Politics RSS feed for this section
sciencemagic-featured

When Science Comes with an Underlying Hope

An essay on NRO by Oren Cass is worth a read for the broad-ranging illustration it provides of the state of politicized science these days.  His opening vignette is perfect:

The president of the United States had just cited his work with approval during a Rose Garden speech announcing a major change in American policy, and MIT economist John Reilly was speaking with National Public Radio. “I’m so sorry,” said host Barbara Howard. “Yeah,” Reilly replied.

This was not a triumph but a tragedy, because the president in question was Donald Trump. And the action taken was withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement.

Trump had cited Reilly’s work correctly, saying: “Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full” using Reilly’s economic projections, “. . . it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree . . . Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100.” But as Reilly explained on NPR, “All of us here believe the Paris agreement was an important step forward, so, to have our work used as an excuse to withdraw it is exactly the reverse of what we imagined hoping it would do.”

In other words, this isn’t about science, but about belief, and in this view, science is supposed to find evidence confirming progressive assumptions.  That’s what it means to “believe in science.”

As Cass elaborates, this is especially a problem for people who profess to believe in data-driven public policy.  If their data starts to raise doubts about their policies, and rather than adjust the policies, they look for new data, the whole thing begins to seem a bit like a scam.  More from Cass:

Some check is needed on the impulse to slice and dice whatever results the research might yield into whatever conclusion the research community “imagined hoping” it would reach. In theory, peer review should do just that. But in this respect, the leftward lean of the ivory tower is as problematic for its distortion of the knowledge that feeds public-policy debates as it is for its suffocating effect on students and the broader culture. Peer review changes from feature to bug when the peers form an echo chamber of like-minded individuals pursuing the same ends. Academic journals become talking-points memos when they time the publication of unreviewed commentaries for maximum im­pact on political debates.

partisanhate-1980-2016-featured

The Century’s Story of Partisan Hatred

Jonathan Haidt points to the following chart as a partial explanation of why our democracy “seems to have decayed so quickly,” with groups’ believing “that the ends justify the means.” The source is a book titled, Prius or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America’s Great Divide, by Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler:

partisanhate-1980-2016

Of course, progressives will fit the inflection points of 2000 and 2008 into their narrative about Republicans and racism, but my experience of the first sixteen years of the century leads to an explanation more like this: With the return of the presidency to a Republican after just one Democrat, especially with such a close, contentious election, the Left and the mainstream media began ramping up hatred against the Republican president and Congress as a political strategy.  (Note, surprisingly, that the entire episode of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment didn’t move the needle, leaving that out as a first-order cause.)

Seeing the lengths of the animosity by 2004, Republicans began to respond in kind, but it wasn’t until after the election of President Obama that their other-party hatred began to catch up to the Democrats’.  Obama definitely contributed to this in both the way he conducted his office and his rhetoric, and conservatives began feeling that they were being shut out and that the Democrat Party was changing the very rules of our government.

These trends brought us from an even contest of seeming moderates in 2000 to a contest of hatred by 2016.  Since then, I suspect we’ve hit a plateau.  After all, in a fifty-fifty country, it’s difficult to have more than 50% of people hating one or the other of the parties (unless we shift into a new dynamic of voting for the parties that we hate less).  On the other hand, I think it is indisputable that the intensity of hatred on the left side of aisle has ramped up by multiples.

trillo-rage-featured

The Too-Obvious Plot of RI’s Made-for-TV Politics

What can one say about the revelation — the minuscule import of which is mirrored in the mammoth coverage it has received — that a 30-something Joe Trillo once faced charges for whacking a young-teen Nicholas Mattiello?

As Trillo tells it, he was outside working on his house when he heard a young girl’s screams coming from a nearby home. He saw a group of young boys pounding on the front door of the home, where the girl – who by Trillo’s recollection was was around 12 or 13 – had been left alone.

“I immediately dropped everything I was doing and ran over to the house, and started waving my arms around furiously to disband the group of boys doing everything they could to get in that house,” Trillo said in a statement issued Wednesday morning. “That’s when one of my arms unintentionally struck young Nicholas Mattiello, who was approximately 14 years old.”

According to reports from WPRO radio, Mattiello’s family pressed charges, Trillo pleaded no contest, and, eventually, the assault charge was expunged from the gubernatorial candidate’s record.

WPRI has since found that Trillo was actually found not guilty, and Nicholas Mattiello clearly bears him no ill will, but the most telling detail of the anecdote, for my money, is that the Mattiellos insisted on pressing charges against their neighbor for accidental contact with their son in defense of a young girl.  But going down that line of inquiry would require one to believe that an incident from the year of my birth might contribute more to voters’ understanding of the candidate than the behavior that has been on display for the public in more-recent decades.

The larger concern for Rhode Islanders should be the degree to which the whole thing just feels so Rhode Island.  People talk about how everybody knows everybody in our state, but that isn’t true.  It would absolutely be possible to fill the State House with elected officials who were not each other’s neighbors at any point in the past half century.

The problem is that our government is set up to elevate colorful characters and people of a certain sort and disposition.  That’s what needs to change, and its causes ought to be the subject of our public discourse.

windfarm-featured

Who Profits from Deepwater Cronyism

Is a Danish company’s purchase of Rhode Island–based Deepwater Wind relevant to a discussion about corporate cronyism in our government?

Providence-based Deepwater Wind announced Monday that Orsted has entered into an agreement to buy it. Orsted says it’s paying $510 million. …

Deepwater Wind says it’ll expand in the coming years, making Providence and Boston the two major hubs of the company’s U.S. offshore wind activities.

The time line goes like this:  To his shame, Republican Governor Donald Carcieri guaranteed long-term profits for a green energy company run by his former chief of staff.  Earlier this year, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo surprised Rhode Island by announcing a secret deal to guarantee the company more profits (and then immediately began fundraising off it).

Now the company’s owners have sold it off to ∅rsted, no doubt at tremendous personal profit.  There’s a reason CEO Jeffrey Grybowski hands out about $4,000 per year to key decision-makers in government, with Gina Raimondo taking the lead since 2010, at $6,300 total.  So far this year, Grybowski has given the max to Raimondo, Democrat Aaron Regunberg, Republican Allan Fung, and Republican Patricia Morgan — hedging his bets, it would seem.

Rhode Islanders should push back against these gambles.  If companies from anywhere in the world can make make a profit in Rhode Island while offering its people something for which they are willing to pay, then we should welcome them for that mutually beneficial exchange.  But when our political overlords force us to guarantee profits, the benefits are always imbalanced toward connected insiders.

mike-stenhouse-avatar

“Publick Occurrences” – The Fundamentals: Patriotism & Faith

As part of the recent Providence Journal sponsored “Publick Occurrences” panel discussion at RI College, I’d like to share some thoughts I prepared, but did not have the chance to put forth. The event’s premise – “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?” and the polarization of public discourse – leaves us two factors to consider:

mattiello-062613-featured

Funny How Rhode Island Works

Readers know that I’m not a fan of our campaign finance regime.  It imposes a complicated, intimidating set of laws for grassroots candidates and groups that creates opportunity not only for prosecution of them, but also political attacks on their donors.

I have a hard time, therefore, getting worked up about the apparent probability that the campaign of Democrat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello funded a mailer allowing Republican Shawna Lawton to endorse him in a high-profile way against his Republican challenger, Steven Frias.  To the extent the activity is illegal, it is because of this complex, unconstitutional labyrinth we’ve built, with incentive to find workarounds.

That said, the investigation is unearthing an education in the way Rhode Island politics work, and the stunning thing is that the most objectionable things are treated as incidental… and they’re all completely legal.  I’ve already highlighted one connection:

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has put Edward Cotugno, the mail-ballot guru who helped him eke out an 85-vote victory in 2016, back on his campaign team and given his son a $70,000 a year State House job.

Mattiello, D-Cranston, hired Michael Cotugno as the legislature’s new associate director of House constituent-services.

Here’s another:

Included in the evidence packet that the board provided to The Journal on Friday, in response to a records request, was an Aug. 14, 2016, text from “Teresa” to [political consultant] “Jeff” [Britt] and his partner, Daniel Calhoun, who is still listed as a $60,891-a-year legislative employee on the state’s transparency portal.

Think of this.  Under Mattiello, the legislature has given well-paying legislative jobs (of unknown difficulty) to the son of his “mail-ballot guru” and the man who shares a nice Warwick house with one of his campaign operatives, and the thing we’re supposed to be upset about is a relatively small contribution toward political free speech!

But arguing that the campaign finance investigation is the only reason we know about the rest doesn’t justify burdensome campaign finance laws.  When people act in suspicious ways (like endorsing people of other parties or independent spoiler candidates), we should… well… suspect them of having some ulterior motive, unless they can express a persuasive rationale for the odd decision.  And if somebody who benefits from that persuasion wants to fund it, their money doesn’t change the validity of the argument.

Ultimately, the answer is just to reduce the size of government and the value of controlling it.

flake-inelevator-featured

Some Quick Thoughts on the Kavanaugh Flake Delay

Yes, if you’re a conservative or Republican, the delay in Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court is frustrating.  Whether it’s the case or not, the Left’s strategy of trapping a Senator in the elevator and yelling at him seems to have bought more time, following more time bought with unproven accusations and political theater.  That this new low for our politics has been rewarded is a problem.  If it succeeds in keeping this U.S. Senate from appointing a Supreme Court justice, the reward — and the incentive to repeat the behavior — will be hugely amplified.

Just last night, after the Democrats’ behavior, the Republican base seemed to be awakening, and anecdotal evidence suggested moderates were beginning to pay attention, too.  If Senator Flake’s delay this stops the Kavanaugh appointment, I agree with those who predict that the Republicans’ base will take it out on them, not the culprit Democrats.

That said, the Republicans presumably have pulled Kavanaugh aside and asked, “Just so we know, there are absolutely no surprises to be found, right?”  That would mean that anything that does come up will be either a complete surprise or an unbelievable fabrication.  The first of these is unlikely but would reshuffle the political deck too dramatically to predict, and the second probably won’t change the dynamic much.  Who knows but that Republicans have reason to believe that exculpatory evidence exists, perhaps with one of the men who’ve already come forward to suggest that he was the teenage culprit, not Kavanaugh, and the consequence of the Flake delay will fall on that guy.

If the most likely version of the above turns out to be the case, what we’re about to see is another week of the Democrats and the Left behaving like scary, irrational nuts, followed with an FBI report that makes the whole thing seem like the overkill that it appears to be, followed by continued Democrat intransigence, followed by even more public dissatisfaction with the Democrats as we inch closer and closer to the election.

On the other hand, the FBI can no longer be trusted to be impartial… or competent.  So, the agency may produce an outcome that only throws more grease on the national dumpster fire and leaves us with another week of nail biting political twists concerning a high school incident that nobody would have treated with this much gravity a short while ago, even if it had been recent.

georgenee-close-featured

Whom Elected Officials Really Represent

Snippets from the AFL-CIO’s endorsement meeting leave no doubt that Rhode Islanders generally have scant representation when our supposed representatives negotiate with labor unions:

Seeking the blessing of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education Convention this past Wednesday, elected officials came bearing their own visions of a better world for workers.

If reelected, Gov. Gina Raimondo promised to raise the minimum wage “again and again and again.”

General Treasurer Seth Magaziner said he’d help combat the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Janus” decision by working on legislation to keep government-employee information out of the hands of union-disaffiliation campaigners.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, a high-placed Laborers’ International Union official until last year, vowed to work on bills that would allow public-sector unions to stop representing non-members. (State lawmakers this year passed a bill letting police and fire unions do this, but legislation allowing it across government stalled.)

As Providence Journal reporters Patrick Anderson and Katherine Gregg put it, to the labor unions, “all of Rhode Island is a future job site.”  Implied is that this perspective leaves government as the mechanism that is able to take money and land and hand it over.  Raimondo would burden our economy.  Magaziner — inexplicably, if one believes his role is to steward taxpayer funds — wants to throw obstacles in the path of those who would help employees to be more independent.  And Ruggerio is intent on lightening unions’ burden while maintaining their near monopoly on employment with government.

By comparison, Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung’s only promise appears to be that he is no longer in favor of right to work laws.  That’s bad enough, but it’s a far cry from a pledge to shape the laws of our land in the unions’ favor even more than they already are.  Interestingly, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) is not mentioned in the article.

Two questions arising from the article:

  • Why did “just the phrase ‘right to work'” trigger “tense words between firefighters and building trades workers”?
  • Why didn’t the Providence Journal reporters note that they are members of the AFL-CIO, and did they vote on the endorsements?
justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Audience for Raimondo’s Errors

Readers of this site have probably heard that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has begun the general election campaign with a trademark Raimondo move: an unnecessary error.  Her first attack ad against Republican Allan Fung shows a neighborhood in Providence while claiming that he’s done a poor job as the mayor of Cranston:

Faulty video footage in a commercial is once again causing headaches for Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Fresh off her primary victory last night, Raimondo’s campaign began airing an attack ad Thursday morning that criticizes Republican nominee Allan Fung for his record as mayor of Cranston, showing pictures of rundown buildings in a hard-knock neighborhood.

There’s just one problem: those streets are in the Silver Lake section of Providence, not Cranston – as the Fung campaign was quick to point out, and follow-up visits by reporters confirmed.

The only way to characterize this mistake is as an embarrassment.  She’s the governor of the state.  She’s a Providence resident.  Yet, her campaign can’t identify the border of her home city from the one next door.

That said, commentators are missing an important consideration:  It probably doesn’t matter to Raimondo’s target audiences that the video got it wrong.  They’ll assume Raimondo’s broader claim is true and that a camera crew could have found a run-down neighborhood in Cranston (as it could find one in any city).

For Raimondo, an ad attacking Fung’s management record is targeted a Rhode Islanders (and non–Rhode Islanders) who don’t know, themselves, where Providence ends and Cranston begins.  They’re people who get their news more from national sources, which still tout Raimondo as some sort of reform moderate, than from local TV.

Simply the fact that Raimondo would OK an ad casting aspersions at an urban community within the state that she governs gives a sense of her audience.  She’s assuming that potential voters who might take offense are already locked in by social policies or government give-aways, like universal pre-K.  This ad is for people who want some reason to believe that they can discount her opponent’s management experience.

Whether they’ll take the ad’s sloppiness as (further) evidence of Raimondo’s poor management skills, perhaps we’ll learn in November.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Bending the Arc Away from Google

My default is always to assume against direct conspiracies; individual incentives and human nature are usually enough to explain seemingly coordinated action without presuming some conscious cabal.  But, I mean, come on:

A video recorded by Google shortly after the 2016 presidential election reveals an atmosphere of panic and dismay amongst the tech giant’s leadership, coupled with a determination to thwart both the Trump agenda and the broader populist movement emerging around the globe.

I haven’t watched the whole hour-long discussion, but even on a skim of the content one can see that some of the executives made no effort to distinguish “we” from the Clinton campaign, and it isn’t at all clear that the repeated pledge to use the company’s vast resources to advance “our values” isn’t a promise of political activism.  More disturbing, though, is the insistence that advancing those values is part of “bending the arc of history.”  In other words, this isn’t a statement that Google’s products improve people’s independent thought and that Google’s values will ultimately prevail for that reason.  Rather, it’s a statement that Google will work to nudge people’s thinking in a particular direction.

Along those lines, the concession that I would have liked to hear somewhere in my scanning of the discussion, but did not, is a reminder that people who disagree with the beliefs of Google’s apparent monoculture are still the company’s customers, with their own rights and independence and deserving of the company’s honest and enthusiastic service.

In short, people who don’t agree with Google’s social and political views should take the hint.  Reduce your dependence on the company’s products, and look for alternatives more generally.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Quick Thoughts the Day After the Election

Some progressives in and out of the mainstream media are making September 12 out to be a great day for progressives in Rhode Island, but that overstates things.  Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR), for example, put Representative Moira Walsh’s photo at the top of Scott MacKay’s progressive rah-rag, but that’s making an awful lot out of a 639 vote victory by an incumbent who (I believe) has no other job than representative in a progressive district against a previously unknown challenger whom the news media targeted as a Trump-supporting previous Republican.  Michael Earnheart nonetheless collected 521 votes.

I wouldn’t call that result a mandate for progressive activism. A sign of weakness for Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, who opposed Walsh, but not a sign of strength for his opposition.

That said, establishment Democrats should be concerned that progressive activist Sam Bell was able to unseat state Senator Paul Jabour in Providence, although they were separated by just 172 votes, and a third candidate took 595.  From a long-term perspective, progressives’ losses could be seen as encouraging for them.  Forty-three percent of people voting in the Democrat primary chose candidates to Governor Gina Raimondo’s political left, and progressive poster-boy Aaron Regunberg only narrowly lost to the more-moderate Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee, 49% to 51%.

Of course, one confounding factor could have been cross-over votes, with the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity encouraging conservatives to disaffiliate so they could participate in either primary and vote strategically.  Election participation can fluctuate from year to year so as to make such comparisons difficult, but there is some reason to believe cross-over votes were not insignificant.

Congressman David Cicilline won the Democrat primary handily, but would a purely intra-party “anybody but Cicilline” impulse have produced 13,327 votes for Christopher Young?  I have my doubts.  Even if only 2,400 hundred of these Young voters were non-Democrats who crossed over, that would account for McKee’s victory in the lieutenant governor’s race.

The same dynamic might have played a role on the Republican ticket.  Patricia Morgan outperformed expectations, with 40% of the vote, against Allan Fung’s 56%, but a crossover vote of 5,000 would account for all of that.  I wouldn’t say that crossovers were that significant, but they probably were a factor, inasmuch as Morgan supporters would have been less likely to abandon the Republican ballot.

Whatever the case, we now move on to the general election, where the biggest question will be whether independent former-Republican Joe Trillo can make this the third governor’s race in a row in which a split vote on the political right allows an unpopular Democrat to slip into the office and conduct the business of the state poorly for four more years.

bobwalsh-stock-featured

The Inherent Politicization of Government Unions

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s new chairman, Stephen Skoly makes an important point in a recent op-ed (emphasis added):

At the root of the Janus case is the inherently political nature of government unions, which negotiate for taxpayer funded benefits. Prior to Janus, these activities were subsidized with dollars forcibly taken in dues or fees from public employee paychecks. Now that workers have been restored their rights to choose whether or not to pay, unions must become more transparent and diverse in their election and legislative advocacy, if they are to keep their members. Employees should know how their dues money is spent; this, too, will be part of our campaign.

For a sense of how true this inherent politicization is, look no farther than Dan Yorke’s interview with the director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island, Bob Walsh.  Walsh makes light of the political allegation by breaking down the unions’ individual activities into their component parts, but that’s a distraction.  Instead, look toward the end of the interview, when Yorke turns the conversation to politics.

Note, in particular, that Walsh is explicitly speaking in his role as a union leader and that his points are inextricable from the union’s activities.  Explaining the two sides of the scale when it comes to his union’s decision not to endorse a gubernatorial candidate for the upcoming primary, Walsh says that Governor Gina Raimondo was “helpful in replacing Commissioner Gist.”

This is a reference to former Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, who tried to bring some measure of reform to Rhode Island’s system, in which it is badly needed.  The union did not like her efforts to make its members accountable, so it helped to bring somebody into office who would appoint a commissioner more to its liking.  One can see the same thing in unions’ efforts to determine with whom they’ll be negotiating in local school committee races.

Thus, government unions are on every side of every negotiating table, leveraging taxpayer funds that until Janus employees had no choice but to give them to affect who will be elected.  That would be inherently political even if the unions weren’t leading advocates for a far-left ideology on issues having nothing to do with representing employees.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Does Regunberg Want Rhode Island to Confiscate the PawSox?

If anybody should not be skipping debates, it’s Democrat Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee.  Apart from his status as incumbent, he’s an experienced manager running against a far-left young guy who has just about no real-world experience.  He ought to seek out opportunities to illustrate the contrast.

The example that brought this advice to mind was the RIPR interview/debate that I mentioned the other day.  At one point, Regunberg responds to a question about the emigration of the PawSox to Worcester with this:

First of all, I just want to say that this is a really sad moment for our state.  It’s a sad moment for Pawtucket.  It’s a sad moment for families across Rhode Island to lose this icon from our state.  I think there’s blame to go around at the state level.  As you know, I supported the Senate proposal, which I think would have had a shot of keeping the team here, and the speaker did not.  What I get the most frustrated with, however, is this idea of a small group of millionaires and billionaires who are making that choice to take this treasure out of our state for their own profit maximization.  I don’t think that’s right.

Interviewers Ian Donnis and Scott MacKay didn’t follow up on this stunning statement, but McKee should have been there to do so.  Sure, progressives can declare that the decisions of people who act in their own interests with their own property are “not right,” but when those progressives are trying to win government offices, the matter cannot stop there.

What exactly would Regunberg propose to do about?  Effectively socialize the baseball team, with government taking it over?  Increase the corporate welfare that the state might have offered the team to stay… helping those “millionaires and billionaires” even more?

I contacted the candidate for a response to these questions, but he has not replied.  It’d be nice if journalists would pose such questions directly to young progressives while the microphone is already on, but in the absence of that, the duty falls to the opposing candidate.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Millennial Wave That Might Not Be

For years, we’ve heard how much attention must be paid to the Millennial generation, because its members would soon change the face of society and politics.  They may very well do that, as a large generation, but a tidbit from Ian Donnis’s latest Friday column reminds us that Millennials are human, too:

Which generation has the greatest increase in voter registration in Rhode Island from 2014 to 2018? Would you believe the Silent Generation (people born between 1928-45), which had a 39 percent bump, from 996 to 1,381 over the last four years, according to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s office. Boomer (born 1945-64) registrations jumped 30 percent, from 4,163 to 5,423, while Xers (1965-1980) climbed 20 percent, from 5,055 to 6,060. Generation Z (1997-) is up 9 percent, 3,290 to 3,574, while Millennial (1981-1996) registrations dropped 11 percent, from 12,275 to 10,892.

So why would the number of voter registrations among Millennials drop as we head toward elections that the mainstream media has been hyping as their chance to save humanity?  An answer would take more digging than I’ve time for at the moment, but I think we can return to my old thesis about the “productive class.”

Over the last four years, the youngest Millennials have moved on from college, or whatever they were doing as they transitioned into their 20s, and the oldest Millennials moved into their late 30s and (gasp!) middle age.  As I’ve been saying since even the oldest Millennials were still in their 20s, the people who tend to leave Rhode Island are those in the “meaty, motivated segment on the cusp of the middle class” — people who want to cash in their talents and labor to build their lives.  That transaction remains much more difficult in Rhode Island than elsewhere.

The harder question may be who remains behind.  Some Millennials in their still-idealistic (read: naive) youth, probably.  However, the non-Millennial cohort could surprise us.  Will they be defined by newly wizened GenXers who have too much experience to fall for socialist promises or seniors too far removed from their careers and too reliant on other people to resist the lure of big government?

We’ll see.  In the meantime, perhaps we should take the lesson that demographics are not destiny and at least some people can change their minds… or move.

Quantcast