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The Danger to the Status Quo of Thwarting Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Electoral Politics and the Lament of the Well-Informed Observer

Although his focus is Fall River, Marc Monroe Dion’s lament of the well-informed observer in the Fall River Herald rings true much more broadly, certainly throughout this one-party region of festering apathy:

And Wednesday morning, when another dud of a Fall River election was over, there wasn’t anything left to do but pick up the crumpled napkins.

I say “dud” because hardly anyone votes, and I say “hardly anyone” because I write the history blog for this paper, and am often immersed in old newspaper stories from the days when a 60 or 70 percent turnout was the norm.

People who work in newsrooms live very close to the political process, so we overestimate the public’s level of interest, and we do that no matter how many 30 percent turnouts crop up in our stories. Politics in Fall River is like soccer in the rest the country. It’s going to get popular NEXT year.

As I’ve written again and again, what people seem most to want from government is the ability not to pay attention.  Back when those old newspaper articles that Dion references were written, life was more difficult and entertainment more scarce.  Moreover, government did less and was therefore easier to get one’s head around.

What the busy schedules of modern life haven’t pushed aside, the progressive big-government mudslide of the last century has swept away.  Not only has government been made to seem like the existential battle of partisan tribes, but it’s so pervasive and intricate that the average person feels unqualified to assert his or her own interests, at least in contravention of insiders’ priorities.  Add to those dynamics the promise that central planning can relieve us of the need to pay attention.

We’ve gotten to the point, however, that people just want to be left out of the pressure and vitriol, free to live their lives.  The way back from that feeling isn’t obvious, unless we can promote the principle that government has no right to do things beyond the ken of the people.

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When the Insider Sounds… Reasonable

If you haven’t listened to Providence Journal commentary page editor Ed Achorn’s inaugural podcast, interviewing Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston), do so.  Because the Projo has decided, for some reason, not to give the podcast a prominent place on its Web site, here it is:

I recommend the episode for a reason that I almost hesitate to admit.  I’ve always found Mattiello’s speaking style to be, let’s say, slow and roundabout, like listening to waves come in… if each one were made to go through some long spiral before crashing.  But listening to him offer a slow-down explanation for his coolness to the PawSox deal and then expressing his (he says) long-standing sense that the state government lacked the internal expertise not only to implement UHIP, but even to consolidate offices into an Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) in the first place, I have to say it was a relief to hear somebody in state government talk  in that way.

Yes, yes, he’s a politician, and staking out ground that is skeptical of government isn’t exactly a risk in his district.  And of course, we should be skeptical, ourselves, when his solution isn’t to suggest unraveling the messes completely, but to figure out a way to make them work.  Moreover, even if his talk were music to a conservative’s ears, we should still advocate for the other 74 legislators to stop handing the speaker so much power.

All that said, however, and even though he clearly has a sense of government’s role with which I differ to a nearly revolutionary degree, in comparison with the likes of Governor Gina Raimondo, let alone the reckless and ideological blindness of the state’s progressives, Mattiello sounds like an insider who will at least say, “no,” to the insiders’ worst tendencies when outsiders object.

That may not be much, but in Rhode Island, it’s something.

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Making Counter-Culturalism Fun

This sounds like fun, and a much healthier approach to the politico-culture wars than shooting up a baseball field full of Republicans.  Patrick Courrielche’s article on Breitbartdescribes some of the key plot points of an ongoing reality TV  stream that one might title, The Deplorables Versus Hollywood.

The anonymous users of 4chan, or “anons” as they call themselves, often operate like a mercenary intelligence agency – analyzing satellite imagery, audio, and various other online data sources to attack their targets…not unlike the characters from Mission Impossible. For kids that have both grown up on the Internet and learned to hate Hollywood right back – this activity is their version of escapism…replacing traditional TV shows and films. The anons took [left-wing actor Shia LaBeouf’s] new live stream [of a protest flag somewhere in America] as an invitation to capture the flag – and were determined to take it down and replace it at all costs…even if it meant breaking a few laws.

To be clear, by “breaking a few laws,” we’re talking about trespassing for the sake of a prank.  Of course, trespassing isn’t the most disconcerting aspect of the story.  I’m concerned that the Internet really does enable an ad hoc community of online chatters to become something akin to an intelligence agency, but that cat’s out of the bag, and frankly, I’m not sure I’m all that much more worried about these powers in the hands of pranksters than in the hands of government agents.

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In Support of Some Risk on Social Media and in a Free Society

Some of the responses of America’s tech barons under questioning by Rhode Island’s far-left Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse should raise concerns about the future of freedom in the United States.  Of course, we should keep in mind that these are private corporations that can make their own decisions, but they do talk and act as if they’re somehow more fundamental to society than that.  And so:

Twitter’s acting general counsel, Sean Edgett, told Whitehouse and other members of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime and terrorism that detecting foreign-based influence campaigns run through phony shell corporations set up as American companies is a challenge. …

All three witnesses also agreed on the threat presented by shell corporations.

“Anything that prevents us from policing the authenticity of our users is a menace,” said Stretch.

It isn’t difficult to imagine freedom — whether explicit in law or simply part of the fabric of American culture — as just such a “menace.”

We accept that people will use freedom in ways that allow them to take advantage of other people because it’s unavoidable, and it would be unacceptable to give government (or oligarchs) the power to set the line between taking advantage of freedom and simply utilizing it in ways that powerful people don’t like.  The fact that powerful people didn’t like the outcome of an electoral contest would be a poor reason to pressure tech companies to set up roadblocks to speech.

Instead, we should seek to educate people sufficiently that a few bogus stories on Facebook won’t dupe enough of them to change the course of history.  We should also encourage more-respectable purveyors of news to get their bias under control so that they have the credibility to offer objective resources.

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Two Candidates for Governor

Two tweets posted on Twitter today within one minute of each other are telling, as well as related to part of my conversation with John DePetro for my weekly call-in yesterday.  First:

Second:

I don’t juxtapose these to promote Patricia Morgan, or even to advocate against Gina Raimondo.  An impression of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has been building, and it could (and should) be a barrier to her reelection no matter how much money she’s able to dump into Rhode Island’s relatively small media market.

When it comes to actual crises and errors in the executive branch, Raimondo takes an incremental approach.  A new revelation puts UHIP in the news, so she comes up with something that appears to be a response and walks away again.  Meanwhile, her affection for photo ops and staged events is well established.

That isn’t leadership, and people know it isn’t leadership.  Whatever collage of pleasant feelings canned photo ops might generate can be washed away by manifest bad management.  To the extent that her ample professional staff (in and out of the campaign) believes that photo-ops are indispensable, every single one of them should be of a leader fixing problems.

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Prostitution of a Different Type

With my crazy schedule (now exacerbated by sinkholes, toppled temporary fences, and litter in the yard), let me throw in another counterintuitive thought that occurred to me while running through the daily headlines recently.  From Glenn Reynolds on Instapundit, quoting a judge from the mentioned court:

CHANGE: Appeals court in SF allows challenge to state law banning prostitution. “Why should it be illegal to sell something that it’s legal to give away?”

It occurs to me that this quotation would apply just as easily to allowing outright bribery of public officials, or even judges (in the Left’s understanding of judicial responsibility).  If they’re able to make decisions for moral or political rewards, what makes the transfer of money so different?

Honestly, I’m not sure specifically where I’d come out if I followed these intertwined threads to their ends.  I can understand the libertarian argument about prostitution, but as with drug legalization, we have to consider the consequences of changing these laws within our current culture.  In that regard, activists who want to expand such freedoms ought to focus on strengthening the culture in order to address legitimate concerns about the effects of this brand of individualism.

And obviously, I oppose political corruption and bribery, but in a fair analysis, one might conclude that the difference between monetary rewards and social rewards is not as profound as they seem at first view.  Society stores and transfers power in multiple ways.  Money is power.  Fame is power.  The credibility to pass social judgment is power.  And obviously, control of the government is power.  A healthy society would work to keep all of these areas of influence working independently (although, of course, they overlap in particular people and organizations).

In the spirit of challenging one’s own assumptions and biases, it’d be a worthwhile exercise to try to explain why people with fame and social approval to dispense should have more influence over government power than those who are stronger in the money category.

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An Objective Standard for Russian “Collusion”

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One-Size-Fits-All Transgender Mandate Puts Students At Risk

The transgender issue extends far beyond bathroom or locker-room rights. As expressed in a June 2016 “guidance” document from the RI Department of Education (RIDE) on transgender rights, RIDE itself will be seeking to bully local school districts into conformity, openly flaunting its disrespect of other students and of parental rights.

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Partisan Descriptors

Maybe it’s just that Halloween is coming that I noticed this, but something in the word choice of Michelle Cottle’s commentary in The Atlantic on Alabama’s GOP primary struck me funny:

Alabama is usually such a happy place for Republicans. The state is not merely blood red; its conservatives thrill to the culture-war revanchism that the GOP has been peddling for decades.

I’m curious: Has anybody ever seen a similarly ghoulish metaphor used in passing for Democrat blue?  Maybe “suffocation blue”?

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