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A Novel Idea on Transportation Budgeting

This is the eye-catching line from Jenifer McDermott’s Providence Journal story on transportation funding:

“We need to take a comprehensive look at solutions, everything from public-private partnerships to tolling,” she said. “We also need to ensure that we are delivering highway and transit projects quickly and cost-effectively, so that we get the maximum benefit from the federal funding provided.

Here’s a simple idea that one never hears the politicians suggest or the news reporters ask about:  Put all expenditures on a prioritized list, start funding everything at the top of the list, and stop when the money runs out.

That sort of approach is off the table, though, because the list that the public would want to see wouldn’t at all resemble the list that politicians want to be reality.  The former would start out something like this:

  1. Safety
  2. Law enforcement
  3. Transportation

And the latter would look more like this:

  1. Handouts to political friends
  2. Vote-buying schemes
  3. Personal pet projects

Learning from the HealthSource Experience

This is a predictable result of letting government run businesses:

The most common complaint into the Call 12 for Action Center over the past three months has been problems with HealthSource RI – so Consumer Reporter Susan Hogan went straight to the source to try to get some answers.

Customers are getting angry with the state-run Obamacare marketplace, saying critical health decisions are being put on hold because they can’t get a straight answer.

It’s bad enough that the government spent nine figures (that means over $100 million) putting together an organization and Web site expecting to have to handle several times more customers and is still having trouble managing the fraction that it actually has.  The real travesty, however, is that anybody with authority thought it would be a good idea to begin with.

Lest we forget, the Affordable Care Act (ACA; ObamaCare) was pushed through  by President Obama and Congressional Democrats on a party-line vote on Christmas Eve using procedural gimmicks and without having been vetted by the legislators, let alone the public.  In Rhode Island, the exchange came into being not as legislation, by an executive order from ideological governor Lincoln Chafee, and without significant public debate, and the accompanying expansion of Medicaid, which is now a major budgetary problem for the state, was pretty much a bureaucratic decision without the visible input of elected officials, at all.

Read Hogan’s article.  These aren’t insurmountable business problems, but it isn’t clear how well government agents can or will surmount them.  In a private business setting, a company that was having such problems after a year of operation despite having many fewer customers than projected would have to fix them pronto or go out of business, but for HealthSource to go out of business it takes major political battles, legislation, and horse trades for other legislation and other political incentives that have nothing whatsoever to do with healthcare.

And HealthSource represents a relatively mild leap into lunacy compared with legislation that some elected officials would like to pass.  Take H5387, for example, with lead sponsors Aaron Regunberg (D, Providence), Teresa Tanzi (D, Narragansett and South Kingstown), Arthur Handy (D, Cranston), Shelby Maldonado (D, Central Falls), and Gregg Amore (D, East Providence).

The legislation would create a new agency that would automatically register Rhode Islanders in government healthcare and collect premiums from them, while forbidding private insurers from offering competing products and setting prices for all doctors and other healthcare providers.  Picture a mandatory HealthSource that wouldn’t even have to risk going back to elected officials to raise money, if it were failing.

If a bill like that were to pass, it would be devastating for the people of the state, and it’s an indication of just how dangerous it is to elect such people to office.

Health care exists in a supposedly ‘free’ market where government sets the prices

The other day, my Medicare-eligible father took the position in a discussion between us that centrally managed health care was superior to free-market health care. He cited the state of American health care as his proof.

His proclamation of evidence is nothing if not debatable (see here and here, for example), but even to acknowledge that much goes too far.  The debate starts from a false premise.

Continue reading on WatchDog.org.

Pensions Lesson in Government’s Incentive to Spin

If more citizens–in towns, cities, and states–understood the calculations and rhetoric of the pension systems dependent on their taxes, they’d be kicking out incumbents at the nearest opportunity.

When then-General Treasurer, and now Governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, embarked on her “Truth in Numbers” campaign, enough people understood the problem to help her push through a reform of the state’s pension system, for which she received national recognition.  But not enough people had learned the lesson of skepticism, and thusly believed her when she announced the problem had been solved.

Complexity is only one side of the wooden nickel that ought to make Americans wary of allowing government to grow beyond some basic responsibilities.  The other side is incentives.

Continue reading on Watchdog.org (and feel free to leave comments over there, too)…

The Real Estate Fruits of Progressive Governance

This is one predictable result when progressives capture both state and federal governments:

The median house price in Rhode Island for 2014 as a whole was $215,000, the highest in six years, yet the number of sales was nearly unchanged — up only 0.25 percent compared with 2013, according to statistics from the state Realtors’ association. 

For Rhode Island’s luxury market, however, 2014 was a very good year. For homes priced at $2 million or above, sales volume was up by more than 20 percent, according to John Hodnett, principal broker/owner of Lila Delman Real Estate. This small segment of the market is largely fueled by buyers from out of state.

The policies pursued by the likes of Barack Obama and Lincoln Chafee — whether regulatory, fiscal, monetary, or social — although sold as helping “the working people” wind up helping the very rich (sometimes making a whole new sort of person very rich).  It’s an obvious consequence of the incentives and restrictions that they impose on the economy, so it seems likely to be deliberate… for any of them who aren’t intoxicated on the rhetoric that they peddle or of, let’s say, insufficient intellectual capacity.

Note, for emphasis, this line farther down the article:

“As property values build, it’s getting better,” McCarthy said. But another problem holding back the Rhode Island market “is the tax structure [high property and income taxes],” he added. “That’s the killer.”

History May Not Repeat, but It Sure Does Echo

Continuing my quest to work through all of the books that I’ve inherited and should have read already, I’m now enjoying Tacitus’s complete works.  This is from Book I of The Annals:

When after the destruction of Brutus and Cassius there was no longer any army of the Commonwealth, when Pompeius was crushed in Sicily, and when, with Lepidus pushed aside and Antonius slain, even the Julian faction had only Cæsar left to lead it, then, dropping the title of triumvir, and giving out that he was a Consul, and was satisfied with a tribune’s authority for the protection of the people, Augustus won over the soldiers with gifts, the populace with cheap corn, and all men with the sweets of repose, and so grew greater by degrees, while he concentrated in himself the functions of the Senate, the magistrates, and the laws.  He was wholly unopposed, for the boldest spirits had fallen in battle, or in the proscription, while the remaining nobles, the readier they were to be slaves, were raised the higher by wealth and promotion, so that, aggrandised by revolution, they preferred the safety of the present to the dangerous past.  Nor did the provinces dislike that condition of affairs, for they distrusted the government of the Senate and the people, because of the rivalries between the leading men and the rapacity of the officials, while the protection of the laws was unavailing, as they were continually deranged by violence, intrigue, and finally by corruption. …

… At home all was tranquil, and there were magistrates with the same titles; there was a younger generation, sprung up since the victory of Actium, and even many of the older men had been born during the civil wars.  How few were left who had seen the republic!

Thus the State had been revolutionised, and there was not a vestige left of the old sound morality. Stript of equality, all looked up to the commands of a sovereign without the least apprehension for the present, while Augustus in the vigour of life, could maintain his own position, that of his house, and the general tranquillity.

The Surveillance State Is Creepy

Whether Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was being fair (or how unfair he was being) to Mormons in his first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, I don’t know.  The story did, however, reinforce a cultural aversion to being spied upon by authorities, and we could definitely use a bit more reinforcement of that suspicion.

Doyle’s claim is that early-Utah-settlement Mormons had a sort of secret police to enforce adherence to the faith, and its reach extended well beyond just Salt Lake City.  From the point of view of one convert to the faith (who converted rather than be left to die in the desert), the knowledge of this mysterious group was somewhat creepy, but livable… until he ran afoul of the Elders.  His adopted daughter wanted to marry a man outside of the faith, and the preferred options of the authorities were not tolerable.  Flight and murder followed.

And so it is throughout history.  As long as the civic structure allows people a certain degree of comfort, and as long as the rules that put one at risk of being a target are clear, many people will simply accept that those with power take liberties against their freedom.  The rules have a way of expanding, though, so it’s important for a free society to have a deep distrust of the mechanisms that can close in when they do.

When we learn that government agencies are developing extensive real-time road surveillance tools, it ought to worry us.  (License plate tracking technology is one of the regular bills hiding in the mass of the General Assembly’s legislation, as if awaiting a moment to slip into law.)  Sure, most of the uses of the system might seem unobjectionable, at first (although I find it abhorrent that the system was build for government property grabs):

The primary goal of the license-plate tracking program, run by the Drug Enforcement Administration, is to seize cars, cash and other assets to combat drug trafficking, according to one government document. But the database’s use has expanded to hunt for vehicles associated with numerous other potential crimes, from kidnappings to killings to rape suspects, say people familiar with the matter.

Increasing revelations about false accusations of rape give a direct example of how the dragnet can thicken, but the concern is not necessarily direct.  We can be certain that, over time, the list of items for which the system is used will expand, making it less and less possible for us all blithely to assume that we will never run afoul of the authorities.

Freedom’s Thinking Machine, Versus an Ignorant Elite

Of the various commentaries I’ve seen, Kevin Williamson wrings the most truth out of the embarrassing display of a debacle that is Davos:

Conservatives are generally inclined to make a moral case for limited government: that transfers are corrupting, that taxes should be collected only to the extent that they are essential, that regulation is a necessary evil and that as such it should be kept to a minimum. That is generally true and persuasive, but the more important argument is the problem of ignorance. Even if Congress were populated exclusively by saintly super-geniuses, there is only so much that 535 human beings can know and understand. The more that decision-making is centralized in political agencies, or even in elites outside of formal government, the more intensively those decisions will be distorted by ignorance. This is true of market-oriented institutions, too, in the sense that big businesses make big mistakes. One of the lessons of the 2007 financial crisis is that the guys who run the banks do not actually know that much about how banks work, even if they know 100 times what the banking regulators know. Free markets offer a critical, if imperfect and partial, corrective to that in the form of financial losses and business failures, which is why things like cars and computers consistently improve while schools and welfare programs don’t. Big markets with lots of competing buyers and sellers are the biggest thinking machines we have, offering the broadest epistemic horizon that our species has figured out how to achieve.

The part about “elites outside of formal government” has been edging its way into my consciousness, lately, for Rhode Island issues.  Among a few of us, it’s almost become a game to spot the Brown graduates in government and its satellites.  From a certain point of view, the audacity of Governor Gina Raimondo hasn’t been so much that she’s looked out of state to hire, but that she’s upped the number of framed Yale certificates on the walls of state offices.

The whole distorted mess of Rhode Island governance is beginning to be revealed as something cooked up (by hired help) at a casual-attire intercollegiate social among people who are about as ideologically diverse as the Amish.  Politicians and bureaucrats in state government make the pronouncements, which are explained and supported in the best of lights for the slightly-less-insider readership of the Providence Journal and other news media, with all of the gears greased with Rhode Island Foundation money.  I’m simplifying for effect, of course, but not by as much as it may seem.

The bottom line is that Rhode Island won’t escape its rut until it’s possible for people who didn’t make it to the social (and people who wouldn’t have gone, even if invited) to win policy battles every now and then.

Why Do Planners Plan?

Commenting on a recent post on this site, “Mangeek” expresses the socialist planners’ rationalization for undermining democracy:

Politicians generally prefer votes over growth, because votes are useful right away, whereas decisions to maximize growth often take longer to materialize; sometimes longer than an election cycle.

“How… do we suddenly get “good planning”?”

By insulating the planners from the voters and politicians, and recruiting/retaining good ones? I guess I’m a bit of a technocrat. If things like RhodeMap, Obamacare, and the EDC are properly done, they’ll have better outcomes than the hyperlocal model Justin seems to champion, because they’ll be backed by research and statistics instead of popular opinion and votes.

As I commented briefly in reply, just one more step in reasoning and a little more historical knowledge would bring this faith in government crashing down.  Stalin, for example, was a master planner insulated from voters and politicians.  How’d that work out?

Even if you think it’s too much of a leap from Rhode Island’s Kevin Flynn to Stalin, it raises the question:  Once we’ve “insulated” the planners from public accountability, what do we do if we happen — by some horrible twist of bad luck — to have bad (even wicked, self-interested) planners in place?

The disconnect may be the incorrect sense that mere planning is a benign, passive, objective activity.  That’s the substance of Mangeek’s subsequent reply, in which he supposes that only the state government has the resources to pay people to do the research, so planners should be insulated to do that, but local governments should be free to ignore the plans.

That misconception, too, would fall quickly upon scrutiny.  First of all, local volunteers appointed to planning boards do plenty of research, and political opponents do more, between which the public must judge.

More importantly, what’s the point of insulated planners if their suggestions have to be ratified by the popular will anyway?  No, if we’re going to create a technocratic class of planners, then it must be assumed that their “good plans” will be implemented.  That’s why RhodeMap RI includes plans on how to get communities to adopt the plan. 

As Glenn Reynolds summarizes, while posting an excerpt from an essay by Alicia Kurimska, “urban planning is about control.”  As Kurimska argues, Soviet planning designed communities in a manner intended to force people to structure their lives as the planners wanted… with the values that the planners demanded.

Reynolds follows the excerpt with this: “The planners promise more than they can deliver, time after time. And someone else pays the price, time after time.”

We must stop accepting the pretensions of the planners simply because they claim to have expertise and good intentions.

Raimondo and the I-195 Land, Farther Into the Hole

In his Sunday column in the Providence Journal, John Kostrzewa gave voice to this local bit of common wisdom cum mythology about Gina Raimondo that probably isn’t going to die any time soon:

They are right-of-center Democrats with conservative leanings in their philosophy of government who understand that business, and private investment, drive the economy.

The other half of the “they” is RI House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston).  While the jury’s still out on his political philosophy, only a mainstream journalist could think that sentence can be written about Raimondo as if it needs no evidentiary support.  She let us know it wasn’t true when she accepted an award for pension reform from the Manhattan Institute and told an anecdote about a fellow church-goer thanking her for bolstering Rhode Island’s faith in… government.  And she let it be known when she launched her campaign proclaiming the need for “a bold progressive agenda designed to jump start Rhode Island’s economy.”  And she’s letting it be known in some of her early actions as governor, for instance:

Raimondo wants government leaders to decide how the land should best be used. She calls it a “game-changer opportunity,” in agreement with past city and state leaders who have said the land is one of the state’s best assets for improving its stalled economy. She has said she doesn’t want to rely on the current approach to let the free market decide what gets built on 19 developable acres. …

She said she’d consider giving away the land, which the commission is now charged with selling.

Only a progressive could believe that organizations (like Stanford University, which she’s apparently already contacted) that are able, but not willing, to purchase land would make the most productive use of it.

Believe whatever you want about progressivism, but by definition it isn’t a “philosophy of government” that indicates “conservative leanings.”  It’s indicative of Rhode Island’s deep, deep problems that a prominent business writer would either ignore all evidence (and Raimondo’s own statements about herself) in order to maintain his own premature judgment of her nature or, worse, actually believe that anybody who concludes that government can’t always pile more money into its problems without changing direction must be “right-of-center.”

Boston Traffic Shutdown and Dumb Protesters

Well, this must be a lovely way for hard-working people to start their frigid Thursday:

Protesters have shut down Route 93 north and south heading into Boston, during the Thursday morning rush hour, according to the Massachusetts State Police. …

The state police tweeted, “The I 93 protesters have attached themselves to 1200 lb barrels. Officials working to clear roadways. Avoid area seek alt route.”

The Left isn’t known for its economic sense or compassion for other people (meaning real people, as opposed to abstract characters that they create in their minds).  Blocking traffic to a major city during rush hour is hugely disruptive to a great many lives, and somewhere in the chain reaction that this wrench sets off in the economy, somebody will suffer because of it.

If they’re even this aware, the protesters probably comfort themselves by thinking that it’ll be the fat cats who bear the brunt of the disruption.  That isn’t likely, and given their ideology, even progressives ought to be able to understand how consequences roll downhill.

Somewhere in the scheme of things, there are struggling families who will have to struggle even more because of these idiots’ self righteousness.  Unfortunately, they’ll probably never know whom to blame.

The Scandinavian Bowl of Mush

Tired of having to say things like, “Socialism only works in a homogeneous society, and besides, look at the immigration problem,” when liberals trumpet the Scandinavian countries as a model for human society?  Kyle Smith has an antidote for the belief that all is well in Europe’s northern regions.

Danish happiness?  A modern exercise in gaming surveys.  Universal healthcare?  Make an appointment to have an obstruction removed from a child’s eye.  And why does Finland lead the continent in murder and suicide?

Read the whole thing, but the ending is too profound not to quote:

… The dead-on satire of Scandinavian mores “Together” is a 2000 movie by Sweden’s Lukas Moodysson set in a multi-family commune in 1975, when the groovy Social Democratic ideal was utterly unquestioned in Sweden.

In the film’s signature scene, a sensitive-apron wearing man tells his niece and nephew as he is making breakfast, “You could say that we are like porridge. First we’re like small oat flakes — small, dry, fragile, alone. But then we’re cooked with the other oat flakes and become soft. We join so that one flake can’t be told apart from another. We’re almost dissolved. Together we become a big porridge that’s warm, tasty, and nutritious and yes, quite beautiful, too. So we are no longer small and isolated but we have become warm, soft and joined together. Part of something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes life feels like an enormous porridge, don’t you think?”

Then he spoons a great glutinous glob of tasteless starch unto the poor kids’ plates. That’s Scandinavia for you, folks: Bland, wholesome, individual-erasing mush. But, hey, at least we’re all united in being slowly digested by the system.

(Via Instapundit.)

The Bookends of RI’s Library of Decline

A pair of articles in yesterday’s Providence Journal give an excellent indication of why Rhode Island is the way it is.  The first is about the receiver’s plan for firefighters’ new employment deal with the Central Coventry Fire District.  The details of the plan are definitely interesting, but the key part, in my view, comes at the end:

The union will contest the new terms in bankruptcy court.

“We’ll out-lawyer them and outspend them and out-fight them,” Gorman said.

Think of the structural conditions — political and legal — that underlie that threat.  A financially struggling fire district must balance legal fees against the employment packages that the union is protecting.  Meanwhile, the union is fighting with money absorbed, at the point of the taxman’s gun, from local residents.  Can we agree that the union’s ability to “outspend” the employer (if true) is a pretty good indication that maybe the union has gone a bit beyond fixing a supposed imbalance between employer and employee?

The second article is about some hires by the new general treasurer of Rhode Island, Seth Magaziner:

Treasurer-elect Seth Magaziner has announced another round of staff picks, including Tom Sgouros as his senior policy adviser.

Sgouros, who waged a short-lived 2010 campaign for treasurer, describes himself as an engineer at Brown University and a freelance writer and public policy consultant who has consulted in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, California and Vermont “on public finance, banking, tax policy, and sustainable economic development.”

Reporter Kathy Gregg leaves out the important background that Sgouros is one of the central spokesmen for Rhode Island’s far-left progressives.  (For fun, rewrite Gregg’s second sentence as it would appear if some conservative treasurer had appointed me as senior policy adviser.”)

In fact, we’re watching a whole generation of far-left progressives work their way into state government positions.  In 2013, then-Governor Chafee hired progressive activist Kate Brock, for example, and  even the supposedly conservative Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) hired RIFuture founder Matt Jerzyk to his legal staff.  That hiring produced this statement, which can’t help but resonate oddly for long-time followers of Rhode Island’s Left and Right:

“Matt’s experience in city and state government will be a valuable addition as we continue to focus on growing the economy and creating jobs,” Mattiello said in a statement.

How exactly are our leading elected officials planning to “grow the economy and create jobs” with staffs full of progressives?  Whatever the answer to that question might be, the two articles from yesterday’s paper  illustrate the left-right punches by which progressives implement policies and insiders, like public-sector labor unions, benefit from the unfair rules of the game.

The next round of RI’s political history has only just dawned, but it’s a safe bet that we’re entering four more years of what the last four brought, more or less.

Blue Politicians or Men in Blue, the Conservative’s Conundrum

Ben Domenech takes up the conservative’s difficulty in choosing sides in the battle of Mayor Bill de Blasio versus the New York Police Department in “The NYPD’s Revolt Is a Direct Threat to Democracy.”  The problem , and the conundrum, is that neither side of the fight is not a direct threat to democracy.

Ultimately, the officers’ activities as the rank and file law enforcement — turning their backs on the mayor, flying subversive messages around the city, and, now, appearing not to enforce the law to the best of their ability — are the fault of progressive governance. Like other progressives, the mayor does not know what to do when his assumptions are revealed as fantasies and members of his pro-government coalition prove that they believe more in their own interests than in the idea of government, which he (as a progressive) likely believes himself to embody.

But the problem is bigger than that. We currently have a progressive president stretching his ability to use discretion in enforcement of the law beyond all pretense of coherence in order to implement new policy that has explicitly not been enacted by the people’s representatives. (Immigration is the highest-profile example, but there are others.)  The police and their union can’t help but see that as another variation of what they’re doing, endorsed by the top government executive (and Democrat and progressive) in the country.

We aren’t a military junta, but we aren’t an aristocracy either. Why should the president not have to follow the rules, but rank and file officers (with their lives on the line) have to? Why should the mayor be able to undermine his police force, but they must put on a show of respect?  Because the president and the mayor are the political bosses? Sorry, the United States isn’t supposed to work that way.

So, yeah, there is no righteous side in this battle, but we can still conclude that the villain is progressive governance and its tendency toward merely contingent acceptance of the rules. After all, the police shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing, but then, the mayor shouldn’t be allowing them to do what they’re doing. His failure in this is not just a consequence of the demonstrated fact that he’s a weak leader, but also because the political philosophy by which he governs can’t address this situation effectively.

That means that the fix is to illustrate the point and pull back from the progressive course.

Whether meeting that end means siding with the hapless progressive who’s failing to govern the Big Apple or the officers who are setting a dangerous precedent in failing to follow the rules, I guess that’s for the individual to decide. For my part, if we’re to live in a society without the rule of law, I’m inclined to side with the police, mostly because I think they’ll be more likely to accept the re-imposition of the rule of law than the progressives when we finally get to rebuilding.

HealthSource, RhodeMap, and the Way Government Plans

You may have seen Ian Donnis’s report that Governor-elect Gina Raimondo intends to replace Christine Ferguson as the head of HealthSource RI, Rhode Island’s ObamaCare health benefits exchange:

The leading candidate to replace Ferguson is Anya Rader Wallack, the president of Arrowhead Health Analytics in Fall River, Massachusetts, and a former policy director and deputy chief of staff for former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Rader Wallack declined comment when contacted by RIPR.

Ms. Rader Wallack may now have the dubious distinction of making an embarrassingly telling comment even before she’s taken office in Rhode Island.  Avik Roy quotes her in Forbes, in an article about the (inevitable) collapse of Vermont progressives’ single-payer-healthcare fantasy:

If there’s one quote that sums up the whole episode, it’s the one from Anya Rader-Wallack, declaring that “we can move full speed ahead…without knowing where the money’s coming from.” Green Mountain Care attempted to offer Vermonters more generous coverage than they currently had, but couldn’t figure out how to convince doctors and hospitals to accept pay cuts, nor workers to accept tax hikes.

That quote sums up HealthSource RI’s story pretty well, too.  As reported on the Current, Ferguson chose not to follow through with a more-detailed projection of its likely effects on the local healthcare market, and the consequences for HealthSource and the state budget could be devastating.

But this is how an organization (in this case, government) plans when everybody making decisions profits simply by being active and bears no real personal risk for failure.  It’s also how people plan when they feel like they can always take other people’s money and pass laws to force people to behave as the plans require.  We see this with RhodeMap RI, too, especially with its Growth Center plans, which have explicitly drawn purposes for land that the government does not own (and whose owners have not been consulted).

The plan for Middletown, for example, makes the particularly chilling suggestion that government operatives should include private commercial property in its planning “because properties on that side of the road may redevelop before the town-owned property does,” and the government needs to “send a message about the desired character of future development.”

Ultimately, that may be the secret to the illusion that we can simply assign ever-greater responsibility in our society to government, and the really smart people who take government jobs will simply figure out the best way to accomplish their goals.  Like novelists, they plan out a plausible reality, and where they write themselves into a corner, they assume that some literary device, some mix of regulatory demands and money confiscation, will solve the problem.

When the author’s power is infinite and the consequences for failure are borne by others, there really isn’t a reason to find evidence that a scheme will actually work.  Full speed ahead!… until the crash, followed by a new six-figure job in another state.

Truth and Perspective

I haven’t the time or spare mental space to dig through to a conclusion, here, but I’ve felt vaguely like pointing to two items in my daily reading, and it just occurred to me that they’re thematically related.

The first is a review by Father Robert Barron of “Stephen Hawking’s God-Haunted Movie.”  Hawkings, you likely know, is a bit of a poster child for modern science, as well as modern atheism.  Writes Barron:

Two suppositions were required for the sciences to flourish, and they are both theological in nature, namely, that the world is not divine and that nature is marked, through and through, by intelligibility. As long as the natural world is worshipped as sacred-as it was in many ancient cultures — it cannot become the subject of analysis, investigation, and experimentation. And unless one has confidence that the world one seeks to analyze and investigate has an intelligible structure, one will never bother with the exercise. Now both of these convictions are corollaries of the more fundamental doctrine of creation. If the world has been created by God, then it is not divine, but it is indeed marked, in every nook and cranny, by the intelligence of the Creator who made it.

What comes first to mind is how modern progressives pervert both of these “suppositions” in a way that makes them feel as if they are “on the side of science” while belittling science to its political utility.  In their way, for one, environmentalists have, indeed, made the natural world into a sacred place.  In a sense, with the elimination of the divine altogether, they’ve re-elevated the natural world to the highest position.

And from the promoters of identity politics, we get the notion that there is no right answer to reality.  How you feel about the world is how the world is.

That brings us to the second item, Tom Maguire’s take-down of Charles Blow (via Instapundit). It turns out that First Lady Michelle Obama once told an anecdote about a short woman’s asking her to get something from a high shelf in a Target store, not realizing who she was.  “It felt so good,” said Michelle.

But now that we’re in the world of “hands up, don’t shoot,” Mrs. Obama appears to be repurposing the anecdote as one of racial prejudice.  Apparently ignorant of her prior use of the story, Blow takes up the feeling:

But that is, in part, what racial discussions come down to: feelings. These feelings are, of course, informed by facts, experiences, conditioning and culture, but the feelings are what linger, questions of motive and malice hanging in the air like the stench of rotting meat, knotting the stomach and chilling the skin.

One can easily imagine Blow next arguing that it doesn’t matter whether Michelle changed her story, because, having reconsidered it, her feelings have changed.

To Father Barron’s point, science could never survive in a world in which there is only chaos.  When personal feelings can change facts and bring into being unprovable theories about how the world operates, there is only superstition.

HUD-In-The-News Confirms Critics of Both RhodeMap RI and Today’s PolitiFact RI Rating

… the subject of a column that I just posted to R.I. Taxpayer’s website. Here are the first couple of paragraphs.

A browse through HUD-in-the-news items turns up some interesting and instructive items. First of all, there are several instances of HUD cracking down on municipalities or other public authorities who have taken HUD money but failed to comply with the requirements that accompanied it. Certainly, on the one hand, this is as it should be. Government dollars must be spent as stipulated. On the other, it belies the assurances of advocates of RhodeMap RI that there is nothing to fear about the plan. Significant portions of it would almost certainly have to be implemented with HUD money, at which point, HUD would suddenly have a great deal of power and authority over local land use laws and property rights. Let these HUD crack downs elsewhere be an object lesson, accordingly, to both cities and towns in Rhode Island and to state and local officials who would consider accepting HUD monies, whether under the rubric of RhodeMap RI or not. Be prepared to comply with HUD’s requirements or don’t take the money.

And the latter is exactly what officials in the coincidentally named city of Hudson, OH, did less than two weeks ago, in our next interesting HUD-in-the-news item.

By the way, did anyone else notice that HUD’s letter to Westchester County contains the word “roadmap”??? Towards the bottom of the first page.

… HUD provided the county with a roadmap to coming into compliance …

A HUD “Roadmap”. “RhodeMap RI”. Isn’t that a little too similar to be a coincidence? Or do I need to be talked off the conspiracy ledge?

CORRECTED: Raimondo’s Doomed-to-Fail Progressive Method of Economic Planning

Yesterday, the takeaway about Governor-elect Gina Raimondo’s plan for an economic summit was that most of it would be closed to the news media.  Today, it’s that she has relented and decided to open the doors to the whole thing.  That’s for journalists.  It’s still a closed event in the sense that only invited guests can participate in the sessions, and that’s a problem indicative of the entire strategy of Rhode Island’s ruling class for our shared economy.

The purpose of this summit, per Raimondo’s spokesman, appears to be not to better understand what Rhode Islanders need, but to get some expert feedback on how to supply the things that Raimondo already presumes to know that Rhode Islanders need:

He said the media is invited to the beginning of the meeting because Raimondo wants reporters to hear the “assignment that she’s laying out for the evening.”

Because people have asked, I’ll say that I’m not aware of anybody I know who was invited to participate.  We’re not, apparently, among Raimondo’s understanding of the top 80 “thought leaders” in the state.  (How many articles and TV news segments have to appear about one’s ideas to count as qualification for being a “thought leader” has not been explained.)

As I’ve been saying for years, now, Raimondo is a progressive.  In terms of organizing society, that means that she likely sees society in terms of groups of people, and progressives tend to organize by finding (or appointing) people who are treated as representative of their groups.

The theory is that those representatives bring the concerns of their peers back to the central planner, who weighs all of the feedback according to his or her sense of balance and makes decisions for the good of the whole society.  Two problems with this approach are obvious (at least to anybody who’s watched Rhode Island operate for any length of time:

  1. The individuals selected as the representatives are not perfectly representative of everybody in their group (often barely so), and they have their own interests.  Whether their motivation derives from their particular companies or from their particular factions within their social groups, they are likely to use their platform to shape society’s rules to their advantage.  A businessperson will see things that serve his or her own business model and increase its competitiveness as being critical for that industry as a whole.  A member of a demographic group will tend to use his or her representation of the whole as a way to win internal disagreements.
  2. When the central entity is as domineeringly powerful as the government in Rhode Island, the select few will stop representing their groups to the government, and instead begin representing the government’s insider system to their groups.

In short, it appears that Raimondo intends to formalize as official policy the approach that is destroying her state.  Of course, that assumes that this isn’t all just window dressing around her plans to do whatever she wants to do for political reasons.