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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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We Won’t Always Have Paris, Thank Goodness

In light of Dan Yorke’s surprising incredulity that Mike Stenhouse would be satisfied with President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, I was happy to come across Roger Kimball’s shared glee over the withdrawal and the ensuing lunacy from the Left:

Hysteria on the Left was universal. But as many cooler-headed commentators observed, one of the really amusing things is that the Paris Accord means exactly nothing. Since it requires nothing of its signatories, it will yield nothing from them. As an editorial in The Wall Street Journal pointed out, “amid the outrage, the aggrieved still haven’t gotten around to resolving the central Paris contradiction, which is that it promises to be Earth-saving but fails on its own terms. It is a pledge of phony progress.”

Kimball offers two things that Paris does do, though.  First is offering people an opportunity for cheap-to-them virtue signaling.

The second reason for the hysteria follows from the one serious effect of the climate accord. It has nothing to do with saving the environment. Every candid observer understands that the real end of the accord is not helping “the environment” but handicapping the developed countries. At its core, the accord is intended as a mechanism to redistribute wealth by hampering countries like the United States from exploiting its energy resources and growing its economy. Hamstring the United States, but let countries like China and India—industrial strength polluters, both—do whatever they want.

Like many international agreements, the unspoken subtext of the Paris Climate Accord is “hamper America. Grab as much of its wealth as you can. Say it’s in the name of ‘fairness.’”

The irony is that the Left is throwing around terms like “traitorous” and “betrayal,” which makes me think of Indiana Jones.  Kimball quotes left-wing billionaire political activist Tom Steyer on the first term; I’ve noted our own Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s using the second, conspicuously just a few days after the mega-donor’s statement.  And yet, they’re using those words to describe an action that, from the perspective of many conservatives, puts working Americans’ interests first.

That’s a strange sort of betrayal, if your loyalty is to Americans.

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Mediating Communions and Institutions Must Correct Our Course

In an excellent weekend interview by Sohrab Ahmari, Pierre Manent hones in on the problem of un-assimilationist Islam in the West, but this part is obviously more broadly applicable:

… the liberal West has grown tired of the older forms of “communion” that used to define it. Liberals in Europe, and to a lesser extent the U.S., wish to dispense with both the modern nation-state, the political communion that once gave concrete shape to the open society, and Judeo-Christianity, the sacred communion that used to provide the moral and spiritual frame.

For the West’s professional classes, Mr. Manent contends, the only acceptable sources of political communion are the autonomous individual, on the one hand, and humanity as a whole, on the other. He understands the jet-setters’ impulse: “We can go anywhere on the planet, work anywhere on the planet—these new liberties are inebriating.” Better, then, “to be a citizen of the world.”

But Mr. Manent, a Catholic and classical liberal in the tradition of Alexis de Tocqueville, thinks this attitude breeds resentments and anxieties that are only beginning to surface across the developed world.

One can see how this globalized view, bolstered by technology and wealth, removes incentive for those at the top of the socio-economic scale to concern themselves with those around them.  They don’t have to interact with their mid-distance neighbors, and they’re largely insulated from problems that arise through the economic and legal regimes that they favor (and that protect them, specifically).

Whereas once they would necessarily have come into contact with those of lower classes at church, the market, and other local establishments, they can now set themselves apart geographically, ideologically, and with respect to their activities.  This is not only culturally divisive, but also disruptive of social mobility.

At the same time, the overall wealth of the West has kept the real dissatisfaction and economic consequences from bubbling up in a revolutionary way.  That may be changing, and the change will certainly accelerate if the global elite makes it clear that it will not allow mediating institutions (like nations and churches) to correct course.

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The Budget: The Progressive Approach

Despite the false hopes expressed by lawmakers based solely on a reduced unemployment rate, Rhode Island families are hurting. The Ocean State suffers under the worst business climate, and 48th rank on our Center’s Job’s & Opportunity Index. Furthermore, Rhode Island was the only state in New England to see its labor force decline in size in recent years, as hundreds of thousands of people have chosen to leave our state since 2004. This is not a recovery.

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What Works for the Dead Won’t Work for the Living

A short Wall Street Journal article about a forthcoming Grateful Dead documentary contains the following interesting insight:

The biggest obstacle [to making the documentary], Mr. Bar-Lev says, was the Dead’s communal philosophy, which extended to business decisions. That approach persisted after 1995, when the group ceased to exist following the death of Jerry Garcia, its best-known member. The Grateful Dead organization “moves in an extremely egalitarian, consensus-oriented way, which means that nothing ever happens,” Mr. Bar-Lev says. In addition, the band is “mistrustful of anything that would nail them down to one meaning, so a documentary film had strikes against it right there.” Persistence, a shake-up at a record company and a nod from Martin Scorsese finally cleared the path.

For a labor of love, “an extremely egalitarian, consensus-oriented” methodology is fine, but as an economic plan, not so much.  The whole world can’t depend on being the Grateful Dead; indeed, one could argue that the fact of being unique was key to the Dead’s success.

A “communal philosophy” requires at least one of two preexisting conditions:  either a preexisting conformity of belief that the method of decision making must supersede the community’s ability to accomplish goals (meaning a willingness to suffer for the belief) or sufficient economic potential that much of it can be squandered.

Artists of a certain type will often be willing to suffer for their beliefs, and the Grateful Dead obviously had huge economic potential.  However, just as we shouldn’t go so far as to proclaim that the go-getters have a right to impose their beliefs on the communal types, we can’t insist that everybody conform to the latter’s beliefs.

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What Are City Governments’ Real Priorities?

Ted Nesi reports (if I may paraphrase) that Rhode Island cities have been crawling over each other to slurp from the sluice some money from the Boston Federal Reserve:

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President and CEO Eric Rosengren visited Rhode Island on Thursday to award $400,000 grants to three local cities through the bank’s Working Cities Challenge.

The program aims to promote collaboration between local leaders to address socioeconomic challenges. The three Rhode Island winners are Providence, Cranston and Newport. Eight other cities submitted applications but did not win grants, which are funded by public and private contributions, not the Fed. …

Appearing on this week’s Executive Suite, Rosengren said the four-year-old program grew out of research conducted by the Boston Fed that showed efforts to tackle cities’ challenges worked best when leaders from different groups worked together toward a common goal.

Readers may recall that the Boston Fed’s involvement with Lawrence, Massachusetts, under a project in the same program is what kicked off my thinking about the “company state” or “government plantation” model, whereby government services become an area’s core industry, with the revenue coming from other taxpayers or higher levels of government (such as state or federal taxpayers).

With these new grants, we should also put the matter in the context of political structures and incentives.  Here we have cities competing to charm “public and private” outside interests with their proposals.  That is, they’re competing to match the values of the Boston Fed and the people or groups funding the project.  Sure, these “community” projects have local advocates (most often ideological activists, special interests, and other insiders), but ultimately, these projects are things being done to local constituents, not for them.

It’s time we stop seeing money that our governments manage to collect from other sources as money that we’ve somehow received.  It isn’t.  That’s especially true when it’s used for projects that the government wouldn’t otherwise have bothered to do.  It’s money that goes to the sorts of people who know how to get government money and spent in order to shape our society in ways that other people want, not us.

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We Had the Logic, Now We Have an Example, Too

Rhode Islanders, especially, should heed the admonition of The American Interest that Puerto Rico may be a final warning lesson to states within the United States:

This [bankruptcy] could have been avoided by sensible and timely cuts, by turning a deaf ear to public sector union demands for wages and salaries, by a series of small but definite steps away from the blue model, welfare state governance. But the press, certainly including the NYT which is now reporting the disaster, would have attacked any politicians taking these steps as “harsh”, or “cruel to the poor”.

Now Puerto Rico is in a deeper hole, with much more suffering than any of the moderate cuts would have imposed.

Just look at the false rhetoric permeating the debate over some overly mild reforms to the disastrous ObamaCare entitlement system for a timely illustration.  Any restraint on government programs is declared to be a “draconian cut” that will hurt or kill people, marking politicians who support reforms as evil.  This will not end well, but just like junkies, supporters of big government just want that one more fix, and let tomorrow take care of itself, somehow.

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