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Reality Reasserting Itself… for Some

Frank Somerville, an anchor for KTVU news in California, has declined the mainstream veil of silence on the nature of Antifa.  After visiting the “anti-hate protest” in Berkeley, he wrote:

I walked away stunned. I grew up in Berkeley. I marched in anti-war protests during the sixties. It’s one thing to read about hate. It’s another thing to be right next to it. In my opinion, these people dressed in black are just as hateful and intolerant as the people they are protesting against.

Afterward I was talking to several other protesters (not dressed in black). One of them actually stood up for me as the people dressed in black were threatening me. I was touched. They were just as disappointed as I was. They said that the people dressed in black represent a small minority and that they “hijack” the protests.

I can’t help but contrast, however, the insistence that this represents “a small minority” “hijacking” protests with the treatment of the Tea Party.  The conservatives didn’t even have “a small minority” hurting people and breaking things, and they received no credit for it.  Rather, the news media slandered the entire movement and yawned away a “non-scandal” as the Obama Administration’s IRS targeted such groups to disrupt their political advocacy and harass them.

(Curious, isn’t it, that the “small minority” of vicious masked thugs is on the same ideological side as the administration that corrupted government into dictatorial behavior.  It seems almost like a coordinated effort to undermine our system of government.)

As the new saying goes, that’s a big part of why you got Trump.

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Obscuring Reality One Headline at a Time

The dishonesty of reporting about Antifa has been something to behold, even down to the local level of the Newport Daily News.  On Monday, the paper carried an AP story about violence in Berkeley on page A2 with the headline, “Berkeley protest against hate turns violent as left, right clash.”  Here’s the first paragraph:

Black-clad anarchists on Sunday stormed into what had been a largely peaceful Berkeley protest against hate and attacked at least four people, including the leader of a politically conservative group who canceled an event a day earlier in San Francisco because of fears violence could break out.

Two notes:  The headline makes it sound as if there were two groups of substantial size fighting.  That’s a “clash.”  When one group arrives and assaults the other, that’s an “attack.”  Catch, also, the qualifier that the “protest against hate” had only been “largely peaceful.”  In other words, what Berkeley saw was a very violent subgroup enter into a larger — ideologically sympathetic — group that was already engaging in some violence and the now-larger mob attacking the actually peaceful protesters with which the mob disagrees.

Here’s video of Arthur Christopher Schaper, who occasionally submits essays to the Ocean State Current, being chased by a mob and then spat upon.  Now, Arthur’s more of a provocateur than I am, but journalists across the country should begin considering whether they really want to further a narrative that compounds the injustice to those attacked by left-wing mobs by denying the reality of the attack.

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Being Colonized by Our Betters

This pair of paragraphs from Rod Dreher on The American Conservative invites an interesting analysis of the nature of our country’s political and social division:

Starting in the 1960s, writes [political scientist Samuel] Huntington, “deconstructionists” of national identity encouraged “individuals were defined by their group membership, not common nationality.” Pushing identity politics was a time-tested strategy for colonialist regimes, for the sake of dividing and conquering subject peoples. But the governments of nation-states instead focused on uniting their disparate peoples. (Indeed, the Civil Rights Movement was about compelling the white majority to extend the promises of the Constitution and the Creed to black Americans — in other words, to fully unite them to the whole.)

Huntington says that this did not start from below, but was imposed from the top, by American political, legal, and cultural elites. He writes, “These efforts by a nation’s leaders to deconstruct the nation they governed were, quite possibly, without precedent in human history.”

In essence, our elites are colonizing us.  If that’s unique, it’s because the American project was unique.  Our would-be aristocracy has just taken some time to find the right formula, for government to grow, and for technology to advance.  The aristocrats have developed as a subculture, isolated and different from the masses of Americans, even if they didn’t have to travel an ocean to get to us.

This development is not without its irony.  During the reign of President Obama, some observers (notably Dinesh D’Sousa) characterized the president’s ideology largely in terms of its anti-colonialism.  One might fairly opine that the anti-colonialism of the leftist likes of Obama is superficial; the notion of colonizing per se isn’t what offends them, but rather that Western civilization did the colonizing.

This antipathy isn’t principled or genuine, as the pop-culture-loving, golf-playing Obama proved, but simply forms the basis for a rationalization to deprive others of their rights and to undermine the greatest country in human history for their own personal aggrandizement and advantage.

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Conservatism and Liberalism on Economic and Social Scales

For years, we’ve heard politicians and other political actors promote themselves as “socially liberal, but fiscally conservative.”  (Let’s call it the “soli-fico” position.)  Nationally, this impulse has seemed to be driven (at least in part) by donors.  Business elites are more likely to fall in that category, and the Koch Brothers were notable funders of the right with a libertarian mandate.

Recently those who’ve tried to remain at least palatable to the soli-fico advocates have been reconsidering.  On principled grounds, soli-fico is maybe the most cold of philosophies, leaving vulnerable people lacking the protections of both government intervention and social stability.  Once soli-ficos could claim that getting government out of the way would let society address cultural issues, but after many libertarians embraced the use of government — mainly the courts — to redefine marriage nationwide and then proved, at best, ineffective in keeping at bay early persecution of objecting Christian businesses, that balance proved illusory.

On financial grounds, the right has many donors who are not socially conservative, and they were arguably under-served during the soli-fico years.

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, F.H. Buckley highlights a study reinforcing this recent turn:

Most Hillary Clinton voters were deeply liberal on both [the economic and the social] axes. The surprise was the Trump voters, who were very conservative on social issues but moderate on economic ones. By Mr. Drutman’s count, 73% of all voters were left of center on economics. Most of the remaining Trump supporters were quite moderate on economic questions. …

While the great majority of voters were liberal on economic issues, a small majority (52%) were social conservatives at the top of the diagram, enough to swing the election to Mr. Trump. Only 3.8% of voters were libertarians in the lower-right quadrant, socially liberal and economically conservative. They split their votes evenly between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton.

The scatterplot that Buckley reproduces and other charts from the study are worth reviewing.  Soli-fico voters make up just 4% of the electorate.  Moreover, the opportunity for social conservatives to win over voters by explaining why their policies will accomplish the same goals as economic liberalism is greater than the opportunity for social liberals to win over economic conservatives.

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Fung in for Governor

Citing the inspiration of Governor Baker in Massachusetts, Allan Fung tells the Tiverton Republicans he is running for governor again.

He cites problems with our governor and the General Assembly and the flight of younger families and has plenty of material to cite in criticizing the incumbent.

He cast eyes to New Hampshire and its lower capita budget and promised to propose tax cuts, mentioning the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity and the elimination or big cut to the sales tax. (Of course, he’s aware that I’m here.)

[caption id="attachment_28215" align="alignnone" width="300"]Allan Fung Speaking at Li'l Bear Lounge in Tiverton Allan Fung Speaking at Li’l Bear Lounge in Tiverton[/caption]
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“Base Amoralism” Across the Progressive Left

I read this opinion piece by Dinesh D’Souza when he first published it, but something in particular stands out to me, now.

In it, D’Souza quotes from a 1998 interview with progressive megadonor George Soros in which the wealthy investor describes his experience pretending to be Christian under Nazi rule and going out to help confiscate the property of his fellow Jews.  Soros says he felt no guilt at all, because he couldn’t stop their property from being confiscated, so he might as well be on the side of the dictator.  D’Souza writes:

Soros reflects the type of base amoralism that is more characteristic of fascism and Nazism than of the forces that defeated fascism and Nazism. His anti-fascist pose camouflages deep affinities between Soros and the Nazis, in the same way that antifascist groups today closely resemble the Blackshirts of fascist Italy and the Brownshirts of Nazi Germany.  Soros and the left’s self-styled antifascism is a fraud because there are no fascists they are fighting.  The only fascism that is recognizable in their actions is their own.

“Base amoralism.”  Recall my post from last Monday about a Princeton philosophy professor’s belief that an unborn child whom we know is going to die (because the mother is certain to have an abortion) is “a very different kind of entity” than an unborn child whose mother is likely to bring him or her to term.

This sort of thinking pervades the Left because it makes every moral decision contingent and every issue about power — about being the one with the power to make decisions about who is deserving of life and rights.  That’s why progressives are so prone to excusing the bad behavior of their co-religionists (progressivism being a religion) based on their intentions.

In 2003, I wrote a series of essays after reading Frank Tipler’s Omega Point, and in one, I pointed out that Tipler’s promise of a god of man’s creation at the end of the universe would be prone to washing away the ethical protections of those who opposed such a project.  The same applies to the progressive god of government: Opposition is evidence that one’s intentions are bad, a disqualification for rights.

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When Government Pays Us to Be Parents

Zach Maher, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, explains how the government-paid-parental-leave-in-Sweden-is-great scales fell from his eyes:

When the girl’s parents refused to subject her to this unnecessary procedure, the hidden machinery of the Swedish welfare state sprang into motion. My brother-in-law and his wife were required to attend multiple interviews with social workers and to submit friends and neighbors in their small town for questioning. Social workers even inspected their home. Suddenly, decisions as benign as what milk to buy seemed potential evidence of parental deficiency. My in-laws feared their two children might be taken from them.

In Sweden, the state reserves for itself ultimate responsibility for children’s well-being. As a parent my job is to give my kids the trygghet necessary to become productive, tax-paying members of Swedish society. This is why I receive financial support and medical benefits. The state is paying me to be a parent. I am, in effect, an employee—and if I do a poor job, my responsibility as a parent might be taken away from me.

 

When we give government responsibility for things — even good things, like the well-being of children — we also give it authority over those who provide those things, like parents.  Suddenly, government isn’t just filling in gaps, but seeking out gaps by putting parents under the microscope.

The United States is not immune to such thinking, obviously.  Some 20 years ago, on Matt Allen’s Mental Floss radio show with the more-liberal Jennifer Brien, the latter argued that schools have to teach sex education (liberally tinted, naturally) because parents simply aren’t doing the job adequately.  I called in to ask what gives her or the government the right to make that determination, but she wouldn’t be shaken from the assertion of need.  (And then I was cut off.)

Suggesting that he and his wife “insist… on having their own ideas about raising children,” Maher asks, “Does this mean we can’t accept parental support from the state?”  My guess is that he doesn’t really have a choice — that the government doesn’t actually see it as an exchange or contract.

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Universal Basic Income and Our Aspirations

Once upon a time, folks actually hoped that a universal basic education plus a prosperity-driven increase in free time would draw people toward intellectual pursuits and self improvement.  I’m sure there’s data on such things, but for my purposes, here, let’s just speculate that most folks’ general sense would be that it hasn’t quite worked that way.

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Dan Nidess asks why we would expect a universal basic income to have a different effect.  Indeed, he suggests that the policy “addresses the material needs of citizens while undermining their aspirations”:

At the heart of a functioning democratic society is a social contract built on the independence and equality of individuals. Casually accepting the mass unemployment of a large part of the country and viewing those people as burdens would undermine this social contract, as millions of Americans become dependent on the government and the taxpaying elite. It would also create a structural division of society that would destroy any pretense of equality.

UBI supporters would counter that their system would free people to pursue self-improvement and to take risks. America’s experience over the past couple of decades suggests that the opposite is more likely. Labor Department data show that at the end of June the U.S. had 6.2 million vacant jobs. Millions of skilled manufacturing and cybersecurity jobs will go unfilled in the coming years.

Notably, Nidess uses the term “productive class,” which I’ve been using for years in attempting to describe what populations have been leaving Rhode Island.  Basically, the Ocean State has been attracting the poor and (largely) holding on to the wealthy while driving out those who are looking for some way to transform their smarts, brawn, and effort into wealth.

Put in those terms, it’s clear that Nidess fears the UBI would bring about a national version of what I’ve called the “government plantation” or “company state,” whereby the government draws in dependents in order to provide services billed to somebody else.  Whatever arguments and motivations may underly such policies, they certainly don’t have the feel of being healthy for our society.

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The Complexities of Tax Policy

I’ve always been skeptical when wonky types on my side of the ideological aisle start proclaiming one tax or another to be universally better than others.  Typically, among conservatives, that becomes a preference for consumption taxes, like the value-added tax (VAT).  What appeals to them (and me, honestly) about such a tax is that it applies taxes to consumption, meaning everybody who consumes something has to factor the value of government into the equation.

What may appeal to big-money donors is that it pushes the tax burden down the economic ladder.  Joseph Sternberg points that out in the context of Europe and, specifically, Germany:

Indirect taxes, such as the value-added tax on consumption and social-security taxes (disguised as “contributions”), are a different matter. The VAT disproportionately affects lower earners, who spend a higher proportion of their incomes. And social taxes tend to kick in at lower income levels than income taxes, and extract a higher and more uniform proportion of income.

A chart at the link shows that Germany’s tax burden, as a percentage of income, falls pretty evenly across the socio-economic landscape.  Take social security out, and essentially, the country has a VAT for lower-income households and an income tax for higher-income taxes.

I’m not sure that spreading the tax burden on paper ought to be the goal, though.  The cost of government is spread out in one way or another, even if we don’t capture the effect of, say, lower wages and lost jobs because wealthy job creators pass on the cost of government to their employees.

The really lost component is the effect that particular taxes have upon the economy, and that will depend greatly on the specific conditions of the local area… its culture, its industry mix, is geography, and so on.  Rhode Island, for example, could boost its economy with a low sales tax because none of the state is far from the reach of out-of-state consumers.

These questions get impossibly complex, though, and the best approach is probably to tax based on the legitimate claims of government, meaning a philosophical rationale for each tax, not an economic one. That way, the cost of government will be most accurately priced into the economy.

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