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Letting Bureaucrats Regulate Impossible Complexities

Two concepts from an unsigned editorial in today’s Providence Journal beg for juxtaposition.  It’s about a proposed Care New England and Southcoast Health System merger.  First:

To be sure, regulators should carefully weigh what the new organization’s market share is apt to be in any number of areas, from primary and obstetrical care to cardiac facilities. How would the proposed merger affect Lifespan, currently Rhode Island’s largest hospital system, and presumably its chief competitor? How would it affect smaller entities such as the still independent South County Hospital?


The changes under way in health care are complex, and at times seemingly beyond the grasp of even health-care experts.

The whole editorial treats the merger as if it’s a question of public policy about government agencies, rather than the operation of private organizations.  I find myself wondering, once again, what long-running government program instills the Providence Journal editorial board with such confidence in regulators’ ability to behave as an executive board for an industry that seems “beyond the grasp of even health-care experts.”

That shouldn’t be a new question.  It’s a basic, long-standing part of the intellectual economic discussion whether human beings can possibly collect and process enough information to make economic decisions on anything but the most narrow, direct, and personal questions.  Another basic consideration in the economic discussion is that the more decision-makers are insulated from consequences, the less care they’ll take and the less competence they’ll display.  Giving “regulators” and the general public (as represented, here, by a newspaper editorial board) power to make economic decisions for both the providers and consumers of health care is many steps too far.

With Rhode Island as an excellent case study, the United States of America needs to get out of the weeds of private industry and turn its attention to the harder questions of social belief and policy.  It’s a lot easier superficially to decree that everybody should have access to “quality, affordable health care” and then push the blame for failure around to interested parties and supposed experts than it is to answer the deep questions — especially when the solution for that failure is always to give the interested parties and supposed experts more power.

The deep questions to which I refer are those such as: What level of health care is “a right”?  How does that right interact with individuals’ personal responsibility?  Who pays for that level of health care?  Who gets to balance that cost against other possible uses of scarce resources?

Simplistic declarations about rights, with the responsibilities handed off to unaccountable bureaucrats, absolve individuals and communities of responsibility.  This lesson has become too obvious to miss in a country whose elite president indulges in endless rounds of golf and multi-million-dollar family vacations while education insiders prattle about needing more money for their own special interests and editorial boards blithely hand our freedoms over to Ubermensch regulators.


Progressive Tolerance Is Fraud

I don’t know how well informed folks on the left are about Secretary of State John Kerry’s brief glimpse into his beliefs, which include the thought that Islamic attacks on Charlie Hebdo had some “justification” or (at least) a “rationale.”  Embarrassment at Kerry’s entirely predictable inability to avoid saying stupid things is a subject for another time.  What brings it to mind, now, is this post from TaxProf Blog (via Instapundit):

Ms. Gesiotto knew that many of her peers at the law school would disagree with the column. She expected to take some flak. What she didn’t expect, she said, was having administrators show less interest in her safety than in tearing apart a column entirely unrelated to her coursework. …

The deans … recommended that she participate in a “facilitated discussion” with students who disagreed with the op-ed. She refused. “The main dean said something like, ‘Well, you said you feel unsafe. We’re trying to alleviate the tension, so you can explain to the other kids what you meant by your article,’” said Ms. Gesiotto. “I thought that was completely out of line. It should have never been proposed. I was there to report a threat. And then they tried to flip it around and push me into a facilitated discussion with other kids about my article. It was bizarre and very disappointing.”

Attacks on those who speak ill against Islam are somehow justified.  Law students who dare to express points of view that differ from the far-left progressive secularism of their professors don’t need protection; they need reeducation to better understand the points of views of those who threaten them.  This is the “tolerance of the Left.”


Assimilation and a Banlieue of Our Own

I’ve been meaning to note something important in this Mark Patinkin column from last Sunday, but it may be too subtle a point than I’ll have time to explore to satisfaction.  So, herewith a few hundred words to mark the idea either for future reference or to work the nag out of my system.

On the whole, Patinkin’s got the right idea, but he misses subtleties that may be central to disagreements about the ways in which our country should address cultural and ideological differences.  Take this sentence, for example:

Instead they were treated unequally, mostly segregated in tenement-filled ghettos, called banlieues, built for them outside the cities.

That phrase, “built for them,” isn’t quite correct.  The banlieues are an old sort of inner suburb, not unlike the “municipal zones” that Walter Russell Mead describes in the article about Brussels to which I linked, this morning.  Patinkin goes to far in emphasizing that the French failed to allow immigrants to assimilate.  An important part of the equation is that they gave them room to choose not to assimilate.  This process will ebb and flow, but it’s more of a battle than a one-sided acquiescence.

The French didn’t win the struggle against the reactionary forces within the immigrant communities that sought to build their own fiefdoms.  In some contexts, assimilation isn’t a warm and fuzzy mater of tolerance, but a deliberate choice of force, as would have been required in order to prevent the development of “no-go zones.”

This is precisely the point at which standard liberal thinking flips around on itself — where Patinkin writes, “the original deterrent to homegrown terror [is] avoiding alienation.”  To the mainstream liberal, this invocation means letting those from other cultures maintain much of their heritage and adjusting the American norm to accommodate it.  Meanwhile, liberals and progressives have little concern with forcing their views on an ever-more-centralized scale, like the Supreme Court mandating the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples across the entire country (with a crackdown on private business owners who disagree) or the Obama administration using executive orders to tweak a partisan nationalization of healthcare and then a bureaucratic crackdown to hobble the opposition that arose against him.

They believe their worldview, from race to sexual matters to the environment, is simply factually correct, and nobody (at least nobody who shares their heritage) should be permitted to differ, much less to implement public policy according to differing beliefs.  That’s a recipe for alienation if ever there was one.

We’re getting the worst of both sides of that intellectual contradiction.  With identity-politics running rampant on campuses and in the pop culture, we’re allowing groups to create their own, privileged banlieues in which they don’t have to acknowledge disagreement, and with centralized establishment of the progressive faith overruling federalism and democracy, we’re alienating the majority.

It’s an alignment between identity groups and the cultural elite, meant to hamstring those in the middle and block those who would traverse across the middle from the bottom.


Hurting Diversity by Promoting Minorities

Here’s a telling revelation from a Providence Journal article by Lynn Arditi highlighting the fact that most Rhode Island colleges and universities have police forces that don’t match the racial composition of the student bodies.  It comes almost at the end of the article, and I’ve italicized the key point:

At URI, where minorities make up nearly 20 percent of the student body but only about 7 percent of campus police, the university has found it challenging to recruit and retain minority police officers, who can have more opportunities for higher pay and advancement at municipal departments, URI Director of Public Safety Stephen Baker said in an email.

Note that the statement is not that campus departments are having trouble maintaining their forces, but that minority officers are disproportionately harder to keep because they’re in greater demand at higher-paying departments.  If you don’t think folks — in police departments and elsewhere — notice such things, you’re ignoring an important piece of evidence in escalating racial tensions.

Be the sociology what it may, however, and turning to the specific article in question, there’s something unseemly, unfair, and deliberately divisive in using the front page of the state’s major daily newspaper to attack police departments at the bottom of the industry ladder because they can’t compete with the bigger players when it comes to answering progressive racial obsessions.  Obviously, the article could have delved into the actual dynamic that Baker described, but then its insinuations might not have served the desired narrative.


This Racism Brought to You by Liberals

Writing about one of the latest allegedly racist incidents on an American college campus, John Hinderaker may very well put his finger on the entire operating dilemma of the Left:

The Dean of the law school, Martha Minow, said that racism is a “serious problem” there. Really? Minow has been the Dean since 2009. Why has she allowed racism to flourish? Where has this “serious problem” been manifested, and what has she done about it? Who, exactly, are the “racists” who have created this serious problem? Frankly, I don’t believe a word she says.

Hinderaker, who attended Harvard Law, thinks such lies are just the sorts of things that administrators of higher education say to maintain a sort of peace with some groups, while expecting that nobody responsible will really believe them.  But isn’t that a summary of the Left?  They overtook the culture and most of its institutions by proclaiming a problem that only they would solve.  Obviously, for example, racists wouldn’t solve the problem of “institutional racism,” but neither would those who are skeptical about the problem or those who, believing in it, think the best resolution is gradual and cultural.

The Leftists, in other words, are The People Who Care — The People Who Will Bring Change.  Well, they’ve been running things for quite a while, now, in large areas of society, both institutionally (e.g., universities and the news and entertainment media) and geographically (e.g., urban areas), and what do we have?  Suddenly, at the tail end of the second term of America’s first black president, we suddenly have a resurgence of racism in the cities and on college campuses?  Come on, now.

If that’s true, why have the liberals/progressives allowed it to fester for so long?  It’s possible, of course, that there really is some degree of racism extant on the campus of Harvard, but more important to the Leftist narrative and sales pitch is that there be a belief in the existence full colonnade of boogeyman -isms.  Otherwise, our society might distribute power on the basis of (oh, I don’t know) experience, competence, and a willingness to leave people alone wherever possible.


Mandate Has No Effect: Spinning Heads on HPV Vaccine

The latest news out of the Rhode Island government-media spin machine is that “HPV vaccination rate ‘extremely encouraging’,” as Richard Salit’s Providence Journal article puts it.  The lede or secondary headline was: “First year vaccine is required for seventh graders.”

It’s enough to make a well-informed Rhode Islander scream at the computer, tablet, or dead-tree newspaper.  Readers may recall that the HPV vaccine became controversial in Rhode Island because the state government presumed to make Rhode Island one of only two states to mandate inoculation against the sexually transmitted disease and the only one to do so by regulatory fiat.

Here’s the “extremely encouraging” news:

As of Sept. 1, with data compiled on 85 percent of the seventh graders in public and private schools, 72.5 percent had received at least the first in a series of three recommended doses of HPV vaccine.

That’s pretty good, right?  Vindication for the mandate?  Not really.  Read a bit farther and do some math:

Because it’s a new mandate, the only previous Rhode Island statistic to compare that to is one from 2014 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It estimated that, among those ages 13 to 17, 76 percent of girls and 69 percent of boys had the first dose of the HPV vaccine.

Average those two percentages, and you get… 72.5%.  Public school enrollment data for the 2014-2015 school year shows that there are more boys, so the overall percentage based on the two numbers given would be 72.3%, but the percentages themselves are rounded, and private schools may very well shift the balance back toward equal numbers.

In other words, the government diktat that all students must put this drug in their body changed the vaccination rate almost not at all.  It did, however, create a new precedent for the bureaucracy’s little dictators.  On the positive side, it may have sparked some enduring backlash and eroded confidence in the government, inasmuch as the number of religious exemptions for vaccines jumped from “about half a percent for the 2014-15 school year to 4.47 percent for 2015-16 year.”

Any push-back against the state government in Rhode Island is good news, as far as I’m concerned, especially when the local news media tends to simply pass along the government’s spin.


Government and the Right Way of Life

Ask a progressive whether government by, for, and of the people ought to allow them to implement local policies reflecting a conservative understanding of a well-lived life and be sure to duck from the impact of the glare that you’ll receive.  Change the impetus from religious faith and the long-standing traditions on which our civilization was built, however, and they’ll be much more amenable to the notion that government should set policies in order to tell people how to live.

Two items down from a note about the lack of diversity among the race scolds at the Providence Journal and the Boston Globe, Ian Donnis’s Friday column includes this:

ProJo op-ed columnist Steven Frias recently outlined the deficits that chronically plague RIPTA. Yet mass transit advocates point to far more extravagant public subsidies for cars and the highways upon which they travel, resulting in runaway development, environmental degradation, and other adverse effects. “We know that every year we ‘invest’ $25 billion of federal taxes in auto-dominated transportation,” the late Jane Holtz Kay wrote in her 1997 book, Asphalt Nation. “Add to this the amount from state and local agencies. We have seen the direct costs and indirect ones, the incalculable sums spent in the wrong way, in the wrong place, for the wrong way of life. It is time to price them correctly — to right the imbalance toward sustainable transportation.”

We can have a conversation about what government ought to fund, but note how casually Kay passes judgment on “the wrong way of life.”  It’s not just a “less fulfilling way of life,” or “a way of life that people would eschew if they were well informed,” it’s “the wrong way of life.”  And government, Kay seems to be saying, should push people toward the right way of life, even if they don’t want it.

As for the subsidies, a recent post from Ed Driscoll comes to mind, in which he recalls a 2009 anecdote from the early years of Obama’s spending orgy:

“He came in to do his talk and opened his talk with, ‘I’m Matt Rogers I am the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Energy and I have $134 billion that I have to disperse between now and the end of December,’” Holland told the audience. “So upon hearing that I sent an email to my partners that said Matt Rogers is about to get treated like a hooker dropped into a prison exercise yard.”

One suspects that, at the end of the day, the germane consideration isn’t whether government spending supports the right or wrong way of life, but whether it benefits progressive politicians, groups, and supporters and pushes the population into a box that helps progressives maintain their power.


Responding to a Holy War Isn’t a Holy War

Some of the difficulty that leads the West into what I termed, earlier, as an autoimmune disorder may derive from a sense that acknowledging that somebody is fighting a holy war against us means that our response amounts to a holy war against them.  That sense arises because we misunderstand one of the central dynamics that has made our culture unique.

I’m reading an excellent book by my friend and fellow Catholic Andrew McNabb, and among his insights is that, even as we can become entangled in the natural things of this world (our biology, our human nature, and our social tendencies), identifying and understanding how those things work doesn’t negate God, nor does it make them antithetical to Him. This part of the book is in poetic form:

We are, ourselves, truly, when we are among others, living in, society. …

… Society, because when in this world, it is through our social constructs that we live, daily, and it is through our social constructs, so often imperfect, that we can become ensnared.

The imagery of being “ensnared” is apt, because the way not to become ensnared is to understand and straighten the snares.  In that way, we can see when social constructs are leading us toward destructive ends and fulfill our responsibility to develop social constructs that point toward right, moral ends.  In the case of multiple threads of current events, we have a responsibility to ensure a society of free inquiry in which (in religious terms) all people are free to pursue God and meaning as their spirits move them.

A Christian — in his capacity as such — should not judge others and should not engage in anything resembling a “holy war,” but we’re also members of a society with responsibilities quite apart from religion.  Those responsibilities entail ensuring safety and fostering an environment of freedom.  Failing to protect our neighbors from a clear threat is tantamount to hurting them because, being human, we have the capacity to assess threats one step removed.

The Catholic Catechism, for one, explicitly recognizes this framework, which is intrinsic to thoughts about just war and just punishment.  It acknowledges a legitimate civic authority that has roles apart from the Church and religion.  Indeed, progressives pick up this sort of thinking when they want to argue for a governmental role in asserting morality through welfare and social justice and even environmentalism.

Not as Christian believers, but as citizens, we have a responsibility to protect and preserve the civilization that we’ve set up.  Our beliefs inform our actions and provided some underlying principles for our civilization, but protecting our society is not the same as protecting a given belief system.  When Islamic radicals come at us with their holy war, we don’t respond with holy war, but neither do we use our theological pacifism to undermine a just response as citizens.


A Thought on the Purpose of Government

Nicki makes an important point at The Liberty Zone (via Sarah Hoyt in Instapundit), related to the Paris attack:

So yes. They need to shut their borders down. It might be callous, but it’s the only way to protect the citizens of those nations, and after all, isn’t that the basic role of government?

Americans and other Westerners need to spend some time with that question and discuss each other’s responses.  It should be a basic question during debates and interviews with politicians: What is the basic role of government?

Whatever they might say, it’s obvious that progressives, including the current President of the United States, believe the basic role of government is to organize and run society.  One consequence of that view (which, I’d argue, is really one of its primary motivations) is that a basic role of government is the dispensation of benefits.

When it comes down to it, that’s a central principle behind the governments in Europe and the United States that are throwing open doors for masses of low-skilled immigrants.  They’re offering the benefit of safety, first, but then the security of government welfare and the promise of complete education, healthcare, and nutrition for the immigrants’s children.  Most of the supporters of such activity would probably acknowledge that there is another side — namely, the question of how much our society can bear.  But their thinking generally seems to be no deeper than that of the college student who doesn’t quite know how much “the 1%” can or should hand over, but is certain that it’s more than is currently confiscated and is confident that they’ll always be there to take the hit.

That is, the basic role of government is to dispense the benefits, with the protection of current citizens as a secondary consideration.  If they start to hurt, maybe we’ll adjust things.  (Or better yet, we’ll offer government benefits to those among them whom we deem worthy, whether the ultra-rich investors or the lower classes.)

As a civic matter, this is backwards.  We institute governments to secure our rights and, yes, to preserve our culture.  That view of government can go too far, of course, and become a dangerously aggressive nationalism, but that’s the basic principle with which we should start.  No doubt, it’s easier to run away from that particular duty as the inverse of nationalism, because the consequences are less direct, but the boot comes down on the throat regardless.


UDPATED: A Tip for Pushing Back on the Community Organizing Fascists

If you haven’t seen this footage of students, apparently corralled by at least one professor, acting to eject and exclude anybody fulfilling the role of a journalist at a protest event at the University of Missouri, set aside the 12:41 for some preparatory research:

To me the most telling moment comes at the beginning, when a bespectacled guy who looks a little older than the average student tells photographer Tim Tai, from within the arm-linked circle of “protestors,” that the photographer “cannot push [the protestors] to move closer.”  It’s a reasonable sounding rule of engagement from somebody presenting himself as some sort of an authority figure.

A moment later, the students start pushing Tai away from the center of the circle, and he turns to the same guy with a complaint that they’re breaking the rules that he had just laid out.  The reply: “Don’t talk to me; that’s not my problem.”  Tai then spends several minutes arguing with the students while being physically pushed back.  The argument is fruitless, because the mob is clearly not interested in reaching fair conclusions.  They are righteous, and any infiltrating journalists are not.  It’s not about coming to a rational conclusion.  The only rule is domination.

The second half of the clip is videographer Mark Schierbecker’s already-infamous conflict with Professor Melissa Click and the aftermath after she gets her requested “muscle” to eject him.

The bespectacled guy’s role is classic Saul Alinsky: force the enemy to live by his own rules… and then deny them as your own.  In a chaotic interaction, people want some sort of authority figure who can negotiate between the sides.  Pretending to be that figure deflates some of the leverage of the target while not limiting the pretender’s own options.

If one refuses to capitulate — to subordinate one’s own rights to those who do not acknowledge them — the only two approaches are to (1) abandon your own rules or (2) bring those among the fascists who are unaware that they are behaving as such face to face with their decision.  In the first approach, Tai and Schierbecker would physically push back; find a weak link in the human chain, perhaps, and push through it.  Of course, then the fascists would call in the actual authorities (perhaps armed) who would proceed to enforce the rules (which the fascists were ignoring in the first place) in a one-sided way.

In this case, the second approach would have been better and would probably have been even more clarifying for those now discomfited by Schierbecker’s footage.  Standing on two legs leaves us susceptible to being pushed back by even jostling, as we strive to keep our balance.  Sitting down would have required the fascists to escalate or to give up.  Forcing somebody who’s sitting to move requires much more than simply leaning against him.  Brainwashed students might convince themselves — in the thrill of the mob action — that stepping forward is not really “pushing” or “assault,” but somebody who’s sitting would have to be unambiguously pushed or dragged.

If you’re feeling particularly interested in preserving your liberties, could reverse the leverage. As the fascists strive to keep their balance around you, they’ll naturally shift their weight away a bit, at least periodically, leaving room to advance against them.

In this case, the likelihood of things escalating out of control looked pretty minimal, and too many of the students had looks on their faces like they thought they were only mildly misbehaving for fun.  Contrast Schierbecker’s video with the scene when union thugs assaulted Steven Crowder in Michigan.

A little bit more fortitude while the fascism is still budding may prevent the need for actual risk of life for the next person down the line who attempts to resist.

UPDATE (7:51 a.m. 11/11/15):

Erik Wemple (via Instapundit) identifies the bespectacled guy as “Richard J. ‘Chip’ Callahan, professor and chair of religious studies at the university.”  From his bio page:

I am particularly interested in the ways that people creatively and constantly negotiate identity, significance, and power through religious idioms in the dense contexts of their everyday lives.

So, Professor Chip clearly understood the moral dimensions of his statement to Tai that other students pushing him, in violation of the rules that the professor had just articulated, “Don’t talk to me; that’s not my problem.”

Saul Alinsky did dedicate his Rules for Radicals to Lucifer, after all.


A Red Flag Election in Fall River

The election of 23-year-old Jasiel Correia as mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts, is a red flag that we need to renew our understanding of the wisdom of the great minds that have pondered democracy throughout the ages.  All the way back to ancient Greece, observers have noted that democracies can be erratic and do harm to themselves and to others when they lose their bearing.

No matter who holds it or how the leaders gain authority over it, power requires its handler to have strong morals and common sense, and when the people elect leaders every few years, it is the people who must be moral and have common sense.  It isn’t impossible that a 23-year-old could be an excellent leader of some municipality, but the specifics are important, and in this case, they raise more than a little doubt.

Fall River is a city of nearly 90,000 people with a budget of around a quarter-billion dollars.  That’s why the mayor commands a six-figure salary.  As for Correia, while he’s no doubt impressive among those of his age group, there’s nothing in his background that suggests preparation for the role of CEO of a $250 million organization.  He doesn’t even have a full term as a city council member under his belt.  He graduated from college two years ago with a bachelor’s degree in political science, so it wasn’t long ago that he was tweeting about missing class for weeks.

It’s as if voters think of their top executives sort of like an elected version of British royalty.  Most of the power resides with bureaucrats and other elected officials, but the royal family sets a sort of national tone.  If there’s an issue of specific concern to the royals, it’s possible they can force change.  In Fall River, it appears that trash collection may have been such an issue.

If Wikipedia is to be trusted, Correia may be the youngest mayor in the United States of any municipality of comparable size.  In most cases, though, the populations are minuscule — as low as 74, but mainly in the low thousands.  In such cases, the mayor is likely to be more of a ceremonial position, and therein lies the hope for Fall River.  

The city also employs an administrator and has a full collection of department heads.  If the bureaucrats and council are good, effective leaders and work together, and if the new mayor has at least the common sense not to meddle beyond his ken, his age and inexperience might not matter much beyond his over-sized paycheck.

But the risks are huge when politically motivated game players, sly special interests, labor unions, and others are in the mix, all with incentive to manipulate a young man who still listed Nordstrom salesperson as work experience two years ago when he ran for city council.  All in all, his election is further evidence that, even as we hand more and more authority to government, we don’t really take its operation seriously in this part of the country.


In Rhode Island, It’s Not Stupidity, but Ignorance

Noting my recent article on the topic, Arlene Violet wonders if Rhode Islanders are dumb enough to keep falling for the scam of unconstitutional debt laundered through “quasi-public” agencies:

The Rhode Island Supreme Court years ago ruled that the quasi-public agencies can do this debt since they are not “state agencies,” but it is time to revisit that ruling. Rhode Islanders have been abused over and over again by these quasi’s like the PBA (Public Building Authority) and RIHMFC (Rhode Island Housing Mortgage and Finance Corporation) etc., which became the favor factory for the politically connected people.

A tangential question comes to mind, and it’s one that has been nagging at me since Anchor Rising wandered onto a largely empty political field back in 2004: Why, by the turn of the millennium, had it fallen to outsiders and unknowns to expose the scams embedded within Rhode Island government?  Why was there nothing like Anchor Rising in the pre-Internet print world, prepped to grab the Internet space the moment it became viable?  Why did it take Don Hawthorne’s volunteering to run for school committee to expose the lie behind teacher steps?  Why is it so easy to uncover scams in every area of RI government activity when it occurs to somebody to investigate it?  Shouldn’t such things have long been the bread and butter of some legacy organization?

This would be a great topic for a Steve Frias research project.  It just seems so obviously something that the American system of governance and society was built to foster; why did that break down in the Ocean State?

An obvious piece of the puzzle is that new media, mainly the Internet, but also talk radio, finally created a tunnel through the mountain of insider connections that made activist groups and the news media part of the establishment in our small, everybody-knows-everybody state.  Still, with groups like the “business-backed” Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC) and the RIGOP, not to mention news media, there had to be a breakdown of the incentive structures to create an opposition with more reason to expose the scams than to play along.

Maybe the Democrat-union-progressive alliance simply moved too quickly and maybe the state’s size just made it too easy for the opposition to up and leave.  Perhaps the Internet came too late to counteract the sense of hopelessness that people whom the DUP alliance (read: “dupe”) targeted for gaslighting felt before they decided it wasn’t worthwhile to stay and fight, and all who remain are those of us who either have ties too strong to leave or a missionary zeal to help Rhode Island’s vulnerable and misled residents.


Giving the Game Away on Diversity Talk and “Health Equity Zones”

It’s hard not to agree with Rhode Island Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott when she phrases her point of view like this:

“Like the governor, I also fully support diversity across the board in leadership levels … I love to say diversity brings strength. You have a variety of backgrounds, a variety of ideas, experiences that add new ways of accomplishing things. We’re in an age where we have to be creative, we have to be innovative, and the more diverse perspectives we have, the better we are at being able to achieve that effectively …”

Unfortunately, the context suggests that, like most liberals and progressives, she takes an extremely superficial, arguably racist view of diversity.  Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza lays it out with stunning clarity in his contribution to the Providence Journal’s “Race in RI” series.  With the paradoxical imperatives that we have to “focus on what brings us together” and declaring that people who disagree with him about the existence of “white privilege” should be written off, Elorza says he chooses to “focus on like-minded people.”

Apparently, having his biases confirmed is more important to the mayor than “a variety of backgrounds… ideas… and experiences” that brings “diverse perspectives” to the necessity of solving problems creatively.  The way to achieve diversity is apparently to make people who are substantively different disappear.

That point of clarity dovetails nicely with another, hidden within Alexander-Scott’s interview:

Using $2.7 million from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Rhode Island has created 11 “health equity zones” to target the root causes of poor health, including poverty, inadequate housing and lack of nutritious food and safe recreational opportunities.

Thus money confiscated from taxpayers for the purpose of disease control somehow becomes diverted to “safe recreational opportunities,” and this is just the edge of the crowbar under the bedrock of our freedoms.  “Diversity” and “equity” are wonderful principles in the abstract and defined honestly.  In the current practice, they’re manipulative buzzwords for “like-minded people” to confiscate money and consolidate power in order to buy votes and make people dependent on government.

Far from wanting healing, the people promoting these ideas need divisions and disparities to remain.


A Bit of Jujitsu to Come from Brookings

Ted Nesi included an intriguing item in his Saturday column, this past week:

Brookings’ Bruce Katz told me one of their major themes is going to be how to improve Rhode Island’s tax and regulatory climate – a perennial complaint, yes, but not necessarily a focus you’d expect from the generally center-left Brookings. Katz and his colleague, Mark Muro, have also found Rhode Island lacks strong independent groups outside government that can build consensus and take action. “There’s an excessive focus on the government to design, finance and deliver everything,” Katz said.

Readers’ first thought might be to wonder why a group of Gina Raimondo supporters would spend over $1 million for conclusions that plenty of people have been offering for free for decades.  A closer look may provide clues as to why.  Brookings may lament the lack of “strong independent groups outside government,” but one can safely wager that the think tank isn’t going to disappoint their funders or their big fan, Gina Raimondo, but promoting the notion that Rhode Island government should just get out of the way.

No, when Brookings complains that there aren’t enough non-government groups in Rhode Island, one can expect a solution that includes some mix of two approaches:

  1. Government must take the initiative to spark independent action, which will (no doubt) conveniently dovetail with the ideas of government planners and which is really just a way of disguising the degree to which government continues to be the main driver.
  2. Non-government groups must somehow be empowered to make decisions that are binding on everybody else, which is just a way of moving government outside the reach of the electorate.

Pressure Builds in Providence… and Everywhere

Last month, I mentioned a complaint by Providence City Councilman Sam Zurier that the city government had finished the year, not with some of its cumulative deficit paid off as planned, but with an even bigger gap.  A chart about midway down this Dan McGowan article on WPRI shows what Zurier meant.  McGowan frames the story mainly in terms of mayoral politics:

Their game of finger-pointing had largely played out behind the scenes until this past weekend, when Elorza’s office claimed Taveras’s final budget “relied on a number of one-time fixes that were unrealistic and did not come to bear,” and Taveras fired back that the new administration “should focus on the choices it has made since taking office” to figure out why the city ran a $5-million deficit last year.

“Running a city like Providence is difficult,” Taveras told WPRI.com. “The choices an administration makes on a daily basis certainly have a significant and immediate impact on city finances and our future.”

Frankly, I’m still not sure what there was in the backgrounds of any of the last three mayors that would lead people to expect them to be able to run a city the size of Providence.  It’s as if voters believe that a mixture of bureaucracy and politics will ensure that a city runs well, leaving them free to vote for mayors based on irrelevant social policies or identity group affiliation.

Ted Nesi tweeted McGowan’s chart with the warning that the city has “zero room for error.”  A recession (or any number of possible calamities or probable economic shifts) will simply overwhelm the city budget.

Providence isn’t alone in this problem.  Our nation has been running on debt for three-quarters of a century, and for at least the past decade, any recovery Rhode Island has experienced has basically been built on dubious assumptions about the future, from pensions to the economy to government wisdom.  We make it from year to year just barely pushing the reckoning off into the future.

This won’t last.  Perhaps next year, perhaps next decade, we’ll all be wondering how we missed the signs.  The only relevant question, though, will be whether the pain and the promise of more will be enough — will be obvious enough — that the need to resolve our philosophical inconsistencies and political superficiality will overwhelm the urge for narrow self preservation.


Cowards’ Political Echoes from History

This passage from Tacitus’s The Life of Cnaeus Julius Agricola struck a similar chord, for me, to that played by the local, state, and federal governments currently ruling over us.  Tacitus is putting representative words in the mouths of rebellious Britons building up to an unsuccessful rebellion against the Roman Empire (paragraph 15):

In war it is the strong who plunders; now, it is for the most part by cowards and poltroons that our homes are rifled, our children torn from us, the conscription enforced, as though it were for our country alone that we could not die.

Agricola’s solution, as a Roman governor of the island, was to combine continued military activity against as-yet unconquered tribes with a less capricious domination of those that had already capitulated.  In our times, the “cowards and poltroons” lording it over us are not foreigners, but our fellow citizens, and the tools at their disposal are much more powerful and subtle.

Identifying them, though, is the first step of effective resistance.

[The Complete Works of Tacitus, Modern Library College Editions, edited by Moses Hadas.]


Competing Paternalism and RI’s Death Spiral

Kevin Williamson gives some interesting thought to getting people from welfare to work.  The contrarian hook is that he’s coming out in favor of more employer paternalism and perhaps even something resembling the old company-town model.  But the upshot is an encouragement to out-of-the-box thinking.

Why not, for example, change the structure of unemployment insurance?  Rather than have a possible total on which the person can draw down until it runs out, let the person get some percentage of any unused balance as a lump-sum check after he or she finds (and holds) a job.  Now, I can think of a number of potential pitfalls to such a policy, but it has some beneficial features.  For one, it could flip the natural human impulse to strive for the biggest nut one can get; whereas, now, the unemployed person can feel as if he or she is losing out on “free” benefits by finding a job too quickly, that person would, instead, feel as if he or she is losing a bonus with each week’s small check.

Williamson’s focus, though, is the possibilities of the large check.  A person could pay off a lot of debt with a big check, including debt that he or she accumulates while preparing for, easing into, or relocating in order to find new work.  This brings to mind a quick item I posted in 2007, titled “Go West, Young Welfare Recipient.”  At the time, employers in Montana (among other places) were raising low-end salaries quickly because they couldn’t secure enough workers, so I suggested that we should stop contributing to low-skilled workers’ inertia in our struggling Ocean State economy and instead direct them west.

Williamson likewise takes for granted the desirability of having people relocate for work.  That’s where I think he misses a big, important piece of the puzzle.

As I observed a few weeks ago, with reference to Lawrence, Massachusetts, governments and their economic satellites are deeply invested in the notion that nobody should move beyond the reach of their own paternalism.  This paternalism may be expressed in charitable terms — “People shouldn’t have to leave their homes in order to make a living!” — but it’s ultimately self serving.  If Rhode Island were to have fewer needy people for any reason, but especially because they moved to other states with jobs on offer, then Rhode Island’s government-and-service complex would have to shed jobs and power.

Once again, we come to the same ol’ prior problem.  We need government that responds to the real needs of the people who live within its boundaries, not the institutional needs of the government, itself.  Unfortunately, those who prioritize the latter have much more incentive to be politically active, and the system has therefore become rigged.  As a result, people who are unable to make Rhode Island work for them and who don’t want to become dependent on government become the ones to leave the state.

This is what people mean when they talk about “a death spiral.”


The Hot-Head’s Told-Ya-So

For a variety of reasons… I know… there are folks doing their best to do best by the state of Rhode Island who would like very much to be able either to ignore me or to say that I’m wrong, whatever I say.  Much to my own dismay, frankly, I’m not wrong as often as I’d like to be.

Note this item from Ian Donnis’s weekly Friday column:

Rhode Island’s unemployment rate dipped again in September, even as the state continued shedding jobs. Meanwhile, the ProJo’s Kate Bramsontook note this week of a worrisome trend: “While population has been stagnant, there is evidence that qualified individuals are leaving the state, which reduces the pool of qualified labor.”

Look, this isn’t rocket surgery. Progressives ’round these parts like to attack my credentials; I was a carpenter when I looked at the data honestly and began writing about Rhode Island’s loss of the “productive class” years ago.  This is obvious stuff.  Anybody who pretends it isn’t obvious wants to avoid the inevitable conclusions.

Rhode Island needs to stop electing big-government, insider-focused Democrats (or Republicans, for that matter) and give people the freedom to act in their own self interest.  The folks in power — whether they’re politicians, locally respected businessmen, or journalists — have been misleading everybody about the way the world works and killing the state.  They’re trying to preserve a fantasy that lets them believe the world is as it isn’t and (more often than not) gives them financial security in the process.

It isn’t a sure thing that Rhode Island can even be saved at this point, but it’s worth a try.  Start learning lessons, please.  If you need some incentive, consider that a right-wing carpenter is able to out-predict you by the better part of a decade because you won’t acknowledge the truth.


Foreign Aid Not Always in the Best Interest of Poor Countries

It might shock progressives and mainstream liberals to hear a Nobel-prize-winning economist say such a thing, but it really isn’t all that radical to note that foreign aid may not always be in the interest of the people of poor countries:

The effect wasn’t limited to Africa. Many economists were noticing that an influx of foreign aid did not seem to produce economic growth in countries around the world. Rather, lots of foreign aid flowing into a country tended to be correlated with lower economic growth, as this chart from a paper byArvind Subramanian and Raghuram Rajan shows. …

Why was this happening? The answer wasn’t immediately clear, but Deaton and other economists argued that it had to do with how foreign money changed the relationship between a government and its people.

Think of it this way: In order to have the funding to run a country, a government needs to collect taxes from its people. Since the people ultimately hold the purse strings, they have a certain amount of control over their government. If leaders don’t deliver the basic services they promise, the people have the power to cut them off.

The cost of providing aid to a poor person in an undeveloped or dictatorial society is inflated many times over not only by the lack of infrastructure, but also the need to pay off (in one way or another) the local thugs.  Moreover, alleviating some of the worst of the difficulties reduces the demand to make political changes, find sustainable economic activities, and build out infrastructure.

Aid can be an important piece of the puzzle of foreign destitution (although whether or how governments should be involved is debatable as a separate question), but it can’t be the only piece.  Moreover, we can’t let blurry notions of charity lead us to the cold, hard realities of the world.  (Note: That’s not a knock on charity; it’s a call for a mature charity that is focused on helping the recipient, rather than assuaging the emotions of the giver.)


Campaign Finance Reform and Fascism

Some folks to the left of the center line in Rhode Island politics would probably like me a whole lot more if I didn’t get so heated on the subject of campaign finance reform.  For much of the last two decades, that subject has been an area of rare agreement between left and right, but the more I’ve thought about it, and the more I’ve observed, the more convinced I’ve become that campaign finance reform actually does a great deal of harm to our country and that its supporters on the right have been suckered.

Among the many benefits of Scott Walker’s push against public-sector labor unions in Wisconsin may be its effect in prodding the left to start leveraging the campaign finance advantage before it was politically wise to do so on the national stage.  I’m referring to the infamous “John Doe” investigations, which I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere in Rhode Island news media, other than on Anchor Rising-Ocean State Current:

In April, National Review told — for the first time — the stories of the targets of Wisconsin’s “John Doe” investigations. The accounts were harrowing. Anonymous sources told of pre-dawn raids, with police swarming into their homes, walking into sleeping children’s rooms, denying the targets immediate access to lawyers, and then imposing gag orders that prevented them from telling friends, family, and supporters about their ordeal.

These raids were not launched against hardened criminals but against conservative activists, and the “crimes” they were accused of turned out not to be crimes at all.  Rather, a hyper-partisan district attorney, John Chisholm, and his special prosecutor, Francis Schmitz, launched a multi-county criminal investigation of First Amendment–protected speech. They wanted to know the extent to which conservative individuals and groups had coordinated with Scott Walker’s campaign — and the campaigns of various state senators — to advocate conservative issues.

On the surface, it sounds like a great idea to increase transparency in politics, down to the donations and spending by every candidate for every office.  The problem is that insiders have all of the advantages, on that count, and ruthless people can make better use of the information than moral grassroots volunteers and candidates, whether the ruthlessness manifests as a literal government conspiracy, as in Wisconsin, or merely run-of-the-mill intimidation of donors who back the non-ruthless.


Responding to the Incentives of Ideological Regulation in Barrington

ecoRI News reports that some larger chain stores in Barrington are reacting to the town’s ban on disposable plastic shopping bags by searching for the line at which bags are no longer considered disposable:

CVS and Shaw’s are promoting their thicker plastic bags as reusable. Shaw’s currently offers free paper bags and charges 10 cents apiece for the plastic bags. CVS stopped using paper bags altogether and this year shifted to free plastic bags.

Town Council vice president Kate Weymouth claims the thicker checkout bags defy the intent, if not the letter of the ordinance. In an e-mail to supporters of the ban, Weymouth wrote that the town’s ordinance relied on boiler-plate language from other bans across the country.

She wrote that the oil, gas and plastic industries fear losing revenue from the bans, so “they have legally worked around the language of these bans, and in ours specifically, by producing a thicker ply plastic, sticking handles to the top and stamping them with the word ‘reusable.’”

Well, good for them.  If only do-gooder progressives would start learning how incentives work.  Somewhere, in Barrington, a family that would otherwise drive its station wagon home full of thin plastic bags is now driving their SUV home filled with thicker plastic bags.

The council vice president’s response is instructive.  Inasmuch as they are characterized by their faith in government, progressives have a strange reverence for the government’s decrees (at least when those decrees align with their ideology).  The biggest incentive that they may be missing, though, is the incentive to stop taking the law seriously when it becomes too meddling and dictated.

The other day, I described two understandings of government and democracy: one seeing government as a means of relieving citizens of the need to build their lives around protection of their own rights (especially through violence), and the other seeing democracy as a means of making people feel like they have both buy-in and a means of acting peacefully to change the regime when they disagree.  (Digression: Arguably, these were jointly benefits of representative democracy, once, but with the expansion of government and the deterioration of politicians’ willingness to abide by their own laws, the principles are separating.)

The question that Ms. Weymouth should consider is why these companies — or anybody, at this point, really — should care one bit about “the intent” or the spirit of the law.  They don’t feel represented in the government, and they feel the direct burden of its decrees while doubting that the intent will have a real, positive effect on outcomes.

I’ve said it before:  We’ve reached the point, in this country, that one complies with the law simply to stay out of jail, not because the law deserves our respect.