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Charters in Public-Private Limbo

I’m in the minority among my ideological peers, on this, but my thinking on charter schools has changed quite a bit in recent years.

Many conservatives, I believe, see them as a sly way to insert wedges into public education’s cracks in order to bring about wider-scale reform of the system.  If we create this alternate system of schools, literally entered with the luck of the draw, that is free of the restrictions that (for some reason) we continue to tolerate in district schools, then parents will demand that district schools be made free of the restrictions, too.

To advance this stratagem, we’ve been willing to overlook basic descriptive facts about charters that would normally concern us a great deal.  In order to work around the damage that the democratic nature of our government has wrought in education (thanks, largely, to the self-interested activism of teacher unions), we’re creating institutions over which the public has less control.  On the one hand, charter advocates insist that they are “public schools of choice,” so they should fall within the range of inside-government benefits, but on the other hand, they are demanding that the people paying the bills should not have immediate, democratic control over them.

In any other context, conservatives would recoil against that just as surely as they ought to recoil against crony capitalist deals giving connected insiders taxpayer cash for their private business dealings.  Principle should not be something to be weighed against practicality.  Rather, we should hold to our principles because they produce the outcome that we desire; it is in determining our goals that we should weigh morality and practicality.

My concern, in treading off our principled path, is that we’re more likely to get lost than to return to our firm ground.  Instead of breaking the rigid grip of special interests on public schools, charters will kill off private schools — at least all of them that are accessible to anybody who’s less than rich.  Then special interests will successfully tighten the vice, making government education a true monopoly rather than the near-monopoly that it currently is.

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Indications of Government Homogeny

The two stories at the top of today’s Providence Journal give a sense of the problems when government is characterized by a homogeneity of party and governing philosophy.  For example, the House plans to waive rules that put the governor’s raises for upper staff squarely in the middle of the budget process:

Current law gives the governor a small window of time, in March of each year, to propose and then justify at a public hearing any proposed raises for cabinet members.  

The Department of Administration then has until the last day in April to refer the proposed new salaries to the General Assembly. The raises go into effect 30 days later unless rejected by the House and Senate.  

Raimondo asked lawmakers to do away with that provision in the budget that she proposed to lawmakers in March. The General Assembly’s Democratic leaders didn’t go that far.

Instead, the budget will give leadership a deadline of late August to drag everybody back to the State House to undo the raises.  We can gather that the governor would have to be pretty unreasonable to spark that level of reaction.

The second story has to do with the House Republicans’ alternative approach to funding roads and bridges.  Obviously, the GOP’s proposed amendment to the budget is political theater, but that’s indicative of the problem.  Both the governor and the Speaker of the House can be utterly dismissive of the plan because there is no chance of its happening.

Rhode Island’s governing system leaves little opportunity for surprises (other than revelations of corruption, naturally), so the participants can come to consensus in back rooms among partisan friends without any real need to negotiate a minimization of risk.  If there’s a chance, even a small one, that the minority party can orchestrate a surprise, it isn’t as obviously political theater, which would be a healthier state of affairs for both sides, not to mention the people of Rhode Island.

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America’s Autoimmune Disorder

In keeping with my earlier post about curing Rhode Island’s political ills, Jonah Goldberg’s metaphor that America has an ideological autoimmune disorder is spot on:

I loved David Brooks’s BoBos In Paradise, but its biggest flaw was in underestimating how much of the so-called bohemian-bourgeois lifestyle came pre-loaded with very political features. In 1997 Brooks wrote in The Weekly Standard that “one of the striking things about Burlington [Vermont] is that it is relatively apolitical.” I really don’t think that was true. More likely: Burlington was — and is — so uniformly liberal that even an astute observer might confuse stultifying political conformity for apoliticalness (not a word, I know, but like they said in Fast and Furious 3, you get my drift).

It’s telling that when Phil Griffin predicted MSNBC would overtake Fox News by 2014 (Stop laughing!). He said he wanted to do it by turning MSNBC into a “lifestyle” network. “It’s a mistake for us to limit ourselves to news,” he told The New Republic. Instead, he wanted to build up something he dubbed, “the MSNBC lifestyle.” This is the sort of thinking you fall into when you can’t see where politics ends and “lifestyle” — i.e., life — begins.

I’m not a big fan of generational stereotyping, but it’s fair to say that a large number of Millennials constitute the first big cohort of kids to be fully raised within this lifestyle-ized politics.

I’d add to this is that the Boomers and GenXers who taught this way of thinking to the Millennials have spouted it for so long they’ve come to believe it’s true just as fully as if they’d been raised on it themselves.  As Goldberg suggests, we’ve allowed too many of our co-culturalists to develop allergies to the sort of debate and critical thinking that is indispensable to a self-governing population.  But I’d say it’s worse than that:  Malignant progressivism attacks the very principles and preferences that allow a society to remain healthy and protect itself — from strong families to notions of property rights to freedom of speech.

From my perch in Rhode Island, where this autoimmune disorder has been coupled with the flight of any voters who figure out the problem, I don’t know if there’s a cure.  How do you turn things around when nobody with social power wants to, when those who might gain social power and grab the wheel decide it’s just more practical to leave, and when everybody else finds change impossible and keeps their heads down, hoping for a civic miracle that will allow them to keep making a living while not having to think about it all too much?

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Sum of All Fears; Sum of All Obama Policies

We tend to be nostalgic for the times of our youth, but one burden that I have been very happy not to see darken my children’s minds is the prospect of nuclear explosions.  Sure, as long as they exist (and they will, barring a complete global societal collapse) they will be conceivable, but with the end of the Cold War, there’s been a palpable decrease in the possibility.  Terrorists have striven to fill some of the void, but their capabilities are substantially less than those of modern nations and competing superpowers.

This period of relative tranquility may be nearing its end.  Here’s Investor’s Business Daily (via Instapundit):

In the latest edition of its propaganda rag, the Islamic State says it has enough cash to buy a nuclear weapon from Pakistan and smuggle it into the U.S. through Mexico. This is the sum of all fears, and it’s not overblown. …

Despite falling world oil prices that have slowed IS’ energy revenues to about $2 million a week, the terror group is still raking in more than $1 million a day in extortion and taxes alone. IS has also stolen some $500 million from state-owned banks in Iraq.

The incompetent poseur in the White House has made a hazardous mess of the planet, particularly the Middle East, where dangerous people took the measure of the president far better than American voters did, and they’ve taken full advantage of the historic opportunity.

Meanwhile, in order to tilt domestic political scales, Obama has widened the holes in the sieve that is our southern border.  As a draw, to pull people through that sieve, he and his fellow Democrats (with a compliant lack of resistance from Republicans) have proceeded to expand welfare offerings while adding tripwires to the obstacle course of political correctness.

When history’s most momentous events touch upon our daily lives, they tend to seem impossible until bad decisions make them inevitable.

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A Budget for Special Interests

The budget that appears poised for passage through the General Assembly and Governor Raimondo’s office fills me more with dread than hope.  In recent years, state budgets have moved us incrementally in a worse direction.  The combined effort of Raimondo and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello seems almost like a reordering of things in the favor of special interests, with substantial risks for the future, like a wrecking ball held high somewhere in the dark.

Consider the programs that directly offload risk from private development companies and create union jobs.  A sample from Patrick Anderson’s Providence Journal article:

The other large tax break Raimondo proposes is a “tax-increment financing” program that would allow new state tax revenue created by big development projects to be funneled back into paying for the project or infrastructure surrounding the project.

Most commonly attached to local property taxes, a state TIF could involve a range of state revenue, including income tax, sales tax and hotel tax. For example, a developer proposing a neuroscience building that includes a hotel and shops could pay off a bond using a portion of the new state taxes it generates.

What a contorted concept.  When does a developer get his or her hands on tax revenue to pay off his or her own debt?  Never.  These would be non-voter-authorized bonds taken out with future tax revenue as security.  Whether tax revenue actually goes up or not, the money must be paid.

Maybe most frustrating, though, is that the call of the obvious is finally starting to permeate the discussion, but our supposedly fiscally responsible leaders are refusing to hear it.  Here’s a line about the Superman Building’s limbo:

… if demand for downtown Providence real estate were stronger and companies were clamoring for Financial District offices, someone, if not the current owner, would come to the rescue.

And here’s a word from an economist:

“Providence seems to have a surplus of empty buildings already, so providing incentives for more is not going to make this better,” said Brown University economics professor Matthew Turner. “If they are vacant because it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and two years at City Council to get approved, then the government should be simplifying the permitting process. If the answer is that no one wants to occupy them, you will end up with more empty buildings.”

The fatal problem that appears destined to destroy Rhode Island and undermine the United States is that simply making things better and easier for everybody does not create enough opportunity for political favors and self-dealing.

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Civil Disobedience Against the Many Ways to Dictate Rules

Elizabeth Price Foley quotes the following from a Wall Street Journal column by Daniel Henniger:

Barack Obama, channeling decades of theory, says constantly that the traditional system has failed. He said it in his 2011 Osawatomie, Kan., speech: “It doesn’t work. It has never worked.” He has attacked Congress repeatedly as a failed institution, teeing it up for mass revulsion just as he did the 1%.

With Congress rendered moribund, the new branch of the American political system is the federal enforcement bureaucracy. The Department of Health and Human Services’ auto-revisions of the Affordable Care Act are the most famous expressions of the new governing philosophy. But historians of the new system will cite the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights’ 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter on sexual harassment as the watershed event.

I’m currently going through all of the legislation on the table in the General Assembly, and two observations stand out (as usual):

  1. Our elected officials really do believe that it is their role to micromanage life in this state.
  2. As bad as that is, worse still is the latitude that they are increasingly giving to appointed bureaucrats to do the same.

An example that I’ve heard from multiple directions, lately, is the still-new mandate that all seventh grade students (public or private school) must be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) — a sexually transmitted disease.  This isn’t like the flu or chickenpox, which students can catch and spread simply by attending school.  The Dept. of Health has crossed into a new territory of rationale, assuming the authority to instruct parents to put a drug in their children based on studies of long-term health risks, rather than immediate danger.

The bureaucracy has done so with the permission of extremely broad legislation, which states that students are required to show proof that they have “been immunized against any diseases that may from time to time be prescribed by regulation of the director of health.”  There is a religious exemption form, but that only mitigates the reality that freedom has been flipped.  Instead of the government attempting to persuade parents to make a particular decision, they’re requiring parents to actively notify the government of their decision in the other direction.

Charles Murray’s notion that Americans need to begin a regimen of deliberate civil disobedience against the bureaucracy seems wiser by the day.  There doesn’t appear to be anything about filling out the exemption form that precludes a parent from actually going forward with the vaccine, so it should become a matter of course among parents, and we should all look for other ways to thumb our nose at people who think they have authority over us, but shouldn’t.

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Government Micromanagement (Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be)

This story out of Santa Monica might sound familiar to Rhode Islanders, given the vacation-related parts of Governor Raimondo’s proposed budget:

Home-sharing websites like Airbnb allow homeowners and apartment dwellers to rent their home and spare bedrooms to vacationers for a fraction of the cost of a hotel stay.

But on May 12, the Santa Monica City Council passed a new ordinance that will impose regulations that make that opportunity much harder to come by. …

The ordinance imposes strict restrictions on who can rent out their spare bedrooms for less than 30 days, including requiring those who wish to rent out their spare bedroom or apartment to apply for a business license and to remain on the property during the guest’s stay. The ordinance also imposes a 14 percent hotel tax on hosts.

A free society is supposed to work by allowing us maximum latitude to make arrangements with each other, with government providing security and an understanding that contracts can be reinforced.  There’s some room around the edges for government to take some of the risk out of the equation by (essentially) doing a portion of customers’ due diligence for them through regulation, but we’re way beyond that, at this point, and drifting farther out to sea.

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When Healthcare Providers Close

If you see news like this and think, “Maybe the government should step in and fix this,” think again:

Citing years of cuts and freezes in Medicaid payments, Gateway Healthcare announced on Monday that budget deficits are forcing it to close six group homes in Rhode Island for people with mental health and substance abuse issues.

About 70 residents, including 55 adults and 15 children and adolescents, will be affected when the homes close at the end of August, according to Gateway. The nonprofit agency, which is part of the Lifespan health system, pledged to either see their treatment to conclusion or transition them to “an appropriate care setting” before the homes are shuttered.

Closings like this benefit the government.  As the “provider of last resort,” the fewer other resorts there are, the more money the government can demand from the population, the more union employees it can hire, the more dollars get slushed around to their campaign accounts, and generally, the more power they have.

A government like Rhode Island’s wants more people dependent on it.  Watching private care providers for challenged populations go out of business serves that goal.

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Children as Political Hostages in an Empty Room in Cumberland

Marcia Green’s Valley Breeze article on the Cumberland School Department’s threatened cuts if its budget isn’t increased by more than the mayor has proposed caught my attention when Monique tweeted it thus: “Cumberland School Committee issues list of (budget) hostages; threatens to start shooting.”

This sort of thing takes place all over the state — probably the country — and it’s a good example of why it’s dangerous to attempt to do things through government.  Everything’s a battle.

For contrast, try to imagine a similar situation for a private school.  It’s actually not that difficult, with so many smaller schools that serve working-class populations closing.  They don’t berate the parents with threatened cuts.  Instead, they very often try to increase programming, asking faculty and staff to pitch in to move a plan forward, and then asking parents to volunteer in order to minimize tuition increases and ensure the best educational experience for the students.

If faculty, staff, and parents don’t step up, it’s on them.  Note this, for example, from Green’s article:

Monday’s subcommittee meeting drew a half-dozen parents, including Laura Sheehan and Linda Haviland, who were not only speaking against the proposed cuts, but beginning to prepare for Town Council hearings.

Cumberland has nearly 5,000 students, and about six parents showed up at a meeting discussing supposedly dire cuts in programming.

Perhaps one of those parents should research the budget of Cumberland’s schools.  As it happens, I’ve been doing just that, looking into comments made by Sen. Ryan Pearson (D, Cumberland, Lincoln) about the cost of charter schools during the hearing the other day on the Bright Today legislation.

In the five years ending with the current one, Cumberland Schools’ revenue and expenditure increases have averaged a little more than 4%.  Meanwhile, its October enrollment has dropped an average of 2% per year over those five years.  That has led to average per-student expenditure growth of 6.21% — or 5.34% if we take out the tuition paid to charter schools.  Inflation, by contrast, has averaged around 1.7% per year.

Discussions about schools should be sensitive.  Maybe one of the reasons parents and other members of the community are checking out is that they aren’t being offered decisions; they’re being whipped into inexplicable frenzy.  The first approach is empowering; the second is enervating.

The tone should not be “give us more money or else.”  It should be, “here’s where we are, here’s why these are the best steps to take, and here’s what we can do to live within the means that the people paying the bills are willing to provide.”

Of course, a calm recitation of reasonable options might lead people to choose them.  Where would that leave the folks with very healthy salaries and unparalleled benefits working for the system?

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Keeping the Productive Class, Not in Government’s Interest

Roger Williams University Professor Thomas Lonardo has picked up a thread of the apocalyptic Rhode Island tapestry that I noted about a decade ago:

However, a major part of the Rhode Island population typically associated with middle- and upper-middle-class taxpayers seems to be ignored, the 35-to-54-year-olds. This group makes up 26.8 percent of the population. Although income class distinctions are a moving target, it is assumed that the middle- and upper-middle-class income range is $75,000-149,999, with 27.4 percent of the households in Rhode Island in this range.

‘The modest overall decline of the Rhode Island population of 1,365 from 2010 to 2013 may not raise concerns. What should be of concern is the decline in the 35-54-year-old population by an astounding 16,567!

This is another way of getting around to describing what I’ve called the productive class.  If I could pick any age range, I’d probably go with something closer to 28-50, but that’s a minor and largely arbitrary distinction.  The point is that this is the age range during which people make something of themselves.  They go from being on the lower rungs to getting near their full potential.  It’s a lot of human initiative, sweat, time, and investment, and as people climb those rungs in large numbers, they bring the economy up with them.

Lonardo sticks to thinking of people in their groups, so I don’t think he quite gets to the heart of why the productive class is important.  It’s not about employers versus employees and everybody fitting in their groups.  As in physics, the real action happens with acceleration.  I think, therefore, there’s a simpler answer to this question:

Why doesn’t retention of this taxpayer class seem to be a primary focus of our elected officials? Maybe because the solutions that make a public opinion impact beyond an election cycle are not worthy of consideration. Possibly because solutions include difficult decisions and bold comprehensive strategies addressing the myriad of troubles facing the state such as: high taxes (including fees and surcharges), substandard roads and bridges, underperforming public schools, etc. 

Fundamentally, the problem is that the government can only help the productive class by relinquishing control and taking care of the basics.  The government would have to get out of the business of telling people what they can do in every minute aspect of their economic lives and start taking care of boring stuff like infrastructure.  

People accomplishing things create a competing source of power and authority to that of government in a way that people who already have a lot of money or who have almost no money at all cannot match.  Indeed, the already-wealthy have incentive to work with government to keep the upstarts out, while the poor represent a client-and-voter base for the government.

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Legitimacy and the Trust Deficit

Scott Rasmussen notes that the American people are losing trust in government for all sorts of (justified) reasons, which erodes the public sense that the government has any real legitimacy as a representative organization:

Until people can trust government, the government cannot enjoy the necessary consent of the governed. That’s true whether the distrust comes from a black teenager in Baltimore or a Tea Party leader in Texas.

For government in America to regain its legitimacy, government officials must change their behavior. People may gain power by winning an election, getting a badge or landing a job with the IRS, but legitimate authority is something that has to be earned every day.

This observation, at the national level, is evidence of my theory that the ills that plague Rhode Island, and similarly governed places, will eventually spread like an infectious disease if they are not cured at their source.  Rhode Islanders have long had a sense that they are locked out of government, that the rule of law does not exist (at least not in a fair, even way), and that things will never change.

There’s a reason people will be surprised if the public doesn’t help fund a second minor-league baseball stadium in the heart of Providence, on land that was promised to be a source of tax revenue and economic development.  This level of distrust is what happens when it’s clear that special interests will manipulate laws, as with the Central Coventry Fire District, in order to ensure that they never lose.

Although not to that level, yet, the “government versus the people” dynamic goes on in every city and town in Rhode Island, every year.  When voters approved, by nearly a two-to-one margin, an alternative budget that I proposed last year in Tiverton, holding the tax levy to a 0.0% increase, elected officials didn’t embark on a year of soul searching to figure out (or even ask) what people want.  They spent the year using their public meetings to attack me as if I somehow fooled the community, and they (apparently) worked in back rooms to come up with threats that might help them turn out the vote.  (This is nothing new.)  Now, we’ve got Town Administrator Matt Wojcik using a public forum (in front of other town employees over whom he has managerial authority) to snarl at me as if I’m a reckless deceiver simply for giving the people an alternative.

I think that’s what Rasmussen means about earning legitimacy every day.  In Rhode Island, and increasingly at the national level, the emphasis is on finding ways to give the people something the insiders say they need, but that they may not want and would not accept if they could actually make representative democracy representative.

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Education Failing the Republic

Richard Dreyfuss’s thoughts on American politics and education are somewhat surprising, coming from an upper-tier Hollywood star:

This is the result of a complete absence of teaching current events in our schools and teaching without context or candor. We have eviscerated our children’s education and unconsciously treat them as people we hate, denying them any excellence or agility of mind.

Western kids are reportedly trying to join ISIS; why? Perhaps because the only spiritual movement being discussed in public, however ugly its ideology, is extremist Islam. Judeo-Christian spirituality seems pallid and disconnected; certainly Americans are no longer learning the secular faith of the Constitution, the musculature of republican democracy, its values of individual worth, its religious tolerance, its embrace of opportunity and merit.

Dreyfuss could have been a little more explicit that such education is the responsibility of all of us, teachers and otherwise.  If we’re not engaged with and vocal about our political and religious beliefs, then even if they’re taught in school, they’ll be abstract, “pallid and disconnected.”

But when it comes to public education, he’s right on, and the problem appears to be by design.  Just look at the perversion of AP U.S. History (appropriately, “APUSH”).  In some ways, this is simply a consummation of the content that academics have been injecting into education for decades.  It’s a deliberate attempt to undermine the political and cultural underpinnings of our country.  At least, it was once considered an “alternative” history, with the standard kind presumed to be still taught in schools.

It’s not just the academics, with their educational theories, either.  There’s a reason teachers’ unions are deeply interwoven with (and significant funders of) progressive causes.  Those causes are their mission, although it’s a case in which form marries function: As a group — that is, as a union collective — public school teachers’ most visible activity is using political activism to redistribute wealth from taxpayers to themselves.

In the vision of civic engagement that (it appears) Dreyfuss and I share, that’s not supposed to be how politics and education work.

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Letting Disadvantaged Communities Improve

A secondary theme from this Kevin Williamson essay relates to something I’ve been hearing on the subject of school choice, lately:

Being poor is a burden; being poor in a poor community is a danger. Poverty — individual poverty or family poverty — is difficult enough to overcome; overcoming it in an environment in which everybody one encounters is in roughly the same situation (or worse) is much more difficult. One of the best ways to increase generational income mobility for children born in places such as the poor sections of Baltimore is — this will not surprise you — to get the hell out of Baltimore, the sooner the better: The income effects of leaving Baltimore are more pronounced the younger the child is when he leaves.

But exit is not really going to be much of a broad solution for places such as Baltimore and Detroit. The white middle class left long ago; less remarked upon was the dramatic exit of the black middle class from those communities. In poor urban communities, as in the Big White Ghetto of Appalachia, most of those with the resources to leave left long ago. Simply abandoning poor cities is not really much of an answer.

I’ve heard a number of comments from people who express skepticism about school choice based on the assumption that it won’t immediately benefit children in the most challenging circumstances.  The child of the drug-abusing single mother won’t be as likely to benefit from school choice as those of his classmates whose parents have their acts together.

A first-order answer is that this isn’t really true.  School choice programs lead public schools to improve.  Some of that’s simply the pressure of competition, but some of it is also the increased ability of the public schools to concentrate on the needs of the students who remain, for whom there will be more money remaining per student.  And then there are organizations, like the San Miguel school and Star Kids, whose mission is to help such children, specifically.

The more-important answer, though, is that the skeptics’ concern ties into the whole welfare-state mentality that, in actuality, preserves a culture of failure.  Looking at the personal stories of Rep. Ray Hull and Gertrude Jones posted on RIFreedom’s school choice page, it’s striking that they both had families that worked hard to do what was right for their children.  They should be models, not opportunities for naysayers to slip in a “yeah, but.”

Public policy should strive to help people who’ll maximize the opportunity that the community is able to offer.  Some of those people will choose, as Williamson suggests, to exit their bad neighborhoods.  Others will stay.  Either way, though, they’ll point the way toward a path that the next family down the line can follow.

Life boats on a sinking ship should be withheld until the people who are farthest away can reach them.  They should load up shipwreck survivors as they arrive.  Disadvantaged communities need opportunity and inspiration more than they need government holding down others in order to enforce a perverted vision of fairness.

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Happening to Follow a Checklist for Fascism

Elizabeth Price Foley highlights something that might have been easy to miss in the drama of recent racial rioting:

Al Sharpton is calling for the creation of a national police force. And it looks like President Obama is considering the option. While the federal government undoubtedly lacks a “police power” and the concomitant authority to create a national police force, it does have a “spending power,” implied from the Constitution’s enumerated power to levy taxes, and the Supreme Court has upheld the imposition of “strings,” or conditions, on the receipt of federal funds.

Sort of like Common Core or the many federal programs that have led states simply to implement federal policy, with some local latitude at the margins, such policies would effectively nationalize police forces that take the deal.

Now, I’m not saying President Obama and the Democrats are deliberately following the textbook steps for taking totalitarian control over a previously democratic country, but these are one set of steps nonetheless:

  1. Stoke divisions along national, class, religious, or racial lines.
  2. Foster an environment in which chaos and violence come to feel endemic.
  3. Propose a nationalized solution that gives control over police forces to a central authority and excuses crackdowns on people’s rights.

Powerline notes that police shootings are actually extremely rare, particularly if narrowed down to those that aren’t clearly justified, and yet, they are dominating the news to the extent that they’re sparking (or providing pretense for) riots.

Really, it’s time to wake up from the hopenchange daydreams.

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Days of Independence and Dependence

On Twitter, Jessica David reminds us that today in 1766 Rhode Island led the nation in declaring independence.  Obviously, independence wasn’t the immediate consequence of that declaration; such things take time.

That makes me wonder.  What would people consider to be the date on which Rhode Island declared its turn away from representative democracy and back toward governance by the powerful? There are a lot of possibilities, and in the absence of an actual declaration, such things are incremental.

A leading contender, I’d think, would have to be the date on which the state officially declared the possibility of public-sector unionization.  Other possibilities, like implementing an income tax, for example, corroded our ability to live independently of the government, but public-sector unionization allowed for an organized force to counter the will of the people.  Worse, that organized force (ultimately funded by the people) is able to organize not only for its side of the negotiating table, but also to affect elections — thereby not only electing the people with whom they’d be negotiating, but also giving them a role in the broader political landscape, affecting every aspect of our lives.

Writing specifically about police unions, Ross Douthat mentions an example in California in which “the correctional officers union first lobbied for a prison-building spree and then, well-entrenched, exercised veto power over criminal justice reform.”  But the public policy problem goes much deeper, with unions able to affect any public policy that might conceivably serve them (from abortion to welfare to war) and also to use their members’ money to advocate for positions that leadership wants for ideological reasons (like same-sex marriage).

I’m open to suggestions, though, that other landmarks might have represented a more significant or fundamental “declaration of dependence.”

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Riots, Regimentation and Rhetoric


I am afraid that the third paragraph from the bottom of Wednesday’s E.J. Dionne column on the riots in Baltimore all-too-accurately reflects the state of elite thinking in America, and not in a good way…

[William Julius Wilson] offered a central truth: “Regular employment provides the anchor for the spatial and temporal aspects of daily life. It determines where you are going to be and when you are going to be there. In the absence of regular employment, life, including family life, becomes less coherent.”

Unfortunately, this kind of thinking, where the idea that people who agree upon some bigger meanings in life can work together to build something is replaced by an idea that people cannot find meaning until they’ve first been regimented, seems to have become the dominant philosophy of a wide swath of a “respectable” political elite who, for various reasons, are unable to articulate anything beyond a few economic platitudes when discussing what a society should aspire to (e.g. “Let’s get Rhode Island back to work“), and who assume everything else takes care of itself, if government can be made to function as the comprehensive human-resources bureaucracy for everyone.

Or am I reading to much into E.J. Dionne seeing something profound in William Julius Wilson’s statement above?

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SCOTUS, SSM, and Baltimore’s Mother of the Year

More people are beginning to wake up to the reality — which, let’s be honest, was always obvious for those willing to look — that same-sex marriage is not some a step toward a libertarian live-and-let-live ideal.  The refrain used to be “how will their marriage affect you.”  That’s now changed to “it’s certainly going to be an issue.”  From the related Supreme Court hearing:

JUSTICE ALITO: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax­ exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­-sex marriage?

GENERAL VERRILLI: You know, I ­­ I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I ­­ I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is ­­ it is going to be an issue.

Colleges.  Private schools.  Other charitable organizations.  Private businesses.  “It’s going to be an issue.”

I grabbed the above transcript from an article by David French, who recently issued a mea culpa for having fallen for the line that SSM “changes nothing.”  (The phrase is from something French wrote in 2004 taking the pro-SSM side.)

Again, this shift in message was always obvious; I’ve been pointing it out for almost fifteen years.  Unfortunately, this particular “it’s going to be an issue” isn’t even the biggest problem.  As I’ve also been saying for almost fifteen years, the most profound consequence of the radical change is that our society will have given up its best tool for enshrining the cultural message that the couples who create children should work together to raise them.

That principle was already under assault, but it will be entirely untenable now.  And anybody who wants an image of what that will mean needs only look to Baltimore, where a lone, apparently single, mother has become something of a sensation — a standout parent — for braving a riot to drag home her teenage son, a full head taller than her, so she could ensure that he wasn’t helping to burn down his own city while risking arrest, injury, or even death.