A bad guy on the 12:00 train, UHIP messaging, and the rule of the experts.
Click here for the podcast.
A bad guy on the 12:00 train, UHIP messaging, and the rule of the experts.
Click here for the podcast.
Bishop Thomas Tobin shared this memorable moment in a recent iteration of his regular column in The Rhode Island Catholic:
One year, when I was living in Youngstown, I went home for my weekly visit to mom just before Christmas and she asked me to take a tray of her prized cookies across the street to our neighbors. Of course I was happy to comply.
So, I grabbed the tray, put it under my arm like a football, and started out the door. “Wait,” she said, “hold it upright or you’ll crush the cookies.” And then I said something I still remember and regret: “It doesn’t really matter, they’re just cookies.” And she leveled me with this, her voice as stern as I ever heard it: “It matters to me; I made those cookies and I’m proud of them. Hold the tray straight!”
Boom! That’s how a mom corrects a fifty-year-old bishop, pulls him from his pedestal, and puts him in his place.
All that matters matters only because it matters to somebody. That point is especially appropriate on Christmas Eve, as we await the celebration of God’s gift to us of His self and son. A humble and humbling moment in a stable two millennia ago is still significant to us today because of to whom it mattered then and because of the millions to whom it has mattered since.
Liberals’ having already prepared reasons not to absolve the United States of sexism just for electing Clinton gives some indication of their outrage when they didn’t even get the outcome they expected.
That American students are learning to believe their country and culture are uniquely bad is evidence of a deliberate attempt to trick them into giving up their opportunities and freedom.
Reading Richard Ebeling’s brief summary of the economic misadventures of the Roman Emperor Diocletian (244-312 AD), the striking lesson is how stunningly we fail to learn the lessons of history, with Venezuela’s being a recent example:
Michael Ivanovich Rostovtzeff, a leading historian on the ancient Roman economy, offered this summary in his Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire(1926):
“The same expedient [a system of price and wage controls] have often been tried before him [Diocletian] and was often tried after him. As a temporary measure in a critical time, it might be of some use. As a general measure intended to last, it was certain to do great harm and to cause terrible bloodshed, without bringing any relief. Diocletian shared the pernicious belief of the ancient world in the omnipotence of the state, a belief which many modern theorists continue to share with him and with it.”
Finally, as, again, Ludwig von Mises concluded, the Roman Empire began to weaken and decay because it lacked the ideas and ideology that are necessary to build upon and safeguard a free and prosperous society: a philosophy of individual rights and free markets.
Ebeling details that there is much more to the error than simple price controls. One underlying theme, however, of which we can’t lose sight is the hubris of the central planner. As with quantitative easing, the planners don’t see themselves as flailing around looking for some solution. They really think they’ve got a workable idea. They aren’t entirely dismissive of the risks; they just think the risks are minimal.
And for the most part, the piece they’re missing is the likely response of the people. Ebeling peppers his essay with descriptions of people’s reactions to Diocletian’s heavy-handed economic policies, and they all seem obvious. We can guess, though, that they weren’t obvious to Diocletian. If only he’d been able to imagine what he would do if he were in the position of his subjects. If our own elites could do the same.
Fifteen years out, the unity following 9/11 seems to have been squandered, but it may simply have been exposed as an illusion of political necessity.
Notre Dame Professor Patrick Deneen taps into an area of thinking that I’ve been spotting with more frequency. To my observation that we have no excuse for repeating errors that have been known for millennia, Deneen might respond (emphasis in original):
Our students’ ignorance is not a failing of the educational system – it is its crowning achievement. Efforts by several generations of philosophers and reformers and public policy experts — whom our students (and most of us) know nothing about — have combined to produce a generation of know-nothings. The pervasive ignorance of our students is not a mere accident or unfortunate but correctible outcome, if only we hire better teachers or tweak the reading lists in high school. It is the consequence of a civilizational commitment to civilizational suicide. The end of history for our students signals the End of History for the West.
During my lifetime, lamentation over student ignorance has been sounded by the likes of E.D. Hirsch, Allan Bloom, Mark Bauerlein and Jay Leno, among many others. But these lamentations have been leavened with the hope that appeal to our and their better angels might reverse the trend (that’s an allusion to Lincoln’s first inaugural address, by the way). E.D. Hirsch even worked up a self-help curriculum, a do-it yourself guide on how to become culturally literate, imbued with the can-do American spirit that cultural defenestration could be reversed by a good reading list in the appendix. Broadly missing is sufficient appreciation that this ignorance is the intended consequence of our educational system, a sign of its robust health and success.
To my suggestion that progressive government is setting up a sort of “company state” in which everything is ordered toward the business model of providing government services and making others pay for them, Deneen would add (emphasis added):
Regardless of major or course of study, the main object of modern education is to sand off remnants of any cultural or historical specificity and identity that might still stick to our students, to make them perfect company men and women for a modern polity and economy that penalizes deep commitments. Efforts first to foster appreciation for “multi-culturalism” signaled a dedication to eviscerate any particular cultural inheritance, while the current fad of “diversity” signals thoroughgoing commitment to de-cultured and relentless homogenization.
Maybe his most important addition, however, is Deneen’s glimmer of hope:
On our best days, I discern their longing and anguish and I know that their innate human desire to know who they are, where they have come from, where they ought to go, and how they ought to live will always reassert itself.
That’s a difficult longing to fulfill. As Plato noted all those centuries ago, people once deluded in such a way “deem him their worst enemy who tells them the truth,” and powerful forces in our society will give them every opportunity and excuse not to evaluate their sense that something’s missing.
Reading through a New York Times description of the food riots underway in Venezuela, now that the country’s been destroyed by socialism, I’m struck by some obvious juxtapositions that are well separated in the text. Paragraph 1:
With delivery trucks under constant attack, the nation’s food is now transported under armed guard.
Down the coastal road in a small fishing town called Boca de Uchire, hundreds gathered on a bridge this month to protest because the food deliveries were not arriving.
Make it more difficult and expensive to bring food, and food will be harder to get. More stunning is how familiar it all seems. The scenes of destruction of the very infrastructure necessary to produce, transport, store, and sell food are like something out of Manzoni’s description of the Milan bread riots of the Seventeenth Century in The Betrothed. And it’s not just the people’s counter-productive behavior. Here’s the Times:
In response, [President Nicolas] Maduro has tightened his grip over the food supply. Using emergency decrees he signed this year, the president put most food distribution in the hands of a group of citizen brigades loyal to leftists, a measure critics say is reminiscent of food rationing in Cuba. …
At the same time, the government also blames an “economic war” for the shortages. It accuses wealthy business owners of hoarding food and charging exorbitant prices, creating artificial shortages to profit from the country’s misery.
Here’s Manzoni (page 232 of the Penguin Classics printing):
People forget that they have feared and predicted the shortage, and suddenly begin to believe that there is really plenty of grain, and that the trouble is that it is being kept off the market. Though there are no earthly or heavenly grounds for that belief, it gives food to people’s anger and to their hopes. Real or imaginary hoarders of grain, landowners who did not sell their entire crop within twenty-four hours, bakers who bought grain and held it in stock — everyone in fact who possessed or was thought to possess grain was blamed for the shortage and for the high prices …
… [The magistrates] fixed maximum prices for a number of foodstuffs, they decreed penalties for anyone who refused to sell at those prices, and passed one or two other regulations of that kind. But all the official measures in the world, however vigorous they may be, cannot lessen a man’s need for food, nor produce crops out of season. The measures actually taken on this occasion were certainly not calculated to attract imports from other areas where there might conceivably be a surplus. …
… [Grand Chancellor Antonio] Ferrer was behaving like a lady of a certain age, who thinks she can regain her youth by altering the date on her birth certificate.
We have centuries… millennia… of lessons. Right now, we can learn once again from Venezuela. I fear too many people lack the basis to make the obvious connections.
Over the weekend, I attended a conference at the Portsmouth Institute themed “Christian Courage in a Secular Age.” For the second session on Saturday afternoon, Knights of Columbus executive Andrew Walther talked about genocide of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. He noted, in particular, the challenge of getting Westerners to acknowledge that it’s possible for Christians to be a minority. After all, the narrative of the Western Left is that Christians are the oppressive majority.
After his talk, an audience member identifying himself (if I recall correctly) as a civil rights attorney made an accusation, masquerading as a question, that one might charitably characterize as tangential: Does the Knights of Columbus intend to pressure the United States to pressure Israel to cave to the Palestinians and thereby resolve the problems of the Middle East?
In stark contrast, my co-contributor Andrew Morse followed this question, asking whether the United States should look to the cultural confidence it exhibited in bringing down the communism of the Soviet Union as a model for handling the Middle East. In subsequent conversation, I suggested that something more would be needed, because Russia’s cultural experience had more shared assumptions with Western Europe and the United States than the predominantly Islamic Middle East has with any of us.
With the Soviet Union, we could largely rely on the confidence to compete. With the Middle East, there really isn’t a competition, at least inasmuch as there is no agreement about the direction of the race, so to speak.
Waking up Sunday to the horrible news of an apparent terrorist attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, it came home to me how tangled and tripping our politics have become. Much of the initial reaction I saw online associated the attack with internal Western culture wars rather than the accelerating series of terrorist attacks. If you want an archetype, look to the disgusting cover of the New York Daily News.
In some respects, cultural confidence grows out of a sense of our own strength, as a people and as individuals. The Left wants to weaken a core aspect of our culture that gave a set of principles about which to be confident — a constitutional republic founded on the assumed assent to the basic Judeo-Christian moral framework — not the least because it made us successful and strong. The Left also wants to to weaken us as individuals, not the least when it comes to security, making us dependent on government under the Left’s control for our safety and self defense.
Maybe those who sympathize with the Left should start asking what it was about the United States that made us a country in which religious traditionalists could share the land with sexual radicals — that leaves many of us seeing this attack as a reason for unity of purpose and renewal of our shared heritage in opposition to its enemy. Charging forward with the fundamental transformation of our nation is sure to be fatal.
A narrative of American advance and decline that misses the importance of the rule of law in mediating ideological differences pushes us toward tyranny.
Sometimes, comfort has to come in strange ways, and today, it comes from this paragraph in Glenn Reynolds’s most recent USA Today essay:
Of course, collapse isn’t, as Tainter notes, always so bad. When the Western Roman Empire collapsed, ordinary people were often better off because they were freed from the empire’s oppressive taxes and regulations (like the rules that sons of soldiers, civil servants and workers in government factories, among others, must enter the trades of their fathers). Many people in the provinces welcomed the barbarians. The new governments were actually better at what governments are for, as Tainter writes: “The smaller Germanic kingdoms that succeeded Roman rule in the West were more successful at resisting foreign incursions (e.g., Huns and Arabs). … The economic prosperity of North Africa actually rose under the Vandals, but declined again under Justinian’s reconquest when Imperial taxes were reimposed.” Likewise, Venezuelans will probably be better off when they eventually get a new government. They could hardly be worse.
I will say that I think we’re vulnerable on this count, in the United States. Nations founded on a particular heritage or ethnic makeup don’t lose their identity during regime change, but we’re founded on a governing idea. When that idea goes away (or when it went away) the identity, and the nation it defined, is (or was) gone, too.
But life goes on. Some of the choices change, of course. Those who grew up expecting to make decisions about vacations and what kind of cars to buy must instead make decisions about how much to stand up for their rights and freedom. When a nation is, at its core, an idea, anybody can keep that idea alive — even as a memorial candle kept burning in some dim basement — until the world is ready for it again. That too is a decision.
The long threads of human society, leading through our ancestors and us, then into the murky future, continue. We just refine our understanding of our priorities and adjust our plans. Our current circumstances are really nothing new in our society’s experience; we’re just living through a period of madness and decline.
As the song goes, “When the cities are on fire with the burning flesh of men, just remember that death is not the end.”
For a good, long while, I’ve offered the optimistic view about Rhode Island: that at some point of collapse prior to the adjective, “utter,” the people would awaken and insist that the corrupt games have to stop, aided by those in leadership positions whose consciences would no longer allow them to look the other way. Any level of collapse is painful, of course, but reality and solutions are close enough to the surface, throughout the United States, that a reparable slash or broken bone should be a sufficient lesson to change behavior.
News out of Venezuela and reflections on the presidential primary are leading me to question my optimism. On the former, Kevin Williamson gives a concise summary of the condition:
If you truly believe that Venezuela is suffering from electricity shortages because its economy is so successful, you should ask yourself why it is suffering from a toilet-paper shortage, too. And a shortage of rice, milk, cooking oil, and other basic foods. And water.
To which I’d add this from Richard Fernandez:
The lights didn’t go out in Caracas all at once. The wiring was stolen bit by bit; the turbines had been neglected year by year; the engineers had departed plane by plane until Earth Day came down like a shroud and without apparent end. Rioting and looting is now reported to be spreading as only 15 days of food are said to remain.
Read both essays and ponder that blithe assertion that “it can’t happen here.” We’re watching it happen here. Fernandez suggests Venezuela fell prey to the “curse of plenty,” wherein “easy money attracts the wrong kind of leaders and incentivizes the wrong kind of public behavior.” A region can have easy money by sitting on a cornucopia of natural resources, or it can be a small state in a wealthy region of an economically dynamic country.
The reality is that most people just want things to continue as they are and perhaps improve incrementally, which makes them susceptible to herding in bad directions that serve special interests. Head this way, and a loud, scary noise urges us back to the herd; meanwhile, the corral and slaughterhouse aren’t quite visible up ahead.
As the wrong leaders and wrong behavior make things more difficult, fewer people are willing to step forward in opposition, and fewer good people want the role of leadership even if they can get it. Potential heroes are vilified, and the public’s confusion is exploited.
In this mix of diminished choice and distortion, politicians have no competition or too much, leading to uncontested seats or split votes that allow victory with relatively small pluralities of support. Both special interests and cults of personality can therefore amass winning numbers. Rhode Island elects a Chafee and then a Raimondo, while backing a Bernie and a Trump for president.
The outcomes are always predictable, and yet it seems impossible to correct course. Small improvements require so much personal sacrifice of effort, while the status quo rumbles on effortlessly.
Hans Von Spakovsky checks in on the legal battle over efforts by the Obama administration and various progressive activist groups to prevent states from ensuring that people registering to vote are citizens. Note this:
If these allegations are true (and based on the history of the Voting Rights Section during this administration, they may well be), then the Eric Holder–run Justice Department was actively engaged in blocking an independent bipartisan federal agency from allowing a state to verify that only citizens are registering to vote.
Given the behavior of President Obama on a variety of regulatory and administrative fronts, as well as my observations about New England governments’ desire to change their populations to better suit the people in power (and their employees), it’s absolutely reasonable to conclude that politicians, mainly in the Democrat Party, want to import a large client class on which they can rely to counter any contrary votes from actual Americans.
When Americans read history (a category whose small number is, no doubt, a large part of our present problem) and wonder that those of previous eras did not see the clear and obvious trends, they should look around the landscape of current events for the clear and obvious actions that largely go without comment, much less criticism, from those we entrust to keep an eye out for us.
So Providence College President Reverend Brian Shanley did make his college’s race-grievance agitators wait for a bit, and his resolution wasn’t so much a capitulation as a diplomatic delay, but I worry about the attitude we’re teaching the current generation of college students:
After a 13-hour sit-in outside President Rev. Brian J. Shanley’s office, about 50 Providence College students protesting what they called “anti-blackness and racism on campus” ended their demonstration when Shanley agreed to make progress on the demands.
Senior Mary-Murphy Walsh, one of the sit-in’s organizers, said late Tuesday night that Shanley “did promise today that he would do everything in his capacity. We will see within 20 days, we will see what he comes up with.”
From what outside readers can tell, the students’ complaints have mainly to do with an off-campus party and a number of unconfirmed incidents over which the college cannot be expected to have any control anyway. At best, the organization can only offset the inappropriate behavior of individuals (if that behavior actually exists) with handouts to special interests, although the protesters’ demands go as far as rewriting the Western Civilization curriculum, which may be tantamount to rewriting history, and mandating “cultural-sensitivity training,” which is essentially forced reeducation, in contrast to, say, forums for public discussion of different views.
To the young protesters — shown in the Providence Journal photograph enjoying the comfortable area outside the president’s office, with its conditioned air and complimentary wifi — there is no such thing as differing views. The intellectual landscape consists of their worldview surrounded by inexcusable racism and failure to capitulate.
Complaining that Shanley didn’t rush back from Florida to address a minor he-said-she-said incident off campus, Providence NAACP representative Pilar McCloud said:
“By staying away and coming back at his scheduled time, to me it’s an open handed slap in the face and the students already had a list of demands for the president prior to that,” McCloud said. “This incident is just the icing on the cake.”
“Nothing gets resolved, nothing gets done and people feel like they are not being respected or heard,” she added. “So what did you expect them to do? It is their God given right to express themselves. PC, as much as they would like to, can’t take that away from them.”
Note what McCloud is saying, here. The students’ “right to express themselves” entails a requirement that others prove that they are “respected or heard,” which is proven by acceding to a list of demands. Failure to respond to the children’s stomping feet is “an open handed slap in the face.”
Again, what happens when these students leave the comforts of the expensive university setting? What happens to them, and what will they do to our society?
The Brookings Institution study recommending steps to reinvigorate Rhode Island’s economy conspicuously leaves out suggestions about how to overcome state government’s addiction to spinning the people.
Having not seen The Big Short, I don’t know whether the problem originates with the movie or with Providence Journal business editor John Kostrzewa’s review of the movie, but it’s discouraging to observe that the federal government’s role in creating the housing bubble has been airbrushed out of history:
For years, bankers made mortgages that they bundled together, called mortgage backed securities, that they sold on the bond market to investors. The bankers used the proceeds from the bond sales to lend more money to home buyers. Simple, so far.
But the process became corrupted when predatory lenders made mortgages to people who put no money down, had low credit scores and no income, at teaser rates that adjusted sharply upward after a couple of years. The mortgages, called subprime because of the risk, were bundled and then repackaged by Wall Street bankers who collected big fees when they sold the bonds. Corrupted ratings’ agencies gave the bonds high marks.
Notice that this “simple, so far” story makes no attempt to explain why so many investors believed they could leave somebody else holding the bag. No mention of the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, with their implicit government backing. No mention of the federal Community Reinvestment Act, and its push for more and more of these subprime loans. No mention of Democrat President Bill Clinton and his administration’s elimination of banking regulations that partitioned banking and investment. Definitely no mention of the reality that the government managed a surplus under Clinton mainly because he essentially privatized the creation of national debt.
We just get a tale of cartoon private-sector villains who brought down the world out of greed. History of this sort is dangerous because the solutions that seem reasonable after the revision are likely to draw us right back into the arms of the real troublemaker.
After Kenneth Colston’s inclusion of The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni, during his talk at the 2015 Portsmouth Institute conference, I put the book on my reading list. The relevance to the conference was Pope Francis’s saying in an interview that he had read the book three times and was preparing for a fourth reading. “Manzoni gave me so much,” he said.
One chapter in, the novel has given me some hope that Manzoni placed a light bulb in the pope’s mind on a topic for which it may prove very important to have light in the coming years. With the narrative set in northern Italy, just under the Alps, at around the time that the Pilgrims were settling in to their new home across the Atlantic Ocean, the civic culture that Manzoni describes gives the impression of a fully formed variation of a type of tyranny that is hardening anew in our own age:
… We do not mean that there was any lack of laws with penalties directed against private acts of violence. There was a glut of such laws in point of fact. The various crimes were listed and described and detailed in the most minute and long-winded manner. The penalties were of insane severity, and as if that were not enough, they were almost invariably subject to augmentation at the whim of the magistrate himself, or of any one of a hundred subordinate officials. …
… If [the proclamations] had any immediate effect, it lay principally in the addition of many new harassments to those which the pacific and the weak already suffered from their tormentors, and an increase in the violence and the cunning shown by the guilty; for their impunity was an organized institution, and had roots which the proclamations did not touch, or at least could not shift. There were places of asylum; there were privileges attached to certain social classes, which were sometimes recognized by the forces of the law, sometimes tolerated in indignant silence, and sometimes disputed with empty words of protest. …
… With the appearance of each proclamation designed to repress men of violence, those concerned searched among their practical resources for the most suitable fresh methods of continuing to do what the edicts prohibited.
What the proclamations could do was to put stumbling-blocks in the way of simple folk, who had no special power of their own nor protection from others, and harass them at ever step they took. For the proclamations were framed with the object of keeping everybody under control, in order to prevent or punish every sort of crime; and so they subjected every action of the private citizen to the arbitrary will of all kinds of officials.
This perspicuous observation applies to any number of issues, particularly those near and dear to the hearts of progressives, including among others campaign finance, environmental regulation, and general economic/business policy.
Being a lover of long-term economic graphs, I found this ZeroHedge post intriguing. The theme of the post is the disappearance of the middle class, which (as one chart shows) no longer accounts for half of the country’s population and (as another shows) no longer holds more wealth than upper-income households.
The animated graphic from FT is worth watching through a few times. The first take-away is that much of the middle class has smoothed out upwards since 1971, but with a huge boom at the very top of the income scale (as a percentage of all adults). It’s the animation that tells the historical tale. The ’70s didn’t see much growth, and the ’80s saw about a one-percentage-point increase among the rich. Bill Clinton’s ’90s turned into a big boom for the rich, while George Bush’s ’00s pretty much held them steady. In the wake of the economic collapse, the first three years of Barack Obama’s presidency saw a decrease at the top with more than a recuperation since then.
Scrolling down to the next chart reveals at least part of the reason. The early ’70s saw the end of 30 years of income growth for the bottom 90% of earners, and it hit a ceiling with the death of the gold standard. Money was no longer tied to some finite good, so government policy could be truly redistributive, without being bound by anything of actual value. The bottom 90% have stagnated or drifted down, since then, while the top 1% have taken off. One bump came in the mid-to-late ’80s, but Clinton’s banking and mortgage policies cut the reins.
As I’ve said before, fiscal, monetary, and regulatory policy under Obama have only solidified the tendency to make the well-being of the rich investor class and established players the core basis for policy decisions while shoring up political power by simply giving things to those toward the bottom of the scale.
This scheme wouldn’t work out well under any circumstances, but with the explosion of automation, it’s going to be a recipe for economic disaster, civic unrest, and lost rights.
Some brief examples from early U.S. history illustrate the importance of the free market and raise the question of whether the lessons of history are being deliberately mis-taught.
In its Sunday edition, the Providence Journal continued its destructive and divisive vanity project stoking racial unrest. This time, the subject is the different proportion of “people of color” in law enforcement and the courts as opposed to the population. Once again, the ostensible act of journalism doesn’t deign to present anything that might be considered an opposing — or even skeptical — voice. This is activism, pure and simple, and reporter Katie Mulvaney offers a helpfully concise example of the utter lack of reasoning that the activism requires:
While the makeup of the state’s population continues to change, the complexion of its power structure, including those who enforce, dictate and argue the laws, remains largely the same. It is predominantly white, even as children of color now make up nearly 40 percent of the state’s youth population.
If the absurdity of those two sentences doesn’t hit you in the eye like social-justice-warrior spittle, think about it for a moment. The “makeup of the state’s population” is changing — meaning that people with darker skin tend to be recent arrivals or very young. The racial proportions of people in higher positions within law enforcement and the courts is not comparable to “the state’s youth population.” To match the population at large with a pool of older people within a limited range of personal accomplishment in a specific professional field, the hiring process would have to be so skewed as to constitute overt racism. That’s what the activists want.
Also consider the age of folks who would be entering that range of their careers. When they were young adults, choosing a course in life a quarter-century ago, two of the iconic songs in rap/hip-hop were N.W.A.’s “F*** Tha Police” and Body Count’s “Cop Killer.” Those songs may (or may not) have been authentic voices of the black experience in America, but shouldn’t they be considered, a generation on, while navel gazing about the skin color of police and judges?
“When you go in anywhere, you would like to come in and see yourself,” said [barber and activist Dewayne “Boo”] Hackney, 42. That means at City Hall, the State House, courtrooms, police departments. “You tend to relax more when you see yourself on the surface.”
That sort of thinking is what needs to change. If cops were cops and judges were judges, then young black men and women interested in those careers would be cops and judges, not black cops and black judges. We would see ourselves in each other, even on the surface. Unless the activists want apartheid, even in a perfectly balanced justice system, some people will draw an arresting officer or a judge of another race.
Activist journalists continue to focus on race as if it is not just on the surface. Suggest that we should move toward an understanding that race is, in fact, superficial, and the likes of WPRO reporter Steve Klamkin will insinuate that you’re advocating for genocide.
Steven Frias takes another instructive look at Rhode Island’s political history:
The scramble for patronage began. Under Green, about one-third of legislators were given state jobs while they served in the General Assembly. The trading of votes for jobs became apparent. One Republican senator was given a state job after he voted to confirm Green’s department directors. House Republican Leader Walter Curry was given a Superior Court judgeship after he assisted Green in getting most of his legislative agenda through the House of Representatives. The three senators on the recount committee were rewarded with state jobs, one of them a District Court judgeship.
The most important political event in 20th century Rhode Island history, the Coup of 1935 may have been furthered by the promise of state jobs for state legislators.
Read the whole thing. One can only hope that, as the picture of Rhode Island corruption becomes clearer and clearer the opportunity for change will get better and better, but it’s going to take concerted effort and a news media that is more disgusted by the corruption than by the Republican brand. (That’s not to say that the party or, especially, particular Republicans are the answer, but the news media tends to lump everybody who isn’t an insider with the GOP for the purposes of bashing them.)
The problem isn’t just job trading, though. It’s contract trading, welfare trading, policy trading, access trading, and any other kind of trading that politicians can turn into a buck. And if that sort of corruption isn’t inevitable with a liberal/progressive style of governance (which I think it is), then it’s at least inextricably interwoven in Rhode Island.
Kenneth Colston traces the significance of Saint Francis and Franciscans in the works of Shakespeare, Manzoni, and Chesterton and applies them to Pope Francis.
First Things editor R.R. Reno puts Pope Francis’s style of rhetoric and diplomacy in the context of the history of the Roman Catholic Church.
You may have heard that Connecticut Democrats have disowned Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. Here’s Dennis Prager, writing on National Review Online:
Every year for the past 67 years, the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner has been the major fundraising event for the Connecticut State Democratic party. Not anymore. The party unanimously voted to drop the two Democratic presidents’ names because they were slaveholders.
That is the way the Left sees American history.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, the document that articulated the principle of human rights endowed by the Creator (thereby ultimately ensuring the end of slavery) and led to the establishment of the country that has served as the beacon of hope for people of every race and ethnicity. More black Africans have voluntarily emigrated to the United States to seek liberty and opportunity than came to America as slaves.
But that is not how the Left views Jefferson or America.
As the Far Left has completed its takeover of the Democrat Party, this sort of thing has become inevitable. Prager goes on to describe why it wouldn’t be too much to suggest that the party has become the home for Americans who hate the United States, in the absence of radical transformation into something else. Think of Michelle Obama’s admission that she had never, as an adult, been proud of her country until it put her husband in a position to undermine it.
To be sure, Republicans do a lot of dumb things, and I switched my voter registration to unaffiliated some years ago, but, wow, a party that has ample room for an organization that harvests the body parts of aborted babies can’t stand to be associated with Thomas Jefferson?
An interreligious panel on Pope Francis’s relationship with those of other faiths raises questions of religion’s relationship with politics, which returns us to the question of whether Francis has the world right.
Events in America suggest dark times for liberty and true diversity. But we can always rebuild, starting at the bottom.
Steven Frias had another excellent essay in the Providence Journal, yesterday:
Using funds raised through a refinancing of state debt, Raimondo proposes spending about $35 million, in total, for a First Wave Closing Fund, a Small Business Assistance Program and a I-195 Redevelopment Fund. The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation and the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission would have broad discretion over how these funds are be spent and over which businesses benefit.
Supporters of Raimondo called these programs “bold” and “game-changing.” However, Rhode Island politicians have used various government financing programs to benefit select businesses for more than a half-century, with little success at reversing Rhode Island’s decline. History shows that the state’s efforts to select businesses for help have been, at best, ineffectual at improving the economy in the long-term, and at worst, disastrous for taxpayers.
I’ve been thinking that it would be useful to have an online museum exhibit, of sorts, that presents timelines of various controversies, themes, and trends, in Rhode Island. Unfortunately, most of the people I know who would undertake such a project are busy trying to support their families while doing some work to try to save the state for itself. Meanwhile, it’s hard to see an academic taking it on, because it would inevitably make big government look bad, which academics aren’t allowed to do.
I love little details interwoven with political issues that give the sense of life imitating Mark Twain or William Faulkner. Kevin O’Connor’s provided a great example in a Fall River Herald story about the brook that runs through the area that Twin River is considering for a casino in Tiverton.
For one thing, he found the explanation for the name “Sucker Brook” as being a misspelling or evolution of Succor Brook, but the political history is one of those gems that surfaces in areas that have been inhabited since before the time of digital technology, mass communication, and rapid transportation:
Sucker Brook, once called Succor Brook, runs north from Stafford Pond in Tiverton to the South Watuppa Pond in Fall River. No one quite knows who owns Stafford Pond. South Watuppa Pond is owned by the Watuppa Water Board, which is controlled by the city.
But while the ownership of Stafford Pond is in question — that question is wrapped up in land grants issued by the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony in the 1600s — the ownership of the water coming from the pond is not in question. That is Fall River’s water.
The whole article’s an interesting read.
After coming across the subject five or six times, I finally followed a link on Instapundit to Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig’s attempt at a left-wing explanation and, to some degree, rationalization of Rolling Stone’s fake reporting on rape at the University of Virginia. The article reminded me of the much-ballyhooed gobbledegook that good liberal students used to churn out when I was in college.
The Bruenig passage on which most commentators have focused consists of a pair of paragraphs, the first of which explains the subtle thought of liberals in understanding oppression versus the second of which, asserting the brutish right-wing “obsession” with individual, factual cases and “specific details.” Admittedly, it’s a telling turnabout. The Left, in its superior thought, understands the real Truth, even if it can’t be articulated in actual facts; the Right, being less capable of the higher thought that transcends facts, extrapolates meaning from mere happenstance.
The more interesting passage, though, is the one that fully articulates Bruenig’s thesis:
Pinning an indictment of a system on the story of an individual is essentially a rightwing tactic with a dodgy success rate; it’s a way of using an individual as a metonym for systematic analysis that both overplays the role of individual heroism and effort and underplays the complicated nature of oppression as a feature of institutions, policies, traditions, and persons.
Note that this is presented as if it’s one of those examples of higher thoughts that needn’t be attached to “specific details.” The word for that (even if only in right-wing circles) is “unsubstantiated.” Upon a little bit of thought, in fact, it’s utter nonsense. From Saul Alinsky’s rule to “personalize” issues to the labor-friendly “Ballad of Joe Hill” to the statement that a single death is a tragedy while a million deaths is a statistic, generally attributed to Joseph Stalin, the Left has long consolidated movements into individual stories.
Bruenig is accurately describing a leftist tactic, but because the context puts it in a bad light, it must temporarily be characterized as a right-wing tactic. It’s not unlike analysis of religious freedom laws that depends on whether they advance conservative or progressive causes at a particular moment.
The Bruenig essay brings to mind a law review article by now-Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, in which he expounded on the constitutionality of using government schools to teach that God does not exist. (See also here, here, and here.) In my brutish, fact-driven conservatism these two examples seem like evidence of the Left’s strategy to destroy the capacity of Americans to engage in reason, as opposed to logical gymnastics to support conclusions that are actually driven by politics and emotion. The gobbledegook of the classroom has made its way into the grown-up world.
That may help to explain why government and the news media seem to operate as if the world has the padded safety of the campus, permitting concentration on abstract “deeper truths” disconnected from reality.
The cliché of “fiddling while Rome burns” suggests that a leader is engaged in petty activities while his society falls apart. What I didn’t realize (or at least did not remember having learned, if I once did) is that the metaphor implies much more of relevance to the current experience of the United States.
According to The Annals by Tacitus (this translation), it wasn’t just that Emperor Nero was rumored to have been “at the very time when the city was in flame… on a private stage [singing] of the destruction of Troy,” but that he was also rumored to have been behind the starting of the fire. “It seemed that Nero was aiming at the glory of founding a new city and calling it by his name.”
Indeed, during a purge at the end of the book that might remind modern readers of the purge at the end of a mafia movie, one of the targeted soldiers tells Nero, “I began to hate you when you became the murderer of your mother and your wife, a charioteer, an actor, and an incendiary.”
Moreover, the aftermath of the fire presents the first appearance of Christians in Tacitus’s narrative. (For context, the fire occurred around the same time as the death of St. Paul in Rome.)
… all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.
Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.
Of course, we’re much more civilized, these days, and powerful people have much less gruesome means of distracting the public and transferring mockery and blame to people who observe the world mainly by the reflection that they see with their eyes turned to Yahweh.