for bicycling and walking” will vary from person to person.

But quality of life also includes things like the quality of the roads, which is pretty universally valued.  Meanwhile, multiple criteria that the index uses center around leisure activities that cost money, which means disposable income is a factor, as is the ease with which businesses can pop up to answer the demand.

MIT’s Living Wage Calculator states that a single Rhode Islander needs to make $12.35 per hour over a 2,080-hour workyear.  However, $1.86 of that goes to taxes.  For comparison, in New Hampshire, only $1.50 per hour goes to taxes.

This all suggests an unsurprising solution for improving Rhode Island’s standing:  lower taxes, use the money that is collected for things that are of more universal value, and decrease regulations.  We’d all have more money to spend, we’d feel better about our day-to-day life, and we’d be better able to answer each other’s needs.

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Straight Up Taxpayer Dollars for Promise of a New Treatment

After Steve Ahlquist firstbrought attention to the million dollar handout that the Rhode Island House wishes to give to Dr. Victor Pedro for his Cortical Integrative Therapy (CIT), a WPRI report covered the history of Pedro’s taxpayer funding.  One can’t help but feel that there must be more to the story:

  • Legislative leaders have long gone to bat for the doctor.
  • The executive branch has apparently made extra efforts to secure Medicaid funding for his treatments.
  • And even mild-mannered Lieutenant Governor Daniel McGee has spoken well of Pedro, including his activities in Cumberland schools back when McKee was mainly known as a mayor for that town.

Amazingly, though, nobody has yet mentioned the connection of pop star Paula Abdul, which takes an only-in-Rhode-Island turn.  Says Abdul:

I wish I’d had Cortical Integrative Therapy when I first discovered I had RSD, and I wish Dr. Pedro had been a part of my support system then like he is now.  The treatment replaces the old tapes in your head that have held onto the tapes of pain.  It helps your brain to allow for new experiences and new memories that don’t involve pain.  Think of it in terms of a computer — you’re deleting old files so you can free up more space.  I didn’t find out about Cortical Integrative Therapy until recently, and it has proved to be a life-changing treatment for my RSD.

The strange Rhode Island turn is that Abdul has another connection to Rhode Island as the long-time girlfriend of John Caprio, son of Caught in Providence star judge Frank Caprio and brother of the former treasurer and gubernatorial candidate of the same name as well as former representative David Caprio.  Various online sources also seem to indicate that Abdul has set up various businesses at 2220 Plainfield Pike in Cranston in the past.

This topic could certainly take a serious turn into political theory as an example of why government shouldn’t be in the investment and research business, why Rhode Island should end legislative grants, and why the governor should have the line-item veto.  If Pedro is an innovative practitioner of alternative medicine for the stars, he shouldn’t need government subsidies.

For this post, though, let’s just close with a sincere hope that Rhode Island’s press is sufficiently interested to unravel this entire peculiar tale.

Somewhere around Twitter, I saw somebody complain that people are spreading "lies" about Virginia Democrats.  The on-point response from somebody else (paraphrasing):  "People are spreading direct quotes."

The Danger of Saving a Child’s Life

Even if I could somehow adjust for the fact that I agree with his views on abortion and human life, I think I would still struggle to understand how a story like that of Argentinian doctor Leandro Rodriguez Lastra could fail to spark cognitive dissonance among supporters of abortion:

Rodríguez is the head of the department of gynecology at the Pedro Moguillansky Hospital in Cipoletti. In May 2017, he treated a 19-year-old woman who was suffering severe pain due to ingesting misoprostol, the first of a two-part abortion pill regimen, which had been administered by an abortion group.

The doctor confirmed that the woman was almost 23 weeks pregnant and the baby weighed more than 1 lb. 2 oz., so in conjunction with the medical team and the hospital board, he decided not to terminate the pregnancy.

Rodríguez stabilized the patient and when the baby reached 35 weeks gestation, labor was induced. Days later, the baby was adopted and will soon be two years old.

This is in the news, right now, because Rodriguez faces two years in prison for the act of saving two lives.  One of the two wanted him to finish the job of killing the other, which she had started.

How — How? — could anybody think of that now-two-year-old child and think to him or her self, “This doctor must be punished because that child is alive”?  Is the child Damian, the Antichrist?

Of course it’s not this specific child.  Rather the motivation is to make of Dr. Rodriguez an example, so that doctors’ desire to save lives cannot disrupt the principle of infanticide — or, one step closer to the higher principle, complete sexual liberty.

Whether the focus is the child or the doctor, however, a society that sees either as a danger requiring punishment could not have a clearer need for self reflection.

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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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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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Finland’s Health Care and a Culture That Can’t Balance

Maybe progressives are right.  Americans should look to Finland for lessons in government-driven universal health care:

The government of Finland collapsed Friday due to the rising cost of universal health care and the prime minister’s failure to enact reforms to the system.

Prime Minister Juha Sipila and the rest of the cabinet resigned after the governing coalition failed to pass reforms in parliament to the country’s regional government and health services, the Wall Street Journal reports. Finland faces an aging population, with around 26 percent of its citizens expected to be over 65 by the year 2030, an increase of 5 percent from today. …

Sipila said “there’s no other way for Finland to succeed” besides these reforms, which could have led to $3.4 billion in savings for the government.

In political philosophy, there is always a challenging balance to be struck when finding the boundaries for government action and defining what some citizens can demand from others using government force.  At the end of the day, most of the work ensuring that the balance doesn’t tip must be done in the culture, with our un-legislated sense of what is right and what is unjust.

We’re reaching the point in the United States that the balance is no more subtle than the political ability to force a change through.  (Witness ObamaCare.)  It is our deteriorating culture more than anything that ensures that any benefit, once granted, can never be taken away, even in the face of calamitous unintended consequences.

(Hat tip: Legal Insurrection)

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Rhode Island Needs A Freedom Agenda. (And It’s Coming This Week.)

The Ocean State is doomed to lose a US Congressional seat because of its hostile tax, educational, and business environment. The state’s current thinking chases away the wealth, families, and businesses that are needed for all of us to be truly prosperous. The far-left big government policies that have reigned in our state for far too long will continue to only make matters far worse. Instead, we need a change of direction.

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The Counterintuitive Consequences of Birth Control

A bit of recent research appears to confirm something I’ve been arguing from theoretical grounds for decades:

Access to the birth control pill in the U.S. has increased the births of children outside of marriage, especially among poor and minority women, according to a new study of the contraceptive’s historic effects.

“Our findings add to a growing literature which documents the power of the pill to shape women’s lives in broadly heterogenous ways, with minority and less-well-educated women bearing the brunt of the losses, a phenomenon we call the paradox of the pill,” economics professors Andrew Beauchamp and Catherine R. Pakaluk said in their paper, “The Paradox of the Pill: Heterogeneous Effects of Oral Contraceptive Access.”

“We find robust evidence that access to the pill increased nonmarital childbearing and reduced the likelihood of high-school graduation,” they said.

There are two important principles coming into view, here.  The first is something I wrote about in a 2004 post about the trajectory that our thoughts about sex, marriage, and family have been on, as a culture.  The relevant point, here, is that contraception intellectually and culturally separates sex from procreation.

Consequently, regardless of whether a particular couple is using contraception (or using it correctly), people begin behaving sexually as if children aren’t really a consideration.  When one is conceived, therefore, the tendency will be to blame the contraception, or its lack of availability, or whatever reasons one might have for not using it.  The pregnancy therefore seems unfair, increasing the demand for abortion.

The second principle is one that I expressed frequently when same-sex marriage was still a matter of public debate.  Namely, that people who don’t necessarily need marriage in order to have healthy relationships or to raise children reasonably well are actually investing in a culture of marriage that benefits more-vulnerable people.

We see the same thing with contraception.  More-privileged groups of people will not only have more access to contraception but also stronger cultural guides for the regulation of their behavior.  Yet, their view of sex will define the culture and affect the behavior of those who are less privileged and less responsible.

One aspect of the abortion debate with which one really must contend is the deception of those who advocate for abortion as a right, starting with the idea that legislation to preserve women's ability to kill their unborn children in the womb is about "reproductive health care."  Reproductive of what?

The Strange Assertions of Abortion Advocates

One aspect of the abortion debate with which one really must contend is the deception of those who advocate for abortion as a right, starting with the idea that legislation to preserve women’s ability to kill their unborn children in the womb is about “reproductive health care.”  Reproductive of what?

So much of the pro-abortion argument requires distortion of the language and concepts that are involved.  Why that is should be obvious.  The other day, a progressive state senator from Providence, Gayle Goldin, and Providence Journal reporter Katnerine Gregg responded to news that a judge had struck down an Iowa law restricting abortion when the baby’s heartbeat can be detected, implying that it’s a concern because it may give the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to address the question of abortion.

Think of the underlying issue.

This law that is, at the moment, arguably unconstitutional essentially states that if an unborn child is so provably unique from the mother as to have his or her own heartbeat, a doctor can’t suck out his or her brain, tear him or her limb from limb, or otherwise kill the child (presumably except to save the life of the mother).  When that’s the fact of the act, the only way to maintain support has got to be to misdirect attention some other way.

Activists at the Rhode Island State House, the other day, emphasized minorities’ access to abortion, but starting from a different perspective paints a very different picture.  Something around 8% of Rhode Island’s population is black, but they account for some 16% of abortions.  Abortion kills black babies at about twice the rate that it kills white babies in the Ocean State.

A chart from the Guttmacher Institute shows that minorities, especially black non-Hispanics, have much higher abortion rates than white non-Hispanics, yet the claim of the chart is that “lack of access to health insurance and health care plays a role, as do racism and discrimination,” in abortion rates that vary by race.   Is Guttmacher, which is associated with Planned Parenthood, suggesting that racism leads to the higher rates, or is it suggesting that, but for racism and discrimination, the United States would have even higher rates for killing black babies.

That’s what the Providence activists would seem to be suggesting when they talk about “access.”  Pursuing policies that would keep a significant portion of a minority population alive is a strange kind of bigotry.

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Learn the Lesson, Rhode Island: Doctor Shortage

It’s anecdotal, to be sure, but add Ellen Lenox Smith’s letter in the Providence Journal to the evidence that Rhode Island has a worsening doctor problem:

Just last week, I had an appointment with my pulmonologist, who shared that out of the four doctors in his practice, only two are now left. This poor doctor is expected to take on the work of the two that are now gone along with his original patients, and they are not intending to replace those gone. I am so concerned that he will decide it isn’t worth it and leave, too.

This is not the type of medicine he planned of doing: overstretched, overtired and not able to care for his patients in the manner he was first hired to do.

Rhode Island imposes a high number of mandated coverages on health insurance, driving up the cost.  We’ve pushed nearly one-third of our population into Medicaid.  And our laws are restrictive when it comes to occupational licensing, regulations, and taxation.

This environment of massive government control puts a lot of pressure on the prices that providers can charge customers, which has an effect on how much time they can afford to spend with them, meaning that the job may not be what they wanted it to be.

We need to learn this lesson, because ideological and motivated activists are trying to push our state even farther down this road.  Market forces allow us to match up the things that people want done (and can afford) on one hand and the things that other people are willing to do (for an income they are willing to accept) on the other.

Messing with that freedom-derived balance means that something else is determining who gets what from whom.  Then, the incentives of politics will make it more beneficial to promise the moon to the getters at the expense of the providers.  Even if the current providers tough that out and don’t cross the border, we’ll inevitably see fewer new ones as time goes forward, and everybody will suffer.

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