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“Converting” Our Form of Government

If we want to live under a government with the power to forbid children and their parents from seeing what therapeutic options might be available for unwanted feelings, I guess that’s a conversation that we can have, although I find myself on the side of the ACLU in worrying about giving legislators “wide latitude to ban unpopular medical treatments.”  But if we’re going to have this conversation, we should do so with accurate information about what the bans cover, and Linda Borg’s Providence Journal article on Rhode Island’s new ban of “conversion therapy” fails on that count:

The bill makes it illegal in Rhode Island for licensed health care professionals to advertise or engage in conversion therapy for anyone under 18. It does not affect religious counselors or leaders — or adults who choose such a program.

That “does not affect” sentence is just not correct.  Read this section of the law:

23-94-4. Prohibition on state funding for conversion therapy. No state funds, nor any funds belonging to a municipality, agency, or political subdivision of this state, shall be expended for the purpose of conducting conversion therapy, referring a person for conversion therapy, health benefits coverage for conversation therapy, or a grant or contract with any entity that conducts conversion therapy or refers individuals for conversion therapy.

This is separate from the section that bans “licensed professionals” from offering such therapy to minors, and it goes much farther.  It covers “any entity that conducts… or refers individuals for conversion therapy.”  So, while a licensed professional would only lose his or her Rhode Island license if he or she provides the therapy to minors, that professional would lose access to any state or local funds that somebody might complain subsides the therapy for for adults, as well as any “grant or contract” whatsoever, whether related to conversion therapy or not.

This would apply, as well, to any person, group, or organization that refers an adult to such a therapist.  An aggressive judiciary could find within this language justification for removing tax exemption from any church that even suggests trying therapy to any church member.

This bill is your supposed representatives using your government to tell you what you must believe about the universe and your very self.

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A Fundamental Vision for Society

When it seems that members of our society are actually living in different dimensions, the world seems chaotic, but if we dig into the differences, we’ll often find them clarified.  I’ve been coming to a more-broadly-applicable point of clarity in the campaign for a charter review commission:

Here’s my “vision”: Local government’s role isn’t to plan what everybody can and must do with their property. The diversity of neighborhoods that I love in Tiverton and Rhode Island didn’t happen because people sat around on committees and decided to put this here and that there.   It happened because people made the best decisions for themselves with their own property.

Where there are stores, they grew because customers wanted what was being sold. Where there are activities, they persist because people want to do them. Of course I’d love to see more or less of certain things in town, but my preferences shouldn’t be the law.

As the “Declaration of Independence” puts it, “Governments are Instituted” to “secure” our rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Town government provides guidelines and maintains boundaries so we can work out our differences like neighbors.

Twelve candidates for the Charter Review Commission, including the nine endorsed by the TTA, share this understanding and will review the Charter accordingly.

The other 12 think the role of government is to plan our future. A handful of people on various boards and committees decide what Tiverton should look like and go about making sure that their vision is the one that wins. To them, the Charter’s primary function is to give the boards and committees power over us and to make sure that we can’t easily disrupt their plans.

Do we want a rule book that protects us individually and helps us to resolve our differences with our neighbors, or do we want a contract that locks in somebody else’s vision?  That seems to be the basic question at which political differences arrive, recently, if we strive to break them down enough.

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Local Taxes, All About Perspective

On Tiverton Fact Check, I’ve taken a look at comparative taxes across the state.  Because the local Tiverton Taxpayers Association has been successfully controlling tax increases for the past four years by informing people about our regionally high tax rate, proponents of higher taxes have taken to insisting that we really don’t pay that much.  Why, our tax rate is in the middle of the Rhode Island pack, they say.

That may be true, but it has no context.  This chart shows every Rhode Island municipality’s tax levy per capita, and as you can see, Tiverton is 12th highest.

RI-munis-propertytaxlevypercap-fy17

Above Tiverton, for the most part, are notably wealthy towns and those that are relatively sparse in population.  This is the chart that Tiverton should be in the middle of, and it would require a relatively low tax rate.

Even this, though, concedes too much.  The main difference in perspective is that the taxpayer group takes the point of view of the family and how much it has to pay for an asset.  Progressives and other high-tax constituencies take the approach of asking how much government can get away with taking from those families.  In that regard, all of Rhode Island is way too high.

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Don’t Let the Pubescence Choose Its Name

David Gelernter made an important point — with broader application than his example — in an op-ed this week in the Wall Street Journal (bold emphasis added):

“Resistance” is unacceptable in referring to the Trump opposition because, obviously, it suggests the Resistance—against the Nazis in occupied France. Many young people are too ignorant to recognize the term, but that hardly matters. The press uses it constantly. So when a young innocent finally does encounter the genuine French Resistance, he will think, “Aha, just like the resistance to Trump!” And that’s all the left wants: a mild but continuous cultural breeze murmuring in every American ear that opposing Trump is noble and glorious. Vive la Résistance!

This has been a decades’ long practice.  Very often, in mainstream entertainment, one can guess the bad guy by the degree to which he teaches that those whom the Left dislikes should be distrusted.  In 2015, I wrote about one of the more-striking examples that I’ve come across recently, concerning the movie version of The Maze Runner.  Of the characters, the hero group is thoroughly multicultural while the foolish, cowardly group is all white and male, except for one actor whom the director had kneel out of sight in a group shot as if he’d been assigned to his group by accident.

The movie, in other words, maintains that “mild but continuous cultural breeze” that white men who emphasize rules and/or talk in religious terms are either directly the villains or at least a dangerous influence attempting to restrain advancement toward survival and purpose.

Happily, if we look, we are starting to see signs that artists’ boredom with this cliché is outweighing their ideological preference to perpetuate it.  But our civilization can’t afford to wait for that natural process of artists’ pretensions of counter-culturalism.  We have to be more active in refusing to let the Left define itself and the rest of us.

So, here’s a my offering in the case at hand:

ThePubescence

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Indirect Moral Corruption Driving Catholics Out of the North

Part of the cynical wisdom, up here in the Northeast, is that the Catholic Church has to support pro-immigration policy because it needs immigrants to keep its parishes going.  To the extent that this demographic pressure has any effect on what the Church actually does, a Catholic News Agency article about the Church’s growth in the South should suggest other policy positions that the Northern Church could promote:

The growth in part reflects the number of Catholics moving south from northern dioceses. Though this results in the closures of churches and schools in former Catholic strongholds, it is driving new expansion in the U.S. South.

I’ve half-joked that I’ve remained in Rhode Island out of missionary motivation, and only the jest part is political.  A region that is driving families apart and separating people from their homes presents real moral challenges.  In that regard, the Catholic Church — all churches — should acknowledge what the government plantation policies of Rhode Island are doing and impress upon believers their moral obligation to stay and to change things.

Working against poverty and injustice can’t be limited to standing up for those who are clearly oppressed, or else good works risk falling into vanity.  Vanishingly few people in contemporary America question the righteousness of helping those who immediately need help, but if we’re serious about helping those whom we can’t so easily see, whether because their problems are not so obvious or because their problems haven’t yet manifested, we have to take a broader view.

That means a society that draws people toward fulfilling lives of familial stability and self-motivated work.  And while the constituencies who see a Democrat vote as part of their cultural inheritance won’t like it, the policies on which we’re currently focused are clearly not serving that end.  The moral corruption of the government plantation is that ignoring the structural justice that brings stability and prosperity, but that requires a resilient and sometimes unpopular maturity, produces ample opportunities to display visible righteousness on behalf of those whom our ignorance has harmed.

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Hey, Who Needs a Legislature?

As far as I can tell, the one interesting thing that Rhode Island’s Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo said of interest at her press conference yesterday was that she intends to find the money to fund her “free tuition” policy at CCRI:

Raimondo told a press conference she is not exactly sure where she will find the $2.75 million-plus needed, at minimum, to launch the free-tuition pilot program, but she voiced confidence that she would be able to do so within the $8.9-billion year-old budget cap in which the state is currently operating.

One hopes some lawyer or other on the governor’s staff is aware that money is only part of the question.   Our state’s constitution still vests the General Assembly with the authority to make law, not her, and if nothing else, her campaigning has made clear that this is a new policy.

Governors are not without authority, of course; readers may recall that Lincoln Chafee signed us on to ObamaCare and health benefits exchanges via executive order.  So, Raimondo may be able to get away with this, if only because the politics of actively stopping her would be much stickier than the politics of not creating a new program in the first place.

That said, the rule of law is already a problem in Rhode Island, so causing further damage to it should do the governor political harm, if she goes in that direction.

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Redefining Humanity with No Allowance for Dissent

On National Review Online, Wesley Smith writes about a push in the United Kingdom to publicly fund womb transplants for men who want to become women:

This would be wrong on so many levels, ranging from safety concerns for both patient and potential future baby, the prospect of doctors and hospitals being forced to participate even if it violates their religious or moral beliefs–already beginning to happen–to the question of whether going to such extremes to satisfy individual yearnings constitutes wise and public policy.

But make no mistake: Powerful political and cultural forces will be–are–pushing us hard in this direction.

An advocate for the policy quoted in the Daily Mail “predicts” that this technology will eventually be in demand among not only homosexual men, but also heterosexual men who want to experience childbirth.

Smith focuses on the way in which this episode illustrates the impossibility of ever controlling health care costs, when the incentive for providers and government is constantly to broaden the services for which other people must pay.  I’m not sure, though, that Smith isn’t writing with his tongue in his cheek, because health care costs and the concerns he articulates in the above quotation are among the least of the concerns in the envisioned brave new world.

Go right to the profound:  If this sort of technology advances to perfection, people could install and remove organs as they desire them, which would make us more like organic machines than human beings.

We’re coming to a decision point at which individuals and society will have to decide in a very fundamental way what it means to be human, or even to exist.  It greatly aggravates the dangers of that decision point if we accept a pervasive attitude that everything’s a civil right at public expense and those who disagree must be forced to accept and financially participate radical changes almost from the beginning of their possibility.

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Going from Crime to Illness Means Big Growth for the Government Plantation

Marc Munroe Dion picks up on what I’ve been calling “the government plantation” in his latest “Livin’ and Dion” column about the budget consequence of recasting drug use from a crime to an illness.  Noting that a person who comes across a homeless beggar could feed him or her with a $10 sandwich, but:

If you ran a non-profit agency, you’d need an outreach worker to find the homeless guy, an intake worker to make sure the homeless guy was really hungry, a case manager to find out what kind of sandwich he likes, a nutritional expert to make to make sure he got a healthy sandwich, a coordinator to introduce the outreach worker to the case manager, a facilitator to go into the store and buy the sandwich, and a five-member board of directors to approve the $10 sandwich, which would be referred to in all documents as a “nutritional expenditure for indigent substance abuse-affected client.”

At all times, the homeless guy eating the sandwich would be referred to as a “client.” Total cost of the sandwich? $65,000, not including benefits, and pensions.

Rhode Island’s state government is deliberately working to transform our economy into one built on this very model.  Declare some benefit to be a right, find a way to collect money from the rest of the economy and other states (via the federal government), and fill out a massive bureaucracy with government-satellite non-profit agencies with plenty of well-paying jobs whose holders will tend to support the system politically and to fund the necessary political action through their labor union dues.

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Naturally, the Politicians Use “Good Government” to Lock In Their Own Positions

This legislative session in Rhode Island is turning into a real assault on Rhode Islanders.  Here comes legislation making it more difficult to challenge political incumbents… now amended to avoid any further difficulty for those incumbents:

In the version of the bill passed out of committee, the [ballot] block on candidates with overdue fines remains, but random campaign account audits were replaced by audits on candidates who have failed to file at least two finance reports with the Board of Elections, or those who owe more than $1,000 in fines.

So, they’re still going after the grassroots little guy or gal who gets tripped up in the election regulations, but they’re letting themselves off the hook completely.  They have no right.  As has become increasingly clear, Rhode Island isn’t really a representative democracy.  It’s a kleptocracy.

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Bad Legislation in the Light of Day

If Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) follows through with what he tells Ted Nesi, it will be an unambiguously positive development:

“My policy for as long as I’m speaker is going to be, 9 o’clock unless I can get it done by 10, and no later than 10 o’clock. I’ve heard from a lot of citizens, and the way we used to do business when I first got here – and that’s where I learned, when I first got here – the way they’ve always done it in the past is unacceptable today. The citizens don’t want it. So I’ve committed we’re not going to do it, and we won’t do it.” He added: “And we won’t do it as we finish session, either. It’s more important to me to do business at the right time than it is to get it done in a particular day. I’ll come back in the fall if I have to. I want to do business when our citizens can see what they’re doing and can be part of the process through their TV set or coming down to the State House and watching it, participating, rather than the early morning hours. That’s very, very important to me and that’s going to be a priority, and I’m going to maintain that as long as I’m speaker.”

The all-night, punch-drunk sessions of the General Assembly have been a real problem, not the least as part of the system that keeps Rhode Islanders confused and lets bad policy slip undetected into law.

Reviewing the terrible budget that just passed the House, in light of disastrous labor and regulatory legislation that seems to be coming closer to the finish line than it has in prior years, makes me wonder how much concessions like this are really just an acknowledgement that leaders now have a lock on the legislative game and don’t need the worst of the gimmicks.

It isn’t much of an exaggeration to compare Rhode Island political insiders, in this case, to thieves who are slowly discovering that they can just walk out the door with their booty rather than going through the trouble of sneaking.

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Budget Season: Opportunity for Articulating a Vision for Rhode Island

Every year, this time of year, the budget for the State of Rhode Island comes out and, accompanied with surrounding legislation (much of it premised, one can infer, on quid pro quo for budget votes) shows the vision of the insiders who run our state.  Every year, life in Rhode Island becomes more restrictive, business becomes harder, government budgets go up.

Earlier in this legislative season, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity put out a pair of “Hey, Dude!” radio ads illustrating the point from the perspective of somebody who wants more freebies and somebody who sees the opportunities inherent in a society out from under government’s thumb.

For a little fun, here’s a pair that I’ve put together.

Open post for audio.

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An Escalation of Violence

Many of us on the right have had the general sense that progressives have turned the violence meter up a bit in the past year or two, but the list of incidents that Dave Brooks and Benjamin Decatur compiled for the Daily Caller is still disconcerting — not the least because it is clearly an incomplete first pass:

In creating the list, TheDCNF reviewed numerous articles detailing attacks and violent threats against conservatives and Trump supporters. While there are examples of anonymous threats, TheDCNF chose to include only those that resulted in the cancelling of events and two to members of Congress deemed credible. Some instances of violence between rival protestors were not included as it was difficult to ascertain who initiated the event.

I’d be willing to entertain the notion that there is a comparable list for the other side, consisting of stories that haven’t been as well covered within my ordinary media diet, but just as my sense is that this one seems incomplete, I’d expect a comparable mirror-image list to be shorter and to smuggle in items of arguable relevance.

Whatever the case, let’s hope recent events lead those shocked by President Trump’s election to engage in some lasting self-reflection, rather than a brief pause in the overheated rhetoric.  Inasmuch as the Left’s rage at seeing its political power slip will continue, I expect we’ll see only a limited calming for a few news cycles.

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Charity, Corruption, and Government

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking, recently, about the moral calculations around government’s involvement in charity, whether through welfare programs or grants to private charitable organizations.

My view is that charity isn’t government’s business.  When a person gives of his or her own wealth for charitable reasons, he or she has made a moral decision, and the recipient has some degree of accountability to the giver and an imperative to try to become a giver rather than a recipient.  When government agents give, it is of other people’s wealth, meaning that it is a confiscation, which creates moral complications for those directing the funds, and it creates a sense of entitlement and dependency in the recipient.

That said, I think other arguments can be made for some government expenditures other than the charitable, and moreover, I wouldn’t find it specious for somebody to make an argument for a “good society’s” use of government for charity.  I don’t think I’d find such an argument persuasive, but it can be made sincerely.

In response, I might offer something like Pope Francis’s thoughts on corruption:

Corruption, Francis wrote, in its Italian etymological root, means “a tear, break, decomposition, and disintegration.”

The life of a human being can be understood in the context of his many relationships: with God, with his neighbor, with creation, the Pope said.

“This threefold relationship – in which man’s self-reflection also falls – gives context and sense to his actions and, in general, to his life,” but these are destroyed by corruption.

Nobody can doubt that empowering people to take money from one group to give it to another creates the potential for corruption, not the least in that it interferes with appropriate relationships to each other and God.  In this context, when the pope writes that “we must all work together, Christians, non-Christians, people of all faiths and non-believers, to combat this form of blasphemy, this cancer that weighs our lives,” one could see it in part as an exhortation toward personal charity.  The more need we can relieve through voluntary action, the less pressure there will be for the corruption of charity through government.

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The Transformation of Vermont

Take it as a warning or as an illustration of opportunity, but Rick Holmes’s history, in the Fall River Herald, of Vermont’s political transformation is a worthwhile read.

Basically, the interstate highway system brought “flatlanders” to the state for foliage viewing, skiing, and indulgence in a hippy aesthetic.  By the time the indigenous conservatives tried to push back, it was too late:

“The hippies won,” says John Gregg, a Vermont journalist whose office is a short walk from the Connecticut River. In a small enough place, the influx of new citizens, even in modest numbers, can change a state’s political trajectory.

Rhode Island is different, of course.  Our population is a bit bigger, and the particular flavor of progressivism isn’t hippy socialism as much as insider socialism.  An historically different flavor of immigration brought with it a little more cultural conservatism and a little bit less libertarianism.  Moreover, the “influx of new citizens” affecting Rhode Island isn’t the migration of relatively privileged progressives, but rather the deliberately lured clients for the company state/government plantation.

These differences bring with them unique challenges, but in both places it’s too late for an ordinary political campaign to change things.  Instead, we have to change the local culture, which is no easy task when the people who see the right way forward tend just to leave.

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Patinkin Acknowledges the Problem

As I find myself awash in budget and employment numbers, a quick midday post can be well utilized to offer kudos to Providence Journal Mark Patinkin for exhorting his fellow leftists to reevaluate their rhetoric in the wake of the GOP-baseball shooting:

The left has long charged that such reckless words by Trump add to a toxic political culture.

What they seldom acknowledge is that the Democratic leadership has been no better.

A basket of deplorables, Hillary called Trump supporters, and went on to label them this way: “Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”

It’s no stretch to say such seeds can help make a twisted mind feel justified in going after Republicans with a gun. …

Now that Trump’s president, I’ve also noticed how the left doesn’t just call his policies wrong-headed — they catastrophize them.

His health-care plan? People will die. Environmental and social-policy cutbacks? Those will kill people, too. And the cries for impeachment have been constant — not just from lefty nuts, but the nightly talking heads on MSNBC.

In discussion, I’d offer some tweaks.  It’s certainly conspicuous, for example, that Patinkin doesn’t call out Rhode Island’s own vitriolic Congressional delegates.

I’m also mystified as to how it could possibly have taken until this shooting for Patinkin to realize that the Left has “violent zealots.”  Umm… the Weather Underground?  Eco-terrorists?  Among the recent campus attacks on conservatives (which he mentions broadly) was an ethics professor who hit three Trump supporters in the head with a bicycle lock.

From where I sit, this week’s shooting shouldn’t be a revelation of left-wing violence, because it’s the predictable escalation of longstanding tendencies among people who share the progressive political ideology in response to political weakness.  This isn’t just observation, but reason.  Progressives deify government as the bringer of “progress” and “social justice,” which means conservatives are actively preventing the world from harmonizing.

These points aside, Patinkin is going farther in acknowledging the current reality than anybody else I’ve seen on Rhode Island’s left or in its mainstream, and that’s to be applauded.

(By the way, MSNBC talking heads are clearly lefty nuts.)

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In Large Part, the Deep State Self Dug

Glenn Reynolds’s weekly USA Today column for this week is worth some consideration:

[Columbia Law Professor Philip] Hamburger explains that the prerogative powers once exercised by English kings, until they were circumscribed after a resulting civil war, have now been reinvented and lodged in administrative agencies, even though the United States Constitution was drafted specifically to prevent just such abuses. But today, the laws that actually affect people and businesses are seldom written by Congress; instead they are created by administrative agencies through a process of “informal rulemaking,” a process whose chief virtue is that it’s easy for the rulers to engage in, and hard for the ruled to observe or influence. Non-judicial administrative courts decide cases, and impose penalties, without a jury or an actual judge. And the protections in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (like the requirement for a judge-issued search warrant before a search) are often inapplicable.

At some point, “consent of the governed” becomes more like a veneer that gives the governing class license to do whatever they want. L’état c’est nous.

Combine this Deep State with the budding feudalism in California, as described by Joel Kotkin:

Unlike its failed predecessor, this new, greener socialism seeks not to weaken, but rather to preserve, the emerging class structure. Brown and his acolytes have slowed upward mobility by environment restrictions that have cramped home production of all kinds, particularly the building of moderate-cost single-family homes on the periphery. All of this, at a time when millennials nationwide, contrary to the assertion of Brown’s “smart growth” allies, are beginning to buy cars, homes and move to the suburbs.

People whose policy preferences conveniently protect their own wealth seek to use government set basic policy preferences that are conveniently in line with bureaucrats who seek to protect their power.  One way or another, this alliance will be broken; the question is whether it happens through reform or revolution.

Think carefully, progressives — and even more-reasonable liberals.  As much as you hate him (perhaps because of how much you hate him), President Trump may be your last chance to allow the reform path.

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