To Whom Is Central Planning Useful?

Ted Nesi is striving to keep the forthcoming Brookings Institution report about Rhode Island as an open question.  That’s an understandable — responsible — approach, considering that the fact of the study was just announced and it’ll be the better part of a year before there are results to report.

That said, I’d encourage Rhode Islanders to push their assumptions one more step and question those, too.  Here’s Nesi:

Hopefully the $1.3 million being spent on the report – paid for by foundations and a few wealthy Gina Raimondo supporters – will at least buy some robust new data about the state’s present economic condition.  Beyond that, the onus will be on Brookings to show why this report’s recommendations will be more useful than those in all the reports that came before it. … They could provide a useful service if they tell it like it is.

The question is:  A useful service to whom?  Somehow, I don’t think the people funding the report are planning to offload some of the market research expenses from private businesses and individuals.  That means the report will mainly be useful to the wealthy, powerful interests who are taking it upon themselves to contrive a detailed direction for the whole state.

And it’s not even just the state.  Consider another item from Nesi’s Saturday column:

Also on the topic of economic development, Congressman Joe Kennedygave a noteworthy speech last month that called for local leaders to start thinking beyond the borders of their two states. … His idea, he said, is “about starting to rethink the way we pursue economic development on the South Coast. Leveraging the assets and strengths of this region in a comprehensive, collective way. Treating Fall River, New Bedford, Attleboro, Taunton, Tiverton and Providence not as isolated silos, but as a combined economic force.”

Who will make decisions for this “combined economic force”?  In Tiverton, for example, residents just blocked a major development along Route 24 next to the Sakonnet River Bridge; a year ago, they played a large role in reversing the push for tolls on that bridge.  Next year, they’ll likely decide yea or nay on a casino on the border (with early indications giving the better odds to yea). One can disagree with any of these results, but the opinions of local residents ought to have more sway than the state government’s, let alone the demands of some regional coalition or authority.

Yeah, maybe lightning could strike for Southern New England, and (despite its historical record of corruption) the machinations of influential people could create a global dynamo.  If that’s the vision, though, how could a few hundred people in a high school auditorium be permitted to wield a veto?

The Brookings Activity Guide for the RhodeMap

Among those who don’t tend to think that the state government of Rhode Island should be tasked with completely ordering the lives of the people who live within its borders, the conversation about the relationship of the recently announced Brookings Institution study and RhodeMap RI has already begun.  Some think that RhodeMap was the framework to which Brookings will add specifics.  I don’t think that’s quite right.

Consider these two disconcerting paragraphs from Ted Nesi’s WPRI article, yesterday, drawing out some details of the intentions:

“This is an opportunity that you don’t get that often, to take a shot at putting the state on a different trajectory,” [Mark Muro, director of policy for Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program] added. “It’s been a rough decade.” …

“I think in most parts of the U.S. it’s still, the government does this, the corporations do that, the universities are somewhere else,” [Bruce Katz, the nationally-known head of the Metropolitan Policy Program] said. “In the successful places around the world there’s a seamless interaction between all these different sectors, and if they’re all on the same page – then that’s when you get the bigger returns. So it’s not just the policy … it’s this foundation of collaboration.”

This study will be part of the same ideological program as RhodeMap, but they’re distinct pieces.  RhodeMap is concerned with controlling where people live and how they structure their lives.  Brookings is going to instruct the state government about what professional activities Rhode Islanders should be engaged in while they live here and how to bring the private sector into alignment with the central plan.  (Whether they’ll go into detail about what laws to pass to force compliance, or just make friendly-sounding suggestions about how to create incentives to benefit special interests that are aligned with the program or are willing to adjust, we’ll have to wait and see.)

Consider this carefully, Rhode Island.  Even in a small state of about one million people, you can’t have “seamless interaction.”  Our entire government system is (or was) set up so that we can interact in a way to ensure the maximum freedom while allowing us to work together peacefully.  That’s the central challenge of a free society; progressives can’t just ignore it away.

When they skip over that challenge, what they’re really assuming is that they will be able to pick people in non-government sectors — in business, in academia, and in cultural institutions — who will stand in as if they speak for their whole sector and who will agree to follow the plan.  You may be able to live your life your own way, but it will become progressively more difficult to the extent that you want to do something of which the pointy heads at Brookings and the control fanatics who invited them in disapprove… or even that they don’t quite understand.

If what you want to do conflicts with the powerful people, well then, you’ll have to be banned.

Inappropriate Attitude Toward Government Dictats

As one analyzes Rhode Island government, it becomes clearer and clearer that the basic problem is ultimately one of political philosophy.  Granted, the political philosophy of Rhode Island conveniently serves those who have a personal interest in government power, but what I’m suggesting is that special deals and tyranny aren’t entirely imposed on an unwilling public.  The corruption has filtered into the culture.

One particular strain of this corruption is visible in the controversy over the Department of Health’s unilateral bureaucratic mandate that all children going into the seventh grade (boys or girls; public or private school) must be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease.  Consider this, from Linda Borg in the Providence Journal:

In the first of several public information forums, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Department of Health, emphasized that no one wants children to miss school and said her office wants to work with parents who have “strong feelings” about the vaccine. She said the vaccine is mandatory because the state wants to reach as many students as possible, noting that Rhode Island already has the highest rate in the country for vaccinating youths against HPV.

Forcing people to put drugs into their children’s bodies just because the “state wants to reach” them is entirely inappropriate.  This begins to approach Brave New World levels of inappropriateness, wherein there are no parents, really, and school is just the government’s way of molding people into the kind of citizens whom the government wants them to be.

Most importantly, note the complete inversion of the appropriate relation of families to the government:  The government has no strong feelings about the vaccine — as evidenced by the fact that it didn’t bother to go through a rigorous process of persuading the people’s representatives — but for parents to push back on it, they must have strong feelings.  The default is what the government wants.

Jane Dennison, a Barrington pediatrician (who no doubt offers vaccines as a profitable product to her patients), sides with the government, saying, “The health department is not trying to cram this down your throats,” but it clearly is.  They’re coming at us with a fist full of it, and only those who push back avoid having it thrust upon them.

My family may or may not go forward with HPV vaccines, but I’ve already filled out the exemption forms.  We have to push back on these infringements on our rights.

Changing the Face of the Country for Votes

Speaking of borders and voting rights, Steven Hayward pulls together some stories on the immigration problem that Great Britain is having with thousands of “migrants” attempting to use the Chunnel tunnel to get from Paris to London in order to get free stuff from the welfare state.  Note this, in particular, from a 2010 Daily Telegraph article (hat tipped to Instapundit):

The release of a previously unseen document suggested that Labour’s migration policy over the past decade had been aimed not just at meeting the country’s economic needs, but also the Government’s “social objectives”.

The paper said migration would “enhance economic growth” and made clear that trying to halt or reverse it could be “economically damaging”. But it also stated that immigration had general “benefits” and that a new policy framework was needed to “maximise” the contribution of migration to the Government’s wider social aims. . .

Voting trends indicate that migrants and their descendants are much more likely to vote Labour.

Luring massive immigration to a country is a way for the government to elect itself another electorate, so to speak, and we have a right not to tolerate it.

Voting Rights Along the Border

Some issues fall so closely along fault lines of one’s philosophy that it doesn’t matter how local or insignificant they are; when once one hears of them, it becomes necessary to work out one’s beliefs about them.  I’ve been deeply distracted for the past day by the curious case of Jonathan Cottrell in Tiverton, and I’ve posted a detailed summary on Tiverton Fact Check.

He’s been a Tiverton resident for decades and currently serves on the town’s Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee.  Now, he’s applying to join the town’s Planning Committee, too, which puts him within firing range of the sides in the Tiverton Glen development controversy.  Among people who disagree with his previous votes on the CPAC (about which I know nothing), it has now become an active attack that he doesn’t actually live in town and shouldn’t be eligible to vote.  The issue has gone so far as to lead the Tiverton Board of Canvassers to schedule a hearing in September to review evidence about Cottrell’s circumstances and rights.

In a nutshell, it looks to me as if Rhode Island law holds somebody to be an elector, once he or she has legitimately registered, until such time as he or she declares a different “domicile” or registers to vote elsewhere.  And that seems appropriate, to me.

Cottrell’s living situation is very unique.  Even his address in Tiverton falls in a gray area, because it’s a multi-use property listed as a range of street numbers, and he picked the number that’s used on the commercial building as the most convenient address for the lot.  Moreover, it appears that, as the decades have rolled along, his family has purchased property a short distance over the border, in Swansea, and has used that address for a few non-official purposes.

I wouldn’t be surprised, for example, if they drifted toward making Swansea their “domicile” when their son reached full adulthood and their daughter went off to boarding school and then drifted back to homely feelings toward Tiverton some years later, having never made the decision to switch official.  A variance request to put more rentals on their Tiverton property was denied in February, and they put their main Swansea house on the market last month.

But the options their considering for their future are not really anybody’s business.  In a free society, people shouldn’t have to submit their every life decision and feeling for government scrutiny.

It’s one thing for the government to have rules about its own right to collect tax money from a person, calling them full-year residents if they’re in the state for a certain number of days.  It’s another to wrap people up in what I’ve called a political Twister game in which the government can take away their basic right to vote if they cross some gray area of the law.

Arthur Christopher Schaper: One-Sided Free Speech and Religious Liberty in MA

A Massachusetts doctor is pressed to bend to a hospital’s point of view on homosexuality and few take notice.

Thoughts on R.R. Reno and Diplomacy of the Individual

First Things editor R.R. Reno puts Pope Francis’s style of rhetoric and diplomacy in the context of the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

What the Radical Party Thinks of Its Country

You may have heard that Connecticut Democrats have disowned Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.  Here’s Dennis Prager, writing on National Review Online:

Every year for the past 67 years, the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner has been the major fundraising event for the Connecticut State Democratic party. Not anymore. The party unanimously voted to drop the two Democratic presidents’ names because they were slaveholders.

That is the way the Left sees American history.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, the document that articulated the principle of human rights endowed by the Creator (thereby ultimately ensuring the end of slavery) and led to the establishment of the country that has served as the beacon of hope for people of every race and ethnicity. More black Africans have voluntarily emigrated to the United States to seek liberty and opportunity than came to America as slaves.

But that is not how the Left views Jefferson or America.

As the Far Left has completed its takeover of the Democrat Party, this sort of thing has become inevitable.  Prager goes on to describe why it wouldn’t be too much to suggest that the party has become the home for Americans who hate the United States, in the absence of radical transformation into something else.  Think of Michelle Obama’s admission that she had never, as an adult, been proud of her country until it put her husband in a position to undermine it.

To be sure, Republicans do a lot of dumb things, and I switched my voter registration to unaffiliated some years ago, but, wow, a party that has ample room for an organization that harvests the body parts of aborted babies can’t stand to be associated with Thomas Jefferson?

Lawsuit: Police Officers’ Right to Work

A press release sent out yesterday by Gio Cicione, chairman of the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights seems like an important development:

Five part-time police officers in Westerly, RI, have filed a Civil Rights lawsuit against the Town of Westerly, several town officials, and International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 503 in U.S. District Court.

The plaintiffs are receiving free legal aid from the National Right to Work Foundation and lead local counsel is being provided by the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights.

Thomas Cimalore, Anthony Falcone, Scott Ferrigno, Darrell Koza, and Raymond Morrone brought the suit and seek declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief because a portion of every paycheck (at a rate of $5 an hour, or 13% of their pay) is being confiscated by the town and paid directly to Local 503.

The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiffs’ First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights (and other state labor and whistle blower protection statues) are violated when they are forced, as a condition of employment, to financially support Local 503 despite not being members, receiving no benefits from the union, and never authorizing or requesting that the town withhold a portion of their paycheck and distribute those funds to Local 503.

The complaint alleges attempts by the Town to stifle their objections, retaliate by diminishing hours and pay, and forcing at least one officer out completely.

“The union bosses and the bureaucrats have worked in concert to take money directly from these hardworking part-time police officers in order to subsidize the union,” said Giovanni D. Cicione, Chairman of the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights and lead counsel on the cases.

“The unions can’t afford to keep the empty promises they’ve made to their workers – we’ve seen this throughout Rhode Island with non-existent pension funds, economic stagnation, and fleeing businesses,” continued Cicione.  “It’s time someone really stood up for the workers who are the backbone of our communities and our economies – the union bosses seem to have forgotten how to do that, but the Hopkins Center is happy to step in and defend what’s right.”

Labor unions are part of the Rhode Island establishment that seems to believe that nothing should be allowed to happen in the state with their explicit or implied consent.  That’s not freedom, and it’s not good for Rhode Islanders.

Allowing Representative Democracy at Outdoor Restaurants

Reviewers of legislation for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s annual Freedom Index had some mild disagreement about H6210, which passed the Rhode Island House but didn’t make it over to the state Senate before the end of the session.  Basically, the bill would have given restaurants with outdoor tables some flexibility to allow patrons to have leashed dogs with them.

The negative view of the bill begins with the (appropriate) belief that it is ludicrous for the government to be getting involved with this question at all.  On the other hand, the positive reviewers assumed that this was a legislative attempt to return some freedom to Rhode Islanders, providing relief from rules already on the books.

It turns out that the assumption is correct.  Regulation 6-501.115(A) of the state Dept. of Health’s “Food Code” is the culprit:

Except as specified in (B) and (C) of this section, live animals may not be allowed on the PREMISES of a FOOD ESTABLISHMENT.

The exceptions are edible or decorative fish, patrol dogs, security dogs in outside fenced areas, service animals, and pets in institutional care facilities.  Arguably, the additional relief that the House bill sponsors sought to provide was so narrow and minimal that it didn’t justify inclusion on the index at all, but lovers of freedom in Rhode Island have to take whatever hints of light they can get.

Upon consideration, the bill actually raises an indictment of the depths to which we’ve allowed our government to sink.  Apparently, the process for law is for regulators to issue decrees, and people can appeal to the legislature for relief on specific grievances.  That’s more like a parliamentary monarchy, or something, whereby the emperor pronounces rules, but people can go to the parliament (or senate) to argue for mild relief.  That is, the representative aspect is effectively secondary.

In June, I noted a similar encroachment when it comes to the bureaucracy-decreed mandate for all seventh graders to be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted HPV disease.  In that case, it appears that Rhode Island is one of only two states to mandate the vaccine, and the other, Virginia, did so by legislation, not by bureaucratic fiat.

What legislators ought to begin doing — and what Rhode Islanders ought to begin demanding that they do — is going through the Rhode Island General Laws and tightening whatever language it is that allows unelected agencies to assume the authority to issue such edicts.  The basic assumption is that experts in the government have a need, and the right, to comb through our society searching for anything that might cause harm to anybody and implementing rules to protect us from ourselves.

If we don’t demand that such a bureaucracy be pulled back, then we can’t claim to be a society that values independence and freedom.

 

Collecting DNA and National Security

Conservatives and Republicans in Rhode Island are still debating the justice of a law passed last year that would collect DNA from people not just upon their conviction for a violent crime, but their arrest.  See this Facebook post for multiple threads of the argument.

One of the first points made by those who favor such practices is that the collection is of a limited amount of DNA that can only be used for identification.  That’s not a very strong argument if your objection, like mine, is premised on the patent inability of the public to trust that government agents will only take what’s allowed, destroy what must be destroyed, and protect what they keep.  Still, for the general public it makes things sound reasonable, which is why the supporters press the advantage by saying it’s just like fingerprints.

That’s why I thought of the issue when I came across an article in National Journal titled “How Much Damage Can the OPM Hackers Do With a Million Fingerprints?.”  OPM stands for the federal Office of Personnel Management, and the issue (if you missed it in your news gathering) is that somebody (probably in China) succeeded with a massive hack of data about anybody who’s worked for the federal government, particularly those who’ve filled out extremely detailed and personal forms for security clearance.

Unlike abstract items of theft, like Social Security numbers, fingerprints can’t just be changed after a security breach, and…

Part of the worry, cybersecurity experts say, is that fingerprints are part of an exploding field of biometric data, which the government is increasingly getting in the business of collecting and storing. Fingerprints today are used to run background checks, verify identities at borders, and unlock smartphones, but the technology is expected to boom in the coming decades in both the public and private sectors.

“There’s a big concern [with the OPM hack] not because of how much we’re using fingerprints currently, but how we’re going to expand using the technology in the next 5-10 years,” said Robert Lee, cofounder of Dragos Security, which develops cybersecurity software.

How much worse would this be with DNA?  I’d argue that DNA collection should be kept entirely outside of purview of government, but if that’s a bit extreme, surely it’s reasonable to draw the net tightly enough only to catch people who’ve been convicted of violent crimes.

(Via Instapundit.)

The Web of Accumulating Legislation

On GoLocalProv, Stephen Beale revisits the habit of Rhode Island legislators to burden the state law with restrictions that make no sense and/or of which residents might not even be aware unless they’re cited for breaking them.  Both Steve Brown of the local ACLU and I point to the danger that this attitude toward the authority of government can move into areas of political activity:

“It is not far-fetched to worry that other dubious laws on the books, like one banning online impersonation, could easily be used against political speech or even satirical Web sites,” Brown said. He cited the newspaper case as an example of why such fears are not groundless. …

Katz … worries about further government limits on political speech.

“For example, S0384, which passed the Senate but died in the House would have expanded the requirements for politically active citizens to register and file reports, forbidding them from running for office if they run afoul of the regulations and owe fines. A story on your site today illustrates how people organizing on important political questions might be contacted by the state government to let them know that they’re coming up to the line of the law. Others are less fortunate and only find out that their civic engagement has been illegal when somebody files a complaint,” Katz said.

Of course, it’s much worse than direct regulation of political activity and related rights, like free speech.  In a society in which everyone has pretty good odds of breaking some law, somewhere, at any given moment of the day, government has a limitless power to arrest or at least discredit anybody in the entire society who might become a problem.

Arthur Christopher Schaper: Bishop Tobin Defending the First Amendment

The Roman Catholic Bishop of the Providence Diocese, Thomas Tobin, stands out in America for his defense of principles articulated in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Planned Parenthood and the Racket of “Non-Profit”

Unless you get your news strictly from mainstream news sources, you’ve probably caught wind of the undercover video in which a top Planned Parenthood doctor discusses harvesting human organs from aborted babies while munching on lunch and drinking red wine.  It’s pretty gruesome stuff, including the pro tip of using ultrasound to ensure that the doctor’s forceps don’t “crush” valuable organs that clients have selected from the menu.  (That’s a word Dr. Deborah Nucatola actually uses, but in context, she might mean a menu of affiliates around the country that will harvest the organs for the trafficking company.)

For the most part, the mainstream media appears to be waiting to report the story until it can be spun in a pro-Planned Parenthood, anti-conservative/GOP way, but online defenders of the abortion provider have characterized it as an almost altruistic activity of a bunch of non-profits using medical waste to develop medical breakthroughs.  Of course, to the pro-lifer, that doesn’t make the practice any less disturbing, and other parts of Dr. Nucatola’s dialogue raise questions about legality (such as using partial-birth techniques for a better harvest).

Watching the full footage of the interview used for the report, it becomes clear that the defenders’ focus isn’t on the practice, but on a different way of talking about business.  The Planned Parenthood affiliates, Nucatola says, just want “to break even” or, if they can “do a little better than break even,” then they can put that money back into the practice.  But “break even” means paying everybody’s salary.  It means expanding.

Putting the money back into the practice means increasing the amount of activity, which is a salable point for donors and grant-givers.  Moreover, Planned Parenthood is engaged in political activity.  If the sale of baby body parts can contribute resources to expenses that the non-profit and activist wings share, then the activists can use their dedicated resources for other things.  Money is fungible, and the ways in which large organizations can move it around are plentiful.

A very telling part of the discussion comes at around minute 8 of the full footage, when the ostensible buyers initially ask about pricing.  Nucatola doesn’t describe it as a process of calculating expenses to make sure that no profit is made.  Rather, she talks about setting a price that would be defensible if the abortionist were audited.  In other words, this isn’t a moral distinction.  The restrictions on profiting from the killing of unborn children are just a regulatory consideration in setting the market price for organs.

The “non-profit” aspect may provide legal cover for an immoral activity, but motivation is separate.  The fact that no shareholders draw a direct profit from investments isn’t much of a distinction.

Lobbying Laws Keep Politics an Inside Game

Lobbying laws should be found unconstitutional and abhorrent to a free people.  Consider these letters Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea sent out to parties on both sides of the Pawtucket Red Sox stadium issue, in GoLocalProv:

A letter sent to Pawtucket Red Sox Chief Executive Officer Michael Tamburro, outlining the state’s lobbying statute, began with, “Congratulations on the exciting new developments at the Pawtucket Red Sox, a venerable Rhode Island Institution.”

In contrast, a Pawtucket citizen’s letter started with, “It has come to my attention through media reports and the Organizing Pawtucket website that you are the head of Organizing for Pawtucket, and that you may be engaging in conversation with Rhode Island state government officials on behalf of that entity.”

Does anybody really believe that a government so steeped in inside dealing as Rhode Island’s pursues lobbying and campaign finance laws as a matter of transparency?  That’s the spin, of course, but the end effect is to ensure that politics remains an insider game.  Special interests are drawn into the official network, sort of like outside vendors, and grassroots activists are intimidated.

It’s impossible to know how many people on the periphery of politics never take the next step to involvement because they have a sense that there’s some complex network of laws that they lack the bandwidth to investigate, but I’d wager it’s not a negligible number.  The professionalization and regulation of politics creates incentive for reluctance across the spectrum of involvement, except for those who are actively seeking to buy advantage through government.

Look at the example being made of Dinesh D’Souza.  Run afoul of the government’s regulations for trying to change the government, and you put your life under the thumb of people like U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, who dismissed the assessments of two licensed psychiatric professionals in order to issue this judgment, which would be right at home in a Soviet dissident novel:

“I only insisted on psychological counseling as part of Mr. D’Souza’s sentence because I wanted to be helpful,” the judge explained. “I am requiring Mr. D’Souza to see a new psychological counselor and to continue the weekly psychological consultation not as part of his punishment or to be retributive….

WND reported that at the Sept. 23, 2014, sentencing hearing, Berman said he could not understand how someone of D’Souza’s intelligence, with credentials that include college president, could do something so stupid as to violate federal campaign contribution laws. D’Souza was at the pinnacle of his career, writing bestselling non-fiction books and producing popular feature films….

“You have to understand, I have a background in social work with a psychology major,” Berman explained. “I’m sensitive to mental health issues in the criminal cases I hear, and I do not want to end psychological counseling at this time in Mr. D’Souza’s case.

For those who do not want to make politics and government a central part of their lives, the message is clear: Life is much safer if you just keep your head down and don’t get involved.

Government Housing Study Proves Deceit About Motivation

Reading Investor’s Business Daily on a Dept. of Housing and Urban Development study showing that forced integration of neighborhoods doesn’t work by its own accounting, one is tempted to find a progressive foible in the fact that the Obama administration is trudging along with its ideology regardless.  It’s another hoary cliché about government that when a pilot program has negative effects, it must mean that the only viable experiment would be to implement the idea fully.

I’d argue that the study actually does prove two things.

First, the ideologues pushing this stuff are lying about what they hope to accomplish:

From 1994 to 2008, HUD moved thousands of mostly African-American families from government projects to higher-quality homes in safer and less racially segregated neighborhoods. The 15-year experiment, dubbed “Moving to Opportunity Initiative,” or MTO, was based on the well-intentioned notion that relocating inner-city minorities to better neighborhoods would boost their employment and education prospects.

But adults for the most part did not get better jobs or get off welfare. In fact, more went on food stamps. And their children did not do better in their new schools.

The goal isn’t to inspire the inner-city transplants to the suburbs to change their ways and integrate with a healthier form of community.  Some progressives might not mind that if it happened, but it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the goal is really to inject the suburbs with a large contingent of reliable Democrat voters.

The second lesson from the experiment is that the conservative view of matters is substantially correct.  Simply putting a family in a different environment is not sufficient.

“Moving to lower-poverty neighborhoods does not appear to improve education outcomes, employment or earnings,” the study concluded.

Even then-senior HUD official Raphael Bostic, a black Obama appointee, admitted in a foreword to the 2011 study that families enrolled in the program had “no better educational, employment and income outcomes.”

Worse, crime simply followed them to their safer neighborhoods. “Males … were arrested more often than those in the control group, primarily for property crimes,” the study found.

People have to want to change themselves in order to take advantage of opportunities.  The best plan is to do what we can to give them the tools they need in hard circumstances, but mostly to make sure that there are only minimal barriers for those who’ve decided to go for it. Unfortunately, eliminating barriers decreases the control of government officials and other powerful groups.

Slipping Totalitarianism Quietly Through the Back Door

At the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, we spent quite a while — more than a year, anyway — looking into the the plans behind RhodeMap RI and related planning documents like Land Use 2025.  The better part of the challenge was that the whole thing was designed to look like benign “we’re just talking, here” activity.  It was like a friendly community game of croquet, but with intimidating guards standing around ready to unleash such powerful weapons as accusations of racism and conspiracy theorizing.

It’s beyond dispute, now, that the movement is national (if not international) and is at the very least incidentally (if not deliberately) concerned with eliminating vast swaths of our freedom, particularly those having to do with property rights.  And it was always obvious that the intent was to keep the real import of the plan from being widely known until the trap was pretty well set.

This, too, appears to be national in scope:

The key exchange comes between 1:21:08 and 1:23:59 on the video. In response to a question from [Brookings Fellow Richard] Reeves about what “getting serious” about housing policy would mean, [Urban Institute VP Margery Austin] Turner cites [Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH)], arguing that the rule could bring “incredibly important” changes to America. Slyly, she acknowledges that AFFH isn’t so much enforcing the original legal obligation to “affirmatively further fair housing,” as it is changing our understanding of what that obligation means. (In other words, AFFH is stretching a directive to prevent discrimination into a mandate for social engineering.) Turner then says that it would take decades for AFFH to fully transform society along the lines she desires. (I’d add that the rule won’t take nearly that long to gut local government in America.)

What’s interesting is that when Turner finishes her discussion of AFFH by saying that the rule “sounds very obscure, but I think it could be hugely important,” Reeves breaks in and says: “Perhaps it’s important to keep [the AFFH rule] sounding obscure in order to get it through.” (In other words, to get the AFFH rule enacted before public opposition and congressional Republicans can block it, we’ve got to keep its existence and importance quiet.) At this point, the audience laughs sympathetically. Then Reeves adds: “Sometimes obscurity is the best political strategy, particularly in this area.”

As the infamous Jonathan Gruber put it, with regard to enacting ObamaCare, “the stupidity of the American voter… was really, really critical for the thing to pass.”

We Must Rebuild Barriers Against the False Tide

Mark Steyn is right about the difficulty of swimming against the tide, but these waves are false, and we need to rebuild the Constitutional and social barriers that have kept us a free and diverse nation.

Assuming a Motivation for Vandalism

Why would somebody vandalize a Catholic church?  There are any number of reasons, from the political to the highly personal.  Be that as it may, for his Providence Journal article on an incident at Our Lady of the Rosary in Providence, Richard Salit has his answer scoped out, as summed up by whoever wrote the story’s lede: “Destruction in the heavily ethnic parish comes amid recent violence at other minority churches around the country.”

By ethnic, they mean Portuguese, which somehow leads Salit to make this part of a national mainstream media narrative about — what else? — racism:

The vandalism at the heavily ethnic congregation comes amid recent violence at other minority churches around the country, including the fatal shootings at the predominantly black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and suspicious fires at other churches in the South since then.

It’s possible, of course, that some deluded racist cast his net of bigotry so wide as to catch ethnically European Catholics.  The fact that things were stolen, including a golden Rosary, also raises the possibility of an angry and desperate person just taking advantage of unlocked doors to get some cash.

Or, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s declaration that marriage must be redefined in a way conflicting with Catholic beliefs and the Providence bishop’s public stance encouraging conscientious objectors, the attack could have been part of the blossoming movement that has attempted to close down an Indiana pizza parlor for speculating about a hypothetical situation and to ruin the lives of a small bakery’s mom and pop in Oregon, among other things.

The perpetrator might have mixed all three — taking the ethnicity and the Catholicism as excuses to target the church for a theft at the core of his or her motivation.  Or perhaps there was something much more personal involved.

It will be interesting to see the path of the coverage as information comes in (if it does).  If racism was involved, we’ll be looking at another front page story, or more.  But what if the person who did this was a social justice warrior in the “civil rights struggle of our time” — namely, ensuring that nobody anywhere ever expresses doubts about the gay lifestyle?

Hikaru Sulu Renames Kunta Kinte

The great disagreement of our times is whether rights and dignity are innate, affirmed by a higher power, or are conceived by the individual and made real by the affirmation of the government.

The Box They’re Putting Christians In

David Brooks encourages traditionalists to focus on the mission of helping society but overlooks the probability that the Left will not let that happen.

U.S.A. Now the U.S.S.A.

The United States of America is no more.  Our experiment with representative democracy in a constitutional and federalist republic is finished, and it failed.  We are now the United States of Social Acceptance.

You are not free.  Everything you do must be explicitly or implicitly be approved by the government.  We’ve gone from the idea that the laws of the land draw narrow boundaries for government to the reality that laws and regulations draw the increasingly restrictive boundaries of what you are permitted to do.

The examples are everywhere proving that those who dominate our government see themselves as an authority over every personal interaction in the country.  One I spotted over the weekend while reading legislation from the General Assembly’s last week, and that was featured in the Providence Journal on Sunday, gives the government authority to judge whether employers are making reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees (and those who recently gave birth).  In the Senate, the bill is S0276 from Hannah Gallo (D, Cranston); in the House, it’s H5674 from Shelby Maldonado (D, Central Falls).

As it happens, I agree — as I’m sure most of us do — that an employer should make accommodations for such employees unless doing so causes “undue hardship.”  In such decisions, I agree that some of the relevant factors are “the nature and cost of the accommodation,” “the overall financial resources of the employer,” “the overall size of the business,” and “the effect on expenses and resources or the impact otherwise of such accommodation upon the operation of the employer.”

But in most cases, both the employee and the employer are adults.  It shouldn’t be up to me to decide whether the inconveniences to the employee outweigh the business needs of the employer, and it shouldn’t be up to the government, whether legislators, judges, or bureaucrats.

In the progressive mindset that dominates in Rhode Island and, increasingly, at the federal level, we are not adults.  We’re children who need some superauthority over our lives to whom we can run when we’re not happy with each other.  Whining ten-year-olds run to their parents when they think their peers have done something that isn’t “fair.”  Adults shouldn’t require the same condescension.

Sowing the Seeds of a Future Revival

Events in America suggest dark times for liberty and true diversity. But we can always rebuild, starting at the bottom.

No Weapon Formed Against Us Shall Prosper

Looking at current events, it’s tempting to be discouraged, but in the trials of a church in Charleston we can find inspiration to wipe discouragement away.

Google as Big Brother or KGB

This is a bit out of our usual subject matter, around here, but it’s nearly a civic duty to pass the word around:

Yesterday, news broke that Google has been stealth downloading audio listeners onto every computer that runs Chrome, and transmits audio data back to Google. Effectively, this means that Google had taken itself the right to listen to every conversation in every room that runs Chrome somewhere, without any kind of consent from the people eavesdropped on. In official statements, Google shrugged off the practice with what amounts to “we can do that”. …

Early last decade, privacy activists practically yelled and screamed that the NSA’s taps of various points of the Internet and telecom networks had the technical potential for enormous abuse against privacy. Everybody else dismissed those points as basically tinfoilhattery – until the Snowden files came out, and it was revealed that precisely everybody involved had abused their technical capability for invasion of privacy as far as was possible.

Perhaps it would be wise to not repeat that exact mistake. Nobody, and I really mean nobody, is to be trusted with a technical capability to listen to every room in the world, with listening profiles customizable at the identified-individual level, on the mere basis of “trust us”.

I keep a piece of paper over the camera on my laptop, but sound waves are a bit more cumbersome to block than light waves.  All computers, cell phones, tablets, and other such devices should have a mechanical switch that breaks the electrical connection allowing the collection of video and audio.  Short of that, we’re essentially ensuring that we will soon live in a world that’s totally bugged, if we don’t already.

Despite his imaginative powers, George Orwell didn’t come up with this turn of events, and the U.S.S.R. didn’t have the technology.

(Via Instapundit.)

Government Micromanagement (Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be)

This story out of Santa Monica might sound familiar to Rhode Islanders, given the vacation-related parts of Governor Raimondo’s proposed budget:

Home-sharing websites like Airbnb allow homeowners and apartment dwellers to rent their home and spare bedrooms to vacationers for a fraction of the cost of a hotel stay.

But on May 12, the Santa Monica City Council passed a new ordinance that will impose regulations that make that opportunity much harder to come by. …

The ordinance imposes strict restrictions on who can rent out their spare bedrooms for less than 30 days, including requiring those who wish to rent out their spare bedroom or apartment to apply for a business license and to remain on the property during the guest’s stay. The ordinance also imposes a 14 percent hotel tax on hosts.

A free society is supposed to work by allowing us maximum latitude to make arrangements with each other, with government providing security and an understanding that contracts can be reinforced.  There’s some room around the edges for government to take some of the risk out of the equation by (essentially) doing a portion of customers’ due diligence for them through regulation, but we’re way beyond that, at this point, and drifting farther out to sea.

RhodeMap and the Sustainable Elimination of Freedom

With the House Finance Committee scheduled to hold a hearing on several bills related to state planning and RhodeMap RI, this afternoon at the rise of the House, this article with similar themes in the Midwest caught my eye:

Here in the Twin Cities, a handful of unelected bureaucrats are gearing up to impose their vision of the ideal society on the nearly three million residents of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro region. According to the urban planners on the city’s Metropolitan Council, far too many people live in single family homes, have neighbors with similar incomes and skin color, and contribute to climate change by driving to work. They intend to change all that with a 30-year master plan called “Thrive MSP 2040.” . . .

Thrive MSP 2040 is part of a nationwide movement called “regionalism.” Regional planning of infrastructure is important, of course. But regionalism, as an ideology, is about shifting power away from local elected officials and re-engineering society on behalf of “equity” and “sustainability.” According to regionalist guru David Rusk, author of the book “Cities Without Suburbs,” federal programs that promote regionalism should strive to produce “racially and economically integrated and environmentally sustainable regions.”

This is a well-planned assault on American freedoms concocted by a global elite and in the ivory towers of the U.S. that has been facilitated and substantially funded — in planning and implementation — with taxpayer dollars by the Obama Administration.  Of all the damaging initiatives that have been undertaken in the process of “fundamentally transforming” the United States of America, as Obama pledged to do, this one may be a sleeper that creeps up on Americans, but it may also be the one that locks the chains around our ankles.

Cicilline’s Bid to Facilitate Fascism

Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline (who, let’s not forget, helped draw Providence to the precipice as mayor) wants to give his fellow members of the acronym group of sexual preference special rights at the national level:

Cicilline said he plans to introduce a comprehensive anti-discrimination bill later this spring that would address the gaps in current law. The resolution is a first step, he said, and it currently has over 100 sponsors, though a Republican-controlled Congress could prevent the proposed bill from becoming legislation.

As a political matter, there’s a gaping hole in the logic behind the legislation.  If “the overwhelming majority of Americans oppos[e] discrimination against LGBT people,” as Janson Wu, executive director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, says, then why do they need special protections?  There should only be a small minority discriminating, right?  It’s flatly impossible, at this point, to pretend that this supposed bogeyman is powerful on the order of the lingering institutional racism that existed after Western Civilization ended the ancient practice of slavery, thereby necessitating government to take a side in social disputes.

What Cicilline and his comrades want, one suspects, is actually to facilitate the fascistic behavior that has begun in order to wipe out anybody who expresses reservations about undermining cultural institutions, like marriage, that have formed the foundation of our society.  Skim through the news on any given day:

  • A pair of gay businessmen who hosted an event for Republican Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz were forced to offer a groveling apology (contradicting their stated belief that “an open dialogue with those who have differing political opinions is a part of what this country was founded on”).
  • A couple operating a small bakery in Oregon to support their three children faced a life-altering fine of $135,000 for declining to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage ceremony. (The complaining lesbian couple, by the way, has the impossibly perfect name of “Bowman-Cryer,” considering that they are leveraging their tears to shoot deadly legal arrows at the family.)  Making matters worse, GoFundMe pulled the plug on a national campaign to support the family against the ridiculous penalty when a local competitor of the bakery complained.  Presumably, the competitor would have been happy to bake the disputed cake, illustrating how little sacrifice is needed to allow our neighbors to have different beliefs.

The national anti-discrimination legislation that Cicilline wants is simply an attempt to make it illegal to act on beliefs that differ from his and make it more difficult for people who share those beliefs to help each other.  Just as redefining marriage (mostly through the judiciary) is removing the ability of religious people and organizations to uphold their beliefs about the institution, making “discrimination” illegal will give opposing activists the ability to use government to target them.  It’s an attempt to bring the point of a gun to the culture war.

Rhode Island’s Tyranny That You Can Only Leave

Rep. Patricia Morgan (R, West Warwick) had an important commentary in yesterday’s Providence Journal:

Many residents of Coventry are deeply concerned about the high cost of fire services and the inadequate response of state receiver Mark Pfeiffer to this problem. Last week, at a hastily assembled meeting called to inform taxpayers of their preordained fate, Pfeiffer responded to those concerns with a dismissive remark: “Everyone is entitled to their opinion.”

How could he be so indifferent? Well, the state Fiscal Stability Act, expanded last year to cover fire districts, has given him sole power and control; the only opinion he is required to consider is his own.

The implications of the citizens’ struggles in the small Central Coventry Fire District should be chilling to any Rhode Islander who believes in the words “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Please pay attention to this if you are concerned about Rhode Island’s high taxes, insider deals that benefit the few and an economy that continues to shed jobs as companies leave for friendlier environments. The Fiscal Stability Act has thwarted governance for the common good. In its place is rule by one man and his special-interest backers.

This is the march of tyranny.  The notion of the state’s taking dictatorial control over subsidiary governments arose because of a fiscal emergency and the fear that a municipal bankruptcy would affect the state’s credit rating.  It was a thin pretense, but it had a certain defined purpose.

Let’s not forget that the purpose quickly expanded:

Frank Flynn, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, which represents Central Falls, said he had appealed to Governor Chafee.

“We haven’t met with the receiver, but we have spoken to the staff of the governor and we told them it was our intention to go to court and get a temporary restraining order,” Flynn said. “The governor’s office, through the receiver, asserted his authority to intervene.” …

Receiver Robert G. Flanders Jr., who is overseeing the bankruptcy filing of the state’s smallest and poorest city, notified Gallo Friday afternoon that her authority to negotiate with the union was being revoked. He also revoked her plan to unilaterally impose new terms on the school district’s 330 teachers on Sept. 1.

The Central Coventry Fire District didn’t stumble into a financial crisis.  Taxpayers, there, repeatedly declared that they weren’t going to pay exorbitant costs.  Now, the state has stepped in to undo those votes, mainly on behalf of the labor union that drove the district to those lengths in the first place.

It’s getting more and more difficult to believe that Rhode Island is a representative democracy.  At some point, it’ll become a Constitutional issue.  In the meantime, the people running and ruining Rhode Island leave increasingly few options but to leave the state, which guarantees more taxpayer fights, as the burden falls more narrowly.

Clarity in the Obama Era (How Reasonable People Let It Happen)

Increasing evidence that the federal government is using its powers to further political and ideological ends illustrates how a reasonable, civilized society sinks into totalitarianism.

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