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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.

Between the Wolf-Hounds and the Relativists

The general disinterest of Rhode Island’s mainstream media in a wide variety of controversies never ceases to amaze.  With the racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, we get multi-page spreads on racism in America, but the racial slurs that members of a government board spat at audience members at a recent RhodeMap RI meeting didn’t even make it into Kate Bramson’s related Providence Journal article.  Jonathan Gruber, the MIT ObamaCare architect who has been caught on film multiple times rejoicing in the fleecing of Americans, and who did work for HealthSource RI that may have contributed to its unrealistic estimates of customers, has hardly been noticed by local journalists.

One of the many threads of thought that unwind from such observations is voiced here by National Review’s Jay Nordlinger:

A friend of mine wrote me this morning saying that he feared Republicans would not “put the genie back in the bottle.” Obama has now broken free from our political process. Republicans will feel unhindered, when they have executive power.

I don’t believe it. First, I don’t think Republicans in general want to abuse their power (though some do, for sure). They have a constitutional conscience, or a semblance of one. But second, the “culture” won’t let them. The media, the professors, the entertainment industry — they won’t allow anti-constitutionalism for conservative or right-wing ends. They will allow it only for “progressive” ends. If a conservative result threatens, they will be gung-ho for the process.

If nothing else, rapid juxtaposition of the media’s hostile  treatment of the Bush administration with its coddling of the Obama administration has been instructive — almost in a way that would be too obvious for a novelist to get away with.

Actually, it brings to mind a cluster of chapters in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s masterpiece, The First Circle.  Two pairs of political prisoners outside of Moscow are using their Sunday evening respite for conversation.  In one pair, the peasant character Spiridon is telling his life story, in which his decisions always had him working with whoever happened to hold local power, because his real priority was his family.  Asked for a guiding principle against this apparent relativism, he states, “wolf-hounds are right and cannibals are wrong.”

Meanwhile, one of the two other prisoners, having a more intellectual argument, accuses his opponent of having no intellectual consistency because the ends justify the means.  Rubin, the accused (a devoted Marxist), insists that’s false “on the personal plane.”  However, in the Soviet Union, “For the first time in the history of mankind we have an aim which is so sublime that we can really say that it justifies the means employed to attain it.”

One question for Rhode Island and America, I suppose, when judging its political class and the “culture” (in Nordlinger’s sense) is whether progressivism is a sublime aim or we’re the wolves to the progressives’ wolf-hounds.

The Pilgrims’ Flirtation with Socialism

It’s possible some teacher along my educational path pointed out this tidbit from history, but it was certainly never a major theme sufficient enough to cause me to remember it:

In 1620 Plymouth Plantation was founded with a system of communal property rights. Food and supplies were held in common and then distributed based on equality and need as determined by Plantation officials. People received the same rations whether or not they contributed to producing the food, and residents were forbidden from producing their own food. …

Faced with potential starvation in the spring of 1623, the colony decided to implement a new economic system. Every family was assigned a private parcel of land. They could then keep all they grew for themselves….

Once the Pilgrims in the Plymouth Plantation abandoned their communal economic system and adopted one with greater individual property rights, they never again faced the starvation and food shortages of the first three years.

How different might our society be if such themes were more widely taught!  Instead, we’re several generations into a culture in which people don’t understand the foundations on which their society is built, and even those inclined to defend the American Way don’t have the intellectual ammunition to do so easily and comprehensively.

Translation from a Place of Disagreement

Well, look, I know my writing is often abstract and that I tend to include words that aren’t exactly of quotidian usage.  When I first developed a literary voice, I was up to my vocal chords  in Melville and Hawthorne and Shakespeare.  Then there are all the ordinary hurdles of writing — ensuring that context is clear, crafting sentences that contain enough information but don’t barrage the reader, and so on.

Nonetheless, I continue to be amazed at the degree to which readers can find a text to say what they want or need it to say, especially when they hate the writer for political reasons.  That’s the subject of my latest Tiverton Fact Check post.

Back in college, it occurred to me that, in some situations, the better somebody articulates an opposing view, the more dishonest or insane he or she appears to be to the opposition.  I’ve certainly had that feeling while reading those with whom I disagree, with the frustration that every sentence seemed to be just a little bit off, just a little nudge of the wheel to keep the argument from going off the sheer cliff of actual truth.

My particular literary tics and foibles seem to allow those who disagree with me to believe that I’m weaving an elaborate illusion to hide my vicious insanity behind a reasonable facade.  Some years ago, progressive commentator Tom Sgouros repeatedly insisted that I was arguing that “the rich” were leaving Rhode Island.  Finally, in some comment section, somewhere, I got him to see that I was actually arguing nothing of the sort.  His response, if I remember correctly, was that I’d used “stylized prose” to give the impression that that had been my point.

The confusion can snowball, too.  When the person who stubbornly misreads turns around and tells other people what the writer was really saying, even when those people read for themselves, they implicitly begin with the challenge of reconciling what they expect the message to be with what it really is.

Communication on charged topics is tough.  I’m certainly a long way from having it down and often reread things I’ve written and see that they could have been clearer.  That said, writers should remember that it isn’t always their fault when people don’t understand.

Thankful for Our Irascible Ancestors

If you’re looking for some midday Thanksgiving reading, Kevin Williamson offers some words on Americans’ heritage of independence as it relates to innovation and prosperity:

The division of labor is the essence of civilization, the underlying source of practically every good thing about the material conditions of the modern world. It is why civilized countries do not have famine any more, why we are surrounded by technological wonders, why things like air travel and mobile phones go from being restricted to millionaires to being ho-hum over a short course of years. Most of the technological ingredients for the Industrial Revolution had been in place not only in Britain but in Spain, France, Italy, etc., for years. But British subjects and American colonists had the opportunity and the inclination to begin a finer and more robust division of labor than did their European counterparts. They were just a little bit more free — and a little bit more determined to be free — and that little bit made an incalculable difference, not only to them, but to the world.

Setting up government as the thing to which we should be thankful means gratitude of diminishing returns — thanks for not letting things get any worse than they would have under some imaginary always-worse scenario.  We need to be not just “a little bit more free,” but a lot more free, and we should begin seeing Thanksgiving as this time of year’s variation on Independence Day.

What’s Next for the Social Equity Advisory Committee?

The future of the state Division of Planning’s RhodeMap RI scheme is suddenly in question.  The state Planning Council may not meet on December 11 to review the plan.  If it does, it may not approve the plan.  And legislators may step in before or after that event to pull the statutory legs out from under it.

If RhodeMap does become an official plan of the State of Rhode Island, nobody is really sure how it will operate, or even what mechanisms the state will put in place to continue advancing it.  One subsidiary question is what the state Division of Planning will do with the Social Equity Advisory Council (SEAC), which was tasked with defining and pushing the “diversity” piece of the plan.

According to the state’s three-year planning plan (yes, these weeds are very deep), the SEAC is generally intended to continue on in one form or another.  The descriptive part of section V.B. of the three-year plan ends as follows:

The intent of this process is not only to guarantee that the RPSD [Regional Plan for Sustainable Development] accurately reflects the vision and needs of the state’s underserved and underrepresented populations, but also to produce relationships that will become the building blocks necessary for completing and implementing the RPSD. At the conclusion of the grant period, the SEAC will propose next steps for continuing their work, as it is imperative that these community leaders are committed not only to the completion of the RPSD but also to the successful implementation of the identified strategies.

A bullet point under “Products/Outcomes” calls for:

A guidance document for the State Planning Council on improving procedural and distributional equity in planning activities, including potential future engagement of SEAC.

Translated, this means that State Planning should soon have a document explaining how the SEAC can continue helping the council find ways to redistribute wealth in Rhode Island.

Learning from Local Issues

There are essentially two reasons I encourage people to become involved in government and politics at the local level.

First, it’s the closest to the voters and their community, so it should be easier (although still very difficult) to overcome the institutional advantage of insiders.  Most people in a city or town don’t pay much attention to local civics, and a large portion of those who do are part of the vested-interests crowd.  But when a topic has to do with their neighbors, it’s a little bit more possible to change people’s minds, and if not, it ought to be more likely at the local level to get other people to be better informed — perhaps well enough informed to get involved.

Second, local government and politics is very educational.  Many of the battles are fought over the same sorts of things, and on the same types of battlegrounds, as state and national issues.  What’s more, the local players tend not to be as slick, so their maneuvers are easier to see and make for better lessons to the general public.

More for the second reason than the first, I took a little time, on Tiverton Fact Check, to analyze one aspect of the latest incident in the ongoing saga of town government’s making up the rules as it goes.  Of particular interest is the degree to which the Town Solicitor, Andrew Teitz, has pushed the envelope when it comes to the Ethics Commission’s tolerance for corruption provided that nobody involved is not in government.

I’ll have more on this in the future, but he’s going so far as to tell the council what he’s going to argue when he defends a client before it a couple weeks later and to advise the council from the witness table while it’s trying to make a motion in favor of his client.

This is one of those fine cracks in the foundation of our society that nobody seems to be too concerned about but that really deserves more attention than a largely apathetic electorate is likely to pay it.

Gina Raimondo and Rhode Island’s Preemptive Surrender to the Threat of Collusion

Gina Raimondo could stand with the people of Rhode Island on the 38 Studios matter and, with her venture capitalist background, could be an especially forceful advocate for the principle that the laws apply to everyone, from big bondholders to regular citizens. Instead, she has chosen to stand with big finance against the people of Rhode Island, taking the cavalier attitude towards representative democracy and the rule of law that has become the hallmark of Rhode Island’s political establishment.