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Rhode Island’s Parable of the Snake and Parasite

For the Family Prosperity Index (FPI) forum on Tuesday, Mike Stenhouse developed an interesting slide showing how the balance in our society (amplified in Rhode Island) is being thrown off as the government encroaches on the institutions of civic society — churches, private businesses, and other private organizations — even as it fosters and encourages a radical individualism that leads people to disengage from those intermediary community groups and connect directly with government for all of their needs.

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I made an attempt to get Stenhouse to amplify this point with imagery, essentially a start to an unwritten parable.  In his chart, the government is like a constrictor snake squeezing the life out of society from the outside, and as individuals stop turning to their communities as their first social contact and, instead, look to government to take resources away from their neighbors to pay for their benefits and services, they become more like parasites.  So, basically, this:

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Central planning and government action dehumanize us.  We stop being self-directed individuals in relationships and transform into variables in an equation to be manipulated so that we fit the space the government has shaped for us.  Through it all, our attitude toward others and sense of our own character dissipate.

Then, at some point, when there’s nothing left but the government and the individual, the snake will keep squeezing until it has claimed every drop of human blood.

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Catching Up to My Traffic Observations, Government Still Shouldn’t Take Action

Back in 2013, I expressed frustration with Rhode Islanders’ willingness to merge early before a lane reduction and let “scum” take advantage of them by driving up the open lane to the very end and described the results when I decide to be a traffic vigilante:

I’ve tended to take that on as a cause of one.  Wherever my place should be, that’s where I stay, but in my own lane, with the length of empty road before me.  Without fail, as soon as the remaining scum in front of my blockade have been absorbed, the line, which had previously been at a standstill, begins to move smoothly.

But as proven by their waving arms and the number of times that I’ve had to sneak on to side roads to avoid road rage once the obstacle had been passed, the scum apparently feel that the moral advantage has been passed to them.  I am at fault, in their eyes, for preventing them from taking advantage of everybody else.

Well, whaddaya know:

There’s a growing consensus among many state transportation officials that when a lane closure is looming, getting drivers to use all available lanes until the point where cars need to merge can keep traffic moving more efficiently and safely, and even cut down on road rage.

The article is too delicate to explain the mechanism that makes it less efficient and safe when drivers get over too soon, but it’s clear nonetheless.  But come on, folks, we shouldn’t need government to cajole us into orderly cooperation.  If one individual out of every 50 or so drivers is willing to stand up to the scum, we’ll solve the problem entirely through private action and civil society.

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Obama’s Crocodile Tears for American Institutions

Kevin Williamson is must reading on Obama’s crocodile tears for American institutions:

If President Obama does not understand why our institutions and the common ground they once represented are in a shambles, he need not look very far for an explanation: He is a man of the Left, and the Left corrupts every institution it touches: the news media, the educational and academic institutions, the cultural institutions, professional organizations, government bureaucracies, everything from National Geographic to the English department at the University of Texas. This is not a case of “both sides do it” or an instance of a conservative polemicist simply fitting his political opponents for black hats. If you want to understand why Americans have so little faith in institutions that were once granite pillars of respectability, you must understand the Left’s coopting of them.

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Left and Right Need to Acknowledge Decisions Based on Policy

Hugh Hewitt makes a great point that conservatives like me sometimes need to hear:

It would be fair to announce the end of the mortgage-interest deduction in 30 years. It would be fair to phrase out the deductibility of state taxes by, say, 2050. But not overnight. Not unless you want to give the gavel back to Nancy Pelosi.

Purists have great arguments against “market distortions” in the tax code—in theory. But Americans don’t live in theory. They live in homes they bought at a value based on the existing deduction, in states whose taxes were partly offset through the federal code. Change those rules and what’s left of the GOP in high-tax states will be gone.

While those on the Left would like to treat this sort of consideration as justification for keeping government programs going forever, those on the Right do have to acknowledge that people make decisions based on bad government policy, and it can be overly harsh to the point of injustice to drop onto their heads the roofs that they’ve built over the policy framework.

Unfortunately, as with everything else, we can expect that reasonable concessions from conservatives will not be reciprocated.  For example, with the beginning of this century, special interests pushing bonds and Tiverton’s Town Council doubled the tax levy in Tiverton in less than a decade, to the point that house buyers who shop based on the monthly payment on a 30-year mortgage payment would have to pay around 15% less for a house in Tiverton than in Westport, Massachusetts, next door.

Those who bought in Tiverton before this punishment was dished out have been unfairly penalized, and many have been responding by cutting their losses and leaving town, not just because of the cost, but also because of the injustice.

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China’s One-Child Policy and Rhode Island Job Initiatives

Something occurred to me when I came across Glenn Reynolds’s link to a New York Times article about China’s change of government heart regarding its one-child policy.  After having forced women to have IUDs implanted, with resulting health problems, the government has decided it needs more people and is now moving to have the IUDs removed.  Says documentary filmmaker Ai Xiaoming:

In the eyes of the government, women are labor units. When the country needs you to give birth, you have to do so. And when they don’t need you to give birth, you don’t.

That’s exactly right.  Humanist-driven progressivism sees people as units to be managed.  I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a pro-choice woman some years back.  She was adamant that her view was all about the freedom of women, so I asked about China’s one-child policy.  Her response: “Well, what do you expect them to do?”… meaning, to address their overpopulation problem.

To make you happier, government has to make you less human.  It’s in the same line as government confiscating resources and distorting the market to retrain workers to fill the jobs that politicians declare necessary for their own political benefit.  They know what’s best for us, and to implement that wisdom, we’re just cookie-cut shapes on a board.

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Saying “No” and then Changing the Times

Mark Glennon’s thoughts on how the state of Illinois will fall apart — is falling apart — in a long, gradual process will resonate with Rhode Islanders capable of seeing what’s going on.  In this paragraph, Glennon raises an historical cliché that I’ll likely start quoting every time somebody expresses bewilderment at Rhode Islanders’ political behavior:

The Illinois General Assembly majority, the Chicago City Council and Mayor Emanuel are the obvious villains, but as for the ultimate culprits — voters who elect them — consider what Alexander the Great supposedly said about why Asians in his day were easily made slaves: “Because they never learned to say ‘no.’” Just saying ‘no’ to the incompetence, graft, lies and rank stupidity of their own government would end it all. But Illinoisans, especially Chicagoans, won’t say it, content to march blithely into indentured servitude.

Perhaps the core feature of the system that our forefathers gave us is that we really can avoid servitude by saying “no.”  We are allowed to change things.  We are allowed to insist that all of the reasons insiders tell us we can only say “yes” are false and that believing as we do does not make us bad people.  Saying “no” is only the first step, of course, but we are permitted to change things, and even change them back to something that we’ve lost, like true representative democracy and the rule of law.  The past is fertile ground from which to draw seeds for the future, not a wasteland of toxic superstition.

As for the “how,” I’m more and more convinced that hoping for some catalyst or hero is folly.  Rather, I believe Saint Augustine had it right in his Sermon 311:

You say, the times are troublesome, the times are burdensome, the times are miserable.  Live rightly and you will change the times.

The times have never hurt anyone.  Those who are hurt are human beings; those by whom they are hurt are also human beings.  So, change human beings and the times will be changed.

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Unity and Division in a Post-Obama America

Commenting to my post about Russian hacking, progressive commenter The Misfit writes:

Welcome to Vichy America. Or, just the place where old empires go. What is the saying? About being united or divided? I think you have perfectly expressed that. The Max comment is great. I wish I was in the bridge selling business.

See, here’s the thing:  Progressives blew it under Obama.  They made it clear that they wanted to hunt us down as bigots and silence us as “deniers” — terms that they presumed to define according to their ideological lights.  They made it clear that they don’t care how those on their side abuse power or lie, provided we’re the targets and progressive policies are the objective.

They slammed the gears so hard from vilifying Bush to deifying Obama to, now, demonizing Trump that everybody has heard the grinding.  They want every government, cultural, and social institution primed to exclude those with whom they disagree, to lock us out and force us to bend to their will or simply to die out.

That’s not a vision of unity to which most Americans would willingly subscribe, and now we’re seeing clearly how the intention was disguised.

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Nonprofits and the Greater Good of Politics

Speaking of the agenda behind the broad progressive movement (as I did yesterday), Naomi Schaefer Riley finds that some in the “nonprofit” “community” have convinced themselves that the higher cause of politics is intrinsic to their charitable work: 

… the folks who run philanthropy are so angry about the results of the election they don’t know what to do with themselves. Caleb Gayle, a former program officer at the George Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote an op-ed last week for the Chronicle [of Philanthropy] arguing that the philanthropic sector shouldn’t spend more to make up for gaps in government funding.

“It should instead exercise strategic restraint,” he wrote.

Gayle is unabashed about his plan to put partisanship above helping people. “To many foundations, it might seem cruel to resist calls to spend more . . . But if grant makers start to far exceed the 5 percent annual minimum, they will validate the conservative desire to strip money from government antipoverty measures.”

Conservatives believe society has more capacity to do good deeds outside of government (and that such deeds are more appropriately handled in that way), so in order to discredit that belief in the eyes of the public, some people in the philanthropy industry would prefer not to provide evidence that such a worldview is tenable.  Put differently, they want it to remain necessary for the vast majority of charitable giving to be confiscated from taxpayers and redirected as insiders see fit.

I’d suggest that their priorities are skewed.

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A Strange Issue on Which Not to Tolerate Dissent

This, from Jacqueline Tempera in the Providence Journal, seems related to the decriminalization of child prostitution in California:

Amnesty International’s policy on sex workers, which was published in May after a vote by chapters internationally, calls for “the decriminalization of all aspects of adult consensual sex work due to the foreseeable barriers that criminalization creates to the realization of the human rights of sex workers.”

[Rhode Islander Marcia] Lieberman, and most of the members of the 10-person chapter she coordinated, disagreed with this, she said. They felt the research into the policy was scant and that it would embolden “pimps and johns” who were exploiting “mostly young women and girls.”

“We believe there should be help for people in sex work,” Lieberman explained in an interview. “But we did not believe it should be legal for customers to buy sex.”

So, Amnesty International excommunicated her.  The organization is free to have its policies about internal agreement when it comes to its far-left, radical progressivism, but consider the issue that this is about.  There may be more to the story than presented, of course, but this hardly seems like an issue so fundamental to the organization that no prudential disagreement can be tolerated.

One certainly gets the impression that there’s an ideological agenda at work behind the scenes across the progressive movement.

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Perhaps Rhode Island’s Size Provides Some Protection

Victor Davis Hanson’s recent experiences of life in California read like one of those everything-goes-wrong-for-the-ordinary-guy movies.  All that’s missing is some heart-warming MacGuffin that the obstacles delay until the end of the movie.

On a more-serious note, though, I do wonder if his essay might give some reason to be grateful for Rhode Island’s small size:

What makes the law-abiding leave California is not just the sanctimoniousness, the high taxes, or the criminality. It is always the insult added to injury. We suffer not only from the highest basket of income, sales, and gas taxes in the nation, but also from nearly the worst schools and infrastructure. We have the costliest entitlements and the most entitled. We have the largest number of billionaires and the largest number of impoverished, both in real numbers and as a percentage of the state population.

California crime likewise reflects the California paradox of two states: a coastal elite and everyone else. California is the most contentious, overregulated, and postmodern state in the Union, and also the most feral and 19th-century.

Rhode Island certainly doesn’t lack for these systemic insults, but Hanson essay relates manifestations of the division that don’t apply to the Ocean State.  Being so small, Rhode Island can’t quite achieve that level of bifurcation and insult.  It isn’t possible for the haves to rope themselves off to the same degree as in California.  (Don’t get me wrong; it’s bad enough.)

That raises an interesting question about what would happen if the states weren’t so small in this part of the country.  The idea of living in a state in which D.C. and New York City were like the East Coast’s Sacramento and Los Angeles is downright frightening.

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The United States’ Party of as Religion

Emma Green’s interview in The Atlantic with former Obama faith-outreach director Michael Wear should be read and considered by anybody interested in understanding the political and social field facing the United States just now:

Green: Why is it, do you think, that some liberals—and specifically the Democratic Party—have been unwilling to do outreach to people who hold particular kinds of theological points of view?

Wear: They think, in some ways wrongly, but in other ways rightly, that it would put constraints around their policy agenda. So, for instance: You could make a case to evangelicals while trying to repeal the Hyde Amendment, [which prohibits federal funding for abortion in most circumstances,] but that’s really difficult. …

The second thing is that there’s a religious illiteracy problem in the Democratic Party. It’s tied to the demographics of the country: More 20- and 30-year-olds are taking positions of power in the Democratic Party. They grew up in parts of the country where navigating religion was not important socially and not important to their political careers. …

Another reason why they haven’t reached out to evangelicals in 2016 is that, no matter Clinton’s slogan of “Stronger Together,” we have a politics right now that is based on making enemies, and making people afraid.

I’d suggest that these aren’t disconnected factors, but rather, that they are all tied in with the progressive tendency to deify government.  Echos of this can be found in Daniel Greenfield’s FrontPageMag review at George Soros’s consequences for the Democrat Party (emphasis added):

Leftists used Soros money to focus on their own identity politics obsessions leaving the Dems with little ability to interact with white working class voters. The Ivy and urban leftists who made up the core of the left had come to exist in a narrow world with little room for anything and anyone else.

Soros turned over the Democrats to political fanatics least likely to be able to recognize their own errors.

Wear’s party is having difficulty most of all because its members see other organized religions as competition.

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Maybe Child Prostitution Isn’t Something to Decriminalize, Just Now

As Rhode Island enters another legislative session, we should keep a careful eye on other states so we can spot progressives’ destructive plans when they make their way here.  Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen points out, in the Washington Examiner, a big one out of California: 

Beginning on Jan. 1, prostitution by minors will be legal in California. Yes, you read that right.

SB 1322 bars law enforcement from arresting sex workers who are under the age of 18 for soliciting or engaging in prostitution, or loitering with the intent to do so. So teenage girls (and boys) in California will soon be free to have sex in exchange for money without fear of arrest or prosecution.

Government imposes too many criminal penalties for people’s free activities, catching too many people up in the system and making it more difficult for them to overcome adversity and thrive.  But can we at least agree that the underage sale of sex is a likely indicator that the public has an interest not in punishing the kids, but in taking a closer look at what their problems are?

To be sure, I’ve got a generally dark view of government’s ability to do such things, but as with legalizing marijuana, we have to acknowledge our current circumstances and consider the effects of changing them at this particular time in a particular way.  If our society were healthier, with strong social institutions, instead of deteriorating ones, we might consider changes that will tend to produce socially harmful effects, but to do so in a rush of progressive ambition is lunacy.

ADDENDUM (12/31/16 4:16 p.m.):

In anticipation of objections, I should address immediately objections that the intent of the law is not as Allen suggests.  Nobody should doubt that most progressives think they’re doing good by their actions.  But consider this, from bill author Holly Mitchell:

The problem is that not every county has services available in juvenile justice for minor victims.

Followed with NBC’s note that:

Various district attorneys’ offices in the state have expressed a similar apprehension toward the law —but some say it’s because the state just isn’t ready to provide adequate services.

Good intentions can be deadly.  If they feel, for whatever reason, that sex for money is in their best interest, CA children can now know that the worst-case will be services (for which they’re probably already eligible).

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Government in the Loan Servicing Business

I have a quick question after reading Christine Dunn’s Providence Journal article on the quasi-public Rhode Island Housing’s new deal with Maine Housing to service the latter’s mortgage loans:

“The agreement will allow Rhode Island Housing to generate additional funds to be used to support programs, including the financing of housing to meet the state’s growing demand,” the agency said in its announcement Thursday.

Why is this a government agency?  Somewhere in the deal must exist some artificial restriction from government or some implicit public backing of the business.  Whatever the case, if RI Housing is engaged in profitable business, it ought to be spun off from government because that oughtn’t be the way government operates.

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Setting Degrees and Boundaries for Telling Parents What to Do

Abby Schachter raises a warning flag on the presumption of government agencies to tell parents how to raise their children:

The fact that legislation is necessary to correct the imbalance between parents’ rights and the separate, independent rights of their minor children is one of the defining characteristics of our current age, one in which the government at all levels has become involved in the private lives of families, dictating child-rearing standards and penalizing parents who do not follow the rules. This condition of overbearing state interference in the lives of families is pervasive, though not coordinated…

“Not coordinated” in the sense that there is no secret council with a defined plan to absolve parents of the rights and responsibilities of parenthood and transfer them to the government.  However, one would have to deny the link between big-government philosophy and a definable set of beliefs associated with progressivism not to acknowledge an implicit coordination.

Look, this is one of those areas in which the degrees to which interference is permissible and the boundaries at which such interference ought to be allowed through government, through social institutions, or merely through personal social pressure ought to be available for debate, but such decisions, being so personal and intrinsic to the perpetuation of families’ belief systems, ought to be made at the most local level possible.

My opinion is that government oversteps its boundaries when it mandates behaviors beyond immediate harm and with less than near-certain risk.  As for voluntary association with moral institutions, like churches, they ought to be nearly as free as individual families are.

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An Opportunity for Secularists to Recognize How Far They’ve Leaned

Even non-Catholic Rhode Islanders, particularly those of progressive bent, should carefully read this recent editorial from The Rhode Island Catholic:

What happens now [following the national election] is the continued battle between good and evil. God’s people must not discount the work of Satan in our world, who will be working full time to stop the progress of God’s will. If the administration-elect, in conjunction with the support of Congress, achieves even a few of their stated objectives, the devil will not be pleased. He will fight against the pro-life movement. He will fight against the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which stifles the voice of the Church in the public square. He will fight against religious liberties. He will fight against the appointment of constitutional Supreme Court justices. Like a dog backed into a corner, he will turn on the good even more viciously and seek any opportunity to exacerbate the divide among the people. As long as the devil is fighting, the faithful must stay vigilant as they continue to pray and support those who were raised up.

I hope non-radical liberals in Rhode Island understand how important this paragraph is.  As a local conservative and Catholic who has periodically had difficulty publishing in the paper, I can say that The Rhode Island Catholic is by no means a right-wing publication.

Some quick googler may prove me wrong in some degree, but my impression as a reader is that the conclusions of this editorial have been a long time building, not only at the paper, but in the Catholic-community context that informs and influences its editors.  Under Obama, nationally, and Chafee-Raimondo, statewide, even people who are relatively moderate religious believers feel under attack, and for good reason.

As a matter of practical analysis, this editorial could be put among the evidence behind Donald Trump’s electoral victory, indicating yet another factor that contributed to his upset victory.  But moderates and liberals should look past the political calculation and recognize the extremity toward which they’d been leaning, away from their neighbors.

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