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Needing Proof That Government Is Accountable

Maybe it’s a sign of conditioning, but even before I got to the end of the block quote contained in an Instapundit post, Glenn Reynolds’s closing sentence occurred to me almost verbatim.  The subject is the anti-conservative raids undertaken by the bureaucracy in Wisconsin, and here is the key paragraph of the block quote:

The Government Accountability Board, the state’s former “nonpartisan” speech cop, proved to be more partisan than originally suspected, the state Department of Justice report found. For reasons that “perhaps may never be fully explained,” GAB held onto thousands of private emails from Wisconsin conservatives in several folders on their servers marked “Opposition Research.” The report’s findings validate what conservatives have long contended was nothing more than a witch-hunt into limited government groups and the governor who was turning conservative ideas into public policy.

This episode, involving pre-dawn raids of the homes of politically active conservatives was police-state activity through and through.  It ought to be abhorrent to every American across the country, and it ought to produce a consequence so harsh that those tempted by the powers of government learn from the example.

In short, as Reynolds and I both reacted: Those involved need to be disbarred and jailed.  The governing system of our country cannot persist if people even suspect that such behavior by government might actually be plausible and not the stuff of spy-thriller fiction.


An Attitude That Needs Reinforcement

Maybe it’s just that I live in Rhode Island, but I don’t hear the opinion that Sarah Hoyt expresses here nearly often enough:

… “if you never balance your checkbook, you never have to admit to debt.”  But what I really like is [Democrats’] idea that they’re entitled to all of our money and that somehow not taking as much money from us as they are now means they’re “adding to the debt.”  No, what is adding to the debt is unconscionable spending.  Stop acting like drunken sailors on shore leave.  And stop putting your hand in my pocket, too.

One comes across the Big Government attitude in ways subtle and overt, but careful listening reveals the underlying belief to be that all money ultimately belongs to government.  Politicians just let us keep some of it.

We’re well past time for taxpayers to insist that enough is enough.  Our bloated, corrupt, incompetent government has no right to take our money and tell us what to do to the extent that it does, and ought to be returned to the status of working for us, rather than the other way around.


High Poverty, Low Charity Shows RI’s Wrong Path

It seems like just last week that we were hearing that Rhode Island has the highest poverty rate in New England.  This week, WPRI’s Susan Campbell has noticed that we’re also last in New England for charitable giving and last in the country for charitable volunteering:

The Ocean State ranked 49th overall in a comparison of states’ charitable giving that was conducted by personal finance website WalletHub.

The ranking is based on several factors, including volunteer rate and share of income donated. Rhode Island was last on the list for “volunteer and service,” and 31st for “charitable giving.”

If the charitability measure were money only, perhaps we could argue that some adjustment is necessary due to the state’s relative poverty, but the volunteerism points to something more worrisome.  As one of our two U.S. Senators, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, moves to expand a government employee benefit, with emphasis on the characterization that they “serve their communities,” we might suggest that the Ocean State has cultivated a sense of government as the moral center of society.

Such an attitude isn’t healthy economically or morally, inasmuch as government doesn’t create wealth through its actions nor do a good job balancing competing needs and also drains mutual assistance of its moral component by making it compulsory and filtered through the political process.


Government’s Interest in Promoting Itself

Tom Ward of the Valley Breeze offers an important warning for anybody hoping to keep an eye on their government and its successes and failures:

There’s a shift coming in local and state news coverage, and it’s not a good one. You’ll need to train yourself to spot real news done by independent journalists at newspapers and TV stations, from public relations – propaganda, really – done by the growing legions of writers employed by political officials or state agencies. What’s more annoying? Taxpayers are paying for the one-sided press, whose writers tow “the company line,” whether that company is a school department, mayor’s office, or state agency.

My question? Why are taxpayers forced to pay for this? Readers should ask themselves, “Who benefits?”

For some politicians in office, it becomes impossible to tell where their taxpayer-funded “communications” staffs end and their campaign machines begin.  Perhaps even more insidious, though, is the use of taxpayer funds to promote the use of government as a solution for all problems versus other alternatives.

Researching school choice a few years ago, I was struck by the degree to which government schools’ advantages extended beyond the no-direct-cost funding model to the point of having promotional apparatus.  The state, especially, has professionals dedicated to the promotion of the public system, from announcements of innovations to promotion of individual teachers.

With some variation in form and emphasis, this applies across government.  Police and fire departments promote their community services; welfare agencies (including HealthSource RI) advertise their offerings; and on and on.

To some extent, this is natural and good.  Communities should want broad comfort with the local police department, for example.  When government becomes as big and all-encompassing as it has, however, its self-promotion can flip an emphasis on using its coercive power only when necessary to presenting it as the ideal solution in all cases.


Progressive Vision Simple Enough for a Game

Now here’s a fantastic use of public dollars:

Your dose of Brussels insanity arrives in a rare form today: an online game teaching children “to collect more taxes”. ‘Taxlandia’, a simulation game released by the EU Commission’s Department for Taxation and the Customs Union, bears the motto “tax builds my future”. And they wonder why Britain left…

Playing around with the game a little, it occurred to me that it’s a near-perfect distillation of the social vision that our Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo is attempting to enact in Rhode Island.

Every public expenditure is an “investment” and is counter-balanced entirely and only by people’s not being happy with the tax burden.  Whether they’re happy with government services seems to be a given, except that more money might need to be spent.

Moreover, there’s no variable for the negatives of government activity.  A government “investment” never comes at anybody’s expense except taxpayers, which is to say that the government never affects the market in a negative way.  There also doesn’t appear to be a point at which those “investments” create a classes of dependents and union workforces that change the nature of government and drive it into bankruptcy.


Flawed Leaders and Heaven on Earth


Government Good Intentions Edge in on the Family

Breakfast in school for lower-income children is not a public policy that many people are inclined to spend time arguing against, this author included.  That said, something in Bob Plain’s RI Future article promoting the program is worth highlighting:

Too many schools in Rhode Island are leaving federal money on the table when it comes to providing free breakfast to their students,” said Governor Gina Raimondo, who recently visited Veazie Street Elementary to draw attention to its breakfast program. “We know students can’t do their best work if they’re hungry.”

We should be careful not to lose the distinction between two things in the governor’s statement:

  1. Students who are well fed do better in school.
  2. Schools are missing out on money.

While I’ve forgotten the details, I recall from local discussions some years ago that districts can make their food programs into a bit of a profit center.  On the money front, the range goes from a well-intentioned effort to secure funding in order to feed children who otherwise wouldn’t be fed to a more-cynical plan to maximize money for the district for whatever purposes districts use money (mainly personnel).

Wherever a particular advocate or school district falls in that range, however, we ought to spare some sensibility to be shocked at something that is never mentioned in this context.  Nobody appears even to think of the possibility that some of the students for whom districts could collect money are adequately fed at home and that, by pushing the program, the government is pulling children away from a potentially family-boosting interaction.  At the very least, they’re transferring some of the child’s sense of who provides for him or her from the parents or guardians to the government.

We see this with government-subsidized child care.  On average, studies suggest that students receiving such care perform worse, particularly in behavior, and one explanation is that they draw children into a classroom setting instead of leaving them with parents, grandparents, or other individuals with direct relationships with the children.

We’re far too cavalier about the potential side effects of using government as a cure.


The Advantage of the Blue States

Providence Journal columnist Mark Patinkin continues his series of essays learning about the United States by way of his old college buddies with a review of what one of them learned by biking across the country.  The short version:  The fly-over states are filled with nice people whom our economy is bypassing, which explains why they were willing to look past Donald Trump, the man, and see him as a challenge to the establishment.

Of more interest, to me, is this bit of parochial chauvinism in the comments to Patinkin’s article, from Douglas Maiko:

people in blue states are much wealthier than midwest red states. It comes down to blue state economic policies and great opportuites to create wealth for one self here in blue land. Red State people tend to be cynical about the american dream, watch too much fox news, obsess with cultural issues. The numbers speak for themselves, move to a Blue state if you want the american dream

Even to the extent that there’s truth to his assessment of economic balance, Maiko’s attitude exhibits the dangerous arrogance seen in successful civilizations whose people believe their condition is permanent.  The likelihood is that the coasts are thriving based on a legacy of lucky geography and historical accident.

After all, the East Coast is the oldest region in the country, and both coasts have access to the world’s waterways, which is of decreasing value.  The coasts’ living generations, in other words, started from an advantaged place that had nothing to do with “blue state economic policies.”  Rather, the natural and cultural advantages of the areas allowed advocates of those economic policies to impose them without people’s feeling it as acutely as they would in regions requiring harder work and more sacrifice.

We should fear that our advantages won’t last if we keep driving out our productive class — those who want to cash in their drive and abilities for income, forcing established players to compete.  The crisis point may take time, or it might come all at once, when some fly-over city comes up with the next big thing that makes our legacy institutions and industries unnecessary.

Perhaps they’ll maintain the generosity that Patinkin’s friend observed in their roadside diners even when the coasts become dependent on the fly-overs.  Counting on that probably wouldn’t be a wise plan, however.


The Danger to the Status Quo of Thwarting Democracy

I have no doubt this dynamic plays itself out across Rhode Island, but as another instance, it seems the Tiverton Town Council thinks democracy is mostly legitimate to the extent that it empowers them to make decisions for everybody else, with minimal accountability:

Beware this trio’s “looking.” Take away the political spin, and the objection of [Town Council Member John Edwards, the Fifith,] and his posse is clearly to limit the ability of voters to have control over town government more often than every two years at a heated election with state and national races on the ballot. Because their political friends have an advantage during regular November elections, that’s when they want the key decisions made.

Every budget for the past six years of the [financial town referendum] has received a majority vote, and usually, it isn’t even close. Members of the Budget Committee who put forward last year’s low, 0.5%-increase budget were all elected. Members of the Charter Review Commission were also all elected. Edwards just doesn’t like that his friends didn’t win.

The responsibility for the rest of us is to make sure that the insiders learn one lesson good and hard:  At some point, we’re going to stop dabbling around the edges and take over the governing bodies, and when we do so, we’re going to change a whole lot more than the year-to-year tax increases.

Grover Norquist put his finger on something true when he said, at the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s banquette on Friday, that progressives are motivated by the possibility of taking things from other people and making them do things, while conservatives are motivated by the desire to be left alone.

Too often, being left alone includes being able to avoid getting involved in the day to day operation of government, but there’s bound to be a breaking point.  People will put up with quite a bit of abuse if it means they get to keep their Monday nights more or less to themselves, but if the abuse becomes too substantial, they’ll give up those Monday nights to meetings… and then work to reduce the amount of time they have to spend telling other people what to do.


Near the Underlying Disagreement on Israeli Settlements

Tunku Varadarajan’s Weekend Interview with the India-born conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta, is worth a read for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is the subject’s unique perspective on the country in which he’s worked for decades:

Mr. Mehta is known in Israel for his vigorous opposition to the settlements. He describes to me a recent visit to the Palestinian city of Ramallah, where he is involved in teaching Western classical music to Arab children. “The houses there all have black cisterns for water,” he says. “Israel doesn’t supply them enough water, so they wait for the rainy season, which is brief. And across the hill there’s a settlement, and you see the flowers growing there in their gardens. It’s that close. So, I see the rage that goes on in the hearts of the Palestinian people, that ‘we have no water, and they’re planting flowers.’ ”

Now, let me be clear that I don’t know all of the particulars of Israel’s relationship with either Palestinian cities or Israeli settlements.  If Israel has some sort of agreement to supply water to the former, then it should do so; if that agreement is unreasonable, the country’s leaders should work to change it.

Whatever the case, though, I do wonder how much the schism of opinion on this, as on much else, begins with a more fundamental difference of perspective.  In Mehta’s telling, the aggrieved Palestinians are angry that Israel gives water to its own settlements and not to the Palestinians.  Coming across the same observation, one might wonder, instead, why do the people on that hill have enough water and those in the city do not?

Perhaps the answer is that the Palestinians are rejecting Israel’s right to exist, which would make an objective third party a bit less sympathetic.  Or perhaps the answer is that Israel is using water as a point of leverage in broader negotiations, which would put its decisions in a darker light.

One suspects that the more common response among Palestinians and their Western sympathizers is to label the inadequate provision of water as an indication of a form of racism, removing all in-between questions about a nation’s responsibilities.