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The Car-Toll Referendum is a Perfect Example of Something that Belongs in the State Constitution


Subtitle: A rebuttal to Governor Gina Raimondo’s appearance on Newsmakers.

And which concludes with…If Gina Raimondo and Rhode Island lawmakers truly believe that tolling passenger vehicles should be placed beyond the reach of the legislature and are not merely slipping a few words into the law as meaningless political theater, then according to the most basic tenets of constitutional democracy, the referendum requirement needs to be placed into the constitution. And in the absence of a constitutionally-required referendum, it is entirely fair to describe legislators who support the current truck-toll legislation as supporting tolls on trucks now, with a legislative option for tolls on cars later.

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On Businesses’ Tilting Leftward

Aaron Clarey suggests brainwashed GenXers and their lack of new ideas are to blame for the seemingly inexplicable imbibing of leftism among a new generation of corporate leaders:

… the strategy here is something very simple and one politicians have been using for years – divide and conquer. Of course corporations and their newest generation of “leaders” don’t really want to “conquer” anything. They just want to sell their wares. But reliably and predictably, despite all claiming to be “independent minded,” the brainwashing in school and college worked. Today’s business leaders really do think taking political positions on race, sex, privilege, the environment, etc., is a genuine and effective business strategy. They think bragging about how they hire “minorities” but not “the best” is a long term managerial strategy. They think donating 5% of their pre-tax profit (because a corporate tax rate of 40% just wasn’t enough) will win people over.

Alas, this is the newest generation of business leaders. People who use “fads,” “political correctness” and “leftism” to sell their products. And if you thought the Baby Boomers were bad business managers, just wait for these over-educated, political-correct-crusaderist Gen X’ers to fully be at the helm.

Ed Driscoll broadens that view (without the generational dynamic) suggesting something more like a cultural feedback loop. I’d argue it’s more an all-of-the-above phenomenon. Corporate executives and boards who take truly inexplicable left-wing stands are like weaker predators imitating their alphas without knowing why.

The actual strategy behind it all derives from the reality that it’s a better bet to be on the side of an elite that’s inexorably building an anti-democratic machine with the purpose of bringing all of society under government and limiting the ability to change government itself than on the side of a disorganized population that’s too distracted and apathetic to put an end to the usurpation. The progressive movement filters this central objective through the various lenses of “green” fads, identity politics, and anti-traditionalism to distract, divide, and disrupt the public, and naturally corporate types aren’t immune.

The less-savvy among them pick up the virtue signaling (that is, the practice of taking supposedly virtuous stands in order to be seen taking them) without understanding the underlying motivation. They sense that leftism is to their benefit, but they haven’t quite figured out why, in the crass terms of cronyism.

Those who move on to bigger and better things in the corporate world will figure it out soon enough, though. And those who don’t, or who resist it on principle, will be held back by their wasteful progressivism and unable to compete.

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Experts Who Miss the Obvious

A Sunday Providence Journal article by Kate Bramson is worth a quick look by way of raising the question of why experts seem to miss the obvious. A few quick hits, starting with this, from “labor economist” Paul Harrington:

“Older workers are going to retire at some point or other, and it’s going to be followed by a generation with less labor-force participation and less work experience” than earlier generations had, Harrington said. “To me, figuring out, ‘How do I get work experience for young people in urban areas?’ — that would be a top priority.”

This isn’t a difficult problem. Eliminate the minimum wage, lighten up mandatory benefits for employees (including both those imposed as regulations and those imposed as entitlement taxes), and end policies that attract low-skilled workers from other countries. Rather than non-living-wages for legal and illegal immigrants, you’d have additional spending money for lower-income households and young adults with work experience.

Then there’s this, from University of Rhode Island Economics Professor Leonard Lardaro:

“We’re much more about the here and now, and we never allocate enough resources for investment,” Lardaro said. “The result? Our physical infrastructure — roads and bridges — are among the worst in the country. The skills of our labor force are nowhere near what we need…. We have to be much more of a society that allocates toward investment, and we’re avoiding it.”

Various data points make this hypothesis suspect. We already spend a great deal on education, for example, which is ostensibly done as an investment. Meanwhile, younger “productive class” Rhode Islanders are leaving the state, which indicates a willingness to risk a little short-term discomfort for a long-term improvement. Even if we look at insiders, we see long-term thinking: The labor unions fight for things like longevity, and pensions are a central focus of their activism, while insiders put in some years of long hours and relatively low (or even no) pay on various boards and councils or in the legislature, with the expectation that they’ll be able to cash out with a cushy patronage job or benefit in some other way.

The people who set Rhode Island policy do plenty of long-term thinking. The problem is that we allow them to use government to serve their own interests. Fix the general mindset that such systemic corruption is acceptable, and the state’s seemingly intractable problems will begin to clear up. Unfortunately, the Raimondo-Mattiello Era is proving to represent a mad dash in the opposite direction, leaving us only the hope that the dash indicates a sense that we’re almost to the point of collapse.

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No Room for Policy Disagreement in RI Politics

Assuming Cynthia Drummond’s sources told the truth for her Westerly Sun story, this is another example of political behavior we all know goes on in Rhode Island, but that our latest, blunter generation of political leaders see less reason to slather with rules of propriety:

A Jan. 28 meeting between Hopkinton Town Council President Frank Landolfi, Chariho Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci and Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello was abruptly canceled because the town has voiced its opposition to truck tolls. …

“[House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s Chief of Staff, Leo Skenyon] called me up and canceled, and he said ‘we’re not meeting tonight.’ I asked him why, and he said ‘because I read in the paper that you folks were against the tolls, so we’re not meeting today.’”

Down there in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie was badly damaged, politically, but a scandal involving his staff’s making road closure decisions to punish a politician. This is the same sort of behavior.

On one hand, it’s not healthy that we have this sort of political culture, in Rhode Island. On the other hand, having that political culture laid out for all to see is the first necessary step for the people to start coming to their senses.

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When Government Messes Up, It’s Nobody’s Fault

Imagine additional tests find that the HPV vaccine leads to some major long-term side effect that was somehow not discovered during trials. The manufacturer would be targeted for lawsuits, to be sure, but what about the state government in Rhode Island, which has made it mandatory? I think affected Rhode Islanders would get a nice big “oops” from their appointed rulers, if that.

As Shikha Dalmia writes in The Week, families in Flint, Michigan, had the similar misfortune of being harmed by a government entity, rather than a private company:

GM had to pony up $35 million to NHTSA (National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration) and $900 million to the Justice Department in penalties for the faulty switch in its 2005 Cobalt that was linked to 125 deaths and 250 injuries. What’s more, despite the totally deplorable liability shield or immunity from personal injury lawsuits the automaker received from the Obama administration as part of its 2009 bankruptcy restructuring, it still paid $625 million in compensation to the victims. And of course it recalled and fixed all the 2.6 million affected vehicles. All in all, it was down $1.5 billion.

But Toyota coughed up more than double that amount for its suddenly accelerating vehicles that resulted in 12 deaths and 31 accidents. It paid $1.2 billion in fines to Justice and $35 million to NHTSA and fixed all the vehicles, of course. In addition, it made an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed amount that was likely more than what GM paid to each victim. But the real kicker is that, because it did not have GM’s liability shield, it also paid $1.6 billion to all Toyota owners for the loss of the resale value of their cars.

Compare all of that to the $115 million or so that Flint victims will receive!

The main reason that they don’t have a prayer of collecting much more is something called the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Under this doctrine, citizens are barred from suing their government for screw-ups that it has caused in the course of discharging a core function unless the government itself consents. Some very narrow exceptions exist but it is very difficult to make them stick.

The longer one pays attention, the more difficult one finds it to understand why people would want government to be involved in more and more aspects of our lives. Why those who want to do things might look to do them through government is easy to understand. They merely have to convince a small group of politicians rather than a large number of customers, they gain access to government’s ability to regulate burdens on their competition, and they offload risk, whether that means financial risk (as with 38 Studios) or liability risk.

But everybody else loses out on the deal when government’s involved.

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Airlines Another Specific Industry from Which to Learn

A literature professor of mine used to suggest that everybody (a group including at least the sorts of people taking college literature courses) should make one book their own — that is, study it in every particular, to the point that one can be confident about what the author brought into the work and hoped readers would take out of it and how he or she went about constructing it for that purpose. Back then, I gave Moby Dick that level of attention, and as I’m sure my professor expected, I’ve found that the effort has made it easier to repeat the process with other novels.

I recalled that literary advice while reading Josh Gelernter’s rumination on “How the Left Ruined Air Travel,” in which he concludes:

Air travel is bad because there’s no competition, because there are too few airlines, because there are too few airports, because the feds and city governments make big construction projects nigh-on impossible. So how do we fix air travel? We have either got to start building airports far enough outside of metro areas that labor-environmentalism is a non-issue, or conservatives have to start winning mayorships.

Until then, every commercial flight is going to be a little worse than the last. Buckle up.

As I wade through every bill submitted to the General Assembly so far this session, it occurs to me that every person who intends to engage in public policy in some way, even if only by voting, should make a point of picking some issue and making it their own. As with novels, it doesn’t count to come to a superficial conclusion and then stop digging when it appears to be affirmed. I suspect honest sleuths will tend to find that big government has played a substantial role in just about every modern problem… before that problem falls into the universal category of imperfect nature (and human nature).

Ultimately a pretty simple two-step error wreaks a great deal of havoc:

  1. The conclusion that complicated natural problems are solvable at a broad level leads people to grant power to a central authority empowered to do what is necessary to resolve challenges and balance interests.
  2. The existence of that authority acts as a magnet to parties that are especially interested in the subject at hand for reasons of personal interest, and they proceed to leverage it to improve their own circumstances.
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If Non-Freedom Economic Development Doesn’t Work… Try, Try Again

Those who find Rhode Island’s governance maddeningly self serving, obtuse, and inept might have difficulty getting past the opening portion of this Sunday column by Providence Journal Assistant Managing Editor John Kostrzewa:

The difficulty of matching unemployed workers with available jobs, a problem called “closing the skills gap,” has bedeviled Rhode Island governors for decades.

Despite spending millions of dollars, the state still has tens of thousands of out-of-work or underemployed people and thousands of employers who complain they can’t find the help they need.

Now, Governor Raimondo is trying again.

She and Scott Jensen, her hand-picked Department of Labor and Training director, have started a new effort, called Real Jobs Rhode Island, that puts the design of skills-training programs in the hands of business managers who know what they need, not state bureaucrats. They already have handed out $5 million in grants to 26 teams of private companies, nonprofits, educational institutions and industrial associations.

In other words, to the list of now-discarded pretenses that used to allow us to pretend that we lived under a representative democracy, we can add the idea that government can take economic development on as one of its core responsibilities without undermining our free marketplace of rights and opportunities. No longer is the State of Rhode Island pretending that it’s confiscating our money in order to improve our neighbors’ capabilities. No, having failed to educate the public and having restricted our ability to make the economy work, the state is now simply confiscating our money to let businesses shape the population to their own needs.

Of course, the businesses aren’t alone in this. Kostrzewa also cites some progressives studies in support of the idea that the state should shift even more of its emphasis toward catering to the immigrant population that it has been luring here in order to justify its many social service programs:

“We need more resources focused on helping adults learn English so they can gain skills they need to support their children’s education and so they can get better jobs,” said Mario Bueno, executive director of Progreso Latino, in the report.

The referenced report is by the Economic Progress Institute, which Kostrzewa strangely characterizes as simply a “nonpartisan research and policy organization based in Providence.” He could have added that the institute is housed with a sweetheart rental agreement at the public Rhode Island College, after having been birthed (if I’m not mistaken) with funding from the private nonprofit Rhode Island College Foundation, which is currently under scrutiny for helping Governor Gina Raimondo hire a cabinet member outside the reach of the state’s transparency and ethics laws. The institute has also received funding from the state government and, as Kevin Mooney reports, is among the left-wing organizations supported by the Rhode Island Foundation.

Incidentally, Progreso Latino is also on the Rhode Island Foundation’s list of grant recipients, but its funding comes mainly from state and local government, having received over $600,000 from the state last year and almost $900,000 from the federal government.

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Underlying the Brookings Economic Development Philosophy

One paragraph, in particular, is worth examination in an op-ed that Brookings Institution scholars Mark Muro and Bruce Katz published in the Sunday Providence Journal, yesterday:

[Rhode Island] needs to improve its ability to act. Currently, Rhode Island frequently undercuts itself with self-destructive turf squabbles and fragmentation. One response: Rhode Island leaders should create a formal Partnership for Rhode Island. Composed of top business and civic leaders, it would rebuild a collaborative ethos and channel private and civic capital and expertise into critical initiatives. State governments do not rebuild economies — people, as part of networks of public, private, civic and university institutions, do.

As my own recent Providence Journal op-ed suggested, the language the Brookings crew uses seems like it could dovetail nicely with the free-market view, but that’s a trickery of the language; the differences are massive and fundamental. Note, in particular, that they don’t write that people “rebuild economies” without limiting the term to those people who are “part of networks of public, private, civic and university institutions.” Sure, people in such networks grow the economy, but so do people out of them. Whereas a free marketer would suggest that people should be free to experiment and find the most efficient ways to accomplish what they want to accomplish, Brookings and the state government of Rhode Island are only comfortable allowing that to happen with the oversight of an established “network,” which they (or at least Bruce Katz) believe ought to put government at the forefront, leading on “what matters.”

The Brookings talk about “self-destructive turf squabbles and fragmentation” might also sound similar to principles espoused by some conservatives, but when conservatives use such phrases, they typically mean to indict the inefficiencies of government. Outside of government, in the private marketplace, “turf squabbles and fragmentation” are better known as freedom and competition. That’s what drives the economy forward, inspiring dedication and innovation.

All that stuff about “a collaborative ethos” that “channel[s] private and civic capital and expertise into critical initiatives” sounds good, but it glosses over the implicit necessity that somebody has to decide which initiatives are critical before directing “decisive” resources to it. (“Decisive” is the term used in the Brookings report.) One might call that a cartel.

In this context, Rhode Island isn’t an “it.” It’s an “us.” Our governor and her Washington, D.C., and Wall Street pals want Rhode Island to be an it, rather than an us, because they know they’ll be at the top of an it, making decisions for all of us.

Rhode Islanders and their representatives should decline to go along.

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Minimum Wage and the New Progressives

My first thought upon reading in today’s Providence Journal of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s intention to continue Rhode Island government’s relentless push to redistribute money and make business more difficult by increasing the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit was that she has decisively proven that one can know how to make money appear from thin air and still not understand business or the economy. But then I followed a link in Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “newsletter” to a book review by Malcom Harris in the progressive New Republic. The book Harris reviews is by Princeton historian Thomas Leonard, mainly concerning the explicit racism and belief in eugenics of progressives a century ago.

Note these lines from Harris, with the interior quote from Leonard’s book (emphases in original):

Among his revelations: The minimum wage was created to destroy jobs; progressives (including the founders of this magazine) really did hate small businesses and they were all way too enthusiastic about Germany’s social structure. …

The minimum wage, in addition to providing some workers with a better standard of living, would guard white men from competition. Leonard is worth reading at length:

A legal minimum wage, applied to immigrants and those already working in America, ensured that only the productive workers were employed. The economically unproductive, those whose labor was worth less than the legal minimum, would be denied entry, or, if already employed, would be idled. For economic reformers who regarded inferior workers as a threat, the minimum wage provided an invaluable service. It identified inferior workers by idling them. So identified, they could be dealt with. The unemployable would be removed to institutions, or to celibate labor colonies. The inferior immigrant would be removed back to the old country or to retirement. The woman would be removed to the home, where she could meet her obligations to family and race.

As Goldberg points out, one could take modern progressives at their word that an impenetrable wall now exists between them and their ideological forebears when it comes to the racist motivation and still wonder whether they should consider that their erstwhile heroes might have been correct about the effects of a minimum wage.

I’d argue that the answer, as regular readers will no doubt recognize, is that progressives have not changed as much as they, themselves, would like to think. They still believe that, as Harris puts it, they are the ones who should lead all of society. They still want to identify and sort people into that inferior class. But they’ve realized that they can make use of the underclass as a weapon against the more-traditionalist, -motivated, and -individualistic middle, which is ultimately the threat against their elitist designs.

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“Clarifications” About Infringements on Your Rights

Conspicuously on the same day I highlighted his legislation seeking to regulate even small-scale grassroots political activity at the town level, state representative John “Jay” Edwards (D, Tiverton, Portsmouth) put out a press release on the subject, which is built around a… let’s say… highly spun premise. The five-paragraph release uses some variation of the word “clarify” in each of its first three paragraphs:

  • The bill will “increase accountability” by “clarifying language.”
  • It will “extend [government] power” by “clarifying which people and groups are obliged to submit campaign finance reports.”
  • It will “clarify the definition of the term ‘entity’.”

All this talk about “clarifying” seems designed to disguise just how radical and tyrannical a step Edwards wants to take. In a word, the clarification is that Edwards wants the term “entity” to apply to everybody. Any single person or any group organized in any way who spends $100 in the course of a year on a local matter would have to “file reports of contributions or expenditures every seven days.” That’s not clarification; it’s asphyxiation.

Two items that could use a little clarification, but about which Edwards doesn’t seem concerned, are whether there’s ever an end to the weekly reports or if they go on every week through the end of the year and how much overlap in reportage is necessary. If Uncle Joe gives $100 to Patricia and Jim down the street so the couple can print up some fliers about their shared opinion on whether the town should buy land for a community mini-golf course, do all of them have to start filing reports because Joe has an expense and Patricia and Jim have both a donation and an expense?

Note, too, that the bill does not apply this onerous “everybody” standard to the election of local or state politicians. This not only protects Edwards’s supporters and those of his friends, but it also creates incentive for the public to limit its political activity only to that which is filtered through insiders.

Forgive my repetition, but the purpose of Edwards’s bill isn’t to “clarify” anything. It’s to create even more disincentive to civic participation in the general population. It’s to give people the general sense that getting involved in politics — even at the town level — is something people should only do if they’re willing to start regularly filling out publicly accessible forms with their addresses and other information — not the least, a record of those with whom they associate in an exchange of money. It’s also to give Edwards’s political allies more insight into whom they should add to their target list for gossip, anonymous attacks on the Internet, and other forms of intimidation.

The only things Edwards clarifies with this legislation are that he has no respect for the rights of Americans and that neither he nor any representative of any party who supports his bill should not be trusted with public office.

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Pretending We Have Representatives

Here’s one for my growing file for Rhode Island politicians’ not even caring to pretend our government operates as it’s supposed to:

… when asked on Wednesday how hard it will be to sell the reworked toll proposal to rank-and-file lawmakers, [House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston)] said: “I am not concerned about it. Not at all. It will be a very strong vote. Not even close.”

The reality is that almost every vote that comes to the floor is “not even close,” and that it’s been that way for so long most regular viewers are stunned when something doesn’t go according to plan. There was a time, though, when Rhode Island’s elected leaders would at least pretend the floor debate mattered and outcomes hadn’t already been decided in back rooms. Back then, a house speaker might have said something like: “Well, we’ll have to make our case to the representatives, but I’m confident that our members will agree that this bill is the best option for the state.”

Oh, we’d have all known that the votes were already counted, but at least there would have been lip service to the importance of all the formalities of role calls, discussion, and journals. At this point, it’s difficult to understand why we make legislators show up at their desks at all in an era of revolving-door laws that don’t apply when they’d be most appropriate, employees who are hired outside of government, and hundreds of millions in debt on which voters never get to vote.

Think how much more fundraising they could get done if they didn’t have to be at their desks to vote.

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RI Foundation Becoming Hub for Top-Down Progressive Shadow Government

In the Daily Signal, Kevin Mooney, who used to write for the Ocean State Current, takes a look at the private Rhode Island Foundation’s role in advancing left-wing causes and exploiting legal loopholes to move sensitive government activities beyond the reach of voters and transparency laws:

With almost $1 billion in assets, the foundation bills itself as Rhode Island’s largest grant-maker, awarding more than $30 million a year, according to annual reports. Tax records show that the foundation concentrated its most recent donations on left-of-center organizations, with a particular emphasis on environmental causes.

These organizations include Earthjustice, EcoRI News, the Climate Action Network, the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island, and Grow Smart Rhode Island. Each has received tens of thousands in donations from the Rhode Island Foundation, according to the most recent tax forms.

Other left-leaning recipients of the foundation’s largess include Planned Parenthood branches in Rhode Island and Massachusetts; Direct Action for Rights and Equality, an anti-capitalist “social justice” group; the Economic Progress Institute, a Rhode Island-based progressive research group; and the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, which seeks new gun controls.

Rhode Islanders who express concern over the Rhode Island Foundation’s penchant for funding liberal causes have been particularly critical of the nonprofit’s support for environmental groups standing behind a project called RhodeMap Rhode Island.

The RI Foundation’s left-wing involvement spans just about every area of progressive social activism, and as Mooney notes, the organization has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state in the area of healthcare. (Cash is fungible, of course, so revenue is revenue.) In the past year, though, the Foundation has really taken additional steps toward helping to create and play a role in a shadow government.

As a tangential note, Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights Giovanni Cicione tells Mooney that some of this growing private-sector cabal should be registering as lobbyists. I’d argue that includes the state’s new chief innovation officer Richard Culatta, whom Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo helped hire through the Rhode Island College Foundation. He’s going to be part of the governor’s cabinet of advisers, but he’s not a government employee and will be giving suggestions and promoting them not only to the governor, but to agencies and bodies throughout government. As of this morning, he was not listed on the Secretary of State’s lobbyist tracker, and it’s reasonable to expect he never will be, becoming instead just another example of how there’s no rule of law in Rhode Island.

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Decorating the Governor’s Office with Red Flags

This paragraph from Ted Nesi’s weekend column, Saturday, deserves reading and clipping for future reference:

Tapping unusual funding sources to pay for public initiatives has become a hallmark of Gina Raimondo’s political career since she took office five years ago, and this was the week it backfired on her rather spectacularly. Raimondo has always had an easy time harnessing cash, as was widely noted as far back as 2010, when she set a blistering fundraising pace in a sleepy campaign for treasurer. Then in 2011 she courted controversy by encouraging anonymous donors – later revealed to include the hedge-fund billionaire John Arnold and his wife – to drum up support for her pension overhaul through EngageRI. Soon after she became governor, Brown created a new policy shop to advise her office, funded with nearly $3 million from Arnold. Then there was the Brookings study, commissioned by Raimondo to guide public policy but paid for by private donors (including Rhode Island native Mark Gallogly, whose old firm, Blackstone, just bought Wexford Science + Technology). And now there’s the contretemps over tapping the RIC and URI foundations to pay for, respectively, a chief innovation officer and a trip to Davos. In each case, Raimondo allies say she’s saving taxpayers money while doing things that are good for Rhode Island. But continuing to go the non-traditional route will also continue to raise questions about whether Raimondo’s methods skirt normal rules and accountability.

“Always had an easy time harnessing cash.” That’s something to watch in and out of government. In the ’80s, the design-the-world Greenhouse Compact failed when a required bond gave the people a vote, so now we get Raimondo funding her economic development schemes through a fancy debt refinancing deal and seeking to fund transportation infrastructure through a revenue bond based on tolls.

There was a time when even progressives and journalists were suspicious of the alchemy of creating money from air. Now, we get Rhode Island’s useless, navel-gazing, and corrupt Ethics Commission blithely noting that the chief innovation officer Raimondo hired through the private nonprofit Rhode Island College Foundation isn’t subject to its review because he doesn’t actually work for the state. Nesi hedges too much, because it’s absolutely clear that “Raimondo’s methods skirt normal rules and accountability.”

Remember, too, in this context, that certain legislators — notably Democrat House Whip John “Jay” Edwards and Republican House Minority Leader Brian Newberry — apparently believe the real threat to representative democracy in Rhode Island isn’t a governor who can bring a cauldron to a boil and produce a shadow government with private money, but regular Rhode Islanders who put down $100 over the course of a year to push back on the special interests that dominate local government.

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Getting a Sense of Rhode Island First

Brookings Institution scholars Bruce Katz and Mark Muro are on Newsmakers this week, talking about their new report giving tips to Rhode Island’s upper crust how to reinvent the state in their image.

That opening sentence is definitely contentious, but some of the things that the Brookings guys flew in from Washington, D.C., to say suggest that they believe the real fundamental questions that should be the right of every Rhode Islander to answer should actually be off the table.

For instance, Katz in particular attacks Rhode Island’s preference for smaller-level organizations, saying, “You’ve got a lot of parochialism here. It’s like 18th century government in the 21st century.” Stated without the insult, though, I think most Rhode Islanders would say that’s a good thing. The local-area distinctions are part of the state’s charm and ought to allow for more creativity in governance and economic activity.

Our problem is that insiders and special interests have sought to impose the 20th century progressive notion of the primacy of government, organized labor, and activists. That’s what’s killing our state. It prevents real diversity while locking in a sort of aesthetic parochialism. In other words, we can’t change the character of villages that the ruling elite like or take nest eggs away from established interests, and we can’t truly innovate in our lives… at least without persuading government to let us.

Such centralized social restrictions relate to Brookings’s repeated suggestion that Rhode Island (by which they mean the insiders and special interests) has to figure out “what we’re good at.” Even without access to its underlying research, it appears that the report should have concluded that Rhode Island government isn’t really allowing its people to be good at anything. Rather, they found a few very small niches that aren’t completely stultified — perhaps because of a localized connection to the insider system or simply based on the strength of a few individual personalities — and lumped them together so they’d fit in boxes that could conceivably be called “industry sectors.”

That’s not identifying unique capacities of the state; it’s reinforcing the principle that the very things that are actually holding Rhode Island back are the basic qualities that can’t be changed, leaving them only to be worked around. Indeed, mechanisms such as insider contests to hand out awards and grants for innovation are custom designed to ensure that nothing can happen without special interests’ say so.

Reading through the report, one can’t help but wonder if the progressives at Brookings looked at Rhode Island, saw the unavoidable consequences of their political philosophy, and layered on nearly 200 pages of analysis and proposals seeking some fancy policy maneuver that will escape the trap of reality.

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When the Principled Become Another Interest Group

Mark Steyn puts a dynamic of this election season in focus, I think:

If the present polls hold up through Iowa and New Hampshire, it’d be the reconfiguration of Mr and Mrs Main Street America as just another interest group. So a philosophical commitment to free trade means less to them than the degeneration of mill and factory towns into wastelands of fast-food service jobs and heroin addiction. An abstract respect for religious pluralism means less to them than reducing the number of crazies running around whose last words before opening fire are “Allahu akbar!” A theoretical belief in private-sector health care means less to them than not getting stiffed by crappy five-figure health “insurance” that can be yanked out from under you at any moment under Byzantine rules and regulations that change 30 times a day. And bipartisan myth-making about “a nation of immigrants” means a whole lot less than another decade of Press One For English, flatlined wages, sanctuary cities and remorseless cultural transformation…

Steyn begins by quoting Rush Limbaugh suggesting (as Steyn summarizes) that “there are insufficient takers for conservatism,” leading to its replacement by nationalism and populism, as evidenced by Donald Trump’s popularity.  He then notes that the party that was supposed to bring the principles of conservatism to government over the last, say, 50 years has not done so; at best it’s brought a slightly slower progressivism.

Both Donald Trump’s unlabeled political poses and Ted Cruz’s explicit standing as a conservative suggest that it isn’t the principles of conservatism that have “insufficient takers,” but the notion that politicians in the party that everybody thought was conservative (though it hasn’t really been so for a long time) could be trusted actually to be conservative.  So, as Steyn says, many of those who understand that generally conservative principles would benefit them personally have simply stepped to the “next level” and are favoring a guy who’s as likely as not to do everything they’ve said Obama was wrong to do, but on their behalf.

Just as the only way to change local governance here in Rhode Island is for people to take a slightly more active interest in it, the only way to avoid a left-right catastrophe may be to shore up principle and prove that it can work.  Unfortunately, just as the painfully slow progress reformers are able to make in the Ocean State makes their job even more difficult as time goes on, conservatives’ natural constituents are going to be more likely to demand immediate shows of fealty and direct benefits over indirect, long-term policies that benefit them because our society is healthier.

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Public Schools and Concern for the Future

Over in Detroit, unionized public school teachers have shut down schools attended by 46,000 students, of whom, Lindsey Burke points out, large percentages can’t achieve proficiency on key academic subjects.  That’s just what labor unions do:  rig things in members’ favor, limit options for fixing problems, and then shut the system down when even friendly Democrat administrations can’t keep up with the demands.

Meanwhile, in Providence, some students are demanding that standard topics of history — key to the rationale of publicly funding education in order to maintain the nation’s sense of itself as a nation — be displaced in favor of telling them more about themselves and their ancestral backgrounds:

“We should be learning about more of the world than the United States,” said Diane Gonzalez from Central High School. “I’m Guatemalan and I have no idea about my history. They make it seem like our countries are meaningless…”

Licelot Caraballo, from E-Cubed Academy in Providence, said he wants students to “feel connected to their history, not to lose it because they can’t access it. Our history matters. We can make history in Providence, our history in Providence.”

According to the 2015 PARCC results, only 7.4% of Central High students are performing up to expectations in language arts, with E-Cubed doing a little better, at 14.8%.  In math, the schools do much worse, with 2.7% and 1.9%, respectively.  The proposal to dilute the school day with more history from other countries should be viewed with great skepticism, notwithstanding an academic study finding grade improvement with ethnic studies in California.  Even if we assume the results of that study are not biased or simply resulting from a flawed methodology, what they might mainly illustrate is that progressive obsession with race and ethnicity is a much more palpable detriment to students than most people would guess.  (That is, these students are so hindered by the racial-grievance mindset that even mild alleviation brings improvements.)

What’s most stunning about the Providence students’ statements, though, is the sheer passivity.  Nothing is stopping students from learning about the countries of their ancestors.  Moreover, the fact that the government doesn’t hand something to somebody doesn’t mean that he or she has no access to it.  (There’s a lesson that begs for expanded application.)

Both teachers in Detroit and students in Providence appear to have the attitude that activism is the only initiative that one need take.  Going out to achieve things on your own is out; demanding that other people give you things is in.  Look no farther for evidence that we need more American history, not less.

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They Are the Buffoons They Complained About

Jillian Kay Melchior had the brilliant idea to request and review the reams of email that Mizzou’s fascist professor Melissa Click received after being caught in the execution of her ideology.  Apparently, the Chronicle of Higher Education undertook a similar approach, but as one might expect from a respected voice of academia, the publication opted for cherry picking ideological opposition rather than a nuanced analysis.

Whoever had the idea first, though, I find one exchange hilarious in a liberals-don’t-realize-what-buffoons-they-are kind of way.  When Melchior contacted one person who had sent a supportive message to Click, he responded that he’s “OK with actual violence, like actual political violence”:

Rasmussen continued: “I’m OK — I’d be fine if we brought back the guillotine and cut off the Koch brothers’ heads. That would be OK with me. I think that would be OK.” He added that protesters occupying public spaces should have the right to shut out the media because “with Occupy Wall Street, a lot of us lefties learned that if you give open access to the media, some people with an agenda will try to find people in your camp who will say ridiculous things and make it look like your whole group [supports those stances].”

Speaking as one whom Rob Rasmussen would surely consign to some manner of gruesome death or other were his political gang to take sufficient control of the nation, I can only laugh.  Like Fraulein Click, R. Rasmussen’s remorse appears conditional upon the reaction.  Giving a voice and prominence to progressives is only lamentable when they say what they believe and people express outrage, disgust, or incredulity about their distorted worldview.  If he receives even a small portion of the mockery and disapprobation that his statement deserves, he’ll probably blame Melchior for giving him a forum.

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Something Like a Conspiracy of the 1%

In one of those coincidences that I would call suspicious if I were absolutely sure nobody would take me seriously, my hard drive crossed the line to bad on the very day the Brookings Institution released its $1.3 million study of Rhode Island’s economic condition and prospects (via WPRI’s Ted Nesi).  These days, an unexpected computer failure is not unlike returning to my office to discover that corrupt and thuggish secret agents gave the room and files a quick-and-dirty look-through for some information they mistakenly believe I have implicating the Commander in Chief in a scandal that even the mainstream media couldn’t ignore, which is to say that I’m still putting things back together.

That said, I’m overdue for a post, and I’ve wanted to note a theme to which I’ll return in more detail in the Brookings report.  It initially appears on the very first page of text and pops up amid all of the analysis and jargon throughout:

Which is to say that Rhode Island—a small state in a large nation in a fiercely competitive world—is facing an existential choice about its future. Are the state’s business, civic, university, and government leaders prepared to think deeply and act decisively as their predecessors did in order to meet profound uncertainty with innovation and ingenuity? Or will they merely make the best of slow decline?

The italicized text tells Rhode Islanders who Brookings’s real audience is, and the audience determines the recommendations.  Unless I’ve missed it as I’ve read the report while waiting for the bars to reach 100% on computer diagnostics programs, the report’s authors do not once ask, or advise their audience to consider, what Rhode Islanders want their state to be.  We are irrelevant.  Worse, we’re widgets.  We need to be repackaged and reprogrammed for the benefit of the right kind of companies.  Our neighborhoods have to be redesigned in order to attract the “coveted millennials” whom the authors see as the spring blossoms of “coolness” and “hipness” (not to say “grooviness”).

As I said, once I’ve lifted all of my virtual filing cabinets off the floor and hung the digital pictures back on the walls, I’ll go into more detail, but there may be no better evidence that the next step in the progressive plan is intended to bring government and the industrialists back into alignment, coming full circle since the days of the robber barons, in order to assert their authority over us all and to protect their own power and interests.

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Hearing Beyond the Brookings Rhetoric

The language of Brookings Institution scholar Bruce Katz (no relation), whom Gov. Gina Raimondo and the Rhode Island Foundation have invited into the state to offer consultation on economic development, might seem so close to some on the political right that casual news consumers would get the impression of substantial common ground.

In a short YouTube video, Katz says modern America needs a “pragmatic, collaborative federalism,” and federalism — the idea that power should be dispersed across the nation at the lowest level of authority possible — is a cornerstone of conservative philosophy. Katz sounds like a free-marketer when he exclaims, “Let’s free up the states and cities and metros!” They “should be empowered to innovate.” The federal government will back off to give them “room.”

But for those willing to listen, Katz points to the critical distinction that makes all the difference. Under his vision, “the federal government would lead on what matters,” by “providing incentives” that would guide the “transition to a different kind of American economy.” He doesn’t mean an economy in which we all pursue our dreams, but rather one in which experts in Washington have figured out what our dreams should be.

Continue reading in the Providence Journal.

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Surviving the Flood, Mudslide, and Stampede

Richard Fernandez takes kind of a dark view of the near future with this analogy:

What “too late” means was driven home years ago when one of the volunteer members of the Philippine Airlines cadaver recovery team described an accident which took the lives of 5 members of a university mountaineering club.  The party was trekking along a dry riverbed on the lower slope of an 8,000 foot volcano in Mindoro.  The weather was fine and the mountaineers were doomed.  Unknown to them a squall had dumped a slug of rain on the peak high above them.  The first warning they had of oncoming tons of water was a rumbling sound round the corner of the gorge.  Then the flood came and only those fast enough to clamber up the riverbanks survived.

The issue to which he’s referring, specifically, is the wave of invading migrants in Europe, but there are any number of issues that would qualify, as well, from the economy to superviruses.  In a worst case scenario, the “slug of rain” will open up a number dams along its way, trigger a mudslide, and scare all of the man-eating critters from the mountain down on us all.  Fernandez’s conclusion applies pretty much across the board:

The fact is, for West to survive, it must become something other than what our PC leaders have tried to make it.  For it is written that “the stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.”  It’s poetic justice to be sure but we have to accept the justice if we are to save what’s left of the poetry.

Fortunately, the advice applies on an individual level.  Return to the basics and your own foundations.  That’s what will remain when all else is washed away, and it better be enough.