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Left-Wing Criterion of the Associated Press

Perhaps it’s more impression than reality, but it seems as if a growing number of conservatives… no, that’s too narrow; make it non-leftists… are catching on to the implicit double-standards of modern political talk. Just as a politician who is both a minority and a conservative often isn’t treated as a valid minority, a journalist who approaches his work with a conservative perspective can’t rely on supposedly objective news media to have his back on principle. Look, for instance, at this stunning opening paragraph of an Associated Press article by Juan Lozano:

An antiabortion activist’s plan to reject a plea deal offering probation for charges related to making undercover Planned Parenthood videos likely means his goal is to use a trial as a public platform to criticize the nonprofit group, according to legal experts.

Even if the AP sees a bright line between David Daleiden’s “activism” and the “journalism” of investigative news teams, mainly on television, that use similar methods, one would think their presentation would be a bit more nuanced. After all, Daleiden’s case cannot be considered apart from his methods, which were indistinguishable from some forms of journalism.

It’s dawning on conservatives and moderates, finally, that there’s no sense expecting credit for acting on shared principles in cases like this, just as it’s dawning on them that there’s no sense mouthing identity-politics pieties for which they will never receive credit.


AAA Southern New England Becomes a Political Action Committee

As a AAA member since 1992, when my late mother insisted that I join, I was disappointed (to say the least) to see WPRI’s Ted Nesi tweet, during a long RI Senate hearing on Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s toll-and-borrow infrastructure plan, that AAA Southern New England is officially in favor of bringing widespread tolling to Rhode Island.

When the roadside-assistance organization released a poll, recently, showing that a relatively narrow majority of its members support Raimondo’s RhodeWorks plan, I was willing to let it slide as purely an information activity, even though people with whom I agree on the issue suggested that it had essentially been a push poll that obscured the difference between supporting road repairs and supporting tolls. (N.B., I was not polled.) Sending a lobbyist to actually put the organization on a particular side of the issue is an entirely different matter.

According to the Secretary of State’s Lobby Tracker, Lloyd Albert, the Senior Vice President of Public & Government Affairs for AAA Northeast whom Nesi had named as offering testimony, collects $100 per hour to lobby in Rhode Island. Another lobbyist for the company, Mark Shaw, collects $150 per hour. Some portion of my most recent membership check, in other words, went toward paying Mr. Albert to argue for a major government revenue grab that I believe will be terrible for the state.

Of course, even if my money all went to Albert, it wouldn’t have covered a full hour of hanging out at the State House. The state government, by contrast, gives AAA enough money to have covered its entire $21,000 lobbying bill last year. According to RIOpenGov, the state Dept. of Administration paid AAA an average of $21,222 per year from 2010 through 2014. According to the state’s transparency site, the Governor’s Workforce Board began giving AAA Southern New England thousands of dollars a year, as well, in 2014 — $18,100 in fiscal year 2014, $500 in fiscal 2015, and $8,523 so far in fiscal 2016.

Yesterday, I noted that the private-sector groups that should offer some counter-force to the agents of big government are next to useless in Rhode Island, perhaps because they’ve simply been bought off. It’s more important to the people at the top of these organizations to preserve their network with government insiders than to assert the interests of their members when they conflict with the government’s interests. Members and potential members should take this reality under advisement.


With Raimondo Budget 2.0, Welcome to Second Class Status, Rhode Islanders

Anyone who thought Rhode Island had reached its peak for governing in favor of special interests learned from Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget, released last night, that a whole new level exists. The overarching assumption is now that a few connected insiders in the state government, in nonprofit groups, from private companies and investment firms, and from Washington, D.C., think tanks and agencies can and should map a course for our shared future and spend our money to make us get in line.

“Nearly every item is directly targeted toward a particular narrow group of recipients,” said Justin Katz, research director for the Center. “It’s the kind of budget a chief executive puts forward when she doesn’t trust the people of her state to make their own decisions.”

In ways small and large, the vision of the budget is what one might expect to be crafted in the halls of the progressive Brookings Institution, with its recent report funded by private interests (mainly Raimondo donors), and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which got its hooks into the Ocean State through the RhodeMap RI plan.

Continue reading on RIFreedom.org.


Ten Thoughts on Ted Cruz

With Ted Cruz in the lead in the GOP primary race, Erica Grieder’s profile suggests he’s pretty much what you’d expect him to be, if you thought about it.


No Room for Policy Disagreement in RI Politics

Assuming Cynthia Drummond’s sources told the truth for her Westerly Sun story, this is another example of political behavior we all know goes on in Rhode Island, but that our latest, blunter generation of political leaders see less reason to slather with rules of propriety:

A Jan. 28 meeting between Hopkinton Town Council President Frank Landolfi, Chariho Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci and Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello was abruptly canceled because the town has voiced its opposition to truck tolls. …

“[House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s Chief of Staff, Leo Skenyon] called me up and canceled, and he said ‘we’re not meeting tonight.’ I asked him why, and he said ‘because I read in the paper that you folks were against the tolls, so we’re not meeting today.’”

Down there in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie was badly damaged, politically, but a scandal involving his staff’s making road closure decisions to punish a politician. This is the same sort of behavior.

On one hand, it’s not healthy that we have this sort of political culture, in Rhode Island. On the other hand, having that political culture laid out for all to see is the first necessary step for the people to start coming to their senses.


Clinton’s Mindboggling Email Controversy

Even as the stories and evidence mount, it blows my mind that Hillary Clinton’s email scandal is still being treated as almost a peripheral issue in the election. I mean, this is even in the New York Times:

The State Department on Friday said for the first time that “top secret” material had been sent through Hillary Clinton’s private computer server, and that it would not make public 22 of her emails because they contained highly classified information.

The department announced that 18 emails exchanged between Mrs. Clinton and President Obama would also be withheld, citing the longstanding practice of preserving presidential communications for future release. The department’s spokesman, John Kirby, said that exchanges did not involve classified information.

I’m no expert, but my understanding is that there’s no way for such emails to get onto a private email server without somebody’s having committed a crime. Add to that the fact that a president who claimed to have had no idea about the private email address is now acknowledged to have interacted with that email address.

How is this not an absolutely huge story, given Clinton’s status as a presumed front-runner, with Democrats’ substantive option being a candidate who may very well be indicted and inarguably made the nation less secure as Secretary of State and an avowed socialist? How bad does this thing have to get before the question on every commentary show is: Can she continue to run?

Whatever the case, Clinton’s candidacy and the handling of it is a fascinating case study of the American Left (particularly in the media) and the sort of governance that it engenders. One lesson is that the key point with political audacity is that the fatal step is ultimately an acknowledgement that the crime or unconstitutional action is actually a big deal. The law doesn’t matter… only whether the sycophants feel as if they can wave the action away as inconsequential.


If the People Rule the Country, They Have to Act Responsibly

Well-respected conservative commentator and economist Tomas Sowell really doesn’t like Donald Trump:

It is amazing how many people have been oblivious to this middle-aged man’s spoiled brat behavior, his childish boastfulness about things he says he is going to do, and his petulant response to every criticism with ad hominem replies.

He has boasted that his followers would stick by him even if he committed murder. But is that something to boast about? Is it not an insult to his followers, if it is true?

Sowell goes on to make a suggestion one hears from time to time in election years: “If you don’t understand the issues, but want to do your patriotic duty, then stay home on election night.” “Uninformed voters,” he writes, “turn elections into a game of playing Russian roulette with the future of America.”

Attempting to bridge the gap between Trump supporters and Trump dislikers conservative online-video commentator Bill Whittle makes a related point that could arguably serve as a self test for Trump’s ardent fan base. If you like Donald Trump, Whittle suggests, then follow the Donald’s own counsel and make a deal. Don’t simply follow him no matter what he says or does just because he rouses something in your spirit. Ultimately, he’s applying for a job. Make him earn it. Insist that he make solid commitments for specific actions.

If you’re negotiating with somebody, the absolute worst thing you can do is to let them know that their product or service is the only one that will do and that you feel as if you must have it. In the political context, one way to do that is to acknowledge that critics have a point and to give the impression (at least) that your candidate hasn’t quite closed the deal, for you.

If you don’t feel like you can do that — whether because you lack the power or for some emotional reason — that might be a sign that you should walk away.


“Clarifications” About Infringements on Your Rights

Conspicuously on the same day I highlighted his legislation seeking to regulate even small-scale grassroots political activity at the town level, state representative John “Jay” Edwards (D, Tiverton, Portsmouth) put out a press release on the subject, which is built around a… let’s say… highly spun premise. The five-paragraph release uses some variation of the word “clarify” in each of its first three paragraphs:

  • The bill will “increase accountability” by “clarifying language.”
  • It will “extend [government] power” by “clarifying which people and groups are obliged to submit campaign finance reports.”
  • It will “clarify the definition of the term ‘entity’.”

All this talk about “clarifying” seems designed to disguise just how radical and tyrannical a step Edwards wants to take. In a word, the clarification is that Edwards wants the term “entity” to apply to everybody. Any single person or any group organized in any way who spends $100 in the course of a year on a local matter would have to “file reports of contributions or expenditures every seven days.” That’s not clarification; it’s asphyxiation.

Two items that could use a little clarification, but about which Edwards doesn’t seem concerned, are whether there’s ever an end to the weekly reports or if they go on every week through the end of the year and how much overlap in reportage is necessary. If Uncle Joe gives $100 to Patricia and Jim down the street so the couple can print up some fliers about their shared opinion on whether the town should buy land for a community mini-golf course, do all of them have to start filing reports because Joe has an expense and Patricia and Jim have both a donation and an expense?

Note, too, that the bill does not apply this onerous “everybody” standard to the election of local or state politicians. This not only protects Edwards’s supporters and those of his friends, but it also creates incentive for the public to limit its political activity only to that which is filtered through insiders.

Forgive my repetition, but the purpose of Edwards’s bill isn’t to “clarify” anything. It’s to create even more disincentive to civic participation in the general population. It’s to give people the general sense that getting involved in politics — even at the town level — is something people should only do if they’re willing to start regularly filling out publicly accessible forms with their addresses and other information — not the least, a record of those with whom they associate in an exchange of money. It’s also to give Edwards’s political allies more insight into whom they should add to their target list for gossip, anonymous attacks on the Internet, and other forms of intimidation.

The only things Edwards clarifies with this legislation are that he has no respect for the rights of Americans and that neither he nor any representative of any party who supports his bill should not be trusted with public office.


Pretending We Have Representatives

Here’s one for my growing file for Rhode Island politicians’ not even caring to pretend our government operates as it’s supposed to:

… when asked on Wednesday how hard it will be to sell the reworked toll proposal to rank-and-file lawmakers, [House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston)] said: “I am not concerned about it. Not at all. It will be a very strong vote. Not even close.”

The reality is that almost every vote that comes to the floor is “not even close,” and that it’s been that way for so long most regular viewers are stunned when something doesn’t go according to plan. There was a time, though, when Rhode Island’s elected leaders would at least pretend the floor debate mattered and outcomes hadn’t already been decided in back rooms. Back then, a house speaker might have said something like: “Well, we’ll have to make our case to the representatives, but I’m confident that our members will agree that this bill is the best option for the state.”

Oh, we’d have all known that the votes were already counted, but at least there would have been lip service to the importance of all the formalities of role calls, discussion, and journals. At this point, it’s difficult to understand why we make legislators show up at their desks at all in an era of revolving-door laws that don’t apply when they’d be most appropriate, employees who are hired outside of government, and hundreds of millions in debt on which voters never get to vote.

Think how much more fundraising they could get done if they didn’t have to be at their desks to vote.


RI Foundation Becoming Hub for Top-Down Progressive Shadow Government

In the Daily Signal, Kevin Mooney, who used to write for the Ocean State Current, takes a look at the private Rhode Island Foundation’s role in advancing left-wing causes and exploiting legal loopholes to move sensitive government activities beyond the reach of voters and transparency laws:

With almost $1 billion in assets, the foundation bills itself as Rhode Island’s largest grant-maker, awarding more than $30 million a year, according to annual reports. Tax records show that the foundation concentrated its most recent donations on left-of-center organizations, with a particular emphasis on environmental causes.

These organizations include Earthjustice, EcoRI News, the Climate Action Network, the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island, and Grow Smart Rhode Island. Each has received tens of thousands in donations from the Rhode Island Foundation, according to the most recent tax forms.

Other left-leaning recipients of the foundation’s largess include Planned Parenthood branches in Rhode Island and Massachusetts; Direct Action for Rights and Equality, an anti-capitalist “social justice” group; the Economic Progress Institute, a Rhode Island-based progressive research group; and the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, which seeks new gun controls.

Rhode Islanders who express concern over the Rhode Island Foundation’s penchant for funding liberal causes have been particularly critical of the nonprofit’s support for environmental groups standing behind a project called RhodeMap Rhode Island.

The RI Foundation’s left-wing involvement spans just about every area of progressive social activism, and as Mooney notes, the organization has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state in the area of healthcare. (Cash is fungible, of course, so revenue is revenue.) In the past year, though, the Foundation has really taken additional steps toward helping to create and play a role in a shadow government.

As a tangential note, Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights Giovanni Cicione tells Mooney that some of this growing private-sector cabal should be registering as lobbyists. I’d argue that includes the state’s new chief innovation officer Richard Culatta, whom Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo helped hire through the Rhode Island College Foundation. He’s going to be part of the governor’s cabinet of advisers, but he’s not a government employee and will be giving suggestions and promoting them not only to the governor, but to agencies and bodies throughout government. As of this morning, he was not listed on the Secretary of State’s lobbyist tracker, and it’s reasonable to expect he never will be, becoming instead just another example of how there’s no rule of law in Rhode Island.


Government’s Unsurprising Preferred Demographic

Apparently for the first time, Bryant’s Hassenfeld Institute released detailed crosstabs from its most recent public-opinion survey. It’s interesting stuff.

Readers may have seen reports that Governor Gina Raimondo’s toll proposal is under water, with more people opposing it than supporting it. Republicans’ pay-as-you-go alternative is also under water, by even more, but the question may have caused that result with the phrase, “may take longer to repair the roads and bridges.” Given a list of four alternatives for funding infrastructure repairs, voters overwhelmingly support “reallocating state money to pay for the repairs,” 37.2% versus a toll-and-borrow plan’s 21.9%. In fact, people are even less supportive of pay-as-you-go with a truck toll (12.5%).

Particularly interesting, though, is the right-direction/wrong-direction question. Rhode Islanders are notably less optimistic than they were in September, although still a little more optimistic than last April. According to the newly available information in the latest poll, a large part of the “right direction” results come from people under 40 with household income under $25,000.

Tracing those groups through the other questions — especially measured by income — shows they tend to fall on what might be called the pro-government side. They are the least likely, for example, to support reallocating other money to infrastructure. They are the least likely to say “locally elected officials” are doing a “fair/poor” job (although more than half still say it). They give elected state officials the best marks.

When it comes to education reform, those with incomes under $25,000, they are the most likely to say principals need more authority, yet the least likely to say that the system has to “make it easier to deal with under performing teachers. (Perhaps they don’t see principals as the managerial employees who would handle underperforming teachers, but more like head teachers, themselves.) They are also among the least likely to support expanded school choice.

Not surprisingly, those with incomes under $25,000 are also the most likely to say that they are Democrats, as the only income group among which more than half of respondents say they are a member of a particular party.

That sheds some light, I’d say, on the state government’s preference for policies to make ours a “company state,” in which the government imports clients for itself, largely from other countries. It also seems relevant to an approach to economic development that places a premium on, as the Brookings Institution report put it, “coveted Millennials.”

The young and the least wealthy also made up the smallest groups in the Hassenfeld Institute’s survey. Many of the policies that our state government pursues can be explained if we assume that government officials want to change that.


The Usefulness of O-Meters

Much of the visceral reaction to PolitiFact is, I think, a function of the Truth-o-Meter — partly its operators frequently attempt to apply it to statements that are open to interpretation (rather than statements of fact) and partly because it clicks from truth to Pants on Fire in just a few stages. When I’ve brought this up with PolitiFact practitioners, they say the meter is the gimmick that grabs the eye.

The Rhode Island Republican Policy Group’s new Waste-o-Meter, although a gimmick, isn’t quite the same thing:

“Our press corps has done a great job of exposing wasteful practices and spending in our state government,” said state. Rep. Patricia Morgan, R-West Warwick, citing a series of stories that have appeared in The Providence Journal.

“They report findings and citizens fume about the waste. After a few days, the frustration dies down and the people of Rhode Island continue with their busy lives, forgetting about the latest assault to their wallets. … Those in charge are not held responsible for the waste and so it continues, without corrective action,” Morgan said, “no one is held accountable.”

So, “we have constructed a visual reminder for citizens and for our policy makers. The Waste-O-Meter is a giant thermometer which will track the instances of waste in government. Every two weeks, we intend to add to the thermometer as we uncover more examples of wasteful spending,” she said in a statement, prepared for release at a 1:30 press conference in the House minority office at the State House.

A continual frustration for folks who follow this stuff is that it all becomes noise after report after report of waste and abuse. Visuals are definitely helpful. Maybe there should be a scandal board somewhere at the State House, too.


When the Principled Become Another Interest Group

Mark Steyn puts a dynamic of this election season in focus, I think:

If the present polls hold up through Iowa and New Hampshire, it’d be the reconfiguration of Mr and Mrs Main Street America as just another interest group. So a philosophical commitment to free trade means less to them than the degeneration of mill and factory towns into wastelands of fast-food service jobs and heroin addiction. An abstract respect for religious pluralism means less to them than reducing the number of crazies running around whose last words before opening fire are “Allahu akbar!” A theoretical belief in private-sector health care means less to them than not getting stiffed by crappy five-figure health “insurance” that can be yanked out from under you at any moment under Byzantine rules and regulations that change 30 times a day. And bipartisan myth-making about “a nation of immigrants” means a whole lot less than another decade of Press One For English, flatlined wages, sanctuary cities and remorseless cultural transformation…

Steyn begins by quoting Rush Limbaugh suggesting (as Steyn summarizes) that “there are insufficient takers for conservatism,” leading to its replacement by nationalism and populism, as evidenced by Donald Trump’s popularity.  He then notes that the party that was supposed to bring the principles of conservatism to government over the last, say, 50 years has not done so; at best it’s brought a slightly slower progressivism.

Both Donald Trump’s unlabeled political poses and Ted Cruz’s explicit standing as a conservative suggest that it isn’t the principles of conservatism that have “insufficient takers,” but the notion that politicians in the party that everybody thought was conservative (though it hasn’t really been so for a long time) could be trusted actually to be conservative.  So, as Steyn says, many of those who understand that generally conservative principles would benefit them personally have simply stepped to the “next level” and are favoring a guy who’s as likely as not to do everything they’ve said Obama was wrong to do, but on their behalf.

Just as the only way to change local governance here in Rhode Island is for people to take a slightly more active interest in it, the only way to avoid a left-right catastrophe may be to shore up principle and prove that it can work.  Unfortunately, just as the painfully slow progress reformers are able to make in the Ocean State makes their job even more difficult as time goes on, conservatives’ natural constituents are going to be more likely to demand immediate shows of fealty and direct benefits over indirect, long-term policies that benefit them because our society is healthier.


Trump Closed the Door, for Me

I’ve been reluctantly leaving open the door for Donald Trump, at least with regard to the general election, if he should win the Republican primary. His evocation of September 11 as a protective smokescreen against Ted Cruz’s damaging reference to Trump’s New York values has closed that door.

Roger Kimball and Ben Shapiro (both worth a read) are correct that everybody knows what Cruz meant and that he was right. I grew up close enough to the city to have been within the sphere of its culture and to have multiple personal connections to that horrible day, and it’s undeniable that the area’s values, in terms of politics and society, aren’t shared across the country. Look at the current mayor, for crying out loud. But that didn’t stop Trump from laying it on this thickly:

When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York. You had two one hundred…you had two 110-story buildings come crashing down. I saw them come down. Thousands of people killed, and the cleanup started the next day, and it was the most horrific cleanup, probably in the history of doing this, and in construction. I was down there, and I’ve never seen anything like it. And the people in New York fought and fought and fought, and we saw more death, and even the smell of death — nobody understood it. And it was with us for months, the smell, the air. And we rebuilt downtown Manhattan, and everybody in the world watched and everybody in the world loved New York and loved New Yorkers. And I have to tell you, that was a very insulting statement that Ted made.

For the past fifteen years, I’ve felt that the response to September 11, above all, represented American values. That’s why people started calling Rudy Giuliani “America’s mayor.” It wasn’t something that made New York City special; it was something that makes America special. The strength shown in those weeks and months was undeniably admirable, but it has nothing to do with the defining local political and social values of a kind that Trump has acknowledged in the past.

To harness the powerful emotions that still surround that point in history for a narrow political goal and for parochial distinction shows a divisiveness and willingness to manipulate that Americans should find disconcerting in a candidate for president.


A Conservative Path to Open Borders

A long-time reader of Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, I would certainly not challenge his conservative bona fides, but he’s apparently feeling as if that may soon be a risk:

One of those ideals has always been the encouragement of immigration as an engine of American progress and prosperity. I grew up in Ohio, a state filled with Americans-by-choice — including my father, who came from Czechoslovakia in 1948. As my conservatism deepened, so did my conviction that an open and welcoming immigration policy was a self-evident part of the conservative creed. In one of my earliest columns for The Boston Globe, a plea to open the door to Haitian refugees, I described immigrants as the great “growth hormone” of American history. “The vast majority of immigrants repay their adopted homeland with energy, enthusiasm, hard work, and new wealth,” I wrote.

I wrote it as a Republican-leaning conservative. Twenty-two years later, my view hasn’t changed. I’m distressed that that of so many Republicans and conservatives has.

Even as a conservative who would currently characterize himself as non-open-borders, I’m sympathetic to contrary arguments based on both economics and freedom.  The problem, as I see it, is another principle that I would characterize as fundamentally conservative: Policies cannot be developed and implemented as if in an abstract model, as if, to paraphrase Melville’s criticism of Emerson, we believe we could have offered some helpful pointers to God upon the world’s creation.  We have to look at reality, both current circumstances and enduring realities.

It is not conservative to allow indiscriminate waves of immigrants into a country where a political machine is primed to make them dependent, to prevent them from assimilating (see Mike Gonzalez’s thoughts on “Obama’s Ethnic Divide-and-Conquer Strategy“), and to harvest their votes for a party intent on ending America’s run of capitalistic representative democracy.  Such a policy is not conservative any more than it is libertarian to attack cultural institutions that keep people from relying on government or than it’s respectful of freedom to let somebody accidentally fall into a pit with spikes at the bottom rather than to push him back from the edge.

We see this dynamic again and again in history.  The vast majority of people on any side of a question won’t give even their issues of greatest concern the level of nuanced consideration that people who think and write about them for a living do.  Therefore, the latter shouldn’t cling to a nuanced policy when its foundations are gone. That is when the prerequisites to benefit from open immigration are gone, one can’t argue that we must maintain open immigration.

To get to open immigration from where we are now, we have to repair our civic society and economy.  I happen to think that means restricting the flood of immigrants so we have room to fix the ship of state, but at the very least, it means electing people who appear to disagree with Jacoby about the long-term goal.


​​Tolls – ​Strong Caution for the Companies Currently Negotiating to Cut Their (So Far, Only Theoretical) Losses

​Dear Potentially-Toll Affected Company:

Look, it’s completely understandable what you’re trying to do. There’s a real possibility that the government – the State of Rhode Island, in this case – would lay a heavy financial burden on your operation. It’s natural, when a heavy blow seems inevitable, to try to lessen it. And the state officials who are talking to you are not dumb. While some of them very much want this new revenue stream, they also know that if you leave the state (or decide to work against their reelection), the political repercussions for them could be bad. Depending upon the number of Rhode Islanders you employ, maybe real bad.

​So to shield themselves and try to make you happy – or at least, less unhappy – these state officials are offering to partially offset your losses to tolls through an abatement – perhaps of registration or other fees.


Obama Administration is Government on the Attack

Well, we knew this to be true all along, didn’t we?

Administration health policy officials were downright obsessed with figuring out which Catholic institutions would fit within the section 6033-based exemption. As early as October 2011, the White House was trying to figure out how to structure the exemption so that Catholic universities would be forced to provide student contraceptives in student health plans. In July 2012, emails show officials trying to make sure that the contraceptive mandate would treat the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – the spiritual leaders of Roman Catholic entities in the United States – differently from the colleges, charities, and other groups that they lead. The documents were originally discovered during congressional inquiries into the sharing of tax information between the IRS and the White House.

In direct contravention of his (lying) image as a bridge builder back before he was elected, Obama’s style of governance is never about respecting other people’s beliefs and space, but rather about attacking groups with which he disagrees and advancing the narrow lunacy that he’s fashioned as his ideology.


Trumping with the Showman’s Honesty

You should read all of Mark Steyn’s theatrical review of a night out at a Donald Trump rally, but this particular point caught my attention:

Traditionally in American politics the way you connect with voters is to pretend you’re just as big a broken-down loser as they are. One recalls Lamar Alexander and his team flying in to Manchester, New Hampshire and just before touchdown changing out of their Brooks Brothers suits and button-down shirts into suspiciously pressed and unstained plaid. In this cycle, it’s been John Kasich doing his slickly produced, soft-focus “son of a mailman” ads. So much presidential politicking is now complete bollocks, as rote and meaningless as English panto or Chinese opera conventions. Trump doesn’t bother with any of that. Halfway through, he detoured into an aside about how he was now having to go around in an armored car, and how many rounds it could take before the window disintegrated, and how the security guys shove you in and let the reinforced door slam you in the ass. And the thing’s ugly as hell. “If I win,” sighed Trump, “I’ll never ride in a Rolls-Royce ever again.” And all around me guys who drive Chevy Silverados and women who drive Honda Civics roared with laughter. Usually, a candidate claims, like Clinton, to feel our pain, but, just for a moment there, we felt Trump’s.

When people say they want authenticity in public figures, they don’t mean they want somebody who’s pretty good at pretending to be just like them.  They mean they want somebody who seems to behave genuinely as him or her self, and then when it comes to the decision of electing him or her, they’ll decide if, like them or not, he or she is the right person for a job.

Trump comes out and speaks off the cuff.  He’s clearly a showman and is entertaining, and that helps, but I wonder how much of his appeal has simply to do with the fact that you know what you’re getting.  When President Obama goes off script, he more often than not says something that does (or should) undermine all of his slick performances.


UPDATED: About That Global Warming Consensus

Obviously, a survey does not an argument make, but this is an interesting tidbit that one might expect to be getting more attention if the news media were truly on a politically neutral search for truth and compelling stories [see update for an important note]:

Don’t look now, but maybe a scientific consensus exists concerning global warming after all. Only 36 percent of geoscientists and engineers believe that humans are creating a global warming crisis, according to a survey reported in the peer-reviewed Organization Studies. By contrast, a strong majority of the 1,077 respondents believe that nature is the primary cause of recent global warming and/or that future global warming will not be a very serious problem.

The survey results show geoscientists (also known as earth scientists) and engineers hold similar views as meteorologists. Two recent surveys of meteorologists (summarized here and here) revealed similar skepticism of alarmist global warming claims.

I’ve wondered if such things as the rush to a non-binding agreement in Paris and Rhode Island Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s enthusiasm for prosecuting political opponents indicate that those who wish to use “climate change” as justification for sweeping away freedom see their window closing.  Perhaps in part because real and immediate threats are arising for contrast (such as terrorism and the rising wave of refugee invaders throughout Europe), the spell whereby environmentalists have silenced skeptics appears to be wearing off.

UPDATE (1/3/16 12:38 p.m.)

A reader points out that the first link above points to an article from 2013, which I’d missed.  Obviously, that removes the oddity of the news media’s not following the story now (although not back then).  However, the chronology actually contributes to the possibility that the alarmists have been making a push because they sense the window closing.


Good Riddance to 2015 (With Trepidation)

For (probably) my last post of the year, I’ll direct your attention to two articles on NRO.  George Will grabs a long list of lowlights from 2015:

We learned that a dismal threshold has been passed. The value of property that police departments seized through civil-asset forfeiture — usually without accusing, let alone convicting, the property owners of a crime — exceeded the value of property stolen by nongovernment burglars. The attorney general of New York, which reaps billions from gambling — casinos, off-track betting, the state lottery — moved to extinguish (competition from) fantasy football because it is gambling. Florida police raided a mahjong game played by four women aged between 87 and 95 because their game’s stakes allegedly exceeded the $10 limit set by state law. A Michigan woman was fingerprinted, had her mug shot taken, and was jailed until released on bond because she was late in renewing the $10 license for her dog. New Jersey police arrested a 72-year-old retired teacher, chained his hands and feet to a bench, and charged him with illegally carrying a firearm — a 300-year-old flintlock pistol (with no powder, flint, or ball) he purchased from an antique dealer.

And on it goes.  Then there’s Stephen Miller’s humorous recollections and foreshadowing for President Barack Obama’s final year in office, written as if it’s a TV show titled SOTU:

The television show SOTU premiered a teaser promo on Twitter Tuesday night, hoping to get viewers who have fallen off over the course of recent seasons excited for the long-overdue final season’s premiere on January 12. The season will conclude with a series finale in January 2017.

Not much is revealed about the plot of the upcoming season, but the promo does feature the smirking president (played by Barack Obama) adjusting his white-tie tuxedo, an upbeat image in stark contrast to how last season ended: the country he presides over suffering another devastating terror attack in California, as well as one in Paris, with our hero rushing away to Hawaii.

In the (deliberately) labored preface of my novel, A Whispering Through the Branches, I questioned the significance of a clock turning the gears from one year to another, even when it turns the number for a millennium.  This year, I suspect we’ll simply graduate from the foolishness of 2015 to a 2016 that will either be so ridiculous it’s painful or so painful it’s ridiculous.

For the country, 2016’s saving grace may be that the major consequences of the Obama presidency won’t be experienced so soon, just as the major consequences of the Clinton presidency weren’t felt until September 2001 and the recession of the late ’00s.  Maybe in our stumbling or our wisdom we’ll choose well in the election, although the odds seem to be against us.

When it comes to Rhode Island, well, not much can be expected.  Our governor still has some momentum for her experiment in choosing the wrong direction, but maybe it will be the year the people and the news media start to catch on.


Empathy and Economics

Via Instapundit comes a worthy midday economics lesson from Megan McArdle.  Starting with Socialist-Democrat Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders’s ignorant talking point about the loan rates for refinancing a home being lower than the rates for college loans, McArdle asks readers to think about those from whom the loan money comes and exercise a little empathy:

Let’s say you had $150 that you really needed to have at the end of the month, say to pay your rent. Would you want to lend it to the single mother whose income is stretched so tight that she needs to borrow money for Christmas presents, or would you want to lend it to some heartless leech of a securities litigator with an 800 credit rating who happens to have left his wallet at home? C’mon. You know the answer; you just don’t want to say it. If you really need the money — if you cannot afford to turn your loan into a gift — then you lend it to the better credit risk with the higher income, not the person who may find themselves too short to pay you when the loan comes due.

For those susceptible to facile talking points, though, even this plain argument will only go so far.  Who loans money and why is an intricate question with plenty of room to pretend we can tighten the net just so in order to catch only those greedy profiteers who can afford to lose $150 to desperate present-buying mothers from time to time.  It doesn’t work that way, in large part because greedy profiteers have the incentive, savvy, and power to hide themselves and pass the buck.

At that point, the public’s imagination has to continue along.  To stop bad actors from being able to act badly, somebody has to be empowered to define them and regulate them or to confiscate their ill-gotten gains, and the officials thus empowered are going to come with their own incentives and tendency to be captured by the powerful, in one way or another.  (After all, even the straightforward task of enforcing parking meters slips to corruption.)

McArdle’s right, though, that we shouldn’t simply scoff at those who don’t understand (or care to contemplate) this tangle of complexity.  The more of them who can be persuaded to take a few steps down the path of considering others’ pressures and points of view, the more they’ll come to the correct conclusion: that is, only a fool would trust a political system to resolve these complex issues.  Not only do we need to imagine ourselves in others’ positions, but we also need to take personal responsibility to interact with each other as unique individuals.


The Wrong Way to Economic Development

Ed Fitzpatrick’s review of opinions about Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s first year in office is pretty much what one would expect.  Insiders tend to like her (with an asterisk for pension reform), her political opposition does not, and centrists who focus on areas in which she’s left reason for worry are worried.  It says a great deal that, when listing her accomplishments for the year, the governor promotes a settlement that actually reduced the effectiveness of the 2011 pension reform that brought her national fame.

When a legal settlement that failed to answer the critical question of pensions’ legal standing while costing taxpayers $1.3 billion over the next couple of decades is one of your big successes, folks would be justified in thinking there must not be much else to tout.

The economic development promotions are the most objectionable, though, inasmuch as they follow a path based on insider connections and faith in those insiders to pick winners and tell people what to do, economically:

Raimondo said she has tried to change the overall business climate by, for example, eliminating the sales tax on commercial energy use. “But separately you need an active, pro-active economic development team, which Rhode Island has lacked for a long time,” she said. “And the tax incentives that the legislature passed are just basic tools in our tool box that pretty much every other state has.” Boston used tax incentives to bring life-science firms to the South Street Seaport, and now that area enjoys critical mass, she said. In Rhode Island, “those first few deals   — real estate deals or company deals — they will be expensive, they will take tax incentives,” she said. “But that is the position we are in.”

Representative Patricia Morgan (R, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) is right when she tells Fitzpatrick that “we shouldn’t have to pay people to come to Rhode Island.”  Not only is that the right answer on principle, but (I’d argue) it accords with the real problems that the evidence suggests Rhode Island has.

For another reason, this morning, I reviewed some of my previous writing on Rhode Island’s economic woes, including a four-post series from early this year (one, two, three, and four).  The biggest span of broken rungs on the Ocean State’s economic ladder isn’t job creation through new businesses, but in job maintenance as businesses become established.  The data takes interpretation, to be sure, but the problem appears to come when businesses start to really establish themselves and discover they can’t overcome our regulatory and tax obstacles.

Picking favorites among who’s here or bringing in big players from out of state who are interdependent with state government — with the businesses reliant on government subsidies and the government politically dependent on the businesses’ continuation — merely solidifies the role of elites making centralized decisions that are more and more difficult for innovators and hard workers to get around.


The End of Another Unconstitutional Year

Ilya Shapiro revisits his biannual practice of listing “President Obama’s Top Ten Constitutional Violations of 2015.”  It’s not an easy task, to be sure.

Setting aside legislation and executive action (on which more imminently), we note that one of President Obama’s chief accomplishments has been to return the Constitution to a central place in our public discourse.

Unfortunately, the president fomented this upswing in civic interest not by talking up federalism or the separation of powers but by blatantly violating the strictures of our founding document. With his pen and his phone, and hearkening to Woodrow Wilson’s progressive view of government, he’s been taking out his frustrations with the checks and balances that inhibit his ability to “fundamentally transform” the country.

This president has certainly been a lesson in how easily a demagogue with the backing of the elite (which brings him a palace-guard news media and a judiciary wanting, at the very least, not to provoke him into full assault) can make treasured civic freedoms and rights disappear in just a matter of a few years.  Mind you, Obama has been busy mainly knocking out procedural rules that the average American won’t perceive as grounded in rights — unconstitutional revisions to ObamaCare, for example, and expanding the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  For the most part, these are actions that people generally accept that government can do, even if they’re supposed to involve the legislature.

Protecting such structural pieces of our constitutional order, however, is how we prevent the next step into dictatorship.  After all, the legislature isn’t just a bureaucratic spot for new laws to stop for the proper stamp.  It’s how we’re supposed to ensure that we consent to the laws under which we live.  In that regard, the damage that Obama has done goes way beyond a few legislative shortcuts, and we’ve seen hints in such things as the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups to ensure the president’s reelection and the scapegoating of a filmmaker over the Benghazi attack, as well as the dubious transfer of taxpayer dollars to preferred businesses and activist groups.

We live in perilous times.  That too few people recognize that fact only exacerbates the peril.


The Caroling of the Tolls

Christmas has come and gone.  The next holiday is New Year’s Day (and what a chilling prospect 2016 is).  Following that, of course, is the start of the legislative session, and Pam Gencarella has some rhyming thoughts on one topic:

’Twas the night before session,
And all through the House,
Most Reps weren’t complaining,
Not even a grouse.

The toll plan was passed,
In the Senate last year.
Will the Reps be opposed,
Will they even care? …

The big picture’s important –
Economic goals
Best to dash away, dash away
Any thought of tolls.

Perhaps an adaptation for the intervening holiday between now and the session is in order:  Let tolling instincts be forgot and never brought to mind.  Let tolling instincts be forgot and PayGo plans designed.